August 07, 2018

Slow Reading

Life feels like it’s flying past. Each day minutes crawl by minute by minute, like treacle flowing in mid-winter. Yet, months and years pass without my even noticing them go. Life on the internet moves at equivalent speed but with unimaginably immense volume.

I learned to swim, well enough, as a kid. You need enough coordination to keep your head above water long enough to take an occasional breath. I’m decently computer literate but I learned to swim in the tiny community pool of the early internet, while the modern ocean of digital communication snuck up behind me.

I didn’t realise I couldn’t keep up until my head couldn’t breech the surface any longer: notification badges, push messages, real-time updates, microblogs, social media and I digress. Every time I got ahold of one, my lizard brain would light up at the prospect of another “enhancing my productivity” and off the cycle would repeat itself again. It seemed like I couldn’t help myself.

I won’t go long on the morass of the Internet advertising industry, the addictive properties of our devices, or the weak will of modern “millennials”—hey there!—but there’s just too much coming down the pipe and all of it is designed to hit that limbic system sweet-spot. We all know this is not healthy behaviour, so how to balance information overload and generally wanting to be in the loop?

The easiest answer is just to say, “No.” I say the easiest, yet what I mean is its the easiest way to patronise your friends. Remember how well that advice worked for drugs, premarital-sex and Twitter flame wars? Yeah.

I’ve managed to get ahold of my information diet (for now, honestly) using two methods of my own devising and one forced on me by circumstance (note: your milage may vary). First, I cut twitter down, mentally, to a one-way valve. I have something to share, I share it and if anyone wishes to get in touch, then we have a brief chat; otherwise, I don't look at my timeline. This behaviour was made easier still by getting rid of any client applications on my devices, instead I have to load up their mobile website... which is fine.

Second, I turned back to an RSS reader, like the cool kids, that I host on a mostly unused server. Right now, I'm running TT-RSS for my backend, a plugin to make it emulate the late great Fever API and an RSS client on my iphone (it's Reeder if you must know). The fiddly-ness of this is an important ingredient in my scheme.

I could locally pull the feeds or use a different backend, like Feedbin or Feed Wrangler, but if I did that, then I would have a constant trickle of new things to read and the pull to load up evermore sites into my queue. I know myself. I know I can’t be trusted with real-time or convenience. So, TT-RSS is pulls articles every half hour and I have to add new feeds through the web interface, which makes “increasing my productivity” a huge pain; therefore, I never do it and my mind is squeaky clean of internet-born anxiety. (Leaving plenty of room for my meat-space-born anxieties and other human foibles.)

I mentioned another way I've kept sane, this one is very new, only in the last week has Fortune decided to curse me with such restraint: I haven’t had access to the Internet at home. Before you cast your slings and arrows, know that the two previous have been happily in the works for months. But, I do take your point. Living like Richard Stallman has allowed me to dig my head fully into the sand, and like Rich (???????????), I suspect its all fine.

Canadian internet access, whether cellular, cable or DSL, is an absolute scam. An oligopoly in ways I couldn’t fathom until back from Europe, where I paid ~£20 a month for (nearly) unlimited 4G data and here I pay, what, 6–7 times that for 4GB of data. Cable internet is not much better, with decently fast downloads (with 0.10x the upload speed) clocking in at nearly $100 per month.

Unlike the Merchant of Venice, the powers that be have extracted their pound of flesh (minus the fluids that now fill this husk of a human being). They have the money—all of it. I’m now just a sucker waiting on delivery :'( Thus, I hike to a local coffeeshop every day or so and order the finest, cheapest coffee they provide so I can git push fine content like this to the ether.

That massive rant behind me, I do feel better for being less connected. A small bell dings in the back of my mind from time to time, wondering on what I’ve missed. Generally, I am getting by just fine without drinking from the firehose. Though, who knows what will change when the next internet darling rises from the ashes of Facebook. I'm sure if my lizard brain grabs the reins I’ll be strapping an Amazon project directly into my frontal lobes and happily pay for the privilege.

August 07, 2018

Thank You and Farewell

A week ago we spent our last day in the United Kingdom after five years. It’s been an absolute rollercoaster ride, particularly over the past month or so, with my emotions jumping back and forth as we’ve packed, recycled, donated, or sold everything we own. All that remains of our time here are two small suitcases.

I’ve been trying to make being and expressing gratitude part of my daily habit. I realise gratitude is best shown/felt in the moment but late is better than never. I am guilty of hoarding a small mountain of gifts that I have yet to show my appreciation for, so, though it’s long overdue, here are a few of the gifts I am thankful for since having moved to London. Each thank you is unaddressed, so if you feel a connection to one of these, then clearly, I was speaking about you; you've always been my favourite anyhow.


Thank you for accepting me as I was, then just a wide-eyed boy, and giving me your patience while I caught up. In hindsight, it’s easy to see the trail that led me to become the human being I am now, but back then I couldn’t have imagined. Without you, all of you, I wouldn’t have been able to place my first foot right and because of that support I feel like I’ve summited mountains. The momentum of the city could carry anyone along (or tear them apart, but I lucked out there), I benefited from that extra push and now I feel inspired to keep moving.

Thank you for exposing me to a world bigger than I could ever have imagined. Whether it was those kindred souls, who shared my disparate and strange interests, or those many who took different, sometimes challenging, stances compared to my own. At times I felt comfortable swimming in my tiny little milieu but each and every time I had the opportunity to expand those margins I’ve jumped at the opportunity. Disagreement became an opportunity to practise humility, because I had no idea there were so many types of people, so many backgrounds and so many voices. And I considered myself reasonably open-minded, how naive can a person be?

Thank you for your enduring friendship. The bonds we’ve formed over these past years have been the highlight of my time here. It’s your influence that made me pick up my feet and rushed towards a better version of myself. I’m grateful for the time you have spent with me, the conversations we shared and the opportunity to be included into your family and friends. I went to your wedding, met you out for dinner, shared a beer or two and spent ages jawing on about nothing—probably computers, but who’s keeping score? What a time we shared!

Thank you for making me feel so humbled and so small. At the end of it all, I was, I am, I always will be an infinitely small piece of a cosmically vast machine: the city of London reminded me of that every day. Wandering past/through everyone else’s lives, the struggles of living amongst 8 million other people and its crumbling infrastructure, you realise how strange it is to be so worried about yourself and how everyone perceives you. Between the cracks I managed to find space enough to define myself.

Thank you for never settling or slowing down. Left to my own devices, I would still be plodding along, neither flying high or scraping the bottom, but never making any kind of mark on the world. Now, I feel different. Now, I feel hunger. Hunger to move a little faster and reach a little further. I saw you pushing to improve and leave the world better off than how you’d found it and I asked myself, “Could I do that?” That’s when it happened. I discovered your final gift: a sense of ambition and a drive to be my fullest self.


I’ve expressed my gratitude in words, but after typing them out I only managed to capture the tiniest vessels that float on an unending sea of my appreciation. For now this is farewell. Farewell to a city that helped define my boundaries and farewell to the people that made me whole. I’ll be back. I mean that sincerely. But for the time being know that I’m so very lucky to have met you at all, let alone for all the gifts you’ve given me.

Until next time, pal.

AllTrails

Excited to give this app a spin now that I am back in Canada. Being in a culture that has not (yet) invested in public transportation it’s easy to get stuck indoors even when surrounded by wilderness. Also worth noting, I never once felt the pull of an app like this while in London. I must have just been content with the garbage filled sights of the Greater London area.

Dr. Seuss’s Lorax Found?

I’ve been moving and Internet access has been hit and miss. So when I opened up my stashed links and rediscovered this little gem, you can imagine my delight. An anthropologist and an english professor (walk into a bar... I’ll see myself out, thank you) teamed up to look deeper into the possible inspiration for Dr. Seuss’s apocryphal tale.

Their conclusion: The Lorax was inspired by the patas monkeys that live in West and East Africa. These creatures share the Lorax’s general facial characteristics, particularly his distinctive mustache. The monkeys’ vocalizations sound like the Lorax’s “sawdusty sneeze.” And the monkeys depend, for 80 percent of their diet, on the Seussian-looking whistling thorn acacia trees of the Laikipia plateau.

If you stop there, I’m sure that’d be enough for most of you, but let the weight this little nugget sink in:

That may seem like a set of curious but inconsequential similarities, but these authors argue that how we think of the Lorax determines how we think about his plight. Regarding the Lorax as an animal indigenous to the land of the Truffula trees “challenges traditional interpretations of the Lorax as an ecopoliceman asserting his authority.” In other words, the Lorax isn’t some tiresome scold, some shrill environmentalist who makes us want to throw up our hands and sigh, “Good-by, Thing. You sing too long.” No, the Lorax is a creature intimately dependent on the land that the Once-ler is destroying. That, the authors suggest, makes his story much more sympathetic.

Moving back to a country whose history can be ultimately defined by colonisation and the subjugation of an entire people (a people who have ultimately had their history largely erased from the contributions to Canadian society, mind you), I connected deeply with this slight shift of perspective. I’m not sure I ever gave the story much thought, but reconsidering it now, perhaps the Lorax is more relevant to me now, as a grown person-thing, than as a child person-thing.

Browsh

Alternative web browsers scratch a strange itch for me. When I came across Browsh I was immediately sold: web standards aware text-based browsing from the terminal, including approximate support for images and video. Radical.

It depends on a recent install of Firefox to do the heavy lifting and slurps out all of the text to render natively in the terminal and a screenshot which it converts Unicode block and half-block characters to attempt to render layout and graphics. A clever, yet strange, solution to a problem I didn’t realise I wanted solved. Read the brief documentation to get a handle on how it works.

Rosemary Orchard Is a Genius: the Genesis of All My Next Raspberry Pi(S)

I’m pretty pumped about my latest purchase of a Raspberry Pi 3B+ (https://trst.co/introducing-mcflurry) and have been dorking around trying to figure out what I’m going to do with it. I’ve gotten over my brief “ricing” affair. (Have I mentioned I find the term somewhat problematic? I mean… whatever) When I really boil it down, I’m just going to be hopping around in ssh, tmux and nvim, so why bother going too deep on a desktop environment?

What’s brilliant about Rosemary’s article isn’t its clarity or the sheer sensibility of the carrying around a development server itself (although, can you imagine typing that sentence a few years ago? What a time to be alive), rather the creativity to combine it with a portable USB charger and an iPad.

I have browsed right past the hardware kits for the Raspberry Pi which let you wire up a battery. I just couldn’t bring myself to think beyond the fuss. But with a battery pack that even normies tend to carry, I can finally see the light.

Thank you Rosemary for the idea. And to my darling wife: I’m terribly sorry about all of the tiny robots stacking up in our home and the cargo shorts I will eventually be required to wear. Faux pas you say? However else is a modern person-thing meant to carry all of their development branches?

July 01, 2018

(Not) Playing Catch-Up

The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge.

I haven’t written lately, you may even have noticed. The truth is it’s been a busy week and England is on fire, meteorologically speaking. I can’t remember the weather being this consistently nice since we moved here five years ago. And now that we’re leaving, it feels like a gift from Mother Nature... or the Queen, she’s always been good like that.

Alongside the weather, the news cycle has begun to crawl and I’m less inspired to post my supply of daily links. Honestly, I’d rather be outside, or doing nothing than commenting on how life on the Internet is passing by. The dearth of news has provided me with time to reflect. I think my mini break is probably a good thing.

If there’s nothing to say, why force it? I’ll laze away idly, enjoying my last opportunities to partake in European heliotherapy (a term I’ve lovingly stolen from the warning signs staked into Sardinia’s beaches), until I have something ready to post.

There’s only a few weeks left until Amber and I move back to Canada. I am terribly excited to make the jump but hamstrung by my jobby-job. The flat is barren and empty, it is like living in a bad Airbnb; although, everything is familiar, the sights are mundane and the lack of AC, as always, is punishing. I haven’t given up on my digital home, but I will probably be posting less frequently, and perhaps, more personally than before.

Oat the Goat

A screen capture of Oat the Goat at the mouth of a cave

Oh my days.

Launched as an interactive story to teach New Zealand kids about acting with kindness towards others, this is a gorgeous digital picture book that I couldn’t help but read and re-read. I can’t choose my favourite elements: the art style, the animation, the playful couplets and rhyme, I love it all.


Finding this has honestly clarified what I want to do when I grow up. I wrote myself a list of goals at the beginning of the year and one of them was to draft a children’s story. It’s an honest-to-goodness goal of mine to write and illustrate my own children’s story. There’s just so much soul to a good picture book.

For someone who grew up in a house that didn’t prioritise reading and was a reluctant reader myself, the draw of illustrated children’s books has always been rather mysterious. Why the draw is so strong, I’ll never know. No matter the reason, no bookshop visit would be complete without Amber and I darting towards the children’s section and staking out a space along the floor. (I’m a pretty big cat, so I do get my fair share of side-eye from parents.)

The fact that this story looks the part and is built with web technology makes my heart flutter. I know I’m not in the right spot to take on a project like this—talk to me after I move countries again—though it won’t be long before I am, I’m certain of that.

June 20, 2018

Posting Drought

So many tabs. So many.

I’ve had trouble posting lately. Not that I don’t have things to say, more like it’s too god damned hot. Well, that and I have this horrible weight stacked up in my "read later" queue (aka my Safari tabs).

Excuses.