Afternoon Notes — 9-26-23

Lots going on. I’m launching a new set of features this afternoon on Serendeputy.

Also, this week is the 20th anniversary of when I met my wife. Doesn’t feel like it was that long ago.

The wayback machine says I was on fire about the Red Sox that week. Aaron Boone was still a little ways in the future. (And, yes, a) I’m old, and b) I’ve been blogging for a long time.)

What’s interesting today

The Agony of the School Car Line. Thank God this is no longer my problem. I did have a couple of Covid years driving across town to the middle school twice a day.

Build Great Software By Repeatedly Encountering It.

Vintage Nirvana. “The most iconic band of the 1990s—one that openly rejected the commodification of rock—is now one of the biggest brands in the vintage industry.”

Also, Happy 30th Birthday to Nirvana’s In Utero, King of the Toxic Follow-Ups

ChatGPT & Friends: The Cool Kids boosting my productivity. Om Malik on how he’s integrating some of the new generation of tools.

Being 13.

At the root of these conflicts are issues teenage girls have always faced: insecurity, figuring out their place in the social hierarchy, puberty, hormones, trying on different identities. But the stakes feel higher now, because there’s an audience, or the risk of one, at all times: “Receipts” for everything; hurtful messages to stare at again and again (unless you delete them, which Anna said she sometimes does). That, and there is a unique awkwardness to this cohort of teenagers, the counselor noted — in that they spent years of middle school behind screens.


Afternoon Notes — 9-22-23

Happy Kicks for Cancer weekend.

What’s interesting today

Long Covid is a new name for an old syndrome. Still not enough progress here. I hope we see some breakthroughs soon.

We Can’t Compete With AI Girlfriends. I’m going to leave the Hacker News comments alone on this one.

Generative AI is a Black Mirror for Educators. How do you tell if your students are learning when essay questions don’t exist anymore?

First Google Search Result for Tiananmen Square “Tank Man” Is AI Generated Selfie. Google cannot keep up with the flood of AI-generated trash.

Airlines Are Just Banks Now. Fascinating analysis of how airlines aren’t in the business of flying planes anymore, and he we all pay higher prices due to higher “swipe fees” on our credit cards.

Why Scalpers Can Get Olivia Rodrigo Tickets and You Can’t. Fascinating deep dive into the underbelly of this world. Surprising (to me, anyway) gambit: instead of selling you the ticket, the brokers will sell you the TickerMaster account that has rights to the ticket.

How old is too old?. Robert Reich on aging.

What do we do with the Twitter-shaped hole in the internet?

Fan mail of the day

The Bear. This is an outstanding show on Hulu about chefs, restaurants and family. Two seasons, both eminently watchable.


Afternoon Notes — 9-18-23

Happy Monday.

What’s interesting today

Streaming Is Changing the Sound of Music. To succeed on Spotify and other services, songs are getting shorter, albums are getting longer, and artists are collaborating across genres.

Wage theft is a serious crime. We’re finally treating it that way. New York is starting to get serious about wage theft.

The tyranny of the marginal user. It is always thus. Hacker News discussion.

Fan mail of the day

Defector is one of my favorite daily sports sites, and one of the media sites I pay for.

They are an employee-owned co-op, and therefore, they are completely free to write about whatever they want. Mostly sports. Occasionally, crazy houses that show up on Zillow.

They also host one of our family’s favorite podcasts: Normal Gossip.


Afternoon Notes – 9-16-23

Kicks for Cancer is coming up next weekend. I went to the high school and got a snazzy sweatshirt this morning. You’re going to see a lot of pink around town over the next ten days or so.

What’s interesting today

Can Affluence and Affordable Housing Coexist in Colorado’s Rockies?

For a payout of tens of thousands of dollars from the local government, he recently signed onto a hefty “deed restriction” for his property, banning its use for Airbnb stays, limiting any potential renter or buyer to the work force of Summit, and limiting any potential resale price. And he did it with pride.

What Happens When Wall Street Buys Most of the Homes on Your Block?

Bad idea, right?. I try to dip in to what my high-schoolers are listening to. This is actually a pretty good song…

The Promise and Folly of Self-Driving Cars. I’m keeping half an eye on this space. It may always be five years away. See also: Car Hackers Are Out for Blood

Fan mail of the day

The Flux Review. A systems-thinking newsletter, seeking new ways to make sense of our complex world.

It’s a weekly newsletter that explores current issues from a system dynamics and forward-looking perspective. Well worth a half-hour of your attention each weekend.


Afternoon Notes – 9-15-23

Happy Friday!

It’s starting to look like Fall here in Massachusetts (even if there is a hurricane spinning off our shore right now).

What’s interesting today

Cracked Tooth. Bob Lefsetz talks about his tooth and the realities of budgeting when you’re on the older side.

Finishing with Twitter/X. “Enough wrestling with the pig. Time to go.”

This post will not go viral. Twitter suppresses sharing links now. Hacker News discussion. Not everyone agrees.

Related: When Twitter Died, So Did Independent Journalism.

How Shein beat Amazon at its own game — and reinvented fast fashion. Separately, Rest of World is a great site for getting ideas of what’s happening outside the US.

Airbnb has devastated Colorado’s resort towns and Short-Term Rentals Cause a Long-Term Mess. I’m not a huge fan of what short-term vacation rentals have done to housing markets. I’m not sure what the answer is, though.

What I’m reading today

Innovator’s Toolkit. I’m working on a couple of thorny issues right now. It’s always good to dip into this book for ideas.

Style and Pyramid Principle. Now that I’m trying to write more, I need to get back to basics. These are the two best books I’ve ever found on writing.

Fan mail of the day

We get up early every morning, a habit of twenty years or so.

In the 5am Sunday hour on WCRB, they play Pipedreams, an hour of pipe organ music. It’s amazing (especially if you have a good stereo and are ok playing music loud at the time of the morning…)

I ended up buying the CDs, and it’s now what I play in my headphones when I’m programming.

A surprisingly delightful discovery.

And, if you don’t change the channel, you get the Bach hour at 6. Also delightful.


Afternoon Notes – 9-14-23

I’m going to try this format for a little while and see how it goes.

I’m trying to help build the future of the open web, so I want to try to do more here, and less in various silos.

What’s interesting today

The MetaFilter thread from September 11th. I remember refreshing this thread all day as we were all trying to figure out what was going on.

The Specter of AI-Generated ‘Leaked Songs’ Is Tearing the Harry Styles Fandom Apart. Middlemen scammers are taking advantage of fans. AI only accelerates it. Hacker News discussion.

Federation vs. Small Pieces Loosely Joined. More on the future of the open web from Dave Winer.

404 media is an outstanding new news site. They’ve had a lot of scoops in their first couple of weeks.

The junk fees aren’t going away. I think it’s better that you’re seeing the all-in price upfront.

I see this through the day job: there are lots of new sites that are generating thousands of AI-generated and spun articles. I play a depressing game of cat and mouse to keep them out of my index. I’ve evolved my librarian tools enough over the years to catch them almost instantly, but it’s not fun.

Also, if your domain is one character off of a popular domain and you’ve posted 3000 blog posts today, I’m probably going to notice.

And wield the mallet of loving correction.

When I’m weeding my index, I’m usually listening to the local high-school radio station. Right now, they’re playing Be Good Johnny. Which I most have associated with the Fenway music guy playing it for Johnny Damon in 2004. Of course, I also remember when it was a hit on the radio in the early ’80s. I’m old in many dimensions.

What I’m reading

I have the (I’m told) bad habit of flipping among several books at a time. I’m ok with it. And, the Kindle takes up less space on the nightstand than several hardcovers…

Here’s what’s open on the virtual bookshelf right now.

Survival of the Richest: Escape fantasies of the tech billionaires. Douglas Rushkoff has a new book out, and I’m enjoying it so far. It turns out that building your own post-apocalypse bunker has problems on the physics level, along with the biology, the sociology and the psychology levels.

Founder vs. Investor. I’m not in this wing of the tech world anymore, but it’s interesting to see how the dynamics have changed since the late nineties.

Master of Change. Brad Stulberg writes about how to handle things that come up in life. His term for it is “rugged flexibility.”

Fan mail of the day

I’m going to try to shout people out more often.

Today: Heather Cox Richardson.

Each day, she writes an essay on the most important news of the day, with the perspective of an historian. It’s usually one of my favorite 10-minutes reads of the day.


Media I pay for, 2023 edition

I’m the Quicken wrangler in my family, and twice a year I try to go through all our subscriptions and verify they’re still worthwhile.

I also believe in paying for media whenever I can.

So, here are the media I believe are worth paying for. You should check them out.

Independent Voices

I love that I can give money directly to creators. I wish I could do more.

Anne Helen Petersen. Outstanding daily writer.

Naked Capitalism. Been reading their site since the mid-2000s, I think. Always great insights.

Doomberg. New kid on the block. Outstanding coverage, especially around energy issues.

The 19th. An independent non-profit newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy.

ProPublica. Outstanding independent research.

General News

The New York Times. Plus, Wordle!

The Washington Post

The Atlantic. Make sure to check out Alan’s photo sections, as well.

Public Media

Once upon a time, I used to work for NPR, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for public media.

WBUR. We are sustaining members. Our clock radio goes off each morning to the WBUR newscast.

GBH. GBH is the parent organization of Classical Radio Boston, which we have on in the background all day long.

WXPN. We love Funky Friday, have Exponential Radio on all day Saturday and are devoted to The Night Before as our December 24th soundtrack.

KCRW Eclectic 24 is our soundtrack on Sundays. This (and XPN2) are the main ways I get exposed to new music.


Cook’s Illustrated. This is the only print magazine we still subscribe to. Everyone loves checking out the new recipes when it arrives. We also learn some new techniques each month.

Local News

The Concord Bridge. This is new free weekly in my hometown. We donate $20/month (kinda like public radio) because we want it to exist.

Business and Trade Press

Business Insider. Good general-purpose business coverage.

The Information. Good coverage of the tech world.

The Wall Street Journal. Worth checking in on every day. The comment section is a cesspool, though.

Platformer. News at the intersection of Silicon Valley and democracy.

Baekdal Executive. High-end media analysis.


Boston Sports Journal. This is an independent Boston sports publication, let by veteran journalist Greg Bedard.

The Athletic. Now owned by the New York Times. They have outstanding Boston sports coverage.


ChatGPT. I’m playing with this for work reasons. Sometimes it’s smart. Sometimes it’s insanely wrong. Either way, I need to pay attention.


Netflix. I’ve had my subscription since 2001, I think. Right now, it’s mostly for the children (and for those times when I need to watch a little of The Good Place).

Max. I already subscribe to HBO through Comcast, so I don’t have to pay extra for this. Right now, we’re catching up on House of the Dragon.

Disney Plus. This was mostly for Marvel and Star Wars. We’re not on fire for either of those franchises right now, so this may eventually get cut.

Amazon Prime Video. I don’t pay separately for this — it comes with my Amazon Prime subscription. They have some NFL stuff this year and the occasional series like Upload that’s interesting.

Hulu. We watch a surprising number of shows through here. Right now, we’re doing a series watch of Elementary.

Apple TV+. Ted Lasso was amazing, and is beloved in my household. Severance was really good. Shrinking was pretty good.


Yep, still here

Elon destroying Twitter is forcing me to rewrite Serendeputy.

Turns out that takes a while.

Back to writing more often at some point….


Back to writing again, occasionally

The world still spins. It’s gone around a few times since I last wrote regularly. I’m going to keep trying.

I’m writing a lot of marketing copy and FAQ pages for Serendeputy, so I really need to get good at this again.

I just got through re-reading the two best writing books I’ve ever come across — Style by Joseph Williams and The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. Style helps you write line by line and The Pyramid Principle helps you organize your thoughts. They are both well worth reading.

Community Fediverse

New Mastodon account (and a book recommendation)

I’m still here, which is nice.

I stood up a Mastodon instance on a domain I control using a fresh Digital Ocean droplet. It was delightful for a while. Plus, I owned the namespace, so that gave me a little more confidence.

Then the droplet got hacked.

The CPU was pegged. I rebooted and it got back into the same state within a couple of minutes. I didn’t investigate deeply, but that smells like a rootkit crypto miner. Joy.

You can never trust a machine once it’s been compromised, so I nuked the droplet.

Then, it was time to decide whether to rebuild it or go to a shared instance. I could have rebuilt it, but I’m in growth mode at the day job so I really don’t have the time right now. So, shared instance it is!

You can find me on Mastodon I’m still @jpbutler on Twitter though I’m spending a little less time there these days.

I look forward to watching the fediverse’s continued growth. It sometimes feels a little like 1998 on the web, but people have a lot more experience with computer stuff and social gestures now.

If you want a fun view of history repeating itself, check out Derek Powazek’s Design for Community, from 2001! Human nature doesn’t change very much. (I still have my original copy here somewhere…)