I knew about the pandemic boon in cycling. The shops were backed up weeks for repairs and everyone got their bikes out of the garage to get out and ride. Supply chain disruptions caused shortages in availability of new bikes and parts for repair. Things are still nowhere near normal.
I hadn’t thought about the pandemic fueling a running boom. Shut out of gyms, I guess it’s an easy available form of fitness. I hadn’t really noticed more runners, just more bikes and few cars.
Now that the once-private, lonesome pursuit of long-distance running is an increasingly public exercise, there’s more incentive than ever to chronicle our successes and failures for an expectant readership.
This dovetails with my recent thoughts about the return of blogging. It’s a challenge to make sure the social performance doesn’t become more important than the activity itself. The social media is incentivized exactly the opposite way- the want to drive attention not the underlying activity.
I’ve been working on how to process these Journal posts in Tinderbox. I’m writing a lot, but its fragmented. My idea is to use a Zettelkasten style of summary notes as I flesh ideas out here. That doesn’t mean reusing the text or even linking back to these daily Journal pages. I think it means curating summaries of the various topics I return to here time and again.
I haven’t yet seen the Dune movie. I’m conflicted about whether to wait to see it in a theater or have a first look at home. But as mentioned, I’ve reread the original trilogy and I’m encouraged about early reports about how its been brought to life on the screen.
It’s hard for me to understand why the investment was made to shoot only the first half of the story and then try to fund the second. Isn’t it way more economical to shoot both even if you only do the the CGI and post on half? The timing locations for the second half has to be the same. It’s just the time for shooting. Actors may not be available or willing, there are the props and costumes to be stored.
One important aspect of Herbert’s universe has remained unexamined: the biology, sociology and ethics of reproduction as depicted in the novel.
The novel was widely recognized as a environmental state when published in 1965, following the birth of the environmental movement around the time of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. But it’s true that there are strong themes concerning eugenics and fate is determined by genes and inheritance. The whole theme of insurgents fighting occupying forces predated the Vietnam War itself, although once the book was published it coincided with both the escalation of the War and the protest movement.
I can’t figure out where the Arabist themes came from other than the Lawrence of Arabia film (1962), but if desertification is the ecological disaster, then I guess you need a desert people to own the natural world.
I’m optimistic that I’ll be using Tinderbox for processing the notes flowing through the blog. One of the old fashioned aspects of the app is it’s lack of sync and iOS support. While the Tinderbox XML files can be stored in an iCloud or Dropbox folder just fine, if you work on a file with one computer you need to close the file before accessing it elsewhere. This limits my use to the workstation Mac mini.
The other app I depend on is Capture One for photography and it too is a single workstation program of the old school. They’re working, it seems on a cloud based storage system that will enable remote editing and iPad editing. DEVONthink successfully navigated this gulf and I hope Capture One does as well.
But using a single laptop for Mac usage will let me run both of the on the laptop and get away from the desk for editing Tinderbox files and images.
Is there really any limit to what any individual can accomplish? It seems that the single determinant is motivation to always being a better version of oneself. What’s the drive that pushes one to try harder next time? It can’t be based on what others think, only on having a better and better opinion of oneself. Pride and self esteem based on doing the work, not based on what others recognize.
Exposure control in the mirrorless camera era: Perfect the image in camera
I took a walk in the woods yesterday and carried the Leica Q2. It actually was Craig Mod who sold me on the value of a light, autofocus full frame camera with a fixed lens that has the same field of view as my iPhone. That’s right, the iPhone and the Q2 have 28mm (equivalent) lenses. While I’ve always been and probably always will be a 50mm normal lens photographer, the 28mm provides what we now think of as normal view of a scene now that we see so much of the world through the iPhone lens.
One of my adjustments has been to go into image making with the idea that I may crop the image. With my usual 50mm view, I can usually own the frame and almost never crop. But the 28mm view and high resolution of the Q2 makes cropping a different way of seeing and perfecting the image.
Making the images reminded me of how I resolved my struggles with digital capture exposure control. If you search the net you’ll see a confusing range of views including expose to the right, expose to the left, ISO invariant exposure, and dynamic range- blowing out highlights vs noise in the shadows.
Ignore it all. Greg Williams who also uses a Q2 would tell to adjust exposure in camera to properly expose your subject. I was happy to pay for his course which goes into detail on his shooting methodology. It’s worth it to learn about how to take photos of friends and family that capture emotion and personality.
Your best camera will always be the one that’s with you! While I of course use professional camera equipment, I also shoot on my smartphone everyday. Get to know the functions you are working with – for example, when taking photos on a sunny day, the auto exposure might overexpose your subject. You can manually control this by using the exposure function and you will immediately see how your friends truly become the subject of the photo . The important thing is that you expose for the subject, which very often means overriding the auto exposure in either direction.
You’ll fine videos and articles showing Greg using an iPhone for celebrity shoots. Or the Q2. Or the Leica SL2 with a 75mm or 90mm. All autofocus and all mirrorless. You see, when you shoot with a rangefinder like my Leica M10 or a DSLR like my old Nikon D850, you’re looking through an optical viewfinder and see the camera’s point of view, but not what the camera sensor is seeing. When you use a mirrorless camera, you view the scene through a screen that’s either on the back of the camera or a little screen where the viewfinder used to be. And because you’re seeing what the sensor input will look like after processing by the camera’s electronics you’re not previsualizing the image (as Ansel Adams put it) you are actually seeing the image. Now most of us will save the image in RAW format which is the sensor data suitable for post processing, the data is optimal for recreating what you saw on the camera screen.
So now it becomes more or less useless to outguess the camera’s electronics and exposure system. I’ll usually shoot in aperture priority mode and let the camera choose shutter speed and ISO. Then as Greg suggests, I use the exposure compensation dial to get the subject right. If its a bright patch of light in the forest, I dial the exposure down until I get the balance I want. If I have the Q2 and I’m in a monochrom mood, I can set the image filter to monochrome and visualize the composition and exposure in black and white. The iPhone camera has a simple on screen control to change exposure.
If you look at Greg’s images, not only are they full of light, but they are shot under the most difficult lighting conditions. I think he gets away with it because he doesn’t care. He points the camera, adjusts exposure for the subject by using the in camera processed image and captures unique impressions of people.
We often like to over complicate our process, but in the world of mirrorless cameras its as simple as seeing, adjusting and capturing.
Steps toward Deciding Better
Now that I have a working method of collecting notes during the day and publishing, I’m thinking about how to store and possibly curate these notes. They get transferred to DEVONthink as markdown. Then what?
It turns out of course that my old friend Tinderbox can split notes by delimiter. So I can move my Journal entries into Tinderbox, divide by headings or horizontal rules then process and summarize! Summaries can be sent back out Drafts as Markdown to publish.
Back in 2003 or so, there were a few us besides Dave Rogers who were exploring how to blog or supplement blogging with Tinderbox. I had forgotten about Jazz and Tinderbox
It’s hard to edit a manuscript when you’ve just scratched the surface of so many subjects. I get distracted by bringing in more examples, more explanatory concepts.
In the chapter I’m editing about uncertainty, I introduce systems theory, chaos and emergence. Along the way, its interesting to think about our current machine learning algorithms are providing insights into complex systems that can’t be solved analytically. Protein folding is an example of a problem domain where our brains run out of power to analyze and analytic methods fail. But modeling works well. For example DeepMind says it will release the structure of every protein known to science
The behavior of the flock seems to be more than the sum of the behavior of the individual birds. In some interesting way that leads us to say, “Oh, it’s a flock and it’s not just birds flying randomly all over the place.” Or, birds flying in some sort of super fighter jet formation where they’re very rigid and there’s no interesting dynamics going on.” So my challenge then was, how do we measure that? Let’s say we have a simulated bird flock. What’s a way of applying a measure so that we get a high number when it looks like a flock and a low number when it looks like the birds are just randomly doing their thing, or flying in a rigid formation? And the approach then that I took was to use a method that I’ve been using in neuroscience for a bit, called Granger Causality. And this is… Speaking of terrible names, this is another terrible [laughter] name ’cause Granger Causality has nothing to do with causality, it’s to do with prediction.
So now I have a whole new idea to play with in trying to explain why our ignorance in the face of complexity makes deciding hard even when systems have strict rules. And how shifting to an ecological mode of thinking allows deciding better as part of the system rather than maintaining some illusion of control.
How Twitter Stole Blogging
I continue to think about this rebirth of blogging idea. We want open systems where we can talk to each other while owning our content without needing to monetize ourselves or feed tech giants. In that period of 2003 or so, we had an established ecology of RSS and ping-backs to create conversations. Discovery was from referrers or via search engines. Then Twitter created its integrated microblogging platform and used retweets, mentions and hashtags to create a unified service that did what we had, only much more conveniently. As Twitter scaled due to the network effects, it swallowed the distributed architecture we had running across websites. Even now, the most prolific, dedicated bloggers have to leverage Twitter to maintain the relevancy of their sites. Most just give up on the external site and blog directly on the Twitter platform.
We need to replicate the Twitter affordances with an open model, restoring RSS discoverability ping-backs and blog specific posts in unified tools for discovery, reading, writing and conversation.
I’ve got a daily workflow that’s clearly working. I think I’ve written every evening for a week. It feels like the work is already done and needs editing because I’ve got a set of notes in a Drafts document.
Today I added a step of pushing the files to DEVONThink Pro and and sending them to the Drafts Archive once I’ve pushed the file to WordPress and published on the site. So that’s a daily inbox, editing and publishing workflow.
So do I process these daily notes further? They are nicely searchable in DEVONthink but as daily note entries they are a mix of topics. I’m think that maybe I need to start accumulating some notes on themes for a bit of synthesis. I should focus on editing the book manuscript. Today I finished my first pass through Chapter 3 on Values and printed out Chapter 4, the introduction to uncertainty. The focus of these first chapters is exposition of the main aspects of decision theory but recasting options, values and probability as subjective, personal judgements rather than anything external or verifiable.
I’ve often thought that the true test of art is whether it lasts in the mind, provoking recollection and reflection. For example, Mr Corman on Apple TV seemed interesting, but I had trouble getting through the first episode. It felt like it had pretension to art, but struck me as dreary and dislikable. Like one does with art sometimes, I gave it a chance and now that it’s done, I find myself reflecting on it from time to time. The show’s theme of living after failing to achieve the dreams of youth is a powerful one. It’s something everyone deals with in their life’s journey, but a subject not often depicted so honestly. And even the most successful people, Joseph Gordon-Levitt included I have to assume, have not done all the things they aspired to.
Most of us won’t make a living from our creative practice. We create for ourselves and share the product for validation and ego. I respect Cal Newport for this. He’s a working academic but has long put in enormous effort into writing and adding positively to the public discourse. I think the work suffers when it becomes a brand and disconnected from the life. The best journalists are working on understanding history as it happens, not simply gaining audience. I think we’d rather have a few students or even some disciples rather than an audience.
Evolution depends on variation
I find that discussions of evolution focus on selection and the adaptation of organisms to their environment. It’s important to remember that selection can only occur when there is pre-existing variation, so that successful species will have genetic variability that expresses itself as individuals that differ one from another. It’s our differences that have enabled our survival.
The complex systems that we deal with every day like forests, corporations and cats are there because they are stable. A virus that rapidly infects and kills every one of its hosts is successful for only a very short period of time. The virus that infects, kills a few of its hosts but makes the rest stronger will hang around for as long as the ecology lasts. It the stability of complex systems that keeps them going long enough that we can actually observe them.
While stability is the key to survival, predictability is not. If a bug responds the same way to each stimulus, it’s predators can anticipate the response every time. Organisms build in unpredictability.
I heard this today: “I take it for granted that everyone would like to function at a higher physical, mental, and spiritual level. Do you really need a plan to get there or just a desire to show up and do the work?”
It’s easy to push interesting ideas and articles into drafts all day long using the share sheet across my Apple products. It’s becoming habit. At the end of the day I end up with a page of collected notes. Just bullet points and links. A quote or two. The process is to sit down for a bit at the end of the day, cllean ’em up and publish the blog.
I’ve adopted some of the Zettelkasten principles in my note taking for specific projects. With back linking being all the rage in the new generation of note taking apps, I think the point is being missed. The power of the Zettelkasten is in the processing of notes and writing higher level summaries that link down to the individual items being considered. And when summarizing items, drawing the link to a similar idea directly. But this is linking with awareness, not creating a rat’s nest of linkage.
To understand how we decide, it’s necessary to understand how the brain creates feelings about options and the odds of different outcomes. It’s not a rational, algorithmic process, but one driven by imagination and emotion. That emotion is coded in deep parts of the brain known collectively as the limbic system, but areas distinct from those representing sensation, language and action of the cerebral cortex. Feeling, desire, need or more broadly positive or negative valence is evoked by those representations. Our brains get into poorly functioning states like depression, anger and anxiety that can flood all sensation and action, blinding us.
When I saw mental health represented by a brain not a face or abstraction, it gave me hope the the idea of embodied cognition is catching on in popular conception, with acceptance that our thoughts and emotions are based in physical events in the brain. Mental health is brain health. Healthy mind in a healthy body.
Learn the art of the pleasant but firm rebuke. When, in casual conversation, I hear vaccine or public health misinformation being shared, as a physician I feel obligated to correct it. But its hard to relay to others that this is really important, the science and medicine matter, and that even though we have lots of uncertainty and lots to learn we need to work to separate the honest truth from the tales told to inspire fear.
Case in point is the excursions I’ve made back into twitter to carry on some conversations that started outside. Then the algorithm puts some interesting material in front of me. The next think I know, I’ve posted on Twitter, rather than here. Mark Bernstein could have written a paragraph about the phrase he was interested in and given some interesting context before asking his question. I would have seen it in my RSS feed and written a few paragraphs about how we carried medical info at the bedside before smartphones and always on high speed connections.
Instead, I see Mark ask a question to the room and I answer right there. Let’s not forget that Twitter and Facebook at the start were microblogging platforms. Like our little websites but hosted and widely available without web hosting, technical hurdles, RSS feeds or audience building. The @ and the # were tags and the algorithms did the rest. Conversations were right there in the comments and the network effects did the rest. The attention economy was born and blogging became performance.
Websites became tools for monetization through advertising or promotion. SEO and driving clicks through enticing headlines were how most of this worked and the dedicated information sites kept up as hobbies by enthusiasts gradually faded out, replaced by the monetized, optimized big audience websites. I see podcasts now going the same way.
I’ve tried to write here as a creative outlet. I’ve written some nice content here, I think. I have a first draft of a book based on my work here that will eventually have some public exposure. But the bulk of my effort has been personal, in notebooks or text files. After all, if I’m not going to monetize and not going to work to get the attention, it doesn’t seem to fit the online world the way it did at the turn of the century when blogging communities were born. I don’t need the income and I don’t aspire to be one of the current crop of internet intellectuals. You know who you are, intellectual dark web.
Hence my return to casual blogging. Notes of the day for the web. Images I’ve made. If I’ve found it interesting, maybe others will too. We casual bloggers can have some conversations day to day that, again, others may find interesting enough to join in. I’d prefer not to get too much attention here if I’m really being honest.
But some kind of return to blogging? The net just seems so big and sites so self contained in the search for clicks that its hard for me to see the folks I enjoy now on Twitter going back to daily journaling on the web. Those social media sites, walled off from search are only accessible from within. I’m afraid the walls these gardens of microblogging erected are just too high, too strong at this point. Can a desire for independence pull enough people out?
A principle of Deciding Better is to start with understanding real options. And a little reflection will show that real options are only those next actions available to you. Waiting for some one else to do something or some event to transpire is deciding not to decide. One must start with real available actions. The world will respond and that, in sharp contrast, is not under your control.
So, I’m just seeing what casual blogging feels like now by doing it. Long form, short form? I think I’ll just see what each day brings for now.
But I’m betting that the 14″ MBP with the M1 Max I ordered is as fast or faster than that huge hot box. And I finally have a laptop with a notch! Arriving in a week? Outstanding work, Apple.
I was hoping to replace my Mac Mini with a faster one, but no announcement. It will probably come later, but for now I’ll consolidate with a fully decked out laptop, something I’ve avoided in the last few years wit more mobile computing generally being done on iPad. Like this casual blogging I’m doing at the moment
Confusion reigns regarding Apple’s Apatial Audio. Apple isn’t helping. In fact, they seem to be fostering the confusion to move product. They confused everyone again in the announcement today.
Spatial Audio works with any headphones, not just the Apple iPod Pro and Max. Those apple products automatically switch it on with the default settings. When I’m using my fancy Sennheiser or Dan Clark headphones through an external DAC, I just need to manually switch it on in Settings. I actually have a shortcut on my iPhone to switch because sometimes my iPhone feeds a DAC connected to speakers. But on my iPad, it’s always turned on since I only ever use digital out for headphones, never speakers.
Om expresses my thoughts on the iPad Mini. Early on there were lots of small tablets that were best used hand held. My iPad Pro is an extremely flexible, portable device. The mini is more special purpose, great for reading and scribbling.
Rules for Casual Blogging
Rule 1: Streamline your workflow. Then refine it some more. Repeat until there is no friction and a thought is a post
Rule 2: Capture that thought like you’re bullet journaling. Don’t wait until you’ve written the well researched, fully argued discussion. This is a blog not an Atlantic article or your Bloomberg column. Those are written, edited and re-edited to drive clicks and ad revenue
Rule 3: Write for yourself. The audience may or may not show up. It’s for you, not for them. Forget search engines and SEO. There’s no magic algorithm that’s going to gain you readers. Only community and participation in the conversation.
So, a couple of ideas for long-ish posts. Probably going to take a few days to pull together. The risk is that they ultimately never come together
Dave Winer is also a cyclist. I agree with him that, for the cyclist on the public roads in America, car drivers suck. As Dave points out, sometimes they honk as they approach you. Sometimes they honk as they pass you. Sometimes they throw litter at you. Sometimes they sideswipe you. A good rule (I’m full of rules today, it seems) is to take over the lane clearly and unambiguously when it is not safe to pass and move over toward the right only when its safe and they have room to go by safely. It turns out that traveling by bike is very safe by most measures even though sharing the road with distracted drivers in multi ton vehicles can be stressful
Craig Mod tells a cycling tail.. One of the pleasures of blogging is having a way to publicly appreciate the work of hard working, talented artists. Craig is the real thing. Check out Craig’s site. Subscribe to his newsletters, buy his book, and if you like it, support his work.
In other news of Japan, my 2022 Hobonichi arrived from Jet Pens. More gratitude to Jet Pens for importing so much cool Japanese stationary and thanks to the fountain pen and notebook community for uncovering and publicizing these products. All enrich my life.
Plotter is launching its products in the US. This is a loose leaf style system from the folks at Midori who make the MD great notebooks and the Traveler’s Notebook system. I’ll pass for now, even though David Allen has said that the best GTD system is a loose leaf notebook. My best GTD system was the Palm Pilot and I mostly try to emulated using plain text editors on Mac and iOS.
I’ve been a cyclist all my life really, but in my mid 60’s am now in my most intense period every. I can’t be sure whether I’m faster now than ever before or more fit than ever before since age becomes such a huge factor at this point. In the last few years its become a much bigger focus. I was riding when I had my paper route for the Hudson Dispatch in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In high school I had a Sears 3 speed which I frequently rode over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan to circle around the Cloisters. I picked up riding again in Medical School when I bought a classic Raleigh Gran Prix which I rode out to the now rather infamous Stone Mountain. During my years here in Baltimore, I’ve ridden on our local roads pretty consistently when family and work responsibilities allowed.
About 3 years ago, when my internist suggested I get a bit more regular cardiovascular exercise to supplement my weight training, I began this latest phase of seeing just how well I could perform on the bike. After starting out with some training plans from Zwift for use on a smart trainer, I ended up with a local coach, Mike Birner and a serious commitment to riding.
This morning, the schedule was for 3 hour ride. I rode with a small group from our local bike club on the flatter terrain west of where I live.
I mentioned having finished the Foundation Trilogy yesterday. For some reason, I’ve been re-reading a few of the classics. This year I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the RIngs trilogy and the original Dune trilogy. They all hold up very well. We don’t seem to read Heinlein anymore. I wonder how Larry Nivea’s Ringworld books would hold up. I was a big fan of Phillip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld books. Some streaming platform will probably try to adapt them at some point I suppose.
I don’t see making a series out of the Foundation books. There’s no villain and no conflict except history itself.
I’m hoping for a Mac Mini from Apple tomorrow that supports my two monitor setup. I really need a replacement for my current mini with a bigger internal hard drive, but the first Apple Silicon version was too limited in monitor support to use.
Last night I had some sad dreams. Old friends and mentors acting totally out of character. Lost items which disappear in greater numbers the harder you look until nothing is left. Interestingly, the few prospective studies of the emotional content of dreams have shown about equal positive and negative emotional valence, but this is biased by recall of dreams from just before awakening. The functions of dreams and sleep continue to be guessed at but seem central to preparing the brain for another round of activity in the waking state.
Dreams are passive creations of the imagination. Awake we have a drive to create things separate from ourselves. Blogs, bookcases and fancy cakes. Is this a way of creating a legacy? Something to outlast ourselves, independent from ourselves? In the end, becoming better versions of ourselves has to be our most important act and our greatest legacy.