Yeah it’s possible, but would I like it?

Woke up way too early this morning with uncomfortable dreams. Rather than fight sleep, I decided to pick at my phone.

Yesterday my family had a good discussion about the invasive contact tracking that seems to be heading towards us all like a loaded freight train. We’re considering our options (Light Phone is the current front-runner) but in addition to the potential security gain, there’s also the quality of life gain and that’s what I was considering as I lay there, not sleeping, this morning.

Our phones have become useful companions over the last decade or so, but are they really meant to be companions? Additionally, has society shifted significantly enough to make going offline an extremely radical choice? Is that a choice I want to make?

In thinking about these questions I decided to start rearranging all those little icons on my own device (currently an iPhone 6s). This generated new questions that I tried to answer in this experiment.

What does the Light Phone provide out of the box?

  • Phone (includes Contacts)
  • Clock (includes Alarm functionality)
  • Texting (plain text only)
  • Calculator

I moved these apps to the pinned items bar. These are what I would have if I switched right now. This is a workable, usable device. The only hurt I feel within what’s available here is not having rich media texting. My family and friends make significant use of the ability to send photos.

What are the Light Phone folks planning on adding?

  • GPS
  • Music
  • Notes
  • Calendar

I moved everything else off of the home screen at this point. This honestly fills a LOT of my daily use, though it doesn’t match my personal workflow. All of these apps could be replaced relatively simply with analog equivalents. Having them available is just handy and make it possible to leave the house with just wallet, keys, and phone without much inconvenience.

What else does the iPhone provide out of the box (or nearly so) that I actually use?

  • Reminders
  • Camera
  • Voice Memos
  • Mail
  • Photos
  • Podcasts
  • Safari
  • Weather

Now we’re looking at some meat and potatoes apps that I would genuinely miss. I was surprised to find that if I were to delete every single 3rd party app on my phone I would still feel like I had a very useful, dare I say magical, device.

Along with the others mentioned above, I truly do use every single one of these apps on a daily basis. Some of them, such as Reminders and Voice Memos, have significantly improved my quality of life as an autistic person. Others, such as Camera/Photos and Podcasts, genuinely spark joy.

What 3rd party apps do I genuinely use on a daily basis?

  • Habitica (todo list)
  • Trello (project planning)
  • Bear Writer (all my personal notes)
  • Slack (work and side project communication)
  • Recycle Coach (because holidays muck up the pickup schedules)
  • Clue (reproductive systems are weird)
  • LastPass (login all the things)
  • Threes (game as fidget spinner?)
  • myNoise (meditation and focus)
  • Workouts For Women (7 minute stretches)
  • Duolino (Sprichst du Deutsch?)

Yes, for the most part I don’t need to have 24/7 access to these things. When I’m out of the house some of them won’t get any use or they’re only touched a couple times a month or when a spontaneous question or thought comes up. They wouldn’t get replaced. See caveat two below.

What would be highly inconvenient to go without when I’m out of the house?

  • Bank and Car Insurance apps
  • Take out ordering apps
  • Additional GPS tools
  • Goodreads (I track stuff I want to buy when going to the bookstore is possible again)

I won’t keep listing all the apps in detail. We’re into truly utilitarian territory here. But this is the stuff that makes the difference between having a smart phone and a simple phone. These are the “hey I have the tool, might as well use it to its full advantage” apps.

What the hell else do I have on here?

There are about 45 additional apps I have on my phone. Social media, some more games, media and streaming players, some self care stuff, and various other tools. I shoved these all into folders on the last “page”. This is the stuff I could remove and probably not notice they were gone once I break the habit of using them.

Okay, so what have I learned?

I could definitely be content with a Light Phone with a couple caveats. The tools that are currently available for it fulfill a surprising chunk of my needs when I’m out of the house. When I’m in the house I have a laptop and don’t need a phone much.

Caveat One:

I would need to carry more analog tools until the other apps the Light Phone folks have in development are completed. A GPS for the car, my old iPod Nano, a paper notebook and calendar would all get added to my bag.

In addition, to get back functionality I find vital, I would add a camera, voice recorder (or leverage my iPod), a puzzle book, and fidget toy. (or that old Gameboy I bought last year)

The only thing I would really feel I was missing that isn’t covered by this caveat is Reminders. Perhaps the coming calendar and the existing alarm would fill that void?

All in all, that’s not really too bad. This could all easily fit in a decently small bag. So what about the other apps I’d be losing in the move?

Caveat Two:

I would likely switch everything else over to my iPad. There’s a lot of stuff that I use my phone for that I don’t need to have all the time but I do like having. All those tools like Habitica and Trello and Clue do have desktop OS counterparts, but I work as a programmer and sometimes I want to get away from my desk. Sometimes I want to sit outside on a park bench, just for the fresh air. Or I want to curl up on the couch. Sometimes I work on paper but use those digital tools for references. For various reasons, it’s just nice to have the option. The other nice thing about this option is that the iPad can stay home.

In Summary

The result of this experiment is pretty straightforward. Yes, I can use a Light Phone. Yes, I can switch to using analog tools for the stuff it doesn’t provide either currently or ever. Having solidified the hypothesis here, I also don’t have to wait to try it out. I can move everything optional off my phone now, strip it down to a simulated version of a Light Phone and see how it goes.

One thing I kind of knew already but was truly shown in this process was that, most importantly, yes I can make my choices about screen time more intentional than they currently are. Reducing trackability may have been the spark behind this exploration, but the outcome is that I’m thinking more about how I use my technology and ways I can reclaim some personal power and intention in my usage of it. It is a tool and should not be using the user.

Mornin’

I’m folding again after a weekend of too high temps in my workspace. I just didn’t want to put poor Weathertop through that. The current process looks like it’ll take 2.3 days. I’ll check on that later to see if the timeframe has shortened. Is folding like bittorrent?

Had lovely weekend that’s brought some inner work to the fore. My current schedule is great and I want to keep it great, but there’s some work that I want to do that’s not getting done. My main focus right now is keeping that internal pondering going, keeping the door open for answers to a couple questions.

The new normal is still shifting far too much to predict anything and I find myself being in the moment far more often than not. For someone who’s struggled with burnout and putting too much pressure on myself, this is a very welcome change. Yes, despite everything.

Today so far, I’ve read about the return of the community cookbook, did my Duolingo for the day (I made Sapphire league yesterday!), and opened the window to get some fresh air.

I’ve got a lot of day job work on tap and then we’re celebrating May The Fourth Be With You in my house this evening. Which I always want to respond to with “and also with you”.

Best get to that then. Hope you have a good day. Stay safe, and not just in your body, but in your heart and mind, too.

 

When I get off of this mountain, you know where I want to go

Ever since we went to see “Once Were Brothers” at a local theater, I’ve been trying to get some words down about The Band and how I feel about the state of music in general. Now is as good a time as any with the sound of “The Last Waltz” floating up the stairs.

I’m not old enough to have listened to The Band when they were at their peak. I was a little over a year old when they filmed “The Last Waltz”, after all. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I was exposed to them in any real way. I’m sure somewhere in all my teen years listening to classic rock I must have heard “Cripple Creek” at least, but it didn’t draw me in at the time.

Something happened when they finally did click for me. I think grunge was winding down and I was moving out of my prog rock phase. Tara got into The Band first and then, as she’s wont to do, pulled me along with her. At first I had to work a little to really get them, but there was something about the way The Band played and sang and wrote that touched on something I was missing. There was a gut-punch and an elevation at the same time. For lack of a better way to put it, they felt like real music. Root in my heart as well as “roots” in their style.

I had a fair amount of immersion in their stuff at the time. I got to see Rick Danko and Garth Hudson play at The Tin Angel in Philly. I followed Levon Helm’s Barn Burners around for a bit and then went to a couple Rambles up at Helm’s farm. I knew at the time I was seeing something special, something fading. I embraced it an enjoyed it as long as it lasted.

Life moves on and phases come and go and somewhere along the line I stopped listening to them so much. Other bands came into focus, music styles changed, and my taste evolved, as it continues to do. Lately though, I’ve been feeling like something’s been missing.

I don’t listen to the radio. Top 40 has no draw for me anymore, I can’t connect with it. I’ve found bands here and there that have been played often enough for me say I’m a fan. As a sampling, Stars, The Decemberists, Titus Andronicus, Charly Bliss, The Unlovables, all great stuff.

The last year or so I’ve been finding it harder and harder to uncover new music I connect with. Around my house we say there’s too much “boop boop” music, which is the only way we can come up with to describe the heavily produced, computer-generated sounds that dominate the airwaves and charts (and ugh, Grammys) today.

But it’s not just the instrumentation that’s a challenge for me. I absolutely adore Sylvan Esso, after all, and they are purely electronic, while managing to hold onto an ephemeral balance between warmth and the digital. They are unfortunately a rare exception for me. I have trouble finding a soul in what I’m hearing out there.

For that matter, I’m also having trouble finding truly new and original sounds for all the hours I spend trawling through Spotify and Bandcamp. I listened to a recommended playlist recently. As each track came on I listened with an open mind, hoping for something new. I found myself repeatedly saying “ooh, that sounds like XYZ artist. I didn’t know they had a new thing out” only to check the playlist and find it was someone I’d never heard before. There is so much disappointingly derivative stuff out there.

I have a sense that this is where the democratization of media has gotten us. Curation is non-existent now and while I would not go back to the old gate-keeping days, there is something to be said for those DJs and others who once waded through the flood of releases for us and helped bring the cream to the top. Honestly, the same goes for books, though that’s another essay for another time.

All in all, I’ve been feeling pretty dejected about the state of music, or at least the kind I might be interested in. I wasn’t sure how to accept that all the discs on my shelves were the best I was going to get. Then we went to see the documentary “Once Were Brothers”. It was the story of The Band, from their origins through the end. There in the darkened theater, I felt my heart lift again.

Sure, I knew all the songs, but I had let them fall by the wayside. Here they were coming back to me, as if I was hearing them for the first time. I was entranced, I mouthed the words, I felt rooted once more. When I got home, I stayed up late for the first time in ages. 2am found me listening to King Harvest and wishing the night didn’t have to end.

The Band is rock’n’roll. They’re country. They’re blues. They’re Americana in such a true way that you forget they’re largely Canadian. They’re also, from where I sit, timeless. Vocals by pretty much everyone in the group, instrument swapping as easy as breathing. Lyrics of deep emotion that range from joy to pain. They’re storytellers. They’re mine and yours and anyone else’s willing to give them a listen.

I’m still not sure what to do about finding new music to listen to. I don’t like being one of those folks who stops looking because “it’s not the way it used to be”. I suppose it’s true that music isn’t like it once was. Times have changed, technology has changed. For better or for worse, the world that produced a group like The Band doesn’t exist anymore. But I’ll go ahead and say it, The Band was part of a golden era of music, one we can’t get back, but we can visit now and then.

My approach now is a mix of comfort and challenge. I still keep digging and poking and turning over rocks to find something that hits me. I live in hope and those few rare moments I’m reward it make the effort worth it. At the same time, when “I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half past dead. I just need some place where I can lay my head” and The Band will be there to take my load off and give me a “little love” who’ll dip a donut in my tea. Hee hee.

Weekends are for rest and planning

I’m finding that I don’t have anything in the tank on the weekends to do any fun coding. I really want to, but I’m keeping burnout at bay.

Last weekend I tried to create a simple “Where do I post this thought I had” flowchart tool. I worked on it for three hours and came away with some borked logic and not much to show for it.

This failed experiment showed me that I really do need to take the time and rest to recover those overworked mental muscles. I’m not complaining, really, as I’m learning a ton on the job. I’m becoming a better developer on a daily basis, but there’s nothing extra left when I’m done.

So, what to do? Planning!

I want to rip Plastic apart and rebuild it from the ground up. I have a lot of questions to ask myself. What do I want it to do? What does an interaction look like? Can I build it without adding any libraries? Should it even be in javascript?

Sketching out a few demo game ideas would be helpful in figuring that out, too.

This is exciting! This means that despite being tired, there is still enthusiasm, the lifeblood of any side project. Now I’ve also found a way I can do something tangible with that excitement and move the project forward.

Weekly Reads: 01.19 – 02.23 2020

“He was far more than one of the funniest writer-performers of his generation, he was the complete Renaissance comedian – writer, director, presenter, historian, brilliant children’s author, and the warmest, most wonderful company you could wish to have.”
– – – – –
Jones’ work as a popular historian, political writer, and comedian “is not the full extent of [his] oeuvre,” writes Rozsa, “but it is enough to help us fathom the magnitude of the loss suffered on Tuesday night.” His legacy “was to try to make us more intelligent, more well-educated, more thoughtful. He also strove, of course, to make us have fun.”
– – – – –
On October 20th, 2018, Lizzo posted a video from a show in Iowa City, Iowa, on Instagram. It was of her playing flute while covering Kendrick Lamar’s “Big Shot.” Lizzo and her backup-dancing Big Grrrls hit the shoot dance in the middle of the song before she resumes her flute-playing. “I think that was another reason why I was so satisfied,” she continues. “Because I was known as a flute player now. Secret’s out: I am a band nerd.”
– – – – –
Get a drastic haircut
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Plant milks can, nevertheless, have a dark side, as when any crop is produced in mass quantities. It’s important to consider not just whether they are grown using organic methods. Other factors include how the farming of the crop affects people and native habitats in developing countries, the carbon footprint and water use. And while each product has its trade-offs, some plant milks are more sustainable than others.
– – – – –
For those seeking a more realistic experience, Botnet even offers paid features that bring computer-generated trolls into the mix as well as a “Dad bot” to drop dad jokes on your posts.
– – – – –
Hundreds more fan-authored works followed, including a touching if bawdy series of poems by Alexander Pope in which the shipwrecked adventurer’s wife—barely mentioned in the original—complains that her husband is never at home to do his duties by her. When Gulliver returns from his final adventure, he has become so disgusted with the human race that he hides from his family. The fan-written Mary Gulliver was, understandably, put out by her husband’s newfound abstinence.
– – – – –
People often criticize companies for calling their customers a community. The question isn’t whether or not their customers are a community. They are. The question is whether or not the shared identity is meaningful to them.
– – – – –
This messaging app I built for, and with, my family, it won’t change unless we want it to change. There will be no sudden redesign, no flood of ads, no pivot to chase a userbase inscrutable to us. It might go away at some point, but that will be our decision, too. What is this feeling? Independence? Security? Sovereignty? Is it simply… the feeling of being home?
– – – – –
There is no magic. There is no layer beyond which we leave the realm of logic and executing instructions and encounter unknowable demons making arbitrary and capricious decisions. Most behaviors in one layer are comprehensible in terms of the concepts of the next layer, and all behaviors can be understood by digging down through enough layers.
– – – – –
Abundance problem: too much of everything—over-production, over-achievement, over-communication—leads to the problems of abundance: exhaustion, fatigue, and suffocation—when too much exists.
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They are captured in flight, blurred and ominous, and at rest, perching on telegraph wires, trees, fences and chimneys. Fusake photographs them alive and dead, and maps their shadows in harsh sunlight and their tracks in the snow.
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So if you can inject latency into sites artificially, you can reduce the actual impact of the addiction in a controllable way while not denying the enjoyment of the Internet to yourself. Hacker News with 100ms latency feels like liquor: Hacker News with 9000ms latency feels like small beer.
– – – – –
But there’s another, less easy answer, and one that I think gets to the heart of why I love Lynch’s Dune so much. All of the elements of the film that grate on critics, from the near-constant voiceovers to the unexplained powers of the Mentats and Bene Gesserit, are near and dear to me, because they made sense to my 8-year-old, Star Wars-loving self. More than that, Dune gave me a world in which everything was not guaranteed to turn out all right—something to temper the almost relentless optimism of Star Wars.
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So I was gifted a fountain pen for Christmas and haven’t looked back since. I’m a bit out of practice so it’s been a bit messy, but it’s a pleasure to write with and I actually enjoy referring to my notes now, even if it’s just a page in my notebook where I calculated the electricity bill or recorded my conversation with the buildings insurance company.
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The story always ended the same way — knee-deep in Jekyll/Hugo/Hexo/etc’s documentation, trying to grok the internals and what the hell was going on underneath the hood. I was editing themes, making my own themes, and doing everything unrelated to actually writing.
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Nevertheless, it’s important as a kind of memento mori: Remember that everything you consider solid—all this path-dependence—is a side effect of decisions made by people who aren’t substantially smarter than you are.

Weekly Reads: 01.13 – 01.18 2020

“‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter’ struck me as a complex, ugly, lovely story: partially satire and partially an attempt to reckon with the complexities of gender identity,” @asher_elbein tweeted. “I get why some folks didn’t like it, but the author withdrawing it is a tragedy.”
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Grohl continued, “I still vividly remember my first listen of 2112 when I was young. It was the first time I really listened to a drummer. And since that day, music has never been the same. His power, precision, and composition was incomparable. He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”
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“I explained to them all those elements of ‘Next Generation’ which belong in ‘Next Generation,’ and why I didn’t want to go near them again,” he says. “But they talked about it in such an interesting way. And they talked for a long time.” Stewart told the producers no, thank you, and sent them on their way. Then he had an immediate change of heart. He told his agent to ask Kurtzman to put his ideas in writing. Forty-eight hours later, Kurtzman sent over a more-than-30-page packet outlining a possible Picard series.

Weekly Reads: 01.01 – 01.12 2020

Under the pro rata system, streaming services take all the money generated from listeners, total it up, then divide it proportionally by listening time. This potentially leaves less well-known artists with a smaller piece of the revenue pie than they would have if they were paid on digital downloads.
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If you’re still driving an old beater of a car, it might be the one thing keeping Google Maps pulsating through your speakers.

But in prior generations, it might have driven your iPod, or a Sony Discman. (Depending on how long you’ve been driving said beater, perhaps even the same adapter.) It’s a fairly cheap device, and while it might look like a tape, it’s really more of an amplifier of sorts.

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So Tom Hanks is as nice as you think he is and exactly what you hope him to be, which is great unless you are someone trying to tell a good story about him, with elements like an arc and narrative tension. “Saintly Actor Playing Saintly Public Television Children’s Host Mister Rogers Is Saintly” is not a great story. But what am I supposed to do? He sat facing me, cheerful and focused and willing. Maybe this could just be a story that makes you feel better.
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Crawford, who is gay, also wanted the new rules to reflect the racial, ethnic, gender and sexual diversity of its players. No more cisgender damsels in distress, scantily clad in chain mail bikinis. Your adventuring party might contain a lesbian elf wizard, a brown-skinned dwarf fighter and a nonbinary half-orc rogue.
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This degree of accessibility means that in many ways, text-based games lead among other kinds of computer games in terms of creative democracy, sophisticated subject matter, and even political themes – while plenty of the competition games are traditional or humorous, modern text games bring new perspectives to bear from creators who might have been restricted from access to the traditional, privileged computer-education background, whose tone still dominates mainstream gaming.
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Despite how strange it felt to try Impossible Pork, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. This was my chance to taste something I never could have eaten before. In addition to the banh mi, which was made using an Impossible Pork patty, I sampled dumplings made with the ground meat substitute. In both instances, I had to fight a gut feeling that I was eating something off-limits. That’s a feeling that might come to others who have sworn off the meat on religious grounds.
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Fandom is the collective experience of fans, mainly women and genderqueer individuals, who build things together, support each other, and learn from each other. Fandom is making every one of us sharper, smarter, more talented, more deeply creative, more subversive, and more politically and culturally aware, with every moment we’re in it.

A personal body hack

We’ve been doing an experiment on me and my autistic, unfocused brain. Things were getting desperate last year with my depression and general mental health. Some of this was related to where we lived, but many of the symptoms were simply worse versions of what I’ve been suffering with most of my life.

My dear ones, whom I trust implicitly and literally with my life in this case, did the research and came up with a supplement, but we agreed I wouldn’t know what it was in order to eliminate any expectations I had about the effectiveness.

I had suspicions about what it was, but went along pretty happily for the next couple months. There were subtle improvements over all, but the most significant was a much less drastic and awful menstrual cycle. I have PCOS, so this is a massive, important change.

Then our move happened and they had trouble locating the supplement and I went off it for a little. It was bad. It took a couple weeks to feel the effects of not having it in my system and then, once we found the supplement again, a couple more weeks to work it into my system again.

After a round with that supplement back into my system, they did a bit more looking around since the original was difficult to source locally and told me they found a new supplement that included the original but also had the potential to be even better. I said yes to this one as well, again keeping it a secret from myself.

Cut to a month later and I’ve been feeling like something is very different. Yesterday I had a little time to think and realized that what I have been feeling is a clarity that I have literally never had before. There’s no background noise in  my mind. I’m only thinking about what I choose to think about instead of being bombarded with random, chaotic thoughts.

It’s so foreign to me that it took me a couple weeks to understand and recognize what is going on. It’s pretty life altering. I am now starting the process of relearning how to think about things, how to write, how to be creative, how to move through the world in what feels, from my past experience, like a zen state all the time.

I’m grateful for the experiment because it means I have confidence I’m not just convincing myself this is working. I’ll double down with the fact that the change was so unexpected I never could have imagined it and to me that verifies the efficacy of this supplement for me.

I’m now using Host Defense. As with anything like this, ymmv and see a professional.

Let the relearning begin.

Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020

Okay. The work week is officially over until late Monday morning. I can switch gears now as the 2019 shut down/2020 restart process is coming into view. I’m excited to review the last year and see what I’ve gleaned from this rotation around the Sun. I know I didn’t achieve many of my goals, but that’s not really the point of setting them, if I’m honest.

I’m slowly developing a process over the years, it follows this general pattern:

  • First, work through a couple yearly reflection workbooks to take stock
  • Based on what I learn from that, determine the practical and aspirational goals for the year
  • Then finish up by doing some practical maintenance

The maintenance tasks will help me konmari my life a bit and make even the aspirational goals more possible:

  • Close out all browser tabs across machines, bookmark/pocket the good stuff
  • Run backups on all current devices
  • Organize physical journals/notebooks so they’re easy to grab
  • Catalog current tools (everything from goodreads to what I use to send out newsletters) and determine what can be streamlined/left behind
  • Organize projects both current and future in Trello so I can pick them up and put them down at will without losing my place

This isn’t all going to get done in the next couple of days. It’s more of an all-January kind of deal. I may document some of this process, mostly for my own records, but in case someone else finds it useful, too.

On Upgrades

I’ve got my 2015 Macbook Pro set up next to my beloved Weathertop (running Linux for programming and Windows for gaming). It’s running iTunes and Tiny Desk concerts and basically acting like a media center right now. I also write all of my fiction on there and use it to run almost every aspect of Luna Station Quarterly.

I’m looking at this miraculous device, all aluminum and crystal and circuits and I’m realizing it’s perfect as it is. I’m able to accomplish everything I need (including programming when I’m away from my desk), it runs all the programs I need, it’s able to play music for days and days. It fulfills every need and gripe I had with my earlier machines. It is, quite simply, enough.

My phone is a little slower than I’d like (and I’m upgrading that next year because it’s showing its age) but it functions fine and does what I need of it as well. I can connect with everyone I want to, play some games to entertain myself, and remind myself of literally anything I need to do.

At some point in the last couple of years I’ve stopped craving innovation in my devices. What I have does exactly what I need it to do. The dissonance with this realization is in navigating the upgrade path that is so relentless in both hardware and software. The need of companies to create perceived value without actually doing much in the way of impactful innovation for the end user is a symptom of larger problems, of course. Still, it creates a challenge that I have to address from time to time.

The one personal advantage, I suppose, is that when I am required to update a device, I have the opportunity to assess my options with a relatively clear perspective. I can make choices based on my needs, because I know what they are or can list them relatively easily. Stepping back from the annual cycle means I feel less tied to the microimprovements year-to-year and can find the best tools for me at the time, hopefully with enough room in the lifecycle to keep from having to go through the process again anytime soon.

For now, that will have to suffice, though I can’t help feeling that there is a better way. Though other options I think about mostly involve accepting a certain amount of obsolescence that I’m not sure is viable, considering my career and personal work. My default moving forward is much more likely to stick with the old until it is no longer not just viable, but livable. When the situation with my technology breaks down from doing what I need of it, only then will I assess and upgrade.