Build your own dial-up ISP in 2019 (external)

Charming read on how one might construct their own dial-up internet connection in this age of egregious Xfinity bills1. On the surface, it sounds like a goofy lark, but if you dive into retrocomputing enough, you find plenty of systems with readily available modems and few (if any) other means of networking. I always wondered how complex one would need to get to set up a system like this. If you could trick the modems on either end into not caring about hook/dialing/&c., could you just go over an audio connection and skip telephony? I don’t know the answer to that, but the linked article accomplishes it with a virtual PBX and analog VOIP adaptors – a purpose-built private telephony system in the middle. It’s an interesting read, and a good link to hold on to for future reference.

  1. I know broadband isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as we’d like to think it is. I’d also be willing to guess that anyone trying to set up such a kludge of a system has probably managed to get themselves hooked up. ↩︎

Curtailing Amazon purchases

Amazon is… decidedly not a great company, and as time passes, this seems to be more and more true. Every few months, a new call to boycott seems to enter the public discourse, which is almost certainly as warranted as it is impractical. That’s not what this is, however — aside from the fact that a seemingly infinite catalog of affordable1 items is an incredible boon for disabled folks and folks that simply don’t have ready access to a wealth of brick-and-mortar stores, actually boycotting Amazon seems rather impossible given that their big money-maker these days is AWS. But I have been beyond disappointed with Amazon’s customer service lately, and this is compounded by core elements of the shopping experience.

I’ll get the petty personal complaint out of the way first. I have had a lot of problems with Amazon’s customer support over the past couple of years, only increasing as time goes on. The real kicker was trying to get any sort of resolution (or even acknowledgement!) about two shipments that were lost around the same time, ultimately translating into several hundreds of dollars worth of unrecoverable Things. Four interactions with customer support yielded four contradictory responses (paraphrased):

One of the major problems is that, unlike any other customer service that I’ve ever dealt with, Amazon seemingly has no ticketing system. If they do, it isn’t exposed to the user, and the overall experience suggests that they don’t – there is no congruity among communication related to the same issue. This is an issue I had experienced before, but the complete mess that was the above series of interactions really hit the point home. It’s hard enough to even get to support – they increasingly push an anxiety-inducing chat service, and one must simply know the right email address (cis at amazon dot com) to avoid it – but when the system feels like it’s designed such that every interaction should ultimately end in resolution… it fails catastrophically when this is impossible.

The original problem was, to be fair, with USPS. This becomes a larger problem with Amazon, however, when there is seemingly no shipping method with insurance, and no transparency as to how things are to be shipped. If actual shipping options were offered instead of just otherwise-meaningless timeframes, consumers would actually have some control over how much of a risk receiving a given item becomes. Amazon’s sense of logistics works great for them, which ostensibly keeps their prices down3 and/or allows them to offer free shipping, but is ultimately rather hostile to the consumer. Likewise, offering no insured options was fine when Amazon seemed willing to (essentially) self-insure lost packages, but this seems to be a fading reality.

Personally, I have historically relied on Amazon a lot out of sheer convenience. Things have gotten to the point where this is no longer the case – buying from Amazon is now an inconvenient calculation of risks. It is a hassle. Fortunately, some of these calculations are simple – I know that higher-priced items simply are not worth it, and I am simply and automatically shopping elsewhere for anything even remotely costly. I know I can’t be the only one noticing the decline in customer friendliness; it will be interesting to see how this shapes up in the coming years.

  1. Prices aren’t even that great anymore. I often find things cheaper at smaller shops. ↩︎
  2. Aside from telling me the first customer support rep was incorrect, they assured me that they’d be reporting the first rep for saying as much. I… don’t want that? This underpaid person made a mistake in a system that seems broken by design, don’t narc on them, sheesh. ↩︎
  3. See footnote 1… ↩︎

RIP, Wii Shop Channel

A sad loss – Nintendo shuttered the Wii Shop Channel today. This was advertised well ahead of time; hopefully most people who care were able to retrieve and backup everything they wanted to. I haven’t powered my Wii up in quite some time, so likewise… hopefully I don’t have any gaps in my downloads. People are (rightfully) disappointed with Nintendo (I guess this is the first major console download marketplace to disappear?), but I don’t really think it’s sensible to focus our ire on Nintendo specifically – this is the nature of the download beast1.

Assuming one can readily dump downloads, then I suppose from an archive perspective the data can be passed around eternally. Beyond that, however, I fail to believe that any of these markets will outlive the silicon in a cartridge. It would surprise me if they outlived properly-stored optical media. I’m glad that a lot of Switch games are being released in both download and cartridge form – even indie titles via small-batch entities like Limited Run Games. Cartridges are still patched via downloads, and these patches are stored on the device (not the cartridge), so that could become its own issue, but the base game should stay functional for a very, very long time.

Anyway, nothing I’ve said here is particularly groundbreaking. It’s sad that the Wii Shop is no more, but… it was inevitable. One thing that has, fortunately, been archived: that lovely, lovely theme music.

  1. Not to mention the last networking-capable version being discontinued over five years ago. Which puts the dichotomy in perspective again: five years isn’t much of a thing for video game hobbyists/archivists, but it’s an eternity in tech. ↩︎

Be gone, 2018

I don’t really consume a lot of current media1, and have accordingly joked that if I made a best-media-I-consumed-in-2018 list, it would just be re-reading Sailor Moon and a bunch of video games from the early 2000s. But, digging a bit deeper, 2018 was one of the rare years that I did consume slightly more current cultural artifacts. So, why the fuck not: let’s list off the best of the best that 2018 had to offer me.

I’m not going into movies, because I watched very few 2018 movies (and in general, I am disappointed by movies). I would have included Mary and the Witch’s Flower, but that was 2017 somehow. Holy heck, this year was a horrifying blur. I did just see The Favourite, which I thought was very good, but it just seems a bit… inappropriate to make any sort of judgment call when I’ve focused so little of my time on film. Also, graphic novels/manga aside, I definitely did not read any 2018 books in 2018, so… there’s that. Okay!


Sophie, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
Sophie is bonkers. This album is bonkers. It’s glossy pop smashed up against glitchy aural destruction. It invites you to get comfortable and then betrays that invitation. “It’s Okay to Cry” was the tender lead-off single, followed by the harsh, unforgiving tracks “Ponyboy” and “Faceshopping”. If one was lulled in by “It’s Okay to Cry”, and not terrified soon after, said human has gone on quite a journey by the time they hit “Whole New World/Pretend World”, the perfect noisy culmination to this inexplicably cohesive album. Sophie has an enjoyable disjointed website.
Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer
Holy hell, this album is everything. This honestly was what made me realize that good things did in fact happen in 2018, and that I did in fact consume said things. “Pynk” was the third single, but I feel like the video for that track really shot the whole thing up. It was very… pudendal, and this led to a bunch of TERFy types to latch on to it… Which led Monáe to clarify that her whole jam was for all women, trans women included. Which… yes, thank you. “Django Jane” is truly the power track from this album though. Here’s Monáe’s website.
Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”
Okay, so the video has like a very squicky if not totally transphobic moment that’s hard for me to ignore. And I don’t think Ari has commented on it, which is disappointing. But otherwise, the video was this perfect nostalgic trip, and the song itself… Just this semi-petty ultra-feminine power-bop. I don’t know, I feast upon pop music often enough, but this shit hit me pretty hard. And like… basically everyone in the world latched on to it as well. Despite my reservations, if you somehow haven’t seen it, watch the video here.

I’m sure I listened to plenty of other 2018 releases that were good, but I can’t think of anything else that really hit me super hard? War on Women released Capture the Flag, and it’s’ fucking great and I will always support them, but I’m still so inclined to listen to their self-titled LP. I was going to say the same about Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s The Kid (vs. Ears), but that was 2017. This damn year, I’m telling you…

Video Games

Didn’t even realize this was one to come out this last year. The basic premise is that you have to travel through this Zelda-esque world one minute at a time. Acquired items stick with you, and more and more spawn points open up as you advance, but you will always die and respawn after one minute of play. It seems very gimmicky, and it kind of is – while the story does incorporate the cursed sword that keeps on killin’ you, it feels somewhat like a tacked-on explanation. That didn’t really bother me at all, however. The limitation was fun rather than tedious, and the overall storyline was enjoyable. I may play through it again at some point, as I think I finished it while missing quite a few little side stories. Charming little game. Here’s a website for that one.
Dead Cells
Also a bit surprised this came out in 2018, though I guess I don’t really follow video game news closely enough to have a good idea of when anything is/was released. I believe I bought my Switch in July of 2018, and while I’d been planning to for a while, Dead Cells was an oddly strong deciding factor. I love roguelikes, and while I would say it’s a bit of a stretch to classify Dead Cells as such, it has a lot of the elements (permadeath, somewhat procedurally-generated levels, ‘inheriting’ from previous deaths) that make the genre a staple of mine. Gameplay itself is smooth, difficult but generally manageable, and full of entertaining writing. I’ve been caught up in some other games and haven’t jumped into Dead Cells in a while, so I’m sure I’ll be awful when I give it another go, but I look forward to continuously returning to this game when I’m not tangled up in something narrative-heavy. Give it a look-see.
I’m still not quite through this one, so I don’t know… Perhaps it will ultimately disappoint me2, but the first six chapters have been a ton of fun. It’s that sort of… perfectly-executed platforming that one needs to pull off a speedrun of a normal platformer, say. Which, as a game requirement, could be incredibly frustrating. Celeste mitigates this through (as far as deaths/respawns are concerned) extremely short levels. A chapter is essentially made up of a ton of these tiny levels, so dying (repeatedly… like, I think I died over 500 times in chapters three and four each) doesn’t set back your progress much. Which, to me at least, makes it a pleasant challenge instead of utter frustration. I absolutely love the music in this game as well. Check it out here, or try the original Pico-8 game.
This game is very, very sweet. You’re just this irritating little bard going around trying to solve a bunch of problems by singin’ them out when everyone around you is saying you should get violent instead. It’s a very musical game, and has some rhythm components, but they don’t really matter? They’re very simple and you can just screw them up until you don’t, which is great, because I am horrible at rhythm games. There’s some janky collision detection in the game, it has some mildly frustrating moments, but the point of it is really the narrative. It’s a lovely story, the art is great, and the music really brings the whole thing home. I enjoyed this far more than I anticipated. Cute little website here.

I didn’t include any rerelease type things in this list. I just finished Night in the Woods, which came out on Switch this year, and it kind of wrecked me… but it doesn’t count. Likewise, the Switch got a not-really-updated release of Katamari Damacy this year, which… is a conceptually great game, executed by a UX sadist. Also doesn’t count, though.

Graphic Novels

Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon Eternal Edition
Just get this out of the way real quick. Shouldn’t count, as it’s a rerelease, but it’s worth pointing out how absolutely perfect these issues are. New translations are great, the larger format is great, just… beautiful. Check ‘em out here.
Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, What is Left
Reading this for the first time left me with a lot of questions. Reading this for the fifth time left me with a lot of questions. Reading this for the twentieth time left me with a lot of questions. It’s about a future (I suppose) where energy is harvested via memories. It’s freaky, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s quite lovely to look at. See some previews here.
Joe Sparrow, Homunculus
Like What is Left above, this was released by Shortbox, which has released a bunch of other stuff that I love. Homunculus is just this tender story about artificial intelligence, friendship, and waiting. I can’t say much else for fear of spoiling, but it’s… very touching. The visuals are wonderful (and occasionally wobbly) as well. Here it is on Shortbox.
Sarah Mirk, Eva Cabrera, Claudia Aguirre, Open Earth
A very lightweight exploration of polyamory in space. A bit erotic (NSFW, I guess it’s worth mentioning), but largely just a tale about a bunch of people working through what relationships mean to them in a post-Earth reality. It’s not super spacey, the sci-fi setting exists more for the sake of establishing a bit of isolation, and a reboot on the rules for relationships. Give it a look here.

I don’t think I actually read any manga that started in 2018 (and I know that Sailor Moon’s rerelease is a cheat), but I did spend a lot of time with two series that are still going as of 2018 – Delicious in Dungeon and Land of the Lustrous. Love them both, but if I had to suggest one, I’d highly recommend checking out Delicious in Dungeon, it’s such a wonderfully quirky premise.

2018 was… awful, and I can’t really imagine 2019 will be much better. But, hey, some really good stuff came out apparently, and sometimes that’s what we need to grasp on to. Don’t know if it’s escapism, inspiration, or just appreciating that others can find the energy to bring positive light into a dark world… but there’s no shame in finding little pockets of joy during hard times. And these were some of my favorite pockets in 2018.

  1. Certainly not an attempt at being one of the cool kids, I’m just… very behind on things. Always. ↩︎
  2. I’m approaching the bitter end of the game, and I’ve gotten to some screens where I don’t really feel satisfied after I beat them, just frustrated. Which is kind of what I was saying this game isn’t. But even at this point, it’s easy enough to set down and come back with a calmer approach after… blogging about it or whatever. ↩︎

365 Numbers

I’m not one to put stock into New Year’s resolutions, but I do occasionally have ideas for little things-to-do during a given year. One such idea for 2019 is to set my homepage such that I’ll be redirected to the Wikipedia entry for the number of the current day (out of 365, so February 14 will return the page for 45 (Number)). This is easily attained with a small bit of HTML stored locally:

<meta charset="utf-8">
<title>Let's learn about numbers!</title>
<script type="text/javascript">
var today = new Date();
window.location.replace("" + ((Date.UTC(today.getFullYear(), today.getMonth(), today.getDate()) - Date.UTC(today.getFullYear(), 0, 0)) / 24 / 60 / 60 / 1000) + "_(number)");

(Or just use this link.)

Once you get into the hundreds, there’s less and less interesting information about a given number. In fact, bunches of numbers start to get lumped into a single article. So, we’ll see, I may abandon this by the end of the year. But I think it’ll be an interesting way to learn some weird little numerical tidbits.