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Puppy breaks are the best!

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In Which A Calvinist Recommends Treehouses Over Forums

A wave of Facebook friends have been informing me that they are “moving” to other social networks such as MeWe and Parler. While the long-term sustainability of these alternative social networks is an open-ended question as of the time of this writing, I don’t foresee the bigger problems inherent to democratized public forums, such as state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, becoming a thing of the past.

Assumption: Purely democratic groups don’t scale very well.

Compound this with the Doctrine of Total Depravity, namely that man is born sinful by nature. I believe this is the key contributor to the problems we encounter on the Web. This is because technology will never inherently mitigate our nature. The best it can do is limit the effects of some of the symptoms (such as banning users for using racist words).

I experience the most joy interacting individually and in smaller groups with my messaging apps.

Whilst Shinto religious beliefs are not part of my faith, asking the famous Marie Kondo question of “what sparks joy” is a valid question to ask oneself when evaluating your choices of interactions and entertainment. For me, I experience the most joy interacting individually and in smaller groups with my messaging apps. I use Discord, Slack, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger daily.

Assumption: If I experience the most joy in messaging apps then many others do as well.

Instead of fixing the problem by making massively-scaled forums, I believe that smaller, human-moderated groups on messaging apps, which I consider the Web’s equivalent of “treehouses”, are more likely to isolate some of the problems the come with massive scale.

man in black leather jacket standing beside brown wooden house during daytime

What constitutes a successful “treehouse”? Here is my working rubric.

Delegate the most mature, most qualified individuals to enforce against sinful behavior and sinful content.

  1. Less than 50 total members – I admit, it’s an arbitrary number. You might be able to succeed with a larger number if your moderation is working well, but make sure your community doesn’t get so big that it lacks personality and/or collapses under its own weight. If your Discord group gets so big that you have to rate-limit users’ posts, for example, then it’s too big.
  2. At least 1 moderator per 10 members – I’ve seen drama happen on a messaging app group as small as 4 people on more than one occasion. Delegate the most mature, most qualified individuals to enforce against sinful behavior and sinful content.
  3. Enact rules meant to stop slurs and to stop intimidating behavior against women – there are certain forms of sinful behavior on the Internet that are frequently inflicted against women and minorities. For example, commentary on a woman’s appearance to objectify her or using Anti-Semitic slurs on Jewish group members. It is horrifying to behold, but even people who claim to know Jesus will engage in this behavior. Even if the perpetrator “didn’t mean it” your group will need a zero-tolerance policy in regards to this behavior.
  4. A consistent Meritocracy, not an inconsistent Democracy – promote the best-behaved members with more privileges, demote or remove members who refuse to stop committing repeat offenses. Smaller groups can do this organically, but larger groups could benefit from a rubric of some kind.
  5. Don’t censor cordial disagreement, even when the person you disagree with is wrong – Different people coming from different perspectives are bound to disagree. Assuming it is a polite disagreement that does not directly promote harm against anybody, the worst thing you can do is censor disagreement when a thoughtful discussion in a small setting is possibly more likely to change minds than a public forum. However, if you are concerned that political discussion is bound to be divisive in your group, then it stands to reason to ban political discussion (like I have in my private Discord group) but make sure to enforce it consistently.
  6. Friendly vibes, not strict vibes – This is a tough one to balance when you have rules. One way to you could institute friendly vibes is to be very welcoming of newcomers and to post wholesome content frequently. Puppy and kitten pics are what the Web was made for! Another way to keep up a friendly vibe is to remind people of the rules in a private chat instead of in front of the whole group. Just be nice and be creative in how to be nice.

There is no substitute for in-person communication, and even more so there is no substitute for being controlled by the Holy Spirit. For those moments where we are interacting from a distance, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope the above tips will help you in interacting in a Sprit-led manner, perhaps in ways you haven’t considered yet.

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Do you miss the office, or is that just me?

Remember back in March when we were all told that a 2-week lockdown was needed in order to “flatten the curve” of a contagious and deadly disease? Things turned out a lot more differently than planned!

It’s now October and I find myself missing the office and, yes, even the commute. I have been able to go from tolerating (though struggling) with working from home to being able to even enjoy a 9-5 routine at home.

However, since I started a new job in June I still haven’t met any of my current coworkers face-to-face. I miss in-person interactions at work. I know that my working from home, with growing discipline, has enabled the “deep work” and “asynchronous communication” that businesses want so badly from us for productivity. But I feel like the trade-off is that it is much harder to build camaraderie among peers. Or is that just me?

Learning more about my co-worker Frank over Slack somehow feels more intrusive than casually asking him what he likes to do in his free time over a sandwich at the office cafeteria. Or is that just me?

Either way, once offices reopen I certainly hope to never take the office space or interacting with co-workers for granted ever again.

How about you? Are you finding ways to keep personally connected with your co-workers or is it harder now that you can’t see them in-person? Drop your thoughts in the comments.

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The Next Desktop Replacement: Phones?

Fast forward to 2020 and we’ve had iPads take on the desktop replacement challenge with some degree of elegance.

First came the laptops. Those beastly, 17-inch hunks with a fan big enough to cool your entire bedroom. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but those things were HUGE! My first “desktop replacement” was the Alienware M17x R4 from 2012. It had a 3rd generation i7 processor, 8GB RAM, and an NVidia GTX 680M. By 2012 standards, I was “flexing” when I brought it to class during my final year of college. Fast forward to 2020 and we’ve had iPads take on the desktop replacement challenge with some degree of elegance. Apple’s in-house ARM-based chips can now enable professional Youtubers to edit and publish their videos from a 10-inch tablet that requires no fan and has far more efficient power management than the M17x R4.

…we may see a decline, but not a complete demise, in both desktop and laptop usage…

Processing power and efficiency have come a long way.

I personally believe the next logical step in desktop replacement evolution, namely the ability for our phones to be fully-capable desktop replacements, will become a mainstream means of productivity in the next 8 years, and we may see a decline, but not a complete demise, in both desktop and laptop usage in the next 15 years.

…the Android ecosystem is still lagging in ability to adapt to the desktop form factor on demand.

Phones as desktops have already arrived in a few forms, one of the most popular being Samsung DeX. However, like Chrome OS has painfully revealed, much of the software in the Android ecosystem is still lagging in ability to adapt to the desktop form factor on demand. That being said, this ecosystem could still catch up, given the right incentives.

Samsung DeX in use with a Galaxy S8 in 2017 – Photo by Maurizio Pesce (licensed as CC BY 2.0)

…phone hardware is beginning to match the speed of productivity laptops.

Another reason I believe we are on the cusp of phones becoming our next desktop replacement is that phone hardware is beginning to match the speed of productivity laptops. For example, the Snapdragon 865+, which powers the highest-end Android phones of 2020, is marginally faster than the i5 processor that powers the base 2020 model of the Macbook Air!

While on the one hand ARM processors may never match the jaw-dropping speeds of a venerable AMD Threadripper per an objective benchmark, they don’t have to. Most Windows and Mac users run essential tasks on highly inefficient software optimized for platform compatibility at the cost of native performance. Thanks, Chromium! Android and iOS have a potential advantage over this problem. Thoughtful software optimization for OS-specific development can produce higher yield in throughput during intensive tasks. That is why you can edit and export 4K video on an iPad without it appearing to break a sweat, but if you try to run some Electron-based media apps on a Mac it will blast the fan loud enough to wake up your spouse. Also, with the growth of cloud computing offerings, we are returning in many ways to the 70s and 80s model of having computers with less hardware resources requesting the harder tasks from larger, rented computing resources.

The possibilities are exciting enough that I’m saving up to buy the best DeX-capable phone money could buy next year. My guess is it will be called the “Note 30 Ultra” if the current naming convention doesn’t change again. If I can install Linux on it as a VM, or if I can remote into an affordable cloud desktop from it, could my next phone become the one that replaces my laptop?

What do you think?

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Highlights From the First 2020 Presidential Debate

None.

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Morning Surprise

Many people in the Gold Coast neighborhood woke up to an unexpected surprise on August 10th, 2020. For those who didn’t catch the news, many literally walked into it: The aftermath of an unexpected looting spree.

Bank of America at Division & State

Torn-apart containers ripped from cash registers and ATMs then discarded once emptied. Broken glass everywhere. The occasional alarm still going off. Trash everywhere. A heavy police presence.

A police wagon blocks entrance to a street while a business boards up in anticipation of more looting and riots.

What led to this event? Criminals weaponizing false information on social media.

The Truth

An adult man fired shots at officers, who returned fire in defense. He is expected to live.

The Falsehood

Stories on social media began to claim that the suspect was a minor and unarmed. This story continued to spread the next day. In one instance, the Chicago Police Twitter account called it out.

Fetched from the Wayback Machine because the original tweet has been taken down.

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20200810153935/https://twitter.com/Chicago_Police/status/1292835801110212610

Some criminals took this opportunity to encourage looting the downtown again. After all, there were little to no consequences for the majority of the looters last May.

Insanity followed.

The moment with perhaps the greatest political ramifications in the aftermath was the Black Lives Matter Chicago leader who condoned the behavior.

Not Afraid

My wife struggled with fear the last time looters came and trashed our neighborhood. After spending time in prayer about it, she knew what needed to be done the morning after they returned.

Lesson Learned

If there is one thing that you need to remember from this article, it is this:

Bad people will weaponize false information.

This is why posting possibly false information publicly on social media isn’t just wrong.

It is sometimes dangerous.

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Ready to move to the Open Web?

Despite the desire for connection, misinformation and human nature have combined to produce some of the most frustrating online experiences for people. Even the President of the United States has gotten involved after expressing frustration for having one of his tweets annotated against his wishes.

If you are fed up with how messy social media has become, maybe it’s time to make your move to the Open Web.

What is the Open Web?

In short, it’s running your own website on a product that you are licensed to own, not rent.

As 90’s web users may remember, the Open Web is still, in some ways, a “wild west”. For example, you can still get hacked if you aren’t careful with what you’re doing, but you will also find some of the most original, creative content out there.

The Open Web has come a long way with the help of affordable systems called Content Management Systems (aka “CMSes”). Some popular ones include:

  • WordPress – my personal recommendation, has great blogger and small business templates out of the box, has powerful developer options and a lot of plug-ins
  • Drupal – more flexible data out of the box, has very powerful options for developers too
  • Hugo – Has amazing content flexibility and the fastest file save times. There are even free hosting options using this static site generator. However, it requires the ability to code.

I am going to focus the rest of this article on the advantages of using WordPress for the Open Web, but the other options are well worth a look.

Why WordPress?

While I do not subscribe to “meditation” in the Eastern Mystical sense of the term, this comparison of social media platforms as noisy and artificial to WordPress being interconnected and yet independent and diverse is an accurate comparison of the Web’s ecosystem.

What about my photos?

Worried about formats for posting? WordPress has the flexibility for posting pictures (including memes), videos, short statements, and book-length articles.

Picture I took of Manhattan in September 2019

In fact, WordPress has a user-friendly “block editor”, which means you don’t have to know code or be a nerd to create pages of any reasonable layout!

What about my friends?

Moderated comments using WordPress’ built-in comments or embedding a commenting system such as Disqus can enable as much or as little site interactivity as you want, with you at the wheel. This link will take you to an example where some friends and acquaintances of mine engaged with my post.

What about hackers?

Depending on the method of measuring, WordPress accounts for roughly 30-something% of the Web as of 2020! As such, a product with a large market share is a prime target. Thankfully, this is manageable by following some common sense rules like encrypting the website connection, using a strong password, not allowing strangers into the site, not allowing un-moderated comments to post without your review first, and keeping the system and plugins updated. As of WordPress 5.5 you can set the system to self-update the plugins.

What should I expect?

In short, expect to pay a little so that the site is ad-free. If you want comments, expect to spend time moderating them and deleting spam. Even if you get a spam filter, expect a few clever ones to get through the cracks.

Where do I start?

I recommend managed hosting (such as Flywheel or the paid options for WordPress Dot Com) or else getting someone you know to host and administrate WordPress for you. Shameless plug: I currently do so for people I know, including initial setup, daily backups, & security scans. Contact me if you want details.

What Next?

That depends on what you desire to accomplish! Just realize that traffic is driven by what people want, which is sometimes not what you want. If this is your place to unwind and get creative, have fun with it! If this is your place to sell a product or influence people, I recommend starting your research with the book Platform by Michael Hyatt.

Happy building!

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Opinion: Did we really do our homework on COVID-19?

Addendum

After review of the article by an academic, I was prompted to thoughtfully change some of the wording from the original conclusions drawn in order to promote better factual accuracy while still expressing the opinions meant to be expressed.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11:14

COVID-19 is a topic that most of us are tired of hearing about. It has taken a tragic death toll, and I am aware of at least three people who lost a loved one from COVID-19. One of the deceased attended my wedding shower roughly 2 months before contracting the deadly disease.

While the situation is unarguably serious and even deadly, the information we receive is muddy, at best. In fact, there is now a report of artificially inflated numbers in at least one state.

I am not saying that the death toll estimates we are being told are wrong. I am not saying that we shouldn’t exercise the precautions that the WHO and CDC have given us. However, I am saying that the transparency in data collection and interpretation seems to be lacking.

What is also lacking is the public promotion of peer-reviewed data models of the sociological consequences of a battered economy, including the number of deaths caused by poverty. It may be out there, but if it is, then it hasn’t been given the same spotlight.

Something is terribly wrong when we ignore the opposing viewpoint of a scientific observation out of hand. Unfortunately, academia appears to be beyond ripe for this type of behavior, as observed in Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching the testimonials of a host of qualified scientists who were removed from their academic positions for suggesting the possibility of the world coming from a source of intelligent design. These people didn’t necessarily mention God, mind you. Just academically countering a theory, like all good scientists should.

Countering a hypothesis or theory to test its validity is called “doing your homework”.

Ben Stein’s tongue-in-cheek humor will keep you from falling asleep hearing people talk science…until he establishes the (indirect) link between Nazism and suppression of academic thought, with the common denominator being Darwinism. Then the documentary takes a serious turn. Real serious.

What’s this got to do with COVID-19? Hang on, I’m getting there…

A Nobel laureate has stepped forward to say that questioning the current narrative has become politicized and that definitive sourcing has been assigned to an elite few rather than to a highly-qualified international group of professionals.

Skip ahead to 10:56 in this video debate to see the major claims by Nobel Laureate Michael Levitt.

Levitt is not saying that his observations are absolutely right, mind you, but he is saying that he has made a scientific observation, is standing by the data he has compiled, and is welcoming peer review to challenge the data. Instead of academic review, he has been met with verbal abuse. It would seem that censorship of an opposing scientific observation is alive and well over a decade after Expelled was released.

In other words, I don’t believe we truly did all our homework. Just part of it.

While Dr. Fauci did his best within the scope of his expertise, I don’t believe that he has been able to consult high-caliber professionals outside the scope of his expertise. We may be reacting to observations and a data collection effort that has been unprecedented, but with the missing piece of academically reviewing the antitheses challenging the current narrative, I don’t believe we’re actually doing science. We’re answering a pandemic with too much politics instead. On both sides.

The Scientific Method is missing from the process.

Until we have better peer review of the data compiled from multiple qualified sources, there is a possibility that the margin of error reported in the news is astronomically big, or that it is very small, and because of the lack of sufficient academic oversight there’s no way to know either way.

Until we know for certain how close or how far off we were on the numbers, or until the pandemic sufficiently goes away, I still believe COVID-19 is serious. Furthermore, the data collection for this pandemic is unprecedented and, consequently, what we are being told is still our current best guess in an ever-evolving situation.

Still better than the Facebook “experts” blindly reposting to their confirmation bias’ content.

I’ll still wear a mask where I’m asked to and where I believe it to be prudent. Same with keeping my distance from the sick and the vulnerable. Not because I’m afraid, but because of my worldview as a believer in Jesus. In that worldview, I believe in valuing life over death (Proverbs 8:36), loving my neighbor (Matthew 22:39), obeying my authorities (Romans 13:1), and pursuing peace where possible (Hebrews 12:14).

A little mask over my face is very small inconvenience compared to the hardships our forerunners had to face in order to preserve life and liberty.

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Youtube’s Bitcoin Scam Problem Appears To Be Getting Worse

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a Youtube live stream that was clearly faked. It claimed Elon Musk was giving away 5000 BTC (roughly $47 million as of June 16, 2020). I flagged it as a Bitcoin scam and I assume the feed went down once a moderator saw the flag.

Then the weird part happened.

Youtube’s algorithm, knowing my interest in blockchain technology and my brush with a “giveaway” now recommends subsequent scams as they go live.

Tonight I reported four of them running simultaneously on Youtube. Two of them had been running for four hours and thousands of people had been watching.

Here’s the typical anatomy of these scams:

The video is always a prerecorded stream of a real event, sometimes involving a tech or crypto celebrity or a SpaceX launch. The title is deliberately something not related to the giveaway in order to evade immediate detection by Youtube’s scam detection.

Once the video is reported and taken down, these scammers (who by my research appear to be operating from Russia) just create a new channel, stuff the channel with fake followers so the channel is annotated with something like “30K Followers”, name the channel something like “Thomas Lee” or “Elon Musk”, and continue to operate with impunity.

Given the increasing number of these streams running simultaneously right now and the perceived growth in viewers and growing length of runtime, it would appear that Youtube is either unaware of this trend, even though these videos are getting reported, or else Youtube hasn’t been able to implement a comprehensive strategy yet to stop these scammers without unintentionally punishing the legitimate channels.

Perhaps if they could work the algorithm to keep recommending the scams to admins the same way Youtube is recommending 4 simultaneously streaming scams to me tonight?

Until then, Bitcoin enthusiasts with a lower IQ will be paying an unexpected price from their lack of knowledge or wisdom, and the majority of tech enthusiasts like myself will continue to get annoyed and keep reporting the videos and sometimes the advertised domain names.

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The Chicago Riots, Day One

Content warning: elements photographed for my story below contain profanity and crudeness.

This post has been thoughtfully revised for factual correctness as subsequent investigations confirmed new details.

2020 will be remembered as a dark chapter in American history. Never in many of our lifetimes have we seen lawlessness become so rampant, both with police breaking the law and a host of hurting people, anarchists, and opportunists using such grievous lawlessness as an excuse to commit crimes en masse.

Today I saw democracy morph into anarchy. I saw protesting morph into violence.

As I write I can still hear sirens, honking, fireworks, and intermittent yelling outside my apartment. The tone is tense. It is rumored that the Walgreens and CVS just down the street have been looted. I’ll find out tomorrow morning if my wife’s car survived the rampant vandalism.

Update: it did, thank God! Many people in a much poorer economic state did not have their cars and businesses survive the onslaught, sadly.

This is my photo and video story of what I observed while strolling from the Gold Coast to the Magnificent Mile.

Gold Coast

DOT trucks blocking southbound traffic to Lake Shore Drive
Graffiti in Gold Coast long before the main body of protestors would arrive there
Joe and the Juice vandalized
Policemen in protective gear walking towards The Drake to their next assignment

The Magnificent Mile

Stores being boarded up along the Magnificent Mile
Graffiti. “1312” is an anti-police message.
More anti-police messages
The downtown protestors split into two groups, one that stays near the raised bridge and one that starts walking towards me at Michigan and Ontario
Drone capturing the event above us, and the speck to the lower right of the drone is a chopper also capturing the event

At about this point, the body of protestors is pretty much behind me now. That body mostly comprised of peaceful protestors expressing their beliefs. One of them even gave a homeless man his water bottle.

The more aggressive participants from within the crowd begin to loiter, harassing the police and commencing the looting shortly after they leave.

Foul gestures as police leave to keep with the main group; moments later many of the lingering rioters will plunder this AT&T store
The group of ambulances lined up along one side begin to leave
Anti-police and anti-Facebook messages scrawled on a news van with the passenger window punched out
Trump Tower standing defiantly – still one of the most sleek and modern-looking buildings in Chicago
Police SUV scratched and with the message “they don’t care about us” painted in green graffiti
A firefighter approaches the huddle while cautiously watching the loiterers
Things were crazier on the other side of the raised bridge, according to eyewitness testimonies
“Eat the Rich” and anti-police graffiti on a bank
To the left is a crowd verbally harassing a group of police. Slightly to the right of the light pole is a communist symbol found among the graffiti on the wall.
News chopper meekly peeking from behind a building
Police fixing a tire that rioters damaged
Verbally abusive man riding a tall bike; the business on the right includes the graffiti “an eye for an eye”.

This is around the time the looting began, which I captured while heading for home.

I took my leave, dumbstruck by what I just encountered and impressed by the professional restraint our law enforcement workers had while receiving so much abuse.

They’re people too.