Self Wright

Category: Tools Page 1 of 2

An old television

Saw this “for pickup” on the sidewalk recently.

I can’t imagine who would use something like this, but it was pretty high-end in its time!

RCA “ColorTrak 2000” television

This is as old as me! The style then was to “embed” these into large cabinets (I’m guessing), hence the simulated woodgrain.

Here is a view of the connections at the back, which really show its vintage (“look, it’s stereo! you can even turn the left and right speakers on and off!”)

Here is a 1985 newspaper advertisement for it (link courtesy Wikipedia).

Tools for thought

A quote from “Tools for Thought” by Howard Rheingold, from the chapter titled “The loneliness of the long-distance thinker

  • Harry Truman was President and Sputnik was a word that only Russian language experts knew when Doug Engelbart first thought about displaying words and images on radar screens, storing them in computers, and manipulating them with levers and buttons and keyboards.
  • To hear him tell it today, both the computer establishment and the computer revolutionaries still fail to understand that the art and power of using a computer as a mind amplifier are not in how the amplifier works but in what the amplified minds are able to accomplish.
  • Engelbart realized, as had Vannevar Bush, that humankind was moving into an era in which the complexity and urgency of global problems were surpassing time-honored tools for dealing with problems. He also began to understand, as did Licklider a few years later, that handling the informational by-products of problem-solving had itself become the key to all the other problems.
  • The biggest difference between the citizen of preliterate culture and the industrial-world dweller who can perform long division or dial a telephone is not in the brain’s “hardware” — the nervous system of the highlander or the urbanite — but in the thinking tools given by the culture. Reading, writing, surviving in a jungle or a city, are examples of culturally transmitted human software.
  • While Engelbart was, in fact, suggesting that computers could be used to automate a low-level task like typewriting, the point he wanted to make had to do with changes in the overall system — the capabilities such an artifact would open up for thinking in a more effective, wider-ranging, more articulate, quicker, better-formatted manner. That is why he distinguished his proposed new category of computer applications by using the term augmentation rather than the more widespread word automation.
  • Even the chewing-gum-and-bailing-wire version Doug was attempting to get off the ground in 1968 had the ability to impose new structures on what you could see through its windows. The symbolic domain, from minutiae to the grandest features, could be arranged at will by the informationaut, who watched through his window while he navigated his vehicle and the audience witnessed it all on the big screen

From the beginning of “A Conceptual Framework for the Augmentation of Man’s Intellect” in 1963:

  • Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: that comprehension can be gained more quickly; that better comprehension can be gained; that a useful degree of comprehension can be gained where previously the situation was too complex; that solutions can be produced more quickly; that better solutions can be produced; that solutions can be found where previously the human could find none.
  • We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human “feel for a situation” usefully coexist with powerful concepts, streamlined technology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.

Tomoe River Paper

A few years ago, when I first came across it, it was hard to find a notebook that I liked that contained Tomoe River paper.

It’s thinner than any other paper, it’s strong, and it doesn’t bleed through. One of those “you believe it when you use it” things.

My best option, one that I still use, and can recommend is the “SevenSeas” notebook from NanamiPaper.

If that sounds obscure, it’s because this used to be the only way: an “independent binder” procuring the paper, and assembling a notebook.

However, it is much easier to find alternative today.

JetPens carries an alternative, the Kanso Noto (320 pages for $20)

GouletPens carries another alternative (160 pages for $16)

More than any of this, searching on Amazon (the very definition of mainstream today) shows a bunch of results (will not link to any here).

No more excuses not to try out this pretty remarkable paper 🙂

On old software

George R. R. Martin, when asked by Conan O’ Brien, on why he wrote on on an old PC, running MS-DOS, not connected to the internet, in Wordstar 4.0.

I actually like it, it does everything I want a word processing program to do and it doesn’t do anything else. I don’t want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lowercase letter and it becomes a capital letter. I don’t want a capital. If I wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key.

Roam isn’t there yet

I’ve observed Roam periodically slowing down to a crawl, with individual keystrokes (yes) taking a second to be played out, filters taking several seconds to process “selections”, and … I haven’t even started using queries yet.

Part of the trouble might have been my own over-enthusiasm a few months ago, when I went all-in with it, getting into a “mind-meld” with it.

This was really great for a while, too, but that meant that when it abruptly became unusable, it was really painful.

Meanwhile, a few other things have been evolving.

Obsidian largely “just works”. I’ve been trying out Obsidian Publish, and it’s headed in a direction I like, and am willing to pay for.

DevonThink, my “bucket store” for a few years now, has begun to add first-class support for Markdown, explicitly keeping compatibility with Obsidian and Roam.

Tinderbox has always really had what I needed (super-flexible notes, and programmability, albeit in a “perl-ish” syntax), and every release improves support for markdown, zip links (those [[...]] references that are nice to use within markdown for making quick links (and backlinks) between notes).

OmniOutliner is … not evolving features, but it’s a robust cross-platform native outliner app, supporting rich embedding and at least theoretically allowing arbitrary levels of scriptability in JS.

Now I’m still a “Believer” in Roam, but not all use cases need “multi-player” (and for the ones that do, there really isn’t any other good alternative).

For now though, most of my use case are very much “single-player”, and for that it’s very hard to beat native apps (especially the non-electron ones).

I do have to get over the hurdle of using un-popular apps, non-mainstream apps, apps that aren’t “in the news”, etc. but … it turns out they’re just as solid, and there are enough users to get assistance and share and discuss concerns, and so on .

So, I’m not giving up on this “mind-meld” level of personal interactivity with apps that help me think, or break down things, or just keep stuff around for me to look at later — I’m just planning to do more of that with some of the local, native apps mentioned above.

A decade (nearly) of Lamy

Lamy Safari, Charcoal Black, Fine Nib

I’ve had this pen for about nine years now, which is longer than I’ve had my laptop, or my phone, or my current pair of jeans, or my bed, or the tv on the wall, or the lamp next to me, or … you get the idea.

I think I’ve mentioned recommendations for fountain pens before, but I’ll repeat this anyway: it’s hard to beat this cheap and reliable workhorse, the good old Lamy Safari (not quite old, though, there are new versions available)

I have two of these that I keep filled with (usually) black and blue ink, and I have secretly wished that they stop working, or even just degrade in quality just a bit, to give me an excuse to try and buy one of the more expensive fountain pens I’ve kept in my wish-list for years, but … that just hasn’t happened yet!

Tip on buying: if you’d like to skip paying Amazon, two great places for “stuff like this” are Jetpens and GouletPens.

Declaring “watch-later” bankruptcy

I’m sure a lot of people get to this point … it’s a form of procrastination, clicking on the tempting little Watch Later mini-clock-face.

“Of course I’ll watch you”, I say to the little thumbnail.

Fast-forward a few years later, and there are now about five hundred of these. Surprise.

Given that the average length is about half an hour (if it’s five minutes, I either watch now or watch never), this is several months of dedicated watching time. Not going to happen.

I could painfully prioritize these, figure out what I really meant to watch, and what I was just lying to myself about.

I don’t need to do that. I know I was lying to myself most of the time I clicked that little button.

So the next best option: start over.

Unfortunately, Youtube hasn’t allowed for this possibility.

I found a hack on StackExchange1. It involved moving some playlists around. Painful, but doable.

Doubly unfortunately, this doesn’t work anymore. The Watch Later playlist is an append-log now. Your pile of misery cannot be allowed to shrink2.

There seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel: by suitably obscure Javascript, you too can wipe your slate of false optimism clean. It was an innocuous looking short one-liner3.

I tried it, didn’t work for me.

I tried reverse-engineering it, but couldn’t hack and cut my way through the mass of divs that characterize modern web pages. Javascript is the new assembly language of the web, deal with it.

I got more desperate, tried out other, more unwieldy snippets4.

I did find some kindred souls5.

Anyway I’ve been on-and-off this quest, with no success. Still looking for that “magical snippet” that will work for me.

(@Youtube, Y U No Let Me Delete My Watch History ?!)


  1. From a comment on that page: the clearly bewildered response of “These instructions are unclear”. You don’t say. ↩︎
  2. Okay, it can, but only if you watch all of them and then click on “Remove watched videos” ↩︎
  3. Retrieving a bunch through the right call to getElementsByClassName, then looping and calling click on them ↩︎
  4. This one in particular, successfully crashed Safari for me after a few tries: javascript:var tmr = window.setInterval(function(){var _this = document.querySelector('ytd-playlist-video-list-renderer #button > yt-icon'); if (_this){_this.click();document.querySelector('#items > div > ytd-menu-service-item-renderer:nth-child(2)').click();}else{window.clearInterval(tmr)}}, 1000); ↩︎
  5. As this reddit thread says, “‌Um, I have a YouTube hoarding problem. I have 2,335 videos in my Watch Later list.” Yikes, worse than me by far ↩︎

The weirdness and awesomeness of long-form YouTube

I found myself listening to this recently:

From the description:

This is the ambient electromagnetic signal of our Sun and Neptune which have been combined with each other and then deepened and smoothed out quite a bit.

Now I don’t know how exactly this audio version was derived, but … hey, it works for me for my “white noise needs” (certainly well enough to consider cancelling my Brain.fm subscription, more so because I’m consolidating subscriptions these days and trying to get rid of as many of these yes-its-“sub-$5”-but-do-I-really-need-it ones).

After this “space noise”, I discovered “engine noise”, which comes in a huge variety as well:

  • The ambient engine noise from the Enterprise (TNG):

 

  • Ambient engine noise from the Nostromo:

 

This is why I don’t think I can live without Youtube (deadly serious here).

I can find substitutes for Gmail, for Docs, even Google Search (DuckDuckGo has been my default on iPhone/iPad/MacBook for over two years now, I use gmail but primarily through MailMate, and I really only use Docs at work).

When it comes to Youtube, I go the opposite way: I’m willing to pay some token amount — beacuse I’d listen to engine noise without advertisements 😁

Turtle graphics

Discovered the PythonTurtle library, reminded me of LOGO a long time ago (!)

A sample session:

$ bpython
bpython version 0.18 on top of Python 3.7.6 /usr/local/opt/python/bin/python3.7
>>> import turtle
>>> silly = turtle.Turtle()
>>> for i in range(20):
...     silly.forward(i * 10)
...     silly.right(144)
...
>>>
A “spiral star”

(there is a Golang version of this too, to try later)

On Airtable and Numbers

I tried out Airtable for a year, for a simple personal spreadsheet that I’ve been keeping for a few years now.

It’s slick, and quick to enter data, but in the end I’ve decided to go back to Numbers.

Yes, boring.

Things I liked:

  • I really liked being able to easily add images when needed
  • Having single-select and multi-select lists are useful and intuitive. I miss this the most in Numbers.

Things I didn’t like:

  • To do something as simple as making a little chart, I needed to pay $20 a month! Yes, the Pro plan had far more than charts, but I just cared about this one small feature, and it seemed ridiculous to me.

Things I didn’t care for:

  • I realized I wasn’t going to use the 3rd party Airtable plugins or integrations.
  • There is an intermediate Plus plan ($10/mo). I expected to use it, and would’ve been okay with it, but surprisingly didn’t hit the size limit on my bases.

Adaptations in Numbers

I was able to get most of the way to a single-select box by a combination of

  1. Setting the data type for the column to “popup”
  2. Adding a conditional highlighting (this is surprisingly easy to do)

Conclusion

I’ve always been one to try out new apps, and new tools, because there are always ways of doing things better, and the satisfaction that comes with that.

Recently though, I’ve been very sensitive to my personal info becoming siloed in a bunch of different places, and I want as much of it as possible

  1. Open format
  2. Local
  3. Index-able

Moving from Airtable to Numbers involves giving up a few features, but it satisfies these requirements I’m placing on my tools these days, so I’m quite happy about it 🙂

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