Title graphic of the Moonspeaker website. Small title graphic of the Moonspeaker website.

 
 
 
Where some ideas are stranger than others...

ABOUT the Moonspeaker

ABOUT THE MOONSPEAKER

ANNOUNCEMENT, 2022-01-04: Since the Thoughtpieces have been appearing for some years now, it is time to shake things up a little, but not too much! Being someone who is no great fan of massive upheaval on sites that I visit regularly, even if they have stayed in much the same guise for years, totally disrupting The Moonspeaker's layout held no appeal. So rather than do that, for this year the plan is to feature a Contested Document each week as the main item that appears by default on the main page. Rather than force visitors into digging around for that week's Thoughtpiece or take it away all together, instead to the upper right of the page there is a link to reveal it on the page in a grey column with its own scroll bar. It may be necessary to scroll the main page down a bit to get the entire scroll window in view. This may wreak occasional havoc on the Thoughtpiece's illustration, but not too much. I am also aware that many people may share my occasional curmudgeonly response to scrollable sections when an article I want to read is in them, "Get me out of this, dammit!" or of course maybe you'd just like to see it laid out on the full page. In either case, there is also a link to go to the full page instead.

For those fond of checking out items on the permanent grey sidebar of the index page, I have applied a few small changes. The quick site updates usually mentioned there will continue, marked by the familiar circular bullet, "•". Now recent rss feed items will be mirrored there as well when they are not references to the Random Site of the week or the current thoughtpiece, or whatever else that is already on the main page, marked by a square bullet, "▪". The rss feeds will continue, but this way for those who prefer not to subscribe to them or cannot because of software vagaries that are growing more common, the information and links will be there.

General Introduction

In very brief, The Moonspeaker is a journal of writing about four major topics: Feminism, Amazons, Indigenous issues, and languages. 'Journal' in this case means something more like a literary publication that presents a bundle of pieces of different lengths and maybe even in different genres on a regular basis. But an even better way to think of The Moonspeaker might be as a sort of extended portfolio, because it isn't just about the text. It's also about web design and working on an approach to web pages that puts text back in the front and centre, while experimenting with different ways of constructing the text itself.

Admittedly, this is not where The Moonspeaker started out. It was preceded, eons ago in internet time, by probably one of the ugliest personal websites that was ever built, today owned in all its grotesqueness by a free web space provider with predatory terms of usage. The site was ugly first because it was a way for me to learn how to write HTML and build web sites, second because it was designed on a laptop with a three-grey screen. According to the specifications on the box it came in, the laptop had a four-grey screen, but since it was impossible to tell two of the greys apart, three was what it had in effect. And of course, in real life, the 'greys' were purple. Mercifully, even I can't remember what I called that site or how to get to it, if it even still exists. The first glimmerings of The Moonspeaker happened unexpectedly under miserable conditions over ten years ago. At that time, I was working on the tail end of a physics degree, and dealing with a crisis.

I was isolated, exhausted, and depressed. Worse yet, I was doing the 'sensible' thing, working towards an oil patch job, and hadn't written much since high school. A whole range of lousy circumstances of my own came together, plus the suicide of one of my classmates, and I finally found myself forced to reexamine what I was doing. Not that this was a conscious thing at first, it wasn't. But in my initial flounderings, while surfing the internet for who knows what reason, I stumbled into what its denizens fondly called 'the Xenaverse.' It was what got me writing again period, and eventually to working on the core topics of this website, some of them again, others for the first time. Since then the Xenaverse has gone moribund, primarily due to the show producers disgust for fans and especially women, which led to the executive producer and script editor doubling down on the worst and most sexist tropes until they killed what had been a rather golden goose. But the golden goose was not acceptable to them because of which fans it pleased most: women, especially lesbians.

The first version of The Moonspeaker simply provided consistent, easy access to whatever X:WP fanfic or original fiction I was writing at the time, plus my very draft version of a book on Amazons. Mind you, that wasn't my whole motivation then. In the back of my mind, it was probably also an offsite version of all my writing, in response to the theft of my first computer and the discovery that all my back ups were unreadable without it, which meant every piece of writing that hadn't been printed, emailed, or posted somewhere was gone. Yes, that's right, at one time there were back up compression methods keyed to not just to specific operating systems but specific hardware. I have never made the mistake of depending solely on any type of special format back up again. It hasn't been easy. Sometimes updates have been few and very far between, real life being what it is, and the site has almost died for good on at least two occasions, due to encounters with bigotry, personality attacks, and paranoia in on-line communities I expected to be at least neutral, if not positive, groups to be involved with. Even now, being older and a bit wiser (I hope), it boggles my mind how much homophobia, sexism, and racism people are willing to spend their energy and time on in hopes of silencing others. Such efforts strike me as being oddly like my experience of reading Baudrillard. It didn't feel like I was reading so much as dealing with someone screaming violently at the wall in an empty room. And far preferring that to a real conversation.

So you could say that The Moonspeaker, even more than it is a journal or an extended portfolio, is a means by which I refuse to be silent – and a demonstration that I've definitely got better things to do than scream at a wall in an empty room.


Editing and Managing

With the general introduction out of the way, now let's get a bit more specific. This section is primarily of interest for other webmasters out there who write their own pages and build static websites rather than those who specialize in such production software as wordpress or drupal. Over the years I have tried out a range of editing tools for the site, being generally unwilling to spend much on them because it seems to me that on average a website should be maintainable on a shoestring budget. On top of that, if I have to do some kind of deep and involved coding, or integration of external plug ins, then chances are my website will slip out of a reasonably secure state to a dangerously vulnerable one, which I do not want. Since my first personal computer was a pre-intel mac laptop, this meant editing mostly with simpletext to begin with, then a switch to the free version of BBedit, which was originally called TextWrangler. The changeover from PowerPC to Intel macs was not smooth when I could finally afford to do it, because the 2.1 version of TextWrangler had an alarming bug that led to data loss. I have now confirmed that this was due to a problem handling the resource forks from the Classic (System 1.0-8.6) environment that are pathological in that form in a *nix environment. They are still a neat idea in principle, and it sounds like the lead developer on the hello os project is giving some serious thought to bringing it back. While TextEditor was indisposed, I switched to Emacs.

Emacs seems to be a program that inspires religious fervour; the converted are converts forever, and tend to be very obnoxious about the other programs non-converts might use. This behaviour is at large in the platform wars too, as the various apple and microsoft commercials show. I have been training myself out of such obnoxiousness, because nobody needs that, and do my best to stick to suggesting that the other person try out as many computers or programs that are supposed to do what they want. Whatever one doesn't make them want to pitch the computer out the window is probably their best bet. All that said, I can't in good conscience hold back from pointing out what a horror show that windows is as microsoft flails in its death throes, and recommending at least selecting hardware that can run GNU/linux so that whatever happens, the person has options whether they select windows (eeeeeek!) or the latest macosx (groooaan!). For website editing Emacs is not for me at all, even after spending some time to work out how to mimic the window set up I like with the file list on the left, buffers in the middle and pallets on the right. I did find a solution to clean up the Emacs key bindings issue, which pleases me because now I can better use Emacs for elisp experimentation. For my purposes Emacs simply couldn't supersede the script development and integration I could achieve in about three hours including debugging time with TextWrangler, and eventually even more so with BBEdit. All that said, absolutely people who have been able to work steadily on *nix boxes will likely prefer Emacs or Vim, if not Gedit, which is to be expected. For fewer keybinding clash problems, people who work mainly between windows and macosx boxes will probably find other editors less disorienting though.

I amped up from the free TextWrangler to its paid counterpart BBEdit in 2014, an investment that has been profoundly worth it. I generally prefer to use free software in the Stallman sense, but evidently I am not as absolutely committed to that position as Stallman is, although I am moving steadily towards that position in light of current developments in the computer software and hardware industries. For me Barebones Software has been a solid company without privacy invasion issues that also makes it easy to purchase their stuff outside of the apple ecosystem if that's what you want. Their help documentation is also second to none, and if more free software projects consciously included folks to write documentation who used the BBEdit manual as a model, the use of that software would take off like a rocket. Oh, and the BBEdit manual is freely available, so anyone can download it and study how it is put together in order to emulate it. Bare Bones' example on this score truly deserves to be honoured in emulation. Yes, "man" pages should be just as good. Alas that they are not, throwing the user onto the mercies of some combination of a search engine and the tragically rude regulars on Stack Overflow. I should add that my reference to the regulars as tragically rude is not sarcasm. It really is, because together they are an excellent source of information, including diagnoses of challenges that even they have never seen before, and as a group those regulars have certainly seen a lot. The heavy encrustation of insults, a major portion of which come from misreadings of questions asked buries the good stuff and shows them at their worst. I know they're not there to win a manners contest, the issue is the flamer-style pile ons. We can all cope with minor name calling and snark when it comes up without that.

As I prepare to drop macosx entirely due to hardware changes and awful decisions by apple itself, it is necessary for me to test and prepare a new editor to take over BBEdit's jobs, since Bare Bones is unlikely to produce a version for GNU/linux or freeBSD. So far I have completed thorough tests of Kate, a genuinely beautiful and full featured editor in the KDE family of projects. Kate's snippet support is excellent, but I found the scripting integration impossibly frustrating to work with, as it is based on Qt, which itself is basically a mutant javascript. This is a blight on the editor because no other scripting languages are as cleanly integrated from what I was able to work out, although it is understandable that Qt would be, as it is a core language for KDE development. All that said, KDE is a wonderful IDE for more general computer programming, especially if you do not have a set of scripts set up to complete compiling and byte code generation already and would rather not do it yourself. My adventures in bespoke html preprocessor development have led me to make my own scripts for this purpose, so Kate was overkill for me. Then again, this is all predicated on me being pretty much a lone gun, I am not currently a contributor to a larger project where it is important for me to work regularly with say git, subversion, or some other version and branch management software. A person working on a larger site with many more contributors would have very different needs.

I must admit to having a serious fondness for nano, which reminds me so much of my first email client, which was pine (now superseded by alpine because the university of washington no longer supports pine.) It is not sufficient for handling a full on website, but is just the ticket to manage server configuration files and teach people getting familiar with *nix software with buffers. My response was in the end quite the opposite to sublime, which is yes very beautiful and like Kate has a text preview mode for easy navigation that is brilliant for purpose. But, if sublime has robust snippet support and a solid suite of web development tools, well, their implementation has left me cold. In terms of window layout, sublime is brilliant, and it supports coding in more languages than a person can shake a stick at. It is in many ways a multi-OS supporting near-peer to BBEdit. I did finally find some solid snippet documentation for sublime by a person reviewing the program rather than in the sublime docs themselves, which was a bit strange. I couldn't sort out scripting integration either, although sublime looks to have as wide-ranging scripting support as BBEdit. In the end though the serious killer was that sublime is not free/libre software and its best documentation can only be accessed by purchasing it. I get putting a paywall on an advanced technique book, although in truth if a person uses a program long enough to internalize the primary user guide they will be wasting their money if they buy such a book. So for my purposes anyway, sublime is out.

I do quite enjoy using bluefish, and will likely standardize on that once its debian repository is updated and repaired. It is well designed in terms of interface layout, and runs well on every system I have tried it on, including macosx. It has a powerful snippet facility, and a few different ways to apply scripting that may not be recognized for what they are at first for people coming from a macosx or other bsd variant background. Unlike Gedit (and Pluma) it is not tightly wedded to being a python IDE (what can I say, perl is better). That said, Gedit does have excellent snippet support and far better support for scripting than its documentation lets on. It has far fewer placeholders than BBEdit, and they are not documented very well as yet, but they are at least amenable to experimentation to see what they actually do. There are several other GNOME IDEs, but these are oriented to developing for GNOME itself, not website building, so they are out of band for use to manage and add to The Moonspeaker. All of which is to acknowledge that BBEdit is one seriously tough act to follow when the majority of editors come from a general computer programming orientation rather than a website development orientation. The closest peer I have seen for smoothly integrated scripting is editplus, which is windows-only and proprietary, and it is very poor when it comes to snippets. Yet it has a remarkably good macro recording and replay facility. It is possible to add a third-party plugin to enable macro recording in gedit, however, I have not managed to get it to work. It is not complaining about permissions, so it appears that it may only be able to record key strokes. Too bad! If it could record other plugins, it would be possible to use it to run a few different auto-update tasks. On the other hand, it may be able to record snippet invocation sequences, which I have not had an opportunity to attempt yet.

Having gone so heavily into code editors, a person might reasonably wonder what software I use for image and sound editing, because both images and sounds do turn up on The Moonspeaker, a good portion of them original works even. Generally for downsampling and clipping down media files for size, I take advantage of what comes with the system at hand. On macosx, that usually started with preview. It didn't take long for me to adapt audacity and handbrake for sound, plus the gimp for images. I did run adobe photoshop for a long time, having been gifted install disks for a deaccessioned copy of a version that ran on powerPC macs until I had to switch over, then for over a decade I worked with an intel version (yes, purchased fair and square). But I noticed the telltale signs of silent updates and spying by adobe servers as evidenced by constantly slower start up, poor stability especially if working offline, and generally poor performance. This was a shocking change from the older version, which had grungier looking palettes and minimal curve drawing integration, but was fast and more than sufficient for my basic needs. Then adobe went subscription only and I finally stopped keeping an installed version of photoshop for "just in case" reasons, especially considering contemporary gimp updates simply kicked adobe's butt. That, and playing with gimp's fractal generation tools is way too much geeky fun and just plain visually gorgeous. (Top)


Specific Challenges Over the Years Besides Editors

After finding what The Moonspeaker would actually be about, the first and most annoying challenge was getting the rss feed to work. Although for a time I tried to use a newsletter tie-in to announce updates, this was too much work. The newsletters were typically html formatted because I was using a plugin, and distributing them required that I collect email addresses. In the end I couldn't stand the work and felt uncomfortable with developing a list of emails that struck me as a horrible target for spammers to find a way to get their hands on. Not my list specifically of course, but spammers were and are incentivized to break the security of such plugins or the associated distributing email accounts precisely in order to harvest any lists they can get their hands on. That, and over the years I have found myself not very happy with getting emailed newsletters overall, because somehow the associated email address always seems to get away into the maw of one spam outfit or another. So I decided the best thing was to get at least one general rss update feed happening, which would route around the email and security issues and make it so that interested vistors could subscribe or not wholly as they pleased. Later on I could add special series rss feeds or even "easter egg" feeds, because they are lightweight in terms of storage and maintenance. Little did I know that a war to kill rss feeds was going on by advertising companies calling themselves search engines and social media, so that learning how to write rss feeds independent of blogging software was a nontrivial challenge.

Originally I could depend upon safari to test rss feeds, until around 2010, when safari began to devolve into the new internet explorer as apple first began totally ignoring web standards, then began the process of abandoning safari altogether. Technically safari is still a going concern as of 2022, but my most recent encounters with safari proper have revealed a bloated browser behaving badly and nasty indications that the webkit rendering engine has become an abused stepchild at apple. For a time rss feed support was completely removed from safari, then restored for seemingly random reasons – for which read, apple noticed its desktop user base was regularly adding third party rss readers and this annoyed some people. After finally tracking down the actual rss standards and some proper information on how to write the xml to generate them, and then at long belated last how to provide basic formatting for them if the person had only a web browser to look at them, I was able to get the basic rss feed on a stable footing. (I wrote an essay summarizing the resources I found and the basic directions in hopes of saving others the same frustrations.) So basic stability came in 2010, regular updates for good in 2015. I managed to sort out how to add images to rss entries in 2012, and sound enclosures shortly after that. They are the same in principle but not necessarily the same in total implementation, as rss readers and web browsers behave rather differently.

2013 was the big year of typographic clean up and general refurbishing. Mostly this meant putting refining touches on the layout that superseded the original red on black splash page menu. To be honest the odd email I received complaining about the colour scheme of the front page did not impress me, although I did work out a javascript and cookie combination for visitors to create and save whatever colour combination of background and text they preferred, with a reasonable alternative default alternative. Those were the days when cookies were still just about innocent and javascript had not become a morass used to pressure web browsers into becoming operating systems within operating systems. Once I had decided to buck the new trend against text on websites and wanted to integrate a regular mini-update list on the main page while the rss feed was not working consistently, I needed to change the layout and colour scheme from the front page on. That was mainly done back in 2007, but it took longer for web standards and available hardware to get to the point that it was time to tweak fonts and layout. I also made a few more changes to the webmaster contact information to improve convenience for both myself and anybody who might want to actually email. There are not many correspondents these days, apart from spammers and the odd scam artist trying to convince me that I should start making space for advertisements or give away my web domain to them for obviously absurd amounts of money. If K.D. Wentworth's agency ever emails me, that would potentially be a different thing, but there is really no overlap between Wentworth's online profile and mine, so that is certainly not likely. Overall The Moonspeaker is web standards compliant, and I have managed to root out deprecated tags, barring what scans have not already picked up. There may still be a unicorn around, such as a lingering "<FONT>" call, or a <B> or <I> outside of the rss feeds, but these should be very hard to find indeed.

Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby in a publicity shot for the *Incredible Hulk* television show from 1977 to 1982. This image is quoted from the Gambar Spanduk blog's september 2020 blogpost covering the on-screen marvel franchise. Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby in a publicity shot for the *Incredible Hulk* television show from 1977 to 1982. This image is quoted from the Gambar Spanduk blog's september 2020 blogpost covering the on-screen marvel franchise.
Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby in a publicity shot for the Incredible Hulk television show from 1977 to 1982. This image is quoted from the Gambar Spanduk blog's september 2020 blogpost covering the on-screen marvel franchise.

With all that settled down, a major item now loomed on the horizon that could no longer be avoided. By 2015, web surfing on small handheld devices was a firm given, and The Moonspeaker's layout needed adjustment for this. I actually resisted making any adjustments because there is something about the term "responsive design" that makes me want to hulk-smash things, and I wanted to sort out what made me so angry about it before making any changes. This was a good thing, because it forced me to pay attention to what bothered me when I tried to view a site on my own phone, or after a site enacted and trumpeted its new "responsive design." The best example of everything I hate about "responsive design" is the way the guardian uk newspaper has done it. There is basically no information anymore on any page except headlines, without so much as a blurb to preview the articles, and the main or feature articles are now from two to three clicks away, if you're lucky. This is quite apart from the incredibly problematic "web editorial" style which I also hate, based around short sentences in three to five sentence pseudo-paragraphs. It's bad enough that the presumed average reading comprehension level of newspaper readers is that of a child 9-12 years old. Worse yet, I have bumped into sites where I absolutely could not get out of the "responsive design" or suffered intrusive "download our crappy app instead" pop ups, an unfortunate nuisance related to the fact that I can't install firefox on my phone. So in general I'm not against "responsive design," just a stupid and disrespectful implementation of it.

The Moonspeaker does have a lightly "responsive design" now, implemented so that if you are trying to read it on a very small screen, the sidebars will disappear and you won't have to pinch and zoom all the time unless you really want to. Otherwise no material has been removed or hidden, so you won't be getting "Moonspeaker lite" just "Moonspeaker in a form intended not to irritate the hell out of you on a small screen." Much to my regret, I have not found a way to implement a "get me the hell out of this layout, it's too irritating" option for small devices that is efficient for me to maintain. So instead, I have implemented the "responsive design" to be active only on the smallest devices, since The Moonspeaker is legible on so-called "phablets" except for the annotated works under Found Subjects. Those tend to require somewhat more concentrated reading than phone surfing usually allows, so I am going to leave that as is for the time being. I also created two alternate stylesheets for the full screen, one with increased type size and the other with serif fonts to provide a work around for when the browser page zoom functions are producing unexpected results. Generally The Moonspeaker isn't much affected by zoom issues because font sizes are designated relatively rather than by pixels, but it doesn't hurt to provide the option. The serif alternative is just for fun.

Now just a few years later the general assumption of cell phone floggers is apparently they should only be just a bit smaller than what apple sells as the ipad mini. Awful things hard to handle and impossible to keep in your pocket unless you are six feet tall or more with the attendant large hands. In light of the horrifying prevalence of porn these days, it is all too obvious what that is actually about. Still, the lightly responsive stylesheet setting for The Moonspeaker is holding up well under wear, so that is encouraging. At this point I admit to being tempted to having a "text only corner" in order to give visitors an option to escape at least for a little while the excessively javascripted and visually messy web of the present. The intense disgust for text expressed by so many people who write pages for the web as well as those who browse them saddens me at this point. Probably it doesn't help that so few people now, old or young, have learned to handwrite in both print and cursive, which viscerally reveals the magic of text without images in a way that few other things can. I don't use "magic" to imply something romantic, I mean the sort of magic a person can experience when they figure out how to ride a bike, or the first time a tricky recipe comes out right when they're cooking. Or they finish assembling a project they've been working on, and everything works. That kind of magic. Maybe not many people are experiencing that at the moment, which is terrible.

One long-time feature of The Moonspeaker, and one of the first that drove me to figure out how to automate updates and entries, is the Random Site of the Week. In the course of recording items for this feature in part so I could find such gems later, I happened upon the site now known as The Marginalian, though formerly afflicted with the name "Brainpickings." To be honest, I was relieved to learn that the site composer extraordinaire Maria Popova couldn't stand this original name either, because otherwise I couldn't help but feel badly to be unable to appreciate the overarching title. Good names and titles are tough to find, and The Marginalian is more than apt, and best of all pleases Popova – her delight in discussing the name change is palpable and fun to read. I also listened to Popova's 2014 interview with Tim Ferriss the 4-hour never stops marketing himself guy on his now nearly ten years' running podcast. (Ferriss is genuinely interesting and his compulsive marketing gets in the way.) It's well worth a listen – episode 39, skip the first 5 minutes, which is the corny podcast intro and his ad placements, which will take you right to the interview. As the conversation went on, Popova explained why she doesn't have comments enabled on her site, in one of the most thoughtful reflections on commenting and participation in on-line conversations ever posted. (At roughly 1:14:45 to 1:15:45.) For a whole variety of less well thought out reasons mostly related to economic factors The Moonspeaker has never had comments, although well-meaning people in my life have pressed for them. However, like Popova I feel the people who really want to say something constructive, who feel energized to do that, they'll take the time to sit down and email. For my part, I don't see there is any obligation on a website creator to provide a hangout spot for web surfers just because they have a website. That younger websurfers especially may expect hangout spots is an unhappy side effect of the weblog phenomenon. Wonderful as blogs can be as an entry point to the internet, they are also bad for people's genuine agency on-line in terms of creating web content, and tend to encourage a narrowing of understanding of what websites can be, and what fits on a particular type of website. There are sites where comments fit well and are useful, for example almost any tech magazine or tech site, sometimes news sites, and any site of course where the writer is actively seeking to establish conversations with their readers. The last would be the one case where I could almost be persuaded to add comments, but the thing about them is they also require care and feeding, which is what the "actively" adverb entails. They need, and deserve, moderating and management time and effort I prefer to put into creating site content instead. So there, in a nutshell (perhaps a medium-sized one) is why there are no comments on The Moonspeaker. Vi Hart put together her reflections on comments and social media in october 2017, and they are well worth the time spent reading and mulling them over as well.

When my webspace provider sent me a rather funny "OMG" notice that google, *gasp*, google, was going to mark my site insecure if it was not secured with a certificate sometime in 2018, I had to laugh. I honestly don't care what google says in its figurative dick swinging because it remains such a significant player in search and surveillance of everyone who surfs the web. The sad fact is since The Moonspeaker is a small, independent site, google actively deep sixes hits on this site's pages in its search results all the time. There is no point in me trying to curry favour with the google search algorithm. Besides, most web browsers already show with a clearly marked padlock icon on the address bar whether or not a website is secured with a certificate. I don't respond well to scaremongering, frankly. That said, it's fair enough to take steps to contributing to the elimination of the web equivalent of party lines is a necessary step. Over the past three years, the number of websites that have switched to the https protocol has exploded. This is related to at least three factors. One is how many websites are primarily a storefront for more or less precarious online businesses. Another is the switch by many free blog hosting providers to providing secure http by default to all blogs. The largest factor is the Let's Encrypt initiative, which has rendered access to and maintenance of security certificates affordable and less technically challenging. Just over a five years ago, the encryption rate for the entire web reached fifty percent. The Moonspeaker moved to https in 2019, and it is good to state explicitly what, if any, information The Moonspeaker collects. While as noted above I experimented with some site javascript and even minor cookies, these have all been removed.

The Moonspeaker does not:

  • collect any data from its visitors;
  • use techniques such as cookies, beacons, or other methods that allow visitors to be profiled over the course of repeat visits; or
  • provide mailing lists nor any other subscription services of that kind.

I don't expect this to change for any of these points, except potentially in the medium to far future some sort of mailing list or subscription service, if it turns out that I have an opportunity to add to the technical support team. Whatever happens, The Moonspeaker will remain advertising free. (Top)


Hardware Updates

On consideration of the state of security and hardware support of older apple devices – from the before times, when they had ports and could actually be repaired, as anticipated I have begun switching them over to running a gnu/linux variant, which after testing a few different possibilities has turned out to be Trisquel. While I am not totally fond of MATE as a desktop manager out of the box, it is admirably customizable and stable. The system overall has almost miraculously good trackpad support compared to mainstream ubuntu, where it is so bad I generally have to plug in a wired mouse. Ubuntu even struggled with the non-apple wireless mouse that I tried out with it, which was a bit surprising but looks to be something with that mouse's driver software for its usb transmitter. Probably a bluetooth mouse would be fine. Ubuntu is also too RAM-hungry to run at all on one machine or well on the other, whereas Trisquel can be happy with as little as 2GB of RAM. This is primarily because of running MATE rather than the latest mainline GNOME. For experimenting I will change over that machine to FreeBSD later this summer, which should be fun as it starts out with no desktop manager by default. All that said, I should state explicitly that due to ubuntu becoming a microsoft shill, I would not recommend it to anyone, and am keeping a critical eye on what is happening with trisquel.

There are some smaller experiments to come as well with single board computers of my acquaintance. One has been serving as a pi-hole and doing a few other tasks to make using the current internet a feasible experience. I am looking into setting up the second as a possible gemini server, since the gemini protocol is very lightweight and secure. It strikes me as a great way to learn about server management without basically trying to run across a raging freeway, although the settings out of the box for GNU/linux and freeBSD servers are excellent. Not having a large technical support team, it is important not to overwhelm capacity for monitoring and maintenance. I am not as sure how much traffic gemini is going to end up attracting as compared to the mainstream web, but agree with Roy Schestowitz at techrights that its prospects are far better than the present html-based system. I don't think this a good result at all, because html with images, stylesheets, and basic media support is a profoundly functional way to share information by choice and to create remarkable websites. However, the wild levels of bloat, ridiculous "web applications," and the ongoing campaign to drive independent small sites from the web on top of crushing intersite links in favour of heavily corrupted and gamed search engines is killing those sites before they can start. Whether or not everyone moves to gemini, or back to good old gopher, modest self-hosting and new-era browsers that lack support for javascript, drm, and therefore major vectors for surveillance and security breaches are absolutely critical if there is to be an internet that is not enclosed by corporations and the military. (Top)


In 2016 I implemented a desired if only for the fun of it option, website search via a form inserted in the left hand sidebar. I picked up the code from Bruce Schneier's website, implementing search with what then was the least awful search engine privacy and security-wise,duckduckgo. Even at that time there were some strange claims that duckduckgo was full of adware, which I still think had to do with its toolbar for web browsers. These were falling precipitously out of favour because many of those available for internet explorer were malware tainted due to security vulnerabilities, and any toolbar from google presumed a right to encroach with advertisements and extra spying anyway. My hope was that duckduckgo would stop offering them altogether, along with the generator of the second issue, obnoxious javascript that creates pop-in windows begging you to let duckduckgo set itself as your default browser. We have all been trained to treat a request from a website to change our browser, let alone our computer for us, as nefarious. This is the right position to take, even from a trusted site. To begin with nothing could happen as long as you didn't click on the links, and NoScript was already a going concern. I also tended to use the html-only version of duckduckgo unless I was searching for images, so overall it seemed to me that it was okay, though to be watched carefully.

I have certainly read and heard people declare duckduckgo is no match for google, and based on my experience it's important to consider what we expect a search engine to do before trying to rank them. As the newer kid on the block duckduckgo had to build its own indexes, which takes time and fundraising to put together storage capacity. Any sort of search that presses to the limits of the sort of widescale indexing google has done will be unmatched by any newer search engine. Certainly search result quality has improved on duckduckgo since it first debuted online, originally due to the index build up. For some folks, what they don't like is the lack of the filter bubble effect created by google's tailoring of search results to what it has decided you would prefer based on monitoring your overall search history. (For more detail on this, see Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble.) This is not a wholly benign or useful approach for google to take, and personally I found the loss of serendipitous results, let alone untailored ones a real problem whenever I wanted to find something new as opposed to something similar. On the other hand, yes google and other filter bubbling search engines are better anytime what is wanted is something very like what you've already been looking for, which is logical. This did smarten me up in terms of bookmarking useful pages and curating my bookmarks rather than depending on a search engine to get me back to those pages, though. Returning specifically to The Moonspeaker, duckduckgo generated sensible results in my test queries originally, so for that purpose I was satisfied.

Furthermore, supposing a person wished to use google, or bing, or yahoo (really?) instead, I summarized the site search shorthand supported by many established engines. The syntax for the query is still, for the search engines that support free use of it: searchterm site: domain.com. The bold bits are the parts you change, so if you wanted to search for say, "wonderland" on this site, your query would be: wonderland site: www.moonspeaker.ca. mojeek, which is now the lone privacy-respecting old-fashioned type search engine around only provides support for this query via for-fee subscriptions. This is not unreasonable, as mojeek is committed to keeping its own servers and indexes, and explicitly details all the data it does not collect so that it can respect user privacy. Meanwhile, duckduckgo has been nibbling away for years at its privacy respecting behaviour until there really isn't anything left, I'm sorry to say. The death knell, which duckduckgo tried to hide after the debacle of its search indexing deal with yahoo because it was trying to be google's mini-me – even its index sharing agreement with yandex doesn't seem to have gone over nearly as badly, because yandex results could be identified from others – was its effort to hide its sell out to become a skin on microsoft's bing. The way variants on wikipedia plus corporate-funded hits swamped most basic search results on duckduckgo was bad enough. The lengthy period when filtering by some version of "NOT" was the workaround to reject those sorts of trash results followed by that technique no longer working made me realize that probably site-specific search was going to entail effective endorsement of duckduckgo I no longer wanted to give.

At last I removed duckduckgo site search as of 23 june 2022, saddened to see my worst expectations of it coming true. After two years of rumblings, I couldn't fool myself about what was going on, nor could duckduckgo's public relations. A particularly useful round up of the changes is provided by Rohan Kumar in his regularly updated post A look at search engines with their own indexes. It is true that different search engines have better coverage of different things, which Kumar covers in detail, as well as sections on more obscure and idiosyncratic examples. So from my perspective at least, duckduckgo's run is over. Yet, admittedly, I still dawdled an awfully long time, and have been hemming and hawing about cutting duckduckgo out of my regular search engine stable. What finally pushed me to take proper steps was not Kumar's post, but the evidence revealed by the following screengrab below. I was still resorting to duckduckgo for certain types of queries, similar to when I was phasing out use of google years ago. In running one of those queries, in this case a silly one, I accidentally generated a result that confirms duckduckgo's actual identity these days. Please note the place name circled in red, which reflects the location the server running the web indexer is. Feel free to try out the query for yourself – and if you want to have a chuckle at the results of Moon sign calculations, the second result at Moon Calendar works great. If you are more interested in proper ephemerides for the Moon and planets, I recommend the JPL at CalTech's site instead. Further to the google removal point, more recently I have observed regular "google EOF" results at the bottom of the first page of results in the few duckduckgo searches I do run, which is not just despicable because that means they are running searches through google all the time. It also can easily mislead the unwary reader into thinking duduckgo has no more search results. Either way, it is quite clear that the whole reason for using duckduckgo has been eviscerated by their actual practices. I really didn't expect to find any more reasons to be a bit annoyed about duckduckgo and its shift into surveillance and intrusion mode, nor any further indications that it was adding more techniques than it had already deployed. That is, until a few days after an update to noscript, which led to duckduckgo especially triggering the following warning.

A rather revealing duckduckgo search result, in which it turns out its results are generated from redmond, washington. A rather revealing duckduckgo search result, in which it turns out its results are generated from redmond, washington.
A rather revealing duckduckgo search result, in which it turns out its results are generated from redmond, washington.
Revealing duckduckgo noscript warning, which began popping up in august 2022. Revealing duckduckgo noscript warning, which began popping up in august 2022.
Revealing duckduckgo noscript warning, which began popping up in august 2022.

What seems to be going on here, is that duckduckgo and likely other search engines although not necessarily all, are taking advantage of how many people don't logout of sites where they are regular customers or commenters. Many people apparently don't use incognito or private browsing to sequester their potentially private data revealing tabs, and regularly use a search engine to get to these sites where they use login credentials. This is utterly gobsmacking to me. There are less secure practices, but these are often serious in what could go wrong if the person's credentials are sniffed or otherwise leaked from the copious databases in which the various surveillance technologies obsessively record whatever they can about us, however minor. Since using a search engine, even one that does seem to be sticking to privacy respecting principles like mojeek, could acquire identifying information if a person uses that program to access a site they are already signed into, or that they are about to sign into, this is a non-trivial matter. So while this is not in itself a duckduckgo-only issue, it reinforces how the web is far from an information-sharing medium in a positive sense. There is so much data-mining going on that it begins to resemble more and more something analogous to the security corridor airline passengers walk along to board their plane. But unlike that situation, where not all of it is about security theatre to paper over intrusive surveillance, at this point what we've got is no theatre and more and more intrusive surveillance. This doesn't mean there is more crime that the so-called authorities are trying to stop or curtail. It means that the profit margins of the outsourced surveillance state are narrowing all the time, so the corporations are doubling down, similar to the east german stasi as they collected such absurdities as smell samples before the system they fed collapsed.

I should also note that if you are concerned about not having this issue and would like a back up plan, noscript is great for warnings. It is possible to block the javascript for any search engine to run with that extension be it permanently or temporarily. The issue is certainly related to javascript, as the warning does not arise for html-only versions, which duckduckgo still maintains, at least for now. (Top)


Hints

Since The Moonspeaker is a constructed website rather than built on a preexisting template, I like to tinker and implement new features as they become stable. Or I stumble on useful or cool tweaks that somehow I hadn't stumbled on before, and finally get around to implementing them. And yes, occasionally I break things, but usually not too badly. This is something I find quite fun. Here is the list of tweaks that have been happening over the last several years.

  • External links now appear with a blue forwarding arrow beside them, illustrated at the end of this sentence.
  • Pdf links now automatically appear with a little pdf picture beside them, also shown at the end of this sentence.
  • Doc links have been subjected to this treatment as well, though they are quite rare on The Moonspeaker.
  • The Moonspeaker now has a favicon, at the moment a very simple one since the primary challenge at first was to get it working.
  • There are two rss feeds, one that covers everything every posted, the other just items for the past six months.
  • The rss feeds have style information so that they are legible in browsers that support opening xml pages, as the majority do today. Some readers may see code that works around a lingering feed reader bug, but it should cause no trouble.
  • At long last I have figured out how to arrange things so that pictures have proper captions that stay stuck to them, and the method should work across browsers and even in older ones as long as they understand div tags. (But when I figure out how to make vertical photo captions that stay put without weird code hacks, that'll be awesome.)
  • The process of adding more fulsome image credits where images are used by Creative Commons license, or come from the public domain, or are quoted for non-profit use is well on its way, with approximately one hundred items outstanding. Please note that providing a link to the origin site is not an endorsement of the site or any product that might appear in the image.

One of the nicer attributes that all html tags have is that they can be assigned a "title," and if the tag corresponds to an element that will be rendered on screen, then you can hold the mouse over it and the title text will pop up. This is very useful for providing additional information about the item in question, and once upon a time it was only available for anchors. However, if it's not an anchor, you would rarely have a reason to try mousing over the item. On The Moonspeaker, where this option is in use, I will explain what's going on, and such text will have a subtle effect applied to make it easier to see it is different, as it has been to this sentence. So don't panic if you notice things seem to develop a faint blue background for no apparent reason.

And yes, I love sidebar footnotes. They are everywhere on The Moonspeaker, and have two excellent virtues. For me, I can write as many of them as I like. They are where most asides, potentially distracting extra material and general rants usually go when they are too short to be made into Thoughtpieces. For you, you can ignore them or not as often as you like. If only more things in life had the same qualities! (Top)


Copyright © C. Osborne 2022
Last Modified: Saturday, August 13, 2022 00:00:13