Category Archives: Web

Away forever

AOL has announced that it is shutting down AOL Instant messenger on December 15th. I’m rather surprised as I hadn’t realised that either AIM or AOL were still a thing.

The last away message

I do remember AIM though, and I even had an account on there back in the day, and it was certainly great at the time. So much so that everyone was on AIM.

And then it went the way of every proprietary network on the internet — superseded, ignored and now abandoned.

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Automated philosophy

I am indebted to Crys for pointing me in the direction of InspiroBot:

[A]n artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence.

You know the sort of thing, those wannabe inspirational posters that people keep obliviously posting all over the internet.

What InspiroBot does is allow you to generate these at random by simply clicking on a button. The joy of it is that the program is a lot better at grammar than it is at content.

Here’s an example:

Are past lives the orgasm of a vacuum?

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Solving the wrong problem

Dave Winer thinks that podcast RSS feeds should be ghettoised.

Here’s the problem. If you put a link to the RSS feed alongside the links to iTunes and Stitcher and whatever else, you’re going to get a bunch of emails from users about how your site is broken. I know, because I’ve gotten those emails.

And here’s his answer:

Create a simple page that says “This is a link to our RSS feed. It’s used by developers and hobbyists to build their own listeners and it helps support innovation on the internet.”

This is a terrible solution, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the suggested statement is flat-out not true. Speaking for myself, I don’t use iTunes or Stitcher. I use gPodder. If I find an interesting podcast I need an RSS feed to follow it — if you don’t give me a feed I’m not going to follow your content. It really is as simple as that.

This leads to the second problem, which is that Winer is assuming that proprietary feeds are the norm and should therefore be given preferential treatment to open standards. I’m not going to dispute the first part of this assumption but to present RSS as some curiosity that is only of interest to hobbyists is to consign it to history. If you want RSS to remain a viable standard, the RSS feed needs to be given at least the same precedence as the proprietary feeds.

As to the problem that Winer is trying to solve. How many people, really, are incapable of clicking on the correct link? A quick search across the corporate podcasts that I listen to reveals that neither the BBC nor The Guardian feel the need to make some special “your’re stupid” statement about RSS. In fact, The Guardian even manages to force a few extra clicks out of you regardless of what feed you choose.

Of course, the best approach is that taken by the Duffercast1. A single subscribe link takes you to all the feeds with no special statements about any of them, because some audiocasts have listeners who are capable of using the internet.

Footnote

  1. Disclaimer: Yes, I am a duffer

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Quote of the day: A beautiful, flexible, powerful mess

The web thrives on diversity. It’s the diversity of the web that sustains it and it’s the thing that will mean it’s still around long after all the monocultures, whether they be browsers or Facebooks or Googles, have long since vanished from the online ecosystem.

Scott Gilbertson on the value of diversity and why Firefox still matters

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Rolling back

I noticed that the Twenty Seventeen Theme that I installed on this blog at the start of the year wasn’t playing too nicely with Epiphany. Having lots of links in a post is a bit pointless if you have to hover your mouse over them in order for them to be highlighted.

So I have rolled back to the previous theme which, if I’m honest, looks a lot nicer than all this new-fangled modernity,

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Removing Google Apps from a Fairphone

One of the nice things about the Fairphone is that none of the Google Apps are installed by default. There is a widget that allows you to manually install them and, when I received my phone back in 2014 I hesitated briefly, then tapped it.

This means, of course, that if I want to scrape all of these apps off my phone, the easiest approach is to backup and reset.

It worked, but the results aren’t quite what I expected. I still see apps like the Play Store, Gmail and Google+ on my phone, which leaves me wondering what the Google Apps Installer actually installs. This also means that my phone is still a lot less Googly than I would like and I have simply managed to find the slow way of removing an account.

However, I went ahead and installed F-Droid and started searching for current apps or replacements. This was successful and F-Droid does have everything I want, and more more. The only quirk I encountered was with the iFixit app which was installed by default on the phone. F-Droid tells me there is an upgrade, which I can’t install without first removing the original app. And I can’t remove the original app.

The Fairphone 1 is rooted by default, so I should be able to remove this. But right now, it’s late and I’m going to bed.

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New Year, New Look

With the latest release of WordPress, the Twenty Seventeen theme was also released. And I’ve not only managed to find a bit of time to play around with it, but I’ve also cleaned up some of the sidebar links while I was at it. I’m not entirely sure about the massive header image, but the theme itself seems to work reasonably slickly so I shall see how it goes.

And, as we venture cautiously into 2017, all that remains is for me to with you all the best of luck for the new year.

Congratulations on surviving 2016, here’s hoping we all make it through the next 365 days.

Happy New Year Danbo.
Photo by Leland Francisco. Click image for original.

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Great UI design from LinkedIn

Although I have a LinkedIn account, I don’t often look at it. But today was one of those rare moments that I not only looked at the site but I even tried to leave a comment. And here’s what LinkedIn said:

There was a problem sharing your update. Please try again.

After a bit of experimenting, it appears that LinkedIn has an undocumented character limit. My original 774 characters was problematic, but once I’d cut it doen to 670 characters the problem went away. So I’m guessing there’s a 700 character limit on LinkedIn comments.

But seriously, if this is the problem, why can’t the site damn well say so. “There was a problem sharing your update,” means nothing and telling people to just try again is a guaranteed method of causing frustration and losing attention. Is it really so difficult to say “Please shorten your comment to 700 characters”.

Or, better still, provide a little decrementing counter of the sort you see on the Quitter UI for GNU social.

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Unified hosts file with base extensions

Using the /etc/hosts file to block malicious sites at the operating system level is an effective way of ensuring that none of your applications will access any of these sites, ever, and has the advantage of removing the need for a separate browser plugin for every browser you might possibly use. But maintaining the /etc/hosts file involves doing work and this is where Steven Black‘s hosts comes in handy.

This repository consolidates several reputable hosts files, and merges them into a unified hosts file with duplicates removed. This repo provides several hosts files tailored to you need to block.

Using it is simple. Clone the repository, update the myhosts file with any custom host records you may have, and add any domains you don’t want to block to the whitelist. Then build your hosts file:

python updateHostsFile.py

There are a number of switches you can use (all of which are documented in the readme file) which allow you to control which types of sites to block and whether you want to automatically replace your existing /etc/hosts file.

This all works very nicely indeed, but I’m lazy. So I knocked together a short script to grab any updates from the repository and rebuild my hosts file:

#! /bin/bash
# Automatically update hosts file

# Change to the correct folder and do a git pull
cd /home/paul/Stuff/hosts
git pull origin master

# And update the hosts file
python updateHostsFile.py -a -r

And put it in /usr/local/bin.

This means I can use a systemd service and timer to execute this every Saturday afternoon.

[Unit]
Description=Auto-update hosts file

[Service]
Type=oneshot
Environment=DISPLAY=:0
ExecStart=/usr/local/bin/hosts
StandardOutput=journal

[Install]
WantedBy=basic.target
[Unit]
Description=Auto Update Hosts File

[Timer]
OnCalendar=Sat 14:00:00
Persistent=true
Unit=hosts.service

[Install]
WantedBy=basic.target

And, so far, it all appears to be working very nicely indeed.

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Free subdomains with FreeDNS

Because remembering an IP address is hard.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a private Voxelands server running so that the boys can build and explore in the same world. This works pretty well but it does mean that, as can happen, one of them connects to the wrong server I have to go and look up the IP address so that I can reconnect them.

And then I discovered FreeDNS which, as the name suggests, allows you to set up a subdomain for free. You sign up, select a public domain from the extensive list available, add a subdomain, and point it at your IP address.

It really is as simple and as quick as that.

I’m impressed at how simple and painless they have managed to make the whole process. So much so that, if I do find myself needing a premium service, I will be very happy to go back to them.

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