Abacus Noir

Self Wright

Interesting links: December 2021

Old step-well in India

(Apology: I usually structure these into sections, but didn’t have time to do that this month)

(focussing on Sublime Text and BBEdit)

The consideration should be efficiency and not a nebulous quality like “Mac-like design.”

I have to revert to what I wrote in the last article:

“The best text editor is the one you know how to use.”

If you are happy with the text editor you are using, keep typing. Spare me the assertions about what is “Mac-like design” and what isn’t.

  • On “Roam books” and “Roam newsletters”
    • https://www.zylstra.org/blog/2020/11/hypertexts-reinvented-as-roam-books-and-roam-newsletters/
    • From a time of Roam maximalism
    • Luca Dellana’s optimism: https://www.luca-dellanna.com/roamletter/
  • On telling apart different forms of “note-taking systems”
  • In support of “ubiquitous linking
    • We affirm that the ability to copy a link to a resource is as important for cognitive productivity as the ability to copy other types of information. This applies to all persistent digital information.
    • To help people benefit from the information they process with software, we advocate ubiquitous support for linking of information resources. This would help realize the potential of hypermedia that was envisioned by information technology pioneers such as Ted Nelson and Douglas Englebart.
    • Some discussion here
  • In defense of Socrates and the Great Books
    • Many academics attack the very idea of a Western canon as chauvinistic, while the general public increasingly doubts the value of the humanities. In Rescuing Socrates, Dominican-born American academic Roosevelt Montás tells the story of how a liberal education transformed his life, and offers an intimate account of the relevance of the Great Books today, especially to members of historically marginalized communities.
  • Squid Game, the Mr. Beast version
    • The viral success of MrBeast’s “$456,000 Squid Game in Real Life!” video means that many viewers, like some of my students, have come to associate Squid Games through MrBeast’s version rather than through its original series, thereby removing its original context and meaning. As NBC tech journalist Kat Tenbarge succinctly tweeted: “Now what if — bear with me here — the stakes of this game were life and death, painting a grim portrait of capitalism.”
    • By celebrating the creation of new content devoid of original meaning and context, we’re praising a system of ahistorical, non-relational entertainment over substance and critique. Or, as Stan Cross sarcastically responds to the fan account: “in the future creator economy, there will be so few gatekeepers, MrBeast will be able to operate at such speed he’ll rack up millions of views parodying shows before they’ve even been conceived, and then they won’t need to be made. A win for all of culture.”
  • Bizarre, but somebody’s using this, GreaterWrong, “a way to browse LessWrong”
  • Case study: implementing a log-based relational database in Common Lisp
  • Exploring distributed consensus in Wolfram Mathematica
  • The “Tao of Programming
    • This is a book about what goes on in the minds of programmers. Most programming books are about the mechanics of programming. These are essential, yet they can leave novices confused and bored. Tao Te Programming tries to get at the spirit of programming, to expose the ways of thinking that make programming challenging and fulfilling rather than too hard and grinding.
    • Good programming is often about effective compromise. You can go too far in a good direction. That is why many chapters have opponents — an indication of forces you need to try to balance. Chapters can also have allies that point in a similar direction.
  • Remembering an old smart-watch
  • Terry Eagleton on Richard Dawkins: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching
  • Was playing “Poop Bingo”, and noticed that Wombat poop is cubic, and turns out the reason for that was just discovered this year! Wombats Poop Cubes, and Scientists Finally Got to the Bottom of It
  • James Robertson on the basics of Pharo | by Richard Kenneth Eng | Medium(https://richardeng.medium.com/james-robertson-on-the-basics-of-pharo-2bccec77c743)

from a long-time Smalltalker who passed away seven years ago

  • Predictions about the future of computing
  • On “Roam books” and “Roam newsletters”
    • https://www.zylstra.org/blog/2020/11/hypertexts-reinvented-as-roam-books-and-roam-newsletters/
    • From a time of Roam maximalism
    • Luca Dellana’s optimism: https://www.luca-dellanna.com/roamletter/
  • On how and why the Roman building practices have lasted for two millenia, and what we can learn from this (their concrete was better in some ways)
  • Modern concrete construction might last 100 years with maintenance, but some Roman structures have survived for 1,000 years or more essentially unassisted
  • “You can’t see it as a tourist, but the reason the Colosseum is still standing is because of its incredibly robust concrete foundation,” said Jackson. That concrete foundation is packed with dense, heavy lava rock aggregate and is a full 12m thick, she added. Without such a strong, long-lasting material at its foundation, the Colosseum would have been reduced entirely to rubble by the region’s earthquakes.
  • Inside the Pantheon’s rotunda, the distance from the floor to the very top of the dome is virtually identical to the dome’s 43m diameter, inviting anyone inside to imagine the huge, perfect sphere that could be housed within its interior. When trying to appreciate the Pantheon’s dome, “unreinforced” is really the key word.


Monthly recap (Dec 2021)

Hiking at Point Lobos

Major update

  • Trip to San Diego got cancelled, bummer
  • Made a short weekend trip to Santa Cruz/Aptos/Carmel instead
  • Did a bunch of hikes!

Minor update

  • A foosball table at home 🙂
  • Family games and fun
  • Got my booster shot


  • Sing 2, in the theater. Great experience. Best part for me, as in the original, was the soundtrack!
  • Wallace and Gromit (claymation was great …)
  • Tara started watching Captain Underpants

On writing

Every now and then I find something insightful on HackerNews. I usually don’t share this, and store them as snippets for myself, but this is something that does seem generally useful:

(original source here, builds on a post here)

“Tips on making writing more fun”

  • Make it a story. If you are writing about an application framework, use an example application and make it something real (a todo app, a real estate search app, something you have personal experience with).
  • Link to your other stuff. He has a good point about sidebars (don’t do it), but if you have written about something tangential previously, links are a nice way to avoid that. Works for pointing to other people’s work as well.
  • Just ship it. He alludes to this in the last point, but seriously, the perfect blog post that never is published is 100% worse than the 80% done blog post.
  • Remember that while you are obsessing over everything, your reader likely isn’t (obsessing). Recall how closely you read this article? That is how closely most readers will read anything you publish.
  • Start with the end in mind (the title and the conclusion should be related and the thread should run through it).
  • “Kill your darlings”. If something doesn’t fit, no matter how interesting or witty it is, copy it off to some other doc (possibly for another article). Or delete it. Either way, remove it from your piece.

On to-do apps


I have been using OmniFocus for over five years now.

I started with version 2, moved on to version 3 and have even beta-tested the new version 4 on my phone for a while.

A lot of cruft has accumulated over the years, and this year I decided to “clean house”.

While doing this, I was open-minded about trying new apps — after all, a lot has changed in the last five years.

Different apps

I liked a lot of different apps.

Things was clean, simple, minimal.

Todoist was full-featured, flexible, integrated with everything.

Sorted had a novel hybrid task + event approach.

No app

Over the last two weeks, I spent a couple of days playing around with each of these.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and it’s easy to get lost in the “but, but, but, which is the best?!” trap here.

Instead, I decided to pick nothing for now.

Maybe a calendar app, and a notes app are all I need?

And if I do experience a need, then I can think about how to meet it, instead of deciding

“Getting the right things done in right time” should matter more than “using the right app”!

P.S. if pressed, my ideal app here would be some mix of Things and Sorted.

Roam stays

Much as I tried to quit Roam previously, I’ve been back to using it the last quarter.

It’s good enough, and “doesn’t suck“.

It is more fluid and immediate than the alternatives for what I need, when I need.

So, it stays in my toolkit.

(in the context of an end-of-year “app house-cleaning“, where I try to rationalize what I need, what I’m using, and what I can get rid of)

Annual recap – 2021


  • Tara turned seven
    • had a birthday party at Safari Run
  • Halloween trick-or-treating with one of Tara’s friends and her family
  • End-of-the-year hike at Stanford Dish
  • Got a Foosball (and a kid-size pool table) in the garage
  • Bunch of social meetups
  • Various appliance repairs
  • Discovered Kakaroto downtown (and then ate a lot there!)
  • Tara’s graduation (from Kindergarten to 1st grade, lol)
    • But a few friends’ families moved out of the area, which was sad
  • Trips:
    • Muir Woods
    • Monterey
    • Trip to Mendocino
    • Trip to Gualala
    • Trip to Carmel
      • Unplanned, but fun
    • Trip to Hawaii (Maui)
      • Lotsa pool time
      • Went to Haleakala summit
  • Got our vaccines (and boosters)
  • A new sofa, heh
  • Redid the patio/backyard
  • Hike at Long Ridge Trail


  • Started off the new year with Sigma Computing
  • Switched to Fastmail
  • In-person office experience (and, meeting up with team-mates before that)
  • Various dental things (a big sinus-lift-cum-extraction-in-preparation-for-an-implant, and some misadventures with the crown on an existing implant)
  • Finished two puzzles (though, simple ones)


  • Bunch of new playdates
  • Front teeth came out
  • Bunch of birthdays
  • Monterey bay aquarium!
  • Hatched a butterfly from a cocoon!
  • Trapped some ants (as “pets”, lol)
  • First full day at school (April)
  • First trip to the library in over a year
  • “Lego camp”
  • A big doctor visit


  • A few My Little Pony graphic novels
  • Watched on Netflix:
    • Money Heist
    • Captain Underpants
    • Wallace and Gromit
    • Godzilla: Singular Point (!)
    • Squid Games
    • How to train your dragon: hidden world
    • On the verge
    • Blooey
    • Raya and the last dragon
    • Disney: Cars
    • David Attenborough’s ‘A life on earth’
    • Cloudy with a chance of meatballs
    • The Dig
  • – Watched in the theater
    Dune (!)
    Boss Baby 2
    Sing 2
  • Read the first two Narnia books
  • Read, listened to (!) and watched, the first three Harry Potter books/movies
  • Listened to The Idea of the World and The age of Entitlement
  • Read The Hobbit (in entirety, and watched the movies)
  • Graphic novels:
    • Templar
    • The Graveyard Book (part 1)


  • Poop Bingo“, a birthday gift 😐
  • (assisted with) Friendship bracelets
  • Toy robot assembly (“Zivko”)
  • Lego: Harry Potter advent set and Harry Potter “train station” set
  • Growing crystals
  • Making a “fairy garden”
  • Clay modelling
  • A paper robot from Instructables

Review from last year

  • Last year’s review here
  • I did do a puzzle
  • Failed at a sleep routine (realize now that I was mostly sleep-deprived through the year)

Tentative resolutions

  • Intentional reading/writing/doing
  • Better sleep routines
  • Complete one more puzzle
  • Find a way to improve on the exercise front
  • Find a way to write/share more
  • Contribute/help out more at work

Explaining the Hobbit

Found this little diagram I’d drawn on my daughter’s “drawing tablet” from around May 2021 when we were reading The Hobbit.

From the Shire to the Lonely Mountain

Posting flow

I made the previous post using my phone.

It’s annoying that I can’t use the WordPress app with self-hosted sites (which is what this is), but the “mobile web” experience for the same is not too bad.

I can’t write in that web interface, for whatever reason, but that’s okay as long as I can copy-paste in content.

I use Drafts heavily now on my phone, which works very well as a “staging point” for all text.

So, writing there and then using the mobile web to just add it in, and click “publish” works for me.

Snippet sharing

Ruminating on how tiny bits of content are mixed in with larger bits, here, the options are

  1. Don’t share it
  2. Share it somewhere else
  3. Share it mixed in, as separate posts
  4. Share it “batched up”

Of these, (1) can be rejected, and (2) is too much of a hassle (where would it be, Mastodon?, micro.blog? … would I be able to still own and later export content?)

So it’s about whether to share in-line or not, and while (3) is the status quo, (4) seems like a simpler approach that I’ll trial for next year.

A bunch of DFW stuff

(found this while cleaning up old notes)

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