Some Notes About Footnotes

Why are footnotes generally composed of compound keys instead of being primary keys themselves? I’ve noticed that in most books I read that contain footnotes, the footnote renumbering restarts with each chapter. That means in order to uniquely identify a footnote you need to know the chapter and the note number. Wouldn’t it be easier to just to number them incrementally throughout the whole book?1

I’ve been thinking about this because I noticed this is exactly what happens in Richard Rhodes’s Dark Sun. The footnotes are not renumbered between chapters but just continue on. I love this and can’t understand why this isn’t standard behavior in the footnoting industry.

Another thing I’ve noticed about footnotes is that often times, they are the most interesting part of the book. It is for this reason that I follow every footnote and try not to miss them. I think of a footnote as the author pausing in his storytelling to lean over to me, hand to the side of his mouth, and whispering something like, “Joe himself told me this story after drinking an entire bottle of vodka2.”

This begs the question: what makes a footnote a footnote? Why is such interesting material relegated to a smaller font, often at the back of the book? Clearly it was worth including in the book, or the editor would have suggested cutting it.

You don’t see footnotes much in fiction. Isaac Asimov made good use of them in Murder at the ABA. I understand David Foster Wallace did something similar in Infinite Jest3.

When footnotes aren’t offering a specific citation, they are often much more informal than the main text. Some of Will Durant’s funniest lines in his Story of Civilization come in the footnotes.

I think I speak for everyone when I say that a footnote that simply reads, “ibid” could save some confusion by changing “ibid” to “ditto.” It would save the trouble of having to lookup what “ibid” means. I can’t always remember that the Latin word ibidem means “in the same place4.”

E-books have made it much easier to navigate footnotes. When reading a paper book, I am forced to use two bookmarks5, one to keep my place in the text, and one to keep my place in the footnotes. But with e-books, I can just tap on the footnote and have a little popup appear so that I can read it.

Footnotes are a crap-shoot when it comes to an audio book. Some readers will read the footnotes, others don’t. I don’t know where the decision is made, but I wish it was more consistent one way or the other.

When footnotes come at the bottom of the page they are called footnotes. When they come at the end of the book, they are called endnotes. They are are one of the few things I can think of that are identical in meaning, but are called different things based on where they are located.

Do “footnotes” even make sense in an e-book, or do we need a new term? E-note, maybe6?

  1. Maybe there is concern about footnotes numbered into the thousands, but I don’t see how that can be a problem from a technical standpoint.
  2. In audiobooks, I often wish the narrator would read the footnotes in a mock-whisper. Instead, they tend to just say, “Footnote,” followed by whatever the footnote is
  3. I seem to recall that A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers did this as well.
  4. I had to look this up just now to remind myself what this means
  5. Business cards
  6. Way back in January 2008, I wrote about footnotes. I’m getting repetitive in my middle age.

My Obsidian Daily Notes Automation Script is Now Available on GitHub

Since I am on vacation and happened to find myself with an empty hour this afternoon, I managed to clean up my code enough to where I was willing to put my Obsidian daily notes automation script on GitHub. This is the script that I use to automate the creation of my daily notes in Obsidian.

You can find the repo here.

As I say in the README:

I’m posting this software as-is. It works for me, and a number of folks have requested it and I’m happy to put it here to share it. But I have no time to support it. If I make improvements, I’ll try to post them, but there’s no guarantee there either. I realize that this may not work perfectly on non-Mac systems, but the whole point of posting the code is to let folks see it, fork it, and roll your own from it. Hopefully it works for you the first time. If not, the code’s there for you to mess with.

For those who choose to use it, keep in mind that I run my script on a Mac, and icalBuddy, which I use for pulling in my agenda, is designed for Apple’s calendar app. You may need to look for alternatives for other platforms.

I’m always eager for feedback and suggestions, but as I said, my schedule is such that I don’t have time to provide any kind of support for getting the script working for you.

A Completely Innocuous Post for April 1

You can’t write anything on the Internet on April 1 without someone assuming it is some kind of April Fools’ Day joke. If it is good news, no one will believe you. If it is bad news, everyone will assume it is an April Fools’ Day joke. I am therefore going to write a completely innocuous post with not much to challenge in it. It turns out this is a good thing, since I woke up with no good ideas for a post anyway. Here are a few innocuous things that come to mind:

  • We were supposed to go to the beach today but the weather isn’t cooperating so it looks like we will be going tomorrow instead.
  • I am making my way slowly through Gödel, Escher, Bach but have to take it in small chunks because it takes up a lot of brain power.
  • Because of that, I ended up reading Brian Kernighan’s 2019 book, Unix: A History and a Memoir which turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read this year.
  • After reading another tough chapter in GEB last night, I am now taking a break by reading RIchard Rhodes’s Dark Sun. I am actually alternating between the two books.
  • I got an email from the aforementioned Brian Kernighan yesterday after I sent him a fan message telling him how much I enjoyed his book.
  • I spent part of yesterday evening writing a Python script in an attempt to solve the MU puzzle presented in GEB.

I’ll mostly be off the Internet today since you can’t trust anything you read. Already I’ve seen half a dozen eye-rolling announcements.

I apologize for this brief, and completely innocuous post here on April 1, but wouldn’t want to add to your burdens today.

How To Spell My Name

It seems a small thing, but people are constantly misspelling my name. I think it is an unusually easy name to spell, but I’ve also had decades of experience spelling it out. It goes like this: J-A-M-I-E.

I get all sorts of variants. Most common is J-A-I-M-E. After that I get J-A-I-M-I-E. It is almost as if people are hesitant about where the I goes so they cover their bets and put it everywhere. I’m used to this of course. For a time I corrected people, but it happens so often that I’ve stopped correcting them. It’s too much of a strain on my time.

It is one thing if you are guessing at the spelling, but 99% of the spelling errors I see are in reply to a message I have written. This message normally takes the form of email and since my name is on both the FROM line of the message and the signature of the message, it is right there for the person to see how to spell it. And yet 9 out of 10 times it still comes back wrong. My grand-boss is guilty of regularly misspelling my name. My great-great-great grandboss always spells it correctly. Go figure.

My last name is often misspelled as well: R-U-B-E-N instead of R-U-B-I-N, but that doesn’t happen nearly as often as my misspelled first name.

When giving my name for some official purpose, like arriving at Safeway for my COVID vaccine, I spell it out so that there is no confusion. Even then, I’ve encountered problems. “I’m sorry, I don’t seem to see you listed. Can you spell your name again?” Usually, I just say, “You’ve put the I in the wrong place,” but no one likes being corrected, so now I just spell it again.

My name has caused problems of a different nature as well. It is an epicene name, one that can be found in use across the spectrum of genders. In college, when I wrote a fan letter to Piers Anthony, he replied, “Dear Ms. Jamie (I am assuming you are female).” It was then that I began adding my middle name, Todd, to my byline.

I occasionally get mail for Ms. Jamie Rubin. I generally mark it “RTS” — no such person lives here.

I like that my name is short. It made it easy to fill out those bubbles on the standardized tests I took in high school. I just wish people would learn to spell it correctly.

I suppose I might misspell it myself if I ever actually had to write it. The truth is I rarely type my name these days; I have shortcuts that type it for me. This ensures I never make a mistake. Maybe what we need is some kind of shareable shortcut that we can send to people to make it easier to spell such a difficult name as Jamie.

Isaac Asimov had problems with his name. People were always spelling his last name with a Z instead of an S. He got so frustrated by this that he finally wrote a story about it, “Spell My Name with an S”, which appeared in the January 1958 issue of Star Science Fiction (under the title “S as In Zebatinsky.”)

I’ve thought about getting a business card that has step-by-step instructions for spelling my name on the back. I’ve thought about adding step-by-step instructions to my .sig file so that it is right there in the email message. Maybe what I’ll do, now that I have this post written, is simply add a link to it from my email signature. I could even create a QR code for it.

Maybe I’ll just create a QR code for my name instead. When people ask for my name, I’ll give them the QR code. Try spelling that you dirty rat!

Plugging Away

It is a sign of our times that anytime we travel somewhere we have to take a hundred or so cables and chargers for all of the different gadgets we have to keep powered throughout the day. I’ve had to make checklists for the cables just to make sure I am taking the right kind; they are as varied as insects.

A got tired of long tangles of cables some time ago, so I bought myself a charging station that sits by my desk. It’s a small form-factor, and can charge up to 5 devices at once. It uses short, 6-inch cables, and came with a dozen or so, of varying varieties. I like this because it is easy to pack. The cables fit into a sandwich bag and don’t get all tangled. I brought it with me on our recent trip only to discover, after arriving at our destination that I forgot the most important cable of all: the one the connects the charging station to the outlet in the wall.

We have many more cables than we do devices, and yet somehow, I can never find the cable that I need when I need it. These cables all have technical name, and technical though I am, I can never remember which cable is called what. Instead, I use my own names for them. “Do you have an iPhone cable in that bag?” I’ll ask Kelly. Or she will hear me grumble as I rummage through my backpack, “I can’t find the Kindle cable.”

You can’t rely on hotels. Some of them have USB-ports by the bedside, or at what passes for a desk in the room. Many don’t. I understand this. I used to think new houses should come with at least two USB charging ports at each electrical outlet, but I realized that they’d be useless within a few years. The standards change too frequently. Just as soon as I figure out which cable is for what, Apple comes out with a new form, and I am left with a pile of mental and physical junk.

I’m not sure why this is. Appliance technology has changed dramatically over the decades, as has televisions, computers, and light bulbs, but they all still manage to use the same kind of plug that has been used for as far pack as I can remember. What is so special about our phones and Kindles and iPads that require a new kind of plug every few years?

There is, of course, “wireless” charging, but it is something of a misnomer. Kelly recently got some wireless earbuds and they can be charged at a wireless charging station. Indeed, you can set the device down on a charging pad and it will charge. But the charging pad itself has a wire that plugs into an outlet, so I’m not sure that can really be called wireless charging.

I’m not sure why wireless charging isn’t being explored as the next big technology breakthrough. I think of how often I trip over the wires that snake through our house. It would be nice not to feel so clumsy. It would be nice not to have to bring dozens of cables and charger with us on a trip, if for no other reason than it would save me the embarrassment and shame of forgetting the most important cable of all.

Vacation Reading: The History of Computing

Sitting poolside with Gödel, Escher, Bach
Vacation reading

There are certain sub-genres that appeal to me more than others. Baseball history is one example. The Apollo space program is another. In each of these sub-genres I’ve read more than my fair share of books. Another sub-genre I enjoy that I have recently been revisiting is the history of computing.

Perhaps because I grew up with computers I find a particular fascination in them, and their impact on society. I am particularly fascinated by their evolution from the early time-sharing systems, to what we carry in our pockets today. I recently read (and re-read) several books in this sub-genre. I re-read Steven Levy’s great history of computing, Hackers. I read James Gleick’s The Information which was all about information theory. I re-read Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators.

Several of these books refer to Douglas R. Hofstadter, and in particular, his book Gödel, Escher, Bach. It got me curious about the book, which won the Pulitzer prize for general nonfiction in 1979. After several friends gave the book high marks, I decided I should give it a try. It is tangentially related to computing in that it discusses artificial intelligence and completeness.

It turns out the book is not available as an audiobook or an e-book. I ordered a paperback copy. It so happens that I am on vacation for the next ten days or so and decided that reading this book would be good poolside reading. (I enjoy when people come up and ask me what I am reading. I show them the book and the often ask what it is about. It will be interesting how to explain this one.)

Not long ago I wrote about hard books to understand. Gödel, Escher, Bach came up in the discussion of that post. Last night, I got through the 20-page preface to the 20th anniversary edition of the book. The first half of that introduction tried to explain the book, and I found that I was at the limits of my comprehension. I read some passages over and over and when I finally thought I understood what Hofstadeter what saying, I would encourage myself in the margins, like this:

An annotated page from my copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach
Encouraging my understanding in GEB

It will be interesting to see whether I will be able to make much sense of this book at all.

I am also particularly interested in the history of Unix, and until recently, hadn’t come across a good, succinct history of the operating system. A recent search, however, turned up Unix: A History and a Memoir by none other than Unix creator Brian Kernighan. When I get bogged down in GEB, I can turn to Kernighan for some relief.

Finally, I always have an audiobook queued up for those times when I am walking, driving, exercising, or not somewhere that I can sit and read. In keeping with the history of computing theme, I’ve got Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows queued up.

Eventually, this sub-genre phase will pass and I’ll move onto other things. I imagine that the butterfly’s wings will flap rapidly around GEB in particular.

The COVID Vaccine, Episode 1 of 2

Friday, March 26, 2021

I got the first dose of my COVID vaccine today. Being a writer, I thought I’d write about the experience, so I took notes. Kelly scheduled our appointments last week when they became widely available in our area. She scheduled her appointment at the Safeway just down the street from our house. When she finished that she schedule one for me–except that they were all gone. She tried the next day (today) and found one at a Safeway 15 minutes away. Beggars can’t be choosers.

My appointment was for 11 am. At 10:30 I was deep into some Groovy coding. I gave it five more minutes to wrap up, and then headed to the car to find my way to this unfamiliar grocery store. I listened to a book on the way. I happened to be in a “hackers” phase and had just started Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software by Nadia Eghbal. That kept me entertained while I made my way to the store.

I arrived at about 10:50 am, found my way to the pharmacy and checked it. I had a feeling that maybe I really didn’t have an appointment. As I walked to the window, I imagined the person there looking at me, looking at their screen, and saying, “Nope, we don’t have you down for an appointment today.” But they had me. I handed over my driver’s license and insurance card, and then took a seat in an area where several other people had gathered.

A few minutes later, someone from the pharmacy returned my license and insurance card, and handed me my completed COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, which told me I was getting the Pfizer vaccine. The confirmation email I’d received said we’d need to make an appointment for a second dose using a link after we’d received our first dose, but I was told that they made an appointment for me. It was listed on the back for April 16, same bat time, same bat channel. Indeed a few minutes later, I got an email confirmation.

I was a little thrown by the fact that they gave me the completed card before the vaccine, but no one else seemed bothered by it. I waited.

A few minutes later, someone came out an gave our cohort (there were six of us) a brief talk on the vaccine and what to expect. The woman sitting nearest me was nervous. “I’m more nervous about the shot than COVID,” she told us. A few of the group were here for the second dose; two of us were there for the first one. They didn’t call us by name, they just asked who wanted to go first. I wasn’t in a hurry and I imagined other people where anxious. So I waited.

When it came round to the last two of, it was me, and the nervous woman. I asked if she wanted to go, and she insisted I go first.

The process was quick and no more painful than a flu shot. The only difference I noticed was that the person administering the shot kind of pinched my muscle to pull it out before inserting the needle.

When it was over, I sat chatting with the other members of the group for 15 minutes and then headed home.

Ten hours later, the injection sight is a little sore, but not as sore as after getting a flu shot, and not nearly as sore as after getting a tetanus shot. Otherwise, I feel perfectly fine, no other side-effects, so far, which is good, because tomorrow (Saturday as I write this), I’ve got a day of driving ahead of me.

We “pre-registered” with the local county, but hadn’t yet heard from them when these open appointments became available at the grocery stores. In an amusing irony, late this afternoon, both Kelly and I received a notification from the county saying that we could now register for our vaccine. The email provided links for registering. Too late!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

When I woke up, most of the soreness in my arm was gone. Indeed, the only lingering side-effect I felt was some weariness. But this may not have been related to the vaccine. Instead, it may have been due to driving for 10-1/2 hours, 2 hours of which were in stop-and-go traffic. Vaccine or not, that will wear anyone out.

So for me, the 1st dose of the vaccine had minimal side-effects, which mostly involved a slightly sore arm. Other than that, I feel fine.

Stay-tuned for Episode 2, coming in about 3 weeks.

Uncomfortable Birthdays

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been uncomfortable about my birthday. I’m not really sure why. I have a memory of an early birthday party (I was five or six) and had all my friends over at the house celebrating. I remember feeling sad about growing older. It’s the only clear memory that sticks with me about that party.

Since then, I get an uncomfortable feeling when my birthday rolls around. Other people want to celebrate it and remind me of it, and I’d just as soon treat it as any other day, completely ignoring the astronomical coincidence of the earth being at the same point around the sun as it was on the day I was born.

Of course, I can’t ignore it completely. People wish me happy birthday and I try to be gracious about it. For a few years, I tried forcing myself to be downright happy about it. I hosted a birthday dinner at the Rainbow Room in New York City, inviting close friends to celebrate. But that phase passed after a few years and I was back to preferring to ignore the day completely.

With kids it is more difficult. My kids want to celebrate everyone’s birthday, mine included. They have a hard time understanding why someone wouldn’t want to celebrate a birthday. And since I don’t want to pawn off my neuroses on my kids, I try to act excited about my birthday when it rolls around.

I prefer when my birthday falls on a weekday, and a busy work day in particular. It doesn’t leave much time to ponder. This was the case last year, for instance. I think about my birthday so little that it creeps up on me and catches me unaware. I think so little of it that I often have to ponder for a moment when someone asks how old I am.

I’ve tried to understand why my birthday makes me feel uncomfortable. It is not about the passage of time. That is inevitable and I try not to waste much thought on things that are inevitable. I tell myself it is because I don’t like being the center of attention, but that is slightly disingenuous. What writer doesn’t like being the center of attention? (I tell myself that I want my writing and not me to be the center of attention, but let’s be realistic.)

I’ve never been a fan of unearned credit. I’ve never played the lottery because I don’t want to win something I didn’t earn. I try to spread credit around on projects I run at work because they are group efforts, and my name just happens to be the one at the top. I think this is what makes me uncomfortable about my birthday: being credited with something that isn’t particularly notable. I could see celebrating, say, a 100th birthday since it is something outside the norm.

Perhaps birthdays are just a reminder of mortality, something I don’t ordinarily think about. Thoughts of mortality put me in a somber mood, and I don’t like being in somber moods. As my birthday approaches, I think of Psalm 90:10 (I like the King James version best):

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength and labor sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.

This year I’m spending my birthday with my family. We’ll be in the car all day as we drive for a much-needed respite from work and school, and being cooped up in the house for much of the last year. I enjoy driving; I enjoy having my family with me in the car. I listen to books, and watch farms and fields roll by, the scenery constantly changing. If I had to pick, I’d say that is my idea of a good birthday.

“Do You Read All These Newspapers?”

“Do you read all these newspapers?” the clerk at the 7-Eleven asked me this past Sunday. I stop in at the 7-Eleven daily for the Washington Post, and on Sundays, both the Post and the New York Times.

“Not every word,” I said, “but a lot of it.”

I could have the papers delivered, but when I’ve done that they tend to accumulate unread. Going for the paper each morning is a chore, and helps to assure that I’ll read the paper that day.

I could read the papers on my phone. I have subscriptions to the Post, New York Times, and L.A. Times digital editions. But reading the paper in the morning is one of the few times in the day when I am not looking at a screen. I like starting the day off-screen, so-to-speak.

I was reminded of the clerk’s remark while skimming an old Andy Rooney piece this morning. Often, I write these posts a day or two ahead of when they appear. Sometimes, like today, it is the same day. And when the well feels dry, I’ll turn to Andy Rooney, or E. B. White for inspiration. This morning I flipped to an old Andy Rooney column on “Electronic Journalism.” In it, Rooney was talking about newspaper reporters adapting to writing on terminals instead of a sheet of yellow copy paper. He then had this to day, which I had already underlined in my copy of the book:

If the time comes when the newspaper itself is not a paper at all but an image that can be called up on the screen of a computer in a person’s home, a lot of what [newspaper reporters] love about the business will be gone.

Is there a difference between a print newspaper and a digital version? I’ve given this much thought. On the one hand, each is reporting the same stories using the same words written by the same reporters. It is the medium that differs. Does that matter? I’d say it does for several reasons:

  1. The layout of a page of news in a newspaper contains information that isn’t necessarily conveyed equally well by the listing format that many digital news apps use. (It is, in some of these apps, possible to get a “page view” which helps some.)
  2. The content itself may differ slightly. Corrections and additions are made to the electronic version much more quickly than the digital version.

A feature of digital news is its speed. Stories can be communicated as they unfold. “Breaking news” used to be the exception. Today it is the rule. I’m not a fan of breaking news. Too often there just isn’t enough good information, too much speculation, and too much hype around stories when they unfold in real time. I much prefer the newspaper in these cases. I may not know all of the details at the time the event breaks, but the next morning, I’m likely to be much better informed by an newspaper article the reporter of which has had time to confirm their facts, chase down leads, talk to key people. The likelihood of rumor and speculation goes down considerably.

In some ways, reading the paper in the morning keeps me from feeling the need to check the news on my phone every 5 minutes throughout the day. In fact, I generally don’t feel I need to check the news at all until after dinner. Then, I’ll browse the headlines to get a preview of what I’ll be reading about tomorrow.

Of course, if evening editions of newspapers still existed, I wouldn’t even have to do that.

Every Package Is Resealable

It seems that almost every package I get these days is resealable. We bought a bag of tortilla chips that comes in a resealable package. Cheese slices and shredded cheese come in resealable packages. The M&Ms I keep in my desk drawer comes in a resealable package. Resealable packages are all the rage.

And I mean rage. I can never get the resealable packages to work right. I am not alone. The Little Miss asked if she could open the bag of tortilla chips the other day. Sure, I said. When I found the bag later, she’d opened the resealable package the old-fashioned way, completely circumventing the resealable part, effectively nullifying it.

Many of the resealable packages tell you to “tear here” to open. When I do this, I find that “here” is either too high or two low. Too high requires pulling scissors from the drawer to cut the strip enough to separate the parts that allow you to pull the seal open. Too low, the physical of separating the seal are almost impossible.

Sometimes, I rip open the resealable package only to discover that I ripped both sides of the seal off one side of the package, rendering the seal useless.

Sealing a resealable package is almost as difficult as opening one. I can never seem to align the seals with one another to get a clean grip. I run my finger along the seam only to find that the package is not sealed at all. I do this two or three times, and finally, take a zip-lock back out of the drawer and put the resealable package in the zip lock bag.

There are some packages that would seem to benefit from being resealable, but so far I haven’t seen any. Boxes of cereal come with that bag inside that is impossible get open. Once open, it is difficult to close it in a way to keep the contents fresh. You’d think the cereal people would come up with resealable cereal packaging. The wrap that a head of lettuce comes in would be worth investigation. I rarely use a full head of lettuce at once, preferring to tear off some leaves to put on a sandwich. Getting that head of lettuce back into the plastic film is difficult.

Junk mail would benefit from resealable packaging. When you open one of those envelopes that looks like it is handwritten, but it is really someone trying to fool you into thinking it a personal letter, it would be nice to reseal it and mail it back to the sender, postage due.

Soda cans and other carbonated beverages would benefit from being resealable. Sometimes, I don’t want an entire can of soda, just a sip or two. If I put the can back in the refrigerator, it goes flat after a day. It would be nice to have resealable soda cans.

On the whole, I’m not really sure what benefit a resealable package provides that I can’t get from old-fashioned packaging. On the side of our refrigerator are a number of clips. We use these clips to keep non-resealable packages sealed. I never have a problem with the clips. There is no cutting or tearing, no frustration when trying to reseal a package.

The COVID Vaccine and the Check Ride

Me, after passing my check ride in 2000.

We are scheduled to get the first dose of our COVID vaccines this week. Kelly gets hers on Thursday and I get mine on Friday. I haven’t been stressing too much about it, knowing that I’d be getting it eventually. But some interesting mental gymnastics took place once I had an appointment scheduled: part of my brain felt relief; part felt a renewed vigilance, as if I needed to walk on egg-shells between now and Friday to be sure I don’t accidentally contract COVID. This seems extreme, since I’ve managed to go a year without doing so.

It reminded me of one other time I felt such extreme vigilance. This was on April 3, 2000, just before 5 pm Pacific Time.

I took my private pilot practical test (my check ride) on that that. After the oral exam, which was easy–my examiner mostly talked about screenplays he’d written, and my instructor taught me well not to volunteer information and answer only the question asked–we went for my check ride. This was a nearly 2 hour flight out of Van Nuys airport during which I was tested on just about everything: take offs, landings, diversions, unusual attitudes, steep turns, short and soft field takeoffs and landings. Finally, as we approached Van Nuys and I’d been cleared to land on the long 8,000 foot runway 16R, I was tested on emergency landing procedures. The examiner had me glide to a landing and then said, “Make sure you are off the runway at the first high-speed taxiway.”

I did all of this, and I knew once I was on the taxiway that I’d passed all of the tests. Because of the emergency simulation I couldn’t land long and the FBO that I flew out of was at the far end of the airport. This mean I had a mile or so of taxiing to do. This was when that vigilance kicked in. I was suddenly very aware that I had an entire mile of slow taxiing in which I could screw things up after performing so well on the practical flight. So I was very careful, I did everything by the book, and eventually brought the plane to a stop at the FBO, turned off the engine, and took a deep breath.

The examiner pointed off toward the building where his office was, “See that rubber tree,” he said, “I planted that tree back in 1955.” He paused and said, “Nice flying. I’ll write up your ticket. Meet me in the office after you get squared away here.” Not long after, I held a white piece of paper that certified I was a private pilot — single engine land aircraft.

I’m feeling that same sort of vigilance now. And it occurred to me that on Friday, after I get my first injection, I will come home with a similar piece of white paper, this once indicating that I have received the first of two doses of my COVID vaccine.

I think I liked the pilot’s license better.

Obsidian and Vim Mode

For the last several days, I have been playing around with Obsidian in Vim mode. Vim, for those who don’t know, is a powerful text editor that can take some getting used to. It uses different “modes”: for editing, for navigating and issuing commands. It’s keyboard commands are designed for touch typists so that you can do anything you need to do without your fingers ever leaving the keyboard.

Obsidian offers a “Vim mode” which gives some of Vim’s capabilities. I like the idea of Vim but I’m not completely sold on its implementation in Obsidian yet.

Because of how navigation work (basic cursor movements use the h, j, k, and l keys) a fixed-width font is better for Vim. The theme that I use, Pisum, doesn’t make use of a fixed-width font. That meant I needed to edit the styles in the theme to get what I wanted.

This was a useful side-effect of experimenting because I found that it was pretty easy to edit the styles. I copied the styles for the Pisum theme into another .css file and edited there so I didn’t mess up the original theme. I made two basic changes:

  1. I switched to a fixed-width font in the editor (but not in preview mode).
  2. I modified the emphasis style to show an underline. I like seeing the underlying for emphasis because this is what I am used to from decades of writing manuscripts in standard format–in which italicized text is represented with underlines.

Here is an example of what this looks like:

An example of my Obsidian theme changes
An example of my Obsidian theme changes

But there are some serious limitations. For one thing, Obsidian is not Vim, and that is a good thing, since Obsidian is really focused on something different from what Vim attempts to do. It means, however, there is limited support for .vimrc files in which various setting, keyboard mappings, and other configurations that customize the editor are stored. There is a plug-in that provides some limited support for .vimrc files, but it is limited

It is nice that Obsidian includes the Vim mode option because it makes the transition to Obsidian easier for people used to Vim’s keyboard mappings. But after playing around with Vim mode for several days, I think I am going to turn it off. I asked myself how often, while writing do I need to do some of the fancy things that Vim’s commands let me do? The answer is rarely.

All is not lost, however. I learned that it is easy to edit themes in Obsidian–by far easier than any other editor I’ve played with. And some of my edits I’m keeping. I’m turning off the fixed-width font. I prefer the default theme font for notes. But I’m leaving my underlined emphasis in place. And there are probably other tweaks I’ll make. I have it in my mind to produce a theme that looks like Word for DOS 5.5 (which was my all-time favorite word processor). I’d do this more for learning than actual use. After all, these days, everyone want to use a dark theme because it’s easier on the eyes, and that bright blue background in Word for DOS is the antithesis of a dark theme.

Once I have my personal theme stable, I’ll write a separate post about it.