You should start a blog today by Juhis struck a cord with me and I thought I’d pile on. You should start a blog today.

Like many I blogged a lot in the early 2000’s. Those early blogs captured my frame of mind for that period, but they’re long gone. Also like many, I stopped blogging sometime after Twitter and Facebook became popular.

Over the years I tried to start back up again. “I should blog more”, I’d tell myself. I’d always try to focus on writing “evergreen” content or writing “professional” content and after a short burst, stop.

Discovering the IndieWeb helped remind me that I’m writing for me on my blog. It doesn’t have to always be professional all the time. This past year or two regularly blogging again has helped me remember just how magical the internet is. That I can write something in Japan and people find it and respond to it from all over the world – all using open-standards – brings a smile to my face.

Why should you start a blog today?

  • Develop better ideas. Many people develop their ideas by writing. They sit down with idea A and as the write about it, they gain some further insight and get idea B, which leads to idea C and so on. None of this would have been possible without sitting down to write. And you’re not going to write unless you have a place to do so.
  • Be your own reference. When you’re debugging a problem at work, chances are you’re not the first person to run into that issue. Writing it down on your blog will not only help you gain a better understanding of the problem and help others solve the issue, but also in a year when you run into the same issue, you’ve got a refresher waiting for you on your blog.
  • Honest record of the past. Our memories aren’t the best. Having a blog will help you remember just what you thought and felt, for better or for worse, when those events weren’t so near.
  • Own your data. Twitter is a micro blog. Instagram is a photoblog. But these blogs aren’t yours. Yes, you provide the photos. And yes, you provide the witty content. But all of it disappear in an instant at some company’s discretion. Putting your data on your own blog protects you and your memories.

It doesn’t matter where you start your blog, or how cool your domain is, or how many people read it, or what programming language it’s written in. What matters is that you start.

I’m not sure how much of it was “father of a toddler” and how much of it was “global pandemic”, but 2020 felt hard.

While I’ve been fortunate enough that work hasn’t changed for me – instead of going in to the office once a week (by choice), I just don’t go in to the office and I haven’t been to Tokyo since mid-February. We already communicated entirely with Slack with the only change being that people now hop into voice/video calls more readily than before. BeProud continues to be a fun place sling Python.

I started running regularly midway through the year with small gaps here and there. Thus far I’ve managed 64 runs totaling 317.6km. There’s still a week left and I’m 15km away from my 50km distance goal this month, so those numbers will increase a bit.

This year I started on a path for digital independence and to control my own data. I moved my email from a gmail account made a couple of months they opened to my own domain hosted with Fastmail. If Google were to lock me out of my account for whatever reason, I should be mostly unaffected.

After many years of having no blog and no home on the internet, last year I began experimenting with blogging/tweeting with micro.blog. I slowly remembered how much fun it is to have a home on the internet – somewhere that you can call your own. And this year I moved to a self-hosted WordPress (for now) blog. The community on micro.blog is great, so I still post there with my blog’s RSS feed.

I also started to try working in public more. I haven’t release anything yet, but I began collecting my notes, thoughts, and learnings here and in my notebook.

2020 also marks when I became aware of the impact of digital waste. As a web developer I’ve known that websites have been bloated for a while and it frustrates me to no end. But until this year (and thanks to Gerry McGovern I hadn’t connected was the link between data transfer and energy consumption. This led to me writing two articles: Designing Sustainable Digital Products and a guide for migrating your Digital Ocean droplets to sustainable regions powered by renewable energy.

This new awareness also led me to try and reduce the data-transfer and requirements from my own website. I made a custom theme that uses system fonts and minimal css (though there’s still too much).

Looking forward to the new year I’d like to double-down on low-energy blogging and websites. Not just for my own blog, but potentially as a service. I’ve started collecting my thoughts about how such a system could work to maximize privacy and minimize energy consumption in my blogging engine notebook.

Blogging makes the internet fun again and in 2021 I’d like to help people re-discover and remember that fun.

I recently mused about how my next computer should be a Thinkpad running Debian. I still half-think that, but I feel conflict on the issue. Let me explain.

My first Mac was an iBook G3 running OS X 10.1 in 2002 and I’ve been on Apple computers exclusively since. I came from running desktop Linux (Gentoo at the time) and a major reason why I switched to OS X was the unix environment without the fiddling.

Over the years I starting developing native apps and valuing apps that take the time and effort to be consistent with the systems. The consistently between apps made the entire system feel cohesive and easy to use. “Mac Apps Behave / Are Designed Like This”. I was hooked. I am hooked.

But the world has changed since those days. We’re now connected to the net with fiber rather than dialing in for a ~couple~ all hours of the night. Web browsers have become the new platform to target and Every app is cross platform and nothing is native.

Hardware is a growing concern for me as well. Apple makes some of the best laptops. I look forward to the Apple Silicon Macs. But repairing your Mac often means replacing the entire unit and paying more than purchasing a new one. They’re no longer upgradable and filled with glue.

Contrasting with Thinkpads you can upgrade the ram, swap out the hard drive, add in LTE modems, and even change the display. If something breaks you can replace just that part. Expandability should allow the machine to have a longer life. I can even get them fully supported with Ubuntu or Fedora Linux.

If the software I use on a regular basis no longer native, not designed for the Mac, and everything is inconsistent, what’s the advantage of using them on the Mac?

I finished watching Long Way Round while waiting for new episodes of Long Way Up. The adventure travel reminded me a lot of blogs I used to read when I was in high school1 and college2 and dreaming of studying abroad in Japan and living in Japan in general.

In those days, we’d blog, maybe post a bad photo or two, and commented on each others’ sites. Nobody knew each other in real life, but, over time, you’d get a real sense of community. You were of course following the posts, but there were also a regular cast of commenters that you’d also get a sense of knowing. It felt authentic…and innocent.

Why can’t we have this today – but on larger scale? How would you even find these sites on the modern web? Everything is hidden behind “the algorithms” and or paid for by a marketing campaign. Can you even find them?

1 Sushicam.com was a great photo blog by a guy living in Japan. I used to have a few prints of his and also bought his old Canon 10D – until my parents said “If you have enough money to buy a camera, you have enough money to pay rent”.
2 Justin Klein was a great blog from a traveling programmer. Not just Japan, but all over the world.

One of the tasks left for me to improve the sustainability of my website is to reduce the size/transfer of the images on my site. This is actually two tasks: optimize the images themselves, two lazy load images so they only load when scrolled into view.

I’m not too interested in lazy-loading images as it would require adding more Javascript and client-side execution. So I plan to focus on optimizing images in place for now.

My blog is powered by WordPress, so it should be as simple as installing one of the many “image optimizer” plugins. However, for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to image optimizing happens on their servers, or they want to use their CDN to delivery my images, or the plugin just kinda looks spammy, I haven’t taken the next time.

My designed image processing shouldn’t be too difficult – just call pngcrush and imagemagick depending on if I upload a png or jpeg file.

I’ve asked myself how do I address image optimization on my website: do I write my own image optimization plugin? Or do I do something else?

I haven’t written PHP in a very long time I don’t partially fancy developing a new WordPress plugin. But it could be nice to make a nice, clean, no fuss plugin available for others to use.

However, I’m leaning towards “something else” and think a more generic solution might be better. i.e. What if I had a small daemon (probably Python, maybe Rust as an excuse to learn it?) to monitor a directory and automatically optimize the images when they’re saved. This way no plugin is required and it could be used no matter the blogging engine.

Typically I always have had a side project that I work on before or after hours. However, with Covid-19 and everything else going on in the world I decided that rather than add another stressor to take a step back and focus on my mental and physical health.

To improve my physical fitness, I’ve been working on developing a regular running habit again. To improve my mental health, I’ve been focusing getting enough sleep.

In both of those aims my Apple Watch and iPhone have been a key tool in keeping me on track.

My watch reminds me to stand up and tracks my runs. I’ve also started a running club at work and while we can’t run together, we do share our runs on Slack and set running goals each month.

For sleep health, I’ve setup Downtime everyday from 8:30pm – 5:30am, as part of my Screentime settings. This disables all apps on my phone, except phone calls and apps that I specifically allow. The only apps that I allow are Runkeeper, Music, and Overcast, as I use them when running.

I didn’t think Downtime would have much of an effect at first, but I discovered that it prevents me from doom scrolling while in bed. And it turns out that limiting your intake of doom directly before and after you wake up, does wonders for your mental health.

The other setting that helps drastically is Bedtime. I aim for 8 hours of sleep a night and have set bedtime from 8:30pm – 4:30am, everyday. Notice that Downtime doesn’t end until an hour after I’ve woken up – giving me at least an hour of time with “just me”.

45 minutes before bedtime I get a notification that it’s time to start winding down and notifications disappear, my phone dims and I get a nice banner that say things like “Good evening. It’s time to start winding down.”. Removing the notifications and making such a simple display makes it much less tempting to pick up my phone.

When I first heard about these features I thought they sounded a bit gimmicky and they wouldn’t work. But they do. In the past two weeks I’ve averaged 8:29 hours in bed at 7:36 hours asleep each night. And each morning I feel refreshed.

If you’ve been having trouble sleeping this year, give yourself a break and try Downtime and Screentime.

The title says it all, doesn’t it? Patagonia has been putting these great tags on some of their shorts that read “Vote the Assholes Out”, to encourage people to vote out the climate change deniers that are in office. They’re not saying vote liberal or conservative. Just to vote the assholes out.

I love seeing simple and clear advocacy like this from Patagonia. I wish more companies could find the courage to do it too.

I’ve sent in my ballot to do my part to end the madness, have you?

I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. Much of the information presented I already knew – big tech mines all of our personal data and manipulates us to increase screen time in whichever way they can.

The movie itself has a story in-between the interview clips that help demonstrate the effects that social media (and cellphones) enable within a family. In one scene the son’s cellphone’s screen’s cracks and the mom says that she’ll replace it if he can not use his phone for a week, since, as he says “it’s no big deal”.

The algorithms notice his usage has changed, i.e. stopped, analyze that similar people in his area haven’t changed their usage and start a “reactivation” sequence, to suck him back in. To tempt him to open the app they find a recent event that will entice him back in and, like a drug addict, he’s back.

It reminds me of the seemingly random push notifications I get from instagram when I haven’t used the app in a few days. Nothing is random with social media, but it didn’t occur to me that they were trying to “reactivate” me and just how slimy that is. There’s no regard for the “user” – only their advertisers, which is their real user.

Most of all, watching The Social Dilemma makes me grateful for the indie web, communities like micro.blog, and apps like Sunlit that allow social media without algorithms without manipulation for advertisers, powered (more or less) by RSS and other open standards.

Having a blog again, especially one weekly post is changing how I interact with the internet. It’s making it fun again.

Like most I had a blog in the early 2000’s and it slowly faded from use with the rise of FB, Twitter, and other social media. But by limiting myself to those platforms, I also limited how I could share.

There is no “save draft” of a tweet. And you can only fit so much nuance in 140 280 characters.

Now, with a blog, when I find something that looks like I’d want to share or I might want to share, I simply append the link to the latest The Week post. Then, either throughout the week, or in the 15 minutes before posting, I expand upon that link, maybe even add some context. Sharing has become more about than just sharing some random link or video. I have the space to show how it relates to me and make it personal, rather than just a simple retweet that gets lost in the stream.

I didn’t realize it, but I was missing that space. My own cubby on the internet. No longer being locked into a format, time, or design decided by someone I don’t know gives me a place I can call home.

No algorithms. No ads. Just me.