Fred Mercy

✺ Simplify

Hey there! I combined two posts in one here; it's a long one, and it's about “a sustainable low-tech web”, I guess?

2:14pm: In my forever quest for a sustainable website (note: By which I denote a website that can be maintained and kept online and "accessible"), I've been trying to simplify everything about this website.

It's still quite complicated, I think. First of all: it won't run on PC. I've tried it and the non tech-savvy person won't be able to install it; because right now this website can't run without having to install many other programs first.

I want this website to be "buildable" anywhere. Which is why I'm thinking of coming up with a uniform way for building/packaging a website... with the aim of being able to run this program on virtually any system, as long as it runs [insert language here]. Nope, I haven't found the perfect language yet, or maybe I have and it's Javascript?

Everything is in Javascript, dude. Server, database access layer, packagers, filesystem "watchers"...

I wish I could program all of what I want in one language. Just one uniform language. Maybe it's PHP? What do I know?

This website has to leave a very lightweight footprint on the climate. It has to be in harmony with nature. To keep energy consumption very low, I'm thinking of hosting my own server on extremely basic hardware, but I'd need a fixed IP to avoid sysadmin nightmare. I would have to manage the server, also... which is some sysadmin-level stuff I never really learned. Learning it might help me discover this "uniform language", though!



These are my current obsessions:

  • obviously: sustainability in websites
    • which is funny because it would kind of kill the market that pays me: imagine if you built a website that's so good and long-lasting you wouldn't have to change it ever?
  • going lower-tech: trying to find a lowtech alternative to almost anything. By low-tech, I mean something that would vastly outlast me, would only break down after a couple generations.
    • in computers, it means something that works well enough for basic productivity tasks, and will continue working for a long while.[#computation]
    • with anything else: usually it has the characteristic of being easily repairable, and to have been built with very resistant materials (long-lasting)
  • the science of the very small, and the science of the very big, and how we are seemingly in the very middle of that; pinched between two infinite fractals
  • the richness of the human condition, its diversity, its depth



As an aside: these days, I'm finding it hard to believe that we will somehow settle for a minimum/maximum acceptable amount of computational power. I mean, we could decide that we don't need more powerful CPUs anymore, considering the boost in productivity that past generations already offer!

If we don't feel comfortable enough at our current stage of technology, and we think we require evermore computational power, I'm afraid progress will keep on happening in hardware while we'll just waste more and more computation/energy on stupid new bloated software.

I need to find simpler software!


3:18pm: Okay, maybe it's because it's my job, but I truly believe in websites. And the technology we use to build them isn't so bad (I'm talking about the HTML/CSS/JS stack here) so I think it's somewhat sustainable to keep documents in this format.

I just love the expressiveness of a website to illustrate content: it's interactive, it can become a game, it's a discovery. It pretends to be "software", but it's actually more than software. It's open, it's accessible, it's supposed to be lightweight, it's supposed to be a standard and should be widely compatible. It's also the ultimate book replacement. By the way, I just read on Hacker News today that the .epub format used for e-books is actually HTML and CSS; I believe it. It's perfect for displaying something in a book format. (note: at some point I even thought of making a "book" theme for this website, where the whole design would be centered on making it feel like as book-like as possible)


low-tech retreat

2021-04-09 @ 1:06pm: I'm beating a quick retreat! It's a retreat in every sense of the word: a) a move away from the buzzing of hi-tech bullshittery; b) a withdrawal from the battlefield of “new-ideas”; c) a process of becoming smaller (smaller ecological footprint); and d) maybe a decline of value of my own life?

Today, this retreat into low-tech seems like a way to brace myself for whatever might happens to modern technology.

We've seen that the lifespans of the even the most mainstream technologies we used to write/read/encode/decode data can be really short: we've seen magnetic tape come and go, you know... the cassettes, the floppy disks; we've seen optical storage, with CDs, minidiscs, DVDs, Blurays....

Ok, so these are just the media substrate that "host" the data (music, movie, text, etc.) that we now encode into digital bits. To store these bits, lately I think we're mostly using solid-state drives, the best technology we've found to hold data for longer periods of time. I wonder how long we're gonna be able to keep some of this data around? And will this data still be decodable and interpretable in the far future?

what does low-tech mean for a web developer?

To me, working on a website feels just like building something physical; sometimes it only needs to be built to look good and maybe its construction is a bit rushed... which means the foundations might not have been properly setup, and it might end up a shallow façade with a lot of broken features.

I've built many websites that were pretty much destined for digital landfills: it felt like building temporary accomodations for an event, while never thinking ahead as to how to disassemble it later and what to do with it.

At that point in my career, I want to build sturdy websites. A website like a monument: build to last, build to the highest standards, build from noble materials. And also: it would be built with its own repairability and expandability in mind. Something to survive deep time. And I imagine a website as a user experience that spans generations, and never discriminates: if you can read the language used by the original author(s), you should be able to navigate the content effortlessly. And if it is destined to be “demolished” at some future date, let me think about how we're going to recycle it.

existential risks

2021-04-09 @ 1:20pm: After learning about it, I spent a while thinking about Nick Bostrom's Existential Risks, and lately I've thought about the technology stack that we depend on to survive these days. It just seems so ludicrously fragile to me, but then again it might be because no one person can truly know in details what every layer of technology is responsible for, and how it all works.

No one person could hack away in their shed and come out with a Macbook M1. It takes incredibly deep knowledge in many areas of engineering, programming, electronics, even design, etc. to achieve.

I'm not a zombie-apocalypse guy, but our web-stack we've become enamored with over the current years, while not absolutely vital for survival, has helped us communicate information super efficiently, for us to collaborate on big challenges. And these days I'm wondering how sturdy that technological stack really is? I don't want to lose this wonderful connection with the rest of y'all.

but why?

2021-04-12 @ 09:24am: To illustrate the importance of some concepts we deal with in this industry: how to build something that's easy to maintain and easy to keep up-to-date?

While it's pure overkill to think in those terms for most websites and apps, I would like to think that my job is about something more than putting up cardboard façades to funnel users into clicking the “subscribe to our newsletter” button. I recently tweeted about this because I got fed up with the whole “crazy animated website” trend, which seemed to me like just another shiny bait.

Lately I've been writing a lot about advertising and how it's all bad, but the truth is that... I believe in advertising. I believe in beautifully crafted experiences, I believe in great products, I believe in touching people down to their souls with powerful messages (an incredible skill to have!), I believe in art that brings people closer together, I believe in a sense of community, etc. And these beliefs can flourish in a healthy advertising landscape.

  • Generate wealth: yes, it's cool.
  • Generate happiness: oh yeah, much better.
  • Generate love: the best!


inspired by / sources

added 2021-04-15 @ 13:09pm:


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last updated: 2021-03-16 @ 7:26pm (history)