A black and white Game Boy Camera photo of a car engine

What a year, huh? (Captain, it's March.)

So, our toddler started daycare at the beginning of February. Predictably, that means the whole household has been sick on and off all month, first with a pretty nasty cold, then a bout of COVID. (It took three years, but it finally got us.) Luckily the COVID was pretty mild; I guess the vaccines did their work and softened the blow. Still, all told, I think I spent more of February sick than not.

As you can imagine, it hasn't been the most productive month for my various projects, although I'm trying not to beat myself up about it. I'm still making progress on my new game, but it's slow.

A Rube Goldberg machine for reading

One thing I did have energy for was reading. Particularly, reading blogs. Wouldn't you know it, there's a lot of good writing out there on the world wide web!

I'll put a couple of links at the end of this to posts that particularly stuck with me last month, but first I thought it would be fun to write a little about a rickety contraption I've been constructing over the course of the past year. It's an amalgamation of various bits of software and hardware that I've come to think of as my Rube Goldberg machine for reading.

In 2022 I spent a decent amount of time, on and off, thinking about the way I read online. What got me on this kick was reading this excellent essay by Emilie Reed about imagining alternate futures for handheld tech beyond the hegemony of the smartphone. I recommend reading the whole thing, but this particular paragraph got me to dust off my old Kindle, which had been sitting unused in a drawer for years:

Another gadget that has lasted me and my partner a surprisingly long time is a 3rd generation Kindle. These are the ones that have a simple e-ink screen and keyboard, and also have a free 3G connection. While Amazon is an unambiguously evil corporation, these devices are weirdly utopian; the free internet connection and smooth, well-featured reading experience they offer for whatever public domain or pirated ebooks you can load onto them really makes it feel like a device that wants to connect you to knowledge, let you find it and make bookmarks in it and take notes. In the landscape of consumer grade technologies it really has no right working this well and lasting this long. And yet it does; surely, given the direction Amazon has taken its e-reader line in now, it was an accident. But it's possible, you know.

At the time I was feeling down about the way I read online. The general pattern I'd fallen into was: scroll Twitter on my phone, find an article that sounds interesting, open it in a new tab ("for later", I'd tell myself), keep scrolling and keep opening tabs until the sheer number of tabs felt like a physical weight. At which point I'd close them all at once, mostly unread, and repeat. The whole process would leave me anxious and annoyed.

But I didn't want to just log off and read a book. So I rooted around for the particular kind of outmoded USB cable necessary to recharge my Kindle, and started figuring out how to read blog posts on it in This The Year Of Our Lord 202X. As of this writing, the whole Rube Goldberg machine looks like this:

  1. Find blog posts and articles on social media or via RSS[1].
  2. When I see something interesting, I send it to Pocket, Mozilla's service for hoarding links saving things to read later, using the "Save to Pocket" feature that's built in to Firefox (I believe there are extensions for other browsers, too).
  3. This next step is probably the most interesting. Calibre, the open source ebook management program I use, has a "news" feature that can pull down articles from an RSS feed and convert them it into an ebook. And Pocket can create an RSS feed from all your saved links. Put those two things together and, with only a little setup, I was able to press a button and make an ebook of all the articles I've saved and put it on my Kindle!
  4. ???[2]
  5. Read!

If this all sounds like a lot of work, maybe it is, a little. I'm not sure I could justify it from a practical perspective. But, you know, first off (because I'm a big dork) I find this kind of thing Fun, Actually. And second, I've come to see the slowness of the process as a feature rather than a bug.

Sure, by the time I find a moment to sit down, plug in my Kindle, wiggle the USB a bit so it connects properly, and wait for Calibre to compile the saved links into an ebook, it's often been a month since I originally found the posts I'm downloading. But that's ok. I don't actually need to read these things immediately. In fact, maybe half of them I end up deciding I'm not that interested in after all.

But the things I do end up reading this way, I feel like I can give them the attention they deserve; they're not competing with an endless stream of other posts that might be somehow more urgent, more important. It's my little hideout away from the currents of The Algorithm were I can peruse the flotsam, jetsam, and unexpected treasures I've rescued from its swirling eddies. And I get some real joy from finding new uses for this gadget that's supposed to be obsolete.

Hey, you made it all the way down here - thanks for reading this far! Here are links to a couple of the posts that really stuck with me recently.

This is my friend pokey writing about personal aesthetics:

art as a lucky dip bag that holds equal chance of turning out to contain a plastic whistle, two lollipops, a magic ring or somebody’s hand

And brlka on ten principles for making games:

Freak energy is self-indulgence. It’s joyful creation. It’s what you do for no reason other than you like it. The best art is made by powerful freaks who see their vision through to completion, and if there’s a formula to good art, it’s freak energy trammelled just enough to be accessible to those willing - and no further.

Ok, I can't resist a second quote from that piece, since it's something I always need to remind myself of:

Make a promise to yourself that your current project is only a stepping stone on a longer path and not your masterpiece.

That's it for now - until next time, take care, y'all!

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[1]: For RSS readers, I'm using NetNewsWire on my phone (which I really like) and Feedly on my laptop (which I'm less excited about).

[2]: Recently I've taken this setup one step further. I use Obsidian for notes and there's a plugin that helps import highlights from your Kindle into your Obsidian notebook. That's how I got the quotes to go with my reading recommendations at the end of this post! Hopefully this ouroborian power doesn't go to my head...