On Not Writing

I’m sitting in Pret, at my favorite spot in the store, dark coffee with tons of sugar, listening to Requiem For A Dream for the gazillionth time. This was the soundtrack of my life for the last month, playing in an infinite loop, and with every repeat charging me with more energy. So much energy, that I’m about to explode.

For a month now, I’m doing some of the coolest stuff I’ve ever did. At work, the product and team I’m leading got the recognition it deserve1, being featured by Mark Zuckerberg in the opening keynote at F82.

In parallel, I’m working on my own thing, and while looking for a technical co-founder, I’ve started to get my hands dirty with code. Elastic search, python scripts, email scrapping, logstach and kibana are just few of the technologies I got myself familiarized.

Everything’s good except for one thing, though: I didn’t write a single post during all that time. If writing was part of me, this would have been the best month for it to flourish. I could share so many experiences, learning and lessons; I could also even brag (just a little) about some the successes my team had. But nothing got documented. This month was like a dream vacation where I took no photos.

But all is not lost. When I started this blog, I “bought” an “insurance policy”, specifically for that situation. I initiated the Blog Writing meetup and surrounded myself with people who are passionate about writing, who can support me, while supporting each other, to stay on the wagon (or is it off the wagon…).

This week, I made a claim to my insurance. In our monthly meetup, I shared with the group my struggle in keep writing during this crazy month, and my frustration when finding that the writing mussel got weaken so quickly when not being trained for only this short period, hindering me from getting back to writing.

Fortunately, my investment paid off. I learned from members of the group not only the writing-hacks that might help me get back on writing, but that I’m not the only one suffering from those symptoms.

Sue Hellene, a novelist and a published author, shared that she has different moods for writing, and can’t write productively at night. She also related with my feeling that writing is like a muscle, and that it weakens if not trained regularly. Melody had many good tips to overcome writers’ block. For her, setting a deadline for each post, absorbing herself in the editor, eliminating any possible destruction (read – disconnect from the internet…), and, sometime, the a glass of wine, help keeping her writing on track. Dee-on reminded me of the morning pages, which were my initial inspiration. And lastly, Joe’s post, “The Look of Silence”, helped me think of my posts as notes-to-self again, and not worried about those who might read them, hence freeing myself to write whatever on my mind.

And thanks to that group, here I am, writing again. Sitting in this coffee place, starting from a morning page that turned into this post, my Emacs is in full screen and I’m committed to push publish before going back home. Nothing special, interesting, or helpful in this post, just a small, personal, step forward; a light jog after a month of no exercises. Rarely will a quote from physics will be that appropriate:

“Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.” Newton’s First Law of Motion

Footnotes:

1

At least from the technology world. wish it would have a fraction of it internally…

2

Details on what that product is will come in a follow-up post…

Make Food Fun Again

So this idea that I had. I was talking with a company that is doing personalization for jobs – UpScored. I knew Elise, their CEO, from twitter and gave their newly launched product a spin. I came back with some feedback, and after a good chat with Elise, I realized that the problem I’m working on my day-to-day – personalization engine for content, is relevant for other fields as well.

A day later, I was introduced to on of the co-founders of Plated – a meal planning service. He’s story, of how they’ve started the company, reminded me a lot of how and why I’ve started FeedMe – a marketplace for food company that I started about 5 years ago and close about a year later. He was talking about Plated as a food-tech company, while I was struggling what technology had to do with the service, other than having a consumer facing website.

Anyway, at that point I was doing one plus one in my head, and the idea to develop a true technological approach to food discovery popped up. I want to develop an app that will tell me what I want to eat. Let me offer some context, though.

While food related technologies and services proliferate, the simple question of “what to eat?” becomes harder than ever.

Here’s an example: last weekend I went to Austin, for the SXSW festival. I landed on Friday morning, and headed downtown for breakfast. I opened Yelp, to “discover” what I should be eating. But after looking into the first 5 results (out of hundreds), I became hungrier and less patient, so I picked up the first restaurant that I saw across the street, and which seemed decent. Yelp didn’t help me to “discover” the best of Austin.

Another example: Every night (no exaggerations), I have the same dialog with my wife:

Screen_Shot_2016-03-20_at_00.03.51.png

So the problem is that not being able to choose what to eat takes the fun out of the food experience. I want an app, or a service that will take the decision for me, based on my history, my taste, my diet and that’s of my partner for the order.

I spent the previous week researching, brainstorming with friends, wire-framing and what not, and got a long way in defining the problem and focusing the approach for the solution. More on it in following posts.

Two Out Of Three

When I served in the air-force, we used to make fun of the meteorology unit, which was responsible to provide us with weather information before going on a mission. You see, know the wether conditions at the location of the target, at the time we suppose to attack it is critical to the success of that mission.

What. When. Where

Our issue with the meteorological unit was that they were very accurate at predicting only two out of the three parameters.

They could say, for example, that it’s going to be sky overcast at 7am, but not where; it will be sunny and clear within 10 miles of our target, but not sure when. No need to be a meteorologist to make a forecast with that level of (in)accuracy.

Many times I come across those types of predictions\assertions. I don’t have a good example now, though. But if you have, feel to share…

My Post-Evernote Life

Few months ago I wrote about my decision to move away from Evernote. Recently, few readers1 emailed me to ask whether I actually stooped using Evernote, and if I did, what’s my alternative solution.

Continue reading My Post-Evernote Life

I Can Live Without A Mac

Couple of months ago I listened to an episode of the technical difficulties podcast. In that episode Gabe Weatherhead (macdrifter.com) and Erik Hess hosted Dr. Drang and talked about the history of computing.

At some point 1, Gabe asked Dr. Drang what will he do if he can’t use Mac anymore. I don’t remember exactly what Dr. Drang’s answer was, but for awhile, the question kept echoing in my head. The thought about Mac not being around at some point was terrifying. I can’t go back to Windows. Never. And Linux never seen as an adventure I would have like taking.

Since then, though, much have changed.

At first, I was reintroduced to old fashion mechanical keyboards2. I bought a couple of them; one for home and one for my office. Suddenly, typing using my laptop’s keyboards 3 feels awkward and unsatisfying, and I now do it as little as possible.

Then, I took a step into the rabbit hole of Emacs, the timeless editor which is backed by a strong and lively community. It’s built around the keyboard, so I stopped using the Apple’s “magic” mouse as much as I used to.

Lastly, since Emacs requires tinkering with Mac’s internals, I got more comfortable and familiar with the terminal application, and with “UI-less” experiences.

Slowly, I’ve learned that my Mac is nothing but a strong processing device with a Retina display. With that realization, the idea of using a different platform, Windows is still not an option, stopped scaring me. To the contrary, that thought sparks curiosity in me…

While switching away is still not an option, I feel as if I was cured from Apple’s spell. I regained my ability to think critically on its products, and look more objectively on their alternatives.

It’s probably only me, though, cuddling with the past. Most users are probably welcoming the intersecting paths of Mac and iPad into a comp-let mongrel that will lock developers out of its internals. But now, at least, I’m less anxious about that trajectory. I will be able to find my way elsewhere…

Footnotes:

1

Here’s a link to this section in the podcast.

2

Typing on mechanical keyboard makes me not wanting to stop writing… I learned about them in yet another podcast – Cortex

3

Except for the Apple Extended Keyboard. I actually bought one, and am loving it.

Leap Into The Past – IRC

So we’re living in the future, yet I’m traversing the past. It started with this blog, when I decided to build it from scratch rather than using one of the modern blogging platforms, such as WordPress and tumblr. Not only that, but I also insisted on writing it in pure, static HTML. No real-time rendering, no dynamic libraries, no Ajax nor server-side scripts. Just HTML, CSS and a little of JavaScript.

Then, I stopped using Evernote and started to manage my life with plain text files. That transition opened the door to a search for a new text editor. New is just a figure of speech, because in the course of that search I fell under the spells of Emacs and Vim, two of the oldest pieces of software out there.

And now, I’m taking another step into the past, to the Internet’s cave era. Instead of embracing Twitter or Reddit (although Reddit do start to win me over), I resorted to… IRC.

I won’t get into why I’ve started to use IRC, or what I find in it that I don’t in modern social networks; I’ll do it in a different post. I’ll just note that I’m starting a new journey, a journey of learning. I have no idea how to navigate and use IRC, let alone how follow its protocols (technical and communal). I’ll have to RTFM

But the journey I ought taking, is also what attracts me to IRC and all those archaic beasts. They come with manuals, and I, a simple user, has to surrender my time and my mind to them, and learn. Read manuals upon manuals, posts, email lists and discussion boards. Follow the rules of communication, listen and learn how to interact before pressing to transmit. Only then, after substantial amount of time, will I feel comfortable using the basics of the said app\software. Years will pass by before I will be able to take full advantage of it. It might not happen during these life, though, so I must be a good servant for a chance to see the light in the after life.

Yeah, there is something magical, almost religious, with those apps, their communities and the philosophies behind them. There is something special in learning, and committing to them. If not the efficiency gain, then at least the resistance to the modern world that do anything to dummify my mind for attention.

But I’ve drifted too far already. I suspect the imminent next step will be to move this site to a BBS

Adding a Commenting System

I decided to add comments to this blog. Initially, I didn’t want comments, because I didn’t see their value, and thought of them mainly as spam. Now I know, though, that the real reason was an anxiety from having other people commenting on my writing. But as I started to post more frequently, and share my learning and experiences, an urge to hear other people thoughts and opinions emerged. I know I’m making a lot of mistakes along the way. Letting other1 to comment and point to those mistakes seems like a good way to improve.

And so, I begun to search for a commenting system.

My first option was disqus. Why? first, because it’s synonymous to comments. Second, becaue Pelican, which generates this site, supports it by default. I created an account with disqus, but changed my mind just before implementing their widget. I was always reluctant to install 3rd party services in my site, and having to disable “cookie targeting” and “merchant code” related settings, when configuring the commenting widget, didn’t help.

Therefore, I started to look for a less obvious solution. Googling “pelican comments” and “static site comment system” reeled few options:

After doing some research, I decided that those plugins won’t work for me. To explain why, I should mention that my site is static. It means that it includes nothing but simple HTML pages, and static files like images and css. Those pages live in a dumb Amazon-S3 storage, and are served “as is”. There are no dynamic elemnts, such as database, involved in generating and serving them.

In order to enable comments, though, there must be a dynamic component somewhere in the flow. This component should intercept new comments, store them in a database or files, and tie them together with the relevant post. So, if I don’t want to use a cloud service, like disqus, I should either add logic to my hosting server, or become that logic myself.

Since, as I mentioned, S3 is nothing but storage, I have no way to run server-side scripts on it. Nor do I want to, since it will dilute the whole concept of static website… That took Hashover and ISSO off the table, because both require server-side PHP scripts.

I then tried the pelican comment plugin. Installation was quick and smooth, but eventually, like the other options, this plugin didn’t work for me either. Well, not that it didn’t work, just that I had to work for it.

Unlike the other plugins, this one requires no back-end service. It’s truly static. But as I mentioned, there must be a dynamic component somewhere. In this case, this component was me. With this plugin, comments are sent over email. I had to save each email as a file in a specific folder and give it a specific name. I then had to render the site and push it to S3. I had to repeat this process for every new comments. I don’t expect many comments, but still, this doesn’t look like a scalable or sustainable solution.

And so, disappointed of my failure to find an alternative, I went back to the first option. In less than 5 minutes I got a disqus commenting widget live on my article pages. I’m still uncomfortable having that 3rd party component hosted in my site, but I will keep it until I find a better solution.

Leave a comment if you know of any alternatives I should take a look at…

Footnotes:

1

Not that I think anyone reads this blog, except for my wife when I ask her to proof read something, or friend whom I force into reading an article here and then.