Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
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dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

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Arduino μcontrollers
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Like my brownhouse:
   imagining a world without oil
Monday, March 14 2005
Most organizational "systems" these days are constructed on computers, although the quality of such systems varies according to the people who build them; these people can range from computer experts to busy grandmothers. Once you grasp the basic organizational principle of the file system "folder" you have the tools you need to start building your own system. Whether or not the system you build will continue being useful long into the future depends on the standards you impose on it and whether or not you enforce them on yourself (and others who might use the system).
One basic thing to get right is a naming convention for dates. It doesn't matter so much what that convention is, so long as it is consistent and could theoretically be read automatically in the future. That last part might seem ambitious and overly technological, but it isn't. I will give you an example from my own life.
When, in 1996, I started my first online journal, Musings of the Gus, I operated it for a time like a modern blog, adding new entries at the top of a file. But such an arrangement isn't particularly readable when entries are related to one another and stories from a later entry build on those written previously. So I flipped the entries around and, to keep the files small, started a new document at the end of every month. After three months with this system, it had proved itself unwieldy, so I went to a system where every entry was written in its own unique file, and the files were organized according to month. But I was careful to maintain a consistent naming convention for the files in case I ever needed to select them automatically. In those days I didn't know any programming languages, but I was thinking ahead to the days when I might. So my folders had names of the form mmmyy, where mmm is the three first letters of the month's name, and yy is the two final digits of the year. Individual days were kept on entries whose names were always two digits followed by ".htm." Thus the entry for July 3rd, 1998 is named 03.htm and is in the jul98 folder within the musings folder.
When I moved to Randomly Ever After, I used a different, all-numerical format (one that prevented me, in my drag-and-drop FTP sessions, from accidentally overwriting an entry from one month with the entry from another). At the time I remember being appalled by other numerical date formats I saw in other online journals. In those pre-blog days when online writers had to maintain their own file systems, many didn't zero-pad the day and month parts of their file names, so the files could occasionally be ambiguous. Does 12698.htm refer to January 26th, 1998 or December 6th 1998? I remember encountering files with this same problem when I started work at, but by then I knew enough programming to devise an algorithm to derive the date from even the most ill-considered naming convention (in some cases you make the call based on the file's timestamp).
In the end my naming conventions and regular file formats paid off by allowing me to cross-reference all my entries back to 1996 both by automatically-generated calendars and by monthly lists of described links. Today I went on to build a system for reading content from those old pages into my new front end. The format of those old files proved regular enough for me to be able to parse them apart into both meta-information and content. I only have to account for three different possible file formats over the course of eight and a half years. But when I was creating all the naming conventions and all but the last of those formats, I didn't know enough to actually do any of that parsing.

An article I read tonight in Salon (members only) freaked me out in a way I wouldn't have expected. It was about a John S. Herold analysis of the oil industry which concludes that the world is arriving at peak oil production. This means that what oil the world has is pretty much already tapped and it's just a matter of time before it's used up. Meanwhile, though, India and China are rapidly increasing their demand. Even if we in America were all getting around on embarrassingly-underpowered mopeds, the end of oil would just be a matter of time. An ever-expanding demand has to be met by an ever-expanding supply. There isn't much that can be said to refute this Malthusian reality except such nonsense as "the Rapture is nigh!" or "Have faith in Science, market forces will lead to someone inventing a perfect oil replacement." To this I cite Jared Diamond's new book Collapse: remember that when the last tree was cut down on Easter Island, Gabriel didn't sound his trumpet and lead the righteous islanders into Heaven. And economic forces didn't lead to the discovery of a perfect tree substitute. Instead the civilization collapsed and a lot of people starved to death (or were party to acts of cannibalism).
After reading the article, all my little projects around the house and in my life seemed like rearrangements of deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. Our society, our age, is much more about petroleum than it is about space, information, jets, terrorism, gay marriage, or the internet. How would we heat our house without oil? How would we keep the pipes from freezing? Just try to imagine a world without petroleum. What are you picturing, a spindly car with a big solar panel for a roof? Windmills and nuclear plants? People huddling around a pile of burning logs at the mouth of a cave? As an abstraction I'd always sort of looked forward to the demise of petroleum culture, but now that I'm picturing it, a world without it seems sad, dangerous, dysfunctional, and inevitable.

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