Weekly Head Voices #137: Let me mine your metadata.

Winter is coming, somewhere on the R44 between Betty’s Bay and Gordon’s Bay.

Wisdom from the Twitters

Let me start this week’s edition with something that a friend forwarded, quite ironically, from the dark underbelly of the internet, also known as “twitter”:Daily activities to avoid: - Consuming endless (news) feeds - Discussion w/ anyone with a big ego - Thinking without pen & paper - Arguing on Twitter - Mindlessly saying yes to meetingsMost of these resonate with me, except for arguing on twitter.

This is not because I disagree, but rather because I sort of went cold-twitter-turkey about a year ago, a departure which has had only positive effects on my humanity, as well as on my trust in the goodness of humans.

I still sometimes slip and fall into arguments on other platforms,  where the same advice unfortunately holds.

#DeleteFacebook?

On the topic of online arguments, I would like to bring the next interesting conundrum to your astute attention.

There is at this moment quite some internet rage due to the details that have been revealed about the extent to which the company Cambridge Analytica managed to exfiltrate social network data from facebook, in order to perform extremely targeted advertising and hence psychological manipulation to get vulnerable users to vote for Trump, and to vote for Brexit leave.

Readers of this blog might remember that I already talked about this exact issue one year ago to the day. I even cited this early article in The Guardian mentioning Robert Mercer, Bannon, and Cambridge Analytica and their role in geo-political interference.

At this point, I hope you will allow me a quick two-pronged educational intermezzo:

  1. Do read my posts carefully, and you too can be all like “I knew that a year ago you silly muggles”.
  2. Probably more importantly, read The Guardian. (I would like to thank the brilliant Dr Ed Chadwick for introducing me to The Guardian so many years ago in Delft and/or Amsterdam, over either a pint of Irish stout (which he also introduced me to) and/or a Trappist.

Anyways, back to my rant.

So the internet is angry (years too late), and everyone and their mom is telling each other to #DeleteFacebook.

I too disapprove in the strongest terms of what Cambridge Analytica and its backers did (besides the immorality of the approach, conservative thinking is really primitive), and Facebook facilitated.

However, I also think that we find ourselves in a tricky baby-with-bathwater situation.

Let me ironically summarise the two main points from a comment I posted on Facebook:

  1. What happens when the clever / privacy-conscious people leave facebook? It becomes an even bigger echo chamber for the uneducated. Is it not our duty to come and fight with a vaccine denialist, or a conservative or someone who is in some other way unenlightened now and then? (instead of arguing, you could also choose a more socratic approach, or just be that persistently cool perfectly rational actor in any discussion)
  2. What replaces facebook as the admittedly flawed but largest virtual human gathering ever? Related to this: Facebook is the most accessible publication platform we have ever had. More people have a voice and can be heard than ever before. Do we really want to take that away?

Let me know in the comments what you think. I promise I’ll only mine a little bit of your metadata.

New arduino blog posts at vxlabs

My arduino – artwork journey continues. Over on vxlabs I have published a short post on the itead shield 3.3V jumper, and a much more interesting post showing a barebones solution (i.e. no additional software) to using the JetBrains CLion IDE for Arduino sketch programming.

I hope that these help future travellers on their quest.

WHV Film Club: Blade Runner 2049

The original Blade Runner was an important part of my upbringing.

This weekend I, up to this point 100% unspoilered, finally got around to watching all but the last 30 minutes of Blade Runner 2049, and I was utterly blown away.

It’s true what they say: You can take just about any scene from the movie, and look at it like you look at a painting. The scenes are thought- and emotion-provoking.

Without giving anything away, the story is an amazing example of how great science fiction is the perfect mechanism for making us think deeply about strange but extremely relevant human situations.

Tot gauw

Over the past few weeks, these blog posts have played a small but necessary role in more than one high quality human connection.

Each time this happens, the time I spend here feels like it has been rewarded 100 times over.

I thank you, and I look forward to the next time that we may meet.

Let’s replace Twitter with something much better.

(There is also a Russian language version of this post available, translated and published by SoftDroid on 2017-04-12.)

I love Twitter.

I love that by following certain people, my timeline has become a stream of interesting and entertaining information. I love that sometimes I am able to fit my little publication just so into the 140 characters given to me. I found The Trumpocalypse truly depressing, but the joke tweets were golden:

2016-11-19-112633_665x359_scrot

I love that Twitter is so widely accessible and utilised. For example here in South Africa, if you make a small effort, you can get great, grassroots-level inputs from all corners of our political spectrum. This has helped me tremendously to try and understand our complicated environment a little better.

However…

I really don’t like that we are all putting our content, including those golden joke tweets, into someone else’s silo. You’re giving Twitter full control over all of your content. That’s a huge price to pay for the exposure, especially in the light of the fact that there are user-controlled alternatives.

Also, with Twitter’s commercial survival often being debated, can we really trust this budding public service (it has become that central) with our public history?

Far more importantly, Twitter is doing a really bad job at keeping abusive users and abuse out of the system. Users have very little power against abusive groups. There have been a great number of cases when users were forced to leave Twitter, in effect being muzzled, due to direct and concerted abuse.

This can’t be right.

Could we replace Twitter with something better?

Yes, I think we can.

Blogs and RSS, the latter a system for subscribing to a collection of blogs, and being able to read their posts in a single chronological stream, almost exactly like Twitter, have been around forever.

Setting up a blog at for example WordPress.com is not much more complicated than creating a new Twitter account. Readers can subscribe to your blog using any number of apps, for example the WordPress.com Reader or any other so-called aggregator, such as Inoreader or Feedly. Your list of subscriptions can be freely exported from one aggregator and imported into another.

Instead of posting your 140 character masterpiece via the Twitter app, you would do so via the WordPress app. You can write short tweets, or long essays, with as much embedded media and with as much typesetting as you like.

By default, you have to moderate (approve or deny) comments on any of your posts. Bye-bye abusive users. In fact, you’re able to muzzle them, which is how it should be. This is your content and your voice after all. However, they are also free to start their own blogs of course. Everyone else is free never to go there.

Furthermore, your content can be easily exported into a self-hosted blog (using the open source wordpress.org software), such as this one, where you truly control the whole system. In all cases, the content is yours to do with as you please.

What needs to happen?

It looks like all the components of the solution have been right here all along.

However, to become as accessible as Twitter, they definitely require some polish (this used to be “a little polish”, but commenter AJ made valid points) .

If for example the WordPress app became as straight-forward as the Twitter app, for setting up a new blog, for posting and for reading all of your followed blogs, that would be great.

If the WordPress app, or any alternative, could come up with a streamlined user story for the posting of short (approximately 140 characters maybe?! :) snippets, that would be even better. (If you did not know about post formats yet, check them out. For exmample, the “aside” post format is a way to post a short title-less snippet to your blog.)

Furthermore, we definitely need a good discovery platform. This is the thing where Twitter will recommend new accounts to follow based on your existing subscriptions. WordPress does something similar, but it has to be much more discoverable.

In the coming weeks, I will be running a little experiment by trying to post even my short, previously twitter-only blurbs to this blog. I will have to cross-tweet these, but at least the primary source will be right here in my own database.

What do you think? Is this possible? Is it something you would like?

Facebook Like, Share and Retweet buttons in your WordPress

Hey man, I’m really busy at the moment, but it took me unnecessarily long to get those really hip facebook like, facebook share and retweet buttons everywhere on my blog, so I thought I’d try and save you some time by dropping a quick note on how I did it.

Adding the Facebook Like button functionality wasted the most time, because there are far too many plugins and howtos that claim to work and don’t quite. I ended up using the Like plugin (official wordpress page and plugin website), because it has the best documentation that includes details on all the ways in which things can go wrong, and there are many.  I’m using the IFRAME option, also because that seems to work most of the time.  I had a hard time finding this plugin in the built-in directory, so I downloaded and installed it manually.

For the facebook share button, I use the Facebook Share (New) Button plugin, and for the retweet button, I’m using the Topsy Retweet Button plugin.  I installed both of them from the built-in “Plugins | Add New” directory.

In all three cases, I made use of the plugin options to have the buttons placed all over my blog, instead of manually editing the theme.

I hope that you enjoy your shiny buttons, and I look forward to seeing you for the next Weekly Head Voices!

P.S. feel free to click on my buttons, right below this post.