September 13, 2020
A bit of garden work got done today. It was raining continuously, and my clothing for various parts of my body ranged from reasonable to hilariously unsuitable. We got everything done in a pretty nice way, but I was soaking wet and so covered in mud that I had to do a rough first cleaning under the tap in the garage in order to not leave a trail of mud behind me as I stepped indoors and took the shortest possible path to somwhere, anywhere I could rinse off the clothes some more before actually putting them in the laundry baskets.
I had intended to write some more yesterday, but I had an appointment, and managed to somehow get Sublime stuck in overwrite mode, so I decided it was a good time to stop, build and upload. On the topic of surveillance capitalism, I have trouble getting Youtube videos to play in Safari sometimes. Review videos on the Verge work on the main page, but do not appear when I click into the article page. All this is in Safari with 1blocker active. Sometimes I am annoyed, but sometimes I feel a sort of joy in breaking something by doing reasonable blocking. If your solution for providing a feature breaks down when ad blocking is activated, you probably should solve it in a different way, right?
Firefox gets some more exercise whenever one of those broken videos feel interesting enough, and it also provides me the satisfaction of setting my rare Facebook visits in an environment specifically built to keep Facebook's tendrils away from the rest of my world. (I have no doubt they find other sneaky ways of gathering my data, but at least I am not making it easy in that particular way.)
Staring at the app icons on my phone yesterday, trying once more to trim the selection down to some imaginary essence, a great big "duh"-insight struck me: If I want the trimming to make a noticeable difference, I should be removing apps I actually use, rather than the meaningless cruft or rarely-used utilities I tend to focus on. A once-a-year public transit app tucked away in a folder causes no distractions at all, but Twitter or Instagram certainly do wherever I put them. Banking apps do not make my phone heavier in any way, so sitting around wondering if I can decrease their numbers is in itself a total waste of time. The real question is: would I truly miss anything if I purged Twitter and Instagram? Or, could I somehow relegate them, too, to be rare-occasion apps, for those times I am out and about (remember being out and about?) and can actually have meaningful exchanges through them? I made a list of things I do want to use my phone for, and communication was on the list, so it is not like some amount of networking is completely out of place. But treating it more as a tool when needed than as a quick distraction sounds healthy.
Now things are getting interesting.
September 12, 2020
It feels like autum is here, and I am enjoying it to the fullest extent I can.
As I recall, we were talking about having morning coffee in the sun on the steps before we even moved in. So it took me a good long while to get around to it, but now that I finally did I am happy to report that it was just as nice as we always expected.
We also have apples:
The ones being gathered here are the nice ones. They look lovely even beginning to decay on the ground, and they taste good too. Compared to some of our neighbors, our trees produce very modest amounts of fruit, but right now enough falls every day to motivate some quick exercise with the rake.
Which means we now have a dangerous number of opportunities for creating things like this:
Yes, of course it was J who baked it. Our first home-made pie on home-grown apples.
It is nice to put up some photos every now and then. I should do that more often. Or rather, I should make it quicker for myself to put photos here. While Instagram has the allure of … yes, what is the allure of Instagram, really? I follow enough people which post something interesting often enough that Instagram now has that "I might miss out" hook somewhat dug into my skin, but I rarely feed it any images. The allure of tearing one more little piece of Facebook away from my body is strong, reinforced once more by starting to read How to destroy surveillance capitalism by Cory Doctorow.
August 23, 2020
My brain unclenched
The above is the title of episode 451 of the Incomparable. I had completely forgotten what the episode was about (Captain Marvel), but the expression has stuck with me, connected to something completely unrelated.
A year or so ago, I started trying to really cut down on my phone screen time. It quickly became a sort of competition against myself, leading to all manner of absurd situations where I would hesitate to use the phone even for highly meaningful things. It also made me use any other screens a lot more, and so during normal days the total screen time difference was probably very small. I still think it was good for me though, especially when out and about. I would look up and look around when waiting for something, and I would notice a whole lot just how often other people took a break from interactions by diving into their phones for a few minutes.
I was standing just outside the door to the apartment building where I lived at the time. I guess that I was waiting for someone to let them in or to be let in. The whole situation is probably at least in part a constructed memory. In any case, it occured to me then and there that this was a situation where I would usually take my phone out, I felt relaxed by not doing so this time, and the phrase "my brain unclenched" popped into my mind as a perfect description of the feeling.
Silly progression of events: Using my phone a lot less made lugging a large phone around feel a lot less necessary, and eventually led me to resurrecting - and falling in love with - a first-generation Iphone SE. That, in turn, somehow broke the pattern of restraint and made me use my phone a lot more again. The mind is a weird system.
August 18, 2020
It is clearly hard for me to stop feeling like I should be doing things. I am home alone for a couple of days, and while I very definitely still am someone who can enjoy time to myself, it only took a day or so before I found myself sitting around wondering how I should best spend the time. Is it weird to feel so aware of having a limited amount of "special" time (whatever that means to you), and at the same time find it difficult to decide what to do with it?
It might not help that the days and especially nights are a tad too warm for me. Sleeping less good than average never helps.
This is just part of the way I often feel torn between trying to really relax and do nothing, or to try and focus on something constructive or creative, often landing like most of us do in some annoying halfway state of updating social feeds and watching short-ish clips instead of full movies.
"I have this time, I should be doing more with it!"
Okay, mind, how about the fact that I put a good number of things on my to-do list for today, and have finished them all? How about the stuff I got done at work? The ideas I managed to jot down here and there? The fact that I am writing this down, right now?
All of this is so not new. I have always been like this.
You might think I would eventually get better at it …
I have done a bit more of active preparations for tonight's recording of Björeman // Melin, actual research one might say. The notes document is still short, but I suspect those few points can easily expand to fill an entire episode in a nice way.
Over on the Kodsnack Slack I was pointed to a new - to me - blog post by Steve Yegge about Google and how their way of deprecating software (cloud infrastructure-type software in this case) is hurting their users and themselves. I always find Steve Yegge worth reading, and his posts are always way over on the long side. This was commented on in the Slack thread, and I was reminded how - long ago - he at one point wrote about how and why his posts are always so long. The way I managed to boil it (my own vague memories of that long text I read long ago) after a few attempts was that it more or less prevents hot takes, both from the reader but also the writer. Going long by providing more context can also make you reason more, make more thoughts explicit, and put them in whole different ways than if all you had was a tweet. You can work through more thoughts and approaches. We are humans, we enjoy stories, they give us more than bullet points. The reader, in turn, will be provided with a whole lot more context. And, if you do take the time to read a long text about a topic, you will get a lot more nuance out of it in the end. If you could jump in and read the clickbait tweet without any background information, you would have a reflexive reaction to it, fire off a snarky one-liner in response, and either move on with your life or get involved in a shouting match with someone whose reflex was in the direction opposite of yours.
(I still think the general rule of "more time, shorter letter" applies by the way, regardless of final letter length.)
This sparked further associations for me. I recalled that Steve Yegge used to work for Amazon, and I also recalled reading somewhere (Steve's writings?) that Amazon has or used to have an interesting meeting policy. You did not call a meeting before you had written a multi-page memo about whatever the meeting was about. Providing context, reasoning about options, and so on. No memo - no meeting. If it was not worth the effort of a thought-through memo, it certainly was not worth locking multiple expensive people inside a conference room for.
Finally, as I started writing about all this my mind made another association, this time to Marco Arment talking on ATP about podcast episodes versus blog posts. He talked about how much better it was to talk about any sensitive topic (i.e. any topic which people might have more than a single point of view on) on a podcast than to write a blog post about it. Blog posts provoke angry replies, shouting matches, rage over discussion. Podcasts allow room to breathe, space to think and talk things through, and even sensitive topics can get cosntructive responses (and in much lower volumes).
So: a long podcast or a long text provide the same kind of insulation against hot takes? A bit of a barrier to entry which at the same time assures the reader or listener will get much more nuance out of their time investment?
I do not want to write long for the sake of it, but it does feel appealing to try and write longer when there is a topic with context worth giving. It might really be as simple as to try and tell stories rather than trying to boil everything down to a clever headline and two paragraphs of fifty words each.
(Side note: writing outdoors in the almost unreasonably warm August night? Not bad at all for your state of mind. Nice for the Macbook to get out of the basement, too.)
July 29, 2020
A large part of my early maintenance of Podcast Chapters was removing various dependencies. From package managers and external scripts to permissions and, of course, third-party libraries. I was eventually very successful in this, ending up with an app where I depended only on the Mac platform, and where I had learned a lot about all the inner workings of everything the app did.
With the latest version, uploaded and released yesterday, I began to make use of some third-party code again. It amuses me a bit just how strong my initial aversion was, and I am happy I got over it for good reasons.
My library aversion mainly comes from a feeling that I, as the creator of an app, should know the inner workings of my creation really well. If I know well how things work, I should be able to code appropriate solutions for problems. If I do not, I should learn to understand better, then code myself. If I do not understand a problem well enough to solve it myself, I also can not expect a third-party library to solve it for me. I just do not know the risks and trade-offs well enough. And if the library ever breaks or otherwise stops solving the problem for me, I have not moved an inch forward.
I am also hesitant about the sheer mass of code I take on. I would not want to take in a huge library to solve what should be a small problem.
So, in the latest version, I added support for import of data using CSV files. A user might enter all their podcast information in, say, Excel or Numbers, save the spreadsheet as CSV and simply drag and drop the file onto Podcast Chapters to fill in all the information at once. Very nice.
It gradually dawned on me that CSV handling was a good candidate for using a library:
- The problem is clearly defined and constrained
- I understood the problem space pretty well, having written code to handle CSV before
- The hardly-even-edge cases did not feel particularly fun to handle myself
- Good solutions could be quite small in terms of number of lines of code
I ended up using Swiftcsv for my CSV parsing needs. Because it is small and light, I added it in the most old-school of ways: by copying the source files into my project. The problem is solved, and the code base is small enough that I could maintain or update it for my needs if I ever needed to.
(I also learned about adding Credits.rtf to my project to get acknowledgement of my usage into Podcast Chapters' about box. Just the way I wanted it.)
The whole exercise also made me curious as to how exactly the solution we built back in the Dark Ages worked. I think we did everything in our own code that time, and I do recall reading up on various edge cases to make sure they worked properly, but I have no recollection of what our actual solutions were. If I saw them today, would I recoil in horror, or be amazed at just how clear-eyed we were? Smart money would be on the first option, but who knows?
I think I could still find that code if I really wanted to …