A Love Letter to Tinkerable Software, Trevor Gilbert:

How did I learn to make websites? Using my incredible skills highlighted above, I booted up Frontpage on our family desktop and started to poke around. It was a tool that made things easier for the user, but it didn’t lose the ability to get into the code and try out different things. I was able to bold something using the editor and then click over to the code and see that it did it using <b>. I was able to see what was happening and learn how to do it without guardrails. Was it great? No! It was terrible, the websites looked awful. But I did learn how websites worked.

[Frontpage et al. was] tinkering neutral. They weren’t designed from the ground-up to have people tinkering in them. But they also didn’t discourage tinkering. [...] there weren’t locks on everything. And when you’re just starting to learn, a closed-but-unlocked door is an invitation to explore.

That’s sadly less the case nowadays. There’s a certain pride of “I know what needs to be built and everything else will be locked down” in today’s software. [...] much of it is unnecessary. It’s in those unnecessary constraints that we losing the freedom to explore.

I don't believe I would be in the career I have now, or even passionate about computers at all, were I not able to tinker in Frontpage Express on my parents' old Dell Win2k laptop. Viewing HTML/CSS code side by side with what the user saw in-browser, and being able to poke around with said code as the page changed in real time, sparked a passion in me at 10 years old that persists to this day.

My gratitude for my formative experiences is only matched by my sadness that children today usually have such a different path into the field of web and software development. Yes, IT and Computer Science's presence in the school curriculum has exploded in the last decade, but I worry that the push into closed computing due to the popularity of the iPhone (and Android to a lesser extent) has increased the "interest barrier for entry" into the field.

We've seen it in web development with the advent of desktop-class web applications, and the "compile step" - which, while often necessary to deliver complex sites, does have the unfortunate side effect of completely obfuscating the user-viewable source code.

Overall, I think this is less a technological issue and more a societal one; what the web is and what it means to people has changed substantially from the early days of the internet. I just hope that the spark that I felt 20+ years ago is still there.


Life before cellphones, Dan Kois, Slate.com:

Recently, a number of my younger coworkers expressed shock that I was able to complete a master’s degree while I held a full-time job. It was easy: I worked at a literary agency during the day, I got off work at 5 p.m., and I studied at night. The key was that this was just after the turn of the millennium. “But what would you do when you had work emails?” these coworkers asked. “I didn’t get work emails,” I said. “I barely had the internet in my apartment.”

Despite being a young teenager at the time, I feel quite lucky that I was able to (mostly) shirk the effects of being always connected during my formative years. Whilst I owned a smartphone at the tail end of high school, I think it was the one-two punch of the unlimited (or at least generous) data plan, combined with push notifications, that really put a nail in the coffin of being able to get up and walk away from technology.

Interesting read here from Kois, one that makes me feel strangely nostalgic for a time that I really never experienced.


Nanoraptor, Mastodon:

BeBox BeHemoth

The 17" BeBox BeHemoth existed as only a few dozen pre-release units, all extraordinarily heavy. Most are still in possession of their original owners, probably due to gravitational pull.

Nanoraptor posts some absolutely fantastic 'shopped early 90's (sometimes earlier) to mid 00's tech that might have been. Definitely worth a scroll through!


The last year has completely flown by — with no greater reminder than I'm only a few months away from the one year anniversary of my photos.charlie.town project!

What started as a project born from anger at photo-centric social media has turned into easily my most entertaining project; it's both fun to post to, and fun to hack on — side note, I've since returned to instagram, though I'm using it in a much more healthy manner.

Most of my older projects have been a bit of a slog to keep up with, in terms of both development and updating their content. This one has miraculously lasted almost a whole year, and I'm looking forward to keeping it updated for years to come.

There are a few things I'd like to add when time permits, better image handling on the backend for one, and a possible new section showcasing camera/lens info — Snap (the current name of the CMS, subject to change) dumps all the original EXIF data in a DB before stripping it when processing, so that should be easy to implement retroactively too, but at the moment the only photos on the site are shot on my iPhone 12 mini... maybe when I start shooting on my Canon again I can revisit it!

Still, I'm very pleased with the system so far. It's managed to keep it's sole user very happy, and history has shown that I'm quite the software critic when it comes to personal projects 😶


Hello! It's been a minute... 👋🏻

I've tried and failed a few times to fully get invested in Mastodon, but given the recent Musk-tivities that have taken place at Twitter HQ, I thought I'd give it another shot. In short, it's useful, user-respecting, and most of all fun.

Annoyingly though, the feature that I love the most — any lack of algorithm or aggressive discoverability — is probably it's Achilles' heel. While I don't think it'll replace The Hellsite, I think in the coming years it'll definitely cement itself as a large (if niche) name in the decentralised world I believe (and hope!) we're moving towards.


Like many people, I've always hopped between all kinds of various apps to plan my days, and organise things that I learn or find interesting. I've tried Notion, Obsidian, Wunderlist (RIP) and it's direct replacement Microsoft ToDo, Trello, etc. etc.

So I gave up.

I've spent the last 2 months or so carrying around a physical notepad and pen, instead of relying on anything digital, and surprisingly it's worked the best out of any solution I've tried so far!

There's something to be said for having to slow your brain down to commit an idea or note to real paper, and it seems to work for me. It also turns out, the blocks that I believed would stop me from fully committing to an 'analogue' solution weren't actually blocks at all — for example, only having one physical place that notes and ToDos live and no option of syncing between devices (which was overcome by... simply carrying the notebook with me everywhere!). I'm about 80% happy with the current system I've got in place for recording notes, which I'm sure will improve over time — but for the most part, it's been great.

If you're also struggling to deal with the infinite landscape of productivity apps, maybe give the humble notepad a go? It definitely surprised me how well it's worked, and now I can't imagine life without it.


The music lives on, Apple:

iPod touch will be available while supplies last.

“Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry — it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

“Today, the spirit of iPod lives on. We’ve integrated an incredible music experience across all of our products [...] there’s no better way to enjoy, discover, and experience music.”

Interesting that Joswiak paints Apple's move to streaming as a natural progression of the "spirit" of the iPod, and claims there's no superior method to enjoying music. I personally believe it's anything but.

In my experience, there's an IKEA Effect-esque way in which manually curating a physical (albeit still digital) music collection makes me connect with the music more. Though I'm not hoping for a return to manually adding artwork to hundreds of albums, a happy medium between that era and the current Paradox of Choice landscape seems like the ideal scenario.

Even just taking time to be truly offline and listen to music feels like I'm fighting against the tide in recent years. I know Spotify et al. have offline modes that let you sync music for times when you're without phone signal, but the fact this is only possible on devices that have wireless capabilities anyway makes the whole real point of "offline" — not being bombarded with notifications, social feeds, and the like — moot, in my opinion. It feels like more of a crutch for people who have their entire music library in a streaming service, and want to be able to have their music uninterrupted when disconnected from a server. Shame that wasn't a solved problem decades ago... 😉

Maybe this is just a "golden age" old man rant. Regardless of how you feel about Apple and Co. leaning into streaming and its impact on both the production and consumption of music, Joswiak is right that the iPod brought music to the masses — and I'm sad to see it go.


Been putting in the time to finally get to grips with some (light) cryptography, specifically GnuPG/PGP. I was aware it was used for encrypted email communication, but not that it could be used independently to encrypt/verify all types of text, and even binary files.

While I agree with the common criticism that it's learning curve is somewhat difficult, it's been very intriguing - I can see an immediate use case for encrypting SQL backups, and the possibilities from there are seemingly endless!


Another update two weeks apart? Don't get used to it...

Anyway, I (finally) caught Covid this week, and while it unfortunately wiped out a few very important events from my social calendar, I haven't been bed-bound - so it's put me in a great position to get working on some cool side projects 👀

The latest of which is photos.charlie.town, which is going to be the place for any photos I post from here on out. I mentioned in my last post that I've been trying to move away from corporation-controlled solutions for pushing out any content I make - I tended to use them more for archival purposes than actually posting anything I wanted to show off, running the obvious risk of the content being removed down the line for an arbitrary reason.

I knocked up a photo-oriented CMS based on the one that runs words, and put together an Instagram-inspired design. I'm not 100% sold on the lightbox solution I'm currently using so that may change, but for now, it'll do. It's both a place to show off nice photographs I've taken, and store the large original JPGs for posterity.

And who knows? Maybe one day I'll clean it up and stick it on GitHub... 😆


It's been a while!

Apologies for the radio silence. These last couple months I've been;

  • Bugfixing for trackle, which finally came out!
  • Setting up a Dropbox-backed markdown-based notes solution (that I'm hoping is final...)
  • Browsing /r/selfhosted and feeling equal parts inspired and intimidated.
  • Planning a rebuild of my gameboy camera instagram page as a standalone site.
  • Maybe most importantly, spending as little time on Instagram/Twitter as I possibly can.

I guess there's a common theme here... I'm definitely leaning more into self-hosted, or in some cases self-made alternatives to big corporate services. I've been feeling pretty disillusioned with big tech and it's role in shaping modern society as of late, especially given the current European climate.

This feeling may pass, but in the meantime, I'm going to finally make good on my promise of giving these people as minimal amount (or ideally no) data as possible.

Some of these might get full posts eventually, especially if I end up implementing some of these 'self' solutions, but we shall see.