Categories
Life

Next on my Reading List

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What book is next on your reading list?”


The next book on my reading list is “The Friendly Orange Glow” – a book I discovered by chance in the lead up to Christmas, and that made it onto my Amazon wish list after several relatives asked me to add some things so they might know what to get me for Christmas.

Here’s what the synopsis says about it:

At a time when Steve Jobs was only a teenager and Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even born, a group of visionary engineers and designers – some of them only high school students – in the late 1960s and 1970s created a computer system called PLATO, which was light-years ahead in experimenting with how people would learn, engage, communicate, and play through connected computers.

Not only did PLATO engineers make significant hardware breakthroughs with plasma displays and touch screens but PLATO programmers also came up with a long list of software innovations: chat rooms, instant messaging, message boards, screen savers, multiplayer games, online newspapers, interactive fiction, and emoticons.

Together, the PLATO community pioneered what we now collectively engage in as cyberculture. They were among the first to identify and also realize the potential and scope of the social interconnectivity of computers, well before the creation of the internet. PLATO was the foundational model for every online community that was to follow in its footsteps.

The Friendly Orange Glow is the first history to recount in fascinating detail the remarkable accomplishments and inspiring personal stories of the PLATO community. The addictive nature of PLATO both ruined many a college career and launched pathbreaking multimillion-dollar software products. Its development, impact, and eventual disappearance provides an instructive case study of technological innovation and disruption, project management, and missed opportunities. Above all, The Friendly Orange Glow at last reveals new perspectives on the origins of social computing and our internet-infatuated world.

I’m looking forward to reading it enormously.

Categories
Life

Emojis and Emoticons

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What emoji(s) do you like to use ?”.


This is where I immediately admit to not using emojis. I tend to write everything long-hand – even when instant messaging people. I certainly don’t use them while writing blog posts. While I know language evolves and we shouldn’t rail too much about new words or turns of phrase, I think perhaps a small part of me will die if emojis make their way into “the written word”.

That said, I do use some of the popular acronyms, and one or two emoticons when writing instant messages – chiefly the happy and sad face, along with “lol”.

I’m old enough to remember emoticons becoming “a thing”. Back in the early days of the internet – when email became somewhat ubiquitous – there was a common problem in that the written word often lacks emotional context – words written in short emails could be easily misinterpreted, and offence taken. I remember writing a guide for everybody in the company where I worked at the time – a guide to “emoticons”, with examples of their use.

For some reason I’ve never quite caught the emoji craze. I can’t help feeling some people cross a line though – communicating in a bizarre mixture of acronyms and emojis to construct a hell-stew of easily mangled gibberish. Don’t even get me started on “l33t sp33k”.

So – getting back to the writing prompt. Which emojis do I use? None really. Unless you count the smiley face – which is really an emoticon.

p.s. if you want to experience my lack of emoji talent, feel free to instant message me – my contact details are on my contact page!

Categories
Life

What do you like most about your writing ?

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What do you like most about your writing ?”.


Today’s writing prompt is perhaps the most difficult for me to answer so far – because it forces me to look inwards. I don’t tend to do a lot of self-analysis. My words are usually pretty transparent – of the moment. I write about whatever subject is in my head.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe the thing I like most about my writing is that it isn’t contrived. I don’t pretend to be somebody I’m not. I’m not playing a part, or portraying a character. I’m just a fairly straightforward guy that likes to write, sharing his thoughts with the world.

Back in the mists of time – before marketers got hold of the world wide web and insisted that everything should have purpose, polish, and dance with the woke brigade in terms of being politically correct, blogs were just diarys. Journals. People emptying their head into the keyboard late at night – expressing frustrations, divulging secrets, and chasing wishes.

I’m fully aware that I’m something of a throwback. A balrog in blogging terms. A writer of the old world. And I’m good with that.

Of course the trick is finding kindred spirits that we share at least a few character flaws with – so we might accompany each other along the winding road.

Categories
Life

Two Sleeps Left

One more day of work left. Two sleeps left. I can’t imagine I’m going to get a lot done tomorrow, given that I’ll then have the better part of 10 days off. Given events unfolding around the world, we’re not going anywhere or doing much over the Christmas period – so if nothing else it will be a good chance to recharge.

I’m looking forward to getting out running again. It’s been a while. I need to find my reflective coat – running in the dark at this time of year is pretty dangerous without it.

While writing this I’m waiting for the water filter to refill so I can make myself a coffee. We have to use a filter because our tap water has become terrible over the last year. If you scrub the kettle out, then fill it from the tap, and boil it, you can no longer see the bottom of the kettle. It started when they dug the town up to route fibre broadband. Quite why the kids cannot grasp the concept of re-filling the water filter after emptying it is anybody’s guess. Probably the same reason they never find a new toilet roll, and put empty packets back in the cupboards.

On the subject of broadband, I put the application form in for fibre to our house this morning. Waiting has paid off – we’re now going to get six months for free. We will leap from about 5Mbit up, and 20Mbit down to 400Mbit both ways. I can’t imagine it will happen over the Christmas break, so it will be something to look forward to in the new year.

One more day of work left. We can do this.

Categories
Life

No More Subscribe by Email

If you have been receiving my blog posts via email, I’m afraid your regular updates are about to end. I had been using “Mailchimp” to deliver them recently, and unfortunately it looks like Mailchimp just got acquired by Intuit. I hate this aspect of American culture – the rampaging capitalism that eventually destroyes anything and everything that was once good.

Anyway.

No more email subs. Sorry.

At least Automattic (the owners of WordPress) seem to have their head screwed on right. The formed a foundation years ago to protect the platform against just such eventualities. I guess the only problem there is “wordpress.com” is a separate entity than “wordpress.org” – essentially a business that operates on the back of the development of the platform.

It’s tempting to run my own blog – away from external influence. It would have to run somewhere though, and of course that implies dependency on some corporate behemoth or other. There’s no escape.

In other news, I just got a letter through the door inviting me to get a COVID booster. Within moments of opening the letter I had booked the appointment. Mid-afternoon this coming Wednesday. My other half just got back from having her booster shot done. The kids are scheduled over the coming weeks.

I’m continually amazed by the ass-hat conspiracy theorists that either maintain COVID is some sort of hoax, or that their freedom is more important than any consideration for anybody else.

Categories
Life

Feeding Wolves

While talking to friends about their interactions on the internet recently, an interesting subject has arisen – the receipt of discordant feedback, and how best to deal with it.

If somebody takes exception to content you have posted to the internet, should you defend your view, or move on?

I tend to avoid conflict, so will invariably ignore conversations I would rather not have. As entertaining as it might be, the last thing I would want to do on the internet is make an example of anybody else – to draw attention to their views, no matter how flawed I might think they are.

On rare occasions where I feel I cannot let a comment go (as happened recently with a particularly bigoted comment on one of my posts at Medium), I tend to find out a little about the person behind the comment first. If they make a habit of making an arse of themselves then of course they are fair game, but if there is a gulf in terms of culture, faith, or understanding then I am far more careful.

I’m often reminded of a Native American story I heard years ago (hence the title of the post) – I think it’s from the Cherokee people:

An old grandfather was teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

If you search the internet, you will find many re-tellings of the story – with wording changes to suit each author’s narrative. The essence is absolutely true though – the wolf that lives is the wolf you feed.

When faced with views and opinions you did not seek, the best way to deal with them is to deprive their authors of food. Incendiary feedback is invariably posted in pursuit of reaction. Reaction is attention.

I’m also reminded of “The Celestine Prophecy” – a wonderful book that explores the nature of energy in the universe – that interactions between people can be described as transactions. While some might be described as sources of energy, others might be described as consumers. Consumers create “drama” in order to draw from those around them.

Anyway.

Enough soapbox psychology for one day. Time for a cup of coffee.

Categories
Life

Kindred Spirits

In the early days of the pandemic the office owned by the company I work for was closed, and sold. Ever since I have spent my days sitting in the dark of the junk room at home in front of several computers – writing code, taking part in conference calls, and occasionally wandering into the kitchen to make coffee.

Every day has become much like every other day.

In the middle of the endless routine of getting up, having a wash, doing chores, working, doing more chores, helping with dinner, and wondering where the evening went, I somehow began to misplace old friends.

Friendship is a curious thing. I find it tremendously difficult to make new friends. The work involved in crossing the bridge from “acquaintance” to “friend” always seems like such hard work.

Sometimes you discover a kindred spirit half a world away, and marvel at the universe’s twisted sense of humour. Why could they not even be on the same side of the ball of mud we all share as it hurtles through space?

Perhaps there are unwritten rules woven into the fabric of things – among them that kindred spirits must never cross paths, lest they cancel each other out. It would explain a lot.

Categories
Life

Behold the Fediverse

I’m trying to think of something clever to write about federation, or diversification. I’m not coming up with much. Perhaps if I take a look at a definition of fediverse it might help.

Wikipedia has the following to say:

The Fediverse (a portmanteau of “federation” and “universe”) is an ensemble of federated (i.e. interconnected) servers that are used for web publishing (i.e. social networking, microblogging, blogging, or websites) and file hosting, but which, while independently hosted, can communicate with each other.

You’re probably wondering why I’m rambling on about fedivi (is that the collective noun?), and you’d be quite right to be wondering because I’ve not explained anything yet.

It all started late last night, when I stumbled back into the tentacles of the federated Mastodon universe. If you’ve not heard of it, Mastodon is an open, free social network that anybody can join. Rather than operate a monolithic service such as Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, it’s a federation of lots of servers – each serving a particular community of interests. Here’s the trick – anybody on any server can follow anybody on any of the other servers.

It’s a bit like saying “I hang out in the tech community, but I’m also interested in books, comics, music, and art – so I might follow people who are members of servers that revolve around those subjects”.

Anybody can start a server and connect it to the rest of the “fediverse”.

Anyway.

While falling straight down the Mastodon rabbit-hole, I started to learn about more federated services – among them a publishing service called “WriteFreely”, and a photo sharing service called “PixelFed”. Services with many independent servers around the world providing free alternatives to Tumblr, WordPress, Substack, Instagram, Flickr, and wherever else – and none of them selling or using your data for any sort of commercial means.

I’m still learning, still reading, still tinkering, and still delving around to find out how it all works. I’ve begun pulling a few bits and pieces together, that can be found at the following locations:

https://fosstodon.social/@jonbeckett

https://wordsmith.social/jonbeckett

https://pixelfed.social/jonbeckett

In other news, I’ve also been meddling with a publicly accessible method of publishing the various writing that had previously been behind the paywall at Medium. After a day of experimentation, desk thumping, and endless reading I managed to funnel all of previous writing into Github at the following URL:

https://jonbeckett.github.io

It uses a free service provided by Github called Jekyll that turns markdown text files into a published website. All I have to do is upload articules as plain text to Github, and it re-builds the site for me. All clever stuff. If you’re interested, Jekyll is actually a “Ruby on Rails” application in the background. You weren’t interested. It’s ok. I didn’t think you would be.

My dinner will be ready in a bit. I’ll return to “slice of life” stuff next time, honest.

Categories
Life

Bootstrapping

The first computer science teacher I had was called Mr Nicholls. He died young, as far as I remember – a few years after I left school. My memories of him are starting to fade. He played in a band, had a neatly trimmed ginger beard, and must have had the patience of a saint.

In a fairly early lesson, he told us about “bootstrapping” – the trick performed by a computer when you switch the power on. If you’ve never thought about it, he described it very well – imagine a pair of boots with loops on the heel. Those are bootstraps. Now imagine lifting yourself into the air by pulling on your own bootstraps – that’s exactly what a computer does when you switch it on – it pulls itself into the air, and begins running before it hits the ground.

I’m bootstrapping this blog – or rather, I’m bootstrapping my participation in this blog.

I’ve been “mailing it in” for far too long – posting words to anybody that might read them with little regard for who they might be, or the stories they might be telling. It’s time for me to stop, and start returning a little of the goodwill I have received. Paying back, as well as forward.

I wasn’t always this way. In the sands of time – before children, work and chores took over my life I made some wonderful friends around the world. Back in the early days of “blogging” when we all had guestbooks, blogrolls, and such like, I forged unforgettable friendships. Some of those people are still out there. I think I might be the last that is still writing a regular journal for all to read. Some are gone. Some are dead.

It would be a tremendous shame not to embrace the unlikely friendships of those that cross my path, rather than glance at a statistic, or the bump on a graph.

I suppose this is really me saying “I’m coming back”. Returning to the fold. Making time to read, comment, like, follow, subscribe, and so on.

Is this a reaction to the “social internet” with its infinitely shallow pool of interest? Perhaps. Is it a recognition of those that continue to share their life in this most transient on mediums? Definitely.