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Week of May 17, 2024

a bit sad, and yet we party

Preamble

This Instabram was a bit delayed, as is issue 57 of the newsletter. I've been pretty sad. But it's okay. Sadness is a feeling, that when embraced, can offer its own form of enjoyment. To be sad is a proof of life.

Being around good friends helps. Knowing your values helps. Time helps. But perhaps what helps the most is realizing that being sad is a very normal part of life. And indeed, necessary for a life well lived.

how i hope i look while sad
how i actually look

Images

i LOVE this thing!!
AI is here to stay

Bachelor Party for a Friend

Music

Week of May 10, 2024

ill just start over

Images

my first drawing on nomad
the worlds most dangerous piss

GPT fucking rocks I don't care what y'all say. Pics from a local bookstore to Goodreads searches in JS for any browser? I mean come on!

const titlesAndAuthors = [
    "anagrams lorrie moore",
    "collected fictions jorge luis borges andrew hurley",
    "the fur hat vladimir voinovich",
    "orlando virginia woolf",
    "geek love katherine dunn",
    "pizza girl jean kyoung frazier",
    "existentialism is a humanism jean paul sartre",
    "side affects on being trans and feeling bad hil malatino",
    "breaking things at work gavin mueller",
    "the origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind julian jaynes",
    "wonderworks angus fletcher",
    "why poetry matthew zapruder",
    "to write as if already dead kate zambreno",
    "i, little asylum emmanuelle guattari",
    "ugly feelings sianne ngai",
    "eros the bittersweet anne carson",
    "the deluxe transitive vampire karen elizabeth gordon",
    "e.a.r.l. the autobiography of dmx smokey d. fontaine",
    "my last sigh the autobiography of luis buñuel",
    "dilla time dan charnas",
    "the gentrification of the mind sarah schulman",
    "metropolis ben wilson",
    "the death and life of great american cities jane jacobs",
    "nickel and dimed barbara ehrenreich",
    "cannibalism a perfectly natural history bill schutt",
    "on the soul and other psychological works aristotle fred d. miller jr.",
    "synesthesia richard e. cytowic",
    "genesis the deep origin of societies edward o. wilson",
    "the information james gleick",
    "the periodic table primo levi",
    "cosmic scholar the life and times of harry smith john szwed"
];

function openSearchTabs() {
    const baseURLs = {
        amazon: "https://www.amazon.com/s?k=",
        goodreads: "https://www.goodreads.com/search?q="
    };

    titlesAndAuthors.forEach(title => {
        const encodedTitle = encodeURIComponent(title);
        window.open(baseURLs.amazon + encodedTitle, "_blank");
        window.open(baseURLs.goodreads + encodedTitle, "_blank");
    });
}

openSearchTabs();

ft. the worst commencement speech ive ever heard -- didnt even think it was possible to do that poorly

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Week of May 03, 2024

hxh photo dump, asmr boyfriends, not much effort on movies or books this week unfortunately

Websites

Personal Library
A non-profit helping you augment your best ideas

Videos

Images

aight
🤘

(all images below from this dope facebook page)

Music

Movies

nothing, except everything. (2023)
A graduating high schooler navigates a world of seemingly inevitable chaos by finding order in the number 7.

Tweets

Issue 55: Personal Computing Paves the Way

How the past of Personal Computing gives us a hint into the future of Personal Library Science

< Previous Issue

Dear Reader,

Sometimes, a moment happens not instantaneously, but over many seasons. Looked back on with the blessing of hindsight, there exists a discrete before and after the moment, but for those who lived it, the moment may have had a very long "during" period. Those who live in the "during" find themselves impatient, looking to be on the other side of the event, anxiously waiting for "now" to be "history". They want to live to see the thing complete. They want it to be done.

For when "now" becomes history, there is a sense of peace of mind, a complete loop, a chord that resolves into something.

History cannot be told while it is happening, therefore, not only because the people involved are too busy or too confused to puzzle it out, but because what is happening can’t be made sense of until its implications have been resolved.

-- Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer

The curse of those who live and breathe is the task of trying to make sense of what will be – while it is – before it was.

The "During"

In issue #54, I wrote about a moment that is very much in its "during" phase, the formalization of Personal Library Science. I can not know how the story of Personal Library Science will be told by those who have the convenience of history to aid them. I can only discuss the landscape as I see it, the work completed by those who came before me, and the work being done now by me.

Someday, libraries will be fully mechanized. Then, without leaving one’s office, it will be possible to pick up the phone, dial in a code, and have the actual paper one is looking for almost instantly at hand. Something of the sort has got to happen, or our libraries will become buried in the mass of books and articles now being printed, and searching in the old way will become hopeless.

-- Pieces of the Action (1970)

The "during" is hard work, and very lonely work. There are no promises of success, and indeed, the path is one where you can't see more than three feet ahead of you and you exist on the cliff's edge of extinction by any silly mishap. The work of "during" is exhausting, and it constantly holds you taut and alert, afraid of the shadows that lurk beyond the campfire's edge.

Fortunately, the work of the edge isn't without some form of solace. The work becomes manageable, perhaps even virtuous, if we allow ourselves to commiserate with those who struggled and strived in the past to make their dreams a reality. To understand their history is to write our story.

In this issue, we'll discuss a topic that is firmly in our past. This history is not only a guide for Personal Library Science, but a key player in it's very fiber of being. We will be talking about the Personal in the portmanteau that is Personal Library Science, which comes from Personal Computing.

Personal Computing

In 1975, the Altair 8800 was released. Widely considered the first personal computer, the critical advancement of computing was driven by affordability and programmability. Easier, more natural programming languages like BASIC and lower costs for hardware components made computers not massive time sharing leviathans owned only by defense departments for missile ballistic calculations and academia interested in pushing engineering and acquiring grants, but machines people could bring into their own homes.

The computer was no longer just a tool for major cost intensive purposes, but minor individualized purposes. Personal computing made computing became less about humanity, and more about humans.

As the 1990s opened, the workstation technology of the previous decade was beginning to look distinctly threatened by newer, low-cost and high-performance personal computers based on the Intel 386 chip and its descendants. For the first time, individual hackers could afford to have home machines comparable in power and storage capacity to the minicomputers of ten years earlier—Unix engines capable of supporting a full development environment and talking to the Internet.

-- The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary

Scientists paved the way for engineers, engineers paved the way for hackers, hackers paved the way for hobbyists, hobbyists paved the way for everyone else. Today we live in a world where every person's phone is slightly different than their neighbors, and this is a good thing.

Idiosyncratic technology creates a natural world. Solve the problems that need solving, then get out the way.

Companies establish their DNA very early on. It can make them tremendously successful, but it can also make it hard for them to escape when what served them well in the early days doesn't serve them so well any more. I remember being an intern at IBM Research in Yorktown Heights around 1982, seeing the culture still dominated by batch processing. Even when they were doing timesharing, they talked in terms of virtual card readers and virtual card punches. Everything was still 80-column records. With DEC, it was the timesharing mentality that they never escaped. And I suppose with Microsoft it's an open question whether they'll be able to move beyond the desktop-PC mentality.
Seibel: And 20 years from now people will be talking about how Google can't get past how to sell ads on the Internet.

author's note -- ironically this was posted a few weeks before the writing of this issue: The man Who Killed Google Search

-- Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming (2008)

What does the legacy and lessons of the rise of Personal Computing at the end of the 20th century teach us about the possible path of Personal Library Science?

Companionship

In 2020, I made the claim that the advantage of GPT models was not its ability to scale, but its ability to solve local problems. This claim began to come true years later with the release of the GPT Store (discussed in issue #42). Suddenly, individual people – not at the organization level – found themselves being able to create their own solutions to their unique, idiosyncratic problems.

Idiosyncratic technology creates a natural world.

By writing detailed instruction sets and using tactics like semantic search and function calling, LLMs leverage the effort of the individual into emergent and complex processes.

This leverage is the same leverage that made personal computing so ubiquitous, so quickly. The leverage created a new asset class, data. It gave us (you and me) superpowers of communication, and those of us who could communicate with the programs themselves (programmers) found themselves solving problems that gave them access to near limitless wealth.

It’s cheaper to reuse existing software components than to write code from scratch, which also makes it possible for entrepreneurs to start software companies with fewer up-front costs. The entire software industry owes its financial success to leveraging this arbitrage.

-- Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software

Personal Library Science Is Leverage For One's Library

Personal Library Science is the leverage of LLM technology, applied to a personal library.

A personal library differs from a impersonal library in the fact that a personal library is an interpretation of a source material. These interpretations include: photographs from different photographers at the same event, or favorite scenes from a movie, or favorite passages from books, parts of songs that bring you to tears, etc. Importantly, these interpretations create unique sets that go on to create unique problems which require unique, idiosyncratic solutions. Sound familiar?

While a painting or a prose description can never be other than a narrowly selective interpretation, a photograph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency. But despite the presumption of veracity that gives all photographs authority, interest, seductiveness, the work that photographers do is no generic exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth. Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience. The immensely gifted members of the Farm Security Administration photographic project of the late 1930s (among them Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee) would take dozens of frontal pictures of one of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied that they had gotten just the right look on film—the precise expression on the subject’s face that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry. In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects. Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are. Those occasions when the taking of photographs is relatively undiscriminating, promiscuous, or self-effacing do not lessen the didacticism of the whole enterprise. This very passivity—and ubiquity—of the photographic record is photography’s “message,” its aggression.

-- On Photography

In issue #54, I wrote:

...personal library science is focused on your relationship with your information. How do we store information so that it useful at a later date? How do we transform our information into new valuable assets in different creative domains? How do we do all of this while being flexible enough for the idiosyncrasies, proclivities, likes and dislikes of eight billion distinct individuals? How do we chronicle the information diet of a single person as they learn new things, interact with the world at different phases in their life? How do we make sure we can pass down our best knowledge to generations below?

Many of these questions were asked and solved by the existence of personal computing. The existence of software has had a foundational impact on the types of solutions we can create to solve these large, incalculable problems. By solving them over and over in slightly different ways that make sense to an individual the problem eventually dissolves.

In fact, I'd argue that the history of personal computing teaches us that all top down solutions are less complete – and therefore less useful – than bottom up emergent solutions.

The issue is that we are now deluged with data, our interpreter antenna is going haywire trying to calculate, to store, to relate, to understand. LLMs have changed the math entirely in this endeavor, particularly thanks to the ability to store, reference, and transform data that we find to be important, not data that others tell us is important.

Solutions such as Commonplace Bot and Quoordinates are proof points of the value of our personal libraries.

This insight is critical to our work, and the frameworks and technological gains provided by personal computing and LLMs make our task of hoping to one day understand ourselves, to use our personal libraries to secure our intellectual legacies and create our art, a bit more manageable.

Up Next

Next week, we will dive into the history of the commonplace book. The commonplace book is the foundation for the commonbase (commonplace + database) and is an integral ingredient of Personal Library Science.

Teaser

...Humanity often comes up with certain great ideas concurrently including calculus, natural selection, the use of language, etc. This concurrent creation is known as adjacent possible, and is driven by the available technology and discourse of an era. The invention of the commonplace book is no different and has lived many different lives as: the zibaldone, the miscellany, the zettelkasten, the...

Ye Olde Newsstand - Weekly Updates

Week of April 26, 2024
ft. Chris. P Bacon

Canvas Apps, speedboat accidents, the First Hokage was just a dude

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram

Week of April 26, 2024

ft. Chris. P Bacon

Movies

Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)
Abandoned by her family, Kya raises herself all alone in the marshes outside of her small town. When her former boyfriend is found dead, Kya is instantly branded by the local townspeople and law enforcement as the prime suspect for his murder.

Code

GitHub - quilljs/quill: Quill is a modern WYSIWYG editor built for compatibility and extensibility.
Quill is a modern WYSIWYG editor built for compatibility and extensibility. - quilljs/quill
GitHub - cloverhearts/quilljs-markdown: QuillJS Editor Plugin for advanced Markdown
QuillJS Editor Plugin for advanced Markdown. Contribute to cloverhearts/quilljs-markdown development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - fabricjs/fabric.js: Javascript Canvas Library, SVG-to-Canvas (& canvas-to-SVG) Parser
Javascript Canvas Library, SVG-to-Canvas (& canvas-to-SVG) Parser - fabricjs/fabric.js
GitHub - hsk-kr/react-fabricjs-example: Fabricjs with React
Fabricjs with React. Contribute to hsk-kr/react-fabricjs-example development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - buzzfeed/libgif-js: JavaScript GIF parser and player
JavaScript GIF parser and player. Contribute to buzzfeed/libgif-js development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - asabaylus/react-command-palette: An accessible browser compatible javascript command palette
An accessible browser compatible javascript command palette - asabaylus/react-command-palette
GitHub - konvajs/konva: Konva.js is an HTML5 Canvas JavaScript framework that extends the 2d context by enabling canvas interactivity for desktop and mobile applications.
Konva.js is an HTML5 Canvas JavaScript framework that extends the 2d context by enabling canvas interactivity for desktop and mobile applications. - konvajs/konva

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Issue 54: Personal Library Science

How do we manage the libraries of us?

< Previous Issue

Dear Reader,

I've been meditating recently on when it is appropriate to declare a new field of study. How many rocks had to be categorized before we called it "geology"? How many cocktail parties had to happen between the physics and biology departments to make "astrobiology" a major you can study in? Why is "underwater basket weaving" such a persistent meme?

A field of study is officially defined as:

A field of study (also called a discipline) is a general topic of knowledge, learning, or research. In schools they are often called "subjects".

To take this definition further, I think to qualify as a field of study, we must have two things: a field that exists whether or not it is paid attention to, and the ability for humans to make knowledge gains through discovery and invention in the field.

Formatio Fossilium

Let's take paleontology as an example.

First, we need to establish the field itself. The field of fossils and flora from a bygone era were put into the Earth and calcified or mummified or frozen in time by some conglomeration of forces of nature, from volcanic activity to chaotic systems in weather patterns. Importantly, these events would have taken take place whether or nor humans were there to witness them happening (NB: if you want more on this, I wrote a bit about how I think empiricism is greatly overrated before).

a 99 million year old tick preserved in amber clutching a dinosaur feather

The field itself exists, the tree in the forest fell with no one around to hear it.

Second, we need to be able to make conjectures about the field, be wrong about said conjectures, and improve with new hypotheses. In other words, the field needs to be study-able in the first place. If we were still stuck with our caveman brains, many ideas would simply be out of reach, forever. We need to be able to reason about something to make scientific claims about it in the first place.

It may seem strange that scientific instruments bring us closer to reality when in purely physical terms they only ever separate us further from it. But we observe nothing directly anyway. All observation is theory-laden. Likewise, whenever we make an error, it is an error in the explanation of something. That is why appearances can be deceptive, and it is also why we, and our instruments, can correct for that deceptiveness. The growth of knowledge consists of correcting misconceptions in our theories. Edison said that research is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration – but that is misleading, because people can apply creativity even to tasks that computers and other machines do uncreatively. So science is not mindless toil for which rare moments of discovery are the compensation: the toil can be creative, and fun, just as the discovery of new explanations is.

-- The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

The story of our understanding of the brontosaurus deserves to be mentioned here.

Yes, No, Wait... Yes?

The brontosaurus, often beloved but questioned for over a century, is a large sauropod from the late Jurassic period. Initially discovered in the 1870s, it was later thought to be the same as apatosaurus (another dinosaur) due to similar fossils, leading to the name brontosaurus being dropped because apatosaurus was named first. However, a 2015 study re-examined their distinctions and reinstated brontosaurus as its own genus. This study analyzed numerous specimens and detailed anatomical traits, showing clear differences, particularly in build and neck structure, between the two dinosaurs. Despite some skepticism, many paleontologists now accept brontosaurus as distinct, celebrating its iconic status and unique features.

An out of date reconstruction of Brontosaurus living in water
"The reports of my extinction are greatly exaggerated" - Mark Twainosaurus

This anecdote about our updating understanding of paleontology checks off both of the constraints I established above. Paleontology has a field that exists outside of the realm of human meddling, and it can be reasoned about. So that's that.

The Rule

The generalizable rule for a field of study is that discoveries can be made. We need to be able to perceive something that exists, ask questions about it, and come up with answers that create follow up questions.

Now let's turn our attention to the task at hand.

(NB: This does leave engineering disciplines in a gray area, unless we consider the inventions made by engineers are "discoveries" of new uses of raw material, engineers are rarely, if ever, discovering natural phenomena like a physicist or chemist might.)

Library Science

Library science, also known as information science, is concerned with the organization, archival and retrieval of information.

First things first, let's test to see if library science fits our generalizable rule. Information, for example this very issue you are reading now, exists in the universe, by virtue of my having written it and you confirming it's existence outside of my own head-canon by reading it ("I saw Bigfoot, I swear!!"). That means that we can check off our first constraint, this information is a tree that indeed fell in the woods. These words, in this order, exist.

The Letter, Camille Corot (French, Paris 1796–1875 Paris), Oil on wood
Self reflection requires a self to reflect upon

Now let's say one day in the future, this issue you are reading now ends up in an essay anthology book and is delivered to the NYPL front desk. It is the task of the librarians to decipher the information of the book and place the book where it belongs most – perhaps in a section about fields of study, or about library science itself (meta!). The librarians need to have some sort of system that they can develop that is more effective than blindly throwing books into a heap and hoping for the best. An example of this is the Dewey Decimal System.

Dewey or Not Dewey

The Dewey Decimal System is a way libraries organize books using numbers. Each subject gets a number from 000 to 999. It’s divided into 10 main classes, 100 divisions, and 1000 sections. For example, the 500s are for science, and the 820s for English literature.

The Dewey Decimal System is not the only organization system on the block. There's multiple systems including the LoC (Library of Congress), the UDC (Universal Decimal Classification) and the BBC (not the news network, the Bliss Bibliographic Classification). All these systems have pros and cons, each is a conjecture about how to organize information that comes into the library, each is improved upon as our knowledge of information itself evolves. For example, the work done by Claude Shannon and his peers ushered information science into a new era where boolean algebra could now be considered a first class information science tool.

How the Bit Was Born: Claude Shannon and the Invention of ...
Claude Shannon, father of Information Theory: the quantification, encoding, and transmission of data across communication channels

Personal Library Science

Today, I am claiming that there is a new field of study in the world, an off shoot of library science, called personal library science. Personal Library Science is defined as: the discipline concerned with the organization, retrieval, and transformation of an individual's data.

The operative words here are: organization, transformation, and individual. Personal library science is focused on you and your data, not the existence of all data itself. More succinctly, personal library science is focused on your relationship with your information. How do we store information so that it useful at a later date? How do we transform our information into new valuable assets in different creative domains? How do we do all of this while being flexible enough for the idiosyncrasies, proclivities, likes and dislikes of eight billion distinct individuals? How do we chronicle the information diet of a single person as they learn new things, interact with the world at different phases in their life? How do we make sure we can pass down our best knowledge to generations below?

In sum, how do we manage the libraries of us?

Massive challenges, to be sure.

Informational Overwhelm

We can quantifiably say that people take in information every day: from podcasts, to short form video, to books from thousands of years ago, the information diet of human beings is varied, complex, and multifaceted. We then use this information to make critical judgement calls: to move cross country, to take or quit a job, to vote for politicians, to put cereal in before or after milk.

“Too many scholars think of research as purely a cerebral pursuit. If we do nothing with the knowledge we gain, then we have wasted our study. Books can store information better than we can—what we do that books cannot is interpret. So if one is not going to draw conclusions, then one might as well just leave the information in the texts.

-- The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, Book 1)

As such, it is of utmost importance that we create a middle ground language that we can make conjectures and developments against. We need to be able to understand the overlap between psychology, technology, publishing, the value of literacy, human creativity and our ability to make good judgement calls for ourselves and our communities.

I think personal library science is the tool that is up to the challenge.

Personal Library Science is defined as: the discipline concerned with the organization, retrieval, and transformation of an individual's data.

Up Next

Next week, we will discuss the current landscape of technology, and why now is the time for personal library science to be taken seriously. We will be looking at the history of personal computing and why it matters to personal library science. The week after that, we will be discussing commonplace books, philosophy of what human judgement means, and the responsibility of the reader.

Teaser

Tangent: Personal Computing

In 1975, the Altair 8800 was released. Widely considered the first personal computer, the critical advancement of computing was driven by affordability and programmability. Easier programming languages and lower cost made computers not massive time sharing leviathans owned only by defense departments and academia, but machines people could bring into their own homes changed the equation entirely...

The Altair 8800: The Machine That Launched the PC Revolution | PCMag

Ye Olde Newsstand - Weekly Updates

Week of April 19,2024
what i thought was interesting this week: vannevar bush, suzume, killua v tanks, fan fiction anime metal, travis scotts fall, ai music, neat ghost feature learned by mistake, more!

i went on a family guy clips binge this week, and finished a book about the potency of humiliation in the status game

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram

Week of April 19,2024

what i thought was interesting this week: vannevar bush, suzume, killua v tanks, fan fiction anime metal, travis scotts fall, ai music, neat ghost feature learned by mistake, more!

Books

Pieces of the Action
An inside account of one of the most innovative R&D eco…
The Status Game: On Human Life and How to Play It: On S…
For centuries, philosophers and scholars have described…

Movies

The Peasants (2023)
Peasant girl Jagna is forced to marry the much older, wealthy farmer Boryna, despite her love for his son Antek. With time, Jagna becomes the object of envy and disdain with the villagers and she must fight to preserve her independence.
When You Finish Saving The World (2022)
Evelyn and her oblivious son Ziggy seek out replacements for each other. As Evelyn tries to parent an unassuming teenager at her shelter, Ziggy fumbles through his pursuit of a brilliant young woman at school.
Hillbilly Elegy (2020)
An urgent phone call pulls a Yale Law student back to his Ohio hometown, where he reflects on three generations of family history and his own future.
Hans Zimmer: Hollywood Rebel (2022)
An in-depth look of the 40 year journey, from post-war Germany to Hollywood royalty, of Hans Zimmer, the man who’s become the dominant force in the world of movie soundtracks. His film credits include The Lion King, Rain Man, Pirates of The Caribbean, Gladiator, The Dark Knight Trilogy, 12 Year A Slave, The Thin Red Line, The Da Vinci Code and Dune.
Falling in Love (1984)
During shopping for Christmas, Frank and Molly run into each other. This fleeting short moment will start to change their lives, when they recognize each other months later in the train home and have a good time together. Although both are married and Frank has two little kids, they meet more and more often, their friendship becoming the most precious thing in their lives.
Whiplash (2014)
Under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer begins to pursue perfection at any cost, even his humanity.
The Disaster Artist (2017)
An aspiring actor in Hollywood meets an enigmatic stranger by the name of Tommy Wiseau, the meeting leads the actor down a path nobody could have predicted; creating the worst movie ever made.
Baby Driver (2017)
After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
The Impossible (2012)
In December 2004, close-knit family Maria, Henry and their three sons begin their winter vacation in Thailand. But the day after Christmas, the idyllic holiday turns into an incomprehensible nightmare when a terrifying roar rises from the depths of the sea, followed by a wall of black water that devours everything in its path. Though Maria and her family face their darkest hour, unexpected displays of kindness and courage ameliorate their terror.
Suzume (2022)
Suzume, 17, lost her mother as a little girl. On her way to school, she meets a mysterious young man. But her curiosity unleashes a calamity that endangers the entire population of Japan, and so Suzume embarks on a journey to set things right.

Images

Hamilshit: An American Poosical
neat ghost feature learned by mistake
this photo is so balanced (from: a photo journal)

Music

Videos

Tweets

Issue 53: We're Back, Baby!

Introducing a new field of study, and a plan...

< Previous Issue

Watch or Listen to this Issue (or Read it Below!)

audio-thumbnail
Issue 53: We're Back, Baby!
0:00
/348.786188

Dear Reader,

Food For Thought

Welcome back! It's hard to believe a month has passed since the last issue, but as spring officially kicks into gear, it's time to kickstart the engine and get back into the flow of things.

Catching Up to Speed

In the last issue, I wrote that I'd be utilizing my month away from the weekly Sunday releases to work on software that would power the audiovisual arm of the newsletter. My goal was to create software that would "automate" the creation of engaging and novel audiovisuals, without sacrificing the core value add of the text newsletter. I'm happy to say that I was mostly successful in this endeavor.

Quo-Host & The Philosophy of Software that Solves a Problem

The result of this month's work is Quo-Host, a collection of programs that create engaging YouTube videos from the source material of book highlights and a raw audio transcription.

Building software like Quo-Host is interesting because it needs to be many things at once. It is software that attempts to solve a multi-level problem, while at the same minimizing the externalized costs it imposes on the larger system as a whole.

From Dev to End User

After a few weeks of grinding, I was able to get out a release of Quo-Host that I'm happy with. In this context, "release" means that I can use the software as an end user instead of as an active developer. In other words, to move from the program to the "executable file".

More importantly, I was able to integrate a lot of technologies and philosophies I'd been mentally toying with for many months but didn't have the time to build out, which I will be discussing the implications of later in this issue. This included coming to terms with "how I want to spend my hours", and relying on technology to improve the value and accessibility of my work without taking away the parts I consider idiosyncratic and fun.

In the "Catching Up to Speed" section above, I said the build was "mostly" successful, so allow me to briefly elaborate on that. I think the resulting videos from Quo-Host – as a viewer – fall somewhere on the spectrum of being more engaging than a video of B-Roll but less engaging than a professionally edited video by far. Going forward, I'd like to improve the quality of the experience enough to make it something that people look forward to watching, even if they don't read the newsletter.

GitHub - bramses/quo-host: podcast co host with automagic quote surfacing and realtime highlighting. great for youtube!
podcast co host with automagic quote surfacing and realtime highlighting. great for youtube! - bramses/quo-host

The source code for Quo-Host. Notable files include: transcriber/simulate.py, public/index.html, server.py, and transcriber/transcript_to_chapters.py

"maybe its a feature not a bug?" cope cope cope

In the earliest ideation phase, Quo-Host was merely concept art in a Field Notes journal. An impassible architectural challenge I faced was: how to make the computation feel "real-time" even though the audio it is processing against will have past by the time the computation pipeline finishes! In essence, I needed some sort of mind reading capability! I don't know if there's a Python package for that just yet!

An initial figma sketch of how i wanted the UI to feel

From there I had to plan out the UX of the videos themselves. I wanted the quote text to be readable on small phones, so I used a JS library called textFit, which helped a ton. The top bar is the model's reasoning, which I find helpful as a "what was GPT thinking" section, and the bottom is a word timed transcription. The highlights make the whole thing easier to dive into, and more approachable.

(You can see the full playlist of Quo-Host videos here.)

I'm still playing with form factor, delivery, voices (I'm using Eleven Labs for the narration), editing, etc. but this project was a success in making video releases from my work fast, and fun.

The Plan for Year Two of the Newsletter

As we head back into our weekly cadence, I'd like to introduce the plan for the content of the newsletter in year two. Last year, I was driven mainly by curiosity, tackling any random topic that piqued my interest and I thought could create an engaging short essay that I could reliably get out within a week. Broadly speaking though, the themes I wrote about were books and technology, as well as the occasional social critique. By the end of the year, I began exploring "series type" newsletters, multi week deep dives into a single topic. I liked these series posts because I could logically split the work into digestible weekly chunks for the reader, while also being ambitious with callbacks, ideas, and build towards larger philosophies over a period of time. This year, I want to take the concept of series farther.

Much. Farther.

But On What?

As you likely know by now, I've long been in search of the "holy grail synthesis" of books and computers. I'm fascinated by the ideas and executions of combining one of civilization's oldest surviving technologies (books ~= 5500 years old) with one of civilization's youngest technologies (digital computers ~= 80 years old). Books and computers (specifically software development) have both had immeasurable impact on my life, and I see both as integral ingredients of the person I am today and the person I desire to be in the future.

In addition, I think books and a deeper understanding of computing are integral to the optimal functioning of our species as the new immense challenges we face require more and more nuance, wisdom, and judgement.

Thanks to the recent advent of LLMs, I think we are in the beginning of a golden era of commonplace books and computing at the individual level. My anecdotal experiences building and using Commonplace Bot have sufficiently proven this to me. I've even coined a term for the field I'll be expounding upon in depth over the next couple of months: personal library science.

Personal Library Science

Personal library science is a portmanteau of "personal computing" and "library science" and asks a simple, but very deep question:

How we can use computing to organize and augment the reading and writing of books at the individual human level?

We'll be spending a lot of time with this topic going forward, as I feel it is time to consider it seriously as both a field of study and as a suite of software tools and capabilities.

Let's Get To It!

Next week, the newsletter will be back with the first issue of year two with a deep dive into the argument for personal library science.

Again, welcome back, and I'll see you all, next Sunday.

Ye Olde Newsstand - Weekly Updates

If you've visited the site in the past month, you'll see that I haven't gone radio silent. In fact, I've been consistently posting #instabrams all month! Still the most fun, random, slice-of-life tag of the site.

Ball Is Life!
almost friday tv is better than most studio productions
Arise
textFit is goated, figma to reality
The Role is for “Grandson”
re-finding an old song i liked a lot, fym rasengans don’t work on him?
MapGPT is doing numbers
and so is my GCP account
Will you search through the loamy earth for me?
Climb through the briar and bramble

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram