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Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-14 22:20
Today I went to my 13th Minnebar — I haven’t missed one yet! For the first time ever we had a blizzard to contend with. Usually Minnebar is competing with the first great days of spring. This year, we were worried if people could get to the event because of the snow. This was also the first Minnebar for our new Maria Ploessl, our new Executive Director, to take the lead on. The event went off great, with more coordination than the last couple of years.
The sessions I went to today at Minnebar.
Here are some pictures from some of the sessions I went to.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-17 19:36
I’ve now completed the migration and automation of the Weekly Thing using MailChimp, and I’m very happy with how it has all worked out. Newsletters are experiencing a renaissance, so let me share why I moved from TinyLetter to MailChimp.
Be aware that TinyLetter was purchased by MailChimp. I don’t expect TinyLetter to get shut down, but I also don’t expect it to get any significant attention. TinyLetter is purpose-built for personal newsletters and ease-of-use. It is very easy to use, as promised, but it lacks power features that I knew I would want.
My move to MailChimp was driven by a few things:
MailChimp gives significantly more freedom and control, but it comes at the expense of additional complexity. When I first moved from TinyLetter to MailChimp, the time it took me to generate the Weekly Thing doubled or worse. I also had to use a laptop, since some of the tools wouldn’t work on my iPhone. Now that I’ve gotten my workflows updated, I can generate the newsletter faster than ever before, and once again I can do it all on my iPhone.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-25 19:07
I recently finished reading Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright and enjoyed it very much.
I appreciated how Wright connected ancient Buddhist concepts to modern psychology. His deconstruction of complex topics like essence and nothingness are well done and allow Western readers to connect to them easier. I would highly recommend this book if you are curious about meditation and the overall approach to mindfulness.
I’m trying something new, and sharing my highlighted passages from the book.
Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.
To live mindfully is to pay attention to, to be “mindful of” what’s happening in the here and now and to experience it in a clear, direct way, unclouded by various mental obfuscations. Stop and smell the roses.
Buddhism offers an explicit diagnosis of the problem and a cure. And the cure, when it works, brings not just happiness but clarity of vision: the actual truth about things, or at least something way, way closer to that than our everyday view of them.
Technologies of distraction have made attention deficits more common. And there’s something about the modern environment — something technological or cultural or political or all of the above — that seems conducive to harsh judgment and ready rage.
This is something that can happen again and again via meditation: accepting, even embracing, an unpleasant feeling can give you a critical distance from it that winds up diminishing the unpleasantness.
Feelings are designed to encode judgments about things in our environment.
This is a reminder that natural selection didn’t design your mind to see the world clearly; it designed your mind to have perceptions and beliefs that would help take care of your genes.
cognitive-behavioral therapy is very much in the spirit of mindfulness meditation. Both in some sense question the validity of feelings. It’s just that with cognitive-behavioral therapy, the questioning is more literal.
Noticing that your mind is wandering doesn’t seem like a very profound insight; and in fact it isn’t one, notwithstanding my teacher’s kind insistence on giving it a standing ovation. But it’s not without significance. What I was saying in that session with my teacher was that I — that is, my “self,” the thing I had thought was in control — don’t readily control the most fundamental aspect of my mental life: what I’m thinking about.
But, he notes, our bodies do lead to affliction, and we can’t magically change that by saying “May my form be thus.” So form — the stuff the human body is made of — isn’t really under our control. Therefore, says the Buddha, it must be the case that “form is not-self.” We are not our bodies.
So two of the properties commonly associated with a self—control and persistence through time — are found to be absent, not evident in any of the five components that seem to constitute human beings.
But once I followed that logic — quit seeing these things I couldn’t control as part of my self — I was liberated from them and, in a certain sense, back in control. Or maybe it would be better to put it this way: my lack of control over them ceased to be a problem.
Feelings aren’t just little parts of the thing you had thought of as the self; they are closer to its core; they are doing what you had thought “you” were doing: calling the shots.
Feelings don’t just bring specific, fleeting illusions; they can usher in a whole mind-set and so alter for some time a range of perceptions and proclivities, for better or worse.
If the way they seize control of the show is through feelings, it stands to reason that one way to change the show
Zen is for poets, Tibetan is for artists, and Vipassana is for psychologists.
thoughts, which we normally think of as emanating from the conscious self, are actually directed toward what we think of as the conscious self, after which we embrace the thoughts as belonging to that self.
And I don’t mean just focus on whatever thought is distracting you — I mean see if you can detect some feeling that is linked to the thought that is distracting you.
The more you do that, the less the urge seems a part of you; you’ve exploited the basic irony of mindfulness meditation: getting close enough to feelings to take a good look at them winds up giving you a kind of critical distance from them. Their grip on you loosens; if it loosens enough, they’re no longer a part of you.
RAIN. First you Recognize the feeling. Then you Accept the feeling (rather than try to drive it away). Then you Investigate the feeling and its relationship to your body. Finally, the N stands for Nonidentification, or, equivalently, Nonattachment.
As you ponder these words—formlessness and emptiness—two other words may come to mind: crazy and depressing.
There is a pretty uncontroversial sense in which, when we apprehend the world out there, we’re not really apprehending the world out there but rather are “constructing” it.
But you could look at it the other way around. Given that our experience of a bottle of wine can be influenced by slapping a fake label on it, you might say that, actually, there is a superficiality to our pleasure, and that a deeper pleasure would come if we could somehow taste the wine itself, unencumbered by beliefs about it that may or may not be true. That is closer to the Buddhist view of the matter.
And maybe this helps explain how Weber could say that “emptiness” is actually “full”: sometimes not seeing essence lets you get drawn into the richness of things.
For example, it’s common to think of criminals and clergy as being two fundamentally different kinds of people. But Ross and fellow psychologist Richard Nisbett have suggested that we rethink this intuition. As they put it: “Clerics and criminals rarely face an identical or equivalent set of situational challenges. Rather, they place themselves, and are placed by others, in situations that differ precisely in ways that induce clergy to look, act, feel, and think rather consistently like clergy and that induce criminals to look, act, feel, and think like criminals.”
There is a meditative technique specifically designed to blur this line. It is called loving-kindness meditation, or, to use the ancient Pali word for loving-kindness, metta meditation.
These two senses of liberation are reflected in the Buddhist idea that there are two kinds of nirvana. As soon as you are liberated in the here and now, you enter a nirvana you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Then, after death — which will be your final death, now that you’re liberated from the cycle of rebirth — a second kind of nirvana will apply.
The experience of emptiness, like the experience of not-self, defies and denies natural selection’s nonsensical assertion that each of us is more important than the rest of us.
Emptiness, you may recall, is, roughly speaking, the idea that things don’t have essence. And the perception of essence seems to revolve, however subtly, around feelings; the essence of anything is shaped by the feeling it evokes. It is when things don’t evoke much in the way of feelings—when our normal affective reaction to things is subdued—that we see these things as “empty” or “formless.”
What happens to essence when we let go of our particular perspective—the perspective that the feelings that shape the perceived essences of things were designed to serve?
I think the answer is that essence disappears.
That’s the thing about feelings, a thing that is particularly true when we talk about their role in shaping essence: they can render judgment so subtly that we don’t realize that it’s the feelings that are rendering the judgment; we think the judgment is objective.
And here is an interesting feature of a calm mind: if some issue in my life bubbles up, I’m likely to conceive of it with uncharacteristic wisdom.
It isn’t just that you feel a little more relaxed by the end of a meditation session; it’s that you observe your anxiety, or your fear, or your hatred, or whatever, so mindfully that for a moment you see it as not being part of you.
In case all this sounds too abstractly philosophical, let me try to put it in more practical form, as the answer to this oft-asked question: Will meditation make me happier? And, if so, how much happier?
Well, in my case—and, as you will recall, I’m a particularly hard case—the answer is yes, it’s made me a little happier. That’s good, because I’m in favor of happiness, especially my own. At the same time, the argument I’d make to people about why they should meditate is less about the quantity of happiness than about the quality of the happiness. The happiness I now have involves, on balance, a truer view of the world than the happiness I had before. And a boost in happiness that rests on truth, I would argue, is better than a boost in happiness that doesn’t—not just because things that rest on truth have a more secure footing than things that don’t, but because, as it happens, acting in accordance with this truth means behaving better toward your fellow beings.
This is a happiness that is based on a multifaceted clarity—on a truer view of the world, a truer view of other people, a truer view of yourself, and, I believe, a closer approximation to moral truth. It is this fortunate convergence of happiness, truth, and goodness that is embedded in the word dharma
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-24 22:31
My friend David Hussman likes to reference his age with a version number. He does a divide by 10 so at 32 you are version 3.2, and 47 you are version 4.7. This always makes me chuckle a bit, but I think there might be more to this than a geeky joke.
Reference Semantic Versioning:
Given a version number MAJOR.MINOR.PATCH, increment the:
- MAJOR version when you make incompatible API changes,
- MINOR version when you add functionality in a backwards-compatible manner, and
- PATCH version when you make backwards-compatible bug fixes.
I think the version metaphor works. You are a different person in your 20s, 30s, 40s and so on. Your life changes in meaningful ways! MAJOR version! Each year we tend to think of new things and new goals, but we don’t break backwards compatibility. MINOR version! And I think most people try to make each day a bit better than the last. PATCH level!
How will v4.6.53 be different? I don’t know, but I hope ever so slightly better. 🤞
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-23 03:45
This weekend I made some significant improvements to the automation and template for the Weekly Thing. I’ve always had reservations about the template I was using since moving to MailChimp. It just didn’t fit me, and even more frustrating I didn’t have any ways to make simple changes to the styling. I use quotes extensively in the Weekly Thing, and it wasn’t possible to get those quickly styled.
I got a lot done over the weekend to make this better.
I used a very basic HTML template and extended it as I need it. I wanted it simple and didn’t want a lot of decoration. I like how it ended up.
You will notice that quotes look significantly better in the links section, with indentation and a left border. I’ve also added the hostname of the link, so you know what site you are going to go to if you click on that link, something I appreciate before I click on a link.
My automation is now complete again. I figured out the MailChimp API’s and my workflows now format all the content for me and then create the campaign in MailChimp, set the body content and I even got the photo uploaded with the API.
Now I can once again publish entirely on my iPhone if I want to.
While I was working on the template and the automation, I decided to make the microblog section better. I’ve never liked having those posts be a list of links. Often the only content is the text itself, and it feels disappointing to click on a link to get nothing new. But sometimes there was a photo there, so people did.
Microblogs are now directly in line with the Weekly Thing. You no longer need to click out to see an image, and you don’t get disappointed by clicking on a status post to only see a web page with nothing more than the status you already read.
Thank you for the time, and I would appreciate any feedback you have. 🙏 I finally feel like I can change this with some confidence and make continual improvements.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-05 00:42
As our environment gets more complex we need to be better educated to navigate it. For example, I think that people would be more protective of their privacy, if they learned all the ways the data is used to manipulate them. I have been considering lately that we need to better identify other patterns that are intentionally used to create addictive behavior in applications and websites. Knowing these patterns may allow us to understand certain features for what they are and avoid them.
Bucket this in with any refresh mechanism that gives you that rewards when there is occasionally something new to see. Open your email and pull to refresh? Is there anything new? It is reward seeking behavior. It is well established that having a random award (new email!) appear after an action is an addictive pattern.
This pattern ties into our desire to “finish” a set of activities. When we have read through all of the items, we get that reward of completion. Infinite scroll tricks us into reading more and more, waiting to get to the end. Eventually we realize that we will never get to the end and have to give up. Instead of the reward of being done, we have the shame of giving up.
These come in two flavors, public and private. How many likes did that post get? That is a direct feedback loop to reinforce some pattern of desired behavior. This is an obvious one to see and is present in all social feedback loops.
There is also Analytics as Addiction. Exposing the activity based on your content is on the surface a good intent to inform you on how effective your content is to some goal, whatever that may be. But it also reinforces a desire to check repeatedly and insidiously alter behavior to steer to more engagement.
I have also noted that some of these patterns show up in other places that I don’t think of as intentionally addictive. They become user paradigms that people adopt as best practices. Pull to refresh for example appears in nearly all email clients. There is no commercial benefit to us getting a reward for obsessively checking our email, but it’s presence can encourage it.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-04 04:43
I have been happy having my blog hosted in Jekyll and built as a static site with Netlify. There is a wonderful calm to knowing you just have a bunch of HTML pages. It’s light and airy. But, and this is a big one, I’ve found authoring to be simply too hard. Writing using a source code workflow adds too much friction.
Tonight I’m trying out Forestry.io and I’m very impressed. 👍 There are a number of content management tools for static sites, but I’ve found most of them fail immediately since I have more than 1,700 blog posts and I put them in
:year: folders inside of
_posts and that simple part causes most of them to fail. Similar issues exist with where you host images. I was very happy to see that Forestry.io worked right out of the box with that. It even built nice front matter templates based on the content it found inside of my site!
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-21 14:56
Manager and maker schedules is a relatively popular topic. The basic thesis is that maker schedules need to consist of large blocks of dedicated time on a goal. You need time to connect with the work, hopefully, achieve some period of flow and realize an objective. Manager schedule, however, is divided up into small segments of time to connect with people and topics, get information and make decisions.
In my position, I operate on manager time with occasional injections of maker time. I am deliberate about how I manage this. My objectives and goals are realized, in part, through my calendar. In recent years I felt I could better align my calendar and time with my objectives, so in 2016 I did an end-of-year one-time analysis of my calendar and made some changes. After reviewing that analysis, I decided the benefit was valuable enough that in 2017 I committed to collecting more granular data. My goal is to determine alignment and effectiveness of my schedule to my objectives. I developed a set of workflows that I run at the end of every day to collect this data.
Now that I’ve collected a full year I can look at an overall budget to actual analysis. In business, we always look at our financial budget and compare to actual. In managing my time, I find it helpful to consider a budget and measure the actuals as well. You cannot budget well if you don’t collect actuals.
I’m going to share some of the statistical information that I gathered while doing this in 2017. I’m not sharing any information about the content or context. You may consider this navel-gazing, but some may find it interesting, and perhaps it will encourage others to be more deliberate about managing their time.
This analysis refers to meetings on my calendar. These are meetings involving other people. I block time on my calendar for solo work, and that is excluded in this analysis.
In 2017 I had a total of 1,512 meetings. These meetings occurred over 223 days. That is an average of 6.8 meetings per day.
Meeting frequency is highest on Thursday. However, the largest cumulative hours are on Wednesday. Friday has shorter meetings on average. I would have thought that meeting count would spike on Tuesday and then trend down through the week.
Let’s look at how these meetings occur over the course of the year. The average of 6.8 meetings per day shows visually here. There are many spikes, with one notable day having 13 meetings. Weekends are shown here, and you can see the 2-week vacation I took in the summer.
Daily data is noisy, and it’s easier to look at the 52 weeks of the year versus the working days. Here we look at the meeting count by week along with a 4-week moving average.
I got curious about how much of the week is scheduled in meetings. If we use an 8-hour day as a baseline then consider the load to be the percent of those 8 hours that were scheduled what would my weeks look like? It isn’t uncommon for me to have all of my time scheduled, and occasionally be over scheduled. As mentioned earlier, I do block time on my schedule for solo work activities. As a result, 81.3% is fully scheduled. Whenever I am over 81.3% I’ve removed that block to allow for more meeting time.
How about the start time, do more meetings start in the morning? I certainly feel like the morning is more frequently scheduled than the afternoons. Here is meeting frequency by start hour. My average day gets a fast start at 8 am with a dip at 12 pm. Most days I have meetings through lunch. There is a dip again at 4 pm. In our office, we are much more likely to start earlier than later, and you can see that with the frequency of 7 am meetings versus 5 pm. The meetings in the middle of the night were in Ukraine and are represented here in central time.
I was curious to know the distribution of durations. What duration of meetings do I have the most often? The most common meeting for me is 30 minutes (37.3%) and then 60 minutes (29.1%). 45-minute meetings are also common (12.5%), that is the normal time I schedule for 1-1 meetings with my team.
This statistical data is most likely to gauge overall stress level or demand for my time. I also get this data in a weekly report and it is a nice check on my qualitative assessment of the week. The additional data I collect about topic and context is very actionable. I can see areas where I’m over or under budget on time and can consider structural changes to my schedule to align better. I like this act as the shift forces me to delegate some topics more, disconnect from some things and give more time and focus to the areas that I specifically need to focus on for success.
I would highly encourage anyone that has more than 50% of their time scheduled to do a similar exercise. It will provide some insight both to how you are feeling and the results you are getting.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-20 21:26
For years I’ve been keeping all of my links on Pinboard and this year I decided to start publishing them at Link Thing. I also publish my links in common formats that can be downloaded. I thought it would be fun to look at all the links from 2017.
In 2017 I saved 913 links. I most frequently create links at 8pm and 10pm, with 7am coming in next. It’s interesting that I did a link in every hour of the day in 2017. Why I was linking something at 2am instead of sleeping is a different topic.
Friday is the day that I save the most links. This is a little skewed by my reading workflow which includes staging links in Safari Reading List to queue up often before reading. After reading I may save a link. I almost always clear my reading list out on Friday night, before I publish my Weekly Thing newsletter.
I definitely started linking more once I started publishing the Weekly Thing in April and my link blog. Prior to that the only links I would have saved were ones I would revisit, after that I started saving links for anything I felt was worth highlighting and sharing.
I saved links from 523 different websites in 2016. That’s just 1.75 links per website on average. I like the diversity of sources that represents. The top 30 websites represent 298 links, or 32.6% of all links. I was surprised to see Medium at the top of the list.
651 of the links I saved were secured with HTTPS, a full 71% of all links for the year. Hats off to everyone for making the web more secure and private.
I was curious how my links spanned various top-level domains. 85% of links are in the .com TLD. There are 29 top-level domains that I only bookmarked one or two links from.
It would be fun to take this corpus of data and do further analysis. Some graph representation of sites through domain names, analysis by countries or even sentiment and topic analysis of the links themselves would be cool. I’ll defer that to next years post.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-29 18:16
I’ve been very intentional about which applications I put on my iPhone and even where I put them. I don’t put any social media applications on my phone, and don’t put news applications on it either. I specifically seek out applications that have addictive patterns baked into them and remove them as well.
A while back I started keeping an entire page of applications that are all there to help me achieve my goals and improve as a person. Novel idea huh? This is what that screen looks like today.
Keeping a food journal is a great way to eat better and YouAte does it all with photos. I had used Rise for a while which you typically use with a coach. YouAte can be used with friends for support or you can use it solo.
Journaling is a great way to reflect on things. This is by far my farvorite journaling application. It supports multiple journals and also has strong encryption.
When my book club read Nudge it referenced the work and theory behind commitments that has now been built into an offering called stickK. I haven’t used this for a commitment yet but I like the mechanics and think it’s a solid approach.
This is a great application for logging and analysing your weight data. It applies smoothing to all of your data which I think is a far superior way to look at weight data.
Meditation app with a tremdendous amount of options.
Streaks is a habit tracker. I consider habit trackers to be very different from task management. Habit trackers tend to focus on streaks, and Streak does just that. I’ve also used Productive in the past and like it a lot. The built-in HealthKit hooks in Streak are a nice benefit to me.
Zones is a fabulous app for tracking the intensity of your workouts and letting you know what heart rate zone you were in for how long. If you have an Apple Watch and collect this data Zones can even tell you info on historical workouts.
Fun app that helps you keep consistent sleep patterns. This app helps me make sure I’m not staring at my phone too late.
Fun app for forcing yourself to not use your phone during the day. Great for keeping yourself from habitually checking your device.
Both of these are here because they support devices I have. The Health Mate app connects my Withings Scale to HealthKit so data flows automatically. The Omron Wellness app connects my blood pressure monitor to HealthKit as well. I like having as much automation as possible from measurements to storage.
What apps are on your mobile device to encourage good things? I’d highly recommend putting them in one place and making it a regular stop on your phone.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 02:45
I’ve never desired to put a lot of tracking code on my websites, but I had left Google Analytics. I’ve decided to remove that too. In fact, I’ve removed all third party resources. You can check for yourself by using Ghostery and going to my sites.
While I found the information on what you all read and look at interesting, there are three primary reasons I’ve done this.
I believe there is a clear trend to use analytics as an addicting feature. How many views, likes or comments something receives is a psychologically affirming tool that services use to addict us to them. Is there any social media platform that doesn’t use these feedback loops to encourage you to spend even more time using them?
If your goal is to addict a user then, by all means, use every means possible to create feedback loops. If your goal is to drive attention and engagement on content, then show writers analytics so they can optimize that. I don’t have these goals for my sites, so I don’t need it. I’m needlessly toying with an addictive substance that I don’t need.
I’m a firm believer that we need a concept of zoning on the web. When I’m in someone’s house, I have a different expectation of privacy than when I’m in a shopping mall. When I’m in a park, I have different expectations of safety and freedom than when I’m in an industrial facility. We should be able to cue our expectations around privacy and freedoms off of our surroundings. On the web this is confusing. Facebook is a shopping mall, but it pretends not to be.
Visiting my websites should be closer to visiting me, personally. If you are having dinner at my house and comment on my espresso machine, I don’t send a note to a tracking service to let them know you might be interested in buying a coffee machine. I don’t think that should happen on my website either.
I run 1Blocker and Ghostery in my browsers to protect my privacy. In those tools, I block hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of 3rd party services and scripts. I think you should do the same. It is hypocritical for me to embed a tracking service on my sites, that I block on other people websites, and encourage people to block themselves.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-02 00:50
My quick reaction to the notable announcements at AWS re:Invent 2017.
selectcommands against that data. This enables some very interesting capabilities.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-26 22:37
A few years ago I dove deeply into the wiki ecosystem and learned all about MediaWiki, it’s plugins and various extensions. I started a wiki to index all of the other wiki’s called WikiApiary. The wiki movement was huge, and it still has a tremendous amount of energy and incredibly devoted users. Wikipedia, in my opinion, is one of the most amazing creations of the Internet.
However, the wiki movement has hit the skids lately. There was a significant rush of wiki hosting platforms early on, and those mostly didn’t work. Wikia is perhaps an exception however it’s driven itself into the hole of fandom in a big way. Sadly many wiki platforms continue to sit on top of ugly PHP code and MySQL databases, with old codebases and arcane syntax.
In recent years email newsletters have seen a resurgence. I’d like to see wikis make a similar revival but for that to happen, we need to have some new energy in the wiki ecosystem. We need a cloud-native wiki solution. What would that look like?
First thing first wikis should enable communities of any size, so the cost of running a wiki needs to be as cheap as possible. A serverless approach seems to make the most sense. If nobody is using the wiki the cost of running it should be no more than the storage, and that can be very cost effective.
Ideally, someone should be able to start a wiki by creating an AWS account and then creating the IAM account for provisioning and updating. That account should then do all the initial setup as well as updating over time.
The content would be held in Markdown files in S3, as well as rendered HTML. This content would be easily mirrored off of S3 so it could be taken somewhere else. If the Lambda functions were all removed, the wiki should still run in static mode with no editing.
If we had this kind of capability, perhaps we could see wikis reenter the landscape for all the good that they can provide.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-21 00:44
On Friday night we were driving to the cabin, and in a split second, a deer 🦌 was in front of our Honda Pilot as we hit it at 45 mph. We had driven down to have dinner at Smoqehouse and were on highway 60 heading east, just a mile or so past I-35 right by the Dairy Queen there. Tammy was driving and just as the speed limit was going up to highway speed. Everyone is okay, and happily, the airbags didn’t go off.
Tammy slammed on the brakes, and the deer flew forward. It rolled and slid into the ditch about 20 feet and immediately leapt up and ran off when it stopped. Its legs were okay, and I’m hopeful that it either miraculously survived or didn’t suffer badly.
The car took a decent amount of damage but remained drivable. The radiator got banged up, and many parts of the front were damaged. All fixable but will be some expensive bodywork.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-07-26 11:43
Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-24 02:38
I had been interested in creating a newsletter like the Weekly Thing for a while but I was worried it would be difficult to do and quickly turn into a chore. I wasn’t worried about the email part, I knew a service like TinyLetter could deal with that. The daunting part was getting the content structured the right way, even when I the bits of the content were mostly in other systems already.
I knew the main item I wanted to build it around were links to other sites that I use Pinboard to collect. But how to make that easy?
As I thought about this I tried a number of options. I tried making an Automator workflow but that was weird, and even worse it meant I had to be on a Mac and I knew I would want to send this when I wasn’t near a computer. I started to look at Workflow and realized it might do the trick.
Workflow has a great feature to retrieve published metadata, such as description and date, from a URL (Get Article from Web Page). Sometimes when I stored URL’s I didn’t write a description so that would be nice. I pulled the data using Pinboard’s RSS feed, put it in a loop getting a variety of data and assembling the draft content as I watched. Voila! 👏
The entire process that I use to create Weekly Thing is based on RSS (mostly) and tied together with Workflow on iOS. I have a collection of workflows that I run, with one master workflow that kicks everything off. The master workflow is responsible for ordering the sections and setting the cutoff date for content, which in my case is midnight of the relevant Saturday. The master workflow spawns the other workflows for each content section, passing into it the cutoff date for content.
Each workflow is then free to do whatever it wants as long as it returns a valid block of HTML back to the main workflow. I can chain as many of these modules together in whatever way I wish. Some of them don’t use RSS, like the photograph one. That prompts me to look at my photos and pick one, then fills in all the appropriate template text for me to finish off.
At the end the workflow combines all these blocks of HTML into one fully assembled newsletter and gives me the option to copy it, share it, generate a PDF or anything else I wish. I’m very happy with this. From here I put it in TinyLetter, do a final review and hit send!
Since this is extensible, I can easily add new modules by creating another workflow that is then stitched into the assembly process. And because I’m using Workflow in iOS, I can access a wide variety of data from different systems. RSS is a basic one that many services support, but Workflow can look at my Calendar, Address Book and many others. I’ve thought about weird things like calendar statistics for example. Or if I really wanted to overshare I could pull in recent data from the Health app.
I’ve found that it’s easiest to understand Workflow when you see what other people do with it. Perhaps this will turn some lightbulbs on for others on how they could automate use Workflow effectively!
Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-17 04:00
A while back I tried a way of sharing links to things that I found interesting every week. I did it by making a link blog post and then sharing links to that blog post. I got more positive feedback on those posts than I expected. People really liked them and found value in what I was highlighting.
But I didn’t like the link posts cluttering up my blog. They felt different and I eventually decided to stop doing the posts mostly because I was frustrated with how my website was coming along.
I enjoy a number of weekly newsletters. I subscribe to MacStories for the members only Club MacStories newsletter. Patrick Rhone’s One More Thing is a very well written personal newsletter and a treat whenever it comes. Sitting down with an espresso and my iPad to casually read through weekly newsletters is a treat on the weekend.
Email newsletters are ‘old school’. There is something about the medium that feels more personal and more conversational than others. I wanted to try this out, and realized that those old link posts were the right foundation to build upon.
Next I wanted to see how hard this would be. I quickly looked into TinyLetter and realized it would be pretty easy. I like that TinyLetter exists as a way for personal email newsletters. It’s very easy to use.
With the basis of my links I decided to put together a newsletter. I went with the somewhat goofy name of the Weekly Thing playing off my last name. Total aside, but I used to own the domain
thing.org in the mid 90’s. I was at the U of MN at the time and I got an email from The Thing, a museum in Germany, asking if they could have the domain. I transferred it to them, seemed the right thing to do. My future as a domain squatter was determined at that time.
I’ve been quietly publishing the Weekly Thing for a few weeks now to an invited group of friends. I’ve been testing out my automation and the structure. I’m very pleased with how it’s working and this week put the [subscribe] page live and started sharing it. My first goal is to get to 100 subscribers and continue to flesh out the content. I hope you all enjoy it!
Go to the Weekly Thing to subscribe!
Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-09 12:04
I use OmniFocus as the core of my GTD system. I also keep notifications on my phone to a minimum, including for OmniFocus. OmniFocus on iOS has the ability to give you a notification when you enter or leave a context with a location. This is pretty handy and I’ve used it for some specific locations associated with my Errands context. Errands : Hardware store gives me a nudge if I am nearby and have tasks available. I’ve never used this feature with Home and Office contexts because it would be very noisy.
There are times however when I would like OmniFocus to be in my face at home or at the office. I may have a task in OmniFocus that I need to do when I get to work on Monday morning, or when I come home on Friday evening and a notification would help. I realized there is a really simple solution to this.
I have a Office context, and inside that context I created a Office with notification context. The context with notification has a location and notification with it.
Now I can easily put a very small number of tasks in the Office : Office with notificaiton context and know I will be notified when they are avialable. I’ve created a similar context for Home with notificaiton. This has already allowed me to not forget a couple of time sensitive things.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-06 02:35
That was when I realized I had no way to access my Flickr account since the Yahoo! account was used to connect to it. I was happy thought that Yahoo! customer support was quick and made this easy to get done.
My Flickr account is no more now. I created that account probably a decade ago. Long before it ever became part of Yahoo!, back when Flickr was amazing and cool. Looking back this is a good reminder of how long our content lives online. Yet another example of how companies come and go and services come and go. To all of you using Facebook to keep family photos and pictures of your kids, think about this. This is why I feel so strongly about owning my content. It really isn’t that hard.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-30 12:06
My mother sent me a link to Turing Tumble on Kickstarter and the video totally got me. It is a super cool concept and a great way to explore the fundamental concepts of computing. The bits that can be flipped and other various objects are really neat.
I backed this and am looking forward (and hoping!) for the November delivery. This will be a great present for the kids (and me!) for Christmas.
The results of the Kickstarter are impressive. It has been live for less than 1 day and it’s very close to hitting it’s goal!