While the tech choruses croon on about scale and AI and datadatadata, I prefer the long tail. Looking in the corners of digital stuff I marvel when you find small signs of quirky human presence.
Or when you google recursion; and this new surprise search play:
Anyhow, I stumbled into one obscure message from a free tool developed by one person. A testimony to Why People Toil Away At Free Tech Projects of Passion. The odds of even seeing this are pretty small had I not followed a rabbit tunnel series of turns.
It starts with a tweet. Yes of course people (via tweets) grandly declare Twitter a steaming cesspool of burning garbage. I smell the stench, but it’s not everywhere. And not when you make your paths, not relying or counting on the platform to make Everything Pretty.
So a tweet from Kevin, sharing what might be neat animation tool.
Since I am working now on a site collection of creative tools, and trusting on @dogtrax for the stuff he shares (this is key, folks), I looked at the site he linked to, less to see the animation, but more to see where it lives. I back up to the top of the domain, https://antimatter15.com/.
Joy, it’s a domain of someone’s own. Not littered with ads. It has a personality:
Hi. I’m Kevin Kwok, and I’m currently a junior at MIT, and this is my obligatory online presence or whatever.
This is my little corner of the internet, where I talk about random projects and ideas and stuff.
If you want to contact me or read obnoxiously nostalgic autobiographical trivia, check out the about section.
This rings so true to the description of blogging I prefer most, from Dave Winer- the unedited voice of a person. That may sound cliché or fluff, but unpack it some (better, let Dave do it for you). It’s human.
But what’s this tool? I pick part the URL some more to get to a blank creation space, https://antimatter15.com/ajaxanimator/wave/
Typically I might play with it. If you were around in the 1990s it may have some resemblance to Flash/Director. But what is it? I pick around the Help menu, get a dialog box. Is there a story here?
I almost give up, until I pick “Other.” And here, is someone’s personal message, tucked away in the drawer of a desk in the back of a second hand store down the end of an unpaved road (what more metaphors?, try “dusty”).
It’s a story and then some. If anything, it gets to the essence why some people work away tirelessly on personal projects, cutting corners around the limits of commercial software, and when Google Drops The Axe on The Tool You Love.
Read this, please. Each paragraph might be a blog post, it’s sequential.
I really feel old writing this right now I probably don’t need to write this, but I feel like putting some words on top of the first time I’ve updated this project which is really quite magical in my mind, being older than any other project of mine. I started thinking of doing this project back in late 2006, while I only wrote code starting at about March of 2007. I was 12 at the time. Until mid-2008, a lot had changed. It switched from being a raw idea to a UI sketch to a bunch of lossely coupled components, basic animation, 2 rewrites and a new core graphics editor. For almost a year, the project lay abandoned, and I had no urge to update it after it’s relative complexity and several OS switches and rejection. Finally, I updated it, which brings it up to where it is today. While it is still lacking many features I and many users would like, I can’t really do it all. I can’t draw, and I can’t really make sense with making a project which I can’t personally benefit any more from. I started in 2006 when my Flash MX trial ran out and piracy felt wrong. I wanted a simple tool which could tween and draw stick figures, and it brought me along this 3 year journey.
I felt pretty old writing that two years ago. Right now, it’s the new years eve – the beginning of 2012. This has always been the one project which I would use to prove that I had done something with my life. It’s one of the first things I’ve ever done, and remains the one that I’m probably most proud of. Most importantly of all, this is a story of visions and of ideas. What would I have thought those five years ago, looking at something marginally refined over the eternity which would have since passed? What would I have envisioned for a solitary musing into the development of creative software – not for professionals, mind you, but for the limitless naivete of students. But to a sixth grader, none of that made any difference. Professional and amateur was united in a singular appreciation for the craft and it was a vision which equalized everything. This project shifted from a means to an end, the cleansing of a guilty conscience of software piracy and the ulterior need to pursue an artistic desire into an end in itself. It became a duty, just like that of expressing notions of society from that fifth grade perspective to create software so that posterity may succeed in what I couldn’t. But education is all about digging yourself into a hole, losing sight of the grandeur which was a flat landscape stretching into the distance filled with magnificent and seemingly bottomless trenches and tunnels. You can pick a nice region and start digging. You can make it your home, something warm with a barrier against the cold weather of idiocy. In this sense, I tried to be an artist but after shoveling knee-deep into the soft soil next to a tree with sticks and spoons, I had this marvel taken away by a higher power– Adobe, or in real life, the administration of my Elementary school which deemed such a giant hole as a security and safety risk near the playground (actual story turned metaphor for another actual story, pretty cool right?). I went elsewhere to find another way to that end, but got lost in the process. Now I’m further away from the original goal than ever and I have no regrets. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if things turned out differently, especially at these nostalgic times of the year.
From the “Other” tab in the Help menu of Ajax Animator, emphasis added by me.
It’s been two years since the last release. A lot has changed since then and a lot hasn’t. The most relevant is probably the death of Google Wave, which is scheduled for tomorrow. Google Wave, which in a few years won’t be even part of a vague memory of humankind, was an amazing idea for the future. It, to those who allegedly grasped its sublimity was a definite harbinger for the world to come. A sort of retro-futuristic utopia of synergy and buzzwords galore filled with ideas of an age rendered impractical by the society and technology of its time. It was slow, clunky and didn’t scale well. It promised everything and gave us nothing but cynicism for bold notions. Regardless, I was one of the naive few who saw through the noise and took a risk, reviving the already rotting carcass of this project under a new light. I saw no challenge as unsurmountable, and wrote a new graphics editor: jsvectoreditor, based off a new abstraction library called Raphael. I saw Internet Explorer as a roadblock which could be conquered, and felt that if Wave invested the effort and managed to get IE to work, so should mine. I developed a new data persistence layer so that sketches could be collaborated on in real time. The first sign that my vision was crumbling came with the announcement that Google Wave would no longer support IE. The wave client was sluggish and couldn’t cope with the large amounts of data which this extension generated (On a tangent, I made a wave extension called Tsunami which caused waves to crash based on this principle and managed to pique the interest of the one and only xkcd). The vision came crashing down a bit over a year ago when the Wave project was cancelled wholesale. The rest of the world had abandoned Wave by then, but I was one of the reluctant few to cling on until the last dying gasp. This project stands now as a mere shell of what it was and could be. It should be clear to all by now that I’m not the right person to maintain this. But nonetheless, even though this project is now essentially a zombie devoid of meaning, I shall continue to exploit these naive and long gone ideals for personal benefit by pushing the occasional update to mock its demise. I’ll pretend that the ideas are still alive and well and hopefully, maybe one day, I’ll be able to convince myself that they are.
This is the kind of generator that keeps the heat on in our minds, and there were so many thoughtful messages here it was a challenge to pick just a few to highlight above in bold.
So Kevin, you may never know it, but maybe I can convince you and confirm the ideas are alive, that this is all worth it. Not for the ends, but the means by which you work toward (and shared it), not for profit, or grandeur/fame, but because it feels important.
Do we get even close to this kind of passion/motivation with the “Everyone should learn to code” movements? It’s not about the coding, it’s about the visioning, and finding the fire within to do stuff for no other reason than making something for someone else to maybe find a bit of that same fire.
Thanks Kevin (both of y’all, I am looking at you @dogtrax).
Featured Image: Another featured image story. I did a Google Image Search (filtered for results openly licensed) for “scrap paper ground”, and saw a familiar photo, mine, but listed on pxhere.com and zero credit for the original. This is all “legal” for those who only care about licenses, but does it not lead one to wonder why Google gives preference to image vultures over the original photographer? Why?
Anyhow I love this image I found in a real garbage dump. Because dumps are not all waste. If you look carefully, you will find shreds of human stories.