If it doesn’t run a browser, does it matter?

Consider Urbit. It’s a brand new … something.

[IMPORTANT: Please, when considering it, try and forget that its primary creator is a racist psychopath; and assume, for the moment, that none of his utterly bullshit ideas about “Dark Enlightenment” are somehow baked in.]

It’s full of some interesting ideas. I like the idea of a small, easily-understood dingus that does what you need it to, and only that, and that is at least in theory designed to last more or less forever.

Then there’s Snap. It’s Google trying to fix all the problems they have in datacenters at their scale. Lots of people have problems with datacenters and scale, though; the catch with Snap is it’s effectively getting rid of TCP/IP, by building a new networking protocol.

It is also interesting. Building things without baggage and with the complete knowledge of the past N years, combined with the resources to act on a “big” design, is a hell of a thing.

Both of these things really start from a clean slate, and present big ideas free of existing limits. They are, in their own way, an attempt to move to the Next Big Thing.

My question then is, since neither of them runs a web browser, who gives a fuck?

OK, OK, I know, a data center networking stack isn’t designed to run a browser. I think my point still stands though: the browser is still down in the muck of more-or-less 90’s technology. Yeah. it connects to big data and that’s where a lot of the “real work” happens, so it can be sort-of 90’s.

And yes, weird moonshots like Urbit are in a way just a side-effect of there being way too much money in Silicon Valley, such that it’s all just one big crapshoot, and we might as well fund more-or-less everything because no one knows fuck-all about what is actually going to work. Remember when Twitter seemed pointless and dumb?

[IMPORTANT: Twitter is pointless and dumb, but somehow we’re all stuck with it.]

Anyway, ordinary people will never run Urbit, and I’d wager that it won’t be able to hold onto the attention of anything but the most niche nerds for more than a bit. It doesn’t run the ubiquitous tool of computing: the web browser. Hell even their docs say they intend to get rid of the browser-based “Bridge” at some point. Naturally, I guess; they’re trying to imagine a baggage-free future, so why keep this one remnant of the past around.

My dad used to say that a computer wasn’t really a computer without a printer. This was back when you used computers to compute, then you printed the results on paper. Obviously before networks were commonplace (and wireless!). And now printers are just for legal documents, flyers, and D&D character sheets.

Same goes for things like USB sticks; I keep a few around for emergency safe/recovery boot. They’re sort of pointless for a lot of workaday problems now.

We let the baggage of the past go all the time. But we also don’t: every computer in my house runs some sort of Unix or Unix-like. We still have files as streams of bytes on a disk (although it’s not a spinner platter of rust any more). We still have graphics drivers and color depths and SMTP.

Does everything depend on a giant pile of yesterday’s baggage, which is why moonshots seem so weird and alien? Can we ever move past this stuff without slow, incremental, buggy, expensive rewrites of … literally everything?

Fail2Ban

Virginia will be enacting some kind of “assault weapons” ban soon. Bans really bother me. They’re generally not very useful, especially if the thing you’re banning is pervasive.

We got here for obvious reasons: I mean, we do have a gun violence problem. The thing everyone’s afraid of – mass shooters armed with AR-15 rifles – accounts for a considerably smaller number of deaths than low-cost handguns, but so what, a few deaths here and there in certain parts of town every single hour of the day are less relevant than the ones in the nicer parts of town. Those make for better news. Also if we addressed our suicide problem, we’d have to make the insurance companies pay for mental health treatment, which would make them less rich; and we’d have to accept people with mental illness are worthy of treatment, not jokes and scorn, and we’d have to confront our own demons.

At any rate, the problem overall with bans is our federal system makes them sorta dumb. We do the same thing right now with marijuana, and it works out exactly the same. Consider:

You live in a state, A,  with a complete ban on substance X. Next door and accessible via mass transit is state B, a state with full decriminalization of substance X.

Moreover, B has a robust and safe infrastructure for purchasing substance X. You just hop on the mass transit system, go to some object of interest right across the border, and a phone call and about an hour later, you have a quantity of substance X. And not just a ziplock bag with something in it you hope is substance X; you ordered a specific type with known, defined-up-front strength. It’s on the label, tested.

You pick up your product(s), then go back across the border. No one notices or cares, because you can’t really even legally buy a consequential amount. You aren’t allowed to buy a fucking kilo of substance X. The legal amount you can buy fits in a jacket pocket. There is no odor; it’s in a sealed package. As long as you wait until you get home, you’re just a regular citizen doing regular citizen stuff.

Firearms bans currently work like that, except for the extra effort of moving hunks of metal around.

So that’s problem A. It does reduce violence, to be sure, but thanks to straw purchases and general illegal behavior, it doesn’t stop the thing you’re trying to stop.

Problem B is the firearms community itself. Poisoned by the scum terrorists of the NRA and MAGA types, it became impossible to promote reasonable, effective nation-wide controls. So we get dumb local bans.

A lot of people were and are willing to accept a wide array of controls on firearms ownership. As an example, I think “assault weapons” should be controlled under the National Firearms Act: you should have to obtain special dispensation, so to speak, to obtain one. A more comprehensive background check and an extra fee are the primary indignation.

“Obviously this is the prelude to confiscation and disarmament”, said the same people who believe in black helicopters and FEMA camps, but don’t believe in climate change, and so nothing got done.

Thanks to their bullshit worldview, I get a ban. I can’t leave the state (as in, move away) for a bunch of reasons, probably not for a couple decades. So now I get nothing, instead of “whatever the fuck I want, within a reasonable framework to ensure public safety”.

Bans are of course predicated on legislative control. Virginia is currently a “purple” state, trending towards blue. We’re also an “old South” state who could have led the way in sensible legislation. Naw, the NRA – who, and I cannot stress this enough, are terrorists and racists – are headquartered here. But also, we might turn red next session. They’ll just overturn it. Congrats, you did nothing.

A final note about bans. Not everything is straw purchase of a complete firearm. You can just hop on the road, and a short drive away to a non-ban state next door, purchase all the geegaws for your AR you want. They take up a little more space but they’re just parts. They look like nothing; springs or a piece of plastic. You don’t need an ID to buy an AR15 trigger or collapsible stock. Then you just lark back across the border and assemble. Obviously you need the “gun part” – the lower receiver, thanks to our dumb firearms laws – but they’re freakishly cheap, even cheaper if you buy one that still needs a small amount of machining.

In summation. Bans are stupid and thanks to the NRA we’re getting them all over the place, which won’t really end the problem they’re trying to solve, which will just get us a bigger, more restrictive national ban eventually.

Postscript: Our true-blue Virginia legislators came in with 2 big agendas. One was the firearms ban and one was marijuana reform. They’ve already largely caved on the latter; it’s unlikely we’ll get even limited decrim. It’s entirely possible they’ll cave on the former, too. Also, thanks to the courts being utterly stacked with MAGA types, we can safely assume how challenges to bans are going to go.

1 big reason to not move on from Java 8

20 Reasons To Move On From Java 8

Good reasons, all; but here’s 1 big reason to not move on from Java 8:

Your fucking application is pegged to 8 and anything higher won’t work.

Sigh.

It’s currently my life. The Application That Shall Remain Nameless is a big enterprise SaaS product whose overall environment I cannot influence. They said “you have to use 8”, and so, I have to use 8.

Perhaps there is a way to circumvent all this; I do it all the time with JavaScript, using Babel to write good JavaScript and turn it into “runs everywhere” JavaScript (and if I ever get around to another big JS project, I’ll use TypeScript). I am something of a newcomer to actual production Java programming, so I don’t even know what I don’t know at this point.

Tangential, I never understood why a lot of the people writing hipster blogs and going to meetups were rarely coming from big enterprises, it was always people at smaller companies and startups (or the recruiters from said big companies).

A lot of the Java blogs at its heyday were focused on seemingly boring stuff; like “ways that HashMap synchronization can produce inconsistent results” or whatever. Rarely, if ever, did they talk about bleeding edge stuff, frameworks, or endless puffery about whatever editor everyone was using this week.

I think I know why now.

The enterprise is a conservative, risk-averse place that puts emphasis on maintainability and support, not “programmer happiness”, because real money is on the line – and not someone else’s money, as in the Silicon Valley VC ecosystem. No one cares about some web framework with hot reloading or whatever; they’re using off-the-rack LTS JBoss or whatever.

So I’m stuck. The Application That Shall Remain Nameless is a straight-up far-upper-right-Gartner-Quadant platform, with a bunch of Fortune 100 users. It will likely be on Java 8 until the heat-death of the Universe. (There are no plans to move it to 9 or greater, or so I’m told.)

Which sucks because honestly, Java 9+ looks like a genuinely good platform. Not good enough to base your multi-billion-dollar company on without a few years of evaluation, testing, and research (by which time, Java 22 will be released). But good.

Sigh.

The missing piece of the Lovecraft mythos

The Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods didn’t seem to know much about technology.

They flew through space with magic, they did some basic biology stuff but nothing particularly interesting (except maybe the MiGo).

Can new Elder Gods or Great Old Ones appear? Can Azathoth sire new gods? Maybe Nyarlathotep sets up a science project involving some Deep Ones and a few used Commodore 64s?

Or consider an Iain Banks-style set of Minds: hyperdimensional AI gets bootstrapped and then discovers that, ok, science and physics and string theory but also what the FUCK is happening out there in the Pleiades?

Can you fight a shoggoth with particle beams? Or what happens when the shoggoth learn about particle beams?

Games I want to run

Star Trek, only instead of a “peaceful” Federation, they’re the 25th century version of revolutionary France. They’re trying to do their thing, but managing the aftermath of the revolution – factionalism, economic woes, and other empires right next door.

Oh, and instead of Klingons and Romulans the bad guys are the Great Old Ones and Elder Gods.

“OK, boomer” annoys me

So “OK, boomer” is kinda funny. Carlin summed it up a couple decades ago; boomers are the worst. Not really a controversial stance for anyone born after about 1965.

My annoyance isn’t ageism; boomer (used pejoratively) is in a way more about a mentality that strictly date of birth. Watch that Carlin bit and tell me Ben Shapiro is not a boomer. A self-absorbed idiot asshole screaming “give it to me, it’s mine”.

Instead, my annoyance is that this is probably going to be repeated ad nauseam in every media space. And not just for the next 6 months.

No, we’re going to see this over and over and over. In a couple years, when the boomers start dying off in greater and greater numbers, we in Gen X will assume the mantle of boomer. Despite the hilariously small demographic relative to everyone else, and a likelihood we’ll not own all the wealth in the world (here), everything will naturally be blamed on us.

Whatever the fuck comes after Zoomers will naturally blame the Millennials for all their woes.

And so on, and so on.

It’s because it’s an easy, lazy joke construct. Bagging on boomers is funny (again, Carlin’s bit). The entire generational conception of Gen X is that we’re the cynical, forgotten children of Boomers! Our “whatever, nothing matters” stereotype is an indirect burn on boomers!

Anyway, the point is that social media INTERNET COOL POINTS makes these easy burns the culture of the realm. Thus, if your premise is that social media – and all the godawful bullshit that it entails – is here to stay, then so is this kind of lazy intergeneration warfare bullshit.

Lastly, the other problem with “ok, boomer” is it buys into generational struggles and not a greater class struggle. Yelling about boomers isn’t really helpful when the problem is that a very small percent of hyper-rich boomers are just manipulating the rest to support this oligarchy.

So, whatever. Yell at the boomers, fine. They’re shitty. But maybe also take a few minutes to then do some “let’s raise class consciousness” work too?

Let’s run the Park Service like Chuck E. Cheese

Today’s frothing rage brought to you by this article: https://www.hcn.org/articles/national-park-service-wifi-amazon-and-food-trucks-trump-teams-vision-for-national-parks

The tl;dr is: let’s “modernize” national parks by adding food trucks and WiFi so you can get your Amazon deliveries while you’re camping.

That’s actually not the frothing rage bit. People should be allowed to experience the outdoors how they want; it’s a spectrum, from Primitive Technology Guy to glamping.

I’ve lived that entire spectrum! Obviously I’m closer to glamping, now that we have the trailer, but it’s not like we have a bread maker in there. Still gotta shower in the creek and poop in the woods.

So we’ve established that allowing a wide range of outdoor experiences is OK. Fine, right?

No, I still have frothing rage.

First, this stupid plan is blatantly intended to enrich landlords:

The White House wants to reduce spending on the National Park Service by 15%, or $481 million, even as the service has said it is facing a more than $11 billion maintenance backlog.

In other words, enable and empower our corporate overlords instead of doing the boring, expensive, and absolutely critical work of maintaining outdoor public spaces.

This is some straight-up disaster capitalism thinking:

“Overall capacity has not kept up with growth and changes in camping demand, and the infrastructure that does exist, with few exceptions, fails to meet expectations of the contemporary camping market,” the group said, calling U.S. national campgrounds an “underperforming asset.”

Underperforming asset. Public lands are underperforming. A thing that is ours, yours and mine, intended to provide for all of us and our kin and our future generations. But this group of walking infectious human waste bags look at the George Washington National Forest as an “underperforming asset” and not “the woods”.

That’s really the frothing rage bit, here. It’s not about diversity of outdoor experience, or reasoned ways to accomplish that diversity. We’re going to disaster-capitalism the outdoors, “extract value” from it, suck the marrow from its bones, then shrug and move on.

“Sure, we aided in the extinction of dozens of species and added tonnes of carbon to the air – we had to cut down a lot of trees so there was better WiFi on the trail, and for some reason there were a lot of fires every summer in the places we didn’t want to spend money maintaining – but at least we generated a lot of value for private industry and our shareholders.”


The way to solve the “changes in camping demand” is easy. Fund the fucking park services. Maintain the backcountry, keep the vault toilets emptied on a regular basis, and enforce the rules.

Part two of that is, yes, also build some infrastructure to support the glamping types. Just FOR FUCK’S SAKE put the “we have to have a generator/AC/shore power” areas opposite from the “I want to sleep on the ground” areas, OK?