expLog

Thinking Clearly

Writing is the most powerful tool for thinking clearly that I know of. 1

Writing things out wonderfully complements my cognitive shortcomings:

At the same time, I'm not used to writing: I have countless pages of notes, plans, half-baked pieces of communication for work; but it's not a tool I intuitively reach for.

Words are hard. Editing is harder.

To that end, I'm aiming towards building a habit by

Obviously I won't be able to publish one article every day; thoughtful writing takes time. Instead, I'll publish drafts and keep iterating on them (including this article).

Tentative Topics

This is a very optimistic list of what I would like to write about; I expect to touch very few of these over the next 100 days.

Deep dives into programming

Motivated by areas I want to learn more about, and tend to be relevant to me professionally.

  • A deep exploration of asyncio in Python, and other event loop implementations in general.
  • HTTP/3, Quic.
  • GDB.
  • Jupyter Internals.
  • Observable programs
  • Concepts in machine learning 3

Tools for Programmers

I've spent a significant portion of my career building tools for engineers; even when that isn't my primary goal I find it extremely valuable to spend at least 10% of my time speeding up the work I'll do.

  • Emacs, themes, plugins, and extensions
  • The Suckless toolkit, particularly dwm and st
  • Building customizable tools

My approach to software engineering

Explicitly writing out how I approach several aspects of Software Engineering. Mainly to consciously review and refine what I do, to become a better engineer, but also to share and get feedback.

These are things I do, and not necessarily things I'm good at: any recommendations and approaches should be evaluated in that context.

  • Reviewing code
  • Debugging problems
  • Ramping up on a project
  • Designing and structuring a program
  • Designing and structuring a programming notebook
  • Organizing and planning work
  • Building feedback loops

Books

The one aspect of my life I have managed to write about somewhat consistently is the books I've read. The most valuable notes I've collected are not notes on a single book, but collections of notes around a single topic collected from many sources.

  • Books on Programming Languages
  • Books on Software Engineering
  • Books on Visualization
  • Books on Photography
  • Books on Writing 4
  • Books on Learning
  • Books on Thinking
  • Books I would like to read

Retrospectives

  • I'm close to completing a decade as a professional Software Engineer, I probably know something worth writing about.
  • Side projects – past, current, and ideas for the future; these might be closer to developer logs for a given project.
  • Various attempts at building productivity systems, and things that stuck – and didn't.

Review

28 days

I've managed to consistently keep writing every day for the past month: it's a good time to take a look at what's working and what's not.

As part of this project, I've "published" four notes (excluding this one), and written a lot more on asyncio. Three of the notes have been on relatively soft – based on opinion and experience – and one was an attempt at re-explaining something valuable. I've also created my own Python tracer on the side, which I hope to open source soon.

I've also captured several notes from books and other resources as an attempt at syntopical reading: my very own wiki / zettelkasten / simple hyperlinked web page. These give me hope towards building a better knowledge-base for myself, as I engage with and write about areas I care about.

It's occasionally been a very exhausting experience, and rewarding when I see readers engage with the contents and reach out to me. That said, I started this exercise as a way to think more clearly, and I can't say I've accomplished that.

Writing regularly has also made it somewhat smoother: words flow more easily, even if I do need to constantly revise them to be readable. I also have a somewhat reasonable workflow around writing and publishing new notes.

Ideally I'd prefer to write about topics I have a hard time understanding, and re-phrasing in my own words makes it more accessible to me (see also: Feynman's methods of study), so those are the topics I'd like to start focusing on after wrapping up the series on asyncio.

Updates

  • 2020-05-16: Set up this post: brainstorming and listing out ideas to write about.
  • 2020-05-17: Started iterating on a post about asyncio, figuring out the outline and how to approach it, both to learn and to write.
  • 2020-05-18: Updated the post on asyncio. I finally understand how asyncio.sleep works!
  • 2020-05-19: Dug deeper into the event loop implementation in asyncio, reaching and stracing epoll. Also submitted a typo fix to cpython.
  • 2020-05-20: Explained where the ioctl calls were coming from (hint: signals). Read about epoll's implementation.
  • 2020-05-21: Started a new parallel article about exploring the Linux Kernel, to allow me to dig into epoll. Set up bcc.
  • 2020-05-22: Dug into the disassembly of the python program, and briefly documented what I found.
  • 2020-05-23: Took a break and wrote about my workflow for planning.
  • 2020-05-24: Forked a new note about setting up and using python-gdb to explore python execution.
  • 2020-05-25: Started writing about tracing asyncio tasks, my secret motivation to start on this series of notes.
  • 2020-05-26: My copy of The Art of Science and Engineering arrived. Taking notes chapter by chapter to take a break from programming after work.
  • 2020-05-27: I started writing about how I approach debugging and realized that I have a lot to say. I should be able to publish this soon.
  • 2020-05-28: Completed a first draft of the post on debugging; I think I have the broader pieces in place but there's still a lot to do.
  • 2020-05-29: Revising, editing and tweaking the post on debugging.
  • 2020-05-30: Revised and edited the post on debugging, created a diagram and added it to the index.
  • 2020-05-31: Wrote about David Sedaris's book. Worked on asyncio tracing, which I'll write about in the future.
  • 2020-06-01: Writing for myself today; about what's going on in the world and my place in it.
  • 2020-06-02: Added a small section to the note on asyncio with the output of my tracer on the minimal async example.
  • 2020-06-03: Spent quite a bit of time scratching my head at the differences between async generators and coroutines.
  • 2020-06-04: Read another chapter of The Art of Doing Science and Engineering and added to my notes.
  • 2020-06-05: For some reason I couldn't stop thinking about learning to use tools, so it seemed appropriate to write about it.
  • 2020-06-06: Edited and published my heuristics for learning to use tools.
  • 2020-06-07: Back to asyncio tracing: explored how to connect async tasks to their actual execution.
  • 2020-06-08: Slowly working through tracing python code, and intercepting task creation to connect it to execution.
  • 2020-06-09: Learned and briefly described the power of sys.settrace. Wrote a summary of Systemantics.
  • 2020-06-10: Split out a new note on sys.settrace.
  • 2020-06-11: Filled in the new note on sys.settrace, and significantly improved my tracing code as I learned more about it.
  • 2020-06-12: Continued iterating on sys.settrace to add examples; I still need to reorganize the content for readability.
  • 2020-06-13: Published the note on sys.settrace. Added brief notes from books on writing.
  • 2020-06-14: Started reviewing this exercise, and my results with it so far.
  • 2020-06-15: Wrapped up the 4 weeks review. Also dug into coroutine creation without actively writing about it.
  • 2020-06-16: Greatly improved my understanding of generators, coroutines, async generators, etc. Added an example to terms.
  • 2020-06-17: Started writing about event loops in general.
  • 2020-06-18: Doing a private retrospective around how I have created – and would like to create value at work.
  • 2020-06-19: Read another chapter of Hamming and took brief notes.
  • 2020-06-20: Wrote a little bit more about event loops. Still struggling with organizing my notes on asyncio.
  • 2020-06-21: I wanted to observe on-cpu time for python code as part of my tracer, and dove into ftrace to figure it out.
  • 2020-06-22: Simulated a random walk.
  • 2020-06-23: Continued iterating on the post on a random walk, realizing I've forgotten a lot of math.
  • 2020-06-24: Added an analytical solutionto determine the root mean square distance, but struggling a little with latex.
  • 2020-06-25: Learned some mathjax and fixed up the solution, iterating on the graphs.
  • 2020-06-26: A few brief notes on books on mathematical thinking that I've been reading lately.
  • 2020-06-27: Some personal notes on the projects I've been working on, why I've been working on them; and others I should start.
  • 2020-06-28: Expanded on coroutines and functions a little bit. Stumbled across PEP 3156.
  • 2020-06-29: Added brief notes from PEP 3156; I wish I'd read this much earlier.
  • 2020-06-30: Started sketching out what a coherent series of posts on asyncio should look like, extracted from the pile of notes I've accumulated.
  • 2020-07-01: Brief addition to my notes on mathematical thinking.
  • 2020-07-02: Added a few more notes from the second chapter on mathematical thinking.
  • 2020-07-03: Continued studying and summarizing introduction to mathematical thinking.
  • 2020-07-04: Worked on a README for my python tracer: panopticon.
  • 2020-07-05: Started another note on asyncio: on the invisible scheduler.
  • 2020-07-06: Continued iterating on the scheduler and getting fairly confused about how Task works.
  • 2020-07-07: Wrote a brief description around how I use tmux.
  • 2020-07-08: Fleshed out my notes on how I use tmux. I should return to my series on asyncio tomorrow, I can finally see the shape in my head.
  • 2020-07-09: Sketched out an outline and structure for to make my somewhat copious notes on asyncio coherent.

Comments or feedback?

Reach out @kunalbhalla, or drop me an email.

1

My experience with increasingly stronger doses of coffee – bullet-proof or other variants, tea and matcha only suggests an increase in speed, and not the quality or clarity of thought.

2

Yes, this is a #100daysofwriting challenge for myself. I've never considered attempting 100 days of anything – except perhaps programming or reading – but a man can dream.

3

I can already hear you groan, but it's something I would like to build depth in, particularly for work. You should feel grateful that I don't have yet another tutorial on Monads in this list.

4

Passing up opportunities to be meta is physically painful for me.

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