Nov 19, 2017

Music: The Postal Service--Such Great Heights

A friend of mine sent me the video embedded below. It's a great song with a really interesting set of images to go it. 

According to YouTube User Dr. Tune:
This video was shot in a fab owned by Skyworks, who make radio-frequency chips (not microprocessors) found in a vast number of phones, wifi routers, etc. You very likely have a chip made on the equipment in the video in your pocket right now.   I don't think they physically handle the wafers like that though; some dramatic license -)

Today is World Gratitude Day. Celebrate!

Today is World Gratitude Day. Take some time and celebrate it. There’s research that says gratitude is good for you.
And it’s so easy!
  1. Pick something.
  2. Be grateful for it.
Boom! That’s all it takes.
That’s low effort and low-quality gratitude, but it’s still gratitude. You can do better by upping the quantity or the quality of your expressions of gratitude. For example, you can do this:
  1. Pick something.
  2. Take a moment and get clear in your mind what it is that you are grateful for.
  3. Take another moment and consider who or what helped bring that about.
  4. Express your gratitude to them directly or to other people.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
Example 1:
  1. I participate in several ongoing Google Hangout chat channels. I picked one of them.
  2. I thought about the fact it inspires me to be more mindful, more ware, and more creative.
  3. I thought about the other guys in the Hangout.
  4. I sent a message, thanked them, and said why.
Example 2:
  1. I picked my life, today, as something that I am grateful for.
  2. I thought about it clearly.
  3. So many contribute! But I picked my past self: Past Me.
  4. I silently said thanks.
Example 3:
  1. I invented World Gratitude Day. Someone else may have invented it too, but I invented or reinvented it today.
  2. I thought about it and imagined what it could be.
  3. I picked my friends in the Hangout channel, who had (in part) inspired me to invent it. I thought about other friends who inspired me to make it better.
  4. I wrote this post.
So today is World Gratitude Day. This is my way of expressing appreciation for everything that has contributed to it, and to my being able to write this post.
Remember: most of the universe is dead. Most humans are dead. Be grateful while you have the chance.
Even if you’re completely selfish, it still pays to be grateful. It’s good for you, and it can be even better for you if you let other people know.
Today is World Gratitude Day. Which day? This day. Every day. Celebrate.

Nov 16, 2017

A meditation on memory

I have a lousy memory for tasks and social commitments, and a really good memory for facts. So when I couldn't remember a name that I thought I would know, was sure I would know, and didn't know, it shocked me. I had a name-sized hole in my memory.

I don't remember everything that I've ever learned, but I when a fact doesn't come immediately to mind my brain gives me a signal: I know it and I'll remember it pretty quickly; or it will take some effort, but I'll get it; or it will take a lot of effort, and I might or might not get it; or I won't be able to retrieve it, but when it's told to me, I'll recognize it; and very occasionally I know that even if someone told me the answer, I would not reliably recongize it.

So here's the missing fact, the name of my one of my daughter's dogs. I know that I know it. I'm surprised that it doesn't come to me instantly, but I'm confident that it will appear soon. But it doesn't. I try a little. No luck. I try harder. Still no luck. And suddenly I'm sure that I'll recognize it when I hear it, but I'm not going to get it on my own. But I should know it.

My memory is full of all kind of facts. One of my sons-in-law has made me aware of this: when I tell him something interesting that I've read, I'll often accompany the facts with the name of the book or article where I learned it, and the name of the author. And then there's random stuff. Like right now, idly thinking about the kinds of things that I can remember, my brain starts pummeling me with random shit. Want to know the names of the Brooklyn Dodgers of my youth? Catcher: Roy Campanella. Infield: Gil Hodges, Billy Cox, PeeWee Reese, Jackie Robinson. Outfield: Carl Furrillo, Duke Snyder, and...who was in right field? I don't remember, but I'll recognize it if you tell me. And Hank Bauer played right field for the Yankees, along with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Yogi Berra was catcher and then Elston Howard, the first Negro (as he was called) Yankee. And in the Yankee infield, I remember Hank (Moose) Skowron (FB) and Phil Rizutto (SS). I'll probably recognize the rest if you tell me.

The championship Celtics of yesteryear?  When I lived near Boston it was Larry Bird, Kevin McHale,  Robert (The Chief) Parish, Scott Wedman, Dennis "DJ" Johnson.  And there's another guy who used to play guard and whose name eludes me for the moment. He ended up being the team's general manager. That's one that will come to me, my brain tells me. Just wait.

My brain keeps feeding me names. Paul Silas, the amazing rebounder famous for being so unable to jump that you couldn't slide a nickel under his shoes. Doc Rivers who played for the competition and became a Celtics coach. Tommy Heinson, player than a coach. Red Auerbach, the greatest coach, of course. Bill Havlicek, who I misremembered for a few moments as Bob. His name comes to me through the voice of the Celt's broadcaster, Johnny Most Here/s Johnny shouting "Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!” as the Celts win.

Which reminds me of Gerald Henderson taking a pass from Larry Bird ("Bird stole the ball') on a lazy inbounds pass that he flipped to Henderson who stuffed it to beat the Lakers in a game that the Lakers had locked up. I remember Kevin Garnett and (pause, I see an image and need a moment to match a name to an image, and yes, it's...) Paul Pierce. Garnett, Pierce, and someone else who came to the Celts in a deal that was put together by...Danny Ainge. Yes! That's the guy I couldn't remember. And Rajim Rondo played point guard.

Other names linger at the periphery of my memory and beg to be invited in. There's Mike Krzewsky (OK Google, it's spelled Krzyewski, but I think I did pretty well, and next time I'll get it right because I can sing it to the Rzeszutek song). Coach K who came to the Celtics from...was it Kansas? No, memory is wrong. Google says it was Duke. And says the Celts offered him the job, but he declined. Fake memory.

Nate Archibald who is called “Tiny” but was around 6’2" (Google says 6'1", that's around). Not so tiny. But there were some really tiny players I can remember. Muggsy Bogues. And Calvin Murphy. Google says Mugsy was 5'3", the shortest player ever to play in the NBA (14 years.)  And Calvin was 5'9"

I've used Google while editing this to fill in the details and it's reminded me of other names. But here I'll only record the ones that came without help. Chris Ford played guard and later coached the Celts. Danny Ainge not only played professional basketball but also baseball, and if I recall correctly, for Toronto (that's the Blue Jays, not the Raptors).  (Google agrees and tells me he played baseball before he graduated, basketball afterward)

And then Bill Walton. I remember that for a while the Celtics were the only team in the NBA that could put five star-quality white players on the floor:  Bird, McHale, Walton, Ainge, Wedman.  I remember the Valentine's Day Massacre when the Celtics killed the Rival Lakers, Wedman pouring in 3-pointers. But I misremember it. It was Memorial Day, not Valentines. And I don't remember the final score, other than it was embarrassing to the Lakers. Courtesy of Wikipedia it was 148-114.

ML Carr returns to memory, waving his towel and getting the fans riled up. And some white guy with an Italian last name Scarlotti? (My brain tells me that I’m not gonna get it without help--Scalabrini, thank you Google) And there was another great center, a red-head whose name eludes me. (Dave Cowens, thanks, Google)

Basketball player names from other teams fly into my head. Famous ones like Kobe Bryant. Almost famous like the graceful Laker James Worthy--a worthy opponent for years. More obscure like Vinnie “Microwave” Something (Johnson says Google) who played for Detroit and regularly racked up points from Detroit. Isiah Thomas. Wes Unseld. Downtown Freddie Brown. Doctor J. Bill Laimbeer, a center for Detroit. Moses Malone. Stop, already!

I could go on for hours. But I won't. My brain is full of all sorts of odds and ends like that.

The thing is: if I can remember all those names and assorted facts, remember the names of all my daughter’s other dogs, past and present, the dogs we had, the dogs my family of birth had, why couldn't I remember Marble? And why did I think that I could?

Nov 13, 2017

An Evernote Alternative

In this post, I talked about my use of Evernote and my desire for an alternative.

Here I'm going to riff about the way I'd like my alternative to work and maybe a little about how I plan to attack the problem.

There are two subproblems: on desktop machines and on mobile. For desktop machines, I'll consider Chrome. For mobile, Android.

My current Chrome workflow starts with either a search or a post on a social media site that leads me to an interesting initial page. As I'm reading, I may control-click to open linked pages in new tabs and let the new pages load in the background. Depending on the content I may continue through the initial page, move from the initial page to one or more linked page, or move back and forth. From a linked page, I may open more pages. The path that I've taken to get to a page that I decided to clip is useful, and that information is currently lost.

When I find something sufficiently interesting, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to capture what I want, but there are problems. It's got a hotkey, but I usually click on the icon to start the clipping option. It brings up a dialog that lets me make some clipping options: for example, clip the whole page, clip the contents (don't use the full CSS, but simplify it), clip a selection, choose tag and notebook. If I've selected some text, it highlights the text. If I haven't, it moves the page back to the start and shows me what I'm going to clip. It also lets me decide what notebook to use (it tries to guess) and what tags to use. It also has a Save button.

I can change these, but usuallyI don't. When I click Save, it starts clipping. Once that happens, the clipper blocks navigation on that page. So I don't clip a page as soon as I decide it's worth clipping because would stop me from continuing to read it. Instead, I wait until I've read it, or until I've decided to switch tabs. The clipper works in the background, but sometimes it's really slow. If I clip the same page several times I end up with several copies rather than one copy with a reference count.

The current mode of operation is:

  1. I initiate the action
  2. A dialog appears so I can change the action
  3. I click Save to cause the operation to proceed
  4. When the operation is finished, I dismiss the dialog
Instead, I'd like it to happen this way:

  1. I initiate the action
  2. It starts, in the background. 
  3. It briefly displays something that tells me what it's doing
  4. I can dismiss the dialog or interrupt it and change
All clipping happens in the background. First information is moved to local storage, then from local storage to the cloud. Once information is backed up to the cloud it's removed from local storage. If the backup operation is interrupted, say by closing my laptop cover or disconnecting, it continues when I've got connectivity. If I try to close a tab or window while backing up to local storage, I get a warning dialog--or just a delay.

I'd like to be able to tell my clipper to do things in all of the following ways:

  • Press a hotkey or an icon to start an operation
  • If something is selected, then it's implicitly the text that is to be saved, otherwise, it's the page
The actions I can take are:
  • Clip
    • If something is highlighted, clip the page and the highlighted part
    • If nothing highlighted, clip the page if not already clipped
  • Unclip: if something has been clipped by default, remove the clip
  • Tag (or change tags) for a page or a highlighted part of a page
By default, whenever I tag a page or part of the page, any page I open from it inherits its tags.

Whenever I clip anything, I want the full path to the content saved along with the clip. For full page clips, it's the page URL, plus a reference to the link on the referring page (recursively, if necessary; I don't want to lose information on how I got to the clipped content). For search page links the reference might not be useful, but a quick check shows me that Google search result elements may have attributes (like data-ved) that may contain useful information.

For more-or-less static pages, the reference would be a CSS path to the referring link element.   

When I clip highlighted sections I want to save a CSS selector that gets the element containing the high

If I clip several excerpts from a page--even in different sessions--I'd like to have them presented together. 


Step 1 is to create a plugin, and solve the following problems:

  • Inject a script into a page.
  • The script will listen for a hotkey
    • Grab URL, page contents, and text if any selected
    • Display an informative dialog and cause it to vanish after a delay
    • Listen for other hotkeys during delay
      • Suspend save and display an options dialog
      • Cancel save
      • Undo last operation
    • Save information
      • URL
      • Page contents
      • Text if any has been highlighted

Nov 12, 2017

My Evernote blogging notebook.

I've been an Evernote user for a long time. Occasionally I pay them money for their premium version which I don't use. But I might someday. Like today. Maybe. Or maybe tomorrow.

This is not an endorsement of Evernote. I have problems with it and writing about it has brought thos problems into sharp relief. So much so that I am going to spend some time looking into a way to replace it.

But first the good:

Evernote's concept is great. It makes it easy to collect and organize interesting web content in the cloud. Instead of setting (and forgetting) a bookmark, I can copy a whole web page or a part of one. What I've bookmarked might be changed or might disappear, but what I've copied is forever. And it's better because there's no way to search bookmarks. Evernote has search tools for its web interface and tools that integrate with Google's search.

So, in theory, I can copy a page or part (Evernote calls it clipping) and Evernote will let me find it. In practice, it's mainly been a write-only memory. I've now got a collection of more than 2230 notes, the oldest one dated to 2010. And I rarely do anything with them. But they are there.

On Chrome I clip pages with the Evernote Web Clipper extension. I click the icon or press a hotkey and Evernote saves it for me. On Android, I've installed the Evernote App, which lets me save things using the Android sharing feature.

Nice things: it automatically classifies my posts, and that generally works well. It lets me tag my content, but I don't take advantage of it. I can organize my stuff in "notebooks" and share notebooks or individual notes with specific users. It's also possible to share with the world, but unfortunate, that's tricky.

In 2011 I started a notebook called "Blogging" that contained articles on blogging. Much later I clipped a few articles that I thought were worth blogging about but I never did anything with them. Now 41 blog-worthy articles in that notebook, including two from yesterday.

Here's a link to my blogging notebook. I wasn't able to create it using the web version of Evernote. Instead, I had to go to a Windows machine and download the Windows version of Evernote and do it there. Annoying. Why not make the web interface fully functional? Why not make it fast.

On review, I like Evernote in concept better than in execution. I've been criticizing myself for not using Evernote more than I do, but maybe it's not just me. Maybe it's Evernote.

So here's my initial design for an Evernote Alternative.

Nov 9, 2017

Nearly 75 years old. WTAF?

Seventy-fifth birthday in less than two months. Nearly five years writing this particular blog, off and on (mostly off). So? So what's it like being nearly a three-quarters of a century old? What have I learned in that time? What do I want to do next? What do I think about my life? What do I think about the world as it is? Where do I think the world is going? When am I going to stop asking myself such questions?

That last one I can answer. Now.

And now for some other answers.

Q: What's it like being nearly three-quarters of a century old?

Answer: Feels about the same as usual.

In my mind, I'm not 75 (some part of me wants to calculate my exact decimal age, something like 74.88474 years old, but I'm going to resist taking the time to do this perfectly (thank God! says another part of my mind)). I'm not any particular age.

I think that I don't have the energy that I've had at earlier times. I think that's partly due to the body wearing down, partly due to not having taken my Morning Modafinil (fixed), partly due to lack of motivation for what I am doing, and partly (related) to spending too many cycles on unresolvable existential problems. Are those last parts true?

Yes, I think, in part. This is not going to be one of the greatest posts that I've ever written, but (as almost always) the very fact of sitting here, seeing words appear, pleases me. The difference between the way I feel writing this post and writing one that I'm really proud of (say the one about Past Me, Present Me, Future Me) is small, relative to the difference between the way I feel writing this post (I'll call it a Mediocre Post) and writing nothing at all.

So why not just get up in the morning and write today's Mediocre Post. And if it turns into a Pride Inducing Post, so be it. But why not just do that?

The answer, I think, it simple and kind of stupid.

I forget.

Take the energizing idea of every day taking a moment to be grateful to Past Me, and committing part of the day doing things that will benefit Future Me. I consciously turned that into a regular routine. Then when I had my knee surgery, the routine broke down. And now what? I expect it to start up again? By itself?

I think I should know better than that. But I don't know better. Therefore my thought "I should know better is" in error because all thoughts of the form "reality should be different than it is" are wrong by definition.

So that's a partial answer to the first question: this is what it's like (for me) being nearly three-quarters of a century old. I'm still solving the same old problems. I'm still forgetting my solutions or forgetting an important element of the solution. Then I have to re-invent the old solution or come up with a new one.

Am I making progress? Yes. But slower than it could be.

Q: What have I learned in that time? A: That. Among other things.

Q: What do I want to do next? Well, first of all: thank you Past Me. You've gotten me here. And I appreciate that. And I'm going to find some things that I can do for Future Me. Like finishing this post.

Q: What do I think about my life? A: It's great. Yes, it could be different, but I don't care to make it so. This morning, I was thinking about a different life--a minimal life where I had a small apartment in an urban area. I got up in the morning, went down to my favorite coffee shop and wrote. I walked to a nearby library or bookstore, and read. After a full day, I went home and went to sleep. Occasionally I did laundry. That would be a nice life. But I'd miss things that I love about this life: living with my best friend in this beautiful place. Having kids and grandkids and friends.

There are lives that it would suck to live, but there are so many other lives that would be great to live. Too bad that I can't live them all. But maybe I can. I can imagine doing that. So why not?

Q: What do I think about the world as it is? It's fascinating. It's amazing. It's interesting. It's a vast playground where I can create and appreciate the creation of others.

Q: Where do I think the world is going? A: I don't know. I can imagine things getting incredibly better. I can imagine them getting horribly worse. I think it's fun to speculate. Parts of the world are completely bizarre. I wonder: who could make this shit up? But human imagination and creativity are such that the answer must be: lots of people could. And some have. And that's why it is the way that it is.

A: When am I going to stop asking myself such questions? A: I think now it a good time.