Incremental Change Begins

I decided as March was ending that I wasn’t going to drink any carbonated soft drinks (soda/pop/tonic/Coke) for the month of April. Inasmuch as my efforts to do something for the benefit of health tends to go, I didn’t necessarily expect to succeed, but I actually did it despite the occasional craving. It ended up being a little easier than I had expected.

I guess the sensible thing to do now would be to pick some other shitty foodstuff to stop eating and stop eating that as well, right?

MAY 01, 2014


Shipping Inanity

Yesterday, the following things happened:

Today, the following things happened:

I just wish these fuckers would have some consistency.

MAR 05, 2014


In the Field

It’s no secret that I love everything about Field Notes, The no-nonsense retro styling, kraft paper covers, and delightfully subtle sense of humor are all right up my alley.

While travelling down the internet rabbit hole on the topic of Field Notes the other day, I learned of the Zeller Writing Company, purveyor of sundry writing tools. Among the paper goods the site carries are Field Notes, and as they had in stock a couple of the limited editions that had been sold out direct from Field Notes for a while, I took the opportunity to order a few.

My order arrived today and I was floored by the packaging:

Zeller package

The goods themselves were beautifully wrapped, and Aaron Zeller included a handwritten note thanking me for the order. In addition to the beautiful stamped tissue paper tied with a bow, my notebooks were impeccably wrapped in cellophane and bubble wrap, and Aaron threw in a sample postcard and a strawberry Charms MiniPop.

Zeller offers free shipping on orders over $75, and a promo was running when I ordered offering a discount if you ordered at least 5 qualifiying notebooks, but the wonderful surprise of a shopkeeper taking pride in their work and giving a personal touch to impersonal internet ordering really made my day. A very cool site if you’re into the finer aspects of writing.

(additional pictures: 1 2 3 4)

MAR 04, 2014


Spew

Back in my very early days on the internet (circa 1995-96 or so), a friend hooked me up with an account on sidehack.gweep.net, a Linux server operating from a student’s dorm room at WPI. Obviously this was a pivotal moment in my nerdly development and life in general. It led to me stupidly deciding I was going to be a CS major for a year before realizing I had made a huge mistake, bu it also created an interest in Unix-style systems that has continued to this day and without which I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Sidehack offered a lot of cool things: a far better email system than my college offered at the time, a web server where I was able to create my first web pages, a news reader with access to not only the regular global Usenet but to the local gweep.net and WPI networks which were literal goldmines of information (and more importantly entertainment). Among the coolest things available, though, were some of the special things, the less-common programs or user-created programs and hacks. I remember sidehack’s owner had connected an LED message board to which you could post messages via a web form interface. Pretty cool shit for 1996. But one of my most favorite things was a little program named spew.

Spew was initially created in 1987 as a random tabloid headline generator. Here’s a few results I got by using the defaults:

“Killer Psychotic Pandas From Pluto kidnapped My Baby” Claims Mick Jagger. – National Enquirer Photo Exclusive.

Queen Elizabeth Maims Eighty-Three Polish Professors in drunken rampage.

Technicians Discover Joan Rivers Was Married to Moses in Previous Life.

And so on. Someone (or a group of someones) on sidehack had created a rules file for spew that created randomized band names instead of newspaper headlines, and it was even set up to occasionally output a full show listing with a venue, three band names, ticket price, etc. Once I figured out that I could copy the file and make my own additions and edits, a minor obsession was born.

I’ve long since lost my original rules file, but a couple of months ago, I found I still had a copy of spew in an archive of my old, retired Linux server’s hard drive. I went about creating a new rules file and made it output HTML so random band names can be generated on the web instead of just in my terminal.

I’ve created a spew page where you can generate your own band names, and also mirrored the spew source code so you can compile it yourself, and create your own rules files if you like. You can find it here.

One note: the spew code dates back to 1987, and it gives a bunch of warnings when compiling it in a modern Linux environment, but it runs fine.

JAN 15, 2014


I Am New to This World, Strange and Unaccustomed

After a solid 6-7 months of saying I was going to switch Ataxia over to Jekyll, I’ve actually gone and figured out how the dang thing works.

I’d like to thank my friend Corey Glynn for offering his help. While I didn’t use it so much in terms of getting the site itself working, which was more a process of trying to look at documentation, yelling, then getting very mad and quitting repeatedly until finally something clicked, I did gladly avail myself of the source code to his site which he is kind enough to make available on GitHub. The new design is a modified version of his, which I’m sure I’ll get around to changing eventually, but it looks great and made a good foundation for making a couple of modifications and personalizing to be a little more “Tapey”.

Jekyll reminds me in some ways of on old command-line UNIX tool I used to use to update Ataxia a very long time ago indeed, back when it was hosted at the legendary underworld.net. The tool was called simply “diary” and I can’t find any trace of it on the internet anymore. I always liked it for its simplicity; you simply create a new text file for each new post, and then the app would convert the plain text to formatted HTML and make all the changes for you. Jekyll works much the same way, with nice modern touches. Honestly, I think that old “diary” app was my favorite “blog platform” above all the others I’ve used over the years (Greymatter, Movable Type, Wordpress).

I’m excited to try something new, and I’d be thrilled if you joined me for the ride.

JAN 13, 2014


The Magical iPad

Ben Thompson at Stratechery about the “magical” appeal of the iPad:

If your worldview of productivity is limited to what can be done on a PC - documents, spreadsheets, presentations, coding - then of course you will produce a product that is like a PC, but worse for having tablet features. Of course you’ll produce a Surface.

If, though, your worldview of productivity is defined not by the PC, but rather by people - by the liberal arts - then you will produce a product that is nothing like a PC, but rather an intimate, responsive object that invites people in, and transforms itself into whatever you need it to be.

You’ll produce an iPad.

OCT 29, 2013


Thoughts About a Spam Horse

horse_ebooks

I was trying for a while to come up a post with my thoughts and feelings on the news/confirmation that @horse_ebooks was in fact being run by humans. I had a lot of feelings about horse_ because horse_ was one of my very favorite things on the internet. Even though many including myself speculated that something changed about horse_ back in September 2011 when the posts stopped being posted via the Twitter client “horse_ebooks” but started coming “via web”, we didn’t know. There’s a big difference between thinking that perhaps your favorite goofy Twitter spam bot is actually a human and knowing that for sure.

The thing is, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about horse_, and they’re highly complex. Chris Whitman summed up what I think is my greatest disappointment with the situation in his post:

The (admittedly pretty unrealistic) promise of the web was to smash the dichotomy between so-called content creators and their consumers. Corporate media is over. From now on we entertain each other, we inform each other, we all both produce and consume for and from each other. Where this failed, of course, was in the tendency for word-of-mouth—especially on such an open platform—to produce exponential differences in the dissemination of voices and ideas. Traditional corporate-style media, with its wealth, power and connections, could simply integrate the few voices with the lion's share of the popularity and attention who were looking for ways to leverage their exposure into a living wage. Specific companies rose and fell but we have remained in the majority consumers of corporate-produced media. Inside this, spam bots, and @horse_ebooks in particular, represent found objects, marketing efforts repurposed as art by Twitter users, to be enjoyed outside their intended context. They aren't invented by Twitter users, but the social context that elevates them to an artistic position is the result of a user-centred social movement. If Duchamp is the author of the Fountain, then Twitter users are the authors of @horse_ebooks. I think that's one part of where my disappointment originates: something that was in a sense created by Twitter users as an alternative to the status quo turned out to be a perfect example of that status quo. It's a reminder that there is no escape from the horizon of the creator/consumer relationship, that we are told what to retweet, what to like, what to share to our friends, and we obediently do it. There's no room for playful subversion, for any real irony, just cynicism.

Ultimately, I’m grateful that we had horse_ for a few years, both in its original true spambot form and its person pretending to be a spambot form that ended up remaining just as great. I’m disappointed to find out that the latter ultimately ended up being a vehicle for someone’s self-aggrandizement, but I’m more disappointed that there’s no more horse_ tweets.

Here’s a small list of other things people have written that resonated with me in some way:

And of course, my pal Erin Watson wrote a small book called No Experiences, in which she wrote a series of poems, each incorporating a horse_ tweet. Only 400 were printed, but you can still read all the poems on the website or buy a copy for a ridiculously paltry sum while they’re still available.

OCT 07, 2013


Putting Time in Perspective

Over at Wait But Why, some graphical perspective on history:

Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault—the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. If the Earth formed at midnight and the present moment is the next midnight, 24 hours later, modern humans have been around since 11:59:59pm—1 second. ;And if human history itself spans 24 hours from one midnight to the next, 14 minutes represents the time since Christ.

SEP 16, 2013


Program Your 808

Rob Ricketts has created a series of posters illustrating how to program a Roland TR-808 to play some classic drum patterns, including “Planet Rock” and “Needle to the Groove”. They look great and they’re informative!

Sexual Healing diagram

First I prepare a blank grid. Then I pick out of a section of a track and loop it (using Ableton or something), so I can listen to it over and over and over and over again. While I’m listening to it, I try to pick out an instrument and input it’s sequence into aforementioned grid. When the sequence is somewhere near finished, I use the Nepheton VST (I can’t afford the real thing yet) to input the sequence back into the machine to check if it’s correct. This is a painstaking and often frustrating process, but as a result I can assure you they are at least 99.999% accurate.

SEP 16, 2013


On Writing

Writing, for me, is an interesting thing. When I was younger, I did a lot of writing. I wrote all the time. If I had free time, I was probably either writing or I was reading. In middle school, I filled notebooks with all kinds of wacky stories and mostly-bad attempts at absurdist humor as I read Douglas Adams books over and over. My middle school had an after-school writers’ group that met every week where students would share their latest creations over Chips Ahoy cookies and Newman’s Own lemonade provided by my favorite teacher ever, John Stewart1 and I attended every week without fail.

I continued writing in high school. An after-school writers’ group met there as well, filled mostly with juniors and seniors who seemed so cultured and worldly compared to myself and the younger members. Their prose and poetry with previously-unknown themes of sensuality, drugs and exotic travel were eye-opening to a thirteen year old freshman. I devoured their work and explored new poets the exposed me to like Dickinson and Plath. As high school rolled on, I discovered zines and was drawn to their cut-and-paste ethos and deeply personal narratives, and at the same time became interested in playing guitar and drums. I got together with friends, learning how to play our favorite songs and how to write our own, taking poems I had written and crafting them into lyrics.

Crafting music and poetry continued in the first few years of college, and then for some reason I stopped fairly abruptly. Looking back, I think there’s a number of factors that contributed, but it’s hard to say there was a specific reason. I just wasn’t writing anymore. I did some short- and medium-form writing on this site’s earlier incarnations, but I wasn’t writing poetry or music or longer pieces like I used to. Twitter came along later and I use it quote a bit, but nowadays I almost never write elsewhere.

Today I find writing to be extremely difficult. I don’t try to do it very often, and when I do, I usually end up staring at a blank page or screen for a while, not knowing where to start. If I do come up with something, I tend not to get very far and I have a lot of trouble figuring out where to go next. When trying to write music, I sometimes come up with an interesting motif or chord progression, but I have the hardest time coming up with another part into which to transition. Eventully when I encounter a roadblock (and I invariably do), I beat myself up for my inability to meaningfully continue; I remember when writing was second nature to me, and I wonder why I can’t still do that.

I believe one of the biggest stumbling blocks is that I don’t write regularly. Getting into a routine with an activity is a great way to hone your skills and keep them sharp, and this is something that I clearly haven’t been doing. So I’m going to make time to write, even if just for a few minutes.2 The other major issue I have is that I subconsciously feel like everything I write is terrible, and that I should be able to write something good. In my conscious mind, I realize that not everything I write has to be or even will be good, and that part of being creative is that some things you create will not be very good, but that you learn how to be better by creating those things and learning from them. It’s just hard to realize that when I’m upset about writing.

So my first step is going to be to reinstate a Mr. Joyce-style journal. I have a small stack of Field Notes notebooks that I bought last year (the last time I decided I was going to get back into writing) and those seem like the perfect thing to use. Additionally, I plan to use this newly-rejuvenated website3 more actively.

With any luck, this won’t be the last you hear of me in 2013. Let’s get some output and break my long cycle of creative despair, shall we?.


  1. Mr. Stewart passed a little over two years ago, and when I heard the news, I was crushed. I don’t think there was a single person more influential in lighting a creative fire in me that, while I’ve struggled in recent years, still remains a guiding force in my life. He had a deep love for teaching, mentoring, and inspiring young minds, and I know he deeply affected so many of us lucky enough to have experienced a few hours a week talking about books with him.

  2. In high school, I had an English teacher named Mr. Joyce. My favorite thing about his class was that we had a writing journal: every day he would supply the class with a title and for the first five minutes we would write whatever came to mind. The journal wasn’t graded in any way. Occasionally (once a week, I think; maybe it was daily? it’s been a long time) he would ask for volunteers to read what they had written. We had a separate notebook just for these writings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was a great way to get students writing every day.

  3. I had been letting this site lie essentially dormant for years, posting perhaps a few times a year. The other day, I navigated to ataxia.net and was greeted by the message “Error establishing database connection”. After about an hour of investigation, I learned that the database holding all of the posts was irrevocably corrupted. So, I got to start over! Ataxia’s back with a new look and fixing things has gotten me more excited about it than I’ve been in nearly a decade.

SEP 10, 2013


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