Matt Marshall

September 2020

Bit of a nerd moment; but isn't there just something so warm and comforting about FTP? It's not trying to be anything it wasn't supposed to be. It's just "Hey, use me to put some files on a server. I'm trusty". So pure.

life web development tech ftp

I breathed a sigh of relief as the pringles in Sainsbury's went off of discount but they've just brought Ben & Jerry's on offer and I have decided that this is now a capitalist plot to ruin my gains and stop the rise of the swoletariat

life snacks pringles crisps

Finding joy in converting a file

Just had a really nice experience where a loved one asked me to facilitate the conversion of an ebook from epub format to PDF for reading on her computer.

Since converting data is kinda my jam, and I am well-versed in Pandoc this seemed like a one-command job. Pandoc complained at the file being converted for some obscure reason, and manually trying out a few different options under --pdf-engine didn't yield any results. I next tried Calibre, the popular ebook management software. It has facilities to convert between various readable formats although I've historically found its results to be spotty (this might be a case of garbage-in-garbage-out, though). Calibre similarly complained, citing the same reason as Pandoc (something about font encoding I think). Ever the debugger, I asked Calibre to convert the file to mobi which it kindly obliged me. Feeling bold now I asked it to convert the original epub to docx -- another success!

With my docx in hand I braced myself and opened the new file in LibreOffice. A quick skim indicated that there were no obviously mangled paragraphs or destroyed pages. From there it was a simple matter to save as PDF et voila -- task accomplished! This might mark the first time in history I've been happy to see a docx file.

This experience brought me joy because it reminded me of something. I've worked in standards for a few years now, and spent a lot of time designing technologies that tried to get it "right". Where right is either the most technically efficient way, or using the right participatory design technique in the right place, or using the right analytical framework. This exercise gave me a chance to playfully engage my creative problem solving. The "right" thing to do technically might've been to try and fix the encoding of the epub file, and I certainly never envisioned using LibreOffice to generate a pdf file when I have the power of Pandoc at my fingertips. But it was nice to play around and hack my way around the problem by stringing tools together in a pipeline.

life technology joy

You should write to your MP, here's a template

Dear...,

This year has been extremely difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The difficulty has been exacerbated by the Government’s mishandling of the crisis, which looks set to worsen with the withdrawal of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme at the end of October.

The Job Retention Scheme, fought for by trade unions and employers as the means to avoid an immediate collapse across sectors and mass job losses, has provided welcome support for the 9.6million people who have used it. The Government have already tried to remove it in April and again in June, and it was only extended to 31st October because of public pressure. We are still in a global pandemic and the increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases is very worrying. Many businesses are unable to trade as normal. Millions of workers are still reliant on the Job Retention scheme and are now facing an agonising worry over the future of their jobs.

The Government needs to support workers and businesses to avoid a catastrophic wave of redundancies and job losses. Other major economies have committed to long-term furlough schemes with Australia and Ireland’s schemes lasting until next March, while Germany and France’s continuing until December 2021. There is now widespread support for a common sense extension to this life line for workers and employers.

I urge you to call on the Government to change course and extend the scheme to at least March 2021 and to create a sustainable plan for the future including support to:

  • The hardest hit sectors, such as aviation and leisure.
  • Those areas placed in local lockdown where businesses cannot reopen.
  • High-risk people who cannot safely return to work.

The economic and human cost of mass unemployment for years to come is unthinkable and it is the responsibility of the government to prevent. Extending the Job Retention Scheme would cost a fraction of the £500bn used to bail out the banks during the global financial crash. The Office for Budget Responsibility projects a nightmare scenario of unemployment spiralling to 4.1 million by the end of the year, with 1.3 million people going straight from the Job Retention Scheme to claiming Universal Credit. And unemployment in a second virus wave could hit 14.8% – close to one in every seven, higher than France, Germany and Italy.

We are far from through this crisis. Cutting the Job Retention Scheme now would significantly damage our economy in the long-run, devastating key sectors with a tide of redundancies. The human cost would be devastating.

I appreciate your urgent support in this matter; we must act fast in order to protect the futures of our businesses and employees. Urge the government to extend the Job Retention Scheme.

Yours sincerely,

politics covid-19 pandemic furlough peoples assembly

Ah yes, time for my quarterly slicing-a-bit-off-the-top-of-my-thumb-not-enough-to-warrant-attention-but-enough-to-make-basic-tasks-horrid-for-a-few-days

life thumbs

All I'm saying is that if I tried to fake election results I'd pick something a lot less obvious than 80%. It's almost like EU and US trying to open up Belarus' state infrastructure to the market by creating another colour revolution