This Is Not a Time of Honor

Politics
May 7, 2020
Heros by Davide Edoardo Cassano
Heros by Davide Edoardo Cassano

Humanity may need to come to grips with the reality that our life expectancy may now be dramatically lower. Have we reduced our life expectancy by a few months, a few years, or a decade? Will it be worse that smoking? Better that heart disease? It may be too early to tell. What we have seen is large swaths of human beings acting unilaterally across an entire planet, in a way that is simply unprecedented. We wade waste deep in a world of data, tracking, and 24/7 hate that could be lifted directly from a George Orwell novel. Far into the future, we do not know how humanity will look back upon this era, but we do know that right now, this is not a time of honor.

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Fighting with the Data

Technology
Apr 21, 2020
Red and Black Heath Illustration by Clay Banks

I struggled with the design of the Johns Hopkins data visualizations for the recent pandemic. Under the surface, the visualization powered by an overpriced commercial software known as ArcGIS. I tried to work with the data myself and got some basic visualizations working. Along the way, I started to see some other great visualizations, and some that were terrible. The data is collected in time series by day, but it’s measured inconsistently depending on the reporting guidelines of each country or region. This gives the data some unusual aspects we’ve never really encountered before.

On April 16th, the deaths per day for the state of New York spiked to 4,591, where it was around 2,000 before and immediately after. New York retroactively adjusted several previous fatalities which were likely caused COVID-19. The reasoning for this change is based around average death rates for the year far exceeding what is typical, and a similar under-reporting may have taken place in Italy. The trouble with this spike in relation to the Johns Hopkins data is that it’s tacked onto the end of the time series instead of being applied to the dates when those deaths occurred.

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All Corona All the Time

Politics
Apr 10, 2020
Screenshots of many mainstream media websites claiming Coronavirus is not more dangerous than the Flu

There’s been a lot of information coming out about the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19. We were told people outside of China shouldn’t panic about the Coronavirus, except after March 16th when the same people told us what we do and don’t know about the deadly Coronavirus outbreak. CBS was found using their footage from emergency rooms in Italy to describe the situation in New York City (mirror). There’s a lot of information out there, so let’s take a very shallow look at what else the news media has told us.

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COVID-19 is Two Diseases

Philosophy
Mar 30, 2020
Full Disk Earth - Apollo 17, 1972
Full Disk Earth - Apollo 17, 1972

The majority of people who are infected with the virus SARS-CoV-2 do not develop severe cases of COVID-19. However, some people develop a cytokine storm, and their own immune system may start to work against them. The response of many world governments to COVID-19 has been to restrict travel, close non-essential businesses, restrict gatherings, close parks and inform their citizens to distance themselves from one another when possible. Leaders want to slow down the spread of the virus, in order to not overload hospital systems. Yet, these policies are also slowing this massive machine; this infrastructure that has evolved to support several billion human beings. Our society, though composed of people and not cells, also has an immune response. Our societal immune system can bring us together to survive the darkest of times against untenable odds, but it also has the power to overreact, give itself to mass hysteria, and ultimately rip our people apart in an attempt to save it.

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RSS: The Original Federated Social Network Protocol

Technology
Mar 20, 2020
I Want to Believe in RSS T-Shirt by Richard Stevens
I Want to Believe in RSS T-Shirt by Richard Stevens

In 2013, Google discontinued their Reader web application. It had become a dominant application for RSS feeds, in a time when many felt RSS was dying. After Google discontinued their terrible product, people seeking alternatives found other web applications and quickly discovered tools that weren’t pieces of garbage. Readers like Feedly, Newsblur, and others, would report bad feeds and errors. Google Reader would instead silently fail, often leading people to believe their favorite bloggers had simply stopped publishing. Today, few people use RSS Readers, relying instead on liking Facebook pages, subscribing to YouTube channels or following people on Twitter. However, all of these methods are totally inadequate in relaying all potential updates between content providers and their audience. The best way to keep track of the people and content you care about is to subscribe to their RSS feeds using a good reader app, many of which work both on the web and on mobile.

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Replacing Okta Verify with Open Source Software

Technology
Mar 4, 2020
Photo of Blue USB Yubikey

I have owned way too many cellphones. I’d like to break free of Android without switching to iOS, but one of the applications I’m required to have for work is Okta Verify. Moving from Okta Verify to an open source solution was easier than I expected, but the path to discovering how to do so was not a simple one. The following explains how to get the secret used for Okta’s multi-factor auth codes, and use it in open source alternatives to Okta Verify, as well as in Python scripts.

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Every Cellphone I've Ever Owned

Technology
Jan 28, 2020
My Nokia 6800
My Nokia 6800

I’m old enough to remember the era before cellphones. Back in high school, a group of us once planned a caving trip. We all met at the parking lot beside the tennis courts at 8am. “Where is Nick?” someone asked; Nick being the person we were waiting on. Someone took 35 cents, walked over to a payphone, and came back to us saying, “His mom said he left 30 minutes ago.” Today, we don’t have to blindly wait on our friends. We can send them a text, or organize outings using group chat software. Phones have drastically changed the way we plan gatherings and interact with one another, for better or for worse. Here is my personal history of cellphones, from my first black and white prepaid device, all the way up to the modern era of the Google/Apple spy devices we all carry around in our pockets.

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Comedians are not Philosophers

Philosophy
Jan 14, 2020
Microphone on Stand

Comedians have taken on a very interesting role in the past couple of years. Many of us have grown up with comedians that write a lot of jokes about politics, such as Bill Hicks or George Carlin. Yet today, we have comedians that are dedicated almost entirely to politics, such as Lewis Black, or political satire such as John Oliver and Samantha Bee. Somehow, even comedians who don’t constrain themselves to such narrow topics are now looked to, and looked down upon, for their opinions about the broader political and social climates of our society. Although I do agree that comedy and art can be a helpful mirror, as a tool for introspection on our current culture, I think we do a disservice to entertainers when we look to them to replace the roles previously given to intellectuals, academics and philosophers.

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Microservices and Biological Systems

Technology
Jan 3, 2020
Mallard with six ducklings swimming

In 2010, several researchers at Yale attempted to look at biological systems versus computer software design. As would be expected, biological systems, which evolved over millions of years, are much more complex, have a considerable amount of redundancy and lack a direct top-down control architecture as found in software like the Linux kernel. While these comparisons aren’t entirely fair, considering the complexity of biology, they are a fun thought experiment. Microservices are a new-emergent phenomenon in the software engineering world, and in many ways, microservice architectures evolve in environments that are much closer to a biological model than that of carefully architected, top-down approaches to monolithic software.

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Mindful Meditation is not for Everyone

Philosophy
Dec 23, 2019
Rock Totem

Recently, I was listening to a Sam Harris podcast episode where he interviewed Richard Dawkins. At one point in the podcast, he attempted to lead Dawkins through a mindful meditation session, to which Dawkins responded, “I couldn’t stand it … I was listening to your words and I was keeping my eyes shut and doing everything you said. I couldn’t see the point of it … Five minutes would be about my limit I think.” I do enjoy Harris’s interviews, but his avocation for meditation borders on evangelism. Although I do meditate myself, I also have several friends who say they do not benefit from meditation, or it leads them to anxiety. Although mindfulness and meditation can be powerful tools, it’s important to remember that humans are complex, and what works for one person, may not work for everyone.

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