Last updated: October 21, 2017 01:22 PM (All times are UTC.)
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I got to spend a few days with Andy and his wife Gaby and their exciting new dog, Iwa. I don’t get to see them as often as I should, but since they’ve now moved rather closer to Castle Langridge we’re going to correct that. And since they’re in the Cotswolds I got to peer at a whole bunch of things. Mostly things built of yellow stone, admittedly. It is a source of never-ending pleasure that despite twenty-three years of conversation we still never run out of things to talk about. There is almost nothing more delightful than spending an afternoon over a pint arguing about what technological innovation you’d take back to Elizabethan England. (This is a harder question than you’d think. Sure, you can take your iPhone back and a solar charger, and it’d be an incredibly powerful computer, but what would they use it for? They can do all the maths that they need; it’s just slower. Maybe you’d build a dynamo and gift them electricity, but where would you get the magnets from? Imagine this interspersed with excellent beer from the Volunteer and you have a flavour of it.)
The thing is Snowshill Manor. There was a bloke and his name was Charles Paget Wade. Did some painting (at which he was not half bad), did some architecting (also not bad), wrote some poetry. And also inherited a dumper truck full of money by virtue of his family’s sugar plantations in the West Indies. This money he used to assemble an exceedingly diverse collection of Stuff, which you can now go and see by looking around Snowshill. What’s fascinating about this is that he didn’t just amass the Stuff into a big pile and then donate the house to the National Trust as a museum to hold it. Every room in the house was individually curated by him; this room for these objects, that room for those, what he called “an attractive set of rooms pictorially”. There’s some rhyme and some reason — one of the upstairs rooms is full of clanking, rigid, iron bicycles, and another full of suits of samurai armour — but mostly they’re things he just felt fitted together somehow. He’s like Auri from the Kingkiller Chronicles; this room cries out for this thing to be in it. (If you’ve read the first two Kingkiller books but haven’t read The Slow Regard of Silent Things, go and read it and know more of Auri than you currently do.) There’s a room with a few swords, and a clock that doesn’t work, and a folding table, and a box with an enormously ornate lock and a set of lawn bowls, and a cabinet containing a set of spectacles and a picture of his grandmother and a ball carved from ivory inside which is a second ball carved from the same piece of ivory inside which is yet another ball. The rhyme and the reason were all in his head, I think. I like to imagine that sometimes he’d wake up in his strange bedroom with its huge carved crucifix at four in the morning and scurry into the house to carefully carry a blue Japanese vase from the Meridian Room into Zenity and then sit back, quietly satisfied that the cosmic balance was somehow improved. Or to study a lacquered cabinet for an hour and a half and then tentatively shift it an inch to the left, so it sits there just so. So it’s right. I don’t know if the order, the placing, the detail of the collection actually speaks as loudly to anyone as it spoke to him, and it doesn’t matter. You could spend the rest of your life hearing the stories about everything there and never get off the ground floor.
Take that room of samurai armour, for example. One of the remarkable things about the collection (there are so many remarkable things about the collection) is that rather a lot of it is Oriental — Japanese or Chinese, mainly — but Wade never went to China or Japan. A good proportion of the objects came from other stately homes, selling off items after the First World War — whether because none of the family were left, or for financial reasons, or maybe just that the occupants came home and didn’t want it all any more. The armour is a case in point; Wade needed some plumbing done on the house and went off to chat to a plumber’s merchant about it, where he found a box of scrap metal. Since the bloke was the Lord High Emperor of looking for objects that caught his fancy, he had a look through this discarded pile and found in it… about fifteen suits of samurai armour. (A large box, to be sure.) So he asked the merchant what the score was, and was told: oh, those, yeah, take them if you want them.
This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me all that much.
Outside that room, just hanging on the wall, is the door from a carriage; one of the ones with the large wheels, all pulled by horses. Like the cabs that Sherlock Holmes rode in, or that the Queen takes to coronations. It was monogrammed ECC, and had one of those coats of arms where you just know that the family have been around for a while because two different shields have been quartered in it and then it’s been quartered again. After some entirely baseless speculation we discovered that it was owned by Countess Cowper. She married Lord Palmerston; her brother was William Lamb, Lord Melbourne, who was another Prime Minister and had the Australian city named after him; his wife was Lady Caroline Lamb, who infamously described Byron as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. History is all intertwined around itself.
None of the clocks in the house work. Apparently at one point Wade had a guest over who glanced at a clock and assumed she had plenty of time to catch her train. Of course, she missed it, and on hearing from him that of course the clocks don’t tell the right time, she was not best pleased. Not sure who it was. Virginia Woolf, or someone like that.
There is too much stuff. He can’t possibly have kept it all in his head. You can’t possibly keep it all in, walking around. Visitors ought to be banned from going into more than three or four rooms; by the time you’ve got halfway through it’s just impossible to give each place the attention it deserves. There are hardly any paintings; Wade liked actual things, not drawings or representations. It’s not an art gallery. It’s a craftsmanship gallery; Wade sought out things that were made, that showed beauty or artistry or ingenuity in their construction. Objects, not drawings; stuff that demonstrates human creation at work. The house is like walking around inside his head, I think. (“Sometimes I think the asylum is a head. We’re inside a huge head that dreams us all into being. Perhaps it’s your head, Batman.”)
Next time you’re near Evesham, go visit.
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This is my take on Ilya Sher’s similar post, though from a different context. He is mainly interested in systems programming, I have mostly written user apps and backend services, and also some developer tools.
I originally thought that I would write a list of the languages and difficulties I have with them, but I realised that there’s an underlying theme that can be extracted. Programming languages I have used either have too much vendor dependence (I love writing ObjC, but can’t rely on GNUstep when I’m not on Apple), too little interaction with the rest of the software world (I love writing Pharo, but don’t love going through its FFI to use anything else) or, and this is the biggest kicker, I don’t like the development environments.
It feels like, details of the languages aside, there’s a synthesis of programming language with environment, where the programming language is a tool integrated into the environment just like the compiler and debugger, and the tools are integrated into the programming language, like the Lisp macro system. It feels like environments like Oberon, Lisp machines and Smalltalks all have some of this integration, and that popular programming environments for other languages all have less of it.
I’m not entirely sure what the ideal state is, and whether that’s an ideal just for me or would benefit others. I wrote my MSc thesis on an exploration of this problem, and still have more research to do.
It started with a toot from the FSF:
Freedom means not #madebygoogle or #madebyapple, it means #madebythousandsoffreesoftwarehackers #GNU
This post is an expansion on my reply:
@fsf as an FSF Associate I’m happy to use software made by Google or made by Apple as long as it respects the four freedoms.
The Free Software Foundation financially supports the Replicant project, a freedom-respecting operating system based on the Android Open Source Project. The same Android Open Source Project that’s made by Google. Google and Apple are both behind plenty of Free Software contributions, both through their own projects such as Android and Swift or contributions to existing projects like the Linux kernel and CUPS. Both companies are averse to copyleft licences like the GPL, but then both companies have large software patent portfolios and histories of involvement in software patent litigation so it may be that each company is actually averse to compromising the defensibility of their patent hoards through licences like GPL3. On the other hand, the Objective-C support NeXT created for GCC was the subject of an early GPL applicability test so in Apple’s case they could well be averse to “testing” the GPL any further.
Whatever their motivations for the stances they’ve taken, Apple and Google do contribute to Free Software and that should be both encouraged and welcomed. If they want to contribute to more projects, create new ones, or extend those freedoms to their existing proprietary code then we advocates of software freedom should encourage them and welcome them. Freedom does not mean “not #madebygoogle or #madebyapple”.
While we in software development have never had it so good in terms of software freedom, with all of our tools and libraries being published as free software (usually under the banner of open source), the community at large has never had it so bad, and Google and Apple are at the vanguard of that movement too. The iOS kernel, Darwin UNIX system and Swift programming language may all be open for us to study, share and improve, but they exist in a tightly-controlled walled garden that’s eroding the very concept of ownership and centralising all decisions within the spheres of the two platform providers. This means that even Freedom Zero, the freedom to use the software for any purpose, is denied to anyone who isn’t a programmer (and in fact to the rest of us too: you can study the iOS kernel but cannot replace the kernel on your phone if you make an improvement; you can study Swift but cannot sell an iOS app using any version other than the one blessed by Apple at time of submission).
People often complain at this point that software freedom is only relevant to programmers because you need to be a programmer to study or improve a program given its source code, but that’s not the point. Open Source is only relevant to programmers. Having the freedom to use your computer for any purpose, and to share your software, gives two things:
Ignoring those possibilities perpetuates the current two-tier system in which programmers have a lot of freedom and everybody else has none. I have argued against the walled garden before, as a barrier to freedom. That is different from arguing against things that are made by the companies that perpetuate the walled gardens, if we can encourage them to change.
The FSF has a long history of identifying itself “against” some IT incumbent, usually Microsoft. It has identified a change in the IT landscape by positioning itself as an underdog “against” Apple and Google. But it should not be against them, it should be with them, encouraging them to consider and support the freedom of their customers.
I’ve been looking for something to read on these topics, can you help?
Unlike my Halloween Box, I was determined to not only make the lamp functional - I wanted it to look good as well - something I don't consider the halloween box to be thanks to the leaking glue, issues with the laser cutter, and general incompetence on my part.
To this end, I knew that I wouldn't be able to build a pretty base box myself, so I decided to buy one from Etsy. I'd already purchased the bulbs and lamp holder battens that I wanted, so I found a friendly seller who was able to advise me what colour of stain and finish would look best with them, then built it for me.
Drilling the holes was the second most anxious part of the project because there would be no going back. Nevermind measure twice, cut once, this was more measure four times, drill carefully. The placement of the bulbs was mostly dictated by the box, as I had originally planned on placing them in a straight line along the middle, but the gap running down the middle meant this wasn't going to be possible.
The most anxious part was the wiring. Or more specifically, plugging it in after the wiring. This was my first mains voltage project, and could have gone horribly wrong in so many different ways. Because of this I wired each bulb in turn, testing for shorts with a continuity tester, then carefully plugging it to check that the bulb illuminated, before ensuring it was unplugged before moving onto the next bulb.
Anyway, I mention this now because I've finally added the component most sorely missing from the build - a switch. Until now, when we wanted to use it, someone would have to climb under the table and plug it in - which as I'm sure you can imagine meant it wasn't used very often.
But not just any switch, you understand. While it might have the look of the 19th century, it's firmly rooted in the 21st thanks to the use of a Sonoff switch, which not only lets me control the lamp from an app on my phone, but also via Alexa on my Amazon Echo.
Installing the Sonoff is easy, as you simply put it in serial with the live and neutral wires coming in from the socket, which not only powers the device itself, but also lets you control a relay that feeds power on to the lamp.
A momentary button on the device itself can be used to toggle the relay on and off manually, or when held down for five seconds enters a setup mode allowing me to feed it with everything it needs to connect with the wifi, and further, with the app (and thus Alexa).
I’d say that if there’s one easy way to summarise how I work, it’s as an information focus. I’m not great at following a solution all the way to the bitter end so you should never let me be a programmer (ahem): when all that’s left is the second 90% of the effort in fixing the bugs, tidying up edge cases and iterating on the interaction, I’m already bored and looking for the next thing. Where I’m good is where there’s a big problem to solve, and I can draw analogies with things I’ve seen before and come up with the “maybe we should try this” suggestions.
Part of the input for that is the experience of working in lots of different contexts, and studying for a few different subjects. A lot of it comes from reading: my goodreads account lists 870 books and audiobooks that I’ve read and I know it to be an incomplete record. Here are a few that I think have been particularly helpful (professionally speaking, anyway).
There were probably others.
S – I can find the thing I need to change.
O – My change will either be an extension or a replacement.
L – My replacement or extension needs to be a drop-in change.
I – Here’s what my replacement can do.
D – I have somewhere to put my replacement.
I used to run an application security consultancy business, back before the kinds of businesses who knew they needed to consider application security had got past assessing creating mobile apps. Whoops!
Something that occasionally, nay, often happened was that clients would get frustrated if I didn’t give them a direct answer to a question they asked, or if the answer to an apparently simple question was a one-day workshop. It certainly seems sketchy that someone who charges a day rate would rather engage in another day’s work than write a quick email, doesn’t it?
Today I was on the receiving end of this interaction. I’m defining the data encryption standards for our applications, so talked to our tame infosecnician about the problem. Of course, rather than specific recommendations about protocols, modes of operation, key lengths, rotation frequencies etc he would only answer my questions with other questions.
And this is totally normal and OK. The reason that I want to encrypt (some of) this data is that its confidentiality and integrity are valuable to me (my employer) and it’s worth investing some of my (our) time in protecting those attributes. How much is it worth? How much risk am I willing to leave on the table? How long should the data be protected for? Who do I trust with the data, and how much do I trust them?
Only I can answer those questions, so it’s not up to someone else to answer them for me, but they can remind me that I need to ask them.
A Wiki is sometimes described by the ‘backronym’ “What I Know Is”.
Recently I’ve been using Quora. You can ask a question or, if you see someone else’s question and think you know the answer, you can reply. Over time, you become associated with areas of knowledge that interest you. The obvious equivalent to the Wiki translation would be “What I want to know is” but you always have to use social systems to understand their dynamics. I didn’t ‘get’ Twitter until I’d used it for some time because at first, nothing happens.
I discovered Quora is really about “What I Don’t Know Is”. It’s obvious that by asking a question, you declare a ‘known unknown’ but human ignorance goes deeper than that. As someone who tries to answer questions, you learn about the gaps in your own knowledge, that you are unable to explain a concept you thought you understood and that there are things many people don’t know or understand that you had assumed were obvious to everyone. We all struggle to provide good, clear, concise, unambiguous questions and answers, because we don’t know everything.
I discovered that other people’s thinking and motivations are often very different from mine. I wasn’t aware of how much more of a rush many young people are in to ‘be a star’ at something, often without much understanding of what that something is. I never hurried or set targets, so I wasn’t aware of how much I’d learned about life, until I read some of their questions.
A journey of a thousand thoughts can begin with a single question. The view from the far end of that trail may be different. We need to be curious about everything around us rather than too ambitious to arrive at a fixed destination by the fastest or shortest route. You can dream about the future but it may not arrive packaged as you expect it and pieces may be missing. Plan your early moves, travel at a sustainable rate and stay aware. I’m worried that many of the young hopefuls on Quora will burn-out before they get close to their targets and become disillusioned.
I’m still hungry to learn. There is so much I don’t know and it’s growing all the time.
::partfor styling Web Components.
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