Self-hosting, Mastodon and Journaling
Happy Friday! And (almost) Happy New Year!
I hope that the festive season has been whatever you need it to be. In my case, this Christmas has been relatively sedate, which is definitely what I needed.
The recent goings on with Twitter have made me realise that we’ve been through a remarkably stable period of platforms and services on the interwebs.
When choosing things to use, I’ve generally priced in the possibility that whoever owns it might decide to make it disppear overnight and all my stuff with it. Depending on the importance of the permenance of the content that I’m using it for, that might not be a big deal.
I’ve recently dusted off a Tumblr blog that delightfully is exactly how I left it many years ago, including all the people I follow. I was quite surprised it’s survived. It still seems active over there. Is Tumblr cool again now?
Anyway, I digress.
In the case of Twitter and Google, they’ve been a relatively safe bet because they’re almost too big to quickly fail. Although Google have caught me on the hop a few times in shuttering products, although at least they’ve given plenty of notice.
As with many things at the moment, it seems like that stability is no longer assured and it’s making people think about where they want to invest their time and attention, and if it might be possible to insulate themselves from the whims of billonaires. (That seems generally applicable at the moment!)
Hence, I decided to start looking at self-hosting things once again. This blog that you’re reading is running on Ghost which I setup via a virtual machine in Google Cloud. I did this mostly because Google gave me a enough free credits to comfortably run the VM for about a year.
I chose Ghost because it seemed like the closest approximation to Medium, which I’ve been using for a couple of years. I really liked the writing experience on Medium because it’s clutter free. But with the recent removal of editing via mobile (which I used to do quite a lot) it was enough of a nudge to get me to move my content elsewhere.
Admittedly, I could’ve paid Ghost to host everything for me and even import my Medium posts. But I fancied the tinkering and I learned quite a bit about Ghost and Google Cloud in the process. Including mulitple ways to break both of those things. 🙂
This has me thinking about what else I’d like to self-host. To the extent that I’ve been busy ripping DVDs and Blurays so that I can run them off my own Plex server in the house rather than rely on numerous streaming services, which have really multiplied of late! Granted, there’s a slippery slope here which ends with me fiddling around with server racks in the house, but there’s something reassuring about owning stuff. Is this the doomsday prepping equivalent for digital stuff?
I’ve been dabbling with Mastodon as an insurance policy in case Twitter really becomes broken to the point of no return. I think I’m still prepared to stick with Twitter to the end through continued curation of who I follow and liberal use of blocking and muting.
For all its faults, I have really valued the network of people that I’ve cultivated over many years of being on Twitter. I’ve also made quite a lot of friends. A bit like digital pen pals. Going to IRL events has been made all the more fun because it’s sometimes been an opportunity to meet someone I’ve been conversing with virtually for years. Come what may, I think I’d like to stick around and see if I can help perserve or salvage any of the good things about Twitter.
But, I acknowledge that it’s also sensible to have a plan B in case Twitter does implode. This isn’t my first daliance with Mastodon. I (like others I’m sure) have flitted over to Mastodon during previous changes at Twitter which have signalled the beginning of the end. If I’ve learned anything from that, it’s that some of the doom mongering is amplified by the platform itself. Outrage does have a tendency to travel fast and wide by design. On the upside, this has actually stopped me from chiming in with ‘hot takes’ due to an awareness that I might be feeding this negative pattern.
My plan for Mastodon isn’t to treat it as a Twitter replacement, but to find the value in what sets is apart. I think the federated model is really interesting. Yes, it’s decentralised and there’s no algorhithm putting popular things in front of you, but it reminds me of all the weird and wonderful forums I used to frequent as a youth on the Internet. Those pockets of communities felt like they had stronger ties because they were smaller and more distinct. I also felt you got out of them what you put in. Perhaps that will be relevent to Mastodon too?
I suspect Mastodon won’t have the same widespread appeal that Twitter has for some of the reasons above. For that there’s Hive (which seems to have had a troubled start) , Post and Cohost. But maybe that’s okay? Before the current crop of social media networks cemented their position we had a variety of weird and wonderful contenders. Anyone remember Plurk? The horizontal scrollable timeline was delightfully mad. I’m amazed to learn it still exists. Although it would not surprise me to learn that it’s some sort of front for a crypto scheme.
Having fallen well and truly out of the weeknoting practice because of a variety of reasons, I’ve been experimenting with a few different ways of getting back into the habit of writing.
I’ve always found writing to be useful in terms of unpacking my brain and ordering my thoughts. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Sometimes what comes out isn’t particularly ordered, but capturing the messy snapshot in time feels like a useful step toward putting some order on it. And I find it reassuring to see progress when reviewing them days, weeks or years down the line. What did I know then versus what do I know now.
Some of the things I’m wrestling with at the moment just aren’t amenable to sharing openly. This is probabily the primary blocker that’s stopped me from weeknoting. The self-editing sucked the usefulness out of the process and elongated it in a way that made it really difficult and time consuming.
In order to unpick this problem, I’ve started journaling. That sounds a lot fancier (or perhaps pretentious?) than it is in practice. These are short bullet pointed daily notes that contain whatever is running through my brain. I split them into three sections.. work, life and pictures.
Most crucially these are private and are just for my reflective purposes. I’ve been using Logseq for this which I chose on the basis that I could store my notes privately in a non-propritary format. This gives me permission to pretty much write whatever I’m thinking or feeling without feeling the need to self edit. Weirdly, I still have to fight that instinct. I’ll often write something that I feel compelled to delete, but I try to leave it be and add another line to argue with myself if needed. I think this is a more accurate representation of conflicting thoughts and feelings, particularly around things that are messy or uncertain.
The ‘work’ section is as the name suggests, anything work related that rattling around my head. It generally includes things that I’m thinking about or need to do. It also includes concerns or worries. I find it helpful to get these out on to the page because it helps stop me from endlessly and unproductively churning them over in my head. Sometimes the best way to unpick a problem is to step away from it and do something else. This aids that process.
The ‘life’ section is pretty much the same as above. It encapsulates all the stuff big and small that I’m thinking about, need to do or have concerns about. I find it useful to capture in addition to work because of the way that life and work influence one another.
The ‘pictures’ section are images inserted from my phone’s camera roll for that day. Sometimes it’s something notable like a interesting looking building or a landscape. Sometimes it’s just my dog. I find it gives a bit of extra context to that day. An image can transport me back to a memory and feeling of a particular time in a way that text sometimes cannot.
I’m about 3 weeks into this habit and I’ve mostly managed a daily update. Keeping the notes short and unfiltered has helped with that. Being able to update them on my phone has also been really crucial. Although I do like the option of switching to a computer for longer form ramblings.
There’s a slew of other things that Logseq can do, like knowledge graphs, but I’m mostly lightly dabbling with this until I’m convinced that this is a useful habit to preserve and the right tool for the job.
- Cheerful chatbots don’t neccesarily improve customer service: https://research.gatech.edu/cheerful-chatbots-dont-necessarily-improve-customer-service
- The Owen Wilson WOW API: https://owen-wilson-wow-api.onrender.com/
- Crowdsourcing a roadmap collection: https://digitalbydefault.com/2022/12/28/crowdsourcing-a-roadmap-collection/
- Thoughts on AI, ChatGPT and mechanical pooping ducks: https://mmitii.mattballantine.com/2022/12/19/fooled-by-the-duck/
- Fediverse based alternative to Instagram: https://pixey.org/
- Thomas the Tie-Fighter: https://twitter.com/JonathanWyke/status/1607685652585353224?s=20&t=fqZMc-HGjQ6zNSj5VXb9Cg