Husband, father, digital mystic, game crafter, code weaver, and suburban philosopher, though not necessarily in that order. Creator of Mythic Wars (card game). Owner of Mystic Bits (Games and Stuff). Employed by AT&T (but I do not speak for them).


"It works the same way in any country."

1 min read

Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship... [V]oice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

  • Hermann Göring, 1946

The (Commercial) Web is Dying? So What?

4 min read

Lately, there seems to have been a up-tick in the never-ending debate about the web, advertising, and content-blocking. While Apple's recent introduction of content-blockers in iOS9 is the most proximate reason for this discussion, it isn't a new battle, and has been raging for quite some time. The basic argument is that many sites rely on advertising revenue to cover not just their costs, but also to turn a profit. And these web-based companies are (justifiably) concerned that ad-blocking could reduce (or destroy) that revenue stream, which might force them to shutdown.

To which I say, "so what?"

I'm not trying to be mean, but the fact is that lots and lots of businesses are forced to close every year, and many (most?) of them close because they have what some might call a "flawed business model". Like some others, I believe that's exactly what the "web advertising" model is, because if it wasn't, no one would be blocking the ads, there would be no heated discussion about it, and blog posts like this one would never exist. I mean, some may liken ad-blocking to stealing, but others see it for what it actually is - disruption.

Look, I've been online long enough to remember the early attempts at monetizing the web: first came the embedded banner ads, which paid-per-view, but were easily ignored by end users; then came the pop-up (and pop-under) ads, which were still pay-per-view, but which couldn't be ignored (unless you turned them off, since they relied on Javascript); then came embedded banners with a "pay-per-click" model, which didn't work because nobody wanted to actually click the links. And as each one rose to prominence, there were always those crying for people to engage with their ads ("If you don't click on one of my ads, I'll be forced to shut my site down!"). But the web remains.

And that's part of why I titled this the way I did. Even if the commercial web went away (which, let's be honest, it probably won't), it wouldn't be the end of the world: many sites which rely on donations or subscriptions would remain, as would storefronts and sites that support physical things. Plus, there are still many sites which are run more-or-less as hobbies, paid for by the people who run them. And, despite what the anti-blockers would say, there are other successful revenue models out there.

So, if you are a blogger or news site who is concerned about how this change will affect your bottom line, you have my sympathy: not because I block your ads (which I do), but because you put your faith in a fundamentally flawed business model (and believe me, you aren't the only one). If, however, you think I'm wrong, then I encourage you to take the next obvious step and start blocking (or Comic Sans-ing) users who run ad blockers. If your content is worth viewing ads for, then people who run blockers will turn them off just so they can see it. But be prepared for the horrifying truth: when people have to actually pay for something (either with their eyeballs and "unblock" buttons, or with cold-hard cash), your site may not be good/interesting/original enough to actually generate revenue. Again, you have my sympathy... but not my cooperation.

It has recently been asked what the web might have looked like if the ad-based model had never taken off. Since we can't rewind the clock, we can't know for sure what course history may have taken in that instance. But if we keep running ad-blockers long enough, we may yet find out.

EDIT: Fixed a typo, added a link.


How Kim Davis's Response Sounds to an Atheist / Agnostic

2 min read

Kim Davis, the KY clerk that refuses to do her job (and is in court today to answer for it) issued a statement yesterday defending her inaction.

I thought it might be instructive to swap out her personal imaginary friends for some others that people used to worship, and see how well her argument holds up.

Alternate reality Kim Davis's statement:

In addition to my desire to serve the people of Rowan County, I owe my life to Baldur who loves me and gave His life for me.... I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Thor Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with Wotan’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Ragnaork decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and Wotan’s Word.


Anti-GMO Scaremongering

1 min read

The people who push GMO labels and GMO-free shopping aren’t informing you or protecting you. They’re using you. They tell food manufacturers, grocery stores, and restaurants to segregate GMOs, and ultimately not to sell them, because people like you won’t buy them. They tell politicians and regulators to label and restrict GMOs because people like you don’t trust the technology. They use your anxiety to justify GMO labels, and then they use GMO labels to justify your anxiety. Keeping you scared is the key to their political and business strategy. And companies like Chipotle, with their non-GMO marketing campaigns, are playing along.

Unhealthy Fixation, William Saletan


Fatigue and Mastery

1 min read

Tero Parviainen (@teropa) has a nice piece about Overcoming Javascript Framework Fatigue, but don't let the title fool you - much of the advice can be applied those who work (and live) in most any rapidly-evolving field. Plus, it contains one of the best quotes from Rich Hickey (@richhickey, the creator of Clojure) about what skills a developer really needs to have (and those skills have nothing to do with preferred language or framework):

Programming mastery has little to do with languages, paradigms, platforms, building blocks, open source, conferences etc. These things change all the time and are not fundamental. Knowledge acquisition skills allow you to grok them as needed. I'd take a developer (or even non-developer!) with deep knowledge acquisition and problem solving skills over a programmer with a smorgasbord of shallow experiences any day.

Via HTML5 Weekly


RSS & Atom Making a Comeback?

1 min read

Baldur Bjarnason thinks he knows why RSS and Atom have come back into vogue, powering both Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles after years of disuse:

There’s one thing that’s very different this time around for RSS and Atom and it’s the reason why this time it might be different. Back then ‘just the HTML, no CSS, JS, or Flash’ meant nothing more than rich text with images.

Now, ‘just the HTML’ means rich text, video, audio, SVG, and more. While at the same time ‘HTML with CSS and JS’ has come to mean slow loading websites full of annoying ads and broken functionality (i.e. scroll-jacking).

It's that last point (again) that's the most important, IMHO, but it's also the one that seems to be falling on deaf ears.


On William Gibson and Cyberspace

3 min read

I've been on vacation for the last couple of days, and have used some of the time to finish reading William Gibson's excellent "Sprawl" series.

I actually read the first book in the series, Neuromancer, some 14 years ago, and always meant to get back to it, but just never did. Then, about 2 years ago, I re-read Neuromancer and dove straight into the second book, Count Zero, before again losing momentum and abandoning the series. While packing for our vacation, I happened across my copy of the third and final book in the series, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and I made the decision to use this vacation as an opportunity to finally finish reading the series, a feat that I accomplished just yesterday.

First, I have to say that I loved the book. You can tell that Gibson's style got more focused as the series went on, making each book better than the last. Also, the series fits his style well -- he has a habit of creating apparently unrelated strands of storytelling, featuring characters that don't seem to have anything to do with each other, and bringing them together in the climax. In that way, Mona Lisa Overdrive serves as the climax of the series itself, bringing apparently unrelated characters and story elements from the first two books together (along with some new ones) into an explosive ending.

Much of what I like about the series are the background elements, like the way he describes the sprawl and the histories of his characters. But, most of all, I love the idea of cyberspace:

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

As a computer nerd whose been into networking information and virtual worlds since the days of BBSing (and through into MUDs, the web, and even OpenSimulator, for a little while), the notion of connecting to digital realms directly via ones own mind has always appealed to me. In fact, one of the most depressing things about the books, to me, is that in the nearly 30 years since they were published, very little of that technology has come to pass.


Smartphone Cryptogeddon

3 min read

After yesterday's Senate committee hearing on encryption, wherein both FBI Director James Comey and New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. made some pretty nasty comments about strong encryption on smartphones and the end of the world potential problems it could bring, I thought it might be a good idea to remind everyone of what Representative Ted Lieu of California said back in April about why some users wanted smartphone encryption in the first place:

Why do you think Apple and Google are doing this? It's because the public is demanding it. People like me: privacy advocates. A public does not want an out-of-control surveillance state. It is the public that is asking for this. Apple and Google didn't do this because they thought they would make less money. This is a private sector response to government overreach.


[T]o me it's very simple to draw a privacy balance when it comes to law enforcement and privacy: just follow the damn Constitution.

And because the NSA didn't do that and other law enforcement agencies didn't do that, you're seeing a vast public reaction to this. Because the NSA, your colleagues, have essentially violated the Fourth Amendment rights of every American citizen for years by seizing all of our phone records, by collecting our Internet traffic, that is now spilling over to other aspects of law enforcement. And if you want to get this fixed, I suggest you write to NSA: the FBI should tell the NSA, stop violating our rights. And then maybe you might have much more of the public on the side of supporting what law enforcement is asking for.

Then let me just conclude by saying I do agree with law enforcement that we live in a dangerous world. And that's why our founders put in the Constitution of the United States—that's why they put in the Fourth Amendment. Because they understand that an Orwellian overreaching federal government is one of the most dangerous things that this world can have.

It might be worth point out that Rep. Lieu is one of four House members with computer science degrees, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves, and served for four years as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, making him (IMHO) someone knowledgeable in this area.

And it just so happens that fourteen of the world's top computer security experts agree with him, but who's counting.


Two Hard Things

1 min read

Came across this little ditty today, via Martin Fowler:

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.

-- Phil Karlton

Personally, though, I prefer the corollary:

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors.

Too true.


The Art of Authorship and Appropriation

1 min read

Christopher Sprigman takes another look at Richard Prince's Instagram Exhibit, and makes some bold conclusions:

Prince’s body of appropriation art is provoking a reassessment of the meaning of authorship at a time when ownership of creative works in our digital world is tenuous. Anyone with access to the Internet can take something made by others, copy it, change it, and distribute it at the click of a mouse. In this context, we can see that authorship is not a stable concept, but rather that it shifts as technology weakens the link between an “originator” and his work. You may like that or hate that; Prince is pointing it out, in the direct way that only art can.

As a would-be artist whose done some "appropriation art" myself (as well as a longtime fan of perpetual copyright-trolls, Negativland), I find this whole discussion fascinating. However, I have to admit that I'm more than a bit surprised at the sums he's been able to get for his "re"-work, and the implication that one man's copyright infringement is another man's high-brow art.