These are thoughts too long for a status update, but too short for a proper blog post. Besides, a journal is simply different. See below.
Autumn is here. On the plus side, weather is pleasant for a change, with afternoons just warm and sunny enough; but mornings are now chilly, and often cloudy. Doubly so as the equinox is only a month away, and days are getting noticeably short, so there's that, too.
I've been spending some time with friends on a little private forum, chatting about the Basic programming language in principle, but really mostly about Linux and code portability, with regular detours through graphics and user interfaces. It's sad how quickly people left old hardware behind, so people like me who still keep perfectly good machines have trouble finding software that runs correctly on them, if at all.
Then again, another problem in the modern household is lack of space required to set up a spare machine. Kind of hard to demonstrate their utility when people can't see them at work. Another widespread problem.
At least virtual machines are easy and convenient. You can still make (and run) old Windows apps, of which there's no shortage out there. Or DOS games! All of them can still be fun, instructional... or who knows, maybe even useful.
So that's been on my mind these days. Not sure what will come of it. Got nothing better to do anyway.
These days, everyone is talking about a return to blogs and RSS, courtesy of the entire Web 2.0 crashing and burning at the same time. And I've been tempted to restart mine! But seeing how I struggle to update this journal every other month? Yeah, I know better. Maybe next year. Or the one after that.
In unrelated news, this June I relearned the Awk programming language. I actually used to know it at an advanced level twenty years ago. As in, "write a relational database app in it, and publish an article in a real magazine" advanced. But then I moved on. That was kinda sad. Been meaning to pick it up again for a while, and finally did it.
Turns out it doesn't work as well without a clear goal. But hey, it was a blast from the past, and may yet serve me well again.
Another thing I did was to try more Android apps, and make better use of those I already had installed. Logging into a pubnix from my tablet is magical. It certainly works much better than Android's own command line, which is restricted to the point of uselessness.
Other things don't work so well, for example RSS clients for Android are all subtly broken in various ways. Luckily I can just use Newsboat over SSH. See above.
Otherwise I've been going out more, eating fresh fruit, dealing with house repairs... life, basically. Things are moving again in my life, and that's a good feeling. Just got to keep at it this time.
2023-05-01 Wiki weekend
I switch among my too many hobbies all the time, to avoid burnout, but with each one in turn I go all in.
(Cue anime boy pointing at a butterfly: "Is this hyperfocus?")
So it happens that when I picked up my personal wiki again this weekend, for the first time in more than half a year, there were a lot of changes to be done. Adding entries; removing entries; reworking tags and more. Now it's better than ever, and I have a better idea of where to take it from here: a virtuous cycle in the making.
While at it, I finally got around to trying out the latest TiddlyWiki Classic version 2.9.3, almost a year after it landed. Hopefully they keep working on it.
Last but not least, I installed Tiddloid again after a while, to play with a modern version of TW. Helps me stay current, and it's something to do when feeling bored. Not to mention, the app is better at note-taking than pretty much all competition. Should have noticed that earlier.
Guess doing more research than usual is how you start to notice the shortcomings of your usual tools. Lesson learned.
I always find it hard to write simple updates, but it's twice as hard when feeling like nothing matters.
I've been on a roll with programming languages again for the past month. Revived Ripen against all hope, and finally wrote the much-delayed native port of Babble. I'm very happy with both of them now, especially the latter. Still hoping to write another book on this subject someday, but it would take a lot of material I don't have yet.
In related news, it's probably time to write Console Form 2.0, because this version doesn't cut it anymore, and I use it all over my website. But first, bet I can write a light, simple documentation generator that can make itself useful without gigantic dependencies or complicated usage instructions.
So, lots of programming for the past month. Oh well, Maybe I'll have something more interesting to tell you all after Easter.
This year I'm taking it easy.
No multi-month projects. No projects of any kind. No trying to market myself.
Still keeping busy, of course. In less than two months, I've done a few things:
- Translated a short story written last summer, and wrote another.
- Finished coding a game started last spring, and started another.
- Finally tried an alternate operating system, and joined the community.
Probably more things I can't remember right now. I don't exactly keep track.
That's kind of the point, really. Life should be lived, not bean-counted. You end up doing more in fact if you let go and simply spend your time well instead of agonizing over schedules. Productivity isn't only a misguided drive, it actually works backwards. Twice the trap.
We need to get off the hamster wheel, but it's hamster wheels all the way down, and it's all too easy to get caught in the gears. I still have to try.
Did you know you can use PmWiki to publish an HTML journal? The requisite block markup was added a year or two ago, so it's not very old. Wish more people did that. I keep another journal myself (and one HTML blog) that I haven't submitted to the Kiosk; should probably write a filter so I can subscribe to others from Liferea without hammering the respective miso.town subdomains. An independent aggregator would also be nice, for that matter.
Some people complain that social media supposedly killed blogs. Others claim that blogging somehow ruined the old web. Yet a third group makes nice things like the ooh! directory. A link to it crossed my home timeline on Mastodon a few days ago, and that led me down a new rabbit hole. Turns out my enthusiasm for the medium is still intact, even if I'm on an extended break.
By the way: I spend way too much time on social media, which has made for a hectic month, due to ongoing events. But I don't regret it for a moment. Some people complain about too much meta discourse (then turn around and make more of it). Fine. Let me post about it here, in my own corner, for a few friends.
The world is a dark scary place of late, and getting more so by the day. For years now, it's been hard for me to think nice thoughts. That's a bad state to be in.
I've let that seep into this journal as well, filling it with rants about things that ultimately don't matter: exactly what made me give up on the blog earlier this year. But what else? What matters these days?
I should let this place grow fallow for a while. I did it before, months at a time. Then again, that would leave the question unasked. And time doesn't wait for me.
2022-09-24 Popular fiction and cultural relevance
There's a type of person out there who's obsessed with erudition. You can spot this person by how they keep complaining about a supposed category of people whose knowledge of culture, they say, stops at Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Therefore, the argument goes, their own cultural output can only be impoverished.
Oh, really. By all means then, Mr. Cultured, show us your new literary efforts influenced by Umberto Eco and Ernest Hemingway. You don't have to be nearly as good; merely show us that you've done your homework. How about some sci-fi inspired by the likes of Ray Bradbury or Kurt Vonnegut? Okay then, fantasy in the vein of Ursula K. Le Guin. Planetary romance drawing from Rocannon's World rather than A Princess of Mars.
Not that I see many fictional worlds based on Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom either, unless you count Tatooine. Oh wait. Repulsor barges, anyone?
Star Wars makes people dream like few other things, that's just it. Jealous? Well, why don't you try to figure out how it pulls that off. Hint: it's not the pew-pew boom-boom part.
In a similar way, my one novel so far came after a long journey of understanding that started with Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov, of all things. But it has nothing to do with shiny robots. Rather it's about freedom, work and forgiving.
The most important things we have to say in life are simple. That's just it.
2022-09-17 Sparkling personal websites
I'm of two minds about digital gardens as a concept. It sounds kind of snobbish, doesn't it. They're little more than sparkling personal websites. Always under construction. Hardly a new thing.
That said, some ideas I picked up while reading about it are proving useful. Helps with this bad habit of mine: collecting links into big lists that then remain disorganized and unlabeled, so that a while later I'm all, "what is this doing here again?" Plus, unbroken lists of links that go on and on are fugly and hard to use.
My big takeaway from this whole "digital garden" thing has been to do something with those links. Add little quotes. Weave them into stories. Arrange them nicely, and use the language of web pages to create visual variety.
Took me a while to find my stride, but look at my new and improved web directory. It doesn't get much better than the history section. Feels good, too.
Now my next problem is this: the solidity of static, handcrafted web pages comes at a cost. I need to find a balance again. And balance is always tricky. But then, that's part of the fun.
I may have discontinued the blog, but my habits haven't changed. Still up to my usual shenanigans, such as periodically checking out the CMS market. This time, HTMLy, an entry I previously overlooked because it didn't fit my needs at the time. Turns out it's otherwise worth considering due to a combination of qualities:
- It's actively maintained as of this writing.
- It really works for a change.
- It has a unique mix of useful features.
Of the latter, two in particular stand out to me:
- It supports multiple post types: links, quotes, images and more, so you can make a tumblelog.
- It can import RSS feeds (literally just RSS 2.0), which is useful for seeding the blog, or in my case testing.
Otherwise it's a simple app: no rich text editor (but you get Markdown), and no editing the sidebar unless you customize the theme. That looks easy to do, if a little convoluted, but I've been wrong before. Either way, HTMLy ships with half a dozen themes, and a few more can be found on the site. One user is created at install time, while others must be added manually. Plugins seem to be supported, but none are available. For some people (and use cases), this simplicity will be welcome, and that's reason enough to keep it in mind. Enjoy!
Artificial intelligence being fake is a red herring. We get attached to (mostly) remote-controlled robots. People made so much fan art of the Opportunity rover. Even fan comics. I doubt if there was a single space enthusiast who didn't cry for real at its last tweet.
We treated the Opportunity rover like a faithful dog, and it deserved every bit of love, dammit! Not because we were under any delusion, or because it was somehow able to appreciate that. (Sadly, the poor machine wasn't.) What our little Martian envoy offered us was meaning.
Corporate AI is trying so much harder to be cute... then you look in a mirror and it has no reflection. We wish there was a ghost in the machine, but there's only a void, trying to suck our soul because it lacks one of its own.
Exactly ten years ago, in 2012, I wrote a number of cyberpunk stories. People dismissed them as being too pessimistic. Things couldn't possibly get that bad, they said. Scientists / politicians will find solutions, they said.
I gave up in disgust and never continued the series. Can you guess what's happening these days? All those things I predicted, that's what:
- the triple whammy of an energy crisis, food crisis and freshwater crisis;
- nuclear power being shunned for political reasons, despite renewables being insufficient;
- weather alternating between extreme drought and extreme floods;
- rainwater not being safe to drink anymore, when it's the only source of freshwater for many (fine, that was in story #3, eight years ago);
- extreme inequality leading to specific unpleasant social trends.
How come I was so precise? They weren't my predictions. Experts from all fields were shouting from the rooftops that all these things were coming. I could easily see the signs all around me once they pointed it out. Others... chose to be "incurable optimists". Alright then.
2022-07-25 Outliners, anyone?
I finally found the right app for keeping some random old notes I've had lying about since forever. It's called TreeSheets, and works pretty great if you give it a chance. I didn't at first, instead reviewing another called TreeLine, that I ended up never touching again. Settled for an older text-based program called hnb for a while, but it just has too many quirks. Even made a couple outliners of my own along the way, that I'm still using for other purposes. But for those pesky notes, nothing quite worked right, until Bouncepaw reminded me of TreeSheets. Turned out I still knew how to handle the basics from first time, it's that well designed. The seemingly daunting menu system can be unpacked easily enough, too.
Ought to start a web page about outliners one of these days. Maybe even a whole wiki that would also include note-taking apps and so on.
Roughly two decades ago, I spent some time playing with AIML, a simple computer language for making chatterbots. People who knew me well engaged with my creation in a hurry, in bad faith, and dismissed it, despite being warned that it was a beginner's early attempt. Nobody seemed interested in a chatterbot at the time, for any reason.
Fast forward a few billion dollars in marketing money from megacorporations, everybody loves the likes of Siri and Alexa. Worse, you have so-called software engineers believing these things are actually self-aware. And then you have all the people acting surprised, as if the Eliza Effect didn't have a name and a Wikipedia article. This hasn't been news for over half a century!
Look. I'm a sci-fi writer. We'll get there. We should think about it early. It's cool. Until it's not. But for now be lucid, will you?
A few days ago I became aware of the new HTML Journal spec by m15o, a new way to easily format blogs for aggregation. My first reaction was to turn my nose, because it goes against accessibility best practices for use of headings in web pages, and also because it relies on ISO dates, which some people dislike.
Except it turns out that's not true: an informal poll quickly received unanimous support in favor of the format. Go figure! As for the other issue, it's still valid HTML5, and trying to "help" screen readers often makes things worse. Hopefully a future update will allow the use of level two headings for entries, as is proper. (Update: fixed as of 2022-07-05.)
Besides, it's so much easier to make a new entry here than with any SSG.
My problem with SolarPunk is, a sustainable future has no room for grand halls of brass and crystal filled with exotic plant life. Hopefully we won't all be dirt-poor farmers living in huts either (I dread the prospect), but we'll still have to tone it down. Like, way down.
In fact my biggest fear is that a sustainable future has little room for anything like modern computing. There's nothing sustainable about microchip manufacturing. Or even TTL chips. Or even discrete transistors. All those rare metals.
Some people put their hope in extending the useful life of existing devices, but that's a slow death, or rather it would be slow if they weren't designed to break down quickly. We're hosed.
It's been a while since my last tour of the wiki community, and things look... mixed. On the one hand, CommunityWiki seems well and truly dead, though of course wiki deaths are much like those of superheroes. On the other hand, I just discovered Melanocarpa, Bouncepaw's digital garden. Plenty of things to like there. I had no idea pipepunk was a thing, even though many of my stories feature scenes that belong in the genre, or thereabouts. And while my personal wiki has been dormant, I've been editing others, maybe more than before. So there's hope.
As a kid in school, it seemed obvious to me that some teachers were mean to us simply because they could; because we couldn't get away, or tell anyone, so we were designated victims. In other words, they were overgrown bullies.
As an adult, I know for a fact that it was 100% true.
Nobody in a position of authority, no matter how small, can be trusted one iota. That includes myself. And I'm only ever able to avoid causing too much harm in my position of authority, at least the kind that can't be fixed, in two ways: one, due to close oversight, and two, because like the Tin Man in Oz, I'm keenly aware that I have no heart and can all too easily hurt someone without noticing.
Ever ate sunflower seeds straight from the flower head? I have, while sitting on the fence between a wheat field and a concrete plant, with another kid I didn't know. It didn't matter. Sums up my childhood pretty well, really. On one side, a pack of stray dogs; on the other, the constant rumble of concrete mixers making the ground shake as they drove by. Sounds dangerous? Funny how I was only ever hurt by other people.
Nowadays the whole area is still a perpetual construction site, but the wheat is long gone. And bread just got more expensive.
The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny prominently feature the Pattern: a long, tortuous path that folds in on itself, but you have to walk all of it from end to end: no cheating, no going back, and no stopping. If you succeed, entire worlds become open to you; but fail, and you won't get another chance. It's hard; at times it will feel like trying to walk through a solid wall. But persist, and you'll make progress. Even if it doesn't feel like it for the longest time.
A similar sentiment is expressed in Gattaca, when the main character is confronted by his brother: you can't go back. Going back is simply not an option.
Romanian fairy tales, too, teach the same lesson. And many videogames as well.