Metaphors Mixed Fresh Daily
Wasn't able to accomplish much at Marmot Tool & Die™ yesterday, had some other matters to attend to. We'll see what we can screw up here today. Should be fun.
In other news, I did spend a few moments playing with a new toy, the iPad mini 6. I remain something of an Apple fanboi, though the passion has waned as I've grown older and less tolerant of dealing with changes to familiar interfaces. Once upon a time, the interfaces and how it all worked was a source of fascination in and of itself. These days I'm more inclined to just want to get something done, and grow frustrated when I discover it doesn't work like it used to.
But, since it seems I'm turning to these things more often to try to actually accomplish something, I'm investing some effort in catching up and learning how to take best advantage of them. I've purchased a number of MacSparky Field Guides and started working my way through those. The guides are put together by David Sparks, and they're very well done and I obviously I think they're worth what he charges for them.
If you visit the site, you may notice that he has a blog. I did. And I looked around for the RSS link so I could subscribe to it. Didn't appear to me as though he had one, which seemed odd. But, persistence was rewarded, you'll find it under the "More" tab at the nav bar on the top of the page. He's also a huge Disney fan, so there's something there if you're into that as well.
Anyway, I digress. I played around with the mini 6 and an old blogging friend, Rob Fahnri, developer of the RSS reader Stream - A Feed Reader on the iOS app store, to look at the app on the 6. (Note to self, look for embed code for tweets. No need to send people into Twitter itself.) So I did that, and gave him some feedback I thought was useful.
Which led to spending a few, well, many actually, minutes clicking around various blogs. Just as "one thing leads to another," same with blogs.
I spent some time reading the posts at Interdependent Thoughts, and came across this one about another blog called Poste Italiane, and since Mitzi and I had just watched Stanley Tucci Discovers Italy the night before, I clicked through. I recommend you do as well. And if you do, and enjoy that little story as I think you will, you'll scroll to the bottom of the page and see a link to the previous post, and I can recommend that one as well. (Being a little coy here, but it's worth it.)
There are a few more blogs I visited that I would commend to your attention, but I think I'm going to close for now and turn my attention to rewiring the plumbing around here.
(And you thought the title of this post was going to be a non sequitur.)
I think this may be an example of how making connections can happen serendipitously through other sites than Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn; although I suspect this one may have been facilitated, at least partially, by Twitter. The evidence isn't clear though. I'm sure the mystery will be solved shortly.
I've been playing with dictation and voice control in iOS 15, and it's pretty cool, though also harder than you might think. I took a break and checked my email. There was an email from Flickr, that I had a new Flickr follower!
That doesn't happen very often, so it was kind of remarkable.
Naturally, I checked out his profile on Flickr and noticed he had a blog, so I clicked on that. Imagine my surprise when I saw his most recent post was about using voice dictation into Obsidian! Interesting!
Suspecting he may have seen a Marmot post on Twitter, then checked my Flickr page from the Marmot, I went to Twitter to see if he'd liked a recent tweet, or if we had followers in common or what. We only have one person we follow in common, Dave Winer. And a cursory inspection didn't show me that he'd liked any of my tweets, but I didn't check exhaustively.
I run saved searches on a number of topics in Twitter, to surface new or interesting links or people. So it's possible he'd been searching on Obsidian, and one click led to another and Bob's your uncle, a new Flickr follower!
In any event, he's got blog, it's got a feed and it's now in my NetNewsWire app. I also followed back on Flickr, and followed him on Twitter.
And, I'm not sure, but I think the world just got infinitesimally better.
(Coincidentally, or not, his previous blog post was about his experience at LinkedIn, and how "the algorithm" is making it worse. "Overthrow the algorithms!")
(P.S. in a blog post, we can include as many links as we want. Try that in a tweet. One per tweet. One way the PageRank™ algorithm works is by counting inbound links. So by generously linking to the sites we recommend, we help improve their page rank and elevate their appearance in search results. But that system gets gamed like everything else by faithless actors (SEO companies) so it's always an arms race.)
(P.P.S. Those little # things in the URL are supposed to send your browser to the specific post on the page. They're not working now, for some reason. They are working in other recent pages, so I'm not sure what's busted. Again. I'm going to have to crawl around under the bottom of this thing and figure out what's gumming up the works. Bear with me, it's always a work in progress around here.)
Streams of Consciousness
A couple of posts back, I wrote about doing what we can to invent a future we can live with. (Never end a sentence with a preposition. But I'm a blogger. We're waivered.) One thing Brent Simmons suggested was, "Teach other people to use RSS readers. Blog about RSS readers. And about other open web technologies and apps."
While I suspect that most of the people who visit the Marmot know about RSS and feed readers, since I'm tweeting posts these days, maybe some of you don't. So I'm going to write a little bit about RSS and why you should know what it is and use it to read what is perhaps the best of the web.
I think Dave Winer should get the lion's share of the credit for popularizing the use of RSS. His work was certainly where I first learned of it.
When blogging first kind of took off, there were myriad voices, all over the world and certainly all over the web, seeking and finding audiences. Discovery was something of a challenge, but bloggers were generous with links. I remember Dave writing about sending people away to get them to stay. He meant, link to other interesting writers and people will return to you because you offer a means of discovery. There were "web rings" and "blogrolls," which were ways that bloggers who were familiar with each other tried to direct traffic to each other. And keeping up with everything everyone was writing involved a lot of bookmarking, visiting separate pages, etc. There was a certain amount of cognitive and bandwidth overhead that didn't make the experience especially efficient.
Dave Winer came up with the idea of syndicating blog content. Now, there's always a great deal of debate about where the idea originated, but one thing Dave did do in those early days, was develop a standard for doing it, and he called it Really Simple Syndication, or RSS. Yahoo was doing something along those lines for news, I think, but it's all hazy now and the point of this post isn't to re-litigate history.
What RSS allowed was a lightweight, usually low-bandwidth, simple and easy way to keep up with the bloggers you "followed" in a single app, or a single web page. So you didn't have to go to the Marmot's web site to see if I'd posted anything new. Your "feed reader" (RSS traffic was, still is I guess, called a "feed."), would poll the Marmot's address, look at the feed and if something new was posted, it would grab it and stick it in your reader. And it could do that all day long, accumulating posts, every day, until you marked something as "read." Sounds a little like email, and many feed readers resemble email programs.
Some bloggers offered "full feeds," which is all the content of a post, so you never had to visit the page. Others, who wanted or needed the traffic for one reason or another, probably involving "money," offered partial feeds, usually the title and a summary of the post. You could decide if you wanted to click through and read the whole thing or not. Later, Dave used the RSS mechanism as the means for delivering podcasts, which is a whole other interesting and contentious history.
The idea of a centralized experience of seeing a "river of news" (another Dave Winer concept) was kind of the model for Twitter and Facebook.
If you're interested in reading blogs, and don't want to bookmark them all and click through your bookmarks and hope there's something new to read, get an RSS feed reader like NetNewsWire. Brent used to work for Dave and has been there since the beginning. There are other readers on every platform, so if you're not a Mac user you still have many choices. If you want to subscribe to Nice Marmot, there's a little link over on the right hand side of the page that says "RSS." You can copy that address (right-click, "copy address") and paste it into your feed reader. On my machine, since I have NetNewsWire installed, I can click on the link and Safari asks if I want to open it in NetNewsWire. Magic. Have no idea how that works. Well, some idea, but not very much. Mostly I just copy those links and paste them into my reader as new subscriptions. I'm probably "doing it wrong." But I digress.
The advantage of reading individual blogs, whether it's by clicking around to their individual pages, or in a consolidated "river of news" in a feed readers, is that you control the experience. While Facebook and Twitter democratize voices on the internet, they control the pipe, they control the experience. You don't necessarily see posts in chronological order. You may not even see every post. They insert posts (ads) you never asked for. They use your behavior, what you click on, to gather data about you, which they use to help sell ads and to manipulate you to stay on the platform.
The big social media platforms hijack the stimulus/reward response. They make it easy for people to interact by "likes" or comments and so on, and that creates "engagement." So you stay on the platform, and the interior experience of your life, your "reality," is subtly shaped by what these companies show you ("feed" you). It's the Matrix, really.
There are many problems with comments, and the more popular your blog is, the more problems you have. They're good if you're monetizing your blog, because it keeps people engaged. But I'm just doing this to scratch my own itch, I don't need the money or the hassle.
If you feel as though you want to offer some feedback about the things I post here, there's email, or now Twitter, or you can start your own blog and knock yourself out!
But blogs are a great way to listen to new voices, and do so in an experience that you control. Especially with a feed reader, which often just serves the text and you avoid all the ads and tracking stuff. Though I'm sure there are trackers of one kind or another embedded in RSS feeds these days. I could be wrong, I don't follow the tech that much anymore.
Yesterday I installed NetNewsWire and spent some time subscribing to a number of blogs. Old blogging friends from way back, twenty years some of them, most of whom seldom post anymore; but their sites are still up and you never know. A lot of tech blogs dealing with new apps and ideas I'm interested in now. And I'll add and remove feeds as time goes on, curating my own experience.
You can kind of think of blogs and feeds as like the "slow food" movement of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik-Tok all that stuff is fast food. It's extremely "tasty," hits all the right notes to make you keep wanting to come back for more, but it's poisonous in the long run. For now, I'm dealing with Twitter. I know I have to manage my interaction with it, and someday I may have to leave it. But Facebook is just a radioactive cesspool. It's toxic at any level of exposure. Even if you're just "friends" with family.
So, Brent Simmons, thanks for all your past and ongoing contributions to making the web a more positive place. Consider this my tiny little contribution. Won't be my last.
This is kind of a housekeeping post. In case anyone's interested.
If I can stay off Twitter. The key to productivity is to stay off the twitters.
Anyway, Twitter is what alerted me to stuff like Obsidian, and Roam and so on. I find that kind of thing exciting. Obsidian and Roam are kind of non-traditional "apps." They're not word processors or databases or spreadsheets. They're "tools for thought." It's a sort of genre of software that's fascinated me since the Apple ][+. Back then we had the usual word processors, spreadsheets and databases (Visicalc being developed on an Apple II and essentially establishing the paradigm.)
Those were cool, but I liked programs like ThinkTank, an outline processor, something that wasn't just like a fancy typewriter. Or The Incredible Jack, an "integrated" program that combined elements of all three applications in a single one. Or Jef Raskin's Swyft card for the Apple II, which really didn't require the card on later Apples. It was a very novel paradigm for its time with the idea of "leaping" around a text, and being able to embed small Applesoft Basic programs in a document to perform certain tasks.
Anyway, the fascination has endured because it always seemed as though we weren't using computers to their best advantage when we're confined to the standard three app models; and, really spreadsheets and databases are almost the same thing (Horrors!), because everyone uses Excel as a database these days. (None of that is accurate, but it's close enough to conventional wisdom.)
But I'm getting old enough to know I don't have as much time to dive down every rabbit hole that comes along. While it's a lot of fun, I don't get much accomplished, and these days I suppose I feel as though I want to accomplish something. If only for myself.
Fortunately, about the same time Obsidian, Roam and the others were coming to my awareness, I learned about the Tinderbox meetups occurring via Zoom. So I sat in on one of those and enjoyed listening to the presentation and hearing about what other folks were doing with Tinderbox. It led to a session with Michael Becker, which he recorded and later posted as one of his Tinderbox YouTube videos.
I'm actually a little embarrassed about the whole thing, because it revealed how little I know about Tinderbox, and how I've been kind of stumbling along using it for so many years. The file I'm writing this post in began 8 years ago! And it seemed like every time I tried to change something to make it "better," I broke something and it wouldn't work and I'd have to kind of go back to what did work.
Michael gave me some tips, and I applied them.
And broke everything again. Frustrating! But Tinderbox rewards persistence, and things seem to be working now.
So I'm looking forward to breaking things again.
One of the limitations of Tinderbox is that it doesn't have a mobile version. When I went to New York last week for Mom's birthday, I just brought the iPad along. If I wanted to post something to the Marmot, and have it be part of the content of this file, I didn't think I could do it.
But there are a lot of levers and pulleys in this program. You just have to know which ones to pull to get it to do something you want to do.
For some time, Tinderbox has been able to "watch" cloud-based "notes" apps. First was SimpleNote (which I don't think is the case anymore), but now it can watch Apple Notes and a couple others I think.
So I've created a folder in Apple Notes called Notes From the Underground (hat tip to Fyodor Dostoevsky), and I've wired the Marmot up to watch that folder. Notes that I write there appear here in this file. So, that's very cool.
Now I need to create some automation, wherein Tinderbox watches those notes and then performs some bloggery things making those notes suitable for publishing as blog entries. I think I have some idea how to go about that; and I've learned there's lots of help if I just ask.
Now, if I'm away from my Mac, I'll need to create some automation that'll cause Tinderbox to export the appropriate notes as html files, and then some other wizardry to upload them to the web site. All of which seems vaguely achievable, and all of which has prompted another idea.
We each adopt certain personas in different contexts. In this file, there was a container I called "The Cooler." That's where I placed posts I'd written that I was reluctant to publish. I'd let them sit there, and the idea was I'd return to them shortly and either edit them for publishing or delete them. I didn't want to post really angry things. Feelings pass. Typically a post that went into The Cooler would be forgotten.
That hasn't been the case around here for some time. Feelings still pass, I just go ahead and post them.
But I'm still reluctant to have the Marmot be the place where I vent my spleen. I'd like the Marmot to be warm, but not hot. Yet I'd still like someplace to let it rip when I feel like flame-spraying something. Someplace where you know what to expect as the reader.
Hence: Notes From the Underground
Tagline: It's Darker Here.
And as I was kind of pondering all this, it gave me a laugh to see the thread that was kind of connecting it all.
My first blog was called Time's Shadow. Blogging has always had a temporal element to it. I was going through therapy at the time, dealing with my own "shadow". Anyway, not sure that was all in my mind at the time when I picked the name, but I liked it and stuck with it for a fair amount of time.
By the time editthispage dot com folded, I'd made some progress in coming to understand myself, and among the works I referred to as "cinéma therapée", Groundhog Day was perhaps the pre-eminent. So when I started my next blog, hosted by Apple's old Homepage service, I called it Groundhog Day. One tagline was, "It's about seeing one's shadow." Later I think it became "Don't drive angry. Never drive angry," but that may have been "Day of the Groundhog," which was my Tumblr after Homepage was shut down. By 2013, when I started this effort, I was determined never to have to rely on some other service to post my own stuff. So I registered the domain for Nice Marmot.
The name was partly an homage to my Groundhog days, and also to The Big Lebowski, as I retired in 2013 and the Dude was kind of my role model.
Well, life was pretty good in 2013, for me anyway. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. And, well shucks, a lot has happened since then. So I've been feeling very "un-Dudelike" for the past several years. Pissed off is no way to go through life, and anger is a feeling and feelings pass; but they're valid and they deserve to be acknowledged. So there's been some anger here. Most of it is on twitter, which is perhaps not the best place for several reasons.
Notes From the Underground, the blog name, reflects some of Dostoevsky's Underground Man, or, in my case, woodchuck. Notes From the Underground will reflect the darker side of life, down in the burrow where the sun never shines, and one never sees one's shadow. I've always been an unreliable narrator. There may be a few old hands who recall my frequent disclaimer, "I'm an authority on nothing. I make all this shit up. Do your own thinking." And I've learned that the inner voice is an unreliable narrator as well. You should too.
I like it. Should be fun.
I've registered a couple of domain names. I can keep all the posts in this file, just export those notes to a different folder. So all my blog writing is still in a single Tinderbox file and I can slice it and dice it if I feel like it and see what insights it might reveal. But mostly it's just convenient to have everything in one environment.
The other cool thing I hope to leverage is dictating posts into iOS Notes on my phone while I'm out walking. I used to write blog posts in my head when I was out running. By the time I got home, all the impetus for writing them had evaporated, I'd already "done" it. I do it now when I'm out walking, if I'm not carrying a camera. When I've got the camera, I'm paying more attention to what's around me. But I'm going to stick some Airpods in my ears and be an old man who talks to himself walking around the neighborhood!
Anyway, stay tuned. A lot of moving parts and experience tells me nothing is as easy I as think it is. But I'm kind of excited about it, so we'll see.
Thanks for dropping by.
Help Invent a Future We Can Live With
The other day, Facebook was a topic in my Twitter feed. I've been off Facebook since January, deleted my account entirely. My experience during the campaign last year made me realize how toxic it is, at any level of exposure. I was still on Instagram. I had a smaller number of followers there, some from Facebook, others I'd encountered on Instagram. But that's a Facebook property as well, and Facebook has been working tirelessly to make Instagram more and more like Facebook.
So, I deleted my Instagram account as well.
In the previous post, I was commenting on the renaissance we're experiencing in "tools for thought." Part of my excitement is due to kind of happening upon a series of Saturday Zoom meet-ups with Tinderbox users and the developer, Mark Bernstein and a couple of experts, what we might have called "power users" back in the day. I've been a customer and a user for nearly twenty years. While I'm enamored with the power and possibility of Tinderbox, I've always also been somewhat intimidated by it. Discovering this community of users, especially Michael Becker and Mark Anderson, has significantly diminished my reluctance to play around with it more.
A few minutes ago, as I was browsing my Twitter feed, I happened upon this tweet from Brent Simmons, the developer of NetNewsWire, an RSS feed reader of some renown. If you click on the link in that tweet, it brings you to this. I read it, and it felt like serendipity, coming as it did on the heels of another Tinderbox meet-up, where Michael Becker was walking us through how to use Tinderbox to organize our writing.
I came out of that meet-up with some ideas I wanted to try, and then I read Brent's post. In years past, when things kind of aligned like that, it felt like the universe was letting you know you were on the right track. And that's a pretty good feeling.
Social media is a double-edged sword, it cuts both ways, good and bad. Yes, cliché writing is not "my best work." Just know that I know that, and I'm working against an internal clock here, before my attention and intention expire. Social media is problematic. There's too little friction, it's too easy to post. People act on feelings, and feelings pass. Or they do if you're not constantly nurturing them, or seeking validation for them, or maintaining an interior state of arousal because that's what's become "normal" for you. But feelings are valid, I'm not discounting them. They feature significantly in some of my ideas for some new work here.
I don't think blogging is necessarily a corrective. A lot of us old-timers had experience with the run-up to the Iraq War. Shortly after the first flowering of the Golden Age of Blogging, along came 9/11 and pretty much everything changed; in blogging as in everywhere else. We saw the rise of the "warbloggers." And if short-form social media posts are bad, well, the densely worded interminable prose of Stephen DenBeste demonstrated that long-form prose isn't necessarily a corrective.
But still, I do think it's better than the "hot take," the snide aside, the essential emptiness of a popular meme. So I think it's worth making an effort to help bring back blogging.
We are in a world of shit, and I'm not sure this civilization is going to endure. I know it can. I don't know if it will. But if we want a better world, we've got to get about the serious business of inventing it. Right fucking now.
Is blogging a part of that? I think so.
And I know that Tinderbox is a tool for invention.
Best of Times, Worst of Times
Well, things are working. I'm trying to be able to move seamlessly between my MacBook Pro and my iMac, and I thought I could use iCloud to do that, having essentially the same Desktop and Documents folders on both machines. Something doesn't seem to be working, so I apparently don't understand the problem well enough yet. In the interim, I've enlisted DropBox to facilitate things.
This is just a brief itch-scratch post, because this deserves a lot more attention than I'm prepared to give it in the minutes I have left before I have to leave.
I'm kind of excited because it seems we are undergoing another renaissance in software development in the category of "tools for thought," or as Douglas Engelbart might have said "augmenting the mind." I think you can kind of trace a generational recurrence in this, beginning perhaps with Memex, to Engelbart, to something like ThinkTank or More in the 80s, followed by a vigorous flowering in the early 90s, to the current crop, reflected in Roam, Obsidian, Curio, Craft, Author and others I'm unaware of. These are not all the same kinds of things, and I'm not intimately familiar with any of them.
Tinderbox, the application I'm using right now, is one of them as well; and I'm pretty familiar with it. Tinderbox being something of an outlier, appearing at the tail end of the last renaissance, but benefiting from a committed developer and a large enough user base to ensure a certain level economic viability, allowing it to endure to the current resurgence of interest.
In general, most of the effort in software development has been the area of "productivity," word processing, database management, spreadsheets, etc. Social media software development probably overshadows all of that, but we don't really think of social media as a "tool" (unless you're a marketer, or someone seeking to subvert democracy). There has been a great deal of effort in other areas of media or art, like photography, video, music, other forms of visual representation. And, of course I'm ignoring all the "infrastructure" development undergirding our networked world, which likely exceeds all of the others.
But in terms of using computers as a means to help develop knowledge or insight, and using their particular strengths in that specific context, it seems to be a very small niche, and it seems to ebb and flow over a generational timespan. We're in the midst of a rising tide at the moment.
That's a good thing, because God knows we need all the help we can get in thinking clearly and developing deep insights into complex problems.
I hope to dive into this in more depth in the weeks to come. It'll be something of a welcome distraction from the chaos going on all around us. But for now, this will have to do.
Have to go pick up my wife from the car rental place where she's returning a vehicle.
So Far, So Good
It's Friday and I've got some time to kill before I head out to pick up my wife, so I figured I'd play around here and dust off the cobwebs.
Borrowed the neighbor's pressure-washer this morning and cleaned off a bunch of pavers that border the house. The ones that don't get any sun get a lot of mildew and fungus growing on them. I've never used a pressure washer before, I'm glad my neighbor told me, "Important safety tip. Don't cross the streams." Showed me a scar on his leg. They use high-pressure water to cut many things, 2000 psi can probably do a number on human flesh. Anyway, it was more work than I expected, but at least it was a nice day. Good workout for my hands I guess.
I'm not sure who, if anyone, is still monitoring this frequency. Doesn't matter, I guess.
Here's a test. Copying some embed code from my Flickr account to see if I can post a pic in this post.
Be right back...
Test post to see if I remember how all this stuff works!
"Disregard this transmission, out."