Newsletter April 9, 2018

Here are the Other Local Newsletters You Should be Reading

Reader and RSS

Anil Dash tweeted a sentiment that resonated a lot with me:

Google’s decision to kill Google Reader was a turning point in enabling media to be manipulated by misinformation campaigns. The difference between individuals choosing the feeds they read & companies doing it for you affects all other forms of media.

I used to be a multiple-times-daily checker of my RSS feeds. I’d read a bunch, follow threads, add more feeds, and repeat. Then twitter came along. I joined because my friend Keller was into it and it became just one part of Being Extremely Online.

The Timeline slowly started sucking my attention away from RSS. Then Reader went away, but it was okay, most of my feeds were still in twitter, or people were sharing the important stuff. Then, well, then twitter and facebook started becoming just completely outsized and I am adrift.

They are less like a curated timeline and more like a vicious surprise machine. That machine used to be set on “compelling links and ideas” and is now cranked to “emotional whiplash, you coward”. Someone broke the level off too.

Anil also wrote a piece about The Missing Building Blocks of the Web that, goodness, is good. Whatever it is I’m saying poorly, Anil has said much better.

Twitter and APIs

Speaking of Twitter. It’s still marginally useful through the use of a 3rd party app–I use Tweetbot. That might go away soon though.

Moves like this are exactly why we all need our own spaces. In the beginning Twitter was extremely permissive of developers using its API. They’ve slowly been cutting features from that and this next moves sounds like it might spell the end for most of the mainstay apps.

The Angry Motorcylce Men Meme

It’s my favorite meme at the moment

This is Just to Say.


And this is a fantastic cap to whatever it is current meme culture is at right now.

This is absolutely going to be unparseable in a few years. Right now it’s very good.

Macbooks should have touchscreens

Turning a MacBook into a Touchscreen with $1 of Hardware.

I used to think touchscreens on laptops was a bad idea until I observed that, no, people actually do use them. Apple has held the line that this is a bad user interface. I think they’re wrong about it. I mean, they sell a keyboard attachment for the ipad that also doesn’t turn off the touch functionality of the ipad…clearly there’s some disagreement within the company.

If you’ve seen a normal non-coder someone operate a computer with a touchscreen you’ll see them use it. Touching the screen is such a great affordance that we all carry devices around in our pockets that are purpose built to do such a thing. My toddler is confused when you can’t touch the screen and make it do something.

Toddler QA

Speaking of toddlers, if you ever want to find interface bugs hand your app to a toddler.

We released the 1.1 bug fix update to Night Lights last week and then promptly found that the main issue we were trying to fix (sometimes you get the same color, shape, or BOTH) was still happening. After a lot of fiddling we figured out that our toddlers were executing a frame perfect trick to reshuffle the available colors in the middle of them changing. Good job toddlers!

1.2 fixes that bug and the other one we introduced where the light bulb wouldn’t light up. Trust me, there is no such thing as a simple app.

Codename Hyper Hunter

Kyle made a bunch of concept pixel art for a game we’re Codenaming Hyper Hunter. The pitch for it is that it’s a cross between Mega Man and Mario. You can both shoot and jump on enemy’s heads. As part of our discussion on what the game should be we’ve been replaying various NES Mega Man’s and taking notes. What’s most interesting about that exercise is that most of the difficulty in Mega Man is environmental platforming (tricky jumps, modified friction/physics, different combinations of simple enemies) until you hit the Robot Master in each level. Then it’s mostly what you remember: combat and weapon choices.

If you have a favorite Mega Man level please let me know. We’re planning more deep dive level dissections and I’d love to take a look at particularly interesting ones.

You Should Blog

This is my invitation for you to start blogging. Start it up again, or start it for the first time. Over a year ago I started blogging again. Nothing major, just small things here and there mostly for my own reference. It’s a good habit and it’s freeing to have a place to put things. I talked last week about ownership on the web and have gotten a lot of nudges from folks that this is something. I’m now nudging you to actually do it because I know you’ve been thinking about it. Talk to me if you need help getting setup, or need accountability. I’m very good at positive peer pressure.

Being Happy For Your Friends

Friends, I want to share one of the most important things I learned in grad school: other people’s success is not your failure. You’ll be so much happier if you learn to celebrate the achievements of other people as well as your own.

A while back on Workantile’s slack we created channel for #shamelessplugs. Its a channel devoted to talking about the cool things you are up to. This has been lovely and provides a valuable service to a community: giving people the space to be excited about their thing. If you’re on slack or discord or whatever and don’t have a channel like this, go make one.

Newsletter April 2, 2018

Newsletters, Local Newsletter Type Things

Internet, Ownership

If I had a mission statement right now it’d be this: more people exhibiting more ownership over more of what they produce online. Right now we’ve swung almost entirely to allowing social media to own everything about our activity online: both in terms of consumption and production. Social media, however, interlaces consumption and production in order to extract the maximum value from the smallest interactions. I’m convinced that soon enough if you hover your mouse over a link for too long it could result in a post about how you’re interested in it blasted out to the world. Technically speaking that would be a very impressive feature! Shareholders love features like that because engagement goes up because everyone thinks that everyone else is doing more somethings on the site.

Your tools constrain what you’re able to create and how you create it. And the current landscape of widely available, easy to use, tools prioritize only a specific set of behaviors (primarily based around engagement). Imagine if instead of writing this newsletter it existed as a thread on twitter. I’m so tired just thinking of anyone trying to read that let alone writing it!

I’m all for the barrier to creation being lowered. I’m not for the control of the display of that creation to be ceded to a few large publicly traded companies. Again, I want more people to have ways to create and catalog the things they care about in their own space. Owning your own little corner of the internet allows you to do different things with it than trusting The Great Algorithm to sort it out for you.

Maybe you just really want to catalog the paint colors you used on your house so you can reference it later. Maybe you want to write a weekly newsletter. Maybe you want to have a place to post about your hyperlocal D&D zine’s progress. FB isn’t going to give you those tools unless there’s a measurable way for them to monetize it. And the second it’s no longer profitable for them you’re on borrowed time.

We have some good tools to do the making part, but we don’t have all the possible tools to do so. I want more ways to facilitate someone having an idea to the production of that idea. Ideally it doesn’t involve a lot of head scratching about terms like DNS, SSH, NPM, etc. No one in 2018 should have to understand server administration in order to have a website.

If this were a medium piece I’d now bring up how my startup is going to solve this. Alas, this is just a weekly newsletter. Talk to me in person if you’ve been thinking about these things too.

Tools, Impact Drivers

After my cheap Black and Decker’s drill battery failed me, yet again, I went out and bought a used set of 12v Bosch Drills. I went with the wirecutter’s recommendation. Not only do they seem to have more power than the old 18v drill they stay charged for forever. The Black and Decker would need a good hour before it was usable. No one can remember to charge up a drill battery an hour before they need to use it.

I used the drill and impact driver to install a new arm on our screendoor that was closing extremely forcefully–like smack you hard in the back when you’re just trying to get inside forceful. Using the impact driver to screw in the screws was wonderful. They went in smoothly without slipping or stripping the heads. Imagine that!

If all you have is a “normal” drill I’d strongly recommend picking up an impact driver in whatever brand you have. The first time you need to put a screw into something you will thank yourself for doing so. Plus, living the 2 drill lifestyle is downright decadent. For the screen door arm I had the normal drill setup with a quarter-inch drill bit for the pilot holes and the impact driver set up to drive them in. Saved a lot of fumbling which was good because I had a toddler “helping” me.

Also, if the last drill you got wasn’t a lithium ion battery look to see if you can replace whatever your system uses with one. Amazon is filled with cheap ones that I’m sure are more than fine.

Do keep a corded drill around for when a problem requires ALL the power.

Videogames, Bloodborne

Bloodborne on its surface is a lovecraftian horror game. It’s extremely violent (comically so) and the story endlessly talks about blood (naturally), beasts, and death. Playing it though? Playing feels more like a rhythm game, or a series of careful dances of attrition. It’s very enjoyable when its working and very frustrating when its not. A misjudged pattern can result in loss of control of the situation, flailing, and player death. You could reskin with any other lore and I’d happily play it.

Videogames, Hohokum

My wife finished playing Hohokum last night and I’m reminded that the soundtrack is amazing. The game itself is delightful too and maybe the polar opposite of Bloodborne. There’s no violence to speak of, or failure states really, so we’ve happily handed the controller over to our daughter to “play”. She usually gets bored after a a minute and requests we watch “Totoro” instead. Still!

Videogames, Guns

“I get nervous when I’m in the airport and see soldiers with assault rifles, but I can probably tell you what kind of rifles they’re holding.”

I found this piece on Kotaku about the relationship between video game guns and real world guns extremely good and worth reading. Especially in light of playing a game like Bloodborne.

Read it if you too would never carry a gun in real life, but see no problem with carrying a gun in a video game.

Dumpster Fires, Siri

I keep giving Siri a shot. It keeps failing in new and astounding ways. Recently while driving I wanted to look up the location of a business that I knew was within a mile of me. I asked it to find the business and it searched the app store for the business name instead.

Later that day I asked it to do a thing that I really just need to stop asking it: send a text message to a friend. It did a remarkably terrible job of the transcription.

I’m sure there’s a way to get it to work better if I used a different inflection/accent, or learned all the keywords, but I also just don’t think I should have to. Maybe that’s petulant.

I don’t have a point other than to complain that my magic pocket computer should be able to understand when I yell at it. We live in strange times.

Apps, Waiting for Review

Night Lights, the toddler toy app I made with Steve last year, has an update coming out soon. It’s a “bug fixes” update that addresses a few annoying issues that became evident after launch. Nothing will show you your bugs like a release.

Oddly enough we’re still seeing a sale or two a week from it from no marketing, just searches on the app store. That’s heartening to see! Keep buying it, random people! Eventually we might be able to make enough money to get a check from Apple (ha)!

Zine, Ypsi-Arbor Dungeons and Dragons Gazette

Submissions are officially closed for the zine. Now I need to make the thing! There were about 7 or so submissions and I have ideas for a few other things I want to include. Speaking of: I’m looking for people to test out a smallish “dungeon” I’ll be including in it. Let me know if you are interested!

Also, if you have experience in layout or design (or want some experience in layout and design) and want to pitch in on putting this together, please find me!