Nate Dickson Thinks...

Small Thoughts for a Quiet World.

I've made no secret that I'm getting a (GASP) business degree and therefore leaving my life as a full-time developer behind. My manager asked me “what are your long-term plans?” and my response was “well, I'm not getting an MBA to keep being a developer.”

But as much as I want to move into a role where I can lead developers, I still love the joy of technology, the thrill of learning new things and making these machines do what I want them to do.

For example:

Command Line Awesomeness

So much fun stuff is going on there — a customized status bar with emoji-enabled weather report in the bottom of the tmux window. Ranger and iTerm2 are working together to give me a full-color image preview in a terminal. Things like this highlight the joy of computers: With some time, patience, and a lot of third-party apps, you can make these things do what you want.

#tmux #ranger #cli #commandLine #iTerm2

It was foggy at the train station the other day. On a whim, I pulled out my camera and opened the BitCam app. Something about approaching a train in the fog felt like an early 90's noir adventure game to me. So I took a series of snaps going from low-res to high to color to full camera resolution, just for fun. I kind of like them.

Hercules graphics on an 8086.

VGA on a 486 DX2

iPhone 7

#photography #technology #time

I see this as I walk around downtown, near my office building. I have so many questions.

Everyone should care, passionately, about something, some cause, some plan to make the world better.

But nobody can care about everything. We all need to pick our battles so that we have the energy to fight them. Find the place where you can do the most good, and commit to that.

I love winter. I love the early nights, the chill in the air, the close, warm feeling of being snug at home. I love snow in the trees and the yard. Winter would be perfect except for one thing:

Driveways and sidewalks.

You can't just not shovel the snow off your concrete. That's not an option as a civilized person. I walk whenever and wherever I can, and when I'm walking in the winters I realize how much public utility there really is in our personal patches of sidewalk. Also, you've got delivery people who need to come to your door, guests, friends, and even me and my family. I need to clear that concrete so people are safe.

So Here's the Actual Lesson

When you're shoveling snow there are a few secrets:

  1. If possible, do it when there is still daylight left

Okay, turns out there's only one secret. But it's a potent one. I used to get frustrated, trying to figure out why my neighbor's sidewalk and driveway always looked like he cut the edges with a razor, while mine looked messy, covered in ground-down footprints and tire tracks, and crumbly edges that kept dumping powder back on my driveway I had just cleared. Eventually I would give up and go in, calling it good enough.

Then I'd look back outside a few hours later, surprised to find that it had been good enough. All the powder melted off, all the footprints and tire tracks had softened and I could get rid of them quickly.

The sunlight on wet, dark concrete heats that concrete juuuuust enough to melt snow (unless it's really cold, in which case you're on your own. Sorry!), so if you get the concrete exposed it does a lot of work for you. It doesn't work if you don't shovel, of course. Snow is reflective, so if you don't put in the work you don't get any benefit.

But you don't have to be perfect! Often we are super-critical of our own efforts and see every possible flaw in what we do while idolizing the work or results of those around us. And that can lead us to despair or depression or just giving up before we even start.

Instead if we just get in there and get started, we will get far better results than we would ever have imagined.

Before diving into computer science I briefly studied (human) linguistics. One of the facts they taught us had to do with the number of words in a language and the number of words it took to express something in that language. The more words you have available to you, the fewer you need to express a thought.

Put another way: the greater the range of words from which you can select, the greater the odds of you knowing a single word that expresses the thought you want to convey, and thus the fewer words you need to express your thoughts.

Put another way: the size of a language and the length of a sentence in that language are inversely proportional.

Put another way: eloquence obviates loquaciousness.

Study By The Fire

Just because I have to be studying doesn't mean I have to be at my desk. Sometimes it's nice to mix school work with a pleasant environment.

Like many of you, I end up doing free tech support for friends and family and neighbors, etc. etc. The most common—and most dreaded—question I get asked in that role is

Why is my computer slow?


Or: Why we think we will eventually figure out faster-than-light travel

Nature: You're basically a prey species. You've got no claws, no fangs, no fur, no real defenses...

Humans: Hey look we sharpened some sticks. Bring it.

Nature: Okay, but you're still really slow and small compared to things like bison and deer.

Humans: We don't need to be fast, there's a bunch of us and we can walk for days carrying our pointy sticks. We'll just follow food until it's tired and then it's stabbity times.

Nature: Okay but you're still cold and probably die in winter.

Humans: Hey look you can use pointy sticks to make fire. And after you stab an animal you can eat the inside and wear the outside. Also, P.S. We used fire to melt this rock and then it turned into a liquid that we poured into some clay shaped like a sharp thing and now that melted rock is a really sharp thing.

Nature: Okay but you're still limited by the animals and plants around you, there's only so many calories to go around.

Humans: Hey look if we get this animal to breed with this animal the kids are bigger and tastier. Also it works with plants. Also we bred the nicest wolves we could find and now they like us. We made enough extra calories to support cuddly house wolves!

Nature: Well, you still can't fly. Ha.

Humans: Hmmmmm. think for a few centuries, build up industry and science and art and math and literature and different forms of government and faiths and cuisine and fossil fuel distillation and finally...


Nature: At least stay in the atmosphere!

Humans: MAKE US.

Nature: Well stay off of the space rocks, those aren't for you, you're a prey species.

Humans: Sorry can't hear you busy landing a robot on an asteroid!

The steps that brought this to you:

  1. I typed this using the Hanx Writer app on the iPad.
  2. Then I printed it using AirPrint, direct from my iPad
  3. I folded the paper to pretend I had mailed it or something, I don't know. This isn't a project that has a lot of seriousness around it. Then I took a photo of it using my iPad
  4. Then I uploaded it to
  5. Then I wrote about it and shared it on the internet.

There's no real thesis here, no real point. This was just because modern technology makes it easy to do pointlessly convoluted things for fun.

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