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Destruction and Creation

After John Boyd revolutionized aerial combat and aeronautical engineering with his Energy-Manuverability Theory he embarked on a study of the nature of creativity. Boyd’s goal was to understand why he, a curious fighter pilot, was the first to discover E-M Theory. The result was Destruction and Creation. As one of the only pieces of writing Boyd ever published, it provides insight into his mind and offers hints of Boyd’s later work – both his best known (the OODA Loop) and his most important (Patterns of Conflict).

Destruction and Creation is freely available as a PDF, which is useful for printing but not for reading or manipulating. It is included as an appendix in Robert Coram’s Boyd biography, which is available in digital format, but is poorly formatted. I converted the article into Markdown-flavored plain text, with a BibTeX bibliography, suitable for processing via Pandoc. It is available on GitHub.

It should go without saying that I've sanitized my e-reader.

Trying to inject advertising into the reading experience is sick and sacrilegious. A privacy sticker from N-O-D-E covers the logo on the back of my Kindle, while a piece of tape sanitizes the front. Between this and my offline, DRM-free method of using the device, I enjoy the Kindle without the corporate mindshare.

Kindle at Lunch

Currently reading Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon.

I've found a hand strap to be a useful addition to my e-reader.

I bought the TFY Security Hand Strap for my Kindle Paperwhite 18 months ago. It makes holding the e-reader for long periods of time much more pleasant – especially when reading in bed and holding the device up above my head. No pinch grip required. It doesn’t add noticeable bulk or weight to the Kindle, and I can ignore it completely when I’m not using it. Originally I went looking for some kind of case with a cover that could be folded into a more ergonomic shape to hold, but when this strap appeared in my search results I realized it was a simpler solution to the problem. The strap could probably be made with a wire hanger and some elastic webbing.

Kindle Handstrap at Lunch

The Kindle is a terrible device for reading comics.

It’s the wrong size. The E Ink display is greyscale. Zooming and panning are disruptive. A tablet probably works great, but I don’t know – I’ve never owned one. I solved the problem a while back when I discovered that I could simply rotate my laptop’s display via xrandr.

$ xrandr --output eDP-1 --rotate right --pos 0x0

Adding an autorandr profile for this makes it easy to jump to portrait mode. This is useful for reading any long-form content on the X260. Typing (or mousing) on the rotated device is difficult, so I’ll sometimes plug in my external keyboard if I want to do more than just page through a document.

X260 Portrait Mode

This past summer a 13-year-old girl shattered my optimism for the future.

In June, The Atlantic published an article discussing the use of Instagram as a source of life advice by (pre-)teens. I do not understand insta-face-tweeting, but what struck me most was 13-year-old Sophie’s justification of her behaviour:

Teens say they’d basically do anything to avoid searching for answers to their problems outside of Instagram. Unlike threads, web pages don’t follow any standardized format, and teens say that navigating the open web, especially sites with ads and pop-ups, was a frustrating waste of time.

“The format is just a lot easier to read than stuff like Google,” says Sophie. “You can read longer things in little chunks. It’s not like reading this giant paragraph at once. No one wants to do that.”

Teens say that another benefit of threads is that you don’t have to waste time searching around – the information is delivered to you based on your interests and whom you follow – and that threads feel more trustworthy than search engines.

I’m not sure what sort of dystopic future we’re in for if we manage to raise a generation of people who are intimidated by a paragraph, but I suppose we’ll find out.

Reading Books

While I do not subscribe to Umberto Eco’s idea of the antilibrary – having too great a collection of unread books is a mental weight that I find uncomfortable – I do have a constant collection of books that I have acquired but have yet to consume.

As previously mentioned, I manage my e-book library with Calibre. Calibre allows the user to create custom metadata properties, which I’ve taken advantage of to add a simple boolean property called read. This allows me to track which books I have read, filter the library for those books that are unread, and easily queue up the next thing whenever I finish reading a book. It also allows me to know that my Calibre library averages around 20% unread.

I enjoy seeing lists of books that other people have read or are reading. In case anyone else feels that way, I’ve published a list of read books from my Calibre library. Generating this list is fairly simple.

First I ask Calibre to dump a CSV of my library, including the fields that are most useful, and filtering only for those books that I have marked as read.

$ calibredb catalog content/media/library/books.csv --fields=id,author_sort,title,isbn,identifiers,series,series_index,uuid --search="#read:yes"

The first character in this file is some sort of Unicode weirdness. I make sure this character and anything like it is stripped from the header row with sed.

$ LANG=C sed -i '1 s/[\d128-\d255]//g' content/media/library/books.csv

I want to display this list in a web page using DataTables, allowing users to perform simple sorting and searching. DataTables can read from a JSON source, so the easiest solution was to use csvkit to convert the output.

$ ~/.virtualenvs/csvkit/bin/csvjson -i 4 content/media/library/books.csv > content/media/library/books.json

The resulting output is processed by DataTables for display.

Void Star is one of my favorite novels of recent years.

I have at times described it as being as if China MiĆ©ville had written a book in the Bridge trilogy, with plot devices contributed by Neal Stephenson. Other times I’ve just described it as my favorite William Gibson novel this millenium. Both of which I think communicate the tone of the book and the high regard in which I hold it. With Void Star, Zachary Mason created a sort of ethereal cultural exploration, very Gibsonian in nature, and you won’t like it if you’re reading it for the plot.

The audiobook is also very good. I say this as someone who dislikes audiobooks. Neither audio books nor podcasts fit into my life, and I can count the number of audiobooks I have ever listened to on two hands. But the actors who perform the three main characters of Void Star – especially the woman who voices Irena, who I wish would perform Pattern Recognition – are all perfect in their roles and somehow manage to capture how I imagined the characters when I read the book, which is a thing that I think rarely happens in any adaptation of a book into a different medium. Zachary Mason imbues the prose of his novel with a sort of poetry and rhythm that the actors all capture perfectly. I read the book a second time months after listening to the audiobook and found myself reading it in their voice, emulating their pacing.

Vanity Covers

One of the things I vainly enjoy about e-books is that I can choose my favorite covers and apply them to whichever edition of the book I happen to have. The cover of a book sets its mood, and browsing through these covers in the Calibre grid offers remembered fragments of the worlds within.

For Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I use the Vintage Classics cover, slightly modified.

For Trevanian’s Shibumi I use the French Gallmeister cover.

For Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s series I use illustrations by Wayne Dorrington (unfortunately missing the last two).

For Uncle Bill’s Sprawl trilogy I use covers that were previously used by Editora Aleph for the Brazilian editions.

For Gibson’s Bridge and Blue Ant trilogies I use the Penguin covers.

For Burning Chrome I use Daniel Brown’s fractal cover for Gollancz.

I don’t recall where I acquired the cover for my omnibus The Lord of the Rings.

Sometimes the editions I purchase come with enjoyable covers. I have a few of William Scott Wilson’s translations of historical Japanese works, and I find the covers used for his books by Shambala Publications aesthetically pleasing.