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, 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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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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