The sands slip through

“Charles blew a little smoke and said, ‘Build a thousand and if we can’t sell them, we will use them in the store for something,’” Mr. Roach recalled in remarks to the Fort Worth Executive Round Table last month. “We were finally able to ship some machines in September and shipped 5,000 that year, all we could assemble,” Mr. Roach said. “Our competitors shipped none.”

~ Sam Roberts from, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/technology/personaltech/john-roach-dead.html

I had no idea who this person was until I saw this. A TRS-80 (the portable model, called a “4P”, so my computer’s name became “Forpy”) was literally the first in our home. We unpacked it Christmas morning and my father had declined to buy any games (which cost extra) for it. I didn’t even notice—I programmed the crap out of that thing. First in ASCII graphics, then added a graphics card so it could—gasp—draw progressively changing, black-and-white ellipses that looked like othello pieces flipping. I even manually coded the optimal tic-tac-toe algorithm so it could actually play. So, just knowing that one of the people who made that possible, is now gone… well, that’s a little sad.

You should go find the TV series Halt and Catch Fire.

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*Throws down controller*

That’s the thing about aggregation: one can understand how it works, and yet be powerless to resist its incentives. It seems foolhardy to think that this might be true for economics and not true for ideas, even — especially! — if we are sure they are correct.

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2022/the-current-thing/

Sometimes I read things on the Internet and I want to throw my keyboard (my title is a reference to 1980s console games where one might get furious, and rage-quit by throwing the game’s controller.) Partly, my urge to rage-quit is from exasperation that Thompson keeps cranking out these great articles (and his podcasts Dithering and Exponent and this other thing he did that is awesome but you wouldn’t understand because I can’t explain it well) while I’m over here plinking away writing snarky blog posts when I should be earning a living.

But also because of the point of the article which is found in my pull-quote of the entire final paragraph.

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This I hope for you

This simplicity was disorienting in a way. Many times a day I would finish whatever activity I was doing, and realize there was nothing to do but consciously choose another activity and then do that. This is how I made my first bombshell discovery: I take out my phone every time I finish doing basically anything, knowing there will be new emails or mentions or some other dopaminergic prize to collect. I have been inserting an open-ended period of pointless dithering after every intentional task.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/02/what-i-learned-during-my-three-days-offline/

It is still uncommon for me to be without my phone. I have to admit that sometimes I carry it simply because I have a flat pince-nez stuck to the back of my phone. Recently it’s dawned on me that I have another, identical pair in a tiny flat case not stuck to my phone and I sometimes just carry those and not my phone. Regardless, you’ll never see me whip out my phone—unless we have a question, what’s the weather, where’s the nearest…, and so on. It’s a tool I sometimes use, like shoes.

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May break the Internet

If Earth were to shift to even longer days, we may need to incorporate a “negative leap second”—this would be unprecedented, and may break the internet.

~ Matt King and Christopher Watson from, https://phys.org/news/2022-08-length-earth-days-mysteriously-scientists.html

The use of the phrase “may break the internet” made me smile. It’s not irony, and it’s serious. I do not want to think about what would happen if they inserted a negative leap second; The forward sort are bad enough, and don’t get me started on Daylight Savings Time. I digress.

This is a refreshingly clear, popular-science level article that covers the myriad reasons there is such variability in the exact amount of time it takes our magic marble to whirl precisely once around its axis. The very first thing most people never think of is how do we even precisely decide what “one rotation” is. (Hint: Astronomy.)

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Together

It’s an endless list of little things that you think you’ve forgotten, but you haven’t. You are quite literally built to sense an infinite amount of subtle bits of signal from your fellow humans. We were not built to live alone in caves; we were built to live together in them.

~ “Rands” from, https://randsinrepose.com/archives/what-we-lost/

As the “online interaction” soared in recent years, I’ve gradually moved away from feeling grumpy about the quality of (for example), video calls online. Through that time I continued to enjoy in-person interaction as much as I ever did, and I had already spent years massively reducing the frequency of those. My feeling is that all the online interaction has expanded—not replaced, nor “attempted to replace” nor anything negative like that—my human interaction. I’ve had multiple conversations with people from other continents I’d never had been able to meet in person.

I’m not suggesting “Rands” has it wrong. No, he has it quite right. I’m simply pointing out that these sense-limited interactions can be an enormous positive addition when we don’t think of them as replacing normal human interactions.

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Pet peeve #7

Web pages which neglect to include two of the most important pieces of information: Who and When. Yes, all web pages. Thou shalt always list the author. (“Anonymous” is a legitimate answer to, “who?’) Thou shalt always list at least a general composition/publication date. Online, it is already difficult to place things into context. Having a Who and When gives that many more clues to place things into context.

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Three dots

Let me be clear that no part of me idealizes the bygone agony of waiting three weeks for a letter from your lover to cross the Atlantic—a letter that might never arrive from a lover who might be dead by the time it does arrive. But let me also be clear that, in another century or two, if humanity is wise enough to survive and reconsider its compulsions, posterity will look back on us gobsmacked that we put ourselves through the agony of the three pulsating dots.

~ Maria Popova

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Because enough people know

there are enough users who understand how it is supposed to work. They expect to be able to listen to any podcast anywhere they want. Most probably don’t understand why they have this ability, about the history and technology design that made it possible, but they understand that they have the ability. And it doesn’t have to be all of them or even most of them, just enough of them, whatever that means. And for right now, at the end of 2021, there are enough. Podcasting has always been and remains an open platform. I can’t say it will be for the future, but so far so good.

~ Dave Winer from, http://scripting.com/2021/12/21/124205.html

I like Winer’s point that the web (websites, web browser, blogs—not asocial media platforms) and podcasting are not dominated by any one large company. He’s pointing out that we’ve two examples of things not centrally controlled—two examples of success (so far, things could always change.) And therefore it’s quite possible that we could build something else, another new media format, which is also free, open, and not centrally controlled.

But I don’t like that Winer has glossed over the fact that podcasting only appears to be open, (in the way that the web is open.) Podcasting appears to be open, and isn’t yet dominated by one large company, because the podcast creators individually go to great lengths to make their shows available everywhere. There are multiple large companies trying to leverage the listeners against the creators. I’ve given up on trying to lead podcasting to be open, the way the web is open; I simply hope that someone else sees what I see and that I live to see podcasting grow to be a first-class, truly open, platform, (the way the web is.)

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You must choose

Then there was a moment. A short one. Social media was perfect. The bubble popped, and suddenly there were voices from outside the bubble. But it was still small, still manageable, not yet the all-consuming force it is today.

~ Jacob Kaplan-Moss from, https://jacobian.org/2018/apr/2/the-moment/

Today, we have asocial media. I’ve not seen anyone else point out we’re still misspelling it, “social” media. I agree with Kaplan-Moss, and I’ll point out that I am happily still living in that moment. I use the Internet, and I use my phone (and tablet, and computer, and my connection of people, etc.) — none of those things use me any longer. That’s the key. Figuring out what sources of interaction and information you find valuable, and then acting to make them a part of your lived experience. What made asocial media’s moment great was that it showed us that the Internet could be useful. Now it’s up to you to make it so for yourself.

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It’s the forums

Forums are the dark matter of the web, the B-movies of the Internet. But they matter. To this day I regularly get excellent search results on forum pages for stuff I’m interested in. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t end up on some forum, somewhere, looking for some obscure bit of information. And more often than not, I find it there.

~ Jeff Atwood from, https://blog.codinghorror.com/civilized-discourse-construction-kit/

That’s a wonderful unpack by Atwood of why Discourse, (a piece of software that powers forums,) was created. Along the way there’s also a load of great information about discourse, (the concept.) And this article is now 9 years old.

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