This week has been absolute chaos. Good though! A few things to remember, and to follow up on.


I keep coming across Automate the Boring Stuff, and keep forgetting to look in to it. Python was the first language I learned back in college with Prof. Maxwell, so would be nice to revisit it.

Same thing with films like Idiocracy and The Skeleton Twins. Made a mental note to see them years ago and then promptly forgot, so I’m noting them here as an ever-so-slightly more effective reminder. Idiocracy seems particularly weird, on paper it should have been a huge hit but it got absolutely sidelined by Fox and was screened in the bare-minimum of theaters. The reviews are crazy mixed. Still, I’d like to see it.

Something I *have* watched recently on SB’s recommendation is the BBC’s Ghosts. It’s hilarious and completely charming, a lot of the same faces as the original Horrible Histories but a completely different format. I’d watch the whole thing again, hope they do another series.

Last weekend was Offprint book fair in the Turbine Hall at the Tate, and probably my last event with OP. It was nice to see a few familiar faces including the guys at Here Press. Richard Hollis did a talk to a full house on his newest book about Henry van de Velde followed by a book signing at OP’s table. It was nice to see him again. He was using a blue Uni-ball Air for the signing. I’m going to keep my eye out for that one in the stationery shops, it’s a ball point that writes like a fountain pen (line thickness varies with pressure, but very little risk of leaks). The price seems super reasonable, the web’s retail giant offers a three-pack for just under £5.

GC recommended The Mushroom at the End of the World, and if there’s anyone I trust to give me great book recommendations, it’s her. I’m just hoping it leans towards the glass-half-full end of things, I’m not sure I can take more pessimism right now.

I might have a little bit of downtime while travelling over the next few weeks. If I do, I’m hoping to spend a little time looking in to Commotion, “a free, open-source communication tool that uses wireless devices to create decentralized mesh networks”. Could use SiteSucker to grab all of the docs before I leave for offline reading. I came across Commotion for the first time via a link to Learn Networking Basics from Measurement Lab’s learning resources.

Big data? No thanks

Gandi published a long blog post titled “Mass manipulation and platform privacy: where we’re at”. It’s summarises some talks and Gandi’s perspective following a conference on “democracy in the face of cybersecurity threats”. I’d like to follow up on a few of the points from the post. I’d also like to find out what public educational efforts are under way. Surely someone is working on PSA-style messaging about the dangers of misinformation and how to identify it. It’s easy to be skeptical about that sort of thing, but it can stick. What’s the cyber-awareness version of “Only you can prevent forest fires” or “A slip of the lip will sink a ship”? James Bridle’s “Big data? No thanks” is related, but the version I’m talking about is more personal, about confronting your own confirmation bias. But not too ominous, also catchy and friendly? Tall order.

Every time I sit down on the tube I wonder about what other people see when they look at me, what they perceive about me precisely because they are *not* me. There is this slippery divide when it comes to understanding yourself. There are elements of yourself that you can never understand since it’s impossible to get outside your own head (one of the reasons that talking to someone else about a problem can be so helpful). There are other things about yourself that only you can ever understand, no matter how much time you spend attempting to express that thing. I have trouble articulating why this feels like a catch, but surely someone out there has tried. Just need to find them.

Raised wallpaper in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row, London

Saturday was an Agorama Server Co-op workshop day. A bunch of us spent the afternoon getting Homebase set up on various Raspberry Pis, a lot of trial and error! The main reference material we used was the README from Agorama’s ansible-raspberry-server repo, Agorama’s Dat Server Node Tutorial, and the brainpower of some of the more knowledgeable people present.

I learned a *lot* from the process and the people there, particularly Max, Ali, and Harry. I’m in the process of writing it all up in to a series of tutorials, will add it here.

Read tutorials

70’s wallpaper in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row, London

Last night was my third Agorama Server Co-op meet up in Rebecca’s Flat, a delightfully dilapidated space at Raven Row. I think it was actually the fifth though, I missed the last two due to illness which was a real bummer. The weekend jam sounded particularly great.

This particular meetup was more informal and a little smaller than usual. It ended up being a really nice, wandering conversation on the multifaceted possibilities of the distributed web, what it could look like.

The notes below are a sort of a prompt dump, snippets I wrote down at the time because I didn’t want to forget it or wanted to look in to it more. See all Server Co-op write-ups here.


Dark Crystal is now up and running on Patchbay (ssb client). Got Samsung funding, woohoo! Possible to create bot that receives shard? Think they’re trying to avoid that, the human element is kind of critical.

What about physical crypto? Microdots are worth checking out. Microdot tattoos?

Asked what ppl think about potential threat of quantum computing to modern cryptography methods, response was a little not as I expected (this is why I come to these things!). Personally I’ve been feeling a little tin-foil-hat-y, but general consensus from the other voices in the room seemed to be pretty ambivalent since the theory far outstrips the practicalities currently. Which is true, but it also just feels kind of like an arms race (particularly since it involves hardware / infrastructure). Whoever cracks it first wins the golden goose unless we can come up with cryptography that works against it. GP then mentioned the post-quantum crypto contest with NIST due to end pretty soon, looks pretty promising. I didn’t realise there was that much going on with quantum resistant algorithm research, so that makes me feel a bit better. I guess my concern is still there though, to a big degree. Banks, for example, are on notoriously crappy tech that is rarely overhauled. What of them, and the other institutions we rely on? Oh lord, and voting tech…

Got talking about what I’d been up to (not much, see first para…) and mentioned that I ultimately decided not to move my site on to Dat, partly due to scale issues w/ static site generators (read more on this) but more to do with the fact that I think I’d rather use Dat for something new and neato, rather than just repurpose something that already exists and is doing ok in it’s current form. Then we started talking about static site generators more generally and someone mentioned Pelican, which I hadn’t come across before. It’s written in Python and originally released in 2010 (!), so up there with Jekyll as one of the earlier static site generators.

HL demoed his mother-of-all-apps for us, it looks *so great*! Absolutely something I would use. Really excited to see where he takes it. I need to look in to Hypercore and Expo a bit more. The first I’d heard of, the second not so much. Apparently Expo is a cross platform app framework built around React Native. Ppl could not say enough good things about it and honestly, it does look fantastic. Particularly as a tool to dip your toe in to app waters, so to speak.

Towards the end of the demo, the conversation wound through lots of different topics. Blockchain, platforms vs aggregators, a bunch of CS history (need to read more about that…), the sustainability of open source, etc. The rest of this note details snippets from this part of the conversation that I need to look in to more.

Services / apps / platforms I’d like to look in to a bit:

  • Mapeo, an “open source, offline-first map editor”
  • Manyverse, kind of Scuttlebutt for your phone but better (shouldn’t suck the life out of your phone trying to sync)
  • Node.js for mobile apps
  • Webrecorder, like a personal Wayback Machine; also, did you know you can sometimes find YouTube vids that have been taken down archived on the Wayback Machine?
  • TMYK

A reading list. (Some of these links are painful to open, some orgs really need to cool their jets on the pop-ups and trackers):

Some soundbites. These are paraphrased points made by others that I found super-relevant. Bits in square brackets are added by me for clarity:

  • “Ordering is the toughest thing to sort out” [when it comes to ledgers / append-only logs]
  • “Biggest problem with blockchain is the definition of consensus, and how to establish consensus”
  • Article 13 [aka the “upload filter” provision] is forcing people’s hand, we’re going to see a lot more of this.”
  • “So much of this bullshit has come from chasing the technology and not the needs.” Related: “But seriously… does it need to be an app?”
  • “The future of the web will be much more about interoperability than a black-and-white, decentralised vs centralised approach.”
  • “Porn is a canary in the coal mine for whether a piece of tech is ready for primetime.” [Is someone using it for porn? Ok, it’s going to gain traction.]
  • “Could we ever have another Xerox PARC?” “Probably not, research now is just too results-driven. A report every week, and sometimes the funder has already indicated what they’d prefer your results to be.”

So many distributed / decentralised web conversations get quasi-evangelical about how this or that tech will save the world. Why does it have to be winner takes it all? Different needs require different technologies.

We recognise biodiversity as a fundamental requirement of a healthy, thriving biosphere. Why don’t we champion technodiversity in the same way? Embrace the chaos.

Surfing with coffee #5. Order of exploration:

A
Noticed that HB starred Samiz-Dat on GitHub (↓B)(↓C)(↓D)

B
Hyperreadings (↓G)

C
Distributed, a book from OPEN Editions that “focusses attention on the act of distribution as a subject for serious creative consideration and one of great social and economic importance”. (↓D)

D
bradhaylock.com (↓E)(↓F)

E
Searched for Brad Haylock on Twitter. (↓L)

F
Surpllus (↓H)

G
Kenneth Goldsmith reflecting on the current state and possible future of UbuWeb after 15 years. Also relevant to the Whyspace event last Wednesday. “For the moment, we have no competition, a fact we’re not happy about. We’re distressed that there is only one UbuWeb: why aren’t there dozens like it?” (↓I)

H
Searched for Surpllus on Twitter. (↓L)

I
UbuWeb Twitter feed (↓J)(↓L)

J
RIP Filmstruck (↓K)

K
A wild, multi-armed internet search for an independent video rental hole-in-the-wall I went to probably around 5-6 years ago. Spent 20 minutes searching and couldn’t find it. Asked SB and he figured it out in about 30 seconds, see The Film Shop in Stoke Newington. Looks like it has probably gone the way of most other video shops though. :(

L
Hate how heavily I rely on Twitter to keep up with interesting peoples’ activity, especially after this past Saturday. Look in to alternative methods of creating/curating feeds outside of the social media rat race. (↓M)(↓N)(↓O)

M
Hardly Everything, “your feed with a cadence”.

N
Reeder for iOS and Mac (I think this is what SB uses).

O
Search for self-hosted RSS, came across Awesome self-hosted repo. See Feed Readers section specifically.

my experience getting up and running with Homebase

I finally got round to exploring Homebase yesterday (jump straight to setup steps). My original intention was to get the SB-PH site on Dat + HTTPS à la this blog post by Tara Vancil. As far as I can tell though, without multi-writer support in Dat this setup would effectively lock Sam out of being able to quickly deploy changes. We’re interested in making that site a little bit more of a collaborative sandbox, so making deployment harder than it is currently is not the right step to take there.

So though I definitely want to get the SB-PH site on Dat eventually, we’re putting that on hold for now and I’m pivoting towards my site. In this blog’s earliest incarnation it was on Tumblr, and for a long while now has been a pretty standard WordPress site. The big task in moving to Dat, besides figuring out Homebase, is converting my site from WordPress to a static site via Jekyll/Hugo/Eleventy/GatsbyJS or something similar. It’s taking a while, I didn’t realise quite how much content has accumulated (1000+ tags?!) and there are a few WordPress-y features that I definitely want to build in (“more” tags, descriptions for tags+categories, proper pagination, etc.). More on that in a separate note.

So yesterday I put that aside and focused on getting Homebase up and running on a DigitalOcean droplet. Overall, setting up Homebase wasn’t too bad. The most involved part of the process was setting up the server. I kind of like tinkering with server stuff, so that’s cool. I 100% agree with the caveat at the top of the Homebase README, you should consider Homebase only if you’re comfortable with and interested in server administration. I would add that your interest should be *ongoing*. Servers take maintenance (related, see note on serverless setups). It’s your responsibility if a process stops running, or the software is out of date, or the Let’s Encrypt certificate doesn’t renew, etc. Hashbase looks like a great alternative for those that want the final result but don’t want to deal with the server configuration/maintenance.

The rest of this note is an outline of the steps I took to get Homebase working. Where good documentation exists elsewhere, I have linked to that instead of elaborating.

Read Homebase setup steps

Weekend activities resulted in an explosion of information that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. 💥 Link dump below for reference. Most of these are via Sam B, Gemma C, Hannah B, and agorama.

Going to write up more about serverless and P2P, and how they kind of intersect, once I’ve digested some of this.

Over the weekend I had some good conversations with new friends about social media, how they use it, how they’re considering changing/continuing certain habits moving forward, etc. Off the back of that I’m (hopefully) going to progress a little further with syndicating these notes to selected channels. Probably just Twitter, really.

While looking in to that, I came across the phrase “manual until it hurts”. Hits the nail on the head.

Somewhat related: we just tore down our SB-PH site and replaced it with a holding page. I feel lighter already.

Surfing w/ coffee #3. Order of exploration, seems more single-track than usual:

A
Open Hacker News, drawn to Frequent versus infrequent developers (in languages and so on) (↓B) (↓C)

B
Is it worth the time? on XKCD; pleased to find this again

C
Hello, I am a DWiki (↓D)

D
Wiki Principles (↓E)

E
Wiki Is Not Wikipedia (↓F)

F
GitHub repo for remodelling wiki as a single page application (↓G)

G
Cunningham & Cunningham Inc., “a small consultancy that has specialized in object-oriented programming” (↓H) (↓I) (↓J)

H
Plate Blading; “As he skates away he feels the need to fabricate further explanation.”

I
C2.COM as Public Space; “Have you ever noticed that some publicly owned museums can be hard to see while privately owned billboards are hard to avoid?”

J
Expense calculator shell script


See previous: surfing 2, surfing 1