Thursday, September 11, 2014

43 things I need to do now 43 things is closing down

It is a sad moment when one of your bookmark links announces that it is closing down. I clicked through absently to 43 things - a website where I keep a heady mix of hopelessly optimistic, vaguely aspirational and eminently achievable goals - and discovered it was closing. Sad days.

I'd always quite liked it. Neither a bucket list nor a workplan, just a list of wishes that strangers turned up and cheered, randomly. You could record didactic how-to instruction lists, steps on the way, meditations on the unachievability of your goals. Anything you wanted.

Everything you finished went onto one list, everything you decided wasn't worth the bother and gave up on went into another. It could be structured or free form, loose or tight. You could be cryptic as you liked. There was a separate bit for New Year's resolutions. And so it was that I turned goal-setting into a game, and quite a fun one. at that.

So, why did they take it away?
While we wish the site could live on, it has suffered from a number of challenges - changes in how people use the site, the advertising industry, and how search engines view the site. We wish the outcome was different – but we’ve always been realistic about when our goals are met and when they aren't.
That's a little vague, but fortunately I was able to spot more-or-less what had happened just by glancing at my profile, which had a short deleted comment appended to all of my "How to Guides" and - oh yes, look - here's what's being deleted, on one of my entries. A comment in ALL CAPS promoting a visibly broken "earning link" to a major internet retail site.  Spam comments. It's been brought down by spam comments.

These probably aren't being added by hand. It has the look of an automated injection attack of some sort. Just the sort of horrible, intractable thing that script kiddies think is hilarious to fire at a a bunch of well-meaning do-gooders until they crumple.

Well, that's one interpretation. Another is that they looked at their quite sweet old project that was clearly well-liked (if a little creaky round the edges) and considered the amount of effort that it would take to fit up this site, built for the positive, prosocial internet of the early adopters, into enough of an iron-bound, copper-bottomed, radar-lidar-laser-shark protected behemoth that it could survive the slings and arrows of the bottom half of the internet...

...and closed it down, with a pang of regret, but not too much, because when you have 43 things on your list, there's always another place to put your time, energy and enthusiasm.

In the meantime, happy days. 43 things saw me get a glamorous cocktail cabinet and bake dinosaur shaped biscuits and start topiarising the front hedge.

It saw me get a rescue kitten, stop pulling my hair, and make a music video. All in all, I did 149 things, gave up on 26 (including, slightly tragically, "Turn the Bathroom into an Alien Tiki bath-hut") and had 41 still on the list when the site switched to frozen, including the very first goal I ever set for myself which was learn to set things in resin.

Too bad, I had another one to tick off the list. Grow Nosferatu Chilies well enough to give some away to friends.  Done that. Achievement unlocked.

But now how will I tick that box?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The spamtide is rising

On the several websites I roughly corral, the spamtide is rising. Comments spattered with Ugg boots and heating systems, spurious resubmissions of forms full of gobbledygook or try-it-on phrases. Even my inbox (behind two spam filters) is starting to receive sharp arrows of sour links.

But last week, a machine generated wordsalad flew in, and I felt a wash of nostalgia.

There were about 30 murders from the general area.

On 8 January 1928, Fradin filed suit for defamation against Dussaud. In Pisa, he probably obtained his doctoral degree in 1546, and returned to his native land two years later.
He died in Harare on 5 November 1990. Fists flew freely for a few seconds but the mix up was stopped without damage to either player.
Death of Charity Gardener. Vera means well but she is a loud, controlling alcoholic who spoils Will and subtly despises Sasha.
I believe belongs to Captain Roberts. World Championship on ---------------- Proper title, proper determinor

Back at the time of the spam high tide, I found the wordsalad generators fascinating, gave them names, imbued them with personalities. At the time I was high volume spamsifting (sometimes this needs to be done) and (particularly after holiday weekends, where compromised servers would spew out thousands of messages) I would see these messages again and again. I made small booklets of them, wrote comics about them, shared their latest oeuvres with bored friends. I wasn't the only one. People were obsessed. They still are. Websites  and Web Toys and Twitters and Pinterests and endless posts on blogs bear testimony to our brief fascination with these things that sound like communication, but are actually just non-intelligent machine generated language. Wikipedia even decides it needed a new name, but I'm not sure Spoetry will really catch on (indeed, it has a non-notable notice on it).

The one above is like an echo of the memory of those early wordsalad bots, which started as an attempt to avoid work-checking filters and ended as a sort of wordmusic, computer generated but nevertheless lovely. I think we love it for the hint of intelligence, the sense that there might in some bot somewhere be something that in time and with care will straighten and self organise, like a child learning to talk. We briefly nurture these imitators before realising that the thing we are holding is a doll, a simulacrum, a generation.

And then think: maybe the next one.