Category Archives: Web/Tech

buy the ticket, take your turn

It’s another one of those round up posts, like in the Before Times! Also, my silly choice to do that outrageous 90s theme (I bet you are all going to miss the dancing baby) has served its purpose, and now we are back to something a bit more readable.

Let’s get started with this thing from my Facebook:

So the phrase “you have too much time on your hands” came across my event horizon, as a response to a silly thing I did to amuse myself. I’ve heard this for my entire life, and every few years, I write a post like this about it. This is a slightly edited version of my response.

I doubt very much you mean to be hurtful when you say this. It’s just a silly thing you say, like “tell us how you really feel”. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a little joke.

About that. This is one of the most insulting, degrading, things a creative person can hear. We have all kinds of fun making something, and we put it into the world, and “you have too much time on your hands” devalues our creative experience. It’s another way of saying “don’t you have anything better to do?” Actually, dad, I don’t. This is exactly what I wanted to do with my time and energy.

I had exactly the right amount of time to make whatever the thing is. I choose to invest my time in doing something amusing, or silly, or whatever. “You have too much time” implies that this was a waste of the time I have, time that should have been spent doing something else, rather than the thing I chose to make, because it made me feel good to do that.

I am so confident that most people who say this don’t mean to be hurtful, and if you’re one of them, I hope you’ll hear me, as a creative person who has been dismissed like that his whole life, when I tell you how hurtful and insulting these words are. Don’t take my word for it, listen to all the other creative people who will reply to this, if they choose to share their experiences.

I’m not calling you out. I’m not putting you on blast, and I’ll ban anyone who brigades or attacks you. I’m just taking this moment to share this for you and anyone else who doesn’t want to be hurtful in the future. A teaching moment.

We don’t have too much time. In fact, nearly every creative person you ever talk to will tell you that we don’t have enough time. Please don’t dismiss us or the stuff we make.

Thanks for listening 🙂

NB: Facebook is bad for civilization. There is a future coming where someone researches and produces data which will show how absolutely destructive the whole damn thing is. There is a future where social media as it exists today is looked at the way my generation looks at DDT. We cannot believe it was ever a Thing, and the people who were poisoning us knew it all along. Facebook and Twitchan are a catastrophe for democracy and marginalized people. I can’t wait for the day to arrive when all of social media is regulated like tobacco and alcohol, and gets broken up into some parts that are less predatory and dangerous.

I just want to amplify my dear friend who is not here for anyone’s bullshit:

Okay. Let’s step out of that place and into something more fun!

I’ve wanted to round up some of the TV I’ve been watching:

Holy shit The Last Of Us is perfect. Flawless. Worth the entire subscription.

Netflix’s 1899 went from “interesting, compelling” to “steampunk LOST” so fast I gave up halfway through. The era of “weird for the sake of being weird, style over substance, vague hints of story instead of real character development, and we’ll sort of loosely wrap it up eventually” cannot end fast enough. Honestly, it should have died with Charlie. RIP Charlie.

Conversely, I had to force myself to not binge Wednesday, Brand New Cherry Flavor, The English, The Recruit, and Sandman. Highly recommend all of them.

This morning, I read a horrifying story of AI being used to determine child welfare cases in Pennsylvania.

The Justice Department has been scrutinizing a controversial artificial intelligence tool used by a Pittsburgh-area child protective services agency following concerns that it could result in discrimination against families with disabilities, The Associated Press has learned.

The interest from federal civil rights attorneys comes after an AP investigation revealed potential bias and transparency issues about the opaque algorithm that is designed to assess a family’s risk level when they are reported for child welfare concerns in Allegheny County.

[…]

Algorithms use pools of information to turn data points into predictions, whether that’s for online shopping, identifying crime hot spots or hiring workers. Many child welfare agencies in the U.S. are considering adopting such tools as part of their work with children and families.

Though there’s been widespread debate over the moral consequences of using artificial intelligence in child protective services, the Justice Department’s interest in the pioneering Allegheny algorithm marks a significant turn toward possible legal implications.

Supporters see algorithms as a promising way to make a strained child protective services system both more thorough and efficient, saying child welfare officials should use all tools at their disposal to make sure children aren’t maltreated. But critics worry that including data points collected largely from people who are poor can automate discrimination against families based on race, income, disabilities or other external characteristics.

(bolding is mine)

This was timely, as I just watched this short from Aperture about Algorithms a couple days ago.

tl;dr: algorithms are inherently racist, classist, and not at all neutral because the data used to train them is largely drawn from a system that has elevated the opportunities and privileges of CIS white men. It’s appalling.

Let’s stay at YouTube for a minute, because I said this was going to be fun.

I didn’t know about The Electric State until I saw this video. I bought it, and Tales from the Loop, immediately. If you like the things I like, I know you will be entranced by this video and the book that it talks about.

It’s going to be a movie? I just saw that when I looked for a link to the publisher’s page. Hmm. I hope they do it justice. I hear they missed the mark with Tales from the Loop, but I haven’t watched it yet so take that with a grain of highly radioactive 236 U.

We are so lucky to be on this planet at the same time as John Green.

Also, I noticed a Still Just A Geek coffee mug in the background of one of Hank Green’s videos and I’m not gonna lie: I squeed with extreme delight.

One last YouTube mention. I can’t get enough of CGPGrey. I don’t know anything about them, except that their brain is amazing.

This video is about choosing a theme for yourself, like “my theme for this month is reading.” or “my theme for this month is mindfulness.” The idea is to help us build on little successes that fit into a broad theme, rather than setting a single goal and feeling like a failure if we don’t complete it to our liking.

My theme since I turned 50 has been self care and gratitude. I’m spending all kinds of time working on healing my cptsd and trauma, and I’m showing up for myself every day to support that. I’m making a choice to work on specific things in therapy (EMDR has changed my life), and then do the hard work in between sessions to build on the insights I’ve gotten from my therapist.

I felt this fundamental shift beneath my feet last week. This HUGE thing changed in me. It’s so big, I can’t see all of it, you know? Like, I can just see this small part of it that I let go of, and until I get farther away from it, I won’t know what all of it is. I feel so good, so unburdened, that I have spent substantial time being suspicious of it. I legit wondered if I was manic, but after talking with my therapist, I’m pretty sure what I’m feeling is the lack of generalized anxiety that has defined my life for so long I didn’t realize it was there. “This is water,” as they say.

If you only take one thing away from this post: work on your shit. It’s worth it. YOU are worth it. And I’m going to tell you something that’s going to be upsetting: all your friends know you are lying to yourself, and to them, about your mental health. We can’t do anything to support and help you until you choose to be honest and do that incredibly hard work that is so terrifying.

In the land of music, I can’t believe how much I like Miley Cyrus’ new song, Flowers. I love her smoky voice and “fuck you I’m fabulous” attitude.

If you love 90s ambient like I do, I have a happy place for you to visit.

I’ve been listening to Alkaline Trio, Taking Back Sunday, Get Up Kids, Ataris, and all that fabulous early 2000s stuff we all associate with Warped Tour. Yes, I made a playlist at Spotify.

Speaking of, I had no idea that Spotify used so much shitty compression, until my son pointed it out to me with a side by side comparison to Apple Music. The difference between the two is astounding. Real quick: I hate Apple. Their UI is the worst. Their design is stupid and non-intuitive. Oh, how I hate iTunes. And Apple’s refusal to use open standards in messaging can get fucked.

But Apple Music is remarkable (The Linux client, cider, is amazing). The lossless sound is so much better than the over compressed shit Spotify squirts into my ears, and I had no idea until I put them side by side. Spotify is like putting a wet paper sack over your speakers, by comparison. Once you hear the difference, it’s real hard to go back.

Too bad Spotify didn’t invest in sound quality like they did in centering and spotlighting a conspiracy theorist. This is the year I let my membership expire.

Okay, last thing: I searched high and low for a really solid RSS reader that wasn’t full of crap. I eventually settled on Fluent Reader. You can grab the Appimage here, if you’re a Linux user like me.

Oh look the morning is behind me and now I’m late for work. Which will happen in a virtual desktop two clicks over, where I’m writing a brand new thing.

Mediocre White Men are So. Fucking. Fragile.

So I’m in Facebook jail again. Because of fragile white men. Again.

Wednesday, I posted this:

And OF COURSE some mediocre white dude had to tell me why I’m wrong for enjoying these tacos. It was such a stupid thing, it was more amusing than anything else. We all had a good laugh, he was widely mocked and ridiculed as he deserved for his idiocy, and we all went on with our lives. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how … exhausting this shit is, how these children run into a room, make as much noise and as much of a mess as they can, and then run just as fast to mommy and daddy when someone who was already in the room is like, “Hey, could you not?”

Anyway, I wrote a post about mediocre white men and their uncontrollable urge to correct everyone all the time, and that post has landed me in Facebook jail. See if you can find the part where I broke a rule:

Remember when that dude was gatekeeping tacos and was really angry about it?

I’m working on a theory that no matter what it is, there is some mediocre white dude out there who will tell you that you’re wrong for liking it, not liking it the right way, and will be angry about it when he does. It literally does not matter what it is. If it’s a thing you like, and you talk about how you like it, some mediocre white dude will show up to be mad about it.

Like, I’m a white dude. I don’t think I’m mediocre, but as a white dude who feels good about himself, I have to at least entertain the notion, right? On account of all the empirical evidence, I mean. I’m a white dude, and I just don’t get mad about stuff like how you eat a taco. Or what you call some activity with a local idiomatic name. It just doesn’t matter to me, and it certainly isn’t worth my time to be mad about it. Sure, I joke about Scalzi’s burrito abominations, and I will stab you in the throat with a french fry if you try to put ketchup on my plate, but none of that is, like, serious.

What is it with mediocre white men? Why are they just CONVINCED that everyone they encounter needs to be corrected for some reason or another? Is there a class or a meeting or something that I just didn’t attend? I don’t have this impulse in my life and I cannot wrap my head around it.

And TACOS? Like, THAT is the thing you’re worked up about? Not creeping Fascism, not Putin’s war crimes, the rampant inequality that is fundamental to the existence of America, gun violence, racism, homophobia, bigotry. Nope. Fucking TACOS, man. I AM HERE TO HOLD THE LINE ON TACOS (also I am factually wrong, but that doesn’t matter because) I AM HERE TO BE THE KING OF TACOLAND. LOOK AT MY DIPLOMA FROM TACO UNIVERSITY WHERE I WAS CLASS PRESIDENT.

…okay, buddy. If it’s that important to you, take this taco outside, and go yell at it until you feel better. If you need to yell a little more, there’s a wall over there waiting for you. I’m just going to sit here and enjoy my taco.

Yeah, I don’t see it, either. I appealed. It will be overturned like it always is. Until then, I guess I can’t TACO ’bout fragile white men and their tissue paper egos on my own Facebook. Okay.

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!

radio dot wil wheaton dot net

I’ve been experimenting with a Shoutcast music stream that Mysterious Kevin helped me set up. I have a bunch of different playlists that I rotate through, including 70s punk, 80s metal, 90s ambient electronica, and 90s grunge. I mix in a bunch of random weird and strange files that I find online, including excerpts from Star Trek Power records, ancient European commercials, audio bloopers from various TV shows, and other things you’d expect to find on a mixtape. If you’ve ever heard my podcast mixtapes, you know what to expect.

You should be able to listen to this in any browser, or you can download the .pls file to stream in VLC or the media thingy of your choice. I also think this little player thingy should work right here. If I configured it the way I want, it should even be playing AUTOMATICALLY LIKE MAGIC (I reconfigured this so it doesn’t autoplay, based on your feedback.):

The current playlist (which I expect to keep live all week) is the 80s metal collection. It features some Sabbath, Maiden, Van Halen, Metallica, Scorpions, and stuff like that.

Unrelated: this new WordPress composer (BLOCKS AND BLOCKS AND OTHER BLOCKS IS HOW WE DO IT NOW) is really weird and makes me feel like a very old man who used to hand-code blog entries in raw HTML. I’m sure it’s very powerful and flexible when you get used to it, but right now I feel like I’m writing with someone else’s hands.

ALSO UNRELATED: The Star Trek cruise was amazing and deserves its own entry, but I’ve been decompressing and catching up on work since we got back, and I haven’t had time to sit down to properly compose my thoughts.

RELATED: Van Hagar sucks.

Oh, and also…

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.

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