sunday, february 14, 2021

days and days into weeks and weeks and months
and months go by with all the variation of
fenceposts outside a car window
on a road through western kansas

and then it's the late winter again
in february, we finally get a stretch
of cold weather

i leave my desk and go out for a walk one day
and see a coyote hunting prairie dogs in the
grass, a bald eagle looking down over the
half-frozen saint vrain

p1k3 / 2021 / 2 / 14
tags: topics/poem

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

reading: the steerswoman (series)

These are by Rosemary Kirstein, and available as e-books on Smashwords:

  • The Steerswoman
  • The Outskirter’s Secret
  • The Lost Steersman
  • The Language of Power

I came across these by way of a blog post by Sumana Harihareswara, I think with my ambient sense that I should read them enhanced by a review by Russ Allbery and a blurb from Jo Walton.

On first inspection, The Steerswoman is a particular and familiar sort of fantasy with one or two mildly interesting conceits. It quickly becomes something deeper than that, and after working through all four in the space of a couple of weeks, I’d rank them with the classics of their genre.

This is an unfinished series, the first of which was published in 1989, with a whole lot of unresolved questions. I normally try not to encourage people to take up this kind of thing; most readers of speculative fiction have been burned by some long-running series or another by now. I’ll make an exception for this one: I eagerly await the concluding volumes, but even if they’re never published, the first four are all worth the time.

p1k3 / 2021 / 1 / 26
tags: topics/books, topics/reading, topics/rosemary-kirstein, topics/sfnal, topics/the-steerswoman

wednesday, january 20, 2021

somewhere a little after 10pm
a mandolin, amplified loud enough for
most of town to hear it
plays a triumphant instrumental.
and then a single firework

p1k3 / 2021 / 1 / 20

Monday, January 4, 2021

keeping a log: 9 months / ~1k entries in

Previously: org mode, vimwiki, timeslice.

Back in March, in the throes of a bunch of rabbitholing about note-taking, I roughed out a system for keeping short, granular log entries in my VimWiki. I agonized for quite a while about how to do this before deciding to start with the stupidest thing that could possibly work.

The short version is that I have a hotkey to create datestamped files in a log/ directory, like these:


A new entry opens with a template like the following:

%date 2021-01-04 21:46:40.056011313-07:00

I then give the entry a human-readable title, links to relevant topics, and as much text description as seems useful. A typical entry looks something like:

%date 2020-12-11 16:49:51.356943342-07:00
%title Configuring digiKam again

[[/configuration]] [[/photos]] [[/digikam]]

Digging around in the guts of an old `digikam4.db`.  Changed the album root to
point to the new path in `~/workspace/photos`.

Then, when I’m viewing a topic page like digikam or photos, I can press another hotkey to pull up a window with any linked log entries. When I’m viewing the diary page for a given day, a bit of shell boilerplate shows me all the log entries for that date.

I’ve elaborated on this all a bit since March, but the underpinnings are still just a few hundred lines of hacky scripting and Vim configuration. Before I put any work into cleaning it up, I thought I’d try to outline some stuff I’ve learned.

I’ll use the time-honored form of “answers to questions no one has actually asked me”:

Why a log? Because in taking notes, I’m worried about two dimensions: Subject matter and time. A single flat wiki namespace can be workable for navigating the who/what/where, but it’s lousy for navigating the when.

I’ve also spent a lot of my life keeping logbooks, looking at logfiles on computers, writing a journal, and publishing a datestamped blog. At Wikimedia, I’ve been particularly impressed by how useful the server admin logs are, and I pretty much live and die by command-line history and bookmarks. It’s a notion with an overwhelming amount of precedent in my life.

What distinguishes a log entry from any other wiki page? Its placement in the log/ namespace and a handful of formatting conventions.

Was this actually a good way to approach the problem? Yeah, I think so, with caveats.

Is the implementation sound? Not by miles, but it holds up better than I expected. Eventually the flat directory structure will get cumbersome in the shell, and grepping through files like I’m doing some places might get less practical.

How are the ergonomics? Not that bad, but there should be as few keystrokes as possible involved in writing a new entry, and this doesn’t quite cut it.

What’s a good fit for this kind of log entry? Finding a new piece of software, writing a letter, taking notes on a meeting, setting up or decommissioning a piece of gear, finishing a book, garden/yard work, house and vehicle maintenance, phone calls, general life events, sysadmin work, etc.

What’s not? The single thing I’ve done the most of that probably makes the least sense in this format is logging individual expenses and financial transactions. This has been useful enough to convince me that tracking what I’m doing with money is a good idea, but clunky enough that I’ve learned stuff like “paid the mortgage” and “bought groceries” should be structured, query-able data. The most that I have to bash out with a keyboard in that context should be an annotation on a specific record or group of records. That’s not to say I’m thrilled at the prospect of keeping a rigorous double-entry ledger that balances out for every transaction in my life, but I can see the appeal in a way I couldn’t really before.

This generalizes I guess: A lot of the history I care about lives in structured, formal-ish systems like version control, banking, various databases — and other parts of it should. Like sometimes I log specific weather events, but usually when I want to know about weather in the past, what I’d really like is a way to quickly aggregate a bunch of data points.

That points at two categories of “log entry”: The loosely-typed human-readable kind that make sense as wiki pages, and the granular, highly-structured and repetitive kind that make more sense in something like a database table. Then there’s a third that doesn’t quite fit in either box. Sometimes I paste a lengthy shell transcript into a log entry, for example, and while that’s more or less fine, it points at a gap in the tools I use. It would be way nicer just to push a button when I’m doing something in the terminal that it’s important to remember exactly, and then it can record until I tell it to stop and let me add some tags and a summary to the session.

So what next? Well, I’ve arrived at something I’m going to keep using. I’d miss it if I quit, and it’s easy to accumulate a useful record this way. I might clean up the mess a bit and package its components as a VimWiki addon. After that, I’m going to spackle more stupidest-things-that-could-possibly-work on top to augment it, and think about more ways to surface and integrate other parts of the meta-log that are scattered all over the systems I use.

p1k3 / 2021 / 1 / 4
tags: topics/data, topics/logging, topics/notes, topics/technical, topics/vimwiki

Saturday, January 2, 2021

reading in 2020 (books edition)

As I look over the set of books I’ve piled up in my house, the other thing that strikes me is that, in the years these books have been accumulating, both the relationship of books to the culture and the nature of reading itself have been rearranged. Like I wrote three years ago:

Because really what I read in 2017, in most of the last several years, was the internet. Not even, in any real sense that registers, individual documents hosted on the network, or the work of authors I can clearly identify. Just the endless scroll.

…it’s like that but more so, now.

The last book I read in 2020 was Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future, which has this bit (chapter 30):

So how you feel about your time is partly or even largely a result of that time’s structure of feeling. When time passes and that structure changes, how you feel will also change— both in your body and in how you understand it as a meaning. Say the order of your time feels unjust and unsustainable and yet massively entrenched, but also falling apart before your eyes. The obvious contradictions in this list might yet still describe the feeling of your time quite accurately, if we are not mistaken. Or put it this way; it feels that way to us. But a little contemplation of history will reveal that this feeling too will not last for long. Unless of course the feeling of things falling apart is itself massively entrenched, to the point of being the eternal or eternally recurrent individual human’s reaction to history. Which may just mean the reinscription of the biological onto the historical, for we are all definitely always falling apart, and not massively entrenched in anything at all.

The moment’s structure of feeling has changed, and you can tell it in just about every text you encounter. It’s also pretty hard to stop encountering texts even if you want to. The stuff is inescapable and much of it has a quality of self-replicating churn that makes me feel kind of queasy about the entire enterprise of human thought.

I wonder if it felt something like this when literacy really took off as a technology in the first place.

Anyhow, what booklike objects did I read this past year?

February: I ordered a copy of Sönke Ahrens' How to Take Smart Notes. Note-taking was on my mind a lot over the course of the year, and I spent too much time reading other people’s ideas about it. By July I managed to post some notes on the idea of the Zettelkasten that serves as a partial review / summary of Smart Notes and related things.

May: I binged my way through Martha Wells' Murderbot Diaries. Popcorn SF, socially anxious heart-of-gold protagonist. I started The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change, by Chris Clayton, which I should probably revisit.

October: Meghan O'Gieblyn’s Interior States (essays), Vanessa Veselka’s The Great Offshore Grounds (a novel), Ron Chernow’s Grant (biography). The first two were quite good and I still haven’t finished the Grant biography.

November: Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, first of a trilogy. The first two of a trilogy by Eden Robinson: Son of a Trickster and Trickster Drift. All recommended.

December: Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse. I liked some characters and scenes and ideas in this, and didn’t exactly love it as a novel. Mileage might vary.

And then The Ministry for the Future. Near future SF, barely a novel at all for a lot of its length. A book that seems more deliberately pitched to be read right now than a lot of short-shelf-life fiction is just by accident. Among other things, it’s partly an argument that the end of ecocidal capitalism is achievable, partly a claim that eco-terrorist violence is likely (and quite possibly necessary) as the climate struggle intensifies, and partly a fantasy that cryptocurrency might have some kind of pro-social role to play in engineering a survivable economy. I will be thinking about this one for a while.

p1k3 / 2021 / 1 / 2
tags: topics/books, topics/climate, topics/murderbot, topics/reading, topics/sfnal


Review: Solutions and Other Problems

mRNA Vaccine


Last week was quite cold across much of the U.S., but was it extreme? — Yes.

How NASA Designed a Helicopter That Could Fly Autonomously on Mars - IEEE Spectrum — As I said elsewhere, the fact that there are SparkFun parts on this thing serves to reinforce my conviction that it's a goddamn miracle that anything ever works.

Local man takes first-hand pride in space program - The Columbian

Why COVID-19 Cases Are Falling So Fast - The Atlantic — <blockquote>That’s a lot of messy arithmetic. But the upshot is simple: Even if the rise of new variants slows the decline in cases, it is unlikely to lead to a sharp rise in mortality and hospitalizations. Although the pandemic isn’t over, we have perhaps reached the beginning of the end of COVID-19 as an exponential, existential, and mortal threat to our health-care system and our senior population.</blockquote>

GitHub - makeworld-the-better-one/amfora: A fancy terminal browser for the Gemini protocol.

Building Rich terminal dashboards

What is - Google Help — Google services use subdomains. Clever.

saoto28/pineapple60: first ergonomic keyboard with Trackpoint

MIDICSV: Convert MIDI File to and from CSV

Suricrasia: Basilisk collection - Wikipedia

Silicon Valley’s Safe Space - The New York Times

Slate Star Clusterfuck - My New Band Is — This is actually a pretty balanced read on this whole thing, I think, though I also sort of feel like the NYT _was_ pretty bad - and I say that as someone who only occasionally read SSC, can't stand many of its commenters, and doesn't really have a whole lot of interest in the rationalist scene.

European touring made Radiohead what we are. Brexit must not destroy it | Colin Greenwood | Music | The Guardian

Why “Trusting the Science” Is Complicated - Los Angeles Review of Books — «It is not quite sufficient, in answering this question, to point to a near-consensus on the part of the scientific community, thus in effect arguing that science is what the vast majority of scientists say it is. If this is largely how the argument does indeed function in the cases of debates about the safety of vaccines or the causes of global warming, we should nonetheless be aware of its flaws. Scientific revolutions, after all, involve rejections of scientific orthodoxy by a committed minority. If many anti-vaxxers or climate-change denialists appear more like Venkman than Galileo, it is nonetheless Galileo’s mantle that they seek. We’re back to Popper’s problem: is there an in-principle way of distinguishing a revolutionary from a dedicated flim-flam artist that doesn’t assume the correctness of either position in advance?»

Normal situations should not be warnings (especially not repeated ones)

Getting high IOPS requires concurrency on modern SSDs and NVMe drives

Project Orion

Kiwi Hellenist: Easter and paganism. Part 1