a blog about research communication & higher education & open culture & technology & making & librarianship & stuff

On Donella Meadows and Systems Thinking

This weekend I started reading Donella Meadows' Thinking in Systems: A Primer and I cannot overstate how profoundly glad I am to have come across Systems Thinking as a whole field of study. It pulls together so many things that have interested me over the years, and makes sense of a whole load of things I’ve observed about the world around me.


On learning to code without mathematics

Why is it that so many beginner programming tutorials assume that the learner is both a) comfortable with maths; and b) motivated to learn by seeing simple arithmetic? Go look at your favourite tutorial (I’ll wait) and I’ll give you good odds it starts with some variation of “look, you can use this as a calculator!”


Best practice, or ignoring the care label

I was hanging the laundry the other day, and ended up thinking about reasons why you might ignore those coded instructions on the care label of your clothing. I came up with quite a few…


One of the reasons I’ve been blogging less lately is that the more I’ve progressed in my career the more aware I’ve been of representing my employer as well as myself and, let’s be honest, I have enough anxiety already without adding to it myself.

So I’ve finally had The Conversation about this with my line manager and agreed that I can write publicly about stuff that touches on my job role, as long as it’s clear that it’s my own opinion and not necessarily any statement of policy. It’s my hope that this will help with my thinking and creativity both in and out of work, as I’ll be able to get more of my opinions and ideas out there for feedback/criticism.

TL;DR Anything I publish on here is my own opinion and should not be taken as the official position of basically anyone at all, not least whoever my current employer at the time might be… 😅

Training my handwriting model: an update

A screenshot of my handwriting in Transkribus with coloured lines and boxes showing text that has been detected on the page

My handwriting!

It’s only taken me two years, but I’ve finally got around to transcribing enough pages to have a first try at training a model on my own handwriting. My workflow has been (roughly) this:

  1. Write something out longhand with pen and paper
  2. Scan the pages and upload to Transkribus
  3. Run layout detection, tweak any arrors and transcribe the text on desktop (while listening to some music)


Vaguely generic update

If it seems like I haven’t posted here much lately then you’re right. Here’s a few bits and pieces I thought I’d share. Nix & NixOS I’ve been learning a lot about nix (the package manager) and NixOS (the Linux distribution) lately, and enjoying the consistency and stability it brings. The whole machine’s setup and my user config can all be specified in nixlang and applied reproducibly and consistently on multiple computers.


Just a quick note to say that since I’ve deleted my Twitter account, I’ve set up a static archive of all my tweets. Yes, even those embarrassing first ones.

This was made possible by Darius Kazemi: https://tinysubversions.com/twitter-archive/make-your-own/

You can still find me on Mastodon as @petrichor:digipres.club or via any of the other links at the bottom of the page.

Request for input: the missing narrative of libraries in research software engineering

Last week I received an email from a friend inviting me to submit a video to a panel 'Missing narratives around diversity and inclusion in Research Software Engineering' hosted as part of SeptembRSE 2021, the goals of which are: help create inclusive communities in RSE by centring on intersectional voices increase awareness of power imbalances that negatively impact multiple marginalised groups in research provide a call-to-action for diversity and inclusion Obviously I'm always flattered to be asked my opinion, but I wasn't sure what a straight, cisgender, middle-class white man could offer to an event on diversity, so I had a chat with one of the organisers.


mxadm: a small CLI Matrix room admin tool

I’ve enjoyed learning Rust (the programming language) recently, but having only really used it for solving programming puzzles I’ve been looking for an excuse to use it for something more practical. At the same time, I’ve been using and learning about Matrix (the chat/messaging platform), and running some small rooms there I’ve been a bit frustrated that some pretty common admin things don’t have a good user interface in any of the available clients.


Comments are back

I forgot to mention it at the time, but I’ve added “normal” comments back to the site, as you’ll see below and on most other pages. In place of the Disqus comments I had before I’m now using Cactus Comments, which is open source and self-hostable (though I’m currently not doing that). If you’ve read my previous post about Matrix self-hosting, you might be interested to know that Cactus uses Matrix rooms for data storage and synchronisation and I can moderate and reply to comments directly from my Matrix client.