This Thing That I Need


This blog is rapidly devolving into a series of rants. I’m sorry.

I do a lot of work in what you could (generously) call “thought design,” both for work and for fun, and for stuff in between. I like architecting information. I’ve had a number of wikis for years, and I routinely use personal wikis and similar kinds of information organization tools for a lot of my day to day work and hobby time. Basically, I like to use applied information theory and ontology for everything.

So you’d think that I’d have a good system for it.

But I really, really don’t.

And here’s the real problem. They’re all (except TheBrain) missing one feature that I really want: link context.

In a wiki, you can have node Alice link to node Bob, which is fine. You get the context from the sentence that link appears in. But what if I want to run some kind of parser that understands that link? It doesn’t know what’s in the sentence or how to interpret it, it just knows AliceBob. But in TheBrain (and in ontology, and in HTML itself) that relationship itself has properties. You could have something like Aliceis the parent ofbob or Alicehatesbob. That I could parse all day. I could analyze stories and map worlds so good with that.

So far, I haven’t found a tool that matches all these criteria, and I’ve tried some pretty crazy stuff.

Use cases


These are the things that prevent me from using other preexisting tools instead and saving myself a lot of time and hassle.

If you know of a thing that matches those requirements, hit me up on mastodon or twitter, please.

The Hypothetical Thing

I call the this hypothetical tool “Creative Ontology Editor,” because that’s what it is. It’s an information design tool for creative endeavors. It borrows information theory structures and applies them to non-scientific non-enterprise data. A personal information theory tool, the same way Zim is a personal wiki.

Key features

Build It And They Will Come

I mean, probably not, or someone else would have built it already, right?

So I tried to start building the thing. And here comes the rant.

How do you write a cross-platform desktop app? I’ve found a number of options, and none of them have worked out for me very well. They include Python, C# .net/mono, and Node.js.

Node.js is the frontrunner at this point, because it’s so closely tied to a functioning, useful, extendable UI framework. It’s pretty cool, in case you haven’t heard of it, it’s called HTML.

Node allows you to write servers and create single-page applications, but it also allows you to write desktop apps using one of a number of packages. The one that I’m most familiar with is Electron, but there’s also Nodewebkit and others.

But here’s the problem with that (aside from the fact that every minute I spend coding, debugging, and configuring this beast is a minute I’m not working on “real” work): node.js is freaking hard to build. Writing the code is easy, after I really grokked React (another module on top of Node.js) I was able to get a working prototype of this app in a few weeks of afternoon work. Which is spectacular, and I’d really like it if things had kept going that well. Unfortunately, to set that up I had to use the create-react-app module (are you seeing a pattern here?) which explicitly prevents you from writing to the disk or reading files, for security reasons. The thing is that CRA and Electron don’t get along so well because of that pattern. In theory, you should be able to use any UI toolkit or framework–React included–inside an Electron app. But by using CRA to set up Babel and Webpack (ugh more modules) and manage them without my interference, I set up my project in such a way that fundamentally breaks parts of Electron.

Now, I expect that I could fix this problem if I rebuilt the entire app backwards, starting with Electron, then adding in React manually (and possibly configuring Webpack and Babel manually dear god) but I’m just tired man. I thought I could make this work. I went out of the way to stop coding new features to make sure that I could build the app to production fairly early, and here we are with me needing to yet again start basically from scratch. Which leaves me in the same limbo trap as before:

Do I take the time to work on a tool to enable me to do my job better? Or do I just do my job worse instead?


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