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It's too damn hot here

Currently Feeling: sympathetic

We're making history here, with temperatures that are reaching far higher than they ever have before. Thanks to climate change, I don't have much hope that it will get better in the future, but we're managing as best we can. August is usually our hottest month here, so I plan on staying inside as much as possible.

Occasionally I do get out, though, and a lot of the time I come across wildlife that surprises me, even in the metropolitan area where I live. I have a small collection of pictures of cuties I've found around and like to look back over from time to time. I'm sharing them here, though I'll try to put most under a cut since some of them are of bugs (ladybug larvae and katydids in particular).

Mallard ducks
Mallard ducks Continue reading "It's too damn hot here"

Do I even have a web manifesto?

Currently Feeling: contemplative

These are popular on "web revival" websites these days, and I do love reading them where ever I find them. I guess it makes sense to post my own, but I don't really want to rehash the same talking points everyone else has brought up.

In terms of social networks I'm down to Reddit and Instagram these days, and Instagram may be on its way out. I left Facebook most recently, and never looked back. In terms of friends I had mainly amassed a collection of extended family members, who were getting progressively more and more alt-right, and I couldn't deal with the toxicity (this was about three elections ago, in fact, so I can't imagine how bad it is now). Before that I had tried Twitter, but couldn't really find a niche I felt comfortable with, and then I grew tired of all the toxicity there as well. I've seen the alternative networks like Mastodon, Ello, and the like, but I'm just not really interested right now.

I, too, have missed the old web. And having been a webmaster before, more than anything I missed having my own website. I make so many things that I like to share, and I felt like I didn't have one place to put them all, instead scattering them across different social networks that didn't really belong to me. Fragmenting my projects like that was disconcerting, and as time goes on it seems to become harder and harder to be a follower, as the feeds from social network sites get retooled to become better at selling things to me. They usually start out as a way to connect with others and discover new ideas and art, but eventually that falls away as more people join and the landscape becomes homogenized.

That's what the modern web does. It boils everything down to sameness, in an effort to make the web palatable to advertisers. Back when I was first online, we were excited about things like The long tail, which basically boils down to the idea that the web can be profitable by selling a wide breadth of products, rather than a huge volume. While I object to the idea that the web's primary purpose should be to make money, the idea of the long tail led us to believe that at least the web would exist to serve users, in an effort to reach as many markets as possible. But it seems that the problem with many of the web's biggest participants (Google, Facebook, etc) isn't that they want to make money, but that they want to make all the money. This seems to happen to most market players once they reach a certain size, and it's what drives a lot of anti-consumer business practices.

So what we see now is the web universe slowly getting conglomerated and centralized by the largest players, as the barriers to entry get higher and less accessible to most people. There's an excellent book about this phenomenon and how it's played out in nearly every information-based market in history, that I suggest you check out if you're interested in this sort of thing. The Master Switch, by Tim Wu lays out the history of radio and television, and how both movements started out as indie-type things in which regulations slowly choked out small players with the help of legislation ostensibly meant to "help" the little guy. Did you know setting up a radio network or telephone line used to be a simple affair, often done by hobbyists who wanted to share things with their local communities? You'd need licenses to do both of those things now, or you would run afoul of some very serious federal laws. Wu warns that if history is any indication, the web may end up going the same way.

So, even though it may be an uphill battle, I'm doing my part to keep the hobbyist part of the web alive, by hosting my own site and choosing not to engage with websites that want to monetize me. I hope you'll do the same. There are some really lovely places on the indie web, and I'd really hate to lose them.

Problem fixed

Currently Feeling: grateful

So it seems enabling the security certificate on my site broke the blog styling for a little while. It's been fixed now, but it looks like when adding "https://" to your site's URL, you'll need to modify the base path in the Serendipity admin by going to Configuration>Paths and editing the "URL to Blog" setting to add "https" to the site's address. Just in case anyone else is looking for the same info.

I've been adding little things to the site here and there. There are several new whole pages, as well as more artwork and resources. I've also been tweaking the theme here and there; I've made the main site's font a little bit bigger for those of you who either can't use zoom, or just struggle with the font size in general. I'll still need to deal with the width of the site in mobile devices, so that's on my to-do list next.

I have to reach out and extend some thanks to The Cheapskate's Guide for a lot of help on this thing lately. I've included the site in my links page, and added attribution in a comment where I used some PHP code they provided, but if you're new to webmastering, this article has a wealth of helpful info:

I was looking around for a site counter, but I really wanted to limit the number of third-party widgets I link to, for privacy and speed reasons. Depending on someone else's code, especially for tracking, really limits the amount of control I have over who is grabbing my visitors' data when they drop in, so I didn't want to go sign up for another service that would want to paste ads onto my website (I aim to keep this site completely ad free, forever).

If you'll scroll down through that article, Cheapskate offers a simple PHP hit counter script that you can add to your website for free! I did edit mine a bit so that the formatting is more to my style, but I'm super pleased with it and grateful that I can use a home-grown solution that's completely transparent and pretty simple as well. It's not going to work on static sites that don't have access to PHP (like Neocities and others), but if you've got a little more flexibility with your site, definitely check it out.

My no-buy "philosophy"

Currently Feeling: contemplative

Maybe it's not accurate to say "no-buy" really, because I am still buying things, but I've tried to minimize it as much as possible.

We live in a society and times are hard. I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, dear reader. So while I'm sure it would suffice to just tell you all that I buy as little as possible, I feel like it's worth going into the reasons I have, because they are varied and maybe (hopefully?) not entirely typical.

Top reasons for low-buy:

I am...well, frugal

I should admit that I am not in a bad financial position. I've been pretty fortunate and I'm in a good place at this point in my life, but a big part of why I'm in that position is because I've always been true to my internet name. I buy used whenever possible, avoid debt, and try to live within my means. There's a huge push in the U.S., mostly driven by advertising, which is everywhere these days, to upgrade whenever possible, and buy as much as your budget can afford (which is always just a liiiiiitle bit more than you're going to be comfortable spending). American homes are larger by average than homes anywhere else in the world, and I've watched a lot of people buy themselves into ruin because their eyes were bigger than their budgets. I really, really try to avoid this in my own life not only so that I can be more comfortable, but because I resent being inconvenienced by conventions and trends that are only meant to line someone else's pockets.

So I try to use what I have before rushing out to buy things in every situation - after all, "Reduce, reuse, recycle" starts with reduce, and I think people often forget that. If I can't use what I have, I usually just put off buying replacements for as long as possible. I've found most of the things I end up doing this with are less necessary than I used to think they were. Once you put some time in between the feelings of want that crop up day to day, you'll find that your definition of "things I really need" shrinks dramatically. Wishlists are great for this, by the way, and besides the ones I have in online shops that everyone uses I also have one in my bullet journal. Periodically I'll go back and review them, and I usually always find at least one thing that I don't really even want anymore that can be removed. On the upside, this also means that the things I actually do end up buying are more appreciated and enjoyed, both because I really did need/want them, and because I had to wait before they arrived.

Trying to lessen my dependence on Amazon and others

Amazon has ballooned into a huge problem lately, not that this was unexpected or anything. Most recently I've been really unhappy with their response towards their unionizing members across the country. They've been notorious for having ridiculous working conditions for a while, and now that employees are doing something about it, they are not responding well (that by the way is the first result pulled up on Google for "amazon unionizing workers." This is not difficult info to find). I do think they provide a valuable service, but I don't believe any company should ever grow as large as they have, nor should its founder ever be allowed to amass as much wealth as Bezos has (here's a visualization of just how removed he is from the rest of the world, in case you've ever had trouble picturing it in your mind, as I did:

A good amount of my impulse/extraneous purchasing has been done through Amazon, so I'm putting the breaks on that for now. I'm currently building up a list of good Amazon alternatives for various products that I will probably share here at some point. I'm at the point now where I can sometimes afford to spend a bit more in order to support businesses that aren't as ubiquitous as the Big A--and I do acknowledge that this is a privileged position that not many share. In fact, that is precisely why I try to exercise it as much as possible, because I can (hopefully) help in ways that others can't.

Minimize my impact on the Earth

Everything I buy or order has to be shipped across the country to get to me, and therefore contributes to CO2 output. Once it gets there, whether at my front door or after it's been brought home from a local store, I'm always struck by how much packaging I have to throw away after it's opened. In the past I did my best to recycle what I could, but that's not really an option anymore. So I do my best to lessen my dependence on plastics and one-time-use items, and I do without extra packaging wherever possible. That said, I'm not a big fan of most bulk stores that require you to bring your own packaging for things. I'd venture to guess that 95% of the U.S. doesn't even have access to these places, and wouldn't be able to afford the markup if they did. It also requires a substantial change in habits and day-to-day life to make bulk purchases work, and most people just don't have that option. I guess this is an exception to the "helping in ways that others can't" point I made above, but I think the difference is that I just think most of these stores won't ever work long term for most people.

I loathe consumer culture

I still struggle to express in words how much I hate everything about consumerism. I hate the drive to fill our lives with things as a replacement for self expression, I hate the wastefulness, and the "infinite growth" mindset it's all based on is ridiculous. Fast fashion, shopping as a hobby (or worse, as therapy), buying your way out of problems, and "fear of missing out" are all ideas that serve to make the rich richer at my expense. And perhaps because I spend so much time in front of computers and online, I've grown tired of being the product. Sometimes the only way I can best protest things like these is to do my best to not participate at all.

Spiritual reasons

I put this one last because I'm not a hugely spiritual person, and also this is a highly personal thing that will resonate differently with everyone depending on their own faith. However, one thing most faiths have in common, I think, is that they do try to separate us from our fixation on "things," and turn us inward. Consumerism is the exact opposite of this pursuit; it encourages us to find satisfaction with the things we buy. There's been an entire body of research showing that advertising's primary focus is on making us feel like we're lacking in some way, since evidently this is the best way to make us part with our money. I won't rehash what smarter people than me have already figured out, but the info is out there if you're interesting in finding it.

I have a number of little thoughts here and there about how I'm accomplishing this low-buy goal of mine, and ways in which I haven't been able to accomplish it, so I'll probably be posting those in the future at some point. I hope this, however, can serve as an explanation and jumping point for anyone who has questions about why I spend so much time thinking about this sort of thing.