The Core Dump The Core Dump is the online home of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American man living in the Sonoran desert. 2015-11-08T19:43:12-07:00 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. Review: Spectre Nic Lindh 2015-11-08T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/spectre-wallpaper.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Credit:</i></p> <p><strong>This review is spoiler-free.</strong></p> <p>Let&rsquo;s get my biases out of the way from the get-go: I&rsquo;m a huge Bond fan and have seen every movie, most of them several times. So reviewing a new Bond outing is tricky, since I look at it both as a movie and as a Bond movie. Different scales, different expectations.</p> <p>As a movie, <em>Spectre</em> earns ★★★★☆. It&rsquo;s a gripping, entertaining spectacle with spectacular visuals and solid acting.</p> <p>As a Bond movie, <em>Spectre</em> earns ★★★☆☆. It&rsquo;s good, don&rsquo;t get me wrong, even has moments of greatness, but like all the Craig movies I&rsquo;m not sure about the direction it wants to take the series.</p> <p>Parenthetically, and these might be fightin&rsquo; words, I&rsquo;ll go on the record as saying Craig is now my favorite Bond, a smidge above Connery. Like Connery, he has the character&rsquo;s sociopathic brutality and menace down cold, but Craig&rsquo;s also a better actor.</p> <p>Which brings us back to the direction of the series. During Craig&rsquo;s run, it&rsquo;s been about Bond coming to terms with the way his life has turned out, the incidents that have made him, and just how emotionally damaged he is. Which is fine and good. But at the same time, the franchise is a spectacle. A glorious, popcorn-chomping cavalcade of beautiful locations, women, and cars guided by the Man You Can Never Be—always cool, always in control, always resourceful.</p> <p>This man is also of course a horrible sociopath and misogynist, but in the past we&rsquo;ve sort of made a deal to shrug that off. Bond was never about realism, to understate the case.</p> <p>The Craig run wants us to focus on the struggles of the man who commits these acts, but it also wants to bring us the spectable. This tension makes the movies weaker.</p> <p>Since <em>Casino Royale</em> I&rsquo;ve wanted them to pick a side, dammit! Go full tortured soul or full &ldquo;Oh, well, that&rsquo;s just how Bond is <em>nudge-wink</em>&rdquo; instead of half-assing it in the middle.</p> <p>The good about <em>Spectre</em>: It&rsquo;s visually stunning and raises the bar for elaborate action sequences yet again. For the die-hard fans there&rsquo;s also a generous helping of inside references and jokes to reward your fandom. And the actors do great work.</p> <p>The bad about <em>Spectre</em>: Two hours and 20 minutes is way too long for the plot. You could trim at least half an hour and make it much more energetic—sometimes the movie seems like it just doesn&rsquo;t want to leave a scene even though it&rsquo;s over.</p> <p>And the tortured-soul bit is getting old. I really don&rsquo;t need that much existential angst in my escapist entertainment.</p> <p>But be that as it may, <em>Spectre</em> delivers a solid installment in the series. And holy smokes, <a href="">that Aston Martin DB10</a>&hellip; </p> Book roundup, part 20 Nic Lindh 2015-10-18T00:00:00-07:00 <h2>Non-fiction</h2> <h3><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;keywords=the%2Bantidote%2Bhappiness%2Bfor%2Bpeople%2Bwho%2Bcan%2527t%2Bstand%2Bpositive%2Bthinking&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1441142983">The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>If you find go-go-think-positive self-help books either turn you off or simply don&rsquo;t help, <em>The Antidote</em> is an excellent alternative. Burkeman looks at the philosophy of the ancients like the Stoics and the Buddhists and current research into motivation to find out how we can be happier.</p> <p><em>The Antidote</em> makes the very good point that if the kind of positive thinking espoused by the <a href="">Tony Robbins</a> of the world actually worked, they wouldn&rsquo;t get much repeat business. Which they most certainly do.</p> <blockquote> <p>The optimism-focused, goal-fixated, positive-thinking approach to happiness is exactly the kind of thing the ego loves. Positive thinking is all about identifying with your thoughts, rather than disidentifying from them. And the ‘cult of optimism’ is all about looking forward to a happy or successful future, thereby reinforcing the message that happiness belongs to some other time than now. Schemes and plans for making things better fuel our dissatisfaction with the only place where happiness can ever be found—the present.</p> </blockquote> <p>Essentially, Burkeman&rsquo;s thesis is that we need to not run away from our negative feelings—which is what the positive thinking mantras suggest—and instead to accept and understand them.</p> <p>Without butchering the argument by compressing it too much, Burkeman suggests we can find a lot of guidance in Buddhism and the Stoics:</p> <blockquote> <p>For the Stoics, the ideal state of mind was tranquility, not the excitable cheer that positive thinkers usually seem to mean when they use the word ‘happiness’. And tranquility was to be achieved not by strenuously chasing after enjoyable experiences, but by cultivating a kind of calm indifference towards one’s circumstances. One way to do this, the Stoics argued, was by turning towards negative emotions and experiences; not shunning them, but examining them closely instead.</p> </blockquote> <p><em>The Antidote</em> is an interesting read and well worth your time.</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=one%2Bnation%2Bunder%2Bgods&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1443302288">One Nation, Under Gods, by Peter Manseau</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>As America heads into election season, rhetoric is heating up and one of the most common conservative tropes is that America was founded as a Christian nation and thus any attempts to limit overt religion in government is a Bad Thing&trade;. In <em>One Nation, Under Gods</em> Manseau provides a religious history of the United States, documenting the influences and thoughts that were a part of the great melting pot from the beginning and up to the present, showing that, in short, the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation is at best a gross oversimplification.</p> <blockquote> <p>Of all the myths associated with the founding of the United States, there is none so stubborn as the notion that the colonists who rose up against the Crown did so mainly because they were a people motivated and sustained by faith. While the religious inclinations of the founding fathers provide fodder for endless contemporary political disputes, the colonial population as a whole—the more telling piece of this puzzle—is less often considered. Historians who have taken the time to tally religious adherents in the colonies have not found the first Americans to have been particularly moved by Christian commitment. One need only look at the statistics of church membership to begin to imagine an alternate scenario. The image of colonists filling chapels before and during the fight for Independence may fit a contemporary narrative—that the United States was formed with the help of the divine. However, in most cases colonists were too busy and too spread out to gather very often for prayer.</p> </blockquote> <p>The Puritans were certainly Protestant zealots of the highest order, but the native Americans who helped them not all starve to death had a rich political and religious history of their own, and the mass of slaves brought over from Africa had their own religious traditions as well. Though hard numbers are difficult to come by, Manseau estimates about 20 percent of slaves were Muslims. </p> <p>There was a lot of handwringing by slave owners over whether slaves should be converted to Christianity since—and this kind of sophistry is pretty difficult to think about without your blood pressure rising dangerously—Christians shouldn&rsquo;t keep other Christians as slaves, so it might be better to have the slaves retain whatever religion they already had, but at the same time it was the duty of all Christians to convert other people, so perhaps it would be better to forcibly convert the slaves to Christianity?</p> <p><em>One Nation, Under Gods</em> does a good job of showing the complicated reality of the religious history of the United States and is well worth reading.</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=losing%2Bthe%2Bsignal&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1435168044">Losing the Signal, by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>A thoroughly researched and well-written book that chronicles the humble beginnings, meteoric rise and spectacular cratering of BlackBerry, née Research in Motion.</p> <p>Of course, the story of BlackBerry is really the story of its co-CEOs, Balsillie and Lazaridis. <em>Losing the Signal</em> does not paint a flattering portrait, with Balsillie coming across as overbearing and aggressive, and Lazardis as a genius engineer disconnected from everything but engineering. </p> <p>And yes, the obvious Jobs and Woz parallel is thought-provoking.</p> <p>The story of BlackBerry proves the old adage, &ldquo;success hides problems.&rdquo; As when the cracks in the business start to show and outside consultants are brought in to assess the company:</p> <blockquote> <p>Traditional standards for measuring CEO accomplishments didn’t seem to exist at RIM. There were no written job descriptions or performance objectives for Balsillie or Lazaridis—benchmarks used by directors to measure compensation. Also missing was a succession plan. Incredibly, no one was being groomed to grab the reins if something happened to the CEOs. Weak accountability was a problem at other levels. The company set goals for lower-level managers, but Protiviti found employees “were not held accountable for meeting the objectives.”</p> </blockquote> <p><em>Losing the Signal</em> provides a fascinating glimpse into the cut-throat computer business and just how fast circumstances can change, with BlackBerry going from top of the world to ruin in just a few years.</p> <p>While it&rsquo;s hard to root for the flawed characters of Balsillie and Lazardis, this particular Greek tragedy does make you feel for the BlackBerry employees who worked heroically only to have their livelihoods wrecked by the incompetence of those above them.</p> <h3><a href="">The Todd Glass Situation, by Todd Glass</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Stand-up comic <a href="">Todd Glass</a> talks about growing up dyslexic, ADD and closeted gay. The book is both funny and touching.</p> <p>As a sample, here&rsquo;s Glass talking about his struggles upon discovering he&rsquo;s gay:</p> <blockquote> <p>I was failing out of school and didn’t know what was wrong with me, met people who hated me for being part of a religion that I hardly practiced, had been to five different schools in eight years leaving me with almost no close friends, and now I was going to have to be gay, too? I must have been a real asshole in my past life to deserve all that in this one.</p> </blockquote> <p><em>The Todd Glass Situation</em> is funny and humane.</p> <h2>Fiction</h2> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=last%2Bpoliceman&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1444966351">The Last Policeman, by Ben Winters</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Haunting and beautiful story of a literal countdown to end times as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth and will cause an extinction event. Henry Palace is a small-town policeman who becomes obsessed with a murder case as society falls apart around him.</p> <p>Yes, it&rsquo;s a police procedural set at the end of civilization and thanks to Winters&rsquo;s lyrical, sensitive writing and twisty plot, it works.</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=three-body%2Bproblem&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1442275776">The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Cixin Liu is a massive sci-fi writer in China and his work is starting to be translated to English. It&rsquo;s easy to tell he read <em>a lot</em> of classic Western sci-fi growing up, as <em>The Three-Body Problem</em> is a combination of hard sci-fi—smart scientists doing science things—and Chinese thought and references. The novel starts off during the Cultural Revolution—which seems like it was very much not good times—and moves on to First Contact with an alien species. An <em>alien</em> alien species.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s really hard to do any kind of plot summary without spoilers, so let it just be said that if you like hard sci-fi, <em>The Three-Body Problem</em> should be high on your reading list.</p> <p>As a niggle, Liu does like to have characters do exposition, and I&rsquo;m not sure if that&rsquo;s his style or a Chinese thing, but it does detract a bit from the brilliance of the work.</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=the%2Bdark%2Bforest&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1442892910">The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Sequel to <em>The Three-Body Problem</em> and it&rsquo;s a doozy. Somewhat meandering and with some clunky dialogue, but the core idea is so, so good. </p> <p>The basic plot is that humanity is getting ready for the arrival of the alien fleet from <em>The Three-Body Problem</em> and, well, things are difficult.</p> <p>At its core, <em>The Dark Forest</em> provides an answer for the <a href="">Fermi Paradox</a> that is so crushingly depressing and logical it&rsquo;s devastating. Once you realize what the title refers to, you&rsquo;ll feel sad.</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=beacon%2B23&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1441658468">Beacon 23, by Hugh Howey</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p><em>Beacon 23</em> is a collection of five Kindle singles that together form a short novel.</p> <p>Interesting and fun and with some beautiful writing, like &ldquo;When we’re young, every imaginary battle ends with heroics. Finales come with a bang. Then you get older, and you see that life ends in wrinkles and whimpers.&rdquo;</p> <p>Beautiful writing aside, the plot is pretty thin, but it&rsquo;s an enjoyable, breezy read. It also provides a very American take on the same issue as <em>The Three-Body Problem</em>.</p> <h3><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;keywords=kadrey%2Bkilling%2Bpretty&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1441142815">Killing Pretty, by Richard Kadrey</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p><em>Killing Pretty</em> is an in-between book in the great Sandman Slim series. It feels like Kadrey has wrapped up his current story arc and is more or less thinking out loud about where to take the series next.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s not bad, but also doesn&rsquo;t go off in any new directions. This one is definitely for the fans.</p> <h3><a href=";sr=&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;_encoding=UTF8">Queen of Fire, by Anthony Ryan</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>A solid conclusion to the Raven&rsquo;s Shadow trilogy that earned an initial batch of terrible reviews on Amazon for some reason I don&rsquo;t understand. <em>Queen of Fire</em> does have problems with way too many characters and a bit of a meandering plot, but it does bring the trilogy home and is an enjoyable, easy read.</p> <p>As with any series, you should start at the beginning, with the outstanding <em><a href=";dpSrc=sims&amp;dpID=51V6FuJ9NTL&amp;preST=_AC_UL160_SR99%252C160_&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;ie=UTF8">Blood Song</a></em>, one of the best fantasy novels I&rsquo;ve read. And I&rsquo;ve read a lot of fantasy.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> Links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through them I get a tiny kickback from Amazon. It doesn&rsquo;t cost you anything. Be a mensch, eh?</p> Building a static site for an investigative journalism project Nic Lindh 2015-10-09T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/weedrush-cover.jpg" /></p> <p><i>A marijuana grow house in Nevada. Image from Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone</i></p> <p>I spend my summers helping create the website for an investigative project called <a href="">News21</a>. Each year a team of Fellows from universities around the U.S. dive deep into a topic and the resulting content is then syndicated with major partners like <em>The Washington Post</em>, <em>USA Today</em>, and many others. But the content also needs a permanent home on the Web, so we build a site.</p> <p>The site contains images, video, interactive infographics, and of course the stories themselves. It must be attractive and innovative. It also has to be built on a very compressed schedule, with actual page production limited to a few weeks and the site functionality and design around 10 weeks.</p> <p>And then it needs to stand up to bursts of heavy traffic.</p> <p>And then it needs to remain available for many years to come.</p> <p><em>Easy.</em> Deep breath.</p> <p>If you have your hand up saying, &ldquo;Oh, oh, you should use a <a href="">static site generator for this!</a>&rdquo;, you just earned a cookie.</p> <h3>Static site generator</h3> <p>For the last two projects (<a href="">Gun Wars, on gun culture in America</a> and <a href="">Weed Rush, on the legalization of marijuana in America</a>) we used the static site generator <a href="">Jekyll</a> to create the project. There are many static site generators out there, and I think most of them could do the job, but I had familiarity with Jekyll from other projects and since it has the support of and has been battle-tested by <a href="">GitHub</a> it&rsquo;s a pretty safe choice.</p> <p>There are several benefits to a static site:</p> <ul> <li><p>The site can be hosted almost anywhere and moved very easily. Going from development server to production is literally a matter of copying files.</p></li> <li><p>There&rsquo;s no admin backend on the site so there&rsquo;s nothing for an attacker to try to break into. This helps server admins sleep better.</p></li> <li><p>Page production is much faster since you&rsquo;re simply manipulating files—there&rsquo;s no backend dashboard to click through to accomplish tasks. Once a producer gets comfortable manipulating files, the production speed increase is remarkable.</p></li> <li><p>Jekyll is much less opinionated than WordPress, so there&rsquo;s less of a feeling of going &ldquo;against the grain&rdquo; when building features.</p></li> </ul> <p>But there&rsquo;s no free lunch, so there are disadvantages:</p> <ul> <li><p>A steep learning curve. For producers who are only used to going through a dashboard like with WordPress, Tumblr and Drupal, it can be forbidding at first, so good training is essential. (Though I&rsquo;d argue that a Web producer <em>should</em> understand the basics of working with SFTP, the command line and Git.)</p></li> <li><p>When several people are in a file system at the same time operating under stress it&rsquo;s easy to accidentally overwrite each others&rsquo; changes, so good communication is crucial. (It would obviously be better to have everybody work in their own Git repo but that introduces a lot of technical and workflow overhead when the producers aren&rsquo;t highly technical.)</p></li> </ul> <h3>Designing the workflow</h3> <p>The site was created with the explicit goal of making production as fast as possible. This meant first off to separate content from presentation. The content—images, videos, story—on each page had to make no assumptions about the final presentation. This way producers could build the pages while designers changed the final look of the site in tandem.</p> <p>This meant creating shortcodes for all multimedia content, so a producer would never insert an image, say, with a raw <code>&lt;img src=&quot;/images/parallax/hello.jpg&quot; /&gt;</code> HTML tag; instead, all multimedia elements were called in through <a href="">Jekyll includes</a>. </p> <p>The Jekyll include would then know in which directory parallax images lived and write out the actual code to put the image on the page.</p> <p>This way the actual multimedia presentation could change right up to launch without having to go back and touch any of the stories.</p> <h3>Dont&rsquo;t Repeat Yourself</h3> <p>Any website repeats a lot of content and under deadline pressure it&rsquo;s very easy to forget a spot. So the project was built as much as possible on the principle of DRY (Don&rsquo;t Repeat Yourself).</p> <p>Anything that goes on more than one page should exist in a data file and be read in, never repeated on the site itself.</p> <p>Putting in the thought ahead of time to factor out anything that will repeat on the site and centralizing it will pay off at crunch time. Jekyll&rsquo;s <code>_data</code> <a href="">directory support</a> makes this easy.</p> <p>Here are some of the things abstracted out for Weed Rush:</p> <ul> <li>Fellow bios for story footers</li> <li>In-page navigation</li> <li>Page URLs. (Since URLs change when—not if—the story&rsquo;s title is edited and stories are linked to from many places, having a central URL repository streamlines the workflow significantly.)</li> <li>Project title</li> <li>Project blurb</li> <li>Publish date</li> <li>Generic social image for Twitter cards and Facebook</li> </ul> <h3>Staying up under load</h3> <p>By its very nature a static site will be able to handle more traffic than one that has to be processed for each request, so there&rsquo;s less risk of the server keeling over. Though enough traffic <em>will</em> choke any server.</p> <p>To help take the load off the server, the server hosting Weed Rush was put behind <a href="">CloudFlare</a>, which, headscratchingly, provides a free Content Delivery Network that is very good.</p> <p>Since the pages on Weed Rush are very heavy with images, we opted to upgrade to Cloudflare&rsquo;s Pro plan which, among other things, provides an extra layer of image optimization for different device sizes and lazy loads images on slow connections. Well worth it to make sure the site felt (reasonably) fast despite all the assets.</p> <h3>Use the source, Luke</h3> <p>If you want to pick apart how the site works, you can <a href="">clone it from GitHub</a> and run it on your own computer. Feedback and constructive criticism is welcome.</p> How to learn things you’re not interested in Nic Lindh 2015-10-03T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/filofax.jpg" /></p> <p><i>The Filofax I used to run my life for a decade. iPhone 6 for scale.</i></p> <p>Back in college I took a one-credit geology lab class as part of my science requirements. The final exam was going to be simple: Identify 30 rocks. That was it. Identify the 30 rocks.</p> <p>So I dutifully made calendar entries in my <a href="">Filofax</a> to go to the lab once a week and learn to identify the damn rocks. Sat there at the bench and stared at the rocks. And got nowhere. The damn rocks just sat there and stared back at me.</p> <p>Failure was not an option, so I started going twice a week to that miserable geology lab to stare at the rocks.</p> <p>Nope.</p> <p>I was going to fail that final so bad.</p> <p>Then I realized I couldn&rsquo;t make myself learn about the rocks because I didn&rsquo;t care about them. <em>What if I made myself care?</em> So I lied to myself. It took some effort, but I managed to talk myself into caring about rocks. Majesty of our planet, the huge forces at work to form everything around us, etc.</p> <p>And it worked. Once I convinced myself I cared about rocks, learning to recognize them was easy. Learning about something you care about is a joy.</p> <p>Yes, I aced the final.</p> <p>The trick is to really convince yourself you care. And yes, that can be close to impossible. </p> <p>A few years ago I decided to become conversant about American football. It&rsquo;s a topic that comes up in casual conversation way more often than I&rsquo;d like, and all I can do is to go to the happy place in my head when people are talking about it. Which is fine, really. I like the happy place in my head. But let&rsquo;s give it the old college try, shall we?</p> <p>So I sat down to watch a game with my iPad at the ready, and started looking up the terms the announcers were using on WikiPedia. And yes, I had plenty of time to look up terms since the game stops for commercials every 20 seconds or so. <em>Mmmmm crappy beer.</em></p> <p>After a while I felt I had a pretty good grasp of how the game works and what the terms meant.</p> <p>So a few weeks later I decided to check myself and watched another game. <em>Nope.</em> Remembered nothing. No idea what they were jammering on about.</p> <p>The fault here was of course that I had done this as an intellectual exercise without convincing myself I actually cared.</p> <p>You have to care.</p> Yearning for the Cold War Nic Lindh 2015-09-25T00:00:00-07:00 <p>Despicable human being though he is, Trump is inarguably good at verbal gymnastics, and his slogan &ldquo;Make America Great Again&rdquo; is resonating with a large section of the GOP base.</p> <p>And <a href="">the GOP base is mostly old and white</a>. Look at the audience pictures from a Trump—or any other GOP candidate, for that matter—rally: A sea of old, white people who look like they&rsquo;ve had hard lives and want to make somebody pay. </p> <p>These are people who grew up during the Cold War, when things were simpler. Russia was an Evil Empire and America was good. We had a common enemy to define ourselves against and above all, we were winning. Living standards were constantly going up and the average white family did better and better year over year.</p> <p>New cars in driveways, larger and larger houses: America was truly the Land of Opportunity.</p> <p>This view of course ignores the realities of minorities, but for the average white American, things were indeed good and getting better.</p> <p>And then we won. The Evil Empire fell. And then progress for the average white person stalled, especially in the rural communities where most of the GOP base live. It&rsquo;s grim, watching your community dwindle and gray as the young people move away to the cities and your infrastructure crumbles.</p> <p>Things got a whole lot better for minorities, though. And if you&rsquo;re not particularly reflective, it would be easy to put those things together in a <a href="">zero-sum game</a>. <em>Their gain must come from our loss.</em> Fuelling a simmering undercurrent of racism.</p> <p>So then, it becomes potent to say, as most politicians targeting the GOP base do, &ldquo;We&rsquo;re taking America back!&rdquo;</p> <p>Which is a great slogan, utterly void of detail: Taking America back from whom, exactly?</p> <p>Which is never spelled out, but nudge-nudge wink-wink, <em>we know, don&rsquo;t we</em>?</p> <p>Is it the Eastern liberal elite? The gays? The United Nations? The Mexicans? Is it—<em>looks over shoulder and lowers voice</em>—the Jews? </p> <p>It&rsquo;s a bigot fill-in-the-blank.</p> <p>But back to &ldquo;Make America Great Again.&rdquo; </p> <p>If you were growing up white in the &lsquo;50s and &#39;60s, America was indeed great—the city on the hill where every year things got better and opportunity was boundless. The looming presence of the Russian Evil Empire was a large part of the solidarity of the time—it was the common enemy, the enemy that defined you by what you were not. Which is extra important in an adolescent country made up of more-or-less recent immigrants, struggling to agree on a definition of exactly what it means to be American.</p> <p>The common enemy binds a people together and enforces a national character. Combine this with a rapidly growing economy, and you have an extremely powerful kind of safety and belonging.</p> <p>A large part of the strategy of far-right candidates these days involves evoking that new enemy, that new galvanizing force. Sadly there&rsquo;s no accompanying plan for how to make the economy better enough to help most people, but let&rsquo;s shelve that for right now as we talk about the Enemy.</p> <p>Enter radical Islam. </p> <p>We need a new Evil Empire to galvanize us and with the Russians still licking their wounds—and we beat them once, so it&rsquo;s kind of ho-hum, isn&rsquo;t it?—we need a new enemy. If you watch FOX News, there&rsquo;s a lot of worry about ISIL and Sharia law.</p> <p>ISIL is a bunch of bronze-age anger addicts, and unless you are living in the Middle East it is really not a concern. (If you live in the Middle East this bunch of assholes is a massive problem, of course.)</p> <p>Would these idiots love to commit terror acts in the US mainland? Of course they would. They would dance jigs if they could blow up a post office in Cleveland. But will they be able to? Probably not. They&rsquo;re kind of busy terrorizing the people in their area. Plus that ever since 9/11 America has been hyper-paranoid about terrorism, so it&rsquo;s way harder to attack us now.</p> <p>But ISIL, idiot thugs though they are, and as neutered as they are compared to the real Evil Empire, are the best fit as boogey men for the people who long for the days of the Cold War.</p> <p>America will be made great again when we, as Americans, make it great. No matter how comforting it is, manufacturing an enemy isn&rsquo;t going to do anything except make a lot of old white people in rural areas more agitated than they really should be.</p> <p>The problem isn&rsquo;t the minorities. The problem isn&rsquo;t ISIL. The problem isn&rsquo;t Sharia law.</p> <p>The problem is a system that doesn&rsquo;t care about old white people, apart from keeping them angry and voting.</p> The one sentence rule Nic Lindh 2015-09-18T00:00:00-07:00 <p>A lot of times when working on a project—or your life—you find yourself stuck. And the ideas come in. Should I do this? Should I do that?</p> <p>Especially at the exhaustion stages of a project—or your life—it&rsquo;s common to just want to <em>pick one</em> and get it over with. But which one?</p> <p>Pay attention, class, here&rsquo;s where I get as life coach as I ever get: As a boy in Sweden I read a chess book that said, paraphrasing, &ldquo;If you can&rsquo;t tell yourself in one sentence what a move will accomplish, it&rsquo;s not a good move.&rdquo;</p> <p>That&rsquo;s <a href="">Sun Tzu</a> level discipline.</p> <p>&ldquo;If you can&rsquo;t tell yourself in one sentence what a move will accomplish, it&rsquo;s not a good move.&rdquo;</p> <p>Try it the next time you have an urge to do something. Can you tell yourself, in one sentence, what that action will accomplish?</p> <p>If you can&rsquo;t, that action will most likely take you to the same place you&rsquo;re at, or worse, just a little farther down the road.</p> Digital hygiene for online security and safety Nic Lindh 2015-08-22T00:00:00-07:00 <p>As we lead more and more of our lives online the risks of losing control of your accounts get more dire, including both our money and our reputations.</p> <p>You don&rsquo;t want to end up completely paralyzed by paranoia, but you don&rsquo;t want to make yourself a target, either. This post is written for &ldquo;normal&rdquo; people who aren&rsquo;t likely to be targets for concerted attacks, but instead are more likely to get caught up in automated attacks perpetrated by criminals.</p> <p>If you&rsquo;re Jennifer Lawrence, you need to get way, way more paranoid than this. But you&rsquo;re probably not.</p> <p>The basic problem we have is that securing computers is incredibly hard—it&rsquo;s something humans just did not evolve to be good at—so sooner or later some site you use <em>will</em> be cracked and criminals will make off with whatever information they found. This information will then be sold and traded and used in various creative ways to attack other sites and institutions in a chain of awfulness.</p> <p>Remember, though, that for most people these are automated attacks that go for the low-hanging fruit, so some basic hygiene will protect you well. The steps below will help you lock your digital doors and windows. Let&rsquo;s go through the steps.</p> <h3>Protect your email account above all else</h3> <p>Arguably your most important accounts are your email accounts—if somebody takes control of your email that person can send password resets from pretty much any other site and it&rsquo;s game over.</p> <p>This means yes, you should use a <em>unique</em> and <em>complicated</em> password for your email.</p> <p>Again, your email accounts are the keys to <em>all your other accounts</em>—guard them carefully.</p> <h3>Use two-factor authentication everywhere you can</h3> <p>Two-factor authentication combines something you know (your password) with something you have (your phone). Some sites will send you a text message with a verification code, some will use a special app on your phone—such as <a href="">Google Authenticator</a>—to verify your identity.</p> <p>If you use a site—like GMail or Dropbox—that offers two-factor authentication, <em>turn it on, now!</em></p> <p>This is the single most powerful thing you can do to increase your security online.</p> <h3>Don&rsquo;t reuse passwords</h3> <p>This one is obvious—if attackers get a hold of your user name and password from one site, they will attempt to log in to any site they can think of with that same combination. If you&rsquo;ve reused passwords across accounts, boom, they&rsquo;re in.</p> <p>But, you sigh, I have so many accounts there&rsquo;s no way I can remember unique passwords for all of them.</p> <p>True. Neither can I. Neither can Batman. In 2015 a password manager is <em>required</em>, not optional. Is it a pain? Yes. Is it more of a pain than having somebody break into your accounts? No, it is not.</p> <p>A good password manager makes it easy to generate hard-to-crack, unique passwords for each one of your accounts. Personally I use <a href="">1Password</a> on my Macs and iOS devices and it&rsquo;s working great for me. (Not an affiliate link—I genuinely use and recommend it.) If you find another one like <a href="">LastPass</a> or <a href="">KeyPass</a> that works for you, go for it. Just pick one and <em>use it</em>.</p> <p>Once you&rsquo;ve converted over, you only need to remember the one (very strong) password you set up for the password manager itself.</p> <p>Note that if you&rsquo;re in the Apple ecosystem, Safari on the Mac and iOS has a very bare-bones password manager built in, which is certainly better than nothing.</p> <h3>Lie on the security questions</h3> <p>This one is a bit more paranoid, but with the ease of finding personal information these days, the shadow of an automated attack that finds out the answers to common security questions <em>en masse</em> is lurking. So, lie. If the question is, &ldquo;What street did you live on as a child?&rdquo;, answer &ldquo;James Bond&rdquo; or something nonsensical like that.</p> <p>Obviously, you&rsquo;re going to have to write down your dirty lies somewhere, like your password manager.</p> <h3>Conclusion</h3> <p>Increasing your online security mostly requires changing your thinking a bit to become more conscious of the risks. Follow the tips above and you&rsquo;ll avoid at least automated trawls from criminals on the net.</p> <p><em>Note:</em> You might follow all these tips and still end up a victim. Nothing is guaranteed. Be careful out there.</p> <p><em>Style note:</em> The word &ldquo;hacker&rdquo; used to mean somebody who did clever things with computers and has since be co-opted to mean &ldquo;computer criminal.&rdquo; By not using it in that sense in this post I&rsquo;m doing my tiny part to bring the word back to its real meaning. If you write for public consumption, please consider not misusing &ldquo;hacker&rdquo; to mean &ldquo;computer criminal.&rdquo; You can write two words instead of one. I believe in you.</p> Closing loops Nic Lindh 2015-08-07T00:00:00-07:00 <p>One of my favorite take-aways from the brilliant <em><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;keywords=getting%2Bthings%2Bdone&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1439001309">Gettings Thing Done</a></em> is the idea of open loops.</p> <p>Modern life is cursed with the fact that our brains are unable to handle the complexity we inhabit. This is why your brain reminds you to write an email while you&rsquo;re in line at the grocery store, or to schedule a meeting while you&rsquo;re driving home from work. Your brain wants to sit in front of a fire on the savannah and think about the best place to go for tomorrow&rsquo;s hunt, not handle a ton of different projects and obligations.</p> <p>Which is why the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology works so well: You write things down and then you look at the list of things you&rsquo;ve written down and your brain can stop worrying about it. </p> <p>It&rsquo;s genius in its simplicity.</p> <p>But there&rsquo;s still the issue of open loops. How many projects do you have in various stages of completion? How much data do you have to load to get into the groove of each different project? How much overhead do you have in keeping up with the progress of the different projects?</p> <p>(Note that in GTD parlance, &ldquo;project&rdquo; simply means an end state you want to achieve that will require more than one step. Booking a flight is a step toward the project vacation, for example.)</p> <p>One thing that&rsquo;s been helping me reduce stress is to <em>actively</em> strive to avoid open projects—anything I can do to end a project takes priority. Even if the project is small or the tasks required to wrap it up are easy, it&rsquo;s still open and it&rsquo;s still consuming mind space.</p> <p>The same amount of work spread over fewer projects <em>feels</em> like less work even though it isn&rsquo;t. It works for me and I hope it can help somebody else reduce their level of stress.</p> Jade Helm and the fever swamps of patriotism Nic Lindh 2015-08-04T00:00:00-07:00 <p>There&rsquo;s always been an undercurrent of demented paranoia in American politics, and one of the side effects of the new media revolution is to allow it to spread more and more every year. Hence the topic of this post, the Jade Helm drama, which if you&rsquo;ve lived in blissful ignorance is <a href="">ably summarized on its own very long Wikipedia page</a>. </p> <p>Personally I think that when the U.S. history books of the future are written they will cite the Jade Helm controversy of 2015 as a delineator for when the splinters in the Republic really began to show. But then, I&rsquo;m inclined to view things through the lens of the fall of the Roman Republic. History will show if I&rsquo;m insightful or just a crank.</p> <p>Note this is not a matter of liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. It&rsquo;s a matter of people with a grasp of sanity and people without.</p> <p>Let&rsquo;s dig in. Jade Helm, if you&rsquo;re lucky enough to be ignorant of this whole situation, is a military term for a training exercise they conduct every so often where they simulate meeting an opposing force the armed forces train to defeat. It&rsquo;s known as Jade Helm because during the cold war the armed forces created complete uniforms for these forces which included helmets colored jade for easy identification.</p> <p>As I type this the military is conducting a large-scale exercise in infiltration and concealment in several states, including Texas, which was chosen since its geography resembles certain other countries where those forces may have to deploy. Think desert.</p> <p>Which seems rational, right? The military has to train in order to be effective in hot situations, does it not?</p> <p><em>Nope!</em> Here&rsquo;s where the fever swamps come in and why I believe this is such a huge deal for the Republic. See, a sizable minority of, not to put too fine a point of it, lunatics, have convinced themselves that this operation is just the cover for a cunning plan by the U.S. government to—read the next bit slowly—invade Texas.</p> <p>You might be saying, &ldquo;Huh, why would a government invade its own territory?&rdquo; And that would be a good question. And it&rsquo;s where you and the fever swamps part company.</p> <p>There are a bunch of other paranoid oooooh-kays added to the mix, including the suspicious closures of Wal-Marts that are clearly going to house Chinese and Russian soldiers or perhaps be food dumps for the occupiers or perhaps be internment camps for Patriots, underground tunnels, and ice cream truck mobile morgues. Here&rsquo;s a <a href="">brief roundup of some of the conspiracies</a>.</p> <p>Take a moment to center your chi and then let&rsquo;s talk about the basic idea here. Which you would say is a fringe lunatic thing and you would be correct, except, and this is why this one will go in the history books, this idea has spread enough that the <a href="">governor of Texas has ordered the National Guard to keep an eye on things</a> and every potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate asked about Jade Helm is giving the most vague answer possible in order to not upset the base. It is no longer an idea for the most deranged message boards: The idea that the U.S. government is planning to invade itself is, if certainly not mainstream, way outside the Black Helicopter fringe.</p> <p>Why is this?</p> <p>First off, there&rsquo;s always been a paranoid, delusional strain in American politics. Douglas Hofstadter wrote <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1438308831">the seminal work about this</a> in the 1960s and his words ring like they were written yesterday. If you&rsquo;re interested in this at all, Douglas Hofstadter is the place to start.</p> <p>Though back when Hofstadter was working, it was a small core of fringe elements who believed the Jewish conspiracy, the United Nations Black Helicopters and the Illuminati were factors in American politics.</p> <p>But it&rsquo;s spreading. When the governor of an American state has to kowtow to ideas the military are plotting to abduct freedom fighters in its own country, something has changed.</p> <p>If you spend any time at all online looking around the places where Dastardly Plots to Destroy Freedom are discussed, you find that almost everybody involved considers themself a Patriot (yes, capital-P). These are people who believe in the Constitution of this great nation and who see it being corrupted by people who hate America.</p> <p>According to them, every day the people who hate America go to work, check the Gay Agenda to make sure they&rsquo;re not getting in the way, and then pinch away at the Constitution any way they can.</p> <p>Hofstadter had this to say about the idea that the people you disagree with are anti-American:</p> <blockquote> <p>The two-party system, as it has developed in the United States, hangs on the common recognition of loyal opposition: each side accepts the ultimate good intentions of the other. The opponent’s judgment may be held to be consistently execrable, but the legitimacy of his intent is not—that is, in popular terms, his Americanism is not questioned. One of the unspoken assumptions of presidential campaigns is that the leaders of both parties are patriots who, however serious their mistakes, must be accorded the right to govern. But an essential point in the pseudo-conservative world view is that our recent Presidents, being men of wholly evil intent, have conspired against the public good. This does more than discredit them: it calls into question the validity of the political system that keeps putting such men into office.</p> </blockquote> <p>The idea that the person you have an ideological disagreement with isn&rsquo;t just coming from a different angle than you, but that this person <em>hates your country</em> is what takes it from politics to feverish paranoia. For extra credit, do a Google search on &ldquo;Does Obama hate America&rdquo; and see what you find.</p> <p>And this is where things get very interesting from a psychological standpoint. These are Patriots who want to preserve their country, but who have found that the government of this country are in fact out to destroy it. That is, the democratically elected representatives of this country are actively anti-American.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s key for this world view that the American government hates America and the Constitution.</p> <h3>But why the military?</h3> <p>All Americans have grown up being taught to respect our Armed Forces. And we should. Every soldier who puts themself in harm&rsquo;s way to protect their country deserves our respect and above all our help when they come back from their battle fields. </p> <p>But notice how the Jade Helm hysteria has changed this: Now the might of America and its soldiers is turning toward small cities in Texas, which will be invaded and taken over, the true Patriots taken to concentration camps in chains. Or tunnels under Wal-Marts. Either way, it&rsquo;s bad.</p> <p>How is this not utterly insulting to our Armed Forces? American citizens are now believing that their soldiers (many of whom come from their communities) are anti-American thugs who will smile as they disappear True Patriots? How does that jibe at all with respecting the Armed Forces?</p> <p>Again, if this was contained to the fever swamps it would be one thing, but when the governor of Texas feels the need to appease people who believe that the young men and women from their own communities are now coming to establish prison camps for their fellow citizens because … uhm … freedom? something is horribly broken.</p> <h3>A crumbling Empire</h3> <p>It&rsquo;s not hard to see why people would become disenchanted—travel small-town America and you see communities falling apart from the lack of work and the infestation of drugs, an infrastructure that&rsquo;s falling apart, young people leaving as fast as they can rent a U-Haul, a shrinking middle class and a general feeling of malaise.</p> <p>(If you don&rsquo;t believe me, drive two hours from the metropolis where you live and stop at the first small town you get to. Then walk around for a few hours. Visit the Wal-Mart. Then tell me what you saw.)</p> <p>But in the Patriot mind this is not because America is having a systemic problem but because the enemy is succeeding, hurting America every day through its cunning conspiracy. America is the greatest country on Earth so the decay you see every day must be due to a conspiracy of powerful enemies. It can&rsquo;t be due to a long series of bad decisions since America by definition is great, so it must be due a conspiracy, and not just any conspiracy, a conspiracy large enough, powerful enough to bring the greatest nation on Earth to its knees.</p> <p>A conspiracy only a true Patriot can see.</p> <p>And after Jade Helm is concluded, the humvees drive away and it turns out nothing apart from a military exercise has taken place, the true believers will know that it&rsquo;s only because they watched the military and kept them from executing their horrible plan.</p> <p>Because having a few people in camouflage clothing hanging around would surely stop a plan by a military and a government to take over its own country in its tracks.</p> <p>And then the rumors of the next conspiracy will begin to circulate…</p> How to install Jekyll on Amazon Linux Nic Lindh 2015-08-01T00:00:00-07:00 <p>Figuring out how to install <a href="">Jekyll</a> on an EC2 instance running Amazon Linux took some googling around for me, but like most things, once you know how it&rsquo;s easy.</p> <p>Run the following commands:</p> <div class="highlight"><pre><code class="language-" data-lang="">sudo yum update -y sudo yum groupinstall "Development Tools" -y sudo yum install ruby-rdoc ruby-devel -y sudo gem install therubyracer sudo gem install jekyll </code></pre></div> <p>The dev tools group install will install way more tools than you actually need for this purpose. Whatevs.</p> <p>You don&rsquo;t need <code>therubyracer</code> if you already have Node installed.</p> <p>Note that this is just the Jekyll part. Wrapping your head around EC2 in general will require some quality time with Amazon&rsquo;s documentation.</p> <p><em>This was tested on an Amazon Linux AMI 2015.03.</em></p>