Not Safe From Wolves

Collecting for the Apocalypse that will Never Happen

I recently sorted through 5 years of Twitter favourites (alongside quite a few stars). I knew that I was building a debt up, but hadn’t realised that I’d gone past the 500-tweet mark. That’s really the point where extreme measures are required- that or declaring tweet bankruptcy.

I love Twitter. I used to have an addiction; I’d start to feel squirrelly if I hadn’t checked it in a while, and I was following many more people, and those people were more prolific. Now it’s just a vice.

My usual flow is to wake up, and check my tweets (around 30 will have come in over night)- read maybe one medium length article linked to, and favourite anything larger than that that I’d like to come back to (promising open-source software, long-read I’d prefer to use the bookmarklet to capture, embedded video).

Then I’d check around lunch time at work, but I’d already have checked Hacker News and have a few tabs open, and I’d read those over food, and in any breaks that I got (if I wasn’t playing games or indulging in a lunch-time-project). So, I’d star a few more things for later, and munch my way through the tabs I had open.

I might not check again that evening, unless there’s a lull in the day (like waiting outside the Scout hut for Cubs to finish), and catch up just before sleep.

(I can quit any time that I want, okay?)

Despite regular “runs” at my favourites (which I would literally put on my to-do list, along with things like repair bikes, mow lawn) I didn’t really make much of a dent.

I went out and bought a Nexus tablet specifically to help me consume more- a laptop makes it too easy to flutter off to the next thing to read, or to code, or even log into Steam and play some games.

My bare-bones Android tablet is there specifically for “catching up” with Netflix, YouTube and Twitter.

Unsurprisingly, I am no longer interested in a very large portion of the things that I thought I would be interested in at the time. Some things only took one click to see that I’d already read them, or my interests have changed (who cares about Puppet any more?) or they were short or irrelevant and clearly didn’t even warrant further attention.

For the rest, there were four routes:

  • If it’s an article: Instapaper it. I love Instapaper. Don’t have Instapaper? Get Instapaper.
  • If it’s a video, it’s almost always a YouTube video. Now that I’m signed into Google, I use the ‘Watch Later’ feature, which integrates with the Xbox, Android and iOS YouTube apps. If I have a few minutes spare and don’t want to read, it’s very easy to dip into this list.
  • If it’s an open source project, it’s almost always on GitHub, so star it on there. Yes: this is only moving the ‘star-debt’ from one place to another, but we’re all about clearing Twitter at this point.
  • For everything else, either consume it there and then, or decide if I’m likely to consume it later. Soon? Open a browser tab (I sync these across all my browsers). Later? Add to Delicious

(This is basically modelled on the “processing” step of David Allen’s Getting Things Done– a book I know only from reputation, but lots of people find the process useful, so maybe I should add that to the reading queue …)

Almost nothing gets added to Delicious because (and this is really the meat of the idea I am trying to write about)- if I really want to know about something, then it will probably still be there for me to search out.

Less than one tenth of that 500 tweets resulted in something that I still cared enough about, and thought was good enough, to save for later.

When I had dial-up Internet, I kept my downloads in a folder on my PC. Disk space was expensive back then, but things were smaller, and bandwidth was really expensive. Not only that, but with the way that search worked, you needed to keep things that you were interested in around, because you may never find them again.

This is a habit I’ve kept, even though the whole geography of the Internet has changed- it’s not really made up of deep nooks of hidden information, it’s a giant morass of brightly coloured distractions, heavily indexed with complete sets of meta-data.


This works in the real world too. When I recently moved house I was forced to sift through a lot of spare electronics parts that I had accumulated over the years.

This was all badly organised to the point that I didn’t always even know what I had. Even more annoyingly, I frequently knew I had something but didn’t know where- it was hidden in with a bunch of crap I didn’t need at all

I have moved to a Just in Time model: except for things that were very expensive to obtain and that I will clearly need exactly that part in the future- I donated it all.

Need a really really long HDMI lead? An IDC10 lead that’s just the right length? Super-bright LEDs to finish off your project? That one obscure adaptor to go from iPod headset headphones to a separate mic and headphone plug? The Internet has you covered: you can have it next day for very little money, and in a few weeks from Shenzhen for even less.

Thanks for your attention.

The right four word phrase is almost guaranteed to being up any article I might want to reference later. I’ve had bookmarks for resources on learning foreign languages: these only serve to make me feel guilty about the languages that I can’t yet speak, and to make using the Internet feel like a giant sisyphean task- to get to the end of my bookmarks.

I don’t want to learn a language right now. When I do, I don’t think I will have a lot of trouble finding a resource to help. How about that really great looking resource from the BBC?– I didn’t need a bookmark, a search for “BBC language resource” brought it up as the first hit.

What if I can’t remember that it was by the BBC when I come to need it? Well, if it’s good then other people will point to it when I’m searching, or, I’ll end up with some other, probably perfectly acceptable resource.

The world will not end if I learn a language a different way, using a different website, or if I just don’t ever do it at all.

As should be obvious from the above- Delicious, YouTube and Instapaper are now my new pits to dump things in. I fully intend to apply the same process to those remaining silos- summarise, decide, reject or begrudgingly keep.

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