Archive for the 'general geek' Category

Maslow’s hierarchy of me me me

When I was in Thailand recently, I was wondering whether the ever-popular Maslow’s hierarchy of needs triangle had ever been tested against Asian cultures, in which the emphasis is on family and community rather than individualism.

When I asked on Twitter, Daniel pointed me to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need: Psychology Myth Busting #1 by Joe Leech who concludes

Self-actualisation, the idea of people becoming the best they can be is a very individualistic idea. Asian cultures are about the community and family that is collectivist in focus. Placing this very individual goal at the top highlights Maslow’s background, a man living in the individualistic USA.

There is also little evidence that the model is the same for men and women.

Nevalina pointed me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: An Islamic critique which concludes

It is the basic line of the Islamic approach to strike a balance between material and spiritual needs in any situation of human existence, in times of saturation and need, stability and change, health and illness, happiness and distress. A model of a hierarchy of the different needs like Abraham Maslow’s can therefore not give credit to the reality of the interaction between material and spiritual aspects of the human being in different life situations, even if the spiritual aspect was to be named first.

It’s said that Maslow was influenced by the Blackfoot tribe of native Americans, but misunderstood them. In Maslow’s hierarchy connected to Blackfoot beliefs, Karen Lincoln Michel writes up a lecture presented by University of Alberta professor Cathy Blackstock at the 2014 conference of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

“First of all, the triangle is not a triangle. It’s a tipi,” Blackstock said. “And the tipis in the Blackfoot (tradition) always went up and reached up to the skies,” she said.

Another difference noted by Blackstock is that self-actualization is at the base of the tipi, not at the top where Maslow placed it. In the Blackfoot belief, self-actualization is the foundation on which community actualization is built. The highest form that a Blackfoot can attain is called “cultural perpetuity.”

So it looks as if a white academic male in hyper-individualist America thought that everyone in the world is like him. What a surprise. I hereby rename his over-exposed diagram as Maslow’s hierarchy of me me me and forbid you from ever using it again.

One weird trick made me a better coder/ speaker/ product person

One trick that made me a better programmer/ speaker/ product person: relax. This sounds counter-intuitive in an industry where all-night coding sessions are seen as a virtue, and you’re supposed to have umpty-nine side projects on Github that you do in your spare time. (And we wonder why older people, women with children and people with disabilities are under-represented…)

But for me, resting is when ideas come. The best ideas come in the shower when I’ve not long woken up, or on a Friday evening when I’m drinking wine and listening to music. Your mileage may vary, of course; that’s why I titled this “made me a better programmer”.

When I tweeted this, Phillipp replied

I would go even further and say “rest good!”, because many people are aware of taking a break, but their breaks aren’t resting at all. They still allow to be flooded with information constantly…

This is an excellent point. One of my favourite ways of relaxing is reading. But I’m reading material of my choice, not being waterboarded by the information firehose of Twitter or the web. And if I’m reading, it’s because I want to — I could equally well be listening to music, or writing and recording music.

I advise reading eclectically, about anything that interests you. Even if you’re reading about particle physics, neurology, history or fiction, you’re seeing how other people present information, which can help you be a better presenter. And so many new ideas come from the unexpected collision of different disciplines that that the more widely you read, the more chances you have of seeing parallels and comparisons that others haven’t seen.

For me, relaxing is when ideas come; reading (and talking to a range of people ) is where ideas come from.

Bonus tip: always wear groovy shirts. A groovy shirt makes a groovy mind.

How to set up a website: a guide for the alt-right

I was saddened to read the alt-right describing Facebook and YouTube’s removal of Infowars as “simultaneously purg[ing] him from the internet“:

I assume Mr Tracey has not heard of the World Wide Web, which Tim Berners-Lee invited the public to try 27 years ago yesterday:

(Alternatively, perhaps Mr. Tracey has heard of it, and is simply distorting the facts to mislead people – surely not?)

Anyway, this new-fangled “World Wide Web” allows anybody to make what we in the trade call “a website”.

Mr Jones’ Infowars site already has one, which hasn’t been “purged” by anyone. (I won’t link to it because, well, ewwwww. Don’t “wah wah censorship” at me; my website, my rules.) But, as a service to alt-right frothers everywhere, here’s how you can set up your own.

You could go to wordpress.com where, for as little as £3 a month, you can host your site with a custom domain name (so www.horriblebullshit.com instead of horriblebullshit.wordpress.com). Alt-right people will need to exercise a little verbal continence to comply with their user guidelines:

The following activity/material isn’t allowed on WordPress.com … Illegal content and conduct.
… you cannot post a genuine call for violence—or death—against an individual person, or groups of persons … Don’t share someone’s personal information without their consent.

Note that these pretty laissez-faire terms of service do not curtail your free speech; WordPress.com is a business and isn’t obliged to take your money. The American first amendment applies only to the government.

As an alternative to WordPress.com, Wix allows you to make your own pretty website with a drag and drop builder, and host it with them for a small amount of money. Again, a modicum of decency is required; you can’t publish stuff

which may be deemed as defamatory, libelous, obscene, harassing, threatening, incendiary, abusive, racist, offensive, deceptive or fraudulent, encouraging criminal or harmful conduct.

Squarespace and Weebly also allow you to build and host websites (although I haven’t tried them. I used to work for Wix).

Tumblr will host your content and videos, with community guidelines:

Don’t encourage violence or hatred. Don’t make violent threats or statements that incite violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism. Especially don’t do so on the basis of things like race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, gender identity, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation.

I think such rules on a website that somebody else owns are entirely legitimate. As clause 19 of Terms of Service on Alex Jones’ Infowars website says

If you violate these rules, your posts and/or user name will be deleted.

Remember: you are a guest here. It is not censorship if you violate the rules and your post is deleted. All civilizations have rules and if you violate them you can expect to be ostracized from the tribe.

If you don’t want to trust a third party with your data, good on you! I’m all for an web of independent authors. (Or perhaps you can’t even muster up the good manners to be hosted by one of these services, in which case, bad on you. Have a good hard look at yourself in the mirror.)

It’s very easy these days to register a domain name (Google it), set up the free, open-source blogging WordPress software, choose any of thousands of free themes, and publish to your heart’s content, especially if you choose a host that specialises in WordPress hosting. You might have to pay slightly more, and do a little bit more work to make sure all software is updated and secure — but that’s a price I’m willing to pay in order to own and control my own content.

So there you are, alt-right folks. I’m an atheist liberal, so I despise the divisive nonsense you excrete. But I love that the Web allows everyone to publish, and wouldn’t want you to feel left out because you’re misinformed by people like Michael Tracey who don’t understand the web.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible no-one will visit your website to read how Bin Laden faked the moon landings in order to draw attention from the fact that Marilyn Monroe was a CIA-funded muslim who invented income tax and fluoridated water in order to seize your guns and pollute your precious bodily fluids. But that’s freedom.

Happy hating!

Out of office

The BBC has a report on Some of the funniest out-of-office replies. It’s a summertime filler story but I noticed them quoting Tyler Brûlé who wrote an article suggesting that people who set out-of-office messages simply aren’t committed enough. This is another example of “presenteeism”, one of the reasons that British workers don’t take time off sick when they’re ill.

I love my holidays; I work to live, not live to work, although I do love what I do. So I always set an Out of Office message on my employer’s corporate email. I’ve noticed through various jobs that most of the email I receive is either ephemera (“I’ll be late today”/ “Please note the fridge will be emptied on Thursday”) or conversations that go on for a few days, and then resolve themselves.

So my out of office says “I’m out until DD/MM/YYYY. If your message remains important when I return, please re-send it then, as I will delete all messages received before that date without reading”. And, apart from messages from direct bosses, I do just that.

Feel free to use my personal email out-of-office as inspiration:

OFF THE GRID!

I love you. I really do. The way your cute nose goes all crinkly when you smile – I dream about it and sigh. The way you toss your beautiful hair when you’re materialising from hyperspace makes my heart go pit-a-pat and skip a beat. Thinking of how your tentacles encircle my exoskeleton causes … well, let’s not go there.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m backpacking around India at the moment, and connectivity is limited. And there’s loads of stuff to look at that’s cooler than email, so it may take time until I reply. Until we see each other again, I yearn for your gentle caress and to hear the ethereal howling you make when extruding your egg sacs.

CUDDLES. xxx

Relax! Read a book! Go swimming! Play guitar! Get drunk! Learn karate! Do some yoga! Play tennis! Make love! Have fun with your friends and family! Remember, the graveyard is full of indispensable people.

Notes on Google’s HTTPS Usage report

On Friday’s reading list I linked to Google’s HTTPS Usage report which said that

Secure web browsing through HTTPS is becoming the norm. Desktop users load more than half of the pages they view over HTTPS and spend two-thirds of their time on HTTPS pages. HTTPS is less prevalent on mobile devices, but we see an upward trend there, too.

(The report is undated, but as the data continues after October 2016, I assume it’s current. As an aside, please put dates on research and stats you publish!)

Erik Isaksen tweeted me asking “I’m wondering why ‘especially on desktop”. I replied with my speculations, reproduced here in longer form :

Despite the rise in mobile use, desktop numbers aren’t declining, and perhaps many people do as I do: I might search and compare products on my mobile, but I actually do the purchases on my desktop machine. It’s a lot easier to type on a full-sized keyboard than a virtual keyboard, and purchases on the web are still laborious. I doubt it’s just me; generally, users abandon mobile purchases twice as often as desktop purchases. (That figure is from Google’s tutorial on the Payment Request API. I’m eagerly awaiting completion of Opera’s implementation.)

Similarly, I never do online banking on my mobile, I always use my desktop machine which has a direct line into it. (Even though I know that my bank’s website is HTTPS. But when I visit my branch, I notice their internal systems are all using IE6…)

It’s also worth bearing in mind that many of the regions that are mobile-first are home to large populations of unbanked people, or populations who don’t use credit cards much. There’s a lot less imperative to offer local websites securely when there is no money changing hands through them, while the services that are popular everywhere (Gmail, Facebook etc) are already HTTPS.

I’m told that HTTPS is comparatively expensive for site owners in the developing economies, and advertising revenues are declining as more and more people use Ad-blockers: 36% of smartphone users in Asia-Pacific use ad-blockers; two-thirds of people in India and Indonesia (source) and statistics from Opera’s built-inn ad-blocker shows that Indonesia has the most ads blocked per person in the region.

I suppose the crux of my speculation is: do people perform different kinds of tasks on mobile and desktop? Some tasks – banking, purchasing – require more convoluted input and are thus more suited to desktop devices with a full-sized keyboard, and such tasks are performed on HTTPS sites.

But this is only speculation. Anyone have any hard data on why HTTPS is more prevalent on desktop than mobile?

8 November 2016: Amelia Bellamy-Royds suggested on Twitter “No hard data, but my guess: secure websites for social media, email, etc., are replaced by native apps on mobile.” This certainly maps to my own experience, as I used the Gmail and Twitter apps on Android.

On Ad Blocking

At SynergyFest Mobile World Congress, I was asked a number of times whether Opera is looking at Ad Blockers and my general opinion of Ads. Here’s what I replied (with the BIG FAT DISCLAIMER that this is my personal opinion, and not that of Opera).

Firstly, yes; Opera is looking at Ad Blocking, and has been for quite a while (you’ll find lots of popular adblockers in our desktop extensions store). We know that Ads slow down the Web, and for many users, they’re expensive: the New York Times reported

Visiting the home page of Boston.com every day for a month would cost the equivalent of about $9.50 in data usage just for the ads.

Many Opera users in emerging economies pay much more of their income for web access than I do in the UK, and we want to make the web more affordable for those people.

(The fact that we’re looking at it shouldn’t be taken as a commitment to anything, by the way. We look at everything our consumers demand and our competitors implement, of course.)

But let’s talk about ads themselves. “Ads are evil” isn’t an mature argument; we need to be more nuanced than that.

For example, the other day I was reading a serious political article. Underneath it was a “related article” – just some clickbait nonsense about “The Best Breasts of 2015”, designed to sell advertising, and paginating excessively in order to maximise “hits” (whatever that means) and worsening the user experience. Now, I’ve got nothing against breasts (in fact, I’m at the age when I’m growing my own) but this is preposterous crap and deserves to die in a fire.

Later, I was reading a blog post about a band I like, and in it was a text ad, telling me that the band were playing near me the week later. I didn’t know that, so clicked through and bought a ticket – and the gig was very good.

Both were ads; one was stupid, the other was very useful. What’s the difference? To me, it was intrusiveness and (related to that) contextuality. An ad about a band next to an article about the band is highly contextual, and thus less intrusive. That it was a text ad, so light to download, made it less intrusive too, because it didn’t delay the page loading or make the screen reformat. Neither did it autoplay a heavy video, make noise or obscure the content.

So the challenge for Ad blocking is to block the crap and allow the good. I don’t know if anyone knows how to do that infallibly.

There’s also the question of revenues. We’ve been trained to expect “free” content on the web, and that’s largely paid for by ads. Before I joined Opera and became an Internet Tycoon/ over-promoted gobshite (delete as you see fit), I had a reasonably popular blog. (This very one! And still the same 2003 design!)

Because it was reasonably popular, I paid a fair amount of money for server costs etc. As sole breadwinner with two young children, those costs were a burden, so I ran ads which paid my hosting and bought me a few pints. I don’t know that I would have pulled the plug without those ads (I like the sound of my own voice too much) but other people in my situation might, and it would be a huge loss to the Web – and therefore to consumers – if independent content producers’ voices disappeared as a result of advertising revenues drying up.

So, Ad-blocking is a must, I think. But it needs to be done intelligently, and (probably) over a few iterations before we (Opera, and the wider web ecosystem) get it right. And if that encourages the advertising industry to do their work with less intrusive, bandwidth-hogging nonsense, and therefore more utility (to consumers and to their clients), we’ll all gain.

Update

Since I wrote this, Opera released a developer build of our desktop browser, with a built-in ad blocker that makes sites about 50% faster, and some 90% faster.

This led to good conversations about ads, publishers’ revenue and how the industry is changing:

Yosemite, Garageband 10.0.3, Soundfonts

My recent upgrade to Yosemite appeared to go without a hitch, until I fired up Garageband to tidy up the guitar line on my cello and harpsichord-driven song Girl In The Room.

To my dismay, the cello and harpsichord samples had disappeared, to be replaced by a very clunky generic synthesiser sound. After some investigation, it appeared that the new OS (or new Garageband 10.0.3) had nuked the soundfonts I’d put in Library/Audio/Sounds/Banks/. Perhaps I should have known this – but I’m new to Mac, and my experience on Windows is that it doesn’t hose your data when you upgrade. Ah well. Apple knows best, of course.

[Added 16 April. Looks like I’m not the only one.]

But, once I’d got the soundfonts from a backup and restored them to the correct folder, I’ve noticed that Garageband doesn’t see all of them. Other times, it sees a soundfont, lets me associate it with a track and plays it fine. Then I hit play again and the same track I heard seconds before is entirely silent although the dialogue box still claims the soundfont is associated with the track. (and what is a “user define bank”? User-defined, surely?)

Screen Shot of Garageband claiming - falsely- that the track is playing a cello soundfont

This basically means Garageband isn’t usable for me with soundfonts (which was the whole purpose of my buying it; I don’t want to be restricted to the excellent-quality but rather middle-of-the-road default samples).

But I’m a Mac/ GB n00b and am probably missing something obvious. Anyone got any advice?

In praise of community conferences

As part of my usual Autumn tour of European capitals (this year, Berlin, Bucharest, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Madrid, Oslo) I’ve been lucky enough to speak at three community conferences, which are always my favourite.

SmartWeb, Bucharest

The first was SmartWeb conference in Bucharest, Romania. This was started last year by Gabi Schiopu who was frustrated by the lack of front-end conferences in his country, but the cost of international travel and hotels is prohibitive, so decided to start his own. So he got an event organising partner (thank you, Evensys!) and invited speakers. It proved so successful that he ran it for a second year. As I’m paid to do international jetsetting by Opera, I asked that my speaker fee be converted into free tickets for deserving local university/ school students. We’re all pictured below with McCartney-esque cheesy grins and thumbs up. By an almost incredible co-incidence, we were all wearing matching Opera t-shirts.

students

I had great fun presenting and MCing the event, and Bucharest is a delightful city.

Fronteers, Amsterdam

The second was Fronteers in Amsterdam. This year is the seventh conference; I’ve been to four (and spoken at three, if you don’t count this year’s lightning talk the night before). Fronteers is a conference I like to attend because it’s deeply technical, which makes it pretty scary as a speaker but very useful for the audience – there’s no “How I get inspiration from, like, nature and moleskines” or “Iterate often and dare to fail, you’re awesome” stocking-filler on this stage. (And, what a stage it is! A giant cinema screen in the beautiful Pathé Tuschinski cinema. They could probably easily fill a bigger venue, but part of the Fronteers charm is this venue.)

My friend Shwetank Dixit spoke on WebRTC – A Front-end perspective and, as he’d come all the way from India, the rest of the Opera Devrel crew descended on Amsterdam to give moral support and drink Dutch beer (the best is called “jenever” – no more than 4 pints, though). As usual, lots to learn and lovely to meet the great and the good of Europe’s web developers there.

Fronteers is organised by a group of volunteers, and its charitable status means that they don’t turn a profit at the end of the year – all money made is reinvested back into other events and initiatives for the Dutch web development community. Yay. Thanks, Fronteers crew, for putting on the conference and looking after me so well (even though I wasn’t actually speaking).

ParisWeb, Mauritius

Only joking- Paris, duh. For its ninth year, I decided to ruin its reputation and give a talk on “Web Components- The Right Way” with Karl Groves of The Paciello Group. Here’s the video, and here are our slides:

What’s jolly nice about ParisWeb is that English talks are simultaneously translated into French, all talks are translated into sign language and transcribed live. The latter was useful to me as I find it easier to read French than to follow the spoken language (French people spell much better than they pronounce), especially technical French for hours. I was especially proud when the signing interpreter sought me out after my unscheduled lightning talk (video, starts at 18 mins) to thank me for giving her the opportunity to sign “rectal prolapse” and “ejaculate my own liquified spleen” which, inexplicably, she seldom gets to do.

Again, ParisWeb is run by a group of volunteers who do it for love of the web.

Vive les volunteers! Please do all you can to support these conferences and, if you’re invited to speak, accept – it’s part of contributing back.

Monday meh

(Being the second in an occasional series called “Monday meh”, in which I briefly fulminate about something that made me a bit grumpy.)

Carolyn Kopprasch’s brilliant etymological detective work The Power of Every Word: Why I Stopped Using “Actually” and “But” In My Customer Service Emails reveals the hidden evils of these two simple English words:

It almost doesn’t matter how good the news is; if it comes after “actually,” I feel like I was somehow wrong about something.

Consider these two sentences:

Actually, you can do this under “Settings.”

Sure thing, you can do this under “Settings!” 🙂

…It’s amazing how much brighter my writing (and speaking) gets when I go through and lose the “actuallies.”

While I’m at it, I try to get rid of the “buts” too.

Sentence 1: I really appreciate you writing in, but unfortunately we don’t have this feature available.

Sentence 2: I really appreciate you writing in! Unfortunately, we don’t have this feature available.

Feel different? When I substitute my “buts” for exclamation points, I feel so much happier with my message.

In short: Don’t forget the happiness exclamation marks! And the smiley face! Every sentence should have one! Every thing must be happy! All the time 🙂

Kopprasch tells us that removing the word “actually” from her vocabulary is “One of my favorite “happiness hacks””. I’ve got nothing against the words “but” or “actually”. But I’d drown the phrase “happiness hack” in a bucket.

Oops: I mean “I’d drown the phrase “happiness hack” in a bucket!! OMG LOL!! :)”

Meanwhile, Techcruch has discovered The App Store Is Proof We’re In Idiocracy. Apparently this is because these days, the best-sellers in the iTunes App Store are games like Weed Firm, Toilet Time, Flappy Bird clones and the like.

Now, I’m no defender of walled-gardens of programs for closed platforms; I take childish delight that, in Finnish, “åpp større” means “fellate a demon”. But a swift glance over some YouTube comments, Facebook will show that the open Web is has its own teensy niches of popular culture. As do TV schedules, book shops, the music business. Because – shockingly – people like popular culture, and popular culture isn’t always intellectual and esoteric.

Sarah Perez, the author, laments that the dirty proles have access to technology:

…phones are now in the hands of a broader, more diverse group of people, both young and old, who won’t necessarily share the same tastes as the tech elite whose punditry and personal recommendations about the “next great mobile app” used to matter.

Boo-fucking-hoo to you, Pope Perez, and to your tech elite priesthood. Getting the web and tech to all the people is the point.

Happy Birthday, BASIC

The programming language, BASIC, turned 50 years old yesterday. I started using it 33 years ago, when my physics teacher persuaded our school to buy an Ohio Scientific Challanger 2 microcomputer, with Microsoft BASIC as its 8K ROM operating system and chunky 8K of RAM, then set up a computer club. I went along after school, because my mate Matt’s older brother was in computers and he was cool. (He had a job and owned all the punk LPs we listened to at lunchtime.)

Surprising everyone (including myself), I found that programming simply came naturally to me. I was soon coding games that my friends wanted to play.

It taught me several important concepts – primarily, how to break problems into logical flows, and how to debug when regaled with “Syntax error in line 40” (you may also enjoy my Old programmer war story tale of epic debugging.)

It taught me about abstraction; I soon learned 6502 assembler and disassembled the ROM to see how the computer interpreted the stuff I typed in. (The joys of finding the message “Microsoft BASIC written by Richard W Weiland” hidden in the memory!)

It taught me about cross-platform; later, I borrowed a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, learned Z80 assembler and realised that although the code I entered was the same as the code I’d written for the Challenger 2 (with some minor syntactical variations), what happened under the hood was wildly different.

BASIC changed the world for me, and on cheap widely-accessible machines like the Sinclair ZX series and the BBC micros, it changed the whole world.

What I love about BASIC is that it was designed for simplicity. As wikipedia writes, “It was intended specifically for less technical users who did not have or want the mathematical background previously expected.” It also prefigured the WWW: “The designers of the language decided to make the compiler available free of charge so that the language would become widespread.”

Even the name “Basic” was a statement of intent; no wonder “real” computer professionals sneered at the language. “Goto considered harmful”, they said. I understood that to mean “working class 14 year olds who do literature and humanities not welcome here.”

Today there are still those who try to make programmers a special priesthood. They can kiss my algorithms.