The Psalms

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So Much To Do, So Much To See

An update on all I’ve been doing instead of what I actually intended to do.

There will always be plenth of things to compute in the detailed affairs of millions of people doing complicated things. – Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think

Everything happens so much. – Horse_ebooks

You have a desire for indulgence in your home and family, Co-Star has just told me in my weekly, email newsletter-delivered horoscope. “Venus conjunct to natal Moon” indicates this part of yourself will transform into something else, and goes on to say something truly stirring: the way you relate to your past is changing. I continue to be amazed by how influential the potential of the computing hardware present in my life at any given time can be on my habits. In the two weeks I’ve had my first moderately powerful desktop computer in over ten years, I have found myself using new image & video editing software, installing local WordPress stacks, finally experimenting with Git, somehow generating 20 draft posts on a fresh experimental WordPress site, and putting my whole back into my new Notion account, including – among others – projects like my “Keyboard Shortcuts Wiki.” All the while, there has been a pull toward a more deliberate, focused sort of digital existence: reflection on Kevin McGillivray’s Word of The Year concept, digital gardening, and a few other like discoveries have culminated in a newfound, unironic use of the term “Creative Wellness” to describe a set of ideologies which I believe I should strive for in order to improve my intellectual wellbeing.

In tandem with the fact that I have gone back to school, this has all crucially resulted in very little actual writing, which may or may not be conclusive evidence toward the classical minimalist technology argument that less capability results in more focus. On that note, remember when the Game of Thrones author appeared on Conan’s show and mentioned that he still writes exclusively using WordStar 4.0? This happening has been vaguely in the back of my mind since I encountered it during the relatively brief, basement apartment-dwelling era in Oregon when I first discovered WinWorldPC and got into running a bunch of DOS VMs, trying out every download from that blessed site which sounded even remotely interesting. Before I go on, let me just include a transcript of the entire anecdote I’m referring to here, because it’s actually much shorter than one is led to believe:

Conan: These novels that that you write are can be over a thousand pages long. They're massive tomes and apparently you write them all on a computer, but unlike most authors, you're not worried about a computer virus. I mean an author who writes a thousand-page book their greatest fear is a virus invades and destroys a chunk of their book you don't worry about that. Why?

Martin: No I have a secret weapon – I actually have two computers: I have the computer that I browse the internet with and that I get my email on and I do my taxes on and that computer and then I have my writing computer which is a DOS machine not connected to the Internet.

Conan: A DOS machine. How old is this program?

Martin: A DOS machine. You remember DOS? I use WordStar 4.0 as my word processing system.

Conan: Did you make this computer out of wood? Did you carve it? I'm curious why you decided to stick with this old program.

Well I actually like it. I mean, it does everything I want a word processing program to do, and it doesn't do anything else. I don't want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lowercase letter and it becomes a capital. I don't want a capital – if I wanted a capital, I would've typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key. Stop fixing it!

Conan: You yell at computers a lot. What about spellcheck?

Martin: Oh, I hate spellcheck. Especially when you have the realm of [???], it's [???].

That’s it! A less than sixty second exchange. I did not remember just how much coverage it received on digital news sites. Embark on a Google search for “george rr martin wordstar,” and you’ll discover a ridiculously long list of brief stories including the YouTube embed. A book I’ve just recently discovered and begun – which I am extremely excited about – is Professor Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing, and its introduction begins by mentioning The George Thing, which surely indicates that it is the most significant mention of word processing software in popular culture for at least a decade:

The clip was posted to YouTube and from there embedded in innumerable tweets, Facebook feeds, and blogs. Some commenters immediately, if indulgently, branded Martin a Luddite, while others opined it was no wonder it was taking him so long to finish the whole story (or less charitably, no wonder that it all seemed so interminable). But what was it about these seemingly obscure details that people found so compelling? Part of it was no doubt the unexpected blend of novelty and nostalgia: Many fans would be old enough to remember WordStar for themselves, and the intricacy of its interface seems somehow in keeping with Martin’s quirky persona, part paternalistic grandfather and part Doctor Who character. WordStar thus becomes an accessory to his public image, like the black fisherman’s cap he is frequently photographed wearing. But it is also clearly much more than that. Martin’s passion for the program is unmistakable...

The book, itself, was also more widely reviewed than one would expect, where it was deemed genuinely unique. I related quite hard to the preface’s first few sentences:

Track Changes began, as many books do, with a question: What was the first novel written with a word processor? Being an English professor interested in the history of writing as well as computers, I thought it was the sort of thing I should know, but I didn’t.

Discovering the volume was a result of a personal determination in the last week to give in to my latent obsession with word processing/text editing software, which also led to my creating a Notion table of every word processor I’ve ever heard of. Thanks to my desktop PC acquisition, found myself virtual machining a bit again, though some of the programs I’m particularly interested in trying have inexplicitly disappeared from my personal library and been removed from WinWorldPC, probably due to (mostly absurd) copyright claims. Most versions of WordStar are still available, though, and I’ll confess I still have a desire to learn how to use its cult keyboard shortcuts, as evangelized by Robert J. Sawyer in an essay also discussed in Track Changes, which specifically shits on WordPerfect more explicitly than I remembered. I keep returning to the idea that I should try writing the stuff I normally work on – like this post, for instance – in these software, but file transfer is a bigger and bigger obstacle the older the OS you’re running: VirutalBox’s “Guest Additions” – which allow clipboard sharing/shared folders/other interoperative network functions – are not compatible with DOS or any Windows editions before 4.0. There are workarounds, but I haven’t found any reasonably within my current abilities.

Truthfully, though, emulating twenty-year-old software seems a bit unnecessary when contrasted with the fact that Markdown, Typora, and Writeas were supposed to be my saviors from distracted writing. A compulsion to comment on a recent note-taking app comparison published in The Information reminded me that I still haven’t written an in-depth review of Typora, which I plan to prioritize in the near future, especially since it may finally be officially releasing, according to recent activity on Twitter.

Another result of my reintroduction to academia is that I can now afford a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud thanks to student discounts. This has been life-changing in a manner which I should probably be a bit ashamed of, but once the desire to make full use of my subscription (by trying every single program it licenses) subsides, I really do intend to become proficient with InDesign – a learning experience which I will surely at least attempt to thoroughly document, here.

Digital Gardening

I think it was Tom Critchlow’s Digital Gardening blogchain that first exposed me to the term and his static site-generated wiki project that introduced me to the concept of personal wikis, not so long ago, though the desire to organize and/or archive personally-relevant information through the format has actually been rattling around my head for the better part of a decade. When I discovered that one could install MediaWiki – the platform Wikipedia, itself is built on – I created the shortlived Drywall Wiki, once upon a time. Since I last wrote you, I also purchased the extratone.wiki domain and played around once again with the platform. Typora even offers exports in MediaWiki’s bizarre proprietary text format! For better or worse, though, I don’t see anything becoming of the project for the moment I suppose it feels like somewhat of a risk, investing a lot of time I probably shouldn’t have into documenting all of my Twitter jokes. For the moment, I think my Notion account will have to serve as my personal wiki.

The most inciteful argument I’ve read among the Digital Gardens discourse revolves around value as it is created within our personal online writing spaces. Two of the many infinitely-quotable essays within this space: Mike Caulfield’s “The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral” and “Stock and flow” from Snarkmarket. The former references Vannevar Bush’s infamous “As We May Think” essay (which I’ve finally gotten around to finishing and its description of a “memex,” which many cite as a disturbingly-apt prediction of the World Wide Web. Caulfield, however, disagrees:

So most people say this is the original vision of the web. And certainly it was the inspiration of those pioneers of hypertext. But in reality it doesn’t predict the web at all . Not at all. The web works very little like this. It’s weird, because in our minds the web still works like this, but it’s a fiction.

Reading back from a lens including this commentary, I immediately understood. The memex concept is far more intimate than the web has become (or perhaps ever was – I wouldn’t know.) “Stock and flow” defines creative value in two disparate types of media:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

To be honest, I personally cannot imagine undertaking the task of explaining this differentiation to anyone in my own life, but if the reactionary movement within The Web back to a focus on valuable content is, indeed, underway, perhaps such conversations are bound to shortly become more and more natural. For my part, I have attempted setting up an experimental site on Github Pages using Jekyll in the past few days with partial success: as soon as I tried to specify a custom theme, I apparently broke it, at which point I realized that I had homework to do. As much as I hate to admit it, Kev Quirk’s posts regarding WordPress’ practical simplicity over SSGs earlier this monthrings somewhat true. As things currently stand, WordPress’ permeability throughout The Web is an advantage for those who just want to publish something as simply as possible. My counterargument to both Kev and myself: Writeas is a wonderful compromise in terms of substance and image among one’s super e-enabled, Mullenweg-disgusted peers. It’s very much pure Markdown, but it’s far more accessible, cross-platform, than SSGs due to its shear simplicity.

One component which Digital Gardening would seem to offer others that I have never particularly struggled with is the freedom to write whatever I feel like writing. If anything, I have struggled in the opposite sense, existing in a state completely unhindered by consideration of the value my work may or may not offer anyone else. Perhaps the most substantial addition I’m capable of making to the Digital Gardens conversation, then, is best quoted from the first chapter of the advice book I have finally begun writing for young men, For God’s Sake, Just Sit Down to Piss:

If there is one idea of mine you ever engage with – in this book or otherwise – it is best distilled in this single sentence: you do not *actually* want to attain a state of true apathy, trust me. It is extremely unhealthy, miserable, and alienating. I have existed for an excruciatingly long time trapped in a state of being truly unable to care about anything in the face of a great, varying effort to do so. It is very far from the immunity imbued in terms like carefree – in reality, it is manifested in extreme depression. It is less immunity than it is distance from an essential part of life.

In terms of one’s blogging, I am glad for those who will/have/are finding a new freedom of expression, but hold this as a serious caution regarding the other extreme. Should you ever approach it, remember that considering one’s audience – as academics love to prioritize – really is important, eventually.

Curation

At this point, I’ve used a channel in Extratone’s Discord as my ongoing reading list for several years essentially without change. Earlier this month, though, I discovered Raindrop – a bookmarking service with public collections that (so fars) feels much more aligned with my own needs than Pocket – and pretty much immediately signed up to begin paying for it and set up a bot to crosspost from my new Reading List collection, there to the same Discord channel via the collection’s RSS feed. Raindrop’s browser extension – along with Notion’s, come to mention it – is actually usable in day-to-day browsing. As much as I love Reading.am, the prospect of its longevity worries me considering the most recent post in its development blog dates to 2016. Writing a dedicated “Little Review” of Raindrop is on my (ever-lengthening) todo list, but at the moment, I would especially emphasize my Digital Magazine Collection, which is the result of thousands of hours of web exploration and genuinely worth significant value for most anyone, I think.

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I know it may not seem all that significant, but this digital magazine collection actually represents a lot of effort – years of web exploration, both active and passive. Find it here: davidblue.wtf/magazines

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With the combination of my public Notion workspaces and public Raindrop collections, I hope to make my curatorial endeavors both more accessibly beautiful and more intimately available. In terms of a dedicated discussion of Notion’s interworkings and culture, I think I have quite a bit more exploring to experience before I’m sufficiently qualified, though my notes are already quite extensive (and publicly accessible, thanks to… Notion!) In general, I continue to be astounded by the amount of tools/services/applications I have not yet heard of, despite how long I have labored to become an authority on Writing Tools.

Too Many Fonts! - WordPerfect

Workflow

In my endeavor to more intentionally design my workspace – to actually dedicate a space for working, originally – I originally very much intended to set up dual displays for my desktop, but the desk I settled for (an old family piece from the early 1900s?) does not have enough surface area to position two displays, regardless of how thin they’ve become since I last had one. Combined with a limited budget and a concern that two displays might actually result in further distraction instead of less, I instead went for a single, 27” LED affair. I’ve also been making full use of Windows 10’s desktop switching feature and have found it surprisingly easy to make a habit, especially thanks to the Ctrl+Win+Lateral Arrow Keys keyboard shortcuts.

Hildur Keyboard Shortcuts

On the subject of keyboard shortcuts, I’ve by now worked out a personally-optimized remap (thanks to the keyboard manager tool included with PowerToys, about which I have far too much to say in some future post.) I had a conversation with a few Mastodon friends two weeks ago convincing me that my methodology of forcing myself to learn shortcuts by integrating a cheat sheet into my desktop backgrounds may actually be an original idea and useful to other users.

In terms of writing spaces, I have actually been composing the less serious stuff I’ve been writing within WordPress’ Gutenberg editor, which is not an admission I would’ve expected to be making, just a year ago. A dedicated post about this, too, is fucking coming, but suffice it to say that with a fairly-substantial PC and a better hosting provider (DreamHost over GoDaddy, in this case,) composition has become far far smoother – improving enough to make it a viable space within which to pound away original stuff for the first time. Writing essays for academia has encouraged my return to Microsoft Word, once again, on which I’ll blame the fact that I am currently composing this very bit in The Old Bitch. A desire to once again hack together a set of personalized Word templates has led to the birth of two such files which I am proud enough to share on my Notion drive. Eventually, I would also like to take the time to completely redesign the “Ribbon” in Word – something which I’ve literally never seen anyone else do. (I spent a substantial amount of time trying to find a library for MS Office customization files, to no avail, though you can find my own customization file as it stands on the same Notion page linked just now. Let me know if you’re able to successfully import it.)

Woke Word

A confession of vanity: I suspect the only reason I haven’t yet stopped composing within WordPress is that I figured out how to change the typeface to Adobe Caslon (across both the editor and the front-facing site, naturally,) thanks to my newfound access to Adobe Typekit. Yes, apparently I really am that shallow. For those Office 365 users among you, I highly suggest you look up how to enable the Classic Office sound theme. Unlike Make Use Of, I find them both adorable and genuinely useful as auditory feedback. You may also be interested in my discovery of some fairly-Woke additions to Word’s autocorrect options and the subsequent bitchy controversy their introduction spawned.

Software History Society Banner

The Read-It Website

If you know me at all, the following admission probably seems unbelievable: I have been using Reddit. I created a new subreddit for Extratone – which I do not necessarily expect to be populated any time soon – and r/SoftwareHistory after discovering that it didn’t yet exist, which I definitely do not expect you to populate, but would be delighted if you did. As with seemingly everything else I’ve covered, I also intend to write about how Reddit’s recent feature additions and redesign may actually make it a redeemable space on The Web, which should prove interesting. Clearly, I have become more than willing to accept the moniker of Software Historian whenever/if ever my authority achieves the appropriate volume to deserve to be christened so.

Obviously, none of the developments I’ve shared in this post indicate any improvement in my productive output, but I hope to learn soon how to settle into a fairly-consistent (and hopefully much more original) writing process.

#software #meta

Bilge Version 2.3

I've been devoting significant attention to this blog recently, and I hope it shows. Reading now contains a list of recommended email newsletters as well as an ongoing list of my all-time favorite reads on The Web. I also added Podcast for End User and a dedicated Subscribe page. I've added Open – a list of some of my favorite Open Web projects and Social – a list of my social links. About has also been updated with new branding and more current hyperlinks. Typography and colors have been unified and updated to Version 2.3, and my theme has been officially listed for those of you willing to engage in the sincerest form of flattery. Also, look at that favicon! Thank you, CJ!

Furthermore, I took the time to import some old work:

Bandcamp: Streaming's Secret Savior“ A magnum opus of a 13,000+ word essay on why Bandcamp should be the future of music streaming services.

Mark Fuck and the Goofy Godheads“ An old, hilarious rant about Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk that – if I may say so – still rings awfully true today.

The Matchsellers' Inheritance“ A local bluegrass band releases an album that proves they are not just what they appear to be.

The Case for Chuck Klosterman“ A deep dive into whether or not the voice of one old White Portland Dad should be culturally considered.

Kilgore Trout on CreateSpace“ A critique of self-publishing culture (immediately after self-publishing myself) disguised as a review of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions.

Virtual Reality Virginity, Lost“ An account of my first experience in VR thanks to my friend Isiah.

Twitter Thrives on Incompetence“ Pleading for users to just use Lists. Lists are linear and ad-free.

Profound Revelations in iOS 12“ Siri Shortcuts really meant something in the beginning.

Illiteracy in American Media“ A short academic essay about how little the illiteracy issue is covered in American media.

This blog has now surpassed Extratone in number of email subscribers, which I deeply appreciate. Though you're not paying – yet (hehe) – let me once again encourage any/all feedback you may have. Send me an email!

#meta

I was interviewed by Write.as Community Manager CJ Eller about writing software, Extratone, blogging, and self-curation.


So I am super curious that you mentioned Markdown as something that saved you from fiddling your life away. Can you go more into that?

I started an online magazine four years ago originally on WordPress. I thought I knew something about web development, but honestly I did not. It ended up becoming a fixation on trying to make something technically different from what I'd seen done with WordPress, which detracted heavily from my Editorial duties over the years. I'm on the OCD spectrum so I just couldn't let it go. I spent thousands of hours fiddling with different themes and formatting within those themes, and what I ended up with was a mess. I would make changes that would break old posts, so I'd go back and fix those, only to make more changes days/weeks/months later and have to go back again. I'd known vaguely about Markdown, but it wasn't until it was mentioned in the WordPress dev Slack that I really considered it seriously as a way out of what I'd been doing. I realized that its inherit limitations were actually very good for me – that I needed a limited system to constrain my workflow to keep myself on task. Finally, in late-2018, I started to convert our old content to Markdown and essentially haven't looked back since.

Did it take a while for you to accept Markdown's limitations? Was there a turning point for you? Did you look for a Markdown plugin on WordPress to help after making the change? I imagine there's something like that out there.

There are third-party plugins, yes, but I believe the new WordPress editor now supports “markdown blocks,” which is sortof handy for those who want to continue in that direction. The turning point was probably when we ran out of money and lost our account with our hosting provider. I was left with an old external HD full of old backups and an empty domain. I'd already started moving that direction within WordPress (largely because of the Gutenberg editor project,) but losing the site in its entirety was what I really needed to push us into a more modern, progressive CMS. Honestly, Markdown is capable of everything we actually need and nothing more. I'd like to think I was able to realize this from the beginning.

So you're left with an old external HD full of old backups and an empty domain. Talk to me about the process then of finding that modern, progressive CMS. Did you have a vague idea of what you were looking for? I imagine getting those backups ready for whatever you were going to choose as another process entirely.

I actually decided to ditch the backups and just move forward with a different Editorial direction (the project has since been more or less put on hiatus.) I knew Markdown had to be involved and that I never wanted to look at anything like WordPress' dashboard ever again. I played around with a local Ghost instance but just didn't feel anything for it, if that makes sense. I'd already moved my personal blog to Write.As months before and eventually realized that it was just what Extratone needed – so far, I've only imported my own contributions and the most recent work from others.

Could you explain what you mean by feeling something for a piece of software? I noticed this in your recent post on your personal blog and what I enjoyed about it so much. There's an enthusiasm about the software you do recommend that jumps through the screen. I want to use Bear after reading your post.

I'm glad to hear that! I suppose it dates back to my upbringing on a farm in rural Missouri, where I felt a real affection for – and attachment to – our tractors, combine, and such. When one cares about their work, I think it's inevitable for them to be emotionally invested in the tools they use to accomplish it every day. During my brief stint in IT in the beginning of 2019, I saw a lot of users struggling with outdated and ridiculously unintuitive software throughout their entire workday and it made me really appreciate the idea of “good workflow.” I'm not really a developer, but I believe software can always be better because I've seen it. As an End User of sorts with not much cash, I feel like my main contribution back to developers should be celebrating their good work. This is an idea I feel I do not encounter enough in day-to-day life.

As someone who also had a brief stint in IT, I totally agree with the struggles people go through because of outdated & unintuitive software. But IT also made me realize how much of software is personal — someone will want a solution that's unintuitive to you but is intuitive to them. You learn a lot of empathy from that.

I am intrigued by your last point there — why don't you think you encounter the idea of celebrating software developers enough in day-to-day life?

I suppose specifically I mean I don't see enough celebration of good development. It's hard to challenge the personal workflow of anyone, yes, but I hope folks will continue to want to better their lives with new solutions. As I mentioned in my Tips post, Microsoft Word is a great specific example of software that simply should not be used anymore – especially in composition for The Web. Not that Word is celebrated, necessarily, but its alternatives are not. It should be noted that I have no specific authority in this matter other than years of experience with – and enjoyment of – playing around with software. I just think that End Users deserve better than they get, and awareness of new/different software is a huge part of the problem. Making average people aware of better solutions should be the primary function of special interest tech journalism, IMO.

Great point about Microsoft Word. I don't even remember the last time I seriously used it — high school maybe? And like you said, discovery can be an issue to the adoption of these alternative tools. So are there any common patterns you've noticed as to how you've come about these software alternatives that you now use? Patterns that someone could adopt?

It's not that I slave away, but it does take a lot of time to discover them. The simple answer is: I drink a lot of caffeine and hyperfixate on the internet. I'm not sure it's something the average user should want to adopt, but if they do, they should be on Mastodon. They should be googling “alternatives to...” regularly, and they should worship Free and Open Source Software. Accepting that you never have to settle for one piece of software is probably the beginning. For lack of a better term, I just love playing around with software. That's not something I would advocate for my old clients or other End Users – I would rather find out myself and then present a list of alternatives in an entertaining way. I hope that's an appropriate and sufficient answer hehe.

No that's great! The acceptance of never having to settle for one piece of software is at once valuable and challenging to adopt. If you keep switching you could be a sort of software vagabond who throws their data into a rucksack to head to the next viable platform. I've always had trouble trying to find the proper balance between playing around with software & learning a tool well enough that it can be useful. How have you personally navigated that? I could imagine your foray into & out of Wordpress as an example.

It's always a challenge when trying new things. I obsess over different ways to accomplish tasks. I've probably signed Extratone for 15 different newsletter services (including Buttondown today) though I haven't actually written a single edition of our newsletter in nearly two years. I think it's only recently that I've been able to look at these habits from a reasonable perspective. As in, I am now able to finally differentiate between playing and being productive, but it took some 15 years. Self-awareness of one's actual progress is key. Asking questions like why am I actually doing this – for profit or for play? Differentiating between these two is something someone like me will always struggle with, I think.

The distinction between playing and being productive can be quite blurry. I sometimes find that playing around with a piece of software can lead to a productive use of it. How about you? Did you start with the idea of creating Extratone first and then tried to find the right software to fit the job? Or did you start playing around with Wordpress and then the idea of the digital publication took form soon after?

That's an insightful supposition. I actually tried to launch an online magazine before Extratone with virtually zero editorial focus along with a standalone podcast that I'd been hosting on WordPress for years. I originally began playing around with WordPress sites in my early adolescence, so you could say it all culminated in the idea. It took maturity to realize that I actually wanted to build a platform for other voices rather than continue to invest in my own. I'd like to believe that was all enabled by the playing hehe.

So what lead you to the conclusion of building a platform for other voices? Especially curious from the maturity angle. Because you still have a personal blog, so it doesn't feel like you've completely neglected your personal voice. But would you consider that as not the same investment of time & effort that you'd put into something like Extratone?

I should be clear that I have not accomplished what I set out to do with Extratone. After a fairly big personal trauma in 2015, I had a bit of an existential crisis and realized that I had surrounded myself with so many talented (in a particularly relevant way) online friends who were producing all sorts of incredible content – music and videos, mostly. I realized that I was better at editing and other platform duties than I was at writing, and that perhaps the online communities I was astride could be provided a single banner to give themselves. In that sense, I haven't figured out how to do what I set out to yet. Ideally, my byline would be completely gone from Extratone, so I've more or less put it on hold until I figure out how to accomplish that. Turning it into a somewhat profitable media company is still my biggest long-term life goal.

The curatorial characteristic you describe is underrated, even though the “everyone is a curator” idea is jammed down our throats all the time. There's something about this curation on a person-to-person level that still has lots of room for experimentation. On that subject, do you have any examples of communities, sites, or models that guide where you'd want Extratone to go?

My citable aspirations in that regard have been somewhat superficial, I'm afraid. From a technical perspective, I really admired what Joshua Topolsky was trying to do with The Outline – which just closed this month, actually. They built their own CMS including a bespoke advertising delivery platform which really looked great but they just couldn't figure out a sustainable editorial focus. In my fantasy world, I have the connections and digital media insight of Topolsky and know how to apply them in a way that supports our community because I don't see any one brand popping up any substantial umbrellas over the electronic musicians I know. (It wasn't until “too late” that I realized Extratone's sole editorial focus should have been electronic music all along.) I read a lot about media but I'm pretty picky as far as hero worship goes when it comes to my own professional goals. I once promised that Extratone would never run ads, so I could see some sort of non-profit classification working out in our future. I believe I could be an excellent curator – I'm just not quite sure how to get there yet.

I think you're a great curator — had to ask that question of influence because I think you have a unique curatorial presence on the web. Just saw you tweet about tractordata.com. Who else would recommend that? Love it. That's why I thought Are.na would be right up your alley.

So you emphasized “our community” there — what do you define as your community in that broader context?

Well thank you! That's a question I'm still struggling to define. Electronic music is about as far as I've gotten. I met most of my talented friends on Twitter over the past 10 years or so and have tried to contain them in a list before. There are innate challenges in defining such a creative community – I have done my best to label without being constricting, but it's definitely difficult trying to figure out how to provide a flag which everyone feels comfortable flying. I still think the best I've done to articulate what I'm trying to say was for Extratone's About page. Most of the folks I'm talking about are used to hustling their own brand so it's been a real challenge working on the right way to reach out.

A flag which everyone feels comfortable flying — that's a great way to put it. What I find interesting about your internet presence is that you defy the idea of flying just a single flag. Along with Extratone you have multiple podcasts, multiple blogs, and now you're starting a Motorsports & Tech dedicated Mastodon instance.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to have many online buckets to put your ideas in. One just feels too limiting, especially if it's solely linked to your legal identity. How do you think about this matter of identity & expression with your own online presence?

That's a very good question. I can't take credit for mastd.racing, actually – I'm not sure who created that server but it's administered by an account called RaceControl. You've arrived at another one of my biggest challenges. Consolidating my interests has always been a problem, especially on The Web. Age has definitely helped narrow them down a bit, but I still can't help myself sometimes. I think it's ended up alienating a lot of my followers on social because I have a hard time posting just within my niche(s). I'm not so sure how to feel about this, honestly. One could argue that I should post whatever I want, whenever, but consider your audience is also a concept I can no longer ignore. If anything, I need to learn to let myself be limited a bit more by those buckets. Once again, Extratone is a good example of this – I should've never published app reviews there, but I did. We're all learning, I suppose.

Do you feel like you have to even learn to limit yourself on your personal blog? It seems like a personal blog can act as the release valve — a way of getting around cornering yourself into the niches that Extratone and other projects require. You can freely write about pens and Picard without feeling constrained to a single subject.

I think I'm just now coming around to understanding personal blogging and the freedom that entails. It's been a long while since I've had the urge to write about things on which I don't consider myself at least somewhat of an authority. I think – like many people – I originally just used my personal blog as a guinea pig for messing around with themes, and I'm just now actually catching up on some of the lesser items on my “to-write” list. Since we've begun talking I've begun building my blogs bookmark folder back up and following the #100DaystoOffload challenge, which I find immensely impressive. I can't say I'm quite up to it, personally, but I definitely plan on opening up the taps a bit more. (I also don't want to flood read.write.as with too many joke posts ya know hehe.)

That's awesome! You're reminding me of the interesting relationship between writing & tinkering when it comes to blogs. They both feed into each other in a strange way. Before, when my blog was on Wordpress, I didn't care about tinkering around — writing was my sole focus. When I moved to my new blog, however, I found myself shift towards creating apps that extend my blog and messing around with its CSS. So it's interesting that you've gone the opposite way, publishing more instead of solely tinkering.

What has awoken the urge for you to tackle those items on your personal “to-write” list? To open up those taps a bit more? Because I can see the publication mindset, being somewhat of an authority, getting in the way.

That is interesting. I'm wondering how many people are in each of our camps. I hate to be so topical, but the pandemic and being home constantly has definitely contributed. I've also begun to learn to let things go, which is an essential skill. Being able to actually kill work when it needs to die is the real secret. I just built up the strength to delete the rest of my 2019 list a few weeks ago.

I wonder also! And hey, no problem bringing up the current situation. I think it's making me write more also.

Want to drill into that practice of letting go as an essential skill for blogging. As a final question for this chat, how have you gone about the decision of keeping ideas that you've had for a long time and when to let them go? It's been something I've been struggling with for recently as ideas for blog posts start to pile up.

Self-curation is definitely tough. Generally, it's very hard to let things go – especially when I've progressed at all significantly into research/first drafting, but I know when to kill something if I reread and am unable to immediately see where I was going. I've noticed that trying to rekindle interest or momentum in a topic is unusually not a worthwhile use of time in my case. If I can't get my rhythm back fairly early in, I am very unlikely to, ever. That said, I think it's also important to forgive yourself for investing time in something that won't work out – otherwise, you will settle for less than what you originally intended and release something you won't be happy with.

Thank you so much for your time! I really enjoyed this!

Forgive and forget! That's a great point about rekindling an interest being a sign of letting go of an idea. I've done that too many times. This has been a blast to chat virtually David — really enjoyed your thoughts and am looking forward to future blog posts and installments of Extratone!

#meta

Kaweco Skyline Sport

It’s very pretentious to talk about pens, I agree, but I believe there’s a level of pen pretentiousness which is worth sharing with the writing masses. I continually encounter people in both personal and professional settings using – and often worshipping – very shitty pens. I'm not going to pretend spending $15 on a pen has not become a novel or ridiculous idea in contemporary culture, but if you're willing, this is one of those areas where some retrospective can lead to real pleasantnesss. Here are some of the tools I've owned. (I'll be linking heavily to The Pen Addict in this post. It's all we've got. Sorry.)

Parker Jotter

Parker Jotter

I believe everyone on Earth should own a Parker Jotter. It's a slim, small ballpoint designed for sketching with a clicking action that just about everyone loves. I have owned and lost many and I will continue to for the rest of my writing life. I cannot even begin to communicate how worth it $16.99 is to never write with another disposable ballpoint ever again. They're tough, light, and beautiful. Sarah Read for The Pen Addict:

If you're primarily a fountain pen user, but you acknowledge the occasional need for a ballpoint, this really is the perfect one. It looks and feels like you're spoiling yourself, but the price is low enough that you'll still have to add a fountain pen to your cart to get free shipping.

Pilot Metropolitan

Pilot Metropolitan

The Pilot Metropolitan has been the entry-level fountain pen for all of time as far as I know. Google for reviews and you'll find praises across the blog spectrum – from Little Coffee Fox to Writing For Pain and Pleasure to The Gentleman Stationer. “I'm not sure there is anything on the market that even approaches a pen of this quality for $15.00,” says the latter. Testimony from the first:

I love how the Pilot Metropolitan feels in my hand. The brass body is cold and weighty while you write without becoming a burden to use. Despite its low cost, the look and feel of this pen will be sure to leave an impression on your friends and coworkers.

The Pen Addict argues for the next pen on my list as The Ultimate Beginner, but I'll stick with the Metropolitan. It's a little unorthodox, actually – it doesn't feel quite as substantial as the other fountain pens I've used in my time, but it's a blast.

Lamy Safari

Lamy Safari

The modern alternative to the Pilot Metropolitan, the Lamy Safari is the coolest instrument on this list to own, but it is generally twice the price. Though I liked being seen with the Safari more than the Metropolitan, and its writing experience is more conventional in terms of what to expect from other composite fountain pens, I still think the Metropolitan is more fun to use. Instead of reading what I have to say, though, check out the only words about any of these pens I spied in a major publication. For The Strategist, David Notis writes:

Fountain pens can be complicated and intimidating, but the Safari was designed to be approachable. (It was apparently originally meant to help teach proper handwriting to schoolchildren). Pen enthusiasts often recommend it as a great “starter” fountain pen, which I’ve found to be spot-on. [...]

Not that I’m suddenly an expert, but there is something special about writing with a fountain pen. The steady flow of ink is so expressive; it somehow makes the weird, messy quirks of my handwriting feel intentional.

To be honest, I feel like I could've done without my Safari, but I did actually write with it quite extensively. Here are two more opinions: The Gentleman Stationer and Little Coffee Fox.

Kaweco Classic Sport

Kaweco

Huge bias here: I adore Kaweco as a company. I first bought a Mint Skyline Sport (the featured image of this post) in 2016 and I fell in love. I love the breeziness of their colors. I love how Germanic their old logo is and how anything you read about their history is inevitably found on a website looking like this. As Susan M. Pigott points out for The Pen Addict, the plastic Sport series can be a bit lacking in refinement. “The Skyline Sport is made of plastic, and it feels rather cheap in the hand,” she says. Unfortunately, my white Classic Sport had the same problem, though I also adored it. From Shashwat Vardhana:

If you have small to medium sized hands and like the screw cap action, you should most certainly go for this pen. While it might not be the best writer of its class, its reliability is absolute and I have never had any complaints with the pen in this aspect.

Kaweco Steel Sport

Kaweco Steel Sport

My baby – my ultimate pen acquisition – was my Kaweco Steel Sport. I bought it in person with cash at Pen Place in Kansas City, and it was by far my favorite writing instrument of all time. As far as I'm concerned, this is as high as pens get. Find yourself in the position to buy one and you will be satisfied forever. From The Pen Addict:

The Steel Sport features a – wait for it – stainless steel barrel. What is it about stainless steel that I love so much in pens? It tends to land in a barrel weight sweet spot that is heavier than aluminum, and lighter than copper and brass. [...]

Stainless steel has a density and warmth that I enjoy in a pen barrel. It is also practically indestructible, which is what I want in a pocket pen.

If you write by hand, you should treat yourself to one of these instruments. If you'd like to write more by hand, you definitely should. A good pen will have you looking for excuses to write.

#meta

When I have to pee too much to actually finish anything.

Anxiety Theme by Max Henderson adapted for The Psalms

I've updated the look of this blog with a theme adapted from “Anxiety” by Max Henderson but I've yet to update the colophon with the new colors (partially because I don't have the energy to name them yet.) Extratone's theme was listed on write.as' new themes project a while ago, of which I am quite proud. I've begun crossposting to Mastodon from Twitter again.

Autos And Such

I'm mostly blogging because I am fairly stuck on the Volkwagen Atlas review I promised to get done this week. (That link is to an online Word doc of my live progress, on which I'd love any comments on if you have them.) I've been playing enough Gran Turismo Sport that I've created a new blog specifically for automotive writing at dieselgoth.com. There, on Titanic day, I made a post including an “exclusive” invite link to mastd.racing, which I would compel any enthusiasts among you to oblige.

Me and Myself

Hanging out with myself trying to get Zoom-bombed.

Listening

This feature on the Bandcamp Daily regarding “Bleep” has really been my shit. Imagine my 70-year-old mother dancing to this.

[Matt] Anniss subsequently went on a local Bristol internet station, penned a blog post, and posted a DJ set of Bleep, as a way to convince those same DJs that his thesis had some merit. He wrote an in-depth feature on the form for electronic music site Resident Advisor—which caused him to think bigger about this formative, unsung moment in UK dance music history. “I found the sound itself alien and otherworldly, but also endlessly fascinating for some reason,” he says. “It seemed so fresh and futuristic still, but also mysterious.”

Software and Stuff

Still waiting on my tax return/possible Corona stipend, I have lost my subscription to Google One, meaning the business Extratone Gmail (ihadtopee@gmail.com) is about to be unhooked(?)/deleted/no longer able to receive mail. As such, I've spent the past few days moving accounts to davidblue@extratone.com including the newsletters I'm most fond of (like Nextdraft.) This has given me a good opportunity to weed out those I don't particularly care about and to try using Outlook as my primary email client once again. Somehow, this has got me reverted into trying to make use of my Microsoft Office business subscription once again – I have (eeek!) not been writing in Markdown. May the Gourd have mercy on my text format-fucking soul.

Two Microsoft Apps on My Homescreen

The other project I've been trying to distract myself from the Atlas review with is my list of poweruser/especially handy Windows/iOS/MacOS applications/tricks that I believe just about everyone should be using. From “Dirty Dave's Poweruser Tips” (working title):

I want you to come away from this list feeling as liberated and powerful as I do now when I’m On My Computer without any condescension or tedium. Unfortunately, there’s probably going to be some of both, so please stick with me and don’t take it personally. I do a lot of online reading, writing, and fiddling. I’ve been compelled to do these things in one form or another since very early childhood, and what follows could be described as a list of my favorite tools to accomplish things. Almost all of them are entirely free to use and the vast majority of them are easily and beautifully functional as well. They are what I suggest for my own mother to use, for what that’s worth, and I would argue sincerely for their extreme importance. Don’t waste your life on bad software.

Fucking Medium

In late March Nieman Lab's Laura Hazard Owen published “The long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium, 2012–present,” which includes the most complete, linear timeline of the website's existence anyone could ever ask for. Naturally – in classic medium fashion – she begins many of her sentences with “But,” which I really hate.

Why spend so much time worrying about what Medium is? Maybe because we wanted to know whether it was a friend or an enemy. The answer is that it’s neither. It’s a reflection of what the media industry has worried about, and hoped for, and not received. But Medium was never something that we would get to define. Instead, it’s turned out to be an endless thought experiment into what publishing on the internet could look like. That’s not much fun for people who got burned along the way, but Medium was never exactly ours to begin with.

Other Stuff

#meta

Yes, I am still managing to waste my time digging up and re-arranging some very old content, but I just couldn't resist. Somehow, it didn't occur to me until yesterday evening that I could sort through the original video files of my old vines fairly easily in fucking Google Photos and blast them through iMovie for iOS into a full montage relatively easily.

Some of these are very cringey...

Yes, I'd love to finally get around to my ultimate romantic editorialization on that most dearly departed social network, but things are way too jumbled right now, obviously.

#meta

Compaq Logo BANG

Setting out upon a desperate personal journey to rediscover enchantment with computers.

This evening, a pack­age is sched­uled to arrive upon my doorstep con­tain­ing a Com­paq Portable Plus lug­gable com­put­er from 1983 which I have fan­ta­sized about buy­ing for far too many years. Despite liv­ing in the midst of per­haps the worst pos­si­ble finan­cial sit­u­a­tion to spend $139.99 out­right on a rel­ic of com­put­ing, I final­ly just bought one any­way last Thurs­day because I’m absolute­ly fed up with life with­out the mag­ic I remem­ber feel­ing from com­put­ers. Yes, I am hav­ing a mid-life crises and The Machine is just a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of one of my favorite sto­ries, but I expect it will pro­vide some­thing irre­place­able for me and at least one piece of enter­tain­ment for just about any­body: I’m going to start a pho­to­series of myself using the 26-lb., suit­case-like, and utter­ly time-dis­placed Portable Plus in dif­fer­ent cof­fee shops through­out Port­land.

There’s also poten­tial oppor­tu­ni­ty (or neces­si­ty) for me to make use of my lim­it­ed knowl­edge of hard­ware elec­tron­ics. I’ve nev­er been very com­fort­able with open­ly using the term “hob­by,” but I ful­ly intend to savor, doc­u­ment, and pre­serve every pos­si­ble detail of my expe­ri­ence, so we’re going to behave as if the tales of com­put­er his­to­ry are pre­cious to a ded­i­cat­ed audi­ence besides myself, and that I am there­by and here­after bind­ing myself to an impor­tant duty of dis­cov­ery, cura­tion, and pre­sen­ta­tion expressed through mul­ti­me­dia of the high­est pos­si­ble cal­iber.

In oth­er words, I’m pret­ty sure I’ve just begun a vin­tage com­put­ing blog. Before we go any fur­ther, then, let’s dis­pense with the oblig­a­tory arrange­ments.

Lotus Word Pro

Why Compaq?

Put sim­ply, Com­paq was punk as fuck. Three dorky Tex­an techn­odads pre­med­i­tat­ed their leave of fair, secure jobs in the indus­try in order to bet every­thing on the promise of a sin­gle unde­ni­ably pro-user ide­al to dis­rupt its dom­i­nant monop­o­lis­tic supervil­lian. Unlike any of the count­less oth­er sto­ries from the infor­ma­tion age with the very same intro­duc­tion, theirs was imme­di­ate­ly pro­pelled into stratos­pher­ic, record-break­ing suc­cess — from cof­fee table sketch­es in the waste­lands of sub­ur­ban Hous­ton nights to one bil­lion dol­lars in less than five years, prov­ing that it was pos­si­ble to win huge in tech by com­mit­ting sin­cere­ly to lib­er­at­ing the con­sumer and man­i­fest­ing the ulti­mate per­for­mance of the under­dog com­plex Amer­i­can busi­ness has ever wit­nessed.

Those of us who’ve main­tained some curi­ous orbit of tech­nol­o­gy have recent­ly entered a rec­on­cil­la­to­ry process as the world has become all at once inti­mate­ly famil­iar with our col­lec­tive pur­suits’ true con­se­quences. Nev­er has it been more appro­pri­ate to reflect on the whole­some brava­do of the only Amer­i­can com­put­er com­pa­ny to build a bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness atop the sole mantra of user lib­er­a­tion. At a glance one might assume that AMC’s attempt to repro­duce Mad Men’s for­mu­la with a sto­ry set in Compaq’s ori­gin in a series that’s sup­pos­ed­ly attract­ed a fair num­ber of Net­flix­ers called Halt and Catch Fire in con­junc­tion with the 2016 doc­u­men­tary Sil­i­con Cow­boys have suf­fi­cient­ly remind­ed Amer­i­ca of to whom it real­ly owes its priv­i­leged tech indus­try. How­ev­er, a Twit­ter search for “Com­paq” turns up vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing of con­se­quence, and — on the oth­er cul­tur­al spec­trum — I’ve yet to see a sin­gle well-doc­u­ment­ed col­lec­tion of Com­paq hard­ware, and I’m unsat­is­fied.

Like it not, you’re com­ing with me on a safari back through two full nos­tal­gic cycles to redis­cov­er our won­der and excite­ment about tech­nol­o­gy because I miss it des­per­ate­ly and I know you do too. We’re going to find some­thing mar­velous.

I believe com­put­ers can be mag­ic again.

I believe in Com­paq.

#hardware #meta

A largely-biographical overview of my personal history with technology and its contributions to my current perspective.

Incalculable odds were against my arrival in this world happening in early 1994, positioning my life within a timeline that would allow me to bridge my two species’ most significant millenniums in the first grade as a student in the first class at Fairview Elementary school to receive curriculum-mandated exposure to brand-new Windows 98 PCs in its brand-new, fluorescent-lit computer lab in the center core of its 50-year-old rectangular brick structure. The lab also meant that ours was the first Fairview class to have the available relief of air conditioning during the school day. It’s unlikely that I would be home sick and watching the last television ever allowed in my mother’s living room as the second plane hit.

My peers and I would form a picogeneration without a name (perhaps we should be called the 9/11ers) — 91s and 92s wouldn’t have regular access to public school machines until they’d eclipsed the true prime of their development, and were just that much further along, mentally, to being able to comprehend the huge and terrifying concepts of 1) New York and 2) burning alive — while 98s like my niece were spared any such comprehension of death at all, yet now have to face the existentially future-sundering, darkly-mirrored reality of the Trump Presidency during the most critically uncertain period in the last stage of their brain’s transition to adulthood.

If there is truth in the cross-cultural supposition that souls have some sort of choice, pre-conception, over when they’re born, my own must have either cleaned out the house, or lost horrible, though I suspect I’ll never be able to confidently wager either way. This question of how lucky or unlucky am I to be alive right now is one which I find most fascinating — not just within myself, but within others my age. I declare us a generation largely because of my experiences on the assumption that my mid-Missouri upbringing represents the ultimate average in the American experiences of the time as the area has been a reliable sample of the clearest average of the country’s cultural, political, and economic life. Technically, it was quite unlikely that I arrive here as a new human being instead of China or India, and what if that, too was my choice?

Though less so, it was still against chance that I would be born to parents who would divorce very quickly after my birth, before my mind was able to form any tangible long-term memories, sparing me whatever pain could’ve resulted from their greater togetherness later nullified in front of me. I could’ve chosen them as well for the variety of experiences their situation would allow me as I grew up between my father’s 800-acre farm and my mother’s suburban house in Columbia, the college town an hour’s drive south. I write about my experiences now — so young — because I’ve likely already born witness to more extraordinary changes in human development than your parents, their parents, and their parents’ parents combined. At 24, my life has already spanned by far the most profound and expedited informational renaissance in human history — greater progress was made between the day I first rode a bicycle and the one on which I took my driver’s test than in thousands of years before it.

My father’s experiences between 1950 and 1974 — from his birth until the age I am now — would indeed include watching a man set foot on a spatial body other than Earth for the first time, but would be mostly defined by work on the family’s soybean, corn, and wheat farms in central Illinois, driving carbureted tractors pulling cultivating equipment of the same basic design and function as had been pulled by horses, mules, and oxen for hundreds of years, and other implements — like the mechanical multi-row planter — that were new technology at the beginning of the century. For neighbors, he would walk behind the path of a square hay baler next to a moving flatbed trailer upon which he would throw the 70–100 lb. rectangles of dead compacted grass by their twine through thick cowhide gloves. All of this I would get to experience in the next century on his farm, using the exact same equipment.

At home, he would watch NBC, ABC, and CBS on a CRT television, as I would for several years until wireless television was legally transitioned to digital statewide in the summer of 2009. As an adolescent, he would form a business with friends cleaning out old abandoned barns in exchange for the rights of ownership to anything they found inside, which led to his discovery of a hay-preserved 1929 Buick Sedan containing hand-written records of its every service. This car would change hands into his Uncle’s care as he went off to school in Champaign, married and farmed in Georgia, and eventually settled on the flat clay soil of the farm where I grew up right on the border between Audrain and Monroe counties, Missouri. I was about 10 when we drove back to the family hub with a trailer in tow to collect the car from my Great Uncle, to my manic excitement.

Up until my mid-teens, my life was defined by my extreme reverence for historic cars, airplanes, tractors, and watercraft, and the time I spent operating, maintaining, restoring, or simply studying the assortment of these which I was allowed — often because of extraordinary circumstances — would build the part of my psychology which seeks to experience different cultures, ideas, and eras through the medium of engineering and design and relies on these to understand them. Like my father in his youth, I would learn to clean water out of a carburetor after the Oliver had sat without running for two long, and I would pee in a chamber pot in order to avoid waking up my Grandfather by walking down the attic stairs and turning the lights on. I would learn how to shoot and drive before 10-years-old, and I would have the freedom to do both as I pleased on the miles of gravel roads that ran around home.

Though my stepfather bought me a PC of my own just as my first grade computer class was ending, I could not conceive of a reason to take up the dial-up line and block his incoming calls or faxes, so my use of the machine was limited to sparse writing and aggravating attempts to run Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 at approximately one frame per second on a 300MHz single-core Pentium II CPU. Though I was extremely fortunate compared to most middle-class kids my age at the time to have my own computer in my room, my relationship with it was not an emotional or particularly involved one. I would leave it powered down for weeks at a time until my last two grades at Fairview, when homework assignments began to require it.

Perhaps the greatest gap between my mostly-suburbanite classmates and I was an exposure to Japanese entertainment and video games. I was once disallowed from a lunch table because I’d never heard of Pokémon or Luigi, but I did have a Sony Playstation at home on which I occasionally loaded A Bug’s Life to wander around its first level. In self-imposed isolation from children my age, I wouldn’t develop any need to be socially competitive with video games as many of my peers would to carry with them into adulthood. I thought my interests in mechanical engineering to be above all of them, so I spent my time alone with heavy picturebooks on 20th century cars, tractors, and airplanes.

On the farm, my consistently agriculturally-proactive father was one of the first to have satellite internet for farm futures and weather reports on a pre-GUI machine which I don’t remember. As I was becoming computer literate in school, he would become extremely frustrated with the Windows XP-running machine he’d bought from a one-man, one-room computer shop in Centralia, and I would often solve some problem with bloatware or the goddamned printer. He would also subscribe to and install a first-generation DirectTV receiver, which had the first on-screen program guide I’d ever seen. In the evenings, I would watch hours of Modern Marvels on The History Channel, which presented the history, abstract functional theory, and implementation of a particular technology, both past and future. This one program — which has aired nearly 700 episodes since 1995 — is probably responsible for the majority of my at least rudimentary general knowledge in a variety of historic and “future” technological schools, and my curiosity about culture’s relationship with innovation.

Though my father’s interests differed significantly from mine — he thought more about growing and raising than of the tools one used to do it — he would indulge my many questions about how engines, hydraulics, and electrical systems worked and my curiosity by exposing me to the hidden communities of the most elderly, most obscure historic machinery enthusiasts like those of the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant, Iowa — the Concours d’Elegance for antique tractor and reciprocating engine collectors. It was a similar event closer to home where I first operated a steam tractor — great, field-going locomotive-like vehicles that supplanted a need for horsepower in the late-1800s up until the Great Depression which chug, whistle, and puff along just like rail locomotives with a big iron steering wheel. As I recall, I was also given the opportunity to drive an unrestored Model T truck around the grounds that day — the knowledge from which I gained I cannot imagine being of much use ever again.

I was proud to the point of arrogance of my technical knowledge and experience in all the different things I had driven and operated, which my schoolmates were in no position to understand. I was elitist and anti-social about this as late as 9th grade, when I had just moved in to stay with my mother, who bought me a first generation iPhone which I proudly wore in a leather belt holster to Junior High. It would represent a shift in my fascination from very old technology toward the present and future.

I started talking online with a friend I’d first met years before at Fairview who spent most of his time fiddling with his first-generation MacBook Pro and first exposed me to gadget bloggers on YouTube like Mark Watson and Jon Rettinger (both of whom are still full-time tech personalities.) My mom bought me a 13-inch aluminum-bodied MacBook (which would be sold as MacBook Pro after a single year,) and my lifestyle radically shifted inside my room, my computer, and my Xbox 360. My friend and I would both obsess together over software, design, and gadgets and experiment with our own tech YouTube channels until high school, where I would be adopted by a new friend group who would finally socialize me.

Recently, I have written about the contrasts and discrepancies of consumer technology development as its progress has disconnected from the upward linear trajectory in use, quality, and genuine innovation for the enduser in a departure which has been especially visible from my perspective as an academically-untrained, but intensely demanding user in the past five years. When hardware was still the industry focus before ~2012, there was a tremendous amount of optimism among journalists and enthusiasts because each successive generation of devices had added more tangible capabilities. Publications like Gizmodo and Engadget made a fortune publishing reviews and comparison tests of hardware offerings across every segment of tech, and the discourse they generated had a noticeable influence on design. I remember this time well because it was happening throughout my last few years before adulthood when I had plenty of spare time, energy, and curiosity to keep up.

The story of consumer technology since Steve Jobs’ death has become increasingly more about the companies who design and sell hardware and software than about how and why their consumers actually use them, and the result has been a series of new types of products that have little defensible place in a linear timeline of innovation, especially where productivity is involved. Augmented and Virtual Reality are quite explicitly an escapist industry which has yet to fill any significant need which was before unfilled. The same could be argued about voice assistants and smartwatches — neither of which remove obstacles in most users’ day-to-day lives but instead contribute to the array of tasks and devices which already seek their attention.

Of course, there are defensibly sound business incentives behind the industry’s new, fragmented direction, but I would also argue that there are those, too, for genuinely revisiting both what we should be doing and what we should be seeking to learn to do with technology. In a more abstract sense, I have written about whether or not we should want to be living in this particular now, and how the way we feel about the future should inform what we do in the present.

I cannot help but observe human progress from a perspective of powerlessness, acute alienation, and amused awe which has already lent to a significant quantity of occasionally original thoughts as I watch having experienced an odd diversity of American life and culture. I’ve published them to entertain and to demonstrate a few methods of reflection on what it is you really want from the times you are living.

#software #meta

Xerox Alto

In all likelihood, you have heard of Electronic Mail, but I’ve noticed that much of our audience (and 18-25 year olds in general) have been consistently estranged from it, despite its prevalence in news media. Perhaps it’s not immediately evident as the coolest thing, but if “staying informed” and grass roots-ing brands are still as hip as they appear to be, email newsletters should soon become so groovy that you’ll begin leaving the house for a down-the-street coffee shop just to be seen reading them.

Welcome to the wonderful world of aggregation.

In many ways, email newsletters are the antithesis of (and medication for) Facebook’s school of ruminate aggregation. You know – the doctrine that will forever be remembered as the original intellectual catalyst for the downfall of human civilization. The skimming and the jumping… how many Facebook users could I fool by simply sending featured images, headlines, and abstracts for social cards without any hyperlinked destination? Could I manage to get Donald Tump elected President of the United States by way of Scrolling Hypnosis, alone?

Staying informed is a habit of time-honored traditions. Gramps has stopped by Bill’s General Goods every weekday morning for twenty years with a handful of change because The Sleepyville Monitor is a part of his identity – dependent upon- and accountable to his trust. We’ve continued into 21st century news media as if a digital equivalent of his readership would be so difficult to fathom that legacy publications are best-off forcing the standards of print onto the web instead of investing in research/experimentation, which is why the fucking New York Times still sends your handset away to a separate mobile version of their site – a horrible remnant of browsing from the oughts that’s rarely seen on blogs, these days, much less on properties of titanic news powerhouses.

For whatever reason, most of the industry has behaved as if Grandpa’s sort of routines no longer exist in day-to-day life, but – if anything – our Automated Hell is vastly more saturated with them, no? Unless you’re sequestered away in a diligently self-made Email-Free Zone, you’re receiving shit daily. I, myself, am considerably proud of my ~60,000 unread emails, and I’ve conceded to the vast majority of the popup opt-ins I’ve encountered since shortly after our launch because I rarely found myself visiting/reading undesirable web.

“I don’t email” is a sentiment I hear from young people often, which is perfectly fine. I don’t vote!

If it’s true that “nobody wants that,” nobody should be participating in the democratic process. Yes, I’ve experienced the no patience for more than 300 words phase of life, and I understand wholeheartedly the desire to retreat forever from it all. I would much rather exist in an old, open farmhouse with a wife, a garden, no internet, dusty old literature, and two ancient Bentleys than spend all my time crafting mirages in a black mirror, but neither cowardice nor negligence are options for us, right now. This country doesn’t have room for any more.

That’s not to say that you should be expected to read 6 hours of news a day – it’s the media’s (our) job to maintain our own accessibility, and for this, daily/weekly newsletters are an unbelievably effective method. The meta-aggregators in today’s industry are often paid exclusively to ease your digestion, both independently and by mastheads.

Dave Pell is a superb gateway from the former – an aggregation legend. His daily correspondence – called NextDraft - is more often than not the ideal front page of the day.

POLITICO Playbook

I’m asking those of you youths yet without your own reading habits to trust my taste – if not my authority – and explore some options from my own inbox.

Ultimately, you just can’t replace a legacy die-hard-news shop for a good political briefing. The POLITICO Playbook is the most time-efficient way to keep up with U.S. and World politics as you walk about your life, and many of The New Yorker’s newsletters are a great longform, much more visual compliment. For a slightly less-chaotic, but still relatively unproven alternative to the former, try Axios AM.

National Geographic may seem a bit old guard, but has remained a consistently excellent photographic publication. Its print edition has no place but on the poll in tangible media subscription terms, but it has been quite depressing, as of late. Turns out, we’ve made quite a dystopia for ourselves, and their ability to encapsulate the world can be overstimulating, at times. If you’d like a bit more control – or are uncompromisingly digital-only – its web edition has matured quite competently, and is elegantly parsed by their newsletters. (You’ll need to create an account, if you don’t already have one.)

Medium Digest

It’s no secret that Medium has been on the decline, lately – and it’s always required a particular sort of tolerance – but The Daily Digest still delivers a few important essays, occasionally. And of course – there are options by regularity and topic, which you can fiddle with here when logged in.

On the more innovative end of the industry, there’s The Outline’s newsletter, which – being the property of a more deliberate, gorgeous, open-web publication – is a bit underwhelming, but then again… why aren’t you just looking at the site, anyway? The Pudding’s output may be sparse, but – again – just… look at it. I can’t claim to have made much use of the information presented in their gorgeous visual essays, but it sure is fascinating.

The Verge’s Command Line is often so clever, it can almost make tech news engaging. (Our very own The Tone is directly modeled after it, visually.) WIRED’s newsletter isn’t bad either – it’d be excellent if its parent website wasn’t so fucking broken.

Then there’s War Is Boring - a tactical/tech news site? I recently discovered. “From drones to AKs, high technology to low politics.” I wouldn’t describe it as a primary read for me, but it’s still nice to see what the Big Boys are up to, once in a while. (I am mostly just waiting attentively for the U.S.S. Iowa to be put up for auction.)

If you’re a filthy word nerd like myself, it’s likely you’ve seen a Tweet or two from the Haggard Hawks account – Paul Anthony Jones’ highly-educated musings on “obscure words, language & etymology facts.” After an excellent few years of playful indulgences, the project now has a whole DweebNet with a newsletter that always fascinates, if a bit dryly. What did you expect?

The Poetry Foundation can also be easily convinced to send you their Poem of the Day, and biweekly newsletter.

And finally… the meta media folks.

Columbia Journalism Review’s always the prettiest to look at when it comes to coverage of industry, and their squeaky-clean perspective won me over quite quickly. They send their ultra-clean, editor-compiled Weekly Highlights every Thursday. The American Press Institute’s list isn’t a bad idea, either. Then, of course, there’s Harvard’s NiemanLab, which offers afternoon and Saturday morning emails. All three often cite the Pew Research Center, which offers its own palette of email lists, should you find yourself hungry for d a t a. Though, I do not, and I enjoy them.

Landing on the “homepage” of even the most familiar online publications can feel daunting and impersonal, but having an authority on the industry (hopefully, with some sense of humor) parse the torrent and deliver it unto your personal inbox can ease the reading process into a much more intimate, sensical, enjoyable, and productive expenditure of your valuable time.

For a publication of our scale, the routine of a newsletter can act first as a simple reminder of our existence, and mature into a way to reach out directly to our audience in a distinctly magazine methodology – one which pervades a real, consequential relationship with consumers.

And it’s d i g i t a l !!!!

#meta