Snow in May   

After a very dry winter, we’ve had cold weather and repeated rounds of snow and rain this month, enough that this May looks to go on record as the 10th wettest in Flagstaff weather history. I complain a little, because I want to ride my bike and sit on the porch, but we do need the moisture. It makes for a spectacular scene, too. Also, I love the view from my twelve-minute commute. (This is when I don’t ride my bike to work.)

#

      ~

      Wunderlist API + Alfred = Cool   

      Wunderlist is a super application and my wife and I use it for almost everything list-like. But I don’t love adding items to lists using the web app’s interface: I want something non-clicky that I can capture items to from anywhere. So I was quite happy to find that they offer a developer API!

      Getting a developer account and openauth key for your own sample application is easy, and with a little tinkering I put together a pair of Alfred workflows for adding items to my inbox and grocery lists.

      Add to Wunderlist in Alfred - screenshot

      I’d like to improve on the workflow so that it can call an external config file or shell variable instead of having the auth key hardcoded in the workflow as it is now; that will let me share the thing as a package, too. Meanwhile, if you want to try this out, you’ll need your own developer account and sample application with authorization key from Wunderlist. Then you can make an Alfred workflow that runs the following in bash (insert your own CLIENTKEY, ACCESSTOKEN, and LISTID):

      curl -s -H 'Content-Type: application/json' -H 'X-Client-ID: CLIENTKEY' -H 'X-Access-Token: ACCESSTOKEN' -d '{"title":"{query}","list_id":LISTID}' -X POST 'https://a.wunderlist.com/api/v1/tasks'

      Pretty sweet.

      #

          ~

          Jess Zimmerman stole a pen from Douglas Adams’ grave   

          She writes about Adams on the 14th anniversary of his death:

          I was honest about one thing, at least: I don’t use that pen for anything besides fiction. I’m not the type of person who collects memorabilia: I lent my signed Mostly Harmless to a friend in high school and never got it back and never really minded. My copies of most of his books are in shambles, read to shreds. But I’m precious about that pen. It won’t be used to write a shopping list while I’m alive. The artifacts of reading are comfortable, disposable; the artifacts of writing are amulets and alchemist’s tools.

          #

              ~

              Being a Man in Tech

              May 9, 2015

              Or, trying to be a better man in tech

              Notes prompted in part by the scale of inequality offline and abuse online, most specifically against women in technology. I have no illusion that my writing at this personal site has impact, influence, but it’s important to me to write some of this down and toss a small rock in an already-swirling rapid.

              Better voices

              In addition to the links noted above, here are a few starting points for more, from people who are better at this than I, and a couple of recent points of research and culture war intersections that are illustrative of what’s going on.

                ~

                Keeping the Web   

                I really like the thinking that Joel Dueck is spinning up around privacy and facilitating payments to make building stuff online economically viable without ads. He proposes some legal and architectural tools, but notes that:

                Focusing on the nuts and bolts of the web itself, looking for technical solutions, is not going to be enough to counteract these broader trends. And as I’ve said before, simply appealing to people to change their personal habits of internet usage is insufficient and ineffective. What is needed is a principled re-adjustment of the entire playing field — a political solution to a political problem.

                Elsewhere, he remarks that if the economics of blogging do collapse2, he will “feel as though we lost something valuable — a truly democratic chance for people to sustain their lives through the pursuit of literacy and self-expression.” I thought about this same thing this morning, and I contemplated the worth of continuing to write and post here. The “community”, such as it was, of bloggers and readers, is much changed from when I started posting to my old home blog, way back in the pre-social media days. But here I am, all the same, tapping away. For those of us who were into this before services ate everything, it’s kind of a hard habit to break.

                #

                    ~

                    Three Moves Ahead on 4X Games   

                    I really like this episode of Three Moves Ahead on the 4X Genre. I haven’t played a ton of 4X games myself (my most recent experience being a whole bunch of Endless Legend a few months ago), so I’m only passingly familiar with most of the games they chat about (even Civ! I know, I know!), but this is still a really accessible conversation that touches on a lot of interesting elements of these games: Balance between the different phases of the game, the rare expertise required to build 4X mechanics, and the difficulty of innovating in storytelling within these games. They also talk about the often uncomfortable assumptions made in most 4X games, of an unspoiled world ready for exploitation and civilizing in the service of a conqueror (reflecting on the problematic “explore, exploit, expand, exterminate” label, too), and imagine a game in this style that could really explore things like postcolonial conflict.

                    It’s a fun and wide-ranging discussion and I’m looking forward to listening to more from Three Moves Ahead and Idle Thumbs.

                    #

                        ~

                        Browser Tab Roundup

                        April 13, 2015

                        The One-Minute Test

                        Via Jeremy Keith, a method of wrapping up a meeting by asking for concrete reactions in just a minute:

                        1. What was the big idea? (What was the most important thing you heard at the meeting?)
                        2. What was your big surprise? (What was the thing you saw or heard that surprised you the most?)
                        3. What’s your big question? (What’s the biggest unanswered question you have at this time?)

                        I’ve been in meetings that ended in a similar way and found it to be a really positive way to conclude. One spin on that final question that I have liked is to ask “who will you share this question with” or “where do you go next with this idea” — It’s very satisfying to generate a specific kind of next step that’s social and/or active, and it encourages a much more engaged conclusion that might not otherwise come out of some meetings.

                        The Spark File

                        Steven Johnson on keeping a bin of ideas, “hunches” and snippets of writing:

                        But this kind of inventory doesn’t quite convey the most interesting part of the experience, which is the feeling of reading through your own words describing new ideas as they are occurring to you for the first time. In a funny way, it feels a bit like you are brainstorming with past versions of yourself. You see your past self groping for an idea that now seems completely obvious five years later.

                        I get the same experience from occasionally going back to the scattered output of my years of blogging and notes-file-keeping: at various times using web sites, planner-mode, org-mode, Moleskines, Field Notes, and now here. What Steven has probably done more smartly is keep most of that in one place. In that time I’ve been a number of things, or at least two, having moved out of academics into the work I’m doing now.

                        Learning Vim in 2014

                        God help me, I’m learning another text editor. I’m not sure why; seemed like it could be interesting or engaging, which it is. I think it all started when vim was the available default over at tilde.club when I was heavily involved there. Maybe it’s a way to make up for having ditched emacs at work for now?

                        Ben McCormick’s excellent series is an introduction to the nuts and bolts as well as the philosophy – see his Vim as Art in particular on that score. I’m exploring the whole thing repeatedly as I make my way. I idly trolled on Twitter how learning Vim was like turning your text editor into an RTS. Now I think I really like that idea and the way it makes me think systematically about what I want to do with my editor. It’s cool.

                          ~

                          Tuning up my Backups

                          April 5, 2015

                          Some instability with my web host the past week or so prompted me to think about the state of the backups of my online spaces. I spent some time today getting backup scripts working on the host, and found that, based on the file dates, the last time I worked on this was about a year ago. Yay, me. After troubleshooting them for a little while I now have some functional backup scripts to tar up my web directories and my databases. Then I set about burning most of the morning getting my Synology to grab the backup from the host.3

                          Because I’ll forget and no doubt have to do this again, I took a few notes:

                          With passwordless login to the Synology, and from the Synology to my host and backup server working, finally, I could test executing my backup scripts from the shell on the Synology. Lo and behold, it works! In the “Scheduled Tasks” section of the Synology control panel, I set up these scripts to execute the remote backup and periodically download the resulting files:

                          Runs twice weekly:

                          /usr/bin/ssh kaizen 'cd ~/backup-scripts; ./backup-mysql-databases; ./backup-files'
                          

                          Runs weekly:

                          /usr/syno/bin/rsync -av --progress strongspace:arlington-backup/ /volume1/Archive/backup/kaizengarden
                          

                          Why not run these daily? Because these sites don’t actually change all that much. Downloading the full backup weekly is plenty, if not outright overkill, since the most frequently-changed part of the site is all markdown files stored in dropbox and synced when I re-publish. Why not schedule the backup to run via cron on my host? Because this works, and I was already in the Synology shell experimenting, so it was easy to not have to log in to the web server. (And last time I worked on the backup scripts at the host, I remember some kind of problem with running them via cron; some kind path or environment thing interacting with tar, I think. So this got around that, too.)

                          I did the same for my stuff over at tilde.club, too. This didn’t require any backup script, since I just have a single directory there; I just rsync the whole relatively small thing into a backup folder on the synology here.

                            ~

                            Newsletter Serendipity   

                            It’s a nice bit of serendipity that I caught up with this piece on newsletters and the new market for specialized writing by Glenn Fleishman on the same day that stellar issues of two favorite subscription newsletters arrived in my inbox: 6 49: Focus Past Infinity by Charlie Loyd, and Metafoundry 30: Confusion Matrices by Deb Chachra.

                            And as it happens they’re both writing insightful things about clothes and their tight ties to our social and economic worlds: Charlie thinks a bit about supply chains; Deb, the pervasive rules that profoundly shape the meanings of women’s choices of clothing.

                            #

                                ~

                                Springtime Biking   

                                A few weeks ago we had a sudden reappearance of winter, but unseasonably warm weather has returned, and with it, the season for biking in the woods – which happen to be basically across the street.

                                Life’s pretty good, gang.

                                #

                                    ~

                                    Find Me at Huffduffer   

                                    I’ve previously noted my Huffduffer action extension for Workflow, but it didn’t occur to me at the time to include the link to my profile at Huffduffer. So, there it is. If you’re a fellow duffer of huffs, I’d love to see what you’re saving there, too.

                                    #

                                        ~

                                        Pizzicletta   

                                        Pizzicletta is a Flagstaff gem, serving up some of the best pizza you’ll find anywhere.

                                        And homemade gelato, like this basil and chocolate/sea salt duo.

                                        I don’t get there often enough, but made it in last night to finish off a fine, warm spring day.

                                        #

                                            ~

                                            This Week’s Reads from my Instapaper Queue

                                            March 1, 2015

                                            Starships, swords, and the faded grandeur of science fantasy

                                            An annotated bibliograpy of sorts, of the role fantasy plays in science fiction. My recollection of ThunderCats, however, doesn’t quite match the author’s:

                                            Surprisingly enough, one of the most successful and fully realized science fantasy properties of the late ’80s wound up being the ThunderCats cartoon. With supple, vibrant animation, a diverse cast of characters, and a mythos that wasn’t wholly prefabricated, ThunderCats came on strong, reveling in all the possibilities of both technology and magic — even though it served as the last whimper of the silver age of science fantasy.

                                            Not surprisingly, Star Wars is the banner-carrier and ultimate downfall of outright science fantasy.

                                            A different cluetrain

                                            Charlie Stross asserts “some axioms about politics”:

                                            13 - Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion.

                                            14 - The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there’s a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.

                                            And

                                            Some folks (especially Americans) seem to think that their AR-15s are a guarantor that they can resist tyranny. But guns are an 18th century response to 18th century threats to democracy. Capital doesn’t need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don’t plead guilty.

                                            Silicon Valley Could Learn a Lot From Skater Culture. Just Not How to Be a Meritocracy

                                            Kathy Sierra responding to the latest cultural model hyped as the savior of silicon valley:

                                            The last time skateboarding was a healthy model, the Macintosh did not exist. Skateboarding was my life. And in 1983 skate culture drove a stake through my heart.

                                            Skateboarding can teach Silicon Valley what not to do, like a message from the future warning, “Here’s what happens when a domain in which women once thrived decides women aren’t worthy.” Yes, it’s complicated and yes, the sport became more extreme, but there’s a world of difference between a sport that says, There aren’t many women and one that adds … we made sure.

                                            In the ’80s, skate culture devolved from a vibrant, reasonably gender-balanced community into an aggressively narrow demographic of teen boys. If you think tech has sexism issues, skate culture makes tech feel like one big Oprah show.

                                            ISAAC ASIMOV: A lifetime of learning

                                            An illustration of a quote from Isaac Asimov about continuing to learn and create throughout one’s life. I read the Foundation books and everything else I could find by Asimov when I was younger, and recently picked up Foundation again. It’s no exaggeration that those stories about science and science fiction hugely shaped my interests and life story.

                                            Nuts

                                            Dr. Drang’s response to the report that feeding peanuts to infants may reduce likelihood of developing peanut allergy captures my own mix of interest, encouragement and caution. My son has a number of serious food allergies, including peanut, and it’s not easy to manage. We would certainly wish to have been able to prevent these allergies from developing, and I watch research about potential desensitization very carefully. What people living with life-threatening food allergies need are good strategies and high levels of awareness among the public, and less misunderstanding of the severity of allergies. Dr. Drang writes:

                                            In fact, I don’t believe the reported study turns conventional wisdom on its head at all. Most of the people I’ve met who don’t have a child with peanut allergies were already certain that the problem was, if not entirely in the heads of a group of Munchausen-by-proxy parents, then certainly due to kids being raised in environments that are too clean, too safe, and too antiseptic. For these people, it’s obvious that exposure to peanuts will toughen up a kid’s immune system, and it’s about time doctors recognize that.

                                            A critical part of the study is the screening criteria that included only infants already at a high risk because of existing egg allergy or exczema, and that 76 screened infants were excluded because they already had strong skin test reactions. So this study tells us something, but not the whole story, about one path through which this particular allergy may develop. Unfortunately, just as Dr. Drang predicted, there are already responses like the following (from a self-identified physician) on the NEJM study:

                                            As each of my five children has progressed through school we have seen tighter and tighter policing of what you are allowed to include in your own child’s lunch box. The research of the LEAP study team is wonderful as it may mean, as I have long suspected, that all of this molly coddling of our children’s diet has not only not made things better but has in fact made things which worse.

                                            Not helpful.

                                              ~

                                              Wintertime, Briefly   

                                              This winter in Flagstaff, a summary of some activities and events that come to mind:

                                              1. Yay, nice snow! Let’s get a season ski rental for the preschooler and we’ll be ski people!
                                              2. More snow over New Year, too bad, I have bronchitis.
                                              3. Day off: solo ski day, beautiful and fun.
                                              4. Six+ weeks of warm, dry weather make it feel like spring (meanwhile the east coast is getting utterly clobbered)
                                              5. Work, work, work – seriously, I’m getting a lot done around here. Feels good.
                                              6. Look, there’s hardly any winter going on in this place, so let’s go biking.
                                              7. Biking is great! My old bike is old, so I got a new one. It’s a thing of beauty, but …
                                              8. I have to travel back east for work, then come home and get a cold.
                                              9. Winter is back. New bike waits in the garage.
                                              10. Sigh. Go for coffee because wife is home from her own work travel and it’s the first day off from work and/or child care in two weeks.
                                              11. Life is all right, gang. All right.

                                              #

                                                  ~

                                                  Huffduffer and Workflow.is

                                                  February 15, 2015

                                                  Update March 17, 2025: minor improvement thanks to Workflow’s recrntly-added action to resolve a shortened URL, allowing the workflow to better find mp3s behind URL shortened.

                                                  Workflow is a hot iOS app. (Obligatory Viticci link!) I love what people are doing with it. While I have some tinkery workflows that I experiment with, my favorite daily-use workflow is one I made for Huffduffer, Jeremy Keith’s wonderful podcast collector service.

                                                  (What’s Huffduffer? Briefly, it’s a way to grab one-off episodes of podcasts that you’re not subscribed to, watch others’ podcast feeds, and find interesting things related to what you’re listening to. It’s really fantastic, and you should go try it.)

                                                  Huffduffer provides a bookmarklet that works very well when you’re already in your browser, but most of the podcasts I want to add to my Huffduffer feed come to my attention via Twitter (currently, Twitterific). There isn’t a full-featured API that could replace this bookmarklet, so I used Workflow to do something sipmle but so valuable to me:

                                                  1. Grab a URL as input
                                                  2. Send URL to the HFDF bookmarklet
                                                  3. Pop the output into Safari (where I’m already authenticated to HFDF)
                                                  4. This comes back as a browser window where the bookmarklet has done its work to identify episode download URL and metadata
                                                  5. I hit go and complete the addition of the episode to my HFDF feed.

                                                  The thing that sets this capability into the “whoa” category for me, is that the whole workflow is set up to work as an action extension, so all I have to do to invoke it is long-press a podcast URL in Twitterific to bring up the share menu, then tap “run workflow” and pick HFDF. It’s not quite as clean as it could be if there were a full API and app (in the style of Pinboard and Pushpin), but it feels far native than opening the link in Safari and then locating and running the bookmarklet. It’s one of my favorite things.

                                                  Another of my favorite uses (that I forgot to note when I published this the first time) is from within Overcast (and other podcast apps that enable the share extensions), where long-pressing on an episode link in show notes of one podcast can bring up the run workflow share action and then the Huffudffer bookmarklet for that link. It’s really slick, and a super-quick way to grab other shows that are mentioned within one show (assuming the creators post good show notes, of course). The same goes for sharing the now-playing episode to Huffduffer, which adds it to your feed for your HFDF followers to pick up.

                                                  You can download and try out my HFDF workflow for yourself. Enjoy!

                                                    ~

                                                    How I learned to stop screwing around with a task manager and get work done

                                                    February 8, 2015

                                                    Since the beginning of the year, work has been busy, very busy, and I find myself in something of a how-do-I-work transformation. I am getting stuff done, and I do mean happily cranking away. And I’m doing it all by scribbling on an array of sticky notes and a couple of pages in a notebook. No “system,” no “toolset,” no “workflow,” just a pencil. It doesn’t even sync!

                                                    I know, right? Like a barbarian. A productive-as-heck barbarian. In the office I had a long-running org-mode scheme that was falling into disrepair, and yet it’s hard to leave a system behind. The couple of weeks of being mostly away from work over the Christmas holiday gave me the mind-space I needed to just … walk away from the list of tasks and projects I was not-usefully maintaining and which was not helping me feel effective or organized in my work.

                                                    I’ve thought plenty before about this kind of retooling, but almost exclusively in the context of tooling upadding sophistication, building workflow:

                                                    This matters because I get a lot of reward from using tools that are interesting, effective, and sophisticated. Doing one’s work is about more than the end deliverable, right? The process matters, too, and if I like doing the work then the product is better for it (not to mention I’ll do it again).

                                                    I suppose that all the same thinking still applies: The process still matters; right now that process is just very, very simple. Unlike the recent past, it’s not in my way in the slightest, which makes me quite happy.

                                                    But let’s differentiate the productivity-tools-urge from the tinkering-with-stuff urge: While at work I have reverted largely to the bronze age, I remain cheerfully hackerful at home, and spent a couple of happy hours yesterday experimenting with MailMate keybindings (yes, knowing I will be inevitably disappointed when I return to work and lose all of that capability). I expect this back and forth will continue, as I fit tools to current needs and ways of thinking.

                                                    Not too long ago, Seth Clifford wrote about a similar productivity revision:

                                                    This is about my brain, understanding how it works, and more importantly, coming to grips with the fact that my brain will work differently depending on a variety of ever-shifting factors in my life. I’ve written before about giving up and settling on a trusted system, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that my trusted system is me, and I need to allow myself the flexibility to use the right tool at the right time.

                                                    Perhaps this doesn’t mark a long-term shift in how I work, but it’s an interesting and good place to be, at the moment. For now, as long as I have a pencil sharpener and a pile of sticky notes, I’m good to go.

                                                      ~

                                                      1. Hell, I still struggle with this, but I’m mature enough to know I’m not the only one.

                                                      2. see e.g., Kottke on Dooce retiring

                                                      3. It’s not actually directly from the host. My scripts pack up the tar archives and rsync them to my backup location at Strongspace.