Unpublishable

There's a topic that I've wanted to write about for years in order to better formulate my thoughts. Any time I've tried to have a conversation with people on the matter the end result has never been very satisfying. By writing about the subject, I'm forced to slow down and really think about what's being written and how things are being laid out. Do the points build on each other? Is the central theme followed the entire time? Are digressions and tangents kept to a minimum? By following the basic principles of writing, it's possible to put together an argument on just about any topic.

Yesterday I finished writing one of the longest pieces I've considered for this site. It weighed in at 7,218 words and covered quite a bit of ground. A number of memories were shared, conversations with people summarized, and a couple of religious texts were even referenced, all culminating in the 5-word central thesis of the piece. After reading through the essay twice, I decided that the item was ultimately unpublishable as it could result in some potential problems if my life insurance provider ever stopped by to read the article.

This got me thinking about what sorts of topics would be considered taboo to write about for a person who happens to find themselves gainfully employed with a family, a mortgage, car payments, various insurance policies, and a slow-but-steady freelance client base. To say that "nothing is taboo on the Internet" would be demonstrably false, yet there does seem to be a bit more freedom for a person to discuss ideas that might be unpopular if spoken aloud, particularly if something is published under a pseudonym or anonymously1. There are obvious taboos on posts that would promote violence against others, such as lynching, rape, and murder. There might even be taboos on posts that would intentionally mislead people, which are perhaps best exemplified by "Flat Earthers". That said, there are a lot of topics between claiming the world is a disc and pictures of kittens — the safest topic in the known universe.

Over the years I've written a number of posts that were originally intended for publication on this or another blog only to keep them offline for fear of reprisal at some point in the future. None were quite as long as the essay from yesterday, though some could have certainly resulted in some heated words2. Is it right to keep these offline? Or would this be an ideal use case for password-protected posts?


  1. Real anonymity on the Internet is very hard to find. It's often best to understand that there is no anonymity online without putting in a lot of work to hide who you are and where you're connecting from.

  2. Some of the opinion pieces I've written about the territorial disputes concerning islands around Japan have certainly resulted in some hate from drive-by commenters.

600 Hours

Today marks the 245th consecutive day that I've written and published a blog post on this site, which is a number that I find astounding given the number of times I've tried and failed to do this in the past. As these posts are all stored in a database it's easy to quantify what's been done even more, but these metrics would just add noise to the goal of the current objective of publishing at least one blog post every day for 365 days … or more. That said, the vast majority of my day is spent thinking about numbers. To not slice and dice my efforts here in an effort to better understand what's been done would run counter to my nature. So it should come as no surprise that I decided to kill some time while listening in on a meeting at work by writing a quick little script that would take a look at the source files for the blog posts I've written — including the unpublished ones — and try to work out roughly how much time I've invested in writing since September 12th, 2018.

The answer is just shy of 600 hours1. I thought it would be more.

Setting a goal to both write and publish a post every day is easy. Achieving the goal is another story altogether. When I would try to publish daily in the past, it was often necessary to have a couple of blog posts written and put in the queue ahead of time so that there would always be something to publish, even if I couldn't write it that day. This tactic is being avoided this time as one of the benefits to writing every day is the unseen information stored in each post. Articles with a great deal of repetition were written at the end of the day or during times of burnout. Posts that consist mostly of photos are for those days when I am just staring at a blank page for far too long. Items that have clearly defined sections were written over a period of hours with at least two revisions. It's this extra information contained within the patterns of every post that I find the most interesting as it reveals elements of my mental state as the fingers hit the keyboard.

One of the reasons this personal site exists is because it's a reflection of who I am in more ways than one. There are bugs, imperfections, poorly-written posts and, occasionally, better ones. Some of the ideas I write about have evolved over time while others may have remained mostly static. It's very much a personal Wayback Machine.

Writing and publishing every day is not something everyone can do every day, and I struggle with blank pages just as often as anyone else. There's no stopping this streak, though. 365 consecutive days is the minimum goal, and there is no upper limit. With all this writing practise, I hope that the articles are being written better and with fewer digressions.


  1. The best estimate is 594 hours 29 minutes, but this can't include situations like standing up to use the bathroom or stopping because the boy needed attention. It should be taken with a grain of salt.

Context and Footnotes

There is no denying that footnotes play a prominent role on this site1. Rarely does a day go by where there isn't at least one sitting underneath the main body of a blog post, providing context or additional information to explain an idea in a fashion that is less obtrusive than an in-line aside or bracketed segue2. Footnotes have become so much a part of my writing that they even make an appearance in social posts, which may make this publishing platform the only place where a person can include these annotations in a "micro-blogging"3 format. One of the questions I've long had is why these useful notes are so rarely seen on other websites. It's not as through footnotes are a foreign concept and the quick-reference context they can provide might actually make reading about complex or contextual subjects a little easier for people who do not have a complete working knowledge of the subject4.

Footnotes on a Recent Post

The Problem with Footnotes on Websites

As with anything, footnotes are not a panacea5. On the printed page, a footnote is (generally) found only on the bottom of the page that carries the superscript hint. This makes it relatively easy for a reader to read more about something if they so choose. On a website there may be a little more work involved if a person needs to first scroll to the bottom, not losing their place, then go back. The moving screen would be a distraction that can break the flow of the article. There are a couple of solutions to this, of course, and I've used two on this very site in the past. Unfortunately they are not necessarily the best solutions6.

The first method I used was to have the super-script number act as an anchor link7. By clicking or tapping the number, a reader would be brought to the bottom of the page where the footnote existed. At the end of the footnote would be a "return" icon which, as one would expect, returns a person to the point where they left off. This is certainly better than requiring a person scroll down to the bottom of a post themselves, but the jumping content can be visually distracting. The abrupt changes, sliding past images or a wall of text, is not at all a good experience. What's worse is that a person still has to re-read segments to determine where exactly they left off and get back into the article8.

This is a sub-optimal solution to the problem.

A couple of years ago Chris Sauve released "Bigfoot" to the world9, which is a JavaScript library that mimics the footnote popovers that were first seen — to the best of my knowledge — in Instapaper. I liked this idea so much that I implemented it on 10Centuries almost immediately. This worked great on desktop machines and tablets, but proved to be a problem on phones when dealing with some of the more verbose asides on this site and others. In the end, I had to remove the feature and go back to the first implementation so that people could read articles without an unfortunate source of friction.

Neither of these features are found on the current version of the 10Centuries platform10. Instead I've opted for the least helpful method, which is expecting the reader to scroll to the bottom if they want to read more. The reasoning came down to ensuring feature parity with the RSS reader that is built into the 10C platform11, but this is a lazy answer. There must be a better solution.

Fortunately, as with so many things in life, there are a couple of options that might prove worth exploring.

Option One: Tangible Footnotes

A footnote is expected to be at the bottom of a page. With this in mind, if the screen is considered a page, then footnotes should always appear at the bottom of the screen and update as the visible content scrolls. Because some footnotes can be incredibly long on a small screen, it would be better to show just a compressed view with the option to expand and read everything. I see this working a little bit like Vivaldi when the browser tabs are set to appear at the bottom of the window, only less tabular.

Option Two: Anchor Links with Highlighting

The idea here is that a person would click a superscript number and be scrolled to the appropriate footnote, which would then be highlighted in a manner to make it easier to quickly identify and read. Clicking the return link would bring a person back to the part of the page where they were, with the superscript number highlighted so that there's no mistake where a person can pick up reading again.

Option Three: Ditch the Footnotes

This isn't really a valid option as it would mean providing less context to a point or learning how to weave longer, more complex stories that bring a reader along for the ride. While this would be nice from a literary practice point of view, it's not something I'm particularly keen on doing at this time. While I would love to write with such an artistic flurry that people cannot help but read and share my articles with the world because they evoke such vivid mental pictures, this would require me to invest more time into the craft than I have available at the moment. This may be an option at some point in the future, but not today. Of course, this option does nothing to help people using 10C who want to use footnotes12.

Of the first two options, which one is better? The first would require more complex code to be written while the second could probably be hammered out and deployed in a single morning. Are there other workable solutions?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm just overthinking every decision that goes into this platform in an effort to avoid trying something different and failing miserably. Not being able to code the right solution isn't something I worry about, as a lot of my code gets thrown away as ideas evolve and get refined. What worries me is releasing a feature that people detest, resulting in an ever-shrinking community as the tools I provide do not offer sufficient benefits to weather the rough spots. Maybe I'm overthinking this, too. I probably am.

That said, which option will prove to be more correct?


  1. Over the last 24 months there have been 1,218 footnotes written for blog posts on this site alone. To say that footnotes play a prominent role is a bit of an understatement.

  2. Many years ago, when I was just starting to take blogging as a serious creative outlet, posts were written in a fashion similar to what I would see in the opinion section of various newspapers. Footnotes and references are generally handled quite a bit differently when columns are limited in length and width, so writers would often use an inline aside — such as this, which is marked by a double-width dash — or brackets (which is what I generally see in newspapers that were at one time owned by Conrad Black, "the millionaire who went to jail").

  3. When people started to think of posts consisting of a handful of words as a "micro blog", there was a bit of experimentation to see how additional context could be included in a post. The solution on microbloggling platforms such as Twitter was to reply to yourself to build a "Tweet storm", or a series of sentences that would hopefully form a cohesive paragraph if read chronologically and not taken out of context. As one would expect from someone as creative as a brick, I tended to write a longer blog post and just post a link to that on Twitter — or somewhere else — in the hopes that a less abridged explanation of an idea or opinion would foster a more nuanced dialog. Boy was I wrong.

  4. People are not stupid. We might call each other various synonyms of this word from time to time but, at the end of the day, I strongly believe that most of us want to expand our knowledge and understanding of the universe and the IDIC within. The Internet has often been referred to as the id of humanity, but I tend to see it as IDIC on display; Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Roughly half of the people on the planet are using the Internet to communicate and share ideas. Billions of people with different backgrounds, beliefs, ideologies, degrees of education, levels of cognitive understanding, and states of mind. With a little context behind an idea, it becomes that much easier to understand where a writer is coming from, even if we don't agree.

  5. No solution is going to magically solve all problems. That said, some solutions can gain wider traction and foster greater innovation from a community of thinkers.

  6. This is one of the reasons I dislike how people will market a product as "the best X for Y". There is no possible way any single solution is going to work for everyone. How many text editors are there available for download? How many different flavours of Linux? How many different laundry detergents? Best is, at best, a subjective term that can only apply to a handful of individuals. This won't stop people from trying, though.

  7. Anchor links are certainly a valid option to the problem of quick footnote seeking, but I'm reminded of the hassles from the early days of digital books. In the late 90s, there were a couple of competing file formats that tried to force a book to feel like a website. What this meant was that a textbook or published thesis might have anywhere between two and five dozen references at the back of the book. Clicking a link would trigger the jump to the page which, on a Palm handheld or very early Kindle meant waiting for the device to read to the end of the book, find the reference, then render the page on the screen. A process that would require five seconds on a good day. Clicking back would require just as much time and, if you changed the size of the font, then the page numbers were all wrong and you'd end up where you didn't want to be.

  8. It was a mess!

  9. When bigfoot.js was released, a lot of websites in the Apple blogger sphere snapped it up right away. This was a great solution for people who wrote short footnotes, but there was a problem for people who were unaccustomed to using the literary tool in that a number of CMSes did not natively support them. Now, almost six years after the JavaScript helper's release, it seems that there are just a handful of sites — that I visit — that use an occasional footnote in any capacity.

  10. Like a lot of current CMSes that abstain from WYSIWYG editors, 10C relies heavily on Markdown for its text formatting. When the text is rendered into HTML, tags are added to make posts IndieWeb friendly, but little is done to make the various post types really stand out.

  11. One of the core concepts behind 10Cv5, which I have eluded to at times, is that this current version of the platform is really more of an RSS reader with the ability to publish content to a domain you own. Comments can be made right from the reader, which will then result in a Quotation or Bookmark post on your own site. Webmentions are then sent out so that Indieweb-ready websites can visit the source post, read in the comment, and display it to future readers. This makes it possible for an author to have long-term control over the words they publish online and, if a commented-on post disappears at some point in the future, the comment continues to exist in a local database. That said, this feature is not yet fully released.

  12. This is the crux of the problem I face with personal projects, such as 10C. People are using the software. I really want the features to be things that people can use easily and rely on. The move to v5, however, was painfully messy. There are still records that have not yet been properly attached to the accounts of the authors, and some core site pages are still non-existent. The RSS feature is something that is being used transparently on a daily basis in the form of Nice.Social, but it's not quite ready to deal with the wild-west of RSS feeds that exist across the web. Every couple of days I'm spotting issues with malformed feeds that need analysis and better handling. Once the core features of v5 are in place and people have all of their data in an easily accessible fashion, I'll open up the RSS reader — and its API — to anyone who wishes to read and comment on content using the Google Reader-inspired web application.

18,767

Randolph recently wrote a post about being a writer as a direct response to yesterday's post where I outlined my desire to write essays in order to be better able to discuss and think through complex problems. My lack of confidence in being able to adequately articulate my thoughts were cast aside as absurd and the constant juggling of priorities to make time for writing was identified as a common problem. Randolph strikes me as a person who spends a great deal of time in their head, just as I do, which means that making time to write cuts not only into thinking time, but into the myriad of tasks and responsibilities we've taken on. In an effort to encourage my self-improvement attempts, they suggested using Drafts for iOS and macOS as a jotting tool where ideas could be quickly noted and saved.

They go on to say:

I have an app on my phone (Drafts for iOS, which has a macOS version as well), in which I write a little bit about a certain topic on a regular basis. Each thought is in its own document, with some context. You always want to add context because you’ll forget what you were thinking otherwise. […] Eventually there will be enough content to write an essay, complete with references.

Very true. By writing a little bit on a topic and saving it in a file, ideally tagging it with keywords to better support search later on, it becomes feasible to amass a large collection of ideas surrounding a topic or group of topics. This is something I've been doing since discovering Evernote in 2009, and continue to do with Byword on iOS and Typora on Ubuntu Linux. In fact, this has been going on long enough that I've amassed 18,767 partially-written blog posts, many of which are written or edited on the same day and subsequently abandoned for a "simpler" topic. Not a day goes by where I don't discard two or three blog posts, often right near the end of the writing process, simply because they don't "feel" right.

It's annoying.

Random Blog Posts

Randolph is 100% correct, though. In order to become a better writer — or better at any skill — a person must continually grind through the process with the understanding that most of what they produce will not be up to their own expectations. We are our own worst critic, after all. I've been writing software for a quarter century and still learn new things on a near-daily basis. I've been cooking meals for even longer and am often surprised to learn a new way to prepare eggs or something seemingly just as basic. Cognitive writing is something that I've been doing longest of all, at 34 years … yet I still see the words in front of me as a semi-coherent rambling.

My first memories of "serious writing" were in September of 1985, when I was just six years old. I was in the first grade and my teacher, Mrs. Stamphler, assigned us the task of writing a diary about our summer holidays. I had just spent six months in a foster home while my parents went through a divorce and my father worked desperate hours to pay down the bills and gain custody of a sister and myself. I was still adjusting to all of the changes that had occurred in such a short period of time and decided to write about that. My foster family's name was Nevan, so I would often refer to them as "The Nevans". They were incredibly religious and we would often attend church during the week. Occasionally I would spend time with my sister in the Sunday School class but, more often than not, I would be up in the pews with all of the adults, listening to the minister deliver his sermon. The topics were always way more complicated than I could follow, but I do remember what he said about the trials of Noah, the trials of Job, and how Judas may have betrayed Christ, but he was not as evil as modern teachings would have us believe. I was six years old and writing about this stuff — poorly — in an effort to make sense of the changes I had witnessed, and I remember a lot of the details to this day probably because I wrote them down.

The diaries and journals never stopped. I would write them year after year, much like I do this blog. Occasionally there would be gaps where I would not write, often because of boredom or a feeling that I had nothing to say. As I entered puberty there was the embarrassment of recording semi-coherent thoughts that basically translated into "my parents aren't fair" or a popular Skeelo song. Regardless of the absence, though, I would feel the need to grab a pen, sit down, and write. Just as I do now, decades later, as evidenced by the almost 19,000 incomplete blog posts sitting idle and awaiting bit rot on my computers.

The reasoning is simple: writing helps us think.

For most of my life people have praised what they perceive as my intelligence, but I've never bought into it. I've taken IQ tests and received triple-digit scores, but this isn't really a sign of being "smart". IQ tests measure a person's ability to solve problems … or so I perceive. "Smart" people make dumb decisions all the time, and "stupid" people have often been some of the most honest, down-to-earth humans I have ever met. Solving problems is a crucial skill that everybody needs, but there's more to the human experience than overcoming challenges. Writing is generally where I get to explore this other side; where I get to examine multiple aspects of the same situation in order to come to a better understanding of the whole.

This isn't always the case, as evidenced by many of the posts on this blog. Most people in the world will never visit the places I've written about, and fewer still will ever get to meet my dog, yet these are things that I record on this site in order to preserve the memories and etch them more concretely into the mind. These personal posts are important to me, but they're not quite what I'm hoping to accomplish with my writing. Not by a long shot. Hence yesterday's posts on essays.

I said this in a social post earlier today, but I'll repeat it here:

When I look in the mirror I see a nameless Pakled who wishes so much to be a Jean Luc Picard.

The Star Trek references are important, not only because the stories shaped a lot of who I am and how I see the universe, but because it very succinctly encapsulates where I feel I am intellectually from where I want to be. The Pakled were portrayed as a cognitively stunted species that (somehow) existed with a very surface understanding of everything around them. They were not particularly good engineers, explorers, manufacturers, warriors, or … anything. In the TV series they were shown as being incapable of higher-level reason. In the books they were a little more methodical, but no more than a six year old trying to scam extra cookies from their parents. Jean Luc Picard, however, is the ideal.

Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship of the United Federation of Planets. Well read. Well travelled. Well educated. Eloquent and respectable. Jean Luc Picard was the ultimate role model for the teenage version of me. To this day, this fictional character is someone I look at with awe and respect. He could go into any situation, see past the chaos, and bring about order in a just fashion. He made mistakes. He learned from those mistakes. He grew as a person. What's not to respect about this?

When I look at my writings, be they unfinished essays or published personal posts, I see the gulf that separates where I am from where I want to be. The ideas are scattershot. The paragraphs don't flow. The sentences run on or contain imprecise grammar. The words — adjectives in particular — are clumsy and unsophisticated.

To be a better writer, I need to find mentors or, barring that, educators to emulate until my own style matures enough to convey ideas coherently. I need to seek out criticism, then learn from the actionable critiques that can lead to better, more specific writing. More than this, though, to become better, I must think better. This requires more learning, more reading, more listening, and more discussion. The first three I can do on my own thanks to the power of the Internet. The fourth I can also do online, but only if I publish ideas to be discussed.

Randolph says I'm a writer. 18,767 incomplete posts suggests otherwise.

Essays

Despite not being particularly good at the skill, writing is something that has been near and dear to me for as long as I can remember. There is always something that needs to be written down, be it something as trivial as a note or as complex as an argument. Over this past week I've had the opportunity to get a lot more reading done than usual and, as a result, there are a number of topics that I would really like to write about. The problem is that these are complex situations that will require a good amount of research before I can even think about penning an essay on the subject. Where in the world do prolific writers find the time?

Writing With Style

Essay writing is not something that I've done too often on this site given the lack of focus on any set of topics, and I'm not about to start. That said, I have been kicking around the idea of writing essays on current events with a different site, as this would allow a clear separation of content.

One of the things that I like about writing longer pieces, particularly those that require a bit of research, is the opportunity to better formulate thoughts around a subject. Sometimes I'll begin writing a piece with one idea then discover halfway through that the original position or understanding was incomplete or incorrect. The act of slowing down and really thinking about the subject made it possible to better examine the situation and draw a different set of conclusions. Being able to come away from a piece of writing a little more more informed than before is a wonderful thing, after all. So it's with this in mind that I've created a new folder in the notebook and have started making notes and planning arguments on various topics from reneging on historical treaties to imposing belief systems on others.

What I plan on doing is writing three or four essays to start with, working out the tone and style of the pieces, then aiming for a post a week. My goal with this additional writing project is to develop a more complete understanding of the complex decisions that need to be made to address current social and cultural situations. If anyone else finds value in reading the words that wind up getting published, then I'll consider that a nice bonus.

Five Things

Nineteen years ago the Nuwaubian Nation expected that the planetary lineup in our solar system would cause a "star holocaust", pulling all of the planets toward the Sun, incinerating everything, and ruining an otherwise lovely day. I remember hearing about this on a nighttime documentary discussing Nostradamus and other "doomsday" predictions some time around '93 or '941. This memory has persisted a little more stubbornly than others from that time period, probably as a reminder that the end of the world will not be foreseen by fringe religious groups.

That said, it's time for another list …

Irregular Heartbeats

Reiko and I both suffer from occasional palpitations and, while these do not happen with enough regularity to make wearing a medical heart monitor worthwhile2, their frequency does seem to be increasing. I've done a little bit of digging around online to see what sort of options are available for us to monitor ourselves and it seems the most recent Apple Watch3 has the simplest, most comprehensive heart monitoring software for the price. While I've not seriously considered an Apple Watch before, being able to show a doctor a series of ECG charts to aid in a diagnosis could very well mitigate future problems.

More research is required.

Green Fingers

Earlier today I was out in the yard, pulling weeds from the ground, and thinking about what sorts of plants I'd like to see added this year. Both Reiko and I agree that we'd like to have a tree, though it's location is still a topic of debate, and we'd like to have a small vegetable garden. What struck me today was how much I enjoyed being down at ground level to make the small plot of land around our house a little more presentable. While I don't know anything about taking care of flowers, bushes, and trees4, I would be interested in learning. Heck, this might be a good excuse to learn a new set of Japanese words. My speaking ability has seriously degraded over the last year or so as a result of working from home.

Pulled Strings

Last week the Mazda broke down and we were told to go rent a car5 for the month or so that the vehicle would be in the shop, awaiting a new transmission and ECU from Hiroshima. The best deal I could find for a month-long rental was about $32006, which is simply out of the question given that most non-commercial vehicles sit parked for the vast majority of every day. As a result, the family and I have resorted to using the bus when travelling more than 3km. This isn't impossible, though it does increase complexity when trying to plan around bus schedules and walking speeds.

Imagine my surprise when we received an email on Friday saying that a courtesy vehicle has been found and that we can use it for a couple of weeks. Last night around 9:00pm we received a "Plain Jane" Mazda Flair. This is very much appreciated, as it gives Reiko something to drive to work.

Excessive Footnotes

Sometimes when I see the number of footnotes at the end of my blog posts7, I wonder why I don't just write "mini-posts" that say the same thing as the footnote (with more detail and perhaps some pictures), and link to that. Occasionally these annotations are little more than digressions, but sometimes these could be expanded out into a post of their own. By going the route of having a series of detailed mini-posts, it becomes possible to have multiple blog posts pointing to the same reference point without there being a need for copy/paste. More than this, any update to the mini-post would benefit any future reader who might follow the link.

But then a blog might become a …

Personal Wiki

There are almost 100,000 items on matigo.ca going back to 20068, when I actually thought that a Synology box sitting on top of my fridge would be sufficient to run a website. A lot of blog posts have links to previous articles. Some social posts link to blog posts. Many social posts link to other posts across the system. The more I think about it, the more I wonder when a personal website tips the scale from being a traditional blog, to a non-collaborative — or semi-collaborative — wiki. Properly structured, a wiki would be an interesting way to catalogue a life.

This concept will need just a little more thought to organize.


  1. Not sure why, but documentaries on Nostradamus and future predictions always fascinated me as a kid.

  2. These are generally worn for 24~36 hours and not much longer. Hospitals can't just hand heart monitors out like they do prescriptions.

  3. The Series 4 Apple Watch is the most recent model as of the time of this post.

  4. I grew up on a vegetable farm, so know how to work with all the standard veggies one might find in a North American house. We had pine, maple, and willow trees across the property, but these were either for decoration or have been growing since before Canada was a country. My mum did try to have flowers a couple of times, but they tended to get lost in the weeds pretty quick.

  5. Generally people get discounted rates through their auto insurance provider if they signed up for this benefit, which increases the cost of insurance by about $60 a year. We chose to not get the coverage given that the car was essentially new and that car problems generally don't result in being without a vehicle for 30+ days. Oops.

  6. The estimate was 363,500円 for the smallest car with zero features.

  7. I say this knowing full well that this blog post has an arguably excessive number of footnotes as well.

  8. I don't count the very first chronological post as a start date for anything but my life outside the womb.

What Broke the RSS?

Over the last couple of weeks there has been something preventing the RSS feed from this personal site to Feedly. The last update shows as being March 16th. To the best of my knowledge, I've been publishing a post every day since September of last year. What's preventing updates from appearing on the popular syndication service?

RSS Background

The W3C Feed Validator reports that the XML feed is valid and it's possible to see updates when using an RSS Reader that does not rely on web services to parse, sync, and display feeds. Given the number of sites on 10C, if the RSS generator was broken, then there wouldn't be updates from any account appearing, but this isn't the case. New posts do pop up on an almost daily basis, but not for matigo.ca. The problem must therefore be somewhere within <channel>, and with one of the more recent <item> objects.

Yesterday this site moved over from v4 to v5, which is using a very different mechanism to build syndication feeds. Unlike the previous version of the platform, v5 supports both XML and JSON. Feedly also supports both of these formats, so I added the JSON syndication feed and found that the items are all loading just as they should. Every article, quotation, and bookmark loads without fail. So what's wrong with the XML file?

Looking at the output, there does seem to be some encoding issues with Japanese characters, but nothing that should get in the way of presenting the data. One would think that services such as Feedly have developed all sorts of methods to clean a broken or otherwise malformed XML file. What bothers me about this isn't so much the lack of updates or the fact that we can't do any debugging or check for errors on Feedly's website, but instead the appearance that I've given up the blogging streak. Few of the posts I write are worth reading more than once, if at all, but a post a day for over six months isn't something to walk away from. A lack of updates via an RSS service due to XML problems will look the same as a blogger who has given up.

Writing something every day is not at all easy, as it cuts into other responsibilities and expectations, but it's something I do look forward to. Unless I'm knocked offline for a day or otherwise indisposed, there's little chance of me stopping in the near future.

So Many Blog Posts ...

I still find it amazing that there are 2,644 blog posts on my personal site. If one includes all the other blogs that I have written for (on 10C and off), then there would be over 3000 posts written since October 2006. While this isn't anywhere near 1 post per day, it's a heck of a lot more than most other people I know.

Mind you, I probably would have written more posts by now if I still used WordPress. I created Noteworthy (and later 10C) because I was tired of dealing with WP issues. What resulted was me investing thousands of hours into a personal project that has taken time away from blogging 🙄

Of course, one of the bigger reasons I created Noteworthy was because I wanted to have a better way to write blog posts. Evernote was a pretty decent tool back in 2010~2012, and their iOS client rocked. So I used to write blog posts in Evernote on iOS (an iPod Touch) while out and about for the day job. When I got home, I'd copy from Evernote into WordPress, add some tags, then hit publish. Noteworthy cut that process out by syncing with the Evernote API and pulling in any new notes that were in a given notebook (or removing posts that were removed from the notebook).

Those were simpler times …

Yes. Blogging Should Be Easy.

Rajiv Abraham recently asked "Do We Really Want Blogging to Be As Easy and Simple As Tweeting?" and, despite all of the concerns that he raises in his post, the answer is unquestionably "Yes". There should be zero barriers for any person in the world to share what they want to share online, regardless of our opinion of the content. This is the freedom that was promised with the general availability of the Internet, and it's a freedom that we should fight to protect. To discriminate against ideas — even bad ones — sets the stage for powerful groups to censor anything they disagree with. As someone who has a history of having bad ideas and being wrong, I am not keen on losing my voice so that someone I've never met might not take offence to my words.

The crux of Rajiv's argument is laid out in his first three paragraphs:

The problem with the Internet today is that just about everybody is an expert. People have labeled themselves creator, blogger, influencer, journalist, author, etc. The problem really isn’t the labeling, it’s the access to platforms like Twitter and Facebook that has given everybody the power to troll and spread misinformation, even deliberately.

Imagine that happening with independent blogs. Right now all you need to do is block Twitter and Facebook to stop with most of the negativity, trolls, and the fake news. Give these 2 websites a wide berth, and you are safe for the most part, though mainstream media continues to be a problem.

Now imagine all of the fake news, trolling, and negativity amplified a 100 times. Going to be really hard to get away from, but that’s exactly what will happen if the barrier to blogging is as simple and easy as access to Facebook and Twitter.

Funny story; we've had this before. Between 2005 and 2012 the number of blogs containing deliberately misleading or "fake news" measured in the millions, and search engines indexed them all. SEO was all the rage and people who were investigating anything online would have to wade through dozens if not hundreds of poor-quality websites to find real information. As walled gardens such as Twitter and Facebook captured people's attention away from blogs, people who wanted to spread their words (and malware) adapted to use the social networks and the blogs that preceded the social network migration became derelict and eventually faded as domain names expired and hosting packages were cancelled.

Something in me wishes that self-hosted blogging continues to require some knowledge of domain registration and web hosting, use of FTP/SFTP, some basic HTML and CSS, knowing the difference between categories and tags, some knowledge to be able to link out to other websites, etc.

"Bad" websites didn't go away because there was a barrier to entry. An afternoon on WPBeginner will give a person the requisite step-by-step to acquire hosting (free or paid), buy a domain name, install WordPress, and begin spreading lies and hate to anyone who might be interested in the topic. But an afternoon on WPBeginner can also give a person the step-by-step to set up a blog where they can share pictures of their dog, or their favourite recipes, or foreign language writing practice. Throughout my life it's been made incredibly clear time and again that for every jerk we encounter, there are several dozen awesome people who unconsciously make this world the interesting and wonderful place that it is.

Should blogging be as easy and simple as Tweeting? Absolutely. 100% yes. Would an artificial barrier to entry protect anyone from reading articles they deem to be trash, or "fake news", or hurtful lies? Not at all. If anything, any artificial barrier to entry would just make it harder for the billions of awesome people we haven't met to share their sliver of happiness.

Writing Tools

When it comes to writing, some tools are more important than others. Some people can write without a pen or paper. Others can write without a good beverage to semi-distract them from time to time. For one person I know, effective writing is all about the location. As with many things in life, there is no ideal set of criteria that will work for everyone. Fortunately, it's these differences that can make for some interesting discussions.

Writing Tools

Last week I was having a short chat with someone who, like me, has lived in Japan for over a decade. Like me, when he first arrived in this country he would blog daily about all the new and interesting things that caught his eye. He'd write about the different places he wanted to visit. He'd post dozens of photos showing places he had been. He'd follow up with a "reflections" blog post a week or two after a trip to share his thoughts after taking some time to digest everything he'd seen.

This changed in 2009 when he started working full time. Rather than write daily, he would have a weekly post that would go out on a Monday or Tuesday to summarise the last weekend. A couple of months later, he'd publish a short post seasonally. Between the winter of 2010 and the fall of 2016, aside from a few posts talking about the 3/11 earthquake that struck the northeastern part of the country, he'd written fewer than 5 items. "Life" had gotten in the way of his writing. It happens to us all.

Of the many questions that we asked each other, two have really stuck with me over the weekend:

  1. What purpose does a long-lived blog serve?
  2. Given how "everyone" uses various social services, why have a blog at all?

What's the Point?

The general answer we came to with this question would fit right in with a lot of existential questions people might ask about themselves. Why would anyone want to have a blog for 10, 20, or 50 years? Who would read it? Should such a site be a publicly-facing diary, or something more ephemeral that discusses things that are current as of the publication date?

In my mind, I don't see why a person would want to impose an artificial lifespan on a hobby or pastime. People are not static beings, but ever-changing individuals with interests and commitments that change with time. So a blog doesn't see an update for two years before a flurry of posts are pushed out because a little bit of time became available. What does this matter? Ultimately, a blog or other hobby is there for us when we want them to be there. If other people can get enjoyment from what we do, that's just an added bonus. It is us who gives the writing we share value, not someone else.

Why a Blog? Why Not a Social Post?

Why, indeed. Why does anyone write a letter on paper, stuff it in an envelope, buy a stamp, and mail the missive when an email would be faster, cheaper, and more interactive? Why does anyone bake bread when there are stores just about everywhere that sell the finished product for a reasonable price? Why read a book when there's a movie version of the story? For some people, value is in the message alone. For others, the value of the message is enhanced by the medium. I won't pretend that a blog post is more valuable than a Tweet or something posted on Facebook but, at the end of the day, the medium can signal the amount of attention a person invested into their writing, and how much they expect from the reader. I would hope that a person who received a hand-written letter from me would enjoy it just a little bit more than an email, just as a person who bakes a loaf of bread hopes the people who eat it enjoy something more unique than a mass-produced food product.

While I may not write nearly as many blog posts today as I did a decade ago, the medium is still an interesting one that is still evolving alongside the rest of the Internet. There may be dry spells here and there as "life" gets in the way. There may even be future torrents should the need ever arise. The purpose of this site is the same today as it was in 2006 when it was hosted from a single-drive Synology NAS sitting on top of my fridge. This is a place where I come to put ideas into a text-based form. The words may not always make sense. The concepts may not always be correct. But they do provide a point-in-time picture of something that is happening in my life. Whether anyone will ever get any value from anything I write is tertiary to the reasons I invest time here.