Introducing Slack-Twitter

Have you heard of Slack? If you work in the tech industry, or have friends who work in the tech industry, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of it, (though I do still encounter tech-savvy people who haven’t heard of it). The explanations of what it is vary depending on whom you talk to. It’s often described as group chat with link previews or an email-killer. It’s really whatever it is you want it to be since it can integrate with just about anything.

“An API for knowledge” is a pretty good, if maybe abstract, descriptor of what it is. Matt Haughey, in a podcast announcing his retirement from MetaFilter and his new job at Slack, described his employer’s product as a toy that people use at work. I liked that description so much that I left the Slack teams that didn’t have a well-defined purpose (such as work) or topic (such as the Ingress faction I belong to).

Since I’m now spending quite a lot of time using Slack, I wanted a way to read tweets in Slack. The official Twitter integration for Slack “only” pulls in mentions and expands tweet URLs so that it shows the entire text (and photo if there is one) of the tweet. That’s pretty darn cool, but there’s no functionality within the official integration to have your own timeline, i.e. the tweets of people you follow, show up in Slack nor is it possible to post tweets from Slack. Using Twitter’s Streaming API and Slack’s Real Time Messaging API, I built the middle piece that do those two things. I can post tweets from Slack and read tweets from my timeline. Cool, right?

You have to know a little bit about Twitter and Slack tokens to get this hooked up. You don’t have to host the program yourself: once you’ve gotten the tokens sorted out, you can quickly deploy it to Heroku. I recommend, nay, urge you to hook this up to a separate channel for the single purpose of reading and posting tweets. Posting any message under 140 characters will be published on your Twitter account.

I’ve only tried this with my personal Slack “team” and not a real world example. I can see how this might be interesting for a group to join the channel and read the tweets that the organization account follows, as well as ‘collaboratively’ post. I can’t wait to see what bugs that might cause, in a very public way.

It crashes every now and then, thanks to a memory leak somewhere along the line. There’s another heisenbug that periodically tweets a URL of a tweet from your timeline but I don’t know the pattern yet. Still interested? Take a look at the instructions and deploy to Heroku. It’s free!


Also published on Medium on March 24th, 2015.

My 2014 in Books

As part of the Goodreads reader challenge, I intended to read 25 books over the course of 2014. I only got to 17. I struggled in the summer months to find the motivation to read. James Clear's system to read 30+ books a year gives me hope that I can read a less ambitious 20 books this year.

Screenshot from Goodreads showing the covers of the books I read in 2014

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman were books I finished having started in 2013, the former being a book club selection. I read The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers after hearing about references to it in commentary about True Detective (see also io9's report). I read Endgame by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton in anticipation of the multi-media experience about to come (and as part of its connection to the game Ingress). Hotel Eden by Ron Carlson was the selection for the 24-Hour Book Club, but I read it over the course of a month. I devoured The Morning After by Chantal Hébert and Jean Lapierre over the course of 18 hours late in the year. I also devoured Great Expectations by reporters Shi Davidi and John Lott as they catalogued the disastrous 2013 Toronto Blue Jays season. On a trip to Vancouver Island, I saw Unbreakable: The Ujjal Dosanjh Story by Douglas P. Welbanks in the ferry gift shop and thought "Someone wrote a book about Ujjal Dosanjh and didn't inform me?" In my quest to read everything she's written, I read the very short The Embassy of Cambodia by Zadie Smith in one sitting. I made a purchase request for and read Chasing the Perfect: Thoughts on Modernist Design in Our Time by Natalia Ilyin on Joe Clark's recommendation, and posted three passages from the book on my Tumblr about home, amber, straight lines. The rest were books I borrowed from my dad or about electronics.

I liked the blog posts that Amy Qualls and Diana Kimball wrote about their year in books.

Just a Gwai Lo Now Powered by Drupal 7

This blog is now powered by Drupal 7. I’m redirecting some content that Drupal 7 wouldn’t handle to my archive site thanks to the Rabbit Hole module. (Assuming DNS has propagated to you, my SkyTrain Explorer journal should be a live and well, along with some link-blog posts and other whatnots.) This is also going to be a test of the Vinculum module's support of Webmention, since my site powered by Known supports it out of the box. Some related links can be found on the post in question.

2014 Eastside Culture Crawl

Man in the Mirror

Standing outside David Robinson's gallery on the 4th floor of the 1000 Parker Street building was a man in a mirror.

1000 Parker is immense and labyrinthine, overflowing with artist studios and workshops. Reflecting on my previous visits there, it was only ever for client meetings in an office at the front, and never into the back. A definite must-visit during the crawl if you can stand a little bit of close-quarters with other art-goers.

My finger inside the barrel of a ray gun

My finger lighting up the glass

Sasamat Creative had a tiny little room in the Mergatroid Building, showing off their neon gas creations that responded to touch thanks to our own conductivity. I got to touch their orange geometric shape and ray gun (shown below). The Georgia Straight profiled them in this year's Culture Crawl issue

Ray gun, $1,000

Process and result

I loved visiting the artist work areas converted into galleries for the weekend, seeing the tools, large and small, that people used to make their creations.

Vegetable dumbbells

A photo posted by Richard Eriksson (@sillygwailo) on

The vegetable dumbbells I encountered in 1000 Parker were very odd, and very heavy. Not shown are the photographs next to this by the same artist of buses printed on old maps.


A photo posted by Richard Eriksson (@sillygwailo) on

Walking into the Mergatroid Building, who did I run into but Jason Vanderhill and his bust. What a strange sight to see someone looking into their own eyes.

Alain Boullard

A photo posted by Richard Eriksson (@sillygwailo) on

Also at the Mergatroid, we watched as Alain Boullard painted a portait.

Matchsticks art at Propellor Design in Strathcona

Art at the entrance of Propellor Design in Strathcona


A photo posted by Richard Eriksson (@sillygwailo) on

After crawling through 1000 Parker and the Mergatroid building, I set about walking the area around Hastings and Clark to play Ingress, coming across a Jimi Hendrix mural and Vespa Motors. Stumbling around Strathcona, I encountered Propellor Design, which garciously let me take photographs of their mountain ranges, matcstick art, and workshop.


A photo posted by Richard Eriksson (@sillygwailo) on

Jérémie Laguette welcomed crawlers into his abode, and this sign greeted us at the door.

Parking lot of 1000 Parker during the Eastside Culture Crawl

Here's the scene, from David Robinson's gallery, of the food carts and gatherings in front of 1000 Parker St.

Nick Gregson

A photo posted by Richard Eriksson (@sillygwailo) on

Nick Gregson let us watch as he painted in his drawing of the Vancouver skyline as seen from North Vancouver.

Tiny entrance on the side of the Grandview Cavalry Baptist Church

On the Sunday, I went around Victoria Drive and came across the Grandview Cavalry Baptist Church. This sign just outside the tiny entrance beckoned me in to the ceramics studio in the basement.

Hot Talks at Hot Art Wet City: Eastside Culture Crawl Artists Speak

The Eastside Culture Crawl, where artists invite you into their studios (many of which are their homes) to see their creations, takes place November 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd. Visit the Culture Crawl website (which, disclosure, I help maintain) for more information. Tonight, at Hot Art Wet City, a wee little studio on Main & 6th Ave., I heard from several artists talk about their work and how they do it. I took only the briefest of notes, so I hope to have captured at least a little of what they had to say.

Jon Shaw (Culture Crawl profile) talked about this paintings of alleyways, devoid of people but replete with evidence of people. He expressed an interest in graffiti, what he referred to as “street typography.” I'm particularly drawn to his his baseball bat and blue jay for reasons obvious if you follow me on Twitter.

Blue Jay

Baseball bat

Robin Ripley (Culture Crawl profile) showcased her tree art, referring particularly to her installation at the Sun Yat-Sen garden, which comes down on Monday. I'd better get out there to see it!

Patsy Kay Kolstar (Culture Crawl profile) regaled us with her story of how she ended up in Farmington, PA for a three-day workshop in her quest to make one-of-a-kind jewelry. She blogs at My Life in Jewels.

Claire Madill (Culture Crawl profile) had the most to say about the business side of art, introducing me to the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and her porcelain graffiti spray can.

David Robinson (Culture Crawl profile) gave the most conceptual talk of the night, the word ”monument” coming up a lot, and figures as an ”extinct” art. He highlighted his Equestrian Monument and his work with plinths. If he's written a book, I'd sure like to read it.

Jerk With a Camera (Culture Crawl profile) showed us his photography, especially his purposeful mistakes, such as his film and digital double exposures. He, like Jon Shaw, explores the depths of Vancouver trying to find that perfect shot.

Holly Cruise (Culture Crawl profile) showed us her glass robots (below) and told us funny stories about raising kids while managing and working and finding time to make her wonderful art.

Tiny glass art by Holly Cruise

A photo posted by Richard Eriksson (@sillygwailo) on

Glass Robot

A photo posted by Richard Eriksson (@sillygwailo) on

We Can Explore an Endlessly Generated World Freely

John Crowley: “To live at once in a time recoverable by a particular sacred calendar and also by a time without qualities, counted as it passes, involves a sort of mental doubling that is perhaps comparable, in the richness it grants to thought and feeling, to growing up bilingual: two systems, each complete, funny when they collide, each supplying something the other lacks, bearing no command to choose between them. Like a hamster in a Run-About Ball, we can explore an endlessly generated world freely by turning inside the vehicle of our closed and demarcated calendars.”

Vancouver Design Week Bike Tour

As part of Vancouver Design Week 2014, a senior urban designer from the City of Vancouver took us on a 3 hour bike tour of Vancouver's architecture. We started in Olympic Village, made our way north on the seawall to Chinatown, then rode through Gastown to the convention centre, after which we biked to Stanley Park and then to Third Beach, ending at Mole Hill.

View of Yaletown from SE False Creek

I got there 3 hours early because of a hilarious mixup. The time zone on the event listing was EDT, so what looked like 1 PM on the website was actually 10 AM. I emailed the organizer asking which one it was, but never heard back. So I had time to kill in SE False Creek.

Giant bird

We met by one of the giant birds in the Athletes Village Square. Not this one.

Fountain in Athletes Village courtyard

Walkway in Athletes Village courtyard

The fountain and walkway, open to the public but with a semblance of privacy, adds to the sense of calm in the neighbourhood.

Our guide pointed out the non-market housing that didn’t have any telltale signs on the outside.

Gastown setback

I spent a year working in Gastown not noticing the setback office buildings in historic historic Gastown.

Richard Henriquez building in the West End

Richard Henriquez building on Barclay St. and Lagoon Dr. The building has a listing on Condopedia and, well, there’s a thing called Condopedia.

Mole Hill courtyard

Mole Hill Creek Lookout

We ended the tour at Mole Hill, with a creek running through it, there's this tiny lookout.

Mole Hill Gate

Looking out from Mole Hill to Comox St. I biked past this spot at night once.

Terms and names that came up that gave me fodder for researching later on: Carlos Carpa, extrusion, micro-economy, envelope (as it relates to buildings), modest market housing, street wall, contemporary contextualism, Adolf Loos, Eugenia Place, Silvia Hotel, the history of the Cactus Club on Beach Ave.

Alternatives to the Best Way to Discover a Strange City

True, Google Maps can give you audible turn-by-turn directions for a route it determines is the best route based on speed. Lacking a bike mount to hold my iPhone, I have yet to try using an app telling me how to get somewhere with cycling directions. I have, however, used audible walking directions few times. Google Maps cannot yet accept an existing route in machine-readable format it and speak out turn-by-turn directions for that route.

Patrick Collison's idea for experiencing a strange city is sound if you know points A and B and want the most efficient route. If you want an inefficient way to experience a strange city, assuming you know points A and B, you can use Plot A Route (see below), where you can set the starting and end points, a total distance to travel, and it will generate several alternatives to choose from.

If you want to end up where you started, and don't want to take the beaten path, you could let a computer could decide for you where to start and where to go. I wrote instructions to use web-based tools to pick a random starting point within a city and then, using that point, create a randomly generated route loop. Using the resulting GPX file, you can import it into your favourite turn-by-turn directions app. You can be guaranteed to see parts of the city not highlighted in tourist guides. (Technically, you can't really be guaranteed anything.) The only iOS app I know that can do this is Co-Rider by Applied Phasor, designed for use only when cycling. (I've used this for jogging a few times. You might remember that I wrote about random running routes from random starting points.)

Some interesting tools:

  • RouteXL takes multiple points (i.e. more than 2) and finds the most effecient route between all of them.
  • OptiMap generates efficient round trips (it assumes you’re coming back to your starting point) for multiple desitnations in between.
  • Plot a Route takes 2 points and a distance and plots out a route of that distance. As example, say you live near Vancouver General Hospital and you work on Granville Island. You want to jog to work, but the "commute" is too short. The most effiecient route from VGH to Emily Carr University is not 5 kilometers, and that was how much you wanted to run. Presented below is one of the many options it gave me:

Two Weeks of Ingress

While leaving a BBQ celebrating a friend's 50th birthday party, Richard Smith's tweet pointing out the Ingress app had been released for iOS flowed through my stream. For the last two years, owners of Android-based Internet communicators have been playing the GPS-enabled, location-based massively mouthful role-playing game. One hacks portals, deploys resonators, links them up with others, and attacks enemies' fortresses while belonging to one of two factions, either the Resistance or the Enligtenment. After Tim Bray, as longtime a player as one can be, wrote a warm welcome to iOS users, I followed his advice, joining the faction then behind in the worldwide standings. (I missed the part where he said to narrow it down to your geography.)

At this writing, I'm at level 6, which regulars inform me is the level to start serious attacks on rival portals. Tonight, barring unforeseen circumstances like the local transit meltdown that spooked me last week, I will meet fellow players for the first time at their weekly meetup. I've had a couple of near-encounters, with one high-level fellow faction member sending me a message saying he was across the street. Lousy notifications in the current incarnation of the app prevented me from seeing the message until a few hours later. I now assume that anybody walking while looking down at their phone is either a friend or foe on Ingress.

Many questions remain, all of which I'll ask in due course as I get my feet even wetter. The feature requests I have for the app are

  • Background navigation. That is, after exiting the app, I'd like the voice to keep me updated on how close I am to a portal I've chosen to hack.
  • Notifications of in-game events, such as an portal being attacked, resonators decaying, someone mentioning me in the faction chat. I don't know the implications of what notifications would bring: maybe the game is designed for playing on the go or setting out on a planned exploration rather than having your day interrupted with attempts to destroy your protectorate.

Virgin Mary in the courtyard behind the Holy Name of Jesus Church

Playing Ingress has led to some interesting Columbusings. It pulled me into the entrance of B.C. Children's and Women's Hospital, a place I haven't had a need to visit. (Yet.) The second sighting was the walkway to a publicly-accessible sitting area in the courtyard behind of the Catholic Church at Cambie and 34th. It also led to the Virgin Mary statue in the back yard church at Cambie and 33rd. A third sighting, related to the fact I was also playing Fog of World at the time, was a bike rack on private property next to a large home. Lastly, on Yukon and W. 10th, next to the bench facing the bike lane is a plaque commemorating Dad's cookies factory (my photo). It seems that Dad's cookies are a treat invented by an American who named the company after his father-in-law that had Canadian bakeries (Vancouver is not listed on the company's history page).

The game takes me outside of my well-worn routes, sometimes doubling the time it takes me to get somewhere. Now that I have the basics understood, it's time to interact with some of the players and go on group missions.

Monday Morning Meeting: Issue #6

Links randomly selected from the stuff I saw the previous week. Social issues and technology; a procedurally generated video game makes a big splash at E3; a surprisingly insightful review of a web series; and an autobiographical critique of Modernism. Some links are from longer than a week ago.

People, Not Data: On disdain and empathy in Civic Tech

“I feel awkward and ashamed to know the relative sizes of all 400 Sci-Fi starships, but I barely have a clue how our homeless shelters or prisons work.” Jake Solomon's Code for America colleague Rebecca Ackerman signed up for food stamps in San Francisco (she declined the money) and they put together a timeline of the paperwork involved. They also wrote instructions on how to create your own timeline using TimelineJS and Google Docs). In this manifesto for more empathetic communication between government agencies and their clients, Solomon laments having the technology but lacking the will to build tools with users in mind rather than (or in addition to) fulfilling legal requirements.

Similar ideas I read around the same time: It's Not You, It's The System, San Francisco’s (In)Visible Class War.

Welcome back to No Man’s Sky

Since “playing” (more like “experiencing”) Proteus, where one visits an 8-bit island unique to each time someone plays the game, I’ve wanted something just a little closer to realism. No Man's Sky (no release date yet) will be that game: the interplanetary—nay, intergalactic—exploration game has the same generative elements as Proteus in more vivid detail. BBC's Dave Lee, reporting from E3, is impressed. In an interview with Rev3Games, Hello Games Managing Director Sean Murray was a little cagey on the generative aspects of the game. Unlike Proteus, the worlds, while created computationally using a random seed, every player sees the same universe. One can “discover” species and places, and despite overwhelming odds, it is evidently possible to run into others visiting the same place. Even though it won’t give me my very own, unique-to-me environment to go sightseeing, I still look forward to posting screenshots set to Björk lyrics, like I did with Proteus last year.

The comic intimacy of Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair's 'High Maintanence' web series

“We’re all bothered by this pesky itch; we all want to look but no one wants to be seen looking. High Maintenance is sweet salve for this irritation.” This review from Micah Hauser was a lot more insightful into the human condition than I would have given a review about a web series credit for. I first heard about High Maintenance, a series of short episdes pivoting around an independent narcotics-by-bicycle distributor, from a post on MetaFilter, and subsequently binge-watched all the previous episodes in one big gulp.

My favourites are “Helen”, about a lonely caretaker who orders everything online and calls over his drug dealer, only for company and “Heidi”, about a man in a new relationship who discovers The Guy knows her already. (Greta Lee, who you might remember as Soo Jin on HBO's Girls, plays the episode’s title character.)

Quote about the Home of the Future

This is a link to quote is from Chasing the Perfect: Thoughts on Modernist Design in Our Time by Natalia Ilyin, pulled from the chapter in which Ilyin reflects on a visit to a Puget Sound company’s version of the Connected Home, which assumed “ongoing, inevitable entertainment, continual communication, constant surveillance.” I’m reading Ilyin’s autobiographical critique of Modernism and its desire to wipe out imperfections on the strength of Joe Clark's category of posts dedicated to the book. His initial review in 2007 has a few lengthy quotes.

Vancouverites can thank me for asking my local library to buy a copy of the book. Other quotes that caught my attention: a concluding thought about her stay at a house with straight lines and air conditioning and the relationship between objects and ideas.

Coincidentally, I read the chapter from which I drew this quote just before Denim & Steel linked to Wired's cautionary tale of the connected home. In Mat Honan’s fictional account, every appliance is hooked up to the Internet and, despite his best efforts, every one of his Internet of Things is compromised. This is the flip side of Ilyin’s dystopia. Instead of everything working as designed to the detriment of its owner, the home’s automated systems in Honan’s vision have all run amok.

Monday Morning Meeting: Issue #5

Links randomly selected from the stuff I saw the previous week. Social issues and technology; a procedurally generated video game makes a big splash at E3; a surprisingly insightful review of a web series; and an autobiographical critique of Modernism. Some links are from longer than a week ago.

Why David Cole Doesn’t Watch StarCraft

In the middle of May, rumours swirled that Google-owned YouTube would buy Twitch, the video game streaming website. Not wanting to fall too far behind, I set out to watch some streams and follow a few to get a sense of how the community worked, limiting myself to only watching games I’d play myself. (FIFA 14, MLB The Show 14, and Mario Kart 8, and the weekly streams of multiplayer races of a NASCAR game from 2003.) I’m struck by the earnestness of the players, how they talk about themselves especially, in the sports games. John Gruber found similarities in watching to watching sports, but in the essay linked here, David Cole finds the differences, without even mentioning (Sports game streamers do whine about the calls made by umpires and referees.) I don’t watch StarCraft, but not for lack of interest in watching people play video games, just a lack of understanding of the game itself. After two weeks of watching streams, I have, in draft, 500 more words on the subject, but still have more questions than answers.


Over the weekend I attended the Mini Maker Faire at the PNE Vancouver and encountered eBoy, who “create re-usable pixel objects and take them to build complex and extensible artwork. And we make toys.” They had a Game Frame which showed off their pixel art. On their website, their portfolio showcases their work, some digital and print. There’s an Escherian painter, an utterly nonsensical animation, some baseball-themed art (1, 2) and some items not exactly targeted towards children, which you’ll see if you browse long enough through their ’everything’ category.

Fundamental greatness: The oral history of Tim Duncan

“They passed the ball to him at the free-throw line. That’s like the Cardinal rule, right? You don’t give a ball to a big man at the free-throw line. He catches it with those great hands, takes one dribble, two steps, scores. Are you kidding me?” Tim Duncan, despite being an alumnus of not-Duke, is my favourite basketball player of all time. When I catch Spurs games, I just focus on him whether he has the ball or not and ignore the rest of the players. (Basketball, as a sport to watch on TV, is well-suited to watching just one player on TV, especially now with the rules tweaked to encourage movement.) Master of the bank shot, Duncan has been called Mr. Fundamentals and Mr. Boring.

All is lost: In the series finale of NBA Y2K, we bear witness to the slow, miserable death of basketball

In his great tradition of breaking sports video games, Jon Bois pits NBA teams stocked with zero-rating players against each other in simulated matches over the course of several seasons. You might remember that in January, just in time for the Super Bowl, he matched up zero-rated football team with a highest-possible-rated team. I assume, with hockey ending soon, he’ll do baseball next, finding innovative ways to break MLB The Show 14.

Monday Morning Meeting: Issue #4

Links randomly selected from the stuff I saw the previous week in this, the first ever evening edition. In tonight’s issue: computer games that encourage physical contact; baseball players wearing camo; 24-Hour Book club announces its selection; visualizing Moves data; and some thoughts on critics. Some links are from longer than a week ago.

The 24-Hour Bookclub selects The Hotel Eden Stories by Ron Carlson

You might remember Diana Kimball from such newsletter issues as Monday Morning Meeting Issue #2. She, Max Temkin, and Elaine Short have announced that The Hotel Eden Stories by Ron Carlson is the selection for the June 7, 2014 edition of the 24-Hour Book Club. This will be my 5th time participating. See you on the hashtag!

With a Little Help from My Sportsfriends

Kevin Nguyen writes an ode to playing video games with friends, in particular, Sportsfriends. Also in his soon-to-be-created email newsletter Today In Gaming With Friends, I assume he will write about playing Bounden after the Vines he either created or featured in. The Johann Sebastian Joust sub-game of Sportsfriends and Bounden are reminiscent of Fingle on the iPad where the device is the icebreaker for physical contact amongst friends. It’s too bad there’s nobody streaming their games of Bounden on Yet? As Monday Morning Meeting went to press, nobody was streaming their games of Sportsfriends, either.

Baseball players wearing camouflage? Make sports, not war

Every Memorial Day, Major League Baseball teams don military-influenced uniforms as a show of support to the men and women serving in the armed forces. The San Diego Padres wear camo jerseys during every Sunday home game, where at least it makes sense based on the local economy. Cathal Kelly pushes back on the need for sports to remind us that our country is, at any given moment, probably at war with some other country. Canada does have its own long and bloody history of combat, so it’s impossible at least to ignore that reality, and the Toronto Blue Jays (featuring only one Canadian player amongst a group of Americans, Dominicans and others) did at least adorn their uniforms with the Canadian army’s variant of digital camouflage. Honouring an American holiday but not even playing on Victoria Day (aka May Two-Four in Ontario) and B.C. Day (the three-day weekend in British Columbia) really did rankle baseball fans north of the 49th parallel, though.

Tracking my Moves

Peter Rukavina, a Charlottetown-based hacker, deleted the Moves app from his iPhone in response to the Facebook purchase (and the seemingly broken promise to not co-mingle their data). This short blog post illustrates what's possible with the data Moves tracked. Ruk used the open source desktop software QGIS to visualize his movements, and MapBox provided instructions on how to import the data using their services.

No One's a Critic

Shannon Rupp laments the decline of good arts critics (in Vancouver especially) that write for the purpose of selling newspapers (which barely exist) rather than filling seats. Too many critics, she says, hobnob with their targets, leading to shilling for their newfound friends. On the pans written by good critics: ”Because they write so thoughtfully about culture they make it seem vital and significant even when they're lambasting a show. Meanwhile the shills tend to sound like shoppers with dubious taste.”

Even though the opaque process of creation and curation—to say nothing of market research—heavily filters the vast majority of popular culture before it reaches the points-of-sale, there’s still such a large amount to process that it can be hard to know what’s good. In addition to critics’ choices, we could accept, in advance, a computer’s random selection algorithm to choose what to consume. Even better, something like Forgotify, which plays a track from Spotify that has never been played for anyone, but for everything. Or No Names, No Jackets, which presented text from books without any information about the author or what the book cover looked like, but for everything. (Including tweets.) In addition to letting others tell us whether we should buy that record or attend that play, or recommendation engines basing picks on what our friends liked or its calculation of what we like, I’d like opportunities to develop a sense of taste on my own.

Monday Morning Meeting: Issue #3

Links randomly selected from the stuff I saw the previous week in this, the first ever Afternoon Edition of Monday Morning Meeting: the emotions of being a sports fan, a defence of the written signature, and ... browser tabs! Some links are from longer than a week ago.

As Cubs Wander Into the Bronx, They’ve Never Been Worse

Cheering for a sports team no longer expected to make the playoffs in any given year leads one to search for joy in individual moments. That’s especially true when the team’s management makes bold offseason moves and the Las Vegas betting community gives the team the best odds to win the sport’s championship but ends up mathematically eliminated the second month into the regular season. ‘This is what it must feel like to be a Cubs fan.’ That's sometimes how I feel when the team I cheer for—not the Cubs—fails yet again to make the postseason.

”[T]he Cubs’ problems are mundanely human rather than supernatural. For the most part, bad teams have been preserved with a bad farm system carefully neglected by bad management. On occasion, terrific players nevertheless find their way into the lineup, requiring elimination with bad trades.” Cubs fans are being told to be patient as their minor league system will deliver strong teams in the next few years. A couple of years ago, Jim Baker looked at the win-loss record of teams nearest to winning the same amount of games as they had lost over the course of their existence (if only he elaborated on the intriguing title “Playing The Long Con”). Why follow sports to begin with, much less ride the waves of emotion that comes with aligning oneself with what is essentially a corporate logo? Tim Urban and Andrew Finn came up with the reasons sports fans are sports fans, which I summarized as “Sports is emotions.”

Is a signature still useful?

A defence of the written signature in the age of more secure alternatives. Since my late teens and into my twenties, I never liked my signature, though now well into my thirties, it has finally gained a glimmer of elegance (with noticable resemblances to my father’s). It has always felt cool to sign for things, like delivered packages as well as authenticating a credit card purchase. It doesn’t feel cool to take care of the bill at a restaurant and be presented with a machine to punch in secret digits. I would value the combination of PIN and placebo signature: if I have to authenticate using a credit card’s secret code, at least in a classy joint, even though it’s a waste of valuable seconds, grant me the dignity that comes with signing the receipt.

Meet The Man Who Invented The Browser Tab

The comments of the article list at least two browsers that featured a tabbed interface, so a more accurate title might be “Introducing the Man From Whom Mozilla Borrowed the Idea of Tabbed Browsing.” Tabbed browsing is so much the norm that the default browser for Mac OS X no longer lets you disable them. (When Apple introduced tabs to Safari, one had to turn the feature on to use them.) My own “contribution” to the phenomenon is the @BrowserTabs Twitter account. As an exercise in self-talk around browser tab proliferation, I offer periodic gentle reminders to spend some time closing out browser tabs, with an occasional nudge to tidy your workspace or take a stretch break.

Monday Morning Meeting: Issue #2

Links randomly selected from the stuff I saw the previous week: thinking about research and what data can tells us; a old browser's new polished interface; an essay about Twitter bots; a reminder about permanence; and some bonus links to thank you for your patience. Some links are from longer than a week ago.

Thinking Through the Strava Data

Strava, the one activity tracking app I don’t use, released a global heatmap showing where users cycle and run. (It centers on California initially. I would have centered it on a different spot for everybody, that spot having reached at least some threshold of activity.) They also announced a partnership with the Oregon Department of Transporation to license some of its data to help ODOT make decisions about which cycle paths to prioritize. The critque linked here is useful for several reasons: it serves as a guide on how to think about research in general, reminds us of the difference between flawed and small sample sizes (I can’t wait to use that on my baseball stats friends), and cautions us not to reject research outright because it’s flawed. (Bad data can make us seek good data.) How Echo presents the critique is also useful, breaking from discussions of the research to show us cartoon dialogues framing the research at hand. To highlight some of Echo’s specific critiques: she worries that the sample size only counted Strava users and is highly unlikely to accurately represent the city of Portland cyclists’ routes and that other types of counting are now going to make things better for Strava users while ignoring non-users. (Thanks to @skeskali for provoking the discussion that I saw about the data.)

The Firefox Australis interface: why what is where

In the past week, Mozilla released what they touted as their biggest overhaul of Firefox user interface in 3 years. This blog post from December of last year explains the major changes to the non-profit’s flagship web browser. “The browser is the most essential tool for people’s online life, and everyone uses it differently.” This release adds a “hamburger icon” to drop down a customizable button set (Chrome has the same icon, but drops down a menu instead) and tried to simplify the rest of the interface based on research. As soon as Apple updates its iCloud bookmarks sync add-on (Safari user over here), I’m in as a more active user.

The Mysterious Nature of Bots

Australia-based Jaiden Mispy wrote a Ruby library that implements a form of Markov chaining based on a person’s entire Twitter corpus. What? Imagine a Twitter account that automates impersonating you, taking what you’ve written over the course of your 140-characters career, slicing and dicing it, putting it back together in tweets that sort of (but never quite) make sense. The bots sometimes fave and reply and some bots even seem real to some people. Kevin Nguyen wrote an article (linked within this one) giving some more background on the history of Markov chain Twitter bots, and has since lamented that some people started to think his real @knguyen account was automated. My Markov chain bot is @oliawgyllis (my usual handle backwards), and following the tradition, my usual avatar is upside down. (For an extra laugh, I made the background look like the transparency checkerboard you would see in a graphics editing program.) I came to the conclusion that these bots and those that create them are trying to break the brains of those who read them, with the ultimate goal of killing all clichés and, I predict, wasting the opportunity by creating new and more resilient clichés.

No More Forever Projects

“The half-life of obligation is short; the half-life of guilt is long.” Diana Kimball came to my attention because of her and Max Tempkin’s project the 24-Hour Book Club, a self-described online “flashmob” where everybody in the group reads and discusses the same book during the same 24-hour period. This blog post, originally published in March on the Pastry Box Project, gently remindes us that since we aren’t forever, neither should be what we do.

Bonus Links As the Clock Ran Out

Attached to this tweet are three tabs that remained open as noon approached: Has the Whale Exploded Yet?, a single serving website with links to the history of exploding whales in the context of a recently unexploded whale (also: what to do if you find stranded marine animals); an explanation of what the term “full stack” means with reference to programming, and not pancakes, by South African developer (and former co-worker) Adrian Rossouw; and Uber’s Algorithmic Monopoly in which Matt Stoller identified the three issues he has with the car sharing/dispatching app’s business model.

Monday Morning Meeting: Issue #1

Links randomly selected from the stuff I saw the previous week: an essay on climate change by Zadie Smith, a tweet about baseball statistics, a photo I took of cherry blossoms in Vancouver (which itself contains further links), and an interview with the developer of a social reading service. Some links are from longer than a week ago.

“Elegy for a Country’s Seasons” by Zadie Smith

The author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty and NW ruminates on climate change. Most of what I read on the subject are dire warnings, but she reminds us that the future is here, just not yet evenly distributed (Jamaica, Mauritius, and elsewhere) and that religion and class can colour one’s viewpoint on the subject, even if people do differ across national borders. She suggests that really we are mourning, that ”missing from the account is how much of our reaction is emotional.”

Potential win expectency of a single replay review

  <p>The time between plays in baseball affords fans to think deeply about the game’s statistics. One such statistic, introduced to me by FanGraphs, a website and community studying baseball statistics, is win expectancy. The site’s owner defines win expectancy as “the percent chance a particular team will win based on the score, inning, outs, runners on base, and the run environment.” This year, Major League Baseball introduced replay review of contentious plays (with some exceptions, such as strikes and balls and the “neighbourhood play”). When a manager challenges a play, the umpires will dial into a “war room” in New York City, where anonymous officials will confirm, overturn, or let the play stand (that is, the replay officials make no call and defer to the on-field umpires). In the tweet highlighted here,, a website that visualizes win expectancy during the course of a game, succinctly quantifies the potential outcomes of a particular replay challenge. Maybe one day, managers will be able to make, in real time, the calculations needed to make a wise challenge, though how soon remains to be seen, especially since electronic equipment is banned from dugouts. Maybe that day is here, since managers can call into the team’s video room (which they do) and by the time the team makes the decision to challenge (thirty seconds), they’ll know what’s at stake.</p>

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  <a href=""">Bike the Blossoms 2014 (my photo on Flickr taken during the event)</a>

  <p>This is a photograph I took on Saturday with my handheld supercomputer. At the time, I called it a cherry blossom cavern, though another wit called it a cherry blossom canopy, which sounds much less daunting. “Vancouver, BC is famous for its thousands of cherry trees (estimated 50,000)” reads the Wikipedia page on the subject (cherry blossoms, not the city). The page reminds readers of the trees’ blooming period, as “they begin to bloom in February yearly and peak in April.” If you blink, in other words, you might miss them. Fortunately, we have events that form part of the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, which bills itself as “an annual spring celebration that wakes up Vancouver to the beauty of our 40,000 flowering cherry trees” who hold an annual tour of Vancouver by bike. The route is planned well in advance, so it’s uncertain whether the trees will have bloomed or have already shed their petals. We lucked out. (Further links with sources of the quotes can be found in the description of my photo.)</p>

<h3 class="title">
  <a href=""">Thomas Dunlap interviews Greg Leppert, developer of</a>

  <p>Greg Leppert wanted to be able to quickly post what he was reading without any commentary, and see what others were reading. Right or wrong, good or bad, when one clicks the bookmarklet, the current article shows up in your stream. When people you follow post links to your stream, clicking on a link invokes on that link for you. It then not only shows up in your stream, but lists who you saw that link from. (An automated /via, if you will.) When reading an article, say you’re not the first to read it. If so, when you invoke the bookmarklet on something directly, you see an overlay with the avatars of those that came before you. You then get a chance to ‘Yep’ or ‘Nope’ the post. The meanings of these are evolving through usage, but have tended to mean hearty agreement and hearty disagreement, respectively. Things get really interesting with the hooks one can setup. There are the usual suspects of Twitter, Facebook and the like (you even can have everything go to one Twitter account, and have only ‘Yep’ links go to a secondary Twitter account), and, even more intriguingly, you can setup your own endpoint. The custom hook is undocumented (I helped identify a bug through some blind testing), but one could imagine, with some elbow grease, setting up a custom hook to append a link to a text file hosted on Dropbox and then, at the end of the week, randomly choosing some of those links to write about in an email newsletter. This interview goes deep into Greg’s thoughts on his service, with special mention of how users have added a community on top of it with their @[x]isreading Twitter accounts. (My account is at @sglisreading, to answer your next question.)</p>