My fountain pen needs to be cleaned

This current writing streak has covered the majority of the month of July. Part of extending this current writing streak will be about continuing to sustain the focus and routine. While it is barely the start of the day here in Denver the sun is already up. According to Google the official sunrise was 0548 hours which is very early in the day for things to get going. Even the dogs went right back to bed after I got up and made espresso shots. I spent some time messing around with my fountain pen yesterday. A couple of years ago I started a collection of fountain pens. The rest of them are stored in a zipper pouch having been cleaned and put away. You have to use them on a regular basis or problems ensue. I went a couple weeks without using my main fountain pen and the ink will not flow. My main writing instrument is a Parker Sonnet fountain pen with a medium nib. It was manufactured in France and has been my favorite fountain pen for years. Currently we are at a point where my fountain pen needs to be cleaned. That is a point in the life cycle of owning fountain pens that I generally try to avoid. It would have been better to keep using it on a regular basis and not run into this situation. 

Maybe the same could be said about the writing process. You have to keep using your writing skills on a daily basis or you get to the point where you need to work out some of the stagnation and get a bit of a cleaning out of the way. Sometimes that could be equated with a false start in terms of writing. The production of bad prose happens from time to time and it certainly could be called a false start or maybe just poor execution. Writers write. You have to sit down and do the work to be a writer. It does not happen in any other way. Unfortunately, not every writing session begins and ends with spinning golden prose. The other side of that coin is also important. In those precious moments of spinning golden prose it is best not to stop those writing sessions prematurely. You have to know when you are in the writing zone and do your very best to focus those golden hours on the right things. A spark of inspiration will strike from time to time and you have to take advantage of those times. They are the ones you have to cultivate and utilize to the best of your advantage. More often than not the process of writing is about being the prompt and just working along a bit a time as part of the process. Following that process is how you open the door to the daily routine of creating output. You have certainly seen evidence of that process across the thousands of words being stored in this latest Microsoft Word document format .DOCX file where I’m keeping posts. 

Working to end some subscriptions

Today should be a good day to really focus on things. I have been on a kick to remove subscription services recently. Certainly some household services have to remain and they bill monthly. Somehow for an ineffable reason Netflix survived the recent culling. We have been paying for Netflix since they used to send me Farscape DVDs back when we resided in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It has been a long time. We have had Disney Plus since the start of that streaming service and it has all the Marvel movies I like to watch at the end of the day. Initially I thought a limit existed to how many times I would watch the Iron Man franchise, but that apparently does not appear to be the case at all. Recently I even found the listing in Disney Plus with the entire Marvel film universe in order based on the movie chronology. Armed with that information I started watching again from the start and moving my way from left to right on that list slowly one film at a time. That started after I finished watching the entire Frasier (1993 to 2004) series again on a different streaming service. Outside of that content sometimes I get on a Top Chef watching kick and that lasts until the content runs out. It’s really the window right after dinner where I want to watch something for a bit before moving on to other things.

All of that was prompted by my recent relentless focus on removing subscription services. Speaking of being prompted for output, my writing enterprise of starting to type in the morning is about what happens when the prompt is empty. At the moment of zerospace, where will an empty prompt go from the spark of imagination. That is really what I’m after trying to understand and trying to figure out each and every day. I sit down with no agenda or defined path forward. Within the parlance of large language models I don’t have a prompt. Instead I sit for a moment in the resplendent pleasure of reaching that zerospace before beginning to move toward a newly created spark of something. A lot of times that something is not anything spectacular or even the right path to be taken at that point in the journey. Frequently, I end up writing about the process of writing. That trajectory is not intentional. However, I do allow it to happen. Even the very process of stringing a few words together begets more writing. That is where I’m trying to get to during each writing session. I’m trying to get to the point where I have walked down the path from zerospace to productivity. Opening the door to creativity and productivity is essential for the writing project to begin in earnest. 

Today might just be one of those super productive days where I wake up and produce two pages of weblog quality prose before jumping right into the next thing on the list to accomplish. That is one of those things you just have to appreciate. I have been considering spending some of my evening time writing a fiction series, but I’m not sure if that will end up happening. Generally speaking my academic writing backlog is so full and overwhelming that I need to just focus on that effort. Knowing that I often end up running down other tracks of effort as sometimes that just seems more fun than working within the proper work breakdown structure. 

Pondering the weblog format again

After writing this post I circled back and edited it. A very novel action to take. 

Some time was spent pondering a new weblog format and design. Generally speaking the weblog formats supported by WordPress are either a static homepage with a dedicated post page or the posts appear on the homepage. I suppose a third option exists where you could do both if you really were excited about making that happen. I’m on a bit of a streak publishing weblog entries. I used to sit down at the end of the day and write missives before going to bed. Now things are completely flipped around and I spend time focusing and writing at the very start of the day. Some of that time was spent today pondering the weblog format yet again. This is one of those things that happens from time to time. I did consider unlocking the backlog from my weblog again, but that did not happen. The last time I messed around with the weblog background I pushed hundreds of Tweets out in a matter of seconds due to an integration. 

For the most part the main point of the weblog is to write down my thoughts for my own purposes. These posts are not really written for any wide readership purpose or for a specific audience of any type. The weblog posts are really just written as part of the stream of consciousness exercise that I like to perform each day. Honestly, things begin to come into focus as I wake up and my thoughts move from a more open space to a focused space. The writing process at the start of the day helps make sure that I boot up into a fully focused and directed purpose for taking action during the day. During those first few minutes of waking up in the morning I could take my day and my writing in any direction. Things could literally just end up going anywhere that a stream of consciousness could take them in that moment. I generally just sit down and begin to type and let the prompt be the guide to writing and following that intellectual rabbit down whatever path appears. 

I have tried to set a prompt on a specific topic and really work to focus on that at the start of the day. That approach did not really work. It turns out that I need to spend a few minutes focusing my thoughts and working on the writing process before jumping into anything really targeted. Layered thoughts start to bloom after the initial bit of typing. It’s like the world comes into focus and my energy and questions about that can be deployed from that moment forward in a productive way. For example, this post is about 500 words long and at this very moment, I’m now fully focused and ready to do more complex tasking. That is how it goes or more to the point that is how it starts. Now would be a good time to dip over into my Substack posts or an academic article and start to construct a different type of content.

A very productive Sunday of writing

I’m up and ready to spend some quality time writing today. Strangely enough I found a wonderfully comfortable position in my chair today as I started the writing process. Strangely enough it just happened when I sat down to write. Nevermind, I moved around a bit and ruined it. Let’s just go ahead and jump to the next paragraph. This paragraph appears to be ruined. 

This may be one of those Sunday’s where I end up shifting over to my major writing project and abandoning the weblog post at the start. Yeah – that is what happened here. 

It’s now 0806 hours and I had a really productive run of working on a literature review post. A lot of really good focus occurred and that is truly a great way to start the day. I did swing back over here to keep working on this weblog post for the day. It may very well enough up a bit of a piece that was compiled across a lot of different little bits of writing throughout the day. 

I’m just going to hit publish at this point and I might circle back to writing more content here in a few minutes.

A good bit of working things forward on a Saturday

Throughout the summer so far my backlog of posts over on Substack has been working its way down each week. Right now only the post for July 22 remains scheduled and ready to go for this coming Friday. Due to some scheduling concerns I worked ahead to make sure a backlog existed. That backlog would help me avoid missing a publication date. I have a Google Doc with a future Substack publication list that goes out all the way beyond the 2 year mark. Assuming that I follow the process and work on writing a Substack post every Saturday morning and working it to a recordable state on Sunday no publication dates should ever get missed. So far I’m on a 77 week streak of hitting my publication window target. I had wanted to get closer to real time on the creation schedule. It’s entirely possible at some point that I will rebuild a backlog and work a few weeks ahead. 

I just recorded “Substack Week 79: Why is diffusion so popular?” using the Audacity software and my Blue microphones Yeti X. The first part of the post recording process is underway right now and that includes a noise reduction. I just used the tail end of the recording to get a noise reduction profile. That profile was just applied to the whole recording to reduce the ambient background noise that is occurring in the room where the podcast audio was recorded. The next effect I ran on the audio was a loudness normalization to normalize the perceived loudness across the episode. This is important for overall continuity and feel for somebody listening to the audio. You do not want anything major to jump out of the normal audio window and be just loud for no reason. The last effect I run is a noise gate to just clean up anything that might have remained after that first noise reduction filter. I like to make sure my audio is clean before publishing it out to Substack. 

Not only did I record that Substack post for Week 79, but also I took the time to record “Substack Week 80: Bayesian optimization (ML syllabus edition 1/8).” The second recording was twice as long as the first, but I used the Marantz professional sound shield on that one. Thanks to those two recording efforts my backlog is now good for the next 20 days in terms of Substack posts. 

Quick tutorials on most anything

It may only be Friday, but I am ready for the weekend. Several things are ready to be recorded and some other things need attention. One of the things that the weekends afford me is the opportunity to really deeply focus on things. Finding the time to really deeply focus on something is what helps push my learning efforts forward. Every single day I approach the opportunity to learn something with vigor and enthusiasm. That is really one of the keys to being able to enjoy the hunt for new things. We have such an opportunity to pick up and learn new things. It is hard not to take that for granted just how open and easy access to vast amounts of things has become with the advent of the internet and how people are electing to share things. Keep in mind that historically guilds and other organizations aligned to professions that kept information and shared it within an apprentice system. Now you can just boot up YouTube and get a quick tutorial on most anything. 

I’m going to call it. Our access to information is probably at a peak right now given a few things that will inevitably happen. Even the best knowledge graphs that were scaling up as all the internet content blossomed will struggle with separating current content from out of date information. Things change and even tutorial videos drop out of relevance as change occurs. Structuring your knowledge graph to be able to handle those changes in usefulness is difficult at best to sustain over time. Designing a recursive relevance function against stored graph information requires a baseline and method to establish that base. Beyond the problem of figuring out what is really the freshset information to share with people, a very real problem exists from the vast overcrowding that is occurring within the knowledge graph. Large language models are creating a scenario where more content than previously generated by humanity can be generated by an endless running prompt. Separating the real from the endless stream of synthetic content will be nearly impossible. This creates a scenario where the knowledge graph may want to be designed to favor previously created content that existed before the great flooding of information occurred online. However, the aforementioned problem of things going stale is going to occur as favoring previous content only creates freshness problems. 

That means that right now we may have the best possible access to information. We may have hit peak information and nobody is really appreciating it. At some point, curated knowledge graphs inside platforms and metaverse style realities might be the gold standard for information access. Something is probably going to change here in the next few years and it will be interesting to see how that happens. A lot of people are investing in a VR headset based version of that access and interaction. I don’t really want to login to something wholesale to experience an alternate reality. Yesterday, I walked the dog and read part of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction book about the Second Foundation (1953). That experience was perfectly satisfying. I’ll admit that during working hours I certainly sit in front of a computer screen which is less immersive, but not wholly different from being committed to a VR experience. For the most part within that working experience the world in front of me shrinks down to the content contained within the screen.

A few Thursday ramblings

My efforts this week to learn a bit of LaTeX in Overleaf have been slow going. That effort could happen on either my Chromebook or my desktop. Neither of those things seems to be happening in the evenings. During the evenings, I have been listening to a bit of science fiction from Isaac Asimov. I’m three books into that effort now and enjoying the initial foundation trilogy: Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953). Apparently, two prequels and two sequels were written to expand the foundation universe. This week I’ll finish up the “Second Foundation” audiobook. We might listen to the “I, Robot” (1950) book during our next big roadtrip. That is what we ended up doing with the first foundation book. During the 8 hour road trip between Denve and Kansas City it is a great opportunity to really focus on an audiobook. We have listened to non-fiction books about various topics and a handful of the best science fiction works. It is hard to believe the foundation series is roughly 70 years old at this point. The language used in the novels could pretty well be spoken today outside of the odd psychologist/history projections. Most of the futurists today do not accompany their predictions with mathematical models. 

 I go back and forth about the naming convention that should be used within the daily weblog posts. Years ago I simply titled them by date (YYYYMMDD) and that worked well enough for me personally. It did not however work very well for indexing and other communication methods outside of my personal amusement. To that end I started working on titles and most of them are longer than a word or two as that is what is required when you start to write hundreds of missives. At this point, it is rather difficult to come up with unique titles for these weblog posts. Normally, by about the second paragraph of the project I’ll find a title in a sentence somewhere that can be used. This one is intentionally not titled about the writings of Isacc Asmov. 

On a totally unrelated topic, I’m still struggling with the odd set of categories I have built for the weblog over the years. I know they were a byproduct of writing posts year after year. They are clustered related to the topics that I tend to cover, but for the most part the categorization is really not very good. I built a bad thing and cannot really go back and move them all around. In terms of storage and indexing the weblog has a core post, daily recap, monthly recap, and groups by category. All of that is designed to help make it easier for the reader to find content. I’m not entirely sure that works anymore. At this point in my online journey, the primary way people get to the weblog is from searching for a term or something that gets them to a page. They quickly realize that they are in the midst of a functional journal that might very well contain the technical answer they were seeking. I tend to write about the challenges that I overcome while using technology just as much as I muse about the process of writing. 

I should probably focus more on technical writing and really dig into the challenges we see in the disjointed presentation of technology that we run into on a daily basis. The only thing connecting the myriad of technology we use and interact with is us functioning as the hub. At this point, the fast majority of technology we use is not interconnected or controlled by voice or a common interface. My office alone is full of 10 or more sets of technology that require me to interact with them to make things happen. At some point the technological mesh will become more connected and it will be a fundamentally different experience for the end user.

Replacing my Pixel 5 smartphone

You may have guessed from the title of this post that my smartphone got replaced. It was a warranty replacement of a Pixel 5 smartphone with another one of the exact same make and model. Yes, this is a replacement of the 128 gigabyte Sorta Sage (mint green) phone I have had since 2020. Overall it has been a perfectly serviceable phone. Zero complaints exist from me about the device build or operation outside of the recent battery related incident. Apparently, unbenounced to me at the time the battery in my Pixel 5 smartphone was swelling up within the enclosure. The swelling was bad enough to actually separate the screen from the body housing by about two guitar picks. Generally the phone sits in a thin sort of clear plastic case unless it is being cleaned to help protect it from falls. This problem became noticeable for me based on the degree of rapid battery degrediation. I had to start charging the phone a couple of times a day which was undesirable. Online searches occurred and I was about to get a new portable battery pack. That action however would not have fixed the underlying problem. Based on the battery degradation symptom I ordered a replacement phone. 

It arrived yesterday and the process of switching phones was reasonably painless. It was better than I remember the last time around. Both phones had to be mostly charged and connected together using a USB-C to USB-C cable. At this point, all of my cables are from the Google Store. After I started using the charging stands for the most part my cables have lasted a lot longer. The old phone provided charge and sent over a bunch of data to the new phone. Apparently, I have well over 100 applications that need to be downloaded and installed on the new phone. Really the only applications that are problematic for me are the 2 factor identification applications that have a unique key association. As you start to dip into the passwordless world of managing things by approval in applications you want to really make sure that your smartphone never gets lost or breaks. Keeping stacks of backup keys is generally problematic. 

In practical terms, for the 2 factor identification applications and keys I had to make phone calls to talk to people about resets and other authentication things. That of course was a solvable problem and just took a bit of a commitment of time to resolve. You can certainly imagine the next problem beyond managing the 2 factor authentication concerns was entering passwords for accounts. The phone to phone transfer process did not sync all the accounts to be ready to rock and roll. That was not even an option during the process. I’m sure it is an option that does not exist for my own protection. The only thing I forgot to work out during the setup process was to enable bedtime mode to prevent unwanted chips, alerts, and other notifications overnight. That problem has been resolved this morning.

A photo of the battery swelling case separation

Worrying about productivity and LaTeX editing

Yeah, I sort of thought it would be possible to just jump in and use Overleaf to edit a LaTeX template. I’m going to end up going back and looking at a few tutorials on YouTube to understand the finer points of what is happening within the document. It was easy enough to save and load the template. Making a copy was pretty routine and renaming the original was highly intuitive. I was able to edit the title, author information, and a few of the elements in the source file did not really make sense to me. That is why I’m going to watch a couple of tutorial videos to really get a better understanding of what is going on within the document. At this point, I’m pretty sure this will be something that I can manage to help produce papers on a more regular basis from my work. That is where things are at right now. 

My current backlog of produced podcasts stands at 2 recorded and loaded episodes. One is ready to go out on July 15 and the other is ready for July 22. That leaves us with the draft of week 79 that is generally complete, but not very compelling. I had moved on and written a pretty decent missive for week 80 that is much longer. The outline for week 81 is clear enough, but it needs more work to bring it up to the standard necessary for recording. I knew that the content from week 81 to week 87 was going to be difficult to generate. Writing out an 8 part syllabus for how I would introduce machine learning is an interesting intellectual challenge. My goal of course is to allow anybody reading the material to come up to speed with a general understanding. The respondent would really have to read the materials and dig into them deeply to walk away with next level skills. That is really the hard part of putting this content together. It needs to be approachable to help provide the breath necessary to introduce machine learning. At the same time, the content contained in the syllabus has to provide enough depth for those respondents who are consuming it to gain knowledge beyond a basic introduction. 

I may very well for fun take the 8 part introduction to machine learning syllabus and convert it into a LaTeX document in Overleaf at the end of the process. That would take something that I know is going to be completed and give me an opportunity to really mess around with the typesetting. It might even give me a chance to help figure out the integration between Overleaf and Github which seems to exist, but I have not had the opportunity to explore. That will probably be a good use of my time. The other way to go about getting some practice with Overleaf and LaTeX would be to take a few of my talks over the last few years and convert them over to paper format. Most of those talks have a transcript and a PowerPoint which could be easily converted over to a LaTeX document. Honestly, that content was probably a better fit for dissemination by recorded video and the follow up transcripts. Most of the content people consume is just text in a browser from a webpage, news source, or some type of application. A much smaller percentage of the population in general consumes all their content from PDFs containing academic papers. 

I absolutely read a ton of articles and jump in and out of consuming content generally available and content packaged up as academic articles or research notes. Those of you who have read my work for a longer period of time will know that I enjoy a bit of research trajectory mixed into my papers. Knowing the bigger picture and where things are going is an important part of how I consume knowledge. I want to know where it fits into the broader spectrum of the academy and how the author intended it to either move things forward or cement something that needed to be shored up with additional research. That is an important part of the equation that is missing from a lot of machine learning papers that I end up reading. The authors get very focused on the mechanism of the mouse trap and how it functions. They don’t really share the importance of the mouse trap in the broader context of the research within the field. It’s possible that maybe a few papers on the research trajectory of machine learning are necessary. My thesis that has been advanced is that overcrowding is causing a problematic scenario where more content than can possibly be consumed is being created and the noise outpaces the signal by an order of magnitude.

Starting to learn how to edit with the LaTeX typesetting system

This weekend a little blogging on the WordPress Android application occurred via my Google Pixel 5 smartphone. Two different posts were made to keep my writing streak alive. Both of the posts were just updates to my activity during the weekend, but they were enough to keep things moving along. During the lengthy car ride back to Denver from Kansas City I gave some thought to the edges of the things being expired in my writing. I’m getting to the bleeding edge of a lot of different academic work. Writing is occurring often at that edge, but I’m not taking the time to put it into an academic paper format for submission. While I don’t wholesale believe in that type of writing for every purpose it probably is something that deserves an investment of my time and energy going forward. 

I’m learning how to use the online site Overleaf as a LaTeX editor. A lot of people ask questions online about the best LaTeX editor for beginners. Over the years I have become very skilled at using Microsoft Word to produce manuscripts and it has worked just fine. Millions of people use it daily. Right now I’m writing out of a Google Docs file with a .DOCX extension. Working out of a LaTeX editor is not something that I really ever do. Either I have to learn how to write in an editor that supports that format or I have to take the time at the end of the journey to convert everything over to that format. Some people have found ways to edit LaTeX documents in Google Docs and it seems that it might be possible. Instead of messing around with that type of effort I’m going to just go all in with Overleaf and see what happens. Today will be the day that starts and I’m hopeful it will be a fun adventure. Learning how to modify and work with LaTeX formatting is not really something that I want to invest my time and energy into, but it seems like something that will end up paying off in the end. 

It should be possible to take my research note on open software MLOps repositories shared on GitHub and get everything converted over to LaTeX using Overleaf. I found an arXiv style template that will serve as a basis for the final output. It should be a fun little adventure in the fine arts of typesetting. Right at the start it is clear that the source and recompile being split sides of a screen is radically different from what I normally handle as a workflow. Right now I’m writing in a print preview mode basically that shows me the read pretty much what will happen live within the document and what will be sent to the printer or a PDF document for that matter. I’m not sold on the idea that you need some type of academic typesetting to gatekeeper the publishing world as a technologic barrier to entry at the port of academic freedom.