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Issue 54: Personal Library Science

How do we manage the libraries of us?

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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.

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

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!)

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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

Ball Is Life!

almost friday tv is better than most studio productions

Videos

Images

this is going to happen a lot going fwd
the isagi dickriding is reaching unforeseeable heights

below images from here

Music

Tweets

Movies

The Theory of Everything (2014)
The Theory of Everything is the extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023)
A rich man learns about a guru who can see without using his eyes. He sets out to master the skill in order to cheat at gambling.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Molly Bloom, a young skier and former Olympic hopeful becomes a successful entrepreneur (and a target of an FBI investigation) when she establishes a high-stakes, international poker game.

Books

The Heart of Tantric Sex: A Unique Guide to Love and Se…
After many years of exploration, Diana Richardson found…

Arise

textFit is goated, figma to reality

Movies

The Accountant (2016)
As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.
The Pig, the Snake and the Pigeon (2023)
The arrogant, third most-wanted criminal in Taiwan, decides to get rid of the top two competitors and crowns himself the most-wanted criminal before dying.

Books

Who Wrote the Bible?
A much anticipated reissue of Who Wrote the Bible?—the …
The Only Skill that Matters: The Proven Methodology to …
In the next ten years, every knowledge worker on earth …
“Pure O” OCD: Letting Go of Obsessive Thoughts with Acc…
Let go of the struggle and obsess less. With this uniqu…

amazing book for those without ocd, required reading for fellow sufferers

Music

Code

GitHub - comfyanonymous/ComfyUI: The most powerful and modular stable diffusion GUI, api and backend with a graph/nodes interface.
The most powerful and modular stable diffusion GUI, api and backend with a graph/nodes interface. - comfyanonymous/ComfyUI
GitHub - achristmascarl/three_body: ✨ rudimentary simulation of the three-body problem
✨ rudimentary simulation of the three-body problem - achristmascarl/three_body
GitHub - STRML/textFit: A jQuery-free component that quickly fits single and multi-line text to the width (and optionally height) of its container.
A jQuery-free component that quickly fits single and multi-line text to the width (and optionally height) of its container. - STRML/textFit
GitHub - nat-n/poethepoet: A task runner that works well with poetry.
A task runner that works well with poetry. Contribute to nat-n/poethepoet development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - orbstack/orbstack: Fast, light, simple Docker containers & Linux machines for macOS
Fast, light, simple Docker containers & Linux machines for macOS - orbstack/orbstack

Commits

index updates to match static · bramses/quo-host@27af91f
podcast co host with automagic quote surfacing and realtime highlighting. great for youtube! - index updates to match static · bramses/quo-host@27af91f
Update README.md · bramses/quoordinates@ea5a42e
Use OpenAI Embeddings to visualize Kindle Highlights from Readwise! - Update README.md · bramses/quoordinates@ea5a42e

Images



just for a moment, let's live in our past

Videos

Websites + Blogs

Benjamin Franklin and the French Women
OpenAI customer story: Harvey
Harvey partners with OpenAI to build a custom-trained model for legal professionals.
Embedding projector - visualization of high-dimensional data
Visualize high dimensional data.
Why does a remote car key work when held to your head/body?
I was trying to unlock my car with a keyfob, but I was out of range. A friend of mine said that I have to hold the transmitter next to my head. It worked, so I tried the following later that day:…

Tweets

me fr

The Role is for Grandson

re-finding an old song i liked a lot, fym rasengans don't work on him?

Movies

99 Homes (2014)
After his family is evicted from their home, proud and desperate construction worker Dennis Nash tries to win his home back by striking a deal with the devil and working for Rick Carver, the corrupt real estate broker who evicted him.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)
When a depressed woman is burglarized, she finds a new sense of purpose by tracking down the thieves alongside her obnoxious neighbor. But they soon find themselves dangerously out of their depth against a pack of degenerate criminals.
The Conversation (1974)
Surveillance expert Harry Caul is hired by a mysterious client’s brusque aide to tail a young couple. Tracking the pair through San Francisco’s Union Square, Caul and his associate Stan manage to record a cryptic conversation between them. Tormented by memories of a previous case that ended badly, Caul becomes obsessed with the resulting tape, trying to determine if the couple are in danger.

Books

The Every
When the world’s largest search engine/social media com…
Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming
Peter Seibel interviews 15 of the most interesting comp…
Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can …
A National Bestseller!“Read this book to connect with y…
The Sabbath
Elegant, passionate, and filled with the love of God’s …
Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of …
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER “If you’ve ever wondered how…

Images

basically this
lmao

Music

Videos

Code

GitHub - clerk/clerk-nextjs-demo-app-router: Auth starts here with the official Next.js starter utilizing the app directory
Auth starts here with the official Next.js starter utilizing the app directory - clerk/clerk-nextjs-demo-app-router
GitHub - mljs/kmeans: K-Means clustering
K-Means clustering. Contribute to mljs/kmeans development by creating an account on GitHub.

Commits

Update Gitignore and OpenAI model version · bramses/quo-host@e6ab317
assembly para and timestamps json, log zip show
Add flask dependency and fix return statement in _transcriber.py · bramses/quo-host@cf8477a
podcast co host with automagic quote surfacing and realtime highlighting. great for youtube! - Add flask dependency and fix return statement in _transcriber.py · bramses/quo-host@cf8477a
Add book cover image retrieval and update functionality · bramses/quoordinates@25fc463
Use OpenAI Embeddings to visualize Kindle Highlights from Readwise! - Add book cover image retrieval and update functionality · bramses/quoordinates@25fc463
Add dependencies and update clustering algorithm · bramses/quoordinates@e2ac7a4
Use OpenAI Embeddings to visualize Kindle Highlights from Readwise! - Add dependencies and update clustering algorithm · bramses/quoordinates@e2ac7a4

Tweets

MapGPT is doing numbers

and so is my GCP account

Code

GitHub - chearon/dropflow: A CSS layout engine
A CSS layout engine. Contribute to chearon/dropflow development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - AndrewMayneProjects/GPT-4-Vision-Robot-Lab: This project is a web-based 3D scene that allows you to control a robot and detect items using GPT-4 with Vision. The robot can be moved using a virtual D-pad or by entering instructions in a text input field.
This project is a web-based 3D scene that allows you to control a robot and detect items using GPT-4 with Vision. The robot can be moved using a virtual D-pad or by entering instructions in a text…
GitHub - raphaelsty/knowledge: Open-source personal bookmarks search engine
Open-source personal bookmarks search engine. Contribute to raphaelsty/knowledge development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - PrefectHQ/marvin: ✨ Build AI interfaces that spark joy
✨ Build AI interfaces that spark joy. Contribute to PrefectHQ/marvin development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - ynqa/jnv: interactive JSON filter using jq
interactive JSON filter using jq. Contribute to ynqa/jnv development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - theirstory/gliner-spacy: A spaCy wrapper for GliNER
A spaCy wrapper for GliNER. Contribute to theirstory/gliner-spacy development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - davabase/whisper_real_time: Real time transcription with OpenAI Whisper.
Real time transcription with OpenAI Whisper. Contribute to davabase/whisper_real_time development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - w3slley/bookcover-api: 📚 Simple API for retrieving book covers from the web
📚 Simple API for retrieving book covers from the web - w3slley/bookcover-api
GitHub - bramses/quo-host
Contribute to bramses/quo-host development by creating an account on GitHub.
GitHub - bramses/kindle-streamer
Contribute to bramses/kindle-streamer development by creating an account on GitHub.

Music

Images

get high off of your own supply
😵

Videos

0:00
/0:10
0:00
/1:37

[Verse]
I'm on a road to nowhere, in a driverless embrace
I'm watching the asphalt blur, as I stare into space
Waymo takes me places, but does it know where I belong?
Dropped off in this wasteland, surrounded by the lost and gone

[Verse 2]
San Francisco skyline, a backdrop of empty dreams
Silicon Valley's promise, shattered and torn at the seams
In this sea of tents and sorrow, I stand here all alone
A midwest emo wanderer, searching for a place to call home

[Chorus]
I guess I'll just order some Doordash
A fleeting comfort in this concrete jungle so brash
But as I wait for my temporary reprieve
I'm reminded of the irony that life can deceive (ooh-yeah)

0:00
/2:00

[Verse]
In the heart of the Midwest, where the sunsets glow
Two friends, Glenn and Ben, turn thirty years old (ooh-yeah)
Through all the highs and lows, they've stood by each other's side
Forever young at heart, their spirits never died

[Verse 2]
Late nights strumming chords, writing songs of love and loss
Finding solace in the melodies, disregarding the cost (ooooh)
They've chased dreams and passions, and faced life's bitter sting
But through it all, they never forgot the joy music brings

[Chorus]
Happy birthday, Glenn and Ben, may your hearts forever sing (ooh-yeah)
As you journey through life's winding road, remember one thing
Hold on to your dreams, let your voices be heard
Forever young in spirit, the best is yet to be unfurled

0:00
/1:11

[Verse]
In the city where the dreamers go
I'm searching for a job, don't you know
Laid off, but I won't let it define me
Gotta hustle, it's time to shine, see

[Verse 2]
Scrollin' on LinkedIn, puttin' myself out there
Design skills polished, I'm beyond compare
I'm hopin' for a company with the vision
To recognize my talent and ambition

[Chorus]
Swipe right, I'm the designer with the fire
Ready to ignite, take me higher
I'm the one you've been searching for
Hit me up, I'm ready to soar

Issue 52: A Year Around the Sun

Reflections on a year of newsletter-ing, and what to look forward to next year.

< Previous Issue

ft. Quo-Host

audio-thumbnail
Hunter X Hunter The Last Mission - Overture (Companion Song to Read With!)
0:00
/127.368

Dear Reader,

Food For Thought

With this issue, we are officially marking the one year anniversary of the newsletter!

Anniversaries give us a great excuse to pause and reflect on the what and the why of the work completed, the lessons learned.

In this issue, I'd like to go over what I have learned from shipping a weekly newsletter, reveal some metadata and go over if maintaining a weekly newsletter was worth it.

Why?

The first question that should be answered about any decision is why. A strong why is a foundation upon which an abstract tower (and real ones, for that matter) is built. Without knowing why you are doing something, failure will surely arrive, either through atrophy, or through some immediate event.

The whys of the newsletter for bramadams.dev included:

  • can I publish something that I am proud of consistently?
  • can I experiment with my writing style, and become a better writer?
  • can I compete on the Internet without having or maintaining a social media presence?
  • can I make money from writing prose and/or code?

At the start of the year of issues, I had no answers to any of these questions. Now I am happy to say that I have answers to all of them! I'll be going over the results of these whys at the end of the post.

Business Details

It needn't be said that any endeavor, creative or otherwise, will eventually begin to need energy from outside the system to power it. Initially, you as the provider will be providing the entire energy from your own resources. It will eat into your mind and spirit. And probably your pockets too.

How much did I pay for the newsletter and my site? In 2023, I spent: Ghost Pro = $300/annually, Google Domain + email address = $12/annually. My analyics provider, Plausible, costs $60/annually. There are other costs that are rounding errors against these three, but any person should be able to create a Ghost account and buy a custom domain and begin publishing today, if they so choose.

How much did I make this year? From my calculations, I've made roughly ~$400 since the genesis of the newsletter. This means I made about ~$33/month running the newsletter. Definitely not enough to support a life, or even a newsletter frankly, but being breakeven for what I pay to host and giving me the privilege to write weekly is a good start.

In terms of growth and engagement, the open rate for the newsletter this year has averaged around a 52-54% open rate. This has stayed consistent through the growth of the newsletter. Issue #1 was delivered to 29 people, and the previous issue, Issue #51 was delivered to 130 people.

These opens matter less than the feedback I have received. Over the year of publishing, I have received personal replies or direct messages from ~8-12 members of the community (depending on how you count), which means a lot, since writing and publishing said writing can often feel like pouring your soul into a black hole.

Technical Details

The existence of a weekly email newsletter implies at the very minimum, that email software exists. There are many options to running a newsletter in 2024. I use Ghost because it is the only offering that makes sense for me. I am a developer who wants customizability so I can dive into the look, feel and functionality of my site, but I do not want to have to manage the "everything else" parts of running a modern website (email SMTP, user subscription billing and accounts, server management, SEO, mobile-first rendering, search, comments, etc.). I am a writer as well, which means that I focus on writing. Developers with personal sites often only end up writing one or two posts on their website per year (or forever) because of their insistence to own everything or pay zero dollars in favor of spending hours of their lives reinventing the wheel. Writers suffer the opposite problem of becoming too dependent on the platform they post to, without owning it, leaving them subject to changes decided by developers who may or may not be sympathetic to their causes.

Substack and buttondown are popular options if you want to write without having control. Hugo and NextJS are popular options if you want to have control, but not write. In my opinion, in the long term, you'll need both. But something is better than nothing, and perfect is the enemy of the good.

Life Lessons

So, did I get better at accomplishing my why as the year progressed?

In terms of consistency, I have sufficiently proven to myself that not only can I indeed publish weekly, I can publish hard things that make me think. I made a promise to myself and my readers, and I keep that promise to the best of my reasonable ability. This ability to speak and act on your truth is necessary for self esteem.

In terms of experimentation, the issues have become much more ambitious as they have evolved. Issues started as a compilation of work done that week, as well as things I found across the web that entertained me. Issues over the course of the year have evolved into essays thousands of words long (this particular issue clocks in at over 2500 words). By consolidating, reshaping, and not being afraid of failure, I have learned a lot about what it means to set goals and then take steps towards their reality.

I have become a better writer as well 🙂, yes.

In terms of social media competition, I'd say the results were mediocre to good. No issue went "viral", outside perhaps the well read series ending up on the front page of Metafilter, but the growth has been slow and steady. As I have said before, I am much happier with the creative breadth and depth I have achieved with the newsletter. I could not have done that spending 24 hours a day arguing on Twitter or bragging on LinkedIn.

In terms of money, I have played around with certain posts being free and others paid, etc. etc. This has not worked as I hope, and as a soloprenuer, efforts to make the newsletter profitable and sustainable are key to its continued existence. I have a plan going forward for the second year of issues (discussed below) to bring more revenue into the coffers while maintaining quality, adding discoverability, and not ceding any control. We'll see how it plays out!

bramadams.dev Email Newsletter Season Two

What will the future of the newsletter look like? Heading into year two there are going to be some substantial changes, while other things will stay the same.

Going forward, the newsletter will include a audiovisual arm as well as the written arm.

I want to improve the profit margins as well as increase the discoverability of bramadams.dev for this next year, and to do that, I need to break into video. The videos will functionally feel a lot like the written versions, with the advantage of not having to read them. In addition, a special new creation, Quo-Host (discussed below) will be helping out!

Staring with this issue, I will be taking a month off from newsletters.

I need to write some scaffolding code for season two, and I need to get better on camera with the technology and resources I have access to.

In addition, I am working on an exciting app: Quo-Host, a LLM agent podcast co-host that retrieves relevant quotes from books as you are talking in real time. Many of the lessons I'm taking into Quo-Host were inspired by the lessons I've learned building this newsletter, including the importance of highlights inside quotes, and that the creative process and final output is heavily influenced by the quality of material available in its creation.

Finally, I want to slow down and take some time off. Unfortunately I have other projects in motion that prevent a "true break", but it is important to realize that work can never be "done" and productivity is merely a stream. We need lazy parts of the river, and we need rapids.

Going forward from the return of the newsletter in issue #53, the newsletter will be video and text alternating.

This means the newsletter will still be every week, but half the weeks will be embedded YouTube videos, and the other half will continue to be essays as you see now. Full videos will only be available to paid subscribers, but the first half will be free. This may or may not extend to the written version as well, but I doubt it. We'll see.

And Thank You!!!

Finally, thank you, dear reader, for sticking around. Writing is something I feel compelled to do, much like we need to breathe, but having my writing be read by other humans completes its purpose, and for that, I am in your debt! I'll see you in a month!

Writing is motivated by an impulse not only to direct ideas but also to direct them toward another. Only when a piece of writing reaches another, a reader, does it achieve this underlying intention. Writing is not only a reflective, inwardly directed gesture but is also an expressive, outwardly directed (political) gesture. One who writes presses into his own interior and at the same time outward toward someone else.

-- Does Writing Have a Future? (Electronic Mediations Book 33) (affiliate link)

I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of my readers would welcome whatever life I chose for myself. Shouldn’t this be my duty as a novelist, and my top priority? My opinion hasn’t changed over the years. I can’t see my readers’ faces, so in a sense it’s a conceptual type of human relationship, but I’ve consistently considered this invisible, conceptual relationship to be the most important thing in my life. In other words, you can’t please everybody.

-- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International) (affiliate link)

On My Gilded Nightstand - Favorite Newsletter Issues

Here are a collection of my favorite newsletters over the year! Give them a read!

Insane in the Meme-brane

want human programmers to create ideas I haven't seen before. I want the universal sea of 0's (the world before the first computer was created) to be poetically and methodically converted into 1's by a new generation of technologically enabled code-artists.
Issue 3: Insane in the (Meme)brane
On insanity, garble, shared understanding, and audiovisual content

Blogging in 3D

How blogging was fundamentally changed by the existence of sharing chats with LLMs.

Issue 13: Blogging in 3D
Better Never-Better than Better-Never, I suppose!

Can a Gardener be a Perfectionist?

A thesis into my favorite book of 2023, Gardens by Robert Pogue Harrison.

Issue 19: Can a Gardener Be a Perfectionist?
The Henry Fordification of life and prospect

The Real Book Quotes of L.A.

Nine weeks before the issue where I announce Commonplace Bot (below), my first experiment in getting quotes into vector format and "doing" something with them.

Issue 20: The Real Book Quotes of L(ibr).A(ry).
Is everything becoming embedded inevitable?

Napoleon's Secret Weapon

I like this issue because of the breadth of topics it covers, as well as stretching my skill in novel tasks of art, programming, storytelling, and thinking.

Issue 22: Napoleon’s Secret Weapon
You are what you read.

Bleeding Edge Technology is Made for Silly Art

In this issue, I get to play with creative coding. I really do love creative code. I also introduced the Random Post button, a mainstay of bramadams.dev.

Issue 23: Bleeding Edge Technology is Made for Silly Art
an analysis on what it means to be human

A House of Cards & Time Block Reflection

In these issues, I am vulnerable about how my life is influenced by decisions and failings, as well as a look into my systems that keep me going.

Issue 27: A House of Cards
What are your foundations? How good is your soil?
Issue 37: Sixteen Weeks of Time Blocking
When you hold the sand from a broken hourglass in your hands, it’s just sand.

Anything But Commonplace

This post marked the launch of my most ambitious project to date, Commonplace Bot.

I cannot sufficiently convey in words how impactful Commonplace Bot has been to my reading practice, as well as my writing process.

From this issue forward, the influence of the commonplace Bot is clear in my work, and I have no doubts that will continue to be the case going forward.

Issue 29: Anything But Commonplace
Commonplace Bot is live!!

We All Start as Strangers

An issue about friendship. Friendship is underrated in our day and age.

Issue 34: We All Start As Strangers
If you got a chance, take it!

Self Surveillance

The concept of arbitrage is important to me because I think it is something I do well that many knowledge workers do not, and it is an immense psychic relief to do correctly. Not to mention, great for progeny.

Issue 38: The Art of Self-Surveillance
I see...me

The Losers of the Open Source Movement

I think the open source movement is over hyped. Especially when wielded by virtue signalers.

Issue 39: The Losers of the Open Source Movement
When the movement trends towards a cult

The Holiday Series

My first "series" issues. I think my look into the downsides of Christmas were interesting, though I did receive feedback that it might have been a bit harsh. Some predictions for the current year.

Issue 40: Santa’s Got a BIG BAG (of baggage)
The Holiday Edition Pt. I
Issue 41: Reflecting on 2023 and Predictions for 2024
The Holiday Issue Part II

Are GPTs Websites?

I think GPTs are a really big deal, though it might take a bit to get there.

Issue 42: Are GPTs Websites?
Or are they perhaps something else altogether?

The Well Read Series

This series has gotten me called a snob by the Internet, but if I am to be a snob, I am more than happy to be a snob about books. A reading habit is a critical component to a life well lived.

Issue 44: Is Being Well Read Actually a Thing? Part I - Zero to One
The superpower we neglect to use

Your Art or Your Life Series

In this series, I go over why having your own site in 2024 is not only the cool thing to do, it is the right thing to do.

Issue 50: Reset your Social Media Annually
On the controlled burn of online profiles

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday next month!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram