World’s Largest Audio-Visual Archive

After decades of technology breakthroughs, it brings a smile to my face to think that a vinyl or lacquer platter with mechanically implanted grooves is still, by far, our longest-lived audio format.

~ Kevin Kelly from, https://blog.longnow.org/02008/03/29/worlds-largest-audio-visual-archive/

Digital storage is ephemeral. That hard drive you copied everything onto and tossed on a shelf? …it’s only ten years before you should no longer trust it to have everything still retrievable, exactly as you wrote it. Home-writable CD-ROMs and DVDs? …they’re about the same: 10 years. Heck, I have audio CDs from the 80s where the commercial-grade coating has failed, and I had to repurchase the albums to get a fresh CD to ‘rip’ when I lost my music collection once back in the 00’s.

I’m definitely not bashing on technology—I’m not a Luddite calling for a return to clay tablets… On the other hand, guess what really lasts? Stone, baby. Clay. Papyrus even.

What I’m saying is that we currently do not have any set-it-and-forget-it digital storage. Instead, you need to be thinking about MOVage—not STORage—keeping your digital files moving forward from copy to copy, from medium to medium.

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25 years?

Twenty five years ago today [edit: August 25, 1995], Microsoft released Windows 95. It was undoubtedly a technical leap forward, but its biggest, most lasting impacts are about how it changed popular culture’s relationship to technology.

~ Anil Dash, from https://anildash.com/2020/08/25/what-windows-95-changed/

I had completely forgotten about Windows 95; I certainly never knew the specific date of its release. It certainly was a big deal at the time—not because I or the people I worked with used it, but because we were running an Internet Service Provider and our customers used it. So we had to know how to support it.

At the time we were in the midst of creating an “ezine.” It’s probably hard to explain how cutting edge this was—bear in mind that Wired started in ’93. (We had started publishing an online “magazine” in December ’94.) I’m bragging, sure, but also just trying to give you the context of the jaw-droppingly old web page I’m about to link you to.

Here’s my tongue-in-cheek article about drawing the short straw and having to go buy a copy of Windows 95 for our office: In a Plain Brown Wrapper, Please.

Granted, we moved that entire web site once when we sold the domain it was on along with the Internet Service Provider. But otherwise, those are literally, 25-year-old web pages.

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All modern infrastructure

https://xkcd.com/2347/

As a follow up to yesterday: I do quite often laugh out loud at XKCD though. This one was was three layers of humirony.

My first instinct was to think: Actually, if we just built a lot more infrastructure to the left of those large supports on the left, we might be able to take a lot of the load off that little project… actually, the horizontal level seems to be lower on the right already, so left-loading might even lift the…

Second: omgbecky I swear I’m constantly ranting and raving about this sort of thing; how there are these terribly detailed and entangled things under the hood that only a handful of people understand and one good meteor could wipe out all our infrastructure…

Third: I was literally just installing ImageMagick a couple hours before I read this cartoon.

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Sub-cockle area

So we set out to find a new hack. What followed was a sordid tale of noscript tags and dynamically injected base tags, of document.write and evalof rendering all of our page’s markup in a head element, to break preparsing altogether.

For some of you, the preceding lines will require no explanation, and for that you have my sincerest condolences. For everyone else: know that it was the stuff of scary developer campfire stories (or, I guess, scary GIF-of-a-campfire stories). Messy, hard-to-maintain hacks all the way down, relying entirely on undocumented, unreliable browser quirks.

~ Mat Marquis from, https://alistapart.com/article/responsive-images/

I don’t often laugh out lead reading geeky CSS techno-mumbo-jumbo. But when I do—and especially if it warms the cockles of my heart—you can be sure I’ll lovingly craft a blog post about it.

More seriously, if you’ve ever wondered how images are put into pages— What on Earth is wrong with you?! Why would you ever wonder about that?! Definitely do not click on that link above…

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P.S.: The title is a Denis Leary reference.

Fish

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day;
teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.

Age-old aphorism, right?

The first point I want to make is that both options—giving and teaching—are not necessarily viable. If we’re in a desert, my giving you a[n edible] fish is helpful, while teaching you to fish is not; there’s an overriding resource constraint. This is a minor point which we’re all comfortable sweeping under the rug because that aphorism is screaming out that it’s far better to be teaching people to proverbially fish.

The second point is more serious: Things do not go well if you disagree on which is supposed to be happening. If I think we’re doing fishing lessons and you just want me to shut up and hand you a fish—that’s a recipe for, not broiled trout, but rather steamed people.

Anyway, no fish today—gone fishing.

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Splintering of the Internet

What is new is the increased splintering in the non-China Internet: the U.S. model is still the default for most of the world, but the European Union and India are increasingly pursuing their own paths.

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2020/india-jio-and-the-four-internets/

Sometimes my blog briefly turns into a technology blog—recall, this blog has a purpose; It’s a vehicle for my process of reflection. Boop! It’s a tech blog.

This terrifically clear overview of how the different Internets work together, and will be working together less in the future, is a must-read for anyone using the Internet. (Hint: That’s you.) We—ok, not me, but I bet you—don’t think about where exactly all the things we interact with are located. This article by Thompson will give you a basic picture. …literally, there’s like a crayon drawing at the end of it.

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Open Graph and oneboxing

This is a standardized way to present a preview of a URL. Instead of just showing a URL, like this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower

It can be presented as a “onebox,” like this:

That’s just a screenshot from a system which is able to do oneboxing. The magic is that when editing, (wherever you are editing,) you simply paste in a raw URL and the oneboxing is done automatically by the system.

What wizardry is this?

It’s based on the Open Graph Protocol (OG). Facebook started this as a way to get sites on the open web to provide software-understandable, summary information. It took off everywhere because it’s just downright awesome.

A web site includes information stuffed out of sight, in the source HTML of the page. Software can fetch the URL, notice the OG information and craft a meaningful summary. This grew into the idea of presenting a single box summary—”one boxing”—of a URL if it has OG information.

Testing it

When something doesn’t onebox as you expect, how would you figure out which end has the problem? (Was it the end serving the URL content that doesn’t have OG data? Or is the end fetching the URL that couldn’t parse the OG data?) So someone wrote a handy tool that lets you see what (if any) OG data there is at any URL you want to type in:

http://debug.iframely.com/

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The web is like water

There is no question that apps are here to stay, and are a superior interaction model for some uses. But the web is like water: it fills in all the gaps between things like gaming and social with exactly what any one particular user wants. And while we all might have a use for Facebook – simply because everyone is there – we all have different things that interest us when it comes to reading.

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2014/web-still-matters-writing/

That’s from 2014, and holds up pretty well I think. That the web, “fills in all the gaps,” is insightful. Sure, the technology that defines “the Web” drives an enormous amount of stuff other than written content. But even just the smaller portion that is the written word is a huge swath of time and attention. That speaks well for us in the aggregate.

I still believe that the problem, currently, is simply that people rarely bother to figure out how things actually work. People don’t tinker and change things. Once someone gets the bug of curiosity, it’s a slippery slope from poking and prodding, to tinkering and experimenting, to building and creating; It’s a slippery slope lined entirely with reading.

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Interrupt driven

Think about this question for a moment. The Apollo program was massive in size and complexity. It was executed at an incredible pace (only eight years spanned Kennedy’s pledge to Armstrong’s steps) and it yielded innovations at a staggering rate.

And it was all done without e-mail.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2014/10/04/how-we-sent-a-man-to-the-moon-without-e-mail-and-why-it-matters-today/

Not just without email, but without computers or networks or cell phones or even hand calculators. They did it with paper, drafting tools and slide rules. Meetings, planning, and most importantly:

Communication.

All these tools that I have are only useful if I understand how they work. When you first start working in some field, you get the most basic tools—two manual, screwdrivers; one straight-blade and one Philips head. When you can tell me why the Philips head was invented, you can have a hand driver with interchangeable driver heads (“bits.”) When you can use them all… When you see a screw-head and pick the right bit… When you’ve exhausted your forearm from driving screws, then you can have a power driver. When you use the friction clutch correctly, you can have a larger power driver. And so on. (You can tell the quality of the craftsman by the way they maintain their tools. Yes, skilled persons can do great work with shitty tools. But at mastery level, the art is expressed in the tools themselves. Yes, all arts.)

So yes, you really do need to understand the different between wifi, cellular and Ethernet; between Apple’s IM, carrier SMS, and WhatsApp; between email, Google Docs, and Word.

As Carl Sagan wrote, “We live in a society…

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Sound of thunder in the distance

I’ve written before about the sounds of summer thunderstorms. I’m completely trained to relax and drift away to these sounds.

It’s said there are three things you can stare at endlessly: running water, fire, and other people working. I believe the first two trigger something deep within our brains; I believe there’s something about the small, random movements of water and fire which hypnotize the predator part of our brains… something about those movements stimulates our visual cortex.

But sound! The auditory part of our brain is older still, and the sound of running water is—at least for me, how about you?—deeply alluring. I’ll sit under cover on my patio and freeze my ass off just to hear the rain falling and the sound of water in the gutters.

Anywho. What brings up this train of thought? …on a gloriously sunny and blue-skied day?

…”sounds of rain and thunder,” is a thing you can listen to on Pandora.

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