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Going fourth

It’s time for another retrospective post – the fourth one. The number four has some fun associations: it is an unlucky number in China,1 the number of horsemen of the apocalypse, and – as 0x04 – it is also the ASCII character for “End of Transmission”. All that made it very difficult to title this post in a way that didn’t make it seem like I was ending the blog, so you’ll have to forgive me for the rather weak pun I settled on.

There have been 18 posts since last year’s retrospective, making 2017 an overall more bloggy year than 2016, about equal to my output in 2015. Not included in this total are the backdated posts (mostly book reviews) I recently snuck into the site’s chronology.

The most popular of these posts by far has been my rant about RSS, styled as dialogue in the tradition of Paul Biggar’s “It’s the Future”, wherein a sane person argues with an excitable strawman who’s very into fashionable and modern tech. It’s popular mostly as a result of getting to the top of Hacker News (which is basically reddit for people who really like Paul Graham) last November. This happened because I posted it after seeing an article with a similar theme in the top spot. Rather than being seen as derivative or too similar to the other one as I feared it might, it quickly eclipsed the previous article (sorry MacSparky!) likely due to being exactly the kind of tech-luddite snark the HN crowd loves. Career contrarian n-gate had this to say about it:

An internet preaches to the choir. The argument boils down to the author preferring standards over services. jsonfeed is dismissed because it does not use enough XML, despite having reached a staggering 0.1% market share in just six months. Hackernews lines up to eulogize content syndication, the non-Facebook web, and (most of all) Google Reader.

Unlike my other most popular post, the RSS article was not the result of months of research and writing. It sprang fully formed from my head in less than an hour. Nonetheless, I’m very proud of it – it makes a good point2 in a clever, humorous way. I hope to emulate that in more posts and earn more fake internet points.3

I also started an experiment in cryptocurrency-based blog monetisation with Coinhive. There’s a lot of bad press around cryptocurrency mining and Coinhive, most of it justified to some or other degree, but I still basically believe in the potential of this concept or something like it to provide a better way of generating revenue for free content than advertising (which isn’t exactly a shining beacon of ethical behaviour itself). Nonetheless, there’s a lot of work still to be done before funding a site via cryptocurrency mining is actually viable – my returns have been an order of magnitude lower than what advertising might have netted.

Lastly, in the past year I released Trollcave, a vulnerable VM I’ve been working on sporadically since 2015. Although it has some warts, I’m largely pleased with it as a complete and pretty difficult challenge, and as an infosec challenge VM of a different colour. I’ve also received a lot of positive feedback from the people who’ve downloaded it from Vulnhub.4 I have a bunch more ideas I didn’t get to include in Trollcave, so I hope to release another VM in the near future.

From last year’s appeal for post suggestions and a few other sources, I’ve received some requests for reviews and post subjects, a couple of which I’ve published and a few of which are still pending (mostly game reviews). Requests are still welcome, but I make no promises of timeliness.

Last year I compared the drafts in my Hugo content/posts directory to unsatisfying extras on a DVD menu: this is still partly true, but I think I have more genuinely interesting or at least entertaining post skeletons in there now that I plan on finishing than outright rejects.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you have found some of my posts interesting and/or entertaining and/or educational and that I will continue to live up to that standard.


  1. “Four” and “death” are pronounced similarly in Mandarin, and many Chinese buildings skip the fourth floor, similar to the treatment of the 13th in the west.
  2. It took the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, but now Wired agrees with me.
  3. I almost have enough to downvote!
  4. Positive feedback and requests for hints. Lots of requests for hints. Take heart, friends: the official walkthrough is almost finished and will be posted here soon.