carbontwelve

A 365 day writing project.

This is day twenty-two of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row; not that I have been very consistent.

As you may or may not be aware Wordsmith Social is powered on the backend by the Open Source Software WriteFreely.

WriteFreely is built around writing. There's no news feed, notifications, or unnecessary likes or claps to take you away from your train of thought.

The design ethos of WriteFreely is what initially sold me on using it for powering Wordsmith; having an almost pure-minamalist design for both the content editor and the published display spoke to what I had been yearning for in order to start my 365 day writing challenge.

With the majority of distractions removed from the platform, the focus can be entirely about content. This made Wordsmith my go to place for storing notes-to-self and short story ideas as it is largely distraction free.

Wordsmith has been in operation for little under a year, since first going live in Janurary 2019 it has, as of writing this, become home to 1,021 articles across 424 blogs. While not exactly ground breaking numbers that does put us in fourth place when placed against all other known WriteFreely instances.

Within the first month of writing on Wordsmith and using the WriteFreely softeware on a daily basis I had already put together a growing list of issues I had with either the interface, its experience or its interaction with the wider fediverse. At the time I recognised that the software was only in a pre-version-one phase and kept my complaints within a draft document in the hope that the majority would be quickly dealt with as they were in my mind quite simple to fix.

Twelve months later and while there has been considerable progress made, in honesty the difference between version 0.7 from Janurary to 0.11 now isn't very noticable and thats with 358 commits to the code authored by a growing range of developers.

The seed for my digging out my year old grievances is reading the final WriteFreely post by digitalgyoza. There they bode a fond farewell to the software in preference for using Wordpress with their list of key deal breakers containing a number of items I had previous personal issue with.

“Using the Write.as platform has been a lot of fun, and the distraction-free approach is something I love. However right now, I feel there are some key features which just aren't quite there yet. Features that are pretty native and built-in on other platforms.”digitalgyoza

Before I begin with my list of grievances, to be fair to WriteFreely it hasn't yet had a 1.0 release and some of the below is included in the projects roadmap. However given that write.as, the platform WriteFreely originates from, has been in production for four years it is astonishing that some of these features are missing.

Password Resets

Given that password resetting is one of those features that all competeitor products have, and is often one of the first things developers add to a new project. It is astonishing that a year after I first noted it being missing it is still not something that has been implemented!

Writing the functionality has been on the roadmap (T508) since the beginning of 2018 and attached to the version 1.0 track since the beginning of 2019.

“How do we send email with a reset link if they haven't set an email or if the email they provided doesn't exist in the system?”joyeusenoelle

Providing password resets for WriteFreely users is complicated a little bit by the fact that sertting an email address on signup is optional. This means that for those users the traditional password reset route wont work. In my honest opinion that is to be expected behaviour, we can't send you a password reset if you don't provide means in which to do so.

For those users the software could resort to the “paper keys” approach where by all users are provided a list of one time use keys that can be used for authenticating when they forget their password.

Custom Avatars

At current WriteFreely has pre-designated avatars for 0-9 and a-z but no way for the end user to define one per Collection/Blog.

Aside from this potentially being problematic for users of non lattin alphabets this is again along with password resets a core feature that traditionally gets added to a project first. I wouldn't mind if instead of allowing arbitrary user upload, WriteFreely allowed the linking of a Gravatar account or similar third party avatar provider.

A job (T546) was created for this issue in December 2018 but was recently added to the “Far Future” track so I have little hope of it being implemented any time soon.

General Image Uploads

This is a sideline to my previous complaint and also has its own job (T550) that was drafted around the same time as T546. If we are allowing users to upload custom avatars that becomes the prerequisite to adding general image uploading.

The downside to this is that instance admins would likely want to limit how many items each user can upload or the total disk space consumed and either of those tasks take time to engineer. However given that competing software often contains this feature its something that is increasingly becoming a obvious missing feature.

User & Content Moderation

User moderation is a huge deal, admins and instance moderators need to have tools made available to them so that abusive users can be identified and dealt with as efficiently as possible.

What is shocking to me is that this is something that had been left out of WriteFreely until very recently with the addition of admin user tasks such as silencing (T661), suspending(T553), and removing items from the public feed (T578). The later of those being raised by myself back in May 2019 after a short bout of SPAM being posted on Wordsmith Social.

Automatic SPAM Detection

WordPress has had automatic SPAM detection provided through Akismet for many, many, many years. It makes sense, given the potential for abuse, that WriteFreely support intergration with SPAM detection services like Askimet, doing so would greatly reduce the burden of moderation from seek-and-destroy to check this flag list and delete/allow each item after a quick review.

Unlike my previous grievances this still has no issue in the projects tracker associated with it; I will be querying that after this article is written.

Require Email on Signup

For various philosophical reasons WriteFreely doesn't require an email address upon new account registration. Aside from the obvious issues with password resets that I have already tended this also makes it difficult for platform admins to inform users of events happening on their account such as moderation decisions.

I feel that this should be a configurable option that instance admins can toggle to enable/disable email address requirement upon sign-up.

Content Reporting

Mastodon has its own account reporting api that allow users on other instances to flag to an instance admin accounts that are spamming, being abusive or in breach of their instance ToC or CoC. Traditional publishing platforms like twitter and WordPress.com have their own process through which the general public can report content for various reasons so it stands to reason that WriteFreely should too.

Anyone should be able to report content published on a WriteFreely platform as one of the following categories:

  • This content is SPAM
  • This content is abusive
  • This content promotes self-harm/suicide
  • This content infringes upon my copyright

With the report flagging that content to the instance admin/moderation for dealing with. At the very least there should be a “report” link in the footer of every page that takes the user to a page detailing how they can get in touch and report an issue.

Per Collection/Blog “metadata”

I believe this to be a feature largely anchored to Mastodon with its fields_attributes attribute containing up to four items of user editable profile metadata per user. However given that Mastodon is the largest fediverse subscriber it makes sense that this functionality should be added to WriteFreely

Federation Interactions (follows/comments/favourites)

While the statistic is hidden away, as a blog author you can see how many Fediverse followers your publication has. However there is no facility within WriteFreely to view comments or number of favourites as all let alone on a per post basis.

I can understand some of the philosophical reasoning behind this however I personally feel this should be something core to the platform and able to be disabled on a per user basis if such things cause anxiety.

Ideally I would like to see comments appear on each posts page with instructions to users for how they can add their own via federated interaction; maybe even going so far as to implement Mastodons remote follow/boost/like functionality.

I am an advocate of federated software and in having used WriteFreely for the past twelve months I am also quite fond of it even with its enormous feature gaps.

That being said, Wordsmith Social is growing and will only continue to get bigger and more active and therefore some if not all of my above grievances are quickly becoming important hot issues that need solving sooner rather than later.

To that end, it may be that I have to roll up my sleeves and dig into the code in order to ensure that some if not all of the above eventually makes it into production even if that nescessitates Wordsmith Social becoming a fork of WriteFreely.

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This is day twenty-one of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row. I haven't been very good at the continuous posting this year...

When looking at a shortlist of my favourite films: Blade Runner (1982), The Fifth Element (1997), Alien (1979), Brazil (1985), Total Recall (1990), to name but a few; I notice one theme, a Dystopian future runs throughout them all.

“Everyone pulls a bad card. What matters is how you ultimately play it.”Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Legacy

This alongside current world events got me thinking that a Dystopian future is quite possibly humanities best bet. That's not to say its humanities only choice, we also have mutually assured destruction left on the table.

One might be rightfully outraged at the suggestion that humanities only future lies in extinction or becoming through corpocracy as dehumanising and unpleasant as possible.

However it can already be seen how the illusion of a perfect society is maintained through corporate and bureaucratic control. In America you have Corporate Power resulting in corporations showing ever-increasing control over the legislative process through a variety of methods. While in China an almost totalitarian regime is increasingly using technology to rank its citizens by a “social credit” score.

“There will come a time when it isn't 'They're spying on me through my phone' anymore. Eventually, it will be 'My phone is spying on me'.”Phillip K. Dick

While a Dystopian future may not be humanities only future it is most likely the path of least resistance. Take Brexit for example; after the referendum the rhetoric changed from stay or leave to leave with a deal or leave without a deal.

The amount of work that needed to be done for the U.K to leave the EU with a deal is greater than that needed for it to crash out without one. The former required the whole of government to function like a well oiled machine when the reality is that its very far from that and unlikely to become so before the deadline.

Humanities journey towards dystopia will not be without those with good intentions trying to hold us back from the brink, the problem is that the forces at work pushing us over the cliff need do very little to actually achieve their goal while those fighting the good fight have to become almost sacrificial.

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This is day twenty of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row. I haven't been very good at the continuous posting this year...

Every time I drop my little one off at nursery we walk across a shingle carpark and she will often spend a few minutes selecting a few small stones to treasure while we walk from where we have parked to the nursery doors.

At this point I normally put the collected stones into the front of her backpack or my pocket and promptly forget they exist until they turn up somewhere unexpected, often as a present left perfectly placed on a windowsill or coaster.

Today I noticed another one of these presents left for me to find and it started me thinking about the journey that particular stone had been on from the ground where it was forged to the windowsill where it had been placed to bask in the sun before being re-discovered to be placed in a jar on the shelf.

“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”Blade Runner (1982)

This then reminded me of the tears in rain monologue from Blade Runner's final scene:

Everything has a journey. You're journey is important and yet much like the moments that made up the ones that brought shingle from its birth place to a jar in my kitchen, every journey will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

The best we can do is enjoy the journey we are on and help those we travel with forge moments worth remembering and maybe, just maybe those moments will outlive us.

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This is day nineteen of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row.

It recently came to my attention that accessibility on the web is experiencing something of a renaissance in the spotlight; This is thanks, in part due to efforts such as the a11y project. However, I do wonder why we have gotten to a point where such efforts are required. Correctly styled markup should be accessible by default.

I have been developing websites for more than fifteen years. While technology has progressed in that time, it feels as though – at least in some cases – that progress is just for the sake of it.

In those early days pretty much every website project I worked on had user customisable accessibility feature. You could select a larger font size and one of a handful of colour themes that were aimed at making the content more legible to those with different colour blindness or dyslexia.

It could be said we had dark mode before it was cool.

Markup was king. If your HTML didn't pass the W3C Markup Validation Service without good reason (and there were some valid excuses.) Then it didn't get released into production.

Back then, the reasoning for this was one of SEO. It was believed that the better your markup, the easier it was for search indexes to correctly index your content. The conclusion being that better markup equaled better index placement, equaled more visitors. Visitors equaled customers.

I am unsure how much of that was based upon fact, although I did have first hand experience of redeveloping client websites and seeing them go from the bottom of the page for their keywords to the top three positions; largely because we fixed a lot of issues with their markup.

A side effect of making websites easier for robots to digest meant that they were also easy for screen readers and other accessibility tools.

Eventually laws have been amended to protect the right of people with disabilities to have equal access to electronic and information technology. In the US this was done via an amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Similar legal protections have been introduced in various countries around the world since then and this has meant we have had a handy checklists like this available containing items such as “Is the site free from pages that re-direct after a timeout?” and “Are all elements that can be operated by a mouse also able to be operated by keyboard?”

Unfortunately it seems those rules are too often forgotten or ignored. While the laws as wrote are often limited in scope to government published materials there should be no excuse for bad craft, especially in websites with tens of thousands of pounds of investment.

HTML is by design accessible. Yet so many websites used by millions every day are not.

Unless you work on public sector publishing, you probably aren't aware that in 2018 the UK law on web accessibility had new regulations on the accessibility of websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies.

Concreting into law accessibility provisions is not a bad thing. It is concerning however that once again this change only applies to publicly-funded institutions.

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This is day eighteen of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row.

This morning I was reminded the practical implications of an old adage it's a little more complicated than that. We had need for a basic function that takes a list of strings for example “Thing One, Thing Two, Thing Three” as an input and return a single string in the format of “Thing One, Thing Two and Thing Three.”

The function itself is rather simple, weighing in at 15 lines of code in its non-golfed iteration and we thought that maybe it would be useful to be included in another public library. It was at this point things became complicated.

The function is tightly coupled to the English language and not all languages around the world concatenate a list of things in the same way. For us to even consider submitting a pull request against a library we would first need to make sure it was sound in the world of I18N.

In the end we settled for just keeping it in our project and moving on, there is a reason it's not already in the libraries we looked at; it's a little more complicated than we first thought.

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This is day seventeen of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row.

I remember watching Tomorrows World in 1994 when they introduced the World Wide Web as the Information Superhighway. I was only a child at the time and wouldn't have my first taste of access until two years later when as a family we visited the Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station.

There they had set up five or so computers as a web-cafe with what was at the time one of the fastest connections to the internet (gigabit internet access in 1996 was rare and restricted to those with deep pockets.) For the record the first website I ever visited was the BBC homepage followed soon after by their children's sub-site.

It took until 1998 when my parents could afford to buy a family computer that I began to have weekly access to the internet via use of a noisy 56k modem; but at 6p/min it was restricted to an hour a week at most.

A combination of not having constant internet access and having to share that hour a week with two sisters resulted in offline viewing being a necessity. Downloading webpages for later reading became the norm but that was ok because most websites at that time where little more than html and a handful of small images and css that was usually included in the page <head>.

The internet today has come a long way since those days but intrinsically the content hasn't changed; its still predominantly text and images except now we find most pages also saturated with JavaScript.

I say it's come a long way, I am unsure if it's actually progress. I use a handful of single page apps almost daily and while they work and are useful they do not compare to a native executable in terms of speed.

However beyond the use-case of single page apps the concept of having JavaScript be required for a website to display or be usable is in my mind ridiculous. It should be used to add to the experience but not be required.

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This is day sixteen of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row.

Last night I watched a trailer for the new Addams Family film set for release later this year. Even though it's being done in 3D animation I am still excited for another addition to what is one of my favourite fantasy worlds.

Watching the trailer reminded me of the game The Addams Family that I used to play on my Saga Mega Drive back in the late 90s. I have fond memories of playing the game for hours on end but never actually completing it.

Intrigued to see if it is as good as I remember it being I sourced a copy of the ROM and a Mega Drive emulator and after figuring out how to map my xbox controller to the emulator I began to play.

It scored quite low in reviews at time of launch back in 1992 with Mega advising readers to “watch a tree grow or something instead”1 but I still find it an enjoyable game to play. It's child friendly enough that I could have my two year old sat with me joining in by telling me where to make the man go next.

The game itself doesn't have a save function, instead relying upon an often used mechanism of the time: passwords. These could be unlocked as you progressed and upon starting a new game used to unlock achievements so you could start “where you left off” sans points. With modern emulators the games entire state can be easily saved so maybe now I have a chance at actually completing the game.

Only time will tell.

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References

  1. Mega review, issue 14, page 36, November 1993

This is day fifteen of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row.

For those of you who may have been following along I vanished from most online spaces for some of February and the majority of March.

There are a few reasons for such a long hiatus and they all add up to “life happens,” mostly in the shape of fire-fighting a project with a tight deadline at work that resulted in a few 80-100hr work weeks in order to get everything done. Between that and family commitments it left very little in the way of free time for social media and my personal projects.

Now that the deadline has been met and things have returned to normal I am back. My 365 writing project took quite a hit, but I will now attempt to write something every day.

Lets see if I can at least get a ten day streak!

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This is day fourteen of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row.

I recently had a discussion with my father around the whole privacy vs “I have nothing to hide,” discussion going on at the moment and he gave me an interesting insight.

Forty years ago the notion that your government would intercept, open and read every item of mail posted to every home in the country would have had the general public and the media up in arms, condemning in unison the very obvious government over-reach and the dangers it presents.

Yet here we are today with government schemes such as the international Five Eyes signals intelligence alliance making automated un-targeted intrusions en-mass that are essentially identical in nature to having every item of post opened, read and documented; and the general public seem ambivalent at best and complacent at worst.

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This is day thirteen of my attempt to write something, anything, every day for 365 days in a row.

Yesterday I wrote about What sparks joy? and a while before that is it a van life for me?; both posts share the theme of minimalist living and divulge a deep yearning for a much simpler life.

I think that to some degree we all share a common want for simpler, less cluttered living free from the many constant pressures of modern life while also benefiting from the positive aspects that modern life can bring. While that does sound a little like having your cake and eating it too its easily achievable within the framework of tiny homes and the tiny living movement.

Tiny homes (100 to 400sqft) have the potential to be less cluttered and due to their relative cheapness in comparison to a traditional home they also come with far less financial pressure often being cheap enough to be paid off in less than ten years.

My dream is to obtain a few acres of land where I can build a tiny home, I know it wont be easy, it will take a long time.

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