Email has become such a nightmare

I know, it’s called enshittification. I suppose I’m not saying anything that has not been said thousands of times before, but my frustration forces me to cry out into the night. I’m also aware that I am partly to blame. I hate using email, chats, forums, whats-app, messaging, social-media and I barely see the utility of telephones, and still have a hard time making and answering calls.

Some of that is of course down to my personal psychological defects. I get that. But I think the feeling becomes more and more relatable for folks by virtue that these things are just becoming awful experineces. Email has become as central to social integration as snail-mail has, so I can’t get away from it. I have gotten away from pretty much every other tech based communication platform outside of messaging platforms at work, but emails hooks are inescapable.

So I’m talking about the problems with email, but I guess the problems exist elsewhere as well. Let’s look at my frustrations:

  • The volume. So much noise. So little signal. So much.
  • The scams. If we accept that most advertising and marketing falls somewhere on the scamming scale, every time I parse my inbox I do a lot of scam evaluation.
  • The painful begging on the unsubscribe page. The begging of course sucks. Worse are the often tiny text I have to find and navigate to unsubscribe in the first place.
  • The work: 20 years ago, checking my email was fun. Maybe a girl I liked wrote me, maybe a friend was keeping in touch. Maybe a club or activity I cared about had an update. Yeah, there would also be work & chore related stuff in there, the ratio was such that it was mostly pleasant to check the mail. Now taxes happen via email, not snail mail. Bills and banks too. Yuck. I have to overcome dread everytime I log in to my email.

I am pretty confident that I spend more time deleting useless noise, filtering spam and scams, and unsubscribing from services than I do in reading and writing emails to parties that I care about. The ratio of pleasurable communication to displeasing communication looks worse.

The Woke Dream

I recently watched The Dolls House episode of The Sandman. After having been disappointed with the adaptation of American Gods, I had declined to consume the television adaptation of the Sandman, a work that hold a profound place in my emotional and spiritual development. Even when most skillfully adapted, the transitory and paced nature of a story as deep and far-removed from common existence cannot be as profound an experience as one would have in print. In print one can flip back and forth to puzzle out hints and foreshadows, one can dwell on a particular piece of dialog and read it over and over if it seems to have some profound insight to offer. Rewinding and seeking audiovisual media does not offer the same experience.

Alas, my wife was not able to get into the Sandman comics, and a colleague of hers recommended the show, so we resolved to find some time to watch it together. As is the norm today, adjustments to the characters were made to make the cast more diverse. In principle I find this a reasonable choice, but I am of the opinion this something that needs be done with care, and that buried within the toxicity of the anti-woke propaganda there is a core truth that should be recognized. This goal of this article to explore this within the choices made in The Sandman.

By the time I was finished with episode “24/7” I was impressed. There were a number of completely unnecessary adaptations to the source material, but the desired goal was accomplished with no harm. For example, Lucienne was white in the comic and Vivienne Acheampog is not, but she’s a good actress and plays the role well. While “24/7” had extensive adaptions to the source material, the spirit, impact and meaning of the original source had been excellently accomplished.

I had a shock when I realized they had made the decision to make Rose and her brother black as we are later to find out that Rose is the descendant of a wealthy English heiress, Unity Kinkaid, and Dreams’ sibling Desire. I considered that there were a number of ways that this could be managed in a thoughtful manner — Desire could be cast with a black actor or actress which would have been a bit complicated but relatively harmless. The Kincaid family could have been a member of a vanishingly small number of wealthy and/or privileged people that may have been in existence in England circa WWI.

This was not the case. In “The Dolls House” we learn that Rose’s ancestral wealth comes from owning a large sugar concern. I contend the following: For a person who cares about healing the harms of racism this should be a far more offensive decision than an all-white cast might have been. The sugar industry has been one of the historic drivers of racism and slavery. It was the introduction of slavery that turned sugar into common comodity and to ignore this is to white wash historical and institutional racism, and in turn the wealth generated by the sugar industry was one of driving forces behind slavery and racism in the British empire. It is like having a black American character find out they are the descendant of a wealthy black cotton plantation owner.

This phenomenon is not difficult to find. In one episode of Doctor Who, The Doctor travels back in time to Texas in the 50’s and has an encounter with a black police officer in Texas which simply ignores the history of racism in the U.S. In the film version of Captain America’s origin story we works together with the howling commandos, amongst whose members can be found both a black man and a Japanese American. This whitewashes aspects of American history which are vital to understanding both the dangers of racism and the troubles we suffer today. During WWII, the American Army, Navy and Marine corps segregated black units as they were believed to be less capable than their white colleagues. I am of the opinion that the dichotomy between the propaganda of the Allied forces and the racist policies of America was on the seeds that grew into the civil rights movent of the 50’s and 60’s. The inclusion of the Japanese American soldier is even more offensive as we should all be aware that Japanese Americans were kept prisoner in internment camps, under the assumption that all Japanese Americans would be best consider as Japanese agents.

I believe that these decisions show that many times the decisions being made in the name of increased diversity of often badly motivated and harmful. At best they are simply performative. At worst I suspect ignorance and malicious compliance. I think a simple driving force here is a checkbox mentality — did we get all the right demographics in this cast, over more meaningful but difficult to measure criteria, for example do we have content here that reinforces or encourages racism or bigotry? In the examples I have given the former are satisfied to the detriment of the latter, but it is the latter that we should be concerned with. In other words, lets be more critical and analytical in our cultural criticisms.

I think this has lessons towards the ongoing culture wars. In the oppositional debate between the work and the anti-woke, the most unreasonable and unreasoned voices are amplified, and important concerns are silenced, leading to a dumbing down of the conversation. This debilitates our ability to actually tackle important social concerns we are facing. We ignore important criticisms for fear that they give ammunition to the other.

Stark’s Law

I have a principle that I would love to see become part of the lexicon of Software Development, although I think it applies to all human endeavors (like Murphy’s law).

Stark’s law states:

Any idea, principle, or philosophy can, and probably will be applied in a dogmatic, harmful way.

Glen Stark

I’m still working on the wording. Suggestions welcome.

The fundamental principle at work here is simple: In the end most things boil down to trade-offs. Following specific principles is always a good idea, right up to the point where the trade-offs no longer work. People have a tendency to take useful, positive things and be dogmatic about — try to turn a nuanced discussion into a binary, oversimplified one.

If I get sufficiently motivated, I should make multiple posts of Stark’s law in action.


An important consequence of Stark’s law is one of responsibility. If you want to spread a principle, philosophy or approach to something, you should provide the necessary disclaimers. I.e. you should be able to give an example of how Stark’s law might kick in.

If you are unable to identify how a principle could be applied to harmful extreme, I would suggest you probably don’t understand the nuances and consequences or the principle sufficiently well.

Applying Stark’s Law Recursively

Obviously Stark’s law applies to itself. An obvious way one could take the principle to a ridiculous extreme is to conclude that all philosophies, ideas or principles are garbage.

This outcome is fairly easily mitigate. Consider the nuances of any philosophy & try to identify under what circumstances said philosophy might be useful. Don’t be dismissive.

If anyone can think of other ways to abuse or dogmatize Stark’s law, please let me know!

Anti Bernie Sanders Bias in the NYT

One doesn’t have to look far to find anti-Bernie bias in the media, generally in the form of ignoring the fact that he exists. Here’s one I noticed yesterday in the NYT, in an article talking about what a clown Trump is.  At one point they mention “Polling shows that he would enter the general election trailing badly against Hillary Clinton”

That plays well into the establishment message that we have to settle for Clinton because Bernie Sanders would be unelectable, and we need Clinton to make sure that (pick a Republican) doesn’t win.   Never mind that polls show that people prefer Bernie Sanders over Trump by a much wider margin than they prefer Clinton.  Clinton currently leads by 11.2 points, while Sanders leads Trumb by 17.4 point.  In other words the preference of Sanders over Trump exceeds peoples preference of Clinton over Trump by more than 60%.

The NYT doesn’t seem to find that newsworthy.

Powerline, git, Fedora

I recently discovered powerline, thanks to a Fedora news article. Getting powerline running on your Bash terminal is completely trivial and discussed in the article. You just:

Install powerline.

  sudo dnf install powerline

Configure your shell to use the powerline daemon.


Add this to your .bashrc

  if [ -f `which powerline-daemon` ]; then
     powerline-daemon -q
     . /usr/share/powerline/bash/


add this to ~/.config/fish/

set fish_function_path $fish_function_path "/usr/share/powerline/fish"

Configure powerline to display git information

If all you want to do is get the git branch displayed on your powerline, that’s pretty easy, see for example this excellent article. But after I discovered powerline-gitstatus, I just had to have it.

Install the powerline-gitstatus segment:

pip install powerline-gitstatus

Setup a configuration

I’ve put my powerline configuration up on github, so if you like, you can start with my configuration, and play with it from there simply by clone my powerline-configuration repository into your local .config directory. I.e.:

cd ~/.config
git clone powerline

Otherwise you can copy over the default configuration and follow the directions here.

Try out your new configuration

Since this article is focused on customizing our shell prompt, we are dealing with the powerline daemon, which means we must run

powerline-daemon --replace

when we want to see what effect our changes might have – BUT before you do that, I highly recommend running powerline-lint in case you forgot a comma somewhere.

Ferguson Missouri

I’ve been unable to avoid reading about what’s been happening in Ferguson, Missouri.  It’s hard to imagine how it feels to have your son shot down callously by law-enforcement, to have nothing happen to the shooter, and to have the follow-up disregard and disrepesct the victims and the concerned citizens affected by the murder.

What’s more dismaying is the fact that whites across America are not in an uproar about how their fellow citizens are being treated, simply because of their skin color.  The sentiment seems to be “c’mon we have a black president, this couldn’t have been racism”.  The degree to which people are selectively processing events in order to maintain this kind of attitude is impressive.

For me it’s absolutely clear that Police are predominantly racist.  I suspect black policement are equally or more racist on average than their white colleagues, although I have to admit that’s only a supposition.  I did have one experience which fixed this opinion in my head though.

Years ago, while studying at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, I caused a traffic accident with my bicycle.  I pulled into North Avenue to see if I could safely make a left-hand turn (traffic blocking my view to the right).  A truck was coming fast so I pulled back.  The driver panicked (after whipping past me),  and slammed on the brakes, causing the aged sedan behind — driven by mid thirties black man with partner and two children as passengers — to collide into the truck.

Now, It was entirely clear that either I, or the white truck driver was to blame, but of course the police (one black, one white) ran the drivers licenses of all involved.  The black family man must have an outstanding warrant, because the police cuffed him and took him away in the patrol car.  Okay, so far so good, sucks for the guy but presumably he did something to get himself in that situation.

The man was at all times polite and helpful.  Despite this, the black police officer felt the need to humiliate the guy in front of his children by hoisting him up by the trousers (classic bully wedgie) and shoving him into the police car — laughing while doing it.

I suspect the white cop wouldn’t have behaved that way.  I’m think, having had my own encounters with the police (and being white) that a white guy in that situation would have been treated a little better.  I am sure that if the guy had been white and wealthy, he would certainly have been treated differently.

So maybe it’s not racism.  Maybe it’s classism combined with a callous, bullying, us-vs-them mentality.  Maybe the racism is merely a coincidence — the high correlation between poverty and race caused by our racist history.  I can’t really say.   Either way, the behavior is shameful, and we need to do something about how American police behave.

London today.

In London today for a bit of a holiday.  It’s a stopover on the way to Norwitch, where we’re going to a friend’s wedding.

We took the train through the chunnel.  There are a number of trade-offs involved in traveling by rail over travelling  by air.  The total travel time increases, but that increase is less significant than one might think at first glance.  First, we save the trip to the airport, which saves about a half hour.   Second, the airport wants us to check in 90 min in advance, which is unecessary at the train station.  For a trip to London, the train station is in the middle of the city.  Once the train arrives, we have arrived, whereas arrival at the airport means another hour till we get to our destination — given the need to get luggage, disembark, etc.  Finall, If I take the average of airplane delays (in my life maybe a half hour) and subtract the average of train delays (less than a minute on the average in my life), I arrive at a compensation of 3 hours, door to door.  So for short trips — which from Switzerland means Italy, Germany, France, etc. it’s often more efficient use of time.  Of course, going to London takes 8 hours by train, given that one has to transfer from Gar de Lyon to Gar de Nord, and the ridiculous checkin procedures for the chunnel train.  The flight is approximately 2h, meaning  door-2-door time of 5 hours.  So I would save 3 hours travelling by plane over travelling by plane.   Overall it’s a loss, but not a terrible one.

There are other concerns.  Of those 8 hours, I spend a couple of hours in Paris’s largest rail stations.  I find this enjoyable.  It’s a brief visit to Paris, in which one sees only a little of the city, but rather a lot of the cities’ people.  While it doesn’t really count as a visit to Paris, it counts a great deal more than a stop-over flight would.  It’s rather the same when travelling through a country by train.  When one travels over an area by plane, one sees no more of that area than one would on Google maps.   When you sit on a train as it travels through a land, it makes stops.  People embark and disembark.  Often you get to observer a small slice of their life as you rocket through through their lands at speed which were unheard of even a hundred years ago.    So it’s my belief that one sees and experiences more by rail than by air.

Financially, there’s a real penalty for travelling by train.   This is not because air-flight is more efficient than train travel.  Quite the opposite in fact — the efficiency of train travel, and the implications for that on climate change and resource consumption,  is our primary motivations for choosing it over flight.  This is simply an artefact the enormous subsidies that airlines enjoy.   Should rail travel enjoy such a large level of support from our taxes, the economics of rail travel vs air travel would likely  change.  This can only change if governments begin to show more wisdome with regards to issues like climate change and resource consumption, which in turn is only likely to improve when citizens grow more wise.

Which brings me to the real reason we travel by rail, even when there is a financial and temporal price to be payed.  When we travel by air we rob from future generations and the poor of the planet, as it is future generations and the planet’s poor who suffer most from climate change our modern excesses.  Once, when explaining my reasons to a  colleague who should already have understood them, he replied with some banality about the need to be happy balanced against some uncertain future.  For the vast bulk of human history people have been unable to travel by air, let alone travel cheaply with wanton abandon.  Are we only now able to be happy?  In fact evidence suggests that modern excesses only make us less happy.   While I can’t prove it, I’m comfortable asserting that selfishness and short-sightedness can only diminish our happyness.  Implying that flying is a vital component of happyness is as absurd as asserting that the the suffering of climate change is uncertain, or even in the future.

Cleaning out “using namespace std;” declarations from header files.

I recently had to work with a very large codebase, in which each and every file included a header file with the statement “using namespace
std;” in it.
This led to the situation that hundreds of header files, using std strings, pairs, etc, were using those items without any std:: dereferencing.

Cleaning this situation up by hand would have taken weeks and been error prone, so I wrote a little script to do it for me, and called it

The variable possible_offenders is a list of std c++ names which are frequently in place in the code in question.

The script recursively searches a directory for for .h and .cpp files. For cpp files, it checks if any of the possible_offenders occur in the file.  If so, it adds a “using namespace  standard” directive if none exists.  Thus cpp files are changed minimally.

For header files, all occurences of “using namespace std” are removed, and all occurences of possible_offenders are prefaced by an explicit std:: namespace specification.  Care is taken not to change occurences in comments or in quotations.

If you are faced with a similar situation, you can find the script on github:

Swiss nonconfrontationalism.

I have been living in Switzerland since September of 1996. At time of writing I have been living in Switzerland for 17 years. I would estimate I have lived in the United States for 14 years, and Canada for 12 years. So alltogether I have lived in the Canmerican culture for 26 years, some 9 years more than I have lived in Switzerland. This gives me an unusual perspective on the three cultures.

I have frequenlty heard the complaint that Swiss people are averse to confrontation, and as a result never say anything directly. This can manifest itself in wierd ways, like leaving notes in the laundry room saying “So bitte nicht!” (not like this!). I hear this criticism from Swiss people as much as I have heard it from fellow foreigners. People often make a conceptual connection to Switzerland’s political neutrality, which I never came to myself. I’m a big fan of Switzerland’s political neutrality. That national characteristic is a large part of why I feel at home here. I actually get a bit resentful towards foreigners who live here for the money, but despise Switzerland’s neutrality.

Until recently though I have still been critical of Switzerland’s aversion to confrontation at a personal level. For an American it makes navigating relationships with a Swiss partner fraughtful. Sometimes it seems the characteristic is taken to some cartoonish extreme — a case where this characteristic is possessed to such a cartoonish extreme as be unbelievale (at least to someone from without the culture). This can lead to some pretty bizarre relationship stories. As a result of collecting some negative experiences I could quite relate to people expressing resentment of this trait.

Now I find myself in a wonderful, happy relationships with a Swiss woman. While she is an impressive woman in her own right as an individual, some of the things that I love most about are quite “typically Swiss”. In fact she takes a real pride in being Swiss, and cherishes Swiss culture in a deep and meaningful way. She is wise in her love of her culture. She doesn’t love her country and culture indescriminately. She confronts many of the very real problems that Swiss culture does possess in a very head on and responsible way. Besides making her a remarkable human being, this characteristic makes her a remarkable teacher. The integration of Switzerland’s overwhelmingly large immigrant population is a real and pressing issue, and her ability to love and critisize her country simultaneously and intelligently, is a real gift to her students.

So my love and respect for my wife makes me look at certain aspects of Swiss culture in a more loving and respectful way. While Bettina’s tendency to avoid confrontation is afrequent topic of discussion in our family, my tendency to dive directly into conftration is of equal concern. I believe though that I have more to learn (and have learned more) from the Swiss characteristic. By now I have worked with a number of Swiss managers, and I believe that the most effective of these also pursued this path aversion-to-conflict.

The problem is that saying “aversion to conflict” isn’t really precise enough. At a cultural level the desire is avoid emotions flaring up durign a conflict, which would disturb the problem solving process. As I write that I find that I can’t help but think of Swiss political neutrality. So now that I am able to love them both, I see these traits as beeing two aspects of a single trait. When I resented one and loved the other I was unable to see the connection. I find that fascinating.