In most parts of Canada, we are suffering under shockingly bad officials. British Columbia is dealing with a pandemic of a novel coronavirus which emerged late last year but spread early this year when travellers brought it to a ski resort and infected workers who were living in close quarters, and our federal government just found 6 billion dollars to lend to an airline when a lot of people and communities are waiting for less expensive things.
In Ontario, one of these crises is at Laurentian University, whose administration has just entered bankruptcy protection at a closed Senate meeting. They have laid off approximately 100 faculty and closed 60 programs including one of only three midwifery programs in Ontario, all Francophone history at this bilingual university, and all history education above the bachelor’s level. The faculty are being notified by email in the first week of exam season. Faculty have strongly suspected that the university had financial troubles for some time but the administration refused to provide sufficient information until it was too late. Dr. Janice Liedl, the chair of the history department, is my only trusted source about what is happening (she abandoned her blog for birdsite sadly https://twitter.com/jliedl). There is an open letter to the provincial government on Google Docs here (link).
The modern international historical fencing movement began in the 1990s, but before that there were isolated or short-lived attempts to collect old fencing manuals and practice their teachings. Like some exiled scholars before me, I am taking advantage of the situation to read books and find references which I could not at home. I read the following long before I discovered the historical fencers or was in the habit of listing all the useful passages I read. It was published in 1969 and describes the foundation of SCA Heavy combat in California. It begins:
Fencers and kendo men occasionally take part in tournaments. At present, some people are experimenting with rapier and dagger. No doubt still other weapons will appear. It will be interesting to see how they do.
It is likely interesting to consider the methods of their appointment. Except for a recent discovery of an old German manual by Jakob Sutor, which treats only a few kinds of arms, nobody has yet turned up contemporary instructions for sword and shield or the like. If any of you out there know of some, the Society will be grateful for the information. Meanwhile, reconstruction has been by trial and error. The influence of judo and karate is noticeable in the results. We would love to know if the men who stood at Hastings or Crécy- a time gap which may well have seen considerable evolution- had developed similar styles or quite different ones. In the later case, which set would be more effective?
At first I thought substack were just good self-promoters. They managed to convince people to lend them more than $80 million to launch a blog platform with 2010s aesthetics. Most blog platforms will deliver posts by RSS or email if you sign up, and paid and unpaid newsletters go back to the 19th century. Getting people with too much money to give you some is harmless, and convincing people to read and write blogs is good. But then @firstname.lastname@example.org suggested I should look at their source code and I saw something as beautiful as the tale of Emperor Norton of the United States.
If you right-click a Substack page and click ‘view source,’ you will see some sections for tracking pixels. These are tiny transparent images which uniquely identify the copy of an email or a webpage sent to a specific person. They are one of the ways sites track you around the web and after you sign out, which is why its a good idea to block HTML and images in your email client. But these images have some metadata attached, and that metadata appears in the text of the page.
if you were not using HTTPS, anyone between you and your server can see which page and which newsletter someone with your email address and username was visiting. And if you submit the page to the Wayback Machine, your address and other personal information will be archived for posterity. If you use substack and comment on one of those discussion threads, will the email addresses and usernames of everyone who comments be archived? They have fields for Facebook and Google tracking IDs, so anyone who has access to those (and the aspects of your identity they reveal) can search for them. For example, if a cracker wanted to spear phish you, he could use this to send an email that looks like an update from one of your newsletters with a link you really should not click on or attachment you really should not open. The same ID is attached to Substack pages which you did not subscribe to, as long as you have not cleared your history since the last time you subscribed, logged in, or clicked a link in one of their newsletters.
The hilarious thing is that Substack is aware of the undergraduate computer science concept of running user information through a hash function to get an anonymous unique ID and using that in public. Just look at that anonymousId field! A company which just got given $65 million to promote a blog platform is making an elementary security and privacy error. And they are far from the only Southern California software company which does not seem to be very good at developing software (just look at Patreon, if you can bear to load one of their pages!) As I said a year ago, the adults in the room are not, they are just the latest generation of smooth talkers using fancy words and the right dress and deportment to convince rich people to give them money to build a beautiful dream.
A quick duck-duck-go did not reveal any posts on the subject. Some rhapsodize about tracking pixels, but not that your email address is visible in the source code. So why does it take a mad orientalist to notice this? Anyone can right click the page and view source and search for keywords. The terms “confidence game” and “con man” grew out of 19th century New York City, and on the other side of the continent, people are playing the same old game.
 I have a diploma that says “orientalist” and I don’t have a mens sana in corpore sano right now.
My mental health has recovered to the point that I can work on moving the static part of my website onto its own domain name and server. That is good, because WordPress’ web interface has become even more intolerable. Automattic has other frustrating policies, like storing images on their domain not mine (so if I move the site links on other sites to the images break), and editing a customer’s site to stop them from using someone’s legal and most famous name. If you want to see how a computer scientist thinks about this problem, read on!
 a scientist with a diploma that says CSC and a resume with “junior software developer” under work experience, at least