This week went by quickly: My company gave us the day off on Friday, so we had a 4-day weekend1. I was initially skeptical of this idea; what's there to do with an extra day off during a global pandemic? However, having a chunk of time away from work was refreshing. (It also reminds me that I'm overdue for a vacation whenever vacations are feasible again…)

I spent a chunk of time on this post about writing a Prolog solver for the miracle sudoku puzzle. It got a warm response, which was fun to see. 🙂

In COVID news, parts of Washington State are starting to come back online per the state's phased re-opening plan. King County (i.e. Seattle and its suburbs) is still closed with no near-term plans to end the shelter-in-place order. The next phase (“Phase 2”) allows small businesses, like hair salons, restaurants and retail stores, to reopen with limited capacity; movie theaters, museums, and libraries will remain shuttered until “Phase 3”. There's a mandatory 3-week gap between each phase, meaning that since King County still hasn't entered “Phase 2”, we're still months away from full reopening - “Phase 4”. Personally, I've been happy with the response of the WA state government. It's comforting to know there's a plan in place with objective data driving policy.

Vim

Following my experiments with Doom Emacs a few weeks ago, I'm giving vim another try. I've changed a couple things so far with my configuration: I added set relativenumber to make it easier to jump between lines, enabled mouse mode as a temporary crutch, and I've begun to use :terminal to have an active terminal window in a vim pane while I'm working.

This is definitely the most comfortable I've been in vim yet, but there's still room for improvement. I want to setup fzf to make switching between files easier. I've also started a running document for writing down useful key sequences – for example, gq{motion} reformats the selected lines.

I followed a similar adoption path when I made an effort to use tmux regularly. Enabling affordances like mouse-mode were what made the habit stick. Once I realized that the benefits of using tmux – persistent sessions, multiple tiles/windows, etc. – outweighed its inconveniences – learning a bunch of keyboard shortcuts – I began to use it daily. I'm hoping to get to that point with vim. I'm already faster at some tasks in vim than I am in VSCode (for example, writing/editing prose), but I need to get better at manipulating code before it can be my primary editor.

I'm considering reading Practical Vim as my next technical book.

Media

This week, I read H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Reading older sci-fi is hit-or-miss for me; sometimes I can look past the anachronisms and see the writing in the context it was written, but other times the anachronisms are all I think about. War of the Worlds falls in the former category. Since it was written just before modern industrialization – in 1898, the tail of the Victorian era – the pains it takes to describe futuristic Martian technology appear charming, rather than dated.

And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder. … Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand.

There's an entertaining dissonance in using a “milking stool” to describe alien machinery. Also, that Victorian-era prose is enthralling. It walks right up to the line of being profanely flowery, but never crosses it.

Reading War of the Worlds in 2020 felt a lot like watching the Terminator series decades after it'd been released. Both pieces of media have been subsumed, digested, recapitulated, and parodied by popular culture to the point that the audience risks dismissing them for consisting of tired tropes – despite these works being the source of those tropes. As an example, this passage from War of the Worlds cements it as the origin of the “alien invasion” meme:

We have learned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space. It may be that in the larger design of the universe this invasion from Mars is not without its ultimate benefit for men; it has robbed us of that serene confidence in the future which is the most fruitful source of decadence, the gifts to human science it has brought are enormous, and it has done much to promote the conception of the commonweal of mankind.

Is this radical in the view of today's science-fiction? Hardly. But I can imagine the impact of this viewpoint when the story was published in 1898. Glad I took the time to read this classic.

Cooking

This week was biscotti week! I made two types of biscotti: a batch of cranberry pistachio biscotti, and a batch of gluten-free chocolate almond biscotti. I was happy with how both of them turned out.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti (Conventional Flour)

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti (Conventional Flour)

Biscotti lends itself surprisingly well to being made gluten-free. The dough (and final product) is intentionally dry and somewhat crumbly. Gluten-free flour mixes are good at that type of texture! Light, fluffy textures are much more difficult. As an added bonus, most biscotti recipes are “accidentally” dairy-free, so I didn't have to do any adaptation there.

Chocolate Almond Biscotti (Gluten-Free)

Chocolate Almond Biscotti (Gluten-Free)

I will admit that the gluten-free biscotti aren't as visually appealing. That was likely due more to my technique than the recipe. Better luck next time!

  • Sergey Brin's old personal webpage is still up on Stanford's website: http://infolab.stanford.edu/~sergey/
  • The Lindy Effect.
    • The Lindy effect is a theory that the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things like a technology or an idea is proportional to their current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy. Where the Lindy effect applies, mortality rate decreases with time.

    • This was one intriguing idea that I picked up from Antifragile, and I'm glad that it exists outside of the Taleb-controversy-universe so I can reference it without entering into that culture war.
  • Using SQL to Look Through All of Your iMessage Text Messages: This blew my mind. 🤯 iMessage has a SQLite database that you can query through. Very cool! This is quite powerful when combined with Datasette.
    • My database contains messages dating back to when I got my laptop in 2015, so I'm not sure this data syncs between devices.

  1. Monday was Memorial Day ↩︎