It’s been a rough year — but the web still has Easter eggs, and tech is not all evil. This week, Paul and Rich briefly ignore 2020 to focus on the Pleasant Internet Things that bring them joy. From their favorite sites to their favorite tech, they share a few insights to help finish the year on a high note.
PF Ah man, you know, watching that New York Times thing, as we go and there’s a woman here, just making a pot…on a wheel…ceramics. [Rich laughs]
RZ Ah, that stuff I could watch all day.
PF She’s just really into making this pot real nice. And that’s what I’m about. That’s what technology is for me today. [music ramps up, plays alone for 15 seconds, fades out]
RZ Hi, Paul. How you doing?
PF You know, what we should do, is let’s just talk about fun, good things that tech has done for us recently. And things we enjoy looking at and playing with it. Let’s just have a little fun and frolic.
RZ Well, first. I mean, it’s been a bad run for tech, right?
PF Well, you know, the other way to put it is that tech did not rise to the occasion.
RZ Yeah, I mean, between, you know, disinformation and ‘I can’t seem to unmute myself on the 20th zoom call of the day’, tech is not on a roll here. They’re not killing it.
PF Kind of done with people running culture who nominally control giant databases who refuse to make the databases work.
RZ Is there good tech in the world, Paul? Is there good tech that’ll like actually improve your day by half a percentage point?
PF Well, that’s the stuff that’s in—first of all, that’s all invisible, right? Like we never nobody complains about that. Nobody’s like, ”Oh, my God, I’m so tired of these incredibly cheap, efficient Unix servers that run everywhere for free.”
RZ Can I plug someone that has been feeding me the positive side of tech for almost 10, 12 years?
PF Go for it.
RZ The site is called waxy.org.
PF Oh, Andy Baio! Yeah, absolutely.
RZ And it’s all over the place. You know, he’ll share anything with you pretty much if he finds it interesting. There’s sort of just a, a kind of just there’s a rainbow hanging over everything. It’s such a positive—some of it comes out of frustration, because he’s angry about something, but much of it are just these really great stories, these sort of stories that come out that culminate in a game or in an article or in a slideshow. But oftentimes, they’re really positive.
PF Look, Andy sees how messed up it all is, and he sees the mess we’ve made, but that sort of that pleasure and happiness of exciting this and when things work, and your interactive fiction game gets its first player, he never loses that.
RZ You could just sit on that feed, and just click on the links on the way down, and you’ll find all kinds of interesting stuff. A lot of obsession too, like someone who decided that they were going to make a game in TypeScript.
PF Look, if you told me when I was seven years old, that I would get to go to work every day and play with computers all day long. Just use one, I would have thought that was the greatest thing possible. And you know, I kinda, I still do. So it’s tricky. Because I feel that way. And then the world is just like, ”No, this is bad. It’s all real bad.” So I mean, look, let’s not do all that. First of all, here’s an exciting thing. Today, I wake up, and there’s a brand new Raspberry Pi device. And it’s a keyboard with a Raspberry Pi computer inside, which is a powerful little computer. It’s fast, it can browse the web, and so on, and it costs $70. It’s like a Commodore 64, but about 64 million times more powerful.
RZ Right. And it is the size of a—
RZ Portable keyboard.
PF Just a regular old keyboard,
RZ There’s no box, there’s no computer, all the inputs are on the back of the keyboard.
PF That is a great enabling technology, I actually see that—if it had a camera. It’d be a great remote learning tech, because I’ll tell you, we’re doing tech support at home. My wife’s been volunteering for the school to help the public schools with their—it’s hard to get tablets provided by the Board of Ed, working with all the systems they’re using to do remote learning during COVID.
RZ Google Classroom.
PF Yeah, this is what this is what the computer should look like for kids, it should be 70 bucks and you plug it into a TV or you get a monitor.
RZ You know what would be great too? Like, there should be a nonprofit driven sort of education build of Linux that everyone can pick up and give it a name. Call it Recess.
PF Oh, there is, there’s Edubuntu. I’m sorry about that.
RZ Don’t ever say that again, don’t ever say that again.
PF But it is. It’s Edubuntu. There’s a couple, but that’s the one.
RZ Is it good?
PF It’s the school’s edition. It is actually it’s pretty good. It’s pretty good. But although, wait, last Edubuntu release was 2015. So hold on.
RZ Yeah, let’s revisit that then. But $70 is a game changer for giving people access. Because that curious kid no matter what their background is, if they’re curious, the Raspberry Pi is a wonder.
PF Well, it’s also, I mean, that’s one or two schoolbooks.
RZ It’s a game changer. So that’s, that’s a good piece of news, Paul! That’s like, this just came out wonderful. Like this is positive, tech is gonna be okay. But what about stuff that can make me feel good, Paul? So this is about me.
PF You don’t find it getting like a bunch of little Raspberry Pi’s networking them in your home— a
RZ I have three of them in my house, actually, because they think they’re great..
PF Recreational sysadmin is maybe not everybody’s hobby. I don’t know, what are you into? What’s got you happy?
RZ Look, I have kids. It’s Friday night. I’m not out, you know, whatever I’m watching. It’s not that interesting. I opened my laptop. And I wanted to look up that actor from that Netflix show. And 12 clicks later, I’m reading about a contrarian philosopher from the early 1800s. It’s just that that every so often, you just meander, and I guess it’s the equivalent of going shopping but not really looking to buy anything, just taking a walk and looking around. But it’s the Internet. The Internet is still there and and where it can take you. And the things you can sort of drift into just sort of wander into, it’s still there. And I still enjoy that a lot.
PF No, me too. Look, I mean, this is this is the tricky part is that essentially, everything got so big. And this one part of the internet really started to take over public discourse, especially social networks. But the other parts of the internet are still really really good and amazing, like Wikipedia. And you know, my favorite is always archive.org which is just this huge, vast collection. I use it—I am usually—I love to go to sleep with really boring audio. And I mean archive.org has so many old radio shows. Last night I was listening to Ian Fleming interview the writer Raymond Chandler, excruciating, I was done in a minute. [Rich laughs] And I was excited.
RZ Best melatonin hit you could’ve gotten.
PF I was so excited for this, Raymond Chandler’s like a hero, but nope, just deadly. There is—what they have is an oral history. There’s a California Water Control Board. They have the oral history of that. And it’s just people talking about like accounting for water. And I mean, you’re, whoo boy, you’re done in a minute again.
RZ And then there’s, you know, like oldnyc.org. I live in New York City, you live in New York City. Someone took this old archive of old photos and plotted them on a map so you can go see, you know, the corner of your house in New York and Brooklyn. It’s just magical. I mean, to me that is not clickbait by any means. You got to kind of go get it and rummage through it. But Gosh, it’s it’s satisfying and it’s almost soothing in a weird way. I mean, I sound corny, but.
PF The rummaging is the fun part.
PF That’s the kid right. I think one thing I’m realizing as I’m getting older and I’m a parent is that the child never dies, you are still roughly the same. The same brain that was inside you at age 13 is incredibly operative. I have that kind of—I like to look through the bookshelves, look at every album, look in the drawers, you know, and the Internet just utterly is feeding that and it’s a wonderful, maybe it’s a coping mechanism. What else we got? I mean, you we were talking about this earlier, Poolside FM came up. That’s a classic. It’s a little it’s maybe not right for the winter, but maybe it’s perfect for the winter. What is Poolside FM?
RZ Yeah, so it’s music. And it’s got a kind of retro vibe.
PF Looks like a Mac OS eight slash nine interface.
RZ Yeah, exactly. And you get like kind of a desktop and the visuals kick in and the music is just chill relaxing music. I mean, I’ll put it on once in a while to listen to the music. I kind of love the project. I just love that someone hated their job. I’m pretty convinced someone was just like every moment of free time was dedicated to simulating an old operating system and playing chill poolside music. And I love that part of it too. I you have to love the passion projects that just are just people who just can’t stop burrowing into the hole and just keep going and go and go and go. By the way, back to Waxy, a lot of his stuff is that it’s someone that just obsessed to no end until the thing happened. And then you’re left just dumbfounded that it even exists. So I enjoy that, again, I think I enjoy it partly as a nerd and partly as someone who just wants to chill next to the pool. How about you Paul? What else comes to mind? What does tech bring to your life that makes your life a little bit better, Paul, not worse?
PF Okay, so Poolside is a favorite. And if you look at actually archive.org has a tremendous number of emulated pieces of software in the browser. So you can take that, that retro experience that Poolside trying to get and you can go to have the actual thing and like you know, run a Mac hypercard stack in your browser. So definitely like if you search archive.org hypercard you’re gonna see some things you never thought possible inside of a web browser. But you know what actually has been—and people are going to hear this after the election so it’s worth a shout out. Electoral-vote.com, I’m convinced is the most pure website that has ever existed.
RZ What is it?
PF So Electoral-vote.com was created by an anonymous person who later became less anonymous. And that’s part of the story. It’s the red blue map. And it’s a polling average site. And it sort of came out in 2004, before the sort of whole 538 neat silver world exploded. And so here’s what they do. They have a map, and they average the polls, and then give you a CSV where you can download all the data if you want. And once a day, and only once a day, they update with links to lots of articles. It’s two people, and they write about it. They write about what’s happening in the election in the polls. And then on Saturday and Sunday, they answer email, and they put out—
RZ They answer emails! [Rich chuckles]
PF They just respond to emails, letter bag. And that’s it. And so what happened as the election gets more and more intense, the fact that like, you can kind of hit it once in the morning. And then there’s really nothing else there. And it’s very substantive and thoughtful, has been really good. And it made me realize how much I miss websites for that reason, not because like the old, the old ways were better. But just that the constant, relentless dopamine hit in time to sort of soothe your anxiety is incredibly counterproductive, because you just end up seeking more and more confirmation around your anxieties, right?
RZ You’re bringing up—I mean, I have friends who have said, like, I’ll tell them, ”Hey, did you hear about that news?” And they don’t know what I’m talking about. Because they’ve actively consciously just blocked everything. It just got to such a bad place, that they couldn’t take it anymore. And they just like, I need I need to be normal again, this is just too much. And we’re wading back into the negative aspects of it. But I’m looking at the site, first off, it’s 2002 again.
PF Yeah, no, no, it hasn’t significantly updated visually.
RZ Yeah. And you’re bringing up something that’s akin to the newspaper.
PF Yep. It is a newspaper experience.
RZ It’s a newspaper experience, a once a day, you get the paper, and then you can read the paper, and you can talk about it at your barber shop with the other with your friends. But generally speaking, it ain’t gonna change until tomorrow,
PF The tone is very chatty. And they’re just like, you know, it’s kind of, here’s what we know. And here’s what we don’t know. And you know, you could think about it this way. Or you could think about that way. And it’s a blog. That’s blog tone. So it’s a it’s a very comforting way to get news, and figure out what’s up and sort of move on. And the twist for all this for super nerds is that the person who was behind it, who is anonymous, at first, he referred to himself as the ‘Vote Master’, outed himself as Andrew Tenenbaum, who is the creator of the Minix operating system. He’s a technology educator and the Minix operating system was a very sort of inexpensive, semi-free, Unix that came with the textbook, essentially, that he was used as a teaching tool. And he was famous early days, to Linux nerds as having a big fight with Linus Torvalds, about how the arc, the deep down kernel for Linux should be. But Minix is one of those things, it’s like apparently embedded in a lot of Intel chips. And it’s it’s sort of continues to have a life. But he has written a couple of the fundamental textbooks about computer architecture. So it was wild, like of all the people to come out. He’s overseas, I think he’s in the Netherlands—of all the people who have come out and been the person via Electoral-vote.
RZ Right, to be that person.
PF It was just very specific, [Rich laughs] And so he’s still doing it with one other person, but I love like, this is their hobby, this is their model train set. And there’s something very soothing about that. And sort of seeing that this is their way to participate in culture. I really love that being—and you know, most of it, when they ask for donations, it’s to run ads in student newspapers to educate students about how the electoral system works. And that’s—give me more of that in the world. Right, like, yeah, you know, that that seems to be a good thing to do with your privilege as a human being.
RZ An analogy came to mind here that I think is worth sharing, maybe. You know, I think as a lot became industrialized, a lot of character disappeared, right? Like the you know, the local bakery and the local cheesemonger and local this and that, got replaced with you know, Whole Foods and Walmart and Panera Bread and a lot of character and a lot of identity, a lot of sort of charm disappeared, right?
PF Although it is kind of nice that nobody yells at you when you go into the sandwich shop anymore. I mean, that—
RZ I like getting yelled at. I actually don’t mind that part of it. [Paul laughs]
PF I do too. I do too, sadly.
RZ But what ended up happening was with humans is all of a sudden there was a reaction to all that industrialization and that commoditization, and it became all of a sudden, worthwhile to spend $22 on a loaf of bread. Because it seemed to have a uniqueness and charm to it. No, but I joke, but I also am serious in that what we’re highlighting here there are these sort of bespoke, really personality driven sides of the web that are just drowned out by the industrialization of information, by the industrialization of content so that it could get max clicks and max views.
PF Or even the the high quality stuff. Like there’s a kind of standardized template, which, you know, frankly, you were one of the pioneers with, with readability, where it was just like, thanks, Rich. [Rich laughs] But no, I mean, there’s a, there’s a sameness in the same way, like, you know, everybody complains about Starbucks, but they seem to be doing real good.
RZ Mhmm. Familiarity is good. I mean, it that is appealing to people. But finding that weird thing that makes you kind of tilt your head—
PF It’s tricky in software, right? Because literally every single—think about content as software, like it is, when people are experienced—the New York Times is more and more interactive software experience, as opposed to just kind of like a newspaper simulator. And it’s really hard to break out of the mold, because the cognitive load of, people know how forums work, like when I’m forums in a very broad way, but also like forums on the screen. They know how software works. And it’s actually taken us a long time to get there, to know that an X in the top right button means close, right? And if you cheat that at all, if you play with it—and actually I remember I did a little software project at Postlight, like just me in my spare time. And I screwed with the hamburger icon like just for kicks, I like tilted at 90 degrees, or 45 degrees—
RZ People lost their minds.
PF Just to kind of, just to be a pain. Everybody at Postlight was like ”That is an absolute atrocity. Like I can’t.” And it was it was impenetrable. And I’m like, all I did was I literally put 45 degrees in there. That’s all I did.
RZ Yeah, it was a single biggest threat to the existence of Postlight, is that move. [Paul & Rich laugh]
PF It was, frankly, I was just been a pain in the ass on purpose, right? And then I realized, like, no, it’s just, I’m adding friction here. And let’s take it out. But you can’t mess with anything because the rules are so tight. And I think, that’s what—I can’t wait for that to explode. Because once that does explode when somebody like you know, makes a red, glowing thing-a-ma-jig that everybody really wants to use. That’s when we can start to just blow everything else up like your Facebook’s and Twitter’s and so on.
RZ Speaking of the New York Times, they’ve done some interesting things recently.
PF Oh boy, haven’t they? They’re doing good.
RZ They’re doing good. Their interactive stuff is really impressive. I feel like a new media form is taking hold. And it’s really interesting.
PF It’s no longer dramatic, right? It was really dramatic. Snowfall or sort of these big interactive presentations were a big deal. And now it feels almost casual. Like they have their toolkit to throw together lots of very interactive stuff.
RZ Yeah, I think that’s right. They came out with something recently where it was just soothing stuff. Because they could tell everyone was stressed out. Apparently, their analytics beacons are so good that they could sense you’re stressed as you’re reading the news. They probably saw people scrolling down, scrolling up, then scrolling down.
RZ Ohhhh, I heard that’s not happening this year. They’re not doing that this year. That was a mistake.
PF That was not good for me. I’m still upset about that.
RZ Yes, they came out with an election distractor, which is just a—
PF It’s from the style section.
RZ Yes. Very clever. Just kind of meditative silly things, make you smile, make you kind of like ”Oh, cool.” Just to get you away from like the firehose of just toxic firehose stuff that’s coming at you, which I thought was was kind of charming.
PF No, and it’s a mix of like, interactive, video. Just have some geese, a TikTok. Like, it’s just the whole Internet’s mess. And then you know, there’s a dog you can pet. That is the good stuff. Like there’s more of that, right. Like, I actually, I know this sounds ridiculous, but I see stuff like that. And I’m like, yeah, that’s kind of the future. Lots of little games and interactive, and you can use analytics to see what’s performing best.
RZ You think that’s the future?
PF Yeah, I do. I do. Because it’s just like, how am I gonna perceive anything in the enormous stream of mess, right? Like, how am I gonna? I can’t even, you go to the Times now and there’s like, 25 articles about Donald Trump. Am I gonna read all 25? Like, what am I going to do? And so I kind of feel that if you really wanted to restructure ‘The Paper’ it would almost be like, what’s your emotional, what’s the emotional state that you seek right now? And then here, I’m going to go in and have an iterative experience that that walks me through things until I find something that catches my eye. You know, and that that becomes very personal and very—
RZ It’s not just the subject matter, though. I think it’s just the sheer—I got to know—sheer volume of stuff. I got a notification from Netflix last week, I kid you not, it said 68 new shows are coming. [Paul laughs] It was that number, it was that number! It came in, I’m sitting there scrolling, like, ”Okay, I’ll put a few of these on my list” you know, like my watchlist or whatever. And I got tired. I just I was on the 20th show. I’m watching like my 20th trailer, I was like, this is just too much! I want to close this with a recommendation.
RZ Go into your Netflix profile. Delete it, and start a new one. Meet someone new.
PF Ahhh, that’s not a bad idea.
RZ Kill everything they know about you.
PF Yeah, it’s not a bad idea.
RZ And start fresh. And you will see new, fresh things that—you ever meet someone and you’re like, ”Whoa, you’re interesting. You did what in South America?!” You know, just go meet someone new! I don’t need to be parsed. I’ve parsed enough in my life. I deleted it. My new user, his name is Fresh. And the avatar I picked, Paul, is that Chicken Run, kind of like that clay, that sheep guy. It’s a very liberating, very powerful thing to do. It’s a nice thing to do. And last recommendation, I don’t know if anybody, everybody’s seen it, I think. I saw it only recently. And it was actually medicine during the year of the pandemic, was Schitt’s Creek. Schitt’s Creek is just Canadian warmth and charm.
PF It’s very soothing. I got a little of that out of that with Ted Lasso. I watched that.
RZ Ted Lasso is fun. So there’s there’s good stuff out there. I’m gonna just say it. I love technology. I live in tech. I’m still shocked that I get to make a living with it. My law degree, I have no idea where it is, the actual physical paper at this point.
PF [music fades in] No little boy is like, ”I really like playing with law.” Like computers are fun. They’re still fun.
RZ But let’s not discourage little boys who want to be lawyers.
PF Or little girls, or little anyone, really, who wants to be a lawyer.
RZ Yeah. Well, I hope we just raised the sunshine level, like even 5% on this podcast, there was no agenda here, other than maybe sharing some pleasant things about technology.
PF Well, I think it’s been a brutal couple of years here in terms of for tech, for culture, and we hope that we can find some time to play and be silly again.
RZ Yeah, I mean, look, if you’re feeling like spending money with a killer agency as one way to boost your mood and morale. [Rich laughs]
RZ Check out Postlight.com, we’re a Digital Studio based in New York City and kind of everywhere these days, doing a lot of great work. Check out our case studies.
PF Yeah, check out Postlight.com, if you have any curiosity at all, send us an email. Tell us what you love about technology. That would be great content that we would love to share with our audience. And whatever anybody needs, get in touch. Hello@postlight.com.
RZ Have a great week.
PF Alright, bye everybody! [music ramps up, plays alone for 3 seconds, ends]