Tildeverse

The Tildeverse is a bunch of shared UNIX or UNIX-like servers (in reality, all the ones I know of are Linux, which <sigh>), with individual user accounts, or "tildes" after the way you refer to a home directory in a URL or UNIX command line: ~name.

Anyone can sign up for one of these, tilde.town got back to me in a couple days over the holiday and I expect they're faster during reasonable times.

So over the holiday I made a simple little web page, then wrote some ASCII-art (and Emoji-art) games in Javascript, and now I've written an operator's manual for a fictional computer, the TTMS-76 (Tilde Town Microcomputer System '76). I'm thinking about making some 3D renders of it, patriotic colors to match the American Bicentennial in 1976. I'll probably mirror all this on mysticdungeon.club when I work out what I'm doing with that.

There's a bunch of little command-line utilities on tilde, like alpine for local mail, feels for blogging from text editor, botany for watering a plant, poem to get a random poem, chat for a friendly local-system IRC; there's also a public IRC on Tildeverse (but it's more what you'd expect from a public IRC, so you may not like that).

If you used to use a shared UNIX server, this will all be very familiar and fun. If you haven't, it's a great way to learn more about command-line tools, how shared hosting works, how to write HTML the old-fashioned way, and so on.

The Far Side: Cow Tools as a Web Service

Remember back in the 1980s (technically, 1979-1995), for those of you alive then, The Far Side was the best comic in newspapers. Uh, see, they printed blogs and Florida Man stories on paper… Uh, cut down the Amazon rain forest and pulped the wood, rolled it into sheets, dyed it white, and put ink on it. Well, not everyone had computers, OK? No, their phones didn't have displays, either. Sometimes didn't even have buttons, just a rotary dial you kids can't operate. I'm getting off topic.

So. After 25 years of fucking around, Gary's finally got someone to make him a website and publish his comics, a few every day. Here's the thing: It sucks. There's no RSS feed. Little indiction of when a comic was first printed; the year is shown in copyright, but some were probably held over months or years from when first copyrighted to when they were printed. And most ridiculously, it hammers the Disqus server, which I have blocked by both /etc/hosts and Ghostery, so the page just fills up the console complaining, and eventually crashes; happily Safari sandboxes pages now, but in the old days this would've crashed the browser. The page source is 2000 lines, and a bunch of loaded libraries, most of which are there for loading & showing ads. I don't see ads, because they're all loaded at runtime and I block everything, but I assume it's just a wall of popups and autoplay video for the handful of suckers who don't have blockers yet.

Oh, and there's an attempt to stop people from right-clicking & saving images, but you can just drag the image out in Safari, or screenshot it on any computer. Idiots who don't understand how computers work shouldn't try making "security" choices like that.

The whole thing competently written would just be an RSS feed in the header, a banner, a single on-server static image ad, a cartoon, and forward/back buttons. Less than 20 lines, take a programmer an afternoon to write it including a script to generate each day's cartoon and update the RSS XML file.

So now it sits in my "daily bookmarks folder" which I don't hit every day, of shitty sites I have to open manually, look at, then close because they're garbage sites written by garbage people.

OS Compatibility and the Web

OK, not EOL yet, but soon. Long before any rational person would switch to an untested, incompatible new OS version. Among other things, anyone using Adobe software can't go to Catalina.

The policy I like is to support the last two or three major OS releases. There are good techniques in Objective-C to support testing for new features and falling back if you don't have them; I don't think most of those work in Swift, because Swift's an amateur hour language.

Happily, I use Feedbin to sync my RSS feeds rather than keep them all local, so when NNW stops updating I can just go back to a working web interface. Sad that Brent keeps resurrecting and killing his app, but that's what he gets for chasing Apple's tail.

This is why the web beats native applications. You can indeed make a better interface in native code; you can't maintain it, and you can't port it. The native dev is constantly chasing a new API that breaks everything past, and fighting with garbage tools like Xcode. The web dev just needs ed or another text editor, and only has to target the browser, which is a moving target but has backfills and a compatibility policy, and native browsers generally work on the last two major OS releases. Firefox is a UI shitshow, but still supports OS X 10.9 Mavericks (2013); Safari obviously is part of the OS, and the last few changes are making me strongly consider moving off it, but this Mojave version will keep browsing the web just fine long after Catalina is released.

The ideal of cross-platform languages ever since UCSD Pascal is to get the best of both worlds, write code once and have it compile and run everywhere, and ignore underlying OS changes.

NetNewsWire is Back!

I've been running it for the last day, and it's stable and fast.

Syncing to my Feedbin account works great; the Feedbin web UI is usable, but especially the last redesign leaves me somewhat annoyed, and it has very limited keybindings. NNW also has local OPML subscriptions, if you don't need to sync and don't mind waiting forever for it to fetch from every blog and deal with everyone's crazy broken RSS. I like Feedbin centralizing that nonsense, just replacing the UI has been a problem.

NNW has everything keyboard-driven, but I'm not enamored of some of its choices (Help, Keyboard Shortcuts). I'd prefer vi keys, and those are a dangerous habit with Brent's keybindings (l is mark all as read, next; k is mark all as read; I almost never want to do that, and want to hide those behind a warning). I'll either get used to them or see if I can rebind them from system settings. The code's on github, so worst case I can just fork it and hack my own keys in.

The reader's pretty nice. Stays in dark mode when I have that selected; I've seen a couple feeds insert their own background image/color which is obnoxious, but if that's what the feed contains, it should probably show it.

I miss in-app browser tabs. For webcomics (which rarely put full-size images in the feed) I often launch a bunch of them into their own tabs and then read them, which in Feedbin's web UI is (while more-comics? (middle-click title) (press 'space "next comic")) and in NNW is (while more-comics? (press 'b "open the current comic in browser") (press 'alt-tab "back") (press 'space "next comic")). Maybe it's possible to open a browser tab in the background?

A million times better than the years-late, rarely-updated Black Pixel release which had their own broken sync server.

Update: One feature I'm loving is drag-and-drop blogroll reorganization. Got a feed somewhere wrong? Drag. Drop. Synced. Fucking done. In Feedbin, you have to have the feed visible (unread or switched to "all" mode), the old way you'd hit Tags (folders) and just change the text in the dialog box, but they changed it to an Edit button which pops up a giant list of all your tags (folders) and you switch them on/off. Utterly awful if you use a lot of tags (folders) like I do. And yes, I'm annoyed perpetually by the "tags" concept, which doesn't exist in OPML, only folders.

Internet Fun Day

Oh, for fuck's sake, the Humorless Asshole Squad have started their yearly complaints about Internet Fun Day 3 days early.

Can we all just agree that if you're a humorless asshole, you should stay off the Internet from Mar 31-Apr 2, and you can pretend it never happened, and the rest of us can have fun? No? I suppose humorless assholes are also by their nature offended that other people are having fun without them. Microsoft, ground zero of humorless assholes, is banning Internet Fun Day events. As if anything they ever do isn't a prank on their users!

That's OK. I will still do something fun, and laugh at the pranks other people do. The Fools will always win!

Using Twitter as a Bad RSS Feed

So, there's no individual RSS feed for The Macalope on the rotting corpse of MacWorld. The Macalope used to have its own blog with an RSS feed, but it hasn't posted regularly in months, maybe years. But, there is a Twitter feed @themacalope.

Back in the day, Twitter actually had RSS feeds for users, but then took them out along with closing down the API, because they want to be the Empire.

"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."

Turns out, FeedBin will let you add a Twitter URL and treat it as an RSS feed!

So the happy ending is I can see important current events like this, without opening birbsite:

Now let us turn to the person we would naturally turn to for the definitive last word on Apple.

“It’s hard to be a two-trick pony,” former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told me Thursday.

The Macalope just raised his eyebrows so far they went halfway down his back. He wasn’t even aware he could do that.

Site Redesign

As part of my site redesign, I'm moving everything off my old "markdamonhughes.com" and "markrollsdice.wordpress.com" domains into this site: Software Gallery, Tools, and RPG. Take a look at the front page, browse around, see if you like it. I'm open to advice at this point. I know I haven't done anything too weird with art and design yet, that's coming.

Content management in WordPress isn't trivial, but it's better than the ad-hoc pile of folders and PHP scripting I was doing. I'm still getting by with the standard media folder, but I'm usually disciplined about naming images so search works; there's advanced media manager plugins but I won't let it get to that point.

Many of the software pages are just "museums" right now. My iPhone software is not currently available (and likely never will be on the iPhone again; Apple's "everything is free" sabotage of developers means it's not possible to charge what software costs to make), but I will rerelease some of it as Mac/Marzipan ports when I get around to it. There's a couple of very cool apps like DungeonJournal (replacement for DungeonDice, but with a mapping & journaling tool!) that were never released properly, and I'd like to get those out. Brigand got adapted back into PerilarFK, so I'm not bothering with it.

I may import the old markrollsdice and dev blog/not-a-blog posts, still pondering on that.

Beyond Cyberpunk Web Design

What I want to note here is the UI in the original BCP and Billy's app. Borders filled with wiring and lights. Knobs and switches. Big chunky click areas. Punk rock, graffiti art. When you click things, audio and animations tell you something happened. Not so much the "Jacking into the Matrix. Into the FUTURE!" clip.

It's much easier to find and read information in the web version, but it's not fun. It's ugly and boring. Like almost everything on the web and apps these days, from Jony IVE-1138's sterile white room prisons where you're tortured for daring to have a personality, to all these endless linkblogs.

There are places with personality, but not many. The web looks like shit. One of the best things about cybre.space is that it doesn't look like every other bland, neutral, anodyne Mastodon instance. Update: Brutalist Websites has some GeoCities-like aesthetics in a few. Others are sterile voids.

And that's bothering me about this blog. It looks OK, the stolen Midgar art and my '80s neon colors set some kind of tone, but it can be so much more. So in the weeks and months to come, I'm gonna be doing some redesign, make this into something weirder, if not full-on GeoCities. The RSS feed should be uninterrupted, but I'm going to put a lot more resources on the front page.

TBL Has Some Regrets

"We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places … [increasing centralization of the Web] ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human."
"While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people—and can be fixed by people."
"You don’t have to have any coding skills. You just have to have a heart to decide enough is enough. Get out your Magic Marker and your signboard and your broomstick. And go out on the streets."
Tim Berners-Lee, Vanity Fair

On the contrary, Tim, the World Wide Web is very human, and these are not "bugs" or "emergent": It's not a perfect crystalline utopia inhabited by rule-following robots reading RDF tags, but instead it's like an organically grown city, with a mix of lovely things and nice people, and also back alleys and skyscraper offices full of predators. There's surveillance systems everywhere because the predators wanted surveillance, paid engineers well to make them, and it's much harder to stop Internet surveillance than spray-painting a closed-circuit camera.

The Internet didn't create spies, tyrants, or marketing scumbags; the Stasi managed to spy on everyone, and they barely used the few shitty Soviet computers they had. Madison Avenue invented scumbag marketing long before they had "data" supporting their psychological manipulations. Of course now the same kind of villains at the NSA, KGB (FSV & SVR these days, same thing), and Facebook are going to use modern computer networks to spy and manipulate. A poster-board sign isn't going to convince them to stop.

"Oh gosh I just realized I've spent my life deceiving people, and that's wrong!", said absolutely no spy ever. (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is fiction)

Getting more people connected is somewhat positive and empowering for the "last billion"; although you, presumably fellow first-world libertarian/liberal/con-but-not-an-asshole-servative reader, may well not like the political and religious programming the last billion have…

But even if everyone has a computer & unfettered Internet access, it's not going to make everyone freer, they're just more entries in Facebook's databases. The only cheap mobile phones are Android, which is run by and for the benefit of Google's surveillance systems. You can release any kind of utopian decentralized system, and people will say "I want Facebook and Youtube… and what are ads?" and many will end up in it by social pressure and marketing.

Some of us do what we can to exist outside of those networks, but don't get too idealistic about it, or you end up crazy or yet another dead martyr.