More like everyone else

I’m wondering if I should become more like everyone else. Should I post “5 Tips to improve your workflow right now!” articles on Medium? Should I be “super excited” to humblebrag about myself on LinkedIn? Should I fire up my Instagram account and splash gaudy “stories” all over it throughout the day? Should I buy some neon background lights and work on an unnecessary 90-second musical intro to my upstart YouTube channel?

No, I shouldn’t.

The Spark File

This was first published on daily.baty.net because I can never decided where to post stuff like this.

Ten years ago, Steven Johnson wrote The Spark File, in which he describes his process for keeping track of hunches, ideas, etc. in a single text file.

I, of course, thought this was a great idea and immediately started keeping my own spark file. It began in 2012 and I was reasonably consistent with it until 2016. After that, there was a lull, but it picked up again for a short time in 2021, after which I sort of forgot about it.

I ran into the file today and reviewing it has been quite a trip. The short version is that I’ve only done a few of the things I’d written down. This is fine since many of them are things I’m either no longer interested in or were too ambitious anyway. I have, since I last checked, completed a few of them. Crossing them off the list was fun. There are others that are still good ideas and that I may pursue.

Since the file is an org-mode file, I’ve added a capture template to my Emacs config that lets me quickly capture new entries. Now I just need some hunches or ideas to capture.

The Algorithm

I’ve been feeling a little dispirited ever since I saw this in the sidebar on YouTube.

I mean, I was watching a video about Zotero for crying out loud. Zotero is a boring (but fabulous), academic research tool. And yet, every related/suggested video had the same stupid, formulaic thumbnail: Make a silly face and slap some giant, maybe even SHOCKING! text over the top.

If you’ll allow this old man to yell at some clouds, I hate what algorithmic feeds have done to us. If you have a YouTube channel, you’re basically forced into this nonsense or risk being invisible. People have asked why I don’t have a YouTube channel. I don’t have my own channel because having to play this silly unrelated game of attention is not something I’m interested in.

Maybe this is no different than what marketing has been doing to us for a hundred years, but it feels worse and I don’t like it.

Beyond the Infinite

I collect a lot of “stuff” on my computer. I’m one of those lazy people who just drop most of it onto my Desktop and assume I’ll figure out what to do with it later. The problem is, I rarely actually figure out what to do with most of it.

Late last year I created a folder on my Mac’s desktop named “Beyond the Infinite” 1. Anything that ends up on my desktop that isn’t important enough to file away but is something that I’d still like to keep, “just in case,” gets tossed into Beyond the Infinite.

It’s become a minor treasure. It’s like a journal of things that barely matter at the time, but become valuable later. Screenshots, text snippets, URLs, etc. I love it.

Printing web pages

In 2020 I wrote,

I no longer try to read longer-form articles right away. I instead send them to Instapaper and, after a day or two, review the inbox, delete the ones I no longer care about, and print the ones I do.

Reading Long-Form Web Articles By Printing Them First

I still print web pages for later reading, but I’ve updated the way it works.

I’ve replaced Instapaper with Zotero as my read later service. Zotero is overkill for this, but it’s free, local, and makes the articles I save usable as references if needed.

When I’ve found an article that I want to print and read, I visit the page and use the excellent Markdownload web clipper extension. Markdownload grabs the meat of the article, converts the HTML to Markdown, and (optionally) adds front matter and metadata to the document. Here’s an example:

created: 2022-11-12T08:40:29
source: https://www.wired.com/story/tweet-dying-revolutionary-internet/
author: Paul Ford
documentclass: scrartcl
- twocolumn

# A Tweet Before Dying | WIRED
source: ([www.wired.com](https://www.wired.com/story/tweet-dying-revolutionary-internet/))

> ## Excerpt
> The revolutionary internet is over, and we don’t have much to show for it. A new start is out there, somewhere.

i find it a good philosophical exercise to imagine the last tweet. It could come centuries hence, when a cryptobot offers a wistful adieu to another cryptobot, or in 2025, when Donald Trump, the newly ...

I add the documentclass and classoption front matter manually. These options are used by my pandoc template 1 when converting the Markdown file to PDF using Pandoc. The rest is handled automatically by the extension.

Once I have the Markdown file, I convert it to PDF either via a BBEdit script or pandoc-mode in Emacs.

Here’s what the PDF looks like:

Screenshot of printed output

After that, it’s off to the printer.

Admittedly, the setup for this took me some time, but now that the hard part is done I can go from web page to a typographically beautiful printed document in about a minute. It’s been totally worth it.

Fancy graphs are fancy

All I think when I see posts like this is, “So? To what end?”

“5 months results. @logseq keeps logging and meaning emerges naturally.” (@hillsmao)

I’m sure some people actually derive value from these graphs, but I also suspect that many just get a kick out of looking at them. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not Knowledge. It’s barely even information.