Gemini and the Two Tunnels
This week I finished the first version of a static site generator I've been working on. In recent months there's been discussion on our IRC server about the shortcomings of the modern web and the direction that it's taking. Ever more invasive advertising, user tracking, cookie permission popups, inaccessibility to people with disabilities, unnecessary processor and bandwidth usage, and the prospect of this experience of the web expanding, has led a counterculture of 'the small internet'. Enter the Gemini protocol. It's lighter than modern web technologies but heavier than the gopher protocol, simple, private, and unextendable by design (so it can't evolve into something complicated), with source files no more complex than a regular text file. Geminispace, the name given to the space of pages authored for serving via this protocol, is growing rapidly, spurred on by an idealistic, hobbyist community. Browsing Geminispace can feel calm and free of distraction. I remember during my first term of university in the mid-nineties I accidentally discovered the Gopher protocol on the shared Unix system, at a time when NCSA Mosaic and other early browsers were only just beginning to deliver the early years of the web. Gopher seemed immediately nagivable, an expanse of little spaces where I could discover all sorts of cool stuff from servers all around the world. Over twenty-five years later, for me, Gemini is a revival and evolution of that experience and aesthetic, that, for better or worse, the now-bloated web has long since left behind.
Readers may have noticed that a couple of months ago, the content formerly on www.rawles.net moved to www.rawles.org.uk. That was to make way for a new approach to my homepage. Strictly text only, largely unstyled, and with minimal tracking, this site is generated by a Haskell program before being uploaded to the server. Some pages are written in plain text, others using a datatype for documents of my own invention, and others generated programatically. Everything validates and gets served quickly. Links appear automatically in the text when phrases are mentioned, providing jumping-off points to the rest of the web. Pages can be generated from raw data via complex transformations in the program, yielding small websites accessible over even very slow or unreliable connections. Indeed, one aim is to host the site at my home on an old router running OpenWrt, or even to run the site off-grid from solar power. Even one megabyte of on-board storage would allow for a site of hundreds of pages like this one, and each precomputed page would require minimal network and processor overhead to serve.
In creating the static site, the intermediate markup source is transformed to HTML. It is also transformed into the source format of the Gemini protocol. In doing so, the site is 'bihosted', with a view of the same documents possible from www.rawles.net and gemini.rawles.net (kindly hosted by Dan). If you are reading this blog entry on the web, you can see gemini.rawles.net via a proxy, from which you can explore the rest of the site and the rest of Geminispace.
The long-awaited video game Cyberpunk 2077 was released earlier in the week and on some pretty emphatic recommendations I got myself a copy. I've only played it for a couple of hours but so far, no regrets. I haven't played video games for a few years, but it feels like this genre of open-world action-adventure game has developed quite a bit since I last played any. I generally like cyberpunk stuff, so the story appeals to me, and the game is immersive, intuitive and takes place in a carefully-crafted environment with impressive attention to detail. Wish me luck on the streets of Night City...
And now for news from the real world. Yesterday I went on an epic 20km walk with Dan. The best bit was along the Two Tunnels Greenway. The first tunnel is the Devonshire Tunnel, a 400m tunnel which takes you from the city to a wooded valley. Not long after, you get to Combe Down tunnel, Britain's longest cycling tunnel at 1.6km in length. It takes about twenty-five minutes to walk it, during which you experience lights glowing to ethereal music and a rather otherworldy feel generally. I try to bring a radio when I go for walks so I can monitor the local repeaters. Yesterday we stopped to have a chuckle at the chatter on GB3WR, transmitting to us from over on the Mendip hills. I attempted a call to M0MUF (who was disappointed at the lack of traffic) but from a valley on a hand-held radio, I expect that it didn't make it very far. After the conversation died out, we continued, and driven on by the lovely winter sun, the undulating hillsides and their fauna, we kept going all the way along the cycle path to the Fox and Badger for burgers and cider.