Tuesday, May 14, 2019

and now for.... sleepio!

I've been a fan of online self-directed self help systems since the days when Moodgym was free to anyone who was prepared to role-play being an Australian student. As anyone who combines depression, anxiety and social awkwardness knows, six sessions with the therapist is probably going to be barely enough to stop feeling awkward and trying to put them at their ease, unless you have laser-like focus or a lucky connection. So removing the therapist from the therapy can be very practical, if you're fairly self-challenging and find other people quite distracting.

Of course, Moodgym's been off the table and behind a paywall for years now, and the various other ones are a bit, well, non-structured I suppose - there are good individual exercises, but nothing that sits you down and says, right, this week we're working on this.

Until I hit Sleepio, that is. I hit it for professional reasons. I needed to know what kind of people it might appeal to/suit and running it through is often the best way to get a good feel for that. And it's only four weeks, 1 hour each week, so I felt it would be a light and easy commitment.

Six months later, I'm still doing Sleepio. I've long since worked through all the exercises (even the weird one, where you record the ambient overnight noise in your bedroom), listened to all the helpful sleep advice from the little animated sleep professor with his soporific Scottish accent, giggled at his dog being called Pavlov, and activated the bulk of recommended changes. I'm sleeping better, and although we also did swap old our old futon for a smart new memory foam mattress during this time, which may have been the prime mover in the sleep improvement, a lot of the feeling better about sleep came from Professor Sleepio and his suite of small incremental changes.

And every morning, I go back to it, to journal last night's sleep. I get a percentage rating for my sleep efficiency (aim for 90%+, but accept that it sometimes won't be up there), and I get to track how much I sleep (a fairly consistent 6.5-7 hours), I can tag nights with things like stress, nausea and exercise (I set my own tags) and I get to record brief notes of how the night went in a free text field. Here's one from a 67% night:

I started feeling like I was drowning again
In fairness, my mouth and throat
Suddenly went into mucus overdrive
Tim was trying to hold me in a bad position
I just couldn't and started coughing
Eventually left him to sleep
And read a book. It had a significant severed head
But I couldn't even remember the who is was
Who's Sam? Why is his head on a silver dish?

Sleepio. It's made my insomnia into a source of personal entertainment. 

Saturday, April 06, 2019

filling the interstitials

Small digital tasks are colonising our interstitial attention space. You know that of course, or you would if you had a moment. But you don't have a moment. It's useful time. It can be activated for any number of useful items of piecework, complete with prompts and reminders. Here's what I'm doing at the moment:

  • Google guides: My reviews have now had over 20,000 views, though how many of them have been simulated by click farms is open to question.
  • Google photos: My photos are as popular, with clear descriptive photos of local supermarkets way out ahead in the popularity ratings.
  • Google timeline: Picks up everywhere I (or the bus I'm in) hesitate briefly outside, and when its a place that closed years ago, I do feel compelled to tell Google this is the case.
  • Pok√©mon Go: Got to catch them all, and there are quite a lot of them.
  • Instagram: In particular accurately tagged descriptive images because Tim Berners Lee told me about the semantic web when I was a low ebb and it got built into my behaviours.
  • Facebook: A subsection of my social group conduct their business here, as do most of the music people.
  • Whatsapp: A further subsection of my social group conduct their business here.
  • Twitter: A further subsection of my social group conduct their business here, and I also use it for wildlife observations.
  • Flickr: A photographic timeline of visual significance in my life.
  • Livejournal: Because I'm not done with long-form blogging just yet.
  • Blogger: For all things gardening, as well as whatever this is.
 That can't be all, can it? There are surely some open channels that could be used still there.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

archaeological layers of online identities

I found myself talking a few times this month about early online selves. My first would have been in MUDs, MUCKs and groups/forums, although I didn't like forums much. I think it's probably because I'm not sufficiently fanatic about anything to pick a forum to live in; or rather, that other people's fanaticism exhausts me; and also that I find arguing a stressful activity, not entertainment. I've heard and observed that people do enjoy arguing, and that's fine for them, but for me there's no such thing as a good argument. So, forums; no. I drifted off the internet and made zines instead.

Then came the year I was needed to edit a website and I taught myself , like you do, using a text editor and a hosting service. Geocities was handy, so I used that, and made this:


It's kind of a zine shoved up online ("Perzine" is the designation for a zine that is essentially all about yourself, and I think this would qualify). It was up for a few short years, until Geocities collapsed. I took a print and squirrelled it away on a friend's server and oh my god everything still works, even the rugged little javascript rollovers.

I went looking for myself in the Geocities archive, when I heard it had happened, but I wasn't in it. Insufficiently significant. The Barbie Pictures got Boing-Boinged one year after someone made a witty tweet about them (no-one I knew - presumably the page was just found via an image search) but that was years after the fall of Geocities. Our server got knocked over and everything.

We put it back up again, and I remember I posted a note in Boing Boing saying so and thanking them for the attention. I remember the tone of the response. "You're our subject matter, the butt of our jokes. Butt out of our conversation. Freak. Fem. Weirdo."

Forums. Usenet. The comments. I never did get along with them. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

re-inventing the mixtape swap for 2019

At the moment I'm digitising mixtapes, and it's a time-consuming task. Let me first clarify that I'm not on the actual case of audio casettes (still carefully filed downstairs alongside the Man from U.N.C.L.E novelisations and the Minic ships) so I'm skipping setting up some sort of lash-in to do the cross-channel ripping and scrubbing up my rusty audio-processing skills for the chopping and cleaning. No, all I'm doing is importing a mix CD and (where the track list has been lost) identifying the tracks, where possible.

Yes, this is me, with my phone to the speakers, with Google listening, poking away at What's this song until a match pops out. Or doesn't, in the case of a lot of the mid-90s stuff, where I was drifting through lo-fi, riot-grrl, anti-folk circles and bands popped in and out of existence like mushrooms with stickered guitars and brightly coloured hair.

In all of this, one of my old comp-swap friends Whatsapped me to say he was  thinking of getting a comp swap going again. Sounds like a good idea, I said. I still treasure them all, my happy old mixtapes, and what's more, I have a slightly shameful secret. I make a mix-tape every single month, using the following basic selection methodology:

  1. Pre-load a music player with the long-list (recently added + random top-up for me)
  2. Bookmark all tracks that resonate
  3. Rearrange the list till it feels like a mixtape
  4. Publish online in some way
And I do this absolutely irrespective of whether anyone else is listening. I don't need to be in a swap to do comping, which is good, as most swaps only last 6-24 months anyway, until people feel they can't handle the new stuff to listen to every month, or that they can't get it together to make the comp, or worst of all, that no-one's interested in what they think is good music and are sick of hearing their music collection.

Not that any of that isn't true. No-one else likes the music you do in the way that you do; it's one of the creases of your individuality. You're obviously too busy. No-body's been bored for years now; the world has moved into a space where everything is happening all of the time. Who has the time to be interested in anything? New awesome things fling themselves beneath your feet at every turn.

Nevertheless, if it's something you can do lightly, folded into life as normal, then it becomes a regular enhancement, a reliable pleasure, a road you like to walk down, an idea that blooms reliably and regularly, like a daisy on a well-trodden lawn. 

So yeah, I though. Why not, I thought:



And then I started tagging in the mixtapers old and new, following my usual rhythm, adjusting the aesthetic to be something a bit more public-facing:


and then somebody asked the question, like they always do:


Friday, January 11, 2019

the merlin beggars copyright wars part 1

Every month I create a youtube playlist of songs I listened to and favourited the previous month. This is a weird hangover from when I was in a mixtape-swap  community (yes I know) earlier this century, when I cracked a methodology for making mixtapes with pretty much zero effort. The methodology is as follows:

  1. Carry a personal listening device with a favorite or add to playlist function (I use a banana yellow ipod nano which barely holds any battery life any more).
  2. Refresh the personal listening device content monthly according to any criteria you please (I use recently added + random from entire collection).
  3. At the end of each month extract favourited tracks and order them into a compilation.
And there you go, a monthly playlist with pretty much no effort on your part. Naturally I complicate things by drawing a cover, writing a bit of blurb and agonising over song order, but these are all things I enjoy doing.   Draw a picture? I'm in.

Once upon a time I'd print them onto a CD, but last year this started to feel wasteful, and maybe a touch morbid - what was I creating all these artefacts for? Was I expecting them to be handed out at my funeral or something? So I switched to Youtube playlists.

This created issues. Mainly this issue:


Song videos like this are often described as "merlin beggared" after a music rights group that was very, very active with location-specific take-downs at one time. They seem to have calmed down a bit, and most music has moved onto the automatic recognition treadmill, so I'm not having to do as many substitutions as I used to. But they're still there, and still happen, and sometimes very big names are caught in a flash of Youtube refusenikdom - I remember one month I couldn't find any Prince on Youtube, for example. How much effort must that have cost someone?

The other main irritation for the Youtube mixtaper is those artists who feel a stream of their full album is good, but not individual tracks. Preciousness? Profits protection? I'm no more able to understand it than the habit of putting tracks with significant chunks of silence and/or random noise onto albums - leaving the user inexpertly completing what the producer should have done (and probably spent a long time arguing with the artist over).

Recently I've found an odd phenomenon of tracks with a snatch of unrelated track/movie footage attached. Which is a way of hacking Youtube's automatic content recognition software, maybe, as below.



Where it's well chosen and brief, I sometimes take the lumps and put it in the mixtape anyway. But when it's a large chunk of something not well aligned, it's got to go. It's another substitution.

Over the years, there's a steady trickle of takedowns, channel deletions, rebrandings, label changes and other entropic processes which steadily fillet the playlists. At one time Youtube would leave the removed video in the playlist, a grey thumbnail like a dead tooth in the grinning mouth of your playlist.

They don't do that any more. All that remains of the music that has been disappeared is a single alert message: one of more of the tracks has been deleted and removed from your playlist. The older the playlist, the shorter it becomes. In the end, I suppose, every playlist will empty.

Friday, December 28, 2018

go home tumblr, you're drunk

Tumblr's new community guidelines came in earlier this month, and have been somewhat dissected already, of course. I had assumed that my largely anodyne tumblr (I use it as a basic scrap-book) had been passed over by the beady electric eye of image-analysis. Not so. Today I had a message about violating community guidelines. Really, Tumblr?


Yes, really. Presumably this one is violating guidelines for, I don't know, not really being funny any more? Appeal.


Ye-es. It does look a bit disturbing. Presumably all those little eyes triggered something, somewhere... sadly you can't see the jittering animation on this clip, which is quite nasty, but I'm still inclined to label this as NOT ADULT CONTENT.

Oh, but I've saved the best for last:


It's a giant river salamander, in case you're wondering.

Curiously, my other Tumblr, lesbians-in-flightsuits, has not triggered any warnings at all. Which is a bit of a surprise, as it's a fashion tumblr featuring a fair amount of experimental couture.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

and the end point of the data breaches is this

Here and there, emails are squeaking through my spam filter. A basic scam comes in auto-translated wonkspeak, an email address and password combination that feels like it came from the dawn of time, but that was probably only 5-6 years ago. Threats, an amusing spamster name (Tiphanie Hatch is my favourite so far) and a demand for money.

I reported it (like you should - I always do) and was told that most people thought that the password belonged to a site I didn't even remember being breached. Which just goes to show, your data is out there. Old, out-of-date, inaccurate, clumsy. But someone has crammed it into a half-working database that is now algorhythmically churning out threats in your general direction with what you fervently hope is minimal human intervention (though it is a sad truth that there are still a lot of content-related areas of work where humanskill copy-across can get through the job faster than writing programmes enough to automate it, so possibly there's a sad barn full of data-monkeys following a how-to script somewhere).

This scam is designed to ensnare moderately prosperous and easily embarrassed workers with no technical skills whatsover who have surfed porn sites at their workplace. I can't imagine that this is a heavily populated marketing persona, but this is a long way from my area of expertise, so maybe I'm wrong.

The threats are all delivered in chummy wink-wink speak:
I am in shock of your fantasies! I've never seen anything like this! I did not even know that SUCH content could be so exciting! So, when you had fun on piquant sites (you know what I mean!) I made screenshot! First part shows the video you were watching (you've got a nice taste ; )
The message is peppered with random techspeak, like someone vomiting up an aside from a tech thriller novella:
My Trojan have auto alert Antiviruses do not help against modern malicious code I installed a rat software i have a special pixel in this mail your internet browser started functioning as a RDP having a keylogger
The threats are filleted into incomprehensibility, and they follow the carpark-beggar pattern of asking for weirdly precise amounts of money. In bitcoin, of course, that bastion of respectability.
if i don't receive the BitCoins, i definitely will send out your video to all of your contacts including members of your family, colleagues, and many others ... if you need evidence, reply Yes! and i definitely will send your video to your 6 contacts. 
I'm tickled, but I also know about the dark side of all this. The people who have become ensnared, have tumbled into blackmail, debt and despair, who have killed themslves rather than face the embarrassment of seeking help, often the more vulnerable people, but not always. Sometimes they're highly functioning people who responded for a laugh and got caught up in layers and layers of bullshit that go all they way down to the dark, the desperate, the endebted and the enslaved and realised that it's not funny, after all. Not funny at all.