I’ve spent a fair bit of time cleaning up my long-neglected YouTube “channel”, which until recently has just been a CDN for videos I’m embedding elsewhere. I’ve made the realization that I need to add a lot more context around anything I post there, meaning each video needs some kind of voiceover, title card, and description so that they stand alone a bit better. I posted the latest Travelall update  yesterday and within six hours I had sixty views—which is peanuts, really—but you’ve got to start somewhere, I suppose. As I’ve done work on WRI’s channels I’ve picked up some tips and advice on how to raise visibility, so I’m putting those into place to see how things go. Strangely the Hudson video has 11K views which look to be completely organic based on the stats I’m seeing. I guess Hudsons are more popular than IH.

Date posted: February 21, 2024 | Filed under geek | Leave a Comment »

The New Yorker ran an issue on AI this month, and one of the articles inside is by a programmer who has been wrestling with what ChatGPT means for his career and balancing the old paradigm of figuring out a problem for yourself through code vs. figuring out how to speak to AI to help develop that code faster. He talks about the steep learning curve he faced when starting out, and how persistence and determination help push through the hardest parts of learning that new language; how rewarding it is to sit back and think through a problem, then be able to write the code properly to solve it. It’s like painting or cooking or any one of a number of difficult skills that take time to master: there’s a particular satisfaction that comes with finishing that artwork or serving that food where everyone appreciates the craft. The successful completion of the struggle is what keeps us going. But now a bot seems to be able to do the same coding work without effort, in minutes.

Bodies of knowledge and skills that have traditionally taken lifetimes to master are being swallowed at a gulp. Coding has always felt to me like an endlessly deep and rich domain. Now I find myself wanting to write a eulogy for it.

The author is rightfully worried that his career will disappear if all we have to do is type a question into a box and have the box write the code for us. But he comes to realize that this new technology speeds up the drudgery of writing the code, and we’re still using our brains to solve problems; the box is helping by speeding up the process—and in that process, we’re learning a new kind of language: the translation. We have to learn the language the box needs to complete our requests properly. And you have to know how to think about programming, and understand what proper output is, to know how to ask the right questions.

I spent a lot of time in the late 90’s learning a couple of different languages through books; the first was a language called Lingo used by an application called Macromedia Director. I started using it after learning the basics in a continuing ed course at MICA and got good enough that my boss at the time (who was smart enough to know that the Web was the future, even if he was a lousy boss) hired me out to make an animated screensaver for a government agency. I read the Lingo book and learned enough to build a primitive randomizer to play different clips so that the screensaver showed something different each time it looped. When I was finished and my code worked, I was quietly stunned. A new world had opened up, the one my Dad had been telling me about (and which I resisted until college, when it became clear that this was the future) and I saw my place in it for the first time.

With that experience, I got my first web design gig. I learned some Perl first, and then PHP as I got further into producing my own sites. I was never completely fluent in either language—I couldn’t sit down and write a web application from scratch—but I could read and understand what things were doing, and I knew enough to fix things that were broken and add logic to change the behavior of the apps we worked on. And most importantly, I could talk to the programmers who could build things, which is a skill all on its own. I was very good at translating the concept to the people making the code.

Had I been a smarter man I would have focused solely on learning and mastering PHP, and I might have pursued a different career path. But my skills were more suited to UI/UX and I made a good living in that specialty for years until I burned out. Around that time I began to notice that the shop I worked for was leaning more heavily on templatized solutions: instead of estimating 80-100 hours for someone like me to generate two concepts, mood boards, and the designs to flesh out all of those requirements, they were finding templates they could modify to suit their needs and banking that extra billing as profit. What had once been a bespoke craft I’d trained myself to do was becoming commoditized, and I was lucky to get out when I did.

I don’t think AI is going to be able to take over art direction or brand creation anytime soon, and ChatGPT certainly can’t walk into a room and convince ten skeptical personalities to approve a concept or mediate a discussion; I’m thankful I’m not walking into programming or web design fresh out of school. And I’m extremely glad I’m not a writer by trade.

I sat down with my ChatGPT account last night and asked it to produce a couple different examples of PHP code to do simple tasks: create a form field to capture several inputs and write them to a text document; build a randomizer to display a different image on a page at reload, and write an AppleScript to resize an image. It wrote simple code that did exactly what I asked and worked flawlessly. I can see how asking it to build something with more functionality would be challenging, and require some iteration to learn how the AI needs to be asked, but it’s frightening how fast and easy the bot did its job. I’m going to practice my translation and see if I can make it do bigger better things.

Date posted: November 18, 2023 | Filed under art/design, geek, general | Leave a Comment »

A strange thing started happening over the last month or so that I wasn’t expecting. I put a quick video edit of the trip I took with Bennett to pick up his Hudson on my YouTube channel, which has historically been very quiet. I use it mainly just as a place to park random videos to be embedded on the weblog or a random forum post. I shared the link with Bennett, Bennett shared it with some friends of his, and it wound up getting about 5,500 views and the channel gained about 20 subscribers in two months. That led to more comments and likes on the Travelall video updates I’ve posted. So I went in to YouTube’s backend and cleaned up the channel, added some categories, and created new title cards for all of those videos.

I don’t know what the end goal is here; I don’t intend to quit the day job and pursue a career as a YouTube creator, as exhausting as that sounds. But I think I’m going to put a little more time into the production of each video to see what kind of traction I can get. Would a sponsorship be nice to have? I wouldn’t turn it down.

Another interesting realization came when I glanced at the initial walkaround videos I shot when I first got the truck. I can’t believe how lousy the thing looked when it first arrived. The paint was garbage, the interior was a horror show, and without a grille it looked like a drunk hobo passed out in the driveway. It’s come a long way. Each time I go outside and cringe at the condition of the front fenders I have to remember how much worse everything looked in March, and how much I’ve done to it since then. I think I’m going to do a before and after 1-year progress video to really compare how far we’ve come.

Date posted: November 9, 2023 | Filed under geek, housekeeping | Leave a Comment »

This is really interesting for a Mac user: Apple has introduced something called Safari web apps in macOS 14 Sonoma where you can save a webpage as a standalone application in the dock which shares no browsing history, cookies, website data, or settings with Safari. It’s helpful for sites where you have multiple logins and avoiding explicit tracking within websites.

Date posted: October 3, 2023 | Filed under apple, geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

I’m giving my new MacBook Air a test spin now that I’ve got the basics up and running, and so far I like it. It’s light, it’s fast, the keyboard is much improved over the old butterfly design, and I love having Touch ID on the keyboard. It took a little time to integrate into my Apple ecosystem, as initially my passwords didn’t sync properly as they should have. The solution was to log out of iCloud on my iPad and the Air, and then log back in to each one, which solved the problem. I’ve got a copy of the Microsoft suite installed, Dropbox is humming away syncing my files, and I just have to sort out one email address to get the Adobe suite up and running. Beyond that everything else is working as advertised, which is great. It’s amazing to have more than an hour of battery time again; I’m going to have to buy a spare USB-C to Magsafe 3 connector to have a spare on hand.

* * *

Meanwhile I bought and installed a tiny wireless repeater and installed it in the den, where it should be widening the range of our wifi out to the driveway and beyond. One of the most annoying things about setting off on a trip in the car has been having to drive out the driveway and down the street to pull over and then get directions from Google; the signal out there was just strong enough to stay connected but weak enough that it never loaded. It took a couple of minutes to set up but now that it’s in there, there’s much better coverage on that side of the house, as well as upstairs.

I drove up to Hunt Valley on Saturday morning with a box containing my Powerbook 160, tools, and new parts.  I bought all the components needed to repair the LCD screen and get it back up and running, and talked to the guy who handles Mac repairs for the Computer Museum housed in the building I used to work in. Walking in the door, everything looked the same up until I got to the big open area in back which used to be filled with cube squares from one side to the other. Now, the front half is an extremely impressive museum filled with computers of all shapes and sizes, and the middle section was lined with worktables covered in electronic gear of all shapes and sizes, and men milling around with tools and puzzled expressions.

Where my old cube had been now stands a display wall with the entire line of colored iMacs, under which a huge assortment of other models sat: a 20th Anniversary Mac, lampshades, portables, and original 128k Macs. Funny to think that back then I was the only guy in the building who insisted on using a Mac to build websites, surrounded by men selling PCs over the phone.

In front of that display sat an original Lisa, and next to that is an original Apple I, hardwired by Woz and probably worth more than my house. The rest of the museum is amazing, with everything from closet-sized UNIVAC units to tiny calculators and everything in between. I ran into my old boss Bob, who runs the place, and we caught up briefly.

Then I found the fellow I’d talked to and he showed me how to replace the bad capacitors on the LCD board, deftly removing them with a precision soldering iron and replacing them just as quickly. He had to repair one contact pad with a jumper, but within about a half an hour he’d put all of the new components in and handed me back the board. I found an empty table and reassembled the unit, then plugged it in to hear the happy Mac startup chime. After a moment I saw the screen come up but then saw that the backlight looks like it’s faulty, as I could see the display when I adjusted the contrast but it wasn’t as bright as it should have been.

So I’ll have to do some research on what could cause that problem, and chase down a fix. Then the next step will be to swap out the ancient spinning hard drive with a solid state CompactFlash card, and possibly a hand-wired battery. Next time they have a workshop, I’m going to bring my Powerbook 1400 up to see what he thinks about the display on that one.

Date posted: July 23, 2023 | Filed under apple, geek | Leave a Comment »

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation: How to Enable Advanced Data Protection on iOS, and why you should. I’d like to set this up among all of the devices we have here, but we run a lot of older gear that won’t be covered under this seup—and the idea that if I do enable this, we’ll lose some functionality on things like the Apple TV or this old laptop doesn’t thrill me.

Date posted: May 25, 2023 | Filed under apple, geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Andy Baio has made many amazing things for the internet, one of which is/was called Belong.io, which was a tool using the Twitter API to scrape interesting links from the feeds of a bunch of interesting people daily. With Phony Stark blowing up the service and charging for the API, he’s shut the whole thing down:

Truth be told, it was already dying as those interesting people slowed down their Twitter usage, or left entirely in the wake of Elon Musk’s acquisition and a series of decisions that summarily ruined it as a platform for creative experimentation.

bummer.

Date posted: April 27, 2023 | Filed under geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

The Washington Post did a deep dive of the dataset used to train popular AI models like ChatGPT, and as you might expect, the big websites got crawled heavily. Interestingly, IdiotCentral here didn’t show up at all, but billdugan.com ranks 1,078,227th.

Date posted: April 20, 2023 | Filed under geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

The Verge: Best Printer 2023: just buy this Brother laser printer everyone has, it’s fine. I have a Brother printer in the same basic family; it scans, it prints. It’s a pain in the ass to connect to the wi-fi correctly. In the comment section of the post I found this on, a helpful user goes through the steps for setting up a fixed IP address and most crucially, setting up the printer correctly to pick that IP address up. I figured this out myself several years ago after wanting to throw the fucking thing out the window. Whatever happened to HP printers? they used to, um, just work.

Date posted: March 17, 2023 | Filed under geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

I’ve noticed Conway’s Law mentioned twice in different places this last week, and it has a lot of bearing on some current strategy I’m involved with at work: it basically states that organizations design systems that mirror their own communication structure—essentially organizations build things that mimic their own worldview. I saw this repeatedly when I was doing IA for higher education websites, and I see it now at the NGO. 

Date posted: February 9, 2023 | Filed under geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »