Thursday, January 30

a tentative personal manifesto for the web, part 1: APIs

I'm not sure when I first began to dimly apprehend this. I know I'd suffered enough with individual manifestations of the phenomenon to catch on years ago, but it's only recently that I've begun to integrate these experiences into a coherent generalization. So, ok, here it is:

Fuck your API.

There are two conversations I have pretty routinely. The one conversation is where somebody wants to integrate some third-party service with the software I write, and after I take a couple of good deep breaths and the red starts to leak back out of my vision, I say well, ok, do they at least have an API?

The other conversation goes like this:

Them: "Is there something wrong with [Thing]?"

Me: "Fuck."

Which is widely recognized shorthand for "I'll just be spending the rest of my day/week/month on the networked [Thing] API".

I think we've been sold a bill of goods.

[to be elaborated on]

Tuesday, January 28

Pete Seeger's testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee.

sunday, january 26

it must be sixty degrees in the sun
so i buy beer and sit at the glass-topped table
outside my door, drinking it and staring off
into the middle distance
the sky and the clouds and the rocks on the hills
are illuminated, suspended in the instantaneous
significance of late afternoon light on
the edge of the rockies
everything has taken on the appearance
of being exactly what it is

all things are as they are
the beer is cheap, sugary and poisonous
my neighbor's kid is playing in the driveway
a stereo leaks reggae through some half-open door
i keep thinking that i should write a poem
about being a small stone falling through
still water

i'm suddenly hungry, and feeling too in love
with my own sense of desolation to
mess around in the kitchen and disturb its symmetry
i decide to go across the street for food
and as i walk the wind starts to life and
the air becomes winter air again
the bluegray clouds on the eastern edge of things
shift in mind to the color of future weather

the lot at oskar's is full, and
there's a gathering in the basement
bar, rife with the middle-aged in dark-colored
cold-weather coats, ordering drinks in the
uncertain tones of people who don't often drink
eventually i notice a "happy 60th birthday!" sign

when i shuffle home, full of
pale ale and ersatz mexican food
i collapse directly into bed and dream elaborate
dreams full of unattainable things

later when i wake up and part the curtains to look
out the front door, fat flakes of snow are
falling through the night time dark.

Thursday, January 23

A Much Too Distant Mirror: Against Animal Histories:

I sometimes think of the historical sciences—geology, evolutionary biology, certain branches of astrophysics—as analogous to trying to reconstruct a complicated “night before” with a drunk in a bar. In this case, nature’s the drunk: It knows what happened, but it’s sure as hell not going to give it to you straight. The big difference is that you can at least relate to a drunk. Nature is a dark narrator, an artist of indifference, Cormac McCarthy on a cosmic scale. When the stories it tells don’t fit easily onto a narrative storyboard, we force them, willfully blind to inconvenient truths about our fellow animals, their nature, their mysteries.

tuesday, january 21

history

earlier this week i took a handful of objects
that reminded me of the not-too-distant past
(a drawing in ink, a box my sister made me one
christmas, a film canister containing the
fragments of a single rose petal)
and put them (after smashing or scattering
several) in the trash under my sink

i've got a lot of sentimental habits, i guess,
and one of those prerational suspicions
that there's some basic magic in
the owning of memories-in-things

but if adulthood hasn't cured me of this
superstition, it has at least led me to realize
that all such magic cuts and binds with little regard
to the will of the user

and to speak of this is to speak of memory itself,
the costs of keeping a personal history and the way
that in writing it over and over again for ourselves

a time once illuminated by the light of circumstance
can turn from temporary joy into the permanent ache of
its absence, casting a shadow across days and years
until chance and forgetting render it anodyne

when i knew less of the fragility of the world
and thought myself stronger
i believed in memory
and my fitness to carry
some measure of its cargo;

now i wonder if we are the kind of animals
who can withstand the echoes of our previous selves

at all

wednesday, january 15

so you go on gathering
fuel for whatever fire
staring out past the trees
at some imaginary horizon

Tuesday, January 14

dept. of we're completely fucking fucked

We are Huxleying ourselves into the full Orwell.

Duncan Bayne:

I understand your position - caught in the middle - but you’re asking us as a group to propose technical solutions to requirements that we are prohibited from reading. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit odd? Likewise, you’re asking the W3C to compromise their Open Web principles on behalf of those same secret requirements.

A bit of transparency here would be nice.

Can we at least get a written summary of requirements from the stakeholders? I.e. not Netflix, Apple etc. but the people whose licensing terms are forcing this issue?

The MPAA is now a member of the w3c

A timeline of Edward Snowden’s revelations

dept. of hey maybe this isn't so bad / text editor tuesday #2

I’m writing this in Light Table, a newish text editor with some appealing properties. It looks decent (a bit unfinished, maybe, but simple without being jarringly archaic), seems to be very plugin-oriented, comes with file tree navigation and at least vaguely functional vim-like keybindings, and integrates with all sorts of REPL-y, compilery things which I really know nothing about.

I see there was a KickStarter, and now vaguely remember being interested at the time. I have a few unanswered questions about the development / business model, but the pace of dev work is encouraging, and there are a number of active contributors.

I might take this for a serious spin. It actually feels like it could be a contender. It’s been years since I tried a new editor and didn’t immediately abandon it in disgust or profound discomfort, and this one is still evolving pretty rapidly towards what seems like a clear vision of something. I’d really love to discover that there is work being done on another long-term viable Real Editor project. Vim is too small and fragile a basket to keep all of one’s eggs in.

Of course, there is discomfort. Standing in for another Real Editor is a tall order for any piece of software. A few notes follow.

  • It turns out I use gq (usually aliased to ,q) to format paragraphs a lot. I’ll bet this isn’t hard to get.
  • The behavior of x at the end of a line seems to be slightly broken in this vim plugin. It eats a character but doesn’t move to the left.
  • The workspace file tree stuff is close enough to NERDTree that I could totally live with it, but I don’t know yet if it has keyboard navigation.
  • There’s a type-to-filter list menu for commands as part of the core UI, and I am already a little bit in love. I want this feature in vim. (And am tempted to build something basic using dmenu, which I already use a lot under xmonad.)
  • The window resizing when you fire up the command menu is slick, but I’m not sure I want it on every last :w.
  • Is there blockwise selection? I’m always shifting a chunk of code over a couple spaces, ctrl-ving the first space in all the lines, and substituting in a comment character or what-have-you. I would miss this kind of feature, a lot.
  • You can do ct or cf followed by a character, but ci and ca (change inner, change around) are mostly not working yet.
  • Using % to bounce between brackets seems to work. Not sure how complete this is.
  • The tabs work like you’d want, I think, but can I do split windows? Yes, it turns out, by creating a new tabset. This feels a bit clunky to me right now.
  • Autodetecting syntax would be nice. (And yes, you masochistic weirdos with your monochrome code, I know who you are, and I’m going to come right out and say this: I like syntax highlighting. Hell, I love syntax highlighting.)
  • Configuration syntax is ClojureScript. Which brings us to the fact that the editor is written mostly in ClojureScript. So, ok, it’s a Lisp. A Lisp targeted at JavaScript. A Lisp originally written to run on the virtual machine designed in the first place for Java but now targeted at JavaScript. We’re now in territory bounded by the life’s work of so many different kinds of bearded weirdo that it’s a little dizzying.
  • It might be fair to ask oneself whether this is built on a stack that will survive the next 20 years, because the whole thing feels just a tiny bit too much like some kind of postmodern art project not to ask the question. Then again, if Emacs isn’t a postmodern art project, you sure couldn’t prove it by me, and when it’s down to mutant cockroaches and enormous rats squabbling over the last scraps of meat on our civilization’s bones, I’m pretty sure some of the more learned cockroaches will be composing broadsides on one side or another of the immortal emacsen/vi-alike question. On the evidence, we can’t really say that insane self-hosting dynamic language platforms masquerading as editors don’t persist.
  • Note to self: Read these architecture notes.
  • I think there is a client-server thing going on here.
  • Is there a console client or console mode of some sort?
  • It’d be nice to have more ex commands built out.
  • Syntastic handles PHP really well. Equivalent features for PHP would be sweet. (Getting syntax checks inline, at every write, must save me 10 or 20 minutes some days, and it now seems to me there’s very little good reason to tolerate that worthless extra debug cycle where you figure out you left off some punctuation or misttyped an identifier.) This thing is built with inline REPL-like behavior specifically in mind, so I bet it’s not too hard to spin up, but I don’t know how much work there’s been on any PHP integration.
  • The search-and-replace is kind of decent, but is it good enough to replace (heh) %s//g in the trivial cases? Can I get something like :perldo for the less-trivial cases?
  • Rough edges in the GUI: Resizing views of things is kind of uneven, and doesn’t always happen automatically when I’d expect it to. Sometimes inputs appear to be capturing the cursor, but aren’t visible on-screen. (Is any of this because I’m running a weirdo window manager?)
  • Configuration needs better docs.
  • This might actually make a good replacement for the profoundly dissatisfying Arduino IDE.
  • I have avoided using the word “IDE” in these notes, because I think of Eclipse and get sort of twitchy. Still, it’s self-described that way, so I’m going to temporarily set aside my biases.

I might go back and fill in some of the more obvious stuff here as I learn a bit more.

Sunday, January 12

the one casey is waiting for

after a while
the thing about drinking
is that it just feeds
what you drink to kill
and kills
what you drink to feel

reading

Two books I had doomed intentions of finishing in 2013:

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt: I read her The Secret History about ten years ago, in college, and despite its situation in the genre territory of tragicomic rich-people-school stories with guilty asshole protagonists who have crippling class anxiety, I've thought about it pretty often ever since. Tartt is frequently a really good writer, and her characters seem sort of like real people, or at least like kinds of people that I imagine existing in a totally different version of my life which is defined by some kind of outsider status complex.

I just couldn't do it this time with the tragic flaws. As soon as I got to some characters who seemed like people I would totally want to hang out with, I thought about whether I wanted to watch the inevitable corruption of the lead by the slow accumulation of his own desperate dishonesty and decided to stop.

Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, No. 1), Lee Child: My dad and I share a taste for a certain kind of airport-fiction detective novel. He turned me on to both Robert B. Parker and John D. MacDonald when I was a teenager, and whatever its flaws, I still really love that stuff. He's been reading these Jack Reacher things for a while, they're all over the place, and this one comes with a prefatory essay by the author about pretty much setting out to write like MacDonald.

I don't wish to offend any fans here, but if anyone has ever more profoundly misunderstood the appeal of characters like Travis McGee than Lee Child, I don't want to know about it.

A book I have probably-doomed intentions of finishing in 2014:

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Tony Judt: Because of this Ta-Nehisi Coates piece

Man. Such hate. What can men do against such reckless hate. Don't study history to boost your self-esteem. Study history to lose your religion. Or maybe in the end, to gain it. I am not religious at all. But seeing the limits of all of us, you start to understand why people might appeal to some higher, more certain, more fierce, invention.

— and also because I have gotten really lazy about knowing history, even though I still play a history major in bar conversations.

Sunday, January 5

The first Sunday night of 2014. Outside, it is brutally cold. Inside, I have reached a kind of local maximum of idleness.