Daily notes for 2023-06-30

· 1338 words · 7 minute read

Google Reader 🔗

This Verge piece on the life and death of Google Reader is interesting. I was a fan, but not at all for the social reasons. I just thought it was a good way to read news, right up until mobile clients got to a place that I just used it as a sync backend for native readers. Because I never read it as a social app that dimension of the article is food for thought.

Then we get to:

“It’s been a decade since Reader went offline, and a number of the folks who helped build it still ask themselves questions about it. What if they’d focused on growth or revenue and really tried to get to Google scale? What if they’d pushed harder to support more media types, so it had more quickly become the reader / photo viewer / YouTube portal / podcast app they’d imagined? What if they’d convinced Mayer and the other executives that Reader wasn’t a threat to Google’s social plans, but actually could be Google’s social plans? What if it hadn’t been called Reader and hadn’t been pitched as a power-user RSS feed aggregator?”

… and then …

“It was never just an RSS reader. ‘If they had invested in it,’ says Bilotta, ‘if they had taken all those millions of dollars they used to build Google Plus and threw them into Reader, I think things would be quite different right now.’

“Then she thinks about that for a second. ‘Maybe we still would have fallen into optimizing for the algorithm,’ she allows. Then she thinks again. ‘But I don’t think so.’”

Well, hard disagree.

There is something very strange to me about the disconnect between tech’s behavior and the way that behavior is received and perceived by the version of the tech press that runs sites like The Verge. Like, the whole “Google arbitrarily kills things – why, God?” theme they harp on, while also crying about how, like, smartphone design has stagnated so let’s please rush more easily broken folding gimmicks to market because “black metal slabs are boring.”

I don’t even know what I’m trying to say here, except that there is something both sweet and naive but also blinkered and infuriating about a tech press that can’t see itself as a wholly compromised and willing participant in the tech industry. It’s “skeptical” about new features, strange product names, maaaaaybe subscription juicers (though it’ll still review them and provide an affiliate link), and sometimes whole companies if the CEO offends its political/social sensibilities. But if you asked it, collectively, “what would you say the ideology of this industry is,” the best answer you’d get would be something like “pretty liberal except Elon Musk, but to be fair there are way more rainbow versions of logos these days.”

I mean, sorry and that’s very snotty of me, but also man, I would love it if I knew who the Molly White or David Gerard of the whole goddamn industry, not just its very most ridiculous and worst excesses, was.

Aliens 🔗

Al and I have tickets to a showing of Aliens at the Hollywood, which owns a 35mm print. I’m so excited. It’s probably one of my 10 desert island movies and I don’t know how many dozen times I’ve seen it. I drove from my small town in Indiana to South Bend every weekend during its original run.

Stuff I love:

  • The economy of the early scenes, establishing all the characters.
  • Lance Henriksen’s ability to make Bishop strange and offputting but empathetic.
  • Paul Reiser’s “yuppie from central casting” turn. Right out of the pages of Fear of Falling.
  • Bill Paxton’s Hudson.
  • The tech. I have wondered for decades when it would become jarring and anachronistic, but it’s still true-but-not-real.

On the tech: I was trained to repair army signal gear. Aliens tech was a little retro even in 1986, providing some visual continuity with its ‘79 predecessor, but it’s timeless in the way it conveys the grunt-proof aesthetic of military gear. Yeah, it misses in a few places, less because of the anachronisms and more because they wanted to wedge in a dramatic device. Overall, though, the materials and “durability over ergonomics” aesthetic are all just right. I can still remember the way it felt to rack a SINCGARS, or sit there in the cold un-bending a connector pin on a KY-57 with a Leatherman, or heft a power amplifier. Aliens feels very close to all that.

And I love Lt. Gorman’s arc. There are lots of ways it could have been handled, and he could have easily been turned into a human punchline as Cameron whittled away the squad, but he gets to go out with dignity conferred on him by Vasquez, even as she calls him an asshole.

Roger Ebert:

“I have never seen a movie that maintains such a pitch of intensity for so long; it’s like being on some kind of hair-raising carnival ride that never stops.

“I don’t know how else to describe this: The movie made me feel bad. It filled me with feelings of unease and disquiet and anxiety. I walked outside and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was drained. I’m not sure Aliens is what we mean by entertainment. Yet I have to be accurate about this movie: It is a superb example of filmmaking craft.”

Can’t wait.

Pickelball noise 🔗

The pickelball people of Sellwood. I count a pickelball person among my dear friends, but I also think Portland’s collective sense of how to behave in public spaces is god awful. See also Hosford Middle School.

Bye, Apollo 🔗

Apollo went dark this afternoon. That sort of sucked. I was honestly hoping for some 11th-hour something.

I honestly don’t know whether I’ll keep reading reddit or not. The subs I like are more about conversations than they are rivers of memes, and they work best when you sort on New. In that context threaded commenting is pretty terrible, and Apollo made it easy to see when there was new stuff, and highlighted it for you. I think reddit charges for some kind of “there’s a new comment” functionality, but I’m not interested in paying right now, that’s for sure.

But I guess I’m also feeling … dudgeon free.

I’ve had three career phases where I was in and around “making money on the web,” each with a slightly different angle. Each time it wasn’t super easy when it wasn’t buoyed by hype, or it was so crassly and soullessly commercial — corrupt, even — that it was horrible. It has left me feeling unsurprised and a little jaded when the likes of Twitter and reddit start thrashing around in their tarpits. I don’t feel happy about the very real upset people experience when these spaces they had implode or remake themselves in unrecognizable ways, but they’re spaces built in a medium that is ephemeral in an unprecedented way. Things are always coming and going.

On that tip, this Hacker News “Ask” post sort of strange and naive to me. That place is one of the ideological hearts of the tech industry. And it’s presumably a place where, like, the bias against succumbing to share-croppery would likely be high. But things get weird and distasteful in a few corners and there’s this poor soul wondering if something has been lost.

Go make something, dude.

We seriously do. not. need. some mass web experience.

“One thing it would be nice to take away from this current moment is a sense that there are ways to have the thing we were promised – more connection with more people, more sharing of ourselves, more awareness of our world – that don’t involve treating us like an attentional vein of coal someone else can strip-mine. Where we create small, warm spaces where we simply can be, loved around our hearth, esteemed in our village, welcomed in new places over the hill, tiny threads of lantern light lacing all our homes together.”