Splitting Wood

As I continue to observe the maelstrom of negativity and falsehoods that is Facebook, I still want to make notes about things that happen. And I want to be able to share those notes. And then I remember that I have this blog, which is what web logs, or blogs, were supposed to be before they turned into self-publishing platforms and the key to modern success.

I am not yet decided on how much I want to reclaim this particular domain — my own name (jl.o) — or some other space where I don’t feel responsible for hosting certain pages which have become mainstays, seemingly, on the web. On the one hand, this was once my “everything that doesn’t have any other place to go goes here” space. And a chunk of that stuff was about my daughter when she was young, but then the internet got creepy and I shifted from talking about her in what I now understood was probably an all too public forum. At the same time, as blogs “came of age” and became vehicles for the blossoming of personalities, some of whom became celebrities — e.g., John Gruber or Merlin Mann — I became increasingly concerned about “managing my brand.” That this blog was a space for me to demonstrate my professional abilities and to discuss professional interests.

And then I started tracking my experiments with computational matters and suddenly this thing got popular. Other people wanting to experiment with Python and/or with thinking about texts as data were searching for things and they found a post of two of mine that was helpful and they must have told people about them because suddenly this thing had something of a readership. It freaked me out so much that I froze like the proverbial deer in headlights and stopped publishing.

And now those pages that people found useful then are still being found useful, but I haven’t tracked my voyage, and discoveries, since then, and now it feels all weird to come back to this, especially since I have Evernote for web capture and Bear for everything else, including capturing all those stray thoughts that shoot through my head like neutrinos making their way across the solar system. But both of those applications somewhat obscure where your data is — in order, I think, to make sure you don’t mess with it outside the app and possibly corrupt the sync process.

There is, I think, something remarkably re-assuring about writing all my notes in plain text — structured with some version of markdown — and storing them in plain files or in a widely-known data structure like SQL. An ideal format, to my mind, would be something like FoldingText as the UI and MySQL on the backend with a blog an easy offshoot and one simply tags, or otherwise indicates which posts are public — it would have to be a choice each and every time.

Part of all this is, I admit, in addition to a response to the way matters are developing on Facebook but also my own preference not to give over my data to someone else so that they can then monetize it. That is, by using Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends, instead of other means, I’m allowing the company to profit from my relationships. That was acceptable, to some degree, when it was a happier place, but now I find that the dark side has emerged, and it has me not only walking away from the platform, but also considering walking away from some relationships.

So, this is not only about taking a break from at least one form of social media, but also about re-focusing my own energies and making my writing my own and finding positive places in which to publish it.

I did this thinking, by the way, while splitting wood, using a maul and wedge given to me by my stepfather and an old hatchet I had lying around the house. There’s no better time to focus then when trying to follow the grain of a log, especially when you find you’ve driven a wedge into an unsplittable natural joint in the wood:

The whispy shadows of hair in the lower left are my child, still finding her way into this blog, who took this photo for me as I stood nearby, somewhat hunched over and breathing hard …

… I guess I need to split more wood.

The Mathematics of Arches

Arches are part of the design feature set of our house — so is a mansard roof, but I am not as keen to replicate it — and as I add or replace various features on the house, I would like to add the same kind of flattened arch that features on facade of the house and in some of the cabinetry. For that, I need math. In particular, given the width of a given opening and how high I would like the arch to be, I need to be able to calculate the length of material of the resulting arch.

For those who missed this particular part of geometry, here are the parts involved:

For the math, we need the following:

(x - x[0])^2 + (y - y[0])^2 = r^2


Or:

x[0] = c/2

y[0] = (s - x[0]^2/s) / 2

r^2 = x[0]^2 + y[0]^2

Y = y[0] + sqrt(r^2 - (x - x[0])^2)


The Room in Which I Work

The room in which I work is not part of our home’s heating and cooling system. It was once simply a space between the house and the detached garage that a previous owner of our forty year old house decided to enclose both to make it possible to bring in groceries while not getting rained on. It measures 89 inches wide by 101 inches deep for a total of 8989 square inches or 62 square feet. (That’s a little under 6 square meters for my European friends.) The hallway between the garage and the house is about the same size. To be clear, whoever had this space built was no fool, for the space doesn’t seem small, thanks to a large skylight and a large sliding glass door, which open the space to the world. And being so small makes it fairly simple to heat on cold and gray winter days: a cheap little heater from a big box store usually does a reasonable job.

And, too, I am fortunate enough that I can work almost anywhere these days. All I really need are my computer, and, for noisier environments, a pair of headphones or earbuds that, plugged into my phone, can block out most distractions. I am not keen on fighting volume with volume, though, and I prefer quiet spaces over noisy ones for working.

Working in such a small space means I have a kind of physical limit to my impulse to collect things. As much as I might like to accumulate piles of books and papers and memorabilia, I cannot. There is no room for it. In fact, with so little room, a certain minimalist mindset has slowly crept into my aesthetic, which, to be fair, has long been shaped by the modernist impulses of my childhood homes. The result is a kind of slow inculcation of a resonance to this space that makes me want to work within it.

Over time, I have also slowly succumbed to the dictates of this space by dispensing with any of the ordinary furniture with which I might fill it. The only furniture here that I have not built is the chair. The shelves, the desk, the monitor stand were all custom built so as to take up as little room as possible, and even now I am considering taking the two shelf units that are currently vertical, and thus taking up floor space, and stringing them up along the top of the wall like the other two units, leaving only the long narrow desk at which I work, and the chair, on the floor.

The only real problem with that plan are … files. Oof, folders of paper. Paper, paper, paper.

One thing I could do, I must admit, is to go through all that paper to determine what actually needs to be kept and what might be better kept and what can be tossed. Things like records that have to kept are easy. What’s hard is those things which force a decision: what are the projects that are going to move forward and what are those projects which will, in all honesty, never leave the Someday pile? That is hard, because it also reveals the reality of time, of death, and my own nature.

There are so many projects which I have marked as “someday” which I really should have done, if only I had been better disciplined. Not only scholarly projects, but the notes for stories that I have not written. Pulling those folders out is like having to revisit so many one’s own worst regrets, facing all the things about myself that disappoint me.

At the same time, letting those projects go might free up physical, and thus also mental, space to get new projects done…

From Absolute Hot to Absolute Cold in a Single Illustration

A few years ago the BBC produced a poster that tried to capture the difference between absolute zero to absolute hot, as they called it. The image links to a backup if the BBC link isn’t working.

The BBC’s “From Absolute Zero to Absolute Hot” illustration.

Wood + Concrete Bench

If I were to design our house and its furnishings from scratch, it would be all wood, concrete (and stone), and glass, with perhaps a few bits of steel here and there. This outdoor bench is one step in the right direction.

11 Year Old Martin Scorcese

This is for my own child, so that she can see what others her age were/are up to:

11 Year Old Martin Scorcese’s Storyboard

Things in Life

Don Stover, one of the lyrical greats of the twentieth century, wrote a song called “Things in Life” that once heard can never leave your head. If you were to take that song and make it into a slightly more upbeat list, it would look like this: