The release of Editorial 1.1 has re-started me on the path of tinkering and tuning, and so far my impression is something along the lines of man oh man. Now, you’re going “oh great, another navel-gazing tools post,” and, no, you’re not wrong. This is another navel-gazing tools post. I do recall my college creative writing professor noting that poems about writing poems often make the worst poems; fortunately that observation probably doesn’t apply to blog posts about blog tools. We will see.

The short version is that I’m excited about this tool and this is a really powerful update. To elaborate:

  • Sub-workflows replace the previous ability to save and re-use workflows as “presets,” and improve on this idea greatly. A workflow can call another workflow as part of its own process, which means that re-using the things I’ve already built is easy, and I can improve those component workflows without having to trace their changes into the other places where they’re used.
  • The UI workflow builder is cool and I’m sure I will only use a tiny bit of its power. However,
  • Together, sub-workflows and UI builder are fantastic: I can use my existing workflows and piece them together into a parent workflow complete with buttons! In about ten minutes of work I have a popup sheet with buttons for my PGH publishing options and tools, that I can invoke from the keyboard directly. This is really, really slick. I admit I did not quite grok this when I read Oli’s preview posts about it, but the simple explanation really is true: one could use this to make full-on python-powered applications, complete with GUI, that run inside Editorial. I’m really excited to see what people come up with.

Also great, Ole’s backup/restore workflow, which has made it bang-easy to keep my workflows in sync across devices: and now with the iPhone version, I can begin work on any device and seamlessly pick up on another; this had been an obstacle between my two iPads, where I only had really tuned up workflows on one or the other. Now I’m equally capable on either iPad or my phone, no friction. It’s almost spooky, how cool it is to see the workflow panel get populated with all the workflows restored from a backup. Previously, the way to do this would be via syncing each workflow manually via the workflow repository. The brilliance of a seamlessness, easy sync just cannot be overstated. I think the ease with which one can keep iOS platforms in sync is going to be a very big deal with this release. Related, Ole Moritz has also put together a snippet backup workflow that looks likely to ease some of the frustration with the new method for using TextExpander in iOS 7.

My small kit of tools that I use to publish this entire site consists primarily of: write, upload1, render static HTML with my home built tiny engine (server side), deploy preview and deploy “production.” I have had these operations automated within Editorial for quite a while now, and every facet of doing that just got even better. Moreover, the app’s improvements give me more reason to incorporate it into even more of my non-blog style writing. In short, a great app is made even better; if you’re already a user you’re going to like it, and if you haven’t tried it but like writing and tools, I think this will be right up your alley.

  1. Really, upload here refers to syncing from Dropbox over to my web host server, where the server side static HTML rendering gets done. [return]

Adactio: Journal—Selfish publishing ▹

I continue to just really, really like what Jeremy Keith writes about putting stuff out on the web:

I have to admit, I really don’t care that much about the specific technologies being discussed at indie web camps: formats, protocols, bits of code …they are less important than the ideas. And the ideas are less important than the actions. As long as I’m publishing to my website, I’m pretty happy. That said, I’m very grateful that the other indie web folks are there to help me out.

What’s New in Editorial 1.1 ▹

I’ve been working on this for over nine months, and in a lot of ways, it feels more like a 2.0, or at least 1.5. There’s a new look for iOS 7, an iPhone version, tons of refinements everywhere, and several major new features for building even more powerful workflows.

No kidding! What a great update to an indispensable application. Most of my posting here as well as other writing I do with Editorial, and having it available on iPhone is huge. The taskpaper support also looks intriguing. Can’t wait to see the writeups by Viticci and Weatherhead.

Pre-post update naturally, Federico Viticci already has some gajillion in-depth words written about out the update. Bookmarked.

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The days are getting longer, so long that it’s hard these days to convince my nearly-four-year old that, yes, it actually is bedtime. A recent Saturday evening date night found us out and about downtown and I made a few pictures. The Hotel Monte Vista is, of course, a totemic downtown Flagstaff photo; and this old GMC truck reminded me a bit of my grandfather’s ‘53 Chevy pickup back home.

Since last summer I have been using Koken for image hosting and presentation here at Pretty Good Hat. It’s nice: Pretty interface, Lightroom publishing service, and produces nice galleries. Unfortunately, since my host change, uploading into Koken has frequently failed and we haven’t been able to track down the cause.

I tooled around last weekend to come up with an alternative. Although I like it the built-in gallery publishing feature in Koken, I have not used it much, instead using Koken primarily just to serve up images in multiple sizes for posting here1. So I went thinking about what I could replace that with. I started with Jeremy Friedl’s run any command plugin for Lightroom. Unlike the stock Lightroom function for running a script of application after an export, Run Any Command can work both with individual files and a list of all the files in an export, which makes it great for my purposes where I don’t want to do much file management on my own: Using Run Any Command, I can limit my processing to just the selected files without needing to keep track of previous exports that might have put output files into the same directory.

With Koken, I usually publish images to a gallery and then later return to incorporate the published photos into a blog entry. This is often on my iPad, where I use an Editorial workflow to process Koken embed URLs into markdown and then kickoff the blog preview/publish functions. So when I thought about a replacement, I knew I would want some kind of capability to ease that process — but without the nice Koken library viewer I’d need something to help me identify images and filenames.

Turns out something that does just the trick is built into ImageMagick: The montage command, as written up in great & helpful detail by Pat David, can build a nice contact sheet, or, for my usage, a tiny reference gallery that I can deposit in dropbox and quickly reference. And with a bit more code, I can add that single gallery sheet — a set of thumbnails, basically — to a dirt-simple HTML page that includes the image filenames and titles for further use.

The code

In case you’re curious, here’s how it works2. This is part of a Hard Drive export preset using Run Any Command. First there’s the Command to execute. This takes the exported file (set to appropriate size for my “fullsize” lightbox view in the LR export settings) and makes a smaller image for the blog link:

cp '{FILE}' '{NAME}'-small.JPG
/usr/local/bin/mogrify -resize "300x300>" '{NAME}'-small.jpg 
echo '<li> {name}\t{Title}' >> ~/Desktop/contact_sheet_list-$(date +%y-%m-%d).txt

And then the Command to execute upon completion takes care of the tiny gallery and file handling:

/usr/local/bin/montage -label '%f' -font '/System/Library/Fonts/Helvetica.dfont' -background '#000000' -fill '#ffffff' -pointsize 10 -define jpeg:size=200x200 -geometry 200x200+2+2 -auto-orient {FILES} ~/Desktop/contact_sheet-$(date +%y-%m-%d).jpg
echo '<img src="contact_sheet-'$(date +%y-%m-%d)'.jpg"<br>' > ~/Desktop/contact_sheet-$(date +%y-%m-%d).html
cat ~/Desktop/contact_sheet_list-$(date +%y-%m-%d).txt >> ~/Desktop/contact_sheet-$(date +%y-%m-%d).html
rm ~/Desktop/contact_sheet_list-$(date +%y-%m-%d).txt
rsync -e "ssh -i mysshkey" /Users/alan/Pictures/Exported\ Photos/tgal/*.jpg me@server:path/
rsync -e "ssh -i mysshkey" ~/Desktop/contact_sheet-*.html me@server:path/
rsync -e "ssh -i mysshkey" ~/Desktop/contact_sheet-*.jpg me@server:path/
cp ~/Desktop/contact_sheet-$(date +%y-%m-%d).{jpg,html} ~/Dropbox/tgal
rm ~/Desktop/contact_sheet-$(date +%y-%m-%d).{jpg,html}

Again, all of the montage work is cribbed from Pat David; do check out his great site. The rest is my remarkably inelegant handling of the resulting files and concatenation of filenames into a list from which I can copy filename and title/caption into a post. On the writing side, I have a textmate snippet and an editorial workflow to grab that title+caption string from the clipboard and paste their respective parts into a kramdown-flavored image link:

[![lightbox2](]({:id: .lightview data-lightview-group="GROUP" data-lightview-group-options="controls: 'thumbnails', viewport: false" data-lightview-caption="title" }

It’s ugly, I know. But send that through kramdown and it gets the right Lightview styling and everything. So it’s actually pretty hot. I’m grateful to Pat David and to Jeremy Friedl for documenting and building, respectively, some of the tools that help me do this. Jeremy is a long-time Lightroom plugin developer”) and I’ve happily supported his plugins in the past — now that I’m enjoying photography more again, it’s time to re-up!

  1. I use Lightview for a lightbox-style presentation. [return]
  2. This explanation is really so I remember how I did this in the future. [return]

The beautiful blueprints for Fujifilm’s camera of the future ▹

“If I want to play my favorite song, I want to choose my favorite guitar,” says Fujifilm designer Masazumi Imai. “It’s the same with cameras. If I want to take a photograph of something important to me, I want to choose a special product.”

The prototype photos of the XT-1 are super cool.

I love XKCD as much as every other right-thinking guy who likes science and math and the internets, and this strip about free speech says something that I think is important: Namely, it’s inappropriate to frame all restrictions of expression as infringement on the right to free speech.

However, in a series of tweets, mcc makes a critically important point, that the narrow implication of the XKCD strip is that only government can act to restrict the right to free expression, which is clearly not true:

We live in a world with many systems of control. The government is one system of control. It isn't fundamentally different from the others. — mcc (@mcclure111) April 18, 2014

We — and XKCD — may sneer at CEOs and TV stars who defend themselves from criticism by invoking “free speech:” It’s hard to sympathize with the rich and powerful who stand on a national stage and complain that they have no ability to speak their minds. While the Bill of Rights expressly protects all from restrictions imposed by the government, access to free expression is not at all universal, and, like so many things, is a function of power and resources.

This write up by Buster Benson at Medium is a great, thoughtful piece on how he’s getting real return from the quality of life tracking he is doing with Reporter. He’s categorizing responses to Reporter surveys by whether what he’s doing at the time is “quality time” and then adding detail that at explains why or why not. It’s exactly the kind of thing I thought about recently, but much more fully realized than my current use of Reporter — and it motivates me to refine and improve my own use, to ask questions of the information I am collecting and then find ways to act on it.

Pixel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In The Gig Economy: Sarah Kessler really takes the wind out of the “monetize your passion in your free time” marketing of errand and odd-job marketplaces like TaskRabbit:

I spend the biggest chunk of my time, about two hours, labeling photo slideshows at a nickel each. Each of them has five photos, and each photo has 11 pages of labels to use on it. That means that it takes at least 55 clicks to earn $0.05. There are slideshows of cats on couches. Cats on beds. Dogs on beds. Cats in sinks. Dogs with cakes. Cats with cakes. Cats with pizza. Cats with windows. Dogs in car mirrors. Dogs with bananas.

No surprise, it takes an awful lot of small gigs to even begin to get by (she has one or two good days in four weeks of hustling), but Kessler’s story shows just how seriously atypical the social media success stories are.

Working on some stuff, keeping busy and watching green sprout up in the garden. Meanwhile, I made a couple of quick updates to my writeup of hooking Runkeeper to Slogger. Just in case you’re interested.

Man did I ever save a lot of stuff to Pinboard this week, though.

“That Bites!” is a documentary about food allergies and living with food allergies by a 12-year old kid in Chicago. Good for him. He’s funded, but I would love to see him get a ton of money and go big with this thing. Our son has a bunch of food allergies and it’s scary that he could be killed by a bit of peanut cross-contamination. Food is so central to so many activities, and his inability to casually participate — or, say, to get on a plane without our worrying — is profoundly saddening to me. Broader understanding of food allergies, their seriousness, and how to minimize risk to others in environments like restaurants is critical.

Originally posted March 8, 2014 / Updated 2014-03-29

Five days since all the text was removed from and this notice went up on the relatively out of the way community forum at

It is disappointing to report that after a year and a half of uphill battles and unimagined setbacks, after several costly efforts to regroup and find another way, options to keep TextDrive growing have run out, and we will cease operations on the 14th of March, 2014.

Six days at the time I write this, March 8, until TXD turns off the lights, and customers have yet to receive notice via email or on the front page of the business.

Moving Tips

I’m moving to Kaizen Garden. There’s an active forum there where former TextDrive customers are helping each other out. So far my migration has gone perfectly smoothly. I’ve cribbed some sql and rsync commands from Joel Dueck’s set of helpful migration pointers.


The servers at Ubiquity stayed up a couple of weeks longer than expected, but finally went dark yesterday (March 28, 2014). Judging by the traffic at twitter an awful lot of customers were caught unaware. There was never a notification beyond the above-mentioned forum posting, and Jacques Marneweck, formerly of TextDrive and now running Kaizen Garden, has been working at all hours to field requests from stunned users and perform recovery from backup, where available, but not everyone is recoverable:

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings to a number of users. Writing a reply where there are no backups for a users data really truly sucks. — Jacques Marneweck (@txdjm) March 29, 2014

To be very clear about a couple of things: There was no notification sent directly to customers, and this is on Dean Allen. I wish I could be stunned by this, but I’m mostly disappointed. Dean’s lack of communication is inexcusable, but unfortunately not surprising, given his absence from the operation of TextDrive after he took it over from Joyent. When the Joyent-TextDrive transition took place I noted some of my own concerns about Dean’s capability to pull it off: “… But I concluded that we’re all more or less adults, that the key folks are smarter at this stuff than I am, and that I’d trust Dean not do jump back in through a fit of (merely) fury or loyalty.” Perhaps I should have listened more to that internal warning.

And: My not entirely informed understanding is that Jacques carried the Ubiquity tab for an extra couple of weeks, on his own, in order to help with migrations, but could not perform a global notification because he never had access to the customer database itself. He has, without promise of compensation, taken on helping with recovery for users who aren’t really his customers. This after running TXD operations without pay for months.

I very much hope that Kaizen Garden succeeds profitably, both for my own self-interest of avoiding another migration, and to begin to repay Jacques for the tremendous work he has put in. To reiterate my note above about my migration, my experience there has been flawless: Hosting in an environment nearly identical to TextDrive, which means I had little to do on migration other than import a few databases, move files into place, and throw the DNS switches. It’s a highest-quality operation and has a smart, driven chief at the helm.

Joyent, Née TextDrive

For the sake of completeness, I also wrote about the original announcement of Joyent’s end of lifetime TXD hosting, back when.

Statistically, winters in Flagstaff average fifty inches of snow, and in practice we’re used to that meaning that some winters we really get dumped on, and other winters see rather little snow. The first winter we spent here brought us only a few storms, but since then we’ve had some pretty good seasons, including the whopper of a winter of 2010, when a four-day span dropped five feet of snow on us. That winter I was lucky enough to buy one of the last unsold snowblowers in town and just barely keep up with the storm.

This year we had the longest winter-time dry spell on record, ever: Over thirty days without so much as a whiff of precipitation. So the whole town was buzzing over the prospect of the storm that came through late this week and into the weekend. Reports are that it brought a couple of feet to the San Francisco Peaks, and we got wonderful rain here in town, where it stayed just too warm for it to fall as snow except for a brief period overnight.

I got out around town for an hour or so between storms, looking for good puddles, stormy light, and view of some of my favorite downtown scenes, as well as some new alleyway nooks and crannies.

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The view toward the Monte Vista from the south side is one of the iconic pictures of this town, and it’s easy to see why. I can’t resist checking it out nearly every time I walk that direction. This night, the late sun poked through the clouds at just about the right time.

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Downtown has a lot of streets at odd angles to one another, old gravel lots, and a mix of new and old construction — churches next door to motels next door to restaurants, and almost everywhere a view of the train tracks or buildings that once housed businesses related to the trains. The neighborhoods are home to small, old homes in different stages of repair, depending on how long they have served as rental housing for NAU students. I enjoy the mix of home construction, some of which shows a strong southwestern influence with Adobe and tile, while other homes are in the mountain town style of clapboard, shingles, corrugated metals. There’s one fascinating house downtown built out of converted shipping containers. Last night, there were some fun puddles to be found, shining up the late evening light.

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I made it back to the car just as the storm really opened up again, cold hands flexing in the car after holding the camera in the wind and incipient rain — turning to slush and snow as the temperature dropped in the last block that I pulled up my hood, stuffed the camera back in the bag and made for the car.

A VSCO note

My photo walk was in part inspired by the need to get out of the house, and in part by Michael Laroque’s “Addicted” — VSCO Film 05 writeup. I really love Michael’s photography, and his discussion of Film 05 (I have Film 04 and Film 02, already) prompted me to pick it up after hedging for a few days — do I really need it?, I wondered. Michael knows that the point of these preset collections isn’t to make every photo look the same, but to find some inspiration in the looks they offer:

But it does mean I get to play with a new toolbox and with each and every release, some of the new emulations have triggered ideas, or found their way into my workflow in some shape or form. In many ways it’s like buying a great photography book… It inspires and shakes the status quo even if you don’t end up copying everything you’ve seen.

So, no, I don’t need it, and as a hobbyist I’m not going to make any money or anything. But I like them, and as I’ve mentioned previously, the film packs don’t take me back to my golden days of shooting film (though they do make me think about how long I spent shooting 35mm film in an automatic camera without thinking a moment about it); they help me find moods or textures or ideas that I might not have otherwise. So as someone who just enjoys this, it’s easily worth the price.

There are some really lovely landscape photos in this Storehouse post about visiting Isle of Skye. What a beautiful place.

John Foreman on Machine Learning, Privacy, and Humanity ▹

John Foreman is the data scientist at Mailchimp. His post about machine learning and the meaning of human agency is deep, in all ways — extremely knowledgable, expansive in scope, and intensely human. Recently I sketched some extremely un-refined thoughts about becoming part of the big data machine through passive data collection; John knows how to think through this right and sharp.

(Don’t miss the precursor piece, either: You don’t want your privacy: Disney and the Meat Space Data Race. Mickey Knows everything.)

Seth Clifford is on to something with his thoughts about Fitbit fatigue.

For a solid year it never left my side, unless I forgot it (rare), and then I was nearly inconsolable (all those lost steps!). Over time, something changed though; I was more concerned with collecting the data and having it than actually using it. It became a weird anxiety-provoking moment (pat pocket-ok it’s there-whew) that I experienced a few times a day.

I’ve had my own fitbit for a little over a year, too, and while I’ve done the pocket-pat once or twice a day myself, once the fitbit became a part of my routine it has not been much of a stressor. But I’ve never changed the default goal step number of 10,000; never tracked food or water, except at the very beginning; never built a big network of fellow social-steppers. I did, however, have a lovely fun time hooking its data into my Slogger feed and building a nicer sleep visualization than the built-in one. At the same time, however, I don’t know if it’s providing me a lot of value.

Like Seth, I listened to the recent couple of episodes of Back to Work on self-quantification and how it “can goose your mindfulness.” I really enjoy those kinds of discussions; like many data- and technology-oriented interneteers I get a little bit buzzed just thinking about the array of ways we have to gain insight into behavior and habits (As Seth says, “Numbers! Graphs! Yay!”). So in addition to Fitbit, I use Runkeeper to track my workouts, again using Slogger as the collection method to archive that data along with my posts and listens, as well. All of this is partly just because, well, I can: I get a little bit of basic satisfaction doing these little integrations, tuning the tools and such.

But here’s the problem with collecting all of this stuff: Unless I’m asking questions of that data, it’s mostly just taking up space — cognitive and disk — instead of increasing my self-awareness or mindfulness. The ease of passively quantifying ourselves lets us accumulate data without setting goals or interrogating its meaning to us. At best, that means we get very little value from it; at worst, in the case of a service like Runkeeper or Fitbit we’re feeding information into a big data aggregator whose own monetization intentions are rather less ambiguous1.

Yet the impulse to learn more about myself remains compelling; this is one reason why, despite a healthy sense of skepticism about the quantified self — or at least the un-analyzed quantified self — I’m really interested in Reporter. Made partly by Nicholas Felton, famous for his annual reports and creator of Daytum, Reporter pops up a notification on the iPhone at several random times during the day to ask a handful of questions: What are you doing, where are you, who are you with, etc. While it does produce some numeric data (how many coffees did you have today?) and other information that may be expressed categorically or on a scale (how well did you sleep?), it’s really excellent at qualitative recording, and has a great flexibility for creating new questions. It can ask additional questions when you go to sleep or wake up, too.

Reporter can ask as many or as few questions as you like. The first question I added to Reporter was “Are you engaged in what you’re doing?” This is a prompt for me to think about how well I spend my time in a very general way. Sure, later I could build cross-tabs of that response with where I was or what I was doing (working, not working, etc), but for now it’s just a way to remind me to be thoughtful. The Reporter: Unofficial Survey Question Repository is a great resource for interesting items that users are adding to their surveys, and I love that a lot of them are qualitative and seeking personal insight rather than numbers:

  • What surprised you today?
  • What would you have done differently today?
  • What are you going to focus on today?
  • What are you looking forward to today?

By default, everything you tell Reporter is entirely private, stored on your device. You can optionally export to Dropbox, but there’s no service rolling it all up. So far, I really am happy with the experience and am looking forward to continuing to use it to tell myself a little bit more about myself.

  1. To be fair to Runkeeper and Fitbit, they both offer “pro” or paid services, and I don’t know if these effectively subsidize the free options. But all that activity data — crossed with regional, demographic, consumption and lifestyle information — must create a lot of opportunities for marketing, too. [return]

I first cribbed this story about a Minecraft player walking to the “end of the world” because there’s something kind of wonderful about that adventure, based as it is on a wondering about just what does happen at the edge of a procedurally-generated landscape. The so-called Far Lands exist because of the way the Minecraft map is generated and stored :

They’re not infinite, but there’s no hard limit either. It’ll just get buggier and buggier the further out you are. Terrain is generated, saved and loaded, and (kind of) rendered in chunks of 16 * 16 * 128 blocks. These chunks have an offset value that is a 32 bit integer roughly in the range negative two billion to positive two billion. If you go outside that range (about 25% of the distance from where you are now to the sun), loading and saving chunks will start overwriting old chunks. At a 16/th of that distance, things that use integers for block positions, such as using items and pathfinding, will start overflowing and acting weird.

So not only will the world begin to look strange, but acting within it will be strange — the further you go, the less reliable the very rules will get.

Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World is another take on a similarly allegorical but less mathematically-built premise, in which the western edge of the world has yet to be built and is continuously contested by violently warring metaphors.

There are some predictably snarky comments to the story about gamers needing to go outside in the real world once in a while and how disappointed Edmund Hillary must be, but despite the haughty criticism of Strangers on the Internet, Kurt Mac has turned his Far Lands trek into a full-time job in addition to a funnel of charitable donations for Child’s Play, via ads/merch on his web site and youtube channel, where he broadcasts regular episodes of the adventure.

His relatively recent rise to success (since early 2011) is in contrast to the trajectory of many more YouTube entrepreneurs who are being squeezed by rapidly dropping ad rates1 and less generous sponsorship opportunities. Having aggressively encouraged producers and with content volume now exploding, Google can’t maintain the high ad rates:

Some executives of media companies that post videos to YouTube and other sites make basically the same point: YouTube is uploading videos so quickly that it can’t sell enough ads to fill all the potential spaces. It is especially lagging, they say, in selling ads to its two fastest-growing audiences: those coming through mobile devices and those overseas.

A DIY Let’s Play channel posting weekly is ridiculously low-cost against the high-value programming that Google and YouTube are pushing to create increased advertiser interest, and so much easier to be profitable — compare to the film equipment, writers, editors and other staff, and sets required for productions that more closely mirror TV. And I don’t know about US compared to overseas, but the heavy gamer audience that is feeding views and revenue to Far Lands or Bust may be particularly unlikely to be going mobile because they watch while gaming or coding. 2 So while it’s kind of amazing that a long walk in Minecraft ever had a chance at becoming a business, that particular niche — low-cost, dedicated consumer base, desktop-based — may be slightly more sustainable than big, fancy ventures. Right now, it’s hard not to wonder if Google killed the goose by building shiny production facilities and pushing expensive content when so many home-studio enthusiasts were already making stuff that people wanted to see — and that advertisers wanted to get in on.

  1. The Times’ featured producer, Olga Kay, started quoting $75 per 1,000 views in 2009; current average rate for a 30-second ad spot is now less than $8 per 1,000 views. [return]
  2. Even Notch watches! [return]

Nic Lindh writes an entertaining and informative story about building his Hackintosh:

The complexity is also high. Remember, you’re dealing with something completely unsupported that is by its very nature complicated. You’re picking parts, tweaking BIOS settings, installing strange system extensions, and groveling through more-or-less-illiterate testosterone-soaked forum discussions trying to pick up clues on how to fix something that’s not working. The learning curve is steep.

Every once in a while I think about building one of these myself, but I don’t have long weekends to go get lost in much anymore. I think I like reading about it more than I would like the never-quite-done fiddling, despite the on-paper cost savings for a high-power Mac.

In Songs About Songs Robert McGinley Myers nicely describes some of the tension in blogging between producing one’s own original material and “chattering” as John Roderick called it recently, or deluding ourselves that meta-commentary is more substantial than it may really be. The best reader-writers are doing more than pulling from the massive volume of internet firehose stuff, synthesizing themes and ideas and presenting it back to their own readers. Which isn’t to say that kind of synthesis isn’t useful, valuable, and important, but unless it has a perspective of its own, well, it’s just a conduit.

Robert McGinley Myers:

But I’m not sure I would draw such a qualitative distinction between primary and secondary source material. Songs are not empirically better than linked list blog posts. I’d rather read a brief but beautifully crafted post on Kottke or Daring Fireball than listen to a lot of the songs currently on the radio.

Yes, but I think the differentiating factor is that a carefully observed link post at Kottke and Daring Fireball is also part of a portfolio. Readers know that Jason and John have a perspective that they bring to what they share — and what they note about it — because those smaller shared bits are part of their long writing histories, even when the added comment is brief (like a “Finally.” from Gruber). But let’s be fair to pop music, where an observer-fan might fit this year’s hit albums into a trajectory of musical themes or innovations, and therefore find much more depth and meaning to enjoy than Robert or I will.1

This is actually one reason I really enjoy reading reviews; I’ll never play, watch, read, or listen to most of the reviewed works, but I like understanding what deep subject matter experts/enthusiasts find interesting — or not — in their topics.

This line of thought started with wondering where and how to add value to a conversation about things that interest me or move me somehow. (Why it’s compelling to do this is probably another entire thing that goes back to that ever-since-the-1990s enthusiasm for making stuff online, a stint of being a scholar-blogger, and an ongoing desire — perhaps a desperate one — to do something expressive in a medium that I know a small something about.) So I’ll take as stipulated for now that a good conversation can come from both a) “primary source” (that is, original) material and b) shorter links and sharing that are part of a larger body of work, both of which represent a creative and thoughtful perspective; and then I would make a proposition based on my own dilemma: I’m not a good reader anymore.

Right now my Instapaper Gap (that’s the daily rate at which I actually get to sit down and read over the daily rate at which I accrue things to read) is hovering awfully close to zero. It’s an almost entirely aspirational tool because I’ve developed a terrible habit: I squirrel stuff away partly because I want to read it, but partly because I daydream that I’ll write about it, get engaged in the conversation and interaction and in so doing find something rewarding beyond that which comes from just, simply, reading something good.

I’ll go further: I’m a bad gamer, a decidedly mediocre listener, and an absolutely terrible viewer, because my focus is so torn between enjoying/learning/understanding, on one hand, and meta-level multitasking of all sorts on the other. In my defense, I have a three year-old, work a full-time job, and my resulting time/attention span is bifurcated in all sorts of ways. But come on, would it kill me to re-learn how to focus on things?

So I’m working on being a better reader.2 I’m just reading for its own sake, to appreciate whatever an author wants to make me feel or make me think about. This does not mean being unreflective or passive; rather, it’s letting me enjoy and focus in a different way. The Instapaper gap may not be narrowing, but it’s not approaching zero quite as quickly. And when I feel like there’s something for me to say, the overhead is perhaps a little easier to clear out.

Note: I started this post a couple of weeks ago as a draft and ended up publishing it unfinished and not realizing it. When I realized this was on the front page, I figured it was time to shore up my thinking. If you happened across that half-finished copy, well, thanks for coming back anyway to read some more.

  1. This is where the cultural sociologist would say something about Bordieu and positioning. I wasn’t all that good at cultural sociology, so I’ll refrain, except to note that I know a good distnction when I see it. [return]
  2. Here “read” is shorthand for all kinds of cultural consumption. [return]

Following up on a skim of text editor data from The Setup last summer, I thought I’d catch up now that the 2013 information is in. It’s been quite a while since I dove deeply into the source data at The Setup, so it’s possible I’m missing new editor trends; I should read up on the interviews again, but meanwhile this is another fun, quick snapshot.

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Looks like after its 2012 surge, Emacs dipped steeply, while vim remained high and Sublime Text 2 grew in use (mentions) substantially. Among new, popular tools last year, Editorially has a single mention in the data, and Editorial doesn’t yet show up.

Meanwhile, interviewees at The Setup appear to remain remarkably unsympathetic to Windows Phone devices:

    Mobile Devices:
    iPhones:        218
    iPads:      145
    Androids:       88
    Windows Phone:  1

David duChemin, Towards Mastery. Again:

What will make better photographs is studying photographs themselves, not the ads for gear in the latest photography magazine. Photographs are made better by curious, patient, passionate, people with vision and imagination, not sharper glass. To paraphrase Ansel Adams – if the idea is crap then it doesn’t matter how big or sharp it is. Nobody cares how much damn chromatic aberration there is in your photograph; we care if there’s no heart.

One of the things I really enjoyed last year was picking up photography again, reinvogorated by a new camera and its creative potential. By far the favorite photos I made through the year, regardless of camera, are of my wife and our preschool son, but those are just for us. These are a bakers’ dozen, particularly memorable for entirely arbitrary reasons, from among the rest.

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A brief exchange about pho over on last week brought on a craving I couldn’t ignore. I really love Pho, especially in the wintertime when spicy, savory and aromatic broth feels just right. (To be honest, it’s great any time, of course. But it’s the kind of thing that feels particularly full of vitality when it’s cold and the sun still goes down early as it does the first week of January.) My mountain town has had a couple of Vietnamese restaurants come and go, and while the current one is hanging on it’s not really anything special. So after having had this vegetarian Pho recipe stored on pinboard for more than a year, I went for it.

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The broth is vegetarian except for the optional fish sauce. I’m not vegetarian and intended to put steak in anyway, so I kept the fish sauce for a little bit more funk and saltiness. While the list of ingredients initially was off-putting in its length, it’s really not so bad, and the prep was easy because everything goes into a big pot in big chunks (including the garlic, no peeling required).

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After a couple of hours simmering, the whole pot gets finely strained and you have this cinnamon- or mushroom-colored broth. It’s really lovely. We ladled it over medium-rare bison steak and garnished with bean sprouts, basil, peppers, lime and scallions. It was everything I was hoping for: Spicy from the fresh peppers and ginger and headily aromatic with anise, with just a bit of sweet balance coming from the turnip and depth from the mushrooms. Really good pho at home, I’m a believer.

By the way, I decided to put the bison steak in partly because a) I had it, but mostly b) I wanted to call this buff-pho-lo.

Of course, the day after I fussed over my own post about dead blogs, I come across this insightful, thoughtful piece by Robert McGinley Myers. There are two key passages in particular that I think are just so spot-on: One that resonates some with my thinking about “casual” blogging amid a proliferation of sharing platforms; and one passage about what he hopes to find in the future of not-dead blogging. Read the whole thing, as they say. It’s excellent and makes me want to dive in and just read everything at Robert’s blog.

Mid to late December saw a broad online conversation around Jason Kottke’s “The Blog is Dead, Long Live the Blog”. I didn’t catch up with that current1 until I read Duncan Davidson’s newsletter recently. Amid links to the Kottke essay, Alexis Madrigal’s thoughts at the Atlantic, John Scalzi, and Frank Chimero on “Homesteading”, Duncan writes

My own homesteading thoughts have lately turned not only to how to structure things on a website, but also how to share ongoing information in a way that’s timely. RSS feeds seem to continue to fade in importance and while they’re probably not going away entirely anytime soon, it’s clear that they solve only a portion of the problem.

The decommissioning of Google Reader is critical to all this. Reader was without question the hub of the reverse-chronological blog ecosystem, and Google’s discontinuing of the service created a significant sharing problem that also substantially amplified the extant trend toward “long form” writing and designery pieces like Snowfall, on one hand, and streaming social platform services, on the other. Google’s move underscores one critical piece of the story that Alexis Madrigal hits on, that “the stream is a creation of particular companies and thinkers” and not a natural product of the Internet. Whereas in 1997 “wired teens” (per Kottke) were proto-blogging with the shell accounts, ftp and web hosting provided by their colleges and ISPs, the advent of Blogger and later Google Reader would shift blog publishing and reading to a massive media landscape scale.

In the Reader+RSS era, a million ways to publish proliferated and Reader generally let them all bloom via RSS.2 I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that this infrastructure enabled what would become the Wordpress and Moveable Type empires; likewise the glut of shared web hosting services that somewhat tellingly are much more consolidated and cloud-service-oriented than they once were. I’m not trying to draw straight causal lines here, because many of these currents were on the rise prior to Reader becoming the dominant distribution and reading model, but I think it’s clear that as contemporaries they were all part of a particular technically-faciliated ecosystem that would eventually sit with Reader at its core.

Fundamentally, Reader+RSS was mostly plumbing; the services and platforms that are replacing it are not. So while we are (maybe) in a great age of diverse platforms we no longer have a unified way to consume them,3 and that’s a dilemma for people who want to read as well as people who want to create things. This may pose the largest impact to casual writers, the kind who might have fired up a hosted blog on a whim or periodically posted something of narrower or specialized interest. So much of the engagement once available to those authors has mostly dried up — while there is a bounty of ways to produce stuff, the ad hoc federations of interest collections is just harder to create and maintain without a dominant structure to put it all into. The kind whose writing is not short or pithy enough for microblogging or Twitter, not connected or viral enough to hit Medium or another curated platform4.

I have no illusions about this very site not being square in that category, but this isn’t meant to be a pity-party, only an observation/suggestion that the tools and infrastructure that for a time enabled a kind of media by the masses have again bifurcated into the micro-social and the truly mass media, and the kinds of things that survive in either of those environments are going to be different, except for blog-format sites that already have a mass readership (Daring Fireball among tech blogs, say, and Kottke and plenty of others). Everything else using that form will persist as a labor of love, an adjunct to a “more engaging model,” or a holdover from the pleistocene of the “home page.” As Scalzi writes, for those of us who want to own the things we produce and decide on our own how to present ourselves, the hobby home page is still something valuable:

I don’t see myself ever not doing Whatever, because at the end of the day I want to control my own space online and say what I want to be able to say, unencumbered by character limits or SEO-driven advertisements in the sidebars or any other sort of distraction. But if it turns out that it’s just one part of an overall online presence portfolio, well, that’s no different than it ever was … and it’s part and parcel of the fact that my presence is distributed in other ways as well

It’s clear that that function is no longer completed by that single site alone. Duncan Davidson’s newsletter prompted this post so I might as well bookend it with another of his remarks: On this shift from blog to something else, Duncan writes that “Whatever structure one uses, the urge to have one’s own presence online is certainly compelling.” For those of us who have been doing this since the 90s, that’s exactly right — and we’ll have to keep discovering and creating new ways to be expressive and find the social community to engage with.

  1. Self-conscious “stream” reference there, yes. [return]
  2. Notably, while publishing platforms proliferated, the Reader web interface was, to my fuzzy recollection, the by far dominant method to read one’s news feeds, despite a great variety of other good clients that used Reader as their backbone. [return]
  3. Technically, many of these publishing-platform islands do provide and support RSS, even if you have to look for it, but without the centralized service to update and access them it’s just too difficult for most users who have not migrated to feedly or feedbin to read them across their various machines and devices. [return]
  4. There’s a notion that this is all democratizing technology allowing everybody to have a voice, and that’s still true to an extent, but mostly in only the strictly technical sense; there’s a stratification of voices and a real class system out here. [return]

It’s January 1, 2014. I spent a good chunk of yesterday morning tuning up my still-incomplete backups over at TextDrive (as one does), enjoyed a couple of good cups of coffee and visited friends for a new year’s eve party (but did not make it until midnight; I turned into a pumpkin early and went home for a nice winter’s nap). Today I think I’ll try to bake some bread, cook some lamb, edit the pile of holiday photos I have amassed over the past week or so, and sip some bourbon.

As I type, it’s 45º F outside, so it’s possible that all this screen stuff goes out the window as I go out the door.