We Updated WordPress

Since I talked about not doing it, it only seems right to bring it up again now that it’s been done.

Yes, we’ve made the switch to WordPress 5, but no, we’re not using the new editor. I haven’t heard anything more about progress on the accessibility front, but what I have heard are several recommendations for the classic editor. So since it’s generally good to be on the latest and greatest from a security and plugin compatibility standpoint when possible, I thought we’d give it a go.

So far I’ve only written one post with it not including this one, and it appears to be working exactly as it should. In fact, had I not been the one pushing the buttons, I likely wouldn’t have even realized we’d upgraded.

If you’re running a WordPress site of your own and want to join us and the other 3 million plus people doing things this way, here’s the Classic Editor. Be sure you have it activated before updating.

Classic Editor is an official plugin maintained by the WordPress team that restores the previous (“classic”) WordPress editor and the “Edit Post” screen. It makes it possible to use plugins that extend that screen, add old-style meta boxes, or otherwise depend on the previous editor.
Classic Editor is an official WordPress plugin, and will be fully supported and maintained until at least 2022, or as long as is necessary.

By default, this plugin hides all functionality available in the new Block Editor (“Gutenberg”).

Morespace

Poor Myspace hasn’t had a whole lot going for it for quite a while, and now, thanks to what may or may not be an oopsie, it has even less.

Myspace, the once mighty social network, has lost every single piece of content uploaded to its site before 2016, including millions of songs, photos and videos with no other home on the internet.
The company is blaming a faulty server migration for the mass deletion, which appears to have happened more than a year ago, when the first reports appeared of users unable to access older content. The company has confirmed to online archivists that music has been lost permanently, dashing hopes that a backup could be used to permanently protect the collection for future generations.
More than 50m tracks from 14 million artists have been lost, including songs that led to the rise of the “Myspace Generation” cohort of artists, such as Lily Allen, Arctic Monkeys and Yeasayer.

The site now has a banner at the top of the site telling visitors: “As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace. We apologise for the inconvenience and suggest that you retain your backup copies. If you would like more information, please contact our data protection officer.”

That bit about backup copies is really rubbing it in there, guys.

But there’s a good lesson in here about the dangers of entrusting large portions of your life purely to online technology and business and thinking it’s going to be ok. Trust us, it isn’t. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say something like “I don’t have to save this picture, it’s up on Facebook if I need it,” but I cringe a little whenever I do. If something is important to you, take the extra time to make sure it’s safe.

Not Burying Yourself Under A Never Ending Avalanche Of Stupidity Is Good For You

I was never as hooked on social media as a lot of people, but even I can tell you that the last few months of limiting my already limited exposure to everyone’s garbage opinions and constant stupid outrage even further has me starting to feel a bit better. I’m no less informed (you should see my RSS), and I can still find out what people I actually like are up to by pulling their timelines now and then. When I do get the urge to glance at the home timeline, it usually takes only a few short minutes to remember why I generally don’t bother doing that and return to normal. I’ve never felt the need to completely deactivate as Bassey Ikpi did, but I understand the impulse and I recommend it if you don’t have enough self-control to ignore things on your own.

Being off Twitter specifically has been a blessing. Over the last year, the constant influx of political news and random outrage had me in a constant state of anxiety. The anxiety was so prevalent that I didn’t notice I was constantly trembling with nerves.
The last three months, I have avoided being inundated with tweets by Toupee Fiasco and then the hurricane of responses and analysis of his tweets or actions. The need to know something as soon as it happens has lessened. I assume that if we are in a nuclear war, someone will tell me or text me or post a selfie on Instagram with an inspirational caption and fitting hashtag.
There’s no real reason for me to watch every single false alarm and frenzy.
What I also appreciate is the conversations I have with friends about current events. I’m not completely out of the room, but I have a moment to process information and remember nuance before firing off a 140-character (wait; it’s like 400 characters now, right?) half-formed thought. I can really sit with and develop an opinion without the hurried, pressurized “Tell me what you think about this RIGHT NOW.”
It helps me avoid stating how I’m supposed to feel based on the opinions around me and instead gives me a chance to actually process nuance and context before I decide what I think. I also get the benefit of hearing other opinions and voices and weigh them against my own. I’m not as prone to performative outrage as I was.

I appreciate and often miss the variety of discourse offered by social media, but I don’t miss the constant influx of not just opinions but also the level of toxicity and outrage that is just too much for me these days.

You Can Now Get Help From Google’s Disability Support Team Directly Through Be My Eyes

It took a while, but another company has finally joined Microsoft as part of Be My Eyes’ Specialized Help feature. Hey, Google.

We’re pleased to announce that Google is the newest company onboard the Specialized Help platform! Specialized Help enables blind and low-vision users to connect directly with company representatives through a live video connection. Blind and low-vision users can now request assistance from the Google Disability Support team through the Be My Eyes app for questions about assistive tools and accessibility features within Google’s products.
Getting connected to the Google Disability Support team through Be My Eyes is easy. Start by accessing the Specialized Help menu from the Be My Eyes home screen and select Google from the list. From the Google profile, you can make a call directly to the Google Disability Support team. Making a Specialized Help call to Google works just like any other Be My Eyes call, except that you’ll get connected to an official Google representative, who can help you with troubleshooting or other questions on accessibility features within Google’s products or services effectively.
Please note that the Google Specialized Help option should only be used for questions or issues concerning assistive tools or accessibility features within Google’s products or services. You can make calls to Google through Be My Eyes Monday through Friday 8AM-5PM PT. Currently in English only, from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, India, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Carin Is Presenting At CSUN!

She ran out of time to mention it herself or maybe she’s just shy, so I’ll do it.

As I type, Carin is on her way to the CSUN conference. Her work sends her most years, which is pretty cool.

“Carin, please let us fly you to better weather and pay you to hang out with smart people and play with all sorts of new technology.”

Yeah, she’s not turning that down.

But this year she’s going to do more than just take it all in. She’ll actually be presenting!

“Don’t Make Me Do This!” A Ninja Screen Reader User Implores Web Developers

Session ID
IND-051
Date & Time
Thursday, March 14, 2019 – 9:00 AM PST
Location
Grand GH

This session will present a nuanced view of web accessibility and demonstrate how users with diverse expertise levels perceive web accessibility differently.
Presenters
• Sambhavi Chandrashekar
OCAD University
• Carin Headrick
D2L Corporation

I’ve seen bits of this presentation. If you have a website and wonder why people don’t seem to like it very much or you’re about to build one and want to maybe not have that problem, it’s one you should check out.

And say hi to Carin if you see her around. She’ll be somewhere or other conference-related from later today until sometime Friday. She’s fun to talk to, and you’ll even get to meet the Shmans!

Nope, Still Not Signing UP For That Facebook Account

Generally speaking, 2018 was a pretty decent year for me. But you know who can’t say the same? Facebook. THE 21 (AND COUNTING) BIGGEST FACEBOOK SCANDALS OF 2018

“Of 2018.” Not of all time I again remind you, “of 2018. Jesus Murphy on a stack of lawsuits, that’s no good at all.

December 2018: Another Times investigation finds Facebook shared lots of personal user data with large companies
Just when it seemed no more scandals could break, on December 18, The New York Times published an investigation that found the company shared troves of personal user data with more than 150 companies—including major players like Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify—long after Facebook said it had cut off access to that kind of information. The big takeaway from this latest news seems to be: Despite Facebook’s claims that users have “complete control” over their data, the company has, throughout its history, traded on data access in order to grow the business.

Enjoy FarmVille or whatever it is people do over there when they’re not liking and sharing news articles that have no basis in reality.

Bell’s Everything Tracking Is Back And Very Slightly Less Creepy

It appears Bell is taking another crack at the tracking every customer’s every move thing that went so well a few years ago. And though the end result still sounds like a whole lot of garbage from a consumer point of view (there’s still nothing in it for customers aside from ads the company thinks you’ll like more), it’s at least not as much of a surface level privacy nightmare as the last one. All that basically means is that you’ll have to opt in instead of out and that Bell claims not to be selling your data to third parties directly, but hey, it’s something, I guess.

Canada’s largest telecommunications group is getting mixed reviews for its plan to follow the lead of companies like Google and Facebook in collecting massive amounts of information about the activities and preferences of its customers.
Bell Canada began asking its customers in December for permission to track everything they do with their home and mobile phones, internet, television, apps or any other services they get through Bell or its affiliates.
In return, Bell says it will provide advertising and promotions that are more “tailored” to their needs and preferences.
“Tailored marketing means Bell will be able to customize advertising based on participant account information and service usage patterns, similar to the ways that companies like Google and others have been doing for some time,” the company says in recent notices to customers.

If given permission, Bell will collect information about its customers’ age, gender, billing addresses, and the specific tablet, television or other devices used to access Bell services.
It will also collect the “number of messages sent and received, voice minutes, user data consumption and type of connectivity when downloading or streaming.”

“Bell’s marketing partners will not receive the personal information of program participants; we just deliver the offers relevant to the program participants on their behalf,” the company assures customers.

It’s interesting that Bell’s entire justification for such a massive data grab essentially seems to boil down to well, Facebook is doing it, so why not us, completely ignoring the fact that Facebook isn’t having the best time at the moment. This really isn’t a great look for a company that isn’t exactly well known or beloved for its treatment of customers, to put it mildly.

I hope customers are savvy enough to ignore this program to death. Failing that, I hope Bell does absolutely everything right so I won’t have to write about the inevitable data breach or the part where Bell gets caught doing things they say they’re not doing.

Something Seems A Little Phishy

It seems like there has been a whole lot of phishing going on lately, and I have gotten a few emails that have given me a scare. Thankfully, after my heart went back into my chest, I realized that no, the CEO of the company I work for would not be emailing me from a sketchy AOL address and land in my junk folder, and if I really had been infected with WannaCry, I would not be able to read this email that is telling me I have WannaCry. But lots of people around me have not been so lucky, and have come close, or have, fallen for a phishing email. I’m sure the day will come when it may happen to me, so I can’t laugh and wonder what’s wrong with them. It’s not like they’re a pack of Sobbing John Rempels here. They are smart people.

Aside: I wonder whatever happened to poor John Rempel. I kind of feel bad for him, since we’ve been making fun of him for almost 10 years. Kind of, but not really if his story is accurate.

It’s true, the assholes who create the phishing emails are getting sneakier and sneakier, and some are doing their research to make the emails they send as convincing as possible, but I think what’s making them so successful is lots of people don’t stop and read. They see something, panic, click the link, and…there goes another one. Or, somebody has really done their homework and sent a message that the person is kind of expecting, but again the person is in a rush, and doesn’t notice that the email is asking them to sign this “mortage” agreement for their new “hosue” and answers…and only then the red flags start to go off

At work, the security folks sent out this video from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure in the UK as part of a campaign to smarten us up about phishing and spear phishing. Basically, phishing is the term for the broad practice of sending out fake emails to lure people into clicking on things or giving out personal info, where spear phishing is a more focused version of phishing where the person doing the phishing has done their homework about their victim and has customized the email to be more convincing.

Unfortunately, the video has scrolling text that I certainly couldn’t get to read. Maybe others will have better luck. But I was lucky enough to be home with my mom, and we watched it together, so I know it’s a good video with good tips in it.

From what I can remember, the video said that everybody knows about the old “congratulations, you have won the lottery” emails, but phishing has gotten more sneaky these days, and you will get emails tailored to you. Because everything is moving so fast and everyone is busy, sometimes we miss those subtle tip-offs that this is a fake and fall for it, allowing scammers to get usernames and passwords or steal money from you. The video detailed 3 commonly-used features of these scams: they create curiosity, have a sense of urgency, and appear to come from people of authority. Basically, the video urged us to slow down and think, check the links and email addresses inside the message, and if you’re still not sure if this is real, go directly to the source of the email rather than clicking on a link in the message or replying to it. I think that was all that was in there…but if someone can capture the text from the video and give it to me to post, that would be absolutely super awesome!

Here is a quick Wired article basically saying the same thing. Aside: Dear Wired: I appreciate that you have a newsletter, but I do not appreciate being unceremoniously thrown into a dialog telling me all about it while I’m reading a story. That makes me not want to sign up for it, even though it might be awesome.

There are a couple of mentions of hovering your mouse over links and email addresses to see where they really go. Luckily there is a way to do it if you don’t use a mouse. Bring focus to the link or email address you want to check by tabbing to it. Then hit your applications key or shift f10 or whatever way you choose to right click on links and copy the link. Then open notepad and paste it in and see what you got. Then you know if the link is really going to your bank or PayPal or whatever. Try it here.
www.paypal.com
Did that link really go where it said it went?

I think we all need to slow down, breathe, and not panic. Nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait 2 extra seconds to process whether this makes sense. Scammers can do their homework, but they’ll always slip up somewhere. Stay away from the phish, everybody.

No WordPress Gutenberg For Us Just Yet. We Prefer Our Interfaces Accessible

WordPress 5.0 is set to be released tomorrow, and it’s going to be a huuuuuuuuuuuge change. They’re unleashing an entirely new editing and customization system called Gutenberg that’s set to radically change how pretty much everything looks, acts and feels. That link right there will provide you with a fairly simple explanation of what’s happening, as well as caution you about updating if you happen to run a site using WordPress. There’s a lot of potential for site breakage here, both in terms of what you’re all looking at right now and the stuff that allows us to create it. Everything from themes to plugins to whatever else you can think of could cause you some kind of trouble if they and Gutenberg decide they’re not compatible.

I’m quite concerned for all of those reasons plus I don’t like the idea of every post becoming a mini web design project when all I want to do is write my fucking blog, but there’s also the issue of screen reader accessibility. Much of what I’ve seen on the subject doesn’t exactly sound encouraging, and absolute horseshit like this from members of the WordPress team absolutely does not give me the warm fuzzies about the future and my place in it. Nice to know I don’t fit into your release timelines, guys. Merry Christmas to you too.

So where does that leave us? Well, for the time being at least, it leaves us on WordPress 4.9.8, the current stable release. We’re going to stay there for as long as we have to or as long as we can, and if accessibility matters to you, you may want to do the same. There will be security fixes pushed to our version for now, so we can hang back here and do our thing while the various aspects of this hopefully get sorted out.

I should also mention that there is a classic editor plugin available, which could be handy should you decide to update and it goes poorly or the update is forced upon you by your company or hosting provider.

More Old school Blogging Vs. Social Media Talk

Here is Dan Cohen, a fellow with many more credentials than I, saying basically what I said about getting away from social media and focusing more on the blog, but in fancier words.

It was fun for a while. I met many people through Twitter who became and remain important collaborators and friends. But the salad days of “blog to reflect, tweet to connect” are gone. Long gone. Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like “blog to write, tweet to fight.” Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic—not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.
Which is why it’s once again a good time to blog, especially on one’s own domain. I’ve had this little domain of mine for 20 years, and have been writing on it for nearly 15 years. But like so many others, the pace of my blogging has slowed down considerably, from one post a week or more in 2005 to one post a month or less in 2017.

The reasons for this slowdown are many. If I am to cut myself some slack, I’ve taken on increasingly busy professional roles that have given me less time to write at length. I’ve always tried to write substantively on my blog, with posts often going over a thousand words. When I started blogging, I committed to that model of writing here—creating pieces that were more like short essays than informal quick takes.
Unfortunately this high bar made it more attractive to put quick thoughts on Twitter, and amassing a large following there over the last decade (this month marks my ten-year anniversary on Twitter) only made social media more attractive. My story is not uncommon; indeed, it is common, as my RSS reader’s weekly article count will attest.

He goes on to discuss some of the issues, both real and perceived, that keep people sticking to Facebook and the like in spite of all we know about them rather than trying to take back their own thoughts.

Technology is a big one for many people, but you don’t have to know a whole lot these days to do a halfway decent job. Look at us, for god’s sake. Can you remember the last time there wasn’t something around here that wasn’t even the tiniest bit messed up? I sure can’t. Carin, Matt (when he was here) and I have been screwing things up since day one, but it’s functional enough that most people don’t even notice or if they do, it doesn’t bother them enough that they never come back. The technology behind this stuff is so much better and dare I say more user friendly than it was 15 years ago when we started. Yes it takes more work than a Facebook page does, but trust me, the hours of frustration you will doubtless go through at times are more than made up for by the feeling of creating something of your own. And one thing to keep in mind is that you’re not alone. The internet is a big place, and shitty though it can be, it’s filled to the brim with people and places willing to help you along. For instance, one of the first things that happened when I put up that post the other night was Amanda giving me a link to IndieWeb.org. I wasn’t asking for help with anything specific when I wrote what I did, but sensing that it might come in handy later, she took a second to share, which I’m extremely thankful for. Probably not quite as thankful as future me will be, but you know.

That brings me to the other, more interesting thing Cohen touches on in his post. This idea that blogging is somehow no longer social media even though it’s been doing the core things that social media does for longer than the term social media has existed. The entire concept has always been built around finding, sharing and conversing. Literally the only difference between Facebook and your blog is that one of those things is much bigger and treats you as the product rather than a contributor. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or your search engine of choice, you’re spending time looking for things that interest you, and then whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, email or whatever, sharing those things with other people. All that sharing starts conversations and helps build communities large and small. That’s what a blog is and has always been, and most of us who run them go out of our way to harvest as little of your personal information as we can.

It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.
When I left Facebook eight years ago, it showed me five photos of my friends, some with their newborn babies, and asked if I was really sure. It is unclear to me if the re-decentralizers are willing to be, or even should be, as ruthless as this. It’s easier to work on interoperable technology than social psychology, and yet it is on the latter battlefield that the war for the open web will likely be won or lost.

I don’t want to think of open web people as ruthless, because corporate ruthlessness is exactly the sort of thing we’re pushing back against. What we need to be is persistent and helpful. If people you know are tired of Facebook and Twitter, convince them that they’ll be ok without them or with less of them in their lives. And if they decide that they still want an online outlet of their own for their thoughts, feelings and dick jokes, do what you can to help them get started.

Independent internet vs. big social networks doesn’t have to be a one or the other thing. That shouldn’t be the goal, because it’s not realistic or really all that helpful. The main thing is just reminding people that they have choices and that choices are better than monopolies.

Cheap plug: Since it was mentioned in the article, this seems like a good time to remind you that we have RSS feeds. There’s one for posts and one for comments so you can easily follow along with everything.

Some folks look at RSS as outdated, but those people are what I like to call wrong. It’s the damn best. I practically live in it. To put it in modern terms, think of RSS as a sort of 1-way Twitter. It’s a frequently updating stream of customizable information being thrown at you, only more organizable and without nearly so many imbeciles. All you need is a reader, which a quick Google search can help with. Or if you’re like me and use Thunderbird as your email program, you already have one. All you have to do is set it up.