Questions for myself

I recently started getting James Clear’s newsletter. In it, he asks a question for the reader to ponder. This week’s was:

“How can I create an environment that will naturally bring about my desired change?”

This is an important question and one that, for me, brings other questions. Most importantly, what is my desired change right now?

My current answer to that is probably: I want to write, study, and read more.

If I take a look around, my environment is already dang well set up for bringing about that desired change. I’ve got an office separate from the rest of the house (huzzah finished attics) and multiple options for where I want to work. Inside, outside, the entirety of my environment is set up for doing good work.

So, why then do I struggle to write, read, and study the way I envision?

Some of it is disorganization. The things I want to work on are in a bit of chaos, spread out over various notebooks and file structures. That aspect is slowly being brought under control as I consolidate digital notes into Obsidian. Physical notebooks are a little harder to rein in. They have an organic flow to them that doesn’t digitize as easily as I’d like. Even so, this is all an active work in progress.

Some of my struggle is related to my the way my mind works, how my brain is wired. Work days leave me mentally tired, usually too fatigued to do much more than eat dinner and watch something. I’m also currently working on this aspect as I look at ways to carve more creative time out of my week. Leaving my phone far from my bed has started improving this considerably.

Some of my challenge is life itself. This aspect doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room. There is laundry to do, meals to cook and eat, and the seemingly endless task of sorting and reorganizing my various collections of stuff. This last continues to be a source of stress, both in finding time to do the sorting and in deciding what things I can truly let go of, regret-free.

All in all, this whole question of creating an environment that will naturally bring about change is a difficult one. I can see where I’ve set some things up to help facilitate change, but I honestly don’t know how “naturally” that will ever occur for me. Maybe accepting that the changes I want will not happen naturally is part of the work I need to do. Accepting that I’ll have to work for the changes I want in my life is okay. As is accepting that they will not happen as quickly as I’d like.

I’ll just keep showing up and working to manifest them and maybe one day I’ll turn around and the path behind me will look natural after all.

On reclaiming boredom

I am starting a challenging experiment: seeking ways to reclaim my brain and creativity from the attention economy. I’m not overly tied to my phone. I’m not on facebook and the only reason I have a twitter account is viewing things other people send me, yet I still see the effects. Youtube is a rabbit hole I have trouble escaping and I compulsively check email even when there’s zero urgency to do so. My morning and bedtime habits are where I really get stuck.

The biggest impact I see is that I have trouble reading for long periods without falling asleep and my fiction writing has utterly dried up over the last year. I also have trouble getting up and going to sleep when I intend to because I surf in bed. Sure, the pandemic has had an impact on things and I’m accounting for that. Even so, I can do better for myself.

So, I’m working out how to reshape my wake up and bedtime. I’m starting with something simple: using my old phone by my bed instead of my current phone. My old one is an iphone 6 and still works well. I was using it up until last summer. I’m recharging it as we speak and it will be stripped down to have my alarm, meditation apps, music, and a few puzzle games (because insomnia is a thing and they help). Basically a device I don’t mind having by my bed.

My phone will also get a few things stripped off it and I’ll have it at hand less often. There’s honestly only a handful of apps I use regularly and even a few of those are bad for my attention.

My hope is that I can replace that literally wasted time with more intentional time on my laptop, more reading, more journaling, and a better quality of rest. I’ll keep you all updated if you’re interested in how it’s going.

Digital gardening for myself

On my habitual Sunday morning drive I spend a lot of time thinking. It’s my “out of the house” treat for the week, just me in the car going over hill and dale, waving to horses. I rarely even put music on. The only destination is my favorite convenience store for coffee.

This morning I was thinking about how pleased I am that I’ve got my notes and writing organization project well underway. Obsidian has helped considerably with that, as well as the surprisingly robust export tools of the various apps I was using before. While I still have a few questions to iron out (I do still like Scrivener for various things, organizing the actual structure of the folders), the bulk of the notes have been moved over. Now it’s down to organizing, a simple drag and drop between folders task.

Another phase of this digital organization project is looking at my bookmarks. So many times I run across something amazing or cool and I want to save it for later and share it out with people, but it just ends up lost among the 3,600+ bookmarks I’ve carried with me for literal decades now.

In thinking about woolgathering I reminded myself that I created the site to get back to curation, to go deeper into thoughts I have, and not for anyone else, but for myself. Sure, I’m sharing that stuff publicly, but the public aspect makes it handy to share out when I want to or am asked to. The important part of that site is that to me it’s not a site at all. It’s a Obsidian instance on my computer, with all that lovely interconnectedness going on.

So I’m embracing curation, I’m treating my digital garden like a garden. That includes pruning and cleaning and watering. In the end, sure I’ll have some things I can share with people, but that’s not really what it’s about.

I’m old enough to not be concerned about chasing followers. I frankly don’t care if anyone reads my newsletter or this post or anything else I produce. It’s really freeing that outside of my day job and Luna Station work, no one even cares what I’m doing. In this new internet, that’s a blessing.

So I’m grabbing my digital hoe and rake and I’m doing some spring cleaning. If you’re reading this, thanks for stopping by.

My 2020 tech job search play by play

This was such a stressful process because I had no idea when I would be furloughed. There was no set date and client budget and priorities kept changing. There were a lot of unknowns, but at least I was still getting paid.

Additionally, holy shit tech job interview processes are hell. I mean, I knew this from previous experience but it felt more intense this time. I was working 40 hours plus juggling upwards of 10 personal and technical interviews a week along with the back and forth emails to get them scheduled. Plus take home code challenges on the weekends and some evenings.

In short, I would not have gotten through that without Trello, a calendar app, and shutting everything else down. I have a lot of wonderful, challenging catch up work to do.

The pluses of all that work though was that:

  • I was in demand for the first time in my life.
  • I got to see a ton of different interview styles and patterns.
  • I learned that I really prefer take home challenges and panel style interviews over pairing/whiteboards and a string of single person interviews.

I was rejected most of the time, mostly because I wasn’t up to snuff on algorithms. On the other hand, I actually rejected a few companies for the first time in my life. I got to learn about a lot of different industries and company structures. I also got to interview with Disney, but wasn’t upset about that rejection. It was a bad skill fit.

The end result? An emotional rollercoaster over the last week, particularly the last 2 days.

There were two companies who I really liked and where I had made my way through to the final offer stage. One (a consultancy) was going to be another week or so to final offer. The other (a startup) gave me a verbal offer on Monday, set to finalize on Friday.

The startup had me meet with the founder and scheduled the final offer chat. On Thursday afternoon, I was planning to accept the offer. I was happy with it and ready to sign on the dotted line. Then the consultancy opened door number two, asking if I had other offers or if they should see about accelerating their process.

I replied that I had indeed gotten an offer, but I was still very interested. What kind of acceleration was possible?

They accelerated. FAST. Like, within a couple hours and not with information but with an offer. I would get details in the morning.

It’s familiar territory. I can start there with confidence. But was I concerned about being pigeonholed as a consultant? The startup was still very attractive. The offer was going to be the deciding factor. Sort of. Along with a lot of talking things over with my family.

The offer came in the next morning (actually, there were weird glitches in the matrix all day Thursday and it had come in the night before but didn’t land in my inbox until the morning, but I digress). It was stellar. Hands down better than the startup. I was still undecided for a few reasons. There was a lot more talking through things.

In the end, I surprised everyone, including myself and my family, by taking the consultancy gig. Money and benefits weren’t the only factor. I also gelled considerably better with their founder and leadership. I’m likely pigeonholed in consultancy work, but tbh I’m 45 and I really don’t think I give a shit about that. It’s good, stable work that I know well. That’s an asset rather than a detriment from here on out.

At the end of the day, this process was a massive confidence boost. I know where my skills sit amongst my peers’. I know where my gaps are, but I also know that my approach and skills are really valuable in this industry. I’ve never been called “amazing” so many times in such a short period. I’m still processing that, but also taking it as a mandate for my next steps. It’s difficult to maintain imposter syndrome in the face of all that. 😀

I’m going to step into this new opportunity with joy.

A small anecdote

Lately I’ve been watching a spider spin her web every morning on my walk. I live on a big enough piece of property that I do my walks here rather than travel because pandemic. Anyway, this spider redoes her web at least once a day (often twice) and I got to thinking. She doesn’t give up on the web just because it got wrecked. She keeps going, each time a chance to rebuild it stronger, or tighter or better connected to the branches or what have you. That in turn got me thinking about how I need to work on my confidence and habits and other things I want to change about how I move through and act on the world.

I never had a ton of confidence in my abilities as a programmer. A few years ago that little bit of confidence was actively wrecked by a guy I work with gaslighting the whole company (myself included) into thinking I should probably be fired. I actually really liked a lot of this job, I didn’t want to leave. Of course I started looking for a different position, but now I was totally behind the eight ball because I had literally no confidence I was worth hiring. I’m grateful that in the end we reorganized and was assigned a new boss who listened to me and helped me keep my job. Fixing the even deeper confidence problems I was left with has been an uphill climb over the last year and I’m nowhere near back to where I was (which wasn’t enough to start with, considering my skill level).

But that spider has shown me that just because things might seem futile, like an unending battle where I keep falling down forever, each time I needlessly apologize or feel bad about the code I’ve written or feel overwhelmed, it’s a chance to build myself stronger. Next time maybe I won’t apologize, maybe I won’t feel stupid for not seeing the answer myself when it’s shown to me. I’ll learn new techniques, I’ll train myself to spot my repeated mistakes, I’ll won’t apologize.

My web will get stronger.

Sort, process, collate, enjoy

The sorting and cataloging of my stuff has begun. We’ve got to bring everything home from the storage unit (aka stuff I haven’t seen in 3 years) and I want to have the things currently in the house organized while it’s still manageable.

  • I have a LOT of reusable bags, backpacks and totebags. 😮
  • I have a lot of tschotches, which make my space feel personal and cozy, but I’m not ready to display yet.
  • I have so, so many bits of paper ephemera and journals and notebooks
  • We’re not even gonna talk about all my computer bits and bobs

There’s a lot more to come home from the storage unit. Mostly books, which have a clear place to go, but also toys from when I was a kid and some other things that…frankly, I don’t even remember what because it’s been too long.

To tackle this, I’m starting by sorting by category and that has me stepping back and asking what I want to have easy access to and what’s okay to shove a bit further back in the attic.

My big cabinet holds supplies for various crafting and art projects, but I’m gonna reconfigure it to hold high priority stuff in general. For example, there’s no point in having a huge box of wool in there when I can have my backup hard drives stored there instead. The big wool box will be easy enough to pull out of storage when I want to work on that kind of project, where the drives I need very regularly.

A spreadsheet would be useful for keeping an inventory, but well-labeled boxes will do just fine for now. I want to be sure the physical items are organized. Digitizing can wait. Keeping like with like for once will also help so I need to acquire some smaller boxes. The last couple of moves happened under duress so there was a lot of “just shove whatever fits into the box”. Now is the time I can refocus on measured sorting and storage. It makes the piles of boxes in my spaces feel less scary.

The end goal here is to make sure that I know what I have so I can enjoy it and use it. Just like getting a shelf for my comic book boxes, making things more accessible makes them useful and enjoyable, otherwise, why have it? The stuff I have does “spark joy” when I have access to it. Time to make that access just a bit easier.

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.