Paul Thomas Anderson on reverse writer’s block

P.T. Anderson:

I think if I have a problem as a writer it’s writer’s block in reverse, which can be just as detrimental as not knowing what to write. I think I have so much shit in my brain that sometimes I just kind of vomit a lot of it out.

January 12, 2022

Writing advice from Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch:

“Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.”

The French Dispatch

January 1, 2022

Bob Lefsetz on following the rules

Lefsetz Letter:

Life is hard, people will take advantage of you and if you’re not looking out for yourself, you’re falling behind.

This always depresses me. In our educational system they teach you to obey, get in line, pay fealty to the teacher, all qualities that will leave you left behind in real life. Especially college. It’s like an alternative universe. You get good grades…exactly why? Have you noticed that all the people who didn’t fit in, who weren’t the teacher’s pet, are the ones who blew up the world and made beaucoup bucks? Turns out you win if you color outside the lines. If you behave you’re a sucker. You’re being taken advantage of right this very second, unaware of it. And to win you’ve got to bend the rules, employ obfuscation and abandon relationships and in many cases morality.

December 31, 2021

Haruki Murakami:

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”

December 19, 2021

Jill Harris, Novel Writing Blueprint:

Even if computers get really, really good at making generic stories, they’ll never have the visceral knowledge of language and human thought.

They cannot know what it is to live within the skin of a living body. They will never have stifled their cries as they were beaten as a child, or laughed at the sight of a huge wave crashing on the beach.

They will never have made love, lost someone they love or driven too fast down a highway late at night with the moon chasing them

December 18, 2021

William James on Daily Rituals

I love this line from William James:

There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision

Here is the full context:

The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.

November 14, 2021

Hemingway on Daily Writing

Hemingway:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

November 14, 2021

Dave Grohl on writing

Dave Grohl:

“The Storyteller” debuted at No. 1 on the hardcover nonfiction list and is now in its second week at the top of the chart. Grohl seemed genuinely tickled to find himself in this new role as an author — and, whether he realizes it or not, he now has solid wisdom to offer fellow ink-stained wretches. His musical mantra, “Never erase, always record,” also applies in the literary realm, where self-editing is a surefire creativity killer.

“There’s an old saying: Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” Grohl said. “Because with any song, you want to keep the listener engaged. And I would imagine it’s the same when it comes to writing. But that being said, what the [expletive] do I know? I’ve never done this before!”

October 22, 2021

Joan Didion on the reason for writing

Joan Didion:

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear?

October 22, 2021

A Newbie Guide to Building The Planck, a 40% Ortholinear Mechanical Keyboard

The Planck Keyboard with Susuwatari keycaps

I just got a Planck keyboard. The assembly wasn’t too complicated (there are great videos on YouTube), but the research process and the decisions to be made were a bit overwhelming for somebody not familiar with mechanical keyboards. Here is all the info I put together as I was getting into the small keyboard layouts.

I had been considering a new keyboard and looking to try a mechanical keyboard for the first time. I particularly liked the Keychron mechanical keyboard, specially the smaller profiles like the 65% Keychron K7 or K6.

Researching teh 65% keyboards I came across the XD75. The device looked amazing, it had a set of black on white caps with red accent caps, but what got my attention most is that all keys were laid out in a perfect matrix. I had discovered the world of ortholinear mechanical keyboards.

After a bit more digging, I came to the conclusion that my next keyboard was going to be a 40% ortholinear keyboard, the Planck to be more exact. The Planck was created by Jack Humbert who made the matrix layout popular among keyboard enthusiasts.

The Planck is a small beauty that echoes old typewriters, NASA control stations and vintage control panels.

40%? why? just why?

There are two reasons to go with a smaller 40% or 50% keyboard.

  1. Because you are attracted by weird layouts and are curious about what the experience would be like.

or

  1. Because you believe the promise of more ergonomic typing by reducing the number of keys and relying in key combinations instead of moving your hands around.

Honestly, any reason is good enough. For me, that ortholinear layout hits my compulsive sensibility.

Buying the stuff (decisions, decisions)

Honestly the Plank EZ is probably the best choice for most people looking to try a 40% ortholinear keyboard. It comes pre-built and it even comes with RGB backlight per key, something other Plancks lack. However, I really wanted a layout with two 1u space bars, and the EZ doesn’t support it.

If you are ok assembling your own plank, we have to make a few decisions and buy a few parts.

1. The Planck Kit

Drop + OLKB Planck Mechanical Keyboard Kit V6

The nice thing about the OLKB Planck Kit v6 is that is hot-swappable so there’s no soldiering needed, and requires no more experience than knowing how to use a screwdriver.

Drop + OLKB Planck Mechanical Keyboard Kit V6 contents

It does not have RGB, but supports 3 different layouts for the space bar. It uses MX-Style switches (no soldering needed!) The Planck also supports QMK firmware, which allows for all kinds of customizations for keyboards.

2. Switches

Drop + Invyr Holy Panda Mechanical Switches box

Switches come in three top categories: Linear, Tactile and Clicky.

Drop + Invyr Holy Panda Mechanical Switches contents

The default switch in many configurations is the Cherry MX brown (linear), although it seems to be out of favor these days. I went for the Drop Holy Pandas, which are considered a step up.

3. Keycaps

Drop + Matt3o MT3 Susuwatari Custom Keycap Set box

Keycaps, just like switches, are entirely a matter of preference. The only limitation for our Planck is that it uses Cherry connector style caps (it looks like a +), which is pretty the gold standard.

A few key aspects to consider when picking up keycaps:

Drop + Matt3o MT3 Susuwatari Custom Keycap Set contents

I ended up going with the MT3 Susuwatari. They keycaps look beautiful, but when I order them I had not learnt yet about all the different profile, and particularly about the MT3.

4. Accessories

USB-C adapter and Keycap and switch remover

Building the keyboard

The whole process of building the keyboard took about an hour. I followed the instructions on the Drop + OLKB Planck Keyboard V6 Build Guide.

Planck Keyboard PCB and plate

Something I struggled with was the bending of the plate. There are two ways to mount the plate. “Strong hold”, that uses brass nut between the board and the plate, or “floating” that does without.

I mounted it “floating” style to keep things simple. The plate bended down, to the point that I could’t fit the switches between the plate and the board. After removing the plate, I realized I had put too much pressure of the bolts. The recommendation is to set 4 switches on the corners but I opted to add a few more in the center to prevent the bending before screwing the plate back again. That did the trick.

Planck Keyboard mounted with Holy Panda switches

It was pretty straightforward even for somebody with zero experience. You can probably put together the keyboard in 15-20 minutes, but it took me an hour. Being my first build I kept double checking my steps.

Planck Keyboard with Susuwatari keycaps

Connecting the keyboard

As soon as I connected the keyboard it emitted a gameboy-like sound. That could only have be a good sign, right?

The next thing was not a good sign, however. Upon connecting the board macOS (Big Sur) displayed the Keyboard Setup Assistant. It seems the OS could not recognize the board. I tried to follow the directions of the assistant, but I got stuck when it said to press “the key to the left of the right Shift.” The default layout of the plank has only one Shift key on the right side, so no way of completing that step.

macOS Keyboard Setup Assistant

I disregarded the assistant and went instead to test the board online at KeyboardTester.com.

KeyboardTester.com

All keys appeared to work as expected, except for 2. Those were the keys assigned to Layers (Raise, and Lower), so I figured that the site simply couldn’t register those.

And that’s it. Success!

First reactions

Planck Keyboard with Susuwatari keycaps

First of all I am painfully slow. Slower than slow.

Switches

Keycaps

Layout

Final thoughts

I am excited about the promise of comfortable writing, and the idea of being more in control of my typing with less hand movements and without looking down at the keyboard.

Lastly, all this learning a new layout is making me think that this might be the time to try Colemak.

I’m excited to get to know this new Planck.

October 3, 2021

On Internet Checkpoints

Robin Sloan:

Without any of the traditional publicity mechanisms, everything depends on “foot traffic”. You could post an unsearchable, unsortable checkpoint on a custom website… and no one would ever read it. Attaching it to a YouTube video — even an obscure one — feels, perhaps, like writing a message on a wall in a crowded city. You are basically assured that, eventually, someone will pass by and read it; you are likewise assured that you won’t know who they are, nor they you.

August 30, 2021

On self-aware AI

Scott Alexander, Highlights From The Comments On Acemoglu And AI:

Non-self-aware computers can beat humans at Chess, Go, and Starcraft. They can write decent essays and paint good art. Whatever you’re expecting you “need self-awareness” in order to do, I bet non-self-aware computers can do it too. Computers are just going to get better and better at stuff, and at some point probably they’ll be as good as humans at various things, and if you ask them if they’re self-aware they’ll give some answer consistent with their programming, which for all I know is what we do too.

August 11, 2021

Bourdain’s AI

Bourdain Documentary’s Use of A.I. to Mimic Voice Draws Questions:

But on the film’s opening weekend, 45 seconds of it is drawing much of the public’s attention.

The focus is on a few sentences of what an unknowing audience member would believe to be recorded audio of Bourdain, who died by suicide in 2018. In reality, the voice is generated by artificial intelligence: Bourdain’s own words, turned into speech by a software company who had been given several hours of audio that could teach a machine how to mimic his tone, cadence and inflection

To some, part of the discomfort about the use of artificial intelligence is the fear that deepfake videos may become increasingly pervasive. Right now, viewers tend to automatically believe in the veracity of audio and video, but if audiences begin to have good reason to question that, it could give people plausible deniability to disavow authentic footage, said Hilke Schellmann, a filmmaker and assistant professor of journalism at New York University who is writing a book on A.I.

August 6, 2021

On active learning

Experiential Learning Creates Skill — The Power of Active Practice:

Aim to practice, apply what you learn or do something with that knowledge.

Learning something new does not necessarily transform or improve you if you don’t get past the knowledge acquisition phase. You lose what you don’t use, apply or practice. But you gain a lot by doing something with it.

Better learners are active learners. They practice what they learn. The application of knowledge creates skill. When you make learning an experience, you acquire skills for life.

August 6, 2021

On the Luckiness of Death

Richard Dawkins via Maria Popova:

We are born into the certitude of our eventual death. Every once in a while, something — perhaps an encounter with a robin’s egg, perhaps a poem — staggers us with the awful, awe-filled wonder of aliveness, the sheer luck of it against the overwhelming cosmic odds of nonexistence. But alloyed with the awe is always the half-conscious grief that one day the light of consciousness will be extinguished. It is a heavy gift to hold, this doomed delirium of aliveness. It is also a buoyant gladness, if we are limber enough to stretch into the cosmic perspective that does not come naturally to us small, Earth-bound bipeds corticed with tender self-importance.

August 5, 2021

On fractons

The ‘Weirdest’ Matter, Made of Partial Particles, Defies Description:

“When I first heard about fractons, I said there’s no way this could be true, because it completely defies my prejudice of how systems behave,” said Nathan Seiberg, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. “But I was wrong. I realized I had been living in denial.”

[…]

Fractons are quasiparticles — particle-like entities that emerge out of complicated interactions between many elementary particles inside a material. But fractons are bizarre even compared to other exotic quasiparticles, because they are totally immobile or able to move only in a limited way. There’s nothing in their environment that stops fractons from moving; rather it’s an inherent property of theirs. It means fractons’ microscopic structure influences their behavior over long distances.

[…]

The Haah code takes the phenomenon to the extreme: Particles can only move when new particles are summoned in never-ending repeating patterns called fractals. Say you have four particles arranged in a square, but when you zoom in to each corner you find another square of four particles that are close together. Zoom in on a corner again and you find another square, and so on. For such a structure to materialize in the vacuum requires so much energy that it’s impossible to move this type of fracton. This allows very stable qubits — the bits of quantum computing — to be stored in the system, as the environment can’t disrupt the qubits’ delicate state.

August 5, 2021

On writing amid others

Kenzaburo Oe:

I don’t need to be solitary to work. When I am writing novels and reading, I do not need to separate myself or be away from my family. Usually I work in my living room while Hikari listens to music. I can work with Hikari and my wife present because I revise many times. The novel is always incomplete, and I know I will revise it completely. When I’m writing the first draft I don’t have to write it by myself. When I’m revising, I already have a relationship with the text so I don’t have to be alone.

August 4, 2021

On a beginner’s mind

Maid Newton (via Austin Kleon)

Then I would realize: this is my book! There are no rules! I can write it however I want! Also, I would think, if I’m bored by something that I believe I need to write, the reader undoubtedly will be too, if not because the subject is inherently boring, then because I myself find it so unbearably tedious to imagine discussing it for five pages. Often as not, I would remember some aspect of the subject that deeply interested me, something a little outside the way it’s usually perceived or written about. Then I would meditate on that, and soon I would be scribbling notes from an increasingly excited place until I found a way forward. A form of beginner’s mind.

August 4, 2021

On why we create

Why do we create? To share a thought: an idea, a story, a paradigm. To help another person. Maybe to feel a little more understood, a little less crazy. I like what Steven Pressfield says about the work of an artist: “The artist doesn’t create to express herself; she creates to discover herself.”

The act of creating shows me who I am

That’s true for me, at least. Through my work, I am always trying to figure out who I am. Or, as Flannery O’Connor once said, “I don’t know what I think until I read what I write.”

—Jeff Goins, The Money Thing

August 1, 2021

On being unproductive

But sometimes I also have the desire to be 100% unproductive. You don’t need to be productive all the time.

Sometimes it’s ok to give us permission to take time off and do nothing useful.

Even though it might hurt our own perception of being “productive people”.

I like those writers that seem to be doing nothing for a few years, then show up with a great book.

Perhaps that’s the model I’m looking forward.

— Flavio Copes, It’s ok to be unproductive

July 31, 2021

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