Bottom Of The Bag

Been replaying Batman Arkham Asylum for the last few days until I got derailed with a very tedious boss fight. (It’s the poison Ivy fight that in my opinion overstays its welcome.)

My displeasure, apparently, was heard all the way in Poland and CD Project Red decided to grace me with a patch for Cyberpunk 2077 that fixed most of a graphical problems on my aging, base-model Xbox One. So I’ve been trying to finish up any remaining quests on there that can now activate thanks to the Code Review Gods.

But there’s really not much left. Sure there’s things I can scrounge around and find – and I am – but it really feels like reaching into a finished bag of chips and grasping at crumbs. You can do it, but you might want to get a new bag.

Dark Academia

books filed on bookshelf

It was recently brought to my attention that there’s a new(ish) genera of aesthetic called Dark Academia, and that makes me very happy. The idea that there are people curating art that celebrities both intellectualism and dark weirdness gives me hope for the future.

The nuanced discussion of genera and concept of aesthetic play are things that could only come out of Tumblr’s constant content churn. Thank goodness that thing is saying relevant and justifying its continued existence. Somehow the bulk of that community has figured out how to center around the curation of pre-existing materials without sucomming to curations’ cudgel: gatekeeping.

Because they’ve been able to avoid this – on the whole – they’ve been able to use the act of curation to create new contexts with which see that which already exists.

I still operate a Tumblr account and it’s been one of the bright spots for me during the pandemic. I’ve been using it exclusively to collect inspiration for future stories. That has been stuck a little tightly to the cyberpunk and retro 80’s aesthetics, so I’ve been looking for ways to branch out.

I will be resetting my sensors to cast a much wider and darker net.

No I Will Not Speak English


So I thought I’d finally get to why I moved from a Jekyll install to a WordPress site for this blog. Settle in because this might get slightly technical.

First, WTF is Jekyll? And if you do know what that is, why would I be moving from it to WordPress when usually it’s the other way around?

Jekyll is a static site generator, which is a command like tool that takes template and text files and assembles them into website files (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript). This methodology is part of a larger concept called JAMStack that’s basically moving away from backend processing for websites and sticking to simpler technologies that have been around since the birth of the web.

This site was hosted on GitHub Pages service of GitHub, which is a code hosting repository. And was a way for me to get this site up with almost no money. (I just had to pay for the URL.)

So why leave?

Because this wasn’t all of my setup. Jekyll is just the command that the processing at GitHub used to compile my site when another command line tool called Git told it to. Also, Jekyll doesn’t have an interface. This meant that if I wanted to add a new post, I would either have to write it as a text file and upload it to GitHub using Git, or find a third-part web app to act as an interface and CMS. I opted to for the latter and used the simple but quite nice CSM Siteleaf.

But this doesn’t control the layout, which meant that I had to use a templated theme that if it didn’t do what I wanted I had to edit the code myself. Even that required some doing because Jekyll is just flat script, so if I wanted to recode the theme to give myself a new feature I might have to install a plugin for the Jekyll so it could understand it.

This also came with it’s own challenges because GitHub doesn’t allow most Jekyll plugins with the basic GitHub Pages setup so I would have to create a new subsystem using GitHub Actions that would trigger on update to build my site with the configurations I wanted.

And If I wanted to do something crazy like add a sub title to a post, I might have to change the entire CMS layer because Siteleaf might not understand that functionality to add it to the interface even though I coded it into the theme directly.

This is all before we get into things like view counts and comments with both would require two separate third party apps that I would have to integrate.

You get the idea.

The real reasons I put myself through all this was as a personal challenge to make it all work cheaply and because my old blog was feeling stale and I wanted to start again with a slightly new concept. Something more immediate and a throw back to when personal blogs felt personal.

And that worked, by the way, for a long while. It felt great to pull all these parts together from scratch and will this site into existence. I learned so much working with JAMStack technologies, and there are a lot of people that believe that things like Jekyll sites are the future of the web and I largely believe them, even now.

If you’re a full on web developer and running a business that sets up digital storefronts for others, there’s really not a faster way to do that once you get your tooling down. And unfortunately, that’s what most of the web is turning into: store fronts and cash registers for businesses.

Why go back to WordPress?

In a world where I can go anywhere, why go back to WordPress? It’s getting a reputation in web dev circles as being a really bloated piece of software. Maybe that’s true, but I really love it and always have.

It does almost everything I want out of the box – generate the website and allow me to edit it within the same tool! – and what it doesn’t do straight away is handled by like one or two plugins.

While I was setting all of this up, I looked at my profile on and found that I joined in the end of 2006. That’s only one year less than has been around. I remember finding it and thinking, “a tool that lets you make a site with posts AND PAGES!!! For free?!!” Every web project that I’ve made since then has been either a hosted or self-hosted WordPress site. I read their update blogs when I’m not working on a site and get exited.

Their one of their a tech company that still holds my values of openness and inclusion. And by now I know the tool pretty damn well.

So I was the only person who was surprised when I finally went back to WordPress.

And they didn’t even make me feel bad about my time away.

Ghost Signals

Been watching a lot of YouTube about EuroRack. If you don’t know, EuroRack is a modular synth setup. I’ve always wanted to get into synth but for years I was so ignorant of it, that I didn’t even know the right terms to plug into Google for a proper search.

Most people see the word synth as a dark shibboleth used only by the most arcane of music producers and not for faint of heart hobbyist such as myself. Truth is is the kind of electronics that are simple for me to wrap my head around. I grew up with this kind of low voltage wiring as that is the kind of electrician my dad is. The circuitry of a EuroRack module is not dissimilar at all from a fire alarm.

There’s something romantic about how a synth takes the same current that we live with every day and sculpts if into – not only sounds – but entire songs. As if it was always there. It’s like sculpting. The sounds are there and always have been, you just have to use the knobs to tune them in. Like an antenna, picking up ghost signals from dead radio stations.

Just Enough Blogging

Popped back into my Tumblr account the other day. I open it up in fits and starts, and every time I do, I’m always pleasantly surprised by what I find there.

I can always find some art or some kind of mood setter that makes me want to create art. And the tool set for the Tumblr blog is perfectly suited to create the the kind of blog I want without paying for extra features.

While you can create just about any kind of content you wanted on the platform, the tool set and audience have this nice synergy that creates a cerise of conventions that don’t get too bogged down in elaborate pieces of content. Medium style posts don’t work on their due to their length. Bitter, Facebook-style social engineering posts don’t work due to the audience and lack of algorithmic support.

Micro communities burbble up from the electric aether for a few hours and then collapse back down. Every post is judged on its own merits. If it’s good enough, it won’t just be “liked”, it will be re-blogged to other’s pages and added back into the data-stream. Keeping it alive and vital for a few more minutes or hours.

Not everyone needs sometime like what I’ve built for self-expression. Sometimes the simple remix quality of the “reblog” button is just enough blogging.

April Fool’s Day

It’s April Fool’s day, which is my least favorite of holidays. Always has been. My birthday is the second, and while weather or not I’m funny is subjective, I do attempt a lot of jokes and try to make them actually land. These factors have always led to me having a giant target on my back durning April Fool’s.

Also, sites have calcified into making joke posts and announcements today. That’s the one that really grates. None of them are funny, and they all attempt to be “wacky” by just announcing something that’s simply more interesting than what the site or company normally does.

It’s like we create an alternative reality for one day, but one with more mirth and whimsy than our own. Then the calendar turns to the second and we are left back where we started but now with a contrast point of what could have been.

And the worst part of this is that the underlying joke of those posts is “this is so ridiculous! Who could ever believe it?!” Me, I’d like to believe it and I’m not stupid for doing so.

The now defunct ThinkGeek fell into this trap all the time. They’d announce “joke” products that were head and shoulders more interesting than what they were normally producing and get shammed by the community to actually start producing some of that stuff.

Today hundreds of tiny windows to gentler world are going to be opened by cynics, and then slammed shut with a practiced eye roll, and joyless, “but we’d never really do this. No one would really want it.”

So no, as someone who tries to make others laugh, I don’t fucking like April Fool’s Day. I’m going to stay off the net as much as I can, and I suggest you do the same. Don’t click on the “New Episodes” tag Netflix sometimes puts up on Firefly. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

Novel Idea

I’ve been thinking about Novels a lot lately. It’s a medium that I’ve always wanted to work in but I’ve struggled to wrap my head around. Most of what I’ve done has either been scripts or short stories.

Some of the things I like to think about are what a novel is and what are the benefits of working in it as a medium actually are. (Other than the audience for novels being much larger than the audience for short stories or story collections.)

One of the things everyone will tell you is what novels are not: they are not short stories that you’ve just made bigger.

I’ve read this a lot, but I’ve never seen any follow up on what it means. But I was thinking about the differences between a novel and a screen play and part of the answer dawned on me. In novels, you have every scene you need.

Screen plays are fixed objects because they have to grid to the run time of a movie or tv show. Basically this means that a screen play can never exceed 180 pages of screen play formatted text. (This assumes the standard one page per minute of film and a cap of three hours for the over all movie.) This constraint is one of the factors that causes things to feel rushed or lack emotional depth.

If you ever not bought a character turn or where confused by a character’s actions, you’ve experienced this. The cause is that there were missing scenes to give context or motivate character change. Usually these scenes are cut out or not written in order to maintain narrative flow or get to a section with more exciting visuals. Movies and tv shows can only be so long therefore not every scene can exist to get to a complete story. Not every character, detail, or subplot can be served due these constraints.

Novels don’t necessarily have this problem. Because they don’t have a fixed length and aren’t rigidly formatted in the ways scenes are constructed, novels have the room to build up every element and justify every turn their characters make. They can have a scene for everything.

Does this mean that all novels do this? NOPE!

But it’s something to think about if you’re ever writing a novel and definitely something you should expect if you’re ever reading a novel.

Voyager re-watch, Part 2

Star Trek Voyager is trying to melt my brain with its uneven storytelling. I keep falling in love with these characters only to have their arcs not followed up on or dealt with in award ways: such as the Doctor being asked to make himself sick so that he can have more empathy five episodes AFTER a story where he was in extreme pain and thought he was dying.

I watched Voyager when it first came out and I was excited to get back into space exploration after being disappointed with Deep Space Nine. (However, DS9 has since become my favorite of the Trek shows.) But after the middle or so of season three, I stopped watching it because the show seemed like it was focusing on the wrong characters (i.e. the Doctor) and it retreading a lot of old ground. (the Borg hadn’t shown up yet, but it felt like something like that was coming.)

So this is only sort of a re-watch as I have more than half the series that I’ve never seen, and what I have seen I’ve forgotten due to being in my early teens.

What I did like about the show, I like more, and what I didn’t like, I hate even more because now I have the language to actually express it.

All this said, there’s an episode in season 2 called Death Wish, which I think has not only become my favorite single episode of Star Trek, but the episode I’ll show people that has everything in it that makes Star Trek great.

Sites that don’t freak me out

GoodReads might be the only social media site that I actually like. It’s certainly the only one that doesn’t fill me with crushing anxiety every time I log in. While I understand that’s because you can’t link out to the screaming freak shows the news sites plug us into, I think it’s more than that.

I felt positively about goodReads before the world was literally and figurative on fire. It’s probably because unlike most of the sites that make up social media, it has something to offer me, the user. It’s not just a gapping maw to fling links into so the algorithm can drip feed it back to people with some kind of connection to me; it wants to provide me with recommendations of books.

Yes, this is not done out of the goodness of its heart. Amazon is trying to make a sale. (Remember when Amazon was just a book seller? Grandpa Millennial does!) But this transactional model feels quaint by todays standard of creating linked based Skinner Boxes to farm users for data points.

I’m a writer, so by definition I like books. Not just reading them; I like talking about books, I like thinking about books, I like book shopping, and making reading lists. GoodReads gives me tools to do all of these things, and gets out of my way and lets me use them.

While all of this seems basic, they are become novel concepts in the Year of Our Lord 2020. We should relearn them and apply them to the things we build: be direct about what you are, and make the service you provide users the core of your business.

Stop telling yourself blogging is hard

Got up wicked early, and have been reading the blog feeds. Yes, people other then I – the Great Hermit – still blog. But it’s much fewer than I’d like.

The waters of that kind of self-publishing have receded years ago, so I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. But I do think we are getting ready for another shift in content creation.

It’s easier than ever to create your own digital space online for almost no money and have it customized exactly how you want, while the anger and frustration at social media keeps raising at a near daily rate. A tipping point is going to happen and it keeps getting closer.

I think there is hope in the space of creating and owning your own content online, so I won’t belabor the point.

What I did want to talk about was how blogging has been connected to my life. I’ve actually been doing it since around 2003, it’s okay as that comes as a shock. My publishing has been erratic at best, but it’s something that I think about a lot and I’ve alway had somewhere to deposit my writing online.

Those blogs fell apart because of two factors: I couldn’t make the sites look and behave exactly the way I wanted, and I put way too much pressure on myself.

So what’s different with this one?

Those other blogs were always on some structured platform. Most of the time it was WordPress or Blogger, but I’ve also used weird stuff like the Deviant Art journal app and MySpace. I’ve always banged against the sides of functionality and actual layout of those platforms. Even WordPress, which is famous for its customizability. I was always either not self-hosting it – therefore, I didn’t have access to plugins – or the customizations that I could get didn’t go far enough to make the thing I had in my head.

With this site, I have access to the entire code base and can change anything I want whenever I want using normal coding tools. And while I don’t know how to make it do everything I want yet, it looks like it’s doable with almost my skill level. (Plus what I want is very simple, which is why you can almost never find a layout that does exactly that. Most people like to show off their design skills. I can’t be bothered.)

As for my second point: I was always trying to write well-formed, crafted articles, and I made online writing seem so much more difficult than it was. With this site it’s much more quick updates and whatever is on my mind at the moment. This takes off so much of the pressure and I can just publish. This means that I can just create a volume of content, and anyone who writes will tell you that’s the trick: write a lot and your thoughts will start to form and reform as you work out concepts. But you have to produce something.

Not everything on here is going to be great. In fact most of it is just going to be updates of interest only to me. But at the end of the day, I will have made a thing and done it consistently. Perfect is the enemy of the good. And before you can get to whatever idea you think perfect is, you have to be just good first. This means the only way to get there is to give up on being perfect and just act.