A Letter Towards The Future

UPDATE: You can check out my new site, Daf Aleph, here.

Hello everyone,

I've been meaning to write this letter for quite a while now, but it just never quite felt like the right time. Well, I don't think it will ever feel like the "right time", so I'm just going for it now.

As you have no doubt realized by now, I have not been very present online for the last year or so. This is because I have been pursuing religious studies abroad (in Israel, to be exact), and have not had the time, really, to write much on technology. (Although I have, for the most part, kept up with all the news and whatnot, just FYI, I guess.)

But I'll tell you the truth. The real reason I haven't been writing much on technology is because I just don't have that drive to do it anymore. In short, I just don't really care to write about it. In fairness, I've felt a little bit this way for a while now — even back when I was writing weekly. Much of what I did just felt a little forced.

Look, I've had a great run. We've had a great run. BitQuill has been tremendous, and I've loved doing it. But all good things must come to an end. And while I am not going to say that I will never update BitQuill again — I am going to be keeping the website around and maintained — I do not expect to write for BQ with any sort of regularity.

What's going on here? Well, nothing abnormal, I don't think. Passions change. Things you find true meaning in change. I still love technology and, as I mentioned, follow it closely. I'd bet my bottom dollar it will stay a close interest of mine for the rest of my life. But now more as a hobby — not my life itself.

I don't think I've changed, no, but grown. Evolution, not revolution. A shift in my focus. A shift in my life.

I know, I know. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. This is probably coming as somewhat of a shock. It's not a shock to me, because I've been myself for the last year or so and have felt this all coming along. From the outside, it's a little weird. I know. And I'm sorry. But this is the way that it is. And that's that, I suppose.

Onwards, and upwards.

Which is what I want to talk about now.

Fret not. I have not lost my passion for writing. I need to write. If I don't get my thoughts down on paper, in a coherent form for me to read back, I go a bit nuts. I need to organize my thoughts. I'm a big writer. And I plan to write quite a bit, and I plan to publish online.

The truth is, building on what I said above, I've only ever shown a very, very small part of myself online — the part strictly about technology. You'll note I never have gotten involved in really anything personal online at all. It was my website and its other branches all the way, and that was it. Never really any arguments or fights, never anything controversial. Certainly no politics or religion.

My presence online was an expression of my particular interest in technology. Just that little part of me. Not an expression of me, as a whole. And I always felt so restricted. So limited. There were so many things I wanted to talk about that just did not fit into the place on the web that I had carved out for myself.

Well, to heck with all that. That's all going to change now.

Nothing official yet, but I do plan on launching a whole new project online in the next few months. There's still a lot to be done, but we're getting there. Slowly.

But it's a radical departure from this site. It'll be a website devoted to that which is truly near and dear to my heart: the philosophy of Orthodox Judaism. Yeah, out of left field considering many of you probably didn't even know that I was Jewish. But it's not out of left field for me. In fact, it's everything to me.

So what can you expect? Well, Judaism, obviously. But it'll also be about God, philosophy, the modern world, and culture in broader strokes as well. And we'll get pretty intense too. No fluff. I fancy myself pretty well versed and armed with this stuff, and I'm really excited to start writing and talking about it in a public forum. I don't think it's at all what one would expect.

Now is not the time or place for more details on all this stuff. Really, you'll have to wait and see.

And that's just the thing. If this all sounds totally crazy to you right now, that's fine. I totally, totally get that. There is probably close to a 100% chance that this new website will not be something you are even remotely interested in reading. (Although, I do ask that, when it is released, you give it a chance — you might be surprised. I mean heck!, I don’t even know how many of you are Jewish/religious!) That's all sort of the point of me writing this whole thing. I know I'll be building and targeting a whole new audience — again, ergo this whole letter. And I'm okay with that.

If you want to come along for the ride, you are more than welcome. Consider this a heartfelt invitation. If not, consider this a heartfelt PSA.

Speaking of, all the details for the upcoming site will be announced on Twitter. I am, as always, @devirkahan. Oh, and speaking of speaking of, I'll no longer be holding back on Twitter either. It's all me now. So that'll be pretty different as well.

I realize this is a big jump. Like, really big. And to some extent, this whole letter was pretty weird, but I just felt the need to write an explanation.

Because, you know, I get a little nuts when I don't organize my thoughts and write things down.

Yours truly, Devir

BQ&A: The Enigmatic Dr. Drang


Who are you, what do you do, etc.?

My nom de net is Dr. Drang, and I write a blog at leancrew.com that talks about using Macs and iPhones, scripting, and, occasionally, engineering. In real life, I'm a consulting engineer who specializes in the analysis of failures.

What tools do you use to get your job done? Software, hardware, etc.

My work computer is a late-2012 27" iMac; my home computer is a late-2010 13" MacBook Air.

I write everything — programs, work reports, blog posts — in BBEdit. It is by far my most-used app. Prose is written in Markdown and then run through various filters. Reports get turned into LaTeX, where they take advantage of some custom styles I've been using for 10-15 years. This arrangement allows me to write reports pretty quickly, because I don't spend any time thinking about formatting — it's all handled by the styles.

Virtually all of my programming these days is in Python, with the numerical and graphical stuff for work done in NumPy, SciPy, and matplotlib. This is a fairly recent change for me. Up until a couple of years ago, all my calculations were done in Octave and all the graphing was done in Gnuplot.

I use TextExpander to cut down on repetitive input and to run simple scripts for inserting text. My favorite snippets are those that use AppleScript to communicate with Safari and insert URLs into tweets and blog posts.

I've been using FastScripts for ages to run AppleScripts and Python scripts, but I recently bought Keyboard Maestro, so I'll probably transition my stuff to it over the next few months.

My iPhone is primarily a communications and quick reference device. I don't do much writing on it apart from short emails, text messages, and tweets. I've done some serious work in Pythonista, but most of my calculations are still done in PCalc because they're one-offs that don't require programming.

It's not possible to take a photo of my desk at work because it's covered in paper, but I have included a photo of where I do most of my blog work.

What made you first decide to start writing a website?

It seemed like the thing to do in the mid-00s. I thought it would turn out to be more political, and most political blogs back then were written under a pseudonym, so that's why I have one.

It sounds corny, but one of the reasons I wanted to start posting scripts and tips was to pay the internet back for teaching me so much about the use of computers over the preceding 5-10 years. I was a Linux user from 1996-2005, and there was no way I could have survived without good information available for free from so many unselfish people. I wanted to emulate them.

These days, the site’s variety of topics go from basic tech tips, to rather intense physics. Was that always what you had in mind for the site? Or did the site develop like that over time? Or, in other words, what do you think the goal of your site is these days?

The blog was always going to cover whatever I happened to be thinking of, which is why it's called "And now it's all this." My only goal for the site is for it to cover topics that are interesting to me. I understand that most blogs follow the news — whether that be tech news, political news, sports news, or what have you — but I never want to feel compelled to write about something just because it's the topic of the day.

Not that I don’t love the green and all, but are you working on a new site design, by any chance?

No, although I recognize that I should redo the design to make it flow better on a phone.

What are some of your favorite posts on the site?

My favorites are the engineering posts that usually get very few page views. At the top of the list is the post about snap-through buckling, which had equations and nice-looking drawings and graphs. It covered a university-level topic in a way that I thought was accessible without being dumbed down — and it ended with references to "The Wizard of Oz."

The post that's probably been the most help to the most people is this simple one about changing the battery in a Toyota smart key. It gets dozens of hits every day from people searching for how to replace an old battery, something the Toyota manual doesn't cover well.

What's a typical day look like for you?

Typical work days are spent in my office reading, looking at photos and drawings, doing calculations, and talking on the phone to clients. The more fun days are spent in the lab, disassembling and testing equipment.

I usually do my recreational programming and blog post writing in the evenings, sitting in my Poäng chair and drinking tea.

Throughout the day, what apps do you have in your Dock or open? Any favorite websites/Internet habits that you check regularly?

BBEdit, Terminal, and Safari are always open. iTunes is usually open and playing unless I'm writing a report, when I typically do better with silence. The only unusual app in my Dock is Dr. Twoot, a homemade Twitter client built with Todd Ditchendorf's Fluid from an original script by Peter Krantz. I've never really liked any commercial Twitter client on the Mac.

Unlike most "power users," I don't use very many apps. My goal is to focus on a few that I think will be around for a long time and learn to use them well. You can get quite a lot done with just a few good apps and a scripting language or two.

My internet habits are pretty conventional. I subscribe to the usual list of blogs that Mac users subscribe to. I don't bother with multi-author "news" sites like The Verge — they post way too much about way too little and don't have a consistent authorial voice.

What's your iPhone/iPad homescreen look like? Single most interesting app and why?

I'd say Pythonista is the most interesting app on my home screen, closely followed by Drafts. They're interesting for the same reason: they bring flexibility to a platform that isn't especially flexible out of the box.

If you could only install one third party app on your iPhone, what would it be? Mac?

It would kill me to lose Tweetbot and Reeder, but if I had to choose only one it would be PCalc. It's the only calculator I have (I don't use physical calculators anymore because PCalc is better), and an engineer cannot be without a calculator.

Any plans for the future, or projects in the works, that you'd be willing to divulge here?

If only I were organized enough to have plans!

Single favorite movie?

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, hands down. That The Incomparable hasn't done a show on it, nor the TV show, betrays a curious blind spot to a critical piece of geek culture.

If you could have any single super-power, what would it be?

This question presupposes I don't have a superpower, a notion I reject.

This BQ&A is just one of many awesome interviews with awesome people. Be sure to check them all out here.

The Dossier: Time-Wasting, Writing, Pogies, Justin Bieber, And Disaster Relief


The Best iOS Games
As if you needed more great ways to waste your time, The Sweet Setup put together a list of some of the best iOS games out there.

An iOS 7 Flashlight Trick
I totally did not know this one, and it's quite helpful.

Writer Pro
A very clean, very clever looking, new writing tool from the folks behind the original Writer. I've been using Byword for quite some time on my Mac, but I would certainly love to give Writer Pro a try — especially for longer-form stuff. It really looks phenomenal. But the $40 price tag (between iOS and Mac) makes it a little tough to swallow.

The 2013 Pogie Awards
Every year, David Pogue (now of Yahoo, remember) gives out awards to the best ideas in tech. Not products, but ideas in products. This year is as interesting as always.

Justin Bieber Retiring From Music?
Jeez, I sure as hell hope this is real.

How Mac Experts Organize Their Files
I am really liking these new articles on Macworld taking a look at how different people use their Macs.

Casey Neistat Strikes Again
This time he is spending all of the money for an ad campaign for the upcoming movie The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty on disaster relief. I met this guy once (whatever, no big deal) and he really is awesome. Did I have to stick that in there? No. But what's a name-drop every now and again? Either way, I really love his videos.