Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

In the heady early days of the web, one part of the fun of being online was stumbling upon an interesting web page. As the web grew, and many websites became less personal, it became more difficult to find those random, quirky gems.

There are times when I miss those days ...

But The Forest is trying to bring random discovery back. Don't believe me? Head over there and click GO FOR A WALK. You'll be taken to a site that you probably didn't know exists. It might even be to your liking.

What you get is a mixed bag, and there aren't that many sites in The Forest's catalogue right now. You can help change that by suggesting a site or three.

(And thank you to whoever submitted this blog, and a couple of my other sites, to The Forest.)

I've been running into more and more of those as I've been exploring the web lately. And I've been intrigued by those /uses pages. More than I should be, to be honest.

If you're not familiar with /uses pages, they're like /now pages (which outline what a person is up to at any given time). /uses pages, on the other hand, list the hardware, software, services, and tools that a person employs to do their work.

You can argue that /uses pages allow folks visiting someone's website to indulge in a little harmless digital voyeurism. Or for someone to put their tool fetishism on display. You might be right. But as a friend noted, they're also just a great inventory for myself, even if no one else particularly cares.

Most of the /uses pages I've come across have been posted by techies — coders/programmers, web developers, engineers, and folks of that stripe. But why should they have all the fun? There's no reason that others — like writers, artists, designers, photographers, students — can't do the same.

I've added a /uses section to my homepage. Why not give one a try at your website?

Lately, ideas around the smaller web and digital minimalism have been on heavy rotation in my brain. And, of course, I've been pondering how to apply those ideas to my online and digital lives.

It dawned on me that the best place to start was my own website. In that past, that site was a set of pages that spread out from a central landing page — like most sites on the web. But it wasn't always that way.

In the heady days of the web in the early 1990s, that site was a single page. A traditional home page. So, why not go back to that? I took the plunge and spent a whole 10 minutes consolidating the various bits of my website into a single page.

Instead of having a long page crammed with text, I used the magic of HTML5 to create a set of expandable sections. No JavaScript required, just a couple of HTML tags. One click is all it takes to expand or collapse those sections.

Now that I have a home page instead of a website, that piece of my online presence is easier to maintain. It keeps the size of my corner of the web small. And while that homepage is pretty basic, it works. What else do I need?

Looking towards the centre of Auckland.

Sunrise, looking towards the centre of Auckland

Lately, a chunk of my thinking has centred on digital minimalism and what I like to call the DIY web. The focus of much of the latter has how to make the web, at least the personal corners of it, leaner but still rich and informative and useful.

That is possible. And the 512KB Club proves it. Created by Kev Quirk, the 512KB Club is:

a collection of performance-focused web pages from across the Internet

While keeping the size of a web page 512KB or less might not be right for every purpose, the 512KB Club does show that you can pack a reasonable amount of information into a smaller space. That you don't need a platform with a pile of complex plumbing beneath it to stake a claim to a corner of the web. That online, compact and simple can trump big and complex.

Over the last few months, a few friends (and a few helpful readers of a couple of my other online publishing projects) have been urging me to give a certain piece of software a try. Some of those folks insist that by embracing the tool in question, I'll become a more productive writer.

The problem there is that I don't need to become a more productive writer. I think I write enough. I write more than quite a bit each month — in my personal spaces, with the occasional freelance gigs I take on, and at The Day JobTM.

Actually, I think that I maybe write too much. Sometimes, I feel the need to scale back. Why? With several projects that I've kicked off over the years, I found that I don't have the chops to do those projects justice. That I don't have enough time to devote to those projects to do them justice. Worse, I don't have the time or energy to develop the skills I need (assuming I can reach the level I believe that I need to reach).

Maybe it's time to step back — either with the frequency at which I write and publish or with the number of projects I juggle or both. Just so I can gain those missing chops, so I can gain the time and the space in which to think more deeply about some what I write. To once again hear the stories clearly.

That's what musician Trey Gunn called it in a blog post that's now vanished from his website. Rewiring the systems is a process that prepares you for change.

You reevaluate what you're doing, how you're doing it, and why. Then, you make tweaks or wholesale changes to all of that. It can be scary, but change (even if it's just a small tweak) can be beneficial.

As I do every five years or so, I'm currently trying to rewire my systems. At least, trying to rewire parts of those systems. It's taking a bit more effort and time than I expected, but I'm hoping those changes will have far-reaching consequences.

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