#011: inner feedback loops • family language exchange • visual calculators

Welcome to the eleventh edition of Ephemerata, a weekly-ish digest of links, ideas, learnings, and sounds that I think are worth sharing.


I’m doing this to stimulate discussion around what I find interesting, and also to share things before they disappear into the void of my journal.

Thanks to Andy for contributing to my Open Collective this week.


In preparing to give a tiny concert for a friend this week, I audio recorded myself playing guitar while singing and listened back to it immediately after. I tried to do this at least once per day and ended up with four or five sessions repeating this process with the same set of songs. I wrote about the transformational experience that resulted.


I will be hosting my Music and Emotion Sharing Circle on July 31st as part of the Interintellect community; if you don’t know them, it’s a friendly network of strangers that like to have deep conversations on all kinds of topics. Music lovers welcome.

Participants are encouraged to bring music to share during the event. We will listen collectively to your music, and then discuss what it provokes in us. The objective is to encourage understanding of how music makes others feel, not really whether someone ‘likes’ it.


I spend a while playing with the toys at Math Easel, which proposes ‘new ways to calculate’ and asks ‘What if numbers were more like art?’.

The site features a bunch of interactive visual calculators that are fun to tinker with and make the space malleable, very much in the spirit of Explorable Explanations and some of Bret Victor’s work. If I only worked on data visualization projects, I would do this kind of thing.

The calculators for inflation, tips, and compound interest demonstrate how variables can be set and manipulated in multiple ways—this allows you to think about it from different points of view simultaneously, in contrast to ‘simple elegant apps’ where the way of thinking about the calculations has been designed into the interface.

I appreciate the consistent visual language between calculators. They also have a cool new weather app which I believe is available only in the United States at the moment.


If you’re enjoying this, consider contributing to my Open Collective. Virtually everything I create is public, accessible for free, and open-source. Your support helps me keep adding to the commons and making it available for everyone.



Family language exchange

I used to help my father learn French via informal conversations. We would talk and pick words or phrases that might be useful to learn, then make flashcards in Kommit to review over time (one side French, the other in English). He learned a lot just by repeating phrases through regular meetings with me and reviewing cards with the app.

This week we took it to a new level to make it less one-sided and also to reconnect with our cultural heritage. If you aren’t aware, it’s common that people from India speak English at home, even amongst each other, despite having other mother tongues. This happens for various reasons, but the result is that parents don’t pass it on to their children, tending to favour more ‘useful’ languages like English, and the younger generation (like me) grows up without speaking it. As a way to push against this we changed from French-English cards to French-Hindi cards: this way we can both learn from each other while keeping alive an important link to our past.

For our first session, I invited my whole family and recorded the video call for anyone who couldn’t make it. The result was a pretty fruitful experience, with a sense that all participants (including myself) are equally students—this feels potent, powerful, and productive. It’s also just fun, like playing a game together, and works even during a pandemic.

I would encourage other people to try this. I was overwhelmed sometimes figuring out how to organize everything, but maybe as the process becomes more clear, and if those present approve, I might share a video in the future to help show how this all works.

Linus Lee shares a visual reflection on multi-meaning language:

The Korean phrase “지켜줄게” is one such untranslatable phrase. It means something in between “I’ll protect you” and “I got your back” and “I’ll be here for you”, but not quite any one of those.

It promises trust and companionship and love and commitment.


Some wisdom from @visakanv in pay it forward and being smart vs being kind

[The coolest thing to say when receiving gratitude is not “you’re welcome” but “pass it on”.]
[Nourishment leads to more growth than coddling.]
[Like babies, challenge ideas not when they are fragile but when they have grown legs.]

A conversation about my experience with dating apps, resulted in a contemplation on the difference between two approaches: (via @flying_fisher)

[The difference between thinking ‘How does this person fit my ideal?’ versus ‘Here is a unique person. How can perceive them as they are?’]

Sometimes we need to help ourselves when our desires are realized:

[We might find ourselves in shock to get what we want. This can impede us from enjoying the experience. We can recognize this and adjust ourselves to gradually bring ourselves out of shock and more into balance.]

One of those things, supremely human and beyond description, that teachers can do for/with their students to start the day with radiance. So much to learn from Brazil—ensina pra gente, Brasil. (via Judy)


Linus Lee writes about the implications of ownership without necessarily focusing on the technical aspects:

Future ownership – ownership over something’s destiny – means that we don’t have to prepare against the possibility of losing access to what we own. When we own the future of something, we can make deep, long-term investments into it with the expectation that we’ll continue to own them and reap the benefits of our investments. In owning something’s destiny, we are absolved from searching for alternatives, and granted the freedom to think and plan for long time horizons.

Beeper is an app with a waitlist, because it combines 15 chat networks in one place (spanning WhatsApp, Twitter direct messages, Slack, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage, amongst other mainstream options). Not sure how this is possible, but I can’t wait to unify all these message sources into one list. I’m in the queue. (via @boris)

Gordon Brander’s Search reveals useful dimensions in latent idea space has a lovely metaphor for search with paper, needle, and string:

Imagine your notes as a stack of papers. Next to that stack of papers, you have a long red string, with a needle at one end. To perform a search, you leaf through each of the pages. Whenever you find a match for your query, you poke the needle through, right where the match exists on the page, and you thread the page onto the string. You’re methodical, so you order the pages on the string by relevance, taking into account how close the match is, and where it appears on the page. Now, stretch out the red string. You’ve arranged your ideas along one dimension of latent idea space. Imagine doing this for all possible dimensions at once.

Interesting anecdote about American poet and internet activist John Perry Barlow who may have been single-handedly responsible for bringing the Orkut social network to Brazil: (via @liaizon@social.wake.st)

Barlow was among the first users of the invitation-only social network Orkut at its inception. He decided to send all of his 100 invitations to friends in Brazil; two years later, some 11 million internet users in that country (out of 14 million total) were on the social network.


All the following items can be accessed as a one-click playlist via Joybox without accounts or sign up—just open and play.



Guinga’s Canção da Impermanência (2017) is part of a genre of Brazilian music that I would describe as ‘beyond genre’. Dripping guitar tones and mostly language-less, this sonic voyage uses traditional voice-leading to create unnameable harmonies. Why are most of my deepest connections with albums under 45 minutes?

The compilation Cartagena! Curro Fuentes & The Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound Of Colombia 1962 - 72 (2011) from Soundway Records has cowbell, very Latin American brass and reed doubled melodies, shuk-shuk-a-shuk, cumbia, salsa, and maybe some other genres that I don’t know the name of. I should have noted the names of the songs, but instead just decided to let it wash all over me. When I visited in 2018, Colombians told me their country was the land of over a thousand musical styles.

Michel Freidenson’s Notas no Ar (2011) gave me a strong signal from the first few notes of the album. It features traditional Brazilian rhythms and instruments mixed with a fresher modern jazz sound. Roda mixes samba and speedy bossa nova with a rare combination of piano melody doubled by trombone; the forro inspired Cosmic For All I can describe as energetic and alive; Je Suis Desolé is a swingy and slightly disjunct blues featuring some stride piano in the intro.


When I heard Jacob Collier call Aeolians of Oakwood University the “best choir on earth” last week, I went through some of their recordings. This Sabbath Hymn from Aeolianology Acappella, Vol. 2 (2015) is a good example of a sound that fills your insides with light, maybe raising your shoulders too. The church chorale and organ textures with jazz voice-leadings on an a cappella album is a testament to the power of the human voice. They also did a variation on Take 6’s classic arrangement of Get Away Jordan.

African music rabbit hole

(This first recommendation set me off rummaging through a bunch of stuff, and I don’t regret it)

Chiwoniso’s 2015 single Zvichapera features a kind of polyrhythmic mbira with powerful vocal doubling in the melody—the lead singer floats on top of the sound as if it were a solid cloud. (via Clara)

The compilation album Music from Africa Vol. 2 Shangaan Traditional / Sotho Chant (2015) is filled with South African music from the 1980s, mostly disco, except for these first two tracks: Crestina and Alexandra’s triadic pentatonic harmonies and vocal percussion combines moves you from side to side.

Kiki Gyan’s Disco Dancer from the Soundway Records compilation 24 Hours in A Disco 1978 – 82 (2018) is a body-shaker that sounds like the 70s.

Mulatu Astatke’s Mulatu from Black Jesus Experience (2020) is Ethiopian jazz with quartal harmonies and a screechy guitar solo.

I always love receiving music. Send me recommendations anytime, anywhere!

That’s all folks!

Feel free to reply and share any reflections you might have, or just say hello.

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