Category: web

want a project for the holiday break? is giving away 3 free months ($5/mo), now through Jan. 2 (via invite; DM me your email address if you’re interested). there’s a way to be online without being a giant tech company’s livestock.

Firefox is my primary browser and has been for years. slash (/) to search (except on sites that hijack it 😡) is my oldest favorite thing, and the Containers add-on is my newest. Containers are a little fiddly to set up but super handy.

Jeremy Keith on browser diversity in a Chromium-dominated world:

“which browser you use no longer feels like it’s just about personal choice—it feels part of something bigger; it’s about the shape of the web we want”

Nick Heer, on The Bullshit Web:

“You know how building wider roads doesn’t improve commute times, as it simply encourages people to drive more? It’s that, but with bytes and bandwidth instead of cars and lanes.”

Becoming an Indie Microblogger

I first heard about Manton Reece’s Kickstarter – Indie Microblogging: owning your short-form writing via a couple of tweets and blog posts. The idea seemed interesting, but didn’t really grab me, at first. But there was something about it that kept it in the back of my mind.

In the earlier days of the web, we always published to our own web site. If you weren’t happy with your web host, or they went out of business, you could move your files and your domain name, and nothing would break.

He must be a better, more patient blog site steward than I. I’ve kept and moved old sites with various degrees of success, but thinking for a second that “nothing would break”, well, that’s overstating it a bit for me.

Today, most writing instead goes into a small number of centralized social networking sites, where you can’t move your content, advertisements and fake news are everywhere, and if one of these sites fails, your content disappears from the internet. Too many sites have gone away and taken our posts and photos with them.

I want to encourage more independent writing. To do that, we need better tools that embrace microblogs and the advantages of the open web. We need to learn from the success and user experience of social networking, but applied to the full scope of the web.

Indeed, Twitter had more or less killed my blogging. I’ve been fired up (as they say) since Il Douché’s victory, but before that I was lucky if I posted anything between one annual best-of music post and the next. I’ve always tended to be a link-and-blockquote kind of blogger, so once I could come close enough to that with Twitter, it was over. In fact, my last post on a long-deceased blog on Blogger (lol) ended with, “If either of my former readers are finding it hard to get through the day without these invaluable links to other sites, then you can follow me on Twitter. It’s like a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of this blog, but with bonus randomness, non sequiturs and inside jokes that you probably aren’t in on. FTW!

But Reece’s idea isn’t either/or. It’s not: Twitter is the devil and writing solely on your own blog is the only salvation! It acknowledges the value of the social network, but also acknowledges there are real problems there, too. It points the way to having more control and independence, without necessarily throwing away all the followers, retweets, and “likes”.

So, I backed the Kickstarter after all, and I also hunted down some of the implementation details that he hinted at, in particular, his post on microblogging with WordPress. And then I set up something similar here, which so far I’m pretty happy with. It’s not everything from my Twitter feed (regular retweets are still only on Twitter, for example), it’s not as quick & easy yet (counting characters is more tedious, and I’m manually shortening URLs with like some kind of Neanderthal from 2008), and I’m not even trying to do any of this from my phone. Still, having what feels like a more permanent home for these comments is making me think a little differently about what I post. And I’m hopeful that when Reece gets up and running, this setup will be mostly compatible with its simpler writing tools.

Looking for Amazon’s “US-East”

image: Shapiro's laptop & Chris Watterston

image: Shapiro’s laptop & Chris Watterston

Interesting article from The Atlantic (a new favorite website and daily news email of mine): Why Amazon’s Data Centers Are Hidden in Spy Country. The author tries to track down the actual, physical data-centers that make up Amazon Web Services’ “US-East” region, as well as the historical reasons why they’re all somewhere in Northern Virginia.

That’s the main part, and interesting enough on its own, but then the conclusion gets very suddenly philosophical, which I found hilarious, but touching, too.

And maybe my desire to submerge myself in that sediment, to weave The Cloud into the timelines of railroad robber-barons and military R&D, emerges from the same anxiety that makes me go try to find these buildings in the first place: that maybe we have mistaken The Cloud’s fiction of infinite storage capacity for history itself. It is a misunderstanding that hinges on a weird, sad, very human hope that history might actually end, or at least reach some kind of perfect equipoise in which nothing terrible could ever happen again. As though if we could only collate and collect and process and store enough data points, the world’s infinite vaporware of real-time data dashboards would align into some kind of ultimate sand mandala of total world knowledge, a proprietary data nirvana without terror or heartbreak or bankruptcy or death, heretofore only gestured towards in terrifying wall-to-wall Accenture and IBM advertisements at airports.

Google Minus

Via, a great post by Mark Wunsch: The Great Google Goat Rodeo.

My serious problem with Google is that their products for users (the ones that collect information to inform advertising) are becoming confused, inarticulate, and increasingly malicious. Malicious in that Google is effectively transforming the World Wide Web itself into one of its products by controlling (through a natural monopoly) traversal and discovery (Google Search).

I don’t feel quite as strongly about Google as he does, but I do cast a wary eye at them, for most of the reasons in that post. And the explanation of Google’s behavior, that it boils down to “an organizational clusterfuck that is unable to decide what [way] it thinks is truly the best”, sounds dead-on.

He ends with this:

Angry about this? Here’s what to do. Switch to Firefox. Mozilla is a non-profit whose mission “is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web”, which seems pretty cool. Use DuckDuckGo as your primary search engine; they “believe in better search and real privacy at the same time”, which seems pretty cool. I’m probably not going to be doing either of those anytime soon. I’m too stuck in my ways.

As I was reading that, I was thinking, “yes! Firefox, DuckDuckGo, I use those!”, and then I got to his “aww, who am I kidding, I can’t quit you” letdown. Too bad. They’re both good, I recommend them both. But I also don’t use them exclusively, and that’s why I wanted to post this, to encourage y’all to try them, and other Google alternatives as well.

I use Firefox as my primary browser, despite ridicule from hipsters and small children, though that choice is more because I love slash-to-search, tab groups, and the “awesome bar” than because of any anti-Chrome bias. And DuckDuckGo is my default search engine (easily set that way in Firefox, natch (and not hard to set in Chrome either, tbh)). I scoff at Google+ (like everyone), and I purposefully log out of Google’s services when I’m done with them.

But I do use them: I have a email address for home and work, plus Calendar, Drive, etc., etc. And when I’m doing web development, I use Chrome because the devtools are (currently) far superior. And it’s not uncommon for me to add a “!g” to the end of a DuckDuckGo search, which forwards the search to Google, especially when I’m looking for answers to specific technical questions. I also use “!m” to get Google Maps for all my map searches. And you can bet your ass I’ll get Google Fiber, coming to Austin next year, as soon as humanly possible.

Hmm, that sounds like a pretty mixed conclusion. But I suppose that’s appropriate. Like Wunsch, I don’t think Google is “evil”, but their power is tremendous, and growing, and that makes me nervous, and then they do stuff like this, dropping support for open interoperability standards. I’m not handing out tinfoil hats, but at least realize that there are alternatives out there, and some of them are great.

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