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Posts published in “Webworks”

The practice of working with the most important invention since agriculture.

Test Post, Please Ignore

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Nothing here to see. This is a test. This is another test. Again, nothing here to see. This paragraph is also a test. Test. Test. Test. And finally, this is one more paragraph. Test. Test. Test test test. -the Centaur P.S. This is to see whether the Classic Editor is still broken in WordPress. UPDATE: Yes, it still is! Leaving this here for now.

[eighty-seven] minus one-two-one: can i help? i think i can help

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So, in case you don't own this cat, the little brow-furrowed face Loki is currently making is his "I really want your food but you're not letting me eat it, so I'm going to sit just at arms length and fume" face. He thinks if he waits long enough, he'll be able to sneak in and try some. My long arm thinks otherwise.

Anyhoo, while I said I wanted to put blogging at the first of the day to make sure it got done, it turns out that I was way more interested in making sure that I didn't fall grievously behind on my Camp Nano project, Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE, nor miss any of my other responsibilities.

I'm mostly caught up now, so I'm trying to put blogging back on the queue. Interestingly enough, after my rant about blocks, the WordPress folks have reached out to talk to me about blocks. Talk about customer service! So I'm also blogging trying to replicate the bugs I observed the other day that set me off.

So far, I cannot replicate the cut-and-paste error, where trying to select all the text only copied part of it - it is entirely possible that the system had just gotten into a cruftly state, which can happen to any program of sufficient complexity.

I can, however, replicate the cut-and-paste problem I had, where trying to re-order sentences introduced new paragraph breaks in a way that's not standard for Word, Google Docs, or TextEdit. This is probably most directly attributable to the text being in blocks, but it might be fixable.

I also reproduced the "Where's Waldo" interface issue where I could not easily inject new blocks - though now I see that can be fixed with a carriage return followed by a slash, which is documented in the interface, it is also possible that at the time something was just wrong with my editor.

I also debugged the problem I had with the interface. In TextEdit, Word and Google Docs, the first line of your document is the first line of your document. In WordPress, it is invisibly a title, as opposed to the Classic Editor which distinguishes this with a different text entry box. This is also probably fixable.

But there are other strange errors. Like, the sidebar that let you change the properties of the post are normally present when I blog, but had disappeared when I started this post. Weirdly, not even the button to show them was present - I had to toggle several other buttons and then it appeared, just where I remembered it. Not sure what's going on there. Since I restarted my computer recently and re-logged into WordPress, perhaps this is a "sticky" setting that went away when I cycled my browser. Still investigating.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Loki, trying to help me study generative AI.

[eighty-nine] minus one-oh-six: i don’t know they’re literally incompetent …

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This is your daily reminder that the Gutenberg editor of WordPress is a dumpster fire. I don't know that the people who made it are literally incompetent as far as technical coding goes: the bones of the program seem to be a well-functioning machine that rarely breaks down.

But Gutenberg is incompetent as a text editor, and whoever designed it was literally incompetent in terms of the "blocks" based design that they chose to push on all of us, because the "blocks" editor literally does not work as a text editor: basic things like selecting text, cutting it, and pasting in into a new place don't work, because the "blocks" break up your text selections and prevent you from maneuvering in the document.

Microsoft Word doesn't have this problem. Google Docs doesn't have this problem. Overleaf doesn't have this problem. Dropbox Paper does, a little, and it shares the incorrect (and I will fight you on that) "Where's Waldo" style interface which hides the text editor controls when you're not hovering over them, making them undiscoverable - perhaps Dropbox was also infected by "user experience."

But most damningly, the Classic Wordpress editor didn't have this problem. They had something that wasn't broke, and they didn't fix it with the incompetent thing they replaced it with, but they were so committed to forcing everyone to use their new thing, they broke the old one. (This is your daily reminder that using Classic Editor in modern WordPress destroys the formatting of the posts).

And I want to point out: the person who did this, Matt Mullenweg, did this to us on purpose:

We Called it Gutenberg for a Reason

It moves the WordPress ecosystem forward, but it also moves the whole web forward. Which is scary! Because change always is, and this is a big one. But a scary thing is usually a thing that leads to growth, if you can push through it. ... apathy would worry me a lot more than disagreement or controversy. Creating great software will never make every person happy. 

So, in case you have trouble parsing this ... Matt and his team wanted to push a technical change which benefited their "ecosystem" - likely, just some internals of their system that they wanted to clean up, which would make it easier to implement features no-one wanted - and they started with a mindset that interpreted their failures as user unhappiness and software problems as complaints, which people needed to just power through so they could get to their new world order.

Matt, you took something that worked and broke it, and replaced it with something which will literally never work. Text editing is not block editing, and it's never going to be. It's a serial string of tokens that encodes a proxy of speech, and if you try to impose blocks on it, your editor will fail, as yours failed me today.

I was working on a post. One not much more complicated than this one. But simply cutting and pasting text was something that the Gutenberg editor failed miserably at, and I was not able to successful edit my text. Even copying it out to Word took several tries, because not only did Gutenberg make it hard to select all the blocks, it did not even copy the text out of all the blocks, so I had to do it piecemeal.

I don't actually want to give up on Gutenberg becoming better. But I strongly feel the only way to successfully fix the interface it is to thow away the key metaphor behind it - the block. That's fine as a backbone behind the text which WordPress uses for rendering - but a text editor should manipulate text.

-the Centaur

Pictured: some nice flowers which the previous owners planted near a corner.

[eighty-five] minus one-oh-four: what even IS that?

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Recently on Twitter I said everything's going to hell in a handbasket on the Web. Let me show you ...

Oh, wait, I can't show you, because WordPress's Gutenberg is not letting me paste a link. More properly, it's turning the link into a Twitter embedding. Now, that looks nice, and it seems like a nice feature, but I didn't want that, because Twitter is increasingly erratic, and I am afraid the Twitter embedding feature will go away when Elon Muskhead gets tired of suing people over his own stupid mistakes and starts mucking with the code again. So I just wanted to paste a link, and then the text, myself.

But I had to "hack" the interface to do it, first posting a different link, which I then edited to point to Twitter. Does that seem right to you? That's one thing that inspired my post. Let's try again to see it:

Anthony Francis @xenotaur
The Web feels like it is disintegrating. Popup ads everywhere, train wrecks at Twitter and Reddit, Threads is just mobile, sponsored results on Google, fake reviews on Amazon.

And here I am watching my 1,000 curated RSS feeds slowly vanishing, going "This is fine…" #ThisIsFine


Part of the problem is what Cory Doctorow calls the "enshittification" of the Web: first companies are nice to users and attract them; when they have users they screw them over for their business customers; and then they screw business users overs as they start to chase advertisers, eventually driving the users away.

I think that's right, but it's more than that: people lose sight of what the Web actually is. Web 1.0 is a place to share documents; Web 2.0 is a place where you can create them online. We've had ads and subscriptions in this place since their earliest days, and I don't mind them - I put "banner ads" on my early website to advertise people whose blogs and books I liked, for free, just to publicize them.

But losing sight of the purpose - turning editors into viewers, or documents into ads streams - means the reason people were here, to consume and create content, can no longer be accomplished. And that's going to ultimately kill the great grift that is modern Web advertising - but let's not kill the Web too!

As an on-point example, I offer the Gutenberg editor, which constantly hides from you the widgets needed to transform a piece of text into, say, a pull quote, because it is incorrectly (and I will fight you on this) trying to make the page look like a piece of paper, instead of a craftsman's tool for producing text, with all the bells, whistles and knobs needed to make it format right, much less look good. Want something simpler? Fine, try Notepad. Don't inject your bad UI design into my editor, which, as I remind you, I am forced to use on my platform, which I never wanted to, because they broke the Classic Editor to push this idiocy.

It's not that the features aren't useful. It's that the entire philosophy of "UX" - user experience - is wrongheaded, and we need to go back to the more basic principles of software usability. Usability is not "modern", usability is not "clean", usability is not "design" - only usability is usability.

And so, if you take a tool that is designed to produce text ... and try to make it look like a view of text ... you will inevitably end up with something that is not usable. And if your philosophy tricks you into thinking that that is OK, your philosophy will drive you to make decisions which make the interface less and less usable.

And that would be the end of rant ... except I have a counterexample at the top of the page.

This is a page that recently appeared in my reading. I will take the clean, modern, well-designed Gutenberg editor any day over what modern web pages have become. Look at that above! What even IS that? What is it supposed to be? Where did my article go? What are these different blocks supposed to be advertising? They're so layered over each other you can't completely see any of them. "Choose great value" sounds like a line from a badly translated JRPG.

As best as I can determine, somehow I scrolled down to read the rest of the article, and it jumped to a join between articles on an "infinite scrolling" page. While some infinite scrolling pages are OK, most simply aren't. Especially a page for an article: you can't read the article anymore with infinite scroll. It doesn't stop, and if the next article has a similar topic, it can even seem like a new heading, making you wonder what the connection is, but giving an opportunity to sell ads - leading to what I think happened here.

So, while trying to read, and thus, scroll through this content - an article which claimed that Doctor Who's time travel was surprisingly accurate, which is more true than most people know - the page jumped to a join between articles in the infinite scroll. Because the page "jumped", all of this just popped into view; it wasn't clear that I scrolled, or that scrolling would get me out of it). The layout completely hides the articles above and below, and the jumble of popups fall over each other, leaving me no context of what to click on.

If you try to turn a document reader into an ads stream, you will fail at doing both.

I fear for the future. Because I love the Web ... and it's killing itself.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a screen shot of, of a broken article on the science of Doctor Who, correctly recommended to me by Google News, and completely garbled by ScreenRant's infinite scroll and jumbled ad presentation, leaving me unsure of what, if anything, to do other than ... just close the page.

(Actually, I reloaded it from scratch, selected the text of the article, and printed it for later reading. I don't care if there's an ad on the page or not; that's fine. I just demand to be able to read the darn thing.)

[seventy-two] minus sixty: a long, long time ago …

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I saw some people blogging about their 20th blogging anniversaries, so I decided to check how long my blog has been up. And .. So! I apparently missed the blog's 20th birthday, as it started in November 2001 ...

... unless I blogged it and forgot about it. And I also missed my first (recorded) web page's 25th birthday ...

... as I started my website sometime in 1996.

So no birthday post for you. I guess I'll have to wait to the blog's 25th (or web page's 30th) birthday in 2026.

-the Centaur

[forty-two!] minus nineteen: well, at least i have a system now

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Recently, when digging through old posts, I was reminded that Classic Editor posts are broken in WordPress - all the paragraph breaks are gone, and the content is mashed up into one grey wall of text. Thanks, WordPress, for forcing everyone to switch to a worse editing experience AND breaking all our old content.

[hang on a second, i have to start clicking around at random places on the page to try to find the widget or control that will let me start typing again after inserting an image, because software USABILITY has been replaced by "user experience" folks from a graphic design background who have mistaken making things LOOK GOOD IF THEY HAD BEEN PRINTED for the very different ACTUALLY WORKING WELL AS A TOOL - I'm looking at you, WordPress Gutenberg, Dropbox Paper, and everything like you where you have to hover or click or click and select and hover random parts of the page to make it work. Okay, I can start typing again.]

[[ and yeah it just did it again while i was just fricking typing ]]

Ok we're back.



Anyhoo, I have like a thousand old posts (1371 published, according to the dashboard), but the block converter for fixing these no longer works. I wish I had discovered this problem earlier, but I just didn't expect to have to do blog archaeology when I moved to Gutenberg.

Regardless, however, I now have a system. I open the All Posts page on the WordPress dashboard, and scroll backwards in time until Classic Editor posts start showing up - nice that they provide that nudge to get us to use the new editor, isn't it. Once I find some Classic Editor posts, if you hover - AAAAARRRRRGH, don't mind me - I say, if you hover, you get the option to open with the Block Editor. FORTUNATELY, this is ACTUALLY a link and not a bizarre Javascript pseudo-button - Good WordPress, Good WordPress, have a cookie - and a right click will allow you to open this in a NEW WINDOW.

SO! I go down one entire page of results, opening them in a new window, until I've hit all the Classic Editor posts on that page. This creates a gazillion tabs, true, but then you can click on each tab in turn, and there's a simple three-click process which will activate the block editor, convert the old text, and - BAM! - update. Optionally, one more click will bring up the updated post so you can doublecheck it before closing the tab.

The process is laborious - but it's easy to get a whole page full of results at a time, and you can't easily lose your place, as you close your tabs as you go. I've gotten through 3 pages of results so far, each with 50 posts, so I've updated probably something north of 150 pages.

There are 25 more pages of posts to go, but it doesn't take more than 30 minutes, so I can do one a day for about a month and rescue all the old pages.

A lot of work ... but at least I now have a system.

-the Centaur

Pictured: The House With The Impressive Tree In The Front Yard, found in a nearby neighborhood, as photographed in Night Mode on my Android phone during a walk with my wife.

Ugh, WordPress updates edition …

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... the block editor of Wordpress seems to be making my old non-block-editor posts turn into solid walls of text. See the post "Pascal's Wager and Purchasing Parsley":

Yeah, it's not supposed to be looking like that. Gotta track those down and fix them.

In other news, my Half-Cheetah policy is successfully training to "expected" levels of performance. Yay! I guess that means my code for the assignment is ... sorta correct? Time to clean it up and submit it.

-the Centaur

… and may I say,

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the amount of work needed to put up that one-word, one-image blogpost was entirely out of proportion to the amount of benefit involved. I have fixed site errors with fewer hoops than it took to publish something via the WordPress app, and the fix was actually uninstalling and reinstalling the app, which apparently had gotten into some kind of cruftly state in which it could no longer upload posts.

To be clear, I'm not picking on WordPress here. But I have a Ph.D in Artificial Intelligence and used to work on the front end of Google search. If I can't post a one-word, one-image post on the world's most popular blogging platform using their own easy-to-use official phone app, how are people who have not spent thirty-plus years in the industry supposed to get any work done?

This experience I just had - almost the simplest possible post not uploading after a few minutes - in another industry would be like ... like .. like picking up a hammer and nailing one nail into a piece of wood, only to find the nails popping out a minute later and flying across the room. You ask your carpenter buddy, "what gives," and they say, "Oh, that. You've got hammer voodoo going on there. Just take the hammer back to Home Depot, return it, and buy a new one. Then the nail will go in just fine."

You know what? I'm going to learn from this.

I will endeavor to make the robots less irritating when something goes wrong.

-the Centaur

P.S. AAAA! And this post didn't publish because the interface threw up an extra dialog box after I tried to publish, asking, "Are you sure?" I'm sure I didn't need you throwing up that extra dialog box AFTER I left the page so I spent time looking for it on the home page when it hadn't actually published at all. Aaaa!

It is not like riding a bike.

Renovation in Process

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So you may have noticed the blog theme and settings changing recently; that's because I'm trying to get some kind of slider or visual image above the fold. I love the look of the blog with the big banner image, but I'm concerned that people just won't scroll down to see what's in the blog if there's nothing on the first page which says what I do. So I'll be experimenting. Stay tuned! -the Centaur Pictured: Yeah, this isn't the only renovation going on.

Enter Colaboratory (AKA “A Spoonful of the Tracking Soup”)

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As an author, I'm interested in how well my books are doing: not only do I want people reading them, I also want to compare what my publisher and booksellers claim about my books with my actual sales. (Also, I want to know how close to retirement I am.) In the past, I used to read a bunch of web pages on Amazon (and Barnes and Noble too, before they changed their format) and entered them into an Excel spreadsheet called "Writing Popularity" (but just as easily could have been called "Writing Obscurity", yuk yuk yuk). That was fine when I had one book, but now I have four novels and an anthology out. This could take out half an a hour or more, which I needed for valuable writing time. I needed a better system. I knew about tools for parsing web pages, like the parsing library Beautiful Soup, but it had been half a decade since I touched that library and I just never had the time to sit down and do it. But, recently, I've realized the value of a great force multiplier for exploratory software development (and I don't mean Stack Exchange): interactive programming notebooks. Pioneered by Mathematica in 1988 and picked up by tools like iPython and its descendent Jupyter, an interactive programming notebook is like a mix of a command line - where you can dynamically enter commands and get answers - and literate programming, where code is written into the documents that document (and produce it). But Mathematica isn't the best tool for either web parsing or for producing code that will one day become a library - it's written in the Wolfram Language, which is optimized for mathematical computations - and Jupyter notebooks require setting up a Jupyter server or otherwise jumping through hoops. Enter Google's Colaboratory. Colab is a free service provided by Google that hosts Jupyter notebooks. It's got most of the standard libraries that you might need, it provides its own backends to run the code, and it saves copies of the notebooks to Google Drive, so you don't have to worry about acquiring software or running a server or even saving your data (but do please hit save). Because you can try code out and see the results right away, it's perfect on iterating ideas: no need to re-start a changed program, losing valuable seconds; if something doesn't work, you can tweak the code and try it right away. In this sense Colab has some of the force multiplier effects of a debugger, but it's far more powerful. Heck, in this version of the system you can ask a question on Stack Overflow right from the Help menu. How cool is that? My prototyping session got a bit long, so rather than try to insert it inline here, I wrote this blog post in Colab! To read more, go take a look at the Colaboratory notebook itself, "A Sip of the Tracking Soup", available at: -the Centaur  

The Eagle Has Landed

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Welp, that was anticlimactic! Thanks, God, for a smooth update to WordPress 4.7.3! (And thanks to the WordPress team for maintaining backwards compatibility). And hey, look - the Library has close to 1,000 posts!

Screenshot 2017-03-21 12.35.50.png

Expect major site updates in the months to come, as WordPress’s Themes and Pages now enable me to do things I could only formerly do with static pages and hand-coded pages, and it will all be backed up easier thanks to WordPress’s Jetpack plugin.

The things you learn helping other people with their web sites ….

-the Centaur

We are go for launch …

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Welp, it’s time: I’ve backed up the Library of Dresan three ways to Sunday, said a prayer … and now am planning to upgrade WordPress from 3.0.1-alpha-15359 to 4.7.3. I know that’s 1.7.2 full version numbers, but it’s been too long, and there are too many new features I need, so … time to press the button.

God, please help me! Everyone else, your prayers, please.

-the Centaur