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    Coolidge Reservation

    [Oct 6, 2020]

    The kiddo and I set out for a hike yesterday. We planned on going to Ravenswood Park, but when we got there the parking lot was full. A sign outside said “if the lot is full, come back some other time”. On the way we had passed another parking lot in the woods with a sign that I didn’t get a chance to read as we drove by, but I figured, “it’s a trail, it’ll get us in the woods either way”.

    So we drove down the road and pulled in. The parking lot sign read Coolidge Reservation. We found a trailhead and walked in, but picked the one that didn’t have a map, so I looked one up on my phone. Seemed like the trails were short and the other end was a big field by the ocean. Ended up being just the right amount of hiking for a 5 year old, about 2 miles with a little hill that looked out over the ocean, a huge field to run through, and nice rocky Atlantic Ocean cliffs.

    Bungalow Hill, towering a whole 110 feet over the ocean below

    this slightly angry face was brought about by me insisting she could not climb down the rocks to get closer to the water


    Book Notes

    [Sep 30, 2020]

    Updating some book entries with interesting quotes from them. Probably my favorite this year:

    Traveling across America, they were astonished at how deeply violence is embedded in our culture, how it has become the culture, what’s left of local color. We are a grisly nation.

    My favorite book so far this year has been How to Do Nothing. I captured some things from there, but I recommend reading the whole thing, if you can.

    My Year of Meats How to Do Nothing Smarter Faster Better Big Magic The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

    Permalink 3.0

    [Sep 29, 2020]

    It's 2020 and I'm stuck in my house watching Democracy fall apart, why not rebuild my website again, and why not go full on "old man yells at clouds" while I'm at it.

    If you've been here before you'll notice that the layout has changed, but behind the scenes so has the entire stack the builds the site. This site was originally:

    • Gatsby 1.something
    • Contentful CMS hosting the content.

    I wanted my writing saved locally and wanted it searchable, so I replaced Contentful with Netlify CMS. Netlify CMS was... underwhelming. It was an interface that made sorting/creating Markdown easier, but I wasn't excited to use it. Adding to that:

    • graphql, for a personal site, is dumb. I apologize if I ever told anyone it was a good idea. I am filled with deep regret. Is it great for stitching together various APIs? Yes! Do I want to deal with it to make CMS content show up? No never.
    • Gatsby decided to go for VC funding and turn from questionable to terrible. Look at the rest of the JavaScript stack it's 98% React based (yay, Facebook, great).

    That's me being grumpy about things, which, in 2020, I think I'm allowed to do. Wanting a change, the 3.0 version of this site is:

    I started as a developer hacking on PHP sites, so maybe this isn't a huge change. Statamic 3 released very recently and part of the release notes was this:

    Which got me thinking. I'd used Statamic in the past and was familiar with how it stored content, it's all flat-file Markdown files, so that covered what I was trying to do with Netlify CMS before.

    The outstanding question was, how hard would it be to move over what I had, and would I prefer the Statamic site. Given that you're reading this... on the Statamic site, you can figure out how that ended up.


    • I wrote approximately 3 lines of JavaScript and two lines of PHP to build this site. 98% of the code is antlers templates (HTML and CSS).
    • The way statamic handles variable scope is beautiful. I recently did hair-tearing work on a .NET app trying to pass values to the layout.
    • I switched the whole (admittedly small) site in ~three days. Maybe four. Who can really keep track of days.
    • I've been using headless / roll your own CMSs for so long that I forgot that ones that are focused around content come out of the box with a lot of the features you need. I went to make a Date field to set to the post date, but while I was setting that up I noticed this in the collection configuration panel:
    • The "push button, make website" experience was slightly worse than a JavaScript project, but way better than the last time I used PHP. Adding to the project (like setting up the SSG) was easier than anything I've done recently on the JavaScript side. There were some odd errors, like:

    I never figured that one out. Laravel Valet was another prickly point, it installed but missed at least one service, which required reading through Stack Overflow for a while.

    • The content field/layout/creation experience:

    And that gif shows up in the Preview tab in the Markdown editor!

    In summary, I'm pretty happy with it.


    It's Not The Internet It's You

    [Sep 11, 2020]

    I read It's Not The Internet It's You this morning (in a chain of RSS reader → here → there). It touches on a lot of points I’ve been thinking about around Twitter and other social media, but it felt particularly relevant today, the 19th anniversary of 9/11. I’ve often thought about what that day would have been like it Twitter/Facebook had been around then.

    I have one point of comparison, I learned about the Boston Marathon Bombing on Twitter. My wife was working in Boston at the time (although outside the city that day), so it obviously had immediate relevance. I checked Twitter nearly constantly in the days that followed, as though there was secret information there that the local news didn’t have. It certainly pretended it did, there was the whole Reddit junior detective squad shitshow, and a bunch of Internet sleuths playing CSI-Boston with the video/photos that they could get their hands on. There was at least one day between the bombing and the shootout with the Tsarnaevs where my wife went into the office, and the official line from places in Boston was “we are investigating it, and we are keeping an eye out”, while Twitter/Reddit was convinced it was a trap to lure more people back into the city for a second attack. Very healthy for the brain.

    The pattern repeats itself over the years. Something happens (2016 election, this Coronavirus thing you may have heard of) and you go looking for an explanation for “why”.

    Manipulation by platform developers only goes so far towards hacking your brain. What I quickly realised was that I had a choice to do these things or not, it was internally that I was so susceptible to the triggers used.

    But there is no answer. The Internet is the checkout line at the grocery store, at best there's a poorly written recipe book, at worst it's the National Enquirer and its ilk. There isn‘t a call to action here, but there is an acceptance that 2020 might get worse before it gets better, and no, no one on the Internet has any idea what to do about that.


    New Art for the Office

    [Sep 2, 2020]

    I feel like, between the two of them, they sum up my feelings these days quite well. From False Knees


    A Picture of Change for a World of Constant Motion

    [Aug 27, 2020]

    I’m always jealous of the developers who get to build the interactive / scrolling features for the New York Times. I read A Picture of Change for a World in Constant Motion this morning while drinking coffee. I found it calming. I learned that Mount Fuji appears in The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a picture I’ve seen a million times.

    While I was reading it my daughter was bouncing around the back porch taking pictures on her Nintendo 2DS. She figured out yesterday that it had a camera, and today she’s explaning to me that you can take pictures, “with A, or L, or R!” and showing me how to go back and look at all the pictures you’ve taken. It’s fun to give a kid a camera, because you realize how they look at things. It’s doorknobs, the cats, every place her name appears in the house, close ups of textures and fabrics, a paparazzi style shot of the FedEx guy dropping off a package. Everything is close and immediate. We were at the park the other day, and there was a bird sitting on a rock off in the river, and I spent minutes getting her to see it. She was looking, but kept getting distracted by things closer to her, other birds, flowers, the shoreline. Eventually she saw the bird, and then it became “let’s go see the bird”, let’s get as close to it as we can. We got closer, but the bird flew away. We started looking at the seashells by her feet instead.


    The 20 year history of a Partscaster

    [Aug 5, 2020]

    The 90s

    Back in the mid-90s, after finishing middle school, my parents agreed to get me a guitar. I’d been in band, but I was playing the flute and I didn’t enjoy it. They probably didn’t consider, at the time, that I would try to teach myself by playing “Iron Man” through an 8’’ Fender solid-state amplifier.

    The guitar I ended up getting was a black Fender Stratocaster, Squire series. It’s an interesting product of globalization, there's a detailed history here, the TL;DR version being: while Squier was known as the cheap version of Fender in the 80s (and it is again, today), the Fender Squire series was American made parts, assembled in Mexico, with Asian electronics.

    The 2000s

    It was a good guitar for my bad guitar playing, but after a few years I got a nicer Fender Lonestar Stratocaster and the Squire series sat in its case most of the time. I spent a lot of afternoons in Guitar Center back then, and I saw a Tom DeLonge Stratocaster, a one humbucker and a volume knob guitar, and thought the Squire would be a great base to recreate that with.

    A Tom DeLonge Strat. I think I liked the colors and the CBS style headstock more than anything else

    I picked a Seymour Duncan JB for the pickup, got a single humbucker pickguard and wired it up. It worked fine, but the JB is known for having a lot of high end tones, and at the time I didn’t have a great setup to make the sound pleasant, so I thought I should wire the volume knob to a push/pull volume/tone knob so I had the option to roll the tone back and have a little less high end. Some combination of either bad pots, or bad soldering skills left with with a JB humbucker with about 2’’ of wire coming out of it, and a guitar that didn’t work.

    The 2010s

    I put the project aside — for about 15 years. Time passes, and one day the guitar comes back with me after a trip to my parents. It sat, in pieces, for a few more years.

    The 2020s

    I’ve been trying to either fix or get rid of things in our house, and I decided to do something with it. Fortunately for me and my soldering iron, solderless solutions have become abundant since I last tried this. Mad Hatter Guitar Products sells a few, more oriented towards mix and match solutions or guitars without pick guards. I ended up getting one from Obsidian Wire, who sells all in one solutions wired up with a lot of common wiring mods, e.g. their humbucker, single, single model runs the humbucker through a 500k pot, where most Strats that were single / single / single before had 250k controls. Trust me, this means as much (or little) to you as it means to me.

    In redoing the look of the guitar, I harnessed my inner 15 year old and drew inspiration from the car we recently bought. It’s a black Volkswagen GTI with the usual red GTI accents, so I thought, sure, black guitar, black pickups, red trim black pickguard. A quick search found the Fender Noir Stratocaster to prove that this wasn’t the worst looking thing I could make.

    Fender Noir Strat. Granted, it has a matte black finish…

    Warmoth sells the three-ply black/red/black pickguards. I got one with some black control knobs and wired it up with the existing neck and middle single coil. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 20+ year old bottom of the budget-bin pickups don’t sound great. They sound better than I expected, in as much as one can expect from wire around magnets, but I figured at this point I was all in on this project, so I picked up two DiMarzio Area 67 pickups for the neck and middle spots.

    When you’re bad at soldering you end up in a lot of questionable situations

    So now it’s all bolted together, and it looks like this:

    It plays and sounds pretty good. At some point in the past I had screwed the bridge down and put five springs on it, so it’s nearly a hardtail. It could probably use some nicer tuners and a black input jack to match the Noir, but the pickguard and the parts bolted to it cost about three times what the guitar cost, so I think it can wait another 20 years or so.

    But what does it sound like

    Another thing I'm trying to get better at is recording my guitar. I finally have a decent input device and I know what at least three of the buttons in Garageband do. These are all prime examples of the internal tempo of someone who has played alone most of their lives.

    Original neck pickup.

    Area 67, the new neck pick up. Wee bit clearer.

    Area 67, neck and mid.



    [Jul 15, 2020]

    I’ve been slowly “smartening” our current home. It started with some Ecobee 3 thermostats (the ones not yet haunted by Alexa), then a HomePod, and more recently some Hue bulbs. I bought the bulbs for our master bathroom thinking it would be nice to have lights that adapted to the time of day; very bright during daylight hours and dim and warm when the sun has set. What I didn’t realize is that the bulbs have a boot up time, so if you turn them off with a conventional switch, when you turn them on they won’t immediately set themselves to whatever time-based settings you have them on. I moved them all to the office, where I can now turn on the overhead light and desk light at the same time. It’s… an ok trick.

    There’s two things I don’t love about these smart devices, beyond the fact that you’re best off with wifi connected buttons to operate them:

    1. The interfaces of the native apps and the interface of Apple Home have a lot of overlap, but also a lot of inconsistencies.
    2. I don’t want to carry my phone around my home - I have an Apple Watch, I want it to control everything.

    The best solution I’ve found so far is the HomeRun app. You can assign it HomeKit scenes with custom icons, and run them off of the watch. They usually work, and it’s better organized than the Watch’s Home app that shows a grab bag of scenes at the top followed by every little device you own. At the very least I can now walk into the office at night, without my phone, and turn the lights on.


    Note ↔ Note, thinking outside the folder

    [Jul 10, 2020]

    I’ve used a bunch of note taking apps over the years (Evernote, OneNote, Apple Notes, Goodnotes, Notion, Bear) and I’ve almost always used them similarly to how you’d use a file system: folders for organization, notes as files. I’m always a little curious about new note apps and how they organize things. I was using Notion for a while, and got along well with using it’s concept of relational databases to make connections between notes. If you create notes in a database in Notion, you can make it look like Google Keep, you can make it correlate notes to a calendar (ala Agenda, another app I’ve tried, if only for a few minutes), or you can organize them in columns Trello style and use your notes as todos. It’s all the same set of notes, just with different views of the database. There’s a somewhat clunky way to associate one note with another, or one tag with another, and only if you’re using a database of notes (i.e, not just a “page” style note), but once you have that you can organize your notes in almost any fashion you can think of. A relational database + a nice UI is really just a primitive app building platform in the tradition of Access on top of Excel.

    The main issue I had with Notion is that it’s slow — it’s really a wrapper around a web app, even in native form. On top of that, it doesn’t play nicely with built-in MacOS features. One small example, if you copy a link to a Things project into Notion, clicking on the link… does nothing. It doesn’t know what to do with callback urls.

    So I’ve drifted from a combination of Notion and Bear, where Notion was project level and Bear was for quick capture, to Bear and Things, where Bear is project level and Things is quick capture. Everything is faster and it works across all my computers, my iPad, phone, and watch.

    Bear uses tags as organization, which means you can refer to a note in multiple directions. It doesn’t live in a given folder, it lives where ever it is relevant. That said, the tags end up being used mostly as folders, it’s just you might have the same file in multiple folders.

    An interesting idea I’ve seen floating around the web is associating all notes with links between notes, and using backlinks and graph views to understand where notes connect. Bear has supported “live links” or wiki style links for a bit now, you can have Note A and reference it in Note B with [[Note A]]. If you rename A, the link updates, and you never have to think about where Note A is. If you want to find all of the references to Note A, you can search for [[Note A]], and you can use Bear’s x-callback-url API to save that search at the top of Note A, so you can click on the link and find all of the notes referencing that note.

    Some newer apps like Roam Research and Obsidian[^1] make backlinks the main focus. You might start the day with a log, and then just tag other notes as you record what you’ve done, like:

    - Did [[HIIT workout A]] for 30 minutes
    - Met [[Cool McPerson]] for lunch at [[Local Establishment]]
    - Read article about [[Rust]] at [article](link)

    then in the note HIIT workout A you can see all of the times you logged that note. Graph view is just these associations, but rather than buried in text, in a nice visual format. Bear can’t do this, but it’s not exactly magic to make a chart of associations, and Bear has the API to support it. There’s a python script that will generate a Graphviz view of your notes for you on Github. It includes a handy —anonymize option so I can even show you what my Bear notes look like, graphically:

    Is it useful? I dunno. I’ve recently started daily logging with backlinks in my notes at work, and it’s proving helpful being able to click into longer running projects and see all of the times I associated it with a Jira issue, a person, a meeting, etc. The idea is that you can, with pretty low effort, record every thought in your head as it comes, then look at the graph and see what the core areas you’re thinking about are, and what areas can probably be pruned.

    [^1]. Obsidian is interesting to me, and I’ve started using it at work instead of Bear. It’s a little clunky at the moment (it’s in a beta) and it’s clearly an Electron app, but it works off plain text files on a local file system, which is surprisingly hard to find. Ia Writer works that way, but doesn’t support backlinks.


    TIL: graphvis

    [Jun 15, 2020]

    I worked for a number of years as a low-budget technical writer, producing documentation and technical diagrams at a few different companies. I say low-budget because these were manufacturing companies, not software companies, and the documentation was more “we need to keep this on file” than “we need this to function”. My go to tool for diagrams was Visio, and by the end of my stint as a technical writer I could do 3D diagrams in it that would put Autocad to shame, but lining up boxes for 2D diagrams was always a chore.

    Fast forward many years, today I needed to draw a diagram for a new architecture, and I was going to default to pen and paper (or, iPad and Pencil) as I usually do, but I vaguely recalled there being an app out there that did sketchy-style diagrams. Some googling found it, but it didn't have a drag and drop GUI, it uses graphvis, which it turns out is the best thing ever. Why spend minutes moving arrows around when you can just a -> b it!

    Hosted on Sketchviz