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Presently (beginning 2010 November), this file is a workspace, its composition and writing in progress. The topic here is how Adra is made (and some of why), with an eye to providing useful howto information you can apply directly to write and publish your own Web pages.
The following pages are a guide, and advice, and support; but they are not a manual. That is because 1) their topic, in today's world, is much too large and complex to cover it thoroughly here; 2) because I see too many different readers and too many different resources and hardwares in their hands; and 3) too many different individual topics (but in my view, space settlements are central).
Your new Web pages, made as described here, will (of course) resemble what you see here. If my Adra is not your kind of thing, however, don't run away. Because, I've worked to extract from elaborate resource materials, how to do Web pages simply[tek]. My Adra is least a stepping-stone to whatever you finally want to do. As you read on thru the following materials, you'll find here some of Adra's roots that make it what it is; and see my thinking about why I think the Web construction described here might, after all, be good enough for you. Which could save you a lot of time spent unravelling volumes of Web work when your principal objective is rather, to say something.
(I digress to mention a topic I must treat in detail, somewhere in this Adra. The topic is simplicity vs complexity. A method of science and of mathematics is to begin with simple and then build from an incomplete but serviceable picture of your topic. A method commonly or usually seen in computer utilities and softwares is to fetch up the whole shebang in all its options and detail, the user being expected to sort out what the whole concatenated plateful amounts to and how to use it. My materials presently in these pages, are made in hopes the reader and user will feel these are meant to be used by building from simple to complex.)
I want to mention here, early on, a Requirement for any Web work that you write. It is, each section or node in your Web pages must contain a file named 'index.htm' or 'index.html'[ndx]. This name is a 'reserved word' your browser (or anyone else's) requires to find. It is the browser's entry point to begin to read your local filesystem. (No entry point, no function. The browser software is a logic machine with no awareness what you intend.) This has a simple application, immediately useful.
The application is, that you can make a complete Web site using just one file, named 'index.htm'. (I'll return to this point later.) There is a related requirement: that most files that generate display must carry this same suffix, ".htm" or ".html" but only one file in a node can be named 'index.htm'. (The exception is image files such as '*.jpg' files. These are called from within the '*.htm' files that want them.)
(A few alternative filenames exist that browsers recognize, rather than 'index.htm'. By searching thru some manuals and howtos, you can find what they are. Complicating your work by using any of those others will gain you exactly zero advance in it. Don't use them.)
If you know a good text editor (I use emacs but vi complemented with /par is also popular[eds]), you can read this Redux part of Adra, practice with it, and begin writing new Web pages in a few hours. However, it seems to take me weeks to thrutch through the possibilities and extract this text out of them. Thus I expect this Redux text to be in development for some time to come.
Adra's text character rises, in my thinking, from two roots. The first root is, graphics and pretty pictures have their uses, but serious work is best set into text[txt]. And the second root is, most things people work to make, devalue when elaborated. It is the power of mathematics, that it is a minimalist discipline marked by being largely a way of thinking and, to a lesser degree, a body of knowledge. Here, Adra's central message is "We need human life and culture growing off-Terra, and we urgently need that now." Text carries this message best. Thus: Adra is text.
A central idea here is that while Web technology may be applied in extremely complex ways, if you look for simplicity, it exists behind all that other stuff and you can find it out. The slow method is, extract it from texts and guides and howtos and what all. A faster is -- read on.
How did this Adra begin? It's a counter-culture construction. It goes its own way vs the prevailing style of today's web sites -- because it's meant to. (Its overall topic of settlements off-Terra now isn't very prevailing, either.) Today's Web pages are often complex and imagery rich, but that richness covers a well established basic. Namely: that over time, text and its close sibling mathematical expression, have better and more durably expressed our predecessors' and today's best thinking, than have pretty pictures. (Our predecessors' and today's worst, too, but that's another topic.)
Today's Web elaborations seem often to exist simply because these pages writers see resources out there in Web technology to make them that way. Like toys, and we all enjoy playing with toys. But maybe when you do that, a higher objective is lost. Communication. The authors seem to confuse their striking and sparkling pages, with actual content. (Or what they personally think is striking and sparkling: many Web pages out there are simply not readable.)
(A note about making your pages on a black background. Readers afflicted by floaters find white or green foreground on black easier to read than the usual black foreground on white. Black background serves very well in its place but if you choose it, that's not an easy and casual choice.)
(Another note. About complexity. People who feel they must present information they would rather hide, may cover it in strange constructions and elaboration of language. Among other devices. Thus readers will miss it; and where the writer is challenged, he can point down into his complexity and say, "See, it's right there, dummy!". Since few who publish information seek the best way to set it up, this hiding resource is rarely identified. As a reader and especially as a writer, remember: Wherever complexity is said to be necessary, it usually isn't.)
The Web source files to write today's elaborated pages are remarkably complex (cascading style sheets; several varieties of HTML and "deprecated" utilities, and etc etc). So complex, in fact, the content becomes a weakly developed junior partner to the page: trite and incomplete; faith-based shortcuts jumping over topics that need a careful work through. That's what I think I see out there; and from my point of view, things get that way because too many people are seduced too easily from new thinking by flashy new tech.
(There are two kinds of things I suggest you never do. One of these is to make display which flickers, jumps, and cyclically changes. This appears sometimes as a substitute for communication: it fails. And the other is page programming that reaches in to your reader's computer system to change something there. Yes, you see this glamorized as 'hacking.' The appropriate term is 'cracking' and it's a perversion of good technology. So -- Don't! Do! That! If yours is a serious topic, don't foul it with attempted glittering rubbish.)
My Adra Web site speaks against today's tech-and-tricks Web resources. In my view, the Gold Standards for delivering knowledge, next immediately after epistemology, are text; mathematics (see Knuth[knu]); and classical drafting[dft]. Where other presentation appears, the first inference to draw from that is, "Watch Out! The content you think you're reading, is getting lost in elaboration!". I believe most useful knowledge can be set into form of text -- and that it should be set into form of text. To set a topic into text is the most concise and useful test and vehicle for knowledge that we know of.
(The 'test' above is test not a typo from 'text'.)
That perception is why my Adra is principally text. I recognize some readers today do find text a difficult environment to occupy. (I think a personal capacity to use and work with text, is made up of major constitutional and environmental components, and if those basics grew together poorly for the child who became you, that's not your fault.) But I believe also, whoever can't work with text, is probably not a candidate to help us move along at setting out those off-Terra settlements Adra is about.
To learn how Adra is made and to see how its Web pages work, settle in to this node and read on. Here is Adra howto. Be advised all Adra is made thru emacs, except for several Microsoft Paint drawings. I used no wysiwig utilities to make anything here. A suggestion about wysiwyg: Don't.
That is because, for a beginner, wysiwyg suffers from two serious faults. The first is, wysiwyg softwares don't write files good for people to work with. The second is, wysiwyg softwares make files with errors in them.
Here are my general topics to follow:
=============================================================== Background -- Freedom of the Press ===============================================================
It used to be: Freedom of the press belongs to who owns one. No longer! The advent of cyberspace into today's world changed that. Not without opposition: see recent news out of Iran, Saudi Arabia and etc; and especially out of China. Out of Washington, too.
(Right now is a good point for some side exploration. One of our Great Names in American recent history is Benjamin Franklin [bjf]. As you embark upon this Web business, so like printing, knowing Franklin's story will only profit you greatly. Much about Franklin and about how he lived his life needs your close study and review. (I think America's people who most need to study and review Franklin's character and works are concentrated right now in Washington DC.) When you have caught up some good Franklin reading, return to here and move on with the work.)
Today's world is very different from that of thirty years ago when lessons from Vietnam were still hurting. And a core root of the difference is that today, if you have a laptop computer and some knowhow in hand, you can be heard around this world. The reason this evokes any social issues is, so can anyone else. Whose motives a reasonable person may question; whose beliefs may dismiss epistemology as an annoyance or worse.
(Examples exist abundantly. The core topic to look out for is hubris. As illustrated in the old Greek classics and by today's works from Republicans and their ilk.)
See Wikileaks [wik], for example. See further, American Government news management exposed by Wikileaks; and efforts by the Government to get Assange -- almost any how possible. ('Termination with extreme prejudice' does not seem -- today -- to be on the Government's agenda.)
=============================================================== Background -- Adra is a Fanzine ===============================================================
Adra is a fanzine, but many who see it today may not recognize its strong connection to the recent (and not so recent) past.
Self publishing of cultural and political views not necessarily held by the general population or found in ("fixed") news out of Washington, is a well established American tradition. Benjamin Franklin did it: anonymous publication of dissenting opinion. He may have had the idea from seeing it practiced in England.
A term in those days for such publications was "broadsides," as a sailing warship fires its guns against an enemy. The option for anonymity was needed in those days, for the price of publishing politically incorrect thoughts could amount to anything from nuisance and harassment, to your life. (Like today: see recent news about journalists in Russia or China or Iran. America, even.) For more about this historical side of today's fanzines and self-published Web pages, see Ben Franklin's autobiography [bjf].
Back in the 1960's BC (Before Computers), many science-fiction readers published their own private periodicals. These periodicals, published and circulated by fans to other fans, were known as fanzines. There was a technology to making and distributing those fanzines. It was based upon the then ubiquitous mimeograph technology. I recall that technology with both some nostalgia and with some relief that now, we have a better resource in cyberspace. But it's not my objective here in Adra to review the past. Which, however, plays a large part in my today's work producing Adra.
Because, in its character, Adra is a fanzine. One of its core roots, is to use the least technology to accomplish the most product. It relies upon the observation that format and content are two wholly different parts of a document's content -- and that when you know this, you can choose simple not complex formatting. At no cost to the content. (Indeed, when you do this, the content will probably be greatly improved.) How is that done in today's sometimes mysterious and often badly documented digital reality?
Digital publishing into cyberspace is accessible to nearly everyone today, but the technology to do it appears hard to reach. Appears. In fact, small simple parts of large forbidding tomes may be searched for and found out; and a relatively straightforward resource and methodology niggled from intimidating Big Works. Given time, you can do this yourself, alone. (The experience of reading, or of trying to read, some Web sites suggests their producers must have done exactly this. Without attending to certain practical and easy details about readability.) Or, you can scout through the following Web pages to find it, set out plainly with experience based observations to back it up -- and Adra's pages offer an example, ready to hand, of its application.
=============================================================== Resources -- Knowledge Base ===============================================================
Working in a computer and cyberspace environment calls for knowing certain background basics. Here are some of them.
 Computer technology and hardware. Much you will read about these topics is made to mislead you. That is because there are several major Names in the computer business -- Microsoft, for instance, or Apple; and each one places 'gotchas' in their softwares to try to lock you out of using anything that's not Theirs.
Thus computer technology generally, appears far more complex than it (basically) is; but the 'gotchas' the Names place in their softwares amount to a whole another level of complexity. Here's where you begin to hear of the workarounds devised by others to bypass the Names manufactured troubles. All of that is reflected in resources where you go to learn about the technology. I would like to say, if you 'do this' or 'read that' it gets you past this obfuscation nuisance. I can't. But I do offer the following suggestion, that you take some time off from your immediate objectives to acquire some basic ideas.
A first resource to learn about cyberpsace is Richard Stallman[rms]. He is one of the Original Principals in cyberspace for people.
A valuable second resource to learn about cyberspace is Eric Raymond[esr]. I've not heard from him in recent years; but in earlier years he participated strongly in cyberspace development.
As you learn more about cyberspace and about what you can do there yourself, I suggest reading Christopher Negus[cng]. He has been publishing works on computer technology for some years, and he's very good at it.
I don't mention Apple anywhere else in these pages, because Apple is tightly controlled and it is not generally useful. However, the usefulness of a unix based environment is available without departing from the very common Microsoft Windows environment, by going into a Cygwin[cgw] environment. By doing this, you gain the joint benefits of two very different ways of thinking about and of using cyberspace.
And finally, a note concerning hardware. If you are doing any serious work, to rely upon just one computer is a serious fundamental error. To go out and buy a name-brand commercial product all filled up with Microsoft Windows is another such. You need to make yourself into something of a hardware hacker.
Thus I suggest you find yourself one or two additional full-size desktop computers. These are for you to open up and tinker with. If you keep a sharp lookout, you can find these and their accessories around for $zero to not-very-much. Be advised the older Big Glass computer monitors you will still find around, feature dangerous voltages. Common wall and power outlets do, too. For this reason, never never set your hands into any without first pulling out its power plug and then seeing that the plug you just freed, connects to the hardware you are working in.
=============================================================== Resources -- Hardware ===============================================================
No need exists for you to find the latest and greatest -- and most costly -- hardware for your Web pages workplace. None! I suggest your price point for a work computer, before you start resisting, might be around five dollars. Pushing hardware costs down requires some hardware knowhow which you can develop. If you can find others who work with computer hardware, you can learn rapidly.
Do avoid people with exuberant and romantic ideas about hacking (that is, cracking) into other peoples systems. It's not what you are here for, or I hope it's not.
=============================================================== Resources -- Editors and Software ===============================================================
Next basic after Raymond and hardware is, you need an editor. That is, a software for writing text into files. Be reminded a wordprocessor is a mediocre editor, at best. You want the real thing, usually called a 'programmer's editor.' Your two best options are emacs or vi[eds] and I won't try to say which is best for you. (I've been using emacs for about thirty years.) Anything else you may find, however recent and glorified, roughly imitates one of these two with a few deficiencies and much elaboration thrown in. You can look at those later on, because they are around and you will meet people with unnatural dependencies upon them.
Discussions about one or the other of these two being the better, are an example of religious wars, interminable disputes between people who prefer the one or the other. Your best attitude if you step into one of these is to say to each party, "You're right," -- because they both are. That's how this particular religious war gets so longlived.
In cyberspace and in the computer reality, an 'editor' is a software for making files. There are basically two kinds of editors:
 Wordprocessors which aren't really editors at all; but which more or less imitate typewriters. This distracts the worker from the work by bringing formatting into the text work. It's good to know how to use one wordprocessor or another. A wordprocessor from Microsoft tries lock you in to using all Microsoft resources (vendor lockin) and so here in Adra, I recommend you avoid or remove yourself as far as possible from any Microsoft products.
Superior alternatives to Microsoft exist in OpenOffice.org and in LibreOffice [olo]. If you haven't experienced anything like these, it's time to begin that. But the topic is not urgent: Adra is made thru emacs.
 Real editors. There being, for practical purposes, two of these but later on, it's worth your time to explore for what else is out there. Ignore Microsoft's Notepad, it's of limited utility within its Windows environment.
There's a word out there in cyberspace that usually wants your most close attention whenever you see it. Namely, "free"[free]. As you develop your software resources to make Web pages, do avoid those "convenient" and slightly costly softwares you find in stores and from Microsoft and others. For instance, the emacs and the vi editors mentioned above.
=============================================================== Resources -- Search Engines; Usenet ===============================================================
Where is all that good stuff on the internet? That you surf it for?
That term 'surf the internet' turned up some years ago, and I have never seen that it meant anything in practice. If what you're doing in cyberspace resembles 'surfing' then you're doing nothing there. Internet work is (or it ought to be) a challenge like writing a well documented term paper for a critical instructor -- or, at the extreme, a doctoral dissertation.
The internet is (or it ought to be) a library like resource that works faster than the oldstyle research process so well documented in Nathan Grier Parke's Guide to the Literature of Mathematics and Physics. Which title misleads by its very specific appearance: the book's first part, 'Principles of Reading and Study' is very nearly as useful and general in its relevance as knowing how to read.
In fact, I don't know. I haven't seen it; or I didn't recognize it; or it's an advertising and public-relations construction of no reality based existence. Of which options, I believe the last is the most true. In fact, my impression is cyberspace as implemented on today's "internet," is our greatest human construction of -- a lot of work. And I see it as, if you will do that lot of work, as potentially the greatest human resource for human development that you will ever see. (Seems to me, many governmental institutions see that, and they want to censor it to limit the resulting inconveniences -- to them.)
=============================================================== Putting It Together: Web Pages ===============================================================
Your journey from beginner to Web publisher goes best if done in two stages:
1) Write a very simple Web page -- one single 'index.htm' file, copy it to a place in your computer labelled 'Web' and then look at it thru your browser. Develop and expand from this beginning until you see you have a basic Web pages model that runs in your machine. Then,
2) Now that you have something to publish, choose an ISP to publish it from. The simple way to do this is to choose and register you Web name thru xxx.
3) Now find an ISP to run your Web site. I suggest xxx.
4) Upload from your Web model into your Web ISP. Your utility to do this is probably ftp. This is simple -- except for the details, like so much you do in cyberspace [ftp]. ftp is a detail of cyberspace publishing, but it's a central detail.
5) See that it works.
Be warned, accomplishing the above for the first time, will go slow and difficult.
What happens to produce the Web picture that you see on your computer screen?
I think everyone knows how it works for television. An image in the television studio is broken down into strips and screens, which are transmitted and then reassembled in your receiver. The picture you see is identically the picture that was sent. This process is (relatively) simple, with "improvements" to the technology amounting to finer textured transmission of the image. (The recent move to "wide-screen" television pushed up costs and no doubt some large profits were made; but the public had no profit from it. Just higher costs to see the same old same old mundane production.
The Web pages you see on your computer screen, arrive there by another process. They arrive into your computer as text and as image files (such as *.jpg or *.bmp files) which don't in the least resemble what you see. Then your browser software reads these files and it builds the Web pages you see, right there in your computer. Just as a quick experiment, scout thru your browser options to find something like "Show source." That will show you what sort of files your Web browsing uses, and, what sort of files you make for your own Web pages. (But following my suggestions, your files will be far simpler than those you find from outside. Which simplicity, among other advantages, makes your files easier to develop and to update.)
For example. Find your browser's 'Show Source' option and click on it. You will see a screen full of stuff. Page down that screen, watching its lefthand border, and you will find a paragraph there that starts with a 'p' in angle brackets; then "For example." See just above that, 'br' enclosed in angle brackets. Your browser reads that 'br' and then builds the space between paragraphs that you see there. And below that space, this paragraph that begins with "For example." On a larger scale, a whole Web page is made much this way and to write one, well, read on.
(I don't write the complete symbols here to avoid your browser reading them and acting on them, which would mess up your page.)
Thus the image you see on your screen, is not sent to you. It is, for the most part, made by your computer. The material your computer receives to show it is not the image: it is coded instructions defining what to do to make the image you get. This node in Adra, describes step by step, how to make those coded instructions. And, how to use and live with those instructions when you have made them. Adra's presentation here on this topic is as tight and concise as I can make it, but it's still rather large.
It's rather large, and it's not finished yet. When it is, a note saying so will replace this paragraph. In the mean time, you don't need to have it all, anyhow. Use the resources pointed to and practice working independently.
=============================================================== Publishing Into Cyberspace ===============================================================
Be reminded, again, of Ben Franklin's life and work, of his place in history, and that Web publishing is a not-so-remote descendant from Franklin's work and times. However, there are differences from then to now that you want to think about.
In Franklin's time, publishing was local.
And in Franklin's time, publishing was to a degree, temporary. Hardcopies from Franklin's press, could be lost. And were.
In today's cyberspace, that's all changed. Cyberspace is ubiquitous and nearly instant in its working. Whatever you publish into cyberspace, probably appears to anyone around our Terra, quickly. And once you've sent it out there, it deposits into tens to thousands of systems which remember it, pretty nearly forever.
Is that good for you, or is it not? It's a thing for you to think about.
Because, not all those records keepers are your friends; and sometimes, someone may seek to use against you what you say. See this quote, attributed to Cardinal Richelieu of the French Inquisition:
"Give me six lines by the best of men, and I will find in it some thing to hang him."
What is good, or bad, to say or to not to say into cyberspace? The best guide that I can think of, is go out there and see what's there now and what the vibes are. Years ago an adventurer into cyberspace could say, "Information wants to be free," and other such observations. Which don't seem very true today. Back then (three decades or so) the people near the tops of social hierarchies didn't yet realize cyberspace existed (and few of them would admit to using a typewriter, if they could). Today, that's all changed -- you can see this in the news frequently and on office desktops everywhere. I don't equate venturing into cyberspace as like stepping into a Roman arena on a busy day there, but a little attention to reality is probably good to do.
As cyberspace developed over time and upper governmental people discovered its existence, personal and group tracking, and censorship, have developed. Do read writings of James Bamford [jbm] and others. Adra, working on its core topic of space settlements, says little about that. If you publish into cyberspace, however, you want to attend closely to it.
=============================================================== Notes, Resources, and Pointers ===============================================================
The core topic here is utility of applied technology. As a technology matures, its content and complexity may increase and its power increases. This happens in a characteristic way: a conflict between simplicity and directness, vs elaboration. The resulting change is sometimes useful, and sometimes it's busywork elaboration. It becomes harder to learn. What is the cost vs the payoff here? For this reason, you want to keep one eye on what's out there in the past. Old can be better than new.
I've been that route. In my view, the technology evolution payoff is very small in this Web business, and I suspect it's often negative. I think the few resources mentioned here will serve for very nearly anything anyone might post into the Web and old (these days, classical) resources are sufficient to make very effective Web pages. Staying with these frees your mind and time for the work. Which is, after all, what you're up to, isn't it?
Because Microsoft Windows only accepts 3-letter suffixes, the canonical '.html' for Web work is supplemented by '.htm'. Thus in real life you may see either one in service.
A related topic is files naming generally. Microsoft Windows accepts (and their literature encourages) long file names as "better" than the old 8.3 convention (12345678.123). They aren't: this is a Microsoft gotcha, vendor lockin. You want short file names -- as short as a single plain ascii character -- because your head works better with those. (Consider '35a.txt' vs 'This file is the third of five of set a.txt' when you're recalling a filename.) My standard is file names are always within 8.3 (like 'a.txt'); node names are always within 8 (like 'a' and no suffix); thus I know upon inspection if a particular name is a file or a node. OSs such as Linux or OpenBSD are more loose about this than I am, but when I'm there, I use my same conventions as here. Choose how you want to do this naming -- simply -- and then use it always.
Among computers and cyberspace work, an editor is very unlike a wordprocessor, and that difference is very important to you. A wordprocessor more or less simulates a typewriter working on paper. Some wordprocessors feature settings which enable them to make files for computer work -- like programming -- but trying to work in a wordprocessor environment to make Web pages, will only complicate affairs for you. You need to use an editor. An editor will make the kind of files you need to build your Web pages; an editor will do this simply enough for you to tend to your work.Two editors appear in history back nearly to the beginning of computer technology. Neither is obsolete today. Either one will serve you better for serious work than any "modern" (and pricey) resource you may find around somewhere. These two editors are Emacs and Vi. Each features variegated and elaborated descendants which accomplish no useful advantage over the originals that I can see. You can find and download either one easily. These are "free" softwares.
The practical meaning of "free" here, wants your close attention. The "free" means free of digital restrictions and encumbrances. DRM free not necessarily price free. (DRM means Digital Restrictions Management. This is poison to your work. Avoid it.) Thus you may download this 'free' software from wherever you find it; or pass it on to others. You may also produce and market it, subject to the terms set in a document you get with your download. ("Copyleft.") Nearly all of Adra is written thru emacs in a Cygwin environment running in Microsoft Windows.
An old saying goes, "Fish discover water last." In a like way, it's easy to confuse the content of text with whatever print vehicle carries that content. Now, I believe the following discussion is centrally important and useful to anyone who works to develop our human estate, so read on -- more than once.
The content and the print that carries it are easily confused, the one with the other. (Microsoft promotes this error to better hook the user into their wordprocessing software.)
For example. A Web site published a small written piece of mine a few months ago. That site's maker chose a very ornamental font for this -- such that the struggle to fetch out from the text, the meaning and content of it, quite degraded the use of it. Check around in cyberspace to find very many examples of this. Be good to your reader! Make accessible pages.
Which goodness requires expertise and knowhow you can acquire -- by your own work and study. Until you have that expertise, second-best (and actually, very good) is just to choose a good readable font and use it consistently. Adra, for instance, is made using a monospace Courier, 'bold' option because the non-bold is too skinny for aging eyes. So start your Web work with a good monospace and then, when you have the appropriate skills and understanding, you can move on from that.
I won't say a lot about math because that's not Adra's topic. However, math is central thru all of any topic that is core to Adra, so I want to put out some ideas about it.
First among these is, why is mathematics scary and opaque to so many people, as it seems to be, when it's actually a simplification from reality?
To me, the reason seems to be that too many people who teach mathematics in the gradeschools and even the colleges, don't do mathematics. They think mathematics is a body of knowledge, and they forcefully inflict their views upon helpless students who, damaged, learn to dislike anything about it. But in fact, mathematics is a way of thinking, a very tidy, powerful, and enjoyable way of thinking. The way can be taught and learned -- from someone who knows and practices it. Which in today's American culture, rarely happens.
And secondly, about mathematics writing and texts. There is one resource out there that gets it right; all others struggle mightily (and expensively) to get it wrong. Donald Knuth, a mathematician, wrote a software for making mathematical text, and he got it right. He originally wrote TeX after seeing the need for it; it's available today as free (not encumbered by Digital Restrictions Managment) software. Be advised TeX is described by some writers as phenomenally difficult to use. That's not so. See Donald Knuth, The TeXbook. Begin at its Preface and read on from there. (Knuth's TeX follows groff in its development and does not entirely supersede it.)
In the following paragraphs I urge you to teach yourself drafting, done the old-fashioned way. By: pencil and pen; on paper; using instruments and a T-square; on table or board set up for the work. I.e., like it was done a hundred or two hundred years ago.
I recommend this because today's drafting softwares are too good. They make the work too easy, they take the drafting and design work too far away from the hardware work. Which is a central focus of drafting done the old-fashioned way. And, if at the beginning of your learning drafting, you explore the history of it back at least to Leonardo daVinci's notebooks, you will learn basics you will find useful through all of your working lifetime.
First, find a copy of French, Engineering Drawing. This is a hardcopy book about basic drafting, whose principles are constant over time. (Old is fine: I found a French dated 1929. It's right up to date on basics.) If you set yourself up with a drafting board and instruments you can teach yourself from French and develop a good competence at drafting. But!
But -- when you do that you're working on paper. You can spend a hundred hours on one drawing. The ability learned to do this is a way of life, and it's worth your time to acquire it if any serious engineering may be in your future. However, the drawing once made, now exists as one original on one piece of paper, and hardcopies are only reproduced thru a blueprint copier, a rare utility in its time which is past now. A major revision of it (or replacement of a worn-out drawing) begins with a blank paper and you re-draw the whole of it. And if your drawing is destroyed, all your data and work are lost. For which reason, you want to learn the art the old-fashioned way, but in today's world, you move on to a computer environment. (Visiting a student supplies store near MIT this 2011 Feb, I noticed T-squares and drafting instruments in stock there.)
Today's computer files are easily backed-up, duplicated, or sent out to others. Thus classical drafting on paper is centrally useful as a skill, but in today's world, you want to work thru CADD -- Computer Aided Design and Drafting.
Ben Franklin is very much more than a name to know out of American history. His life illustrates American style and practice; his story shows a clean and focussed life can get you somewhere. (A valuable lesson that seems lost in today's everyday life and popular television.) I recommend his Autobiography as required reading, but there's a catch. After Franklin's times, his papers have a complex history.
Some are lost. Some publishers have freely bowderlized and "corrected" past writings to their personal standards. Thus Franklin's works are found in changed versions (the same has been done to Mark Twain). Later scholars have searched for true versions of Franklin's work, and at least in part, they have found them. To get most near to the true Ben Franklin, you'll have read and search a little.
Wikileaks, much in the news lately, is an exception that severely tests any rule. They have published materials recently that illustrate great difference between reality in Iran and Afghanistan, and that reality adjusted and flavored by American news media to the American public. Concerning unending war and political corruption in countries where "Crusader!" is an epithet today and where now, "American!" may have become a new one and a like one -- maybe as long-lived. I'd prefer to be shed of this topic right now, but that's not going to happen.
Richard M. Stallman, known to insiders as 'rms,' is almost the Grand Old Man of computer technology for people. He is a real prophet, as you only see rarely (and never in Washington). You need to know his story and of his writings to complement Raymond's Dictionary.
I can think of no better place to begin learning what you need to live and work in cyberspace than Eric Raymond, The New Hacker's Dictionary (Third Edition). It looks like a dictionary but it is much more useful and interesting than any other dictionary sort of publication I've seen anywhere. It introduces you to the history, culture, and language of people working in a computer and cyberspace environment. Raymond presents these in their dynamic lively form. His style carries far more meaning and usefulness than any other of the dessicated fare you generally see around. Don't buy any of that: find a Raymond and install it permanently among your other best books. When you know Raymond's Dictionary, you'll know what you are doing here.
I recommend whatever you can find from Negus, but with a warning. His earlier books are good, but the publishers of his Linux Bible, 2011 Edition seem to have attempted an economy. This 2011 work (I have one) is made with most text size reduced and this reduced text printed in gray, not black. Yes, gray. In my view, that devalues the book for many who might want to read and study in it. (Myself at age 79, for example.) If your eyes are no longer age-18 sharp, maybe you'd better find a copy to review and check-out for usability, before you buy one.
Cygwin is another large topic not much discussed here. Cygwin is a Linux-based, thus unix-like operating system made to run inside a Microsoft Windows environment. The Cygwin is a good work environment in itself; but also, it softens major deficiencies and weakens many of the gotchas Microsoft puts into their Windows. To begin exploring Cygwin, go to http://www.cygwin.com/.
[olo] LibreOffice, OpenOffice.
LibreOffice and OpenOffice are two similar and versatile softwares sets for doing most office work. (LibreOffice was developed recently from OpenOffice, see the next paragraph.) To avoid serious Microsoft vendor lockin nuisance, spend some time to learn about these. Your time doing this now, will bring you good later. But.
In 2010 November, the status of these softwares became conflicted. A large computer company, Oracle, recently bought out the company (Sun) that controlled OpenOffice.org, and Oracle seems to want to make encumbered software of it. Or maybe they think OpenOffice competes with their proprietary software, so they want to kill it. But OpenOffice is a free software, as any serious scholar needs for longterm scholarly work. (Makers of encumbered software add small incompatibilities over time to their product, forcing you to buy updated versions of it, and obsoleting your older files. That is why serious work should begin with free software and stay with it.) To date, some thirty or more of the people who formerly produced OpenOffice.org, have departed from Oracle, forked the software, and are producing a fresh version and updating of it titled LibreOffice. The course of events to come, is not apparent now.
And its importance to you is not a black-and-white topic. Nearly any serious writing today could be done as well -- maybe better, in fact -- using the software of 30 or 40 years ago.
(Most of today's "improvement" is, in fact, embellishment stuck on that often offers serious nuisance value and little added goodness.)
An editor that worked well for you then is as good today, unless hardware changes found in a new (to you) machine interfere with it. The core reason for using modern software is simply that so many others do: thus the obsoleting effect disconnects you from today's world. All that is a "feature" of modern proprietary software. The value to users of any such "features" is very doubtful. I made this Adra almost entirely thru emacs, an editor first written by Richard Stallman back before today's computer history became history.
These resources are "free," that is, they seem free of vendor lockin, Digital Restrictions Management, and of patents encumbrances that evoke nastygrams, lawyers, and attempted extortion by patents trolls and the like. The generally available search resources (Google, for instance) can find a lot of useful information for you; but for starters try searching on string items such as 'free software' and 'DRM', with 'wiki' included in the string.
[ftp] File Transfer Protocol.
The ISP you choose to carry your Web pages will probably advise you to upload your Web pages using 'ftp' protocol.
This 'ftp' is a thing from the earlier days of computer technology, and when you understand its use you'll appreciate its direct simplicity.
See James Bamford, The Shadow Factory, and anything else of his that you can find. See also, Cory Doctorow, Little Brother. Doctorow is a well known science fiction writer but also familiar with cyberspace and computer technology. (Be reminded, science fiction is speculation not prediction concerning the future.)
=============================================================== A few loose ends.... ===============================================================
Names. I've mentioned seven names earlier in this file. These names point to writers whose works you most need to read and study. If, you want to step into cyberspace and understand what you are doing there.
Again: Franklin; Stallman; Raymond; Knuth; Bamford; Doctorow; Negus.
There is no magic anywhere in these works pointed to (nor in the 'seven' mentioned earlier). You will find yourself challenged to hard study and to many questions. Reminder: Beware Easy Answers. They aren't out there, although there are those who will tell you otherwise. A closely related topic in this business is epistemology.
Perfection. Once in two or three decades, if you're doing a lot of work, you may write a file that is first-draft Complete and Perfect. If you do this, don't let it go to your head. Rather, remind yourself it's very good that computer files are malleable, because your first attempts to make something, usually are best kept to yourself. Study, and rewriting, and cooling-off periods, will usually accomplish great improvement in your work. Time! It takes the time it takes. Remember the old computer programmer's rule to estimate production time to an objective. "Estimate it; go to the next unit of time, double that."
wget. It is the jewel in the dragon's head. 'wget' is a utility file to download files from Web sites (like Adra, for instance). Getting and reading those files will teach you more and quicker than books; for such live Web files are out there and they work. Learn how to get them. Remember that your looking at someone else's file is not automatically a right to use it. Study those files: you learn from seeing how and what is there. The wget utility is available in Linux and Cygwin, and even in Windows.
Electric Machines. Always, always, without exception, if you're going to reach into any electric machine, pull out the plug. For large machines with control boxes, pull out the fuses. Always!
Winter Static. Very dangerous to your solid-state electronics. Maybe sometimes you've touched a doorknob and seen a hot little spark there from your finger. To your computer's components, that spark amounts to a nuke going off in there. Find and study materials that describe appropriate precautions.
Tiny things. Some computer parts these days are very small. Look at a MicroSD chip, for example. I keep several small cups on my worktable that I make by cutting about 3/4 in off ends of large frozen orange juice cans. I have more than I need of these (one is generally enough), so one is always at hand. When I have some tiny component -- a cap; a spring; a MicroSD chip; several small screws that are metric not American thread; etc etc -- I always set it into a cup. And when I do that, I choose a place for the cup near my worktable center, not near its edge. Always! Develop that habit because if you don't -- you'll be sorry.
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