Title graphic of the Moonspeaker website. Small title graphic of the Moonspeaker website.

 
 
 
[This is kluge.]Where some ideas are stranger than others...

ABOUT the Moonspeaker

ABOUT THE MOONSPEAKER

In very brief, The Moonspeaker is a journal of writing about four major topics: Feminism, Amazons, Indigenous issues, and languages. 'Journal' in this case means something more like a literary publication that presents a bundle of pieces of different lengths and maybe even in different genres on a regular basis. But an even better way to think of The Moonspeaker might be as a sort of extended portfolio, because it isn't just about the text. It's also about web design and working on an approach to web pages that puts text back in the front and centre, while experimenting with different ways of constructing the text itself.

Admittedly, this is not where The Moonspeaker started out. It was preceded, eons ago in internet time, by probably one of the ugliest personal websites that was ever built, today owned in all its grotesqueness by a free web space provider with predatory terms of usage. The site was ugly first because it was a way for me to learn how to write HTML and build web sites, second because it was designed on a laptop with a three-grey screen. According to the specifications on the box it came in, the laptop had a four-grey screen, but since it was impossible to tell two of the greys apart, three was what it had in effect. And of course, in real life, the 'greys' were purple. Mercifully, even I can't remember what I called that site or how to get to it, if it even still exists. The first glimmerings of The Moonspeaker happened unexpectedly under miserable conditions over ten years ago. At that time, I was working on the tail end of a physics degree, and dealing with a crisis.

I was isolated, exhausted, and depressed. Worse yet, I was doing the 'sensible' thing, working towards an oil patch job, and hadn't written much since high school. A whole range of lousy circumstances of my own came together, plus the suicide of one of my classmates, and I finally found myself forced to reexamine what I was doing. Not that this was a conscious thing at first, it wasn't. But in my initial flounderings, while surfing the internet for who knows what reason, I stumbled into what its denizens fondly call 'the Xenaverse.' It was what got me writing again period, and eventually to working on the core topics of this website, some of them again, others for the first time.

The first version of The Moonspeaker simply provided consistent, easy access to whatever X:WP fanfic or original fiction I was writing at the time, plus my book on Amazons. Mind you, that wasn't my whole motivation then. In the back of my mind, it was probably also a back up of all my writing, in response to the theft of my first computer and the discovery that all my back ups were unreadable without it, which meant every piece of writing that hadn't been printed, emailed, or posted somewhere was gone. It hasn't been easy; sometimes updates have been few and very far between, real life being what it is, and the site has almost died for good on at least two occasions, due to encounters with bigotry, personality attacks, and paranoia in on-line communities I expected to be at least neutral, if not positive, groups to be involved with. Even now, being older and a bit wiser (I hope), it boggles my mind how much homophobia, sexism, and racism people are willing to spend their energy and time on in hopes of silencing others. Such efforts strike me as being oddly like my experience of reading Baudrillard. It didn't feel like I was reading so much as dealing with someone screaming violently at the wall in an empty room. And far preferring that to a real conversation.

So you could say that The Moonspeaker, even more than it is a journal or an extended portfolio, is a means by which I refuse to be silent — and a demonstration that I've definitely got better things to do than scream at a wall in an empty room.

UPDATE, 2010-10-31: Thankfully the updates to the Moonspeaker are coming much more regularly these days as I have managed to claw back some writing and webworking time. Among the updates is another change in editing tools for the site. After what has been a painful hiatus, I have been able to return to my favoured program for the purpose, TextWrangler. The 2.1 version of TextWrangler had an alarming bug that led to data loss, likely because that version could run on one operating system but was written for an earlier version. Which means that the older version was still trying to manage resource forks for the Classic environment in the MacOS, and resource forks are pathological in a Unix environment. So, as anybody who has used Apple computers expected, the Classic environment and the resource fork have both been thrown in the bit bucket. In the meantime though, I needed a replacement editor, and TextEditor wasn't going to cut it, so I ended up switching to Emacs.

Emacs seems to be a program that inspires religious fervour; the converted are coverts forever, and tend to be very obnoxious about the other programs non-converts might use. This behaviour is at large in the platform wars too, as the various Apple and Microsoft commercials show. I have been training myself out of such obnoxiousness, since there's no convincing an acolyte, and frankly, if somebody finds Emacs or Windows or whatever the perfect tool for their purposes, that's really up to them. All of which is a roundabout way to get to the point of saying that Emacs is not the tool for me. It's just too clunky, and I far prefer the vertical document drawer implementation in TextWrangler to the horizontal tabbing in Emacs, and the far more transparent approach to setting preferences. And frankly, the Emacs key bindings piss me off and I see no reason to spend days reworking them all into standard MacOS key bindings when I only had to spend about three hours writing two scripts for time stamping The Moonspeaker's pages (it's all about the debugging). No doubt the folks who got to keep working on Unix boxes after 1999 would find this an absurd complaint, and certainly if I had been able to keep working on original Unix boxes myself it wouldn't be my experience. So all told, if you have been working on regular Unix boxes for much of your computing career, Emacs is probably exactly what you want. However, if you weren't so fortunate and are most familiar with MacOS or Windows key bindings (I have to use Windows machines at my workplace, so I speak from direct knowledge), it may not be the tool you want.

UPDATE on this Topic, 2016-02-06: Of course, as you can see from the side bar, since I wrote this I have amped up from the free TextWrangler to its paid counterpart BBEdit, an investment that has been profoundly worth it. I generally prefer to use free software in the Stallman sense, but evidently I am not as absolutely committed to that position as Stallman is (indeed, few are). For me Barebones Software has been a solid company without privacy invasion issues that also makes it easy to purchase their stuff outside of the Apple ecosystem if that's what you want. Their help documentation is also second to none, and if more free software projects consciously included folks to write documentation who used the BBEdit manual as a model, the use of that software would take off like a rocket. Yes, "man" pages should be just as good. Alas that they are not, throwing the user onto the mercies of some combination of a search engine and the tragically rude regulars on Stack Overflow.

I've finally sorted out the problems with the RSS feed for the site, and the issues have remained solved. Earlier I mistakenly thought the issue had to do with my primary web browser way back in 2010, Safari, and since Safari had excellent standards compliance then, it wasn't a bad idea to take its refusal to load the feed seriously. Now however, Safari has no RSS reader to my knowledge (WTF?!) and has been a slow, unpredictably crashing behemoth for several years. Blocking ads helps immensely, but not enough.

UPDATE, 2013-07-25: I have been performing some typographic clean up and general refurbishing which should help make the site more legible. In particular, the layout has been tightened a bit and the fonts tweaked for better legibility. It is a great relief to finally be able to treat page layout as if there really is space for the layout to be spread over on typical computer screens. Nonetheless, The Moonspeaker should still behave properly in smaller circumstances, albeit with a larger font size that will require more vertical scrolling, which is no longer an assumed website killer. In addition I have worked up contact information in a more effective way so that on one hand people can make use of the option, while spammers get nothing immediately useful. All emails I receive do get answered, especially as people are generally very constructive even when they disagree with me (which is cool). The only emails I wouldn't answer are flames and the like, as the writer in that case isn't much interested in a conversation anyway. For anyone keeping track, The Moonspeaker is generally standards compliant, barring another code update to remove deprecated tags for behaviours that originally many web browsers were not handling well in stylesheets.

UPDATE, 2014-03-25: As part of my happy discovery of Brain Pickings I eventually stumbled on Tim Ferriss' interview with Maria Popova on his podcast. (It's well worth a listen — episode 39, skip the first 5 minutes, which is the corny podcast intro and his ad placements, which will take you right to the interview.) As the conversation went along, Popova explained why she doesn't have comments enabled on her site, in one of the most thoughtful reflections on commenting and participation in on-line conversations ever posted. (At roughly 1:14:45 to 1:15:45.) For a whole variety of less well thought out reasons mostly related to economic factors The Moonspeaker has never had comments, although well-meaning people in my life have pressed for them. However, like Popova I feel the people who really want to say something constructive, who feel energized to do that, they'll take the time to sit down and email. For my part, I don't see there is any obligation on a website creator to provide a hangout spot for web surfers just because they have a website. That younger websurfers especially may expect hangout spots is an unhappy side effect of the weblog phenomenon. Wonderful as blogs can be as an entry point to the internet, they are also bad for people's genuine agency on-line in terms of creating web content, and tend to encourage a narrowing of understanding of what websites can be, and what fits on a particular type of website. There are sites where comments fit well and are useful, for example almost any tech magazine or tech site, sometimes news sites, any site of course where the writer is actively seeking to establish conversations with their readers. The last would be the one case where I could almost be persuaded to add comments, but the thing about them is they also require care and feeding. They need moderating and management time and effort I prefer to put into creating site content instead. So there, in a nutshell (perhaps a medium-sized one) is why there are no comments on The Moonspeaker.

UPDATE, 2015-05-03: As we all know, web surfing on small handheld devices is a given these days, and the Moonspeaker's layout has apparently not been adjusted for this. I actually resisted making any adjustments because there is something about the term "responsive design" that makes me want to hulk-smash things, and I wanted to sort out what made me so angry about it before making any changes. This was a good thing, because it forced me to pay attention to what bothered me when I tried to view a site on my phone, or after a site enacted and trumpeted its new "responsive design." The best example of everything I hate about "responsive design" is the way the Guardian newspaper has done it. There is basically no information anymore on any page except headlines, without so much as a blurb to preview the articles, and the main or feature articles are now from two to three clicks away, if you're lucky. This is quite apart from the incredibly problematic "web editorial" style which I also hate, based around short sentences in three to five sentence paragraphs. (It's bad enough that the presumed average reading comprehension level of newspaper readers is that of a child 9-12 years old.) Worse yet, I have bumped into sites where I absolutely could not get out of the "responsive design" or suffered intrusive "download our crappy app instead" pop ups, an unfortunate nuisance related to the fact that I can't install Firefox on my phone. So in general I'm not against "responsive design," just a stupid and disrespectful implementation of it.

The Moonspeaker does have a lightly "responsive design" now, implemented so that if you are trying to read it on a very small screen, the sidebars will disappear and you won't have to pinch and zoom all the time unless you really want to. Otherwise no material has been removed or hidden, so you won't be getting "Moonspeaker lite" just "Moonspeaker in a form intended not to irritate the hell out of you on a small screen." Much to my regret, I have not found a way to implement a "get me the hell out of this layout, it's too irritating" option for small devices that is efficient for me to maintain. So instead, I have implemented the "responsive design" to be active only on the smallest devices, since the Moonspeaker is legible on so-called "phablets" except for the annotated works under Found Subjects. Those tend to require somewhat more concentrated reading than phone surfing usually allows, so I am going to leave that as is for the time being. There will also soon be two alternate stylesheets for the full screen, one with increased type size and the other with serif fonts. These are meant to provide a work around for when the browser page zoom functions are producing unexpected results. Generally the Moonspeaker isn't much affected by zoom issues because font sizes are designated relatively rather than by pixels, but since it isn't difficult to provide this sort of fall back anymore, I am happy to implement it. The serif alternative is just for fun.

UPDATE, 2016-07-21: Courtesy of Bruce Schneier's website, I have implemented search of the Moonspeaker via the least awful search engine privacy and security-wise these days, duckduckgo. I have heard some strange, rather hysterical claims that duckduckgo is full of adware. Unfortunately, I think this reflects two issues. One, you can still download a duckduckgo toolbar for most browsers, and such toolbars have become synonymous with adware if not malware even if they truly do no more than what was advertised on the packaging, so to speak. My hope is that duckduckgo will stop offering them altogether, along with the generator of the second issue, obnoxious javascript that creates pop-in windows begging you to let duckduckgo set itself as your default browser. Nowadays we have all been trained to treat a request from a website to change our browser, let alone our computer for us, as nefarious. This is the right position to take, even from a trusted site. Nothing can happen unless you click on the links though, and if you're worried at all or just despise pop-in ads or messages of any kind, NoScript is an excellent tool for blocking unwanted javascript from running. (For folks still using Safari, there is ScriptBlock.) duckduckgo works fine without scripting, and tends to be a bit faster without it as well, although you can't use image search without javascript.

But there's actually an even easier solution to duckduckgo's obnoxious pop ups, and it restores the non-crufty version of their front page too. Just use the html version of the site, which is https://duckduckgo.com/html.

I have certainly read and heard people declare duckduckgo is no match for google, and based on my experience it's important to consider what we expect a search engine to do before trying to rank them. duckduckgo is newer and still building its indices, as indeed is bing, for another example. Any sort of search that presses to the limits of the sort of widescale indexing google has done will be unmatched by any newer search engine. Certainly search result quality has improved on duckduckgo since it first debuted online. For some folks, what they don't like is the lack of the filter bubble effect created by google's tailoring of search results to what it has decided you would prefer based on monitoring your overall search history. (For more detail on this, see Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble.) This is not a wholly benign or useful approach for google to take, and personally I found the loss of serendipitous results, let alone untailored ones a real problem whenever I wanted to find something new as opposed to something similar. On the other hand, yes google and other filter bubbling search engines are better anytime what is wanted is something very like what you've already been looking for, which is logical. This did smarten me up in terms of bookmarking useful pages and curating my bookmarks rather than depending on a search engine to get me back to those pages, though. Returning specifically to the Moonspeaker, duckduckgo generates sensible results in my test queries, so for that purpose I am satisfied.

But let's suppose you don't give a shit about any of this stuff, and you would rather use google, or bing, or yahoo (really?) instead. That's fair, and as it happens the way to achieve this is standardized. Here is the syntax for the query you should pop into your search engine of choice: searchterm site: domain.com. The bold bits are the parts you change, so if you wanted to search for say, "wonderland" on this site, your query would be: wonderland site: www.moonspeaker.ca. This of course can be tweaked to search any specific site you like. When it comes to this sort of thing, opinionated I may be, but I am also a keen follower of the "there's more than one way to do it" philosophy of scripting languages like perl. That, and other people are by no means required to follow the same idiosyncratic path around the internet and technology at large that I do, of course.

HINTS: Since the Moonspeaker is a constructed website rather than built on a preexisting template, I like to tinker and implement new features as they become stable. Or I stumble on useful or cool tweaks that somehow I hadn't stumbled on before, and finally get around to implementing them. And yes, occasionally I break things, but usually not too badly. This is something I find quite fun. Here is the list of tweaks that have been happening over the last two years.

  • External links now appear with a blue forwarding arrow beside them, illustrated at the end of this sentence.
  • Pdf links now automatically appear with a little pdf picture beside them, also shown at the end of this sentence.
  • Doc links have been subjected to this treatment as well, though they can be quite rare on the Moonspeaker.
  • The Moonspeaker now has a favicon, at the moment a very simple one since the primary challenge at first was to get it working.
  • It is now possible to search the Moonspeaker, which should be helpful especially for those like me who occasionally struggle to remember page and article titles on websites we don't work on.
  • The rss feed has gone through another refurbishing and at last I have rooted out a number of bugs that prevented use of certain characters and may have generated highly irritating display foul ups in some feedreaders.
  • At long last I have figured out how to arrange things so that pictures have proper captions that stay stuck to them, and the method should work across browsers and even in older ones as long as they understand div tags.

One of the nicer attributes that all html tags have is that they can be assigned a "title," and if the tag corresponds to an element that will be rendered on screen, then you can hold the mouse over it and the title text will pop up. This is very useful for providing additional information about the item in question, and once upon a time it was only available for anchors. However, if it's not an anchor, you would rarely have a reason to try mousing over the item. On the Moonspeaker, where this option is in use, I will explain what's going on, and such text will have a subtle effect applied to make it easier to see it is different, as it has been to this sentence. So don't panic if you notice things seem to develop a faint blue background for no apparent reason.

And yes, I love sidebar footnotes. They are everywhere on the Moonspeaker, and have two excellent virtues. For me, I can write as many of them as I like. They are where most asides, potentially distracting extra material and general rants usually go when they are too short to be made into Thoughtpieces. For you, you can ignore them or not as often as you like.

Copyright © C. Osborne 2016
Last Modified: Thursday, July 21, 2016 23:44:12