Randomly Accessed Memory: Hocus Focus

This is what Nickelodeon had to offer circa 1980. A show which was just a bunch of random short films — in this case, two films about plant care, an animated version of the Giving Tree, and a surreal trippy animation that I can’t even sum up — but the frame story was that a wizard from the middle ages, named Kryspen, had been sent forward in the future to learn about our world, and he was learning about it from a big pile of old films which he would watch, together with his talking book friend and his transforming animal companion, the Oolak.
There was a plot in each story too, in this one, the plot is that this filmmaker appears and sees Kryspen do some magic, and wants to make him a star, filming him doing impressive magical things. But this pretty much saps all Kryspen’s energy and he becomes all worn down like the Giving Tree. (Kryspen is addened by the Giving Tree story… the filmmaker thinks the kid in the Giving Tree story should have planted MORE trees so he could have taken, taken, taken more more more from the trees!)
Unlike the Giving Tree however, Kryspen responds to being used by completely losing it, flying into a rage, and threatening the filmmaker with all kinds of dramatic and fatal magics. The filmmaker grumbles about prima donna stars and beats feet out of there.
The book counsels Kryspen to rest and regain his strength and he does so while dreaming the wild psychedelic trippy animation that closes out the show.
I feel like this show had a very enlightened take on the “Giving Tree” story.
That’s a heck of a plot to concoct out of two fairly boring plant care films and a couple animations! Well done, Hocus Focus.
I have barely thought about this show in lo these 40 years, but something possessed me to go look it up, and I have to say it’s pretty creative. I didn’t remember much of it but I did SUPER DUPER remember the lines from the intro “it was called an Oolak and it had quite a knack for transforming its shape and its size.”…
Anyways. Here’s a tiny piece of my childhood.

How Blogs Broke the Web

Ain’t it great when you start to suspect a thing is true and mutter about it to other people and then someone comes along and expresses it in more detail and better than you ever could? Yeah, that just happened. How Blogs Broke the Web.

I would add: Static Site Generators don’t really change anything from wordpress-style blogs. They’re an implementation detail. The difference between a static site generator versus a wordpress blog is no different than a MySQL-backed blog vs a Sqlite or Postgres-backed blog. In either case, the content is an abstraction and a machine generates the final product on an as-needed basis, and you are isolated from the results and possibly do not understand the process by which they are generated and you do not feel in control of it. And you are at the mercy of the makers of the software.

So just go with WordPress if you like, you’re not a second class citizen. You’re getting the non-cached results of operations on a relational database instead of the cached results of operations on a bag of files.

I mean, unless you really like having that bag of files and operating on it instead of operating through textboxes on a relational database. In that case, go for it!

Of course, the elephant in my personal room is “how does Tiddlywiki fit into all of this?” And the answer to that elephant is as always “it’s complicated.” A tiddlywiki is not plain hand-edited HTML. And yet, it is a single file, which you edit and save, and you put it on the web, and there is no separation or virtualization between “the thing you edit” and “the thing you publish.” There is no content management system or integration pipeline to lose; there is no database backing it; it is itself. In this sense it is very like the early, pre-blog web. Oh yes, and its default format is a garden rather than a diary, though like the early web you can use it for both.

Anyways, good article.


I’m kind of obsessed with Tiddlywikis right now.

I had heard of them a whole lot of years ago, and I knew that some people got really obsessed with them, but I’d never looked into them very deeply. But a couple weeks ago at work, I needed a tool to help figure out how some pieces of code worked together. I was hoping for a mind mapping tool, and I searched for such.

One of the things I came across was TiddlyMap, which is a mind mapping tool built on top of TiddlyWiki. This got me to look at TiddlyWikis, and I soon had downloaded one and used it to take care of my “understand linked pieces of code” need, without any mapping tool used at all. But I was intrigued.

aI have a poor memory and I’ve sometimes gotten confused about when things happened at what point in my life, like, what year of my life. I had created a file called “timeline.txt” a long time ago to note down what year major things happened. I decided to tiddlywikify it. It worked extraordinarily well and taught me a lot about tiddlywikis. If I had kept working on it I think I could pretty easily have turned it into a genealogy tool too, though I didn’t go that far.

The thing I did come to understand from that is how good it is at helping organize a bunch of unrelated thoughts. Or rather, put them down without stopping to think about organizing them — let them grow as a sort of rhizomatic cloud as needed.

As another project, I started creating a little resource about Esperanto, basically all the things that I would want to tell a friend who wanted to know something about all this “Esperanto” business I was blathering about. It grew pretty quickly into a nice little file, which I’ve uploaded here. I’ll keep updating it as I feel like it. Check it out if you would, and drop a comment if you like it.

Last Thursday I was playing Dungeons & Dragons over Skype and Roll20, and on a whim I decided to start keeping track of what we were doing with a tiddlywiki. I got a lot written down; it was pretty cool. I also quickly installed TiddlyMap in there, dropped in a map of the area we were exploring, which the DM had provided, and started annotating the stuff on that map! (TiddlyMap is intended for mind mapping but you can lock entries to spots on a grid, and if you put an image in the background of your map, then hey-ho, you’ve suddenly got a map and key.)

I’ve been using a tiddlywiki to take quick notes at work, and keep some private “what am I doing and what do I need to do” information.

There are a lot of cool and unique qualities to tiddlywikis, which is why I’m kind of obsessed with them. One virtue is the fact that they’re incredibly fluid and easy to use; you can use them to “build out” your knowledge bit by bit. Another is the fact that they are, by default, entirely self-contained: a tiddlywiki is a single html file which is the app, data, and everything, all combined together. Another is the fact that tiddlywikis are mostly written in themselves: that is, when you build things with a tiddlywiki you are mostly using the same tools that the makers of tiddlywiki used to create it themselves. It feels like smalltalk (which is mostly written in smalltalk) or emacs (which is mostly written in emacs lisp).

But there are downsides. First off, if you are going to try and get clever with it, it can be very difficult to figure out exactly how it works under the hood. The text you type into a tiddler can have several different kinds of markup in it which operate in several different ways, and coming to understand how they interact with each other can be hair-tearing-out painful. Basically there are easy and hard ways to do things and it’t not always obvious what the easy way is. The documentaiton is pretty good, but not always good enough. And if you want to search for solutions, you aren’t going to find a lot outside of the tiddlywiki google group.

Another downside is saving… since a tiddlywiki is a bunch of javascript in an html file, and a bunch of javascript in an html file does not have the ability to write back to that same html file, saving your work can be awkward! There are numerous ways to work around this awkwardness but many of them are pains in the butt on their own. Myself, I tend to use an app called “tiddlydesktop” on the desktop, cause it’s super easy, and I keep my stuff backed up a git repository which I can check out from wherever I happen to be.

Still… I’m obsessed. Even though I’ve gone down a lot of rabbitholes and wasted a lot of time… they’re so cool.

Tiddlywikis…. they are awesome.