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Reblogged:Friday Hodgepodge

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Image by Lenin Estrada, via Unsplash, license.
Four Things

1. With schools returning to session in many parts of the country, Cal Newport has been writing a series of blog posts on what he's calling "Focus Week." These contain advice on reclaiming mental focus.

This was something Newport already regarded as urgent before the pandemic broke out and made focusing very difficult or impossible for many parents. One piece of advice he offers really stood out to me:
If you've been splashing in a world of distracting shallowness since March, you may need to ease back into regular engagement with complicated material. I would suggest starting with books that are easy to read, such as popular novels, or narrative non-fiction, or advice writing. As you complete each book, however, raise the difficulty of the next. Your goal is to get to a place where the two chapters consumed each day really push your mind.
Whoa! I'm already doing this! was my first thought on reading this passage. After months of not reading anything very long or challenging, something in the back of my mind clicked a few days ago, and I resumed Fritz Leiber's Swords and Deviltry, which I hadn't touched since just before the pandemic.

I'm not slapping myself on the back here: This wasn't part of an explicit strategy of returning my mind to fitness, as Newport is suggesting. But he does argue that concentration is both a benefit and a need of the mind. And he argues that, as with other activities, one needs to build up slowly after a period of inactivity.

So I'm glad to see that my "instincts are good" -- to use an imperfect phrase -- and will look at the rest of Newport's essays on Focus Week for other suggestions.

2. I mostly use Linux for my computing needs, and am happy to let my wife deal with the home entertainment side of things. And so it is that Jacques Mattheij's essay on "Why Johnny Won't Upgrade" reads more to me like a vindication of my criteria for choosing software than anything else. Here is his list of recommendations to software vendors:
So, software vendors, automatic updates:
  • should always keep the user centric
  • should be incremental and security or bug fixes only
  • should never update a user interface without allowing the previous one to be used as the default
  • should never be used to install telemetry or spyware or to re-enable it if it was previously switched off
  • should never be used to install other software packages without the users explicit consent and knowledge
  • should never change the format of data already stored on the system
  • should never cause a system to become unusable or unstable
  • must allow a revert to the previous situation
  • must be disablable, in an easy and consistent manner for instance on mobile devices
  • should never cause the system to become inaccessible or restarted without user consent
  • should always be signed by the vendor to ensure that the update mechanism does not become a malware vector
  • should never cause commercial messages or other fluff to be included
  • should never cause configuration details to be lost
  • should always be backwards compatible with previous plug-ins or other third party add ons
If we can agree to those terms I'll be more than happy to update my software, automatic or manual. But until then you're all on probation, too much misery and lost days on my end on account of these and I highly doubt that I'm alone in that, Johnny agrees.
How many of these would the current proprietary software market support? I don't know, but I am glad to be able to avoid many of these problems entirely. I recommend considering open-source software to anyone who finds the treadmill of unnecessary (and often intrusive) "updates" irritating or unproductive enough.

3. For a lesson about empathy from an unlikely source, I recommend reading "Confessions of an ID Theft Kingpin" over at Krebs on Security:
[Hieu Minh] Ngo said he wasn't surprised that his services were responsible for so much financial damage. But he was utterly unprepared to hear about the human toll. Throughout the court proceedings, Ngo sat through story after dreadful story of how his work had ruined the financial lives of people harmed by his services.

"When I was running the service, I didn't really care because I didn't know my customers and I didn't know much about what they were doing with it," Ngo said. "But during my case, the federal court received like 13,000 letters from victims who complained they lost their houses, jobs, or could no longer afford to buy a home or maintain their financial life because of me. That made me feel really bad, and I realized I'd been a terrible person."
This reminds me a lot of the long, but absorbing story of Marcus Hutchins who got mixed up in cybercrime as a teen, but made similar realizations en route to a career in security.

The latter story is worth reading for its account of how Hutchins persuaded a cybercriminal to stop doing what he was doing, by getting him to step back and think about his victims before it was too late.

4. There is now a web site, the Bilingual Baby Name Finder, that makes it easier for couples who speak two languages to name their children:
When our Japanese-Finnish son was born, we wanted to find a name that would work in both languages. To help with the search I wrote a simple tool for personal use to look through all the names in both Japanese and Finnish, finding ones which appear in both.

Thinking others might find it useful as well, years later I went back and improved it to the point that I could release it online...
The site supports 42 languages -- although the author offers no guarantee that "the names are any good."

But that's where such measures as the "keychain rule" my wife and I used come in.

-- CAV

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