I opened a file where I had made some notes for a possible post. It had a link to something I might comment on. I clicked the link. Not only was the post gone, but the whole site; the whole Substack.

I created the file in March.

Own your stuff. Use your own site.


Firefox Rolls Out Total Cookie Protection

Starting today, Firefox is rolling out Total Cookie Protection by default to all Firefox users worldwide, making Firefox the most private and secure major browser available across Windows, Mac and Linux. Total Cookie Protection is Firefox’s strongest privacy protection to date, confining cookies to the site where they were created, thus preventing tracking companies from using these cookies to track your browsing from site to site.

– Mozilla, Firefox rolls out Total Cookie Protection by default to all users worldwide

Sites can only see their own cookies. This is the way the web should always have been.

I’m forgetting my netiquette: I should have said, via Ben Werdmüller.


Musky Times

I wasn’t going to write anything about Elon Musk buying Twitter, because I mostly don’t care. But Robin Sloan, in his newsletter, which isn’t really a newsletter, because he just sends a link to a blog post (with a few added words), says this:

An industrialist intends to purchase Twitter, Inc. His substantial success launching reusable spaceships does nothing to prepare him for the challenge of building social spaces. The latter calls on every liberal art at once, while the former is just rocket science.

I wanted to quote that because I loved ‘just rocket science.’ The common expression, ‘It’s not rocket science’ has always mildly amused me, as a physics graduate. Because rocket science is relatively both simple and easy. It’s straightforward Newtonian physics. Mass. Acceleration. Forces. The physics is simple, the sums are easy.

You don’t have to go anywhere near even Special Relativity (still straightforward, if harder), General Relativity (much more complex), or of course anywhere close to quantum physics (frankly the most complex and confusing thing of all).

All of which is just to say that physics has more and less difficult areas. Rocket engineering, of course, is quite another matter. There you’ve got all sort of complex materials science, chemistry, end even — if crew are involved — biology, sociology, psychology. Those are much harder.

As far as common similes for the ease of something go, I’ve always preferred ‘It’s not brain surgery.’ If I think about it I’m amazed that operating successfully on a living human brain is even possible, and I bow my head to those who can do it. While hoping they’ll never have to go near said bowed object, of course.

Anyway, that would have been that for this post, except that I pasted the above quote from Sloan into a text editor. But it didn’t look like it does above. It looked like this:

An indus-tri-al-ist intends to pur-chase Twit-ter, Inc. His sub-stan-tial suc-cess launch-ing reusable space-ships does noth-ing to pre-pare him for the chal-lenge of build-ing social spaces. The lat-ter calls on every lib-eral art at once, while the for-mer is just rocket science.

Where did all those hyphens come from? They look like they’re non-printing characters. Ones that won’t show up when a web page is rendered, but are there in the source code. Why? I can only imagine two reasons:

  1. a deliberate ploy to make it harder to copy quotes, as I have done above. But Sloan is a pro-web kinda guy, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t seem like something he’d do.
  2. A glitch. An artifact of the software he used to create the post. It’s most likely that. Weird one, though.

Stranger still is that the character is not even a hyphen. As I discovered when I search-and-replaced it in BBEdit, it actually appears to be this: \x{AD}.

I don’t even know what that is. Some kind of hexadecimal representation of something. An invisible hyphen, presumably. Which I had to search-and-replace with actual hyphens to make them visible above. Looking at the source code, it’s written as the HTML entity ­, which the DuckDuck tells me is a ‘soft hyphen’.

All very odd.

I have positive feelings about Sloan, except for his closing image. I’ll risk another paste:

Yeah, but… of course you have to clap. Without wanting to get all metaphysical on you, if you don’t clap when Tinkerbell is dying, you’ve got no soul.


After the Money's Gone

Robin Rendle raises a concern we should all (who write on the web) have:

But if my URL is dead, my website dies with it.

My work shouldn’t be presented in the Smithsonian behind glass or anything, I’m just pointing at this enormous flaw in the architecture of the web itself: you’re renting servers and renting URLs. Nothing is permanent because on the web we don’t really own any space, we’re just borrowing land temporarily.

– Robin Rendle, Inheritance

What happens to our websites after we’re gone? There needs to be a way to memorialise them, make sure they’re still around in some form. Archive.org is great, but it doesn’t keep the canonical URLs alive. Famously, Tim Berners-Lee wrote, ‘Cool URIs Don’t Change.’ Disappearance is the biggest change of all.

Although I see from there:

Pretty much the only good reason for a document to disappear from the Web is that the company which owned the domain name went out of business or can no longer afford to keep the server running.

– Tim Berners-Lee, Cool URIs Don’t Change

Hmm, is that a good reason? and it’s surprisingly slanted towards companies, considering the origin of the web, and TBL’s place of work.

(And speaking of cool URIs – or domains – home.cern? That is fantastic!)


Wheeling the Reinvention

Dave Winer has ideas:

ideas for rethinking blogs and feeds. I found, as others have, that I need another kind of document to include in my personal CMS other than a story that’s part of the blog. Everything about blogs are set up to be written, then lightly edited, and never touched again. It’s temporal writing. But there are other things that I want to develop over time, keep coming back to, revising. A few years back I started this.how to hold those docs.

– Dave Winer, Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at 16:05

He’s talking about what I like to call ‘web pages,’ surely? You don’t need any fancy CMS for those, as Dave of all people should know. And if you want to use such a thing, well, even WordPress has its Posts/Pages distinction.


The Guardian Might Stop Being a Printed Paper

Colin Morrison, writing at ‘Flashes & Flames’:

The Guardian, which has arguably become the world’s most sophisticated digital news operation, may be contemplating an end to its printed newspapers. That may have been signalled by the recent decision to cut 180 jobs (or 12% of its UK workforce) as a result of Covid.
...
But, tellingly, newsstand print sales, at £49.3m, were 50% down compared with 2016. Last year, print accounted for 42% of revenue (£94 million) and an estimated £75 million of production, distribution and marketing costs. So, the printed newspaper may last year have delivered almost £20m of real profit. But now Covid is pushing it into losses from which it may not be able to recover – without dramatic change.

Interesting and unsurprising to learn that Saturday is (was?) its biggest day for print sales:

Like most UK national newspapers, The Guardian has been highly profitable on Saturdays because of higher prices and sales volumes. Pre-Covid, The Guardian had been selling 100,000 copies at £2.20 on weeekdays. But, on a Saturday, it was selling 246,000 copies at £3.20 – and with more advertising revenue too.

After our local newsagent stopped delivering the Saturday Guardian, we went out and bought it most weeks… until Covid and the lockdown. We haven’t bought it since, probably, March. But we do pay online, as supporters and subscribers.

I don’t think I’d mind that much if it went digital-only, though it would be the end of an era. You’d think they could keep just the Saturday edition, but:

The management may already have concluded that any plan to print a newspaper only on certain days (including the weekend) will not be viable. Much of the experience (especially of the Newhouse family’s Advance newspaper group in the US) seems to show that reducing the daily frequency seldom works: once the daily habit is broken, newspaper buyers quickly seem to stop buying the paper altogether. A consolation print option could be the expansion of the 101-year-old news magazine Guardian Weekly which claims readers in more than 170 countries.

I’d guess they’ll maybe keep The Observer going for a while: Sunday papers have their own distinct identities.

The contrast with digital could not be greater. The Guardian has 160 million monthly uniques across the world, some 25% in the UK. More striking, though, are those digital editions in North America and Australia/New Zealand which, respectively, have advertising revenue of £25 million and £11 million. These are now strong operations, evidenced by Australia where The Guardian is the fourth largest online news service with an audience of 11.6 million (more than 50% of the adult population) – ahead of News Corp’s national daily, The Australian.

Good to know it’s beating Murdoch on his home turf.

Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab describes The Guardian as “a weird newspaper” because: it has nearly two-thirds of its readers coming from outside its own country; started in one city and moved to another; and is owned by a trust that mandates it promotes liberal journalism in Britain and elsewhere.

“A weird newspaper”: works for me.


URLs and searching

URL hiding

A while ago, I read a piece called “Improving the URL Bar" (turns out it’s almost a year old, but never mind). I made both mental and Pinboard-based notes of it, because my response to it was, “That’s not improving the URL bar, it’s destroying it."

Reading it again now, I don’t feel quite so strongly; I partly agree with what the author was getting at. But I feel we lose something important as we make URLs less visible. They show something of the hierarchy of a site, its structure — or at least that’s the origin of the path part.

The argument against that of course is that the path part is an implentation detail that doesn’t need to be seen by users, and perhaps more importantly, the whole thing is meaningless at best, confusing at worst to most users.

Well, maybe so. But to those of us who do understand them, hiding them can be confusing, even annoying.Of course you can click in the URL bar, or press Cmd-L or Ctrl-L, to see the whole thing. More usefully, In Safari, which I’m currently using, there’s a preference called “Show full website address”, which overrides the behaviour. So you can have your choice.

Searching

But then there’s this whole thing that we have now, of browsers doing a search when you type something in URL bar; especially (though not exclusively) when it’s not obviously a URL that you’ve typed or pasted.

I don’t like it.

Or I didn’t. I’ve been using Safari since I wiped and reinstalled this Mac because it was getting really slow (successfully, I might add). I decided to keep things as stock as possible (within reason — I wasn’t going to switch back from Lightroom to iPhoto, for example, or from MailMate to Mail.app). And Firefox can sometimes be a bit of a resource hog.

But I spent quite some time trying to find out how to give Safari a separate search bar like FF has (or can have — it may be a plugin, but if so it’s one that I install without thinking). I had muscle memory that went Cmd-T, Cmd-K (or Ctrl-T, Ctrl-T when I’m on Windows) when I want a new tab I’m going to search in. Still have it, actually, because I still use FF on Windows on my work machine.

It turns out that you can’t have that on Safari. You just have to search from the URL bar. So I just got into the habit of doing that. And now I find I do it even on Firefox (you have both options there).

I don’t know; I still feel that the URL bar should be for URLs, and searching should be something else. but it doesn’t offend me like it used to.

Still, the effect is to further blur the distinction between searching for a site and going to a specific site. I see people — even experienced, technically knowledgable people — going to Google’s home page and typing “facebook.com” into the search box. I mean, what?

Oh, and of course if you search from Google’s home page in Chrome, your cursor jumps to the URL bar! Or it did the last time I used Chrome. Which blurs the distinction between site and browser, as well as between site and search.

In the end it doesn’t matter that much — people mostly get where they mean to go — but by making it less than clear what is going on when we navigate around the web, we make it harder for people to understand how it’s all put together, and I think we lose something important in doing so.