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.

Piwik tells me that my top five hits here at PGH in 2013 were:

Since the build system starts with pure markdown, a tiny bit of wc at the shell can give me a few numbers:

  • Total entries: 71
    • Total “brief” (link or notes) posts: 35
  • Total words: 16,154 (not including this post)

Entries by Month:

Jan : *******
Feb : ***
Mar : ****
Apr : *********
May : *****
June: ****
July: ***
Aug : *************
Sept: ********
Oct : ***
Nov : ****
Dec : *******

Today I plugged in Bigfoot to add some flair to footnotes, just in case. 1 Otherwise, this little gig has been pretty stable behind the scenes. I expect I’ll continue to post mostly using the iPad, as I have since August when I hooked up my publishing workflow to Editorial. Perhaps I’ll do a lot more mobile writing next year; I have been happy with my nice weekend afternoon routine of taking the iPad to the coffee shop to catch up.

I enjoyed the writing and thinking I did here in 2013. I have a set of notes brewing, drafts to pick up in the next days or weeks (maybe should update that Usesthis editors post to see just what happened to TextMate in the latter half of the year). I’m looking forward to it and continue to welcome feedback and comments via contact information at the bottom of the page. Thanks.

  1. I’m very happy that kramdown creates compatible footnotes from markdown. This is an example. They’re nice. I’ll probably tinker some more with styling and such. Dr Drang recently discussed his implementation. [return]


We’re home again after about a week traveling northbound to my parents’ house for Christmas. All in all, I’m exhausted. But it was a great trip, full of some wonderful memories: my son’s first time skiing (about which I can just say joy and glee and miles-wide grins) which I will remember for the rest of my life; meeting my new nephew for the first time; seeing many family and school friends for the first time in years; the way my son was perfectly happy — more than happy, content and Merry — with the very first present he found for himself under the tree, no expectations of more but then there’s more OMG (because of course there was, thanks, grandma and grandpa); feeding my nephew and rocking him to sleep; my wife being ill for most of the trip, sitting together quietly after the house had gone to sleep.

Recognizing in my son that these memories are forming for him, too, that he will remember pieces of the last week as he goes on through his own life, an evolving story that will one day be all his own.

Bring it on, 2014.

Avoiding Spam with Email Aliasing

Gabe has a good write up of mail aliases, specifically at fastmail. I have used plus addressing for years, but had not known about subdomain aliasing, which works great and looks less obviously like an alias. Good tip!

This week was the twenty year anniversary of Doom. Ars Technica has a fun collection of Doom memories, and Wired has an interview with Chris Carmack that touches on the game’s design and technology decisions, and its long-lived effect on gaming.

I was in my senior year of high school when Doom was released, and I ran a BBS that experienced a lot of downtime while I shotgunned imps. For some reason, I was a keyboard-only player, and I recall being stunned at how quickly players using a mouse in a deathmatch (deathmatch!) could spin to take me down while I pursued them. As it happened, however, I didn’t play much multiplayer until going off to college the following fall with my shiny 386DX4 built by a friend who worked at a local computer store.

Aside: I spent a lot of time hanging out at Pro Computer. There’s a good story that involves my high-centering my mom and dad’s car in the parking lot by backing over a sizeable ledge that seems in hindsight to be awfully poorly placed. Somewhere somebody had an animated ANSI of the whole episode, including three friends helping rock the car back onto its wheels.

Also, This is where I tl;dr my own rant about how kids these days have it easy with their mostly reliable PC hardware. That custom DX4 was a speed demon in its day, but I was forever troubleshooting problems between its Sound Blaster and sketchy CD-ROM drive. I never did get that damn thing to play Myst.

I lived in a former frat house converted my year into a freshman men’s dorm. It wasn’t wired for Ethernet with the campus network at the time, but it was only about half full, which means it had a lot of unused phone lines that, as it happens, were nonetheless live. So, we had a reasonably high tech group of college freshmen slightly isolated by geography from the bulk of campus, with lots of high-spec hardware, 14.4kbps modems (I would upgrade to a 28.8 that winter), and an extra phone line for just about everybody.

So, yeah, we played a lot of deathmatch Doom that year.

One epic game sticks in my mind, ending with two of us, down to the last scraps of ammo and health after a furious series of frags, stalking one another for one final hit. It was the kind of finale that had housemates gathered around our CRTs in each of our rooms (also because it was time to go to dinner, come on guys, let’s do this). I had the rocket launcher and he had the plasma gun, and I rounded a corner just in time to find him — camping! — at the far end of a room. The slight travel time for both our weapons’ fire meant that we had enough time to watch, but not quite dodge effectively, as a rocket traversed one direction and plasma came the other way, for a devastating simul-frag. I recall seeing him drop, briefly mentally celebrating, and then going down myself, to hoots around me and down the hall. Brutal.

So thanks, Doom, for twenty years, you big gateway FPS you.

Where’s iTunes Extras for AppleTV?

Rene Ritchie asks a question I’ve wondered about myself. On the same topic, why does iTunes keep insisting that I should download everything I’ve purchased? Every time I open iTunes I have to wait for the downloads to start, then bring up the window and “pause all” — no way, as far as I can tell, to just disable automatic downloading of purchased content. Guys, I going to watch all that Walking Dead on my AppleTV, not cart it around on my MacBook Pro or iPads. How many times do I have to tell iTunes?

Love Actually celebrates a Christmas for the rest of us

When I was in high school, I gave up on the idea of Christmas, bitter at my discovery that going through the motions doesn’t actually result in initiation into the dominant culture. Yet Christmas remained an unavoidable holiday, and I found it was best spent watching movies and ignoring one’s parents for as long as possible. That’s when Love Actually came into my life.

Every time it ends, I wish it wouldn’t. I want the music to keep playing. I want the stories to keep unfolding. I want to live inside the warm, loving, and occasionally tragic world of the film, where not everyone gets a happy ending. Love Actually is the only film that brings me Christmas spirit—a modern, urban kind of festivity, but one that makes my heart warm like no stories of Santa or nutcrackers really can.

This is a great reflective review of a movie that I like a lot. Sonia Saraiya captures something about the about the way the film is mostly about moods and a collective excitement and mostly-gentleness.

A few inches of snow and very cold temps mean a two-hour delay for the start of school this morning, so I have some extra time to have coffee and hang out with my son this morning. He’s excitedly running through the living room in his snow boots, so I’m taking a few minutes to make note of a few things that have interested me lately.

Six-fifteen AM, coffee in hand, I’m watching the Mavericks download progress bar on my mid-2009 MacBook Pro, my home PC. I skipped Mountain Lion on this Mac, so I imagined as this process began that I’d have quite a bit to get used to. Coffee finished, I went for a nice run at the gym (morning temp here was 22º F and I’m not crazy) and came home to find the upgrade ready to install; clicked go and went out to breakfast; came home and logged in to my new Mavericks install. So far, so seamless!

I’m not really a Mac power user anymore. Time was, I had a finely tuned academic Mac productivity toolchain; contributed lots of code to TextMate bundles; knew the guts of my LaTeX configuration inside and out; was all up in GTD’s grill. But now that the Mac is my home-not-work machine, there’s actually not so much to catch up with when I upgrade, and there’s less to be had from the carefully crafted Mac Productivity Workflows I used to invest in. While I still do plenty of stuff at home, the volume of information I’m organizing and working with is just so substantially smaller than in the course of my Day Job, that the return, for example, on re-tooling my To-Do list system in Alfred is pretty low.

Much of this is attributable to mobile: The slick workflow for posting to this site is based in Editorial now, as opposed to the Mac desktop, and if I want a reminder of something (bills due), my iPhone works far better at that than my MacBook Pro simply because it’s always there, while I spend much less time on the actual computer than when I was a stay-at-home grad student. Meanwhile, BYOD at work has concentrated even more information and interaction on my iPhone than before — but unlike the home Mac desktop, it’s relatively hard to bring the sophistication of iOS (say, OmniFocus) into the tools I spend most of my time on during my day job.

Aside: So I started this post early on a weekend morning a few weeks ago, and so far Mavericks is just a very nice experience. I’ve read The Siracusa Review and it’s a good example of the detail that I love to read but may not actually need: Back in the day, tags would have been revelatory — TAGS! — but now, no project living on my home Mac is so big that I need them. I’m not sure how to feel about that.

This matters because I get a lot of reward from using tools that are interesting, effective, and sophisticated. Doing one’s work is about more than the end deliverable, right? The process matters, too, and if I like doing the work then the product is better for it (not to mention I’ll do it again). Now, in my work environment there’s only so much room to explore process because enterprise environments aren’t as flexible as start ups or academia (see recent episodes of ATP on enterprise software for much more; I have a few draft thoughts about this, too perhaps forthcoming). But in that space I find a great deal of energy and frequently recharge my productivity batteries.

By way of example, I have for a while used emacs’ org-mode for note taking, but have felt it getting cumbersome as a place to do actual writing in, so I retooled a little bit, picked up MikTeX and a Tufte-style LaTeX template and started drafting ideas related to some emerging projects. I can write in markdown and build a beautiful document, and it’s fun so I enjoy the thinking more.

$ pandoc -o work-thing.pdf --latex-engine=xelatex --template=template-tufte-handout.tex work-thing.md

Just feels good. Now, sharing that work (at least in a format that my co-workers can revise instead of simply admire) requires further transformation, but that’s okay; I’m getting what I need out of it at the right point in the process. To be clear, this work is rewarding all by itself because I have interesting problems and great colleagues; but there’s always room for a nicer toolkit of ways in which to work.

Since buying the VSCO Film Pack 04 I’ve been post processing a lot of photos, and I am starting to get a feel for what I like and what seems to work well with the kinds of photos I enjoy shooting — and liking the results enough that I sprung for Film Pack 02 when it was on sale recently.



lightbox2  lightbox2

Working on some photo books over the weekend, I revisited some photos I made with my previous “big” camera, a now almost seven years-old DSLR that was my starting point for all of this hobbyist interest in photography. I have a shelf full of lenses and am deeply fond of many of the photos that came from them over the years, and proud of some of them, too. I picked up that camera for the first time in a while this weekend, organizing and cleaning up some bookshelves — It’s heavy. I had forgotten. I am so used to the weight and heft of the X100s, the feel of the shutter, and that big optical viewfinder, I think it would be hard to go back. I love its output and I love to use it.

A good tool encourages its user to explore its capabilities, to learn to be most effective or creative or (day I say) productive. This camera rewards my efforts to get better. I don’t have illusions about being a good photographer because I have a nice camera, but having a camera that makes even my hobby shooting feel like something that approaches a craft gives me a great incentive to learn and improve — and it’s a real kick.

Everpix was great. This is how it died.

I won’t get to try Everpix after all. It’s too bad — it really appears to hit that niche for finding and using photos, as opposed to just dropping them in a, well, box. The Everpix team sold their technology to enable an orderly close of business (which I think shows a lot of respect for their customers), so I hope it resurfaces somewhere.

Khoi Vinh also has some thoughts. Perhaps emblematic of the problems that Everpix faced is that he describes Everpix primarily in terms of a backup service, when in fact the core of the experience the team designed was by all accounts much more than than.

Drive Nacho Drive

Brad and Sheena van Orden are a local pair who have been on the road for nearly two years in a custom VW camper van (I grew up vacationing in the back of one of those all over the Western US and get a little dreamy when I see one for sale). From Flagstaff, they’ve made it through South America, shipped the van (Nacho) to southeast Asia to continue through Thailand and Cambodia, and are now headed to India and the Himalayas. Their travelogue is full of fantastic photography and stories, and they have a book, too. Follow along!

Making the leap to Mavericks on my home MacBook Pro prompted me to think some about the dramatically different computing environments between my home and work. But that’s still a drafty post, so here are some autumn timey photos that I like, including the seasonally-required autumn leaves photos.

lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2

We also have a good new coffee shop in town that I quite enjoy:

lightbox2 lightbox2

Buca Boot: Flexible, Secure Storage for the Urban Biker

Alas, I’m not much of a bike commuter right now due to the road to my son’s daycare being a blind-corner no-shoulder nightmare. But this just looks cool:

I started thinking … wouldn’t it be great if I could treat my bike the way that everyone treats a car trunk (or ‘boot,’ as they call it in Britain), where you can just toss a gym bag or an extra pair of shoes in the trunk, no problem?

Over the last four years, I’ve enlisted various designers and engineers to realize my vision. We worked through iteration after iteration just trying to nail the combination of features that make the Buca Boot different: security, weather resistance, and a flexible lid system. In 2013, the final team came together and made something we wanted to share with the world.

Launch Center Pro 2.0 Review

Detailed review as always by Federico Viticci. I have a bunch of frequently-used Launch Center Pro actions: I use it to replace the phone dialer, quickly text certain contacts, enter mileage logs, and add items to calendar to to Due. This is a nice update, worth paying for, but offered as a free upgrade.

All week I crib things into pinboard, instapaper, and left-open browser tabs, thinking “oh, this is good — I’ll use|blog|THINK about it later.” Seeing as how it’s not actually my job to do those things, and I have an active life of making lunches, making dinners, and pre-schooler lecturing at home, it feels like I never get to give any of those things the attention that I want.

Baby steps though, right?

Stack this

Reading this about management at Valve I was struck by the difference in tone between discussions of stack ranking at Valve versus at Microsoft — the latter being one off the things said to doom the company:

In the end, the stack-ranking system crippled the ability to innovate at Microsoft, executives said. “I wanted to build a team of people who would work together and whose only focus would be on making great software,” said Bill Hill, the former manager. “But you can’t do that at Microsoft.”

To be sure, the implementation matters a great deal, and the actual ranking practices and cultures at Valve and Microsoft differ, but the public perception of each company undoubtedly shapes our view, too. At Valve this practice is daring and egalitarian (also anarchic and nigh socialism, we are told by internet commenters) while at Microsoft it’s stifling and bureaucratic.

If you haven’t seen it, the “leaked” Valve employee handbook originally circulated about a year ago and is an interesting depiction of a company culture.

Point and click

I spent a lot of time playing games from Lucasarts back in the day. So How LucasArts Fell Apart is an intriguing read. We can on only daydream about all those projects that never made it out the door.

Relatedly, I am eager to see how Steam’s new adventure in living room gaming will work out. I’m interested in being able to move away from requiring a high-specced desktop or laptop machine for gaming, while maintaining the library of stuff on Steam that I really enjoy. For that reason, the streaming to the TV route isn’t ideal at all for me, but with a new Mac on my roadmap it could be a nice intermediate step.

(The most recent game I have really enjoyed is Mark of the Ninja, which recently launched for the Mac. It hits the sweet spot for sneaking around in the dark action.)

My First 100 Days With Google Glass

Many articles have already covered the Glass hardware; simply put, Google has done a good job designing the device. Glass is light and unobtrusive. The screen looks great, even in broad daylight, and the camera and processor are excellent for such a small form factor. Battery life, though, is the bottleneck: with heavy usage, I can discharge the entire battery in half an hour. I expect this to improve over time; it has to, for Glass to be viable.

Thirty-minutes of battery life? That’s just nuts for any kind of consumer electronic, and it seems like lunacy for something that is supposed to be worn and integrated into daily experience.

XOXO Talk Notes

Maciej Ceglowski is among the most honest and insightful guys on the internet.

A few things I stashed in pinboard to read or re-read the past week or so. You might like them, too.

The end of kindness: weev and the cult of the angry young man

Stories like this makes me seriously, seriously question the value of participating in any kind of online dialogue, weighed against the risk of one’s whole life being exposed and attacked by malicious and misguided vigilantes. (See also crazy, off-the-charts hostility in response to any of a number of situations where — primarily — women have made sensible remarks about misogyny at PAX or in GTAV. It’s a loony bin out there.)

Using Editorial to streamline posting to this site as well as my other writing is just so satisfying. As always, check out what’s going on at Macdrifter and MacStories for the true state of the art (because, dang, Gabe and Federico have it going on), but I thought I’d briefly note a couple of things that have made me happy lately.

I’m using Koken more and more for serving images, because it has such a great integration with Lightroom. Combined with Lightview it makes a nice system for flexible display of images here. Koken can serve cropped images, as in the Rt66 post below, that are blown up to full-size pop ups easily by Lightview. (I do need to tinker with the display size, and of course it’s not responsive, and so but.)

So, for posting using the iPad, I built a small Editorial workflow to help place the combination Koken/Lightview calls. Koken has an easy to use embed option, but it produces an HTML snippet that I usually want to convert to markdown and wrap in a Lightview class; with a Koken image embed link on the clipboard, I can call this workflow, tap the selection for the type of link I want, and it removes the unwanted code, adds my specific parameters and then pastes into the document the properly-formatted markdown image tag and link. Nothing too complicated or sophisticated, but like I said, it’s just very satisfying to be able to so quickly build something Iike that.

Some photos from a jaunt around this year’s Route 66 Days car show. We picked a good time to explore it; our monsoon weather returned early in the afternoon and kept us bottled up inside for most of the rest of the day.



lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2 lightbox2

Seahorse on Line One

This is a fun conversation on The Incomparable about Saga, hitting almost all the things that I really like about it. There’s an ease to the dialogue that is almost always at odds with the apparent otherworldliness of the scene, which cuts through the mostly-calamitous, everybody-is-in-peril story, and reminds me of Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon. And almost invariably those scenes close with something beautiful or poignant. It’s good.