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Context and Web-memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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