“I just can’t cope with the freaky stuff.”

David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a fever dream that’s tough to shake, and it’s impossible to watch this film from 1983 without mapping it onto today’s internet. How it has colonized our minds, steadily rewiring the real world until every snapshot, thought, and interaction conforms to its logic. Lurking beneath videotaped sleaze and torture porn, a mysterious signal infects James Woods’s brain, warps his body, and transforms him into something ruthless and inhuman. It’s a vivid blend of body horror, sci-fi, and media critique. But now it reads like a heavy-handed metaphor for online radicalization. And like a weird feedback loop, the internet has claimed the mind of the real-life James Woods, transforming him into a pitiful troll who traffics in paranoia and spite.

Would it be possible to update Videodrome for the digital age? Television is unidirectional and, in the end, it’s an object in the room. But how do you make art out of something as omnipresent as air? More and more, it feels like trying to critique the sky.

Source: Drome by James Reeves

I remember watching Videodrome a long time ago, appropriately enough a video recording. It’s a deeply disturbing film on many levels, and there are no winners at the end. I’d forgotten that James Woods was the actor who played the main character, though I am familiar with his more recent infamy on Twitter.

My Inbox, My Rules

Update 17th Oct 2020: Their website is gone, and was never archived by the Wayback Machine. I suspect they gave up on trying to move Google, which was always going to be a tall order.

Today, I came across 98 Voices via Chris Coyier’s Email Is Good.

This amuses me on so many levels. The presumptuousness of these ‘thought leaders’ (good grief, I hate that phrase!) The continuing (un)helpfulness of Gmail. But most of all, the petitioning of Google to allow this app to reverse reality and declare promotional emails not-remotely-promotional-no-siree.

I receive a few promotional emails in my inbox. One of those is from Seth Godin, one of the 98 voices. I do get to see his emails, because a) I use FastMail, b) FastMail doesn’t enforce filtering of my inbox for me, c) I can do my own filtering, so I read it when I want to.

Added irony: the reason I’m subscribed to Seth’s newsletter is because his blog doesn’t have an RSS feed.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear, then, that I get a lot more insightful commentary from my RSS feeds than I do from my email inbox.

My inbox, my rules. If you think that you can dictate to me how I receive your message, you’re probably not going to stay on my radar. Sorry.

Overcoming Self-Censorship

Chris J Wilson:

I’ve struggled with…well, a lot recently. I suspect that the general malaise has been one of the key reasons that I haven’t been able to write or publish anything longer than a tweet-length post for a while. […] But the other factor is a feeling that I have nothing worth saying. I know that this is partially a lack of inspiration (as Austin Kleon says, problems of output are usually problems of input) but it’s also caused by a growing self-censorship.

I’ve had similar struggles of late. As a result, I’ve prioritized my well-being and essential tasks above ‘getting things done’ where I’ve felt it necessary.

It would be easy to complain about How Things Are, but it wouldn’t help me in any meaningful way. And I’m purposefully restricting how much attention I give to the news because that only serves to raise my blood pressure and make me despair even more.

The only way out is to act bravely and publish anyway, slowly building confidence and a sense of what is good to publish. So this is the first, probably terrible, step.

One of the benefits of posting my thoughts here, rather than on a social network, is that if people are going to get in my face in the comments, I have control over that. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from posting their screed elsewhere, but by the same token I’m not obliged to read it.

Process cocked-up due to Excel

The more I read about the part that Microsoft Excel played in the recent loss of nearly 16,000 Covid-19 test results from the UK’s contact tracing system, the more I’m facepalming.

But one expert suggested that even a high-school computing student would know that better alternatives exist.

“Excel was always meant for people mucking around with a bunch of data for their small company to see what it looked like,” commented Prof Jon Crowcroft from the University of Cambridge.

“And then when you need to do something more serious, you build something bespoke that works – there’s dozens of other things you could do.

“But you wouldn’t use XLS. Nobody would start with that.”

Freedom to Maintain The Status Quo

The Culture War in Open Source is On

Nathan Schneider, writing at Model View Culture:

The bug that has been lurking in the open-source codebase all along, for the partisans, might be best summarized as neutrality. The OSI’s Open-Source Definition prohibits value judgments about such things as “fields of endeavor,” business models, and technology stacks. The Free Software Foundation puts the idea this way: “The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.” As long as the code remains free and open, users—whether individual or corporate—should not be constrained by a licence in what they do or how they make money. Any such constraint, the argument goes, is a slippery slope. During his brief return to OSI’s email lists, (Eric S) Raymond quoted Thomas Paine: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Restrict others, and it will come back to haunt you.

I’ve had this link in my Pinboard for months, and just got round to re-reading it.

In reality, the “political ratfucking” and “vulgar Marxism” that Eric S Raymond bemoaned on his (brief) return to the OSI turns out to be others pointing out that perhaps we should be more thoughtful about how Open Source is used. Neutrality, in situations where Open Source is being used for ill, means you’re effectively siding with the oppressors.

Morning Thoughts: 29th Sept 2020

[ I might make this a regular thing. No promises, though. ]

My iPad Mini 4 and iPhone SE (OG) are still on version 13.7 — I turned off Automatic Updates on both devices when I heard that 14.0 was dropping with only one day’s notice. After the hiccups that version 13 went through, I’ll wait a bit until the kinks have been ironed out.

My 2017 iMac is still on macOS Mojave 10.14.6, and I’m debating whether to upgrade to Catalina before Big Sur ships or continue to sit tight and wait for the latter to get a version bump or two. I’ve prepared a Mojave virtual machine using Parallels Desktop, which I’ll use for a few Steam games. Out of curiosity, I cloned that machine last night and upgraded the clone to Catalina just to see what changed. I’ll admit that Screen Time would be potentially useful to have, as I use that a lot on the iPad to control my gaming. The big question would be whether my printer would still work.

I’ve removed one possible pain point that was holding me back from Catalina — I recently switched from Apple Mail to Mozilla Thunderbird, and the latest version is working well for me. Those who were put off by the old-school looks of Thunderbird probably won’t be turned by the new version, but I’ll take functional over pretty any day.

The integration between Apple Mail and DEVONthink was nice to have, but I can do that just as quickly by saving emails to DEVONthink’s inbox folder.

I’ve been experimenting again with Linux, with a view to keeping this iMac working once Apple stops supporting it. I’ve got an external SSD I can use, so I don’t interfere with macOS. Dual-booting is a pain, though, and I’ve held off from installing rEFInd because it requires temporarily disabling System Integrity Protection (SIP), and I’m not sure how well that’ll work once I upgrade past Mojave.

Linux Mint works pretty well, although the built-in sound doesn’t seem to work. Luckily, the output monitor on my Blue Yeti microphone does work, as does my Bluetooth headphones, although I’ll stick to the former to avoid re-pairing every time. I could even play some modern Steam games, which pleases me a lot!

My mum’s Android phone stopped playing notification sounds the other day after a system update. I spend ages checking various settings and sending messages from my iPhone via WhatsApp to test, but nothing seemed to make any difference. In the end, I restarted the damn thing and sound notifications worked again. Go figure.

I am very glad that I no longer do technical support professionally, as stuff like this would drive me bonkers!

Why The Heck Am I Back on Micro.blog?

Back in May 2020, I mentioned that I was disconnecting my website from the Micro.blog community.

And now I’m back again.

What changed?

Well, I have to admit that I do miss the interactions I had on there.

Plus, the posts of the few Micronauts that I added to Inoreader can’t be replied to from outside of Micro.blog, unless I’m missing something. (Perhaps a WebMention interface of some kind?)

But mostly it was a recent revelation that I’ve had regarding the web versus apps. You see, most of my niggles about Micro.blog revolved around the apps. But lately, I’ve been experimenting with using Inoreader, Pinboard and other services directly within the browser, and it works shockingly well even on the iPad. So much so that I’ve now jettisoned a load of apps from my devices. (I’d already done this for my blogging workflow earlier this year.)

So now, when I want to comment on something on Micro.blog, I can just pop over to the website and do so there.

Sadly, I no longer have my original username, so I’m going by my old moniker of ‘Wears Many Hats’, a pretty apt description of my professional life. 🙂