Posts from January 2018

Sunday Links

Some links for your consideration:

One Year at Oregon State University

It was just about a year ago that I posted about a new job at Oregon State Unversity Ecampus. It's a good time to stop and reflect on where I'm at. Apparently Ecampus thought so too because they did a a quick "getting to know you" interview with me: Getting to know Paul Bausch.

image: pb at Ecampus

The interview was a nice opportunity to think about my first year and taking photos for the article with the transparent whiteboard (clearboard?) was fun. I'm enjoying my work at Oregon State and I feel like my employer is making positive contributions to society. You can't ask for more than that.

Tweet Skimmer

I'm on day 17 of my Twitter fast and I do feel like I'm missing things. I'd like to be able to see what's happening with friends and co-workers without feeling like I'm walking into a kaleidoscope at a circus in the middle of a casino. At one time tweets were just text. Now tweets have embedded video gifs with talismanic viral numbers attached to commentary from dozens of people I don't want to hear from. I feel like I have to wade through 85% garbage to get that 15% I'm missing.

I think I can solve the circus-casino problem™ by removing the tweets from their toxic native environment and displaying them as text-only in my archaic feed reader. And that's what I've done.

Here is tweet-skimmer. It's a node.js script I'm using that gets a user's tweets from the Twitter API and creates an RSS feed without retweets or replies. By the time the tweets hit my feed reader, they are plain text with no media embeds, no images, no kaleidoscopic bears riding tricycles, no favorite counts, and no surrounding Twitter UI.

After testing for two full days I think this will allow me to batch tweet-reading into something I can skim every so often. That way I'll feel like I'm staying up to date with specific people without picking up the daily Twitter habit again.

The metaphor I've been using lately to describe this is that my Twitter habit is like having junk food in the house. I'm sure it would be no problem to have unlimited Doritos™ if I only ever ate 15% of each bag. It just never works out that way. So I'm hoping this new bit of scripting is like only buying 15% in the first place. It's digital portion control. Fun sized tweets.


If I was still on Twitter I'd link to this article by Joel Spolsky with the text, "This." Instead, I'll say that Joel describes the Twitter and Facebook addiction problem better than I've been able to: Birdcage liners.

For a look at the mechanics behind intermittent reinforcement that Joel describes there's a book called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. It's as gross as it sounds. However, it does help you look at the products you use in a new, harsher light. I'd use the book as a digital literacy exercise rather than a how-to manual as it's intended.

Sunday Links

Here are some links to check out:

Staying Informed

"But Paul," I can hear you saying through the internet, "how do you stay informed about the outside world if you can't visit Twitter and Facebook?" That's a great question but I'm afraid we've run out of time for today, sorry.

I was a huge Google Reader fan and I still use an RSS reader. When Google Reader shut down I installed a local version of Tiny Tiny RSS on my server and spent a lot of time customizing it to look and behave like Google Reader. I still use it regularly and I wish I could say that was my primary source of information these days. Unfortunatley the big two have pulled people's creative energy into them like content black holes from which not even light-hearted jokes can escape! I think of my tt-rss instance as "appointment" web entertainment. I visit it occasionally to keep up with specific sites but it doesn't feel urgent to stay up-to-date. I would love to see a return to distributed publishing and reading via RSS but tt-rss and newsreaders in general feel like too much work to install, set up, and manage.

Email has changed for me. I have distinct work and personal email these days and I use different clients to check them. My personal email traffic feels light, and with Gmail filtering spam and sorting things into buckets I have a strong signal to noise ratio. I follow some great email newsletters that I highly recommend: I usually read these as they come in and always get something out of them. Some weekly reads I enjoy include Friday Front-End (web development news), Hacker Newsletter (sorry), and the top questions of the week at RPG Stack Exchange.

What I like is that I control what's coming into my inbox. Like a newsreader, I choose the sources and let them curate news for me. There isn't an algorithm helping me decide which pieces of these I should read. Maybe it works because I haven't subscribed to very many. Maybe it works because email isn't a primary source of anxiety for me anymore.

Another daily source of news and info for me is link and favorite aggregation sites:
  • BELONG - Andy Baio's Twitter aggregator takes links from a good slice of Twitter. (Maybe this is cheating since it's based on Twitter? I'm ok with it.)
  • Pinboard Popular - The most-saved bookmarks at Pinboard with a heavy web developer slant. (Also has a strong Twitter bias with its auto-bookmark favorites feature.)
  • Popular favorites at MetaFilter and Ask MetaFilter - Sure, I'm biased, but it's still the best online community and while I'm not in the daily mix there anymore I always find great perspectives when I go.
  • Nuzzel - This is like a BELONG but with your Twitter follows. (ok, this is definitely cheating but it's very hard for me to escape this particular black hole.)
Looking at this list I know there is much more I can do to diversify my information diet. Part of this experiment is going through this self-examination to find ways to improve.

I'm sure you're sorry you asked by now, but I appreciate your concern. I'm still concerned about keeping up with friends and family but we really are out of time now so that'll have to be another post. Just know there's a lot you can take in outside of the big two and still feel like you're plugged into the hive mind.

Facebook-Free in Twenty Eightee-n

My growing sense of dread about the corporate social media networks that dominate the modern web has prompted twin 2018 resolutions: 1.) Do not contribute content directly to social media networks owned by corporations. 2.) Break the daily habit of consuming information directly from Facebook and Twitter.

I feel like I need to do some extra work to find new ways to connect with people. I think Jason Kottke is on the right track with his new newsletter, Noticing. (And I can't believe I'm saying this as someone who has always had a strong preference for web over email.) I do enjoy seeing personal updates from friends on Facebook, but there's a lot of garbage you have to take in with it. A little rancid meat can really ruin a milkshake. So what if we all had personal email newsletters and we could just enjoy each other's updates with no garbage mixed in?

Keeping up with thoughts and ideas from folks in my industry is trickier. Twitter works well for that. It's just that in addition to jokes and news you also need to take in heaping piles of garbage while feeling complicit in advancing the Earth toward its final days. I shouldn't have to feel terrible to connect with friends and peers. I'm staying away from Twitter to see if I can find other ways to connect. Ways like visiting websites directly and subscribing to newsletters. I think Twitter the company is making terrible decisions and I don't want to feel like I'm contributing to their network growing in any way. My only option is to stop feeding it attention and jokes.

Breaking my daily Twitter and Facebook habit has been easier than I expected. I uninstalled the apps from my phone some time ago but I was still visiting and posting in a web browser. Simply logging out of these services is enough of a speedbump to remind me that I don't want to be there. The habit tries, but little speedbumps are enough to stop it. I've also made Kindle my go-to app for wasting time with my phone. If I need a break or need to kill some time I'll read a book instead.

As far as sharing thoughts, links, and photos I'll still be posting here but not at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. I'll probably start a mailing list with family news for friends. I'm hoping all of this will help me find ways to stay connected with people I care about without a publicly traded intermediary. That was the promise of the Web in the first place and it's not working out. With some exploration and work maybe we can route around the web behemoths.

Want to connect with me outside of Facebook or Twitter? I still use email. (Though I'm still bad at it.)

Here are a few links I've been thinking about: