Pointing to the Internet from paper

Continuing my thinking about personal knowledge management systems, it’s time to set down my method for pointing to the things on the Internet from a paper system.

The obvious way to do this is to simply write the URL. This is also horrible. URLs are long, and worse they are often, (but not always,) case-sensitive. I’m never going to write a URL in cursive, so I’m left with printing it, and my preference is an all-caps block style, which doesn’t render lowercase characters. The solution of course is what’s called a URL shortener. Hold that thought.

But there is a bigger problem: URLs change. Or more correctly, the resource goes away or is moved. This is referred to as “link rot.” I want to create links in the context of a Slipbox, which I’m expecting to use for a few decades. All the URLs will surely rot. So I’d love to find a way to make links to URLs a little more like a reference to a book, journal, or other physical object.

First, it’s important to remember that such a link would be in the context of a slip in my Slipbox. So the “why is this interesting” will be on the slip. If, (when!) that link rots, I’ve obviously not lost what I captured on the card. What I want, in my solution for linking from paper to the Internet, is some way to capture a little bit of the actual resource—the thing the URL refers to.

Hey! I have that already, it’s my blog. I frequently quote a little and then describe what I’m linking to, and then perhaps riff off that, go deeper, or make some connection.

Recall that every slip in a Slipbox has an address. It’s a baklava-layering of letters and numbers and they are easy to read/write. So I could create redirections on my blog, (this is easy to do.) I could make “a42o17x3”, (some card’s address on which I want to link to a URL) would lead to the blog post with the actual full URL. On the card, I just leave an indication that there’s a URL—maybe that’s a litlte ↬ or something easy to write. Then, when creating the slip to capture the link (and its context/why) I go to the blog and create that redirection (and the actual blog post of course.)

I suspect you’re boggled, but to me that’s easy. But I can make it easier: Just put the slip’s address somewhere in the blog post. Now I’ve eliminated the entire redirection / URL-shortening system. (Which is digital, and therefore will eventually break or become overloaded and crash etc.) I’m already working hard to backup and protect the contents of my blog, so just add a tiny little string in the blog post; I could simply type slip:a42o17x3 and I’m done.

There’s another thing that clicks into place: All the URLs I’ve already captured on my blog might be things I want to import into the Slipbox. How on Earth would I do that? Turns out it’s easy. I already have a website serialize tool that knows how to “show me one year ago today” as a link to my own site. (and any other year-back, so each day I glance at a few previous year’s today’s posts.) This ensures I’ll soon glance at all the URLs I’ve already captured giving me the opportunity to create slips in the Slipbox.

I feel like some things are starting to come together here. ymmv. :)



Push and pull

Aside: Like yesterday, there’s no conclusion here today.

A large part of books’ allure is that they never interrupt. They sit inert, exactly where you leave them, (physically or digitally,) and respond the instant you decide you want to engage. You are in total control. Eons ago, I saw the difference between books and the Internet described, overly simplistically, as “pull” versus “push” modes of information flow. That’s true for a book; a book is completely pull oriented. However, the Internet can be used in either mode. It can both “push” information at you and enable you to “pull” information towards yourself.

I became convinced that I needed to pull information towards me and ruthlessly prevent any pushing. This was a simple continuation of my love of books and reading. Reading exposed me to so many new ideas, so I expanded the trawling into the Internet, and to make room for the new things I was finding I squelched things that were being pushed at me. Over many years I began to read trade publications slowly learning which ones were just advertising vehicles and which ones contained real ideas. I joined professional organizations and read their publications. I found web sites that were things I wanted to read and dutifully kept up with them, (either by visiting regularly or by following their RSS feeds.)

I was eventually in complete control of what information I was exposed to. Nothing was being pushed at me against my will, but this became far too much to keep up with. And once the pulling becomes a habit, it’s effectively pushing. I burnt out and crashed hard. I rage-quit a number of things I had been keeping up with, and stopped visiting a swath of great web sites. I began reading physical books more, but this it was only a sort of reset. It left me back at the beginning; I’d learned a lot about how to manage my exposure to information but I was once again starved for new information. These days, I’ve renewed interested in some sort of “knowledge system” and in addition to points I made yesterday it’s also a way to manage this pull-versus-push problem.

More than half a century before blogging, Instagramming, tweeting, and the rest of today’s ever-lowering barriers of entry for publishing content, Bush laments the unmanageable scale of the recorded human experience.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/10/11/as-we-may-think-1945/

After a bit of cool perspective from history, it gets around to talking about the importance of not just categorizing and compressing information for storage—think “library” or “internet”—but the ultimate importance of being able to use the information. Spot on this topic I’ve been slowly trying to unpack.

So, thinking about a knowledge system in the context of pulling information: I currently have a lot of fresh information that I pull; I could say I’m regularly exposed to many new ends of thread. However, I also want to be able to pick a thread, (or two or three,) and to be able to continuously pull on it. My knowledge system should enable that.


Section 230

The first [section] is definitional. … The second subsection provides direct immunity

~ US Supreme Court Justice Thomas from, https://reason.com/2020/10/13/justice-thomas-writes-in-favor-of-a-narrow-reading-of-47-u-s-c-%C2%A7-230/

Grab your favorite snack, something to take notes, and a helping of Ginko for brain power. This is an in-depth walk-through of a tiny little section… Section 230 from the dawn of the modern Web… A tale of a little section of a law that makes what you think of as “the Internet” possible.

You may also need toothpick for your eyelids, or use it as a cure for your insomnia.


Value giveaway

Fewer are aware that the PC wasn’t IBM’s only internal-politics-driven value giveaway; one of the most important software applications on those mainframes was IBM’s Information Management System (IMS). This was a hierarchical database, and let me pause for a necessary caveat: for those that don’t understand databases, I’ll try to simplify the following explanation as much as possible, and for those that do, I’m sorry for bastardizing this overview!

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2016/oracles-cloudy-future/

And, today this web site is a tech blog.

I’ve read, (technically I am in the process of reading,) everything Thompson has written. I skimmed through this long article since it wasn’t news to me. However, if you take about 10 minutes to read this, you’ll know more about Databases and the Big Kids who made the things which became the things you now use every day, than pretty much everyone else on the planet.



World’s Largest Audio-Visual Archive

After decades of technology breakthroughs, it brings a smile to my face to think that a vinyl or lacquer platter with mechanically implanted grooves is still, by far, our longest-lived audio format.

~ Kevin Kelly from, https://blog.longnow.org/02008/03/29/worlds-largest-audio-visual-archive/

Digital storage is ephemeral. That hard drive you copied everything onto and tossed on a shelf? …it’s only ten years before you should no longer trust it to have everything still retrievable, exactly as you wrote it. Home-writable CD-ROMs and DVDs? …they’re about the same: 10 years. Heck, I have audio CDs from the 80s where the commercial-grade coating has failed, and I had to repurchase the albums to get a fresh CD to ‘rip’ when I lost my music collection once back in the 00’s.

I’m definitely not bashing on technology—I’m not a Luddite calling for a return to clay tablets… On the other hand, guess what really lasts? Stone, baby. Clay. Papyrus even.

What I’m saying is that we currently do not have any set-it-and-forget-it digital storage. Instead, you need to be thinking about MOVage—not STORage—keeping your digital files moving forward from copy to copy, from medium to medium.


25 years?

Twenty five years ago today [edit: August 25, 1995], Microsoft released Windows 95. It was undoubtedly a technical leap forward, but its biggest, most lasting impacts are about how it changed popular culture’s relationship to technology.

~ Anil Dash, from https://anildash.com/2020/08/25/what-windows-95-changed/

I had completely forgotten about Windows 95; I certainly never knew the specific date of its release. It certainly was a big deal at the time—not because I or the people I worked with used it, but because we were running an Internet Service Provider and our customers used it. So we had to know how to support it.

At the time we were in the midst of creating an “ezine.” It’s probably hard to explain how cutting edge this was—bear in mind that Wired started in ’93. (We had started publishing an online “magazine” in December ’94.) I’m bragging, sure, but also just trying to give you the context of the jaw-droppingly old web page I’m about to link you to.

Here’s my tongue-in-cheek article about drawing the short straw and having to go buy a copy of Windows 95 for our office: In a Plain Brown Wrapper, Please.

Granted, we moved that entire web site once when we sold the domain it was on along with the Internet Service Provider. But otherwise, those are literally, 25-year-old web pages.


All modern infrastructure


As a follow up to yesterday: I do quite often laugh out loud at XKCD though. This one was was three layers of humirony.

My first instinct was to think: Actually, if we just built a lot more infrastructure to the left of those large supports on the left, we might be able to take a lot of the load off that little project… actually, the horizontal level seems to be lower on the right already, so left-loading might even lift the…

Second: omgbecky I swear I’m constantly ranting and raving about this sort of thing; how there are these terribly detailed and entangled things under the hood that only a handful of people understand and one good meteor could wipe out all our infrastructure…

Third: I was literally just installing ImageMagick a couple hours before I read this cartoon.


Sub-cockle area

So we set out to find a new hack. What followed was a sordid tale of noscript tags and dynamically injected base tags, of document.write and evalof rendering all of our page’s markup in a head element, to break preparsing altogether.

For some of you, the preceding lines will require no explanation, and for that you have my sincerest condolences. For everyone else: know that it was the stuff of scary developer campfire stories (or, I guess, scary GIF-of-a-campfire stories). Messy, hard-to-maintain hacks all the way down, relying entirely on undocumented, unreliable browser quirks.

~ Mat Marquis from, https://alistapart.com/article/responsive-images/

I don’t often laugh out lead reading geeky CSS techno-mumbo-jumbo. But when I do—and especially if it warms the cockles of my heart—you can be sure I’ll lovingly craft a blog post about it.

More seriously, if you’ve ever wondered how images are put into pages— What on Earth is wrong with you?! Why would you ever wonder about that?! Definitely do not click on that link above…


P.S.: The title is a Denis Leary reference.


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day;
teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.

Age-old aphorism, right?

The first point I want to make is that both options—giving and teaching—are not necessarily viable. If we’re in a desert, my giving you a[n edible] fish is helpful, while teaching you to fish is not; there’s an overriding resource constraint. This is a minor point which we’re all comfortable sweeping under the rug because that aphorism is screaming out that it’s far better to be teaching people to proverbially fish.

The second point is more serious: Things do not go well if you disagree on which is supposed to be happening. If I think we’re doing fishing lessons and you just want me to shut up and hand you a fish—that’s a recipe for, not broiled trout, but rather steamed people.

Anyway, no fish today—gone fishing.


Splintering of the Internet

What is new is the increased splintering in the non-China Internet: the U.S. model is still the default for most of the world, but the European Union and India are increasingly pursuing their own paths.

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2020/india-jio-and-the-four-internets/

Sometimes my blog briefly turns into a technology blog—recall, this blog has a purpose; It’s a vehicle for my process of reflection. Boop! It’s a tech blog.

This terrifically clear overview of how the different Internets work together, and will be working together less in the future, is a must-read for anyone using the Internet. (Hint: That’s you.) We—ok, not me, but I bet you—don’t think about where exactly all the things we interact with are located. This article by Thompson will give you a basic picture. …literally, there’s like a crayon drawing at the end of it.