Friday, August 24, 2018

The war on opiates and constipation

Every time a war against anything starts in the US, the warriors are very annoyingly efficient. Last year I just wanted a little plastic bag for my purchases in a pharmacy in Harvard Square. I asked the cashier for a plastic bag, and he looked at me with huge round eyes and open mouth, as if I had asked him for newborn baby brains sprinkled with cocaine. Then he looked around, as if trying to make sure that nobody heard us, and whispered: "Don't you know? Plastic bags are forbidden!" I told him that I live in Helsinki, Finland, and the news of the city of Cambridge forbidding the plastic bags hadn't quite made the front page there. This seemed to surprise him.

But yes, they are forbidden now. Mind you, not taxed, or sold for money (unless you want to buy a pack of 100 or so; unless they already got to those as well), or something like that. Forbidden. The paper bag was utterly unusable for my purposes so I made do sticking the stuff in various pockets of my jeans and purse, and buggered off, wondering what they are gonna ban next.

I guess we found it now: Loperamide, aka Imodium. As a part of general struggle against the opiate addiction. Because some people apparently use it as a drug, in the amounts of 100 times the recommended dose. (As an aside: I have taken the drug in question once in my life, half a pill, and didn't shit for a week after that. Do the people who take 100 pills at a time shit at all, ever again?)

Anyway, now the FDA is asking the manufacturers to discontinue selling the big packages, and the people with chronic diarrhea are screwed. Paska juttu.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Warning: men at work

Every once in a while when I am at a job or client interview I get asked the question "we have a mostly male team, is it OK with you?". I am wondering what kind of answer do they expect:

"Oh no! Men are icky and have cooties!"
"Oh no, I would be so horny that I wouldn't be able to work at all."
"Well, all my previous teams mostly consisted of women, but I guess it's 21st century now and I am sure men can be just as good."
"Oh no, men! Is nothing sacred anymore?"
"They are beastly creatures, but I'll try to grin and bear it."


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Android permissions and how to deal with the apps that misuse them

Every once in a while there has been some scandal with Google or Facebook or someone collecting a shitload of surprising data in their Android apps, so I decided to write a simple guide on what to do about it.

1.  If you have an Android phone running an Android version below 6, get a newer one, if you can. With versions 5 and below pretty much the only thing you can do is to check the app permissions on Google Play, and not install the ones that ask for too much. Fat chance.

2. Yes, do check the permissions that are listed for the app in Google Play. Yeah, I know you are gonna install that app that asks for your firstborn anyway. Or at least I totally did in the dark ages before Marshmallow.

3. After you install the app go to settings - applications - permissions. If it has already taken some permissions without asking you, it means that the app was built for Android 5 or below. The one and only reason anyone would do that anymore is that they want to use some permissions without you noticing. Do you need an app from such people at all? If the answer is yes, deny it whatever permissions you want to deny.

4. If the app has been developed by honest people, it will ask for permissions as you use it. Again, deny whatever you want to deny.

As to what you want to deny: basically, if you don't know what the app uses it for, and it fails to explain it adequately, or if you don't use that function, feel free to deny it.  Facebook Messenger, for example, asks for a shitload of permissions. If you only use it for text communication with other Facebook users, you don't need any of them. If you send pictures you might want to give it the storage permission, if you also want to take pictures, the camera permission, if you really want to share your location, the location permission, etc.

One thing about the location permission: even if you deny it, the fuckers can sort of estimate it from your IP address. And if you hide your IP address, at least the cell towers can see your phone. Yes, even if you leave your SIM card at home. If you really, really don't want anyone to know where you are, leave the phone home.


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A bit more about #metoo

First of all, a disclaimer. You don't owe your story to anyone. It might be too painful. Or damaging for some reason. Or you are just not in the mood for writing.

Still, I was amazed at the number of people who felt that their story is somehow not worthy because they were only harassed when other people were actually assaulted or raped, or because they were not traumatized, or because it happened  a long time ago, or less often than to someone else.

Whether or not you were traumatized is not the point. The point is that someone else did something that was wrong, and the fact that another someone else did something even worse to another person is not an excuse for them.

When a very drunk person drives his or her car into a yard of a daycare, chances are nobody will be traumatized either, at least if they didn't happen to hit anyone this time.

I don't think I was traumatized much.  Not by the adult neighbor who molested me (no violence at all, hand-to-vulva contact only) when I was about 5. Not by the teenage boy who attacked me from behind,  threw me in the snow and tried to rape me when I was 10. Not by the adult man who forced his way into my building after me, chased me into a corner, and tried to rape me when I was 15. This is not even the full list of rape attempts, not to mention harassment.

That was partly luck, partly violence, and partly me being a fairly insensitive person is some ways.  If the rape did not succeed and I have suffered no physical damage I tend to recover from the psychological damage in several weeks. Those several weeks feel like a constant adrenaline rush, which is fairly unpleasant for me, and fairly hazardous for people who piss me off during that time. But again, I got lucky, and nobody pissed me off enough during that time to cause any violence. After that, it's just another story to tell. I got better. No lasting harm done.

I am sure this makes the next victims of the same assholes feel so much better...



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Equality and facts

If somebody asked me 25 years ago what I think about Damore's manifesto's claims that women are on average somewhat less (or more) suited to software jobs than men, I would have said "bullshit". 15 years ago I might have said "I don't know". Now, surprisingly, it's more of "I don't care".

A cynic in me would also add "and if anyone knows, they are sure as hell not telling us". Because if anyone really managed to measure the "natural biological" distribution of men and women in Computer Science, and it turned out to be less than 50% women, they'd look at what happened to Damore, and think again. And if it turned out to be 50% or more women, they would expect similar harassment from the other side. The subject is just too sensitive to talk about in public, which is kind of sad.

I find it scary that this is so important to so many people, because to me this means that our whole concept of equality is too strongly based of the idea that any two groups (at least groups that we want to be equal in a situation where we want them to be equal) do in fact have equal abilities. And I think this is a perilous path. "Group A is equal to group B at task X" is a falsifiable factual statement. Giving people equal opportunities is a matter of values, morals and policy, and should not depend on falsifiable statements.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

Everyone is saying what they were doing in 2016. I wasn't doing anything, I don't admit to anything, and it was already broken when I got here. :D

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Happy Independence Day, Finland!

Good thing we got out of Russia when we did. Russia sucks. Lately more than usual.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Israel revisited

Back from the trip to Israel. Here are some observations (some of them just for myself, some could be useful for other tourists).

It was a somewhat overwhelmingly social holiday, but it was awesome to see everyone we managed to see, and in fact we didn't even manage to see everyone who was there. Next time, I guess, or maybe they'll visit me here in sunny Finland.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of historical sites, good restaurants, and awesome beaches.

I wasn't sure if the early November was a bit too late in the year, but it wasn't. The temperature varied from 16 (Jerusalem) to 32 (Ein Bokek), and there was just one rainy day. The water was warm (25 or so) both in the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea.

November is off-season, most national parks close early, like at 3pm.

Jerusalem is full of tourists, and Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea have quite a few, but the national parks are almost empty apart from some school groups.

There are a lot of public toilets, almost all of them free. The ones in the restaurants are often unisex. Although pretty much anywhere I've been in Asia, from Turkey to Japan, they had more public toilets than pretty much anywhere in Europe.

The public transportation doesn't work from Friday sunset till Saturday sunset. If you are not in a religious area, some restaurants and convenience stores will be open.

The stores appear to stop selling beer by 11pm. Not sure if it's a law, company policy, or Tel Aviv city ordinance.

They are building and renovating a lot.

Almost everyone speaks very good English, and a lot of people speak very good Russian as well, but most of the written stuff is written only in Hebrew, so unless you read Hebrew you will feel a bit lost while shopping for groceries. I generally asked some friendly local people for help, and they always helped.

The places we stayed at were Tel Aviv - Jerusalem - Ein Bokek - Haifa - Tel Aviv. Did day trips to Herodion, Sorek cave, Masada, Ein Gedi, Mamshit, Ein Avdat, Avdat, Beit Guvrin, Akko, Tel Megiddo, Beit She'an and Tsippori.

Here's place by place, with links to the pictures:

Tel Aviv: a big city with a lot of restaurants and the greatest beach ever. Lots of Bauhaus buildings but they didn't impress me. Some nice markets. Yafo old city. A very nice area in the old port.

Jerusalem: I am sure even a bad tourist guide will have more details than I can describe here. One thing that a bad tourist book might not mention: the Western Wall tunnels.

Herodion: Herod's palace. You can go up the mountain, and then down inside the mountain.

Haifa: many residential neighborhoods are on the mountain, which makes for pretty cool views on the city. The main tourist attraction is the Bahai shrine gardens. The area around Sderot Ben Gurion has a lot of nice cafes.

Akko: a very pretty Arab town reminiscent of a few medieval places in Southern Europe. An undeground tunnel, a pretty mosque, and the underground crusader city in the citadel. Don't miss the genuine crusader toilet seat.

Ein Bokek: a touristy place on the Dead Sea shore. There is nothing there, really, except some Russian tourists (not many, because it's out of season) and one decent restaurant, but the sea looks lovely at sunrise, and it's a good base for visiting a lot of sites. The biggest minus: the pool and the beach closed at 5pm. WTF is that?

Sorek (Soreq, Avshalom, whatever) cave: a little but beautiful cave with stalactites, beautifully lit. In a way you've seen one of them, you've seen all, but I still enjoyed it. Quite a way down from the parking lot. The tour was supposed to be guided and photography forbidden, but the guide didn't mind us wandering around and taking pictures without flash.

Masada: the famous fortress on a high hill. If your map app is showing you two entrances you really want to use the one from direction of the Dead Sea. This one has a cable car, the other ones doesn't.

Ein Gedi: we came there late and didn't see much besides the rock hyraxes. Loved watching the rock hyraxes though.

Mamshit and Avdat: old Nabatean towns. Very interesting. There are two more, but we didn't have time for that. If you have even less time, Avdat is the biggest of the four.

Ein Avdat, aka Avdat canyon, not to be confused with Avdat. A canyon right next to Avdat. Also a national park, with a separate ticket. The entrance about 4 kilometers north from Avdat (the only one Google Maps currently show) is the top entrance, from where you can look at the canyon from above, and are not allowed to go down (falling in is also forbidden). If you want to come in from below (that's where all the really nice pictures are taken) and climb up, use the entrance near Ben Gurion university (may the road signs be with you).

Beit Guvrin: that's a really big and great park, and when the park rangers tell you what to see in what order they really know what they are talking about. Bell caves (beautiful, unusual and easily accessible), Sidonian burial caves with paintings, the ruins of Maresha and much more.

Tel Megiddo: not really that much to see, except that you get to tell your friends that you've seen the real Armageddon site. If you do get up there, don't miss the Hellmouth, aka the water system. you can go down there. It's right on the way from Haifa to Beit She'an, so if you are going there you might as well.

Beit She'an: a huge and awesome Roman ruin. Don't miss.

Tsippori/Zippori: beautiful mosaics and lots of cactuses.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Running a React Native Android app on a real dev device

Just tried to make a small Android demo app using ReactNative. The really hard part was JavaScript, but I am certainly not going give out any advice on that. The next hardest part was running the damn thing on a Android device.

In principle their "hello world" app should be easy to run, just attach a device and run:

react-native init HelloFuckingWorld
cd HelloFuckingWorld
react-native run-android

Instead of your "hello world" you get a nasty red screen telling you that the app cannot connect to a server. You damn everyone to hell, especially the stupid app that wants to connect to some triply-fucked server just to print a "hello, world" on its screen.

You decide to follow the instructions on the red screen, and do adb reverse tcp:8081 tcp:8081. The damn adb answers error: closed and your app still doesn't connect to anything at all. You curse the sdk, the app and the device, and then find out (by googling) that this instruction is only meant for the devices with Android version 5.0 and above. ReactNative, incidentally, works from Android 4.1 up.

You put the cursed device aside and take a less cursed one, preferably one that is running 5.0+. Luckily the makers of ReactNative made it so that if you shake the device furiously the dev menu pops up, and the first item on it is reloading a JS bundle from a server. I actually went there with my browser to see what it loads from there, and now I am gonna be seeing nightmares for the rest of my life. 

The furious shaking is a nice touch. They sure know their audience.

You click the reload, and get the red screen of death again. Of course. You forgot to say adb reverse tcp:8081 tcp:8081 to the new device. You say it, and a number of unprintable words in addition to it. And wow, it actually loads! You have your "hello, world".

What's nice is that every time you change something in your JavaScript you just shake the device furiously again, click "Reload JS", get a red screen of death, swear, say  adb reverse tcp:8081 tcp:8081 again, wonder why the fucking thing keeps losing the socket connection, and finally get the new JavaScript loaded.

After you get everything running you try to write another app, for example one saying "goodbye, cruel JavaScript world". You do all of the above to it again. It doesn't work, JS bundle just doesn't load.

Yes, you have to find the old server process and kill it by hand. The new one is not gonna do anything useful until you do that. It's gonna look like everything is ok, but when you visit the url you see it still has the JS bundle for the previous app.

  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Old customs die hard

Conceptually, fighting for one's honor - for example fighting over an insult in a sausage kiosk line - is very close to trial by combat, and conscription in wartime is very close to human sacrifice, and yet fighting over insults appears to be close enough to many people hearts that it happens fairly often, and would happen a lot more if people did it every time they wanted to, and conscription in wartime is popular enough to be mandated by law in most countries, whereas the actual trial by combat and human sacrifice, as practiced by some cultures in the past, seem like a very silly idea.

With conscription and other forms of human sacrifice I can of course see the obvious practical difference in efficiency: when you sacrifice a young virgin or a considerable bunch of them to the cause of a military victory it might well be instrumental in bringing about that victory, but no matter how many virgins or more sexually experienced individuals you sacrifice to the gods of rain, it's not likely to result in any actual rain.

With fighting for one's honor (yes, I know, it's not a very common term for fighting over insults) it's more mystical though: what is the impulse that drives people to do it, and why doesn't it feel as silly as trial by combat? I totally have this impulse, and I still don't understand it. I don't actually do it, haven't done it as an adult anyway, but when I abstain from it it's for some practical "adult" reasons, such as that I don't consider it worth possible pain, injury, trouble with the law, and, in my most charitable moments, not worth the other person's pain or injury either. But I really should be abstaining from it because the whole concept is quite absurd and somehow implies that my honor is more worthy than that of the less physically able, and less worthy than that of the more physically able. Why doesn't it feel as silly as it actually is?


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chungking Mansions

This time when I was planning a trip to Hong Kong I wanted a gritty ethnic experience, and decided to stay in the infamous Chungking Mansions. I had no idea how gritty and how ethnic that would turn out to be.

All my previous experiences of cheap Hong Kong hotels could be described as "small but livable" and I tend to assume that bad reputation of various places is overblown. Well, it wasn't.

I heard that the place was renovated, cleaned up, etc. All of this seems to refer only to fire alarms, sprinklers and security cameras, which is nice but not enough.

The building has 5 blocks, each of whom has two elevators: one goes only to he even floors, and one goes only to the odd floors.  The elevators are equipped with security cameras, and people who are waiting in line for an elevator get to see what the people currently in the elevator are doing there. This included, but was not limited to, checking their phones, and the cameras were conveniently located for all of us to see each others' security patterns and other passwords.

The true hell is the ground floor of the building, filled with all kinds of gentlemen from various countries trying to sell genuine fake watches and genuine fake SIM cards to everyone who walks by.

I had a reservation in a place called Peace Guest house. When I arrived there I showed the reservation to the guy at the reception, and he grabbed my phone and ran somewhere with it. I demanded it back, he said that it's OK, I said that it's most definitely not OK and ran after him. After consulting with a coworker he said that they have cancelled my reservation. I told him that that's not how reservations work, and he told me that he doesn't know or care what it says on Hotels.com, but my reservation is cancelled, they don't have any rooms left, and I should go elsewhere. I demanded some written proof that I was there and the guy said it was OK. I said it was most definitely not OK and told him to write it down. He said he couldn't write in English. I told him to write it in Chinese. He got scared at told me he cannot write anything at all without the permission from the big bosses on the Mainland.

Anyways, I found myself another hotel in the same building. It was fearsome to behold, but it had a working toilet, a working shower in the toilet a working internet and a bed that didn't do "bed kaput" every night, or indeed any night. The place even had a water boiler in the hall so one could even have tea. On the minus side, the place was overrun by little ants, and you could hear everything that you neighbors were doing. On the night that the restaurants downstairs served beans there was both the sound and the smell effect.

The security was fantastic, with the door code 987654, and the WIFI password abcd1234.

The most horrible thing were the restaurants downstairs. I usually like the food from the Indian subcontinent well enough; this was some evil cousin of the real Indian food, or maybe all the chefs were the people who were forcibly exiled from India and/or Pakistan for being a huge disgrace to the local food culture.

The most amazing thing was that at some point a couple of guys started to sell drugs outside the building.   I'd never seen that in Hong Kong before. I asked them if they would like to talk to the police about it, and they disappeared.

But hey, at least the location was good.


A new culture of sexual harassment

I've been following the public debate on whether or not the Middle Eastern and African immigrants have brought with them a new culture of sexual harassment, with some people saying that yes, they did, and other people saying that Finnish men have been harassing Finnish women since time immemorial.

Frankly, I don't see how those things are mutually exclusive.  Finnish men have been harassing women since time immemorial, and  Middle Eastern and African immigrants have brought with them a new culture of sexual harassment: more violent, more frequent and more persistent. My claim of "more violent" comes from the crime statistics; more frequent and more persistent are just personal experience.

Finnish men have, on a countless number of occasions, informed me that I have big tits (and appeared to expect me to treat this as new information), informed me that they have an erection (which can be a joyful occasion, but not when a total stranger tells you about it at the bus stop and expects you to do something about it other than laugh and point). When I was young they also offered me money for services (not programming of the web services, although I did try to offer that), but I got the impression that this is less common nowadays, even for young women. They have also occasionally tapped me on the butt in clubs, and on one memorable occasion one of them grabbed my breast and twisted it at Tietokilta's yearly party sometime in 1997 or thereabouts (I still regret not filing a police report; but the person in question apologized when he ran into me in a street 2 years later).

What Finnish have not usually done is following me around and demanding sex even after being told "no" numerous times. I also don't recall them demanding an explanation for a "no".  They haven't retorted to "I have a boyfriend" with "he doesn't have to know anything", or "how long have you been together? isn't two years enough?". They have certainly not continued on that with "but can you take me to your bed anyway?".

Of course none of that is new either. Middle Eastern and African immigrants were doing it in the 90s already.

None of this is meant as an excuse for the Finnish idiots who scream "tits!" like they've never seen any tits in real life before (even if they haven't), but it is more annoying to say "no" 20 times to the same guy than to say it once.

EDIT: Remembered another assault by a Finnish man. I was at a perfectly normal party talking to some perfectly normal people when a sociologist came from behind and bit me on the shoulder. The sociologist was encouraged to go home after that.


Keeping the king's peace

In the wake of the New Year's eve's sexual assaults Vienna's police chief Gerhard PĆ¼rstl advised women not to go out on the streets at night alone, and said that they should avoid suspicious looking areas. The story doesn't say which areas Vienna's police chief considers to be suspicious, although I would love to hear that.

To quote the Game of Thrones,  "If you cannot keep the king's peace, perhaps the City Watch should be commanded by someone who can". This is a fair point, and the Green party security spokesman said something along those lines, too.  Janos Slynt, the guy in the Game of Thrones to whom those words are addressed, answers something along the lines of "even Aegon the Dragon couldn't keep the king's peace with that budget", which is also a fair point.

What's not a fair point is the idea that half of the population should stay inside after dark, or hire bodyguards. During my lifetime I've heard various police officers and politicians suggest that, and I always keep wondering what the hell are they thinking. Even apart from the lack of factual sense in it (because most sexual assaults happen inside, because men are attacked outside more often than women and any such protection measures should be first aimed at them, because in the situations like the New Year in Cologne the presence of men didn't help much - when there are 10 attackers it doesn't matter much whether there is 1 or 2 of you - because most women cannot afford to hire a bodyguard, and because if all the women could in fact afford to hire a bodyguard some of those bodyguards would turn out to be the people that they should be guarding themselves from), do those people actually realize what they are asking? They are not asking for some easy self-protection measure, they are asking for half of the population to either adhere to a curfew or hire bodyguards.

I can understand that sometimes the police fail, don't have enough resources, have to many criminals to attend to, etc. But when it's actually the case, it's time to arm the population. A gun is a lot cheaper than a bodyguard, and a lot easier to carry around with you.

I don't really think we are quite at that stage yet here in Finland, but if we ever get there, I'd expect the authorities either to put up and keep the peace in the streets, or shut up and start giving out licenses for concealed carrying. Mind you, I vastly prefer the former, but if the authorities can't do it, we need the latter, and not some stupid advice about staying home.


Sunday, December 06, 2015

Happy Independence Day, Finland!

Good thing we got out of Russia when we did. Russia sucks. Lately more than usual.