The Glass Bead Game

The Glass Bead Game cover

by Hermann Hesse (1943). Translated from German to English with evident devotion and expertise by Clara Winston & Richard Winston.

This novel is described by some as the culmination of Hesse's career, for which he received a Nobel Prize for Literature. Many reviews on Goodreads cite it as a life-changing novel, or as a singular all-time favorite book.

I must confess with some sadness that I must have entirely missed the point. I have not enjoyed it at all. The number of books I failed to finish in my life is surely less than five, and this very nearly became one of them.

The first half describes Knecht's education and career within the rarefied academic atmosphere of some distant future European state's "pedagogical province", wherein (exclusively male) scholars devote their time to mastery of the titular game. This relies upon drawing deep relationships between all fields of human study, such as music and biology.

Knecht is talented and likeable, and rises effortlessly through the ranks, without exhibiting any real volition of his own, other than being naturally predisposed to study, and having an instinct for drawing out the best in people. He is ultimately assigned to the highest office in the land, without encountering any substantive antagonist or difficulty along the way.

The mechanics of the game itself, about which all this ostensibly revolves, is deliberately never explained, other than poetic references to glass beads being used to exquisitely interrelate insights or concepts from multiple fields of study.

This first half of the book bored me to absolute tears. If I had to find a single word to describe Knecht, despite his diligence, it would be "inactive".

At the halfway point through the book, this serenity is interrupted by Knecht making the controversial decision to quit, not just from his exalted post, but from the whole system over which it rules. He leaves the insular academic province entirely, to begin a new life, subject to more real-world constraints. Just at this very moment, as the narrative becomes interesting, this section abruptly ends in a very unexpected manner.

Out of the whole book, this moment resonates with me. Knecht has spent a life devoted to scholarly thought, but after many decades he throws off the expectations of that life to forge his own path. Mere days after that decision, a moment of physical exertion proves to be his sudden undoing.

Does this show that Knecht should have more highly valued the protections from the physical world that his intellectual castle provided? That someone raised in such a cosseted environment was unsuitable to face the rigors of the real world? Or should I instead observe that, despite his ostensible success and satisfaction with life, in waiting so long before daring to strike out on his own, and then find days later that his time was up, Knecht has in some ways wasted his life doing something other than what he really wanted to do?

Neither of these seem particularly compelling to me, nor sufficient for the larger themes that I suspect the book might actually be grappling with.

The second half of the book contains various poems, written by Knecht when he was younger, containing premonitions of his aspirations and his doubts. It ends with three short tales, each describing an alternate life that Knecht might have lived in other times. Apparently early drafts had these tales being literal other lives Knecht was reincarnated into. But in the published book, they are presented without context, and I think it is only by consensus that they are commonly understood to be grouped with the earlier poems as examples of Knecht's writing - his imagination of other lives he might have lived.

I did not understand the relevance of these tales to the larger portion of the book, other than the way they forcefully contrast with it, by immersing Knecht in emotional and painful tales of life embedded within a wider society, rather than abstractly observing its achievements from without. As such, they force him into action, and to me they are more engaging for it.

Wikipedia informs me that each of the four tales of Knecht's life focuses on a different basic aspect of analytical psychology: thinking (Magister Ludi), sensation (The Rainmaker), intuition (Indian life) and feeling (The Father Confessor). Similarly, several of the book's characters who had influence on Knecht are thinly-veiled references to real world people, some famous such as Friedrich Nietzsche, others being acquaintances of the author.

All of which seems reasonable, but doesn't really help me understand what I just read. Perhaps each tale of Knecht, in focussing on one human trait, is lacking because it undervalues the other three. Perhaps. ¯\(ツ)

Keyboard CoolerMaster CK530's Missing Manual

I have a CoolerMaster CK530 mechanical keyboard, which I love. It might have come with a small printed manual, but if it did, I no longer have it, and I'm failing to find one online. Here's are some things I've gleaned from experimentation. If there's a manual I've overlooked, or if you have corrections, let me know.

The Quickstart guide provides a list of key strokes, but no explanations. I've reproduced the table here, with tweaks for understandability, and added more descriptions below.

Select a mode
fn + F5 Cycle modes.
fn + F8 Demo (automatically cycles through modes).
Tweak mode
fn + F1 Cycle 8 color variations of the current mode.
fn + F2 Red level 0-9.
fn + F3 Green level 0-9.
fn + F4 Blue level 0-9.
fn + F6 Foreground color. (See below.)
fn + F7 Background color.
fn + Up Faster.
fn + Down Slower.
fn + Left Forwards.
fn + Right Backwards.
fn + F10 In "custom" mode, define color of each key.
fn + Esc Default profile
fn + 1 Profile 1 (see mnemonic "P1" - "P4" on sides of these keys)
fn + 2 Profile 2
fn + 3 Profile 3
fn + 4 Profile 4
fn + r Reset current profile to default appearance. (Hold 3 secs.)
fn + e Reset all profiles to default appearance. (Hold 3 secs.)
fn + F11 Record a macro
fn + F12 Delete macro
fn + PrtSc Single
fn + ScrLk Infinite loop
fn + Pause Repeat
fn + Ins Play / pause
fn + Home Next track
fn + Del Stop
fn + End Previous track
fn + PgUp Volume up
fn + PgDown Volume down
fn + F9 Cycle unlocked(off) / lock windows key(red) / lock whole keyboard(green)

Many of these are self-explanatory. For the rest:

Using modes

fn is the "coolermaster" key, on the bottom row key between right Windows and right Ctrl.

When holding fn, several keys might light up, depending on the current mode:

  • ESC/1/2/3/4 - one of these keys flashes white to show which profile (see below) is currently in use.
  • If the current mode allows you to select a color to use, then F2/F3/F4 will light up to show the currently selected color's levels of red/green/blue.
  • If the current mode allows two colors to be set (foreground & background), then one of F6/F7 will flash white, to show which is currently affected. (See below.)

Pressing fn + F5 cycles through:

Mode Foreground . Background . Reactive.
1. All off
2. Static (all one color)
3. Rainbow wave
4. Crosshair
5. Reactive fade
6. Custom (see below)
7. Stars
8. Rain
9. Color cycle
10. Breathing
11. Ripple
12. Reactive punch
13. Arcing
15. Fireball
16. Tornado (color spin)
17. Reactive tornado
18. Water ripple
19. Snake

Modes marked "reactive" react to keypresses. Mostly this lights up a pattern around the pressed key. In the case of "snake", you can play using the arrow keys.

Foreground & background colors

Many of the modes have a foreground effect that you can change the color of. For example, in the all-one-color mode (officially called "static") you can select the color with which all keys are lit, using fn + F2/F3/F4.

Some of the modes also have a second color, the background, that you can set separately. You can see if a mode offers this by selecting the mode and holding fn. If this mode offers two settable colors, then either F6 or F7 will flash white, to show you which one you are currently setting.

Press fn + F6/F7 to choose foreground or background, then use fn + F2/F3/F4 to set it.

Custom mode

Custom (mode #6 above) lets the user assign a different color to each key.

  1. First, cycle through modes using fn + F5 until you reach custom mode. It can be tricky to identify when you've reached it. Use the list of modes above to help.
  2. While in custom mode, press fn + F10 to edit key colors.
  3. Select a color using fn + F2/F3/F4.
  4. Press all the keys you want lit in the selected color. Pressing the same key again turns it unlit.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 for other color/key combinations.
  6. Finally, save to your current profile (see below) by holding fn and pressing your current profile key (whichever of Esc/1/2/3/4 is flashing white.)

Some wrinkles:

I can't manage to set a color for the FN key itself, which always appears unlit in this mode.

The caps lock key is unlit in this mode, unless caps lock is on. Similarly, scroll lock seems to always be unlit for me in this mode, although it is lit in other modes.

When you try to assign a color to whichever one of Esc/1/2/3/4 is lit white, to indicate the active profile, then nothing visible happens, but it is working. You have to save (step 6 above). Then you can see whether you successfully assigned the color, or pressed the key one too many times and left it unlit.

While editing key colors, if you wait, without exit/saving, pressing nothing for a minute or so, then key color editing times out, cancelling all your changes since step 2.


There are five "profiles", each of which can be used to save the current state of the keyboard.

The profiles are accessed using fn + 1/2/3/4/Esc. Esc is the "default" profile. Current keyboard settings (e.g. illumination mode and customized colors) can be saved to one of the five profiles, and then loaded back later. Are macros stored in a profile? Don't know.

The current profile is shown when you hold fn, by one of 1/2/3/4/Esc flashing white. While keeping FN pressed:

  • Pressing the flashing profile key will save the keyboard state to your current profile.

  • Pressing any of the other profile keys will LOAD that profile, losing the current keyboard state.

Hence, to save changes to an arbitrary profile, you need to select that profile before making the changes.

When turning the keyboard on (ie. plugging the USB cable into a computer), the active profile will be whichever one was last active.


Self Calm cover

by Chris DeLeon (2018)

Roman Emperor Marcus Auralias' notes, traditionally titled Meditations, are a foundational text for practical Stoicism. They comprise a multitude of observations and recommendations, grouped into sections such as "Keeping thoughts tranquil", and "Cooperation, collaberation and contribution". They offer advice for living a contented life, with less regret, sorrow, anger and fear.

Several translations exist, themselves dated from through the ages. This book combines them, to synthesize a text which doesn't hew as precisely to the original as a straight translation might, but is instead intended to have the most relevance to modern ears.

Confession: It's taken me months to get through it. Partly this is because I've allowed myself to be distracted by more gaudy and immediate books along the way. Partly it's because I found the best way to read this was slowly. Practically every paragraph is worth reflecting upon, to consider how it applies to my own life, and ponder what practical, specific next steps are implied.

If I had to criticize, it would only be the superficial wrinkle that there's a lot of repetition, such as hundreds of suggestions to not fear death. Apparently the original documents were accumulated over decades of Auralias' life.

Genuinely life changing.

You can get the epub for free from the author's gumroad page.

Things They Don't Tell You About Peroral Endoscopic Myotemy


The problem

This year I was diagnosed with achalasia. It's a rare condition in which nerve damage causes weak and poorly coordinated swallowing in the esophagus, including a reluctance of the lower esophageal sphincter, leading to the stomach, to properly relax at the appropriate moment.

This leads to difficulty swallowing, regurgitation, and a column of liquid sitting in the esophagus, which becomes distended, losing elasticity and tone. The cause of the nerve damage is unknown, and has probably been accumulating for decades. It's reasonable to assume this is mixed up in some way with various ailments of my guts over the years (celiac, eosinophilic esophagitis, chronic hiccups), but causal relationships are unknown.

A solution, of sorts

Peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) is a surgical procedure intended to allow the esophagus to drain properly, avoiding further distension. Surgery happens through a tube down the throat, from where they cut into the muscle wall of the oesophagus, then tunnel down to the outside of the lower esophageal sphincter. There, they cut some of the muscle, making the sphincter less tightly clenched, so that food can pass more easily.

For me, my symptoms were a nuisance, but perfectly endurable. The main goal of the procedure was preventative - reduction in future damage to my esophagus. Plus, there's an outside chance that maybe eliminating that standing fluid might improve other matters, such as reducing irritation which maybe causes my hiccups? Long shot, but worth a try.

There's a lot of information given to the patient through the process, but these are the things that were still surprises to me.

Day 0. The procedure.

I've undergone a lot of regular endoscopic inspections or biopsies. At some point, in London's splendid Imperial College Hospital, I discovered the cheat code is to ask to do these unsedated. It's a few minutes of slightly nightmarish discomfort, to watch a burly gentleman hand-over-hand several feet of black rubber garden hose directly into your mouth. But the payoffs are that without any anesthetic, there's no need to fast, the procedure itself is simpler and safer, and best of all, recovery time is much reduced. Given a few minutes to compose yourself, you can cycle or drive yourself home right afterwards, making it a 45 minute appointment, instead of writing off most of the day.

However, going unsedated for the more substantial POEM obviously isn't an option. It requires more than the simple sedation I've experienced before, since apparently there's a phase at the end where they check you're regaining consciousness and are able to breathe for yourself before they remove the apparatus that's been breathing for you while you are paralyzed for the procedure. This is the sort of detail that is kindly elided from the regular patient briefing, which only came up because we were asking questions.

I only remember coming around sometime after that point, and my first thought, unplanned, was to test whether I could perform square and cube roots in my head. Apparently that's my brain's idea of a power-on self test. I could do small integers, like 27 -> 3, but had the presence of mind enough to see that's just relying on remembered sequences. I was able to envision the process to do the calculation for something which isn't a cube, like 28, but I failed to actually execute any iterations of it.

I said hello to a nurse sat beside me, but resisted the urge to chatter at her about my mental state. Somehow, even I could see that from her perspective, that would be like talking to drunk people. So now I'm doing it at you instead.

After a while they rolled me into my own room, and stuck a big pad over my butt. Foreshadowing! I fuzzily thought. I stayed in hospital overnight, for tests the next day. Forever grateful for Suze's visits even though I wasn't the best of company. :-)

My hiccups didn't reappear through the first few hours of my recovery, even though I spent the time propped upright in bed. This is pretty unusual - they usually return within seconds of me sitting up. But when they did return, they were pretty painful. What I call "hiccups" is partly a spasm of the esophagus itself - precisely where I'd just been cut and then clamped and sutered back together. So I asked the nurse to dial up the pain meds, at first with breezy British grit, and then with increasingly wild eyes and white knuckles as they took a while to figure out a few local administrative issues, like where the person with the keys to the drugs locker had gone. Rode out the rest of the day in style.

Day 1. Restart the line

I'd brought a bunch of things for my two day hospital stay, books and media and headphones and my own cozy pajamas to wear while garrulously socializing with staff and adjacent patients. That was all a total waste of time. I was a write off the entire time I was there, not able to muster the bandwidth even to watch t.v. I saw a single episode of Schitt's Creek at one point because Suze kindly propped it up in front of me, but I couldn't manage a 2nd. I just dozed, and was wheeled to a barium x-ray, to check I wasn't leaking anywhere untoward.

At some point during this day, my digestive tract started up again. It became apparent that it had just been on strike, inactive, since the surgery. I felt it ripple distressingly back into action, along with some impressive gurgles. The big pad they'd stuck on me the day before turned out not to be vital in this instance, but I can very much understand how it often might be.

The nurse introduced me to a plastic device for measuring and exercising my ability to inhale deeply, on which I could occasionally surpass the initial expectation of 1,000 points.

My ambitions for the day were to get out of bed and take a 2 minute walk, and later in the day to tolerate my first drinks, some water and fruit juices, sufficiently to get approved to go home. Leaving hospital with some prescription, gluten free, clear liquid pain killers proved to be an impossible administrative nightmare. Nobody's fault, the system is broken. The concept of "insurance" for healthcare is inherently dysfunctional.

Day 2. Home again

At home for five days of a clear liquid diet. This means water, strained fruit juices & drinks without suspensions (i.e. no particles floating in it to make it opaque), tea or coffee without milk, clear broths. Also, slightly bizarrely, jell-o, since it may be eaten while solid, but at room (or body) temperature, it's a liquid. I demurred on Suze's threat to make jello shots.

Ambitions for today were to rise from the sofa for a shower, and a walk or two around the inside of the house. Scoring 1,500 points on the breathe-o-meter. Importantly, I now have it together enough to be able to watch some dumb t.v.

Day 3. Outdoors.

Ambitions today were to take a walk or two around our yard. Scoring 2,000 points on the breathe-o-meter! Yay, progress. Able to concentrate enough to read.

Day 4.

Ambitions today were to take a couple of walks around the block. Scoring 3,500 points on the breathe-o-meter. I have no idea what my baseline was.

Day 5.

First full day and night without any pain killers. Ambitions for today were to take it easy and not mow the lawn (check!). Might have to get someone in to do it for us. I'd be writhing in guilt if Suze had to go out and manhandle our temperamental mower around. 4,500 on the breathe-o-meter.

Day 6.

Back to work - from home, at a desk.

Over lunch I visit the hospital for an x-ray and more tests. I was hoping to graduate to a soft food diet today, but surgeon says that, although he's happy with my progress, out of an abundance of caution he's going to keep me on clear liquids until day 9. Then a soft food diet for six weeks. C'est la vie. Back home to more apple juice. At least I'm still under instructions to take it easy, so retain my excuse for not mowing the lawn...


Demon cover

by Jason Shiga (2016)

I'm just discovering the works of Jason Shiga, creator of mathematically-inspired nonlinear comic-books, e.g. stories drawn on complex origami structures, that can be folded in various ways to represent either branching storylines, or else to manage state such as 'inventory'. Construction of these more elaborate paper constructions doesn't scale, (ie. I'm not likely to ever own one) but you can try some of his other creations on the web.

This is Demon, a regular linear webcomic.

The storyline is 'math-inspired' too, in the same way that the movie Primer is - intense, absolute, ruthless, narrative exploration of logical implications, while continually, dizzyingly, escalating to the next level.

Fine Structure, by qntm

Fine Structure cover

Another fabulously enjoyable science fiction adventure from qntm. Like their other novels, it does a tremendous job of exploring the implications and consequences of big science fiction concepts.

In this case, it's a story of human superheroes, whose powers derive from beings-beyond-comprehension, from the high-dimensional multiverse, the Structure, within which our paltry three-plus-one spacetime is naught but an embedded decal. Their struggles rewrite the fundamental physics of our universe, to fashion it into an inescapable trap, denying humanity access to advanced sciences, and to communion with the higher levels of the Structure. Loved it.

For those like me with an epub fetish, you can buy Fine Structure in many formats, including Amazon links, EPUBs, or free-to-read online, at the author's site.

Ed, by qntm

Ed cover

It took me a few pages to shift gears to match the provocatively casual style, but once I did, it quickly became an engrossing and endearing read. The book collects a series of tiny but grand adventures, each riffing on one of the titular Ed's fabulous new inventions or discoveries. Together these form an arc which burns through combinations of high-concept SF ideas at an unseemly rate.

It reminded me of what I've fondly said about 200AD (the galaxy's greatest comic), that somehow the superficiality of the medium allows writers to experiment more wildly with form and content, throwing up a torrent of creativity which, while sometimes uneven, generates moments of sheer brilliance. I thought being a comic was an essential part of that formula. But Ed proves me wrong by achieving the same velocity of verve and vigor, rendered in prose. A delight.

The Epilogue reminds me gleefully of this stackoverflow worldbuilding answer I gave a few months ago.

For those like me with an epub fetish, you can buy Ed in many formats, including Amazon links, EPUBs, or free-to-read online, at the author's site.

Ra, by qntm

Ra cover

I bought all four of qntm's books when I discovered the fantastic There is no Antimemetics Division. I didn't really expect to like all of them, sight unseen, but was delighted to support an emerging author who had contributed to the genius of SCP. But then the books that arrived turned out to be bloody brilliant.

This one tells a tale in which magic was discovered to be real in the 1970s, becoming a new, arcane branch of physics. From there, it piles on the twists and raises the stakes at an enthralling and dizzying rate, demanding the reader to keep up through many exciting layered reveals and escalating changes of perspective. Absolutely smashing.

Like Antimemetics, it scores points with me for including some female heroes, who surmount challenges through some striking strengths of character & expertise, rather than simply being the best at applied violence.

For those like me with an epub fetish, you can buy Ra in many formats, including Amazon links, EPUBs, or free-to-read online, at the author's site.

TIL: Energy use per transaction for cryptocurrencies vs Visa

For my own calibration, approximate current energy use for a single transaction in various cryptocurrencies, compared with using Visa:

Currency  Symbol  Energy use
per txn(Wh) 
Bitcoin BTC 1,000,000  Hot tub, 150 hours
Ethereum ETH 62,000  Nissan Leaf, 1.5 charges
Litecoin LTC 19,000  Clothes washer, 8 loads
Chia XCH 2,000  Dishwasher, 1 hour
Cardano ADA 500  Computer & monitor, 1 hour
Dogecoin DOGE 120  Humidifier, 1 hour
Ripple XRP 79  Amazon echo telling 2 jokes
Visa One Visa card purchase


  • I got most crypto energy use from this roundup.
  • For Visa, I used the figures from this breakdown.
  • For Bitcoin, I took a rounded figure roughly between those quoted on the above two sources (710kWh and 1,123kWh). A single figure precision is probably most appropriate anyhow.
  • For Chia, I did my own hacky calculation. Chia Power estimates 6MW in total is used by the Chia network, at current size of 4EiB. Meanwhile, Chia Explorer shows a hard-to-read graph which I'm eyeballing to get a rough average of 3,000 transactions per hour. 6 Megawatts divided by 3k per hour gives an energy use per transaction of 2kW.
  • For equivalent household energy uses, I used this and this.

Something's not quite right here though. The Chia whitepaper estimates 10,000 times better energy efficiency than Bitcoin, by my figures above only show 1,000.

They probably know how to calculate this better than I do. So perhaps my figure for Chia is high? I understand the value per transaction will come down as Chia starts handling more transactions, which seems reasonable. Perhaps the white paper refers to that future hypothetical efficiency?

On the other hand, many of the other cryptocurrencies listed above will become more efficient in the future too (e.g. Bitcoin is in the process of deploying its lightning network, which will reduce per transaction energy use.) So I think it's fair to leave the above figures as they are, as a snapshot of current reality.

TIL: Create mp3 from YouTube video

Install youtube-dl, a tool to download YouTube videos. Using apt installs a version that's too old to work, so:

pipsi install youtube-dl

Download the video from YouTube:


This results in a webm file. I have no idea what that is, and am relieved to discover that converting it into an mp3 requires just:

ffmpeg -I MyVideoFile.webm -vn MyAudioFile.mp3

Where -vn disables video in the output.