Bye YouTube

Yesterday I made a decision to never post anything to YouTube again. It wasn’t a particularly hard decision as I don’t post much there anyway, but it did mean I had to finally pay £50 for a Vimeo Pro subscription to get over the 500MB/month limit of the free account. 

YouTube was always a handy fallback. You can throw anything at it at any size and it’ll host it for free, leading one to reasonably ask what the point of a Vimeo (or other) account was other than ethics, and ethics only go so far when you’re trying to function in an unethical world. 

So why I have a quit YouTube? Simply put, the experience of watching stuff on there has become horrible. The adverts are excessive and intrusive and the culture of hawking for subscriptions and the like through annotations and post-rolls is dispiriting. I appreciate it’s a ad-funded service and many people make a living from increasing their audience, but it’s just not a nice place to be. Oh, and that’s not to mention how the whole “discovery” side of YouTube has been totally colonised by mainstream media obsessions making a mockery of its self-publishing roots. And the excessive copyright infringement patrols. And the fact that if I were to fall foul of some arbitrary infringement I could have my entire Google account suspended, including Gmail, which would be a fucking disaster. And loads of other things which are important but not as important as the actual experience.

I simply don’t want people who look at my videos to have to plough through all that nonsense to see them. So I’m going with Vimeo 100%. 

(Other video hosting companies are available. I think.)

The Certainty Of Middle Age

In the last couple of years, since I turned 40 really, the world has begun to make more and more sense to me. And I’m really not sure what to make of this. 

While memory is an incoherent fiction told by the brain to contextualise the present, I do remember life not making much sense in my 20s and 30s. Life was just a long chain of assumptions and refutations, small piles of certainty quickly demolished by brutal facts as experience marched on. 

And this was a good thing. I was learning, not just new things but how to think about things. Which is why this recent development is disconcerting me.

While I’m certainly not right about everything and have plenty to learn, I’m finding my knowledge has become more iterative. Rather that rejecting a belief or assumption I feel I am building on it, improving it, reinforcing it. 

This feels good because the mental and intellectual platform on which I’m working is stronger and can take me to different places. But it also feels wrong. 

What if my ability to self-criticise is failing? What if I’m becoming complacent? What if this strengthening of my ideas and ideals means I’m less open to new ideas and new challenges? What if the foundation for my bigger, stronger mental framework isn’t as solid as I think?

I am now fully into middle age, which is when humans get stuck in their ways, conservative with the small c. When we fear change and get stuck in our ways, longing for a past when the world made sense. Except the world makes more sense to me now that back in the day. Back in the day is was… brrr! I hate to think! 

I just got married, of course, which is something you’re “supposed” to do in your 20s. Maybe I’m flush with a delayed confidence of youth? Maybe I’m actually thinking like a young person, nimbly stacking up the ideas and building a mental world? 

I genuinely don’t know. But it’s fun, so I’m happy not knowing. 

Bring on the thinks. 

Tools to help you do vs tools to do for you

Google’s Inbox is spreading around my ‘sphere. I haven’t bothered asking for an “invite” because I don’t need it. I’ve mastered my email, ironically though using tools in the Gmail web-app. So I don’t need Google’s algorithms to help me sort my unreads. I don’t have any unreads. 

I don’t say that to boast, like I’ve achieved some herculean feat. It’s not that hard really. I just stay on top of it in a GTD-lite kinda way: delete / mark-read / reply / flag for later. And I only do that a few times a day. Maybe I’ll write about it in more detail later because a shocking number of people I know don’t have control over their inboxes and don’t seem to realise how easy it is to get control. 

You certainly don’t need this Google Inbox nonsense.

Google Inbox is interesting, though. It’s another recent example of the big tech companies providing tools and services which let the user off the hook rather than assisting them in a task. 

Facebook’s News Feed is the classic example. It defaults to the stories Facebook’s algorithm thinks are most relevant and you have to actively select “most recent” if you want to see everything in chronological order, as the gods of blogging intended. (Caveat – I closed my Facebook account a few months ago so this may have changed.) Twitter are talking about doing a similar thing, to help users find relevant tweets rather than the chaotic stream they’ve subscribed to. 

The reasoning for doing this is the raw stream is too much. Having been encouraged to follow and subscribe and friend indiscriminately users of these services are overwhelmed and fear missing out. So it’s in their interest that the services do all the hard work and curate a manageable platter of content to consume. 

That feels like a retrograde step to me. It feels like television, or newspapers. Trust Aunty BBC. Murdoch knows best.

Fuck that shit. 

Online tools have undergone a subtle shift over the last decade from tools which help us manage our lives to tools which relieve us of that burden. With a decade of iterations behind it Google’s Gmail is a good illustration of this.  

It started as a new way to approach the inbox. Rather than laboriously processing your inbox into folders and such you simply searched a single archive. I immediately loved this approach and have lived in the Gmail web-app ever since. 

The first major innovation I remember was the Priority Inbox. This took the Spam filter technology and reversed it. People you emailed a lot, or who fit other criteria, would appear at the top of the page. Other stuff would be listed below. It’s a bit like having two in-trays – important and everything else, and usually “everything else” is bacn which can be marked read and archived for future reference.

Priority Inbox is how I do my email and I can’t imagine not having it. It uses Google’s massive computing power to help me manage my email, but it leaves me in control. 

But that wasn’t good enough, it seems. Google then introduced what is now the Default inbox where your email is split into five categories: Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums. These seem to be defined by where they’re coming from rather than whether you actively engage with them or what their subject matter is. So when I set up a Mailchimp mailing list for our wedding guests to make things easier for me (it’s a tool I use for Photo School so I know it well) a lot of those relatively personal emails which everybody receiving would probably consider “important” wound up in the Promotions tab. I doubt anyone actively checks their Promotions tab. 

The frustrating thing is, Gmail has all the tools in place to set up your own tabs based on you needs. Want to automatically move notifications from Twitter and Facebook out of the inbox into a folder? Set up a search filter. It’s piss easy. But I guess people didn’t know how easy it was. 

Powerful tech companies like Google and Facebook had a choice. They could either educate their users to use tools to empower themselves, or they could turn their users into dumb content-consumers.

I wonder which one the advertisers prefer? 

The Mac Finder’s new face is wrong and I don’t like it

It’s Mac OSX update day today and while there’s some good stuff in there (and, more importantly, no terribly ill-concieved stuff) theres also a major visual overhaul in this that is called Yosemite. Which, since we’re visual creatures, means everything is wrong. At least for a few days until we don’t notice it anymore.

But there is one thing I can see I’m going to have trouble with. The icon for the Finder (which, for non-Mac users, is the catchall term for the file system). Here’s the old one and the new one next to each other:

It was only when I saw this comparison that I realised what was wrong. They both show the same thing – a face that is actually two faces, one in profile in front of the other. But the old one is an abstraction. It could be a faces or it could just be some geometric lines. The two blues are much softer too. It feels like something that has accidentally formed a face, or two faces.

The new icon is definitely a face. Even the old duck-rabbit trick of the two faces has been softened to push forward the smiley. As chum Helen said, “I feel like it’s laughing at me”. The old icon wasn’t doing anything at you. It was just there.

Humans love faces. We see them everywhere, which is why the old icon works so well. It can be a subtle arrangement of lines and colours and we’ll still see a the face. But the new icon is a smiley face, no question about it.

Considering this is supposed to represent the file system and not the Mac as a whole, it does feel a little odd that the personality thing should be emphasised. The Smiley face was once the computer itself. Now it’s the directory structure.

Simple cartoon faces get meanings attached to them, and that meaning can be very subtle and nuanced. If you don’t believe me look at these collections of simple lines:

What’s interesting about those two is when I was searching for examples I came across a lot of fan art by people trying to copy the originals and, for the most part, it stood out a mile. Not because they were bad but because even the slightest variance in the lines can dramatically change the meaning we attach to the face.

Using a face to represent something, especially something abstract like a file system, is fraught with danger. Faces are important to us. We trust people based on their faces. We go to war with people based on their faces. We honestly believe that we can tell if someone is telling the truth by looking into their eyes, which is palpably nonsense but that’s how important faces are to us.

Before today I could pretend the Finder icon wasn’t a face and treat it like every other colourful blob on the screen when I Cmd-Tabbed to another app. Now there’s this face, this representation of The Other, smiling at me.

Who are you? What do you want?

It’s very disturbing.

So I joined the Green Party

It’s been a funny old week in UK politics with the UKIPs getting an MP (well, borrowing a Tory MP for a bit) and, more interestingly, nearly winning in a Labour safe seat, which has meant both Labour and the Conservatives have taken some big steps to the right in their rhetoric while the BBC and other broadcasters are helping UKIP to move the debate in that direction too. 

For those of us who lean slightly to the left and who think the problems of the world probably aren’t due to poor people and greedy immigrants, these are confusing and dark days and it doesn’t take a paranoid reactionary to see parallels with the 1930s. Where will this all lead? And how can we stop it? 

I’ve considered joining the Labour party. After all, they’re the ones I’m most likely to vote for, despite massive reservations. But I don’t think Labour is interested in what I have to say because I’m a sure thing. I’m on their side and trapped by an ideological lock-in. I should put up and accept the compromises needed to get into power because the necessary bad will be outweighed by the good. 

I understand that logic. While I might have some views and ideas that are way out of the mainstream, I don’t expect to live in a world that accepts them. Compromise is good, because extremes are always bad. There is no Utopia, just the best we can make of a complex situation. The middle-ground is always a good thing to aim for. 

But thanks to the extremists of UKIP and the Tory right posing as “common sense” that middle ground is shifting into a place I don’t like. I’d like to help shift it back to sanity. 

It seems to me that a Labour government is generally going to be the best way to run the country. The problem is the Labour Party machine is optimised to chase votes and it sees votes over on the right. We need to take its votes away from the left. Then it will sense them going and start aligning to those needs. 

Sure, that might left a Conservative government in in the next election, but they should have thought of that before rejecting Proportional Representation in favour of a status quo that disenfranchises most of the population. 

So, who to vote for? I’ve never felt comfortable with the hard-left parties. They’re too ranty, too, uncompromising, too academic at times, and generally too annoying for me. 

I’d noticed a few people I knew were talking about voting Green, and they do have an MP, albeit in Brighton which isn’t exactly on this plane of reality. So I thought I’d have a look. And, generally speaking, I agree with most of it. Sure, there’s bits I maybe wouldn’t emphasise quite as much on the eco-side, but it is the Green party so I can deal with that. 

The point is the Greens will never be in power in this country under the current system. But by strengthening their position, by helping them get more councillors and MPs, we can start shifting the Overton Window away from the cold, hateful place UKIP want to somewhere more caring, more equitable, more human. 

And then, at some point in the future, we’ll be able to vote for Labour or the Conservatives without holding our noses. 

That’s the plan anyway!

So from today I’m a paid-up member of the Green Party. Leaflets will be going through doors on my street. I might even blog about it, though probably only in a personal way. 

Fuck UKIP – vote Green.

Some more things you might have missed when I farted them onto Twitter recently

Bruce Sterling’s The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things (Kindle) is probably the most important essay/book/thing on the state of the Internet and the culture we do on it at this moment in time. Warren Ellis puts it well.

Bruce, in his usual blackly cheerful manner, breezes through the history and near future of the digital annexation of the domestic that was cutely denoted “the internet of things” or IoT, blowing away the glitter and the hand-waving and cutting down to the meat of the matter […] Show him anything of interest and he’ll have it skinned and boned and slapped on the counter for you with intelligence, skill and efficiency. And that’s what happens here. Start with the fluffy little IoT, end up with a document on corporate dictatorship and sociopolitical extinction.

I particularly recommend it to anyone who likes the term “disruption” and goes to tech/art conferences. It should serve as a wakeup call. And it’s a fantastically fun read too.

One of the problems with getting energy from today’s planetary processes, as opposed to those which occurred millions of years ago, is storing the energy from wind, sun and water is much harder than storing oil in barrels. Or is it? In Utah, spare energy is being used to fill massive caverns with compressed air, which is then released through turbines when the wind drops. This reminded me of the Welsh mountain reservoirs which pump water uphill overnight when there’s an energy glut and then release it in the evening when Eastenders finishes and everyone in the UK puts on the kettle. The video at that link is well worth 2 minutes of you time. So next time someone says “but what about when the sun goes in / wind drops?” you’ll know what to say.

Korean weird-pop went a bit mainstream last year with Psy so it’s good to see this hit the tubes. Nice!

Timelapse or Hyperlapse or whatever they’re calling them these days movies tend to be all woo but of very little substance. This one breaks the mould. Technically awesome and politically and socially wise.

Anil Dash has been blogging for 15 years (which means I’ll have been blogging for 15 years next summer!) and has written a wonderful list of lessons he’s learned about blogging which I can heartily recommend. In fact it applies to all personal writing where the purpose is to figure stuff out and make sense of the world. In other words blogging as a true art-form, not as a commercial content social strategy.

The Faces of the Manhattan Project. Here’s Oppenheimer and Feynman, but the point of this is the sea of other faces that also worked on the atom bomb.

Why Nerd Culture Must Die. There’s been a lot of this lately, now the nerds have sort of taken over and are having trouble reconciling their teenage persecution and adult respect. This piece looks at how the culture of that persecution can have some very negative social effects when it’s actually in power.

Jerry Seinfeld is given an award by the advertising industry.

Cooking Coconut Macaroons with David Yow of Jesus Lizard, part of Pancake Mountain, a new kids TV show for 90s indie kids who have kids of their own now. It’s like if Jim Henson was a grunge-punker. Or something.