trenchant.org

by adam mathes

Post-modern IRC

The last time I regularly used IRC was sometime in college to keep up with the underground classic arcade and console game piracy/preservation community.

I didn’t pay much attention to IRC itself — it was just an interesting way to communicate with a weird subculture I was on the periphery of.

Now that I’m looking at IRC with fresh eyes as a technologist and conscientious objector of modern social media, all the wondrous beauty, potential, incomprehensibility and flaws seem all the more apparent.

Protocol

Unlike proprietary modern tightly coupled solutions, IRC is a protocol with an RFC from 25 years ago. So it runs everywhere, there’s clients for every platform, servers galore, and whole ecosystem of related software.

There’s a certain durability and comfort to these kinds of standards running on commodity hardware with an open source operating system. You can be pretty sure if you set some unix server to run IRC, you’ll be able to keep using IRC in some form years from now.

I love boring software now in a way I never thought I would.

If you choose some hot shit modern chat app thing, who knows where it will be in a few years. (On that note, does anybody still use XMPP? Wasn’t it funny that in the late 90’s when using XML for everything seemed like a modern and awesome future-proofing idea?! We’ll probably feel that way about Javascript in 20 years.)

Usability Nightmare

Unlike proprietary modern tightly coupled solutions, IRC is an old school protocol where everything is an incomprehensible nightmare of disparate configuration files, arcane commands, usability nightmares, security flaws, and duct tape and chewing gum to keep it all together.

It’s great though. Really. Really? Really. Maybe.

Missing Pieces

Ignoring the general incomprehensibility of IRC and the vocabulary that is required for a user, setting up a private IRC server actually isn’t that bad as far as services go. At its core, typing in a box to send a message is more or less something that makes intuitive sense once you get people there.

(That was one of the only things that people could figure out how to do on Orkut and social networks.)

Some of the challenges with IRC —

  • authentication and identity — IRC has always had a weird hodgepodge of “services” built on top to try and handle identity to fill the gaps but it feels particularly awkward now in an age of single-sign on services
  • persistence — the ephemeral nature of IRC is kind of wonderful, but makes it hard to keep up with things, and the weird world of bouncers and loggers to fill in are not super easy to comprehend or deal with it
  • mobile — native mobile clients for IRC exist but the protocol (and the lack of push notifications easily available) make using IRC as a modern messaging platform on the dominant platforms challenging to normal human beings who aren’t in front of a keyboard all day

Don’t Let That Stop You

Never one to let usability, security, or sanity stop me in technical endeavors for antisocial software, I now have a setup that includes:

  • IRC daemonngIRCd set up to only allow connections from my server
  • preconfigured web client that connects to it for easy access — Lounge
  • loggerLogBot
  • bouncer to enable persistent connection for myself and BFFs — znc
  • Mac clientLimeChat
  • iOS clientMutter with push notifications
  • no friends actually using it

I declare that a huge success, personally.

Anyway, give it a shot. Relive the glory days of the trenchant.org webarrific discussioney board but in realtime over IRC at irc.trenchant.org

Or don’t. I’ll probably just ignore whatever happens on there anyway, and regret that I just made a thing that allows anyone to anonymously send me push notifications.

TODO

Ppersistence/login working seamlessly on a web version without a complicated bouncer setup would be nice.

Figuring out a way to integrate images/image hosting.

IRC bouncers are great but the multiple level of authentication / logins / etc needed to get all this to work is pretty daunting — something that handled all that seamlessly would be interesting.

Bots. There should probably an adammathebooks bot on the channel at all times, and really a host menagerie of bot pals since the internet for me has always fundamentally been about me talking to myself in various ways anyway.

At what point do I just give up and decide we all should just use the same UNIX server to talk to each other.

I feel like I’m inching ever and ever closer to just throwing everything out the window and trying to find a way to live in hacked up Raspberry Pi’s.

Operators Are Standing By

In the absence of twitter — the last social media site I used with any regularity — I’ve been thinking a lot more about centralization of communication, publishing, and its impacts.

Orange XML Buttons Were Ugly And Unusuable But Now All We Have Are Embedded Tweets

The death of RSS as a platform for decentralized notifications and re-engagement of audience has had a crippling effect on the ability of publishers (small and large) to keep audiences coming back. Pretty soon I will need to sell a Winer was right t-shirt next to the RMS one.

I apparently realized this six years ago when one of my first post-Google projects was mailmedaily — a simple RSS to email subscription toolset. But I didn’t realize how drastic the changes would be over the next few years.

Email is the last open protocol with notifications that people actually rely on, so it makes sense to retreat and retrench there.

Like most of my projects, this one failed to get traction and I shut it down due to other things that required my time, even though it did have a tiny active user base. (Also, running email services and avoiding being marked as spam is really, really hard.)

I probably should have thought of publishers as the customers rather than readers, and figured out how to make that work, but I think that market is pretty crowded and I wasn’t interested in solving that problem at the time — only scratching my own itch of subscriptions for myself and readers. But there’s something important to this one — re-engagement is actually the longer term problem to solve rather than mass audience. Mass audiences may live on social media, but trying to be a personal publisher within that cesspool seems like a Faustian bargain.

Well, that seems unfair — at least the devil felt obligated to do cool shit for Faust for 24 years in exchange for his soul — nobody will give you that sort of value for your soul in an algorithmically optimized feed!

Anyway, I should be thinking about how to deal with this sort of thing if I’m regularly writing again and want an audience, but luckily I do not care about the size of my audience anymore. (I mean, I care in the sense that I’m probably better off if it’s smaller.)

The Other Forgotten Text Protocol

In the near term I’ll just let my weird custom CMS tweet out my writing and have it do battle against the auto-delete bot because that seems like the most entertaining approach. (I was going to do that on Medium too but it seems too complicated to get my Medium posts auto-deleted.)

I’m also setting up a private IRC server. Which seems ridiculous that I’d even consider when I’m too lazy/weird/whatever to even respond to any of the personal inquiries I get and am avoiding all social media but it makes sense in my head.

Web version is available to play with if I haven’t messed it up yet. I may be unqualified to manage UNIX services but in the modern era everybody is dev-ops whether they like it or not.

Globalization and The Economics of Fear

More importantly still — and directly contrary to what establishment liberals love to claim in order to demonize all who reject their authority — economic suffering and xenophobia/racism are not mutually exclusive. The opposite is true: The former fuels the latter, as sustained economic misery makes people more receptive to tribalistic scapegoating. That’s precisely why plutocratic policies that deprive huge portions of the population of basic opportunity and hope are so dangerous. Claiming that supporters of Brexit or Trump or Corbyn or Sanders or anti-establishment European parties on the left and right are motivated only by hatred but not genuine economic suffering and political oppression is a transparent tactic for exonerating status quo institutions and evading responsibility for doing anything about their core corruption.

Glenn Greenwald, Brexit Is Only the Latest Proof of the Insularity and Failure of Western Establishment Institutions

Globalization, the frictionless flow of capital, labor, and ideas has been great for a lot of people — including myself, I work in tech in silicon valley! — but it’s had devastating impacts elsewhere, without key political institutions taking them seriously or addressing them.

This combined with the very large increases in wealth inequality over the past four decades are having a cumulative effect. Blaming “the other” is unfortunately a historically effective tactic for channeling that anger — and in the absence of better ideas to address the root causes and effective policy it’s likely to become even more effective and damaging to western culture.

I am perhaps less surprised by all this since I spent my teenage years reading Thomas Frank articles in The Baffler that mostly seemed shocked this sort of thing wasn’t happening sooner, and how weird it was that populist tactics had been co-opted by plutocratic establishment figures so easily.

Meanwhile In Neo-Liberal Utopia, Nobody Can Afford To Live

While those like myself in the cosmopolitan California peninsula may claim to be beyond the reach of such base tactics, ask your liberal friends in CA (the ones that are renting and complaining about housing costs and threatening to leave for Portland) the following thought experiment —

Would you support a candidate that promised to decrease housing costs 25% by banning foreign investors from residential real estate purchases?

Blaming foreign money for the Bay Area housing debacle — when it’s statistically pretty much the fault of increasing wages, geography preventing sprawl, and mostly a decades long refusal of local governments to increase housing supply, density, and infrastructure to meet increased demand — is the kind of thing I have heard regularly over the past couple years. And while there may be some shred of truth to some tiny bit of it, it’s more indicative of the potential for xenophobic policies to ignite even where people least expect when there’s just the slightest economic pain and lack of security (even amongst the well off) to fuel the fire.

Expect The Unexpected

Bernie Sanders — a 74-year-old socailist who until recently wasn’t even in the Democratic party — led a campaign that nearly beat the establishment candidate.

Donald Trump — a reality television actor and living lifestyle brand of questionable products and services — did beat the establishment candidates on the Republican side, somehow.

Clinton and Trump have historically high negative favorability ratings so we are in uncharted territory in US politics for a lot of reasons.

Regardless of what happens in this election cycle — seems hard to fathom Clinton losing given polling, demographics, and Trump’s inability to stop saying crazy things — the economic stagnation, voter sentiment, and other indications mean we should expect to see more outcomes that are at odds with conventional wisdom and establishment predictions soon.

Unfollow Everything

Quitting twitter in 2016 is less an act of courage than one of desperation.

You Might Like: Never Coming Back To This Desolate Hellscape

The tweeting of “delete your account” — the equivalent of screaming “kill yourself” at a schoolyard bully — by a woman who rose to national attention by being married to a president who cheated on her to such an extent it caused a constitutional crisis and is now running for that same office of president based on a campaign predicated on having better judgment than an orange reality television actor and peddler of comical get rich quick real estate schemes — may be the defining awful moment of the toxic intersection of addiction-focused media, ultra-polarizing politics, and my inability to even know what to think.

The optimist in me wants to believe that will be the defining moment, but the pragmatist in me knows it’s just going to get worse.

So I give up.

Also, you can’t write incomprehensible run-on sentence-paragraphs like that on Twitter without compromising them. So why even bother writing at all.

If You Quit Twitter And Don’t Tweet About It Are You Counted as A Monthly Active User

After decades of technology and media eradicating quiet moments and filling them with content that constantly assault us for attention we finally succeeded in the war against boredom.

Boredom is dead.

I’ve spent nearly a decade curating my Twitter feed but I’m sure there’s plenty of completely valid data science that indicates people are less effective at choosing what to see in terms of optimizing their own engagement.

Monetizing all this freely supplied content with advertising that tries even harder to get our attention means that social media systems like Twitter and Facebook are fundamentally architected and designed to increase “engagement” and “retention” — which is mostly just a euphemism for “addiction.”

Which means I have to see things like a viral Hillary Clinton tweet because statistically speaking I’m more likely to engage even though for me personally my fight or flight instinct has finally kicked in and you can’t fight social media. You can only run away.

We fixed the boredom problem. Now we have a misery problem.

I feel worse after using Twitter. So I just have to stop.

The internet — and specifically social media — in 2016 feels like an overflowing toxic sludge of misery built on social envy, isolation, and the taxoplasma of rage.

Day 1

I deleted Twitter from my iPhone.

I deleted Tweetbot from my iPhone.

Day 2

I deleted Twitter from my iPad.

I deleted Tweetbot from my iPad.

Day 3

I logged out of Twitter on my personal computers.

Day 4

I’m writing this. It’s probably too over the top. Tone it down man, geez.

And why didn’t I bother to carefully craft a pseudonymous following in the past 20 years for this sort of thing? Total lack of forethought in my teenage years.

Design For Inattention

What we consume in our media diet matters. What we create matters. Where we put it matters. How we interact maters.

How do we break out of this cycle of social media hearts and stars rage-fueled engagement optimized algorithmic garbage?

I don’t know, but I guess step one is admitting we have a problem.

The Hole

That spring Larry Ellison saw Amelio at a party and introduced him to the technology journalist Gina Smith, who asked how Apple was doing.

“You know, Gina, Apple is like a ship,” Amelio answered. “That ship is loaded with treasure but there’s a hole in the ship. And my job is to get everyone to row in the same direction.”

Smith looked perplexed and asked, “Yeah, but what about the hole?”

From then on, Ellison and Jobs joked about the parable of the ship. “When Larry relayed this story to me, we were in this sushi place, and I literally fell off my chair laughing,” Jobs recalled.

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs

Video Game Consumption, Q1 2016

SUPERHOT

A deceptively simple mechanic (time moves when you do) that is taken to genius levels with incredibly precise and fun gameplay, a slick and beautiful aesthetic.

I’ve unlocked like everything in this game and I’m both proud and ashamed of that.

KATANAONLY mode is impeccable and Would Play Again.

★★★★★

American Truck Simulator

ATS is a meditative experience.

What is the American Dream? What does it mean to drive? Is the open road an illusion?

What is driving, even in a world that will soon be awash in Ubers and automated drones and cars.

Why am I in virtual Bakersfield?

I turned off all the cops so I could drive as fast as I wanted and strapped into my Oculus Rift DK2 and it’s like, whoa.

★★★★

Firewatch

A first person interactive dramatic experience thing with an emphasis on conversation and a drop dead gorgeous cel shaded-ish/cartoonish aesthetic?

I should be all over this shit and yet I was totally not into it.

  1. I thought the story was boring
  2. I wanted open world adventure and exploration and got something that felt like it was on rails

Wish I liked this as much as I had hoped I would but left feeling empty and bored.

The Witness

A game where you solve constraint satisfaction problems by hand in order to unlock pretentious segments of 30 year old videos.

There’s a cool boat you can eventually unlock, but it’s stuck on rails.

Wish I could have just gone sailing instead.

Maybe if I spent another 100 hours unlocking things and uncovering “deeper secrets” of the island I’d have liked it more at the expense of hating myself? I don’t know.

I’m glad I spent the money on this game because I want to support art and auteurs in video games and Jon Blow is one of them, but this game seemed like anti-fun much of the time, like being lectured by a college freshman who just finished reading their first Nietzche assignment and I’m like, dude, shut up, there is no amount of drugs that will make this conversation fun.

I felt like I was grinding instead of exploring and learning.

★★

Life is Strange

Beautiful, emotional, and with an attention to detail in characters, moments, and cinematography rarely seen in video games Life is Strange had me in tears at the end.

Episodic gameplay and forced cliffhangers made some of it a bit uneven, but overall a huge triumph in storytelling and experiential gameplay.

Maybe I’m getting old, but I felt it was some of the most authentic displays of the challenges, weirdness, and emotionally wrenching existence of youth ever put into video games.

★★★★

36

I forgot to post on my birthday.

You probably forgot too.

Darmok and Jalad at Giphy

The increase of meme-based communication, reaction gifs, and cultural knowledge necessary to understand anything on social media makes it all start to sound Tamarian to me.

(I guess that episode was also about being old and away from the cultural moment.)

I’m no different, my references are just from different decades.

Fifteen

trenchant daily turns 15 today.

Thanks, trenchant daily, and its readers, for existing.

2015 in Gaming

I put together an overpowered gaming PC at the start of 2015 and got back into PC gaming (particularly FPS’s) big time. It was fun!

I missed doing this in 2014 (and barely played anything in 2014) and I’m a month late doing it for 2015 but whatever, here we go!

Highly Recommended

Dropsy

My game of the year 2015. Dropsy is a wordless point and click adventure game. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and magical and everything that we used to wish adventure games would turn into.

Cradle

This first-person sci-fi transhumanist adventure is one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve had in years. The small world it creates is so haunting, interesting, and beautiful.

It’s flawed - clearly had some gameplay issues and design decisions that weren’t great, the skippable mini-game thing in particular is awful. But it’s so daring and different than anything else - wish it had gotten more attention. One of the best and most beautiful experiences I’ve had in gaming.

Grand Theft Auto V

I’m not a big GTA or Rockstar fan but loved this game. “Did Somebody Say Yoga” is one of favorite moments in gaming.

Her Story

Loved everything about this, from the attention to detail in the interface, to the acting, writing, unique gameplay. And don’t worry, even people who don’t have a weird predilection to loving mediocre or obscure retro-FMV games think it’s good.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Basically great. It’s great. I mean it’s dumb and great. Tight gameplay, and given the expectation for writing for a Wolfenstein game, was actually not bad there either. The half assed stealth elements were garbage, need to play it by blowing shit up and it’s great.

Beast Boxing Turbo

Takes everything I nostalgically think I love about Mike Tyson’s Punch-out, makes them better, more charming, and has super great art and gameplay.

Axiom Verge

Surprising depth, innovation, and fun in this Metroidvania. Clearly is a love letter to Metroid but feels accessible, sharp, modern and stands on its own.

Ultra Street Fighter IV

I got back into Street Fighter this year, and man, it’s still so much fun.

Also I’m coming to accept that I am better on a keyboard than stick or pad due to years playing weird emulated fighting games over the past 20 years.

Divekick

Divekick is esports!

2 buttons is all you need.

Far Cry 4

Far Cry games never let me down, and actually seem to just keep getting better. Over the top crazy fun, tight gameplay, and killer graphics, the most fun I had when I initially set up my new gaming PC.

Semi-Recommended

FPS’s I played because I wanted to use my 21:9 monitor but were all mediocre / forgettable:

Weirdly I didn’t think any of the CODs I had missed over the past few years were good. I had high hopes for Black Ops 3 since I love Black Ops 1 and 2 but was pretty meh on this one.

Injustice: Gods Among us Ultimate Edition - turns out I like the comics better? I still just don’t get Mortal Kombat style gameplay. It’s kind of fun?

The Typing of the Dead: Overkill House of the Dead: Overkill on Wii is amazingly fun, this fell flat to me, but still basically any Typing of the Dead game is a good game.

Not Recommended / Abandoned

  • The Beginners Guide - high concept but didn’t connect with me emotionally at all
  • Batman Arkham Origins - the worst Arkham game?
  • Mind: Path to Thalamus: beautiful but didn’t enjoy the writing, gameplay, and felt the whole thing was incomprehensible.
  • Drunken Robot Pornography - difficulty spikes
  • Lichdom: Battlemage - not fun
  • TRI: Of Friendship and Madness - dizzying
  • Alien Isolation - way, way WAY too hard
  • In Verbis Virtus - cool voice mechanic to use spells but got annoying quickly

Episode 7

I saw The Force Awakens.

What I believe is canonical in Star Wars as of now:

  • Episode IV
  • The Star Wars Holiday Special
  • Episode V
  • First act of Episode VI
  • Kyle Katarn & Mara Jade
  • Episode VII

I enjoyed it. It was designed for me to enjoy it. I don’t know whether that makes it more less authentically enjoyable.

Everything is fan fiction now.

The Medium Is Unfortunately The Message

“You can’t expect them to read books!

You have to communicate with them in a medium that plays to their shortened attention span and need for instant gratification at the expense of any real depth — like an animated gif, TED Talk, or strings of emoji.”

Experience Based Economy

And yet, despite the odd food-court fisticuffs, the US shopping day was relatively slow. Much of this, of course, can be attributed to shoppers taking their business online, but it seems a greater movement is afoot. Even—or perhaps especially—post-recession, a bargain is no longer enough. Our values have shifted. For more than a year now, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a guide to de-cluttering one’s life, has sat on the New York Times best—seller list. Even the clothes-horses among us have embraced systems to limit our consumption and work with what we have. Some even enlist the help of psychologists.

Jenni Avins, For many people this Black Friday, a bargain was no longer enough