Choosing a username
One of the more difficult tasks in modern life is choosing a username for some newfangled digital system.  Sure, it's not terribly significant.  And yet the Hotmail email address you created in 1998 stuck around for a lot longer than you anticipated.  You can never tell which website or app is gonna be the next "thing," so it's sort of important to choose a name that's relevant, meaningful, and not embarrassing. 

I have a tendency to want to put some variation of my name (first or last or a combo) in everything.  But this can get a little wordy, especially if firstname.lastname is taken so you have to go with firstname.middlename.lastname.  Then every time you have to give your email address over the phone (yes this still happens in the year 2024), it's a whole thing. 

Plus, the internet is sometimes a scary place, so you might not want your real name attached to everything.  Or sometimes you just want to be anonymous.  I think there's value in anonymity, for the sole reason that you can do a dumb thing and leave it in the past, instead of carrying it with you forever.  (Side note -- kids these days should be allowed to make mistakes without having those mistakes potentially affect every future opportunity they ever have.) 

A username without your name is kind of tricky, because it can be something you like, or an activity you enjoy, or it could be random and arbitrary.  I think the more important aspect of this is:  Will you be sharing this information with someone?  Because you don't want your email on your resume to be something stupid like hikerguy42@aol.  Or if you're connecting with a real-life friend on an app and you have to say your username out loud and it's something like "boiled_fruit_enjoyer" maybe that might be undesirable.  Or maybe not.  I'm not you. 

The overarching issue is that, with an increasing population and the proliferation of internet access, the universe is running out of usernames.  You used to be able to get a two-letter Twitter username (also Twitter used to be called Twitter).  We're eventually moving to a world where your username is auto-generated and just a random combination of numbers and letters.  Choose wisely while you still have the opportunity. #technology

Internet ads
It feels completely absurd to be writing this at this point in the history of the internet, but internet ads have gotten completely insane in the past couple years.  I've used a browser with an ad-blocker for quite some time now, so I'm mostly immune to whatever nonsense is going on in gen-pop.  But on the off chance I inadvertently click a link on some app on my phone that opens an unmodified website full of shit-ass pop-ups and pop-unders and scroll-locks and full-volume auto-play videos and impossible-to-click x-buttons, it feels like my eyes and my brain and my soul are being raped by the worthless, meaningless, functionless products and elixirs and scams peddled by the blood-sucking sociopathic bottom-feeders who gorge on the trickle-down shit that runs our modern economy.  I can't even understand how regular people use the internet.  I remember a time when pop-up ads were a scourge that everyone agreed should be eliminated.  And browsers and plugins and companies were created to address this issue to make a better experience for users.  And this was a success!  Now we've gone so far back down the sewer hole, the modern web is unusable.  And that's not to mention YouTube ads.  If I happen to click a link that takes me to "regular YouTube" and it makes me watch two 15-second unskippable ads, I just go back to whatever I was doing before.  Whatever I clicked on isn't worth it.  No content on YouTube, or really anywhere on the internet, is worth wasting precious seconds of my life with arbitrary, non-contextual ads for fibromyalgia medicine and colorful LED lights.  The one thing the internet has undoubtedly achieved is destroying any semblance we once had of attention span.  Now you want me to look at an ad, a VIDEO ad, and it's multiple seconds long?  Fuck that. #technology

Cory Doctorow writes about why internet things keep getting worse
HERE IS HOW platforms die: First, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a "two-sided market," where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, hold each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them.
I don't have problems with Google, but Facebook and Twitter have taken a dive lately, and Amazon used to be a good place to compare product reviews. #technology

Twitter alternatives
With Twitter's ongoing demise, there are a few alternatives if you're into that sort of thing (mostly short-form, mostly text-based posting and commenting): 
  • Mastodon.  It has the features and core functionality of Twitter, without all the shit.  Also without all the people, which is sort of the problem.  The other problem is that, like early blogging, it's way too tech-heavy, with lots of unnecessary jargon and new-user friction regarding servers and instances and federation and whatnot.  It's cool to have all that infrastructure, but the overwhelmingly vast majority of users don't care or need to know about it.  Just set up the system and make it easy to use.
  • Bluesky.  From what I've heard, it's great.  But it's currently in closed beta and can only be accessed with an invite code.  This is a cool idea for new products because it can generate buzz while also allowing you to iron out your technical difficulties.  But after a certain point, this is just a walled garden that most people (including myself) don't have access to.  This doesn't make me more interested in it.  In fact, it's just the opposite.  It's like walking by a country club you know you'll never be allowed to join.  People are just gonna find another thing with a door that actually opens for them.
  • Threads.  This is Facebook's entrant to the market.  I'm not a huge fan of providing Facebook with yet another source of my data which they can sell to advertisers.  Plus, I'd prefer to keep my Facebook identity separate from my Threads identity, which is possible but difficult.  Finally, all I've heard so far is that it's missing some fairly critical core functionality, which would maybe be fine for a startup, but Facebook isn't a startup anymore.
Probably the biggest blunder in all this is that Twitter has created a sort of diaspora of weird people who want to interact with the internet in this very specific way, and the fact that there are multiple alternatives that are very much not connected to each other means that the thing Twitter actually created -- community -- is no longer.  Absolute moronic fuckup, or all according to plan, depending on your point of view. #technology

Death of Twitter
Twitter is currently dying.  It was force-purchased by a megalomaniacal troll who is focused on changing its entire essence and burning it to the ground in the process.  Here are some highlights: 
  • Timeline.  They changed the timeline view from a reverse chronological list of Tweets posted by people you follow, to a randomized list of Tweets that have achieved some degree of virality (maybe) interspersed with some Tweets from some of the people you follow.
  • Verification.  They removed the core functionality of verification and replaced it with a paid subscription.  Admittedly, the verification system was sort of spotty and often came down to knowing a person who worked for Twitter.  But in the past, you could generally depend on a verified person being relatively noteworthy.
  • Ads.  There are now sooooo many ads on the timeline, as well as in individual Tweets.
  • Bots.  I was told one of the things Elon wanted to fix was the bot problem, but since he's taken over there are an innumerable number of bots, most of them porn-related which brings a nice touch of elegance (this is sarcasm).
  • Boosting.  Tweets and replies from verified users a.k.a. "blue checks" are now boosted to the top of the timeline and single Tweets, regardless of relevance or importance.
  • Name.  In a final act of breathtaking stupidly, the name "Twitter" no longer exists and what was once is now, which is completely irrelevant and meaningless.
At least part of the appeal of Twitter was the level of access afforded to everyday people interacting with notable people.  You could, in theory, tag or comment with actors, athletes, even the president, and perhaps get a reply.  It's silly, but there has historically been no greater equalizer of access to people in power.  You weren't dealing with a press secretary or a public relations representative.  You were accessing the person or the company or the CEO directly.  Now that's all gone. 

One of the reasons for the hostile takeover had to do with conservatives feeling like their voices were being suppressed, which they weren't.  They were being suppressed because they were spreading racism and hate and promoting insurrections.  But now that any old schmuck can buy a blue check mark, all the worst voices are being equally amplified.  Twitter is just noisy static now, plus porn bots. 

Perhaps the weirdest and worst part is the rename.  It's just so arbitrary and dimwitted.  You don't need to be a business major or brand manager to know you don't change the name of a successful product.  Twitter is a brand name internet property.  It's also become a verb, like Google or FaceTime.  Speaking of Google, they sort of changed their name recently, and so did Facebook.  But in reality, they changed the name of their parent companies, shifting "Google" and "Facebook" into their portfolio of products.  If is a parent company, you don't remove the name "Twitter" unless you're an idiot.  Or unless you're trying to eliminate the legal liability associated with the name Twitter, which is a neat little conspiracy theory. 

Actually my favorite conspiracy theory regarding this whole thing is that Elon lost his government security clearance when he smoked pot on the Joe Rogan podcast.  This jeopardized his ability to do business as a rocket launch provider for spy satellites for the military and intelligence communities.  At the same time, the military and politicians around the world were getting uncomfortable with how easy it was to use Twitter to organize mass protests and uprisings.  So they blackmailed Elon into buying Twitter (something he had said he wanted to do) to retain his government contracts, knowing he'd reduce Twitter to smoldering ruins because he's an idiot and a troll.  And here we are. #technology

Internet places
I feel like there's a pretty strong delineation between major internet places and what their primary purpose is, so it's always weird to see people wildly breaking my internal, made-up rules. 
  • Facebook is for posting pictures of your family vacations, pets, and kids.
  • Twitter is for anonymous shitposting.
  • Reddit is for connecting with other nerds who share your weird hobbies and opinions.
  • Instagram is for posting pictures of your workout, your coffee, or your ass.
  • LinkedIn is for following your employer's social media to appear engaged.
What's weird is when people shitpost on Facebook or LinkedIn using their actual names.  Or when people post an entire blog entry on Twitter one sentence at a time.  It's like watching a monkey use a typewriter.  Like, yeah you can do that, but that's absolutely not what it's for. #technology

Social media commentary
From On the Media's interview with former Buzzfeed person Ben Smith, concerning the current state of social media:
I think the late social media world gives you this illusion of a debate and of seeing all perspectives, but really what it's doing is it's a machine for elevating the dumbest version of the argument you hate and showing it to you constantly and convincing you that people who you disagree with are just utter morons all the time.
This is fine. #technology

Website redesign with Python

Oh hi there, I just completely redesigned my website from the ground up.  When I originally wrote the backend for this website over a decade ago, I pretty much just cobbled together some things I found on the internet and hastily added functionality as I saw fit.  It was pretty messy code with almost no comments, and there was markup mixed in with logic.  Miraculously, this served my needs for quite a number of years with really no issues.  But during that time, if I wanted to add functionality, it was a bit messy.  And the same goes for visual design.  If I want to change how things looked, I had to wade through a bunch of code to find the relevant bits of HTML markup.  Also, all the code was written in an old version of PHP which my web host has been charging me extra to support.  So I decided to embark on a little project. 

I rewrote the entire backend in Python, from scratch.  I chose this language for a couple reasons, the main one being that I've been using it at work and I like the idea of dual-purpose things.  And I said "from scratch" because this wasn't a simple "translate from one programming language to another" thing.  The two languages operate very differently, and I've gotten better at writing code, so I wanted this to be written well.  Modules instead of single files, markup separate from code, testable functions and documentation throughout.  The other reason I wrote it from scratch was because my web host (and a few others I tried) had major problems installing anything, including frameworks like Django and Flask

This led to my next major change:  Switching web hosts.  My longstanding prior web host used a fairly old version of Python.  Basic functions that are included in all modern versions of Python were nonexistent.  So I looked around and experimented with a few until I settled on DreamHost, which I originally migrated away from after an unfortunate billing incident.  I also switched to them as my domain registrar, which took a ridiculous amount of time and headache to complete. 

The final major change is that I adopted the Bootstrap framework to hopefully make design and layout easier and more accessible.  I've always "designed" my website my hand, which isn't saying much because I tend to stick with black text on a white background.  But I've always had trouble with sizing and spacing on different screen sizes, so hopefully this will alleviate that. 

All in all, this was a year-plus effort (not full time) and an interesting excursion for me.  I'm still tinkering with things, so there is some missing functionality and broken links, and the layout on mobile looks atrocious.  It's a work in progress. #technology

Double-dip usage
I like when I can use something for two purposes.  My job requires me to write code, and Python is one of the languages I've been using lately, which is great because I also use that in my personal time.  Similarly, YAML is a "data serialization language" that works well with things like Python, but it also has the added benefit of being human-readable, so I've been using it for note-taking and whatnot. #technology

Public computer guest mode
Microsoft really needs to implement a feature that speeds up the process of logging into a public computer as a guest.  I literally cannot even begin to estimate the amount of human working hours spent watching a projected view of the conference room computer as it finishes setting up a new user account and establishing all the settings and preferences that go along with that.  Like seriously, all I ever want to do is show a stupid PowerPoint presentation.  It's a simple concept, and it's not an uncommon task.  I will likely never log onto this computer ever again, for all eternity.  I don't need a user account, I don't need access to any special stuff, I just need to open this one file that's located on our network drive. #technology

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