Welcome, and meta-blogging

4060 words (20m)

Welcome to my blog.

xkcd comic: blogging

xkcd/741

Curiosity and participation

I spend a lot of time on “the web” (and while I appreciate the availability of such a seemingly-succinct term, I feel rather guilty by attempting to account for zetta-bytes of indexed data with two 3-letter-1-syllable words). The pages I browse in my leisure are usually interesting enough to keep my attention (admittedly, this is not too high of a threshold), and the best content is often free-of-charge. Almost any rote or technical question I have can be answered instantly, and accessing scores of articles, videos, podcasts, forum-threads, and opinion pieces on topics of all kinds in real-time is a given. All controllable at any instant from a device fitting in my pocket, of course. It is increasingly difficult for me – born in the mid 1990’s – to imagine the lives of those who were not (or are currently not) connected to the vast trove of hyperlinks that many people now rely on (and trust) for nearly everything they do. In exchange for all of this convenience, I must concede much of my privacy, which is in many ways dead. Despite this cost, I imagine I would miss the level of connection to the rest of the world which the web – or a similar construct – can offer, were it to become permanently inaccessible.

Occasionally, though, I find myself at a dead-end. DuckDuckGo does not return any results, and Google has nothing interesting to report, either. After sifting through pages-upon-pages of content, there are no hyperlinks left to be followed in my search for answers. It is often in this situation (and a few select others) when I most acutely recognize that I am undeniably, first-and-foremost, a consumer of the web. I see nothing inherently wrong with this notion (or with anyone else who identifies in this manner), yet I still feel somewhat troubled. If my experience with the web were analogous to observing a vast, fantastic, and full-of-life formal ball – yet subsequently declining to participate in a dance with any kind-hearted and well-intentioned person, should I be asked – I posit this would be considered quite rude by the other attendees, the requester, and myself. Is this a reasonable analogy with which to encapsulate the entirety of the web and all of its nuances? Probably not (though I suspect any such attempt would necessitate references to cats). Ultimately, it is not as if the web is a key-signing party; I need not participate on the web to freely enjoy its content.

Even so, I begin to think. What can I do? Do I have any valuable contributions to bring forth to a place in which I spend much of my time? I doubt I will ever be convinced of a definitive answer to this last question, but I start thinking of different approach vectors anyways. A YouTube channel? A Twitch or Twitter live-feed? How about a stack-exchange account? Dare I suggest a budding career as a “meme lord”? In different ways, I am intrigued by each of these ideas, but I envision a medium more…enduring. Flexible. Accessible. And so, with many other worthy options available to me, I reached a settlement: a simple text-based web-log will do.

Prior to writing this post, I have never kept a formal log of my opinions and reflections on any material (no journal, no diary, no audio-notes-to-self). Am I capable of doing such a task in a manner pleasing to the general reader? Is it possible for me to accurately convey my full thoughts and experiences within the boundaries of journalism, or at all for that matter? Whether or not I will achieve long-term success in any of these tasks is presently unclear to me, and I suppose I will never get a satisfying answer to my curiosities unless I take action. And so the blog began to take form, as I write somewhat wistfully in Vim the editor, using markdown syntax and bringing a trusty spell-checker in tow (I can assert that many a [s, zg, and z= are being used).

Before the fun, a Disclaimer

The primary driver behind this blog is having fun, and the opportunity for me to write about material which I consider amenable to discussion in some context. I’d like to note that any and all thoughts I now – or will – express on this blog are not intended to be taken too seriously: my blog and its contents are never meant to be considered the workings of a manifesto, hard-set rule-book, or any of their ilk. Presently at 20 years of age, I find it very difficult to imagine myself creating, understanding, or condoning formal stances regarding my existence, purpose, or ability to cast judgment (particularly when considering the frontal lobe of my brain is a long ways away from reaching full maturity, and my relationship with God is far from adequately explored). The blog can certainly change to adapt to events happening in my life, and will always be a flexible medium which I expect to grow alongside me.

Before enumerating what I initially believe the blog is intended to be (and to not be), I have a few remarks on readability and usability that I feel compelled to discuss. You’re welcome to skip around at your leisure, as the sections of this post are mostly independent of each other–reading them in the order I placed them in is recommended for optimal comprehension, though. Finally, I will mention that this post covers a lot of meta-data about the blog, and is not likely to be interpreted as very interesting to read in comparison to the content of future posts. (yes, it’s too late to turn back, the sections are numbered now…)

1. Styling

1.1. Readability

The styling used in this blog is intentionally kept simple in comparison to what I have come to expect from most web-based blogs. In general, I will give my attention to any media (e.g. text, image, audio, video) that has a positive net value or interesting qualities to it, but the styling choices employed by most blogs and media sites make the process of lexing, parsing, semantically analyzing, and evaluating (interpreting) the pattern of bits which illuminate my screen rather strenuous and not enjoyable. However, I am not bothered enough by this to cease media consumption altogether; I often find the content itself to be interesting and worthwhile, and so I remain under the auspices of their styling.

1.1.1. Fonts and Rendering

Vollkorn (a serif) is the font used to render all text on the blog at the time of writing – according to its designer, the font’s name is German for ‘wholemeal’ and is described as “bouncing and healthy” – I have not devised my own anthropomorphic adjectives for Vollkorn (…yet). I am overall pleased with the current rendering of the blog, and am able to read content with minimal discomfort on mobile and desktop; however, I am acutely aware that my presentation of text on this page may not be enjoyable for all audiences. If you prefer to read in plaintext, or would like to render the raw markdown to suit your own optimal viewing environment, you will find links to each at the bottom of every post on the blog (the plaintext includes all hyperlinks, re-formatted with pandoc as reference-style links).

Settling on color choices for hyperlinks, code snippets, and other pigment-related aspects of the blog are perhaps the most difficult commitments for me to make. Out of 16,777,216 available colors, which do I choose to render in hopes of appeasing the reader and providing maximum legibility? Are my blues too dark, my oranges too bright? I doubt I will ever be fully-satisfied with the coloring, and anticipate it will be perpetually tweaked. I may eventually commit to writing a guide with recommendations of different fonts, styling, and legibility considerations for rendering content, which could be helpful to readers whom are seeking alternatives to browsing the blog as is. It is my utmost goal to provide an enjoyable reading experience for all who come to the blog–I am open to suggestions on different styling, fonts, and other typography (e.g. TeX Gyre collection and the like). You’re welcome to send me a pull request or leave comments.

1.1.2. Embedded Content and External Sources

The readability of a page further depends upon, to my eyes, the presence and placement of embedded, non-textual media such as photographs or video (I am looking at you, GIFs.). Communicating my thoughts through media other than text will be done sparingly, and often be linked-to content rather than embedded, despite the ease of embedding images, audio, and video on the blog. I prefer to maintain a sense of continuity in the medium I am using to convey myself; disrupting its flow without good reason is decidedly unpleasant. I believe I feel this way in part due to my inclination to open embedded content at its (external) source rather than on the page itself. In defense of embedded content, seeing excerpts of quoted text from an external source or including a well-placed image is perfectly reasonable to me (perhaps you will see – or have seen – instances of both in this very post…odd…). I genuinely do not mind experiencing non-textual media, and often enjoy the content when it is either befitting or adds a layer to the content consumption which the original medium is inadequately suited to serve – the subtlety that an external link provides to-this-end is a nicety.

1.2. Usability

1.2.1. Navigation

As you may have noticed, on the navigation links I provide – either on the top right of the page for desktop users, or in draw-table fashion from the hamburger button for mobile users – all of the options contain only two characters. It may seem rather foolish to use such little space when a much wider screen real-estate is available. Initially, I spelled out each navigation link as follows:

| blog home | categories | tags | contact me | main site |

During earlier designs of the blog, this format appeared to render quite nicely – that is, until I made the mistake of attempting to read text on the page. It became immediately apparent on the desktop view that spelling out each link made for a very distracting reading environment. The bright white color of the links certainly did not help this predicament any, so a simpler approach is what you see now. ls, ~naturally~, is short for list (as in, “list all of the blog entries”; it’s a Unix thing).

Why have a navigation bar at all, then? Isn’t its mere existence at the heart of my dissatisfaction with encountering distracting, eye-arresting content while trying read a blog? Well, as the title of this subsection suggests: I include the navigation bar because it affords crucial usability. I find that my general enjoyment of using a site starts with an easily-accessible means of navigating to important pages, and so I have attempted to replicate this principle-for-enjoyment on both the blog and the main site. Furthermore, I experience a small, yet persistent level of discomfort with the complete absence of identifying markers such as a navigation bar – however subtly I do in fact prefer them to appear. And that is how the navigation bar (and its contents) came to be.

My largest regret in including a navigation bar actually has nothing to do with readability, and yet it bothers me deeply: for readers using a mouse on the desktop view of the site, the navigation bar has little respect for Fitts’ Law in the context of affording accessibility between navigation links and blog posts themselves; it is a tremendous flaw that is (requisite?) payment for having a more distraction-free reading environment – at least until I can devise a better solution. I thereby elect to use the touch-screen capability of my laptop computer to invoke hyperlinks, rather than suffer my self-imposed penalty of mishandling Fitts’ Law. I highly encourage all readers whom find the navigation bar’s presence or interactions distracting to render the raw markdown in an environment which pleases them.

1.2.2. Organization

There actually isn’t a whole lot to say on this aspect of the site. With such a broad array of topics to blog about (see 2.2.), and potentially different audiences for each, I decided that organization by tags and categories are currently the best tool available to me with which to sort the content I write. It turns out that I do have search capabilities on the site, but the results from major search engines are simply not as fast, accurate, or efficient as navigating through tags and categories. There is an interesting Gist on GitHub suggesting a client-side script which will index, and, upon entering search terms, retrieve posts by leveraging regular expressions–did I mention that this blog is intentionally deployed statically, and as such no tasks can be delegated server-side? You also may have noticed that I start indexes for each section of this post at ‘1’ and not ‘0’. Will I  regret this decision in the future? Probably. It’s nothing sed can’t handle if needed, though. Lastly, a keen reader familiar with the university I attend for undergraduate studies will notice that some of the organization, and in fact content for this very post is inspired by Luther’s Meanderings, a blog which I enjoy reading and highly recommend as a source of interesting, qualitative content.

Overall, is it reasonable for me to assume that my own values and preferences for readability and usability as noted above should be fully-embraced by others whom are reading the blog, in part, for the opportunity to experience my content through a personal, natural lens? I am genuinely unsure.

2. What is max blog?

2.1. Naming

xkcd comic: what does the name mean? 207

xkcd/207

2.1.1. Why use a name?

Does a personal blog need to have a name? Could there exist biased identities, relations, or constructs which I implicitly claim to associate with or represent by dedicating a name to the blog? I do not believe that creating such a label is at all necessary for my use case–so why give the blog a name? According to Wikipedia, there are three common uses for the term:

  1. In the ancient world, names were thought to be extremely powerful and to act, in some ways, as a separate manifestation of a person or deity. This viewpoint is responsible both for the reluctance to use the proper name of God in Hebrew writing or speech, as well as the common understanding in ancient magic that magical rituals had to be carried out “in [someone’s] name”. In the Old Testament, the names of individuals are meaningful, and a change of name indicates a change of status.

  2. A name for a brand or product is heavily influenced by marketing research and strategy to be appealing and marketable. The brand name is often a neologism or pseudoword.

  3. A name is a term used for identification. Names can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a given context.

I have yet to establish a formal stance on each of these definitions, and whether or not any of them are applicable in any part to my personal blog. I certainly do not consider the name to be associated with a particular religion or be indicative of any status or title, nor do I desire to advertise or market it (see 2.3.). It seems to follow that “max blog” is more-or-less in line with the 3rd definition. I feel dissatisfied with the lack of my own formal definition which uniquely fits what I believe are my intentions, but I will resign to the given 3rd definition for the time being.

Lastly, I hold no definitive or reasonable argument for why there may be net value or benefit to collectively referring to these text files as “max blog”. At the very least, I do not intend to deceive readers or claim I accurately represent a subset of the words “meticulousness, abstraction, xyz” in any satisfying or verifiable manner. I believe it is too early to know the answers to most of my own questions on the subject. Perhaps, though, I take the idea of a name far too seriously…

2.1.2. “max”

As for the terms themselves, I attribute much of my knowledge of computer science to learning how to think with and recognize meticulous behavior, and to discovering the affordances of abstraction, a construct with which many different levels of detail come together to form a cohesive and often elegant stack– I intend to write blog entries with these core principles in mind, particularly with entries more technical in nature. “xyz” is a not-so-cleverly-disguised reference to the gTLD upon which this blog resides at the time of writing (somewhere in the depths of Amazon Cloudfront and S3); “xyz” is also intended to imply “and everything else” when read in conjunction with the former two terms (a Kleene star is suitable here as well). The ordering of the initials was entirely due to the coherent word “max” that forms given the arrangement. Perhaps the name of the blog will eventually change, disappear, or stay for an indefinite amount of time. My goal in this respect remains to provide a descriptor of the blog which is not in any manner deceiving or inaccurate to the reader.

2.2. The blog is

primarily a place for me to respectfully express my own thoughts and curiosities to the general reader on any material – be it external, or original – which I either find intriguing, important to discuss, and/or worth the reader’s attention. In addition to technically-oriented posts, I may write in a respectful, civilized, and open-minded manner on religion, popular media, politics, or other very opinionated topics. I especially encourage writing comments on opinionated posts; all entries I consider within these bounds will be marked with the opinion category. On principle, if I have had an experience in which I believe public writing on may benefit the general reader, I will write, modulo scheduling (see 3.1.).

In addition, I aim to be cognizant of relevant, reported news at the time of writing posts as a factor to posting respectful writing. If you are reading this entry at or shortly after the time of publication, you are probably aware of the many protests currently happening across the United States in response to the deaths and treatment of both black citizens and state police officers (this image by Reuter’s Jonathan Bachman is particularly striking); the country’s two major political parties are due to hold their respective national conventions very soon (in which candidates for U.S. Presidency are formally nominated); the augmented-reality industry is (possibly) at our footsteps with the recent release of the iOS and Android application ‘Pokémon GO’; countless other events of interest are being discussed by the general public (or not at all) in the U.S. and across the world. I do not intend to address most current news in any reasonable manner, but I do intend to be cognizant of it when writing.

On the technical side of things, I aim to write about my academic interests and inquiries, and communicate ideas and thoughts on relevant academic publications and material. I hope to invite qualitative discussion from readers on my technical posts; each entry I consider technical in nature will have the technical category label. I am also open to collaborative authorship on technical blog posts–please contact me if you are interested in this.

As mentioned previously in the blog’s disclaimer, I do expect the blog to grow and change as I do. I can also imagine the necessity of maintaining strictly separate blogs for opinionated and technical content. If you are particularly inclined to see this change, you are welcome to comment or contact me.

2.3. The blog is not

a place for blatant/explicit self-advertising or self-promotion. I have little interest in spreading word of my blog or its posts without holding good reason, nor to write about myself in a manner of qualification or suggestion of suitability for a particular paid role or opportunity. In the context of sharing or spreading word of a particular blog post I have written, a “good reason” means I believe that sharing such content is directly helpful to the recipient at the expenditure of their time, and that I believe I am not sharing such a post with explicit self-promotion in mind. I do not take any issue with those whom find, read, and subsequently recommend or share the blog on their own, nor do I have any issue with those whom directly ask me about my blog and its contents. You are welcome to do any of those things as you see fit. Keep in mind the CreativeCommons license at the bottom of this post.

Furthermore, the blog is not a place for hateful, disrespectful, maligned, or discriminatory content or discussion of any kind (either from myself or from readers). Please contact me if you believe I may have written insensitive content, so that I may rectify it and/or open discussion for it at length in a respectful manner with an appropriate audience. I have no intention of offending my readers, and I value any feedback you may have for me in this context.

I will not publish content that I consider to have little value to my readers and myself; this includes sponsored advertisements to for-profit organizations. Appropriate non-profit organizations or causes which are pertinent to the subject of my writing are welcome to a reference or potential recommendation from me, provided that including such information may be helpful to the reader.

To the best of my ability, these are the qualities of the blog I intend to keep. Other suggestions are welcome in the comments–this is a highly flexible, amendable set of qualities.

3. Welcome, again

3.1. Schedule

To be frank, I do not have a set schedule for publishing posts. I would like to write on some order of a bi-weekly or monthly basis, though I do not consider myself beholden to arbitrary quotas if it comes at the expense of content quality and purpose. Similarly, I will not write on a topic longer than is needed to communicate my full thoughts – I can imagine, however, needing to redress a topic or return to a topic in which I have more meaningful and relevant words to write about. Will every post be of similar length to this one? Probably not at all…but I suspect several posts in the future will be even longer. If there is a particular topic of interest or piece of published content which you would like to see a blog post on here, including my full thoughts on the material, you are welcome to contact me! (this could be silly in nature, a research-oriented topic, a difficult moral or ethical situation, or anything in between; as long as you believe that my writing on such material would be beneficial to you and the general blog reader.)

3.2. The Reader, and Preview

Would maintaining an e-mail notification list or similar construct to alert subscribers of a new post be useful for the ardent reader? Perhaps, but part of me does not like the idea of announcing the presence of new content, as if to suggest that my writing has a priority to be read – an implicit assertion or claim that the best use of a person’s time and attention is to consume the content I created. I am more fond of the idea that those whom want to read the blog do so of their own volition and initiative. Thank you for expending your personal time to scan and interpret the 4060 words I typed (yes, I had to increment that number by the virtue of typing it out. What a fun bug that could be in a program!). Regardless of whether or not you agreed with or enjoyed the content, I do appreciate those whom read in earnest to-the-end.

If you have made it this far, thanks for reading! I am aware that this post may come across as rather boring…but I am pleased nonetheless to have communicated relevant meta-data about the blog. Stay tuned for more inherently interesting (and fun!) posts that I look forward to writing.



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