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Sometimes you learn best from lessons of what not to do. In that spirit I forward on The Worst Volume Sliders Possible, a collective tour de force in Bad UX...

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Fascinating article in a recent issue of the Economist: Sacred Spaces explores the implications of how parking works in cities around the world, and calls into question some common assumptions.

It's not just interesting, I find it awfully timely and relevant for life in Somerville these days. I've wound up getting involved with the community over the past year or so, due to the massive building boom happening on our block. The warehouse across the street is being torn down and replaced by a 25-unit condo complex, and that's only one of three projects happening on the block right now. And the universal topic of argument -- the subject of probably half of all the discussion in the community meetings -- is parking.

It's a nasty bit of zero-sum. The builders want as much footprint as possible for their buildings, since that is where the money is; the result is that every one of them is begging for exemptions from the off-street parking requirements, which eat into the land where they could put More Building. And the city is encouraging this: their claim is that, if a unit only has one deeded parking space, it will only be bought by people with one car. After all, once the Green Line extension is completed (inshallah), we'll be within a few blocks of two subway stops, so people won't need cars.

Problem is, there is a lot of magical thinking in this, mostly because it omits the tragedy of the commons that is the on-street parking. This is already nightmarish (our street is narrow and chaotic), and parking permits are effectively free here. I think they're $40/year -- not enough to make anybody really consider whether they need a second car. So if the buyers of that new $600k condo have two cars, and it only comes with one parking space, it's easy to just decide to park on-street. And so the chaos grows.

Anyway -- the article is well worth a read. Among other things, it makes the point that this is a problem that can be solved with economics; the problem is that doing that without getting murdered politically is nearly impossible...

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I just came across this marvelous essay on the SCA fun/authenticity false dichotomy, and a different way of looking at it. It was written some years ago, but is still worthwhile reading for any SCAdian. (It's from Tibicen, who some of you might remember from days of yore.)

I totally agree with the philosophy here: while I'm pretty indisciplined about it, I'd say that "atmospherist" nicely describes where I think the Society is at its best, and I think we still hamstring ourselves by under-emphasizing it. Indeed, while I've often thought of myself as a "funnist", I've always been clear that the distinctive fun of the SCA -- what makes this club particularly fun -- is the atmosphere...

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It occurs to me that not everyone has yet come across the Twitter feed of Donaeld the Unready and associated accounts. There is a growing collection of these, all interlinked from different viewpoints, and they are particularly perfect for the SCAdian -- of-the-moment political satire, all framed in terms of Anglo-Saxon England. I think my current faves are the political tapestries of Wulfgar the Bard. Check it out...

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For the relatively serious programmers, I commend the article Asynchronous Programming and Scala. It's somewhat dense stuff, and as written is entirely in Scala, but the principles are pretty generic. It's all about how to think about asynchronous programming, and makes some important high points:

  • Asynchrony is not the same thing as Parallelism, although they are closely related.
  • Callbacks are a wretched way to deal with async, since they don't really compose. (I have learned this one through much pain.)
  • Futures and Promises are less wretched, but still problematic.
  • If you really want to do this stuff right, proper functional-programming techniques rock.

Of course, this is largely a rationale and advertisement for the Monix Library, which is a more or less state of the art library for "doing it right" -- but it's a pretty compelling rationale.

None of this is easy: he's summarizing stuff that's taken me four years to really internalize. (One of my medium-term but relatively challenging goals is to rewrite the pipeline for the QL language inside Querki from being Future-centric to Monix-centric: the result would be vastly more efficient and reliable.)

But it's important material, especially if you're designing systems. I encourage you to read and absorb it. Feel free to ask me "what the heck is that bit talking about?" questions, or even questions about the syntax and functions in the examples -- I always enjoy burbling about programming in general and Scala in particular...

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This one's just for the programmers/architects, and mainly for the experienced ones: Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Building Reactive Systems.

The more you're used to building traditional Tomcat-plus-RDBMS applications, the weirder you're going to find this, but it's well worth reading and absorbing. It describes a few of the assumptions underlying modern, scalable, so-called "reactive" architectures, each of which gores one of the traditional sacred cows you're probably used to. What it all boils down to is that it's entirely possible to build seriously efficient, seriously scalable online services -- you just have to change a lot of well-worn habits.

(Querki is built around all of this stuff, except that I still have some blocking I/O in the MySQL code; replacing that with a better approach such as Slick is becoming an increasingly high priority.)

And this reminds me: among other things, it links to the paper Life Beyond Distributed Transactions. If you're playing at the Senior Software Engineer or above level, this is one of the most important papers of recent years, and you should read it if you haven't already done so. It was the paper that finally demonstrated that the emperor has no clothes: that the traditional transaction-oriented model of data processing doesn't scale well, and that you need better approaches if you're going to compete in the modern world.

For all that it calls itself "An Apostate's Opinion", it has become something like the new gospel. It has inspired enormous ferment and evolution over the past decade, and led to radically new architectures (such as the event-sourced approach that Querki is now mostly built on). If you are doing architecture for systems that are intended to scale, you need to understand this stuff in order to understand how the industry is evolving...

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Laurie Penny is a journalist who has, in recent months, been following the Milo Yiannopoulos National Crassness Tour. It's made for delicious reading: she is utterly unsympathetic to Milo, but as far as I can tell he's enjoyed having her around as a sparring partner, so she's gotten to see what the whole shit-show looks like from the inside.

Her most recent post (which I suspect may be the last in this particular series) is especially fascinating, and well worth a read. It follows the Milo story over the past few weeks -- from the Berkeley riot to Milo suddenly becoming a Conservative un-person due to finally crossing a bridge too far -- and reflects on it.

The bulk of the article is not about Milo, and that's part of what makes it so interesting. Rather, it focuses primarily on the idiot children who have been following him around -- the GamerGate-type alt-right groupies who've been treating him as some sort of prankster-god -- and how completely incapable they are of coping with a world in which their side has, for now, won. She gives a sense of who they are as people, without even slightly forgiving them for what they have done.

Along with that, she makes a point we should be remembering and echoing: that the sudden crushing of Milo lays bare the hypocrisy underneath the right wing's cloak of First Amendment rights.

Not a short article, but highly recommended. She's a fine writer and analyst, and this is a great corrective to our tendency to see the right wing as some monolithic and impregnable fortress of evil -- quite to the contrary, she shows just how fragile some of them are, and in the most terribly practical sense that's worth understanding from a tactical perspective...

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On the scarier side of things, here's an essay that nicely puts all the pieces together -- essentially arguing that the blizzard of chaos coming from the White House is largely a distraction while they set up far more dangerous plans. Once again, I can't say for certain that this *is* what's happening -- but it's very consistent with what we can see so far.

Read it, and pass it around: seriously, it's important for as many people as possible to be alert to the signs. With any luck, this will be a Y2K moment -- a disaster that never happens. But as with Y2K, I suspect the only reason it might not happen is because enough people know about it, are prepared for it, and are preventing it.

I also concur with the implication here, that the Problem increasingly appears to be Bannon. Trump still appears to be a chaotic moron, but he's likely being manipulated by someone with a far more coherent and dangerous agenda. Getting Trump out of the White House isn't as immediately critical as getting Bannon out. So the question becomes: how do we, the people, get the point across to Trump that he is being *manipulated* by Bannon? That seems like the most effective way to neutralize Bannon -- Trump's ego is a mighty force, and convincing him that he is perceived as *weak* because of Bannon seems like a potentially good tactic...
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Just had the @RoguePOTUSStaff Twitter account pointed out to me.  This has apparently brewed up in the past few days -- it claims to be White House insiders who have had enough and are going to just leak away.  I don't know whether it's real or not, but it's impressively *plausible*, including being just paranoid enough to have the ring of truth.

It's kind of fascinatingly fun, and weirdly encouraging: it paints a White House that is *completely* in disarray, and trying desperately not to fly apart at the seams in factional warfare.  (They've coined the hashtag #UnholyTrinity for the alliance of Pence, Ryan and Priebus, who appear to be more or less at war with Bannon.)  And it links to a whole nest of related "insider" accounts that purport to be at various government agencies.  Check it out.

We'll see if it proves to be real.  But it's a nice reminder that the social-media game cuts both ways, and the good guys can use it just as effectively as the bad...
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[Mainly for the programmers, and this time mainly for folks who have to touch web browsers.]

I'm currently catching up on old articles I've bookmarked to read later (more links may come), and I just read through this marvelous discussion of Scala.js, the Scala-to-Javascript compiler. In it, Li Haoyi (one of the first serious users of Scala.js, and one of the most important ecosystem developers) explains why Scala.js is not only one of the best ways to develop for the Web, but why he decided from very early on that it was likely to *become* one of the best.

It's a compelling argument, and after 2+ years of heavy Scala.js use, I totally agree: it's the first environment for developing this stuff that I've actually *liked*. The article is long but recommended, and I'm happy to answer any questions...
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I think I may have mentioned DHMIS before, but now that the series has finally hit its official final episode it's worth another pointer.

Don't Hug Me I'm Scared is hard to describe -- I guess I would summarize it as Sesame Street Meets Brazil (on LSD). Technically it's very Muppetoid, and the videos start out chirpy and pseudo-educational on topics like "Ideas", "Computers" and "Dreams", but bear with it: each episode gradually gets weirder, and by the end of the series the whole thing is a fuzzy Kafka nightmare.

Arguably NSFW, not due to sex or anything so much as sheer WTF, and it's a bit hard to say whether it *means* anything, but it's weirdly fascinating. Half a dozen short episodes, totaling half an hour or so, recommended for those who like an occasional dose of High Weirdness and trippy horror...
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[For the programmers]

Just came across this lovely little article, from a former Java programmer reflecting on having spent 5 years in Scala instead. Highly recommended to any programmers who are curious about Scala but intimidated (especially Java programmers) -- this outlines some of the key advantages of the system, and debunks a bunch of the common misconceptions about it...
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Those interested in the Democratic side of the brouhaha should check out this fine summary of the tradeoffs. He doesn't really take sides, but I think concisely boils down what's going on here -- what Sanders and Clinton *represent* in this election, and the pros and cons of both those tendencies. It's a good step-back-and-think, and well worth considering, whichever candidate you prefer, to help understand where the other side is coming from if nothing else...
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Those who are interested in politics and economics might enjoy this three-part series over on Medium. (The link is to part 3; follow the links there to parts 1 and 2.) This trio of articles is called "Relitigating 2010", and is a serious, principled look at the arguments that the original bailout of Greece was a gigantic mistake, and that something else should have been done instead.

It's one of the better pieces of counterfactual analysis I've seen, digging deep into the finances, economics and politics of where things were then and what really happened. It's nicely even-handed, and winds up admitting some possibilities, but mostly argues, persuasively, that people making this point (especially in the US) are deeply misunderstanding the reality of what was going on in Europe in 2010, and that their crisis was very different in some critical ways from our crisis. (And that, the economic arguments aside, folks are mostly glossing over the political realities.)

It's wonkish and detailed, only for the folks who enjoy politics and economics, but it's well-written, not too long, and refreshingly willing to point out the underlying monetary mistakes that turned this from a crisis into a bit of a disaster. Worthwhile reading for serious fans of The Economist...
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Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] goldsquare for the link to this article, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of sangfroid but a good corrective to the growing sense of panic. Quoting the same chunk [livejournal.com profile] goldsquare did, which I think sets the tone nicely:
Bringing things up to the modern era, we look at the period from Greece’s independence in the 1830’s to today. In this roughly 200-year period, Greece has been in default to its creditors during roughly 90 of these years, or half the time. To a person with any historical awareness, being told that Greece is on the verge of a default is like hearing Dean Martin is on the verge of a martini.
I confess, I've been expecting a Grexit and default for months -- while it's going to be a bad scene economically, the politics have looked pretty much intractable since Syriza got elected. They had painted themselves into a corner with unrealistic election promises (out of naivete as much as anything, it sounds like), and nobody on the EU side -- and yes, this has clearly been a matter of sides for quite some time now -- has been willing to admit that maybe the austerity thing got pushed too far.

Everyone's basically doom-and-glooming about an imminent breakup of Europe, which seems overdone and then some. This whole episode has mostly illustrated that the EU, as a polity, is still very immature, and is trying to have it both ways, ignoring the tensions between the sovereign nations within it and the requirements of a large-scale monetary system. Europe definitely needs to start growing up and figuring out what it wants to be, but Greece leaving doesn't mean everything is doomed -- it just shows what can happen if they don't start actually wrestling with the hard issues...
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Here's a delightful little toy: The Scale of the Universe is an interactive graphic that lets you scroll from the very largest to the very smallest sizes possible, with representative examples at each size. (Note: it has background music, but you can turn that off. Also, it is Flash-based, so may not work in all browsers.)

I've seen versions of this done as film, but there's something just plain fun about being able to scroll in and out to compare sizes. Well worth checking out, and a nice little educational tool...
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Just came across this nice little article from last week -- the Oatmeal got a chance to ride in one of Google's prototype self-driving cars, and gives his thoughts. It's an interesting and thoughtful read, and unusually for the Oatmeal, it's SFW. Well worth the read: he makes a compelling argument that while, yes, they're not perfect, they have the potential to make a lot of peoples' lives better, and it's worth rooting for the project to succeed...
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h/t to [livejournal.com profile] siderea for the pointer to what may be the most magnificent exercise in scathing sarcasm I've ever read. Worth a read, for perspective if nothing else...
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One interesting little article from LinkedIn today: The Atlantic's Economic History of the Last 2000 Years in One Little Graph. It doesn't say anything terribly new or surprising if you know your history, but it vividly illustrates the sudden changes in how wealth *works*, driving home that the economics of the past 200 years are qualitatively different from all of human history before them. It's worth also reading Part II, which goes into a little more depth about the shift that occurred when "productivity" suddenly began to diverge from culture to culture.

And on the lighter but more horrible side, there is Forbes' list of 89 Business Cliches That Will Get Any MBA Promoted to Middle Management and Make Them Totally Useless. This is exactly what it sounds like: a fine collection of cliches, and what they tend to mean when pointy-haired managers spout them. (The frightening part is that I have actually used most of them at one time or another, although I try to at least *mean* something when I do so.)
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Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] mindways for the pointer to this long but very useful rant on the subject of "That Guy". In this case, that guy whose male privilege is swinging rather visibly in the breeze.

It's actually a pretty interesting pair with the pointer from the other week about Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying. That one was basically about how not to be a Rich Asshole; this one is how not to be a Male Asshole. And it's worthwhile reading for any guy, as a reminder if nothing else. While I knew pretty much everything in it by now, I learned most of those points through hard lessons of screwing up and being left trying to fix the resulting damage.

(Bonus link, also from [livejournal.com profile] mindways: a beautiful rebuttal-by-metaphor of the right-wing claim that you mustn't have portrayals of homosexuality in the media because it is "too complicated" for children to understand.)


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