FlatPress: blogging for the people

It's been more than half a year since I reviewed any software here, and that's a shame. I love playing with new toys. Or in this case old toys that never caught my eye until now for some reason.

Screenshot of a website with a maroon-grey-black design, showing the About page of a typical blog.

FlatPress has been around for a while; in fact it just turned fifteen this summer. It's a flat-file CMS made for personal blogging, and one of the lightest out there. Also fresh and usable despite its age.

Read more... Tags: blog, software, review

It's not how safe the vaccines are

So, one of my favorite bloggers just posted an in-depth analysis of the risks posed by the virus versus the vaccine, based on official data from the Swiss government. I trust Alex, and the Swiss government must be competent enough. No idea how the figures apply to other countries, but things can't be that much different given the kind of ratios we're talking (see below).

To wit: it turns out the virus is ten times more dangerous than the vaccines, so the math is very much in favor of getting vaccinated if you can. But! It also turns out the vaccines are ten times more dangerous than we were told, and that's the problem here. You know why? Because we were lied to. And that means saying good bye to trust. Which is a key ingredient of society, and even more so of the doctor-patient relationship.

By the way: remember at first when many were like "the vaccines are safe, you dolt! Just get any of them in you!" and then reports started pouring in? Turns out, that was irresponsible in the extreme. In a recent interview, Dr. Alexandru Rafila, Romania's most trusted medical expert right now, said very clearly: first talk to your doctor.

You don't subject people to risk on purpose without weighing the options first.

That has another side, too: I said the virus is ten times more dangerous than the vaccine. And never mind that relative figures lie: one person is still a victim. But what does that ratio mean, exactly? It refers to how bad it can be if you do get the virus. But will you? People seem to assume that everyone will sooner or later, but that's absurd. So what are the chances that an ordinary person who takes reasonable precautions, like working from home, avoiding crowds and so on, will get the virus anyway?

Nobody's talking about that. It's all "be responsible! get stung!" gung-ho crap.

Responsible towards whom? You can still transmit the virus. Wear a mask.

Tags: pandemic, politics

Defending privacy with bad arguments

I wrote the following lines sometime in the first half of 2020, and for lack of a good place I moved them around so much, the exact date is long gone:

You want democracy, not cryptography

Yo, crypto-heads. Encrypted communication doesn't protect your privacy. Laws protect your privacy, and democratic oversight of lawmakers, so you can ensure those laws stay. A tyrannical government can easily do any of the following:

  • ban strong encryption if not all encryption;
  • mandate backdoors into encrypted communication systems;
  • force people to unlock their encrypted media, even without a warrant.

What do you mean, all that is already happening, and in supposedly democratic countries, not some dictatorship?


And look where we are one year later:

  • The European Parliament just passed a law to let law enforcement spy on everyone's electronic communications without a warrant, supposedly as a way to curb child porn. But we all know what it will be used for.
  • Not to be outdone, Apple announced an even worse technological measure they'll build into devices supposedly for the same reason, which has been already demonstrated to work really, really badly.

Things can always get worse however. Since then, I thought about another thing:

Read more... Tags: technology, politics

Trains and tribulations

Around mid-July, a train derailed in Feteşti, Romania, a major transportation hub almost halfway between the capital Bucharest, and Constanţa: one of the main ports at the Black Sea, not 200 kilometers away in a straight line. No-one was hurt, but traffic was badly disrupted.

Ten days later, two trains collided in the same train station. Luckily they were cargo trains, so no-one was hurt. Don't ask me how the drivers are in one piece, because the site looked like something out of a disaster movie.

I had return tickets on that route the very next day, booked a week in advance. We knew the risks, yet commited to the trip anyway for fear of travel getting even harder in August. Suffice to say, our train left Constanţa half an hour after it was supposed to reach Bucharest, and things went downhill from there. For one thing, AC didn't work most of the time, on a day with 37 degrees Celsius in the shadow. Luckily we had a little water and crackers, and the train had a bar able to help some of the other passengers.

Besides, we were home "only" 4h40m after we were supposed to. When we turned on the TV, they said another train that had left along the same route a night before still hadn't made it to its destination. (By morning they had, after a 29h trip.) Aside from the obvious issue with blocked tracks and downed power lines, their locomotive broke down en-route, and the one sent to rescue them also broke down.

The kicker? A whole other train on a whole other route suffered from the exact same problem that day. This second train was "only" stuck in the middle of nowhere for 12 hours (stranding hundreds of kids in the process), but seriously? On the same day? We're talking a systemic problem here.

Read more... Tags: Romania, technology, disaster

Blogs, forums, wikis

One well-known failure mode of wikis, infamous back when they were a big thing, is that pages are often born as a conversation, a glorified forum thread, then stay that way. Wiki people see that as a bad thing: those pages, they say, should have been edited into "proper" articles.

That however presumes the conversation itself has no value, and it does. Moreover, like I pointed out elsewhere, it matters whose words they are. People naturally want credit and authorship: to own their words, and for others to own their words, too.

Conversely, all too often I see a forum thread where the original post keeps being updated with resources suggested by other participants. That's when they should have had a wiki as well, it makes me think. Not instead of a forum, but complementing it. What a concept!

Can't have an online community with only one kind of communication tool.

Ironic how I'm writing this on a blog. It could easily be on a forum instead. After all, both are organized around newest-first lists of posts, each followed by comments. But it's just not the same, isn't it?

Wikis, too, for all their supposed atemporality, consider a Recent Changes page absolutely vital. And they're right! It matters when words were written, as you'll hear from anyone frustrated by the lack of a date on a long-sought-after blog post.

But old blog posts all too soon end up buried under an avalanche of newer writing. Tags, categories and archive pages help a little, but not enough. Some people have tried marrying a blog to a wiki, making a so-called bliki, but I'm not convinced. Ease of editing wasn't the issue. Diving to the bottom still is.

Blogs need to end at some point, not unlike books. Wikis and forums are tricky.

Tags: website, philosophy

Where to, wiki?

I don't remember when wikis became a big thing for me, but for a long while they were a part of my life. At some point I was operating four of them, one running on my own custom engine. That's not even counting TiddlyWiki.

That one's kind of special. The first version of my webcomic list was made with it. But then a certain Firefox extension stopped working, and I lost my ability to update it. I moved its contents to a static web page and never looked back. TiddlyWiki 5, that came out after a while, didn't need any browser extension, but it was noticeably bigger and slower, and I had lost confidence anyway, not to mention how much more aware of accessibility issues I was by then.

Things went downhill from there. My custom engine became too much fuss to keep online, so I took it down. (A descendant still survives, which is damn cool.) Another wiki was overrun with spam, while never attracting contributions, so it was the next to go. And the other two were folded into static websites, though that happened later.

Don't worry, I was never without a wiki. At another time, having to redo a site from scratch on the sly and in a hurry, my chosen solution was OddMuse. What was supposed to be a temporary staging ground remained permanent, as always. It also stayed effectively a single-user setup, because nobody else wanted the editor password. (No way I'm leaving a wiki open this side of 2015.)

Read more... Tags: website, philosophy

Stop blaming the web

Lately pretty much everyone agrees that Web 2.0 has gone too far. Pages are bloated and spy on us. Worse, they're confusing and have nothing to say. Even their owners must hate them, seeing how they keep trying to shove mobile apps and mailing lists down our throats instead of letting us read the page we just loaded. It looks bad all around.

Problem is, lately reactions to this state of affairs are swinging way too far in the other direction. Let's get rid of Javascript! CSS! Images! Let's get rid of the web altogether! Here, use this new protocol that's crippled on purpose. You don't need that feature. Trust me. You only need what I need. Obey techbros.

These people are about to ruin the internet just as surely as corporations are.

What the hell. If you don't want Javascript in your web pages, don't use any. If you don't want pictures, just use plain text. Nobody's forcing you. Or did you think that if a feature is present, then you have to use it?

Do you consider yourself obligated to bungee-jump off every bridge you cross?

Read more... Tags: website, critique

April and all

The last post cost me almost all followers. If you're reading this, thanks for sticking around. I plan to keep blogging here for another 16 months. It would be no fun, talking to myself until then.

On the plus side, my Agora Project review is now very popular. No idea where readers are coming from, but it's good to know people care. Ripen Forth has been doing well, too, especially after the latest update. I'll work on it more, promise, while I'm on a coding bent. Other revivals took priority for now, is all.

While on the subject of web apps, I've been using my new Shaarli instance more than anything else I installed on the site recently. Not so much the mobile app, go figure. And speaking of Agora Project, I've been using another instance more than my own. It's just more fun with a few friends.

(A day later.) Looking at my server stats again, it turns out I "only" lost enough followers to notice. It's hard to tell exactly by how much the newsfeed is read. Just that it's a hit. Guess it can't be helped.

In other news, my old Forth interpreter tutorial is still popular. Just like the new ones on my other website. I really need to write another book about this, because the one about Basic doesn't sell anymore, but I'd need a lot more material to work with first.

Also, people are still finding my old Gopher client. How many feature phones are still in use?! Got to look into it one of these days, for the nostalgia factor at least.

But first to take another month's break from this blog. Maybe I'll be in a better place come June. See you around.

Tags: personal, website, blog, programming, writing

Sick and tired

I'm sick and tired of people uncritically defending everything that's been going on for the past 13 months. Yes, there are scientists at work. No, that doesn't mean everything is above the table, or in good hands.

I'm sick and tired of people uncritically supporting every measure taken with the declared intent to curb the pandemic, but without explaining how it's supposed to help... or checking if it's actually working at all, never mind well.

I'm sick and tired of so-called skeptics uncritically believing anything supposed experts supposedly said... without even checking. You know that's the opposite of science, right?

That's enough, all of you. Cut it out.

Thankfully, it looks like these vaccines are safer than the initial panic made them look, even after being rushed to market with insufficient testing. That's great. So glad I was wrong about them.

It's still no reason to implement fascist measures like "vaccine passports". And by the way: we know they're in fact safe thanks to published, reviewed studies. Not because someone said so quoting some unnamed expert.

I still say those studies should have been made before bringing these vaccines to market. But we're at least partly to blame. Who clamored for deliverance from the dread virus when experts were telling us research can't be rushed?

We don't really listen to experts, do we. We treat them like religious figures, expecting their blessing for whatever we've already decided to do, and acting confused or pretending we didn't hear otherwise.

Well, stop pretending. Enough with the hypocrisy. I've had it up to here.

Tags: pandemic, politics, science, education, freedom

Technologies and scale

Isn't it strange how as of late everyone talks obsessively about scale, as if everything we do absolutely has to be gigantic? It's starting to be a problem. No, seriously. Imagine wanting to buy a city car but all you can find in dealerships is 18-wheelers. Because, isn't it, scale only goes one way: up.

"But, Felix, how else?" you're going to ask. "What if I need to move around a shipping container's worth of stuff?"

Then you're obviously not on personal business anymore and you have to rethink the entire task. I mean, really? You don't even know the difference anymore?

Surprise! You've been dazzled by the propaganda, er, advertising, of big tech.

Half a year ago I was making plans to pick up progamming in Go again. It never happened. And the one big reason was that I dreaded having to deal with Go's arcane handling of modules.

Took me a while to figure out why, too. Turns out Go, being made by an internet giant for their own needs, assumes every project to be a large, complex application meant to serve millions. Hence all the scaffolding you're expected to put in place before doing anything else.

That's fine when you're tackling something big. But are you? Think carefully. Otherwise you might find yourself driving to work every day in an 18-wheeler, complaining about crowded roads and the lack of suitable parking. People already do that while driving ordinary cars, let alone anything bigger. Like an SUV.

So instead I picked up the Nim programming language. As with Go, this was my second try in four years. Except this time, Nim stuck. And a big reason is because it doesn't assume what my needs are. There's still a package manager to handle intricate dependencies... but I can also simply download a bunch of files and bundle them with my source code. No need for explicit "vendoring" or any such bureaucracy.

Oh, also Nim has terminal support in the standard library. Do you know how long Go programmers have been asking for something like that and nobody listened?

Nim is made by ordinary people. That's how it can be fit for human consumption.

Tags: technology, critique