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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

Issue 53: We're Back, Baby!

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

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

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Issue 53: We're Back, Baby!
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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

Issue 52: A Year Around the Sun

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

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ft. Quo-Host

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Hunter X Hunter The Last Mission - Overture (Companion Song to Read With!)
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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

Issue 51: Your Art or Your Life

Why a Personal Domain is your Domain

💡
This post is part of a two part series.
Part I: Reset Your Social Media Annually
Part II: Your Art or Your Life (you are here)

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ft Quo-Host

Audio

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Issue 51
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Dear Reader,

Food For Thought

In the last issue, I made the case that the widely-discussed-but-never-acted-upon suffering of social media is caused by a saturation point that we have long past by avoiding acknowledging the sunk cost fallacies of our "profiles". I claimed that the remedy for this supersaturated state is to "hit the reset button", to download the data and restart your digital profile's existence (or delete it all together!).

The inspiration for that issue ironically came from the one you are reading right now, the issue posted after. I had been meditating on the value of craft, art, business, and human creativity in the era of "content creation schedules". The seed of last issue's craft argument was that if you are truly good at what you do and have a strong base of self-esteem, deleting your profile should be an overall good thing for your craft, as it will allow you to prove it wasn't luck that got you to success in the first place.

Specifically, I had been trying to divine the value of effort being put into a personal website. After all, time is limited and everything we do has an expiration date. Surely, there must be a more effective use of one's time, yes?

The answers I found in this process took me from the caves of Lascaux, to the Twitter page of Mr. Beast.

Following is a short journey into incentive structure, motivation, and finding what it means to be an artist.

Let's start in 1905.

The Modern W.J. Dawson

from the met

In the first decade of the 20th century, writer W.J. Dawson found a cottage to live in.

Dawson spent the beginning of his career in London as a salaryman, and began to tire of the hypocrisies of urbanity and industrialization. He was disgruntled with how mundane life had become under the thumb of his employer, the noise of his crowded London neighborhood and his neighbors in his posh flat, and most critically, his desires to have novelty and beauty in life.

As a response, he began to plan his flight into the "wilderness", to buy a small plot of land where he could tire his body and mind with farm work during the days, and literature during the evenings.

Dawson's book starts out very practical as he describes his journey in finding a place for his family to live, including some failures in the process of finding the right place to call home. He also addresses some of the finer points of homesteading and enjoying time in nature.

The second half of the book is much more philosophical, and discusses in length what it means to "do good" as Dawson verbally spars with an urban friend of his about what man owes his fellow man. The root of the argument was as follows: is it malicious to the downtrodden to opt out from the city life and flee to the hills?

I open this issue with the story of Dawson because I think there are many parallels in the era of our digital lives. The "Londons" of the web are the sites that traffic millions of users daily (social media), and personal websites function like a cottage in the countryside. In London, you may interface with thousands of people a day, including famous people and big wigs! On the other hand, as a cottage owner, you know people may occasionally drive by and appreciate the petunias you've planted in the front yard, but your day to day experience will largely be a solitary endeavor. And you'll never see Timothee Chalamet or Zendaya walking around your trellis, that's for sure.

As such, we cottage owners must find a different incentive structure, one that can withstand the empirical scrutiny of "meaning".

I can think of no better place to argue this from than art.

This quote from Rick Rubin's The Creative Act transitions us nicely from domicile to the creative domain.

Imagine going to live on a mountaintop by yourself, forever. You build a home that no one will ever visit. Still, you invest the time and effort to shape the space in which you’ll spend your days. The wood, the plates, the pillows—all magnificent. Curated to your taste. This is the essence of great art. We make it for no other purpose than creating our version of the beautiful, bringing all of ourself to every project, whatever its parameters and constraints. Consider it an offering, a devotional act. We do the best, as we see the best—with our own taste. No one else’s. We create our art so we may inhabit it ourselves.

Your Art

The Great Deep - Fredrick J. Waugh

Art is unique. You can go anywhere in the universe and see a sky filled with countless stars, magnificent purple sunsets, infinitely vast oceans, tundras, snow-capped mountains and lakes of fire. You can breathe any number of gases, or see magnificent storms that will literally blow your socks off. Hell, you can even see multiple suns in the sky at the same time! These events and phenomena are all exceedingly commonplace.

But as far as our modern knowledge reaches, there is only one place and time you can experience art. Here on Earth. In the era of the Holocene.

In other words, there are few things more rare in the universe than your favorite book.

In its truest form, art resists any attempt at summarization. Art can be multiple things to someone, or one thing to many. The highest compliment an artist who has mastered their craft can receive is: "I love this work, but I struggle to define it, so I tell my friends they have to see it themselves and decide."

Even the earliest art mankind produced was done as an offering of sorts, a gift to the Muse that lives in your head. The artist who is in the flow state feels compelled, pushed, pulled, prodded, as if their art is a geyser bursting from pressure built up under the surface. The scream of art is to lash out onto the canvas and tear away at it in our own image.

17,000 year old painting and still better than anything I could draw

Because of this process of (un)intentional creation, any work of art is both standalone and forever related to the context in which it came from. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is beautiful, but a wallpaper-version-perfect-copy on the ceiling of a Golden Corral by the strip mall ruins the point. All art has an internal message that the creator was trying to explain to themselves first (and others, second) and a relationship with the messaging of its immediate surroundings.

On a personal site, every post, everything that fits conveniently under a slug URL, is an art piece. Each is a standalone piece of media that can live many different lives in many different contexts.

Consumers of art presume that a single particular art piece defines an artist, perhaps their masterpiece, but this is not the case. An artist is constantly swimming through the stream of their art. There is no finish line. Every piece merely craves completion so it can make space for the next piece. The duty of an artist is to move. Just move. Just don't drown in the deluge of creativity.

Even at five I was weary with the world [Weltschmerz]. Not much has changed in a quarter century.

Mr. Beast didn't make his art successful. We did. On the platform that is known as YouTube, Mr. Beast is oxygen.

The success of Mr. Beast has caused many downstream effects, many clones, and in some weird coincidence, even more creators discussing the clones. The platform itself imposes its messaging, its voice, its ouvré onto those who live and create inside its borders.

But.

Success is relative, and few of us ever become larger than the name we were born into. It is very impressive, the capacity of a human name. Imagine the most important person you know. Isn't it strange how all their deeds in life fit cleanly into their first and last name? How big is a name, really?

In the era of TikTok influencers, many creators have struggled to move their audiences off platform. This is because their voice, whether or not they realize it, is edited by the community they post in. They are the Internet version a Londoner. Or a Tokyoite. Or a Chicagoan. If you leave, you have to find a new niche. You can learn more about this problem from Hank Green's Creator Problem video.

To own your domain is to own the platform which follows your evolution as a creative. The domain you create in becomes the voice. The conversation emerges from the art you've created over time, and as you change, the platform changes. In this framing, the website itself becomes a meta art piece of sorts, always whole, but created from many different parts (the human body is also like this: you were whole as a baby, and whole as an adult, despite the obvious differences between the two states of being).

Your Life

I titled this issue "Your Art or Your Life" because, there is no difference, in my mind. The experience of "life" is merely paying attention. Your expectations of what you hope your life might be might differ from your reality, but what you experience, what you're experiencing, and what you will experience is the sum total of you.

It follows that any art you produce, intentionally or unintentionally, is a byproduct of moving through the world, taking action and trying to distill the concept of your experience, of who you think you are at that moment in time, into a medium you can tell yourself and others about (movies, music, art, code, dance,...).

Indeed, a personal website, consistently maintained, is not one, but both, the gallery and the art piece. A home in the woods, where you find your artistic voice by listening to the silence.

You cannot flag and you must not stop. You must work on your site with fervor, while also allowing it to grow and die slowly as the years creep by. It must breathe with you, be born with you and perish with you. You must create with the seasons of your life, to follow the voice in your head wherever it may lead.

In sum:

In the first decade of the 20th century, writer W.J. Dawson found a cottage to live in.

And in the third decade of the 21st century, writer Bram Adams found a domain to create in.


Drop by next week for issue #52, a special anniversary edition of the newsletter! I'll be reflecting on newsletter-ing for a year straight, and discuss my plans for year two of the newsletter.

Ye Olde Newsstand - Weekly Updates

Divine Shield 0/2s
That day everyone forgot about The Beatles

media dump for the week

A Discussion on Building Successful Agent APIs
Beta Episode 1: How to kickstart successful API projects using the OpenAI API

the first beta episode of the podcast! excited to explore this format

On My Nightstand - What I'm Reading

Exhaustion is Freneticism is Exhaustion
My Thoughts on The Burnout Society by Byung-Chul Han

the trials and tribulations of an achievement society

I Don’t Work on bramadams.dev For You
My Thoughts on The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

this book was quoted in this very issue!

Is It Worse to Be A Good Citizen?
My Thoughts on Alone in Berlin (Play) by Hans Falida

what would you do to stand up for what someone else believes in?

You are tiring yourself, Joseph.
My Thoughts on The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse

come down from thy ivory tower and throw rocks into the pond with me

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram

Issue 50: Reset your Social Media Annually

On the controlled burn of online profiles

💡
This post is part of a two part series.
Part I: Reset Your Social Media Annually (you are here)
Part II: Your Art or Your Life

< Previous Issue

ft. Quo-Host

Dear Reader,

Food For Thought

You should delete your social media profiles, once a year or so.

If this suggestion shocks or angers you, pause for a moment and sit with this feeling – this is a great opportunity to reflect on your relationship with social media.

This annual deletion is not an argument to step away permanently. You might not quit, in fact, you might make a new profile, with the same handle, the same day. The goal is to reset your humors and to remind yourself why you joined "platform of choice" in the first place.

My rule of thumb is that if it takes less than five minutes to set up a new account and make your first post, you should reset the profile once it reaches a certain saturation point. This saturation point varies from platform to platform. Often, it doesn't have a quantified metric. Often, it will be a feeling. A curl of your upper lip in disgust every time your fingers automatically type the URL, knowing that you'll be spending the next 45 minutes doom scrolling. An anxiety every time your phone dings. An urge to get your heart rate up by arguing with strangers. Once you've reached this saturation point, I have bad news for you. It will never desaturate, there is no pressure valve except one. The reset button.

This argument has many faces. Let's go over the most grotesque masks, starting with the dead weight, the status quo.

Status Quo I: Middle Management

One of the most pernicious dangers of the saturation point is adherence to a status quo that is, upon a millisecond of reflection, a sunk cost. Recently, I got into it with some forum mods about some really stupid thing. As a rule of thumb, forum mods are glorified hallway monitors from middle school, or ass-kissers. The hallway monitor, if you'll remember, was a student, who thought of themself as being different or better than the other students, solely by their ability to tattle really well to the adults. Never once did they hold actual power, they were permanently stuck as the henchmen of those who did wield power. As such, these people were generally disliked by their peers.

The internet is filled with mods. Twitch mods, Discord mods, forum mods. People who, by virtue of being terminally online in a particular community, derive the conclusion that indeed, they have a right to say big words, and make big threats, because you are in their domain (quite literally you are in their www domain!). And without even getting paid! Wow!

People who are, in the words of Erik Dietrich:

Yesterday, we had owners and grunts. Today, we have owners, grunts, and a new thing: managers. Only owners have any legal power as far as the company is concerned, which makes managers and grunts the same thing. The main difference is that, at the pleasure of the owners with the real power, managers can tell grunts what to do.

-- Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor (affiliate link)

To reset your presence on communities is a reminder of your relation to the community itself. Don't become a mod, and if you do, don't act like one, maybe?

Status Quo II: Verification

The second element of status quo is your importance within the community, as bestowed by a badge from the platform that signifies your "influence" in the community. Yep, it's influencer time.

Imagine right after posting this issue, I release an app called GluppyFlippy. On GluppyFlippy you can post images of the dumbest thing you can imagine, let's say pictures of ironing boards in motels. This excites you because as it so happens you travel a lot for work. You find yourself posting a lot, and liking other people's posts about ironing boards, maybe even leaving the odd review about how many coffee stains are on ironing boards in Tulsa vs those in Boise. It's fun because the community is small, and you and your friends finally have a place to discuss all your clothing care needs and how to remove wrinkles.

By some horrific moment of tulip mania, GluppyFlippy becomes popular. Really popular. Like, really. fucking. popular. Millions of users flood into GluppyFlippy, everyone quickly making their own profiles and claiming their handles as fiefdom, and they quickly set off to reshape the meta by posting those handheld steamers as well and beginning to optimize what they can post and at what time to chase the all mighty algorithm.

By your combination of luck, timing and skill, a lot of these new people find their way to your profile and begin liking your pictures. Perhaps thousands! As the platform owner (I built the thing after all!), I see this in my server logs and decide to put a golden iron icon next to your name. This, for me, adds to the legitimacy of my service, since it looks from the outside that I have users who are celebrity creators. It also legitimizes my reasoning to serve more ads on your page, because you are no longer a user, no, you are a brand. And brands need ads.

To add this golden iron icon took me, like, 10 seconds to create an SVG in Photoshop? Maybe? And yet, all of a sudden, all the other GluppyFlippy users want to be you. Ex-lovers are reaching out, motels are trying to sign million dollar deals with you, hell, you might even land a spot on local TV news.

Over time, you begin to notice that this persistent attention has its downsides. People DM you constantly about how you got the golden iron. They beg you to follow their GluppyFlippy profile, to like their post about them surfing the iron board down the stairs in their hotel room in Maui, or at the very least, to collab with them.

You wake up in cold sweats to the voices in your head whispering, "Come on bro, collab."

This sounds ridiculous, right? But go back to the beginning and replace GluppyFlippy with TikTok/Instagram Reels/Threads (blue checkmark) or LinkedIn (brand voice) or Twitter (blue checkmark) or YouTube (gray checkmark) or any other social media where the platform can bestow a <span> next to your username, and let you play God.

To reset your presence is to free yourself from platform signifiers, to reset your peace of mind. The goal is to say what you want to say, not say what will make your audience stick around for your next video about the finer points of ironing pleated pants.

P.S. What's up with all the checkmarks, anyway?

Friends

This one, along with craft (below), is likely the only one that actually matters. Friendships are integral to a healthy life, and you can make really good friends online, in fact I've written about it extensively in issue #34 (a really good read, imo!). It can be annoying for your friends to re-follow you once a year, but I've found that those I'm close to have no qualms with it. Those that do, really don't see your friendship as something they value if they can't take the three seconds to hit the "follow" button. Fair weather friends, much?

Social media platforms are dependent on FOMO to continue existing, for without engagement, they cease to exist! They derive value from network effects after all. If you and your friends care about one another, foster that local network. Care for your garden.

Get off the platform. Grab a cup of coffee. Go play basketball or chess together.

Craft

I'm discussing craft last because of all of the arguments, this is the most important. Outside of social media made purely for friends to communicate with one another, you likely joined a social media as an interest group, or to pursue an ambition or an identity. You may be really really into books or knitting or some other hobby and you want to share your learnings with the world. You should be rewarded for that!

One of the largest problems with social media platforms is they edit your voice to fit their goals. You may not notice it, it may be that you pick up a jargon phrase here or there that your real life friends and family make a confused face out you when you say "poggers" or "its giving" in public, or perhaps you develop anxiety of the post button, afraid of what people might say about you and your work – so you never post unless you think it will get a lot of likes. The metrics of quality as derived by social media are firmly lodged in how important any conversation is at any moment, to be quickly replaced by the news of tomorrow, the latest upset, LSF drama, or cancellation.

I occasionally visit Substack, and I very much move in circles where people own Substacks and a friend of mine asked why I prefer Ghost to Substack. The conversation is as follows:

less* not lower east side, though i do like the lower east side a lot

The goal is to let creativity flourish, not to stifle it.

NB: Listen to this whole interview with Donald Glover, but particulary the part about the "Shit Girls Say" trend from 2011.

To paraphrase from issue #41:

Much more importantlybramadams.dev has served as the perfect playground for my creative desires. In between poetryshort storiesimage dumpslong thoughtpiece essaysshitpostszettels (a zettelkasten note, singular), creative codingtutorialsnewsletters, and more, I have never felt more free as a creative than on my own site.

(excuse my language here, but) Fuck websites that tell you your creativity is constrained to 280 characters. Fuck websites that tell you that you can only upload photos in a certain dimension to fit the rest of the site's CSS. Fuck websites that use their networks of likes and comments to change how you think, speak, and create. Fuck sub splits with the website owner because you happen to be renting a handle on their platform. Fuck the narrative you can't grow an audience because Twitbooktube has hoovered up all the curious minds on the Internet and trapped them in their feeds to scroll forever. FUCK ALLLL THAT.

A Practical Guide to Resetting Your Presence Online

Let's wrap up this philosophy with some actionable items. I've gone through these controlled burnings more than once, and here's how I go about it:

A primer how to successfully reset your account:

1) ~A month to a week before you take any action, write down your reasoning for your reset, and your relationship with social media. This is critical to success as you will return to it later.

2) ~A week before your deletion, download all your data from your social media. You'll want to revisit your work for memories sake as years go on. Save it into a Dropbox, or a local drive. But ideally the cloud, so you don't lose it.

3) Come up with a list of people you want to re add or follow. If they are your friends, message them and mention that you're remaking your account. If you are simply following your favorite content creators, no worries, just follow them again.

4) Do not tell everyone or make a big social stink about it, no one cares, and it makes you look needy. You are a person. Deleting your social media profile on GluppyFlippy / Instagram / TikTok / Substack will not make you less of a human.

5) Do not fear. I’ve done this multiple times with no effects other than clarity of mind and freedom to post things i normally wouldn’t. It's great for experimenting, and you learn something new each time!

6) Make a choice. Are you leaving social media for good, or staying? If you're staying, remake an account. As stated above, these platforms that run off network effects desperately want users, so it should take less than 5 minutes. Or if you've been meaning to leave for good, take this time to come up with a replacement hobby you've been looking forward to but haven't done because of social media. Maybe you can go to that restaurant you've wanted to try, or watch really good movies or read some really good bvooks. The sky is the limit!


Resetting your profile is a healthy practice in righting power imbalances between you and social media. Words on the internet can live forever, and are also gone in an instant. It's a paradox, but it is indeed the case. So we must live with it, and ideally, embrace it.

In my mind, there is only one profile that has enough escape velocity to not get marred in the local maxima of social media profile saturation. But we'll discuss that... next week 😎.

On My Nightstand - What I'm Reading

If the Universe was Turing Complete
My Thoughts on At Home in the Universe by Stuart Kauffman

An interesting look into the overlap between biology and computation. A really good book about science, especially if you like scientists making bold conjectures and backing them up. It would likely feel similar to have lived in 1895 and read Darwin's natural selection theory.

Ye Olde Newsstand - Weekly Updates

Learning to Podcast: Week of March 2nd
foibles and lessons

I'm finally getting around to podcasting. A ~year worth of newsletters taught me consistency, now the site needs an audio/video pillar

How Big is Africa?
pretty big, turns out

Media dump, all Hearthstone and no reading makes Brammy a dull boy

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram

Issue 49: Trillions of Lines Written, and We're Still at Day Zero

Will code ever be finished?

< Previous Issue

Dear Reader,

Food For Thought

... despite the millions of people who have written code, and the billions, if not trillions of lines of code written since the field began, it still often feels like we're still making it up as we go along. People still argue about what programming is: mathematics or engineering? Craft, art, or science?

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

This month, I've been reading Coders at Work by Peter Seibel, a collection of interviews in 2008 with world-class programmers, including household names (among the tech nerds at least): Donald Knuth, Peter Norvig, Douglas Crockford, Frances Allen, and many more (there are fifteen interviews in total). Undoubtedly, with many of these visionaries, you may have never heard of them by name, but you have most certainly used or have benefitted from their work: Haskell, Javascript, compilers, JSON, etc.

When people throw the phrase around: "We stand on the shoulders of giants", these are the giants being referred to.

Reading this book now (in 2024) feels more relevant than ever as the landscape of the craft of programming is being rocked to its core with the introduction of large language models like ChatGPT and IDEs like Cursor or Github Copilot. The blistering rate of change makes it necessary for both developers and those who benefit from computers to take a step back, pause, and to witness the forest over the trees. The current news is a moment, a flash in the pan. Some flashes will indeed cause sparks, and some of the sparks will grow into full blown flames, but we must stay vigilant, and we must stay level-headed and at peace. After all, the present has a certain biased appeal to it (or whatever period of time you consider "the golden days"...science advances one funeral at a time, they say). These biases and the frenetic immediacy of the "latest developments" have a certain gravity to them, and that gravity can quickly become quicksand if we aren't cautious.

Generations; Generative

The jargon discussed in Coders at Work are relevant to a generation of programmers that I am not part of. The techniques they use are unfamiliar. Some of the languages are relics. Many of the concepts are too! And yet, there are some languages, machines and ideas that are the foundations of the work that I do today, and some of these ideas will continue to live long past me and my career as well.

To paint the scene of 2008, the corporate programming world was in the midst of a Java wave (which was open-sourced by Sun systems in 2008). Cloud computing had just got off the ground (AWS was created in 2006). The US economy would suffer a housing market crash, triggering a global recession. Facebook was four years old, Google was ten, and they just put out the Chrome browser. The iPhone was one year old, and the app store was launched in July 2008.

Of these meta trends, some caused proactive changes in the craft of programming, others reactive. The craft of programming had to rise to the challenge of distributed computing, and began to dream of how to do mobile computing at scale. Functional programming and OOP continued to square off as Haskell and Erlang took on the titans, Java and C++ (Javascript and Python have evolved to take elements from both paradigms).

Seibel: What do you think is the biggest change in the way you think about programming compared to back then?

Crockford: There was a period of maybe a decade where efficiency was really, really important. I guess it was in the early microprocessor era when memory was still really small and the CPUs were still really slow. We'd get down into assembly language in order to do things like games and music to make it fit and to make it fast. Eventually we got over that, so today we're writing big applications in JavaScript that run in a browser. It's such a profoundly inefficient environment compared to the stuff that we used to do, but Moore's Law sort of made it all OK.

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

Today's Dillemma

The present of programming is a living, breathing set of individuals, organizations, problems, business practices and a healthy dose of generational trauma.

Programming is a pseudo-perfect information game. Assuming you can get your hands on the source code of a project, there is nothing stopping you from getting the same program to run "anywhere" else. Code is like a strand of RNA, merely waiting for an engine to replicate it.

However, the hidden information of why a programmer solved their problem in a certain way may be lost to history. This is the key. All programmers, in the practice of their craft, take their why with them as they retire or pass away. They may be able to train a few juniors in their image with pair programming, or fancy Agile techniques, or beautifully written documentation, but at the end of the day, we are where we are and must do with what we can.

With all of the done work being... "done", with all of the local and global problems from their era solved and git commit(ed) -am "to history" by the programmers of yore, we stand for better or worse on the foundations of their choices. Some were good, others bad, but choices were made. Even inaction is action.

Each generation of programmers has a duty to do what they think is best, as to leave the next generation with the highest likelihood to be successful as possible in the ever exciting world of software. And so, let's reinforce the good patterns. Let's set aside our egos of how we want the world to be vs. how it is. Let's say yes to the things that need to be built, and perhaps more importantly, say no to the things that shouldn't be built. We do it for the love of the craft, we do it for the love of the game.

What will we leave behind, I wonder?

Leaving aside the work of Ada Lovelace—the 19th century countess who devised algorithms for Charles Babbage's never-completed Analytical Engine—computer programming has existed as a human endeavor for less than one human lifetime: it has been only 68 years since Konrad Zuse unveiled his Z3 electro-mechanical computer in 1941, the first working general-purpose computer. And it's been only 64 years since six women—Kay Antonelli, Jean Bartik, Betty Holberton, Marlyn Meltzer, Frances Spence, and Ruth Teitelbaum—were pulled from the ranks of the U.S. Army's “computer corps”, the women who computed ballistics tables by hand, to become the first programmers of ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic computer.

Ye Olde Newsstand - Weekly Updates

Patterns: Dead or Alive
how does a jedi die from being tired?

Media dump of the week ft. a Britney Spears movie, a song about poop that goes surprisingly hard, and some screenshots of the thoughts I capture in physical form

GPT UX Patterns
New UX patterns are being discovered every day!

I've been compiling some UX patterns for GPTs. There's gold in these hills, y'all! Bring a shovel.

Track Time in GPT with Code Interpreter
creating a “loading bar”!

Creating a "loading" in a single run by leveraging interpreter state and keeping users engaged by interrupting processes.

On My Nightstand - What I'm Reading

When the Fantasy of the Weak Peaked
My Thoughts on Solo Leveling by Chu-Gong
There is Some Weight Behind this Homesteading Trend
My Thoughts On The Quest of the Simple Life by W.J. Dawson
When Your Sister Rules the Most Powerful Civilization on Earth
My Thoughts on Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram

Issue 48: The History You Miss on Your Way to Work

and the futures you create

< Previous Issue

Dear Reader,

Food For Thought

In last week's issue, we discussed the art of fully attending to museums.

We discussed the game theory dynamics and unique disadvantages of museum-going and how these problems can be solved by using a tour or an audio guide.

A guide significantly alters the dynamic of what you are seeing, or more accurately, what you are not seeing: the history and story behind the piece. This data is necessarily obfuscated by the museum itself, but pivotal to complete appreciation of the piece. A museum is merely a building filled with these information mismatches, compounded by the unique social constraints at play in a room of fragile artifacts.

What you see isn't all there is

The Outside World & History

This issue, I'd like to "negate the set" of our attention. If museums are where important artifacts from mankind are stored, the outside world is where artifacts are created.

The "outside world", by virtue of supporting the living, is fundamentally different than museums. The world bears the burden of support and cannot be fragile, as the creatures that occupy it are not fragile. The outside world goes out of its way to root out fragility, in fact.

The world is a blend of intent and accident. The location of the Nile and its annual flooding are natural occurrences, shaping the landscape by accident. However, the ancient Egyptians' decision to settle along its banks and harness its waters for agriculture and civilization was a deliberate act of intent.

What we call history is a byproduct of this process, the dance between choice and chance, captured in some form.

We walk both in and on history without much consideration.

Where are You From, Really?

An example that hits close to home (literally) is your place of origin. You likely have a lot of pride for your hometown, and perhaps mannerisms or accents that are borne of it, too. But have you considered that where you are from is simply a choice your parents made? In their shoes, they might have moved for work, or for opportunity, or for a variety of other reasons. Because you view your hometown as 'home,' history becomes detached from your lived experience.

To see beyond what is there, we need to be active participants of our local world. As in the museum, we can't just see what is in front of us passively, we must aim beyond. Using a guide allows us to learn about where we are, and about its history, to slow down on our daily motions and appreciate what is around us.

Long(er) Walks

If museums are where important artifacts from mankind are stored, the outside world is where artifacts are created.

Most pivotally, the real world is a museum that we ourselves influence. As you read these words, they are committed to history, a blend of my intent as a writer and you stumbling by it on accident (or whatever issue you first started reading this newsletter). This shifts the imperative. Make beautiful things, do beautiful things. Today's actions are tomorrow's histories.


solvitur ambulando

Learning new knowledge about a thing is a funny thing. I've walked this route I am on many times before. Too many times to count. There's nothing new about it. The world itself hasn't changed. But perhaps I did?

ChatGPT - MapGPT
Discover the world around you. Created by https://bramadams.dev, https://lucasnegritto.com, and the official OpenAI Ambassadors

Try MapGPT, and learn about your world!

Addendum - Technical Details

I'd like to take a quick sidebar to discuss some of the technical achievements of this build, because I think some findings are both non trivial and telling about the future of GPTs and agent development.

Instruction Loading

Using "boot loader" instructions to give a GPT instructions from external servers allows actions to use conditional logic without eating into token count

First, Lucas created a "boot loader" of sorts, a way for us to keep our instruction set minimal for MapGPT.

At the start of the experience, we immediately kick off an action call to our server to fetch the "introduction" instructions. Those are quickly processed and displayed to the user.

Then, when a user completes the task of appending their location to the chat session (discussed below), we also pass back a key with follow up instructions, for example:

{
  "next_instructions": "..."
}

We then tell the GPT to integrate those instructions into the rest of the conversation. This allows us to conditionally add new instructions given where a user is in the experience and keep things fast and interesting, allow as offering powerful versioning capabilities.

Session UUIDs

Allowing GPTs to create a session UUID gives users a pseudonymous experience with every new ChatGPT session, and allows you to have

In the first action call above, we also assign users a random UUID. This UUID will follow them for the rest of the chat session. Incidentally, this gives a ChatGPT "state" as we use that ID on our server (and a Redis cache) to keep track of the data we need to feed the user. With conditional instructions, location data, and GPT summaries of Wikipedia pages taken up valuable token space, this UUID design pattern has proven itself immensely useful and I'm excited to use it in many of my GPTs going forward.

Running MapGPT

Here are a few examples of me and my collab partner Lucas using MapGPT in different places across San Francisco, Brooklyn and Rochester!

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY

Rochester, NY

Midwood, Brooklyn, NY

Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY

Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY

Ye Olde Newsstand - Weekly Updates

The Insects are Throwing Parties Again
and they didn’t bother inviting me?

I've been vibing with this song so much this week, and I've been grinding through the Solo Leveling manga

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram

Issue 47: How to Find Your Muse in Museums

A museum doesn't have to be a mausoleum

< Previous Issue

Dear Reader,

Food For Thought

Every time I go to a museum, I try to sign up for a tour or, at the very least, obtain an audio guide from the front desk. Much like an ayahuasca trip requiring a shaman, a guide is a critical element to a successful day trip to any museum – perhaps the critical element. This is because engaging fully with a museum is a unique challenge that we don't often face in the domain of the "real world". In a museum you are dealing with multiple dimensions of constraints – constraints that often conflict with one another.

These constraints include:

  • Whitespace of the walls and windows, intentionally placed by the curators, creating a crowded or empty atmosphere that you are dropped into at random (design)
  • Multiple pieces in your eye line will call out to your sensibilities, drawing you in to spend your limited time with them over their peers. This is then compounded by the galleries within the museum competing with one another (marketing)
  • Thick panes of glass and stilted breaths of fellow museum-goers, creating an air of consistent fragility and caution throughout the building (discomfort)
  • Art from the dead does not talk, without being lent a voice (mortality)
  • Competition with fellow museum-goers to appreciate deeply without pausing, to talk while remaining silent, to walk languidly while moving briskly (rivalry)
  • Being stripped from five usable senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch, taste in the real world – to just one: sight (limitation)

Without a guide, the museum is a frenetic draw from color to color, from crowd to crowd, from fleeting desire to new flame – all while in the background we compete with ourselves and one another to understand the culture, to engage while remaining passive.

The feeling of wandering aimlessly through a museum is similar to the pull of a library bookshelf, as described by Vilém Flusser:

...the wall of the library is different and functions differently. The spines of the books, lined up beside one another and over one another, form a secondary wall, positioned in front of the actual wall. Between the spines of the books and the actual wall is a zone of paper, where, in consideration of the reflections just undertaken here, numerous arms are trying to take hold of us. They can only do this if we ourselves stretch out an arm in their direction, pull a spine out from the wall, and turn the book around, to allow ourselves to be taken in by it.

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

A guide changes this dynamic.

A guide forces you to slow down, to consider the piece in front of you as not just a visual spectacle to try to grapple with, but as a historical moment, actively leading you to new questions and associations that you may not have even known you had.

By simply adding context to the pieces that occupy the walls, the problems of design, mortality, and limitation fade away instantly. Museum curators and historical archivists are artists too, after all, and artists love to talk about their work (or at least, to justify their choices). Guides give them that chance.

As for discomfort and rivalry, by deepening your relationship with the museum itself, you'll begin to see that the museum is not, in fact, a mausoleum, but a garden of human artistry. This will make each trip become less about conforming to the flow of others, and more about following a solitudinous pace where you get to learn the most you possibly can, to take the most of the art you can home with you, in your memories. Engaging with time in space, this is what a museum does for its patrons.

the museum is not, in fact, a mausoleum, but a garden of human artistry

Learning to museum correctly is a valuable skill, since each city across the world will have its own art and history to explore. If you wish to truly be a global native as you travel, make it a priority to visit a city's museum.

And grab a guide, if you can.


What if the real world had the intention of museums? What if there was a museum you could touch? What if we could rediscover the beauty and historical significance of the places we move through every day? That we live in every day?

But...we don't live in a museum. Right? Next week, we will tackle the idea of how the real world can be a museum...if we bring a guide.

ChatGPT - MapGPT
Discover the world around you. Created by https://bramadams.dev, https://lucasnegritto.com, and the official OpenAI Ambassadors

Ye Olde Newsstand - Weekly Updates

books - Bram Adams
thoughts on books! 5/month.

I've finally gotten around to writing/recording book reviews for some of the books I finished so far this year.

Dating Apps and Snaps
prompt fns, gilgamesh, raya, the world is a vampire

The media dump includes some banger songs this week.

How To Add Clickable Thumbnail Youtube Videos to ChatGPT
quick tip!

I look forward to a world where ChatGPT can have full embedded links in chats. Tiny little web browsers. For now, this will have to do.

On My Nightstand - What I'm Reading

Artists who never break through, the data tells us, tend to present their work to the same few places over and over again. The artists who make it big, in contrast, present to a far wider set of places, allowing themselves to stumble upon a big break.

-- Don't Trust Your Gut: Using Data to Get What You Really Want in LIfe (affiliate link)

For artists starting at the periphery, success was largely local and painfully incremental. Why did our predictions work so well? Precisely because performance in art can’t be measured. Since there is no way of establishing that any work of art is truly better than another, the network takes over, establishing value. In a way, that aptly reflects our premise in chapter 1: Success depends not on you or your performance but on us. The network is what carries the collective response to your performance.

-- The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success (affiliate link)

Art is high-quality endeavor. That is all that really needs to be said. Or, if something more high-sounding is demanded: Art is the Godhead as revealed in the works of man.

-- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (affiliate link)

“Aesthetic genius,” Wit said, “invention, acumen, creativity. Noble ideals indeed. Most men would pick one of those, if given the choice, and name them the greatest of talents.” He plucked a string. “What beautiful liars we are.” The guards glanced at each other; the torches burning in brackets on the wall painted them with orange light. “You think I’m a cynic,” Wit said. “You think I’m going to tell you that men claim to value these ideals, but secretly prefer base talents. The ability to gather coin or to charm women. Well, I am a cynic, but in this case, I actually think those scholars were honest. Their answers speak for the souls of men. In our hearts, we want to believe in—and would choose—great accomplishment and virtue. That’s why our lies, particularly to ourselves, are so beautiful.

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

i did not train you to be a demon or a human. i showed you how to be an artist. to be an artist is to do one thing only...look at me... cannot fight, or weave, or farm. i make swords. i cook for strength to make good swords. i study the sutras to cleanse my heart to make good swords.

you think revenge is an art?

swords, pots, noodles, death. it is all the same to an artist.

then i am a bad artist.

an artist gives all they have to the art, the whole. your strengths and deficiencies, your loves and shames. perhaps the people you collected...i made my best blades when i had an apprentice.

i thought i annoyed you.

both are true. there may be a demon inside you, but there is more. if you do not invite the whole, the demon takes two chairs, and your art will suffer.

then what do i do?

i only know how to make swords. each morning, i start a fire. and begin again.

-- swordfather + mizu, blue eye samuri, episode 7

Thanks for reading, and see you next Sunday!

ars longa, vita brevis,

Bram