Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: computing (page 1 of 1)

the file system

The Verge:

“I grew up when you had to have a file; you had to save it; you had to know where it was saved. There was no search function,” says Saavik Ford, a professor of astronomy at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. But among her students, “There’s not a conception that there’s a place where files live. They just search for it and bring it up.” She added, “They have a laundry basket full of laundry, and they have a robot who will fetch them every piece of clothing they want on demand.” […]

To a point, the new mindset may reflect a natural — and expected — technological progression. Plavchan recalls having similar disconnects with his own professors. “When I was a student, I’m sure there was a professor that said, ‘Oh my god, I don’t understand how this person doesn’t know how to solder a chip on a motherboard,’” he says. “This kind of generational issue has always been around.” And though directory structures exist on every computer (as well as in environments like Google Drive), today’s iterations of macOS and Windows do an excellent job of hiding them. (Your Steam games all live in a folder called “steamapps” — when was the last time you clicked on that?) Today’s virtual world is largely a searchable one; people in many modern professions have little need to interact with nested hierarchies.

“Search, don’t sort,” Google says, but increasingly I’m wondering whether I ought to spend more time sorting and less time searching. I’m always looking for ways to introduce constructive friction into my working practices — see this post for an example — and maybe going Old Skool with some kind of rational filing system would be more helpful than either (a) searching or (b) using the inconsistent and ad hoc system of folders I now have. If I designed a new system Hazel would help me implement it. 

Lamport 5

Quanta Magazine interview with Leslie Lamport:

One last thing, about another side project of yours with a sizable impact: LaTeX. I’d like to finally clear something up with the creator. Is it pronounced LAH-tekh or LAY-tekh?

Any way you want. I don’t advise spending very much time thinking about it.


Julia Evans makes really cool zines for people who want to know more about computer programming, or, more generally, about being a power user of computers. Her most recent zine is called How DNS Works, and it’s excellent — plus, there are some leftover pages about registering and maintaining your own domain. For example:

Buying domain

Other images with more detail here.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of owning your online turf — or coming as close to it as you can get — for reasons I explain in detail in this essay. Evans’s zine-within-a-zine about domain registration and maintenance does a great job of explaining exactly how it works — and in the process, I hope, makes it seem less intimidating than it otherwise might.

getting a new Mac up and running

Things I do when I get a new Mac, more or less in order:

  • install Homebrew
  • use Homebrew to install pandoc
  • install BBedit
  • install MacTex
  • type this into the terminal: defaults write com.barebones.bbedit FullScreenWindowsHogScreen -bool NO
  • type this into the terminal: defaults write com.apple.dock single-app -bool true (followed by killall Dock)
  • enable Night Shift
  • install TextExpander
  • install Alfred
  • install Hazeover
  • install Hazel

Everything else can wait; once I have the above in place — plus of course syncing all my existing TextExpander snippets — I can do almost everything I really need to do on a computer, with maximum focus and speed. 

Knuth, Lutheran

This is a nice — not a great, but a nice — profile of one of my heroes, Donald Knuth, but it does have an odd little moment: 

Dr. Knuth lives in Stanford, and allowed for a Sunday visitor. That he spared an entire day was exceptional — usually his availability is “modulo nap time,” a sacred daily ritual from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. He started early, at Palo Alto’s First Lutheran Church, where he delivered a Sunday school lesson to a standing-room-only crowd. Driving home, he got philosophical about mathematics. 

Hmmm, isn’t that interesting? Knuth is the deepest and most wide-ranging of computer scientists; plus, “many consider Dr. Knuth’s work on the TeX computer typesetting system to be the greatest contribution to typography since Gutenberg”; and he’s a Sunday-school teacher? Might it not be worth our time to explore that a little bit? Apparently not. 

But if you, unlike the NYT, wanted to explore these matters, then you might take a look at the book of calligraphy and commentary that Knuth put together called 3:16: Bible Texts Illuminated; or, if you’re really interested, listen to or read his lectures on religion and computer science, Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About

But in the domain of zero to one, not-something to something, Pointsman can only possess the zero and the one. He cannot, like Mexico, survive anyplace in between. Like his master I. P. Pavlov before him, he imagines the cortex of the brain as a mosaic of tiny on/off elements. Some are always in bright excitation, others darkly inhibited. The contours, bright and dark, keep changing. But each point is allowed only the two states: waking or sleep. One or zero. “Summation,” “transition,” “irradiation,” “concentration,” “reciprocal induction”—all Pavlovian brain-mechanics—assumes the presence of these bi-stable points. But to Mexico belongs the domain between zero and one—the middle Pointsman has excluded from his persuasion—the probabilities. A chance of 0.37 that, by the time he stops his count, a given square on his map will have suffered only one hit, 0.17 that it will suffer two… .

“Can’t you … tell,” Pointsman offering Mexico one of his Kyprinos Orients, which he guards in secret fag fobs sewn inside all his lab coats, “from your map here, which places would be safest to go into, safest from attack?”


— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow