2020

People, places, virtual spaces

Thursday, 11 June 2020

by /u/SqualorTrawler

One of the problems, and one thing that has changed, about being online, is the degree to which interaction is about:

• Personal branding; the palace of Me. This is my profile. This is my picture. This is who I want you to think I am. Perhaps I will one day be an "influencer." This is the principal problem with profile-based social media like Facebook and Twitter.
• Segmenting communities by subject area, rather than by people. You see this in a lot of subreddits where people just wait, perched, to find something "off topic" and call it out.

What it used to be about, was personal interaction; an extension of real-world socializing. On bulletin board systems in the early 80s, owing to tolls, you mostly interacted with people local to you until BBS networking became common. This meant you had something in common with them; by virtue of common location, a view of the world, and, owing to proximity, you might even meet them socially (our ddials - an early realtime chat system - had bowling meetups and parties periodically so you knew who you were chatting with.)

Later (for me, anyway), unmoderated newsgroups (when Usenet was used much like reddit is now - for conversation) meant that each group was more about people interested in a thing and not merely the thing in and of itself. If you were on a newsgroup for fans of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it wasn't abnormal or much frowned upon to talk about Dr. Who as well, or Monty Python, or any of the related things people into Hitchhiker's Guide were frequently also into.

At some point, people just got used to filing and sorting information such that someone gets wigged out any time a community goes off-topic. This is particularly irritating in very low-volume forums in which off-topic conversation supplements the low activity. I get why people are militant about this on, say, tech support IRC channels or forums, but on other subreddits... I do not understand redditors' weird obsession with on-topic-ness.

I like Commodore 64s. I don't give a fuck if you post about your Commodore 128 in a Commodore 64 forum. And I certainly don't want to have a metadiscussion about whether such a thing is on-topic because the C=128 has a 64 mode. I don't care if you talk about problems with your old Hayes-branded modem either.

You might have a forum about 70s advertising or something and someone posts an ad from 1980, which still has 70s aesthetics, and someone is ready to pounce, because you've transgressed some neurotic boundary people have that must categorize every piece of data. It is like people who have arguments about obscure sub-subgenres of music. What a boring fucking thing to talk about when it comes to music.

The result of both of these phenomena is they've made the Internet asocial in a lot of ways: too much of it is about pop semiotics (I can't stand Twitter in particular, which is ideological performance art made worse by the low character count in which the public performance lacks subtlety: you have to make your tribal affiliations known by the digital equivalent of a grunt or sarcastic quip, and not much more).

And the rest is about information aggregation rather than about people and personalities.

Being online was better when it was an appendant activity to genuine human interaction. The current mood doesn't help, in which a person can be cancelled or ruined for saying the wrong thing or using the wrong word (and if anyone here thinks I'm talking about the left's flamboyant wokeness, I am, but what I had in mind when I just typed that was a mob of conservatives descending upon an unfortunate local on Nextdoor who expressed a solidarity with Black Lives Matter which didn't follow the "all lives matter" or the "but they're all looters" sentiment of several of my, uh...neighbors, I guess.)

I'm not even one of these people overly bugged by so-called political correctness, but policing of words to the degree it happens causes two things:

1. A chilling effect in that I think people are afraid to speak honestly, for fear of having their reputation ruined, or being set upon by an online mob. This works across the political spectrum, and is tied to the categorization obsession above, in which you're either a member of a tribe and you fall in line with everything that tribe demands, or you're suspect. I don't even know what it is like, politically, to fall in line with any political movement or ideology such that I am comfortable using the term to describe myself. I mean here we are on /r/StallmanWasRight, and I like this subreddit, but I disagree with Richard Stallman on more than a few things. I'm not bothered by that, but...who knows, someone reading this might be.
2. Alternately, people who realize the public forum turns toxic so rapidly turn to feedback loops and circle the wagons and collect in online ghettoes where they only ever hear one point of view (_chans, for example). It is fair to say that a lot of people will monitor and sometimes interact with people diametrically opposed to their values as a matter of combat, but the real humanity is found in between those extremes, in the people who agree with you on some things, or sort of, or who have nuances in how they think. That whole normal expanse has been nuked by extremists. It's not about being smack in the center, either -- it's about just not being an extremist. It is stressful for me because I get along with most people. And I don't enjoy disliking people. I do dislike some people but I don't mistake that for anything other than what it is.

And then, lastly, some of it is just getting older. With every passing year, I, personally, have less and less to say. There are less novel ideas, communities, events, people, thoughts. The world starts to repeat. Things which are brand new and exciting when you're 20, well, I'm a lot older than that and increasingly more and more things are rehashes and replays.

I encounter fewer novel ideas, ideologies, belief systems, and concepts with every passing year. I've considered most of them and have formed opinions on them. I also know that there isn't much purpose in engaging in a lot of conversations. I can map out the trajectory before they start. I know who is going to say what, what is going to be said, and where the conversation will end. I could have the conversation with two sock puppets (literal socks on my hands, speaking). Not always, not everything, but...a lot of things. More things, as time goes by.

Political conversations resemble the Dead Parrot sketch. Hell is a bunch of people who hate guns and people who love guns arguing with each other and you are strapped down to a chair and are forced to listen...forever. (an odd example as I am firmly in one of those camps, and I can't bring myself to engage anymore.)

Where does that leave you then, online, amid all of these words?

I don't know how to fix it, but we lost something when we realized we could hide behind our online selves using pseudonyms and then just type any old crazy shit which popped into our heads. (The irony of writing all of this under a pseudonym right now does not escape me.) We became less human, and it shows. We are not, at heart, just ranting drunks. We are what we choose to say and choose not to say. We are intention. We are the white lies. We are nuance and context and contradiction (and I have known no one without contradictions). All that gets sanded off online.

It's not real.

None of this is real.

And it's more unreal than it used to be.

Temporary colour in Windows 10

11 February 2020

Greyscaling screens is a really useful way to make them less appealing, but the practicalities hit you pretty quickly. You'll invariably want to check out a picture or site as-designed, and even with a convenient toggle, you'll find yourself leaving greyscale off, mostly accidentally.

Enter Colour Squirt. It uses Windows 10's new colour filter shortcut key to temporarily give you a colourful display, but only for 5 or 30 seconds.

Installation is pretty simple:

• Extract it.

• Move it somewhere safe.

• Double-click it to run it. You might have to click through some warnings here.

• Make sure your Windows 10 colour filters are set up.

• Press the Windows key and type filter, then click Turn color filters on or off (should be the first result) to access the Color filters settings page.
• Turn the filter on using the toggle switch.
• Enable the Allow the shortcut key to toggle filter on or off option.
• Make sure that the selected filter is Grayscale.
• Optionally, make it run automatically when your PC starts.

• Press Windows key + R for the Run dialogue, type shell:startup in it, and hit Enter to open the automatic startup folder.
• Create a shortcut to the program in this folder (right-click-drag, Create shortcuts here).

You're ready to roll. Enjoy the reduced interestingness of your greyscaled screen. When you want to check something colourful out, hit Ctrl+Space for five seconds of colour, or Shift+Ctrl+Space for thirty seconds.

The source is here if you want to customize it, but you'll need to grab AutoHotkey to make it do anything.

Icon by Andrea Soragna.

2019

Global dark mode in Gnome

19 January 2019

I have spent a pretty solid chunk of my life looking for ways to make applications dark. There might be something about spending most of your life sitting within a metre of a huge wall of LEDs screaming photons into your face which leads you in this direction.

Most software is light, with contrast elements dark. Tweaking software to look dark is an incredible effort, and clearly wasteful: if all apps have a default UI which is mostly light, why not just do something global? The simple option is to invert the colour of every pixel, something which most graphics drivers can do easily.

The problem here is that inverting colour means that you mangle every single colour, albeit in a predictable way. Beyond looking kinda trippy, it renders things a little unusable, unless you're committed enough to want to form a second whole meaning-connectome: bluish-teal means bad, and so on.

But - holy crap - it turns out that you can invert luminosity while retaining hue. I don't know why this didn't occur to me. Luckily, it occurred to someone else, and as a tweak to an existing per-app inversion tool!

I use Linux, so I can use this magical salve out of the box, thanks to the efforts of maiself and those in this thread. I hope someone jumps on this for Windows.

Quick how-to (Linux, Gnome):

• Install Invert Window Color (mirror here).
• Rebind the per-window invert key to something more usable (change the N)
xxxxxxxxxxgsettings --schemadir ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/invert-window@maiself/schemas/ set org.gnome.shell.extensions.invert-window invert-window-shortcut '["<Super>N"]'
• Open ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/invert-window@maiself/extension.jsand replace this.set_shader_source(...) with
xxxxxxxxxxthis.set_shader_source(' \       uniform sampler2D tex; \       void main() { \             vec4 color = texture2D(tex, cogl_tex_coord_in[0].st); \             if(color.a > 0.0) { \                   color.rgb /= color.a; \             } \             float lightness = (color.r + color.g + color.b) / 3.0; \             float delta = (1.0 - lightness) - lightness; \             color.rgb = (color.rgb + delta); \             color.rgb *= color.a; \             cogl_color_out = color * cogl_color_in; \       } \ ');
• Open ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/invert-window@maiself/metadata.json and add the current gnome shell version number to "shell-version": [ .. ]

Log out and back in. Now you may tap your chosen hotkey to invert the luminosity (but not the colour!) of the current window. How cool is that?

This tool clearly needs some love and repackaging. It'd also be really cool if it remembered toggle state between relogs or reboots. If I step up to maintain it, I'll update this post.

2017

How to teach religion to kids

30 October 2017

My favourite browser addon just got an important update, and I wandered over to the author's homepage to dole out some compliments. I found staunch Christian apologetics and a kind of backlash against modern "liberal" cultural decay enlightenment change.

The intractable task of reconciling ancient moral absolutes with massive cultural shift is something Mr. Anderson has understandably dedicated a life to, but I really like his take on keeping lines of communication open. Polarization is a simple function of factional adherents refusing to, in good faith, talk to The Others.

Skimming a few articles got me thinking about the part religion played in my secular upbringing. It was barely mentioned. I learned more from osmosis than anything else, a constellation of context from which I constructed my own understanding. But the thing which took me forever to figure out was compassion.

I was largely forged in the strange emotional distance of competent intellectualism. One of the great truths of idea-wrangling is that ideas are not sacred. If you see a hole, it's your sacred duty to poke and rip and tear and see how much wider you can make it. If the hole is in another person's world-view, all the better - they might chip in with fortifications you hadn't thought of. You're not attacking them, you're attacking the weave of reality and trying to see its shape better together.

It took the emotional maturity of time to understand that most people are bound to their ideas, and that assuming that everyone subscribes to the above is a great way to piss people off. I also debated religion enough to conclude that once you understand everyone's positions, debating religion is generally a net loss. You can do it with the utmost care and compassion, and it can build mutual understanding and not be too hurtful, but you are fundamentally reminding another human soul that you find something core to their makeup objectionable or at least wrong. With reasons.

I think most of us figure this out, whichever side we're on, and basically avoid religion as a discursive topic. It's a great adaptation and it works. But children start at the beginning, and framing is everything. Religion is still a huge part of our cultural lot, so why neglect it? I think those early interactions with The Others can be filled with love and care instead of confusion and fear, and that this is a good opportunity to shape life in terms of trying to seek mutual commonality and understanding instead of being oppositional. And learning about the role of religion in the course of human cultural development should be part of every childhood.

So my suggestion is thus. Find deeply religious people and "deeply" atheist people. Seek good, kind and thoughtful people, who of honest personal interest have come to understand the other's position as finely as possible and seek to cast the other side in the best light. Seek those who seek to further mutual understanding. Seek those who like kids. Then pair them off, ideally organically if possible. You want real rapport, respect and friendship between the two. Give them time together to allow this to happen.

Finally, send them forth among the children. They should have already talked through as much as possible with one another, so there are few points on which they need to mutually clarify. They should discuss beforehand how to sensitively answer the tough questions where their stances cannot reconcile. They are to be inter-factional ambassadors sharing faction-specific ideas and perspectives while demonstrating in themselves the capacity for bridge-building and compassion.

The easiest starting point would probably be an organization which offers talks at schools. I would say do this as young as possible, but we can defer to the developmentalists. Have some prepared patter - maybe a summary of the beliefs and perspectives of each, showing care and deference in understanding both the ideas and emotions of the other party. Then open the floor and answer questions.

Be engaging, curious and down-to-earth. Show by the strength of their characters that patient mutual respect is the sanest way to engage something which is fundamentally divisive, and at the same time, impart information about the specific flavours of religion and non-religion on display. This could of course be extended to include speakers from more religions, as resources dictate.

My ulterior motive here isn't hard to read. I want us to be a species which is less easily polarized. And this model easily applies to other domains of conflict, and other age groups. :)