Medium and Being Your Own Platform

Yesterday I did some thinking out loud on twitter regarding Medium. After some cursory research, I ran across a post from Marco Arment regarding his thoughts on Medium. The highlight for me:

You can use someone else’s software, but still have your own “platform”, if you’re hosting it from a domain name you control and are able to easily take your content and traffic with you to another tool or host at any time. You don’t need to go full-Stallman and build your own blogging engine from scratch on a Linux box in your closet — a Tumblr, Squarespace, or WordPress blog is perfectly fine if you use your own domain name and can export your data easily.

Well put. My discomforts with Medium can really be boiled down to the fact that I have zero ownership in the platform and its direction. Platform lock-in at its finest. As far as I can tell – they have no RSS feeds for users or sections of the site.

When Medium goes to rest as all the blogging sites of our past have, how will you reach your audience?

Gabe Weatherhead on 'Asking Why'

I enjoyed this piece from Gabe Weatherhead on his philosophy behind Macdrifter. The points he makes regarding fame are espicially important to consider.

Him posting this was very timely for me as I’ve considered similar things recently regarding my efforts in this site. My own conclusion is that blogging is if anything, for myself. I will likely never make a dime off of writing. And that is okay.

My Work from Home Philosophy

I’ve been working from home in some form for around 3 years. Around the last year of that I’ve I’ve been working from home full-time, the first part of that I worked at home about have the week and at an office the rest. I greatly enjoy working from home. At this point in my life, I have no eagerness to work in an office again. But working from home doesn’t come without its challenges.

Much of the articles I’ve read about working from home focuses on the benefits of working at ones house. I would like to talk about these, but I think it is important to remember that there are pro’s and con’s to everything. And working from home is no exception. For starters, not ever feeling like you are at “work”.

To me feeling like I am “at work” is many times crucial to my being able to focus. Not concentrating on the other chores that I need to do around the house, or whatever I’d rather be doing than work at that moment in time. When working from home there is no one looking over your shoulder to see if you’re getting work done. I find two things help to aid in reminding myself that I’m working. First – have a dedicated work space (ideally with a door). And second – dress like your going to work. I share places I work outside my house later in this post, but I have found that having a dedicated workspace crucial when you are at a point where concentration is needed. It is also nice to have a ‘place’ you can leave at the end of the day when work is done. In regards to dress, for me work attire is a button down shirt with collar and nice jeans. It occasionally involves a tie, but those are the exceptions. In addition to this: shoes are compulsory. I know we’ve all heard stories about people working at home in their pajamas, and not maintaining good hygiene. But I find that if I want to get work done I will dress like it.

Another thing that is important when working from home is setting some type of schedule for when to start, and equally important, when to stop. Don’t allow your ‘work life’ to bleed over your personal life. Working from home makes this separation more fuzzy. Keeping a work schedule helps mitigate that. Why spend the time you save not commuting on just working more? Enjoy having more free time in your schedule.

Once settling into a work at home pace where you have your routine and all down.Enjoy your new found freedom! Go to a coffee shop, work from your back patio, and most importantly go for a walk. This can include a quick break mid-afternoon for a stroll around the block, or a “walk and talk” for a conference call. Last week I took this photo while on a call:

Stream

The above is a long exposure shot taken at a nature reserve near where we live. I had a call on my schedule. So why not go for a walk while on it? This serves not only as a great cognitive reset when getting away from the desk, but is also healthy. I’ve also made a habit of working outside from a park while tethering from the internet connection on my phone. This “have a flexible work space” mentality may seem like it contradicts much of my comments above, but I’ve found it not to be. In fact - the ability to change locations is crucial at times when I’m having difficulty focusing. This is something that in many office environments is not possible as there can be an expectation that if you’re not at your desk, you’re not getting work done.

So along with a seemingly rigid routine, schedule, and workspace. Don’t forgot to afford yourself the opportunities that only working from home can offer.

Why Do I Stick with OS X?

About once or twice a year it seems I go through a thought exercise on why I choose OS X as my primary desktop platform of choice. This is not on a schedule but usually revolves around some frustration I have with OS X or Apple doing something that I am uncomfortable with. Recently Geoff Wozniak wrote a post (link via Marco.org) on his decision to switch to desktop Linux from OS X. This got me again thinking about why still use OS X as the operating system I choose to make my living on. It comes down to two things:

First: the applications.

The applications I use. Each time I’ve considered the switch from OS X I go down the list of applications I depend on each day and review their counterparts. Most of them have a cross-platform or web app that could serve as alternative. I may not prefer some of the alternatives, but they could suffice. But there is one glaring hindernce in migrating to desktop Linux: Adobe. I require Photoshop (and sometimes Illustrator) in my daily work to review designs for the interfaces I’m developing. I consider system resources to precious to run a virtual machine for this task. And I find Windows endlessly frustrating for doing web development on. So using it as the primary OS isn’t an option either.

Second: the hardware.

On rare occasions I find myself in a BestBuy or other electronics store. I generally peruse the laptops in this scenario and I am always appalled at what I see. Apple is far beyond their competitors in terms of hardware quality. Even in the laptops that are in the same price range. But that’s just the start. One of Apple’s greatest advantages is their choice to control both the software and the hardware on the devices they sell. Not only does this make a device “feel” like great quality out of the box, it also makes it less finicky. We’ve all heard stories of desktop Linux users not being able to print, or connect to Wi-Fi, or whatever remedial task that seems like it shouldn’t be an issue. Most of this has greatly improved on Linux in recent years. But in my experience it is not yet eliminated from the desktop Linux experience. Even if I were to find hardware I like, that doesn’t mean hardware driver issues wont arise.

So in short, I have no plans to switch from OS X anytime soon and probably will not for sometime. Things have to get a lot worse on this platform to encourage me to switch.

Distraction Free Writing in Vim

Update 2014-12-31: Since writing this I have moved to using Vim-pencil instead of a lot of the custom config I had. I’ve updated this post to reflect that.

I recently switched to Vim as my primary text editor of choice. I may write a more lengthy post sometime about why I made this decision, and how the change is going. But for now here is quick write-up of my configuration for using Vim as a writing tool.

For starters, I use a few plugins:

  • Goyo - Removes distractions and center text.
  • Vim-pencil - Make the navigation and line wrapping better for writing.
  • Vim-marked - Open files in Marked for Markdown preview and review.

Goyo is really the linchpin in this case to get everything aligned properly in the buffer and dare I say? Makes it look pretty.

Alt text

That row of stuff along the bottom is my Tmux status line. I could hide it if I wanted. I’m choosing not too.

In addition to the plugins, I have some custom configuration in my .vimrc:


"
" Markdown specific stuff.
"
" Change default app for Vim-marked. I have Marked2, but it is just called "Marked". Maybe because it is the non-AS version?
let g:marked_app = "Marked"
autocmd BufNewFile,BufReadPost *.md set filetype=markdown
autocmd Filetype markdown call SetMarkdownOptions()
function SetMarkdownOptions()
  " Enable spellcheck.
  set spell spelllang=en_us
  " Wrap text (without linebreak charecters)
  " I don't want to highlight the current line.
  highlight CursorLine ctermbg=NONE
  " Lastly, invoke Goyo plugin.
  Goyo
endfunction
" Vim-pencil stuff.
augroup pencil
  autocmd!
  autocmd FileType markdown,mkd,md call pencil#init()
  autocmd FileType text         call pencil#init()
augroup END

Overall I think this setup is opinionated as Vim stuff goes. It makes Vim behave more like a word processor and less like a traditional text editor.

Well, why would you want to do that!?

Simple. I believe that I can be more productive if I focus on having a single text editor that can perform all the tasks needed. This is one of the many great points outlined in The Pragmatic Programmer:

Use a Single Editor Well

The editor should be an extension of your hand; make sure your editor is configurable, extensible, and programmable.

With Vim I can fulfill this principal in any environment. Even without a UI.