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.

This time 'round, you're getting a musing that started with an online interaction that I had in the recent past. The memory of which, in turn, was catalysed by a blog post I stumbled across shortly before writing this letter. Funny how that works ...

And in the interests of transparency, a portion of this letter first appeared, in a slightly different form, at my blog Open Source Musings and appears here via a Creative Commons NC-BY-SA license.

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

On What Users Really Care About

A few years back, I wrote an article about a minimalist web browser called Min. A browser that's developed with a framework called Electron. Let's say that more than a few software developers, for a variety of reasons, strongly dislike Electron.

One of those developers responded to the article with the curt, terse comment Electron != minimalism! My equally curt response was Having few features *does* = minimalism!

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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 musing isn't the one that I'd planned to send your way this week.

What I can only describe as a chain of suggestion, in the hypnotic sense, led me here. A mix of something a friend or two recently told me about and what I saw and read on visits to a couple of websites came together. Then, after some mixing with a large mental spoon, the idea for what you're about to read shifted into my frontal lobe.

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

On the Typewriter

Recently, I had a weird dream. OK, about 60% of my dreams fall into the weird bucket, but this one was weird and vivid.

That dream started innocently enough. I was at home, staring down the barrels of a pair of looming deadlines. As as I got ready to get to work, I found that one of my laptops, then the other refused to start. Worse, my wife and daughter weren't home and they'd taken their laptops with them. And I could find neither my phone nor a tablet.

Panic, which is always a lot more amplified in a dream, gripped me. In my agitated dream state, I started rooting around in a closet in desperation. There I discovered a beige case. I hauled it out and wiped away the thin crusting of dust. Up went the metal clasp on the front and open flipped the lid. Inside lay a somewhat battered Royal portable typewriter.

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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.

As I did with Musing 015, I'm going a bit meta with this edition of the letter. It's another one of those ideas that has been tugging at various ganglia and I needed to get that idea down and out. So here it is.

For the record, a chunk of this musing started life as a post in my personal notebook. I'm reusing that post here because ... well, because I can.

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

On Publishing a Letter, Not a Newsletter

Almost from its inception, I've tried to refer to Weekly Musings as a letter rather than a newsletter. Being a fairly flawed human, I've slipped a few times in doing that. I have, however, done my best to keep the distinction active in the 8-bit computer that's encased in my skull.

Over the life Weekly Musings, more than a few people (readers and otherwise) have asked me why I call it a letter. To me, there's a distinction between a traditional (if you want to use that word) email newsletter and what I'm trying to do.

Newsletters are often put out by people who are reporting to their followers — what they're up to, what they're thinking about, what they're selling. Often, those newsletters include more than a few links. Others are purely linkstations, consisting of outgoing links wrapped in an intro and an outro. Regardless, most of what's in those types of newsletters is in small, bite-sized chunks.

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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.

A slightly shorter edition this week. This letter follows the path of its topic and is more akin to thinking aloud about an idea rather than being the definitive statement on the subject. There's definitely more to come about this in the future.

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

On Blogging As Thinking Out Loud

The tone and character of blogs has morphed since they first debuted on the web in the freewheeling online days of the 1990s. Once solely personal journals, the advent of so-call pro blogging in the early 2000s changed blogs and the act of blogging. In many cases, not for the better.

Contrary to what some have said (and continue to say), that didn't drive the ordinary person away from blogging. It did, however, shove personal blogs to the side while the spotlight pivoted to illuminate the slicker, fancier blogs that started popping up everywhere.

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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.

Sometimes, things just hit you. All at once. That was me this last week. Three ideas grabbed my attention in an iron grip, and wouldn't let go. Being a masochist, I decided I could work on all of them. Was I wrong. I made quite a bit of headway on each idea, but I couldn't finish any of them. Maybe that was the universe trying to tell me something ...

So, I scrambled to come up with something else. It's based on an idea I had a few years ago, but kind of dovetails with those three other ideas I mentioned a moment ago.

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

On Ad Blocking

Imagine walking down the street and suddenly having an advertising flyer or placard shoved in front of your face. Imagine that flyer or placard staying with you as you wend your way through pedestrian traffic. Imagine that flyer or placard only moving out of your line of sight when you’ve swatted it away or bought what it’s advertising.

That's how I felt when using my wife's laptop recently. If you're wondering, I was using it because I needed to check something and her 2012-vintage MacBook Air just happened to be turned on. So, I fired up my wife's web browser of choice. Which happened to be Google Chrome, which I haven't used in years. And did I get a shock.

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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 around, something that's been cycling through the 8-bit processor in my skull for a while now. Something that many of us don't consider, but should. My own danged self included.

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

On Digital Footprints

We leave a lot of ourselves online. Footprints leading to and from the various outposts on the web that we frequent or just pass through. Footprints that record those jaunts and strolls around sites and networks.

If any of us ever turn our minds to that, we tend to focus on the footprints left by our data online. Personal information. Purchase histories. Social media posts. Comments. Alla that kind of stuff. Little digital breadcrumbs that, individually, seem inconsequential. When taken together, those breadcrumbs form a loaf that tells people a lot about us, about what we're doing online. The information that the platforms many of us embrace use and sell, often without our knowledge and in ways we don't understand or agree with.

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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, something a bit different. I hope you enjoy it.

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

On the Phone Booth

There's a lonely, almost anachronistic object that stands just around the corner from my apartment building. It's an upright rectangle, just over two metres tall, encased in glass. I'm not sure how many times over the last nine or so months I walked past that object and barely noticed it. And when I did notice it, I don't ever recall seeing someone inside it. I don't recall seeing anyone using the smaller, but still bulky, blue box inside that rectangle.

Why would they? Chances are someone who needed to make a phone call would do so with the little device they carry with them at practically all times.

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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.

After last week's edition hit the inboxes, a few of the fives who subscribe to Weekly Musings got in touch asking if I was planning on pulling the plug on the letter. No such luck. You're stuck with me for a while longer.

This time 'round, I'm going back to a topic that I looked at a some time ago. It's a topic I've been mentioning in a few recent letters so I thought it was high time to give it another look.

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

On the DIY Web, Redux

Over the years, the web has gotten big. And it's just getting bigger. Not just in number of sites (which is in the 1.8 billion range), but also in the sizes of many of those sites.

A lot of that bulk comes from people using database-backed content management systems and web frameworks to build their sites. And I'm not just talking about business or ecommerce sites, either. People construct their personal sites using platforms like WordPress. They're building sites which, for the most part, really don't need all that power and leverage.

There's a lot of waste online. It's waste that really doesn't need to exist.

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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.

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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