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Secretly, you wish you could've done what I did
What have I done since roncli.com v2?
It's Done. It's Finally Done.
The Big Picture is Starting to Wear on Me
A Low Bang to Buck Ratio
win-acme
Overload has truth; next it needs balance
I Thought I Wasn't Going to Ever Blog about Trax i...
The Big Picture
Uhhh...
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Saturday, August 13, 2022
Secretly, you wish you could've done what I did
Posted: 3:39:00 AM 0 comments
I mean, I'm not reading anyone's mind or anything like that. But judging from a lot of people's comments about That Bird Hell Site, you'd think that people would be dying to get away from it.

It's not that easy.



There's a reason it's called social media. It's social. It's your connection with a list of other users that you presumably have curated over a span of months or years. For some of those connections, it's your only connection to them. It also costs a lot of energy to make connections like these to begin with. So, it makes sense that people wouldn't want to start over elsewhere. In fact, I recall reading a couple people fearing that they were being abandoned by people who decided that enough was enough at Twitter.

A very fair conclusion to make, but not one that is without its flaws. Social media is a double edged sword. Sites like Twitter are designed to get you to engage the site as frequently as possible. How? Twitter has critical mass. Everyone you know is probably on Twitter or at least tried it, so you get comfortable with it because most of the people you know are there. They want you to stay on their site and browse around, so they try to learn about you and your friends through your posts, and then throw them all in an algorithm to try to make a few cents off an ad you might click on. Sure, Twitter has other ways to monetize, but the general rule is if a product is free, you - or more specifically your data - are the product.

To some people, this is just the absolute worst. However, I decided that I was generally okay with this as long as the product was useful and the people behind it weren't completely evil. Symbiotic relationships aren't necessarily bad relationships, after all.

When I "left" Facebook - "left" is in quotes because I still log in to and even use the account from time to time, much like I did during my Twitter down time - I made a conscious decision that I wasn't going to support what Facebook had become. When I first joined, it was fun to keep up with everyone. When I left, keeping up with everyone meant suffering through arguments, bad political takes, and opinions about things you didn't want to know. I saw the worst of people I cared for many times, and interactions on the site straight up ruined several relationships between friends. It was too much. The product ceased being useful, and I quit.

Earlier this year, I "left" Twitter - again "left" is in quotes because I still logged in, read everyone's posts every day, and even sometimes replied - I again made a conscious decision that I wasn't going to support what Twitter was about to become. My leaving was 100% about Elon Musk's planned purchase and privatization of Twitter. Why would something like this prompt me to leave?

Simple. The guy is an asshole.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no angel myself. I mean, just read this blog in its early years, or dig up some of my older posts on Trax in Space. However, someone with the money and influence that this man has who is consistently stooping to this level of dehumanization is downright dangerous. Sure, there are other billionaires out there with less than reputable personalities, but no one comes close to touching Musk right now. So if the top man at Twitter is going to be this kind of person - and this is not to mention anything about the recent political views he has taken - it will cease to maintain my loyalty.



Joining and using Mastodon regularly is simply me hedging my bets. Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect. Far from it, in fact. The main thing it's missing is critical mass - the people and organizations you know are very likely not on Mastodon. The other problem is it's hard to actually do any discovery on the site, although this might be good for some people whose main complaint about Twitter is that discovery leads to some bad mental health situations (ie: doomscrolling). However, consider this discovery is what draws a lot of people to Twitter, and is a contributing factor to its critical mass. A third problem is that its sharding is poorly done. You can only belong to one server, even if you have more than one interest, and it's not trivial to move servers if you decide you want to do so. I feel like with this being its cornerstone feature, it should've been more thought out and useful. But the good things are that it is actively moderated, it's easy to follow the posts of people you follow (even on other servers), there's no algorithm on your timeline to deal with, and you get 500 characters instead of 280.

I returned to Twitter once it was clear that the acquisition was not yet a done deal. No need to abandon ship if it's not sinking. Besides, I'm doing my part trying to keep it afloat. But like I said, there's social in social media, and that's the main draw. Remeber, that feeling of abandonment that people get by reading about people like me leaving is by design. I feel for people who are hooked like this, but it's not going to stop me from at least trying to do the responsible thing.

I'm hoping that if the worst happens and the deal is closed that I'll be able to formally pack up and leave for good without coming back, but if there's one thing I've learned from the last couple months?

It's not that easy.

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What have I done since roncli.com v2?
Posted: 2:13:00 AM 0 comments
Nothing.

That's it. That's the blog post.



OK, so that's not entirely true. Actually, a lot has happened since the end of 2021. Allow me to recap.

  • I needed a break from hardcore coding. I was going hard for about a year, and needed some time to do something else for a while. I still did some coding, but it wasn't for the big picture projects.
  • Return to work sprung back up. I now travel to the city two days a week for my job. I was not ready for the level of fatigue this would bring on those days.
  • I moved. My wife and I bought a house, and I now live in Pittsburg, California, pretty close to a BART station. It's gorgeous here, we have awesome views of the delta and surrounding hills. The house, however, is cursed.
  • My ability to keep up with everything waned for a while. Having to worry about house searching during the week and actually going to look at houses on the weekend while juggling about a half dozen other responsibilities. For those keeping track, I temporarily gave up maintaining olmod, running the Observatory, and streaming regularly.

While things with the new house have been pretty hectic - see aforementioned comment about the house being cursed - life has been pretty damn good otherwise. I still feel my top goal in terms of coding is to get off of the Windows VM, so I'm going to start picking things up again to move into that direction. But first thing's first.

I've been doing a lot of modernization of some older projects, and have been forcing myself to catch up on super old issues. I want to get the issues list for my personal projects down to zero (excepting FusionBot, read on for more on that) before moving the Overload game tracker to a Docker project. After that, the next real big task is going to be combining the OTL and the Azure server manager into one project, and then moving it to a Docker project. The last big project is giving The Observatory its own website and reinstituting the bot so I don't have to directly deal with Borjarnon making a mockery of the event. (I still love you, Borj.)

After that? I don't think I can commit to anything after that other than shutting down the Windows VM once and for all. I have a lot of ideas as to what I want to do next, but getting to that point is going to take dedication... the same level of dedication I gave last year to my coding projects. It's not unreasonable for me to finish all these things within a year, but I also know how easy it is to burn out, so I'm taking it carefully and giving myself time to do other things that I enjoy. I believe that taking things one step at a time while leaving room for other things will help prevent the burnout I experienced at the release of roncli.com.

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Friday, December 17, 2021
It's Done. It's Finally Done.
Posted: 1:52:00 AM 0 comments
I give to you the complete. The informative. The functional. roncli.com version 2.0.

While it's been out here in beta for the last couple weeks, I formally released version 2.0 on GitHub earlier this evening, shipped it out to its new home in Azure, finished up all the remaining content changes I needed to make, and popped off.

OK, so the celebration was more subdued than that, but I tell you, this has been a journey. I've done so many things that are new, I don't even know where to begin.

roncli.com is the product of nine Docker containers. All of these containers run simultaneously on the same server to get the website to function.

  • Certbot - For keeping the SSL certs up to date.
  • Logger - A node.js application that logs Docker output to Azure Application Insights.
  • Nginx - This web server acts as a reverse proxy for the applications on the server.
  • Redis - Caching for the main website.
  • MongoDB - The main data store for the website.
  • MariaDB - The data store for the photo albums.
  • PhotoPrism - The photo album service that stores over 3,000 pictures used on the website.
  • ronc.li - The redirection service for roncli.com.
  • roncli.com - The main website.


roncli.com uses a whole bunch of tools to make it tick, including some mainstays like express. I also have written my own, including something called Hot Router, an express router that lets me create classes that are picked up by the router to determine what page to load when a certain URL is hit. It connects to a whole bunch of third party services for things such as my blog, my music releases, my coding projects, my gaming stats, and more. And, it has a super cool résumé page that I'd been wanting to do for a long time.

Being finished with this site doesn't mean it's time to stop, though. Next, I'll be doing a release of olmod for the Overload folks, doing some long overdue updates to the Overload Tracker and the OTL, and then it's on to moving all the Overload projects off of the Windows server and retiring it, finally.

There's still a long way to go, but I feel roncli.com was the biggest project that hadn't been moved yet. It was a complete rewrite from the ground up, which the tracker and the OTL will not be. Hopefully I can complete everything I want to do within the next few months and free myself up to do some stuff other than websites for once.

We'll see how that goes in the coming months, but until then, enjoy the new roncli.com!

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Saturday, October 09, 2021
The Big Picture is Starting to Wear on Me
Posted: 10:59:00 PM 0 comments
Eight months ago, I wrote on The Big Picture, a summary of my initiative to get off of my Azure Windows VM and on to Linux VMs running Docker containers with Node.js websites backed by MongoDB databases. It's a meta-project of sorts, and it has taken a certain mental discipline to keep at it.

The Trax in Space 1 archive was easy to port, and since porting it I've learned that I didn't need to restrict downloads so much on it, so I increased the download limit. Six Gaming was full of challenges, and even today I find things I have to change with it because I didn't do it right the first time. I'm currently working on rebuilding this site and have been for several months now, and I'm itching to get back to the Overload-related projects, and to move on from this whole thing.

I said this back in February:

This is, of course, a multi-part project that has taken on a life of its own in recent months, and it's one I am enjoying greatly so far. It's really expanded the boundaries by which I am able to operate websites and related online services.

Boy, that's an awful lot of enthusiasm. Sigh. We were so young back then.

Since then I've worked through major bugs, tackled big architectural design questions, learned a hell of a lot about MongoDb... and have bored myself to death with this project.

Look, it's not like I knew this was going to be a huge project. Just the opposite, I knew what I was getting into. I remember how long it took me to complete roncli.com the first time, and I'm still looking at coming in at well under a fifth of the time it took me to complete it the first time around. I've learned a lot in 7 years, and it's showing with how fast I'm getting stuff done. But when I take a look at the big picture, it just seems so... slow.

I am to the point I want to work on something else. I want to update the OTL for season 7 and beyond. I want to add some amazingly cool things to olmod. I want to make games of my own. And, I want to get back to regular streaming again.

But every time I sit down to code, I am reminded of the plot: get off that monolithic Windows VM, and you'll have the freedom to do what you want and when you want when this is all done. So I go heads down, jam my EDM playlist, and spit out another couple of files on whatever I'm working on, making a bit of meaningful progress until I get bored and go for a walk, play some games, or write a blog post.

I'm sure a lot of this stems from the fact that I've been essentially stuck at home for 19 months. I'm bored to death with that, too. No train rides to The City, and very few outings outside of the usual Friday routine of dinner and groceries. While 2021 has been infinitely better than 2020 when I didn't get out at all, I can't shake the feeling this year that I'm accomplishing very little.

Of course, my GitHub contribution graph will tell you otherwise, and when I look at things logically, I know I'm getting stuff done. I just wish I could fast forward to the end of the big picture so I can move on to the next big thing... perhaps something a bit more exciting.

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Sunday, August 29, 2021
A Low Bang to Buck Ratio
Posted: 2:08:00 AM 0 comments
The story behind Six Gaming is long, complex, and probably can't be covered in a single post. If I were to sum up what Six Gaming is today, the answer would be "probably should be dead, but stubbornly isn't". I knew this going into redesigning the Six Gaming website, yet I did it anyway. Why?

There's a number of personal reasons involved. My outside hope that some day everyone stops being super busy with life and commits to a podcast again, which is what the original community was built around after our WoW guild died. The only reason I decided to stop streaming it is because no one could commit to the schedule except for me. The website also has a Discord and Twitch bot that promotes streamers, hosting them on our Twitch page, which would be a great tool if the community was still active. However, it's not active, so the main reason I used to justify upgrading Six Gaming? Knowledge building.

Six Gaming is the first website that I've built that runs with a MongoDB back end. It's the second site I've built that uses Docker containers. It's also the second site I've built on my current generation of node.js website architecture, but the first time I've done it within Docker. The website uses Discord.js, Express, FullCalendar, the node.js wrapper for IGDB, the node.js wrapper for MongoDB, and the Twitch.js library that is being rebranded as the ridiculously-named Twurple. However, when I talk about my website architecture, I don't mean the libraries I'm using, but rather the way the website is put together.

I drew some inspiration from the now-defunct Rendr library. It was a node.js library that worked with Backbone.js to let you code a web site just once to render web pages on both the client and server side, making it easy to create single page applications. I was turned on to this library while working for the startup Sift back in 2013, and ultimately used it for my personal site roncli.com. Of course, as soon as I released that site, Rendr stopped getting updated, so I stopped using Rendr and started rolling my own.

The first website I used this new architecture with was the Overload Teams League. I didn't go too far with it, only making it so that there are views that can be rendered either client or server side. I didn't go as far as making it a single page application, that wouldn't come until version 2.0 of roncli.com. The back end architecture is your run of the mill MVC application, nothing too exciting going on. What made everything tick, however, was a custom-built router that I would eventually release to NPM called Hot Router. It's called that, because it has an option that lets you hot-swap controller files while the site is live while the application is running. That was super useful for debugging the first few sites created with it, but the hot swapping has become less useful now that I've gotten better at using Docker.

All of the above is setup for one of the more amusing issues I encountered while working on Six Gaming's website, and there were plenty. Being only my second Docker project, I won't talk about what I can only describe as "newbie mistakes". However, the biggest thing I found was what I term the memory leak from hell.

I discovered it when I was working on the Hot Router project. The gist of the problem is that for weeks after the launch of six.gg, I had a very slow memory leak that would break down the server after about a week. It drove me insane that I couldn't find it. The lengths I went to in order to find the leak were insane. First, I wrote my own calls to the docker.sock API, logging the metrics to Application Insights. That alone instantly doubled the cost of the server while I had the metrics active. The price you pay.

This led me to learn the memory leak was happening in the node.js Docker container. In order to find the memory leak, I had to connect the node.js instance inside Docker to Google Chrome's dev tools. Once I did that, I spent hours pouring over memory logs, slowly narrowing the problem to my shiny new router. Did making the router a module cause the memory leak? Did I screw something up porting the code over from being inline in the project to its own module?

No, the memory leak was there all along. I tried comparing Date objects to see if they were different. While you can compare to see if they are greater than or less than each other, trying to compare that they are equal or not equal actually doesn't work. This was causing Hot Router to always treat the controllers as if they were just hot swapped. It would delete the cache of the controller and re-require it. As it turns out, the act of deleting the cache and re-requiring it caused the memory leak. That, combined with the date comparison bug, resulted in a slow memory leak.

As I was fixing that bug, it dawned on me. I run the Overload Game Tracker, and that site had been suffering from a memory leak for over a year. It runs an early version of the routing code that Hot Router uses. Turns out I solved a very old memory leak by finding the leak in an entirely different application.

Anyway, Six Gaming's website has been humming along for a while. It was a lot of effort for not a lot of reward. However, this project taught me a ton about Docker, MongoDB, and more. And everything I learned from this is going into my most ambitious project yet... my own website! More on that in a future post.

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win-acme
Posted: 2:05:00 AM 0 comments
Here's a great piece of free software for IIS administrators who want to easily manage their SSL certificates from Let's Encrypt.

win-acme is a self-guided command line utility that allows you to quickly and easily take an IIS website and get an SSL certificate on it. After struggling with utilities like ACMESharpCore, ZeroSSL's Crypt-LE, and Posh-ACME, I realized that all of these tools, while powerful, didn't have any ease of use whatsoever. When I first looked at the text interface for win-acme, I didn't think it was going to be as easy as selecting options from a menu.

It's as easy as selecting optinos from a menu.

Within 5 minutes, I had 7 websites with shiny new SSL certs, and I had gotten them scheduled them for a regular renewal. I didn't have to do any configuration or any PowerShell scripting, it just worked. Give it a try if you're running websites on IIS!

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Thursday, March 25, 2021
Overload has truth; next it needs balance
Posted: 6:31:00 PM 0 comments
Overload multiplayer was put together in around a month, went through another month of testing, and ended up being rather underwhelming to play. Ranked multiplayer queues died out after the first couple weeks, those that remained were either gaming the system or late to the party. Mercifully, ranked multiplayer did not survive very long.

However, multiplayer soon began to thrive in the form of the Overload Teams League. I founded the OTL in 2019 for pilots who wanted to play team games. It caught on pretty quick with 6 teams by its second month. At first, we dealt with the frustrating limitations of poor server choices, shoddy networking, and always demanding to Bammer "RESTART YOUR SERVERS!!!". But shortly after Revival Productions folded in February of 2019, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of olproxy, a piece of software that allowed Overload LAN servers to act as Internet servers. For the first time, Internet games were playable without official servers.

Over time, this expanded to olproxy being incorporated into olmod, a collection of mods for Overload with the aim to improve multiplayer game play. A large number of improvements have been included in olmod since then, including larger game sizes, reporting to a tracker, sniper packets, lag compensation, and more. What hasn't been addressed is weapon balance.

Multiplayer weapon balance has not been great since Overload launched. Ammo weapons have been shown to dominate, and the energy weapons are a mixed bag with cyclone being dominant and reflex being weak. Hunters used to be super strong until an early nerf was added to olmod. Creepers and time bombs used to be excessively out of sync between client and server. Despite this, people still played, but bigger issues existed because people couldn't understand what they were seeing. Ship positions were not consistent. People were saying that 50ms in Overload felt worse than 100ms in Descent 3. (While seemingly unbelievable, this was learned to be a true statement since Overload intentally adds a minimum of 83ms of lag to game play; 33ms for processing controls smoothly and 50ms to be able to interpolate ships smoothly.) Slowly over time, the net code was deciphered and unravelled, and we learned some shocking things about how the net code was implemented. In addition to the intentionally added lag, your entire controls are sent to the server every frame for processing server-side. Every button press, mouse movement, or swing of the joystick would be part of that send. But because client and server frames don't match up one to one, this would cause errors in position and rotation, and weapon firing that was often out of phase, meaning what you saw on your screen wasn't what was happening on the server.

First, we fixed the weapons. Sniper packets made it so that every time you fire something client-side, that is what was seen server-side. This also eliminated some super bad parts of the game, such as disagreements as to how many missiles you have, what weapon you're using, what side of the ship you're firing a missile out of, and more.

Second, we fixed most of the intentional lag and made it so that it would try to compensate for lag, predicting where ships will be in the future, making them easy to hit. Then we revisited weapons, also compensating them for lag so that they'd be easier to dodge.

I say "we" because this is a team of developers doing this. Arne de Brujin created olproxy and olmod and showed us what is possible. I've contributed a bunch of code, and Tobias, Whollycow, and derhass have been instrumental in keeping things on track. We even have occasional contributors like terminal, luponix, and D.Cent provide extra quality of life for both players and developers.

And now we're ready to tackle balance.

Players are now seeing the game closer to the truth than ever before, and as a result they have honed in their skills better than ever, showing us that, yeah, there are serious balance problems with the game. It's not like we didn't already know this. However, now that we are seeing closer to the truth, we can begin to understand exactly what these balance problems are, and hopefully start finding common ground in regards to what needs to be balanced.

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Thursday, February 25, 2021
I Thought I Wasn't Going to Ever Blog about Trax in Space again...
Posted: 2:08:00 AM 0 comments
Well, I hope at least a couple people get a good chuckle out of the title. Fortunately for them, this post is about something else entirely: the Trax in Space 1 file repository.

I've maintained this site, with some interruptions, since around the time TiS1 shut down, which I believe was some time in 2003 or 2004. It was a simple site written in Classic ASP that had one purpose - serve files. When I lived in Houston, I maintained this site on my own server that was literally right next to my desk. I had unlimited bandwidth, great Internet speeds for the day, and was able to let people download what they wanted.

Fast forward to October 2015, when I moved from Houston to Belmont. The site was unceremoniously removed from the Internet, and I really had no idea how I wanted to get it back up. I had roncli.com up in Azure for quite a while by that point, but didn't really know what the cost was going to be for me to put the whole 14 GB repository online, so I just... didn't.

It didn't take long for people to notice it was gone, either. In December 2015, I received my first email regarding someone willing to host the site. As a man of technological pride, I silently declined, promising to myself to put it up soon. It took me 2 1/2 years to do so. This was the birth of the Github repository for tis.roncli.com, rewritten entirely in Node.js. However, there was a twist. Because I wasn't sure what kind of cost bandwidth would have, I limited downloads to 50 per 24 hours, a limit that still exists to this day. People have been generally happy that it's back, but have been asking for the 50 download limit to be removed. I've largely been unwilling to do that, simply because I'm not sure what the cost of doing so would be. However, it's a question that I will be willing to revisit after this current project is complete.

Last year, I started learning Docker, and figured TiS1 would be a great first project. I learned how to set up Azure Storage, where all the files now live. I learned how to run certbot properly, got nginx as the web server, and log failures to Azure so that I can monitor what's going on. It's been awesome. The server is a Linux VM that's super small compared to the one I'm running, and is all open source, so no fees for it being a Windows VM with SQL Server on it. It's pretty cheap to run, too: about $10/month.

TiS1's transition has been a success, and kick started me on my next project... moving Six Gaming into Docker, a project that was full of... let's say "learning experiences". I'll talk about Six's challenges in my next post.

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Monday, February 08, 2021
The Big Picture
Posted: 4:16:00 PM 0 comments
Sometimes, it's a good idea to take a step back and look at what you're doing and what you've done, and ask, "Can this be better?"

I recently did this with my Azure Windows VM. For a while, I've been just loading up any new website or venture I've created onto my VM. This, however, has proven to be problematic when it comes to some of my more recent projects, including the OTL and the corresponding Overload Game Browser. These two projects are by far my most used websites on the server, and they continually push the limits of what this VM can do. Timeouts have become more and more frequent, and as more and more data piles into the database, the problem is just going to keep getting worse.

So I asked the question, "Do I need to be on a Windows VM?"

Some years ago, the answer would have been "yes". I was running .NET Framework 4-point-something, and had a lot of Microsoft-specific things on the system, including a Microsoft SQL Server. Now, however, every site I host is written in Node.js. The only thing remaining that requires anything Microsoft is the SQL Server.

So I asked the question, "Do I even need SQL Server?" I don't think I do. MongoDB exists, and I have been figuring out how to work with that for some time.

As such, I've begun a massive project to try to move away from this Windows VM and retire it permanently. For a while, I wasn't sure how I was going to do it, but as part of a learning course pilot at work I picked up Docker. My goal is to move every project that I have on that server into a group of Docker containers and run them on their own Linux VMs. Linux VMs are much cheaper than Windows VMs, and if something starts running out of resources I can just up the VM size accordingly.

So what is going to move?
This is, of course, a multi-part project that has taken on a life of its own in recent months, and it's one I am enjoying greatly so far. It's really expanded the boundaries by which I am able to operate websites and related online services. In coming posts, I will talk about each project separately, and what each site's status and future is.

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Sunday, January 24, 2021
Uhhh...
Posted: 2:17:00 AM 0 comments
Hi. I'm roncli. You may remember me from some of my greatest hits, such as Got nasty VB.Net ListView flicker? Double Buffer it, Of tigers and clowns, and most likely OTL's player disconnection issue because I haven't written anything on this blog in two years. Needless to say, I haven't done much here lately.

I don't know if that's going to change. This blog used to be where I wrote things that I wanted to talk about. Over time, that moved to Twitter as my musings turned more short form. As a result, I'm quite active there, and I've had no motivation to keep this blog up to date. At all.

That makes it quite unfortunate that I chose to make my blog the main feature of my home page. When I was putting this version of the website together, I had grand plans to start getting creative again in music, keep writing on subject I enjoyed, and maybe even build a small community around the website. None of that happened.

What has happened? My interests have changed dramatically. Instead of being creative in the music space, I'm creative with my streams to Twitch. Instead of writing about what's going on, I've increased activity on Twitter and Discord.

But one interest that hasn't changed is coding. I've done so much over the past 2 1/2 years with various coding projects that 2005 me would be super jealous of how much I've been able to accomplish, and that kinda feels good. I have a lot to write about on this subject, and hopefully will find the time to do so over the coming weeks, but the project that I'm currently working on is a complete rewrite on roncli.com. While the content will largely remain the same, the amount of real estate I give on the front page to this blog is going to be reduced dramatically. The truth is the content of this blog isn't all that great, and I don't really want to give a ton of space to something that I don't update often. I certainly will keep it around for archival purposes - mostly to remind myself of how unfiltered I was in my younger days - and make an attempt to make it a bit easier to browse.

Here's to hoping that this post won't burn another image into the site's front page for the next couple years.

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