As horrifying as Donald Trump is as a person, what’s even more horrifying — and tragic — is that millions of adults elected to vote for him. Tens of millions of “educated” adults saw Trump for exactly what he was, and voted for him anyway.

To me, this is an incomprehensibly large tragedy.
ITs too bad tumblr never moved into the physical space..er..space. Instead of scrolling through an endless dashboard, what if you had photos pinned to the wall of your bedroom that updated dynamically / automatically?

There’s something undeniably missing when everything has left the physical realm for the digital screen. 
Working on a prototype for Beach tonight and I’m reminded how incredibly heady programming languages can be sometimes.

For example, the objects in my system can do a few basic things (move forward, turn by degrees, play a sound, etc). So those things (Instructions) have to exist abstractly as things you could choose from, but they also have to exist concretely as in “this is a specific instantiation of the Move Forward instruction as used by object X” (of which you could have multiple instantiations).

And then of course the same thing happens for instruction parameters (e.g. move forward some distance). Not only do you have to think about distance as a possible parameter, you also have to think about it concretely as in “this is the current value of distance for this specific Instruction.”

It’s a bit to wrap your head around, but it’s also a fantastic programming exercise and I’d highly recommend it as something to expand your programming skills.
Sooooooooo I go back and forth about blogging. Sometimes I think, “hey I should blog all the time, every day. I should just blog about my day and stuff. And sometimes, write longer essays and whatnot, because so much of today’s writing happens in slacks or twitter and you can’t make any kind of good argument on those!”

But then again I think, hmmm, what if blogging shouldn’t exist? I kind of run with the assumption that because “blogging is dying” that means “blogging must be saved” and maybe that’s a faulty assumption. Maybe blogging was just this thing that happened for a while and that while is now passing.

Also, and this is a big also, I worry that people are inundated with stuff to read and process, and most of the time I don’t think my writing (especially the “this is what I did today” stuff) is worth adding on to those piles. We talk about The Feed but really it’s The Flood. And it’s not that I think my writing is terrible necessarily or anything, just that, I respect people’s attention (or maybe, I fear a global lack of concentration / understanding) such that I don’t want to derail it unless I have something Real Important to talk about, and usually I don’t.

There’s another possible world where I blog, but it’s a kind of lowkey affair, for those who want to check in on me from time to time (aka my friends!). And that’s a nice feeling. Or something like an online diary.

I’m constantly amazed by and enamoured with Jason Kottke, whose eponymous website has been running for nearly 20 years (and it’s his full time job). These days it’s a kind of “what Jason K finds interesting on any given day” but hey, since he’s been running the website for almost 20 years, some of it is kind of an online diary. I found myself looking at his archives for September 2001 today and it’s kind of incredible to read his feelings as the month goes by (I should say, it’s his + the world through his eyes’s feelings).

Another cool aspect of his website is he’s tagged most of his posts, so if you want to find neat stuff about maps or NYC or music or space or whatever, go wild. Years of the web at your disposal. This is kind of what my pinboard has become for me (and for anybody who stumbles across it): click on one of the tags and tumble down the rabbit hole of links I’ve grabbed on the topic.

Which reminds me of something I’ve been internally referring to as “the slow web,” the kind of stuff you find on the web that doesn’t exist in a chronological order (it doesn’t have to be “timeless” or anything, just not something that only makes sense in a timeline). In that way, it’s kind of the anti-blog, or the anti-feed (or the anti-flood). One of the defining factors of blogging or microblogging is that they happen in a chronological manner. You post with some frequency, and then others read your stuff in that order (or the reverse of that order). It means that everything has a kind of sticky nowness, you come to the blog every day to see the new stuff. In that way blogging is a lot less like a book and a lot more like a news program or a tv show or whatever. It’s mostly about now. And now is an OK time, but it’s not the only time. I’m kind of interested in writing things, or making things, that maybe you don’t read constantly. Maybe you find it and you read the whole thing and then you’re done and there’s no incentive to come back unless you want to read the whole thing again. Or maybe it’s something you come to and read a bunch of and then forget about and then one day remember for some reason you can’t quite put your finger on but you’re elated because you really enjoyed it the first time and so you start reading it again but oh boy it’s maybe kind of different this time because there’s new stuff in it. (A wiki is like that).

So anyway, a pinboard is kind of the slow web from a reader’s perspective. It’s fine to follow an RSS feed of it to keep up with what somebody else bookmarks, but there’s also this whole other mode of reading a given tag at random, and doing that doesn’t really depend on time, doesn’t depend on “keeping up on it” or anything like that.

So anyway, that’s what’s on my mind today. I don’t know what to make of it (figuratively or literally). Probably nothing for a while, because running a blog requires designing and implementing it.
Season 2 of Stranger Things where Will can’t explain what he’s feeling, so he draws and draws and draws, and it’s a map that needs to be spread over every inch of their house in order to see it. And then, once they realize it’s a map, everybody starts thinking about the map by walking around it, by pointing at it, by measuring it, and so on.

It got me thinking about Bret Victor’s lab and their research. The importance of using physical space and physical bodies. To think with your whole body and your whole space.

It just really spoke to me.
I need to unbreak this website so that at least permalinks will work. But word of warning, I probably will eventually migrate this website to nearthespeedoflight.com so your links to this domain will break.

Please let me know if this is a pain for you (or if you’re even reading this!) and I’ll do my best to salvage it.
From my standpoint, the "craziest" idea that I've had -- not an original one at all -- is that education and its processes can be improved enough and deployed universally enough to counter our dangerous genetically endowed tendencies, which might have been useful for survival once, but which now threaten both our species and our planet. There is no intrinsic reason for supposing that the little bit of progress we've made in these directions via learning and changing our cultures could be carried far enough to not just stave off disaster, but to create a new conception of humanity.

Still, I'm most definitely crazy enough to keep working on this.
Kate and I went apple picking on Sunday which was really lovely (and somehow, the first time we’ve done so as a couple???).

Now I’ve just made my first apple pie from scratch and popped it in the oven! I’m excited to see how it turns out (and was a lot of messy work heh).
When was the last time you rubbed a balloon on your head and stuck it to a wall?
Kottke posted this morning about The Broccoli Tree, which I don’t remember reading about. The post is about the vandalism and removal of the tree and it struck me really hard. I shared the following feelings on it in a group chat with Kate and Jasdev, but I thought I’d reproduce them here for posterity.

Kate will remember this, a few years ago they chopped down the tree that was in our back yard / out my office window and it made me so sad I had to leave the house while it happened. Left a big hole in our yard (and in my heart, tbh).

We lived on the 3rd floor, which I’ve determined is the best floor to live on if you’re around trees: you’re up high enough that you’re basically at tree level, so you see them all through the year, you see the critters that live their lives on them. You hear them waving in the wind. You see them moving, always always moving. But you still also get lots of nice sunlight, because you’re at their level, but not blocked by them.
Logged out of twitter today and changed my password to gibberish (this effectively blocks me from accessing it unless I do Forgot Password).

I think I’m done with Twitter. It’s a disgusting, spineless company that’s going to let Trump provoke a war. Twitter could easily stop this, but won’t. Fuck this noise, I’m out.
Saw Al Gore’s new movie tonight, “An Inconvenient Sequel” and not was it powerful. Kate and I were moved to tears at points.

As I’m currently seeking a new job, I ask myself: am I doing anything, anything at all, to help this? I make iOS apps because I’m good at it and it pays well. But shouldn’t I be using my brain for something to help this aching planet?
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” — I better get crackin!
Lorde and Emily Haines on repeat all day.
How cool are computer printers? I basically always grew up having one around, so I never really appreciated it. But hey, it’s a printing press on your desk! You can make books with it! You can make any kind of picture on the computer and then put it on a piece of paper and take it with you everywhere. How incredible is that?
Finally updating this blog a little bit. You’ll notice it has a slightly new format: posts are ordered by day, and within a given day, the posts are ordered chronologically (early to later). It’s a new experiment, but I suspect it’s a better way to read posts on a blog. At least for micro posts like these.

Lots of things are currently broken 😅 but I’ll try to iron those out over the coming days.
Trying to decide on a domain for the app I’m working on, Beach. Ideally I want beach.cool, but it appears that’s not available. It looks like beachis.cool is available, but that seems kinda clunky. Then there’s the getbeach family (getbeach.net, getbeach.cool, getbeach.org, etc). Not sure what to do.
Having a hard time functioning today because I didn’t have a good sleep last night. Had relatives visiting for the past two weeks which was really nice, but also has kinda wiped me out!

So, while I can’t focus on getting back into a work groove, I’m doing some housework in an attempt to at least clear my physical space, if not my head space.
This page is going to change over the next few days / weeks, I think. I want to turn it into a bit of a “microblog” since I miss having a Twitter (and at the same time, really don’t miss having a Twitter).
So in microbloggy news, I’m cooking dinner for myself tonight (Kate is away for work, which means my dinner includes onions, which she hates).

I’m making what my family calls “Chinese Spaghetti” but I decided a few years ago I didn’t quite like the sound of that name, so now I call the meal “Brennan Spaghetti” and it consists of (variously):

  • onions
  • red peppers
  • garlic
  • ground beef
  • spaghetti
  • soy sauce
all fried together in a kind of stir fry.

(Also listening to some nice jazz which is, believe it or not, nice)
Also, it turns out I’ve completely forgotten how to cook with an electric stove. I used to have gas stoves, but now I kind of miss having one? (though I don’t miss that vector for CO poisoning...)
The last day or so I’ve been logged back in to Twitter and am dipping my toes in it again. I’ve been on a twitter hiatus for a few months now (and will likely return to one shortly), because I found the service quite stressful — both in terms of the amount of bile / bad news it showed me, and in terms of “I must constantly refresh it because what if somebody reacted to something I did on it?”

But I can’t say I didn’t miss it at least a little bit. Here are some things I did and didn’t miss.

Did miss

  • Some familiar faces (or at least, their avatars) and the things they tweet about.
  • A general sense of “people are around and some of them are listening.” I don’t think Twitter is a great place for “being connected” (though it can give semblance of that), but it is a place for some awareness that others are around. I crave a more intimate version of this, though.
  • Jamming out on twitter. I like to think I’m “good at tweeting” (if that’s such a thing). It’s debatable if this is a good thing or not, but it’s something that makes me feel happy. I’ve used the service for over a decade and I’ve sorta got the hang of it now. It’s a fun place to play with language.
  • Similarly, it’s a fun place to riff with people during shared events (like being at a conference, watching an Apple Keynote). This is insufferable to anyone not in on the thing, but if you are, it’s a riot.
Did not miss
  • All the bile. The hate, the sexism, the bots, the nazis, the trump supporters. The arguing, the fighting, the bad vibes. I don’t want to keep my head in the sand about the Legitimately Bad Shit happening in the world, but I also don’t want to read about it from dawn till dusk.
  • Dudes. A general profusion of dudes. Look, I know there are many of them out there, and heck, I am one too. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a dude. It’s just that programmer-twitter is overrun with them and it’s a big big drag.
  • Related, and worse, is Rational Dude Twitter (it has some overlap with programmer twitter). Rational Dude Twitter is where dudes try to sound so wise by using real big words, academic words, pedantic phrasing. And they flex their big Rational Dude Muscles by squeezing in as many of them as they can into a tweet (or, jesus) a tweet storm. What an utter bummer these people are.
  • The aforementioned stress caused by needing to feel “on” all the time. Refreshing twitter all day, especially if I’ve just done something on it (what do people think of it?). Trying, and failing, to not care. Closing the tab and then immediately re-opening it. Checking twitter when I wake up, when I stop at a traffic light, when in line at the store, when I’m poopin, when my subway car gets cell service. Certainly not everybody gets as roped in as I do, but I sure do.
  • TRYING TO FIT STUFF IN A MEASLY 140 CHARACTERS.
  • Trying to communicate anything of nuance, whatsoever. I’ve tried. It’s really hard. If you try too hard you end up sounding like Rational Dude Twitter where you only speak in maxims and koans.
  • A horrible, pathetic, embarrassing, offensive use (or disuse) of hypertext and rich media. Twitter is a website that doesn’t let you make web hyperlinks (only auto-links). You can’t bold text (like the Xerox fucking Alto could do 45 years ago). You can’t embed other media (except that which twitter has deemed acceptable). Need to explain something complicated? Screenshot of text or a “gif” (it’s not a gif) of software it is!
Anyway, all of that is to say, I’ve got some feelings on the subject. I’ll write more soon (because embarrassingly enough, this website doesn’t support auto saving yet and I’m worried I’ll accidentally delete this otherwise nice post).
Picking up where I left off...

This is the part where Jason-the-programmer says “And so here’s the technology I’d like to see to improve this” and I’ll rattle off a bunch of features for twitter to do (and they won’t do them) and I’ll feel satisfied.

You can probably guess from my tone I’m not exactly about to do that. But I would like to imagine a bit of an alternative to twitter, which has many of its strengths and fewer of its faults. This is not a 3rd party twitter app, and it’s not an alternative service (like app.net was) but instead is an inkling of a “protocol” for people talking to each other on the web without a shitty service in the middle.

Before I go further, I’ll say this was written hastily, probably has lots of flaws, and is almost certainly already kinda in the works in the form of WebMention and others.

The biggest thing I’m after in my imagined web network is a really solid way for having good relationships with people online. Too often online life presents the artifice for relationships, without providing much in terms of actual relationships. Corporations (it’s always corporations) say they’re trying to make a more “open” or “connected” world. Connections are great, and underrated (hey look, I can contact just about any living human being on the planet, no matter where they are, in a matter of minutes, and if that isn’t absolutely mindbogglingly astonishing, you should take some time and reflect on it), but as far as building relationships go, connectivity is a bare minimum — necessary, but not sufficient.

And I’ll admit, “relationships” are one of the most complicated aspects of the social human being, and I don’t hope to facilitate or foster all or even most aspects of human relationships via my proposed online world, but boy wouldn’t it be great to foster them just a little bit more than we currently do?

So I think my narrow definition of “relationships” here mostly means intimacy. Not in the sense we often think of it (as physical intimacy between people, often sexual), but more so as closeness and trust between people. I want to know what my friends are up to, I want to be able to talk to them (about the big stuff, but also about small talk stuff). I want the opposite of loneliness, and the opposite of loneliness isn’t dozens of people, the opposite of loneliness is togetherness.

Related, I don’t need or want thousands of online friends. I can’t deal with thousands of most things (unless it’s thousands of dollars, and even then my track record is only so-so). I don’t want a platform to grow my brand, I want a place to hang out with my friends online.

When I was a teenager I used to hang out online just about every night. For me, that was MSN Messenger: most of my friends were there, not all at once, but at various times throughout the evening. Yeah, it was mostly a place to gab, but it was also a place where you felt you could confide in those close to you. You had a sense that other people were around, and that you could be together for a little while. People had “statuses” to indicate when they were around. If someone was online, MSN told you so, and you knew you’d have pretty good luck spending some time with them. Likewise, if their status was “Away” or “Busy” or “Offline” you knew they probably weren’t around for hanging out, and that’s OK, because you had the right expectation.

With twitter, I can kind of guess when my friends are around, but I’m not really sure. Maybe he’s up for tweeting back and forth; maybe she just put her phone away because she’s going out tonight. Who can fucking tell?
What I’d really like is a place where me and my friends can hang out online. One that’s on my website, and that’s on your website, and on all your friends’s websites. I cannot and will not trust twitter to do a good job at this, not only because obviously I’m just Jason and they don’t have to listen to me, and even if they did it’s not the product they’re trying to create, and even if it were, they’re mired in the vitriol that resulted from their previous poor design decisions, and on top of all that they’re a corporation that doesn’t really give a shit about my mental wellbeing.

I don’t necessarily want another IM (although hey, if I could recapture they heyday of my MSN years, I wouldn’t turn it down), but I’d love to reintroduce the concept of online status into today’s web networks. It doesn’t have to be straight online status, it could be something like Glancing or it could be an evolution into something altogether new, but I should at least be able to tell when my friends are “around.”

I don’t want to be constrained to 140 characters, as that makes it really hard to talk about just about anything with just about anyone. People are complicated and messy and we need a little bit of breathing room to express that. I’m not saying that everyone should be writing blog posts to each other (necessarily), but holy crap give them the space if they need it.

Maybe this looks like a feed, maybe it looks like IM, maybe it looks like something a little different from that. But this is the sort of thing I want from an online network of people. I want to hang out, I want to be together, online. And I don’t want to be dependent on a corporation for it, either. It doesn’t necessarily have to be private, but it could be.

Could this work? Sorta (probably). Everyone runs their own server (oops, that’s probably game over), and the servers communicate via an API / protocol about new posts, for example. There’s another obscure networking service that works a bit like this, and it’s done alright. I won’t go too far into implementation details beyond saying that “it’s probably possible” because that’s all that matters and because I’ve yet to fully flesh out and design what the service would actually look like.

These are some of my meandering thoughts on Twitter and social life on the internet in 2017, and maybe social life on the internet in 2018 and beyond. What do you think? What do you want from your network?


Tutoring System


As some of you may know, my “dream job” (if there is such a thing) is to be a researcher with Alan Kay’s research group (Viewpoints / HARC). Last year, I was in talks to join their group, but ultimately decided not to because it required me moving to Los Angeles.

Anyway, the project I was to be working on is referred to as the “Tutoring System” or “computer that can teach” (I don’t think it really has a proper name), but here’s a mini write-up about it, and here’s a slightly more detailed PDF.

While I’m not working on it directly, and while I have some major reservations about the project and its goals, it is no less very much still on my mind (more on this in subsequent posts), so I wanted to provide a little background information about the project before I started blabbing about it more.

Anticipate future blabbing to commence shortly.
The week before last I gave a talk about education and programming, a topic that's near and dear to my heart. Unexpectedly, I got a lot of positive feedback about the talk, and lots of wonderful conversations about the topics afterwards. This has really reinvigorated my desire to work more in this space, to get back into the research I wanted to do, the “computer that can teach” project at Alan’s lab. I may not be able to work directly with them yet, but I want to get back to work on that idea.

Here are some thoughts I’ve had in the last couple of days about it.

~ ~ ~

There's this fun anecdote about computers that goes: the interesting thing is that a “computer” used to a person, it was a job. You would say, “Mary is a computer” because her job was computing things (doing math, crunching numbers, say). And we laugh because now that’s not a job performed by humans and instead we have these machines that compute (and do way, way more) for us.

I could imagine a scenario in the future where a “teacher” meets a similar response. We'd chuckle because a “teacher” is just a machine that teaches people, where before it used to be a job performed by humans. The difference here is that I don't really find that prospect humourous; in fact it sounds quite frightening to me. Maybe it's just my own personal nostalgia, because I learned from human teachers (where I've never been around a human computer), but I suspect the idea would be repulsive to many people when framed in this way.

With this in mind, I think I'd much rather see whatever this "computer that can teach" thing become not something that removes human teachers but instead something that makes everyone a human teacher. Professional teaching is absolutely an extremely difficult, full time job, one that cannot easily be replaced. But even if it could be, I think it'd be more productive to create new media where everyone is a teacher, in some way (of course, “media” here is a stand-in for “technology, the media on that technology, and the resultant societal changes”).

I don’t exactly know what that'd look like, and I don't mean to say it’s just replacing the work of one person with multiple people. It's more like, “something” (technology / media) that enables / fosters learning throughout society. It’s a something that children learn from, and also something that parents / other adults use to help children learn from.

~ ~ ~

I've been thinking for a while, wondering, “what does a computer that can teach look like?” but I think I'm asking sort of the wrong question. Asked that way, it anchors me into thinking "the something" is a computer, especially the way we think of computers today. Whether it's a laptop or a tablet, I'm kinda stuck thinking about a rectangle, but I don’t want to be.

So instead, I'm trying to think, "how do people learn things?" and then from that, “how do you make that into a technology such that children can learn from it + we get a society where everyone learns / teaches one another?” Alas, I don't have a lot of answers to that yet, but I'm finding having these questions is opening my mind up a little bit more to what the future could look like. Almost certainly there'd be some kind of computer (i.e., processor(s), input and output devices, etc) that runs some kind of software (i.e., a Turing machine of some sort), but exactly what it looks like and how it works, is a big fat open question.

“How do people learn?” is a very large question indeed, and I'm not going to get into that right now (though I'm always up for discussing it!), but here's something I'm imagining (this is not a definite complete answer, it's a potential piece of an answer). One way people learn is from doing, with their bodies, physical things. A lot of this is sensory (and duh, at some level, all learning we do involves our senses, otherwise it can't really get into our brain), but a lot of it is also spatial and visual: how we move, how we see, and how we interact with what we see. Kids play with blocks and other models, for example. Or we walk around in museums, or pick books off shelves, etc. So perhaps, the “something that helps people learn” is less a device, and more like a room or a space (this idea heavily inspired by Bret Victor’s research, of course). You go into a big “dynamic room” thing and that's “where you learn” (in quotes because the idea that you only learn in one physical space is ridiculous; it's not true in today's classrooms and it should never be true in the future, either).
Spoke with Jasdev a bit this afternoon about PKMs (personal knowledge managers), because he mentioned them in this interview, and because it’s a topic that’s always kind of in the back of my mind. I also mentioned I know Soroush has thought a lot about them, and I suggested the three of us get together and chat about them over a dinner sometime.

And now they’ve been on my mind all afternoon.

One thing that’s interesting about early PKM-ish things (though they probably weren’t exactly intended to be PKMs originally, but something a little broader) is that they were often the entire system as opposed to what we think of them today, as kind of “an app you put stuff in.” Something like the Memex wasn’t an app for a computer, it was the computer effectively. Same with the oNLineSystem from Engelbart. It wasn’t a component, it was the lifeblood of the system.

And that’s why I think these were sorta different than what I’d think of a knowledge manager today. The older tools were broad thinking / augmentation tools (which also usually involved multi-user collaboration). Not just a repository of information, but as a thing you actively make connections with.

* * *

See also:

I’ve got to add an Edit feature so I can fix typos (and extra bullet points) in my posts 😅.
Got a lot of work done on my Playgrounds talk this weekend. I am reminded how hard writing even a bad talk is!

I think I have a decent draft written now, but it needs a lot of love. I kinda just jump all over the place at parts, and I haven’t fully integrated a decent conclusion. But given Kate and I are leaving for Australia in a week, I’ve got a lot of work to do yet.

Going to do the slides in Sketch to start with, and then I’m planning on making a lil app for the presentation itself. The slides will be mostly images, but I do plan on having a little interactivity in it where appropriate, particularly in the parts where I’m showing the old-school Playground stuff.
Welcome to Jason’s new private blog thing!

Lately I’ve become kind of disillusioned by social media (twitter in particular), not only because it’s rife with abuse and all around garbage, but also because tiny posts don’t really allow for any nuance or depth. It’s hard to express much more than a bare minimum reaction, and so I’ve been tending to steer away from using it lately.

But I want to write some things and share them with a smaller group of people. Things like what I’m up to, what I’m working on, what I’m thinking about. Maybe some serious things, maybe some humourous things, and likely lots in between.

At the same time, I kind of wanted a blog-as-a-playground, where I can experiment with the form a bit. As of right now, this blog definitely pretty run-of-the-mill, but I want to try new things with it over time. We’ll see where it goes!

So if you’re reading this (I’m pretty sure that you are!), please enjoy it. There should be a discussion section on the permalink page where you can reply to me or any other people who read the site (unlike my main site, there’s no minimum post length here, so feel free to share whatever’s on your mind).

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