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.[^1] 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.
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 (6.12 x 11.93 x 13.28 inches) and lighter (13.12 lbs.) 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 – specifically, an HP model 4251a-khsap003k – 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.
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.[^2] 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.
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,[^3] 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.
have I become truly spoiled or is 1080p just... not high enough resolution for a 27" display.
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.
 Or don't. Whatever.
 I haven't even started self-harming yet, so my stomach is definitely strengthening!
 I suppose I should not have been surprised to immediately discover a dedicated online tool for calculating pixel density.
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.
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 NightlyBuild-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.
 This is why I’ve always downloaded the developer iOS beta releases on my actual, daily driver handset.
 I’m pretty sure it was “-f” but I’m not going to do the research to verify that… Sorry!
My friend Sierra has used SoundCloud almost exclusively for her music discovery, consumption, and recommendations, but has remained resolute in her unwillingness to financially invest in the service. As such, her listening is regularly interrupted by ads and limited to bitrates as low as 64kbps. Since I was last employed, I have maintained a vow to her that I would pay for a subscription to SoundCloud Go+ – the premium listener tier of the service – with my own money, once I was once again in place at a steady job. This move would remove all advertising from her listening and up its bitrate to 256kbps, among other benefits.
Two nights ago, we were refueling her car in preparation for another one of our recreational drives into rural Missouri when I made the decision on a whim to simply signup for a trial of Go+ on my own account using Apple Pay, mostly because I knew we’d be going out of effective cell network range and one of Go+’s most emphasized features is its ability to download music locally. (Since my Apple Music subscription expired earlier this year, I only have a single album actually downloaded on my phone.)
The above is what I wrote several weeks ago, just as I was beginning my trial period. Now, having experienced a significant amount of time as a SoundCloud Go user, I am a bit sad that my trial is over. To be honest, I fully intended to become a paying subscriber, but my PayPal account was $0.70 short of the $12.99 monthly fee when the first billing cycle came, two weeks ago. This is not a conclusion I expected to come to, as SoundCloud’s fundamental arrangement could not possibly differ any more from the music streaming service I long claimed as my ideal own: Apple Music.
One major worry I would imagine potential subscribers may have when approaching SoundCloud as a replacement for their single music subscription service would revolve around the extent of SoundCloud’s establishment music industry library. There’s no way your Dad’s Sunday barbecue playlist is going to be on SoundCloud, right? Strangely enough, I was unable to find a single track that was not in the library. From my own favorite Keith Jarrett’s archives to the new Dixie Chicks album, every bit of big time record label-distributed music I could conceieve of could be found aside the Go+ badge (though notably, neither of these showed significant playcounts.) As far as the app experience goes, I swear it got smoother as soon as I signed up for Go+. This is probably bullshit, but regardless, with the seemingly ever-widening disparity in the experiences of free vs. premium users, SoundCloud appears to be moving actively away from the former.
I have long said (somewhat in jest) that Chance The Rapper is the only reason SoundCloud still exists.
From a future historian’s perspective, the battle for the definitive name in independent digital music distribution has already won, largely thanks to its relationship with Chance The Rapper, who’s quickly become a “cultural influencer, thought leader, global star,” and one of my generation’s upmost celebrity champions. Obviously, there is little sense trying to determine whether SoundCloud earned his partnership or landed their popular association with his name as long as the artist maintains it publicly, while continuing to give new meaning to the phrase “serially likable.”
-“Bandcamp: Streaming’s Secret Savior” | July, 2018
If CNET_ was asking the question a year before that Bandcamp essay, I think I can feel properly varified. What I’d really like to know, now: does Chance still feel the same way about the streaming service after the launch of SoundCloud Go+? Considering that I am far from a real music journalist, I do not have any more contact resources than you have. That said, I left [a comment on his Facebook Page](https://www.facebook.com/chancetherapper/posts/3299672310124810?commentid=3319045628187478). I guess we’ll see.
Some more technical bits: SoundCloud is now castable on Chromecast, but not supported by Apple CarPlay, for whatever that’s worth. Notably apart from Bandcamp and Apple Music and aligned with Spotify, SoundCloud is explicitly investing in algorithmic music discovery, which means its users are doing the curatorial work. I am doing/have done the curatorial work. That means the DnB crowd is going to receieve Toto recommendations, given what I sought out for this post. You’re welcome, and sorry…
While I was surprisingly unable to find any Tweets or Evernotes further evangelizing Apple Music (I suspect I’m thinking of an old, untranscribed Drycast episode,) I found real magic in the service as I perceieved it: $9.99 a month for all of iTunes. 13 year-old me would considerthat one helluva deal.
Naturally, if you know of one, please do comment and/or drop me a line.
In fact, it is the only streaming app I found that _does not _have CarPlay support. Even Bandcamp and MixCloud for iOS do!
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.
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:
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]
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I've been devoting significant attention to this blog recently, and I hope it shows. Reading now contains a list of recommended email newsletters as well as an ongoing list of my all-time favorite reads on The Web. I also added Podcast for End User and a dedicated Subscribe page. I've added Open – a list of some of my favorite Open Web projects and Social – a list of my social links. About has also been updated with new branding and more current hyperlinks. Typography and colors have been unified and updated to Version 2.3, and my theme has been officially listed for those of you willing to engage in the sincerest form of flattery. Also, look at that favicon! Thank you, CJ!
Furthermore, I took the time to import some old work:
This blog has now surpassed Extratone in number of email subscribers, which I deeply appreciate. Though you're not paying – yet (hehe) – let me once again encourage any/all feedback you may have. Send me an email!
This is an excerpt from my novel project, Blimp's Burden, about a jaded software engineer who’s new, ridiculously-eccentric boss presents a future which forces him to reckon with his mishandled grief. To support the novel's creation with art, funds, etc, please email me.
Listen to the entirety of the chapter read aloud by Siri Voice 2 below.
In the right hour, the woodland springtime metamorphic processes of the neighboring Lake Geneva suburb’s in-betweens were in a paused state – the toads again hushed; the crickets tired, and the human populace, too. In the right hour, the fickle wind and the social owls were the only sound, and nothing moved but the sparse, light-footed doe in careful segments with her fawn. From the main gated lane of The Nice, Huge Estate, Lenny Lather slid through the muddy barrier and started bouncing West on the blacktop, brogues squeaking every third step. The overcasted clouds were having trouble deciding whether or not to let down their rain – as they had been all day – and the old, heavy early-March mist softened the yellow glow of the tall, buzzing streetlamps so much that he couldn’t help but intermittently wipe his eyes, for the spreading light convinced his mind that his eyelashes must’ve been wetted.
Theodore Pith’s big old house was now burrowed between two mismatched neighborhoods – the bleaker Easterly, which was too new for its alien trees to have recovered from the brutality of its development’s clear-cutting and contained within one of its central featureless backyards an unidentifiable creature which made all through the night the most unimaginably ghastly, disturbingly human child-like shrieking; the opposing Westerly’s trees further enough along in their regrowth – ten or twenty years perhaps – to appear more of the planet Earth to Manhattan-bred Lenny Lather, who still found the colorless destruction of suburbia unendingly upsetting, especially when coming down. In the interest of his regular withdrawal’s mitigation, he had already established two short, repeatable tracks and a longer, several mile-long loop which skirted him sufficiently around the East’s center to avoid hearing the shrieks in all but the stillest nights. Never in his years – on these walks he was especially reminded of just how many there were – had he been able to feel such absolute ownership of his surroundings. The eroding Earth slipping away from the hem of the warped, stained wood fences; the sidewalks, cracked, bent, sloped helter-skelter, often muddied in the troughs and joints – generally laying haphazardly in layers after having been steadily tossed about by the glacial forces of their intermixture with clay, precipitation, and the tumultuous temperature-dependent torture of the two – these were his, entirely, in the right hour. Between two and five in the morning when the earliest risers would blearily revive their dewy automobiles from long, silent hibernation, the whole world – everything in his sight and more at any moment – it was all his, without a single worthy challenger.
In the right hour, the roads were completely and totally abandoned – for the New Yorker, an unfathomable absolute – and all humanity was at rest. In the right hour, Lenny Lather was the appointed guardian of the worn domesticity of a small nation, though the lonely occupation was astoundingly lax, for in the miles and miles of empty streets he had already traversed in his nightly holidays from the World of Pith, he had yet to encounter a single unexpected factor or minutely threatening presence. Since shortly after his December arrival, he’d walked through even the most frigid mornings. Of course, the stillness had then been even more otherworldly, and Lenny was curious to see how his new most private domain would change with the seasons. Though the auxiliary guest room which he now called home was no smaller or less hospitable than the master bedroom of his late Hudson Yards flat shared with his late Wife, it proved to be a poor respite from Theodore Pith, who treated him – when they were “home” at Nice, Huge – as the puppy he never had, and expected his participation to remain entirely vulnerable to his any whim. Granted – in their shared abuse of amphetamines, cocaine, and assorted other stimulants – Lenny Lather was vastly more prepared for the games than any circadian guest could’ve possibly been. At first, the ten-foot door of his dawn-facing room had closed without latching, but with the warmth and moisture brought with the Midwestern Spring, the most secure state in which the engorged wood could be forcibly arranged still left a half-inch crack, and Lather’s last chance of privacy was lost.
The latest favorite pastime of Nice, Big’s Master necessitated a willing, capable driver, and – as keeping a single Butler (much less an entire household staff) was proving extremely difficult for him – Lenny Lather was the sole pick of the draft. In the earliest hours of one Tuesday morning in February, he’d been pleasantly dosing and drooling on his laptop after an evening of obsessive, incoherent notetaking when the huge door had been kicked ajar by a deep black, blindingly shiny oxford with excessively violent force. Attached to the shoe in an equally blinding penguin tuxedo, towering bowler hat, and cartoonish fake mustache was the Great, Blown Pith.
“Hope you’re not busy,” he’d said quite loudly to the lolling Lather, leaning and tilting his head into the lamp light, which had dislodged his monocle and briefly occupied him with untangling its chain.
“You’re not busy, are ya?!” he’d shouted, tapping the shiny brass lion’s head of his shiny black cane against the vanity… then swatting it with a flicking wrist… then clubbing it with a full, two-handed homerun swing – taking huge, vaguely cat nose-shaped gouges from the surface of the wood. The splintery wood chips had rained down upon the hunched Lenny; he’d stirred with one found its way in his open mouth – he’d chewed it slowly and swallowed it, but he still had not awoken. Nevertheless, Theodore Pith’s coked-up enthusiasm couldn’t possibly have yielded to common decencies like his guest’s nighttime peace.
“SHOOT, LENNY,” he’d screamed in his companion’s ear, having traversed the room to his bedside.
“I SURE HOPE YOU’RE NOT BUSY RIGHT NOW!”
Finally, he’d resorted to tickling Lenny’s nose with the ornament, which had reeked with the urinal smell of metal polish – the sudden, overwhelming delivery of which to the writer’s olfactory nerves finally causing ample alarm in his nervous system to justify bringing him abruptly back to his life and deluded host.
“I need a favor. The Duesie’s warming up. We’re going for a ride.”
Unable to form a linguistic response, Lenny Lather had obeyed Theo’s frenzied, repeating instructions and stumbled into the matching suit he’d brought over his arm – wondering with marginal, arrested clarity at how well-tailored it was for him. He had not the soundness of perception to protest when Pith had whipped a deep black, blindingly shiny bowtie around his already-congested esophagus, nor when he’d adheased the huge, itchy matching fake moustache to his upper lip and nearly pulled the matching Tower of Bowler all the way down over his ears. He had been unresponsive when he’d been sat on the bench under the agonizing fluorescent lights of the laundry room, affixed with deep black, blindingly shiny matching oxfords, and asked if he smoked and how well he could say guffaw.
“Just wait… you have no idea… you have no idea how much fun this is going to be.”
Lenny Lather had not… could not have made a sound through the confusing nonsense of his waking pre-Great Depression dream, but when the old servant’s door had been opened before him and set the heartless, single-digit Winter wind upon his very soul, he had all at once arrived in the world, laughing and whooping together with Theodore Pith.
“Jesus Christ!” he’d screamed as they’d hobbled to the stable, where a devilishly dark red Model J Duesenberg had sat shivering in a rough idle, staring out the retrofitted garage door with its basketball-sized lights as if it was, indeed, a flesh-and-blood steed that had just been frightened awake by a thunderstorm, but the sky had been as clear as it would’ve been from an asteroid – as it is only on the coldest nights – and almost comically dominated by the setting, gluttonously luminescent moon. Theodore had then grabbed a screwdriver from the workbench and bent down to remove the license plate – which had said BLOOD in big black bold block letters – and its containing frame. By the time he had settled into the frigid red leather of the exposed, roofless driver’s seat, Lenny Lather was full-to-bursting with adrenaline and laughing out huge streams of breathy steam. From behind him in the cabin, Pith had been guffawing plumes, too, as he’d briefly ignited his cocaine-sprinkled mustache instead of the bratwurst-sized cigar between his teeth. The smell of burning human hair had accented his explanation of the old car’s transmission and its direct path from source-to-nose for Pith had required a brief, unplanned intermission as it induced without warning his violent heaving – still part-guffawing – hanging half out of his beautifully-upholstered suicide door.
As he had spewed – expertly sparing the swoop of the gleaming waxy fender – Lenny had found a pair of deep black, blindingly shiny gloves and – after less grinding than you would imagine, to his credit – first gear, setting the whole dastardly circus in motion.
“Where to, Sire?” Lenny had asked, nose lifted to an untenable altitude in a pitiful approximation of an accent that’d never actually been used before by any person or persons in all of history, struggling for breath.
“Left at the gates, Barnsward, old chap,” Theodore had replied in a contrasting fashion after again sitting upright from his heaves and taking a breath, ironing out – if anything – the flatness of his perforating Ohio Ds and Ps, resulting in such a culturally destructive racket that it had set both of them in uncontrollable, cloudy fits lasting long after Lather had swerved the great length of the car from the gravel to his abandoned asphalt retreat. The two had continued their banter down that soul-suckingly flat vector, one-upping each other’s etymologic barbarity against the savage thievery of the heatless wind.
“Now to star-board, Budleigh, my good fellow!”
“Right-o, as you say, sir!”
“Down to the pu-hb for a spaht of brahn-dee with me mae-its!”
“Oncemo-ar right, pip pip!”
“By jah-lee, there we are!”
After the entirety of Northern European history had been decimated and subsequently forgotten, the Duesenberg named BLOOD had turned its orange, googley-eyed stare and narrow whitewalled hooves up the reflective, freshly-painted access of the new 24-hour grocery in the no-man’s-land between the cookie-cutter stares of the neatly-rowed Easterly neighborhood and the droning respiration of Interstate 43, two miles distant. It was 2:12 in the morning and most of the greasy-haired night stocking shift had been halfway through their third smoke break, circled around a store-used picnic table 50 yards from the far sliding airlock doors. The first to spot BLOOD had been the second shortest of the lot, whose weary scrutiny along the truest radian to the West from under his sweaty beanie in her entrance she had crossed, and the depth of her red as he first spied it had caused him vertigo – as if he would fall in – and cast upon the shorter-than-average length of his being an all-consuming existential doubt. The tallest and loudest of them had faced squarest the white faux-brick wall of the box building and was at that moment engaged upon a spirited rant about where and where’nt and when a vapist ought to buy his Suck juice between long, gasping Sucks from his super-shiny Suck box. Of course, the arrival of a customer even at such a late hour did not warrant notice at a huge, broadly-servicing operation like theirs, but as BLOOD had crept through all four reflective yellow-checkered pedestrian crossings, closing without a flinch, and the details of her occupying caricatures had become more and more numerous, she had stolen the attention of the huddle, one-by-one, and elicited from each the rarest under-breath profanity of true, unmolested wonder.
“Jesus Christ,” had said the shortest.
“Holy fuck,” had said the youngest.
“Gee whiz,” had said the oldest.
And the Sucking tallest, having realized he’d lost his audience, had been the last to turn and follow their eyes BLOOD’s way as she had halted coolly in front of the purely white glowing concrete leading into the closest customer entrance, and had – without the gradual exposure over the length of her approach that his peers had been afforded – dropped his Suck box and exclaimed at the sudden, undiluted immensity of the spectacle, simply, “FUCK!”
The Sucking’s FUCK and the splitting shatter of his Suck against the glass of their smoking table had reached the two arrivees – albeit in a muted way – and through the onset of their frostbite’s early stages even further stoked their already-uncontrollable boyish giggling. Theodore Pith had paused briefly to affix his monocle as firmly as possible in his eye socket and stuff down his spasmic guffaws with a few lip-smacking puffs of his then successfully-lit cigar before swinging his right door open.
“Stay here and wait at the ready, my good… my best Bagsy! I shan’t be a twinkle,” he had declared, clicking it lightly shut again and turning on his heels toward the pale light of the store, twirling his cane in dramatically shortened strides so as to reproduce the oversped effect of a silent motion picture, puff-puffing away. As the doors had sensed him and indiscriminately whirred aside, he had turned to the smokers – most of whom had still been reeling, grabbing for their hair – and bobbed the bulk of his big black bowler toward their communion with his gloved black fingers by the brim.
“Tally-ho, my boys!” he had shouted, sending Lenny Lather’s wide open face toward the floor of the idling car as he doubled over himself in the first spontaneously asphyxiating, tear-lobbing laughter he’d yet to experience in the 21st century. As Theodore had entered the masterpiece of the boxed store’s bleakness in his cane twirling, head swinging, cigar puffing shuffle, he had made sure to stay his instinct to sneak for a swift, full-chat dart, instead, and the on-duty leather-faced embodiment of tedium’s wrath beneath his lone lit lane light had looked up from his People Magazine just in time to see the heel of a deeply black oxford and the last shiny inches of flowing black coattails disappear behind the potato sack endcap of the far Aisle 1. He’d hesitated, chin against palm, holding his next glossed page perpendicularly erect between his tightened thumb and index finger for a long few seconds of fantastic stillness – had hastily attempted a diagnostic of his present senses – before a locomotive-like segmented tube of cigar smoke had risen from against the light tiles and unsoiled trimming to intersect his line-of-sight where it met the darkened deli, recessed in the far wall from his hunch, the motion startling him into his own throat-clearing, counter-rounding, key-jingling, excuse me-shouting march toward the lumpy potato sacks and the climbing dissipation of the most unbelievable violation. As he had jingled, he had reflected on the few occasions in which he’d ever smelled tobacco smoke in his store: all incidental, most very brief, and many followed by a lengthy, unreasonably self-deprecating apology. To just walk in his Temple of Domestic Fulfilment during this most Serene Time of Silent Service, spewing orange nicotine on his premium, Food & Drug Administration-blessed body and blood offering to the middle class was surely in ignorance, but could have even been in spite. Regardless, the transgression was worthy of the most merciless wrath, and he had been selected as its willing, capable vessel. In just the fifteen seconds it’d taken him to jingle his way to Aisle 1, he’d thought himself and his leather into flash-broiling, fast-rising fury.
Perhaps the least expected sight that could have possibly greeted this Apostle of Appraisal on the far side of Aisle 1 – as he rounded the potato sack endcap and filled his excuse me lungs in preparation through his nose – was the labored lifting of the 125-pound eldest child of the new, Parisian-trained, full-time, certified cheese artisan – whom the store had just won out of 175 competitors in a region-wide raffle of her pilot program – by the dashing, swinging, and smoking real-life manifestation of a young Rich Uncle Pennybags, yet shock did not long halt the Keys & Leather.
“Sir! Excuse me!”
“Excuse me! Sir!”
Theodore Pith – having reevaluated the girth of his intended booty – had propped his shiny black cane against the sill of the refrigerator and popped each slack bottom up off his oxfords from his shins before squatting over the massive Holy Wheel of the Artisan where it lay displayed on a sturdy bespoke plinth.
“Sir! You need to put out that cigar… the cigar – put it out immediately!”
Keys & Leather had the odd inability to both shout and shuffle at the same time, so he’d only made it to the pomegranate juice by the time Pith had mustered enough momentum to swing the cheese child into a high enough pendulum to carry it stably facing forward under his chin with his two hands spaced evenly on the Great Wheel’s bottom.
“Sir! I’m going to have to ask you to put that down… That is a four thousand dollar item… If you want to buy it, we need to go about-”
“…now, see here!” Pith had replied with great effort, in the midst of weighing in his mind the worth of the cane as a casualty, then of the monocle, too, which had fallen out while he was weighing, and of his own physical intelligence, and whether or not it was capable of retrieving the cane by its brass lion’s head handle via the top of a flicking foot without losing his balance. Keys & Leather, meanwhile, had been tortured at great length witnessing – in Theodore’s gravitational struggle – the Cuban’s ashes knocked all over the precious round Immanuel; the artisan’s Beloved, Chosen son of cheese – a nauseating sensation of loss overwhelming all hope of his store’s defense. The Terrible Theodore had at once noticed his hesitation and arrived upon a plan to leave no prop behind. He had leaned forward with the girth of the wheel and closed the remaining few feet between them, advancing with the huge mass of Nazarethian dairy to bear it all down upon the unsuspecting Leather, who in his grief for the prized wheel was far too slow to deflect its incoming mass.
“Now, see here, chum!” Pith had forced from the furthest possible extremis of his best mob mouth as he transferred his burden all at once to its most concerned party, who collapsed against the multilayered tables that made up the fresh cookie display, with the weight of the wheel on his belly. As the stunned Leather struggled to separate himself without further soiling the only item in his store that sold for double a month’s paycheck, Theodore had replaced his monocle and returned for his cane in a single stride, which he’d then used after a return step to the pile of chocolate chip, almond nut, and fuming night manager to rap loose with the snout of the terrible brass cat Leather’s white knuckle-tight grip on the wheel with a lampoonish haha! before rolling the freed cheese toward the door in a villainous cackle.
“Man, come on,” the defeated Leather had yelled halfheartedly from his pile of sweets, struggling against the awkward, slippery boxes for enough footing to stand. His efforts, though, were interrupted after a time by the abrupt mute of Pith’s cackling in the second swooshing of the front sliding doors – he had missed his last chance of pursuit. It had all been in vain – he’d failed to guard the crown jewel of the whole suburb. As he had given up the chase and the cheese and slumped once more against the ruined pile, the ridiculousness of the crime against him nearly cracked a smile, but soon was deterred by the very real thought of explaining what had happened to his General Manager when she arrived in just five hours. After a moment, there, covered in cookies, dust, ashes, and shame, he had quietly begun to sob.
After he had regained control of his diaphragm, Lenny Lather had been amused, outside, by the varying velocities in which the smokers of the night shift gave in to their curiosities about the presence of the seven-figure collectible and its purpose in waiting at its now healthier idle in front of their grocery store in the loneliest time of a Tuesday morning. The first and the bravest had been the one who first spotted their intrusion – the shortest – if only because he had remained entirely convinced for the duration that BLOOD and its two, period-dressed occupants were nothing but an apparition of his dead Grandfather and Great Uncle like others he’d thought he’d seen before, and – though he’d been terrified by the clarity of this realest visit yet, he’d been irritated more than anything, and wanted to know “why the hell can’t you just leave me alone?!” The others behind him had been staggered in the proximity to the waiting car they had achieved – the lesser and most cowardly being the largest – the Sucking evangelist – who had been waiting for the great automobile to leave so he could forge the exchange of his broken Suck box for a new one from the back. In the delirium of his exhaustion and progressing frostbite, Lenny Lather had thought the image of the men where they were would make for an interesting, organic graph on the nature of courage – their positions simply representing their unaltered datapoints, and had been considering how best to deal with or respond to the nearer, deluded one, who had by then come close enough to the elegant, professionally polished front-right fender to reach out and touch it with his unwashed hands, and appeared to be taking the matter under serious consideration. He’d been seconds away from finally deciding between his idiotic ideas for a joke response when by far the largest wheel of cheese he’d ever seen had come rolling out of the opening doors onto the concrete, followed closely behind by Theodore Pith who’d still had three-quarters or more of his cigar left to smoke and apparently switched to cheap mob clichés in his brief absence.
“Haste, Don Lenny!” he’d yelled, re-opening his closest cabin door to chuck his cane in first. He’d then straddled the great wheel to position it against the step before making a scene of grunting and huffing against its side with his full weight. Again, the bewildered smokers had fallen silent – they did not recognize the ridiculous delicacy because it was special inventory and could only be handled by the Holy Artisan herself. Lather had started revving the huge old straight-8 to answer Pith’s urgency, who had found himself fresh out of phrases after the wheel had finally succumbed to its capture and rolled into the footwell.
“Make haste, make haste, my boy!” he’d shouted, diving theatrically into the covered back seat, head-first, to which his icing chauffer had responded by revving the behemoth and briskly popping her clutch, which had lurched the pair into the last, getaway stage of their late grocery heist. As BLOOD’s razor-edged hood ornament had sliced through the night by the dumbstruck smokers, Theodore Pith was unable to think of anything to shout at them as he passed but for “bada-bing, bada-BOOM!”
Though the Lake Geneva Police Department was shown the security footage of that first theft by management, the theatricality of their matching getup had inadvertently obscured their identities, and the organization’s extreme deficit of imagination had left them stumped by the lack of license plates on the car, despite the free and effortless ability of just about any casual enthusiast of early American luxury automobiles and/or lackadaisical disciple of the Concours religion to immediately identify BLOOD by name from the grainiest image, if consulted. If anything, their incompetence rewarded Pith and Lather’s continued focus on the products of the same store’s cheese artisan, as intelligence on the state of her latest flagship incubation was freely available with no more effort than it took to simply stop by her display amid regular shopping trips. Twice in two weeks, they stole both of her replacements for the biggest child without any significant alternation of their method, which frustrated her and the management nearly to the point of crises, and quickly lost all potential for fun in a third attempt – their kicks were in their absurdity, not their effectiveness, and neither of them cared much for the cheese.
The ancient IP’s MMO is still Online, albeit with some disappointing discontinuations.
I entertained fantasies about a Star Trek MMO since first experiencing the genre through Eve Online and World of Warcraft in early adolescence. The idea of commanding my own starship in a universe of other “captains” alongside a hand-picked bridge crew was a beguiling one to myself and many others. This year, the game celebrated its ten-year anniversary (aligning well with the continued involuntary beat of this blog.) I’m currently in the midst of my annual check-in with STO and thought an exploration of this most-consequential video game of my life’s history would be an appropriate undertaking.
The execution of today’s final, Arc Games-owned and maintained product is a particularly long and interesting one. As Justin Olivetti chronicled for Engadget, the license for Star Trek Online was originally bought and developed on by Perpetual Entertainment, which was assaulted by a lawsuit and extensive layoffs in December, 2006. The company was sued by Kohnke Communications for allegedly selling “valuable assets like the Star Trek Online license” to an affiliated entity called P2 entertainment. Clever. A quote from the complaint as reported by Ten Ton Hammer:
“On information and belief, the assets transferred to P2 include Perpetual Entertainment trademarks and copyrights, the perpetual.com domain name, and assets related to Star Trek Online, including code and the license… Perpetual received less than market value for the assets it transferred to P2, and the transfer made Perpetual insolvent (or worsened Perpetual's existing insolvency).”
Perpertual’s STO was significantly different from today’s MMO. Instead of captaining one’s own starship, “players would have taken on the role of an officer who would be part of a crew of a starship,” echoing old legacy titles like Star Trek: Bridge Commander.
The proposed solution was that players could own smaller ships like fighters and minor spaceships, but the big ones — like the Galaxy class — would instead be adventure hubs with explorable, detailed interiors.
I was 14 in 2008 when I joined the original post-Perpetual Entertainment STO IRC channel when the game's license was first transferred to Cryptic Studios. In fact, this channel was the only reason I left IRC clients open on my computers for years. It was exciting to find a community of people who were looking forward to participating in a Star Trek MMO as much as I was. I originally went by the (very cringey) username “crazyhooligin,” under which my current STO account is still registered. In the IRC channel, I met Sata – host of the now-defunct MMO Junkies podcast and ex-Perpetual developer. He and the STORadio crew accepted me into their Teamspeak conversations despite how strange and unsocialized I was. I learned how extensive and beautiful their development had been. One wonders what Cryptic did with the original game and art assets and who technically owns them now.
We were under a very massive deadline to deliver the game. We had acquired the license from Perpetual and Perpetual’s license had an expiration date on it, and we had to ship the game before the expiration date or we would lose the license.
STOked also provided an excellent historical account of the acquisition entitled “How Cryptic Saved Star Trek Online.” By late-Fall, 2009, Star Trek Onlineentered Closed Beta, which I somehow acquired a key for in the name of STOHolic.com (a blogger site which represents one of my first web projects ever.) I was dual-booting Windows 7 Beta on my 2008 MacBook, which only supported 2 of its 4GB of RAM. The resulting performance was not optimal, but I was tremendously excited just to participate. Somewhere, there are at least three 480p handicam videos of Closed and Open Beta gameplay taken from over my shoulder, but I could not find them at the time of this writing. Comparatively, beta looked drastically different from the property that’s online today. In this video of the original entry tutorial, we are introduced to the game’s basic controls by the voice of Zachary Quinto of J.J. Abrams fame as the new Emergency Medical Hologram in godawful dropshadowed text. The lighting is dated, the blue-based user interface even more so.
The hair was bad and the textures of the armor, worse. So was mine, though. I uploaded two videos under my STOholic name: an unboxing of the Collector’s Edition and what appears to be the definitive YouTube tutorial to run Star Trek Online on Mac OSX using the (now defunct) wineskin wrapper. Though I was sixteen years old, I appear to be about eight. Endless waves of ground enemies, pressing the “1” key hundreds of thousands of times to whittle them away with my phaser rifle. There were bugs on top of bugs. My favorite was a swap between one's ground and space avatars: a gigantic captain would appear in space and a little ship would appear on the ground.
Four years ago, Lead Developer Al Rivera wrote “History of Star Trek Online – a Retrospective” – a blog post detailing the chronology of the game from its February 2nd, 2010 release date – about a week after my 16th birthday, for which my mom bought me my first and only gaming PC. I have never been very good at video games, and Star Trek Online has been no exception. After 10 years, my main Captain – Ambassador Kuvak – is still not doing adequate DPS to hold my own in Task Force Operations, from what I understand. My 15-16-year-old self chose a Science Captain but wanted to fly the great (engineering/tank-focused) cruisers of The Original Series, The Next Generation, and the latter's movies. This is possible, but not necessarily advised. Generally, one specs an Engineering Captain to tank, a Tactical Captain for DPS, and a Science Captain for “exotic DPS” and light healing. I managed to level a single science character – the original – through to the max ranks using little intelligence and a lot of persistence. Later in life, I’ve learned the patience for a more deliberate approach, but still struggle to make the numbers.
The Exploration System
For many Star Trek fans, Star Trek Online’s combat feels excessive. Or at least, that’s what you’d think. The current reality is that search engine results for “too much combat in STO” are virtually nill. There are some comments on Massively Overpowered posts, a year-old blog post in Contains Moderate Peril by Roger Edwards, an old Ryan Somna take, and… that’s about it. There was a definite (and entirely reasonable) argument against the amount of combat across the community early in the game’s development, but it looks like the arguers have simmered down and/or given up. This is also reasonable, considering its now ten-year lifespan. The only trouble is that non-combat options in Star Trek Online have actually diminished over the years.
The original Exploration System was an ingenious and significant idea that “used automated tools to facilitate large quantities of widely varied content.” Unfortunately, the result was “nothing close to what [Cryptic] originally planned.” Instead of inspiring variety, Exploration Clusters ended up becoming the most repetitive activity in the game – nothing more than a good source of crafting materials. The missions were generic and the environments simply randomly combined segments of the same interior textures. Procedurally generated environments would hit the mainstream conversation years later with No Man’s Sky, which was written about in two fascinating articles by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker and Chris Baker in Rolling Stone:
Using procedural generation isn’t simply about offloading the creative process onto an algorithm – the real challenge is that it requires developers to teach an algorithm the difference between good and bad game design.
Perhaps if Star Trek Online’s initial development window had not been so limited, Cryptic would’ve had time and resources to pioneer something truly Trek and extraordinary in the exploration system, but it ended up having to kill the idea altogether – no amount of Change.org petitions could prevent this.
Perhaps the most innovative feature Star Trek Online contributed to gaming as a whole came to the live server in Spring, 2011. It was called The Foundry, and it allowed players access to a diluted form of the same mission creation tools Cryptic themselves used to create content, enabling the community to publish its own playable stories. The result was a wonder virtually inexpressible in words. In player-made Foundry Missions, I found joy, wonder, sorrow, and insight – truly everything and more than one could ever want from fiction. Throughout 2013-2014 my girlfriend at the time and I ran regular Foundry missions together along with couple friends in our fleet. Unfortunately, I cannot remember a single specific mission (aside from Unholy Alliances, I think,) but I remember the storytelling. I remember laughing at, dwelling on, and even crying for the characters we were introduced to. There were farming-oriented missions and some fairly rough drafts, sure, but the vast majority of the content was deliberately and delicately considered, especially the Foundry Spotlight series, which highlighted player-created stories of a particular quality and intrigue.
Last April, however, Arc retired the Foundry forever – perhaps the worst possible news – stating “the legacy knowledge required to maintain the Foundry at our quality standards is no longer available,” meaning – as Rodger Edwards notes – that all developers with their hands, hearts, and heads in the project had long since departed the company. The community reaction was heartbreaking. On Reddit, a group of mission authors and devotees committed to capturing as many Foundry Missions as possible on video in the month between the announcement and date of death. User waimser lamented the loss of the Foundry as a critical hit to Star Trek Online’s endgame:
Once you've played through the story missions and built your ship, the foundry is what's left, and it has some damn good stuff.
The group even created a Google Docs spreadsheet to coordinate the effort. Another created a thread in the Star Trek Online forums dedicated to “aggregating the various channels with Foundry content and providing those links to you and updating them as necessary.” In an interview for Gamesindustry.biz, Al Rivera suggested that the secret to the title’s longevity in which his team had been “strategically successful” was knowing when and when not to make drastic changes. “Don't change the fundamentals of what players love about your game,” he suggested.
Though STOked and STORadio have long since been off the air, the Roddenberry Podcast Network’s PriorityOne is still going strong, having just recorded its 460th episode. As I discovered last year, the game’s Twitch community is also thriving. Layiena’s streams are incredible because – while he understands theory as well as the other broadcasters in the STO Twitch community – it’s his incredible skills at live Captain commentary (calling out abilities and other command inputs as if he really is in the captain’s chair.) It may sound cringey (and perhaps it would be to many,) but his thoroughness and accuracy actually 1) make it seem pretty darn cool to me and 2) are hugely valuable in helping the viewer understand what he’s doing. After some three years, I know my one rotation fairly well, but only three or four of its steps by name – not even remotely well enough to do what he does. Unfortunately, it appears as though he’s been inactive since last year.
Sphynx’s streams also have an especially professional feel – he is excellent at calling out his actions as well, if perhaps without so much intensity. His Norwegian sensibility is wonderful: when I introduced myself as being around in the community since 2008, he remarked “that’s strange considering the game has only been out since 2010.” Nigh-universally common threads among them: imperturbable kindness to their audience and an impressively wholesome commitment to actually having fun. Though I’m far from deeply saturated with Twitch culture as a whole, I’ve watched my fair share of Eve Online, World of Warships, and Gran Turismo Sport streams, and – while all of these have incredible communities – there’s none quite like the sincerity of the Star Trek fraternity.
The game’s subreddit is full of folks who are tired of the game because they’ve blasted through all the content, but as someone who has only seen about 1/6th of the quests currently in the game, I’m eager to check out more.
You can do all the lockbox promo vids you want, but you are going to have to live in reality, no matter where your ego flies off to.
However, there were some positives. User ModestArk:
What I really like about this community is that it seems to be more grown up than other gaming communities. Maybe this comes from Star Trek itself, since it is more based/focused on science than Star Wars etc.
This past January, Star Trek Online: Legacy was launched, bringing The Original Series-referencing episodes The Measure of Morality parts I and II along with a new 10 year anniversary event and the Tier 6 Khitomer Alliance Battlecruiser – “the first Klingon/Federation Starship.” I did not participate in the event, save for experiencing the new missions, which I talked about in my review of Star Trek: Discovery. JustGaming4Us produced an excellent, in-depth video review of the two missions as well as a tour of the event as a whole. I, for one, have never been partial to Shiny New Ship gluttony largely because of how long it took me to “master” my own Intrepid-Class Retrofit – christened the U.S.S. Bataan after the aircraft carrier my grandfather served on in WWII – as much as I have. It took me years to arrange my bridge officer abilities and their keybinds in such a way that I could maintain a fairly-steady dps rotation and I have no desire to go through the process of learning a new ship again. For most veteran players, however, trying out different ships/skill specs is all there is left to do.
Choosing whether or not – or to whom – to recommend the game is an issue best left to actual gaming journalists. In March, Massively Overpowered – the followup project to what was once Massively.com – published Mia DeSanzo’s account of her first experience in the game:
Everything you’ve heard is true. Ground combat is, as multiple sources have told me, “a hot mess.” I don’t think clunky is an adequate descriptor. You’d have to try it.
For the same site, Tyler F.M. Edwards argued in January that Star Trek Online is best left to those who already love Star Trek:
STO has some things going for it as a video game, and it’s certainly unique in the MMO space, but it has too many basis quality issues for it to be a game I’d recommend to someone who’s never watched an episode of Star Trek.
Compared to what I experienced all those years ago in Closed and Open Beta, Star Trek Online is now vastly more polished, but perhaps compared to other MMOs in 2020, it is, indeed, “rough.” In my casual return this past month, I have yet to experience any significant bugs. Considering his character data dates back to launch, I’d like to think that the server is set into some brief, confused panic every time I log in to Kuvak, but perhaps that’s just a fantasy. I have still been enjoying the space combat in the classic Advanced-level Borg Disconnected and Counterpoint TFOs and my first entry into high-level gear upgrade crafting from the vast cache of materials I’ve built up over the years. . Apparently, my old lockbox collection might actually be worth some significant Energy Credits on the Exchange – as of the time of this writing, however, not a one had yet to sell.
If you’re a ship junkie who’s entirely unfamiliar with the property, know that Star Trek’s ships are fucking cute. The Nebula Class, especially, inspires real affection. In my opinion, it alone is worth giving this free-to-play game a shot. My two point eight pound Surface Laptop 2 is enough to run it fairly well at medium-high settings, which is an absurdly low barrier-to-entry. You shouldn’t be worried about investing your time, either – Star Trek doesn’t appear to be dying anytime soon.
Why Extratone has used Discord instead of Slack for our team chat.
Back in 2015, I hosted a pre-Extratone culture podcast called Drycast with musician friends from all over the net. To record remotely, we originally used Teamspeak 3 – a gamer VoIP staple. When I discovered Discord, I thought we'd found podcasting heaven. Originally, the free plan included 128kbps audio in its voice channels, which was nearly twice what we were getting out of our paid Teamspeak server. If I were still podcasting, Discord's just-released server video feature would undoubtedly prove invaluable for live streams.
According to a poll I ran on Twitter, 2/3rds of all people on Earth are thankful for Discord's existence. This is not surprising considering what every Discord user is still offered without spending any money at all: community spaces with audio/video and text chat capability, organizable by Twitch and YouTube-integrated roles with a plethora of different permission options, instantly and easily shareable by customizable temporary or permanent invite links through an application that's about as cross-platform as one can get (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, or simply one's web browser.) Those of us that remember IRC, Ventrilo, and Teamspeak should all consider Discord a tremendous gift.
Never before have so many VoIP, video, and text chat features been offered together, or in such a beautiful package. “What we really did was create an all-in-one voice, video, and text chat app that replaced this constellation of tools that people would use,” said CEO Jason Citron in an interview with CNBC. Technically in terms of these details, Discord has no competition. Slack offers text and voice chat with its paid plans, yes, but nothing close in terms of video – especially considering Discord Go Live, its fairly-new streaming feature, which allows users to stream game video directly to 10 other users in the server. With some jury-rigging, it's possible to simply screen share this way, which is an essential sell for business video communication applications like Skype.
Does anyone else have a discord server where you're the only member and you use different text channels to plan your weekly schedules lmaoooo
“Discord and Slack have many similarities, but Discord is the superior tool,” says esports team Ardent United. “Discord has voice channels, which allows us to easily chat with our supporters and other team members. Discord also allows us to set user roles and permissions which makes moderation extremely simple.” It's not just gaming companies, though. Decentralized cloud platform Sia also moved their community to Discord:
Its intended audience is gamers, but many large communities have switched from Slack to Discord, including development communities like Reactiflux and Unreal Slackers. It includes an unlimited number of users, unlimited file uploads (with a per-file size limit), unlimited message histories, and really great moderation and spam filtering features.
Slack is often praised for its integrations, but it shares support with Zapier – a dedicated web integration service which more or less integrates them equally.
Slack works with a long list of tools, including Google Calendar, Zendesk, Salesforce, Wunderlist, and dozens of others. If you're looking for an integration that isn't immediately obvious, you can always turn to Zapier for help, because Slack is a supported service. Zapier is an online service that creates integrations between other apps and services, without you having to know any code to make it happen.
For sharing detailed post embeds, there's also Discohook, which I just discovered. Productivity company Chanty's blog wrote perhaps the most in-depth comparison of the two services (emphasis theirs):
At their core, Discord and Slack and very similar. Both are team chat apps with a similar interface. Both apps have team communication organized in channels. The biggest difference between the two is their target audience, and of course, their specific features.
Ultimately, one must decide how relevant the services' respective target audiences are to productivity. For a not-for-profit media organization like Extratone, Discord's features-for-price ratio is simply too rich to pass up. If you'd like, stop by our server or try out our server template.