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History and effective use of Vim

History and ef­fec­tive use of Vim

This ar­ti­cle is based on his­tor­i­cal re­search and on sim­ply read­ing the Vim user man­ual cover to cover. Hopefully these notes will help you (re?)discover core func­tion­al­ity of the ed­i­tor, so you can aban­don pre-pack­aged vimrc files and use plu­g­ins more thought­fully.

To go be­yond the top­ics in this blog post, I’d rec­om­mend get­ting a pa­per copy of the man­ual and a good pocket ref­er­ence. I could­n’t find any hard copy of the of­fi­cial Vim man­ual, and ended up print­ing this PDF us­ing print­me1.com. The PDF is a printer-friendly ver­sion of the files $VIMRUNTIME/doc/usr_??.txt dis­trib­uted with the ed­i­tor. For a con­ve­nient list of com­mands, I’d rec­om­mend the vi and Vim Editors Pocket Reference.

Vi com­mands and fea­tures go back more than fifty years, start­ing with the QED ed­i­tor. Here is the lin­eage:

You can dis­cover the sim­i­lar­i­ties all the way be­tween QED and ex by read­ing the QED man­ual and ex man­ual. Both ed­i­tors use a sim­i­lar gram­mar to spec­ify and op­er­ate on line ranges.

Editors like QED, ed, and em were de­signed for hard-copy ter­mi­nals, which are ba­si­cally elec­tric type­writ­ers with a mo­dem at­tached. Hard-copy ter­mi­nals print sys­tem out­put on pa­per. Output could not be changed once printed, ob­vi­ously, so the edit­ing process con­sisted of user com­mands to up­date and man­u­ally print ranges of text.

By 1976 video ter­mi­nals such as the ADM-3A started to be avail­able. The Ex ed­i­tor added an open mode” which al­lowed in­tra­line edit­ing on video ter­mi­nals, and a vi­sual mode for screen ori­ented edit­ing on cur­sor-ad­dress­ible ter­mi­nals. The vi­sual mode (activated with the com­mand vi”) kept an up-to-date view of part of the file on screen, while pre­serv­ing an ex com­mand line at the bot­tom of the screen. (Fun fact: the h,j,k,l keys on the ADM-3A had ar­rows drawn on them, so that choice of mo­tion keys in vi was sim­ply to match the key­board.)

Learn more about the jour­ney from ed to ex/​vi in this in­ter­view with Bill Joy. He talks about how he made ex/​vi, and some things that dis­ap­pointed him about it.

Classic vi is truly just an al­ter-ego of ex — they are the same bi­nary, which de­cides to start in ex mode or vi mode based on the name of the ex­e­cutable in­voked. The legacy of all this his­tory is that ex/​vi is re­fined by use, re­quires scant sys­tem re­sources, and can op­er­ate un­der lim­ited band­width com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It is also avail­able on most sys­tems and fully spec­i­fied in POSIX.

Being a de­riv­a­tive of ed, the ex/​vi ed­i­tor was in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty of AT&T. To use vi on plat­forms other than Unix, peo­ple had to write clones that did not share in the orig­i­nal code­base.

Some of the clones:

We’ll be fo­cus­ing on that lit­tle one in the mid­dle: vim. Bram Moolenaar wanted to use vi on the Amiga. He be­gan port­ing Stevie from the Atari and evolv­ing it. He called his port Vi IMitation.” For a full first-hand ac­count, see Bram’s in­ter­view with Free Software Magazine.

By ver­sion 1.22 Vim was rechris­tened Vi IMproved,” match­ing and sur­pass­ing fea­tures of the orig­i­nal. Here is the time­line of the next ma­jor ver­sions, with some of their big fea­tures:

Vim 1.22: Port to Unix. Vim now com­petes with Vi.

For more info about each ver­sion, see e.g. :help vim8. To see plans for the fu­ture, in­clud­ing known bugs, see :help todo.txt.

Version 8 in­cluded some async job sup­port due to peer pres­sure from NeoVim, whose de­vel­op­ers wanted to run de­bug­gers and REPLs for their web script­ing lan­guages in­side the ed­i­tor.

Vim is su­per portable. By adapt­ing over time to work on a wide va­ri­ety of plat­forms, the ed­i­tor was forced to keep portable cod­ing habits. It runs on OS/390, Amiga, BeOS and BeBox, Macintosh clas­sic, Atari MiNT, MS-DOS, OS/2, QNX, RISC-OS, BSD, Linux, OS X, VMS, and MS-Windows. You can rely on Vim be­ing there no mat­ter what com­puter you’re us­ing.

In a fi­nal twist in the vi saga, the orig­i­nal ex/​vi source code was fi­nally re­leased in 2002 un­der a BSD free soft­ware li­cense. It is avail­able at ex-vi.source­forge.net.

Let’s get down to busi­ness. Before get­ting to odds, ends, and in­ter­me­di­ate tricks, it helps to un­der­stand how Vim or­ga­nizes and reads its con­fig­u­ra­tion files.

I used to think, in­cor­rectly, that Vim reads all its set­tings and scripts from the ~/.vimrc file alone. Browsing ran­dom dotfiles” repos­i­to­ries can re­in­force this no­tion. Quite of­ten peo­ple pub­lish mon­strous sin­gle .vimrc files that try to con­trol every as­pect of the ed­i­tor. These big con­figs are some­times called vim dis­tros.”

In re­al­ity Vim has a tidy struc­ture, where .vimrc is just one of sev­eral in­puts. In fact you can ask Vim ex­actly which scripts it has loaded. Try this: edit a source file from a ran­dom pro­gram­ming pro­ject on your com­puter. Once loaded, run

:scriptnames

Take time to read the list. Try to guess what the scripts might do, and note the di­rec­to­ries where they live.

Was the list longer than you ex­pected? If you have in­stalled loads of plu­g­ins the ed­i­tor has a lot to do. Check what slows down the ed­i­tor most at startup by run­ning the fol­low­ing and look at the start.log it cre­ates:

Just for com­par­i­son, see how quickly Vim starts with­out your ex­ist­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion:

To de­ter­mine which scripts to run at startup or buffer load time, Vim tra­verses a runtime path.” The path is a comma-sep­a­rated list of di­rec­to­ries that each con­tain a com­mon struc­ture. Vim in­spects the struc­ture of each di­rec­tory to find scripts to run. Directories are processed in the or­der they ap­pear in the list.

Check the run­timepath on your sys­tem by run­ning:

:set run­timepath

My sys­tem con­tains the fol­low­ing di­rec­to­ries in the de­fault value for run­timepath. Not all of them even ex­ist in the filesys­tem, but they would be con­sulted if they did.

A sys­tem-wide Vim di­rec­tory, for pref­er­ences from the sys­tem ad­min­is­tra­tor.

The after” di­rec­tory in the sys­tem-wide Vim di­rec­tory. This is for the sys­tem ad­min­is­tra­tor to over­rule or add to the dis­trib­uted de­faults.

The after” di­rec­tory in the home di­rec­tory. This is for per­sonal pref­er­ences to over­rule or add to the dis­trib­uted de­faults or sys­tem-wide set­tings.

Because di­rec­to­ries are processed by their or­der in line, the only thing that is spe­cial about the after” di­rec­to­ries is that they are at the end of the list. There is noth­ing mag­i­cal about the word after.”

When pro­cess­ing each di­rec­tory, Vim looks for sub­fold­ers with spe­cific names. To learn more about them, see :help run­timepath. Here is a se­lec­tion of those we will be cov­er­ing, with brief de­scrip­tions.

Vim script files that are loaded au­to­mat­i­cally when edit­ing any kind of file. Called global plu­g­ins.”

(Not to be con­fused with plugin.”) Scripts in au­toload con­tain func­tions that are loaded only when re­quested by other scripts.

Scripts to de­tect file­types. They can base their de­ci­sion on file­name ex­ten­sion, lo­ca­tion, or in­ter­nal file con­tents.

Scripts that are ex­e­cuted when edit­ing files with known type.

Definitions of how to run var­i­ous com­pil­ers or lin­ters, and of how to parse their out­put. Can be shared be­tween mul­ti­ple ft­plu­g­ins. Also not ap­plied au­to­mat­i­cally, must be called with :compiler

Container for Vim 8 na­tive pack­ages, the suc­ces­sor to Pathogen” style pack­age man­age­ment. The na­tive pack­ag­ing sys­tem does not re­quire any third-party code.

Finally, ~/.vimrc is the catchall for gen­eral ed­i­tor set­tings. Use it for set­ting de­faults that can be over­rid­den for par­tic­u­lar file types. For a com­pre­hen­sive overview of set­tings you can choose in .vimrc, run :options.

Plugins are sim­ply Vim scripts that must be put into the cor­rect places in the run­timepath in or­der to ex­e­cute. Installing them is con­cep­tu­ally easy: down­load the file(s) into place. The chal­lenge is that it’s hard to re­move or up­date some plu­g­ins be­cause they lit­ter sub­di­rec­to­ries in the run­timepath with their scripts, and it can be hard to tell which plu­gin is re­spon­si­ble for which files.

Plugin man­agers” evolved to ad­dress this need. Vim.org has had a plu­gin reg­istry go­ing back at least as far as 2003 (as iden­ti­fied by the Internet Archive). However it was­n’t un­til about 2008 that the no­tion of a plu­gin man­ager re­ally came into vogue.

These tools add plu­g­ins’ sep­a­rate di­rec­to­ries to Vim’s run­timepath, and com­pile help tags for plu­gin doc­u­men­ta­tion. Most plu­gin man­agers also in­stall and up­date plu­gin code from the in­ter­net, some­times in par­al­lel or with col­or­ful progress bars.

In chrono­log­i­cal or­der, here is the pa­rade of plu­gin man­agers. I based the date ranges on ear­li­est and lat­est re­leases of each, or when no of­fi­cial re­leases are iden­ti­fied, on the ear­li­est and lat­est com­mit dates.

The first thing to note is the over­whelm­ing va­ri­ety of these tools, and the sec­ond is that each is typ­i­cally ac­tive for about four years be­fore pre­sum­ably go­ing out of fash­ion.

The most sta­ble way to man­age plu­g­ins is to sim­ply use Vim 8’s built-in func­tion­al­ity, which re­quires no third-party code. Let’s walk through how to do it.

First cre­ate two di­rec­to­ries, opt and start, within a pack di­rec­tory in your run­timepath.

Note the place­holder foobar.” This name is en­tirely up to you. It clas­si­fies the pack­ages that will go in­side. Most peo­ple throw all their plu­g­ins into a sin­gle non­de­script cat­e­gory, which is fine. Pick what­ever name you like; I’ll con­tinue to use foo­bar here. You could the­o­ret­i­cally cre­ate mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories too, like ~/.vim/pack/navigation and ~/.vim/pack/linting. Note that Vim does not de­tect du­pli­ca­tion be­tween cat­e­gories and will dou­ble-load du­pli­cates if they ex­ist.

Packages in start” get loaded au­to­mat­i­cally, whereas those in opt” won’t load un­til specif­i­cally re­quested in Vim with the :packadd com­mand. Opt is good for lesser-used pack­ages, and keeps Vim fast by not run­ning scripts un­nec­es­sar­ily. Note that there is­n’t a coun­ter­part to :packadd to un­load a pack­age.

For this ex­am­ple we’ll add the ctrlp” fuzzy find plu­gin to opt. Download and ex­tract the lat­est re­lease into place:

That com­mand cre­ates a ~/.vim/pack/foobar/opt/ctrlp.vim-1.79 folder, and the pack­age is ready to use. Back in vim, cre­ate a help­tags in­dex for the new pack­age:

:helptags ~/.vim/pack/foobar/opt/ctrlp.vim-1.79/doc

That cre­ates a file called tags” in the pack­age’s doc folder, which makes the top­ics avail­able for brows­ing in Vim’s in­ter­nal help sys­tem. (Alternately you can run :helptags ALL once the pack­age has been loaded, which takes care of all docs in the run­timepath.)

When you want to use the pack­age, load it (and know that tab com­ple­tion works for plu­gin names, so you don’t have to type the whole name):

:packadd ctrlp.vim-1.79

Packadd in­cludes the pack­age’s base di­rec­tory in the run­timepath, and sources its plu­gin and ft­de­tect scripts. After load­ing ctrlp, you can press CTRL-P to pop up a fuzzy find file matcher.

Some peo­ple keep their ~/.vim di­rec­tory un­der ver­sion con­trol and use git sub­mod­ules for each pack­age. For my part, I sim­ply ex­tract pack­ages from tar­balls and track them in my own repos­i­tory. If you use ma­ture pack­ages you don’t need to up­grade them of­ten, plus the scripts are gen­er­ally small and don’t clut­ter git his­tory much.

Depending on user set­tings, Vim can pro­tect against four types of loss:

A crash dur­ing edit­ing (between saves). Vim can pro­tect against this one by pe­ri­od­i­cally sav­ing un­writ­ten changes to a swap file.

Editing the same file with two in­stances of Vim, over­writ­ing changes from one or both in­stances. Swap files pro­tect against this too.

A crash dur­ing the save process it­self, af­ter the des­ti­na­tion file is trun­cated but be­fore the new con­tents have been fully writ­ten. Vim can pro­tect against this with a writebackup.” To do this, it writes to a new file and swaps it with the orig­i­nal on suc­cess, in a way that de­pends on the backupcopy” set­ting.

Saving new file con­tents but want­ing the orig­i­nal back. Vim can pro­tect against this by per­sist­ing the backup copy of the file af­ter writ­ing changes.

Before ex­am­in­ing sen­si­ble set­tings, how about some comic re­lief? Here are just a sam­pling of com­ments from vimrc files on GitHub:

Do not cre­ate swap file. Manage this in ver­sion con­trol”

Backups are for pussies. Use ver­sion con­trol”

We live in a world with ver­sion con­trol, so get rid of swaps and back­ups”

I’ve never ac­tu­ally used the VIM backup files… Use ver­sion con­trol”

Since most stuff is on ver­sion con­trol any­way”

Disable backup files, you are us­ing a ver­sion con­trol sys­tem any­way :)”

disable swap and backup files (Always use ver­sion con­trol! ALWAYS!)”

The com­ments re­flect aware­ness of only the fourth case above (and the third by ac­ci­dent), whereas the au­thors gen­er­ally go on to dis­able the swap file too, leav­ing one and two un­pro­tected.

Here is the con­fig­u­ra­tion I rec­om­mend to keep your ed­its safe:

″ Protect changes be­tween writes. Default val­ues of

″ up­date­count (200 key­strokes) and up­date­time

″ (4 sec­onds) are fine

set swap­file

set di­rec­tory^=~/.​vim/​swap//

″ pro­tect against crash-dur­ing-write

set write­backup

″ but do not per­sist backup af­ter suc­cess­ful write

set nobackup

″ use re­name-and-write-new method when­ever safe

set back­up­copy=auto

″ patch re­quired to honor dou­ble slash at end

if has(“patch-8.1.0251”)

″ con­sol­i­date the write­back­ups — not a big

″ deal ei­ther way, since they usu­ally get deleted

set back­updir^=~/.​vim/​backup//

end

″ per­sist the undo tree for each file

set und­ofile

set un­dodir^=~/.​vim/​undo//

These set­tings en­able back­ups for writes-in-progress, but do not per­sist them af­ter suc­cess­ful write be­cause ver­sion con­trol etc etc. Note that you’ll need to mkdir ~/.vim/{swap,undodir,backup} or else Vim will fall back to the next avail­able folder in the pref­er­ence list. You should also prob­a­bly chmod the fold­ers to keep the con­tents pri­vate, be­cause the swap files and undo his­tory might con­tain sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion.

One thing to note about the paths in our con­fig is that they end in a dou­ble slash. That end­ing en­ables a fea­ture to dis­am­biguate swaps and back­ups for files with the same name that live in dif­fer­ent di­rec­to­ries. For in­stance the swap file for /foo/bar will be saved in ~/.vim/swap/%foo%bar.swp (slashes es­caped as per­cent signs). Vim had a bug un­til a fairly re­cent patch where the dou­ble slash was not hon­ored for back­updir, and we guard against that above.

We also have Vim per­sist the his­tory of un­dos for each file, so that you can ap­ply them even af­ter quit­ting and edit­ing the file again. While it may sound re­dun­dant with the swap file, the undo his­tory is com­ple­men­tary be­cause it is writ­ten only when the file is writ­ten. (If it were writ­ten more fre­quently it might not match the state of the file on disk af­ter a crash, so Vim does­n’t do that.)

Speaking of undo, Vim main­tains a full tree of edit his­tory. This means you can make a change, undo it, then redo it dif­fer­ently and all three states are re­cov­er­able. You can see the times and mag­ni­tude of changes with the :undolist com­mand, but it’s hard to vi­su­al­ize the tree struc­ture from it. You can nav­i­gate to spe­cific changes in that list, or move in time with :earlier and :later which take a time ar­gu­ment like 5m, or the count of file saves, like 3f. However nav­i­gat­ing the undo tree is an in­stance when I think a plu­gin — like un­dotree — is war­ranted.

Enabling these dis­as­ter re­cov­ery set­tings can bring you peace of mind. I used to save com­pul­sively af­ter most ed­its or when step­ping away from the com­puter, but now I’ve made an ef­fort to leave doc­u­ments un­saved for hours at a time. I know how the swap file works now.

Some fi­nal notes: keep an eye on all these dis­as­ter re­cov­ery files, they can pile up in your .vim folder and use space over time. Also set­ting nowrite­backup might be nec­es­sary when sav­ing a huge file with low disk space, be­cause Vim must oth­er­wise make an en­tire copy of the file tem­porar­ily. By de­fault the backupskip” set­ting dis­ables back­ups for any­thing in the sys­tem temp di­rec­tory.

Vim’s patchmode” is re­lated to back­ups. You can use it in di­rec­to­ries that aren’t un­der ver­sion con­trol. For in­stance if you want to down­load a source tar­ball, make an edit and send a patch over a mail­ing list with­out bring­ing git into the pic­ture. Run :set patch­mod=.orig and any file foo’ Vim is about to write will be backed up to foo.orig’. You can then cre­ate a patch on the com­mand line be­tween the .orig files and the new ones.

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Hackers breach FSB contractor, expose Tor deanonymization project and more

Hackers have breached SyTech, a con­trac­tor for FSB, Russia’s na­tional in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, from where they stole in­for­ma­tion about in­ter­nal pro­jects the com­pany was work­ing on be­half of the agency — in­clud­ing one for deanonymiz­ing Tor traf­fic.

The breach took place last week­end, on July 13, when a group of hack­ers go­ing by the name of 0v1ru$ hacked into SyTech’s Active Directory server from where they gained ac­cess to the com­pa­ny’s en­tire IT net­work, in­clud­ing a JIRA in­stance.

Hackers stole 7.5TB of data from the con­trac­tor’s net­work, and they de­faced the com­pa­ny’s web­site with a yoba face,” an emoji pop­u­lar with Russian users that stands for trolling.”

Hackers posted screen­shots of the com­pa­ny’s servers on Twitter and later shared the stolen data with Digital Revolution, an­other hack­ing group who last year breached Quantum, an­other FSB con­trac­tor.

This sec­ond hacker group shared the stolen files in greater de­tail on their Twitter ac­count, on Thursday, July 18, and with Russian jour­nal­ists af­ter­ward.

Per the dif­fer­ent re­ports in Russian me­dia, the files in­di­cate that SyTech had worked since 2009 on a mul­ti­tude of pro­jects since 2009 for FSB unit 71330 and for fel­low con­trac­tor Quantum. Projects in­clude:

* Nautilus - a pro­ject for col­lect­ing data about so­cial me­dia users (such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn).

* Nautilus-S - a pro­ject for deanonymiz­ing Tor traf­fic with the help of rogue Tor servers.

* Reward - a pro­ject to covertly pen­e­trate P2P net­works, like the one used for tor­rents.

* Mentor - a pro­ject to mon­i­tor and search email com­mu­ni­ca­tions on the servers of Russian com­pa­nies.

* Hope - a pro­ject to in­ves­ti­gate the topol­ogy of the Russian in­ter­net and how it con­nects to other coun­tries’ net­work.

* Tax-3 - a pro­ject for the cre­ation of a closed in­tranet to store the in­for­ma­tion of highly-sen­si­tive state fig­ures, judges, and lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, sep­a­rate from the rest of the state’s IT net­works.

BBC Russia, who re­ceived the full trove of doc­u­ments, claims there were other older pro­jects for re­search­ing other net­work pro­to­cols such as Jabber (instant mes­sag­ing), ED2K (eDonkey), and OpenFT (enterprise file trans­fer).

Other files posted on the Digital Revolution Twitter ac­count claimed that the FSB was also track­ing stu­dents and pen­sion­ers.

But while most of the pro­jects look to be just re­search into mod­ern tech­nol­ogy — which all in­tel­li­gence ser­vices carry out — there are two that ap­pear to have been tested in the real world.

The first was Nautilus-S, the one for deanonymiz­ing Tor traf­fic. BBC Russia pointed out that work on Nautilus-S started in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, aca­d­e­mics from Karlstad University in Sweden, pub­lished a pa­per de­tail­ing the use of hos­tile Tor exit nodes that were at­tempt­ing to de­crypt Tor traf­fic.

Researchers iden­ti­fied 25 ma­li­cious servers, 18 of which were lo­cated in Russia, and run­ning Tor ver­sion 0.2.2.37, the same one de­tailed in the leaked files.

The sec­ond pro­ject is Hope, the one which an­a­lyzed the struc­ture and make-up of the Russian seg­ment of the in­ter­net.

Earlier this year, Russia ran tests dur­ing which it dis­con­nected its na­tional seg­ment from the rest of the in­ter­net.

SyTech, the hacked com­pany, has taken down its web­site since the hack and re­fused me­dia in­quiries.

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Mary Robinette Kowal on Twitter

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Nebula and Hugo-award win­ning SFF au­thor, pro­fes­sional pup­peteer, & nar­ra­tor (she/her) Mary Robinette’ just like Mary Anne.’ Support: http://​pa­treon.com/​mary­robi­nette

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Let’s talk about pee­ing in space.

Several peo­ple, in re­sponse to my NY Times es­say, have said that women could­n’t go into space be­cause we lacked the tech­nol­ogy for them to pee in space.

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Tourist Journalism Versus the Working Class

A few days be­fore the Fourth of July, British comic John Oliver used the pul­pit of his US in­fo­tain­ment show, Last Week Tonight, to de­liver a lengthy mono­logue about the depre­da­tions of Amazon.com. His spe­cific com­plaint was that Amazon does­n’t treat its em­ploy­ees very well. According to Oliver, among the in­dig­ni­ties that the com­pany has heaped upon its work­force are two sep­a­rate in­stances in which a can­is­ter of bear re­pel­lant leaked in an Amazon ware­house. Oliver and his jour­nal­is­tic team also found for­mer Amazon em­ploy­ees will­ing to com­plain on cam­era about work­ing con­di­tions in the com­pa­ny’s ware­houses and ful­fill­ment cen­ters: they can get very hot in the sum­mer and very cold in the win­ter; get­ting to the bath­rooms some­times re­quires a long walk; preg­nant women get no spe­cial bath­room ac­com­mo­da­tions.

Oliver’s re­searchers even un­cov­ered an in­ci­dent in which a worker had died on the job and her co-work­ers were told to carry on work­ing in the pres­ence of her corpse. Amazon dis­putes much of this, but I have no dif­fi­culty be­liev­ing that in­ci­dents like these do oc­ca­sion­ally oc­cur. Amazon em­ploys ap­prox­i­mately 650,000 peo­ple world­wide. That num­ber is higher than the pop­u­la­tions of 50 of the world’s 233 coun­tries. It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that at some point a cit­i­zen of Luxembourg (population 602,000) has been sprayed by bear re­pel­lant, or that work­ers some­where in Iceland (360,000) have been re­quired to work around a fallen co-worker. But nei­ther of these things, if they hap­pened, would be proof that work­ing con­di­tions in Luxembourg or Iceland are ap­palling.

As it hap­pens, I work in an Amazon ware­house in West Sacramento, California. When I showed up at a friend’s an­nual Fourth of July bar­be­cue, I found my­self be­sieged by well-mean­ing, right-think­ing, Trump-hating friends, all of whom were ea­ger to tell me just what a mon­strous com­pany I work for. This was weird be­cause most of them know that Amazon has been a life­saver for me fi­nan­cially, and they have heard me say how much I en­joy the work and ap­pre­ci­ate the money. But they are now con­vinced that I work in some­thing like a sweat­shop. Bemused by this out­burst of hos­til­ity to­wards my em­ployer, I was led in­side by our host who sat me down in front of his fam­i­ly’s 60-inch plasma TV screen to watch Oliver’s tirade, which he had cour­te­ously DVR’d for my ben­e­fit.

I have to say I found Oliver’s take­down un­per­sua­sive. It is pos­si­ble that Oliver was aware his ma­te­r­ial was a lit­tle thin, which is why he padded the seg­ment with scat­ter­shot com­plaints about Walmart and Verizon (the en­emy did not seem to be Amazon in par­tic­u­lar, but large cor­po­ra­tions in gen­eral). Warehouse work, Oliver solemnly in­formed his au­di­ence, is stren­u­ous, dif­fi­cult, and does­n’t pay very well. To most Americans (and peo­ple in gen­eral, for that mat­ter), this will not have been news. Warehouses serve as tem­po­rary hold­ing cen­ters for con­sumer goods. These goods have to be of­floaded from vast pan­tech­ni­cons and brought into the ware­house. Later they will be loaded onto smaller ve­hi­cles, usu­ally de­liv­ery vans, and sent out again.

The peo­ple who do this load­ing and un­load­ing spend their days lift­ing toast­ers, boxes of kitty lit­ter, minifridges, and thou­sands of other items, and car­ry­ing them to their des­ig­nated stor­age rack. It’s a phys­i­cally de­mand­ing job. Warehouses, such as the one I work in, have huge cargo bays that are al­most al­ways open to re­ceive the back ends of in­com­ing trac­tor trailer rigs. When these bays are open it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to con­trol the tem­per­a­ture in­side the ware­house ar­ti­fi­cially. If it is hot out­side, the ware­house is likely to be very warm. If it is cold out­side, the ware­house is likely to be very cool. Just about every work­ing per­son in the world is aware of these facts, but John Oliver treated it like a scan­dalous rev­e­la­tion.

The Amazon fa­cil­i­ties Oliver crit­i­cized are large ful­fill­ment cen­ters. There is one of these lo­cated near the Sacramento air­port. I don’t work there. I work in a fa­cil­ity known as a sortation cen­ter” (a name that Oliver would no doubt mock, not with­out some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion). It is smaller than a ful­fill­ment cen­ter but it is still a large ware­house and the peo­ple who work in it are re­quired to do a lot of lift­ing and walk­ing, like ware­house work­ers every­where. We are also ad­vised to dress warmly in the win­ter and to wear light cloth­ing in the sum­mer.

Just about every job in my sor­ta­tion cen­ter could prob­a­bly be done by a ro­bot. In fact, it amazes me that Amazon has­n’t sim­ply au­to­mated the en­tire fa­cil­ity. After all, ro­bots don’t call in sick, don’t steal from their em­ploy­ers, don’t sue for work­man’s com­pen­sa­tion, and they never com­plain about long hours or the heat or the cold. But nor do ro­bots buy con­sumer goods. If I had to guess, I’d say that Amazon con­tin­ues to em­ploy lots of hu­man be­ings be­cause, by putting money into the pock­ets of work­ing-class peo­ple, the com­pany cre­ates more cus­tomers. Robots may not buy bas­ket­ball shoes or hi­bachi grills, but peo­ple sure do.

Apart from em­ploy­ing a lot of staff, Amazon does a num­ber of things pro­gres­sives ought to like. For in­stance, it em­ploys a very di­verse group of peo­ple. On my shift, I work with African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, white peo­ple, gay peo­ple, deaf peo­ple, ex-con­victs, and peo­ple whose eth­nic­i­ties and even gen­ders are a mys­tery to me. I was hired the same day as a young Vietnamese-American named Lenny and a young Mexican-American named Ramon. They are both in their twen­ties. I am in my six­ties. But be­cause we started on the same day and went through train­ing to­gether, we bonded and be­came work friends.

Although Ramon is an American cit­i­zen, his wife, Angela, is not, de­spite the fact that she has lived in America since she was three months old. He’s an­gry that President Trump has backed off from the DACA pro­gram President Obama put in place to help peo­ple like Angela find a path to cit­i­zen­ship. Listening to Ramon dis­cuss his first-hand deal­ings with im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties has brought the is­sue alive for me in ways that read­ing news re­ports can­not. Ramon’s mother Rita, a woman in her for­ties who speaks lit­tle English, also works with us at the ware­house. I speak no Spanish, but Rita and I are friends. We of­ten work side-by-side.

According to some au­thor­i­ties, Sacramento is the sec­ond most racially di­verse city in America af­ter Oakland, California. I have seen this sta­tis­tic cited many times in lo­cal pub­li­ca­tions and it al­ways used to sur­prise me. Most Sacramentans tend to self-seg­re­gate. Even when blacks and whites and browns live in the same neigh­bor­hood, or even the same block, they tend to hang out with their own eth­nic group. I’ve no­ticed this in my own life. Almost all of my clos­est friends are white like me. But Amazon does­n’t al­low its em­ploy­ees to self-seg­re­gate. The com­pany wants every em­ployee trained on every job in the ware­house. It also wants every em­ployee to be able to in­ter­act with a wide va­ri­ety of other work­ers.

Every morn­ing, be­fore our shift be­gins, my fel­low Amazonians and I gather at the front of the ware­house where all of our pho­tos and names have been printed on rec­tan­gles that re­sem­ble re­frig­er­a­tor mag­nets. These mag­netic pho­tos are stuck to a large white board with a di­a­gram that rep­re­sents every sta­tion in the ware­house. One-by-one each per­son’s mag­net is as­signed a place on the map. Every day brings a new arrange­ment. One day I may be pulling pack­ages off the con­veyor belt be­tween a young Hispanic woman and an older black male. The next day I may be help­ing to stow pack­ages in an aisle along­side two Vietnamese women.

This is a good thing. Working and co­op­er­at­ing every day as part of a di­verse work­force can help clear up mis­per­cep­tions. On my sec­ond or third day on the job I was paired with a young African-American woman who had been with Amazon a few weeks longer than I had. While talk­ing to Celine, I learned that she Ubered to and from work every day be­cause she did­n’t own a car. The cost of the short ride was about $7.50 each way. In other words, she lost an hour’s pay every day just cov­er­ing her com­mut­ing costs. When I dis­cov­ered that she lived in a low-in­come hous­ing pro­ject less than a mile from my house, I of­fered to drive her to and from work every day. She ac­cepted.

At first, I was a bit ap­pre­hen­sive about this, per­haps be­cause I’ve seen too many episodes of The Wire. But through my con­nec­tion to Celine, I learned that the pro­ject is in fact just an­other quiet and or­derly place filled with or­di­nary mem­bers of the work­ing poor. Most of the oc­cu­pants have jobs, and chil­dren, and they pay taxes like every­one else. Celine is a sin­gle mother with two jobs. In ad­di­tion to her Amazon gig, she also works at a con­tainer store in a shop­ping mall lo­cated ten miles from her house. She takes a bus to that job. In fact, most of the peo­ple I work with have other jobs. Ramon works at a jew­elry store. A girl named Imani has two other part-time jobs. I work evenings at a lo­cal in­de­pen­dent book­store. But al­most all of these sec­ond and third jobs pay less than Amazon’s min­i­mum wage of $15 an hour.

John Oliver is not the only British jour­nal­ist to por­tray Amazon as the mod­ern-day equiv­a­lent of an an­te­bel­lum cot­ton plan­ta­tion. In 2013, Carole Cadwalladr, a re­porter for the Guardian, went un­der­cover for a week at an Amazon ful­fill­ment cen­ter in Swansea. Unbeknownst to her, while she was work­ing there, Adam Littler, a re­porter for the BBCs in­ves­tiga­tive pro­gramme Panorama, was se­cretly film­ing his own ex­posé in the same ware­house. Then, in 2016, a British jour­nal­ist named James Bloodworth went un­der­cover in an Amazon ful­fill­ment cen­ter in the small Staffordshire town of Rugeley. Bloodworth’s em­ploy­ment was part of the re­search for his book, Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low Wage Britain, an ex­tract of which was sub­se­quently reprinted in the London Times in February 2018 and sub­ti­tled My Month Undercover in an Amazon Warehouse.” In September 2018, he wrote about the ex­pe­ri­ence again for the Guardian (al­though here he says his stint only lasted three weeks). This was a work­place en­vi­ron­ment,” Bloodworth warned the Guardian‘s read­ers, in which de­cency, re­spect, and dig­nity were ab­sent.”

And what did these in­tre­pid re­porters un­cover? A whole lot of noth­ing, if you ask me. Both Bloodworth and Cadwalladr re­port that ful­fill­ment cen­ter work­ers are re­quired to do a lot of walk­ing. Cadwalladr notes that all this walk­ing caused one of her co-work­ers, a 60-something man she refers to as Les,” to lose two stone (28 pounds) in two months. Bloodworth, on the other hand, claims he gained a stone (14 pounds) dur­ing his stint, de­spite walk­ing up to 14 miles dur­ing a sin­gle shift ac­cord­ing to a pe­dome­ter on his wrist (give me an hour or two in a rock­ing chair and I can put five miles on a pe­dome­ter; they are no­to­ri­ously un­re­li­able de­vices).

Cadwalladr re­ports that Amazon em­ploy­ees who call in sick three times in their first three months will be ter­mi­nated. Bloodworth, who was em­ployed three years af­ter Cadwalladr, re­ports that six ab­sences due to sick­ness will cost you your Amazon job in Rugeley. Things do seem to have been im­prov­ing, then. Each of­fense is recorded as a point” on an em­ploy­ee’s record. When I be­gan work­ing for them on March 23 this year, we were told that 13 points would pre­vent us from tran­si­tion­ing from sea­sonal em­ploy­ees to per­ma­nent ones. Even that fig­ure is mis­lead­ing. A lot of of­fenses (such as punch­ing out in the mid­dle of a shift with­out man­age­ment ap­proval) will cost an em­ployee only half a point. Amazon re­cently sent me and my fel­low sea­sonal em­ploy­ees an email in­form­ing us that, so long as we’ve been em­ployed with the com­pany for at least 30 days and ac­cu­mu­lated no more than 12.5 points, we would be el­i­gi­ble for per­ma­nent po­si­tions. Theoretically, that means that an Amazon em­ployee who joined the com­pany 30 days ago and left work early with­out per­mis­sion 25 times dur­ing that pe­riod, is nonethe­less still el­i­gi­ble for a per­ma­nent po­si­tion.

Some of what Cadwalladr and Bloodworth re­port seems rather histri­onic. For in­stance, Bloodworth says that he had lit­tle time to eat a proper meal and quit buy­ing bread and milk be­cause these prod­ucts al­ways went stale/​sour be­fore he had a chance to use them. A fresh car­ton of milk is usu­ally good for at least 10 days from the date of pur­chase. How many car­tons of milk went stale dur­ing a three-week Amazon stint? And why not re­frig­er­ate or freeze your loaf to ex­tend its life? His claim that he gained 14 pounds from junk food over a three week pe­riod dur­ing which he was walk­ing an av­er­age of 10 miles a day does­n’t sound right, ei­ther. (It re­minded me of stunt jour­nal­ist” Morgan Spurlock’s much-de­rided claim that eat­ing every meal at McDonald’s for 30 days nearly wrecked his phys­i­cal and emo­tional health.) Bloodworth even claims the Amazon job made him take up smok­ing again.

I don’t see why Amazon should be held re­spon­si­ble for its em­ploy­ees’ di­ets or per­sonal habits, and a lot of this looks to me like buck-pass­ing of per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. The fact that James Bloodworth was un­for­tu­nate enough to work with a racist Romanian woman does­n’t seem to me to be the fault of the com­pany, ei­ther. With roughly 650,000 em­ploy­ees world­wide, it would be sur­pris­ing if Amazon did­n’t em­ploy a cross-sec­tion of big­ots and kooks.

Cadwalladr and Bloodworth make fun of the term associate” which Amazon ap­plies to its work­ers, and which both Cadwalladr and Bloodworth de­scribe as Orwellian.” While I pre­fer the term worker,” I have a hard time work­ing up much out­rage over this. It cer­tainly does­n’t strike me as par­tic­u­larly sin­is­ter or dystopian or to­tal­i­tar­ian. Among the words the Merriam-Webster dic­tio­nary uses to de­fine associate” are: worker,” employee,” business part­ner,” colleague,” and entry-level mem­ber of an or­ga­ni­za­tion.” All of those sound like rea­son­able terms to ap­ply to a newly hired Amazon worker.

Bloodworth’s de­scrip­tion of pun­ish­ments dished out to Amazonians who break com­pany pol­icy as draconian” is over­wrought and his griev­ances are some­times just un­rea­son­able. He worked for Amazon for a to­tal of three weeks but com­plains that his boss be­came up­set when he took a sick day off. Maybe this is a gen­er­a­tional thing, but my fa­ther al­ways told me, Never take a sick day dur­ing your first year of em­ploy­ment with any com­pany, no mat­ter what.” My wife and I have lit­er­ally gone years be­tween sick days. In the 80s, I worked for a ti­tle in­sur­ance com­pany that gave out a $500 bonus at the end of the year to any em­ployee who had­n’t taken a sick day, and I earned that bonus five or six years in a row. If Bloodworth be­lieves Amazon is in­hu­mane for look­ing askance at a worker who asks for a sick day dur­ing his first three weeks on the job, then he and I live by dif­fer­ent work ethics.

As for safety con­cerns, well, ware­houses are haz­ardous en­vi­ron­ments and, some­where to­day, an Amazon em­ployee is likely to be in­jured. But I can at­test to the fact that Amazon takes em­ployee safety ex­tremely se­ri­ously. Employees are briefed on safety be­fore every sin­gle shift. We are re­quired to wear high-vis­i­bil­ity vests and pro­tec­tive gloves at all times. Traffic man­agers en­sure that the ve­hi­cles con­tin­u­ously com­ing and go­ing do not en­dan­ger em­ploy­ees. The con­veyor belts are all equipped with emer­gency shut-off cords, which any em­ployee can pull at any time should the need arise. Any Amazon em­ployee who vi­o­lates a safety reg­u­la­tion is likely to find him­self with­out a job in a hurry. We have a fully stocked first-aid cen­ter. Our man­agers are ob­sessed with keep­ing us prop­erly hy­drated. Free bot­tled wa­ters and elec­trolyte-en­riched pop­si­cles are lo­cated in ice chests all over the fa­cil­ity.

Bloodworth says he worked 10-and-a-half-hour days at Amazon, which sounds pretty bru­tal. Maybe they do things dif­fer­ently in the UK, but my Amazon sor­ta­tion cen­ter is very flex­i­ble about the hours it of­fers. When I was ap­ply­ing for the job on­line, Amazon al­lowed me to cre­ate a sched­ule tai­lored to my needs. They asked me how many hours a week I’d like to work, and which days of the week suited me best. They asked if I pre­ferred to work evenings, overnight, early morn­ings, days. After com­pil­ing this info, they gave me a shift that fits me like a glove. I work four and a half hours a day, five days a week. My shift be­gins at 6:30 am and ends at 11 am. But, when I need a bit more money, I can go to work at 5 am and pick up an ex­tra 90 min­utes of work pretty much when­ever I want. Many of my co-work­ers add hours to their days when­ever they are in need of a lit­tle ex­tra cash, and we can take vol­un­tary un­paid time off just about when­ever we like.

James Bloodworth worked 35 hours a week. In America, at least, a full-time job con­sumes at least 40 hours a week. A 35-hour work­ing week does­n’t sound es­pe­cially harsh to me. And if he was work­ing three 10-and-a-half-hour shifts per week at Amazon, then he worked just nine shifts dur­ing his time there (eight, if you sub­tract the sick day he took). I’ve worked about 70 shifts since I started at Amazon, and I still would­n’t pre­sume to of­fer my­self as an ex­pert on the con­di­tions of the en­tire work­force. But I have seen enough to know that the pic­ture painted by tourist jour­nal­ists is highly mis­lead­ing and un­help­ful.

Amazon is not a per­fect em­ployer. I have a litany of gripes I’d be happy to share with you some­time. But I also have com­plaints about the small book­store I work at in the evenings. I don’t know of any­one who does­n’t have com­plaints about their em­ployer. Progressives tend to clamor about ex­posés that por­tray large multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions like Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald’s as noth­ing more than cold-hearted ex­ploiters of the work­ing class. This type of thing does no one any good. If Amazon is go­ing to be cas­ti­gated pub­licly every time one of its 650,000 em­ploy­ees has a bad day, it may well de­cide to au­to­mate as many po­si­tions as pos­si­ble and do away with most of its hu­man work­force.

The prob­lem with ex­posés like those men­tioned here is that they don’t tell us how Amazon ware­houses stack up against, say, ware­houses op­er­ated by Home Depot (a for­mer em­ployer of mine), Starbucks, the New York Times, the Ford Motor Company, Microsoft, Barnes and Noble, or even Warner Media (the par­ent com­pany of John Oliver’s tele­vi­sion home HBO). We don’t know how many em­ployee com­plaints a com­pany with 650,000 work­ers can ex­pect in a typ­i­cal day or month or year. On July 1, the same day that Slate ran a largely un­crit­i­cal story about Oliver’s anti-Ama­zon tirade, it pub­lished a highly crit­i­cal story by Daniel Engber about the way (primarily right-wing) me­dia out­lets had re­ported on an al­leged spike in American tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic.

When Engber ac­tu­ally took a look at the sta­tis­tics for him­self, he found that, not only is the Dominican Republic prob­a­bly not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a spike in American tourist deaths this year, it may ac­tu­ally be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fewer tourist deaths in 2019 than in an av­er­age year. He re­capped some of the more hys­ter­i­cal re­ports and then noted:

What a mor­bid waste of every­body’s time. Whether we’re talk­ing about 12 deaths, or 25, or even 50, it’s wrong to treat the mere pro­lif­er­a­tion of these tragedies as proof that US tourists are in dan­ger. If we want to know for sure that some­thing is amiss—or even to make an ed­u­cated guess about the same—we’ll need to have a base­line death rate for com­par­i­son. How of­ten do Americans usually die while drink­ing whiskey in their rooms in Punta Cana? Or, to be less spe­cific: How many US tourists die dur­ing a nor­mal year of vis­its to the Dominican Republic?

Engber combed through gov­ern­men­tal re­search as well as aca­d­e­mic re­search. He asked ques­tions, crunched num­bers, and dis­played an ad­mirable skep­ti­cism for the dom­i­nant me­dia nar­ra­tive. In other words, he prac­ticed re­spon­si­ble jour­nal­ism.

Six years ago, I learned first-hand just how ob­sti­nate peo­ple can be when con­fronted with facts in­con­ve­nient to their pre­ferred po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tives. I had just be­come one of the first ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Obamacare by sign­ing up for health cov­er­age through Covered California. At fam­ily gath­er­ings, my wife’s con­ser­v­a­tive fam­ily would say things like, Not a sin­gle per­son has been able to sign up for health care through the state ex­changes.” And: The cost is so high that no­body who needs Obamacare can pos­si­bly af­ford it.” And: Just wait un­til you try to ac­cess your cov­er­age. You’ll have to pay hun­dreds of dol­lars just to see a nurse.” None of this was true, of course, but they re­fused to ac­cept it. I started car­ry­ing around a copy of my monthly Covered California bill so I could prove to these peo­ple that Obamacare was work­ing for at least some peo­ple. That’s Covered California,” they’d say dis­mis­sively. Nowhere on that bill does it say any­thing about Obamacare.” Try as I might, I could­n’t make them be­lieve that Covered California was Oba­macare and that it only cost me a dol­lar a month.

I faced the same stub­born re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge com­pli­cat­ing in­for­ma­tion af­ter John Oliver’s Amazon re­port, only this time it was my pro­gres­sive ac­quain­tances who were re­sis­tant. I as­sured every­one at the Fourth of July bar­be­cue that the sor­ta­tion cen­ter where I work is not a mis­er­able sweat­shop, that I am treated well, and that I am rel­a­tively well re­mu­ner­ated for work I en­joy. But they would not lis­ten. They just looked at me sadly and shook their heads as if to say, He’s drunk the cor­po­rate Kool-Aid.”

I don’t ob­ject to jour­nal­ists writ­ing about the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of Amazon em­ploy­ees. I only wish they would do so fairly. Just be­cause a jour­nal­ist has found an Amazon em­ployee some­where who got sprayed with bear re­pel­lant, that does­n’t mean Amazon em­ploy­ees spend their days in mor­tal fear of a chem­i­cal at­tack. In or­der for con­sumers to make in­formed pur­chas­ing choices, we need fair-minded and ac­cu­rate re­port­ing about the com­pa­nies we pa­tron­ize, not scare­mon­ger­ing polemics preach­ing a black-and-white gospel of tyranny and ex­ploita­tion. Not all work done for a global com­mer­cial jug­ger­naut like Amazon (or Walmart, or McDonald’s, or Starbucks) is, by de­f­i­n­i­tion, harsh, cruel, and damn near in­hu­mane, fit only to be de­scribed omi­nously as Orwellian” and draconian.”

To uni­ver­sity-ed­u­cated me­dia pro­fes­sion­als like Carole Cadwalladr, James Bloodworth, and John Oliver, an Amazon ware­house must seem like the Black Hole of Calcutta. But I’ve done low-pay­ing man­ual la­bor for most of my work­ing life, and rarely have I ap­pre­ci­ated a job as much as my role as an Amazon as­so­ci­ate. Oliver in­sists that Amazon should be spared no crit­i­cism just be­cause it raised its min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour. That may not sound like much to him, but it’s huge for peo­ple like me. Among US states, California (along with Washington and Massachusetts) has the high­est min­i­mum wage at $11 an hour (for com­pa­nies with more than 25 em­ploy­ees, it’s $12). The $15 an hour I earn from Amazon is nearly 40 per­cent higher than the $11 an hour I earn from the book­store. In fact, thanks to Jeff Bezos’s gen­eros­ity, I may soon be able to give up my sec­ond job al­to­gether.

I am writ­ing this on July 15—Amazon Prime Day, one of the busiest days of the year on the Amazon cal­en­dar. I put in a six-hour shift this morn­ing at the West Sacramento ware­house. The work­day was­n’t bru­tal. The com­pany treated us all to a pan­cake break­fast in the break room dur­ing our 10-minute break. Of course, you can’t eat a pan­cake break­fast health­ily in 10 min­utes, but no one in charge com­plained about the fact that most of us spent at least 20 min­utes eat­ing. Yes, we were all en­cour­aged to chant Prime Day slo­gans dur­ing our morn­ing stretch. And we were all given lit­tle Amazon Prime 2019” lapel pins and other bits of flair” to wear on our high-vis­i­bil­ity safety vests. So what? A bit of com­pany spirit is down­right American. I don’t mind be­ing a small cog in the ma­chin­ery of American com­merce. It keeps the bills paid and my stom­ach from growl­ing. But if John Oliver and his ilk keep harp­ing away at how in­hu­manely Amazon treats its work­ers, Bezos might de­cide to com­pletely au­to­mate his op­er­a­tion and peo­ple like me will be out of a job. And that will not only ruin my Fourth of July, it will ruin every other day of the year as well.

Kevin Mims is a free­lance writer liv­ing in Sacramento, CA. His work has ap­peared in nu­mer­ous venues in­clud­ing the New York Times, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Salon, and many oth­ers. You can fol­low him on Twitter @KevinMims16

Quillette makes a small part of its rev­enue from Amazon spon­sor­ship. Names (apart from the au­thor’s) have all been changed.

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7 229 shares, 10 trendiness, 412 words and 3 minutes reading time

Adam Rawnsley on Twitter

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Reporter at The Daily Beast. You may re­mem­ber me from such by­lines as Foreign Policy, Wired, and Bellingcat. Talk to me: adam.rawns­ley@gmail.com

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8 226 shares, 10 trendiness, 580 words and 6 minutes reading time

Bypassing anti-incognito detection in Google Chrome

Incognito or pri­vate brows­ing is pre­sent in all mod­ern browsers. This mode helps peo­ple avoid un­wanted cook­ies, state­ful track­ers and is also use­ful in read­ing ar­ti­cles on news­pa­per web­sites since some of them limit the users to a cer­tain num­ber of free ar­ti­cles per day or sim­ply block ac­cess if opened in incog­nito mode.

Some of the things in this post might be sim­i­lar or dif­fer­ent for other fam­i­lies of browsers but I’m only go­ing to fo­cus on Chromium based browsers, more specif­i­cally Google Chrome.

Before Chrome 74, there was a bug which a lot of web­sites ex­ploited to de­tect whether a user is vis­it­ing the web­site in Chrome’s Incognito mode. The web­sites sim­ply had to at­tempt to use the FileSystem API, which is used to store tem­po­rary or per­ma­nent files. This API was dis­abled in the Incognito mode but was pre­sent in the non-incog­nito mode, thus cre­at­ing a dif­fer­ence which was ex­ploited to de­tect if a user was brows­ing a web­site us­ing the incog­nito mode and block these users from view­ing the site’s con­tent.

A sim­ple search on Google for Detecting Incognito Window leads to a lot of re­sults, one of them be­ing a Stackoverflow ques­tion with the ac­cepted an­swer be­ing

Google rolled out a new op­tion (accessed by the flag: #enable-filesystem-in-incognito) in Chrome 74, which blocks this de­tec­tion. Their so­lu­tion is to cre­ate a vir­tual file sys­tem us­ing RAM while in incog­nito mode. The pro­tec­tion works fine against the above de­tec­tion method and is go­ing to be en­abled by de­fault in the next sta­ble re­lease.

It turns out this pro­tec­tion is not enough and it is still pos­si­ble to de­tect incog­nito mode thus mak­ing the cur­rent pro­tec­tion in­ef­fec­tive. Recently, I was play­ing around with the Quota Management API and dis­cov­ered a side-ef­fect to de­tect incog­nito mode even with this pro­tec­tion en­abled. This API man­ages the quota as­signed for TEMPORARY and PERSISTENT stor­age avail­able to the ap­pli­ca­tions and web­sites on the browser. The quota for TEMPORARY stor­age can be queried by us­ing the fol­low­ing code snip­pet taken from Jeff Posnick’s ar­ti­cle:

There are two kinds of stor­age avail­able to the web­sites/​ap­pli­ca­tions, TEMPORARY and PERSISTENT, since TEMPORARY stor­age, as the name sug­gests is tem­po­rary, it can be used with­out re­quest­ing any quota and is shared by all the web­sites run on the browser.

Some in­ter­est­ing points about TEMPORARY stor­age and its quota, which I gath­ered by go­ing through Chromium source code, ar­ti­cles and bug re­ports: (Ref1,Ref2, Ref3)

* TEMPORARY stor­age has a de­fault quota of 50% of the avail­able disk as a shared pool for all the ap­pli­ca­tions/​web­sites

* Applications/websites can query their quota by call­ing queryUsage­AndQuota() method of the Quota API with­out any per­mis­sions

* Quota for an incog­nito win­dow is a frac­tion (10%) of the de­vice mem­ory with an up­per limit of 120MB

* Quota for a non-incog­nito win­dow is a frac­tion of the de­vice stor­age

The fol­low­ing table lists the min­i­mum TEMPORARY Storage quota avail­able for de­vices with dif­fer­ent disk sizes, which is cal­cu­lated on the ba­sis of the amount of space the browser at­tempts to keep free at all times in the de­vice

Based on the above ob­ser­va­tions, key dif­fer­ences in TEMPORARY stor­age quota be­tween incog­nito and non-incog­nito mode are that in case of incog­nito mode, there’s a hard limit of 120MB while this is not the case for non-incog­nito win­dow. And from the above table it’s clear that for the tem­po­rary stor­age quota to be less than 120MB in case of non-incog­nito mode the de­vice stor­age has to be less than 2.4GB. However for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses it is safe to as­sume that the ma­jor­ity of the de­vices cur­rently in use have more than 2.4GB of stor­age.

Using this in­for­ma­tion, I came up with a sim­ple rule for de­tect­ing incog­nito mode i.e if the tem­po­rary stor­age quota

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9 207 shares, 8 trendiness, 334 words and 4 minutes reading time

Bolsonaro calls Amazon deforestation data 'lies'

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has ac­cused his own coun­try’s na­tional space in­sti­tute of ly­ing about the scale of de­for­esta­tion in the Amazon.

He said the in­sti­tute was smear­ing Brazil’s rep­u­ta­tion abroad by pub­lish­ing data show­ing a dra­matic in­crease in de­for­esta­tion there.

The far-right pres­i­dent said he wanted to meet with the head of the agency to dis­cuss the is­sue.

The National Space Research Institute (Inpe) says its data is 95% ac­cu­rate.

Mr Bolsonaro’s com­ments on Friday came a day af­ter pre­lim­i­nary satel­lite data re­leased by Inpe showed that more than 1,000 sq km (400 sq miles) of the rain­for­est had been cleared in the first 15 days of July - an in­crease of 68% from the en­tire month of July 2018.

Speaking in a meet­ing with for­eign jour­nal­ists, Mr Bolsonaro said the data doesn’t re­late to the re­al­ity”.

Scientists say the Amazon has suf­fered losses at an ac­cel­er­ated rate since Mr Bolsonaro took of­fice in January, with poli­cies that favour de­vel­op­ment over con­ser­va­tion.

As the largest rain­for­est in the world, the Amazon is a vi­tal car­bon store that slows down the pace of global warm­ing.

Official fig­ures sug­gest that the biggest rea­son to fell trees there is to cre­ate new pas­tures for cat­tle.

Over the past decade, pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments had man­aged to re­duce de­for­esta­tion with con­certed ac­tion by fed­eral agen­cies and a sys­tem of fines.

But Mr Bolsonaro and his min­is­ters have crit­i­cised the penal­ties and over­seen a dra­matic fall in con­fis­ca­tions of tim­ber and con­vic­tions for en­vi­ron­men­tal crimes.

Several sci­en­tific in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, have de­fended Inpe and the ac­cu­racy of its data.

In his com­ments to for­eign jour­nal­ists on Friday, Mr Bolsonaro also de­nied the ex­is­tence of hunger in Brazil. He said there are no people on the streets with skele­tal physiques as seen in other coun­tries”, the Reuters news re­ports.

According to data from the UNs Food and Agriculture Organization, some 5.2 mil­lion peo­ple suf­fered from hunger in Brazil in 2017.

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10 173 shares, 6 trendiness, 1479 words and 14 minutes reading time

Skunk Works' Exotic Fusion Reactor Program Moves Forward With Larger, More Powerful Design

This will be the com­pa­ny’s fifth ma­jor de­sign it­er­a­tion as it pushes ahead to­ward build­ing a po­ten­tially rev­o­lu­tion­ary prac­ti­cal pro­to­type.

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works is build­ing a new, more ca­pa­ble test re­ac­tor as it con­tin­ues to move ahead with its am­bi­tious Compact Fusion Reactor pro­gram, or CFR. Despite slower than ex­pected progress, the com­pany re­mains con­fi­dent the pro­ject can pro­duce prac­ti­cal re­sults, which would com­pletely trans­form how power gets gen­er­ated for both mil­i­tary and civil­ian pur­poses.

Aviation Week

was first to re­port the up­dates on the CFR pro­gram, in­clud­ing that Lockheed Martin is in the process of con­struct­ing its newest ex­per­i­men­tal re­ac­tor, known as the T5, on July 19, 2019. The com­pa­ny’s leg­endary California-based Skunk Works ad­vanced pro­jects of­fice is in charge of the ef­fort and had al­ready built four dif­fer­ent test re­ac­tor de­signs, as well as a num­ber of sub­vari­ants, since the pro­gram first be­came pub­lic knowl­edge in 2014. The War Zone has been fol­low­ing news of this po­ten­tially rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­gram very closely in re­cent years.

China Touts Fusion Progress As New Details On Lockheed Martin’s Reactor EmergeLockheed Martin Now Has a Patent For Its Potentially World Changing Fusion ReactorDocs Show Navy Got UFO Patent Granted By Warning Of Similar Chinese Tech AdvancesThe U. S. Military Wants Tiny Road Mobile Nuclear Reactors That Can Fit In A C-17The Army Wants Its Brigades To Be Able To Fight For An Entire Week Without Resupply

The work we have done to­day ver­i­fies our mod­els and shows that the physics we are talk­ing about — the ba­sis of what we are try­ing to do — is sound,” Jeff Babione, Skunk Works Vice President and General Manager, told Aviation Week. This year we are con­struct­ing an­other re­ac­tor — T5 — which will be a sig­nif­i­cantly larger and more pow­er­ful re­ac­tor than our T4.”

The T5′s main job will be to fur­ther test whether Skunk Work’s ba­sic re­ac­tor de­sign can han­dle the heat and pres­sure from the highly en­er­gized plasma in­side, which is cen­tral to how the sys­tem works. In a nu­clear fu­sion re­ac­tion, a gaseous fuel gets heated up to a point where the pres­sure is so in­tense that its very atomic struc­ture gets dis­rupted and cer­tain par­ti­cles fuse to­gether into a heav­ier nu­cleus. This process also in­volves the re­lease of a mas­sive amount of en­ergy, which, in prin­ci­ple, could be used to run a tra­di­tional ther­mal power gen­er­a­tor.

A Skunk Works brief­ing slide from 2017 on the CFR pro­gram out­lin­ing the goals for the T5, as well as three other planned fu­ture ex­per­i­men­tal re­ac­tors lead­ing up to the first vi­able TX pro­to­type.

We are cur­rently sched­uled to have that [the T5] go on­line to­wards the end of this year,” Babione said. So that will be an­other sig­nif­i­cant leap in ca­pa­bil­ity and to­wards demon­strat­ing that the physics un­der­lin­ing our con­cept works.”

The CFR pro­gram is built around new patented re­ac­tor de­sign, which The War Zone has ex­plored in de­tail in the past, that uses su­per­con­duct­ing coils to more ef­fec­tively gen­er­ate a mag­netic field to con­tain the heat and pres­sure of the re­ac­tion. Lockheed Martin’s hope is that this will over­come chal­lenges that have rel­e­gated nu­clear fu­sion power gen­er­a­tion to the realm of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion since the first con­cepts emerged in the 1920s.

A di­a­gram show­ing the ba­sic re­ac­tor con­fig­u­ra­tion Lockheed Martin is us­ing in its CFR pro­gram.

Since then, teams in var­i­ous coun­tries have built func­tional fu­sion re­ac­tors, but they re­main large, in­ef­fi­cient, and ex­pen­sive. Last year, China touted progress on its Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), but with­out high­light­ing that this re­ac­tor is sit­u­ated in­side a two-story build­ing within the Dongpu Science Island, a large re­search cam­pus on a lakeshore penin­sula in China’s Anhui Province. An in­ter­na­tional con­sor­tium also hopes to have the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) up and run­ning in France in 2021, but this re­ac­tor will weigh ap­prox­i­mately 23,000 tons.

Containing the re­ac­tion, the same one that oc­curs in our sun and other stars, and do­ing so for a pro­tracted pe­riod of time, re­mains the biggest hur­dle. Nuclear fu­sion cre­ates tem­per­a­tures of hun­dreds of mil­lions of de­grees Fahrenheit, which, in turn, also gen­er­ate ex­tremely high pres­sures in­side the re­ac­tor ves­sel. The en­ergy from fu­sion re­ac­tions can be so pow­er­ful that coun­tries have al­ready weaponized it in the form of hy­dro­gen bombs.

Using a pow­er­ful mag­netic field re­mains the most vi­able means of keep­ing every­thing con­tained. Tokamaks such as EAST and ITER, a con­cept the Soviet Union first in­vented in the 1950s, which has be­come rel­a­tively com­mon in fu­sion re­search, use a ring-shaped de­sign, but re­main in­ef­fi­cient. China says that its EAST now holds the world record for longest sus­tained fu­sion re­ac­tion at just 100 sec­onds. France’s Tore Supra, an­other toka­mak, holds the record for longest plasma dis­charge at just over six min­utes.

In 2014, Aviation Week, with the help of Dr. Thomas McGuire, head of the CFR pro­gram, ex­plained Skunk Work’s plan for get­ting past this is­sue:

The prob­lem with toka­maks is that they can only hold so much plasma, and we call that the beta limit,” McGuire says. Measured as the ra­tio of plasma pres­sure to the mag­netic pres­sure, the beta limit of the av­er­age toka­mak is low, or about 5% or so of the con­fin­ing pres­sure,” he says. Comparing the torus to a bi­cy­cle tire, McGuire adds, if they put too much in, even­tu­ally their con­fin­ing tire will fail and burst—so to op­er­ate safely, they don’t go too close to that.’ …The CFR will avoid these is­sues by tack­ling plasma con­fine­ment in a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent way. Instead of con­strain­ing the plasma within tubu­lar rings, a se­ries of su­per­con­duct­ing coils will gen­er­ate a new mag­netic-field geom­e­try in which the plasma is held within the broader con­fines of the en­tire re­ac­tion cham­ber. Superconducting mag­nets within the coils will gen­er­ate a mag­netic field around the outer bor­der of the cham­ber. So for us, in­stead of a bike tire ex­pand­ing into air, we have some­thing more like a tube that ex­pands into an ever-stronger wall,’ McGuire says. The sys­tem is there­fore reg­u­lated by a self-tun­ing feed­back mech­a­nism, whereby the far­ther out the plasma goes, the stronger the mag­netic field pushes back to con­tain it. The CFR is ex­pected to have a beta limit ra­tio of one. We should be able to go to 100% or be­yond,’ he adds.”

Lockheed Martin says that the CFR de­sign could even­tu­ally be small enough to fit in­side a ship­ping con­tainer, but still be able to power a Nimitz class air­craft car­rier or up to 80,000 homes. The patent doc­u­ments sug­gest it might even­tu­ally be com­pact enough to even power a large air­craft.

It would also only re­quire a frac­tion of the nu­clear fuel found in ex­ist­ing fis­sion nu­clear power re­ac­tors, which, in turn, would gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cantly less waste over time. The fuel also does­n’t need to be any­where near as re­fined, mak­ing it less dan­ger­ous to han­dle and far less un­suit­able as a start­ing place to build nu­clear weapons.

Needless to say, this could com­pletely dis­rupt the power gen­er­a­tion in­dus­try and would have far-rang­ing ap­pli­ca­tions in both the mil­i­tary and civil­ian do­mains, some­thing The War Zone has pre­vi­ously ex­plored in-depth. The U. S. mil­i­tary, in par­tic­u­lar, is be­com­ing so con­cerned about meet­ing fu­ture bat­tle­field power gen­er­a­tion needs that it is once again con­sid­er­ing build­ing small, mo­bile fis­sion re­ac­tors to pro­vide that en­ergy. A prac­ti­cal CFR would of­fer a much safer and ef­fi­cient al­ter­na­tive.

Unfortunately, de­spite the progress that Skunk Works has made, many ques­tions re­main about whether its new re­ac­tor con­cept will be able to suc­ceed whether other de­signs have failed. Lockheed Martin has ini­tially sug­gested it might have a vi­able pro­to­type ready this year or the next.

By 2017, that sched­ule had got­ten pushed back to some­time in the mid-2020s. In his in­ter­view with Aviation Week, Babione did not of­fer any more of a spe­cific time­line for when a prac­ti­cal re­ac­tor, which the com­pany refers to as TX, might be ready.

Members of the CFR pro­gram team at Skunk Works work on an ex­per­i­men­tal fu­sion re­ac­tor.

One of the biggest hur­dles for Skunk Works may be en­sur­ing that the de­sign re­mains truly compact” by the end of its de­vel­op­ment. Babione ac­knowl­edged that Lockheed Martin still had much work to do in scal­ing up the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the re­ac­tor de­sign to a prac­ti­cal level, which might also re­quire in­creas­ing its phys­i­cal size.

How do you scale it up to gen­er­ate power for a city or an en­tire town? That’s all ahead of us,” he said. It’s cer­tainly not easy but we think it is in the realm of the pos­si­ble.”

What we do know is that Lockheed Martin is still build­ing new test re­ac­tors and clearly re­mains com­mit­ted to this very ex­cit­ing pro­gram, which could fun­da­men­tally change the fu­ture of power gen­er­a­tion.

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