trenchant.org

by adam mathes  ·  RSS  ·  archive

Fourteen

I remember nights when I would sit at my computer, staring at the screen, and telling myself I had something to write. Something to say. And even if it didn’t seem important I had to put something down. Even if I thought it was garbage. Because that’s the only way I’d ever get anything out there and get better at it and get over the dread that every thought I ever have is garbage and boring. (Only some of them are.)

I used to sometimes worry that nobody would ever read this.

14 years later I sometimes think nobody will ever read this! How liberating.

Social media solved the audience problems for personal web communication. People can find an audience on centralized, social media sites. It makes writing into the cryptic blackhole void of the independent web nearly as strange now as when it first begun. But the instant audience and feedback and hyper-virality is its own nightmare.

I used to think I wasn’t internet famous enough and what was I doing wrong but now I just crave less attention and I wonder if Snapchat is the only authentic communications modality in 2015.

Happy 14th birthday trenchant daily. I didn’t understand being 14, or other teenagers even when I was one, so I don’t expect to understand you either.

Reinventions

The thought that keeps coming back to me these days is - Forum 2000 already did this and it was funnier.

Platform Changes

I recently assembled a new PC to go along with a 34” ultrawide (21:9 aspect ratio) monitor.

Spending money to buy a bunch of PC components, then assemble them into a working computer by myself is something I have mostly avoided in my life, opting for the simplicity and peace of mind that comes from being primarily a Mac user since OS X 10.0 debuted, and letting companies build PC’s for me the few times I’ve bought them.

But the cost/performance ratio between self-build and pre-built seems higher than I remember, and also why not?

The sole purpose of this machine was gaming, and the simpler answer is to just buy a next generation console. But the latest generation of consoles seem to have almost all of the downsides of consoles and other “modern” hardware platforms - can’t run arbitrary software - but they also seem to exhibit the downsides of modern Microsoft powered PC’s: nothing ever seems to just work and you’re constantly barraged by bad user experiences and multi-gigabyte downloads before you can even do anything.

The days when you could buy a cartridge of READ-ONLY memory and expect it to just work more or less flawlessly on hardware are so long gone so as to seem quaint. If Microsoft and Sony want to just release PC’s for the living room that I can’t run software on (cough Steam cough) or the most interesting hardware (Oculus Rift) and force me to buy software from them and deal with their authentication/social experiences then basically the UX/annoyance hits seem so high I might as well just deal with the headaches of having a real PC that can play games better on my own terms. And probably I should also build the damned thing from parts to give myself a crash course on what I’ve missed in PC stuff from the past 15 years.

Also, did I mention the 34” ultra-wide monitor? That’s never going to work with an XBox One. (It barely works with PC games half the time.)

And I am now able to use my Oculus Rift DK2 and have it properly sync at 75hz. (Trying to use it with a 2012 Macbook Pro with Retina Display just made me sad.)

Overall the entire process of building a PC from parts is about a million times easier than I remember from previous decades (Cases! cord management! All so easy to use now!)

I had one “oh god I’ve made a huge mistake” moment because I couldn’t get the BIOS screen to show up on my new monitor. Turns out the motherboard’s onboard HDMI output wouldn’t sync to my crazy monitor. (I realized this when it would sync to a television at 720p just fine.) Turns out putting one of my two video cards in and connecting via DisplayPort made everything copacetic.

It’s really satisfying to see it all come together except after all that careful thought, purchasing, anxiety about possible DOA parts, and assembly, you turn on the machine and you install and then boot into Microsoft Windows 8.1 which is just so disappointing. Expected, but disappointing.

After dealing with the “PC tax” of drivers, software upgrades, Steam, and the rest of it, it’s kind of nice.

In the past weeks I have played and completed:

  • Far Cry 4
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

running at 60FPS at 3440x1440 resolution and that has been pretty cool.

For more on running games like that see WSGF.

Dot Files All The Way Down

Is it too late to start keeping a .plan file as my canonical web expression?

Scholar

Only at Google, of course, would the world’s most popular scholarly search service be seen as a relative backwater.

Steven Levy, Making the world’s problem solvers 10% more efficient

I had the privilege of working with Anurag Acharya a little during my time at Google. He is a treasure, and his contributions to the world of scholarly publishing are enormous.

Happy 10th birthday, Google Scholar.

Changing Keycaps

I’ve now become the sort of curmudgeon who not only insists on a mechanical keyboard, but gets custom key caps to replace the Windows keys.

Because they are distasteful.

~club, Unix and The Commoditization of Community

With Tilde Club Paul Ford reminds everyone that Unix is powerful even if we forgot it.

Writing about it on medium instead of ftrain makes me worry that the dream of the early web came true and we can never go back.

The web is a Heraclitus river but Michael Sippey is blogging again and Matt Haughey is blogging again amongst other highlights. I can’t even begin to keep up.

BeOS batmobiles are long gone, but the M1-A1 Abrams Linux tanks keep on rolling.

When I was a child the cost of a Unix workstation was so far out of my reach and my world - a Unix workstation was the cost of a car. When I was a teenager in the 90’s Linux made faux-Unix available for a fraction of the cost on commodity hardware, but you wouldn’t have confused the performance of a 486 with a Sun workstation. You were just pretending on the PC. (The “real work” of scientific computing and programming in academia was still done on the big, out of reach Sun and SGI workstations.)

Now Unix is everywhere. Unix is so pervasive and boring that now it’s fascinating, but we don’t use it like we did in the previous decades.

On the desktop OS X became the most mainstream Unix derived from the “legitimate” BSD legacy, only to be supplanted by Android’s use of the semi-legit Linux, which means everywhere all around me are little Unix boxes in people’s pockets, talking to a million anonymous Unix boxes in data centers.

For fun I have a $35 Linux computer. The faux-Unix on it is more powerful than those workstations and mainframes I could only imagine having as a child.

Tilde club reminds us that we have the tools to spin up digital virtual communities on software and hardware that is so cheap and abundant that it’s hard to fathom. The hardest part is actually doing something interesting with it.

And We're Back

I had a great wedding and honeymoon. Thanks for asking!

Maybe it’s time to update my web site again.

Here are books I read over the past few months that I liked:

Imagine Being Surrounded Only By Things That Bring You Joy

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo - my wife is the acquiring editor for the US edition of this book about how to rationalize our relationship with the objects around us.

The secret to tidying and organizing is you start by throwing things out! My favorite. For the past few years I’ve been trying this sort of thing and it does actually matter.

It’s only when you discard the awful that you have space for the wonderful. (Physically, emotionally, etc.)

Also it has a story about cell phone disposal that made me tear up. (Don’t tell anyone.)

The Phantom Phone Virations In Your Pocket

The Distraction Addiction by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang - Pang is a futurist and this is his attempt to define theoretically and practically contemplative computing as a way to thoughtfully approach information technology use to enhance our lives (rather than letting it cause us destructive behaviors.)

Similar lessons: rationalizing our relationship with technology to hack our way to a better world. Get rid of the bad. Focus on the good. It’s not so much that less is more with our devices and connections but that everything all over all the time hurts. Some of the little software tools I dabble with are about this.

Do-Over

Seconds: A Graphic Novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley the new graphic novel from the creator of Scott Pilgrim is incredibly beautiful, fun, and enjoyable, even if predictable.

The Dawn of Modern Web Computing

Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman

In 1997, the computer was still a relatively new tool—-a sleek and unforgiving machine that was beyond the grasp of most users. With intimate and unflinching detail, software engineer Ellen Ullman examines the strange ecstasy of being at the forefront of the predominantly male technological revolution, and the difficulty of translating the inherent messiness of human life into artful and efficient code. Close to the Machine is an elegant and revelatory mediation on the dawn of the digital era.

The novel feels authentic and personal and resonating in a way that conveys that period and programming culture better than anything else I’ve read.

Conclusion

Turns out there’s more time for books when you give up Twitter.

The Mainstream Internet

Twitter feels like it’s my last connection to the hyper-connected social “mainstream” internet, and with my bots I feel like I’m about ready to automate myself out of it.

What’s next?

I feel too old for Snapchat, too tired to reboot 4uhm.

Like A Magic Spell

Cake flavors, place card designs, hors d’oeuvre options, playlists, and a million other small choices but it’s the decisions between words that feels qualitatively different.

Marvel Cinematic Multiverse

https://twitter.com/mcu_movies

When I saw that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was being made, I realized that all Marvel properties could now be made into movies, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe could live forever.

So I made a bot for it, that tweets things like -

Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 39 - Avengers 39: Pet Avengers, Squirrel Girl 14, Imperial Guard, Starfox, Champions 4

Every time I make a Twitter bot I feel bad because why am I making art (?!) on Twitter and also aren’t there real people pouring their souls out onto the internet still and I’m just excreting out the same one-line joke over and over again forever digitally.