2023-04-16 Links & stuff

A musical weekend, discovering the prolific Steve Goodman.  I was listening to John Prine’s rendition of “You Never Even Call Me By Name” and then found Steve’s own rendition.

Steve’s “City of New Orleans” and his 1978 performance at Austin City Limits.

Steve died of leukaemia at the age of 36. His wife Nancy’s liner notes: “He extracted meaning from the mundane.”

Dean Martin’s Sway & the French/English version of c’est ci bon. Tuba Skinny’s full jazz set at Jazz Heritage Centre in 2022.  Cesaria Evora is the barefoot performer par excellence. Jesse Cook started playing pots & pans during Covid and it’s incredible

Taylor Bloom and Ben Cooley were on Josh Turner’s cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s Baby Driver . That video was the beginning of the discovery of so many wonderful talented young musicians. Taylor & Ben’s rendition of The Boxer and Homeward Bound. Josh & Carson mesmerize with their cover of Amazing Rhythm Aces Third Rate Romance. Reina del Cid & Toni Lindgren with Josh & Carson cover Route 66.

I heard David Graeber and Chris Voss talks at Google yesterday, and Dr. Oliver Sacks talk about musicophilia.  I learnt a bunch of powerpoint techniques from the outstanding OneSkill Powerpoint channel, and put them to use on a work project. I learnt how to draw Multiple Causal Diagrams, used Excalidraw to draw them, and put them into that same project slideware.

It was a good weekend indeed.

Reflections: Sprint 1

Sprint 1: “Create presentations from Markdown

The process:

  1. Started with ioslides from YiHui’s book
  2. Figured out why the simplest slide I wanted to do was impossible to do in ioslides (Yihui says that not me!)
  3. His suggested alternative Xaringan, which was originally a stretch goal, became the focus almost immediately thereafter
  4. Did a small number of exercises every morning before I started work, following the the book, and then went down the rabbit hole to the remark Github repo that Yihui linked to, to understand a bit more about the way formatting works.
  5. Practiced pushing the code from within RStudio or iTerm to a Github repo. Messed up a couple of times and learnt how to reset HEAD
  6. Created my first (basic ludicrously plain) presentation (Rmd document) entirely from Markdown of some key points I made from Richard Hamming’s amazingly wonderful speech at Bell Labs called “You and Your Research“.
  7. Created a second Rmd presentation – this time turning gnab’s remark pages into a preso for myself.

The problem? I can only serve those presentations from RStudio, locally. If I wanted to share the slides themselves, I have more work to do. That will become a learning goal for Sprint 2:  How to embed this presentation, not merely a link to the Rmd.  I found an excellent article here and another one to go through here.


Despite the crash course in CSS & HTML, knowing the names of a tiny fraction of the functions and features in them is utterly frustrating. I need to get one of the lads to show me how this whole stack actually works.


Ideas: Richard Hamming

Talk: “You and Your Research” at Bell Labs, 1986

💡 Bell Communications Research Colloquia Series


  • Do great work. Not just ‘good work’, but great work, worthy of a Nobel Prize
  • Luck has little to do with. Preparation is critical (Einstein thought about speed of light when he was 13/14/15
  • Brains are measured differently, so also overrated. Success begets more success because you build confidence, build more courage, become more articulate
  • Have courage
  • Age has an effect. Perhaps because once success arrives, there’s less time for great work and more time for speeches and ceremony. When you become famous, hard work (ego, etc) to work on small problems.
  • Working conditions don’t matter as much (hmmm) you can do great work by turning around the problem a little bit, rephrasing it.
  • Great drive (John Tukey story) “You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.” Knowledge & productivity are like compound interest
  • Tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead; they doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the new replacement theory. If you believe too much you’ll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won’t get started.
  • Feed the subconscious the problems and starve it from others for answers, sometimes
  • Ask “what are the important problems in my field?” Work on the important problems. You won’t do great work otherwise.

Important problems: It’s not consequences that make it an important problem, it’s that you have a reasonable attack.

  • 💡 “Great thoughts time”: Friday afternoons would discuss only great thoughts.
  • Pursue opportunity for great work when it shows up. Drop all other things. They go after it because they’ve already thought this thing through
  • Do you job in such a fashion that other people can build on it. Don’t stand on each other’s feet.
  • Selling your work. Distasteful, ignored, and yet the most important. Three things to do in selling:
    • Write clearly so that people will read it
    • Learn to give formal talks
    • Learn to give informal talks
  • Technical people love to give a deep, restricted, TMI technical talk. The audience wants a broad, general relatable talk.
  • Educating your bosses so you get control over what you work on. Will take time, is hard work.
  • Use leverage (story about using computing time to ask for named credit for the people doing programming, then using credit in published article to ask for resources)
  • Is the effort to be great (scientist) worth it?

I think it is very definitely worth the struggle to try and do first-class work because the truth is, the value is in the struggle more than it is in the result. The struggle to make something of yourself seems to be worthwhile in itself. The success and fame are sort of dividends, in my opinion.

  • Why do so many people who have brains and talent fail?
    • Lack of drive, commitment
    • Personality defects (control freak, not using the system to advantage)
    • Ego assertion (dressing as a form of self-expression). Appearance of conformity is enough, you don’t have to conform 💡
    • You can fight to reform the system or you can do great work, not both.
    • Anger
    • Unable to look for positive side (I bragged about something so I’d have to perform. I found out many times, like a cornered rat in a real trap, I was surprisingly capable.)
    • Self-delusion (Well, I had the idea but I didn’t do it and so on and so on.)
    In summary, I claim that some of the reasons why so many people who have greatness within their grasp don't succeed are: they don't work on important problems, they don't become emotionally involved, they don't try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and they keep giving themselves alibis why they don't. They keep saying that it is a matter of luck. I've told you how easy it is; furthermore I've told you how to reform. Therefore, go forth and become great scientists!

Learning Detour: CSS

Confident enough in my exercises yesterday with Rmarkdown, I decided on a very simple project for today:

Project 1: Take one slide with one word on it, and apply formats to it using CSS on ioslides

The broad steps I expected to take:

      1. Create an Rmd with one word on it. Easy enough
      2. Create a simple stylesheet which makes font huge
      3. Create some variations on it.

After about an hour or so of fumbling around Step 2, I realised I had so little conceptual understanding of CSS that I was simply stabbing in the dark. Stackoverflow’s simplest answer was a link to the CSS tutorial from W3Schools. It took a couple of hours, along with doing the exercises.


Yihui says in a blog post that `ioslides` aren’t really customisable so he created `xaringan` as an alternative. That’s where I’m headed now.

Who said learning was a straight line?

Learn: Create Presentations From Markdown

Sprint 1 starts today for two weeks. Of course it had to begin with a restful sleep!

Writing and creating a presentation from the same document has been  on my mind ever since I saw Hadley Wickham’s presentations (example here).

There are a lot of writing I wish I had a presentation to talk along with, and I want to give that a go in the next two weeks. This requires me to learn several new tools and skills, and build on some I already know:

* Use RStudio‘s Markdown capability (I’ve used this a bit).
* Continue practising on iTerm as Terminal
* HTML & CSS – a 12 minute video for CSS was enough to get me on my way. I have less than a rudimentary knowlege of both. Use VSCode as the text editor
* Refer Yihui Xie’s wonderful Bookdown book for ioslides
* Write about the process of learning this, as a presentation. Embed the presentation here before Saturday 15 January). Publish the slides and code to Github.
* Stretch: Learn Xaringan because they look pretty awesome!