Leif M. Wright
Author, Journalist, Musician, Programmer, Daddy
"You feel uncomfortable, wincing and crying as you read. The daring style is comparable to Chuck Palahniuk’s novels" — Amy O'Hara

Leif M. Wright's Blog

The internet is ruined

If you're a Cliff's Notes kind of person (do they still make those?), you can sum up this entire post by reading a tweet I made earlier:
And yes, I totally get the juxtaposition of me using social media to complain about social media, thank you very much. Still, the point is valid. Social media started out as a great equalizer, giving everyone ostensibly the same standing to say whatever the hell it was people have always wanted to say.
Turned out, most people are full of shit, and nobody cared what they had to say. So they started turning evil.
Now, back in the mid-to-late 90s and early aughts, I had a fairly popular blog on this domain name, and later on ineffableman.com (when people I worked with started noticing my blog posts and reporting them to my bosses). Back then, blogs were all the rage, with mine, CyberAgatha, Antidisestablishmentarian, Pisser and a group of others led by the only one left standing, Raymi The Minx. We were all online acquaintances and we kept a fairly tight circle with a cumulative group of tens of thousands of fans. And we wrote about dumb shit. All of us. People would come along and comment, and their comments were equally inane and completely without social or intellectual merit. And it was ... dare I say, fun. And that's ALL it was.
Then came MySpace. And Friendster. And suddenly, people started getting the idea that EVERYONE could say something online, and though they had equal amounts of nothing to say, they were less effective at saying it than the professional writers like me and my friends, so they started getting shitty when they couldn't get their points across. But even then, it was easy to ignore them.
Cue Facebook, which Agatha (Tomasik, of CyberAgatha fame) introduced me to way back in something like 2006. Once that site grew into the monster we now know it to be, people started getting horrible, throwing shade at things just to be contrary. And the Internet was ruined.
It doesn't matter what you say anymore, someone is going to either call you names, list reasons why you're being insensitive and horrible to someone else, elucidate the reasons you're an ignorant asshole or share your post with their friends using their morally superior reasons why you should be ridiculed. It sucks. And I really, really hate it. 
How about this: Let's just all agree that people are different, and just because someone hasn't been to the same seminars as you doesn't mean they're assholes. I mean, you clearly are one, but not everyone else is.

My next writing project is a departure

My main antagonist is unlike any I've ever written about — a narcissistic sociopath.
There are some interesting characteristics involved with both mental disorders (narcissism and sociopathy), and when combined, they make for a terrifying antagonist.
I can't reveal too much, because the manifestation of those pathologies will consume much of the story, but it's going to be a wild ride.

I've been tinkering

OK. I redesigned this site last week, and now I've been working behind the scenes to get this blog back to a place where I could update it. 
There's always a method to my madness, and in this case, I've been using this site as a guinea pig for ideas I have for apps for paying customers, so thanks for being my test monkey or whatever.
In any case, I should start updating here again now that I've got it all relatively under control.

So hey, Reagan supporters, Ronnie didn't really end Communism. Tom Brokaw did.

Filed under Politics, Adam Conover
Yeah. Those of you who worship Ronald Reagan (my mother and about half of the rest of the country), he was a doddering old fool who did nothing but fuck the shit out of the economy and take credit for shit he never did while denying credit for shit he really did. (Iran-Contra, I'm looking directly at you).
If you aren't watching "Reanimated History" with Adam Conover, you're missing out, by the way.
Turns out, Reagan's "Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech did literally nothing to actually tear down the Berlin Wall. Two years after the speech, a German bureaucrat tasked with explaining new travel restrictions panicked when asked the wrong question, and during a later interview with American super-Journalist Tom Brokaw panicked again and said the wall was coming down.
Which led West-German teens to run with the story and dismantle the wall.
Reagan, who by that time was imagining his own pee to be golden showers from heaven, had absolutely nothing to do with it. So the wall, and by proxy communism in Russia, died because Tom Brokaw pressed the point. 
The More You Know ®.

Conversations with my lawyer

Filed under Jaded, Legal mumbo jumbo
I may not be getting the best legal advice, but at least it's entertaining. My lawyer is in gray bubbles, I'm in blue. Also, I was dictating into the phone while driving, which explains the "All" instead of "Aww" and "tagalong" instead of "tag along".

This is the fucking problem

Filed under Bizarre, Bullshit

Roseanne Barr is, inexplicably, a right-wing, Trump-supporting douchebag. Let’s just establish that fact.
But her show, Roseanne, is hilarious.
People on the left are freaking out about her pro-Trump views, and about some photo shoot she did for Heeb magazine, where she was dressed as Hitler, pulling Jew-shaped cookies out of an oven.
First, criticizing a Jew for making Holocaust jokes is akin to criticizing a black person for using the N-word. If you’re not in the minority group in question, you’re racist for being outraged by them trying to commandeer the trauma their people went through, trying to minimize its power through that commandeering.
Second, boycotting an entertaining show just because you disagree politically with its star is the kind of shit conservative zealots do, not supposedly reasonable liberals.
Is Roseanne funny and entertaining? (Spoiler: it really is) Then get off your high horse and enjoy the show. America is already too divided. How about we don’t get all wrapped up in an actor’s politics and instead just enjoy the rare sitcom that can still make us laugh?

Of course I'm biased. But my news isn't.

Filed under Bullshit, I am the Media, Politics, Bias
I am biased. As evidenced by, oh, everything on this blog o mine.
I'm not left-leaning, I'm left. I supported Bernie Sanders. I think Donald Trump is the worst president in history and should be tried for treason. 
I. Am. Biased.
And anyone who tells you they're not biased is lying to you, and possibly to themselves. We all have opinions, no matter how we got them, and we view the world through the prisms of them.
But the media owe it to you to not allow those biases to make it into the coverage they provide, and frankly, most of them are doing a shitty job of it.
Fox News is intensely biased to the right. CNN and MSNBC to the left. The Wall Street Journal to the right. The Washington Post to the left. On and on it goes, where it ends, politics blows.
The fact that we know which way these publications lean is a profound failure on their part. Facts are facts, things that happened should never be based on opinions. I think Donald Trump sucks big donkey balls, but I once took up for him because I felt in that instance he was being treated unfairly. And that's my point. I don't like taking up for the hairball, but reporting is not the place to be airing political opinions. 
People who read my news site every day, but have not had the misfortune of stumbling onto this site, have absolutely no idea whether I'm a conservative or a liberal or something in-between, because my news site reports neither side. My site reports what's going on, without injecting my ridiculous opinions into it.  
Unfortunately, the large media outlets in our country feel no such need to restrain themselves. And that's to the detriment of our country, because when the people we get our information from are twisting that information before it ever reaches us, we might as well put on jumpsuits, a la 1984.

Spreading it for Google and Facebook (otherwise known as creating structured data for images on a busy site)

Filed under Facebook, I Fucking Work Hard, I am the Media, PHP, Programming, schemaless database
If you're bored by technical stuff, move onto the next entry. 
My news site gets almost 50,000 viewers every day. That means my server, a dedicated linux machine somewhere in the desert, must serve up a minimum of that many pages every day. But the story doesn't stop there.
Because my site only counts each IP address once per 24-hour period no matter how many times it sees that address, my hit count is way higher than 50k. It's closer to 200k per day, for just that one site (I have other sites that get even more viewers per day, but they don't suffer from the problem I'm describing here. 
It's a lot. And the server handles it swimmingly.
Until something big breaks and tons more people hit the site. And it's all Facebook and Google's fault. 
You see, in order to properly index the site, both Facebook and Google want structured data, which I won't get into here except to say EVERYTHING needs to be described, and images even moreso; they both want to know where the image that describes the story is, and how wide, how high and what kind of image it is. 
Because all the images on my stories are html links inside the story itself, I can't just point FB and Google to a file somewhere where they can find the image. Instead, I used a nifty bit of HTML searching to identify the first image, create it in memory, analyze it and send the data to Google and Facebook every time they try to access the story. And it works like a charm.
Until 200,000 people try to see the story at once. All that processing (and analyzing images is pretty overhead-intensive) takes a lot of the computer's memory, and eventually, it runs out of memory and crashes the server. 
Especially because it was doing that for 25 stories on the front page in addition to whatever page (single story) the user is accessing. 
So I came up with a multifaceted solution: 
I cached all the stories, so the server isn't having to access the database 30 times every time someone hits the front page. My site has ads that rotate randomly, so I couldn't just create a static HTML page and call it done. Instead, I had to create a cache system that allows the ads to rotate every time someone access the page. To do that, I cached the HTML for each story, saved it to a file and access it whenever needed. That cut down on a lot of server load. 
I created a schema-less database system, because some stories will have images, some will not, and I didn't want to crawl through all 4,000 previous stories to figure out which was which. "Schemaless" means the database has no idea what data it's looking for when it opens the story and has no idea what structure the other stories have when it goes to write a story. A "schema" is a map of sorts, telling the database what to look for and where. Going without a schema makes a very flexible kind of database, and I think I'll be migrating everything over to it. My site, which formerly worked on XML, and before that on JSON-based flat files, is now operating on what I'm calling the Ineffable Schemaless Database system, which I wrote this morning and have now migrated the entire site over to. 
The advantage of moving to this kind of database is that I can now store image data related to each story inside the database. When Google or Facebook come looking, instead of re-analyzing the images over and over, my system will now feed them the data stored about the images. And if it doesn't find any data, it will send them the logo you see above, with the data stored about it.
Ultimately, what this all means is big-hit days won't crash the server anymore, and as a bonus, because of the caching, the site loads about twice as fast as it did before.
The advantage to making my database schema-less is that in the future, if I find some other data point I want to add to stories, I can just do it without having to worry about whether older stories have that same datapoint and then having to rework the entire database to include it. For instance, if I later want to add, oh, I dunno, comments (spoiler, I won't [remind me to tell you how comments have turned the Internet into a place I hate]), I can actually add them without having to change the structure of my database at all. 
Anyway, the none of you who read this far, I'm going to publish the Ineffable Schemaless Database system as soon as I'm sure it's secure enough, and I'll probably make it open source so others can improve on my work.

Round and round: What goes around comes around

Filed under Politics, All in the Family
Archie Bunker, left, played by the immortal Carrol O'Connor, argues with Meathead, played by Rob Reiner.
If your mind has never been blown, get a mop bucket handy. 
A television show aired 47 years ago that aimed to entertain all Americans but was based on the extremely volatile politics of the day (think Vietnam war, pre-Watergate, American youth in the streets being shot by government storm troopers), could literally be written and aired this very day, with better production values and modern actors, and you'd never notice that it was written almost half a century ago.
As the incredibly dull and predictable rock band RATT so inimitably said 34 years ago, "What goes around comes around". Who knew a bunch of hair metal dongles with a Hustler Magazine (male) centerfold playing lead guitar could say something so prophetic?
Recently, tipped off by a tweet from Jimmy Kimmel, I purchased the first season of All in the Family, a sitcom that ran from 1971 to 1979, during a time when there were only three television channels, and that meant there was a pretty good chance anyone you know who lived through that time was watching it. I know my dad was (which meant our whole family was). And watching it now, I can't help but think my dad thought it was a conservative show intended to debunk the ridiculous views of the leftists, even though my dad was closer to Rob Reiner's age than Carol O'Connor's.
Wikipedia's description of the show is succinct: "The show revolves around the life of a working-class bigot and his family. The show broke ground in its depiction of issues previously considered unsuitable for a U.S. network television comedy, such as racism, infidelity, homosexuality, women's liberation, rape, religion, abortion, the Vietnam War and impotence."
The series, regarded as one of the greatest of all time, portrayed a multi-generational family living in New York. Archie Bunker (O'Connor) is an outspoken, narrow-minded man prejudiced against anyone who is not white, heterosexual and however he thinks people should be. Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner) is referred to as "Meathead" by Bunker, and his values couldn't be more opposite of Archie's. 
Archie, even though he is bigoted, is portrayed as loving and decent, a man simply struggling to adapt to changes in the world. It's a nuanced portrayal of a conservative digging his heels in against what he sees as encroaching liberalism. 
Michael is a good-hearted and stubborn hippie, as well as being the most-educated person in the household, which gives him a kind of arrogance. 
The first season deals with themes that might be familiar today: Women's equality (or lack thereof). Race relations and whether black people have a basis for claiming they aren't treated equally even though the law says they should. Homosexuality and whether gay (and other non-traditionally gender-oriented people) have and deserve the same treatment as cis-gendered people. But it deals with these issues comedically and in a way that makes a thinking person both enjoy and resonate. Archie is, after all, a real-feeling guy (played flawlessly by a profoundly liberal actor). He's a good guy who holds reprehensible political and personal ideologies. He's stubborn, but he's not unredeemably evil. By the same token, Michael is the guy with the right answers, but he's kind of an asshole about getting them across.
And we are still, almost half a century later, facing every single issue they're fighting about in this series, which both depresses me and gives me hope. Today's Trumperica is not the end of the world. At the worst, we'll go over this shit again in another 50 years.

I don’t want to think this, but...

Filed under Politics, Jaded
Is it possible that Republicans don’t want to do anything about school shootings because they don’t mind if people are scared enough to support school choice vouchers, which would allow schools to become segregated again?
I hate to be that cynical, but such are the times we’re living in.