April 13, 2024

Making a dynamic auto-sorting list in Shortcuts to easily deploy memes

So you like memes. (Me too!) And you like Markdown. (Right there with ya, buddy.) And you’re the sort of person who cares about web accessibility, and you do your best to add alt text (image descriptions) to all your images. (Geez, you and me are like peas and carrots!)

Jenny and Forrest from ‘Forrest Gump’ sit on a school bus; the boy looks at the girl, who stares ahead. Text overlay: “Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.”

You’ve got your favorite memes that you return to, time after time. But you also discover new ones that you want to add to your arsenal. If you blog or post to social media using Markdown (👋 like you can over at Micro.blog), you’ll know there’s no good way to keep track of your go-to GIFs. You might be uploading the same image again and again — a waste of time and server storage — and you’ve got to rewrite the alt text each time… you are still adding those, right?

Say you’re Super Into It™ and keep a note of all your memes and their Markdown. (Wow! You’re in good company.) But now you’re hunting and pecking through that list, trying to find the right one, doing the copy/paste dance, and are frustrated that the one meme you use all the time and need to deploy at a moment’s notice is buried in the list. (Not that I would know anything about that…) Why can’t your most-used memes just float up to the top of the list? (That’s what we call a foreshadow in the business. 😏)

Or maybe you don’t suffer any of these problems because you’re not as maniacal about crafting the perfect post. (Honestly, good for you. That’s probably healthier than what I’m going through over here.) But if you do run into any of these friction points, definitely click the button below. You’ll probably like the shortcut that I’m about to share.

An animated image of Taylor Swift opening the door to see herself on the doorstep, with the back-and-forth conversation of “It’s me.” “Hi.” “I’m the problem, it’s me!”

And if you’re interested in how this thing works, read on past the button. I’m low-key quite proud of how it came together. It’s got text files, it’s got counting, it’s got splitting text, rearranging it, and something I like to call the Dynamic Auto-Sorting List…Thingy’. (Okay, you got me. I just made that bit up.) But it sure was fun to make, and (🤞) has been working great for me for a few months.

Let’s get into it.

Before we get into it though, it might be helpful for you to be able to follow along with the shortcut in full. I won’t go step-by-step through every part of this thing, but here’s a massive full-res screenshot of the whole thing in all its glory. At least, the way it was at the time of publication.

TL;DR

Here are the broad strokes of how this shortcut works. It stores each meme as a line of data in a text file. That data is structured with three key bits of information: (1) The meme’s use count, (2) The meme’s name, and (3) The meme’s Markdown including its alt text and image URL.

The shortcut parses that text file by splitting up each line, checking the use count to sort the highest used ones to the top, and then it displays a menu to choose a meme from that sorted list. When a meme is chosen, that line is plucked from the text file, the Markdown is copied to the clipboard, and the use count is increased by 1. The text file gets rewritten with that new use count, and the user simply pastes the Markdown without having to re-upload the image or re-write the alt text.

When a new meme needs to be added to the list, the shortcut guides the user through selecting the image if it’s not already passed in, uploads it to Micro.blog (or other online storage bucket), and (optionally) generates alt text using OpenAI’s Vision API. The meme’s Markdown is assembled, copied to the clipboard for immediate use, and added to the text file with a use count of 1.

Does that make sense? Alright, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

Setting up the storage text file

Nobody wants to edit a shortcut every time they add a new meme — believe me, I tried. For a while, I had a Dictionary action that I’d paste the meme’s title and Markdown into every time I uploaded a new one. It sucked. It was worse than just using an Apple Note. So instead of storing all this data in Shortcuts itself, I needed somewhere that could be written and overwritten. I could have used an app like Data Jar, but that would be one more step for every user to download and maintain. Yuck. Instead, I chose to build the foundation of this shortcut with the quickest and slickest file format known to mankind: the .txt file.

A text file, stored in the Shortcuts folder of iCloud Drive, houses all the Markdown and supplies this dynamic list that we’ll choose from later on. But since the user won’t already have this set up to start, we need to create the base file.

A screenshot of a digital workflow with various commands for file handling and automation, notably involving text files and shortcuts, in a mobile operating system interface.
Accessing the quintessential text file, and creating it if it doesn’t already exist.

Each time the shortcut runs, it first checks to see if the necessary text file exists. If it does, great, it’ll move on. If not, it creates and saves a text file to the correct location with a singular line of text 0 | ➕ Add new meme. You’re getting a peek at the sorting system. That item has a use count of 0 and will be the only choice in the menu until we, well, add some new memes.

After saving the foundational text file, the shortcut runs itself again so it can actually do something useful. Just don’t forget to add a Stop This Shortcut action when you do these restarts, lest you get into a weird never-ending loop.

Creating and sorting the list

Since we have a structure that each line of data added to that text file follows, we can separate each bit and use them in different ways. First by splitting each line, and then by sorting it highest-to-lowest since each line starts with its use count. The Filter Files action is key here, even though they’re not really files that we’re sorting.

A screenshot of a digital workflow with various blocks is shown, lacking context or surrounding environment descriptions.
Breaking apart the data, sorting it, and presenting it in a new order — all from a text file.

Okay, now that we have all the lines in order, we want to isolate the meme’s name since all use counts and Markdown just make the list hard to read. With each of those lines, we split them further by the pipe character | which separates each bit of the meme’s data. The second one, after the use count, is the Meme’s title. We can set the name to a new variable meme-name and add it to a new list meme-list. They’re already in the right order, so now a simple Choose from List action deployed on that meme-list variable gives us a menu to choose from.

Voilà!

Copying the meme and increasing its use count

The important bit, choosing a meme to copy, is already done, but all the behind-the-scenes stuff still has to take place. Namely, copying it to the clipboard and increasing its use count.

Since we want the ➕ Add new meme’ item to remain in a predictable spot, namely the bottom of the list, we need to check if that was the item chosen, and if so, exclude it from increasing its use count above 0. An If action takes care of that.

We return to the Filter Files action to filter those original individual lines of data down to only the one containing the name of the chosen meme. We split it up again using another Split Text action and assign variables to each of the three parts.

A screenshot shows a flowchart of programming logic blocks labeled with actions such as “Comment,” “Filter,” and “Set variable,” indicating steps in a software automation process.
Getting the data from the chosen meme, and categorizing it for later use.

We can finally copy the Markdown to the clipboard, and then use a Calculate action to add 1 to the chosen-use-count variable. The meme’s line of data is rewritten with the new use count, and that line is swapped in the original text with a Replace Text action. We immediately save the new text file over the old in iCloud Drive. Woohoo!

A user interface displays buttons and comments for managing image and text files within a software application.
Some crafty N + 1 math and swapping out the text file.

Adding a new meme

The other half of the If action we used earlier to check if ➕ Add new meme’ was chosen comes back into play. In the Otherwise’ section of that action, we start the process of uploading a new image with another If action.

This time, we check if anything was passed into the shortcut as input — an image perhaps! — because if it was, we can just upload it straight away with the Simple MB Image Uploader’ shortcut.

A screenshot of a digital workflow or script with comments and action blocks, focusing on image uploading and Markdown text generation, within a software interface.
Sending new memes to the cloud with an external shortcut.

I should note here that while I built in my shortcuts for uploading images to Micro.blog, you don’t have to be on Micro.blog to get use out of this shortcut. You can swap in any shortcut here that uploads an image and returns an image URL or, better yet, Markdown. Maybe you use a different hosting platform, ImageKit, Amazon S3, or even Dropbox to house your photos. Awesome! Swap in your shortcut to upload the image here. And give me a shout if you need a hand getting it right.

Otherwise, when nothing has been passed in, we can present a menu with a Choose from Menu action. Most of the time you’re going to upload a new meme image, but sometimes you might already have one uploaded with the Markdown good-to-go, so I’ve included an option to simply paste in that Markdown. But when you need to upload an image, choose that option and it runs the same uploader shortcut as earlier, which is configured to present source options like the Photos and Files apps when nothing is passed into it.

We’re in the home stretch! Once the image is uploaded by the external shortcut and its Markdown is returned, after allowing for edits to the Markdown (in case you need to revise the auto-generated alt text), it’ll walk you through providing a name for the new meme (Ask for Input action). Just like when we updated a chosen meme’s data line with its new use count, in this case, we assemble the line of data with a fresh use count of 1, its title, and its Markdown, and then prepend it to the original text file and save it.

A screenshot depicts a user interface with functions for editing text, setting variables, commenting, and saving in a software application.
Saving the new meme and copying it to the clipboard. We’re done!

Finally, the new meme’s Markdown is copied to the clipboard and, as a sanity check, an alert pops up so that you can visually confirm that everything copied correctly before pasting the meme elsewhere. I’m a big fan of those final confirmation steps as it means I don’t need to stare at my phone waiting for the shortcut to finish, since the alert will, well, alert me. And it’s nice to double-check that no pipes got twisted up in the shortcut somewhere.

Takeaways

Ron Burgandy meme captioned, “Boy, that escalated quick. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.”

Dynamic List. I learned a lot while building this shortcut. The idea to use a text file to store all the data came to me after I employed a similar technique for my file-sharing shortcut, UpShare MB. In that one, file URLs are saved to a text file for long-term storage and retrieval — again so that you’re not uploading the same file over and over, you can just retrieve it from your history — but it doesn’t have any sorting function. Being able to dynamically add new bits of data and have it adjust to your usage was a breakthrough technique that I’m sure could be used elsewhere.

For instance, you could build a list of loved ones that you want to keep in touch with. Every time you choose one of them to call, their entry could get timestamped and sorted to the bottom of the list so that you know the last time you chatted and you can easily rotate through everyone on your list.

Manual Edits. Even though adding and copying memes all happens through the shortcut, you can very easily revise your list of memes just by opening the text file and manually editing it. You can remove old Memes, artificially bump the use counts, or change a meme’s name and Markdown. As long as you save it when you’re done, the next time you run Markdown Memes’ your list of options will reflect any changes you made to the text file.

A screenshot of a computer’s text editor containing a structured list of meme descriptions with associated URLs. The cursor blinks at the end of the document, suggesting active editing.
See? It really is all just a text file!

Embrace the If Action. I used to lean toward using a Choose from Menu action every time I needed to use branching paths of actions in a shortcut. Lately, I’ve been finding a ton of utility in combining Choose from List with If to make more complex menu trees with conditional statements, or if just one or two options need their own set of actions. In this case, the ➕ Add new meme’ option had its own set of actions, while everything else chosen from the list could follow the same path.

Design Shortcuts to be Multi-Functional. I’m a big fan of shortcuts that work just as well when they’re run on their own as when they’re run with something passed into them from the share sheet. If you can build your shortcuts to work with or without input, you’ll catch way more use cases, especially if you’re sharing them with other people. Everyone’s workflows are different and they’ll probably use your shortcut in ways you hadn’t imagined, so the more versatile the better. For instance, running Markdown Memes’ from the Shortcuts app or Home Screen will display your list of memes to choose from. But if you share a GIF to it from the Photos app ➕ Add new meme’, it knows to just upload the shared image rather than making you pick it out again.


I hope you picked up a few new tricks here, and if nothing else have a new meme-deployment tool to play with. Let me know if you have any questions or comments on this shortcut or a wild idea of how I can improve it.

A meme of Jack Sparrow removing his captain’s hat from his head and placing it over his heart in an expression of acknowledgment.

Shortcuts Tips


April 12, 2024

Humane pinned their launch date, if not their pin

Say what you will about Humane’s Ai Pin1, I have to give them credit for nailing the timeline they set years ago, perhaps at the very outset of the company. Their whole brand and logo, revealed in 2018 and solidified in 2022 with their It’s time for change” video, revolves around an eclipse, and now they’re shipping their first product within days of the massive solar eclipse event across North America.

Black-on-white logo depicting a solar eclipse with the web URL “hu.ma.ne” below.
Humane’s (vaguely bite-of-the-Apple-esque) eclipse-themed logo.

Even as someone very open to believing in coincidences, it’s hard to think that this is one.

Advanced tech products famously go through long, multi-year development periods. Few companies can get a gadget out like clockwork, as Apple does with the iPhone each fall, and even they sometimes stumble. Which makes Humane’s accomplishment of getting this product — their first and in a brand-new category! — out the door (presumably) on time all the more impressive.2

I gotta appreciate the foresight and follow-through. 👏


  1. And people sure have. 😳↩︎

  2. Although, if you read the review linked above, maaaaybe they should have waited a bit longer. Perhaps for one of the next eclipses.↩︎


April 11, 2024

Edelrid’s Design Team Is at the Top of Their Game

Edelrid is making some of the coolest, most forward-thinking climbing gear at the moment. My first exposure to their brand was through the Mega Jul, a belay device that offers assistive braking without any moving parts while looking and working (mostly) like a traditional tube-style belay device. That was over 10 years ago, and even back then they were walking the walk while talking the talk about producing sustainable, long-lasting gear by incorporating stainless steel where other climbing brands use less durable aluminum. In most cases, that makes the product notably heavier, but with the Mega Jul, the increased strength actually meant they could produce a smaller device that was really really lightweight.

A belay device with metal and green plastic components is attached to a looped, black cable, against a grey background. Text on the device reads “EDELRID,” “MEGA JUL,” and “EN 15151-2.”
The Mega Jul belay device. Image credit: Edelrid

Since then, I’ve moved onto to using their Giga Jul belay device — the Mega Jul’s also steel but bigger, smoother-running sibling — and I have my eye on their Pinch — another assistive breaking belay device, but one that works more like the gold standard GriGri by Petzl. Edelrid did something groundbreaking in making the Pinch able to be used without a separate carabiner to attach it to your harness. I’ll admit that it looks unusual and I’ve had to look into the product development to feel comfortable trusting my life to it, but I can’t deny that it does provide a key benefit of getting the device closer to your harness so that you’re able to take in and pay out more slack with every motion. And of course it uses steel in the key spots where the rope could wear it down.

A belay device with ropes is clipped to a carabiner, typically used in rock climbing for safety and rope management.
The Pinch belay device. Image credit: Edelrid

Which brings me to their carabiners. Many people default to getting the lightest gear as possible so they don’t feel extra weight on their harness while climbing. But I’m not pushing the edge of climbing performance, and I tend not to notice the weight of my rack on my harness once I’ve left the ground and am concentrating on my movement anyway. So I don’t mind carrying a bit more gear, or a bit heavier gear if it is more useful or durable than the alternative. Edelrid is attempting to eliminate that trade-off altogether. In their bulletproof” series of carabiners, they mold the frame of the carabiner out of your standard aluminum alloy, but then then add stainless steel inserts in the basket of the carabiner where the rope runs over it.

Silver carabiner with a stainless steel basket and closed screwgate, isolated on a black background. The carabiner has engraved text: “HMS”, “CE0337”, “Edelrid”.
Edelrid’s Bulletproof Screw carabiner. Image credit: Edelrid

This provides two key benefits. First, as I mentioned before, better durability. More durable gear that wears less means you don’t have to replace your gear as often (fewer items produced, less money spent, less environmental impact). Second, cleaner ropes. When grooves are worn into aluminum carabiners by the rope running over them, it doesn’t just weaken the carabiner, that aluminum has to go somewhere. It ends up as a sort of dust or residue imbued in your rope. It’s not super noticeable at a glance, but that aluminum oxide is the reason your hands end up blackened after having climbing rope run through them all day (as I do as a guide). Seeing as my rope is my number one safety gear when climbing, I really want to protect it as much as possible. Less aluminum getting worn into my rope sounds good to me.

So I’m pretty psyched to have picked up a couple of their bulletproof carabiners to use on my anchor systems and a belay version for my belay device, where rope constantly runs through and wears things down.1

Close up of a gray carabiner attached to a belay device upon a rocky surface.
Edelrid’s nearly perfect Bulletproof belay carabiner. Image credit: Edelrid

And I’ll end my gushing for Edelrid’s innovations with their soft goods (ropes and slings). Many climbers will use a double-length sling for building anchors, rappel extensions, and personal anchor systems. They’re probably the most versatile tool in a climber’s toolbox, besides the climbing rope itself. But a potential problem with slings is that they can be less durable because they don’t have a sheath protecting the core like a rope, and they can be more difficult to tie knots with because they’re flat instead of tubular and get twisted quite easily.

For the last few years, Edelrid’s Aramid Cord Sling has been quite popular because it combines the benefits of a sheath/core rope, with the versatility of a double-length sewn loop. The aramid (Kevlar) gave it excellent durability against abrasion from rubbing against rocks, but it knots and unknots very easily. Their newest version swaps the aramid for HPME, which is supposedly even more durable while being more supple to work with.

A blue curved cord with sewn ends against a white background.
Edelrid’s HPME Cord Sling. Image credit: Edelrid

Finally, Edelrid’s rope design. Your basic rope comes in one color pattern from end to end, but it’s really helpful to know where the middle of your rope is, so they’ll typically be marked with a small black section there. More modern ropes switched to being bi-pattern so that it’s both more obvious where the switches and it can’t wear away like the black markers can. But they’re usually still the same color scheme, just a slightly different pattern like spirals and checkers. Edelrid took things one step further by making their newest bi-pattern rope out of two completely different colors on each side, like red and blue, so you can’t miss when you cross the middle mark. Something that’s especially easy to do, and can be catastrophic, in the dark even with a regular bi-pattern rope. It literally looks like you have two different ropes hanging on your backpack when you’re hiking into the crag.

A hand grips a blue and red climbing rope against a rocky backdrop.
Edelrid’s TC Eco Dry CT rope makes the middle mark incredibly obvious where the two colors meet. Image credit: Edelrid

Better yet, at the point where the two pattern weaves meet, you can feel where they’re woven into each other — that’s not the case with traditional bi-pattern ropes. It’s so helpful to feel that transition run through your hands as a belayer while you keep your eyes on your climber. Since you typically only want to use half your rope length while climbing (so you can still be lowered all the way back to the ground), it’s very handy to feel that texture and know your climber has reached the middle without taking your eyes off them.

An orange and green climbing rope is tied into a bowline knot against a white background.
This is my current Mammut bi-pattern rope. It’s better than a simple middle marker, but the patterns can be difficult to distinguish at a distance and in the dark. Image credit: Mammut

Safer, more durable, and more sustainable (we didn’t even talk about how they’re choosing not to anodize their carabiners into fancy colors so that they don’t need to use more chemicals!). Edelrid’s innovative engineering and clever solutions to long-standing problems in the climbing scene mean I’m looking at their products first when I need to replace my climbing gear.


  1. Their newest belay carabiner is so close to perfect. The opening for belay loop keeper just a little too small and I wish it pivoted down from the gate side instead of the spine side. And the slide gate closure isn’t quite as ergonomic as I expected. But it’s still a great belay carabiner.↩︎

Gear Climbing


April 10, 2024

Shortcuts Tips: Size Doesn’t Matter

My latest tiny tool is a three-action shortcut that helped me quickly get all the new descriptions for oneamonth.club formatted correctly. I had emailed all the member creators asking for their one-sentence description, so I had a bunch of messages to work through one at a time. There are many ways that I could have gotten this done. For example, I could have…

  • Copied and pasted the template HTML from a code comment I have on that page, and then swapped back and forth to get the blurb text on the clipboard to paste from my email client.
  • Used a Text Replacement (the Apple version of a text snippet or expansion) to get the <div class="blurb"><p></p></div> bit and then copy and paste the blurb into the middle of the p tags.
  • Or simply typed it all out manually.

Instead, I built a shortcut! (Because of course I did.) By using the Shortcut Input variable and running it as a Quick Action on macOS, I could really easily take action on the text without having to do a copy/paste dance. (Don’t miss the backup of getting the clipboard if no text is passed into the shortcut. That makes it a little more useful for operating systems where it’s not as easy to pass text as input.)

A software interface displays a workflow for a text-copying action, overlaid on an aerial landscape background.
Sometimes, three actions are all you need.

In practice, it meant I could highlight the description from my email client, select the shortcut from the right-click Services menu, and wait just a second for the alert noise to signal that the shortcut was done formatting the text and had copied it to the clipboard. Then I pasted the whole formatted bit in each creator’s entry and moved on to the next one.

It took me less than a minute to build and text this shortcut, and maybe one minute more to add the niceties of the success noise (a no-click way to know it was done) and an emoji to start its title (which brings the shortcut to the top of the Services menu). #pro-tips The whole project took only 15 minutes by the time I’d finished updating the site, and I might never need to use this shortcut again. But for even such a small one-off task, it’s fun playing with Shortcuts to solve the problem. It keeps that puzzle-solving mind sharp. Plus, being automated, it got done quickly, well, and without errors.

I’ll remove it from the Services menu for now — just so that list doesn’t get too clogged up — but the shortcut will continue to live on in my library’s Tiny Tools’ folder, just in case.

Shortcuts Tips


April 10, 2024

I Didn’t Hate Apple’s Immersive MLS Highlights Reel

I just watched the Apple Immersive Video MLS Highlights reel that been talked about… and I didn’t think it was nearly as bad as I expected based on the rhetoric. Sure, there were too many jump cuts that didn’t let me look long enough at any given thing. But I feel like it did a good job of, well, highlighting the capability of immersive video for sports. With all the quick cuts, it almost forced you to look around each scene to see what was going on. Looking around this spatial content is super cool, and it was fine that I had to do it a bunch for this short-form version.

Three other quick notes:

  • Given that the rest of the immersive content has been fairly stationary with very few cuts between scenes, I don’t buy that Apple thinks this is the best way to present immersive video. I think it was meant to be exactly what’s on the tin: a highlights reel. (But highlight reels are generally meant to get you excited for the full-length thing. This raises the question, where is the rest of the immersive MLS or other sports stuff that they should have been working on since June?)
  • I started playing Where’s the camera?” and looking around to see if I could find the massive immersive video units like in the Alicia Keys version. I couldn’t pick any out, but I think at least some of that content was captured on an iPhone — I saw someone shooting with an iPhone in the right” spot for one of the athletes-and-fans-walk-by scenes — which is impressive.
  • If Apple didn’t want us all speculating about the existence of more immersive content, then they shouldn’t have labeled them all as Episode 1”. It makes us think that there should be more, and again, they’ve had since at least June of last year to get more episodes together. These exclusive experiences are the very few things that bring me back to Vision Pro, so I’d like there to be more.

April 8, 2024

CSS Naked Day

I saw this blog post from Dominik Schwind, writing for lostfocus.de, about CSS Naked Day:

It’s CSS Naked Day! And if (big if) my if works properly, you should see this website without any CSS on April 9th, 2024 in all timezones.

I was intrigued, and, always being game for weird blog fads, I removed my style.css file from HeyDingus for the next day. It’s not pretty, but it still works as a fully functional website!

Care to get naked with me? 😉

Linked Blogging


April 7, 2024

7 Things This Week [#139]

A weekly list of interesting things I found on the internet, posted on Sundays. Sometimes themed, often not.


1️⃣ Huh. Third-graders are no longer frightened of quicksand as I was. [🔗 Radiolab // overcast.fm]

2️⃣ Not sure if I’d ever actually use this web tool of pre-written reply messages, but I like little websites like this. 🙂 [🔗 reply.cards]

3️⃣ mb bischoff is redesigning their website with a single style change each day, and documenting each change here. Neat! [🔗 mb bischoff // mbbischoff.com]

4️⃣ I haven’t tried it, but this Photos Takeout app looks pretty slick for getting photos out of your iCloud Photos Library in a sane way. [🔗 Photos Takeout // photostakeout.com]

5️⃣ Take one minute and learn about robot timing versus human timing in music. It’s pretty cool that music editing software has this built-in, and I immediately noticed the difference. [🔗 synthet // youtube.com] (Via Matt Birchler)

6️⃣ My friends and I laughed and laughed over this Total Eclipse of the Heart spoof video back in high school. Glad that Kottke finally found it. 🤣 [🔗 kottke.org]

7️⃣ Voice-to-text is getting wild, y’all. Aqua Voice seamlessly melds dictation and directions given to a text box. Just think what this will be like in 3-5 years. [🔗 Aqua Voice // withaqua.com]


52 Albums Project

Burlesque (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Christina Aguilera & Cher (2010) — #14/52

I’ve only seen the movie once or twice, but I return to the music of Burlesque all the time. Cher and Aguilera are masters of their craft, and their music shines in this Broadway-esque large stage production setting. And have you ever heard of someone as matched regarding raw power with exquisite control as Christina Aguilera? I sure haven’t! If you missed the movie and have yet to hear these songs, boy, you’re in for a treat!

Follow along on the 52 Albums Project page where I’m making some playlists for you.


Take a Chance


Thanks for reading 7 Things. If you enjoyed these links or have something neat to share, please let me know. And remember that you can get more links to internet nuggets that I’m finding every day by following me @jarrod on the social web.

7 Things 52 Albums


April 5, 2024

PenPal with Ratika: What does the sky look like where you are?

For the PenPal Project this month, I’m chatting with Ratika Deshpande, as writer’s writer — in that she’s authoring a book — and boy does it show:

What does the sky look like where you are? Pictures are easy to share, but I’ve found great joy in using just words, because they don’t limit me to just the sight, the way a camera does. I can also note down the shouts of the children playing down in the street, the call of the eagle swooping overhead, ideas for essays running through my head, questions about how clouds form and what our earliest ancestors felt when they saw the setting sun, not knowing the science of what was going on, among other little details.

In this first exchange, we mostly talk about the weather, how it isn’t just small talk, describing how it’s bringing variable conditions our way, and do our best to paint the sky with words.

Bonus: You get to hear about how I was once mad at my dad for not capturing me a jar full of clouds.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes — I’m expecting places this blog has not yet been.

PenPals


April 5, 2024

RE: ‘Goodbye Micro.blog’

Being the Micro.blog advocate that I am (read this whole thing with that grain of salt), I’m always curious about why someone chooses to leave, as Khürt Williams did this morning:

In conclusion, there are several factors leading me to withhold a full recommendation for the current iteration of micro.blog. While acknowledging the challenges, it’s worth noting that platform governance, akin to Twitter, rests with the owner. Despite this, I maintain a positive view of Manton’s character, even if we haven’t met in person. However, the platform’s responsiveness to change requests could benefit from improvement.

Wishing for a future where µblog strikes a better balance between fostering a safe environment and encouraging vibrant community engagement, I bid farewell.

Definitely some valid points here, particularly around Khürt’s experience with customer service and the friction in design and with editing. I’d say neither are insurmountable, but also neither are best-in-class.

Khürt, as do others, seem to long for Micro.blog to evolve into a fully-fledged social network to rival the feature-set of X, Mastodon, or Threads:

µblog’s simplicity is commendable, offering a clutter-free experience devoid of ads. However, this streamlined approach also translates into limitations, such as the absence of features like direct messaging, group chats, and advanced search functionalities.

Personally, I went to Micro.blog for my social network of choice precisely because of, not in spite of, the limited social functionality there. More advanced search would be nice, but if I wanted like counts, boosts, or an algorithm to surface posts I might like, then I would go elsewhere for those feature. (Which, to be fair, is what Khürt has done, but I don’t think all the social networks need to have to same feature.) I recognize that I need to work harder (but not hard) to find people to follow in Micro.blog, and that is by design to cut down on the social noise.

Furthermore, with the entire Fediverse of ActivityPub users that I can follow simply by searching their Mastodon, Pixelfed, and now Threads usernames, I’ve never felt like I couldn’t expand my social circle. I’m glad those other options exist for anyone who wants a broader, necessarily more noisy social network experience, but I’m also glad that Micro.blog exists as a (yes, friction-y) option.

Because of the emphasis and speed in which Micro.blog pursues interoperability with other social networks, plus its dedication to owning your content and making it straightforward export elsewhere, I was surprised to see this blockquote from Evgeny Kuznetsov featured so prominently in the introduction of Khürt’s blog post:

Micro.blog is not just an alternative silo. It’s worse than your average silo. It’s worse than Twitter. From the point of view of IndieWeb, it’s even worse than Facebook. — Evgeny Kuznetsov

Had I been duped by Micro.blog into joining not just another silo, but a worse one? I didn’t think so, but I read on hoping to see Khürt’s reason for why he’d called out a quote poking at one of Micro.blog’s core tenets. But silos aren’t mentioned at all in Khürt’s own prose.

The only valid argument that I could see made for labeling Micro.blog as a silo is that you need an account there to use it, and a hosted blog to get full functionality. Personally, I’m not sure how you would achieve full functionality in any other way, except perhaps running an instance of Micro.blog on your own server, which isn’t something I’ve seen anyone ask for. On the contrary, I’ve yet to come across another platform that works as hard as Micro.blog to let users post elsewhere — it’s an ActivityPub/Mastodon citizen, you can cross-post to all the other major networks that offer a mechanism to do so (and a few that don’t, through clever URL-schemes), there’s two-way posting with native replies to Bluesky, you can host your blog elsewhere and still get the social/crossposting features if you need them — it goes on. Along with the fact that you can export everything from your account makes it more of a leaky sieve than a watertight silo. In fact, since there wasn’t a standard export format to make it easy for users to take their blog’s content and move it elsewhere, Micro.blog’s founder, Manton Reece, created one, the .bar file and advocates for its adoption to make moving around less of a hassle. It’s the only place I know of where you could import your Twitter archive, and the immediately reexport all your tweets as traditional blog posts to take elsewhere.

Anyway, I’ve gone on far too long here, but I should circle back to Evgeny Kuznetsov’s comment briefly. Khürt’s blockquote of it sent me down the rabbit hole, reading his original post which seemed to me to be mostly comprised of his misgivings about Micro.blog as an IndieWeb citizen and the gripes he had using its feature-set with his separate, non-Micro.blog-hosted site.

Several members of the IndieWeb community responded with their support of Micro.blog as an active member, Manton chimed in to clarify a few things, Evgeny realized he didn’t have his RSS feed going into Micro.blog correctly (which might have contributed to the broken communication) and wrote a follow-up post. In that post, he conceded that perhaps a full Micro.blog account would probably solve most of his issues (which, again, makes sense to me) and does not raise any siloing issues again.

Evgeny’s remaining misgiving with Micro.blog, and perhaps this is where Khürt agrees, is with its imperfect and incomplete implementation of IndieWeb principles. I can’t and won’t disagree there — I’d love to see Webmention support be more robust and intuitive, but it certainly doesn’t make me think of Micro.blog as a big bad silo.

Anyway, I wish Khürt the best in finding the web home and community that meets his needs, and I commend him for voting with his feet” by moving on when it became clear Micro.blog wasn’t cutting it. But I think I’ll stick around.

Blogging Linked


April 5, 2024

Digital Toolmaker

If you’re new around here, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I love building shortcuts. I have 579 of them in my personal library at the moment, and I’d guess that I built or modified about half of those at some point or another. Between my HeyDingus Shortcuts Library and my old home on RoutineHub, I’ve shared over 40 of them publicly, thinking that maybe someone else will find these little tools helpful.

Has the time I’ve spent building, testing, tweaking, and sharing those shortcuts been earned back in the time they’ve saved me rather than doing things manually? After all, they are called shortcuts for a reason.

It’s hard to say, but I’d hazard a guess that I’m coming out ahead, but not nearly as far as one might imagine. Saving time is just one reason I like throwing my time into creating these (sometimes) small digital hammers. Another is because, at this point, all my digital problems look like little digital nails, just waiting to be tapped into place with a few well-placed Shortcuts actions.

But mostly, it just lights up my brain in a way that few other things do. Throughout primary and secondary school, I used to be very into mathematics. I loved figuring out the logic behind equations and how you could always solve your way down to an answer. My field of study in college didn’t require any advanced math courses, so I’ve long since fallen out of practice and now would be embarrassed to tell you how often I pull out a calculator for simple mental math.

But when there’s a little burr in my computing life that I think could be sanded down with Shortcuts, my wheels get turning and it’s hard to pull myself away from refining, adding features, and solving down to an ideal answer. I’m sure if I learned traditional coding, I’d feel the same. Or if I had a workshop to craft furniture or pound metal into useful shapes. But since I don’t know that much about programming languages nor have the desire to craft physical products, Shortcuts is my IDE, my workshop.

Why am I pondering this tonight, when by all accounts I should be fast asleep? Because I spent the last many hours creating, troubleshooting, and refining a handful of shortcuts, of course! I worked on a particularly complicated one that’s been giving me some trouble (over 100 actions long), and then followed it up with one of the simplest ones in my library (just two actions). Was the little one, which amounts to some elementary text replacement, even worth it? Absolutely! That two-action shortcut, along with its PopClip companion extension, helped me to speed through adding run-shortcut URLs to each of the 30 entries in my public library. And then it led to me updating another larger shortcut with expanded functionality, which will streamline putting together every shortcut I share from now on.

And I enjoyed every second of getting them just right. Some people like physical puzzles best, but I found my preferred brain stimulation in being a digital toolmaker. Whether they’re just for me, or designed specifically for others to use, it brings me great joy to scratch this itch.

Shortcuts Coding