Context and Web-memory

This is a summary of my technical background, and if you don't care about things like databases and XML, skip it.

Around 1995, in college, I began writing Web pages using flat HTML files, entering links by hand. I used some “server-side includes” and processing tools to make it all come together, to avoid updating every page.

In particular, I found a groovy pre-processor called htp, which I used to build the culturefront Web site for the New York Council for the Humanities (which only looks a little like my original design, now). Htp was my first programming language, and NYCH was my first client.

I gave up HTP because it's a Unix tool, and I had to use a Macintosh. I gave up the NYCH in 1996, because I'd found full-time work.

In 1997, the Subway Diary was born, written in a text file with little stubs in it; MacPerl sniffed around in the file and generated a bunch of web pages.

1998 Ftrain was born, and like an ugly adolescent, it was caught between worlds; while its data was represented in XML, it was still coded in Perl, in code so atrocious as to make a monitor melt and good programmers rip out their own eyes.

By mid-1998, I'd given up on XML, and Ftrain was published to a database on a Web server, with inter-linked categories and automatic listings and so forth. I posted the entries directly into the database through a web form. They were pulled out on the fly by a program that ran on a web server. This was fine, except the hosting provider put too many people on each machine, and their server often crashed. The database did the sorting and processing for me; all I did was write prose and make choices.

In 1999 I took some time off, but in 2000 I returned to XML, and the functional programming language XSLT. Until computers exhibit human-like intelligence, this is the framework I'll be using.

Ha, ha, you say. No, I'm not fibbing; document trees, which can be traversed by functional scripts, is about as far as things can go; past this, we get into some really blurry linguistic and cognitive territory where mortals dare not go. The next step is to create an artificial intelligence that can help you connect your ideas together. We have a little while.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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