I kicked myself about that last post. Why? More developed thoughts came after I hit publish.
It goes by many names, but the origins of L'esprit de l'escalier centers on a French dinner party. Denis Diderot, the father of the French Encyclopedia, was made speechless by a remark from a statesmen. He could not think of a response. This led to the observation that started it all:
"A sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument leveled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he finds himself] at the bottom of the stairs"
Thus L'esprit de l'escalier, staircase wit, escalator wit.
I never thought about how the phrase relies on architecture. If you go up the stairs you are in the conversation. If you go down the stairs you are out of the conversation. We have taken this and run with it. Enter the chatroom, leave the chatroom. Enter the forum, leave the forum. Enter the blog, publish a post, and leave the blog.
And part of that might be because of the time-based nature of conversation. Diderot talks with the statesmen over dinner. The party cannot go on forever. Diderot has to go down the stairs eventually.
But with the web we reach a point where time does not constrain our plans that way. Conversations can go for weeks on end. So why do I still suffer staircase wit?
Well, staircases still exist on the web. Take a blog for instance. As I type this out I am in the conversation. But as soon as I hit publish I am walking down the stairs. It doesn't matter if people 'like' the post or share it. I am now out of the conversation. Could I go back and edit the post? Yes. But how much am I encouraged to do this? Very little. More recent posts take precedence.
How much can we remove staircase wit from the web? How much can we create experiences that encourage iteration of ideas over time?
Around where I live there are a bunch of 'little free libraries'. Think of them as a cross between a book shelf and a mailbox - freestanding structures that allow any passerby to swap out books. The other day a book caught my eye. At any other moment I would note the book's title and close the little free library. This time was different. I grabbed the book and went on my way.
A series of questions dawned upon me. Should I put a book in its place? Could I make notes within the book? Do I return the book after I read it? Is it now my book? What was intended to be an outlet for simple book exchange left me with more questions than answers. Important questions about how we exchange information and what it means to lend and own.
And it made me realize how little I think about those kind of questions with content on the web. I read post after post without wondering whether I should return a post afterwards. Some of that is due to the nature of the medium. But maybe some of that is due to being in a stupor.
All it took was a little free library for me to be struck by compelling questions. Perhaps something on the web could rattle us to interrogate it further, to create a better web by asking better questions. Like the little free libraries, perhaps that thing is right around the corner of your e-neighborhood
I don't think it sounds hokey at all. Before I got into IT/software I studied music — classical guitar in particular. Music always connected me to the wonder of being alive — of actively listening to the sounds around you and responding accordingly. I think that's partly why I enjoy computer/web magic so much. It reminds me of the obsessiveness of understanding a new piece, the joy of jamming with friends, and the community of local musicians I connected with. I am still actively listening, but it's of a different sort. All of that is the play/exploration you're talking about, that feeling of being alive. Do you play any instruments by the way? I only ask because I've stumbled upon your Mixcloud playlists and enjoy how eclectic they are — from Bill Callahan to 80's hip-hop/R&B. I'd definitely listen to your radio station if you get that Rasberry Pi up and running :^)
Bring back "Personal Computing"! What do you think of even taking that to the social side of things? "Social computing" instead of "social media"? I've been thinking more and more about that lately. Tilde Club, SMCC, and Beaker Browser make me think about other ways of being social through connected computers. They emphasize the computer behind the glossy frontend that social media often presents. Obviously it presents some friction to the process — learning Linux/Unix, command line, programming etc. — but perhaps that friction grounds the experience into something more wholesome, more fellow feeling, more convivial.
The Aleutia computer looks awesome! Those seem like awesome hardware choices. Like you, I feel like I don't have an optimal computer setup either. I just got a Macbook Pro and didn't know the extent to which I was going to be using it for programming & spinning up VM's. I am in a spot where I need to weed out documents/files as well to make new space. Also contemplating getting a used-computer tower of some sort — my former boss, who runs an IT consulting business, has a ton of old & used Dell computers that he's giving away freely. Makes me want to try to get familiar with Windows more just to bring one home and test it out! Of course there's so many great cloud providers out there too — from the big bois to smaller companies. I guess it's better to have a mix of both?
And do let me know what you decide to do with your Rasberry Pi. I am super curious about them and will most likely be getting one sooner rather than later. Maybe we can try to hack together on our respective ones and help each other out! Haven't really messed with hardware as much so it'd be a good foray into that world.
Thanks! We actually had a smaller in-person ceremony within COVID guidelines of masks & all — about 30 people at the church with a reception at our house (though we did have the ceremony streamed thanks to my best man). It went a lot better than we thought, a testament to having the people that matter there instead of a scattershot list of loose ties. So in a way, the current situation allowed us to have a wedding that we wanted along. Less fluff and more of what mattered.
The messy desk analogy is exactly how I feel about my computer nowadays too. I feel like using the computer back then was strictly a vehicle for play — websites of choice were game sites like Miniclip & AddictingGames and computer games like Far Cry, Unreal Tournament 2K4, & Halo took up most of my time. I don't know if I really took to programming until maybe two years ago, starting a junior IT job with no experience (just a degree in classical guitar performance haha). Now that you've mentioned it, my trajectory has also moved away from play towards work/research/writing/coding/etc. But perhaps that's the wrong way to look at it — maybe it's trying to view what we do on the computer as play? That's partly where my thoughts on the command line came from and where I sense a lot of your web experimentation comes from. One thing I enjoy about your website is the forking paths you present to anyone who enters. It reminds me of what is espoused in an essay that has stuck with me since I read it — Ariadne's Thread.
HTML Energy is fantastic! I have only listened to maybe two episodes of the podcast but I want to listen to more of them. What's cool about HTML Energy is that it equally acts as a philosophy, a movement of sorts. I've been super intrigued by the lessons they offer. Strikes me as a fun way to learn to code in a cozy environment. (an aside, but check out their super creative Patreon perks!)
I am curious if you could go further on what you mean by our experiences with computers are more abstract than they are. Do you mean that it's become something we don't think about now, like the air we breathe, and that it should be considered more deeply? I agree with you on an abstract level (ha) but want to better understand what you mean.
Interesting that my cybersecurity curiosity has led to the same conclusion as you — transitioning to more Linux usage. Do you use a virtual machine or are you thinking about booting a laptop with Linux? I've been using VMWare to spin up Linux boxes virtually. Trying to transitioning to different hardware is something I think of too. I've been eyeing the Pinebook Pro & System76 laptops as possible alternatives along with the Macbook I have. Is there anything in particular you're looking for?
PS: Also hoping to reach out to Zach sometime this week to get started on SMCC! Been really looking forward to it but didn't have the time for obvious reasons, but hopefully now there'll be some...
Hey Seán! My apologies for not getting back sooner. I got married this weekend and the days prior were all in preparation for the occasion.
Connecting to your desktop...never thought of that before really. I think the only thing I ever did was change the desktop background — like changing out a poster in your room every month or so. Like bedroom posters, these would always be band/album pictures or paintings that jumped out at me. I try to keep my desktop uncluttered so it's just the background, but screenshots on my Mac automatically appear on my desktop, so there are random files that litter the screen. Part of me wonders if this practice isn't so much "archaic" as it happens all over the web now rather than our computers. I remember always changing my profile pic & background banners on Facebook all the time.
Of course all of that is a generalization — it probably depends where you look. The Unix-like ecosystem (Linux, etc.) seems to focus heavily on the computer itself and what's on it (OS, programs, command line, etc.) rather than the computer as simply a way to get to the web. And perhaps that get's to your point about physical cities/buildings disconnecting us from the natural environment. Things like Beaker Browser & Glitch seem to do a good job of breaking down the barrier and showing the computer underneath. Recent updates in Beaker Browser include a web terminal. Glitch's platform is basically little Linux boxes underneath the web apps you can create. Do you know any other examples?
I don't think I've ever really created a website before. It's just been a blog in some form or another — whether on Wordpress or Write.as currently. The first site I was a part of "creating" was with one of the first gaming communities I joined. It was just with wiki software and I just used the WYSIWYG editor to edit a couple pages, but it was the first one I remember helping with. It was a community that focused on playing Cops and Robbers in Halo on PC. Here's the site if you're curious — a personal time capsule for sure! I've really wanted to create a personal site with the little HTML/CSS/coding knowledge I've accrued over time (cjeller.site is still open for something like that). Just don't really know where to start. What do you use for your personal site?
Sweet! I definitely agree on the feeling of enchantment. Sometimes the software we use obscures the fact that there is a computer underneath it all. Playing with the command line feels like conversing with a computer without the extra layers of intermediaries (even though the command line itself is an intermediary...but I digress). Of course that isn't to say that everything should be from the command line only — much of the web's magic is in the visual. Speaking of which, I've particularly drawn to the visual layout & design of your websites recently, from your personal site to your blog themes. It inspires me to step up my game to come up with other interesting possibilities.
Never really thought about smells on the web to be honest. It's always sound and visuals that are the first class citizens of the web. Smell and touch seem rather neglected if not explored even further (would love to be proved wrong though). I am just trying to imagine how you send smells to each other if not little vials of perfume that are procedurally generated by a person through a web application. Having the smell transported through the device is another level entirely.
I haven't contacted Zach yet but I will soon — I'll drop your name in there too :) SMCC and that whole scene just seems like an awesome place to be. I might have time to drop on by this Saturday but I'll definitely think of things to talk about and present regardless.
Interesting that you gravitated towards MMO's like Gaia & Phantasy Star. I regret not trying those out more — just gravitated to shooters like Unreal Tournament 2004 & Halo for some reason. It's funny seeing things like Discord become popular outside of gaming when I remember using its predecessor Xfire — did you ever use that?
That sounds awesome! What other topics for zines did you have in mind? Zines are such an open medium, especially when they can straddle the line between print & digital.
I've heard that about vim too — asking how you quit out of vim is practically a meme at this point! But I love how vimtutor is built in so nicely into vim. It acts like a normal file that you're editing & exploring. I'm glad vim is making you more acclimated to the command line — it isn't that bad once you get used to it. I'd argue the command line empowers you to do a lot more than even a GUI can give you. It's just a matter of learning how to wield that magic responsibly (lord only knows I have a long way to go).
Joining Cooltown seems like a no-brainer then! I don't know when I can join one of those Saturday SMCC sessions but I'll let you know. Maybe I should get in touch with Zach regardless and try to get a spot in Cooltown? What have you been learning there so far (besides vim of course)?
I completely agree with your gaming tangent. My first "internet friends" were made from playing video games — creating & joining clans & clubs for FPS games. It was not just passively playing these games but engaging with others to create experiences beyond ourselves. That was more formative to my future web self than I gave credit to. Before I thought it was a time in my life where I, well, wasted time. But I think it was much more than that. Did you engage with any gaming groups (whether online or in-person)?
And yeah, I am thinking about getting more formally into the cybersecurity realm. I don't know what that looks like but I see it as a space where I can grow and keep curious.
Oh what's the zine going to be about? Thanks for sharing vimtutor too. I've only been using nano for editing on the command line but I know I should look at vim. Do you like it? Also I'd definitely be interested in joining Cooltown! Can you share more about it? I am intruiged about it being a "learning server" of sorts.
And I love your tangents though, so I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on how computer/online experiences are becoming increasingly game-like. Do you mean that in a "gamification" sense or in another nuanced way? It probably aligns with my thought of the command line as a sort of text-based dungeon crawler!
My fascination with penetration testing first started as a nagging thought. Some friends and family recommended cyber security to me as a potential field to pursue and I was reluctant to heed their advice. What it took was talking to someone in the field to realize how many interesting possibilities there are — penetration testing being one of them. What I find fascinating so far is realizing how knowledge is literally power with pentesting. Knowing how networking and applications function allows you to exploit them. It's a lot of enumeration and reconnaissance, not so much what people think of "hacking." I personally enjoy that kind of "measure twice, cut once" approach anyway. Does that make sense?
As far as learning, it's been drinking out of a fire hose, but one thing I am exploring is network reconnaissance — exploring a network, seeing what machines are on it, and knowing the services running on them. There is a common tool for doing this called Nmap. It's used for network among other interesting things. Here's a link to an overview & demo if you're interested: https://nmap.org/book/nmap-overview-and-demos.html
Still lots to learn and I hope to write about it soon!
There was a time when D&D wasn't cool? In all seriousness though, that's great context. The loss of magic is an interesting point. When did you feel that loss of magic? Did it ever happen when you were in your guild and fan club? Or were those communities insulated from the loss? I am curious about your experience, especially when it appears that many of these kind of communities now exist on "users as a product" platforms.
Great to hear from you Seán! That's a great question because, as you can probably tell, my attention has not been on my blog (the last post being almost a month ago) but elsewhere. Definitely a lot more command line crawling lately, specifically within the context of penetration testing — something I've been interested in lately. What's surprised me so far is that there is a lot more focus on understanding how computers and networks work rather than just "hacking" them willy nilly. This leads me to conversing with the command line a lot. There's a tranquility to using it which has grown on me a lot lately, up to the point where I am more curious about command line tools, like blogging CLI's and social computing spaces like Tilde Club, than I ever have before.
What are your experiences & opinions on the command line?. Gotta say though, if it weren't for you reintroducing Zach Mandeville to me in our initial conversation, I don't think I would've discovered The Map is the Territory, which is such an excellent ode to the command line.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Melyanna! To start off, I noticed that you work as a Release Manager for 505 Games (The folks who published Control which is super awesome btw) and have a lot of interesting creative projects on the web.
Has there always been an overlap between video games and the web for you? Did a lot of your early web experiences revolve around video games? Did video games make you go towards the web as a way to interact with other players? What has that relationship been like between the two?
One distinct advantage: asking questions and waiting over time to answer them.
It’s not that one is constantly mulling over the question for months. The
questions are free to go completely out of mind. But, time passes, and new
I think the best phase is after the initial round of questions is over. Once
answers are given, the conversation is rolling and we return to life for a day
or a week. When we return to converse again, the topic is quite fresh. The
feeling that I am not reaching for questions.
As marvelous as podcasts are, conversations can be too slow. I don’t want to get
too deeply into min/maxing this shit. It’s a respectfulness idea, as stodgy as
that may sound. You can read a decent blogchat in five or ten minutes and
possibly hear everything except the vocal camaraderie and perhaps some finer
points. You can definitely more easily re-read and quote. This is essential to
me—I never hear it all the first time.