Diary

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This is both a wiki (a website editable by all) and a blog (an online diary about the stuff Alex Schroeder reads and does). If you’re a friend or relative, you might be interested in reading Life instead of this page. If you’ve come here from an RPG blog, you might want to head over to RPG. There are other similar categories to be found on the SiteMap.

Für Rollenspieler gibt es ebenfalls eine eigene RSP Kategorie.

2018-05-25 Robo Calls

People talking about Google assistants and how to automate voice calls underestimate the creepiness of it all. Case in point: @brainblasted got a call and writes about it, here:

I was talking to a bot and had no clue until they repeated it. It wasn’t like someone trying to repeat something to convince me - it was the exact same audio clip. That was my only clue.

Really unnerving. Also pissed becuase they have call bots spreading propaganda that front as humans. It held a conversation convincingly FFS, and recognized what I said.

https://floss.social/@brainblasted/100086988061659283

Automated voice calls and automated dialers are already used by political parties and businesses. In the end telephony will be like email: a way to be spammed. We will hide our phone numbers and refuse to take calls from strangers. It’s what I already do.

Of course, spam callers have existed for a long time. Which is why I delisted and then cancelled my land line years ago and kept my mobile phone number unlisted since the very beginning. I am essentially already treating phone calls spam and I’m not alone. Improving automation in this regard will force more people to make the same decisions, I assume.

I keep hearing from people with land lines here in Switzerland how they get calls soliciting this or that, proposals to change healthcare insurance and what not. So right now, not everyone is ready to make the same decision. Not yet.

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2018-05-25 Libratone Speakers Privacy Policy

I own two Libratone Loop speakers. Libratone is a Danish company.

There is an app that comes along with them which you can use to set some speaker parameters. This used to be fine, I felt. Years ago, I suddenly had to register in order to use the app. I hated that.

With the GDPR I got many mails, including one by Libratone, linking to their Privacy Policy. At the very top:

One of the key features of the App is to connect you to personalized audio content based on your listening preferences and interactions with the App (which is described more fully below). If you are not interested in this feature, you should not sign up to use the App and you should delete the App from your device. This will not affect your ability to stream audio content to your Product via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or any other means of connectivity (connectivity options vary between models).

I guess I don’t get to use those speaker parameters. Let’s hope they didn’t make much of a difference.

Now I want to delete my account with them and I can’t find the link. Should I just send them mail? Wouldn’t that be great: a barrage of counter-spam for all the people out there.

At least all those emails must have alerted people all over the world that something regarding privacy was going on?

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2018-05-24 Feeds

I think I’m going to unsubscribe from all the blogs that don’t provide full articles in their feed. If they do that, I need to click through and open a browser. That makes me think people want to show me their ads and I’m doing my very best to block them. They probably don’t like me blocking the ads, and I don’t like seeing the ads, so it’s better to part ways, I think. And now I can use feh as the external browser for newsboat, I guess. (feh is a simple image viewer.)

Sometimes I guess the fault lies with the authors of tools and the defaults they picked. What were they thinking? Then again, the Oddmuse default feed (my own wiki and blog software) also defaults to showing the default instead of the full text. Gah.

Compare:

  • default RSS feed, which works for a wiki but not for a blog
  • the preferred feed I manually added to the configuration of my site such that it gets picked up by tools people point at my site

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2018-05-24 Donations

Collecting donations for 2018. I’ll start with the regular stuff: I regularly donate $10/month to the EFF, $120/year to the FSF, and €180/year to the FSFE.

As for political associations in Switzerland: we are members of Mieterverband (for tenants) and VCS Verkehrs-Club der Schweiz (for sustainable mobility, unlike the Touring-Club, which is pro-cars).

I use Mastodon a lot and so I’ve set up a Liberapay account which pays 1€/week for the Mastodon project and 1€/week for my main instance, Octodon.

I donated 20€ to GnuPG.

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2018-05-24 Copyright Directive

Are you angry about copyright? Angry about the USA? Angry about attempts at copyright extensions in the USA? If not, you can read US Congress mulls expanding copyright yet again – to 144 years. Or How The Recording Industry Hid Its Latest Attempt To Expand Copyright (And Why You Should Call Your Senator To Stop It), which is a continuation of Of Course The RIAA Would Find A Way To Screw Over The Public In 'Modernizing' Copyright.

Well, Mourning Goose blog post is here to tell you that you can be angry about the European Union and copyright, too.

More about the Copyright Directive on Wikipedia. When I see the words “technological protection measures” my eyes glaze over and in my mind I see a burning pentagram of Mammon worshipping grey men waiting to suck me dry and smoke my life.

But remember, this is about the proposed changes to the Copyright Directive. Here’s another angry person: The EU's Proposed Copyright Directive Is Likely To Be A Wonderful Gift -- For US Internet Giants, Which is a continuation of EU Announces Absolutely Ridiculous Copyright Proposal That Will Chill Innovation, Harm Creativity.

I will need to drink a lot of green tea tonight after reading all that. 🍵

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2018-05-24 Ads

About twenty something years ago I might I have said that ads are bad because they are so damn irrelevant to my life. I didn’t think it through. Now technology has made it possible to serve me relevant ads by going Big Brother on me and I still hate ads!

I find it hard enough these days to walk through the Zurich main station with all their moving ads distracting me left and right. I hate the noise so I wear headphones. I hate the ads so soon I will need to wear ad-blocking glasses! All ads do is add temptation to my life and if I then deny myself the indulgence, the ads add misery and unhappiness to my life where just moments ago I was happily ignorant and content.

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Comments on 2018-05-24 Ads

Your writing is really good at connecting yourself with other human beings. We all are here to connect with each other. I ride the bus to “people watch” and maybe connect with a person or two. Try that out; focus on the humans around you and not the distractions. I know it is easier said than done.

It is funny as my kids tell me “You really know everyone, don’t you?!?” ...but that is me just not getting distracted from the crap marketing and other things and just being in the moment with the rest of us.

– At PresGas at freeradical dot zone 2018-05-25 02:52 UTC


I love people watching when I’m on holidays. I once spent days with a friend in Florence just watching the tourists. I guess I’m a Flâneur wanna-be: “the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street.” (Wikipedia) But also this: “to remain hidden from the world” (Baudelaire, quoted on that page). Such a wonderful article.

There’s also being in public early in the morning or late in the evening, tired, exhausted. Social contact, people talking to me, and ads trying to gain my attention seep my energy. I don’t mind as much when I’m happy and fit and full of energy. But during my commute, not so much.

Also, thanks for the kind words. :)

I guess you could just provide the URL to your Mastodon profile as the homepage URL below and it would link your name automatically. Mentioning Mastodon accounts works as well, e.g. @kensanata@octodon.social@kensanata.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-05-25 08:29 UTC

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2018-05-19 Security Focused Operating System

@scottmortimer:

Most security folks know about Kali Linux, but there are quite a few alternative security-focused Linux distributions out there.

Parrot is a GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian and focused on Penetration Testing, Digital Forensics, Programming and Privacy protection.

You can download different spins (including an ARM version that can run on the RPi) and try it out for yourself.

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2018-05-17 Writing Resources

Some links:

  • MHRA Style Guide Online, by the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA)
  • Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Style Manual (both in paper)

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2018-05-17 Hex Grids

There’s a beautiful article by Herman Tulleken on Gamasutra, 20 Fun Grid Facts (Hex Grids), from 2014.

The part about the coordinates reminds me of some of the code I have written...

One Step To

# Brute forcing the "next" step by trying all the neighbors. The
# connection data to connect to neighbouring hexes.
#
# Example Map             Index for the array
#
#      0201                      2
#  0102    0302               1     3
#      0202    0402
#  0103    0303               6     4
#      0203    0403              5
#  0104    0304
#
#  Note that the arithmetic changes when x is odd.

sub one_step_to {
  my ($self, $other) = @_;
  my $delta = [[[-1,  0], [ 0, -1], [+1,  0], [+1, +1], [ 0, +1], [-1, +1]],  # even
	       [[-1, -1], [ 0, -1], [+1, -1], [+1,  0], [ 0, +1], [-1,  0]]]; # odd
  my ($min, $best);
  for my $i (0 .. 5) {
    # make a new guess
    my ($x, $y) = ($self->x + $delta->[$self->x % 2]->[$i]->[0],
		   $self->y + $delta->[$self->x % 2]->[$i]->[1]);
    my $d = ($other->x - $x) * ($other->x - $x)
          + ($other->y - $y) * ($other->y - $y);
    if (!defined($min) || $d < $min) {
      $min = $d;
      $best = Point->new(x => $x, y => $y);
    }
  }
  return $best;
}

Distance

sub distance {
  my ($x1, $y1, $x2, $y2) = @_;
  if (@_ == 2) {
    ($x1, $y1, $x2, $y2) = map { xy($_) } @_;
  }
  # transform the coordinate system into a decent system with one axis tilted by
  # 60°
  $y1 = $y1 - POSIX::ceil($x1/2);
  $y2 = $y2 - POSIX::ceil($x2/2);
  if ($x1 > $x2) {
    # only consider moves from left to right and transpose start and
    # end point to make it so
    my ($t1, $t2) = ($x1, $y1);
    ($x1, $y1) = ($x2, $y2);
    ($x2, $y2) = ($t1, $t2);
  }
  if ($y2>=$y1) {
    # if it the move has a downwards component add Δx and Δy
    return $x2-$x1 + $y2-$y1;
  } else {
    # else just take the larger of Δx and Δy
    return $x2-$x1 > $y1-$y2 ? $x2-$x1 : $y1-$y2;
  }
}

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2018-05-16 Podcasts

Podcasts im currently listening to on a regular basis:

  • Thinking Allowed
  • In Our Time
  • 99% Invisible
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
  • History of the Crusades
  • The Allusionist
  • The British History Podcast
  • The Chinese History Podcast
  • The History of Byzantium
  • What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law

Actually I’ve had to change the settings in my pod catcher: it no longer downloads episodes unless I explicitly ask it to. There is just so much stuff to listen to.

If you compare this list to earlier lists you will have noticed some changes. I haven’t listened to any episodes of these podcasts, recently:

  • History of Indian and Africana Philosophy
  • History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps
  • Planet Money
  • Revolutions
  • The History of WWII Podcast
  • This American Life

I haven’t unsubscribed, so perhaps I’ll get back to them during the summer holidays.

And I have some podcasts on my list which I have yet to check out:

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast
  • Showcase from Radiotopia (where I really liked the first season about digital sound)

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Comments on 2018-05-16 Podcasts

I started reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms a while ago but stopped after getting about halfway. I guess I do not have enough context to appreciate it. Like the Mahabharata, I guess. The podcast seems like a nicer introduction.

You might want to checkout,

  • Hidden Brain
  • More Perfect (Season 1 was particularly good)
  • Philosophise This (and Existential Comics)
  • HistoriaCivilis (on YouTube)

While listening to podcasts is great during my commute or travelling, the ad supported business model is not compatible with news (or opinion, I can’t tell the difference). I stopped consuming any type of news media, newspapers, TV, podcasts; about 5 years ago and to my surprise my life is no different.

AlokSingh 2018-05-18 09:14 UTC


I started reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms a few years ago and got even less far. I think it was just a few pages in when I stopped so the podcast is my attempt at turning it into an audio book plus commentary which I might appreciate on my commute.

As for news, I totally concur. I have trouble reading my weekly and my monthly newspaper (Wochenzeitung, a left leaning weekly paper, and the German edition of Le Monde Diplomatique). And the daily news just flows by as a stream of headlines in social media. I don’t often click through.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-05-18 10:41 UTC

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