Future-proof your skills with Linux, Python, vim & git as I share with you the most timeless and love-worthy tools in tech through my two great projects that work great together.

If Jekyll supports TOML because both were made my Tom, and Jekyll is in GitHub, why is YAML now the bomb?

Explore the power of words, keep a digital journal, and join me as I discuss the best SEO ever, memes, Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, Neil Stevenson's Snow Crash, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and the impact of Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood. Learn how YAML and Markdown let you create a single text-file for life, and how to use AI to your advantage in writing.

Discover How I Improved My Life with a Single Text-file Journal

By Michael Levin

Friday, May 12, 2023

Welcome to the first day of your life. This is the day you start keeping your digital eternal journal. Actually, this is just an experimental draft where I play with ideas and expose them to a very exclusive few who know it exists, because I’m an SEO practicing anti-patterns, perchance to learn something new.

Though I will shortly speak in this post of the best SEO who ever lived.

And if you need an example for your people of sample content that an AI could never produce (from scratch) on its own, bookmark this page, cause it’s a doozy. The rough draft of what I have in mind as my “seminal work” the way Jeff and Joel and the others I talk about in this post had theirs.

Let’s get stared.

Sticks and stones can break your bones but words have way more power. Do you feel the truth of that? It has to do with the fleeting nature of the arrangement of atoms (sticks and stones), but the potentially eternal nature of data and information, I.e. words.

Coming to grips with this fact and using it to your advantage will improve your life starting this very instant—specifically, by helping you see that keeping a single text-file as a journal for life (which can optimally double for blogging software) is step-1 in transmitting your message forward in time, resonating, amplifying, propagating to your audience, to your customers, to your children, to your future AI overloads, and onto its ultimate…

We’ll, I get ahead of myself. Rein it in, Mike. Rein it in or they won’t give you past next January. I know that and it’s okay if I let them know that I know. The good news is the fruits of these experiments is already paying off, and it’s not the kind of stuff you can get from anywhere else. It’s the kind of stuff you find early and are glad you did, or you’re kicking yourself later for not being one of the ones who did.

No, not bitcoin. Crypto is antithetical, somewhat the opposite of, what I propose here. Computer hash-generated scarcity is a dead-end. I’m talking about the opposite: human-mind generated idea-scarcity. Something new.

I guarantee that no AI can propose to you what I’m about to propose. Certainly not before it sweeps in and learns from me and can tell you about “it”. You know there’s something new in the noosphere by the cute and deeply “channeling” name and logo it’s given. You know, like Levinux. Or Pipulate. Or the one what I discuss here: YAMLchop.

If you like this sort of nonsense, read on. For the pragmatic hard nosed SEOs who want to hear more about an OpenAI WordPress spam-cannon plugins, I humbly offer up this video and this video, immediately following honking your nose.

Still with me? Okay, good start.

Here is the rule of reading further: Language is stupid, and labels often lie. So layer-on the lyrics because meaning will emerge. Pedantic parsing in pursuit of the perfect put-down is something that I do not encourage. Everything meaningful emerges from the margins.

Cue the whacky!

We mortal beings with our short lives and limited senses will never have access to the objective reality, or the truth of it all. Whether or not we are some eternal beings who just happen to be in a mortal form, perhaps to answer questions, have experiences, refine and shape our soul or whatnot as many folks believe, is the kind of stuff you’ll just never know in this life, period, zilch. That’s just the nature of the game. Enlightened swami guru woohoo don’t know any more than you. They’ve just got opinions.

If the whole immortal soul thing is true, you’ll find out later and can worry about it then. Or don’t worry, if you’ve taken my advice because you should live the same way either way. If there’s no immortal soul, then it’s all the more amazing that we’re here, and you’re here reading this. All that is mundane in life is actually a miracle of the highest order.

For some this will be a source of renewed energy. For others it will just be more anxiety and stress, I know. Once you’ve made up your mind to think about something a certain way, it’s hard to change. Maybe journaling can help.

The fact that similar reasoning leads some folks to nihilism and despair may be one of my things I have to contribute to the experience of others during my turn here. My purpose. My passion. SEO is a means to an end. This end. This and chatting with… oh, I’m getting ahead of myself again.

Those nihilistic funks that sap the life out of us while we doomscroll are something to force yourself to get over, first with a shift in environment, which then leads to a shift in daily behavior, which leads to a shift in habits, which leads to a shift in perspective leading to more of the yummy neurotransmitters saturation your body that will make you live longer and die with fewer regrets: angels and demons or not.

It’s that easy, folks. Start by changing your environment. Too hard? Okay, get yourself a cheap little laptop. One screen. After your first download, ongoing internet connection optional. That’s your environment. That’s your tool for affecting positive change in your life. Your funk will momentarily go deeper, but have faith. Stick with the plan I’m about to lay out.

If you’re in the funk, this is particularly important because externally induced depressed states aren’t something to let yourself wallow in for an excessively long amount of time, no matter how reverse-good it may feel (I’m talking to you, goths). If you do, you’ve really just fallen in love with the wrong neurotransmitter chemicals, the shitty ones you get from reading too much Friedrich Nietzsche. They’re going to cause stress and shorten the miraculous chemical reaction that is you. If you could enjoy life more, even just from quietly sitting there, would you?

If we are eternal souls learning some lesson or other while wearing these mortal coils, then you’ll be all the better off anyway with this sort of thinking. Nothing to lose but misery, right? Oh you like misery. Well, my stuff isn’t for everyone.

If life is “meaningless” such as that say, then most certainly it’s not actually really meaningless merely based on the sheer mathematical improbability of of it all, because smell those flowers, wow! Is winning a 1-in-an infinity-minus-one jackpot meaningless? It’s not all misery I tell you. Get off that horse. That’s mind-manipulating media talking, not your true inner feelings nor what you want to believe, nor the way people think who make a positive difference. We wouldn’t still be here otherwise. Fortify your brain against that shit.

One of the only objective facts you will ever know is that optimists have hard-and-fast proof their side. If pessimists did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Think about it.

Every argument a pessimist will ever make is speculative, what-if scenarios. It’s projection of their their fearful thoughts, the dark place in their mind that they come from, more indicative of bad parenting than true inner self. They were never equipped with the tools to stand up to the onslaught.

When they tell you that something will necessarily lead to something else which will necessarily lead to something else, ask them if it already has. If they tell you about points of no return, explain to them (if you care about them enough) that the tipping point is a fallacy exactly like the domino effect or the butterfly effect. Sometimes. Not always. Not necessarily. With thinking like that sure, but it’s a good thing you’re not a scientist or politician then, huh?

Yes, yes. The domino and butterfly effects do really exist, but their inevitable outcomes are a long, long, long way from forgone conclusions. When they say their apocalyptic evidence is beyond dispute and that B necessarily will follow A, remind them maybe about the Cuban Missile Crisis and stuff like that. Saying such things will necessarily lead to our destruction someday is non falsifiable—you can’t prove Bigfoot exists is proof that he does, right? That’s the pessimist’s argument. We’re still here. That’s falsifiable. Optimists have science on their side.

What random improbabilities are we? Metaphysics or not, meaning can be (should be?) ascribed by us in our lifetimes, and right here in this local space we all occupy which defies the boundaries of the game. Simulation hypothesis or not, it doesn’t matter. Say realities are nested infinitely deep and we’re somewhere in a cosmic fractal hierarchy, still doesn’t matter. It means everyone’s got the scale problem, and what statistics and the actually falsifiable scientific facts tells us is that we’re still pretty rare (and thereby precious and valuable) even if it’s our own little corner of the Mandelbrotiverse.

Even if there’s no judgement day a comin, if legacy, history and eternity is your thing, all the better because eternity. Start loading up your meme torpedo to shoot off into the future. If the Asimov’s and Musks of the world manage to get us off the planet, spreading our biology and intelligence, stuff you do today could still echo and reverberate through eternity, no God necessary.

Blessed if you do, blessed if you don’t, is how I see it. If you’re like that, like me, there’s going to be those that hate you for it and secretly want to see you fail. Some folks will make the humans are a virus argument here, and cast us as just more greedy aliens in a race to colonize the galaxy like we did the Americas and Africa. That’s just the pessimists talking. If we don’t wipe ourselves out, we won’t wipe them out.

Evolution leads either to growth and enlightenment, or a dead-end. Look at the most successful large-animal templates on Earth, for example. Not all reptiles are ambush predators, the most efficient way of getting those yummy amino acids. It takes intelligence to let the food come to you. Crocodilians are a good design. Aerodynamic. Camouflaged. They can go a long time without eating. They’ve outlasted the dinosaurs and have been around longer than any mammal. So all big animals should be crocodilians, right? Or at least ambush predators.

But no. We have the sweet, lovable tortoise who traded shock-and-awe predation for a long life of slow, steady veggie chomping. Of course the trade-off is that you need a pretty good force field to protect you from the predators, but we’re working on that. Of course some regress again, and you’ve got the Alligator Snapping Turtle. I mean, it’s terrifying, have you seen that thing? It’s up there with the angler fish. But the exception doesn’t invalidate the statistically significant rule. Evolution can lead to stable, long-term and quite friendly designs.

I’m working on such designs. Or rather, I’m working on the turtle shields of the mind. The 1-textfile for life journal that will shield your mind against today’s onslaught of negativity in the media. That’s designed to break you. The world needs tools forged from the fires of free and open source, and the best tools we have for thought, such as vim, Markdown and YAML.

Nobody asked me, you say? No, nobody did. But guess what? I keep a journal and with mo more effort than I put into my subconscious dredging sessions which I do anyway to be a better person, this.

And that’s where our real sorry begins. Your story. The story. I am here to show you how to write the story of your life and add it to the tapestry of all that is, ever was, and ever will be in a way just slightly brighter than fading off into obscurity in this materiel world.

I meme therefore I am.

Read a bit.

Read Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, or at least read enough to really internalize the premise of the inventor of Memes. He’s rich enough so if you can find a way to do it without paying, kudos.

What about Dawkins? The shellfish replicator. Uh, I mean the selfish replicator. There’s about 200 amino acids, the tiniest molecule legos of life. We’re built from the 20most common. Our bodies make 11 of them and we need to consume (scavenge) the other 9, plus water. Anyone ever tell you this? No? Same on them. The game of life starts here. Amino acids link into ribonucleic acid, which are both the factory for building and the instructions for how to do so. They coil into DNA which coil onto chromosomes which float around in amniotic liquid environment packaged to go inside cell walls built the same way. Familiar? No? This is why you read the book.

Everything form of life on the ocean, extremophile in the methane vents, tardigrade in outer space, mycelial network in the soil, is carrying out programming acquire through the evolutionary pressure to be the Lego builder and not the Lego pieces. A long enough strand to have some decent coding along this line we call a gene. Successful genes make more like themselves. There, I saved you the money.

The Dawkins and the Hawkings think there needn’t be the hands of some similar self-creative with its biblical demands. God or not, scavengers and replicators are a reality. It’s a self-similar principle at the atomic scale, cellular scale, human scale, and I’m fairlu confident at the cosmic scale too with the Galactic web looking like slime mold and all.

After The Selfish Gene which is where the concept of Memes was born (no, it was not 4Chan or Reddit), take up Neil Stevenson’s 1992 book Snow Crash. It’s the perfect follow-on to Dawkins’ 1976 book. Took you long enough, Neil! No but seriously you won’t believe Snow Crash came before the Web. Raven will offer you a free sample of Snow Crash, so chase the rabbit.

Did somebody say chase the rabbit. Re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Or read it for the first time if you haven’t so that you can re-read it. And then re-read it again. Do this every 2 to 5 years as the planned results of designed obsolescence strikes you and wipes your ability to make money in your field. Go ahead, it’s a quick read and you’ll have plenty of time.

Nonsense, you say? Fair enough. Go do whatever else you were planning, like becoming middle management so you won’t actually need to know how to do stuff anymore and are even more replaceable by AI automation. Think the techs are the ones most vulnerable? Think again. Depends on your tech, and the timelessness of the Wonderland series will help that sink in for reasons that are not entirely clear. Clean cup!

The time has come this author thinks to speak of precise things. Of quips you’re told to feel like that you ought to serve a king. Thanks to the Israeli paratrooper turned world’s best SEO and StackOverflow founder, Joel Spolsky. Joel’s major contribution to this world was training OpenAI’s ChatGPT to code, giving it to you formatted in the very Markdown format his buddy and co-founder and Daring Fireball Jeff Atwood invented. Rarely have there been more influential unknowns.

Then GitHub was invented. Different folks than Joel and Jeff but the same deep double whammy concept is there as with Stack Overflow and Super User, Server Fault, Meta Stack Exchange, Web Applications, Arqade, Ask Ubuntu, Mathematics, English Language & Usage, Unix & Linux, Ask Different (Apple), WordPress Development, Geographic Information Systems, TeX - LaTeX, Database Administrators, SharePoint, User Experience, Game Development, Programmers, Electrical Engineering, Android Enthusiasts, Information Security, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Code Review, Code Golf, Quantitative Finance, Project Management and Movies & TV…

Uh sorry I got stuck in a Stack Exchange loop… let me try this paragraph again. The same double-whammy 1 + 1 = infinity collaborative content righteous feedback loop of assume that exists with Stack Overflow exists even more so with GitHub. Whereas the JJ’s brought us Markdown, a key early employee of GitHub Tom Preston-Werner brought us TOML, Tom’s Obvious, Minimal Language, what is to data what Markdown was to HTML.

On a profoundly related note, Tom also brought us Jekyll the static site generator that’s built into GitHub eliminating the need for WordPress, Squarespace and such. TOML is used in conjunction with Markdown to crate web pages, adding the piece missing from Markdown: structured data.

TOML is a short textfile-based data description language similar for the also popular YAML language, but is more explicit and arguably easier to read than YAML, which begs the question: If Jekyll supports TOML because both were made my Tom, and Jekyll is in GitHub, why is YAML now the bomb?

Answer: A 10-year head start. An 80/20-rule sort of “good enough”. Institutionalization of YAML, which is being used in compliance requirements to ensure that policies are being followed, so its use becomes part of mandatory compliance laws. TOML can’t fight all that, so it is another superior tech that gets tossed in the trash heap with reStructuredText (reST) and the Amiga computer, driving off into the sunset in a Tucker Torpedo on the LISP hardware highway.

Yeah, so anyway if Joel and Jeff gave us Markdown and Tom gave us Jekyll with YAML, then I’m knitting it all together to give you YAMLchop.

YAMLchop is a one big textfile for life. Toss in a light sprinkling of whatever life-level metadata as the whole file’s top matter. But then use very visually strong “slicing” or “parsing” symbols to separate post from post, day by day, and… then… you… chop! Chop, chop, chop! Choppity, chop chop goes the one big file into all the perfectly arranged, organized, and optionally search engine optimized and published files of a very passable blog.

For the slicing symbol to separate the posts and define the chop, I use 80 hyphens. Its reminiscent of the 3-hyphens used by Jekyll for that system but is visually much stronger and sets a good readable column width to aspire to.

Within each sliceable day is another YAML header with a date and title field. Only date is required. If you’re publishing, adding a title indicates this, and OpenAI (or any AI system) steps on to add a headline, summarized description and the keywords, topics, categories, tags or whatever nearly interchangeable label you want to put on such things.

Keep the AI out if you want a completely private journals. Never even upload it to GitHub if you want it 100% private on your local machine. Keep it on your Mac or Windows laptop. Or put it on a Raspberry Pi server in your house as your own sort of GitHub and a way to make to flow to any hardware you sit down on. Get wherever privacy or publicity features you want.

Use it as an alternative to WordPress, Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Invite Copilot in while you write for some extra AI-advantage. Or don’t. It all works well, and any way you Alice it, it’s going to improve your life in countless ways it’ll take another long rambling post like this to tell you about.

And finally, I’ve given it a nice permissive MIT license so you can do whatever you want with it. Don’t like my decisions? Well, it’s the easiest most beautiful code y’ever saw, so fork it and make your own version. Or submit pull requests and improve the overall system for everyone. Are you an SEO looking for a secret weapon? Pretty soon this’ll do the URL-submit on the Google Search Console back-end (again, optionally for all you private journalers).

Yeah, so what do you think? Good rough draft for my big contribution thing? Write about it in your journal.