Stop forcing tech on us

I was forced to get a Twitter account for a job I ended up not taking. Same with GitHub. Meanwhile, I've come to regret growing dependent on them, for all there were some good things as well. You know, between one becoming a rat nest and the other getting bought by the enemy.

As of a few years ago, I've been forced to have a Discord account, for similar reasons. And use it way more than is reasonable. Now all of a sudden I'm forced to use 2FA to access some features they decided to "secure better".

As an aside: two-factor authentication (2FA for short) is the worst kind of security theater invented by an industry that's rife with that sort of crap. It protects the wrong thing in the wrong way. Password cracking, you see, only works in Hollywood movies, for two reasons:

  1. in real life it's trivially defeated with a short timeout after each attempt;
  2. exploiting security holes, or for that matter insider knowledge, is easier.

2FA is however great at locking out the legitimate user of an account. Which is emblematic of tech and what it's doing to us, pardon, for us nowadays.

Read more... Tags: technology, disaster

Refresh

I was hoping to get another post in by the end of the month. Not so much expecting it would be on my new static site generator. Once again, this blog becomes a test ground for bigger things. Not for the sake of it, however! There are several benefits to the switch:

  • old posts are now in the correct order again;
  • archives are per-year instead of one long list growing forever;
  • I can has pages in addition to posts;
  • the newsfeed now carries full post content;
  • no more advertising for a certain social media giant on every page.

That's in addition to less visible changes such as flexible themes with better metadata (and better control thereof), including microformats for those who care (which should be everyone seeing how search engines love them). Detaching post slugs from titles should help too.

Even better, the blog's expected lifespan is now roughly 60% longer, and I can extend it even more by slowing down, or setting up a sideblog for shorter posts. While preserving all permalinks and even the newsfeed location. (Don't you hate it when they move around without a redirect?)

But I'll cut this short as befits the new theme. Thanks for still being with me.

Tags: blog, software

The web is already social

When I tell people that bloggers following each other via feed readers already form a social network, they balk. "But... but... notifications! Reactions! Mentions!" That's how strongly we've been conditioned to think we need to know right away if someone is talking about us. No, you don't need to poll your newsfeeds every five minutes, and if you did, I suspect that would still use less bandwidth than your average spambot. And if someone you're not following talks about you? Check your referrals! Failing that, count on your friends to tell you. Use search engines. Aggregators. Directories.

No, it's not perfect. Doesn't have to be. Technology isn't magic.

Read more... Tags: social media, software

Science, nerds and reductionism

At some point 10-15 years ago, Romanians increasingly became aware of a problem: summer heatwaves were spiking, especially in big cities, and causing systematic health issues, while the national weather service kept reporting "normal temperatures for this time of the year". The reason soon turned up: they were still measuring like they had for a century and a half, with instruments tucked away in a wooden box, well-aerated, perched two meters above the ground, shadowed by trees in a park on the edge of town...

Needless to say, most people weren't there. They were walking downtown, on hot asphalt, among tall concrete buildings and intense car traffic. With their heads much closer to the ground, I might add.

That's the problem with trying to be "objective", you see.

Read more... Tags: science, education, politics

Just for Kicks

Exactly two weeks ago, I was pointing out how easily a domain name can be taken away from us. An hour or two ago as of this writing, one of my favorite websites went offline due to a copyright infringement claim by a certain entertainment giant one step removed from being able to print money and emit passports.

(No, I won't name them. Voldemorting matters. It takes mindshare away from people and organizations that don't deserve any. Helps reduce stress, too. Try it. Names really do have power.)

I can't help but feel guilty. The site's creator did say they were in trouble, and asked us not to point links at it anymore. But it would have been rude not to, right? That's how we say thanks to each other online. How we mention each other. Figured one link half-hidden on a blog nobody's heard of couldn't hurt, right? It probably didn't. I can't be sure though.

And if linking to each other's pages becomes dangerous, then the web dies.

Read more... Tags: website, freedom

Discovering the Brutalist web

Via the IndieWeb wiki, I discovered the concept of Brutalist web design, a set of principles I was already applying in my own work without having a name for them. To make links easily spotted, what a concept! Or buttons. Consumer electronics you can't figure out how to turn on, anyone?

Let me quote just one paragraph of the introduction:

A website's materials aren't HTML tags, CSS, or JavaScript code. Rather, they are its content and the context in which it's consumed. A website is for a visitor, using a browser, running on a computer to read, watch, listen, or perhaps to interact. A website that embraces Brutalist Web Design is raw in its focus on content, and prioritization of the website visitor.

Reminds me of my pro days, when oh-so-creative graphic designers would make beautiful layouts without a clue of what the content would be, then expected me, the programmer, to fix things when said content wouldn't fit. And you're going to say, wasn't it the customer who failed to send samples on time? Sure... but it's part of a professional's duty to educate people.

Read more... Tags: website, philosophy

Faces of a fictional city

Earlier today, a friend (hi, Maxia!) sent me this quote:

Gotham City: Perpetually twilit urban hellscape that looks like the Art Deco movement had a one-night stand with Soviet Brutalism in a wrought-iron-and-gargoyle factory.

(It's apparently from David J. Prokopetz, though a search of his Tumblr was fruitless; but what can I expect when going from a screenshot posted on Imgur.)

Anyway, if that's supposed to make fun of the worldbuilding in Batman stories, it misses the mark big time. Because, you see, that's very much the description of a living city with an actual history, stretching all the way from Colonial times, through the gaslamp era and the Roaring Twenties, with a dip into the three heady decades between 1950 and 1980, when industrial civilization reached its peak. Well, gargoyles are more European Renaissance than American Colonial, but that's where artistic license comes in.

Chessboard cities built all at once a century ago on a flat plain, now those aren't right. Even if they're very much real.

Read more... Tags: writing, links

Privilege and websites

Let's make one thing clear: if you can afford to have even one internet domain to your name, let alone more, you're incredibly privileged. You have the money to pay for it, your country isn't subject to some embargo, and no government has decided to silence you.

Yet.

Because you don't own any domain names; not ever. You rent them, from an organization that answers to another and so on. The chain doesn't just have some weak links, it's made of them. Never mind simply losing interest -- or for that matter your job. We're always one cease-and-desist letter away from having our voice taken away, whether it's due to the greed of a corporation or a dictator's whims.

Internet domain names aren't any more proof of identity than a good old e-mail address, never mind phone numbers.

Read more... Tags: website, politics

IndieWeb thoughts

I've been circling the IndieWeb community for a while now, but always at a distance. The technical solutions they promote didn't convince me, and I've been vocally skeptical about them. Yet I kept returning. Doubly so after my friend fluffy joined the club. Took me a while to figure out why, too.

It's because the IndieWeb wiki and newsletter are a treasure trove of interesting information. And that in turn is because they care. They think about the web and experiment. Just look at this page about the js;dr phenomenon: something you've probably noticed too, and didn't have a name for either. That page in turn pointed me at a beautiful rant from a couple of years ago titled Dear Developer, The Web Isn't About You Which has little to do with today's topic, but relates to yesterday's post and some of my older writing too.

And you know... the more ways we have to keep the web open, the better. I love Mastodon, got two accounts and planning to get a third, but ActivityPub has well-known failure modes, mostly a result of its size and complexity. While the IndieWeb is just sort of what I've been doing already, with a few more bells and whistles.

Which is why as of this writing you can find me on micro.blog. For now anyway. Going to poke around a little and try to make friends. Can't be any worse than on Twitter, where only one person ever replied to my posts here.

Personal websites are a conversation. We've just forgotten that simple truth for, oh, about two decades. It's time to relearn some good habits.

Tags: social media, software, culture

Web for the people

In November 2017, spurred by then-recent events, I published an essay called Plain old webpages still matter. It's one of my popular writings, and I was so proud to hear a friend (hey, Peregrine!) call it inspiring earlier this week.

I didn't know it at the time, but just the day before the web had been blessed with a much longer essay titled Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web, by Parimal Satyal: a name more people need to know. Needless to say, it has a similar message, only it goes deeper into issues like too much capitalism.

Well, via the Dragonfly BSD Digest I just learned about the follow-up to the above: Rediscovering the Small Web. With many inspiring examples, it seeks to encourage readers into making their own. This isn't a singular effort, either, but part of a larger trend. Alex Schroeder for instance suggests wikis as another way to achieve similar goals.

My own website has long lost the sort of innocence highlighted by my illustrious peers. In my defense, it's still handcrafted for the most part. Not the blog, because blogs need a little automation to manage comfortably; but it's surprising how deep and rich a site will grow if you just keep adding to it year after year. Patience goes a long way. And there's nothing wrong with using a mixed toolbox.

So use whatever you're comfortable with, from the friendliest content management system to the most technical static site generator. Go with a free hosting service, or ask a friend who already has a server. And if you can, support those who still believe in a web for the people. It's already bad enough what's going on with browsers.

But that's a story for another time. For now, if you're going to join the conversation, do it with your own voice.

Tags: website, culture, links