Kicks Condor

#roundups

I use three main tags on this blog:

  • hypertext: linking, the Web, the future of it all.

  • garage: art and creation, tinkering, zines and books, kind of a junk drawer—sorry!

  • elementary: schooling for young kids.

30 Aug 2019

Nadia Eghbal, Re: Writing Hypertext

My digichat with @nayafia—an essential writer (imho) of texts, notes and wonderful roundups.

A few months ago, I stumbled across the essay ‘The tyranny of ideas’ and was truly struck by the inquisitive, thought-mashing flow of the writing. It’s just a great piece—I’ve read it several times now and talked about it with pretty much everyone I know. The author, Nadia Eghbal, writes quite a bit about funding open source software[1], but meanders all over, processing modern life on her website.

> Welcome to the digichat with Nadia.

kicks: You have a simple, minimalist blog—very limited styling, an RSS feed, generated with Jekyll—meaning you likely write all your posts in a plain text editor. What appealed to you about a minimalist design?

nadia: Before I started writing, I really liked blogs like Aaron Swartz’s and Paul Graham’s, which were minimally designed. If it’s a blog post, I generally don’t want to do anything that takes away from the text itself. It’s like when you cook a really nice piece of fish or steak or whatever: if the main ingredient is good, you shouldn’t need to season it.

kicks: You are also pretty sparse with your linking, image embedding, all the ‘hypertext’ features of the Web. I take it that your faith in plain text doesn’t extend to these?

nadia: Not sure I understand the q, but yes, I like keeping everything pretty sparse. I do like linking a lot (or at least I feel like I link a lot!) as a way of subtly saying “if you wanna dig into this thing more, you can go down this path over there, but otherwise I’m gonna keep talking”.

kicks: You have a page on your site for somewhat ephemeral thoughts and unpolished shorthand. This page has no feed, so it doesn’t actively broadcast—it could almost be seen as a neat personal touch to your website. However, you are incredibly active in updating this! Much more so than your Twitter account it seems. What motivates you to write there?

nadia: I like being able to publish my messier, half-formed thoughts, but I get turned off by putting those next to a like count. It feels like the more likes you get, the more you start writing things to get likes, whereas the REALLY weird, unpopular stuff probably won’t get many likes at all.

I worry about likes changing how I think and interfering with my ability to wander and explore the edges. (I am truly envious, however, of people who are able to use Twitter as a place to braindump their thoughts! I think I’m just too self-conscious.)

Someone (I think Eugene Wei?) once tweeted that all Twitter accounts eventually sound like fortune cookies. I don’t want to become a fortune cookie. So I like things like newsletters, and my notes page, which are still discoverable and semi-public, but aren’t subject to short feedback loops. I also removed comments on my blog for the same reason, and I never look at my site analytics.

kicks: This is making me seriously reconsider ‘likes’—which I’ve let pass as a kind of low-effort but benign and gracious comment. But now as I look at your ‘notes’ page—not only am I convinced by what you’ve said—I think the absence of all the ‘share’/‘like’ icons really makes that page feel like a running conversation. With ‘like’ counts, I think I’d be distracted wondering which thoughts were the most highly admired—but, come on, what kind of bullshit is that for me to be thinking while looking through your private thought journal?? So maybe it alters reading too in a sick way?[2]

nadia: The problem with likes is it naturally draws your eye towards the most-liked stuff, instead of deciding for yourself what’s most interesting. It almost feels like I’d be taking agency away from the reader by doing that.

(Maybe I’m being a little sanctimonious—e.g. shorter thoughts probably draw ppl’s attention more than bigger paragraphs, there’s no way to totally avoid this problem—but I’d rather not add to it, either.)

I mean I think curation can be useful, e.g. on my homepage I highlight a couple of my favorite blog posts, because I assume they want a bit of guidance at that point. But on a stream-of-consciousness notes page, I’m assuming they’re more in exploratory, serendipity mode. I don’t want to guide them towards anything.

kicks: Ok, now: about the essays. The quality of your writing on your blog is very good, very thought-provoking and unique. Serious time has been invested into each essay. I imagine there is a wealth of publications who would love for you to write for them. Why post these to a personal blog?

nadia: Thanks! I like what Venkatesh Rao has to say about Ribbonfarm, which he thinks of as a wildlife preserve. I like having total freedom on my blog to roam around and write about whatever I want, as much or as little as I want. It’s like the popularity metrics thing: if I start writing for others, I worry it’d start to change what I think and write about.

That said: I do like writing for other publications and blogs occasionally! It’s just a very different experience, and I usually need to have a particular reason for doing it.

kicks: You know, your link to Ribbonfarm there has illustrated what you are saying so well. I’ve never really read that blog—but what better way to find it than in this chance conversation with you? (We’re enjoying ‘sidewalk life’ here—as you term it.)

nadia: Woot! Ribbonfarm is lifechanging, I’m a bit of a fangirl.

kicks: I mean the world is trying so hard to build technology that will have these conversations for us. Especially these ones where we find each other. At the same time, it feels like there is more to talk about than ever. Do you feel this way? Or, I mean—you’ve already written pretty extensively—do you still feel like you’re at the tip of the iceberg?

nadia: I definitely feel like I’m at the tip of the iceberg. There are so many half-written blog posts waiting for me to finish, and at some point I’ve realized I’ll never get to them all. And having meaningful conversations is a really tough thing to scale, too. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

kicks: To what degree do you feel like you need to repeat yourself? Because some important points are worth harping on, right?

nadia: I hate repeating myself. haha. This is maybe one of my biggest weaknesses. Part of why I blog is honestly just to avoid repeating myself; if I’ve talked about an idea with enough people separately, I want to codify it into a post and be done with it. I get really impatient about having the same conversations with multiple people. But to your point, important points do need to be repeated, which helps them spread and sink in. It’s just my least favorite thing.

kicks: Does it ever feel like your blog is out in the middle of nowhere? Or do you feel sufficiently connected to the rest of the network out there?

nadia: Haha yes, I definitely feel that way sometimes, although usually I find it comforting—sort of a “hidden in plain sight” kind of thing. Twitter and newsletter are basically my only ties between my blog and the outside world; that said, I think I’ve gotten a surprising amount of engagement that way.

Fundamentally, I think of my blog more like a portfolio, or a display case. It’s not about juicing up my readership, but connecting with the right people who happen upon it and find something that resonates. I’ve met so many amazing people through writing: I’ve gotten most of my work opportunities that way, and made a lot of friends, too! I’ve thought about whether I should focus more on distribution, but again, I think if I started to worry about that, it would make the whole experience less fun, and I might also start changing what I write about. Maybe it’s naive, but I like the idea of having a public place for my “pure” thoughts, and the only way I can think to do that is by explicitly not caring about who reads it or how it spreads around.

kicks: Well, I think you’re playing a long game here—by not cashing in on the immediate attention and likes of those networks. It’s definitely ‘purifying’ to drain away all those other purposes that could be tweaking your motives.

A home page definitely seems more and more inert—disconnected from society, from live notifications, seemingly deserted. But there’s an advantage to that—it’s like you can actually control the tempo there. It’s like visiting you at your home—down a wooded road—or, maybe more appropriately: your candy store, like the one you mention in “Reclaiming Public Life,” where “one is free to either hang around or dash in and out, no strings attached.”

nadia: I love this imagery of a homepage being like visiting a home down a wooded road. I am definitely the recluse living in a cabin 😃

kicks: I wish it was more like a candy store, though—so I could hang out and meet another avid reader or give you a thanks as the door jingles on my way out. What is an adequate ‘social’ sidewalk for your blog—is it your attached Twitter account and email newsletter?

nadia: Yeah, Twitter is probably the “social sidewalk” for my blog. I’m still trying to figure out the newsletter thing. When I send out a newsletter, I get a bunch of responses from subscribers, but it feels inefficient somehow to have multiple 1:1 conversations with different people, when I’m sure others would love to read them. I’d almost even say it feels selfish…like I’m keeping all these ideas to myself! Occasionally I include some of the interesting stuff in the following newsletter, but yeah, I don’t like being the bottleneck keeping everyone apart from each other. I haven’t come up with a better alternative besides Twitter, but not everyone is active there.

I guess that’s why some blogs have comments. I was so anti-comments in the past bc it felt like “the comments section”, as a place, had become so crappy and low-quality. It’d be funny if comments sections made a retro comeback as a place to have deeper, substantive conversations. Or maybe they never went away, but I’m the one who’s coming back around to them. (Are newsletters are just the slow re-invention of blogs?)

kicks: Hahaha! I believe this is the first time I’ve heard a remark in possible favor of comments. Yes, I think it is. It’s possible you’ve unearthed the first truly contrarian thought on the Internet here… Which is especially ironic because we’ve just been deriding ‘likes’ somewhat.

Ok, I’ll stop there. Thank you for all that you are doing, Nadia!

nadia: Thank you for all your delightful and thoughtful observations! Really enjoying your trains of thought.


  1. And is also known for RFC, a podcast on the topic. ↩︎

  2. Oh and the fortune cookie remark is too good! It reminds me of something David Yates recently said to me: that there needs to be a name for that feeling where you click on a link to a sweet domain name and it ends up just being another Mastodon instance. ↩︎

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17 May 2019

things magazine

‘We’re the kind of haphazard store that’s run by a shopkeeper/hoarder who won’t necessarily sell you something if he doesn’t want to…’

Continuing the recent theme of Roundups, I couldn’t resist checking in with things magazine, which has been a rich source of wonderful linkdumps for nearly two decades. There is also a popular Tumblr attached and a print journal that predates the blog.

I make many efforts to contact folks doing good work, but often can’t get a reply. My blog is as underground as they get and I wonder if my e-mails or DMs ever go anywhere. I was so glad to have this conversation with J—and I still have many questions, so I hope our chats continue.

kicks: You’ve all been on the web since 2000. In a way, this isn’t that special—blogging exploded around this time. But you kept going. What keeps you blogging nineteen years later?

j: It’s a habit, as much as anything else (although the site is currently on one of its temporary hiatuses). One of the original motivations for things was as a store of interesting links that I could refer back to, relating to my interests and those of contributors to what was once a print magazine.

But our link style is quite obtuse and it doesn’t really work as a searchable archive. So it’s more of a collection of moods—both mine and the culture at large.

kicks: Ok, wait, go back—hiatus? Not sure what to make of that! Your post today, for example, is a mean one. A rich trove of links. That had to take some hunting. Overall, I feel like your writings this year have been quite regular.

j: Yes, today’s post was a bit of a surprise. I’ve been building up a collection of stuff these past few days. I had meant to stay away for longer. Maybe our conversation inspired me.

kicks: You recently (briefly) mentioned the disappearance of what was once a whole ‘blogosphere’, saying, “our own blogroll is home to many an abandoned project…”

Even the blogroll itself has disappeared out there. Why do you think that is? Perhaps because they became difficult to keep up? Perhaps there’s a sense that linking isn’t worth doing any more unless it’s as a ‘like’ or a ‘friend’?

j: There was definitely a circularity to early blogging, links that were shared and directions travelled together. One by one people have fallen by the wayside. I guess it’s all there in the Wayback Machine, but occasionally I find a ‘traditional’ style link blog that transcends the awful ‘like and subscribe’ ethos of today’s internet.

kicks: Mmm, ‘circularity’—yes, when you say this, I’m reminded of how certain links would dominate all the blogs simultaneously—like when The Grey Album came out. But I think ‘circularity’ applies also in describing the currents that were flowing between these blogs.

It was just easier to get caught up in hopping from blog to blog and finding dozens of fascinating links in a given day. And not just the links—the blogs themselves were often the most fascinating finds. (One blog I was really into at the time was Sharpeworld—a lot of transporting, campy videos and links.)

Actually, let’s do this—if you were to envision a new future for blogging, a kind of renaissance—what blogs (new or defunct) do you wish were at the heart of this?

j: I loved Sharpeworld too. And Haddock.org, diskant.net, ilike.org.uk, a.wholelottanothing.org, textism.com, slower.net, plasticbag.org and many more.

I don’t necessarily think there needs to be a new future for blogging though. The heyday has passed, that’s all. Most forms of creative expression in most mediums still exist somewhere for someone. They just have to adapt to a quieter world. I check our traffic most days, out of habit—it’s not terribly impressive by any standards and is on a long-term downward trend…

kicks: It seems like things has kept an eye on communities like MeFi, Delicious and Tumblr over the years. Reading through your blog, I was reminded of those years when mp3 blogs were exciting. These communities always seemed like little underground holes or out-of-the-way clubs. Even Tumblr and Blogspot felt that way, because blogs have a lot of individuality. Any new communities springing up that excite you?

j: Not so much Delicious, because I always felt a bit late to that party, but I’ve long loved MeFi (although that’s feeling a little rusty these days as well). Tumblr I have a lot of affection for, although I still haven’t really forgiven it for killing off fffffound. Communities have become necessarily more niche—a forum here, a forum there—but there’s nothing I’d consider sticking my head up above the parapet for.

kicks: You usually cover art—which still has an enormous presence on Tumblr and Twitter and such—but are ‘net.art’ type works dead? Perhaps this isn’t in your wheelhouse—are there still artists that work with hypertext or is that just the domain of designers now?

j: ‘Net.art’ was a diversion and still exists, but it feels like the interesting hypertext/digital work is coming out of graphic design these days, not fine art. Art has moved on, whereas the applied arts have a much greater sense and understanding of the power of nostalgia.

kicks: Do you mean like stuff you might find at CSS Design Awards? (Like, I think of Erik Bernacchi’s site or Lynn Fisher’s 2017 site.) I think I have a theory about this.

Which is: I think it’s so much tougher to be subversive with HTML now. Much of the original hypertext art messed with HTML frames and pop-up windows. I remember some of these sites spawning lots of little pop-up windows and orchestrating them. That would just never be possible today. Even autoplay and MIDI is restricted now.

j: In terms of art I take your point about it being tough to be subversive on the web—everyone’s online experiences are very tram-lined these days and any deviation from expected standards of usability are massively frowned upon—they’re either seen as offensive or even potentially dangerous so even the slightest hint of a browser or data hijack are right out the window. The stakes are much higher, I guess. Whatever, art moved on a while ago. The internet is a vessel but no longer a medium.

One of the ongoing motivations for things is the idea of mental as well as literal links, that sense of disparate things being related somehow, or a path leading somewhere. That was the big dream of hypertext, which was supposed to be a literary as well as an informational device.

The only place that still really works are sites like Wikipedia or TVTropes, where you still get that sense of burrowing down through layers and layers of information. I like this because it mirrors thought processes, and the way in which you have to mentally rewind to get back to where you started from. It drives me mad when publications add self-referential hyperlinks that simply send you around a closed loop.

Must check out TiddlyWiki…

kicks: things Magazine as a ‘personal store’ and a ‘habit’—these reasons for continuing have nothing to do with an audience. This is a very common theme among those that I find still hypertexting.

There is a growing number of TiddlyWiki users—like h0p3 at philosopher.life and Phil at youneedastereo.com, my friend sphygm.us—and it takes real work to sift through what they’re doing. They are dumping raw notes and drafts on the Web. In some way, I think this is related to the ‘obtuse’ linking style you use—dense, really requiring something of the reader.

Now that you are many years into your habit, how do you personally use this ‘store’?

j: Sadly it doesn’t really work like that. I never mastered the art of tagging stuff so the tools on the site are of limited use. There’s an archive page I built a decade ago when I knew how to do that sort of thing but it would be great to have some kind of random access button the front page. Right now, we’re the kind of haphazard store that’s run by a shopkeeper/hoarder who won’t necessarily sell you something if he doesn’t want to…

kicks: This is an amusing reply to me—I’m of two minds about seeing things as ‘haphazard’. It’s deceptive—the blog layout itself is quite the opposite—neat and crisp (and this is true of your Tumblr, too) and even a lot of the visuals that you snip are geometric. One’s perception immediately connects it with a museum or card catalog.

Yet, I see what you’re saying. You often will spill twenty different links in a paragraph, sometimes with very little assistance as to what is beneath that link. And I’ve seen posts where you dump a pile of random Tumblrs with short cryptic titles in a long run-on sentence. You switch topics mid-paragraph. A paragraph will go from a cohesive thought into a kind of, yes, ‘haphazard’ link poem.

To many of these TiddlyWiki users, the wiki acts as a model of themselves—not a straight download, of course, but a pretty thorough map of their thinking and personality. things is not this, perhaps more like a construct of Borges—where you have the external appearance of a literate, orderly castle which is much closer to a labyrinth of madness within. So, if this is my picture of things—how does this compare with your initial intentions for it? How does it compare with where you think it might end up as?

j: ‘Link Poem’ is a good description of what we do. things was always a work in progress, both as a magazine and then as a website. It has calcified slightly from its early days when we’d also post longer pieces by other people (they’re all buried there somewhere)—maybe that will one day return. There were never any intentions, save perhaps to boost the profile of the magazine and help sell copies (that didn’t work). Long term, I just don’t know.

  1. Reply: Things Interview

    Brad Enslen

    @kicks Great interview! I really like it when you do these.

    Yeah, well—love doing these. I have learned an enormous amount from these (and my conversations with you and Joe), despite the fact that almost everyone I’ve spoken to gives off an air of “there’s nothing to it.”

    Thanks for the encouragement, though. It’s always nice when someone takes the time to say what you just said. 😃

  2. I love this. I found you via things and have now learned more about things from you. The blogosphere is dead - long live the blogosphere!
  3. Reply: ty anon

    Anonymous

    I love this. I found you via things and have now learned more about things from you. The blogosphere is dead - long live the blogosphere!

    Hey! I love anonymous people tossing their note through my transom!

    Hey! Are you still there?

  4. Reply: anon on the line

    Anonymous

    i sure am and always will.

    Oh, you needn’t make a promise like that—but I love the grand gesture of it! I am wondering tho if while I’ve got you on the line, I might converse with you a bit longer? (Of course, if anyone else chooses to be Anonymous, I might find myself conversing with the inverse of a dissociative identity—a kind of floating, possessive identity…)

    You say you read things. I guess you’ve been a long time reader? Have you read other blogs/forums/wikis along the way? Do you have any favorites dead or alive that you’ve run across in that time?

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04 Apr 2019

The Roundups of SHACKLESHOTGUN

‘You need a human behind it.’

I was trying to explain how blogs could possibly still be relevant to a very young friend—and I was not convincing him.

At some point, though, it clicked—and he cried out, “SHACKLESHOTGUN!” And thereby I was introduced to the extensively researched and annotated link roundups on destinyroundup.com. I’m not a Destiny player—forgive my ignorance—still, I instantly could see that this crafty researcher’s work was intrepid and gifted. And then: wow, she made some time to talk to me!

kicks: Among gamers, Reddit has become a major hub for detailed discussion. I can see your round-ups existing on Reddit—why post them to a blog instead? Especially because Reddit subs are usually hostile to re-posting of blog posts.

shackleshotgun: My roundups existing (solely) on Reddit would go against one of the reasons the site was created in the first place. One purpose of it is being a tool for those who don’t like using Reddit, Twitter, or the official Bungie forums, something for people who want to see all info in one place. People don’t have time nor energy to rummage through three different social medias with awful user experience practices to see if an issue has been addressed by the developers.

Some people either can’t access the sites or don’t want to visit those sites, they just want to have a one stop shop.

Furthermore, info on Reddit and Twitter gets lost very easily because at their foundation those sites are very shoddily structured. Search bar doesn’t work on Twitter majority of the time (it omits results for unknown reasons), and on Reddit the search feature doesn’t look through comments (which is where majority of info is posted by the community managers and developers). Things on my site are archived, and not only that, they site focuses on one thing. You don’t need to dig through a lot of irrelevant info to find out if the developers have said something about a bug.

In order to retain my enjoyment of video games, I stay away from gaming communities. Reddit is quite the offender when it comes to toxicity and harbors content that doesn’t improve my day in the slightest so I don’t post at all on there for that very reason. I follow a very small circle of gaming people on Twitter, and that’s enough for me. People are free to link to my site on Reddit, though.[1]

kicks: Oh, for sure—those constant mobs in uproar.

But tell me—I wonder if you miss having access to Reddit comments on your posts. I would think that with your round-ups, most people would be very appreciative. Though perhaps some change to the game that week could spark tremendous arguments.

It looks like you prefer attaching a Twitter conversation to your posts. Was it a deliberate decision to have a blog without comments?

shackleshotgun: I don’t miss Reddit comments on my roundups because I never had them (as far as I know). If people have feedback for the site they are free to reach out to me either via DMs or email or mentioning me on Twitter.

It was a very deliberate choice to not have a comment section on the site. I didn’t see having a comment section as a productive thing for my site, and moderating it would be too time consuming. I don’t want people to stop visiting the site because of the comment section. Twitter makes for the best “comment section” because there the commenters can tag the developers/community managers with their thoughts on what was said.

kicks: Krikey. Comments as a liability! I have been lucky so far to have such good participation in my comments—but you clearly offer a perfectly useful read without them. I wonder if Twitter-just-for-comments is just a good way to treat Twitter in general.

The research you do on your round-ups is quite extensive—you must have fifty links you’re citing each week. Do you collect all of this on your own? Or do you take submissions through Twitter, Discord, Reddit and so on?

shackleshotgun: I do it all on my own. I have a system and a list of people to check in on each day. Once in a while people send me things I missed. I work very quickly so each summary takes max 30 mins out of my day. Having people submit things through avenues you’ve mentioned would take too long and make it a lot more arduous than it needs to be.

kicks: In a way, you operate kind of like a bot that is filtering through everything (from what I understand, you also try to snatch news out of podcast interviews) to distill it down to a summary. Our society has become accustomed to an algorithm doing this kind of job for us. However, your posts are written to be succinct and are very well-organized and laid out—with you writing and curating the heap of information.

shackleshotgun: I know that there have been some attempts to write bots for this kind of thing, but the developers often tweet/comment about things not related to the game. If you want to have a stream of info with only relevant things, you need a human behind it to filter it out.

kicks: This is a theme I keep seeing more and more. Humans as researchers and librarians on the Web, rather than just leaning back to let the bots passively feed us. I hope you enjoy doing the work—it might not be for everyone.

Did you have writing or research skills going into this project? Or did you just develop them as you went?

shackleshotgun: I didn’t have any related skills going into it. I studied programming and computer science for most of my life but had to go separate ways with that. When I started doing the roundups I was a Twitch streamer so I had a tiny audience on Twitter, and retweets from that audience helped lift the whole thing off. It’s been a fun learning experience.

kicks: Is it difficult for players out there to discover what you’re up to? In fact—any idea how most people find your blog?

shackleshotgun: Most people find me either via retweets of my summaries on Twitter, or YouTubers who have used my site for their videos shouting me out, or numerous podcasts I’ve been on.[2]

kicks: You started in a Google Doc—but moved to the blog last year. Was it difficult (technically) for you to start the blog? (Like: to get the design right, the layout and the organization.)

shackleshotgun: It was a relief to start the website, to be honest. By the time I started the website the google doc was a nightmare to use due to its size. There were some struggles with the site that are still ongoing.

Two big things that come to mind are the issues that come with any site that’s about archiving big quantities of information, and the design. Things are getting constantly patched in the game, which means info on the site becomes old, which in turn leads to a lot of issues in regards to organization. As for the design, I prefer usability and user experience over looks, but at the same time I want the site to look good and I still haven’t found that perfect mix between good design and great user experience.

So to summarize, starting it was very simple. Maintaining it is the actual challenge.


  1. See more in her community focus. ↩︎

  2. Some of her audio interviews can be found on DCP #95 or destinytruthcast #66. ↩︎

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PLUNDER THE ARCHIVES

This page is also on dat.

MOVING ALONG LET'S SEE MY FAVORITE PLACES I NO LONGER LINK TO ANYTHING THATS VERY FAMOUS

philosopher.life, the 'wiki'/'avatar'/'life' of h0p3. serious rabbithole. k0sh3k. j3d1h. luxb0x.

nathalie lawhead of so many good things, where does one begin. T, U, I.

surfpals: things by j, also joe jenett (of linkport), brad enslen (of indieseek), 'web curios' at imperica.

an eye on: ᛝ ᛝ ᛝ — lucid. jacky.wtf, fogknife, tiv.today, j.greg, box vox, whimsy.space, caesar naples.

indieweb: .xyz, eli, c.rwr, boffosocko.

nostalgia: geocities.institute, bad cmd.

true hackers: ccc.de, fffff.at, voja antonić, cnlohr, esoteric.codes.

chips: zeptobars, scargill, 41j.

dwm, julia, tridactyl these are things you'll want on linux.

neil c very famous but should be a world icon.

the world or cate le bon you pick.

sammyclassicsonicfan the original teen rage adventure.

innovation.isotropic.org probly the best carl chudyk game.

and opinionated gamers for non-chudyk game analysis.

my twitter. my github. minor things.