Letters from Somnolescent December 25, 2020

Two Years Glowing: 2020 in Review

by bulb

Things were much different around Somnolescent when I wrote 2019’s yearly recap. For one thing, I was stuck in a dirty bedroom in Ohio, but mostly, the group was still growing, still trying to sum together our edges. We were close, but still guarded. Emotions were high. We knew there was more to get out of the bulb.

And yeah, here we stand! Five days ago passed the two-year anniversary of Somnolescent. We’ve never been more confident, comfortable, productive, focused. We have someone new aboard. We’re constantly expanding our empire and exploring new ground–I even just took up drawing somehow!

While we’ve been mostly good about our monthly recap series this year, Christmas always marks the time to gather it all up and speed through it–and we still have a ton to get through. There’s art and philosophy buried in the pile too! It’ll be fun. Come celebrate!


In all honesty, 2019 didn’t end off terribly well for us, so January was a bit of a slog for all of us. Happens–sleepy winter, real life pressures, school resumes, friends fight, you know the deal. Obviously, all resolved fine, as we’re still here.

dotcomboom's blog

The late winter wasn’t a total wash, though. For me personally, I regained control of the Valve Developer Union domain and rebuilt the site over a period of a few weeks, and dcb debuted his 32-bit Patio, the second personal blog to pop up on our network. w2krepo, which debuted as a subdirectory on dcb’s site, got its own subdomain and a new look to match soon after.

In more fun news, Caby successfully infected the group with her interest in Neopets, leading to a lot of binging the Neopian Times archives and coming up with Neopetsonas for everyone; if you have an account, you can come peek at us to this day! (And I’ve decided I’m staying as Cammaroo, in all likelihood. Must rewrite that petpage to match…)

The group's Neopetsonas

March 2020 was really when the year picked up speed. Redesigns and spring cleaning spread across our site network. mon’s site got a facelift. borb’s site finally got stuff to peek at. Tesserae relaunched with a brand new look to match the modern-lite ideal I was going for. Yours truly stripped his site down and added some more ideal navigation, and I continue to use the look to this day.


Spring was truly a busy time around Somnolescent. For one thing, even more redesigns–most notably of the top-level somnolescent.net site. Yes, far from the “I don’t know what I’m doing” slapped together previous designs, this one, we all signed off on, and Caby and I built together! It was my first experience properly using JavaScript, and it was pretty damn fun, all things considered. Caby and dcb both got in on the redesign racket too, dcb even learning PHP for the occasion.

somnol.net before and after
Big difference? Big difference.

Something started shifting in all of us around the early summer–a desire for purity and simplicity, something I’ll get into later. The Gopher revival was really where that first came into focus. Aside from running on Pituophis like it always should’ve been, the menus were structured less like gimpy web pages and more like pure Gopher menus flush with programs, GIFs, and WAVs available for download.

Filling out the trifecta of Gopher-related updates, Gopherlens, our in-house Gopher proxy, was made a part of Somnolescent proper after a lengthy debug session, and my Gopher Information Repository, formerly a major embarrassment for me, finally got filled out with documentation and even client reviews.

gopher.somnolescent.net viewed in Gophie

June itself was more of a rest month than anything else, though Pennyverse saw its first story experiment after last year’s burnout in “Back to the Sunrise” and I got started on the project that’d take up most of my summer, two gigantic Quake levels for an episode project started by an old friend of mine. borb also managed to get a story in with “Scent Trail”, a vibey little tribute to her old Calelira OC Sophius.


Continuing on that quest for purity I referred to earlier, July brought forth the Great Somnolescent Retablening, where we rebuilt many of the sites on our network to work in older browsers. A whole bunch of table layouts and old Javascript references later, and even this blog looks glorious in your 2000s browser of choice.

Letters from Somnolescent in Retrozilla

Following up on the Neopets stuff from earlier, Caby unveiled her Neopets Shrine early in July, with a ton of never-before-seen Caby art to match. She actually found these little uniquely-designed minisites to be to her liking, as two months later came a second, The Spooky Zone, all about cryptids and folklore as presented by her old paranoid Bigfoot hunter guinea pig lad, Torrone. I’m hearing rumblings of a third soon, so stay tuned.

Torrone with the Mothman hovering

We were busier outside of the collective than inside in July, with my Quake level ballooning in size, and Art Fight! 2020 taking up most of Caby and borb’s time. Naturally, come August, despite our wishes for a follow-up to Pennyverse Month, everyone was too exhausted to get much accomplished. Caby finished over 100 drawings, and borb’s Art Fight! 2020 gallery had to be split over two pages because there was so much to go over.

dcb kept busy at least with the fourth release candidate of AutoSite, submitting it to several freeware sites and even getting reviewed by a few. Despite my exhaustion, I also managed to get a story out in August, the second one featuring Sophius, curiously enough. This turned out to be a good omen for the fall–I could see more action, more vibes, and better characterization in this one. Still proud of it, really.


Pennyverse finally got its second wind in September through November. What started with “Thylacine” extended into the other draft I started early in the year, “Gonzo the Dissident”. For the first time, I was really writing stories that felt dynamic and fun, not stiff and awkward like they’d come before. I didn’t get the Seb story for Halloween I wanted done, but the warm, lovey follow-up in “A Fuzzy, Stuffy Stupor” did make it out for November.

Following the trail of resurrections came Somnocraft, which returned for a brief moment through September and October. Mostly, we played Beta 1.7.3, the last pre-Adventure Update update, and built a little town, including subways, lookouts, and even weather monitoring centers. It didn’t quite last, but the world and server files all still exist, so it still might be due for a second tour…

A very pretty shot of the Somnocraft Beta 1.7.3 server

November also came with a slew of new sites and subdomains. Caby’s art blog marked the third personal blog to debut on our network, Somnol’s storerooms opened to the general public in The Somnolescent Archives, and just recently, AutoSite finally debuted on its own domain, with a site made by yours truly! A big focus for me especially was getting all of these little ideas and updates out for NoFEMBR, and I think I succeeded spectacularly.

And–can’t forget the biggest thing to happen around here lately! Devon, someone we actually knew from Neocities, popped into my inbox in late June (come talk to me, by the way), and we had a terrific conversation for a few weeks that later spilled into our IRC room. Given all the art she’d been showing off and our discussions, we thought to invite her into the group proper, where she’s fit right in since then.

As of the moment, her site still exists on her own domain at matfloor.net, but getting her an account on Letters and linking to her throughout the network is a definite priority for the new year. Welcome aboard, Devon!

Art highlights

And the art highlights! Same as before, I asked all the people in the group who were active drawing this year to pick some favorites and tell me why. Last year, it was just Caby and borb, but this year, with Devon and dcb in tow, I think there’s a lot more to see. Here we go!

“Old ragged clothes” by borb (March 18)

A realistic Polaris in a worn jacket
“I distinctly remember I was actually tired the day I drew this. That didn’t stop me from making one of the best drawings all year. I just went so ham on the detailing and everything on this piece and what you get is a laris that looks pretty hella.”

“Christmas Bori” by dcb (September 3)

dcb Bori looking into a mirror and seeing a Christmas Bori back
“This sketch started in my notebook during a prolonged math class, when the idea struck me to give my Bori lad a,, curious look at his reflection. Seeing as we’re in the season, it’d only be appropriate to give it a show. I hadn’t fully garnered the confidence to digitize, line and finish it, but it remains some of my favorite work. While I’m still early on, this year has been a catalyst in getting me to go forward in taking up drawing as a hobby.”

“Post office” by Devon (November 4)

Arthur and a sleeping Elliot at the post office
“A piece I’m most satisfied with – first finished one after long time and came really quick, entire process was really enjoyable. It made things fun again and it was nice to draw Pennyverse lads.”

“Narrators” by Caby (December 14)

Somnolescent's narrator sonas hanging around the Caerpinwyd Inn
“It was rather hard to narrow down my choice to one picture, but I decided on this one for two reasons. One, it hasn’t been posted on here before, and two, I just plain like it. Tried a more complicated indoor scene for the first time in a while. Drew the Caerpinwyd inn and filled it up with Pinede sonas, colouring with a watercolour brush and some textured stuff on top. Pleased with how warm it turned out, it suits the festive season and Pinede in general. I might’ve completed more technically impressive pieces this year, but this one is special to me.”

Blog highlights

And of course, Letters…the blog we use fairly often, but not as often as we’d like. Neat stuff got written this year! Here’s some favorites:

  • Old Macs! by mon (April 14): mon got on the horn early this year to talk about his place in the group, but for content, this little gallery of his (surprisingly extensive) old Mac collection is a fun read. Good collection. You can also see some of his newer Macs and read about his attempts at surgery in the followup.
  • Incomplete Eclipses and Muffled Screams by borb (May 22): borb’s not one for rants like I am, but DeviantART Eclipse deserves it. Definitely covers the issues with the site well. I can assure you it’s only gotten less functional since this was written.
  • The Raven LTE flies again by dotcomboom (September 6): If you’re a fan of seeing good old tech get a new home, dcb managed to turn an old cracked contract phone into a server for Mindustry and his IRC setup. No computer gets left behind!
  • The Clever Feat of PNG Optimization by mariteaux (October 27): Yeah yeah, and here’s my junk. But seriously! I had a few big pieces to choose from this year, and ultimately, I think this one came out the most interesting. Getting to look through the format docs for specifics and then running tests and gathering numbers, putting them into graphs–definitely a fun little detour if you’re a nerdy graphics type like me.
  • Yerf, yerf, yerf by Caby (November 21): And if you’re a nerdy artsy type, how’s about Caby’s Yerf post? This one took just as much work and it’s a lot more fun to peek through visually. The Yerf archive is still highly enjoyable to burn a bunch of time on, especially when lads post old webcam photos of themselves. Gimme those cameras.

And can’t forget the year retrospectives! If any more get posted in the coming days, I’ll add them to the list, but at present:

  • Borb rambles about 2020 & emotions by borb (December 19): “It was rough and you almost lost me, but I came out on the other side feeling like a new person and I think that’s what matters most.”
  • Caby Chrimbas Update by Caby (December 25): “Now, for me personally, it’s been a bit of a stagnant year, though I think it has been for many people. Though, saying that, it has had its share of little victories. I’m closer than ever to having a site I like, I’ve improved in my art in several ways and tried stuff I never would’ve before, and I’ve become more socially confident and talkative. It feels nice.”

In closing

In closing? Busy year! And…that’s exactly what I wanna devote this last little section to. I overthink everything, so I won’t make it an essay, but it involves a little something we’ve all been thinking about lately, and that’s about our desire to return to a more stable, sensible internet existence.

I mentioned purity in the recap up there. The web has been mangled since its inception to bring a richer, more dynamic experience that has only turned the web into a greater tangle, one more irritating to browse and to maintain. Things get removed from their initial intent because it’s shinier, more interactive, more “interesting”–but to the detriment of the medium.

A lot of people in our circles have looked on at the dissolution of the personal web and thought about why, but they’ve never really broached it. They think that setting up new, free web hosts and tildes are enough to return people to the vibrant personal sites of yore–and they’re wrong. Poke through some of StumblingOn‘s results and note how miserable what you get is. Linux people. Politics. Software toys. Dreadful. This is our attempt at bringing back the personal web?

And in that is the issue. The personal web, in its inception, was a means to an end. You wanted to make a site about traveling through Wales? You made that site. Now, the personal web is the end. The web is so convoluted, the best practices so unnecessarily complex, that the only people who still make personal sites are the tech people who want the street cred. Imagine writing a book just so your name could be in it. Wouldn’t that book suck?

Yet, that’s the personal web we face now. Every single site is someone going “I made this because I believe in giving myself a unique presence, so I’m using Jekyll to generate a static site blog out of Markdown files.” The characters, the diversity–it’s all gone because you have to do interesting things to make an interesting site out of those things.

What’s this got to do with Somnolescent? Two things:

  • At the moment, all of us have been looking to pare down our sites and go minimal. Maintaining and bugfixing a layout is hard and annoying! I have a new section of my site with no layout at all going up soon. dcb’s been digging a ton into digital gardens, making browsing his site an adventure and less “his site”. Caby’s next subsite will likely do the same.
  • We’re looking to be less loud and frequent about our presences. We wanna be offline more, away from our computers more, and onto bigger and more interesting things. As I said in “Tools, Toys, and You and I”, these machines are tools, not life support. I don’t want to be concerned about a constant flow of content just to make sure no one stalking my site gets bored. I want to go on more walks and call people more.

In short: more fun, a good variety of interests, and bigger, less frequent updates. Internet people thrive on having a constant stream of noise. They get nervous without it, myself included! And that’s not right. I want next year to have fewer things happen, but what does happen is more substantive, something to be more proud of looking back. Bigger stories for sure. Back to music. Art! I really gotta get practicing my badgers…

There’s no use complaining about where the merrymakers have gone, lads. If you want change in the world, make it happen for yourself. Nothing good ever happened without someone doing what they weren’t supposed to.

But for now? The Somnolians continue to rest, comfily away from where things burn. Remember to have fun, live a little, and hug who you love, lads. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the Somnolians.

A Somnolian Christmas, redux

About bulb

Group posts, recaps, and things we all contributed to. Hopefully, our hum-to-English translation is intelligible enough.