Fuck Firefox

I'd been using Firefox as my media browser; I can't reasonably set Safari to show on all desktops, or risk it crashing from stupid movies & music, so I need a secondary browser.

Mozilla's constant disruptive updates are annoying, but they just added a new "trick" to Firefox:

Yes, they've added ads & spyware, and enabled it by default. If they're willing to do this kind of shit, the next one won't have a checkbox, it'll just secretly sell everything you do to ad companies.

So fuck this, Mozilla is dead to me. The one thing I ask first and most importantly from any app or service is DO NOT SPY ON ME.

I've uninstalled Firefox, gone to Chromium for now, we'll see if there's a better option later.

September 10,000, 1993

math (+1 to count the 1st)

So, checks out. 10,000 days of the September That Never Ended.

The world since is like a movie showing a few people coughing before the credits, wipe fade, zombie hordes tearing down barricades to eat the brains of the last few people. Someone's shivering in the corner with a gun, for the zombies or self, you can't tell. Freeze frame. "I bet you're asking how we got here…"

Note: I, uh, kinda infodumped here. Estimated reading time: 19 minutes.

What Went Wrong

At the time, I had a nice Gopherhole, finger and .plan (at times with a GIF of me uuencoded into it!), and was already annoyed by the overcomplicated World Wide Web rising. But in Feb 1993, UMinn saddled Gopher with threats of a license, which killed the better-organized system, and I was an adaptable guy. For quite a while I had both with equivalent content mirrored, but then my WWW site got more features, and the Gopher hole got stale so I closed it.

A bunch of new kids invaded USENET every September when school started, and commercial Internet started in '89-91 when NSFNet removed their commercial restrictions, and then fucking AOL unleashed bored neo-nazis from the flyover states on us. There was a vast onslaught of spam, bullshit, and trolls. So I switched from rn which had primitive killfile regexps ("PLONK is the sound of your name hitting the bottom of my killfile"), to trn, which had threading and a little better killfile system, to strn which had scoring so if you hit multiple good or bad keywords, you'd move up or down my queue or vanish. I bailed on all the big groups, tried moderation and was promptly attacked by scumbags who thought the moderation system was for protecting their corporate masters, not stopping spam, and then quit entirely.

We don't even have FAQs now. There's no netiquette at all (ha, Brittanica, remember them? Site's probably not been touched since 1999). I hide off to the edges in Mastodon with very aggressive blocking of anyone who looks annoying. The big media sites, Twaddler and Fuckbook, are just poison, an endless scroller of screaming between everyone who wants to feel offended all the time, and the Orange Shitgibbon's mob of traitors; I see a very little of Twaddler by way of RSS, but I won't go any closer than that.

Gabriel Dropout s1e2: Do you enjoy living like that, always being mad?

The Web. On most sites, there's megabytes of crappy scripts for tracking, style sheets, giant custom fonts instead of banners & buttons burned into GIFs, so a page might take 100MB to show anything. The basic World Wide Web experience of click a link, page shows you slightly formatted text on an unpleasant background, click another link, is unchanged from 1993, but there's a dumpster of shit on top of that. I hate using the Web now, every goddamned page wants to track me, bounce banners up in front of me, demand I approve cookies but don't let me say "DENY ALL FUCK YOU"; and even without cookies, they use fingerprinting to track me.

It doesn't have to be like this. Despite using WordPress, the dumbest and most bloated thing possible, I've tried to keep my site down to a minimal setup, go read the page source, it's just CSS, content, and the search widget. If I ever get around to purging the default CSS, it'll be even lighter. But most people not only don't live up to that ethic, they aggressively want the opposite, the biggest, fattest, most unusable crap site full of autoplaying videos they can make.

Criminals being able to use the Internet to attack physical infrastructure, or hostile encryption of computers (including in hospitals; some people need a stern talking to with a 2x4 or a shotgun). Back in the day, RTFM's worm was a novel disaster, but fixable. Microsoft's garbage OS was trivially infected with viruses then and now, but back then it didn't matter much; you might lose a few un-backed-up files, not real money.

The Internet as trivial research device seems like it should be good, but what it's meant is that the Kids Today™ don't bother to learn anything, they just look up and recite Wikipedia, which is at least 50-80% lies. They "program" by searching StackUnderflow for something that looks like their problem, pasting it in, then searching again to solve the error messages. Most of them could be replaced with a Perl script and wget. I assume non-programming fields are similarly "solve it by searching", which is why infrastructure, medicine, and high-speed pizza delivery are so far inferior to 28 years ago.

Search was very slow and mostly manually-entered into index sites back in the '90s. Now it's very fast, but only things linked from corporate shitholes actually show up, and spam and SEO poison all the results, so all you really get is Wikipedia, which might have a few manually-entered links at the bottom which might still exist or be in archive.org, or a few links to spam. Try searching for anything, it's all crap.

Vernor Vinge in 1992's A Fire Upon the Deep called a 50,000-years-from-now version of USENET "The Net of a Million Lies". Just a bit of an overshoot on the date, and a massive underestimate of the number of lies.

There's a lot of knock-on effects from the Internet as a sales mechanism. Like, videogames used to get QA tested until they mostly worked; fiascos like Superman64 were rare. Now, Cyberpunk2077 ships broken because they can patch it off the Internet, won't be fixed until actual 2077. Sure, not all games. I'm usually satisfied with Nintendo's QA, though even Animal Crossing: New Horizons shipped with less functionality and more bugs than Wild World on the (no patches!) DS cartridge.

What Is Exactly the Same

IRC, war never changes. I used ICB for my social group back then, and we moved from there to Slack. Most technical crap is discussed on IRC, rarely on Slack, Matrix, or Discord (which literally means conflict). Doesn't matter, it's just a series of text messages, because nobody's figured out how to make anything better that lasts.

I'm still using some version of UNIX. If you'd told me in 1993 that I'd be a Mac guy, I'd've opened your skull to see what bugs had infested your brain; Macs were only good for Photoshop and Kai's Power Tools. But Linux never got better, BSD is functional but never got a great desktop, SUN and SGI are dead <loud sustained keening wail>, and Apple bought/reverse-takeovered NeXT with a nice enough BSD-on-Mach UNIX. And the Internet is, largely, UNIX. There was a horrible decade mid-90s to early-00s when Windows servers were gaining ground, people were ripping out perfectly good UNIX data centers to install garbage at a huge loss in efficiency because their CTOs got bribed millions by Microsoft. But that tide washed up and back out taking most of the MS pollution with it. Maybe it won't be back.

I still write web sites in Vim or BBEdit (since 1993: It Doesn't Suck™). Well, I say that, but I'm writing this mostly in the WordPress old text editor, using Markdown. Markdown's new-ish (2004), but behaves like every other text markup system going back to SGML in the '80s and ROFF in the '70s.

What's Good About the Internet

Not fucking much.

Streaming or borrowing digital copies of music, movies, and books is easier than ever. I speak mainly of archive.org, but sure, there's less-legal sites, too. I have access to an infinite library, of whatever esoteric interest I have; I've lately been flipping through old Kilobaud Magazine as part of my retrocomputing; I like the past where just getting or using a computer was hard and amazing. In 1993 those might have been mouldering away in a library basement, if they could be found at all. Admittedly, I hate most new media; nothing's been good enough for Mark since 1999, and really I could put the line at grunge, or maybe 1986 when The Police broke up. But at least it is accessible.

I spent most of today writing new stuff for the Mystic Dungeon, and even with all the overcomplicated web shit, it's a little easier to build a secure, massively parallel message system in JS than it was in C or Perl 30 years earlier. Not by much, but some.

Internet pornography (link barely NSFW?) is a tough one. '70s-80s VHS porn was expensive, flickery, way too mainstream; fine if you liked chunky old guys banging ugly strippers, I did not. DVD porn in the '90s was still expensive, but got much better production, and every niche interest, that was the golden age. But now everything is "free" on the thing-hubs and x-things, but only in crappy 6-minute excerpts stolen from DVD, horrible webcam streams, and the creepifyin' rise of incest porn. Because the Internet enables weird interests, but what if a whole generation have massive mommy/daddy issues? You can in fact pay for good non-incest porn, but payment processors and credit cards make it hard to do, so it's easier to just watch garbage. And then there's prudes and religious zealots who think porn is bad; in the old days, they had the law and molotov cocktails on their side, but now they're impotent, so I guess that's barely a win for the Internet.

What Didn't We Get

The Metaverse. OK, there was and is Second Life, but Linden fucked the economy up, and never made it possible to take your grid and host it yourself without a gigantic effort. There's WebVR and a few others, but they have terrible or no avatars, construction, and scripting tools. We should be able to be scanned and be in there, man, like in TRON.

The Forum. There's no place of polite social discourse. There's hellsites, and some sorta private clubs, and a bunch of abandoned warehouses where people are chopped up for body parts/ad tracking. Despite my loathing of Google, who are clearly trying to implement SkyNet & Terminators and exterminate Humanity, Google+ was OK, so of course they shut it down.

The Coming Golden Age of Free Software That Doesn't Suck. Turns out, almost everyone in "FLOSS", the FSF, and GNU, are some of the shittiest people on Earth, and those who aren't are chased out for daring to ask for basic codes of conduct and democracy. Hey you know that really good file system? Yeah, the author murdered his wife, and the "community" is incompetent to finish the work, so keep using ext which eats your files. Sound drivers on Linux, 16 years after I ragequit because I couldn't play music and alarm sounds at the same time, still don't work. "Given enough eyes, everyone goes off to write their own implementation instead of fixing bugs"; nothing works, every project just restarts at +1 version every 2-5 years. Sure, you can blame capitalism, but there's a couple of communist countries left, why aren't they making infinitely better software without the noose of the dollar dollar around their necks?

The Grand Awakening of Humanity. This was always delusional, but the idea that increased communication between people of Earth would end war, everyone would come together, align their chakras/contact the UFOs, and solve all our problems. Ha, no, you put 3 people in a chat room and you'll have 5 factions and at least one dead body in a week. As we approach 7 billion people online, many with explosively incompatible and unfriendly views, this is only going to get worse, if that's even imaginable.

Final Rating: The Internet

★★½☆☆ — I keep watching this shitshow, but it's no damn good. Log off and save yourself.

Flash End of Life

On the one hand, I'm glad Adobe took my advice from a decade ago to stop Flash, because it's just a virus loader, produces the shittiest software possible, and is the anti-WWW. Their marketing zealots calling everyone else "whiners" because of their flaws has gone from eyeroll to falling on the floor laughing comedy.

On the other hand, a lot of stupid Flash games & animations are dead now.

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.