• AI/LLM Interfaces

    I’m testing out msty as a way to compare some different AI tools. The ability to create “knowledge stacks” (and, moreover, use different models for embedding that knowledge for RAG) is really amazing.

    Here I took some VW training materials and couple of YouTube links and created a “Volkswagen Vanagon” knowledge stack using 2 different embedding models: Snowflake Arctic and OpenAI’s Text Embedding. The tradeoff here is that by using Snowflake, you’re keeping the embedding local as you’re running that model locally, the openai text embedding requires you send the content via API to OpenAI for embedding.

    Next, I used GPT-4o and Claude3 Opus to interrogate the training materials. The ability to see this output side by side is helpful.

    open this in a new tab and zoom if you want to read output.

    SO here we see from left to right:

    GPT w/ Snowflake, GPT w/ OpenAI Embedding, Claude with Snowflake and Claude with OpenAI Embedding

    As I know a bit about Vanagon idle issues, I’d say that if I had to rank these responses, Claude with OpenAI embedding barely beats out GPT’s Open AI embedding simply because it communicates the same info as GPT but slightly more user-friendly.

    Next would be GPT using the Snowflake embedding which gave accurate though not thorough or complete information. Finally, Claude with Snowflake was a total fail.

    That said, I could probably tweak the prompting a bit and get a slightly different set of responses.

    I then tried the same query using a local LLM, TinyDolphin, which msty installs as a default option and had it query both the Snowflake embedding and the open AI embedding.

    The TinyDolphin + Snowflake, importantly, is an entire local process. All data, processing and embedding happens locally. Here is the response:

    To troubleshoot the idle issue on your 1986 Vanagon, follow these steps:
    Inspect Vacuum Lines: Check for any leaks or disconnections in the vacuum lines and hoses.
    Clean the Idle Control Valve: Remove and clean the idle control valve to ensure it isn't clogged.
    Check the Throttle Body: Inspect and clean the throttle body and throttle position sensor.
    Test the Idle Control Unit: Ensure that the idle control unit (ICU) is functioning correctly.
    Check Fuel System: Examine the fuel filter, fuel injectors, and fuel pump for blockages or malfunctions.
    Evaluate Electrical Components: Evaluate the condition of the spark plugs, ignition wires, distributor cap, and rotor for damage or wear.
    Remember to allow time for the readings to stabilize when checking or making adjustments.

    Not bad, but not as good as the response that TinyDolphin gives when using the OpenAI embedding, which, here remember that the source material for the knowledge stack is embedded using the API so it’s not an entirely local process.

    To troubleshoot the idle issue on your 1986 Vanagon, follow these steps based on the provided information:

    1. Check Engine Operating Temperature:
      • Ensure the engine is at operating temperature with an oil temperature of at least 80°C (176°F).
    2. Inspect Throttle Position Switch:
      • Ensure that the throttle position switch is connected and functioning properly.
      • Move the throttle linkage to full throttle position and listen for a clicking noise.
      • Return the throttle linkage to the idle position and listen for a clicking noise.
      • Adjust if necessary to ensure the switch clicks at both full throttle and idle positions.
    3. Idle Stabilization Valve (ISV) Check:
      • Turn off all electrical consumers and ensure the ignition coil is switched on at the connector for the idle stabilization control unit.
    4. If Readings are Off:
      • Refer to “Idle Speed/CO Content – Checking and Adjusting” as indicated on page 37 of your manual.
    5. If Readings are Fixed (Not Fluctuating):
      • Check for a signal from terminal 1 of the ignition coil at the connector for the idle stabilization control unit.
      • Use the US 1115 LED tester between terminals 5 and 17 of the connector to ensure proper signal.

    By following these steps, you should be able to identify and potentially correct the idle issue on your 1986 Vanagon.

    So the weak link here really seems to be the local embedding process. This embedding process is still opaque to me and there are many parameters that may improve the quality so that is going to be my next step here.

  • Vanagon Odds & Ends

    I realized a few weeks ago that we’ve had our Vanagon for 10 years as of this past April. My kids all spent the better part of their childhood summers camping in this van on our family trips and vacations. I’ve used it as a home base for many bike camping trips and bluegrass festivals. It is a fantastic and delightful machine.

    And while all that is true, I know that the past few summers as I drive the east coast highways on a hot July or August Sunday afternoon, exhausted and making my way home from a bluegrass festival or bike ride, I look around at the cars passing me. I see that I am alone. That there are no other cars even remotely as old as mine on the road. The lack of air conditioning means I’m driving with the windows down, sweating, straining to hear the tunes on my stereo. I admit that I have questioned my sanity at times.

    Why drive this thing? Why not get a Sprinter or a Pull behind or something. At the end of last summer I even thought about selling the vanagon.

    Then, this spring, with mental note of 10 year anniversary in mind, I got under the van to do an oil change. Then, for whatever reason, I decided maybe I should try to fix my fluctuating idle. I cruised The Samba and Ken’s YouTube video’s and soon I had a properly adjusted TPS and a silky smooth and steady idle and was immediately reminded of why I’m never selling this thing: the satisfaction of maintenance. I’ve worked on bicycles since I was a little, little kid but never cars until I got the vanagon and now I feel reasonably sure that I can fix a lot of what might go wrong with the van or at least identify what’s wrong and find someone knowledgeable enough to fix it.

    Taking the Vanagon on a road trip is an exercise in relinquishing control. I do what I can do for maintenance and making sure the van’s in good shape but when driving a nearly 40 year old vehicle, there is always a chance I won’t make it to where I’m going when I thought I’d get there. I’m still digesting this lesson, learning what’s in my control and what’s not and the Vanagon continues to be an excellent teacher in that regard.

    The controlled chaos of “getting the Vanagon ready”

    So but anyway, to celebrate 10 years of great summer trips and to get ready for the longish drive out to DelFest in Cumberland, MD, I gave the Vanagon a bunch of TLC over the past few weeks:

    • Oil Change
    • Throttle Position Switch
    • Fixed several vacuum leaks
    • Replaced rear brake shoes (I had a local VW mechanic as I felt just a bit over my head and was equally pressed for time as the amount of time I spent working on the Vanagon was starting to create some issues for my other responsibilities)
    • Replaced 3 belts
    • Polished and Waxed Van (forgot how good it can look)
    • Fixed the charcoal canister/vacuum/crushing gas tank problem
    • Cleaned the slider door tracks
    • Cleaned/painted aux battery compartment
    • Replaced aux battery
    • Replaced front door handle seals and painted door handles
    • Painted front grills, added silver trim
    • Coolant flush
    • Added GoWesty’s upper window seals to front doors, what a difference. Reducing wind noise is definitely the best bang for the buck, way more so than adding sound deadening to panels. At least for my vanagon.
    • Replaced fuel filter (local shop put the last one on facing in the wrong direction, yowza.)
    • Coolant flush (used shop vac and, with some success, the Libby Bong)

    And all that was great and made me feel pretty confident but it wasn’t until I took out my Dremel and cleaned up a hard to reach grounding point in the engine bay that suddenly caused the idle and throttle responsiveness to improve way more than I thought was possible.

    So.. clean yer grounds!

  • 3d printed Vanagon parts

    This is just to say that I spent $36, including shipping, on a handful of 3d printed parts from Uniwerks. It’s almost impossible to put a dollar amount on the value of the problems that were solved by these parts.

    Window arm crank washers to keep my window handle from destroying my speak grills, a thingy-majiggy to keep my glovebox from spilling its contents all over the wheel well every time you open it, all amazing.

    But the best is this thing that holds the back of my odometer gears together. So great to finally have a working odometer again.

  • Cruising

    Our country does not provide the education and upbringing that allow its citizens an interior life. For the creative class to point fingers at the large, breasty gentlemen adrift in tortilla-chip-laden pools of water is to gather a sour harvest of low-hanging fruit.


    Another supposedly fun thing…

  • Setting Default Display

    Struggling to get my Keyboard Maestro macros to open up my apps on my external monitor when it’s plugged in to my laptop. Digging through the forums it seemed like a lot of work to try to do this programmatically. Being lazy, I looked for an alternate solution and found it under System Settings->Display->Arrange..

    screen shot of arrange displays

    By dragging the menu bar from my laptop screen to the top of the primary display, as shown above, my Keyboard Maestro macros now open my apps on my external display instead of my laptop.

  • Fuji & Oxford

    Have been very busy as of late. Recently returned from a trip to Oxford University for work. I brought along my XE2S with my 7artisans 25mm lens. I went full manual mode while there (the lens is manual focus to begin with, but I also did manual metering).

    It has been so long since I’ve shot for any extended period of time. My first few days my shots were really out of focus and poorly exposed. Even towards the end of day 5 I was still struggling a bit but was having such a good time shooting, especially at night.

    The lens is a joy to use but the perspective distortion is really pronounced so most of the building/architecture photos I took are not really great. Fixing this kind of thing is beyond my editing skills but something I’m going to look into. This one below isn’t that bad the angled walls are evident.

  • Received my copy of Cal Newport’s Slow Productivity in the mail this weekend, at the same time I’m listening to Jenny Odell’s “Saving Time.”

    The books feel very complimentary and I’m glad for serendipity of reading them simultaneously.


  • Personal Density and Journaling in Day One

    I wrote about my appreciation of Alan Jacob’s thoughts on Personal Density several years ago when I first came across his writing.

    My Readwise app recently resurfaced some of my initial highlights from that piece:

    Breaking Bread With the Dead by Alan Jacobs, highlighted by Jim

    Here’s a brief recap:

    In Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), an engineer named Kurt Mondaugen enunciates a law of human existence: “Personal density … is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth.” The narrator explains: “’Temporal bandwidth’ is the width of your present, your now. … The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona. But the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are.”

    I’ve listened to several episodes of the How to Keep Time from the folks at The Atlantic and had really high hopes for it. The focus of the podcast was on our relationship to time and how to reclaim it. Not for lack of effort on the parts of the hosts, but the podcast never really hit the mark for me. I’m not sure what I would have changed to make the first few episodes more interesting or relevant but their last episode, Can We Keep Time? really fell flat for me.

    The reason it fell flat only became apparent to me after Readwise resurfaced the Jacobs quote on Personal Density. In the last episode the hosts dig into why we track things in our lives and ask Do photos, social posts, and diaries actually help us remember better?

    It feels like they really missed an opportunity to me. The hosts focussed on “oh, I take too many pictures” instead of addressing one of the key merits of journaling, especially modern journaling (like Day One for example) that allows you to revisit your “On This Day” X years ago entries every time you go ahead and writ in your journal.

    Every day when I write in my journal, I’m looking at nearly 20 years of previous entries. I don’t have an entry for every year for each day but most days I have a few entries. A few entries from the last four or five years, then an entry from 10 years ago then another from 15 years ago. Reading these earlier entries gives a certain feeling of rootedness.

    This, to me, is how I understand my relationship to time, how to reclaim it and more importantly, to understand how I’m using time. These earlier journal entries help me stay rooted in time, at least from the perspective of how I’m changing as an individual. Sometimes it can be totally disorienting to read an entry from years earlier and not completely recognize any of myself in the author of the entries. Other times, it’s equally disorienting to see how little I’ve changed over time, especially w/r/t the inventory of things that cause me anxiety or stress.

    My journal entries are valuable because there are times I feel my autobiographical memory isn’t dense enough to hold me in place while I try to gain perspective on my relationship to time.

  • Only half-jokingly wondering if Amazon’s AI’s emergent capabilities are due to being trained on audio from all of those Alexa devices out there? 🤔

  • Not going to lie, I’ve been ignoring all the hype around Drafts and sticking with emacs to my detriment. I dismissed Drafts as a rabbit hole for Zettelkasten-types where you spend more time tweaking the system than using the system, but Drafts is really close to what I imagine emacs would be if it were written from the ground up today.

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