December 2020

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The local area coffee shop Ground Zero is closing. Whether or not this is permanent is still up in the air. I have a lot of memories at Ground Zero, including my first PHP Meetup back in 2004. #

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Liberals can do better!

I sometimes get myself in trouble. I consider myself liberal, although realistically, I’m pretty middle of the road. In every election so far, I’ve voted Democratic, although full disclosure, if Ron Paul had gotten through the primaries, I would have voted for him. #

I live in Madison, WI, a city with a reputation for being on the left. Most of the people I know and interact with are on the left. #

I do, however, have friends that are Republican. I even have at least one good friend that I know voted for Donald Trump in 2016 (not sure about 2020.) #

I consume news from all sides of the political spectrum. #

This is where I get in trouble. When I see people on the left who have good intentions but make bad arguments, it bothers me. #

For instance, when people make personal attacks on Donald Trump. Calling him a Cheeto, Orange in Chief, etc. This applies to all political figures. I’m guilty as well. I have on more than once referred to a certain U.S. Senator as a turtle. But this is not good. #

I’m reminded of the following quote: #

I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left. #

Margaret Thatcher #

When I see a liberal make fun of the way Trump looks or stands, or the size of his hands, I think, “Wow, Trump won this one. This person doesn’t have a real argument, so they are making fun of the way he looks.” #

This also applies with false equivalence and straw man fallacies. I think, “Come on, do better!” #

Sometimes I point out the bad argument or play devil’s advocate because I want them to do better. Then people attack me and make all sorts of assumptions. #

This is especially true when dealing with marginalized groups. If someone from [marginalized group] says something factually wrong, or misleading, or something I can’t entirely agree with, I get attacked when I point it out. “How dare you awful cis white male attack this marginalized person! Educate yourself!” #

Yes, trolls are trying to stir shit up. But some people are trying to have a real conversation. How are we supposed to move forward and make meaningful changes that help marginalized groups if we’re not allowed to talk about it and debate the specifics? The answer isn’t to tell people to “Shut up and listen” because that’s what got Trump elected in 2016 and almost reelected in 2020. #

When people say “My humanity’s not up for debate,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. #

There shouldn’t be a debate. There shouldn’t be a question. There shouldn’t be a conversation. But there is. I may not like the debate, I may think it shouldn’t exist, but it’s happening. I shouldn’t have to fight for basic rights. But I do. I may not think I should have to convince people who think I don’t exist, or don’t deserve rights, but those people exist and there’s enough of them to effect me. So if I don’t convince them, I don’t get rights. #

Tobias Hawke - Unfortunately, My Humanity Is Up For Debate #

I want to progress, but progressives are working against their best interests by attacking people who would otherwise be their allies. #

Being an educator is not only getting the truth right but there’s got to be an act of persuasion in there as well. Persuasion isn’t always “Here’s the facts. You’re either an idiot or you’re not.” It’s “Here’s the facts and here is a sensitivity to your state of mind.” It’s the facts plus the sensitivity when convolved together that creates impact. #

Neil deGrasse Tyson #

I’m really afraid that 2024 is going to be a repeat of 2016. #

When you have celebrities like David Cross out there saying "Fuck that. I want blood!" I’m not sure how to react to that. Without unity, there will be blood, and guess what David, the Republicans are the ones with guns. #

I’d really like for there to be a United States in 20 years, but right now I’m not sure if that’s realistic. #

If Donald Trump almost getting reelected, and the mass exodus of people and companies from California to Texas is any sign, liberals are losing this war. #

Sunday, December 27, 2020

At the Guardian, the majority of content – including articles, live blogs, galleries and video content – is produced in our in-house CMS tool, Composer. This, until recently, was backed by a Mongo DB database running on AWS. This database is essentially the “source of truth” for all Guardian content that has been published online – approximately 2.3m content items. We’ve just completed our migration away from Mongo to Postgres SQL. #

Bye bye Mongo, Hello Postgres #

The same characteristics for which people should oppose the transition to Central Banking Digital Currencies give central banks the strongest reason to champion and implement them. And while the pretense of an investigation into the fiat money tokenization gives an impression of a debate on the topic, the reality is, there will be no debate and the digital currencies will go through and give central banks more control than they had before with all the disastrous consequences such control brings. #

Three Reasons Why Central Bank Digital Currencies Are a Bad Idea #

Friday, December 25, 2020

As long as podcasting remains dominated by independent creators and the industry keeps supporting opportunities for those types of creators then it will be a 16-year-old new medium that continues to offer a level playing field. #

Rob Greenlee #

Thursday, December 24, 2020

I’ve been noticing a lot of interesting connections and coincidences lately. Today I realized that the word I’m looking for is Serendipity. I should have thought of it earlier since it’s one of my favorite John Cusack movies. #

I don’t typically have a programming checklist, but I think it would be a good practice to start. The closest thing I have done is I always make sure error-prone processes at work get automated so I can remove the human error. Why You Need a Programming Checklist #

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Programmers can make something out of nothing and would be wise to choose poetry as their best building material. #

A programmer that wants to be a poet should write a program every day. #

Hierarchy of Horizons #

I listened to an episode of TheModernist with Kevin Kelly about the book Signal, so I ordered a copy. #

Alternate Linked Data Syntax

Following my intuition keeps leading me to fun coincidences. #

I’ve been following the work of Dorian Taylor, learning more about how he uses linked data. App::IBIS is interesting, but also how he’s using attributes on links on his website. #

Here’s an example: #

	rev="dct:references xhv:up"
	<span property="dct:title">
		URIs, Resources and Representations

I’ve implemented a markdown syntax so that I could assign arbitrary attributes on links. If I wanted to do something like this, that’s the way I’d have to go. If I only used rev="dct:references" it’s simpler but still ugly, and it doesn’t provide any context for someone using a web browser. #

Today on a Federated Wiki Zoom, there was a demo showing how Eric Dobbs labels the relations between pages using Graphviz DOT language. #

He uses a syntax that matches the words that start a line that link to other pages. Examples are “Includes,” “Consists of,” or “Enabled by.” I could see this used in conjunction with the work Dorian is doing. I could prefix a line “References,” and my blog engine would know to add rev="dct:references" to all the links on that line. #

Pulling from his Content Inventory I could prefix links with “Mentions,” “Introduces,” or “Evokes.” #

I’m excited about this idea. I think the next step is to decide my use case. What types of links do I want? Do I want to have matched inverses? So any page linked with “Evokes” would automatically have a backlink that is “Evoked by.” #

The link prefix context is way more relevant to what I’m doing because I want it to be useful to a human, not necessarily a scraper. #

Monday, December 21, 2020

A cliché feel good story

Here’s a story about kids playing baseball. It’s such a trope that I’m sure you’ve seen a story like it on TV a million times. #

There was a little league baseball team. It was the bottom of the ninth inning, and the team up to bat was behind. This team needed a home run to win. #

A disadvantaged kid comes by to watch the game. He loves baseball and would love nothing more than to have a turn to bat. #

The kids feel sorry for him and let him bat. The pitcher feels sorry for him and throws an easy pitch. He barely makes contact. It doesn’t go too far, and he doesn’t know what to do—everyone cheers for him to run to first base. #

The pitcher picks up the ball and throws it wide, way past first base, and the kid is encouraged to run to second base. #

The winning team decides it’s more important to give this kid a win than for them to win the game. They let the kid run to home base, and he wins the game. Everyone is happy. The kids’ dad is proud of the other boys for doing the right thing and making his son happy. #

A few weeks later, the disadvantaged kid dies. This game had been his last hurah. #

This story makes most people feel something. You feel bad for the kid because life dealt him a lousy hand. You admire the other kids for putting the boy’s needs in front of their desire to win. #

I would argue that (at least in midwestern American culture) this is a story that illustrates an example of what society deems “being a good person.” #

But there are so many things about this story that we don’t question. There could be details that change how we interpret the story. #

What if this was an inner-city league of black kids and the disadvantaged kid came from a wealthy white family? What if the father was a Trump supporter? What if his family owned all the apartment buildings in that neighborhood and regularly evicted low-income families who couldn’t make rent? #

I’m willing to bet you feel differently about this situation. Your brain is running a calculation about what is fair. The kid can’t control who his parents are or what their political leanings are. #

Is this kid "privileged"? #

Recently Time published an article about Helen Keller: #

However, to some Black disability rights activists, like Anita Cameron, Helen Keller is not radical at all, “just another, despite disabilities, privileged white person,” and yet another example of history telling the story of privileged white Americans. Critics of Helen Keller cite her writings that reflected the popularity of now-dated eugenics theories and her friendship with one of the movement’s supporters Alexander Graham Bell. The American Foundation for the Blind archivist Helen Selsdon says Keller “moved away from that position.” #

Time #

I can certainly see their perspective. Helen Keller was very privileged. In that era, a little blind and deaf black girl would not have gotten the same care. But I wonder, why does it matter? #

Why do we talk so much about “checking” unearned privilege? Shouldn’t we focus on correcting unfair disadvantages instead? #

I feel our country has become a nation of pessimists. How can we turn things around and get people to focus on all the wonderful positive things in the world? #

It is the best time ever to be alive. Celebrate your privileges. They are a good thing. #

Friday, December 18, 2020

Will you be a ghost or an ancestor to your children? Will you haunt them or guide them? Will you inspire them or curse them? #

Which Will It Be? #

Thursday, December 17, 2020

In Content Management Meta-System, Dorian Taylor describes his website’s logic and the evolution of its semantics. I want my site to use semantic linking, but so far, I’m either not understanding or clicking with the specific ontologies he’s using. #

The pandemic has given more people the time and desire to create podcasts but less time to listen to them (no commute). There’s a supply and demand problem in podcasting #

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A bad goal makes you say, “I want to do that some day.��� A great goal makes you take action immediately. #

Derek Sivers #

Paul Ford published a humorous conversation with himself from the year 2000. Then he went back and had a more serious discussion. #

Monday, December 14, 2020

Gustavo Pires recently introduced Web Data Render. WDR is a novel experiment where the web page is a JSON document with a script tag (in the structure). The script reads the content and renders the page. A client can use these pages as an API or a browsable site. #

TIL: You can use the value `date` in a git commit message for the current date and time. #

Friday, December 11, 2020

My coach Timothy Kenny really likes numerical taxonomies. However it hasn’t clicked with me. This quote by Dorian Taylor explains why. #

The whole point of using human-readable symbols, and not, say, random strings or numbers, is to have a mnemonic or associative device such that a human being can look at a given symbol and infer to some extent what the thing is supposed to mean. #

Dorian Taylor #

After testing Schnack and not being happy with the experience, I installed CommentBox for comments on the site. They advertise no ads or tracking. #

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Just came across Product Idea Prompts. Interesting ideas. #

On the Chris Yeh podcast Ray Conley explains why Bayesian math says Donald Trump has a 66% chance of being re-inaugurated on 1/20. #

I read The Symbol Management Problem which I think explains to a degree what Dorian Taylor was talking about on Twitter yesterday. #

Linked Data and the Semantic Web

Knowledge Byproducts #

When I took Building a Second Brain, one of the concepts was “knowledge byproducts.” The idea that as you’re doing your work, you’re creating things that could be useful later on in a different project. #

I decided that what I’d like to do is find a way to use my website to work (and think) in public and use technology under the hood to help surface connections and themes that I might not have identified otherwise. #

Roam #

One tool that was popular with members of my cohort was Roam. #

Roam is a knowledge management system that is an outliner wiki built on a graph database. You write content on different pages, and as you write, there are conventions for tagging keywords. #

There are then ways to view these keywords and see what other content links to them, a concept that is common with wikis. #

Zettelkasten #

One method of notetaking that has become popular, especially with Roam, is the Zettelkasten Method. #

Niklas Luhmann was a highly productive social scientist who collected notes on index cards. He tagged them so that individual notes linked to other notes. He kept these notes in a giant card catalog. #

My Website #

I was hoping to combine these ideas into the CMS underlying my website. I write all my content in an outliner, and this makes for a very fluid writing experience. Each node in the outline is part of a hierarchy and can have arbitrary attributes associated with the text. #

Each page of my site is built from a combination of structure and attribute metadata. #

I want to build in the wiki-like functionality from Roam to tag content as I’m writing it and link it to tag/topic pages. These pages can have original content (see Progressive Summarization) as well as automatically generated backlinks. #

The Semantic Web #

In The Symbol Management Problem Dorian talks about using RDFa with special vocabularies to represent metadata about the links between content. #


IBIS Prototype Demo #

My Vision #

Perhaps, as I’m writing in my outline for my daily posts, I can link to subjects in a way that specifies the relationship between what I’m writing and the topic. #

For instance, in the IBIS demo, an object “responds to,” is "supported by", or is “questioned by” a subject. This metadata can be used by the CMS when assembling backlinks on a wiki page. This way, instead of just seeing random backlinks, there is context, and the CMS can group the various contexts appropriately. #

Likewise, when a note references multiple topics, it can create contextual relationships between those topics. #

Next Steps #

Dorian has sent me some follow-up links to review. By putting my thoughts together in this post, I can share this with him, and he might have more ideas of how I can apply his concepts. #

The first version of my wiki linking will hopefully be live soon. Ideally, leveraging metadata to do something unique. #

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Dorian Taylor seems to be working on something that generates context around arbitrary tags. I’m hoping to find out more as this relates to a project I’m working on. #

I try to say positive versions of habitual phrases. For example, if someone thanks me for something, instead of saying “No problem,” which is my habitual reply, I try to say “you’re welcome,” “my pleasure,” or “happy to help.” If I say “no problem,” it implies that I should have perceived it as a problem and negated it. Seth agrees. #

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Dorian Taylor is grudgingly getting on the newsletter bandwagon. “This is not the same as just letting them sniff your digital offgassing.” #

You’re only as good as your worst day. Not because what you do the rest of the time doesn’t matter. Not because you should be expected to be perfect under immense stress or to behave according to plan when everything goes awry. But because what you do on your worst day is impossible to fake. #

I spend a lot of time thinking about goal setting. Many sources undoubtedly inspire it, but here is the first draft of my process. #

Back in September, I joined Building a Second Brain (BASB) Cohort 11. It was a fascinating course, and its ideas shaped how I think about my website. Yesterday, Tiago Forte published his Second Brain Manifesto. It’s worth a read. #

Monday, December 7, 2020

Derek Sivers has released the source of his website. Instead of GitHub, he’s using sourcehut, which I haven’t heard of before. #

I’m debating adding comments to my site. I won’t use Disqus because it’s turned into a bloated advertisement. I’ve had my eye on schnack, which is self-hosted and free of tracking. #

Last night I started surveying the landscape of javascript search libraries. My site previously used Lunr, but the index was clientside and regenerated every time I built my website. I am looking at Fuse.js as a possible engine that gets incrementally updated with new content and has a persistent index. #

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Writing in an outliner is frictionless. I type a blurb and hit publish, and it’s on my website in seconds. Very cool. #

I’m using a desktop outliner, and the piece I’m missing is Grammarly. It’s a significant crutch I use to make sure what I’m writing is legible. If I move to Little Outliner, I can probably get it working. Until then, I’ll just copy and paste between the two. #

I am continuing to hack on my new site. Dave said the about card on the homepage was dominating the page, and I agreed with him. I added lots of navigation links: previous, next, breadcrumbs, the whole nine yards. Still have to add a search engine. #

Fediverse of Federated Things

I’m pretty new to the idea of the Fediverse and Federation in general. I recently signed up for Mastodon to participate in the Podcast Index Community. #

Mastodon is built on top of a protocol ActivityPub, which seems pretty straightforward. #

I recently hopped on a Zoom call with Ward Cunningham, who has a group of people building Federated Wiki, but I haven’t dug in enough to find out what’s running under the hood. It would be cool if it were ActivityPub. I’m looking forward to learning more because Wiki has always had a place in my heart. #

There are also Federated Blogs. #

I’ve been following my intuition lately. I come across something interesting and follow the thread, leading me back to where I need to be. #

Donnie Darko Tunnels #

Saturday, December 5, 2020

New Website

My website is now running on a new engine. It’s a custom engine heavily inspired/borrowed from the engine that builds #

The interesting thing about it isn’t really the engine that builds the website. What’s really cool is that all of the content I’m writing is done in an outliner. #

Back in October when I was Re-Thinking Blogs it started me down a path where I started using outliners on a daily basis. #

I had certainly tried working with outlines before, but something clicked this time and I found that on a status outline that I was using to communicate with Dave I was writing more than I ever did on my blog. #

It comes down to flow which is something that’s super important to Dave. #

It makes sense. In the past when I’ve used a static site generator to blog or journal, I rarely posted. When I switched back to WordPress I wrote more often. #

WordPress wasn’t even an ideal situation, but it was less friction to publish than when I was using Gatsby or Jekyll. #

We’ll see how this goes, but I’m feeling optimistic. This engine also allows for small notes that don’t have a title. #

Published by Andrew Shell on and last updated .