26 March, 2017

Catching Up and Belated Weekend Links for March 25th & 26

I've neglected this blog for far longer than I intended. I did write a couple posts about the election, but then just decided to go back offline again, not so much offline as being on Twitter for longer than necessary.  If you came here from there, then that means the IFTTT recipe I put into place works. From here on out, I won't be on Twitter as much in favor of posting here and elsewhere in which long-form content thrives or is a thing (Ello, Goodreads, etc.). I'll expand on that in a later post along with talking about my sudden hiatus and other changes which I thought about over for the past year.

Instead, here's some late links for the weekend of March 25th & 26th, 2017.

SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK--A BBC Radio 4 Documentary on the history of interactive fiction from text-adventures and Dungeons & Dragons to today's video games.
What was it that set them apart? They were part of a much wider literary innovation known as interactive fiction. You don't merely read them, page by page, cover to cover. You were asked to make decisions all the way along about what would happen next, where you would go, who you would even fight, which page to turn to. And you often had to keep a notebook and pair of dice close to hand while doing so. You might fail along the way and have to start again (or more likely you'd keep your finger in the previous page until you were satisfied you'd made the right choice). Essentially, they were puzzle books.
The World Wide Web turned 28 earlier this month...

The Oxford Comma is important. Atlas Obscura reports on a court case which brings this point home.
The comma, Barron then wrote, was important, since ambiguities “must be construed liberally” under Maine law, meaning that the delivery drivers, who had sued for overtime pay, might in fact be entitled to such pay since “distribution” in the law is not unambiguously separate from “packing for shipment.”
Motherboard reports on the refugees who helped Edward Snowden and the ongoing issues they face today.
As it turns out, this fear was not unwarranted. In the past weeks, Motherboard spoke to the refugees and Snowden's lawyer Tibbo, to find out what's changed since they became known through an investigation of the German Handelsblatt and the National Post. They describe a situation that has deteriorated significantly.

And here's what I've been watching this month starting with Ariel Waldman's look into Earth's history as a giant snowball...

Waldman did an interview for Rebecca Watson and Ken Plume's podcast, Just Admit I'm Right, that also gets streamed live on YouTube for their $5+ patrons. I'll hyperlink the corresponding episode when it comes up on the iTunes feed. Until then, and if your are fans of Rebecca and/or Ken, you should pledge to their respective Patreon pages if you can. I have and I can tell you the streams are worth it.

The next video is actually an playlist for a Let's Play I finished watching yesterday. I've embedded it here, but I recommend that if you're interested for the long-haul, to watch it on YouTube in full. There's also the cut commentary version here.

I've followed Chip and Ironicus for years now, at least since 2010, and their Let's Plays are filled with funny riffs and roasting, while also analyzing the game itself. Programming, design, narrative, anything that makes the game great or interesting gets covered in some way. This latest entry also made it into a Waypoint article by Cameron Kunzelman that not only is a shout out to these LPers but is also about the experience of watching Let's Plays in general:
The magic is happening in the let's play moment. I'm not just enjoying the game, and I'm not just enjoying the two guys talking about it. I am enjoying this weird composite of a game filtered through the mind of two people I've never met. We're a decade into LP culture now, and if you're in it you probably think this is the most boring thing, but it never fails to amaze me that I can enjoy someone else enjoying something so much that I can't conceive of one without the other. I have zero interest in playing an Uncharted game, not because of some problem, but just because they're not for me. But Chip and Ironicus open up a door to an experience of a game, not just a game itself, in a very fulfilling way.
...and that's all from me this weekend. I'll post more soon. Bear with me as I return to the blogosphere and ultimately back to writing.

22 December, 2016

On Trump...

I can't write. I can't think straight. I don't know where to begin...

I spent the evening watching the Al Jazeera coverage and planned on writing as it progressed for NaNoWriMo's sake. I stopped trying. I tweet-stormed through most of the night, crossing fingers and fearing the worst as the projections rolled in. Eventually I gave up, and now with the electors' votes tallied, I've just, well, had it. I've lost faith, assuming that the electors would be intelligent enough to block his entry. John Oliver said it best when he said that, "This is not normal," and people like journalist Sarah Kendzior on Twitter go above and beyond explaining how unordinary it is.

 I would prefer not to reiterate how it will all go to crap now. Just let this sink in, "this" being the result of Poland's Law and Justice Party's first year in office:

[...]now school textbooks are being redesigned to downplay evolution and climate change and to recount a fanciful version of Poland's history; the government is mooting giving hoteliers the right to turn away customers based on sexual orientation or skin-color; a minister rejected an international accord against wife-beating because it subverted traditional gender roles; Parliament is about to get the right to choose which journalists may report from its debates; the guy in charge of national sex-ed curriculum believes that condoms give women cancer; a proposed law will virtually end opposition protests; and disloyal journalists at the "independent" state broadcaster have been purged.   

Goes without saying that something similar could happen here. Preferably, it won't or at least be stifled greatly by efforts from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The latter of which I donated to this year and am now a member of for the year until I pledge again.

But still, everyone loses. Those in minority groups will feel it most, but if you're also white, cisgendered, or part of the status quo consider the fact that Trump will now have full access to the NSA or how he plans to take down the EPA through his Cabinet.

There's a lot more that I want to say, but I'm saving that for a separate post. This is just the gist of how I feel and what might happen. More or less things which I mentioned in my previous post on the election, plus the rest of his baggage.

The American Majority did not vote for him, but here we are...

07 November, 2016

On the 2016 US Presidential Election

I'll level with you: Come election day and ideally, Lessig would have my vote. He was my initial candidate of choice when he announced that he would be running as a Democratic nominee last year. This is the person who founded Creative Commons, collaborated with Aaron Swartz as both friend and academic, and wrote books about the issues facing the US political system including One Way Forward and Republic, Lost. I was introduced to his work through the former, which inspired me in many ways; using Creative Commons licenses for my blog and written work, continuing to write letters to senators and representatives--through a service usually offered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation or Sunlight Foundation alongside others--and being more digitally aware and literate about said politics and politicians that reinforced Dan Gillmor's lessons in Mediactive.

Here was a candidate who would address the issues that mattered to me, even if he would resign once he signed the Citizen's Equality Act into law. This was someone who encouraged and continues to persuade people to get involved beyond the voting process so that, theoretically, their voice mattered more to the point that public officials took action with new legislation.

Unfortunately, he couldn't make it to the first round of debates, even if he was initially qualified to participate.  

I dismissed Donald Trump as nothing more than a mere celebrity just flaunting his fiscal privilege. Hillary was just Hilary, as in she was running and had an ample amount of experience. I thought that was perfectly fine regardless of her stance on particular issues which jibbed with me which didn't cross my mind then. Bernie seemed great at first, but never really got into the semantics about how he would go about fulfilling his campaign promises.

Now that mere celebrity actually has a chance to be an archaic epidemic filled with deplorable regress. A guy who, given the opportunity, would appoint Peter Thiel to the Supreme Court where First Amendment rights would go to die. Bigotry would be trending with colonial, binary pride reigning supreme. 

That's the short of it, and it's embarrassing. Goes without saying, it is also menacing in more ways than one. 

This election cycle has been hell all around, and not just because of Trump. The harassment of anyone who supports their candidate of choice, merely because they do, shows us how far we've come from the days of #HasJustineLandedYet (answer: not at all). The candidates aren't all that inspiring and even those of third-parties have been a disappointment. I say this as someone who initially supported Jill Stein after Lessig was out of the running until she started pandering to the anti-science crowd and thought that Brexit was a good idea. The fact that Trump is essentially turning the whole thing into a tabloid gossip-fest with his tweets, the "locker-room talk" video, and failing to answer questions at the debates, just so he can attack Hillary, doesn't help anyone.

Thing is, while my tweets and posts may infer otherwise, I won't usually go and tell people how to vote. There are two exceptions to this rule: The first one being for prevent a local referendum from passing...

...and now this one, as in I ask you to consider Hillary at the ballot box. 

Say what you will about her stance on fracking and the TPP--I also take issue to them--but at least under her Administration we'll still be able to advocate to curb the former and to reconsider the latter. Remember Lessig. Voting is just step one. The rest is up to you.  

Post-Script: Here's how Trump would impact my town's economy with regards to shipbuilding. Also, I would take the time to read Jon Ronson's expose on the connection between Trump and Alex Jones of Infowars notoriety.  

16 August, 2016

Vivaldi: One Year Later...

A little over a year ago, I talked about the Vivaldi browser which was still in its development stages. Since then I flirted between it and Firefox, mostly because I was concerned about its Chromium skeleton and some add-ons and sites which didn't function properly at the time, resulting in a brief Ello post.

Now with its third stable build, I finally made the switch to Vivaldi as my default browser, installing it on most of my laptops but one. (That one's an old HP with Windows 7 that I thought about tinkering around with--by installing Ubuntu or Qubes OS along with upgrading any possible parts--but wanted to wait until the free Windows 10 offer passed.)

Many of the features in Vivaldi mentioned in my previous review are, no doubt, part of the reason for the big switch. But for a browser over a year old, the team made some leaps and bounds in development alongside other circumstances that ultimately convinced me to make the switch...

Tab Stacking

Mentioning this feature again because Firefox discontinued its Tab Groups (Panorama) feature from stable build 45 onwards. I realized that this was their answer to the tab stacks far too late to make excessive use of it. The only major difference between stacks and groups is that the latter treats the clusters as separate windows, or rather it features one group while keeping the others in the Panorama UI. I find that stacks are far more useful since I can easily access them without the need of a keyboard shortcut. They're all in the same window, which makes browsing, blogging, or just playing around on forums and social networks much more practical, productive, and fun.

Hibernating Tabs and Tab Stacks

I love to think of this as one of Vivaldi's answers to Chromium's infamous and excessive use of RAM and other resources, which was why I never used Chrome on my Macbooks except for that one time which, personally, lasted only a week. Even if the computer I use now can take it gladly, with sixteen gigs soldered on, I just like that it's there in case I want to save RAM and battery. This feature will prove useful for my 11-inch Macbook Air that still chugs along after six years on two gigs. Granted that one got more use writing college papers than anything else, but either way, if I need to make use of it again when I'm out and about, tab hibernation will make browsing a little less stressful on the hardware.

Custom Themes

One of the new features with the latest build that allows the user to alter the look of their browser by playing around with the color schemes. In the same way that Vivaldi's built-in features allow me to use only two extensions, as opposed to going between four and six in Firefox, this new addition means that I longer need to skim through and download Personas or themes online. Creating themes in Vivaldi is simple and, more importantly, a blast. The ones built in also look lovely in case the user doesn't wish to make one.

The current theme I use now I named "Glade" and to replicate it for yourself, here's what you need to do.

Click to edit the "Dark" theme and set the following values in the Color Editor section...

Background: #081622
Foreground: #cdeeff
Highlight: #7bffdd
Accent: #03897d

Uncheck everything in theme preferences and leave corner rounding at its default setting. In the "Color" section, just check "Fade Foreground Colors" and the theme will be complete.

Private Browsing

A feature that made its debut shortly after my initial review and in 1.3, it only gets better. While the UI for some extensions are still buggy, in my experience, the fact I can access them while in private browsing is a sigh of relief.


Built-in with Chromium along with the sandboxing--as far as I know. Firefox is slowly getting there with the e10s testing, and admittedly, I'm now on their beta channel hopping to get a sample of it. Getting there will take time though as Asa Dotzler wrote when Firefox 48 went into beta. Personally, this is relatively minor, but still a good, under-the-hood aspect to keep in mind.

28 October, 2015

Plans for NaNoWriMo and those Short Stories

I'll admit, I completely forgot about the short stories that I intended to post in August. Instead, I got sidetracked reading through what I had for Maximum Security Showcase so far...

...and I decided it needs the NaNoWriMo treatment for the second time in a row.

Why? I noticed while skimming through it that there was too much going on, and that some of it detracted from the major conflict at play. In some places, it made the whole thing a disjointed mess with supporting characters taking the action away from where it actually should be. Hence the decision to undertake NaNoWriMo yet again.

Unlike last year, I'll be using LibreOffice to write the story so that I'm not stuck, going anal over what to title those scenes in Scrivener. I did a test writing sprint in late August and managed 638 words in about an hour. With that, I have no doubt that I can sprint through November and finish with a much tighter story.

Wishing fellow NaNoWriMo participants all the best this November!

As for the short stories...

I'm pushing them back to December and January respectively as a two-part serial featuring Mark and Andy from the flash fiction filed in Man vs. Retail. They will be cross-posted on Ello and Wattpad as I mentioned previously.

Additional Note: I'll be honest: I also got distracted by doing some late Spring cleaning, binge-watched some old favorites, and pondered about leaving Facebook indefinitely, which I finally deactivated last week. I harped on Ello about the network alongside other privacy snafus. I initally posted something about that last week, but retracted it, preferring to wait until my one year Ello anniversary rolls around to explain why.

26 October, 2015

Reviewing David Mitchell’s Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse and Jan Wong’s Red China Blues

Note: Cross-posted from Ello

Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse

My newfound love of British Comedian, David Mitchell, goes all the way back to Douglas Adams who inspired me to write in the first place. I can’t count how many times I read through the entire Hitchhikers’ Guide series during high school, but it made that journey so much easier and then some. Not only did I start writing fiction because of Adams, I discovered Doctor Who through “Voyage of the Damned”, my first foray into all things Whovian that happened to feature the Starship Titanic.

It was through a conversation between Arthur Dent and Fenchurch where I first discovered the Guardian and in 2010 I started reading it. Or rather, I frequented their website where I found myself going through articles from columnists including Charlie Brooker, Marina Hyde, and Hadley Freeman. The first two got me hooked—Brooker with his cynical take on modern television and Hyde through her contributions to the Lost in Showbiz blog that poked at celebrities from escapades to personalities.

I read through David Mitchell’s Observer columns, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from university last year when I decided to reread through them as curated in Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse. Why? Thank that time when I watched through That Mitchell and Webb Look last December while sick with a common cold. Those sketches helped me forget how ill I was and turned those couple weeks around from the usual sluggish doldrums.

Like those sketches, Mitchell’s book is just as clever. At first glance, it looks like a self-help book with chapters that group common twenty-first century nuances. This impression helped bring out the humor of the whole thing and hooked me in. Unlike Brooker, Freeman, or Hyde, Mitchell takes a more modest approach that brings out his wit throughout, sometimes imagining satirical situations or pointing out the irony in politics. He knows how to weave anecdotes and wit together to make his modest approach effective, more so than Brooker’s hyperbolic tirades about television. Every chapter had me grinning from ear to ear and made Mitchell’s column worth reading and re-reading.

Red China Blues

I previously mentioned on here how I found this book in the first place along with why I was fascinated with China. This book turned out to be more than I expected.

Jan Wong’s initial Maoist leanings prompt her to head over to China to find out how the ideology plays out, only to find herself studying at Bejing University. From there she tells about what happened during her stay as she weaves reportage and memoir together to create a vivid image of her ancestral home.

Wong’s exploration of her Marxist leanings reminded me of the chapter in Mark Kermode’s book, It’s Only a Movie, where Kermode travels to Russia with his colleague, Nigel Floyd, in order to cover the filming of Mariano Baino's Dark Waters. Kermode himself comes from a similar ideological background, explaining his own Trotskyism while he studied at Manchester in a previous chapter. While in awe at Moscow, he finds himself becoming disenfranchised as he finds himself in more squalid, and unequal, conditions.

Wong’s own experience turns out similar albeit with completely different results as China’s government almost expels her for a trip to the Soviet embassy with a friend. The memoir doesn’t end with her university experience, but moves forward to her days as a Bejing correspondent for the Globe and Mail where she found herself covering the Tianmen Square massacre. Her firsthand experience along with her other investigations reveal China’s more corrupt and inhumane secrets alongside the eventual denial of the massacre from government officials.

Throughout all this, Wong’s voice matures gracefully and sometimes laughs at her past as a Maoist. I’m not keen on spoiling anymore of it. This is a must read for anyone who loves a good memoir, or wants to learn about China from a firsthand account.

22 October, 2015

On Maximum Security Showcase: Specters of Data

Note: Cross-posted from Ello

This foray into the long-term project starts with a confession: I finally got around to buying a copy of Specters of Marx months after I first wrote about it. I plan on reading through it before and during NaNoWriMo so I know more about what I’m dealing with.

Before that, I had some ideas about hauntology that I wanted to test out in the story. All of which deal with the other major source of conflict that I started writing out in June. That aspect in question is another character who is responsible for that “hearsay” through a start-up which merges both social media and TV news. I was inspired, in part, by Hossein Derakhshan’s article, “The Web We Have to Save” where he points out a metaphorical shift regarding how most users use the web today:

But the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies. 
The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

This, alongside the the algorithmic filters which drive networks like Facebook, brought me back to what a columnist mentioned during a talk at my university; clicks drove most of the front page content. The story’s start-up would compliment that notion, where likes, tweets, and comment threads would drive the rolling coverage.

That’s also where the “bare-bones” hauntology comes in along with that video on Murdoch’s Australian. Not only bare-bones, but personal as this start-up makes the showcase into a full-fledged throwback where those rumors become the top story. All because of of that data stored in those servers, and as Maciej CegÅ‚owski points out in his talk, called “Haunted by Data”, is very similar to how long it takes for nuclear radiation to decay:

The data we're collecting about people has this same odd property. Tech companies come and go, not to mention the fact that we share and sell personal data promiscuously. 
But information about people retains its power as long as those people are alive, and sometimes as long as their children are alive. No one knows what will become of sites like Twitter in five years or ten. But the data those sites own will retain the power to hurt for decades.

No matter how far they escape, data’s absolute nature brings back the worse of their past, both the main character and his friend, and morphs their adult lives straight in the volley of high school and college gossip. “You never change,” becomes a presumed absolute instead of merely an expression. Once that data goes live, they can’t change. At least the viewers will think so when that start-up goes live.

The visit from someone else was only just the beginning…