Category Archives: computers

Let’s do a Flashback Friday

Yesterday, I blew it all up. All the websites I maintain on my server, including this one and Anne’s, blew up when I did … something.

I exhausted my knowledge, and I exhausted my patience searching forums and documentation to figure out what the hell I’d broken, and how to fix it.

So I asked my friend for help, and he saved my bacon. (He probably saved some of your bacon, too. I bet you never even knew your personal bacon was at risk; that’s how nefarious today’s bacon mafia is. THANKS OBAMA.)

While I was trying to solve it myself, I saw that my /public_html directory was a shitshow that needed massive attention. Imagine the directory is a room. In that room are shelves, and on those shelves are the books and drawers where website content lives. This room should be nice and neat, so it’s really easy to find what you need. When something is out of place, it’s super easy to see, because the rest of the room is so orderly.

Now take that imagined room, and replace it with a teenage boy’s bedroom at the end of the week. Into that room, I dumped like fifty bags of website bullshit with the intention of cleaning it all up …. someday.

So that was like ten years ago. I know. It’s so embarrassing. As soon as my buddy finished saving the aforementioned bacon, I went into this appalling mess, and cleaned it all up.

In that process, I came across some old images that made me smile.I’m going to be promoting Still Just A Geek soon (YOU CAN PRE-ORDER IT HERE AT A DISCOUNT PLEASE DO OKAY THANKS) and these images from the time Just A Geek was written are going to be relevant and fun to share during the promotion.

One of those images is a screenshot of my website from 2005, when I had done all of it on my own. The layout, the php includes, the PERL, the whole thing. It was a lot back then (it still is, at least to me) and I’m proud of what late 20s/early 30s Wil was able to accomplish.

This very website, in September 2005

It’s all so much easier today (yesterday’s blowing up notwithstanding) and I love that. I love that the distance between “I want a blog” and “I have a blog” is a few clicks. When I did this back in the early aughts, there were at least two HTML books and months of studying to understand gzip, ftp, chmod, mod_rewrite, and holy shit configuring an Apache webserver in 2001 between those two things. I’ve compared it to owning a classic car in the 70s. It wasn’t enough to keep it the fluids topped off; you needed to be some level of a mechanic to hold it all together. It was just part of the price of admission. It was a lot, but I don’t regret it for a second. I learned a lot then (which I’ve clearly forgotten) but I am so happy that some of us who did the heavy lifting back then decided to develop tools and methods that would make it so much easier for everyone who followed us.

Turns out that I was one of those people who was always under the hood then, and I’m one of the people who just want the damn thing to work, now. Thanks, me from the past!

The world is a terrible place right now, and that’s largely because it is what we make it.

Marlowe Wheaton is adorable.
Here’s a picture of Marlowe to make this post suck less.

As most of you know, I deactivated my Twitter account earlier this month. It had been a long time coming, for a whole host of reasons, but Twitter’s decision to be the only social network that gives Alex Jones a platform to spew hate, hurt innocent people, and incite violence was the final straw for me. But I haven’t regretted leaving for even one second. Having that endless stream of hate and anger and negativity in my pocket wasn’t good for me (and I don’t think it’s good for anyone, to be honest).

I was on Twitter from just about the very beginning. I think I’m in the first couple thousand accounts. I remember when it was a smallish group of people who wanted to have fun, make jokes, share information and tips on stuff that was interesting, and oh so many pictures of our pets. It was awesome.

It started to get toxic slowly at first, then all at once, starting with the misogynist dipshits who were behing the gate-which-shall-not-be-named. That was clearly a turning point for Twitter, and it never really recovered from it. I watched, in real time, as the site I loved turned into a right wing talk radio shouting match that made YouTube comments and CSPAN call-ins seem scholarly. We tried for a couple of years to fight back, to encourage Twitter to take a stand against bad actors (HA HA LIKE ME BECAUSE I AM A BAD ACTOR RIGHT YOU GOT ME HA HA HA). Twitter doesn’t care about how its users are affected by themselves, though. Twitter cares about growth and staying on the good side of President Shitler’s tantrums.

I mean, honestly, the most lucid and concise indictment I can give Twitter is: it’s the service that Donald Trump uses to communicate with and incite his cultists.

Anyway, enough about how terrible Twitter is. We all know how terrible it is. That’s never going to change, by the way.I know some very good people who are working on making Twitter better, but I honestly don’t think they can overcome the institutional inertia that has allowed it to get to the point its at now. It may get incrementally better, but the fundamental problem of random, mostly-anonymous people being terrible isn’t going to change, because that’s not a Twitter problem. That’s a humanity — and specifically a social media — problem.

I thought that if I left Twitter, I could find a new social network that would give it some competition (Twitter’s monopoly on the social space is a big reason it can ignore people who are abused and harassed, while punishing people for reporting their attackers), so I fired up this account I made at Mastodon a long time ago.

I thought I’d find something different. I thought I’d find a smaller community that was more like Twitter was way back in 2008 or 2009. Cat pictures! Jokes! Links to interesting things that we found in the backwaters of the internet! Interaction with friends we just haven’t met, yet! What I found was … not that.

Continue reading… →

regarding blocklists, trolls, twitter’s systemic inaction against abuse, and the responsibility of wielding great power

Jesus what a day.

Apparently, a couple of exceptionally popular YouTube creators were talking on Twitter about being blocked by me. Their fans grabbed their jump to conclusions mats, torches and pitchforks in hand, and went on a rampage through my mentions.

So I guess it’s time for the obligatory blog post that I don’t want to write but need to write, about how I use social media.

First off: I think I know what happened in this case. A couple months (or maybe it was weeks; in 2018, hours can feel like days) ago, a toxic YouTube personality with a large and unsurprisingly toxic following just went after me one day, without provocation. Over the years, people have tried to create the illusion of a feud with me, in an effort to get my attention and grab some free publicity to drive up views and subscriptions. I always ignore these things, because they are childish at best, and they invite a kind of negativity and vitriol that I would prefer not to have in my life. (As a side note, if someone claiming to be a social media expert pitches the fake feud idea to you, fire them and burn their contact information to the ground. That person is an idiot.)

Anyway. This person already had a following that eclipsed mine by several a factor of at least ten, so they weren’t going to gain anything if I gave them the attention they were looking for. It honestly felt like a young person who was feeling powerful and wanted to use the power of their following to make my life miserable, to entertain the shitty people who follow them. In my efforts to be empathetic to this person, I will freely admit that, when I was in my teens or early twenties, I probably would have thought that what they were doing was harmless, and that the person who was being attacked and dogpiled probably deserved it for some reason, and that they shouldn’t take everything so seriously. Thankfully, I grew up and out of that mentality.

So awhile ago, when this person turned my Twitter mentions into a goddamn Nazi rally, I did a little work to track down patient zero. I found this person, blocked their account, and then blocked their followers, so they would lose one of their attack vectors. I freely accept that a lot of innocent people were caught up in this massive blocking, and many of them are YouTube personalities (because it appears that, at some point, an explicit or implicit agreement was made among YouTubers that a lot of them would follow each other on social media. I wonder why good and decent people would follow this toxic person, but that’s on them, not on me.) In the aftermath, a lot of these YouTube personalities have, at some point, made a bunch of noise about being blocked by me. “Oh why did this happen,” they wonder, “I’ve never interacted with this guy. Please tell me, dear followers who worship me, whatever did I do to deserve this great injustice.”

Real quick: In this example, I present the imagined locutor as acting in bad faith, but can sincerely relate to that feeling. From time to time, someone I know and like RTs someone, but I can’t see it because I’ve been blocked by that person. I usually a have a little bit of a sad, because most of the time that person who has blocked me is someone I would like to see on Twitter, but I don’t pitch a fit about it, because I am a goddamn adult, and they don’t owe me anything.

I have said this on Twitter in a thread before, but I don’t think I’ve said it here: if you think you were wrongly or inadvertently blocked by me on Twitter, I’m painfully easy to get in touch with so you can ask about it and get it removed. Like, you certainly don’t have to, but you can if you want to. If you throw a fit about it and send your followers after me, you’ve made me feel like I don’t regret blocking you by accident. If you do this thing that people do where they are just asking about it and don’t really mean anything wink wink (sealioning), I don’t regret blocking you by accident. I want everyone to understand that Twitter is a mess, because Jack is a terrible CEO and doesn’t act like he cares at all about limiting Nazis, trolls, Russian bots, and other bad people. I believe that he doesn’t care because every single time someone or some group of people work hard to solve his problem (which is all of our problem) for him, he treats it like a public relations problem, not a systemic problem on the platform he runs, that is making the world a worse place due to his inaction. Because Twitter does not make it easy to manage and reduce attacks and other bad acts, we have to rely on imperfect tools like shared blocklists, extensions that help us identify and block trolls and bots, and tools that do mass blockings of an account’s followers. I’ve said many times, it’s a blunt and messy and imperfect instrument. It’s a nuclear bomb where what’s really needed is a rapier, but we go to war with the tools we have. Thanks for nothing, Jack. I hope you believe that the money you are earning is worth the damage you are inflicting on the world, and I hope you sleep really well at night.

Back to this morning. My mentions turn into this morass of anime avatars, poor grammar and racist, bigoted attacks. So, as I said above, I felt like I didn’t particularly care that I blocked these people, if this is the way the people they attract behave. If you attract a lot of bigots and trolls, you may just be a bigot and a troll, goes the math.

But that’s where I think, hey, maybe things are a little more complex than that. Because when multiple millions of people follow a person, that person can’t be reasonably held to account for everything every one of those followers does. Sure, there’s the glaring and profound exception of people who encourage and condone terrible behavior because they engage in it themselves, but most of us who have large audiences are going to end up with a few bad folks in that audience, because of math and human psychology. A few people who follow and/or know these guys reached out and said, essentially, “hey, these guys are good people and knowing what I know about you, I think you’d probably get along in regular circumstances. Please don’t let a small representation of their audience affect the way you feel about them.” I will admit and own that I can intellectually agree with that statement entirely, while emotionally struggling to be as graceful as I’d like to be in my idealized self.

Part of me really wants to unblock these people, because they seem like genuinely good people who exercised poor judgment. Another part of me doesn’t want to reward bad behavior. The biggest part of me believes that in about 18 hours nobody will care about this and they’ll go back to rolling in towers of YouTube cash, forgetting that I ever existed.

So I don’t know what I’m going to do in this instance, but since I’m spending the time writing about it, I want to make the following points very clear, so I have something to point to the next time this happens:

  • I actually use Twitter and other social platforms the way people use them. I’m not a hashtag brand who doesn’t care. I’m a real person who really looks at mentions and stuff. I’ve said it before: if you cut me, I will bleed.
  • Nobody is entitled to my time and attention. Yes, I block thousands of people on Twitter, because it’s that bad for me on Twitter. Yes, I block lots of people who I’ve never talked to and never will talk to. Usually, that’s because they’ve announced to the world that they’re garbage by following a garbage account that trolls and bullies and attacks people. Occasionally, it’s a mistake, and when that mistake is brought to my attention in a mature and respectful way, I do my best to correct it.
  • Chris Hardwick gave me great advice that I’m going to paraphrase here. He said that when you’re interacting with a person, and your first reaction is GO FUCK YOURSELF, think about all the times you’ve wanted to unleash Hell on someone, but three or four or seven messages later, you can talk like people and move on with your lives. Hardwick says that he does his best to start out at that seventh message, so he doesn’t blow up at someone in a way he’ll regret. I do my best to follow this advice, but I admit and own that when something like tearing children away from their parents is the issue at hand, I don’t have any patience or understanding or acceptance of someone who is anything other than sickened and outraged and horrified by it. There’s never gonna be a seventh message with that person, because that person holds beliefs that are reprehensible to me. But when someone is pissed about a joke they didn’t like on Big Bang Theory or thinks I ruined tabletop gaming by making it more accessible, or has taken a friendly sports rivalry too far, it’s a lot easier to get to that seventh message.
  • When Twitter treats abuse as a serious, systemic, societal issue with real consequences, and not as a public relations challenge, all of this will change. Until then, I will continue to use clumsy and blunt instruments to make my experience on the platform as nontoxic as possible. In other words, I’d love to use a lightsaber, but right now, I only have a blaster at my side.
  • Remember that there’s a real person on the other side of your social media interactions. This is especially important for young people, because there is not a person alive who can hurt and be hurt like a teenager. I promise you that you’re going to get older, and you’re going to be mortified by the terrible things you did when you know that you should have known better. If I blocked SuperYouTube6969 and you think they’re the greatest thing since memes, don’t take it personally. I can assure you that it has nothing to do with you.
  • Let’s all do our best to start out at the seventh message.
  • If you’re a creator with a large audience, whether you like it or not you have a tremendous responsibility, and you have an incredible opportunity to decide if you’re going to use that audience to enrich yourself, or if you’re going to use the privilege you have to make the world a better place. How do you want to be remembered?
  • As always, don’t be a dick.

I know there’s more I want to say, but I have a raging headache right now and what I really want to be doing is working on my novel, so that’s where I’m going. Feel free to discuss this in a non-shitty way in comments here. And if you’re one of those people who was inadvertently blocked by me, let me know so I can take a look.

Thanks for listening.


i tried turning it off and back on again.

A few months ago, the hardware in my iMac shit the bed one final time. Rather than replace it (Apple hardware is not that great, and certainly not designed to last), I decided to convert this epic Xidax gaming rig I have into my primary production machine.

It worked like a dream for a long time, and Windows 10 began to feel like a pretty decent OS, even if I missed some Mac OS UI features (hitting space to preview files, and easy keyboard screen shots were the two I missed the most.)

But about a week ago, something went wrong. Everything started slowing down like crazy, Chrome just quit working entirely, and even Firefox ran so slow, I felt like I was using a 386. So I used every bit of computer learning and troubleshooting I’ve picked up in thirty-five years of computer use, and I turned it off and back on again.

It wouldn’t start up.

So I booted from the DVD, and told it to repair the problem. That didn’t work.

So I attempted to reinstall Windows. That didn’t work.

So I formatted the drive that C: lived on, and tried to reinstall Windows. That didn’t work, and I lost a ton of media by mistake as a bonus (I have it backed up on a Seagate drive, but it’s still a pain in the ass to lose it).

I went to the Internet, and I downloaded a few Linux utility distros to check the hardware integrity on the machine. I booted from those CDs, ran their tools, and confirmed that everything was working correctly.

At this point, my lungs were aching for air.

I got super frustrated, because all the diagnostics I ran appeared to work, and every test told me that there wasn’t anything wrong. It just turns out that Windows won’t install, and it gives me the super helpful advice to check the install logs that I can’t read because when I boot from the Windows DVD, it won’t let me write to any of the mounted file systems.

So I’m moving my opinion dial from “Windows isn’t that bad” back to “Windows is awful garbage that is an affront to all good people in the world.”

Also, one kid seems to really love the Speedo Guy.

Spinning the dial was satisfying, but it didn’t give me a working OS that I could use to get my work done, so I grabbed the latest release of Debian Linux, and booted from the resulting live DVD. It felt familiar, and unlike my Windows nightmare, it Just Worked(tm). For longtime *nix users, especially the subset of us who started using Red Hat or Debian or Mandrake or whatever back in the late 90s, this reality — that Linux worked effortlessly and without any configuration hassles — will likely prove to be quite pleasing.

I wondered if there was a hardware problem that I hadn’t uncovered, maybe a failing HDD or something, and I decided that the best way to test it would be to attempt a Debian install.

About seventeen minutes later, I booted my machine from GRUB, and like a magical leprechaun, Debian just worked. I had to install a couple of drivers to get the most out of the graphics card, to get Flash and Java to go, and to update Chromium, but that was it.

I’m still annoyed with Windows and its lack of useful error messages, and I am confident that I’m not getting the most computing/processing/graphics/awesome power out of this epic machine, but I have an OS that is solid and stable, that is making it possible for me to do my work, browse the Internet, and read and send Email. There are some idiosyncrasies that I’m not crazy about, and there are a few mild frustrations (I can’t easily watch Netflix or Hulu because of stupid DRM issues, and some websites like Twitter are painfully slow), but I’m definitely turning my dial toward “Linux is awesome.”

take two minutes today to tell the FCC to protect network neutrality.

Without the Internet, I’d be just another failed actor struggling to make ends meet. Because I had the same ability to put together a website and reach an audience as anyone else, I was able to put my words on your screens, and eventually into a book that got into many of your hands. If Comcast or Verizon or AT&T or some other big telecom decided that regular guys like me had to pay some sort of protection money to have the same ability to reach you as Google or MSN does, I never would have been able to get WWdN off the ground, much less found Monolith Press, publish Dancing Barefoot, and start an entirely new career as a writer or have a second act in my acting career. There would be no Tabletop. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty happy that Tabletop is in the world.

We successfully fought to keep the Internet open and free just a few years ago, but it’s under attack again, another disastrous consequence of the Trump administration.

Here’s Consumerist on what is at stake (again) and why we are here (again):

Why is it in trouble?

The FCC that passed the Open Internet Rule was led by chairman Tom Wheeler, during the Obama administration. When the Trump administration took office in Jan. 2017, the FCC changed too.

At the end of January, long-time net neutrality foe Ajit Pai was promoted to the big seat and became the Commission’s chairman.

Pai has been gunning for net neutrality since the day it was adopted, if not sooner. So although in 2016 a federal court upheld the rules, Pai wants them reversed — and now, he has the means.

Because gaining a majority at the FCC is, on many key issues, basically a matter of partisan math, Pai will absolutely succeed if he wants to, regardless of literally tens of millions of people arguing against it.

Today is a day of action. Today, we are asking all Americans to take two minutes and contact the FCC, to make your voice heard, and make sure the FCC knows that you want network neutrality to be protected. Ars has a good collection of essential reading about network neutrality, but if you only have time to read one of them, here’s a concise guide to writing a comment to the FCC.

Two minutes, you guys. That’s all we need from you today. Please, take action.