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.

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.

Evolving Interactions

On a slack I frequent daily, someone asked a question in the #watercooler channel we use for general conversation.

Genuinely curious to hear others’ experiences: is there a subset of tech Twitter/Mastodon where the dynamic is more conversational and less, uhh… “/dev/null with likes”? Trying to suss out for myself whether I should treat it mentally as more of a news feed or an interactive environment.

It was good timing for this because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my presence on social media and how I use the internet in general.

I’m one of those folks who’s basically off Twitter unless someone sends me a specific link and I don’t have a personal Facebook account. As for Mastodon, I use it a lot like a microblog a la Tumblr. The instance I’m on has a 10k character count limit so I can get a whole, fully-formed thought out (mine posts average around 500 characters). I do indeed talk about tech stuff and I do have cool conversations with folks on occasion. It’s more measured and slow due to the nature of the platform, though that suits me just fine. I’ve muted all the shitposting because that’s not why I’m there. In other words, there are definitely pocket universes where real conversation still happens on the internet.

Mastodon in particular doesn’t have any dark patterns (or any algorithms for that matter) that work to keep me sucked in and feed any FOMO I have. This makes it easier to close it down when other things need to be in focus. These days I find myself interacting with Slack folks (like we used to do on forums), using Mastodon for microblogging (hello LiveJournal and Tumblr), and putting long form thoughts out via blog (I see you hanging in there Blogger) and pretending it’s all an improved UI on 2000’s era functionality.

This way of using the internet has been an evolution in my thinking and, in many ways, a reclaiming over the last year. Actually, when I think about it, the real sea change for me in my attitude about social media was after reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport followed up by my recent move that kept me offline by necessity. The book got me thinking and assessing and the time away allowed the perspective to see what I valued in my online time and where I really wanted to spend my energies.

At the end of the day, I’ve changed my default interaction with the platforms as output rather than input, quieting my feeds to a slow trickle. Because I have gotten responses from folks telling me that the stuff I write about hits important notes for them, I continue to share things, but I do what I can to put the whole thought together, provide context, and make it as meaningful to myself as it may be to them.

I’m pretty pleased with the changes I’ve made. The internet feels useful again, my time doesn’t feel wasted at the end of the day, and sometimes I am even of use to others who follow me. That’s really all I ask for in such a powerful tool.

Input / Output

I read through “Deep Work” by Cal Newport this weekend. Admittedly, most of it was a skim as I didn’t need the hard sell that deep, focused work for extended periods of time is the best way to get real, valuable things accomplished. For anyone that has been stuck in shallow work for their career, that stuff is probably really eye-opening.

For me, the second half is where I found the most value. That’s where the practical application advice lives and I took a fair number of notes as I worked my way through it. I’ve included them all below, in case they might be of use to someone else.

For now, I’ve started with getting up significantly earlier and spending the first couple of hours of the day in what I’m terming “deep work”. For me, that means solid time focused, without distractions from family or the internet. The work itself may not be particularly deep, but it will definitely move things forward in the work I’m doing as well as clear the way ahead for deep work to come.

I’ve set down some clarified professional and personal goals, as well as what activities will help me work toward reaching them.

I’m now assessing my network tools to see if any culling can be done. It’s possible that the focus and increased discipline I’m developing will be enough for now.

I’m also working with the questions: What does “deep work” mean to me and what does “shallow work” mean as well?

 


Deep Work notes

Be patient. It will take time to develop this as a skill.

Deep work pushes you cognitively to your limits. Fatigue is inevitable if you don’t train it like a muscle.

Ritualize

  • Where you’ll work and for how long
    You don’t want an open-ended slog.
  • How you’ll work once you start
    Setting a metric (words written, feature complete, etc) can be helpful.
  • How you’ll support your work
    Be organized and ensure the environment and tools you need are readily available.

Experiment with the ritual if it’s not working. It’s a big deal to develop deep work.

Sometimes grand gestures (renting a hotel room) can help.

Focus on the wildly important goals. Use a weekly review to keep yourself accountable.

Do a formal shut down of work at the end of the day.

  • Downtime aids insights
  • Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply
  • The work that evening downtime replaces is usually not that important

Shutdown should include setting up a list of the next day’s tasks.

Embrace boredom

The ability to concentrate deeply is a skill that must be trained.

Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead take breaks from focus.

Schedule in advance when you’ll use the internet (social media, entertainment, etc).

1. This strategy works even if your job requires lots of internet use.
2. Regardless of how you schedule internet blocks, you must keep the time outside them internet-free.
3. Scheduling internet use at home as well as work can improve your concentration training.

You must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.

Working like Roosevelt

High intensity bursts of focus can help you accomplish a lot. Set a timer.

Start with once or twice a week and use a specific goal and deadline.

Meditate productively

Walking to focus on a single deep problem or task.

Act mindfully but instead of clearing your thoughts, keep them focused singularly.

Once or twice a week for this at first.

Be wary of distraction and looping thoughts.

Stretches your deep thinking.

Quit social media

The craftsman approach to tool selection:

Identify the core function that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impacts.

Apply the law of the vital few to your internet habits.

  • Identify the main high-level goals in your professional and personal life. These goals should not be overly specific.
  • For each goal, list the top two or three most important activities that help you satisfy the goal. These can be more specific, but should not be one-time activities.
  • Consider the network tools you use. Ask if each has a substantially positive, substantially negative, or little impact on your activities.
  • Keep the tool only if it has positives that outweigh its negatives.

The Law of the Vital Few:

In many settings, 80% of a given effect is down to just 20% of the possible causes.

Stop using services for 30 days then ask:
1. Would the last month be better if I had used the service?
2. Did people care if I was using it?

If no to both, then quit using it.

Don’t use the internet to entertain yourself. Put thought into your leisure time.

Drain the shallows

Deep work should be built up. An hour or two, but likely no more than 4, with the remainder for more shallow tasks.

Schedule your day by blocks of time and adjust as needed. This isn’t about constraint, but thoughtfulness.

Quantify the depth of every activity.

Shallow work:

Noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much value in teh world and are easy to replicate.

How long would it take (in months) to train a smart recent college grad with no special training in my field to complete this task?

Create a shallow work budget

How much time (by percentage) should be spent on shallow work?

30-50% in general.

Be conscious about accepting new obligations.

Become hard to reach after hours and during blocks of deep work.

Simplified Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients:
4 cups broth
1 small onion, minced
2 cups of mushrooms
1 cup arborio rice
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 T parmesan cheese

Notes:
– You can use any broth or stock you like, mushroom is great, but any stock you have on hand will work fine.
– For the onion, you can use scallions or shallots too. Feel free to toss some garlic in there, if you like.
– The mushrooms can be any variety or a mix. Feel free to go up to 3 cups, too, if you want.
– You can use regular long-grain rice as well. Not quite the same, but definitely cheaper.
– The balsamic is optional. It lifts the flavors, but if you don’t have it around, just skip it.
— Parmesan is also optional, if you want to make it vegan or just don’t like cheese.
— I like to add just a pinch of nutmeg to the mushrooms as they’re cooking. It enhances their flavor and is nice if you have it on hand.

Instructions:
Heat the broth in a saucepan. Keep it at a simmer.

Melt some butter in a large deep pan or another heavy saucepot. sauté the onion until soft (if using garlic, add it last or it will burn).

Add the mushrooms (and optional nutmeg) and sauté until they darken and start releasing their liquid.

Add the uncooked rice and stir to coat with the vegetables for about a minute. Add the vinegar and stir until it’s evaporated.

Time to start the tedious part!

Ladle about a cup of the broth into the pan and keep stirring until it’s been absorbed (about 5 minutes).

Repeat this process with 1/2 a cup at a time until the rice is plump and no longer chalky in the center. It looks like rice pudding and should take about 30 minutes.

Add the final broth and now’s the time to add the parmesan. Give it another stir and once the broth is absorbed, you’re done!

Here’s my little cheat:
Standing and stirring for a half hour straight is no fun, unless you want to just chill and drink something nice and relax, that’s cool, too.
If you want to do other things (make a salad to go with it, etc) you can put a whole cup of broth, maybe a bit more, in the pan at a time and just let it simmer, stirring every couple of minutes.
The texture won’t be /quite/ the same, but it will still come out marvelous.

Documentation, studying, and making things “easy”

I spent the last two days reading every inch of the React documentation.With that completed, it’s time to open up the Redux docs and start the process all over again.

This is not easy. Getting the focus together to read through these things is challenging, at least for me. They’re also complicated technical docs, even if well-written.

But I know from past experience that this is worth doing. No, I don’t expect to actually absorb all of what I’m reading. That level of studying would take a lot more that two days. I’m not being tested on this, so the purpose of the work is different than someone in school.

I just need to know where the information is so I can find it later. There’s a lot to be said for being exposed to information. What I can do is file the reference away in my brain somewhere. When an issue comes up while I’m working, it’s likely I’ll have some tendril of memory surface and remind me where I can find the information I need.

This kind of immersive exposure has a couple other benefits. I can come back and revisit the docs later and absorb a bit more each time. I can also use this experience as a stepping stone for deepening my knowledge as I seek out other resources that expand on the concepts. Better questions with more thorough vocabulary also becomes possible now that I’ve got a more solid foundation.

I’ve made things, if not actually easy and at hand, at least more within reach.