Just Kids

Just KidsJust Kids by Patti Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few months ago I heard an interview with Patti Smith talking about this book and her time with Robert Mapplethorpe. I was aware of both of them, but didn’t know they had a history together, which intrigued me enough to buy the book.

The book covers a period of time from the mid 60s, when Smith is still living in New Jersey with her parents, to the late 80s when she is raising a family of her own in Detroit. The bulk of the story however, takes place in New York City in the late 60s and early 70s, as both Smith and Mapplethorpe are new to the city. Throughout the book, Smith writes of the tragedies of the era, such as the deaths of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison. This leads to a darkly comic account where a friend of Smith’s with a J in his name is convinced he’s the next to die because the letter J is like a curse, bringing an early death to those affected.

Having read some poorly written autobiographies of other musicians, I found Patti Smith’s writing to be both wonderful and evocative. She makes the reader feel as if they are with her, as she describes places as varied as the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Max’s Kansas City, the Hotel Chelsea, and countless apartments and studios that she and Robert shared in New York City. As well as the places, she offers such rich details of moments, that the reader feels they are there with her. For example, she shares an anecdote about Alan Ginsburg paying for her lunch at an Automat, but mainly because he mistook her for a cute boy. Writing about these moments, she describes the scenes and recalls the conversations, immersing the reader in a version of New York that no longer exists.

Most of the book is about Smith’s relationship with Mapplethorpe. Shortly after moving to New York, Smith is basically homeless, when Robert sees her and takes pity on her, offering her some food and a place to stay. They bond over an appreciation of art, as both of them aspire to become famous artists. However, being “just kids”, they had a lot to learn as they tried expressing themselves through different artistic mediums. For Robert, collages led their way to photography. For Smith, her drawings led her to poetry, which further led her to music. Each served as muse for the other, but they both found other sources of inspiration along the way.

While the obvious audience for this book is people who like to read autobiographies of musicians, people who are interested in Robert Mapplethorpe and his art will also enjoy it. The arts scene in New York City plays an important part in the book, most notably Andy Warhol and The Factory. The book will also appeal to those who are interested in love, poetry, and NYC history.

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Working on Amore v0.2

Version 0.2 of Amore is shaping up but still needs a bit of work. It’s still alpha quality software, so it’s very unpolished, but it’s much better than version 0.1.

To start, the software borrows heavily from uses w3.css to make it responsive to a variety of devices. It looks good on computer screens, tablets, and smartphones.

Users are required to login to post. There is some admin functionality for adding, editing, and deleting places, times zones, etc.

Still to do for v0.2:

  • Finish edit-profile.php.
  • logout function.
  • Admins can suspend or ban users.
  • Users can delete their own posts.
  • Users can edit their own posts (up to ten minutes after posting).
  • Remove OpenGraph stuff.

Amore 0.1

If you’re so inclined, you can get version 0.1 of Amore here.

The only thing that’s missing from what I hoped to include in this version is the ability of users to delete or edit their own posts. It requires some restructuring of the code dealing with headers and cookies, so I opted to kick it down the road to version 0.2.

Amore 0.1 is very rudimentary and doesn’t federate yet, but it’s a start and it works at a very basic level. For v0.1, I’ll call that a success.

The road to Amore v0.1

Despite some fits and starts with coding Amore, I’m making progress towards version 0.1. I already see a bunch of things I want to change in future versions, but alpha software is a bit like a rough draft. It isn’t meant to be pretty or bug free, but should have the primary functions and mostly work.

Right now, site admins can set it up for open or closed registrations, users can create posts, and their posts will be listed on their profile page. Amore can create files for Nodeinfo, though I think it may need some work, since I’m not sure it’s being sent out as application/json which is required by the Nodeinfo protocol. Each post has it’s own page viewable by anyone, but I still have to create user pages that also can be viewed by anyone. I’m toying with the idea of having a list of users, similar to Explore on Mastodon, but I’m not sure that will make version 0.1.

Still to be done is showing the most recent posts on the front page, users being able to create and edit their profiles, having the profiles viewable by anyone, and giving users the ability to delete or edit their own posts. When those features are done, I think I’ll call it version 0.1 and start refactoring and working on version 0.2 features and improvements.

Protocols

There are a lot of different protocols on the web (XKCD sums it up nicely). Basically, every big company has their own way of doing things making stuff easier to find, or putting stuff in context. The three protocols below are encouraged by different major tech companies, though they all kind of do the same thing.

  • Open Graph protocol: http://ogp.me/
  • Microformats: http://microformats.org/
  • Schema: https://schema.org/

The protocols below are used by different projects on the Fediverse.
OStatus protocol: https://www.w3.org/community/ostatus/wiki/Main_Page
ActivityPub: https://www.w3.org/TR/activitypub/
Zot: https://project.hubzilla.org/help/en/developer/zot_protocol
Diaspora: https://diaspora.github.io/diaspora_federation/

OStatus is an older protocol and is mainly used by older projects on the Fediverse, such as GnuSocial.

ActivityPub is a newer protocol which has been adopted as a standard by the W3C, giving it some authority over the others. It’s mainly used by newer projects, such as Misskey, and it’s the one I’ll be focusing on in Amore.

Zot was developed by the Hubzilla project, but is also used by Osada.

The diaspora* protocol was developed by the diaspora* project, but is also implemented in Friendica.

Some Fediverse projects, such as Mastodon and Pleroma, implement multiple protocols, usually to include OStatus, ActivityPub, or both.

Rabbit holes

Several years go I used to get sucked into the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia. I used to visit its Main Page, then click on some random link, go to an article, and get caught in this loop of clicking random links and reading random articles. It was exciting and it felt like I was absorbing all this valuable information when most of it was, in fact, useless.

Lately, my latest rabbit hole has been to go to fediverse.network or the-federation.info, and find random Fediverse instances to visit. I imagine this is what it felt like when Facebook and Twitter were still new and shiny and trusted by their users.

For what it’s worth, Mastodon runs more than 70% of all Fediverse instances.

Cool feature of the day: Some Mastodon instances have public membership lists, like this one at mastodon.social.

That’s Amore

When the site you visit first
Is on the Fediverse,
That’s Amore!

It’s almost winter break, so it almost goes without saying that I’ve been thinking about a project to keep me from getting bored. Over the past month or so I’ve been looking at the Fediverse and the projects associated with it. It sort of started with Twitter and Facebook clones, but it’s really taken off over the past couple of years due to Mastodon. Since finding about the Fediverse, and after trying and failing to get along with GnuSocial, the idea of creating my own version started taking hold.

But that would be too simple. Since there are already a bunch of applications that play in the federated universe, surely I could find one that suited my needs. Alas, that’s not the case. None of the applications I looked at had simple installation instructions. Some of them even required specific usernames on the server in order to run (Yes, PeerTube, I’m giving you the evil eye). Ideally, I want a web-based application that can be installed and running in under five minutes. While I’m willing to take an hour or two if I think the software is worth it, most Fediverse friendly applications don’t seem worth the effort.

Not finding an admin-friendly application, I decided to create Amore, an open-source, Fediverse friendly, microblogging and dating application written in PHP, using MySQL/MariaDB. PHP and MySQL are at the backbone of millions of websites, including Facebook, Wikipedia, Wikia, and any website running WordPress, so it’s only natural to expect to find a web-based application that uses them. Applications that run other languages or use other databases create hurdles to use.

With regard to social media, I like Twitter a lot. I’m on it nearly every day. I like the character limit, since it forces people to get to the point. Plus, it’s easier to be witty in small doses.

If all of this wasn’t difficult enough, I also want the software to function as a dating site, though the implementation will be left up the individual website owners. I’ve tried a lot of dating apps and websites, and I’m usually disappointed by them. I understand, most dating websites only exist to make money for the owners. If there’s no profit motive, the website/app wouldn’t exist. In contrast, most Fediverse websites are run without ads, either relying on donations or being run out of someone’s pocket. To me, a dating website that runs without ads, or without requiring paid memberships would be great, but it leads to a potential problem.

An ideal dating website/app has millions of active users all around the globe. However, unless it’s owned by a billionaire, it’s hard to imagine it getting by without ads or paid memberships. Millions of users means a lot of servers, a lot of bandwidth, and a lot of money to keep running.

I’m hoping that the decentralized nature of the Fediverse – combined with easy to install, setup, and use – will encourage website admins to consider running Amore, preferably without ads or the need for paid memberships.

Despite all that, Amore is still very much alpha software. It’s not suitable to be run on a production website. It lacks many features found on most CMS software, let alone any Fediverse apps, or dating applications.

Mycroft AI

Today I found out about Mycroft AI, which is an open-source answer to Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and OK Google. Like its proprietary competitors, Mycroft will listen to your commands and do stuff for you, such as setting an alarm, playing music, telling you the weather, getting stock quotes, and so on. Unlike its proprietary brethren, Mycroft won’t analyze this information to play targeted ads for you.

I haven’t installed it yet because I’m still looking into it. I have a lot of questions that I still have to find answers for. For example…

I have a Linux laptop that I use pretty frequently, plus an Android smartphone, a Linux PC in the home office, and another Linux PC being used as an entertainment center. My first question is whether I should us a different wake word for each device, or use the same one for all of them? Is it like the issue of password reuse, where it’s more secure to use different wake words?

It’s an interesting idea, so I hope they keep the development going.

Max Social

Reading this article about how the “short-term, dopamine driven feedback loops” created by social media giants are killing normal discourse, it makes me wonder how to fix it. Maybe if Facebook, Twitter, etc limited people to a maximum number of friends/followers, it would introduce a check in the system.

I normally use Twitter, so I’ll use their terminology for this. Let’s say everybody can only follow 500 people, and that they can only be followed by a maximum of 500 people. By limiting the number of people you follow, your diet of tweets is limited only to those Twitterers. That extra cute video of your kitten playing with a puppy can still go viral, but it’ll take longer to happen.

With a maximum limit on who we follow and who can follow us, we’re forced to do some picking and choosing. I think most people would follow close family members and allow the family members to follow them, and there would probably be something similar with coworkers (or maybe not). But for the rest, who would you follow? Politicians? Celebrities? Athletes? Artists? Conversely, who would you let follow you? Former classmates? Fellow hobbyists? Advertisers? Co-religionists?

Do you follow someone who seems to have gone off the rails and started relentlessly tweeting about pigeons? You can unfollow him. Do you follow an aunt who never tweets, ever? Unfollow her and follow someone more interesting.

Introducing maximum limits into social media would be an equalizer, since the cashier at the deli around the corner could have the same number of followers as the leader of the country.

Just a thought.

Move it on over

Today I’ve moved my website from Site5 to Dreamhost.

It’s not a decision I made lightly. because moving a site, with all the posts, media, etc is pretty complicated. But for roughly the same price, Dreamhost seems to offer better service and more amenities. The thing that really got me was that Dreamhost offers free SSL certificates from Let’s Encrypt, while Site5 seems to be dragging its heels on this. I suspect Site5 views SSL sales as a profit center. Regardless of whether that’s true, it’s hard to turn down free SSL certificates, thus the move to Dreamhost.