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.

Sunday Selection 2021-04-11

Some good news: I got me first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine a few days. I was completely exhausted for a day and then very hungry and thirsty for a couple of days. I take all that to mean that my body is doing work. After over a year of mostly staying at home, it seems like there is now a promise of some semblance of normalcy at the end of the tunnel. It will be another three weeks before I get the second shot and two weeks after that before I can expect the vaccine to reach full effectiveness, so for the next month or so I’ll mostly be doing what I’ve been doing so far. But I am hoping to start easing back to normal after that. Till then, I’ll be continuing to spend more time in front of a screen than I would like to, so I might as well as metabolize it into blog posts.

Free Software: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed

If you’re anywhere around the software or information technology, you’ve probably heard that Richard Stallman was recently reinstated to the board of the Free Software Foundation. This has been widely regarded as a bad move, and has caused a number of board members to resign. This article argues that maybe it’s time not to praise free software, but to bury it, an opinion I find myself agreeing with.

The Long Term iPhone 12 Camera Review

With the weather starting to improve, and more people getting vaccinated, I am looking forward to being out and about more often, which means more opportunities to take pictures. Though I’ve always been interesting in photography, I’ve never managed to justify the cost of a good camera, and even when I’ve bought standalone cameras, I’ve not inclined to carry them on a regular basis. So having a very good camera on a device I already have on me has been just right for me.

The Point of Doing Pointless Things

I don’t know if this my type-A personality or something else, but it’s often hard for me to relax. Part of that difficulty is feeling the need to always do the best thing, even if it’s relaxing. For a long time, I would feel bad if even my “time off” activities didn’t produce something, or lead to personal improvement in some way. For better of worse, the last year of sitting at home has changed that. I couldn’t do a lot of my go-to activities like going to museums, concerts, or various talks and lectures. Doing the digital version of those things just felt like spending even more time sitting in the same place. Instead I’ve had to get used to doing things just because I liked them (like reading comic books) or sometimes just doing nothing at all.

What the Buddha Taught

But of course, I can’t escape my type-A-ness all together, so a lot of my non-fiction reading has been about Buddhist philosophy recently. It’s something I’ve encountered in bits and pieces over the last few years, but it’s nice to have a well-written book that clearly explains the key concepts in an orderly fashion (I’m one of those people who prefer learning things from a textbook). While the writing style is a little dated, and does flow awkwardly at times, it does a good job at both explaining key concepts and answering some more technical questions (like what does it mean for free will if there is no self). If you’re interested in Buddhism at all, this is a good place to start.

Sunday Selection 2021-02-28

Ursula K LeGuin on the Legacy of the Tao Te Ching

Ursula K LeGuin is probably one of the foremost intellects of the 20th century (which makes me more than a little ashamed that I haven’t read much of her work). I’ve been reading more about Zen Buddhism, and it’s close cousin Taoism over the last few years, so I’m looking forward to reading this in the near future. This is really more of an interpretation than a translation, but as the excerpts show, it seems to capture the spirit of the original (along with some choice commentary for the modern age).

David Lynch’s Industrious Pandemic

Talking of cultural icons, I did not know much about David Lynch until this piece. I think the only work of his I’ve seen is the 1984 Dune, which this piece calls “pretty unwatchable”. I was drawn to this piece because of the subtitle which talks about Lynch “living a farmer’s life during the pandemic” by keeping himself “engaged with self-prescribed daily routines”. That’s certainly been a luxury that’s out of reach of most of us, but as I noted in my reflections on 2020, it’s not enough to simply exist. We have to live as well, even in tough times, and we must make use of our privileges and luxuries where we have them.

Love Sick: It’s time to Uncouple Care Work from Romantic Love

Talking of pandemics, the past year has certainly shaped a lot of conversations and thoughts about family, community and caring. As someone who’s often depended on friends and acquaintances for help in ways both big and small, this year has made me even more aware of the value of self-sufficiency. At the same time, I do believe that humans aren’t meant to be alone, and we should all work harder to develop bonds of family and community, but it’s much easier said than done, and no, I haven’t figure out how to do it for myself yet.

Sunday Selection 2021-01-31

We’re at the end of the first month of 2021, and what a month it has been, at least for those of us in the United States. Personally, I’m mainly in the mode of sitting at home patiently while waiting to be eligible for getting the COVID vaccination, which is almost certainly another couple of months away. Luckily it is currently cold and snowy in my corner of the world, so I’m not particularly incentivized to go outside. While I’m stuck at home, I’m trying to read and write more, so here we are:

Henry Rollins on Defining Success

Even though I’m not very familiar with Rollins’ artistic work, his writing always seem to strike a chord with me. Some years ago, his article on Iron and the Soul encouraged me to make regular exercise, especially weightlifting, a serious part of my life. It was something that I managed to more or less keep up over the years and my life was better for it (until COVID-19 made gyms a bad idea). Similarly, the advice and ideas he presents in this piece are not exactly new, but he phrases them in a way that makes them seem like a breath of fresh air in a world that lately seems rather stale.

And now for something completely different:

Formalizing mathematics: an introduction

This is probably not going to be of much interest if you’re not a mathematician or theoretical computer scientist, but it’s something that’s been bouncing around my head. I’ve been looking into the Lean Theorem Prover, where one can write mathematical proofs in a programming language, so that the computer can check them. Theorem provers are being increasingly used to verify properties of software, but it seems like the pure mathematics is just getting on board with how useful they can be. This article tells us why these theorem provers might be crucial for advancing the state of pure mathematics, in more ways than one.

Brad Wright’s rules for Stargates, Star Wars and Superheroes

If there’s anything I like more than computers and software, it’s science fiction (ok, and food and drink and friends and family, but that’s a matter for another blog post). Brad Wright is a writer and showrunner responsible for the Stargate TV shows and for Travellers, which I think is one of the best high-concept, low-flash science fiction shows of the last decade. In this article, he talks about some of his rules of thumbs for not just good science fiction, but good storytelling, and I think many of my readers will find themselves nodding along.

The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe by Stephen Hawking

I decided to start my book reading this year with one of the slimmest ones on my bookshelf. This is a series of lectures given by Stephen Hawking on how the universe began, how it’s continuing and how it might end. But what’s perhaps more interesting, Hawking goes into depth about how we came to know about all of it through centuries of discovery (and a number of wrong turns on the way). Reading this book reminded me of how much I enjoyed pop science as a teenager. I might have to pick up Hawking’s Brief History of Time after I’m done with this one.

Stacey Abrams on 3 questions to ask yourself about everything you do

If you haven’t been living under a rock you’re probably aware of the Democrats’ win in Georgia, thanks in large part due to the organizing activities of Stacey Abrams. I didn’t know much about her until the elections, besides that she ran for Georgia governor in 2018. In this TED talk from shortly after that election, she talks about events from her life that shaped, and as the title says, 3 questions to ask about everything you do.