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Friction and Its Discontents

Those of you who know me in real life probably aren’t surprised by my blogging hiatus. Those of you who know probaby aren’t either. I suppose I’m the only one who’s surprised.

In the last year (has it been that long?), I made some important decisions about the path of my academic career and that decision—not to pursue tenure at my current instutition—continues to ramify effects in my life. My personal life has also changed, a change which is the one thing I can without question say is for the better. There have been so many changes, so much change in everything.

As an introvert, my main strategy for dealing with trauma and change is to get by myself pronto. So, yeah, no blogging. I do keep a journal and the quality of my journal writing for the last sixth months has been really low. For example, four days ago I began I’m feeling almost next to useless. A few weeks before that I ended an entry thusly:

I didn’t put together the Midtern Paper assignment for my African-American literature class.

I’m going to get ready for bed now. After ten minutes of sitting with myself. How pathetic.

I don’t have any enthusiasm because my brain is disengaged.

You get the picture.

In addition to the changes in my emotional and professional life, there’s also been change in the tools I use to do my research and my writing. In December I undertook an enormous project both as a proof of concept and as a means of development. At present, there isn’t a lot of content in my undead repository. The work of that repository exists in the underlying structure and tools used to construct it. The Tinderbox document which generates that page is relatively large (5.5 MB), and the 34 external templates which control its output total 9,500 lines of code (a meagre 464 KB!). There are also thirteen internal templates contributing another 100 lines or so of code. I spent many days in the main branch of the SFPL at 100 Larkin Street working on the document and the repository, and I cannot wait to get back.

After Pam and I returned from California, the winter quarter blew. Me. Away.

In early March, Eastgate Systems began making substantial changes to Tinderbox’s parsing systems. The conversion of my existing Tinderbox documents and the PERL program (tbx) I use to generate new Tinderbox documents required significant rewriting. I also continued refining my digital workflow, venturing into AppleScript Studio and writing a program, Finder Files to Tinderbox, that generates a Tinderbox document whose notes link to user-specified Finder items.

But I wasn’t updating any of my websites.

As I’ve mentioned, much of my digital silence was due to my introvert’s reaction to change and uncertainty. And though I wasn’t adding new content to my websites, the work I was doing on the tools in my digital workflow (the Tinderbox documents, the PERL scripts, unfamiliar software) was in fact preparation for the projects I’ve started and new foundation for projects I’ve been considering.

In particular, I am incredibly excited to begin my series of screencasts detailing my digital workflow (it’s coming, I promise). One of the problems with updating this website is that I use Tinderbox to compose the entries and then publish to the MovableType backend from inside Tinderbox. The problem part is that Tinderbox’s communication with MovableType is just this side of broken. (Tinderbox is incredibly versatile, but it has many shortcomings. I live with these shortcomings because I cannot do my work without it.)

This means, for example, that if I want to include a video I 1) compose the entry in Tinderbox, 2) post the entry to MovableType, and 3) use BBEdit to add the HTML code (which Tinderbox munges): a multiple-step multiple-application process that requires debugging and much file-wrangling.

In short, there was a lot of friction in my blogging process and the reason I use and make the tools I do is to reduce such friction. Here’s where all that behind-the-scenes work comes in.

Over the past two years, I’ve abstracted the process by which I generate HTML files so that I can use Tinderbox to generate them. My undead repository is one example of the power of this approach. I also use Tinderbox to generate my course web pages: this spring term an African-American Literature course and Principles of Textual Analysis course.

In the last two weeks I decided to shift development away from MovableType to Tinderbox and today I completed that process. I considered that this new site would not be able to host comments and so decided I would replicate or excerpt posts from the new site here in order to use MovableType as a commenting platform. The proper solution came when I realized I should shoehorn the new material here and use the new site as a scratch pad.

This is the first post using this new system.

I open my new Tinderbox document. I export its files to my machine and then copy and paste the HTML from there to here. Yes, my machine is ugly. I’m not sure if it will stay so, but I’m pretty sure this is the way forward.

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Despite your last months' introversion (blog-aversion?), your enthusiasm for your new Tinderbox/MovableType set up shines through. Congrats!

Secondly, thank gawd you went with the comment-enabled solution. If not, how could I tell you this:

I'll be waiting with bated breath to hear more about the personal changes, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Lastly, SFPL surely misses you too.