Buddhism

So I've been spending some time learning about Buddhism. Not really because I'm interested in converting, or even really defining any religious association, but because its an interesting lens to view the world through. A lot of the things I've heard or read so far have aligned with my core beliefs, and provided a useful construct to analyze things. Do I expect to become some enlightened yogi by next week? Not a chance. What I do hope for is a new way to think about my interactions with others.

While my views on this might change as study more, here's how I see things. Most religions claim to teach truth. I don't get that from my study of Buddhism. What I'm getting is one guy telling folks they way he found truth. Making suggestions on what path to take, and how to stay on it. This strongly appeals to the free thinker, and pragmatist in me. I'm not trying to grapple with questions like "does god exist?" because the answer to that has no impact on the choices I make on how I live my life. I'm doing good because its good, not because I'm looking for reward / fearing punishment later.

The Buddha's first truth is that all life is / contains suffering. In the world we live in, that's as plain as the nose on my face. There's small scale suffering with people being unhappy / stressed about work, and large scale suffering up to and including genocide. I'm seeking to reduce the net suffering in the world. One day, one choice at a time. Not because someone/something tells me to, but because I see my fellow humans in pain and I want to do what I can to make that less. If this road leads to Heaven, Nirvana, Valhalla, Stovokor or a clay urn on my kid's mantle its all the same to me. I want my journey from now to then to be on a road worth walking for its own sake.

So, be kind to eachother, try to listen to what the people around you say, hear them from their own perspective. Its a long road, and we have no idea where it ends. Think about your actions, and make up your own dammed mind.

/x1101

A little help from strangers

I haven't written in a while. And not because I don't have much to say. I've just been too busy to say it. But something happened today. Not even something that unusual. But it happened to me, so that's something. One of the things that's happened that I haven't written about has been another project. I started a podcast with some good friends over at urandom-podcast. Because of the communities we frequent, some folks have asked for an ogg feed of the show as well as an mp3 feed. Because that site is also running nikola, I was sure I could make that happen. The question was how. So I dropped into #nikola over on irc.freenode.net and asked for some help. After some chatting about what I was trying to do, and how nikola might address it, we found a solid solution.

What I wanted was to take my existing rss feed, and duplicate it, replacing all occurrences of "mp3" with "ogg" to convert this to an ogg feed. So, based on suggestions from irc'ers ralsina and ChrisWarrick I created a local deploy command to do some sed'ifying to get it done. Code below:

DEPLOY_COMMANDS = {
    "default": [
        "rsync -qr output/ my_server_url",
    ],
    "local": [
        "rm output/rss-ogg.xml",
        "cp output/rss.xml output/rss-ogg.xml",
        "sed -i 's/mp3/ogg/' output/rss-ogg.xml",
        "sed -i 's/mpeg/ogg/' output/rss-ogg.xml"
    ]
}

The reason I felt like I need to write about this was because there aren't enough people talking about the good experiences using free and open tech. I had a need, I did my best to articulate it, and I got help. People took time out of their day to think about an issue I was having and help me solve it. This doesn't always happen, and it does mean you have to do a few things.

  • Go looking for help
  • Articulate what you need
  • Be patient (folks are doing this because they want to, nobody is obligated to help you)
  • Try to think of a possible solution
  • Be willing to try things out
  • Be grateful when you get help

So to the folks over on #nikola, and open scorers everywhere, thank you for your time and talent. Thank you for caring about your community enough to take a few minutes and help people out. You're all the real hero's of the internet, even if nobody else is saying it.

-- UPDATE --

So, while the above _did_ work, it didn't work well. So, with even more help from the same folks I ended up creating a whole new rss parsing plugin for Nikola to generate ogg feeds. I needed to do this because it wasn't enough to change the files the xml was pointing to, I also had to update the enclosure-length value to reflect the size of the ogg file. So, rather than even more hackish shell commands, I wrote a custom plugin and some custom metadata. Much better.

/x1101

Making This Site

In the spirit of openness, I'd like to document what I'm using to publish this site. And its my site, so I'm going to! Here's a list of my tool chain.

Nikola - A static site generator. Turns rst files into the beautify HTML you see. I first heard of this on HPR 1577 and I've used it for a few projects since. I really like the idea of static site generation. No databases, no vulnerability filled front end. Just a text file, a web server, and a browser.

Vim - My editor of choice. Or maybe its a lifestyle. Either way. About 15 years ago I put some time into learning vim. I don't even remember why. But now that I have, I know how to use it fairly well (thou not more than a few days go by between instances of "wait, Vim can do that too?"). At this point, I'm not changing because I have editor inertia.

Git - Distributed version control. Git is just cool. I am probably just scratching the surface of what it can do, but I like it, and it makes me less dependent on a specific computer.

Rsync - For rapid deployment. Nikola has a built in process to deploy sites from your PC to your server (if you're not doing this all in one place. I use rsync and ssh keys for this.

Apache - Web service. Its old, its well known, and it's already running my my VPS

Linux - Because its gotta run somewhere. Linux is my operating system of choice for everything. No surprises here.

Now, lets break it down into how I combine these tools.

I have a directory on my computer initialized as both a nikola site and a git repository. When I got to create a new post, I use nikola to create the appropriate file, then open it up with vim and write what I have to write.

These files are in rst, a simple markup language that nikola can compile into HTML. This allows me to quite clearly divorce the content of the site (these files) from the appearance of the site (the theme, containing CSS, layouts, etc). HTML was always designed to be able to do this, but rst does it better.

Once the page is done, I test it locally. If I'm satisfied, I'll commit it to my local git repo, then push it upstream just before I'm ready to publish. In my git repository I have several branches. One for content, one for configuration changes, and one for theme work. And 'master' which is the special "production" branch. Working in 'master' is usually considered poor practice, so I don't.

Deployment is built into nikola, with a bit of configuration. I have it setup to rsync the files to my server directly. It works well. Apache & Linux are really just the platform for serving the files up. It could just as easily be running on ISS (well, easy for some people, probably not for me), or Nginx, running on Linux or Windows. I use Linux+Apache because its the stack I have, and I've used.

So that's how thoughts go from my brain to yours.

/x1101

For Us, The Living

I recently listened to the unabridged audio of Robert Heinlein's "For Us, The Living", which I got from my public library. Some things struck me as profound, while other either through the lense of nearly another century of history, or possibly logically failings of my own, struck me as overly simplified.

Lets start with the profound. This was, at least on its face, a Sci-Fi novel. But looking at the things Heinlein assumes we will and will not be able to achieve in 150 years (from 1939) struck me as odd. Flying cars common place, but no space travel. World wide face to face comms, but no internet to speak of. This perspective is obviously informed from nigh a century of extra history, in which we've solved some of the "impossible" issues, while we're still struggling with some of the "simple" issues. I guess these disconnects do more to illustrate the thinking of the 1930's and the views of what was and was not possible than to show what we have and have not done. My explorations in Sci-Fi from the first half of the 20th century show this as a constant.

The other thing I fond both worth writing about was the approach to social and economics issues that Heinlein proposes. My first reaction to is that it seems to be some strange, and yet functional form of Libertarian Socialism. The blending of the two ideas seems inherently impossible, and yet this society he creates appears to work, and well. I think even my categorization of it is unfair to most involved. I think that most Libertarians would object to being associated with this, because of the ongoing reliance on handouts from the government, and the rather high taxes. I think most Socialists would object because of the ongoing existence of private property and the seeking of individual wealth. But I those are likely folks attached only to an ideal, not the objective behind it. Would not the Libertarian be happy with how restrained the government is in how it regulates individual freedoms? The only crimes being direct harm to another. Wouldn't the Socialist be happy with the standard of living created for all? Healthcare, food, education, all provided to anyone. But this is also where I start to get fuzzy. I follow the logic that any currency not backed by something (gold, diamonds, turkeys, whatever) in inherently fiat. I also follow that it makes more sense to let an actual government do the printing of money than to let the banks do it. Maybe if someone had read this novel 25 years ago, the current state of the US could have been avoided. But I doubt it. The thing I have a hard time swallowing, outside the confines of the story, is that a government could be intelligent enough, and benevolent enough to actually pull of the controlled infusion of currency he describes. But it makes a good story. [Update 1]

Over all, I liked this book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys socio-political fiction, and classic Sci-Fi

/x1101

Update 1

2016.02.14:

I've had more time to stew on this, and the other thing that continues to stick out to me is how overly simplified the economic models he uses as examples are. Especially how he assumes that business owners will only make a "reasonable profit". This assumes that business owners are aware of, and care about, the impact they're having on the overall economy (outside their customer base). This seems unlikely. Most business appear to operate in a mental bubble. Only first order inputs and outputs considered. It seems as if Heinlein assumes that the only "optimal" human beings will exist in his future. I guess that isn't all that different from any other Sci-Fi, where the creator assumes that humanity will evolve socially. We're closer to 2086 than we are to 1939, but I've yet to see any evidence of a mass move towards this enlightened state.