If all you’ve got is a hammer…

(…nail Markdown to a plank.)

Dear everyone: Please Stop Using Markdown For Absolutely Fucking Everything.

In 1984, the first Macintoshes shipped with MacWrite. To get bold text, you pressed command-B, and it appeared bold on-screen. To get italic text, you pressed command-I, and it appeared italic. And so on.

This was pretty much a universal standard until Markdown came along. Now, you press shift-8 to get an asterisk. Then you press shift-8 again. It doesn’t appear bold on-screen, it appears like, well, something with two asterisks next to it.

Don’t Write Code (write descriptions of things)

I wish I didn’t know how to code.

For a programmer, the solution to every problem is to write more code.

But sometimes, all that is needed is to write proper words. To explain things and explore them through prose.

Not to remove oneself to the meta-realm of trying to understand the general structure of the problem and model it accordingly. (And then build something that resembles that model, and hope that the people using it see through the layers back to what the buggery’s trying to be done!)

Just write some nice, verbose, rambling blather about what it is and how it works and where we’re trying to go from here. Nothing too technical, and hopefully actually interesting to read. At least, linear, in that old-fashioned way of real writing. Interesting is probably too much to aim for… just words, then.

I was reading Phoebe Ayers recent post about the task of archiving the Wikimedia Foundation’s material. My first thought was “what sort of database/catalogue would be useful for this sort of thing?” Which is quite the wrong question, of course. There’s a whole world of wikis (both instances and engines) out there, perfect for this sort of variably-structured data. (If there’s one thing that constantly amazes me about Wikipedia it’s the fact that so much structure and repeated data is contained in what is basically an immense flat list of lone text files, and that it does rather work! The database geek in me shudders.)

I think a basic tennent for archiving physical and digital resources is that each object, and each grouping of objects, needs to have its own web page. In most cases, I use this both as a catalogue entry for the object or group, and as a printable coversheet to store along with the physical objects (or, in the case of digital-only objects, to be a physical placeholder or archive copy, if they warrant it).

The other thing I try to stick to is that a fonds and its catalogue (i.e. a pile of folders/boxes and the website that indexes them and adds whatever other digital material to the mix) should be able to be shifted off to someone else to maintain! That not everything should live in the same system, nor require particularly technical skills to maintain.

I know that there’s a dozen formalised ways of doing this stuff, and I wish I knew the details of them more thoroughly! For now, I’ll hope that a non-structured catalogue can work, and continue to write little printable English-language wiki pages to collate in amongst my folders of polypropylene document sleeves. And I’ll keep checking back to en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Subject:Library_and_Information_Science for instructions on how to do it better…

Ink or keyboard? (Revisited)

I was just sitting there, just now, reading the natural navigation book that Mum gave me earlier this year, and I was struck by just how nice it was to hold something physical, something nice, in my hands. I wanted to have more of that. I wanted to be a woodworker, making my house nice all over, and having things that are good and real. But then, it all seemed pointless, as well. Why have nice things? For what purpose? Just because they’re nice? Well, yes. That’s it, really. Nothing more. It’s about the present, and the personal, immediate experience of them. It’s not about the future, and how these things will fare in the coming decades and centuries. It’s also not about how sensible and efficient and practical these things are. The book, for instance: this afternoon Tristan and I popped in to the bookshop near the Stock Road markets, and it was lovely. Nothing special, just a normal second-hand bookshop — but it was real and immediate and did not look to the future or the past; it was just for now. I bought a couple of paperbacks, thinking to add to my growing collection of Penguin Classics. Now I feel like that’s all wrong: I can’t have these temporary, poorly-made paperbacks! Why not get an ebook reader?! That’s what a paperback is aiming to be! The simplest thing, least concerned with aesthetics and the feel of the thing in the hand. So paperbacks are superceded; but well-bound hardcovers aren’t. They’re objects of beauty in their own right. I should collect them, because they’re worth more than the sum of the words they contain. But I should not collect them, because there’s just no need.

There’s no need to have these things that are nice! They’re satisfying, in the moment, but if that for which they’re being used — and now I’m thinking more about books in which one writes, journals, than published books — is not a thing that is about the current moment, then what’s the point? No, worse than that: they’re detracting from the real purpose! I write, to get words down, and be able to re-read them in years to come; this is better done on a computer (which is backed up, and the words are printed, and in other ways assured to live on) than in a paper journal. I read, to hear the author, and not to be happy with the heft of the cardboard case and the smell of the pages; these are incidental. There are lovely things about the phsical objects, and using them; but if the loveliness blinds me from getting better quality in the features that the objects exist for in the first place — exchange of ideas over time — then I’m losing out.

It’s a hard decision, and turn after turn I think I’ve made the wrong one… but ultimately, words are better off in digital form (remembering that they can always make it back on to the paper, and in multiple copies) than as ink in books. There are so many other objects that can be nice to hold, and physically satisfying to use; kitchen knifes, for example. Amazon aren’t going to replace them any time soon.

Freo Bloggers’ meetup

There’s going to be a Freo Bloggers’ meetup in three weeks, at X-Wray cafe on August 2nd, from about 5:30PM.

A Socialist at Speakers' CornerPhoto by Pedro Figueiredo [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

Partly inspired by the activity starting to happen on Freospace blogs (and the possibilities of disagreement therein!), but mainly just because it’s nice to have a beer after work and meet some of the people who’s names we see dotted around the web.

The idea is to just talk about whatever’s interesting: who’s blogging, and why; how to contribute; what software to use; photography; what to write about; anything, really. Even if you’re not a blogger, but are interested in jumping on a soapbox, come along to learn how! It’s jolly easy.

(By the way, on the topic of blogging: if you’re a WordPress user, they’re doing a survey of how you use WP, if you feel like helping.)

What my blog is

I want my blog to be the hub of my online life. I’ve come back to using WordPress because I want to be able to show other people how easy it is to avoid the walled-gardens of Facebook, Twitter, et al. So I need to explain what I want my blog to be.

  1. A place to post reports, thoughts, photos, observations, etc. about what’s been going on in my life (i.e. what a blog usually is);
  2. A means of providing a feed of the posts;
  3. Somewhere to consume feeds from elsewhere (see my news page for how this is shaping up so far; it leaves a fair bit to be desired, but I’m working on that);
  4. In its capacity of a record of things, I want to be able to print yearly compendiums of all contents (might seem strange in this age of digitisation, but I do rather like a good solid shelf full of records — even if I never use them);
  5. Be my OpenID provider (this is working perfectly);
  6. I have a couple of other sites around, and I would ideally have their functionality within WordPress itself… this is probably the biggest problem I have at the moment.

Basically, I like Dave Winer’s idea of everyone having their own place to call home on the web, that doesn’t involve giving all their content to Facebook or whoever.

How far I am from doing all this: really, it’s the crappy photo management of WordPress that’s holding me back. I’ve got a couple of draft plugins that should fix this up (be able to change the date of uploads, for one thing!). The other thing I’d like — even though I realise that it’s acutally nothing to do with blogging and so doesn’t really belong in WordPress, but I would like it — is to be able to check my email from within this site (one of my other little hand-coded sites that I’ve got elsewhere is an email archiving thing that ends up producing a yearly LaTeX-formatted tome of all my emails).

(Anyway, I’m really only posting this to get things straight in my head, and there’s more to be said — where Wikimedia, OSM, etc. fit in, in this scheme, for instance — but it’s time to go. I have at least kept my one-post-per-day thing going for the third day in a row!)

FreoWiki is go! (Or GoFreo is a wiki?)

We had a great gathering last night at Little Creatures to talk about FreoWiki (including what to call it; one suggestion is GoFreo). Some topics…

  • It’s all set up and good to go, at http://freo.org.au/;
  • The site overall is licenced under CC Attribution 2.5 Australia, but people can put whatever licences they want on individual pages or media;
  • Some ideas are being bounced around about alternatives to FreoWiki as a name;
  • The Fremantle Herald might be interested in adding their archival content to FreoWiki—at the moment they’re only keeping the four most recent editions on their site, and we could host a complete archive;
  • Personal, first-person content is desirable: people’s recollections of Fremantle, or visions for its future;
  • The entry page needs to look good, and (visually) convey what it’s all about;
  • We’ll make cards to hand out to people, with some small bit of info about FreoWiki, and a URL with a blank after it (i.e. freo.org.au/_____________) in which we can write the name of the page that we’re suggesting people use; e.g. to a business owner, with the name of their business (then we scurry home and quickly add some content to that page);
  • Good thought needs to be given to ways of ensuring longevity of the project (if it takes off), both technical (backups etc.) and organisational;
  • We should enable using media from Commons (already done);
  • Plus lots of other stuff that I can’t right now remember!

So now it’s time to start adding content! :-) The easy bit, really.

Paper Blog2010-11-05 16:42:00

I am posting my entry today from paper, from a corner table in the window of Gino’s. I’ve a coffee, and a proper custart tart, and all the time in the world. Until I have to be at Kulcha… but yes, all the time in the world! It’s a laborious process, you see, posting to WordPress from paper and ink. One has a wide gap to bridge, between here and the internet.

On the internet, there is no time. That’s not true! Well, no, but it is easy to feel an odd sense of hurry on the net, of having — or just being able — to do things *right away*. On paper there is no such thing. Especially on paper in a café, with ink and a custart tart.

I love it here! In Freo, I mean. And Gino’s seems to just keep on going, far more depandably than anywhere else. And the tables are the right height — that matters. Hush, down the road, never thought about that.

But I should explain myself, and why I’m writing this.

I’m rambling on, filling your screen with ink, and for no apparent purpose. But I do have a purpose! I have the most random arbitrary pointless purpose there is in November: it’s National Blog-Posting Month. I am writing something — anything! — every day for the duration of November. I don’t know why.

The problem is that one can not possibly have sensible interesting things to say, once every twenty-four hours. It just doesn’t work. As I was cycling to work this morning, I remember having some idea of writing about how to increase the incidence of iCalendar-formatted event feeds amongst Freo websites… but now that’s all been replaced by a soft smiling sort of a feeling at the smells and textures of Freo, and the optimism that’s increasing as we head on into summer! Not a mood to be making sense from (or of, really).

Returning To This Blog’s Roots

I have been wanting to re-focus my blogging, and return to writing only about my woodworking. I’ve set up a wiki, and installed a new instance of WordPress, and tried all sorts of technical things, but just don’t seem to be able to get the flow of the thing, and actually get any writing done. So I’m back here, and shall endevour to re-focus this blog back to its beginnings: By Heart and Hand.

That’s what I called the thing when I first started it (when I was at art school in Canberra in 2003) and the phrase was meant to represent something about how I work wood by hand (I mean, using only hand tools), and that the processes involved are only perfected through learning them “off by heart” — in that one’s body must learn how to do these things, one’s heart and soul.

And that’s what I want to get back to doing, and to writing about. I’ve got my nice little workshop up and running now (and have turned out a few little pieces, mainly for Christmas presents and so I can’t yet post anything about them here, lest some recipient reads this; not that they are likely to), and I just need to get back into the swing of working the wood and having the time to stop — mid mallet-swing if need be — and write about what I’m doing.

It’s not all about hacking away at bits of wood and trying to make them fit together, you see. It’s actually far more about one’s attitude and the feel of calm beauty that decends (from the heavens?) when the sweet saw is sawing smoothly and swiftly. As it were. More of that later, from the dust of the bench.