The Autodidacts

Exploring the universe from the inside out

Things I don’t know how to do

I propose a new standard for the blogosphere, along the lines of Derek Sivers’s “Now” page: the Things I don’t know how to do list.


  1. Maintain a more or less up-to-date list of things that you don’t know how to do, and would like to learn.
    • These should be things that you have tried to learn how to do, and failed: things that are small enough to be achievable, but not the kind of thing that can be solved easily with a search engine.
    • Optionally, include information about how hard you’ve worked on the problem already, and what solutions you tried that didn’t work.
  2. Ideally, put a link in the footer of your site to the page. I propose the interrobang (), since it’s not widely used, and conveys the curiosity and frustration of unsolved problems that should be solvable but have so far been uncooperative.
  3. When one of the problems is solved, strike out the question and add the solution, or a link to the solution. (It’s occasionally permissible to remove answered questions that make the blogger look really dumb.)
  4. Optionally, include a list of expertise that you could share with anyone who helps you solve one of the problems
  5. I propose the page title “Things I don’t know how to do”, and the URL /intractable.

Why bother?

The people reading blogs know all kinds of things the blogger doesn’t. Blogs have high surface area. By maintaining a list, the blogger opens up the possibility of being helped.

But it also gives a low friction way for readers to get in touch with bloggers. It creates a passive way of helping each other solve obscure but tractable problems, and meet other friendly internet citizens.

I’ll start:

  • Fall asleep in less than ten minutes, when not sleep-deprived. (I have tried 4-7-8 breathing, and the 2-minute military relaxation techniques, as well as following as much as possible of the usual advice on “sleep hygiene”.)

  • Connect a USB keyboard to a Kobo e-reader, or use it as an external monitor (connected over USB, rather than through the internet), without supermassive headache (I have done a lot of Googling, and started an Ask HN thread.)

  • See what LibreOffice Calc formula or function is slowing down the worksheet. (I have Googled this, but not done thorough research.)

  • Get Nouveau + Wayland to work after upgrading to Ubuntu 22.04 LTS, on a Thinkpad T430 with GF108M [NVS 5400M] graphics. (Now, only the Nvdia 390 drivers + Xorg work. I have tried the usual sudo apt purge *nvidia* without success.)

  • Reliably prevent nosebleeds (I’ve tried: Vitamin C, Calendula.)

  • Find any rigorous research on optimizing handwriting speed, legibility, and comfort. (I have Googled, and started an Ask HN thread.)

  • Figure out how to setup Discourse when running the Bitnami Discourse Docker container on Fly. (The step I am missing is the “executing a shell inside the container”, I believe. When I SSH into fly and run the bundle rake command from /opt/bitnami/discourse, it fails. More info here.)

  • Find a free video tutorial series teaching intermediate-level Waltz steps.

  • View waveform/stem of audio files in VLC or MPV (or better yet, in Nautilus!), the way that phone audio recorders show it (allowing you to easily skip to the salient section, and get a visual overview of the track.)

  • Install OpenBSD on the Pinebook Pro without taking it apart and having a UART serial connector (I don’t believe it’s possible, but maybe it will be soon.)

  • Find a website for verbose, idiot-proof, almost page-by-page user-contributed summaries of (fiction) books and short stories. (I often find myself frustrated that I have obviously missed the point of some obscure science fiction story, and Google it, finding reviews, but no blow-by-blow plot explainer. An obvious example: I remain embarrassingly clueless about the symbolism in Voyage to Arcturus.)

  • Discover a chemical that reverses the bleaching effect Hydrogen Peroxide has on Diamine Registrars Blue-Black waterproof iron gall fountain pen ink.

  • Find any Danish literary magazines that pay writers and accept fiction submissions in English.

My skills

» Click to expand

I might be able to help with problems related to the topics covered on this blog: Linux, the command line, writing fiction & non-fiction, music & music theory, distance running, philosophy, DIY neuroscience, chemistry, spreadsheets, memory enhancement, health & nutrition, electronics troubleshooting, web design, et cetera.

A few things I know about, but haven’t written about yet, include how to:

  • Cure an intractable seasonal rash with diet
  • Use rsync to backup ereaders, or keep an MP3 player synched with music on a laptop
  • Run NetBSD on the Pinebook Pro
  • Use Regex to correct common Tesseract OCR errors
  • Publish short fiction in magazines
  • Make a highly-satisfying submissions tracking & cover-letter-generating spreadsheet
  • Use the Nashville Number System
  • Bulk transcribe audio memos with Whisper.cpp
  • Get people to read my lousy blog posts
  • Negotiate
  • Live life without a smartphone

And here are some notes I have written for grug myself which I can share:

Ignore the spelling.

Join the club!

If you start a “Things I don’t know how to do” list on your blog, please email me the link or drop it in the comments below so I can read it — and look for anything I can help with.