Venkatesh Rao Profile picture
21 Jul, 15 tweets, 3 min read
I may not buy a new MBP when this one dies. Realizing I'm starting to avoid working on laptop primarily because the Apple experience is no longer a *pleasant* one for working in a 2021 digital environment. The hardware perf and build quality is not enough to make up for dated UX.
Computing tools, unlike physical ones like hammers, don't plateau. They have to evolve with the info environment and workflows, and this feels like a highly neglected experience that's a step-sibling to the consumption UX of iOS that is basically a dead end.
Recently tried a Windows machine again for the first time in years, and it's no better. This whole paradigm of "desktop" UX feels like email -- an annoying, bureaucratic clearing-house locus, where no amount of quality hardware can make up for poor interaction metaphor.
It's not fun for writing

It's not fun for coding

It's not fun for managing my documents on cloud

It's not fun for drawing/graphics work

It's not fun for anything, period.
Having experienced the Raspbian desktop briefly, I'm even considering *gasp* going back to a CLI-first unix environment. I'll never be a shell-scripting, emacs-centric ninja type, but I am comfy enough to use it as primary work environment.
I've never actually used linux for any significant time as a desktop, only as a remote server via SSH. My unix-desktop experience is from Solaris era (my grad school engineering workstations lab went straight from Solaris to Windows).
But this is not ideal. I don't really enjoy the unix UX either, but it says something that the mac/PC style desktops are getting so dated and clumsy that it's a real alternative now. Linux for the desktop finally arriving via the mainstream desktop experience getting crappy?
We really need a modern desktop UX metaphor that's more in harmony with how the web experience through a browser has evolved... not sure what I mean by that, but some sort of transparent network-is-the-computer stream metaphor, where I can have my filesystem and cloud it too.
Basically, I'd like something that feels more like Roam as a desktop OS. A fundamentally modern stream or graph-based network of objects and relations.
Something that neither patronizingly hides technological expressivity behind a severely dumbed-behind facade, nor is trapped in ancient, baroque, industrial metaphors (document, desktop...). Digital native metaphors should draw from... nature? ecosystems? Forests?
One solution I'm considering is a heavy duty home server (since I want to get into serious astrophotography image processing and machine learning) paired with a really cheap chromebook
The server will be a power-hungry-work machine and can be a minimalist linux environment otherwise. Chromebook for mobility, with all writing work done entirely online... basically weaning myself out of the thick desktop world altogether while waiting for someone to reinvent it
So basically:

✓ heavy-lift server
✓ consumption devices (phone/tablet)
✓ browser-typing heavy device (chromebook)
✓ experimental smart environment

✕ ditch thick desktop environment with "apps"
Maybe the thick desktop as an environment is basically uncanny valley and dead right now. Caught in the badlands between touch-consumption, servers, and browser-native typing.
Sadly, this is neither a problem I can solve for myself, nor something some billionaire can throw money at and expect to solve. Historically, good UX paradigms have emerged kinda unpredictably through individual vision (Engelbart and the Ritchie/Thompson basically)

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More from @vgr

21 Jul
Just discovered this thing called the NOAA climate extremes index (CEI). If you, like me, have been getting increasingly wary of anecdata and narrative news, this is a clearer macro-quant view of overall climate weirding in the continental US.…
This is the genre I’m referring to. While I believe in the trend, climate reporting has gotten so… theatricalized… it’s turned into bad sensemaking intelligence.…
The methodology is a little uninspired but this is better than headline sampling.…
Read 10 tweets
21 Jul
Take a random issue, and consider a *random* take on it. As in, derived by situating it in a context induced by a random intention.

Like: issue = “is icecream good?”

Contexts: taste, biology, health, insecurity, science, climate…

Is the take likely to be zero or nonzero-sum?
There’s not actually many natural zero-sum things around. Most natural phenomena are very clearly positive or negative sum.

You kinda have to very carefully construct a very contrived context around a “take” to reach a zero-sum conclusion.

A random sincere take on a random topic is *mathematically* almost certainly non-zero sum. Intuition: there is only one point on the real number line corresponding to zero, but an uncountable infinite number of points that are nonzero sum.
Read 17 tweets
19 Jul
Just hit me that I don’t judge who people are, I judge who they are becoming. Usually 3-4 years out. If I like who I sense you’re turning into in a few years, I’ll engage. It’s mostly unconscious. Hit rate is decent. I’m right 80% of the time and proof emerges in a few years.
I’d say I can get a read on change trajectory 70% of the time from 1-2 short conversations. Of that 35% are stable so present=future=uninteresting. Of the other 35%, I’d say 15% are changing into people I’ll like more, 25% into people I’ll like less.
Sometimes I can explain it upfront. Other times, a data point will emerge 3-4 years later that will make me go “oh that’s why I reacted as I did and disengaged.”

I’m wrong about this rarely enough that it is always surprising when I am.
Read 8 tweets
19 Jul
Watching a hilariously bad low-budget/B-list female version of John Wick, starring a horribly miscast Karen Gillan, (Amy Pond on Doctor Who). She’s fundamentally a comedian. I thought it was satire at first. But no, it’s unintended camp.…
There’s weirdly framed shots peppered throughout, like the director is trying to do Coen brothers or Wes Anderson type visual feel, but it’s too inconsistent to work.
This is intriguingly bad. One promising high-concept action scene has her partially paralyzed by a drug fighting 3 bad guys also crippled in various ways. But really poor choreography and execution ruined it.
Read 4 tweets
19 Jul
Everything I wrote before ~2018 feels vaguely alien. Like it was written by someone else. 🤔
Was it one of you? Incepting or haunting or possessing me? 🤨
The interesting thing is it’s a kind of memory break. Since writing is like memory for me. It’s like I successfully warehoused pre-2018 memories and copied over present state to a blank bootable disk. Like upload but for de-selfed archival. Regeneration Doctor Who style.
Read 10 tweets
18 Jul
Most project management ideas and tools are designed for project managers who only do PMing. They’re not bad in big companies, tastefully applied, but they really kinda break for self-managed individual work.
Not counting the 4 years I spent as an actual PM of others doing the work, my personal PM strategy for ~20y, in retrospect, has been to keep things simple enough to not require project management. Hence, blogging over book writing. Books are proper projects requiring management.
For the last year though, I’ve been trying to do things that are fundamentally project-shaped. You can’t “compile” them down to a pure REPL type flow + runtime environment like you can blogging, tweeting, or research-style coding (in matlab or Jupyter).–eval…
Read 21 tweets

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