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Issue No. 8

Another Olympics in China, getting into solarpunk, the Tumblr CEO slips away, the Book of Boba Fett, the musicians who hate Spotify and the intrigue of Starforged.

Robert Rackley
Robert Rackley
8 min read

Welcome to the eighth issue of Week on the Web. I hope your week has gone well. After just under a year of not being able to work, I went back to my job this week, albeit at a fraction of the hours I was working previously. While I started off with a lot of energy, as the week went on, that began to wane. It's tough working with chronic illness that threatens to pull you under. When disability works her merciless machinations in your life, you have trouble making solid plans. God willing, I will be able to get used to this new schedule and maybe increase my hours some. I've found out that I need a buffer of at least a couple of hours to actually get things done, outside what I've specified are my official "office hours."

I'm a bit older than a "geriatric millennial," which apparently means it will be harder for me to be a capable leader in today's workplace.

I sold my 1992 Data East Star Wars pinball machine a few months ago, partially so I could fund a new computer. My old iMac turns 10 this year, and it now sits in my son's room and has essentially become his. It's somewhat remarkable how long it has lasted and that it continues to be a good working computer (even without the latest two OS releases). My primary computer for the last 2 years has been an iPad, but I have to "borrow" my son's computer to do certain things. I've got my eye on a refurbished M1 iMac of the blue variety, to match my old pinball machine.

Image source: author
Image source: author

The Olympics are upon us, and with seemingly much less fanfare and publicity than have accompanied the games in past years (you could easily be forgiven for not having known they were being held). There are good reasons for the tepid response to these winter games, and most of them have to do with where they are being held: Beijing, China. The BBC has a solid summary of why that location is controversial. Chief among the complaints is the horrific treatment by China of the Uyghur ethnic and religious minority people.

There is also evidence that Uyghurs are being used as forced labour, and that women are being forcibly sterilised. Some former camp detainees allege they were tortured and sexually abused.
Beijing is also accused of restricting the freedom of people in Hong Kong through new legislation including the Hong Kong National Security Law.
In its 2021 annual report, Human Rights Watch said that "Beijing's repression - insisting on political loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party - deepened across the country".
German government ministers boycotting the Games said they were protesting against the treatment of Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai.

The all-time best Olympics announcer, Bob Costas, who is now retired from the gig, calls the International Olympics Committee "shameless" for where they've chosen to hold the games.

You can bet I won't be tuning in.

I was just introduced to the idea of solarpunk via the Numeric Citizen Introspection newsletter. Wikipedia describes it this way:

Solarpunk is a genre and art movement that envisions how the future might look if humanity succeeded in solving major contemporary challenges with an emphasis on sustainability, climate change and pollution.

The images that portray the solarpunk aesthetic breath life into a vision of a green future. I love them because they stand in stark contrast to the onslaught of images that we have seen of dystopian futures where the planet lies in waste after humans have leeched it of its natural resources and beauty. Solarpunk is especially necessary now, when we are developing the capability of bringing these visions to life, but are also beset by the pessimism of current events. They remind us that we have to keep looking forward with optimism about how we craft a more human, organic environment, while still allowing the positive developments in technology to coexist.

Noah Smith works through what makes the vision of a solarpunk city work in his mind (beyond just having buildings with tons of foliage). He breaks it down into five components:

  1. Open, walkable, multi-level retail.
  2. River with low bank.
  3. Walkable streets.
  4. Varied architecture.
  5. Shade.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Smith brings in conceptual and real-life images from Japan, but also from places like San Antonio (where a coworker of mine is temporarily living, making me jealous). Working within the framework of the five components he lays out, Smith is able to construct a compelling vision for what urban living can look like in the not-too distant future.

Image source: Imperial Boy
Image source: Imperial Boy

Over the past few years, I've read a handful of pieces on the rise and fall of Tumblr, but this one by Kaitlyn Tiffany was still worth taking in. One thing that stood out to me immediately was the account of former CEO Jeff D’Onofrio, who replaced founder David Karp, left under a cloud of secrecy in January. Matt Mullenweg of Tumblr owner Automattic says that he didn't announce the departure for D'Onofrio's "privacy and safety."

Whatever this means—whether Tumblr will shrivel in his absence, or if it’s still up for the challenge of fighting another, another day—many former users already talk about the site in the past tense. The sentiment “I miss Tumblr” circulates regularly on Twitter, where nostalgists tend to refer to the latest topics of conversation or styles of humor as “2013 Tumblr” or “Tumblr season 2,” as in, invented a long time ago … on Tumblr. Some have even gone back to Tumblr to live in its ruins. “i love how irrelevant tumblr is,” begins a Tumblr post that, ironically, went somewhat viral on Tumblr in February 2020. “no celebrities on here, no colleagues or family on here, no one’s famous off tumblr or making money, tbh no ones even updating the site like is there even any staff? who knows? it’s bliss.”

I knew that Tumblr was a pretty toxic place when the first user to try out a feature that lets followers pay for content got death threats. However, I didn't imagine the CEO would have to exit in such a clandestine manner. It's unfortunate that Automattic hasn't been a more capable steward of the service and that it's still seeing decline, but I definitely wouldn't want to be in the business of trying to satisfy Tumblr's hardcore fans.

I recently wrote a mostly positive post about the Disney+ series The Book of Boba Fett.

Here is a piece of feedback that I received.

@frostedechoes I agree, but it's a story I'm not interested in. Tatooine (in Episode IV) was supposed to be unimportant, out of the way, and a dead end for those who live on it, not the epicenter of the entire galaxy. I was not impressed that it was Anakin's home planet in Episode I or Rei's home planet in Episode VII (though that was basically a remake of the first Star Wars, which was also disappointing). The prequels and Episodes VII and IV were narratively terrible, but at least they introduced a bunch of new planets with cool stuff on them. The focus on Tatooine seems to be more about keeping the production budget reasonable than in service of telling a coherent or compelling story.

I can understand where Descy is coming from. Tatooine was supposed to be a backwater, and it has shown up in the various Star Wars properties more than any other location. Boring life on that planet was what caused Luke Skywalker to whine most unflatteringly when we first met him in A New Hope. Now as viewers, we find ourselves stuck there. I had never wondered if it played so prominently because it was cheap to film in a simulated desert setting. That might be taking too cynical a view, though, especially considering the formidable amount of resources Disney can surely contribute to a Star Wars project.

On the blog this week, I shared a post about the recent controversy with Spotify. I like to boost what other people have written about a given subject, and this is probably the most hyperlink-dense post I have written. I'll be interested to see how this situation plays out for Spotify.

Ultimately, it is up to the artists and the consumers if they want to engage in some sort of abstinence regarding Spotify. Whether the protest works with Spotify is up to the company. Folks can blast big tech for censorship, but in a case like this, Spotify is going to respond to what will be acceptable to their customers and also protect their investments in music and podcasts.

Will putting content warnings before all podcasts that contain discussions placate their critics? Somehow, I doubt it.

Of course, controversy is not new to Spotify, and the biggest ongoing controversy is the pittance they pay artists for streaming rights to their music. Many times, artists have no say in the deals, and couldn't pull their music from Spotify even if they wanted to because of the record label's level of control. Some would say this issue, so long contested, is bigger than the Joe Rogan controversy. There is also a strong argument that this topic is less divisive than a subject like Covid vaccines that has entered into the culture war territory. Theoretically, unless you are an executive at Sony or Spotify, you should be supportive of the artists (especially when you look at the data).

Jason Morehead had a wonderfully informative piece this week on what happens when fantasy tabletop RPG's bring in science fiction elements. Specifically, he profiles two new games, Starforged and Quest: Cosmic Fantasy Edition. Something that is particularly intriguing to me about Starforged is the ability to play without what they call a guide (what other games typically refer to as a gamemaster or dungeon master). This alleviates the need for heavy planning and allows for both co-op and solo play. I confess that the only way I can play D&D with my 9-year-old is to play an NPC to help guide him, so a co-op resonates with me. I also really appreciate the artwork by Joshua Meehan. The worldbuilding feels quite thorough. Morehead writes:

What I appreciate the most about games like Starforged and Quest: Cosmic Fantasy Edition is how they can fire up one’s imagination even before you play them. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding — and for tools that empower others to build and explore their own imaginary worlds.

I can totally relate. I bought games like Mechwarrior (which was almost impenetrably difficult to play) when I was a kid because I wanted to live in that world, piloting one of those massive machines.

Jason Morehead is currently offering a 50% discount on memberships to his site/newsletter, Opus. His work is well worth supporting.

Robert Rackley

Orthodox Christian, aspiring minimalist, inveterate notetaker, software dev manager and paper airplane mechanic.

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