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2022 — 2023 Card: Front
2022 — 2023 Card: Back
Hi! You and I may be friends or family. We might be Twitter buddies (and we should). We could be neighbors across the street or across the cities. We might be passing acquaintances or going way back. It's really nice for you and me, for us to chat again, even if it's just with this letter.
Who am I again? Well, aside from the blatantly branded card that brought you here today, there's absolutely no way to know that I am Ryan Rampersad. I might be that annoying advice-giver or that quirky branding guy with long hair and weird red ribbon, or that Twitter-enthusiast (more on that later) or that alleged technical expert. You bet. That's me.
Who is that adorable dog? That's Roxy! Roxy is 12 this year! What kind of dog is Roxy? That's a great question. Here's how the story goes: she comes from my mom's cousin's farm where two dogs went into the barn and puppies came out. Allegedly, she is a terrier and beagle mix. She will accept our usual neighborhood walks in desperation, but she loves going walks outside of the neighborhood and she's always up for an adventure. She's getting older. She overheats in the hot summers and her feet sting in the curelly cold winters. She can't walk quite as far and she can't jump as well as she used to. But that's OK since she does her best.
You likely saw the card already, though if not take a look at the images above. In the photo legend, I describe all of the featured adventerous activities and experiences Roxy has gone on this year. Roxy sure gets around!
Roxy at sunset
OK, what's up with this card? These cards have been delivered to fine folks everywhere since the mythical year of 2016. It's legendary because... the casual-though-appropriate way of describing it is, "I don't know, I think I became an adult." Many years ago, I felt a great need to share my gratitude and thank you. That's the collective you, and it's also the individual you, reading this. No matter if you're burning the midnight oil with me on the regular, hanging out in the park with Roxy and me, or in another country away, making the world a better place. Thank you. You're incredible. I am so lucky to have you in my life, and I think I can write here; the world is fortunate to have you too.
If this is your first card, welcome. If you have received a card before, welcome back, and thank you for reading again. I hope to continue into the distant future.
I want to share my thanks and some additional musings from this year with you with this letter.
Before we dive into the letter's topical sections, I have a short commentary about this year's card format.
Since the 2019-2020 season, I sent these cards out as enveloped first class mail in the 5-by-7 format. It's a great combination of size. Easy to mail, easy to put up somewhere on a fridge, but big enough to see cute dog pictures from afar.
Over the years, my goals have included getting more cards out and spreading the thanks and joy with as many as folks as possible. We have been growing the letter recipient list steadily. While this is an ongoing goal, for the most part it has been met.
Meanwhile, a more recent goal is reducing the waste footprint of these cards. Nobody, including me, is going to blame you for recycling this card next year when you take take last season's off the fridge and put the new one up. With the old enveloped format though, the first thing you do is discard the envelope. Instant waste! Sure, you can recycle it. Adding a separate return label and recipient label compounded the waste factors. Not to mention the cute snowflake stickers and other adornments.
What if I never sent an envelope in the first place?
This 2022-2023 season, I am maintaining the 5-by-7 size. But without the envelope! Instead, this card is mailed as a postcard! I have been thinking about this for the last few years. Every November-Birthday-Thanksgiving window, I am surprised to realize: it's card time again. Finally, I managed to get this new format ready in time for you all this year.
I will mention a few more "how the sausage is made" anecdotes. You might have thought, "with postcards, surely you will pay less in postage too!" That is a great thought, however with 5-by-7 postcards, normal letter rates apply. Alas. Another aspect is that without the envelope, I cut physical production time to four hours spread over a few days to just an hour on a single night. What a relief! As the last inside baseball note, this letter is nonlinearly written. I jump around over a few months writing different sections with different mindsets, moods, salient topics and so on. It's a snapshot in time, every year. In the 2021-2022 season letter, I used a paid SaaS called Grammarly. I am intentionally writing some wacky prose here, but I think Grammarly pushed me too far with the bodacious prose. This year, there's no Grammarly in sight. But there could be a different almost-AGI somewhere in here, as an easter egg. 😉
Anyway, enough with the detours. Welcome to the new card format and the 2022-2023 season's letter. If this is your first card, thanks for joining. If this is your many-eth card, then thanks again for visiting once more.
How long can you leave something alone? Don't we all have papers on our desks, stashes of allegedly essential documents tucked away just in case we ever need them? I've had my fair share.
While going to school, I kept and archived most of my schoolwork. From homework to project assignments. Every paper I turned in and received back, every handout, all of the "planers," all of the papers, all of the loose leaf notes—just everything. I had systematically separated each year's worth of pointless paperwork, at least from each other.
When I was a kid, well, not like last week, but when I was a kid in my teens, what was I thinking? Was it something along the lines of "yes, definitely, future Ryan is definitely going to want all of these homework bundles? He's really going to be interested in these sketches of molecular forms; he's really going to love these English assignments on Bartleby the Scrivener; he's going to enjoy these cheatsheets from physics, study guides from calculus." Let me tell you this. He does not think that now.
Individually a few papers, a particular assignment, or invigorating feedback are probably worth keeping. If not indefinitely, at least then for a little while.
In late October, I embarked on my annual pilgrimage. I was cleaning the basement. You might wonder, how can that be a yearly adventure? Because the basement, you see, you understand, is connected to some interdimensional transfluxporter, where getting stuff out of there doesn't decrease the total amount contained. Yes, it's quite a problem.
Well, I found all of that school paperwork. In total, it amounted to three huge tote bins. They had been sitting in the corner for... let me check... between 7 and 11 years. To say it was dusty was an understatement. I sorted through most of it, keeping a few notable pieces. But the rest, it ran its course; it served its purpose.
I got rid of it all.
I did it, everyone, I threw stuff out. Hundreds, maybe thousands of papers.
Actually, I wanted a deeper cleanse than just throwing these things out. One late fall evening, with the smell of mulched leaves in the air, I loaded everything into the wagon. I towed the wagon into our neighborhood park and entered the fire ring. I began the ritual. At first, I built a small fire with leftover firewood, kindling, and a few one-season-too-old charcoal briquettes. I started slowly, tossing a few crumpled sheets from the stacks into the fledgling flames. The flames feed off these sheets, lighting up the park for hours. Then, as fires do, they conspicuously consumed until fire did the deed, and all of that school work was reduced to ash.
Watching those papers burn, I reflected on the memories and experiences they represented. I knew I no longer had an attachment to them. I could have saved any of them, at any time, at that moment or any time in the years prior. I allowed myself to let go of the attachment to them, knowing that they had served their purpose and could now be released.
After the fire burned out and nothing was left but smoldering ashes, I felt clarity and freedom. Remember those things in the corner?
A while ago, someone asked what I thought about Twitter and what it has been going through. I didn't have much more than a shapeless shrug at the time. It's been a while and I have had plenty of time to think about it. Let's talk about something we all love. Twitter!
I joined Twitter as a high schooler but only used it a little. Instead, I was a plurker. I was a Plurk enthusiast because, of course, I thought Twitter was just too mainstream. The two significant differences between Twitter and Plurk at the time were that Twitter had a simple top-down chronological timeline, and you could post any text you wanted. Having bought into the "status" "livestream" concept a little too much, I thought that Twitter’s approach was too much freedom and would leave “posts” haphazardly written. Or something. Plurk had more restrictions. Plurk wrote every post like "Ryan [verbs] [content]," as in "Ryan is working on his homework" or "Ryan thinks that Twitter should have sand which ads." Plurk visually presented these plurks (their esoteric name for a tweet, I mean, toot, I mean, post) in a horizontal timeline. To be honest, I am not sure why I stopped using Plurk. Maybe it was because of its mobile story and my limited access to smartphone speciality features until years later. Or maybe it was because nobody I wanted to follow used Plurk at all. Or maybe it was because Twitter was better. That is a detail lost to time now.
I remember live-tweeting the "fire" in high school. You could refer to this as The Hot Pocket Fire, but there's no way to know what happened in the lounge in the microwave on the fourth floor and if a hot pocket was really to blame. I had been using my dad's feature phone with Twitter's SMS gateway for tweets a little bit (meanwhile, Plurk never had such a thing). I saved up enough in my senior year to buy an iPod Touch. What a great little device, among other pedestrian activities like email, for tweeting! Apps back then were minimal, and as "web apps", they were not quite as polished. Nevertheless, uncharred by the Great Hot Pocket Fire, my iPod Touch and I occasionally used Twitter more and more. Later, when I started working in my senior year, I switched to my first so-called Smartphone, the "Optimus V," Twitter usage could extend well past the confines of terrestrial wifi.
By 2011, I was a Twitter fan, and nobody cared about my content on that other social network. What was it called again? But on Twitter, you could tweet and find an audience, and it was much more natural when extended out of my normal friend groups.
I had a WordPress blog (oh don't give me that look). I've written about this blog and its impact. That blog is also where I had an integration with Twitter's RSS feeds. Every week, the integration would create a post, gather the last week's worth of my tweets, collate them, and post a public archive. Conceptually the point was extracting the content from the big megacorp and preserving them. Because these archives were interspersed with regular blog content, I had an unfavorable opinion of them back then. Why am I exporting this junk into my pristine, carefully curated, wittily written blog? I should have kept the integration, though. Who could have known that years later, Twitter could end up near the brink of dissolution? Alas, I had removed the integration. Later, I, unfortunately, deleted many of the archive posts from the chronicle. More details lost to time now.
Through college, I continued using Twitter more than maintaining the blog. In college, I met steadfast Twitter friends, though. In many ways, the way Twitter networking works is the way networking works in real life, you find some folks, and they know some folks, and suddenly you know more folks. My Twitter friends and I followed the same people and we saw each other interacting and followed each other naturally. What a world of serendipity!
When I started working full time in "the industry", back then, "social media" was still in its infancy. Employers were supposed to review your Github and your Facebook accounts (not directly, but secretly, while everyone knew the secret) and look for objectionable content. That didn't happen.
Twitter has always had a turbulent relationship with clients. I mean, third-party clients. I mean apps that use the Twitter API. Do you remember the Adobe AIR clients that were ever so popular? Then all of the dozens of iOS and Android clients? Those were the days. Twitter spent a long time coming up with its mobile perspective. Then the token apocalypse came around. Making Twitter clients was no longer viable if you wanted indefinite revenue. You could get your 150 thousand customers and then poof, you can't have anymore. Then you'd stop investing in the app, the app would get stale, bug inception would occur, and finally, your customers would leave (and maybe even go back to the first-party Twitter app!) Did you know this is an anti-pattern? Making your power users who want to use your service with extra features and amenities live in a pollless, activity-less, and push-less world is in poor taste?)
Today Twitter has new ownership. There is a lot of social turmoil. There is a lot of engineering turmoil. Most of the madness comes from a lack of active empathy, a sense of intentionally malicious chaos, and a feeling there is no plan. Few will protest that Twitter has been fine all along, it has had its engineering problems and social conundrums. "Twitter 2.0" is certainly faring no better, but that's because it's not here yet. This is `Twitter-1.0-EOL-N-final v1.42.0` more than anything else. It's fun to point and laugh at these antics, but until there's some meaningful progress on a valuable feature to ordinary people, it's all bluster. (Hey, I'd love a resurgence of API clients, make it happen!)
We could go into a lengthy diatribe on the federated alternative: Mastodon. It's been going on for a few years now. Lately, as an interoperable federated protocol, it's been gaining bunches of users. By "bunches," I mean multiple millions of new users. Comparatively a drop in the bucket relative to Twitter's user counts, but promising nonetheless. I tell people it's the ye olde web of WordPress, you host your own, or you use a hosting provider that does it for you. Naysayers will condemn the entire thing by a few lackluster aspects inherent in the design. You can't click _Follow_, you have to copy the username and paste it into your instance to follow (just like an RSS feed with Google Reader). Just because there is friction in one place does not invalidate an entire process! Some server instances will face overwhelming traffic and resource usage. That could condense the federation by coalescing the good parts together and triggering an Embrace, Extend, Extinguish even for the Mastodon system. Running your server instance is complicated, time-consuming, and to no one's surprise, costs more than eight dollars monthly. It's not perfect. It's all relatively young yet. There's a lot to say about how the mechanics of Mastodon, its interior protocol of ActivityPub work, and all of our technical hopes and dreams about a federated, distributed, potential peer-to-peer future. I think Mastodon is still in the "tweet by SMS" era relative to where Twitter was. While I am making the best of Mastodon today, it’s still a novelty and it’s not clear if it will go beyond that status anytime soon.
I read through the old letters as part of the letter-writing process. It helps me remember when, what, and especially why I wrote on these topics. One thing that stands out is that I try increasing Twitter conversions. It was the best way for you to follow me. In the Twitter-sense of "follow" and in the "what's Ryan doing these days" kind of "follow". It's almost like having a newsletter but bite-sized, very passively written and consumed. This letter, of course, will continue on the tradition of plastering the walls with Twitter links, so you just keep your eyes open and your elephants 🐘 near.
Breaking News: Elon makes outrageous claims on Twitter! 37 minutes ago Mr. Elon Musk, owner of Twitter (2022), tweeted, ominously, that sandwiches are banned on the Twitter campus because they have two sides.
And now on to the — ahem —
elephant — Musk — in the room. The first day in October, we heard that the deed was done. I was surprised. The deal had been going on for months and it felt like it was getting quiet. Then there were the layoffs. with rumors flying that teams managed content moderation were the first let go. Similarly, the teams that managed core services were impacted by those same layoffs too. Twitter verification was nullified and turned into a buy-in-add-on. The "long hours at high intensity" felt like a war cry, where bluster wins all. Stocks fell when brands were impersonated, how could anyone have guessed it, by accounts buying Twitter Blue for its verification badge. Most recently, Twitter temporarily instituted the now infamous "no other social media links" ruling. Finally, Musk polls if he should step down and the poll answers: yes.
I grew up with this thing and it was a part of me. My personality, friends, and information hubs are centered around Twitter. (Oh no, you could even call it... a nexus. Please, I'll wait while you groan.) Is this all entertaining? You bet. Is it incredibly sad? Unfortunately.
Incidentially, I have rewritten these concluding thoughts multiple times over the last few weeks. I keep waffling between that Twitter is not dead and Twitter is dead. The futuristic loss is, ironically, ephemeral. The Twitter servers did not explode, the Twitter service has not shutdown, the Twitter userbase network effect is still mostly there. I am not making any bets on whether Twitter stays or goes away. Who's to say?
In the meantime, you used to find me primarily on Twitter@ryanmr. Now you can find me on Mastodon @firstname.lastname@example.org. Even better yet, you can read my blog at www.ryanmr.com.
As an annual tradition, I like to include an activity for my readers.
In previous instances of this letter, we've had two previous activities. In our first activity, we explored what point-blank mass advertising does to a person and why having a person input buffer is critical. In our second activity, we explored recall and what matters instantaneously and after a while.
Earlier I shared the story of finding my personal schoolwork in the corner. It was just there, sitting idle for years, taking up space in my life, physically and maybe mentally, in the back corner of my mind and room. Our activity this time is related to that, and I'll share another story afterward too.
Here's the method:
waiting for you to find a thing you lost
If you found your wayward forgotten thing, then congratulations. If not, that is OK too! You will unintentionally lose a thing and one day you will find it again. Sometimes it is coincidence you stumble upon these artifacts and sometimes it is out of necessity.
There are things we own and have intentionally and actively. Still, we have things that are nearby that are phantoms waiting for rediscovery.
As always, you are my honored guest here. This letter's writing is no small effort, and your time reading this is no small feat either. I have to say thank you one more time. I hope it was an enjoyable read. I hope your year has been well and your next year even better.
If you are adventurous and fastened your awesome card featuring Roxy the dog somewhere decorative or festive, please snap a photo and share it with me.
Thank you, and have a good one.