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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Leave RISC OS

So, like, here’s the latest goss, dudes and dudettes1:

Both articles assume a certain level of interest in the operating system RISC OS, and a familiarity with the crappy politics of the platform. If you have that: great, dive right in.

If you don’t, let me sell the articles to you a different way. The first piece captures some of the frustration in leaving the first computing platform you fell in love with. The second piece touches on something I’ve meant to write about for ages, but never quite managed – about how I became less and less interested in computing merely for the sake of computing.

Yes, it’s a love story. Although I must point out that despite the inferences of my friends at school, I have never stuck my knob in the cassette port of a BBC Micro.


  1. I am never using that phrase again in my life. 

■ Posted 4th December 2016 @ 2pm in Computers. No Comments Yet.

“Network, we’ll have to come back and do the draw…”

BBC 1, 30th November 1996, 7:50pm, The National Lottery Live. And a 15-year-old John Hoare, already over-excited from Noel’s House Party, watches in wonder as his other very favourite thing in the whole world happens: the telly goes wrong.

Yes, it’s the infamous 107th draw, where the lottery machine failed to act as a lottery machine and draw some damn balls. Like many TV moments I didn’t record on VHS, the memory faded over the years… until some kind soul uploaded it to YouTube back in 2010. Brilliantly, the video includes both the initial failure of the machine, and the hastily-improvised update show which aired after Casualty, where the balls were drawn successfully.

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■ Posted 3rd December 2016 @ 5pm in Television. 4 Comments.

Ghosts of Internet Past

Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a little bit of internet archaeology. Whether it’s pointing out dodgy updates to sites about murder, tracing what happened to Twitter favourites aggregator Favrd, figuring out what the deal is with an extremely weird abandoned website, or looking at good archivists and bad archivists, all of these investigations relied on one thing: the Wayback Machine from the Internet Archive, taking us back in time to examine websites at a different point in their existence. Or in some cases, to websites which have disappeared entirely. (Don’t forget my plea to think about giving the Internet Archive a donation.)

Today I want to use the Wayback Machine to talk about a couple of sites which meant a lot to me, but which are no longer online in their original form. One is more serious, and the other is a ridiculous amount of fun. Both of them, in one way or another, changed the way I think about things.

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■ Posted 28th November 2016 @ 4pm in Gaming, Internet. 1 Comment.

@dirtyfeed

A quick piece of housekeeping: if you follow me on Twitter, I’m currently taking a little leave of absence. So if you want to keep up with what’s going on with this site, make sure to follow @dirtyfeed instead. Unlike my main account which had all kinds of rambling nonsense, this new account1 will only have links to site updates, and nothing else. (For now, anyway.)

I’m certainly not leaving Twitter because it’s merely “quips and outrages”, and I expect I’ll be back properly again next year. For now though, I need some time where I’m not bombarded with things which are a bit much to deal with at the moment.


  1. Well, I say “new”. I grabbed the name back in 2010, in a bit of uncharacteristic long-sightedness. 

■ Posted 25th November 2016 @ 5pm in Meta. No Comments Yet.

Life & Death

The Music You Want (JAM Creative Productions, 1979)

Yesterday, on a small corner of the internet, something flickered back into life.

A jingle package, in fact. A jingle package made by JAM Creative Productions in 1979, for legendary radio station WABC. Called “The Music You Want”, it would be some of the last jingles JAM made for WABC which emphasised the station as somewhere to go for music.1 (Three years later, WABC would transition to a talk format.)

These jingles were previously unavailable on JAM’s website. Sure, the famous Top 40 packages were there, like LogoSet (1976) and Positron (1977). And all WABC’s talk radio packages were there, from Talk To Us (1982) right through to Top News (2005). But a little slice of that history was missing. And now it isn’t. Brought out of limbo into the digital age. So we can all enjoy some damn fine jingles, which even plenty of jingle obsessives have never heard before.

This pleases me.

*   *   *

A Brief Message (Khoi Vinh and Liz Danzico, 2007-08)

The website A Brief Message had a rather, yes, brief existence. Launched in 2007, it was billed as the following:

A Brief Message features design opinions expressed in short form. Somewhere between critiques and manifestos, between wordy and skimpy, Brief Messages are viewpoints on design in the real world. They’re pithy, provocative and short – 200 words or less.”

To be honest, it was never the writing side of A Brief Message which I particularly liked. What caught my attention was the site design itself; one of the very earliest examples I came across of a site breaking out of pre-existing templates, and making each post look different. Moreover, each post had a specially commissioned piece of artwork, which is still a rare thing to find today, let alone back then. It’s a site I’ve always remembered, as something which came along and made me realise that web developers can paint themselves into artificial corners: every post can look different if you want it to. It fundamentally made me think of web design differently.2

The site is no longer online. Well, not properly, anyway. As usual, most of it is preserved online via the Wayback Machine. But the actual URL is dead as a Pyrenean ibex.

In fact, the site had a bit of an odd end full stop, really. Launched in September 2007, the site stopped updating in March 2008: an active life of just half a year. That’s a very short amount of time for a project which had so much promise, and had two such talented people running it; you have to wonder what happened. And then the archives fell offline for good at the end of 2012.

And man, that sucks. I have no problem at all with the site not updating; it was a shame when the project was so promising, but there could be any number of reasons for that happening. But to not inform your readership about the future of the site, and then letting it just fall offline entirely is a dreadful way for a project to end, and is just rude as much as anything. Communicate with your audience. Let them know what is happening. And keep those archives online, especially when you’ve made something important and influential, as A Brief Message undoubtedly was. If a work remains online, it is never truly dead.

A Brief Message had much that could inspire people even today. If it wasn’t for the Wayback Machine, that work would be inaccessible entirely. Even as it is, that copy of the site isn’t quite complete, and far fewer people will read it. It’s all such a waste.

This displeases me.

*   *   *

Without a word, somewhere on the internet, someone drags out something from the past, and makes it live again. Elsewhere, without a word, great things die in the most ignoble way possible.

Be the person who makes things live, not lets things die.


  1. UPDATE (25/11/16): Here’s some more details about these cuts, gleaned from email conversation with Jon Wolfert. These jingles never aired in this original form in 1979, but were resung for WGAR and a demo issued with those call letters. WABC eventually had six of the cuts resung with different lyrics, and aired them in 1980. When it came to putting the demo online, it was felt the original WABC cuts were more historically interesting than the WGAR versions, despite the fact they never aired in this form. 

  2. Even if I’ve decided most of my sites wouldn’t benefit from such an approach. 

■ Posted 21st November 2016 @ 9am in Internet. No Comments Yet.

Hi-de-Hi! Edits #2: Marty’s Golden Moment

Maplins Holiday Camp sign

JEFFREY: Hello campers. Hi-de-hi.
CAMPERS: Ho-de-ho.
JEFFREY Yes folks. This is a big one. One of the high spot… lights of the week. Holiday Princess competition. Now now Dads put down your binoculars. Hi-de-hi.
CAMPERS: Ho-de-ho.
TED: Get him off, somebody.
JEFFREY: And here to act as your Master of Ceremonies is your friend… and indeed he’s my friend as well… Ted Bovis.

Hi-de-Hi!, “The Beauty Queen Affair”

With an introduction like that, this article can’t fail to disappoint. I’m afraid the Holiday Princess competition is nowhere to be seen. Instead, let’s get back into our series of articles looking at the differences between the DVD release of Hi-de-Hi!, and the recent BBC Two Afternoon Classics run of the show. Last time: the pilot. This time: Series 1, in all its “one of the best series of a sitcom ever made” glory.

To recap, then. The two versions of the programme we are comparing are:

Off we go. Cut sections are detailed like this, though take note of exactly which edit they are cut from – this time round, both the DVD and the broadcast versions have different sections removed. All times given are from the DVD.

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  1. Note that there has been a newer release of the DVD which may not have all the differences listed here. If you want to fill in any details about that release in the comments, feel free. 

■ Posted 14th November 2016 @ 4pm in Comedy, Television. 4 Comments.

On Nico Hines and The Daily Beast

Today marks three months since Nico Hines last tweeted. You remember Nico Hines, don’t you?

“An American news website has taken down, after sustained criticism, a “deplorable” piece that allegedly outed gay Olympic athletes.

The Daily Beast, an American news and entertainment website, published an “exposé” on Thursday about the ease with which dates with Olympic athletes could be arranged on Grindr, the gay hook-up app, in Rio de Janeiro.

The piece, originally titled “I Got Three Grindr Dates in an Hour in the Olympic Village”, quickly drew criticism of reporter Nico Hines for voyeurism and potentially putting closeted athletes at risk.

In one case, Hines gave the height, weight, nationality and language of an athlete from a country where discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community is widespread.

That Hines – who identifies himself as The Daily Beast’s London correspondent and a former writer for The Times on Twitter – is a heterosexual and married father of one, was seen to compound the tastelessness of the article.”

The Guardian, 12th August 2016

Actually, I don’t wish to bang on about Nico Hines’ Twitter account. His lack of apology speaks for itself. I would, however, like to point out that he has clearly snuck into his account since this debacle, as he liked this tweet about an article posted in October. The fact he didn’t take this opportunity to even post an apology tweet deserves a thorough pointing at and laughing.

Still, what I really want to talk about is The Daily Beast‘s apology for the article. Yes, they did actually apologise, despite what some people would tell you. The problem is, the apology isn’t actually a very good one. And it’s not like the perfect guide for writing apologies online hasn’t been written. Derek Powazek’s “How To Apologize Online” would have told them everything they needed to know. I highly recommend you read that piece. I’ll wait.

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■ Posted 11th November 2016 @ 2pm in Internet, Journalism. 1 Comment.

Twitter.

Brent Simmons, on leaving Twitter:

“Twitter was always a 51-49 thing for me — barely worth it. The company has not dealt with harassment.”

Agreed.

“It has treated its third-party developers shabbily.”

Agreed.

“And, at best, it was just quips and outrages — a diet of candy.”

This is where I start to struggle. Because my feed isn’t just quips and outrages. It contains both, of course, but it’s also full of a hell of a lot of other things.

It’s full of people suggesting I read articles I never would have seen otherwise. It’s full of television archeology… and television history as it happens. It’s full of films I have to see, right now, straight away. It’s full of news on important preservation projects. And luckily for me, it’s full of some very lovely people indeed.

Perhaps more importantly? Twitter has made me a better person. I used to be the kind of person who said they weren’t really a feminist, but was for “equality for everybody”. I look back on that and absolutely fucking cringe. Well-meaning, not evil, but fundamentally missing the entire point. I had absolutely no idea the absolute fucking shit most women go through on a daily basis. But from listening on Twitter… well, I know more than I used to, put it like that.

The point is: what your timeline consists of is under your control.1 If you want more than quips and outrages in your timeline, unfollow the people who provide them, and follow people who post stuff you find interesting instead. This is the fundamental basic rule of using Twitter. Most of what I linked to above would bore the arse off most people. But that’s OK. So much of human life is on Twitter. Go find some of it.

“And then it was part of the system that helped elect a fascist President. This tipped it over for me: it’s no longer worth my participation. The shitheads can have it.”

Of course, it is part of the system which helped elect a fascist President. It also – despite the horrific abuse problems – helps gives a voice to those who need it, and a way for people to listen. It’s a personal judgement call as to whether it’s worth it. I think you can justify either position. Some days I have my doubts as to whether I want to stay, for many different reasons, and I’m in pretty much the most privileged position it’s possible to have.

But to condemn Twitter for containing “just quips and outrages” merely indicates you’re terrible at using the service. Follow interesting people.


  1. Note I say “timeline”, rather than your notifications. In no way do I want to dismiss the terrible abuse problem on Twitter. 

■ Posted 10th November 2016 @ 3am in Internet. No Comments Yet.

How Not To Close A News Organisation

“We are open for business.”

— David Hencke, Exaro ‘Head of News’, 18th July 2016

“We are absolutely devastated. We were going ahead with plans and had only just put up a story the previous day, with a lot more in the pipeline, and suddenly we are told it’s closed just like that.”

— David Hencke, Exaro ‘Head of News’, 21st July 2016

This article is not the story of Exaro – the investigative news site set up in 2011 to, in their own words, “hold power to account”. That story heavily involves Exaro’s investigations of paedophilia and child abuse, and that’s a topic on which I have precisely no insight on whatsoever – either the investigations themselves, Exaro’s conduct during them, or the official police investigations. There are many people who are far more qualified to discuss those matters. I mean literally qualified, with actual qualifications. There is nothing I could ever add to those discussions.

Still, what I want to talk about is something which does impact on the aftermath of those investigations. Whether you think Exaro’s conduct was exemplary, reprehensible, or some complex line between the two, the fact now remains: aside from the usual rescue from the Wayback Machine, there is no primary evidence of those investigations left online. It has all disappeared.

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■ Posted 6th November 2016 @ 4pm in Internet, Journalism. 3 Comments.

A Few Random Thoughts About Independent Blogs, Which Turn Into Some Musings About Dirty Feed, Which Probably Won’t Interest Many People At All, But It Was Useful For Me To Work Out A Few Things In My Head, And I’ve Written It Now Anyway So I Might As Well Publish It

i.
Two blogs I follow have redesigned recently: Jason Kottke’s kottke.org back in September, and Andy Baio’s waxy.org this month. Both have used their redesigns to muse on the nature of independent self-hosted blogs, rather than just sticking all your writing on Medium and the like.

I can only echo what Andy Baio says:

“Ultimately, it comes down to two things: ownership and control.

Last week, Twitter announced they’re shutting down Vine. Twitter, itself, may be acquired and changed in some terrible way. It’s not hard to imagine a post-Verizon Yahoo selling off Tumblr. Medium keeps pivoting, trying to find a successful revenue model. There’s no guarantee any of these platforms will be around in their current state in a year, let alone ten years from now.

Here, I control my words. Nobody can shut this site down, run annoying ads on it, or sell it to a phone company. Nobody can tell me what I can or can’t say, and I have complete control over the way it’s displayed. Nobody except me can change the URL structure, breaking 14 years of links to content on the web.”

At the very real risk of being both self-indulgent and exceedingly smug: Dirty Feed is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. And one of the reasons for that – a couple of guest posts aside in the site’s early days – is that it is entirely my own. Nobody else can control it, fuck around with it, or tell me what to do with it. If Dirty Feed moved to a service akin to Medium, I wouldn’t find it nearly as appealing to write.

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■ Posted 5th November 2016 @ 7am in Internet, Meta. No Comments Yet.

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