Weekly Musings

Thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days

Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

Sometimes, inspiration for these letters literally drops into my lap. Which is the case for what you're about to read. OK, the source of that inspiration did something of a 180, but that doesn't invalidate the initial spark that he provided.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On Pulling the Plug

Like many of you, I subscribe to more than a couple of newsletters. One of them is published by Kev Quirk. You might not know Kev (I don't, except from his work online), but he publishes a blog and a newsletter that I regularly read.

The week before I first published this edition of the letter, an email from Kev landed in my inbox. That email was about his newsletter, The Meta Letter. Specifically, about ending that newsletter. My reaction was ... well, disappointed isn't quite how I felt. I was a bit sad, though. Why? I enjoyed perusing that newsletter (as well as Kev's blog posts), so not having his irregular missives suddenly appear in my inbox kind of disrupts my routine.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

Have I been getting a bit wistful for the past of late? A few people, half jokingly, said I have. They might be right. But I think I've been pondering not a supposedly simpler time, but the core of the ideas of simplicity and minimalism themselves through the filter of the past. I've been doing that in all aspects of my life, including the digital. Which has provided fuel for the musing you're about to read (and for an idea for another one that's rattling around in my skull).

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On NSCA Mosaic

Lately, something called the smallnet has been taking over a chunk of my thinking. As part of the process of pondering that idea, I've also been involved in some fairly detailed discussions around the concept of the smallnet with a friend or two.

The idea underpinning the smallnet seems like an almost nostalgic yearning for the web some of us first started using back in the 1990s, a web we used to know and love. As one of the friends I've been discussing this topic with pointed out:

[T]he smallnet reminds me of what the web felt like in its earlier days, and I'm reminded of what I felt like during that time.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

In this edition, I'm shifting my focus from technology to something a bit more ephemeral — thoughts about creating art and what that (and the idea of art) means to me. I hope you enjoy this little diversion.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On Art, Creating Art, and Craft

There are always a few conversations that stick with you. Those conversations could be ones that were so contentious they still rile you up or make gorge float like a helium balloon. Or it could be that those conversations reveal a truth — a wider truth, or just a truth about yourself.

From the latter bucket comes a conversation I had with a friend back in the 1990s. We were both in our early to mid 20s at the time, both of us struggling to establish ourselves as writers. One day, while sharing our struggles and some recent minor triumphs, my friend started a thought by saying Those of us who are trying to create art ...

I cut him off (probably a bit abruptly) and pointed that that I didn't (and never have) considered what I write to be art. That I didn't, and never have, considered myself to be an artist. My friend paused, in a bit of shock, if only because he thought that everyone who created something, anything considered themselves an artist or aspired to be an artist.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

Remember that musing I mention in the introduction to last week's letter? The one that was 90% done, but which got nudged aside by another idea? I was in the process of wrapping it up when, lo and behold, another idea barged its way in, elbows out, and jumped the queue.

That pushy idea sparked the letter you're about to read, which is more rant than musing. It's just one of those topics ...

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing

On What You Don't Own, Redux

When the July, 2021 edition of Mozilla's Privacy Not Included newsletter landed in my inbox part of the subject line, Treadmill ransomware, intrigued me enough to read that edition immediately rather than waiting a couple of hours until lunch.

What I read surprised me. And yet ... it didn't.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

What was supposed to be this week's letter was about 90% finished when another idea muscled its way in. It goes that way sometimes, and what you're about to read dovetails in a small way with what you read in this space last week.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On Tool Fetishism

Sometimes, you write something that, whether you intended it to or not, pisses off some people. That's been been a regular feature in my writing career since I started scribbling for publication in the late 1980s.

And Musing 117 continued that storied tradition. That essay, as you might recall, was a paen to the wiki. Something I mentioned towards the end of that letter, about a pair of currently-popular tools for organizing information being more or less the next generation of the wiki, triggered more than a couple of rather strong responses.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

Welcome back! It's good to be here again, sharing thoughts and ideas with you via this letter. Thanks for joining me.

This week, the thoughts I'm sharing are about a technology that's been close to my (digital) heart for quite a long time. A technology that, in many ways, shaped my ideas around and deepened my understanding of collaboration.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On Wikis

In around 2002, I started getting interested in a particular tool for publishing online. Before running into that tool, I'd been crafting web pages by hand in HTML (with a dash of fairly lame CSS added for good measure). Those pages were nothing fancy, nothing visually stunning. They worked, but they took a while to pull together.

The tool I just mentioned, though, made that a lot easier. For that reason, at least at first, it didn't just catch my attention. It grabbed hold of it. I'd been aware of that kind of tool for few years, but never got around to seriously investigating it. Until I started using one at the then-Day JobTM, where my team used it to publish internal documentation and notes.

That tool was a wiki. To be entirely honest, that wiki was more than a bit of a revelation. Not only could I quickly publish something, I could publish without fiddling with HTML. Instead, I used wikitext, a Markdown-like way of using keyboard symbols to format a page. That wiki enabled me to collaborate with others without passing files around via email or by plonking them on network shares. That wiki enabled me, and others, to instantly publish, as well as to quickly update what we'd publish and to get almost immediate feedback.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

This time 'round, to commemorate my turning 54 a little idle speculation. About how I'll eventually meet my end. Don't worry, it's not as gruesome or morbid as it sounds.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On How I Might Die

You've probably heard the old saying about death and taxes being the only certainties in life. Of the two, most of us only accept the inevitability of taxes. As for death, whether we acknowledge it or not most of us want to live forever. Or, at least, as long as we can.

If you're one of the people who embraces the certainty of your days coming to an end, you probably won't think your passing until it's time to go. And, chances are, you'll try to put up a fight to keep a certain bony, scythe-swinging bastard at bay for as long as possible.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

When I wrote this edition of the letter, the underlying idea had been coalescing in my brain for a couple of weeks. Not that I'd been thinking about this topic to distraction — in fact, I tried to ignore it. But the topic, and an idea for a short essay about it, stayed with me. So here we are.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On the Follow Button

It all started with some brief news items in the technology press a couple or three weeks before I originally wrote this musing. News items reporting on, and opining about, something called the Follow button.

What's the Follow button? It's a feature that Google is testing in its Chrome web browser for Android. The idea is simple: when you tap the button while reading a blog post or an article, it's saved to a separate tab in the browser. From there, you can read what you've saved at your leisure. As an added, dubious bonus, a Google algorithm makes other suggestions for you on that tab.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

This week's letter was inspired by a series of conversations I recently had with a friend, a conversation that jarred loose some thoughts that had lodged in the back of my head decades ago. It also loops back, in some small way, to Musing 112. Just goes to show you that I sometimes do revisit ideas.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musing.

On Everything You Do Needing to Be Practical

Let's go back in time a few decades. To late 1979, to back a little more exact. I was 12 years old and had started junior high school a couple of months previously. I wasn't all that interested in sports or music or many of the interests that grabbed the seemingly shallow imaginations of my peers. Instead, growing in me was a deep interest in and love for movies. An interest and love that was fuelled by the TV shows Magic Shadows and Saturday Night At The Movies which aired (often) classic movies from 20, 30, 40 or more years earlier.

My other fascination at that time was with the special effects in science fiction movies and TV series. Like many people, I wondered how those effects were done — regardless of how crude and, often, laughable many of them were. At a local convenience store, I discovered Starlog and CineFX magazines. I'd make a beeline to that store once a month to pick up the latest issues, to learn more about how the magic of SF movies was made. Part of me yearned to make my own short films, even if I had no clue how to do that.

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Welcome to this edition of Weekly Musings, where each week I share some thoughts about what's caught my interest in the last seven days.

Ever have one of those weeks in which getting the ideas out of your head and on to paper or screen is akin to a minor archaeological dig? That's been happening more and more with me lately.

And, to be honest, it's a tad worrying. I'm not sure if it's stress, fatigue, approaching burnout or something else but I'm not hearing the stories as clearly as I used to, I'm not feeling them quite the way I should. Regardless, I'm hoping this is a passing phase.

With that out of the way, let's get to this week's musings.

On the Need to Make Everything Smart

Back in 2001, I was working as a technical writer (my high falutin' title was Documentation Engineer, in case you're wondering) at a telecommunications software company in Toronto. One of the quality assurance people there was a big fan of the latest technology. And of technology that was over the horizon a ways.

One February morning, he was pontificating in the lunch room about fridges with built-in sensors that could detect when vegetables were going off or when milk was about to go sour. When he finished his breathless exaltation of this coming wonder, he concluded Isn't that going to be cool?

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