I just came up on this quote from Bjarne Stroustrup:

Design and programming are human activities; forget that and all is lost.

Generative AI is not what he had in mind, but it’s interesting to see this quote in this day and age. And I do agree with the general sentiment. Software development is creative work, and it’s not something we emphasize enough.

One question that comes up in social conversation now is: “my phone/computer did x, is that AI?”

The answer I always want to give is, it depends how you define AI. Artificial intelligence is not a hard line in the sand, it’s a slow evolution. For a long time we’ve had machines doing things that no human could ever match. Think Photoshop, Google, or Siri. Does ChatGPT sounding more convincingly human make it AI?

It’s still not imaginative, sentient, or able to think on its own. In my view, calling it artificial intelligence is doing ourselves a disservice.

I’ve been noticing a worrisome trend in programming advice where people increasingly give full samples of code and walkthroughs instead of just the short explanation or the specific lines of code needed to address the topic.

That’s on blogs and YouTube, but also on StackOverflow. It feels like people either don’t understand what it is in their solution that produces the result, or they are more interested in building their brand than being genuinely helpful.

I was talking with a friend about Basecamp today. I’ve never had the chance to use it professionally other than the free trial. But I was reminded of this excellent walkthrough that Jason Fried did three years ago. Everything in one place? Yes please.

I went to use Apache on my Mac but it kept dying on launch. It took me a while to find it was due to the LoadModule directive for PHP. Commented it out and it ran, albeit with no PHP.

The problem was that PHP is no longer built-in on macOS so my httpd.config was pointing to Homebrew’s [email protected] which I’d since updated it to 8.2, so the path was no good and Apache no likey.

The solution was to update the path and do the codesign dance again.

I worry about the need or effectiveness of violent climate action too:

Our demands are – and have to be – more complex than any that have gone before. While I believe that taking out pipelines, refineries, abattoirs, coal plants and SUVs is morally justified, do we really imagine we can bring down the Earth-eating machine this way? Can we really hope that government, industry, oligarchs and those they employ or influence will conclude, “Because we cannot tolerate the sabotage, we will surrender the economic system?” If you are holding a virtual gun to someone’s head, you need to know exactly what you are demanding and whether they can deliver it.

Yesterday was my last day at Coursera. After work I took my dog out for a walk. We had beautiful misty sun showers producing a rainbow; a perfect atmosphere symbolizing the sadness of the end and the hope of a new beginning.

Starting to Write a New Chapter

It’s been an emotional week for me as I announced my departure to the Mobile team at Coursera.

It’s a small team but we do so much. Everything learners can do on coursera.org, they want to do on their mobile device, and it all goes through this team. I’m lucky to have worked with these lovely and talented people. And I’m humbled by the gratitude they expressed toward me this week. As much as I was Tech Lead, they are the ones who made me look good. I merely supported them in organizing and focusing their talent.

I’m glad I got to make significant contributions to both the iOS and Android apps. I used to expect it in the earlier days of mobile. But that’s something that has gotten progressively harder to come by. Nowadays, virtual nobody ever hopes to find a hybrid developer.

While I wrap things up and do my best to leave my team in a good place, it’s time for me to start looking at what I’ll be doing next. Not knowing is stressful, but strangely it feels like a familiar place. I’ve been here before from the many years I spent freelancing. I’m feeling open to ideas. More than anything I’d love to work on a climate friendly initiative. Going back to freelancing? Maybe. Sticking with employment? Depends what’s out there.

So let’s see what this next chapter of my life has in store. Hopefully one day I’ll reflect on this decision and realize that it was just part of the grander scheme.

Canada’s privacy commissioner announced an investigation of OpenAI and I agree with this take:

“You might say, ‘Oh, maybe it feels a bit heavy handed.’ On the other hand, a company decided that it was just going to drop this technology onto the world and let everybody deal with the consequences. So that doesn’t feel very responsible as well.”

In the wake of the Feedly protest-tracking controversy, I’m thinking that dropping them fits perfectly with my independent stance. After all, I stopped using many companies I disagreed with like Amazon, Facebook, and of course Twitter already five years ago.

I only used Feedly as a backend anyway. So I exported my feeds from Feedly to OPML and imported them directly into Reeder. It is slower because Reeder now has to fetch each feed individually, but let’s see how that goes.

So for about 4 weeks I’ve been surfing the web using private mode in Safari. That means no history and no cookies retained. That’s been fine, actually, and I haven’t received any funny emails after running a web search or visiting a web site.

The only downside so far is that CBC.ca does not automatically detect that my IP address is NOT, in fact, in Ottawa.

So pick your poison: IP geolocation or cookie tracking?

Some time around 1992, Discover Magazine published a piece about the EV1 from General Motors. Reading about the tech behind it, it made so much sense. It only took 25 more years for me to get an EV.

I’ve been driving a dinky little Nissan Leaf first-generation for over 5 years now and I still marvel every time I hop on. It doesn’t look like much but it’s quiet, has good tork, and feels more luxurious to drive than it has any right to.

We recently passed the 100,000 km mark. Glad I have it!

Penises are not OK. But guns? Sure that’s fine.

Never mind that the penis in question is made of stone, hangs on a 500 year-old celebrated piece of art, and that nudity has been a central theme in the arts from all cultures for thousands of years.

These are the things that make me think the level of intelligence and conscience humans have achieved in the 21st century is too dangerous when it can be wielded to justify just about any nonsense.

Or more succinctly: what planet am I on?

Maybe it’s just me, but Ontario wants to build 1.5 million homes by 2031 to help the housing market and all I can see is that it’s adding fuel to the fire. More homes without more regulation won’t make prices come down, it will perpetuate the problem. Crack down on house flippers and foreign buyers instead who use housing to make a buck at the expense of regular people who need a place to live.

There’s this really annoying autocorrect bug that I think started in iOS 16: Typing “love” in Messages always gets changed to “live”. Sure there is a certain poetry to it but still, “I live you” is usually not quite what I mean.

I figured out that it’s because I have “Love” in my contacts as my wife’s nickname. Removed it and it stops. But really, removing it is a non-starter so I’ll have to keep living with the bug until Apple fixes it. 🤞🏻

I love Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car à la McSweeney’s. 😄

This car is your ticket to anywhere. Just cruising in it feels like you’re entertaining yourself. It speeds so fast it feels like you’re drunk. Which, let’s be honest, is not recommended. I don’t want to feel like I’m drunk or buzzed while I’m driving; I want to feel safe and secure and, hopefully, get good gas mileage. I’m thinking maybe a Hyundai Kona or a Mazda CX-30.

Many things in politics make me want to cry, so I’ll gladly take this opportunity to laugh. Thank you, British humour:

Boris warmed to his stupidity theme. […] He wasn’t responsible for his own actions. Besides which, he had no idea what the rules and guidance were because he hadn’t yet worked out who had been prime minister at the time.

COVID is part of my daily reality. Not because I have it, but because I still do what I can to avoid it. Long COVID especially. I have seen what it’s like to have a long-term debilitating disease and I know the hardship of caring for someone in that situation.

Lately I learned that Diana Cowern, aka Physics Girl, has Long Covid. I find it very touching to see what she and her husband are going through. I hope she will pull through and be able to make fun and interesting science videos again.

I’m so glad I never bought a Tesla. I can’t imagine how I’d feel driving it knowing the antics of the deranged lunatic that Musk has turned out to be.

Confession time: I used to think he was smart. Now I’m horrified I ever thought that. It’s gotta be a disease, something must have flipped in his brain, right? How could he sleep at night otherwise. Is it money? If it is then I will never complain again about being in debt.

I was searching online for a specific cable. I only found it at Walmart and Amazon. The latter was more appropriately priced but I don’t have an Amazon account so I asked a friend to order it for me. The purchase was not made on my computer nor using my email address, but within the hour I started getting junk mail from Amazon. Fuckers.

Considering that I already use content blockers and log out of sites when browsing, I decided it’s time for the next step in this arms race: clearing cookies. 🔥

This cry from the heart about the state of the Internet? I get it.

And that sucks because there are no real public spaces on the internet. Here in reality, I can fuck off to a park and hug a tree and sit on a bench and do stuff without ads, without anyone trying to track me, and without having to pay a dime. There was a time within my memory when people tried to make websites feel like semipublic places.

It’s not just that accounts are required on so many web sites. It’s also the ads and the tracking that you have to block. It’s the literacy in privacy that is needed to fend off the inevitable cookie prompts. It’s the algorithms taking control over what we see online. It’s the countless requests for a “good review” whenever you buy anything. It’s distinguishing the lies and the self-serving bullshit from the good stuff. The web now is so user-hostile.

Lately I’ve been noticing things that, if invented today, would require an account to use, but do not because they were invented before the digital age.

Example – Charging stations: You need an app and an account for every single brand of charger you want to plug your car into. But at gas stations, you can fill up, before paying even, and all you need is cash or a credit card. No credentials required.

Next up – Radio: Can you imagine if someone invented today a way to transmit sound over the air? It sure as heck wouldn’t be free.

Ever been told or hinted by a doctor that you’re fine and you should see a psychologist? This hits home for me because I’ve supported my wife through things like this.

According to Dr. Matthew Burke, a cognitive neurologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, it’s one of the most neglected areas in conventional medicine: How pain or other factors can modulate the brain.

“We’ve failed, really, to address some of these complex border-zones between medical and neurological illness and psychiatric illness,” he said.

This is so important. I’ve been there, home from the hospital after a health scare, trying to handle unexpected mental or physiological repercussions, and finding ourselves on a bumpy road to recovery without a map.

There are protocols for people recovering from cancer or heart disease, he said, yet when he was discharged from the hospital, there was little follow-up, and no discussion of potential mental health ramifications from his illness.

When you’re shopping for a car:

Hey come buy our cars, they’re so reliable you won’t believe it. Quality is what we do. Here’s all the awards that we won repeatedly. When you buy with us, you get peace of mind.

When you’ve made your choice and you’re negotiating to buy it:

Oh we really recommend that you get the extended warranty. Think about it if anything breaks. Repairs are so expensive, and you never know, things happen. That console display? That’s $5,000 right there. The manufacturer warranty only gets you so far. You really need to protect your investment.

Sometimes you want to link to a web search but not impose your choice of search engine onto your readers. Seems like we need a way to launch the user’s browser default. We have mailto for your email app. Why not search for your favourite search engine?

I watched The Good Nurse today. That’s two movies in a row based on actual events. And I realized that those are our documentaries now. We watch a Hollywood movie and walk away thinking we know what really happened, when what we actually get are variably fictionalized accounts.

Seems dangerous. But at the same time, I don’t see many people willing to sit through a 2-hour documentary. Best to use the movie as a platform to dig further into the real thing.

She Said is one of those movies that should not be rated or ranked. But as someone who did not know how Weinstein was brought to justice and how #MeToo started, I found the movie to be really well told, well paced, and incredibly acted.

I can’t imagine how emotional it must have been to do many of these scenes. It’s absolutely unacceptable that women live in fear in any aspect of society, but unfortunately it continues. Let’s keep hearing these messages until it hopefully stops.