Sunday Selection 2021-05-30

It’s been a couple of weeks since I started writing Daily Digest posts. I don’t write them everyday, so Daily Digest might have been a misnomer, but it does feel good to reflect on the day and get thoughts out of my head. It also helps me remember little details about the day I would otherwise forget. One of the other hand, I also write about things I’ve been reading and watching in the Digests, which leaves me with less to write about on Sunday. I’ll have to work on finding a balance between the two over the next few weeks. With all that being said, here’s a somewhat lighter Sunday Selection.

Blog About What You Struggled With

While we’re on the topic of writing more, Julia Evans makes an interesting point: write about the things you’ve struggled with. It’s a good way to both cement your knowledge and maintain a record for the future, not to mention, create something that will be useful to others.

How to Become a Better Writer by Becoming a Better Noticer

Talking about blogging, getting better at writing is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. I took a number of creative writing classes in college, and I remember a number of assignments that focused on observing the world, rather than directly writing about it. So here’s an article about getting better at writing by getting better at noticer. It’s full of both examples and exercises, and will definitely go into my writing toolbox.

Kumail Nanjiani Can Be Your Hero, Baby

The first teaser trailer for the upcoming Eternals movie from Marvel dropped a couple of days, which reminded me of this article that I saved a couple of months ago and never got around to reading. So I remedied it, got a peek into Nanjiani’s life, and the kind of mental and physical training that it takes to have the body of a superhero. As someone who’s put on a rather embarrassing amount of weight over the last year, I’ll put this in the “inspiration” category.

And on the topic of the Eternals trailer, here it is:



And finally an actual book:

Philosopher of the Heart by Claire Carlisle

For the first time in a while, I’m reading a number of different books at once. Of those, this one strikes a good balance of being entertaining, informative, and easy to digest. The author takes us on a (non-chronological!) tour of Kierkegaard’s life, and in the process gives us a thorough understanding of his philosophy and the cultural context in which his ideas came about. It’s also a surprisingly quick read, and I’m going through almost a chapter day. Highly recommend if you have an interest in European philosophy.

Daily Digest 2021-05-27

I’ve been continuing to watch Season 4 of the The Expanse, 4 episodes in currently. I’m definitely enjoying it, but I am also a little frustrated. There seems to be a lot of backstory that is missing, I’m told it’s in the books. There are a couple places where it seems like important plot points depend on characters doing unusually stupid things, which I personally find very annoying. But I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt for now, and will see how I feel at the end of the season.


Thanks to Andre Garzia I came across The StoryGraph. It lets you track books that you’ve read and recommends new books based on them and your supplied interests. Yes, it’s similar to GoodReads, but cleaner and more community-oriented, and without the ties to Amazon (all of which I consider a good thing). There are some things I don’t like about it: it’s more focused on recommendations than tracking, the process for adding things I’m currently reading is clunky, and there are no native mobile apps, so I can’t just point my camera at a book’s barcode and have it added to my profile. I also don’t seem to have a public profile page, so I can’t share what I’m reading with someone who isn’t on the site. All that being said, the service looks like it’s in active development, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.


I came across Oxide Computer’s new website which also describes their in-development product in some detail. It tickles the part of my brain that loves to tinker with hardware and bare metal computing. In an alternate life, where I didn’t decide to move up the abstraction layers to programming languages and tools, I would definitely be interested in working at a place like Oxide, and more generally doing the kind of co-design that they are.

That in turn led me to Bryan Cantrill’s talk about the coming golden age of hardware/software co-design. Lots of interesting things seem to be coming in the near future, I just hope we put it to use running something other than invasive machine learning algorithms on biased datasets. Time will tell I suppose.

Daily Digest 2021-05-24

It was a Monday, which means that after an unexpectedly stressful weekend (more on that at a later date), it’s time to get ready for the week. It’s also two weeks until I get the keys to my new apartment. I am looking forward to moving and am also very over my current living situation, so I’m afraid I’ll be increasingly insufferable until I move.


I learned about the author and professor, Robert D. Richardson (via Austin Kleon) who not only wrote biographies of Thoreau, Emerson, and William James, but also impressed Annie Dillard enough to marry her after “two lunches and three handshakes”. That makes for a whole new set of #relationshipgoals, as the kids say these days. I let myself fall into a bit of an Annie Dillard rabbit hole, following the links from Kleon’s post. I read this very interesting New York Times interview done shortly after her book A Pilgrim’s Progress was published, as well as this interview of Richardson, where he talks (among other things) about the effect she has had on his writing.


Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I’ve been using the Boston Athenaeum as a workspace a couple of times a week. As Cal Newport says in his latest essay in the New Yorker, remote work doesn’t necessarily mean working from home, maybe just close to home. A welcome side effect of that is a little more in-person human interaction, including random conversations with strangers in the elevator. It is still a little bit strange with masks on, but hopefully that will only be a part of our shared reality for a short while longer (at least here in Massachusetts).


Talia Ringer tweeted about how she feels more conscious each year, feeling more present and more aware of her thoughts and surroundings. I’ve been having a similar experience, especially in the last couple of years as I invest more time and energy into meditation and therapy. Part of this is due to a deeper feeling of agency over things that I thought were out of my control, like my emotions, motivations and priorities. Some of it is also due to realizing that there’s more to life than following a pre-determined plan. At the same time, it’s unfortunately very easy for me to not be present, to exist with my brain wrapped in a sort of distracted fog, with my mind lost in the past or present or fictional, fantastic worlds.


Talking of fantastic worlds, I realized that binge watching random TV shows as a way to relieve stress was not doing me any favors. It was starting to feel like an addiction, and made being present even more difficult. But I still enjoy movies and television and don’t want to cut them out of my life entirely. Instead, I want to watch higher quality productions, starting with Season 4 of The Expanse. It’s definitely one of the better science fiction shows of the last few years, filled with interesting concepts and plotlines, good actors, lots of careful worldbuilding and high production quality. I watched the first episode, which was very entertaining, and did a whole lot of setup for the rest of the season. I’m hoping to gradually work my way through it, one episode a day, over the next few weeks.

As an aside, as much as I like how much high quality television there is these days, I am not thrilled at how seasons seem to have very few episodes these days (sometimes in the single digits).

Daily Digest 2021-05-18

I’ve been spending more time on Twitter and less time blogging over th elasy few days, and I’ve been wanting to fix that. While I would like to write more proper posts, I realized I could also pull what I post on shorter form platforms into “daily digests” to post here. While a decent part of my Twitter interaction is snarky retweeting, I’ll keep these posts to just what I post.


I’ve been going to the Boston Athenaeum for a few days each week. It’s a beautiful workspace and it’s a good way to get out of the house. They also have a couple of open balconies which offer great views of downtown Boston. And the iPhone 12’s ultrawide lens comes in handy for taking these sorts of shots. Being able to go out to libraries and cafes, is a big perk of things starting to go back to normal. A welcome side effect of things starting to go back to normal, and being in a place like the Athenaeum, is feeling like I have headspace again and re-realizing how much I love deep intellectual work.


I’ve started using Apple Notes to take short, mostly temporary notes and it seems to be work well for that. Thanks to iCloud, Nto I do have a number of gripes though. Apples Notes uses a yellow-ish accent color for the sidebar, which isn’t my favorite. The only way to change it on macOS is to change the system-wide accent color, which in turn makes other apps look less than ideal. The UI for writing notes is quite good, there’s support for basic text formatting, tables and lists with checkboxes. There’s also support for inline links, making it good for collecting notes from websites without having raw URIs sticking out. However, there’s no editor button for adding a hyperlink and the macOS keyboard convention for the keyboard shortcut is ⌘K rather than ⌘L (for link) or ⌘H (for hyperlink). Finally, it would be great if there was a way to archive notes, instead of deleting them. None of these are dealbreakers, but hopefully some of them get updated in future versions.

Sunday Selection 2021-05-16

It’s been a little over two weeks since my second shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Here in the US we are starting to see a gradual return to normalcy, though at least in Massachusetts masking in public spaces and reduced capacity will continue to be a part of life for a little while longer. On a personal note, I’m in an extended transition period: I’m moving soon, and for the first time in a number of years will be living on my own. My housemates are in the process of moving out, the house is a mess (but also feeling more like my space), and the cats are increasingly perturbed by the changes. I am looking forward to having my own space, but not super thrilled have to do everything on my own again. And I’m not exactly happy about the not-quite-extortionate amount of rent I’ll paying starting next month.

Like many transitions, this one has gotten me thinking about life again, something I last did at the start of the year. In particular, I have been thinking about practice as a way of life. As someone whose life has often been about chasing goals, or reaching certain milestones as quickly as possible, the forced slowdown of the last year was a shock to the system. As doing things becomes possible again, I am trying to cultivate a life that is about more than moving from one thing to the next as quickly as possible.

How to Practice

Here’s a realization I didn’t have until after I turned 30: that life (for most of us) is actually quite long. And that, somewhat paradoxically, making the most of that life requires a certain amount of slowing down. It’s not going slow for its own sake, but rather, slowing down is a prerequisite for the intentionality required for a good life. As Ann Patchett tells us in this narrative, that intentionality is improved by practice and imagination.

Private Practice: Toward a Philosophy of Just Sitting

On the other hand, often the point of practice is just that: to practice. This again, is somewhat paradoxical, and I began to appreciate it only after a couple years of a regular meditation practice. It was also something that completely eluded me in the several years that I spent playing the violin as a teenager. I suppose practice is requirement of that elusive state: mindfulness, the feeling that you’re actually here, living your life and not just passing through it. And learning to just sit, for maybe 10-15 minutes a day, is a good way to get started.

What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun?

Closely related to practice, I think, is play. In fact, as this article suggests, play or fun might just be one of the foundational organizing principles of the universe. Given how much our brains seem to require meaningful work and play in balanced proportions, this idea strikes me as a having a certain amount of credibility. Besides, living with cats for two years has firmly convinced me that the importance of play reaches deep into the animal kingdom.

The Man Who Found the Flow

Finally, it seems likely that practice and play (and meaningful deep work) both help us tap into the psychological state of flow. I first encountered Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas in college, I have been thinking more about them recently, especially in context of a year when doomscrolling become a de facto part of our daily routines. It’s perhaps unsurprising that later in life I become interested in meditation, which I think helps bring about a similar state of mind.