In a struggle to be happy and free

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Category: Internet Page 2 of 14

Life imitates art with error 451

You’ve seen it many times times in your travels around the World Wide Web: error 404, file not found. This is but one of many HTTP errors.

There’s a new one that I hope we don’t see very often but it’s a win for transparency. I’m talking about error 451: Unavailable For Legal Reasons1. The idea was hatched when ISPs in the UK were ordered to block the Pirate Bay website in 20122. When users attempted to visit the site, their ISP offered up error 403: forbidden. This seems appropriate, but the reasons for the restriction are not a part of the error. Also, a 403 is typically the result of a lack of privileges, resulting in the server denying the request. In the case of a government ordered block, the client request never makes it to the server.

Granted many oppressive governments will never allow the 451 error because they don’t want the transparency it provides. Still, even the possibility of having censorship be labeled as such, and not as a technical problem, is a win.

And in case you recognize the error number itself, it was indeed taken from the title of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451. The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found.3

  1. Tim Bray, “An HTTP Status Code to Report Legal Obstacles,” IETF Datatracker, November 10, 2015.
  2. Michael Byrne, “The HTTP 451 Error Code for Censorship Is Now an Internet Standard,” Motherboard, December 21, 2015.
  3. Fahrenheit 451,” Wikipedia, retrieved December 21, 2015.

When are you most active?

I sometimes look up something on Wikipedia, and after reading and following links for twenty minutes, find myself goodness knows where. Surely you know what I mean.

In this particular instance, I was looking up something about cats. I learned that their schedules are quite flexible and depend on their circumstances, though house cats are most active in the morning and evening because that’s when we are most active in many households.

This brought me to some new words. You know the first:

Nocturnal — active at night. From the Latin nocturnum, meaning ‘night.’

Diurnal — active during the day. From the Latin diurnus, meaning ‘daily.’

Crepuscular — active at dawn and dusk. From the Latin crepusculum, meaning ‘twilight.’

And more specifically,

Matutinal — active at dawn. From the Latin matutinus, meaning ‘morning.’

Vespertine — active at dusk. From the Latin vesper, meaning ‘evening.’

So most house cats are largely crepuscular. This definition also explains the title of the Thelonious Monk composition, Crepuscule with Nellie.

Knowledge is cool!

The advertising deal

Ad blockers undermine a fundamental principle of media, one that goes back a hundred years: Free content in exchange for attention. The thing is, the FCC kept the ad part in check with TV, and paper costs did the same thing for magazines and newspapers. But on the web, more and more people have come to believe that the deal doesn’t work, and so they’re unilaterally abrogating it. They don’t miss the ads, and they don’t miss the snooping of their data.

Seth Godin

Go read the whole thing is his blog entry, “Ad Blockers.” He nails the reasons ad blockers are becoming more and more popular.

Hello world!

I’ve had since November 1997. I bought a domain because it was some geeky fun, and also because I’d never have to change my e‑mail address again. If I was unhappy with my hosting service, I could take my domain and get another one. The same is true with my ISP…if I wanted to switch, my e‑mail address would be entirely unaffected.

So the e‑mail situation was covered. What should I do with the web site? For a few years, I did very little.

Then came the online journals. I started a journal on paper many years ago but it didn’t work for me because there was no one reading. I still liked the idea so maybe I could give it a try again, but online. I never thought I’d get a large number of readers, but family, friends, and strangers could read if they wanted to. So I put up my first post on January 31, 2000 and Seeking the Alien Shore was born.

It had a rocky start until I figured out what I was doing and found my voice. I used Microsoft Front Page to build the site. It produced garbage HTML, but it did a better job that I could, for a time. Later, I learned more about HTML and wanted to do better. I built an XHTML 1.0 strict template and used Microsoft Expression Web to build my posts and it was good.

It was good until late 2007. There was still a journaling community back then and on one of the mailing lists, someone asked how to get something to work properly with WordPress. They gave a link to their site, and I followed it. I’d heard of WordPress and thought it was a neat idea. It certainly would be convenient to have a nice friendly front-end to enter one’s posts, have them stored in a database, and then displayed to users as they visited. But it seemed very limiting. Following that link was a revelation. The site was beautiful. It wasn’t to my taste, but it didn’t at all look like the cookie-cutter site I expected.

I started reading. Customizing a WordPress site is very different from what I’d done in XHTML but I was determined to learn more about it because I could change the look of the site at any time and the change would affect all of the pages, old and new. My curiosity piqued, I downloaded the software and installed it. I really didn’t think it would replace my site so I put it in a different folder, with a new name.

As sometimes happens, I was completely and utterly wrong. I loved WordPress and couldn’t imagine going back to HTML so after nearly eight years, of Seeking the Alien Shore, I started Seeking Another Alien Shore. With the HTML I knew and some rudiments of PHP programming I learned, I took free WordPress themes and tailored them to my liking. I’m not sure I could build a theme from scratch, but there really is no need. With child themes, I can keep my modifications separate so when themes are updates, I can use them without overwriting my customizations.

That brings us to today, seven years later, and fifteen years after that first HTML post. This time the change wasn’t driven by technology but rather by a few other things. When I started fifteen years ago, I was a lot more free with personal information. Given what’s happened with both government and criminal surveillance of the Internet, I grew more and more uneasy with the information I revealed. I’ve also noticed that more recently, I’ve grown displeased with my tone. The easiest way to change both of these things, to the extent I am able, is to wipe the database and start anew.

I have backups of everything that I’ve written in the past so old posts may appear again if I discuss on a similar topic and want to refer back to what I’ve written. With that possible exception, welcome to the shiny new Third Alien Shore.


I did go ahead and restore all the previous entries. I missed them being there!

Internet suggestion number two…

Continuing my last entry, if I were to start a list of Internet suggestions, the second would be:

When someone tells you that what you want is wrong and they will not explain, stop listening to them. They’re not listening to you.

I offer this suggestion because I’ve read the comments on the list of Facebook tips Robert Scoble posted. I suggested in my earlier post that Facebook is a tool that one can use in many ways. My confusion with his list is that he didn’t make any effort to tell the reader what kind of Facebook usage the tips would help with. He seems unable to realize that different people use Facebook for different things. This is neatly encapsulated in this exchange:

So if all you want is to have a place where you and a few dozen friends keep up to date, your feed sucks and you will add 400 friends as you’ve been told, or your feed will continue to suck. Even though it fits your needs perfectly, exactly as it is.

Clearly, if you have other goals, you are hurting yourself and you’re nuts:

All of that would be more palatable is he would at least make his usage case clear. As I said in my earlier post, I asked what the tips are meant to achieve, and as I suggested, he did not reply to my query. Interestingly, someone else did:

It’s Vinny’s last sentence that really puts it all into place for me. He says, “I think he’s saying…” So Scoble is offering advice, and even those who agree enough to answer on his behalf must speculate about the purpose of the advice. This, folks, is a first class failure to communicate.

The free rent is over. Eviction time…

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