The Bomb

Odin as a Skald (Norse Storyteller)
Odin as a Skald (Norse Storyteller)

I bombed hard. In front of about 80 listeners I could feel my story fold, an uneasy cold creep upward from my feet, my pulse quicken, my eyes darting around the room looking for the one anchor in the audience I could vibe off of.

They’d come to be entertained, to laugh, to be confronted with new and borderline offensive things, and I failed. I’d slammed my head against the buildup, the most crucial part of the story, and hadn’t recovered. I’d already made some crucial goofs during the setup, giving away too much and faking a laugh at one point. There are no excuses for bombing a story but there are reasons. Mine was, as it turns out, a birthday party of about twenty that was, totally understandable, more concerned with their own than me. My mistake was to use this hard group as my first anchor, to bounce off them, to gauge my impact on a drunk, internally cohesive, and disinterested part of the audience. Continue reading “The Bomb” »

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years ago today I started blogging. From the ruins of an rather ill-fated MUD-like online game I’d written in Perl emerged a small hack that would allow me to write posts in Emacs, save them to a file, pull that file into a MySQL database, and then create from that database a set of static HTML files, littered with SSI include and execute statements.
Continue reading “Fifteen Years” »


Königsstuhl Funicular Railway

The Heidelberg funicular railway has a total length of 1.5 kilometres, making it the longest in Germany today. At its steepest point the railway has a 43% gradient. It starts in Heidelberg proper, ascending to the first stop (the castle) after which a switch from one of the world’s most modern funiculars to one of the world’s oldest (up to the Königsstein) happens. It’s 12€ ($15) for the full trip all the way up and down, castle visit and apothecary museum included.


OnePlus One Camera RAW images for your perusal

A number of friends on Google+ have asked to see some of the Camera RAW (actually they’re slightly lossy DNG) that are produced by the new CyanogenMod 11S Camera app.

Image 1The image above is processed in-phone from an in-phone DNG. OnePlus does not apply the same amount of incessant “smoothing” to the result which is, if you’re doing it later at home, a godsend but sucks slightly if there’s a need for decently smoothed ones out of the box.Not that the old JPG were any less problematic, just over- instead of under-smoothed.

This is important, however, to keep in mind. Unprocessed DNG images will always look softer and partially much less interesting, because no image processing has been done on them. DNG is completely useless as a straight-to-publish format, sensible processing is a necessity. Where it shines, however, is in situations where vendor software does a terrible job doing its automatic adjustments or a human eye is just a better way to establish fidelity. Continue reading “OnePlus One Camera RAW images for your perusal” »

Wrapped and Packed

I am going on a little trip around the country. Because it’s not a work trip I get to play around, which means I want to verify my old idea that I am traveling too heavy.

For this one I’ll take my phone and Chromebook. That’s it. Since virtually all my stuff goes online anyways I don’t really care about broadcast-ready videos and high resolution, high-DR, images. Google Photos has decent image editing, my Chromebook has a 5GB monthly cap, which is more than enough if I don’t do AutoBackup while on LTE.

I still want to do videos (watch out for one about polka and chickens today) and post pictures here and on Google+, still want to write (and be read), and still want to have all the things I am used to when lugging my laptop, expensive cameras, and image editing suite.

Let’s see how that works out :)


Webmentions and WordPress

TL;DR version at the end.

After installing the webmentions plugin and getting to work I noticed that webmentions didn’t show up on my blog. A quick Google search later and it appeared many people had this issue.

In my case (and presumably many others), the issue was with the way many themes deal with comments.  wp_list_comments takes an optional argument called type . Type can be  ‘all’, ‘comment’, ‘trackback’, ‘ping back’, or ‘pings’. Themes use this to split out pingbacks and trackbacks (type “pings” shows both).

Webmentions are “webmention,” however. So instead of relying on wp_list_comments I pulled them all with  wp_list_comments(array( 'type' => 'all' )) and relied on the  $comments_by_type[type] array, first showing comments, then webmentions, then pings. Something like this:

This has the additional benefit of being able to show ping and webmention counts ( comments_number only counts type ‘comment’) via  echo count($wp_query->comments_by_type[type]);.

TL;DR version:

Many WordPress themes use wp_list_comments with a type. Webmentions have their own type which is generally not considered in themes. If they don’t show up in your comments, check “comments.php” or “single.php” of your theme for this and adjust (in a child theme, of course) accordingly.

Ca. 1903 Typewriter

Write MORE

Conversation this morning with a friend1 who is writing her PhD thesis on new content and new media. Her research is amazing and she could very well be the kind of in-depth researcher we need to untwirl the complicated German media landscape that a late-1960s mindset built. One line stuck out in particular:

It’s not that Facebook and Twitter are eating blog and news’ bacon. It’s that those who make the bacon put it there almost exclusively. If people blogged as much as they did in 2006 and used Facebook as a sort of RSS feed for others’ blogs rather than an avalanche of tests and click bait headline reshares, blogs would still create the majority of content friend

I admit to being a piggy. Like (very likely) you I love the fast fix of upvotes, the hum of comments, the exhilaration of reshares. That’s what Facebook, G+, and Twitter sell. Because those are cheap. Clicking a Like or +1 button takes milliseconds. Few understand the algorithmic realities and its complex perfidity. Like one viral thing and you’ll see more viral things. Like some of those and very soon your feed will be an auxiliary front page for Huffington Post, Viralnova, Upworthy, and others. It’d be easy to presume, under such a colored umbrella, that that’s all there is. Only it isn’t.

Those pre-made headlines and content are amazing Like generators. A well constructed post headline about Emma Watson’s UN speech, reiterating what has been reshared dozens of times already, netted a friend of mine 124 Likes. At the same time her own thoughts on feminism and women in media got … 4.

But there is value out there that isn’t framed as a “Twelve Things” list, a “What X are you” quiz, or another, strikingly similar to the last, analysis of current events. It’s hidden below layers of data on your Facebook feeds, scrolling away faster than tears in rain.

(c) Jason DeFilippo - pic with gun
Don’t reshare this. Make your own.

By consuming content and liking it we are encouraged to consume more. And, because time is a constant, create less. The second leg of this spiral not only cleanses our feed of anything not mass produced for a liking audience, it also limits creators to a scant few, handing them the golden keys to the Facebook feeds of this world.

The best (and, I fear, only) way out of this is creation and appreciation thereof. Create. It doesn’t matter what. Take your own pictures and share them on Facebook, G+, and your blog/tumblr instead of resharing Imgur and 9Gag. Write your own content, on Facebook or G+, Tumblr or your own blog. Invent, communicate, rant, ramble. Turn Facebook into a colorful and amazing festival of topics, ideas, and people. Don’t reshare the reshare. Don’t consume without creating. Follow your friends’ posts and pictures and ideas to the source. Upvote originality, life events, links to blogs and Tumblrs and Flickr photosets. Reshare them. For only four weeks don’t upvote anything not created by the person in your stream, don’t share anything you didn’t create. Together, in a scant 30 days we can all reward creators and tell those who make millions with reshared and linked content that value comes from creation more than curation.

But, Jonas, I am a busy professional. And I [have a duty/want to/need to] inform my friends about this amazing story about [something]. I don’t have time to write my own and this one is good. Absolutely. But, see, this is Facebook. If it’s an amazing story it’ll have been reshared about ten to twenty times that morning alone. I dare you, come on, check the Facebook activity graph for any of those websites and you’ll see. Large online media like Vice, Verge, or RawStory draw more than two thirds of their traffic from Facebook. Even old school media like the NYT get over thirty percent of its online eyeballs from Facebook shares. You’re not informing me, you’re handing my Facebook feed over to them. You give them access to my eyeballs. Make the Big Five work for theirs for a change. Compete. Because if I want HuffPo content in my stream I follow them. I follow you because I want you.

Yes, we all are super fascinated by the 260th picture of whatever Doctor Who actor did something really cute that one day. Do something really cute yourself. Don’t reshare another Bill Bailey “this is what a feminist looks like” — I want to see what YOU look like. Because, far as feminists go, you’re more important to me than him. Blog it. Post it. Break the death spiral that means less creators and worse feeds.

[pic with gun: Jason DeFilippo]

  1. Name withheld to protect the innocent

Why looking at sales lines and your rant about numbers is invalid

Browse the web and you might be forgiven for sensing a lot of glee. In a mere few days Apple’s iOS 8 and iPhone 6 (+Plus) has moved a lot of people. Ten million new owners, lines that stretch down five streets and around a park, twenty thousand people waiting in a steadily rising heap of trash, half-eaten pizzas, and urine to buy a phone. A phone, ferkrissakes.

Apple Store Line, Google Maps/Dylan Love, BY-CC
Apple Store Line, Google Maps/Dylan Love, BY-CC

It’s easy to feel smug. No Android, no Windows, no Blackberry, heck, nothing out there has created lines and demand as much as this piece of glass, metal, plastic, and assorted bits. And no OS has seen as fast an adoption as this one. Proof that Apple rules? Not so fast.

There is a main difference between Apple’s and Android’s approach to hardware and an even bigger one to software. Apple’s users know one thing very well when standing in line for a new device: what they will ultimately hold in hand after shelling out their 899€ is the best thing they can possibly own within their ecosystem.

Spend a few minutes looking at Android forums and you’ll understand the difference. Here comparisons aren’t just common, they’re the bread and butter for everyone in the market for a new phone. Is the LG G3 better, worse, or equal to the OnePlus One? Can the purchase of a Samsung S5 be justified if there’s a Sony Z3 on the horizon? And, of course, which one has the best battery, camera, processor, screen, or loudspeaker. Android users have learned to take the bad with the good, to focus their purchases on a list of things they’re passionate about.

With Apple there is no such process. This new phone, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, is now and will be for at least a year the best thing possible, warts and all. Don’t like something? Sure, there’s always a line in twelve months you can stand in. Start saving about 100€ every month now and you’ll have the money for it, too. Because spending that much on release day on something that dramatically improves upon an existing lock-in is much less a mental exercise as the gradual and often not linear upgrade path in Android.

Here, as with iOS 8, Apple also finally caught up to a glaring deficiency in its lineup: phones bigger than those it designed for tight skinny jeans hipster pockets and not much else. The same pundits spending tens of thousands of words sourpussing Android’s perceived size disadvantage are now, rightfully, lauding the phone’s new dimensions. Apple makes it easy, you don’t really have a choice. Stay small or grow up. Get the new hotness or stay with last years’ hardware specs.

With a lack of hardware comes a much easier software decision. Apple orients its iPhone along the same lines as its desktop market: one size fits all (who can afford it). As pointed out by many, often in a derogatory manner meant to disparage coders from developing for Android, poor people use Android. Yes, there’s something very Alice-Waters-esque about lines that claim that everyone could just, you know, not eat as much and save up to afford a two-year lock-in with AT&T, but the reality shows that this is simply not a very responsible demand or action.

Within the Android ecosystem at performance parity and down to half the price point of a new iOS device, KitKat isn’t just adopted by those oft-cited 25% of users. In fact, for phones on feature parity with and down to 1/2 the price point of an iPhone, KitKat adoption is closer to 94 percent. Taken together with $99 (unlocked, out of contract) smartphones and $119 tablets, yes, Gingerbread makes an inroad. Which, given the importance of Google Play Services over an OS version, isn’t a bad thing.

While fragmentation is the funny boogeyman Apple users love to conjure when nothing else works, at roughly 23.4 million Kitkat devices activated every month, Android still forges ahead. And that “fragmentation?” Back in the desktop days, before Apple’s “one size fits all that can afford it” approach, programmers knew that as “device independent programming.” It enabled and enables schools in Chad to run the same apps on their $100 PC as I am currently running on my $1200 one, even on the same OS — Linux. Who cares that I am running a very recent kernel, compiled from the beta sources on and theirs is a 2.6 kernel that came with their low hardware dependency Linux distribution. We’re both running XFCE and Libre Office.

I completely understand the rush to iOS 8 by Apple’s users. With it Apple finally fixes many glaring holes in its OS, from third party keyboards to intent sharing (share from one app directly into another, allowing an app to declare what it wants to receive). For the same reason I understand the lines outside Apple stores. Imagine, if you’re an Android user, to be locked in for years, by virtue of your digital purchases being dependent on one hardware maker. Imagine finally, after five years, to be offered a sensibly sized phone. You’d stand in line, too.

iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 did away with the Jobsian “daddy knows best” and entered a new kind of era in which customer centric design and user experiences take the center stage. Luckily Android users don’t have to rush and wait numerous hours for an OS download to get Intents, Keyboards, and sensible notifications – even those in the Gingerbread camp on their $99 devices had them since 2009.

Don’t get me wrong. The iPhone 6 is an amazing piece of tech. So is iOS 8. Both show that Apple employs and empowers amazing developers and designers. There’s something very zen and very attractive about the whole iSomething line of things. As an Android user I always feel a little like my OS is this amazingly powerful tool that I just need more time to completely understand. On iOS I never feel this way. It is what it is, there’s no secret menu, no hidden switch to tickle out five more percent performance or thirty more minutes of video before the battery dies. That’s to Apple’s credit. It built an ecosystem and a language around its products that is appealing and attractive. It does things, not always the best way but always in a good way. And it knows where its users will pay the price. Android doesn’t, it still feels like it wants to figure out what it is before growing.

So next time someone croons about mile long lines or the rapid iOS 8 adoption just smile and tell them that, sure, but we didn’t have to elbow our way to the buffet line for hours, we had our cake and ate it too since Android 2.0.

[Image: Casey Neistat]