Mon, Oct 20, 2014

[Icon][Icon]The right to be forgotten

• Post categories: Omni, Rant, In The News, Technology

tl;dr: The right to be forgotten means that if John Smith gets a page removed from Google, it is only removed from searches for "John Smith" - it remains findable from any other search

I'm so sick of the "Right to be forgotten" ruling being misrepresented by journalists.

For anyone who didn't hear about it: an EU court ruled that Google (and others) must remove links to stories about people that contain outdated or incorrect information.

A simple example of why this is needed: John Smith gets taken to court and convicted of a crime. This makes headlines. He then appeals, and the conviction is quashed: He is found innocent. This doesn't make headlines.

Somebody googles "John Smith" and the first result is a link saying he was convicted of a crime.

It's not hard to see how this could have negative repercussions on a person. So the EU court ruled that in such circumstances, Google (et al) must remove the links from their search.

The two big lies that we keep being force-fed by the news services are:

  • Google is now obliged to remove any links that people don't like - e.g. if John Smith's conviction never got overturned in the above example, he could still get it removed so nobody knows about it. This isn't true: Information has to be irrelevant or inaccurate, and Google is entirely at liberty to refuse the request until a court insists that the link must be removed.
  • Far more importantly: Even if Google decides the request is valid and removes it, this does not cause the link to be removed from Google's results.

That might seem contradictory, but it's very simple: What Google has been obliged to do is remove the specified links from the results for a search for the person, not to remove them entirely.

To go back to our imaginary "John Smith", it means that if you google for the search term "John Smith", you will no longer get the page referring to his court conviction in the results. If, however, you do any other search that would turn up that page, such as maybe "man convicted of crime", then it will still turn up as always.

I'm so utterly sick of articles like this framing the matter as "Google cast me into oblivion", or claiming that pages "will no longer be findable when searching on Google in Europe."

Bullshit. It's a total lie. Prove it for yourself: Click on the link that it claims has been "cast into oblivion" and you'll find it's a page with the headline "Merrill's Mess"

Put those two words into a Google search, and what is the first result? A link to the fucking article that he claims has been erased from Google.

The right to be forgotten has not erased one single page from Google. It has not removed a single thing from the Internet's "memory". It does not allow terrorists, corrupt politicians, paedophiles, or any of the other "usual suspects" trotted out in these stories, to cleanup their past by removing any links to pages that say bad things about them. The pages are still there, still linked, and still findable. And Google should only be reacting to "right to be forgotten" requests that meet the criteria of the court. So a corrupt politician who's still in office, a criminal whose conviction was never quashed, etc. etc. - they don't have any standing to have their links removed.

If you're going to have an opinion on the "right to be forgotten", at least make sure you're basing on what it actually entails, instead of the "argh, mass-censorship!" bullshit that some journalists are trying to make you think it is.

Because I'm sick of this shit.

Thank you.


Wed, Sep 24, 2014

[Icon][Icon]A year of Convict Conditioning

• Post categories: Omni, Health, Exercise, My Life, Helpful

In September last year, I began a new chapter in the gym. After six months of Starting Strength, followed by a few months of just working on mobility courtesy of Supple Leopard, I began a regime based on a new book. I don't remember where I first came across it - an Amazon recommendation seems likeliest. But wherever it came from, I quite liked a lot of what was in Convict Conditioning.

A brief segue into the book's name: The author claims he began to learn about calisthenics whilst in jail. Some people claim this is a myth just to hype up the book. I can't see their point, tbh: If it were "Convict Combat" I'd see where the macho "surviving high-security jail" image could help. But how many people looking for bodyweight workout info are going to be lured by the jail aspect? I tend to believe Wade has genuinely been in jail. If he hasn't, it's frankly irrelevant to the subject of the book - it neither glorifies jail nor really relies on it for its content.

So, for those who aren't familiar with it: CC is a series of progressions to take you from completely unfit to mastery of six bodyweight moves, namely:

  1. Pushups
  2. Pullups
  3. Squats
  4. Leg raises
  5. Back bridge
  6. Handstands

Typically, step 5 is the 'normal' step that people assume you mean by default: A two-handed pushup; a squat with feet shoulder-width apart; lying on the floor and lifting straight legs to 90 degrees, etc. Step 10 is a far harder version: A one-handed push-up; a one-legged squat; lifting your legs parallel to the floor whilst hanging from a bar. etc.

Because step 1 is intended to be easy enough that literally anyone can do it, you'll find a lot of people online asking if they can skip the early steps and get straight onto the harder ones. And no shortage of people replying "Sure you can. And do less reps than the book recommends, too." There is some validity to the claim that CC's advice will see you progress substantially slower than most other guides to building strength. However, it's also notable that despite the large number of people advocating skipping steps & reps; I've yet to encounter one of them that can actually do the master steps. The few people who you encounter online that demonstrably can tend to be fans of the CC approach. Such as the Kavadlo brothers, who are calisthenics teachers themselves and such fans of CC that they posed for a lot of the photos in the sequel.

My personal view is that, however certain you are that you could ace the early steps, don't just skip them: Even if you only do it once, to prove that you can, begin at step one and do the full reps & sets. And pay close attention as you do them, and be brutally honest with yourself. If you can do them easily, and perfectly, right up to the progression level, then good for you! Move onto the next step, and repeat the process.

But if you get aches or twinges, or sore muscles the next day, or you get tired before you meet the required volume, or if you just can't truthfully say "I am as good as it's possible to get with this step", then stick with it, however easy it may seem, until you can.

Myself, I began with step 1 across the board, and stayed with it for a month, as the book recommended. And yes, I found it hard to resist skipping ahead - On SS I'd been squatting with a 100kg barbell, FFS, and now I was supposed to do shoulderstand squats? That's not even a joke, it's an insult!

But funnily enough, doing those laughably easy steps for all those reps for all that time, I actually found & fixed a whole bunch of little problems with my form. And a lot of the little aches and pains (of which I had many, courtesy of my girlfriend's car losing a fight with a tree in 2011) began to fade.

So if I were to suddenly wake up and find myself a year or more in the past, knowing everything I do now, I would still do CC, and I'd still begin at step one. It's slow, often boring, and sometimes frustrating, to hold yourself back. But it has many benefits, that shouldn't be overlooked:

  • The average person, even the average gym-goer, is starved of motion, to the point it causes real problems with health and mobility. Kelly Starrett, Pete Egoscue, Ido Portal are three experts who go into far more depth on that subject than I can, there are plenty of others. Starting out with low-stress, high-rep workouts and progressing slowly begins to fix this.
  • It's well known that big muscles can grow faster than small ones: This is why SS, for example, tells you to expect the weight you can squat to go up a lot faster than your overhead press: Leg and back muscles are bigger and will adapt faster than the arm muscles. But it's often then ignored that in any movement, the bulk of the work is done by big muscles, but balance and stability is done by far smaller muscles which cannot adapt as fast.

    E.g. when you squat, you use great big muscles like the quads and calves, attached to great big levers like the femur; but you're kept from falling flat on your face by the far smaller muscles in your feet, attached to the far smaller bones. Constantly pushing to the limits of the big strong muscles without giving the little ones time to catch up is a recipe for poor form and strain on the joints later - and if there's one thing I've noticed in conversations with people who lift regularly, it's that damn near all of them have joint pain and a record of nasty injuries. In the year I've been doing CC, most of my aches & pains have simply gone away - I'm feeling better than ever, I never have to ask if I should take a break from workouts to allow time to heal.
  • Many people have tried and failed to stick to an exercise program before. Many have despaired of ever being able to get fit. By placing the bar so low at the start, and encouraging a slow but steady approach to progressing, CC ensures that you build a habit of succeeding and progressing. It's better for somebody to take a year to build up to doing a pushup and then continue to progress than it is for them to do pushups for a month, get stuck on the next step, and give up completely within six weeks.
  • Insisting on getting a step perfect before you move on means you fix a lot of problems before you ever hit them. I spent MONTHS at the progression level for uneven squats (the one with the ball) because I wasn't happy with my form. When I finally nailed it and moved on, I immediately realized I'd have found the next steps impossible if I hadn't fixed my 'tiny' balance problems first: Without mastering the early step, I'd have stalled completely on the later.
  • What's the big damn rush anyway? Maybe you could reach all the master steps way quicker by skipping steps, but so what? Sooner or later, if you stick with training, you will eventually get as strong as you'll ever be. And from there, it'll be downhill all the way: At best, you'll stay static, at worst you'll get weaker and weaker as you age. Why rush through the best part, the stage where you get better every workout, just so you can spend more time hoping you won't be any worse than last time? Better to spend the rest of your life getting a little stronger every day than give up on training and spiral into decline because you peaked too soon and can't motivate yourself to keep training any more.

Rant over. But hey, this is supposed to be a post about my thoughts on CC after a year, and the rate of progression is something that gets raised often in discussions.

So, given the deliberately slow pace advocated by CC and taken to heart by me, where am I after a year?

Well, I can do sets of 20 pushups. I can do sets of 10 pullups. I can do pistol squats and bridge holds. I can do hanging bent leg raises and tucked L-sits. I can do a crow stand but I'm not as stable as I'd like at them yet. I'm still making steady progress on every move with every gym visit. I've lost a chunk of bodyfat, built a noticeable amount of muscle, increased my flexibility, and largely cured my chronic pain problems. My posture has improved significantly - my anterior pelvic tilt is almost gone, I don't get headaches from neck/shoulder tension any more, and sometimes I don't even snore at night any more!

[One year in]

The observant and knowledgeable amongst you will have noticed L-sits in that list, despite them not being in the CC book. They're in the sequel, CC2 (which is also an excellent book) as part of a set of three holds called the Trifecta. Which is a very worthwhile set to know about: I can do the master step for twists and bridges, L-sits are lagging but I'll get there.

In short, then, I've benefited a great deal from CC. For one thing, I've stuck with it and enjoyed it for over a year. I go to the gym every weekday morning before work and I resent the odd occasion when I'm not able to do so. I haven't stuck religiously to the CC progressions - half-moves in particular don't work for me: The half-pistols and half-pullups feel like they do more harm than good - and I've added in a few other moves, like horizontal pulls and dips. CC isn't the be-all and end-all, but it's a good place to start: It's simple, engaging, and even if you grow out of it, it's still liable to kindle an interest in calisthenics that will serve you well.

Wade's other books (CC2 and C-Mass) are also worthwhile reads, and if I can find the time and the money, I'd definitely be up for one of the rare UK PCC courses.

As for the DYEL brigade who much prefer barbells to bodyweight: I switched to CC from SS. It was a good choice for me, because my motorbike- and car-crash-ruined posture benefits significantly from calisthenics. That doesn't mean I have a downer on SS - I would (and do) cheerfully recommend it to anybody who wants to lift weights or build strength. I may well mix barbell work back into my workouts in future - I occasionally miss deadlifts in particular. I think a lot of lifters could benefit from mixing in some calisthenics, too. YMMV, but for me, CC is a better choice than SS.

I have every intention of sticking with it and reaching the master steps for the Big Six, along with a few others like the press flag. I should have a good year or two to go before I run out of moves from the CC stuff alone. God knows what I'll move onto after that. I'm sure I'll find something, tho :)


Mon, Jun 09, 2014

[Icon][Icon]For the sin of moving & editing in one commit

• Post categories: Omni, Technology, Programming, Helpful

A good rule of thumb for version control is to have each commit reflect a single operation. Nowhere is the failure to adhere to this rule more annoying than when somebody moves a block of code *and* edits it in a single commit: The move makes the whole block show in the diff, so you can't see the small edit as well.

That is:

$ cat <<EOF> oldfile
heredoc> one
heredoc> two
heredoc> three
heredoc> four
heredoc> five
heredoc> six
heredoc> seven
heredoc> eight
heredoc> EOF

git add oldfile; git commit

$ git mv oldfile newfile
$ vi newfile
$ git diff
diff --git newfile newfile
index b00a0f1..9e9d5bf 100644
--- newfile
+++ newfile
@@ -1,7 +1,6 @@

$ git add newfile
$ git commit

We now have this diff for our commit:
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..9e9d5bf
--- /dev/null
+++ newfile
@@ -0,0 +1,7 @@
diff --git oldfile oldfile
deleted file mode 100644
index b00a0f1..0000000
--- oldfile
+++ /dev/null
@@ -1,8 +0,0 @@

and it's not easy to see from this that when moving the file, we also deleted a line.

What we need to be able to do is compare the oldfile and the newfile. We need a function that will take:
$ git-compare [branch/sha/tag/whatever] [oldfile] [newfile]
and DTRT.

So here's the simplest way I could think of to do it, which should work in bash or zsh:
git-compare () {
diff -u <(git show $1^:$2) <(git show $1:$3)

Which gives us:
$ git-compare master oldfile newfile
--- /proc/self/fd/12 2014-06-09 11:58:01.442468718 +0100
+++ /proc/self/fd/14 2014-06-09 11:58:01.442468718 +0100
@@ -1,7 +1,6 @@

which shows us what we want to know: Somebody did indeed move AND edit the file. The monster!


Mon, Apr 28, 2014

[Icon][Icon]America loses the Internet?

• Post categories: Omni, In The News, Technology

So the FCC is looking like it's going to go ahead and destroy Net Neutrality - essentially, meaning that some websites will be faster/cheaper to access than others.

The techie parts of the Web are up in arms about this: They argue it'll destroy competition by favouring rich websites that can pay the ISP's "tax" over new startups that can't - making it that much harder for the next Google/Facebook/Twitter/whatever to happen; that it'll create a two-tier internet; and so on.

They're probably right, but I don't think they're thinking big enough. I think the possible outcome of this could be even bigger: It could remove America from its position as "Hub of the Internet".

To explain:

The vast majority of Internet traffic goes through the USA. If you send an email from Europe, to Europe, you can pretty much gaurantee it'll go via America. That's where most of the big players have their servers, it's how the Net is wired.

That was all well and good, until the recent revelations from Snowden shook things up: European countries started investigating the possibility of keeping their traffic out of the USA. Keep European packets in European pipes, as it were. There was, of course, a lot of outcry about this: The USA objected that it would put American companies at a disadvantage; end users complained that it was unrealistic since most content came from the USA anyway. You'll undoubtedly have seen the debates if you've any interest in the topic.

If the FCC kills Net Neutrality, then non-paying traffic starts to slow down. If, for example, Netflix refuses to pay for the new "high tier" pipes, then Netflix's traffic will slow down. Seems bad not just for US viewers, but for Europeans too: If Netflix gets slowed down, we get screwed too, right?

But if you're Netflix, at this point, why would you stay centralised in the US? Rather than pay US ISP's to speed up your traffic to non-US destinations, wouldn't you just put your content onto European servers to serve European viewers, and thus escape the ISP tax for all your non-US viewers?

In fact, most big players already do just that: Google redirects my "google.com" requests to "google.co.uk" for exactly this reason: To keep my traffic local so responses are faster. What the FCC are doing is making it even more sensible for even more players to do this.

It's also taking away incentive for the ISPs to invest in improving America's already-lagging internet infrastructure: If ISPs can slow down traffic that isn't paying them money, then they don't need to upgrade to high-speed fibre everywhere to keep speeds acceptable: In fact, they have more incentive than ever to avoid it - If traffic that doesn't pay their tax is running over a dog-slow network, then you have more reason to pay for the upgrade. If everything's blazing-fast either way, why would you bother paying for priority?

So the abolishment of Net Neutrality will gaurantee that significant services move out of the US, or at least decentralise more; and it will gaurantee that America's internet will stay slow - unless Google manages to throw so much money out that it finally gets its high-speed fibre everywhere, which is unlikely, let's be honest. And Snowden has already given sound reasons to keep non-US traffic out of the US.

If most content is hosted outside the US, if anything that goes into the US is slow and likely to be spied upon.. then the US becomes a bottleneck. And what does the Internet famously do about obstructions? Yes, it routes around them.

There's no intrinsic reason why the Internet needs to revolve around the USA. They have the main DNS machines, but that's just a matter of convention. The main reason they're the nerve center is historical: They built the internet; so most of the content and services are based there. if the FCC changes that, if the USA becomes a place you have technical as well as privacy-based concerns about sending your traffic to.. then the Internet will simply ditch the USA. The world will route around it.

Snowden gave us the first set of reasons why we should keep our traffic out of the USA. The FCC is about to give us another set.

People don't like change, but inertia only gets you so far. Could the shortsightedness of a few profit-obsessed corporations and the regulators they've bought be about to cost America what is arguably its greatest invention?

We might be about to find out...


Wed, Feb 26, 2014

[Icon][Icon]Walled games

• Post categories: Omni, FOSS, Rant, Technology

This is a rant by somebody who's sick of the "walled garden" approach of many modern technologies. The "iTunes is only for the iPhone"/"Google maps is only for Android"/"Amazon is only for Kindle" nonsense.

There's only one reason that this doesn't annoy me very often. As was famously observed in a film from my youth, "the only winning move is not to play."

My music collection consists of MP3's & OGGs ripped from CDs. I don't subscribe to any movie-suppliers. I've never bough an ebook from Amazon, my Kindle has only DRM-free files from Project Gutenberg & O'Reilly. I have a dropbox account that I don't use: if I want to share files I use Git or SSH. When I want to watch movies on my tablet, I put them into a network-shared folder on my laptop.

The fact that I'm not aware of a single big player that doesn't try to lock you in via these mechanisms; the fact that I prefer to avoid services altogether rather than find one and be chained to it; this is one of the biggest failings of modern technology.

The Web demonstrates what an amazing, powerful thing an open platform is. Anyone can build a web browser, anyone can build a web site.

The fact that Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and God knows how many others, think that their only chance of keeping customers is to make it impossible for them to leave.. it's a pretty damning statement about their level of confidence in their own products.

And the only reason the average person isn't complaining about it is, the average person hasn't really wanted to switch platforms yet. Apple fanbois don't buy Android, Kindle owners buy their ebooks from Amazon.

Give it a few years. When a few more "latest and greatests" have come along and prompted people to want to make a switch, only to discover they're walled in.


I imagine it won't be pretty.

I'll try to be ready with the violin


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