22 December, 2016

On Trump...

I can't write. I can't think straight. I don't know where to begin...

I spent the evening watching the Al Jazeera coverage and planned on writing as it progressed for NaNoWriMo's sake. I stopped trying. I tweet-stormed through most of the night, crossing fingers and fearing the worst as the projections rolled in. Eventually I gave up, and now with the electors' votes tallied, I've just, well, had it. I've lost faith, assuming that the electors would be intelligent enough to block his entry. John Oliver said it best when he said that, "This is not normal," and people like journalist Sarah Kendzior on Twitter go above and beyond explaining how unordinary it is.

 I would prefer not to reiterate how it will all go to crap now. Just let this sink in, "this" being the result of Poland's Law and Justice Party's first year in office:

[...]now school textbooks are being redesigned to downplay evolution and climate change and to recount a fanciful version of Poland's history; the government is mooting giving hoteliers the right to turn away customers based on sexual orientation or skin-color; a minister rejected an international accord against wife-beating because it subverted traditional gender roles; Parliament is about to get the right to choose which journalists may report from its debates; the guy in charge of national sex-ed curriculum believes that condoms give women cancer; a proposed law will virtually end opposition protests; and disloyal journalists at the "independent" state broadcaster have been purged.   

Goes without saying that something similar could happen here. Preferably, it won't or at least be stifled greatly by efforts from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The latter of which I donated to this year and am now a member of for the year until I pledge again.

But still, everyone loses. Those in minority groups will feel it most, but if you're also white, cisgendered, or part of the status quo consider the fact that Trump will now have full access to the NSA or how he plans to take down the EPA through his Cabinet.

There's a lot more that I want to say, but I'm saving that for a separate post. This is just the gist of how I feel and what might happen. More or less things which I mentioned in my previous post on the election, plus the rest of his baggage.

The American Majority did not vote for him, but here we are...

07 November, 2016

On the 2016 US Presidential Election

I'll level with you: Come election day and ideally, Lessig would have my vote. He was my initial candidate of choice when he announced that he would be running as a Democratic nominee last year. This is the person who founded Creative Commons, collaborated with Aaron Swartz as both friend and academic, and wrote books about the issues facing the US political system including One Way Forward and Republic, Lost. I was introduced to his work through the former, which inspired me in many ways; using Creative Commons licenses for my blog and written work, continuing to write letters to senators and representatives--through a service usually offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation or Sunlight Foundation alongside others--and being more digitally aware and literate about said politics and politicians that reinforced Dan Gillmor's lessons in Mediactive.

Here was a candidate who would address the issues that mattered to me, even if he would resign once he signed the Citizen's Equality Act into law. This was someone who encouraged and continues to persuade people to get involved beyond the voting process so that, theoretically, their voice mattered more to the point that public officials took action with new legislation.

Unfortunately, he couldn't make it to the first round of debates, even if he was initially qualified to participate.  

I dismissed Donald Trump as nothing more than a mere celebrity just flaunting his fiscal privilege. Hillary was just Hilary, as in she was running and had an ample amount of experience. I thought that was perfectly fine regardless of her stance on particular issues which jibbed with me which didn't cross my mind then. Bernie seemed great at first, but never really got into the semantics about how he would go about fulfilling his campaign promises.

Now that mere celebrity actually has a chance to be an archaic epidemic filled with deplorable regress. A guy who, given the opportunity, would appoint Peter Thiel to the Supreme Court where First Amendment rights would go to die. Bigotry would be trending with colonial, binary pride reigning supreme. 

That's the short of it, and it's embarrassing. Goes without saying, it is also menacing in more ways than one. 

This election cycle has been hell all around, and not just because of Trump. The harassment of anyone who supports their candidate of choice, merely because they do, shows us how far we've come from the days of #HasJustineLandedYet (answer: not at all). The candidates aren't all that inspiring and even those of third-parties have been a disappointment. I say this as someone who initially supported Jill Stein after Lessig was out of the running until she started pandering to the anti-science crowd and thought that Brexit was a good idea. The fact that Trump is essentially turning the whole thing into a tabloid gossip-fest with his tweets, the "locker-room talk" video, and failing to answer questions at the debates, just so he can attack Hillary, doesn't help anyone.

Thing is, while my tweets and posts may infer otherwise, I won't usually go and tell people how to vote. There are two exceptions to this rule: The first one being for prevent a local referendum from passing...

...and now this one, as in I ask you to consider Hillary at the ballot box. 

Say what you will about her stance on fracking and the TPP--I also take issue to them--but at least under her Administration we'll still be able to advocate to curb the former and to reconsider the latter. Remember Lessig. Voting is just step one. The rest is up to you.  

Post-Script: Here's how Trump would impact my town's economy with regards to shipbuilding. Also, I would take the time to read Jon Ronson's expose on the connection between Trump and Alex Jones of Infowars notoriety.  

16 August, 2016

Vivaldi: One Year Later...

A little over a year ago, I talked about the Vivaldi browser which was still in its development stages. Since then I flirted between it and Firefox, mostly because I was concerned about its Chromium skeleton and some add-ons and sites which didn't function properly at the time, resulting in a brief Ello post.

Now with its third stable build, I finally made the switch to Vivaldi as my default browser, installing it on most of my laptops but one. (That one's an old HP with Windows 7 that I thought about tinkering around with--by installing Ubuntu or Qubes OS along with upgrading any possible parts--but wanted to wait until the free Windows 10 offer passed.)

Many of the features in Vivaldi mentioned in my previous review are, no doubt, part of the reason for the big switch. But for a browser over a year old, the team made some leaps and bounds in development alongside other circumstances that ultimately convinced me to make the switch...

Tab Stacking

Mentioning this feature again because Firefox discontinued its Tab Groups (Panorama) feature from stable build 45 onwards. I realized that this was their answer to the tab stacks far too late to make excessive use of it. The only major difference between stacks and groups is that the latter treats the clusters as separate windows, or rather it features one group while keeping the others in the Panorama UI. I find that stacks are far more useful since I can easily access them without the need of a keyboard shortcut. They're all in the same window, which makes browsing, blogging, or just playing around on forums and social networks much more practical, productive, and fun.

Hibernating Tabs and Tab Stacks

I love to think of this as one of Vivaldi's answers to Chromium's infamous and excessive use of RAM and other resources, which was why I never used Chrome on my Macbooks except for that one time which, personally, lasted only a week. Even if the computer I use now can take it gladly, with sixteen gigs soldered on, I just like that it's there in case I want to save RAM and battery. This feature will prove useful for my 11-inch Macbook Air that still chugs along after six years on two gigs. Granted that one got more use writing college papers than anything else, but either way, if I need to make use of it again when I'm out and about, tab hibernation will make browsing a little less stressful on the hardware.

Custom Themes

One of the new features with the latest build that allows the user to alter the look of their browser by playing around with the color schemes. In the same way that Vivaldi's built-in features allow me to use only two extensions, as opposed to going between four and six in Firefox, this new addition means that I longer need to skim through and download Personas or themes online. Creating themes in Vivaldi is simple and, more importantly, a blast. The ones built in also look lovely in case the user doesn't wish to make one.

The current theme I use now I named "Glade" and to replicate it for yourself, here's what you need to do.

Click to edit the "Dark" theme and set the following values in the Color Editor section...

Background: #081622
Foreground: #cdeeff
Highlight: #7bffdd
Accent: #03897d

Uncheck everything in theme preferences and leave corner rounding at its default setting. In the "Color" section, just check "Fade Foreground Colors" and the theme will be complete.

Private Browsing

A feature that made its debut shortly after my initial review and in 1.3, it only gets better. While the UI for some extensions are still buggy, in my experience, the fact I can access them while in private browsing is a sigh of relief.


Built-in with Chromium along with the sandboxing--as far as I know. Firefox is slowly getting there with the e10s testing, and admittedly, I'm now on their beta channel hopping to get a sample of it. Getting there will take time though as Asa Dotzler wrote when Firefox 48 went into beta. Personally, this is relatively minor, but still a good, under-the-hood aspect to keep in mind.

28 October, 2015

Plans for NaNoWriMo and those Short Stories

I'll admit, I completely forgot about the short stories that I intended to post in August. Instead, I got sidetracked reading through what I had for Maximum Security Showcase so far...

...and I decided it needs the NaNoWriMo treatment for the second time in a row.

Why? I noticed while skimming through it that there was too much going on, and that some of it detracted from the major conflict at play. In some places, it made the whole thing a disjointed mess with supporting characters taking the action away from where it actually should be. Hence the decision to undertake NaNoWriMo yet again.

Unlike last year, I'll be using LibreOffice to write the story so that I'm not stuck, going anal over what to title those scenes in Scrivener. I did a test writing sprint in late August and managed 638 words in about an hour. With that, I have no doubt that I can sprint through November and finish with a much tighter story.

Wishing fellow NaNoWriMo participants all the best this November!

As for the short stories...

I'm pushing them back to December and January respectively as a two-part serial featuring Mark and Andy from the flash fiction filed in Man vs. Retail. They will be cross-posted on Ello and Wattpad as I mentioned previously.

Additional Note: I'll be honest: I also got distracted by doing some late Spring cleaning, binge-watched some old favorites, and pondered about leaving Facebook indefinitely, which I finally deactivated last week. I harped on Ello about the network alongside other privacy snafus. I initally posted something about that last week, but retracted it, preferring to wait until my one year Ello anniversary rolls around to explain why.

26 October, 2015

Reviewing David Mitchell’s Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse and Jan Wong’s Red China Blues

Note: Cross-posted from Ello

Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse

My newfound love of British Comedian, David Mitchell, goes all the way back to Douglas Adams who inspired me to write in the first place. I can’t count how many times I read through the entire Hitchhikers’ Guide series during high school, but it made that journey so much easier and then some. Not only did I start writing fiction because of Adams, I discovered Doctor Who through “Voyage of the Damned”, my first foray into all things Whovian that happened to feature the Starship Titanic.

It was through a conversation between Arthur Dent and Fenchurch where I first discovered the Guardian and in 2010 I started reading it. Or rather, I frequented their website where I found myself going through articles from columnists including Charlie Brooker, Marina Hyde, and Hadley Freeman. The first two got me hooked—Brooker with his cynical take on modern television and Hyde through her contributions to the Lost in Showbiz blog that poked at celebrities from escapades to personalities.

I read through David Mitchell’s Observer columns, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from university last year when I decided to reread through them as curated in Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse. Why? Thank that time when I watched through That Mitchell and Webb Look last December while sick with a common cold. Those sketches helped me forget how ill I was and turned those couple weeks around from the usual sluggish doldrums.

Like those sketches, Mitchell’s book is just as clever. At first glance, it looks like a self-help book with chapters that group common twenty-first century nuances. This impression helped bring out the humor of the whole thing and hooked me in. Unlike Brooker, Freeman, or Hyde, Mitchell takes a more modest approach that brings out his wit throughout, sometimes imagining satirical situations or pointing out the irony in politics. He knows how to weave anecdotes and wit together to make his modest approach effective, more so than Brooker’s hyperbolic tirades about television. Every chapter had me grinning from ear to ear and made Mitchell’s column worth reading and re-reading.

Red China Blues

I previously mentioned on here how I found this book in the first place along with why I was fascinated with China. This book turned out to be more than I expected.

Jan Wong’s initial Maoist leanings prompt her to head over to China to find out how the ideology plays out, only to find herself studying at Bejing University. From there she tells about what happened during her stay as she weaves reportage and memoir together to create a vivid image of her ancestral home.

Wong’s exploration of her Marxist leanings reminded me of the chapter in Mark Kermode’s book, It’s Only a Movie, where Kermode travels to Russia with his colleague, Nigel Floyd, in order to cover the filming of Mariano Baino's Dark Waters. Kermode himself comes from a similar ideological background, explaining his own Trotskyism while he studied at Manchester in a previous chapter. While in awe at Moscow, he finds himself becoming disenfranchised as he finds himself in more squalid, and unequal, conditions.

Wong’s own experience turns out similar albeit with completely different results as China’s government almost expels her for a trip to the Soviet embassy with a friend. The memoir doesn’t end with her university experience, but moves forward to her days as a Bejing correspondent for the Globe and Mail where she found herself covering the Tianmen Square massacre. Her firsthand experience along with her other investigations reveal China’s more corrupt and inhumane secrets alongside the eventual denial of the massacre from government officials.

Throughout all this, Wong’s voice matures gracefully and sometimes laughs at her past as a Maoist. I’m not keen on spoiling anymore of it. This is a must read for anyone who loves a good memoir, or wants to learn about China from a firsthand account.

22 October, 2015

On Maximum Security Showcase: Specters of Data

Note: Cross-posted from Ello

This foray into the long-term project starts with a confession: I finally got around to buying a copy of Specters of Marx months after I first wrote about it. I plan on reading through it before and during NaNoWriMo so I know more about what I’m dealing with.

Before that, I had some ideas about hauntology that I wanted to test out in the story. All of which deal with the other major source of conflict that I started writing out in June. That aspect in question is another character who is responsible for that “hearsay” through a start-up which merges both social media and TV news. I was inspired, in part, by Hossein Derakhshan’s article, “The Web We Have to Save” where he points out a metaphorical shift regarding how most users use the web today:

But the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies. 
The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

This, alongside the the algorithmic filters which drive networks like Facebook, brought me back to what a columnist mentioned during a talk at my university; clicks drove most of the front page content. The story’s start-up would compliment that notion, where likes, tweets, and comment threads would drive the rolling coverage.

That’s also where the “bare-bones” hauntology comes in along with that video on Murdoch’s Australian. Not only bare-bones, but personal as this start-up makes the showcase into a full-fledged throwback where those rumors become the top story. All because of of that data stored in those servers, and as Maciej CegÅ‚owski points out in his talk, called “Haunted by Data”, is very similar to how long it takes for nuclear radiation to decay:

The data we're collecting about people has this same odd property. Tech companies come and go, not to mention the fact that we share and sell personal data promiscuously. 
But information about people retains its power as long as those people are alive, and sometimes as long as their children are alive. No one knows what will become of sites like Twitter in five years or ten. But the data those sites own will retain the power to hurt for decades.

No matter how far they escape, data’s absolute nature brings back the worse of their past, both the main character and his friend, and morphs their adult lives straight in the volley of high school and college gossip. “You never change,” becomes a presumed absolute instead of merely an expression. Once that data goes live, they can’t change. At least the viewers will think so when that start-up goes live.

The visit from someone else was only just the beginning…

22 July, 2015

On Vivaldi

Outside of the built-in web browsers, the one that I use most is Mozilla's Firefox. When I first found myself in cyberspace, I had to stick it out with Internet Explorer as it was the default for both the family and school computers. With my first laptop back in '08, I didn't mind it much with the Internet security software I installed...

...until the crashing happened. So I switched because I remember someone saying that Firefox was faster. This was also when Chrome jumped into the scene. Months later, I had an idea for an article I wanted to do for my high school's newspaper where I just tested all the major ones. This, during a time when I was unfamiliar with web standards aside from speed and design, never panned out. Although that's when I defaulted over to Opera.

The speed was personally on par with Firefox, if not more, but it was the design that did it for me. The rectangular tabs were smooth around the edges and I fell in love with the speed dial and multi-purpose sidebar. There was also a BitTorrent client built into the browser--this is Opera 9--that I used to download the Summoning of the Spirits album.

I surfed through Opera for around two years, then switched back. I forgot why, but I remember it being a rendering issue. Not that I minded much.

Fast-forward to Vivaldi, from Opera's founding creators, and I find myself using it more and more. Clive Thompson's Boing Boing post led me to it--I related to the tab issue--but it was the bookmarks manager that did me in then. Later it was the tab stacking and tiling that convinced me. While I'm still waiting for the build with either private browsing or UI extensions before making it my default, here's why I want to do so...

Vivaldi promotes both productivity and the user. With the former, there's no need to have a home page. During my undergrad, my home page was always the university's hub page, or the one that lead to the e-mail and online coursework. Now, I set three folders as my speed dials and use them as a substitute for a homepage. With this, I find myself less distracted by the usual homepage clutter and skip straight to the personal to-do list most of the time.

The latter refers to the slogan, labeling Vivaldi as, "A Browser for our Friends." Friends in this case being the community who once made Opera what it was and other power users. Even if it is closed-sourced and based off the Chromium engine, the face that Vivaldi gives the user control over how they browse, from layout to shortcuts through keyboard and mouse, convinced me to give it a thought.

The tab stack tiling also proved to me that Vivaldi would be my go-to for social media management. Cross-posting to the other networks would be a breeze, meaning that I don't need to use any automation recipes making everything seem emotionless and spam-like. Stacking alone would make reading through articles, or commenting on multiple threads on Boing Boing's BBS much more manageable, meaning that I won't find myself distracted elsewhere on the web.

It's still in alpha, but I have high hopes for Vivaldi, a browser that does what it says on the tin and then some.