The Psalms

A narcoleptic yokel on software and culture.

Dark Wrapped 2020 - Spotify

Reclaiming tastemaking for listeners in the Spotify era.

Last week, Spotify users were treated to the service’s annual “Spotify Wrapped” feature: a visual summary of an account’s listening habits throughout the year, including their most listened-to artists. New for 2020 are “in-app quizzes,” a chronological “Story of Your 2020,” and detailed podcast listening statistics. For premium users, “badges” will “crown listeners with various titles based on the ways they listened.”

For example, if a number of your playlists gained significant new followers, you’ll be a Tastemaker. If you listened to a song before it was cool (aka hit 50,000 streams), you’ll get the Pioneer badge. And based on the number of songs you added to playlists this year, you just might become a Collector.

Their use of the term Tastemaker is particularly interesting. “Tastemaking” – a function once relegated to magazines – has taken a concerning bent in the Algorithmic Age. Very much contemporary terms like “filter bubble” and “echo chamber” – applied more and more often to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, now – can also be associated with music streaming services like Spotify, who’s “playlistification” of content has had a number of alarming effects on American culture.

Premium Badges - Spotify

In 2018, The Baffler’s Liz Pelly explored Spotify playlists’ gender bias in “Discover Weekly:”

On Today’s Top Hits, I found that over the course of one month, 64.5 percent of the tracks were by men as the lead artist, with 20 percent by women and 15.5 percent relying on collaborations between men and women artists. When all features were taken into consideration, I found that 85.5 percent of tracks included men artists, while only 45.5 percent included women. This was one of the highest percentages of women artists out of all the playlists I examined.

She also quotes a LinkedIn post by “Jerry Daykin, the Head of Media Partnerships at Diageo,” in which he observes, “The most popular tracks on Spotify get featured in more playlists and become even more popular as a result.” In January of the same year, the online music magazine Pitchfork published an op-ed by musician Damon Krukowski entitled “How to Be a Responsible Music Fan in the Age of Streaming,” which provided concrete statistics on this phenomenon (emphasis mine:)

According to the data trackers at BuzzAngle Music, [on Spotify,] more than 99 percent of audio streaming is of the top 10 percent most-streamed tracks. Which means less than 1 percent of streams account for all other music.

“While streaming media is pitched to us as tailored to our taste, or at least to our browsing history,” Krukowski goes on to note, “the business of it is in fact closer to one-size-fits-all.” Clearly, this is an issue, but technically only insofar as Spotify advertises itself as a means to discover new music, which it does consistently.

The company has faced criticism in other areas, most recently by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross in a widely-read review of “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” a new book by University of Oslo professor Kyle Devine, entitled “The Hidden Costs of Streaming Music.” Ross first cites a statement by Spotify CEO Daniel Elk, “The artists today that are making it realize that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans,” arguing the true meaning of his words to be “to make a living as a musician, you need to claw desperately for attention at every waking hour.” His most original (as in, yet to be considered in the mainstream discourse) argument, though, involves the service’s environmental impact. He cites Devine’s depiction of a profound cultural delusion surrounding the consumption of music, suggesting that music is “seen as a special pursuit that somehow transcends the conditions of its production.”

In a chapter on the digital and streaming era, Devine drives home the point that there is no such thing as a nonmaterial way of listening to music: “The so-called cloud is a definitely material and mainly hardwired network of fiber-optic cables, servers, routers, and the like.” This concealment of industrial reality, behind a phantasmagoria of virtuality, is a sleight of hand typical of Big Tech, with its genius for persuading consumers never to wonder how transactions have become so shimmeringly effortless.

Also noteworthy are questions of Spotify’s viability as a business, which Ross includes by citing a July article in Barrons quoting Spotify Technology’s second-quarter earnings report: “The streaming music company lost $418 million, or $2.24 per share, versus analysts’ expectations for a 41-cent loss.” Spearheading this year’s news conversation surrounding the company, though, were its widespread acquisitions in the Podcasting industry, including Anchor, Megaphone, Gimlet Media, and – most controversially – the exclusive rights to the most listened-to property in the medium, The Joe Rogan Experience. Though details of their implications are beyond the scope of this essay, it is reasonable to assume its concerns – if not its proposed solutions – should apply to the future of podcasting as well.

Responsible Curation

For solutions to address Spotify’s overwhelming skew toward rewarding popular music with even more popularity, we can first look within its own history to just a few years earlier, when human curation was more equally matched in its fight against algorithmic curation. In 2015, the company claimed that “Half of Spotify users stream from other users’ playlists at least monthly.” Pitchfork’s Marc Hogan profiled a number of “power users” within the upper percentile in terms of followers and personal playlist popularity. Notably, all of his examples are male.

Generally, human curation should hypothetically combat its algorithmic counterpart in terms of favoring already commercially successful content, if not its gender disparity. The industry’s other biggest player, Apple Music, has invested heavily and successfully in the former. (Disclosure: I have been an Apple Music subscriber since its launch.) Fast Company addressed this contrast in a 2018 long read entitled “Spotify’s $30 billion playlist for global domination:”

Cook’s words embody Apple’s longstanding critique of Spotify, which is that its algorithms are eroding music’s spiritual role in our lives. Cook doesn’t mention Spotify by name but says, “We worry about the humanity being drained out of music, about it becoming a bits-and-bytes kind of world instead of the art and craft.”

Then again, the same article also quotes Tim Cook – the CEO of the most valuable company in the history of the world – as insisting “We’re not in it for the money.” In turn, Daniel Elk is quoted, saying “Music is everything we do all day, all night, and that clarity is the difference between the average and the really, really good,” though what exactly he is quantifying as “really, really good” is not entirely clear. In context, the words of both leaders seem untrustworthy – vague, at best.

In tremendous and relevant contrast to the voices of these CEOs is that of Ethan Diamond, CEO and co-founder of Bandcamp, a music streaming service unlike any other. In an interview with Music Tech Fest director Andrew Dubber this May, Diamond exemplifies an entirely different mentality in running a for-profit service for independent music artists.

In 2007, Diamond and former colleagues Shawn Grunberger, Joe Holt, and Neal Tucker set out to build the equivalent of blogging services like Blogger, WordPress, MovableType, etc. for musicians. As Holt bemoaned in a 2008 interview with The HTML Times, creating an online presence for one’s music had long been “a pain in the ass:”[^1]

You need to find a place to host it, you’ve gotta get the metadata right, it’s just hard. So we just decided we would do that hard part for musicians so that they didn’t have to be so nerdy.

From its very origin, the team designed Bandcamp to make the process of publishing one’s music as easy as possible. In the first post on the company’s blog from September, 2008, Diamond details the results of their engineering:

We keep your music streaming and downloading quickly and reliably, whether it’s 3am on a Sunday, or the hour your new record drops and Pitchfork gives it a scathingly positive review. We make your tracks available in every format under the sun, so the audiophilic nerderati can have their FLAC and eat mp3 v2. We adorn your songs with all the right metadata, so they sail into iTunes with artwork, album, band and track names intact. We mutter the various incantations necessary to keep your site top-ranked in Google, so when your fans search for your hits, they find your music long before they find bonkersforlyrics.com or iMyFace. We give your fans easy ways to share your music with their friends, and we give you gorgeous tools that reveal exactly how your music is spreading, so you can fan the fire.

In the years since, Bandcamp has demonstrated time and time again the sincerity in its commitment to artists through programs like “Bandcamp Fridays,” when the service waives its cut of artists’ revenue (ten percent on physical releases, fifteen percent of digital.) In 2017, the company donated a Friday’s share of proceeds to the Transgender Law Center in response to the Presidential Administration’s proposal to ban trans people from serving in the U.S. military. This year, throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, the company has repeatedly brought back the program in recognition of its impact on independent artists, and the results have been profound. On March 20th, for a specific example, $4.3 million worth of purchases was distributed.

Unlike Spotify, Bandcamp is a profitable company, and has been for nearly a decade. In Dubber’s interview, Diamond explains their financial origins:

In 2007/2008 we took a little bit of VC funding and then focused on getting to profitability. So we did that and got there in 2012, and that’s helped us maintain the mission, maintain the vision that we’ve had for the company for a long time.

Also in contrast to Spotify, Bandcamp explicitly invests in less popular, fringe content, through its online publication the Bandcamp Daily:

The mission of the Daily, it’s our editorial arm, and it’s just to highlight this incredibly diverse world of music that’s on a site where anybody can upload anything. And the result of that is that you have weird subgenres and a lot of music, I think, that wouldn’t necessarily be covered anywhere else.

Bandcamp has long demonstrated an anthesis to the business models technology companies have been so criticized for upholding and has done so in relative obscurity from the media. In his interview, Dubber asks Diamond one of the primary questions prompting the creation of this essay: “how come Bandcamp doesn’t get mentioned in all these press articles about music services?” In answer, Diamond offers his own business decisions out of “[his] personal preference:”

I like the idea that Bandcamp hangs out in the background and just makes all of this stuff work, and also, hopefully, helps the artist promote themselves, and it’s not about “Bandcamp, Bandcamp, Bandcamp.”[^2]

As a Tastemaking enterprise, Bandcamp has combined magazine-style editorial publishing with user-created content in the form of Collections – which allow listeners to display music they’ve purchased on a customizable web page – and Artist Recommendations, which extend from a creator’s Collection to those who follow them. This system has demonstrably lead to community and cultural wellness by genre via responsible commentary and selection from curating creators with authority, while still profiting its parent company tremendously. Bandcamp has grown from four to seventy employees in its 13-year lifespan, while helping artists earn $634 million as of December 2020. In the music industry, it is unquestionably an outlier. Diamond inadvertently explains Bandcamp’s success in response to a question from Dubber on the company’s comparatively slow pace in terms of technological features (emphasis mine:)

Deciding what to work on next, that has always felt like the easiest part of the job because it’s whatever benefits artists the most. Because the way Bandcamp makes money is if artists make a lot more money, so that’s what we try to spend every day doing.

The solution to the “debacle” of streaming music, then, is not necessarily charity or socioeconomic revolution. It would seem that all it takes is a sincere investment in the real people who create music.


[1] While Bandcamp set out from the beginning to make it easier for artists to publish music, getting music on Spotify has always been a grueling process.

[2] I fully intended to quote Kaitlyn Tiffany on how organizations only get tech media attention if a significant amount of capital is involved in some form, but I haven’t been able to find it. I’ll certainly come back and add it if/when I do.

#software #music

Digital Leaves

Purposing a disciplined effort to reflect on those tech products which have remained too fair and/or too good to catch the attention of the alarmists in us, recently.

I've never been a big fan of holidays, nor do I think Thanksgiving should be a federal one, given its shitty, undebatably imperialist origins, but these opinions are entirely inconsequential. Regardless of how I feel, Thanksgiving will remain as pervasive as ever in the spaces around me, so I thought I'd change things up this year and actually participate in a substantial way. I did my best to travel back to a vastly less complicated self, letting all of the crud that's accumulated atop my love of computers in the past twenty years: wokeness, adtech, Obama wearing VR glasses, etc... When I thought the Native Americans were glad to see white people because they gave them guns and horses and assumed people made things because good ideas were the apex of currency. When I was able to respond to new software discoveries by screwing around aimlessly without wondering if they'd been stolen entirely from a handful of talented developers lacking in the resources and know how required to protect their ideas in the face of Microsoft's ruthless Embrace, Extend, Extinguish crusade.

Forgive yourself for a moment and return there with me. Or perhaps somewhere else, if you need – wherever and whenever you last remember feeling genuinely enthralled with The Future of Computers. (Perhaps it was yesterday! If so, Gourd bless you. Never change.) Let's take ourselves back to kindergarten, before we knew anything about the rapid cyclical consolidation and monopolization within the technology industry that had already established itself as a trend, by then, when all we knew of the software we interacted with was contained within our most visceral reactions: I like Ask Jeeves because I like red and I like Jeeves. I vaguely remember when Google (the search engine) first broached the general awareness of my elementary school's computer lab. I'm fairly sure I even remember the sort of feelings that were elicited the first time I actually set eyes on the Google.com homepage: it looked so modern, then, compared to the rest of the web. (After two decades, it currently looks like shit.) Upon the first first query, it was immediately clear that Google was superior to any of the other search engines we'd been using.

This sort of encounter – with a service that significantly alters one's perception of a given set of tasks – is precious in our lives as users.

A few examples from my own using life which come to mind:

  • The first time I witnessed a Skype call.
  • Downloading and using the beta Evernote client on the school machines in Junior High.
  • The first album I uploaded on Bandcamp.
  • Discord's first public release.
  • The “moment” I first put a name to Markdown. (I'd been using bits of the syntax for years before I actually read the word.)
  • And most recently, exploring Notion as personal catch-all documentation software.

The atmosphere of elation about the future on which I so often lament has been replaced by wariness for most of us – from Californian software developers to tractor-hacking farmers. Now, the conversation is saturated with CEO appearances before legal committees, corporate memo leaks, and somber interviews. Of course, I have unquestionably contributed more than my share. In fact, I wish I could be twice as critical in twice the written volume, and I believe the tech media industry to be far too culturally-embedded within Silicon Valley to be nearly critical enough. For this holiday, though, I think a respite from the negative is worthwhile and essential. I know it is for my personal sanity, at least.

A week ago, I shared this Google Form and asked you to reflect with me on the “really great” software/services you have encountered in your using life built by “technology companies who's business ethics align toward the benefit of us users and who's products are well-priced (or free!)” As of the time of this writing, nearly 80 responses have been recorded on the form, itself, and several more via comments on Hacker News. I deeply appreciate your participation! They're far from predictable, too – I've ended up learning a lot. The very first submission was for Logos Bible Software, which has quite a fascinating history. I feel like those less-secular of us go unexposed to theological software without participants such as the human who submitted this one (thank you, human!,) and end up missing out on an entire segment of software development. Having studied The Good Book in a very much analog fashion through Lutheran school, I wonder in retrospect how software solutions could've changed the experience.

I have never received this volume of feedback in my prompts before, nor have I ever really seen a reason to close any of them to responses, so I'm going to take a blind shot at the dartboard and plan to close the form on New Year's Day, 2021. Until then, please feel free to respond in any way you'd like and/or view all the live answers in this very bad spreadsheet full of these very good responses. (My apologies – I have absolutely no idea how to use Google Sheets.)

Software Thanksgiving Cloud


ⓣⓗⓐⓝⓚⓢ

I originally intended to go into relatively extensive detail for each of the entities on my own Most Thankful For list, but I do have to actually stop somewhere, so the commentary on these isn't remarkably insightful or educational. It is genuine, though, which is worth something, I hope.

1. Bandcamp

Yes, I have tirelessly promoted my essay about Bandcamp's holiness for years now, but I have done so with good reason: here is a for-profit technology company which is building a one-of-a-kind product that invests directly in independent artists. I spent a whole summer scouring The Web looking for a single misstep or controversy and found absolutely none.

Over the course of this super link-laden journey, we’d consider the alarmingly hypocritical possibility that it’s been overlooked by mainstream conversations only because it has so long operated in the precise manner we claim is so hopelessly absent from its neighbors in its deliberate, principled, and innovative journey towards a transparent, progressive vision.

2. OBS

Before OBS (Open Broadcaster Software,) streaming video was an absolute mess that usually involved paying for or pirating some proprietary software. Remember Ustream? Good God...

OBS is the streaming video equivalent of Audacity and GIMP: an extremely powerful, infinitely-malleable set of tools that allow one to take full advantage of their hardware to capture and/or stream video and audio.

Typora - Gitbooks Slate Theme

3. Typora

There's a file entitled “My Darling, Typora” sitting in my essay drafts folder, currently, which describes this text editor as “the perfect writing software.” (See its notes page on Notion for more.)

From another recommendation I wrote:

Typora is an infinitely-customizable markdown editor spanning all platforms that's managed to become my primary word processor (and I'm someone who demands a lot from word processors.) It's immensely powerful in all the important ways – my use over the past two years has stress tested it with both enormous (100,000+ words) and extremely complicated (100+ images and embeds) documents. It's able to export even these chunkos to any format you can imagine instantaneously and never crashes.

From a comment I made on The Information's notetaking software comparison:

Typora is a Markdown editor with left sidebar file sorting, very much like Bear (several available themes can make it look actually identical, in fact,) but without its native iCloud-based file syncing. It is cross-platform, open-source, and definitely more powerful, though.

The Typora theming community has been especially on-point, as of late. In the screenshot embedded above, it's wearing the Slate variation of H16nning's Gitbook theme, which is by far the most beautiful configuration I've yet to see the editor in.

4. GIMP

The GNU Image Manipulation Program – which just celebrated its 25th anniversary last week – is one of the most powerful tools in its space and perhaps the number one exemplary example of open source software to cite when explaining the concept for the first time. I have used it my entire creative life for all manner of tasks and evangelized it plenty, but it wasn't until I returned to college this Fall and took advantage of Adobe's student discounts that I had an opportunity to thoroughly explore its proprietary nemesis, Photoshop.

What I found was indeed a very powerful piece of software, albeit as arrogant as ever in its stubborn commitment to the original keyboard shortcuts set by default and other legacy artifacts, though not one I would compare to GIMP, necessarily. This shouldn't be breaking news: as far as I know, there are billions of posts comparing the two going back to the beginning of the written word. My personal conclusion: I can accomplish much more, much faster with GIMP in every single one of my own use cases.

5. Audacity

I was browsing some FOSS-related article aggregation page a few weeks ago when a post caught my eye: “Audacity exceeds 100 million downloads.” In reflection, I realized in that moment that perhaps no other single piece of software has been so thoroughly present in my “workflows” across all sorts of projects through the years, largely because of its God-sent Truncate Silence feature, which I have used to remove silence from audio files for as long as I've been working within the medium, basically. Every podcast episode I have ever published has passed through Audacity for this reason and others, as have voiceovers, high school punk band demo tapes, personal voice notes, and more.

Until OBS came along, Audacity was where all recorded audio started for myself and my creative friends. It was Audacity that captured (and caused, technically) the death of my friend's soundcard in audio form during the recording process for Hamura, the first Drywall album, back in October of 2011.

Fucking around in Audacity through the years has led to some halfway creative results on my part, including “SLOWED 'N' THROWED” Hilary Duff tracks and legacy Windows sounds remixes. I still use it for every episode of End User and have recently created a macro for remastering Drycast episodes. (A big feat for me and reflective of Audacity's ingenuity.) As far as I know, there are zero competitors, proprietary or not, which can replicate Audacity's particular usefulness as an audio utility.

NeoCities Interactions

6. NeoCities

Shortly after I discovered NeoCities last Spring, I signed up to be a Supporter for $5/month, not necessarily for the additional storage or bandwidth, but because the project immediately sounded like one I was personally obligated to uplift. Parimal Satyal's essay “Rediscovering the Small Web,” along with the design of the website which delivered it, inspired me to make another attempt at building an HTML site by hand. So far, davidblue.xyz obviously borrows heavily from his CSS, but looking at the code itself was vastly more pleasant than one would expect. Recently, during the course of writing an academic research essay, I found myself listening to interviews with its founder, Kyle Drake and reading articles from its debut in 2013, which prompted me to take even further advantage of my account.

The Drywall Website

Last week, I moved my inactive automotive blog (dieselgoth.com) from a Writeas blog to a purely-HTML NeoCities website with disturbingly little friction. (I challenge you to spot any differences.) After discovering a backup of the original Drywall Website deep within my old files, NeoCities was the only reasonable host on which to archive it. After I'd finished uploading, I fell down what the youth call a “rabbit hole” of discovery, mesmerized by what I found on page after page of NeoCities' site browser. I did my best to save the best finds by following them within the sites dashboard and have since set up a Best of NeoCities GitHub repository with my absolute favorites among them archived thanks to wget.

Trust me when I tell you that some of the best web design, ever can be found on NeoCities. What's even better: after my deep dive, I was pleasantly surprised by strangers commenting on what I'd found! Replying in a timely, substantial, and genuine manner seems to be a hallmark of the community: my (rather verbose) question regarding the well-manneredness of publishing such an archive without permission in the community Discord I discovered just this morning was almost immediately met with encouraging replies.

A Post you should probably expect soon: “NeoCities is 2020's Best Social Network.” Going forward, I'd like to digitize my poetry collection on NeoCities in the near future while continuing to otherwise brush back up on HTML and CSS – both of which I am also very thankful for, come to think of it.

Thank you again for your correspondence! May your Imperialism Day be a positive experience!

ʰᵉʳᵉ ᵃʳᵉ ᵗʰᵉ ᵈʳʸʷᵃˡˡ ʷᵉᵇˢᶤᵗᵉ ᵉᵃˢᵗᵉʳ ᵉᵍᵍˢ

DryBuy

#software

The Social Dilemma - The Founders on Their iPhones

The pop culture discussion of tech's greater issues missed in (at least) two major ways.

For those of us who've written about technology, generally, for quite a long time, any injection of the broader metaphysical/“ethical” conversation regarding the impact the industry has had/is having/is expected to have on our species into popular culture is inevitably an emotional event. The Social Network had an almost comical disregard for any potential function as a substantial critique of its subjects. Not that it's particularly supportive of that argument, but Mark Fuck, himself, recently said in court, essentially, that he didn't know what the movie was about. I'm not particularly sure, either. I suppose the dramatic film industry has no particular obligation to be critical of the times, but documentaries certainly should, in my estimation, and The Social Dilemma could've done better, in that regard.

First, the actively misleading: As thoroughly as I enjoyed Peter Campbell's casting as the master-manipulating triplets behind the dramatized young man's screen, the film's depiction of this very human invasion of privacy is blatantly false imagery. The Privacy Problem is not that Facebook or Google employees are directly and actively viewing and manipulating your use of their services in real time. In fact, it is ridiculously unlikely that human eyes will ever see your individualized information. One could go so far as to describe the whole film as “ridiculous,” as did one of my favs, Casey Newton:

The dramatized segments include a fictional trio of sociopaths working inside an unnamed social network to design bespoke push notifications to distract their users. They show an anguished family struggling to get the children to put their phones away during dinner. And the ominous piano score that pervades every scene, rather than ratcheting up the tension, gives it all the feeling of camp.

The Verge's official review of the film – written by Adi Robinson and as cited by Casey – is an important read, as well. Robinson makes use of some very intelligent language and cites some very interesting bits (including a Wikipedia article about a series of Hogarth paintings?) for The Verge's audience, who already knew all of this. What I hoped to do by writing about this at all was speak to those distinctly separate tech media – grandmothers, retirees, etc. – who are both directly affected by the subjects covered by The Social Dilemma and particularly susceptible to its delusions about “privacy” – a term which I would argue is not particularly relevant to the conversation. Personally, I define my privacy in a way that is not violated by the simple collection of “my data,” regardless of how detailed said collection may or may not be, but would be by individual examination with human eyes, which – while possible – is extremely unlikely if for no other reason than a lack of business incentive. While Google may have access to the data it would need to determine whether I am currently showering or not, there is absolutely zero monetary gain to be had in one of its employees (or outsourced contractors) knowing this.

Now, on to the notably missing: Perhaps most important to note before I go on is that the film was produced by – and directly promotes on several occasions – one particular organization, called the Center for Humane Technology, which notably has a .com rather than a .org domain... hm. Immediately after watching the film, I complied with its direction to its website, where I was specifically looking for “solutions” to the issues it presented. Aside from Wikipedia (sortof,) it neglected to mention the abundance of alternative organizations and projects who've been building against the adtech-funded web for ages – some for decades. Unfortunately, neither the organization's website nor the film's webpage list any of these alternatives, whatsoever, which personally leads me to believe the whole thing is bullshit, for lack of a better term.

The Social Dilemma Newsletter Prompt

The film essentially argues for a single choice: using social media and other adtech-sustained services, or not using them. What I'm here to tell you: you have a choice of services. For every single individual service criticized in the film, I guarantee there exists at least a handful of alternatives across a spectrum of sin. If you've followed my work for any length of time (you probably shouldn't still be reading,) you know I've advocated exhaustively for Mastodon – the open web, decentralized social network outpacing Twitter in every single way. Two years ago, I spent an entire summer arguing that Bandcamp is the only music streaming service who's business model benefits both platform and artist. I'm still finishing up a massive essay that discusses alternatives to Facebook, which has been an exhausting but educational journey, as you can probably imagine, namely that leaving a platform as all-consuming as Facebook for an open-source and/or federated alternative requires a certain amount of bravery. Essentially, the evidence suggests that the alternatives discussion is a particularly important one to me, as is finding a way to evangelize it that isn't immediately off-putting to “the average person.”

Poke around the film's official website a bit and you'll discover a variety of heavily-branded “resources” for “taking action,” all awash with a certain irony, including a fucking Bingo game (hosted on Google Drive, no less,) which the site actually suggests you post on your Instagram story! Also under the “Take Action” vertical are links to Moment CEO Tim Kendall's tips for reducing your screen time, the “Data Detox Kit,” which advocates for Firefox as the private browsing solution (among an indigestibly huge link tree,) a “Join Now” button, and – most ironic of all – a link to download the “Ad Observer plugin,” in order to “share with researchers the ads you see on social media as they work to expose micro-targeting techniques & hold political advertisers accountable.” In other words, the very same data collection the film condemns, albeit for the “Online Political Transparency Project” instead of the greater adtech monstrosity.

The Social Dilemma Bingo

No, it's not a scam. Using The Markup's shiny new Blacklight tool, I found thesocialdilemma.com to be entirely free of any malicious tracking aside from the inevitable accompaniment to their Google Drive embeds. (Here's the report in full.) All at once, we can be virtually certain there is no malice in this particular destination, at least, which leaves... incompetence? I'm afraid so. It is not revolutionary to suppose that the people who conceived of these ruthlessly effective systems of adtech and figure out how to implement them in the real world – regardless of what they believe now, or then – that these folks should not be our first call when we're searching for “solutions.” You know this, they know it, and they explicitly acknowledged it at least twice in the film, itself, and yet the fact of it remains.

Would you care to guess what Chapter 1 of the Digital Detox Kit is about? I can't imagine you'd be correct... Under the heading “CONTROL YOUR SMARTPHONE DATA,” step 1 is literally just renaming your phone:

At some point, you may have “named” your phone for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or both – or maybe the name was automatically generated during setup.

This means that “Alex Chung’s Phone” is what’s visible to the Wi-Fi network owner and, if your Bluetooth is turned on, to everyone in the area who has their Bluetooth on as well.

You wouldn't announce your name as you enter a café, restaurant, or airport, so neither should your phone.

Now, I've always considered the ability to change a computer's name an immense privilege. My first “real” computer's name was Clementine, then there was Bertha, two Sophies (probably my favorite traditionally female name, so I excuse myself,) Silas, Linus, Uel, Jehoshaphat, Temba, Knot, and now Hildur. My iPhone 8 Plus' name is Gravel. However, I realize that most users could care less, and I think that's completely rational. Technically, suggesting you change your phone's common name to that of “your favorite television character” (Hildur Odegard is my favorite character in Fortitude, so...) is not bad advice, even within its own privacy-centered argument, it's just that it's ridiculously low priority (or should be) compared with doing just about anything else along this vein. A conundrum is presented: I cannot imagine these people sitting down and seriously jotting down “change device name” as step 1 in their strategy, but I also cannot fathom an incentive for them to expend such effort facetiously or maliciously. Again, incompetence/ignorance is the only remaining explanation.

Firefox for iOS Notification A notification I received while literally typing this out.

I have to backtrack, now, and confess that I did find an “Alternative Apps Centre” within the Data Detox Kit, which contains some genuinely smart recommendations like ProtonMail, Riot, Signal, and DuckDuckGo surrounding a bunch of privacy-enhancing browser extensions. However, the “detox” seems to have been lost at some point along the way. No amount of privacy (yes, I do think it's hilarious that I can freely refer to “privacy” as a commodity with a positive quantity) can detoxify one' social media addiction. The savvy reader notes the “Supported by Mozilla Firefox” badges all over the website and asks me “well, what did you expect?” My answer: something “more” than promotion, I suppose.

I suspect this is another case of don't go to those who created the problem for the solution. More privacy is a more tangible vector upon which to “innovate” than simply putting down the fucking phone, but the interviewees in the film at least touched upon a very important insight in that regard: turn off all your notifications. I genuinely believe turning off all notifications is a good way to proceed, especially if this film (or anything else, for that matter) has made you feel uncomfortable about your relationship with your phone. I realized that I'd somehow allowed YouTube to clutter my notifications unconsciously for years, which is disturbing. In general, the apps who's notifications I'd probably value the most (Bandcamp!) are the ones who use the feature the least/the most subtly.

Leaving your phone in a different room while you sleep is a good idea, though it seems a bit excessive when you could just turn it off, instead. (Displaced from your bed or stone dead, your chances of making use of your handset in an emergency are about the same, I'd wager.) I suspect it's long overdue for a reboot, anyway. As far as “Email Addiction” goes, I suggest you first take an afternoon to go through your inbox and make use of GDPR's greatest gift: the single-click opt-out, most often found in very small text in a given email's footer. If you're really serious, unsubscribe from even the newsletters you do read and make yourself resubscribe to them. Make use of your preferred email platform's archives feature – or don't – but clear everything from your inbox itself. Mark it all as read. Then, you'll be ready to seek out other Email Wellness methodologies like the recently-trendy Inbox Zero.

If quitting social media cold turkey is not viable in your personal or professional life, a set daily time to check your notifications is a very good start. Yes, it's okay to announce on Facebook that you're taking a break from Facebook. There is a very good reason: accountability, to both yourself and your friends. If you are interested in the alternatives I mentioned before, genuinely contact me literally any time. My personal phone number is (573) 823-4380. I would be elated to discuss some of the services I've discovered with you.

My own advice on “privacy:” don't worry about installing browser extensions, or using a different browser for that matter. Aside from a password manager, there is no need to download or install any additional software to protect your information. All the “privacy tools” you need are already present on your device, and they mostly consist of geolocation settings. If you're an iOS user, you've already been confronted with them in the past few months. If you are still genuinely bothered by automated data collection unseen by human eyes, your only next step – if we're really honest with ourselves – is figuring out how you're going to go without the internet. Untracked browsing is no longer a realistic option.

#software #film

So Much To Do, So Much To See

An update on all I’ve been doing instead of what I actually intended to do.

There will always be plenth of things to compute in the detailed affairs of millions of people doing complicated things. – Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think

Everything happens so much. – Horse_ebooks

You have a desire for indulgence in your home and family, Co-Star has just told me in my weekly, email newsletter-delivered horoscope. “Venus conjunct to natal Moon” indicates this part of yourself will transform into something else, and goes on to say something truly stirring: *the way you relate to your past is changing*. I continue to be amazed by how influential the potential of the computing hardware present in my life at any given time can be on my habits. In the two weeks I’ve had my first moderately powerful desktop computer in over ten years, I have found myself using new image & video editing software, installing local WordPress stacks, finally experimenting with Git, somehow generating 20 draft posts on a fresh experimental WordPress site, and putting my whole back into my new Notion account, including – among others – projects like my “Keyboard Shortcuts Wiki.” All the while, there has been a pull toward a more deliberate, focused sort of digital existence: reflection on Kevin McGillivray’s Word of The Year concept, digital gardening, and a few other like discoveries have culminated in a newfound, unironic use of the term “Creative Wellness” to describe a set of ideologies which I believe I should strive for in order to improve my intellectual wellbeing.

In tandem with the fact that I have gone back to school, this has all crucially resulted in very little actual writing, which may or may not be conclusive evidence toward the classical minimalist technology argument that less capability results in more focus. On that note, remember when the Game of Thrones author appeared on Conan’s show and mentioned that he still writes exclusively using WordStar 4.0? This happening has been vaguely in the back of my mind since I encountered it during the relatively brief, basement apartment-dwelling era in Oregon when I first discovered WinWorldPC and got into running a bunch of DOS VMs, trying out every download from that blessed site which sounded even remotely interesting. Before I go on, let me just include a transcript of the entire anecdote I’m referring to here, because it’s actually much shorter than one is led to believe:

Conan: These novels that that you write are can be over a thousand pages long. They're massive tomes and apparently you write them all on a computer, but unlike most authors, you're not worried about a computer virus. I mean an author who writes a thousand-page book their greatest fear is a virus invades and destroys a chunk of their book you don't worry about that. Why?

Martin: No I have a secret weapon – I actually have two computers: I have the computer that I browse the internet with and that I get my email on and I do my taxes on and that computer and then I have my writing computer which is a DOS machine not connected to the Internet.

Conan: A DOS machine. How old is this program?

Martin: A DOS machine. You remember DOS? I use WordStar 4.0 as my word processing system.

Conan: Did you make this computer out of wood? Did you carve it? I'm curious why you decided to stick with this old program.

Martin: I actually like it. I mean, it does everything I want a word processing program to do, and it doesn't do anything else. I don't want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lowercase letter and it becomes a capital. I don't want a capital – if I wanted a capital, I would've typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key. Stop fixing it!

Conan: You yell at computers a lot. What about spellcheck?

Martin: Oh, I hate spellcheck. Especially when you have the realm of [???], it's [???].

That’s it! A less than sixty second exchange. I did not remember just how much coverage it received on digital news sites. Embark on a Google search for “george rr martin wordstar,” and you’ll discover a ridiculously long list of brief stories including the YouTube embed. A book I’ve just recently discovered and begun – which I am extremely excited about – is Professor Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing, and its introduction begins by mentioning The George Thing, which surely indicates that it is the most significant mention of word processing software in popular culture for at least a decade:

The clip was posted to YouTube and from there embedded in innumerable tweets, Facebook feeds, and blogs. Some commenters immediately, if indulgently, branded Martin a Luddite, while others opined it was no wonder it was taking him so long to finish the whole story (or less charitably, no wonder that it all seemed so interminable). But what was it about these seemingly obscure details that people found so compelling? Part of it was no doubt the unexpected blend of novelty and nostalgia: Many fans would be old enough to remember WordStar for themselves, and the intricacy of its interface seems somehow in keeping with Martin’s quirky persona, part paternalistic grandfather and part Doctor Who character. WordStar thus becomes an accessory to his public image, like the black fisherman’s cap he is frequently photographed wearing. But it is also clearly much more than that. Martin’s passion for the program is unmistakable...

The book, itself, was also more widely reviewed than one would expect, where it was deemed genuinely unique. I related quite hard to the preface’s first few sentences:

Track Changes began, as many books do, with a question: What was the first novel written with a word processor? Being an English professor interested in the history of writing as well as computers, I thought it was the sort of thing I should know, but I didn’t.

Discovering the volume was a result of a personal determination in the last week to give in to my latent obsession with word processing/text editing software, which also led to my creating a Notion table of every word processor I’ve ever heard of. Thanks to my desktop PC acquisition, found myself virtual machining a bit again, though some of the programs I’m particularly interested in trying have inexplicitly disappeared from my personal library and been removed from WinWorldPC, probably due to (mostly absurd) copyright claims. Most versions of WordStar are still available, though, and I’ll confess I still have a desire to learn how to use its cult keyboard shortcuts, as evangelized by Robert J. Sawyer in an essay also discussed in Track Changes, which specifically shits on WordPerfect more explicitly than I remembered. I keep returning to the idea that I should try writing the stuff I normally work on – like this post, for instance – in these software, but file transfer is a bigger and bigger obstacle the older the OS you’re running: VirutalBox’s “Guest Additions” – which allow clipboard sharing/shared folders/other interoperative network functions – are not compatible with DOS or any Windows editions before 4.0. There are workarounds, but I haven’t found any reasonably within my current abilities.

Truthfully, though, emulating twenty-year-old software seems a bit unnecessary when contrasted with the fact that Markdown, Typora, and Writeas were supposed to be my saviors from distracted writing. A compulsion to comment on a recent note-taking app comparison published in The Information reminded me that I still haven’t written an in-depth review of Typora, which I plan to prioritize in the near future, especially since it may finally be officially releasing, according to recent activity on Twitter.

Another result of my reintroduction to academia is that I can now afford a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud thanks to student discounts. This has been life-changing in a manner which I should probably be a bit ashamed of, but once the desire to make full use of my subscription (by trying every single program it licenses) subsides, I really do intend to become proficient with InDesign – a learning experience which I will surely at least attempt to thoroughly document, here.

Digital Gardening

I think it was Tom Critchlow’s Digital Gardening blogchain that first exposed me to the term and his static site-generated wiki project that introduced me to the concept of personal wikis, not so long ago, though the desire to organize and/or archive personally-relevant information through the format has actually been rattling around my head for the better part of a decade. When I discovered that one could install MediaWiki – the platform Wikipedia, itself is built on – I created the shortlived Drywall Wiki, once upon a time. Since I last wrote you, I also purchased the extratone.wiki domain and played around once again with the platform. Typora even offers exports in MediaWiki’s bizarre proprietary text format! For better or worse, though, I don’t see anything becoming of the project for the moment I suppose it feels like somewhat of a risk, investing a lot of time I probably shouldn’t have into documenting all of my Twitter jokes. For the moment, I think my Notion account will have to serve as my personal wiki.

The most inciteful argument I’ve read among the Digital Gardens discourse revolves around value as it is created within our personal online writing spaces. Two of the many infinitely-quotable essays within this space: Mike Caulfield’s “The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral” and “Stock and flow” from Snarkmarket. The former references Vannevar Bush’s infamous “As We May Think” essay (which I’ve finally gotten around to finishing and its description of a “memex,” which many cite as a disturbingly-apt prediction of the World Wide Web. Caulfield, however, disagrees:

So most people say this is the original vision of the web. And certainly it was the inspiration of those pioneers of hypertext. But in reality it doesn’t predict the web at all . Not at all. The web works very little like this. It’s weird, because in our minds the web still works like this, but it’s a fiction.

Reading back from a lens including this commentary, I immediately understood. The memex concept is far more intimate than the web has become (or perhaps ever was – I wouldn’t know.) “Stock and flow” defines creative value in two disparate types of media:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

To be honest, I personally cannot imagine undertaking the task of explaining this differentiation to anyone in my own life, but if the reactionary movement within The Web back to a focus on valuable content is, indeed, underway, perhaps such conversations are bound to shortly become more and more natural. For my part, I have attempted setting up an experimental site on Github Pages using Jekyll in the past few days with partial success: as soon as I tried to specify a custom theme, I apparently broke it, at which point I realized that I had homework to do. As much as I hate to admit it, Kev Quirk’s posts regarding WordPress’ practical simplicity over SSGs earlier this monthrings somewhat true. As things currently stand, WordPress’ permeability throughout The Web is an advantage for those who just want to publish something as simply as possible. My counterargument to both Kev and myself: Writeas is a wonderful compromise in terms of substance and image among one’s super e-enabled, Mullenweg-disgusted peers. It’s very much pure Markdown, but it’s far more accessible, cross-platform, than SSGs due to its shear simplicity.

One component which Digital Gardening would seem to offer others that I have never particularly struggled with is the freedom to write whatever I feel like writing. If anything, I have struggled in the opposite sense, existing in a state completely unhindered by consideration of the value my work may or may not offer anyone else. Perhaps the most substantial addition I’m capable of making to the Digital Gardens conversation, then, is best quoted from the first chapter of the advice book I have finally begun writing for young men, For God’s Sake, Just Sit Down to Piss:

If there is one idea of mine you ever engage with – in this book or otherwise – it is best distilled in this single sentence: you do not *actually* want to attain a state of true apathy, trust me. It is extremely unhealthy, miserable, and alienating. I have existed for an excruciatingly long time trapped in a state of being truly unable to care about anything in the face of a great, varying effort to do so. It is very far from the immunity imbued in terms like carefree – in reality, it is manifested in extreme depression. It is less immunity than it is distance from an essential part of life.

In terms of one’s blogging, I am glad for those who will/have/are finding a new freedom of expression, but hold this as a serious caution regarding the other extreme. Should you ever approach it, remember that considering one’s audience – as academics love to prioritize – really is important, eventually.

Curation

At this point, I’ve used a channel in Extratone’s Discord as my ongoing reading list for several years essentially without change. Earlier this month, though, I discovered Raindrop – a bookmarking service with public collections that (so fars) feels much more aligned with my own needs than Pocket – and pretty much immediately signed up to begin paying for it and set up a bot to crosspost from my new Reading List collection, there to the same Discord channel via the collection’s RSS feed. Raindrop’s browser extension – along with Notion’s, come to mention it – is actually usable in day-to-day browsing. As much as I love Reading.am, the prospect of its longevity worries me considering the most recent post in its development blog dates to 2016. Writing a dedicated “Little Review” of Raindrop is on my (ever-lengthening) todo list, but at the moment, I would especially emphasize my Digital Magazine Collection, which is the result of thousands of hours of web exploration and genuinely worth significant value for most anyone, I think.

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I know it may not seem all that significant, but this digital magazine collection actually represents a lot of effort – years of web exploration, both active and passive. Find it here: davidblue.wtf/magazines

A post shared by David Blue (@asphaltapostle) on

With the combination of my public Notion workspaces and public Raindrop collections, I hope to make my curatorial endeavors both more accessibly beautiful and more intimately available. In terms of a dedicated discussion of Notion’s interworkings and culture, I think I have quite a bit more exploring to experience before I’m sufficiently qualified, though my notes are already quite extensive (and publicly accessible, thanks to… Notion!) In general, I continue to be astounded by the amount of tools/services/applications I have not yet heard of, despite how long I have labored to become an authority on Writing Tools.

Too Many Fonts! - WordPerfect

Workflow

In my endeavor to more intentionally design my workspace – to actually dedicate a space for working, originally – I originally very much intended to set up dual displays for my desktop, but the desk I settled for (an old family piece from the early 1900s?) does not have enough surface area to position two displays, regardless of how thin they’ve become since I last had one. Combined with a limited budget and a concern that two displays might actually result in further distraction instead of less, I instead went for a single, 27” LED affair. I’ve also been making full use of Windows 10’s desktop switching feature and have found it surprisingly easy to make a habit, especially thanks to the Ctrl+Win+Lateral Arrow Keys keyboard shortcuts.

Hildur Keyboard Shortcuts

On the subject of keyboard shortcuts, I’ve by now worked out a personally-optimized remap (thanks to the keyboard manager tool included with PowerToys, about which I have far too much to say in some future post.) I had a conversation with a few Mastodon friends two weeks ago convincing me that my methodology of forcing myself to learn shortcuts by integrating a cheat sheet into my desktop backgrounds may actually be an original idea and useful to other users.

In terms of writing spaces, I have actually been composing the less serious stuff I’ve been writing within WordPress’ Gutenberg editor, which is not an admission I would’ve expected to be making, just a year ago. A dedicated post about this, too, is fucking coming, but suffice it to say that with a fairly-substantial PC and a better hosting provider (DreamHost over GoDaddy, in this case,) composition has become far far smoother – improving enough to make it a viable space within which to pound away original stuff for the first time. Writing essays for academia has encouraged my return to Microsoft Word, once again, on which I’ll blame the fact that I am currently composing this very bit in The Old Bitch. A desire to once again hack together a set of personalized Word templates has led to the birth of two such files which I am proud enough to share on my Notion drive. Eventually, I would also like to take the time to completely redesign the “Ribbon” in Word – something which I’ve literally never seen anyone else do. (I spent a substantial amount of time trying to find a library for MS Office customization files, to no avail, though you can find my own customization file as it stands on the same Notion page linked just now. Let me know if you’re able to successfully import it.)

Woke Word

A confession of vanity: I suspect the only reason I haven’t yet stopped composing within WordPress is that I figured out how to change the typeface to Adobe Caslon (across both the editor and the front-facing site, naturally,) thanks to my newfound access to Adobe Typekit. Yes, apparently I really am that shallow. For those Office 365 users among you, I highly suggest you look up how to enable the Classic Office sound theme. Unlike Make Use Of, I find them both adorable and genuinely useful as auditory feedback. You may also be interested in my discovery of some fairly-Woke additions to Word’s autocorrect options and the subsequent bitchy controversy their introduction spawned.

Software History Society Banner

The Read-It Website

If you know me at all, the following admission probably seems unbelievable: I have been using Reddit. I created a new subreddit for Extratone – which I do not necessarily expect to be populated any time soon – and r/SoftwareHistory after discovering that it didn’t yet exist, which I definitely do not expect you to populate, but would be delighted if you did. As with seemingly everything else I’ve covered, I also intend to write about how Reddit’s recent feature additions and redesign may actually make it a redeemable space on The Web, which should prove interesting. Clearly, I have become more than willing to accept the moniker of Software Historian whenever/if ever my authority achieves the appropriate volume to deserve to be christened so.

Obviously, none of the developments I’ve shared in this post indicate any improvement in my productive output, but I hope to learn soon how to settle into a fairly-consistent (and hopefully much more original) writing process.

#software #meta

Varmilo VA108M

Yes, I bought a mechanical keyboard. It occurred to me that folks who spend a lot of time doing things that require tools – professionals, artisans, craftsmen, etc. – usually seek out the best possible quality offerings of those tools. Even if they're just 5% better than the average alternatives and cost twice as much, when one uses them for hours every day, the last bit of refinement pays off very quickly. Considering how much typing I've done in the past 5-10 years, I find it a bit silly that I hadn't before thought to optimize the hardware I've used to do so. Now that I've put at least some thought into designing the space in which I work and gone back to school, I've also invested in bettering the thing my hands actually touch the most.

I suppose I've let myself be blinded to the advantages of a mechanical keyboard by the gaemer stigma that surrounds them. This time, I believe I began by simply inputting something like “best keyboard for typing” into a search engine, which returns plenty of iffy results, naturally, but among them was a list from Wirecutter – whom I trust, more or less – of “Best Mechanical Keyboards 2020.” Also included were posts in the r/MechanicalKeyboards subreddit, which I actually fucking joined[^1] (but promise never to mention again outside of this post.) Uncovering my eyes, I found a ridiculously-extensive community message board and Wiki, which is undoubtedly the most extensive resource on the subject to be found, anywhere. Though I did place a time limit on myself for any research of 15 minutes, in retrospect, I suppose I also had some criteria, which I assume – if you're still reading – you might be interested in:

  • WIRED as fuck. Bluetooth can fuck off.
  • “Full” keyboard, for the same reason I'd never spend any money on a piano with any less than 88 keys.
  • At least tolerably tasteful, aesthetically. (Not overwhelmingly embarrassing if someone were to actually see me using it.)
  • Cute, ideally.
  • No light shows.
  • Not “ergonomic.”
  • Not from Logitech or Microsoft.

Immediately, it was overwhelmingly clear that my choice must also have The Cherry... The Cherries... The “Cherry MX Switches,” whatever they are. Any of even the most skimmy reading up on the subject will lead you to this conclusion. That addressed, I arrived upon three considerations: the Ducky One 2, Das Keyboard Model S Professional, and Varmilo VA87M.

Varmilo VA108M (Overhead)

Layout of the VA108M seen from above.

As good as the idea of something as German as the Das Keyboard sounded, I hate the way it looks, and the Ducky seemed to take itself too seriously (despite its brand name.) The VA87M seemed to be ideal if it was full-sized. I searched for the equivalent, found the VA108M, and bought one immediately. Specifically...

SKU VA108MP2W/LLK22W
Switches Cherry MX Silent Red[^2]
Dimensions 5.39″ x 17.41″ x 1.30″
Cord Length 60 Inches

I've already written more than I ever wanted to, but let me just say that I love everything about the thing – the particular set of special keys, the way it feels & sounds, and that its heft prevents it from moving around – and I hope to keep it forever. As I said on the photographs I posted to social media, I promise to never bring this or any other mechanical keyboard up ever again unless asked about it.

[1] Yes, I have actually been using the Read It website in the past 18 months or so, which anyone who’s known me at all would find unbelievable. I don’t know if I’ll write about it in the future, so I’ll just say I’ve unblocked it within my psyche largely because it’s no longer horrendous to look at.

[2] I remain genuinely confused as to why the color of the switches matters, considering they are only visible when the keycaps have been removed.

#hardware

Hildur

I bought a desktop tower for the first time since 2010 and spent an embarrassingly long time struggling with Bluetooth shit.

As with my entire history of computer purchases, my acquisition of an HP ENVY Desktop tower, today, was last-minute, ill-informed, and certainly irrational. You “PC master race” folk: please spare me the dude, you could've just built your own pc so much cheaper shit.[efn_note]Or don't. Whatever.[/efn_note] Yes, I realize the sensible course of action would've begun with a two hour trip West to the closest Microcenter, where I'm sure the staff would've made PC shopping an absolute blast and I would've come away with a more powerful, much cheaper machine. However, after I managed to break Windows on my only machine this weekend (and subsequently failed to reset it,) I was getting especially behind on schoolwork and had absolutely no desire to complete any of it on my iPhone.

And so... I've just returned from picking up said HP Tower along with a 27” HP LED display, and am writing you after having set up the machine physically and installed most of my “essential software” list (at least all that I could remember.) As per my favorite tradition of new computer acquisition, I have named the machine after Hildur Odegard from Fortitude:

“First Impressions”

It's been exactly 10 years since I last bought a desktop tower – since I first set hands on the Dell XPS Studio desktop with which I would create the majority of my intellectual property – and I was immediately surprised by how much smaller[efn_note]6.12 x 11.93 x 13.28 inches.[/efn_note] and lighter[efn_note]13.12 lbs.[/efn_note] this tower was than my expectations. The display, too, is remarkably light and thin. Rationally, I should not have been surprised by this, but I'm not going to punish myself for continuing to find any sort of magic in technology.

In the box were a Bluetooth keyboard[efn_note]Specifically, an HP model 4251a-khsap003k.[/efn_note] and mouse set – the latter of which I will hopefully never have to use, thanks to my Logitech G203 – and was perplexed by the process of how to pair the former with the tower while it was in setup mode for far too long. I was just about to give up entirely when I revisited the packaging and noticed what I'd previously assumed was an anti-theft device, but was actually the fucking dongle for the pair. I continue to despise Bluetooth peripherals, obviously, but the multimedia function keys of the product led to some important realizations: I now had reason to use Windows Desktop Switching and have a calculator application again! However, I have yet to figure out how to alter the Function key's behavior (I'm not even sure it's possible:) in order to input Alt+F4, I have to input Fn+Alt+F4, which is far too clunky to depend on. The issue did lead to a revelation which I may or may not integrate permanently: I mapped Alt+F4 to the previously-unused button on the very top of the G203. So far, it's been pretty nifty.

HP 4251a-khsap003k

The HP 4251a-khsap003k included in the box with my new HP desktop.

That said, a component of my intention to create an intentional, static, upright-sitting desktop workspace included an allotment for a quality mechanical keyboard – my justification was that any professional in a particular craft makes a point to have the best possible tools for the job, so a high-quality keyboard has actually been very long overdue, in my case. So, I sought out a single Wirecutter recommendations list and even attempted to disseminate r/MechanicalKeyboards.[efn_note]I haven't even started self-harming yet, so my stomach is definitely strengthening![/efn_note] After a brief jaunt, I concluded that no reasonable person would be able to make heads or tails of the forum or its seemingly endless wikis without considerable indoctrination so I more or less threw a dart and landed on the Varmilo VA108M, which I ordered. All I know is that it's fairly highly-reviewed on the marketplaces I checked (though hardly mentioned on the subreddit, actually,) and that it has the Cherry Switches, which are... The good ones.

A concern I originally had with taking over the tertiary guest room – by far the smallest allotted living space in the house – as my office was its distance from our wireless router, two floors down. The last time I used the room as a workspace (five years ago,) my old tower's integrated WiFi card often struggled to maintain a reliable connection. The adapter included in this desktop, though, actually managed to clock the fastest download speed on my SpeedTest.net records just now.

SpeedTest Results

Somehow, I just managed to clock the highest download speed on my record from two floors up!

Bad(ish)

It's almost painful even to write this but... As beautiful as this $250 display is to behold, I've grown accustomed to my Surface Laptop 2's 2256 x 1504 13” display after years of hard, daily use. Apparently, those dimensions mean the little machine's display has a pixel density of 201 Pixels-Per-Inch. Filling a 27” display with just 1920 x 1080 means a pixel density of just 81.6 Pixels-Per-Inch,[efn_note]I suppose I should not have been surprised to immediately discover a dedicated online tool for calculating pixel density.[/efn_note] and the disparity was glaring to my eyes, even from the setup screen. After a few hours of regular use, I'm not sure I notice it anymore, but I suspect I will again when I've got the laptop running again. Please do indicate whether or not you think such a complaint makes me awful in the Crowdsignal poll below.

I've also already had trouble connecting my Bose SoundLink headphones correctly via Bluetooth. On my Surface Laptop, it registered as two separate devices – “Stereo Headphones” and “Headset” – which allowed me to use them as both the primary audio output and the primary audio input. For whatever reason, I have been unable to accomplish such a simultaneous connection on this machine: I can either connect them as headphones or as a headset, but not both. This video provided some help – I know now that I have to open Sound Settings and manually connect the headphones every time I re-connect them. Hopefully, I'll figure out another solution soon.

Returning to the webcam issue: I discovered that absolutely zero local stores keep add-on webcams in stock anymore, which makes sense. I resorted to searching Amazon for webcams and found a gargantuan list of brands I had never heard of. When I filtered by the one I did recognize – Logitech – I saw barely-facelifted versions of the camera my stepdad bought in 2008 and none were in stock. Unwilling to further investigate or research more, I set the price filter for under $40, sorted by customer ratings, and bought the first product which had even remotely legitimate-looking reviews: this 1080p thing branded with “Mersuii.”

After returning to the order invoice hours later for this post, I got curious enough to Google search the company name and discovered a dead-end url, zero Wikipedia page, and this Trademark registration, on which I spotted some very interesting information. Entered in the second “Goods & Services” row is the following text:

Adult sexual stimulation aids, namely, devices for massaging or vibrating external and internal portions of the body, vibrating and non-vibrating reproductions of parts of the male and female anatomies, male sex toys, masturbators, penis pumps, electrical penis cyclone pumps, rings, clamps, stimulators, vibrators, dildos, dongs, butt plugs, anal beads, rings to be worn about the penis; Adult sexual stimulation kit comprised primarily of adult sexual stimulation aids and a workbook

MERSUii Trademark Registration – “Goods & Services”

To hell with that keyboard! Now I am immensely curious as to what I'll be receiving in the mail this coming Monday, the 7th.

Take my Display Resolution Poll

#hardware #meta

Broke Windows

An attempt to fix a Windows Insider Build issue led to soft-bricking my Surface Laptop 2.

I finally did it, ladies and gentlemen... I managed to break the Windows installation on my Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 to such an extent that it has been unrecoverable. I am currently borrowing my mother's MacBook Pro and waiting on a Windows 10 installation .ISO file to download so that I can hope to mount it correctly on the last, shitty USB thumb drive I still have lying around.

Fuck Grammarly

YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT BITCH.

I now suspect I began down this path a few months ago when I discovered Windows Insider Channels and rejoiced... As I've discovered that one can relatively easily find a beta version of virtually any piece of software, it's become a bit of a habit for me. More or less unconsciously, I’ve ended up with an application library full of Developer Beta and Nightly Build-type shit. I don't think there was/is a single web browser installed on that machine that is not the given entity's “Developer Edition” which – considering most of the regular installs allow you to opt into dev tools, anyway – seem like they might be redundant. I don't particularly care, anymore – I mostly just love their icons. Firefox Developer Edition's logo is a blue Firefox(!,) Edge Chromium Dev's is... more interesting than the regular version. Google Chrome Canary's icon is a surprisingly-tasteful variation of the company's usually-horrendous color palette.

What I'm trying to say is... I have continued upon this habit of opting for unstable versions of software in a sort of defiance against the common sense notion that relying upon them is generally a bad idea.[^1] I suppose I was just waiting to experience any consequences from such a decision, and well... Here they are!

It all began when my Surface's integrated webcam became invisible to all applications that used a video input – including Microsoft's own Camera app and OBS. It showed up in Device Manger, where I did the generally-recommended troubleshooting task of uninstalling it completely (including its drivers) and rebooting to force Windows to reinstall it. It did so successfully every time, to no effect on the original issue. I also went into the Surface's BIOS menu, where its hardware devices are explicitly listed, and disabled/re-enabled the camera, to no effect. Normally, the absence of a webcam function would be more or less irrelevant to my day-to-day workflow, but now that I'm partaking in “virtual” college courses, at least one of my professors has pressured me to appear on cam as soon as possible.

On Sunday night, I decided to revisit the problem with greater commitment, diving into a variety of deeper troubleshooting steps which I do not recall. The crucial one, though, was my decision to use the System File Checker tool (sfc /scannow) with the added instruction to fix whatever errors it found.[^2] This drove my dearest little laptop into a cycle of self-diagnoses which results in an option screen including “Reset PC.” After trying virtually every other option, I decided to try resetting, only to be met with connectivity error messages after pursuing the “Install via Network” option, leaving the use of a bootable Windows 10 recovery USB as my only choice, in theory.

Another problem now arose: my mother's MacBook Pro is the only other machine I have any sort of access to at the moment, and MacOS no longer supports the creation of such a bootable USB for Windows via the Boot Camp Utility any longer. Nevertheless, I tried to make one by downloading the correct OS ISO and mounting it via UNetbootin, which didn't work. I then called Columbia Computer Center, who very generously agreed to make one for me and only charge me for the drive itself ($10!)

Unfortunately, that one hasn't worked either, so I'm afraid I'm just going to have to take the thing to them... Stay tuned for the Final Verdict.

[1] This is why I’ve always downloaded the developer iOS beta releases on my actual, daily driver handset.

[2] I’m pretty sure it was “-f” but I’m not going to do the research to verify that… Sorry!

#software

Greyhound Porthole

Examining Fred Rogers' debut Atlantic-theatre naval anxiety compilation.

It's a little late to write about Greyhound – Tom Hanks' first screenwriting credit – which released on Apple TV+ this past Father's Day, June 21st. Though I definitely left my quite severe obsession with WWII history in my prepubescence, I thought I'd remark on this film because I originally hoped it would fulfill a role I'd long wanted for: the destroyer-side compliment to U-boat films like Das Boot and U-571. James D. Hornfischer's exceptional account of the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts' part in The Battle off Samar with The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors was my last dive into naval history. It's one of the most astounding war stories I've ever encountered, and upon first seeing Greyhound's trailer, I was sortof hoping it was the Big Boy film adaptation its always warranted. (Though apparently there was a TV movie made in 2005???) Instead, its based on (distinct from “adapted from,” apparently) a 1955 novel by English author C.S. Forester entitled The Good Shepherd.

Tom Hanks made sure to imbue his first screenplay with a shitload of “opaque naval jargon,” as The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw's review put it. A brief “investigation” by The Cinemaholic suggests that the U.S.S. Keeling – the film's singular setting – most resembles a Mahan-class destroyer, though none actually bore the name. For the actual photography, the production made use of a surviving example of the most mass-produced destroyer of all time:

When it came to shooting the film, instead of relying completely on sets, the crew of ‘Greyhound’ found another option. They used USS Kidd, a real WWII destroyer, to film the journey of Greyhound. She is a Fletcher-class destroyer and is named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, the first US flag officer to die during the Second World War.

As much as you're going to loathe it, I must include this commentary on Greyhound's historical accuracy if only because – as a undoubtedly mainstream film – its been so widely and competently reviewed, already, by real film writers. I am almost positive U-boats would rarely – if ever – waste their precious few viable torpedo shots firing ultra-close-range at the agile, super-speedy destroyers and destroyer escorts that protected supply convoys, and I am sure that none ever bothered with audibly addressing enemy ships over the radio in English. I understand that dramatizing historic events is the core function of Greyhound's genre, but this particular addition was so unbearably cheesy that it utterly decimates all of the experience's hard-won context. Just look at a snippet from the first of two dialogues in text:

Greyhound. Greyhound, Greyhound.

This is Gray Wolf.

We hunt you and your friends Eagle, Dicky and Harry.

We watch your ships sinking into the deep.

We hear the screams of your comrades as they die.

How many of them will there be before you join them?

The Gray Wolf is so very hungry.

I'm sure there's an essential academic film function which only similar enemy taunts could perform and without which this screenplay would've been technically unsound, and – if I were allowed supposition – I would venture to guess that America's Favorite Dad felt pressured to bolster his first penning against easy gimmes for the Great Big institution of cinema criticism as much as possible. However, this shit is just disruptingly cheesy. Fuck it! Have the rest:

Greyhound!

Your flock is not safe from this wolf.

We can always find you in the night to kill you.

Or will Dicky die next? Or Harry?

[Gray Wolf howls]

...

Greyhound.

Guten Morgen, Greyhound.

Did you think you had slipped away from this Gray Wolf?

No, you did not. You will not.

The sea favors the Gray Wolf on the hunt, not the hound on the run.

You and your comrades will die today.

The contrast with the rest of the script's imposingly thorough and relentlessly-paced naval action dialogue is far too abrupt to not be problematic. Even as obsessed as I was with naval history, I'm still too oblivious to the details of what is/was actually said on the bridge of a warship during combat maneuvers to tell you how authentic Greyhound's depiction really is (it's hardly ever shown on the screen or laid out in nonfiction, even,) which nullifies all relevance the realism would've had, otherwise. Director Aaron Schneider in an interview for Vanity Fair:

“If you decide to read Greyhound by tracking the dialogue—rudder commands and sonar distances—you’ll soon find yourself completely lost. Because that’s not where the movie lives. This screenplay was designed to beam you aboard the USS Keeling…and it’s up to you to engage with what’s going on and extrapolate how things work, so you can answer the question, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”

In this sense – crafting a consuming, believable, unbelievably gray, claustrophobic, icing iron reality – Tom Hanks excels.

Though Letterboxd user brucewayn called it “boring” in the most popular review of the film to date on the platform, I found Greyhound to be quite engaging in an anxious, depressing sense familiar to classic war dramas like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. The tedium of naval warfare's endless orienteering is rescaled to a battlefield of lesser distances – axis and allied vessels actually collide on several occasions and a U-boat crew decides to fuck it all and brawl it out with two parallel destroyers with surface guns instead of retreating after losing their ability to dive. (See: Titanic VI.) Through a combination of wartime compression and stitching, Greyhound is in large part a mashup of naval action at the extremes of what historical fiction will allow within its 48-hour setting. From Ben Lindbergh's review for The Ringer:

In The Good Shepherd, enemy torpedoes simply sail wide; in the movie, they graze the hull for even closer calls. In the book, Krause agonizes over, and generally resists, calling the crew to general quarters, wary of exhausting their energy reserves; in the movie, he doesn’t hesitate to summon his sailors to battle stations.

The result is an emotionally effective film constrained by a very specific dramatic aim: another war movie every father can juice for decades' worth of Sunday afternoons on the sofa. “As befits his status as America's Dad, Hanks has constructed for us the ultimate Dad Movie — all the action you could ever need or want, with no annoying characters hanging around, harboring pesky needs and wants of their own,” quips Glen Weldon for NPR. Undoubtedly, though, the subject matter is fresh. I wouldn't say my youth desire for a surface-side Atlantic-theatre film is 100% satiated, but Greyhound managed to accomplish much more than I expected.

#film

Hey Tile

Basecamp's HEY matters, and not just because it took on Apple's App Store policies.

Something always worth celebrating: a considered, no-nonsense new effort to reimagine email. I've lived through many notable milestones in this regard: Apple Mail on the original iPhone, Gmail, Readdle's Spark, and (yes, really,) the revitalization of Microsoft's Outlook. Exciting innovations have abounded throughout email's history, but it's highly debatable whether or not any of them have really changed the way we use it in a profound way, yet I am unfailingly intrigued whenever somebody new comes along, so when I saw Casey Newton's story on The Verge's frontpage discussing Basecamp's HEY before I got out of bed on the morning of June 15th, I was delighted to see an organization still had the courage to invest their confidence and resources into their Ideas About Email. Originally, HEY's homepage included a prompt: “To get on the list, email iwant@hey.com and tell us how you feel about email. Could be a love story, or a hate story. Could be long, could be short. It’s your story, so it’s up to you.” Though I knew it'd likely never be read, I decided to write them a letter about my personal history with email, which turned into an entertaining enough anecdote to publish here.

The real reason HEY continued to be so widely covered by tech media, though, was its challenge to Apple's App Store policies after one of its updates was rejected by the marketplace just a day after Casey's story was published. Much drama ensued – I have done my best to aggregate links to all the news stories on the subject in a thread on the Extratone subreddit I recently started. I think the public resistance by Basecamp's CTO David Heinemeier Hansson was probably a PR move, which is fine, but all I wanted to contribute was a review of the actual function of HEY, itself. After reading posts by some of my favorite bloggers, however, I think it would be redundant. Kev Quirk argued “Email Is Not Broken,” to which Mike Stone responded “Email Is Broken.” Additionally, Business Insider's Lisa Eadicicco published an in-depth review at the beginning of the month.

My singular commentary: I'm worried that subscription services that exclusively accept large yearly sums like HEY inevitably become the “country club for the most self-important emailers in business” which Casey spoke of. I guess we'll see.

The following is an excerpt from my letter to HEY asking for a early-access invite.


Email and I: An Abridged History

I am 26 years old, so I suppose I'm of the first generation that's never experienced life without email. I grew up on a farm in rural central Missouri and my dad was very much an early adopter. (You'd be surprised how e-enabled farmers were becoming in the early 2000s.) I cannot remember life before the humongous satellite dish was anchored in our front yard. Long before I had any reason to be online (or really understood what that meant,) he began and ended every day sitting at in front of a CRT on a corner desk, clacking away on a cigarette smoke-yellowed plastic keyboard for hours. I did not understand why, then, but in retrospect I realize that he was corresponding with a huge network of neighbors, politicians, family, and college friends via email lists/chains and that he depended on it both professionally and personally in a big way. As a single man living at least an hour's drive from a city of any size, I suppose my dad was predisposed to have a rich online life long before his suburban peers, which normalized it precociously for me.

The summer before my first grade year, my elementary school became the first in the district to have a computer lab (also the first air-conditioned room in the building,) so my high school graduating class was literally the very first to have had any digital curriculum – and an email address(!) – for the entirety of our public school experience. Because of this, I think most of us were trained to think of email as a tool for school work – it was eluded to by our computer teachers that our school email addresses were being monitored to make sure they remained so (obviously, they weren't.) As we grew into 6th-7th grade, however, we all seemed to end up with personal email addresses. I consider myself lucky to have experienced a very brief window – before instant messaging/early social networks became mainstream and SMS became even remotely pleasant to use – when my middle school friends and I corresponded exclusively by email when we weren't on the phone.

It still sounds a bit silly to say, but I've spent the past few years coming to believe more and more strongly that my first-generation iPhone changed my life forever in a profound way – especially my relationship with email. After watching Steve Job's introduction at MacWorld 2007 live, I promised to skip a year of Christmas gifts if my mom would agreed to buy me one, and she did. Obviously, it was like nothing else I'd ever experienced, and it completely changed how I responded to and thought about technology. Before smartphones, there was no checking email outside of time in the computer lab, which was intended to be quite strictly-regulated. I had a real advantage when I started bringing my iPhone to school – absolutely no one knew what it was (a bizarre thought in contrast,) including teachers. Suddenly able to browse and read my inbox in class, at lunch, and on the bus, my use and consideration of email was propelled far ahead of my peers'.

When I started an online magazine in 2016, I don't think I could've conceived of the extent to which running a modern media company – even one targeted toward tech-savvy, early-adopting youth – still involves email. I assumed that my audience rarely actually read from their inboxes and relied almost exclusively on social networks for content discovery, so I originally forwent any implementation of a newsletter. As I grew more and more interested in and engaged with the media beat, I was exposed to the email renaissance of the past 2-3 years thanks to services like Revue and Substack, saw that it was good, and decided to give it a try for myself. I launched our semi-regular newsletter in April, 2017 on the subjects of “Division, Art, and Media” and published a little over 30 issues over the course of 18 months. To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever had so much fun writing.

Very shortly after it began, I observed our general engagement quadruple, and – quite selfishly – found the process of aggregation to be soothing and very mentally restorative. It exposed some pretty horrendous media consumption habits of mine, but it also offered a painless solution to them. As soon as everything I read became a potential item in the newsletter, I wasn't just reading for myself anymore (or at least, that's the mentality it gave me,) so I could no longer afford to dismiss particular subjects as easily or to skim so recklessly. I nurtured a much less chaotic media diet and found myself absorbing a lot more of what I wanted to without wasting so much time burning through links. I ended up feeling more focused in other, unrelated areas of my life, too. Obviously, I love email for that, and I miss writing that darn newsletter so much that I continuously look for excuses to do something similar.

My former Tech Editor loved email perhaps as much, but she's definitely the only person I've ever met who finds the medium as entertaining as I do. (If you're really committed, I just made a Twitter Moment full of all the best stuff I've ever posted about email – mostly jokes like “patron saint of email marketing,” but there are one or two profound posts in there, too.) We realized one day that – aside from The Webbys – there are very few notable awards celebrating excellence in the email medium, so we decided our magazine would host the 2017 First Annual Email Awards. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone else had any idea what the heck we were trying to do, so we never received enough submissions. However, I noticed a great opening paragraph in the original announcement post which I thought made a worthy conclusion:

Man has used electronic mail to intercommunicate, woo, build communities, topple businesses & civilizations, embezzle money, spread worms, distribute cluttered, broken links to discontinued Orscheln products, feed infants, set climate control, confirm identities, check bank account statuses, and lie to exhausted, slightly-conceited, and newly self-published professors. That's right – These Trillions of simple digijewels have purveyed every single possible category of human communication, and it's still growing strong.

I'm excited to give Hey a try – I hope you'll consider inviting me early. I'll even send my feedback if you so desire it! If not, I'll probably end up trying a paid subscription, anyway hehe. Either way, let me wish the best of luck to your team. Win or lose, I'm glad you're taking action on your complaints, unlike the rest of us.

Thank you!

#software

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

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