Just another day of being an asshole on the internet

TL;DR:

  • Hunter.io is a service that email marketers use to get huge email lists.
  • Go to their email finder to see if you’re in their list of 200+ million addresses (you probably are).
  • Go to their claim email address page to (attempt to) remove yourself from their database.

I get a lot of emails. An overwhelming amount, in fact.

A lot of the time, I have myself to blame: they are from lists I signed up for (intentionally or otherwise) or places I have made purchases. Most of the time there is an unsubscribe link at the bottom and I just need to muster enough energy to go through the hundreds of emails and hit that link.

But sometimes, the emails are more personalized — like, actually written by a human being, not a robot — and those are far more difficult to get rid of. Here’s how an email like that might go:

Hi Chris!

I read your article https://jazzsequence.com/category/ministry-of-music/ and was really impressed! I have a site that has similar content and since you write about music, I think it might be relevant to your readers.

Can you take a look at my article at http://totallyfakemarketingwebsite.com/music-therapy/ and, if you like it, link it from your article? If you could that would be great! Looking forward to working with you!

Now, on the internet, when you are confronted by an unsolicited email or private message, you basically can do one of two things: ignore it, and hope that it goes away, and respond to it (either positively — “absolutely, I will definitely link to your content!” — or negatively — “hell no, take me off your list”). If these were sent by a robot, ignoring it would have no consequences. You could happily delete the email and go on with your day. But these aren’t sent by a robot, they are sent by a human. And dealing with it in any way other than an outright “go to hell” will result in a followup email.

Hi Chris!

I was wondering if you had a chance to read the email I sent you last week. Looking forward to hearing from you!

I want to not feed the trolls, but, it turns out, these content marketers aren’t trolls

It’s at this point that the internet rule “don’t feed the trolls” shows cracks. I want to not feed the trolls, but, it turns out, these content marketers aren’t trolls — they are some other kind of creature — and not feeding them, doesn’t make them go away. Because continued, conscious ignoring and deleting of the emails they send will just result in more emails…

Hey Chris!

Just checking in to see if you had considered my offer. Let me know what you think!

I haven’t tested how long these will go on unchecked. I usually give in and respond after the second or third iteration. Sometimes, I forget and it’s the fourth or fifth. But I haven’t found a point at which they don’t keep sending followup replies. At some point, if you want this person to stop emailing you, you’re going to have to hit the reply button.

Don’t call me a Monopoly player

It was one such exchange I had this week. I got an email from one of the two partners running gamecows.com. Now, looking at their site, I can’t tell what their business model is. Maybe it’s through affiliate links, although I don’t see any. Maybe they are just trying to build up a collection of list-icles to go on their resume for future writing gigs. There’s no advertising on the site, just a newsletter you can sign up for (and I’m not signing up for the newsletter just to test this experiment).

Whatever it is, I got an email from them that linked to my games list page. Now, this is not a post. This is not an article. This is literally  just a list of all the games that I own. It’s an experiment, and it’s a demo of my Games Collector WordPress plugin, and it’s a way for people to see what I have already, so if they wanted to get me something I don’t already have, there’s an easy way to figure out what I do have (that was the original reason I built the plugin, other features just expanded from there). There’s no content to speak of, and there isn’t even anything relevant to link from — the only links that are on the page are to Board Game Geek as a way to provide more information about a game. I suppose I could link to them in one of those, but I’m not trying to link to a review, I’m linking to a game description. I could link to Amazon if it wouldn’t then look like I was trying to profit from the game. I could link to the game’s website, but then I’d have to track down every game publisher. BGG has out of print games in its database, which makes it a much easier and more central place to get information about games. And much less biased, given that any reviews that appear on BGG are from people who’ve actually played the games and aren’t trying to profit in some way from their review. The more popular games have multiple reviews.

Anyway, this isn’t an ad for Board Game Geek. I digress.

The email was asking me to link to their review of Dominion (see what I did there?), a game that’s definitely one of our favorites. But, again, even if I did want to link to them, I have nothing relevant to link from. Not on that page. It wouldn’t make sense to link to their review of Dominion from my listing of Dominion in my game collection, it would be more confusing because it would be inconsistent with the other games on the page. Plus it wouldn’t be impartial.

I might have originally intended to respond, just because it was about games and I like games, but I didn’t. And so, sure enough, the second email comes. Except this one comes with a bite.

Chris, did you get my last email? If I don’t hear back, I’ll assume you’re more of a Monopoly person. Nothing wrong with that of course. ;)

Woah boy.

Now, it should be obvious that I’m not a “Monopoly person” just by looking at the page they linked to. If I was, there’d probably be several incarnations of Monopoly on the list. There are not. I have distinct memories of losing horribly and being angry at my Dad for winning so overwhelmingly and feeling like a failure at the game and as a human being as a result of Monopoly. Monopoly is not a fun game. Unless by “fun” you mean one person wins and makes everyone else’s lives miserable — which describes a lot of board games of the past, Risk is another great example of this. I make it a point to avoid games like these at all costs.

What’s more, if you look at the history of Monopoly, it wasn’t supposed to be fun. It was designed to illustrate the evils of capitalism, not how great capitalism is. According to Wikipedia “it was intended as an educational tool to illustrate the negative aspects of concentrating land in private monopolies.” Even their own about page mentions “the family-destroying dynamics of a ‘friendly’ game of Monopoly.”

I was angry at yet another of a long series of unsolicited emails from which there is no unsubscribe

This was an obvious baiting tactic, and one that, I felt, was particularly offensive, given that it was coming from someone who claimed to like games, directed to someone who (I should think, given that there are 100+ in our collection) also likes games, and is very much not a “Monopoly person” — something that should be obvious if you actually read the page you’re requesting a link from. So, like a chump, I took the bait. And I wrote a nasty email. Because I was pissed at the implication and I was angry at yet another of a long series of unsolicited emails from which there is no unsubscribe.

A possible solution

Here’s where the story shifts from the norm. Normally, I would respond to one of these (nasty or otherwise) and never hear from them again. In this case, that didn’t happen. On some days, I would be even more exasperated, but in this case, I made an implication that “if you just write good content, the traffic will come” which I know, really, isn’t the case. But I also know that emailing me, is not going to give them a bump in their traffic. My site doesn’t get traffic. You’re better off soliciting, well, Board Game Geek for one, to get links to your site. Or Geek and Sundry. Or, I dunno, anything else, really, because I hardly get hits on this site, and definitely not enough to make an incoming link from jazzsequence.com result in a higher ranking on Google. You’d be just as good building your own site, call it sequencejazz.com and write your own incoming link for all the good my Google juice would do you, which is the other reason why these emails exhaust me.

So they apologize for striking a nerve and I apologize for being an asshole and I said something like “I wish there was a ‘do not call’ list or something for these emails…” And this is where the real nugget of wisdom happens.

They shared with me the name of the tool that they — and many other content marketers — use to gather emails: Hunter.io. By all appearances, this seems like a fairly legit way of gathering lists of email addresses to spam send your wonderful emails to. They boast 200+ million email addresses in their database, all tested for sendability and ranked with a score. They have a search tool right on the front page their site where you can search by domain and get a list of results (with parts of the name blocked out, although with some social engineering you can figure them out a lot of the time). Go ahead and try your own (assuming you don’t have a Gmail account) — you’re probably in there.

You can even find the sources for the email addresses, and here’s where it gets really interesting. Their email finder lets you type in a full name (first and last) and a domain and it will give you the matching address. This is easy and you can do it right now to get an actual individual’s email address from, basically, anywhere, provided you can give those two things. But the sources, for me, were the most revealing. Two of my results had the tag “Removed”. I don’t really know what this means, perhaps just that my address no longer appeared on those pages. Those were my ancient ReverbNation page and a tag archive for the term “art” on jazzsequence.com! (And not just any tag archive, but, in fact, page 2, randomly.)

Hunter.io results for Chris Reynolds

My email address got entered into their database because I committed a piece of code. That code is open source and includes my email address and this is considered fair game.

The remaining (not removed) public listing of my email address is on Trac. Yes, plugins.wordpress.trac.org. So, to summarize, my email address got entered into their database because I committed a piece of code and standard practice for copyright and GPL notices in code is to put the author’s email address in the code. That code is open source, and therefore exists on the internet, and because that code is on the internet, and the code includes my email address, this is considered fair game to add me to a database of 200+ million other people who can be spammed receive unsolicited emails be emailed by this company’s users.

Hunter.io has a contact address — [email protected] — but when I emailed it, I got an auto-response that it couldn’t be delivered. The message response was, get this, “Leave failed, not a member.” This seems to imply that, because I am not a member of the service, I can’t email their public email address. Fabulous. Isn’t that fabulous?

Claim your address on Hunter.io

I did a bit of digging and, through a FAQ on their site, found that the Claim page on their site is how you can (attempt to) remove your address from their database. By entering your address into the form, you are “claiming” that address, and you can then either edit the preferences on the address or request that it be deleted entirely. Alternately, it’s entirely possible that you’re just adding your email back into their database, I guess time will tell.

At any rate, I claimed all of my email addresses, even those that didn’t come up when I searched for them. I don’t think it will block them from being added again in the future if they get indexed again, but hopefully it will null the existing matches.

If you get these emails, too, go to Hunter.io and claim your address. Bookmark the damn page and do it again in six months. I’d recommend writing a nasty letter to them, but I tried that and it bounced, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

I’ve joined Human Made!

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This week, I started the next chapter of my great adventure — joining the team at Human Made.

Over the last roughly two and a half years, I’ve worked at WebDevStudios — one of the top WordPress-focused development agencies. When I joined, I was plopped in the middle of a project for the United States National Park Service with no development lead at the time and over the course of the next year, I was able to wrangle that and a subsequent project for NPS together, ultimately earning myself a promotion to developer lead largely as a result of my work on NPS.

You know that imposter syndrome stuff? You can’t have that lingering around when you’re working projects for the US Government or Microsoft or MotorTrend, and I had to shed that pretty quickly and adapt to agency development for brands that I not only recognized, but who are ubiquitous, like Campbell’s.

However, as I transitioned more into my role as a lead, I ended up being more deeply involved in things that didn’t bring me joy and excitement — namely, management stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my team and I enjoy being a leader and a resource, but the day-to-day administrative tasks of being a lead outweighed actual development and I learned (fairly quickly) that the thing I enjoy most is coding. Leading projects and architecting development, sure, but also actually writing the code for those projects and things that I’ve architected.

Much of the time I spent as a lead, I was pretty unhappy. I was stressed, I took work home after I signed off for the day, I had very little to look forward to the next day because every day was just a series of calls interspersed with pings and reviewing and updating tasks. The only time I ever got to write any code was on our #FiveForTheFuture days, and if the workload was too busy, those days occasionally were cancelled. I can be pretty good at whatever I put my mind to, but my heart wasn’t in it when my day-to-day tasks involved reviewing other people’s work and being present on anywhere between 2 and 6 calls a day.

I don’t want this to sound like WDS is a bad place or a bad employer. They are actively working to get their leads more involved in development. Hopefully things are heading in the right direction now. But I also know that different people enjoy different things and have different skill sets, and, for me, I can do all those administrative and managerial things, but I don’t enjoy doing those things. I kept coming back to a thing I had heard about Automattic’s structure where there is no pay increase associated with being a “lead” — you just are. And if you no longer want to be a lead, you aren’t. There’s no promotion/demotion involved, it’s just a hat you put on. And if you find that the hat doesn’t fit, you take it off. I felt trapped by being a lead and it was affecting my mental health and my life at home.

There are a lot of really cool companies out there for remote workers interested in building things for WordPress. Among those really cool companies, many of them offer amazing benefits that include flexible/unlimited vacation days. Since we like to go camping, and since doing that leaves me recharged and energized and able to take on work again when I come back, I knew that some place that had a generous policy for vacation was going to matter a lot. And most of those companies take a really honest view of employee well-being and all of these things that I’d been struggling with for the past year. So I tossed my resume into the ether, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.

And it was Tom who finally reached out.

That list of “really cool companies for remote workers interested in building things for WordPress”? Human Made is consistently at or near the top of that list. They are truly global, with “offices” in London and Australia and tend to attract the best of the best. So, I was bouncing in my seat a little as we arranged for a chat time on Slack and as I went through the interview process. I was offered a trial, worked with a team of Aussies and got to know the team and their processes.

The thing that was, has been, and still is most exciting to me, though, is actually writing code again. And the opportunity to learn. HM does things differently than WDS — they have different coding standards, build different types of applications, and try hard to be on the bleeding edge of what is happening in enterprise WordPress development. I could see right away that I have so much to learn and it excited me and made me realize that I had been feeling stagnant for a long time.

I enjoyed my time at WebDev and I learned a ton while I was there. Now I’m thrilled to be joining a team of people who unironically refer to each other as “humans”, who encourage and foster growth and actively take care of, and advocate for their team members.

Uncovering Digital Artifacts

This morning, my wife and I were having a conversation about what happens to our cultural information and identity when we are gone. Not just, what happens to, for example, this blog after I, personally, am deceased, but also, what happens to all of our information 50, 100, 200 years from now when the means of communication and information storage are completely different than the mediums used today.

Right now, if we want to understand what society and culture was like from a previous era, we piece things together from whatever information was left behind. For ancient civilizations and cultures (hundreds to thousands of years ago), we have little to go on. We have art that may have been preserved in sculptures or paintings. We can dig up tools and pottery. We can occasionally uncover cities or discover ruins and hypothesize what these buildings were used for. For more recent history, we can occasionally dig up writings from the period, or photographs, or film reels.

This conversation came out of a blog post on free range learning blog. In it, she talks about uncovering her own family’s history. It’s relatively easy to trace your family tree back to the nth generation but it’s significantly more difficult to understand who these people in your history were. Where is that information kept? Letters, journals, maybe newspaper articles or newsletters. What’s the modern equivalent?

Her argument is that we are an increasingly digital society. All of our information lives online or in the cloud or on a hard drive somewhere. That’s great. Maybe you even keep backups of your data and you own all your own information. Fantastic. But what happens to that hard drive when there is no machine to read the information?

I think in the future, archeologists are going to be experts in the field of data recovery. Our history is increasingly written in binary — but when a hard drive fails, it’s tossed in the trash. Maybe the data was recovered and moved to a new hard drive, or maybe that data is just lost forever and buried in a landfill somewhere. Digital archeologists will be necessary, to dig up these artifacts — hard drives, floppy discs, DVDs, BluRays, zip disks, thumb drives, SD cards — and use sophisticated tools just to extract what data can be recovered from them in order to get an understanding of who we were as a people. Because, be sure, we don’t leave physical remnants around. We don’t write with our hands on paper — we hammer keys and store that information on a hard drive somewhere. Every tweet, every blog, every Facebook message, every Instagram — what happens when these servers don’t exist anymore? Do you honestly think that all of that data is going to be migrated when we as a society are long past caring what an Instagram was? Or a hashtag?

How many things do you own that contain data that you actually, physically have no way of reading anymore? I have tons. I have zip disks of work I did in college. I have floppy disks with god-knows-what. My wife has floppy disks with important writings she did in college, too. I have slides and negatives from when I studied photography. I have Super8 film reels from a film class. I have stacks of VHS tapes, some from a movie I filmed in college and others the original recordings of a band I was in during the same time. I have stacks of cassettes from high school of various original music recordings I did. My mother-in-law is currently trying to deal with the thousands of unsorted photographs of her family and my wife and sister-in-law in boxes of prints and negatives and completely overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it. And this doesn’t come anywhere near the amount of photos we take now that we all have high quality cameras in our pocksts.

I have lost data, too. I built a server a number of years ago with a software RAID intended to back up and archive all our digital artifacts that ended up having a boot failure which corrupted the data that was striped across 3 hard drives. I had a backup solution in place at the time as well, but the backup solution had been failing and there was no recoverable data. Years and years of information, photos, backed up websites that I used to own were gone in an instant, never recoverable.

The point is, this thing we have now? This architecture, this system? It’s fallible. And we’re already losing our own personal histories.

Archaeology is the study of human culture through artifacts that are left behind. Archaeologists visit sites of lost civilizations and spend time digging up utensils, pottery, sometimes entire cities. Personal Digital Archeologist is a thing I think will exist in the future — and, for that matter, could probably be done now. It will require a different skillset than current archeologists because our culture is not traceable through the physical artifacts we own but through the data we record. What’s a computer besides a metal box? The thing isn’t important, it’s what’s saved on it that is valuable. Personal Digital Archeologists could be hired to dig through your mother’s digital archives — every website, every Facebook post, every blog, every recipe stored online — and collect data from whatever media that you can no longer access — the floppies, slides, zip disks and more that no longer have an interface (at least one you can read data from). It will take someone with an array of technical knowledge and tools — the ability to recover data from various forms of media including broken hard drives and physical media — and the patience to compile a personal history based on that data. You might get both a physical copy of the compiled data and a digital copy. Every home video burned to a BluRay, every photo and file saved onto a hard drive as well as printed copies of everything.

If this web development gig ever runs dry and/or I’m feeling ambitious enough to start a new business again, I might be interested in being a personal digital archaeologist and dig through family histories to create a narrative about who people were, starting with my own.

How to create an iPhone ringtone in 2 minutes

I used to have a dumb phone. It was one of those LG deals with a slide-out keyboard that made it okay for texting. I was super-excited to finally get an iPhone and jump into the 20th Century with everyone else, but found it more difficult to get custom ringtones and sounds on my iPhone than it was to get them on my dumb phone. They don’t make it easy, and there’s a dozen or more apps you can download that supposedly make it easier but all of them have some kind of limitation (your sound is too long/too short/too big/too small, etc). Here’s how to do it with absolutely no limitations.

First, get your sound. Oh my god, I know, right? You actually need to have the sound file. What is this, like 1997? I like having sound effects from Super Mario Brothers as my notification sounds, and you can download those from The Mushroom Kingdom in WAV format, which works fine for what we want.

Next, you need an audio encoder/decoder that will create .m4a files. I use XLD for Mac. It’s free and it can create high quality sound files if you want to rip music from CDs with it later (it’s the closest thing to EAC — which is the best ripper/encoder for Windows — that there is for OSX). The key here is that you want to encode your files from whatever format they’re in now (in my case WAV format) to Apple’s lossless AAC encoding (M4A). In XLD this can be set up in the preferences:

Preferences

Then all you need to do is open the file/files from the File menu or with ⌘+O and it will create .m4a copies of your originals.

Now here’s the super-secret trick that no one talks about!!!

.m4r files — which are iPhone ringtone files — are just renamed .m4a files. So once you have the .m4a files, just change the file extension to .m4r and you’ve got ringtones. (You might need to set your preferences to show file extensions if they aren’t displaying.)

Now because it’s Apple and everything you interact with has to go through iTunes, you can’t just drop the new ringtones onto your phone. You need to add them to your iTunes library and set your iTunes preferences to automatically sync ringtones.

iTunes_and_Add_New_Post_‹_jazzsequence_—_WordPress

These will likely be small files, so they should only take a few seconds to sync and then you have your new sounds to use on your phone.

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Not too hard, right?