Weekly Head Voices #175: Plaintext me.

Good evening fellow humans.

This is Head Voice #37 reporting for duty. I have been instructed to perform retrospection on the period of time from Monday July 22 to Sunday July 28.

Due to the ongoing hibernation and consequent lack of interesting events to talk about, this should be short.

This delectable Fred & Max Flat White was one of a quite few more enjoyed during life-affirming breakfast with a Very Flat Cat. (By the way, why didn't any of you tell me that fried egg yolk slowly drenching the quinoa bed it lies on is so amazing?!)

I’m stubbornly doubling down on plaintext email.

I spent a precious hour or two (or perhaps three, in which case I am ashamed) performing experiments to try and understand how GMail, fastmail web, thunderbird and the iOS mail.app encode quoting in HTML email replies.

The answer is that they all do it in subtly different ways…

The even more shocking answer is that since HTML email took over, people have really just been winging it, and quite badly so.

To give you an idea, gmail adds explicit inline CSS styling to display the vertical reply bar on the left, like some kind of barbarian.


Back when plaintext email was the only game in town, there were fairly strict but effective guidelines that determined exactly how one could quote previous emails, up to any depth, when crafting that thoughtful reply.

However, it seems that, thanks to Outlook and perhaps far more insidiously Google’s GMail, many people currently have no idea that a thing such as email quoting with inline replies used to be a solved problem.

That is, until users mistakenly thought that badly chosen fonts with even more badly chosen colours were more important than, you know, effective and efficient written communication.

Although this battle is lost, this has only encouraged me to stick it to the (HTML email) man, and double-down on my old-school plaintext emails.

If you receive a simple-looking email from me which sometimes wraps strangely, you’ll know why.

If you’d like join me, the new useplaintext.email site is a good start!

Linux on the ThinkPad.

I thought that the NVIDIA GPU being hard-wired to the external display outputs on this ThinkPad meant that I would never be able to run Linux with dynamic display connection.

Well it turns out I was wrong.

I slipped this weekend, and now the Linux partition is configured with Manjaro Linux (a surprise to me too).

In short, ThinkPad consumes just over 5W at idle, because NVIDIA is only switched on when necessary. I can switch it on for CUDA (for example to work with neural networks that fit into the 4GB of VRAM), and I can switch it on when I need to connect an external display.

All of this without having to reboot or even logout and back in again.

If you’re interested, see the vxlabs blog post for all of the details.

We live in the future.

At the UMC Utrecht, two patients have received entirely patient-specific 3D-printed titanium spinal implants.

Thanks to this, the patients, one of whose spine had previously collapsed, are still able to walk.

Read more in this DutchNews summary, or preferably this Volkskrant article if you can follow Dutch.

I’ve embedded the Lancet video abstract for your convenience:

This used to be the stuff of science fiction folks!