James K Nelson

I grew up in a city of cars, with a 2 hour walk to the closest train station. I learned to drive at 18, bought my first car at 20, and drove most days of the week for years. Yet, I'm much happier without a car. In hindsight, car culture feels like a jail that I didn't realize I was born into.

Luckily, all it takes to leave is a one-way flight.

In my adopted city, I don’t need to own a car. I can walk to one of three different train stations within 10 minutes, hop on the train, and be where I want to be – usually – in about 30 minutes. There's always the option to take a taxi, but they're often no faster than the train. And if I really feel like driving, maybe to get out to the distant mountains, there are more car rental shops within walking distance than there are train stations.

Which is not to say that nobody owns a car within this city. Many people do. They're incredibly useful tools. The thing is, at least where I live, they’re optional. You can choose to live without one, and many people actually do. Because in a city designed for people, life can actually be better that way.

Have you ever marveled at the absurdity of putting dinosaurs who’ve never used a computer in charge of a nation’s cyber security? Seriously, these fuckers look like they’d have trouble securing a fax machine, let alone a country’s cyberspace.

But wait a minute… cyber? We haven’t used that term for decades, plural. The next thing you know, we’ll have a minister for the information superhighway.

This whole thing really isn’t funny though. You know, the thing where a couple weeks ago, hackers got damn close to messing with the chemicals in a major city’s water supply.

It sounds like a Black Mirror episode, but it’s not. It’s real, it’s a disaster waiting to happen, and I have no idea what to do about it other than to make bad jokes and start prepping for the fall of civilization.

Or maybe I should invest in bottled water companies. After all, today’s (near) catastrophe is tomorrow’s opportunity!

They say that if your taxi driver is talking about how you gotta buy in to the stock market, it's probably time to get out of the stock market.

So let me tell you a little story. One day last week, I met six different people, and each and every one decided to talk with me about the stock market. Including the bartender. None of the six had ever talked about it with me before.

This means that it's time to get into the stock market, right?

Locked down in Tokyo

Tokyo. A city with tens of millions of people. And yet, nobody has the patience for strangers.

If you ask me though? It's a good thing. I certainly don't want hundreds of passersby each day trying to practice English with me. Besides, in Tokyo there are the accepted ways to meet new people; bars, events, work. Within the desert of human interaction, there are social oases.

But with COVID? Those oases have all dried up. Bars close at 8pm. Events don't open at all. Work happens in your shoebox apartment. Now you can never even leave your office.

I imagine a real desert would be kinder. At least out there, you wouldn't be confronted with the existence of others, so close but so far, each time you need to leave the house for food. Each time you decide to brave the pollen-smothered sun.

It's funny. Japan has the distinction that despite being in the middle of a raging pandemic, despite the rapidly aging population, it recorded a large drop in its mortality rate last year.

Yet, the suicide rate has gone up, especially amongst the youth. Which begs the question.

Is it really an achievement that less people are dying, if more people want to?

Despite COVID, or maybe because of it, the rich are getting richer. In fact, according to recent data, U.S. billionaires alone have seen a wealth increase of $1.3 trillion over the last year.

This makes me wonder. Are the rich getting richer in absolute terms? Or just comparative ones?

To put it another way, is the value of their assets growing? Or is the value of currency – a dollar, a yen, or a euro – shrinking?

Is the value of the world’s stocks, housing and bitcoin growing? Or is the value of your food, wages and rent decreasing?

Is the value of the economy as a whole and the companies within it rapidly expanding during a decade-defining global pandemic? Or… is something else happening?

Are the wealthy really getting wealthier? Or are they just becoming far, far more powerful?

Wealth and Power

Last week, I went for a walk past Hama Rikyu Gardens. And just in case you've never heard of Hama Rikyu Gardens before, let me give you a little intro. To start with, it's a garden (duh). It's located on a 250,216 m² artificial island, first constructed for the imperial family in the 1600s. It was built with hands and god-damn shovels. And it got me thinking.

Who in today's world could convince enough people to work for enough hours to quarry that sand and stone by hand, cart it to the coast by hand, build a huge artificial island by hand, and then build a beautiful park as the cherry on top? Like, literally. There are cherry blossom trees on it.

Xi Jinping probably could. Putin probably could too – look, the workers don't have to be happy about it. I figure Bezos could if he suddenly decided he'd rather have a hand-made garden island instead of one of the world's largest companies. Hell, Musk probably could too, all it’d take is convincing a bunch of wealthy chumps that funding his garden island would somehow save the planet.

But President Biden? Probably not. Your wealthy uncle? It's unlikely. Internet celebrities? Tell 'em they're dreaming.

It's funny. 4 billion of us own a magical glass window to all the information the world has ever known, and a billion of us own a vehicle that can tirelessly take us wherever we need to go. If you’re reading this, then you probably have more wealth than history's greatest kings could ever have dreamed of. But power? It’s something else entirely, and it's as rare today as it ever has been.

Puppies Are Shit

Imagine that I were to say to you that "puppies are shit"; they ate my lego when I was a kid. Obviously, I'm not telling you that all puppies are shit – just the ones that ate my lego. But I am telling you that I think that puppies are shit – after all, that's exactly what I said. I could have said instead that they're cute little balls of cuddles that sometimes do shitty things like eating my lego. But I didn't. I said that they're shit. They're lego-destroying monsters. Still, some of them I assume are good puppies.

But imagine now that you're talking with a man. Like a puppy, this man belongs to a group with its fair share of assholes. Still, when you tell your friend that "men are shit", you're not saying that all men are shit, and it's only fair to expect him to understand that. It's only fair to expect him to be calm, rational, and reasonable as you tell him that men are shit.

Seriously. If he were a truly rational man, then instead of being angry at you for lumping him in with a bunch of dickheads, he'd sit there, listen, and try to understand. He'd direct the anger he feels at the assholes who wronged you; the wankers who gave men like him a bad name in the first place.

And indeed, if I were truly a rational man, then if someone were to tell me that "men are shit", I would probably say "I know, and I'm sorry". Math says that with 4 billion of us, we certainly have our fair share of assholes. Hell, I'm probably one of them.

But what I'm not is a truly rational man. None of us are. We're human like the rest of you. So please stop telling us that men are shit. It doesn't help. It just hurts.

A recent episode of Last Week Tonight had a quote about COVID-19 which really jumped out at me:

One estimate for the cost of global prevention runs between $22 and $31 billion dollars a year but… the cost of COVID-19 in the U.S. alone is estimated to be over $16 trillion.

So to put it mildly, it's fucking worth it.

Wow. The cost of COVID-19 is roughly 1000 times greater than the cost of prevention? That's absurd. But even so, it’s not the part that stood out to me on my first watch through. I can't do mental math that fast, not while watching that brooding mountain (snap off my toes, you big, unwashed buffalo).

No, the bit that stood out to me is the "it's fucking worth it". Because it's missing an important qualifier.

Who is it worth it for?

Sure, when looking at the $16 trillion cost to the U.S. as whole, then almost any price of prevention would be worth it. But the thing is, throughout this pandemic, the rich have actually become richer. Far richer. In fact, according to The Guardian, the wealth of ten billionaires alone has increased by 400 billion dollars during this pandemic. 

And what's more, it's the billionaires that control the government's purse strings. Because according to this recent study, "business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

If it actually made sense for those in power to deal with COVID, then they would.

But for the super wealthy? Today’s global catastrophes are tomorrow’s global opportunities. And nobody becomes that wealthy by letting good opportunity go to waste.

Language has a funny way of dragging the past kicking and screaming into the present. Which is an odd thing to say, really, because time drags everything with it, willing or unwilling. But… have you ever noticed how some words fade into uncouthness, while still demanding use in surprisingly common situations?

Like, have you ever caught yourself saying the word “supermarket”, and wondered how on earth this anachronism of a word managed to ride the English language unchallenged into the 21st century? I mean, imagine how the word would sound with an extra space. “I’m just heading down to the super market to pick up some milk”. It sounds like you’re in some kind of 70s sci-fi horror film.

Today, while I was waiting for the train, someone walked behind me right as the train arrived, right as I was standing at the edge of the platform. The thought crossed my mind, all it would take for this person to kill me would be a small nudge. An accidental slip. And yet, they didn’t do it. Why?

Why is it that in a world where strangers can push you in front of trains, drive into you with cars, drop things on you from bridges and buildings, and ruin your day in an assortment of other ways, why is it that they don’t?

When I was growing up, I was taught that humans are evil at their heart. I was taught that we’re rotten at our core — that’s what The Bible says, you know.

But you know what? The Bible is fucking wrong. Humans are — as a rule — kind, caring, and beautiful. And anyone who thinks otherwise can go ask someone at a train station why they’re not pushing passersby in front of trains.

How many hours in a day?

You've seen the title, and you're probably wondering what the catch is. You don't write a full paragraph (or more) about the good news that yes, in fact, there really are only 24 hours in a day. So what gives? Well, since you asked...

Say that on your birthday, you just happened to be in New Zealand at midnight. The timezone is UTC+13, thanks to daylight savings time. You hop on a plane, and fly to American Samoa the long way around – first passing over Australia, then Africa and South America, before finally landing at Pago Pago International Airport at 23:59. It's still your birthday, but now in the timezone UTC-11.

All up, your flight was 48 hours long – and so was your birthday!

Speaking of which, have you ever gotten annoying happy birthday emails from companies trying to sell you shit the day before or after your birthday? It's probably because they don't know what timezone you're in. So here's a neat little trick: just do a round-the-world trip from New Zealand to American Samoa on your birthday! Now the emails will always arrive on time! Problem solved.

I finally watched The Social Dilemma last night, and it was, I thought, a very thorough exploration of the issues with social media. At times, it felt like the producers had read my mind and turned it into a film. Like when this quote appeared on screen:

“There are only two industries that call their customers 'users': illegal drugs and software” – Edward Tufte

I wrote about this just a few weeks ago. Calling people users grinds my gears. That’s why on this site, you’re a member – not a user.

Then, they started talking about how big tech tries to model our behavior, how we’re just math to them. Which it just so happens I’d written the very morning before I watched it.

Of course, The Social Dilemma does most of these topics more justice than I’ll ever be able to do in my one or more daily paragraphs. So if you haven’t seen it already, I’d highly recommend you give it a watch, all the way to the credits, because they’ve got some great rules on how to avoid being sold into the attention economy yourself at the end.

The book I keep closest

For the past 5 years, the book that has usually been closest to me is a textbook from my statistics days called "The Analysis of Time Series". I guess I've always had a hunch that time series are important. They appear everywhere. The stock markets are a time series, the universe is a time series. But to me, the most important time series is, well, us. Our brain. It’s a series of inputs and outputs that change over time.

The thing about time series being that you can model them. You can predict how one input will affect future outputs.

Take the profession of teaching, for example. From a mathematical perspective, teaching is the task of finding and applying inputs – words and visual aids – that will effectively change all future outputs. It’s changing people’s brains by talking with them.

Or take the profession of brainwashing, for example. It’s the same damn thing, just with (typically) less useful changes in the output, and less finesse applied on the inputs.

It’s easy to see that with the right mathematical tools, the behavior of human beings can be modeled. And wouldn’t you know it, there are entire departments dedicated to finding efficient ways to predict how the content you’re fed will affect your future actions.

There are entire departments dedicated to finding ways to tweak your thoughts and actions. And then we wonder how modern life got so stressful.

It’s now been one month since I started writing these daily paragraphs, and one of the biggest surprises for me is that I’ve managed to pull it off at all. I honestly didn’t expect that I’d actually be able to publish something – however low the quality – for 31 days in a row.

Now that I have though, I think it’s the perfect time to take a short break.

Thanks for reading along so far! I’ll be back with more daily paragraphs in a week’s time – I hope to see you then!

I think I’ve finally figured it out. I think I’ve finally realized what this appsite is missing.

The Daily Paragraph is missing a way to interact with the authors.

So what exactly should this mechanism look like?

Well for starters, it should not look like a “like” button. Healthy communication requires more finesse than that single syllable can provide. Especially in a medium where non-verbal communication is off limits. And especially when many things worth writing are not things that you’d want people to “like”. Hell, the original “like” button wasn’t designed for communication in the first place; it was designed to track you and gather your personal information. Yet despite this, or maybe because of this, liking has become the default way to communicate on the internet. This needs to change.

So should the communication mechanism look like a “comment” button instead? I’d argue against it. Comment buttons are the opposite of like buttons; they raises the barrier to communication so high as to make you think twice – at least for genuine communication. Because the thing is, comment buttons aren’t really for communication with the author at all. They’re for performance. It’s like they were designed for narcissists and bullies… yes, I understand the irony of me writing this. Takes one to know one, I guess. But I digress.

So what this appsite is missing is not a like button, nor a comment button. But what it is missing is a way for you to share a little bit of your day with the author that shared with you. A way to interact without making a performance of it. A way to communicate like humans again.

What The Daily Paragraph is missing is a “mail” button. So I guess I better start building it.

I’ll probably charge for stamps.

I feel like I’ve been writing too much lately. I feel like if I aim to do something every day, it’s important to have days where I don’t do a particularly good job at it. I don’t want to end up in a position where without realizing it, I’ve raised my standards to the point that, on a bad day, I can’t meet them. So this is all that I’m writing today. It’s not that special, and that’s exactly the point.

A few people have asked me about this site, wondering “what’s the point? what will it achieve?” And while it’s hard to say how deep this rabbit hole will eventually go, what I can tell you is what I’m working towards.

My project here is to give people – to give you – all the good that the internet has to offer, without the faustian bargain that usually comes with it. To connect you with fascinating people and ideas, and then to get out of the way. To take back the power to decide where your attention goes. To treat you as a partner - not a product.

I can’t do this by myself though, and part of treating you as a partner is that I need your help. So if you have stories to share, if you know someone whose stories you’d like to hear, or if you would like to write code with me, then please send me an email at james@thedailyparagraph.com!

Let’s take back the internet from the advertisers.

People in Tech

For the past month, I’ve been using this website to rant about tech companies. But throughout it all, there’s something that I’ve avoided talking about: companies aren’t automatons. They don’t just do what they do of their own accord.

In the real world, companies are made of people. And usually good people. It’s cliche, but people in tech mostly do want to make the world a better place.

So how is it that these same people end up spending their lives enriching the likes of Zuckerberg and Bezos?

This is a tricky question, and I doubt there’s a simple answer for it. But there’s one thing that I do know: Nobody takes a job at Facebook because they want to make the world angry. Nobody takes a job at Amazon because they want to put its suppliers out of businesses. Nobody joins Twitter to distract people.

Putting my rants aside for a moment, I have to admit that on occasions, big tech companies actually do provide a lot of value. And while everyone has their reasons for taking a job, for the most part, it’s because they see the positives. They start out wanting to help.

They want to help — that is — until an asshole like me comes along and asks them to answer for the rest of their company’s crimes, putting them on the defensive, making an enemy of the very people who can effect change.

So how do we fix tech without alienating the people in it? I’m honestly not sure. Ranting on the internet sure won’t help, but joining big tech doesn’t seem to work either. There’s one thing that’s certain though: whatever happens, the people in tech will still need to pay the bills. And if we can give them a way to do that while helping others, I think a lot of them would take us up on the offer.

Did you know that the most valuable company in the history of the world made it’s money not by selling software, not by selling electric cars, not by doing anything tech related, and indeed, not by doing anything that we’d spare a thought for in the modern world at all.

The richest company in the history of the world got that way by selling spices – and at prices that’d make you blush. But they weren’t a farming company. They were a colonial company; a private navy. They plundered the eastern world, and made bank in the process.

Luckily, colonialism is over now. I know, because I bought a jar of spices on the weekend, and the remarkable thing is how thoroughly unremarkable it was to do so. You know, because it’s not colonialism if it’s legal.

In math and engineering, there’s a thing called a forcing function, which is often used to describe the inputs to a system. When you take away the input, you get what’s called a transient state, before eventually, a steady state.

Imagine for a moment that you close your eyes, put in your ear plugs, and enter your sensory deprivation chamber (why do you have a sensory deprivation chamber?) What you’ve done, in mathematical terms, is taken away your forcing function; you’ve taken away your inputs. And the question is, what happens then? What’s your transient state? What’s your steady state?

I find this to be a fascinating question, not so much because of any particular answer, but because of the implications of every answer.

The very fact your thoughts change when you take away your inputs, implies that your inputs change your thoughts. Or thinking of the inputs as a forcing function to a differential equation, the environment forces your thoughts; it drives them. Your senses keep you moving in concert with the outside world.

Take away the stimulus from your senses though, and your thoughts enter a transient state; a state that depends only on your own inner world.

If you stayed in this state forever, you’d end up in a steady state, which… you probably don’t want. But if you re-apply the forcing function again at a later time, there’s — mathematically speaking — a chance that you’ll end up responding to the inputs in a different way than you did before.

If you want proof for all of this, you can go study up on differential equations.

But if that sounds like a lot of work to you, the thing is, all I’m really trying to say is, if you take a break, you’ll sometimes solve a problem faster than if you just keep at it for hours on end. And there just so happens to be math that proves it!

Urchin

Did you know that most every page on the internet has Google’s urchin embedded in it?

Yep, an urchin. That spiny little sea creature that looks like it could stick itself into anything and you’d never get it out. At least, that’s the image I assume they had in mind when they named it that way, many many years ago. Google was looking to stick their tentacles into every little nook and cranny.

I guess someone realized that it wasn’t a good look though, so they renamed it. It’s now called Google Analytics.

If you’ve ever run a website, you’ve heard of Google Analytics. It’s the tool that you use to see how many people are viewing your site. Which pages they’re viewing, and for how long. What times of day they’re viewing them at. What phones and devices they’re using. Which countries and cities they’re in. How engaged they are. How often they come back. How hooked they are.

Google Analytics is an incredible tool, especially for its price: it’s absolutely free — for the developers, at least. And that’s why website owners use it. They get access to a bunch of pretty graphs, and it costs them nothing. Nada. Zilch.

But somebody has to pay the pied piper.

The thing about Google Analytics – Google’s urchin – is that all that data it collects about your customers? Google has access to it too – along with the data from basically every other site on the web. And when combined with Google’s data on what they watch on YouTube, and what they view in Chrome, and what they use their Android phone for… Google basically knows your customers better than they know themselves.

Or more to the point, Google knows most everyone’s customers better than they know themselves, because half of the internet — yes, PornHub included — has that darn urchin embedded in it.

So let me ask you: do you read the internet?

Other than on this site I mean. You’ll always be safe from urchins here!

Organizing The World’s Information

Of all the big tech companies, it’s somehow Google that creeps me out the most.

Google’s not like the other companies. Where Twitter is just dumb, Amazon just wants to rule the world, Facebook just feels like a cartoon villain and Apple just wants to sell expensive trinkets, Google feels harder to understand. It doesn’t seem to have any clear purpose.

Luckily for us, Google has a public mission statement; the company’s purpose is to "organize the world's information". And actually, they do a pretty darn good job at it.

Remember back when encountering a new word meant that you’d need to open a dictionary and painstakingly look the word up? Now you just type it into Google. And the same happens for new concepts; instead of cracking open Encyclopedia Britannica, you’ll use Google to search through Wikipedia. Hell, for programmers, our job basically involves using Google to find code on Stack Overflow and GitHub, then copying and and pasting that code and getting paid for it.

So unquestionably, Google does a great job at organizing the world’s information – and at “making it universally accessible and useful” – the second part of its mission statement.

But wait a minute… what information is Google making universally accessible and useful? That’s hard to know. But it stands to reason that Google can only make information accessible that it has access to. And well, since you asked…

Do you or your contacts have a gmail account? Then Google reads your email.

Do you or your friends have an Android phone? Then Google sees your photos and listens to your calls.

Do you ever google things that you’d rather keep to yourself? Google never forgets.

Do you have a Google Home?

Is that Google Home near the bedroom?

Well to be fair, even if it is, it’s probably not the only microphone in your bedroom. There’s a good chance that Apple or Amazon are listening in too. But somehow, Google still creeps me out more.

After all, Apple and Amazon just want to sell you more stuff. But despite Google’s mission statement, or maybe because of it, I still don’t know what Google wants.

All I know is that I can’t live without it.

Have you ever typed something into Google, just to see what it suggests next? If not, I highly recommend it as a way to kill 15 minutes. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating window into our AI overlords’ opinions of us lowly humans.

For example, say you type “I want to” into Google. In response, it’ll suggest that you may want to hold my hand, break free, or eat my pancreas (Google’s idea, not mine). Or, say you type “shit”; Google politely assumes that you’re thinking of Shitake mushrooms.

More soberly, if you type “I’m scared of” into Google, its best guess is that you’re scared of dying – followed closely by commitment.

Wait, actually, that’s probably what Google thinks about me.

Curiously, if you type “Fuck You” into Google, it can read the room well enough to hold off on further suggestions. Either that, or the engineers hard-coded an exception when they realized how often Google was suggesting that it should go fuck itself.

Design is fascinating.

On the surface, design appears to be concerned with what you can add, what you can change. But anyone can copy a design with a few changes on the way.

What really takes work though, is to remove what you can from a design, without breaking it. To understand what each and every individual piece does, and leave only what is required.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”.

Today, I walked past an old man just sitting on his front porch, watching the world go by.

Imagine that, just sitting there. Not searching for the next useful nugget of information, the next way to make a difference. Not worrying what the rest of the world thinks, but not withdrawing from it either. Just sitting there. Watching.

Can you imagine that? The funny thing is, I’m not sure I can.

I think I’m just going to have to try it.

One of the only constants over the past couple hundred years has been change. Change that just keeps getting faster and faster. Life that just keeps getting faster and faster.

Why walk when you have a bike? Why ride when you can take the train? Why share a train with the unwashed masses when you can get to your destination faster and in more comfort with your car? And why be happy with that miracle of modern industry when the movies tell you the darn thing should fly?

Why travel to visit someone when you can send a letter? Why go to the effort of writing if you can just call them on the phone? Or send them an email? Or an instant message? Or a like?

Why go see the world, when you can read about it? Or watch it on tv? Or get fed it through your phone?

It almost feels like we measure progress by speed. The faster, the easier, the better. And indeed, having the option to consult the oracle in your pocket is one of the wonders of the modern world.

It’s hard to argue that we’d be any better off by needing to drive to the library to learn something new, or by waiting for weeks for our letter to arrive at its destination.

But have we really gained anything from the ability to spray out 140-character messages without a moment’s thought, distracting others with industrial efficiency?

Have we really gained anything from the ability to like a friend’s comment so easily, that it makes us think twice before replying with “thank you”?

It begs the question; how fast does life really need to be?

Before starting this appsite, I used to write a lot about a software tool called React. I enjoyed writing about React; it helped people. Sometimes, I’d get emails from people saying how my writing had helped them land a promotion or a new job, or simply saying thank you. It felt nice to know that I was helping people. But at the same time, I was conflicted.

You see, React is an open-source project, but it’s owned by Facebook. As regular readers will know, I don’t like Facebook. I do want to help give new developers a leg up, but I don’t want to help increase Facebook’s control over the internet ecosystem. I don’t want to help streamline their hiring pipeline. Seriously. Let me explain why.

At one point, one of the core React team called me from Facebook’s offices. They told me, I shit you not, that my free React learning resources were better than Facebook’s internal material.

I was basically acting as volunteer training staff and documentation engineer for Facebook.

The Facebook employee also told me that if there’s anything they could do to help, I should ask. I wanted help. At the time, everything I’d written was free; it was out of nothing but a desire to help. I wanted funding to write more. But when pressed on what kind of help they could provide, one suggestion was that they could retweet some of my articles.

A tweet for documentation that’s better than what one of the largest companies in the world could produce for one of their most valuable open-source projects? Fuck that shit.

It’s sad. I liked writing about React. I liked helping people learn skills that can help them earn more. But right now, I’m not sure how to give others a leg up without acting as free tech support for huge companies that I disagree with.

I want to write open-source, and I want to teach people new skills. I’m just not sure how to do so without acting like a goddamn chump.

So I have this problem lately, where I don’t know what to call this… thing. This project. Because even if it’s a website, it’s not just a website. Hell, right now, it’s more word processor and misguided attempt to reinvent the wheel than website.

And the thing is, eventually it’ll also have native phone apps for publishing and reading on the go. It must, because only old people and weirdos use computers in this day and age. Yes, I am aware that I’m currently writing this on a computer, and you may well be reading it in the same outdated fashion. But I digress. Even if the project has an app, it’s not an app, because anything published from the app will also be available on the website, crawled on by search engines, taken out of context on by social media.

Maybe that’s what this is? Social Media? But that sounds kind of dirty. Nobody wants to be a social network. Besides, it’s not a social network. That’s what you call, you know, social networks. Those things we used to have in the real world. Lest we forget.

I think we need a new word for appsites like this. That’s what it is! It’s an appsite! I’m going to start calling it The Appsite and everybody is going to cringe and I’m going to keep doing it anyway. The Daily Paragraph is an appsite. The Appsite. Fuck the establishment I’m building an appsite!

Where do you come up with all this?

A few people have asked me this lately. It's a fun question, because it gets right to the core of this website.

If you've decided to write a paragraph a day, then you have to write a paragraph a day.

Notably, you don't have to think that your paragraph is great, or even good. But you do have to write. And because of this, you start to pay attention to things. You start to grab hold of phantom thoughts that’d otherwise meld into the melange of daily existence. Thoughts like, "that's funny, this fruit is shaped like a little tokamak." And then you write about them, and discover that even when publishing for lack of anything better to say, from time to time, people actually enjoy what you’ve written.


What I've discovered in my sixish years of blogging is that I'm not terribly good at predicting what people will enjoy. Long pieces that I pour my heart into are often flops. Short pieces that I threw out because why not often end up being amongst my most popular. But not always. Really, it's just impossible to know.

What I do know is that each time I sit down and start writing, it's like buying a lottery ticket. I'll probably waste 5 minutes of my readers' time (although I don't feel particularly bad about this when the rest of the internet exists). But I might brighten somebody’s day. And lucky for me, humans tend to wear rose colored glasses; with time, they'll forget the filler, and just remember the parts worth remembering.

What I do know is that the more I write – the more any of us write – the more chance we'll have of coming up with all this.

Have you ever thought it a little odd how posts to The Daily Paragraph seldom end after a single paragraph? So yes, I admit, it’s false advertising. This website is not about writing a paragraph a day. The truth is, it’s designed to encourage me to write anything at all.

But then, why call it The Daily Paragraph? Well, a single, daily paragraph is an easy goal to meet. It’s too easy. If I’m physically capable of meeting it, I probably will. My pride gets in the way of failure. And it just so happens that once I’ve written one paragraph, I often want to write another.

I did consider calling the site The Daily One Or More Paragraphs. It’d be more accurate. It just… doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Today, I have a question for you. And I want you to be sure of your answer before continuing. Deal? So here’s the question:

Do you think programming languages are designed to be read by humans? Or computers?


Just in case you’ve never seen a programming language before, let me list out a quick program right here. In fact, if you’re reading this on a desktop computer, you can actually run this program yourself – just open up your browser’s developer tools, write this out into the Console tab, and hit enter.

for (let i = 99; i > 0; i--) {
  console.log(`${i} bottles of beer on the wall,`)
  console.log(`${i} bottles of beeeeer`)
  console.log(`Take one down, pass it around, and...`)
  console.log(`${i-1} bottles of beer on the wall!`)
  console.log(``)
}

So what does this program do? It just prints out the lyrics for the song “99 bottles of beer on the wall”. All 396 lines of it. And that’s despite the fact that the program is just six lines long.

More succinctly, this program automates the process of producing lyrics. It describes the lyric-production process in such a way that the computer is able to reliably follow the instructions, time after time after time.

But how is it that the computer can look at the above code, and actually execute it? After all, the computer only understands ones and zeros; pulses of high and low voltage inside electronic circuits.

In fact, in order for the computer to understand your code, it needs an interpreter. It needs the code to be translated from a string of characters, into a list of syntax tokens, into a tree of syntax nodes, into a list of instructions, and finally into their binary representation as ones and zeros.


Once upon a time, humans actually set the ones and zeros by hand. Then they got lazy, and invented programming languages, and compilers – programs that teach the computer how to translate those languages into ones and zeros.

That’s the funny thing; programming languages actually create more work for computers. They’re designed for humans, and unabashedly so.