(mis)adventure in the so-called maker so-called space

In principle the "maker" movement -- where people use soldering irons and actually learn how their devices work -- should be applauded. In practice it's still dependent on unscrupulous component manufacturers and/or exploited foreign workers.

Let's say you own a digital synth module that uses an Arduino board and you want to update the firmware. To communicate with the Arduino from your Mac or Windows PC you buy a serial-to-USB device from the synth module company -- cheap at under $10. The company recommends that you download a driver from FTDI, the Scottish company that makes the chip affixed to the serial-to-USB. You install the driver, plug the device into a USB port, and check to see if the PC recognizes the device. Yes, there it is, with serial no. 00000000. The eight zeroes means the driver has determined that the chip is a counterfeit FTDI chip, and will not send data to the device.

You go online and learn that (i) there are more fake FTDI chips for serial-to-USBs on the market (eBay, Amazon, etc) than real chips and (ii) there is no way to tell which chips are fake other than to buy the devices and let the driver determine whether they will pass muster.

Why would FTDI cause devices that they don't manufacture, but that incorporate their products, to become unusable? Apparently the profusion of fake chips from dishonest factories in China challenges their business model, so they are fighting back by punishing innocent third party consumers with clever software that acts as judge and jury for the intellectual purity of all chips (previous versions of this software "bricked" the offending device -- now it just doesn't speak to it). Some makers are outraged and have found other chip sources, but they don't say where they are getting their serial-to-USB devices, which are not made by FTDI. Some are finding "real" FTDI chips, de-soldering and removing the fake ones from the serial-to-USB devices, and soldering on the FTDI chip (a cumbersome and error-prone process considering the device is a $10 component).

Ultimately makers and their noble intentions smack up against unregulated grifters in the country where most electronics are made, and DRM-users in the Anglosphere who treat third party customers as collateral damage. (cue violins)


ask me nothing

Strange press releases come to this blahg every day. Today one arrived full of talk about AMAs (AMA vibe, AMA feed, AMA queen) -- yet AMA is nowhere defined. The Wikipedians tell us it's a Reddit thing -- someone with expertise in something says "ask me anything" (a la Ask Jeeves) and is peppered with questions by netizens who wanto to know about the subject.
So AMAfeed provides a blog-like "feed" of self-declared specialists opening their minds and clouds to eager questions about their areas of interest.
The feed seems heavy on digital marketeers and their own odd brand of Newspeak. Below are some phrases harvested from the feed descriptions. As William Carlos Williams said about Ginsberg's Howl, "hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell."

YA fantasy and paranormal romance novelist
Working with Bloggers or Influencers
Brighter Local SEO Results
travel with purpose company
blogger and weight loss success story
mentor and leader
Mature-age workers
Holistic Cancer Coach
instagram influencer
Neonatal Nurse Pracitioner [sic]
mom/creative entrepreneur
Analogue vs Digital, the neuroscience of love, deal breakers or how modern matchmaking works
Boost Your SEO
mobile-first and the future of SEO
thought leaders and experts
building your author platform and monetizing your content
[how I] Resolved Health Issues
online business consultant, speaker & podcaster
starting & growing your coaching business & podcasting
Professional Certified Transformational Coach, Public Speaker, Disabled Veteran, Mentor, Internet talk radio host, and podcaster
use social media to level the playing field between SMEs and large corporate firms
designer, explorer and environmentalist
the first PR Company for Ethical or Sustainable Brands
time and project management expert
space fantasy audio drama
Crime & Trauma Scene Cleaners/Hoarding Remediation
marketing expert focused on the blockchain space
sexual enhancement products
at-risk youth and seniors
holistic health coach and wellness advocate
Personal exit strategy

If one was writing a novel set in 2018 it might be necessary to have characters who speak in this mixture of sales jargon and New Age blather. So chalk this list up as research as well as the poetry of the Damned.

See also: m.po list of banal phrases

hidden under the soles of your shoes

Business Insider Australia has a somewhat informative picto-article (hat tip Naked Capitalism) about the state of the physical internet (i.e., cables and server farms). "Somewhat" because it (i) comes larded with journalistic asides designed to make the data more comforting and less technical, and (ii) goes out of its way to omit cell traffic from the equation. The phrases in bold below cover both scenarios:

...people often mistakenly assume that internet traffic happens by air – our mobile devices, after all, aren’t wired to anything.

But satellites carry less than 1% of human interactions, and in some ways the truth is far more impressive than messages sent by tower signal.

The internet – arguably the most important resource in the modern world – is very tangible and fairly vulnerable. It exists in large part under our feet, by way of an intricate system of rope-thin underwater and underground cables hooked to giant data storage units.

The article wants to make the point that "the internet" (monolithic) depends on cables and power-hungry data centers. Its graphic depiction of how ocean and underground cables are laid, and the sheer extent of them, is compelling. The "vulnerability" of this network isn't addressed but clearly power failures and strategic bombings are what they are implying. The article should give any reader pause to consider how un-ecological all this hardware and cable-repairing is. But the "only one-percent of interactions are by satellite" datum elides the enormous cell-phone infrastructure that works in tandem with these cables and servers. "Towers" are mentioned but those do more than just beam signals into space.

et tu, brutalist?

Travis Hallenbeck's bookmarks ruined a perfectly good day with a link to Brutalist Websites, a page that equates an institutional, raw-concrete building style of the mid-20th Century with current simple or (simple-looking) web design. It lifts a quote from Wikipedia (like a college student using Cliff's Notes for a term paper):

In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of some 1930s and 1940s architecture.

And adapts it to web design:

In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of today's web design.

Changing "some 1930s and 1940s architecture" to "today's web design" supposedly establishes the premises that (i) websites are like architecture (ii) there is a generational preference for "rough" design. The authors go on to ask a variety of webpage designers a leading, when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife type question, "Why do you have a Brutalist Website?" Below are a couple of examples:

Ryder Ripps

Q: Why do you have a Brutalist Website?
A: Because all smart people on the internet do. Look at Tim Berners-Lee's website. My life can not be summed up in a parallax scroll.
Q: Who designed the website?
A: Me
Q: Who coded the website?
A: Me
Q: With what kind of editor?
A: Notepad



Christopher Wool (Luiza Dale)

Q: Why do you have a Brutalist Website?
A: PLAYLAB, INC. was commissioned by the artist Christopher Wool to make a simple website of his entire body of work. The website was to have no thumbnail images of the work, not to display them together but to list the art in chronological order in a straight-forward archive. All typography is the same size and the information is broken down into categories, focusing on the index of Wool's work.
Q: Who designed the website?
Q: Who coded the website?
Q: With what kind of editor?
A: CraftCMS


If we accept the architectural analogy, what is the "raw concrete" here? Ripps made his own website, using Notepad (let's assume that means the free source code editor, not Microsoft Notepad) and Wool hired an ad agency that used a professional content management software. There is too much space between these methodologies for "brutalist websites" to have much meaning. Brutalist Websites consists of a single, too-large page of screenshots of a wide range of sites. Some are crude-looking (raising the possibility that the Brutalist Websites authors are confusing Brutalism with Art Brut) and some, like the Wool page, are sophisticated designs working hard to look simple. Some are art/DIY and some are sales/corporate. Also, what younger generation? Both Ripps and Playlab have been at it for at least ten years. What dominant elders are they reacting to, at this point? Let's conclude with a parody interview:

Tom Moody

Q: Why do you have a Brutalist Website?
A: What are you talking about?
Q: Who designed the website?
A: It's a WordPress theme
Q: Who coded the website?
A: WordPress.org
Q: With what kind of editor?
A: I don't know


the language of despair


...was looking for a way to turn off those annoying "web push notification" requests Firefox keeps shoving in my face and encountered this sinkhole of the English language. If you truly "love" a website you can probably find a way to "engage" with it, without having your browser asking you if you want to be "pushed" by every website you visit.

Pushy, pushy.