Tracking as pollution

John Gruber, “Google’s Outsized Share of Advertising Money“:

A world where Google sees, say, 25 percent of the world’s ad spending sounds like an amazing business, in principle. Unless you’re comparing it to the world we’re in today, where they see 50 percent — then 25 percent looks like a collapse. Privacy-invasive user tracking is to Google and Facebook what carbon emissions are to fossil fuel companies — a form of highly profitable pollution that for a very long time few people in the mainstream cared about, but now, seemingly suddenly, very many care about quite a bit. 

Maciej Cegłowski, “Haunted By Data” (2015):

Don’t collect it!

If you can get away with it, just don’t collect it! Just like you don’t worry about getting mugged if you don’t have any money, your problems with data disappear if you stop collecting it.

Switch from the hoarder’s mentality of ‘keep everything in case it comes in handy’ to a minimalist approach of collecting only what you need.

Your marketing team will love you. They can go tell your users you care about privacy!

I Am The Beat

We have a weekly collaborative Spotify playlist at work. In the olden days, we’d contribute to it during the week, and then set it running on the sound system in the kitchen on Friday. There’s a different theme each week, and this week the setters have outdone themselves. The theme is “Q and A”: add pairs of songs, where the first one is a question, and the second one is an answer.

There are some great and funny pairings, e.g. “Where is the Love?” followed by “Up on the Roof” and “Why Does it Always Rain on Me?” before “Cruel Summer”. It’s not unusual for me to go deep on the 80s for these playlists, and I fell down another YouTube rabbit hole again this evening. My treasure of the week is this gem from The Look:

It answers the question, “Who Do You Think You Are?”.

(In passing, “Twilight Café”, “Sign of the Times”, “Heartache Avenue”, “Reward”… I’ll come up for air eventually.)

Bitcoin mining

I subscribe to Matt Levine’s “Money Stuff” newsletter from Bloomberg. I’m not a big investor, and much of what he talks about goes over my head; but finance is a big part of what drives global change, and he writes about it very entertainingly.

In Friday’s newsletter he highlighted a story about a man in Wales who mistakenly threw out a hard drive containing a bitcoin wallet that — by current valuation — is worth about £200 million. The dude has got financial backing from a hedge fund to gain access to the landfill where he thinks it’s buried to try and recover it. Levine writes:

Financial backing from a hedge fund! Imagine those pitch meetings, wandering around Mayfair trying to get hedge funds to agree to sift through acres of garbage to find some Bitcoins. “You’ll want our special situations team.” If anyone has a copy of his pitch deck for this trade, I need it desperately. I assume it would lay out the plan for digging up the garbage, and the sources and uses of funds. There’d be a financial model showing that, even accounting for paying off the local council and discounting for the possibility that the hard drive has rotted away, you’ll make at least a 30% expected return on your investment. There’d be a page on the capital structure and payment waterfall. You’d need a deep dive into the landfill’s record-keeping system, with aerial maps showing the grid and schematic diagrams of the cross-section. Then a technical section on how you put a rusted garbage-covered hard drive into a computer to get the Bitcoins off of it. At the back of the deck you’d have a page on “The Team,” with little pictures and bios of the guys who are going to dig up the garbage. If no one sends me this pitch book I might have to make it myself. It should be taught in business schools. If you took a class on “Blockchain and Crypto for Finance” and there was no case study on digging up landfills for hard drives, you should demand your tuition back.

I bought some cryptocurrency back in 2017 to see what was up, to try out wallets, and have a bit of skin in the game to help me understand it better. I made a little profit, sold it all, paid the appropriate taxes, and came to the conclusion that it’s all a bit bonkers.

Expecting everyone to be responsible enough to manage their own wallet security or else lose all their money is bananas, so people will delegate it to larger organizations, and the middle-men get rich again. With SEPA and the prevalence of modern mobile banking products, crypto offers nothing extra in the way of convenience, and the promise of anonymity breaks down as soon as you try to convert crypto into real-world currency and vice versa. But then every few years prices go up by factor of 10 in the space of a few months, and everyone gets excited again. It’s still bonkers.


I seem to have messed up the poop emojis I was using to express my displeasure with bad movies, books, and TV shows on my Mixed Media posts.

No 💩

Just after I migrated to a new server. Hmm. I’m guessing it’s because I did the database import/export with the wrong character set, but I’m not going to go back and fix that now. I just spent three hours trying to hunt down a WordPress plugin problem that turns out to be a bug in the WP healthcheck code that someone else had reported before me.

If the poop emojis are messed up, there’s a chance that I’ve screwed up old posts with accented characters as well, but I’m not going to do anything about that now.

Update: immediately after pressing “publish” I realized that I should have titled this post “No shit” instead.

Technological innovations, 2020

Over the last couple of days I’ve moved and other assorted domains to a new server. Still at Linode, but on a newer version of Ubuntu (20.04), with newer versions of nginx and PHP, and using MariaDB as a drop-in replacement for MySQL. The move seems to have gone fine. The two main drivers for the upgrade were that the WordPress dashboard was starting to complain about my PHP being out of date, and nginx periodically stopping and needing a manual restart. (I temporarily worked around that by using a cron job that restarted nginx every hour, whether it needed it or not. It was faster than setting up Monit, but not a great solution for the long term.)

I switched to the latest WordPress theme, twenty-twenty-one. It’s billed as a portfolio default theme rather than a blog-focused one, but I’m giving it a shot here anyway. It’s definitely very minimal. I like the font stack using system defaults, lazy loading images is nice, but having the search box tucked down at the bottom of the page feels wrong. We’ll see if it sticks.

In the middle of 2019 I bought myself a very nice Blue Yeti microphone with a boom arm, partly as a replacement for the cheap headset I’d been using until then, and partly as a toy when a few colleagues and I had been thinking about doing a podcast together. The podcast didn’t come together, but the microphone was nice. I used a set of Apple wired earbuds plugged into it as monitors.

Over time I found the setup to be a little cumbersome, though. On my desk I have a big screen directly in front of me, and my laptop up on a stand to the side. I had the microphone positioned for optimal use with the laptop’s built-in camera. As lockdown kicked in back in March, and as my new role at work required a lot of video calls, I was spending more and more time slightly twisted or angled in my chair. This led quickly to neck and shoulder pain. As it became clear that I wouldn’t be travelling again for white a while, I needed to find a better solution.

AirPods Pro

I had got Abi a set of wireless AirPods Pro for Christmas last year. Various colleagues also were using AirPods (pro and non-pro) for video calls, and I decided to try them out for myself. I bought a pair of nearly-new ones via Tweakers back in April, and they’ve turned out to be a great purchase. Not perfect. Sometimes one of the buds will fail to charge in its case, and I’ll go into a call with only one ear active. There’s some kind of bluetooth glitch between my work laptop (but not my personal laptop) and the AirPods that causes the laptop to occasionally drop the BT connection to the headphones and all other BT devices (keyboard, mouse) before reconnecting again. It only happens when I’m on a video call, though, not when I’m listening to music. This is very annoying, and no amount of resetting the AirPods or the laptop’s BT module fixed it. The problem even persisted when the entire laptop was replaced. A comment way down in this reddit thread has been the solution for me: set Zoom to use the AirPods for audio output, but use the laptop’s built-in microphones for input. So that takes me back to having a separate headphones and microphone solution again, but at least my audio doesn’t randomly cut out in the middle of conversations.

(They also don’t keep my ears warm on a cold day, but I don’t leave the house much any more. And I haven’t travelled with them yet, so I don’t know how tense I’ll feel about them dropping out of my ear while running through an airport.)

The second part of the ergonomic solution here was to get a webcam to mount on the big screen straight in front of me. This was easier said than done, because pandemic. Around March/April webcams became very hard to buy. Availability was low, and prices were sky-high. There’s some availability again now by the end of the year, but prices have remained high, despite them being essentially the same models from 5 years ago.

When I couldn’t find a real webcam, I tried using an old iPhone 6 taped to my monitor with a webcam app. The picture quality was good, but the experience of using it was terrible. In the end I convinced Fiona to let me borrow the standalone webcam from her desktop PC, with the promise of getting her a new one once they came back in stock. So I’m running with Fiona’s old Logitech C270 now, and a few months ago I got her a new Logitech StreamCam. The video quality of the C270 isn’t great, but it’s good enough. Now that I’ve figured out that I can only reliably use my AirPods Pro in video calls for sound, but not as a microphone, maybe I’ll look around for offers on a new webcam in the new year.

Ludicrously small Nobsound stereo amp

All this allowed me to break down the big microphone + boom arm combo from my desk, which gave me back quite a bit of visual space. Another thing I did at the same time was replace my 20+ year-old Arcam Alpha 7 amplifier with a ridiculously tiny €35 Nobsound stereo amp. The source selector knob on the Arcam had developed a wobble over time, and the L-R stereo balance was off. I’m sure audio purists will look down on the Nobsound, but I only have one input source, and it drives my Mission 750 LE speakers just fine, even without bi-wiring. It also frees up more space on my desk.

(Big) Brother MFC-L3770CDW colour printer

Still in the office area, we bought a Brother MFC-L3770CDW colour laser printer in January, and it has been amazing. Unlike the tiny amp, this is a big device, but it replaces two smaller printers (a Samsung mono laser, and an HP all-in-one inkjet) to take up not much more space overall. I do a lot of reading on my OP course, and I prefer to do that with paper printouts that I can scribble on and mark up with highlighter. I print mostly in black and white, but the colour option is nice to have for occasional use, and it’s fast. Also, the built-in document scanner does double-sided scans, and has a document feeder. Finally, it takes separate C/M/Y/K toner cartridges that aren’t DRM-locked to a single manufacturer – third-party recycled high-capacity units are easily available. I love this printer.

For reference, the 1500-ish-page stack of papers I printed out during the course of last term

This is also the first full year that we’ve been using a rice cooker. I think we got it sometime in the autumn of 2019, when Alex was living away, but honestly I don’t remember. I can’t imagine life without a rice cooker any more. They’re transformational. If you make rice, like ever, and you’ve never used one before, you owe it to yourself to invest €20-30 in even a low-end device. (That’s what ours cost.) You’ll never cook rice in a pan again.

This was also the year we got radiation shielding window shutters installed on the back of the house. Recent summers in NL have brought weeks of heat waves, and this will help keep our non-air-conditioned house a few degrees cooler. We also got the draughty balcony door in Alex’s bedroom replaced.

Some things I explicitly haven’t bought or upgraded this year include a new iPhone (I want it for the new camera system, but so long as I’m not travelling, going to concerts, or leaving the house much at all, my 3-year-old iPhone X is going strong), a PS5 (not for lack of desire – I just missed out on all the pre-order opportunities), and a Marantz NR1711 receiver to replace our old NR1603, which doesn’t pass handle 4K video (so long as the only 4K video source we have is the Apple TV, I’m content to keep switching between video inputs on the big TV; but the whole point of using receiver is so that I don’t have to do that. Well, that and the whole surround sound thing.)

Oh and then there was all the A/V kit and connectors we needed to assemble Studio A

Studio A