Technology

Every Cellphone I've Ever Owned

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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Microservices and Biological Systems

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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Facebook and the Silent Bob Effect

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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A History of Personal and Professional Websites

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?

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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The Death of the Mom and Pop e-Store

Small wooden manikin toy pushing a shopping car with packages in front of a laptop with the word e-commerce on it screen, blurred in the background

Back before I first left the United States in 2012, I’d often use price comparison websites when trying to find parts for computers and system builds. These sites tracked prices from hundreds of small vendors, some of which had brick and mortar stores, others wer storage warehouses, and others were simply drop shippers. Upon returning to the country, I found that most of the old comparisons sites I used were void of those smaller individual stores, replaced by less than a dozen of the big retailers. While I was away, the era of the mom-and-pop e-commerce website had ended, with most retailers now using marketplaces provided by the large players like Amazon, eBay, Newegg and others.

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Rooting a Razer Phone Requires a USB 2.0 Link

Razer Phone

I’m not one of those people that can buy a phone and start using it. I usually root my device and flash a custom ROM not long after I first turn it on. Where normal people can start using a new device immediately, it usually takes me a day or two before I can do the same, dealing with some weird edge case of missing documentation, just to get basic administration rights on my mobile device. Although Razer has official instructions for unlocking their devices, and there are many third party guides, I attempted to avoid a critical step mentioned in their documentation. Even when I followed it, I still ran into problems, and found it fascinating that Razer devices can only be flashed via a USB 2.0 link. I’ve documented some of my error messages here, in case anyone is confounded by similar issues.

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Louqe Ghost S1 Build and Review

Ghost S1 Case

I had been working off of my laptop for several months, but some performance issues and thermal throttling led me to revert back to building a desktop. I had sold my previous build before traveling across the US, so for this particular build I wanted something in an ultra small, easily transportable form factor. I decided to jump in on a crowdfunding effort for the Louqe Ghost S1 ITX case. This review covers installing my system into this very compact ITX case, my first experience with water cooling and what to expect for others when considering the Ghost case.

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Using Custom CSS with Mastodon

Multi-color Mastodon Elephants

Mastodon has an option for applying custom CSS from within its administration panel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any examples of what this CSS should look like, even after asking in the Mastodon Fourms. I did discover how tricky modifying Mastodon CSS can be. I couldn’t figure out why changes to the body element wouldn’t affect anything, and was informed that Mastodon draws to a component with the .ui class. Through some careful work with the Firefox development tools, I was able to figure out which CSS selectors controlled what, and have tried to build a list for getting started with creating themes in Mastodon via a custom style sheet.

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The Decline of OpenID

OpenID Logo

In July of 2018, StackExchange ended support for allowing people to login via OpenID. One tenth of one percent of their users were logging in using OpenID, and I was one of those last remaining people. In an era where every website allows people to create accounts and login using other websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Github, et. al.), OpenID was an attempt to create a standard to allow anyone to use any identity provider to login to web applications.

Unfortunately OpenID has slowly fallen out of use. Several major OpenID providers have gone offline over the years, leaving some users stranded without a login to services they use. Websites like Woot, Slashdot and Pypy, all which supported OpenID at some point, have slowly (and often silently) removed support. Other sites such as Freecode and Gitorious supported OpenID until they closed down. Although we are entering an era where more people in tech are pushing for distributed systems for content and social networking, the era of federated authentication via OpenID is most likely at a dead end.

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