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

Don’t Moleskine your blog

Have you ever seen people using a Moleskine notebook in public? You can see them using a fancy pen or pencil, writing in beautiful cursive, making excellent sketches, drawing straight lines without scales, right into their beautiful overpriced notebooks. It’s a gorgeous and truly scary sight.

I’ve never been able to buy a Moleskine notebook. I’ve often come across them in shops and stores, but every time I flip through the well weighted, elegant pages, which can give you paper cuts all day, I realize that I’m not worthy of a Moleskine. My handwriting is terrible. My ability to sketch wouldn’t save my life! Besides, the most important thing I want out of any notebook is the ability to scribble random ideas, or write small notes into. I want to just dump chicken scratch and small paragraphs in, without having to worry about elongating, or writing perfectly. Do I furiously scratch out words as I’m writing? All the time.

Would I ever want to use a Moleskine for that? No.

I recently came across this post by Jeff Perry –

It got me thinking – do we sometimes treat out blogs as Moleskine notebooks? Do we worry that we must only present our best writing on them, instead of just putting our ideas out there, perfection be damned? Yes, we do. We write entire posts and then save them in drafts, only to forget them forever. Either we’re not proud of our writing, or we’re not sure if it’s the right time to publish them, or we’re unnecessarily being perfectionists. Whatever the reason, what happens when you open your blog the next time? You come to the homepage, or the admin dashboard, and what do you see? The drafts? No. That’s a hidden page somewhere, totally ignored. So we move on to the next idea, and then the next, until our creativity is stifled and our spirits dampened by the lack of publishing. Why do we do this? Because the home page of our blog, at least in our minds, is a public space, and on it, only our best work should be displayed. But this is not true. CMSes allow two states – logged in and logged out. When you’re logged in, your blog’s home page is, in fact, not a public space, but a private one. Most of us do not realize or understand this, let alone capitalize on this simple idea.

I learnt about this problem in 2017 and solved it for myself. I want to share the idea with you, dear reader, so you can also stop moleskinning your blog. I’ve alluded to me writing this post before, specifically mentioning a key aspect of my solution – that when you see my blog’s 2018 archive, you see 25 posts, while I see 59. Yes, that’s thirty four posts that are not sitting tucked away in a drafts folder, but active and alive on my blog, albeit only for me.

Here’s how – this plugin on WordPress can set the default visibility of every new post you create on the web to Private. If you’ve never done this before (and I had not, till I discovered this solution), go ahead and manually try it now. When you change the visibility of a post to Private, WordPress immediately changes the save prompt from “save as draft” to Publish. You can finally get it – you can hit that Publish button and get that sweet, sweet rush of publishing something, but you can also get the freedom to read your post after some time, catch a few errors, a sentence you don’t like and such, and finally, when you’re happy with it, you can publish it publicly, which, by then would be a much smaller cognitive step than publishing it for the first time.

Side note – I’ve long recognized that seeing your blog posts on the front page of your blog, with theme and all, is a much different experience than writing and editing inside a text area and then publishing it. The feel is different, your eyes move differently to that beautifully set font, but most importantly – your mind responds differently.

I’ve tried hard to capture this feeling. A few years ago, when I found out about front end editors, I tried every single one I could get my hands on. One of my favorite ones was Barley. It was very well built, and a charm to work with. But front end editors come and go. Besides, the mind’s response to an editor is still that it is just that – a workspace. Even in the look and feel of my blog’s theme, the words seemed to flow differently when they were in edit mode.

I’ve been excited about Gutenberg since it was announced. But when I installed it in beta, it was horrible. However, the first release was actually quite good for me. For some reason, when I turned on SSL on my blog, one of the Gutenberg JS files crapped out (probably something to do with bad caching) and I can’t use it any more for post creation. I’ve gone back to the Classic Editor for now.

Just as well, because I noticed that when I was using Gutenberg, my willingness to quickly pound out an idea to the blog actually went down. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Private Posts by Default plugin only works on the blog when using the Classic Editor. That’s because it uses JavaScript to change the visibility setting on the fly. It’s a little silly, but it’s a better solution than the other hacks I’ve found, including a database script that’s changes the visibility setting as soon as you actually publish a post to public <shudders>.

Coming back from that long winding side note, when you’ve published a post to private, go your blog’s front page and just read. Be a consumer. Be a reader. The first time I did that, I found two spelling mistakes I’d made towards the end of my post. It’s so much easier to do that when your mind is just casually glancing at words instead of trying hard to be creative and write. The second time I did it, I was able to find a few sentences I hated reading and edited. Immediately after I made the edits in both the cases, I changed the settings to set the visibility to Public and published my posts. I’ve even used this process to sit on a post for a few days, slowly edited it every day, till I was ready to hit publish. Of course, you need to be careful to set the time and date of publishing to the current time and date instead of the value it’ll actually be – the time when you first hit Publish.

You don’t have to use the plugin. Whenever I’m on the WordPress iOS apps, I just head to the Post Settings section and quickly set the visibility to Private.

As I said before, stop moleskinning your blog. It’s not a perfect, pristine place which must always reflect the best work you’ve ever done. It’s alive. It’s a creative space where your ideas should stare you in the face so you can always work on them, and when they’re presentable, you can show them to the world. If you don’t ever want to, that’s fine too.

p.s. I let this post marinate on my blog in private mode for one night. According to WordPress, I have edited it twelve times after the initial publish. ?

A comment on The YouTube Conundrum

The following is a comment I was writing on the above post. It became long enough that I’d rather just throw it on here for posterity. A couple of loosely knit thoughts on YouTube –

YouTube seems different.

Source: Is YouTube Fundamental or Trivial? – Study Hacks – Cal Newport

YouTube is different.

Instagram, twitter etc have a feed. YouTube doesn’t have a feed like that. YouTube does have an autoplay option, but in my experience most people prefer to keep it turned off. It’s a fundamentally different browsing model than these other social networks.

The author wishes people use YouTube as a sort of backend to embed videos into their websites. I’d say that a lot of people did initially experiment with video embeds as a means of ‘indiewebifying’ YouTube and Vimeo. Many still continue to do so. So many methods of embeds exist, from WordPress shortcodes to YouTube itself giving you easy to copy iframe and html5 snippets. But that’s not how YouTube is truly consumed. Just like those other social networks, YouTube is consumed mainly within their app. There’s true continuity there, even though most people don’t actually use it.

The other point is that content is king. When you’re chasing silly cat videos, whatever YouTube suggests seems fine. Similarly, when my wife has to do some housework, she puts on one fashion blogger or the other and the algorithm takes her on a journey of background noise that’s more than adequate.

However, when we get home and want to either watch some news/latenight commentary/random funny videos from specific content creators, we specifically select a video, play it, and exit after it’s done.

My main method of consuming YouTube is on the Apple TV. With the new version of their app, YouTube has effectively shot themselves in the foot. The app doesn’t do a very good job of good, engaging, never-ending recommendations. We’re a little more discerning than letting complete random videos play when we’re actively looking at the screen, so after a few refreshes, the content of the day dries up and we can actually get out and watch something else we’ve been paying for – Netflix or Amazon.

So what’s the right way to think about YouTube: is it fundamental to the internet revolution, or just another source of social media distraction?

YouTube is both, true. But it’s both because people have recognized the value of uploading serious content on there. Now, serious content isn’t only suited to video format. It can be made in photos (see brainpickings Instagram) and in tweets (the reuters twitter feed). But can it be consumed in those formats easily? No, and that’s why YouTube stands out.

YouTube is a conundrum because people actively upload cat videos on it.

Security vs Usability

I’ve come to a point where I do **not** update apps, plugins, software in general. I know that’s a regressive approach to safety, but safety can’t keep trumping usability all the time.

Source: My comment on Stephen’s Notebook

 

Every few days, I have a conversation about security vs usability somewhere. With my iPad Mini, I blindly trusted Apple to do the right thing and they’ve screwed me over. It’s a beloved device, destroyed completely by iOS 9.

So I’ve basically given up on this bullshit harp that companies sing of ‘security’ to shove software updates down our throats. Sometimes it’s their stupidity, and sometimes it’s just them being sinister. The new Microsoft is the old Microsoft. The benevolent Apple is an insidious Apple. Don’t get me started on Facebook, twitter, and Google. Gmail is just the latest casualty of our overzealous overlords.

Yes, security is a big problem. Yes, it needs constant vigilance. But just like national defense budgets, one key phrase doesn’t allow organizations to completely railroad people’s expectations, asks, hopes, and in this case, UX.

If you’re concerned that by not updating software, you’re living on the edge, restrict the things you do on that device, while keeping other devices that are completely updated and secured. Use only frequently updated third party browsers instead of the default options. Read up on the latest security scares on the Internet and just be aware of the situations you can get into. But most importantly – back up. Make frequent backups of things you care about. I don’t care if it’s as much as letting iCloud run its course every night, and Google Photos siphoning off your pics. Just do it so that if you brick your device, or get hacked, you’re not set back a hundred years.

99% of security is just keeping your eyes open.

Squarespace is the best and the worst at RSS

Within the last 12 hours, I’ve come across two websites hosted on Squarespace that portray how one mustn’t do RSS. Sadly, at some level, it’s not necessary that the owners of these websites even know what I’m talking about.

I’d like to name these sites –

Soup

and

StephenMarche

These are nice sites – well designed, purposeful, vibrant. But their content is so pitifully inaccessible through RSS. Here’s why –

With Soup, I really wanted to get RSS access to all of the topics they cover. These are Culture, Food, Interviews, Features, to name a few. Usually, when I’m on a site that has RSS feeds, the SubToMe extension tells me how to get to it. In the case of Soup, it failed. The content is visible on the homepage, but the RSS feed that it picked up was blank –

http://thesoup.website/index-rally?format=RSS

‘rally’ is what piqued my interest. What is this CMS?

WhatCMS says that it’s Squarespace.

Well, what do Squarespace’s docs say about RSS feeds? Do they even support them?

As it turns out, they do, and quite well! (or so say their docs)

So I opened each of the ‘topics’ I wanted to subscribe to on Soup’s site and found their RSS feeds using SubToMe. One example –

http://thesoup.website/culturesoup/ -> http://thesoup.website/culturesoup?format=RSS

I immediately noticed that the content is there in it’s entirety! That’s amazing. It almost never happens on commercial sites that the RSS feed carries the entire content.

Good – RSS feeds contain entire content

Bad – I had to subscribe to eight different feeds. There’s no parent or ‘all’ feed

 

Later, I came across Stephen Marche’s writing in NYT and that led me to his site. Again, beautiful site, really modern, really functional and pleasing. I jumped to the Essays -> Recent Work section but alas, SubToMe didn’t find any RSS feed!

By now, I’d wizened up. I know that on most pages, just adding ‘?format=rss’ at the end will get me the RSS feed. So I did that. Nothing. Why is that? Perhaps because the recent work page isn’t really a traditional list of items that Squarespace converts into RSS. It’s a static page which the Admin just adds URLs to the top of. But how would I know the difference? There’s no way. So as of right now, I’m subscribed to Soup’s RSS but not to Stephen Marche’s. I followed him on Medium, but ugh.

Pro – ???

Con – Maybe the admin turned off RSS on purpose? Maybe the page I’m looking at cannot support RSS?

Now, I can reach out to the owners of these sites to figure things out. Maybe I’ll end up educating them on the importance of RSS and maybe I’ll learn something new about Squarespace (do they even support an ‘all’ RSS feed? I don’t know, I’ve never used the platform). Maybe all they need is a slight push in the right direction, or maybe it’s a long project that’ll require a reworking of their workflow (which, tbh, why would they do that for me?)

But I don’t want to do any of this. RSS is the perfect stalker medium on the Internet. Facebook and WhatsApp show you read notifications. On twitter and Instagram you’d end up hitting ‘like’ by mistake. But RSS is one-way (depending on which RSS reader you use) and so it’s perfect for people like me who just want to cultivate their little corner of the Internet.

There’s a post out today by Brent Simmons talking about an article that’s talking about the demise of RSS. Brent points out that RSS doesn’t need to be the ‘default’ for everyone and RSS readers don’t need to be installed on every device on Earth for this to be a successful technology. It already is.

This is most visible with beautiful walled gardens such as Squarespace. Most people who host with Squarespace do it because it’s commercial and aligns with their interests. The primary method of communication for consumers is the newsletter. There are options for eCommerce shops, podcasting, and email campaigns. Much off this could happen without RSS. But Squarespace took the basic RSS technology and chose to use it as the back-end for most of these things. Podcasting is basically an RSS feed with audio attached, so there really was no choice but to use this open standard. Wherever RSS feeds are available, they’re full length and rather useful. So could RSS have a place on the Internet? It already does.

How do you like them upgrades?

Every few days, my iPhone politely but firmly nudges me to ‘downgrade’ my iOS from iOS 10 to iOS 11. I say downgrade because that’s what iOS 11 is to me – a crappy OS that was shoved out with half baked ideas which work well for the latest and greatest iPhone, but not at all for any other device Apple supposedly still supports. Getting rid of that prompt requires careful jumping through a confusing menu that makes it too easy to accept a “sure go ahead with this change at night when no one is watching” option. Most of the time, I am able to do just that. But last night, in a haze of trying to actually use my phone, I must have hit the wrong button, because when I woke up, my phone had restarted and was magically on iOS 11.4.1. Yay.

Before I talk about iOS 11, I just want to say why I didn’t want to get on it –

  1. It’s terribly built – simple features such as the ability to close apps quickly (in a few years time, Apple will reveal that just like their battery nonsense, closing apps DOES actually increase the speed of the phone, as empirically witnessed by a Bajillion people), the ability to turn off the wifi completely through the Control Center, the ability to actually use the phone for half an hour without draining the battery completely (my wife got on iOS 11 as soon as it released and she had the worst experience possible with that OS) were nice to have in iOS 10.
  2. I won’t be able to use all my apps – Apple, with iOS 11, waged a war on 32 bit apps. Now, most apps (99.9% I’d say) were smart about it and went 64bit, but I still have 4 apps on my phone, two of which I was using every few days till yesterday, which are 32 bit. So long Stress Baal and Sunstroke. You will be sorely missed.
  3. It will most certainly screw up my Apple Watch – I have a Series 0 (zero) Apple Watch. When will I buy the new one? Probably not for another few years. It’s a watch. It’s somewhat smart and lets me see messages and cut phone calls, but that’s about it. Do I need LTE? If AT&T pays me $15/mo instead of charging it from me, I might. But one minute into using the new OS, I was told to update my Watch from version 3.2.3 to 4.3.2 and told that if I do not, the phone will force unpair my watch and reset it. Thanks Obama. I exited the Watch app on my phone and plan on opening it at some point in the future. My watch is no longer getting notifications and isn’t able to send heart rate data to the phone (so much for Apple’s “we’re helping you take care of your health” crap. If the data collection is conditional, it’s not really helpful, is it?). But I know that watchOS 4 will screw up the watch, the third party apps, the battery usage. Basically, this is Apple’s way of making you buy a new watch. NO.

Now, coming to iOS 11. I immediately noticed that most apps seem to work differently – Google Maps had some new and interesting UI changes, Egg Inc had AR, the photos app had an irritating number of new features it had to tell me about before it let me use the app, the screenshots were showing up at the bottom (which is nice), etc.

Oh wait, backup. AR. That gleaming, new, awesome technology that’s changing the world! Yeah, I used it. For about 30 seconds. Then I was done.

Literally the only thing I could imagine using AR for – Egg, Inc. With that, my AR experience has ended. Well done, Apple.

Incidentally, I only recently watched this rather interesting video about how Apple will eventually launch AR glasses and they will be more successful than Google’s half-ass attempt because, well, Apple. It’s worth a watch 🙂 –

The rest of the stuff, is as I expected – meh. The app switcher can now close apps (yay!). The wifi stupidity that Apple propagated with iOS 11 is still there (so it’s always going to drain your battery no matter what). The animations and speed of launching apps is meh. Apple really wanted to make you feel something different, and well, I feel it, but I don’t care for it. It’s more a disruption than a nice addition. Plus, if you close an app that sits at the top of the screen vs at the bottom, the animation helps you see where the app is ‘going to’, but that’s really a rather stupid thing to care for Apple. I say that because I’m sure anyone who has as many apps as I do uses the search bar to get to apps instead.

Oh, yeah, that might be the silver lining – in iOS 10, I would swipe down, type out the name of an app I want, and the phone would just sit there, like a dunce, unsure of what I want it to do. Something was really borked in the code there and sometimes the search would work perfectly and other times it would go completely for a toss. Hopefully, that experience will be more consistent with iOS 11. If not, I’ll know that Apple did not even bother improving the Siri search code underneath and just dressed it in iOS 11 style. Typical Apple. Let’s see.

I’m no Luddite. I like experimenting with new stuff. But I really was hoping to go directly from iOS 10 to iOS 12. When iOS 12 drops, it’ll most likely not support my Series 0 watch. But at least it’s purported to be better than this monstrosity Apple threw our way. It’s OK to skip an OS, it’s OK to turn off auto-upgrades and auto-updates and watch your ‘to update’ App Store list burgeon to 197 apps. It’s OK to let the latest and greatest go while developers work on hardening releases. We all do it in some sphere of our lives. It’s just that my sphere was the one I’m staring at the most during my day – my phone. I want it to be consistent, familiar, and with less fluff. Sometimes people stick to a particular iPhone for a lot longer than they can, because they like the form factor and the materials used. Well, iOS 10 was that for me. But now my phone has moved past it. Time to adopt the new and shiny and see what changes this brings. Hopefully some nice AR filters.

Has anyone I know played with Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid?

I was reading TBL’s profile in Vanity Fair and I learnt of this new idea he is working on – an idea of “Socially Linked Data” (SOLID) – which wants to decouple data and the apps that consume them, thus allowing more data portability and data ownership. The profile itself was more focused on the persona and his Oxonian wispy hair (I can’t blame Vanity Fair for focusing on that, but I can blame them for not linking to Solid’s homepage or github on their site) so the above description is from Solid’s sites.

Has anyone I know used it or played with it? How does it differ from or relate to IndieWeb?

Also, how does this truly help in making our data more free? The value that Facebook and Google derive from our data is not from the data itself, but the linking of that data with other data, or the relations that said data makes within itself. I do not know the extent of the data that Facebook creates on me. That data, wholly solely is owned by Facebook. Even if I export large parts of data about myself using their export, including the data they’ve collected (such as the WiFis I connect to, the times I browse my phone, all the items I’ve left in carts of shopping sites that connect with Facebook), I still cannot, afaik, get my hands on the data they create on me. How will a solution such as Solid make that data less harmful?

Anyone care to comment?

Photo by willowbl00

[Book Review][Book Notes] All Our Wrong Todays

I haven’t read a lot of time travel science fiction in my life. So I can’t judge this book in the context of other sci-fi stories. But if this is what time travel books are supposed to be like, well done Elan Mastai! You’ve blown me away and won me as a reader for all your future work!

This book starts out as a time travel science fiction novel, but so very quickly, this gorgeously funny story with a narrator who’s just as confused as we readers are, becomes a strange look at everything else time travel is about – people, their emotions, their lives and arcs and how time travel affects them. The author wraps all of the stories he writes in a wry humor that had me laughing like a maniac on the bus, with amazed people looking at this loony who still reads hardbound books and laughs at them!

There are many layers of philosophy, anti-war, pro-peace rhetoric all set within the dialogue of the story for you to discover, with absolutely zero (well, two pages total) theoretical discussion. Every thought you’ve had about time travel, every plot point you can imagine while reading the story, every joke the author could fit in well, everything is in there.

This is a great read. It took me about three weeks of on-and-off reading and the story moves at a great pace, though it does get a little convoluted in the final chapters. But there too, is a gem – the author takes the universal concepts of time travel – it happens instantly, it can be reversed if done carefully, a second version of you can observe a third version of you in the background to fulfill some convoluted narrative – and twists and turns them to suit his excellent ideas.

Best of all is that this is a story about people. The narrator is so scientifically dense that he doesn’t bother to explain much about the technology he encounters. It’s a blast to see him blunder through life not knowing how doors works! But when it comes to people, oh, this is a deep story. It shows how amazingly, brilliantly, wholly selfish people are. If you’ve ever worshiped a ‘hero’, seeing them as a singular dimension of “all that is good”, this is the read to dispel your doubts!

I cannot describe how beautiful this book is. To do that would be, to take a phrase from the book, sort of like cracking a creme brulee. Just go read it. Borrow it from me if you want!

Notes on All Our Wrong Todays

Page 60, God this is a funny book! Every few pages, I’m grabbing my sides rocking with laughter! The people on the bus look at me like I’m crazy for laughing at a paper book.

Page 62, all this guy talks about is women!!! It’s like his entire life story is about one woman to the next! Damn!

Page 62, I’ve noticed something about modern futuristic sci-fi novels – they all tend to assume that somehow Chinese folks will be marrying Mexican folk a lot and the offspring will inevitably have a Chinese first and Spanish second name, or vice versa. I suppose that flows from the two largest non-white minorities that white writers focus on.

Page 66, this and the first line of the second chapter are the only two places where the narrator’s name is used till now. In chapter 2, because there, the author tries to be cheeky and uses the third person from the narrator’s perspective and immediately hates it and reverts back to first person, which is funny! This is what is so interesting to me about first person novels. The narrator has to be extremely descriptive about things and emotions and feelings, without which the novel starts to feel dull. In third person, there’s the escape from emotions and mainly a flow based on actions is easier to create.

Page 67, the narrator talks about a global time synced system, an NTP server at scale, but talks about it being synced to the microsecond. Is this an oversight? What about the nanosecond?

Page 73, here is the typical line from a man in the wrong, “I don’t think that justifies my subsequent actions. But it explains them.”

Page 76, the book talks about pregnancy and avoiding it and once again, even though all this marvelous technological advancement surrounds the narrator, the onus of making sure pregnancy is avoided lies with the woman, with what the author calls a ‘gametic suppressant’. Brilliant oversight. Of course, it’s a plot point. It’s just part of the story and crafted in a way to put the blame squarely on the unwitting narrator, but still.

Page 82, “the liar, the genius, the ghost.” What a line! Whey a way to describe, to summarize almost all genius!

Page 151, the narrator’s description of books and reading here is repeated from before. The way the narrator describes that his mother is the only one who reads paper books is also repeated.

Page 175, oh boy. The exact words the narrator has been hoping to hear his entire life.

Page 182, this chapter feels like an ode to a bookstore owner

Page 186, what a pretty line – “This is the morning after the night before.”

Page 186, there is a certain awkwardness in Penny’s language and lines. Almost as if the author wrote the character as such and fought with the editors about it. Let’s see, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this aspect of the character is important in some way.

Page 200, excellent ending to the chapter! Wonderful last line!

Page 203, spelling mistake. Should be imminently instead of immanently. I think. What does immanent mean? The internet seems to think ‘inherent’ or ‘remaining within’. I suppose that’s right. So, not a spelling mistake. A new word for me!

Page 208, just one perfect line and I burst out laughing in a crowded bus stand on a rainy day.

Page 214, heh. “small-d depressed”

Page 215, dawn often tends to smear across the sky, doesn’t it?

Page 223, “events in…a family…Extinction-level events”
What a wonderful way of looking at ‘issues’. Indeed, some families and relationships have major events that cause deep scars. One other book I’ve read this year also had similar ‘events’ – Before the Wind by Jim Lynch.

Page 224, “I don’t believe in the truth. I’m a scientist. I believe in questions and the best answer we have right now.”
That’s great writing. Such diametrically opposite statements!

Page 249, “even the unlovable parts you hadn’t shown him yet”
This is a very strong page. Read it all, but also this part alone. It’s so poignant because everyone has this feeling that they have dark parts that no one can love and even the ones who love them may never accept them. Ever. That is true human frailty.

Page 295, “Your brain is very good at managing cognitive dissonance. Arguably, it’s your brain’s main purpose.” ?

Page 319, this is not a sci-fi story about time travel. This is a love and loss story which happens to be wrapped in some convoluted sci-fi chapters. That’s beautiful!

Page 324, “This is how you discover who someone is. Not success. Not the result. The struggle.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about people and blogging and the social aspect of the open web. This line here shows why it’s so interesting to follow people’s blogs more than anything else – their social media profiles, their newsletters, their podcasts. Blogs are where people try and fail. Blogs are where people record their silliest mistakes and worst ideas. That journey is much more worth it than the result – a working product, or a service, or a life well lived.

Page 325, “That’s all success feels like. It’s not triumphant. It’s not glorious. It’s just a relief. You finally stopped failing.”
Beautiful words!

Page 357, “Its tough to get worked up about what might have been when all you know is what already is.”

Page 367, “It was like our collective imagination stopped revising the idea of what civilization could be, fixed a definitive model in place, and set to work making it happen.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – why do we have corruption, why do people know morals but don’t follow morals. After all, stagnation in politics and ethics is another kind of immorality. I think the author sums it up very nicely – when there is a fixed idea of what the world is supposed to be like, there can only be a sort of catching up to it. People don’t work to improve what they have or what they’re aiming for. They just want to get there and then hold on, without wondering whether the goal post has or should be moved.
This paragraph and this chapter is about the ideology the book is based on, or at least, a part of it. And it works well – it points out an inherent flaw in our thinking – when we accuse ideologues of misdirection and corruption, we don’t understand that even those who believe they are on a progressive path are in fact ideologues who are leading the world to a fixed point. Perhaps we need to check all our thought leaders and make sure they are constantly revising the end goal they are striving towards instead of limiting their vision to something lesser.

Intent

One of the bloggers I follow on the net, Chris Lovie-Tyler, recently moved from WordPress on his personal blog to a TinyLetter based newsletter on a new domain. Most of what he posts are poems and perhaps these poems are better suited on this new domain. As much as I hate newsletters (and podcasts), I followed him.

But that got me thinking – why do we follow people around?

Well, not physically. That’d be creepy. We follow a lot of people around online. Whenever you join a new social network (Facebook, twitter, Instagram), you follow a bunch of people. Slowly, you realize who posts good content and who doesn’t and you tweak that list based on your interests (in the case of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg personally edits your news feed to make it more boring).

Ok snarky, let’s stick to non-Facebook more-public social networks.

When you’re on Instagram, you see an interesting post, you open the person’s profile, you like some of their photos and then you follow them.

When you’re on twitter, you see an interesting tweet and, though you may or may not go check out the person’s older tweets, you follow them around.

But there’s a very small disconnect between these two activities – liking someone’s current content, and expecting their future content to be the same, or better, or interesting enough. You take on a risk when you follow someone online. They could be no more funny/interesting than you are, and then you’re stuck following someone who doesn’t inspire or interest you. They could be posting pics of their recent vacation, after which they’ll get back to posting pics of their lunches and their not-so-cute dog. They could have made an epic joke tweet, and use that spurt of popularity to start pushing a different agenda which you wholly disagree with (as is usually the case for meme accounts)!

All of that is possible. After all, most people lead ordinary lives. They aren’t constantly discovering new places or going on impromptu adventures. They work, eat, sleep, pretty much at the same places.

So why do we follow these people around? What is our intent in hitting that follow button?

Mind you, I’m excluding Facebook (and WhatsApp and if we were ten years ago, Orkut) because there, you know most of the people you follow. Even if you know them as acquantances, it’s still you following someone who you already know something about.

But why do we follow absolutely random strangers on the Internet? That too, based on one tweet, one post, one photo they’ve posted? We’ve often joked about it, but these social networks have indeed turned us into stalkers of the highest order. We peek into the lives of absolute strangers with no easy way to communicate with them meaningfully (likes and hearts are not communication, they’re a distraction). So it’s comfortable, easy, accepted to see something interesting and just hit follow. We’ll worry about the content later. Not following someone is kind of like not bookmarking an interesting article to read later. We never read it later, but we do get FOMO if we don’t bookmark it.

Coming back to it, I read Chris’ blog post about his move from the personal blog to the new domain. An hour later, I saw an email from him, inviting me to follow his journey on to the newsletter. Now, as I said, I don’t like newsletters. Gmail is not an ideal space for reading. Email is not geared towards enjoying good writing. It’s work. I thank Google for creating the concept of Promotions, Social, Updates and Forums sections. It tells me the things I need to care for and the things I do not need to care for. But as has been pointed out before, Gmail is killing blogs. There are so many ways outside of Gmail where one can follow people, so why do it inside it?

Yet, newsletters remain popular and one of the popular services to send newsletters – TinyLetter – doesn’t have RSS feed support. So I can’t follow Chris’ new adventure through my beloved RSS feed reader. But I want to follow Chris. I discovered Chris’ writing pretty much the same way we discover people on twitter or Instagram – one interesting post.

But then I went ahead and did something which we do not do on other social networks (remember, the open web is also a massive social network) – I went back in time and read every single one of Chris’ posts. Wait, no no, I worded that wrong. I went back to the beginning of Chris’ blog and read every single one of his posts. Lucky for me, it extended only to February 2018.

That’s when I decided that this person was worth following around. There is a massive difference between me and him – I’m not a poet, not a Christian, never been to NZ. But his words are beautiful and always strike a note in my mind. Here’s one of my favorite poems –

Sunday birds
————
My ears ring with the silence
of Sunday morning

Only the birds are up,
gently stirring the neighbourhood
to consciousness

This is the reason why I followed Chris’ blog – I liked all or most of his previous posts. That volume of past work assured me that I will like what this person puts out in the future too. This sort of freedom – to explore a person’s past work in its entirety without being pushed to follow them and move on – can only come from the Internet at large. After all, if I forget or close the tab or move on and want to come back later, my browser remembers every page I’ve looked at forever. This is not true for any of the silos we use – twitter doesn’t remind us which tweets we’ve looked at, Instagram doesn’t tell us the name of that one person who had that one vacation photo in Barcelona which we liked but never double tapped on.

There’s one more thing. I instantly felt this when I saw the email and actually asked Chris about this – his push to ask people to move to his newsletter was not some templated email blast to 500 followers. He had about 50 followers on WordPress.com Reader (which, I’ve come to learn recently, is an excellent RSS reader on its own, so if you never wanted to pay for RSS reading, just create a free account on WordPress.com folks) but knew that most of them are following him the same way people follow others on silo medias. No, that email went to a fraction of those and that fraction did the smart thing and subscribed to the newsletter.

I’ve meandered enough through this post. I just wanted to say that when you’re in a silo network, the push, the intent of following people is two-fold – as a user, you don’t want to miss out on future posts, and as a company, they want to show growth. But when you’re out on the open web – the intent in following someone is better – it’s about your personal connection with the person and their work. If you like it, you’ll follow them to the ends of the Earth. Otherwise, there’s that unsubscribe button. That’s why the open web is better.

Finding my space

A large portion of the Internet is just about discovering interesting things. A part of that is just generally interesting things. But the other part is things that interest us. These two are different.

For most of my lifetime on the Internet, I’ve sought, and found, interesting things. My media diet has varied a lot over the years, flicking from one service and form of information to another. I’ve frequented twitter, Facebook, reddit, news sites, Instagram, blogspot, imgur, tumblr, self hosted blogs, forums, and a whole lot of the Internet I’d rather not talk about. I’ve seen memes (I hate memes), I’ve been caustic (I’ve learnt that’s just not useful to anyone), I’ve read entire books on Gutenberg.

But of late, I’ve noticed that I’ve finally found my space. Some people find it on tumblr or twitter because that’s where the people are. I’ve found it on RSS. I follow, unfollow, cull, clean, unsubscribe and resubscribe to blogs a lot. Whenever I think about moving away from my current self-hosted RSS feed solution, I look at the 700 odd blogs I follow and think that I’ve got better things to do than to reduce this list to an acceptable-by-the-service-I-want-to-move-to number. I used to follow well over twelve hundred sites,  but I realized that I don’t follow the news the way I used to (now I seek it out myself, when I want to, via Reuters or Apple News), so I unsubscribed every single news-site RSS feed and this is where I am today.

For a short, shining time, I was a part of the App.net story. I wasn’t particularly involved, but I did pay for the API and I did learn a few things along the way. I also made some friends and found more people to follow (overwhelmingly, these are old white guys. Just the demographic frequenting that service, I guess). When ADN went away, I still followed these people’s stories, through other social networks that sprung up (pnut, 10C, micro.blog) but also partly, through their blogs. On these social networks, I found more people to follow their blogs of.

What prompted me to write all of the above? I saw the following post by Colin Walker on his ridiculously well-built blog today –

“It’s not about being perfect, just about being.”

He’d written it in his notebook at some point and took the time to remind readers like me of it.

This idea resounds with me. This is something I’ve struggled a lot with. I’ve tried daily blogging, daily journaling, daily private blogging, scribbling notes on a throwaway page on the net, all in an effort to just put words on the screen, to just ‘be’. It doesn’t matter that those words are perfect. Or, well, it shouldn’t. I still fret over it. I still write something, save the draft, and push it out of my memory, because I worry that it’s not up to the mark. I still feel that a lot of my writing is either too laborious, or too much of a rant, or that I drone on.

Meanwhile, there are people like Colin out there, reassuring us that no one is perfect, that there is nothing more important than putting those words, and oneself, out there. I’m glad I follow his blog, and so, follow him.

I’ve found my space in this one field of interest – writing. There are others I’d like to sate, but I believe I can find blogs for those too. If not, I’ll write about that too, right here, asking for your help, dear reader.

Photo by Blue Trail Photography