Some Light Reading

There’s been a handful of articles from the past few weeks that I’ve found really interesting/eye-opening/rage-inducing.

From Daily Kos, is an article attempting to debunk the recent premise that a lack of father figures is the cause of the conflicts in Baltimore and Ferguson. The article evolved over the course of the day as folks dove into the numbers (from the CDC). In the end, it seems there’s no evidence to support that black fathers are any less involved their white fathers

However, what the CDC info does show is that pound for pound, on a family by family average basis Black fathers are generally more attentive to their children whether the live with them or apart from them, and even using the Census Bureau numbers there are far more White Children “at risk” from their less attentive and absent fathers than there are Black

Sy Hersh wrote on his (reasonably well sourced) suspicions that the assassination of Osama bin Laden didn’t happen quite the way we’ve been told. This is an astonishing article, and one that has generated a ton of criticism. Certainly it’s wise to be skeptical. I did love this analysis of the criticism from the Columbia Journalism Review. Both worth reading.

Finally, this Ars Technica article about one of the early documentaries about Silk Road and Ross Ulbricht is so even handed in its takedown of the documentary and the “Free Ross” crowd that I don’t know how a reasonable person could quibble with it. I’m going to start paraphrasing parts of it to use to shut down the super-libertarians who believe that folks like Ross Ulbricht are activists:

Take a hypothetical example: Let’s say I go outside my apartment in Oakland and mark off a few city blocks as a “freedom market” where anything can be bought and sold—I just need a 10 percent cut of all transactions to maintain the marketplace. (Suspend your disbelief to imagine this can be done without violence.) No surprise, it’s mostly drugs that are sold in the market. The goods are high quality and sold peacefully. My “freedom market,” when it works right, arguably does reduce harm, making sellers and buyers safer. It also inarguably will make me rich, as long as I get my 10 percent cut.

But running my hypothetical street market doesn’t mean I am striking a nail in the coffin of the drug war. Likely, it’s just the opposite. A market designed to hide from the law is a great excuse for law enforcement to double down on the severity of enforcement and punishment.

A Couple of Debian 7 to Debian 8 Gotchas

Decided on a whim to use some down time this morning to upgrade my server from Debian 7 to Debian 8. As usual, I ran into a few issues that I wasn’t anticipating (but should have been).


In Debian 8, Varnish is upgraded from 3.x to 4.x. I probably should have paid more attention to that. For me, it meant a couple of things needed to change:

  • Add vcl 4.0; as your first line of your VCL
  • req.grace is gone, in favor of a more broad implementation of stale-while-revalidate. I had to comment it out of my VCL.
  • vcl_fetch is vcl_backend_response, and req. is now bereq.

Apache 2

Debian 8 brought Apache up to Apache 2.4, and a handful of things changed that impacted me.

  • .htaccess files were causing my sites to blow up because I use some overrides (like setting specific redirects or ExpireActions in them). AllowOverride needed to be set per virtual host, and on a specific directory. Easy to do, but broke my sites initially.
  • The LockFile directive has been replaced by Mutex (or can just be removed from your config, likely).
  • NameVirtualHost is just a no-op now, so removing that line got rid of a warning on restart.

Those were the big ones that bit me. I also had to manually stop varnish, do an

apt-get upgrade; apt-get autoremove

then restart varnish to get apt to run without errors (it was borking on some stale varnish process it seemed.

All things that could have been avoided if I’d done any planning ahead of upgrading my server. But in the end, I’m happily running on Debian 8, and everything seems to be working as expected.

Being an Uber Driver

This amazing article by Emily Guendelsberger makes me really think about my use of Uber. Uber already has had a few rough months, but this article really cuts through the fantasy of how much better Uber is for drivers than being a cabbie is.

In the end, it’s just a more convenient, less regulated cab service. And since they’re skirting a lot of the regulations that (in theory) cab services, they’re passing that cost savings on to us (the consumer) and themselves.

Whatever my reservations about Uber as a driver, it really, really is better for riders. I’m actually a staunch defender of Philly cabbies — I’ve never met a bad one, though many vocal people have. But Uber is just … better. The current medallion system sucks. Without getting too into the regulatory weeds, it creates an environment that screws over drivers and has no financial incentive to provide a pleasant experience for passengers. Uber can provide better service at cheaper prices with UberX because, by refusing to work within the medallion system, it has far fewer costs than a regulated taxi company — the cost of medallions, owning and maintaining a fleet of cars and paying for full commercial insurance.

But not the driver.

Driving for UberX isn’t the worst-paying job I’ve ever had. I made less scooping ice cream as a 15-year-old, if you don’t adjust for inflation. If I worked 10 hours a day, six days a week with one week off, I’d net almost $30,000 a year before taxes.

But if I wanted to net that $90,000 a year figure that so many passengers asked about, I would only have to work, let’s see …

27 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The whole article is fascinating. And, in the end, as passengers, we’re screwed if wanting to do the right thing. Cab services have a tendency to be inconvenient, expensive, and often not customer friendly. And not always nice to the cabbies. Uber is customer friendly, convenient, less expensive, and not always nice to the driver. And opens up the driver to a lot of potential liability.

So, it all sucks.

I’d feel 1000x better about it if Uber was passing on some of that margin to the drivers so that drivers really could achieve a meaningful existence … without working 27 hours a day. But in the end, I’ll just end up using whatever is the most convenient because both neither Uber nor the cab companies are really doing right by all three parties.

Where Did Those mp3s Come From?

This New Yorker story about the music ripping scene of the mid-to-late 90s is amazing in so many ways. I was in college during this time, and I can distinctly remember the first time I head of an mp3 and thinking “4MB, who’s going to want to spend time downloading a 4MB file to get one song”.

I was still on dialup.

The next year, on broadband, I figured out why folks would want to do that. Fast college broadband and people like Benny Glover (from the article) opened up an entire array of music to me that I never would have heard. It was the closest thing to Spotify in the 90s.

I never thought about how all those groups got their mp3s online so quickly …

Hide the disk inside the glove; hide the glove inside a machine; retrieve the glove and tuck it into your waistband; cinch your belt so tight it hurts your bladder; position your oversized belt buckle in front of the disk; cross your fingers as you shuffle toward the turnstile; and, if you get flagged, play it very cool when you set off the wand.

The music industry certainly hates the 90s and the rise of the mp3. For me, it opened up a huge avenue of music I’d never heard and lead to me spending thousands of dollars in the last 15 years on music and concerts. I hear a song I like on Spotify or the web, open up iTunes on my phone, buy the song or album, and have immediate gratification.

I kind of miss the days of hunting for that special album or missing song across IRC and FTP sites.

If a Home Run is Hit and No One Sees It, Did It Really Happen?

Without commenting too much on the insanity of choosing to play a baseball game in front of no fans while a city simmers at the boiling point of years of continued racial and class inequality (like I said, I wouldn’t comment too much), I find this box score to be sort of amazing.

Box Score

Time: 2 hours and 3 minutes
Attendance: 0

In 10 years, thousand of people will say they were there.

Daredevil and the Marvel Universe

Daredevil on Netflix might be the best Marvel television show[1] (of the three that have currently aired—Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, and Daredevil). It’s a darker, grittier, more violent, more realistic Marvel universe, but very much a part of the ongoing universe.

What it brings to light is something quite obvious, but that had never occurred to me before: Marvel can pretty much fill the airwaves (and movie theaters and internet) with different genre shows and appeal to as broad an audience as possible.

Iron Man (and IM 2 and 3) are sort of your typical anti-hero, Indiana Jones movies. Thor is your British, Shakespearean tale crossed with your fish out of water. The Captain Americas have been a war movie and a political thriller. Avengers (and Age of Ultron) are big action movies. Ant-Man looks to be a heist movie.

On TV, Agents of SHIELD is sort of a mish-mash (which is why I think it’s been hit or miss). It doesn’t have a standout genre. Agent Carter was noir. Daredevil is your modern day, gritty crime drama.

The upcoming shows on Netflix (Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones) can spawn across genres. Jessica Jones could be another female-lead show (like Agent Carter), maybe Marvel’s Law & Order (or Scandal). Luke Cage and Iron Fist could cross many genres,

It’s a brilliant strategy by Marvel. They can attempt to bring in almost every demographic, every type of fandom. They can continually broaden the appeal of their characters, getting new types of fans engaged and bought into the Marvel storylines.

Meanwhile, the rest of us, who would watch pretty much anything with the Marvel logo on it (well …. within reason) get to live in a world where there’s pretty much a never ending series of reasonably well put together Marvel TV and movies.

(And, every year, one of those movies comes out right around my birthday … )

  1. Daredevil is really good. It’s not good “for a comic book show”, but really good. It’s written by people who’ve worked on good, pulpy TV shows in the past (Buffy, Angel, Alias, Lost), and they understand how to put together serialized TV. It’s well written, well acted, doesn’t require any knowledge of Daredevil to understand the plot. If it were called “Blind Fighting Guy”, it’d still be a good show.  ↩

The Interesting Dichotomy of Tumblr

This week on Talking Points Memo was this interesting story about “#BlackOutDay” on Tumblr, when a few users were able to generate a meaningful social movement on Tumblr.

For three Tumblr users to radically alter the landscape of a social networking site, even just for a day, is powerful. (The residual effects reverberated long after March 6, with users posting pictures with captions like, “Too late for #blackout?”)

It’s a testament to Tumblr’s embrace of a reasonably open culture that a community was not only able to do this, but that it was able to happen as just part of the site—not as part of some larger engaged social movement. I don’t think this could have happened on Facebook. Facebook has sanded off the rough edges of the site and content, it’s algorithm ensuring that users get the content that will make them most likely to stay on the site and click the ads.

Which is why it’s not a coincidence that another story about Tumblr came out last week. This time, it’s about Yahoo’s reorg, which is at least partially to help improve Tumblr’s ad sales.

The move reflects Tumblr’s struggles to broaden its appeal beyond its core audience of of artists, teenagers and 20somethings looking for a platform to express themselves. Tumblr has served as the technology behind Yahoo’s digital magazines, but it has faced challenges in luring advertising. Tumblr’s top ad executive, Lee Brown, recently left the company and joined BuzzFeed after Yahoo integrated Tumblr’s ad sales with Yahoo’s.

I think the contrast of those two views of Tumblr is pretty striking.