RSS: The Original Federated Social Network Protocol

Technology
Mar 20, 2020
I Want to Believe in RSS T-Shirt by Richard Stevens
I Want to Believe in RSS T-Shirt by Richard Stevens

In 2013, Google discontinued their Reader web application. It had become a dominant application for RSS feeds, in a time when many felt RSS was dying. After Google discontinued their terrible product, people seeking alternatives found other web applications and quickly discovered tools that weren’t pieces of garbage. Readers like Feedly, Newsblur, and others, would report bad feeds and errors. Google Reader would instead silently fail, often leading people to believe their favorite bloggers had simply stopped publishing. Today, few people use RSS Readers, relying instead on liking Facebook pages, subscribing to YouTube channels or following people on Twitter. However, all of these methods are totally inadequate in relaying all potential updates between content providers and their audience. The best way to keep track of the people and content you care about is to subscribe to their RSS feeds using a good reader app, many of which work both on the web and on mobile.

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Replacing Okta Verify with Open Source Software

Technology
Mar 4, 2020
Photo of Blue USB Yubikey

I have owned way too many cellphones. I’d like to break free of Android without switching to iOS, but one of the applications I’m required to have for work is Okta Verify. Moving from Okta Verify to an open source solution was easier than I expected, but the path to discovering how to do so was not a simple one. The following explains how to get the secret used for Okta’s multi-factor auth codes, and use it in open source alternatives to Okta Verify, as well as in Python scripts.

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Every Cellphone I've Ever Owned

Technology
Jan 28, 2020
My Nokia 6800
My Nokia 6800

I’m old enough to remember the era before cellphones. Back in high school, a group of us once planned a caving trip. We all met at the parking lot beside the tennis courts at 8am. “Where is Nick?” someone asked; Nick being the person we were waiting on. Someone took 35 cents, walked over to a payphone, and came back to us saying, “His mom said he left 30 minutes ago.” Today, we don’t have to blindly wait on our friends. We can send them a text, or organize outings using group chat software. Phones have drastically changed the way we plan gatherings and interact with one another, for better or for worse. Here is my personal history of cellphones, from my first black and white prepaid device, all the way up to the modern era of the Google/Apple spy devices we all carry around in our pockets.

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Comedians are not Philosophers

Philosophy
Jan 14, 2020
Microphone on Stand

Comedians have taken on a very interesting role in the past couple of years. Many of us have grown up with comedians that write a lot of jokes about politics, such as Bill Hicks or George Carlin. Yet today, we have comedians that are dedicated almost entirely to politics, such as Lewis Black, or political satire such as John Oliver and Samantha Bee. Somehow, even comedians who don’t constrain themselves to such narrow topics are now looked to, and looked down upon, for their opinions about the broader political and social climates of our society. Although I do agree that comedy and art can be a helpful mirror, as a tool for introspection on our current culture, I think we do a disservice to entertainers when we look to them to replace the roles previously given to intellectuals, academics and philosophers.

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Microservices and Biological Systems

Technology
Jan 3, 2020
Mallard with six ducklings swimming

In 2010, several researchers at Yale attempted to look at biological systems versus computer software design. As would be expected, biological systems, which evolved over millions of years, are much more complex, have a considerable amount of redundancy and lack a direct top-down control architecture as found in software like the Linux kernel. While these comparisons aren’t entirely fair, considering the complexity of biology, they are a fun thought experiment. Microservices are a new-emergent phenomenon in the software engineering world, and in many ways, microservice architectures evolve in environments that are much closer to a biological model than that of carefully architected, top-down approaches to monolithic software.

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Mindful Meditation is not for Everyone

Philosophy
Dec 23, 2019
Rock Totem

Recently, I was listening to a Sam Harris podcast episode where he interviewed Richard Dawkins. At one point in the podcast, he attempted to lead Dawkins through a mindful meditation session, to which Dawkins responded, “I couldn’t stand it … I was listening to your words and I was keeping my eyes shut and doing everything you said. I couldn’t see the point of it … Five minutes would be about my limit I think.” I do enjoy Harris’s interviews, but his avocation for meditation borders on evangelism. Although I do meditate myself, I also have several friends who say they do not benefit from meditation, or it leads them to anxiety. Although mindfulness and meditation can be powerful tools, it’s important to remember that humans are complex, and what works for one person, may not work for everyone.

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Facebook and the Silent Bob Effect

Technology
Dec 3, 2019
Orange megaphone on orange wall by Oleg Laptev

In high school, I had a band director who would rarely say anything to his students which wasn’t related to music, marching or directing us. When he did talk to us, typically before a big competition, all two-hundred students in our marching band would be silent and attentive. He retired my sophomore year and was replaced by another band director who loved giving us pep talks all the time, so much so that most people constantly tuned him out and ignored what he had to say.

The filmmaker Kevin Smith plays a reoccurring character, named Silent Bob, in many of his movies. Silent Bob rarely ever talks. When he does, his lines are intended to be profound or at least memorable, even if they’re very simple. I rarely post on social media, unless it’s to direct friends to content on my website, which I host independently. In normal social interactions, when a person doesn’t talk much, more weight is often given to their words when they do. However, social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, use custom algorithms for sorting posts. Although these systems are closely guarded secrets, they seem to reward people who interact with their platforms more. People like myself, who rarely post content, often get less exposure than those who frequently interact with other users.

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Nihilism Gets a Bad Rap

Philosophy
Nov 12, 2019
abandoned eroded plane fuselage

Nihilism often gets a bad rap. Unlike other philosophical doctrines, nihilism is usually not a fully encompassing belief system. Although we tend to group people like Nietzsche and Camus into the nihilist camp, few philosophers or authors actively identify as purely nihilistic. Philosophers who tend to use bleak views of the world might do so in order to emphasize the reasons for holding a more positive outlook. As Camus says in The Myth of Sisyphus, “Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable.” The absurdity of the universe, rather than being disparaging, can instead be an acknowledgment that we are responsible for our own purpose. It is that self determination that, while acknowledging we may live in a world void of meaning, allows us the freedom to form our own happiness.

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A History of Personal and Professional Websites

Technology
Oct 29, 2019
Photo of Netscape Communicator Standard Edition CD-ROM

I started creating websites in the late 90s, while I was in high school. In the early 2000s, while in college, I kept a professional website with my coding and web design work, as well as a personal journal. Some time after college, I also created separate political and philosophical websites, maintaining all of them using a WordPress installation. While backpacking around the world in 2015, I migrated all my WordPress sites to Jekyll and combined their look and feel. In September of 2019, I finally unified all these independent microsites back into BattlePenguin.com, with full redirects from the former websites. The following is a history of some of these websites, and the technologies they used.

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Voat: What Went Wrong?

Technology
Oct 6, 2019
Tenderness by Ricardo Gomez Angel
Tenderness by Ricardo Gomez Angel

Voat is a link aggregation platform, where users can submit text or links to content, comment on existing submissions and vote both links and comments up or down. It’s essentially a Reddit clone, but, due to several bad design decisions, it has become known on the rest of the Internet as a community that promotes intolerance and hate speech. Voat didn’t start this way, and many of its early users were similar to those in the communities on other social networks. But due to a series of design decisions, including its contributor point systems, Voat was constructed in such a way as to converge on narrow view points and become the platform that it is today.

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