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My blog has been quiet of late — any summer away from the command line is a fine summer, in my book — so here’s an interlude from an “unfilmed film” to fill the space:

I had a great time at the IndieWeb Summit in Portland this weekend. Thanks to Aaron, Tantek, and Tiara for organizing a fantastic conference!

For Sunday’s “hack day”, I (1) enriched this site with microformats and (2) added support for both inbound and outbound webmentions. I came very close to adding full micropub support via the IndieKit OSS project but, alas, I discovered a couple blocking bugs along the way. Perhaps I’ll have a chance to issue a pull request soon…

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A while back I stayed up late listening to Autechre, contemplating their utter disinterest in humanizing the sounds of machines or in producing legible musical forms. It inspired me to make a wall of machine sound, too.

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Here’s a trio that does not exist, conjured from the immense sound library that is Native Instruments’ Komplete. I programmed the drum track and performed the Rhodes and bass tracks live.

The value of today’s music software bundles is incredible: a few hundred dollars buys more sonic possibilities than one can explore in a lifetime, including — it would seem — the possibility of a jazz trio that doesn’t exist. 

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Last month, we had an uncommonly large snow storm in Seattle. While the flakes fell, Ellie asked me to write a “snow song”; I played a short improv on the piano before she lost interest. This evening, I finally found a spare moment to record it.

Someone explored Infotron deeply enough to discover a few easter eggs in the level designs, including (apparently) my own signature:

It took real work to do this! It’s not possible to see portions of levels that are “out of bounds” in the game itself. Whoever did the work had to reverse engineer the level format, write code to fully render each level, and then actually examine each image in detail. That’s quite some effort for a (long-forgotten?) 25-year-old shareware game.

I’ve been working on a new project with Ben Gilbert at PSL!

It’s called Kimberlite. Our mission is to give podcasters superpowers. We’re starting with a power that we’ve always wanted for ourselves: the ability to ask fans for money, and collect it, without making anybody jump through hoops. Like, zero hoops: tap the “join now” button, authenticate with Face ID, and you’re done.

If you’re a podcaster and you’re interested in direct monetization, definitely say hi.

This short statement by Micah Cohen, from a recent episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast, caught my ear:

We wrapped up the live blog at 2:30AM and before we wrapped it up I was looking at [newspaper] headlines.

Almost all of them had some version of “Split Decision”… which is stupid, really.

People are confusing inputs and outputs. The input was not a split decision: where the American people are at at this moment is super clear. The output? Sure, it’s split. But that’s not the same thing.

Clearly, the inputs were strongly pro-Democrat. I still think “Split Decision” is a good description in the sense that Bill Kristol used it: it wasn’t a good night for Republicans, but neither was it an obvious repudiation of Trump and Trumpism. In that sense, I remain disappointed by the midterms. Sure, I didn’t really think that America would “rise up as one” against Trump… but I certainly hoped for it.

Micro.blog now supports Mastodon. It’s great.

It’s also a reminder that federated social networking can sometimes be (unavoidably) complicated:

Your custom domain on Micro.blog can now be ActivityPub-compatible, so that you can follow and reply to Mastodon users directly on Micro.blog. This also means someone can follow your blog posts by adding @you@yourdomain.com on Mastodon. (This username is configurable. Mine is @manton@manton.org.)

I wonder how many users will fully understand this and make use of it?

There’s been a flurry of recent articles about RSS and ActivityPub:

Despite being omnipresent, mountain goats are apparently not native to the Olympic Peninsula. So: they’re getting relocated.

I love this amazing photo, by Ramon Dompor, of mountain goats dangling from a helicopter on their way to a new home:

Ramon Dompor -- Seattle Times -- Mountain Goats And Helicopters

As amusing as that photo is, I’m actually a bit sad to hear about the relocation. When I think of Olympic National Park, I instantly think of mountain goats. One day, while hiking the Klahhane Ridge, Amy and I had to make way for the locals; we happened to capture this video:


Christina Hartmann, who was born deaf, writes beautifully about her experience of silence in the years after getting a cochlear implant:

Whenever the noise becomes too much, I can turn it off. All it takes is a press of a button. Or, even better, I remove my earpiece entirely. Sound is now off.

This silence is the most absolute that any human can experience, one beyond the best noise-canceling headphones or earplugs. It’s a tranquil state of being, as if I were at a deserted lake on a windless day: still and serene. I do my best thinking here, shielded from the noisy world.

Daring Fireball:

I think Twitter should reverse course on this whole thing. Replace the now-deprecated third-party client APIs with new ones, let third-party clients flourish, and figure out a way to make money from them.

Sadly, we all know that won’t happen. I’m not even sure it’s the right path forward. If we want an ecosystem of third-party microbloggers, I think Manton has found the better path. His micro.blog clients are the first “indie web” apps I’ve run across with a great user experience. The open nature of the service makes it possible and desirable for other great apps, like Icro, to flourish.

Marco Arment seems to have a knack for doing little things that are, upon reflection, actually quite big.

This week, Marco suggested a strategy for designating payment links in podcast show notes; the next version of his Overcast podcast app will have built-in support.

This is a small increment that, if widely adopted, will make the open web meaningfully better. Better still: there’s no reason adoption should be limited to podcasts; that just happens to be the corner of the open web that Marco is most invested in (and that, at least today, has the most traction).

Revisiting Mastodon three months (and many angry @jack tweets) later:

  • I was able to identify 3,786 public Mastodon instances. (Up 44% since May.)
  • Across these, there appear to be 1.4M registered accounts. (Up 14%.)
  • In the last week, there were 109K accounts that actively published content. (Flat.)
  • The majority of the network’s activity is still concentrated in the top 5 instances, although the top instances have shuffled around a bit.
  • The entire network reports slightly over 154 million “toots” across Mastodon’s entire history. That’s 33M new “toots” in the past few months, or a 10% uptick in monthly post volume over the past quarter. Mastodon is not a rocket ship but it certainly shows signs of life.

It’s not clear to me what’s driving the growth in instances: my assumption was that disaffected Twitter users would flock to well-known servers (like mastodon.social and mastodon.xyz) but it appears that self-hosting is becoming increasingly common. Perhaps this says something about the kind of Twitter user that considers Mastodon a viable alternative?

Outrider is a new foundation that “believes in the power of an educated, engaged public” to “solve the world’s greatest challenges”.

They’ve just published a treasure trove of content covering the history, geopolitics, and technology behind nuclear weapons. The interactive bomb blast map is terrifying.

I only hope their hypothesis is right.

I started a new blog over at Hipsterware, the goofily named LLC I use to collect my personal projects. I plan to write more about indie development in general and my new projects in particular.

Snap’s recent IPO convinces me there’s much more room for “innovation” on shareholder rights. SNAP shares are entirely non-voting and there’s simply no way for the interested public to get their hands on voting shares. That’s bold, but there’s so much more we can do!

For example, let’s IPO a company whose shares actively grant the company voting rights in the shareholder’s future personal decision making. I mean, I bet the whiz-kids at Snapchat haven’t thought of that!

Given how much SNAP shares are worth, it’s pretty clear that shareholder rights aren’t highly valued when the property is hot. I hope someone has the huevos rancheros to push it far.

Marco Arment recently launched an ad network for Overcast, his podcasting app. I’ve always admired Marco’s willingness to experiment with new business models. I suspect (and hope!) that this proves to be a gold mine. I also suspect that, somewhere down the road, it will prove worthwhile for Marco to implement an auction-based pricing model.

Lawfare posted an interesting deep-dive on the law of leaks. The introduction discusses Trump’s recent tweet that the “real” story is about illegal leaks:

First, the President makes these accusations despite not knowing the actual source of these leaks. At least some of the information seems to be coming from his own White House. And nothing that has come to light is the kind of material that only the FBI or NSA would be aware of. Indeed, there is no particular reason to assume that any of these leaks are intelligence community leaks, rather than leaks by current and former White House officials with the knives out for Flynn.

Second, these tweets suggest that the President is more interested in hunting down leakers than in getting to the bottom of extremely serious allegations against his own administration. Whether Trump’s comments represent an intentional deflection or merely reflect misaligned priorities, most people can agree without defending leaking that the leaks are probably not the “real scandal” here.

Finally, and perhaps most worryingly, the President’s statement seems to signal an intention to use the pretense of leak investigations to engage in political retaliation. As Tim Edgar noted yesterday, the President is showing an instinct here that is not all that dissimilar from the events that set Watergate in motion.

From Phil Klay’s What We’re Fighting For:

If we choose to believe in a morally diminished America, an America that pursues its narrow selfish interests and no more, we can take that course and see how far it gets us. But if we choose to believe that America is not just a set of borders, but a set of principles, we need to act accordingly. That is the only way we ensure that our founding document, and the principles embedded within, are alive enough, and honorable enough, to be worth fighting for.

Matt Levine, author of the wonderful Money Stuff column for Bloomberg, in a rare moment of seriousness:

If the president can, without consulting the courts or Congress, banish U.S. lawful permanent residents, then he can do anything. If there is no rule of law for some people, there is no rule of law for anyone. The reason the U.S. is a good place to do business is that, for the last 228 years, it has built a firm foundation on the rule of law. It almost undid that in a weekend. That’s bad for business.

Lawfare is a blog by and for national security legal professionals. It’s therefore a refreshingly sober-minded source of analysis and opinion about the actions of the Trump administration. Benjamin Wittes writes that Trump’s executive order on immigration is an astonishing mix of malevolence and incompetence:

NBC is reporting that the document was not reviewed by DHS, the Justice Department, the State Department, or the Department of Defense, and that National Security Council lawyers were prevented from evaluating it. Moreover, the New York Times writes that Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the agencies tasked with carrying out the policy, were only given a briefing call while Trump was actually signing the order itself. Yesterday, the Department of Justice gave a “no comment” when asked whether the Office of Legal Counsel had reviewed Trump’s executive orders—including the order at hand. (OLC normally reviews every executive order.)

This order reads to me, frankly, as though it was not reviewed by competent counsel at all.

The first beta of iOS 10.3 has several interesting new features, including automatic conversion to APFS, the ability to respond to customers on the App Store (!), and SKStoreReviewController, an official API for requesting app reviews. Naturally, Francisco is already on it:

Francis Fukuyama, pondering America’s checks and balances:

As a political scientist, I am looking ahead to his presidency with great interest, since it will be a fascinating test of how strong American institutions are. Americans believe deeply in the legitimacy of their constitutional system, in large measure because its checks and balances were designed to provide safeguards against tyranny and the excessive concentration of executive power. But that system in many ways has never been challenged by a leader who sets out to undermine its existing norms and rules. So we are embarked in a great natural experiment that will show whether the United States is a nation of laws or a nation of men.

In the past, Fukuyama has advanced the argument that America is a vetocracy, a system of government gridlocked by countless checks and balances. In light of Trump, he sees this vetocracy as a double-edged sword.

Fast Forward Labs is a machine intelligence research company that issues regular reports on cutting-edge technology. Each report explores a single machine-learning technique in detail, documenting the state of the art, practical applications, and current commercial landscape. Reports are paired with software that demonstrates how to use the technology in practice. Fast Forward’s business model is high-touch: expensive content subscriptions lead to high-value consulting engagements. As a result, their research is prohibitively expensive for individuals. Thankfully, Fast Forward’s blog keeps abreast of all their work.