Tuesday February 1, 2022 — Taipei, Taiwan
January has, overall, felt scattered. I’ve been doing lots of different things, and putting off a lot of important things, and have generally been all over the place.
The big news is that one of my relationships of a bit over three years ended. It feels strange to say it like that, in the passive voice. I guess maybe it’s more accurate to say I was broken up with, but that doesn’t feel exactly right either. On the whole, I feel alright about it — I think it’s a mistake to think that relationships are valuable only insofar as they last, and we both learned and grew a lot from each other. In many ways, that’s the best one can ask for. I have more reflections on this, but here isn’t the place for those.
I did a lot of writing this month — much of it on running servers and self-hosting software: Servers and Desire, There is no such thing as a static website, and How I run my servers. Writing and talking about servers convinced Julia to try out self-hosting, which I’m happy about — it’s exciting to see my writing changing how people think about things, and nudging people to try new things. I also wrote about how web3 is centralized, The Curse of NixOS, and some thoughts on Feeds. A couple of my posts ended up reaching #1 on HN, which is always a mixed feeling. There’s some part of me that’s happy that I still have my knack for writing things that will do that, while every other part of me is screaming about what a bad idea it is.
In general, it’s felt harder to write about the things I really care about than I’d like. One highlight of this month has been talking with Laurel pretty frequently, and we’ve chatted about a lot of things that I’ve then tried to write up and ended up getting tangled up and stuck. I’d like to try to return a sense of lightness to my writing, or maybe to experiment with mediums other than writing for communicating my ideas with a feeling of lightness.
I’ve been doing some programming work this month — a little bit on a yet-to-be-released website, and a little bit on a RSS reader. I’ve been unhappy with every RSS reader I’ve tried, and I figured it wouldn’t be to hard to make my own, so I just went and did it, which was a great choice. It’s implementing a lot of my ideas about how software should be written — a single-file binary using SQLite, no user accounts (just stick it behind HTTP Basic Auth instead), etc. It’s refreshing. I hope to release it soon.
I also got a good amount of reading done this month:
- I finished Turn This World Inside Out, which continued to be excellent.
- I started, then abandoned Having and Being Had. The writing was beautiful, but it seemed so averse to actually saying anything. One reviewer on goodreads described it as “painfully white,” which is extremely accurate. I may still try to read the author’s other book, though.
- I read The Right to Sex, which was very good. If you’re broadly familiar with the history of feminism, there probably won’t be a lot of super novel information in here, but it’s presented in a very compelling way, and a few of the essays have some framing that I hadn’t seen before.
- I finished What Love Is And What It Could Be, which was excellent. If you’re interested in the philosophy of love, this is the best book I’ve found on the subject, and it also has some generally useful insights about how to think about concepts that are dual in nature (in the case of love, being simultaneously biological and social).
- I started Hunt, Gather, Parent, and am unlikely to finish it. It’s a little too evopsychy for me, and was in general pretty frustrating to read. I suspect that there’s good insight in it if you can get through it, but I found it pretty rough.
- I read A Psalm for the Wild-Built, which was beautiful, and I highly recommend. I found the style slightly grating at first, but it was absolutely worth pushing through that. I think there are a lot of important ideas in here, told through a compelling, cute, and satisfying story. It’s also very quick — I read it in an evening.
- I re-read The Utopia of Rules, which was excellent, as I remembered it. I highly recommend it.
- I started Six Memos for the Next Millennium, which I’ve found slightly disappointing so far. The ideas are interesting, but discussed in a way that seems unnecessarily roundabout.
I’ll close out this post with two lightly-edited things that I wrote this month and shared privately, and then my links, as usual.
On Consumer Technology
I spent the entire rest of the day getting sucked into linux kernel programming crap trying to debug some mysterious intermittent hanging problem on my laptop.
I suspect this is a hardware problem, and as a result, I’ve been sort of fantasizing about getting one of those aftermarket motherboards for an old thinkpad chassis, since a.) old thinkpads are so nice, and, b.) it seems like it’d be really nice to just be able to email the guy who designed my motherboard when I end up having problems like this in the future. I started looking into whether there’s anything out there that meets all of my requirements, although I think it might be sort of a bad idea to actually pull the trigger (my laptop is only 5 years old, i really shouldn’t need another one).
I’ve also been thinking a lot about how basically every computer system has so many bugs, but it often takes like…. decades of programming experience to be able to actually unwind the whole stack from a problem to figuring out what’s actually caused it. And i think as a result, people just train themselves to not notice bugs, or something? It all makes me very sad.
I think another reason that I’m thinking about these thinkpad motherboards is that I just bought a new phone, since my pixel 3a is having battery problems (I’ve already replaced the battery once, and it’s 6 months away from being EOL re: security updates). I ordered a pixel 6, and it seems like basically… a worse phone, despite being 2 and a half years newer, a few hundred dollars more expensive, and I think the best android phone on the market right now? It’s way bigger (something I don’t want), the fingerprint sensor is worse, there’s no headphone jack… the only good things about it that I care about are the better camera and that it has 256GB of storage, but even that is literally worse than phones that were around like 8 years ago, which came with SD card slots!
thinkpads are the same way — the one I have now (X270) was in the sweet spot where you get both ethernet and USB-C, user-replaceable RAM, etc. (although not the old good IBM keyboard, sadly). The newer ones are basically worse on every metric except processing speed :/
With thinkpads, at least there’s a community of people making aftermarket motherboards. With modern phones, though, that seems way harder — a bunch of the good camera features in the new pixel phones rely on proprietary silicon, doing real security work requires being big enough that you can force vendors to give you source for their blobs (which is basically only true of goog, apple, samsung, etc).
Looking at the whole field of consumer tech just makes me sad. We shouldn’t need to produce 1.5 billion new phones every year. We shouldn’t need as many computers as we have. Almost everything people want to do with computers is simple, but we make it more and more complicated and wasteful in order to… sell more ads? Sell more computers? Create jobs? I don’t even understand why.
On shared cultural context, and the immersive experience of falling in love
I’ve also been thinking a little bit about how little of a shared media/cultural context I have with the vast majority of people I interact with — the combination of being way younger than most people I interact with, not having been exposed to that much “normal” media growing up (basically didn’t watch any tv and spent most of my free time reading random library books), and having spent a lot of the past ~5 years assimilating into professional contexts with people mostly ~a decade older than me has made it really uncommon for me to meet people who I feel like have a shared background.
I don’t think I’ve reflected enough on that to have real/useful thoughts about it — where I’m at right now is mostly just feeling melancholy about so rarely (never?) meeting people with a shared background with me. On the whole, I’m really happy with the path I’ve taken in life, but it’s felt incredibly isolating at times, and I think is feeling particularly isolating right now.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’m feeling this in the wake of a breakup with the person who i was closest to for ~3 years. Being able to see that relationship in retrospect has been useful, though — it’s made it a lot easier to identify the parts of myself that i had to bury as a part of it. I think I really internalized the idea that I’d always have to bury parts of myself, and while I think that’s not actually untrue, exactly (the idea that anyone has a “true self” strikes me as very deeply silly), I’ve maybe too easily accepted burying parts of myself in the past.
(this is also, of course, complicated by the fact that one of the most beautiful parts of relationships is changing and growing together, which usually necessitates burying old and unwanted parts of yourself — and one of the main advantages to doing that with another person is that they can sometimes see parts of you that are not serving you better than you can)
The internet friend I made recently has this list, which i like quite a lot:
- taking a shower
- falling in love
- life or death experience
I think a lot of what I’m feeling is nostalgia for the immersive experience of falling in love, which I haven’t had since the pandemic began. I think the pandemic has made many immersive experiences harder to grasp, and falling in love in particular seems uniquely disrupted.
As usual, the “★” icon show links that come particularly recommended. These are, on the whole, a little less curated than in previous Recently posts. I’m still experimenting :)
Misc — light