We haven’t chatted (directly) in a while. How are things? Last I heard, you had the director of the FBI complaining about encryption making his job harder. Have you guys found the abominable Snowden1 yet?
Anyways, I am writing you today about the NSA’s Foxboro branch. I did enjoy the #NFL shitting the bed in court last week over Ballghazi2, but this lends the internal power struggle some context. But what do I know, I am probably just a “butthurt Colts fan.”
Also, it is hilarious that even after all this comes to light, they are still jamming signals in opposing teams’ headsets. Did you guys give them the tip to use their own game broadcast? I bet your style is more classic-rock-Van-Halen-Not-Van-Haggar signal interference.
In many ways, Gamergate is an almost perfect closed-bottle ecosystem of bad internet tics and shoddy debating tactics. Bringing together the grievances of video game fans, self-appointed specialists in journalism ethics, and dedicated misogynists, it's captured an especially broad phylum of trolls and built the sort of structure you'd expect to see if, say, you'd asked the old Fires of Heaven message boards to swing a Senate seat. It's a fascinating glimpse of the future of grievance politics as they will be carried out by people who grew up online.
The day after "Endless Appetizers" was announced, I went to TGI Friday's in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay. I wanted to challenge the hubris of a company co-opting the infinite for a marketing gimmick. I wanted to demand accountability from copywriters.
I wanted to call their bluff and eat appetizers until they kicked me out, to seek the limit of this supposedly limitless publicity stunt.
But no matter what my relationship to Pokémon is now, I can’t deny that it was one of the driving forces in my nerdy life. And like any fanboy or girl who has ever played the original games, Pokémon was singular in that it provided me the first life-altering choice in my young life: Which of the starting Pokémon—Squirtle, Charmander, or Bulbasaur—should I pick? It felt like a digital “Sophie’s Choice,” with any decision rendering two Pokémon forever un-catchable, destined to be used against me by my rival.
...We can’t all be grand visionaries. We can’t all be Picassos. We want to make our business, make our art, sell it, make some money, raise a family, and try to be happy. My feeling, based on my own experience, is that aiming for grandiosity is the fastest route to failure. For every Mark Zuckerberg, there are 1000 Jack Zuckermans. Who is Jack Zuckerman? I have no idea. That’s my point. If you’re Jack Zuckerman and you’re reading this, I apologize. You aimed for the stars and missed. Your reentry into the atmosphere involved a broken heat shield, and you burned to a crisp by the time you hit the ocean. Now we have no idea who you are.
You can't restart the internet. Trillions of dollars depend on a rickety cobweb of unofficial agreements and "good enough for now" code with comments like "TODO: FIX THIS IT'S A REALLY DANGEROUS HACK BUT I DON'T KNOW WHAT'S WRONG" that were written ten years ago. I haven't even mentioned the legions of people attacking various parts of the internet for espionage and profit or because they're bored. Ever heard of 4chan? 4chan might destroy your life and business because they decided they didn't like you for an afternoon, and we don't even worry about 4chan because another nuke doesn't make that much difference in a nuclear winter.
BEST NEWS OF THE YEAR THAT CANNOT BE TOPPED, EVEN IF I WAS AWARDED THE POWERBALL JACKPOT BY A RECENTLY-RESURRECTED J. H. CHRIST
A healthy baby Pilch is on the way. It's a boy.
Hey, there's a St. Vincent in the music and movie section! Not pictures or articles though. Maybe next year.↩
I've already declared that we are a Lego Movie family. Not a Frozen family.↩
We live in exciting, sometimes terrifying times. It has become fashionable to carry a device on your person at all times with more computing power than NASA's Apollo command center. Products raise millions of dollars to essentially communicate with that smart device from several feet away. The most popular uses of of these mobile devices are to shoot round birds with a slingshot at makeshift towers built by pigs, and to broadcast any minute detail that pops up in the ol' brain bucket. Broad new horizons.
However, users of these devices (and the services they enable) bring with them horizons that are neither broad nor new. Certain #subcultures, previously ignored and subsequently rendered powerless, now have the means to broadcast globally and connect like-minded individuals regardless of geographic location. This message amplification has the ability to force society to progress with great strides, as with the LGBT community. But for some reason, the net-positive effect does not happen with everyone. The most recent instance of this is Gamergate.
In years past, I might have identified myself as a gamer. In the sense that "I enjoy and often play video games in my free time", it is an accurate descriptor to this day. After the past few months, I would be reluctant to identify myself this way. If you have successfully avoided any Gamergate news up to this point, good on you. Keep it up. If you feel like being sad about life, read this summary from Newsweek with actual Twitter statistics, or this in-depth summary about the implications of this type of movement.
Upon further research, this seems like a deeper cultural issue, unrelated to #gaming. I would say it is an American issue, but it is likely present elsewhere too. Kathy Sierra, a prominent tech figure, has now had to essentially leave the internet for the second time in less than 10 years. Before that, several private personal pictures of celebrities were leaked, of which there was a single male (and he was collateral damage, as he was dating one of the targeted female celebrities). Even before that, dumb old white guys were talking (seemingly sincerely) about "legitimate rape" in congressional election coverage. The megaphone created by our newly-connected society seems to have pretty terrible opinions about #women on an alarmingly consistent basis.
TL;DR The only way I know how to help is to write about it. I will be a parent soon. It scares me to think that the difficulty of that kid's life will be so greatly affected by a single genetic coin-toss.
Microsoft Office makes people worse at #software.1
I work with engineers - people that know their way around power electronics and embedded software2. But somehow, no one seems to know how version control works. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of #Microsoft Office.
In my first C programming class, we only received grades on work that we checked in using the version control software3. It was a revelation to me, at the time, that there existed a way to collaborate on software (or any other electronic documents). This is likely because I did most of my document editing in high school in - what else - Microsoft Word.
So why has this revelation failed to bubble up to the (too) many companies with Microsoft enterprise agreements? Sure, my first introduction was via the command line, but Dropbox and Google Docs have shown it can be done in a user-friendly GUI. I constantly see coworkers go to the not-so-great length of changing a date in the document title and think "Boom - new version." Or, even better - send out a document for several people to edit, who return their input as "Title - MM/DD/YY - Employee Initials". It seems crazy that 1.) no one has thought "we should think of a better engineered solution to this", and then 2.) "oh wait, IT ALREADY EXISTS."
Even though it is not built into #Office directly, I know version control is available for it now. I have even used it! Microsoft's sort-of-cloud solution, Sharepoint, has version control and document check-out baked right in. It is buried in some context menu somewhere (proving my conspiracy theory that MS does not want you to use it), but it is there. Yet somehow we still create an Archive folder with all the previous, dated documents. It is a waste of storage space, a huge time suck, and can be extremely confusing.
I write this both as an admonishment for the workflows at my company, and as an acknowledgement that I am falling for it too. I have started to do this, mostly because my colleagues do, even though I know it is a terrible habit. The first step is admitting you have a problem. I look forward to apologizing to all the #spreadsheets I have wronged in the past.
And don't get me started on the crazy things people put into Excel.4
I have not decided if this thesis is worth a series of posts. It might be, but this is the only example I could come up with so far. ↩
I know the software team uses it for their software, and yet they don't for any documents shared with other groups. How does that make sense to anyone? ↩
It was a Unix system, and I can't even remember the commands for committing code now. But I remember the concept, which is more important. (Right?) ↩
It is not for presentations. That is why they made Powerpoint. ↩
The indie web, its called. Made up of the people who got tired of talking about these concepts and decided to start doing something about them.
I first heard about them on one of my weekly must-hear podcasts, In Beta (episode 90). Then a guest on another webcast I enjoy regularly - This Week in Google #241 - brought it up near the end. (TWiG actually just dedicated most of an episode to it - #266.)
I always viewed blogging (at least my blog) as a spot for thoughts that skewed toward longform writing, that could not be fleshed out in a short snippet. The indie web, however, encourages tweet-length thoughts as well as longer posts, which can then be syndicated to whatever social network you choose. The point is to not keep those thoughts siloed somewhere that may eventually shut down or change their policies, but to control your online identity, on your own terms. You can build your own tools, or you can browse the IndieWeb site to find something pre-built to use on your site.
But how will people see these posts if they are on #Facebook or #Twitter? Well, they thought of that too. POSSE stands for Post (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. By syndicating, your non-IndieWeb friends will still get to see what you are up to. And using the webmention protocol, comments and replies will be pulled back into your own site as well.
If you are feeling less brave, one of the higher-profile indie web tools just launched a beta. It is called Known, and it has been treating me well so far. I look forward to their hosted/beta service adding a Wordpress plugin. But if I did my work right, you should see my #Known post about this article down below.
TL;DR: if you see anything oddly formatted posts on my site or one of my social profiles, it is probably an attempt at implementing one of the Indie Web projects. Maybe if you are getting wary of Facebook and you're looking for a technically-inclined side project, you should check it out too.
Reflections on how to keep the center solid as you continue to evolve. UPDATE: The fine folks of Holstee have turned these seven learnings into a gorgeous letterpress poster inspired by mid-century children’s book illustration....
Flip-flopping yet again, I found another organization method to try out called the Bullet Journal. This one is decidedly analog, and the only major commitment is carrying around a notebook.
The idea is to record everything as a bullet point. Tasks get checkboxes, events get circles, and everything is gets a standard bullet. It seems simple enough, but there are some benefits over digital.
The act of writing something down makes you more likely to remember it.
It forces you to be constantly reviewing1 your notes, which keeps them fresh in your mind.
It keeps you mindful about what you record. I still type faster than I write, so I am not going to take the time to record something in the journal that will have little value.
You have to stick with it. With the digital services, I could jump back and forth between them while testing them out. I am in this Bullet Journal thing until I run out of pages in my notebook, which could take several months.
So far it is working well. I did need to upgrade to a larger notebook; I thought the 3.5 x 5.5 inch one would do, but it is hard to fit everything in. #Evernote is already suited for this, with its own notebooks and OCR capability, so my technology geek cred is still relatively intact I think. (And I fist tried it with Workflowy, which worked briefly but became a little unwieldy). If you are a habitual note taker, I recommend giving this method a shot.
No matter how many times I yelled "CONTROL F CHECKBOX" at my Moleskine, it would not highlight unfinished tasks for me. ↩
The phone du jour is the #HTC One M8, and I am a phone connoisseur. My JUMP-grade came up, and I had to pull the trigger. The Nexus 5 was a fantastic phone, but it was lacking in a few areas: battery life, camera, and tap to unlock. So I pulled the trigger and have been using this beast for a few weeks. Here are my thoughts so far.
HTC makes a really pretty device. The Nexus is very utilitarian, which comes from prioritizing price over build quality. Samsung and LG focus on adding mostly-useless crap and letting their phones look like a Band-aid and a child's toy, respectively [see update]. I would rather have brushed aluminum and front-facing speakers than a heart monitor and 4 different ways to unlock my device and take a screenshot simultaneously.
Speaking of speakers, the BoomSound speakers on the One are amazing. Before, I was living in a world where cell phone speakers were just supposed to be low-quality and tinny. Not anymore.
Blinkfeed is OK, I guess. If there were a way to add my own RSS feeds, it might be useful. Hopefully they will add this feature (or make it less complicated to find).
Motion Launcher needs to be on all phones, from now on. It makes so much more sense than the side buttons.
T-Mobile bloatware is dumber than Verizon bloatware. They offer you a 30 day trial for voicemail transcription, but only if you agree to pay $4 per month after that. All for something Google Voice does for free.
The camera is pretty solid. The low resolution freaks people out, but it is a #smartphone, not a Nikon. Standard smartphone cameras don't take good pictures in low light, but this one does pretty well. The editing tools are great as well. The Duo Camera is just ok - it is not a necessity, but adds some editing options to close-up pictures: [caption id="attachment_1281" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Charlie greets me[/caption]
All in all, the HTC One M8 is a solid phone, and I would recommend it to anyone. It comes at a premium price, but it is the one #Android phone available right now that has the looks, feel, and function of a premium device.
Update: LG announced the G3 while I was writing this, and it looks like a phone that an adult would use.
Telecoms apparently overcharge everyone, even the federal government.
The idea of suing those telecoms to get your money back is laughable when you substitute "average consumer" for "federal government."
Sprint's network was not capable of adequate surveillance, from a technical standpoint. If you are planning something that will get you surveilled and you are smart enough to use a network that is too shitty to tap, you deserve to operate in secret.
Is anyone in the right here? It's like #corruptionInception. I know you can neither confirm or deny any of this1, but come on. We know it was you, Mike.
One of my best friends is doing some awesome things in the Navy. Like, awesome enough that he can't really say what they are. My wife and I were talking about him a couple weeks ago and came to the realization that we have contacted him enough that we are well within the two or three degrees of separation required1 for NSA #surveillance2.
Since then, we have included occasional messages to our "NSA angel" in our everyday communication, to see if they come true or just to give some Quantico keyboard jockey a laugh. Thus far, our NSA angel has failed to predict the Super Bowl outcome3 or chime in with the proper number of ibuprofen pills to treat inflammation.4
Anyways, I haven't had a lot of time to write lately - just been a little busy5. And the only people that knew about my NSA angel were my wife and I, our Navy friend6, and our NSA angel (obviously). So I am making my NSA Angel letters their own category in hopes to kickstart some writing. Please feel free to write some to your own NSA angel as well. I'm sure they get bored reading about every detail of your life (some of which you probably don't even know yourself).
These services are obviously all trying to do different things. Tumblr is more social and doesn’t do as well for longform posts. Wordpress is the everything box that doesn’t excel at anything. Scriptogram is as simple as a text file in your Dropbox. Svbtle is new and pretty but missing a couple of key features (for me, anyways).
These two new ones have caught my eye, and if the one gets better looking or the other adds MultiMarkdown, pilchernet may have a new home.
I love footnotes. I blame Chuck Klosterman (who probably got them from David Foster Wallace). ↩
Both of these are indispensable (well, you need at least one). I made that table in 10 seconds, and formatted it in another 5 seconds, just stream of consciousness. Not possible in HTML. ↩
My new year’s resolution for 2013 has been to write. Just, in general, write when you can. I enjoy experimenting with technology and software, so I thought a #blog would do the trick. It has gone through several iterations, but this is where it has ended up.1
#Blogging was the major internet trend in the early- to mid-2000s, which is why seemingly no one does it anymore and all the cool people broadcast their thoughts on their social network of choice. But there are several advantages to it that people forget about in the age of the like and the tweet. Blogging creates your own personal space on the web, free from advertisers devising new ways to use your own data to push their product more effectively. If done correctly, you own the content you put out, and you can learn a lot of about web hosting and internet protocols if you so choose. I was only just starting, so I tried going the free route to see what I could find.
Pressing & Tumbling
I started out with a wordpress.com blog. It had everything I needed to start #writing, so I did. The community at wordpress.com is centered on writing, which was good encouragement. But once I started to get the hang of it, it seemed like there was a lot that the free account would not let me do. The open source Wordpress is a powerful tool, and their free site gives you just enough of a taste to know you can do more. I still was not ready to fork over any money, so I packed up for the other major free ‘blogging’ tool on the web today, Tumblr.
I had started a Tumblr account a while ago, but hadn’t used it much. I came back to compare features with my new Wordpress blog, and there was a lot to like. The site is very stylish and minimalist, which is kind of the opposite of Wordpress (unless you put a lot of work into it). It is easy to find a lot of interesting people on Tumblr, and the mobile app is great (better than Wordpress at the time). The combination was enough to keep me there for most of the year.
In late October, an episode of one of my must-listen podcasts focused on blogging (In Beta #70), and it convinced me to try to build my own blog. I finally had a feel for the writing part, and I wanted to make a place of my own that didn’t end in ‘dot something dot com.’ The one that sounded the most interesting, Ghost, had just launched to the public. I registered my domain, hacked around in my router settings, and started hosting it from my own laptop. This was obviously not an ideal situation, but I still wanted to experiment before venturing into the confusing world of web hosting services.
The experience was enlightening. Ghost will soon be a great blogging platform, but for the technical layperson it is not there yet. I enjoy the minimalist approach, and they are still adding features, but there are bugs. I was not able to even upload a picture, a simple task on another framework. I could not nail down whether it was a bug in the code or a bug in my makeshift server settings. My laptop was also hosting my Plex server and kept getting kicked off the network in favor of my NAS, so I finally gave in and found a cheap webhost. Ghost is too resource intensive for shared hosting, so back to Wordpress I went.
Tools and Takeaways
One of the major lessons I learned from all this is that formatting a post is much easier in Markdown. The native editor in Ghost offers Markdown support (which I miss), but the others have not added this (or have done it poorly). So, for the most part I composed posts with outside tools. Draft has been my tool of choice, and I have been using it since its release. It supports Multimarkdown (footnotes and tables and such), and it also allows professionals to review your work for a small fee. Draft moved to a freemium model, and has started to really push for users to subscribe. Although the writing features are invaluable I don’t feel like I write enough to justify paying (is this a recurring theme?). Because of this, I have tried out some other writing tools recently. Editorially and Dillinger are two good ones that I have found, but the best so far feature-wise is StackEdit.
I am apparently a cheapskate. I guess I did not know what I was doing, so going the free route made sense, but it did not hit me just how far I went to avoid spending money until writing this post.
Open source is the way to go. The wide open nature of the web would not be nearly as wide if it were built on proprietary tools. You can almost always find an open source, (nearly-)free version of whatever tool you need.
Due to a combination of horrible timing and a lack of my second and third choices1 at the T-Mobile store2, I have been using an #LG G2 for about a week and a half. In that time I mostly just used it to search 'Nexus 5 T-Mobile release date' over and over again (finally announced last Friday), but I thought I should jot down some thoughts about this interim phone.
Knock-On is awesome. All phones should have it. It's a great way to make sure the power button survives your phone contract. I have already tried to do it on other devices unconsciously.
There is a huge amount of LG bloatware, but I weirdly don't find it as oppressive as Touchwiz. It was a big deal in the Droid X days, but now you can just disable things you won't use.
The processor can handle it all, too. Top of the top of the line (and yes, I typed that twice). But then, so can the Nexus 5, because they share the same processor and amount of RAM.
I understand the Nexus is bloat-free, but that doesn't mean you don't also take time to set it up as your own. It probably took 1.5-2 days to set this phone up the way I like it, and would probably take about half that on the Nexus.
Battery life has been fantastic, but damn does it get hot playing Plants vs. Zombies 2.
The back casing is horrible. Feels like a toy phone the first time, then it just feels gross because it sucks all the oils from your hand onto the phone. Gets pretty greasy.
That is easily remedied by the Poetic Palette case, which adds a soft touch to the back but leaves the smooth bezels. I like them for some reason.
The case also frames the rear buttons, making them slightly easier to find. The button design works in theory, but practice is a different story. Your index finger does not naturally rest where these buttons are, as your thumb does on every other phone you've ever used (top power buttons are for iPhones). You also can't adjust the volume of the phone if it is sitting on a table; it has to be in your hand, which seems dumb.
This is odd, because LG is one of the only manufacturers forgoing the front hardware buttons (home, back, menu). I put that firmly in the plus column. #Android itself removed the necessity of hardware buttons 2 years and 4 major software revisions ago with the Galaxy Nexus, a phone with a special place in my heart.
Saturday is the end of my 14-day return period for this phone, and the #Nexus drops there Thursday next Wednesday (in store).3 I was really hoping for some overlap there, but I still can't bring myself to keep the G2. The power user in me (the one that was mashing the F5 button on the Play Store on Halloween) recoils at the cartoony animations throughout the G2 #UX. Maybe someday the hardware manufacturers will understand that their custom software is their weakness. I want to see what this hardware can do when the software gets out of the way.4 I don't want an LG phone - I want a Google phone. So much so that I am willing to buy a burner and wait 3-4 days to get one.
I didn't want to buy it through T-Mo, but again, the first part of the combo at the very top was horrible timing. Next year, when we are not paying VZW ETFs, it will be Play Store all the way for me. ↩
Music is a staple of human civilization. Musicians are staples of music. Being exploited and undervalued is a staple of being a musician, especially if you listen to them long enough that they start talking instead of music-ing. Even in the early twentieth century when prerecorded music became a staple of movies, musicians were not happy with their lot. It is not a new concept, and the latest iteration of this argument has musicians battling music streaming services over royalties. If these problems have been around for so long, why can't anyone figure this out?
Growing up in the Napster age, I have a weird relationship with #music. Don't get me wrong; I love listening to music. It's just the discovering and buying and playing where my views are a little more fluid than the previous generation. For instance, I feel like there was probably a time when radio was relevant, and I keep hearing that MTV played music when Kurt Cobain was alive. Now, however, the interwebs bring meager fame to bands that would likely have never been in the MTV rotation, and in flyover country you are lucky to get anything on the radio other than just that: country.
Let's go back to the beginning. The first CD I ever bought with my own money was by Chumbawamba, which I have come to terms with but realize I will have to acknowledge for the rest of my life like a bad tattoo. (For the record, I did marginally better on my first tape purchase with Space Jam) Then came Napster, which was shutdown by the time I tried to install it on my family's PC (75 MHz processors and dial-up had something to do with that). The local library really never caught on to the borrow-burn-return technique, though, so I got by. I finally found out about cool music around age 16, starting with the Strokes and a subscription to SPIN. My first MP3 player was a college move-in gift, which I soon flipped for the first iPod generation to have a color screen .
iTunes is all well and good unless you are (A.) a poor college student and (B.) that college has a fairly robust internal file sharing network. I would say my digital music collection increased by about 50% by sophomore year (we're talking double-digit gigabytes here), but growth has been stagnant since those halcyon days for several reasons. The low cost of entry back then is one, and the sheer difficulty to discover interesting, new music on the cheap is another. I gladly bought music from artists I enjoyed, but only because they were already on my radar. Thirty second previews never feel like enough to justify buying something I may not like -- I've been burned before (see Chumbawamba).
Interwebs killed the radio (star)
That is all coming back around now with the advent of #streaming music. #Pandora broke the mold with an amazing engine of music association and recommendation, and #Rdio and #Spotify (and seemingly everyone else now) has applied the Netflix model to music. This is the future of music, regardless of whether record labels will accept it or not. The barriers to discovery as they were even 5 years ago are non-existent. I have found more music in the last 6 months than I had in the previous 3-4 years using these services. My conscience is far cleaner than in my file sharing days, and I get the convenience of access wherever I want.
So, bottom line. If this reaches any music executives, heed these words: Ten dollars a month seems like the right price for all the music I never paid for in the first place. Make it work, and pay the musicians so they keep music-ing. I have pirated before, and taking that away will make me likely to do it again. Signed, Pilch c/o the internet dictated but not read
1. I would be remiss at this point if I did not mention my Audioscrobbler neé last.fm profile, which has chronicled roughly 80-90% of the music I have listened to for nearly 10 years. Probably not valuable information, but at least I can claim to have been a Kings of Leon fan back when they had beards and were cool.
2. This is probably a blog post for another time, but right now my favorites are Rdio and Google Play All Access. Even though both those services are great, though, I feel like I could throw something together between Pandora and Plex that would do even better for a lower price (and I even got the early bird price on Play).
3. They are still kind of cool, but also kind of sold out. Another blog post for another time.