tweets’n’such

Twitter is easily the worst place for my mental health with its relentless formula of cynicism and groupthink masquerading as irony, but it provides an incredible wealth of information and perspectives on current events.

It took over a year, but I finally curated an excellent mix of people that provide a reliable stream of useful insight with a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives. The direct access it provides to journalists and political insiders is a thing of beauty. It can often be its own, isolated world, where people continually mistake the shared catharsis of mocking opponents with meaningful engagement. But there is legitimate, educational, enlightening discussion going on there. It just takes a lot of digging to find.

I still don’t feel comfortable contributing or interacting on Twitter. I don’t think I have much to contribute in that format, but I’ve also never really tried. I think it would be quite difficult to navigate towards an experience that would be fulfilling rather than soul-crushing.

Meanwhile, Facebook is utterly dead to me as a place for evidence-based discussion. I have seen zero constructive disagreements take place here since the election. At the same time, this is the only reliable window I have towards seeing actual, confirmed human beings express sincerely-held conservative beliefs. Finding that on Twitter or Reddit is impossible, so I do appreciate the occasional glimpse of “my god he really believes that trump is doing the lord’s work” as a reminder that our election was not a joke.

That leads me to conclude that there is still merit in putting thoughts out there as a means of bolstering representation. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll give some words to thoughts that others have not yet been able to articulate.

But it’s important to recognize these efforts for what they are. My posts are little more than thinking out loud, an outlet for the stuff that gets bottled up in my brain over time, a mostly selfish act rather than some benevolent community service. I’m not changing the world with my words. Nobody’s going to be won over or convinced solely by what I write.

community

When I was 7, I remember faking sick to stay home so I could play word games on AOL all day. I loathed school, so it was a win-win for me. After winning rounds of off-brand Boggle and Scrabble, I would brag to the other players about how young I was, and then be disappointed when no one was impressed.

I would hop on my brother’s IM accounts and talk to literally any of their friends that would respond. I would go into all sorts of chat rooms and try to understand what was going on. I remember emailing a pen-pal through Juno a few times a week, then later learning that she was schizophrenic and thought that the government watched people through their TVs. (sidenote: it amuses me that this is probably among the more plausible and less offensive methods of surveillance available in 2017)

There was so much raw curiosity, no inhibitions whatsoever. I didn’t care what was being talked about, it was all interesting and I just wanted to talk to anyone and everyone about anything. I liked the challenge of being interesting enough to much older people that they wouldn’t mind talking to a small child.

Later, when I was 12, I was homeschooled. I would spend entire days in my bedroom, alternating between reading textbooks and timing myself to see how quickly I could rebuild my Star Wars Lego sets. At that point I was already obsessed with computers, but we only had the one family PC, so my time was always limited, and I usually spent that time on games.

Once we got a second computer that I could hoard for myself, I explored further. The first forum I ever got invested in was on a site called YouThink. It was a place for debate, where people would submit questions and polls that you could vote on, ranging from opinions about the best action movie to whether abortion should be legal. I had hundreds of lengthy posts where I defended my nascent concepts of fundamentalism.

In high school, I got into blogging, and I delighted in building up a blogroll and a readership. I was super invested in the off-topic forums for the games that I played, and made lasting friendships through those engagements. I had half a dozen different chat clients – ICQ, YIM, AIM, gChat, IRC, each connecting me to a different set of people.

In the past, I had lots of people to talk to from around the world. A diverse network of friends I could hit up at any moment, ask for advice, shoot the shit. If I was up at 4 am wrestling with anxiety again, my friends in Greece would be probably be awake, or maybe my friends in Australia. I didn’t worry about whether I was boring people with my petty problems, whether I was interesting enough to hold their attention.

There were multiple spaces online where I felt at home. Fluent, comfortable, in my element. I no longer have that. Facebook is not, and has never been that place for me.

Objectively speaking, I have spent the majority of my life in solitude, what with spending easily 10+ hours every single day on a computer since I was a child. But it hasn’t been until the last 6 or 7 years that this solitude meant isolation.

Some of it is just the facts of growing up. Children aren’t burdened with stereotypes and presumption. They can freely engage and connect because they’re blissfully ignorant. Adults have motives, schemes, scars, and responsibilities.

I know that some of this shift is from my end. Events in my life lead to me become more aloof. I started worrying a lot more about what other people think, because I knew some people were thinking very poorly of me. I crave respect almost as much as I enjoy attention, and I have often remained silent when previously I might have reached out.

There’s also the premise of connection. Games are no longer my primary hobby. They’re a frequent curiosity, a point of interest to me as a designer and an artist, but my brain can no longer justify the absurd waste of time that’s baked into most online games. But shared interest and experience is the foundation for most relationships in our lives.

I live now in the heart of Brooklyn. I can go out onto my roof at any point in the day and see a hundred other human beings out on the sidewalks. But I have no connection to these people. I have never met my neighbors, and likely never will. This does not bother me, but I acknowledge the irony of it.

I yearn to be a part of an online community again.

false media

okay fake news let’s go

1. the term itself is overloaded & ambiguous
2. it implies a false binary between real and fake
3. sometimes when we say fake news we actually mean propaganda
4. poorly handled but factually correct news was at least as damaging in this election as fake news – e.g. instant media freakout over Comey

Nonetheless, fake news is a major problem. I personally hadn’t considered its relevance until the last few months but it fits right in with my current favorite narrative that the relationship between news and social media is toxic. Depending on where you get your news, you could be living in a completely separate reality from everyone around you. Facebook already demonstrated that you can dramatically influence mood and opinion based on the general tone and content of your feed.

To up the stakes, the intelligence community is on the record – multiple times this year – in saying that there are other countries actively promoting fake news in the US. This is one of those issues that i cannot understand why it isn’t front-and-center on every outlet, on repeat.

This kind of attack is absolutely trivial. Botnets are dirt cheap – you can get thousands of computers signing up for accounts on every platform, promoting a simple, unified message. single individuals have been doing this with spam since the beginning of the Internet. this is effectively state-sponsored spam, but instead of ads for dick pills we’re getting propaganda about our election.

Part of me wonders if this isn’t just karma for Stuxnet, PRISMA, and the countless other violations of global trust from the NSA.

Facebook and Google might be more technologically sophisticated than what Russia and China have at their disposal currently, but the notion that Facebook alone can handle this problem is unrealistic. We cannot ask corporations to do battle with other countries and hope that they’ll stay on our side.

We’ve evolved into a system where quality journalism is worth less than clickbait. That isn’t the fault of mainstream media or alternative news or any nation-state. I doubt anyone dreamed up our current state of affairs, saying “yeah I’d love to see a landscape of news where everything is reduced to all-caps headlines paired with evocative stock photos and investigative journalism is nearly extinct”.

But this is where we are. We should not be surprised that there are people taking advantage of this state of affairs.

facebook UX

Facebook is a horribly under-developed platform for discussion and engagement.

Anyone who has spent time on forums, blogs, chat rooms, Slack – anywhere else, really – knows there are a wealth of simple features that would be really useful and powerful.

We need something, anything to alleviate this cramped hellscape of noisy presentation, constant misunderstandings due to limited tools for expression, and complete dearth of tools for curation and moderation. This is where important conversations are happening nowadays, and we deserve a platform that is capable of far more than what it currently offers.

  1. Basic rich-text formatting. Allow bold, italic, underline, and anchors (inline links) for everything. For top-level posts, bulleted/numbered lists and blockquotes. That’s all you need.
  2. Inline images for posts. One image preview shoved at the bottom of a post is not enough. Obviously problematic for comments, but we should be encouraging high quality top-level posts.
  3. Locking posts. Sometimes threads have gone to shit and just need to end. Thread necromancy is fun for memories and jokes but annoying for heated or controversial discussions that just won’t die.
  4. Deeper nesting of comment replies. Even just one more level would go a long way.
  5. Sort comments on posts by replies, reactions, or timestamp. Provide more ways to sift through the noise.
  6. Emoji reactions to comments. Emoji add bandwidth, empathy, and humor.
  7. Emoji reactions to paragraphs or phrases. Like Medium’s highlight feature, except actually useful and fun.
  8. Sharing for comments. A single comment can be the best part of a thread. You can link directly to comments, but this is awkward and unreliable.
  9. Leave a placeholder text when comments are deleted. Threads become unintelligible when it isn’t clear a part of the conversation has disappeared. Indicate whether the comment was deleted by the author of the post vs. a page admin vs. the author of the comment.
  10. Move Like and Reply to the left or right of comments. Replace text with icons. Vertical space is a premium and for any post longer than 3 lines, this is wasted space and noise.
  11. Hide name / profile picture / timestamp for successive comments by the same author. It’s noisy and makes it much harder to read long threads.
  12. Allow highlighted / sticky comments. Let authors select a comment that appears first to set the tone of the conversation. Many blogs and news outlets do this, and it’s useful.
  13. Notify commenters when visibility has changed on a thread they’ve posted to. I’ve seen people get burned by this, and that has a chilling effect on discussion.
  14. Create a separate field for hashtags on posts. Allow posts to join the global conversation without necessitating noise in the post itself.
  15. Scheduled posts / future posting. Sometimes you find stuff you want to share but you’ve already posted a few times today already and don’t want to spam. All the major blogging platforms have this feature — let authors set a time and date for posts to appear.
  16. Allow filtering of your news feed. There are times when you want to see the news, other times you want to see what your friends are posting. There’s filtering by reactions, hashtags, posts with links to articles vs. posts with photos vs. posts with just text. Give people the ability to control the kind of content they’re exposed to.
  17. Separate notifications into reactions, comments on your posts, and replies to your comments. Notifications are ridiculously noisy right now.
  18. Show view counts to authors. We have this for videos, why not for everything else? It’s important.
  19. Add searching for your timeline. There’s no way to find a thread you commented on. It’s hard to find something you posted a long time ago. There’s no easy way to say the things you’ve liked or reacted to. There’s no way to search your photos.
  20. Show the profile intro in the hover popup for profiles. Give people a space to present themselves to people who don’t know them. A profile picture / cover photo / location are not enough. More bandwidth here facilitates more human interactions between strangers.
  21. Tag friends on any post without commenting. Tons of spam / noise is generated by people tagging friends because it’s the only way to generate notifications without putting things on someone’s timeline.
  22. Give control over the size of thumbnail images. Scrolling through your feed, almost half of the real estate at any given time is taken up by stock photos that offer no meaningful information and server only to draw attention.
  23. Colors, damnit. Zebra stripe comments. Apply a pastel background color for comment threads, or colorize the left-hand border. Differentiate threads with unique colors.

legacy

I’ve been following with some interest the story of Facebook’s Free Basics endeavor, which was recently shut out of India.  The notion is that Facebook would offer free but heavily limited internet access to developing countries, the rationale being that something is better than nothing in a country like India, where internet penetration is still only at 15-20%.  I will now write briefly about why this is a terrible idea.

Continue reading legacy

chronistic

Here we are, once more.  Familiar ground.  Another long period of neglect and zero writing.  Another blog redesign complete.  Another chance to reflect on this thing which is now legitimately one of the oldest active (ish) blogs on the internet.  I thought it might be fun to do a quick little jaunt across time to see how the design has evolved.

Continue reading chronistic

Time Will Tell


I


One of the most consistent features of getting older has been the changing nature of my relationship with time. It’s not just, as the cliche goes, that it flies by, but the passing of days takes on a very different tone and architecture. I remember how agonizingly slow the world felt as a child. I remember staring helplessly at the clock in school, knowing that the very act of watching the hands tick was increasing my agony.

Tick. Fuck. Tick. Fuck. Tick. Fuck. Tick.

But lately, days blur seamlessly into weeks and months. Some of this is circumstantial; I now work entirely from home, and it is not uncommon that I go weeks without prolonged human interaction, even while I live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. I have no commute. No morning or evening routine. I have virtually no interruptions during my day. I work. I read. I might play some games for an hour or two. I watch some lectures or a movie. I sleep.

When I look at the clock, there is no anticipation, nor any dread. Time is just a number to make sure I don’t forget my appointments. Once in a while, it’s a pressure, a deadline, a countdown — but I love my work, so I have no resentment for this aspect.

Memories begin to slip through my fingers more and more as there are fewer landmarks to orient my internal narrative. For perhaps a brief moment recent experiences stay near to me, but it’s not long before they disperse into a vast ocean of thoughts, or become lost inside the dense forest of my subconscious. Though I know these experiences are still a part of me, floating somewhere in the expanse of my cognition, many are no longer retrievable as distinct events.

Continue reading Time Will Tell

A Future Worth Loving

If the Internet is an ocean, I am a fish. This is where much of my life has been lived, and so I have grown to love it, warts and all. It has enabled, for me, that which I love most in the world: endless knowledge and learning. I never went to university — my education has been largely digital, from beginning to end. Some of my earliest memories are of exploring Encyclopedia Britannica, watching animations about windmills and levies. I remember the first day I found Wikipedia — I immediately went on a 2-hour dive through black holes on through retinas and cow-tipping. I just couldn’t believe that such an expansive resource existed. Everything I know about design and programming has been learned online. I’ve devoted thousands of hours to lectures and documentaries. For me, computers and the Internet really are a bottomless spring of knowledge and ideas.

This isn’t how many people see or use the Internet. For a time, this irked me, similar to the way a dancer might feel about someone who’s never danced — something of intrinsic value, perhaps not actually essential to modern life. Today, however, there is no question that the Internet is a central component of so many of our daily routines and exchanges. Watching this growth, that irksome feeling has steadily grown into a deep concern for the ways computers are failing to unite us, or even creating divisions where before none existed. While the Internet opens up rich new channels of exploration and connection, others seem to be closing.

One beauty of the Internet is that you can, at this very moment, go to YouTube and find all manner of skills demonstrated by people around the world. Your Facebook feed is likely sprinkled with photos of various hobbies, projects, and achievements. And it’s all inferior to experiencing things in real life. The online conversations we share about these activities — particularly with friends and family — are often unsatisfying, lifeless and primitive imitations of real world communication.

For some people, their purest and most powerful form of expression is with a paintbrush. For others, it’s a guitar. A basketball. A pen. A sewing needle. A steering wheel. A deck of cards. Pick whatever you want — there’s someone, somewhere who could stun you with their mastery over these inert objects, that could expose you to new thoughts and ideas through the creative expression realized in their demonstration. It’s passions and talents like these that weave the fabric of culture and enrich the human experience. But on the Internet, these skills are worth only their weight in views and likes.

Continue reading A Future Worth Loving

video game feminism

I’m a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series. Although I highly recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in pop culture or video games, the series is quite long. Since this post involves many of its core ideas, I’ll provide my summary of Sarkeesian’s most important observations.

Video games and the industry surrounding them are extremely male-dominated. Games aren’t just being marketed exclusively towards men — games themselves are designed around the assumption that the players are male. They overwhelmingly cater to this group to such an extent that it is actively alienating the players that do not match this target demographic.

Continue reading video game feminism

North American Scrubs

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Swag Sorceror: Why are NA teams such ass all the time – do we just not promote as much? Who does one even talk to to figure out what would be helpful to make the community grow – get more people to watch and spend money on games?

The reason NA sucks at Dota and League is because of internet cafes. Net cafes have always been and still are way, way bigger in China, South Korea, SEA, and all over EU. Home desktop computers didn’t take off in other countries the way they did in the US, and that’s because of population density. Also, broadband adoption and good connection quality has only recently become ubiquitous here. South Korea had 100mbps connections well over 5 years ago.

Net cafes matter a fuckload because that’s where amateur teams form and competitions take place. Cafe owners have always been happy to host these things because that’s an enormous amount of business for them. Spectators and players and all of their friends come together and trigger the feedback loop that gets everyone amped up about the matches, the tournament, the game as a whole. There’s a reason kids in the Philippines stood outside in the fucking rain to watch TI3. It’s because it’s always better to watch together in one place than separately, alone.

Continue reading North American Scrubs

chief

A brief comment on the resignation of Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich.  In particular, the contents of the quite viral article from Ars Technica are what inspire me to write.  I have one point to make, and it’s a simple one.

Let’s do some phrase replacement with the quotes from the article.

Calls for his ouster were premised on the notion that all [opposition to the Civil Rights Act] was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by [racial or ethnic biases] he or she supports as a private citizen.

Continue reading chief

fantasybook

After 8 years on Facebook, I deactivated my account this weekend for the first time. I can’t quite say it’s the last time, as it’s turned out that third-party applications are able to reactivate your account (I’m glaring at you, Spotify) – but the idea is to be done with Facebook for all personal matters. It’s still a necessary broadcast node, so I’ve converted to a fan page, but it’s nonetheless on its way out as a core website in my internet experience.

Continue reading fantasybook

pathogen

The last month has seen more activity in the Middle East, complete with senseless murders and vast rioting.  Yet again, this has spurred a great deal of head-scratching as to how in the world a feeble insult in the form of a minute-long YouTube video could inspire such a response.  The usual explanations are everywhere: large groups of unemployed and alienated young men, hyper-conservatism fostered through theocratic rule and aggressive media filtering, or America’s incomprehensibly bad relationship with the entire region – there’s so much to choose from.   However, whatever the situation over there predisposes people to feel or do, the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of people were rioting about a YouTube video.  I propose to you that it’s because they aren’t getting trolled frequently enough.

Trolls are a vaccine for the social immune system.

Continue reading pathogen

The Internet versus Immersion

A Response To “WoW And The Evolution Of Games And Gamers”

It’s no secret that the MMOs we know today are quite directly built out of the tradition that Dungeons & Dragons laid down so long ago. Many of the core principles translate to the digital age quite nicely – namely its overt reliance on stat manipulation to create gameplay mechanics. What doesn’t translate is information inequality, specifically between the players and the dungeonmaster. In traditional D&D, encounters are planned exclusively by the DM. Unless the DM chooses to reveal information within the campaign, valuable strategic data about the environment, NPCs, and encounters are known only by the DM. As a result, a sizable portion of the game is spent in siphoning information out of the DM through skill checks and challenges. The medium of voice communication itself further limits how much can be shared, as all of this has to be described in words by the DM. Human error is also a factor; incorrectly recorded or misunderstood information gets passed occasionally between players, especially when there are simultaenous events to track. Players will debate each other at length simply to verify the accuracy of their knowledge. These sorts of challenges are appropriate for pen-and-paper, but they just aren’t relevant when the interface is a computer with internet access.

Think about the experience of a single-player game. Using a strategy guide to progress through a game is more or less considered cheating, and not simply for elitist reasons. A properly designed single-player game demands no guide because all the information the player needs will be found within the game itself. As in D&D, encounters are designed on the premise that the player possesses only the knowledge that the developers have deigned to reveal, which will be minimally sufficient to progress. It’s for this reason that the types of puzzles and encounters found in a single-player game don’t scale well into multiplayer. The first person to solve the riddle is also the last. That’s why most MMOs don’t bother making meaningful logic puzzles or riddles, outside of the handful you might find in the occasional quest chain. In a genre where time efficiency is highly valued, it’s hard for a mere riddle to compete against alt+tab -> google.

Continue reading The Internet versus Immersion

nomenclad

In general, I think Facebook is a good thing. It provides a way for people to stay in touch at all distances, it allows people to share cool and important things, and it provides a snapshot of what your peers value and desire. It does not, however, guarantee any kind of parity to reality. People assume that Facebook is showing real people and real lives because it’s real names that are popping up on their screen. What they forget is that Facebook is one giant filter of intention.

What shows up on Facebook is what people want to show up. Go look through your friend’s albums: how many weddings do you see? How many vacations? Babies? Trips abroad? Graduations? Visits with family? Parties with friends? There’s something missing from this picture. Like, say, people getting fired. Funerals. Arrests. Divorces. Suffice to say that we aren’t rushing to Facebook to tell everyone about our imperfections and admit that we’re not as happy as our pictures would have others believe. For the experienced netizen, this is business as usual. It’s a different story for the average Facebook user, however, and I’ve long pondered over how to challenge the way people perceive Facebook. Recently, I found a way.

As a kid, the game of the internet was always to appear older so as to enhance credibility, and the best way to do that was not to give anyone an excuse to look down on me. The first line of attack is always the display name, and by the time I was 13 I’d mostly standardized my name across the various mediums of the internet: salandarin. It was unique, didn’t have numbers (super important!), was easy enough to type, hard to say wrong, and carried a flavor of fantasy without sounding elven or magical. It’s austere and inert.

The preteen me wanted that because it provided a shield against scrutiny. Passivity is a great strategy for avoiding criticism, but it also leaves any hope of quality interaction in the hands my neighbors. Salandarin provided no material for conversation. However, as I became more engaged in online communities at the end of high school, I had earned a few nicknames. I started adopting them because they were flavorful and personal. Since 2008, my display name evolved thusly:

  • salandarin
  • saladman
  • salad
  • sal
  • salmon
  • salmonesque
  • SALMONATOR

I jumped between all of these sprodically for the next few years, using them for alts or special accounts, picking whichever seemed more thematically appropriate for the given environment. I could only have so many, however, as I still needed to log in to the accounts without going through the “Forgot your username?” prompts every time. But then sites started separating account name and display name. In particular, Steam eliminated all restrictions on what display name you could use. Duplicates were fine. Special characters were fine. Really long, or really short. It was all good. So, when I switched from HoN to DotA 2 and found myself using Steam a whole lot more, I realized I had a golden opportunity.

For the unfamiliar – Steam is a platform for playing video games.  Your display name dictates what identifies you in the game.  So, if my display name is SALMONATOR, it’ll tell everyone in the game “SALMONATOR just got a double kill!“, and it’s the name that appears in front of all chat messages.   With that explained, here are just some of the names I’ve come up with over the last year. Yes, all of them were in caps, and I’m proud to say they’re all original.

  • SALMONATOR
  • HEROIC SALMON
  • SMICKDASH
  • CHIROPRACTIC MANSLAUGHTER
  • PREMIUM FOOD STAMPS
  • GONNA POOP ON YA
  • IMPROMPTU BRODOWN
  • BUTT ALCHEMIST
  • PREHISTORIC MOP
  • JANITORIAL MASQUERADE
  • INTERSTELLAR VISIGOTH
  • SERF DUNKING
  • QUESTIONABLE OSMOSIS
  • LOBSTER CANNON
  • CAPTAIN THUNDERFUNK
  • SMUGFRUIT
  • FATSLAP
  • DUMPTURKEY
  • SPOONIST
  • SHAMBURGER

Some of them are silly and lame. Some of them are alright. A few are hilarious. In general, though, a quirky and unique name goes a long way to breaking the ice in the garden of social butterflies that video gamers are known to be.  I can hear people trying not to laugh when they say “dumpturkey” or “butt alchemist” over voice chat, and it’s absolutely great.  Seeing “GONNA POOP ON YA is GODLIKE!” appear on the screen is just a delight. Anything that gets people to chill out and remember that it’s just a video game is a huge winner, and it makes the overall experience better for me (and hopefully others too).

Continue reading nomenclad

identiclasm

There’s a lot of work yet left to do, but so far I’m pleased with how things are coming along.  From the design side of things, I want to convert the background to SVG so that I can take it to the next step, that being a dynamic and potentially interactive scene.  I’ve had musings of changing it based on the tags within a given post, or perhaps animating the birds, waves, the sun, and so on.  It’ll be a while before I get around to that, but I’m already getting a bit tired of the existing scene, so the clock is ticking.  Moving on: thoughts after reading my entire blog from start to finish – the first time I’ve ever done so.

Memories are recorded very differently in words than in photos.  I go through all of my pictures on facebook once a year or so –  not as a ritual, but at some point I just find myself scanning through them, revisiting the progress of my life, trying to see what the pictures say about the names and faces contained therein.  Photos capture moments, but they don’t immerse you into the time and place.  They make that moment easier to access, but the only story they tell is the one you already know.  Writing, on the other hand, is quite like a short film of thoughts and feelings, available to be re-experienced an infinite number of times.  In this sense, I relived the last nine years of my life through the lens of my writing.  It was more intense than I had expected it to be.

Continue reading identiclasm

landmarkish

I did it.  Sweet mother mary on a sesame seed bun, I did it.  All 627 posts have been categorized and tagged. There’s a few stragglers that I have to take care of due to some database errors, but 99% is close enough for now. Image and text links have been successfully restored for about half of the posts.  It took a solid 15 hours of work, but for the first time, most of the content on this blog is once again properly viewable and accessible.

Continue reading landmarkish

swanful

Going through old posts is getting harder.  I’m halfway through 2006, and the decent pieces of writing are becoming more sparse.  I’m having to resist the urge to throw down “bullshit” and “pseudo-intellectualism” tags left and right.  Even more tempting is the desire to censor the stuff that really makes me groan.  In a few cases I have changed things that I realize, now, are not ideal to have sitting on a blog, but so far I’ve refrained from eliminating stuff just because it’s embarrassing.  If I were to start doing that, I might as well just start over on another blog.

Continue reading swanful

pressword

After 9 years on Blogspot/Blogger, I’ve finally made the transition to a completely self-hosted blog ala WordPress.  Blogger served me well for that time, but the newer templates were not intuitive or comprehensive, didn’t grant the precise control I wanted, and the older template was, well, old.  Doing something as simple as making post titles link to post pages was not possible without custom scripting.

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ripple

In economics, an object’s liquidity is described as how easily it can be converted into currency without loss of value. I’d like to propose that the internet makes use of a similar concept in how information is distributed and exchanged. Information liquidity.

Here’s a pre-internet example before we dive in. Say you’ve written a book, and now you want people to read it. To do that, you need a publisher that will first print a large quantity of copies of your book, and then distribute those copies to locations that place your book in close proximity to the largest quantity of people (book stores and libraries). Next, potential readers have to be made aware of the existence of your book, as it’s not enough for it to just be available. There are thousands of books in even the smallest book store, and people aren’t just going to magically know that your book has been added to the collection. Publicity or advertising in one form or another will be necessary.

Continue reading ripple

echo_echo

I actually got sidetracked a bit at the end of my previous post, which is perhaps why I’ve had such trouble writing the continuation. What I mean to examine isn’t the community that develops around a given website, but the level of individual engagement (feedback) that the medium offers. But let me explain why I have an interest in this, before I go further.

Each day over the last few months, I find I have more and more mental acuity at my disposal. I keep having ideas, everywhere, all the time. I used to struggle for material to occupy my mind with, but I now find that half as many hours exist in my day as would be necessary to properly investigate all the concepts my mind is chasing after. Maybe I was always having lots of ideas and I just never took them seriously – I really haven’t a clue. Point is, I’ve been on a roll and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. That’s great – so long as I’m headed in the right direction. Which is where it would be nice to have feedback. Facebook, G+, Twitter – these things may generate plenty of viewership for me, but none of that comes with feedback.

I’ve been pondering why, exactly, that is. Part of it, I believe, is that they’re dense sources of information. You can scroll down a handful of pages and encounter a hundred links to different places all across the internet. The more I thought about this, the more certain I felt that it was time to make a graph. Tremble and despair.

Continue reading echo_echo

echo

The digital forest is exceedingly information-rich. Its incredible density and volume are far more than what is possible to usefully organize, which is why we must search. Search is merely a mode of transportation to the specific content we want to consume. Searching isn’t an efficient way of discovering content, however, and it also requires the user to already know what she wants to find, or at the very least to have a question that a search can provide an answer to. This is why we have feeds.

We subscribe to feeds because they consistently provide novel content without going on a hunt. Feeds are all functionally equivalent – they differ only in context and constraints. They all distribute information and entertainment in discrete bursts of varying size and format. This isn’t so different from the world a few decades ago, but back then, feeds were called television channels. Before that, it was the radio. Before that, it was newspapers. Other examples exist, I’m sure – the point is, at the end of the day they’re all regular sources of content. It doesn’t matter whether that content comes from a printing press or an ethernet cable.

The only power a subscriber has over a feed’s content is feedback. It seems that regardless of the type of content we consume, we create mechanisms to provide feedback to the distributors and creators. Newspapers feature letters to the editor. Some radio and television shows once used air time to share audience responses. No video game is complete without an accompanying forum, and to have a blog without comments is unheard of. It’s not just because readers are so desperate to broadcast their opinions, but is rather the primary way that creators can acquire alternative perspectives on the quality and success of their work.

Continue reading echo

sparked

The design is still a work in progress. If you’ve visited multiple times over the weekend, you’ve seen quite an evolution in quality. I’ve greatly enjoyed this process, and it feels refreshing to have something new here. I was once very attached to the old background – and certainly, it excelled in a number of categories. It was unique, it made the setting, and it was personal. I probably squeezed as much out of that formula as possible. If anyone’s curious, the process wasn’t all that complicated. I made a gradient from orange to black, ran a cubism filter, ran an edge filter to add some perspective, and then added a light and bumpmap. The only difficulty was in getting the color and lighting done properly. As much as I dislike GIMP’s interface and design, I can’t begrudge its unique capabilities.

Over the years I made many attempts to move on from that scheme, but I possess very little in the way of free-hand skills. I can’t sketch or draft to save my life, but the doodles I made as a kid on church bulletins during sermons became the one thing I actually found aesthetically pleasing and satisfying to create. I would use the logos or text as a kind of seed, and draw as many concentric circles and parallel lines surrounding the original features on the page as I could. I still do the same kind of doodling at every possible opportunity, so my notebooks for any lecture class are packed with doodled patterns. Similarly, many of the things I made in Minecraft were the product of pseudo-algorithmic reduction.

Continue reading sparked

emulation

Video games have been a defining force in my life as far back as my memory goes. The relationship is complex and varied, but it has remained, for me, totally unexplained. What have the 20,000 hours of my life spent immersed in virtual entertainment done for me? Why do my friends and I find such continued delight in them? Are they really just abstracted pleasure buttons, isolating us from the real world? Do video games actually have anything to offer society aside from escape?

Continue reading emulation

hurry

A few quick technical things before I start crafting a new playlist for tonight.

– I’m 90% certain that this is working in every browser now. A few people were having issues accessing my stylesheet from work, but I think I’ve tweaked Apache to resolve that. I still want to know if things are broken for you.
– Comments may or may not be acting weird. I haven’t figured it out yet. It doesn’t help that Blogger’s code allows very little customization of the commenting engine.
– The sidebar is gross, I know. IE won’t render the margins correctly, so I have to leave it looking halfway ugly for everybody (for now).
– I’m working on another background, primarily one that doesn’t cause lag. Slower computers are not having fun with the transparency, and that’s because of the background. This background was originally 1024×768 (which looked significantly better), but I opted to shrink it to 800×600 for the reduced lag. Even now, it’s not all that smooth.

I’ll leave it here, for now.

Fool’s Gold – Nadine (Memory Tapes Version)
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Really hits its stride around 2:30.