Tonight I gave some guy with a mountain bike a ride down 36. What do you do, he asked. Software, I said, what about you? I’m an energy medicine practitioner, he said, everything from professional runners to stage IV cancer. We’ve got stuff that actually works, he said, can you believe it, unlike our friends in the medical world, poisoning people for $250 an hour.
Sometimes this species of bullshit is harmless. Some people I like and respect a great deal talk a lot about “energy” and do all sorts of hand-wavy stuff. On the other hand, if the first thing I find out about you is that you lie to late-stage cancer patients for a living, it seems like a safe bet that it won’t get any less fucked up from there. I’ve learned to disengage quickly when I hit one of these in the wild: Minimum of small talk, don’t give out any contact info, get out of the area quick, offer bystanders and potential victims an escape mechanism if possible.
You spend a little time on the edges of the counterculture (does that even mean anything any more? I guess at minimum I mean something by it, and it’s as good a word as any for the moment) and you get to understanding that a lot of the genuinely dangerous mentally ill and outright serial predators really do come to roost in the hippie/freak scene, broadly understood. Among the weird, they find both victims and a population who, having struggled to reject a great many of the standard judgments and condemnations, frequently show a native reluctance to excercise judgment and condemnation in their own communities.
Not me, man. I judge like you wouldn’t believe.
It’s still cool outside, although the day promises some amount of heat. The air is full of tiny blue-gray insects with long legs and tufts of vivid white down on their bodies. They drift in slow loops through the sunlight, along with spider silk and the occasional seed. Chris: “Fish love those fuckers.”
A couple of days from now is a year since the flood.
I think now about my state of mind those nights, and I don’t think I could exactly retrieve it with any amount of effort. I don’t think I would have known during those hours that I would regret that inability.
So there’s this internet explosion about various players in the set of entities that use Markdown (Jeff Atwood, the Pandoc dude, a reddit dude, a GitHub dude, etc.) trying to put together a spec and probably not going about it in the best way. Gruber’s mad, Hacker News hates it, they’re calling it CommonMark now instead of anything with “Markdown” in the name, there are flamewars on the mailing list.
I use Markdown for a lot of different things. For example, I’m writing this blog post in it. I use it for projects like userland-book. At SparkFun, we render tutorials and blog posts and user comments with a particular superset of it based on spackling some cheesy regex substitution on top of a PHP wrapper around Discount.
I’m interested in this. It’ll affect some decisions I make. But I’m having kind of a hard time feeling too worked up about the whole thing. I appreciate a number of things about Markdown’s design, and I think it’s proven to be a really important contribution to web technology, but I also can’t help thinking that the position of “dominant lightweight markup language used by smart web people” is pretty goddamned historically contingent and moderately accidental. People have been coming up with alternatives to expressing things directly as HTML for just about as long as we’ve had HTML, and if you squint, it kind of seems like all of the heat and light that has ever surrounded one of these efforts has been more or less the same meta-argument that inheres in every iteration of the discussion about semantics and syntax and ownership of the definitions.
I had this conversation the other day about programming languages. Pretty much a bunch of PHP, I said. You could write Ruby, they said. I have this exact fucking conversation like once a week, on average, with the specific languages swapped out for other languages. It’s completely exhausting. It’s like here, I baked you a cake, and people are all hey thanks but don’t you feel bad about how hard your oven sucks?
Let’s define an axis of technical argument called Language Things. Language Things is about representation and expression and models. It is about aesthetics and correctness. It is about hurt feelings and bone-deep convictions and the inescapable desire for some kind of ground on which to feel that one can safely model the experienced universe and the expressed understanding of it. It is somehow or another about identity and ownership.
I’ve spent a lot of my life caring way too hard about Language Things. In a certain sense, I care too hard about Language Things for a living. I’m probably never going to stop caring about Language Things, because they define and condition all of the meaningful work that I have ever done or am ever likely to do. And yet, in a certain sense, I think I have outgrown Language Things. Is the syntax worth thinking really hard about? Does it matter how you have chosen to express your model of reality? Do the specific symbols in your toolbox shape your whole experience of work and life? Well, yes. Sure enough. But then are these things the crux of my actual problems? Well, no, not really. Not these days. They haven’t been for a while.
It’s early in the morning, but I’ve been awake for hours. Some time after 2 I realized I wasn’t going to fall back asleep and started reading the internet again.
The internet considered as a book is a huge volume, and new pages are being written at an impossible clip. On the other hand, I remember a question framed something like this: What was the last year in which it would have been possible for a single person to read everything published? That was almost certainly centuries ago. Even a standard-issue public library in a mid-sized American city of the middle 1980s probably contained more interesting text than I’m liable to consume in the rest of a reading life.
Which is to say that right now I’m choosing to see the internet as something which was already old long before I was born. If the augmented memory footprint of civilization can be considered as a kind of thing, then the internet is a thing at least as old as cave paintings and clay tablets.