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31.08.17

How to Be Better Than Tim Berners-Lee

Posted 31st August 2017

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I’ve written a lot in the past year or so about what I like to call internet archeology. Whether it’s revered web designers destroying communities, podcasts destroying their archives, or simply historically important web tutorials disappearing, there’s one recurring idea: hey, don’t just yank your stuff offline, man.

But you don’t need to take my word for it about how bad this is. A certain Tim Berners-Lee, in his seminal 1998 essay “Cool URIs don’t change”, covers everything you need to know on the subject.

“In theory, the domain name space owner owns the domain name space and therefore all URIs in it. Except insolvency, nothing prevents the domain name owner from keeping the name. And in theory the URI space under your domain name is totally under your control, so you can make it as stable as you like. Pretty much the only good reason for a document to disappear from the Web is that the company which owned the domain name went out of business or can no longer afford to keep the server running.”

But why should I care, Tim?

Why should I care?

When you change a URI on your server, you can never completely tell who will have links to the old URI. They might have made links from regular web pages. They might have bookmarked your page. They might have scrawled the URI in the margin of a letter to a friend.

When someone follows a link and it breaks, they generally lose confidence in the owner of the server. They also are frustrated – emotionally and practically from accomplishing their goal.

Enough people complain all the time about dangling links that I hope the damage is obvious. I hope it also obvious that the reputation damage is to the maintainer of the server whose document vanished.

Yep, makes sense to me. We’re all agreed, yes?

[Read more →]

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11.08.17

On Ostentatiousness.

Posted 11th August 2017

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I’ll admit it. Whenever I write an article I’m particularly proud of, I enjoy going on Twitter and yelling about it at the top of my voice. I don’t know whether that’s a particularly brilliant side of my personality, but it’s there. I’d be a bloody liar if I said I didn’t enjoy people telling me something I’ve written is good. TELL ME SOMETHING I’VE WRITTEN IS GOOD, DO IT.

And yet sometimes… that’s just not what I’m aiming for. Sometimes I write something I want to write, but I know most people who follow me on Twitter just aren’t going to be interested. Or sometimes I write mainly to work a few things out in my head, and if anyone else enjoys the piece, that’s a bonus. Or sometimes I just want to write something small – a piece which might be fun for a reader to come across randomly when browsing a site, but not something anyone would want to visit a site just to read.

When I first ran a blog – now stupidly deleted off the web, but partially available on The Wayback Machine – things were different. Social media was far less of a thing: people would see you had written a new piece through your RSS feed, or even – shock horror – just from visiting your site. Amazing. These days, very few people see any of my stuff unless I tweet about it, or somebody links to it on Facebook.

I can deal with that. But sometimes tweeting about something I’ve written feels right… and sometimes it just kinda feels wrong.

Some pieces don’t want to be tweeted about. Some pieces don’t want that attention foisted on them. Some things absolutely do not warrant me waving my arms around above it, yelling “Look at me!” Some pieces just want to exist… ready for the right people to stumble across them. That used to be so easy. Now, it isn’t. Social media is about yelling to get attention in a way that an RSS feed is not. These days, something has to be made a fuss about… or it disappears into the ether. And that’s a shame.

I will not be tweeting a link to this post.

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25.07.17

How To Write, Courtesy of The Outline

Posted 25th July 2017

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Man, I’ve been having a bit of trouble here on Dirty Feed recently. A combination of lack of time and writer’s block1 has left this site feeling a little barren.

Never mind! The Outline – self-described as “a new kind of publication for a new kind of human” – has shown us all the way. Their piece entitled “Who are your problematic faves?” shows that you don’t need to actually write an article in order to have something to publish. Merely writing a short list with no explanation or reasoning – and adding some weird spacing – is more than enough.

With that in mind, I thought instead of actually writing some proper articles on here, I’d just publish my preliminary notes for one of them instead.

Hi-de-Hi!: The Christmas Episodes

Intro!
 
 
 
Eruptions (TX: 26th December 1982)
Bong!
 
 
 
Raffles (TX: 25th December 1984)
Bing!
 
 
 
The Great Cat Lottery (TX: 25th December 1985)
Bibble!
 
 
 
September Song (TX: 27th December 1986)
Bash!
 
 
 
Tell It To The Marines (TX: 26th December 1987)
Blah!

There you go. The site has been updated, and I didn’t actually have to put any effort in at all. Thank you, The Outline. You’re the best.


  1. I don’t like this term, mind. “Writer’s ineptness” might be better. 

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02.06.17

One Way To Make Better Self-Help Videos

Posted 2nd June 2017

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The other day, I snapped. And I snapped because of the following video, “7 Ways To Maximize Misery”.

The thing which especially annoyed me? Point #2:

“Which brings us to: Screw With Your Sleep. The Wraith of Insomnia will be your co-pilot on the Sea of Sadness. Her mere presence is unpleasant, but she also helps confuse the productive part of your brain which might look to navigate you toward the Islands of Happiness on the horizon. (More on that later.) A regular sleep cycle is a fragile thing and takes at least three days to establish. Be sure then to vary your bedtime, by several hours twice at week – at least. Even better: vary your wake time. Sleep in late, preferably very late, some – but not all – days. And tell yourself you are making up for sleep to feel like you’re doing something healthy, even though you feel terrible when you wake up early, and when you wake up late. Irregular sleep is another of the sea’s accelerating currents.

The more you vary your sleep, the harder regular sleep becomes, which makes your sleep more variable. To never sleep or wake at the same time naturally is the goal.”

Yeah, that does sound bad, and I get your clever reversal. Now, let me take you through my weekend.

In fact, I’ve actually been off work since Monday, which has been lovely. But just at the time when a lot of people are thinking about what to do with their days off, I’m gearing up for four 12-hour shifts at work. 7:30pm – 7:30am: going into work this Friday night, and coming off shift Tuesday morning.

So, what will I be doing? I work as a Playout Director, so when I get in I’ll take over transmitting TV shows for your primetime. I’ll do a bit of sport in the early hours, and then I’ll get to prepping tomorrow’s schedules. If there’s a problem with a programme that’s transmitting tomorrow afternoon, best we find out about it at 3am when there’s a chance of fixing it, instead of discoving the issue half an hour before broadcast.

In my job, I do many different kinds of awkward hours. Depending on my shift, I can end up starting work early in the morning, at lunchtime, mid-afternoon, or in the evening. In fact, the only time I’m never going to arrive at work is bang on 9am. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my job. There are certain health risks associated with it, and planning your life can be fraught at times. But those are just things I have to deal with.

What I find frustrating though, is when people talk about the issues with irregular sleep patterns as though all anybody has to do is just “go to bed at a sensible time, man”. For me, that is just impossible. And let’s not forget: somebody has to do all these jobs, and many of those jobs are rather more important than mine. Somebody needs to make sure you have running water and electricity at all hours. Somebody needs to come and put out fires. And somebody – like my sister, a nurse – has to be around to pump you full of morphine and save your life.1 Regular sleep patterns are literally impossible for a great many people in the service industry. And I’m sick of being scolded and/or patronised for a job which if I didn’t do, somebody else would have to do instead.

Maybe it’s unfair to pin all of this on one seven minute video. This is a cumulation of things, and it just wandered into my life at exactly the wrong time. Still, let’s take another short section from it, and something else designed to cause misery:

“Make your bedroom your allroom. Live and work and play in the smallest radius you can.”

Some people literally have no choice but to live like this. In fact, I was one of those people until very recently. Lack of money is very much a thing these days. And all days. Forever.

The concept of the video is, of course, about turning typical self-help advice on its head in an attempt to get the point across in a more engaging way. But the advice it’s trying to get across is exactly the same as if you’d done the video straight. And the problem with all this advice is that it often assumes that you can create perfect circumstances for yourself. Hey, want to be happier? Live in a bigger house, and work 9-5! That’ll sort you out!

Anybody can paint a picture of a perfect life – or, in this case, a perfectly imperfect life. Advice on how to live better within the constraints society puts on us? That’s worth rather more.


  1. Me and my sister have had many conversations about how similar our jobs are. On the other hand, if my channel falls off-air, nobody dies. 

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26.05.17

Overflowing emotions and wild opinions

Posted 26th May 2017

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Last week, The New York Times published this interview with Ev Williams, one of the people behind Blogger and Twitter. The interview has been endlessly dissected elsewhere, and I don’t have anything particular to add to that debate.

I simply want to focus on the opening paragraph of David Streitfeld’s article:

“Evan Williams is the guy who opened up Pandora’s box. Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.”

Now, here’s the thing. This isn’t actually true, is it?

I mean, I don’t even need to give counter-examples tracing back through the years – online forums, Usenet, fanzines, etc. What I’m thinking of is something rather more basic, and rather more popular. It’s called talking to people. My living room often features “overflowing emotions”, and my local pub echoes with the sound of “wild opinions”. And I can’t believe an article in The New York Times has made it necessary for me to state this rather obvious fact.

Now, is there a point to be made about Ev’s work making it easier to reach a worldwide audience? Yes, of course there is, and the article brings this up in the very next paragraph. But that doesn’t stop the initial opening being a massive load of crap. There is no such qualifier in the section I quote above.

I must admit, I couldn’t figure out why anybody would actually write this. Luckily, the article answers this for us:

“The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes.”

Why write an article with a sensible opening, when you can write something attention-grabbing which blatantly isn’t true?

The internet rewards extremes indeed.

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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?

[Read more →]

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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?

[Read more →]


  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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