Rethinking the Calendar and Our Measures of Time

We all know the Gregorian calendar, right? It’s the “standard” one, with 12 months, each one with a variable number of days from 28 to 31. And we may not love it, but we use it. But what if…there were a better way?

I started thinking about this at first when I watched Kurzgesagt’s video, which argues that we should find a new year “0” that better reflects the sheer magnitude of all that we have accomplished as a species. They end up settling on 10000 BC/BCE as the appropriate year “0”, for reasons that they describe in the video. In practice, in order to use the Human Era system, we just tack on an extra “1” at the beginning of the year. So the year 2020 AD/CE becomes the year 12,020 HE (Human Era).

That got me thinking, though, that there must be a better way to distribute the days of the year. I mean, the sheer madness that is the Gregorian calendar would be hilarious if it weren’t so ingrained into us. Instead of each month having a fixed number of days (possibly with some minor adjustment at the end to account for imperfections), we end up with a monstrosity where you have to memorize the number of days in each month. Of course, this happened because the calendar was iteratively refined due to increased knowledge about exactly how long one revolution around the sun takes, adding/subtracting months to please Roman emperors, and so on. But if we were to design a calendar from scratch, what might it look like?

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Managing multiple email accounts with Mutt and Fetchmail

Recently, I switched to ProtonMail as a way of increasing my privacy online and moving away from the “data as currency” model of Google and Facebook (as part of this same effort, I closed my Facebook in favor of creating this blog!). However, most of what I describe here has been my setup for a while due to my penchant for two things:

  1. Wanting to keep my emails backed up (and a local copy always at hand).
  2. Wanting a simple but powerful email reader so that it gets out of the way while enabling as much customization as needed.

At the same time, I wanted a system where I could easily add and remove accounts while adding/removing as little configuration as possible, and this informs the way I partition my configuration files (as will be apparent).

As the title suggests, there are two different parts to this setup: fetchmail and mutt.

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Kashmir and Anti-Imperialism

Recently, Prime Minister Modi of India decided to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution and fully annex Jammu and Kashmir. This article from inside Kashmir talks about police- and military-enforced curfews, internet and phones being blocked, and a general sense of oppression.

Defenders will point to Pakistan’s decades-long policy of interfering in Indian-controlled parts of Jammu and Kashmir. This, in its own right, is a form of imperialism and must be opposed. However, this is no excuse for Indian imperialism.

This whole thing is complicated, right? Because there are two conflicting desires.

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Converting Raspbian to Debian sid

So a while back, I decided to get a Raspberry Pi to setup as a UPnP media server for my local network (not accessible from outside the network). Of course, the standard procedure is to install Raspbian, which is a customized Debian-based distribution that works well with the Raspberry Pi.

However, this presents an annoyance: the Raspbian repositories contain a very tiny subset of the Debian respositories. This means that your software choice is reduced by a lot and, given that I wanted this to be a “set it and forget it” type of media server, compiling and updating programs from source was mostly out of the question (especially when that software was available in Debian!). I decided to go on an adventure and convert Raspbian to Debian proper.

Note: I did this a while ago, so I may be missing some steps. Please let me know in the comments and I will update it with more details if need be!

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Privacy and security on the modern web

The modern web is fantastic — it offers super advanced functionality and APIs to the point where Progressive Web Apps are actually plausible replacements for full-blown native programs (although I personally am against them, it’s clear that they satisfy the use cases for the vast majority of users, given their popularity).

But the modern web is also a privacy nightmare. Trackers, analytics, you name it, it’s there. Javascript APIs to sniff location, bluetooth state, battery state — it’s ludicrous. Browser fingerprinting, where the interested party uses attributes of your browser (such as screen size, color depth, operating system, and so on) to track you (possibly without cookies), is more of a concern than ever. All of this on top of the fact that browser makers themselves have access to a wealth of information about the user, something that doesn’t escape the notice of e.g. Google or Microsoft.

So what can we do? What can we, the humble users of these products, do to protect ourselves from all this tracking? Well…as someone who’s been trying to fight this stuff since I learned about it, I’ve come up with a couple of tricks, which seem to work fairly well.

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Divestment, Israel, and Apartheid

Before you read further, I want you, the reader, to head over to this comment on Reddit which details, with nauseating clarity, just how many times unarmed Palestinians have been killed by the IDF, Israeli police officers, or other agents of the state (with sources). Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It has always been clear to me that the Israeli government actively wants to kill and displace Palestinians and that they have treated them as second-class citizens. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said:

I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government. It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli government, but with hope, a hope that a better future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Encrypted, incremental backups to the cloud

A couple of weeks ago, my laptop’s hard drive died and I ended up purchasing a new one. I hadn’t taken a backup in about 3 weeks, so I lost some progress on my research. This got me thinking about having a backup method with less friction than my current one.

My existing backup routine consists of plugging in my external hard drive, mounting it, running my backup script, taking a full image of my boot drive, and unmounting it. Not entirely awful (most of it is automated and it’s mostly just waiting), but there’s still friction around the initial steps of plugging in the drive and mounting it. Additionally, taking a full system image means having a read/write LVM snapshot (which becomes an issue if it is completely filled), which means I need to sit and wait around for the system image to finish — if I leave it for too long, the writes to the snapshot will accumulate, the snapshot will fill up, and bad things will happen.

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Why Fair Trade Matters

I want to take some time to talk about fair trade, both within the context of our current system as well as how it might look going forward.

Let’s start with a fact: Our current economic system, whatever you want to call it, is exploitative. It is built on exploitation and slavery, and there isn’t really any way to contest that. From chocolate to textiles to seafood, I could endlessly list industries – almost every single one is touched by this kind of exploitation on an industry-wide scale. Enter fair trade.

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Taxes on Linux

Taxes have always been an annoyance, at least here in America where the tax code is as long as your intestine (and just as convoluted!). But taxes are extra annoying on Linux due to the scarce availability of tax prep software on the platform. When I first started doing my taxes, I copped out and used a version of Turbo Tax on a Windows virtual machine I had (my parents had TurboTax already, so it was just a matter of installing it). But that year, I resolved to make taxes work on Linux.

Given that my taxes are generally fairly simple (I’m a graduate student…generally it’s just a W-2 and 1099-INT), the biggest hurdle I faced was finding a way to (easily) fill in the PDF forms. Enter pdftk.

pdftk is a fantastic piece of software for many reasons. In this case, though, it’s particularly useful because of two commands: dump_data_fields and fill_form. You might be able to see where this is going.

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Venezuela, Maduro, and Guaidó

I implore my friends, especially my liberal ones, to stop and consider the possible implications a US-backed coup in Venezuela. Yes, Maduro is awful, No doubt about that. But a US-backed coup would most likely lead to a civil war, massive civilian casualties, and possibly a right-wing authoritarian government (e.g. a military dictatorship) — the US is great at getting those kinds of governments installed. Just. Look. At. History. Were y’all the same people who wanted to invade Iraq on a humanitarian basis? Serious question.

It’s been terrifying seeing so many of my friends latch onto imperialist rhetoric, and I understand the impulse to want to do something. As Cody says, there are non-military options that include brokering diplomatic negotiations, actual humanitarian aid (rather than political destabilization masquerading as humanitarian aid), and possibly getting Maduro to agree to new elections held by the UN.

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