One of the conveniences of Berlin city life is the Späti or Spätkauf, the local convenience store. It’s like your corner bodega in New York, a little market that sells essentials and is nearby and open late. Beer, newspapers, fresh baked goods, condoms, a couple of cooked meals, some minimal groceries. There’s one on nearly every block.
It’s particularly useful in Germany because laws and customs strictly limit how late stores can be open. For instance almost no one is open on Sundays, including grocery stores, without special exceptions. But somehow the neighborhood Späti is open every day, often 6am to 11pm or some even longer. The name literally means "late store".
In nice weather the Späti often have a couple of tables outside. And there’s no rule against drinking beer outside so they become a low cost alternative to going to a bar. There’s even Späticrawls where people spend the evening wandering between their favorite Spätis drinking beer on the way.
One other handy thing about the Späti, they often double as a formal package receiving service. My local has a deal with Hermes where a package can be delivered to them and they’ll hold it for a week. Fairly serious system for pickups too, an ID check and a signature and a record made. Amazon is happy to deliver to these so it’s easy to buy things from them in Berlin.
For the past 4+ years I’ve played a lot of League of Legends and written about it here. Last week I quit entirely; no longer playing the game, unsubscribed from all the reddits, not watching the broadcasts. I’m still running Logs of Lag but I’ve added a new link to the page that I suspect Riot Games will not be happy with.
The big story is Inside The Culture Of Sexism At Riot Games, a meticulously researched and detailed story about sexual harassment of employees at the company. Riot apparently is the worst kind of bro-culture and the problem starts at the top. This story was swiftly confirmed by a variety of personal reports.
Riot Games responded a few weeks later with the smarmiest of PR-crafted replies. They pinky-swear they’re going to do better by having some introspective discussions and some training. In the meantime what they’ve actually been doing is retaliating against current and former employees with aggressive legal threats. And firing highly visible employees who aren’t toeing the PR line. (I know the work of both Lehman and Klein; Riot lost some very smart people.)
Video game culture in America has a huge problem of sexism and racism. Tech companies often have sexism and racism too. But I’d somehow hoped that Riot Games was better. The individuals I know there are decent people. But the company culture created by the founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck is disgusting and childish. I want nothing to do with it.
One of my favorite bits of Internet art is Rainbowstep, a 2011 mashup of Skrillex and My Little Pony. It’s beautifully edited and something about the intense music and visuals never fails to evoke a strong emotional response in me.
But that link is to a crappy re-encoded copy some generous random person put online. The original video is offline with no explanation. I did a bit of digging in the Wayback Machine and it looks to have been taken offline in 2016 or 2017 on a copyright complaint by Warner Music Group, Skrillex’s corporate overlord. No idea why YouTube no longer displays the takedown notice; maybe a bug.
Fuck that! Imagine being a kid who grew up with this video. You go to look it up and revisit some of your culture and it’s just gone. OK sure the music was basically a full unlicensed copy of Skrillex’ song plus many unlicensed clips from the TV show. Yes, current copyright law means legally that video is on shaky ground. But the work as a whole had so much more art in it than those pieces, it offends me a company can just unilaterally destroy it.
FWIW the artist of the video is Zesstra Howkon, aka ZestyArt or Dastrun. Their video page on Youtube is now empty, all of their work is gone.
I had a nice two week visit to Portland. I have fantasies about moving back there so I indulged that for a couple of weeks renting a house like I dreamed about when I was in college right near Hawthorne & 39th (now Cesar Chavez). My Wanderings app captured where I went.
Mostly a lot of hanging out in SE, with a couple of trips to downtown and once out to NE. A lot of the activity is dining. Some of the best places I went were Teote for beer in the back garden, Pok Pok for fantastic Thai, and Coquine for fine dining out by Mt Tabor. Also nice experiences at Xico, Afuri, Tasty ‘n’ Alder, Han Oak, The Imperial, and of course the Rum Club. The food and beverage situation in Portland is really great and has been for a few years now. The economics are such that restaurants can do interesting things without having to charge outrageous amounts for it. Lower risk for everyone = more interesting food and drink.
It's great fun to visit Portland and see all my old and new friends. I'm amazed how many people have moved there; only about ⅓ of the folks I know in Portland were from my college days. I still can’t really move back to Portland, too many roots in California. But I like the idea of visiting and staying in AirBnBs in SE more frequently. Particularly in the four months of the year the weather doesn’t suck.
Paprika is good software. It’s a recipe database for home cooking, just like the Honeywell Kitchen Computer. But it doesn’t cost $10,000 and you don’t have to go to Nieman Marcus to buy it; it’ll run right on your own portable telephone.
The problem Paprika solves very well is “I want this recipe on my iPhone so I can read it in the kitchen”. It also has good tools for “make me a shopping list for these three meals”, I’ve used that on the fly while standing in the grocery store.
The weird thing about Paprika is it’s not a web app. There is no web view of your recipe database. Instead there are iOS and Android apps ($5) and Mac and Windows desktop apps ($20-$30). They’re all linked to some cloud server that stores your recipes. No subscription fee.
So the part that’s clumsy is adding new recipes to your database. There’s a way to search and browse from inside the iPhone app that works OK. But mostly I find recipes on my desktop web browser. For that need there’s a bookmarklet which does a fine job of saving the recipe (and nothing else). Behind the scenes the Paprika system scrapes the ingredients and instructions out of the web page and puts them in some normalized format. That’s not easy to do but it’s worked every time for me so far.
I’m very happy with the iPhone app and use it regularly when cooking. Ken and I share a database, which seems nice. I haven’t tried the desktop apps nor have I done anything complicated with our database, it’s mostly just Pocket-for-recipes for me. I’m still a bit baffled the business is built the exact opposite of how I would have (web app, charge a subscription fee) but what they’re doing works fine, so why not?
It’s been about two months since I left Twitter and switched to Mastodon. How’s it going? Twitter is even worse than when I left, so that confirms my decision to leave. Mastodon’s tech is fine. The community is too small and marginal and it feels kinda lonely. But every time I miss Twitter and think of going back there’s some new outrage at the company and I still want nothing to do with it.
Buzzfeed had a great article back in December explaining how Twitter got in the policy mess they’re in. Basically: incompetent leadership. They don’t even know internally what their own policies mean, as evidenced by two months ago when they endorsed a Nazi. I maintain the problem starts at the very top, the Board. Why does a struggling $15B company only have a half time CEO?
Then there’s this article from over Christmas about how Twitter has blocked a bot that’s trying to counteract Nazi propaganda on Twitter. No explanation why. The impersonator accounts the Nazis are using still infect Twitter. But the bot’s gone. I can see how the bot could be problematic. But Twitter should be hiring the people who build this kind of thing, not thwarting them.
Today Twitter posted a mealy mouthed piece explaining why they haven’t shut down Trump. I have mixed feelings about shutting down Trump’s account myself but I’ll say this, doing so would undoubtedly make the world a safer place. Trump’s account is a unique risk to global security. Mostly I’m just angry at how poor their rationale is. (Also it’s a small thing but the post is an embarassment of ignorance of English grammar.)
I miss Twitter. I wish it hadn’t decided to give itself over to hate groups and armageddon.
Twitter has been in the middle of a shitstorm for awhile now, users and the media upset about abuse, trolls, propaganda, etc. They’re now working on a short timeline to curb abuse. It’s not going very well. Yesterday Twitter verified Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Nazi rally in August. The rally that ended up with Heather Heyer being murdered. Kessler gloated about her death on Twitter.
Yes, Twitter endorsed an actual Nazi.
Make no mistake; when Twitter puts the blue check on an account they are endorsing it. They are endorsing that person’s identity is verified. They are endorsing that the person is newsworthy. They now acknowledge the endorsement.
Verified users aren’t just endorsed, they are enabled. My understanding is verified users get extra tools when they use the site. They get a priority user support experience. And it appears that verified users get ranked higher when Twitter decides which tweets to show, particularly replies to public tweets. So Twitter hasn’t just endorsed an actual Nazi, they’ve gone out of their way to enable his speech too.
I want nothing to do with a company like that. I rage quit this week. I’ll probably end up back at some point because I’ll miss it too much, but right now I’m furious.
I’m generally a strong free speech advocate. Twitter was founded on principles of strong free speech. But when we worked on it in the early days we neglected to consider how powerful a free speech tool is in the hands of monstrous people. Demagogues use Twitter incredibly effectively. Propaganda and lies spread faster than truth. Abusers hound their victims into silence. Free speech only works if there are curbs on its abuse. Twitter has failed to do that.
Update: Twitter has updated its policies and removed the verification from at least two high visibility Nazi accounts.
I’m using Mastodon regularly now, I’m @email@example.com. Add me!
Mastodon is a Twitter-like social media that the cool kids started using back in April. At first blush it’s just like Twitter. You post messages about your breakfast, you follow other people to see their cat pictures, and you get a little dopamine rush from social engagement. Also maybe you share things of personal or public interest and help build an important online culture. The UI isn’t as polished and it doesn’t have as many features as Twitter, but it’s good.
If you want to start using Mastodon this beginner’s guide or the Join Mastodon site are good places to start. The key thing is you have to pick an instance to sign up on. This tool helps find instances or you can just pick the biggest instance. I picked lgbt.io because I like the idea of an LGBT identity.
Once you join you need to find people to follow. The best tool I’ve found for that is the Twitter/Mastodon bridge which helps you find your Twitter friends on Mastodon. It requires both sides opt-in and the UI is a little awkward. I also followed a lot of people from Metafilter.
I don't like the default multi-column web UI. I'm using this one column layout instead but it's not particularly easy to install. Halcyon is an alternate Mastodon web client that is a Twitter UI clone; you can use it with any Mastodon account. For iPhone apps people recommend Amaroq.
So why Mastodon? For me it’s because I’m angry with Twitter’s endorsement of Nazis and want an alternative. Also it’s fun to try something new. The big drawback is very little of my community is there. But maybe it’ll grow! Also it’s good that Mastodon is a different community than Twitter; the goal is to not replicate all the awful community mistakes Twitter made. Hopefully the abusers and Nazis and insane presidents will never join Mastodon or at least will be filtered out somehow.
The big technical difference with Mastodon is it is federated; instead of one single Mastodon server there’s separate instances that communicate with each other. For casual use the federation doesn’t matter since most everyone can talk to everyone else across instances. But in theory it allows for diverse communities with different standards. Also possibly some interesting scaling properties. I’m a little skeptical about how this will work as Mastodon grows, I don’t know that they have any magic solution to Internet abuse. But I’m excited to see someone trying something new.
The big surprise from the German elections was how bad Merkel and the ruling CDU did, and how well the deplorable far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party did.
Berlin is a lovely city, very optimistic and international. It also has little patience for AfD bullshit; I saw no AfD signs anywhere until two days before the election, and those only way up high out of reach on poles. There was a big demonstration last night in Alexanderplatz after the election; the AfD were having their party there so a few thousand Berliners turned up to, um, help them celebrate.Some links that may be of interest
Now for the coalition negotiations. It's not clear to me if the SPD saying they won't join one with the CDU a negotiating tactic or if they mean it.
Ken and I are in Berlin for a few weeks, sort of working vacation. Been here about ten days now and have some impressions.
I’m really liking daily life in Berlin. We have an apartment in Prenzlauer Berg near Kollwitzplatz, a bougie neighborhood in former East Berlin. It’s all leafy streets and 1920s buildings and is totally charming. The nearby streets are full of cafés and restaurants and Kollwitzplatz itself is home to a terrific weekly farmer’s market. It feels worlds away from the inhuman scale 1960+s architecture you see in so much of central Berlin.
One thing I particularly enjoy in Prenzl’berg is how international it is. New York bagels, French cheese shops, English laundry, Vietnamese restaurants, Russian cafés, yesterday I had an Argentinian empanada in a repurposed 19th century brewery. I mean it’s still Germany, there’s a 100 year old kneipe just across the street from us serving Rinderouladen and Pils. But it’s also global and progressive. Which not only makes it easy for an American to get by but also makes it fun and not a historical museum like sometimes Paris can feel like.
I also appreciate being in a city with working public transit. And without thousands of dangerously insane people living on the streets. Having a bit of insulation from Trumpism helps calm the nerves. Big parts of life function better in Europe.
I’m also feeling a little unsettled, a phase I go through every time we do these long visits. A struggle between the feeling I should go out and be a tourist every day, consume the city in the short time I have. Against my desire to sit at home on my comfortable laptop and do my regular daily routine just like I would at home. Of course the happy medium is in the middle, some of each.
One goal I set myself for this time in Berlin was to learn more about older history. So much of Berlin is dominated by 20th century history, the Nazis and the Soviets. And that stuff is important and well represented. But I feel like I understand it from previous visits, so this time I’m looking for traces of 19th century Germany, of Prussia’s great gay king from the 18th century, of the very old city back when Cölln was a separate town. Learning the city from the time the waterways were the travel routes, not the U-bahn lines.