Today’s pet peeve…


So I’m playing with a lot of .. well, what can best be described as “Web 3.0” technologies: things like Chef, Docker, etc., and they all have one annoying thing in common.

See, the “old UNIX way” traditionally dictates that programs “succeed quietly, fail noisily”. That is, they print nothing on success, and an error message with a description of the error (preferably machine parsable, if you don’t set the error level to a specific number for a specific error, ie: the famous 404 error).

Now, in comes these new kids on the block. They consistently write programs that fail silently. WTF? When I type a “command do something” and I typo it, what good does it do to fail quietly? What good is systemd scripts that insist on telling me “ok, pid 591” rather than just quietly writing the pid to a file in /tmp or something?

Quiet succeed, noisy fail is still important. Most of the basic startup routines (even today, under systemd) are bash scripts. And the user doesn’t need a screenful of [OK} STARTING PROCESS.. just print the ones that fail so we can SEE THE DAMN THING rather than having to (hopefully) catch the error message on startup.

Stop it, kids. We designed UNIX for a reason. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature, and I’ll keep pounding the pulpit with this. Read about the UNIX Philosophy before you change things. Understand that UNIX’s strength was its simplicity: it was created with tools that did exactly one thing, and did it well.

“Emergency” travel..

Just in case there’s a person out there that doesn’t read my Facebook and/or my Toob channel I’m making a quasi-emergency trip to Portland. At the moment I’m in this diner in the middle of Idaho eating the kind of biscuits, gravy, and egg blue plate you’d expect from a truck stop diner in the middle of nowhere.

I’m kind-of reflective on this trip. It’s been a good trip so far (I’m only about 24 hours into it) .. and I feel actually pretty good. When I drove the other way coming to Denver I felt like absolute shit, and while there were moments on that journey that were … well, we’ll just say “fun” in polite company … I made it, tired and exhausted.

This time, I’ve made it a little over half way, driving straight from Denver to Twin Falls, ID. I was tired when I arrived in Twin Falls, I was exhausted, but not unreasonably so. I was coherent long enough to check in to the hotel, do my medication provisions for the week, and even play a little Yahtzee!

I did get to use my new Verizon Hum for the first time. A check engine light has come on, and there’s a “mechanics assistance” button you can push and they use the CAN data to give you an idea of what might be wrong (and dispatch a tow truck if necessary). Apparently I’ve got some random flywheel timing problem. I’m going to stop at a Chevy dealership in Portland and have them give me a quick diagnosis. The car is still covered under a warranty, so hopefully this can be a quick fix and I can be on the road back home once Silvia’s ready to go in the van.

So, looking forward to Portland. Two hours and I’ll be back in the Beaver State.

Can’t sleep snowflakes will eat me.

Complete side note.

I’m beginning to understand a lot about myself lately (probably the result of the meditation demands of my new group). As much as I try not to show it, I have a lot of anxiety and pent-up fears. I suspect that this is what living a life “on the spectrum” can do to you, my apparent high-functioning notwithstanding.

Part of my ability to function with “farmers” is my exact ability to hide hunter instincts when they don’t suit, although they are there. And the downside to being a hunter is you are always afraid there’s something bigger than you out there with you in mind as dinner. I’ve been observing a lot in housecats their awkward position as predator AND prey (given the small size of felis silvestris) and how many of the behaviors we find rather adorable about cats are actually ways of them dealing with that conflicting instinct. The love of high places. The sleeping in boxes. Raven’s fear of the Grabby Ape.

Medications are wonderful things. One happy accident of some of my recent problems is I got put on a sleep medication that has anti-anxiety properties. Well, that, and maybe the aforementioned meditation is helping as well. I can start to see how anxiety plays into my reactions and interactions, and that I’ve spent a lot of my life in a state of fear.

Maybe that’s what L. has been trying to tell me all these years. I have nothing to be afraid of, after all. I live in a time in history where war is rarely at my doorstep, crime is going down all the time, and (for the moment) I live in a place with freedoms and employment opportunities so that I’m well fed, well medicated, and more or less warm. Day to day, hour to hour, I really have nothing to worry about.

But I still can’t sleep. Snowflakes will eat me.

The Real Reason I’m For $15/hour

It’s no secret to anybody who hangs around me that I’m for the $15/hour minimum wage. But you may not understand all the reasons I’m for it. It may not be why you think.

I truly believe in the concept of The Singularity. We are approaching a society whereby people don’t actually “need” to work to get by. We grow enough food to feed the entire planet (so much so that we can write 40% off of all the food we make as “spoilage” in transport) and we do it with about 2% of the population involved in agriculture.  Automation has turned the family farm into a machine, growing uniform crops that are picked, packaged, and trucked to market with ruthless efficiency, ever in mind of the commodity status of most of the foods we eat.

And the amount of automation that can still be performed is staggering, and increasing.  Because, let’s face it, farm work sucks.  It’s a lot of drudgery and back-breaking work.  Fuck it, let a machine do it.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 has the effect of making human labor too expensive to waste.  It forces the issues of “how do we support a society where there isn’t enough work for everybody” to the forefront.  Because regardless of what you might think, there isn’t.  I strongly disagree with those who say “well, automation took jobs before, and look what happened: better jobs came along”, and while that might be true for some that’s rapidly changing.

I call this the “third wave” of automation going on now.  There’s a big difference between the automation of the first two.  The First Wave of Automation was the “leverage” phase.  That phase was dominated by using machines as “leverage” of human labor.  The human operator was still highly involved in the process… think of a farmer using a tractor pulling a hay bailer.  You still needed the human to drive the tractor, and typically humans still needed to handle the hay to load it.

Second wave automation went beyond leverage.  Second wave automation was when we started to make machines “think”, at least at a primitive level.  Telephone exchanges went from a human operator to a meshed network of machines that not only handled calls based upon numbers dialed but actually made decisions about how to route around damage and congestion.  Computers started talking to each other over this network, and started automating deliveries.  As products were sold at stores, the computer could order more all on its own.  “JIT” (Just In Time) manufacturing and delivery techniques are the pinnacle of Second Wave Automation, and is the herald of the Next Wave.

Third Wave Automation combines the two: the muscle leverage of the First Wave and the thinking leverage of the Second Wave.  We are now building machines that do.. well, anything.  You want to build a machine to make burgers?  Totally doable (and you can bet McDonald’s already has one in their labs).  3D printing technologies have created that Third Wave: if you can draw it, you can “build” it.  Machines to self-drive?  Here they come.  Machines that program themselves?  Yes, what do you think Watson is, anyway?

Third Wave Automation is coming for your job.  It’s coming for mine, it’s only a matter of time.  What jobs will exist in the near future?  How many people do you think need to fix these robots, and how long until they simply fix themselves?

Here’s an example that should scare you if you think “you have to work to eat” is how the future economics are going to work out.  How long until you can live in San Francisco, hail a self-driving cab, it breaks down on the way.  No problem, self-driving car is aware enough to know it’s not moving, it hails you a replacement car, and you ride away in the second car.  What happens to the first?

A self-driving tow truck picks it up, drives it to the recycling yard where it is dismantled (automatically, of course) for parts, and the factory JIT delivers a new “disposable” self-driving cab to town.  They maybe even predicted this failure based upon a MTBF model and have the replacement already there.

Before you get home from your little jaunt to the Embarcadero the car that broke down has already been dismantled and the replacement is the one that takes you home.

This is possible TODAY with the technology we have.  The only thing stopping it is that at the moment it costs less in human labor to deal with the broken cab, the tow truck, and in some cases even the driver.

Guess what the $15/hour minimum wage does.  It makes human labor less competitive with robotic labor.  And it should be: humans can be injured, suffer long-term disabilities and repetitive stress, and overall a lower quality of life when forced to do drudge work.   As a human being, I (and you, and even the Hispanic farm worker) are worth more than $15/hour, period, and we’re worth having a quality of life free of such drudgery.

Is your life worth $15/hour?  Mine isn’t, it’s worth a lot more than that.  So I’m willing to let the machine do the work for me, and I will rejoice on the day I can order a cheap burger and have a robot gleefully fling out that hockey puck that has never been touched by human hands.  That’s one less person subjected to the indignity of wage-slave labor.

What does this mean for jobs is an exercise left for the reader.  But I feel it is going to escalate the arrival of the robotic Singularity, and it’s a future I welcome.

No, you don’t need an app for that.

App fatigue.

It’s a real problem, and something that’s beginning to even rub me the wrong way. Every place has an app. The convenience store has one. My grocery store has one. My credit card has one. My bank has one. Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and the kiosk on the corner has one The pretzel kiosk at the mall has one..

Knock it the fuck off, people.

Not that long ago people were getting burned out on carrying “frequent shopper cards” for all the places they shopped. Walgreens, Kroger, AutoZone, Chipotle, Blockbuster, and the coffee stand punchcard fattened our wallets needlessly.

Today my phone is stuffed with apps for places. And I’m getting sick and tired of it.

The worst part is the apps we have often don’t work. Walgreens wants me to use Android Pay for everything, which is fine.. except it hardly ever works when I need it to. Walmart Pay also seems to never work when I need it, and I spend five minutes at the cash register scanning the stupid barcode, fiddling with my fingerprint, tapping things on my phone… when I could have simply handed them my debit card and been out the door.

If your app doesn’t make my shopping easier (or give me a substantial discount) you can stuff your app up your ass.

One accident. One fatality. 130 Million Miles.

So, let me get this straight. Tesla’s autopilot has logged millions of miles with not so much as a fender bender. This is the first.

Is it worth a NHTSA investigation? Certainly, as with any new technology from airbags to anti-lock brakes the first time there’s the potential for an unintended consequence it’s worthy of a proper investigation.

However, the news media is going apeshit over this. OMG, a self-driving car was in a fatal accident.

Two things to keep in mind. The first is that even if the car was being driven conventionally (like, with a driver) the same accident could have happened. Neither the driver nor the autopilot system could see the truck backlit by a white sky.

But the second is that this is the first fatality after 130 million miles. On average, automobiles in general go 60 million miles between fatalities.

So right there, even before we look into the cause, the autopilot was statistically safer, by over a factor of two. And even more importantly, now that the system has had an accident in a particular way, it’s possible to engineer the software so this exact accident can never happen again.

So not only is a Tesla on autopilot safer, it can only get even more safe as time goes on.

The point of self-driving cars is not that they will be perfect, just that they will be safer than human drivers.. and they are. Period, end of story.


A year ago I began this adventure… I loaded up a few things I care about into my VW and started driving to Denver. If Google Location History is accurate, about this time exactly I was rumbling across the Oregon Desert and getting ready for the potatoes to not eat me.

It’s been a strange year. My health is better than it has been in months, maybe over a year. I have a great job, amazing cow-orkers (Matt has built one hell of a team out here!), a stable place to live, and plenty to keep my occupied. On the downside, I’ve lost about a fifth of my right foot, I need to walk with a cane most days to stay stable, and my blood sugar levels have been “controlled”, but still hover around 200 (which is double what it should be). I have a BiPAP machine to help me sleep, although admittedly I’m still getting used to the infernal thing.

I miss Oregon. I miss friends in Portland, Eugene, and Bend. I miss driving to (and through) the Gorge. I REALLY am missing the coast lately, as one of my favorite things to do on hot days was disappear somewhere out that way. I miss Grocery Outlet (we don’t have them here in Colorado), and I’m sick of driving to Colorado Springs just to get my Bros brews.

But life is good again, if sometimes a little “weird” (which for me means the stuff that “normal” people do every day, like make a car payment and worry about how the rent is getting paid).

I still have money glitches every once and a while. Lots of medical bills and hospital stays the past year. But as long as this cable company keeps me employed things are ok.

I may not always show it (after all, my patron saint is Grumpy Cat), but I’m really appreciative of the life I have today and I wonder how I survived the past two years after my heart attack. There were days I wasn’t sure if I was going to survive: between the dizzy spells, the heart palpitations, and the lack of any kind of money to eat it was a lot to endure.

But I am alive. I am doing well. I am even thriving here…

How to piss me off (and the wrong way to mass E-mail customers)

OK, we all know how anti-spam I can be.  I know, it’s a legacy from when I was young, the Internet was new, and everybody had a .edu address and were generally good citizens.  Then, one day, there was a bunch of new people out there, getting Internet access from *gasp* COMMERCIAL ENTITIES like … well, like Kaiwan.Com, an early employer of mine.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that some E-mail marketing is here to stay.  It’s the equivalent of junk mail in your postal box.  You do remember those, right?  A few times a week your mailbox would be stuffed with flyers from places like Circuit City, Best Buy, JCPenney, and Pizza Hut.  You’d shrug, pick the few things you might be interested in, and threw the rest in the trash.  This kind of mass marketing is wasteful (of paper and the postal service’s time and energy), people often complained, but everybody looked for the latest Sears mini-catalog around Christmas time.  At least they did in my household.

So today we have this mass E-mail marketing thing, what we in the olden days called “spam”.  UCE, that is, “unsolicited commercial E-mail” has become quasi-legitimate, and I can accept that some spam in my inbox is inevitable, and even though a good chunk of UCE is scams between Google’s filters and my own most of the downright bogus shit winds up in “Trash” and I never see it.

Then there’s legitimate companies that you sign up for their E-mails and… well, this happens.

For those with low-res screens (or no visual at all) there are four E-mails from Best Buy in one day.  Really?  FOUR?  And this is a pattern, by the way.  I can go back into my mail and see that Best Buy sends 2-3 messages a day going as far back as January.  and I apologize for the huge graphic, but I can’t think of anyway to really demonstrate this other than to show you…


You are getting the idea.  This goes back as far as Google keeps my old messages.  Every day there’s one.  Some days there are two.  On even more infrequent days there are 3, 4, or even one day, 5.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I actually WANT to know when there’s something pretty cool on sale at Best Buy.  Micro Center, one of their quasi-competitors (at least in the computer department), does this:



Notice a few things are missing.  One is E-mailed reciepts: those come from a different E-mail address, so I can filter them out.  Sales flyers come from a helpfully labelled “e-news” address.  Great, and I get 2-3 a week, maybe 4 some weeks… and some of those are when something amazing happens (like them getting Pi Zeros in stock this week!), so I’m generally happy with it.

Ultimately, Micro Center winds up winning.  Best Buy is “the boy who cried wolf”: I just ignore their E-mails entirely as there’s rarely something interesting in them (or for that matter, priced that remarkably).  Micro Center’s are a mixed bag: not always awesome, but usually “timely” and not obnoxiously timed.

And Best Buy had the GALL to treat me like it was MY FAULT I had signed up for so many ads.  Guys, no.  It should be trivial for you to install some kind of “awareness” filter on your outbound sales mail generator to say “hey, I’ve already E-mailed this person twice in the last 72 hours, maybe I need to back off a bit”.  Or just in general queue them up into one E-mail every week-ish.