like thoughts, but deeper and sometimes stupider

all hail OSIRIS-REx

by benjamin hollon on september 21, 2023

This Sunday is a big day. OSIRIS-REx, deep space probe, will be returning a sample from an asteroid to Earth. I’ll be watching, along with many others.

The OSIRIS-REx mission, though, has a deeper story that’s largely untold. I’d like to tell it to you now.

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things i use (september 2023)

by benjamin hollon on september 15, 2023

Some people I’ve seen have lists of software and other things they use on their websites, but I change the things I use rapidly and would have to be constantly updating that page if I had one. At the same time, I know that many people have found programs they enjoy by seeing the software I casually mention I’m using, so it might help people to see a list of a bunch of things I use.

So here’s my solution: do a blog post about what I’m currently using, then potentially write new blog posts with updates. That way, I don’t have to be constantly updating a page with the things I use, since this page is not a living document.

Let’s jump in.

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the prodigal's brother needs to stop

by benjamin hollon on june 6, 2023

Some of you may have been reading The Prodigal’s Brother, the serial novel I was publishing daily updates to. I liked where it was going and some of you did too, but it needs to stop, at least for now.

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reconsidering my reading choices

by benjamin hollon on june 5, 2023

One of the very first articles I planned to post on Musings was a list of my favorite books. It’s now a complete draft, but has on my computer for over a year collecting dust.

I dug it up, planning to brush it up, address any changes, and post it, but noticed something: the only female author to feature on the list is Agatha Christie.

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imagining an email-free contact form

by benjamin hollon on january 26, 2023

I don’t like email for many different reasons, including that it’s a decentralized platform that’s been forcibly centralized by big companies.

To line up with that, I’ve been slowly eliminating email from the code of my websites over the last few years. Finally, I stopped putting out emails when I post new things, instead providing RSS feeds for people to keep up with my posts.

There’s one spot I still use email though: for people to contact me. Let’s think for a moment about how I could do away with that, too.

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a semester with the framework laptop

by benjamin hollon on january 3, 2023

Back at the beginning of my first semester at Texas A&M (a few days in), I received a Framework Laptop, a long-awaited purchase for me.

Spoiler alert: I absolutely love this thing.

For whatever reason, though, I never got around to writing up the full review of it I planned to. Now that the semester is over, here’s a review of how it performed over time. That should be an even better indicator than a “first impressions” post to anyone considering buying their own.

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2022 in review

by benjamin hollon on january 1, 2023

A lot happened this year. Not really any easier way to describe the year.

Let’s jump in.

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a nanowrimo pep talk

by benjamin hollon on november 5, 2022

If you’ve used the NaNoWriMo website, you’ve probably seen that they’ll occasionally get famous writers to write “pep talks” to encourage current writers to keep going. Personally, I haven’t found them very helpful.

I’m not a famous writer. There are a few people who like my writing a good deal, but I haven’t yet pursued publishing in a professional capacity. I’m not the kind of person who would write an official NaNoWriMo pep talk.

But then, maybe that’s what you need. So here we go.

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a social experiment on copyright

by benjamin hollon on october 22, 2022

I had an idea, so I tried it out. Sometimes I have trouble keeping myself from doing that. But this one seemed pretty fun, it intrigued me, and I thought there might be fascinating results behind it.

It was definitely fun, and the results are intriguing, though I don’t have an explanation behind them.

I just thought I’d put the facts out there.

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a seven-dimensional universe

by benjamin hollon on april 28, 2022

My current mental framework of the universe works in seven dimensions. It’s weird, and I haven’t seen this theory before, but neither have I seen anything yet that contradicts it. It’s perfectly possible something does, but I haven’t seen it, and this makes a lot of sense to me.

To understand my theory, you’ll have to understand two more mainstream interpretations of physics: Eternalism and Many Worlds.

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"non-comprehensive" ≠ "wrong"

by benjamin hollon on february 9, 2022

When it comes to learning, I hate analogy. Being given a simplified solution, only to later be told, “Oh, it really works like this, but that was an easier way to think about it,” frustrates me to no end.

That being said, explanations don’t have to be complete. Admitting that you don’t know everything is laudable, not a problem.

And lists of examples, of all things, certainly don’t need to be complete. In fact, they should not be complete.

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how to code a blog

by benjamin hollon on january 24, 2022

To kick off my third blog, Musings, I thought it might be fun to list out the general process I follow now when coding a new blog (or, the process I wished I followed).

But first, let’s look a little at the idea behind Musings.

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passwords and biometric authentication (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on april 25, 2022

Most modern devices include some form of biometric authentication: fingerprint scanners, facial recognition, or the like. Some passwordless way that it can tell who you are.

The device will also (almost always) have a passcode of some sort in case the biometric authentication isn’t working. Many people’s response is to put some simple passcode so that it’s easy to allow someone else to access the device.

This strategy is severely flawed.

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an introduction to passwords (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on april 23, 2022

How long is the average password you use? Eight characters? Ten? Are you one of those rare few who fit my recommended minimum of twelve?

Chances are, your passwords aren’t secure enough. A saying I’ve seen often in cybersecurity articles is this: “The only secure password is the one you can’t remember.” This seems paradoxical, but there’s solid reasoning behind it, which we’ll discuss.

So, let’s look at passwords. What makes a strong password? How do hackers get passwords? How can you make your passwords more secure?

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recaptcha is dead (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on january 21, 2022

The comments on this blog used to get quite a bit of spam. I tried to clean it out manually, but it eventually became enough of a hassle that I gave in and added Google reCAPTCHA to the comment form and contact page.

The spam stopped. I was forced to admit that, for all my dislike of reCAPTCHA and the extra hassle it required, it did its job pretty well.

I was wrong.

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how to choose a web browser (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on january 9, 2022

Here’s an intriguing fact: though Google Chrome is the dominant web browser, with 63.84% of the global market share, most devices don’t have it preinstalled.

This means a large majority of web users intentionally go out of their way to download Google Chrome rather than use the default browser handed to them by their Operating Systems.

My question, then, is this: why Chrome?

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here's why web privacy matters (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on january 5, 2022

Websites can collect a massive amount of data about you. Most people, though, respond to this fact with some variant of “I don’t have anything to hide.”

Keeping your data safe online doesn’t mean you’re hiding; let’s explore some perfectly legitimate reasons to keep your data away from websites.

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what is trust? (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on december 31, 2021

Life is full of questions: Who should we trust? Why is there so much untrustworthy information available? How far should trust extend?

This year, I want to do something different; I’ll be closely looking at how technology has shaped our lives and what you—yes, you—can do to be more in control of your digital environment.

Understanding technology begins with understanding how trust works—at least, how it should.

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let's start this over (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on october 17, 2021

This is not the first time I’ve promised to get back into blogging. It’s happened fairly often over the last year and a half (has it been that long already?), and it’s unrealistic to expect you to believe me now.

So here’s the deal: this is not a revival, this is a reboot. This blog is now a separate entity in my mind. All the old posts are still here, and I’ll likely be writing on similar topics to an extent, but I will be approaching it with a completely new attitude toward writing and some entirely new topics that I hope you’ll enjoy. I’ve come to appreciate a considerable new array of explorational avenues over the time since my regular blogging lapsed, and I’d like to put some of that out there.

Let’s take a look at what I mean.

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my technology manifesto (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on may 21, 2021

This article is a copy of my “Matrix Manifesto” assignment for my Media Literacy class. When relevant, I have linked to other blog posts of mine. Topics without links are likely to have some soon; I want to be thinking and writing about things like this more often.

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stop using chrome. seriously. (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on april 10, 2021

Okay, I’ve been planning to make a post on web privacy for a while now, and I took so long because I wanted to put together something super-convincing, but I’ve about had it by now with Google Chrome and have to get something out.

Chances are, you’re using Chrome while you’re reading this. If not, I congratulate you. Do make sure that you’re not using a Chrome-based browser that’s just as bad, though, because there are a lot of those.

Now, why am I so mad at Chrome?

Well, it all comes down to this: Chrome has a conflict of interest when it comes to privacy.

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new: emoji reactions (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on april 1, 2021

For the first time in a good while, I’ve released a completely new blog feature! Back in February, I did a redesign of the entire site from scratch with new (and better) features, but the blog got little attention and was mostly a recreation.

Now it’s time to start adding new things. And to start off what I hope will be a good run of features is one I’ve been considering for a while now: Emoji Reactions. Today I’m going to walk you through the new feature and give you a summary of my design philosophy when creating it.

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butterfly prophecies (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on march 11, 2021

Back in November, I was experimenting with embedded narrative in a novel I was drafting. I mostly did it to fill up some space when I wasn’t sure where I wanted the story to go, but I ended up with some insights I found fascinating.

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guns on this morgue ship (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on march 4, 2021

Ignore the cryptic title for the moment; I’ll get into that soon enough, don’t worry. First, though, I’m going to give you some background.

This week I first got into Machine Learning (or ML). ML is an area of Computer Science in which computers teach themselves how to solve real-world problems based on lots of data.

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stop and listen to the alarm clock (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on february 25, 2021

My watch’s alarm never wakes me up. My old one would beep for ten seconds before automatically snoozing for five minutes. Even if I heard it, my brain knew that if I could endure ten seconds of noise, I’d have an extra five minutes of sleep. I could never find the motivation to get up and out of bed when I heard it. My new one is even worse: it beeps for ten seconds without snoozing afterward.

That’s when I started the search for a new alarm clock.

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grade comparing: the new pillory? (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on october 7, 2020

Why do grades matter to us? On the surface, they mean nothing. Grades are simply numbers (See The Tyranny of Grades). But on a deeper level, almost everyone feels emotionally tied to their grades to a ludicrous degree. We take these assessments of our knowledge and set them at the apex of the school system.

Now, don’t misunderstand me: grades aren’t bad. On the contrary, grades, when used for their intended purposes, can be excellent tools. Grades are meant to be compasses, pointing to things that need improvement.

Instead, grades have become the end goal instead of a means to an end. Society has placed the institution of grades on a pedestal as the ultimate goal of learning.

Out of this has sprung another unfortunate habit: grade comparing.

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why read? (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on august 16, 2020

Why do people read? What motivation do we, as humans, have for perusing the written histories and fantasies of our predecessors?

For me, the answer is so self-evident that asking the question itself is superfluous. It's like asking, "Why do we breathe?" or, "Why do we eat?" Reading is something that I do naturally, almost spontaneously. It's not a matter of whether I read but of what I read.

For others, though, the answer is not so simple.

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the mayflower compact: a lesson in fragility (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on july 18, 2020

"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth,Anno Domini; 1620." - William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

When you read The Mayflower Compact, does anything strike you...

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life behind the mask (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on june 11, 2020

For the last few months, I've been purposely avoiding writing about the topic that is most on everyone's minds right now: COVID-19.

Now, there are multiple reasons why I chose not to bring up this subject, the foremost being that I didn't take it seriously enough, but the reasons don't really matter. I didn't, and that's that. Now, however, I'd like to say a few words.

I don't think anyone recognized at first how much this epidemic would mean to our daily lives. I certainly didn't. In just a few short months, we've come so far that even thinking about how we used to do things feels odd to me...

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it's not selfish to ask for help (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on may 10, 2020

One of the great misfortunes of life is that we often need help. We’re only human; no one can instinctively know how to brave all the trials and setbacks life throws at us.

Often, when we can’t hold our heads above water, we’re offered help, like a life preserver to a sinking child. Sadly, humans, in addition to needing help, often are too proud to accept it. We refuse that which we need so as “not to inconvenience” the one who offered it, not wanting to give in to our “selfish” wants.

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when the sun sets (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on april 25, 2020

Darkness has something about it that inspires fear. There's a quality of the unknown, of potential enemies lying in wait somewhere beyond the threshold of sight. Often our minds tend to create fantasies of monsters prepared to ambush us if we venture out into the void.

The darkness also seems to amplify fears that are already present. For example, in I Am Malala by Malala Yousafazi, her father says, "At night our fear is strong...but in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again."

What is it about the night that steals courage? Is there a quality of the darkness that lends itself to fear and uncertainty? Perhaps it is the feeling that time has stopped...

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the bookwyrm method (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on april 4, 2020

Some of you may know that I run a reading group online. I started it back at the beginning of November, and it's already passed a thousand members (that's more than seven new members per day). It's been so popular and has helped so many people that I thought I would take the next few posts to explain how they work and the thought process behind them.

My first reading challenge was "Slay the Bookwyrm." I started running this challenge before I created my own reading group, running it as a side challenge in someone else's group. It was a hit and helped so many people that I decided to dedicate a whole group to this type of challenge, a group I dubbed "Gamified Reading."

The idea behind the Bookwyrm Method is to hit your reading goals without letting your reading get in the way of other essential tasks you have to get done by dealing damage to an imaginary monster called the "Bookwyrm" (not a typo).

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i'm not a robot (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on march 29, 2020

In this enlightened age, we often hear the terms “diversity,” “equal opportunity,” and “tolerance” thrown around. It seems like we’re willing to allow anyone equal rights with everyone else.

But there’s one minority group that has no rights. This group of individuals is routinely denied service everywhere, even on websites.

I’m talking about Robots.

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just write! (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on march 28, 2020

Whether you're bored, inspired to be creative, or just stuck inside with nothing to do, writing is an excellent pastime that offers infinite possibilities.

Writing can come in many forms. One can write stories, nonfiction, histories, or even blogs like I am doing now. Every type of writing has its benefits.

I mainly deal with writing fiction and writing in this blog, so those are the methods I'll unpack for you.

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quote analysis: laziness (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on march 21, 2020

If you know me, you probably know that I love Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. I've quoted it a few times already in my posts, and I finally decided that it needs a quote analysis.

Now, The Phantom Tollbooth has so much good stuff in it that I can analyze, but I'm just going to focus on one thing: its views on laziness, slacking, and generally avoiding work in any way.

To begin, I have to take a look at Milo's visit to the Doldrums, a land where thinking and laughing are against the law (smiling is permitted on alternate Thursdays)...

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forensics tournament and assumptions (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on february 14, 2020

During the second half of this week, I had the privilege of participating in the SEA Forensics tournament in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This tournament was my first time doing Forensics (Speech & Debate) competitively, and I was nervous but prepared. I would be participating in two events: Oral Interpretation and Solo Acting.

Before I go any further, I'll explain what these events are...

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the tyranny of grades (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on february 7, 2020

Every day, millions of students across the world go to school, sit through classes, and frantically study for tests, hoping to retain knowledge just long enough to pass the next exam before it slips through the sieve into the abyss of the forgotten.

Most students only remember the information they learn until the class is over and then forget it, relieved to be through with the ordeal.

But what of those who remember? (I will admit that they a small minority.) What of those who work hard through every class to remember everything, not only until the next test but to remember their lessons until they might need them in real life. What recognition do they receive, what reward for their hard work?

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necessary murder? (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on january 30, 2020

Recently, the case R v Dudley and Stephens, a legal matter that arose in 1866, forcing the court to decide whether Necessity is justification for Murder, was brought to my attention.

Here's the case: an English yacht, the Mignonette, was being sent to Australia, as it had just been purchased by an Australian lawyer named John Henry Want. Onboard were four men: Tom Dudley, the captain; Edwin Stephens; Edmund Brooks; and Richard Parker, an orphaned 17-year-old who had signed on as a cabin boy.

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the power of procrastination (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on january 11, 2020

Everyone tells me that procrastination is bad for you, but I've never really felt the adverse effects of it. It isn't that I don't procrastinate; I do. I procrastinate about everything, even the things I do for fun.

For some reason, though, procrastination doesn't have the negative effects on me that everyone says it should. I never miss deadlines. No one realizes I'm lazy. I don't end up with much time wasted (or at least not more than people who play video games). I meet almost all of the goals I set for myself.

This contradiction between the expected and the reality got me thinking. Why am I immune to procrastination's harmful effects?

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quote analysis: see with eyes closed (archived post)

by benjamin hollon on december 31, 2019

I thought it fitting to open up this blog by reflecting a bit on the ideas that I'm trying to put into it. As I was looking through quotes before creating this blog, one of the most significant concepts that stood out to me was that of seeing with your eyes closed, the idea that the most important things to notice are sometimes ones that you cannot see with your eyes. One quote that captured this idea was a quote from The Little Prince...

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