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Mike Sugarbaker

Some new things I'm doing

1 min read

Think Again, My Friend! I’m the host and producer of this new comedy podcast in quiz-show drag. Learn while you laugh while you listen while you learn.

The Soft Sciences, the name of my comics collaboration with Kalina Wilson. We’ve made a silly adventure comic that’ll be online soon.

I am really oddly satisfied that I was able to get those two domain names.

Mike Sugarbaker

The Month in Comics

1 min read

My girlfriend and I recently made good on a pledge to draw journal comics, for some definition of “journal,” every day for the whole month of May. You can find them on Flickr, along with those of several artist friends of ours, like the inestimable La Nina.

Mike Sugarbaker

I'm speaking at Interesting Portland, April 9th 2009

1 min read

So there’s this thing! Yeah. Like the Ignite events, only more expensive and less irritating. I’ll be trying to teach everyone in ten minutes how to play story games. (Well, not those exact ones I talk about in that old post; more like a hyper-streamlined, more general, low-impact version. But one that totally works, and currently powers my own play.) If you’re in the area, you should totally come. If you’re not, I imagine there will be videos eventually, and I’ll pass you a link unless they’re somehow incriminating.

Mike Sugarbaker

The loneliness of the wrong-system chooser

4 min read

First it was Betamax. Our household didn’t choose it, but if it had been up to me, we would have. I was ten years old. My dad had just announced we’d be getting a VHS deck, and I remember looking up at him – not many memories of that, we were already close to the same height – and arguing that all sorts of people said that Beta had better picture quality and was more durable. I felt confused and powerless when he wouldn’t listen. Within months the available Beta rentals at Five Star started to thin; within a year they were gone. I felt kind of at peace with that, probably because I had no trouble renting anything.

Then it was the Mac. In 1986 you either had a PC and could play all the games, or had an Amiga and could play mysteriously awesome games no one’d heard of, or you had some other shit and were a loser who hung out at friends’ houses a lot. Don’t get me wrong, we had great stuff at home – we had HyperCard – but we didn’t have status. The arguments didn’t happen to us so much, because there “wasn’t” an Internet yet, but on one notable occasion a friend and I had finagled an invite to the home of a girl I had a crush on, so we could set up her stereo; some other kid who was there started talking smack about Macs for no real reason, and somehow I got sucked into fighting over it feebly with him while my undistracted friend accomplished all the useful, girl-impressing tasks. Yes, I learned to program, sort of, with HyperCard; yes, Defender of the Crown had a certain majesty in black and white when it (finally) showed up. Yes, the Mac II made things a lot better. Still, none of us Mac users of a certain age ever forgot – our superiority was not a real thing. We cooked it up ourselves; when we went out in the world, it had no currency.

Then it was the Sega Master System. I hope I don’t even need to say more. (Space Harrier, though: yeah. And Great Volleyball, out of which my brother and I wrung a truly odd amount of fun.)

Now it’s the T-Mobile G1. All I see is iPhone app announcements and developer opportunities, in the music blogs, the game blogs, the web-dev blogs. The Android platform gets some dap too – it’s evident that this time I have at least picked Sega, not 3DO – but that doesn’t help me when I have to fight with the G1’s camera again, or stumble through the Market looking for something, anything that doesn’t suck ass (illiterate app comments scrawled on the listings like they’re bad YouTube videos), or watch performance slow and slow as I get further from my last hard phone reset. Yes, it’s not that much longer until the apps will get better, but let’s be honest: they’ll never catch up. I abandoned all my noble open-source principles as soon as they failed to reward me. I want an iPhone so bad.

Last month I was at the mall finishing holiday shopping and saw that my shiny new phone was out of power again – I must have left GPS on by accident, damn my eyes – so I stopped into a T-Mobile store to borrow a cup of the ol’ juice. They kindly offered me a power adapter by the G1 display, and I soon found myself in conversation with a prospective buyer, talking the phone up. The social pressure of being in a T-Mobile retail store that was doing me a favor is only a partial explanation. I suddenly recovered all my moral dudgeon against the locked-down, anti-user iPhone and its monopolistic store full of 99-cent farting applications. I told this guy about the $400 unlocked dev version of the phone when the sales guy’s back was turned. I talked about the coming paid apps. I talked up all the promise that I wanted so much to believe in again.

In summary: OMG I HAVE SUCH TERRIBLE PROBLEMS (soon we will all be checking Twitter from the fucking bread line)

Mike Sugarbaker

Small pieces, not even joined

1 min read

Like everyone, I am blogging less and Twittering more these days. Follow along if you care to.

Mike Sugarbaker

George Lakoff talks about The Political Mind

6 min read

Here at long last is the compilation of my Twitter notes from George Lakoff‘s talk at the Bagdad in Portland on June 12, 2008, about his new book The Political Mind. I tweeted these all as quotes, but they aren’t exact, so if something here enrages you, check with me first on whether he actually said it or not. Also, I’ve had to edit this pretty heavily to make it make any sense at all, as Twitter apparently drops a lot of your messages when you make two pages’ worth in the space of 30 minutes or so.

Many thanks to Prof. Lakoff for coming to town, and to Powell’s Books for hosting the talk. (And if you haven’t, please take a gander at my summary of the first chapter of Lakoff’s germinal manifesto Don’t Think of an Elephant – it may help all this make sense if you aren’t familiar with his prior work.)

“Reason is supposed to be universal. In the past 30 years cognitive science has discovered that to be completely false.

“Reason is not abstract, because you think with your brain. Your brain is made to run a human body. It can’t do just any old thing.

“If you have a stroke and are cut off from emotion, it turns out you can’t function at all. Because how can you know what to want?

“Frames aren’t just concepts, they’re neural pathways, connected to your neural paths for words themselves, and connected in systems.

“When you use a neural pathway it gets firmer, until it’s permanent. Mostly that happens below consciousness – 98% in fact.

“This book has a lot of the scientific details that haven’t been in my other books. It fills in a lot of the gaps.

“We understand politics through cultural narratives and melodrama. This is how people really reason.

“Barack Obama has a rags-to-riches story. Hilary has a different story, with more privilege but a glass ceiling. Emotional stories.

“When you’re still a child, you learn a lot of metaphor thinking. ‘Gas prices are rising.’ Why is more ‘up’? Why are loving people ‘warm’?

“Metaphors are physical. They are strengthened every time you see the water in a glass go up every time you add more.

“Well-being lives in the brain. This leads to all kinds of morality metaphors. Pure food is better than rotten food; purity becomes moral.

“Wealth aids well-being; we have all kinds of money metaphors for morality. And of course we have family metaphors – two major ones.

“That’s not a paradox. It’s physical, is all. We all have strict-father and nurturant-parent structures. Usually we use both.

“You have people for whom the structures are about equal (swing voters). Then you have others, but there’s no axis between left and right.

“The nurturant-parent family is based on empathy. (Not indulgence – very much the opposite.) Protection and empowerment from goverment.

“Empathy is in our neurons. Seeing someone else do something fires many of the same emotional pathways in us.

“The strict-father model is popular in politics and business too. Ever heard ‘let the market decide’? Well, who’s ‘the decider’?

“Strict-father model is all about direct causation: kid does something bad, spank him. Crime happens, lock up bad people. Systemic causes? They don’t exist. (How do you show systemic cause to a strict-father model thinker? Start with something they know and try to extend it.)

“Why does this matter in politics? Your first experience with being governed is in your family. You physically learn that metaphor.

“Between birth and age 5, half your neurons die. Which half? Depends what you experience. If you don’t experience empathy, you lose it.

“Fear is neurally connected to the strict-father model. What contradicts fear? Hope, and wellbeing. Obama makes people feel calm and cool.

“2 models for foreign policy: ‘realism’ – maximize your state’s benefits invisible-hand style. Clinton’s model.

“Obama’s model shifts from the state to the person: individuals’ concern about water, global warming, food, safety, terrorism. Good article on this in the Am. Prospect.

“No pundit or analyst has talked about this. Not one. But it’s there in actual foreign policy papers.

“Ronald Reagan’s own campaign manager wrote about how people liked Reagan, but when he polled them on the actual policies Reagan supported, they hated them all. He didn’t know at first why his own candidate was winning.

“Why did Reagan win? He ran on values, communication, authenticity, trust, and identity. Mondale, Kerry, Gore all lost to this. Dem strategists looked at this and said, ‘well, he won on personality.’ They were wrong. Those 5 things are all things you actually need to know. Obama’s using them.

“Tell progressives all that and they say, ‘sure, of course.’ But have you ever heard a progressive leader say it out loud? Never.

“Conservatives say (and do) it constantly. On purpose. They’ve spent millions on it – billions. Training people. Progressives haven’t. Why?

“They’re still thinking in pre-cognitive-science terms. They still think reason is pure and untouched by emotion.

“But if you believe enlightenment reason, you should like science, and therefore cognitive science – which shows that enlightenment reason is false.

“Obama doesn’t call himself a progressive, he calls himself an American. He talks about the empathy deficit. ‘Patriotism depends on empathy.’

“But enlightenment reason doesn’t understand that as well as 21st century reason does. We need more strategists and journalists who know this.”

Mike Sugarbaker

Scott McCloud talk at Stumptown Comics Fest 2008

4 min read

As long as I’m bloggin’ it up: for those of you who missed, or irritatedly switched off, my flood of live tweets from this past weekend’s unstructured talk by Understanding Comics author Scott McCloud at Stumptown Comics Fest, well, here you go.

These are my paraphrases of McCloud’s comments as they went by, so if something he “says” here strikes you as horrible, be sure and check with me to make sure it wasn’t my fault. Thanks!

“right now Portland is as great a comics town as Seattle was in the 90s”

“i got into comics right at the point where anyone watching the American comics scene must have thought it was stone dead [1974].”

“when I wrote about all the different genres we would have in Reinventing, I knew it was pie-in-the-sky. and then it happened.”

“Side-door diversification: diversifying comics thru pulling in people interested in a niche subject, not in comics.”

“People coming through the front-door (comics stores) wanted to read what was in the stores already.” [Grognard capture!]

“You have manga feeding in. You have people passing seamlessly between web and print. That wasn’t there in the 90s.”

“Genres are fuzzy, blending into each other and evolving. The first generation of fans of a genre pick it up superficially.”

“But eventually it gets into your bloodstream. You’re not imitating it, you’re just doing something with the flavor.” Example: Scott Pilgrim

“Scott Pilgrim’s on the cover of Shoujo Beat, not Shonen Jump. Who decided it was a girls’ comic?”

“Is there a cartoonist in the room who writes a full script for himself? I find that so strange and wonderful!”

“I failed. I tried to bring about a type of payment model for content on the web, and that has not happened, except for iTunes.”

“Right now the great failing of comics on the web is the long form stuff – graphic novel equivalents – aren’t a good reading experience.”

“Printed comics are the shape they are because we have two eyes, and two pages of a book. Landscape mode.”

“You can turn the pages of a book without disturbing that long-form reading experience. You can’t click through web pages, though.”

“A few people have screen-shaped pages that you can click on anywhere to go to the next page. Do that, or drop the page metaphor.”

“Comics have actually become so cool now that we’re due for a backlash. You’d better get ready. It’s gonna be ugly.”

“We make two mistakes: form apologizing for content, and content apologizing for form. You have to believe in both.”

“Sometimes you can just turn around and say to the reader, ‘Let’s talk about particle physics.’ ”

“Jim Woodring’s silent ‘Frank’ stories are a perfect melding of form and content. You can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.”

“Jim Woodring said the same about Chris Ware, and I get that feeling from him too. John Porcellino sometimes.”

“XKCD is so pure, it’s just pure invention. But it’s not content over form, really – he’s really inventive, he just doesn’t draw faces.”

“Ryan North [Dinosaur Comics] is the Ramones of comics. Because only the words change!” (15 y.o. Sky McCloud’s realization)

Now everyone’s challenging him to fill in half of “____ is the ____ of comics.” “Someone called me the Raymond Scott of comics.”

“Then someone else says I was the Thomas Dolby. So I said, screw you, I wanna be Raymond Scott! We compromised on Herbie Hancock.”

“When I wrote Understanding, manga and webcomics and graphic novels weren’t an issue. Just comics and newspaper strips existed for people.”

“And then I wrote a definition, and – oops! – there went Jeffy. And the Far Side. But I think Gary Larson would call himself a cartoonist.”

“The stuff the definition sliced off was not the point. The huge area of other stuff was the point. Possibilities are the point.”

Mike Sugarbaker

Forums Must Play!

5 min read

Through no fault of my own (note: lies), I have spent a humongous amount of time on web forums in the last year. And really, they’ve always been a part of my web diet, but only in rarefied varieties – the run-of-the-mill phpBB-style forums have never been to my taste. They just feel a little bit wrong to me, like somebody is trying to hide something in a honeycomb of twisty little text boxes all alike. (It doesn’t help that people keep trying to use phpBB and its clones as blog engines. Stop that!) And increasingly, the form of forum discussions in general have started to feel stultifying, like the hammer that makes all computer-mediated communication look like a nail. An overwhelming, unfocused nail.

Forums don’t consider human needs very well. Typically, they let you know how many postings are new to you (which we know from our experience with email to be a source of nothing but stress for most people), but that’s about it. About the only helpful thing they offer to do is tell you via email when someone’s replied to you. The rest of the time, when they aren’t busy burying you in an info-snowdrift, they are exemplifying every problem and then some from Clay Shirky’s brilliant essay A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. (Haven’t read that? Do it now. Seriously. You won’t be sorry.)

It gets even worse when you set loose a lot of game designers. They (okay, we) start trying shit like “okay, everyone, only women post in this thread! Oh, and also, the notice to that effect will be in the same tiny type that the forum software uses for the categories you don’t pay attention to.” We mean well, really, we do, and experimentation is sorely needed. But without code to back it up… as often as not, humans have to intervene, and for all kinds of reasons, that makes for an emotional bear trap waiting to snap shut (usually on small game).

We sorely need actual tools – not just ideas, but tools – for shaping conversations. We need well-thought-out ways to take conversations that go off topic apart into different conversations. We need to give people the ability to restrict a thread to certain posters when they start it (transparently, please – if all we wanted were drama, we already have LiveJournal). It would be trivial to allow thread-starters to set a pace for the conversation – specifying a maximum number of replies before the thread closes to all but the thread-starter, giving them a chance to catch up and open it again. Or some other way. Or every way we can get somebody to write a plugin for. But as far as I know, no one’s even trying.

A bunch of people in the forum communities I’ve been frequenting are excited about a site called Tangler, which seems to just be a place to create your own forum, except Web 2.0’ed up in a bunch of little ways. And that’s helpful as far as it goes, but I’m like, this is all it takes to excite people? (Even though I know that what really has them excited is the simple fact that they can make themselves a new space that isn’t overwhelmed with people yet, and thus get sweet relief from the chore that a busy forum quickly becomes.)

Of course, I can’t do all this bitching without explaining why I haven’t cut some code myself to try to address these issues. Two reasons: 1) I still really need to cut back on unpaid programming projects, and 2) the sorts of problems that need solving in the forum space are not generally problems that anyone wants to admit that they have, let alone pay anyone money to have solved. People tend to think that totally free, unregulated conversation is what makes the Internet great. They are half right, and in the big picture, their half is undoubtedly the most important half. But the other half is holding all of us back. Shapelessness – lack of constraint, that is, and therefore lack of structure – too often saps conversations of all of their power to change things. When you’re lucky, you have human leaders to take charge of forums and keep them on the rails, despite all the social heat they end up taking for it. And that might always be the ideal case.

It’s possible that you can’t add much in the way of conversation-shaping constraints to forums, without making something that isn’t a forum anymore (you know, the same way that email sucks, but if you fix the problems it stops being email and having the strengths of email.) So really, this post is a plea to all of you, to try thinking about forums and how they came about, and what purpose they serve, and about whether we can do some refactoring to better serve those needs. Reading Shirky’s essay, linked above, would be an excellent start. Another start might be to look at the kinds of constraints that people apply to forums explicitly for the purpose of playing games, because games are in the end just social interaction with rules… just like forums.

Here’s a fascinating play-by-forum-post game inspired by the Myst series of adventure games, and here’s a forum that does a lot of play based on tabletop roleplaying games as well as a lot of talking about the play-by-post medium.

Mike Sugarbaker

Summary of chapter 1 of George Lakoff's Don't Think Of An Elephant!

9 min read

This is a repost, retitled for the sake of our robot brothers (read: search engines), of an original, my-own-damn-words summary of the most important political writing for anyone on the American left to read today – the first chapter of Don’t Think Of An Elephant!. It’s as relevant now as when it was first published four years ago. Buy it here. But first, read on!

  • Don't think of an elephant

    • Negating the frame evokes the frame
    • Don't use their language EVER
  • Example frame: tax relief

    • Relief implies an affliction, and a reliever who is a hero
    • Once president has a "tax relief plan", the language is in the NYT and CNN as well as fox news
    • Democrats who offer their own "tax relief" plan are shooting themselves in the foot
  • Language has to fit your world view

    • Using a frame you don't believe in is both difficult and ineffective
  • Where do conservative statements, language, and policies all come from?

    • Started from the famous contradiction, pro-life but pro-gun. What unifies these beliefs?
    • The nation-as-family metaphor is strong in pretty much all of us

      • Founding fathers
      • Daughters of the American Revolution
      • Sending our sons to war
    • Christian right gets their family metaphors from James Dobson's Dare to Discipline
    • Conservative family model is the "strict father." Progressive's is the "nurturant parent."
  • Strict father model

    • The world is dangerous and always will be. There is evil in it.
    • The world has competition; there will always be winners and losers.
    • There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong.
    • Children are born wanting to do what feels good. We're born bad, that is, and must be made good.
    • The strict father protects the family from danger, supports it through competition, and teaches the children what's right
    • Because the father knows right from wrong, the child must obey.
    • The means of getting obedience is punishment.
    • Punishment lets children develop self-discipline out of self-interest (avoiding punishment)
    • People with self-discipline are successful in competition. People who pursue their self-interest become prosperous.

      • That's the link between morality and prosperity, laissez-faire capitalism. The link is self-interest.
    • If everyone pursues their own interest, the profit of all will be maximized (Adam Smith, "invisible hand" metaphor)

      • More metaphors: "I owe you one," "I'm in your debt," "How can I ever repay you?" when you do good for someone
    • If it's moral to pursue self-interest, then "do-gooders" are immoral. They get in the way of the system's proper functioning

      • by encouraging others not to develop discipline and do for themselves.
    • Those who don't learn discipline don't do what's right and don't prosper. They can't sustain themselves and are dependent.
    • Mature children have either internalized discipline or not. The strict father does not meddle with his children once they are mature.
    • Politically speaking: social programs are immoral. Reward the good, disciplined children (you can tell them by their fat bankrolls – see above re. prosperity and morality) with tax cuts and make the cuts so huge that there is no money for social programs.
    • Conservatives believe this model. To them it is moral. They do not cackle evilly and curl their moustaches.
    • Metaphor: nations are people. "friendly nations," "rogue states," etc.
    • This gives rise to the "rational actor" model. Nations will seek their (financial) self-interest.
    • Metaphor: "developing" nations. They play the children in the strict father model of foreign policy.

      • The prosperous, therefore plainly moral, authority tells the children what to do and punishes failure. (via the IMF.)
      • Bush on the UN: "We don't need to ask for a permission slip to defend our country." The UN was a schoolroom full of children to our strict teacher.
  • Nurturant parent model

    • Both parents raise the children.
    • Children are born good and can be made better.
    • The world can be made a better place, and we must make it that way.
    • Nurturance means:

      • empathy, and
      • responsibility.
    • Raising a child is the hardest thing you can do. You have to be knowledgeable, competent, strong and hard-working.
    • If you empathize, you provide protection.

      • From crime, drugs
      • From unsafe products
      • From disease
      • From terrorist attacks
    • If you empathize, you want your child to be happy and fulfilled.
    • If you are unhappy, you don't want other people to be more fulfilled than you.

      • So it's your responsibility to be happy and fulfilled.
    • To be fulfilled, a child must

      • be free to find fulfillment. Freedom
      • have opportunity and prosperity. Can't have freedom without these.
      • be treated with fairness.
      • have open and honest communications with parents and others who matter most.
      • be part of a community. Cooperation.
      • Cooperation takes trust.
    • Progressives all share these values.
    • Conservatives got together and agreed to disagree for the good of a program that advanced what they have in common.
  • What else do conservatives do?

    • Research
    • Write books
    • Have media studios down the hall (80% of talking heads on TV are from righty institutes)
    • Have rooms in the building for college-aged interns
    • In 2002 four times as much money was spent on this long-term infrastructure on the right than on the left. The right got four times as much media time.
    • They have all sorts of different hobby horses, but they give and take. This week he got what he wanted and I didn't, but next week I'll get what I want. In the end we all get a lot of what we want.
  • Myths

    • If we tell people the facts, they'll reach the right conclusions.

      • False. People think in frames. Give them a fact that doesn't fit the frame and the fact will bounce off.
    • It's irrational to go against your self-interest, so normal people reason according to it.

      • False. People reason based on their emotional ideas of themselves and others. Their identity and their values.
      • 35% of the pop. feels they are in the top 1% of the pop. or will be soon.
      • People especially vote their identity, not their self-interest.
    • Political campaigns are marketing campaigns. The candidate is a product and the issues and positions are features thereof.

      • False. Democrats do "market research" and move to the right as a result. Repubs don't move to the left and they're doing fine. Being true to your core values "sells" a lot better.
  • Ideas and language

    • Orwellian language = stuff that means opposite of what it says

      • Clear Skies Act, Healthy Forests Initiative
      • Orwellian language is a big neon sign pointing out where the right is weak.
    • Those words (clean, healthy, safe) get used because people have been found to respond to them. Science.
    • In conservative research firms you have to put a quarter in the pizza fund every time you use the wrong language.
    • When you think you lack words, what you really lack is ideas

      • Hypocognition is the cogsci term. Tahiti used not to have the concept of grief. Not the word, not the rituals, nothing. SO they had a lot of suicides.
      • Conservatives have "tax relief," but just the words aren't enough – the frame is floating around out there. We don't have that.
    • What is taxation?

      • It's what you pay to live in a civilized country – the membership dues.
      • It's an investment in common infrastructure, and in things companies use to get rich.
    • Building these frames does not happen overnight. Start now.
  • Follow the money

    • They have a forty-year, two-billion-dollar head start on us.
    • Why? Large block grants. When you can spend whatever on whatever, you can build your infrastructure, train your future employees.

      • Large block grants follow from the strict father model – you're a grownup, we won't tell you what to do with the money.
      • Also, maintaining the moral order itself is a top priority.
      • And they know they will keep getting the money – they set up recurring donor relationships.
    • Left orgs tend not to get large block grants. They get small amounts spread over many different orgs, with stipulations on what the money will go to.

      • The goal of this is to provide direct help to the people who need it, in as many different niches as possible.
      • The top priority on the left is helping the needy.
      • How do you show you're a moral organization? Help lots and lots of individuals.
    • The right is privatizing the left by setting up their frames, to cut the social services, to keep left orgs from setting up frames by sending money direct to the needy instead. Perpetuates the right.
  • Strategic initiatives

    • Make one change and affect lots of different arenas.
    • We covered tax cuts. Conservatives also really like tort reform. Why?

      • Eliminates all the lawsuits that provide the base for future environmental law.
      • Following that out, tort reform eliminates the basis for regulating anything.
      • Also cuts the income of tort lawyers, many of whom are important Dem donors.
    • The left tends not to look for these. We look for individual patches because right now we need to.
    • One strategic initiative on the left: New Apollo Initiative

      • \$30 billion a year into alt energy
      • Same amount as the subsidies to oil and gas
      • Strategic how? Creates jobs, reduces pollution, eases global warming without a sep. initiative, foreign policy (reduces dependence on foreign oil), third world development (oil is a chief reason countries have to borrow money).
  • Slippery slope initiatives

    • "Partial birth abortions." There are almost none, but if you manage a law against them, future bans on abortion become that much easier.
    • Why an education bill for testing schools? Once a school can fail (as opposed to indiv. students failing), it can be punished. Creates a cycle of failure and eventual elimination of public schools, to be replaced by a voucher system.
    • Why the recent Medicare bill? HMOs use their size to get drug discounts, and the government can't. Then the gov has to compete with the HMOs after that head start.
  • What we can do

    • Recognize what the right has done right and what we have done wrong. It's not just media access, it's framing.
    • Remember "don't think of an elephant."
    • The truth will not set you free. You need a frame.
    • Always speak from your authentic moral perspective.
    • Understand where conservatives come from: the strict father model.
    • Look for strategic initiatives and slippery slopes. Think about consequences.
    • Voters vote their identity and their values, not their self-interest.
    • Unite and cooperate!
    • Play offense, not defense. Use your own frame.
    • Speak to the progressive base, don't move to the right.

Mike Sugarbaker

I've been busy being a nerd

3 min read

I’m not sure what it is about AppJet. Did it really make it more possible for me to say, truthfully, unto you on this day that I made a web application yesterday? Or does it just make it feel more possible, and I could have done it just as easily with some other batch of technologies? I don’t know for sure, but when I think about writing login code, again, I get all angry, so I suspect the former.

AppJet is itself a web application, one that gives you a single text field in which to write another web application. You do this entirely in JavaScript, using some extras they’ve added to do stuff on the server. JavaScript is my favorite language, and it’s lovely both to see it get the respect it deserves in recent years, and to be able to use it to bang out web sites that do stuff. So far, I’ve made a few things: the first and simplest is MarkdownMe, an insta-service for taking text marked up (um) with Markdown and rendering it as HTML – techs out there should feel free to use this in Greasemonkey or Enso commands, as I’m doing. Another is an ongoing wiki project, which started as my first big AppJet experiment (MarkdownMe was spun off from it) and is becoming a testing ground for some wacky wikis-and-group-forming ideas I’ve got.

And the most recent is The Bucket of Truth, an electronic-wallet app I built solely because dammit, I needed it. It does exactly what’s necessary (except for the parts I haven’t built yet… I guess those are not so necessary) to track my spending against a monthly entertainment budget, and it does it fast, with no damn styling that just borks up my Treo anyway. I totally love it. And I really did write most of it yesterday.

In other nerdy news: as long ago as 1999 I was trying to build a web-based outliner – a simple one, not all mind-mappy or oriented around lengthy text notes, but just like the most basic single-level outlining you can do in a tool like OmniOutliner or Radio or Word’s outline mode. In 1999, JavaScript in the browser just wasn’t quite up to the task. Well, now the tools have matured, and after a 2.5-year break, it’s on again in a big, big way. The goal is to have something up for you to play with before the summer. In contrast to the Bucket, it is suave and handsome. Drop me a line if you want to get early access.

Lastly, Fictionsuit recently changed servers; in the future it’s going to be a testing ground too, for some thoughts I’ve been having about forums. Big, big thoughts. More on that soon.