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Rawscripts – The Good

Rawscripts.com was my first software project. It’s a screenwriting webapp. It’s how I learned to code. It shows.

Now I continue to run and maintain the site, but I haven’t actively worked on the Rawscripts for a couple of years — at least until this Spring. For technical reasons (some technology I used was being deprecated; users would be locked out of the site; I would be effectively deleting other people’s hard work on account of my own negligence/incompetence), I’ve spent a lot of time these past few months fixing up the site. The long hours are still in very recent memory, so most of my thoughts about this fit in the categories “Bad” and “Ugly,” but why not start with “Good?” Here are some things I’ve done or learned this year that make me very, very happy.

Flask-Postgresql-Dokku-VPS!

In the timeline of Rawscripts, I spent one year building it to run on Google AppEngine, and then four years trying to get it off. As of last week, that is complete. The easiest part was rewriting the backend because Flask is awesome. My new database uses SQL (whaaat!?) so there are countless tools, libraries, and resources that make database work easy instead of a burdensome nightmare. Plus I get to ride this awesome wave of new DevOps tools like Dokku that make hosting and maintenance feasible. I actually have some basic control of the the site now, instead of managing it in very narrowly prescribed ways. With this new stack, I feel lighter. Like, literally, at my keyboard, I feel lighter.

Students!

Over the years I’ve heard from teachers who have their middle-school creative writing class using Rawscripts. Typically, the teacher can’t install new software on school computers, or can’t afford professional screenwriting software for each student, so Rawscripts fits their needs. Getting those emails makes my day.

With my new setup, I can effortlessly run SQL commands that count the number of registered email addresses that contain “.edu” or “student” or “k12”. From a super rough search, there were over 2000 students using Rawscripts this school year — many thousands more in the whole history. That makes me really happy.  Earlier this year, when I knew the site was going to need an overhaul, I was considering just shutting the whole thing down. When I realized that, through minimal effort, I’ve been effectively donating to dozens of schools, it was a huge incentive to keep Rawscripts running.

HTTPS!

Such a satisfying green. Honestly, I just like looking at this:

rawscripts-https

All traffic to and from Rawscripts is now encrypted. I couldn’t do this when the site ran on AppEngine, and that was frustrating. For the past few years, the feeling has shifted to embarrassment. I’ve taught people how to use encryption. I’ve harangued people for not using encryption. And yet, for years, I’ve been running this site that sends people’s writing in plaintext across the Internet. That’s embarrassing.

But this is the “Good” post! Everything is encrypted now. There is no plaintext version. Dokku sets up a bunch of sane defaults like good cipher suites, forward secrecy, and disabling SSL3. Out of the box, it gets and “A” from Qualy’s SSL Labs. I’ll be adding a few more things like HSTS soon.

Plus, Dalton Trumbo…. Been thinking about him lately. Years ago, I started learning about the Crypto Wars, and Internet surveillance, and Free(-as-in-Speech) Software. There were a couple of specific times it all clicked so I could see my part in it. One was the afternoon I read about Dalton Trumbo, the Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He kept writing under pseudonyms, and needed to keep his identity a secret. When “Robert Rich” won an Oscar for the screenplay of “The Brave One,” no one was there to claim it. And more than just hiding, Trumbo needed a whole network of people who could help get his work produced while letting him write in private. And there I was, managing a screenwriting tool that didn’t encrypt data in transit. It felt like snitching.

This is all way too grandiose. Simple fact is, everyone wants some privacy. It’s a basic human need. No one who uses Rawscripts wants someone looking over their shoulder as they write, or the digital equivalent thereof. But still, I turned on encryption and Dalton Trumbo came to mind.

Life! Generally!

For years, I’ve spent time and some money running this website for free. At its best, it’s a dumb hobby. More typically it’s a burden… and somehow… this paid off. I started this project five years ago with zero computer knowledge. Last year I was working as a software developer at Amazon. Next week I get my Northeastern University diploma for a BS in Computer Science. I just accepted an offer to go to the University of Michigan Law School where they’ve got close ties to the tech law I want to do. Yeah, somehow this paid off. The path was far from obvious, but things are really, really good.

OMG THIS PERSON KEEPS EMAILING ME ANGRY SHIT JUST SAYING “its broken”     THATS NOT HELPFUL.!.!! — WHAT THE FUCK IS BROKEN? THE SITES NOT BROKEN CAUSE THERES LIKE A THOUSAND FUCKING PEOPLE USING IT JUST FINE right fucking now!!!1!   PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GIVE ME ANY DETAILS AND i WILL DROP EVERYTHING TO FIX THIS FOR YOU OR DO YOU JUST WANT TO COMPLAIN ffs iM TRYING TO HELP AND YOU KEEP KICKING ME FUCK YOU AND FUCK THIS

(More next time in “Rawscripts – The Bad”)

Dumb Joke, Half-assed Execution

What time is it in UNIX?

UNIX-time

Well, makes me chuckle.

But my main thinking is about the execution of the joke. Black and white circles and texts gets the point across, but that’s it. Maybe it’d be better to go all skeuomorphic; add glow to the UNIX numbers like they were LEDs, put glare on the clocks, make the labels look they are inlaid on fake wood plaques, give everything some depth.

Actually, forget the vector images because photorealism would be better. Get a photo of those kinds of clocks, then photoshop1 one out and insert a digital display. Make it look seamless. Or better still, don’t just use a picture of clocks — insert it into a scene. Grab a still of Marry Tyler Moore and Ted Knight in the news room and insert it in the background.

But if photorealism is the goal then I should take a photo, which means I need the clocks. So, step one, research the materials and designs of the clocks, plaques, metal cages, wall paint, and the cinderblock walls to which they were always attached. What I have in mind is very mid-70’s, which fits with the UNIX time, so find popular manufacturers from that era. Figure out what can be bought online and what should be built. Make a small wall and age the paint. Find a place to order REAL fake wood plaques for the city names (with era-accurate fonts, of course). Assemble and mount the clocks. I’m sure I could find those metal grates to go over the clocks, but it’d probably be cheaper to make them myself, so that’s an excuse to learn to weld. For the UNIX time, I’d probably have to build it. LED’s are too modern, so maybe the old-time, dynamic signs where panels flip around to change letters and numbers. More research! What are they called? I think they still have one of those displaying train information at 30th Street Station in Philly. Old Hitchcock films? Maybe they have those in “North By Northwest” in one scene at the airport. Don’t know, but I’ll need to 3d-print the frame, laser etch the numbers, rig it all together with some motors and a microcontroller. OK, put ALL of this together, make all the clocks consistent with some time in 1974, light it with some cheap fluorescent bulbs, and take a picture.

But as long as I’ve built it, the joke would be best if I just hung up the clocks and used them. Set all the clocks to the correct time, then have a damn good laugh when UNIX time overflows.

Or, perhaps, I’ve already spent more than enough time on this.

  1. You know, obviously I’d use GIMP, but it’s hard not to use “photoshop” as a verb.

Finished Taking the LSATs

It went well. The relief was so great that I left the test with a bounce in my step and saw everything with fresh eyes.

I got back to my apartment and saw my kitchen table with those fresh eyes. For the past three months, and up until this morning, this scene seemed reasonable. Tonight I got home and immediately suspected that I have been living like a maniac.

lsat-kitchen-table

The past 40 LSATs to practice on; another book specific to the logic section; three brands of pencils because I needed to try them out and only take the best; timer; two printed copies of the LSAT rules and checklists; extra photo IDs; and, obviously, my Adderall.

I used to be such a shitty student. I’m much better now. It occurred to me tonight that I may not have found a sensible balance.

 

 

I like it here

So I’m living in Seattle for six months, I’m halfway through, and I like it here. One thing that’s taking some getting used to, though, is everything is a little too laid back for me. Back East, I’m more used to living in places that have a ubiquitous enthusiasm/anxiety pulling me through the days. One part of that attitude (which, for me, is setting Seattle apart) is how I’ve seen people relate to their hometowns. So, some examples from places I’ve kinda lived:

Chicago

This is one of the most common tattoos I saw from my time in Chicago, especially among the bike messengers I was hanging out with:

Flag_of_Chicago,_Illinois

Apparently, it was common enough, I never thought to take a picture. Though, I did get a picture of this guy’s tattoo on a bike rally through the Loop and out to Cicero:

car-spindle-tattoo

car-spindle-cicero

He got me in touch with a bunch of people who did drunken, midnight-madness bike rides. Next weekend’s theme was, of course, “The Blues Brothers,” so we all put on black suits and sunglasses and biked around the city singing “Sweet Home Chicago.” When equally drunk pedestrians asked us what we were doing, we’d all yell: “We’re on a mission from God!”

Philadelphia

I hope Philly is filled with town pride. Otherwise, those guys in the tricorne hats would start to seem kind of creepy. In other cities, you might call the authorities on chatty old men claiming to be Ben Franklin.

And oh, and how they do love their Philly teams. Even William Penn roots for the Flyers, and he died well before the ’67 NHL expansion.

WilliamPennFlyersdressing

As an example of their enthusiasm for local teams, look at their willingness to turn any sport into a blood sport. There are people from Philly who find this clip hilarious but only after being told its a joke:

Boston

More tricorne hats; fewer Ben Franklins. In fact, yeah, get away from “Ben,” that’s a little weird.

Here you’ll see a lot of people wearing their town pride, at least because it probably says “Boston” somewhere on their college hoodie. And you can get a sense of the city’s self-obsession when you stop to read a plaque every 20 feet.

industrial-cripples

A lot of Bostonians are also willing to be proud of things they maybe shouldn’t be so proud of. Like Charlie stuck on the MBTA. Or an accent that’s part Lincolnshire, part Dublin, and part seagull. They rooted for the Sox, undeterred, for the whole of the 20th century. Honest to God, in Boston, they cheer for their polluted river. And they don’t care. They own it.

New York (Fuckin) City

Pointing out cultural examples of how New York is in love with itself is like shooting fish in a barrel in Chinatown. Sure, you could easily do in twenty with one shot, but it gets excessive and nobody feels well afterwards. Or, you could take aim for one and still make your point. So, forget that New York has dozens of songs written about it. Forget that just Manhattan has dozens of songs written about it. Forget that people even write songs about outer boroughs. Just consider that this government-housing/beach-resort at the far end of Queens has a song written about it:

rockaway

Seattle

And finally, Seattle. The reason I bring any of this up in the first place, is I stumbled upon Seattle’s version of local bravado:

i-like-it-here

These people are so chill, they just let their sentences end-ish.

That’s fine. I do like it here. Plus, there’s nothing great about a mindless allegiance to one’s home town, or the delusion that people in certain areas are better than others. It’s just the bullshit I’m used to.

But still, I’ve mentioned my awesome new coffee mug to people. Right down the line, locals have no idea what I’m talking about, and East Coast transplants think it’s hilarious. And it led me to hear about the best slogan for this city. A guy who had lived here for decades was asked what what he thought of Seattle, and he really talked it up: “Well, it’s bigger than Vancouver, and really, probably just as good.”

“This is What Democracy Looks Like!”

Packing is really boring, but going through all my forgotten personal stuff is a lot of fun.

Here are some scribbled notes, I think from the Occupy Wall Street May Day event a few years back. There is a typical call-and-response chant at these marches which goes “Show me what democracy looks like!” — “This is what democracy looks like!” So I started looking around the crowd and thinking about different people’s subtexts to these words. I still think the last one could be used as a really effective threat.

“Show me what democracy looks like!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

“In a crowd this size you know that some of us are armed!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

“Our music is better than your music!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

“Fuck your republic!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

“If you screw over the next generation, your daughters will date us!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”