Weeknote: 25 September 2023
25 September 2023 | 10:00 am

Sending the weeknotes out as a newsletter last week cost me a few subscribers, so I’m not doing that again.



Work, as always, is up and down.

The up is, technically, not work, but a sideproject. I’ve been taking some time to combine two prototypes—one built using node tools, one using deno—into a single project that uses a browser-based development environment using the Raggedy Dev Setup template. It’s fun, but it doesn’t pay, although I hope it might pay down the line. (It’s an experiment in building web-based, local-first writing software that absolutely nobody has asked for.)

This makes it simultaneously an up and a down, I guess.


The downs were much more prominent this week. I’ve been working on the print editions of my books, focusing on Out of the Software Crisis to begin with, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Print-on-Demand books.

On the other hand, I was unpleasantly not-so-surprised at the quality of the printer’s software. Their calculators gave me three different measurements for the cover size. I managed to guess correctly which size was the correct one (and confirmed by their support) by guessing that it would be the slowest one—reasoning that it was the one doing the most work, which probably meant it was using actual data.

Their integrations with various ecommerce platforms are also extremely buggy, which is delaying my release of a pre-order page for the print edition. I still hope I can get it done this week, but that depends on factors out of my control. If worse comes to worst I can always switch to another printer—I know a few people who have used Lulu for their projects so that’s always a possibility.

All-in-all unsurprising and yet disappointing.

More downs

Most of the kinds of consultancy works I used to do—yeah, that’s past tense—have been drying up over the past year or so.

My software development work has generally operated at the intersection of publishing, education, and file formats. I’ve worked on a couple of different web-based ebook reading projects. A couple of different web-based PDF-reading projects. Done quite a bit of training material. With a bit of advice on strategy or procedure thrown into the mix.

The education and publishing side has always been a bit hectic. Most of the education and publishing projects I get involved in have been contingent on external funding of some sort and that’s been getting harder and harder over the past couple of years. This year it seems to have essentially died. Public funding for education- or culture-oriented software projects seems to have become much harder to get.

Even more downs

The training projects, for the most part, evaporated with the lay-off waves a few months ago, with the last project coming in just under the wire for a major lay-off wave. If it had been scheduled to start a month later, I have no doubt that it would have been cancelled outright.

This shift was the original reason for the books and the newsletter. I figured that they wouldn’t sell much but they’d work as my calling card, a way to get more projects.

That didn’t pan out at all. Very few of the project leads I’ve got as a result of the books didn’t pass the “37 Signals” test.

Basically, if a potential client believes Jason Fried and DHH are good managers then that means I’m unlikely to be able to work with them productively. Our worldviews are too different. If you believe that, after their meltdown and rightward shift, they’re still great managers, then you’re both extremely unlikely to work well with me and I can guarantee that you won’t listen to a word I have to say.

The upside is that the books sold better than I expected. I don’t make as much from them as I did from consulting, but it’s lessened the blow.

Plan B

I’m still open to new projects. If anybody needs somebody with over two decades of experience in web development, capable of working on complex JavaScript projects but equally capable of working with CSS and HTML, then I’m available for projects.

But I’m also expecting to have to accelerate Plan B, which is basically more of the sort of corporate web dev training work I was doing, just this time selling courses, walkthroughs, and mini-books directly. Browser vendors have been shipping a lot of really useful tech lately—many of them potentially transformative like Cascade Layers, Import Maps, Origin Private File Systems, Atomics, and more—and I think there’s a gap in the market for courses and guides that make these features more broadly accessible to people who are intimidated or overwhelmed by the ways these features are taught currently.

At least, that’s my bet.


Been reading quite a bit about the syncing protocols used by Git and Fossil, both distributed version control systems, for that P2P writing software side project. I’m the kind of weirdo that finds this topic quite enjoyable, although I have to say that much of the writing that’s available is rather on the opaque side.


Focused on comedies this week.

UHF with Weird Al Yankovic was—surprisingly—exactly like I remembered it. It isn’t a particularly great movie, but it is an enjoyable series of sketches that parody the movies of the time. What was surprising about it was that it didn’t suffer from the usual 80s movie syndrome where misogyny, sexual assault, racism, and homophobia are presented as jokes.

It’s a low bar to pass, but few other eighties movies pass it so it gets kudos for that.

The Party, directed by Blake Edwards and starring Peter Sellers. Now, I knew from the outset that watching this would be a struggle, because Seller’s brownface and fake-Indian accent is just horrendously bad—even the make-up aspect of it is poorly done. But, the reason why I wanted to see it was to see how integral Seller’s racist mockery was to the movie, and the worst aspect of it was that the movie would have been stronger without it. I maintain that if his character had been your regular klutz type the movie would have worked better because everything else about it is impeccably implemented. The staging, direction, physical comedy is all some of the best in cinema history, all ruined because Blake Edwards—as he frequently did—hung it all on a misguided caricature as a centrepiece.

The highlight of this week’s movie-watching were the classic thirties and forties comedies:

  • It Happened One Night. Frank Capra, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert.
  • Only Angels Have Wings. Howard Hawks. Cary Grant, Jean Arthur.
  • Arsenic and Old Lace. Frank Capra. Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane.
  • The atrociously named His Girl Friday. Howard Hawks, Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell.

They are all excellent. Both It Happened One Night and Only Angels Have Wings have sexual undertones so strong that they barely get away with calling it subtext—especially Only Angels which is as straightforward a depiction of “these people are all pilots, dancers, or singers and of course they’re boinking” as you could get under the Hayes code. Surprisingly humane and empathetic and you don’t have to make as many allowance for the attitudes of the time when watching them as you do when watching comedies from the seventies and eighties.

This tells you a lot about seventies and eighties comedies.

Arsenic and Old Lace manages to be one of the darkest comedies you’ll ever see even while feeling like a softly-kindly romantic comedy, which is an achievement that boggles the imagination.

His Girl Friday is probably the weakest of the lot but is still a tremendously fun movie.

It’s a cliché to say that they don’t make movies like these any more, but in this case it’s literally true. The economics of modern filmmaking don’t really allow for them.

The single set, fast-talking, wise-cracking style of comedy has moved over to sitcoms, which inherently lack the ability to combine that comedy with the tight and dramatic narrative arc that gives these movies their emotional power. Modern romantic comedies lean a bit more into the romantic aspect and usually only go into production at one of the big studios if they’re combined with a high concept that justifies a bigger budget.

One of the “vibe changes” in the genre—I can’t think of a better term under-caffeinated as I am on a Monday—is a different approach to realism. Modern romances tend to focus on more relatable and realistic dialogue, even as many of the characters themselves become even more formalised—these movies tend to have a standard cast of characters whose names just change from movie to movie. The sassy gay friend, for example. The job of wise-cracking observations tends to be delegated to a single character while the rest all have dialogue that is authentic to the reality of the story, and doesn’t have the plausibility-challenging snappy dialogue.

This doesn’t make them worse, if done well, just a different species of movie. But it does mean that there isn’t much space for screwball romantic comedies in the modern film landscape.

Maybe the decline of the sitcom in the streaming era will open up some space for it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Weeknote: 18 September 2023
18 September 2023 | 10:00 am

I’m sending this weeknote to the newsletter as well, just so that the email subscribers have some context for why it has been relatively quiet over the past couple of weeks. The short version is that I’m working on print versions of my books.

Links at the end.


My focus over the past couple of weeks has been twofold:

1. The new web dev setup

Working on figuring out more straightforward and less complex ways to implement test-driven web development, with bundling as necessary, but without a framework. I’ve been documenting this work as a project setup template on GitHub, which I’m also using for a couple of my own projects.

I’ve figured out a slightly simpler and more capable ways of handling coverage reports for the Continuous Integration side of the setup, which I haven’t implemented in the template yet, but other than that it’s reached the point where it’s covering a lot of bases.

This little project has helped clarify quite a few of my thoughts and ideas on web development, which I’m hoping to write a lot more about in the coming weeks.

2. The print edition of my books.

A sample print of the hardcover edition of Out of the Software Crisis

I’ve been working on the typesetting and design for hardcover editions of both Out of the Software Crisis and The Intelligence Illusion.

The test printing came out better than I expected, although there are a number of fixes and adjustments I have to make.

My plan is to get Out of the Software Crisis out first (doing one book at a time minimises errors).

Some day soon I’ll put up a pre-order page for it—doesn’t look like Payhip is going to work, so I might have to resort to a single-use Shopify site—but the long term plan is to get it out into regular print book distribution, so you could order them through your preferred book store. I still don’t know if I can pull that off, but it’s starting to look likely.

Very excited about this.


Most of my reading lately has been documentation related to the web dev project above or the print editions, but I also had the pleasure of reading through this Master’s thesis: Framsækin bókaútgáfa: Útgáfustefna smærri forlaga og áhrif á bókamarkaðinn.

I guess that would translate as Progressive book publishing: the publishing policies of smaller publishers and their effect on the book market.

It’s in Icelandic so won’t be accessible to most of you, but if you are curious about the overall shape of the Icelandic book market, and you do know some Icelandic or are willing to risk auto-translation nonsense, it’s worth a look.


Still continuing my quest to re-watch or watch all of John Carpenter’s movies. Still have ways to go, but I will say this: boy is his body of work uneven. It’s an odd mix of great movies, interesting experiments, forgotten gems, fun trash, not-so-fun trash, and a bit of genuine weirdness. Still digesting and I’ve got several movies to go, but it’s a lot of fun, overall.

Also did a bit of a Cronenberg re-watch. The problem with David Cronenberg is that he began as a genuinely poor to mediocre director who made up for it with vision. His movies pre-Videodrome are either genuinely bad or mediocre with sparks of brilliance.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Scanners, for example—who doesn’t love a well-executed exploding heads scene?—but when I was a teen I had it on VHS tape recorded after John Woo’s The Killer. (You could get four hour VHS tapes and if you were the type to record and share movies you could usually squeeze two on one of those without them looking worse than the usual VHS awful.)

This meant that most of the time I watched Scanners, which I did several times as a teen—remember, only weirdos don’t like exploding head scenes—I also watched The Killer. Whatever you can say about the narrative handwaving and plot shortcuts John Woo takes in it, the overall movie is just a perfect execution of the formula with impressive acting by the two male leads.

And Scanners? Not so great.

Videodrome is better, much better—it’s a fever dream of a movie—but it’s The Fly where he really comes into his own as a director and after that the level of quality in his work is much more consistent and always interesting.



Weeknote: 11 September 2023
11 September 2023 | 10:00 am


It’s not much of a secret that I’ve been frustrated about the state of web development over the past few years. Many of the frameworks have looped over from useful to counter-productive. Much of it is specifically structured to make it harder for you to use the features that are now conveniently built into the platform.

And the dev setup is error-prone, complicated, and inherently unstable. How can you make stable software when your tools themselves are unstable and keep changing on you?

For a project of mine I decided to have another look at my set up and pare it down to just what’s necessary. Not in a hairshirt – “I’m giving up on modern conveniences for reasons!” – kind of way. I like the modern developer conveniences.

My pass at this is the Raggedy Dev setup, a name which I’ll explain whenever I get around to writing a proper blog post about it. But it has bundling, unit testing (in browser), bundling, and is set up out of the box to support both HTTPS and cross origin isolation during dev.

Something I learned while doing this is that since JS module requests are cross origin by default, they work with cross origin isolation out of the box. No need for a crossorigin attribute or anything unless you’re doing something iffy like requiring credentials JS imports, which in turn implies you’re doing something iffy like bundling data with your code.

The test runner automatically reloads when you change a .js file. It uses a pinned, local version of deno for dev so it shouldn’t have any moving targets to speak of.

I’m enjoying it, at least.


Still mostly reading documentation related to the work stuff above.


Been re-watching John Carpenter movies, concentrating on the ones I haven’t seen since my VHS days. Some of which I actually saw in the cinema when they were originally released. Still working my way through the list and, even though I’m still building up a sense of his body of work, I have to say that even a bad John Carpenter movie is still more interesting than other directors' good movies.

What’s been on my mind is still the same concern I had a few weeks ago when I wrote Authorship:

Ideally you want a work to both have an interesting personality and be well crafted, but if you can only choose one, being interesting will always trump craft and having the right personality for the project is vital.

The example I used last week was the original cinematographer for Aliens. By all accounts Dick Bush was an accomplished cinematographer but his sensibilities were absolutely wrong for the project.

I was reminded of this when I watched both Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Jack Sholder’s The Hidden this week.

Argento is the pinnacle of “personality trumps craft” as he isn’t a particularly great director. The acting, even from great actors, is often stilted and weird in his movies. He frequently has jarring transitions that don’t quite work. The pacing and structure is almost always off.

But he is a master of creating a vibe or a mood, has had excellent taste in collaborators, and is absolutely fearless about betting the house on a scene. No pulling back. All in. It either works or we’re bust.

Those together are what makes Suspiria work. The plot is nonsense. The structure is awkward. The acting is poor overall. But he bets the house in every scene. Nothing held back. Where, in a John Carpenter horror movie – like Prince of Darkness – he would give you quick shots of insects or maggots to establish that something is creepy or dirty, Argento goes “what if it rained maggots? What if the floor was thick with them like a carpet? What if we had an extended five-minute scene with maggots everywhere, in everything, and everybody is screaming and covered with maggots?

Argento bets the house on his climactic scenes. With big bets, when you win, you win big. You also lose big if it doesn’t work, but that’s still more interesting than not trying. Add what’s possibly one of the greatest original scores to a horror movie ever made – at least on par with Halloween, maybe even Jaws1 – and you have a great movie.

It has massive flaws and glaring errors. But it more than makes up for it elsewhere. The whole is greater than the parts.

The Hidden, however, is its polar opposite. It gets a lot right. The casting is excellent, almost inspired, both in Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Nouri. They do a great job throughout the movie. The plot and structure for most of it is quite serviceable. But where other directors, such as Argento or Cameron, would have pushed further, Jack Sholder pulls back. There isn’t a scene in the movie that makes any big bets. The cinematography has the personality of a TV movie – competent but blah. The music is your typical 80s action movie electronic beat thing that wishes it could have a fraction of the personality of Basil Polidouris’s Robocop, which came out in the same year.

And the ending… The ending is just “pack your toys, it’s time to go home”, boilerplate, formula garbage. This is a movie that had a decent idea but didn’t even have the guts to bet big on its climactic ending. This is the one movie where “everybody dies, violently and horribly, in the end scene to save the day” would have worked. Or steal a page from George Romero and end it along similar lines as Night of the Living Dead. Or steal from the climax of James Cameron’s Terminator since you’re already in “crib your homework from Cameron” territory in the movie. The composer had certainly seen Terminator.

Be weirder. Even if it doesn’t work, you’ll at least be interesting.

  1. Don’t cite The Exorcist at me. Tubular Bells is one of the greatest rock albums ever made and having people only know it as “the Exorcist theme” is a huge disservice to it. It is not an original score. ↩︎

More News from this Feed See Full Web Site