Outer Orbit

About this page

This page reflects my desire to condense and simplify. Where I have bulky content, I include hyperlinks. To make it searchable, I use #hashtag words. I will occasionally change things as my thoughts do. My purpose is not to anchor myself to a medium, but to publish ideas in motion, in raw forms. The page is kept simple to ease this goal.

The #principles that define this page:

  1. Sustainable
  2. Minimal
  3. Accessible

Creativity by #Principle

Bret Victor had, some years ago, a talk titled "Inventing on Principle". While the idea of the talk is good, the talk itself ushered people's attention towards the bells and whistles of software demonstrations, overshadowing its essential point.

But the idea itself is worth highlighting, in my own words.

Creativity itself, its origins and nature, is a thing that has recieved considerable discussion. But what you and I are most likely to be interested in is a magic formula for creation of specific things in specific mediums. Creative formulas are a thing that the marketplace often sells. You buy something aspirationally, hoping that your dreams magically arise from the tool or the manual or the "making of" documentary. When they do not, you put it away and begin shopping again.

But, you have probably experienced creative fulfillment at times, too. And when this occurs, it is driven by a feeling of clarity:

This kind of fulfillment happens throughout ordinary life at a very small scale: Writing a note to a friend, organizing your room, or taking care of basic hygene all fall under the same structure.

But as your project idea gets larger, more abstract - a story, a book, an illustration, a song, a video game - the path forward becomes hazy. The goal is unclear, the metrics of success, and what to prioritize - all of them start to lack structure.

It is this lack of clarity and structure that must be combated to proceed; the more ambitious your goals become, the more likely it is that your underlying inclinations become challenged. "Why am I doing this?" you will ask. Fallicious reasoning abounds when you try to make large committments. Perhaps you will be scared away from trying at all, or you will try to mimic the outward behaviors of successful people, or you will fall into an indulgent mode and define any result as success. There are many ways to fail yourself.

#Principle enters as a valuable counterweight to your inclinations. Principle is "a guide for behavior or evaluation." Principles can be as broad or specific as you like. When I use principle, I tend to start through exploratory themes like those of Greek myths: hubris, fate, sacrifice. At the top of this page I used "sustainable, minimal, accessible". How do I know I am writing things on this page that work? Because they fit within the guiding principles. How do I evaluate my adherence to the principle? I look for the musts, cannots, and probablys: The parts that must exist, the parts that cannot exist, the parts that are probably correct. Or to use more philosophical words: induction, deduction, abduction. If you don't think you know how a principle guides you, decompose it into these parts.

Principles are not just a thing that can be used, but a thing that can be developed. From the thematic elements, I can start to invent specific rules to follow. By adding more principles, I am challenged to make them cohere with each other better. Principles can be both a way of describing a project, and a way of living with that project. The challenge is not really with coming up with principles, but with observing their importance and following through on their premises. When we are young we start with mostly specific rules: "Do not stay up late", "eat healthy foods", and so forth. As we go on to do creative works like stories, we also start within specific rules: "be descriptive", "show, not tell", and so on. But gradually, an author will generalize into some kind of theory about their writing.

"You have to know the rules to break them" alludes to this development of principle. The principle doesn't develop itself, it develops from setting a goal that both encompasses some of the previous rules and breaks with others; breaks are not arbitrary, they come from explicitly prioritizing one principle over another.

You know how to define success. You eliminate anything that hinders success.

It goes for setting the goal itself. If you set the goal around pleasing everyone you know, around emulating your heroes, around rapid gain of fame, wealth, or power, or other such inclinations, these external priorities will hinder an internal, principle-driven success. Practiced #indifference to external things can cause creativity to erupt in oneself.

Pursuing Meaning Via #Indifference

Indifference is often considered a negative quality in society by association with selfishness, ignorance, or lack of emotion. "Why don't you care more" is a rallying cry. To this I would say that nature is indifferent, and always has been. It is care that is the oddity.

What one cares about must be important. That idea drives a great deal of internal illness: If I believe it is important but I do not care, is something the matter with me? If I care about something, but it is obviously frivolous, am I dysfunctional?

First, assume that your care may be inexplicable. In nature, many creatures have behavioral drives that have no premise in reasoned thought or sociability. Or rather, to the extent that they can be explained, they are a case of "this tendency has improved species survival" - a dull reprisal of evolutionary theory.

Second, trust that it matters. You may not know why it matters, but it is a reasonable thing to do, if we accept the evolutionary premise.

Then some other rule for care should be considered. A #Principle is such a rule, or a #framework of devising rules. From around the 17th century to the 19th century, it was fashionable to consider principle in terms of rationalism: This is the domain of Kantian morality, Bentham and Mill's utilitarianism, and the notions of liberty explored by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Mill. Rationalism's limits come into play through its foundation on the intuitive part of intellect - intuitions which are not legible to a rationalist are deemed irrational. And so, from the time Karl Marx first floated a social theory that took into account the human psyche, rationalism has been in decline as a foundational principle, though it still holds substantial power over human society, and as a tool for thought, still provides useful insight.

But what forms of principle exist that are not of the rational framework?

Cosmology comes to mind as a premium example. Cosmological principles are recurring in grand theories about all sorts of topics, and they share a tendency of extrapolation from abstract ideas or metaphorical stories that elude our sensory experience:

When we leave the realm of deducing from our senses, a world of exciting possibility appears.

Specific #frameworks of creativity

Although it's one thing to discuss principles, it can be difficult to spot the way in which they apply in a technical sense.

What makes for works that we can admire technically is a structure that works within or around some framework. To name examples, here are some art forms and framing principles they tend to use:

IllustrationProportion, Color Theory, Perspective
MusicRhythm, Melody, Harmony
TypographyAlignment, Proximity, Weight
PoetryPhrasing, Rhyme, Meter
WoodworkingJoinery, Carving, Finishing

Although you can study and name the principles out of a textbook or tutorial, the fundamental skillset of the art is in grappling more directly with each one in practice.

And, when you reapply principles from one form to another, you often gain interesting insights. This is how "rhythm" can be part of architecture, or "weight" can be part of poetry. It is this aspect that often allows artists skilled in one form to rapidly assert themselves in another: not only do they have a set of ideas to bring to the table, they can quickly ascertain which principles they need to use.

It is a popular thing for the science and engineering camp to consider themselves apart from this realm, existing in a purely technical realm. But scientific breakthroughs often resemble this sort of recontextualization, the "asking the right question". A creative scientist or engineer is not really doing anything different by taking a principle and pursuing it to its end.

But let's probe a little deeper into this. How does one develop an original work within an existing form?

Simple. Add at least one more principle. An illustrator knows fundamentals, but a fashion illustrator also knows about fashion principles, and a fashion illustration in service of a story is becoming highly specific, and approaches stylistic intent. The more principles you pile on, the harder you have to work at satisfying them all adequately. The more abstract the principles are, the harder you have to work to satisfy them well.

We should, of course, consider industrialized art in this discussion. Multi-million-budgeted movie and game franchises must have some kind of principled logic to them, too, if this is true everywhere. And they do! But the principles being used for these works are exploring the production process as a form, with the work as a byproduct. When you have a team of hundreds of artists, they can be put into service creating thousands of assets. To make the assets look uniform within the desired art style, guidelines must be developed, and these guidelines become the principles that the artists are using, which exist in addition to any fundamental art principles. And so the management of the team, the creation of the magic formula, becomes the focus of the art. The resulting game or movie may not even be the work of your team, in full: The process could exist within the context of a work-for-hire contractor who fixes and finishes up concepts and brings them over the line.

It is for this reason that while young, eager students often get some idea of the biggest productions being the most prestigious, the reality of them is that they are factories by their nature, and filter out most of the voices working on them. Veterans will tire of this and start looking for escape routes, usually leading them back to smaller projects. It happens in every form that has become big business and found a way to make factory models work.

Computer #Ergonomics

Ergonomics is often discussed as a special-needs sort of thing: If you're in pain, buy the expensive ergonomic version of the equipment. But this sort of thinking implies that it is OK to use things that hurt you. It isn't! A computing experience should acknowledge the physical and tactile as well as the abstract and visual, and allow the pleasure of enjoying and exploring our bodies and their full capability.

What I will outline here is my current "best practices" for making my computing feel pleasant.

First, I have several scenarios that I want to consider. The three I prefer are:

Dealing with all three of these at once results in an ergonomics that is not defined only by a workstation but by cross-functional capabilities. I need portability to change between these at will, and equipment that does not consume too much setup time.


Firstly, the inside/outside conundrum. The most portable way to take computing outside is to use a smartphone. But gripping a phone in a downward hunch is not very ergonomic, so right away some kind of portable stand is called for, at least so that it can be palmed while held. And a keyboard for typing is a considerable improvement over touchscreen tapping and allows the gaze to stay upright more often and the elbows to stay near the torso like a dancer at rest(a good indicator of an upright posture). For a even better experience #mice or other pointing devices are desirable to reduce reaching. I've investigated two kinds of stands and keyboards; mice I will consider separately.

The first style of stand is a two-piece metal frame often found under the Nulaxy brand name on Amazon. This is the lighter and simpler one, and it works well, but the pieces jut out slightly when pocketed, making it not quite painful but definitely unpleasant. The second style is a plastic-and-metal solid body with several folding articulations, which I found under the Tekpluze brand. This second style is more comfortable in the hand and when pocketed, and it can also stand a bit taller and with more stability with the additional articulation. It's somewhat heavier, but I definitely prefer it.

The two portable keyboards I have looked at are both Bluetooth wireless, and both fold, but one(MoKo brand) uses a single fold with two pieces, the other(iClever) a double fold with three pieces. The single fold is lighter and simpler, with a soft cover, and it folds out to an ergonomic V-shape. The two-fold has a metal case and fold-out legs at the edges, and comes with a drawstring bag. Although both are good, I find myself preferring the single-fold device. It's lighter, it actually has more available keys, and the ergonomic split is pleasant. Both of them pocket similarly well - the additional fold doesn't actually gain that much in this case, because the V-shape increases effective area. One thing I am looking to improve with both is a way to support them on my lap. They do not brace themselves once folded out; you have to set them on a surface. What I probably need is a pocket-sized lap desk or equivalent.

Something to look out for when using Bluetooth keyboards, or really anything Bluetooth, is the quality of the host device. Depending on which phone I've used these with, the connection quality can be miserably bad, with frequent dropouts or stuck keys. Switching to a different host clears up the issue.

The last piece of the outside puzzle is: What about not using a phone? In that case, I have an inexpensive, low-power laptop, which can use all the same peripherals. Having a low-power system is a superpower when it comes to adding flexibility - you can just take it places without charging, and if you have the freedom to do so, designing your tasks around needing less computing grunt is a good idea. A folding stand helps, but the separate keyboard helps more since it allows you to push the laptop farther back to improve eye level.


Regarding mice, I always end up gravitating to a #trackball. Especially when we consider the scenario outside, where the surfaces are not always accommodating, rolling a mouse around is not very viable. In addition, mice themselves have long been to blame for RSI by the nature of their design: they push the hand into a pronated position(palm towards surface) rather than the ideal "handshake grip", and the wide side-to-side wrist motion wears at the tendons, possibly causing ulnar deviation. Mice have only modest advantages as pointing devices; by taking a strong grip, it's easier to stop and redirect them, making them good for "flick shots" in gaming where the acceleration is sudden. In contrast a trackball is hard to adjust by grip alone; it is made for gradual stroking. Because there isn't a reliance on grip, though, they also result in more steady cursor positioning for technical tasks - no shudder as you click, clicking is independent from moving. When considering vertical mice, pen tablets, and trackpads, there are many other options, but for me trackballs are a reliable classic. Both thumb trackballs(like those from Logitech) and finger trackballs(like those from Kensington) are viable. I usually prefer finger balls for the luxurious feeling of rolling a large object and the ability to switch positions frequently, but thumb-balls have a place as the lighter, more compact and portable alternative.


Lying on your back is as relaxed as one can hope to be, and may calm you emotionally. The difficulty, though, is in how to achieve that and still interact with a screen. This task is addressed in two parts: First, how to suspend the screen. Second, how to ease interaction.

To achieve suspension, I ordered a gas-spring mounting arm and clamped it to a bookshelf by my bed. This took a few hours of installation and adjustment and a bit of cursing, but the result is something that will hold my laptop more-or-less vertically, with the screen folded down overhead. The experience of this is not to be underrated, and can resemble stargazing. If I had to do it again I might settle for a simpler arm than the gas spring mount, since it's more complex and this one ended up not actually being able to vertically adjust - the screen's a bit too high. But I am still happy.

Getting screen interaction means peripherals again, obviously, but now the issue is how to hold them in place comfortably. What I settled on is a large lap desk from Sofia + Sam: This keeps them stable, in a consistent position, and makes it easy to move them aside to get up without cord tangles or other issues. To this, I add a Kensington Orbit, and rather than the portable keyboards, I use a 65% mechanical, the Vortexgear Cypher. I may end up moving to a split layout in the future, though. I am also experimenting with an additional macro-capable numeric keypad/USB hub, the Elsra PK-2068, but it adds to the cabling and weight and doesn't really fit in like the other two.

What I would like to improve upon is this: it takes a bit more force to keyboard when lying down and using the lap desk. It's not good. It's not terrible, but it's definitely more of a strain using the same keyboard relative to a sitting position. Overall this is probably a better setup for viewing and occasional interactions than essay-writing.

#Floor sitting

Sitting on the floor adds all these possibilities for shifting position that are not there when sitting in a chair: Cross-legged, sideways, seiza, feet-forward, butterfly... and for this reason it's clearly better to aim for such a setup in the long run. It makes more use of your body.

But now the question is, again, how to achieve that setup comfortably? Well, first of all, we can repeat the strategy of the lap desk from the supine pose. All the peripherals work, and the desk is big and balances easily in all of those different sitting poses. But to give the screen some height I need something not too short and not too tall. For this I lucked into something I tried before and couldn't use - a folding bed desk I had from ten years ago. Many of these desks, including the one I have, include a surface that props up at an angle, which is great for lifting a laptop screen. The problem I had previously encountered was that it was not tall enough to really sit under - I could only go feet-forwards, and so I couldn't shift position at all. For any other pose, I had to resort to hunch-and-lean postures which are a no-go. Mind, this was without peripherals. Once I added peripherals it was obvious. Soon enough I had the best floor computing setup I have ever had: Peripherals, a lap desk, and a folding desk. Add cushions to taste.

Not only is this setup pretty cozy, it stows away easily, so space is never an issue.

The #inexpensive thing I used to do

I should, of course, end on a quick hack that served me well for a long time. Rather than get a lap desk, I got the most available substitute, a shoebox. It, too, works well as a surface when seated in a chair, and it stands taller. This helps with laptops without peripherals since the higher positioning is such that you get a bit less hunch without a lot more reach.

Home Organization

Like many folks I struggle to stay organized and "on top of things" around the house. Recently I seem to have turned over a new leaf, and I think this comes down to a few things.

  1. First, I'm focused on improving comfort. This is something that I resisted for a long while because I was young and figured I could "tough it out". This is sort of true but also not. Toughing it out, in many instances, means having less mental energy or willpower to keep up. Toughing things out has a purpose when we talk about fitness, but not when we're talking about dealing with purchase reciepts or persistent back pain. And so my increasing interest in ergonomics has directly led me towards organization, because an organized life puts more things near at hand.
  2. Second, I have a budget. Another thing that proved difficult when young was not really being able to justify spending on an experiment, which is what I'm doing now. Experiments are what you can do when you have some confidence that failure isn't an issue. As it turns out, of course, I don't have to spend a huge amount. As a cumulative sum, we're talking about a few hundred dollars USD in 2020. If you have that much and you want to treat yourself, investing in a few experiments with organization systems is a good way to go.
  3. Third, I recognize the importance of place. This is a sort of subtle phenomenon, where one must accept that yes, the environment sets the mindset. There are places for high energy and for relaxation, for the same reason that there are energetic and relaxed postures. And place is a thing that becomes fragmented as you acquire possessions and your space becomes filled with the detritus of retail, ultimately building up to the familiar hoard-of-cardboard-boxes phenomenon seen throughout the developed world. But place is a thing that exists scale-free. You can walk through a hedge maze, or trace out the maze on a page. It's the same maze. So "having enough space" is usually not the limit to defining the place.
  4. Fourth, I'm getting better at starting small and working my way up. Those darn receipts are like a mental blocker. If I can't deal with those, I'm probably not going to figure out the rest, right?
  5. Fifth and finally, I am looking for a way to respect the objects over the long run. Many of the tidy households I see have a habitual disrespect of their stuff: Either it's old and immediately goes in the bin — death by fashion — or it's eagerly sold off to make way for the next item, turning the home into a marketplace stall. It's much harder to approach tidiness in the sense of a sustainable legacy. If we believe Confucius, the first thing a ruler must do is rectify the names of things, but if we are not aiming to rule our objects, naming them does little. And I believe this distinction is why, for many folks, tags and labels will never help with organization.


Here is the specific trick for organizing the small stuff: Three-ring binders with a variety of dividers and pouches. My organizing mind likes things having some kind of linear order, and when a binder is used, you suddenly have that in spades - a shelf that extends a vast distance, that also folds up into a book, that can itself contain a book. Zippered pencil pouches and clear plastic sheets with a bit of tape can store objects from the tiniest screws up to substantial, hefty pieces of hardware, plus all their manuals, warranty cards, and reciepts. This means that things aren't getting lost, which suddenly frees up the energy to deal with everything else. Of course, additional notes can be added as needed; the binder can be turned into a whole scrapbook if you want, with cardboard and twine and brass fasteners. The three-ring format is very flexible and will accommodate you: just mix in the types of pages and pouches you need for different sections, and if all else fails you can manufacture a custom fastening. It scales well, also: If you're still in your school years, you will find yourself possessing a few odds and ends, a few important documents, and these need a place somewhere. If you're midway through life the amount of necessary stuff goes up, but not in every direction, so boxes, filing folders and drawers aren't exactly what you need. If you're packing for a trip, having essential documents, passes, etc. in a binder makes it easy to double-check, and you can leave room for souvenirs while on the trip. Boxes and bags tend to hide and bury, making sad, fragmented memories. Binders tell a complete story and make it open to the possibility of change.

If you have vast amounts of stuff you can start using binders to define keys and indexes for a library of boxes, but for most of us, binders defined by a category, with no or minimal section order, will be sufficient to find any small object. Binders and their accessories are a consistently good investment, and if you hang around a large institutional campus, there is often some opportunity to pick up free ones.

Now that the small stuff is taken care of, all the little gadget boxes are much easier to toss. All the loose objects can find a pouch to hang out in. That's step one. Step one is the main thing occupying my attention right now, but going forward, it's now possible to continue to things like KonMari method, saying "does the object give me joy" and so forth. This can be integrated into the binder strategy, because the binder can act as a diary with a direct relation to objects from the moment they enter until the time they leave. This can also be combined with bullet journaling techniques if a regularly scheduled plan is needed for objects. Ultimately, what this form of organization does is apply storytelling to make it all add up to something, which is a great way to give the act of tidying purposeful quality.

#Digital Tidying

I would be remiss not to mention the digital side of things. This, too, is an ongoing project, I've realized. With digital storage, it's very easy to accumulate forever and cram stuff into folders and onto drives. But this is bad in two ways. Like with boxes in the physical world, filing into folders tends to hide and bury. And it makes it hard to know when you've lost something important.

But nobody is likely to put in the dedication to organize their files like a professional librarian. And neither should they! Three things are important to keep in mind:

  1. Most of the stuff in your digital collection is a form of reference material. Yes, even the porn.
  2. You can always make copies and derivatives of your references for a project, while keeping the originals exactly where they were, ready for backup.
  3. Computer search is robust: Tag up your filenames and folders and you can rediscover stuff.

Maintaining a digital collection means maintaining a collection for you, which means it can be hugely idiosyncratic. As with binders, names aren't everything. Spatial position matters, too, and you can carve out some of that in arbitrary fashion. Consider applying the "memory palace" strategy to your reference materials, so that you may access them thoroughly from within your head before you even touch the computer.


As someone who studies games, chaotic structures are of great interest to me. It's notable that the great classic game designs all have a chaotic element to them. In board games like Chess or Go, it's built on a complexity in the rules. In ball sports it's mostly derived from the physics of the ball, the playfield, and equipment. The "playing" of the game comes from being able to see the chaos unfold step-by-step, analyze it, and try to bring a targeted result out of it.

Chaos is not Random

Chaos is a thing in nature that emerges from systems that are difficult to predict: The appearance is at first random, but some kind of recognizable pattern emerges upon study. The distinction is substantial: a pattern allows a technique to be developed around the prediction. Randomness, on the other hand, has to be treated as a pure construct of probabilities, which is often unsatisfying.

Examples of Chaotic Systems

Fractals, cellular automata, the double pendulum, and polyrhythms all have chaotic elements. In most video games today, rhythmic structure is heavily leaned upon: Rather than exploring a more particular chaotic system, layers of timers and resources are shaped and structured to create momentary, legible chaos and then dispense with it.

Chaos and Strategy

Strategy in games interacts with chaos in that "pleasing" win conditions attempt to motivate further study of the chaotic system. An important part of strategy is goal-setting: a different goal is, in effect, a different strategy, and oftentimes a technique is developed by playing with a different strategy from "play to win" - e.g. playing to develop a certain position or to optimize a certain metric. This is aptly demonstrated in the SIGBOVIK2019 paper >Elo world, a framework for benchmarking weak chess engines. In this paper, chess engines that are pacifists(avoid mating, checks, and captures), that are generous(offer as many capturable pieces as possible), and attempt to move their pieces into specific configurations, among other unusual strategies, are evaluated in a tournament, in an effort to better understand beginner-level play and ELO ratings of beginners.


Coherence is an example of a philosophical "theory of truth": it's true because it doesn't contradict my existing knowledge. (there are much more elaborate definitions, but this one suffices as a practical test.) It's a useful baseline metric for any kind of creative effort because it catches and eliminates "wicked" problems early on - if you're approaching a large project and trying to find a handle on how to structure it, a simple strategy is to test each combination of ideas in a pair: A coheres with B, A coheres with C, B coheres with C, etc. Each time you spot a contradiction, change or eliminate the ideas involved until all of them align. Then, if you want the project to be of a larger scope, throw in another idea and repeat.

Of course, this alone doesn't guarantee you will avoid going in circles. Attaining coherence is reliant on relaxing your grip on your methods and perspective. If you are experiencing attachment to an idea such that you want to protect it, you'll take on incoherence rather than address the attachment, guaranteeing that you will be unable to develop the idea in some directions, which may make the project unfinishable. Most of our creative efforts fail simply because we have too tight a grip on a specific outcome.

Attachment enables a useful larger pattern to developing ideas, however. Attachment comes with a very intensive study of something that is perhaps trivial. If attachment is followed by indifference, the grip looses, and coherence can emerge.


Self-talk - expressing out loud our immediate thoughts - is a thing practiced by children, and then usually replaced by "inner speech" in the adolescent years. We are oft instructed to journal regularly, in writing, to get out our thoughts, or to "seek therapy" if that isn't enough.

However, vocal self-talk has a purpose. It should be seen as a specific medium of expression. When we ask people to be a listening post and not really engage in dialogue, we're most likely asking for an opportunity to self-talk. Using our voice expresses things differently, with different filters from using our hands to write or our brains to think out the language. That is, it is a tool in the toolbox, which I discovered by turning on the voice recorder while on walks as a way of doing hands-free journaling; I quickly realized that I was getting my disruptive ruminations out much faster by talking them through. Talking, then writing, then talking again, transforms the thought itself, propels it forward. It is a way of "relaxing your grip", generating coherent thoughts and wisdom.

The majority of internet postings, including this one, are engaging in forms of self-talk. Where they create strong reactions, the self-talk has touched on a shared attachment! To the extent that the internet seems insane, it is because we have so many unhealthy attachments that we maintain with group self-talk: If the idea is the child we protect as parents, those who critique it are the monsters who have come to take it away. Thus begins flame wars, fanaticism, gatekeeping, etc. We are ruined through our inclination towards tight grips on ideas that are not deserving of such attachment. Self-talk for oneself, about one's own daily life, goals, problems, studies, and in all modes of expression, is a way of escaping this. If the voice does not suffice, if writing does not, perhaps dance, music, acting, or other performances will.

Many of these ideas are derived from the philosophy of Heather Marsh in The Creation of Me, Them and Us. Marsh alludes to self-expression, but mainly in forms of traditional arts. But it should be acknowledged in the small, and self-talk in particular as a most fundamental form, a basic "mode of hygene".

More topics I'd like to address:

Time as a constraint optimization problem, pinball, specific structures for specific mediums, stack fluidity, the role of production values, health and fitness, the analogy of the divided line as it relates to attachment theory's results