Blog to 5K

This is my 5,000th post on this blog.

Okay, we’re gonna need a whole lot of caveats on the “this is 5,000” claim:

Engage pedantry mode

First, there’s a Ship of Theseus consideration. By “this blog”, I’m referring to what I feel is a continuation (with short breaks) of my personal diary-style writing online from the original “Avatar Diary” on castle.onza.net in the 1990s via “Dan’s Pages” on avangel.com in the 2000s through the relaunch on scatmania.org in 2003 through migrating to danq.me in 2012. If you feel that a change of domain precludes continuation, you might disagree with me. Although you’d be a fool to do so: clearly a blog can change its domain and still be the same blog, right? Back in 2018 I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my first blog post by revisiting how my blog had looked, felt, and changed over the decades, if you’re looking for further reading.

Castle of the Four Winds in early 1999.
These posts were from the 1990s (in case the design didn’t give that away), and despite a change in domain name, I’m counting them. They’re still accessible, via this domain, today!1
Similarly, one might ask if retroactively republishing something that originally went out via a different medium “counts”2.

In late 1999 I ran “Cool Thing of the Day (to do at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth)” as a way of staying connected to my friends back in Preston as we all went our separate ways to study. Initially sent out by email, I later maintained a web page with a log of the entries I’d sent out, but the address wasn’t publicly-circulated. I consider this to be a continuation of the Avatar Diary before it and the predecessor to Dan’s Pages on avangel.com after it, but a pedant might argue that because the content wasn’t born as a blog post, perhaps it’s invalid.

Pedants might also bring up the issue of contemporaneity. In 2004 a server fault resulted in the loss of a significant number of 149 blog posts, of which only 85 have been fully-recovered. Some were resurrected from backups as late as 2012, and some didn’t recover their lost images until later still – this one had some content recovered as late as 2017! If you consider the absence of a pre-2004 post until 2012 a sequence-breaker, that’s an issue. It’s theoretically possible, of course, that other old posts might be recovered and injected, and this post might before the 5,001st, 5,002nd, or later post, in terms of chronological post-date. Who knows!

Then there’s the posts injected retroactively. I’ve written software that, since 2018, has ensured that my geocaching logs get syndicated via my blog when I publish them to one of the other logging sites I use, and I retroactively imported all of my previous logs. These never appeared on my blog when they were written: should they count? What about more egregious examples of necroposting, like this post dated long before I ever touched a keyboard? I’m counting them all.

I’m also counting other kinds of less-public content too. Did you know that I sometimes make posts that don’t appear on my front page, and you have to subscribe e.g. by RSS to get them? They have web addresses – although search engines are discouraged from indexing them – and people find them with or without subscribing. Maybe you should subscribe if you haven’t already?

Note that I’m not counting my comments on my own blog, even though many of them are very long, like this 2,700-word exploration of a jigsaw puzzle geocache, or this 1,000-word analogy for cookie theft via cross-site scripting. I’d like to think that for any post that you’d prefer to rule out, given the issues already described, you’d find a comment that could justifiably have been a post in its own right.[/footnote]

Back to celebration mode

Generating a chart...
If this message doesn't go away, the JavaScript that makes this magic work probably isn't doing its job right: please tell Dan so he can fix it.

I’ve only recently started actively keeping stats on my blogging activity, without which I probably wouldn’t even have noticed that my “5K” milestone was coming up!

Let’s take a look at some of those previous milestone posts:

It takes a pretty special geocache for me to make a video about it (unlike my geohashing expeditions, for which videos aren’t uncommon). The only other one I can think of was one of my own

I absolutely count this as the 5,000th post on this blog.

Dan with a champagne flute, fireworks in the background, points to a screen showing this blog post.
Here’s to the next 5,000!

Footnotes

1 Don’t go look at them. Just don’t. I was a teenager.

2 Via a bit of POSSE and a bit of PESOS I do a lot of crossposting (the diagram in that post is a little out-of-date now, though).

3 Bird & Moon, of course, doesn’t have a subscription feed that I’m aware of, but FreshRSS‘s “killer feature” of XPath scraping makes the same kind of thing possible.

× ×

link rel=”blogroll”

Dave Winer kindly let me know about a proposed standard for linking to OPML blogrolls. Given that I added a page containing my blogroll last year, it was easy enough for me to add a tiny bit of code to the header to add support for automatic detection of my blogroll.

<link rel="blogroll" type="text/xml" href="/blogroll.xml" title="Dan Q's blogroll">

Now all we need is some tools that can do such detection!

(You’ll note I’ve added a title attribute: as I discovered the other day, some browsers including ELinks will show all <link>s of unknown rel="..." at the top of the page and I wanted this one to make sense!)

Does a blog have to be HTML?

Terence Eden wrote about his recent experience of IndieWebCamp Brighton, in which he mentioned that somebody – probably Jeremy Keith – had said, presumably to provoke discussion:

A blog post doesn’t need a title.

Terence disagrees, saying:

In a literal sense, he was wrong. The HTML specification makes it clear that the <title> element is mandatory. All documents have title.

But I think that’s an overreach. After all, where is it written that a blog must be presented in HTML?

Non-HTML blogs

There are plenty of counter-examples already in existence, of course:

But perhaps we can do better…

A totally text/plain blog

We’ve looked at plain text, which as a format clearly does not have to have a title. Let’s go one step further and implement it. What we’d need is:

  1. A webserver configured to deliver plain text files by preference, e.g. by adding directives like index index.txt; (for Nginx).5
  2. An index page listing posts by date and URL. Most browser won’t render these as “links” so users will have to copy-paste or re-type them, so let’s keep them short,
  3. Pages for each post at those URLs, presumably without any kind of “title” (just to prove a point), and
  4. An RSS feed: usually I use RSS as shorthand for all feed types, but this time I really do mean RSS and not e.g. Atom because RSS, strangely, doesn’t require that an <item> has a <title>!

I’ve implemented it! it’s at textplain.blog.

textplain.blog in Lynx
Unlike other sites, I didn’t need to test textplain.blog in Lynx to know it’d work well. But I did anyway.

In the end I decided it’d benefit from being automated as sort-of a basic flat-file CMS, so I wrote it in PHP. All requests are routed by the webserver to the program, which determines whether they’re a request for the homepage, the RSS feed, or a valid individual post, and responds accordingly.

It annoys me that feed discovery doesn’t work nicely when using a Link: header, at least not in any reader I tried. But apart from that, it seems pretty solid, despite its limitations. Is this, perhaps, an argument for my .well-known/feeds proposal?

Anyway, I’ve open-sourced the entire thing in case it’s of any use to anybody at all, which is admittedly unlikely! Here’s the code.

Footnotes

1 no-ht.ml technically does use HTML, but the same content could easily be delivered with an appropriate non-HTML MIME type if he’d wanted.

2 Again, I suppose this technically required HTML, even if what was delivered was an empty file!

3 Gemtext is basically Markdown, and doesn’t require a title.

4 Plain text obviously doesn’t require a title.

5 There’s no requirement that default files served by webservers are HTML, although it’s highly-unsual for that not to be the case.

AI isn’t useless. But is it worth it?

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

Molly White writes, more-eloquently than I would’ve, almost-exactly my experience of LLMs and similar modern generative AIs:

I, like many others who have experimented with or adopted these products, have found that these tools actually can be pretty useful for some tasks. Though AI companies are prone to making overblown promises that the tools will shortly be able to replace your content writing team or generate feature-length films or develop a video game from scratch, the reality is far more mundane: they are handy in the same way that it might occasionally be useful to delegate some tasks to an inexperienced and sometimes sloppy intern.

Very much this.

I’ve experimented with a handful of generative AIs, such as:

  • GPT-3.5 / ChatGPT, for proofreading, summarisation, experimental rephrasing when writing, and idea generation. I’ve found it to be moderately good at summarisation and proofreading and pretty terrible at producing anything novel without sounding completely artificial and/or getting lost in a hallucination.
  • Bing for coalescing information. I like that it cites its sources. I dislike that it somehow still hallucinates. I might use it, I suppose, to help me re-phase a search query where I can’t remember the word I’m looking for.
  • Stable Diffusion for image generation. I’ve found it most-useful in image-to-image mode, for making low-effort concept art in bulk. For example, when running online roleplaying games for friends I’ve fed it an image of, say, a skeleton warrior and asked it to make me a few dozen more in a similar style, so as to provide a diverse selection of distinct tokens1. Its completely-original2 work lands squarely in the uncanny valley, though.
  • Github Copilot for code assistance. I’ve not tried its “chat”-powered functionality but I quite enjoy its “autocomplete” tool. When I’m coding and I forget the syntax of the command I’m typing, or need to stop and think for a moment about “what comes next”, it’s often there with the answer. I’ve even made us of the “write the comment describing what the code will do, let Copilot suggest the code for you” paradigm (though I’ve been pretty disappointed with the opposite approach: it doesn’t write great comments!). I find Copilot to be a lot like having an enthusiastic, eager-to-please, very well-read but somewhat naive junior programmer sitting beside me. If I ask them for some pairing assistance, they’re great, but I can’t trust them to do anything that I couldn’t do for myself!
  • Surely others besides that I’ve since forgotten.

Most-recently, I’ve played with music-making AI Suno and… it’s not great.. but like all these others it’s really interesting to experiment with and think about. Here: let me just ask it to write some “vocal trance europop about a woman called Molly; Molly has a robot friend who is pretty good at doing many tasks, but the one thing she’ll never trust the robot to do is write in her blog” –

AI-generated content:

AI-generated image of a boxy yellow humanoid robot sitting at a Macbook, typing.
[Verse]
Molly’s got a robot that she keeps by her side
It’s pretty handy
It can do many things right
But there’s one task she won’t let it touch
It’s true
The robot can’t write in her blog
No
That won’t do
[Verse 2]
This robot can clean the house
Sweep it up real nice
It can even cook a meal
Add some spice
But when it comes to sharing her thoughts on the screen
Molly won’t trust the robot
That’s her routine
[Chorus]
Molly’s robot friend
By her side all day and night
There’s one thing it can’t do
Can’t write her blog right
She’ll keep typing away
Sharing her heart and soul
That’s something the robot can’t do
It has no control

So yes, like Molly:

  • I’m absolutely a believer than these kinds of AIs have some value,
  • I’ve been reluctant and slow to say so because they seem to be such a polarising issue that it’s hard to say that you belong to neither “camp”,
  • I’m not entirely convinced that for the value they provide they’ve yet proven to be worth their cost, and I’m not certain that for general-purpose generation they will be any time soon, and
  • I’ve never used AI to write content for my blog, and I can’t see that ever changing.

It’s still an interesting field to follow-along with. Stuff like Sora from OpenAI and VASA-1 from Microsoft are just scary (the latter seems to have little purpose other than for misinformation-generation3!), but the genie’s out of the bottle now.

Footnotes

1 Visually-distinct tokens adds depth to the world and helps players communicate with one another: “You distract the skinny cultist, and I’ll try to creep up on the ugly one!”

2 I’m going to gloss right over the question of whether or not these tools are capable of creating anything truly original. You know what I mean.

3 Gotta admit though that I laughed like a drain at the Mona Lisa singing along with Anne Hathaway’s Lil’ Wayne Style Paparazzi Rap. If you’ve not seen the thing I’m talking about, go do that now.

Home Page, 50% Off!

In August, I celebrated my blog – with its homepage weighing-in at a total of just 481kbbeing admitted to Kev Quirk‘s 512kb club. 512kb club celebrates websites (often personal sites) whose homepage are neither “ultra minimal” or “link pages” but have a total size, including all assets, of under half a megabyte. It’s about making a commitment to a leaner, more-efficient Web.

My relatively-heavyweight homepage only just slipped in under the line. But, feeling inspired perhaps by some performance enhancements I’ve been planning this week at work, I decided to try to shave a little more off:

Now, at ~234kb, danq.me just beats the excellent gomakethings.com (it’s all those heavyweight fonts, Chris!).

Here’s what I changed:

  1. The “recent article” tiles are dynamically sized based on their number, type, and the visitor’s screen resolution. But apart from the top one they’re almost never very large. Using thumbnail images for the non-first tile shaved off almost 160kb.
Illustration showing how the smaller tiles only need thumbnail images.
You can see the difference, but it’s still acceptable to look at, I think.
  1. Not space-saving, but while I was in there I ensured that the first tile’s image – which almost-certainly comprises part of the Largest Contentful Paint – is never delivered with loading="lazy".
  2. I was providing a shortcut icon in .ico format (<link rel="shortcut icon" href="/_q23t/icons/favicon-16-32-48-64-128.ico" />), which is pretty redundant nowadays because all modern browsers (and even IE11) support .png icons. I was already providing .png and .svg versions, but it turns out that some browsers favour the one with the (harmful?) rel="shortcut icon" over rel="icon" if both are present, and .ico files are – being based on Windows Bitmaps – horrendously inefficient.

By getting under the 250kb threshold, I’ve jumped up a league from Blue Team to Orange Team, so that’s nice too. I can’t see a meaningful path from where I’m at to Green Team (under 100kb) though, so this level might have to suffice.

Last-minute additions:

×

Reply to: Mobile writing, part 2

Clayton Errington wrote:

After a first attempt at mobile blogging, I found a process that works better for my work flow.

Throughout the day, I have ideas and need to write them down. This could be a coding process, a thought to remember, the start of a blog post, and more. I love a good notes app. I’ve gone through quite a few and use a few for different things. Lately it’s been Simplenote.

As I took part in Bloganuary and began what’ll hopefully become a fifth consecutive year of 100 Days To Offload, I started to hate my approach to mobile blogging and seek something better, too. My blog’s on WordPress, but it’s so highly-customised that I can’t meaningfully use any of the standard apps, and I find the mobile interface too slow and clunky to use over anything less than a great Internet connection… which – living out in the sticks – I don’t routinely have when I’m out and about. So my blogging almost-exclusively takes place at my desktop or laptop.

But your experience of using a notetaking app is reasonably inspiring. I’m almost never away from a “real” computer for more than a day, so there’s no reason I can’t simply write into such an app, let it sync, and copy-paste into a blog post (and make any tweaks) when I’m sitting at a proper keyboard! I’m using Obsidian for notetaking, and it Syncthing‘s to my other computers, so I should absolutely be leveraging that. I already have an Obsidian folder full of “blog post ideas”… why shouldn’t I just write blog posts there.

Thanks for the inspiration!

100 Days To Offload

The ever-excellent Kev Quirk in 2020 came up with this challenge: write a blog post on each of 100 consecutive days. He called it #100DaysToOffload, in nominal reference to the “100 days of code” challenge. I was reflecting upon this as I reach this, my 36th consecutive day of blogging and my longest ever “daily streak” (itself a spin-off of my attempt at Bloganuary this year), and my 48th post of the year so far.

Monochrome photograph showing sprinters at the starting line.
I guess I’ve always been more of a sprinter/hurdles blogger than a marathon runner.

Might I meet that challenge? Maybe. But it turns out it’s easier than I thought because Kev revised the rules to require only 100 posts in a calendar year (or any other 365-day period, but I’m not going to start thinking about the maths of that).

That’s not only much more-achievable… I’ve probably already achieved it! Let’s knock out some SQL to check how many posts I made each year:

SELECT
  YEAR(wp_posts.post_date_gmt) yyyy,
  COUNT(wp_posts.ID) total
FROM
  wp_posts
WHERE
  wp_posts.post_status='publish'
  AND wp_posts.post_type='post'
GROUP BY yyyy
ORDER BY yyyy
My code’s actually a little more-complicated than this, because of some plot, but this covers the essentials.

A big question in some years is what counts as a post. Kev’s definition is quite liberal and includes basically-everything, but I wonder if mine shouldn’t perhaps be stricter. For example:

  • Should I count checkins, even though they’re not always born as blog posts but often start as logs on geocaching websites? (My gut says yes!)
  • Do reposts and bookmarks contribute, a significant minority of which are presented without any further interpretation by me? (My gut says no!)
  • Does a vlog version of a blog post count separately, or is it a continuation of the same content? (My gut says the volume is too low to matter!)
  • Can a retroactive achievement (i.e. from before the challenge was announced) count? Kev writes “there is no specific start date”, but it seems a little counter to the idea of it specifically being a challenge to claim it when you weren’t attempting the challenge at the time.
  • And so on…
Year Posts Success? Notes
1998 7 ❌ No Some posts are lost from 1998/1999. If they were recovered I might have made 100 posts in 1999, but probably not in 1998 as I only started blogging on 27 September 1998.
1999 66 ❌ No
2000 2 ❌ No
2001 11 ❌ No
2002 5 ❌ No
2003 189 🏆 Yes Achieved 1 September, with a post about an article on The Register about timewasting. Or, if we allow reposts, three days earlier with a repost about Claire's car being claimed by the sea.
2004 374 🏆 Yes An early win on 20 April, with a made-up Chez Geek card. Or if we allow reposts, two days earlier with thoughts on a confusing pro-life (???) website.
2005 381 🏆 Yes In a highly-productive year of blogging, achieved on 7 April with a post about enjoy curry and public information films with friends. If we allow bookmarks (I was highly-active on del.icio.us at the time!), achieved even earlier on 18 February with some links to curious websites.
2006 206 🏆 Yes On 21 July, I shared a personality test (which was actually my effort to repeat an experiment in using Barnum-Forer statements) - I didn't initially give away that I was the author of the "test". Non-pedants will agree I achieved the goal earlier, on 19 June, with my thoughts on a programming language for a hypothetical infinitely-fast computer.
2007 166 🏆 Yes Achieved on 2 July with thoughts on films I'd watched and board games I'd played recently. Or arguably 12 days earlier with Claire's birthday trip to Manchester.
2008 86 ❌ No
2009 79 ❌ No
2010 159
(84 for pedants)
✅ Yes* A heartfelt post about saying goodbye to Aberystwyth as I moved to Oxford on 16 June was my 100th of the year. Pedants might argue that this year shouldn't count, but so long as you're willing to count checkins (and you should) then it would... and my qualifying post would have come only a couple of days later, with a post about the Headington Shark, which I had just moved-in near to.
2011 177 🏆 Yes Reached the goal on 28 October when I wrote about mild successes in my enquiries with the Office of National Statistics about ensuring that information about polyamorous households was accurately recorded. Or if we earlier on 9 June with a visual gag about REM lyrics if you accept all my geocache logs as posts too (and again: you should).
2012 129
(87 for pedants)
✅ Yes* My 100th post of the year came on 28 August when I wrote about launching a bus named after my recently-deceased father. You have to be willing to accept both checkins and reposts as posts to allow this year to count.
2013 138
(59 for pedants)
😓 Probably not I'm not convined this low-blogging year should count: a clear majority of the posts were geocaching logs, and they weren't always even that verbose (consider this candidate for 100th post of 2013, from 1 October).
2014 335
(22 for pedants)
🙁 Not really Another geocache log heavy, conventional blogpost light year that I'm not convinced should count, evem if the obvious candidate for 100th post would be 18 May's cool article about geocaching like Batman!
2015 205
(18 for pedants)
🙁 Not really Still no, for the same reasons as above.
2016 163
(37 for pedants)
🙁 Not really
2017 301
(42 for pedants)
🙁 Not really
2018 547
(87 for pedants)
✅ Yes* I maintain that checkins should count, even when they're PESOS'd from geocaching sites, so long as they don't make up a majority of the qualifying posts in a year. In which case this year should qualify, with the 100th post being my visit to this well-hidden London pub while on my way to a conference.
2019 387
(86 for pedants)
✅ Yes* Similarly this year, when on 15 August I visited a GNSS calibration point in the San Francisco Bay Area... on the way to another conference!
2020 221
(64 for pedants)
✅ Yes* Barely made it this year (ignoring reposts, of which I did lots), with my 21 December article about a little-known (and under-supported) way to inject CSS using HTTP headers, which I later used to make a web page for which View Souce showed nothing.
2021 190
(57 for pedants)
✅ Yes* A cycle to a nearby geocache was the checkin that made the 100th post of this year, on 27 August.
2022 168
(55 for pedants)
✅ Yes* My efforts to check up on one of my own geocaches on 7 September scored the qualifying spot.
2023 164
(86 for pedants)
✅ Yes* My blogging ramped up again this year, and on 24 August I shared a motivational poster with a funny twist, plus a pun at the intersection between my sexuality and my preferred mode of transport.
2024 168 🏆 Yes Writing at full-tilt, my hundredth post came when I found a geocache near Regents Canal, but pedants who disregard reposts and checkins might instead count my excitement at the Ladybird Web browser as the record-breaker. This year also saw me write my 5,000th post on this blog! Wowza!
Total 5,029 Total count of all the posts.
Doesn't add up? Not all posts feature in one of the years above!

* Pedants might claim this year was not a success for the reasons described above. Make your own mind up.

In any case, I’d argue that I clearly achieved the revised version of the challenge on certainly six, probably fourteen, arguably (depending on how you count posts) as many as nineteen different years since I started blogging in 1998. My least-controversial claims would be:

  1. September 2003, with Timewasting
  2. April 2004, with Chez Geek Card of the Day
  3. April 2005, with Curry with Alec and Suz
  4. July 2006, with Coolest Personality Test I’ve Ever Seen
  5. July 2007, with It’s All Fun and Games
  6. June 2010, with Saying Goodbye
  7. October 2011, with Poly and the Census – Success! (almost)
  8. August 2012, with A Bus Called Peter
  9. June 2018, with Dan Q found GLW6CMKQ 16th Century Pub (Central London) 
  10. August 2019, with Dan Q found GC6KR0H Bay Area Calibration Point #4 – New Technology
  11. December 2020, with The Fourth Way to Inject CSS
  12. August 2021, with Dan Q found GC531M9 Walk by the Firehouse #1
  13. October 2022, with Dan Q performed maintenance for GC9Z37H Friar’s Farm – Woodland Walk
  14. August 2023, with Inclusivity

Given all these unanswered questions, I’m not going to just go ahead and raise a PR against the Hall of Fame! Instead, I’ll leave it to Kev to decide whether I’m (a) eligible to claim a 14-time award, (b) merely eligible for a 4-time award for the years following the challenge starting, or (c) ineligible to claim success until I intentionally post 100 times in a year (in, at current rates, another two months…). Over to you, Kev…

Update: Kev’s agreed that I can claim the most-recent four of them, so I raised a PR.

×

Reflecting on Bloganuary

Well that was Bloganuary! It was pressuring, exhausting, and – mostly! – fun. Let’s recap what I wrote about each day of January:

  1. My Biggest Challenge, for which I pointed at motivation in the winter and how that was a major part of my motivation for trying to participate in Bloganuary in the first place! I also touched on the difficulty of staying on-task.
Chart showing number of articles on DanQ.me by month of year, with a pronounced dip starting in January and continuing through until a rebound in April.
Early in January I shared this chart which indicates the severity of the “dip” I typically see in my blog output in the first few months of the year. Could I overcome this through sheer determination, I wondered?
  1. Playtime. I talked about some of the “play” activities I engage in, including roleplaying games, board games, videogames, escape rooms, and GNSS games.
  2. Alumnus: an exploration of the higher education establishments I’ve been part of.
  3. The Gift of Time, when I talked about being time-poor and seemingly perpetually-busy and expressed my love of gifts that help me reclaim that time.
  4. Nostalgia vs Futurism. I spend comparable amounts of time thinking about the future as the past, I reckon.
  5. Billboards: a silly joke about a billboard.
  6. A Different Diet, talking about aspiring towards something slightly-closer to veganism, perhaps starting by reducing my dairy consumption.
  7. Live Long and Prosper, in which I commemorate my birthday by talking about the dangers of humans living much longer than they do.
  8. Mission, another silly joke.
King Arthur again, but now he says "I wanna, like, make cool shit on the Internet or whatever."
You and me both, Arthur, King of the Britons.
  1. Attachment, about how I didn’t really have an “attachment object” as a kid.
  2. Paws to Hear my Scents-ible Idea: a silly pitch for a smell-based social network for dogs.
  3. Pizza, a post about the greatest food ever invented.
  4. Road Trip! After ruling out a series of runners-up, perhaps my most-memorable road trip was the one to Kit’s wedding.
  5. Communicate Early, Communicate Often, about the ways I communicate online (spoiler: a lot of it’s right here!).
  6. Magpies are the Best Bird. Nay, the best animal.
  7. Clutter, about the clutter in my physical space but perhaps even more in my head.
  8. Puppy Love: the unconditional love of a dog.
  9. Uninvention, in which I propose uninventing cryptocurrency.
  10. Leadership: I revisited an old post about the qualities I admire in leaders; it’s still true.
  11. Dream Job – am I already doing my dream job? Maybe, though perhaps it isn’t the one that pays me!
  12. What’s in a name? My name today is one I chose for myself, but it’s not the only name I’ve been known by. I revisit the names I’ve been called and what they’ve meant.
  13. New Tricks, about how convenient it’d be to be able to explain to our dog that the builders in our house are not here to steal her toys.
  14. Fun Five: five things I do for fun – code, magic, play, piano, learn. A bit of a parallel to “Playtime” from day 2.
  1. Harcourt Manor, a local attraction I’ve never gotten to see inside.
  2. Landslide, the spectacular song that inspired this post because I didn’t objected to the original prompt.
  3. Traditions my family practices, some of which are pretty unique to us.
  4. Reading List, about how mine is pretty long this time of year, but that doesn’t stop me thinking about what I might re-read next.
  5. Not The Lottery, a game I play that’s… well… not the lottery. And how if I played the actual lottery (and somehow won), how I’d do my “dream job” from day 18.
  6. Sportsball! I don’t really play or follow any sports, but that doesn’t stop me writing a diatribe of what’s wrong with professional soccer.
  7. Toilet Paper is typically mounted on a holder in one of two polarities. One of those orientations is an abomination.
  8. The Fear of expressing vulnerability is real in this final Bloganuary entry.

So yeah: 31 posts in as many days! Actually, it was closer to 40, because on a couple of days I wrote non-Bloganuary posts too:

Generating a chart...
If this message doesn't go away, the JavaScript that makes this magic work probably isn't doing its job right: please tell Dan so he can fix it.

Of course, with the addition of this post, it’s now 32+ posts in 32 days. As I’ve noted before, this is my longest daily streak in over 25 years of blogging… and I’m genuinely a little curious how much longer I can keep it up. There are lots of things I meant to write about last month but simply didn’t have time: if I dusted off a few of those ideas I could push on a few days longer. My longest unstreak or “dry spell” – the longest number of consecutive days I’ve gone without making a post – is 42 days: could I beat that? That’d be a special level of personal best.

Trophy on a desk with the plaque "most pointless blog posts".
Wait, is that “most pointless” in quality, or most “pointless posts” as in quantity?

I initially aimed to fuel and inspire my blogging at the start of this year in a more-interpersonal way, by making some pen pals and writing about the experience of that. Except I ran slightly late with my first (and haven’t written it up yet) and even later with my second (on account of winter blues plus spending any spare “blogging” time doing Bloganuary) so that project’s already way off track. Still aiming to catch-up though.

But I’m pleased to have been able to throw out 20,000 words of prompt-driven blog posts too, even if some of the prompts were weaker than others!

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[Bloganuary] Landslide

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What do you enjoy doing most in your leisure time?

Boo to this prompt! This Bloganuary already asked me how I like to play and about five things I do for fun; now it wants me to choose the thing I “enjoy most” from, presumably, that same set.

Dan, wearing a purple t-shirt with a WordPress logo and a Pride flag, sits in his home office and gives two "thumbs down" signs while frowning at the camera.
This prompt does not win my approval.

So I’m going to ignore this prompt.1 Instead, let’s go look up last year’s prompt from the same day:2

What is a song or poem that speaks to you and why?

Much better.

Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac.

I’ll save you looking it up: here’s a good live recording to put on while you keep reading.

At 5½ years older than me, the song’s been in my life effectively forever. But its themes of love and loss, overcoming naivety, growing up and moving on… have grown in significance to and with me as I’ve grown older. And to hear Stevie Nicks speak about it, it feels like it has for her as well, which just doubles the feeling it creates of timeless relevance.

In concert, Nicks would often dedicate the song to her father, which lead to all manner of speculation about the lyrics being about the importance of family. And there’s definitely an undertone of that in there: when in 2015 she confirmed that it was about a challenging moment of decision in her youth in which she was torn between continuing to try to “make it” as a musical act with her then-partner Lindsey Buckingham or return to education. Her father was apparently supportive of either option but favoured the latter.

Ultimately she chose the former and it worked out well for her career… although of course the pair’s romantic relationship eventually collapsed. And so the song’s lyrics, originally about indecision, grow into a new interpretation: one of sliding doors moments, of “what ifs”. In some parallel universe Stevie Nicks dropped out of Buckingham Nicks before Keith Olsen introduced Lindsey Buckingham to Mick Fleetwood, and we’d probably never have heard Landslide.3

Stevie still sings Landslide in concert, and now it feels like it’s entered its third life and lends itself a whole new interpretation. Those lyrics about turning around and looking back, which were originally about reconsidering the choices you made in your youth and the path you’d set yourself on, take on a whole new dimension when sung by somebody as they grow through their 60s and into their 70s!

In particular, coming to the song as a parent4 is a whole other thing. Its thoughts on innocence and growing-up, and watching your children do so, reminds me of my perpetual struggle with comparing myself to the best parent I know. An intergenerational effort to be my best me; to look forwards with courage and backwards with compassion for myself.

All of which is pretty awesome for a song that under other circumstances might be just a catchy twist on a classic country rock chord progression with some good singing. Sliding doors, eh?

Footnotes

1 It’s my damn blog; I can do what I want.

2 This is my first year doing Bloganuary, so I didn’t get to answer this prompt last time around.

3 Nor, for that matter, any of the other excellent songs that came out of Nicks’ and Buckingham’s strained relationship, such as Silver Springs, Second Hand News and, perhaps most-famously, Go Your Own Way. I guess sometimes you need the sad times to make the best art.

4 Nicks, of course, famously isn’t a parent, but I refer you to a 2001 interview in which she said “No children, no husband. My particular mission maybe wasn’t to be a mom and a wife. Maybe my particular mission was to write songs to make moms and wives feel better.”.

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[Bloganuary] Communicate Early, Communicate Often

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

In what ways do you communicate online?

What a curious question! For me, it’s perhaps best divided into public and private communication, for which I use very different media:

Public

I’ve written before about how this site – my blog – is the centre of my digital “ecosystem”. And while the technical details may have changed since that post was published, the fundamentals have not: everything about my public communication revolves around this, right here.

Diagram showing the DanQ.me ecosystem and surrounding tools, showing how everything centres on DanQ.me (but is syndicated elsewhere).
There’ve been some changes since I last drew a chart of my “ecosystem” back in 2019. Some of these are reflected in my hastily-amended diagram, above.

For example:

A golden cornfield with setting sun, superimposed with "Reap what you wow. Plant your content into the field of your own website."
This is what I’m talking about.

Private

For private communication online, I perhaps mostly use the following (in approximate order of volume):

  • Slack: we use Slack at Automattic; we use Slack at Three Rings; we’ve even got a “household” instance running for The Green!3
  • WhatsApp: the UI‘s annoying (but improving), but its the go-to communications platform of my of my friends and family, so it’s a big part of my online communications strategy.4
  • Email: Good old-fashioned email5. I prefer to encrypt, or at least sign, my email: sure, PGP/GPG‘s not perfect6, but it’s better than, y’know, not securing your email at all.
  • Discord: I’m in a couple of Discord servers, but the only one I pay any reasonable amount of attention to is the Geohashing one.
  • Various videoconferencing tools including Google Meet, Zoom, and Around. Sometimes you’ve just gotta get (slightly more) face-to-face.
  • Signal: I feel like everybody’s on WhatsApp now, and the Signal app got annoying when it stopped being able to not only send but even receive SMS messages (which aren’t technically Internet messages, usually), but I still send/receive a few Signal messages in a typical month.

That’s a very different set of tech stacks than I use in my “public” communication!

Footnotes

1 My thinking is, at least in part: I’ve seen platforms come and go, and my blog’s outlived them. I’ve seen platforms change their policies or technology in ways that undermine the content I put on them, but the stuff on my blog remains under my control and I can “fix” it if I wish. Owning your data is awesome, although I perhaps do it to a more-extreme extent than many.

2 I’ve used to joke that I syndicate content to e.g. Facebook to support readers who haven’t learned yet to use a feed reader. I used to, and I still do, too.

3 A great thing about having a “personal” Slack installation is that you can hook up your own integrations and bots to e.g. remind you to bring the milk in.

4 I’ve been experimenting with Texts to centralise several of my other platforms; I’m not convinced by it yet, but I love the thinking! Long ago, I used to love using Pidgin for simultaneous access to IRC, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, Yahoo! Messenger and all that jazz, so I fully approve of the concept.

5 Okay, not actually old-fashioned because I’m not suggesting you use UUCP to send mail to protonmail!danq!dan or DECnet to deliver to danq.me::dan or something!

6 Most of the metadata including sender, recipient, and in most cases even subject is not encrypted.

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Happy Birthday Matt

I wrote about the best (birthday) gift I could receive last week – conveniently right before my actual birthday at the weekend! – but my employer‘s CBBQTTO Matt has an even more abstract wish: he wants people to blog more! (Matt’s three years younger than me, almost exactly to the day.)

Conveniently, that’s a gift I’m able to provide, because my (now trackable) blogging output has been way up so far this year. I expected that to be the case because of my Bloggy Pen Pals project, but I’ve not even managed to get around to writing about my experience of exchanging emails with my first penpal partner Colin yet! Instead, I’ve been swept up with writing posts as part of Bloganuary 2024!

Making a conscious daily effort to write more has been… challenging. I feel like my thoughts come out half-finished, like I’m writing too trivially, without sufficient structure, or even too-personally. But I’m loving the challenge!

Anyway – happy birthday Matt! Forty is a great age, highly recommended. Hope you love it.

[Bloganuary] My Biggest Challenge

This post is part of my attempt at Bloganuary 2024. Today’s prompt is:

What are your biggest challenges?

The Challenge of Winter Motivation

Two years ago, I reflected in February that I’d made almost zero blog posts in the previous month. Last month, I implemented a dynamically-updating Blog Stats page and my “winter/early Spring dip” became more-visible than ever.

Chart showing number of articles on DanQ.me by month of year, with a pronounced dip starting in January and continuing through until a rebound in April.
I find winters are generally bad for my creativity and motivation, usually until I bounce back in the Spring.

In an attempt to keep me writing daily, I’m giving Bloganuary a go this year. It’s sort-of like the NaNoWriMo of blogging1. And for me, Bloganuary’s very purpose is to overcome the challenge of getting disconnected from blogging when the nights are long and inspiration’s hard to find2.

The Challenge of Staying On-Task

But outside of the winter, my biggest challenge is usually… staying on-task!

It’s easy to get my focus to wane and for me to drift into some other activity than whatever it is I should be spending my time on. It’s not even procrastination3 so much as it’s a fluctuating and changing field of interest. I’ll drift off of what I’m supposed to be working on and start on something that interests me more in that moment… and then potentially off that too, in turn. The net result is that both my personal and professional lives are awash with half-finished projects4, all waiting their turn for me to find the motivation to swing back around and pick them up on some subsequent orbit of my brain.

A person wearing a cardboard box on their head, labelled "BRAIN". Above, a hand reaches from out-of-frame to hold a sign labelled "IDEA" above them.
You know how sometimes a stock image says exactly what you need it to? This isn’t one of those times.

It’s the kind of productivity antipattern I’d bring up with my coach, except that I already know exactly how she’d respond. First, she’d challenge the need to change; require that I justify it first. Second, she’d insist that before I can change, I need to accept and come to terms with who I am, intrinsically: if this flitting-about is authentically “me”, who am I to change it?

Finally, after weeks or months of exercises to fulfil these two tasks, she’d point out that I’ve now reached a place where I’m still just as liable to change lanes in the middle of a project as I was to begin with, but now I’m more comfortable with that fact. I won’t have externally changed, I’ll “just” have found some kind of happy-clappy inner peace. And she’ll have been right that that’s what I’d actually needed all along.

Maybe it’s not such a challenge, after all.

Footnotes

1 Except that would be NaBloPoMo, of course. But it’s a similar thing.

2 Also, perhaps, to help me focus on writing more-often, on more-topics, than I might otherwise in the course of my slow, verbose writing.

3 Except when it is.

4 Not to mention countless draft blog posts!

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They See Me (Blog)Rolling

Tracy Durnell’s post about blogrolls really spoke to me. Like her, I used to think of a blogroll as a list of people you know personally (who happen to blog)1, but the number of bloggers among my immediate in-person circle of friends has shrunk from several dozen to just a handful, and I dropped my blogroll in around 2008.

A white man wearing a spacesuit sits on a pebble beach using a laptop.
On the Internet, a blogger is only as alone as they choose to be.

But my connection to a wider circle has grown, and like Tracy I enjoy the “hardly strangers” connection I feel with the people I follow online. She writes:

While social media emphasizes the show-off stuff — the vacation in Puerto Vallarta, the full kitchen remodel, the night out on the town — on blogs it still seems that people are sharing more than signalling. These small pleasures seem to be offered in a spirit of generosity — this is too beautiful not to share.

Although I may never interact with all the folks whose blogs I follow, reading the same blogger for a long time does build a (one-sided) connection. I may not know you, author, but I am rooting for you. It’s a different modality of relationship than we may be used to in person, but it’s real: a parasocial relationship simmering with the potential for deeper connection, but also satisfying as it exists.

My first bloggy pan pal, Colin Walker, who I started exchanging emails with earlier this month, followed-up on this with an observation that really gets to the heart of the issue (speaking as somebody who’s long said that my blog’s intended audience is, first and foremost, me):

At its core, blogging is a solitary activity with many (if not most) authors claiming that their blog is for them – myself included. Yet, the implication of audience cannot be ignored. Indeed, the more an author embeds themself in the loose community of blogs, by reading and linking to others, the more that implication becomes reality even if not actively pursued via comments or email.

To that end: I’ve started publishing my blogroll again! Follow that link and you’ll see an only-lightly-curated list of all the people (plus some non-personal blogs, vlogs, and webcomics) I follow (that have updated their feeds within the last year2). Naturally, there’s an OPML version too, and I’ve open-sourced the code I used to generate it (although I can’t imagine anybody’s situation is enough like mine for it to be useful).

The page is a little flaky and there’s things I’d like to do to improve it, but I’d rather publish a basic version now and then come back to it with my gardening gloves on another time to improve it.

Maybe my blogroll has some folks on that you might recognise? Or else: maybe you’re only a single random-click away from somebody new you never heard of before!

Footnotes

1 Possibly marked up with XFN to indicate how you’re connected to one another, but I’ve always had a soft spot for XFN.

2 I often retain subscriptions to dormant feeds and it sometimes pays-off, e.g. when I recently celebrated Octopuns’ return after a 9½-year hiatus!

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The Underground Blog

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

theunderground.blog is an experimental blog that is only available to read through a feed reader.

If you would like to read the latest posts, you can subscribe to the feed at https://theunderground.blog/feed.xml, using the feed reader of your choice.

Chris first suggested this idea in the footnote of a post that talks about something I’ve been witnessing recently: that blogging seems to be having a renaissance1. I’ve for a few years been telling people that now is the second-best time to start a blog. The best time was, of course, ~20 years ago, but if you missed out first time around (or let your blog die as big social media silos took over): now’s the time to join the growing resurgence!

Anyway, he only went and actually did it! The newest member of RSS Club is likely to be… an entire blog that’s only accessible via a feed reader2.

There’s two posts published so far, and if you want to read them you’ll need to subscribe to theunderground.blog using your feed reader. There’s tips on that page on getting an easy-to-use one if you haven’t already.

Footnotes

1 He also had interesting things to say about OPML, which is a topic close to my heart. I wonder if I ought to start sharing a partial OPML file of my subscriptions?

2 Or by reading the source code, I suppose: on the open Web, that’s always an option. The Web is, indeed, magical.

Blogging Stats

During a conversation with a colleague last week, I claimed that while I blog more-frequently than I did 5-10 years ago, it’s still with a much lower frequency than say 15-20 years ago.

Only later did I stop to think: is that actually true? It’s time for a graph!

I’ve previously graphed my blogging in an ad-hoc way, e.g. in 2016 I did a word-count and in 2021 I graphed posts-by-month-of-year, but I’ve never made an “eternal”, automatically-updating, interactive1 graph. Until now:

Generating a chart...
If this message doesn't go away, the JavaScript that makes this magic work probably isn't doing its job right: please tell Dan so he can fix it.

If you consider just articles (and optionally notes, which some older content might have been better classified-as, in retrospect) it looks like I’m right. Long gone are months like February 2005 when I posted an average of three times every two days! November 2018 was a bit of an anomaly as a I live-tweeted Challenge Robin II: my recent output’s mostly been comparable to the “quiet period” from 2008-20102.

Looking at number of posts by month of the year, it’s interesting to see a pronounced “dip” in all kinds of output roundabout March, less reposts in Summer and Autumn, and – perhaps unsurprisingly – more checkins (which often represent geocaching/geohashing logs) in the warmer months. Even on this scale, you can see the impact of the November “Challenge Robin spike” in the notes:

Generating a chart...
If this message doesn't go away, the JavaScript that makes this magic work probably isn't doing its job right: please tell Dan so he can fix it.

Anyway, now I’ve actually automated these kinds of stats its easier than ever for me to ask questions about how and when I write in my blog. I’ve put living copies of the charts plus additional treats (want to know when my longest “daily streak” was?) on a special page dedicated to that purpose. It’ll be interesting to see how it looks on this blog’s 25th anniversary, in a little under a year!

Footnotes

1 Try clicking on any of the post kinds in the legend to add/remove them, or click-and-drag a range across the chart to zoom in.

2 In hindsight, I was clearly depressed in and around 2009 and this doubtless impacted my ability to engage in “creative” pursuits.