March 5, 2021

No one to replace the fish

There’s a scene in Lexicon by Max Barry in which Emily is sitting in a waiting room watching a single fish swimming in the upper half of a tank shaped like a large hourglass. The water drips slowly into the bottom half. Emily assumes that the whole mechanism will automatically pivot at some point and then the fish will be swimming in the bottom half. And so on, indefinitely. She figures it’s some sort of art piece. Looking more closely, she realizes that there is no mechanism for allowing the tank to pivot and that someone must just come in and replace the dead fish each day.

I can’t get this out of my head. The tank is not so much an artistic statement as a metaphor for life. It doesn’t pivot when the water runs out. And there’s no one to replace the fish.

Life
March 2, 2021

Emacs from Scratch…again

Occasionally, maybe two or three times a year, I become determined to move away from Emacs. I swear that I’m sick of Configuration Fatigue and I’m done for good this time!

It never sticks. I don’t enjoy editing anything without proper Vim bindings and I’m not interested in going back to Vim. I don’t enjoy writing in VS Code. I also love Org Mode so much it hurts. So, Emacs with Evil Mode it is!

When I want a complete, wildly complex, kitchen-sink-included Emacs setup that’s managed for me, I rely on Doom Emacs. Sometimes, though, I feel like I’m fighting with Doom as much as relying on it. It’s always being updated, which is great, but it means that things are always changing. I feel like I don’t understand it and that I’m not in control. Isn’t Emacs all about being in control?

So, for maybe the 6th time, I’m going to build my configuration from scratch.

OK, not exactly from scratch. I’m bringing in the best bits from Nano Emacs, a nice-looking basic configuration that isn’t looking to be a framework”. For the moment I’m including the desired individual nano emacs files as-is. I’ll probably live with it for a while and move the theming bits over by hand and basically fork it for myself.

The other change I’m making is letting Emacs be Emacs by installing packages using package-install and also using the built in Customizer UI when I can. Maybe if I stay away from fancy it’ll stick this time.

Here’s what this post looks like in Emacs…

Nano Emacs screenshotNano Emacs screenshot

I started a brand new repo to keep track of it all, too.

emacs
February 26, 2021

Onivim 2 - a new (to me) modal editor

I’m pretty sure I’ve tried every text editor that exists in the world. Whenever I learn about a new one, I can’t not try it. Today, that means Onivim.

Onivim 2 is a retro-futuristic modal editor - the next iteration of the Onivim project - combining Vim-style modal editing with the aesthetics and language features of modern editors.

Color me intrigued! All I want in this world is a modal editor that is pretty, easy to use, and comes with sane defaults. Oh, and I’d like it to be meant for prose rather than code. Onivim hits two or three of those.

Onivim screenshotOnivim screenshot

The deal-breaker for me may be that I’m not looking for a code editor, and Onivim is very definitely a code editor. Still, it’s good to see projects like this. Anything that can keep me out of VS Code is worth a look.

Editor
February 23, 2021

Configuration Fatigue

Why am I so tired? I think it’s from spending so much time and energy configuring things.

I spent 2 hours yesterday trying some new visual config changes to Emacs for no good reason. Because micro-managing font faces is important! I’m not even supposed to be using Emacs, for crying out loud.

Then I farted with my TiddlyWiki for a while because I couldn’t decide if I wanted a sidebar visible or not and how should backlinks look, anyway?

After spending a week committing to using Lightroom Classic for everything related to my photography workflow, I ditched it entirely and have been setting up Capture One Pro and Photo Mechanic, which is what I used for a long time and had the whole workflow basically nailed. Now I’ve gotta start over. Again.

I have external hard drives, a Synology, and Backblaze for storage. You think I can come up with a decent, stable storage and backup setup? I can! But then I decide to configure it differently the next day because what if?

My Hugo-based blog at baty.net was breaking during builds for no reason I could find. I thought I’d try updating the theme but I’d forgotten how because I had recently reconfigured things to use Hugo modules instead of Git submodules. I just want to write and post something. Is that too much to ask?

I recently replaced my MacBook Pro and iMac with M1 versions of the MacBook Air and Mac Mini. I started from scratch with both, and it’s been weeks of configuration and I’m still not done.

Sometimes I think of all this configuration as just having fun tinkering with computer stuff. I’ve loved tinkering for as long as I can remember. Lately, though, spending time configuring things feels too much like work; like a crippling distraction rather than a fun diversion.

You’ll note that I’m posting this to my Blot.im blog. Why? Because it’s easier and there’s really nothing to configure and right now that is a welcome change. And I still haven’t fixed Hugo.

Maybe it’s actually Decision Fatigue”.

life
February 21, 2021

A Remarkable Tablet

You’ll find a paper notebook near me most of the time. Writing on paper helps me remember things better than typing notes into an app on a computer. Because I’m a visual thinker, writing on paper helps me find things later. I tend to remember, spacially, where I write things; as in, It’s in the lower left corner toward the front.”

I thought Apple’s iPad and Pencil would be ideal for taking notes. They aren’t. The combination of iPad and Pencil is an amazing bit of technology, but using an iPad as a notebook sucks. Writing on an iPad feels like using a somewhat clumsy input device through glass onto a computer. I tried the screen covers that are supposed to make writing on an iPad feel more like paper. They don’t. And worse, the rest of the iPad’s features (along with the entire internet) are always right there, lurking behind the glass, waiting to distract me.

The reMarkable tablet is billed as the only tablet that feels like paper,” so I was of course intrigued. Skeptical, but curious. I wondered if it could really replace my paper notebooks even after the iPad failed.

Turns out that, yes, it can.

I love the reMarkable tablet, and here’s why.

It really does feel a lot like paper. The first time I wrote on it I was like, Woah, that’s nice!” It’s enough like paper that I’m not distracted by how it feels.

I love the hardware. The device looks and feels great. Solid. It’s as thin as a half-used legal pad. The pen is light but not too light. And speaking of the pen, I bought the fancy one with an eraser”. The eraser takes a minute to get used to, but is exactly the right thing. The pen doesn’t use a battery, so there’s never that fear of not being able to write because I forgot to charge it.

I love the look of the screen. It looks like paper. There’s no backlight, which many consider a missing feature. I don’t. It’s very easy on the eyes. It’s cool that I can choose the type of paper”. No more fretting about which type of notebook to buy. Should I choose lined paper or do I go with a dot grid pattern? Doesn’t matter, now I can have all of them any time I want.

Battery life is great. The battery lasts long enough so that I’m not always thinking about the battery. I charged mine a couple days ago and it’s now at 87%.

It’s always ready. Using an iPad for writing is acceptable if I’m specifically sitting down to write for a while, but it’s less useful for general note taking. The reMarkable is always ready. I have mine set to sleep after 20 minutes. If it does happen to fall asleep while I’m thinking or doing something else, I just tap the button at the top left and it’s ready to go in less than a second. The iPad, on the other hand, needs to sleep much sooner if I want the battery to last through a couple of meetings. And when the iPad does fall asleep (as it always does) I have to tap to wake, then swipe up, then lean over so FaceID works (and it often doesn’t, so then I must also enter my pass code). This makes the iPad an unacceptable replacement for paper. The always-ready feeling of the reMarkable might be the most meaningful difference between it and the iPad. It’s not as ready as paper, but it’s close.

I love the lack of features. What I love most about the reMarkable tablet is what it doesn’t do, which is just about everything. There’s nothing else there1. I can write and organize notes and sketches. That’s it. There’s nothing lurking behind a swipe or a notification. If I want, I can see all my notes on the companion apps on my Mac and iOS devices. I can convert my handwriting to text and email it to myself. That’s how I wrote this post, in fact. It worked great.

reMarkable 2 TabletreMarkable 2 Tablet

Many of the reviews I’ve read have focused on all the features that the reMarkable 2 doesn’t have. They miss the fact that those missing features are the greatest feature of the reMarkable. The reMarkable tablet is not much more than a stack of flexible notebooks, and that’s all I wanted.


  1. Well, I can read and write on PDFs but that is likely something I will only occasionally do.↩︎

Gear Writing
February 8, 2021

Keeping the Leica SL

I was supposed to sell the Leica SL once the SL2-S arrived. I almost did it, too. It’s technically still listed for sale in a couple of places, but I’m not ready to get rid of it yet. I mean just look at it.

The Leica SL is five years old and still a wonderful camera. If I’m being honest, the brand new SL2-S is better, but not that much better. I’m keeping the original because it’s awesome and it’s worth more to me to have around than the money I could get for it. This calculus could change, of course, but it’s kind of amazing that I have an extra SL available. I don’t see the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm ever coming off the SL2-S, so it’s great that I can keep one of the M primes or the Zoom lens on the SL without having to switch lenses.

Another benefit of keeping the SL is that I can take it places I might not take the newer one. It seems silly to call the SL my beater” camera but that’s how I’m thinking of it. If I drop or lose or have the SL2-S and Summicron stolen, I’m out a very significant amount of money. With the SL and cheaper lens it would still really hurt, but less. The SL has GPS built in and the SL2-S does not, which is handy for if and when I actually do go places again.

Leica SL with 35mm Summicron-M ASPHLeica SL with 35mm Summicron-M ASPH

I no longer have a camera to use for scanning film , since I sold all my Fuji gear. I’m thinking about finding a cheap Nikkor macro and adapter and using the SL for the scanning station. Not an ideal use for such a fine camera, but should work well.

And finally, I get a little emotional about cameras. I sold the M10-P and hate myself for it, even though it was necessary at the time. I’m thinking that if I don’t have to sell the SL, why not keep it around for a while?

I have had thoughts about finding a used Leica Monochrom. If I get serious about that I’d need to sell the SL to help fund the M. In the meantime, the SL won’t go to waste.

UPDATE (February 24, 2021): I sold the SL. Could not resist trying a Q2 Monochrom.

Leica Misc Photography
February 2, 2021

Analogging

It only takes a few seconds to write something down in a notebook, and look what it gets you. It gets you an immutable, permanent record of something in a cool, personally unique format. It produces a physical artifact that will last for generations.

For a few years, I recorded each movie I watched and each book I read in a large notebook…just one line for each entry. But, as often happens, I was sucked into doing it digitally instead because convenience or search or whatever. This is a shame because what do I get for having a text file or Roam graph with a bunch of movies listed? I get a boring, digital, ephemeral text file that doesn’t really exist anywhere as a thing.

I really want to have that thing. But I kind of also want a searchable, sharable record at the same time. So, I did some math.

Let’s say that it takes 2 whole minutes to go get the notebook, record a book or movie in it, and put the notebook back on the shelf. And let’s estimate that I read two books each month and watch 4 movies each week. That’s what, 18 entries per month. Assuming I enter each one as it happens, that’s 36 minutes per month. In reality, I probably enter everything all at once each week rather than one thing at a time. This knocks it down to maybe 10 or 15 minutes per month.

I think I can find an extra 15 minutes per month for such a lovely permanent record. And if I can find another 15 minutes I can record everything digitally as well, for when I want something to search.

Notetaking
January 30, 2021

NextDNS

It was fun setting up a Pi-hole on my home network. I learned some stuff, found an excuse to play with another Raspberry Pi, and got network-wide ad blocking as a bonus. The whole thing cost next to nothing and played to my nerdy tendencies.

The problem with my nerdy tendencies is that they come and go. For months the Pi-hole just sat silently in the corner and did its thing. Sometimes the best computers are the ones you forget are there. But then something goes wrong, or I want to upgrade, or some other event requires me to get in there and do something. After so long since not doing anything with the Pi-hole, I forgot how to do anything with it. I try to take good notes, but always miss something and end up flailing about online frustrated and looking for help.

Enter NextDNS, The new firewall for the modern Internet.” A couple of clicks and it was configured before I knew it. I installed the app on my Mac(s) and iPhone and everything just worked with almost no effort on my part. I don’t remember the last time something that I expected to be complicated turned out to be so simple.

I now have the functional equivalent of a Pi-hole but with none of the joy” of managing a Pi-hole. I have better things to do with my time, so this is great for me.

NextDNS is free for up to 300,000 queries/month. I knew I would blow past that so I signed up for a very reasonable $19.99/year.

I’ve had no issues after the first couple of weeks, and blocking seems to be at least on par with what I was getting with the Pi-hole. So far, I love this service.

SaaS Networking
January 30, 2021

Twtxt and twt.social

I’ve played on and off with twtxt a little and keep the feed out here: http://tilde.club/~jbaty/twtxt.txt. Here’s a snippet of my old twtxt.txt file…

2017-10-15T08:45:06-04:00   Hello, this is a test from twtxt
2017-10-15T08:54:53-04:00   Testing the post_tweet_hook to see that it copies the file to my server
2017-10-15T16:24:10-04:00   Fun with text tools today https://www.baty.net/2017/some-text-based-things-today/
2017-10-16T07:17:40-04:00   Good morning, several people!

It’s a fun, simple idea; just a text file as social media feed. I’m already spread pretty thin online so it’s only been an occasional toy, but of course someone (James Mills, aka @prologic) is trying to make using the format easier and more approachable by wrapping it in a web UI. Here’s his description from the about page

Technically twtxt.net is a twtxt client in the form of a web application. You are viewing an instance of this software at twtxt.net. twtxt.net allows you to make small posts in a simple easy way without privacy concerns, advertising, tracking or the fear of censorship. Think of twtxt as somewhat like Twitter™ but unlike Twitter™ twtxt and twtxt.net are designed to be decentralised.

James was kind enough to give me my own Pod” at baty.twt.social and I’ve been tinkering with it for a few days.

I haven’t spent much time with twtxt.net yet, but it’s been fun writing short posts knowing that the underlying format is open, portable, and easy to deal with. There’s no telling where any of this will go or whether it has any chance of putting a dent in the other established networks, but I’m rooting for it.

A couple things I’d like to see. First, the web UI appears heavily mobile-weighted and I’d like to see a more concise layout for desktop. Second, there seem to be a lot of mentions” in my feed whose purpose is unclear to me, e.g. FOLLOW: @twtxt from @jack using twtxt/0.1.0@988f2a7.

I expect that discoverability, cross-server mentions, and conversations will continue to be improved, making the whole thing an increasingly-viable alternative to, say, Twitter. It’s awesome that people are working on this stuff.

Social
January 25, 2021

Apps I’m using this week

simple [ sim-puhl ], adj. Having few parts or features; not complicated or elaborate.

I talk a big game about keeping things simple, but I rarely follow my own advice.

Before restarting my computer, I usually quit all open apps. This morning I noticed how many that was. I didn’t count them, but it was a metric shit-ton of apps. And there was a lot of feature overlap.

So today I made a few changes to the lineup, spurred on by a desire to reduce the number of apps I need open and to consolidate where things are kept. You know, I wanted to keep it simple. 😆

Here’s what changed.

  • OmniFocus for tasks. I had tasks everywhere (Curio, Emacs, paper notebooks, Things, Reminders, Roam, etc.) That all happened organically, but is unsustainable and crazy-making. At first I thought I’d move it all into Things again, but when there’s lots going on, OmniFocus is the appropriate answer, so I took the opportunity to start with an empty database and migrated everything I’m supposed to do from the other places into OmniFocus.
  • TheBrain for projects. I’ve been trying to keep work stuff out of my Roam database, and had been using a combination of Org mode and Curio and DEVONthink. I’ve bailed on both Org mode and Curio and put it all into TheBrain. TheBrain version 12 does a great job with notes and backlinks and of course links everything to everything. Giving it a go for project and people management.
  • Day One for journaling and daybook. I’d been journaling in Org mode and Day One and sometimes Roam. No more. If I want to write about either the large swaths of my day or the minutiae, it goes in Day One. I keep a few separate journals in Day One. The big ones are Journal for photos and general journaling and Daybook for the minutiae about the day.
  • Roam is for topic journals. I’ve been limiting my use of Roam to mostly things I want to learn about or take notes on. Quotes, links, ideas, etc. Roam is good at that.
  • Nova for writing and editing. For manipulating text, there’s nothing like BBEdit, but what I do with text most often is write and edit Markdown files. For this, I’m using Nova, from Panic. It’s just nicer for that sort of work.

I’m writing it down because it’s fun seeing how things evolve. It remains to be seen if I need to write a new post next week about this.

Apps Workflow