Partially-applied self

Published on 2024-02-13

Capsule and website craftsmanship is both an artistic and narrative medium. When you build a space on the internet, you are at once painting a sort of painting and telling a sort of story.

When that space is personal, such as I intend for njms.ca to be, irregardless of the protocol over which it's served, that painting is a self-portrait, and that story is autobiographical.

This is something I take as a given, despite the fact that my capsule doesn't "look" much like I look in the Real World, and the things I write often have very little to do with my day-to-day life. Nonetheless, the stories I write are very literally a "piece of my mind" that I'm sharing with you.

Who do you write for?

I think the specific way we structure these narratives is really important.

The way I structure my capsule is a tree graph of articles. New articles reference old articles. Old articles never reference new articles. I mostly stole this idea from idiomdrottning.org. Notably, Sandra also has a really good critique of this exact pattern:

"Composition Considered Harmful" at idiomdrottning.org

[Editor's note 2024-04-06: idiomdrottning.org is intentionally not acyclic, something I didn't notice at the time of writing, so while we both have heavily inter-linked articles, the tree-like structure is just something I've been doing]

Perhaps both of us, at least I, have fallen into this pattern not because it's an effective way to communicate complex ideas, but rather because it feels like an extremely natural way to organize your thoughts. Before I got into this back-referentiality thing I was really into knowledge graphs for the same reason: that's kind of how I think in real life. The tree-graph model is like a knowledge graph but with an extra temporal dimension tacked on, which better models how we usually create things like gemlogs.

I think a knowledge graph is a good way to model my mind, and similarly I think that a tree graph is a good way to tell my story. Old ideas support new, more complex ideas. Each article is an networked agent, all of which work together to create emergent ideas.

Internet spaces like these are really unique as far as media of storytelling goes. Sometimes I like to think of my spaces online as a function, that is, a system that takes some input from you, the reader, allows me to transform it in some way, and return some output for you to read. It's a story where your desires control what you read--at least, to the extent that I allow. It demands some agency on your part, as opposed to a linear story that just pulls you along.

Partial application is this idea in programming languages where you take a function and control for one or more of its inputs. For example, let's imagine a machine that takes two numbers and adds them together. Now, let's imagine building another machine that always outputs the number 5. We could combine these two machines, feeding the output of our second into the input line of the first. All together, we'd have a new machine that takes only a single number, and adds five to it, as five is always being taken in on what used to be the first input line. Partial application takes a function and makes a new one with fewer inputs.

Another way of thinking about partial application is that it decreases the resolution of a function. Without all the right input, what a function means in a particular context is ambiguous. When we fix a particular input through partial application, we narrow what that function can correspond to. What the function "means" gets disambiguated.

In our example, both "the sum of all two numbers" and "the sum of all numbers with five" correspond to, you know, all numbers. But they mean two very different things. It means something meaningfully different to add any number to five, as opposed to adding any number to any number.

If all the entries on my gemlog taken together tell the story of my mind (or at least, the part of it I'm sharing with you), then by composing many entries together I'm fixing some of those arguments. The entries stop being individual stories and start to present a much larger narrative than any of them convey on their own.

That's the goal, anyways.

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