Technology

The IndieWeb, Revolution, and Other Reasons You Should Learn to Code

The above is a video of Amber Case’s brilliant talk about the Rise of the IndieWeb, which is a loose confederation of web developers that are trying bring their data out of “silos” like Facebook and Twitter and back onto their own servers where they have control. Now being a man of very Punk Rock leanings, this is of interest to me for a variety of reasons.

The main crux of the IndieWeb argument is that you should have a central repository of your data because any third party service could shutdown or delete your access at any time. Like Geocities did in 2009, wiping out everyone’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac fan page.

They aren’t suggesting that you stop using these services, but that your site talks to and aggregates your data from all the big services from the web. Therefore, I should be able to write a post on my blog and have it cross post on Facebook and Twitter and likes from both services should show up on my blog. That way I have my original data – the post – and additional information – the likes – in one place that I control.

However, the real strength of this to me is not in preventing companies from cutting your access to your data but governments. Just last week, Turkish protesters lost their ability to connect to Twitter because the government blocked the service at the IP level. Before they were just blocking DNS, which caused people to spray paint Twitter’s DNS on walls (8.8.8.8, if you need to know.)

While this may be the most cyberpunk thing ever, I can’t help but feel that the IndieWeb could have helped these people by decentralizing the tweets to multiple web servers, thus making it impossible for anyone to cut access because there isn’t one single point of failure. Negating the need for crazy, tech graffiti.

If that’s not the best argument for the IndieWeb, I don’t know what is.

But that’s not what I found inspiring about this talk. Amber talks about the web pre 2003 when everyone and their mother had their own websites on some kind of web server. This was how the current generation of web developers learned how to code for the web. They would cut their teeth making things for themselves and sharing code with each other.

Their websites were their labs. Hell, PHP used to stand for Personal Home Page. It was a programing language that some guy cooked up because he wanted something better to code his own site with and now it’s one of the most popular web languages out there. It’s what WordPress is written in, which powers about 15% of the web. (By the way, WordPress was also developed the same way: a guy just wanted a better way to run his personal website.)

Amber laments that we’ve kind of lost that. Nobody’s running their own website on their own servers. It’s all Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I mean, the site you’re currently reading this on isn’t under my control. It’s WordPress.com.

The fear is that people are forgetting how to create for the web. They are forgetting the joy of building things for themselves that other people could use. One of the goals of the IndieWeb is the give people a reason to create again.

Now I’m not a Web Developer, but I think I’d like to try my hand at it. I don’t need to centralize all of my data but I would like an online presence that I control. Something that I could constantly work on. Something that’s never finished. Much like the web itself.

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Thoughts

Just checking in.

It’s been a long winter break. The year changed so yay Earth! We still haven’t killed you yet. I’ve been trying to take it easy this last month. I got wicked sick so I really haven’t felt much like writing.

I also got an iPad for Christmas, and let me tell you that it is a device made entirely out of time knives. So sickness aside, that thing has sucked up a lot of my free time.

But as I said before it is the New Year and while I try not to get into people’s faces about New Years resolutions, I do see the new year as time for taking stock and fresh starts. I did a lot in 2013: I started a podcast and really kicked this blog into gear. (In fact, I think I’m going to set this up as it’s own self-hosted WordPress install, but more on that later.) There, were things I didn’t get to, however. I didn’t write a lot of fiction this last year. I have a lot of notes, but not a lot of finished product.

The month of blogging really helped. It let me rediscover my writing workflow and figure out who I am as a writer now that I’ve been out of college for years. (College being my most prolific time by far.)

I want to keep up the Internet projects that I’ve been working on, but I also need to add some more fiction writing. It’s been a while since I’ve sat down with a major project and hacked away at every day until it was done. It’s also been a while since I’ve revised anything and that’s where writing really takes shape.

Anyone who tell you any different is selling something. Usually a book on writing.

This is just a quick post. I’ve been quite for a while and I wanted to check in. I think is going to be a good year for me in terms of creative projects. In fact, this post was supposed to be short, but it turns out I had a lot to say.

The new year may be almost a month old but new starts begin whenever you start them. Happy New Year.

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Writing

30 Day Blogging Challenge Wrap Up

The 30 Day Blogging Challenge is over and I’m pleased to say that I did make a post to this blog every day for 30 days.  The thing that I found the most surprising was how easy it was to write and post every day.  The first two weeks were hard to just sit down but after that, I wanted to write every day.

I’ve taken about three days off and I can really feel the itch to keep posting on this site, which is great.  I have always loved the idea of blogging ever since I stumbled upon the concept in 2003.  Yeah, I’ve been blogging on and off for over ten years and this is the first time that I feel like I really have something to say on the constant basis.  I really do think I will keep posting on this blog and writing about all the strange projects that I’m working on or the thoughts that I’m having that day.

And now some metrics

So how much did I really write?  I added up the word counts of all my posts and found that I wrote 15,487 words over the course of the challenge.  That gives me an average of 516 words, which was higher then when I calculated the average I wanted to hit over the course of the challenge.  (That was 450 words.)

The shortest post that I did was Drunken Phone Typing coming in at 212 words.  Even though it came in below my minimum of 300 words, I’m still going to count it because I wrote it on my phone which didn’t have a word count.  I had to guess when I was done and I guessed wrong.

The longest post was The Burrito Must Die, which came in at 776 words.  Apparently, more than any other topic, I have the most to say about burritos.

What did you win

In the post where I announced this challenge, I said that I should pick a prize to give myself if I completed it.  I couldn’t think of one at the time but I have two that I’m going to give myself.  First, I finally bought Skyrim for the Xbox.  I figure since I was good all month doing writing that I can give some of my free time to a time sink like that game.  I have an old save on my Xbox from when a friend lent me the game so it’s nice to pick up where I left off even if I can’t remember what the hell I was doing before my eight month break in playing.

The other thing I’m going to give myself is some desicresionary spending money for URL’s and web hosting.  I’d like to give this blog an actual URL and some solid web hosting.  With my podcast, I have web hosting but I’m looking at moving.  Keeping up with a WordPress install is a pain in the ass and my current hosting company is going to jump up a cost in January, so I’m going to shop around.  I’m currently looking at SquareSpace.  While they are more expensive than other hosting solutions, they take care of updating the content management software, which is worth its weight in gold for me.

Yes, I am a geek and I love to tinker, but I like that to be a choice and not a chore that I have to take care of all the time.  Nobody wants to sit down to write and then have to configure something.  I just need stuff to work.

What now

Now that the challenge is over look forward to most and different posts from me.  The word limit and 12 pm time limit where constraints that forced my posts over the last month into a certain shape.  I’d like to do more shorter posts and well as some long more well thought out posts. These are not things I could really do when I have to hit one post every day at at least 300 words.

Would I do the challenge again?  You bet your ass.  I’m going to do it again next November.  In fact, you might see me do other challenges that don’t just relate to writing.  I’ve been thinking about do some project challenge to help me learn some new skills.

So the ultimate take away from this challenge would be that if there is something that you would like to be doing, then this month give yourself the mandate to do it every day for 30 days because that is the amount of time it will take to turn whatever you want to do into a habit.  It’ll be hard but as the band Flogging Molly once said, “Nothing ever came from a life that was a simple one.”

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Thoughts

Mythology, Cthulhu, and You

One of my favorite things in the world that I don’t talk about enough is mythology.  When most people hear that word they think of the Greek myths.  Of Zeus.  Of Hera.  Of Kevin Sorbo.

Not me.  Especially that last bit.  While I love Greek metrology, I am more enamored by the human mind’s ability to take the world around it and create myth.  That’s not just the wind, a god is blowing because if they don’t the world will end.

When I first heard the concept as a child, I was blown away by it.  It, of course, was in conjunction with the Greek and Roman myth.  Here were two groups of people who fought, and died, and created empires over something that we now know isn’t true.  There is no god of thunder.  The wind does not blow because a god wants it.  But that didn’t matter to the Greeks and it didn’t matter the Romans.  It was true to them.

I don’t want you to get me wrong, I don’t think they were stupid.  This fiction helped to explain the world around them.  That’s a great thing, there has got to be things that I believe that future generations will know are wrong, so if the Greeks wanted to believe in something awesome like a woman can be born full formed out of a dude’s head then who am I to judge.  I live the in same hard world they did.  As long as it doesn’t hurt other people, do what you want to get through the day.

Once I new about the Greeks and the Romans, I wanted more.  But it had to be something contemporary.  I was into conspiracy theories for a while.  I loved hearing what some people what the “truth” behind Roswell and JFK.  It’s American folklore at its best.  It also didn’t hurt that while I was getting into conspiracy theories that the X-files was the biggest show in the country.  Nowadays, they don’t seem as fun as they used to.

Another really good mythology is the Cthulhu Mythos from H.P. Lovecraft. To be honest, his writing isn’t the greatest and I’m not the biggest fan of horror fiction, but he plays with the best ideas.

And at the end of the day, that’s all mythology is: the exchange of ideas.

In fact, Lovecraft knew he was onto something by creating his own mythology so he got other writers to add to it.  He open sourced his pantheon.  And he did it back in the 30’s.

A lot of others have followed in his foot steps.  We have mythology all around us now.  That’s about all science fiction and fantasy are.  We have Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings.  Super Heroes rule the box office now.

Basically what I’m saying is: if you are into mythology, it’s a good time to be alive.

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Writing

13 Practical Fiction Writing Tips

A while back a friend of mine asked me for some advice on writing fiction.  I have a degree in creative writing, so I’ve done a lot of writing as well as reading a ton of books on the subject.

Most books on writing will give you a lot of floaty advice about “finding the story on the page” or give you a lot a definitions of writing terms like “theme” or “tone.”  While these are good ideas, they were never very helpful to me.

After all the writing I’ve done, here is some practical advice for someone who is trying to be a writer.  A lot of this is from personal experience, some of this is from books I’ve read.  I’ll try to site the person I’ve got some of this off of when it’s not mine.

  • Get a dry-erase board or a wall calendar.  When you write, mark and “X” for that day.  After three days, you’ll have a chain.  Your job is not to break the chain. -Jerry Seinfeld
  • Once you are done writing for the day, stop in the middle of a sentence.  On the next day, it will force you to get back into the head-space you left.-Some book on writing I can’t remember.
  • You should write notes in a system that you trust.  You may not feel like they count as “real writing,” but you wouldn’t let an architect build you a house without a plan, why should you expect that from an artist.
  • Get a library card.  The rate that you should be reading should necessitate this or you’ll go broke.  If you don’t read enough to get to this point, stop writing until you are.
  • Every time you use “this,” “that,” “just,” or “well” God cries.  Remove them from your drafts whenever you can.
  • Never revise until you have finished a draft.  If you go back and fix what you wrote the day before, you will never get to what you need to work on today.
  • Your second draft is your first draft minus ten percent. -Steven King
  • Every character in every scene must want something.  I don’t care if it’s to get out of the room.  If they don’t want something, they aren’t characters.
  • Once you have finished a draft, put it away for a at least a few weeks before working on it again.  It’s the only way to look at it in the cold light of day. -Steven King
  • Leave out the part everyone skips.  Nobody skips dialogue. -Elmore Leonard
  • Make a list of all the words you like.  This can be for any reason.  Words are the only things we have.  Collect the good ones.
  • Start or become part of a writer’s group. Talking about writing is great and having someone to look over your stuff is even better.  Also, make sure there is always lots of food at the meetings or the group will fall apart.
  • Metaphors and theme are fine, but if you don’t have a well plotted story, you’re just preaching.  Plot is story.

The best part about writing is finding all the little tricks that work.  These are the ones that work for me.  Feel free to share yours.

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Writing

30 Day Blogging Challenge: Week 4

I only have two days left of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge, so I thought I would check in.  I didn’t get much writing done over my Staycation, but I will say that I liked the quality of posts that came out of this week.  It’s getting to the end of the challenge and I’m just now learning how to do this.

As I said at my check in last week,  it’s getting so much easier to just sit down and write something.  The plan after this challenge is to try and work on a novella that I have been kicking around for about a year now.  We’ll see how well I do after I’m no longer posting the days work for everyone to see, but I’m optimistic.

As for the other goals on my Staycation, I really didn’t get the media server off the ground.  That might be a project for this week.  I do have a script that can set up a desktop computer for me, so that’s nice but I don’t have much worked out for a server.  There’s really not a lot of work to do in setting up what I want to set up, you just have to sit down and do it.  All the research is pretty much done.

I did start work on my first paper craft project.  It’s a model of Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan.  The site I got it off of said it was an easy project, but I underestimated what learning this new skill was going to be like.  You would think that cutting something out and folding it together would be relatively easy, but I don’t think I have the best paper and I know I don’t have the hobby knife that I really need to do this justice.  So it’s been a rough go of it.
Today is the 28th day in a row that I have written.  I know this because I have an app on my phone that I keep track of this with.  That app also tells me that this streak is tied with a chain I did last year.  That chain was the longest I had ever gone with writing every day.  That means that if I write tomorrow, I will have written more times in a row than I have in my entire life.

See you tomorrow.

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Thoughts

Why Your Collection of Action Figures Is Bigger Than My Collection

Remember a few posts back where I outlined all the things that I’d do on my Staycation?  Did I do any of those things?  Not really, but I did watch all of the IT Crowd.

If you don’t know, the IT Crowd was a british sitcom about an IT department at a large, faceless corporation.  Most of the humor doesn’t actually come from geeky, computer in-jokes, but from the interpersonal relationships with the characters.  It’s really funny and it has some of the funniest comic acting I have ever seen.

Future Josh is going to put out a point detailing the network environment of the IT Crowd, so look forward to that, but in this post I wanted to talk about the set used on the show.  I’m sure a lot has been said about it, but I wanted to have my say because it is pretty fantastic.

While the dialogue on the show is not littered with geek in-jokes and references, the main set is.  It’s full of old computers, EFF stickers, action figures, table top board games, and posters.  Hell, there’s even a poster from the web comic XKCD.

The set is really cool and some place that I would love to live, and that got me thinking about the place I actually live.  It looks nothing like that.  That’s not to say my place doesn’t look nice, it does but it’s not a patchwork quillt of nerd culture.  Let me say this better, I do have quite the collection of comics and sci-fi novels, as well as comic art, but’s not shown off very well.  The bookcases are very muted and don’t show off the few art books that I have.  In fact, my personal collection doesn’t really have much in the way of art.  If it doesn’t have a narrative, that is to say if it’s not a comic, book, or movie, I don’t have a lot of it.  I don’t have a lot of action figures, or art books, or movie props, or art pieces.

I don’t have a lot of what I would call “static art.”  Things that are just made to be looked at in and of themselves.  This isn’t really a personal choice.  I’d like to have a lot of that stuff around me for visual stimulation, I just don’t seem to have a lot of it.  I guess that’s because most of it costs so damn much and you really have to know how to show it off or it’s just clutter.

I’m playing with bringing more of this sort of thing into my life.  I’ve been playing with paper craft and I have a few statues that are pretty cheap.  (I just can’t bring myself to drop $400 on a bust of Batman.)

I’ve always wanted a collection of interesting objects to show off.  Something to let people know who I am and what I’ve done.  I always figured I have something like that by now, but my life has only recently moved into a shape that could accommodate something like that.

Time will tell what my living room looks like in a years time.  Who knows, it might end up looking like the show playing in it.

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