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Media Distillery
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Media Distillery

Projects for personal & shared media use, creation, tracking, sorting, &  archiving.

Tim McCormick

Last updated: 03 January 2021
Started: 22 September, 2020
Short links to this doc:

above: Cognac distillery. in Diderot’s 1763 Encyclopedie

Contents

Overview        2

To Do        4

Latest notes        4

25 December, 2021 - Heyday, Bitdocs        7

Design patterns        9

'Distillery' pattern        9

'Brewpub' pattern        9

'Loop' pattern        9

Commonplace [Book]        11

Current 'Distillery' setup        12

Activity streams        12

Core reading queue (combined print + digital)        12

Online & digital reading materials        13

Podcasts        13

Print magazines, newspapers, misc materials:        13

Movies        13

Newly noted books
add to my Amazon Wishlist
        13

Images        13

Periodic review loops:        13

Periodic administration        14

To Do        14

Navigation/publishing: using subdomains & URL redirects        15

Surfacing active items to a home/front page        16

[old] My streams / sources / tools        17

Outcomes / products        18

'PickPocket' tool to gather web readings archive        18

Name ideas        21

References        21

Overview

Media Distillery is an ongoing array of projects for personal & shared media use, creation, note-taking/annotation, tracking, sorting, and archiving. It includes and integrates both personal tools and publishing/sharing.

This is a continuation of projects I discussed previously in, e.g. 2012 presentation "Healthier Information" at Quantified Self conference at Google HQ; article: "From reading drift to reading flow: how to reclaim focus (and self)." September 3, 2013, and also other related posts tagged "user agency." 

There's a famous, foundational quote about the topic, from Herbert Simon, 1971:

"In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."
 
--Herbert A. Simon (1971) "Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World."

Although it is also to some extent an ancient and perennial cultural topic, e.g. from Ecclesiastes's "of making many books there is no end," etc.
"The biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one."
 
-
Schopenhauer, "On Thinking for Yourself" 1851.

We inherently live amid many “streams” of media — which could be broadly defined to include our perceptions of the general environment, the flows of information in more structured contexts such as a workplace, the flow of what’s published (formally 'media'), how 'news' media operates, social media, time itself.

Likewise, we’re always, to take Ann M. Blair’s terms (in the fascinating historical study Too Much To Know, 2011), “storing, sorting, selecting, and summarizing,” in a multitude of ways: from how our perception and memory works, to many ad-hoc means such bookpiles, shelves, notebooks, post-its, bookmarks, etc.

It’s a question of how well and happily we can do this navigation and minding. If we are too much in the stream, we might experience overload and dissolution, never getting to focus or the point or our best selves.. On the other hand, if we retreat to existing acquaintances and interests, we risk being contained by habitual thinking, boredom, and homophily, perhaps even false consciousness, ideological subjugation, and exploitation. Or if you're like a hunter-gatherer on the primordial savannah, getting killed by unexpected, undetected threat; so to speak.  

People may or may not see a problem with the current environment, or their own or others' media use. Here are some possible cases or reasons you might care:

  1. For a casual or primarily entertainment-oriented media user, perhaps you'd just like to get good suggestions (for yourself and perhaps your family/kids), remember things recommended, or maybe cut back on spending time and money on things you don't get much out of.
  2. From a citizen or respectability-seeking perspective, perhaps you feel a responsibility and curiousity to be better informed about various issues and viewpoints.
  3. From a student, vocational, professional, or enthusiast perspective, perhaps you'd like to better or more efficiently get information about your field.


The phenomenon and perception of information/media over-abundance has arguably become much more pervasive now because of the huge proliferation and low cost of media sources, cable & satellite television, near-universal use of media-capable and Internet-connected mobile phones.

An important factor is the  phenomenon of hyperabundant 'free' or zero-marginal-cost media -- both marketing / persuasive and 'consumption' media -- aggressively competing for your attention granularly and constantly. We tend to associate that with Internet media, but it's important to consider that much media has been free and abundant in much of human history: from

(for an excellent, global and anthropological/historical view of media & news considering this viewpoint and which has shaped mine, see: Stephens, Mitchell. A History Of News From The Drum To The Satellite,1988).

To Do

Latest notes

3 January 2022

for MediaDistillery:

imagine a model where all items are collected in one Google Sheets doc.

Item addition in various other places triggers addition also to the sheet.

(analogous to eg Save to Pocket)

Spreadsheet has different views, so you can eg view:

- all

- books only

- print book only

- articles

- movies

- podcasts?

on each item, a button to push item to top (top within category, or overall)

25 December, 2021 - Heyday, Bitdocs

Serendipitously, today I encountered an entrepreneur and startup with a promising take on media prioritizing, which relates well to something I was thinking about yesterday and gives me a nice prompt to write/think more about it.

Heyday, apparently founded by entrepreneur Samiur Rahman @samiur1204 in San Francisco, "automatically saves content you view, and resurfaces it when you need it." 

and here's Samiur's pinned tweet pointing to a key use case and motivating pain point:

my replies:

"if a key to life focus & Tao is, attending to what's of higher path & value…what if higher-aligned material, eg sentences from top book/articles #readinglist, were steadily reinserted into the streams that shape & entice us, eg social media & soundscape."

I had been thinking about this yesterday, because I was looking forlornly at my little-surmounted online "Reading Pile" (ReadingPile.tmccormick.org/). This is a prioritized list of books & other reading material I keep on LibraryThing platform, periodically updating & reordering it from various sources such as my ReadingsFolder.tmccormick.org auto-generated spreadsheet of items dropped into my digital readings folder.

While the reading pile stays unsurmounted, at the same time—as I've observed since at least ten years back in "Healthier Information" talk—I find myself regularly dipping into and floating along and engaging in Twitter. It's a typical "the world is too much with us" experience, in Wordsworth's terms.

Then I recalled my and others' experiments going way back, in Tweet-publishing longer texts. I call my project exploring  this BlockBook (Blockbook.tmccormick.org, formerly Bitdocs, or stylized 'biTdocs' to foreground the Tim / TDocs pun). In this, I have for example Tweet-published entire texts like Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself".

and here's the "Song of Myself" edition: @song_of_myself

Joining these multiple threads, what if materials from one's prioritized reading list/pile were available in disaggregated, 'distributed' versions (i.e. BlockBook versions), and these could be redirected into one's streams?

Design patterns

'Distillery' pattern

Building on Blair’s terms, and incorporating ideas of “stream” and “flow”, I suggest the design pattern of a ‘distillery‘. Multiple incoming streams (eg water, grain, yeast, heat) come together in an ongoing process of refinement, becoming much more valuable and focused (& ‘contained’ in a bottle).

'Brewpub' pattern

Alternatively, consider a design pattern analogous to a brewpub: a place that gathers and refines/ferments ingredients into valuable, locale-customized beer, and food; also, curates other materials such as other producers' beer/spirits; also provides a place for people to enjoy these things together -- shared, condensed, mixed 'spirits' of other kinds.

'Loop' pattern

Perhaps even more basic to the proposed processes here is the idea of building [additional]  loops into what are commonly discussed and experienced as 1-way consumption or stream processes. I wrote about this in 2013, parts included here in a screenshot with small type to suggest it's a sub-loop for the present discussion:

Loops:

  1. review your sources:  perhaps using metrics to see what sources you are seeing most from, getting most from.
  2. bookshelf / watchlist / saved-for-later:  put items into durable, personal listings so you can loop back to them.  May have a pre-commitment factor, i.e. you spend money to get the book, or effort to get it from library.
  3. loop back to the environment: perhaps, share your book collection, shelf, watchlists, bibliographies.
  4. Perhaps, loop in with others -- e.g., shared/social booklists, watchlists, article archives, bookmarks, research bibliographies.

Commonplace [Book]

[from Wikipedia, "Commonplace Book"

"Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They have been kept from antiquity, and were kept particularly during the Renaissance and in the nineteenth century. Such books are similar to scrapbooks filled with items of many kinds: sententiae, notes, proverbs, adages, aphorisms, maxims, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, prayers, legal formulas, and recipes. Entries are most often organized under subject headings.

"Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator's particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler's responses."

"'Commonplace' is a translation of the Latin term locus communis (from Greek tópos koinós, see literary topos) which means "a general or common topic", such as a statement of proverbial wisdom.

In this original sense, commonplace books were collections of such sayings, such as John Milton's example. Scholars now understand them to include manuscripts in which an individual collects material which have a common theme, such as ethics, or exploring several themes in one volume.

As a genre, commonplace books were generally private collections of information, but as the amount of information grew following the invention of movable type and printing became less expensive, some were published for the general public.

Commonplaces are a separate genre of writing from diaries or travelogues. Commonplace books, it must be stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective."

"[in the 18th century], publishers often printed empty commonplace books with space for headings and indices to be filed in by their users.

"By the early eighteenth century they had become an information management device in which a note-taker stored quotations, observations and definitions. They were used in private households to collate ethical or informative texts, sometimes alongside recipes or medical formulae.

"For women, who were excluded from formal higher education, the commonplace book could be a repository of intellectual references....Commonplace books were used by scientists and other thinkers in the same way that a database might now be used."

Current 'Distillery' setup

September 12 2021.

Note (2 October 2021), I am currently experimenting with the open-source citation manager tool/platform Zotero, to manage various bibliographic resources I've developed over years, including HousingWiki articles, Village Buildings and Apology for the Reader book research, and various current collaborations/articles.

I may start using Zotero to manage some or all of the listings of books, Web materials, digital files, films in Media Distillery project.  

This no doubt tends to look laborious and complicated. However I think that's largely because I'm deliberately tracing and experimenting with methods. Where it aims to go, for myself and others, is to shape habits and tools that flow easily; mostly self-maintain; feel accessible, appealing, and rewarding; and reduce rather than exacerbate experiences of overload and anxiety. Indeed, most of what's described here is habitual for me, or ijust nudges my habits, and uses tools I'm quite familiar and comfortable with. It uses various tools because these are the ones I found fitting and comfortable for different purposes.

  1. Activity streams

(reading/watching, adding)

  1. Core reading queue (combined print + digital) 

  1. read what's at hand:  high on pile, front edge of bookshelf, or from front of LibraryThing Reading List collection (i.e. current reading queue)
  2. new print books, acquired or borrowed: add to LibraryThing catalog, and "Reading List" collection within that.  
  3. put new digital files (eg PDFs, ebooks) in Google Drive _Readings folder:
  1. name files with this format: [Author]_[Year]_[Title]_[ISBN/DOI/identifier].[pdf|epub|etc]  replacing spaces with hyphens '-'.
  2. new files added will trigger addition of new listing row at end of the "Readings folder listing" spreadsheet, via IFTTT applet).
  1. Manual Add high-priority digital items to LT "Reading List collection".
  2. as needed, edit 'Comments' field's three-digit number XXX for items, to reorder priority -- lowest number is highest priority/interest.
  3. record items read by: changing Comments field in LT "Reading List" to "[xxx] - finished", where [xxx] is incremented number one greater than on the last finished item.
  1. Online & digital reading materials

  1. read from front of "Readings folder listing" spreadsheet
  2. read from sorted "Web readings archive" (2014-2020)
  3. discover & read new materials in Twitter, email, web browser etc;
  4. save web items to, and read, in Pocket
  1. Podcasts

  1. new episodes from subscribed-to podcasts get added to Pocket Casts automatically;
  2. subscribe to or add individual episodes of new podcasts in Pocket Casts
  1. Print magazines, newspapers, misc materials:

  1. read from top of pile, or what's at hand
  1. Movies 

  1. watch from front of Filmslist spreadsheet 
  2. add new items to watch to spreadsheet.
  1. Newly noted books
    add to my Amazon Wishlist

  2. Images 

(photographs I take, photos of media [e.g. book sections], images captured from social media, web browsing

  1. generally, save to Google Photos
  2. if project-specific, also save in the relevant project folder, and/or make an Album for the project/topic.
  1. Periodic review loops:

  1. LibraryThing Reading List collection (books):
  1. review recently added items, perhaps reprioritize
  1. "Readings folder listing" spreadsheet:
  1. review, perhaps reprioritize
  1. to reprioritize, drag rows to new positions, and if needed, auto-renumber the prioritization column.
  1. Bookshelves and physical space: resort book piles & shelves, magazines/papers to put more valued items to top and front. Put items of less interest away or into storage.
  2. review Amazon wishlist, by priority order, & most recent
  3. Pocket - go backwards in queue, star/fav items of more interest, archive or delete those less so.  
  4. Pocket Casts (podcasts) - look through subscribed-to podcasts, select episodes of interest to put in play-next queue and/or Star.
  1. Periodic administration

  1. _Readings folder spreadsheet
  1. reformat auto-added new entries (this could be scripted/automated:
  1. copy to text file t01 in terminal
  2. splice fields:
  3. perl -pe 's/(.*?)\t(.*?)\t(.*)/\t$2\t$1/' t01 > t02
  4. splice sub-fields:
  5. perl -pe 's/\t(.*?)_(\d\d\d\d)_(.*?)_(.*?)\.(.*?)\t(.*)/\t$3\t$1\t$2\t$4\t\t$5\t$6/' t02 > t03
  6. remove hyphens
  7. perl -pe 's/-/ /g' t03 > t0
  8. make into .tsv file:
  9. cp t04 t04.tsv
  10. Import this to spreadsheet
  1. consecutive-number new entries
  2. add new ebooks to LibraryThing
  1. To Do

  1. add ebooks to LibraryThing catalog (141/237 added)
  2. prioritize _Readings folder spreadsheet
  1. move items into priority order
  2. create & incrementally number priority field
  1. read & prune "Web readings archive" (2014-2020)

Navigation/publishing: using subdomains & URL redirects

For labeling, managing, locating, and Web-publishing Media Distillery components, and topic pages and writings I create,  I've been exploring the use of subdomains.

A subdomain is a prefix put in front of a domain-name, e.g. 'sometopic' in   'sometopic.mydomain.com'.

If you control a Web domain-name, like 'mydomain.com', then you can freely create subdomains like this, and configure them so that they redirect to any other URL, i.e. place on the Web, that you want. Typically, they are used to direct Web traffic to some appropriate sub-area of your web presence; so for example, the URL "mail.yahoo.com" takes you to Yahoo's mail service rather than the main Yahoo page, or "uk.acmecorp.com" may take you to the UK web site for Acmecorp.

In my case, I am using subdomains to label and create URLs for various projects under my personal domain tmccormick.org, e.g. filmslist.tmccormick.org; or for various topic pages within some project, e.g.  africanarchitecture.housing.wiki for the article on African Architecture in HousingWiki.

These subdomain URLs I then configure so they redirect to the document I specify, which may be:

Advantage/rationale 1:

Subdomain URLs provide flexibility, delegatability, and decentralization, suggested by the needs of projects such as HousingWiki and PDX Shelter Forum.

In distributed, open collaborative projects like these, the paramount needs tend to be: minimizing barriers to participation, using the most familiar tools/methods possible, and minimizing the difficult of administering and evolving.

By using subdomain URLs, I can have logical and brand-consistent URLs for materials, but host those materials with Google Docs or other tools. Using Google Docs as the primary document editing and presentation form means:

  1. The primary tool is something pervasively familiar and used, which people widely already have a login for, and which foregrounds actively-worked-on materials into their own workspaces (i.e., their Google Docs, Google Drive web views and apps and synced desktop folders)  
  2. Navigation and searching can be provided by an automatic and widely familiar device, the folder listing (i.e. Google Drive folders view)
  3. Participants can take, give, or share ownership and access rights using the flexible, commonly used, folders system of Google Drive/Docs.
     

Advantage 2: easy hot-key navigation

one unanticipated benefit of the subdomain URLs approach, I've discovered, is that it often makes documents very easy and quick to get to, because browser address bars easily autocomplete the URL from just one or two letters.

When using a desktop/laptop computer, for example, much of the time I get to things pressing the hotkey Command-L (which takes one to the address bar, in Chrome and other browsers on MacOS), then either entering a search term, which triggers a search-engine search, or one or two letters which either

 a) prompt lookup of the subsequent string in some service such as Amazon, Internet Archive, HousingWiki, via "custom search engine" feature of browser; or

 b) by auto-complete, get and then follow one of my commonly-used redirect URLs such as filmslist.tmccormick.org.

Advantage/feature 3: flexible subject labels

This approach is somewhat reminiscent of the subject headers used in commonplace books (see section above about these). But, compared to how these are used in print media, this has expanded capabilities, since it facilitates:

Surfacing active items to a home/front page

Related to the "URLs as 'commonplaces'/headers" idea above, I'm working on developing personal or project home pages that fully or partly automatically present the more active & important, shared or public items.

One way to do this may be to embed, on a Web page, a view of a Google Drive folder which contains the project/person's shared/public materials, and is sorted by Recently Modified.

Or, embed a view of a Google Sheets spreadsheet which lists project/topic names and URLS -- this is easy to automatically or manually reorder to highlight the most important or active items. (I use this approach for the Projects page of my personal web site tjm.org).

Common related methods:

[old] My streams / sources / tools

Outcomes / products

Spreadsheets:

Current reading bookpile: readingpile.tmccormick.org.
 (a sub-list in my LibraryThing book catalog, easily to change, add to, reorder).

archived articles - it's a good idea to not depend on things staying up or findable on the web. Pocket's paid versions allow this, some research tools like Evernote do this in ways and I used to use that. I'm considering setting up something for my past and ongoing readings with open-source tool Archivebox.

PDFs/eBooks archive (Google Drive > _Readings)

Research projects / bibliographies:
        Village Buildings
        Housing Wiki
        Village Collaborative

'PickPocket' tool to gather web readings archive        

since early 2014, I’ve bookmarked, using the Pocket “read it later” tool, almost all articles & papers I’ve found online, except for casual/skim reads1 – by Sept 2020, about 65,000 items.

Mainly this was/is done just to use the read-it-later and format-standardizing readability capabilities of Pocket, but if used habitually as I do, it can produce a quite thorough record of online browsing/reading patterns.

It's a useful and beguiling tool for short term read-it-later use, but curiously, even more than most consumer web tools, Pocket does very little to help you deliberately manage, analyze, get overview or metrics on, transform, or interoperate with the data ('archive', 'library') you build up in it. Consumer web tools, in my view, pervasively tend for various reasons to provide "stream-sipping," narrow, contextless, dependent, non-scaleable interactions;  as opposed to full downloads, offline use, overviews, batch operations, automatic operations,

On the contextlessness angle, for example, Pocket strips dates off all items, and gives you no idea of the total size or growth rate or read rate of your archive. Sort of like being in a casino, no clocks or daylight -- it seems intentional. Also, the archive it generate is minimally useful, e.g. it gives you the initial URL Pocket received rather than dereferenced URL, meaning in my case a very large portion of opaque short-links like t.co (Twitter) and ow.ly, which in themselves tell you little, and also may hide tracking info, passwords; and may expire or break.

This, obviously, for me would not do. So in September 2020 I created a software tool
Pickpocket to help collect, format, and analyze/prioritize Pocket media archives.

It uses script programming (Bash shell, Perl, curl, wget) to retrieve my Pocket URLs archive, unshorten (dereference) and retrieve the URLs, recover dates, retrieve article titles, normalize item source/domain names, and transform the archive into a Google Sheets sheet for further sorting & analysis.

Using that Google Sheets spreadsheet I did further analysis, deduplication, and prioritizing of items to read, reread, or add to various research projects such as Village Buildings book sections.  

Also, this analysis was done to gather ideas/requirements for a next phase web archiver/analyzer tool in development.

Some learnings:

  1. wow that's a lot of items put into the read-it-later pile! 65k in 6.5 years is an average of 27 items/day.  [note, this reflects that much of the time I put almost everything into that pile, i.e. rarely read anything immediately at original source. It isn't just that I'm (perhaps forever) deferring this much reading].
  2. however, based on periodic sampling, I do fairly steadily read about 2/3 of them, or at least later decide to move those to an 'archived' sub-list, which is a sort of "dealt with" move.
  3. It does seem helpful and efficient to separate gather/discover activity from later, fuller reading, even in the course of one reading session or one day, and more so over time.
  4. In general, my later interest (& I'd guess almost everyone's) in reading things drops off greatly over time. But with wide variation and significant patterns in how much and which.
        For example, I find that for many of my most-noted sources, which tend to be newspaper sites either national or in places where I was living, I have very little longer-term interest in their items. They are fleeting, repetitive, shallow, & often superseded. This fits a fundamental prediction of psychology / cognitive bias (cf Kahnemann) that almost everything, particularly including 'news', is less important than it seems when one is focusing on it.
  5. I find that a few simple heuristics are very predictive of what is still valuable long after noting: if the item is a PDF, or includes a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) or other obvious sign of being a scholarly work, or is to a book.
  6. There are discontinuities, when major interests shift, for me observable comparing ca.2014 with 2015 onwards when my saving of items about scholarly publishing and tech industry/policy shifted towards housing issues.
  7. A significant portion of web materials becomes inaccessible over time -- either the link breaks, or material goes behind paywall, etc.
  8. Some materials become more available over time -- mainly, scholarly literature that is initially published behind a paywall. The later, accessible version may not be reachable at the same URL, however.
  9. As with most data analysis, there's a lot of noise. Duplicate saves, same articles referred to from different places, broken links, varying completeness of title/date/source retrieval. A widely useful e.g. consumer tool doing this would have to handle of lot of such things without much/any effort by user.

1 Jan '01 - considering more carefully more why/when I use Pocket. It's:

   a) in mobile use, saving to Pocket the link for almost anything I think I might read or reference later, as encountered on Twitter, web, Facebook, in email, etc. This is because:

      i. following arbitrary links long ago became too slow, unpredictable, and risky-seeming (esp. because media sites became exceptionally slow, loaded with adware, and unusable due to popups, ads, etc.  Also, I haven't always had always-on internet connectivity to even follow links in real-time.

      ii. I find I generally prefer and find useful to separate browsing/discovery mode from closer evaluative reading.

   b) in desktop use,

       i. like (i.) above but a lesser portion of the time, because links can be followed with less risk and delay due to e.g. ability to open them into a separate/background window, and because I get higher page usability due to using ad-blocking software, font settings that override the site's, etc. ]

Name ideas

Media Distiller
Media Distillery
MediaStill
MediaStillery
Mediastillery
MediaRest

FlowSort
FlowStill

Brewpub
MediaBrew

References

Blair, Ann M. (2010). Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age..

McCormick, Tim (2012). "Healthier Information: using Quantified Self methods to address information anxiety." Quantified Self conference, Google HQ, March 28, 2012.  (5-minute "PechaKucha" / lighting-talk format).
Video:
http://vimeo.com/40245734 (15mins).
Presentation:
https://www.slideshare.net/tjmccormick/qs-healthy-informationpresentation-12185143.
[note, In Q&A section, I field a probing first question from counterculture / Silicon Valley icon  Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Review].

McCormick, Tim (2013). "From reading drift to reading flow: how to reclaim focus (and self)." September 3, 2013. http://tjm.org/2013/09/09/from-reading-drift-to-reading-flow-how-to-use-filter-sort-loopsand also other related posts tagged "user agency".

Schopenhauer, Arthur (1851). "On Thinking for Yourself."

in Parerga and Paralipomena (Greek for "Appendices" and "Omissions"), often translated as Essays" or "Essays and Aphorisms. Saunders translation (1896):
https://archive.org/details/essaysofarthursc00schouoft/page/321/mode/1up.

Hollingdale translation (1970?): https://archive.org/details/essaysaphorisms00scho (can be checked out for 14 days).
https://www.google.com/books/edition/Essays_and_Aphorisms/EWt_5YLqHcAC (partial preview).

Simon, Herbert A. (1971) "Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World."

Stephens, Mitchell (1988). A History Of News From The Drum To The Satellite.

Wikipedia (En). "Commonplace Book". accessed 03 October, 2021.