Agorama #7: Raspberry Pis, SSH, Ansible, Dat, and Homebase

Raised wallpaper in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row, London

Saturday was an Agorama Server Co-op workshop day. A bunch of us spent the afternoon getting Homebase set up on various Raspberry Pis, a lot of trial and error! The main reference material we used was the README from Agorama’s ansible-raspberry-server repo, Agorama’s Dat Server Node Tutorial, and the brainpower of some of the more knowledgeable people present.

I learned a *lot* from the process and the people there, particularly Max, Ali, and Harry. I’m in the process of writing it all up in to a series of tutorials, will add it here.

Read tutorials

Falafel wraps

Falafel wrap with chili sauce, lettuce, cucumber, pickled onion, and hummus

We made falafel wraps for lunch today using this falafel recipe from BBC Good Food. It was a decent, simple recipe that I’d be happy to use again with a few caveats:

  • The title says “spicy” but there is no heat in it… might actually be good to add some cayenne next time
  • Use the softest canned chickpeas you can find; East End brand is the softest I’ve found in London (and super cheap)
  • Use all of the parsley, stems and all, and chop it super fine
  • Chop the onion very fine, and cook the onion and garlic in olive oil instead of veg oil
  • Add a good pinch of salt (it says “seasoning to taste” but it’s kind of easy to miss that)
  • Half a beaten egg is plenty, any more and it would be way too wet
  • Use two large-ish spoons to ease decently-sized dollops in to the pan since the mixture is too wet to shape in to patties

We had it with pickled red onions (red onions + red wine vinegar + sugar + salt), shredded lettuce, diced cucumber, yogurt, this hummus, and some leftover chili sauce from the best Turkish place in Leyton.

Maybe not quite up to the standard of the guys on Ridley Road Market, but pretty good! To get closer to theirs, we’d need a spicier chili sauce and more tangy pickles.

Site update: a new taxonomy index and a11y improvements

Just pushed an update to this site.

The Browse page is now mainly an index of taxonomies and archives (years, post formats, categories, tags). This new index replaces the opacity-based tag cloud. I kind of miss it, but it was problematic. Very hard to digest, and the lighter greys were way too low-contrast.

Besides the index, most of the changes are related to accessibility. I focused on making the tabbing experience a bit better, introducing a couple skip links. Note that I haven’t totally ironed out the tabbing… Most of my manual testing for this update was done in Chrome. I checked it briefly in Safari and it’s pretty weird, but I think it may have to do with the default Safari settings. I haven’t adjusted these yet, read more about Safari tab settings on a11yproject.com. Besides the tabbing, I also had a handful of links that weren’t suitably descriptive, particularly on the new term index. I added more aria-label attributes where I could. See the “Using aria-label for link purpose” page on the WCAG wiki for more info.

I’m trying to work on accessibility a bit more on an ongoing basis. Need to take a little dive in to this Hacker News thread, via this tweet.

See also:

There are probably a million a11y optimisations I can / should still make on this site. Suggestions are very welcome.

watching a boy save his friend

someone screaming downstairs
we ignore it for a bit
happens a lot, it’s a narrow street, drivers get angry

but the screaming doesn’t stop
and the screaming moves, she’s running

we look out the window and down
a man in the middle of the street alone, blocking traffic, filming, wearing a motorbike helmet

shiny puddles on the pavement, from the middle of the road up to the sidewalk

a black hat in the middle of an intersection

all the cars backed up
askew and no honking

there’s a shirtless boy crouching against the fence

(I say “boy” because he’s so lanky, but he’s in no way a child)

the puddles lead to him
he leans on to something just barely out of sight

the woman is there now, she’s in a dusky pink headscarf
she is still screaming

then there are five people
then there are fifteen

(where is the ambulance? where are the sirens?)

a woman with short brown hair and a red jumper gets out of her hatchback
her little boy is in the front seat, craning his neck

she tries to help
more people rushing out of sidestreets and estates

the woman in pink is still wailing
the boy is still crouching

the woman in red has done what she can
or could not
she gets back in her car

the man who was filming is gone

the sun is nearly down

a large man bursts out of the building opposite
pacing, yelling
his hands on his head, in the air, clasped behind his neck
he sprints inside suddenly, trailed by others

so many voices and directionless running

finally sirens, a helicopter
(where does a helicopter land in east London?)

a police van flies over a speedbump
a medic jumps out and runs to the crowd
he is confronted by the woman in pink

“YOU *HAVE* TO STAY CALM”
he yells over her
she turns and runs away

he gets through to the shirtless boy
still crouching

eventually the boy gets up
no top in his hands
left shin of his grey sweats soaked in blood
a friend runs up, puts his arm around him
they wander

the police struggle to disperse a frantic crowd

“he’s DYING”

the large man is back, his sobs carrying over everything else

cyclists come through
nearly in the middle of it before the realise what is going on

cordons go up, people ordered to stay back
go home

(where do you go after something like this?)

boys pace endlessly
sudden bursts, trying to push through

the shirtless boy has a foil blanket and shuffles away
at the cordon he is gently turned back towards the scene
he’s not done yet

the large man is heaving with tears, suddenly rushing the medics and being held back
he collapses on the hood of a car
more sobs

the woman in pink is still wailing
the large man tears at himself
boys sneak through the cordons to see their friend
neighbours lean out of windows
so many spectators

he’s finally in an ambulance, in foil

medical wrappers blow around the street

the black hat is gone


Last night, I saw the immediate aftermath of a stabbing on Arcola Street in Dalston from the top floor of Cell Northside in a shared corner studio with large windows looking east and south. It was surreal, as if in slow motion, and completely impossible look away. It felt like an hour, but later on I realised it was probably 15, 20 minutes max. It was hard to understand what was going on at first. I kept hoping it was something else, maybe that he had been hit by a car (how does that make it better?).

News reports say that he’s stable, and that two suspects have been arrested. I think that the shirtless young man probably saved his life.

I didn’t really know what to do after that. Writing down what happened helped me stop replaying it in my head.

I don’t know what to say beyond this, and I’m not 100% sure why I’ve published it here except that it feels important to share and to remember. The anguish was unbearable.

Richard Hollis’s book on Henry van de Velde, and a note on the index

Spread from book on Henry van de Velde by Richard Hollis

Richard Hollis’s Henry van de Velde: The Artist as Designer is out at long last. A lot of love, sweat, and tears has gone in to that book. It is absolutely jam packed, covering pretty much all of HvdV’s life with over 400 images. As part of Occasional Papers, I worked on the permissions, a bit of editing, and compiled the index.

Read about how the index was compiled

Cinnamon blondies

These blondies are sort of inspired by horchata. I wanted something that was dense and fudge-y, that could be cut small and still be a satisfying treat. A friend said they taste a lot like the gooey centre of a stroopwafel, which is pretty accurate. To get these closer to horchata it might be good to use a lighter sugar, and maybe use pepitas instead of pecans in the topping.


Cinnamon blondies

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F) and line a 20×20cm (8×8″) tray with parchment paper.

In a small pot, gently heat 250 g (1¼ c) light brown sugar, 113 g (½ c, 1 stick) butter, and a pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter) until the sugar is just dissolved. Let cool about 10 minutes.

While the sugar mixture is cooling, in a large bowl blend 95 g (¾ c) plain flour, 45 g (¼ c + 1 T) rice flour, and 2 t cinnamon.

Once the sugar mix has cooled, beat in 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, blending just until incorporated.

Pour in to the prepared tin, then make the topping. In a small bowl, combine a small handful of pecans, crushed in to crumbs, a pinch of flakey sea salt, and a few tablespoons of Demerara sugar. Sprinkle the topping over the batter to cover.

Bake about 30 minutes at 175C (350F) until a skewer or toothpick comes out clean. Let cool mostly in the tin, then transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Cut in to roughly 2.5cm (1″) squares. Good with vanilla ice cream.

Title illustrations from Oct 1967 issue of speculative fiction mag New Worlds

Micheal Butterworth kindly brought a bunch of original copies of New Worlds and Corridor to a recent Corridor8 meeting in Wakefield. It was a pleasure to thumb through them, particularly as Hannah Nussbaum gave us a peek in to her research on Micheal’s body of work and the roots of Corridor8.

The images here are illustrated titles from the October 1967 issue of New Worlds edited by Micheal Moorcock.

get that sun vitamin

Turns out vitamin D is pretty important for your immune system. I knew this in a sort of back-of-the-mind way, but I didn’t realise quite how important until a recent doctor visit and blood test. I seem to be deficient by nearly every standard out there. I’ve battled three separate health issues since moving to the UK from California in 2010, all of them nonexistent before the move. I’m now taking quite a lot of vitamin D3 as advised and am thrilled to see real improvement for the first time. Fingers-crossed that the improvement continues.

If vitamin D deficiency is a potential contributor to a wide range of health issues, as a lot of studies seem to show, why isn’t routine screening a thing? Couldn’t it reduce strain on the healthcare system as a whole?

Basically, I’m pretty salty about not finding out sooner. I’ve had so many tests done over the past nine years to try and figure this out, but vitamin D levels were never one of the components. I suspected vitamin D might be a problem early on (seems like a no-brainer, there’s a big difference in sunlight between CA and LDN). But I asked a doctor about it in 2012 and he dismissed my concern. I didn’t press it until recently when everything took a nosedive and I finally saw a doctor that gets it.

So much stress and discomfort potentially caused by something so simple. Time will tell, should take about 7 weeks to get levels near normal. Onward and upward!

And time to go on some sunny holidays. ☀️

Agorama ~#5: distributed web, quantum, crypto, and a dash of CS history

70’s wallpaper in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row, London

Last night was my third Agorama Server Co-op meet up in Rebecca’s Flat, a delightfully dilapidated space at Raven Row. I think it was actually the fifth though, I missed the last two due to illness which was a real bummer. The weekend jam sounded particularly great.

This particular meetup was more informal and a little smaller than usual. It ended up being a really nice, wandering conversation on the multifaceted possibilities of the distributed web, what it could look like.

The notes below are a sort of a prompt dump, snippets I wrote down at the time because I didn’t want to forget it or wanted to look in to it more. See all Server Co-op write-ups here.


Dark Crystal is now up and running on Patchbay (ssb client). Got Samsung funding, woohoo! Possible to create bot that receives shard? Think they’re trying to avoid that, the human element is kind of critical.

What about physical crypto? Microdots are worth checking out. Microdot tattoos?

Asked what ppl think about potential threat of quantum computing to modern cryptography methods, response was a little not as I expected (this is why I come to these things!). Personally I’ve been feeling a little tin-foil-hat-y, but general consensus from the other voices in the room seemed to be pretty ambivalent since the theory far outstrips the practicalities currently. Which is true, but it also just feels kind of like an arms race (particularly since it involves hardware / infrastructure). Whoever cracks it first wins the golden goose unless we can come up with cryptography that works against it. GP then mentioned the post-quantum crypto contest with NIST due to end pretty soon, looks pretty promising. I didn’t realise there was that much going on with quantum resistant algorithm research, so that makes me feel a bit better. I guess my concern is still there though, to a big degree. Banks, for example, are on notoriously crappy tech that is rarely overhauled. What of them, and the other institutions we rely on? Oh lord, and voting tech…

Got talking about what I’d been up to (not much, see first para…) and mentioned that I ultimately decided not to move my site on to Dat, partly due to scale issues w/ static site generators (read more on this) but more to do with the fact that I think I’d rather use Dat for something new and neato, rather than just repurpose something that already exists and is doing ok in it’s current form. Then we started talking about static site generators more generally and someone mentioned Pelican, which I hadn’t come across before. It’s written in Python and originally released in 2010 (!), so up there with Jekyll as one of the earlier static site generators.

HL demoed his mother-of-all-apps for us, it looks *so great*! Absolutely something I would use. Really excited to see where he takes it. I need to look in to Hypercore and Expo a bit more. The first I’d heard of, the second not so much. Apparently Expo is a cross platform app framework built around React Native. Ppl could not say enough good things about it and honestly, it does look fantastic. Particularly as a tool to dip your toe in to app waters, so to speak.

Towards the end of the demo, the conversation wound through lots of different topics. Blockchain, platforms vs aggregators, a bunch of CS history (need to read more about that…), the sustainability of open source, etc. The rest of this note details snippets from this part of the conversation that I need to look in to more.

Services / apps / platforms I’d like to look in to a bit:

  • Mapeo, an “open source, offline-first map editor”
  • Manyverse, kind of Scuttlebutt for your phone but better (shouldn’t suck the life out of your phone trying to sync)
  • Node.js for mobile apps
  • Webrecorder, like a personal Wayback Machine; also, did you know you can sometimes find YouTube vids that have been taken down archived on the Wayback Machine?
  • TMYK

A reading list. (Some of these links are painful to open, some orgs really need to cool their jets on the pop-ups and trackers):

Some soundbites. These are paraphrased points made by others that I found super-relevant. Bits in square brackets are added by me for clarity:

  • “Ordering is the toughest thing to sort out” [when it comes to ledgers / append-only logs]
  • “Biggest problem with blockchain is the definition of consensus, and how to establish consensus”
  • Article 13 [aka the “upload filter” provision] is forcing people’s hand, we’re going to see a lot more of this.”
  • “So much of this bullshit has come from chasing the technology and not the needs.” Related: “But seriously… does it need to be an app?”
  • “The future of the web will be much more about interoperability than a black-and-white, decentralised vs centralised approach.”
  • “Porn is a canary in the coal mine for whether a piece of tech is ready for primetime.” [Is someone using it for porn? Ok, it’s going to gain traction.]
  • “Could we ever have another Xerox PARC?” “Probably not, research now is just too results-driven. A report every week, and sometimes the funder has already indicated what they’d prefer your results to be.”

So many distributed / decentralised web conversations get quasi-evangelical about how this or that tech will save the world. Why does it have to be winner takes it all? Different needs require different technologies.

We recognise biodiversity as a fundamental requirement of a healthy, thriving biosphere. Why don’t we champion technodiversity in the same way? Embrace the chaos.

starting a friendship bracelet revival

I loved making friendship bracelets as a kid. Time for a revival.

There’s something wonderfully sincere about them. Receiving one is a delight, who doesn’t want a small physical thing that ties you to another actual person in this world, that has taken time and care. It’s a little talisman of someone’s consideration for you. And it’s a joy to make the bracelet. They take almost no time, can be as complicated as simple as you feel you’re up for in that moment. The knotting is rhythmic, takes the mind somewhere else.

The most recent one I made was a thin black braid with a tiny shell from a holiday. That stayed on my wrist for a few months – sure I can make myself friendship bracelets, self care is the bees knees. I smashed the shell in to a thousand million pieces when I tried to kill a bug on the kitchen table (that’s what you get for mindless violence).