Sunday Selection 2020-02-23

It’s a relatively warm and sunny winter weekend here in Boston. Personally, I don’t mind the cold and snow, but I do hate it when it’s cloudy and dreary for weeks at a time, so I’m happy that it’s been a fairly bright and sunny winter this year. With that in mind, here are some hopefully uplifting things to read:

An app can be a home-cooked meal

Lately I’ve been increasingly unhappy by the fact that we have so little control over our own software. At the same time, it’s easy to forget that we can actually build our own tools and applications. While I’ve often thought of the relationship between cooking and programming before (see: name of this site), this post is an extended metaphor (with an existence proof) that I hadn’t thought of before.

The Slippery Slope of Mechanical Keyboards

So mechanical keyboards is now an acceptable crossover for a pen blog, eh?

Over the past couple years the two “hobbies” I’ve picked up are fountain pens and mechanical keyboards, and perhaps unsurprisingly there is a decent amount of crossover between the two. Personally I see it as a matter of tools: I like writing, and programming, and spend most of my day doing one or the other. And I want to have tools which at the least don’t get in my way, and at best make the experience pleasant and enjoyable.

Smaht Pahk

And finally, I know everyone is going ga-ga over The Witcher, or The Mandalorian, or Picard, but this is probably the best thing I’ve seen on TV for a while. (The best thing I’ve seen in theaters is Birds of Prey, but that’s a matter for another post).

I run a small fashion shop, Figura, where I design, sew and sell women’s clothes. It’s my way of balancing the concept design with a more hands-on kind of job. My favorite part is definitely the patterning. I do it on paper in a very old-school way. Patterning seems to be one of the most “stable” technologies ever – I can literally sew a dress by 19th century’s pattern and it will work just fine, while my partner complains about JavaScript framework changes weekly.

I was reading the Uses This interview of Elena Zaharova when I came across this paragraph. It reminded of a pet project I would like to do one day (but probably will never get around to): designing and building a networked computer system to run and be usable (which includes being programmable) for 100 years, with minimal maintenance.

Sunday Selection 2012-04-28

Around the Web

Minecraft, Scrolls, 0x10c: The past, present and future of Mojang as seen through Notch’s eyes. I’m not much of a gamer, but I do like making cool stuff and I love reading about people who are making amazing, beautiful things. Notch is the creator of Minecraft and the anticipated 0x10c and this interview is full of interesting tidbits.

The Terrifying Reality of Long-term Employment As a recent college graduate who has chosen the temporary sanctuary of the ivory tower, the job market is something I can afford to avoid, but it’s still something at the back of my mind. The state of the current market makes me wonder if we need to rethink jobs and value structures in an age where long-term stability is increasingly rare.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On. I usually don’t write about current events, partially because I’m never quite sure what to say, and partially because I’d rather not add to the noise if I don’t have something useful to say. That being said, I’m all too happy to point in the direction of people who I think are actually making level-headed and rational comments about the current state of affairs. Bruce Schneier is certainly one of those people and I can’t help but wonder how different the world would be if people like him were in charge of our security.

Software

Capsule: The Developer’s Code Journal. I find that keeping a record of things I’ve done through the day is very useful. It’s a good estimator of where my time went through the day, and an empty log is a sign that things didn’t go quite right.  I normally have a text file on my phone that I just dump everything into. Capsule looks like an interesting solution for programmers (both teams and individuals) to keep a quick and dirty log of what they’ve been up to. I’m probably going to put it on my Linode for a week and give it a try.

Tsuyoku Naritai

Happy New Year, dear readers (albeit somewhat belatedly). I’ve been spending most of the last month traveling and spending time with family and friends. And now I’m going to tackle the matter that is on everyone’s mind at this time of the year: New Year’s Resolutions! Aren’t you all excited?

I’ve never been a fan of making a long list of resolutions on January 1. There’s an arbitrariness to it that I’ve never found appealing. I understand the need for a New Year’s Day for practical purposes, but it is really just another day. It doesn’t even commemorate someone’s birthday or a memorable event. Furthermore, grand announcements of how we’re going to change our lives have always seemed unnatural. Most of the changes in my life (and I’ve changed a lot over the last few years) have been sequences of events, opportunities and small decisions building up over time, not sudden all-changing promises.

All that being said, I am a fan of the general notion of self-improvement. A few months ago I came across the Japanese phrase “Tsuyoku Naritai” which translates to “I want to become stronger”. The original article by Eliezer Yudkowsky is worth reading and I won’t bother repeating it here. It focuses on the idea of improvement (getting stronger) as opposed to the idea of simply apologizing for weakness (and not doing anything about it). But the concept of Tsuyoku Naritai presents an interesting contrast to the idea of New Year’s resolutions.

I have always felt that resolutions were mostly external motivations: they embodied things that we thought we should change, that we were constantly being told we should change. By contrast I feel Tsuyoku Naritai is more intrinsic. It’s not “I should” or “I will”, it is “I want”. It acknowledges that we may not have strength now, but it declares that we want to gain it.

“Tsuyoku Naritai” is more general than most resolutions. While I’m all for specificity of goals, the start of the year might be the wrong time for them. Making serious changes takes a lot of willpower – something that we have a finite supply of. Deciding to change our diet, our exercise routine, our work schedule and how we spend free time all at the same time is a fool’s errand. The need for willpower can be mitigated by making use of habit – putting things on autopilot. But setting a new habit takes about a month and in that time we’re burning precious willpower reserves. We may be able to completely change all the spheres of our life over a year, but we certainly can’t do it all at the same time. Instead of making lots of specific promises at the start of the year, maybe it’s better to pick an over-arching theme. We can pick a goal a month that to devote our willpower to and set into a habit.

This year I don’t have a set of resolutions. I do have a list of things I want to accomplish over the course of the year, but I’m taking them one at a time. But in addition to those specifics I have a more general theme of wanting to be stronger – physically, intellectually, maybe even mentally/emotionally (though I’m not entirely sure what that would entail). Tsuyoku Naritai is my theme for 2013 and something I hope to revisit as the year progresses.

I hope you all have a happy and productive new year. Live long and prosper. Become stronger.

Sunday Selection 2012-10-14

The past week has not been one of the most productive I’ve had, for a number of different reasons and some of them my fault. Partially in response to that today’s Selection has a time management and productivity focus, but hopefully one that’s different from staple fare in the area.

Around the Web

How to Create Time

The notion of creating time can be misleading: you can’t really get more than 24 hours in a day and youare biologically required to devote some part of those hours to rest and repair (probably). However you can make more time available to do the things that matter and this article gives some guidance on that.

Confessions of a Recovering Lifehacker

Talking about things that matter, the question it’s often surprisingly difficult to identify the things that do matter and then stick to them. Especially if you’re someone who’s a natural tinkerer there’s a tendency to invest a lot of time and energy into things that are actually pseudowork. I think this article than it strictly needs to be, but the four point recovery checklist at the end is worth remembering

Overworked, Overwhelmed, Overscheduled? Work More

Another controversial piece and probably not the best wording either. That being said, the point being made is worth paying attention: sometimes the best opportunities and most satisfaction comes from things that aren’t technically your day job. Even if you love what you do for a living, investing some time and energy into other areas might have interesting payoffs.

From the Bookshelf

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

First a disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book for free to review. But I can safely say that I would have been glad to pay for it. It’s not strictly about productivity but it attacks the higher level question of: What should I do with my life. The basic thesis is that instead of following some ill-defined notion of “passion” we should develop rare and valuable skills that allow us a choice of jobs and lifestyle. You can read my full review and buy the book on Amazon.