I think I’ve ironed out all the issues and I’m now publishing everything–including notes like this–to my own blog (blog.b-ark.ca), feeding into micro.blog (micro.blog/brettkosinski), auto-syndicating to Twitter! #indieweb
Anyone who knows me knows that I basically grew up around computers. I began my lifetime of coding very early on, beginning with a BASIC interpreter and a library book and rapidly progressing to HyperCard, Logo, and then eventually Turbo Pascal. By high school I was one of a few obsessives who spent all their time in the computer lab where, if I wasn’t playing games or messing around with the equipment, I was writing code.
I was, in short, a computer nerd.
And that’s still true to this day. I honestly doubt there’ll ever be a time when I’m not tinkering away on one project or another. Heck, the relaunch of this blog was as much an excuse to mess around with Jekyll as anything else…
Anyway, around that time I remember taking a career aptitude test. If you’re not familiar with one of these things, think of it as a blend of an IQ test and a personality test–not the most promising of constituent parts–fortified with only the finest of snake oils. I can only imagine the number of girls who were told they would be nurses and homemakers…
In my case, to absolutely no one’s surprise, the conclusion was I would end up in IT. Yes, even the computers thought I should be working with computers.
This was both a blessing and a curse. Where other kids my age had no idea what they’d be doing with their lives, I knew, so much so that it wasn’t something I thought about, or even realized you should be thinking about. But that also meant I had a very narrow view of myself and my future, and was totally unaware of the box I was in. Moreover, as I was otherwise pretty decent at school, I didn’t really face a lot of adversity. I knew exactly who I was, where I was going, and how I was going to get there.
My path through post-secondary at the University of Alberta only cemented things.
Now, that’s not to say it wasn’t difficult! While going through the Honours Computing Science program, I constantly struggled at the theoretical aspects of the degree (though I’ll admit some of those wounds were probably self-inflicted…). But any classes that focused on the actual writing of software–compilers, computer graphics, operating systems–were completely natural to me. It was clear: I was not cut out to be an academic. But a digital tradesman hammering and nailing together software day to day? Oh yeah, that I could do!
What followed was a professional career that took me from a junior software developer to, twelve years later, a senior lead where I had the opportunity to partner with other very talented developers and an experienced product manager to pilot the development of whole new products. It was exciting, fulfilling, and a whole hell of a lot of fun!
But to that point I honestly can’t say I made many purposeful decisions about my life. I never had a vision for my future (other than that I’d be writing code). I was never one to be particularly goal-oriented. If someone asked me what I wanted for my career, I probably would’ve just shrugged and looked confused. I honestly just never thought about it. Heck, it didn’t even occur to me to change jobs; I’ve been at the same company for over seventeen years!
I’ve often joked that, in my life, I’ve fallen ass-backwards into success, and this is what I mean when I say that.
And then I fell ass-backwards into having to actually make a choice for a change.
At the company there was a push to staff up the Product Management function which, to that point, had been run by a single executive.1 And for reasons I still don’t understand, it was my name that came up as someone who could take it on.
So, late on a weeknight, I received a call and was presented with an opportunity: did I want to make a pivot and move into Product?
I was genuinely surprised, overwhelmed, and incredibly conflicted!
I was a coder. That’s who I was. That’s who I’d been for the previous twenty-five years!
I was also–and this is something people who know me will recognize–pretty darn risk averse. After all, I’d spent most of my life just playing to my strengths and making the easy choices. Big risky decisions were not something I normally faced.
Since then, I’ve learned something important: If someone opens a door for you, walk through it!
At the time, though, I was nervous and so I asked for a contingency plan: if this didn’t go well, either because I wasn’t a good fit for the job or because the role didn’t work in the organization, I wanted an assurance that I could return to my old job and pick up where I left off.
Fortunately, the leadership at the company understood my concerns and they were absolutely willing to provide me with that guarantee.
And so, safety net in place, I made the leap. It was April 15th, 2014. The next day, I was a Product Manager.
Well, at least by title.
In practice I had a lot to learn, about the job itself and, more fundamentally, about the nature of effective leadership and collaboration in this new, larger context. I only barely understood it at the time, but I was taking the first step on a journey that would challenge and stretch me in surprising ways.
For folks who don’t know much about the industry, where a software developer’s job is to actually build a product, the job of a Product Manager is to determine what needs to be built in the first place based on an understanding of the user, the customer, and the market. The Product Manager then works within the organization to make that vision a reality, not through authority or direct control, but through influence and collaboration. ↩
My hand-wired keyboard upgraded with Matt3o Nerd caps. Yes, that’s Elvish!
Refreshment at Campio Brewing in Edmonton Alberta, Canada!
So if this reply appears in the right place, and I think it will, I can confirm that fixing the source URL issue in my webmentions has resolved the problem and I can now successfully post replies to M.b from my blog. Phew! Thanks again!
Just finished my 1st viewing of my favourite Christmas movie: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. Happy 30th anniversary, Griswolds!
There’s something different about a nap on the couch next to your loved ones while a screen is on, as opposed to in silence alone in bed. I think it feels festive, somehow. It’s that post-holiday-meal vibe. It’s luxurious and drowsy and it was so pleasant that I think I might try to do it more often.
Ahh, so true! When I was a kid I fondly remember Sunday afternoons when a re-run of Star Trek would be on the TV while my dad napped on the couch. It’s now become one of my favorite things to do on the weekend: an episode of TOS playing as I snooze on the couch while my wife reads beside me.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a frequent user of tools like Google Keep, Google Docs, etc. But I’ve never been terribly comfortable with my dependency on those services. Yeah, obviously there’s the privacy concerns, but more fundamentally, I just want control over my data! It’s a heck of a lot harder to run “grep” over a set of notes in Google Keep…
Thematically, if you’ve been paying attention to this blog, you’ll notice this is part of a theme. Ultimately, I’m doing what I can to make sure I can manage and control my own information outside the walls of the common internet monopolies.
Now, quite a while ago I adopted vimwiki as my note taking method of choice. Before you get scared off, Vim is just a tool to enable a more fundamental idea: that personal information management should be built on the simplest possible tools and file formats, with the data under my own control.
In my case, I chose to focus on taking notes using plain text files, with a basic markup language that would allow me to write richer text and link those notes together.
When I first started doing this a few years ago I chose to stick with Vimwiki’s native markup, as it supported a few things out-of-the-box that Markdown, at the time, didn’t neatly support without using poorly supported extensions (I’m looking at you, checkboxes!) However, right around that same time, Github released a spec for their extensions to Markdown that plugged a lot of the holes that had concerned me, and since then support for these extensions has expanded considerably.
This caused me to revisit the issue and I concluded that a migration to Markdown made a lot of sense.
It made even more sense when considering that my move to Jekyll meant I was already switching to Markdown for my blog. Switching over my notes meant that I could use a single markup and the same set of tools for all my private note taking and my blog writing. Slick!
I got even more excited when I discovered Markor! Markor is a Markdown editor for Android with fairly complete support for the CommonMark spec. Combined with Syncthing, I could have my notes and my blog available on all my devices, which means I can take notes or even write blog articles on my phone, on my laptop, or anything else that has a text editor.
Ultimately, I’d say it took me a good three to four hours to do all the bulk processing necessary to convert my old Vimwiki notes to Markdown (a conversion that, it’s worth pointing out, would’ve been difficult or impossible if I had been tied down to closed file formats), and the result has absolutely been worth the effort!
So, to recap, using the following stack of tools:
- Vim + vimwiki
I now have what amounts to my own, private, cross-device, holistic writing solution that allows me to maintain control of my data using open formats.
I’d call that a win!
Now, if you’re not terribly comfortable writing in Markdown yourself, there are solutions! Applications like Joplin attempt to replace tools like Evernote. There also plenty of simple WYSIWYG Markdown editors out there, as well, if that’s all you need. And that is, of course, the point: by using something like Markdown you give yourself the freedom to pick the tools you want, without having to sacrifice openness and interoperability.
My Micropub endpoint Lillipub is up and running and ready for tweets! It ain’t pretty and there’s lots left to do, but it works! #indieweb
Jekyll+webmentions isn’t hard! I may write a blog post about it but I started with the instructions for this plugin: http://tiny.cc/5fvsgz
Hah! I’m toying with posting more stuff to my blog and syndicating it here ala #indieweb POSSE methodology. Also I’m bored. ;)
I’m really not cut out for these late night coding sessions anymore. But I’m having a lot of fun hacking jekyll-webmention! #indieweb
So Facebook is basically this generation’s IBM!
Next step in my #indieweb adventures: building a Micropub endpoint. It’s alive!
The Centralized Web
I don’t think I’d be making news by pointing out that the internet, today, is dominated by large, centralized services. While this centralization of the internet is a far cry from the original vision of peer-to-peer interactions and democratization, those services have, in many ways, enriched our lives by connecting friends and family, individuals and businesses, citizens and government.
But I also wouldn’t be making news by pointing out that those same services have a darker side, particularly those that would bill themselves as “free”. While ostensibly costing us nothing, these free services make billions collecting and monetizing our personal data while optimizing our use of those systems to enhance engagement1. Worse, the data they collect, with or without our consent, is locked away outside of our control.
I know this. And yet I still find myself making use of many of these services, including:
- Email (Gmail)
- Storage (Photos, Drive)
- Calendar (uh… Calendar)
- Notes (Keep)
And I’m sure many others besides.
Each of these services provides immense value! Instead of having to host email, or create my own offsite storage system, or manage my own git server, I can save time and effort by having someone else do the work for me.
However, in exchange, each of these services holds a piece of who I am. And I don’t control any of it.
The Dark Side of Centralization
In some cases the piece of me these services hold is small. In others it’s so large as to be difficult to grasp. Some services hold data that I also store elsewhere, while others retain the only copy of that information. Some of this data is not terribly interesting, while other data is so sensitive that only few should see it.
This is frightening when you consider just how dangerous these services can be.
First off, each of these services may be collecting data about me in ways I may not even be aware of. Google, for example, makes it surprisingly difficult to disable location tracking in Android. Facebook is known to create shadow profiles for people who’ve never used the service. And don’t get me started on Android app data collection.
This data collection makes these centralized services extremely high-valued targets for attackers. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that an Equifax data breach left millions of people vulnerable to identity theft. The natural counterargument is that a small number of centralized services leaves fewer locations that need to be secured. However those same services provide a troubling lack of transparency regarding data collection, security, and handling practices, not to mention notification of security breaches (for example, the Equifax breach began in May, was noticed at the end of July, and announced to the public in September).
More fundamentally, there is a basic misalignment of incentives at work, particularly for these “free” services. The old adage goes that if a product is free, you are the product, and that couldn’t be more true in the current ad supported environment of the free internet. As a result, these organizations are highly incentivized to learn as much as possible about all of us, while encouraging us to use their services, even to our own detriment.
Of course, all this is pretty philosophical. What if I don’t care about all my data being collected and monetized?
Well, consider all of the content you have locked away in these services; all those photos and videos in Facebook, all those emails in Gmail, all those posts on Medium.
What happens if one of those services goes down? I know that sounds crazy, but I suspect Myspace thought the same once!
What happens if one of those services changes their terms of service in a way that makes you want to switch?
What happens if something happens to you, and your loved ones want access to all those photos or videos you once took?
What if you simply stop liking the service and want to go somewhere else?
These closed systems put our data out of our hands and out of our control, and that’s simply dangerous.
So what’s the alternative?
Breaking Out of the Silos
I’ll be the first to admit that getting away from this model of centralization is not something just anyone can do. Not yet, anyway. In that way, sadly, privacy and data autonomy is a new form of inequality, and it’s something I’m increasingly interested in exploring.
But, in the meantime, I can certainly improve my own circumstances.
I’ve already begun writing a bit about this topic. My posts on my switch to tt-rss, and my decision to transition to Jekyll, are connected and part of a theme: to move further toward self-hosting and support of IndieWeb technologies.
And then there’s my gradual shift away from Gmail (though I haven’t made the leap quite yet).
Of course, I don’t believe for a second that I can completely wean myself off of centralized internet services. However, I can mitigate the risks and control the data that’s most important to me.
Where engagement is defined as a compulsive need to continue to interact with the service. Whether that compulsion is driven by anger, fear, or joy is of course immaterial. ↩
I can’t say I’m optimistic that the #indieweb is gonna really take off, but a man can dream…
Yeah yeah, I’m posting to Twitter now. But it’s from my own Jekyll blog using the IndieWeb stack. So it’s hipster enough to be cool.
Well… I’m going to attempt something pretty major, here, and switch over my blog from my trusty Oddmuse instance to Jekyll… for better or worse.
There are numerous upsides to this. First, I’ve already built a lot of habits around taking notes using Vimwiki, and having recently made the switch to Markdown for that wiki1, having a consistent set of tools for personal and work note taking, as well as blog management sounds pretty attractive! Doubly so since I really enjoy the writing experience I’ve set up with Vim.
Second, this rebuild moves me to a well-supported set of tools that’s currently being very actively maintained. I’ve been a huge fan of Oddmuse for a long time, if only for its light weight simplicity, but its lost momentum over the years. Further, the dependency on a semi-custom markup, and the storage being in an oddball custom format, means I’m a little more tied down to its infrastructure than I’d like. Moving to pure Markdown means I get the simplicity of wiki-style markup without being tied to a specific technology platform.
Third, security. Static site generators are simpler, faster, and less complex to operate, and have a lower footprint for abuse.
That’s not to say there aren’t downsides! I’ve written a lot of content using custom plugins and markup, and I don’t know how I’m going to replace all that.
And, of course, there’s simply the act of transferring all that content.
But. I strongly feel this will be worth the transition.
And it gives me a project!
Update: And obviously I’ve moved! Of course, there’s lots of work left to do as I move into this new infrastructure. The site layout needs more work. I’d like an archive navigator. I need to enable some sort of commenting mechanism. But, so far so good!
And yeah, the tale of this entire transition and a rundown of my new toolset is probably worth a series of blog posts. Stay tuned!
This deserves a post of its own. This move has enabled me to do things like use Markor on my phone to share the same set of notes on both my laptop and my phone, which has had the ancillary benefit of basically killing Google Keep in my workflows. It’s not without its issues, and it’s not something I’d recommend to a casual user, but it’s pretty slick… ↩
Previous 1 of 62 Next