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The Art of Shen Ku

I don’t remember how I first heard about The Art of Shen Ku, but it’s a book that has managed to survive every purge of my dead tree library since I bought it seventeen years ago.

Selling itself as “The First Intergalactic Artform of the Entire Universe”, Shen Ku is a difficult thing to describe. I suppose that in a bookstore you might find it in the “Self Help” section, which is unfortunate. The book jumps between topics such as travel, navigation, diet, fitness, and knots, all colored with a healthy dose of vaguely Asian cultural appropriation and new-agey fluff. Prior to mobile networked computing becoming widespread, I thought of the book as being the closest thing available to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Flipping through it today, it is clear that the book has informed and directed a lot of my interests in life. There are sections of the book that I’ve always ignored as irrelevant or not applicable to my reality, but on the whole the signal-to-noise ratio of the book is high. The author, Steve “Zeke” Dolby, is also an illustrator, and fills the pages with cartoon illustrations that are both entertaining and descriptive.

  • The Art of Shen Ku: CPR
  • The Art of Shen Ku: Travel Shirt
  • The Art of Shen Ku: No Equipment Exercise
  • The Art of Shen Ku: Hello Sun Breathing

Despite its focus on travel, the large form factor of the book makes it impractical to actually carry around. When I discovered book scanning services a few years ago, Shen Ku was one of the first books I had scanned. After receiving the OCRed PDF I told myself I would get rid of my original paper copy, but have so far failed to do so. Shen Ku is the kind of book that lends itself to being pulled out and opened to a random page, with no expectation beyond education and entertainment. Unfortunately e-books don’t satisfy that experience.

  • The Art of Shen Ku: Dedication and Foreword
  • The Art of Shen Ku: Four Bells

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And now for an update from the telecommunications industry.

Iain Morris reports on “5G”:

Rarely has a technology generated so much industry hype and met with such a blasé response from the broader market. Watch your neighbor’s eyes glaze over when you describe its higher speeds and lower latency. Note how he fails to share your excitement when you tell him it will provide extra capacity and reduce costs for service providers.

…5G is neither fixing a consumer problem nor delivering a new experience. And therein lies a big issue. For all its failings, 3G sounded exciting back in the 1990s, when mobile phones were for only calls and texts and even fixed-line Internet services were young. To match that excitement, 5G would have to promise something just as revolutionary. To the average person, it doesn’t.

Despite all this, policymakers now sound as intoxicated as the telecom industry. Governments everywhere have bought into the story that 5G is the most important invention since a few ancient Greeks realized a circular object on an axle would be great for transport. Suddenly, there is a 5G “race” whose winners will inherit the planet – shortly before some of it disappears under rising seas.

via BoingBoing

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I've long maintained that William Burroughs is my anti-drug.

Back when I was maybe 14 years old I had exhausted everything William Gibson had published, but I read an interview someplace where he cited William Burroughs as one of his literary influences. So I started reading Burroughs, which then of course led to Kerouac, Ginsberg, et al. From the Beats it was a logical progression to read books by Tim Leary and his crowd, progress on down the timeline to Terrence McKenna, and then come full circle from there back to cyberpunk via Douglas Rushkoff. Anyway, my Burroughs takeaway was: avoid opioids.

Thanks, Bill.

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We may be located far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy.

Scientific American proposes a solution to the Fermi Paradox by using the European exploration of the South Pacific as an analog.

When the frequency of occurrence of settleable worlds in a galaxy is intermediate between high and very low, fascinating things can happen. Specifically, ordinary statistical fluctuations in the number and location of suitable worlds in patches of galactic space can create clusters of systems that are continually visited or resettled by wave after wave of interstellar explorers. Think of it as an archipelago, a group or chain of islands. The flip side to the existence of these clusters is that they are typically surrounded by large unsettled regions of space, places just too far and too sparsely distributed to bother setting out for.

via Orbital Index.

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Lawson Kline has been manufacturing high-quality outdoor equipment for about ten years.

He’s experimented with a wide range of products, and I’ve bought most of them. These days he’s known mostly for his cordage, which is unique and inovative, but cordage is not a topic I get overly excited about. I do get excited about stakes and Lawson’s aluminum Apex Stakes and Titanium Shepherd’s Hook Stakes are both probably the best on the planet. The titanium stakes are currently on sale, and he sent a description of how they are made to his newsletter today:

We cut, bend, and point each tent stake one at a time in our shop. I usually have to buy a very large quantity worth of Titanium, per diameter. And this is practically me begging them to sell to me. The mills I buy from require very large qty’s in order to sell to us, as they usually sell to big aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Technologies, etc, So it is very expensive to stock a product like our titanium stakes, as it is 100% an aerospace material.

The rods come to the shop in a wooden crate via motor freight. They are usually about 12 feet long. We first start off by using a rod parter to cut the stakes to length to get our blanks. If you have never seen one of these machines before they are very neat. It essentially breaks/shears the rod in a very clean and controlled manner. So they do not have to be saw cut. It’s like a sheet metal shear for round rods. Our rod parter will accurately cut rods from 1/16”-5/8”. There are two parting disc’s used to do all the of the work. They are made from hardened tool steel. So they are cutting like scissors so to speak, but the rod goes through a hole to keep the end round and to reduce the burr as much as possible. There is an adjustable stop on the machine that allows the first rod to be cut as the 10,000th one, with no real measurable difference between any of them. It is a highly precise machine.

Next, they are bent either one, two, or three at a time (depending on the rod diameter) on a custom made bender. This is a bender that I made myself over 10 years ago, and it has probably made 100,000+ tent stakes ever since. Last the stakes are pointed in another machine that I also custom-built. The stake is fixtured into a holder where it advances towards the cutting head and then puts a point on the end using a special end type mill.

There is no machine in the world that you could buy that could make a stake from start to finish, so I had to custom make two of the three machines to make these. This is the reason we are the only manufacturer in the USA making titanium tent stakes. (and probably because I am bad at bean counting…) I do know that it would be far more profitable for me to stock and sell Chinese stakes, but for me, the details matter. And I honestly love making custom machinery that can make products that not many other companies can. BUT as a result, this means I usually have way too many titanium tent stakes in stock as I have to make about a year’s supply at one time. Obviously, if I sold more stakes, then this wouldn’t be an issue, but since I don’t, this is the one product that I have a lot of my working capital tied up into.

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Holly Herndon composes music with machine learning.

I learned of her thanks to Bruce Sterling‘s mention in his 2020 State of the World, wherein he defines her music one of the few current examples of “genuine technical novelty”.

She used machine learning to train a program (referring to it as “AI” seems popular but I’ll refrain) that could reproduce human voices, and then used that software as a vocalist for PROTO. Neat.

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Monitoring Legible News

I was sent a link to Legible News last November by someone who had read my post on the now-defunct Breaking News. Legible News is a website that simply scrapes headlines from Wikipedia’s Current Events once per day and presents them in a legible format. This seems like a simple thing, but is far beyond the capabilities of most news organizations today.

Legible News provides no update notification mechanism. I addressed this by plugging it into my urlwatch system. Initially this presented two problems: the email notification included the HTML markup, which I didn’t care about, and it included both the old and new content of every changed line – effectively sending me the news from today and yesterday.

The first problem was easily solved by using the html2text filter provided by urlwatch. This strips out all markup, which is what I thought I wanted. I ran this for a bit before deciding that I did want the output to contain links. What I really wanted was some sort of html2markdown filter.

I also realized I did not just want to be sent new lines, but every line anytime there was a change. If the news yesterday included a section titled “Armed conflicts and attacks”, and the news today included a section with the same title, I wanted that in my output despite it not having changed.

I solved both of these problems using the diff_tool argument of urlwatch. This allows the user to pass in a special tool to replace the default use of diff to generate the notification output. The tool will be called with two arguments: the filename of the previously downloaded version of the URL and the filename of the current version. I wrote a simple script called html2markdown.sh which ignores the first argument and simply passes the second argument to Pandoc for formatting.

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#!/bin/sh

pandoc --from html \
--to markdown_strict \
--reference-links \
--reference-location=block \
$2

This script is used as the diff_tool in the urlwatch job definition.

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kind: url
name: Legible News
url: https://legiblenews.com/
diff_tool: /home/pigmonkey/bin/html2markdown.sh

The result is the latest version of Legible News, nicely converted to Markdown, delivered to my inbox every day. The output would be even better if Legible News used semantic markup – specifically heading elements – but it is perfectly serviceable as is.

After I built this I discovered that somebody had created an RSS feed for Legible News using a service called Feed43.

Wired is running an editorial arguing that the 10,000-year clock is a waste of time (get it?).

The thrust of the article seems to be that the world sucks today, and that building a monument to inspire long-term thinking is a waste of resources – “a pleasant distraction” – since everybody alive today will be dead before any good comes of it. Which, I don’t know, seems like it’s sort of the point.

There’s plenty to criticize about The Long Now – I swing by The Interval once a year or so, always hoping that it will have become an interesting place to spend time and always leaving disappointed – but I don’t think the idea of the clock is one of them. The rate of progress on the clock(s) is another matter.

The article, however, reminded me of the idea of protopia, a neologism first coined by Kevin Kelly and lately championed – in a slightly different manner – by Monika Bielskyte.

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