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The Layer Tennis Archives

“We’ll be playing matches using lots of different applications, from Adobe® Photoshop® to Adobe® Flash®, but the basic idea is the same no matter what tools are in use. Two artists (or two small teams of artists) will swap a file back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work. Each artist gets fifteen minutes to complete a “volley” and then we post that to the site. A third participant, a writer, provides play-by-play commentary on the action, as it happens. The matches last for ten volleys and when it’s complete, everyone with an opinion sounds off in the Forums and we declare a winner.”

“How The Game Works”, layertennis.com (2009)

One of my favourite things to do on Fridays used to be to sit and watch a game of Layer Tennis. It’s a very difficult thing to describe exactly how much fun watching this was, and I never thought anyone involved with the game quite managed it either. It’s something you really have to experience, moment by moment, to fully get how much fun the game is.

The other day, I was thinking back to one of the game’s most memorable matches. That was between Shaun Inman and Gregory Hubacek; the final of Season 2, back in 2009. This was notable for the huge delay on one of Hubacek’s serves – I distinctly remember the tension in the air as we all waited… and waited… and waited. With all the genuinely brilliant serves from the many talented participants, this being a particular memory is probably massively unfair, but what are you going to do? Memorable sporting moments come from somebody breaking their leg in half as well as genuine sporting achievement.

Full of all these memories, recently I decided to search for the match in the site’s archives. But oddly enough, there was no record of the match there at all. Which is really, really weird, considering it was the final of Season 2. What kind of archive doesn’t include the final match of a whole season of play? And if the archives miss out that match, then what other matches have gone AWOL?

With the help of The Wayback Machine, I’ve done some investigating. There have been four seasons of the game under the name Layer Tennis. (The previous incarnation of the game, Photoshop Tennis, is not examined here.) Of those four seasons, the fourth has every match included in the archive in full. But matches are missing for each of the first three seasons.

Let’s take a look at which ones, shall we?

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■ Posted 13th April 2017 @ 11am in Internet. No Comments Yet.

Customs Clearance Ltd

Today, I had to pay a customs charge on a t-shirt order from Threadless.1 This article is not moaning about that customs charge. Sure, I don’t expect to be hit with one when I select the “Standard Plus with Prepaid Customs” shipping option, but that’s not my real issue.2

No, my real issue is: why the hell does brokerage company Customs Clearance Ltd do everything possible to make themselves look like a scam site, even though they aren’t?

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  1. I’m especially looking forward to this one

  2. UPDATE @ 11:25pm: Here’s customer service for you. I idly complained about this on Twitter, and Threadless’s help team found the tweet and refunded the extra customs charge within five minutes of contacting me. That’s some of the best service I’ve ever experienced with any company. Fantastic. 

■ Posted 10th April 2017 @ 7pm in Internet. No Comments Yet.

Improving ‘In Case You Missed It’

Despite howls of protest – at least among the hardcore users – Twitter is obsessed with trying to give us non-chronological timelines. And not just with its show “best” tweets first feature – at least that can be turned off. No, we’re talking about the dreaded ‘In Case You Missed It’, cluttering up our timelines something rotten. Which you can helpfully request to be shown less often… but can’t switch off entirely.

Maybe it wouldn’t matter so much if those tweets you missed were actually worth catching. But in my experience, they so rarely are. Still, as an extremely unscientific test, I asked people to send me examples of my own tweets which Twitter somehow thought they needed to see again. With thanks to Mike Scott, Paul Buckle, Richard Goodwin, and David Swallow, here’s what delights from my feed Twitter thought needed a second chance.

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■ Posted 18th March 2017 @ 10am in Internet. 2 Comments.

Silent but Deadly

Daring Fireball, 15th March 2017:

Jon Rubinstein Named Co-CEO of World’s Biggest Hedge Fund, Fired 10 Months Later

Mary Childs, reporting for The Financial Times 10 months ago:

Bridgewater has chosen former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein as the new co-chief executive of the world’s biggest hedge fund, replacing Greg Jensen as part of a 10-year handover from founder Ray Dalio.

Mr Rubinstein, who also sits on the boards of Amazon.com and Qualcomm, is expected to join Bridgewater in May and to share the co-CEO role with Eileen Murray.

Now:

Bridgewater Associates co-CEO Jon Rubinstein is stepping down and transitioning to an external advisory role in April after 10 months on the job, the firm told clients in a note Wednesday.

“While over the last ten months Jon has helped build a plan to re-design our core technology platform and has brought in a group of extremely talented executives to build out our technology leadership, we mutually agree that he is not a cultural fit for Bridgewater,” Bridgewater founder, chairman, and co-CIO Ray Dalio wrote in the note.

Except that this isn’t how this piece was written when it was first published. It originally went as follows:

Jon Rubinstein Named Co-CEO of World’s Biggest Hedge Fund

Mary Childs, reporting for The Financial Times:

Bridgewater has chosen former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein as the new co-chief executive of the world’s biggest hedge fund, replacing Greg Jensen as part of a 10-year handover from founder Ray Dalio.

Mr Rubinstein, who also sits on the boards of Amazon.com and Qualcomm, is expected to join Bridgewater in May and to share the co-CEO role with Eileen Murray.

Not where I expected Rubinstein to wind up.

Screengrab here, taken from Google’s cache.1

What’s happened is pretty clear. John Gruber originally saw the FT article about Jon Rubinstein, didn’t clock that it was from ten months ago, and published in haste. Once he saw that the news was out of date, and Rubinstein was actually stepping down, he edited the article to correct the error… but didn’t mention his correction anywhere.

Not exactly fake news of the century, of course. Still, I thought it was worth pointing out, if only because Gruber is one of the good guys. And as the good guys, we should all be as transparent as possible about what we write. If we fuck up, even on a small piece such as this, we need to admit it. Otherwise, who knows what other mysterious edits happen with Daring Fireball after the fact? The issue is one of trust, and it only takes a small breach of that trust to make you doubt an entire site.

I could happily go back through Dirty Feed’s archives and do some nifty editing to ensure I’ve always been right about everything first time. But it’d be a pretty dishonest way to write.


  1. No idea why the spacing is incorrect on the navigation bar there, but I thought editing to make it correct wouldn’t be in the spirit of this article. 

■ Posted 16th March 2017 @ 5pm in Internet, Journalism. No Comments Yet.

On Linkrot, Part #3928452

Recently, I wrote a little piece over on Ganymede & Titan which was ostensibly about the popular science fiction comedy series Red Dwarf. In fact, it was bugger all to do with Red Dwarf. It was actually about the transient nature of the web – a bit of a recurring theme of mine these days.

To summarise, then: I went back and looked at a random day of G&T’s output from ten years ago – and the result surprised even me. Every single external link used in those news stories from 10 years ago no longer works correctly. I expected some – perhaps even most – to be dead. But every single one to succumb to linkrot? That’s completely ridiculous.

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■ Posted 5th March 2017 @ 7pm in Internet. No Comments Yet.

What You Leave Behind

It’s a normal day, and as usual, an innocuous tweet sends me into a spiral of links.

Alyssa Milano? Tweetie 2? What’s all that about?

One quick Google search later leads us to this Business Insider article, from 2009:

“B-list bombshell Alyssa Milano, a self-professed Twitter addict, is also apparently a cheapskate. And it has the iPhone nerds very amused.

Yesterday, after finding out that Tweetie 2, a major update to the popular iPhone Twitter app, would cost $2.99, she tweeted: “Boooooo!!!”

This triggered a bit of an uproar from the iPhone developer community, half-amused and half-angered that a celebrity would be such a cheapskate to complain about paying $3 for a software app she could end up using for hours a week. (And that an independent programmer just spent months working on.)”

Ah.

“Responding to someone else’s complaint about the upgrade price, Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber made two solid points:

  • If you don’t think it’s worth $3, don’t buy it.
  • Keep in mind we’re talking about $3 for an app that only runs on handheld devices that cost at least $200, most of which come with a $70/month service.

Both valid. And, seriously… it’s just $3!”

Oooh, what’s that, a Daring Fireball link? What else did John Gruber have to say about the subject?1

“Jeff LaMarche has a sharp response to this goofy rant by Patrick Jordan complaining that the upcoming Tweetie 2, which costs just $3, is not a free upgrade for existing users.”

Excellent, a goofy rant to laugh at:

“My thought is that this is a very,very,very Bad Call. I just can ‘t find a way to think of this as anything less than spitting in the face of existing Tweetie users.”

Your article is bad and you should feel bad.

Enough of that nonsense. Let’s read Jeff LaMarche’s rebuttal post:

“Blog has been removed

Sorry, the blog at iphonedevelopment.blogspot.com has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs.”

For fuck’s sake.

OK, OK, so you can read Jeff’s post via the Wayback Machine. And seeing as that post is called “A Sense of Entitlement”, I guess I have to be really careful about what I say next.

So I’ll just say this: it’s really, really annoying when a badly-written piece of tosh manages to stay online, and a thorough and well-reasoned argument ends up being deleted. God knows the world needs more well-argued pieces, and less goofy rants. For the crap piece to survive and the good piece to fall offline just feels fundamentally wrong.

Think about what you leave behind. At first glance this looks like a silly story… but it touches on issues of real importance about paying developers for their work. That’s a topic which is well worth looking back on, and very little has changed today. Don’t delete your part of the story.

Otherwise, you risk leaving the public record to just be a series of goofy rants.


  1. Placement of link adjusted for readability. 

■ Posted 12th February 2017 @ 3am in Internet. No Comments Yet.

Goodbye, “TV Comedy Resources”

Over the years, I’ve used many sites as a research tool for writing about comedy. Hey, I’m sure a lot of you know this one, run by a certain Philip Hill. I used to reference his episode guides constantly – in fact, for many years, it was the very first place I looked to for TX dates.

Screengrab of the final incarnation of phill.co.uk

What you may not know about the site: it’s now gone. Disappeared offline. The last version the Wayback Machine has archived is from June 2016. And the WHOIS indicates the domain phill.co.uk has a brand new owner from January this year.

It’s perhaps worth noting that while the site remained online until 2016, it stopped updating long before that. The listing for Citizen Khan only details the show’s first series; before the site fell offline there had been four complete series broadcast. A quick check in the Wayback Machine indicates the site had indeed been dormant since 2012.

As far as I can tell, there is no indication anywhere of what happened to the site. Perhaps Philip got bored with his hobby. Perhaps personal circumstances took precedence. Perhaps he gazed over at Wikipedia, and thought there was little point in carrying on with episode guides. We’ll probably never know.

So I will shed a small tear for a site which was tirelessly updated for years, was an endlessly useful and widely-referenced resource… and has ended up disappearing into the digital ether. Whether it was ever going to be updated again or not, the site deserved better than to just fall offline, with no warning or goodbye.

As ever, let’s try to remember this stuff.

■ Posted 10th February 2017 @ 12am in Comedy, Internet. No Comments Yet.

#DancePonyDance

Welcome to a secret post. I mean, as secret as any post can get which is blatantly published on the front page of this site. But I won’t be linking to this on Twitter, and that’s where the majority of my hits come from these days. I want this to fly at least a little under the radar.

Back in 2013, mobile company Three produced a very silly advert. An advert which by all accounts should have irritated the hell out of me. A CGI moonwalking Shetland pony, painfully asking to go viral, with the slogan “Keep on internetting”? And yet… man, something about the ad just made me love it regardless. Maybe the choice of song, maybe the quality of the animation… or maybe the other slogan: “Silly stuff. It matters.” I almost want to nick that slogan for Dirty Feed.

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■ Posted 9th February 2017 @ 2am in Internet. 1 Comment.

Is *This* Helpful?

Mike Davidson, “Is This Helpful?”:

“For the past several years, we’ve been moving from an information diet of deliberate, substantive reading to a staccato of disconnected one-line thoughts, culminating in a walking, squawking pile of disconnected one-line thoughts who now has the keys to the White House.”

I’ve always found this a weird one. Because I definitely read more substantive articles online than I ever used to without Twitter, simply because Twitter helps me find such material.

Is it like this for most people? Maybe not. I’d love to know, but I have no idea how you’d accurately measure it.

“As I type this post, I think about how hard it is – for me at least – to write long-form content, as compared to 5 or 10 years ago. I’ve heard similar thoughts from others, many of whom haven’t touched their blogs or Medium accounts in years. I wonder where that feeling comes from.”

It is definitely the case that many people I’ve followed online for years have stopped writing longer stuff, and it makes me sad. For Mike, the reasons are as follows:

“The feeling that I can probably fit an article I want to write into a Tweet or two and be done with it.”

I’ve definitely fallen foul of this. Sometimes I do manage to take a series of tweets and write it up into an article. But there are definitely series of tweets which I should have written up, and never got round to.

Mind you, sometimes that can be a good thing. This series of tweets was very popular, and could have been a very popular article… except look what happens halfway through. A couple of people point things out, and in fact my rant isn’t quite as OBVIOUSLY CORRECT as it appears to be. The world was saved from a dodgy one-note article, and there’s Twitter to thank for that.

“The feeling that I’ve consumed so much information in a typical day that it seems like everything that needs to be said is already being said (and then some!).”

“The feeling that the things which seemed important or interesting before the election are not important at all now. For example, I can’t even think of a single design-related subject that feels important enough to write about right now, in comparison to other issues that need attention.”

I’m quoting these two together because I think they’re linked. To take the second point first: Trump or no Trump, or indeed Brexit or no Brexit, I think there is a serious false dichotomy when it comes to this. There are hideous things going on in the world, and we should all – to the best of our ability – do something about it. But I just don’t think that means everything else we do is irrelevant. See my essay “The World is Burning” for my full views on that; it stands as my mission statement for the year.

We can then tackle the previous point: that everything that needs to be said is already being said. But this is only true if we take a narrow point-of-view on what “needs to be said”. Hell, I’m not going to write much about the current specific political situation on here: there are people far more qualified to write about it than me.

But look, I can happily justify writing about old sitcoms; something as important as design can definitely be justified. Good design is important regardless of any political situation; in fact, good design can help you put your particular political message across. Justifications on writing about your pet topic – whatever your pet topic happens to be – are easy to come by. And on your pet topic, there are always things which nobody else is writing on that subject. Those are the things you should write.

“The feeling that most reading occurs on Twitter and Facebook now.”

It’s difficult to judge this one. All I can say is: most of the hits to my site come from Twitter… but hell, they come from Twitter, to read something more substantive.

“The feeling that what I am even semi-uniquely qualified to write about isn’t really what’s important anymore.”

This is exactly the same as Point 3. See above.

Mike then goes on to discuss things he’s doing personally this year to make things better, and it’s well worth a read. (Donating both time and money to good causes should be on everybody’s radar this year – if you have either to spare.) I’m going to skip to his final remark:

“Specifically, when we spend our energy creating anything, we should stop asking ‘do people want this’ and start asking ‘is this helpful?'”

Whenever I’m creating something – at least, on my own time, without getting paid for it – I ask neither of the above questions. I simply ask the following:

“Do I want this?”

If it’s something I want to exist in the world, that’s all the validation I need to create something. It may find an audience, or it may not. But if I spent time second-guessing my own work, some of my best pieces would never have been written.

If you feel like it: write. And write about anything. Write about something silly. Write about something serious. Write about something superficially silly which actually ends up being serious. Or write about something superficially serious which actually ends up being very silly indeed.

But crucially: only writing about what fits some narrow definition of important won’t help us get through this shit. Becoming a one-note bore won’t help us build a better world.

■ Posted 25th January 2017 @ 11am in Internet. No Comments Yet.

On Permalinks.

As I’m working on the upcoming redesign of this place, I’m trying to reassess every single decision I ever made when originally creating Dirty Feed. Everything from the category structure, through to comments, and even the URL structure of the site.

Whilst thinking of that latter point, I’ve been considering this post from Matt Gemmell:

“Can we talk, briefly, about the URLs on your blog?

If you’re like most people, your permalinks (the permanent links to individual posts) probably look like this:

yourdomain.com/2015/02/24/title-of-post

We’re all familiar with those URLs. The date of the post is explicit, so you need never wonder when it was written, or how recent it is.

Here’s the thing, though: they’re horrible.”

Oh dear. I am a naughty boy.

In fact, I end up disagreeing with the vast majority of his piece1 – but let’s skip right to his main point, as I think it’s the most interesting.

“But there’s another reason, and it’s more compelling than any of the above. Date-encumbered URLs dilute your article’s standing.

Here’s what each style says to me:

  • macro-gurber.co/2014/02/14/about-smartwatches: This is what Macro thought about smartwatches on Valentine’s Day last year. Which raises some other questions, admittedly.

  • macro-gurber.co/about-smartwatches: This is Macro’s definitive goddamned opinion on smartwatches.

That’s the distinction. Have a think about it for a moment. The latter, shorter style is what you want.”

My problem with this: I am never going to have a definitive goddamned opinion on anything. And frankly, I worry about anyone who thinks that they have one. We should all be open to changing our minds. The latter, shorter style here very much is not what I want.

To take an example, let’s take a look at what the URL for this article would be, if I followed Matt’s advice:

http://www.dirtyfeed.org/on-permalinks/

Certainly, www.dirtyfeed.org is going to be the place I use for my random nonsense for many years to come, whatever that random nonsense happens to be. If I live 50 more years, I think I’m more likely to be using this domain than not. So, the above URL indicates: “What I think about permalinks, forever.” And I may have very different opinions on permalinks in 50 years.2 I may not, of course, but how can you tell? I can’t see into the future to tell what I’ll think of this article in 50 years time.

Instead, the current URL format makes more sense to me:

http://www.dirtyfeed.org/2017/01/on-permalinks/

This article is what I had to say about permalinks, in January 2017. Perhaps there’s an argument for simplifying things a bit, removing the “01”, and just indicating it’s how I felt about permalinks in 2017. (Unlike Matt’s original example, I already don’t include the day, which I agree is pointless.) But the crucial thing is: it doesn’t indicate that it’s my definitive goddamn opinion on permalinks, and that’s entirely intentional.

It very much isn’t.


  1. For instance, the first reason given against dates in URLs is: “They’re visually ugly. Strings of numbers aren’t nice to look at. They look like they’re made for machines.” Considering I used to happily write things like “20/01/17” at the top of every piece of schoolwork I did, I don’t consider my URLs to look especially ugly or only suited to machines.

    An ugly URL which is made for machines I would suggest is something like:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sYtul-U3J4

  2. If, of course, they still exist. But that’s a whole other discussion. 

■ Posted 20th January 2017 @ 7pm in Internet. 4 Comments.

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