Just Wandering Away

About to post this to Facebook…:

I heard a pundit say the other day that people “are just wandering away” from Facebook. I feel that. The vibe has totally changed, and much of the old vitality is gone. Pre-Trump, Facebook was an enjoyable place for serious debate on an endless variety of topics. Post-Trump, FB became a place to rally and compare notes about the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. But no one can stay in rage mode every day – we become exhausted. Now it feels like people are just kind of limping along, trying to keep their chins up against an inexplicable and endlessly infuriating backdrop.

Then there’s the whole Cambridge Analytica thing, and the ensuing #deletefacebook movement. If you didn’t catch tonight’s 60 Minutes interview with the developer of the app that scraped your data, must watch.

Three Facebook writers/friends I admire bigly have quit FB over the past month, leaving my stream all the poorer. Meanwhile, I find myself pining once again for pre-Facebook days, when it was all about blogs aggregated into RSS and FOAF networks. I’ve let my Twitter and Flickr accounts go somewhat stale. I don’t give Quora nearly the amount of time it deserves. Medium is an amazing resource. Reddit is a massive phenomenon of which I’ve barely scraped the surface. There are still tons of great blogs out there. And the stack of unread magazines and books on the coffee table keeps calling.

Coming to treat Facebook like it’s the internet itself, or like it somehow represents the “best of the internet” is a subtle trap, one that occurs silently, almost naturally, when you allow it suck you in. It’s too good at what it does.

I think a big part of the appeal of TV shows set in the past (“Call the Midwife,” “The Crown,” etc.) is that they let us spend an hour remembering how different the world was before the internet changed everything, for better and for worse. Lately, I’ve been leaning more toward “for the worse,” which is ironic given my chosen profession, but I can’t escape the conclusion that our culture’s seeming inability to distinguish truth from fiction, or to even care when our leaders use lies as a primary currency, or to think rationally as a collective, is largely due to the fact that anyone can now speak on the same playing field as trained professionals. What drew me to a career on the web – the revolutionary potential of an idealistic “democratization of voices” that could “give everyone their own printing press” turned out to be HORRIBLE for democracy.

Meanwhile, it feels like a third of the country views people who just want to maintain common-sense, good-for-humans policies as if they are “leftist radicals” (excuse me now, WHO are the radicals?). Today I did something truly radical: I picked up the damn phone (remember those?) and called an old friend. Sat in the afternoon sun and talked, just like in the olden days. It was truly great.

Lately, the thing that makes me happiest is not having online conversations – it’s rolling through pristine countryside on two wheels. It’s bike season, and the centuries are coming up. That’s where I feel most at peace, and I experience a deeper sense of meaning making a new friend on a bike than I do clicking Like 30 times a day. Late nights, lately I take more pleasure in writing code than in “scrolling the feed” (which is why I’ve been posting less).

This is all a long way of saying I feel increasingly depressed by it all. By the internet in part, but by Facebook’s supremacy *in particular*. I need a mental health break from this platform. Not unplugging entirely, but needing more diversity of inputs and of voices, and to do more analog reading. I’m returning to my old haunts for a spell, and looking for new ones. Just deleted FB from my phone (it only takes a second!), and will not visit FB/web for one month (though I’ll probably check in on this post for a day, and may make exceptions for a couple of big events coming up).

I know it’s going to be tough — for all of its problems, Facebook is an incredible platform. The technology is good, all my friends are here, and it serves important functions for organizing events and interest groups. This will be tough.

For updates this month, see blog.birdhouse.org and twitter.com/shacker . Come May 21, I’ll re-evaluate.

Much love,
./s

Announcing django-todo 2.0

django-todo is a pluggable, multi-user, multi-group, multi-list todo and ticketing system – a reusable app designed to be dropped into any existing Django project. Users can create tasks for themselves or for others, or create ”assigned tasks” that will be filed into a specific list (public tickets).

That was the original project description, and it hasn’t changed in 10+ years.

When I first created django-todo, it was a simple “let’s learn Django” project I gave to myself. I open sourced it, it’s been relatively successful, and the project has received numerous contributions over the years (grateful!). When I heard that it wasn’t compatible with Django 2.0, I looked back on that old code and realized it was time for a major refactor/upgrade. I’ve been working on the update for the past couple of months (evenings only).

Virtually every module and template has been refactored, much more in line with current best practices. The update started small, but by the end, I had made 75 commits and written the first suite of working tests (finally!). And I adopted Bootstrap as the default layout engine. And finally got around to creating a live demo site for the project.

django-todo 2.0 requires Django 2.0 and Python 3.x – no apologies. Unfortunately, this is a backwards-incompatible update (you’ll need to migrate old data manually, if you have any).

Hope it’s useful to a few teams or individuals out there. Contributions still very much welcome.

ALL YOUR FRIENDS ARE HERE

Ello was founded as a social network devoted to never selling or sharing your data. Diaspora was founded as a social network devoted to decentralization so no one could “own” your data. Google Plus offered a better experience than Facebook in dozens of ways. There have been heaps of Facebook alternatives over the years, and they’re all virtual ghost towns. Why can’t any of them succeed? Because Facebook has one feature no one else can replicate: ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS ARE HERE. Now, with many of us fed up and looking for alternatives, I’m asking: How can we break FB’s monopoly on ALL YOUR FRIENDS ARE HERE? Until we do, the number of people who truly leave the platform will be close to zero.

Space Oddity

Easy to laugh this off or to get pizzy about space junk, but cannot underestimate the significance of what happened today – humans launched a Tesla into space blasting Bowie on infinite repeat, using a rocket many times larger than anything we’ve launched for decades, for a fraction the cost of what NASA launches cost, *and* brought two out of three of its booster rockets back for a perfect (and simultaneous!) landing, ready for re-use. And we got a view from the Tesla-in-space streamed live on YouTube as it all went down. Humans are awesome, and Mars just got a whole lot closer.

Great pics in the Guardian coverage.

Alexa, Shut Up!

Listening to a mother talking about how her 11-yr-old daughter was rude to Amazon Alexa, yelling “Shut up!” at it. Mother admonished her for being rude. Child: “Gosh mom, it’s just a robot, it’s not like it’s an AI or something.” In other words, child makes clear distinction that AI has “real” emotions and that we shouldn’t hurt its feelings, while a simple robot does not. Amazing times.

Año Nuevo – Elephant Seals, Costanoa

Spent a couple of days off the grid at Año Nuevo state park with families. The first evening, Amy and I found ourselves trudging across 1/2 mile of dunes to meet the sun just as it kissed the horizon of the sea. With a light haze blowing through the sand and tall grasses, scenery was mystical and perfect. Elephant Seals unfortunately weren’t very active when we were there – just sunbathing blobs, but neat to see anyway. Wrapped up with a hike in the foothills beneath Big Basin. Recharged!

Costanoa Sunset Beach Hike

Costanoa Sunset Beach Hike

Steve Bollman Pescadero

Elephant Seals @ Año Nuevo

Lots more in this Flickr set

A Nanosecond Per Foot

It takes light takes about a nanosecond to travel a foot. So if you’re sitting four feet away from me, I’m seeing you as you were 4 billionths of a second ago. Meanwhile, Earth light takes four years to get to Alpha Centauri. So for anyone on a planet in Alpha Centauri watching Earth TV, it would appear that we still have an adult president in office.

Marvin Pontiac: The Asylum Tapes

“I thought people would be up in arms about pretending to be a black person,” Lurie said in a 2008 interview, “but people were more upset that I pretended to be an insane person.” –2013 John Lurie interview at eMusic

Something seemed fishy about the amazing 1998 The Legendary Marvin Pontiac ‎– Greatest Hits release, on Strange & Beautiful Music. Who was this madman with the lyrical genius of Dylan meets Robyn Hitchcock meets crazy-guy-on-the-corner-by-the-bodega, and where did he come from? How did such an incredible record emerge whole cloth from an artist none of us had ever heard of? Then his biography turned up online, claiming that Pontiac had been:

The son of an African father from Mali and a white Jewish mother from New Rochelle, New York. The father’s original last name was Toure but he changed it to Pontiac when the family moved to Detroit, believing it to be a conventional American name … When his mother was institutionalized in 1936, the father returned and brought the young boy to Bamako, Mali where Marvin was raised until he was fifteen. The music that he heard there would influence him forever.

Plausible? Almost sorta kinda. But why did Pontiac’s voice sound like a more blues-drenched version of New York jazz musician/painter/actor John Lurie (Lounge Lizards)? Oh… because Pontiac was Lurie! Realizing that the whole Pontiac thing was a ruse didn’t diminish the magnetism of that record for me though – it amplified it if anything. Went looking for more, but that was it — just the one audio scrapbook.

Until now. Pontiac (who was supposed to have been killed by a bus in 1977!) just dropped a follow-up recording, The Asylum Tapes, allegedly recorded on a donated 4-track deck while he was confined in the Esmerelda State Mental Institution. This time it’s Lurie solo (the first collection was recorded with John Medeski, Billy Martin, G. Calvin Weston, Marc Ribot), but it’s raw, weird, soulful and full of demented wonder.

New Yorker: So what’s Lurie up to with this project? I suppose it’s no more mischievous, really, than an actor singing in character, and many of our most prized artworks goof around with form, testing the permeable membrane between fact and fiction, between art and something else. … Our hunger for the authentic or the unmediated has mostly begotten us a cavalcade of deeply unreliable things, such as Donald Trump, laminate flooring, fake-fake news, artisanal moonshine, and reality television.

Then again:

Reportedly Marvin’s music was the only music that Jackson Pollack would ever listen to while he painted. This respect was not reciprocated.

Not sure The Asylum Tapes will get us any closer to answering hard questions about how Pontiac ended up in the bughouse, but it’s deep, beautiful, soulful, sort of funny, and totally worth your time. Available for streaming on iTunes, Spotify, etc.