Content Creation Ramblings from an Nerdy Elder Millennial

Or: Finding out how my plugins helped out a British celebrity, and yours can too.

Content creation is a weird phrase isn’t it? It can mean anything. From a well crafted blog post, to an hour video on how the Super Mario Brothers 3 record dropped over time, to those videos that crop up every 3 or 4 videos within my TikTok “For You” page that make me embarrassed to watch them in public, to those Facebook memes your racist auntie’s shares on Facebook. Every one of those things could be classed as “Content Creation”. Invariably when I see a talking head with job title of “Content Creator” mentioned in the media by I think one of these roles.

I may sneer a bit. Largely because like other things I sneer at like Formula One or Cody Rhodes’ booking strategy post Royal Rumble 2024 (NB: I wrote this sentence before Thursday 8th February, and publish it on the 9th. Holy shit it’s box office again and consider me a fully paid up member again the Cody Rhodes train again), I don’t really understand it. I yearn for a simpler time.

Rhys laments the old internet…again

Then I’m reminded how the old internet used to be. The one I’ve talked about on this site before. How as creators in any way shape or form we’re just a few steps from connecting with people. How it was a great time.

I saw a toot from Frank Goossens about how his plugin – Autoptimize – was used on Taylor Swift’s website. Taylor Swift! A content creator I have heard of! Using WordPress! There’s hope for me yet.

I remember the brush with celebrity I’ve had using my WordPress plugins. Stacey Solomon – an X-Factor contestant who has carved out a niche as a TV presenter in the UK – used WP Email Capture for a while on her (now defunct) website. Although I’m not an X-Factor or TV junkie, I did remember at the time I thought it was quite cool.

As I’ve gotten older, having somebody invest time as opposed to money into something I’ve created, fills me with a warmth that contracted work can never do. I did lament a few weeks ago (something I talk about in my 40th blog post) about the paradox of how this blog suffers when I’m mentally in a good place. However occasionally, a great read – “Why Personal Blogging Still Rules” by Mike Grindle – will provide me the inspiration to rattle off these few 100 words, such as these.

It may be harder for us to connect off the major platforms (and – if you decide not to pay Elon Musk $7 a month – on it as well). Hopefully something: be it a plugin, an article, a silly video or a meme, made by us, can light the day up and connect a bit closer. We connect, we may drift apart, but eventually remember.

Remembering Jase

I found out a few days ago that a bloke I knew online in my mid 20’s passed away in 2016. We connected through a TF2 community that had a server that was voice only. A ridiculous server with drunken Friday nights sniping on 2Fort. Never spoke to him after I moved to Manchester in 2010. There for a season and left. I knew very little of him, but what I remember sticks with me. He was Irish, and he used to sing karaoke over the server. He introduced me to The Velvet Underground and I knew his favourite song was “I’ll be Your Mirror”. I guess the above 600-odd words are for him. How somebody who entered my life for a few months, yet changed it for a lifetime.

And I guess that’s the power of blogging, or forming communities off of walled silos. Maybe in ways you’ll make something that does for somebody else. Be it a tribute singer from Ireland, or Taylor Swift. You won’t know until you try.

Header image: “IMG_0351 (Copy)” by¬†paisleyorguk¬†is licensed under¬†CC BY 2.0.

On Alexa, ChatGPT & AI Programming

Let me begin with a little story

On the day Donald Trump was formally arrested, I did what any sane person would do. I went out for a few beers.

After coming home, I popped a pizza in the oven, which took 13 minutes to cook. I have an Amazon Echo in the kitchen, so I said the words “Alexa – set a timer for 13 minutes”. Of course my comprehension skills weren’t great so I wasn’t sure if the confirmation timer was 13 minutes or 30 minutes, so quick as a flash I said “Alexa, reduce my timer by 1 minute”, before asking for how long was left.

Why? Well, if the timer was on 29 I’d hear “Twenty Nine”. If 12 minutes were left I’d hear “Twelve”. Easily to comprehend for my slightly sozzled celebrating a crap president being impeached.

Why am I telling you all this? Well I feel like it shows how my brain works to find a creative solutions to real world problems, something as a developer I do on a day to day basis. I’m not saying I’m the best developer in the world, but I’m pretty good.

Like most developers, I’ve been hit recently with the downturn in tech. Not as much as some, but I’ve felt it. Furthermore in the past six months we’ve seen the rise and rise of AI so I’ve been thinking – am I safe for a job? Or should I look to retrain?

What I think the future holds for developers

I don’t know what the future holds for developers, but I’d be silly if – as a luxury of being a business owner – I don’t diversify a little bit. I can’t remember who said it but I feel more secure as a business owner having 4 or 5 clients that cover the mortgage than working one place that does. It makes sense to look at other opportunities.

With that said, development is my bread and butter. Whether it’s my own site or clients, 5 days a week I come up to solutions to problems. Sure there are similarities, but nothing is ever quite the same. Is that safe?

I think so, and whilst I did have my heart sink when I saw the Tom Scott video about AI, I was reassured when WordPress said that Use of Code Generators must remain GPL compatible. In short, if you write a plugin to put onto the WordPress plugin repository, you must be sure where every line of code comes from. I’m sure with mine, because I wrote it, but there is no guarantee that AI code is. Mika Epstein in their post then ended with the cheery line:-

Robots won’t take our jobs yet.

This reassured me as you see, code does go wrong. I prefer if it didn’t, but things do go wrong. Part of my job is putting things right. People will use your code in ways you’re not expecting to, or view your code on a Commodore Amiga, or (like I discovered in Neverspoons recently) that searching for Llanfair¬≠pwllgwyngyll¬≠gogery¬≠chwyrn¬≠drobwll¬≠llan¬≠tysilio¬≠gogo¬≠goch causes crashes. It can take time to figure out what goes wrong, and part of the joy (if the 25 thread email chain is anything to go by) is to figure out what the route of the problem is. AI can solve the problem, but may not be able to diagnose why it’s a problem to begin with.

Those problems need the human touch, and familiarity with the code. Familiarity that doesn’t exist when somebody typed “Code a Facebook clone” in ChatGPT. Sure ChatGPT may write code. However it doesn’t come with the learned and community knowledge that comes with developing it

Where I do use AI

I do however use AI for my business and programming. No more than I use automated tools to build CSS files and minify JavaScripts, or Google problems that I have that end up on Stack Overflow . Developers should at least look to use it to generate code and data structures quickly.

To give you an example, this was something similar I used for a project recently. I needed the international dialling code of every EU country, stored in an array.

A graphic of Rhys Wynne asking ChatGPT for an PHP associative array with the dialing code of every EU country, and an ISO 3166 alpha 3 code as the key

It’s simple code, but for me to build would take at least half an hour. Maybe I’d find a quicker way to do it, but even just finding a table, extracting all the EU countries, and putting it into a format I’d use would take time, and also be prone to mistakes. This was 30 seconds for the AI to build, and quick for me to check and cross reference.

Furthermore, my knowledge as a developer using the words “key”, “value” and “associative array” meant the AI Bot was able to build it to spec quickly. Similarly to knowing how to Google and what to Google makes problems easy to solve.

The Developer/Client Relationship with AI

So I guess I’ll end with the fact that this is an open admission I use AI for my job to deliver results for clients. Not much, but occasionally. Some things a computer is better at doing than my easily distracted brain, but I believe in being honest with people. After all, my freelance face is literally named after me.

AI is here, but at least with Dwi’n Rhys, you do speak to a human.

For the love of The Last of Us

And all other video games

One thing that has filled my heart with joy recently has been a lot of people enjoying the drama series The Last of Us. For full disclosure: I’ve never played the game, nor seen the TV show, but I live vicariously through tweets such as this one from Dan Walker, who doesn’t strike me as a gamer.

Video games, for me, is the only piece of media I regularly consume. I don’t read. I rarely watch movies (I watched Terminator 2 for the first time last Sunday – it was great). My TV viewing is comfort viewing of Red Dwarf & Phoenix Nights, along with sport and game/antique/cooking shows. That’s really it.

Video games and me

Video games however are my comfort art form, and I always feel like it gets a bad rap. They provoke emotions in me like no other art form. Be it the pangs of nostalgia from playing Tehkan’s Bomb Jack which takes me back to playing it in Rhos-on-Sea seafront arcade with my grandparents, to the endorphin rush of solving another three fates in Return of the Obra Dinn. It has been my comfort blanket for such a long time. Even during lockdown – when we couldn’t go anywhere – me and pals regularly met up in Sea of Thieves to consume (real and fictional) grog. It beat a Zoom call.

That’s just the games that don’t necessarily have the strongest narrative but evoke happy memories. Stories in games have really gotten better and better. The twisting narrative in The Detective for the Commodore 64, through to the RPGs of the Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger games, all the way to modern day classics like Mass Effect, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Stories can be told, with wonderful deep characters and meaning. I enjoy the interactivity, but I understand many don’t. Which is why you’re catered with the compelling stories in walking simulators, such as Firewatch and To the Moon.

I always take it a bit personally whenever it isn’t given the due I feel is deserves. At the time of writing I’ve 3 games on the go. A short blast in RC Pro-Am on the Nintendo, and two story driven games (Metal Gear Solid & Red Dead Redemption). If I said I had three books on the go, nobody would bat an eyelid. Or spending a weekend watching three shows? That’s fine. But I do feel at times occasionally I have to justify spending a weekend resting playing video games. Maybe it’s in my head a bit. It’s for kids, it’s violent and rots your brain, etc etc. Things like that. I’m reminded however of an OkCupid question of “how would you feel if your partner spent the weekend playing video games?”. I feel like no other art form would ask that question.

The main culprit I find is in mainstream media. Not in terms of attacks but, it doesn’t really penetrate into the public consciousness like other things. Take for example quiz shows. When was the last time you had a video game question of reasonable difficulty on The Chase or Pointless? However when was the last time you had a question on TV. Or a film. Or books. There’s probably a reason financially, but another reason could be the folks who are in the positions of power don’t really understand it, and haven’t grown up with it.

Video games in other media

Which is why I welcome TV shows like The Last of Us, as hopefully exposes more people to the art form. Like Marvel, that began it’s success with comic book fans watching their movies, I suspect HBO have made the decision to commission the compelling story because it would get fans of the show to watch first, causing a groundswell, and then get people into the story (the story – if it follows the games – is apparently excellent. You should listen to the Playthrough Podcast that deep dived into both games, and only really criticising the actual game).

With the success of The Last of Us, I hope some of the people who may not have been exposed to video games much, play the games, or indeed other games. I hope other franchises get converted into video games as there are so many stories to tell to new audiences. People missing out on the gripping finale of the reaper invasion in Mass Effect because “they don’t play video games”, I don’t know, just makes me a bit sad.

I’m sad as it’s people who willingly shut themselves off from an art because they don’t understand it or dismiss it for kids. Like people who don’t listen to Rammstein because they don’t speak German. I’m probably a massive hypocrite in this regard as I do the same with books, TV and movies.

But I don’t care. I’ll just get back to John Marsdon galloping around Blackwater in Red Dead Redemption. I’m getting to the the good bit.

Old Man Yells at Cloud (Based Systems)

Or: How I miss the old internet.

So I’ve been thinking recently quite a lot about where I stand on the fact that noted person who had money and did okay with it but he’s a wee bit of a numpty Elon Musk has bought my favourite social media site. There are far more interesting takes about what the hell he will do with it (I urge you to read The Verge article on it).

I worry about what he will do to the place. I worry about it’s role as a player in a future Arab-Spring like event. I worry about my friends who – somehow – made it a safe space going forward. I worry that it’ll become a haven of extreme right wing rhetoric it’s been pretty good at stopping. I’m also worrying that he will kill the site, as so far his rhetoric on making back $44bn has been small fries. I do feel with a lot of these systems the only way they make money is by trying everything else (anybody else remember when WordPress.org started selling links?), and $8p/m verification doesn’t seem like it ever will recover the investment. Like a shiny toy, I worry he’ll get bored and abandon it. That’s how it happens in tech, right?

If the latter will come to pass, it’ll be a shame, as it has been one of the more positive social media sites I’ve been on. It was instrumental in phase 2 of my career (back when MancSEO was in it’s infancy, I travelled to their meetup on a random Thursday night in January 2010, and met the wonderful SEO Community that I’m still friends with), but that was when Twitter was a lot smaller, and it was easy to find people to connect with and chat to. The Tweets were shorter, but the conversations were longer.

I miss that.

But then, I miss the old internet. I don’t want to gatekeep people from access to a tool that has started revolutions, but I do feel like the internet was maybe slightly better where we didn’t congregate around singular water coolers, as turns out a large group of people in one place invariably generates some bad apples, and maybe we need to go back into our respective silos.

Sure, we may not get the reach. I doubt this blog post would get the eyeballs on it that if I posted it in a thread on Twitter I would have got, but is that a bad thing? Surely you would want to share your content to the largest eyeballs as quickly as possible, but if we get one or two people who are genuinely interested, rather than those with a passing glance, surely that’s better? A warm lead, as opposed to an ice cold one, to use marketing speak.

Plus, if we have smaller silos, we will probably see more innovation. Social media is a behemoth, and really if the only innovation they can come up with is an easily abusable verification system or a system that has legs with graphics the average third year game development student can knock together (seriously, I wrote a QBasic game in the early 2000s, that had legs), then it probably doesn’t deserve the eyeballs it needs.

Retro Gamer forum meetup at r3Play Blackpool from 2011. Ironically it came up in my Facebook memories today.

But that’s the thing, they need the eyeballs, they need the communities. I miss forums. Forums were a thing, but they went away when we all transferred over to social media. Maybe they should come back, as they were great for conversations surround great topics. I remember sitting for days on the Retro Gamer forums (a forum that only shut recently) discussing retro games. A couple of the members of said forum I class as close friends. Heck even on forums where I didn’t dedicate all my time I have had positive experiences – even now on Facebook I have a couple of people who I befriended on a Blitz Basic coding forum on my friends list. Maybe I want people to have similar positive experiences, that have enriched my life like the years I’ve spent online.

The best conversations with the best people I’ve had recently have occurred on Discord, and it’s the only system since early Twitter that I’ve been happy to meet people off of it. I’m not sure if Mastodon and a decentralised system is really the solution (purely because joining is a bit of a nightmare), but maybe they’re on to something with a decentralised system.

Maybe as well as having a decentralised system, we need to decentralise the users as well.

My Top 3 Video Games of 2016

One of the nicer things this year is the amount of video games I managed to play in 2016. I’ve not been able to play as much as I’d like in years gone past, so to play a lot of games this year has seen a welcome change.

With that said, the amount of games I did play was quite lacking, instead focusing on a few games rather than play a range of games. As such, I think I only played a small number of games in 2016. Here are my three favourites.

3. Golf With Your Friends

This was quite a find in Steam’s early access. Golf with Your Friends brings me back to my childhood of playing mini golf with my friends. Running around courses, not playing to the rules, but having a whale of a time. GWYF is probably my favourite Steam game I found this year. I covered it in a video below, but since playing it I’ve noticed more courses have been added to the game. This game is still well worth picking up.

2. Pokemon Go

For sheer changing the world, Pokemon Go should be up there. For a few weeks over the summer this game was my life. I was going out and exercising with friends on long walks, even having dates with my girlfriend which involved walking to the nearest pub or two. This usual ten minute walk took upwards of 45 minutes. As we were catching Clefaries, Machokes and Mr. Mimes. It was huge, so huge. Hell, we got so addicted so quickly that a pub crawl with a friend of mine saw us drink one pint in 90 minutes, as we were busy catching Pokemon.

It had a huge impact, but sadly fizzled out quicker than it began.

1. Overwatch

No game has taken more of my time in 2016 than Overwatch. I’m a huge fan of Team Fortress esque shooters and when I played the early beta 3 weeks before launch, I was immediately hooked.

Since May – when it came out, I’ve not played anything else.

I love Team Fortress shooters, as stated above. This is my new favourite. It combines a genuine e-sport with an in-depth lore. Characters are memorable, maps are engaging and Blizzard are geniuses. Content has been added constantly, with 2 new characters, 2 new maps, endless games and three seasonal events (even if I didn’t get the Tracer UK Skin or the Mercy Halloween Skin. Boo!). All for free. I cannot see me stopping playing this anytime soon.

Also, shout out to my fellow Symmetra Mains!

What were your favourite games of 2016?