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The Roundup for April 23-20, 2018 Edition

Hidden Point by Christopher Parsons

I shifted over to this domain name, and WordPress environment, a little over eight months ago. In addition to moving multiple years of content I also committed to at least one post a week though, ideally, would post many more than that!

I’ve been largely successful with meeting those goals. As such, I’ve been able to maintain a regular personal writing habit. It’s also meant I’ve locked down some of my ruminations and thoughts so that I can reflect on them later on down the line.

However, there are some things that I’m not entirely happy with. First, I’ve been privately writing small ‘reviews’ of books and movies but haven’t gotten around to posting them here. Part of that is wanting to do them ‘well’ and the other reason is that I’m trying to decide if I should have posts and then a master page that links to the posts, or just posts, or just a page. But expect that to be figured out pretty soon.1 I also really like the idea of putting up a gear/software list of things that I routinely use, and want to steal an idea from a friend of mine who posts the podcasts that she’s really into at any given time. And I want to put some thought into developing a public blogroll, likely based on the RSS feeds that I consume, though I admit that I’m not entirely sure of the utility of blogrolls in this day and age.

The reason for contemplating these changes to some of the content and structure? Mostly because I think I can move more of my writing to this location; there’ve only been a few times that I thought I was getting too ‘close’ to mimicking the work on my professional web presence or private journal, and even then the tone was sufficiently different that it belonged here as opposed to those other locations. But I’m also motivated to modify some of the content here because I want what I write to be interesting and useful for other people; I often find that bloggers’ reviews and insights about the things they use are the only way that I discover the existence of certain tools, products, workflows, and cultural items. So I want to give back to others, just as they have freely given to me and everyone else who visits (or has visited) their sites.


I spent some time this week writing about a recent proposal to significantly weaken the security of the devices we carry with us on a daily basis. In short, I think that the proposal:

doesn’t address the real technical or policy problems associated with developing a global backdoor system to our most personal electronic devices. Specifically the architect of the solution overestimates the existent security characteristics of contemporary devices, overestimates the ability of companies to successfully manage a sophisticated and globe-spanning key management system, fails to address international policy issues about why other governments couldn’t or wouldn’t demand similar kinds of access (think Russia, China, Iran, etc), fails to contemplate an adequate key revocation system, and fails to adequately explain why why the exceptional access system he envisions is genuinely needed.

Device security, and especially efforts to weaken it, fundamentally raises technical and policy issues. Neither type of issue can be entirely divorced from the other, and it’s important to recognize that the policy issues are both domestic and international; failing to address them both, at the same time, means that any proposal will almost certainly have terminal weaknesses.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

“Do not let anything that happens in life be important enough that you’re willing to close your heart over it.”

— Michael A. Singer

Great Photography Shots

The shots from this year’s Sony 2018 World Photography Awards are stunning. Here are some of my favourites:

“Untitled” from the series “Ex-Voto” © Alys Tomlinson, United Kingdom, Photographer of the Year, Professional, Discovery, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards
“Letter of departure” © Edgar Martins, Portugal, 1st Place, Professional, Still Life (Professional competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Footnotes

  1. I suspect I’ll opt to a post-per-review, with them aggregated on a distinct page.
Quote

The Web has lost its spirit. The Web is no longer a distributed Web. It is, ironically, a couple of big tubes that belong to a handful of companies. Mainly Google (search), Facebook (social) and Amazon (e-commerce). There is an impressive Chinese line and there are some local players in Russia, Japan, here and there. Overall it has become monotonous and dull. What can we do?

There seems to be a weak undercurrent of old and young bloggers like us that feel sentimental or curious and want to bring back blogging. Blogging won’t save the world. But, hell, after two weeks now, we can confirm: it feels great to be back on the blogging line.

If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic. You can use them to engage in discussion. But don’t get lost in there. Write daily. Publish as often as you have something to say. Link to other blogs.

Aside

2018.1.11

One of the things that I enjoy about this space is sometimes writing short aside posts (like this one). They don’t tend to delve deeply into whatever’s going through my head nor do they typically include a link to elsewhere on the Web. But for some reason I don’t really like the idea of them being published without a title. So I’m going to try associating the date with each aside-type post and see whether, over time, I want to expand or shrink this title scheme or, instead, keep it to the data posted.

Addendum: While my current theme may not show the date, at least for my own backend (and RSS purposes) the title will be present. I guess that’ll just have to be enough.

Link

Om Malik on the Blog Post Bribe Scandal

He writes:

The chase for cheap page views to arbitrage against advertising dollars is the real reason everyone at this mega page view factories willingly embraced this trend towards free content, which in turn left the whole experiment open to abuse. If you generate a lot of page views for these sites, you aren’t going away, because, in the end, it is all about page views.

On my other, professional, site I regularly receive requests from marketers to publish their content for some sort of payment. Many are outlandish in their requests whereas others have clearly done their homework and identified a range of posts the given brand wants to be associated with.

Some of the payment rates or product offerings are outlandish, others churlish, but none of them have ever overcome my baseline position: I own my professional web presence in order to build my reputation and brand. That brand is worth more than a few hundred or thousand dollars; it represents, at least in part, my ability to earn money over the span of the coming decades.

While there’s been some comic back and forth about charging marketers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to post other parties’ branded content, I think there is legitimately something to the idea. If you view your web presence as a long-term part of your career, and damaging that presence could potentially cost you in terms of future employment opportunities or consulting prospects, then that kind of valuation starts to make some sense.

Aside

Migration: Accomplished

Since the summer I’ve managed to port over, and re-categorize, over a thousand posts from a previous personal blogging website (Quirks in Tech) that I hosted with Tumblr. While there’s still some stuff to do — fixing up the tagging structure as an example — I’m glad that the most laborious activity has come to an end!

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The Role of Link Posts

One of the things that I’ve thought a lot about over the past few years are link posts. I’ve tried numerous different platforms and ways of sharing and commenting on links. And something that I’ve always appreciated are blogs that combine different forms of content (including link posts) along with something else to give them some unique perspective on the content of interest to their authors.

Gabe Weatherhead has recently written that:

It’s far too easy to grab a story headline streaming by and create a link post.

The reason I’ve walled off Macdrifter link articles behind Hobo Signs was because I wanted to clearly show that they weren’t my work. They are source materials. There is no guarantee I’ve reviewed them or even thought much about them. Sometimes I provide commentary but often they are just links.

I like link articles as much as the next person. But I felt disingenuous mixing those on a site that also provided commentary and opinion. It blurred lines I didn’t want to blur at a time when regurgitation looks like the successor to original content on the web. I don’t wonder why indie blogs are dying any more. Link posts are killing them.

I don’t think that link posts are necessarily killing indie blogs. I think that the problem is that indie blogs are often so replete with them that there isn’t a clear voice, narrative, or expertise associated with the comments on the links.

But link posts also raise the question about who blogging is for, and what we mean to do when blogging. Twitter and Facebook are fluid publication spaces: it can be impossible to see what you wrote on those platforms, about different topics, whereas its comparatively easy to retroactively see what you’ve written about on (most) structured blogging platforms. You can build a body of work that includes a shifting, or development, of thoughts and ideas over time. At the very least, you can turn Google search onto a blog and dredge up the various posts related to your search query to try to divine how your thoughts have changed over time. That’s next to impossible on more transient social media.

While commercial (or commercially-motivated) indie blogs might suffer from link posts I’m not convinced that such posts are kryptonite to personal blogs. And even for those which are commercially-oriented it’s not self-evident that link posts are bad: for the big indie blogs, the authors operate as tastemakers and news curators. They can quickly indicate their pleasure or displeasure where a fully review is unnecessary, or surface news of interest to them and their readers without requiring a detailed analysis of the issue at hand. Admittedly breaking news or entirely novel products may be ill served by such hot takes, but fast and short posts are routinely useful to their readership. The trick is to have a sufficiently interesting and authoritative voice that someone wants to read the author’s work in the first place. And that’s a space where most authors routinely struggle, indie writers or not.