Wednesday, 2021-10-20

30 minute offset

Some hacker tried to interest us in their new project, and was quickly torn to pieces corrected on HN.

This got me thinking, how large a percentage of the world’s population can’t use this tool?

  • Afghanistan, pop. 32.9M on UTC+04:30
  • Central Australia (Northern Territory and South Australia), pop. 2.017M on UTC+09:30
  • Central Western Standard Time (Eucla, Australia), pop. ~100 on UTC+08:45
  • Chatham Islands, pop. ~600 on UTC+12:45
  • India, pop. 1.353B on UTC+05:30
  • Iran, pop. 83.1M on UTC+03:30
  • Myanmar, pop. 55.6M on UTC+06:30
  • Nepal, pop. 28M on UTC+05:45
  • Newfoundland and Labrador, pop. 520k on UTC-03:30

That’s a total of 1.556B people, which is around 20% of the world’s population.

Needs more work.

Bonnie Prince Charlie: Charles Edward Stuart by Frank McLynn

A great biography, even if it’s showing its age (published in 1988). There’s a bit too much pop psychology and hidebound attitudes towards homosexuality for my taste. That said, even if the women in Charles Edward’s life are routinely described as “calculating” and “coquetteish”, the book does acknowledge that their situation was a difficult one.

There’s rarely a dull moment in this book, even if you’d think that after the excitement of the ‘45 and the “prince in the heather” things would get boring. On the contrary, it’s Stuart’s precipitous fall in health and wealth that grips you the most.

Thursday, 2021-10-14

“Sweden didn’t have lockdowns” and other COVID myths

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic it was common to see Sweden singled out as “not implementing lockdowns”. It was as if Sweden didn’t take any action against the spread of the virus. This was used both as praise and condemnation, depending on the views of the person saying this.

The truth is a bit more nuanced.

First, “lockdown” is a slippery term, but I’ll define it as a situation where a citizen is not allowed to leave their homes except to get groceries, medicine or other essential supplies, and the authorities have a legal way to enforce this.

Sweden lacked the legal framework in the beginning of the pandemic to enforce anything like this. The constitution adopted in 1971 explicitly avoided implementing a “state of emergency” clause because it was seen as a gateway to tyranny. Any emergency legislation would have to be implemented by the Riksdag.

Sweden implemented a number of voluntary measures to enforce social distancing:

  • everyone who could work from home was encouraged to do so
  • the normal 1-day sick day without pay (karensdag) was waived
  • the state took over the payment of the first fortnight of sick leave from employers

(Sick pay is generally 80% of take-home pay up to a limit.)

Restaurants, theaters and sports venues were regulated by public health laws that were implemented to restrict attendance. But these laws do not extend to other venues such as hairdressers or general stores.

Controversially, this also applied to political demonstrations.

The net result was a marked decrease in the number of people traveling to work, going out to lunch, etc.

After a few months, legislation was passed that enabled the authorities to restrict opening hours in restaurants and bars.

As of Oct 2021, all restrictions have been lifted.

What all this didn’t really help with was with Sweden’s total deaths, which I personally believe had more to do with the shameful lack of preparation and protection of elderly people in care homes. But I do believe it helped limit the spread of the disease, thereby preventing health care resources from being overwhelmed.

Did this help Swedish businesses? Its hard to say. Those that relied on people coming in like restaurants, hotels, travel in general suffered a lot. Hardware stores and places that could deliver probably saw increased business.

Sweden’s per capita death rate is about average compared to other EU countries (and lower than Belgium’s which had famously strict lockdowns), but much higher compared to other Nordic countries like Denmark, Norway and Finland. This has been a source of great debate and is, I believe, attributable to different handling of the very old and infirm.

Sunday, 2021-10-10

Proposal for healthy webforums

This archived Kuro5hin post by user ‘anaesthetica’ poses a number of provocative questions, and although dated (posted 2009) still has relevance for today’s fora.

It’s a long read, I’ve reproduced the conclusion below.


Conclusion

There are serious problems with existing web forums’ institutional capacity to sustain constructive interaction over the long term. The foregoing has been an attempt to rethink what constitutes community and society on the web, and what the requirements for sustaining them are in an environment of rapid scaling.

The conclusions reached about the weaknesses of current forums are:

  • Eternal September presents web forums with an inability to avoid the dilemma that scaling creates for socialization.
  • Community and society, as forms of interaction, are not just different in scale but also different in kind.
  • Community doesn’t scale, and society is difficult to enforce.
  • User registration and barriers to participation do not prevent community-destroying behavior.
  • Scale quickly outpaces moderators’ ability to enforce socialization of new users.
  • Current forms of user moderation and trust ratings are vulnerable to gaming and attack.

Recommendations for a hypothetical forum structure are summarized as follows:

  • Forced anonymity fosters society by countering vanity, making users modular, and placing the focus on the content/comments.
  • Moderation can be improved by making it passive, scarce, and focused on comment quality rather than agreement with the substance of the comment.
  • Conversation, not isolated comments or voting scores, must be the central criterion of user interaction.
  • Communal groupings can emerge organically from society based on demonstrated constructive conversation.
  • Forums should discriminate between original content, link-n-blurb content, and personal content.
  • Story promotion and front page position should be determined by quality of conversation not voting.

It should be stressed that none of these are radical innovations. Most are already implemented piecemeal in some form or another in the various web forums, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and newsgroups throughout the internet. But there is no forum providing a coherent combination of these elements. I believe that these factors will provide the institutional foundation for a web forum that can achieve a greater scale-free status than any that we currently possess.