Excursions

by Amit Gawande

October 19, 2021

08:49 AM

I knew there would soon be a way to post to my blog hosted by Micro.blog via Drummer. I didn’t know Manton will get it done so soon! And more the feature, it is the way it is implemented that impresses me. Kudos @manton!

09:42 AM

I hope I didn’t break posting earlier. Did I? This is a test to check that. Fingers crossed that the post fails.

11:31 PM

I am subscribed to too many newsletter. If a day goes by without reading, there’s a huge backlog of unread issues. I think it’s time prune the list a bit.

October 18, 2021

08:06 AM

Reminder to self: don’t write posts on plans to “write more”. Write more ✍🏼

10:42 PM

I am not going to watch the Apple event today. I have long stopped enjoying these pre-recorded videos.

October 17, 2021

09:48 PM

I have recently been fascinated by various specifications of the camera and how they together impact the photography. Here I am capturing my understanding based on all the reading and watching.

Source: Understanding Specifications of A Camera

October 16, 2021

08:44 AM

I had least interest in the IPL final this time. It was the worst case scenario - I support neither CSK not KKR.

Getting Started Blogging with Drummer

06:13 PM

I recently started blogging with Drummer, a new Outliner made public by Dave Winer. It has been a wonderful experience. I don’t know what it is about a single outline as a base for your blog, but it feels natural. I have been enjoying writing and playing around with my Drummer blog. However, it is not easy to fathom the simplicity of the whole system just through words — only trying it out will make you appreciate the ease. I wanted to capture what it is and how to quickly get started with it for myself and others to follow.

Drummer documentation captures most of this information. But for someone, like me, who’s new to the concept of outliner, the whole stuff can be pretty overwhelming. So, here I capture what I learned and liked so that it helps other newbies like me.

What’s an Outliner?

An outliner is basically an editor that can edit an outline. What is an outline, you ask? Well, outline is text items represented in a hierarchy, with each item having a parent (typically a title) or multiple sub-items (typically related points). There’s a lot more to know, but I am more focused on drawing a parallel with regular blogging terminologies.

You can think of a first parent item as a title of your post. Each sub-item that follows is like a new paragraph. You can further divide the items into sub-items, that’s grouping related points into a subtitle for example. The only difference is instead of it being represented as a header and list of paragraphs, it is a tree-structure of points, closely related and unrelated.

If a post doesn’t have any child, it’s a titleless post, a micro-post — something like a tweet.

Dave Winer is the strongest proponent of using the outlines as the base for the blogs, he uses them for his blog, Scripting News. The basic hierarchical structure of an outline, makes using outliner for blogging powerful. Both the types of posts, long-form and micro, sit well together. After all, it’s just one long list of text items one after another. Whether they have a sub-item or not define how they get represented. Or that’s how Dave likes them represented.

Drummer is one such outliner that benefits from the years of Dave’s experience. He has understood all the nitty-gritty of blogging through this form. So, once you overcome the initial struggle of unknown, the experience is pretty smooth.

Is it a Blogging CMS?

Not really, Drummer is just a web application that can edit outlines. These outlines are typically represented as an OPML file. Basically, all you do with Drummer is edit OPML files of different forms. It wraps a few special OPML files — mainly blog.opml — to give them specific meaning while using them as base for blogging.

But, all we do is edit these OPML files then, what builds the blog?

Well, the software that runs Dave’s blog does that job. It is called Old School (because Dave believes this is the old school way of blogging) and is hosted by Dave. In a way, Old School is the blogging CMS and not Drummer.

So, from my understanding, the way the thing connect is as below.

  1. You sign in with your Twitter account and that creates the necessary backend — basically a S3 store for your OPML files — based on your Twitter username.
  2. You create, view, edit the OPML files using Drummer. The special files like blog.opml and about.opml hold special meaning for Old School. (Update: In fact, about.opml is just used for representation. You can name it anything.) So, you update them and through a command in Drummer (Build my blog), you communicate to Old School server to refresh your blog.
  3. Old School receives the communication and based on provided inputs, it identifies the files to use for building the blog. It reads the OPML files from the backend store for the files and converts them to static files that get served as your blog.
  4. Old School also serves you blog at the http://oldschool.scripting.com/<your-user-name> URL. So in a way, you don’t need to host any additional software.

In a way, then, Drummer and Old School together act as your blogging engine. Drummer is your editor where you write your posts. Old School acts as a CMS to build and serve your blog.

How do I get started?

Dave has a got a handy documentation in place that you can follow. I will point to the relevant parts in the documentation so that you can follow along and get started.

  1. Main blog: Follow the getting started guide to get a blog up and running with Drummer. In short, create a blog.opml outline file. Make the outline public. And finally, build the blog using Tools > Build my blog.... This should open a new tab with your blog rendered with Old School. You can customise your title and description of your blog and a few head-level attributes.
  2. Title and Description: Modify/add the head-level attributes title and description and rebuild your blog.
  3. Header Image: Add a head-level attribute urlHeaderImage pointing to the header image of your choice and rebuild your blog.
  4. Copyright: Add a head-level attribute copyright with the text you want to appear in the footer and rebuild your blog.
  5. About Page: If you want to create a new tab in your blog for your About page, create a new about.opml outline file using Drummer, make the outline public, add a head-level attribute urlAboutOpml pointing to this public outline and build your blog again. (Update: In fact, about.opml is just used for representation. You can name it anything, as long as you configure the value for urlAboutOpml accordingly.)
  6. Link Blog: If the concept of linkblog excites you, you can use another software by Dave, Radio3. Just add a new head-level attribute urlLinkblogJson pointing to your linkblog JSON file, which would look something like http://radio3.io/users/<your-user-name>/linkblog.json.
  7. TimeZone: To make sure the dates are rendered correctly on your blog, add a head-level attribute timeZoneOffset for the place where you would be blogging from. The value should be the offset from UTC — for example, +5:30 for India or -4 for New York.
  8. Creating Post: Head over to your blog.opml file in Drummer and click on the + icon (for New Note), write what you want to write and rebuild your blog. Your post should be up.
  9. Adding Links: Select the text to which you want to add a link, click on the “Link” icon (the second icon from top in the icon bar that sits on the left of the editing area) and insert the URL.
  10. Adding Images: This one’s slightly tricky. First, have your image hosted on some place where it would be accessible publicly. Get the URL to your image. While on the item you want to associate the image with, click on the “Edit attributes” icon (the third icon from top in the icon bar that sits on the left of the editing area). Now you can either create an inline image (with attribute inlineImage), right-margin image (with attribute image), title image (with attribute metaImage). I wish this work was simpler.

At this point, you should have a well-configured blog up and running. Keep Drummer interface open in tab and keep adding entries. This method of updating your blog will soon grow on you.

What else can I customise?

Even though you have all the basics covered till now, there is still a lot that you can and should do. But I would recommend get comfortable working Drummer and check for yourself if the workflow fits your routine and liking. If it doesn’t, these additional configurations are just a distraction.

Anyway, if you find out that you are enjoying this system of blogging, here are links to a few additional configurations that you can perform.

A Few Additional Notes

  1. There’s a Mac app (electron based) called Electric Drummer that can act as an outliner. However, you should avoid using it for blogging if you intend to blog from multiple systems. Changes made through the app can overwrite ones as done on the web Drummer. So thread carefully.
  2. Drummer is evolving. Dave is working hard to make sure all serious reported issues are resolved. Early adopters are trying out a hundred things independently. If that sounds fun, the Drummer support issues page is the place to go.
  3. You can stay-to-date with all things Drummer by following this official blog.
  4. How does Drummer cost zero? Dave answers.
  5. Why is Drummer, and other software from Dave, so tightly coupled with Twitter? Dave answers.

I intend to use Drummer as a place where I form my thoughts over the time. The ease of the updating process makes posting unformed thoughts a breeze. So, in a way, this space represents the most raw me. You can follow this me as he experiments with my Drummer blog. And of course, there’s an RSS feed.

October 15, 2021

09:56 PM

25 Classic Crime Books You Can Read In An Afternoon

To celebrate the art of brevity, we’ve rounded up a list of 25 compact crime and mystery reads—noirs you can (and mostly likely will) read in the course of an afternoon (or an evening, or even a morning)

October 14, 2021

07:25 PM

Some days are just way more productive than what you are used it. Today’s one such day. It dawned with a possibility that things would just go downhill – there were too many unaddressed tasks and open issues. But as it turns out, the evening feels a lot more peaceful.

07:43 PM

Lose the Very

Combine “very” with a simple adjective and get a more concise adjective

A brilliant reference, the utility website does a single function, but does it well.

11:05 PM

Not really proud of this undertaking, but there’s a reason. Bear with me. I will write a post soon.

October 13, 2021

11:09 AM

Reminder to self. Stop being too serious about what and where I post. Be aware, though.

01:33 PM

What I Learned About My Writing By Seeing Only The Punctuation

[W]hen you look at those writers’ punctuation, you can see, in a quick glance, how different they are.

07:51 PM

I had no idea a Pizza can be cut in any other manner than what I’m used to. Apparently, yes. A square slice of a Pizza, seriously? H/T Chris Vannoy

October 12, 2021

09:59 PM

Of course, I am giving Drummer a try. I have got the basics set up the way I like it. I know there are a hundred other things that I can do. But I want to understand how things work with Outliners first. The link blog based on Radio3 is a nice addition that I can use for sure.

October 11, 2021

09:08 PM

My daughter premiered a new video on her channel today. Her interest in collecting facts and turning them into fun videos hasn’t dwindled a bit. Plus, she wants to try out new ways and settings now. This girl continues to impress and inspire me. Nice! 😊

09:44 PM

I wanted to try Drummer. But I can’t due to an error. It keeps saying “the file name contains illegal characters” every time I try to build the blog. I believe it has problems with the underscore and number in my Twitter handle?

October 10, 2021

11:15 PM

This was the first Amazon Festive sale during which I didn’t buy anything. Nothing. I don’t even recognise this person anymore.

October 9, 2021

09:17 AM

I haven’t watched Ted Lasso season 2 yet. I was waiting for all episodes to be available so that I can begin my episode a day routine and appreciate the story.

09:15 PM

“Luck is near you,” reads a drawing that my daughter made and gifted me. I’ve framed it and put it at my desk. I don’t know why she felt the need to write those words. But having such a thoughtful daughter makes me the luckiest dad out there.

10:08 PM

Would you call yourself an editor of your blog? I prefer the word writer.

October 8, 2021

08:05 AM

I absolutely hate it when I unsubscribe from a list (that some service has force-added me on) and they say “we would love to be in touch”. What the hell? Why should I? I find it difficult to do even with people, let alone a faceless email address. Yuck!😣

10:27 AM

The thing with debugging issues is that sometimes, the systems just don’t want to work. Especially late at night. If it isn’t a life or death sort of issue, just sleep over it.

Why Do I Write?

11:10 PM

Don’t write for others, write for yourself. Most long-time writers give this advice to someone who is just getting started. Actually, screw that. Every person who does any amount (and form) of writing gives this advice to every other person who wishes to do some form of writing.

Easy advice for others, but very difficult to follow oneself. To be frank, what does “not to write for others” even mean? Or write only for yourself?

I write when my mind blanks out. I write when my mind gets crowded. Most of the time, I write as I comment on something I read or listened to. At times, a thought makes me go, “Hmm, that’s curious. I should write more about it.” Occasionally, I write because I want to force myself to write.

Writing something, anything, makes me focused. It calms me down. “I write because I have an innate need to write,” says Orhan Pamuk. More often than not, I share his sentiment.

But I am not perfect. I also write because I want others to read my writing. Trigger a conversation. Read what others think about my thoughts. As an introvert, that’s my only way to open up to others. I don’t care how many people read what I write. As long as I know that some do.

Numbers don’t matter to me. Conversations do.

On a philosophical level, everybody understands this belief of “not writing for others”. Write what your mind wants you to write, don’t write what others want you to.

You write because your thoughts are important. You write because you are brave and willing to expose those thoughts. But, most importantly, you write because you have something to say.

A fascinating perspective. It is worded succinctly, but it still is philosophical. Everybody has something to say. But not everybody writes. So, what motivates you to put your thoughts in words?