bits of online history

I discovered today that tucows is retiring/disappearing/perhaps mostly gone. Admittedly I don’t think I’ve used it since my windows XP days. Was a fab source for shareware/freeware utilities to enhance XP. There used to be another site, now long gone, called DownloadSquad that would have regular reviews/announcements of new software and I’d usually try out something new every other week. Over time, some of those things have been incorporated into operating systems.

I remember there used to be a tool so that I’d hit the space and start typing to launch documents and software. These days, that’s built into windows via the windows key and windows indexing has improved lots. There are still things I like to install on new systems like cygwin and text adventure interpreters but a lot less than I used to.

Meanwhile I came across a timeline of web browsers dating back to the early 90s and of course my old favourite text only browser, lynx, is still kicking about – I usually have it installed as part of my cygwin setup. The downside of using a text viewer to browse webpages is that you usually have to scroll through a bunch of pages to get to the content as per below:

Sydney Morning Herald via lynx

There’s been a European case around geoblocking game purchases ie forcing folk to buy games in their country rather than from whatever country they can get it from cheaper. It’s an interesting result as gaming isn’t the only area that’s done this sort of thing, books being another good case. I remember when I started buying via amazon how much cheaper the same edition of a book was that way than locally. These days, I don’t buy much from Amazon tending to either buy from local distributors like Booktopia or direct from publishers.

In other news, the Alta-Vista URL still works but redirects to Yahoo…which still works.

the value of possessions

For eventually, we come to hold our dearest possessions more closely than we hold our friends. We carry them from place to place, often at considerable expense and inconvenience; we dust and polish their surfaces and reprimand children for playing too roughly in their vicinity – all the while, allowing memories to invest them with greater and greater importance. 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles [reviews: NYT, SMH, Canberra Times]

I came across this book last year and once started, consumed it eagerly. It had a light, deft touch playing with ideas, feeling at times a sort of philosophy-lite though that sells it short. It’s not for everyone but it resonated with me not so much for context but the interplay of ideas. It’s been but a year and I feel like I need to revisit it already.

On the next re-read, I want to keep track of more quotes. I liked the one above in that sense of the emotional value that can be rooted in objects. Though all who know me would agree that concepts of dusting and polishing don’t exist in my world.

I commented recently on things that reminded me of my parents and I sometimes find it odd the things I have and the recollections they evoke. Moving stuff gets harder each time, particularly the books. They have weight and arrangement yet are a visible part of who I am, my past, my history. Titles from different parts of my life: SF, history, childhood, philosophy, travel.

less hair, yeah yeah

Prior to lockdown, we purchased a head shaving kit just in case. I don’t have a lot of hair these days with a combo of bald spot (or expanse) and receding hairline. It’s how I look today. I miss having a full head of hair though I think miss having enough hair to colour. I miss purple hair and black hair and blue and orange. Someone commented that they remembered when I had green hair and I don’t even remember that one.

Before
Before

These days I have little hair and that’s not a problem; I am comfortable with how I look and the skin I inhabit. Due to the lack of hair I tend to get a head shave every 6-8 weeks, usually a No 4 though I did try a No 3, and only once – that was a bit too short. I discovered this week that the numbers refer to parts of an inch eg No 4 is 4/8 of an inch, No 3 is 3/8 of an inch. Which means I usually get a shave down to half an inch, or around 12-13mm.

This matters because yesterday I had a haircut. My first haircut since the start of lockdown and probably around 4 months since the last. I think this is the longest my hair has been in many years. It was getting a little challenging in odd ways and was affecting my hearing aids. I would brush hair off my ears and accidentally hit the volume control on my hearing aids – not fun. My family who really only know me with short hair were finding the new me increasingly “interesting”. Hair started to stick out sideways. The advantage of short hair is that you don’t need to comb it. My hair was needing more and more attention.

After
After

Yesterday, Ms19 offered to cut my hair. She read the manual and we discussed what the sizes meant and how to work out the correct blade. She watched a few youtube videos on cutting hair. At lunch we got down to business. We set up a chair in the kitchen and I wrapped a towel around my shoulders and off she went. I think we were both nervous initially but I certainly relaxed quite quickly.

Voila, in rather good time, I was back to my old self. Ms19 did a fab job. Admittedly I did stage the before shot but I am staggered at how different the two views are. I’d forgotten how nice it is to have a haircut. My head feels better oddly.

beyond the stream

…or at least the mainstream. I read yet another article today about the decline of newspapers and particularly regional newspapers. Many regional newspapers are owned by larger groups and when the owner strikes problems and advertising revenue dries up, particularly at the moment, then papers get cut. This seems to lead to an increasing domination of the city papers which in turn results in a reduction in awareness of local issues and local connection ie the local newspaper is one part of the glue that connects folk together and gives them a shared space of sorts.

Libraries are another part of that glue, providing a welcoming space for all, free from commercial demands. It’s a place that’s not trying to move you on to make space for a paying customer, or sell stuff to you. Libraries are a mix of spaces: some quiet some noisy, places to meet, to relax, to read, to chat, to hang, even to snooze. They provide a community hub and remain one of the few free indoor spaces that people can gather and chat.

There are online hubs too, though predicated on the basis that the community has access to online material, the digital divide remains ever prevalent with some communities having better access than others. Once again, libraries may well be the only place that folk are able to use a computer, or access content online.

Over the years, there has been a rise in “pay it forward” groups on facebook for example in communities across Oz eg Port Macquarie, Inner West of Sydney, or Perth. These groups provide on one hand an opportunity for folk to clear out stuff, and on the other, an opportunity for folk to get things they need. A sharing space for advice and tips, increasing reuse and recycling.

I recall years ago, when a colleague and I ran a minecraft session as part of International Games Day, we didn’t get great numbers. A parent who turned up, commented that we should have promoted to some of the parenting groups on facebook. They’d only heard about the games day accidentally but were in a facebook group of several thousand parents in western Sydney. Sure enough, nationwide, there are millions of parents participating in such groups and finding folk to hang with.

In some respects, facebook groups remind me a little of usenet of old with a mix of general and specific. Some groups have strict rules for engagement and keeping on topic while others ebb and flow depending on where the commonality lies. The challenge with such groups is that facebook is a bit of a closed shop, you’ve got to be on it, with an account to see many of the groups, and participate. At the same time, it’s not quite like the AOL of old with that being the only platform, facebook groups tend toward a gated feel rather than closed though the latter exist too. They can be inclusive and exclusive.

parental reminders

I commented the other day about objects that remind me of my parents. A couple of friends, Kathryn and Rachel, have picked on that and posted their memories.

Karl Marx

Now there’s a name. A significant name, a philosopher, author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, a leader. I read the manifesto a long time ago and other writings here and there. Dad read a lot of his stuff and had many of his books. In the 70s, my dad started out a baptist minister, became an atheist in the middle and joined the communist party and at some point moved from communism to socialism. He read a lot and talked a lot, discussing his ideas and thoughts.

Marx

From a young age, I can remember the colourful display of Marx books on the shelf together. I wouldn’t say it’s my earliest memory of him but it’s possibly a constant of sorts in my life of knowing dad. I could spot that little row of books and I knew I was in dad’s space. I have toyed with different ideas for displaying them though none carried out as yet. Many years back, I liked the idea of sticking them together as a block in a perspex box to hang on the wall. That idea of moving them from textual works to an art of sorts seems appropriate given the nature of my memory of their physicality. Taking that a step further, I have also considered sticking them together, slicing off the spines and framing them as a single, flat, colourful strip. For now they sit in a glass cabinet alongside the whisky.

For mum, memories are different. She was more of an introvert and a bit of a hoarder perhaps or more that sense of thrift of her parents passed down, the idea of not tossing things that could be useful. Her favourite takeaway was from the local red rooster: two pieces of chicken and chips. Even when she was in the nursing home, we would take that in for her on her birthday. These takeaway meals usually included cutlery and moist wipes. When cleaning out the old house, we found lots and lots of plastic forks and packets of wipes. Though I don’t think I have any in the drawer myself, plastic forks remain a visual reminder of my mother.

I continue to be fascinated by the sense of being the melting pot of my parents: a thing from her, a thing from him. This thing I am has all those things though not necessarily in the same measures.

iso lunches

Back in March, we started to get things ready in anticipation of going into lockdown and work from home at some point. At the encouragement of my partner, I bought a pair of comfy sneakers so I could get some regular exercise (sort of successful) and even a haircut kit (with shaving heads of various sizes) so that I could continue to have haircuts at home. I don’t have a lot of hair and usually visit a barber for a number 4 head shave every 6-8 weeks. 3 months into iso and I haven’t actually used that kit yet and now have about 4 months of growth. It doesn’t look good, it’s not comfortable, and worse, I have occasionally bumped the volume button of my hearing aids, when patting down my hair. I suspect there will be a haircut in the near future and I reckon that’s not a bad idea.

When lockdown was finally announced, I was able to pop into work on the first day and grab my computer and a few other things. I then remembered the one thing I couldn’t prepare for: what to do about lunch. I’m not a fab cook, or food prepper; I usually get lunch from one of the takeaway food halls near the office. That option disappeared with lockdown. A few months prior we had moved house too and no longer had easy access to a bunch of takeaway places.

Takeaway containers

There are two places around the corner, a few minutes walk away. One fancy and one basic, both Chinese. I love Chinese but a bit of variety would have been nice, some Indian perhaps, Thai, Japanese and so on. Oh well. So Monday to Friday, I pop into the basic Chinese place and grab a meal to take home. Over 3 months, I have worked through almost all of their lunch menu and have a bunch of favourites. I usually try and have at least one new dish a week. They are the main people I see apart from my family on a daily basis and if I ever return to the office I will miss them.

We occasionally get a takeaway meal from the fancy place too, usually to coincide with virtual trivia hosted by the guy who ran the pub trivia we used to go to. It’s been nice to have his face and voice beaming into our home. I miss the pub visits though and hanging out with friends. While the sound is better at home, I’d rather have physical company and not hear half the stuff; the warmth of people and incidental humour.

A list of things to write

Some years for #blogjune, I maintain a list of notes and phrases, bits of writing semi formed, reminders, subjects, random ideas passing through my mind. Sometimes I remember to go through the list looking for things to flesh out, or ideas. One of the items is to simply blog about the list itself and in listing, perhaps add a little.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow – a book, perhaps an interesting quote. I have a quote in mind that in turn points to other thoughts
  • My amazon wishlist – I rarely buy from there these days, preferring booktopia and small presses. The wishlist remains a curious sort of bookmarking over time: why this book, why that one?
  • “official” hashtags – and perhaps typos for other conversations
  • Dad’s collection of books by Marx as a visual reminder of times with dad
  • plastic forks as a reminder of Mum
  • collectivitis and when it gets out of hand…too many books, whaddya mean?
  • how many boxes does an author take – notes on moving house
  • post modern earth – worlds like Shannara which are set against a backdrop of the modern earth being the ancient ruins amongst which folk roam. Other examples include The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, books by GR Kesteven (a childhood memory)
  • what I like about special editions: ribbons and leather, fonts and colour, slipcases, solidity. Perhaps even getting custom slipcases made…
  • …segue toward 17th century, or thereabouts, practices around book binding…where the books were sold with the expectation that the owner would have them bound according to their needs.
  • highlight nice books from my collection – seems pertinent in the age of lockdown when I can have but few friends over. To be honest, even in the old days, I tended not to show and tell, as friends are not about possessions.
  • “2 tarts on a couch” a sculpture – this one is challenging, emotive, full of history, and particularly of my dad. It’s an interesting sculpture, with a certain cheekiness that encouraged reaction and response; dad loved watching how people responded to it: being caught between instinct and shock, followed by a sense of “how I should respond” vs “how should I be seen to be responding”. It’s a work that is a little discomforting. It has been a cardboard box for many years and I am not the right person to display it.

the usual cuppa

Coffee. Some days I need a cup in the morning, some days I don’t. Regardless of need it remains a nice habit to have a warm drink at my side as I work. Other parts of that routine is the buying or the making, and the pathways one follows: mentally, physically, perhaps in rare moments, metaphorically.

A thing I miss working from home, is the morning stroll from the station in Martin Pl, across Macquarie St, waiting forever for the lights to change. Pre coffee 90 seconds of standing at the crossing takes much, much longer. Crossing and sauntering between sandstone buildings as I wander on to the grounds of the eye hospital, out the back, opposite the fountain (which was not running in summer though it remains a grand sight), to the cafe in the courtyard. The same staff, Italian I think. They greet me, we humour each other, though they have more to say than I. This is ever my lot.

I visited the other day. I had to pop into work, to the building. I parked nearby and though running later than planned, I stopped by and ordered my usual. They were still there, still going, carrying on: convivial, relaxed, friendly. A retreat from the world.

a little of the tireds

Weirdly it feels like it’s been a long, hard week. Yet I only worked four days, Monday being a public holiday. Work wasn’t stressful though there was plenty to do. Spent a chunk of today in a rather exhausting task of chasing down 31 order numbers for a single invoice. Was happy to get them as a single invoice as in years gone by they were many. But still a bit of work, particularly as I would normally check the print file for what was used the year before. This time round, it was a combo of email archive trawling, system lookups, and cross comparisons, trying not to get lost in the sea of open windows.

This year everything is a little different and I’ve been occasionally surprised at where I have been dependent on print resources for a job that is otherwise mostly online. This is one such time however and decided to add a section to my annual budget spreadsheet for order numbers. I use the sheet as a template every year for tracking payments and such, it makes good sense to have the key data in one place. I am remain wary of the cult of spreadsheets where everything ends up in many spreadsheets in many places. However in this instance at least I think it will streamline one of the more manual aspects of my job.

I had hoped to give myself an early mark today and instead worked my longest day of the week. June is a funny month with the end of financial year looming round the corner, ever present in everything I do. It can be fun and tiring and interesting and boring…and occasionally quiet though mostly not.

there is no catchup

Yesterday’s blog title was supposed to be about today’s content but then I went off on a tangent. Perhaps I should try again. I was thinking that I never seem to catchup on all the books I mean to read, tasks I assign myself, movies and TV to watch. All the things, none of things.

I still haven’t got round to watching my box set of The Avengers. I am reading a bit more. I am behind on Masterchef and filmfest is about to start. If I get behind on masterchef, I made a conscious decision not to catch up and simply accept that I missed some shows. I remember having an increasingly large collection of VHS tapes, back in the day, of shows taped that I meant to watch. I recall we were able to buy blank tapes fairly cheaply which simply meant that more stuff got taped without ever getting watched.

Peter Pan

It was interesting to read back through this post from 2018 on things I’d get round to on holidays and see where I’m at now:

  • watch Twin Peaks – still hasn’t happened
  • Install internet mesh – finally did this a couple of weeks ago and it’s running fab
  • fix TV cabling – we did fix it eventually. Then we moved house and set things up differently. The PVR is refusing to play nice but catchup services are better these days. Also, I have new hearing aids and I can indeed use them with the TV and it’s made a big difference – did take a bit of work to balance the sound so that I could hear the TV and chat to the fam
  • enjoy life – so far so good
  • visit Bankstown Library – this happened and it was lovely and I got to see old friends and colleagues once more
  • web archiving tools – conference in NZ in 2018 was fab. Haven’t played with tools much lately and I want to play with jupyter notebooks too.
  • watch the last Tomb Raider – managed it eventually and it was ok
  • drive somewhere – this is not happening at the moment for some odd reason :)
  • watch The Avengers – still no
  • sew buttons – almost happened a couple of times but still no
  • listen to my ipod – being doing this more in lockdown
  • do some reading – I seem to be reading daily which is a plus