About Brandon’s Journal

As he says, keeping up to date with the site will require the old school approach of bookmarking it and going back from time to time to see what’s new, not have changes pushed to you.

Liked Brandon’s Journal

I disagree with this. While Brandon’s writing may be amazing, there’s no good way to keep up with it.

Not providing an RSS feed is akin to saying that you don’t want people to follow your writing. People who think differently about the internet very often use RSS as their space to think, read, reflect. It’s not a push model. It’s a pull model.

The days that I don’t open my RSS reader, it doesn’t update and I don’t get any notifications anyways from it, so there’s no way for anything to be pushed to me.

And yes, some people may be awesome at bookmarks and following up on them. I’m not. My bookmarks are a mess, across all the browsers I use. I’m not saying that as a point of pride. That’s just how anyone living on the internet for long enough would be. A morass of unread articles, blogposts, “cool” websites cluttering their bookmarks and myriad other lists. It’s the very nature of the beast.

So I congratulate Brandon on having a beautiful and personal corner of the internet, free from the corporations, social media, and advertisers. But it’s nigh impossible for me to regularly read his writing.

Reposting with WordPress

I wish WordPress had an easier way to repost things
cdevroe.com/2022/04/06/11083/

WordPress does, sort of, have an excellent reposting feature. But it’s wrapped up in a Quote Repost feature. After all, what’s the point of linking to something without commentary or context?

Also, WordPress.com seems to have a much better reposting feature. But to me, that’s a social network and while we bloggers may be social, we’re solitary creatures too.

atelic activity

I learnt a new word (or rather, phrase) recently – atelic activity. An atelic activity is one that’s done without any end goal in mind. Essentially, anything that’s done for it’s own sake. Most hobbies would be considered atelic in nature, even though specific tasks inside the hobby would be telic in nature – you sit down with the specific goal of completing that puzzle, but what’s the overall goal of doing so? It’s just to enjoy (spending time with) yourself.

I found this phrase on a blogpost of a fellow blogger, Colin Walker, where he’s musing on a question asked by another blogger, Julian SummerHayes – is blogging just writing? Essentially, in a world where the act of blogging has been commoditized in many ways – Substack, Medium memberships, Patreon, YouTube sponsored vlogging, etc – what is just the purpose of an eponymous blog?

We’ve done this navel gazing many times about blogging, so instead, let’s focus on the new phrase. I love having hobbies and side projects. But side projects have end goals. Hobbies, do not. I love reading, but ask me to read towards a goal – studying up for anything, for example – and I will be the laziest person you know. But reading for pleasure? Gimme!

The opposite of an atelic activity – a telic activity – will give you some pleasure for sure, but the pleasure will dissipate quickly upon achievement of the goal. You were so focused on ending the activity that you didn’t consider that the end will bring about a state of confusion in your mind.

Instead, in an atelic activity, you focus on the activity itself. Sort of me writing this blogpost. I have no end goal in mind. I’m riffing. The moment I feel satisfied with how much of the screen I’ve filled up with my words, I’ll be done. Right about… now.

I considered letting the whole idea of blogging go. But that felt so incredibly sad to me.

Starting Anew

I haven’t had time over these past few weeks to put down my thoughts for the end of the decade (and won’t get time before the year ends either). But that’s ok. Sometimes it’s ok to just live your thoughts instead of putting them on paper.

The Open Web can learn comment moderation from Instagram

Instagram

Starting today, you can protect your account from unwanted interactions with a new feature called Restrict. Bullying is a complex issue, and we know that young people face a disproportionate amount…

Source: Empowering Our Community to Stand up to Bullying – Instagram

 

Bullying is about power and perception. When someone cyberbullies you, the idea that other people can see the comments and choose to ignore them, which makes bullying banal, or even someone else’s comedy, that idea is sometimes more hurtful than the comments themselves.

What’s interesting to me is that Restrict is a rehashing of a system that has existed since forever on the Open Web – comment moderation. The ability for a blog to not show a person’s comments has existed forever, and due to the lack of transparency and user-feedback in companies like Facebook and Google, has largely been ignored until they get to it.

However, Restrict is an improvement, depending on how they’ve implemented it. In blog comment moderation, the bully/poster sees and knows that their comment is under moderation. This gives them cause to go and continue their bullying on some other platform.

Restrict seems to make it so that the bully will not find out they are under review. This is a powerful tool, because the perception for the bully will be that other people saw their comment and ignored it, thereby removing the feedback loop that pushes them to bully more. Simultaneously, for the bullied, it will tell their subconscious that their community has not abandoned them in favor of the bully, because the community can’t even see the bully’s comments.

If this is how it’s implemented, and if it is successful, I’d say this is a good thing for the Open Web and for comment systems like Disqus and WordPress to also implement. Taking power from the bully means letting them think that their ‘hot takes’ have been ignored by bystanders. In this case, perception is power, and the bullied should be able to wield it.

Blog Experiments

I did two things this week regarding my blog –

  1. I read a lot on Instapaper, mostly non-fiction articles. I make a lot of notes and highlights and all of those come over to this blog. Why? Well, at some point I thought it would be a good idea to write articles based on my readings. It’s also a way of preserving all of those thoughts in case Instapaper some day goes kaput. But the fact that I have all of this text sitting in my blog, counting against my word count, and not contributing to my readership has been irritating me ever since I started the practice.

    A few days ago, I setup a new blog on WordPress – https://nitinsnotes.home.blog/ with the objective of posting everything there instead of here. If I can build a readership for the ideas and quotes I publish there, I figured, I can bring over the readers back to this blog eventually and grow the kind of things I write about.

    There’s only one problem – I read a lot of varied topics, but the one I write notes most about is politics. I’ve never been comfortable airing my views on politics. It was never taught to me to be overtly political, and the environment I’m in now doesn’t allow for many public mistakes. Whether this is a perceived threat or a real one, I do not care to find out.

    So, within a day of creating the blog, I’ve abandoned it. All my comments are still coming to this blog and hiding in plain site – they are only visible to logged in users. So if you’re curious as to what I write about, ask me and I’ll create an account for you on my blog and let you in. Otherwise, I’m happy writing those thoughts for myself for now.
  2. The other thing that happened was that I noticed that my blogs were running into some technical difficulties. I was not able to update plugins or open MySQL in the browser to take a look at it. Turns out, my VPS thinks it’s run out of space, despite the fact that I recently updates from a 20 GB node to a 50 GB one. I noticed that the /var/mail folder was choked up with thousands of files, and the ibdata1 file has overgrown. I cleared up the former with a nice ‘find -delete’ command, and for the former, I’ve got a script that takes the backup of all my blogs, deletes the ibdata1 file, and reups the backups to bring everything back online. In the end, it tells me how much space it saved me.

    The last time I ran this, maybe last year or so, I regained about 5 GB. So I ran it again. Turns out, I’ve updated my MySQL version somewhere in between and the thing completely broke, without giving me back my two blogs! Gulp!

    Luckily, I read through the script and recovered my blogs, without losing much uptime or any data. But this sort of thing is exactly what scares me. I’ve got scripts that take backups regularly, but it never feels enough.

    Regardless, has anyone else dealt with large ibdata1 files? What can I do about that? Also, I still don’t know why my system thought it’s run out of space. Maybe the sheer number of files in /var/mail? Due to the assumed lack of space, MySQL crashed and wouldn’t launch back up, until I deleted the mail folder’s contents. So I’m not sure I want to be in this situation again!

Dat Rats

But if a YouTube channel disappears, it’s gone to us.

Source: Dat Rats

I worry about this too, sometimes, because it would seem that we’ve created and destroyed more content on the Internet than the entire Greek civilization produced for us.

But other times, I’m ambivalent to the idea. Some of the most important ideas survive and move on to the next level or the next civilization and there’s always progress.

So while yeah, it would suck if these cool/weird/fun sites disappear, and if YouTube one day loses all content from a period of time. But how much would it be a loss for civilization? The ideas would have been absorbed by the people of the time and the most important ones move on with artists and consumers in different ways.

Falling into Faith — Acko.net

The following is a critique of a post I recently came across in my RSS feeds-

 

This is augmented by the ease of concerted flagging and other public shaming campaigns, which create a guilty-until-proven innocent environment.

Source: Falling into Faith — Acko.net

This is a weird post, and it set off all kinds of alarms in my head. But I read through the author’s convoluted logic till the end. Some of it doesn’t make any sense, the rest of it makes sense, but is faulty logic. It’s clear that it’s a rambling, onerous post about somehow not protecting white privilege, but also not condemning it. It seems to want to put logic above everything else but the relationship between the example and the conclusion is tenuous.

This line above was the one that sprung out to me the most. The author seems to want to say that the constant vigilante justice meted out on social networks stifles free speech. But forgets a couple of things –

  1. Every example the author gives – James Damore, SubscribeStar – is one of extremism from the right. These are harmful rhetoric, and conspiracy theorists whose right to free speech is somehow being taken away by the people. Somehow, the ‘people’ having the right to decide who gets to live in the public sphere is not acceptable to the author. Instead, pure logic and pure freedom are the only things important to the author. This is, of course, the wrong approach, because there is no such thing as pure freedom. All of life is about the exceptions to the rule. The exception to the rule of free speech is one where someone means someone else harm.
  2. The author seems to want to criticize public movements on social media. But here’s the thing – it’s not like there’s a recourse. Elsewhere in the post, the author criticizes the left for controlling the institutions that mediate over ideas on social networks, namely the Trust and Safety Boards –

bootstrapping their own inquisition in the name of Trust and Safety

This means that the author doesn’t trust the devices created to remove negative influencers from social media, and doesn’t accept that people should be able to run their own campaigns to remove such people from there either. So what’s the recourse? What can people do to root out truly evil ideas from the public sphere? The author falls silent on that aspect. As it is, the tools that Facebook and Twitter (and WhatsApp) have created to combat misuse are woefully shortsighted and pathetic attempts at appeasement. That leaves the users to fend for themselves, so why would they not band together and attack the trolls and bad actors? Yes, they would get a few folks wrong and that’s where the author jumps in again to criticize, but not to give solutions –

Nuanceless policing bots and scripts make it trivial for innocent bystanders to get hurt.

All in all, a frustrating read to go through. Why did I? Well, for some reason, I’m subscribed to this person’s RSS feed and this was a recent article on there. Everything else by the author is purely about technology.

Also, it’s a good exercise in spotting every logical misconception that the author has made. Which ones did I miss?

 

Giving up on WordPress embeds

Back in 2012, I wrote a post called Conversations as a future of blogging. Well, I say I wrote, but actually I must have had a conversation on this up-and-coming platform called branch.com with a few people I invited to it from twitter. Using their tools, I embedded the conversation to my blog on the link above. I thought the embed would last forever, because a) where is branch going to go, and b) WordPress usually gracefully downgrades embeds, right?

Nope. branch.com died three years after launch. They gave us a period of time to request backups of our conversations. I remember doing that, but I never received one in my email. Perhaps they expected me to come back to their site to download the files? I asked all the other people involved in the conversation and none of them cared to request a backup of the copy. This goes back to my posts here about the futility of exporting your data from online services, even though in this case, a full backup was exactly what I needed to recover my blog post.

I was further wrong in that WordPress does no such thing with embeds. In the case of officially supported embeds, I’ve seen the system do this once before and I thought that was standard behavior, but in the case of link embeds, there’s no clear way for it to be possible.

Recently, I introduced a random post finder to my blog. With it, I’ve been discovering a lot of great and terrible posts I’ve written over time. It’s my way of getting closer to my blog.

But it has also left me reeling from all the broken links and embeds that I trusted to work forever. The branch.com embed, images and links I’ve linked to, PDF files I thought would never go away. Heck, even Facebook CDN stuff has disappeared and that company doesn’t let go of any data!

Recently, Automattic introduced inline GIFs from giphy through Jetpack. The model they’re following is pretty neat – they shipped the Gutenberg editor within WordPress 5, and have been extending it using Jetpack with blocks that allow various kinds of content, including GIFs. It shows the scope that Gutenberg has in the future.

Coming back to embeds, Giphy, the company Automattic is leaning on, came into existence in 2013, and I suspect will be out the door before its 10 year mark. Such is the way of life on the Internet. All of these are fads and fads can raise millions, but they eventually all die. Automattic will simply pull out the block from Jetpack and replace it with something else, but we users will be left with broken links and missing context on our blogs.

When the block was introduced some time ago, I played with it and added some GIFs to a blog post. It’s a lot of fun to express ourselves visually. But if branch.com is any indication, embeds come back to bite us later on.

Therefore, I’m getting off embeds. I’d rather download the GIF and upload it to my media. I’d rather take a screenshot of a webpage than to iframe it and hope it sticks around a few years from now. Jetpack already has a massive CDN operation behind them, so you’re never really serving your content directly from your site if they can help it. So there’s no need to worry about storage and bandwidth issues.

As I go through my site, rediscovering old posts, I’ll keep coming across these embeds. Whenever I have context, I’ll try to replace it with relevant information. But, as in the case of branch.com, I will just put a note that explains what happened there, some general thoughts on the topic, and move on. Once bitten by embeds, twice shy now.

The deadline is always now

Any good personal blog is like an episode of Seinfeld – there’s a lot of navel-gazing, an excess of philosophizing, and not a lot of public good comes out of it. That’s fine, because the personal gains are humongous, if metered like the seasons of self-love and loathing.

Whenever I think of non-text forms of blogging – podcasts, and photostreams – I realize that neither of those are truly enough. You can express a lot in a photo, but it feels static, whereas the written word has largely proven that it should always be taken with a grain of salt based on the time from which the writing belongs. You can’t express a lot in podcasts because speech is such a thing that it derails the most cohesive of thought. I’ve rarely ever come across a podcast that was more than one person, off-script, and intelligible after about five minutes of listening.

But blogging, well, that’s something. Don’t take my word for it. Here are my favorite quotes about this art form –

A blog is sort of like an exhale.

– Nora Ephron, 2006, via Daniel Gray

For bloggers, the deadline is always now.

– Andrew Sullivan, 2008, via tedium, via The Atlantic

I used to think that if I critique something on my blog – a book, or an idea, or a movie – it should be well researched and well structured. The frivolous thoughts are for microblogging. I still think that about the other forms of blogging. But there’s vgr, holding a mirror, saying, “No, blogging is for everyone and everything. Dump your worst ideas and your stupidest thoughts on your webspace. Are you that curated in your offscreen life too?”

I’ve written a few book reviews and notes and movie reviews here on my blog. The only time I’ve received any form of feedback is when I criticized a highly timely and visible piece of tech, which was immediately picked up by the lead developer and I’m glad I was wrong and completely out of line and learnt that over time.

I love the concept of blogging, but, and I believe this to be true for a lot of bloggers out there, am held back by this wanton need for perfection. Screw the perfection. Just hit publish. The deadline for your thoughts is always now.

p.s. I’ve linked to a lot of posts from my own blog. Because once a blogger is done navel-gazing, it’s time to make others do the same!

Update. Perfect timing – after I wrote this post, I updated my Jetpack plugin and they’ve added a new Gutenberg feature to find and add GIFs to posts. What could be more frivolous than GIFs? So here’s one –

Update. More timely validation, this time from a more professional environment that uses blogging –

Perfection is the enemy of the good

Have No Fear – Learning to love your blog

Update. Austin Kleon on the importance of revisiting diaries (and his blog) –

[…] the live reading and revision, that’s what this blog is for. It’s the place where I take private thoughts and turn them public, see what the reaction is, if any, and then weave what I’ve learned back into the work.

The importance of revisiting notebooks