Transitions and Closures

Today bums me out. Why? Because the Peoria, IL Round 1 location is closing tonight at 10pm for good. For those who aren’t familiar, Round 1 is an arcade chain in Japan and the United States which offers a mix of food, bowling, karaoke, classic arcade games but most importantly to me, Japanese rhythm games. Back in its pre-COVID heyday, it was opened until 2am and allowed adults only after 10pm which made it an excellent spot to have a beer and play some games with friends or sing our hearts out.

With regard to rhythm games: think the well known titles like Dance Dance Revolution and Pump It Up but also a lot more specialized games like Beatmania IIDX (pronounced 2-D-X), Sound Voltex, Groove Coaster, Tetote and Wacca. These games have very limited presence outside of Japan. Short of visiting Japan, getting a hold of a cab yourself or ripping arcade copies from private internet sites, these arcades are the only chance to experience this niche gaming hobby.

But this hobby goes well beyond just games, it also has a thriving micro-culture of locals who have been playing for years. For me, its how I met one of my now best friends back in 2006, when we played a DDR-clone game called In The Groove back at the Galesburg Sandburg Mall in the days where we still gathered in person for such things.

It was not common to find these games or people into their special brand of electronic Japanese music. The crowd went beyond just casual gamers but extended into a fairly marginalized group that featured a mix of plain old nerds, cosplayers, furries, LGBT+ and those just interested in the fusion of dance, music and rhythm into video games. With this community I found another great group of friends that is scattered across the midwest and its hard to gather everyone.

Round 1 in Peoria offered this focal point. It opened in late November of 2017 and is closing today May 21st, 2023. It’s crazy to think that this focal point in the center of the state offered a meetup spot for old friends but also helped to rekindle some relationships with friends too. Not only that, my wife was an active participant in these games and always felt included. Plus I made a lot of new friends. In a world where we are becoming more isolated, atomized and suspicious of each other, it was refreshing to have a public space where we could all very visibly enjoy our hobby. I am sad to see yet another one of these special places close in a long line of failed ventures. COVID really did it in between declining business, security issues and a revolving door of staff. Still, for even its short-lived time in our short-lived culture, it was nice to have that space where rhythm gamers could truly feel like themselves.

In February 2019 and last week we had gathering specifically at our location. Coordinated by Discord, a gathering of folks from all across Illinois, some from Indiana and Wisconsin and others even further way, all meeting in person. Exchanging introductions usually with our Discord handles then often our real names and often times pronouns as people experiment with, and find comfort in their true identities. We are an inclusive community free of hate and vitriol sometimes seen in the wider world. Coming together felt like the childhood experience of meeting your friends on the weekend to talk video games, anime, Pokemon and to trade stories, jokes and laughs.

Today’s closure disperses an already sparse community but I look at the positives: not only the memories we made but also the connections. We have more opportunities now than ever to stay in touch and to travel and meet even more people who share our interests. The next closest location of Round 1 is in Aurora, IL in the Chicago suburbs. Some of us have friends who run private basement arcades with real cabinets and cloned software to emulate the experience. I am sure these private spaces will be where many memories also made but today is the end of something and it makes me sad. I hold out hope that perhaps we transition into something else that can give me a bright hope for the future. Until next time, friends…THANK YOU FOR PLAYING!

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Imgur and the Great Content Purge

Starting straight from the Gizmodo headline: Imgur bans NSFW Content, Begins Purge. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Back in the early heyday of reddit, imgur was created by a sole developer attempting to offer an image hosting solution to a budding reddit in the wake of Digg’s utter collapse. This site has grown massively in the intervening 15 years due to the ease of posting images anonymously, without an account. It was also a major hosting haven for reddit’s burgeoning NSFW subreddits and relevant communities.

Unfortunately, this bastion of free information on the internet is about to begin a major clampdown:

Quoting from Imgur’s official statement which you can read in full here:

Our new Terms of Service will go into effect on May 15, 2023. We will be focused on removing old, unused, and inactive content that is not tied to a user account from our platform as well as nudity, pornography, & sexually explicit content. You will need to download/save any images that you wish to save if they no longer adhere to these Terms. Most notably, this would include explicit/pornographic content.

This of course is going to be majorly disruptive to NSFW subreddits but additionally its going to wipe out huge amounts of historic information from the first eight or so years of reddit’s life. Until reddit made their own image hosting platform in 2016, Imgur was the de facto standard for uploads. Now all kinds of information from old photos, charts, infographics, guides, albums and so on will be lost forever unless forces act to archive them quickly. But archiving them is not always easy, especially since many folks have abandoned accounts and move on.

In my opinion this a dark day for the internet and its continued but unfortunate enshittification to borrow Mr. Cory Doctorow’s term.

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Good News October 2022

Autumn is settling in quickly here! I just returned from a ten day trip to coastal Alabama where the weather was dry, warm and the beaches were soft and the Gulf of Mexico was very pleasant. Now that I am sitting at home in deary rain I sure do miss the ocean!

Anyways, let’s have some good news in the world!

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Grounding Oneself

The blog has been quiet lately because I’ve been mired in a well over a month long major work effort at my job. As a software developer responsible for a platform used by thousands, I’ve had a lot of work to deliver lately. On top of the late work nights, on call times, desperate panicked calls and more; my son is fourth months old and hitting a famous growth spurt. With that growth spurt comes a major sleep regression. We haven’t slept through the night in weeks and weeks as we were doing in July.

All of this has made my wife and I feel very frayed. She’s low on sleep, I am low on sleep and our baby has advancing needs. Between work and home it can feel like too much. As a result, I am working harder to ground myself. To bring myself back to a stable baseline where I can feel like a normal person again.

Earlier this week I got some alone time to get high and play videos and boy was that a relief! NOTE that I am not suggesting one do this to run from your problems, but it was a nice opportunity to clear my head. My work has a developer is very mentally intensive and there’s this sort of burning persistent “brain fuzz” that lingers on too much intensive work combined with little sleep. Such personal time helped me get grounded again.

Furthermore I also lean on my religious practice. As its very nature oriented it helps me get outside and look at the world around me. For awhile, spreadsheets, emails and codebases fade into the background. I am not obsessing about “velocity” or SCRUM or Agile methodologies. Just me and the outdoor world.

I am also trying to make more room in my life again for events. Family events mostly but also those with friends. I am preserving more memories in the form of photos that can be easily referenced in the future. I want to preserve a legacy for myself and for my family and this also has a grounding effect as well.

Another sort of obscure one is family history and ancient places. As I grow older, my memories and experiences of the past fade more into the background. I am getting better at learning about my family, the places they spent time and also where I spent time as a kid. I am very “geo-focused” and interested in visiting different places in the world where memories are made.

Everyone is different and nothing is perfect but I am working hard and being my best self as a new father, a husband, a software developer and a citizen of the world but sometimes I need some personal grounding.

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Good News June 2022

Surely there’s a lot of bad to see in the world lately and surely its easy to find everywhere else on the internet. I’ve resolved that I’d like to post a couple of positive headlines a month in a summary on here to lighten the mood. Since they’re my areas of interest the stories will be mostly focused on science and technology with special emphasis on earth sciences, privacy and space. Without further ado:

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Surveillance Capitalism and Post Roe America

Unless you live outside of the United States, it would be impossible to ignore the news of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade. Republicans, Christian nationalists and reactionary conservatives have been pining for it since decades before I was born. Rather than lament the disastrous path that women’s rights in this country is headed down, because rant I can, I am going to focus in on a specific harrowing problem.

Surveillance Capitalism. Broadly, its the concept of using and commodifying personal data collected from our digital lives specifically for making profit. I go out of the way to make this distinction because as a technologist and software developer myself, I am not afraid technology nor the data it collects. I specifically advocate for control over my data, an understanding of who is using it an the desire for the ability to easily opt out. Bonus points for other wish list items like higher interoperability between digital systems.

Rather than bogging us down in technical jargon let’s look at the very real impact this decision has on women. Overturning Roe officially sends the decision on abortion back to the states. Based on their legislatures this means that a simple majority of states are likely to make any form of abortion de facto or de jure illegal.

With the Texas anti-abortion law allowing individuals to bounty hunt for women seeking abortions; we can see downstream impacts not only from government or corporate abuses but also individuals.

Last month, as it became increasingly clear that constitutional abortion protections would soon be eliminated, EFF warned that “service providers can expect a raft of subpoenas and warrants seeking user data that could be employed to prosecute abortion seekers, providers, and helpers.”

The online civil liberties organization also told technology firms to “expect pressure to aggressively police the use of their services,” along with new demands to hand over information to law enforcement as this data “may be classified in many states as facilitating a crime.”

Big Tech silent on data privacy in post-Roe America, The Register (Fri. June 24, 2022)

The dangers are evident even in seemingly innocent metadata. That is, the information surrounding your actual activity such as timestamps, to and from fields like emails and phone numbers, hardware models, location, length of calls etc.

Sure, anti-abortionists may not know that you sought an abortion with certainty. However, if they can subpoena Google for your location data and search history that would be enough to prove at least some basic intent. Even fewer data points could incriminate you, in fact. Perhaps you had your phone records subpoenaed and all anyone could tell was a woman making a phone call to an out of state number that is a known abortion provider. Sure we don’t know the contents of the phone call but we damn well guess. The same way we don’t know what you said on the phone to the Chinese restaurant but we can reasonably infer the service you sought.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) puts out good information about securing your digital life and I’d recommend their primer on security and privacy for people seeking abortion. They have many guides and are current on the most pressing issues facing our digital privacy and I greatly appreciate the work they do.

Well if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, right? This classic argument is trotted out anytime someone complains about the gross expansion of the surveillance state. Surely, they think, nobody would ever dare come for them! America has free speech after all, right? As demonstrated above, something once legal has now become illegal in the United States. What’s next, contraception, gay marriage? Justice Thomas Clarence has said that we should revisit the court decisions enumerating the legality of those items. What else could potentially be on the docket? How much of this information such as condom purchases or, more irrevocably, people coming out as LGBTQ online is impossible to bottle back up?

America’s polarizing political climate means that elections are won on paper thin margins. Social media and our culture has exacerbated deep wounds that make us suspicious and more partisan than ever. These things present real risks to people who are vulnerable to authoritarian crackdowns. The government can function as a force for good, and its good to have a tool that lacks the specific profit motive of private companies with massive resources. However, political regimes don’t last long and the tides change very quickly. A politically friendly executive branch may only last four years and a legislature much less. Governmental organizations can take on more militaristic views, similar to police militarization which creates a general adversarial approach to the citizenry. These abuses need not even be systematic, look for example, at the LOVEINT scandal at the NSA where agents were using government resources to stalk love interests.

It’s tempting to see the private sector as the savior here but they’re just as bad. A very large number of enterprise and private IT workloads (exceeding 80%) already have some presence in the clouds of only a few very large providers: Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Oracle. An Amazon software developer was recently convicted of stealing data from Capital One. It’s reasonable to assume that there are many such cases that go undetected because they’re targeted at specific users or small customers. Verizon’s 2022 data breach report shows that over 80% of bad actors steal data for financial reasons. The financial incentives get stronger as more and more of our data is centralized in a few private firms.

There’s a lot here to doom over, and while its tempting to see the tide as totally insurmountable, I do not think we’re totally past the point of no return. In culture, data privacy is starting to pick up some steam. We’ve seen the GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California act as some simple backstops allowing us to delete more of our data from these providers. There’s simple things that the tech savvy people in our lives, myself included, can do to help. We can educate without inundating, we can set up simple alternatives or better default settings for family and friends. We can offer up discussions and opportunities to try new things. We can apply political pressure to crack down on bad actors AND beat back authoritarians at the ballot box.

In the future posts I will elaborate on some specific ways to address some of these topics. I will attempt to categorize them as beginner, intermediate and advanced in terms of complexity to implement. I am also working on some code solutions to offer to our most technical users.

These are trying times where people’s lives may be at risk and technology is going away. It’s better to embrace the good and throw out the bad, but we must be swift and discerning and vigilant.

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Summer Solstice Soundbites

Summer Solstice, also known as Litha, is less than twenty four hours upon us as of my writing. You wouldn’t know it based on the record heatwave many of us have been facing in the center of the country! Climate change continues its ravages across the world, heavily distorting the seasons in many parts of the globe but that discussion could take up many blog posts, I will set it aside for now.

As is part of my faith, seasonal transitions are a big deal because not only is the world changing around me but its a good time to reflect back and look and what’s happened. This past spring, my son was born and has been in my life for nearly two months, I traveled to Vegas and to Denver to witness a childhood friend get married to the love of his life. I’ve introduced my son to many people and began showing him the world around us. I’ve visited old childhood locations to relieve memories and focus on the way forward.

Summer is a time of tremendous abundance, warm weather, long days and celebrations. I have many of those coming up; family weddings, birthdays, children’s milestones and parties for all manner of occasions. Bittersweet good-byes to friends on their next adventures to other states and surely more things I don’t yet know about.

The colors of this season are green and yellow, for the world of growth and the sun. When I dress my altar in these colors its a reflection of what the summer means to me. It’s a remembrance of what has been in summers past and in summers to come. It’s anticipation for celebration, vitality, life and thriving in a bright and changing world. It’s a call to action to preserve our planet. The seasons are getting harsher due to human inflicted damage to our world; droughts, storms, floods and fires all becoming more and more frequent.

However it is also a time of tremendous optimism too. Something about this season refreshes me and makes me feel like we can tackle anything as both a society and me as an individual. My paternity leave is coming to an end, I am considering changes in my career to move onto the next big thing. For now, however I am feeling the spark of joy returning a bit to programming. Not to work per se, but to furthering my own skills and growing my career legacy. I am more motivated now than ever with my son in my life to provide the best for him. Somewhat auspiciously (yet ironically, given he was born in April): my son’s name is a reference to a sun sign. Surely he will also love the summer! I can’t wait for him to be old enough to enjoy our walks, playing games, swimming in pools and shooting off fireworks with his friends.

These seasonal changes are a stark reminder that time is my most valuable asset, and to enjoy every moment that I have in this world because they won’t last forever. But rather than dwelling on that, I’d rather dwell on the new season ahead of us and show my excitement and joy at what is to come.

For now I leave you with these reflections but I say blessed be and happy summer!

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Old Places and Liminal Spaces

Last week, the day before I flew out to Denver for a long time good friend’s wedding, I made a brief detour in my hometown and adjacent town. I visited the adjacent town because other long time friends have made a major decision to relocate to northern Wisconsin for a fresh start and new work opportunities. I visited the town for a suit fitting for my mother’s remarriage to someone who has basically been in my family for the majority of my life and is already my stepdad effectively.

On my journey I decided to add a few stops. It was a beautiful spring day in early June. Midday and not too warm. First I stopped by a little mystical and occult shop that I’ve picked up supplies for since I was a high schooler. I stocked up on incense of every variety so that I would be ready for a long time!

Then after that I decided to hop by a local Chinese buffet that some old friends and I used to frequent. It’s simple, moderate quality comfort food where I could sit in silence for a bit and contemplate. I was feeling nostalgic this day and I wanted to make a couple more odd trips around town to see how far we’ve transitioned out of my old life as a young man into full adulthood. Since 2004, my hometown has been in steady decline. The departure of heavy industry like Maytag and Butler sent the town into an economic spiral that its never truly recovered from, even twenty years later. The relentless march of capitalism, globalizing economies and changing consumer demands has left towns like mine, which thrived in the 90s as not much more than hollow husks falling into disrepair.

After my stop at lunch I decided to pick up a pack of Pokemon cards at an old haunt. I don’t know if I was feeling especially nostalgic or what but I felt a spiritual need to visit some old places as all these areas in my life that have changed to be nearly unrecognizable. As I’ve hinted at before, my religious beliefs are a little wishy-washy but in general I would describe myself as a Neopagan. I generally find that while I am spiritual, I am not a monotheist but rather somewhere between an animist, polytheist and pantheist. Sometimes I am more of an agnostic deist even. Lately I describe myself especially as an animist because I find that such a way of intuiting spiritual things feels the most natural to me. I think John Halstead’s website entry about animism is very illuminating for a quick rundown of what this entails.

I can write on the topic in more depth in the future but the short version is that there are natural places in my life where I have had profound moments and as I grow older, now with my son, I want to return to some of those sites and pay homage. One specifically is at my old, abandoned elementary school. A collection of trees under which, at about age ten or fifth grade, I had a sort of revelation about what I think of the universe. It’s too numinous to describe here but I remember it as if it was yesterday. My best friend was standing near me at the time when I had this thought and I even remember the direction I was facing: southwest. So I visited this location and collected some pictures.

This was a positive, reflective experience for me where I got to relive a lot of childhood memories running around with my friends imaging worlds in a way only a child can. There was a sense of sadness at seeing this place closed but also a serene sense of peace. It was nice seeing that some of the open space was dedicated to solar fields. As an environmentalist its nice to see that even in small town America, there are some real sustainability initiatives. Hopefully the trees of my childhood stand for a long time and continue to tell their stories.

One takeaway from this is that I would like to learn how to identify trees better. They live long, venerable lives and tell such stories that it seems only appropriate to learn more about them. Furthermore I am inspired to visit sacred groves and give offerings more to nature spirits to deepen my religious faith. This might seem such a strange takeaway to an outsider but for me it was a deeply fulfilling experience that left my mind at ease and my heart full. Though people move away, businesses close and things change, the memories were made here. That energy of human experience in one place remains with us so long as we remain and even afterwards, in the descendants of those people. I hope that everyone reading can find those places that put them truly in sync with themselves where they can reflect on the beauty in our world.

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Migration Complete

In my tear to move everything to docker on a fresh server, the blog is the next thing to make its way over. Now that I feel like I am getting a genuine grip of how this all works I feel more confident in hosting all of my data in these systems and migrating them in the future. Instead of arduous copying of files and databases and the misalignment that comes with that, I should be able to just mount the existing docker volume on a new server.

I will be sure to write more about my findings soon!

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Learning Docker, Part 1

Time to make the next step in my career, and growing past just working in legacy .NET Framework apps. I am finally learning how to use Docker and containers effectively. It’s taken awhile to wrap my head around what containers actually are compared to virtual machines. It doesn’t help that there seem to be a lot of different answers to this question and a lot of ways of implementing similar concepts.

Thanks to Pluralsight and a LOT of internet guides, I have slowly learned how to build up containers and bundle them together with docker compose. My plan is to migrate this site and a few other utilities to another server using only docker compose files. That way, future migrations don’t lean on me meticulously configuring servers by hand. Or so the thought goes.

The process has been a little arduous because I tend to just dive into this kind of stuff and will not settle without it being perfect. So far, there have been a lot of lessons learned around HOW to do stuff. Compose files seem to be a bit of the wild west in that there’s a lot of completing philosophies for how to actually write the stuff. You can’t just necessarily take people’s snippets and paste them in without actually understanding your container architecture. This has helped grow my knowledge because its required me to actually understand containers, images, volumes, networks and how they all interconnect.

This opportunity has exposed me to some new flashy tools that I’d take back to the non-Docker world if it applies. Especially trafeik which is api-programmable, network-aware load balancer and reverse proxy that requires a lot less file monkeying than Nginx does. You simply pass in “labels” which function as command switches to configure each of your sites to take into the reverse proxy. This way you don’t have to launch stuff on weird ports and map all of those strange ports together. As long as every container is at least joined to the network shared by the reverse proxy, it can pick it up and register it as a service.

I will continue to write new posts with my findings because its an effective method for me to retain some of this knowledge. I’ve opened a private Github repository with my compose files that I might eventually make public if they’re “good enough”. Carry on!

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