All Set Up And Nothing To Show

Zach Phillips on generating work before building a system

A common experience I have as an unbearable software nerd: I get a peek at a system that a prolific person uses to create their prolific output and think “God, Microsoft Word? Are you an animal?”

I then go back to tinkering with my Grand System which has generated nothing yet.

While I do think it’s a tragedy that any person is still using Microsoft Word, I’m looking in exactly the wrong direction.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m blinkered by my life online but I spent this whole post thinking about how this relates to blogging and writing.

Over the years I wasted so much time messing around with my blog that I spent less time putting out posts — and I know others do this too.

That’s not what people come for. Sure a nice blog design makes it easier to read things, but there’s little point if there is nothing to read anyway. The system is less important than the things we put into it, so do that first before worrying.

My Phone Has Moved Out

For at least the last 4 years, each night I have taken off my Apple Watch, and placed it on a charger next to my bed along with my iPhone. So for the time I am asleep, or at least trying to be, my phone is within arms reach on a standup charger.

This helps tremendously as I always have a bedside clock on hand that glows with a subtle bump to the table, and I can be at the mercy of my alarm within a few seconds. But it also means that at any point I can reach over and entertain myself when I should be sleeping.

We’ve all done it. “Just Checking” Twitter before going to bed and an hour disappears as you descend a rabbit hole. Or perhaps you see it light up as a notification comes in, and now you’re fully awake because the supermarket had a great offer for you at 2am. Thankfully I am one of the lucky ones that doesn’t need to be contactable at night, but I’ve only just realised that moving your phone into another room is the way to go.

It was only through pure accident that the realisation hit me. I was ‘between’ phones and having to use an iPhone SE 2016 that relied on wired charging. As such it lived in my separate office for a couple of days until my new one arrived. Meaning everything was left until the morning, the extra effort to get out of bed, cross the hallway and retrieve my phone meant that I just left it alone.

That bit of extra space meant I slept better, felt better and the difference was so stark that despite no longer relying on a charging cable, my phone dock now lives in the other room permanently. I hope it likes its new living space, along with all the accessories that go with it. I still do grab it sometimes but much less than before. I wish I had done this sooner.

Posting To The Internet Is Not Your Job

I’m at risk of starting to sound like a broken record. This strange habit exists in me that I want to do loads of things but just never quite get around to them. I want to make videos, have a podcast, and publish loads of blog posts. The truth is I have no reasoning for wanting to do any of these things though, other than posting to the internet.

There is no desire in me to preserve my life in writing or video. No need to spread my garbled messages with the world. I have no knowledge grater than anyone else on this planet and, in fact, considerably less than most. I just want to do these things, but at points it sometimes feels like my job.

Don’t confuse this with lack of enjoyment. I love doing the things I do, and in many respects that is my motivation. However, giving myself a hard time because I have not fulfilled these desires is not what I am about either. There is a tendency for those like me to beat themselves up for not posting enough. Not producing enough content for the web as if this is our jobs. As if we are placed on the planet to feed the internet with our stuff completely free and as often as possible.

Sure. If it is your job, then carry on! For the most of us thought it’s simply the enjoyment that lasts. There shouldn’t be any bad feelings about what tools you use, what things you like doing or what you get up to. You don’t have to post regularly, or do it a certain way, or cover certain things.

It’s not your job to posts to the internet and it sure as hell shouldn’t feel like one. Feel free to post exactly what you want, as often or infrequently as you want. You don’t have to feel like you need to do anything. The enjoyment of doing it is enough without any pressure.

Show Your Work And The Result

Andy Matuschak about working with the garage door up:

It’s giving a lecture about the problems you’re pondering in the shower; it’s thinking out loud about the ways in which your project doesn’t work at all. It’s so much of Twitch. I want to see the process. I want to see you trim the artichoke. I want to see you choose the color palette. Anti-marketing.

I love reading other people processes. It’s the reason I share some of my own because I think others like it too. It gives me a glimpse into the lives of different people and allows me to adapt my own with practices I think might help.

I also love it when people talk about the things that don’t work. The changes made or the work they did that shouldn’t happen and had to be adapted. It stops me falling into similar pitfalls or gives me other ways of thinking. Sharing thoughts and ideas about the work before the result as it happens also helps me to understand the work and the thoughts that go into building products.

If we can peek behind the curtain we can also understand the decisions made and become closer to the project.

Write About Anything And Everything

I have seen people over the last few days start to wonder what to write about on their blog. Asking questions about the topics they cover and also publishing posts about what they aim to do. It’s great to see more people typing out words and realising that it really doesn’t matter what you write about.

Personal blogs are a strange thing, they are not new, they’ve been a round since pretty much the invention of the internet. For some reason or another they seem to be making a resurgence. Perhaps it’s the increased distrust in the places that bloggers left for, namely social media and others that aim to monetise you without paying you.

It could be a concoction of many reasons. The positive is they are coming back. Sure, they have never gone away for many people, but lots more are opening up to the idea of publishing things themselves. So many great platforms exist now where you don’t need special skills to publish, and you don’t need to brand yourself either.

The need for a name or logo or fancy design is loosing its trend as publishing gains more relevance from your personal experience and your opinions. Citizen journalism has become immensely relevant as people lose confidence in main stream media, but are also becoming more closed off to outside ideas. So more people writing about more things and their personal experience of them can only lead to positive things.

Pick a platform and do it. Let me know what’s going on in your life, the pictures you take, the articles you read and the thoughts you have on them. There are enough publications out there writing news, or reviews or whatever pays the bills. The internet needs your voice, however you see fit to share it. Cover everything and anything and publish it.

Waste More Time

Alan Lightman in his book In praise of wasting time:

We in the “developed” world have created a frenzied lifestyle in which not a minute is to be wasted. The precious twenty-four hours of each day are carved up, dissected, and reduced to ten-minute units of efficiency.

The whole book plays on variations of this quote. Goes around the houses and through various anecdotes to instil in its readers that this notion we have of having to fill every waking minute of life with something is preposterous.

We are all guilty of this, and you can point fingers at all sorts of reasons. Capitalism, hustle porn, marketing and millions of other reasons, but is it time we realise it’s ok to move slow?

It’s ok to not be pushing things forward all the time and not have a side hustle to fill your life. Waste a bit of time and see what happens.

HomeScreen April 2020

I told you I was going to keep on top of this and share my Homescreen regularly. You might not take much from this one compared to last month, but after inspiration from Homescreens relaunching I want to share anyway.

The main thing that has changed is the amount of gaming I am doing on my phone. For years I avoided it because I thought it was a waste of time, and not something I wanted to be doing. But now I am playing Stadia most evenings and have jumped right into Apple Arcade again with WonderBox.

My writing has also changed, returning to my trusty Ulysses app via almost every other wiring app.

I stuck with Things 3 over Reminders and Todoist. Despite working very closely with the team at Doist I have found myself not needing something so in my face and Things 3 seems to fit my more lazy approach to reminding me things and managing projects.

Roam has left the building completely. It’s impossible to use on iOS, and although I love the idea is far too expensive for me to justify at the moment. I’m sticking with Apple notes and looking for some other way to replace meeting things, although these are few and far between now.

That is pretty much it for changes.

Fast Moving Is Not Always Better

Matt Birchler on wanting a delay tweet button:

People sometimes act like outrage and fake news is only a problem for Twitter and Facebook, but it’s a problem for any form of social media, as these services live and breath on those quick dopamine hits you get from posting some witty rejoinder or boosting something that supports your worldview. After all, on social media we can all be experts in whatever we want.

Move fast and break things is the call from the web. A culture of push things, including code and tweets, that you can always fix later. It seems semi logical, fast paced means more progress in a round about way — but there is something to be said about missing the bus.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the Social Media platforms that we currently have, but they instil in us this need to move fast and do things without thinking.

How many times have you written out a tweet only to realise there is absolutely no point in it? I bet quite a few times, and if you paused a bit more that number would rise dramatically. Why don’t you try missing the bus a few times and see what happens.

How I Set Up My Micro.blog

Now I’ve ended my Ross and Rachel relationship with micro.blog, and I’m fully in, I wanted to spend some time discussing my set-up. I’ve been asked all sorts of questions over the past couple of weeks and helped people achieve similar goals, but there’s nothing like a good how to guide or walkthrough right.

I should preface this with some words of framing or discouragement. I don’t think micro.blog (mb) is going to be for everyone. There are some barriers to entry, and you need to know a little more about the back end to really tailor things to your liking. With that said, it’s a fantastic service for blogging, and has the best social side I have ever experienced. None of what I walk through is needed, you can just sign up and start with no worries.

Posting

I do all of my posting directly into the micro.blog app, or longer form posts are now done in Ulysses. The new edition of posting from in my opinion the best writing app, was a big prod to finally move everyting to mb.

The most important part for me is posting everything to one place, and I have found it very freeing. There are also a few iOS Shortcuts to posts to micro.blog — the first of which developed by Yorrike will allow you to share text straight to the Shortcut and post with a tap. The linked page also walks you through how to get it set up.

There is also a really nice image posting Shortcut made by Craig McClellan, that will allow you to upload and image and the link to that image is copied to your clipboard. Grab it here.

Categories

The biggest hang up I had with shifting from my WordPress blog was the default showing of all posts on your blogs home page. It’s a strange issue to have, but I just didn’t want my status update type posts getting in the way of my longer form blogging. Thankfully, that is pretty easy using mb Categories.

I first set up a category that all posts I wanted to appear on the home page would be placed into. I called this ‘main’ but of course you can call this whatever you wish. A good suggestion in ‘Essays’ but as you edit some files for your blog, remember to tailor this to your usage.

To go alongside this I have a filter that places all long form posts (those with a Title) into the Main category. I left the other boxes blank, so all posts are captured, but you could set this to look for a specific keyword used in all the posts or an emoji. You can also leave the filter out completely and manually tag your posts.

I have other categories set up to capture posts with a 🎮 for games, and a 📚 for books. These categories get their own page in my main menu.

I have kept to a pretty simple set up when it comes to pages, there is a lot more you can do with custom ones however to get a post category as a page, copy the category URL https://username.micro.blog/categories/category/  and put this as the only text on a new page. Manton has improved the way these are handled recently, so they look even better.

Home Page

The second step of customising my blog was to filter the posts visible on the main page to my main category as detailed above.

You will need a custom theme to do this, I would port a stock one unless you really know what you are doing. The code used is the same, however the files used can sometime be different. You do this by selecting Design in the side menu, then clicking Edit Custom Themes. Click the blue button at the top titled New Theme, and place the GitHub Url into the Clone URL box, you can call theme whatever you like. I am using the Arabica theme, so I called it Arabica 2 for ease.

Once you have added your theme, go back to the Design page, select none for the theme, and then under custom themes select the theme you just imported — and don’t forget to click save.

If you go into the custom theme you will see a big list of files imported, anything missing that the theme doesn’t have but micro.blog needs is listed underneath. For my example I will be editing the index.html file found in layouts. To ONLy feature the posts I have tagged main on my home page I edited

{{ $paginator := .Paginate (where .Pages “Type” “post”) }}
To
{{ $paginator := .Paginate .Site.Taxonomies.categories.main 25 }}

Where main is my category name. Then click Update and wait for the theme to update, this can take a few seconds to a minute or two depending on the server load at the current time.

If you want to limit this further to aid in loading the main page then switch this to

{{ $paginator := .Paginate (.Site.Taxonomies.categories.main) x }}

With x being the numbr of posts you desire, I use 12.

The file you need to edit may be different depending on your theme, for example for the Marfa theme, this is in layouts/partials/post-list.html.

Once done you will have a main page that only features the posts you want with nothing else affected.

Feeds

Step three of this was to figure out how to only have these posts appear in the main RSS feed found at url.com/feed.xml. Each individual category has its own RSS feed which can be used by adding feed.xml to the end of the url.

This annoyed me for a while, but I finally worked this out. You will need to edit layouts/index.xml, this is found in the files for the Blank Template underneath all of your files, once you edit this it becomes part of your custom themes files.

Edit the lines that read


    {{ $list := (where .Pages “Type” “post”) }}
    {{ range $list }}
To

    {{ $list := (where .Pages “Type” “post”) }}
    {{ range .Site.Taxonomies.categories.main }}
Where main is your category name.

If you’ve imported from WordPress like me, mb will auto-forward the default /feed/ to the new RSS.

Design

I am no web designer, and certainly no code monkey. It took be a considerable amount of time to edit the CSS of my theme to make it into something that I wanted. It helped that I had a theme on WordPress that I had developed over a few years to work from, but it was very much trial and error in making this work with micro.blog and Hugo.

The design that resulted is something I am pretty happy with and won’t be doing much to change it going forward unless something breaks. I looked at several themes in use both on micro.blog and external sites, inspected what they had done to achieve the design I wanted and then replicated it in small steps.

Don’t get too hung up on the design of your site, as this is not what people visit for, it is the content. All the time you spend worrying about it and writing code, you could be writing words and sharing your thoughts and ideas. So working on your site over time is nothing to be ashamed of, or just stick to a stock one and get writing!

How Facebook Makes Money

Karen Hao on Facebooks misinformation addiction:

The algorithms that underpin Facebook’s business weren’t created to filter out what was false or inflammatory; they were designed to make people share and engage with as much content as possible by showing them things they were most likely to be outraged or titillated by

I know I keep bleating on about this but it’s easy to forget this, so it’s important to remind people that you come across that don’t understand.

Eyes on the feed = more money for Facebook.

It doest matter if the information makes you happy, sad, angry or gets people killed. Hell it doesn’t matter I the stuff being shared is even factually correct. Facebook need that attention to make money and at no point will they make moves to curb the level of attention they attempt to grab from you.

They can make PR moves and spin changes however they like but its all theatre. This goes for all other large scale social media too. It’s bad for you, its bad for society.

The Thought Of Fading Away

I don’t remember the first time I thought about killing myself. It has to have been too long ago for my mind to recall, or it’s blocked from my conscious thought. I do remember the ups and downs of earlier life.

For the longest time I thought what I felt was just how everyone else felt. There wasn’t an even level of happiness, nowhere near. It was a constant wave of highs and lows that was impossible to predict. I was never truly happy, not for long, just surfing the ups and preparing for the downs.

I felt useless a lot of the time. Spending far too much time on my own and teaching myself about the world. I didn’t feel a purpose and never experienced a calling towards anything. Meaning that as I stumbled through my existence I questioned what it was all for. If I wasn’t happy, what was the point in being like this for decades more. The idea of fading away was certainly one I have entertained numerous times.

In this early life I was too scared to action anything. The imagined pain of actually committing anything was more than the pain I felt and so logically it didn’t make sense. In more recent years the notion of the pain I would leave behind for my family replaced that of physical pain, and far outweighed any opposing desires I had. There was never a point where the balance tipped over, and thus the idea always stayed an idea; but one that never went away fully.

Returning occasionally to remind me that I was somehow different from everyone else. That my existence was destined to be one of ups and downs, and that was just how my life was. It wasn’t until reading The Midnight Garden that I managed to put these thoughts into a coherent expression and feel able to express them.

To this day I don’t know if other people feel the same; because I’ve never spoken of it. I deal with it, and know that my logical brain will always come out on top. Safe in the knowledge that I am surrounded by Team Morris and some brilliant people and that’s my motivation in life.

Being Able To Publish To The Internet

We’ve all seen or heard of someone being ‘de platformed’ and loosing access to a service. Usually because they’ve done something stupid, or heinous and the powers that be no longer want them on their platform. It happens thousands of times a day, but it never fails to hit the news when someone popular gets the boot.

When this happens, there are always some people who don’t agree. Followers and fans unite to collectively shake their fists at the service for a time, but soon enough things return to normal. Sometimes people leave in protest, and flock to services better suited to them. Which is exactly what should happen. Not everyone deserves a place on the internet, but the question is should being able to publish to the internet be a right or a privilege?

Of course, these platforms are private companies. They can do as they wish and pull the plug on whoever and whenever they wish. Twitter is usually the last hold out, with some serious thought put into making the right decision for their platform but also for the larger conversation. Platforms should be accountable for what is hosted and posted on their service, and suffer much less protection than they do in my opinion — but then to follow my logic where does it stop?

Of course there is no question when it comes to anything illegal. I’m referring to misinformation and what has commonly come to be known as “fake news”. Conspiracy theories that are miss informed at their core or intentional in their deception.

Are Amazon Web Services or Digital Ocean responsible for what’s on their servers when they have zero knowledge, and nor should they. There is no disagreement to not giving someone a platform to share abuse or hate, but I’m not sure where I come down on publishing to the web.

Everyone has a right to free speech and the internet should be no different. What they are not immune to is recourse and debate, which is a healthy part of human interaction. Should every belief, however weird or wonderful be allowed?

I am by no means an expert, and as with most things, this post is more of a public thought process that any kind of instruction. However, perhaps the answer is not removing the conversation entirely.