Warning, Unfinished Work Ahead!

I’ve got quite a few entries that have sat in the “draft” box long enough; at the same time I’ve wanted to build on their ideas but feel that I can’t until I post the first entries. I know this contradicts my new posting mantra, but I still have trouble sharing unfinished work. The perfect is the enemy of the good, I know…

I think in general it’s good for me to feel this way. My tendency is to give up early on things that are difficult, and when I publish online, I find more incentive in finishing what I’ve started. The new concepts I’m exploring are bigger and more uncharted than others I’ve encountered, however, so I’m taking a long-term view of the process. Doing that allows for intermediate steps to remain “in progress”…

So here come a few unfinished items, hopefully followed by more conclusive articles that build on their ideas. But maybe not…this new stuff is hard for me to understand, reaching from business to philosophy, urban planning and technology; anyone out there reading, feel free to comment and help me out.

A One-sided Conversation

An interesting corollary to writing on this site has been the growing difference between what my friends who read the site know about me, and what I know about them. By no means do I have an extensive readership, nor do I desire one–I’ve often wondered how much I would have to censor myself if lots of people read this; I already do to some extent. I also do not often write about things personal to myself, like emotions or personal relationships, instead using this place as a brainstorming forum and a design playground.

But just as Bryan Boyer’s Global ID Card defines a person by where they have been and want to be, knowing someone’s thoughts is much more identifying than their age, location, height, weight, or any “personal” fact. It’s like having one of those “deep” late-night talks in a freshman dorm–except that because so few of my real-world friends do the same, this conversation is one-sided.

Of course I don’t expect everyone to write down their thoughts and make them available publicly. That’s a choice I’ve made to aid my memory and allow others to comment and help shape my thinking. If others don’t need the same help, kudos to them. And there is still the non-trivial technical hurdles to get over, something I’m working on in several projects, and that is getting better by the day, but that is still unduly difficult.

But while I acknowledge these things, it is still frustrating that I have lost touch with close friends who have moved away, and exciting that I can know and follow the story of people I don’t know well from the real world, but who write online. The potential is impressive, and the “wasted social capital” of both missing new friends and losing old ones is tragic.

An article in the Guardian tells a story that reflects the situation of everyone knowing about you and you not knowing about them:

She asked if I wrote poetry, so I then explained to her about the blog and I gave her the address, which perhaps wasn’t the best career move, and she started reading. I found out one day that she’s been online and read through the whole archive. And so when I saw her after that I felt very strange, because she knew everything about me and I knew virtually nothing about her.

“Strange” is a good word–I can’t expect this of everyone, and I’m not angry about the discrepancy, but it’s strange to see an old friend who knows exactly where you’ve been intellectually and not know the same about them. Strange and disappointing.

Amazon Wishlist on my site

I managed to use Adam Kalsey‘s amazing MTAmazon plugin to put my entire Amazon wishlist (warning: big file) on my site–no easy task, considering it’s currently sitting at a hefty 163 items. Good thing Amazon doesn’t show you the total price of your wishlist alongside the number of items…

I’ve long wanted to see all my items on one page, something Amazon does not allow you to do on their site. For those with sufficient bandwidth, it’s nice to see all items at once.

It’s a nice implementation, allowing you to grab pretty much anything from Amazon’s API and display it. I even steal their bandwidth for the images…but they can probably afford it. Hoping to use the same functionality for the books category of this site, as well as add a “related books” to the bottom of each individual posting (“The following books are related to Assault on Mount Umunhum…”)

Screw it, I’m posting

So for a while now I’ve been resisting the urge to post things that haven’t been fully polished. I have my linkblog, suitable for things I like but don’t need to publish thoughts on, and I have this site, where I pontificate on matters esoteric and developed enough to demand publishing.

Somehow I thought this would separate me from everyone else out there blogging about their cats and their kids and their jobs. No one wants to be that guy. If I was going to build a truly useful “backup brain”, I had to filter the content somehow, right? Otherwise, it would just end up muddled, incoherent, and confused, like my regular brain is.

But over the past month or so, I’ve been commenting more on my Psst! posts, and wanting to post smaller items on the Brain blog. When I do end up posting here, it becomes something mammoth and unweildy, where I try to cram so many of my thoughts into one summarial entry that even I lose track of what I am saying.

Screw it. It shouldn’t be this hard. Let someone else figure out what’s “important enough”. I’m that guy now. Prepare for the big blab…

Remote Posting for Movable Type

I would love to post using something other than MovableType’s default interface, but I’m not sure I can. If you can read this entry, my experiment worked and I am a very happy man.

screenshot of my unstyled remote MovableType interface

UPDATE: Ok, it worked. Sweet. Basically what just happened was I downloaded the source code to MovableType’s posting interface to a file on my desktop and changed the submission form’s links from relative ones (i.e. /cgi-bin/mt.cgi ) to absolute ones (i.e. http://ryskamp.org/cgi-bin/mt.cgi ). Now, any computer I try this on will go find the posting program online and save my work.

More importantly, this means that I can customize the interface to my heart’s delight, putting input fields on any page and keeping unnecessary options hidden from users.

More polishing is no doubt needed, as this will almost certainly break MT’s superb error-handling and the program’s default success page is still within the standard interface.

I can’t believe this was so easy. It seems like it should be a bug. Things like this make me love HTML and open standards.

Futureproofing My Work

This is part one of a two-part series, written together. The first part explains how I chose the ultimate destination medium for my creations. The second part shows how I plan to create them in the first place.

It is rambling, self-indulgent, and without a real conclusion. However, if by some chance a reader makes it through the entire essay, perhaps they will understand why I’m not worried about that.

In my search for truth in all aspects of life, I tend to look for patterns and systems that will allow me to go beyond mere philosophy and actually apply principles to each day. My passion lies not in the creation of statutes, but in the aid of a successful lifestyle.

Recently I have been playing with the computer language XML. XML, which stands for eXtensible Markup Language, is hailed by some as the ultimate futureproof language for computers. It allows you to create an item once, with rich descriptive and categorized information, and forever transform it by linking these descriptions to new structural and stylistic patterns. For instance, you can use the same XML document to show a webpage, a PDF document, email, Microsoft Word page, or almost any other computer response you can imagine. It’s a beautiful achievement, a marvel of architectural foresight.

So XML, written semantically and flexible enough to evolve, seems like a very nice alternative to HTML, which is suitable only for webpage usage. But is that enough? After all, even XML has its limits. XML is still just readable by machines, and though a printout of an XML document is easier for a human to read than an printout of HTML code is, it is still far inferior to the content presented as a plain text document.

Some people, then, have begun archiving webpages as plain text. That’s a good step, although you lose any of the formatting that the author may have felt was essential to understanding the content. You’ll also need a computer, which was still a pretty rare possession last time I checked (just over 50% of people in the U.S. have one–and we’re a pretty small minority). My personal next step would be to print out all of my computer work onto nice, durable, time-tested paper.

I think I just heard a tree cry.

I’m quite serious, though. Paper is a stand-alone, platform-independent, cheap, portable, available-worldwide, zero-learning-curve technology that has been enough for Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed to ensure their teachings would live on (well, I guess Moses tried stone tablets, but fortunately they were copied onto paper). Printing my work onto paper and preserving it appropriately will ensure that I will be able to share my life’s greatest idea to the future, “if by random whim one occurs to me.” (TMBG)

Paper’s a pretty stable technology, and it would get my message to the future, even without being networked and linked to the hilt. But then the question just shifts: would the message be understood?

I write in the English language, which limits my influence to the subset of humans that know English. Certainly machines will be able to translate these ramblings, but it is still limited by those that can understand and codify language in general. A better approach may be to convey my ideas symbolically. By creating imagery instead of language, I extend the circle of influence to those who can see. Still not universal, but better. And it also transmits emotion much better than words alone.

A friend of mine is experimenting on his website with an ever-increasing array of colors and shapes. This is not to distract from his content, but rather to highlight and reinforce it. He assigns a color to each post relating to his emotion at the time of writing, and places items on the page visually according to their meaning. Some you scroll sideways for, others are diagonally down to the right, still others overlap and hide each other. A printout of this would be understandable worldwide, and perhaps universally–aliens come to conquer us would be able to understand his work, if they had some sort of visual sensing.

So physical, printed artwork and imagery may be the most futureproof visual medium. But that still assumes physical existence and material possession. Take away that and the entire concept is lost. It turns out that embedding an idea within a physical medium, whatever that medium is and however it may be embedded, still makes the ideas contained into its prisoners.

The one societal practice that I see as closest to futureproof is oral tradition. Speech and hearing are such universal senses that a story from one culture easily transfers to another, despite language and distance barriers. Oral tradition is responsible for all knowledge we have from before the invention of writing, and for most of our creation stories and religious traditions. We can count on hearing and speech continuing on far beyond our own culture and technology, since it is a universal human need to feel connections to others through speech and hearing. Csikszentmihalyi writes that the everyday interactions we have with other people on the street–waving, a tip of the hat, a “hello” in the hallway–reassure us that we are still alive and validate us as a part of human culture. The “personal touch” is truly something we cannot live without, and therefore I believe that we can count on speech being around to carry our knowledge forth.

My choice for the ultimate futureproof technology, then, is friendships. Other people, as they have been for millenia, will continue to be our link to the world and its most reliable resource. People are dynamic and evolving, constantly taking the knowledge they have and seamlessly upgrading it to fit their surroundings. The work of conversion is thus decentralized and done by workers that require no additional hardware upgrades or maintenance.

People are the ultimate platform. And yes, that will scale.

One question remains, however. If people are the ultimate storage tool, what is the optimal creation tool? Once I get my knowledge from people, how do I use it to create something I can contribute back to the cultural brain? That’s another topic, one which I’ll explore next.

A New Hope

Ryskamp.org is finally up and I finally have a voice again. It’s ok to cry.

Gotta Post

. . . just to fill white space. oh yeah baby.

New Weblog

well, after hearing for a few weeks about this “movable type” format, i finally tracked it down and installed it myself. my old site is still hanging around No longer–thanks a lot, FeaturePrice. first impressions? very very cool–the future of the internet. more to come . . .

Yay! another weblog

though i can’t keep my own thoughts organized, or perhaps because of that, they’re going online. this will be interesting.