internet Uncategorized

Guidelines for link bloggers

John Gruber’s Daring Fireball site helped establish the “link blog” medium: a running list of hyperlinks, punctuated by the author’s comments and the occasional full-length post. Over the course of a decade, he’s earned a large audience of geeky types. These readers eagerly await his take on every Apple-related story—even if it’s just a few words.

Gruber’s success inspired many other aspiring writers. In fact, my own site’s recent redesign takes its cue—philosophically, if not aesthetically—from Fireball.

Now, copying isn’t necessarily bad. But what works for one established writer might not work for everyone else. As Marcelo Somers observes,

The problem is, we can’t all be Daring Fireball — we can’t get away with posting a witty headline and a blockquote 5–10 times a day.

Below, I outline a few “guidelines for link bloggers” that I hope will constrain my own future posts.

  1. Offer substantial commentary. As Somers notes, a link and a quote don’t cut it. If I can’t contribute something unique and insightful, then I shouldn’t weigh in on the topic. As Marco Arment summarizes,

    “We don’t need more Daring Fireballs. We have Daring Fireball already. People who read it have little reason to read anyone else’s minimally differentiated clone.”

  2. Use the right medium. Link posts should require at least a short paragraph (i.e., more than 140 characters) to unpack. If a tweet (or a tweetshot) can sum up my thoughts, then those thoughts belong on Twitter.
  3. Avoid ubiquitous links. One thing I appreciate about the work of Jason Kottke (another long-time link blogger)? He somehow surfaces content I didn’t find anywhere else. Too many link blogs regurgitate the same links that every other writer already covered ad nauseum. Unless I can raise the level of discourse or contribute a truly unique take, I’m just rehashing—and doing my readers a disservice.


TV Uncategorized

Interchangeable subplots?

The Big Bang Theory is one of my guilty pleasures. Usually, I demand more from a TV show: great writing, careful storytelling, stellar performances. For Big Bang, I make an exception. Sometimes, you just need a mindless chuckle.

Still, if I’m honest, Big Bang Theory is not an innovative or well-written show. It overuses a stale “setup-setup-punchline” recipe for laughs. And when the jokes fall flat, it fills the silence with an aggressive laugh track—a broadcast trick that should have died decades ago.

I can overlook these faults; almost every other sitcom leans on these genre standards, too. Harder to forgive? The Big Bang Theory’s lazy, haphazardly-written plot lines. Too often, Big Bang’s ‘A’ storyline and ‘B’ storyline have literally nothing to do with one another.

Consider one recent episode: October 2015’s “Helium Insufficiency.” Half the show deals with Sheldon and Leonard buying black-market helium to buoy their scientific research. Meanwhile, the other characters help Amy navigate the world of online dating.

The episode cuts back and forth between the two storylines, but never lets them intersect or even overlap. The separate narratives just plod along, the characters oblivious of what’s happening in the other thread. And then, the episode abruptly ends—or really, ends twice (once for each subplot). For contrast, take Seinfeld, which specialized in cleverly interweaving multiple seemingly-unrelated stories.

I’d posit that you could combine almost any set of Big Bang subplots. Splice them together, and you’d end up with a serviceable episode. For all I know, that’s how the writers chart out each season: come up with a few dozen “hilarious” situations, toss them in a hat, and pull out two or three at a time to conjure up an episode.

That makes writing scripts easier, perhaps, but it hardly makes for legendary comedy.

technology Uncategorized

“Morning pages” login idea

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to write “morning pages.” I wanted to write 750 words every morning before work. When I’ve stuck with it, this practice has proved fruitful, yielding blog post ideas and helping me journal daily.

But actually establishing that habit is difficult. How do you learn to write every day? How do you overcome the intimidating specter of the blank page? How do you work around your self-critical hang-ups—those gnawing fears that encourage procrastination and discourage creativity?

In short, you force yourself. You gag down the part of you that protests new habits and just choke down your medicine for a few weeks. You grit your jaw, you glue your ass to the chair, you are ruthless with yourself. You git ’er done. Before long, you’ve made it an automatic, daily rhythm.

Being mean to yourself isn’t much fun. What if you could outsource it? What if someone—or something—else cracked the whip?

More concretely: what if your PC wouldn’t unlock in the morning until you generated 1000 words? Boot up the machine, and—instead of a password prompt—a blank canvas pops up. Your laptop refuses to do anything until you’ve made the clackity-clacky noise. No “I’ll just check Twitter real quick before I write” or “I can’t think of anything; maybe Reddit will generate some ideas.” And definitely no “I’m not feeling up to it today; I’ll start fresh tomorrow.”

Just a big, blank text box. Nothing else ’til you make the words. Start typing, or forget doing anything else that day.[1]

  1. Of course, you could cheat. Just bang the keys until you reach the minimum word count. But at least then you’re consciously sabotaging yourself. The point isn’t to create a fool-proof mechanism for self-improvement. The point is just throw a few low roadblocks on the path to passivity and malaise.  ↩

books movies Uncategorized

Christopher Tolkien on Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth movies.

The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has gone too far for me. Such commercialisation has reduced the esthetic [sic] and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: turning my head away.

Christopher Tolkien, describing how Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth adaptations have tarnished his father’s legacy. From an interview in Le Monde. Translated by Sedulia’s Translations. Via

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?