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    1. TSA Facial Recognition is here, and it works distressingly well.

      My wife and I recently spent 10 days in Ireland. On our trip home, we went through US Customs at the Dublin airport. When it was our turn to speak to the TSA agent, we were called over to the desk...

      My wife and I recently spent 10 days in Ireland. On our trip home, we went through US Customs at the Dublin airport. When it was our turn to speak to the TSA agent, we were called over to the desk and the agent asked my wife to stand in front of the camera. I assumed she was just getting her picture taken, similar to what we had done by Jamaica Customs when we flew into Montego Bay a couple years ago. Before she could even give him her passport or boarding pass , the agent asked "So <wife's name>, what part of Wisconsin is <city we live in> located?". As soon as it happened, my stomach dropped. I've been thinking about it ever since and still can't quite figure out how they are populating their facial recognition database. A couple more points:

      · There was nothing else the TSA agent could have used to identify my wife.
      · We had not had pictures/facial scans taken in any US Federal facility prior to this.
      · From the time my wife stood in front of the camera to the TSA agent starting to ask, maybe 3-5 seconds had elapsed.

      Has anyone else experienced this? This Twitter thread with JetBlue seems to be a similar experience.

      13 votes
    2. The Early History of Tumblelogs and Tumblr - A Personal Reflection From Someone Who Was There.

      So as mentioned in a previous thread, I was heavily involved with tumblelogs in general and tumblr in particular in the very early days. I thought it might be interesting to write a bit about...

      So as mentioned in a previous thread, I was heavily involved with tumblelogs in general and tumblr in particular in the very early days. I thought it might be interesting to write a bit about that, and @cfabbro told me it might be appropriate for ~tech. I hope this doesn't come across as bragging or namedropping, although I will have to drop a few names just to clarify why I have an interesting perspective on this topic. I will be a bit vague at times because I'm not comfortable connecting my full name with this username at this time, but people who were familiar with the scene I describe would know who I am, although I didn't go by imperialismus at the time.

      The development of the "tumblelog" and the genesis of Tumblr

      The "tumblelog" is a type of microblog, defined on urban dictionary as "a variation of a blog, that favors short-form, mixed-media posts over the longer editorial posts frequently associated with blogging. Common post formats found on tumblelogs include links, photos, quotes, dialogues, and video." The term was coined by the artist/programmer _why the lucky stiff in 2005 to describe Anarchaia:

      Blogging has mutated into simpler forms (specifically, link- and mob- and aud- and vid- variant), but I don’t think I’ve seen a blog like Chris Neukirchen’s Anarchaia, which fudges together a bunch of disparate forms of citation (links, quotes, flickrings) into a very long and narrow and distracted tumblelog. A good idea and I’m sure more of these will be showing up. Maybe you know of others?

      "Chris Neukirchen" is now Leah Neukirchen, who recently came out as trans, but went by her birth name Christian at the time. I happened to be following Anarchaia because I was heavily involved in the community surrounding the Ruby programming language back in 2005. Both Neukirchen and _why were prominent figures in that community at the time. _why is most famous for Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby, an irreverent programming textbook full of cartoon foxes and chunky bacon. I suspect the book is fairly useless if you actually want to learn programming, but the book is truly a work of art. _why is an extremely interesting character in his own right, but he only plays a very minor role in the story of the tumblelog and tumblr, so I'll leave it up to you to research him further. (I had to delete a long segment about _why because this post is already rambling enough.)

      The tumblelog was relatively obscure for a couple of years. Jason Kottke talked about it in 2005, but you'll note that all the blogs he links are long gone now. In 2006, David Karp was running a small web design study, Davidville, with one employee, Marco Arment. David had been a bit of a prodigy and worked as a developer on a site called UrbanBaby as a teenager. The owner of the site gave him a bit of equity in the site, which David cashed out when CNET bought the site, and he used the profits to found Davidville. Fascinated by the concept of tumblelogs, David decided to wait and see if established blogging platforms would adopt it, but when they didn't, he decided to build his own. The site that directly influenced him appears to have been projectionist, which described itself as "a tumblelog inspired by Chris Neukirchen’s Anarchaia." You can see on the archived page that the first post contains a snippet of Ruby code. The tumblelog came out of the Ruby community, which had gained a huge popularity boost from the release of the web framework Ruby on Rails. Tumblr itself, ironically, was written in the much less fashionable web programming language PHP.

      Tumblr launched publically in early 2007 and I happened to be one of the first users to sign up because it was mentioned on Neukirchen's Anarchaia. At the time, Tumblr consisted only of David (frontend, PR, founder) and Marco (backend programmer). David was 21.

      This prehistory is fairly obscure today. Daily Dot wrote about this back in 2013, but they got some details wrong. For instance, they say that Anarchaia was powered by Ruby on Rails (in fact it was built using a custom piece of software Neukirchen wrote called Nukumi2 which does not depend on Rails). If you look at the default themes that launched with Tumblr, almost all of them were heavily influenced by Anarchaia, which is to say a centered, very narrow strip of content.

      The early Tumblr was very different in terms of both software and demographic. The early demo was mostly programmers, designers, and other creative/tech types in their twenties. Later, the demographic that Tumblr would be known for would be teenagers, and later still, it would become known for porn. But the very early days of Tumblr reflected its tech/creative background.

      The early Tumblr scene

      I became part of an early clique of power-users that included several of the earliest employees of Tumblr. I don't want to overstate my own importance in the grand scheme of things. I was never employed by Tumblr, but I was definitely a somewhat influential voice on the site. Here's an email I found from 2008, when I was invited to be a judge for the unofficial "tumblr awards" alongside Marco Arment and Christopher "topherchris" Price. You can see some other members of this little clique in this list of tumblelogs Marco Arment followed in November 2007. (My blog, long defunct, is on the list although I won't tell you which it is.) We all followed each other on Tumblr and many of us were regulars in an IRC channel called #tumblrs on Freenode. Other than myself, other members of this informal group included Marco Arment, Topherchris who became Tumblr's first editorial director, travors who created Garfield minus Garfield, cubicle17 and nostrich who together founded a somewhat influential music blog called Tuneage, inky, bengold who would later work for Tumblr as a designer, cam hunt, igowen, nikography and a few others. David Karp was not part of #tumblrs but he was aware of and followed most of us.

      There exists a blog that features many years worth of quotes from #tumblrs (although when I revisited the channel recently it was all but abandoned), including some from me, but that page is extremely in-jokey. Most of the quotes are deliberately taken out of context, so don't judge anyone too harshly for what you read. In general, the tone of the channel was full of gentle and not-so-gentle ribbing. But amid all the jokes, all the users were also power-users of tumblr, and because Marco hung out in the channel, we would also discuss new features on the platform seriously and that feedback could actually have an effect on the direction the site took.

      I was 16 when Tumblr launched. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I was fairly lonely and socially isolated in real life, so I absolutely cherished this online group of friends I found. I loved the fact that these adults would mostly take me seriously.

      I tried to be mature enough to fit in with the group, and mostly succeeded, but not always. I've never been much of an online troll, but several #tumblrs regulars managed to goad me into my one foray into anonymous trolling. It wasn't my proudest moment, but give me a break, I was sixteen, had a bunch of supposed adults goad me to do it, and I never did it again. There was a guy called Shawn Blanc who, for reasons I've forgotten, but I'm sure they were trivial, several people in the group disliked. They convinced me to create a parody account which mocked Blanc's design and writing. I've completely forgotten all of the details, and although it was anonymous Shawn quickly found out who was behind it. Sorry, Shawn, if you ever read this. It wasn't particularly mean-spirited in the grand scheme of things, but it was fairly juvenile and not very nice.

      Mostly, though, I didn't waste time on trolling anyone except my friends, who would troll me right back. Along with several other regulars, I was heavily involved in creating custom themes for Tumblr. These days, Tumblr's interface does its damnedest to keep you within its walled garden. They don't want to be a public-facing blogging platform, they want to be within their UI so they can serve you ads. But in the beginning, Tumblr really tried to be a (micro)blogging platform. It shipped with a few default themes, but there was also an option to copy and paste HTML/CSS written in a custom templating language.

      Several #tumblrs regulars including myself made fairly popular third-party themes. At one point, Tumblr had plans to include some of these themes as presets. Here is a screenshot of the only direct communication I ever had with David Karp, in which he requested permission to include one of my themes as a default preset on Tumblr. However, Tumblr later scrapped these plans and instead made a more general solution: the Theme Garden, where developers could submit themes for approval, and users could preview and 1-click install approved themes directly from the Tumblr interface. Later, developers could also sell themes via the Theme Garden, with Tumblr taking a cut off the top.

      These days, Tumblr is more of a social network than a blogging platform. In the beginning, though, it was a blogging platform above else. Tumblr provided a bookmarklet (anyone remember those?) which you could use to quickly share content on the site. Shortly after launch, they added reblogging support, making it easy to reshare content on the site, and that was probably the feature that made Tumblr. It also had the inadvertent effect of, over time, shifting the focus of the site inwards. When it became much easier to share content that originated on Tumblr than content that originated on the wider internet, that had a profound effect. Soon, the typical tumblelog was an endless stream of memes and other "junk food" content that was easily digested and reshared in a few seconds.

      However, unlike Twitter, Tumblr never had a limit on content length. You could post essays on the site, and some people did. My own blog gradually shifted from an Anarchaia-inspired collection of short quotes, links and images to original content. I also started a pop-science blog that eventually accumulated more than 300K followers.

      Marco Arment went on to found Instapaper in his spare time, and eventually quit Tumblr to run Instapaper. He's since sold it and now makes a living as an iOS developer. I haven't spoken with him in years, and unfortunately, never got to meet him or any of my other #tumblrs buddies IRL. I'm fairly sure he'd remember me if prompted, though, as would many of the others. David Karp sold Tumblr to Yahoo! for $1.1 billion in 2013. Tumblr was recently sold for only a reported $3m to Automattic, owners of Wordpress. Truly, a firesale.

      Marco wrote a fairly revealing post back when Tumblr was originally sold to Yahoo! In the post, Marco compares David to Steve Jobs - an intensely charismatic idea guy and workaholic who, if you (barely) read between the lines, put a lot of pressure on his employees. Here is a very interesting passage:

      Every time we’d get close to needing more funding, I’d try to convince David to hold out a bit longer or try to become profitable, and he’d convince me that everyone was better off if we’d focus on the product instead. And every time, he was right.

      The fact that Tumblr went from being valued at $1.1 billion to only $3 million is not a coincidence. As Marco says, David really didn't have a plan to become profitable. His goal was to grow the platform, and he assumed that if he could attract enough users, the money would come. Like many startups, Tumblr was sold for a lot of money because its huge userbase - hundreds of millions - promised a lot of potential profit. But the problem was that the platform was never built with profit in mind. At a certain point, you have to shift focus from capturing an audience to actually monetizing that audience. Once the suits came in and had to try to figure out a way to make a platform that had no business model profitable to the tune of a billion dollars, it all went to shit. Tumblr as a platform caters to memes and easily reshared and reblogged content. Instant gratification web content, like fast food. And users are generally not willing to pay a premium for that, and it's apparently hard to attract enough advertisers to make such a platform profitable.

      Tumblr could probably have been profitable if, like Marco Arment had advised in the beginning, it had focused on growing at a reasonable rate and becoming profitable. But David Karp was a visionary and he didn't care. He received his cashout from the Yahoo! sale, and that was that. Tumblr has made a long series of decisions that have alienated its userbase, from trying to make the platform a walled garden to, more recently, banning porn in late 2018. I can see the logic behind the decisions: Tumblr had to change, both socially and technologically, to become profitable. But none of the moves worked. None of them could make the platform profitable, at least not profitable enough to justify its inflated price tag. Hence, the firesale in 2019.

      I'm not very active on the platform these days. I deleted my own blogs in 2016, for personal reasons. By that time, most of my little circle of online friends had also moved on from the platform. I've seen the demographic change several times. When I first started using it, the site was full of tech bros and creatives. Later, it became a haven for teenagers, memes and fandoms. The stereotype of "the tumblr" was now a teenaged so-called "SJW" - the attack helicopter meme was heavily tied to Tumblr. Know Your Meme writes that "I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter... parodies absurd gender and sexual identification posts often found on forums and blogging sites, most notably Tumblr." Later, unexpectedly, porn became a major factor on the platform. This was after I had started to distance myself from the platform, and it was honestly a surprise to me as it wasn't really a side of the platform I had been much exposed to. However, Tumblr's traffic reportedly tanked by one third when Tumblr banned porn, so clearly it had become one of the major drivers of traffic on the platform by late 2018.


      I don't know what the future holds for Tumblr, and I'm not particularly invested in the platform these days. But I'm very grateful that I happened to be in the right place at the right time and got to experience the beginning. There's something intoxicating about being part of a small clique who, although nobody will admit it because it sounds ridiculous when you say it aloud, all believe they're in some way changing the world for the better. I'm grateful that, despite my social isolation in real life, I found this surrogate group of friends. Like many friend groups, we all eventually drifted apart, and I haven't spoken to any of them in years. But thanks to Richard, Bill, Marco, Nik, Inky, Ghostvirus, Chris, and everyone else for accepting me and giving me a place to belong when I struggled to fit in anywhere IRL.

      This has become a somewhat rambly and probably self-indulgent little piece of personal-essay-cum-internet-history piece. If you've read this far, thanks for indulging me. This post is about a little scene that at one point meant a great deal to me, and it's hard to communicate what it was like to be there. It's really only recently I've realized how much it really meant to me: How much I had been longing for a place to belong, and how much this belligerent, snarky little group of internet people filled a void in my life at a crucial stage in development. When the other kids were out doing the whole teenage thing, I was at home hanging out with grownups across the Atlantic on IRC. Some of whom became tech millionaires and had their biographies written up in well-known publications. And you know what? For many years, I regretted it. I regretted that I neglected my social development because I'd been bullied as a child, and when I became a teenager, the bullying abated, but I'd internalized the hate and chose to isolate myself from my peers out of fear, paralyzing fear that I would do something wrong, something they'd mock me for and shun me.

      But thinking back on it, I realize that I got to have experiences none of my peers had. I got to be part of something much bigger. A small part, sure, but not an insignificant part of a huge internet phenomenon. I learned a lot of valuable tech skills. But perhaps equally importantly, I realize that I didn't completely isolate myself from social life. Our online lives are now such a dominating part of our lives that it makes less and less sense to talk of "in real life", as if our online lives aren't important. They are! And I had a rich online social life even when I was very isolated and lonely "IRL". I'm reminded of an article (in Norwegian) about a wheelchair-bound kid. His parents thought he was lonely because his disability restricted his life outside the home. But he had a rich social life online via World of Warcraft, and people all over the world mourned his death.

      Tumblr and the little #tumblrs clique was that, to me. I wasn't wheelchair-bound, but my depression and social anxiety kept me isolated from social life in the flesh. But I wasn't alone, not really. I had a great little social circle online and it's only now, more than a decade later, that I'm really beginning to understand how important that was to my personal development.


      If you have any questions about tumblelogs or the very early Tumblr scene, AMA, I guess? And if anyone else on Tildes was there on Tumblr in 2007-2009, I'd love to hear your experiences.

      16 votes
    3. Hitachi Rear Projection TV - No audio on inputs, except Static on Antenna

      So I rescued an old TV from the trash, appears to be a Hitachi Rear Projection TV, no obvious model number available, and when I try to power it on, it will display just fine, but it has no audio...

      So I rescued an old TV from the trash, appears to be a Hitachi Rear Projection TV, no obvious model number available, and when I try to power it on, it will display just fine, but it has no audio coming out UNLESS I turn it over to antenna input, in which case it has bone rattling analog static. This is the US where everyone changed over to digital television, so not super helpful, and while I could do some sound splitting magic, that seems like a waste if there are already good speakers. So I have come to you, honored Tildos, for assistance in pointing me in the right direction on whether or not this television's speakers can be saved.

      6 votes