Monday, December 02, 2019

closing multiple dialogue boxes in my sleep

I've been on a lot of websites recently researching all sorts of things, mostly unfamiliar sites, but some I visit far too regularly for the amount of GDPR punishment beating the site is handing out, particularly considering that I tick "yes" to all tracking cookies.

For anyone bristling at that and saying harrumph-glumph-what-about-your-privacy, well, yes. Fair. There was a hilarious column in the Guardian last week where a reader had written in to ask if anything terrible would happen if she accepted cookies.

EVERY SINGLE REPLY read "Never accept cookies!!!!!!!!!!! Here is how not to accept them!!!!!!!!!!!! Your privacy is being STOLEN!!!!!! with an occasional side-helping of "People are all wrong about the internet, and this is why and let me tell you about my book on this very topic, Sheeples". Although of course, it being the Guardian, the grammer was perfect and of naturally there were no actual ALLCAPS and !!!bangs!!! But fortunately I am fluent in middle class and can detect caps and bangs in the mildest and most reasonable of sentences.

Not a single one answered the original question. So yes, on that. I have been mindfully, and in full self-awareness, ticking yes to all cookies since the notifications came in, bar some basic safety behaviours relating to untrustworthy pop-ups and untrusted sites. Nothing has happened at all, and this, I'm afraid, disappoints me.

You see, I had been hoping that clicking yes to these would stop them appearing, all the time, and usually all over things I wanted to look at.

It hasn't. Many sites fail to remember your preferences, and you still continually get assaulted by endless requests, even on one browsing visit.

Plus this has opened a floodgate for other information barriers, like whining requests to turn your adblocker off (mmmm, dear, I would, but your damn adverts keep crashing my browser, turning on my speakers to auto-play talk-radio obnoxious videos, and slowing page load to a reluctant I-can't-squeeze-the-information-through-this-tiny-space-left crawl), demands to sign up to mailing lists I'm already signed up to, and the terrible, terrible robot-chat dialogue boxes.

Frequently I do the browser equivalent of storming out of the shop because the shop assistant wouldn't stop saying things to you in a pointed, are-you-actually-a-shoplifter tone. Leave. Me. Alone. I'm just looking.

You don't have to read all of the above, by the way - this 2018 video sums it up nicely, except a few extra pop-ups have been added since then. You can just watch the videos.

If we carry on at this rate, we'll be spending all of our browsing time in Futurama's accessing the internet sketch, drowned in ads, quasi ads and worse, cookie-shackled into endless cycles of saying, YES, I want to access the information on this page.

It might be bearable, I heard someone say on a popular social networking site that does not bother with such things, if there was an option to type 'f*ck off'' into a dialogue box. 

True that. Like them, I frequently find myself typing 'f*ck off'' into imaginary dialogue boxes in my head, especially when I get to the sixth on one website.

So, Firefox. Could you make us a nice browser extension that does that? Pretty please?

Best make the exact wording customisable, though I guess, as lots of cultures are less sweary than the Brits. 

N.B. Grammatical and spelling errors included for extra authenticity.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

ten thousand photographs

When I got a new camera for a new project which would involve taking a lot of photographs I bought a big memory card. The largest one that seemed sensible, in fact. The camera, however, was but a gussied-up compact. The sort of camera that provokes feelings of puzzlement; for anyone not serious enough to get a proper camera would surely just use their phone. I had my reasons, of course. I needed to take a lot of photos. But at the same time they needed to be snapshots. Not semi-pro flushed up gussied brochure picturelings. They needed to feel real; like a reference shot taken by a location scout, or an image taken by a pre-surveyor, just to show where everything is. They needed to be point and click, point and crunch, point and blur.

Ten thousand shots later, I find I have made a mistake. I plug in the camera as an external drive as normal and cannot see the latest set of photographs. Further investigation finds that the shots are on the camera, but everything above shot 9999 is labelled as shot 9999. Further investigation discovers that under some circumstances windows machines can be left unable to see the data as a result of the 9999 limitation. But this is a pretty rare problem. It doesn't always happen. But it has done, to me, now.

I've dropped the camera a few times, like you do, so that may have had an impact. The memory card is doubtless not the item of purest perfection it was back in its blister pack, thanks to the rigours of heat, humidity and a hard knock pocket life. Both are bits of hardware that deal more in replacement than repair. The computer is due an upgrade, but I found the exact same problem occurring on his more up-to-date sister. And that's me all out of easy fixes.

So now I'm setting up a human system to manage the 9999 limitation without eating up all of my time. But really, what a faff.

Monday, October 21, 2019

access revoked: sleepio one year on

Just over a year since I completed my Sleepio course, my access suddenly expired. You can tell whether you're using something, whether it matters to you. Within the hour I'd emailed them twice, from both registered email addresses. They were prompt in responding - a missing warning email was the culprit, although their logs should have shown them that the account was in active use. But on the other hand, it's supposed to be a four week programme. What am I doing, still using it, twelve months on?

I'd say there's a series of factors:

  • I'm still suffering from insomnia, periodically. It's not so often, but it does still happen.
  • I still feel I should be sleeping more and more restfully than I am
  • Sleepio membership acts as a strategy reminder; remember, you know this and you can do this
  • I'm using it as a useful daily sleep journal, taking impressions of sleep every morning
  • I have a year's worth of quite accurate sleep data, which is sunk effort

I was back online within hours and back on Sleepio the following day, thanks to their excellent customer service. But it got me wondering. Should I be weaning myself off Sleepio? I do a lot of daily diary actions. Do I really need this one?

And then the season started changing, my insomnia started biting, and I needed it again.

Maybe I'll let it go in the new year.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

the leaving work tab-dump and the professional twitter

The professional Twitter @mrsjeremyday might be getting more use than the personal one nowadays. Partly that's the intensification of the middle aged public sector career. You're always either in frantic catch-up or being flung around by outsourcings and restructures, or both, and there is less left over for personal life, even the tiny, interstitial bits of it. Partly it's that, like everyone else, I'm more of a visual communicator nowadays in my personal life, and as a super early-adopter (I started using it back when it was a text-message service) I never got the habit of putting pictures in my tweets.

That's OK for the professional twitter, though, because she has two pretty solid jobs to do. Number one will be familiar to most: the dreaded conference twitter-huddle, the scramble for #hashtags, the quick run-through the half-dozen other profiles tweeting, the little boom as your professional circle expands, and you get another dozen news-threads bringing you the good - or at any rate, novel - stuff. So yes, I'm one of those who suddenly messing up your trending list with an inexplicable acronym periodically.

The other job is maybe a bit more personal. Most working days include a bit of click-around, a bit of research, a bit of checking, reading, discovering. That stuff gets dissolved into the work I'm doing of course, but I also usually don't want to just close all these useful things when the light drops out of the sky and the cleaners turn up with their increasingly futuristic hoovers. Spread the joy. And so the ritual is born of the end of day tab-dump, excerpted fragments and useful diagrams dropped into my twitter stream in a tea-time splurge as I'm trying to leave the office.

Sometimes, the tab-dump allows me to pick up a fresh news perspective on something that has relevance to my work head, but another tto my home head, as I'm sliding between the two. Consider this tweet, for example:
I'd been checking out loot box information to improve our gaming and regulation advice for parents and carers, and had managed to hack through to some actual research. Almost the sweetest meat in this paper was in their limitations section, where they reflected that recruiting survey respondents via Mechanical Turk may have queered their sample. As an online piece-worker myself (I Yougov, which is lower risk and reward than Mechanical Turk, but comes with its own problems - generally a stab of guilt when I discover it commissioned to produce yet another dead cat or dog whistle for a problematic think tank) I keep an eye on the innovations in the area, and I agree with the authors of the paper. They recruited exclusively from optimistic, gambling-prone, system-gamers, and this probably did change their results, although the actual findings from this generator of headlines and policy change were modest, and in essence came down to this; a small number of adolescents are vulnerable to becoming problem gamblers, in line with adults.

Monday, August 26, 2019

into the digital inferno

I have an admission to make; I save up my papers. I save up my long reads especially. So I'm writing about this article digesting a twitter-is-awful book by Richard Seymour days late. And he's talking about one of Mary Beard's twitter scandals, which might have made the news but not in any way that the signal intruded far enough for me to see it, and I'm thinking about Mary and the Troll, and also Anonyjournalist and Troll, and it's all the fault of the Guardian, once described to me by a digital marketing workshop-leader as the single biggest source of high accessible quality content items online, honestly this (stuff) just pouring out of them, constantly, all of the time in tones of such spitting outrage I couldn't even. His point? You don't need to burden the world with more content. Just find a suitable article in the Guardian Archives and use that.

So here I am, doing that, but also adding my 2porth of course, as that is blogger right.

These two stories about trolls tell you pretty much everything about why Trolls exist, why they're engaged with and why they're even approved and tolerated:

Mary and the Troll

Mary was repeatedly targeted by a troll on twitter. Well actually, lots of them, but she picked out one, the worst, the most horrible of all of the trolls. She engaged with him personally and found out a way to make him respond back in a way that inserted information packets into the abuse. With hard work and determination she managed to engage her troll and get him talking to her. Eventually she managed to meet him. They had a satisfying discussion, and (so the story goes) they are still in touch today and she values him as an interesting and helpful friend. The entire internet said to that, Well done Mary, you did really well there.

The Journalist and the Troll

There was once a journalist who wrote online. He was a prominent and sometimes controversial figure and attracted trolls. These did not much bother him; he saw them as part of the job, and did not engage with them. The journalist had a wife. She was an intellectual, and a Jew, and beautiful and had her own career. The journalist was very proud of his wife. One day, one of the trolls started to target his wife. The journalist said that this was part of the job and that she should ignore it. The trolling got worse. The troll found out where she lived and started leaving little hints in the abuse. Eventually things started turning up on her car, on their doorstep. Imaginative, horrible things. The journalist hired a private detective who found out that the troll was the teenage son in a family they knew a little, socially. The detective and the journalist went to visit the family. The parents said: we are not surprised. The journalist and the detective spoke to the boy. He promised to stop. The journalist's wife never went back on the internet. 

These little stories (and it's worth saying both are more complicated than my folk tale digest versions above) roll everything in, from acceptable performances of femininity to the eternal pressure to forgive young men for unforgivable behaviour. But they also place the Troll firmly in its value space; consensus-maintainer, societal attack dog foaming at the throat of the non-conformative, catspaw of the faux-liberal, chaser of dissenting voices out of the media-cultural-normative state.

I'm a Twitter user, personal and professional, but I don't get into fights. It's not my mode, as they say. My original interaction with Social Networking sites wasn't the reality-show flicker of watching social chaos unfurl, but grounded in observation and practicality - organise a party, find my friends in a field, take a field note about bees. This means that a lot of the time, as now, I'm reading people writing about using Twitter and thinking: you're doing it wrong. But, out of the chaos, as ever (hurrah for the internet hive mind), items of information value emerge

time on device

What's your TOD daily? It's something to keep an eye on. And also something to watch out for. I play Candy Crush, which is rotten with bullshit screens that do nothing but keep you in-game for another millisecond, and I don't pay for my scrabble which means it contains a variety of tedious adverts. These both string your TOD - learn your countermeasures.

incentives and choke points

Here's an interesting thing; incentives are obvious, but why do choke-points also motivate? We're the problem-solving ape and want nothing more that a figure-out solution with a sweet reward. A puzzle box with a sweet inside. Trying to motivate yourself? The sweets are great, but don't forget the puzzle box!

soft, nacreous glow

Ah, full fathom five my dear friends lie, those are pixels that were their eyes. I also go into the social net to visit my dead. As we build up the social layers, it becomes a digital underworld, redolent with the distractions of the past. In 1990, just as I was going onto the internet for the very first times, Peter Greenaway and Tom Phillips created A TV Dante, which reimagined that sink into the past, death and silence as a mush of trancey digital animation, phrasal fragments and hyperstimulation, the Orb car-crashed into the back end of an English Degree, and right now I'm playing little fluffy clouds and the TV Dante in my back-tabs, and honestly? You should try this.

mercurial reward zone

It's a nostrum that uncertain rewards keep you returning. But actually, if it's just mercurial and not very rewarding, you don't come back unless there is pleasure in the act of being confused. I was trying to explain this to a friend last week. It didn't go well. But all games designers do this. They make a mercurial reward zone, where people can wander, dizzy and delighted. And it can just keep on applying out - friendships, parties, houses, relationships,  an entire world of giddy delights.

blackpilling - online self abuse

When I cover this in training, I call it self-trolling. Others prefer terms like cyber self-harm. When I saw this article call it blackpilling, I felt he'd missed a nuance. And yes, the black pill is the sucking lie that all is bullshit, blackpilling is the act of airing this socially and none of this is quite the stimulating, rewarding/risky game of sock-puppeting your own troll, except in the broadest sense. But it's useful to see concepts like this emerge, become actualised, and cracked out into online social space, and always welcome to see another axis added into the blue pill/red pill dichotomy.

Final word to Jarvis today; take the time on device that supports you, but watch out for the incentives and choke points as you bathe in the soft nacreous glow of timeless space, because, without blackpilling here, this mercurial reward zone can steal your life:

Sunday, August 04, 2019

an unprecedented avalanche of data

One of my main aims in life is to have enough available data to reconstruct me from recordings (of course) and in thinking about this I came across this discussion of big data where, slightly lovably, the introduction declares that "there’s no need to worry about insufficient sample sizes or test group results—because the sample size is no less than everything".

It's never everything, of course. There are people who life-log madly, record belches and shits. They always have; before the internet there were little flexible books full of spidery writing. Somewhere back in the dawn of time are scratches on bone, cuts in clay, which say "Good day, ate fish, weather dull." But no, I like to think of myself as a curator, and I was amused to be given in the same article the 8 vs of big data - a metric to measure myself against! Wonderful.

Volume asks, is there so much data you get lost in it? And I don't think I do. It's fun to get lost in it sometimes, of course, but generally my autobiographical data sits at a manageable quantity.

Value refers to how good your indexing is, I think. I use tag-based indexing in my photolog, but rely on titles and roughly rememebering when things happened for my online diary. Needless to say my sketch a day doesn't help unless I know which block of time something happened in. If I know that, it's fine. So my volume level is not overwhelming, good.

Veracity, though. Do I lie, exaggerate or tweak what happened? That's a very interesting question because everything is filtered through the authorial process. That means inevitable obfuscations and adjustments. I'm a fairly reliable narrator, though, especially on private filter.

Visualisation is the name of the game for my sketch diary, though I only occasionally include diagrams. The decision it most often triggers is to sort out clothes or hair.

Variety of modes and approaches and subject themes is definitely in place. Sometimes my information is not very balanced though, I will admit.

Velocity Evolution in real time is something that really took off with my twitter and instagram, but I remember experimenting, a very long time ago, with text message microblogging live from abroad. Some of my readers (I was on a long-form blog at the time) howled in pain, I don't understand. Velocity, immediacy, that crease through the present moment. I can't find these, suggesting a problem with volume (although it's really just that my journal is among the many bits of the web google doesn't index).

Viscosity Ohhhh, stickiness. I love a bit of data stickiness. All of the recording activities are designed to improve that, really, to make a thing stick in the mind. Some of my records are very sticky indeed. Others like wisps of mist that dissipate.

Virality I only ever went viral once. I was boing-boinged, for pictures of toys, of all things. I didn't send it in, it happened as by-catch -- they had a story about Barbie dolls and wanted to make a joke about it all being the fault of Ken dolls, so probably just ran an image search and turned me up. We bought more server space, and I left a polite message on the post, but I would generally not aim for virality. When your story spreads significantly beyond your sphere it is no longer about you, but about the feelings, ideas and attitudes of the people propagating the story. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Facebook, why are you showing me adverts for [!!!]

So, I started getting adverts for [!!!]*** in my feed recently, and my first thought after I haven't been searching for that, was I haven't been talking about that. That pub conversation about the creepy ads that pop up suggesting something discussed earlier that day, like an over-eager personal assistant trying to anticipate needs you never thought you had, that happens nowadays. And I don't think it's just internet pareidolia, seeing order and intent in the random straw-scatter of commercial trolling. Although I'm still not sure why the internet is bringing me [!!!].

So, I'm fairly loose with my permissions on my phone - I'm a Google Guide, I have a timeline, I run phone games with sweeping permissions, linked up to my Facebook. Bixby's only partially set up (my assistant app) but I use google to identify music quite a lot, so it's used to listening. I should be a nice visible smear of data to the main data-brokers, with a location, interests, soundtrack and oh, waaay more. But could it really be listening?

Sure, I think so. I'm not even sure it would be hard. I'm while I'm not an expert in this area by any means here is my hypothesis.

All listening apps (and Facebook is one, because you can use it for phonecalls) keep a small amount of audio in buffer at all times (and Google is one, so you can run audio searches) so it can check for activation phrases (and Apple is one so it can run Siri) and become better at understanding your voice (and honestly, I could go on here for a while). Google knows where these files live. Possibly, lots of programmes know where these files live. If your phone and operating system are aligned (oh, and they have to be, so that audio can be improved on phone calls with poor connections) then those files can be accessed, analysed and used, perhaps to improve speech recognition technology (Google are open about doing this) and perhaps to give you a pair of jeans that might match the conversation you had about them earlier.

You'll notice I'm not saying this in a tone of any great panic. Part of the nature of buffered information is that it is both disposable and rapidly disposed, and audio is data-heavy. The vast bulk of this audio information will be dumped, though (as various experiences with web-cam data breaches have taught us), there are probably some bits and bobs retained as baseline, sample and reference, blah blah blah. That little ripple of activity around the data food source of the noise you're making is a weak and evanescent signal, not strong enough to do more than tweak an ad or improve a location report.

Who's listening? Mainly algorithms and analysis software, though good old Amazon puts samples to human ear. And what's it linked up to? If you visit that article (again - you probably read it once already) you'll note that it came from a whistle blower worried that they had neither reporting mechanism nor capability for troubling audio content. They couldn't identify the users as data was stripped of identification data on the way to the human listener, so no mechanisms for reporting data according to concerns about the individual was included in the business process. Protecting privacy and avoiding responsibility often do go hand in hand; and I suspect that you may insert qualifiers into that sentence. But it isn't always about what's possible. It's also about what's practicable.

So: algorithms filtering my audio wormcast for actionable data that my be used to fine-tune my advertising offer before said audio is dispersed by the tides of automated data cleansing? Practicable.  My phone listening in on my every word and alerting a third party when I make produce concerning content? Possible, and sadly I do know that there are apps for that, which are often used in the context of abuse, grooming and domestic violence. But doing that for everyone? Neither practicable (we don't have the resources for follow-up) nor possible (the processing power required would not be available) nor profitable (signal to noise ratio all wrong).

Tech giants listening to everything I say and using it to build a profile of me that could be used to deepfake my identity? In my dreams. No, seriously, I dream of having that much processing power dedicated to replicating my identity. It's a sort of tech immortality. Or not, I guess. Would you care?

To return briefly to [!!!], ****I should clarify that [!!!] in this case does not refer to the band. It's just a thing, you know. But not a thing I'd discuss in a public context. Never mind here's some music

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

trying to find a picture of a man in a black dress on google

There's a particularly fine image of a man at an awards gala of some kind in an incredibly beautiful black ball dress. The ball dress is designed for him and fits him beautifully. There is no falsifying or euphemising of his figure. He looks beautiful and handsome, manly and provocative, stylish and iconoclastic. It's a stunning picture.

But you can't find it on google because when you search for "man in a black ball dress" Google performs a truly shockingly awful heteronormative correction. Men in black formals, interspersed with the occasional black man. Halfway down the page, women in black ball dresses start to creep in (along with women in other coloured ball dresses). Man in a black ball dress? Clearly I meant man in black tie.

Perhaps I'm being too complicated. What about man in a ball dress? Well, I get the brilliant Spider Man Grad Dress, and Ant McPartlin's rather lacklustre contribution to the genre (poorly fitted, decided lack of working it going on), and some people called the Try Guys putting on wedding dresses (very campy, very comedy, a tad laddish). but apart from that it's 20 FULL ROWS of standard men in formals and women in prom dresses before I hit the image I was looking for:

And even then, when I've hit similar images, and I only have pictures of Billie Porter (for it is he) in a dress (well, for the first six rows, anyway), almost none of which are startlingly offensive, there's a still a bunch of tedious conservative formals for men in my shopping bar at the top and a rapid fall-away into women in dresses and men in formals after that.

Of course there is a lot of political and social sensitivity around all of this. You can read some of it through the links on the search for Black Man in a Black Dress. The top result is now showing an ally of the image above (result) and the second link taking me through to a good digestion of the issue (also a result) although there's still (of course) plenty to upset/offend in the results.

But given just how many pictures of guys in dresses there are on the internet, the presence of these images still feels weirdly light (for example: although some rockers and rappers have gone through stages of wearing dresses, although fashion houses frequently bring out dresses for men, and although some cultures have plenty of dresses available for both sides of the gender coin, these images are barely visible). Almost as if, even for me, with my search history and visible identity, google is feeling wary about a certain kind of image, and where it is finding them, it's still taking care not to serve me up anything that feels like it might be normalising, promoting or celebrating male glamour.

Not when it can serve me identikit American prom dress purchase opportunities as far as the eye can see.  

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.