Joe Woods

Published on 2020-08-31

August 2020

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It's been a weird month, but you all know that, because we're all having one weird month after another. But this one has been somehow more strange for me; I've felt simultaneously immensely productive and unproductive, active and lazy.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about two things: who do I want to be? and how do I actually finish projects?

I haven't figured either of those out yet. But maybe I will soon!

Music

I published another blog post with tiny reviews of songs which came out recently, which you can find here. Here's the playlist:

Bikes

When I was in college, I did a brief stint of work in the university's bicycle repair shop, where I learned a handful of things about maintaining bicycles which I promptly stopped using once I moved to Philadelphia.

But: no longer! After two years of these bikes just sitting on our back porch disassembled, everything was in working order, minus a bunch of rust and some questionable brakes on my bike. Only one tube needed to be replaced, which I consider a minor miracle.

So: it's now possible for us to get around a little bit more. And now all I want to do is go hop on my bike and stare at the Delaware for a little while…

Productivity

I have rearranged my RSS habits yet again, getting them to a state that I'm … mostly happy with. I now have one big bucket which lives in Feedbin, which consists of:

And then I use Reeder and Readably on my laptop and phone, respectively, making the workflow look something like…

A quick, illegible sketch of websites coming into my bucket of things to read

Which is a lot of workflow wrangling to get close to a process that still doesn't feel quite right to me, and that I often find myself having to set a whole lot of time aside to get back on top of.

Programming

I worked on some smaller projects outside of work this month, but nothing really of note to share, because I didn't get any to a state that I could write about. But that's going to happen, I suppose! One such is the beginnings of a framework to use a Raspberry Pi to do complex computation and then email me about it, but I need to spend more time with it in order for the project to become actually useful. The most notable thing here, though, is that I've made the decision to try to write every personal project in typescript now.

I am still reading SICP. (Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Abelson, Sussman, & Sussman.) This marks the second month that I've spent working on it, chunk by chunk, and if I keep it up at this rate — about half an hour a day — I will likely finish it up before the end of next month. This endeavor really is making me a better programmer, though; though it's rare that there's a concept introduced by the book that I don't already know about, often it puts a new, more accurate or concise name to it, and opens up more avenues to consider or manipulate said topic further. Plus, I'm learning a whole lot more math. Just by virtue of sitting down and thinking about algorithms, I'm forging these neural pathways that make me come to elegant solutions to problems I can solve with software.

I'll admit that the going has been tough on getting through this book. It's clearly not my highest priority in my life right now, whereas if I had to be doing it for a class, I'd be able to put the time in. But I've finally gotten to the chapters which discuss interpreter design and implementation, which means I'm spending less time getting bogged down in math I don't know and more time breezing through the concepts I do know but don't yet have a name for.

Also, the last thing I'll say about it is that I'm getting an appreciation for the history of programming that I didn't previously have. The hot debates in computer science from the very late 70s are really fun to observe 30 years later.

Reading

As I mentioned last month, I wrapped up Consider Phlebas. It's sort of weird coming back to this novel after having experienced (almost) everything the canonical universe of the Culture has to offer; I'll never be able to read this novel for the first time again, and it was a completely different experience this time around. The second read-through I didn't quite find it as life-altering as the first, but it was still great. And now I'll never be able to read it for the second time ever again!

I also read the first four works in the first movement of The Murderbot Diaries, which were a lot of fun. I think it says a lot that I picked up the next novella in the series immediately after finishing each subsequent one! I am going to take some time off before conquering the novel which sits in position number five in the list, though.

For the most part, I found these really great. Each book was sort of the same, but deviated from the formula enough to remain interesting. They're all certainly page-turners, and I looked forward to my opportunities to keep reading them, which was very nice. The only complaint is that I didn't find the main character very believable in a lot of ways — the character's motivations are often contradictory, and not in a "this character is conflicted" way, but a "it doesn't make sense that this feeling would happen here for this character for any reason other than to advance the plot" way. There's a lot of tiny deus ex machina moments which come out of the same character. Really, what I'm trying to say is that Murderbot is basically just Goku. Which isn't a bad thing.

Finally, I picked up Florence Adler Swims Forever by fellow Virginia Commonwealth University English master's graduate Rachel Beanland. I seriously only started reading this book because Beanland graduated from the same department as me (though I believe she received the MFA while I received the MA). It's a really gripping book, but it's devastatingly tragic. I do most of my reading while falling asleep, but I think I'm doing a great job of not letting this extremely depressing book make me very sad right before bed. More to come about this once I make significant progress on the book, though!

failbetter

This month, failbetter published a scathing short story by Laura Perkins, and two gorgeous poems by Kristen Hanlon: "After I Have Provisionally Voted" and "I Don’t Know How It Started but I Know How It Ends".

Some other stats

This month,

That's it! Thanks for reading. Feel free to get in touch with me any time at joewoods@fastmail.com.