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Birthlines, Part 2: Birthlines, Digital Sampling, Immersion

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Birthlines

Birthlines are to projects as digital sampling is to sound and frames are to motion pictures.

The sampling rate, sample rate, or sampling frequency defines the number of samples per second (or per other unit) taken from a continuous [i.e. analog] signal to make a discrete [i.e. digital] signal. ~ The Pedia

What do I mean? Well, for example, as I understand it, when a digital microphone is recording your voice, it isn’t actually recording your voice the whole time. Instead, it’s taking little “sound pictures” (samples) of what you say, thousands of times a second. One common sampling rate (frequency) is 44.1 kHz. That means that the mike (well, the equipment) is “checking” what you say — taking a sound sample — 44,100 times every second.

Movies are similar. What we call a movie is really a sequence of still pictures (frames). Twenty-four frames per second is a common framerate. In fact, I think it may be just about the minimum necessary to fool our eyes into seeing continous motion (persistence of vision)?

Why am I rambling incoherently about sampling rates and framerates? Well, because I think that birthlines could be considered samples. And it strikes me that it may well be that if you have enough birthlines, then your work on your project could become a discrete signal that is good enough to be considered a continuous signal. In the vernacular: working on something often enough, however little, could be as good as working on it all the time (if not better, because a 1-minute timebox is something you would actually do since it’s so non-threatening).

This has interesting implications for immersion. Here’s a tip: if you’re in a situation — perhaps at an office — where you can’t have Japanese on all the time…don’t. Instead, do…touch Japanese for 1, 2, 3 minutes every half hour. Look at a Japanese page. Do some SRS reps. Play 1 Japanese song while you take a little restbreak. There’s always a way. There are always cracks in the concrete for Japanese weeds to grow. So what if you don’t have vegetable patch (i.e. oodles of free time)! Grow through the cracks.

Series Navigation<< Birthlines, Part 1: What Is A Birthline?Birthlines, Part 3: If You Want To Win, Stop Trying To Finish >>

  11 comments for “Birthlines, Part 2: Birthlines, Digital Sampling, Immersion

  1. October 16, 2010 at 01:37

    Short. Sweet. Simple!

  2. Scuba
    October 16, 2010 at 11:44

    Nice, analogy…

    This works really well if you can do srs reps on a phone or other mobile device, if you do at least one rep between every webpage you visit, or time you check your mail, or while on the toilet, or waiting for your car to get fixed…

    You end up with a lot of finished srs reps.
    Enough for me to stay up to date on my reps for the last week anyway!

  3. talle
    October 16, 2010 at 13:28

    It’s funny because the exact same principles that Khatz is trying to mold in these latest entries are things I’ve seen in all kinds of avenues of daily living. In programming, for example — and I’m positive Khatz can back me up on this with his experience developing Surusu — 99% of the work is just starting the thing. Finding a place to begin and building a piecemeal plan via trial and error, looking up bits of code and protocols and just testing out different ideas. I’ve had the same massive bombastic hyperperfectionist animus that Khatz describes in his entries on PD and learning Japanese, and it can be truly crippling — you become incapable of doing anything bar staring blankly at the screen or purposefully not listening to the language you’re trying to learn. All of the best successes I’ve had in programming/design have came from almost zero ‘planning’, at least in the sense of sitting down and drafting carefully-reasoned, plotted out intricate mental wireframes, and by just starting SOMEWHERE and ending up at the finish line. It’s not just way, way faster/more productive but the quality itself is superior; a bit of a mystery even to myself, but it’s perhaps because the ‘planning’ I do is always on runtime, while I’m coding the last idea I had… does this make any sense? I basically ‘update’ my plan according to whatever the response from the program is, and I keep a super thick skin about it: the plan doesn’t matter, just discard the bad parts of the old one and fix this new issue. It’s almost like you’ve already built the program and you’re just debugging it. So long as you can charge through that desire to go, “Oh, my plan was stupid and it sucked, and I know nothing and I might as well quit now”, you’ll reach the end eventually. Don’t even acknowledge that sentiment in yourself when it emerges from the tarpool, just keep going on. Take a break and think about the approach some if you like, but do it in a light-hearted way (although I guess you can’t really command someone to be light-hearted).

    Whew… that was a bit much. Anyway, I had to let everyone know that like his experience with learning Japanese, he’s not alone in his conclusions about work in general. I’ve had the exact same experiences totally parallel to his, and everything he’s saying is really true.

  4. talle
    October 16, 2010 at 13:33

    What’s even more interesting is that there’s a school of thought (doesn’t look like we on planet Earth can agree about anything without fracturing into 9000 squabbling schools) called “extreme programming” I happened upon via Wikipedia a few days ago. Its tenets are basically almost exactly what I described above, and the Wiki entry even uses the word “timeboxing” in the lede. Makes you wonder how old all this knowledge really is, and whether we’ve just forgotten it or if Aristotle just couldn’t think of a title for his PD manual.

  5. Ken
    October 16, 2010 at 14:25

    If you’re old-school (a.k.a., cheap) like me and watch on a CRT TV, it’s even worse! Instead of seeing one frame every so-and-so fraction of a second, the electron gun has to scan around to create the image. If you could freeze time, you’d see only a single point.

    My mind thinks I’m watching ネオ fight スミス, but I’m actually watching one single dot of light, which happens to fly around in a rectangular grid and change colors at just the right time. A dot! I’m like a cat chasing a laser pointer. A laser pointer that speaks Japanese and has great fight scenes, but still.

  6. bubble
    October 16, 2010 at 19:03

    The same is true of fiction writing. You may prepare all you like, and depending on how your mind works and what you’re writing a certain amount of prep is useful, even essential, but you’re never going to be prepared enough before you start, and you’re never going to have the right first sentence. It’s rare enough to have any idea how to start, so you eventually just pick a point and start there, even though you may scrap the scene later.

    I also find that writer’s block is mostly indecision. Your character is at point A, at which point there are a whole bunch of things he/she can do (or ways you can describe said actions), and you’re afraid to mess it up, not realizing that it’s perfectly okay to write a bunch of stuff that turns out to be terrible and scrap it later.


  7. Tommy Newbhall
    October 16, 2010 at 23:21

    In conscious defiance of the principle stated in this article, I’d like to take five minutes to write a completely inconsequential correction to the explanation of audio sampling given here. This description is basically correct, except that the term “digital microphone” is a bit misleading. Really, all microphones are analog devices, and in order to convert their signal from an analog to digital signal, the use a piece of circuitry called an Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC), which takes the average voltage over a certain period of time (in the case of CDs, 1/44,000th of a second) to a number, usually represented in binary.

    And by the way, did you ever wonder why 44,100hz? No? Never cared? Well, I’m gonna tell you anyway! The highest pitch signal that can be represented at a 44,100hz sample rate is exactly half that, 22,050hz, which is just above what is considered the “normal” human hearing range.

    Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
    The other half is procrastination.


  8. khatzumoto
    October 17, 2010 at 00:37



  9. nippyon
    October 18, 2010 at 02:47


    The same thing happens to me when I write, bubble, so i feel your pain. When I have no idea where to begin, I usually end up just writing random thoughts. I’ll babble about this and that, write out different points of view for different characters, write three different possible outcomes, just write whatever comes to mind… and all of a sudden WHAM! I’m inspired and I write 25 pages of good stuff.

    But if i didn’t start writing, whether its crap or a sudden inspiration, if i didn’t actually put my pen to the paper, or start tapping away at my keyboard, nothing comes out. 0 typing, 0words. 0 input, 0 output (just like Khatz says 😉 )
    If you don’t start, there’s no way in bejesus that your’e ever going to get anywhere.

    When in doubt, ramble your brains out until u find something.(Good luck on the writing, bubbles!:P)

    P.S. Khatz, If this is 2,and you already wrote 1,3, and 4,… is this series over?

  10. Ken
    October 18, 2010 at 11:01

    There’s a great scene in “Finding Forrester” where Sean Connery tells the young writer, in a nutshell, “don’t think, just write”.

    I guess you can’t have writer’s block if you’re too busy writing.

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