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25.04.17

Wikitribune: The Real Revolution

Posted 25th April 2017

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So, today sees the announcement of Wikitribune, a brand new news site:

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, is launching a new online publication which will aim to fight fake news by pairing professional journalists with an army of volunteer community contributors.

Wikitribune plans to pay for the reporters by raising money from a crowdfunding campaign.

Wales intends to cover general issues, such as US and UK politics, through to specialist science and technology.

Those who donate will become supporters, who in turn will have a say in which subjects and story threads the site focuses on. And Wales intends that the community of readers will fact-check and subedit published articles.

Describing Wikitribune as ‘news by the people and for the people,’ Wales said: ‘This will be the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop, and at all times backed by a community checking and rechecking all facts.'”

I shall leave it to others to ponder whether this style of journalism is a good thing, or even if it will actually work in any way whatsoever. (I find the launch video ridiculously simplistic – there was some bad journalism in the old days, and some great journalism now – but maybe a more nuanced take is impossible when you’re launching something like this.) As ever, I want to concentrate on something else.

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13.04.17

The Layer Tennis Archives

Posted 13th April 2017

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“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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10.04.17

Customs Clearance Ltd

Posted 10th April 2017

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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. 

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22.03.17

Nico Hines Redux

Posted 22nd March 2017

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Congratulations, apologising in a red alert situation, a new record time: 220 days, 14 hours, and 33 minutes.

Yes, seven months after this unpleasantness, Nico Hines has finally said sorry. Though to be honest, I don’t really want to dwell on his apology too much. Seven months is far too late, and I really don’t feel anything behind his words.1

But Nico himself always bothered me less than The Daily Beast as a whole in this story. And the worst thing about that article is the “Editor’s Note” attached to it. Here is the most pertinent section:

“We’ve said it before: as a newsroom we succeed together and we fail together. Our belief in this has not changed. After months of internal review and discussion – made more poignant by our current national climate – we as a newsroom are as mindful and committed as ever to the responsibility we have as independent journalists to not only tell the truth but further the public good. We will continue to stand up to bullies and bigots, value an inclusive culture and be a proud and supportive voice for the LGBTQ community.”

Here’s the thing. It’s all very well saying you’ve had a lengthy “internal review”. But without reporting the results of that review, any repeated apologies are pointless. The really important thing about this story isn’t Nico Hines’s behaviour, however pathetic it’s been. The important thing is the complete and utter failure of The Daily Beast’s editorial processes. And after seven months, The Daily Beast STILL doesn’t seem to get this.

I don’t mind them saying they succeed or fail as a newsroom together. I have no problem with that. But they still haven’t managed to explain how the bloody hell they failed.

This is not an impossible thing to do properly. I point everyone yet again to how Grantland dealt with a similar controversy. I’m not going to quote any of that again here – it’s worth reading the whole thing in full. And after reading it, you have a full understanding of exactly what their editorial process were, how they failed, and exactly what they did to improve them – and not in generalities, but how they applied to their specific error in judgement. In excruciating and excoriating detail.

All we’ve had from The Daily Beast are vague apologies, and promises to do better. For some mistakes, that’s enough. Not this. The potential consequences of this one were just too dire to hand-wave away. As it is, they’ve had seven months to tell us what really happened, and they’ve failed. At this point, they clearly have no intention of actually doing what they really need to do.

Nico Hines may well have gone on a leisurely seven month journey to enlightenment, but The Daily Beast as a whole clearly haven’t. I will waste precisely zero further time on them.


  1. Incidentally, isn’t it weird that Nico Hines hasn’t tweeted a link to his apology? And yet he’s updated his bio to remove the reference to Rio. Hmmmmmm. 

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18.03.17

Improving ‘In Case You Missed It’

Posted 18th March 2017

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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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16.03.17

Silent but Deadly

Posted 16th March 2017

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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. 

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05.03.17

On Linkrot, Part #3928452

Posted 5th March 2017

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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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12.02.17

What You Leave Behind

Posted 12th February 2017

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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. 

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10.02.17

Goodbye, “TV Comedy Resources”

Posted 10th February 2017

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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.

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09.02.17

#DancePonyDance

Posted 9th February 2017

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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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