Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

1999 and seventeen years of blogging.  §

So I’m just going to take a moment here to reflect on my little website.

It was just before the end of 1999 that personal events caused me to start keeping a “web diary” online as a way of coping with my life.

I’d had a “home page” before that hosted some ISP or other’s servers, back in the days before anyone registered their own domain name. It had, however, been mostly static content.

Old incarnations of Leapdragon.net from 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2010, and 2012. © Aron Hsiao

The first incarnation of my “web diary” was a static .html file that I edited with Emacs and pushed up to the server with FTP.

Sometime in 2000, I decided that it would be easier if I scripted things, so I created a “diary” command (just a bash script) that started an Emacs instance saving to a temporary file, took whatever was saved in it and wrapped it in some HTML, prepended and postpended that HTML with a header, previous entries, and a footer, and then pushed the resulting file(s) up to the FTP server without my intervention. Over the next couple of years, I added some navigation to my scripts and they got more and more intricate.

By 2002 I was getting bored with the previous appearance, so I rewrote the scripts (which dumped hard-coded HTML into a flat HTML file) entirely and stuck the result on a new path at the domain I’d purchased. That gave me three versions of my “web diary,” the original, manual, flat-file version that I’d stopped maintaining, the 2000 version, and the 2002 version. I’d inadvertently started the habit of blogging, and inadvertently also started the tradition of updating the appearance of my blog for each new year. By 2004, after years of typing “diary” at my Linux command line to open a new Emacs instance and pound out some thoughts, I ventured into the CMS world with Graymatter, which was perl-based.

Then came Drupal in 2007, and with it a massive overbuilding (sometimes my skills get ahead of any intelligence) of a recklessly huge and complex database—visitors in public saw on the front-end anything tagged with “blog,” and on the backend there was a comprehensive, cross-referenced, cross-linked repository of quotes, calendars, contacts, dates, notes, ongoing papers and projects (with version management!), other publications from journal articles to books to magazine articles, in full-scan, all of their citations, etc. It was meant to be my ultimate for-everything, for-ever academic-and-personal-and-blogging-platform to house All Of My Data Forever And Ever More, and to enable me to write my dissertation and become a Master Of The Universe Academic with data always at my fingertips. It was my secret weapon. At one point I started to dabble in machine learning to try to make it smart enough to tell me things about what was in it.

It was, of course, too big and ridiculous to maintain, and a significant diversion from my life. It had, in fact, taken over my life. It worked well for a while, but the entire premise was bad (if you spend all of your time inputting everything you do, find, and think into a massive Drupal database, and keeping it up, it may seem pretty and advanced, but it leaves you little time to actually live or do other work). Once I realized this, I thought maybe I’d had it and would quit. But… I didn’t. (The data from that couple of years is the only data partially missing from the seventeen-plus years of posts on the right, because my tagging system—from public to private in multiple levels, with many, many different kinds of content, from draft papers to quotes to “ideas” to theoretical fragments to blog posts to articles—makes combing through all of that and trying to squeeze it all back into a blog impossible. I doubt whether any of it will ever be online again. I have a database backup, but… I doubt I’ll ever bother to pull it back into a database and try to decipher it again. It is a little, closed, mysterious universe of knowledge and papers all its own now, sealed off from reality and destined to crash at some point—that will likely be noticed by no one—into nonexistence.)

WordPress came in 2010. I simply tossed away all of the superstructure and returned to what I’d done at the beginning: keeping a web diary. Finally, early last year, I took all of the data from all of the URLs and CMSes, dumped the data, cleaned it up, and imported it all into WordPress for a single, consolidated database. This one, with all of the posts that are here.

Now I’m in the middle of year seventeen, and I’ve just updated the appearance for 2017. First day of the year. It all continues, after all this time.

Yes, this space is pointless. It’s often unreadable. It has virtually no audience. It’s bad for my career and just a little bit narcissistic. And now I’m neither a snarling twenty-something pirate swashbuckling my way through bars nor a climbing young Ph.D. candidate hoping to hit the academic bigtime. I’m just a dad, living in Provo, working a day job, living a very boring life.

But at the same time, this here blog is the most edifying thing I’ve done in my life. Academics are now over for me, apparently. Which means that this is the lone remaining ongoing project that has anything near this level of personal longevity and history in my life. And I love it.

For all its pointlessness, and for all the embarrassment that I’m sure at times it ought to cause me, I love it. Now that I no longer live in NYC, no longer hang out in the halls of academia, no longer head an intact nuclear family, etc.—this is home. It’s my little home on the web, where all of my foibles and idiosyncracies going back to my twenties can keep me company and remind me both of how stupid and how smart I’ve been over the years, and of all the things I’ve done and places I’ve gone and people I’ve known.

Through undergrad, grad school the first time around, Ph.D. school—through Salt Lake City and Chicago and Los Angeles and Portland and New York and Provo, through every serious relationship and every major job I’ve ever had, through marriage, parenthood, and divorce, through seven books, thousands of articles, and multiple personal and academic projects and publications, this has been the one daily constant in my life.

Here’s to you, Aron’s Web Diary. Seventeen years and counting. Happy new year!

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