Brackish Notebook, Spring 2021
NOTES / Brackish Notebook / Spring 2021

🌔 Monday, May 24th • The bug that never ended

I’ve spent the last month working on a really gnarly bug on that has consumed every extra minute. It started with a report that some emails weren’t going out. 

This led to a realization that the way I was integrating with Amazon’s “simple email service” had been deprecated. Ah, simply upgrade the way I’m integrating with Amazon’s “simple email service” then, you say? 

This led me to try to upgrade the plugin I was using to work with Amazon’s API, but the plugin required a newer version of Ruby on Rails (the app framework that 750 Words is written in, and that I hadn’t upgraded for 10 years — oops). 

Of course, this would be a huge task (and a big reason why I hadn’t done it in 10 years). After looking for any other way around it, I bit the bullet.

Of course, newer versions of Rails require newer versions of Ruby (the programming language that Rails is built on top of), so I’d have to upgrade that on both my laptop and on the servers. Ugh.

I ended up also having to replace the webserver and a billion Ruby gems that had very complicated web of interlocking dependencies with one another. 

But a couple weeks in (I am also parenting children and planning birthdays and other things required of living humans in society) I got to the bottom of the stack of problems, replaced that bottom-most brick, and then began re-stacking everything back on top. And then realized that I had over-upgraded Ruby for the version of Ruby on Rails that I was willing to commit to (a version still over 5 years old). And so I went back down to the bottom-most brick, swapped it out again, and then re-stacked everything again. 

And I was able to get some emails to send again. 

Now I have this upgraded version of the site that can do things in the background like send emails and process metadata and make analytics and such, but in order for it to replace the website that is being used I’ll need to upgrade pretty much every file with new syntax and methods for doing things in the newer way. And lots of tests to write. 

Software may be digital but it ages like any other physical thing.  

🌔 Thursday, April 22nd • First take on an emotion cube

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about various systems for categorizing emotions, and have of course found a plethora of different attempts.

One way that I like to try to understand something better is to come up with a framework for it, and then comparing and refining that framework based on existing frameworks. Seeing where things line up and where things don’t, and using that as a way to identify edges that might need more work or a different approach entirely. 

Most frameworks seem to have a dimension for pleasant vs unpleasant emotions, which I think makes sense… it’s generally pretty easy to intuit that feeling peaceful is pleasant and feeling restless is unpleasant. 

Most frameworks also have a dimension for high energy and low energy emotions, which also make sense. Feeling enraged is a high energy feeling, and feeling indifferent is a low energy feeling. 

Then there are a handful of dimensions that seem to pop up in a few frameworks, but not in very many. Like the dimension of high control vs low control. Being angry is an emotion we use to exert control, while being sad or afraid seem to be emotions that we feel when we have less control. 

The wheel itself seems to be universal in most of these frameworks. A few have a table instead of a wheel, but both of these are for the most part two-dimensional. But they also imply some kind of continuity between neighbors, and that’s where I feel like most of them fall apart. In Plutchik’s wheel, for instance, anticipation is right next to anger which is right next to disgust which is right next to sadness. While it’s probably possible to confabulate a reason why these emotions are side-by-side, it doesn’t seem to be part of the model so much as the fact that they also have opposites. And in the Geneva model, are we supposed to infer that contempt is more pleasant than disgust, and that joy is more pleasant than elation? And is elation an emotion of higher control than joy? These implications of the diagrams don’t really jump out to me as true. 

I think emotions have more nuance than these 2-dimensional frameworks can really account for. So I added a 3rd dimension and turned it from a wheel to a cube to see if that helped at all.  
The three dimensions are pleasant vs unpleasant, high energy vs low energy, and a third dimension that I’m calling discontent vs acceptance, which I’ll explain in a bit. The first 2 are pretty much taken from Plutchik’s wheel, which I think seems to be my favorite of the wheels because these two dimensions are pretty easy to understand and intuit from an emotion word. Anger is high energy and unpleasant. Feeling peaceful is low energy and pleasant. The third dimension isn’t one we intuit, but one that represents our internal response to the emotion. When we feel unpleasant, and have a lot of energy, we can respond to that by becoming angry and deciding to fix the problem that’s causing this. On the other hand, think about being halfway through a race and how unpleasant and high energy that feels… and yet, we accept this as the state of things and are determined to push through it… that’s excitement and eagerness and an emotion that helps us strive for a goal. I think that’s a really important distinction to make and also something that is in our control when we think about our emotions. If we’re feeling low energy, but pleasant, and we fight that emotion we feel sorta stubborn and immovable, and maybe skeptical of whatever’s causing this. On the other hand, if we accept this low energy, pleasant, feeling, maybe we can shift it into a state of relaxation and peacefulness. The words here aren’t perfect. It’s just a first take. But I enjoyed getting this far with it and will continue to iterate on it. 

🌒 Saturday, April 17th • Personal calendars

I had a weird thought that came to me half in sleep and half throughout the day about a way to relate to calendars and maps in a more mythic way. Because calendars and maps are… as some are wont to say… not the territory. Time and space are constructs, in that there’s nothing about them that isn’t a fictional (but useful) artifact that has been created to help us achieve certain goals. Like coordinating. And agreeing on boundaries. They are tools for making contracts within groups and between groups of people. Anyway. 

The idea is to make the contract aspect of calendars more explicit, and to allow more wiggle room and specifics into that contract making. And to give myself, and others, ways of talking about how we’d might improve the contracts we make about space and time. 

One example is daylight savings time. That silly convention that was started during WWII to save electricity during the war efforts. Lots of people think it’s too confusing to switch clocks twice a year. But we also have no way of editing this contract on our own… we just go with whatever the law is. What if there was a way of saying that I prefer a clock that is in daylight savings time year round, or that is sans daylight savings time year round? We already have ways of adjusting for time zones, but they’re all determined geographically.