Felix Rambles

Another step to taking back control

Browser bookmarks, the buried bounty

23 September 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

I have too many browser bookmarks.

Comes with the territory, you see. Between relatively varied interests and too much time spent online, it was inevitable that over the years I'd end up bookmarking lots and lots of pages. That wouldn't be a problem... if I ever went back to them. And that hardly ever happens.

When the issue first became apparent, my first idea was to try a social bookmarking service. Those are fun at least: you get to see how many other people bookmarked the same page (without knowing of each other), and who else tags their bookmarks the same way you do. Which in turn can lead to finding more cool web pages.

Trouble is, my choice at the time was Magnolia. When the service's one server crashed hard with no backup, starting over elsewhere suddenly looked like a terrible proposition. Sure enough, bigger brands also shut down since then.

So what else is there? A couple of years ago I tried to put some semblance of order in my still-private collection and see what was there. After all, it's no different than rifling through a box of old photos, right? Well, thanks to a horrid user interface, I deleted an entire folder of links with no recourse. Luckily it was indeed just cute animal photos, but that soured me on the whole idea again.

About 18 months ago I became aware of a little web app called Shaarli, that would have been a dream come true in the past. But after being burned by security issues, from spammers to crackers, yet another live web app is the last thing I want on my sites, even if it was easy to find it a good place.

Meanwhile, the link catalog on my gamedev wiki has been shaping up nicely, especially once I got it out of the gilded cage called WordPress. Yet more links can be found in the newsletter, where they served as discussion starters over the past few years. And there's still more of them buried in my browser's bookmark manager.

Not all of them should be public, of course. Going to figure something out about those. A few can go in the "see also" section of various special interest pages already on my website. As for the rest... it remains to be seen.

One thing is certain: the bookmark managers still used in browsers today were designed back when the web was tiny, and never reconsidered since then. They simply don't cut it anymore. Find a better home for all those links while you can.

Tags: website, philosophy

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Thoughtfulness is radical

01 September 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

I've recently taken to writing down my thoughts in a little paper notebook before posting them to Twitter or Mastodon. A6 pages are just the right size, and it forces me to think hard before blurting out my thoughts online, possibly hurting someone. Hadn't realized what a special thing it was until someone snarkily replied to my suggestion that long-form blogging is due for a comeback by asking, "why not go back to hand-written letters while we're at it?"

Speaking of which: it's essentially impossible to post something on the Diaspora network without getting at least one snarky or angry reply. Sometimes entire flamewars in the comments, that you can only watch helplessly, unless you delete your original post altogether. Turing forbid you actually try to defend or clarify your position, or otherwise interact with the oh-so-smart techie brodudes you've just riled up. It happens elsewhere, too, but only in that particular online neighborhood does it seem to be the norm.

In 2018, giving yourself some time to consider your next words is a radical act.

Let's do it, then. Let's show people what it was like before the tweetstorm had replaced taking the time to formulate a coherent discourse. I'm not talking academic levels of intellectual rigor. Just a modicum of consideration. For your audience. For your ideas. For yourself.

Amazing what difference it makes when you have a literal filter. Handwriting is more laborious, and serves as a first draft, too. And if you notice your draft swelling beyond tweet size, you know it's time to hunker down and write a proper blog post. Don't have a blog? Use a pastebin, and post just the link on social media. Better yet, do yourself a favor and get a proper home on the web. One people can choose when to visit, instead of hearing you trumpet over the rooftops, whether they feel like it or not at the moment.

You don't have to turn off your smartphone. You don't have to give up immediacy. You won't die of boredom if your gratification is a little less than instant.

The internet wants you to be a Pinocchio on Pleasure Island. You know how that ends.

Tags: blog, philosophy, social-media

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Why bother walking?

24 August 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

There's a story I like to tell, because it's illustrative of so many attitudes in the modern world.

Had to meet somebody once to discuss some business. We picked a place halfway between my home and their office. When I learned how close it really was from the meeting place, I offered to just walk the rest of the way and spare them a trip. We're talking a 15-minute walk.

They insisted to come over as agreed. They were very late. Turns out they spent 20 minutes just looking for a parking spot. (Par for the course around here, really. They should have known.)

It would have been literally faster for me to just walk over than it was for them to drive the same distance, everything considered. But they thought it was unacceptable for someone to walk when a car was available. Even after all the fuss, they still held that it had been the right thing to do.

No, this isn't about car culture, even though it's destroying our cities (and the environment). It's about programmers. More and more, people are asking, why bother optimizing when computers are so powerful? Why bother minimizing dependencies when we have package managers and containers? And all too often, we end up with more trouble on our hands than our tools were supposed to save. More work. More wasted time.

But sure, let's keep doing everything in the fanciest possible way. After all, we have all that fancy stuff, might as well use it.

Everywhere. All the time. Whether it fits or not.

Don't you dare complain about your commute.

Tags: software, philosophy

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Too simple

16 August 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

After writing yesterday's post, I realized that 1000 articles in one BashBlog instance would be a problem after all, but not for the reason other users thereof seem to think. Rather, the bottleneck would be having to deal with over 2000 files in one folder, none of which you can move without breaking things. It seems, then, that the ideal time to archive the whole thing and start again would be one year if you post once or twice a week, or a month if you post thrice a day. Which just so happens to coincide with how blog archives are traditionally organized. With BashBlog, you just have to do it manually. But that's as simple as shuffling around some files, one folder at a time, and on the plus side you're in control the entire time.

It seems there are downsides to radical simplicity after all. But on the flipside, those downsides open up new possibilities. You just have to go with the flow and figure out how best to use each tool at your disposal. That's why you have more than one after all.

Speaking of which: is a hammer too simple? A screwdriver? A cleaver? A pair of pliers? Radical simplicity has been the default state of tools ever since we started using tools. The creators of Unix still remembered this principle. Those who came after them? Not so much. Modern computing has skewed our perception of what "simple" means, and that's why it's all such a mess today.

Tags: blog, philosophy, software

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Thinking before posting

13 August 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

The plan is not to post too often here, to stave off the fatigue so often associated with social media, especially as of late. As with any blog however, there are things to get out of the way early on.

For one, shout out to Alex Schroeder a.k.a. Kensanata, creator of the OddMuse wiki software that I use on my gaming website. More importantly, he's my favorite blogger right now when it comes to internet communities and politics. Comes with the territory: wikis were initially a kind of community, and much of the (social) theory that now applies to anything online was first developed in that particular medium. Too bad most of them have forgotten their roots, and lost that spirit; Wikipedia is a sad case. Wikia, for all the criticism leveled against them, still remembers, and it shows. So does TVTropes.

This is a blog though, and to be honest the technical side of things concerns me more. Such as how to help more people retake their voice from corporations. Sadly, the industry-standard solution proved to be a trap, despite its open source nature, and software like the one I use now requires command-line skills, not to mention an operating system that isn't Windows. It also takes knowing the difference between the computer on one's own desk and a remote server, and how to copy files from one to the other. A difference most people don't seem to get anymore, and that's outright dangerous.

Here's the enemy then: ignorance. But how do you educate entire generations who grew up thinking they're not supposed to need any knowledge about the world they live in? Worse, that someone else will take care of everything, for free? Because, isn't it, there are no other kinds of costs than money...

We're facing an uphill battle. Might even be a lost cause from the start. But to not even try would be even worse. So here I am.

Tags: blog, philosophy

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Here we go again

12 August 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

Oh no, you're going to say, not yet another blog. And what for? This site already has a perfectly good newsfeed.

Why yes, it does. And if all I wanted was to notify my friends of the occasional content update, the manual feed could be enough.

Sometimes however an update doesn't fit neatly into the title-link-description format. Take for instance the programming language and mobile app sections I added since the end of June, but didn't record in the newsfeed because, frankly, there wasn't much to say except that some long-estranged content has come home at last. To keep things comfortable, items in manually edited RSS must be limited to a single paragraph of plain text; anything else is a big pain. Which can be, well, limiting.

Moreover, since starting out that feed exactly four years ago (plus two weeks), things have changed. The big website clean-up was finally completed last year (plus two days). Instead of a big ball of mud, I now have a nice collection of microsites. And since each of them looks slightly different, one more isn't going to stand out. Especially as there's still more content to bring back from third-party services.

That's a problem too, see. For a while, I've been all enthusiastic about social media. That earned me friends (yes, you can make genuine friends online), but also means a lot of thoughts are now scattered to the four winds. A couple of long-form essays found a home in the web design section, but the rest are at the mercy of various third parties. And recent developments have reminded me what a bad idea it is to trust anyone with your outboard memories.

Last but not least, there's this little toy called BashBlog that I meant to try out for a while now. Who knows when it's going to come in really handy. Might as well figure out what works and what doesn't with a low-stakes trial first.

What all I'm going to put here is another story. But you won't know unless you subscribe. Cheers, and see you around for sure.

Tags: website, blog, philosophy

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