Check news bias with a simple browser icon

I’m a big fan of Media Bias/Fact Check, a site that categorizes many popular news sources into categories across the political spectrum, as well as those that don’t fit into that spectrum. Thanks to Facebook and other social networks, people are constantly bombarded with false, partisan, and low-quality reporting, which causes them to retreat into their comfortable bubbles where facts are less important than what their side wants to hear. MBFC, an independent site run by Dave Van Zandt, uses a precise methodology to help make people more aware of these issues!

I do find it a bit inconvenient, though, to have to consult the website every time I come upon a new news source to get a feel of what its intentions might be. That’s why I’ve created the Official Media Bias Fact Check Icon, which you can install into Google Chrome or Firefox right now:

Screenshot of Media Bias/Fact Check icon in action.

A little icon will show up next to your address bar whenever you’re on a site within MBFC’s database. Click it to read about the bias of the site you’re visiting, as well as any notes about the specific source itself. You’ll see these icons:

  • L – Left Bias
  • LC – Left-Center Bias
  • C – Center (Least Biased)
  • RC – Right-Center Bias
  • R – Right Bias
  • PS – Pro-Science
  • CP – Conspiracy-Pseudoscience
  • S – Satire
  • Q – Questionable Sources

Under the hood, this extension pulls data from JSON files that I create by occasionally crawling MBFC, and matches the current domain to what’s in these files. In case you’re concerned that this extension is doing anything more than that, I’ve open-sourced the components:

I hope this extension serves useful! I’m sure many would have wanted something like this months ago, but MBFC itself has only existed for a little while! Enjoy!

How I Got Into the Web Development Industry

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from students recently about how I landed my sweet gig at Lab Zero, or, more generally, how I got into the industry in the first place. It’s really nothing out of the ordinary, but I thought I’d write it up here so I can cut down on repetition. (DRY is an important practice!)

The main reason people ask me about my own path is because they’re often so torn nowadays between going the bootcamp route, or just soaking up as much free knowledge as possible and then dipping their toes into a small-time position. I can’t say whether one’s better than the other. Bootcamps have the benefit of teaching you a massive amount in a short time, while also taking a lot of your money and giving you unrealistic expectations about how many hours per week you should be working. The DIY route allows you to learn at your own pace and climb the career ladder, but it takes much longer until you’re making a six-figure salary, or whatever.

I chose the latter, mostly because the bootcamp option didn’t exist when I was starting off as a full-time professional in 2008 – but also because I had been making websites since I was 9 years old, in 1994. This, of course, gave me almost a decade and a half of experience before I entered the professional world in earnest. And I cannot stress how important years of experience are. No matter how much a bootcamp attempts to cram into your skull, there is no way in three-ish months that you will be able to come up with an exhaustive set of creative solutions to the myriad problems you will encounter in the real world.

It’s a bit disingenuous for me to say my career started in 2008. Even though I wasn’t getting paid for it, starting off and making my own websites was a very important step. As a kid, I found it very freeing to be able to create anything I wanted to express and put it on the web. Some comics on my site date back to 1996. This very blog started out in 2001 as a place to experiment with designs and new technology.

Here’s the results of what was probably my first paid gig, probably from around 2001. I got this job because my step-brother lives at this home and they heard that I was at “whiz kid,” so they asked me what I could do.

When I was in college, I took two summer internships at Sun Microsystems in 2005 and Autodesk in 2006, found through my dad and I think through craigslist, respectively. They were paid internships, and generally focused on me picking up the slack with the group I was in – doing some testing of features, writing simple forms (my first brush with PHP), and generally learning how to function in an office setting.

Speaking of college – I chose to be a Linguistics major, after an attempt at Computer Science didn’t work out (mostly thanks to my ridiculous fear of math). Some might argue that Linguistics has a lot to do with programming, and to that I say: that’s a pretty big stretch. Syntax trees and morphology are pretty interesting to the analytical mind, but they’re not programming. I even started off on a grad program at UW Seattle in Computational Linguistics in an attempt to rope computers into my study.

The summer before I started grad school, I found a craigslist posting from a business owner looking for help with his site. I ended up working with a designer to overhaul some HTML and add a few extra pages to the site. I ended up continuing to work on the project from time to time throughout the school year.

By 2008, family matters made me decide to move back to the Bay Area. Back to living at my dad’s house, I decided I’d get a job while I was deliberating about whether to continue my grad program. I searched craigslist again, and found a posting for a web developer position at Diabetes Health, a small magazine in Marin. This became my first full-time job. I even bought a car for my commute (which turned out to be a poor decision as I used it for less than a year). I was basically thrown onto an existing PHP stack and had to basically learn the language on my own, fixing up the previous developer’s work and starting to add features of my own. Despite being the “smartest person in the room” (that is, the only developer in the company), I learned a significant amount about full-stack web development out of necessity.

While living in Marin, I started to cultivate a group of friends mostly based in San Francisco. It became apparent after a year that 1) I didn’t want to continue my grad program, and 2) I shouldn’t stay at my dad’s house forever, so it was about time to find a job in the city.

I scoured craigslist for a position – yet again – and found a nice challenging one at Linden Lab, working on their marketing sites and a few behind-the-scenes tools. At this point I was pretty much ready to say my career had begun.

Although I was fired for weird reasons after a year, a former coworker referred me to Lab Zero, which I joined in May 2010, and I remain to this day, doing all sorts of things for all sorts of companies.

I have to say, referrals are really the way to go. But of course, you have to get your foot in the door first, and make some good connections (read: be nice to your co-workers). If you don’t yet have the connections, craigslist was pretty much the place for me, and I’d assume it continues to be a good source to this day.

It’s also worth noting that I’m happy where I work, and barring anything terrible, am not looking to “climb” the job ladder into a bigger or cushier position. Pay’s good, responsibilities are good, and I personally don’t want to end up in a situation where I’m delegating all the actual work to other people. But that sort of thinking isn’t for everyone. People at LZ have come and gone, looking to become managers or executives or what have you. And if hopping from place to place is for you, tech is currently the right kind of industry for that.

So that’s it! I hope this has been helpful and given you an idea of how one developer got to where he is today. I benefitted from growing up in a household that encouraged computer use, turning web development into a very long-running hobby for me. But if you’re on the job hunt, this predisposition is certainly not expected of you. Unless you’ve decided on the bootcamp route, start small and you’ll get somewhere sooner than you know it.

Our new job

Within the past month, we:

  • Bought a washer, dryer, and refrigerator
  • Learned how to hack our security system
  • Installed a mailbox
  • Moved everything we own
  • Pulled weeds around the house, a few times
  • Changed our address everywhere
  • Switched doctors
  • Found a new vet
  • Bought a grill
  • Assembled a wardrobe and coffee table
  • Bought curtains and rods
  • Mounted projector and speaker wire all over the place
  • Installed two GFCI receptacles
  • Labeled our electrical subpanel
  • Drafted a circuit map of the house with grounding and GFCI info
  • Bought a dining room table
  • Installed a cool doorbell
  • Trekked through our crawlspace three times
  • Replaced our furnace air filter
  • Removed a buttload of ivy
  • Helped cut down a tree
  • Applied stump killer
  • Carried a bed frame 5 blocks
  • Mounted 6 smoke detectors and 2 carbon monoxide detectors
  • Met with a seismic engineer and contractor
  • Met with an HVAC specialist
  • Met with a plumber
  • Met with an electrician
  • Met with a window screen specialist

And more! And it was super fun! And the fun probably won’t stop! Ever!!! Aaaaugh!

Last day in SF

It seems like only a few blog posts ago (it was) that I announced that I was moving to San Francisco!

Six years, two jobs, three apartments, countless bike rides, a few broken bones, one cat and one marriage later, Anna and I are headed to a house in Berkeley. That’s right – homeownership! In the Bay Area! That is equally crazy and fortunate.

But today is about endings. The biggest one, next to our lease, is my era of bike commuting. I’ve been biking Market Street pretty much every single day for the past six years! It only resulted in one catastrophic injury and permanent loss of range of motion in my arm. But that was five years ago! It’s been pretty smooth sailing since then. A brisk 20 minute jaunt down the street – even when obeying traffic lights. Congratulations to me on not ending up strewn all over the road!

As part of giving up my twice-daily brush with death, Anna gets the awesome commute – 10 minutes to work by bike. My commute won’t be AWFUL – one reason we decided on Berkeley rather than somewhere more remote – but it will be the usual trans-bay slog through the tunnel or over the bridge (haven’t decided on BART or AC Transit yet). I’ll live. Next year, Berkeley gets Bay Area Bike Share, so that will shave off a few minutes.

We’ll be celebrating our last night in San Francisco by checking out the City Hall Centennial! Also, today is Tori Campbell’s last day on KTVU (my news channel of choice when on the treadmill). I don’t know why I’m mentioning it! I thought it was sort of poignant!

Endings today! Beginnings tomorrow!

On “Proud Gamers” and “Proud Atheists”

Letting go of my pride has been really beneficial toward improving my personality and relationships. It’s harder for me to feel offended or insulted, it’s made me less competitive, and made me happier about who I am and what I do.

Let’s not get that last part twisted. I said “happier”. Not prouder. What is there to be proud about oneself? Your family history can be rich and diverse; you can donate your time and money to charity; you can raise a family; you can win competitions; you can make things; you can make money; you can learn about the world; you can love culture. Your achievements and interests say a lot about you, and they should make you feel happy. But I don’t see self-contentment as pride.

What I see as pride is taking these achievements and interests and integrating them so closely into your identity that they overtake you. You become offended by anyone criticizing or disparaging your interests. It becomes a personal affront, and something you must rectify to maintain some sort of balance. Let’s give some examples from the list of achievements and interests above.

  • The first one’s easy: you might believe your sex, gender, body shape, ancestry, nationality or race is superior to others. (It’s not.)
  • If you donate to charity, you might feel that the time you spent selflessly helping others entitles you to special treatment or excuses your behavior toward those less privileged than you.
  • If you’ve given birth and/or raised children, you might let your status as a “proud mommy” or “proud father” completely overtake what you talk or care about.
  • If you’ve partaken in some sort of athletic, scientific, or other competition, you might think your victory (or even your participation) has placed you on a new level, immune from other challengers.
  • If you’ve invented or otherwise created something, you might believe that makes you the foremost authority on the topic.
  • If you have a great amount of money, you might feel like you need to show the world through the purchase of useless luxury accessories.
  • Your unshakable belief in a higher power (or lack thereof) could, well, cause the Crusades.
  • And if you love some aspect of your culture so dearly that it shapes your identity, it might prevent you from seeing the big picture when those with similar interests use their voices to cause harm.

Let’s talk about these last two in detail, as I run into them on the Internet quite a lot. Let’s start by saying that I am not spiritual or religious, and that I enjoy playing video games. These are just two things about me. I have friends for whom neither of these facts are true, and we get along. If you’re like me, you have these friends too. That’s great.

“Proud Atheist”

But let’s talk about atheism for a sec. Atheist thought on the Internet seems to be entering into its own little Enlightenment. Popular figures such as Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson have become the figureheads for a new form of advocacy wherein science is the final word in all worldly matters. That it’s not enough to believe; one must “know”. I’m down with the intended message: scientific research is important for the progress of the human race.

But, aside from Young Earth Creationists who believe science is either “historical” or “observed”, I don’t see how science needs to conflict with religion. People can 100% understand and accept everything that has been discovered through research and still believe in some form of higher consciousness. You can never prove everything — science is all about progress, not the end goal — so you can never disprove everything, either.

On one hand, this is often considered the “god of the gaps” perspective wherein a supernatural force’s power diminishes as new discoveries arise. On the other hand, it can be called agnosticism. Theistic agnosticism. You can also state that there could be nothing out there, but we’ll never know. That’s atheistic agnosticism. It’s really two sides of the same coin, until pride gets in the way.

Really, what’s the big deal with never being able to know everything? I posit that there are many atheists who are so proud of their views that they perceive this inability to know certain things as a weakness. And they’ll fight to cover up that weakness. Sure, it’s usually relegated to arguing over the Internet, but that’s probably because no major military powers are run by atheists. Some atheists are so proud of their stances that they perceive religion on the whole as a threat. That’s why wars are started, guys.

Back to the science advocacy. I’m going to take a guess that a lot of people are in “fucking love” with science because they’re rebelling against their friends or relatives who might have pushed religion on them. Friends and relatives are what Facebook is full of, anyway, and a new generation of atheistic people feel the need to find ways to rebel against those who don’t feel the same way as they do. That rebellion takes the form of pride. Pride in your ability to argue with “reason”, with “logic”, with “reliable sources” (I’ve heard those three terms so goddamn much). It’s plain to see that the pride is a defense mechanism.

“Proud Gamer”

Oh, jeez. Sorry if you’ve been following me on Twitter for the past month or so where I’ve been poking some much-needed fun at this debacle called #GamerGate.

This Goddamn thing. I don’t want to talk about what sort of terrible shit started it. Rather, let’s talk about the supposed goal of this “movement”: to reestablish ethics in video game journalism. Why? Because, among other things, a bunch of journalists have written articles about how the label “gamer” has become poisoned by a wave of misogynistic, violent assholes whose voices often drown out the more progressive ones. #GamerGate purports to need publications that respect the label of “gamer” and don’t spend their time dragging perfectly well-meaning folks (insert laugh track) through the mud.

I’ve gotten the argument that anyone who plays games is, by definition, a gamer. Fine. But much like I would sooner join a monastery than be lumped in with those who label themselves as “atheists,” I would burn every game I own before falling in with the “gamer” crowd. But for many, being a gamer is so central to one’s identity that any criticism of the content in video games, or the culture surrounding them, is — again — perceived as a threat. But let’s take a quote from our good friend Anita Sarkeesian:

…remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.

Putting aside the fact that criticism is central to video game journalism (ever read a review?), it’s important to try to understand why someone would feel like they’re being attacked when nothing is being attacked — rather, a piece of media, created by someone else, is being criticized. Nothing is being prevented or taken away. Learning is taking place. If this messes with your sense of self, it might feel uncomfortable, but maybe you need discomfort. Maybe you’re learning why identifying under a certain banner or label can stagnate you if you’re unwilling to grow beyond it.

Or, maybe you truly disagree with everything you’re reading, which is your prerogative. But only a prideful person can feel like an analysis of something you like is actually a condemnation of you, when you haven’t actually done anything. And even if insults are being lobbed at you (heck, I’ll lambaste you for supporting #GamerGate), what about this whole topic is so important that you must lob them back?

Some might argue that it’s not #GamerGate supporters that are doing the name-calling; rather, it’s “social justice warriors”: an ill-defined collection of women and Tumblr users who are supposedly trying to shut gaming down because it only appeals to white males. Let’s play devil’s advocate and say for a second that this mischaracterization is actually true: who cares if they actually were? Would they succeed in shutting down an industry so powerful and deeply ingrained within our culture?

In reality, those fighting for social justice (a good thing, in my humble opinion) are aiming to introduce diverse voices into the mainstream. It’s an additive process. Nothing is being shut down or taken away. Some journalists believe strongly about social justice. That’s good, because reporting about important issues is their job. What, social justice isn’t an important issue, you say? Why is that? Is it because the issue doesn’t affect you? How proud must you be to actually believe that a focus on minority voices will only drown your oh-so-important voice out?

So… do you hate yourself?

I admit that my definition of pride is somewhat narrow. It’s not the sort of pride you feel when a loved one has accomplished something amazing. It’s not the sort of pride you feel when your cultural leaders proclaim that your life is worth living, and your rights are worth fighting for. It’s not the sort of pride you feel by living the life you want to lead (I call this “happiness”). I feel all of these and I hope that you do, too.

It’s the sort of pride that blocks you off from opportunities for growth. And we are never done growing, learning, or changing. So when something with which you identify is being scrutinized, think about why it’s so important for you to slather yourself with labels, and whether your pride is getting in the way of your future.

8 Albums Worth Listening To All The Way Through

How’s that for a clickbait headline.

I’m a big fan of singles, but sometimes some songs pop up that make me go and listen to the whole album, start to finish. Here are those albums:

The Avalanches – Since I Left You
Bonobo – Black Sands
Cornelius – Fantasma
Fantastic Plastic Machine – Luxury
Justice – †
Lemon Jelly – ’64-’95
Mr. Scruff – Trouser Jazz
TaQ – bounce connected

Bye again.

Oh, what a night

What a terrible, terrible night.

Backup puked up even more hair ties yesterday morning. It was possible that that was the end of it, but we took him to the vet because we wanted to be sure.

After a very expensive day of barium ingestion and X-rays, we were told the cat had to come in the next day for further tests, but we brought him home with an IV catheter in his arm. I was pretty damn certain that he’d try to tear it out, so they gave me a cone to put around his neck.

Well, the cone did jack shit. After a few hours of writhing around with the cone on, he found a way to reach his arm and tear the catheter’s covering off. Next would be the catheter itself, so I volunteered to “sleep” in the family room where he hangs out and stop him from tearing at it.

At around 3 AM, I was ready to give up, so I let Anna take over the watch… but then I realized he’d probably hate it if I covered what remained of his wrapping in duct tape. Well, I only had electrical tape, but that seemed to do the trick. It’s 7 AM and it’s still in one piece. Although he did find a way to tear his cone off.

In other news, I was looking under the bed and found a third clump of regurgitated hair ties. That probably brings the count up to 20. Bravo, kitty.

The most surreal thing in recent memory just happened to me.

Our cat Backup (namesake) has been puking a bit for the past few days, which worried us, because all we changed about his diet was trying some new pet food we got from a friend. We stopped giving it to him, but he kept puking, and he started to take his time eating his morning dry food, only eating his evening wet food regularly.

Today I came home and he had barely eaten any dry food, and there was some puke around (some on my Swimp hoodie :( ), but the cat seemed pretty calm, greeting me and sitting on me. Regardless, I called a pet hospital and decided to bring him over as a walk-in when Anna got home (I can’t drive, my hand’s still busted).

About half an hour later, Backup started to gag and puked up a bit on the floor. I came over to him and put my hand on his back, I felt him tense up, he gave out a low moan, and a gigantic clump of elastic hair ties shot out of his mouth.

There must have been at least ten of them. It was ridiculous. I can’t believe something that enormous could fit in a cat’s stomach… makes sense why he was passing up his dry food. We knew he loved playing with Anna’s hair ties, but were completely unaware that he was swallowing them. They could have been in there for months. Doing a quick search, this might be kind of a common situation with cats.

Sssoooo… I think we’re good now. The cat seems calm enough. I expect his appetite to return shortly. Problem… solved?

Bonus photo! Click here for a gruesome hair tie regurgitation bonanza!