The Psalms

Narcoleptic yokel coming to know humility and regret.

Gurgle Crum Tile

Almost exactly two years ago, I warned that Google was on track to replace God of us all. Last month, The Verge's Dieter Bohn reported that Google plans to begin accounting for “page experience” in its search rankings beginning in 2021, later explaining in a subsequent episode of The Vergecast:

Here is another example of the Chrome team coming up with a bunch of web standards and then the Search team making a bunch of incentives based on those standards.

It was news to me that in May, Google launched a page called “Web Vitals” on its web.dev domain (which they've apparently owned since November 2018.) The company measures “page experience” based on three main criteria:

  • Largest Contentful Paint measures perceived load speed and marks the point in the page load timeline when the page's main content has likely loaded.
  • First Input Delay measures responsiveness and quantifies the experience users feel when trying to first interact with the page.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift measures visual stability and quantifies the amount of unexpected layout shift of visible page content.

CoStar just sent an oddly topical (and honestly, encouraging) notification:

Costar Notification

I'm not a “real” web developer – nor do I mean to dictate to a single one – but I know enough theory to note that of this “core web” education operation centered around web.dev is operating on some irritating assumptions:

1. Smaller assets are ideal.

The simple assumption that it is always better to have the smallest page possible – that images should be resized and compressed to hell and typography/other elements should be few in number. Instantaneous page loads should be priority over any other standards of measure for a web page – like interesting design, for instance.

2. Minimalistic design is necessary.

The reality – for most of the Western world, at least – is that average network speeds are exponentially increasing year-by-year. In 2018:

World-wide average mobile download speed was 22.82 Mbps (Megabits per second), an increase of 15.2% over 2017. Average upload speed was 9.19 Mbps, an increase of 11.6%. Fixed broadband speeds also increased. Average download speed increased 26.4% to 46.12 Mbps, while average upload speed came in at 22.44 Mbps, a 26.5% increase.

I may be a yokel, but these averages are still absolutely inconceivable to me. Our phones have as much RAM as my “studio” work desktop, now. 22.82 Mbps will reliably download very complex web pages nearly instantaneously. There is a very reasonable argument for essential services like search engines and news websites to conform to/adopt standards like AMP, but for the rest of The Open Web, ingenuity and risktaking should be encouraged, not discouraged, for the true good of all Peoplekind.

A term I haven't seen for a good while describes this ideology: “the mobile web,” and it completely sucking ass is not a new concept. I've before referenced an old complaint from 2015 by The Verge's Editor-in-Chief, Nilay Patel (which the original article also links in different context in its last line):

The entire point of the web was to democratize and simplify publishing using standards that anyone could build on, and it has been a raging, massively disruptive success for decades now. But the iPhone's depressing combination of dominant mobile web marketshare and shitbox performance means we're all sort of ready to throw that progress away.

3. Google has the right to dictate “Best Practices.”

The Mobile Web as a utility has its place, but it's certainly not a necessary or desirable ideal for the entirety of The Web, yet Google has the audacity to presume it can dictate what is and is not optimal web design. The URL in and of itself is extremely presumptuous – Google technically has every right to own web.dev, sure, but should it? The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) program has already had an annoying effect on day-to-day browsing. I despise AMP links more than most things in life, just as I despise the name of the website Search Engine Land (which sounds like actual hell) who also reported on this:

If you have AMP, the good news is that the majority of AMP pages do extremely well in terms of page experience metrics, [Google Project Manager] Rudy Galfi said. It doesn’t mean that all AMP pages will have top page experience metrics, but AMP is built in a way to help with this.

Recently, I discovered an incredibly refreshing/affirming essay wrapped in a hand-build web experience called “Rediscovering the Small Web” by designer Parimal Satyal, arguing for a different variety of Web presence:

Modern web design principles are very rarely directed at regular people looking to make a website on something they are interested in. Instead, the focus is on creating websites that perform well: Don't use too many colours. Write short, catchy headlines. Don't let content be too long. Optimise for SEO. Produce video content, attention span is decreasing. Have a an obvious call to action. Push your newsletter. Keep important information above the fold. Don't make users think. Follow conventions.

I realize that the majority of Web utilization cannot “revert” to hand-coded plain HTML web pages hosted on Neocities, but there's something to be learned (or remembered, in my case) from Satyal's argument: The Web's forgotten strength is diversity (much like my country's, it would seem,) and the majority of users are being pushed by Google's search engine toward a very specific minority of URLs. We have not been exploring for a very long time:

Instead of browsing, the web is for many an endless and often overwhelming stream of content and commentary picked out by algorithms based on what they think you already like and will engage with. It's the opposite of exploration.

“It is worth remembering a website does not have to be a product; it can also be art,” argues Satyal. “The web is also a creative and cultural space that need not confine itself to the conventions defined by commercial product design and marketing.” (Emphasis mine.) It's not just that The Web was meant to be more – nostalgia is definitely not my particular trip, if you didn't know – it's that it can be so much more. My list of favorite Open Web projects contains just a few examples of what I mean.

It's possible I am being too critical of Google. A Twitter search for the link to The Verge's article reveals commentary like “Experience, matters ;),” “Web search moving forward,” and “Halleluja!,” so there are clearly users who are more than onboard, and not all of what Google has done for the web recently has been detrimental. It was also announced last month that Chrome will begin blocking “resource-heavy” advertisements by default and that Google and Microsoft have been working together to improve spellcheck and scrolling in Chromium. There's not much to feel about these announcements, but – as always – there is a whole lot to feel about Google as a company.

Google has announced a three-day live digital event at the end of this month (June 30th-July 2nd) in which viewers will “celebrate our community's actions, learn modern web techniques and connect with each other.” “Over three days, we'll share quick tips on aspects of modern web development,” explains the company on its web.dev/live page. I am planning to attend and bitch as much as I am allowed. Stay tuned to hear a chronicle.

#software

Bilge Version 2.3

I've been devoting significant attention to this blog recently, and I hope it shows. Reading now contains a list of recommended email newsletters as well as an ongoing list of my all-time favorite reads on The Web. I also added Podcast for End User and a dedicated Subscribe page. I've added Open – a list of some of my favorite Open Web projects and Social – a list of my social links. About has also been updated with new branding and more current hyperlinks. Typography and colors have been unified and updated to Version 2.3, and my theme has been officially listed for those of you willing to engage in the sincerest form of flattery. Also, look at that favicon! Thank you, CJ!

Furthermore, I took the time to import some old work:

Bandcamp: Streaming's Secret Savior“ A magnum opus of a 13,000+ word essay on why Bandcamp should be the future of music streaming services.

Mark Fuck and the Goofy Godheads“ An old, hilarious rant about Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk that – if I may say so – still rings awfully true today.

The Matchsellers' Inheritance“ A local bluegrass band releases an album that proves they are not just what they appear to be.

The Case for Chuck Klosterman“ A deep dive into whether or not the voice of one old White Portland Dad should be culturally considered.

Kilgore Trout on CreateSpace“ A critique of self-publishing culture (immediately after self-publishing myself) disguised as a review of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions.

Virtual Reality Virginity, Lost“ An account of my first experience in VR thanks to my friend Isiah.

Twitter Thrives on Incompetence“ Pleading for users to just use Lists. Lists are linear and ad-free.

Profound Revelations in iOS 12“ Siri Shortcuts really meant something in the beginning.

Illiteracy in American Media“ A short academic essay about how little the illiteracy issue is covered in American media.

This blog has now surpassed Extratone in number of email subscribers, which I deeply appreciate. Though you're not paying – yet (hehe) – let me once again encourage any/all feedback you may have. Send me an email!

#meta

Blood - Blimp's Burden Chapter VI

Two young men steal a wheel of cheese.

This is an excerpt from my novel project, Blimp's Burden, about a jaded software engineer who’s new, ridiculously-eccentric boss presents a future which forces him to reckon with his mishandled grief. To support the novel's creation with art, funds, etc, please email me.

In the right hour, the woodland springtime metamorphic processes of the neighboring Lake Geneva suburb’s in-betweens were in a paused state – the toads again hushed; the crickets tired, and the human populace, too. In the right hour, the fickle wind and the social owls were the only sound, and nothing moved but the sparse, light-footed doe in careful segments with her fawn. From the main gated lane of The Nice, Huge Estate, Lenny Lather slid through the muddy barrier and started bouncing West on the blacktop, brogues squeaking every third step. The overcasted clouds were having trouble deciding whether or not to let down their rain – as they had been all day – and the old, heavy early-March mist softened the yellow glow of the tall, buzzing streetlamps so much that he couldn’t help but intermittently wipe his eyes, for the spreading light convinced his mind that his eyelashes must’ve been wetted.

Theodore Pith’s big old house was now burrowed between two mismatched neighborhoods – the bleaker Easterly, which was too new for its alien trees to have recovered from the brutality of its development’s clear-cutting and contained within one of its central featureless backyards an unidentifiable creature which made all through the night the most unimaginably ghastly, disturbingly human child-like shrieking; the opposing Westerly’s trees further enough along in their regrowth – ten or twenty years perhaps – to appear more of the planet Earth to Manhattan-bred Lenny Lather, who still found the colorless destruction of suburbia unendingly upsetting, especially when coming down. In the interest of his regular withdrawal’s mitigation, he had already established two short, repeatable tracks and a longer, several mile-long loop which skirted him sufficiently around the East’s center to avoid hearing the shrieks in all but the stillest nights. Never in his years – on these walks he was especially reminded of just how many there were – had he been able to feel such absolute ownership of his surroundings. The eroding Earth slipping away from the hem of the warped, stained wood fences; the sidewalks, cracked, bent, sloped helter-skelter, often muddied in the troughs and joints – generally laying haphazardly in layers after having been steadily tossed about by the glacial forces of their intermixture with clay, precipitation, and the tumultuous temperature-dependent torture of the two – these were his, entirely, in the right hour. Between two and five in the morning when the earliest risers would blearily revive their dewy automobiles from long, silent hibernation, the whole world – everything in his sight and more at any moment – it was all his, without a single worthy challenger.

In the right hour, the roads were completely and totally abandoned – for the New Yorker, an unfathomable absolute – and all humanity was at rest. In the right hour, Lenny Lather was the appointed guardian of the worn domesticity of a small nation, though the lonely occupation was astoundingly lax, for in the miles and miles of empty streets he had already traversed in his nightly holidays from the World of Pith, he had yet to encounter a single unexpected factor or minutely threatening presence. Since shortly after his December arrival, he’d walked through even the most frigid mornings. Of course, the stillness had then been even more otherworldly, and Lenny was curious to see how his new most private domain would change with the seasons. Though the auxiliary guest room which he now called home was no smaller or less hospitable than the master bedroom of his late Hudson Yards flat shared with his late Wife, it proved to be a poor respite from Theodore Pith, who treated him – when they were “home” at Nice, Huge – as the puppy he never had, and expected his participation to remain entirely vulnerable to his any whim. Granted – in their shared abuse of amphetamines, cocaine, and assorted other stimulants – Lenny Lather was vastly more prepared for the games than any circadian guest could’ve possibly been. At first, the ten-foot door of his dawn-facing room had closed without latching, but with the warmth and moisture brought with the Midwestern Spring, the most secure state in which the engorged wood could be forcibly arranged still left a half-inch crack, and Lather’s last chance of privacy was lost.

The latest favorite pastime of Nice, Big’s Master necessitated a willing, capable driver, and – as keeping a single Butler (much less an entire household staff) was proving extremely difficult for him – Lenny Lather was the sole pick of the draft. In the earliest hours of one Tuesday morning in February, he’d been pleasantly dosing and drooling on his laptop after an evening of obsessive, incoherent notetaking when the huge door had been kicked ajar by a deep black, blindingly shiny oxford with excessively violent force. Attached to the shoe in an equally blinding penguin tuxedo, towering bowler hat, and cartoonish fake mustache was the Great, Blown Pith.

“Hope you’re not busy,” he’d said quite loudly to the lolling Lather, leaning and tilting his head into the lamp light, which had dislodged his monocle and briefly occupied him with untangling its chain.

“You’re not busy, are ya?!” he’d shouted, tapping the shiny brass lion’s head of his shiny black cane against the vanity… then swatting it with a flicking wrist… then clubbing it with a full, two-handed homerun swing – taking huge, vaguely cat nose-shaped gouges from the surface of the wood. The splintery wood chips had rained down upon the hunched Lenny; he’d stirred with one found its way in his open mouth – he’d chewed it slowly and swallowed it, but he still had not awoken. Nevertheless, Theodore Pith’s coked-up enthusiasm couldn’t possibly have yielded to common decencies like his guest’s nighttime peace.

“SHOOT, LENNY,” he’d screamed in his companion’s ear, having traversed the room to his bedside.

“I SURE HOPE YOU’RE NOT BUSY RIGHT NOW!”

Finally, he’d resorted to tickling Lenny’s nose with the ornament, which had reeked with the urinal smell of metal polish – the sudden, overwhelming delivery of which to the writer’s olfactory nerves finally causing ample alarm in his nervous system to justify bringing him abruptly back to his life and deluded host.

“I need a favor. The Duesie’s warming up. We’re going for a ride.”

Unable to form a linguistic response, Lenny Lather had obeyed Theo’s frenzied, repeating instructions and stumbled into the matching suit he’d brought over his arm – wondering with marginal, arrested clarity at how well-tailored it was for him. He had not the soundness of perception to protest when Pith had whipped a deep black, blindingly shiny bowtie around his already-congested esophagus, nor when he’d adheased the huge, itchy matching fake moustache to his upper lip and nearly pulled the matching Tower of Bowler all the way down over his ears. He had been unresponsive when he’d been sat on the bench under the agonizing fluorescent lights of the laundry room, affixed with deep black, blindingly shiny matching oxfords, and asked if he smoked and how well he could say guffaw.

“Just wait… you have no idea… you have no idea how much fun this is going to be.”

Lenny Lather had not… could not have made a sound through the confusing nonsense of his waking pre-Great Depression dream, but when the old servant’s door had been opened before him and set the heartless, single-digit Winter wind upon his very soul, he had all at once arrived in the world, laughing and whooping together with Theodore Pith.

“Jesus Christ!” he’d screamed as they’d hobbled to the stable, where a devilishly dark red Model J Duesenberg had sat shivering in a rough idle, staring out the retrofitted garage door with its basketball-sized lights as if it was, indeed, a flesh-and-blood steed that had just been frightened awake by a thunderstorm, but the sky had been as clear as it would’ve been from an asteroid – as it is only on the coldest nights – and almost comically dominated by the setting, gluttonously luminescent moon. Theodore had then grabbed a screwdriver from the workbench and bent down to remove the license plate – which had said BLOOD in big black bold block letters – and its containing frame. By the time he had settled into the frigid red leather of the exposed, roofless driver’s seat, Lenny Lather was full-to-bursting with adrenaline and laughing out huge streams of breathy steam. From behind him in the cabin, Pith had been guffawing plumes, too, as he’d briefly ignited his cocaine-sprinkled mustache instead of the bratwurst-sized cigar between his teeth. The smell of burning human hair had accented his explanation of the old car’s transmission and its direct path from source-to-nose for Pith had required a brief, unplanned intermission as it induced without warning his violent heaving – still part-guffawing – hanging half out of his beautifully-upholstered suicide door.

As he had spewed – expertly sparing the swoop of the gleaming waxy fender – Lenny had found a pair of deep black, blindingly shiny gloves and – after less grinding than you would imagine, to his credit – first gear, setting the whole dastardly circus in motion.

“Where to, Sire?” Lenny had asked, nose lifted to an untenable altitude in a pitiful approximation of an accent that’d never actually been used before by any person or persons in all of history, struggling for breath.

“Left at the gates, Barnsward, old chap,” Theodore had replied in a contrasting fashion after again sitting upright from his heaves and taking a breath, ironing out – if anything – the flatness of his perforating Ohio Ds and Ps, resulting in such a culturally destructive racket that it had set both of them in uncontrollable, cloudy fits lasting long after Lather had swerved the great length of the car from the gravel to his abandoned asphalt retreat. The two had continued their banter down that soul-suckingly flat vector, one-upping each other’s etymologic barbarity against the savage thievery of the heatless wind.

“Now to star-board, Budleigh, my good fellow!”

“Right-o, as you say, sir!”

“Down to the pu-hb for a spaht of brahn-dee with me mae-its!”

Oncemo-ar right, pip pip!”

“By jah-lee, there we are!”

After the entirety of Northern European history had been decimated and subsequently forgotten, the Duesenberg named BLOOD had turned its orange, googley-eyed stare and narrow whitewalled hooves up the reflective, freshly-painted access of the new 24-hour grocery in the no-man’s-land between the cookie-cutter stares of the neatly-rowed Easterly neighborhood and the droning respiration of Interstate 43, two miles distant. It was 2:12 in the morning and most of the greasy-haired night stocking shift had been halfway through their third smoke break, circled around a store-used picnic table 50 yards from the far sliding airlock doors. The first to spot BLOOD had been the second shortest of the lot, whose weary scrutiny along the truest radian to the West from under his sweaty beanie in her entrance she had crossed, and the depth of her red as he first spied it had caused him vertigo – as if he would fall in – and cast upon the shorter-than-average length of his being an all-consuming existential doubt. The tallest and loudest of them had faced squarest the white faux-brick wall of the box building and was at that moment engaged upon a spirited rant about where and where’nt and when a vapist ought to buy his Suck juice between long, gasping Sucks from his super-shiny Suck box. Of course, the arrival of a customer even at such a late hour did not warrant notice at a huge, broadly-servicing operation like theirs, but as BLOOD had crept through all four reflective yellow-checkered pedestrian crossings, closing without a flinch, and the details of her occupying caricatures had become more and more numerous, she had stolen the attention of the huddle, one-by-one, and elicited from each the rarest under-breath profanity of true, unmolested wonder.

Jesus Christ,” had said the shortest.

Holy fuck,” had said the youngest.

Gee whiz,” had said the oldest.

And the Sucking tallest, having realized he’d lost his audience, had been the last to turn and follow their eyes BLOOD’s way as she had halted coolly in front of the purely white glowing concrete leading into the closest customer entrance, and had – without the gradual exposure over the length of her approach that his peers had been afforded – dropped his Suck box and exclaimed at the sudden, undiluted immensity of the spectacle, simply, “FUCK!

The Sucking’s FUCK and the splitting shatter of his Suck against the glass of their smoking table had reached the two arrivees – albeit in a muted way – and through the onset of their frostbite’s early stages even further stoked their already-uncontrollable boyish giggling. Theodore Pith had paused briefly to affix his monocle as firmly as possible in his eye socket and stuff down his spasmic guffaws with a few lip-smacking puffs of his then successfully-lit cigar before swinging his right door open.

“Stay here and wait at the ready, my good… my best Bagsy! I shan’t be a twinkle,” he had declared, clicking it lightly shut again and turning on his heels toward the pale light of the store, twirling his cane in dramatically shortened strides so as to reproduce the oversped effect of a silent motion picture, puff-puffing away. As the doors had sensed him and indiscriminately whirred aside, he had turned to the smokers – most of whom had still been reeling, grabbing for their hair – and bobbed the bulk of his big black bowler toward their communion with his gloved black fingers by the brim.

“Tally-ho, my boys!” he had shouted, sending Lenny Lather’s wide open face toward the floor of the idling car as he doubled over himself in the first spontaneously asphyxiating, tear-lobbing laughter he’d yet to experience in the 21st century. As Theodore had entered the masterpiece of the boxed store’s bleakness in his cane twirling, head swinging, cigar puffing shuffle, he had made sure to stay his instinct to sneak for a swift, full-chat dart, instead, and the on-duty leather-faced embodiment of tedium’s wrath beneath his lone lit lane light had looked up from his People Magazine just in time to see the heel of a deeply black oxford and the last shiny inches of flowing black coattails disappear behind the potato sack endcap of the far Aisle 1. He’d hesitated, chin against palm, holding his next glossed page perpendicularly erect between his tightened thumb and index finger for a long few seconds of fantastic stillness – had hastily attempted a diagnostic of his present senses – before a locomotive-like segmented tube of cigar smoke had risen from against the light tiles and unsoiled trimming to intersect his line-of-sight where it met the darkened deli, recessed in the far wall from his hunch, the motion startling him into his own throat-clearing, counter-rounding, key-jingling, excuse me-shouting march toward the lumpy potato sacks and the climbing dissipation of the most unbelievable violation. As he had jingled, he had reflected on the few occasions in which he’d ever smelled tobacco smoke in his store: all incidental, most very brief, and many followed by a lengthy, unreasonably self-deprecating apology. To just walk in his Temple of Domestic Fulfilment during this most Serene Time of Silent Service, spewing orange nicotine on his premium, Food & Drug Administration-blessed body and blood offering to the middle class was surely in ignorance, but could have even been in spite. Regardless, the transgression was worthy of the most merciless wrath, and he had been selected as its willing, capable vessel. In just the fifteen seconds it’d taken him to jingle his way to Aisle 1, he’d thought himself and his leather into flash-broiling, fast-rising fury.

Perhaps the least expected sight that could have possibly greeted this Apostle of Appraisal on the far side of Aisle 1 – as he rounded the potato sack endcap and filled his excuse me lungs in preparation through his nose – was the labored lifting of the 125-pound eldest child of the new, Parisian-trained, full-time, certified cheese artisan – whom the store had just won out of 175 competitors in a region-wide raffle of her pilot program – by the dashing, swinging, and smoking real-life manifestation of a young Rich Uncle Pennybags, yet shock did not long halt the Keys & Leather.

“Sir! Excuse me!”

Excuse me! Sir!”

Theodore Pith – having reevaluated the girth of his intended booty – had propped his shiny black cane against the sill of the refrigerator and popped each slack bottom up off his oxfords from his shins before squatting over the massive Holy Wheel of the Artisan where it lay displayed on a sturdy bespoke plinth.

“Sir! You need to put out that cigar… the cigar – put it out immediately!”

Keys & Leather had the odd inability to both shout and shuffle at the same time, so he’d only made it to the pomegranate juice by the time Pith had mustered enough momentum to swing the cheese child into a high enough pendulum to carry it stably facing forward under his chin with his two hands spaced evenly on the Great Wheel’s bottom.

“Sir! I’m going to have to ask you to put that down… That is a four thousand dollar item… If you want to buy it, we need to go about-”

“…now, see here!” Pith had replied with great effort, in the midst of weighing in his mind the worth of the cane as a casualty, then of the monocle, too, which had fallen out while he was weighing, and of his own physical intelligence, and whether or not it was capable of retrieving the cane by its brass lion’s head handle via the top of a flicking foot without losing his balance. Keys & Leather, meanwhile, had been tortured at great length witnessing – in Theodore’s gravitational struggle – the Cuban’s ashes knocked all over the precious round Immanuel; the artisan’s Beloved, Chosen son of cheese – a nauseating sensation of loss overwhelming all hope of his store’s defense. The Terrible Theodore had at once noticed his hesitation and arrived upon a plan to leave no prop behind. He had leaned forward with the girth of the wheel and closed the remaining few feet between them, advancing with the huge mass of Nazarethian dairy to bear it all down upon the unsuspecting Leather, who in his grief for the prized wheel was far too slow to deflect its incoming mass.

“Now, see here, chum!” Pith had forced from the furthest possible extremis of his best mob mouth as he transferred his burden all at once to its most concerned party, who collapsed against the multilayered tables that made up the fresh cookie display, with the weight of the wheel on his belly. As the stunned Leather struggled to separate himself without further soiling the only item in his store that sold for double a month’s paycheck, Theodore had replaced his monocle and returned for his cane in a single stride, which he’d then used after a return step to the pile of chocolate chip, almond nut, and fuming night manager to rap loose with the snout of the terrible brass cat Leather’s white knuckle-tight grip on the wheel with a lampoonish haha! before rolling the freed cheese toward the door in a villainous cackle.

“Man, come on,” the defeated Leather had yelled halfheartedly from his pile of sweets, struggling against the awkward, slippery boxes for enough footing to stand. His efforts, though, were interrupted after a time by the abrupt mute of Pith’s cackling in the second swooshing of the front sliding doors – he had missed his last chance of pursuit. It had all been in vain – he’d failed to guard the crown jewel of the whole suburb. As he had given up the chase and the cheese and slumped once more against the ruined pile, the ridiculousness of the crime against him nearly cracked a smile, but soon was deterred by the very real thought of explaining what had happened to his General Manager when she arrived in just five hours. After a moment, there, covered in cookies, dust, ashes, and shame, he had quietly begun to sob.

After he had regained control of his diaphragm, Lenny Lather had been amused, outside, by the varying velocities in which the smokers of the night shift gave in to their curiosities about the presence of the seven-figure collectible and its purpose in waiting at its now healthier idle in front of their grocery store in the loneliest time of a Tuesday morning. The first and the bravest had been the one who first spotted their intrusion – the shortest – if only because he had remained entirely convinced for the duration that BLOOD and its two, period-dressed occupants were nothing but an apparition of his dead Grandfather and Great Uncle like others he’d thought he’d seen before, and – though he’d been terrified by the clarity of this realest visit yet, he’d been irritated more than anything, and wanted to know “why the hell can’t you just leave me alone?!” The others behind him had been staggered in the proximity to the waiting car they had achieved – the lesser and most cowardly being the largest – the Sucking evangelist – who had been waiting for the great automobile to leave so he could forge the exchange of his broken Suck box for a new one from the back. In the delirium of his exhaustion and progressing frostbite, Lenny Lather had thought the image of the men where they were would make for an interesting, organic graph on the nature of courage – their positions simply representing their unaltered datapoints, and had been considering how best to deal with or respond to the nearer, deluded one, who had by then come close enough to the elegant, professionally polished front-right fender to reach out and touch it with his unwashed hands, and appeared to be taking the matter under serious consideration. He’d been seconds away from finally deciding between his idiotic ideas for a joke response when by far the largest wheel of cheese he’d ever seen had come rolling out of the opening doors onto the concrete, followed closely behind by Theodore Pith who’d still had three-quarters or more of his cigar left to smoke and apparently switched to cheap mob clichés in his brief absence.

“Haste, Don Lenny!” he’d yelled, re-opening his closest cabin door to chuck his cane in first. He’d then straddled the great wheel to position it against the step before making a scene of grunting and huffing against its side with his full weight. Again, the bewildered smokers had fallen silent – they did not recognize the ridiculous delicacy because it was special inventory and could only be handled by the Holy Artisan herself. Lather had started revving the huge old straight-8 to answer Pith’s urgency, who had found himself fresh out of phrases after the wheel had finally succumbed to its capture and rolled into the footwell.

“Make haste, make haste, my boy!” he’d shouted, diving theatrically into the covered back seat, head-first, to which his icing chauffer had responded by revving the behemoth and briskly popping her clutch, which had lurched the pair into the last, getaway stage of their late grocery heist. As BLOOD’s razor-edged hood ornament had sliced through the night by the dumbstruck smokers, Theodore Pith was unable to think of anything to shout at them as he passed but for “bada-bing, bada-BOOM!

Though the Lake Geneva Police Department was shown the security footage of that first theft by management, the theatricality of their matching getup had inadvertently obscured their identities, and the organization’s extreme deficit of imagination had left them stumped by the lack of license plates on the car, despite the free and effortless ability of just about any casual enthusiast of early American luxury automobiles and/or lackadaisical disciple of the Concours religion to immediately identify BLOOD by name from the grainiest image, if consulted. If anything, their incompetence rewarded Pith and Lather’s continued focus on the products of the same store’s cheese artisan, as intelligence on the state of her latest flagship incubation was freely available with no more effort than it took to simply stop by her display amid regular shopping trips. Twice in two weeks, they stole both of her replacements for the biggest child without any significant alternation of their method, which frustrated her and the management nearly to the point of crises, and quickly lost all potential for fun in a third attempt – their kicks were in their absurdity, not their effectiveness, and neither of them cared much for the cheese.

#fiction

USS Bataan over New Khittomer

The ancient IP’s MMO is still Online, albeit with some disappointing discontinuations.

I entertained fantasies about a Star Trek MMO since first experiencing the genre through Eve Online and World of Warcraft in early adolescence. The idea of commanding my own starship in a universe of other “captains” alongside a hand-picked bridge crew was a beguiling one to myself and many others. This year, the game celebrated its ten-year anniversary (aligning well with the continued involuntary beat of this blog.) I’m currently in the midst of my annual check-in with STO and thought an exploration of this most-consequential video game of my life’s history would be an appropriate undertaking.

The execution of today’s final, Arc Games-owned and maintained product is a particularly long and interesting one. As Justin Olivetti chronicled for Engadget, the license for Star Trek Online was originally bought and developed on by Perpetual Entertainment, which was assaulted by a lawsuit and extensive layoffs in December, 2006. The company was sued by Kohnke Communications for allegedly selling “valuable assets like the Star Trek Online license” to an affiliated entity called P2 entertainment. Clever. A quote from the complaint as reported by Ten Ton Hammer:

“On information and belief, the assets transferred to P2 include Perpetual Entertainment trademarks and copyrights, the perpetual.com domain name, and assets related to Star Trek Online, including code and the license… Perpetual received less than market value for the assets it transferred to P2, and the transfer made Perpetual insolvent (or worsened Perpetual's existing insolvency).”

Perpertual’s STO was significantly different from today’s MMO. Instead of captaining one’s own starship, “players would have taken on the role of an officer who would be part of a crew of a starship,” echoing old legacy titles like Star Trek: Bridge Commander.

The proposed solution was that players could own smaller ships like fighters and minor spaceships, but the big ones — like the Galaxy class — would instead be adventure hubs with explorable, detailed interiors.

Perpetual Entertainment's Star Trek Online

I was 14 in 2008 when I joined the original post-Perpetual Entertainment STO IRC channel when the game's license was first transferred to Cryptic Studios. In fact, this channel was the only reason I left IRC clients open on my computers for years. It was exciting to find a community of people who were looking forward to participating in a Star Trek MMO as much as I was. I originally went by the (very cringey) username “crazyhooligin,” under which my current STO account is still registered. In the IRC channel, I met Sata – host of the now-defunct MMO Junkies podcast and ex-Perpetual developer. He and the STORadio crew accepted me into their Teamspeak conversations despite how strange and unsocialized I was. I learned how extensive and beautiful their development had been. One wonders what Cryptic did with the original game and art assets and who technically owns them now.

After acquiring the rights to make the game in early-2008, Cryptic was legally compelled to come up with a completed product in two years’ time as then-Executive Producer Stephen D’Angelo explained on the 100th episode of the STOked podcast:

We were under a very massive deadline to deliver the game. We had acquired the license from Perpetual and Perpetual’s license had an expiration date on it, and we had to ship the game before the expiration date or we would lose the license.

STOked also provided an excellent historical account of the acquisition entitled “How Cryptic Saved Star Trek Online.” By late-Fall, 2009, Star Trek Online entered Closed Beta, which I somehow acquired a key for in the name of STOHolic.com (a blogger site which represents one of my first web projects ever.) I was dual-booting Windows 7 Beta on my 2008 MacBook, which only supported 2 of its 4GB of RAM. The resulting performance was not optimal, but I was tremendously excited just to participate. Somewhere, there are at least three 480p handicam videos of Closed and Open Beta gameplay taken from over my shoulder, but I could not find them at the time of this writing. Comparatively, beta looked drastically different from the property that’s online today. In this video of the original entry tutorial, we are introduced to the game’s basic controls by the voice of Zachary Quinto of J.J. Abrams fame as the new Emergency Medical Hologram in godawful dropshadowed text. The lighting is dated, the blue-based user interface even more so.

Star Trek Online Closed Beta

The hair was bad and the textures of the armor, worse. So was mine, though. I uploaded two videos under my STOholic name: an unboxing of the Collector’s Edition and what appears to be the definitive YouTube tutorial to run Star Trek Online on Mac OSX using the (now defunct) wineskin wrapper. Though I was sixteen years old, I appear to be about eight. Endless waves of ground enemies, pressing the “1” key hundreds of thousands of times to whittle them away with my phaser rifle. There were bugs on top of bugs. My favorite was a swap between one's ground and space avatars: a gigantic captain would appear in space and a little ship would appear on the ground.

Four years ago, Lead Developer Al Rivera wrote “History of Star Trek Online – a Retrospective” – a blog post detailing the chronology of the game from its February 2nd, 2010 release date – about a week after my 16th birthday, for which my mom bought me my first and only gaming PC. I have never been very good at video games, and Star Trek Online has been no exception. After 10 years, my main Captain – Ambassador Kuvak – is still not doing adequate DPS to hold my own in Task Force Operations, from what I understand. My 15-16-year-old self chose a Science Captain but wanted to fly the great (engineering/tank-focused) cruisers of The Original Series, The Next Generation, and the latter's movies. This is possible, but not necessarily advised. Generally, one specs an Engineering Captain to tank, a Tactical Captain for DPS, and a Science Captain for “exotic DPS” and light healing. I managed to level a single science character – the original – through to the max ranks using little intelligence and a lot of persistence. Later in life, I’ve learned the patience for a more deliberate approach, but still struggle to make the numbers.

The Exploration System

For many Star Trek fans, Star Trek Online’s combat feels excessive. Or at least, that’s what you’d think. The current reality is that search engine results for “too much combat in STO” are virtually nill. There are some comments on Massively Overpowered posts, a year-old blog post in Contains Moderate Peril by Roger Edwards, an old Ryan Somna take, and… that’s about it. There was a definite (and entirely reasonable) argument against the amount of combat across the community early in the game’s development, but it looks like the arguers have simmered down and/or given up. This is also reasonable, considering its now ten-year lifespan. The only trouble is that non-combat options in Star Trek Online have actually diminished over the years.

Star Trek Online Romulan Borg

The original Exploration System was an ingenious and significant idea that “used automated tools to facilitate large quantities of widely varied content.” Unfortunately, the result was “nothing close to what [Cryptic] originally planned.” Instead of inspiring variety, Exploration Clusters ended up becoming the most repetitive activity in the game – nothing more than a good source of crafting materials. The missions were generic and the environments simply randomly combined segments of the same interior textures. Procedurally generated environments would hit the mainstream conversation years later with No Man’s Sky, which was written about in two fascinating articles by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker and Chris Baker in Rolling Stone:

Using procedural generation isn’t simply about offloading the creative process onto an algorithm – the real challenge is that it requires developers to teach an algorithm the difference between good and bad game design.

Perhaps if Star Trek Online’s initial development window had not been so limited, Cryptic would’ve had time and resources to pioneer something truly Trek and extraordinary in the exploration system, but it ended up having to kill the idea altogether – no amount of Change.org petitions could prevent this.

The Foundry

Perhaps the most innovative feature Star Trek Online contributed to gaming as a whole came to the live server in Spring, 2011. It was called The Foundry, and it allowed players access to a diluted form of the same mission creation tools Cryptic themselves used to create content, enabling the community to publish its own playable stories. The result was a wonder virtually inexpressible in words. In player-made Foundry Missions, I found joy, wonder, sorrow, and insight – truly everything and more than one could ever want from fiction. Throughout 2013-2014 my girlfriend at the time and I ran regular Foundry missions together along with couple friends in our fleet. Unfortunately, I cannot remember a single specific mission (aside from Unholy Alliances, I think,) but I remember the storytelling. I remember laughing at, dwelling on, and even crying for the characters we were introduced to. There were farming-oriented missions and some fairly rough drafts, sure, but the vast majority of the content was deliberately and delicately considered, especially the Foundry Spotlight series, which highlighted player-created stories of a particular quality and intrigue.

Ambassador Class

Last April, however, Arc retired the Foundry forever – perhaps the worst possible news – stating “the legacy knowledge required to maintain the Foundry at our quality standards is no longer available,” meaning – as Rodger Edwards notes – that all developers with their hands, hearts, and heads in the project had long since departed the company. The community reaction was heartbreaking. On Reddit, a group of mission authors and devotees committed to capturing as many Foundry Missions as possible on video in the month between the announcement and date of death. User waimser lamented the loss of the Foundry as a critical hit to Star Trek Online’s endgame:

Once you've played through the story missions and built your ship, the foundry is what's left, and it has some damn good stuff.

The group even created a Google Docs spreadsheet to coordinate the effort. Another created a thread in the Star Trek Online forums dedicated to “aggregating the various channels with Foundry content and providing those links to you and updating them as necessary.” In an interview for Gamesindustry.biz, Al Rivera suggested that the secret to the title’s longevity in which his team had been “strategically successful” was knowing when and when not to make drastic changes. “Don't change the fundamentals of what players love about your game,” he suggested.

UFP Fleet Roster

Community

Though STOked and STORadio have long since been off the air, the Roddenberry Podcast Network’s PriorityOne is still going strong, having just recorded its 460th episode. As I discovered last year, the game’s Twitch community is also thriving. Layiena’s streams are incredible because – while he understands theory as well as the other broadcasters in the STO Twitch community – it’s his incredible skills at live Captain commentary (calling out abilities and other command inputs as if he really is in the captain’s chair.) It may sound cringey (and perhaps it would be to many,) but his thoroughness and accuracy actually 1) make it seem pretty darn cool to me and 2) are hugely valuable in helping the viewer understand what he’s doing. After some three years, I know my one rotation fairly well, but only three or four of its steps by name – not even remotely well enough to do what he does. Unfortunately, it appears as though he’s been inactive since last year.

Sphynx’s streams also have an especially professional feel – he is excellent at calling out his actions as well, if perhaps without so much intensity. His Norwegian sensibility is wonderful: when I introduced myself as being around in the community since 2008, he remarked “that’s strange considering the game has only been out since 2010.” Nigh-universally common threads among them: imperturbable kindness to their audience and an impressively wholesome commitment to actually having fun. Though I’m far from deeply saturated with Twitch culture as a whole, I’ve watched my fair share of Eve Online, World of Warships, and Gran Turismo Sport streams, and – while all of these have incredible communities – there’s none quite like the sincerity of the Star Trek fraternity.

A few weeks ago, I departed my own derelict STO fleet for the aptly-named United Federation of Planets which has over three thousand (presumably at least semi-active) members in its fleet armada. The fleet website has user profiles, a very active forum, and a Discord server – everything I could possibly ask for. So far, I have been welcomed with overwhelming positivity, and I’m grateful. In a prompt posted on both their forums and Reddit, I asked players what their favorite part of the community is. Oddly enough, some of the responses I got from the latter were quite jaded: “I really enjoy the love and respect the PVP community gets. No, wait...” Alex Rowe for The Startup:

The game’s subreddit is full of folks who are tired of the game because they’ve blasted through all the content, but as someone who has only seen about 1/6th of the quests currently in the game, I’m eager to check out more.

User JediMasterx4 seemed particularly disgruntled:

You can do all the lockbox promo vids you want, but you are going to have to live in reality, no matter where your ego flies off to.

However, there were some positives. User ModestArk:

What I really like about this community is that it seems to be more grown up than other gaming communities. Maybe this comes from Star Trek itself, since it is more based/focused on science than Star Wars etc.

Jahoan recommends StarSword’s series on the U.S.S. Bajor and Jordanomega1 vouched for Captain Geronimo’s videos.

State of The Game

This past January, Star Trek Online: Legacy was launched, bringing The Original Series-referencing episodes The Measure of Morality parts I and II along with a new 10 year anniversary event and the Tier 6 Khitomer Alliance Battlecruiser – “the first Klingon/Federation Starship.” I did not participate in the event, save for experiencing the new missions, which I talked about in my review of Star Trek: Discovery. JustGaming4Us produced an excellent, in-depth video review of the two missions as well as a tour of the event as a whole. I, for one, have never been partial to Shiny New Ship gluttony largely because of how long it took me to “master” my own Intrepid-Class Retrofit – christened the U.S.S. Bataan after the aircraft carrier my grandfather served on in WWII – as much as I have. It took me years to arrange my bridge officer abilities and their keybinds in such a way that I could maintain a fairly-steady dps rotation and I have no desire to go through the process of learning a new ship again. For most veteran players, however, trying out different ships/skill specs is all there is left to do.

Choosing whether or not – or to whom – to recommend the game is an issue best left to actual gaming journalists. In March, Massively Overpowered – the followup project to what was once Massively.com – published Mia DeSanzo’s account of her first experience in the game:

Everything you’ve heard is true. Ground combat is, as multiple sources have told me, “a hot mess.” I don’t think clunky is an adequate descriptor. You’d have to try it.

For the same site, Tyler F.M. Edwards argued in January that Star Trek Online is best left to those who already love Star Trek:

STO has some things going for it as a video game, and it’s certainly unique in the MMO space, but it has too many basis quality issues for it to be a game I’d recommend to someone who’s never watched an episode of Star Trek.

Compared to what I experienced all those years ago in Closed and Open Beta, Star Trek Online is now vastly more polished, but perhaps compared to other MMOs in 2020, it is, indeed, “rough.” In my casual return this past month, I have yet to experience any significant bugs. Considering his character data dates back to launch, I’d like to think that the server is set into some brief, confused panic every time I log in to Kuvak, but perhaps that’s just a fantasy. I have still been enjoying the space combat in the classic Advanced-level Borg Disconnected and Counterpoint TFOs and my first entry into high-level gear upgrade crafting from the vast cache of materials I’ve built up over the years. . Apparently, my old lockbox collection might actually be worth some significant Energy Credits on the Exchange – as of the time of this writing, however, not a one had yet to sell.

Constellation Class Retrofit

If you’re a ship junkie who’s entirely unfamiliar with the property, know that Star Trek’s ships are fucking cute. The Nebula Class, especially, inspires real affection. In my opinion, it alone is worth giving this free-to-play game a shot. My two point eight pound Surface Laptop 2 is enough to run it fairly well at medium-high settings, which is an absurdly low barrier-to-entry. You shouldn’t be worried about investing your time, either – Star Trek doesn’t appear to be dying anytime soon.

View more screenshots in this gallery.

🗎 PRINT/PDF

#software

Discord Art Orange

Why Extratone has used Discord instead of Slack for our team chat.

Back in 2015, I hosted a pre-Extratone culture podcast called Drycast with musician friends from all over the net. To record remotely, we originally used Teamspeak 3 – a gamer VoIP staple. When I discovered Discord, I thought we'd found podcasting heaven. Originally, the free plan included 128kbps audio in its voice channels, which was nearly twice what we were getting out of our paid Teamspeak server. If I were still podcasting, Discord's just-released server video feature would undoubtedly prove invaluable for live streams.

According to a poll I ran on Twitter, 2/3rds of all people on Earth are thankful for Discord's existence. This is not surprising considering what every Discord user is still offered without spending any money at all: community spaces with audio/video and text chat capability, organizable by Twitch and YouTube-integrated roles with a plethora of different permission options, instantly and easily shareable by customizable temporary or permanent invite links through an application that's about as cross-platform as one can get (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, or simply one's web browser.) Those of us that remember IRC, Ventrilo, and Teamspeak should all consider Discord a tremendous gift.

Never before have so many VoIP, video, and text chat features been offered together, or in such a beautiful package. “What we really did was create an all-in-one voice, video, and text chat app that replaced this constellation of tools that people would use,” said CEO Jason Citron in an interview with CNBC. Technically in terms of these details, Discord has no competition. Slack offers text and voice chat with its paid plans, yes, but nothing close in terms of video – especially considering Discord Go Live, its fairly-new streaming feature, which allows users to stream game video directly to 10 other users in the server. With some jury-rigging, it's possible to simply screen share this way, which is an essential sell for business video communication applications like Skype.

“Discord and Slack have many similarities, but Discord is the superior tool,” says esports team Ardent United. “Discord has voice channels, which allows us to easily chat with our supporters and other team members. Discord also allows us to set user roles and permissions which makes moderation extremely simple.” It's not just gaming companies, though. Decentralized cloud platform Sia also moved their community to Discord:

Its intended audience is gamers, but many large communities have switched from Slack to Discord, including development communities like Reactiflux and Unreal Slackers. It includes an unlimited number of users, unlimited file uploads (with a per-file size limit), unlimited message histories, and really great moderation and spam filtering features.

Slack is often praised for its integrations, but it shares support with Zapier – a dedicated web integration service which more or less integrates them equally.

Slack works with a long list of tools, including Google Calendar, Zendesk, Salesforce, Wunderlist, and dozens of others. If you're looking for an integration that isn't immediately obvious, you can always turn to Zapier for help, because Slack is a supported service. Zapier is an online service that creates integrations between other apps and services, without you having to know any code to make it happen.

For sharing detailed post embeds, there's also Discohook, which I just discovered. Productivity company Chanty's blog wrote perhaps the most in-depth comparison of the two services (emphasis theirs):

At their core, Discord and Slack and very similar. Both are team chat apps with a similar interface. Both apps have team communication organized in channels. The biggest difference between the two is their target audience, and of course, their specific features.

Ultimately, one must decide how relevant the services' respective target audiences are to productivity. For a not-for-profit media organization like Extratone, Discord's features-for-price ratio is simply too rich to pass up. If you'd like, stop by our server or try out our server template.


Further Reading

#software

The Langoliers

In Stephen King's “The Langoliers,” the state of today's air travel is foreshadowed.

I told myself I would not be topical – that I would publicly ignore the coronavirus – but I can no longer. There is simply too much to say about one of the most emotionally effective, surreal films of my childhood. The Langoliers occupied 9-11PM's slot on ABC for May 14th and 15th, 1995 (Sunday and Monday, twenty-five years ago.) It's an adaptation of a Stephen King novel of the same title and is fairly widely-regarded as the worst such adaptation of all time. You can now watch the whole three hours of The Langoliers in 480p (supposedly) at your leisure thanks to YouTube. One commenter echoes what I'm about to tell you: “My god! I thought I dreamed this movie up as a kid. I have been trying to describe this to people for years and here it is, it’s real!” In order to write this, I joined the Stephen King Wiki Discord server and was immediately welcomed with a request not to type in the text channels: “I’m working on adding some new channels so pls nobody type in them til I’m done.”

The Langoliers begins with a pissed-off British secret agent (Mark Lindsay Chapman,) an insane businessman (Bronson Pinchot,) a psychic, vision-impaired young woman (Kate Maberly,) Sarah Jessica Parker (Patricia Wettig,) and a just-widowed pilot (David Morse) all boarding the same redeye flight to Boston – American Pride Flight 29. This group falls asleep and mysteriously wakes up alone on the aircraft except for Stephen King himself (Dean Stockwell,) a stupid incel violinist (Christopher Collet,) and a stoner (Kimber Riddle.) My favorite character, Craig Toomey, is the “twerp” business boy with daddy issues who can't stop himself from demanding to know what's going on. James Bond shuts him up with a “nose hold.”

Whoa. No one's driving the plane!

David Morse proceeds to try and contact air traffic control in a fairly-realistic manner, but is unable to receieve any radio signals at all, even from Strategic Air Command. Frankie Faison plays the single person of color on the flight, Don Gaffney – “a tool and die worker for Hughes Aircraft” – who dies first, of course. James Bond lecures David about inciting panic and almost immediately reveals his secret identity. Then, the Hungry Idiot (Baxter Harris) wakes up whilst Toomey begins screaming again.

Scaring the little girl? Scaring the little girl?! Lady, we're diverting to some tin-pot airport in the middle of nowhere, and I've got better things to think about than scaring the little girl!

After the entirety of the male cast threatens to beat him up, Toomey, sweating his balls off, begins slowly tearing strips of paper and moaning sexually like an absolute madman. Some irritiatingly irrelevant dialogue insues in which Stephen King Author Man narrates through Sherlock Holmes deduction to figure absolutely nothing out. He is wearing stripes on plaid. He suggests that the entire situation could be some sort of government experiment and I can't believe I'm wasting your time with this. “If it were just this plane, I could give you a scenario, but unfortunately, it's not just this plane. The city of Denver is probably still down there, but all its lights were off if it was.” Here you can see how excellently this script was written.

I've been sitting here running all these old stories through my head. You know, time warps, space warps, alien raiding parties. I mean, we really don't know if there's anything left down there, do we?

Sarah Jessica Parker reveals to Powers Girl that she's on her way to meet a guy she's been emailing with. Stoner girl asks if everything is going to be okay and Incel Violinist looks horny. She's going to rehab for stones. The captain announces to his nine passengers that they're beginning their descent into Bangor International Airport, near Stephen King's birthplace. Don asks Toomey to stop ripping up paper and the useless food addict yells “well, at least we'll be able to get some chow when we land” offscreen. Craig, sweating even more, is still ripping up magazines in the face of Don's threats. “Try it, you little jackass,” he says. I'm wondering where I can snag this American Pride livery for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Director Tom Holland manages to add drama to a more-or-less routine landing.

This place is utterly, totally deserted... You know, there's something wrong with the air here, Brian.

It's occuring to me that this may be the worst script I've ever actually sat through reading. “This place smells wrong. Really badly wrong.” Toomey threatens to sue the airline for $30 million for missing his 9AM meeting before seeing flashbacks to his abusive father (John Griesemer,) who mentions the Langoliers for the first time. The deserted airport scene is the reason I've written this whole thing – the dulled sounds of the characters' heels on the tarmac, the putrefied air. The clocks have stopped. The payphones are dead. The computers are lifeless. The abadonedness of it all. This is what the coronavirus has done to the world and to Craig Toomey. Even the battery-powered devices are dead. This is what confuses Stephen King Author Man to the point of head-rubbing and cigarette smoking for the first time in ten years.

The production was actually made at Bangor International Airport as this incredible video hosted by Toomey's actor explores.

LOVE IS NOT PART OF THE BIG PICTURE!

It's never actually explained what The Langoliers are. Ken Tucker for Entertainment Weekly describes them as “little meatballs.” The little Beatles-haired girl can hear them approaching. “It sounds a little like rice krispies after you pour the milk.” Foodism abounds. “A really terrible, scary sound... Something making that horrible cereal noise.” She screams that the cereal is going to kill them. Somehow, Toomey finds a revolver while he's losing his mind. Kimber Riddle the Stoner went to NYU.

Don't forget, Craiggy-weggy, the langoliers were here. And they will be back.

Stephen King Author Man and Food Addict note that the food and soda have gone completely flat. “Tastes like old tire,” says Don. “What we're dealing with is time, not dimension,” says Stephen King. I'm wondering what in the hell sort of room they're in at the moment, and who decided those light wood countertops were ever a good idea.

The bottom line is, I believe, that we have hopped an absurdly short distance into the past, say as little as 15 minutes, and we're discovering the unlovely truth about time travel. That one can't appear in the Texas State School Book Depository on November 22nd, 1963 and hope to stop the Kennedy assassination. One can't witness the building of the pyramids or the sack of Rome, or investigate the age of the dinosaurs firsthand. No, fellow time travellers, have a look around you. This is the past. It's empty. It's silent. It's a world with all the meaning of a discarded old paint can. Sensory input has disappeared. Electricity has already disappeared. And time itself is winding down in a kind of a spiral that's going faster and faster.

Little Prophet notes that the sound she's been hearing is once again getting louder. Mr. Toomey's face is shoved in the floor, his nose bent.

#television #film

Microsoft Build Olive Tracker

New Microsoft Office features, the PowerToys Run Preview, and a test of Edge Chromium.

I have no idea why I signed up to attend Microsoft's virtual 2020 Build Conference, but I did. I thought I'd add my End User commentary to the mix. Sorry. My first event was called “Every developer is welcome, with Scott Hanselman and guests.” Hanselman is listed as a blogger and podcaster living (of course) in Portland. I'm not a “real” developer, but I know what Microsoft Teams is, and I recognized the event as a desktop screenshare of his calls with different Microsoft employees. There was a child invasion and a dropped phone. I also noticed the icon for the “new” Microsoft Edge browser in his taskbar and realized that I hadn't downloaded it yet. I remedied that for the conference's sake – I thought it only appropriate that I try to use as much Microsoft software as possible in this context. I also installed the new PowerTools Run preview which I mentioned in my tips post.

Build allows an attendee to build one's own event schedule, but I neglected to find those focused on what I really care about: Office 365. As reported by The Verge, Microsoft Fluid is going to change a lot:

Microsoft’s Fluid Framework sounds a lot like Google Docs, but it’s actually Google Docs on steroids. Microsoft is so confident it has built the future of productivity, it’s now open-sourcing its Fluid Framework so the rest of the world can help shape what it has created.

There's also Microsoft Lists, which is reportedly going to revolutionize SharePoint Lists into something more modern and useful:

It builds off the existing feature in SharePoint, and will let you track progress and data to organize your teams, potentially making the company’s offerings more streamlined and productive.

Microsoft PowerToys Run

Microsoft Edge Chromium

As an Office 365 administrator, I basically only use Edge for administrative/management tasks. Otherwise, I can't imagine a reason to use it over Firefox, Brave, Vivaldi, Chrome, Opera, etc, but I thought I'd give the “new” (as of January) Edge a tryout for your sake and make it my default browser for a day as well as Microsoft's Bing search engine. There's also news specific to Build: Edge is integrating with Pinterest, of all things:

Now, Edge will feature a Pinterest-powered tool that will show suggestions from Pinterest at the bottom of a collection. Clicking on that, Microsoft says, will take users to a Pinterest board “of similar, trending Pins so users can quickly find and add ideas relevant to their collection.” Users will also be able to export collections to Pinterest.

I'm in no position to “test” a browser, but the new Edge is noticeably faster at rendering pages and much much smoother when navigating between tabs/preference windows. It looks much more like Chrome, which makes sense. Perhaps because my install is absent of third-party extensions, opening new tabs and windows was much faster than my other browsers. I recorded a ~2 minute demo of normal browsing on my Surface Laptop 2.

In terms of touch support, Edge remains the only acceptable browser on Windows 10. If you've spent money on a new PC recently, chances are your device is touch-enabled. If you're like me, you've already disabled it. If not, you'll find scrolling and navigation in Edge have improved tremendously – it's like an entirely new browser because it is.

Because Edge used a different rendering engine than Chrome or Safari, it meant that it would sometimes have problems on websites. Testing a website against multiple browsers has always been difficult, and because Edge had so little uptake, it meant optimizing for it often fell off the priority list for web developers.

I really like how easy it is to mute audio from tabs and how much better my CMS is rendered. I still prefer Firefox's method of tab switching (by last-used chronologically instead of in the order presented.) The reader view is smoother than its competitors and offers a beautiful selection of themes as well as the best “Read aloud” feature in the business.

Microsoft Edge Reader View

I'm not going to quote you measurements – check out Computerworld's browser review for that – but I can say that Edge Chromium is using more RAM than Firefox but a bit less than Chrome. Office.com also looks and works incredibly well. Overall, I'm extremely impressed with Edge Chromium and the improvements to Bing. As of my experiences today, it's the fastest and smoothest web browser I have, which is a complete flip from that of the old Edge.


Further Reading

#software

Zalgo Generator for iOS

A powerful iOS utility for fucking digital text with ruthless efficiency.

A warning siren sounds louder still for the current state of the Digital Divide than the profoundly ignorant spectacle of Mark Zuckerberg’s drooling, ghoulish interrogators last year from the digital hole of none other than W3School’s trusty web validator, which would surely be rated as the Most Anxious Being in History if it were to acquire sentience. The CSS file this very webpage referenced returned no fewer than 350 syntax errors at the time of this writing; Facebook dot com’s login page set off only 55. For going on a decade, now, the web has continued to expand into a grotesque, diseased mass.

Yet another piece of software I have notably been using for 10 years: the infamous eemo.net Zalgo web text fucker. Ideally, I’d now proceed to embed some special examples of the hedonistic online text vandalism which the tool enabled me to inflict widely throughout my adolescence. However – as you can probably imagine – searching for these criminally-broken posts using standard tools provided by the services that have hosted them is virtually futile. In retrospect, I do not recall ever eliciting any acknowledgment of Zalgo’s effects, yet I’m positive that at least the majority of my victims set eyes upon the mess at some point – their silence is actually more entertaining than not, I think. Despite my extensive use of the format, I made a point to maintain my total ignorance about the origin of “Zalgo” for the past decade – only spoiling it in the name of good journalism for your sake and this review.

On forums and image boards, scrambled text began being associated with Zalgo with phrases like “he comes” and “he waits behind the wall.” David Higgins revealed that the text is an ~abuse~ of a Unicode feature that enables the user to combine multiple superscript and subscript characters into a vertical line.

By bizarre coincidence or some ridiculously obscure, intractable common cultural thread (which would probably take a lifetime to successfully trace,) Dave Higgins and I were already mutuals on Mastodon before I had any idea his name was at all associated with Zalgo. More bizarre still: Dave must’ve been watching his timeline at the exact moment when I posted the above quote mentioning him.

Unfortunately, it seems his blog has moved, killing the hyperlink citation in one of the two relevant search engine results for “zalgo”: its Know Your Meme page. Searching the same term on his new WordPress blog yields absolutely nothing, so perhaps “I deny everything” was a more sincere response than one expected. A thread on Stack Overflow entitled “How does Zalgo text work?” explains the fuckery in more detail than I ever could:

You can easily construct a character sequence, consisting of a base character and “combining above” marks, of any length, to reach any desired visual height, assuming that the rendering software conforms to the Unicode rendering model.

There is something artistic about destroyed text like this – something that's more than just edgy chaos. I believe in “surreal memes” that can break Facebook and Twitter posts. I believe in Zalgo, and I believe you need Zalgo Generator for iOS on your phone right now.

#software

Star Trek Discovery

Discovery is pushing boundaries, but for what purpose?

Discovery may no longer be new – not even the newest Star Trek property – but it is new to me. According to the alternate timeline exemption of the J.J. movies, I've been left without “Canon” Star Trek television since 2005 (or 2155) with the last episode of Enterprise, but I've been looking forward with moderate anticipation to an opportunity to watch this new entry into “the stodgiest and squarest of all sci-fi universes.” Though I am extremely well-versed in Gene Roddenberry's baby, I come to both you and Discovery with absolutely zero desire to analyze whether or not it is “Trek” enough, “good” science-fiction, or even “good” television – I'd like only to land on your screen between all of these institutions and their proctors in some unique insight from all of them, without the clichés, cringey jokes, or unnecessary Trekism. What I will strive to do is perform my Special Duty in relation to American intellectual property mastodons for which I have my own adoration: to determine whether or not they should die. I know absolutely nothing about television writing – the same amount I know about film – so I hope I can provide something usefully unique.

I would rather Star Trek not have to die, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s necessary. Without sounding like I have to prove myself, know that the property – in particular the history of Star Trek Online’s development – was a very important part of my adolescent life. I have watched every episode of every series several times at least, but I know better than to entrust my entire emotional existence into the promise of a continuation like Discovery. It most fascinates me how revivals of old names like this go about contextualizing their dialogue and other elements for today’s audience. “Snug as a bug in a rug” is surely not an expression we should expect to survive the next 250 years of human development, and yet this is supposed to be an aspirational series? It even made it in the recap! I should confess now: it is actually Star Trek Online which made me curious enough to seek out a CBS All Access Free Trial. The marketing worked very well.

The Measure of Morality

I tend to install the game for a few weeks or so around this time every year just to check in. This time, I was greeted by Star Trek Online: Legacy – a new expansion featuring Voyager’s Jeri Ryan and Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green reprising their respective characters in voiceover roles. I figured out that Michael Burnham must have been from The New Show fairly quickly, but I was disappointed to find out that the character was not in fact a trans man, but rather a female character with an unusually male name. For the most part, Burnham is simply an outlier in The Measure of Morality Parts I and II. She accompanies one’s character (along with Seven of Nine) to several different battlegrounds and stories we’d already seen before in previous episodes – when the budget’s running low, reuse sets, but there is one instance where we are brought into her (Discovery’s) world, which feels disorienting. The whole experience plays like it was forced upon STO by CBS in order to squeeze as many viewers into our free CBS All Access trials with as little developmental investment into the game as possible. Well, here I am!

In Season 1, Episode 4 of Discovery, the writers made a very foul mistake… They placed fucking Elon Musk’s name alongside the aviation pioneering Wright Brothers and the fictional inventor of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane.

How do you want to be remembered in history? Alongside the Wright Brothers, Elon Musk, Zefram Cochrane? Or as a failed fungus expert?

I can’t be timid about this – it straight up makes me ill. I can guarantee you that Orville and Wilbur Wright would have never watched fucking South Park and that I am actually going to be sick right here on this couch.

I’ll spare you further ranting, but… Jesus Christ. I will not believe that I live in a world where this sort of comparison is acceptable. I’m not going to freak out because they say “shit” and “fuck” now, though I do wonder what Gene Roddenberry (though he wasn’t all that great, it turns out) would say – something like “profanity is no longer a necessary part of 23rd century language.” I thought Morgan Jeffery’s take on this for Digital Spy was an interesting one:

There's an argument to be made that the old style of Trek might feel naive in 2017. But there's another that it'd be a refreshing antidote to the times, the Trek we really need right now as opposed to the one we deserve.

I like to watch fellow Star Trek enthusiasts squirm and cry “continuity” and “canon” as much as any reasonable human being, but I’m not sure this sort of boundary-pushing is actually productive. Is anything being accomplished? Other than marking Discovery forever as notfamily-friendly entertainment?” Linguistically, the word “fucking” in “fucking cool” was used for emphasis, which perhaps suggests there was no other way for the character to express that level of enthusiasm. In his IndieWire interview, Anthony Rapp (Paul Stamets) explains:

“These people just put their brains to work in a really tough way and they had a breakthrough. And I imagine there’s scientists in their labs who might do that any time. We didn’t drop the F-bomb in ‘Star Trek’ by telling something to go fuck themselves. It’s like we did it by saying ‘this is fucking cool.'”

Stamets in the Spore Drive

If Discovery was “making history,” I’m not so sure what Star Trek: Picard was doing with fucking and pissant. I’m also not sure it matters at all in the grander scheme. What other freedoms should CBS feel free to explore, now that they’ve said the bad words? What else hasn’t been explored? Bathrooms? Shitting and farting? That has my vote. I really don’t remember as many colloquialisms showing up in the earlier series, but perhaps that’s just because those colloquialisms have since become part of our language. I’m not the greatest television watcher of all time, but I got lost in Discovery’s plot, and apparently I’m not the only one.

There turned out to be too many of those twists in Discovery’s first season, and it was frustrating to watch as the writers sidled up to new, risky frontiers for exploration, only to suddenly change course right when things were starting to get interesting.

Season 1, Episode 7 is called “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” and it’s the most classically Star Trek of what I’ve seen. One of those stuck-in-a-time-loop stories which truly makes you want to die. What’s even better and slightly meta: playback kept resetting for me at exactly 21:26 and starting from the beginning while the cat kept stepping on the delete key and destroying this paragraph. I had to keep watching the man from The Fucking Office continually kill the captain after the crew parties to 250-year-old West Coast hip hop and 300-year old Al Green all whilst writing this over again. I do not like Rainn Wilson invading my Star Trek. He gives Aquariuses a bad name and… beard. “Listen, petunia, I've been screwed over since the day I was born. I deserve this,” he says, and I wonder if in fact it is Rainn himself speaking of his invasion. He looks and sounds like a fucking incel. All of this makes me wonder if my entire problem with this show is simply that I do not particularly like its characters.

USS Discovery

The Vessel

Relying on Memory Alpha – a tried-and-true Star Trek fan resource – we can examine the U.S.S. Discovery, itself. I’m not so sure about this spore drive shit. If the NCC-1701 Enterprise was indeed launched in 2245, its existence would blatantly overlap with Discovery’s, now wouldn’t it? I don’t actually care all that much, but here are a few screenshots from Star Trek Online.

USS Discovery - Star Trek Online

USS Discovery - Star Trek Online

Note how much larger this Crossfield­-class ship is than the Intrepid-class from some 120 years into the future. Then again, the latter was designed for “long-range exploration missions” and Discovery is the fleet’s flagship(?) Its “most advanced ship,” at least. The inclusion of technologies like the holodeck and the spore drive (perhaps the show’s most potent plot device,) though, are really stretching the canon timeline’s ability to accommodate them. The decision to include the Discovery as a playable, top-tier ship in Star Trek Online is 100% a business one, surely. I’m not here to judge, though – after all, games are about having fun, right? One of Star Trek’s ironies has always been its existence in a capitalist society as an IP within a debatably socialist future. (Everybody wants to see their own ideal socioeconomic label in this future, it would seem.) “What makes Star Trek’s economics fundamentally different, and, in many ways, fundamentally incomprehensible to us, is that scarcity is no longer a factor,” says Dale Franks. Today, though, Star Trek properties still require finite resources and labor to produce, and they always have. Atari spent over $50 million to acquire Cryptic Studios – the original developers of Star Trek Online – and Discovery supposedly cost “$6-7 million per episode.” Though the former is free-to-play, it’s filled with microtransactions and about 5 billion different currencies. When Star Trek.com saysStar Trek Online is best described as a permanent Star Trek convention,” they’re correct: it is full of shit to buy.

There is also a lot of combat, though Discovery seems to have struck a healthy balance between warfare and other intrigues. It is definitely Trek in many ways: redshirts die without any plot consequence and all the classic character flaw tropes are represented. There is the aforementioned time loop episode with fucking Harry Mudd and even a mirror universe arc beginning with “Despite Yourself,” in which the crew actually responds to their new environment and does the research required to blend in with the Terran forces. This took an ancient Star Trek format and actually explored a new, interesting avenue within it (the time loop episode did not.) They even change the Discovery’s registry on the hull to read “ISS Discovery” instead of “USS.”

Every moment is a test. Can you bury your heart? Can you hide your decency? Can you continue to pretend to be one of them? Even as, little by little, it kills the person you really are.

Complaints

There’s a reason we all hate Captain Lorca, and why he says things like “sometimes the ends justify terrible means” and “there’s no way we’re asking these neighbors for a cup of sugar.” I do not believe in Spoilers, but there’s not much reason for me to tell you why, specifically. Perhaps it is racist and/or misogynist to say so, but I found it difficult to get as attached to Discovery’s characters as I have to those of series past. Michael is great, of course, though my girlfriend Sierra surmised that her purpose in the show is to illustrate that “nobody listens to black women.” Sierra was also quite aggravated by the misunderstanding and mistreatment of the tardigrade. When Paul Stamets mentioned that his uncle Everett participated in a Beatles cover band, we both despaired, for we discovered an entry in Memory Alpha for “The Beatles.” If I were to standardize a system of measurement for my television ratings, Discovery’s cringe factor would be 9/10. The holodeck hasn’t been invented yet!

Also, CBS All Access’ user interface is the worst I’ve ever seen from a streaming service, across iOS, desktop browser, and my Samsung television. It’s impossible to scrub, really, or to dictate a preference for high definition. One cannot navigate backward between episodes without re-searching the title and navigating through an incredibly clunky menu sequence. I was able to cast to both my Samsung TV and Sierra’s Chromecast from my iPhone, at least.

Star Trek Discovery - CBS All Access

Compliments

Despite its failings (including Rainn Wilson,) Discovery’s acting is superb. James Frain as Sarek, especially, is the best of the three. I thought it was especially thoughtful that for the most part (at least in Season 1,) the Klingons actually spoke Klingon to each other. Given that Dr. Marc Okrand spent the time and effort to construct a fully-functional Klingon language, it seems only reasonable to include as much of it as possible. I also love Hugh Culber’s doctor’s uniform and the “cinematic” cinematography of the whole thing. It’s very much an action show, yet not quite obnoxious.

So, should *Star Trek* die? Perhaps it shows my extreme bias, but no, I do not think it need perish quite yet. From my (white, male, cishet) perspective, Discovery does an okay job at remaining thoroughly Trek whilst acknowledging the present context’s social issues. It remains a very capitalist enterprise and wholesomely cringey generation X cultural mastodon, but I think it’s still worth our time.

🗎 Print/PDF


Further Reading

Jason Isaacs is giving a very compelling performance. But the writers seem to be turning him into a fundamentally different person from who he was earlier in the season. Some might call this character development. Others might say there are more shoes to drop.

#television

I was interviewed by Write.as Community Manager CJ Eller about writing software, Extratone, blogging, and self-curation.


So I am super curious that you mentioned Markdown as something that saved you from fiddling your life away. Can you go more into that?

I started an online magazine four years ago originally on WordPress. I thought I knew something about web development, but honestly I did not. It ended up becoming a fixation on trying to make something technically different from what I'd seen done with WordPress, which detracted heavily from my Editorial duties over the years. I'm on the OCD spectrum so I just couldn't let it go. I spent thousands of hours fiddling with different themes and formatting within those themes, and what I ended up with was a mess. I would make changes that would break old posts, so I'd go back and fix those, only to make more changes days/weeks/months later and have to go back again. I'd known vaguely about Markdown, but it wasn't until it was mentioned in the WordPress dev Slack that I really considered it seriously as a way out of what I'd been doing. I realized that its inherit limitations were actually very good for me – that I needed a limited system to constrain my workflow to keep myself on task. Finally, in late-2018, I started to convert our old content to Markdown and essentially haven't looked back since.

Did it take a while for you to accept Markdown's limitations? Was there a turning point for you? Did you look for a Markdown plugin on WordPress to help after making the change? I imagine there's something like that out there.

There are third-party plugins, yes, but I believe the new WordPress editor now supports “markdown blocks,” which is sortof handy for those who want to continue in that direction. The turning point was probably when we ran out of money and lost our account with our hosting provider. I was left with an old external HD full of old backups and an empty domain. I'd already started moving that direction within WordPress (largely because of the Gutenberg editor project,) but losing the site in its entirety was what I really needed to push us into a more modern, progressive CMS. Honestly, Markdown is capable of everything we actually need and nothing more. I'd like to think I was able to realize this from the beginning.

So you're left with an old external HD full of old backups and an empty domain. Talk to me about the process then of finding that modern, progressive CMS. Did you have a vague idea of what you were looking for? I imagine getting those backups ready for whatever you were going to choose as another process entirely.

I actually decided to ditch the backups and just move forward with a different Editorial direction (the project has since been more or less put on hiatus.) I knew Markdown had to be involved and that I never wanted to look at anything like WordPress' dashboard ever again. I played around with a local Ghost instance but just didn't feel anything for it, if that makes sense. I'd already moved my personal blog to Write.As months before and eventually realized that it was just what Extratone needed – so far, I've only imported my own contributions and the most recent work from others.

Could you explain what you mean by feeling something for a piece of software? I noticed this in your recent post on your personal blog and what I enjoyed about it so much. There's an enthusiasm about the software you do recommend that jumps through the screen. I want to use Bear after reading your post.

I'm glad to hear that! I suppose it dates back to my upbringing on a farm in rural Missouri, where I felt a real affection for – and attachment to – our tractors, combine, and such. When one cares about their work, I think it's inevitable for them to be emotionally invested in the tools they use to accomplish it every day. During my brief stint in IT in the beginning of 2019, I saw a lot of users struggling with outdated and ridiculously unintuitive software throughout their entire workday and it made me really appreciate the idea of “good workflow.” I'm not really a developer, but I believe software can always be better because I've seen it. As an End User of sorts with not much cash, I feel like my main contribution back to developers should be celebrating their good work. This is an idea I feel I do not encounter enough in day-to-day life.

As someone who also had a brief stint in IT, I totally agree with the struggles people go through because of outdated & unintuitive software. But IT also made me realize how much of software is personal — someone will want a solution that's unintuitive to you but is intuitive to them. You learn a lot of empathy from that.

I am intrigued by your last point there — why don't you think you encounter the idea of celebrating software developers enough in day-to-day life?

I suppose specifically I mean I don't see enough celebration of good development. It's hard to challenge the personal workflow of anyone, yes, but I hope folks will continue to want to better their lives with new solutions. As I mentioned in my Tips post, Microsoft Word is a great specific example of software that simply should not be used anymore – especially in composition for The Web. Not that Word is celebrated, necessarily, but its alternatives are not. It should be noted that I have no specific authority in this matter other than years of experience with – and enjoyment of – playing around with software. I just think that End Users deserve better than they get, and awareness of new/different software is a huge part of the problem. Making average people aware of better solutions should be the primary function of special interest tech journalism, IMO.

Great point about Microsoft Word. I don't even remember the last time I seriously used it — high school maybe? And like you said, discovery can be an issue to the adoption of these alternative tools. So are there any common patterns you've noticed as to how you've come about these software alternatives that you now use? Patterns that someone could adopt?

It's not that I slave away, but it does take a lot of time to discover them. The simple answer is: I drink a lot of caffeine and hyperfixate on the internet. I'm not sure it's something the average user should want to adopt, but if they do, they should be on Mastodon. They should be googling “alternatives to...” regularly, and they should worship Free and Open Source Software. Accepting that you never have to settle for one piece of software is probably the beginning. For lack of a better term, I just love playing around with software. That's not something I would advocate for my old clients or other End Users – I would rather find out myself and then present a list of alternatives in an entertaining way. I hope that's an appropriate and sufficient answer hehe.

No that's great! The acceptance of never having to settle for one piece of software is at once valuable and challenging to adopt. If you keep switching you could be a sort of software vagabond who throws their data into a rucksack to head to the next viable platform. I've always had trouble trying to find the proper balance between playing around with software & learning a tool well enough that it can be useful. How have you personally navigated that? I could imagine your foray into & out of Wordpress as an example.

It's always a challenge when trying new things. I obsess over different ways to accomplish tasks. I've probably signed Extratone for 15 different newsletter services (including Buttondown today) though I haven't actually written a single edition of our newsletter in nearly two years. I think it's only recently that I've been able to look at these habits from a reasonable perspective. As in, I am now able to finally differentiate between playing and being productive, but it took some 15 years. Self-awareness of one's actual progress is key. Asking questions like why am I actually doing this – for profit or for play? Differentiating between these two is something someone like me will always struggle with, I think.

The distinction between playing and being productive can be quite blurry. I sometimes find that playing around with a piece of software can lead to a productive use of it. How about you? Did you start with the idea of creating Extratone first and then tried to find the right software to fit the job? Or did you start playing around with Wordpress and then the idea of the digital publication took form soon after?

That's an insightful supposition. I actually tried to launch an online magazine before Extratone with virtually zero editorial focus along with a standalone podcast that I'd been hosting on WordPress for years. I originally began playing around with WordPress sites in my early adolescence, so you could say it all culminated in the idea. It took maturity to realize that I actually wanted to build a platform for other voices rather than continue to invest in my own. I'd like to believe that was all enabled by the playing hehe.

So what lead you to the conclusion of building a platform for other voices? Especially curious from the maturity angle. Because you still have a personal blog, so it doesn't feel like you've completely neglected your personal voice. But would you consider that as not the same investment of time & effort that you'd put into something like Extratone?

I should be clear that I have not accomplished what I set out to do with Extratone. After a fairly big personal trauma in 2015, I had a bit of an existential crisis and realized that I had surrounded myself with so many talented (in a particularly relevant way) online friends who were producing all sorts of incredible content – music and videos, mostly. I realized that I was better at editing and other platform duties than I was at writing, and that perhaps the online communities I was astride could be provided a single banner to give themselves. In that sense, I haven't figured out how to do what I set out to yet. Ideally, my byline would be completely gone from Extratone, so I've more or less put it on hold until I figure out how to accomplish that. Turning it into a somewhat profitable media company is still my biggest long-term life goal.

The curatorial characteristic you describe is underrated, even though the “everyone is a curator” idea is jammed down our throats all the time. There's something about this curation on a person-to-person level that still has lots of room for experimentation. On that subject, do you have any examples of communities, sites, or models that guide where you'd want Extratone to go?

My citable aspirations in that regard have been somewhat superficial, I'm afraid. From a technical perspective, I really admired what Joshua Topolsky was trying to do with The Outline – which just closed this month, actually. They built their own CMS including a bespoke advertising delivery platform which really looked great but they just couldn't figure out a sustainable editorial focus. In my fantasy world, I have the connections and digital media insight of Topolsky and know how to apply them in a way that supports our community because I don't see any one brand popping up any substantial umbrellas over the electronic musicians I know. (It wasn't until “too late” that I realized Extratone's sole editorial focus should have been electronic music all along.) I read a lot about media but I'm pretty picky as far as hero worship goes when it comes to my own professional goals. I once promised that Extratone would never run ads, so I could see some sort of non-profit classification working out in our future. I believe I could be an excellent curator – I'm just not quite sure how to get there yet.

I think you're a great curator — had to ask that question of influence because I think you have a unique curatorial presence on the web. Just saw you tweet about tractordata.com. Who else would recommend that? Love it. That's why I thought Are.na would be right up your alley.

So you emphasized “our community” there — what do you define as your community in that broader context?

Well thank you! That's a question I'm still struggling to define. Electronic music is about as far as I've gotten. I met most of my talented friends on Twitter over the past 10 years or so and have tried to contain them in a list before. There are innate challenges in defining such a creative community – I have done my best to label without being constricting, but it's definitely difficult trying to figure out how to provide a flag which everyone feels comfortable flying. I still think the best I've done to articulate what I'm trying to say was for Extratone's About page. Most of the folks I'm talking about are used to hustling their own brand so it's been a real challenge working on the right way to reach out.

A flag which everyone feels comfortable flying — that's a great way to put it. What I find interesting about your internet presence is that you defy the idea of flying just a single flag. Along with Extratone you have multiple podcasts, multiple blogs, and now you're starting a Motorsports & Tech dedicated Mastodon instance.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to have many online buckets to put your ideas in. One just feels too limiting, especially if it's solely linked to your legal identity. How do you think about this matter of identity & expression with your own online presence?

That's a very good question. I can't take credit for mastd.racing, actually – I'm not sure who created that server but it's administered by an account called RaceControl. You've arrived at another one of my biggest challenges. Consolidating my interests has always been a problem, especially on The Web. Age has definitely helped narrow them down a bit, but I still can't help myself sometimes. I think it's ended up alienating a lot of my followers on social because I have a hard time posting just within my niche(s). I'm not so sure how to feel about this, honestly. One could argue that I should post whatever I want, whenever, but consider your audience is also a concept I can no longer ignore. If anything, I need to learn to let myself be limited a bit more by those buckets. Once again, Extratone is a good example of this – I should've never published app reviews there, but I did. We're all learning, I suppose.

Do you feel like you have to even learn to limit yourself on your personal blog? It seems like a personal blog can act as the release valve — a way of getting around cornering yourself into the niches that Extratone and other projects require. You can freely write about pens and Picard without feeling constrained to a single subject.

I think I'm just now coming around to understanding personal blogging and the freedom that entails. It's been a long while since I've had the urge to write about things on which I don't consider myself at least somewhat of an authority. I think – like many people – I originally just used my personal blog as a guinea pig for messing around with themes, and I'm just now actually catching up on some of the lesser items on my “to-write” list. Since we've begun talking I've begun building my blogs bookmark folder back up and following the #100DaystoOffload challenge, which I find immensely impressive. I can't say I'm quite up to it, personally, but I definitely plan on opening up the taps a bit more. (I also don't want to flood read.write.as with too many joke posts ya know hehe.)

That's awesome! You're reminding me of the interesting relationship between writing & tinkering when it comes to blogs. They both feed into each other in a strange way. Before, when my blog was on Wordpress, I didn't care about tinkering around — writing was my sole focus. When I moved to my new blog, however, I found myself shift towards creating apps that extend my blog and messing around with its CSS. So it's interesting that you've gone the opposite way, publishing more instead of solely tinkering.

What has awoken the urge for you to tackle those items on your personal “to-write” list? To open up those taps a bit more? Because I can see the publication mindset, being somewhat of an authority, getting in the way.

That is interesting. I'm wondering how many people are in each of our camps. I hate to be so topical, but the pandemic and being home constantly has definitely contributed. I've also begun to learn to let things go, which is an essential skill. Being able to actually kill work when it needs to die is the real secret. I just built up the strength to delete the rest of my 2019 list a few weeks ago.

I wonder also! And hey, no problem bringing up the current situation. I think it's making me write more also.

Want to drill into that practice of letting go as an essential skill for blogging. As a final question for this chat, how have you gone about the decision of keeping ideas that you've had for a long time and when to let them go? It's been something I've been struggling with for recently as ideas for blog posts start to pile up.

Self-curation is definitely tough. Generally, it's very hard to let things go – especially when I've progressed at all significantly into research/first drafting, but I know when to kill something if I reread and am unable to immediately see where I was going. I've noticed that trying to rekindle interest or momentum in a topic is unusually not a worthwhile use of time in my case. If I can't get my rhythm back fairly early in, I am very unlikely to, ever. That said, I think it's also important to forgive yourself for investing time in something that won't work out – otherwise, you will settle for less than what you originally intended and release something you won't be happy with.

Thank you so much for your time! I really enjoyed this!

Forgive and forget! That's a great point about rekindling an interest being a sign of letting go of an idea. I've done that too many times. This has been a blast to chat virtually David — really enjoyed your thoughts and am looking forward to future blog posts and installments of Extratone!

#meta

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.