A collection of the things I've read, am reading, or hope to read in the future.

Now /reading


A Repair & Maintenance Manifesto

Sam Tracy | PM Press (2013)

Progress: 5%

Sam Tracy relays everything he's learned about bicycle maintenance after more than a decade in the bike shop. It is both a reference manual and a meditation on the freedom and joys of owning and maintaining a bicycle.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jane Jacobs | Random House (1961)

Progress: 30%

The most well-known and influential book of Jane Jacobs' career, it is a critique of the 1950s urban planning world, suggestions about the true nature and pattern of cities, and a roadmap for how great cities can flourish again.

Reading /backlog

Introduction to Architecture

Francis D.K. Ching & James F. Eckler | Wiley (2012)

Progress: 45%

Introduction to Urban Science

Luis M. A. Bettencourt | MIT Press (2021)

Progress: 10%

Order Without Design

Alain Bertaud | MIT Press (2018)

Progress: 18%

/reading Stream

June 9, 2024

/stream /computing /reading

Read Folk Interfaces by Maggie Appleton, an exploration on the way people will bend software to their needs in ways their author didn't intend.

One concept that stood out to me was the claim that modern software is "monolithic apps" produced by "large California-based compaines" that design for a global audience, and how these tools could never work for anyone exactly right.

Another was the notion of thinking of software not as the golden path it was designed for, but as a bundle of "raw material" that is malleable. This resonates with the way I've been thinking about things like the /coalescent computer, and more recently with my thoughts on a "vernacular database".

January 7, 2024

/stream /reading /colophon

Spent some time building out "Now Reading" functionality using /collect. Essentially, every "page" that describes a book now has a handful of other @value objects on it for metadata like title/author/publisher, and I wrote a few @scope objects that render a book summary using those values. I also tagged those pages with additional @group tags "books" and "in-progress", so I can make a @list with @query objects to @include all of the "in-progress" items and then @filter those for "books". Then I @reverse that list and pass it to the different renderers, and now I can see all of the books that are in progress just by adding some metadata to those books' garden pages.

November 24, 2023

/stream /reading /order-without-design-bertaud

Through my work on /livable city advocacy in my home city, I've met a lot of people with different lenses on how to look at some of the core issues. One of those people has been one of the most analytical and data driven policy thinkers I've ever met, and while at first the approach came across as cold to me, over the course of a year it became harder and harder for me to deny how well informed his thoughts were and how clearly his approach reflected the reality I was seeing in urban policy every day. The book he would frequently bring up as a primary influence to him was "Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities".

As someone who is both highly critical of the economic structure of Capitalism, but simultaneously holding a worldview centered on holarchy and emergent complex systems, there is a deep tension around the notion of "markets". Markets are not strictly tied to Capitalism, but markets are integral to its broader philosohpy. At the same time, markets are the same shape as one of the key information channels in an emergent and distributed complex system. As I solidified my distrust in The Market(tm) and began to cautiously embrace lower-case "m" markets as a social communication channel, I began to finally read this book.

The first chapter begins by outlining the author's experience as an urban planner starting in the 60s, his first experiences that showed him the cracks in traditional planning logic, and his first meaningful encounter with an urban economist that gave him deeper insight as to what actually caused those cracks in planning logic. It immediately touched on concrete examples of issues around /zoning and land prices, which is something we are dealing with right now, and I think that I'll come out of this book with a much more grounded understanding of urban economies and planning policy.

July 20, 2023

/stream /reading /mutual-aid /mutual-aid-spade

Finished reading Mutual Aid by Dean Spade. The last chapter was two thirds of the book, and full of specific plans and examples for how to deal with common issues in mutual aid groups. I found it quite helpful in framing my thinking about the real-world bumpy patches I encounter in my activism and movement building, and I'll be reflecting on it for a while I think. I'll continue reviewing my highlights and notes, and put together a synthesis on the book to share with others, since I think it is a hugely important topic.

July 19, 2023

/stream /reading /mutual-aid /mutual-aid-spade

Continued reading through Mutual Aid by Dean Spade, from the second through the fourth chapters. He outlined the shortcomings of the charity model of nonprofits, the necessity of asking for the entire world, and some of the dangers and pitfalls of mutual aid projects. The second and third chapters maintained the punchiness of the first, but the fourth chapter (in the second "part" of the book) fell apart a little bit. Still useful information, but less refined and impactful.

July 18, 2023

/stream /reading /mutual-aid /mutual-aid-spade

In preparation for an upcoming book club, I read through the first chapter of Mutual Aid, by Dean Spade. In this chapter, Dean lays out the three elements of mutual aid centered around meeting survival needs, educating people why needs are not met, expanding solidarity, and active participation. Spade writes extremely clearly, and this book so far feels very impactful and concise.

/stream /reading /mutual-aid /ollas-comunes

Read Collective Infrastructures of Care after being linked to it by a friend from Peru, which was a great review and anlysis of some of the history of community kitchens in Lima. It was a great example of Mutual Aid in South America, and formally introduced me to a concept I had been thinking about called "Co-Production", where communites are directly involved in the decision making and design of their collective infrastructure. I read through the paper and took a lot of notes and highlights, and will come back later to finish a synthesis after sleeping on it a bit.

June 8, 2023

/stream /reading /computing /permacomputing /degrowth /benign-computing /complex-systems

Read Abstraction, indirection, and Sevareid's Law: Towards benign computing after seeing it mentioned on Damaged Earth Catalog. It provides background on the idea that computing may, in general, be creating more problems than solutions, and proposes a design framework for computing that minimizes that outcome. The core principles are “scale out”, “fail well”, “open design”, and “fractal”. In essence, it promotes small nodes speaking open protocols that are individually resilient, creating an emergent larger network that also exhibits these properties. It prioritizes long term resiliency and harm mitigation over short term costs and maximum availability.

I like the idea of benign computing aiming to mimic how nature *fails*, instead of how it *succeeds*. Placing the emphasis on resilience as opposed to solutions naturally puts you in a defensive and critical position during system design. I think that this framework lends itself well to an analysis of the Coalescent Computer which shares many of these goals, and would benefit from a deeper analysis through this lens.

June 2, 2023

/stream /reading /computing /permacomputing /degrowth /collapse

Following some links led me to The Monster Footprint of Digital Technology on Low Tech Magazine. While the concept of embodied energy (in microchips, or in general) was not new to me, this article did a great job of describing the scale and trends in energy and resource consumption in the manufacturing of modern digital technology.

One aspect in particular stood out to me, which was the claim that "digital technology is a product of cheap energy". I think about this idea from many angles, that there are many aspects of our modern society that have expanded to consume all of the "infinite energy" we've had access to during the fossil fuel era. The proliferation of cars, processed foods, and microchips are all goods that have fundamentally changed the way we have lived, but are (and have always been) unsustainable to produce in the long term since they are fundeamentally born out of an environment with very cheap, portable, and dense energy sources. Trying to maintain that lifestyle without fossil fuels will be nearly impossible due to "Energy Return on Investment" (EROI) calculations and the laws of physics. And yet, at the same time, many people (and our economic system more broadly) have become completely dependent on these goods and this lifestyle, with a looming threat of /collapse if they were to suddenly disappear.

And so I wonder about what computing might look like in a world with more restricted and balanced energy use, if we managed to actually ramp down our energy and resource consumption to a truly sustainable level. Will computing still exist? How accessible would it be?

May 30, 2023

/stream /reading /merveilles /programming

I read Situated Software, by Clay Shirky which seemed to be bubbling up in conversation around Merveilles today. It elaborated on some of the ideas I've been playing with lately, specifically around offloading the social aspect of computing networks to the humans in the loop instead of strict algorithms. This note on payment in small scale networks was particularly in line with that:

The possibility of being shamed in front of the community became part of the application design, even though the community and the putative shame were outside the framework of the application itself.

May 28, 2023

/stream /reading /philosophy

Read Superintelligence: The Idea that Eats Smart People. It helped me develop my own thoughts on intelligence and sentience, and connect some of my "emergent, complex systems" model of human cognition with my gut-level distrust in the hype narratives around "AI".

Specifically, as someone who grew up in an environment where religious beliefs were facilitated, and as someone who subsequently exited that faith, it helped show me that my distrust may have been stemming from the fact that the aura around AI is rooted in many of those same faith based arguments that I've learned to escape from. This quote sums it up pretty well:

It's a clever hack, because instead of believing in God at the outset, you imagine yourself building an entity that is functionally identical with God. This way even committed atheists can rationalize their way into the comforts of faith.

The AI has all the attributes of God: it's omnipotent, omniscient, and either benevolent (if you did your array bounds-checking right), or it is the Devil and you are at its mercy.

Like in any religion, there's even a feeling of urgency. You have to act now! The fate of the world is in the balance!

May 23, 2023

/stream /reading /colophon

Read The Garden and The Stream, by Mike Caulfield after seeing it linked in Maggie Appleton's digital garden post, and seeing it use the same metaphor I stumbled on for this site.

I appreciated the interpretation of the history of the "personal web" through the lense of "streams and gardens", with the early web going for a garden metaphor (open wikis), and getting eaten by the stream metaphor (blogs, RSS, social media). Mike suggested that the time may be right for the garden to return (this is from 2015), and this tracks for me with the rise of Roam, Obsidian, and the general movement around the smallweb and permacomputing.

/stream /reading /colophon

While trying to read more about digital gardens, I checked out this piece on the history of digital gardens by Maggie Appleton. It was in this piece that I saw the link to "The Garden and The Stream" by Mike Caulfield, and found some gems around thinking about "topologies", as well as providing "epistemic transparency".