Lab Reports

I’ve been thinking a lot recently that I wish I could’ve told myself 20+ years ago to put in the little bit of extra effort to make some of the weird tech projects I’ve worked on publicly sharable.

I rebuilt my website a few years ago, using an evolution of the same technique I’ve used since ~1998, and realized it’s not far off from what we call “static site generators” today. A few months ago, one of my favorite websites, celebrated 25 years of blogging; while mine certainly wasn’t nearly the same, it did have me wondering what it would look like if we’d made the blogging platform we started in 1997 or so (before we even had that word for it!) just a little bit more public. And just last week, trying to find the answer to some tool usage I couldn’t quite get, I found the answer in a 13-year-old mailing list entry… from me. It sure would be nice to have some history to point to for a lot of that — for myself as much as anything. I really wish I’d made a practice of writing down more of this.

The best time to start a practice like that was 25 years ago. The second best time is today. So I’m starting Lab Reports, a collection of notes on whatever tech (maybe non-tech eventually?) projects I’m working on. The idea is to periodically (every week or two?) pick one thing I’ve been actively working on and give it a slightly more formal treatment. The first one there is simple (and I expect most of these will be): a writeup on converting a Raspberry Pi’s tll serial line to rs232 (I’ve removed the earlier draft of that writeup from this blog). Some might be seeds for larger papers down the road.

The mechanism for publishing the reports themselves is also interesting (and will probably get a writeup soon), adapted from my “blog engine” and Plan 9’s /sys/doc/mkfile. In addition to web pages, it generates PostScript and PDF from the troff -ms source. The index is auto-generated, I got footnotes working better than /sys/doc (although still not perfect), and I got picture inclusing working. Future work includes improving footnotes, scaling down pictures (the PDFs and PostScript are gigantic), and auto-generating other types of pictures from the PostScript.

I considered just sticking all this in this blog, of course, but that didn’t feel right. For one thing, I want the Lab Reports to feel a bit more structured and cohesive. They’re likely going to have different presentation requirements, and I don’t want them to constrain each other. Mostly, though, I just wanted a fresh start.

The Lab Reports will get an RSS feed soon (probably before there’s a second one).