Amazon prepares for zombie attack

and now, from the lighter side of the law (sort of):

My colleague Nikolay pointed out a clause in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Terms that lifts restrictions on using certain parts of the platform for life/safety critical systems in the event of a zombie attack:

However, this restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization.

How altruistic!

Dry January Ends. Wet February Begins.

For the past four weeks I’ve been staying off the booze as part of Dry January, and I’m calling it a day tomorrow after 29 days. This isn’t a spur of the moment decision, but what I had planned on doing from the start. Our friends have just had a baby and are moving to France, so we’re heading out to give them a send off. As I mentioned in my previous post, as far as I can remember, the longest I’d gone before this (since I started drinking properly) was 9 days; so definitely a good run.

  
The experiment has been an interesting one, and I’m glad that I did it. Personally I think it’s always rewarding to push the boundaries of what you come to accept as norms regularly. Below, I’ll explore some of the things I noticed and felt over the past 4 weeks. Obviously not everything will necessarily just be down to not drinking (correlation doesn’t equal correlation after all), but are still worth talking a bit about.

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1. I still love booze.

This is important to get out of the way early. Staying dry for January has helped me take a step back and think about the relationship we (and I) have with alcohol, but I have definitely not had any sort of revelation that has led me to commit to further sobriety. Without alcohol, life loses a bit of its colour and vibrancy.

2. Not as hard as I expected.

Given my love of alcohol, I expected to be constantly ganting for a drink. However, as it turns out, I wasn’t… at least for the bulk of the time. This is probably largely down to the fact that over the past year I’ve consciously dialled down the amount of alcohol I drink ‘casually’ on an everyday basis. In other words, instead of having wine with dinner, or whisky on a regular weekday, I now tend not to drink anything when we’re just kicking about the house. Coupled with the fact that we weren’t travelling away from Glasgow this month, I think that this made the process a lot easier, and it’s reassuring to know that booze isn’t really as big a part of my day-to-day life as it was at one point. 

That said, there were definitely times where I could have murdered a drink. We had our anniversary in January, and a few other occasions where a celebratory libation was warranted, but I passed. Interestingly enough, it was pretty satisfying – and almost addictive – to have something to hold the line on in that way; a test of willpower. It’s easy to see how some people would actively choose to not drink more regularly.

3. Caffeine, sleeping habits, and dreaming.

I used to have lots of trouble with insomnia, and would drink sizable volumes of caffeine to combat the resulting daytime tiredness, but since switching to a more flexible work schedule, this is something that has largely abated. I’ve generally been going to bed earlier, and not drinking any red bull as a result.

However, all that went out of the window. Not too far into Dry January, I started feeling wide awake later and later like I used to – staying up, and then craving caffeine the next day. In addition, when I did drink coffee or whatever, it affected me way more than it usually would; a couple of times I felt like I was on speed – rattling about. I felt incredibly productive, and started up a whole pile of projects that I had left stagnating for years, like making music under the moniker ‘unexpected bowtie’. I’m curious to see how that motivation and inspiration pans out when I start drinking again. Hopefully it won’t all go out of the window.

When I did get to sleep, I found myself having some of the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had. I dismissed this at first, but apparently this is one of the commonly reported side effects of cutting down on alcohol consumption. Pretty strange, though as the days have gone by, I’ve noticed the dreams less and less.

4. Weight loss and money saving.

Two of the oft-stated benefits of going dry are losing weight and saving money. It’s true that I felt generally ‘cleaner’ internally, and lost a few inches off of my waist – but I attribute this more to the fact that we’ve been going to the gym three times a week, rather than just not consuming alcohol. Infact, I’ve probably eaten more rubbish this month than usual, as I replaced one vice with another. That ties back into the caffeine actually, with Grace remarking: ‘Those energy drinks are probably worse for you than booze’. I’ve no doubt that you’d lose weight if you cut out alcohol completely and kept your diet the same, but you’d need to do it for a lot longer than 4 weeks.

Money wise, the claim that you’ll ‘save’ cash is a bit of a dubious one. In reality, you just have more money to spend on other things. I don’t actually think buying alcohol is a ‘waste’, and I’m well aware of the purchasing tradeoff I make when I do, so whilst it was nice to have money to allocate to different things, it’s something I take into account when budgeting anyway, so seems a bit redundant. In all honesty, I probably spent way more money this month than any other month, as I thought: “Oh well, I can afford this because I’m not drinking”, when in reality I hadn’t actually ‘saved’ that much.

5. Social situations are different.

Unsurprisingly, the most notable difference was with social situations. At first, it was tough to think of things to do that don’t involve drinking, and also much harder to suggest hanging out without the usual, and universally understood ‘fancy grabbing a drink?’ invitation. It felt like you had to explain to everybody that you weren’t drinking at the outset, which was a bit strange. Generally though, not drinking as part of Dry January made things easier, as people understand the concept without much explanation. I can’t say it would have been quite the same if I’d been doing this off my own back in October, for example.

In general though, you just feel boring. As Frank Skinner put it recently, people might respond by saying:

“Hey, at least you can remember what you did last night!”

“Aye, nothing.”

Even when you are doing things, it can be tough. It’s no surprise that being around drunk people isn’t great fun if you’re sober, but it’s another thing entirely to actually experience that – particularly if you haven’t in a long time. We don’t have a car anymore, so I literally can’t remember the last time (January aside) where I’ve been completely sober around drunk people. I’ve been with plenty of people who are far more gone to the wind than I am, but I’ve always still been at least a little bit pished.

Being with people who are properly drinking is a strange, alienating experience. Drinking is so engrained in our culture that you never question it, and it’s easy to forget how bizarre a ritual it actually is. At first it just seems a bit strange how people are fixated on consuming so much liquid whilst you are trying to stomach your second can of ginger beer. After that, even if there are no outwardly obvious physical indicators that someone is pished, they seem to go into a world of their own, a million miles away. The conversations that they are so deeply invested in don’t mean all that much to you when sober, and it’s hard to break in or share their enthusiasm. Drinking and talking til the wee hours with a group of friends always has a warm, fuzzy ambient feeling, and it was a bit of a shock to do the same thing and feel how cold, or… normal the flat felt without alcohol. That might seem obvious, but it was a much more tangible sensation (or lack of) than I had expected without the shared bond created by alcohol.

At its best, you like seeing people enjoying themselves, even if you do feel a bit left out. At its worst, you end up in circular arguments with people that can’t remember what was said two sentences ago. There is no way to reason with people when they are drunk, and it’s hard not to get impatient when you have explained something multiple times, and then feel like a dickhead as they get angry at you. There’s no way to win, and it’s easy to see how stupid fights can happen when people are drunk.

In general, social interaction can be exhausting when sober, and people’s sense of time whilst intoxicated is different. When you’re pished you have a single-minded desire to stay up, drink more, and sustain the good feeling that you have. You forget that people around you who are sober don’t have the same super-human drive that you’ve been gifted by the alcohol, and so if they aren’t as chatty or get tired and want to head home – that’s perfectly natural. They simply haven’t got the same amount of energy to engage at the same level socially, because they haven’t taken the same drug that you have.

If you aren’t going to drink for a longer period than just a month, it’s easy to see how you could build up a resentment towards alcohol, and the people who choose to drink. It seems (from the outside in), like an exclusive, selfish club, where people become pushy and obstinate… and bear in mind that I say this as a big drinker myself.

If you get annoyed or introverted then it is often remarked that somehow it’s your fault for choosing not to drink. I heard the line ‘You could have drank tonight and you didn’t’ more than once. The suggestion is that sober people are just bitter because they’re not drinking, rather than just being tired and irritated by the illogical behaviour of drunk people. The idea that the only way to not feel like that is to join them is a pretty sad one, and led to some uncomfortable thoughts about why and how we need alcohol to spent quality time together.

What it comes down to is this: we don’t need booze to spend time with our friends or family, and can have great times when sober… but alcohol is a social lubricant that makes everything flow so much easier between those sharing the experience – particularly in a generally introverted culture like Scotland. The problem comes when there are people in a group that aren’t on the same level.

Obiter.

I love booze. It tastes great, makes you feel great, and helps act as a release for the jumble of thoughts and feelings that get stuck in your head with no other outlet. It was interesting to see it from the other side of the looking glass for once. Not drinking whilst others around got pished made me realise just how much of a drug alcohol is, and the inability of those who are drinking to see past their perspective whilst engaged in it. That’s something that we tend to forget given its normalcy.

Tomorrow I’ll head out at 3pm for a full day of drinking, which is probably a bad idea, but has to be done. I did joke that I’ll need to drink all of the alcohol that I didn’t drink in January in February. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel afterwards (although I already have the hangover fear), and I hope that I can retain some of the sense of perspective that the past 4 weeks has given. I think the first step is to realise and accept that if you’re drinking, you’re fairly likely being a dick, and need to wind your neck in. Whether that’s possible after a bottle of Jack Daniel’s or not, I’m not sure. We’ll see.

All in all, Dry January was an interesting experiment, but I won’t be rushing back to do it again.

Transparency Report Update and a Closer Look at Turkey

Turkey is a problem.

Transparency Report

Our latest transparency report is hot off the press, complete with data and details about the intellectual property infringement notices, government takedown demands, and government requests for information we received between July 1 and December 31, 2015.

You can view our updated report here.

Taking a closer look at the numbers, you may notice that we’ve seen quite an increase in government takedown demands since we launched our transparency report, with 156% more demands in 2015 (346) than in 2014 (135). The majority of these demands are from two countries in particular: Russia and Turkey.

Russia is no surprise as we’ve been dealing with their demands for years (you can read more about our process for handling their demands here), but Turkey came out of the woodwork for the first time with 4 demands in 2014, jumping up dramatically with 113 in 2015.

Generally we receive Turkish court orders…

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Dry January: 10 days in

This year I’ve decided to do something I’ve never done before, and not drink any alcohol for an entire month.

The longest I’ve gone (consecutively) before now since hitting the age of legal consent was 9 days. I remember this because it was back when I was trying to figure out why I was in pain all the time, and the doctor said it could be a stomach ulcer, so I cut down drinking, and then out completely… even managing to make it to the Cathouse without touching a drop, eesh. However, there were some couchsurfers staying from Germany, and I caved after 9 days. The Cathouse was also involved.

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Luckily, it wasn’t a stomach ulcer at all, but some sort of allergy to wheat. I had a drink or two to celebrate that news.

Anyway, as of today, the longest I’ve gone is now ten days. It’s been much easier than it was back then, as I don’t drink in quite such volumes as I did before. We’ve also been travelling to places like the US, Iceland and Belgium the past few months, imbibing in some fine (and not so fine) beers… so I’m actually not craving it as much as I might usually. There was one moment where we made some bastardised version of carbonara with white wine, and when I poured it in I almost grabbed the bottle and downed the entire thing. All of that said, if I was doing this in June it may be a different story.

 

Error 451: Unavailable for Legal Reasons

Transparency Report

Internet Service Providers and online platforms like WordPress.com are increasingly facing demands to block access to URLs in different countries. These orders can come as the result of court decisions (in the case of the UK and Turkey), or directly from governmental authorities (in the case of Russia or Georgia) and are usually directed at content that governments find illegal or objectionable.

Before now, there has been no standard error message that is both machine-readable and also explains to visitors the reason that the site is unavailable.

Default messages like the infamous ‘Error 404 – Page not found’ or its close cousin, ‘Error 403 – Forbidden’ strike us as inadequate for situations where sites are unavailable for legal reasons. Enter the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). They have approved a new HTTP error status code: Error 451, named after Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel ‘Fahrenheit 451’. This development comes after 2 years of campaigning by groups…

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Looking back at how to listen: A year of music

I’ve been using Last.fm – the tracking service to catalogue the music you listen to – since 2004. Since then, I have ‘scrobbled’ about 1,600 different artists, and just over 43,500 tracks.

To be honest, I don’t check in on Last.fm very often, preferring to let it just carry on doing its thing in the background – looking in every once in a while to see how things are getting on. I tend to have periods where I don’t listen to a whole lot of music, and there’s some useful information in there to help spot when that’s happening and do something about it. I can always look back and dig out some of the bands I haven’t listened to in ages, and try and rekindle some of the associated excitement again. I’m not a very good passive music listener… preferring to be more involved when I do.

A couple of months ago I realised that my music habits over the past couple of years have slipped pretty dramatically – going from 5,952 scrobbles in 2013, to 2,671 in 2014, and 2362 in 2015. The figure for this year is slightly higher than it would have been had I not realised and made a conscious effort to listen to more.

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I think there’s a few reasons for the dip:

  • Moving House – I always preferred listening to music through my amp + speakers combo than whilst wearing headphones. In my previous (shared) flat, the audio setup was used purely for those purposes whilst I was hanging out in my room. Now, it’s used as my main output – connected up to the TV. Because of that, it gets used far less for music, and I listen to a lot less as a result.
  • Travelling – The past couple of years I’ve been travelling a lot. I have too much music to store on my phone, so rely on Spotify – but that tends to rule out listening to things whilst abroad with no data connection. I also don’t generally really like using my phone for music. I also discovered that the in-built music system wasn’t registering all the scrobbles that it should be…
  • Work – Two years ago I went from working in an office where I would listen to music constantly during the day to working from home. Whilst this was great, it meant that I didn’t always need to block out what was going on around me, and ended up listening to music less as a result. In addition, if I needed some background noise, I would tend to opt for the TV.
  • Not being involved – I used to be in a band, write for a music zine, and a whole lot more. I’d naturally come across music I loved and get excited about it. I don’t really do this at all anymore.

Now that I’ve worked this out, I’m going to actively make an effort to listen to more music. Here’s some of the things that should help make a difference:

  • New bluetooth speaker – I always thought that bluetooth speakers sucked, and generally they do. After trying out a JBL Charge 2 though, and hearing how great the bass response was, I got one. It’s portable, and means that we can listen to music whilst travelling easier – or whilst in different rooms without headphones.
  • New headphones – I got a pair of open backed Beyerdynamic headphones that have ultra soft ear cups on them. Coupled with a cheap FiiO mini amplifier, they sound incredible – and I can wear them for hours at a time. Listening to music on them is a pleasure, and means I find myself doing so far more often whilst working at home; concentrating better as well.
  • Going to the gym – I stopped going to the gym when I moved flat, as there wasn’t a decently priced one nearby. One has opened up across the road, and I’ve started to go pretty frequently. The music they play in there is utter gash, so that means an hour of music 3 or 4 times a week that I wouldn’t have listened to before. I’m using Vox on iOS currently to make sure that it gets scrobbled properly.
  • Finding new music – The times I’ve listened to loads of music in the past has always been when I’ve gotten passionate about it and explored different artists to get excited about. When I can’t think of what to listen to, I tend to not bother. This year I’m going to make more of an effort to explore related songs on Last.FM and become more involved than I have been for a while.

All the grizzly details of what I’m listening to can be found on my Last.FM profile here.