The musings of an aspiring carver of space

I know I’m late to this party.

But this is my blog; and so, dear reader, that isn’t relevant.

A few evenings ago, an acquaintance was relaying how she uses ChatGPT in her (largely, copy-editing) work: “ChatGPT, here’s my work; what are my three main points?” or “ChatGPT, here’s a pitch; rewrite it to be more persuasive.” Another acquaintance quickly chimed in: “I use it to practice Mandarin. It will correct me, saying that it understands, but thinks I meant to use X instead of Y. And I can even ask it to switch back to English for a bit to get some point across before resuming the exercise.”

Not for the first time, my understanding of the breadth of ChatGPT use cases was left wanting. And so, I just logged in once again — after quite a long break — and quickly gave it one of my old blog posts; the (instantaneous!) result was, frankly, astonishing:

It seems like you're sharing a personal experience and reflecting on a broader societal issue related to gun violence and its consequences. Your narrative touches on themes of fear, self-defense, and the potential escalation of conflicts in a society where firearms are prevalent.

The Chad Oulsen case you mention is an example of how quickly situations can escalate, leading to tragic consequences. The use of firearms can indeed change the dynamics of a confrontation, often with irreversible outcomes. Your personal experience of fearing for your safety due to a neighbor's threatening behavior adds a personal dimension to the broader issue of living in fear and the impact it can have on individuals and families.

Your concerns about the availability of firearms in the United States and the potential for violence due to misunderstandings or conflicts are shared by many who advocate for stricter gun control measures. The complexities surrounding self-defense, personal judgment, and the role of firearms in society are multifaceted issues that prompt reflection on how to maintain a balance between individual rights and public safety.

The emotional weight of your narrative emphasizes the importance of addressing these issues thoughtfully and collectively, with a focus on fostering a society where individuals feel safe and conflicts are resolved without resorting to extreme measures.

I won’t lie: vanity tinged my reaction: “I sound clever!” But I stand by my position: that that is, objectively, both impressive and useful; and, I’m more certain than ever, but the tip of this iceberg. Who knows what I don’t realise I don’t know about this tool?

I'll open with a Fediverse reply I made earlier today:

I love the way [Cory Doctorow] never used the term net neutrality [in his recent post on that Chinese social media company—and their platform peers—and the tendency for such companies to defecate where they eat, to coin a phrase]; not once. :)

Just last week, I was arguing with a stranger on the internet that we need terminology to maximise the limited time strangers are willing to listen to us before tuning out, dismissing us, etc. That is, we're wasting time when we try to reduce absolutely everything to base principles.

This is a lovely counterexample.

And, yes, Cory [Doctorow] rightly has a massive amount of credit with me and many other open minded people, but it's still got me rethinking that position of last week.

Gawd, I love the Fediverse. :)

And it's true: that was exactly the point that stranger was making, last week: that by tying their idea to rewilding half the planet to the term socialism, Vettese and Pendergrass [in their book Half-Earth Socialism] may have tarnished the message. (I'm not even suggesting that Doctorow had that idea in mind when he described net neutrality in detail, without once naming it; but it got me thinking about this, is the point.) My point was that those folks who were turned off by the term weren't an audience worth targeting, or not at the expense of taking more words to outline the position, and thereby losing a much wider, and likely more mixed, audience in the process.

But now I'm not so sure.

I can't decide whether it's Doctorow's writing or his ideas that are exceptional. Maybe it's both. But even if it's only his ideas, his writing is still good; it doesn't detract from the ideas one iota—of that, I'm certain. So, then, the natural follow-on from that is, why employ the crutch of terminology at all? Because I don't contest that its use isn't problematic, to be clear; I'd just thought it was worth it. And now I'm genuinely questioning that position.

Thinking about it, if we're addressing the reach of a particular message, we need to address translation at some point. And, surely, if the original text employs a crutch, that's carte blanche for busy translators to do the same. And, I, as the original author, have absolutely no say—let alone any meaningful context—for how most (if not all) of those stages of the promulgation will go.

And that's crucial, when you're talking about a message for the planet, about the use of half of it.

I struggle to remain positive. I really do. It's part of the reason I latch on to messages like Vettese and Pendergrass's, or David Byrne's American Utopia from a few years ago.

Part of it is survival instinct: I simply don't have the mental fortitude to go on in a meaningful way, giving my family the best of me, when my head paints the world black. I can't muster that much fight. And, increasingly, I find myself questioning whether fighting is the answer. What about the power of a better message?

I mean, to wade into—well, likely as murky water, let's talk about freedom of speech. Again, I'll lean on open minded folks like Nadine Strossen when I state that those who truly love and honour the principle demonstrate that most effectively when they champion their opponent's right to a counter-narrative. (And the right to effectively table it, I should add.)

But, right up there with that nod to the other side—or, far more likely, one of many sides—is the (not insignificant!) investment of time and energy in their own narrative; and along with that is the belief in one's peers to be able to judge those narratives accordingly. To be ignorant, maybe, but curiously—not wilfully—so, as I saw quoted on a Fediverse profile just yesterday. (Such brevity, and beauty, in that.)

I think the effort, the energy, required to maintain a space—and I leave that deliberately vague—that meets those criteria is huge. And maybe a fight is the best way to describe what is behind the continuing success of any such venture. But I prefer something that calls out the cooperation that's needed—many hands, the work they lighten, and all that—and, maybe even more importantly, the horizons we're working with in this: that is, fights are fierce, and they end. This massive experiment we call civilization will not end; or at least I hope it won't. And, yes, we could invoke the term war, then. But history—even very recent history—is littered with the folly of that. (Who amongst us thinks we wouldn't be remembered right alongside those with the hubris to tackle drugs, or terrorism, in that manner?)

So where are these spaces, then, you ask? Few and far between, in my experience. And the reasons for that are manifold, I'm sure, but I'll call out two that immediately come to mind: 1) what has been coined 'whataboutism' is certainly a factor, sapping that crucial energy from a group—when the truth is always complex; often unimaginably so—and; 2) responsibility—legal responsibility, in particular. In what are almost certainly the most divisive times of my life, you can hardly blame folks for mostly wanting to keep their heads down.

Still I see reasons for hope. Mostly in my local community, but not exclusively so. And the benefit of contributing locally is that there's more opportunity to get out of the house and speak with people, face-to-face. I'm an introvert by nature, but that doesn't mean I don't take vital energy from the socialising that I choose to do. We all need to work on nurturing that energy, within us, so we're ready to seize those moments and organise around efforts that become more than the sum of their parts.

Shortly after we were married, my wife and I found ourselves homeless for five weeks. By choice.

Well, we were coerced, more correctly.

Relations with our upstairs neighbour had been deteriorating for some time, when, for reasons that aren't particularly relevant, he tried to break down our front door, loudly threatening to drive a screwdriver through my skull.

That evening, we fled.

Luckily, we have many good friends, and their couches and spare rooms became our home for the next five weeks, while we wrote the owner of the flat, the company who managed it, now that it was council housing, and just about anyone else who would hear to us.

Eventually they were evicted. We returned to our home. And kept checking over our shoulders for many years afterwards.

(I've only seen him once since that fateful day, sitting at an outdoor cafe. We had that moment of mutual recognition. I poured every bit of vitriol I lay claim to — “top-full of direst cruelty” — in a look I held 'til we were but arms' length apart. I got nothing back. And continued down the pavement without pause.)

I would never, ever have done that in the United States of America.

There, I would've crossed the road immediately, or, more likely, reversed course immediately. I seriously question this man's judgement, and even his very mental stability. The thought that he might at any time be armed with a gun is terrifying, even as I write this.

Chad Oulsen did not have my advantages: in his terminally brief encounter with retired police captain Curtis Reeves, he had no such foreknowledge. He could only make assumptions: about people who frequent cinemas, who watch Wahlberg movies, who treat the trailers as part of the entertainment, who are old, etc., but also about what it means to live in civilised society, to be a responsible adult, etc. All in a few seconds, and then, presumably, in the minutes while Reeves was attempting and failing to find willing cinema staff to intercede.

Was Oulsen right to throw his popcorn at Reeves, when the latter returned? I think most would say no: it's assault. With the benefit of hindsight, I'm sure even Oulsen would concede that point.

A mistake, then.

Oulsen will never make another.

Since my children were born, my cinema-going has fallen off a cliff. But I would say on all the half dozen occasions since then when I've found myself in the cinema, I've checked my phone for messages from the babysitter. During the film itself. And I've messaged the babysitter during the trailers as well, I'm quite sure.

Those who know me, know that I have a temper. I'd like to think I'm better able to handle it now than in times past, but, if I'm honest, I could see a time when I'd have words with someone who objected to the actions I've just described, and those words might be loud, salty, or both. Never would I have imagined that such actions would leave my children without a father, my wife without a husband.

This episode, eight years in the making, is about so much. It is about reciprocity. It is about commensurate actions. It is about how firearms can change a situation in the blink of an eye. It is about living. And it is about living in fear.

I feared having a screwdriver driven through my skull in a moment of surprise or distraction. My front door wouldn't've stopped a bullet of any significant calibre, but that's almost beside the point: I had options, which I availed myself of.

If Oulsen was even aware of the gun, before he was dying, it was certainly a moment in which all of his options vanished. And with them, all his chances for exercising judgement, both good and bad. Forever.

That is not civil. That is not commensurate. And today's verdict; that is not justice.

A friend asked for my opinion on a recent article by Ann Bauer drawing parallels between how medical professionals dealt with her autistic son, and how much of the world has responded to Covid-19 (and those in authority in particular, I think it’s fair to emphasise).

To open, this is a truly heartbreaking, and heartfelt, story. While I feel its structure is slightly flawed, I find its arguments compelling. There is certainly no doubting Bauer’s sincerity, nor her trauma.

Importantly, I think the parallels Bauer draws are valid: while the information available to all has exploded over the time-frame her story covers, problems have persisted in medicine, and arguably worsened. I say worsened because, not only are we all in danger of drowning in this sea of publications, opinions, data, etc., many, including our highest officials, seem increasingly convinced that the only course of action—across many walks of life, but including public health—is to speak first and speak loudly; i.e., seize the narrative, don't let go, and make sure it's internally consistent.

An utterly impossible task, the merits of which must be questioned.

And questioned very seriously, I think, if we are to hold together as a people in the trials and tribulations that many convincingly predict are nigh.

We, as a people, need to embrace uncertainty. Truly embrace it. Because it is there, whatever we tell ourselves, however we perceive things. Me, I see parallels to the United States in late 2001, and the Patriot Act, as I've written about before. That striving for safety, perfect safety, was detrimental; terribly so, I would argue. And another utterly impossible task.

I think what's really scary, for me, is how vulnerable we are, every one of us, when it comes to the health of those we care about. Clear perception and reason are simply out of reach for most of us in those terribly trying moments. And so, medical professionals wield enormous power over us, particularly in the case of medical emergencies, or situations that are framed as such.

Prompted by a recent interview, I read, once again, the horrific story of an old acquaintance who is now severely disabled, largely because of a botched medical procedure that, since, professional upon professional are aghast to hear recounted, unable to fathom that, not only did it happen, but that it happened in a Canadian facility; that even someone with rudimentary medical training would almost certainly flag such an attempt as something approaching malpractice.

And yet, after each medical professional tells her that they would never ever use a needle of that gauge when performing a spinal tap on someone with her frame, she is still only able to walk for minutes a day; was still bedridden for years afterwards.

And Bauer's son is still dead.

I do everything is my power to follow the advice of the NHS. Not all of it is within my power: the Covid-19 app doesn't work on my phone, for example. And, as I've written about before, their silence in a time of need has been palpable.[ref, ref] But, when it is issued, I do everything in my power to follow it.

But I don't do so without trepidation.

And that trepidation is growing. Slowly. But growing.

It’s been a while.

Sadly, I don’t use this facility much. That’s nothing against write.as; I think they’re great. I guess I just enjoying tinkering more than writing, in the limited time I get to myself as a parent of young children.

One of my recent successes is getting Pleroma running on my Raspberry Pi 3B+; I’m looking at its lovely rainbow case right now, as I type. (Thanks, Pimoroni!) I really enjoy hanging out in the Fediverse; I’ve been fickle with it, over the last year or so, so the wealth of interactions isn’t there yet, but it’s still a lot of fun. (And I have my Matrix homeserver for those sorts of conversations anyway.)

So, yes, I’m still around! (Even though you’d rightly question that, looking at my Now page.) And I’m reading too. Just finished Joel Bakan’s latest book, The New Corporation, last night, in fact; I’d highly recommend it. And if you want to talk about it, come join us!

That’s it for now; have a great day!

The world is soft as lace ‡

Gossamer-thin: all is clear, through force. Determination, drive reveal much; mould it, shape it to one's will. Complexity, unearthly beauty, collapse around a firm hand. And we all see this. That which we are, it revels in these answers, even as the fabric tears.

We reward, with attention. The world; it rewards investigation. The intricacies of pattern, they come alive before us, and against our lips; but only in time. And you will tire of it, at first. But try to remember; and return.

‡ : Inspired by I Don't Love Anyone, by Belle and Sebastian

My complaint to GOV.UK regarding COVID-19 information


I have some recommendations for your COVID-19 page on GOV.UK:

  1. Develop an easy-read policy and link to it prominently, near the top of the page, before most visitors would need to scroll down.

  2. Summarise this policy

    1. Display a summary of this policy, in bullet form, on your COVID-19 page. Again, have it so that most visitors will be able to read the whole summary without having to scroll.

    2. This will invariably mean that you will be limited in the number of points you can include. (Certainly less than ten; probably less than five.) Include the most important points, both in terms of DOs and DON'Ts, and a timestamp indicating when the list last changed.

    3. When considering these 'most important points', look to the future. Today (14/07), for example, I would argue that the following should be included, even in a Top 5 list: Soon, face masks will need to be worn sometimes. This will start on Monday, 20 July. We will provide more information before then. Or something like that. (I'm not versed in all the rules of easy-read policy.)

  3. Consider ending the web page before most visitors would need to scroll. Most visitors won't scroll anyway. (This has been studied.) Consider ending the page with a link to further information (which could include all the information that you currently have on the COVID-19 page).

  4. Consider changing the stylesheet back to the standard GOV.UK one. For reasons I will outline below, those colours spike my anxiety before I've even managed to read one word of the page in question.

Thank you for your time. For clarity, this message can be read in conjunction with the survey feedback marked with REFhash0087NCOVID19.

End of Summary

Further details

On Sunday, 15 March, I had a panic attack.

It was directly related to UK Government messaging.

Someone pointed me to a YouTube video that Matt Hancock's Twitter feed had implicitly endorsed (i.e., favourited/loved). (I think another UK Government account had done so as well, but the details fade.) The video featured someone I'd never heard of, in their back garden, with jugs of water, some with holes in, talking about how to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed.

I thought, that's an odd thing for a UK Government account to be interacting with. Is this representative of the official policy? How are they going to let some of us carry on with our lives, while preventing others from doing so?

At which point, I stopped and smiled. Don't be silly, I thought. If Matt Hancock's team has time to be on Twitter, surely it's because GOV.UK has the ground truth; it will tell me what I need to know.

Do you recall what your web page looked like back then?

It was, entirely — as far as my increasingly anxious mind would allow me to read, anyway — about what to do if I was symptomatic.

In other words, I HAD NO INFORMATION about what to do, other than to maybe go and see whether Hancock had liked any other video analogies that might shed some light ON HOW TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THE MANY VULNERABLE PEOPLE IN MY CIRCLE.

At this point, I screamed. I ranted at the person who'd sent me the link, even though I actually love them. Then I powered off my phone. Then I had a lot of whisky.

Now, whenever I see that hazard-tape style imaging on your COVID-19 page, I'm right back there. Sunday, 15 March. Panicking. Because you didn't do your job. Lockdown was less than 24 hours away, yet you had no information for the vast majority of the UK population. Nothing. Except for your GOV.UK Twitter account(s) irresponsibly leaving us to guess at the official UK Government policy.

I would be ashamed of myself, were I responsible for that site. And it hasn't changed: speculation about where and when face masks will be required is rampant, yet you don't have anything about it on that page right now. I know that there is no official position right now, but there is an official position on when that to-be-determined policy will come into force...


There are people out there who are trying their best to control their anxiety in this unprecedented situation. Knowing that they should buy face masks now, for the near future, is important. No, they can't be watching the daily briefings — if those are still going on. No, they can't bear to read the papers. They can't really bear to read your COVID-19 web page, but they are forcing themselves to do so, hoping in vain for some concise, clear information about what to do now, and in the coming week.

Please think of them.

End of Further details

Thank you for your time.


John Jarvis


Note: edited for clarity. (I was upset when I wrote this. Go figure.)


Distributed Proofreaders, and LITUK

A short one this evening, as I'm poorly.

I've been on the Project Gutenberg mailing list for a long time, but somehow missed any reference to the Distributed Proofreaders website until now; looking forward to getting stuck in there, when I'm feeling better and have a bit more time on my hands.

That is not the case at the moment, however: I have my Splunk Architect exam next week. Plus, I did a quick calculation a few minutes ago, and it looks like I'll need to keep an eight pages per day pace if I'm to finish the Life in the UK material ahead of my test, as presently scheduled.

But not this evening; an early night is definitely in order, once I've cleaned up the kitchen. Have a good weekend, all — I gather it'll be a special one in North America. ;–) Stay safe!

End of Day 52

jlj@Fosstodon #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

Philosophies of Depth, and Britain in the Middle Ages

More zettelkasten guts, I'm afraid. First, a bit from Deep Work, and then more history for my Life in the UK test. Note, on the latter, how the Home Office tiptoes through the brambles that are English troops landing on the shores of an independent Ireland:

The English first went to Ireland as troops to help the Irish king and remained to build their own settlements.

Like he needed help getting his socks on, or some such, was my partner's comment. ;–)

The Philosophies of Depth

Four philosophies: (Pg 102-117) – Monastic: near-complete isolation – Bimodal: long stretches, of at least a day in length, often as part of a retreat from one's normal routine – Rhythmic: scheduled, regular, shorter periods (e.g., 5.30am to 7am each day) – Journalistic: not for the faint of heart – Slipping in and out of deep work as the moments arise – Newport creates a straw-man at the start of each week, and then updates that at the start of each day, as required – Requires great confidence in one's abilities, normally backed by an extensive portfolio – Be realistic in your choice; your lifestyle will dictate the philosophies that are open to you.

Britain in the Middle Ages

Tags: #lituk #history

  • AD 476 to 1485, with a focus on the period following the Norman conquest
  • In 1284, King Edward I of England annexed Wales with the Statute of Rhuddlan.
    • Castles Conwy and Caernarvon were built to secure this power.
    • The last of the Welsh rebellion was defeated by the mid 15th century.
  • Scotland remains unconquered.
    • In 1314, Robert the Bruce defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn.
  • The English first came to the independent country of Ireland as troops supporting the Irish king. By 1200, they ruled the Pale (around Dublin). Some important lords in other parts of Ireland also recognised the authority of the English king.
  • Many English knights took part of the Crusades.
  • English kings also fought a long war with France, called the Hundred Years War (which lasted 116 years).
    • In 1415, King Henry V's vastly outnumbered army defeated the French.
  • The English largely left France in the 1450s.
The Black Death
  • In 1348, a disease (likely a plague) killed one third of the population in England (and similar proportions in Wales, and in Scotland).
    • Feudalism — the system of land ownership used by the Normans — began to strain as a reduced population:
      • Put less demand on cereal crops; and
      • Meant there was a labour shortage.
    • Peasants demanded higher wages.
    • People moved to towns.
    • New social classes emerged, including landowners (the beginnings of the gentry).
    • England's hold on the Pale weakened.
Politics and the Law
  • A fledgling Parliament forms; a king's council of advisors, initially, including important noblemen and leaders of the Church.
  • In 1215, King John and all future monarchs are limited by the Magna Carta (or Great Charter): the king is now the same, in the eyes of the law. It also protected the rights of the nobility, and limited the king's ability to collect taxes, and make or change laws.
  • Parliaments were called for the king to consult his nobles, particularly when funds were needed. These became more popular, and two Houses were established.
    • The Commons was largely composed of knights, and wealthy city folk; they were elected, but few could participate.
    • The Lords were just that, and bishops, and wealthy landowners.
  • In Scotland, a Parliament of three Estates came to be: the lords, the commons and the clergy.
  • Legal systems took shape, with a nascent separation of judiciary from the running of government, in both England and Scotland:
    • In England, common law was established, based on previous decisions and tradition.
    • In Scotland, laws were codified (i.e., written down).
  • By 1400, in England, English was the preferred language of the royal court, the Parliament, and official documents.
    • This developed from a melding of Norman French — spoken by the nobility — and Anglo-Saxon — spoken by the peasantry.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer was one of the first books printed by England's first printing-press-driven publisher, William Caxton.
  • In Scotland, many people continue to speak Gaelic. The Scots language also develops, and poets begin writing in it (e.g., John Barbour's The Bruce, based on his famous battle).
  • English wool becomes a sought-after commodity.
  • Many people come to England, bringing special skills:
    • French weavers
    • German engineers
    • Italian glass-makers
    • Dutch canal-builders
  • The glass in York Minster dates from this time. Some other cathedrals and castles from this time have also survived.
The War of the Roses
  • This period ends with the Battle of Bosworth Field, in 1485. King Richard III, of the House of York, is killed. Henry Tudor, of the House of Lancaster, becomes King Henry VII, taking the former monarch's niece, Elizabeth, as his bride.
  • This thirty-year civil war ends with the birth of the House of Tudor; its symbol, York's white rose inside Lancaster's red.

End of notes

End of Day 51

jlj@Fosstodon #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

Hashicorp's Packer, willpower, and Canada Day!

Being on furlough is strange, for many reasons. This week, it's been the rough gear change from Splunk Architect exam prep to full-on Hashicorp plunge: being restricted to professional development means that you get jobs that can even be loosely categorised as that, while others keep the company afloat doing billable work.

It's humbling. I am happy to still have a job, make no mistake. But it's a whole separate challenge too, in these challenging times.

So, yes, this week has been a whirlwind of learning the entire Hashicorp suite of tools, and preparing a talk that is supposed to enlighten my colleagues on the company's Tech Day this Friday. I think I'll make it — just — even losing most of tomorrow to a Terraform workshop.

I think Hashicorp's Packer will really help with this Splunk lab environment project that's on the back-burner at the minute. A colleague of mine has taken it much further, using Ansible playbooks with Terraform, but I think a collection of custom Packer machine images — for labs of all configurations, as well as for demos and workshops large and small — will really save us some time, going forward.

In a nutshell, with Packer, you can bake in that configuration you've initialised through Ansible. The resulting image can be ready to deploy to any number of target environments (e.g., a Vagrant box, AWS, Docker, etc.), and much quicker than through the typical configuration management tools — if Hashicorp's documentation is accurate. I'll find out soon enough, I guess.

I'm continuing with Deep Work. I was surprised to learn that decades of research has shown that a) humans spend a very large portion of their time on this earth resisting desires — mostly around eating, sleeping and sex — and b) the willpower they employ in this never-ending struggle is finite. That is, it can be exhausted, relatively easily, at which point one succumbs to the desires of the moment, until such time as they manage to recharge their reserves (through means I have yet to read about).

So, simply put, an essential part of incorporating deep work in your life is establishing a structure — be it rituals, routines, etc. — that facilitates your immersion in that state of concentration, while minimising the drain on your limited reserves of willpower. And then making sure that you prioritise recharging those reserves in your downtime.

This too is humbling.

We're so frail. And lovely. And horrible.

Happy Canada Day, all you frail, lovely, horrible sods! ;–) And, if you want to know what today means to an old Canuck like me, I can think of no better missive than In Canada by the Hadfield brothers. Bonne fête du Canada!

Yes, Chris is that guitar-playing Bowie-fan of a (retired) astronaut — how frickin' cool is my homeland, eh?!

Well, with the exception of two small gaps, I've made it! So ends Day 50 — the halfway point — of my 100 days to offload! I continue to enjoy it, very much. Thanks for reading.

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I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/