Can I Please Have an Unsubscribe Option for Physical Mail?

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I hate email spam and fanatically guard my inbox from it. I try to not give out my real email address unless it’s for an account I need or a service I find useful. These include bank accounts and billing accounts like credit cards and utility bills.

But I inevitably receive spam. Gmail does a great job of filtering out most of them. But for ones that get through, I appreciate organizations that add an unsubscribe link in their email footers. They are doing themselves a favor because I’m going to click that link instead of marking their email as spam which might hurt their email reputation and actually make it harder for their emails to get into inboxes overall.

Almost all my physical mail is junk, but none of them tell me how to unsubscribe. It’s rather unfair how companies collect and use my email in the first place. They ask me for it when I buy something for the first time without explaining how they’re going to use it, or in the off-chance they do explain, it’s usually about following up on my purchase.

In the months that follow, they send me with sales offers and catalogues. Why would a merchant waste the goodwill I gave them by sending me unsolicited mail? I should be asked to opt-in to promotional and marketing mail. Okay, maybe they’re too lazy or their employee forgot. Then at least give me an option to unsubscribe.

Not only does it crowd my mailbox, I now have to worry that when I move, some sensitive piece of mail might find its way into a strangers hands and be exposed or used maliciously.

Here’s an example of a letter I received from Mount Sinai. I’ve only visited Mount Sinai once to ask a surgeon about what my options were for two herniated disks in my lumbar. I can’t think of any other way Mount Sinai got my mailing address.

The more I think about the letter in the photo above, the more I start to wonder. How and why did my email from a surgical consultation get passed on to Mount Sinai’s fundraising department’s mailing list? Does this violate HIPAA?

They should at least provide me a method to unsubscribe myself. Something like a website, phone number, even a mailing address. Instead they don’t even provide a postage paid envelope for the check they expect me to write.


Corporate Lingo

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From elementary school through college, I learned standard English writing and speaking. But when I started working, I noticed there was something different about the language people spoke and wrote in the corporate world and the one I was taught in school. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the jargon felt impersonal, verbose, bombastic, and loved nouns rather than verbs.

Here are some examples of sentences I’ve heard people utter with a straight face at work:

  • What’s the ask?
  • Our win of the week was…
  • After doing an A/B test, our learnings are…
  • The deliverable is forthcoming.
  • We are waiting for sign-off.

Why do we pervert perfectly good verbs into dreadful nouns? What’s wrong with

  • What does he want?
  • Our achievement this week was…
  • After doing an A/B test, we learned…
  • I will send the result to you soon.
  • Do you approve?

To fit into a corporate setting, be verbose and bombastic.

  • “We can get the deck turned around tomorrow.” instead of “We can give you the updated deck tomorrow.”
  • “The layout will be leveraged for all other workstreams.” instead of “Everybody will use the same f**king layout.”
  • “Please flag anything you might want to escalate.” vs “Tell us if you’re worried about anything.”
  • “Let’s talk offline.” (People have said this to me in person. What do they even mean? Aren’t we already offline?)

Blatantly misuse words.

  • “Please revert with comments.” vs “Please comment.”

And finally, just make up words that sound like Newspeak.

  • “Let’s future-think our mobile design.”

How about “buy-in” or “ideation” or “react” as a noun? People also say “we” when they really mean “you” as in “We should do this.” ie “You should do this.” This usually occurs when speaking to subordinates.

I’m reminded of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” essay in which he criticized political language for being vague and meaningless. He called this kind of language a “contagion” and encouraged people instead to write and speak with concreteness and clarity.

I’m also reminded of the Java programming language which loves nouns instead of verbs. Here’s a fun explanation by Steve Yegge titled “Execution in the Kingdom of Nouns.”


How to Connect to Freenode IRC via SSL

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It took me a while to figure out how connect to freenode’s IRC servers via SSL today. Here’s a reference for my future self and anyone else who might find this helpful.

N.B. I use weechat as my IRC client.

  1. Pick a nick that’s not already taken. Weechat kept retrying unsuccessfully when I used one that was already taken.
  2. freenode has instructions here on how to connect via SSL
  3. I run weechat on Ubuntu 12.04 and had to install the intermediate and root certificates mentioned in the link above. Otherwise, weechat complains that it doesn’t recognize the certificate.
  4. sudo mkdir /usr/share/ca-certificates/extra
  5. Copy the Gandi and InstantSSL certificates to that directory.
  6. Let Ubuntu add the new certificates’ path relative to /usr/share/ca-certificates to /etc/ca-certificates.conf by running sudo dpkg-reconfigure ca-certificates.

This should be all. Here’s the weechat IRC configuration for freenode which should be written to ~/.weechat/irc.conf.

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freenode.addresses = "dickson.freenode.net/7000"
freenode.proxy
freenode.ipv6
freenode.ssl = on
freenode.ssl_cert
freenode.ssl_priorities
freenode.ssl_dhkey_size = 1024
freenode.ssl_verify
freenode.password
freenode.capabilities
freenode.sasl_mechanism
freenode.sasl_username
freenode.sasl_password
freenode.sasl_timeout
freenode.autoconnect = on
freenode.autoreconnect
freenode.autoreconnect_delay
freenode.nicks = "davidxia"
freenode.username
freenode.realname = "David Xia"
freenode.local_hostname
freenode.command
freenode.command_delay
freenode.autojoin
freenode.autorejoin
freenode.autorejoin_delay
freenode.connection_timeout
freenode.anti_flood_prio_high
freenode.anti_flood_prio_low
freenode.away_check
freenode.away_check_max_nicks
freenode.default_msg_part
freenode.default_msg_quit
freenode.notify

New Yorker Redesign

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The New Yorker recently redesigned their web site and made all articles free for a limited time. Everything looks great except for that giant sticky header that takes up at least an inch of your screen. I hope they get rid of it.


Amsterdam 2014

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I visited Amsterdam after coming going to Stockholm for work recently. It was my first time there. Amsterdam’s canal, bike paths, and green spaces are beautiful.


Indonesia 2014

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Nanette and I traveled to Indonesia and visited Borobudur, the site of the world’s largest buddhist temple, and hiked Mount Rinjani, an active volcano.




How to Backup and Restore Your Hard Disk by Creating a Disk Image

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It’s been almost a year since I setup my personal server which I named Jarvis. I haven’t backed-up Jarvis at all and recently grew paranoid that something might happen to him. Jarvis represents hundreds of hours of work, and there are documents and code that are stored only in him.

I spent some time figuring out how to backup everything. The easiest solution is to initialize Git repositories for all my projects and then create bare Git repos for all of them. Then I simply tarballed them up and stored copies of them elsewhere.

But I wanted to also preserve all my server configurations and packages. I wanted a hard drive that if Jarvis’ hard disk suffered some catastrophic failure like fire, I could simply plug into another computer and have a perfect clone up and running in no time. Spending hours installing packages isn’t fun. What I needed was to take a snapshot of the disk and create a disk image. It turns out dd is the command for the job.


How to Setup Your First Scala Project in IntelliJ

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I stumbled around for quite a while trying to create a basic Scala project in IntelliJ. Here are the steps so you don’t have to waste nearly as much time as I did. I’m also documenting this because I know I’m going to forget it myself.

My environment:

  • Mac OS X Mavericks 10.9
  • IntelliJ IDEA 13.0

My steps:

  • install Scala with homebrew brew install scala --with-docs
    • this installed Scala version 2.10.3 for me
  • brew install sbt (I’m using 0.13.0)
  • mkdir ~/.sbt/0.13/plugins
  • echo 'addSbtPlugin("com.github.mpeltonen" % "sbt-idea" % "1.5.2")' > ~/.sbt/0.13/plugins/build.sbt
  • install the scala plugin for IntelliJ
  • git clone https://github.com/davidxia/hidemyass_api.git
  • import project; choose “import project from external model” and select “Use auto-import”
  • make sure it compiles and runs