notes/

small meaningful things
peeking into people’s routines

He started off the post with saying “I doubt this is useful to anyone but me”, but strangely I was very drawn to peeking into Warren Ellis’s Morning Routine and Work Day (via Roy Tang). Maybe it is because I’m still struggling to establish a routine for myself, and also we probably believe if we can know how creative people work, we can have creative output like them.

Maria Popova has also compiled a post on the routines of writers, and there is also an entire book on how artists work. Coincidentally I am now reading a book titled, “Rest” because I’ve seen two people mention it within a day. It is about how people with a high rate of creative output actually work 4-5 hours a day, and they spend the day hiking, meeting friends, generally having fun. This concept is not new to me, but it is always interesting to see how someone else approach a topic.

I’m still searching for the balance between creative flexibility and the rigour of a routine. There are many days when I don’t feel like doing anything creative, but I don’t want to take my available time for granted.

Proust on seeing ourselves in books

This quote re-surfaced on facebook’s “on this day” a while ago, and I thought I should note it down here so it can have a permanent place in my learning library. Hopefully at some point I’ll design a better way to resurface memorable learnings for myself apart from the rudimentary “on this day” function.

Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.

Source: Time Regained by Marcel Proust | link

In recent times I’ve fallen behind on my reading. I think partially it is because of pandemic fatigue and partially I’ve kinda saturated many of the “recommended” books in my areas of interest so I’ll have to dig deeper and wider to find good enough reads. I like reading books which compel me to pick it up again and again, but lately I have found myself getting bored with most of the books I’m reading. The last book I really liked was Becky Chambers’ “A Psalm for the Wild-Built”, I tend to not go back to the same author because I feel like I should read in a wider range, but maybe I should just exhaust all her books.

But the above quote by Proust reminded me that I must have reading as part of my routine again, so I can continue to get to know myself better. I am also reminded that it is usually when reading that I get provoked to think more – versus watching tv, for example.

I’ve also fallen behind with writing notes here. It does take work still, and I keep getting plagued by the feeling of “what is the point”. But fundamentally I think writing and contributing to our websites – there is an invisible compound effect that is taking place which isn’t obvious until much later after the fact.

I mean, the fact that I even rediscovered this Proust quote was because I bothered to post it on social media in the first place. And why does it matter? Because sometimes I tend to lose myself, and such quotes tend to put me back at where I wish to belong.

some thoughts on snippets from Matt Mullenweg on WordPress and Tumblr

I saw someone share (sorry I forgot who) this thought-provoking blurb from Matt Mullenweg on the open web vs scarcity-minded things like NFTs:

I will add that one of the most amazing things about the technological revolution was allowing for economics of abundance, not scarcity. Things get more valuable the more copies there are. We were talking about the positive flywheel of open-source earlier. WordPress gets more valuable the more free copies there are. Now we’re getting more things to introduce scarcity and the value of scarcity into the web, perhaps even programmatically with stuff like NFTs. The difference between what’s come before — from tens of thousands of humanity’s advances — is this idea that, in the world of bits instead of atoms, you and I don’t have a zero-sum way of prospering. We can both benefit from the same thing. We can perfectly copy that software and that actually enables entirely new business models that are pretty exciting. Or maybe that it’s not a business at all, which is okay. Everything doesn’t have to be for profit.

– Matt Mullenweg, How WordPress and Tumblr are keeping the internet weird

I think it is pretty revolutionary to think of things getting more valuable the more copies there are. It is the complete opposite of how we’ve been conditioned to believe. Some part of me is deeply cynical, but there is also another part of me who also believes in this philosophy, which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to design a network for self-directed learning in the first place. It also underlies this website – the desire to openly share resources. I appreciate that WordPress is very profitable and yet allows most of its users to use it for free, in almost anyway they want. That in itself is powering so much human creativity and expression (that said I’m mostly neutral towards NFTs because it is still very nascent).

This site runs on WordPress as you know, and it wasn’t a frivolous choice. It is not perfect and it really attracts attacks and spam, but I liked that it has been around for the longest time and has one of the largest open-source eco-systems. I have upgraded sites that were installed on WordPress version 2 or something and they still work, like 10-15 years later. I like how Matt describes his philosophy for managing WordPress as antifragile:

When I’m thinking long-term, I’m thinking first and foremost, “What will be best for the WordPress community this year, 10 years, 30 years from now? What will make us the most sustainable, the most resilient, the most antifragile?” I think of that first.

I don’t think many people think of their software/projects/businesses in the timeframe of decades, especially now when most entities are just trying to survive the next financial cycle. But maybe this is the gift of being open-source and non-profit if you do it right (I mean, there are also people who try the non-profit route and languish). Reminds me of why the creator of NetNewsWire decided to make it free.

I also liked other tidbits in that article, particularly how Taylor Swift is using Tumblr – really dig the weird interplay between online communities and other types of media:

Taylor Swift is reading Tumblr, and that shows up in the lyrics. There’s a feedback loop between the lyrics and the Tumblr people. It’s nuts.

…and how one of India’s most famous actors use Tumblr everyday for like the past 5000 days:

Amitabh Bachchan. He’s one the most famous actors in India. He’s the I ndian actor.Look at this. He just posted today at 11:42AM. Day 5,130 of his daily updates. It’s awesome. He’s a daily active user of Tumblr.

I guess this notes section is like my tumblr. I would like to have posted everyday for 5000 days. It seems so easy, but it requires some form of commitment to show up still, everyday.

Tom Critchlow on building a digital homestead

I like reading posts on how people approach building their personal websites in an incremental manner versus treating it like a one-time project that is destroyed and rebuilt with every new version. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is cool to redesign it entirely, it is just that many times along with the process the information architecture is also destroyed, so we often see ghost urls and entire missing sections. The archivist in me mourns the loss.

Often a time because it is just so easy to make a website, it is often treated as something that can be easily thrown away and replaced. I think there is value in thinking of it as a long-term sprawling project that grows and trims like we do. Of course just like we shed identities at every mid-life crisis, I think it is perfectly fine to have an entire website rehaul when it can no longer express ourselves authentically.

I love how Tom Critchlow picks out quotes from a few blog posts about other people thinking around similar lines of thought – mine included – and in the same post I got to discover this beautiful attempt at organising content through questions by Emmanuel Quartey. I’ve been trying to organise my notebooks quite unsuccessfully, so unsuccessful that I stopped working on them, but this fresh approach gave me much food for thought.

mirrored links

The other day Wesley left a comment on one of my posts to let me know that they referenced it in one of their recent posts, “How Websites Die“.

I think it is so cool that by them leaving a comment, my post now has a link to their post which links back to mine, like a mirror.

illustration showing two links

Most links are one-directional, and we don’t really know who is linking to us if not for analytics.

Note-taking apps like Roamresearch call them backlinks – two links that reference each other. Wouldn’t it be cool there is a standard way of displaying backlinks from someone else’s website? WordPress does this with trackbacks, but as far as I know they only work with other wordpress sites. Then there is Indieweb’s webmentions, but everytime I take a look to see if I can implement it, it just sounds a little too complicated. I wish there was a simple way for everyone to do it.

We could then have a way to display conversations that take place over a series of blog posts from different websites. Or a themed chain of blog posts from different sources.


If you didn’t know this, I implemented this sort of linking within my website. It doesn’t show up in RSS for now but on my website below this post you could see I linked to the original post that Wesley commented on, and if you navigate to that post it links back to this note. So I can personally keep track of the contextual relationships within my own content. I just think it’ll be cool to do so with other people’s blogs too.

on “A Psalm for the Wild-Built”

Someone on reddit asked for: “A book that tells you that your life doesn’t need a purpose, or a grand ambition; and that it’s okay to just wander through life finding interesting things to do until you die” on r/suggestmeabook, and I saw that quite a few people recommended “A Psalm for the Wild-Built” by Becky Chambers. I thought it was quite an interesting title – there was a line on the cover that says “A monk and robot book”, and I was immediately sold.

It was one of the most soothing books I’ve read in recent times. Sometimes I just want to freeze my brain and read something that would make me hate the world less. This is such a book. I loved the breadth of its imagination. There was a top Goodreads review that criticised it for utopian-like world without explaining how it solved all its issues. But personally I feel we need books like that. There is a lot of dark and hard sci-fi around which I don’t enjoy. I just need to look at the existing world for my dose of darkness.

I won’t spoil the book, but I thought I could share a highlight that I loved:

It’s very hard to keep track of robots. We get so caught up in things. Fire Nettle, for example. It walked up a mountain one day and we didn’t see it again for six years. I thought it had broken down, but no, it was watching a sapling grow from seed. Oh, and there’s Black Marbled Frostfrog. It’s something of a legend. It’s been holed up in a cave, watching stalagmites form for three and a half decades, and plans to do nothing else. A lot of robots do things like that. Not all of us want the company of others, and none of us keep schedules that humans would find comfortable.

Source: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers | link

How beautiful it is to entertain the idea that we can watch stalagmites form for three and a half decades and do nothing else and just be okay with that.

George Saunders on why we should study the way we read

I frequently acquire books through reading people’s blog posts. I picked up George Saunder’s A Swim in a Pond in the Rain from someone’s blog (sorry I forgot whose, but I’ll make more effort to note it down the next time), and I started reading it today. I want to share a quote that left quite a linger impression:

To study the way we read is to study the way the mind works: the way it evaluates a statement for truth, the way it behaves in relation to another mind (i.e., the writer’s) across space and time. What we’re going to be doing here, essentially, is watching ourselves read (trying to reconstruct how we felt as we were, just now, reading). Why would we want to do this? Well, the part of the mind that reads a story is also the part that reads the world; it can deceive us, but it can also be trained to accuracy; it can fall into disuse and make us more susceptible to lazy, violent, materialistic forces, but it can also be urged back to life, transforming us into more active, curious, alert readers of reality.

Source: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders | link

I like that he insinuates that reading like plenty of other things is essentially a skill, an act of interpretation as well as a response to the world. One could read something as it is, or one could think about it critically or even just start wondering about it.

I guess this is something that speaks to me at this point in time when there is so much disinformation, and perhaps the reason why the world is in this state is because we’ve been taught to read as though it is a technical skill – if only it was taught more philosophically.

added featured image & custom fields of notes to the RSS feed

Once in a while I’ll check the rss feed for this website just in case something is off, and I belatedly found out that the image designated as the featured image did not appear in the RSS feed by default in WordPress, so the graphic of a haiku I made didn’t show up, and the text looked like a chunk of unbroken mess because there was no context that I originally posted it on instagram where it is the norm for me to write in one unbroken paragraph.

For notes I use custom fields to show the url of the origin if I post stuff from instagram, twitter or facebook, and occasionally I pin a location which shows up as a rendered google map on the website itself. WordPress doesn’t show custom fields by default as well. Without them displaying on RSS a lot of context is missing.

Now you can see if posts originate from elsewhere, in this example “originally published on: twitter” is displayed. I think the origin of the content affects the perception of the form, so this small detail is important to me.

rendered in NetNewsWire

Pinned locations if any is rendered as plain text, because I think displaying rendered iframed maps is iffy in RSS readers.

I also use custom fields heavily for other parts of the website to display relationships between content – I guess that would be worked on another day.

Ian Leslie’s notes on “Get Back”

I read this monstrous 7500+ word substack newsletter in multiple sittings, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the observation at the end that sums it all up:

A good song or album – or novel or painting – seems authoritative and inevitable, as if it just had to be that way, but it rarely feels like that to the people making it. Art involves a kind of conjuring trick in which the artist conceals her false starts, her procrastination, her self-doubts, her confusion, behind the finished article.

The Banality of Genius: Notes on Peter Jackson’s Get Back

I guess we can say the same thing about personalities as well, that we often see people – especially people of a higher profile – as the finished article, hardly contemplating what it took to get them there or the scars that lie underneath.

I also enjoyed this analysis of a particular conversation that took place between Paul McCartney and John Lennon:

The first thing to note is that John and Paul are talking to each other without talking to each other. This is partly because they’re aware of the cameras and also because they’re just not sure how to communicate with each other at the moment. John’s contributions are oblique, gnomic, riddling, comprised only of songs and jokes, like the Fool in King Lear… But right now, Paul is not much in the mood for it. His speech is more direct, though he too adopts a quasi-poetic mode (“canyons of your mind” is borrowed from a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) and he can’t bring himself to make eye contact. “To wander aimlessly is very unswinging,” he says (another great line, I will pin it above my writing desk). Then John does something amazing: he starts talking in Beatle, dropping in lyrics from the early years of the band, I Want To Hold Your Hand and Ask Me Why.

When I watched the docu (probably in like ten sittings or so) I didn’t get what was going on at all. But since it was so long I just watched everything go by without thinking too much of anything, just wanting to get to the end. But wow what a thing to respond in lyrics in a ongoing conversation, like the writer noted about Lennon’s genius:

His gift for comedy was not far short of his gift for music. He uses jokes to obstruct, obfuscate and deflect, and yet the undeniable truth is that he is a genuinely brilliant, lightning-quick, Peter Cook-level improviser…Lennon, at least when he was in the mood, was a master of it. His linguistic jamming made its way into lyrics, most unforgettably on I Am The Walrus. Written down on the page, it pales somewhat (his poetry books are thin stuff). It is Lennon’s delivery, his voice, his physical self, that make his wordplay such a thrill.


What a read. I liked that it was so gloriously long.

On a meta level I appreciated the mind and personality the writer possessed to make these observations in such beautiful prose. I was also slightly disappointed that everything is on Substack and it took me two clicks to find out more about the writer, and an actual google search to get to his twitter profile.

But writers have to make money, and so they put their writing in walled gardens. I just wish there were better independent solutions that enables better ownership, archiving and SEO, like shopify (which is still somewhat planting your own garden on someone else’s land but at least you can do whatever you want with it and it is brightly in your name) for writers. If I search for “Ian Leslie” there is no mention of Substack of the first page of result, and without further deliberate digging I wouldn’t know such writing exists.

“I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words”

Sometimes I feel like an alien in this world where people are always seeking to connect while I am always seeking to disconnect, trying to live in my own self-made bubble. Came across this quote by Carl Jung and it ironically made me feel less alone:

Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.

– Carl Jung, source
haiku for 69 months

69 months! I realised I haven’t written a haiku since 2019, so I wrote one for today’s special occasion for the special person in my life: empty and floatingentangled with her presencemy…

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when someone blogs about your writing

Yesterday I exchanged a couple of emails with Ray from blogroll.org (which is an excellent resource for discovering blogs) and he alerted me to a blog post written about me.

I spent the next few moments not really in my body as I read what he wrote. I felt really awkward (in a good way I suppose) because I am not used to this at all.

I am very thankful that someone sees and appreciates my writing in this way. My writing tend to be very personal and longwinded – I know I am longwinded but I don’t want to cut out pieces of myself and how I really think in my chaotic mind just to fit some perception of how one’s writing should be – I tend to feel like everything I write goes into some vacuum.

I do get private messages from strangers once in a while which I am also very thankful for, but someone translating my quotes in Dutch on index cards is another thing altogether. I hope Wouter doesn’t mind me sharing a screenshot of his website:

I feel so seen. This is a moment I will cherish.

working on a list of posts I want to write in case I lose my capacity to write anytime soon. we wouldn’t know how much time we have left, so why not err on the side of caution? also it could allow me to move on to something else when I’m done with writing all of them.