The Core Dump The Core Dump is the online home of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American man living in the Sonoran desert. 2015-04-11T22:11:11-04:00 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. Book roundup, part 18 Nic Lindh 2015-04-11T00:00:00-04:00 <p>For this installment of the book roundup there&rsquo;s not as much new reading as usual to talk about as I&rsquo;ve been binge-re-reading Terry Pratchett&rsquo;s Discworld novels since his passing and mourning the loss of one of the best humanity can produce. </p> <p>Rest in peace, Sir Terry.</p> <h2>Non-fiction</h2> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=aasif%2Bmandvi&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1423021629">No Land&rsquo;s Man, by Aasif Mandvi</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Witty, funny, and touching about being born in India, having a childhood in North England, adolescence in Florida, and living his adult life in New York City.</p> <p>Mandvi is witty and interesting and writes with great warmth about his experiences. It&rsquo;s a nice, short, pick-me-up book that will put a smile on your face and make you want to see Mandvi perform on a stage.</p> <h3><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;keywords=idiot%2Bamerica&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1428802882">Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, by Charles Pierce</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Veteran journalist Pierce is very, very angry about the state of political discourse in America today. He&rsquo;s also a great crafter of prose, with scalpel-like observations that keep <em>Idiot America</em> from being just an angry rant on a blog somewhere. </p> <p>Pierce recounts the great history of cranks and snake-oil salesmen in America and how that history has now morphed into a media landscape based on what he calls the three Great Premises:</p> <blockquote> <p>Since right-wing populism has at its heart an “anti-elitist” distrust of expertise, talk radio offers the purest example of the Three Great Premises at work. A host is not judged a success by his command of the issues, but purely by whether what he says moves the ratings needle. (First Great Premise: Any theory is valid if it moves units.) If the needle moves enough, then the host is adjudged an expert (Second Great Premise: Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough) and, if the host seems to argue passionately enough, then what he is saying is judged to be true simply because of how many people are listening to him say it (Third Great Premise: Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is measured by how fervently they believe it).</p> </blockquote> <p><em>Idiot America</em> succeeds in making you smile while you want to beat something into a bloody pulp.</p> <p>Required reading.</p> <h2>Fiction</h2> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=something%2Bcoming%2Bthrough&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1427845483)">Something Coming Through, by Paul McAuley</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Interesting near-future sci-fi after first contact with aliens who come to Earth and open up wormholes to 15 worlds, worlds the mysterious aliens encourage and help humans colonize. </p> <p>These same aliens have previously helped many other species, dubbed Elder Cultures, colonize the same 15 worlds and their incomprehensible ruins are scattered across the new planets.</p> <p>But humanity&rsquo;s benefactors remain unknowable, revealing themselves only through avatars that scrupulously keep to their main talking point of &ldquo;only wanting to help.&rdquo;</p> <p><em>Something Coming Through</em> does a great job of marrying the massive shock to humanity brought by the arrival of the mysterious aliens and the human capacity for adapting so that while there&rsquo;s a huge transformation of life on Earth, most people are still going through their ordinary lives and remain in their ordinary head spaces.</p> <p>Well written and with a plot that moves well, it was a bit of a slog to get through at times, with too much plot that didn&rsquo;t carry the story forward. Some judicious and merciless editing would make this novel one of the best of the year.</p> <p>Nevertheless, <em>Something Coming Through</em> is an interesting and enjoyable exercise.</p> <h3><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;keywords=connelly%2Bburning%2Broom&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1419795553">The Burning Room, by Michael Connelly</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Harry Bosch is a detective in the Cold Case unit of the LAPD, technically past mandatory retirement age, but doggedly working to bring closure to old cases.</p> <p><em>The Burning Room</em> finds author Connelly extremely comfortable with his creation and the novel putters along in the usual Harry Bosch fashion. </p> <p>It&rsquo;s not bad, but not special either, mostly following familiar groves. If you&rsquo;re a fan of the Harry Bosch series you&rsquo;ll like it, but most of its weight comes from familiarity with the character&rsquo;s journey. If you&rsquo;re the kind of lucky person who hasn&rsquo;t made Bosch&rsquo;s acquaintance yet, start with <em><a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=books&amp;keywords=the%2Bblack%2Becho&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1428803172">The Black Echo</a></em> and enjoy one of the best American detective series put to page.</p> <h3><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20&amp;ie=UTF8">Foxglove Summer, by Ben Aaronovitch</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>The Rivers of London series follows Peter Grant, a young London policeman who is brought into the supernatural division of the force and is trained to be a magician. The series is fueled by a strong and touching story arc that often overshadows the events in individual novels.</p> <p>This is the fifth installment in the series and is a good continuation. </p> <p><em>Foxglove Summer</em> has our hero visiting the English countryside to help the local police make sense of the disappearance of two young girls.</p> <p>Turns out, surprise, there are supernatural forces at work.</p> <p>The novel is fun and fast, the plot moving at a good clip, but it does little to advance the overall story arc of the series and with Grant away from his usual patch it feels more like an interlude than anything else.</p> <p>But if you&rsquo;re a fan of the series, definitely pick it up. If you haven&rsquo;t made Grant&rsquo;s acquaintance yet, start at the beginning with <em><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20&amp;ie=UTF8">Midnight Riot</a></em> and enjoy.</p> <h3><a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=dark%2Bdefiles&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1428701504">The Dark Defiles, by Richard K Morgan</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Land Fit for Heroes is a trilogy about a broken, strange world which incorporates and subverts most &ldquo;regular&rdquo; fantasy tropes and centers on three protagonists: An openly gay (and despised for it) master warrior, a black alien race half-breed with a drug problem (who is also gay but female so it&rsquo;s not as much of a problem in the world), and a mongol horde-equivalent steppe warrior.</p> <p><em>The Dark Defiles</em> is the grim, feverish finale to the trilogy begun in <em><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20&amp;ie=UTF8">The Steel Remains</a></em> and wraps up many but certainly not all the mysteries of the series. Firmly in grimdark territory, Morgan&rsquo;s characters are scheming, sweaty, soiled, trying to make their way through everything a broken world can throw at them.</p> <p>I respect the subversion of fantasy tropes Morgan is aiming for here, but spent a lot of the series feeling like he&rsquo;s gone too far in the unlikeable-hero and stuff-is-strange directions, with large portions feeling like nothing so much as unpleasant fever dreams.</p> <p>If you enjoy your fantasy grim, Land Fit for Heroes is worth a clenched-jaw visit.</p> BlueBuds X and Jabra Revo Bluetooth headsets review Nic Lindh 2015-03-14T00:00:00-04:00 <p><img src="/images/revo-and-bluebuds.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Jabra Revo and BlueBuds X with Apple EarPods for scale.</i></p> <p>Bluetooth headsets are rapidly becoming the way to fly, doing away with annoyances like having to <em>shudder</em> have wires connecting your headphones to your stereo. </p> <p>I&rsquo;ve used both the <a href=";sr=1-3&amp;s=electronics&amp;keywords=jabra%2Brevo&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1426387295">Jabra Revo</a> and <a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=electronics&amp;keywords=bluebuds%2Bx&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1426387336">JayBird BlueBuds X</a> for several months and they&rsquo;re both good for their intended purposes but have drawbacks.</p> <p>By their very nature of having to provide their own power, Bluetooth headphones add annoyances like having to remember to charge your headphones or you will indeed have a quiet and boring workout session. For myself I always make sure to top the BlueBuds off before each session—life&rsquo;s too short to stress about your headphones dying in the middle of a workout.</p> <p>The <a href=";sr=1-1&amp;s=electronics&amp;keywords=bluebuds%2Bx&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1426387336">BlueBuds X</a> and the <a href=";sr=1-3&amp;s=electronics&amp;keywords=jabra%2Brevo&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1426387295">Revos</a> share, obviously, their lack of wires, but also the use of pleasant female voices to tell you when they are connected and disconnected as well as fairly odd interface schemes.</p> <p>Let&rsquo;s being with the BlueBuds, which solve a real, albeit first-world, problem: Wires are annoying when you&rsquo;re working out. Less of a problem when you&rsquo;re on the couch, but at the gym or running, ugh, wires, amirite?</p> <p>Though no matter whether you&rsquo;re looking to rock out at the gym or you want to walk around your house listening to tunes without wires, you have to deal with the &ldquo;interesting&rdquo; control schemes on both these headphones.</p> <p>On the BlueBuds, you have to accept that the standard up volume, down volume, double-click to forward scheme has been transformed into, well, something. </p> <p>I, personally, can&rsquo;t understand it, whatever it is. And it involves volume up or down beeping. Seriously, I know you caught the click when you turned down the volume. I didn&rsquo;t need to hear a <em>beep</em> to know that. And the double-click, well, I don&rsquo;t know what the hell is happening there. I just want it to skip forward, but it doesn&rsquo;t. It&rsquo;s weird.</p> <p>The Revos, on the other hand, have this whole odd future thing going on where you can swipe on the right can to change the volume and click different locations to forward or backward.</p> <p><em>Sigh</em>. It&rsquo;s not good. Unless perhaps if you have way better eye to hand coordination than I do. It&rsquo;s a lot of moving your finger in the general area and guessing and cursing and wishing you were better at guessing where your finger is.</p> <p>The BlueBuds are tiny little things and you have a bit of an arts and crafts project ahead of you when you first take them out of the box. Since they&rsquo;re in-ears you need to find your tip size and since they come with flaps, or wings, if you prefer, that need to be fitted to your ears.</p> <p>After you find your size, you have to adjust the strap—through a pretty cunning mechanism—so it&rsquo;s snug against your head. Do not half-ass this step or you will be very unhappy in downward dog. Or so I&rsquo;ve heard.</p> <p>Once you&rsquo;ve gone through the setup, what you have is a set of headphones that, though a little bit of a pain to put on, will stay snug through pretty strenuous workouts and that sound &hellip; decent. The BlueBuds do sound <em>much</em> better than the Apple EarPods and are impressive for their size, but the bass is lacking for any anthems you want to crank at the gym to push yourself.</p> <p>But if you don&rsquo;t enjoy the bass you&rsquo;ll find them good. I&rsquo;m hoping the next generation will find some way to get more solid bass.</p> <p>Note that the set in the picture above have been fitted with <a href=";tag=thecoredump-20&amp;ie=UTF8">Comply S-500 tips</a>, which makes them sit better in the ears—an option I recommend, but note that fitting the tips on the BlueBuds will involve some <em>determined</em> pushing.</p> <p>The Jabra Revos, on the other hand, have a much more substantial size which gets you much longer battery life and an almost ridiculous amount of bass. The Revos are tuned for earthquake. Personally, I&rsquo;m a simple man and I do enjoy the bass, so it&rsquo;s not a problem, but if you like your headphones flat the Revos will probably annoy you.</p> <p>(Incidentally, why, oh freaking why, does iOS <em>still</em> not have a system-wide equalizer? <em>Shakes fist in general direction of Cupertino.</em> People listen to audio a lot on these devices&hellip;)</p> <p>Speaking of annoyances, one thing I haven&rsquo;t seen mentioned in any reviews is that Bluetooth is highly susceptible to microwave interference so every time I&rsquo;m cooking dinner and have to warm something in the microwave I find myself a little sad as the Revos start cutting out unless I go into a corner as far away from the microwave oven as possible until it&rsquo;s done.</p> <p>Note also that the Bluetooth stack in iOS (in my case an iPhone 6) does have a tendency to blow a gasket once in a while, leading to intermittent audio dropouts until you reboot the phone or turn Bluetooth off and on. It&rsquo;s happened on both these products, but strangely never on my car stereo. <em>Shrug</em>.</p> <p>Looks like <a href=";noredirect=1">&ldquo;Did you try turning it off and on again&rdquo;</a> will stay in the IT professional arsenal for a long time.</p> <p><strong>Final thoughts:</strong> The BlueBuds are excellent for exercising. The sound is a little weaker than I&rsquo;d like for the money, but acceptable, and the Revos are great <em>if</em> you can stomach a lot of bass. Cutting the headphone cords is a huge upgrade and it does seem inevitable this is the way of the future.</p> <p>Oh, and speaking of future, the Revos have power-up and power-down sounds that make my inner 12-year-old happy every time I use them.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> The product links above are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which is greatly appreciated.</p> Naked root domain with Amazon S3 without using Route 53 Nic Lindh 2015-03-08T00:00:00-05:00 <p><img src="/images/memtest.jpg" /></p> <p><strong>This took me way too long to figure out, so I hope this post will save you some time.</strong></p> <p>If you&rsquo;re the kind of cool cat who uses a <a href="">static site generator like Jekyll for your site</a> you&rsquo;re probably also the kind of cool person who wants to put your static site on <a href="">Amazon&rsquo;s S3</a> so you don&rsquo;t have to worry about a traffic spike taking your site down or your site getting hacked.</p> <p>But if you&rsquo;re like me you also want the site to use the apex domain, a.k.a. root domain, a.k.a. naked domain, that is, the site itself like instead of </p> <p><em>Cough</em> hipster <em>cough</em>.</p> <p>For technical reasons based in the history of the <a href="">DNS system</a> and how S3 (and platforms like <a href="">Heroku</a>) works, this is surprisingly difficult. </p> <p>Amazon, not being idiots, have solved this problem with their <a href="">Route 53</a> DNS service. But what if you don&rsquo;t want to use Route 53?</p> <p>It looks grim, since Route 53 have figured out what is essentially a hack of the DNS system and one that&rsquo;s mostly of use to them. Why would anybody else support this?</p> <p>From a technical standpoint the issue is that the domain name system expects the naked domain, or if you want to use the technical term, the apex domain (which sounds like a pretty cool band name) to be set up to resolve to an IP address but Amazon&rsquo;s S3 (and Heroku) does its own domain name resolution so there is no IP address to resolve to.</p> <p><em>Bother.</em></p> <p>But more and more domain name hosts are figuring out how to replicate this feat, and the one I recommend is <a href="">Cloudflare</a>. If you put your domain behind Cloudflare (which I&rsquo;ve been doing for years for the <a href="">Content Delivery Network</a> functionality and the hack protection they provide), they support what they call <a href="">CNAME flattening</a>, which means they support naked domains for things like Amazon S3 and <a href="">Heroku</a>. Which is awesome. And free.</p> <p>Incidentally, as I said, I&rsquo;ve used Cloudflare for years and am continually amazed that their base level service is free. Seriously? A free <a href="">CDN</a>? That&rsquo;s very cool but kind of nutty.</p> <p>So why not just use Route 53? This goes into a much bigger post about <a href="">Amazon Web Services</a>. A lot of companies are building their businesses on top of AWS and are very happy with it, but the thing with AWS is that it&rsquo;s incredibly flexible and that flexibility inevitably leads to complexity. AWS has a massive learning curve. </p> <p>S3 is sort of an outlier in the AWS eco system in that it&rsquo;s very straightforward: You create a bucket, you put files in the bucket, people can see the files. Boom. Simple. The rest of the AWS system is very much not so simple, including Route 53.</p> <p>Route 53 lets you do all kinds of very cool things with the DNS system, but if all you want to do is put up a simple static site for your business you&rsquo;ll get a headache real quick.</p> <p>Cloudflare keeps it simple.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s so great you can put your static site on S3 and have an apex domain point to it and not have to worry about any kind of server maintenance and upkeep. <em>It&rsquo;s very future.</em></p> Say hello to Brimful Podcast Nic Lindh 2015-03-01T00:00:00-05:00 <div style="float: right; padding: 10px;"> <img src="/images/operator-square-612.jpg" alt="Brimful Podcast logo" class="img-responsive" width="300" /> </div> <p>I love podcasting. I&rsquo;ve loved it since the days when listening to a podcast in the car meant burning it to a CD and loading the CD into the player in your dashboard. </p> <p>Dark days, those were. </p> <p>Podcasts have almost completely replaced radio and have provided me so many hours of enjoyment. Apart from the convenience of selecting from a smorgasbord of content at whatever time of my choosing, the <em>huge</em> leap is the breadth of content that&rsquo;s become available, content that&rsquo;s free from the economics of lowest-common denominator broadcasting. </p> <p>Whatever obscure thing you&rsquo;re into, there&rsquo;s somebody out there who&rsquo;s into it <em>more</em> and is talking into a microphone about it for you to listen to for free. This is truly a beautiful thing.</p> <p>And now I have my own. <em>Pinky finger to lip, maniacal laughter.</em></p> <p><a href="">Brimful Podcast</a> is a commute-length weekly podcast where I explain any technology in the news that week. The impetus for the show was my long-standing frustration with the inept way mainstream media covers technology and a desire to set the record straight. </p> <p>Hence Brimful Podcast. </p> <p>On weeks where technology hasn&rsquo;t been that visible in the news, I explain the technologies that are all around us every day and that most people don&rsquo;t know about, much less think about.</p> <p>Please take a minute to <a href="">check out Brimful on iTunes</a> and <a href="">visit the site</a>.</p> <p>And since I&rsquo;m quite the marketing maven, <a href="">the podcast even has its own Twitter account</a>.</p> <p>Do check it out and I hope you enjoy! Feedback is of course welcome.</p> Another shot of wet socks against net neutrality Nic Lindh 2015-02-20T00:00:00-05:00 <p>Last Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, my hometown paper The Arizona Republic printed an <a href="">amazingly harebrained editorial arguing against net neutrality</a>, which I contested on <a href="">this blog</a>.</p> <p>But it seems net neutrality is a big enough talking point for the GOP these days that they had to go back to the well once again with <a href="">Why Phoenix needs ultra-fast Internet</a>.</p> <p>Here&rsquo;s the sub head: &ldquo;Our View: Fears that rich corporations will rule the Internet are best answered by building a bigger pipeline.&rdquo;</p> <p>And boy howdy, it goes full histrionic against net neutrality:</p> <blockquote> <p>In nearly all respects, this planned regulatory scheme is a radical and destructive proposition. By enacting industry controls designed in the 1930s to regulate railroads, the FCC drastically would refashion the most dynamic engine of wealth creation of this generation into… a utility. A federally controlled tool shaped according to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats.</p> <p>This plan for so-called &ldquo;net neutrality&rdquo; is a myopic, investment-stifling solution in search of a problem in all but one theoretical respect:</p> <p>Especially in the residential market, the Internet pipeline as it exists today is too narrow, too short on bandwidth. Absent infrastructure improvements, in the not-too-distant future, the question of how to accommodate all the video-saturated uses planned for the Internet will stop being merely theoretical.</p> </blockquote> <p>&ldquo;A federally controlled tool shaped according to the whims of politicians and bureaucrats&rdquo; most certainly deserves a golf clap: fitting &ldquo;federal&rdquo;, &ldquo;tool&rdquo;, &ldquo;politicians&rdquo; and &ldquo;bureaucrats&rdquo; into that short of a sentence really should win you some sort of Tea Party Scrabble prize.</p> <p>So, good job.</p> <p>Unfortunately the premise of this editorial is completely wrong, as anybody who has paid any amount of attention to the Internet well knows.</p> <p>The problem is <em>not</em>, most emphatically <em>not</em> that there isn&rsquo;t enough capacity on the Internet. The problem is that the carriers want to be able to extract blackmail money from innovative content creators to not slow down their content.</p> <p>I don&rsquo;t know how to put it more bluntly.</p> <p>Speed increases are great—personally I can&rsquo;t wait to see the things an order of magnitude higher Internet speeds will make possible and what companies will emerge from that shift. But speed increases will not take away the threat of carriers throttling content creators. And as speeds increase, the sizes of the content that gets pushed across the Internet also increases.</p> <p>A history lesson: In 1991 I downloaded the shareware game Solaris. It was (I think—it was a long time ago, obviously) about 600 kilobytes. It took <em>eight hours</em> to download. Which was worth it—it was an awesome game. Today the average home page is three times that size and pops onto your phone in less than a second. That&rsquo;s called progress.</p> <p>So, Republic editorial board, it&rsquo;s not a matter of increase the speed and then the problem goes away. Once the speed increases, the size of the content goes up. It always goes up. And the pathetic groveling for Google to magically come in and solve The Problems in the Name of the Market goes against the reality that the carrier market—or lack thereof—<em>is</em> the problem.</p> <p>Google is pushing Google Fiber to force the incumbent carriers to up their game because the current market is <em>not</em> a market—it&rsquo;s a monopoly or duopoly and Google is trying to disrupt it. How one huge company fighting the entrenched interests of an existing market means that the invisible hand of the market is working is difficult to comprehend. </p> Against net neutrality Nic Lindh 2015-02-17T00:00:00-05:00 <p>This morning The Arizona Republic published an editorial with <a href="">one of the worst arguments against net neutrality to ever waste innocent ink.</a></p> <p>Take it away, editorial board:</p> <blockquote> <p>Turning control of the Internet over to the FCC is an invitation to bring to a thudding halt the creative destruction that has marked the Internet from its outset.</p> <p>The changes wrought through a free, open, mostly unregulated Internet have been monumental, all in service to a ubiquitous, dynamic electronic web that evolves before our eyes.</p> <p>What part of that tidal flow of change might an Internet-controlling FCC impede in the name of lawyerly &ldquo;fairness&rdquo;? The spread of ultra-fast Google fiber? Wearable technology? Both those nascent innovations tread on someone&rsquo;s sense of fairness.</p> </blockquote> <p>Read those few short sentences again carefully—they are works of art when it comes to obfuscation. In those sentences, the editorial board manages to conflate two separate things not once but twice in a haze of purple prose.</p> <p>First, they mix up the <em>content</em> delivered through the Internet and the <em>distribution</em> of that content. Which is either so ignorant that you can only marvel at the arrogance of sitting down and writing a strongly worded opinion about something you don&rsquo;t understand or, more likely, a grossly cynical attempt at swaying the opinions of people who lack the grasp of basic technology by willfully lying to them.</p> <p>Second, the word &ldquo;fairness&rdquo; has two meanings which, again, are conflated. There&rsquo;s the actual meaning in this context, that of the content not being altered through things like artificial slow lanes, and the second an emotional response to perceived injustice.</p> <p>I&rsquo;m pretty sure the editorial board knows what they&rsquo;re doing by mixing those meanings, making people think the big bad government is getting involved in decreeing what is fair and what is not. (Can you smell the lurching liberal oppression?)</p> <p>The only thing <a href="">net neutrality</a> is concerned with is that the pipes don&rsquo;t mess with the content. No matter what the content is and where it&rsquo;s coming from. <em>There could not be less of a value judgment.</em></p> <p>Golf clap for managing to sneak that piece of sleight of hand in there, I suppose.</p> <p>If you haven&rsquo;t been paying attention to net neutrality and don&rsquo;t understand why I&rsquo;m getting all bent out of shape about what is one of the most important issues facing America, huge expanses of the Internet can&rsquo;t wait to inform you. <a href="">This is a good place to start</a>.</p> As the rage rages in the Tea Party’s rage Nic Lindh 2015-02-08T00:00:00-05:00 <p><img src="/images/american-flag.jpg" /></p> <p>Like a lot of rational people I&rsquo;m continually baffled by the far right and especially the complete lack of reality they display: <em>Lower taxes are always better for the economy! Sharia law in Detroit and Paris! Women can shut down pregnancy from legitimate rape!</em></p> <p>Facts simply do not matter.</p> <p>Paul Krugman, a man who has put in more time in the trenches than most, recently wrote in the NYT <a href=";emc=rss&amp;_r=0">about this issue</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>And the list goes on. On issues that range from monetary policy to the control of infectious disease, a big chunk of America’s body politic holds views that are completely at odds with, and completely unmovable by, actual experience. And no matter the issue, it’s the same chunk. If you’ve gotten involved in any of these debates, you know that these people aren’t happy warriors; they’re red-faced angry, with special rage directed at know-it-alls who snootily point out that the facts don’t support their position.</p> </blockquote> <p>The rage is especially interesting. Go watch pictures from any Tea Party rally and you&rsquo;ll see a lot of older white people who are spectacularly angry. </p> <p>As they should be, if they were correct. If the things they believe were actually based in reality, their entire way of life would be under constant siege from gays, queers, hippies, immigrants and Muslims who have all joined in a slavering zombie horde with the sole purpose of eradicating God-fearing real Americans.</p> <p>Visit <a href=""></a> and you&rsquo;ll see an endless parade of debunkings of far-right Facebook posts and mass emails about Sharia law being enacted, troops denied service, and on and on.</p> <p>The big question, though, when reading the stories and seeing the videos is why anybody would choose to live that way? It must be a <em>terrible</em> way to live. Always angry, always looking over your shoulder, always afraid, always convinced of the near-collapse of civilization.</p> <p>And it is a choice, make no mistake. No matter where you live and what circles you travel, it&rsquo;s your choice if you want to spend your time eating TV-dinners in front of Fox News, never ever googling any outré statements they make. Your choice to scowl at the guy with the turban behind the counter at the Circle K, watching his hands for any sudden Muslim moves as he rings up your slurpee. Your choice to look at a newspaper and smugly dismiss what it says as &ldquo;lamestream media&rdquo; without even glancing down at your phone long enough to do a casual search for the validity of the claim. </p> <p>You have the same Internet as everybody else and you have access to most of the written history of Western civilization. </p> <p>But no.</p> <p>For whatever reason, and it&rsquo;s one I have a hard time fathoming, a large fringe of Americans are making the choice to live in a mental state of siege, convinced disaster is looming and only hyper-vigilance will save society from ruin.</p> <p>Why would you do that? Why would you choose to doom yourself to a life of anger, frustration, fear and futility?</p> <p>There are so many real issues we should be coming together as a society to address, but instead … rage.</p> Death Traps and Fury Nic Lindh 2015-01-30T00:00:00-05:00 <p><img src="/images/fury-wallpaper-4.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Credit: Fury Movie</i></p> <p>There have been lots of strong, gritty World War II movies that do their best to show you the horror of that conflict, like <em>Saving Private Ryan</em>, <em>Flags of Our Fathers</em> and the German <em>Das Boot</em> and <em>Stalingrad</em>. All brutal and unrelenting.</p> <p>But <em>Fury</em> is grimmer.</p> <p>It does have problems as a movie: The characters never become more than sketches—and mostly unlikeable sketches at that—and the plot is thin and unimaginative, relying on plenty of the tropes of the genre. And of course having your face rubbed in the horror of war isn&rsquo;t what anybody would call enjoyable.</p> <p>But it&rsquo;s technically solid, with the most intense battle scenes since <em>Saving Private Ryan</em>. Watching it, I thought the take-away (apart from war being really freaking loud) was that the Germans kept fighting long after they by any rights should have stopped and that <a href="">the M4 Sherman tank was a poor tank</a>. </p> <p>But <a href="">the Wikipedia article on the film</a> mentions it was inspired by <a href=";ie=UTF8&amp;keywords=death%2Btraps&amp;tag=thecoredump-20&amp;qid=1422660817"><em>Death Traps</em>, the autobiography of maintenance company officer Belton Y Cooper</a>.</p> <p>If you read <em>Death Traps</em> you understand the tone of the movie as well as why the eponymous tank is named Fury. The M4 medium tank was not just bad: It was a literal death trap for the crews manning it, so poorly armored it stood little chance against German tanks and German anti-tank weaponry. </p> <p>M4 losses were appalling, but thanks to industrial might the American army were mostly able to replace or repair the machinery. This lead to a lack of tank crews so severe that replacement infantry soldiers were sometimes given a day of training before being thrown into battle against veteran German forces. Naturally, this was a recipe for disaster.</p> <p>The obvious question is, why would the army of the nation with the strongest industrial base of the conflict go to war with such an inferior battle tank?</p> <p>Turns out the M4 was designed by committee to satisfy several incompatible goals (all the following blockquotes are from <em>Death Traps</em>):</p> <blockquote> <p>The armored and cavalry officers favored a large-caliber, high-velocity antitank gun mounted in the turret. The infantry officers still thought of the tank as an infantry assault weapon. The artillery officers thought that if a tank was going to carry a gun larger than a 37mm, the gun should conform to artillery specifications, which required a gun to be capable of 7,500 service rounds in combat. To meet this, a 75mm gun and larger would require a relatively low velocity. It apparently never occurred to the artillery officers that few tanks would ever survive in combat long enough to fire 7,500 service rounds.</p> </blockquote> <p>When battle tested it was obvious the tank could not take on German armor. But the great tank general Patton decided <em>that didn&rsquo;t matter</em>. Here&rsquo;s what Cooper has to say about Patton&rsquo;s decision favoring the M4 over the heavier, <a href="">better-armored M26</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>He said that the tanks of an armored division were not supposed to fight other tanks but bypass them if possible and attack enemy objectives to the rear. [&hellip;] Patton felt that because the M4 tank was lighter and required less fuel than the M26, it would be faster and more agile and was better equipped to perform the mission of the armored divisions.</p> <p>In an excellent argument that the M26 heavy tank should be used, General Rose [who was later killed in combat] and other field commanders resisted the higher-ranking Patton. The experiences in North Africa at Kasserine Pass and also in Sicily had convinced them of the superiority of German armor and the need for a heavy tank to offset it. However, Patton persisted in his view; he was not above a hassle. He insisted that we should downgrade the M26 heavy tank and concentrate on the M4.</p> <p>Patton’s rank and authority overwhelmed the resistance of the more experienced commanders, and the decision was made to concur with Patton’s view. SHAEF immediately notified Washington to deemphasize production of the M26 heavy tank and concentrate instead on the M4 medium tank. This turned out to be one of the most disastrous decisions of World War II, and its effect on the upcoming battle for Western Europe was catastrophic.</p> </blockquote> <p>Turned out the Germans did not care what U.S armored doctrine dictated and insisted on meeting the underpowered M4s head-to-head with superior tanks.</p> <p>The weakest point in the movie is the ultimate night battle with SS troops after Fury has been disabled—weak because the SS troops who were urgently headed for a different location would have simply gone around the tank rather than attack it over and over <em>from the front</em> while displaying Star Wars Storm Trooper shooting skills with their <a href="">Panzerfausts</a>—was based on a section of <em>Death Traps</em> in which a single and astonishingly bad-ass surviving tanker performed that same feat during an Allied advance:</p> <blockquote> <p>In the fighting around Hastenrath and Scherpenseel, the tankers, without adequate infantry support, performed almost superhuman acts of heroism to hold on throughout the night. It was reported that one of the tankers, in his tank on a road junction, was the only surviving member of his crew but was determined to hold his position at all costs.</p> <p>The lone tanker had previously sighted his 76mm tank gun down the middle of the road. He depressed the mechanism slightly and loaded a 76mm HE [high explosive—used against non-armored targets]. As the Germans advanced in parallel columns along each side of the road, he fired. The HE shell hit the ground about 150 feet in front of the tank and ricocheted to a height of about 3 feet before it exploded.</p> <p>The shock took the Germans completely by surprise. The American tanker continued to fire all the HE he had as rapidly as possible, swinging the turret around to spray the German infantry, who were trying to escape into the fields on both sides of the highway. Loading and firing the gun by himself was extremely difficult, because he had to cross to the other side of the gun to load and then come back to the gunner’s position to fire.</p> <p>After exhausting his HE and .30-caliber ammunition, he opened the turret and swung the .50 caliber around on the ring mount and opened fire again. He continued firing until all of his .50-caliber ammunition was exhausted, then he grabbed a .45 submachine gun from the fighting compartment and opened fire with this. After using all the ammunition from his Thompson and his pistol, he dropped back in the turret and closed the hatch.</p> <p>He opened his box of hand grenades and grabbed one. When he heard German infantry climb onto the back of the tank, he pulled the pin, cracked the turret hatch slightly, and threw the grenade. It killed all the Germans on the back of the tank and those around it on the ground. He continued to do this until all of his hand grenades were gone; then he closed the hatch and secured it.</p> <p>By this time, the German infantry unit apparently decided to bypass the tank. From the vicious rate of firing, they must have assumed that they had run up on an entire reinforced roadblock. When our infantry arrived the next day, they found the brave young tanker still alive in his tank. The entire surrounding area was littered with German dead and wounded. This, to me, was one of the most courageous acts of individual heroism in World War II. </p> </blockquote> <p><em>Death Traps</em> was written to be a dispassionate account of Cooper&rsquo;s experiences, but it&rsquo;s obvious he was still seething with rage and resentment about the lives he saw wasted.</p> <p>Read it, then watch <em>Fury</em>. And be happy you&rsquo;re not in an M4.</p> New technology requires new thinking Nic Lindh 2015-01-23T00:00:00-05:00 <p><img src="/images/old-tech.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Mitsubishi 19" Diamondtron and Sony 17" Trinitron monitors back in 2004. Those were the greatest display technologies you could purchase at the time. And yes, cool people, you are correct: that’s a FireWire iSight camera perching on the Trinitron.</i></p> <p>Probably the biggest hurdle with new technology is that it requires people to change to get the most out of it.</p> <p>When you adopt a technology to help solve a problem—like, oh let&rsquo;s say, team work—if you just drop the technology in people will use it like a faster version of the old technology. It&rsquo;s analogous to what happens to new media: First there&rsquo;s radio and then there&rsquo;s TV, and TV shows are radio shows with a camera trained on them until enough time goes by that pioneers discovers the strengths of the new medium and develop it into its own thing.</p> <p>In offices today we&rsquo;re still in the early part of that transition—we have better ways to do things, but they&rsquo;re stuck in their old workflows.</p> <p>Like the dreaded e-mail chain, where everybody&rsquo;s sending e-mails around like they&rsquo;re little slips of digital paper. And then a document needs revising, so a Word document gets attached to the e-mails, like it&rsquo;s a bunch of papers. </p> <p>There&rsquo;s no sane reason to do this in 2015, but all over the world this happens in offices every day. Because it&rsquo;s such a natural analog. You&rsquo;re using new technology to make what you used to do faster and more efficient, but forcing it to conform to old habits.</p> <p>And in offices around the world, people open the Word file, read it, edit it, and pass it along, exactly like a piece of paper that gets marked up by different people.</p> <p>It may still be a win since sending e-mails is a lot easier, faster, and cheaper than couriering paper around, but it&rsquo;s still the same old process, only turbocharged.</p> <p>The hard part about adopting a digital workflow isn&rsquo;t to replace the manual tools—<em>the hard part is to change the workflow.</em> </p> <p>People fear change. Most people at this point have realized the benefits of using a word processor instead of a typewriter, but that doesn&rsquo;t change the writing <em>process</em>, only the physical act itself.</p> <p>(As a sidenote here, the people working so hard on the Word team to add new features would cry themselves to sleep every night if they knew how many millions—perhaps billions by now—people use Word like it&rsquo;s a typewriter with magic white-out.)</p> <p>Which is profoundly sad—the state of computers and networks these days has the potential to revamp the process itself.</p> <p>One obvious technology that has been mature and ready for the masses for a long time is shared documents. Let&rsquo;s use Google&rsquo;s implementation as an example, since it&rsquo;s free and polished.</p> <p><a href="">Google Docs</a> lets you create and edit text documents, spreadsheets and presentations on the Internet, which is great for people who move between different machines a lot, or for people who simply want to be able to work on a document at work, then pick up where they left off at home without resorting to kludges like e-mailing themselves the document or remembering to put it on a flash drive. That&rsquo;s a win, right there.</p> <p>But the real win is that other people can be invited to collaborate on the documents. So different people can change things at the same time. Which means <em>no more e-mailing documents back and forth.</em> No more having to figure out who has the latest version, or the even worse scenario of spending your time editing a document only to find out it&rsquo;s several versions old and all your work was for naught. Not a good feeling, that.</p> <p>So why aren&rsquo;t more teams using technologies like Google Docs when the benefits are so obvious?</p> <p>Because they <em>require</em> a new process. Why mess with something that works—well, that kind of works—but is grossly inefficient?</p> <p>This is the challenge for technologists and technology evangelists—getting people to understand why changing the entire workflow is sometimes necessary to get the benefits of the technology. It can be a hard sell.</p> <p>Lord, can it ever be a hard sell.</p> An HTML, CSS and JavaScript lesson plan Nic Lindh 2015-01-14T00:00:00-05:00 <p><img src="/images/nic-teaching.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Spreading knowledge. Yes, it’s scary for all involved.</i></p> <h3>Introduction</h3> <p>Teaching HTML to beginners is difficult. <em>Learning</em> HTML is difficult and frightening for beginners.</p> <p>This post contains a lesson plan for getting beginners started I&rsquo;ve used with good success. It includes supporting files.</p> <p>Why should you listen to me? I&rsquo;ve taught HTML for over 15 years and <em>I&rsquo;ve never made anybody cry.</em> Ask anybody who&rsquo;s taught beginners to create websites and you&rsquo;ll find I&rsquo;m a unicorn. Oh, sure, there have been trembling lips and moist eyes, but no crying.</p> <p>Web nerds should probably be close to your fainting couch for this: Most people, including &ldquo;digital natives,&rdquo; have <em>never seen</em> HTML. I&rsquo;ll give you moment to recover.</p> <p>HTML is alien and hostile for most people—one typo will make half the page disappear; you have to be in control of your files; and there&rsquo;s a strict non-obvious and non-discoverable syntax you have to learn.</p> <p>JavaScript in the context of the browser is even harder since you can&rsquo;t do anything without understanding the basics of HTML (and preferrably CSS). So there&rsquo;s a steep learning curve before a student can do anything to get excited about.</p> <p>And of course being able to see the results of your work and getting excited is a huge part of learning something new and intimidating; it&rsquo;s what insulates students from fear and frustration about the long road ahead.</p> <h3>Why teach HTML basics</h3> <p>It&rsquo;s true most people will never need to create a website from scratch but will only need to understand enough to be able to use a Content Management System (CMS), but I argue everybody should nevertheless understand the basics of how websites are created.</p> <p>HTML is one of the most fundamental pieces of technology that affects a first-world person&rsquo;s life on a daily basis and you should understand what it is. Even if you do all your webwork inside a CMS, you will sometimes need to tweak things and knowing how to sprinkle in some CSS or a custom HTML tag will make all the difference.</p> <p>Ignorance is not a good thing.</p> <h3>The two paths to teach the basics</h3> <p>One of the constant points of dissension between people who teach beginning Web skills is whether you should teach using <a href="">a tool like Dreamweaver</a> or make students type in a text editor. I&rsquo;ve tried it both ways and with that experience have come down hard on the text editor side of this argument.</p> <p>There are two reasons: </p> <ol> <li>If you want to use a tool like Dreamweaver you first have to teach the tool—this takes valuable time</li> <li>The tool will let students dig a deep, deep hole they can&rsquo;t get out of without understanding the things the tool has hidden from them, so you—and your students—end up in a frustrating <a href="">Catch-22</a>.</li> </ol> <p>Teaching with a text editor (<a href="">Text Wrangler</a> by Bare Bones is a great, free option on the Mac) on the other hand lets you get to the topic at hand almost immediately. (If you use Text Wrangler in class, don&rsquo;t forget to tell your students about Soft Wrap.) Of course, typing HTML by hand is also more stark and forbidding, so positive reinforcement is important.</p> <p>(And don&rsquo;t be That Guy and try to have your beginners write HTML in <a href="">Vim</a> or <a href="">Emacs</a>. Don&rsquo;t. Just don&rsquo;t.)</p> <p>Note that <em>typing</em> is crucial: Have students type as much of their HTML as possible from your example up on the projector. Just reading is not enough. Typety-type-type. Though it&rsquo;s a good idea to distribute the HTML skeleton—after explaining it thoroughly—to save some time.</p> <p>As an instructor you will also discover the results of K12 schools cutting their typing classes: Most &ldquo;digital natives&rdquo; are horrendously slow typists. Build in enough time in the lesson plan to allow for this.</p> <p>(It would be an interesting experiment to have students do typing tests on both their phones and on keyboards—I&rsquo;d expect some of them to be faster on a slab of glass.)</p> <h3>Lesson plan</h3> <p>So here&rsquo;s how I broke the Web portion down for an online media class at the <a href="">Cronkite School</a>. Depending on the students and how long you make the lectures this will take two to six hours. </p> <p><a href="/downloads/">Download a zip file of the example pages.</a></p> <h4>The Underpinnings</h4> <ul> <li>How the Internet works <ul> <li>TCP/IP, DNS, client-server relationships</li> </ul></li> <li>History of HTML <ul> <li>Why it is the way it is and the problem it solved <ul> <li>Why Sir Tim-Berners Lee is a hero</li> </ul></li> </ul></li> </ul> <h4>Naming files for the Internet</h4> <ul> <li>Use only lowercase, a-z, 0-9, no spaces, no special characters for filenames <ul> <li>Especially important on a Mac since it&rsquo;s case-insensitive and things seem to work if you mix upper- and lowercase, but then things break when put on a Linux server and the world can see your work</li> </ul></li> </ul> <h4>The importance of the root folder</h4> <ul> <li>Why you must get into the habit of creating one first thing in a project</li> </ul> <h4>Writing HTML</h4> <ul> <li>Distribute HTML skeleton and show the workflow: Edit in text editor, open in browser, save and refresh. Wax on, wax off</li> <li>Students create a root folder</li> <li>Students make a page with h1 and p tags</li> <li>Students copy the page and create a second page, change the headline and text on the second page and link them together</li> <li>Students download an image from the Web, put it in the root folder and include it in the page</li> <li>Students add a different image to the second page</li> </ul> <p>At this point students have created a two-page website with pages that link to each other and have images. This is big!</p> <h4>Adding CSS</h4> <ul> <li>Lecture on CSS, what problem it solves and why it&rsquo;s different from HTML</li> <li>Distribute HTML skeleton and have students build a <em>new</em> two-page site using skills from previous lesson</li> <li>Add CSS includes and create a simple CSS file to change colors and fonts</li> <li>Explain why we have hex codes for colors and show <a href="">Adobe Color CC</a> (née Kuler)</li> <li>Students experiment with fonts and colors</li> </ul> <p>Students now know how to customize the look of their pages.</p> <h4>Adding JavaScript</h4> <p>The objective of this part is to have students create a page they can interact with. </p> <p>The lesson has three parts. First, create a page with a text box students can type into and see a different box update with the same text. Second, add in a test to see if the text box is empty and display different text. Third, build in an easter egg that displays special text when a certain word is input.</p> <p>Yes, this is very basic. It will still bake the brains of students who&rsquo;ve never programmed before—there are a lot of concepts to absorb.</p> <ul> <li>Lecture on the basics of programming: variables, loops, functions, and conditionals</li> <li>Lecture on the history of JavaScript (Created in 10 days in 1995 by one man—which explains a lot)</li> <li>Distribute the first file (<code>js1.html</code>) and verify it works</li> <li>Explain we&rsquo;re going to change the page so the box doesn&rsquo;t disappear when there&rsquo;s no text in the text box</li> <li>Put up <code>js2.html</code> on the projector (don&rsquo;t distribute) and have students type in the changes</li> <li>Explain we&rsquo;re going to put in an easter egg. Because all programs must have easter eggs</li> <li>Put up <code>js3.html</code> (don&rsquo;t distribute) on the projector and have students type in the changes</li> <li>Have students change the easter egg to a word of their own choosing <ul> <li>(Only change the <code>if</code> statement)</li> </ul></li> </ul> <h4>Getting more advanced</h4> <p>Obviously the pages so far have been basic. To take it to the next level, introduce students to frameworks like <a href="">Bootstrap</a> that let them stand on the shoulders of giants.</p> <p>There&rsquo;s no better place to learn how to make the Web than the Web itself. Highlight resources like <a href="">Code Academy</a>.</p> <h3>Supporting documents</h3> <p><a href="/downloads/">Download a zip file of the example pages.</a></p> <h3>Let me know how it goes</h3> <p>If you end up using this, please do let me know how it went and if you have any feedback via <a href="">email</a> or <a href="">Twitter</a>.</p>