by adam mathes  ·  subscribe  ·  RSS  ·  archive

Dot Files All The Way Down

Is it too late to start keeping a .plan file as my canonical web expression?


Only at Google, of course, would the world’s most popular scholarly search service be seen as a relative backwater.

Steven Levy, Making the world’s problem solvers 10% more efficient

I had the privilege of working with Anurag Acharya a little during my time at Google. He is a treasure, and his contributions to the world of scholarly publishing are enormous.

Happy 10th birthday, Google Scholar.

Changing Keycaps

I’ve now become the sort of curmudgeon who not only insists on a mechanical keyboard, but gets custom key caps to replace the Windows keys.

Because they are distasteful.

~club, Unix and The Commoditization of Community

With Tilde Club Paul Ford reminds everyone that Unix is powerful even if we forgot it.

Writing about it on medium instead of ftrain makes me worry that the dream of the early web came true and we can never go back.

The web is a Heraclitus river but Michael Sippey is blogging again and Matt Haughey is blogging again amongst other highlights. I can’t even begin to keep up.

BeOS batmobiles are long gone, but the M1-A1 Abrams Linux tanks keep on rolling.

When I was a child the cost of a Unix workstation was so far out of my reach and my world - a Unix workstation was the cost of a car. When I was a teenager in the 90’s Linux made faux-Unix available for a fraction of the cost on commodity hardware, but you wouldn’t have confused the performance of a 486 with a Sun workstation. You were just pretending on the PC. (The “real work” of scientific computing and programming in academia was still done on the big, out of reach Sun and SGI workstations.)

Now Unix is everywhere. Unix is so pervasive and boring that now it’s fascinating, but we don’t use it like we did in the previous decades.

On the desktop OS X became the most mainstream Unix derived from the “legitimate” BSD legacy, only to be supplanted by Android’s use of the semi-legit Linux, which means everywhere all around me are little Unix boxes in people’s pockets, talking to a million anonymous Unix boxes in data centers.

For fun I have a $35 Linux computer. The faux-Unix on it is more powerful than those workstations and mainframes I could only imagine having as a child.

Tilde club reminds us that we have the tools to spin up digital virtual communities on software and hardware that is so cheap and abundant that it’s hard to fathom. The hardest part is actually doing something interesting with it.

And We're Back

I had a great wedding and honeymoon. Thanks for asking!

Maybe it’s time to update my web site again.

Here are books I read over the past few months that I liked:

Imagine Being Surrounded Only By Things That Bring You Joy

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo - my wife is the acquiring editor for the US edition of this book about how to rationalize our relationship with the objects around us.

The secret to tidying and organizing is you start by throwing things out! My favorite. For the past few years I’ve been trying this sort of thing and it does actually matter.

It’s only when you discard the awful that you have space for the wonderful. (Physically, emotionally, etc.)

Also it has a story about cell phone disposal that made me tear up. (Don’t tell anyone.)

The Phantom Phone Virations In Your Pocket

The Distraction Addiction by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang - Pang is a futurist and this is his attempt to define theoretically and practically contemplative computing as a way to thoughtfully approach information technology use to enhance our lives (rather than letting it cause us destructive behaviors.)

Similar lessons: rationalizing our relationship with technology to hack our way to a better world. Get rid of the bad. Focus on the good. It’s not so much that less is more with our devices and connections but that everything all over all the time hurts. Some of the little software tools I dabble with are about this.


Seconds: A Graphic Novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley the new graphic novel from the creator of Scott Pilgrim is incredibly beautiful, fun, and enjoyable, even if predictable.

The Dawn of Modern Web Computing

Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman

In 1997, the computer was still a relatively new tool—-a sleek and unforgiving machine that was beyond the grasp of most users. With intimate and unflinching detail, software engineer Ellen Ullman examines the strange ecstasy of being at the forefront of the predominantly male technological revolution, and the difficulty of translating the inherent messiness of human life into artful and efficient code. Close to the Machine is an elegant and revelatory mediation on the dawn of the digital era.

The novel feels authentic and personal and resonating in a way that conveys that period and programming culture better than anything else I’ve read.


Turns out there’s more time for books when you give up Twitter.

The Mainstream Internet

Twitter feels like it’s my last connection to the hyper-connected social “mainstream” internet, and with my bots I feel like I’m about ready to automate myself out of it.

What’s next?

I feel too old for Snapchat, too tired to reboot 4uhm.

Like A Magic Spell

Cake flavors, place card designs, hors d’oeuvre options, playlists, and a million other small choices but it’s the decisions between words that feels qualitatively different.

Marvel Cinematic Multiverse

When I saw that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was being made, I realized that all Marvel properties could now be made into movies, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe could live forever.

So I made a bot for it, that tweets things like -

Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 39 - Avengers 39: Pet Avengers, Squirrel Girl 14, Imperial Guard, Starfox, Champions 4

Every time I make a Twitter bot I feel bad because why am I making art (?!) on Twitter and also aren’t there real people pouring their souls out onto the internet still and I’m just excreting out the same one-line joke over and over again forever digitally.


Created with a Sierra AGI picture resource to PNG converter that now includes the ability to bit shift, swap, and manipulate the input to create glitched output.


This weekend’s project was creating a Twitter bot based on the content of early Sierra adventure games.

It’s already way better than anything I’ve ever tweeted on my own.

Follow @quest_ebooks on Twitter

A 3D Animated Adventure

Currently it’s tweeting out things based on a language model created by extracting the text from the MS-DOS versions of King’s Quest, King’s Quest II, King’s Quest III, Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest, Space Quest, and Space Quest II.

Why those games? I own and have played (in most cases repeatedly) each of them. To me they share a certain “Sierra sensibility.” The improvements to the parsers, writing, and systems means the later games are more advanced and differentiated but also don’t have quite the same house style.

And they all use the same early AGI system so I could extract the text (relatively) easily. I didn’t get around to figure out how to parse out text from the later SCI games.

Technical Details

I was afraid I might have to do Real Computer Science but luckily there’s a community that reverse engineered the Sierra AGI formats years ago and made their work available.

I relied on some AGI utilities by Lance Ewing to do the hard work of extracting the resources of the old games into readable formats. In particular, I used XV3 and VOLX to extract the LOGIC files out of VOL files.

(Note: I wanted to include a few more AGI games, in particular Gold Rush and King’s Quest IV but the strings don’t seem to be in the LOGIC files in these later games, maybe due to internationalization schemes, or maybe because I’m extracting them wrong.)

After extracting the LOGIC files I used SHOWLOG to decrypt them into readable text.

This was slightly more complicated than it needed to be because these are DOS utilities, and I didn’t want to try and revamp them to be POSIX compatible and recompile them to work on OS X, so I ended up writing some scripts to create DOS BATCH files to do the hard work for me in a DOSBOX session. (Probably could have just re-booted into Windows but, whatever.)

The text is (mostly) hardcoded into these logic files. I wrote some python scripts to pull the message text out and reformat them a bit, leaving me with a few giant text files of strings from the games.

The twitter bot part I followed Joel McCoy’s How To Make an ebooks Bot which clearly walks you through the process of setting up mispy’s twitter_ebooks ruby scripts.

Some good stuff from it already:

You are too prickly to be touched.

You tap out a message in Morse code; unfortunately, only some rats hear a hollow, ringing sound.