Acquired The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon WinchesterSimon Winchester (Harper)

The revered New York Times bestselling author traces the development of technology from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age to explore the single component crucial to advancement—precision—in a superb history that is both an homage and a warning for our future.

The rise of manufacturing could not have happened without an attention to precision. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in eighteenth-century England, standards of measurement were established, giving way to the development of machine tools—machines that make machines. Eventually, the application of precision tools and methods resulted in the creation and mass production of items from guns and glass to mirrors, lenses, and cameras—and eventually gave way to further breakthroughs, including gene splicing, microchips, and the Hadron Collider.

Simon Winchester takes us back to origins of the Industrial Age, to England where he introduces the scientific minds that helped usher in modern production: John Wilkinson, Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah, Jesse Ramsden, and Joseph Whitworth. It was Thomas Jefferson who later exported their discoveries to the fledgling United States, setting the nation on its course to become a manufacturing titan. Winchester moves forward through time, to today’s cutting-edge developments occurring around the world, from America to Western Europe to Asia.

As he introduces the minds and methods that have changed the modern world, Winchester explores fundamental questions. Why is precision important? What are the different tools we use to measure it? Who has invented and perfected it? Has the pursuit of the ultra-precise in so many facets of human life blinded us to other things of equal value, such as an appreciation for the age-old traditions of craftsmanship, art, and high culture? Are we missing something that reflects the world as it is, rather than the world as we think we would wish it to be? And can the precise and the natural co-exist in society?

One of my favorite all-time writers and somehow I had missed any news about its pending release and hadn’t seen it despite having just been to the bookstore. What a fantastic surprise!

Received as the most perfect gift. Originally purchased at Vroman’s.

Syndicated copies to:

🔖 An Introduction to APIs | Zapier

Bookmarked An Introduction to APIs by Brian Cooksey (Zapier)
APIs (application programming interfaces) are a big part of the web. In 2013 there were over 10,000 APIs published by companies for open consumption 1. That is quadruple the number available in 2010 2. With so many companies investing in this new area of business, possessing a working understanding of APIs becomes increasingly relevant to careers in the software industry. Through this course, we hope to give you that knowledge by building up from the very basics. In this chapter, we start by looking at some fundamental concepts around APIs. We define what an API is, where it lives, and give a high level picture of how one is used.

I found this downloadable e-book a while back at Zapier’s resource page, which has some other interesting things, but this overview and layout of APIs seemed fairly simple but powerful for folks interested in the topic.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 Save Barnes & Noble! | New York Times

Read Opinion | Save Barnes & Noble! by David LeonhardtDavid Leonhardt (nytimes.com)
It’s in trouble. And Washington’s flawed antitrust policy is a big reason.

There are some squirrel-ly things that Amazon is managing to get away with, and they’re not all necessarily good.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 The Web We Need to Give Students | BRIGHT Magazine

Read The Web We Need to Give Students by Audrey Watters (BRIGHT Magazine)
“Giving students their own digital domain is a radical act. It gives them the ability to work on the Web and with the Web.”

Not sure how this surfaced into my feeds again today, but interesting to see it pop up. I’m also noticing that Audrey smartly posted a copy to her own site after it appeared in Bright.

In this article, she touches on some reasons why it’s important for students to have their own domain, but many of these ideas and arguments also work well for almost anyone. It’s interesting to see how similar the philosophy she describes here dovetails with that of the IndieWeb.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 Gmail’s biggest redesign is now live | The Verge

Read Gmail’s biggest redesign is now live by Vlad Savov (The Verge)
Snoozing, nudging, hover actions, and a new sidebar — it’s a mobile app on the web!

I’ve been using gmail for about 2 years now and am curious to see what this delivers though I do have to admit I’m itching to going back to my old methods of owning may own email and data.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 Jensen Harris tweetstorm about startup hiring on Twitter

Read When you're leaving a big company to interview at a startup, there are some hidden questions you might not know to ask. by Jensen Harris (Twitter)
When you're leaving a big company to interview at a startup, there are some hidden questions you might not know to ask. Not all startup jobs are created equal; without the right info, you could make a bad choice. Here are 4 questions you should ask in a startup interview loop:

1) How much money does the company have in the bank?

OK, yes: this sounds super crass... an embarrassingly direct question. But it is also incredibly crucial, because without this info, you have no idea what kind of situation you are potentially walking into. You would never ask this question at a megacorp because, well, the answer is usually "infinite money." The cash position of a public company is also usually freely available. Besides, you probably wouldn't be talking to someone who could give you a direct answer anyway!

But at a startup, everything is impacted by money. For example:
* How free is the company to build towards its vision?
* How likely is the leadership to make desperate/rash decisions?
* Will you have access to the resources you need to do a good job?

There are lots of less-gosh ways to ask this question, like: "how strong is the company's financial position?" And be prepared, the answer might sound more like "here's what % of our Series B is still in the bank" or "here's how many more months of runway we have." These are ok! But by not asking, you have no idea what you are signing up for. And if a founder/senior member of the team isn't willing to give you *some sort of answer here*, that is a big red flag. They may be hiding something you won't find out about until you start work.

2) Tell me about a time the founders disagreed. What happened?

In any startup with multiple founders (most of them!) the founder working relationship can make or break the company. If it is wonderful, the company may thrive whereas if it is toxic, nothing can save it. Notice the phrasing of the question. As a candidate, just like as an interviewer, you must practice behavioral interviewing. Don't ask "how do the founders handle disagreement?" Any smart person can answer that well: “They talk, hear each other's perspectives, and work it out!” Instead ask the question the behavioral way: "Tell me about a time..." This forces the answer to be specific and real. Founders always have some disagreement; if they own that and show they know how to handle it, it is a powerful positive signal about the company. Note: Be especially wary if you are interviewing with a founder and they repeatedly answer your specific questions about this by taking the topic back into the abstract. This could show that they are not transparent, not self-aware, deceitful, or all three.

3) What is the role of the company’s board of directors?

I'll be honest. During the 16 years I worked at Microsoft, I am not sure I could have named anyone on the board. Bill Gates? The Netflix guy? It just wasn't in any way germane to the day-to-day of working there. In a startup, however, the company's relationship with its board could have a huge impact on whether you want to work there. If you are talking to a founder or senior exec, look for words of alignment and respect. Not snark or # or "ugh, the board, don't get me started.” If interviewing with a more junior employee, a great answer might well be "No idea, I’ve only seen them in the office once.” A board that is out of the way operationally, helping behind-the-scenes but not interfering, is a good sign that there's a healthy relationship there. Fun story: I once interviewed for a senior job at a tech startup. I went with the CEO to meet the board for a last round of interviews. The first board member got me into a room and started with: "Hi! FYI. you can't tell him, but we are firing the CEO." AWKWARD. Um, kthxbye.

4) Tell me about the changes you’ve experienced at the company over the last year.

A big company is pretty much the same year after year. Working there in 2017 is the same as working there in 2018. The best startups, on the other hand, are growing, changing, strengthening. The single best way to predict the future is by analyzing the past. And so by asking your interviewer not "where do you expect to be in a year" but "what have you experienced in the last year", you get a window into what the actual the pace of growth is at the company. A great, thoughtful answer about the ways the company is growing is a huge plus. A positive is often: "wow, I can't believe how much we've done/grown/changed/built when I think about it."

A worrisome answer is "honestly, it's about the same." When startups stagnate, they die. Hear the stories about what the last 12 months were like, and use that to gauge whether it would be an exciting place to spend your next few years. Companies that are thoughtfully growing employ people with a strong growth mindset, creating an amazing place to learn and build. Last thing: Don't be afraid to ask these things. You have the right to ask direct questions in your interview. As a founder, I relish being able to share info about our company. If you get vague answers/hostility, especially from senior people, this is a bad sign. Run away!

Startup interviews require you to probe differently than megacorp interviews. This is a good thing! What you learn will help you find the place that's a strong match for you.

Be prepared to ask the right questions, and you'll be one step closer to landing your dream startup job.

via:

Syndicated copies to:

👓 H5P Test-Drive | Jo Kehoe

Read H5P Test-Drive by Jo Kehoe (jokehoe.ca)
I’m test-driving H5P – an open HTML5 content creator that promises many things! And for the most part, it delivers. I tried out a few of the 20 plus content types that they have available here. I’ll continue to add to this as time goes on. Since it’s currently October, there is a pumpkin-spice flavoured theme to these examples (love it or hate it!).

Some interesting edtech tools here. They remind me somewhat of the type of formats and layouts made possible by the Post Kinds Plugin for WordPress, but geared toward academia. I could see things like these being useful little blocks within the upcoming Gutenberg interface.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech | Anil Dash

Read 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech by Anil Dash (Anil Dash)
Tech is more important than ever, deeply affecting culture, politics and society. Given all the time we spend with our gadgets and apps, it’s essential to understand the principles that determine how tech affects our lives.

One of the more important things I’ve read in the past month. This short article should be required reading for every lawmaker in the land (and everyone else for that matter). Thanks Anil!

Syndicated copies to:

On the topic of RSS audio feeds for The Gillmor Gang

Some suggestions for extracting audio only podcast-friendly feeds for one of my favorite shows.

I’ll start off with the fact that I’m a big fan of The Gillmore Gang and recommend it to anyone who is interested in the very bleeding edge of the overlap of technology and media. I’ve been listening almost since the beginning, and feel that digging back into their archives is a fantastic learning experience even for the well-informed. Most older episodes stand up well to the test of time.

The Problem

In the Doc Soup episode of The Gillmor Gang on 5/13/17–right at the very end–Steve Gillmor reiterated, “This isn’t a podcast. This was a podcast. It will always be a podcast, but streaming is where it’s at, and that’s what we’re doing right now.” As such, apparently Tech Crunch (or Steve for that matter) doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to have any sort of subscribe-able feed for those who prefer to listen to a time shifted version of the show. (Ironically in nearly every other episode they talk about the brilliance of the Apple TV, which is–guess what?–a highly dedicated time shifting viewing/listening device.) I suppose that their use of an old, but modified TV test pattern hiding in the og:image metadata on their webpages is all-too-apropos.

It’s been several years (around the time of the Leo Incident?) since The Gillmor Gang has reliably published an audio version, a fact I find painful and frustrating as I’m sure many others do as well. At least once or twice a year, I spend an hour or so searching around to find one, generally to no avail. While watching it live and participating in the live chat may be nice, I typically can’t manage the time slot, so I’m stuck trying to find time to watch the video versions on Tech Crunch. Sadly, looking at four or more old, wrinkly, white men (Steve himself has cautioned, “cover your eyes, it’ll be okay…” without admitting it could certainly use some diversity) for an hour or more isn’t my bailiwick. Having video as the primary modality for this show is rarely useful. To me, it’s the ideas within the discussion which are worthwhile, so I only need a much lower bandwidth .mp3 audio file to be able to listen. And so sadly, the one thing this over-technologized show (thanks again TriCaster!) actually needs from a production perspective is a simple .mp3 (RSS, Atom, JSON feed, or h-feed) podcast feed!

Solutions

In recent batches of searching, I have come across a few useful resources for those who want simple, sweet audio out of the show, so I’m going to document them here.

First, some benevolent soul has been archiving audio copies of the show to The Internet Archive for a while. They can be found here (sorted by upload date): https://archive.org/search.php?query=subject%3A%22Gillmor+Gang%22&sort=-publicdate

In addition to this, one might also use other search methods, but this should give one most of the needed weekly content. Sadly IA doesn’t provide a useful feed out…

To create a feed quickly, one can create a free Huffduffer account. (This is one of my favorite tools in the world by the way.) They’ve got a useful bookmarklet tool that allows you to visit pages and save audio files and metadata about them to your account. Further, they provide multiple immediate means of subscribing to your saves as feeds! Thus you can pick and choose which Gillmor Gang episodes (or any other audio files on the web for that matter) you’d like to put into your feed. Then subscribe in your favorite podcatcher and go.

For those who’d like to skip a step, Huffduffer also provides iTunes and a variety of other podcatcher specific feeds for content aggregated in other people’s accounts or even via tags on the service. (You can subscribe to what your friends are listening to!) Thus you can search for Gillmor Gang and BOOM! There are quick and easy links right there in the sidebar for you to subscribe to your heart’s content! (Caveat: you might have to filter out a few duplicates or some unrelated content, but this is the small price you’ll pay for huge convenience.)

My last potential suggestion might be useful to some, but is (currently) so time-delayed it’s likely not as useful. For a while, I’ve been making “Listen” posts to my website of things I listen to around the web. I’ve discovered that the way I do it, which involves transcluding the original audio files so the original host sees and gets the traffic, provides a subscribe-able faux-cast of content. You can use this RSS feed to capture the episodes I’ve been listening to lately. Note that I’m way behind right now and don’t always listen to episodes in chronological order, so it’s not as reliable a method for the more avid fan. Of course now that I’ve got some reasonable solutions… I’ll likely catch up quickly and we’re off to the races again.

Naturally none of this chicanery would be necessary if the group of producers and editors of the show would take five minutes to create and host their own version. Apparently they have the freedom and flexibility to not have to worry about clicks and advertising (which I completely appreciate, by the way) to need to capture the other half of the audience they’re surely missing by not offering an easy-to-find audio feed. But I’m dead certain they’ve got the time, ability, and resources to easily do this, which makes it painful to see that they don’t. Perhaps one day they will, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

I’ve made requests and been holding my breath for years, but the best I’ve done so far is to turn blue and fall off my chair.

Syndicated copies to:

👓 WebAuthn: A Developer’s Guide to What’s on the Horizon | Okta Developer

Read WebAuthn: A Developer's Guide to What's on the Horizon by Aaron Parecki (developer.okta.com)
WebAuthn (the Web Authentication API) allows browsers to make use of hardware authenticators such as the Yubikey or a mobile phone's biometrics like a thumbprint reader or facial recognition.

I’ve been interested to see Aaron’s opinion of this when I saw it come across my radar the other day. Glad to have a simple overview of it’s functionality now, particularly from someone who’s literally written the book on authentication.

Syndicated copies to:

IndieWeb Journalism in the Wild

Some tidbits I really appreciate about John Naughton's website

I noticed a few days ago that professor and writer John Naughton not only has his own website but that he’s posting both his own content to it as well as (excerpted) content he’s writing for other journalistic outlets, lately in his case for The Guardian. This is awesome for so many reasons. The primary reason is that I can follow him via his own site and get not only his personally posted content, which informs his longer pieces, but I don’t need to follow him in multiple locations to get the “firehose” of everything he’s writing and thinking about. While The Guardian and The Observer are great, perhaps I don’t want to filter through multiple hundreds of articles to find his particular content or potentially risk missing it?  What if he was writing for 5 or more other outlets? Then I’d need to delve in deeper still and carry a multitude of subscriptions and their attendant notifications to get something that should rightly emanate from one location–him! While he may not be posting his status updates or Tweets to his own website first–as I do–I’m at least able to get the best and richest of his content in one place. Additionally, the way he’s got things set up, The Guardian and others are still getting the clicks (for advertising sake) while I still get the simple notifications I’d like to have so I’m not missing what he writes.

His site certainly provides an interesting example of either POSSE or PESOS in the wild, particularly from an IndieWeb for Journalism or even an IndieWeb for Education perspective. I suspect his article posts occur on the particular outlet first and he’s excerpting them with a link to that “original”. (Example: A post on his site with a link to a copy on The Guardian.) I’m not sure whether he’s (ideally) physically archiving the full post there on his site (and hiding it privately as both a personal and professional portfolio of sorts) or if they’re all there on the respective pages, but just hidden behind the “read more” button he’s providing. I will note that his WordPress install is giving a rel=”canonical link to itself rather than the version at The Guardian, which also has a rel=”canonical” link on it. I’m curious to take a look at how Google indexes and ranks the two pages as a result.

In any case, this is a generally brilliant set up for any researcher, professor, journalist, or other stripe of writer for providing online content, particularly when they may be writing for a multitude of outlets.

I’ll also note that I appreciate the ways in which it seems he’s using his website almost as a commonplace book. This provides further depth into his ideas and thoughts to see what sources are informing and underlying his other writing.

Alas, if only the rest of the world used the web this way…

Syndicated copies to:

👓 A Qualified Fail | Doc Searls

Read A Qualified Fail by Doc Searls (Doc Searls Weblog)
Power of the People is a great grabber of a headline, at least for me. But it’s a pitch for a report that requires filling out the form here on the right: You see a lot of these: invitations to put one’s digital ass on mailing list, just to get a report that should have been public in the first place, but isn’t so personal data can be harvested and sold or given away to God knows who. And you do more than just “agree to join” a mailing list. You are now what marketers call a “qualified lead” for countless other parties you’re sure to be hearing from.
Syndicated copies to:

Exactly five years ago to the day I was excited about the possibilities of Digg Reader:

Now they’ve announced they’re shutting down. It seems to me that from a UI perspective, they only put in a bare minimal amount of effort to build out their reader and ceased iterating it on the day it it opened.

This is the second reader shut down recently, but I’m more excited about the idea of Microsub and what it may mean to the future of feed readers.

Syndicated copies to:

Organizing my research related reading

There’s so much great material out there to read and not nearly enough time. The question becomes: “How to best organize it all, so you can read even more?”

I just came across a tweet from Michael Nielsen about the topic, which is far deeper than even a few tweets could do justice to, so I thought I’d sketch out a few basic ideas about how I’ve been approaching it over the last decade or so. Ideally I’d like to circle back around to this and better document more of the individual aspects or maybe even make a short video, but for now this will hopefully suffice to add to the conversation Michael has started.

Keep in mind that this is an evolving system which I still haven’t completely perfected (and may never), but to a great extent it works relatively well and I still easily have the ability to modify and improve it.

Overall Structure

The first piece of the overarching puzzle is to have a general structure for finding, collecting, triaging, and then processing all of the data. I’ve essentially built a simple funnel system for collecting all the basic data in the quickest manner possible. With the basics down, I can later skim through various portions to pick out the things I think are the most valuable and move them along to the next step. Ultimately I end up reading the best pieces on which I make copious notes and highlights. I’m still slowly trying to perfect the system for best keeping all this additional data as well.

Since I’ve seen so many apps and websites come and go over the years and lost lots of data to them, I far prefer to use my own personal website for doing a lot of the basic collection, particularly for online material. Toward this end, I use a variety of web services, RSS feeds, and bookmarklets to quickly accumulate the important pieces into my personal website which I use like a modern day commonplace book.

Collecting

In general, I’ve been using the Inoreader feed reader to track a large variety of RSS feeds from various clearinghouse sources (including things like ProQuest custom searches) down to individual researcher’s blogs as a means of quickly pulling in large amounts of research material. It’s one of the more flexible readers out there with a huge number of useful features including the ability to subscribe to OPML files, which many readers don’t support.

As a simple example arXiv.org has an RSS feed for the topic of “information theory” at http://arxiv.org/rss/math.IT which I subscribe to. I can quickly browse through the feed and based on titles and/or abstracts, I can quickly “star” the items I find most interesting within the reader. I have a custom recipe set up for the IFTTT.com service that pulls in all these starred articles and creates new posts for them on my WordPress blog. To these posts I can add a variety of metadata including top level categories and lower level tags in addition to other additional metadata I’m interested in.

I also have similar incoming funnel entry points via many other web services as well. So on platforms like Twitter, I also have similar workflows that allow me to use services like IFTTT.com or Zapier to push the URLs easily to my website. I can quickly “like” a tweet and a background process will suck that tweet and any URLs within it into my system for future processing. This type of workflow extends to a variety of sites where I might consume potential material I want to read and process. (Think academic social services like Mendeley, Academia.com, Diigo, or even less academic ones like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) Many of these services often have storage ability and also have simple browser bookmarklets that allow me to add material to them. So with a quick click, it’s saved to the service and then automatically ported into my website almost without friction.

My WordPress-based site uses the Post Kinds Plugin which takes incoming website URLs and does a very solid job of parsing those pages to extract much of the primary metadata I’d like to have without requiring a lot of work. For well structured web pages, it’ll pull in the page title, authors, date published, date updated, synopsis of the page, categories and tags, and other bits of data automatically. All these fields are also editable and searchable. Further, the plugin allows me to configure simple browser bookmarklets so that with a simple click on a web page, I can pull its URL and associated metadata into my website almost instantaneously. I can then add a note or two about what made me interested in the piece and save it for later.

Note here, that I’m usually more interested in saving material for later as quickly as I possibly can. In this part of the process, I’m rarely ever interested in reading anything immediately. I’m most interested in finding it, collecting it for later, and moving on to the next thing. This is also highly useful for things I find during my busy day that I can’t immediately find time for at the moment.

As an example, here’s a book I’ve bookmarked to read simply by clicking “like” on a tweet I cam across late last year. You’ll notice at the bottom of the post, I’ve optionally syndicated copies of the post to other platforms to “spread the wealth” as it were. Perhaps others following me via other means may see it and find it useful as well?

Triaging

At regular intervals during the week I’ll sit down for an hour or two to triage all the papers and material I’ve been sucking into my website. This typically involves reading through lots of abstracts in a bit more detail to better figure out what I want to read now and what I’d like to read at a later date. I can delete out the irrelevant material if I choose, or I can add follow up dates to custom fields for later reminders.

Slowly but surely I’m funneling down a tremendous amount of potential material into a smaller, more manageable amount that I’m truly interested in reading on a more in-depth basis.

Document storage

Calibre with GoodReads sync

Even for things I’ve winnowed down, there is still a relatively large amount of material, much of it I’ll want to save and personally archive. For a lot of this function I rely on the free multi-platform desktop application Calibre. It’s essentially an iTunes-like interface, but it’s built specifically for e-books and other documents.

Within it I maintain a small handful of libraries. One for personal e-books, one for research related textbooks/e-books, and another for journal articles. It has a very solid interface and is extremely flexible in terms of configuration and customization. You can create a large number of custom libraries and create your own searchable and sort-able fields with a huge variety of metadata. It often does a reasonable job of importing e-books, .pdf files, and other digital media and parsing out their meta data which prevents one from needing to do some of that work manually. With some well maintained metadata, one can very quickly search and sort a huge amount of documents as well as quickly prioritize them for action. Additionally, the system does a pretty solid job of converting files from one format to another, so that things like converting an .epub file into a .mobi format for Kindle are automatic.

Calibre stores the physical documents either in local computer storage, or even better, in the cloud using any of a variety of services including Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. so that one can keep one’s documents in the cloud and view them from a variety of locations (home, work, travel, tablet, etc.)

I’ve been a very heavy user of GoodReads.com for years to bookmark and organize my physical and e-book library and anti-libraries. Calibre has an exceptional plugin for GoodReads that syncs data across the two. This (and a few other plugins) are exceptionally good at pulling in missing metadata to minimize the amount that must be done via hand, which can be tedious.

Within Calibre I can manage my physical books, e-books, journal articles, and a huge variety of other document related forms and formats. I can also use it to further triage and order the things I intend to read and order them to the nth degree. My current Calibre libraries have over 10,000 documents in them including over 2,500 textbooks as well as records of most of my 1,000+ physical books. Calibre can also be used to add document data that one would like to ultimately acquire the actual documents, but currently don’t have access to.

BibTeX and reference management

In addition to everything else Calibre also has some well customized pieces for dovetailing all its metadata as a reference management system. It’ll allow one to export data in a variety of formats for document publishing and reference management including BibTex formats amongst many others.

Reading, Annotations, Highlights

Once I’ve winnowed down the material I’m interested in it’s time to start actually reading. I’ll often use Calibre to directly send my documents to my Kindle or other e-reading device, but one can also read them on one’s desktop with a variety of readers, or even from within Calibre itself. With a click or two, I can automatically email documents to my Kindle and Calibre will also auto-format them appropriately before doing so.

Typically I’ll send them to my Kindle which allows me a variety of easy methods for adding highlights and marginalia. Sometimes I’ll read .pdf files via desktop and use Adobe to add highlights and marginalia as well. When I’m done with a .pdf file, I’ll just resave it (with all the additions) back into my Calibre library.

Exporting highlights/marginalia to my website

For Kindle related documents, once I’m finished, I’ll use direct text file export or tools like clippings.io to export my highlights and marginalia for a particular text into simple HTML and import it into my website system along with all my other data. I’ve briefly written about some of this before, though I ought to better document it. All of this then becomes very easily searchable and sort-able for future potential use as well.

Here’s an example of some public notes, highlights, and other marginalia I’ve posted in the past.

Synthesis

Eventually, over time, I’ve built up a huge amount of research related data in my personal online commonplace book that is highly searchable and sortable! I also have the option to make these posts and pages public, private, or even password protected. I can create accounts on my site for collaborators to use and view private material that isn’t publicly available. I can also share posts via social media and use standards like webmention and tools like brid.gy so that comments and interactions with these pieces on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and others is imported back to the relevant portions of my site as comments. (I’m doing it with this post, so feel free to try it out yourself by commenting on one of the syndicated copies.)

Now when I’m ready to begin writing something about what I’ve read, I’ve got all the relevant pieces, notes, and metadata in one centralized location on my website. Synthesis becomes much easier. I can even have open drafts of things as I’m reading and begin laying things out there directly if I choose. Because it’s all stored online, it’s imminently available from almost anywhere I can connect to the web. As an example, I used a few portions of this workflow to actually write this post.

Continued work

Naturally, not all of this is static and it continues to improve and evolve over time. In particular, I’m doing continued work on my personal website so that I’m able to own as much of the workflow and data there. Ideally I’d love to have all of the Calibre related piece on my website as well.

Earlier this week I even had conversations about creating new post types on my website related to things that I want to read to potentially better display and document them explicitly. When I can I try to document some of these pieces either here on my own website or on various places on the IndieWeb wiki. In fact, the IndieWeb for Education page might be a good place to start browsing for those interested.

One of the added benefits of having a lot of this data on my own website is that it not only serves as my research/data platform, but it also has the traditional ability to serve as a publishing and distribution platform!

Currently, I’m doing most of my research related work in private or draft form on the back end of my website, so it’s not always publicly available, though I often think I should make more of it public for the value of the aggregation nature it has as well as the benefit it might provide to improving scientific communication. Just think, if you were interested in some of the obscure topics I am and you could have a pre-curated RSS feed of all the things I’ve filtered through piped into your own system… now multiply this across hundreds of thousands of other scientists? Michael Nielsen posts some useful things to his Twitter feed and his website, but what I wouldn’t give to see far more of who and what he’s following, bookmarking, and actually reading? While many might find these minutiae tedious, I guarantee that people in his associated fields would find some serious value in it.

I’ve tried hundreds of other apps and tools over the years, but more often than not, they only cover a small fraction of the necessary moving pieces within a much larger moving apparatus that a working researcher and writer requires. This often means that one is often using dozens of specialized tools upon which there’s a huge duplication of data efforts. It also presumes these tools will be around for more than a few years and allow easy import/export of one’s hard fought for data and time invested in using them.

If you’re aware of something interesting in this space that might be useful, I’m happy to take a look at it. Even if I might not use the service itself, perhaps it’s got a piece of functionality that I can recreate into my own site and workflow somehow?

If you’d like help in building and fleshing out a system similar to the one I’ve outlined above, I’m happy to help do that too.

Related posts

Syndicated copies to: