@dicewarebot, the solution I needed that no one asked for

A number of years ago I was trying to learn python. Random numbers have always amused me (as I was recently reminded by a twitter nod to the weird usage of spreadsheets).

A user named @context_ing tweeted: “I love finding the ways in which people use spreadsheets. Personally, I use them for mostly budgeting, workout tracking and travel planning. Here’s a few in the wild I’ve found. Would love to see more! Please share if you’ve come across any or have any yourself.”

I felt compelled to reply with my own little story. “Reminds me of a decade old excel project. A playwriting book said something like “I guess it would be a play if you cut up words from a dictionary and pulled them out one-by-one, arranging them into lines of 10 words under character names, but it wouldn’t be a very good one.” So I took the entire public domain text of Oscar Wilde’s classic and had Excel recreate the play on every reopen of the file by randomly selecting words and character names I think using a vlookup and random. The result was interesting (and likely bad theatre).”

The text in question (blasted tweet limits!) was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The resulting play was garbage, but that random interger generation was magical. When combined with other functions it really could do wonderful things for art.

Fast forward some (10?) years and I had a different problem to deal with: I needed to seamlessly transition all staff and clients from one grouping of technology services at one company to a different group of technology services at a new and different non-profit that was going to just continue doing basically the same work for basically the same people.

To remove almost all complexity from this story: I needed passwords; lots of random, unique, and strong passwords.

I once again turned to my friend the random number generator, but this time in python rather than excel. I coded up a script that would allow me to specify the number of words I wanted, unique separator I desired, and―importantly―how many of these unique passwords I wanted to be generated in one go.

I had the program roll digital dice and lookup words from the EFF’s Diceware password list and then spit them out. People would get their passwords and privately think I was just very adept at coming up with wacky sounding passwords, but I did not deserve this misconception as random integers were to blame for everything.

Eventually I thought it would be a good idea to create a sort of Public Service Announcement on the web about the odd truth that a list of words obtained by rolling dice really can be unique.

The end result is a Twitter bot and a Mastodon bot that very frequently tweet out unique passwords they’ve generated (though you probably shouldn’t use them). More people follow on Mastodon than Twitter, and Twitter relatively frequently blocks my bot’s tweets makes me unnecessarily prove that there’s a human behind the bot to get things going again (anyone at Twitter can explain this?).

At any rate, here’s some examples embedded below. Note that I also added the Harry Potter wordlist as well. There are others for your enjoyment on EFF’s site.

Lastly, there are infinitely better versions of this if you’re looking to generate a password. I’d recommend the much more easily installed passphraseme by Micah Lee.

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed my PSA.

asterisks

The project preview

I’ve been working on a project. I believe it’s a good one.

I have arranged some asterisks―

asterisks

―and also borrowed and modified a line―

line

―then I borrowed some cruft (dusted off from something pretty good, if a little old)―

stuff

―at the end of it all I have some words.

Cryptic Outro―apologies

So really, its just a long-time project that began over two years ago that I think still has a place in the conversation about rights, dignity, and human values. I’m hoping to have this out by years’ end, but I’m also wanting to ensure that I’m not missing an opportunity to incorporate some other elements into the work from recent events.

Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

 

Published
Categorized as partial art

some rocks

This is a quick (and ridiculous!) version of a project I’m working on. The final version will be more subdued, but I couldn’t resist quickly creating an animated gif once the thought entered my mind. Thoughts?

rocks

 

National Novel Writing Month

I have wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo for close to a decade―basically ever since I heard about its existence―but I was overwhelmed with my graduate studies and other things (excuses, excuses). Well, I finished graduate school and rid myself of all excuses. Tonight I successfully completed my first NaNoWriMo. Don’t ask to see the fruits of this labor just yet. Like most first drafts, it is in a pretty unfortunate state at the moment. That said, I’m really excited to have the raw material out of my head and on “paper” as much of what I plan to work on in the coming year will derive from this first draft in some way.

More to come.

Also, note my wonderful procrastination in all of its glory in the chart below.

nano-2015

workspaces, systems, and old technology

I’ve been thinking about process lately. Okay, I’ve honestly been thinking about process for years. I’ve figured out pieces of my own process over the years through trial and error, reading about other processes, and dumb luck. What I’m most interested in now is how to increase the likelihood of using my own process to the extent that it is identified at the present moment.

It seems that the best way to improve the use of my own best―at the moment―process will be removing the barriers that hinder continuing or discourage even starting. I’ve identified the primary barrier as the mess of a work area I’ve used through the birth of two children and a PhD[1. if you’re interested you can read my dissertation here]. It’s a tick above freezing in the winter and a constant mess. Home sweet home. The image above is a real shot of my desk without any pre-photo cleaning (promise). What is missing is the disarray around and beneath and before the desk. I grow anxious just walking into the space.

What is surprising is how much and how little work I’ve put into the arrangement seen above. The 2×4’s serve the dual-purpose of raising the monitor to eye-level and providing a handy space for the keyboard to reside when desk- space is at a premium. Unfortunately I rarely use that latter, pre-planned feature. The keyboard is central to my workflow even when using the Wacom tablet to create or edit pixels and vectors. The hard drive to the right of the under-used notebooks is meant for backups but mostly holds older copies of things I already have newer live copies of (or, worse still, holds unnecessary copies of copies).

It turns out that I’m a little afraid to even go through the work of cleaning off the hard drive for fear of getting lost in what has become a truly ubiquitous time-capsule of everything (instead of just what was deemed to be most important). Fear, in fact, motivates much of my trepidation approaching the cleaning of the desk and the surrounding areas. But fear of what?

time

Time is what I most fear losing. The reframe is simple: I lose time anyway. I wish just saying that you lose time anyway was more motivating. Alas, the human mind is not always rational. Such is life. I find it difficult to get certain things done for fear of losing the time spent getting them done. I might have done something more productive than the thing I’m confident would help most in the future. Again, brains are weird. My poor brain doesn’t want to lose time (that it will “lose” anyway).

I know this is imprudent. That’s the whole reason I’m writing about it. I’m spending unnecessary time on something less productive to fully explore how productive just doing things can be when you just start. And this is a key factor I’ve discovered over the years about myself―

I’m more productive when I’m less efficient.

This sounds either unbelievably stupid or oddly profound. I wish it was wrong. I wish that I could endlessly be driven by efficiency improvements iterated over a lifetime. No matter―the slow way is the productive and efficient way for me. And slow involves some uncomfortable (for me) friends―mainly paper.

paper

I desperately want to like all digital technologies, but I like what I like despite all efforts so far. Paper is the main friend that I’m embarrassed to profit from greatly. Paper―despite what I and many others think―is a technology. It’s hard to think of it as such since it’s not battery-powered. This lack of battery is a feature, not a bug. Recognizing the technology aspect of paper is an important reframe for me as it places paper on the same level as other more interesting and distracting technologies. And this is the core struggle because I’ve known forever that paper makes me more productive (while seemingly less efficient). I hate taking the non-digital step in an ultimately digital process. The problem is that if I don’t take the non-digital paper step I don’t get anything done.

Here’s a drawing I did on an index card a while ago.

wpid-img_20151019_233417.jpg
original drawing on index card.

Listen, I wish I was a better artist but I take that drawing and scan it.

original scan of drawing on index card.
original scan of drawing on index card.

Then I vectorize the image I’ve scanned.

stones-vector
vectorized.

And then I color it and place it back on an index-card-shaped white rectangle floating above the void.

colored in and floating
colored in and floating

That’s a process that I’m using now. I’m trying to own it as the process I use and not focus on the myriad ways I could get lost trying to improve the speed of the process. It’s like that xkcd comic about time―is it worth it to automate?

xkcd―is it worth the time?

For now my answer is no.