Felix Rambles

Another step to taking back control

What I did in November

29 November 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

So, November is coming to an end and I'm unlikely to meet my usual post quota. Might as well do something a little different for once. Injecting some much-needed positivity is a bonus. So what did I do this month?

For one thing: writing! I'm three weeks and 8000 words into a story that came to me unexpectedly. Was looking through some old files, see, and came across a forgotten bit of worldbuilding. Next thing I knew, there were all these characters coming to life in a new, exotic fantasy world. Go figure. There's a lot of recycling going on, with all my favorite themes and tropes making a comeback, but you know what? I like them. And there's nothing wrong with writing to feel good.

Of course, after such a start it was time to take a break and figure out how things will unfold exactly. Can't complain, having returned to fiction writing after such a long break, and it's worth getting this one right. And hey, there's more to do while my brain works in the background. Such as releasing another thing I wrote this spring and then set aside when it was 90% completed.

Last but not least, I've been looking at social media options again. It's a thing I do with some regularity, and with so many social networks going away, or at least being in bad shape, this is timely. And lo, there's much to see these days:

  • Vivaldi is the spiritual successor of My Opera, for those who remember it. Built by the same man, and hosted in Iceland, it leverages open source projects such as WordPress and RoundCube to provide blogs, e-mail and a forum. Doesn't feel the same at all though. Let's face it: those days are past. Strange as it may seem to say that about a time not six years ago.
  • Much more appealing on first sight is Pjuu, a very simple social networking service with few features (yet). It was built as a hobby project, and seems to have roughly 10 active users, but the overall feel is great. There's even an Android client. Definitely worth watching.
  • Speaking of Android clients, recently looking through F-Droid reminded me of Movim. That's yet another social network made in Europe, and unlike the previous two it's distributed. But not on some new protocol: it uses good old XMPP. Which means its main feature is real-time messaging; a welcome experiment.
  • And then there's Scuttlebutt, which unlike the others can work without any servers. But it still has some, because like in any distributed system discovery is a problem. That's not the biggest though: rather, what bothers me is the reliance on an append-only, cryptographically signed database. In other words, a blockchain, though they conspicuously avoid using that word. What's wrong with that? Oh, just not being able to delete anything ever again, which means data keeps piling up, filling your storage and increasing network traffic as time goes on.

Then again, the storage issue impacts all social networks, while none of them makes it easy to go back and choose old posts to delete. Such a curious blind spot.

The Internet requires the ability to clean up cruft if it's gonna keep working. Please consider it.

Tags: personal, literature, social-media

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Conan the Barbarian was right

20 November 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

When you mention Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard's famous literary character, people might think of a no less famous quote:

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.

That's from The Tower of the Elephant, a 1933 novelette. And it's remarkably topical in 2018, when literal Nazis demand to be debated over things beyond debate, such as human rights: a way of legitimizing the dehumanization of entire minorities in the guise of "civilized discourse", while the decent people who tell them to shut the fuck up and get the fuck out are labeled barbarians (pardon, social justice warriors) for refusing to be polite about, you know, genocide. It's likely not a coincidence, given when the original story was written. And don't get me started on how the warnings of writers, especially of the speculative fiction persuasion, were dismissed as mere stories back then too... until it was too late.

My favorite Conan quote however is from elsewhere:

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

Specifically, from Beyond the Black River, from 1935, easily one of the darkest featuring Conan. And sure enough, look how many bad things we thought gone forever have been returning in force as of late:

  • the aforementioned literal Nazis;
  • infectious diseases we had all but eradicated;
  • unbridled capitalism;
  • the threat of nuclear war;
  • Christian religious extremism dictating policy in developed countries.

And all that happened because, like Conan before hearing those words, we believed for the longest time in a narrative of progress that anyone with decent knowledge of history could have told us was a myth. A convenient one, because if progress was inevitable and automatic, that meant we didn't have to lift a finger for it to happen. Others would take care of everything. For our convenience, of course.

Sounds familiar? It was the same tactic that kept a lot of good people out of politics for the longest time. And look what mess we're in now.

Tags: society, literature

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