phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

The world is weird and wonderful!mapzen.com

A tile mural at the 36th Street subway station in Sunset Park.

I wrote a post over on the Mapzen blog that I think came out nicely.

The territory means different things to different people. Depending on your perspective, the kinds of data that are captured about places may be missing, insufficient, or downright hostile. Who’s On First is opinionated—like all datasets, no collection is truly unbiased—but we hope to be aware of when we’re asserting our own opinions about places and create a framework where a polyglot of place-feels will be welcome.

The multifaceted maps we make simply reflect the weird and wonderful territory they represent.

I’m going to be adapting this as a talk at csv,conf. If you’ll be in Portland May 3, come out and say hello. (Bring your CSVs!)

Email to a former student

Last night I got an email from a former student, and figured I’d publish my reply. Maybe it could be helpful to you!

Hey Professor Phiffer,

I hope all is well with you. Its A— from CCNY. I took a JS course with you a few years ago. I hope that this is not a bad time to reach out to you. I’m reaching out to you in regards to programming and becoming a fully fledged software engineer. I see that now JS is one of the most important languages that are being used today, and I would love to master it and programming concepts in general.

However, I’m realizing that there are a lot of flaws to the way that I approach programming, such as how to solve a simple problem. I realized it during a technical interview that I’ve had a few months back.

I know that this is out of the blue, but I’m wondering if there is any way to accurately learn how to properly program? I believe that all of these years I’ve been doing something wrong despite building out lots of websites. I was heavy on declarative languages such as HTML and CSS but never fully understood imperative programming languages such as JS and other real programming languages. Would you have any advice as to how to properly go about this?

I also truly don’t know what I’m missing as a programmer because I would love to get a frontend engineering job. Thank you for listening, and I look forward to your response Professor.

Sincerely,
A—

Hey A—,

I can totally relate to this! I think landing your first junior developer gig is among the hardest things to pull off working in tech. I crashed and burned in 3 or 4 of my first interviews, just completely red-faced and speechless, unable answer some “basic” tech question (especially the trivia kind).

The thing to realize is that you probably don’t want those jobs anyway! I bet they’re awful places to be a junior dev, they’d work you raw and not give you professional development or space to grow. So don’t get too discouraged if it doesn’t work out at first.

If you want it to happen, it will happen with time, the job market is in your favor here. It’s just a matter of finding your way to the right people. This is a largely a networking thing, and that’s probably one of the reasons grad school is still a good investment despite the crushing debt that’s often involved.

And by all means learn JavaScript, it is a super relevant tool, but it is just one tool in the toolbox. HTML and CSS are 100% real programming languages, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I find that mastery of CSS and the DOM is way more valuable than being a hotshot with a flavor-of-the-month JS framework.

Taking programming seriously is helpful for improving your software, but it’s also a great way to gain the confidence to interview well. Some of that just comes from doing it repeatedly, and learning from other people’s code (read the jQuery source, read the annotated underscore.js). There are also a lot of soft skills that have helped me along the way: send emails to people (you are already doing this!), buy the O’Reilly books, subscribe to blogs, listen to podcasts, get familiar with the “lore” (see: The Rise of Worse Is Better, The Jargon File, Macintosh Folklore).

Realize that some of all that (and my advice) will be somewhat outdated. You are going to have to invent a lot of the shit yourself that doesn’t exist yet, because our profession is still in the dark ages. Architecture and urban planning are decades more advanced than where we are, you are by no means arriving too late to the party.

Write your own blog posts, embrace the beginner’s mind, start going to BrooklynJS (or ManhattanJS, JerseyScript etc.) meetups—apply to be a speaker, don’t be intimidated that your talk ideas might be too basic.

And hopefully all of that doesn’t sound too overwhelming!

Dan

We will fight you and you will lose

Here are my responses to Donald Trump’s media accountability survey, which I’ve taken at face value. Yes, the questions are extremely one-sided, but they do allow for “other” responses.

Just to be clear, I certainly don’t advocate for participating in the survey. The research methodology here is dubious, to say the least. I hope I haven’t contributed to legitimizing it as anything but the propaganda that it is.

  1. Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?
    Using the word “movement” here diminishes the Office of the President, implies that you regard your power as extra-constitutional.
  2. Do you trust MSNBC to report fairly on Trump’s presidency?
    It is telling that MSNBC comes first on the list, that you regard the network as the biggest threat to your legitimacy.
  3. Do you trust CNN to report fairly on Trump’s presidency?
    Your outsize reaction to CNN’s reporting on the leaked memo has given it greater weight. You must realize the significance of a Carl Bernstein byline on it.
  4. Do you trust Fox News to report fairly on Trump’s presidency?
    I was surprised with the moral clarity and sharpness of critique in Shepard Smith’s reaction to yesterday’s press conference.
  5. On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)
    (no “other” option available)
  6. Which television source do you primarily get your news from?
    (no “other” option available)
  7. Do you use a source not listed above?
    It’s so weird that you think TV news is the most relevant arm of the 4th estate. I guess it’s a generational thing.
  8. Which online source do you use the most?
    I financially support the New York Times, Democracy Now, and a handful of podcasts, but your question belies ignorance of the online media ecosystem. Any given “online” source could be your biggest threat (hint: all media are now “online,” it’s a useless category). Today maybe it’s BuzzFeed, tomorrow it will be someone else.
  9. Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?
    You have demonstrated a disregard for “the truth,” but I think your question is about whether more sources will go the way of Gerard Baker (editor of the WSJ), and fall into line with regime-approved framing of events. If that happens, I don’t see how the country will survive your Presidency.
  10. Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?
    Many mainstream media sources are plagued by “the view from nowhere” where extreme views become legitimized by impartiality.
  11. Do you believe that the media unfairly reported on President Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting people entering our country from nations compromised by radical Islamic terrorism?
    I liked how Sarah Jeong characterized your EO on Twitter: “the Muslim ban is unconstitutional, illegal, a bad idea, and immoral. And those are different things.”
  12. Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump’s temporary restriction executive order?
    Yes, I read about the poll, and it was disappointing. This is why we don’t put human rights up to a vote, why they are protected in the Constitution.
    Edit: there is a slight majority against the Muslim ban:

    National polls using random telephone samples have found support for the proposal ranging from 42 to 47 percent with slight majorities opposed (51 to 55 percent); Trump has cited Web and automated polls that show support cresting in the mid-50s, though those polls rely on less rigorous samples of the public.

  13. Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?
    Any time you hear someone complaining about “political correctness,” it’s really a demand that their bigotry should be tolerated.
  14. Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?
    This is such a tortured question, how did you arrive at this phrasing? Plus it’s meaningless without saying who is being taxed, and under what circumstances. I advocate for more progressive taxation as a means to address wealth and income inequality.
  15. Do you believe that people of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media?
    I do wonder how long it will be until Atheism isn’t a political liability in the USA.
  16. Do you believe that the media wrongly attributes gun violence to Second Amendment rights?
    I don’t think the Second Amendment protects individual gun ownership, but your question is about the media. I wish the media would give more attention to the connection between increased gun ownership and suicide and accidental deaths.
  17. Do you believe that the media has been far too quick to spread false stories about our movement?
    Again with that divisive language: “our movement”? My fear is that “your movement” is about White Supremacy and racial violence. Your overly-defensive response to yesterday’s question about anti-Semitic threats is just the latest in a series of instances that make me extremely wary of your intentions.
  18. Do you believe that the media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare?
    You seem to think that disagreement and fact-checking is an insult. This is an authoritarian argument, that your position is above criticism.
  19. Do you believe that the media purposely tries to divide Republicans against each other in order to help elect Democrats?
    You were the outsider candidate, by definition you were going to be divisive to the GOP. But I do wonder if the media were too careful not to seem partisan in the last election, that they didn’t take you seriously (and literally) enough.
  20. Do you believe that the media creates false feuds within our Party in order to make us seem divided?
    You must feel extremely isolated right now. I think it’s because everyone within your party is considering whether they’re willing to go to jail for a political figure they never fully supported.
  21. Do you believe that the mainstream media has been too eager to jump to conclusions about rumored stories?
    Sure, anonymous sourcing weakens a story, but NINE anonymous sources forces a resignation. The key issue with the Flynn story is that he didn’t seem to realize his calls were being monitored. It’s a story about incompetence and that kind of sloppiness is what will get you impeached.
  22. Do you believe that if Republicans were obstructing Obama like Democrats are doing to President Trump, the mainstream media would attack Republicans?
    The premise of this one is so laughable, Mitch McConnell’s “top priority” was to limit Obama to one term. The strategy worked, but you don’t get to claim it didn’t happen. You cannot argue away the real political cost of obstructionism, and Democrats will have to answer to it as well.
    Edit: obviously Obama wasn’t limited to one term, but his agenda was severely checked by the GOP’s constant stonewalling.
  23. Do you agree with the President’s decision to break with tradition by giving lesser known reporters and bloggers the chance to ask the White House Press Secretary questions?
    You buried the most important question! You must have been embarrassed when “Betanyahu” saw how you conducted the joint press conference. The White House press briefing has become a self-parody of a cowardly dictator unable and unwilling to respond to difficult questions.
  24. Do you agree with President Trump’s media strategy to cut through the media’s noise and deliver our message straight to the people?
    To be fair, Obama set you up for this one. He set a precedent of media evasiveness that enables you to avoid accountability with impunity.
  25. Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?
    You are threatening the freedom of the press. We will fight you and you will lose.

Solidarity from NYC

Yesterday’s protests at JFK airport were loud and angry and make me hopeful. Photo by Ellie Irons.

Decided to publish this message I just sent to a friend in Atlanta who emailed asking about how to find out when and where the protests are happening.

Thanks for the link, I’ll give that a read. It’s interesting how these dynamics of oppression seem to fit so neatly into historical precedent. How is it that us Americans think of ourselves as somehow immune to all of this?

We were out at JFK yesterday and it was a really great experience. Loud and angry, with overwhelming turnout. But honestly the smaller protests in lower-profile places in the world continue to be the ones that give me the most inspiration. It takes a lot more guts to show up for a tiny demonstration where you’re easily picked out of a crowd, or where small town dynamics make anonymous protest impossible.

BTW, I saw that Rep. John Lewis was out at ATL, just hanging out in the terminal until he got some answers. So awesome.

I feel like getting information about a protest is an ongoing challenge, especially at events that aren’t officially permitted by local government. There’s a kind of fine line to walk—organizers want to get the word out, for news of an event to spread. But if it’s technically an illegal gathering, it may be difficult to find “official” or consistent sources of good info. And this is where social media is helpful.

It’s a good time to get into Twitter I think, but the trick is in knowing who to follow and how to avoid feeling overwhelmed. My advice would be to find out people you know who went to protests in Atlanta, and just ask them to ping you next time they hear about something. For my part, I first heard about the JFK demonstration via Facebook Messenger (which I hate, but shit like this keeps me on it) from a friend who lives in LA, and then a couple hours later I got a mass email from an immigrant rights org. So maybe sign up for some email lists for local advocacy groups.

Anyway, good to know you’re thinking about this stuff! I am hopeful that we’ll continue to exercise our right to free assembly before things get even worse and it becomes too dangerous to protest (from police violence or stiffer court penalties). So in the interim, let’s go and put our various privileges to productive use while we can.

Solidarity from NYC,
Dan

Addendum

Good point from Paul, basically Facebook is still where things are happening.

Also, if you want to get out and protest today in New York City, go to Battery Park at 2pm.

Do not let the bastards grind you downtoe.prx.org

I was recently on my friend Benjamen Walker‘s podcast Theory of Everything, talking about digital security.

MP3 download

Related posts

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Multi-factor authentication for busy people

Multi-factor authentication (aka “two-factor,” or “two-step,” or 2FA) is a really great way to protect yourself (and anyone you’ve ever emailed). There are excellent and detailed guides out there, but the sheer amount of information about how to do things properly can be daunting for someone who has other important things to get done. I’m not saying don’t read all the nuanced details about security, just don’t put off setting it up right now if it seems too complicated.

If you do nothing else to protect your privacy, do this. (If you do two things, start using a password manager.)

You should set up multi-factor authentication on every account that offers it, but because each of those accounts all have a “password reset email” feature, securing your email account is extra important. If you use Gmail, it’s really easy, and you should literally stop and do this right now if you haven’t already. (I use FastMail as my email service provider, and they also support multi-factor authentication.)

Enable it!
Enable it!
  1. Go to myaccount.google.com and click “Sign-in & security”
  2. Scroll to the box that includes the “2-Step Verification” button and click on it
  3. Follow the steps to confirm your phone number (gotcha: it’s easy to confuse the “from” phone number with the code you need to type in)
  4. Click the “Turn on” link to activate the telephone-based confirmation step
  5. Print the backup security codes and stash them somewhere safe (in case future-you loses a phone)
Turn On 2-step verification
Turn On 2-step verification

What happens next? From now on you will need your phone to sign in with your Google account. This can be inconvenient, but it will make your account much harder to hack.

Do you use an email client like Mail.app? Did that email client stop working suddenly? You may need to configure your mail client to use App Passwords. If you changed the mail client to use the App Password and it still doesn’t work, try deleting the account and setting it up from scratch. I know all of this feels like a big hassle right now, but it’s mostly something you can set up and forget about.

Extra-credit (do this later if you don’t have time right now)

There is an known attack on SMS- or phone call-based multi-factor authentication where an adversary can trick your cell phone provider into assigning your phone number to a different phone (this falls into the category of hacking called social engineering). This tactic has been used on high profile activists, so you should consider taking one additional step to improve your security.

Setup an Authenticator app
Setup an Authenticator app
  1. Install the Google Authenticator app or Authy
  2. Go back to that 2-Step Verification page and scroll down to the “Set up alternative second step” section
  3. Click on the “Setup” link for Authenticator App
  4. Open the app you just installed on your phone and take a photo of the QR code
  5. Your phone will show a code and a countdown timer, type that code into the web form

Well done, you did it! Or maybe you got stuck? Please get in touch and let me know what gave you trouble. And then get back to all of your amazing work.

Surveillance and inaction

NYPD skywatch tower
Photo: Life under occupation by Barry Hoggard

I am awash in thoughts and feelings this week. Donald J. Trump will very likely be our next President. This fact has already emboldened hate groups, leaving us to contemplate what the next four years could mean—especially for friends who will likely become targets of bigotry.

Should we go outside and protest? Should we turn inward and lean on our support networks? Do we start thinking about the 2018 midterms? Yes. Yes to all of it. If you need time away from this divisive election, you’ll be welcome to join us when you’re ready. I completely understand, especially if you worked on a 2016 political campaign.

For my part, I am regrouping, considering how I can do more, do better. Some friends have asked me about strategies for resisting surveillance. Digital privacy will become even more important in the coming years, and we should all collectively get better at protecting ourselves.

A very short answer is: switch your texting over to Signal, use a password manager. Start today.

Keep in mind that surveillance is for controlling your behavior. If you’ve ever said “but I have nothing to hide,” now is a good time to consider whether you intend to keep it that way. If you do choose to toe that line—maybe you want to wait and see if a President Trump keeps to his campaign promises—take a moment to consider how pervasive surveillance and the threat of anticipated consequences may be blinding you from a civic responsibility to resist.

I’d like to write more about this in the coming weeks, but for starters here are some links that might be helpful. Stay safe out there.

If you are wondering how precisely to get involved, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I am figuring that out myself and would welcome your ideas.

The first day of Twitter

If you used Twitter today, you’ve probably heard it’s the social network’s 10th birthday. I used their API to recreate what Twitter’s first day looked like, by plugging in a sequence of ID numbers starting at number 20.

I’m curious what happened to those first 19 tweets, and some other subsequent missing ID numbers (e.g., 24, 27, 28). Were they deleted? If so, why? Also notable: missing tweet ID 105 returns “Sorry, you are not authorized to see this status.” instead of the usual “No status found with that ID.”

And then it was day two.

Scott Carrier in Lesboshomebrave.squarespace.com

Here’s another podcast episode that’s helpful for countering the mindless demagoguery that seems to dominate American political discussions about the plight of refugees. Scott Carrier has continued his journey to the island of Lesbos to interview refugees. Give it a listen.

Download MP3

Refugees as they arrive on the beach, having crossed the Aegean Sea in rubber rafts.
Refugees as they arrive on the beach, having crossed the Aegean Sea in rubber rafts.

See also: On the Border of Greece and Macedonia

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The story of #RenunciaYagimletmedia.com

The most recent episode of Reply All is a fantastic antidote to recent developments in U.S. politics.

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I challenge you to listen to this and feel cynical about politics and activism!

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Couchsurfing steals photosspeedbird.wordpress.com

Consider these happy users of couchsurfing.com, the old school zero-cost precursor to Airbnb.

Aww, they watched Thai soap operas together!
Aww, they watched Thai soap operas together!

From Adam Greenfield:

A few years ago, I would have had to wonder whether these images did in fact represent happy Couchsurfers; now, of course, we have Google Image Search. It only took me a few seconds’ clicking around to confirm what I had suspected — or actually, something even more troubling.

It’s not merely that are these not at all images of actual Couchsurfers; in itself, that might readily enough be forgiven. It’s that the images appear to have been downloaded, altered and used in a commercial context without their creators’ knowledge or consent — in one case, in fact, in direct contravention of the (very generous) terms of the license under which they were offered. Here, let’s take a look:

– The image labeled “Jason” is one of photographer David Weir’s 100 Strangers, originally labeled with a copyright notice;

– “Dang” is a crop of commercial photographer Anthony Mongiello’s headshot of actor Stanley Wong

This is not a huge deal, of course, but I’ve had my photos used this way, and it does irk me a bit. And I got curious, so I searched for the background image of Venice, Italy (why didn’t they use Bangkok?), and it looks like a legit stock photo.

I also contacted each of the photographers mentioned in Adam’s post, just to confirm that their work hadn’t been licensed from them somehow. So far I’ve heard back from Anthony Mongiello, and he was surprised to learn his photo was being used this way. It’s probably safe to assume the other “user” portraits are also stolen.

I was going to add a “see also” link at the bottom here, to Khoi Vinh and Matt Jacobs’s rights-cleared collection of user photos, but interestingly they’ve discontinued it:

We built Facebox in 2013 to make life easier for UI designers who needed quick access to high quality, royalty-free images of real people. In the time since, it’s been a blast to see Facebox photos show up all over the Internet.

Out of respect for our models, who were very generous with their likenesses, we’ve decided to discontinue sales of Facebox, before they get overexposed.

Perhaps the classless move by the Couchsurfing designers has been balanced out just a bit from Khoi and Matt’s thoughtful gesture.

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Top 25 News Photos of 2015www.theatlantic.com

From Alan Taylor’s In Focus, this year’s top news photos.

A wounded Syrian girl stands in a makeshift hospital in the rebel-held area of Douma, east of Syria’s capital of Damascus, following shelling and air raids by Syrian government forces on August 22, 2015. At least 20 civilians were killed, and another 200 wounded or trapped in Douma, a monitoring group said, just six days after regime airstrikes killed more than 100 people and sparked international condemnation of one of the bloodiest government attacks in Syria's war. (Abd Doumany / AFP / Getty)
A wounded Syrian girl stands in a makeshift hospital in the rebel-held area of Douma, east of Syria’s capital of Damascus, following shelling and air raids by Syrian government forces on August 22, 2015. At least 20 civilians were killed, and another 200 wounded or trapped in Douma, a monitoring group said, just six days after regime airstrikes killed more than 100 people and sparked international condemnation of one of the bloodiest government attacks in Syria’s war. (Abd Doumany / AFP / Getty)

See also the three part 2014 year in photos: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Link via Jason Kottke

Three weeks, 2,000 lives lostwww.nytimes.com

From Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times:

For three weeks American politicians have been fulminating about the peril posed by Syrian refugees, even though in the last dozen years no refugee in America has killed a single person in a terror attack.

In the same three weeks as this hysteria about refugees, guns have claimed 2,000 lives in America. The terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs were the most dramatic, but there’s an unrelenting average of 92 gun deaths every day in America, including suicides, murders and accidents.

See also: Friday’s front-page editorial, “End the Gun Epidemic in America,” the first since 1920. Also: The Guardian’s visualization of mass shootings.

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Pluto Flyoverwww.youtube.com

Sometimes, on weeks with lots of bad news, it’s nice to stop and think about how we sent a space probe to Pluto.

Video

This animation, made with the LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) images, begins with a low-altitude look at the informally named Norgay Montes, flies northward over the boundary between informally named Sputnik Planum and Cthulhu Regio, turns, and drifts slowly east.

Wait, Cthulhu Regio? From Wikipedia:

NASA initially referred to it as the Whale in reference to its overall shape. By 14 July 2015, the provisional name “Cthulhu” was being used by the New Horizons team. It was named after the fictional deity from the works of H. P. Lovecraft and others.

See also: another longer flyover animation of Pluto, and some new photos just released yesterday.

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