Monday, 27 May 2013

Good work, Microsoft

When I read that Microsoft is skimming Skype conversations for URLs, I act as if I am not surprised. It is nice to know that my own servers are not unaffected by this:

$ cat /var/log/apache2/access.log.1|grep 65.52.100. - - [21/May/2013:09:38:48 -0700] "HEAD /volunteer/ HTTP/1.1" 200 277 "-" "-"
$ cat /var/log/apache2/access.log*gz|gunzip|grep 65.52.100. - - [07/May/2013:18:46:29 -0700] "HEAD /2013-makers-2/ HTTP/1.1" 200 277 "-" "-" - - [03/May/2013:00:19:07 -0700] "HEAD / HTTP/1.1" 200 277 "-" "-" - - [20/Apr/2013:01:03:11 -0700] "HEAD /volunteer-registration-2013/ HTTP/1.1" 200 277 "-" "-"

$ whois
NetRange: -

Really, why trust a third party if your communications are supposed to be secure? We all know that mobile phone carriers store SMS messages for long periods of time, so why should it be surprising to anyone that someone who provides a free service is going to harvest data out of it?

It shouldn't happen but at the same time there is no such thing as a free lunch either.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

How far have I travelled via SkyTrain?

My girlfriend and I got into an interesting argument: how far have I gone via SkyTrain? I said that it must be in the tens of thousands and she said that it was likely not and probably something like 5,000. I gave her response some thought and agreed but then started to wonder how far I really had gone.

Before you read too far into this, the numbers thrown around are all estimates and really do not signify what I actually have done. Measurements for distances travelled were used by referencing this map from Wikipedia, which gave me the distances between stations and switches in metres. For those unfamiliar with the system, it has 68.6 kilometres of track (with another 10.9 KM on its way), 47 stations, and has the ability to run trains 75 seconds apart.

A lot of educated guesses were made throughout this calculation and I am only sharing it since I actually went and ran the numbers out of sheer curiosity. Take everything you read in this article with a grain of salt.

Determining how far I have gone each year

Now I should admit that I don't keep a travel log of everywhere I go every single day--I barely am able to keep myself up to date with calendar appointments on my phone. However, with some guess work I can determine some constants based on actual day-to-day activities such as going to work, socialising, attending school, and perhaps family events. Knowing this, I decided to break it down using those four groups: work, school, social, and family.

I was born in late 1984, but SkyTrain was not a 'thing' until December of 1985, so I can more or less calculate from January 1986 onward. I never really wandered on to the transit system by myself until I was in my mid-teens due to my life revolving more or less in Surrey, where SkyTrain doesn't travel deep into. With that in mind, I can safely determine that maybe twice a year I would go with someone in my family towards somewhere like BC Place Stadium or that general vicinity. However, 1986 was also the year of Expo 86, which probably meant I visited the world's fair a dozen times--I should confirm this with my parents but actually it won't make much of a difference in the total amount.

My first job where I required the use of transit to get to work was in 2004 and save for two years I required use of SkyTrain to get to and from work. And for class? I was able to get away without taking SkyTrain to make it to class in a lot of cases.

The numbers were all crunched via Excel and some liberties were taken to estimate what I have done in a year. I won't go into super fine details here but I will at least give you the logic behind my math. One thing to keep in mind is that I count to and from as two different trips.

Attending class

Class didn't involve me going via SkyTrain all that much, but there were times where I did in fact use it to get to get to and from. Since I know when I was in school and how often, as well as which stations I would have used, I was able to make this table:

Trips to Class
 TripsKMsAvg. KM
* Denotes a year where I was living out of province.

It should be noted that the above table and any future tables may be a bit off in terms of how the math comes out to, but this has to do with me copying the data out of Excel in the process, but as you can see the kilometres add up quite quickly even though the trips are rather short save for 2009 when I briefly attended BCIT.

However, prior to graduating high school, at least once or twice a year I would be travelling on SkyTrain with my classmates. Some experiences include painting the windows of the main Canada Post building downtown for Christmas, or perhaps going to the CBC building or Science World. Since I can somewhat account for all of these trips, I can safely estimate using the distances how far I have gone for each year (around 52 KM).

When I add up all of these numbers and work it out, it comes out to about 3,800 KM. An extra 100 KM and it would have covered the distance of Vancouver to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Having been to Cabo before, it's quite nice. If SkyTrain were to be able to go non-stop at full speed (80 KM/h) to this part of Mexico, it would take just over two days as opposed to a five-hour flight.

Travelling to work via SkyTrain

Figuring out the numbers on my getting to work was the easiest. For the most part, I knew what my schedule was like from 2005 to present and I was also able to guess what I did work due to days spent in class. Days when I am ill, working from home, travelled by car instead, or were on vacation were accounted for in my counts. Of course like before I made a good guess based on what I could remember.

Trips to Work
 TripsKMsAvg. KM
* Denotes a year where I was not commuting via SkyTrain.

One thing to note: 2007 was a weird year as I had tele-commuted from January into September and was not using SkyTrain.

I left one company for another in 2009 and as a result found myself having to drive to work as opposed to taking transit. This meant that for a whole year I didn't have a reason to take SkyTrain for work purposes simply because the system was nowhere near where I was employed at the time. It was also the first time in four years where I had actually had full-time access to a vehicle (first car I bought myself too) and as a result my entire transit use pattern was changed.

However, in 2011 I had taken a job at a company downtown and found myself having to leave the car at home since it was ineffective for me to commute via it. This worked out for the better as in 2010 I had moved closer to the transit system. One thing of interest here is that when I left the car-dependent job in 2011, I had almost 48,000 KM on the odometer (after 2-years ownership); two-years later and I find that the odometer has only hit 62,000.

2012 also saw the greatest transit use overall where work counted for 8,253 KM (total use that year combined was 8,608 KM). Overall, the total use for commuting to work via the train was 25,909 KM since 2004. Just like how I measured out the school trips taking me to a sunny part of Mexico, that distance could cover almost the round-trip flight distance from Vancouver to Perth, Australia assuming no stop-overs.

I wonder how many zones it would be if it went all the way out there?

Socialising and family

I should point out that since having moved closer to the transit system, I have found that I have never had a reason to take transit to see my family. My parents' home is almost 13 KM from the nearest station and the time it would take using transit as opposed to taking my car is quite significant--it was a huge driving force behind my decision to move to where I am now.

Just like how it was in grade school, I only took SkyTrain with my parents or other family members perhaps a few times a year. I would say that during Expo 86 it was probably a bit more than other years and some other years were a bit more frequent than others, but I worked out that it was probably something like 78-80 trips total between 1985 and 1998, being the last time I recall having to take transit with a family member. Most of the time it was to visit something downtown and the typical station we'd visit would be Stadium. Using that knowledge, I worked it out to be about 2,021 KM.

Seeing friends on the other hand became a real mess to sort out. 1999 to 2002 were car-free periods, so I knew that whenever I did go out, it would have likely been on the train. For that period, I worked out that I'd be on SkyTrain a bit over a dozen times. It increased in 2003 onward but decreased in 2009 when I bought a car. When I moved closer to transit, it levelled out a bit but I still drove more for socialising than I did take the train.

Here's an excerpt of years where I did use transit heavily to see people:

Being Social
 TripsKMsAvg. KM

As you can see in 2010, my estimate didn't change much but my distance covered did due to a change in where I lived.

I worked out that between my family and seeing friends, it worked out to 16,706 KM. A lot less than work, more than school, and the distance can cover a direct one-way flight to Antarctica.

The system does reasonably well in snow all things considered (although it has become majorly delayed as a result of it), but I don't think that it would survive the extremes of the south pole.

Closing and how long did these journeys take?

Overall, I have travelled about 47,000 KM on the SkyTrain system since it came into existence. If I were to start and end a world tour just outside of Quito, Ecuador where the Earth's equator is, I could do one whole round trip (about 40,000 KM) along the equator and still have 7,000 KM to spare, allowing me to fly back to Vancouver with some change leftover.

Since we know the approximate distance that I've managed to cover, we can determine what amount of time that I have spent on the train. Some things like when the system is delayed or down completely are not taken into account, but because it has been stated that the average speed between each station is about 45 KM/h, we could divide that 47,000 by that average speed and come out to 1,044.44 hours, or 43 days, 12 hours, and 29 minutes. Americans on average spend about 540 hours in their car per year, so my total time spent on the train isn't that bad. Last year, it is likely that I just spent 183 hours on the train just getting myself to and from work, so I shouldn't complain.

Regarding the total number of trips (as opposed to distance covered), the number worked out to just over 3,400. I have to wonder as the system continues to grow and how my patterns change, how much higher this will grow? I guess with a few more years of data I could answer this, but I am done with this question.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Losing the faith of your (online) community

Earlier this year, I was asked to leave an online community after a row between myself and a few other members had developed. When I was asked by a community member in private to leave, I chose to do so and did so without making noise.

In the real world, I had a group of friends who began to exclude me after I had made a unpleasant life-changing decision that was overall unpopular. This was understandable as it had created a rift between me and specific people. I had it out privately with one particular person but again chose to not make much noise beyond that.

Both of these cases were quite difficult for me emotionally as nobody likes rejection, but at the same time there are things that you have to have to face in life. Sometimes it's better to cut your losses because it becomes futile to try and fight it. There are things worth fighting for too, but you have to understand how much you need to fight and how much it is actually worth.

My context for the above stories is parallel to my experience with running online communities. You can have a vibrant, active community when things are running smooth when those who are a member of said community have some level of faith in the decisions you make as maintainer, but it can turn on you very quickly if you start to become arrogant or ignorant of certain aspects of it. For six years, I ran a forum for the local anime convention here in Vancouver and learnt a lot about myself and others; it wasn't really pretty when I look back at it.

It was like herding cats and I was not well received

My experience with running this forum was at the time a pleasant one for the early few years but looking back I have changed my mind. I went through wanting to clean up the place to becoming a tyrant and it reflected poorly on how people perceived me.

When I say that running this forum was like herding cats, I am saying this because the anime convention had introduced a contingent of members who were of a wide age variety; I believe that the average age of the forum users was something along the lines of 16 or 17 based on my knowledge of the actual convention attendance. At the time when I was in my early 20s, I could put up with the politics of dealing with these guys because I never quite grasped that it was a herding cats scenario.

Policies handed down to me from the convention operators didn't apply well to the forum and as a result I found myself having to swim upstream in order to keep these rules in line. I would go and make fancy methods to get people from avoiding the word filter and found myself banning the public schools in the province (which are on a single IP block) in order to make life easier for myself and those who worked with me. However, as time grew on I found myself spending far more time on this than what was deserved.

It was quite active when I was in charge, with 2,000 some-odd accounts and about 500 of them active, but as time progressed, the demographics and types of behaviour began to shift and I found myself turning more and more into a tyrant in terms of how things should be run in order to stem the changes that I didn't find very likeable. Power goes to your head and for that I don't think I'd ever make a good Prime Minister in the face of such things. This is not to say I should never be in charge, but I believe that I shouldn't do the same job for too long and I shouldn't do it knowing I have no impunity such as the case here. I could effectively get away with almost anything and those who ran the convention didn't dare challenge me, which looking back I feel was a mistake.

I left briefly as I wanted to focus on other matters (namely that I had decided to move to another province), but came back some time later and found myself in the same habits as I was in before. And with that came an overall disgust for me from these forum members.

Effectively the online community had no trust in me but was powerless in doing anything about it. I could share some of the remarks that people had for me but it is irrelevant to this part of what I am writing, but in short I was not exactly liked in the role I played and the words chosen to describe me were not good.

I don't look back at this period in my life as a positive one even though there were some rather awesome people I met in the process. I removed myself from this community a number of years ago and haven't looked back on my decision. There were definitely good times, but overall I feel that it was a huge time-sink and put me behind on a lot of other things that I am working on now.

Reddit and how its moderation works

I've written about Reddit before in a not so happy light. In addition to my remark about it being a circlejerk in a lot of cases, I have zero love for how the site is moderated.

Reddit and its sub Reddits are moderated two ways: votes (karma) and moderators. Downvotes for posts that don't contribute to Reddit or the discussion and upvotes for the opposite. A moderator's role is to be there to take care of whatever they see fit that doesn't fit for the sub Reddit. It could be harassment, spam, or outright pointless and ignoring what the community as a collective has considered as the norm.

However, this is an ideal situation and is rarely if ever followed. The votes are used when people don't like the discussion or person. This is more or less evident in the Obama AMA where the downvotes were likely those voting for Romney or other candidates, but you can see this in smaller situations where it just comes to just overall popularity of the poster. Reddit has attempted to address this by introducing a scheme that allows sub Reddit moderators to implement a delay on when karma is shown, but this isn't a real solution. Really, Reddit is broken this way because it doesn't interpret how a human being actually thinks on a typical decision--reactive and largely not objective.

And the moderation system itself is broken too. Nobody owns a sub Reddit really as that is actually the property of Reddit itself. However, once you go and create a sub Reddit, it's yours for as long as you choose to keep it and as long as Reddit desires to let you do so. And if you appoint any moderators underneath you, they cannot perform a coup on you, but if they can remove anyone who comes after them. It's basically a lineage system that is very ineffective and you cannot take someone on top out easily.

Really, Reddit is flawed.

When to know that you need to leave

I bring the topic of Reddit up because it's different from an online forum run by some forum software and at the same time has a lot of same characteristics of such. Recently on a sub Reddit I frequent, a number of users and moderators had began to voice their dislike for how the place is being run. Since the order system was in place, the complaining moderators who actually spent more time on the sub Reddit than those on top ended up opting to resign citing that they are powerless to go against someone who's ideal isn't in line with everyone else. Those at the top have resisted to leave and would rather make "simple changes" to pacify the general crowd. It might work but it's really not worth it in my mind.

When you have a large number of users being vocal against you running the place, citing that content quality has gone downhill since then, you have to act decisively. You cannot continue with the status quo and hope that everything will continue on positively.

Sites like Something Awful have only survived long term because users were not left to make decisions on everything. However, certain decisions were made in the past of lead to it being the site is today. For example, Lowtax no longer actively moderates the forums and does so due to his position in the site. He has focused more on running the place as a business and as a result there is a more or less positive view on him. This took years for him to realise and there were a number of odd behaviours on his part as time went on, but I look at the place now and it's largely neutral. It's not the same site it was a decade ago when I first signed on, but a lot of the old circlejerk mentalities from the past do not exist in the same manner.

I found myself hearing comments along the lines of me being an "asshole" or "douche bag" when I ran these forums for the previously mentioned convention. At the time they didn't phase me but looking back, these users were mostly right. I have a bit of an ego that needs to be deflated sometimes and I try my best to acknowledge when I am in the wrong, but sometimes you need to just let these things go and let others take the helm. I haven't looked back at the site since then and there have been attempts to get me involved again, but again, it's not worth it.

You need to leave a community when you're in charge when you have way too much opposition. It's how you fix the community in the long term. You can stick around as a member but you shouldn't hold on to power as if there is no other solution.

For those who are wondering: there is a long story behind why I have opted for a new account on Reddit. It will likely be discussed on this blog when I get around to it, but I have decided to start using my actual name in some places.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Don't blame me...

The Greens for all they stand for have some anti-fact nut jobs in their list of candidates. Some of their candidates have a stance on radio transmissions that are completely anti-science.

Libertarianism in the form that most people practice these days is hypocrisy at its finest. Government has a role to play in our every day lives regardless of whether or not you like it.

No idea who the independent guy is in my riding, and as a result I couldn't throw my support behind him as I have no idea what he stands for. I should have taken a look into this I guess.

Don't think anyone needs to know about my love and appreciation for the Conservatives. John Cummins is a leader that doesn't understand that he barely has support in his own party.

So what option was left? The leftovers appear to be the lesser of all evils with one being less evil than the other I guess.

I voted for Kodos.