Missing technical writing

30th of November, 2021

This blog is a few years old, and during its time, it has had a couple of different style changes (and a couple of domain changes). Initially, this blog started in 2018 when I was in school, and I thought some blogging platform could improve my writing.

Most of the posts back then were some assignments for various school related works. Blog was a clever publishing platform for those and was accepted in many courses. Most of those have since been deleted and forgotten.

During those days, this was very tech-oriented, focusing more on writing various tutorials about different subjects, mainly revolving around distributed computing. Then I landed my first job as a DevOps engineer, where I was able to put these tutorials that I had written to practice. Unfortunately, about the same time, I started losing my motivation on regular writing mainly due to time constraints.

Around late 2020, early 2021, I started to rekindle my writing habit with different styles and topics. Then I began to write down my thoughts about the world around me. So many topics were about music, art, some tech stuff here and there but not really "technical writing". I was mainly sharing my opinions about the various topics that interested me. While I enjoyed this little bit more pondering writing style - some could call ranting - for me, it felt that it was missing something.

I missed the technical writing. But now, since I had established a particular style in my writing, it felt out of place to start writing about various geeky subjects revolving around computer science. That being said, all those writings in the tutorial and guidance way or these recent little bits of more analyzing way of writing hasn't been gone to waste. However, I feel that now at least, I know about what I want to write.

I think the combination of both will suit me the best. At the same time, I don't necessarily see myself writing some basic how-to tutorials anymore. But I feel that technical analysis with various concrete implementations would be interesting to research and write. My main interests have generally lay in music, arts and how these intertwine with computer science. However, since my professional life is linked to topics such as designing and implementing distributed systems, distributed computing in big data environments, systems engineering, performance, reliability, and compilers and programming languages. I feel that those might also be a regular visitor in my ramblings.

My professional life has also revolved around these topics. So I feel that I'm able to write a lot in conjunction with my work. Especially since working with large distributed systems, you're bound to stumble upon some weird things, making this analysis-oriented technical writing is an excellent tool for thought. I would want to have this semi-regular to regular writing habit that I once had, but that is something I can't promise. Post at a time!

But since this is still my blog, I feel that occasional rambles and shitposts about various topics are in place. Do people want to read those? Probably not, but every once in a while its fun to vent. So going forward, I think you can expect a significant portion of more technical commentary with smaller portion of things that entertain and occasionally horrifies me.

Tags: computers


Views on digital declutter

20th of September, 2021

I'm very prone for procrastination. While I wouldn't say that I have focus issues, I have noticed that I can easily spend hours on non-essential sites that don't bring anything to my life. Social media has been one of them. I have always had a pretty weird relationship with social media. I joined Facebook and Instagram a long time ago because many of my friends and family were already there. While I never did post stuff actively, I always noticed that I just ended up mindlessly surfing these, especially on Instagram.

A couple of years back, I became conscious about this and decided to delete my accounts on these platforms without giving too much thought about it. While leaving these platforms were pretty easy for me, I noticed that I had just replaced these with some other platform, YouTube in my case. After which, I started spending countless hours on that platform instead. Back then, I didn't consider this habit as bad as mindlessly browsing Instagram or Facebook despite it being the same thing. I think I just rationalized it to myself being educational or informative in a better way than other platforms.

Year or two passes without Instagram or Facebook completely fine, but then I wanted to start using them again for some reason. Maybe I thought to myself that I had already been cured of this disease so I could have a healthy relationship with them from now on. I also had professional reasons behind this since I thought that these platforms offer a great way of marketing your art to others, which is true in some cases. However, very quickly, I started noticing similar behaviour when I last was on these platforms. So after a couple of months of trying to get back in, I just felt repulsed by them and decided to leave them again. When it comes to marketing, that is not for me. I understand the benefits of being an artist in social media. Still, since I mainly enjoy that as a passionate hobby, I don't see the need for being on social media.

So at the time of writing this, I think it has been about six months or so of living without these. Still, I'm very conscious about my unnecessarily large usage of YouTube, News etc. While comparing my use with Instagram, I still wouldn't consider watching YouTube or regularly checking news as bad as mindlessly scrolling through your feeds. I still noticed similar behaviour on those I struggled with, for example, with Instagram. I became conscious about randomly picking up my phone and scrolling through news even though I had just read them or just letting YouTube's autoplay roll for long periods without giving too much thought about it. So I wanted to tackle these habits.

I have noticed that the most extreme methods work the best when fixing some bad habit, at least in my case. So I didn't want to ease when trying to have a healthy relationship with these applications but instead went cold turkey immediately. Also, to help me in this, I wrote a simple application that allows blocking distracting sites "completely".

So how has this worked for me? I think great! In the beginning, I noticed how much free time I have when I don't spend it on useless things. Also, in the beginning, I occasionally picked up my phone by instinct. I quickly realized that I didn't have any applications to spend mindlessly surfing, so I quickly grew out of this habit. First, I felt slight boredom when I couldn't spend time on these apps, but thankfully I realized that this spare time needed to be used elsewhere. Before this, I was already reading relatively a lot, about three to four books per month, but I have almost doubled that number nowadays. I also wrote about time management between multiple passions a while ago where I pondered how I manage time between, for example, programming and music. After ditching distractive sites entirely, I have felt that the time management between these activities and my work life hasn't been an issue. It's straightforward to find time for various pet projects and serious work outside my work life since I don't spend my time on useless stuff anymore.

Do I see myself using these applications in the future? Well, I want to read the news and continue to do so, not just constantly. I usually catch up with recent events in the morning, but I don't desire to install any news apps on my telephone. When it comes to these streaming platforms, YouTube, Netflix, etc., I could live without them. There are lots of good information on these platforms, so if I need to watch some video, I can allow myself to do so. However, I don't want them to control my life in a way that I'm uncomfortable with.

Tags: minimalism, procrastination, productivity, social media


Passions and time management

10th of August, 2021

I have always enjoyed reading about other people's productivity hacks and their workflows, in general, regarding whatever they might be doing. However, I often stumble upon reading how people maintain an extravagant lifestyle with dozens of different hobbies, interests, and passions with ease. So it makes me wonder how they manage their time to maintain a healthy level of participation in their interests without burning out.

I don't have dozens of different passions or interests in my life, but my passions tend to be quite large on their own, so when combining those with 40 hour work week, I need to think about my time management thoroughly. These passions I would consider to be writing, music and programming. Fortunately, I currently work in the tech industry, so I can make a good living by doing one of my passions. Writing on its own isn't necessarily a huge topic/interest, as it only consumes time, but the practice itself is pretty straightforward. On the other hand, music is time-consuming, and it involves many different activities in my case. Sure, you could argue that writing includes other practices, too, like planning what to write, but music is on another level. I play multiple instruments, which I record for myself and others in my home studio. I enjoy composing tunes, add some mixing and mastering to this, and you need to sacrifice a lot of time for this. Programming is also something that I enjoy spending my time on. While I do it for a living, what makes me truly like it are the projects I work on in my free time, whether it's my pet projects of various sizes or some open-source projects.

Finding the time and focusing on the task at hand isn't necessarily an issue on its own for me, but it's more about maintaining a healthy balance between all these passions that I hold dear to me. Although that being said, I would consider being a very gifted procrastinator, so focusing on the task at hand can often be difficult for me. However, focusing becomes no more an issue once I've gotten into the flow. A more significant issue here is often finishing projects rather than starting a new one (which I feel is entirely another issue to improve).

When I work on my passions, I tend to focus for days or weeks on one passion, e.g. programming, neglecting my other passions like writing and music. This on its own isn't necessarily a bad thing since I don't feel that I'm wasting my time when I'm doing something that I enjoy and something where I'm able to get rewarded in multiple different ways. But I would like to maintain an equal balance between my passions.

Tools to the rescue

A while ago, I started reading about how other people have managed their time with multiple passions/hobbies, and almost unanimously, everybody used various schedules for this. So I have already used a "life management" system for a long time to handle all my to-do lists and schedules related to my home and work life (insert praising words about Emacs' org-mode here).

I'm not going into details about how I manage my life with org-mode, but if you're interested in the tool, I would recommend going through articles found at Org for GTD and other Task management systems and from Rainer K├Ânig's OrgMode tutorial

I realise that I have been missing for a long time in my current setup because I haven't scheduled when to work on what project. While I've split my free-time projects into sub-tasks and occasionally schedule and deadline when to work/finish those, the work has always been very sporadic on this front. The result has often been that I work for an X period on one project then move on to another, so I often just forget what I was supposed to do on the earlier project. For me, this often leads to unnecessary postponing of tasks or cancelling/removing them completely. I also quickly start saying, "I'll do it tomorrow", which everyone knows won't happen.

Starting light

So I started to approach the whole concept of time management between multiple different interests was to make dedicated timeslots and days for whatever I might be working on. I maintain numerous ongoing projects that don't necessarily have deadlines but are just larger projects that I want to work on from time to time. Then these projects have sub-projects which are usually scheduled with deadlines. These projects and sub-projects might include something related to work, home, open-source work, recording or simply just writing something.

I nowadays approach working these by dedicating timeslots for something on a specific day. My work life and day-to-day home stuff take a good portion of my days, but I try to use it as efficiently as possible the rest of the time. So on Monday, I might work on some programming related endeavours based on my backlog, Tuesday something else and so on. The way I still approach tasks haven't been changed in any way, as in I still manage my tasks and TODOs and keep track of them, but nowadays, I just dedicate specific days for specific interest/passion.

Conclusion

This way, I don't feel that I'm neglecting the stuff I want to work on. Issues with this kind of approach are the context switching almost daily. However, this kind of switching isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't want to think about work-related topics after I've "clocked in the hours", but I want to do something either to relax or move my thoughts elsewhere. Issues that I've mainly stumbled with are that when you might focus on programming one day, you focus on music. While this switch on its own hasn't been too bad in my case, but when I get back to, for example, programming after doing something else for several days, it always takes a while to get back to the flow. But I do believe that this is just missing practice in the world of managing multiple different passions.

I have now split my time between multiple passions for several weeks, and this is an excellent way to go. It has also taught me about the stuff that I genuinely want to work with, since when you write down what you want to do and when it's easy to spot the stuff that you don't want to work on or just don't have an interest about it. So this also works in my case to find the topics that genuinely interest me. Will I continue to manage my time like this for long? Well hopefully. I feel that this way, I can contribute to all the stuff that makes my life interesting, so obviously, I wouldn't want to miss that.

Tags: procrastination, productivity


Music, AI, and the future

28th of July, 2021

Since the discussion about artificial intelligence has become mainstream, I have started to ponder AI's possible impacts on our day-to-day lives. While I work in tech, I come from this "culture and arts" background, at least a little bit. I did some theatre when I was young and have worked with music in one way or another for most of my life. This background has got me thinking about how AI could affect these fields.

We have already seen multiple interdisciplinary works mixing artificial intelligence with various art forms, like drawings, paintings, music etc. Already drawings and paintings generated with AI present a superb quality in those, in which you cannot make a clear distinction from if these were created by AI or an actual human. On the other hand, music is not quite at that level yet, at least in my opinion. At least in the form of an entirely generated song by AI. That being said, I have heard great pieces which utilize both human touch and AI, where AI plays more of a supportive role in the whole work. Similar things can be seen in all creative endeavours where AI could be utilized.

If AI gets used more and more in these creative projects with great success, to me, it raises a question, can human art be entirely replaced with AI? I believe it would be naive to say that it couldn't. But, considering the possible future where we cannot distinguish humans from computers, how could we distinguish this kind of smaller medium like song or book on how it was created or who created it? As a consumer of these kinds of mediums, does it matter if some algorithms made your new favourite novel to provide the same feeling that you might get from reading a regular author's book?

They are taking our jobs

To put it shortly, AI can replace anyone's job who happens to handle bits in one way or another. This means that AI can do it way better than you ever can in these kinds of jobs. So when we talk about "creative jobs", how you can do it better than someone else? Are you possibly better at drawing than someone else? Or can you compose better symphonies than someone else? What makes you better? Is it purely a technical thing, or is there something else? When we talk about painting or drawing's technicality, sure, you could argue that your "pen strokes", etc. might be better than someone else's. But does this make it better art?

Already there has been a trend of AI-generated music populating different streaming platforms. Currently, that music has almost always been something simple, in which AI definitely can excel. This could be called elevator music or Muzak. This kind of music is most likely something that many people wouldn't mind that it's generated with a computer and lacks the human touch. But how would people feel if there were a chart-topping song entirely generated with AI? Again, I believe many people wouldn't like that, other than a few tech geeks who might think it could be cool (me included).

Could then AI fully replace the human touch in our art forms? We might wait for that to happen for a very long time. Still, as I said earlier, it would be naive to think that this couldn't happen, especially in the future, where we have reached a certain level of intelligence where we can't distinguish each other from humans and machines.

So what could this mean for our "blue-collar" artists? What could be the driving force for them to create new art if the audience doesn't know if it was created by computer or human? To me, that seems very grim.

Creative programming

If we can't beat them, join 'em? Right? If we think that this will be the future, while it might not be a very uplifting thing to consider, it'll most likely be very realistic. While I think that AI will have some bad repercussions on our life in the future, I also believe that it can be used for great good. Whether AI is used in health, fighting climate change etc., there are many good use cases. In my opinion, utilizing AI in the arts is also one. Should you create your next song or novel entirely with AI? Possibly no, although GPT-3 has shown some great results on how good text it can write.

I like to write or play music, so I don't want to replace the artificial process that I enjoy so much. So the way I could utilize it in my creative endeavours is by working with it side by side. Possibly, it could generate some ideas for me for my next blog post, novel, poem or whatever. For example, AI could be taught with the text of a long list of your favourite authors or songs by your favourite bands. Based on this knowledge, maybe some of the possible ideas it could generate could then be finished by a human giving the final piece that human touch.

Conclusion

So while the future might look dark and grim for us, maybe we could make some use of it, so at least we might have a little bit of enjoyment. Thankfully we are a long way from this singularity that many people tend to talk about, but the trend has shown to be moving towards that kind of future. So rather than fighting against it, at least personally, I want to make the best use of our technical achievements in one way or another. Who knows if the next big novel or piece is created with AI or some other great technological invention. That being said, I have already found many great ways to utilize AI in my creative projects, so who knows what might come out of those.

Tags: ai, art, computers, music


Code reading

23rd of June, 2021

Code reading has always been this activity that I've just done without really giving any thought to it. But despite this, now, when I look back at this habit, I see it as immensely beneficial. This habit caught my attention when I was reading Peter Seibel's book Coders at Work, in which there is a section where Peter asks about code reading from his interviewees. His interviewees tended to be unanimous that code reading is very beneficial. Still, while reading his interviews, it left a picture that the practice itself seemed to be lacking even within those heavyweight programmers. Exception in this being Brad Fitzpatrick and, obviously, Donald Knuth. If these programmers speak for this practice but don't do it in the wild, then who does? This overall, it seems pretty odd to me. Seibel made a great comparison regarding this when he compared programmers to novelists, where if novelist hasn't ready anyone else's publications, it would be unheard of.

I've always enjoyed reading others' source code mainly, let's face it, to steal some ideas. But doing this, I've received a long list of different lessons, ideas, and patterns, which I've been able to utilize frequently in most of the work that I've done after these revelations.

Pattern Matching

One of the most significant benefits that I've learned while code reading is that you're able to learn various patterns after a while. Sure, every project might seem cluttered and hard to understand for a while, but when you get the gist of it, you start to realize why this or that has been done the way it is. Furthermore, when you've understood some of these patterns, it gets much more comfortable to start noticing them in other similar or not-so-similar projects. Fundamentally this means the graph of WTF-per-seconds starts getting less and less.

I have also noticed that pattern matching helps understand the whole project under study itself. It would be best to try to comprehend a large open-source project at once but in small pieces. Then, when one of these pieces is understood, it can help tremendously understand the other pieces.

Benefits of reinventing

It can often be pretty hard to understand the functionality of some part of an extensive program by looking at the code. So quite often, to get a better grasp of foreign code is to reimplement the way you would write it. This way, you're able to abstract the bread and butter out of the program and utilize it however you might want.

This kind of reimplementing can be quite hard on bigger projects. The best way to reinvent something in those projects is to change something and see changes in the new compilation. For example, try to change some text in some menu or output. This way, you can easily test how well you understand the foreign code.

Code as a literature medium

Many people say that code is not literature because you read it differently from prose. In my opinion, this doesn't necessarily need to be the case. Overall, code is written for humans first and then machine second. An excellent example of this is Robert C. Martin's ravings, in which he often recites that the "code should read like prose to be clean", which I tend to agree with. Another good one is Donald Knuth's approach to literate programming. However, the latter one is more about embedding code pieces amidst what one could call prose. Nonetheless, this kind of system makes the code much more readable since writing is such a big part.

One thing that I believe makes people think code is not literature is syntax highlighting. I don't use it. For some reason, I never grew used to colored text. Of course, I might be a bit biased, but when I turn on syntax highlighting, I tend to focus on the wrong things in the code, making it so that it doesn't read like prose anymore. Removing syntax highlighting has allowed me to grasp the whole structure better. Is this true, or does it work for everyone? I don't think so, but that's how I feel.

Code reading club

Based on these thoughts and Seibel's ideas, I decided to try some code reading clubs in my workplace. Initially, what I had in mind for this kind of club was choosing one library/program per week/month or whatever and then dissecting the main logic behind it and discussing it. However, I quickly realized that this would most likely work since people have different interests in programming. For example, I don't have an interest in various GUI applications or other frontend technologies, even though they might have some good ideas behind them.

So a much better approach would most likely be that person chooses one library/program and then dissects it sharing the findings to the rest of the group. This dissection done by someone else than yourself could easily inspire you and others to dive more deeply into the code itself, even though it might be a little bit outside your interests. That being said, exploring the world around your circles can be mind-opening since you can easily find new approaches to the same problems that you might face in your work.

I want to give this kind of approach a good try, and I could write some "deep thoughts" about it in the form of a review.

Tags: computers, programming


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