Joe Woods

Published on 2020-09-30

September 2020

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This is not the first time I've talked about feeling weird attempting to carve out my own little positive space in these monthly reports, but writing this on the morning of September 30th, that same thought comes to mind.

I'm doing fine — great, even. I'm still terrified about what's going on in the world around me. But life's still going on over here. The 200th day since I've been working from home has come and gone. Things that I was looking forward to have come to pass, only to be supplanted by new things to look forward to.

Here are some things that happened this month. My month was great, and I hope, despite everything, yours was too.

Music

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

Life

I wrote and published an article about my experience in getting serious about learning Japanese, and what I've learned 150 days in. I'm not sure how often I'll be publishing these, but I'm sure I'll write one once I either hit one year or a significant milestone. So, if you're curious about how I approach languages or learning in general, or curious about how much progress I've made in these five months, go check it out!

This article also encouraged me to broaden the category that the above article and this article sit in — now that this category doesn't only have these monthly updates, I've turned it into a more general "Life Updates."

I also took the "Overhead on the Subway" and made it a single post as opposed to its own category, since, you know, it's been a while since I've been on the subway, let alone overheard anything on it. This left room for me to add a new "Other Thoughts" category, which will mostly serve as a "ehh, I don't really know if all of this deserves its own bucket yet" bucket.

Also being released at the same time as this post is a post that represents the total sum of my work on how to be good at researching things — "How to Take Notes on a Text." It's a lot, but hopefully you'll get something out of it that you can use in your own life.

That's a lot about my blog, but not a lot about my life! All I really have to report is that I had my own little time_t party this month:

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Programming

I didn't spend a lot of time writing code outside of work this month! A lot of that is probably because I've been playing with tooling a lot — I spent a lot of time on my config files this month, as well as setting up Alfred to be more of an extension of the way I work. Also, I suppose I've just been reading more as well.

I spent a little bit of time this month working on failbetter's infrastructure, but not as much as I would have liked.

A sort of silly amount of my time this month went into waiting for and then configuring the Powkiddy V90, a "retro" emulation device designed to look just like the Gameboy Advance SP. It's a lot of fun, but trying to sysadmin a gameboy was a little frustrating. I have already written so many configuration files for this dang thing, but even that was fun in its own way. But now it's running the Gameboy Color emulator of my choice, I've figured out and mitigated the bug where games just weren't being saved, and I've fixed up the sort of bonkers file structure that the device came with. And now I have this cool, extremely cheap fake Gameboy!

I wrote a script to take Joel Califa's Alfred snippets to replace emoji shortcodes with their actual emoji and create five new bundles of basically the same content, but with skin-tone modifiers applied, so that I can type :wave: and have my text automatically replaced with 👋🏻. I wrote a whole lot more about this in yet another blog post called "The Alfred Emoji Pack (with skin-tone modifiers)". The code lives here, and I'm glad to say that my "I only write typescript now" mindset is continuing.

I also did a bit of work to straighten up my browser homepage, which is a very stylized weather dashboard:

An updated, too-cool weather dashboard.

It's live here, and the repo is here. It needs a whole lot of work to clean it up, but since this is only for me, I've been taking the extremely lazy way out in a lot of ways.

Reading

Like I mentioned above… I spent way more time reading this month and way less time writing code!

Nonfiction

Well, at the beginning of this month, I decided to stop reading SICP. I read the penultimate chapter and skimmed the last chapter, but I don't really feel like I was engaging enough with it anymore, so I set it aside. Maybe one day I'll come back to it, but I was getting a bit impatient and felt like I should move on to more current things…

…So I immediately read the out-of-date HTML 5 Hacks. I think I got this in a Humble Book Bundle long ago, but the title grabbed me, so I gave it a try. It came out in 2012. I mostly skimmed the last few chapters, as they focused on implementations that are now (mostly) out of date with technologies that I'm either already (mostly) familiar with, or discussed frameworks that I was interested in mostly due to how they shaped the tools we use now-a-days.

I'm sure when the book came out it would have been both revolutionary and helpful, but I believe its time has come and gone already. I was frustrated by it, because more than once I thought that a topic it described was cool and was astonished that I hadn't heard about it, only to learn that I hadn't heard about it because the feature is deprecated — like, for example, the Microdata DOM API.

The language of the book was also greatly out of date; it's a good snapshot about how people used to talk about programming and programmers in general. For example, I only counted one real hack: Internet Explorers 6–8 ignore semantic HTML5 tags like, say, <article>. However, you can add the tag to the browser's tag list by executing a script early that creates an element which you ignore by invoking something like document.createElement('article');. Now the element is in the browser's list of acceptable elements and your page will… continue to be broken, because it's IE 8.

I also started on The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks. So far, I've found it a bit chauvinistic, almost to the point that the morals and messages it attempts to convey are diluted and obscured by its tone and underlying biases. I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say once I finish the book, but I want to come out of this book with more strategies for how projects get organized while still maintaining my belief that you should plan for the worst but hope for the best.

Fiction

I finished Rachel Beanland's Florence Adler Swims Forever. It was good, but extremely sad. It was also fun to see some folks I know in real life, like fellow failbetter editor Thom Didato, get well-deserved shout-outs in the novel's acknowledgements.

Next, I read Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb. Dang, what a fun ride. Such a good book. I'm sort of astonished that it doesn't seem like this series has gotten more traffic — where's my HBO series for this trilogy? I highly recommend this novel. I decided to to take a short break before picking up the next book…

…So after that, I read the recently-released Network Effect by Martha Wells. This is the fifth work in the Murderbot Diaries series, and the first to be a full-length novel (as opposed to a novella). It was pretty good! I feel like these books are starting to get a little formulaic, but this one, like the others, was a page-turner. And yes, Murderbot is still a completely unbelievable character, but that still doesn't really subtract from the fun.

Then, after that, I hopped right back into the Farseer Trilogy with Royal Assassin. I've made a bit of progress on this one, but I'm sure I'll have something to say about it next month!

And though I linked to it in the intro of this post, I can't go without mentioning 20020. Jon Bois has definitely struck gold again; the first two updates are just as good as I remember 17776 being. I highly recommend that you don't miss this one — just click the link and start reading!

failbetter

This month, failbetter published the tragic and beautiful short story "Elphinstone" by Anu Kandikuppa, as well as the cerebral and dark "Things Stay with You" by Ann Gelder.

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.