Posts in: Journal

And Then There Were Two (Again)

I uninstalled Firefox from my Mac this morning. As much as I want browser diversity, it’s increasingly hard for me to like Mozilla’s work, they seem intent on ensuring they remain a bit-player — big enough for Google to claim there’s still competition, but small enough that they can be pushed around or just ignored. :(

I’ve also uninstalled the beta of Orion — it’s an intriguing idea, but I just can’t see any good reason for me to use it.

So that leaves just Safari and Vivaldi. Of those two, Vivaldi is the one that I enjoy using, because it lets me browse the way I want to. Safari is okay, but I get the distinct impression that Apple doesn’t care that much about helping people use the web beyond what will get them kudos and let them look virtuous.


Apps Designed for Everyone, Not Just for You

I’ve had My year in the rearview mirror by Riccardo Mori in my read-list for a while, and I highly recommend it. These pararagraphs in particular resonate with me:

Another area where the age factor is overlooked is in the design of user interfaces. (You thought I couldn’t find a way to talk about user interfaces in this context, didn’t you?) I keep seeing this: user interface elements, targets, designs, paradigms that require users to have perfect vision, flawless reflexes, constant adaptability, and time to waste readjusting their workflows and relearning how to carry out the same stuff they were used to carrying out in an operating system, application, device, 2 or 3 iterations ago. Some designers keep making the same error I think Donald Norman talked about in his book The Design of Everyday Things — the mistake of thinking that their target users are like them. They’re not. Often, they’re people who just need to get things done without losing an entire morning trying to figure out how and why the application(s) they rely on for work have changed after the last update. Or they’re people who really need tooltips in an app’s interface in order to understand what that control with the obscure icon does; who really need obvious interface cues and affordances you’re desperately trying to spirit away because your application or environment doesn’t look clean, trendy, or minimalistic enough.

I’m not saying applications, interfaces, and operating systems shouldn’t change and evolve. Only that they should do so by actually taking into account that end users aren’t this homogeneous mass that moves in perfect sync with your fancy designs and redesigns. But the kind of approach to do things right by many different types of end user involves more work and a generally slower pace of development, which is a big no-no for the stupid breakneck pace technology wants to move — and wants us to move today.

I’ve mentioned this before, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the above, and that any affordances for those who don’t have the same physical attributes or mental capacity as the designers are an afterthought, sometimes even ignoring accessibility features that are part of the operating system the app or site is running on.

Well, the joke will be one them when they get to our age. Comedy is tragedy plus timing, after all.

Perhaps this explains why I’m increasing turning to pen and paper and trying to rely less on the vagaries of technology. It would be a hoot if people turned back en masse to analogue ways and means, in the same way that vinyl records returned. Digital devices and apps that run on them would have to adapt to offer a better option for us, not just for companies. Unlikely, but stranger things have happened these last few years…


Clearly, Commuting by Train Has Scarred Me Mentally, Somehow...

Based on some recent dreams I’ve had, my version of Hell would be travelling by train but having no idea where I am, where I’m going, if I need to get off and change trains.

Additionally, the train would be packed, change shape and configuration as I look and move around them.

Same goes for any train stations I end up at.

Bonus: trains arriving and/or leaving may leave the tracks altogether, and any train I’m on may start moving down roads or even through fields without warning.


I have no idea why I keep having these dreams. I’ve not commuted since early 2012.


What I'm Currently Paying For

Since people on Micro.blog have been discussing subscriptions, it being the time of the year when then tend to come due for renewal, I thought I’d tot up which ones I have currently. It’s a lot fewer than this time last year, as I re-evaluated what I use and find useful.

The Essentials

  • Fastmail — my email provider since 2013, works like a champ, a keeper.
  • Backblaze — I backup locally too, but having online backups as well gives me extra peace of mind. Another keeper.
  • Bitwarden — I returned to Bitwarden in 2021 after another go with 1Password. I don’t have to pay for this, but I want to make sure they survive.
  • Microsoft 365 Personal — a necessary evil, while I train in proofreading and copyediting.

The Nice-To-Haves

  • Triode — I used apps like TuneIn Radio and myTuner in the past, but this is hands down the nicest radio app I’ve ever used.
  • Second Life — I don’t use all of the perks of the Premium account, but the ones I do use make all the difference. I also pay for the plot of Mainland I acquired last year. Yes, it’s virtual, but that’s also the case for your streaming music, Steam games library, etc. and I have a lot more fun with it than either of those.
  • SomaFM — I’ve been a listener since 2002.
  • Internet Archive — I’ve lost count of the number of things I’ve been able to track down again thanks to the Wayback Machine.

The Discretionary

  • Patreon — I support several artists and groups over there.
  • Bandcamp — probably my biggest discretionary spend in 2021. It gladdens my heart that this place exists.
  • Discogs — for those music items that I can’t find in digital form. Brexit and steep rises in shipping costs have dented my spending there, alas.

Stuff that fell by the wayside in 2021?

  • 1Password (mentioned above)
  • Apple Music (the streaming and cloud sync services)
  • Inoreader (now using NetNewsWire with local feed store)
  • Overcast (not lapsed yet, may reconsider)
  • iCloud (decided I can live without the extra capacity.)

My Brief Foray into Tumblr, again

This month I decided to create a new Tumblr account and see for myself what has changed since I left in 2018, shortly before the Great Purge.

One pleasant change is that the onboarding experience now makes use of suggested tags to get you started, so you’re not face with a dashboard that’s bare.

I wasn’t surprised to find that the option to mark your blog as ‘adult’ is gone. But I was surprised, and bemused, to discover that not all the NSFW content is gone — it’s just cleaned up enough to sneak under Tumblr’s radar.


However, it seems that Tumblr is still cracking down on ‘undesirable’ content, and yet again it’s at the behest of Apple’s App Store and a need to keep the official Tumblr app in there. Their latest move is to make various tags — none of which have been declared, although many folks have worked out — disappear from search, along with any posts containing them.

To me, this seems both heavy-handed and a fool’s errand, because I’ve no doubt that this process will play out repeatedly as Apple (and others) find more ‘objectionable’ material and demand it not be allowed to appear in the app.


My decision to close and delete my Tumblr account yesterday was partly motivated by the above, but mainly because I could see myself sliding back into old, bad habits by visiting the site. The temptation to keep scrolling, liking and re-blogging is just too strong. So I leave with a heavy heart, because I was reminded of the good stuff that is still around on Tumblr, but suspect that more and more of it will either depart or be rendered unviewable in the course of time.


Not gonna lie, the combination of MarsEdit and BBEdit makes cleaning up imported WordPress content a lot faster! The tricky part, I fear is going to be finding and fixing any inter-post links that got broken in transit, as well as broken image links.


Why Micro.blog?

For those of you who hadn’t spotted yet, this week I moved this site from a self-hosted WordPress installation to the Micro.blog account that I’ve had for a while. This was not a decision taken lightly, but something that I’ve been ruminating on for the last month.

To be fair, WordPress was working fine enough for me, but it’s a generalised site creation tool and while it can do blogs I get the impression that’s no longer the focus. There is a lot to do out-of-the-box to avoid getting overwhelmed by comment spam, of which there is a depressingly large amount, and several features like blogrolls require additional work to create. (Bizarrely, links management used to be a standard WordPress feature but has been turned off and hidden away in modern versions.) IndieWeb support requires the addition and setting up of several plugins, many of which are — to put it charitably — sporadically maintained, if at all. Since the default solution to the majority of WordPress issues is to install another plugin, this can lead to a lot of extra complexity, and potential for opening your site up to malicious attack if any plugins have vulnerabilities in them.

The other issue I’ve had with WordPress revolves around website design. There are free themes galore, but I’ve never found one that satisfied me, and the ability to customise can be severely limited. Creating child themes would be one solution, but I’ve had mixed results with that approach in the past. With the move to the new Gutenberg site-editing system in progress, things are in a state of flux; potentially easier to customise but still requiring coding work under-the-hood.


I toyed with the idea of using a static site generator like Hugo, but that would mean more manual work to update the site. Then it dawned on me that Micro.blog could do all that for me, while allowing me scope to adapt the site design to my liking. It supports import of WordPress content, and can export my data should I decide to move on, meaning it’s not a roach motel.

Moving to Micro.blog brings several other benefits for me:

  1. I can format my posts using Markdown, and use Markdown-supporting text editors like iA Writer (which I’m using now to type this) to prepare them in advance. Since I rarely need to add images or other things, this suits me to a tee!
  2. I can create draft posts directly from iA Writer, then check them over and hit ‘publish’ on the web.
  3. IndieWeb support is baked into Micro.blog, no need for extra work.
  4. The Micro.blog apps are simple to use and a delight compared to WordPress’s equivalents, which are geared more towards their own WordPress.com hosting service and have never worked for me in the past.
  5. Micro.blog is a community! A small one, but a diverse, friendly and knowledgable community.

One criticism that I’ve heard of Micro.blog is that it’s a small operation, what will I do if it folds or is bought? Fair point, but the same could be applied to Automattic, the owners of WordPress. Nothing is forever, as I know from experience. (Looking at you, Google!) As I mentioned earlier, I can export my data at any time should the need arise, and there are other things I can put in place to reduce my chances of data loss.

I will add that Micro.blog isn’t the only simple managed blogging service out that — I’ve heard good things about Write.as and Blot — and I recommend checking those out to see if they would better fit your needs. While you could create a blog using Blogger or WordPress.com, you’ll need to pay up in order to get any level of control over it, and even then that’s limited.


Here’s hoping that 2022 is the year I start not only blogging regularly again, but writing regularly again! With this new workflow in place, I no longer have any excuses! :)


Google Can't Tell If I'm Alive

I woke up this morning to find an email from Google’s Inactive Account Manager waiting for me. Apparently, they haven’t detected any activity from me in a while, and were asking me to check in to confirm I was still alive and well!

Initially I was concerned that it might be a scam, but examination of the email headers showed it to be genuine. Then I was mildly annoyed at the inconvenience of having to go into my Google account, something I only do when I have to.

Since I do make use of a few Google services, and would be peeved if Google pulled the plug on them, I’ve now turned off the Inactive Account Manager. Instead, I’ll leave instructions alongside my Will as to what should be done with my online presences.

But then I got to wondering why Google thought I was inactive, since I’d recently logged into Google in Firefox in order to set that up as a Container-ed space for any interactions I needed to do, and had also done some stuff with a shared Google Drive folder using Transmit. I’ve had my search history and other tracking preferences turned off in my account for a long while, but I doubt those are the reason. One thing that has changed this year is that I started using NextDNS to filter out trackers at the network level. So perhaps Google were still tracking me, albeit indirectly, and it was the prolonged lack of pings that got their attention? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that were the case, since Google’s behaviour around phasing out cookies shows they fully intend to keep tracking people, it’s just the methods that’ll change.

It is somewhat gratifying to know that my efforts to remove tracking from my devices appears to be working, at least in this instance. So this story ends with a smile on my face. :)


'Distraction-Free' Starts With You, Not a New Purchase

I’ve had ‘Can “Distraction-Free” Devices Change the Way We Write?’ in my inbox to read for a while, and finally got around to digesting it in full.

While it was an entertaining read, it’s definitely one of those articles that fits the category “Any Headline Ending In A Question Mark Can Mostly Likely Be Answered With ‘No’”. And it felt to me too weighed on the techno-solutionism side.

I’m a very happy user of iA Writer, one of the apps mentioned in the article, and I used the Freedom app to help wean myself off of social media and other distractions several years ago. But not that I refer to Freedom in the past tense; eventually I got to a point where I no longer needed it because I was off social media entirely. And while I’ve looked at other apps and devices over the years since, I’ve resisted the urge to buy More Stuff or Different Stuff to help me focus.

Here is a secret that hides in plain sight, but is overlooked by far too many: the devices and apps we already own can be made less distracting, we just need to make the effort to throw the switches.

Too many notifications? Turn off the ones you don’t need, and make the rest wait until you’re ready to look at them. There are only a few that require your attention Right Now, trust me.

Too many temptations to procrastinate? Start by taking the apps off your device. You can’t time-waste if there’s no time-waster to tap and open. If that’s too big an ask, use Screen Time or some other means to restrict your usage of those apps. Be ruthless.

By all means buy something else if it’ll be better for your hands or eyesight. Your health and well-being are important and, in the long run, a lot more expensive to fix if they get damaged. But do your research before you click the big shiny ‘buy’ button, and make sure it’s the right option for you; don’t fall into the trap of buying because Other Folks Use It And Love It.


Email, The Internet's Backyard

Josh Withers’ blog - Stand back, imma fix email

I look at my mate Ash’s iPhone screen and see the red badge on his email app and it terrifies me. What’s the current unread count, Ash? The thing is, most people don’t love their inbox because it’s their internet yard … and most people don’t like looking after their own backyard.

They like going to restaurants where waiters bring the food and take away dirty dishes. We like going to public parks where the council mows the lawn. We love theme parks where the employees maintain the rides. In this analogy, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple News, LinkedIn, Snapchat, TikTok, are the third parties.

It turns out our homes & our yards are pretty cool, we just need to invest into them, maintain them, clean them, and if we do, we might enjoy living in them, and we can do whatever we like there because it’s our backyard.

Email is the backyard of the internet. Your inbox is yours, you own it, and most of us leave it to rot because it’s not on public display and most people won’t see it.

Some great recommendations, several of which I’ve implemented myself over the last few years. I highly recommend learning how to filter emails to reveal specific ones — one of the reasons I think most folks don’t tackle their email is that they feel overwhelmed. Ideally, you want to only be subscribed to those emails that are either important or useful, only archive what you need to keep, and delete everything else.