Felix Rambles

Another step to taking back control

Finding my voice online

10 December 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

When I first joined Tumblr in 2013 (escaping from the shutdown of My Opera), I couldn't wait to see what shape my new blog would solidify into.

It never took any shape at all.

You'll say that's kind of the point with the once-popular tumblelog format, but there's a difference between freewheeling and random. Add to that the high toxicity enabled by the reblog-with-additions feature, and you have a recipe for ugliness. And yes, I've allowed myself to be drawn into it way too often. Just like on Twitter, the other major platform to have this misfeature. There's no denying my share of the guilt.

Even on Mastodon, where you can only boost a toot as-is (and maybe reply to it in a separate toot), that's still too easy. It reduces the toxicity, a lot even, but the results are still chaotic. Not the beautiful, creative kind of chaos, either. Just a jumble of mismatched thoughts.

Funny, then, how easily I was able to form a coherent discourse right here. Not a pretty one, admittedly. All the loneliness and bitterness in recent years has been getting to me. But it's me. I'm slowly learning to be myself again.

The added friction, that forces me to work at making a post, makes a world of difference. Much like on my brand-new Dreamwidth journal. Or for that matter my gaming blog. Even though the latter has also been in exile on Tumblr for the past year.

Guess it's not just the place then, but also how you approach it? Perhaps. But there's a reason I'm bringing that blog home soon as well.

Lots of new beginnings for me this year and the coming one, then. And that still leaves some things to fix. Oh well, got to deal with them one by one.

If as of late you've had trouble recognizing yourself in your social media streams, take a step back and try to remember what you wanted to tell the world in the first place.

Even the Borg routinely proved able to break free. What excuse do we have?

Tags: social-media, personal, philosophy

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Dreaming of Dreamwidth

06 December 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

I don't exactly have a quota for this blog, apart from the self-imposed one resulting from average post counts so far. That said, almost one week into December I found nothing new to blog about. Funny how writing fiction tends to claim all my attention in a way programming doesn't.

Except something did happen recently: Tumblr just wrote what amounts to a suicide note, announcing they'll be banning everything that remotely resembles adult content as of 17 December. Never mind the issue of corporate America forcing their Puritanic worldview on the entire rest of the planet. (Ordinary Americans, it should be said, are fed up with that shit, and can't wait for mentalities to change already.) Many other social networks, however, stepped up to the plate, inviting people over. Well, those that weren't already flooded by people jumping ship, like Mastodon.

One of those platforms welcoming new members is Dreamwidth. I was vaguely aware of it as an offshoot from LiveJournal, but didn't know any details. Turns out, it looks like a fairly interesting place.

For one thing, unlike other blogging-focused platforms, Dreamwidth offers public profiles, which among other things can show what you're reading. And what you're reading can include newsfeeds you import from just about anywhere. Which means you can use Dreamwidth as a kind of mini-aggregator. But mostly, you can express yourself as a reader, not just as a writer. In other words, to have a meaningful public presence on the platform without turning into a dancing monkey.

Then there's the attitude: unlike its precursor, Dreamwidth is community-owned, based on open source and open governance, with an official anti-advertising stance. The only financing source is paid accounts. Which also means the only scripts you get on the pages are there to enable extra features. Not many, though! Most of the site works just fine in a text-mode browser. And it's very light by modern standards.

Last but not least, there's a wealth of documentation, which is good because some features appear to be more technical in nature. Also, the various official accounts, on the platform and elsewhere, just came back to life after a year of silence, so you can probably ask questions and reasonably expect them answered. Good sign!

A few more highlights:

  • advanced community features;
  • advanced privacy features;
  • selectable, customizable themes.

Yep, it looks like a good place to be. I also seem to have a ton of friends there, and predominating interests right now seem to revolve around literature. Going to think about it some more. But not too long.

Tags: personal, social-media, website

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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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Internet and memory

27 September 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

While going through my old browser bookmarks recently, I was reminded once again how quickly the average web page goes away. It's part of the so-called digital dark age we're headed towards as more and more media files, stored on now-obsolete devices, become impossible to read, let alone decypher, if they haven't been long deleted.

(Not that it's a new phenomenon. The BBC erasing years of invaluable footage so they could reuse expensive tape reels made headlines a while ago. And it was par for the course back in the day.)

At the same time, it happens more and more that things people said or did years ago, sometimes in their teenage years, resurface unexpectedly thanks to social media, causing no end of trouble. It even led to the EU creating a "right to be forgotten", which was about as tone-deaf, ineffective and potentially damaging as the more recent GDPR. But I digress.

It seems like a contradition. On the one hand, we're complaining that computers are too forgetful, and launch on ample missions to rescue our collective digital memory. On the other hand, we're complaining that computers aren't forgetful enough, and call for crusades to bury the past. Maybe we should make up our minds already.

Except, of course, it's not possible. The same fire that cooks your food can just as easily burn down your house, and there's no way to magically make fire do only what you want. The best you can do is use fire sparingly and with proper precautions. So it is with knowledge. Any knowledge.

Because, you see, human brains require the ability to forget. We wouldn't be able to function otherwise. The price is that we sometimes forget important things. Oh, we can write them down, but writings can also get lost or destroyed. Ideally, those that enough people value will be preserved across the centuries. But since value is in the eye of the beholder, you never know exactly what will be preserved. And so it happens that some of the oldest surviving texts are complaints about a shady merchant in Ancient Mesopotamia. How's that for cosmic humor.

Writing, it turns out, works exactly like human memory in the long term. And so do websites.

While going through my huge pile of browser bookmarks, it was a pleasant surprise to discover how many pages are still there. Others are now gone, sometimes along with the whole website, or else locked up behind a paywall, which amounts to the same thing. Yet more are still there, but I can't for the life of me remember why I bookmarked them in the first place.

Guess comparing the web to a planet-sized brain isn't so far-fetched after all. And our brains sometimes remember terribly embarrassing situations we'd much rather forget. Especially mom's brain.

Ah, but you see, moms also forgive. Internet mobs, not so much.

Well, they'd better learn, because much like with brains, you can't control what the internet does and doesn't remember. Not without breaking it. Nor can you put the genie back into the bottle, any more than you can tell Prometheus to take his newfangled fire and return it to the gods.

But do we understand ourselves well enough in the first place to deal with this monster we've created in our own image?

Tags: social-media, website

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Fun with static website generators

09 September 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

Oops. Haven't posted here in over a week, and while I don't exactly have a quota, this is even less often than expected.

Having now used BashBlog for long enough to know what it can and can't do, and being satisfied that it can provide a path forward for my long-form blogging, I started thinking about the way Twitter is going down and Mastodon could become literally illegal this Wednesday if the European Union's "copyright reform" law passes as proposed. Which in turn reminded me of an older idea for a static website generator different from the hundreds of others out there.

It started with my use of manually edited RSS, which is easy enough but kinda clumsy, because the format simply wasn't designed with that in mind. Then there were the experiments to reimagine my big webcomic list, which ended up staying a single long document. It was simply not worth the trouble to make anything fancier. Especially after all this time.

Still, the ability to quickly and comfortably post links or quips remains important. As I wrote over nine years ago, microblogging had to be invented. And most existing solutions are overcomplicated, largely because they insist on being social.

Far as I'm concerned, being social on the web means having a newsfeed people can follow.

Which brings me back to RSS. Why not Atom? Because RSS is more flexible: items don't require a title or link, making them useful for mixed content. They even have a concept of a permalink for the item itself, distinct from whatever it's pointing at. And my primary use case just so happens to be a linklog.

So as of yesterday I've been working on a static website generator that runs from the command line, like many others out there, but designed around the capabilities of RSS. How I'll make room for it in my established workflow remains to be seen. So far it looks like a solid concept at least. And the web needs a new vision.

Wish me luck.

Tags: blog, software, social-media

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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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