Hut Scripts

As a recently voluntarily unemployed individual, I'm using this time to refresh and build upon my skills, both technical and other. This blog is meant to be a diary of my daily experiences, observations, and reflections.

Mentioned on the first entry, the blog title is a reference to the Tsurezuregusa, or Essays in Idleness, by the Japanese monk Yoshida Kenkō in the 14th Century. The full English version is available online as a pdf file.

In addition, I'm hoping to rise to the meet the #100DaysToOffLoad Challenge.

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In the Dunes

Over the weekend, like millions of people around the world, I carved out some time to watch Denis Villeneuve's new telling of Dune, based on the novel by Frank Herbert. Quite simply, I enjoyed the experience. The film, like most in Villeneuve's oevre is nearly the opposite of a typical Hollywood blockbuster. Much like Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, it is quiet and stark, which seems surprising for a film of this era. Don't get me wrong, there are battle scenes and other action set pieces, but they are not the sensory overload that seems to be so commonplace in a world of Marvel and DC action films. I also recently saw the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, and even it's action scenes seemed louder and more frenetic, until the final third of the film.

Dune provides me with what I asked for earlier in the blog, time to linger. There is so much to enjoy and to simply take in. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is beautiful. The costumes by Jacqueline West are both sumptuous and restrained, relatively speaking. They feel contemporary and functional where needed, and over-the-top where not (the imperial bubble heads are clearly less about function than form). The sets and/or locations are refined, simple, and uncluttered. Not since Han Solo failed to jump to hyperspace in the Millennium Falcon have I felt the future tech so thoroughly mechanical and believable. And, more importantly, we, the audience, are given time to take it all in without sacrificing the pacing of the story (though I was caught by surprise when I realized this is merely part 1 of the film adaptation).

For nostalgic reasons, I thought I might revisit the 1984 David Lynch version of Dune as well. After 20 minutes, though, I have to say I think I'm done with it. It is so painful to watch by comparison, and I can't blame it on 1984-era filmmaking. George Lucas' Star Wars released in 1977 was already doing science fiction films better. What bothered me in just 20 minutes of watching? The exposition, the bad acting, the feeling of being on a soundstage, the actors thinking they are doing a stage play, and the spacing guild muppets with genitalia for faces who poop out planetary destinations. What the actual...?! I'm glad that Twin Peaks allowed Kyle MacLachlan to find a role that suited him. I cannot believe that both he and Timothée Chalamet were the same age when they each played the role of Paul Atreides. Chalamet's Paul feels much more genuine and less smug, which I did not expect. I realize that Lynch's film is a product of its time and it, too, has some great sets and costumes. They just feel more like sets and costumes. Weirdly, perhaps, one of the things I like about the 1984 version is Kenneth McMillan's Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. I mean, it is an over-the-top performance, but he seems to be one of the few people who understands they are making a movie. His Baron is disgustingly, insanely evil while Stellan Skarsgård's 2021 superb turn as Baron is menacingly evil. Both performances conjure up different path's to their character's respective political ascensions. Neither character is one with whom you want to find yourself alone in a room.

I also appreciate that there is a greater cultural awareness playing out in the 2021 film version. Dialogue coaches obviously paid more attention to word origins to give more authentic pronunciations of words like "Harkonnen", "Padishah", and "Shai-Hulud." And, while some characters are gender-swapped, there is more realism in the diversity of casting. Dr. Yueh is more appropriately Asian, the Fremen are a range of ethnicities, and the cast overall is less lily-white than the 1984 film. The new cast, not just Timothee Chalamet, turn in very solid performances (though Jason Momoa has to walk that very thin line between being someone other than Jason Momoa). Only Dave Bautista as Beast Rabban Harkonnen seems to be chewing up the scenery. I can only speculate that he sees his Rabban as the product of too much inbreeding.

One of the things that kept my nostalgia for the 1984 film alive for as long as it has is the soundtrack by TOTO. I owned (and still have) a cassette tape of the soundtrack and I played it frequently. I was very into electronic music in 1984 and the Dune soundtrack just slotted in quite nicely among my tapes of Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre. I doubt that I will be listening to the 2021 soundtrack in 35 years, but I do want to acknowledge that Hans Zimmer's work fits the movie very well.

Now, I only wish the 2021 movie poster didn't look so much like a poster for Rogue One. Frankly, the whole pyramid of people layout is getting really tiresome.

Blog 26/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Cooking: meditation and creation

Cooking is one of my escapes. It is one of my meditations. It is one of my favorite creative endeavors. And, it is one of the things I can do that I know I can share with others. That is, I don't really share the cooking process, but I like to be able to share what I produce with others.

I enjoy that it both has rules and at the same time has no rules. Recipes connect you to someone else's experience, but they do not require or expect that you will have the exact same experience. They are like sketches to treasure maps, showing you the way, but also showing you where X is on the map in case you'd like to take a different path. The path to the treasure is almost certainly going to be an adventure, even more so if you decided to take your own detours. You may fail or you may succeed, but the experience is uniquely yours regardless. Anyone who cooks, or enjoys cooking, can tell you that there is as much if not more pleasure to be derived from the process as there is from the product. I can spend hours preparing a meal that is consumed in 10-15 minutes, but I would not trade those hours during which nothing else needed to matter.

That's what I mean when I say that cooking is a meditation and an escape for me. I often find that during times of stress, especially when there is something that I need to do, I will often seek solace not in food, but in making or preparing food. When I decide to cook, it demands my attention. When chopping vegetables, the knife requires that I be present lest I invountarily decide to contribute even more of myself to the meal. When baking bread, I need to think carefully about measuring the ingredients. There are exceptions, of course, but some recipes do require more precision than others. My mind can take side journeys, but usually only while I am waiting for something to come to a boil or during a long, slow simmer. But that's often when the meditations begin. As I peer into the pot or the mixing bowl, the aromas are carried upward. I think about how the fragrances are coming together. Or maybe I'm momentarily transported back to a childhood memory. Or maybe I think about the alchemy that will take place in the oven when the butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and chocolate chips combine. Or maybe I watch in amazement as the dough goes from powder to crumble to sticky mass to smooth, shiny ball of dough. Or how sugar in a pan over a flame transmogrifies from fine white granules to transparent liquid to golden syrup and then to a rich amber elixir. No wonder the witches of fairytales are almost always involved in cooking! There is certainly magic there in those brews!

Cooking is an act of creation as well. Mixing things together to create something entirely new, or that didn't exist in the same form just a short time prior. We often talk about how we would visit my grandmother's home when we were younger. You could open the refrigerator or pantry, find them sparsely stocked, and think to yourself, "I hope she's eating enough." But then find yourself eating a multi-course meal an hour later. We would call these the "magic meals." I'm glad to know that, while I don't think of it as genetic, I inherited the ability to put together a meal from the most meager of ingredients. I sometimes surprise myself in this regard. Of course, sometimes you may need to call for takeout when things don't quite go together the way you may have imagined they would. But, again, that's part of the adventure.

There are times I've considered whether or not to pursue culinary training. I think I would enjoy the learning, but I'm just not certain that I would enjoy cooking as much if it were my full-time job, especially if I were working for someone else. I think I know intuitively that making the leap from apprentice to chef takes years. I know that's one reason why I never want to work in a fast food restaurant either. I would simply be bored making the same food all the time. Even at home, I need to constantly add new items to the menu.

While there are standby and go-to meals, the reason I'm the primary cook is simply that my palate demands it. I'm really happy that a number of my menu items have evolved over time to be reliably predictable, but I always need something new to try. In that regard, at least, my cooking is at least as consistent as the rest of my life. Some things need to be reliably predictable, and other need to constantly provide something new.

Blog 25/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Choosing love in a violent world

An idea came to me while out walking yesterday that I thought could evolve into a blog entry, or two, or more. I'm not sure yet. But at its core is the idea that, for whatever reason I am wired the way that I am, and despite the violence in the world, I have not reached a point, nor do I ever hope to reach the point, at which I will not choose love over violence.

I know that is a complicated statement and a lot to unpack, so let me start by saying that this is not some kind of pollyanna statement, nor is it meant to be some kind of cliché either. It is also not meant as a statement of my always being a good person or of never have malicious thoughts. At the same time, I also fully recognize that it is a statement of privilege, too.

We are humans. Biologically, or ecologically, speaking, we are apex predators, the top of the food chain. It is a reality of who we are as animals on this planet. Violence is a part of our nature to survive. We kill to eat, and eat to live. Our societies evolved over the millennia through violence. As a species, not only have we inflicted violence on other creatures, but on other humans as well. And, as biological creatures, sometimes our DNA has errors or anomalies that lead to an increased propensity toward violence. If I am more generous, I could say that for some people it isn't that they have biological "errors" but rather a stronger threat response system. Perhaps they become those of the warrior class voluntarily. Regardless, violence surrounds us and permeates who we are.

At the societal level, we have evolved to become far less violent than we have ever been before on a global scale, even if atrocities still occur. We owe much of the decline of violence to the stability that is provided by meeting the basic needs of a majority of the global population. Simply lifting people out of abject poverty and privation has contributed significantly toward a more peaceful world, along with education and advances in science and medicine.

Still, there are other forms of violence that reach us. I don't believe that I know anyone whose family has not been touched by some kind of violence. In my family, I've had one former sister-in-law who was murdered by her boyfriend and another sister-in-law who took her own life while suffering from depression. I grew up hearing the stories of the domestic abuse suffered by one of my grandmothers. I know there was relationship violence in the marriage of my parents, and I learned early that I did not want to be nearby when the ticking time-bomb that was my step-father with a six-pack of beers in him unbuckled his belt. For the most part, I escaped many of the potential whippings, but I know my elder siblings had had their own painful experiences of his anger. [I've heard and read of the experiences of other friends and acquaintances, however, to know that the level of abuse in our home was far, far less severe, and would probably register as typical for the era and our social class.] I also know that violence does not need to be physical either, and that emotional violence can be just as painful, extreme, and cause lasting damage. My point is simply that violence is omnipresent in human lives.

Nevertheless, I choose to embrace love or goodness or whatever is found on the opposite scale of violence. While I do think it is a decision that can be made by anyone anywhere, I also understand that it is much, much harder to do when violence and anguish and hardship and suffering stand always at the ready to destroy every ounce of the love and goodness one may be cultivating. It is easier for me, I know, because I am a middle-aged, white male in a first-world country. No matter what humble existence I was born into, I did not have 200-400 years of oppression to hold me back. I did not have the color of my skin being used against me on a daily basis. The threat of violence does not hover over me, ready to steal my liberty, if not my life, when I see flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Nor was I born in a part of the world still beset by pervasive adversity. Nor was I born as a woman, who must be ever-vigilant against sexual violence even in what should be the safest of environments. So, yes, my privilege makes it easier to choose.

I choose love and goodness because I believe they are the path away from violent extremes. They are the basis of efforts to educate the world, to heal the world, to lift the world out of poverty and privation. They are the keys to fostering healthier interpersonal relationship.

And, while friendships may be forged in the fires of violence, it is not the sword that makes the fire stronger, nor is it only weapons that the forge produces.

Blog 24/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

A Slanted Survey

For many years, I have been affiliated with a few survey sites where, in return for my time to complete surveys, I receive some kind of benefit, usually some trivial amount of money or points that can later be redeemed for gift cards and the like. I'm sure there are better ways that I can spend 15 minutes of my time, but there are worse ways, too. And, it does often provide me with a bit of pleasure to provide my opinions from time to time.

One of the survey sites will remind me by email when my account is at risk of closure due to inactivity, which usually prompts me to login and complete a survey or two, which I did today.

What surprised me, however, was that one of today's surveys was so horribly slanted for the client that it caught me by surprise. I'm very aware of how often "push polling" is used around political issues, but I just was not expecting this particular survey to be so clearly designed for certain specific outcomes. I wish I had done some screen captures so I could get the text of some of the questions specifically, but I was quite far into the survey before my hackles were particular raised.

The survey was clearly being conducted on behalf of internet service providers, either directly or through a lobbying group or association. There were a number of questions about my perceived attitudes towards various providers. Were they innovative? Do I have a positive opinion of this company or that company? How satisfied am I with price, performance, security, reliability? Things like that.

One question I should probably explain my response a bit. On the issue of, "Do I think that [company xyz] could be trusted with my information" my answer is almost always "no." I've been in IT for too long to know that nothing is ever truly secure. Do I think there are best efforts? Certainly. But, I also know that it was not so very long ago that several telecoms and internet companies were discovered to be actively sharing customer information with the government or at least enabling the NSA to tap major communication systems.

Anyway, all of these questions were really just softening me, the survey-taker, up for what seems clearly to have been the meat of the survey. Specifically, what were my feelings about net neutrality and municipal broadband? But here's where the questions were slanted in such a way that I could clearly see the survey results coming out of a paid politician's mouth in the months ahead.

  1. Do I think that internet users who use more should be charged more for their consumption? This is a softball lead in question. Whenever anyone thinks that someone else is getting more than they are for the same price, even for "free," it brings out certain pettiness. In the case of the internet, though, especially if we were to think of broadband as a utility service, maybe that does make sense. You pay more for water or electricity if you consume more, after all, don't you? But I know from experience that there is also a minimum amount that I pay regardless. Most of the time, in my house we barely exceed the minimum in our water consumption. What is not established in the survey, though, is anything resembling numbers upon which to base the costs. How much should we expect as "normal" as the world slides towards online everything? How much is "excessive" when movies, music, connected devices, education, and work are expected to transpire over our broadband connection? Cable companies have been sending analog and digital television signals over copper wires for decades without discussing "consumption charges," so how is monetizing for individual bits new, other than as a "because we can" opportunity?

  2. Do I think that streaming services should pay broadband companies more for all the content they stream to customers? This is the follow-up question, but note how it is framed as asking businesses to pay more. It's the same argument, really, though. What broadband companies want, however, is to be paid twice for the same zero or one. They want the streaming companies to pay to send the bit, and the consumers to pay to receive the same bit. Moreover, we know they want streaming companies to pay a higher rate for the privilege of sending the bits. What is also being ignored in this question is the very real situation of broadband companies becoming owners of the content as well, in which case they then are paid at least three times for the bits: for the sending and receiving of the bits, and for the licensing rights to stream the bits. There's probably a fourth payment in there also for the privilege of being included in the broadband company's streaming device menu, you can be sure. Of course, these costs all just get passed along to the consumer in one form or another regardless.

  3. Do I think that broadband internet is a right? This one got to me as well. Do I think of it as some inalienable right? Maybe not, exactly. But, as the pandemic has rightly demonstrated, the internet in 2021 is not just about shopping, streaming, and watching TikTok. It has become absolutely critical to our domestic infrastructure to support education, government, and industry. We learned just how unequal opportunity is distributed in this country, and the telecommunications and internet providers are 100% complicit in this. We know that they have collected mandatory fees from customers for decades that were meant to build out infrastructure in rural parts of the country and they have done as little as possible, often pocketing the mandatory fees to add to their own bottom line instead of helping consumers. This question, then, was a lead-in to the next many questions concerning municipal broadband.

  4. Do I think that municipalities should use federal infrastructure funds to build out municipal broadband solutions? This question was presented across a number of questions, actually. They ranged from questions asking me to rank my top three uses for infrastructure funding. As much as I think municipal broadband is important, I can't quite put it ahead of things like roads, bridges, education, and clean water, and the survey creators know that. Who do I trust to handle my security more? Who will invest in innovation? Who find the money for upgrades? There were a whole series of these questions that were almost always structured as an either/or, rather than on a Likert scale. The problem, of course, is that these issues are not black or white. There were questions like, Knowing that some municipal broadband efforts have failed, would you still support your taxes going to invest in municipal broadband? None of the question primed the survey-taker to have a negative image of broadband companies, even though these corporations sometimes fail, even though some cable companies functions as de facto monopolies, even though some of these corporations receive taxpayer dollars in the form of subsidies or other tax carve outs.

Perhaps the worst of the questions, however, were a pair that seem primed for political sloganeering. Two parallel questions asked for terms that most favorably and least favorably describe internet service funded by taxpayers and included: government-owned broadband, government-funded broadband, municipal broadband, taxpayer-funded broadband, and a few more variations. The net result is clearly to determine the language that will be fed to politicians during the upcoming mid-term election cycle.

After numerous follow-up questions along the lines of knowing this...would you still support municipal broadband efforts? For each of those prompts, I continued to reply honestly on the scale with "Yes, I would strongly support municipal broadband." The truth is simply that there are parts of the country, including in my state, where the greedy existing national broadband internet providers have grossly failed to invest in infrastructure that meets the demands that this country requires to provide a minimum level of service to those who need it the most, often while illegally misappropriating money from the government or existing customers that is specifically earmarked for that purpose. So, yes, in those areas especially, I most definitely support efforts by local government to improve the lives of its citizens when businesses simply don't care to do so.

This particular survey left a particularly bad taste in my mouth, but at least I did what I could to recognize the slant and respond as best as I could with the options provided.

Blog 23/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

The Curriculum Vitae to Resumé Conversion

This may prove to be a short entry, but we'll see. While I am still expecting that I may remain in higher education, I'm not limiting myself to that and am regularly reviewing positions that are open in my surrounding towns at companies, non-profits, and B-corporations. To that end, one of my biggest challenges is to reframe my higher education experience in a way that will be meaningful to an HR person. Specifically, I need to rewrite my 8-10 page curriculum vitae, which has been the path forward for every position I've held in the past 20 years, as a 1-2 page resumé that reframes and distills my experience and achievements. On the one or two occasions I done this in the past, I've found it to be a daunting experience.

At the outset I also understand that an ideal resumé is even more tailored to a given position than a CV often will be. My first goal, however, is simply to see how I might employ a scalpel and a jeweler's loupe to the former in order to bring out the diamond within. To date, most of this customization has gone into my cover letter, with minor edits to the rest of the CV. The conversion, not unlike the preparation for last week's interview, is going to require some challenging introspection. And, though I mentioned a scalpel, I may need the equivalent of a bone saw instead.

According to one website, resumés:

With the news today that I am no longer moving forward to the next round with the school I interviewed with last week, I suppose it becomes even more of an imperative for me to knuckle-down on this activity and see where I land.

Blog 22/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

The Interview

Blogging has taken a backseat this week to the interview preparation I've been doing.

For the first time that I can recall, I was provided with a list of questions that the first-round search committee would be asking, a fact I mentioned in my previous post.

I spent most of this week preparing my answers to those questions. In total, I wrote about 5000 words in response to the eight prompts. Knowing that the interview would last an hour, with a planned reserve of 10 minutes for any questions I might have, that works out to about 6 minutes of response time per question.

The questions covered typical areas for a manager, such as experience with collaboration and building relationships, effective communication, long- and short-term planning, strategic leadership, as well as my contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Then, there was my logistical planning for the interview itself. I structured my responses in a document, using paragraph styles in order to build an interactive table of contents that would make it easier to jump to each question regardless of the order in which they were presented. I positioned the document in the center of my field of view, below the web cam at the top the screen. I increased the zoom percentage of the document to about 160% and chose a font that is designed for on-screen reading (Calibri).

Ahead of time, I launched my Zoom software and updated it as well. After the update, I restarted it and cursed briefly when the new update caused the initial video color temperature to be off, way off. It looked like I was in a fire tower in the middle of a blaze at the end of the day. I checked the video settings to no avail, but simply turning the video off and on cleared things up. [Sometimes it is sad how much this stereotypical action actually solves the problem.] I next confirmed that audio was routing correctly through my Airpods.

It wasn't, not at first. I only had sound in one ear and no mic. So, I shutdown Zoom again, and checked to ensure the audio settings were working correctly on my computer. Then, I relaunched Zoom. The color temperature issue happened again, but I toggled the fix, then rechecked the audio. When all was well, I preset my Zoom conferencing window so that it would be adjacent to the document, but smaller so that I had awareness of the committee members, but was not visually distracted by them. With everything set, I closed out of my Zoom connection.

Next, with my mouse finger on the scroll wheel, I opened up the stopwatch on my iPhone and read through my responses...once again. I was able to read through all of the responses in less than six minutes each, a good sign. The longest took about four and a half minutes. However, I know from years of presentation work that practice timing rarely aligns with real-world time. One tip: never simply read the words in your head or just on your lips. You must read the words aloud. For presentations that will be in person, you need to be standing, or in whatever your natural presentation state will be, as well. It changes your timings. I also know that just reading aloud is not enough to provide an accurate time. Your emotional state during the presentation, or in this case, my interview, is going to affect the timing as well. You think it might make you speed things up, but in reality you end up adding some pauses or some um's or uh's along the way. For me, I wanted my answers to feel natural and not like I was simply reading, so I added hand motions or thoughtful pauses, along with some genuine, but careful, ad lib, too. Reading through my responses permitted me the additional opportunity to make further edits to my answers. When I finished, I returned the cursor to the top of the document.

Final preparations included a trip to the restroom and to the kitchen for a tumbler of water. Back in front of the screen, I turned on Do Not Disturb mode and I put my phone into Airplane mode.

Two minutes before the interview, I clicked on the Zoom link. Once again, I was basking in a golden glow, but thankfully I knew that I was going to be in the Zoom waiting room, so I connected without video initially. As soon as I was out of the lobby, the video of the host started up. I quickly toggled video on and set the screen mode to gallery to place everyone in Brady Bunch boxes. I then quickly clicked over to my document so that my mouse and keyboard were focused on the right application.

The document layout helped tremendously in keeping my eyeline as close as possible to the camera position. Using the scroll wheel allowed me to move my text up, much like a teleprompter without losing the eyeline. The table of contents panel worked beautifully in helping to navigate quickly to the next question.

Overall, I think the interview went well. The introductory question ended up being phrased differently, which threw me off just slightly out of the gate, but I recovered. The table of content navigation largely went well, but for one of the final questions, I simply could not find my notes and no amount of jumping or scrolling seemed to be help. I was convinced that somehow I must have accidentally deleted the entire thing. I had probably 30 seconds of hesitant response as I scoured through the document, but wanting not to look like I was doing so. This is where the pre-reading practice really helped out. Once I gave up on finding my notes, I had to go from memory, which I did and brought things back on track.

What I lost in the process, however, was time. I finished my responses with only two minutes left on the schedule. Then, a minute was used up by the committee talking about the shortage of time before allowing one question and a brief reply. C'est la vie. The Q&A and the interview finished just two and a half minutes over time. I said my thank you's to the committee, was moved back to the lobby, and disconnected from Zoom.

All in all, though, I thought it went very well. The questions were good and allowed me, as a candidate, to answer in a thoughtful way, which I think is what the committee was hoping for. As an unemployed individual, the questions were also helpful as an opportunity to be self-reflective. I may not love it, but it is a net good.

Today, I sent my emails to the search firm and the committee. Now, I wait to learn if I make it to the second round.

Blog 20/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

When the subject under review is me

When we were students, one of the things we often wished we had were the questions to an upcoming exam, thinking that we would then know exactly what to study or, more importantly, believing that we would simply prepare sufficiently to have the correct answers ahead of time. But, as many teachers know, having the questions is no guarantee of being able to produce the correct answers on an exam. There can be a myriad reasons for this. If we don't fully understand the subject material, simply having the questions does not ensure that our brain will link to the correct answer under exam duress. We should have all learned that lesson with the simple spelling tests that we grew up with.

Each week we were provided with the list of words and we simply needed to correctly spell them when the words were read aloud. The lists were rarely even that long. Still, we would make mistakes. In some cases, those spelling mistakes follow us for the rest of our lives, two neurons so enraptured with one another that they fail to realize how wrong their pairing is, while the surrounding neurons blast extra jolts of electricity to separate the bonds long enough for the correct spelling to appear on our paper or screen.

With essay questions it is even more of a challenge. Having the question prompts put you in the position of having to stress out over your answer for even longer, like submitting yourself to the exam twice. Sure, you can make notes, perhaps an outline to organize your thoughts and the direction you plan to take, but still you must use that map to actually sail your course through the testing waters and avoid the hazards along the way, hoping that you arrive at your destination safely.

That's kinds of how I feel this week. I have an interview coming up for a fairly important job. The interview is the exam, and the subject matter is me, something you'd think I know well. The company has even provided the questions I'll be asked so that the time spent during the interview can be as efficient as possible. And yet, I'm still procrastinating. I'm actually moving on to the prep work after I complete the blog entry, but I couldn't bring myself to do the work this weekend.

As much as we all know our own story, for me I still have a hard time telling it under the pressure of an interview. We are taught that humility is a good thing, an interview flip that--we are expected to sing our own praises. But it is important that we know where the line is between boasting about our accomplishments and simply describing them honestly. I appreciate having the questions ahead of time, but there is a part of me that absolutely hates it as well. Okay, "hate" is too strong a word. There is something different about preparing for the unknown versus preparing for the known.

I am discomforted by introspection. It's akin to the feeling we have when we hear a recording of our voice. I know that introspection and reflection are positive things that help us grow, but introspection also forces us to confront something that we fear professionally all the time. It is a manifestation of the impostor syndrome and the question, "Am I worthy?" As a manager, it challenges me also because I often feel that my success is usually due to the work of my team, so it is always difficult for me to see and to articulate my role in the successes I've been a part of.

Nevertheless, I will proceed. I will grab the mirror to hold before me, and dust off the cobwebs in my mind to revisit past work in order to tell the story of me, to sell the story of me, to this next highest bidder. In the end, I know there will still be a mental skirmish as two sides of my psyche fight to move the line of "Will I be enough?" in one direction or another. I can tell myself now that regardless of the outcome, "I am enough" but there will always be a part that is wounded or bruised by the encounter should I not move forward in the search. And I will assuage those parts with reminders that I am more than enough...for someone or someplace else.

Blog 19/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Saturday mornings in the 70s - Part 2

As mentioned in part 1, the other duo who influenced my childhood and Saturday mornings were Sid & Marty Krofft. And, like Hanna-Barbera, their works existed for several years before I was a regular consumer, but would have an unknowable connection to my future as well.

While The Banana Splits was the first series in production, in 1968, I feel fairly strongly that the first Krofft production to come across my toddler eyes was H. R. Pufnstuf. Who can say with absolute certainty how things are ordered in the memory of a 2-3 year old mind? Perhaps it is the case that I simply have more deeply ingrained memories of The Banana Splits in syndication, and a clear recollection of its decline from a 60 minute syndicated show to a 30 minute show. But that Pufnstuf is simply an earlier pin on the mental timeline. The brain works in mysterious ways, but this is the order I'm sticking with!

H. R. Pufnstuf may be my earliest awareness of narrative television. Each episode told a story, there were a variety of characters, and there was a general delineation of good vs. evil. The Banana Splits was essentially a variety show, and Sesame Street and The Electric Company were educational variety shows. And while the Looney Tunes told stories, they were short and simply not the same as having real people in them. I'm no child development specialist and without research I can't say when a child's brain is able to differentiate between human and cartoon characters, but I have very different memory experiences of live-action and animated programs. I am convinced that one of the keys to the success of the Krofft programs was the blend of human and non-human (costumed) performers. I believe that provides a different connection within the mind of a child, in comparison to a purely animated program.

Another element that stands out in the Krofft universe is the presence of danger and menace. Danger and menace are hallmarks of mythology and fairytales. And, I think it is undeniable that many of the Krofft villains owe their characterizations to Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West role in The Wizard of Oz, and some of the Disney villains, too. Undeniable, also, is that Pufnstuf is direct riff on The Wizard of Oz, and also probably one of the darkest of the Krofft shows. Lidsville clearly borrows from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, so I'm not claiming anything particularly unique about the shows in this regard. Land of the Lost is a dark family drama with danger everywhere. Jay Robinson's Dr. Shrinker is terrifying in many regards, helped along by assistant Billy Barty. Even Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, while it has some slapstick moments, to lessen the Lovecraftian horror of the sea monsters, is always played with a straight face. Far Out Space Nuts and The Lost Saucer were more farcical, the casting of Bob Denver and Chuck McCann, and Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi1, respectively, make that clear, but still involve dangerous elements.

Like the Hanna-Barbera works, the world of Sid & Marty Krofft may not have risen to the level of high art, and many may even dismiss the works as derivative pablum to rot kids minds, but I don't buy into it, even now in my 50s. Maybe it is more believable that these shows had a greater influence on my liberal ideology. After all, many of these shows featured diverse casts and told stories of working with people and creatures who were very different to overcome oppressive forces in the world. Many featured young people whose voices and actions mattered. In the era of Women's Lib, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl were the only human superheroes in the Krofft pantheon. There was a lot of tolerance and an undying optimism in these morality tales. Unlike some of the animated shows of the 80s, though, I am of the opinion that the Krofft shows treated their audience with a bit more respect and with less sugar-coating. There's a message of perseverance even through hardship. That's why these shows have stayed with me for as long as they have, and why I'm glad to have grown up with them in the 1970s.

The Krofft limelight began to fade in the 1980s. But one prime-time show burrowed its way into my memory and may have contributed to my interest in Japan. On March 1, 1980, NBC debuted Pink Lady and Jeff, starring the Japanese megastar disco-pop idol duo Pink Lady. I have no idea why my family chose to watch, but we did and I never forgot about it when it disappeared after 5 episodes. It was bad, for many reasons that can be read on the Wikipedia page. Nevertheless, when I ended up in Japan on exchange 8 years later, I knew who Pink Lady were and it provided a connection between myself and my new Japanese friends. While Pink Lady were no longer chart toppers themselves, their musical legacy lives on still to this day, both in karaoke and in the numerous music programs that regular feature retrospective performances that never let musical memories fade.

Side notes:

  1. I didn't mention The Bugaloos above, but that show always held a very special attraction for me, perhaps because it seemed to go away too soon, or maybe it was the combination of music and story, like an even-more kid-friendly version of The Monkees, but maybe I just had a crush on Caroline "Joy" Ellis when it aired in syndication in 1978.

  2. Sometimes, I was able to catch a replay of the Pufnstuf movie on a UHF station, too. I learned about Cass Elliot there first, and several years later became a fan of The Mamas and Papas.

  3. Kids today will never understand the anticipation and delayed gratification that was required before DVRs and everything-on-demand.

Blog 18/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

  1. Ruth Buzzi is still funny as ever. I highly recommend following her Twitter account, @Ruth_A_Buzzi

Saturday mornings in the 70s - Part 1

I recently joined a new (to me) Facebook group for fans of children's television programming in the 1970s. I can't recall the exact trigger that led me to revisit that garden path again, but it likely may have been related to a recent birthday. It still does not seem possible that 1975 is further in my past today than World War II was when I was a child in 1975!

For me, while the Looney Toons and the works of Jim Henson probably are of greater significance, four other names came to define almost exclusively my memories of children's television growing up in the 1970s. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera provided nearly all of the animation (outside of Warner Bros. studios), and Sid & Marty Krofft brought forth a Technicolor kaleidoscope of imaginative live action shows. I know that all of them were simple and formulaic, but they were the bright moments of joy on my Saturday mornings. Every September I eagerly awaited the Saturday morning fall TV lineup preview show that aired on Friday night before the new shows began.

Many of the Hanna-Barbera shows I watched had first aired in the late 50s and throughout the 60s, and were already running in syndication when they entered my life: The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Top Cat, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Magilla Gorilla, Quick Draw McGraw, The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show, Space Ghost, The Wacky Races, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and a particular favorite, Jonny Quest. The bridge to the 1970s was probably The Banana Splits, which blended live-action set pieces and introduced short animated episodes interspersed within the hour. I still think that The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which started out as its own show and was eventually rolled into syndication as part of The Banana Splits, was ground-breaking as a children's show for its combination of live actors in animated scenes.

During the 1970s, Hanna-Barbera released 68 new shows, a staggering number. Although most only lasted for one season, many of them ran in syndication for years afterward. The standouts for me, probably as much for the way they clawed their way deeply into my memory cells through repeat showings as anything, include: Josie and the Pussycats, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, Sealab 2020, Speed Buggy, Super Friends, Hong Kong Phooey, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, The Great Grape Ape Show, Jabberjaw, and The New Shmoo. There were also numerous iterations of many of these shows and characters, though I think Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space is the one I remember most fondly. Looking back, I think it must have influenced my interest in women rock musicians and even some Japanese animé, given the overwhelming "cuteness" of Melody and the alien Bleep. The animé aesthetic is certainly there. Of course, there are many, many more characters in the Hanna-Barbera universe and encoded in my memory cells.

In 1979, I moved from the northeast to the southwest. The move also marked my transition from elementary school to junior high and the natural, gradual progression away from Saturday morning cartoons, as school work increased and there were other activities to draw my attention. Among them were computers, early video games like the Atari VCS, and Dungeons & Dragons.

During the 1980s, kids started to see the rise of cartoons as 30-minute commercials, with the emergence of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Care Bears and My Little Pony and Friends. Sure, the 70s shows had product tie-ins, but as that amped up in the 80s, the quality of the programming went down, many would argue.1 Certainly much of the idealism of the 70s that was imbued in many of the programs gave way to even more soullessness and crass consumerism of later fare, with some exceptions.

None of my childhood TV was high art, but the shows of the 70s seemed more connected to vaudevillian roots and in many ways seemed to be more closely aligned with the television programming for adults, but for a different, younger audience. And, in fact, the targeted age demographic dropped from the 70s to the 80s. Some of this can be attributed to the increase of television sets in U.S. households, since more sets in the home meant that adults and children could watch programming separately.2 But, there were other industry factors at work as well. As some parents complained about violence and scenes of peril, the content became more sanitized. In the process, too, the complexity of the language decreased and stories became less sophisticated. Even the animation became more simplistic, with fewer individual cels per second of screen time. It would take nearly a decade for things to shift back, thanks to cable television channels like Nickelodeon switching on.

Several years ago, I really enjoyed the chance to revisit some of the Hanna-Barbera character during my visit to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) as part of their Animation exhibit. The exhibit itself is gone now and has been repackaged as a more generic animation exhibit that can be rented by other museums, so I'm thankful for the opportunity.

In part 2, I'll look back fondly at the world of Sid & Marty Krofft.

Blog 17/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

  1. I understand that we all have a particular fondness for the shows that shaped our individual childhood years, and nostalgia for 80s is on the rise with recent remakes of He-Man, She-Ra, and others. But, it is a documented fact that many of the cartoons in the 80s were designed from the beginning to sell toys, ever since the success of Star Wars and the accompanying toys from Kenner. 

  2. Television programming for children no longer had any reason at all to target a wider age range. 

On ham and unwanted email

I think that next on my list of things to clean and clear out are my numerous "ham" email subscriptions. If I do not check my two email accounts for two days, I find myself quickly reviewing and purging about 200 emails. None of those emails are work-related, as the accounts are both personal.

When I am purge processing, I'm able to delete easily 95% of the messages very quickly just from the headers that appear in the list. Another 3% probably fall into the category of useful information, such as bill notifications and payment processing, or other organizations with whom I conduct personal business. 1% fall into the category of interesting distractions, such as Twitter, Digg, Quora, or other digest emails. Depending on my time and mood, these will either get immediately trashed or kept for a quick review after the initial purge. And the final 1% are the items that I think may have some educational or informational value should I choose to hold on to them. Though, in reality, I likely will never go back.

But, to be honest, most of those numbers are just raw estimates. I've thought of using my own email as a data set for developing and training my own AI assistant to help with the processing, but haven't progressed far enough into that space to move it forward yet.

Over the years I've tried a number of different strategies for organization, but nothing has really stuck. Since one of my accounts is a Gmail account, I've pretty much left it up to Google to handle the sorting. The problem I run into there is that Google seems to really not want to delete my email. It is one thing for me to choose to tag/file a message and archive it to remove it from my Inbox, but if I delete it from my Inbox, I really want that message to go away. Instead, there are messages in that special All Mail folder that will not go away unless I delete them from there.

But with a little fall cleaning, maybe I can whittle down both that black hole of 50K+ messages, as well as prevent a few more from coming in at all.

Wish me luck. I'd prefer to avoid filing full email bankruptcy again.

Blog 16/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Do dog-eared pages count as origami?

Of course I'm being facetious when I ask that question, but I do recall that one of the absolute simplest origami models I've seen was a small square of paper folded down along a single corner-to-corner diagonal crease. It works, as a sitting dog, a baby chick, or one of a myriad other interpretations, because that is, ultimately, what origami is all about. How can I fold this two dimensional piece of paper in such a way that it conjures for the viewer the appearance or the essence of something else?

We are in a completely new origami universe today, one in which realism seems to lead the field, and I completely get it. The fandom has, in large part, skated to where that particular puck has been sliding for quite some time.

I bring up origami as, perhaps, the last of my posts regarding the project to weed my browser bookmarks. The folder with the largest number of links, and the folder in which all but one or two were still active, is my origami folder.

I've been folding ever since I was handed my first origami book back in the mid-1970s. I can't recall the title, but I can still see the gloss on the cover of the thin paperback, as well as the bamboo illustrated background. While most of the models were pretty simple for my 8-9 year-old self, the one I challenged to fold was the crane, though unfortunately what I had learned to mastery was the easier flapping bird variation, rather than the ori-tsuru that was far more common when I found myself in Japan more than a decade later.

As I got older, I acquired more books. I remember one of my first big tomes was Kunihiko Kasahara's original hardcover Origami Omnibus. The next landmark book was Robert Lang's The Complete Book of Origami. Next came Jun Maekawa's Viva Origami, which was edited by Kasahara. But, Origami Omnibus was also responsible for introducing me Mitsunobu Sonobe's unit origami, which naturally then flowed to Tomoko Fuse's books on unit or modular origami. And folders continued to up the game. While Steve and Megumi Biddle's The New Origami introduced new models that leaned more toward simpler, elegant, and fun models, David Brill's Brilliant Origami presented a range from simple to, yes, brilliant. And the library of books continues to grow. My last acquisitions were Makoto Yamaguchi's two volume series The Beauty of Origami and The Graceful of Origami.

Needless to say, while I was never a great folder, my interest has never waned, which is why the origami websites remain a good size part of my bookmarked pages. They include:

There are, of course, many more site, books, models, and artists, along with YouTube videos. I'm simply glad that the community has grown as large as it has and is such a vibrant artistic hub, despite the ugliness of what has transpired around conventions and some leaders within the community during the past several years.

If you haven't seen it already, I would encourage you to find and watch the origami documentary, Between the Folds.

Blog 15/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Chris Gulker, Bookmarked

I first met Chris Gulker at the New Media Consortium Conference hosted by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver back in June of 2004. He was working at Adobe at the time and had come to talk about the Atmosphere platform that Adobe had acquired and had been building out as a kind of 3D web of connected worlds. This was only my second NMC Conference but I was very interested in immersive technology such as QuickTimeVR, Second Life and other products that were beginning to emerge.

There was gala event, held at the Museum of Anthropology, and Chris and I struck up a conversation about photography, technology, his work at Adobe, my work in higher education, his blogging on the Frontier platform developed by Dave Winer, and the technology of immersive environments. I don't know why my meeting with Chris stood out among everyone one else I had met, but it did. His was a peaceful personality and our conversation flowed easily. He wasn't running around pressing the flesh, he was not beating his drum loudly. He was present, and engaging, and fully participating in our conversation, both sharing and listening.

After the conference I kept his card and began following along with his blog at It was a delightful mix of photography, gardening, travel, technology, world events, and personal diary. It was a regular read for me, so it was a bit of gut punch when in late October of 2006, Chris shared that he had been diagnosed with a malignant glioma brain tumor.

Over the next several years, Chris continued to blog about all the things he had been blogging about, but also now included his fight against and life with the tumor. It was intensely personal and also very public. And it also created a sense of closeness despite the distance. I followed along for the next four years, until his battle was at an end and Chris was at peace, his wife reporting, "It's a wrap..." for the final blog entry.

The Internet Archive maintains a record of Chris' blog, both the original site ( and the Wordpress version ( he migrated to in 2006. I'm glad it persists, and also that the Wordpress site is still online as well.

At this very moment it occurs to me also that he was the same age when I met him as I am now, which hits in a particular way. Chris' blog will always remain a very special place on the Internet for me, connecting me to an individual in a way I had not experienced before then.

Like old photographs or cards from my son stored in a box, Chris Gulker's site remains in my bookmark list.

Blog 14/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Bookmarked memories

As mentioned yesterday, I've been doing a bit of housekeeping on my iMac and turned my attention to my internet browser bookmarks, which can often be a place where memories go to die rather than live again. You know the feeling, you're web surfing and come across a particularly useful or interesting site and decide to bookmark it to revisit later. Except, we don't often actually get around to the actual revisiting part of the process. Nevertheless, like using Google Streetview to stroll through one's childhood neighborhood, I decided to perform that particular trip down the Internet memory lane to see what my old brain remembered, to see what still lived, changed or otherwise.

I do remember, actually, about a decade ago attempting to create a single set of bookmarks that I could use across all of my browsers and spent no small amount of time organizing folders and links. I even downloaded some applications to help remove duplicates or dead links, though I'd be hard-pressed to name even one of those tools now. The problem that I ran into, however, was that each browser wanted to handle the bookmarks in just a slightly different way, most notably naming the the collection of link as either bookmarks or favorites, referring to the privileged few to live on the "favorites bar" or "bookmarks toolbar" or something else. So, right out of the box you can't have just one set of consistent links. So, that certainly worked against a unified approach.

Then, some of you may recall, there was, for a while, the very popular website that allowed you to externalize your bookmarks to a hosted service. As an early social network service, you could share your bookmarks as well. People started including their link on business cards and websites, too. Unfortunately, the free service was acquired by Yahoo! and then passed around like a white elephant gift for a few years until its demise in 2017.1

But back to the cleaning project. With gone, I have mostly relied on my search engines to take me back to interesting sites, acknowledging that I may lose some to the fog of memory. Every now and then, though, I will find myself down a particular rabbit hole that may lead me back to my bookmarks, either to create a new folder or to revisit old ones. That has not happened recently, however. I should say that the rabbit hole journeys continue, but without the bookmarks.

Tackling the list, I opened up two separate browser windows, one to edit the bookmarks, and another to follow them from the sidebar. In the editing window, I expanded each folder and performed a cursory review to remove "feed:" links and links to commercial sites that I have no need to ever visit, and which probably only existed as a set of defaults that once came pre-installed with a browser. These include network sites like ABC, CBS, and NBC, sports sites like ESPN that I never visited, a few entertainment/gossip sites like E!, some weather sites, several news sites like CNN, FoxNews, and the New York Times, and perhaps some educational sites like National Geographic, or NatGeo as it is often referred to now. I'm not linking any of those sites here since there is simply no need.

With those sites eliminated and almost like performing tombstone rubbings, I began to click on the remaining links to see which ones still existed. Unsurprisingly, there were a number of dead links, but many of the sites still existed, frozen in time, alive, but in suspended animation. After all, someone is still paying to renew the domain on these sites, even if the content hasn't been updated in a decade.

There's 43 Folders, Blogs of War, Christopher Lydon Interviews, and The Creative Science Centre by Dr. Jonathan Hare, all in their late-90s/early-00's web glory.

There's the collection of blogs and forums for expatriates in Japan, including F*cked Gaijin, Kurt Easterwood's HMMN, and Mike Clarke's Hunkabutta. There's also Japanophile pages like Japan Zone, the forum for Eurasians, EurasianNation, and the mothballed, but still dark, Asian Extreme Cinema review site of Mandi Apple, Snowblood Apple.

I remember attending an educational technology conference and learning about Inform 7, a tool for creating interactive fiction. Naturally, there are a few examples on the list, including Andrew Plotkin's Shade, Shawn Graham's Stranger in These Parts, and Adam Cadre's 9:05. If those interest you, follow the breadcrumbs back to Zarf's Interactive Fiction, playfic, and Adam's interactive fiction pages, respectively.

In the realm of non-interactive fiction, there are literature review sites like the Los Angeles Review of Books, n+1, The Millions, and Kim Ukura's Sophisticated Dorkiness.

Among some of the grab bag selection of sites are the MSSIAH Cartridge (formerly Prophet64), a MIDI hardware cartridge for the Commodore 64, the very problematic language experiment The Dialectizer, an Urban Dictionary-like site called Word Spy, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and remember LYCOS?

For me it has been an interesting trip to revisit these sites. Some I have kept in my bookmarks list, and others I've let go. And there are a couple more that I simply cannot let go of, but I'll cover those in the next entry tomorrow.

Blog 13/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

  1. I believe it may still be alive, but with an expired certificate, it is better simply to assume "there be dragons." 

A morning for iMac maintenance

For the past week or so I've been logging into my computer only to find a message onscreen that the system has run out of memory. This is a recent phenomenon and I'm still in the dark about what is causing it, which is a bit frustrating, but it did kick off a bit of a journey for me today.

I started with a web search, because that's what we modern humans do, specifically to see if others had reported the issue recently. Unfortunately, most of what I found was not particularly timely nor relevant, with a number of "articles" simply being software push pieces--"How to solve your memory problems? Buy our software." I've been using a Macintosh for decades at this point. I have not had to deal with memory issues since the pre-OSX days. There's a reason the RamDoubler product was a best-seller and an essential piece of software back in the Mac OS 7-9 days. At least the recent memory issues have rarely locked up the entire system1, as was pretty common two decades ago. Nonetheless, I did open up the Activity Monitor app to see what was going on.

One thing that I have noticed over the past several years is the surprising number of Apple system agents running in the background, some with notable names that send to my web search site to learn more about. These include: bird, familycircled, deleted, fileproviderd, imagent, parsecd, pbs, rapportd, reversetemplated, spindump_agent, and VTDecoderXPCService. I can certainly guess what some of those might be for, but I really have no concrete idea without looking them up. Others, like adprivacyd, DiskUnmountWatcher, and SocialPushAgent I can make a pretty informed guess about. But, I digress.

Beyond the system services, there were certainly a few application agents for software I am no longer using, so I decided to prune a few of those. I started with the pieces that had identifiable uninstallers, thank you Razer and Logitech. I then downloaded the free AppCleaner and continued with a few more. I uninstalled Amazon Luna, since I really have way too many games already to justify paying for a new service2. I uninstalled the VPN software used by my former employers. I uninstalled a few Chrome apps. Then, I restarted.

I highly doubt that the software removals will influence overall performance, but it is always nice to purge periodically. I had already run Onyx3 about a week ago, so I was already feeling the system was a bit cleaner. I did, however, take a moment to pop open the About this Mac screen to review the specs. 8GB of main memory has served me well since buying this 27" late-2012 iMac refurbished back in 2013. It occurred to me, though, that this is one of the last of several models released before Apple began soldering memory to the main board. Could I upgrade the memory? And, if I can, might this be one of the last of my investments into this machine to get a couple more years from it? Turns out that I can, so I researched that a bit, comparison shopped, and placed an order with Newegg for an additional 16GB of Crucial memory, and carried on with the purging.

Next on the list was a chore that I have been avoiding for probably 5-7 years. It was time to tackle the web bookmarks! But, like going through old photo boxes, that was a trip down memory lane, and a topic worthy of its own entry tomorrow.

Blog 12/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

  1. Sure, sometimes I do get encounter a complete lockup, but it was a much more frequent occurrence back before OS X with its spinning beachball. The Sad Mac and Mac Bomb icons are now, well, iconic pieces of Maclore, and we have the talents of Susan Kare to thank for those wonderful images

  2. I simply have to smile at the fact that the Amazon Luna software includes a client called "SpiderPork"! 

  3. FWIW, Onyx is a fantastic utility and one of the first apps I install after upgrading to a new MacOS.  

30 Minutes of Discipline

One of the problems that I frequently run into when deciding to blog is that, after a few entries, my attention either wanders away from the blog or I feel like I don't have anything to write about. More often it is the case of the latter rather than the former, but one leads to the other. A good writer, so they say, is one who is more disciplined about their approach, setting aside a set amount of time each day and committing to it. As an instructor, this was often the advice I gave to my students as well, because it is not limited to writing. To get better at any thing requires the discipline to constantly practice and improve. Of course, with many skills to be developed, it usually is not enough to simply to practice and, in fact, the companion to practice is guidance, whether from a teacher, an honest friend, or really just anyone other than oneself.

I'm not sure that point about an outside reviewer is necessarily true with blogs, especially if they serve primarily as one's non-private diary. If the purpose is simply to "off load" ideas, holding oneself to a set time is still important nonetheless.

Today, I'm a few days out from my last post so I am giving myself this 30 minutes to simply just type what comes to mind. The timer is already ticking down.

What I was thinking about even before starting was how often I wish I could simply dictate these ideas to myself at night with my head on the pillow. I know I'm not alone when it comes to having one's brain go into overtime right around the time when your body thinks it is time to rest. I'm sure it is the product of the brain having had to push everything else aside to help me get through the day and then deciding, "Oh, hello there. I see that you are finally free. Could we talk for a few minutes, or maybe a few hours if that's okay? There is so much I've been saving up to share with you." Meanwhile, the other part of you is thinking, "No, please, I just want to rest. Didn't we already have a busy day, brain?"

Sometimes, the brain's replies are helpful, like "That's cool. But I just thought it would be good to remind you about that thing you asked me not to forget for tomorrow. It might not be recorded on your phone yet, so I really just wanted to, you know, do my part to help out, but yeah that's fine. That's all for now."

And then, of course, at other times the brain acts like it is tripping on chemicals someone must have smuggled in through one of your nine gates. Your brain screams, "I know you're trying to sleep, but you just have to hear this amazing thing I came up with. Tomorrow you should go out and get some baling wire, light bulbs, a saxophone, a couple of tangerines, and a ferret. I swear, this will end poverty within five years!" as you struggle to push back, "No, it won't, and I don't have time for this. Just go to sleep. We're clearly oxygen deprived and need some rest."

Most nights, the brain retreats, defeated, and simply clocks in for its shift on the autonomic nervous system factory floor. There are a few nights, however, where it is like trying to get a toddler to sleep and it is a battle of wills so you settle for a Pyrrhic victory when it comes.

I know there are people who keep a notebook by the bed to help deal with the overactive brain, to help get those ideas out of the head and onto paper. Again, it reminds me of taking down a toddler's Christmas wish list so they will just stop talking about it. I must confess that it took me probably 50 years to finally learn. I do keep a pen and tablet on or in the bedside table now. I don't use it as frequently as I might, but it has come in handy as a way of simply just jot down a few to-do items for the coming day(s) lest I forget. I've been less reluctant to use it for other journaling or note taking purposes, mostly because I prefer not to turn the lights back on once I've turned them off.

Alright, well, that just about wraps up my first 30 minute timed session. I know it is a ramble, but that's beside the point. Training the writing muscle is the goal. Right?

Now to review this mess and decide what to hotlink.

Blog 11/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Deciding on a new iPad

Before leaving my recent position in higher ed, I needed to return my laptop and iPad, so I took advantage of the educational discount and purchased a new iPad. It did take me several days to decide on a model though, as I weighed the pros and cons of each of the options.

iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Air, 11" iPad Pro, 12.9" iPad Pro

Not knowing how long it might be until I was employed again with a company-provided laptop, I decided that I wanted something that would last a while and serve in a pinch as a laptop replacement1, so that ruled out the iPad Mini.

iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Air, 11" iPad Pro, 12.9" iPad Pro

I ruled out the iPad Pro as being too large, but also too close in price to a new laptop.

iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Air, 11" iPad Pro, 12.9" iPad Pro

The 2020 iPad had not really seen much of an update for a while. Notably, the front camera was still just 1.2MP, video recording remained at 1080p, and the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi were on earlier standards. Pricewise it was good, but the model felt somewhat end-of-life.2

iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Air, 11" iPad Pro, 12.9" iPad Pro

Finally, down to the last two models. The iPad Air and 11" iPad Pro are nearly identical in just about every detail. I don't even understand how the "Air" designation matters. They are the same size and nearly the same weight. Perhaps the extra cameras contribute to the 8g weight difference for the Pro, but the Pro even manages to have a slightly thinner depth. Beyond the additional cameras, the Pro camera array has TrueDepth technology, higher framerate, and Lidar capabilities, and the iPad includes a quad speaker set and the newer Apple M1 chip. For me, also, it had the right amount of memory/storage that I wanted, 128GB.

iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Air, 11" iPad Pro, 12.9" iPad Pro

So, in the end, that was my compromise. I could get 256GB for about $50 cheaper, but I feel the tech specs of the iPad Pro were worth the storage trade-off for my needs.

I have to say, I'm quite pleased so far. As I usually do, I also ordered a new glass screen protector, a case, and a knock-off of the Apple Pencil 2. Those pieces arrived this week, so I'll be getting more familiar with it all in the days ahead, and I am looking forward to the iPadOS 15 release on September 20.

FWIW, I also have a portable Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard and the iPad Pro fits comfortably in the slot even with the new case on it.

Blog 10/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

  1. Why not just get a laptop? I'm fairly particular about specs for one thing, and that would push up the price beyond my budget, but also I do have some older laptops around that can serve the laptop needs in the interim. 

  2. While not end-of-life as a model, it was replaced with the newer 2021 model following Apple's event on September 14. 

On the home front

It is hard to be bored when there is so much that needs doing. Here are just a few of the issues I need to address on the home front:

Now, except for the last four, these require the involvement of other people. Living in a more rural area, it is already a bit of a challenge to get contractors since the supply is low. The pandemic and the real estate issues nationwide, though, are exacerbating things even further.

I called one company to see about the energy audit and the message on the answering machine informed me that they were booking 4 months out. While pursuing the water damage estimate, I had one contractor come out, look things over, tell me he'd send an estimate, and then promptly ghosted me.

The roof experience is probably worth a post of its own. Needless to say, it was the second time that I tried to support a local, small independent contractor, only to have it blow up in my face. I had a roof put on a house in another state last fall that was almost textbook professional, by comparison, and was about $12,000 cheaper!

Nope, not bored, but some days simply overwhelmed.

Blog 9/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Python restart

Over the past decade I have completed several python short courses, but I know from my personal experience as well as my experience as an instructor that learning without ongoing application and usage will undermine the learning. Somewhere buried in the brain the information still sits, but the neural networks were simply not reinforced enough to transform the information into knowledge.

Nonetheless, here I go again. This time, maybe, I'll put the information to use. I'm interested in using python both for data science explorations and also for more fun projects with hardware using CircuitPython.

Before diving back in, I asked the Internet, via Google, to tell me which online Python courses were the best. Luckily, I had already purchased a few in the past couple of years so it was simply a matter of logging back in.

I decided to start with the big one. Udemy's Learn Python Programming Masterclass is a comprehensive, 67-hour, 492 lecture behemoth of a course taught by Tim Buchalka and Jean-Paul Roberts.

I'm currently 3 hours in and, while most of it is foundational and familiar for most programming languages, there are already things I'm either learning for the first time or resurfacing from past experience.

If I get through this one, I want to take a look at The Python Mega Course: Build 10 Real World Applications. Though, judging by some of the apps, I may actually jump between the two courses.

Blog 8/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

A longing to linger (part 2)

As I wrote yesterday, my thinking about "lingering" was not originally based on film or videogames, but music. More specifically, music videos.

Since the dawn of MTV, music videos have been a ground-breaking medium for artistic expression, fusing the best of aural and visual elements to enhance the musical experience. Not only do they showcase the work of musical artists, they have become the launch pad for directors, choreographers, actors, and dancers. And, they can simply be joy to watch.

The works of directors such as Spike Jonze, Michel Godry, Chris Cunningham, Jonas Akerlund, and John Landis stand out even today. While the work of directors like Sophie Muller, Melina Matsoukas, [Diane Martel](), Megan Thompson, and Hannah Lux Davis, continue to move the art forward.

Ok, so what is the connection to lingering? In the past couple of years I've begun to watch more dance music videos, especially those by KPop artists. Maybe because of the pandemic or for the joy of that comes from watching TikTok dance videos, or just for the sheer talent on display by artists who are able to sing and dance so well, but regardless of the reason, I've consumed more than I did in the past.

What kills me though, are the non-stop cuts that have become the hallmark of the genre. It almost seems to be a competition to see who can include the most edits in three minutes. It is a visual assault that hearkens back to the blipverts of episode one of the Max Headroom television show. Sure, one can say that I'm just not hip enough to appreciate the new works, but I swear that isn't it. As someone who has done video editing, I have great respect for the work of the directors and editors. I'm not even sure how I would storyboard one of these videos to account for the all of the shots.

What gets lost, however, is the work of the set designers, the costumers, and the lighting designers, not to mention the choreographers and the incredible dance performances of the artists and backup dancers. Thankfully, at least in the case of the KPop groups, they (or other professional choreographers) regularly release dance practice videos for fans to study. I understand, however, that many of the quick cuts may be purely artistic in their own right, with the popularity of multi-member KPop groups like BLACKPINK, Shinee, BTS, Red Velvet, and more, the quick cuts provide more time on screen for each member, lest a single member's fans revolt and storm social media demanding boycotts or compensation.

But, gosh darnit, I want more time to linger over the work of all these talented individuals! I'm sure, though, that I'm just shaking my fist at the sky.

Blog 7/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

P.S. Here are some standout videos, cuts and all:

SHINee's "Get the Treasure" combines cinematic quality, a narrative story, amazing visuals, and choreography, but with some time to linger.

SHINee member Taemin's "Advice" is a visual buffet with amazing sets, costumes, so much texture, and insane choreo, but still with reasonable time in the environment(s).

I like BLACKPINK, but "How you like that" and LISA's solo debut "LALISA", while both gorgeous, are just shy of seizure-inducing with cuts coming faster than one per second along with a roller-coaster camera ride.

A longing to linger (part 1)

Another birthday is notched on the staff of my life and I'm drawn to an idea that has occurred to me recently that makes me wonder if it is my age or something else that has me asking for more time to linger in my media consumption.

I remember when I was an undergraduate student some decades ago that it took me some time to get comfortable with the slow pacing of non-Hollywood films and Japanese literature (I was a TV/radio/film student minoring in Asian Studies). The first time I read a Yukio Mishima novel, Spring Snow, I couldn't finish it, but when I revisited it a few years later I thoroughly enjoyed it and then read my way through the rest of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy and many more.

In the 90s, Seinfeld made a name for itself as the show about nothing, and yet in many Japanese films the viewer often feels much more like a voyeur dropping in on the lives of ordinary people where nothing and everything just kind of happens, slowly, as we watch, as we linger.

Then, there are those works of incredible world-building in some novels or literary series in which we lose ourselves and never want to leave, eagerly anticipating the next release to transport us back. In film, the artistry of a cinematographer can be breathtaking, overwhelming our senses in a way that has us catching our breath in wonder, especially when the director gives us time to savor it.

As a videogamer, I can look back at the games that I have played and truly enjoyed in a similar way. I grew up with Pong and Atari Video Console games, and dropped plenty of quarters into arcade game machines, and though they offered a way to pass the time, they didn't really offer me an escape the way that many adventure games did on my VIC-20 or C-64. Then, with the 90s, we were able to really get pulled into other worlds with 3D first-person shooters (playing Marathon on my Mac with headphones was even more of an experience, but I digress). It was Myst that provided a film-like narrative experience along with simply a beautiful world to explore.

Although I confess to being a bit of a button-masher, the first-person shooters I've played the most are the ones that offered rich environments to explore, even while trying not to get killed. Bioshock's underwater city of Rapture stands out for its beautiful and dystopian art nouveau environments. I think that early point-and-click adventure games are responsible to some degree for my need to explore, but open world games have me idling through spaces just for the wonder of it all. I really have enjoyed the new generation of Tomb Raider games for satisfying the combination of exploration and puzzle-solving, and beautiful and eerie environments. The game in which I have clocked the most hours is Guild Wars 2. I'm a horrible player, but mostly what I do is roam around the environment, just taking in the amazing artwork, the character creation, the scenery, the animation of the battle actions, the environmental effects. There have been major updates to the game that have completely reshaped the landscape and familiar landmarks in surprising ways, so there is always more to see and explore.

Recently, I've had even less time to game, however. But, I've started to gravitate toward a genre of games that I avoided in the past a being too slow, much like my early experiences with Japanese film and literature years ago. Now, I'm finding myself enjoying JRPGs precisely because of the slow pace. I'm close to 40 hours into Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age and look forward to each opportunity to get a little more time with the world and the characters. I think it also appeals to the top-tier level of dad-humor associated with the monster names and designs. But, like Guild Wars 2, it is a fun world to explore and to simply linger in as I travel through it.

Maybe it's my age, and maybe it is just the pandemic forcing us to be stuck at home for so long, that this "longing to linger" is just so resonant for me right now.

Interestingly enough, though, deciding to write about a "longing to linger" came from a completely different source, but I'll write about that in a part 2 to come.

Blog 6/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Feed your head

There are songs that were not written to be part of soundtracks, and there are those that take on a completely different life by being part of soundtracks. Like the wine chosen by a sommelier to perfectly enhance your dining experience, these songs rise above their original release to become the perfect pairing for a film scene or story.

Watching the new trailer for The Matrix Resurrections, Jefferson Airplane's 1967 song "White Rabbit" by Grace Slick is the perfect accompaniment to the trailer. While it is not the first film to feature the song, it lands just right, giving the trailer both the tension and otherworldliness it needs. On a side note, the Wikipedia entry for "White Rabbit" is worth a read not only for the backstory on the song but also to learn about the influences from Miles Davis and Ravel.

Certainly there are other examples of perfect music/film pairings. For film buffs or those of a certain age, an iconic one is Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries" played as helicopters descend into battle in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. And in a similar vein, another that comes to mind for me is Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana played as the land revives following Perceval's delivery of the Holy Grail to King Arthur, who is himself revived by its restorative waters, in John Boorman's 1981 film Excalibur. Though not from the actual scene in the film, this live performance from the Nederlands Concertkoor while scenes from the film play is very moving, as is this HD Film Tribute version.

There's a whole different category of pairings, too, where the song is in direct opposition to the action, but I'll leave that for a future entry perhaps, except to say, A Clockwork Orange, and leave it to others to explore that rabbit hole.

Blog 5/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

On lighting, libraries, inkjets, and retro gaming

Yesterday was a bit of a break, combining some technology and non-technology activities. Although, I suppose lighting is technology, as are books, but I digress.

There is a closet here in my office room that has AC power, but no installed lighting. Years ago, I purchased a set of Dioder LED lights from IKEA and used those to illuminate the space, but always in a very lazy way, draping the lights and cords hither and yon. It was finally time to address that. So, I used the supplied mounting brackets and installed the lights as they should have been installed long before now. What a change it made to the overall visibility of the space!

As I am no longer employed in higher ed and do not have ready access to the library and online resources that afforded me, it was time to remedy that also by finally getting a library card for my local library. The library is only a couple of minutes' walk from my home and I had confirmed earlier that it would be open given reductions in hours under COVID hours. The library itself is small, a single room in an older schoolhouse building that also houses an auditorium that, presumably, served as a gymnasium in its past. Despite the size, the few shelves contained quite a good selection of contemporary books and DVDs (!). The staff member was courteous and quickly processed my card application, while telling me of the various services now available to me with card in hand, including access to Overdrive for ebooks and audiobooks, Kanopy for streaming films and tv, Mango Languages for language learning, Universal Class for online classes, Wowbrary for notification of new acquisitions, and Gale Infotrac databases. Armed with my new card, I proceeded to borrow Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, Leigh Bardugo's YA fantasy heist Six of Crows, and the graphic novel Habibi, by Craig Thompson, and headed back home.

Between the IKEA lighting and the library, I did work for a bit on technology-related items. After years of sitting folded up quietly on a shelf, I decided to dust off my son's old Epson Stylus Photo R280 printer. I expected most of the ink to be dry, but that turned out not to be the case. Every single tank was, however, just about empty. I cleaned the outside, connected it to my iMac, and installed the latest drivers. Powering it up, the printer instantly and unsurprisingly flashed its ink light at me. I pressed the button and was informed that yellow ink needed replacing. Thankfully, I had a spare box of cartridges and went to work. After loading the yellow tank, I opened the printer utility and clicked on the clean print heads button. After the usual whirring, the printer now informed me that all of the remaining color tanks needed replacing. That completed, I ran the print test page job and found lots of streaking, so I ran a combination of the clean print heads and test print jobs a few more times and things improved, though black continued to streak. I found an ink test print online and printed it out, confirming the black streaking but a few other issues as well. I went ahead and replaced the black tank, which improved things, but a few streaks remained even still. Turning to the internet for advice, as one does, I followed the direction to use a bit of alcohol on cotton swaps to clean the nozzles, and that seems to have done the trick. My plan is to identify some photos on my computer that are worth printing, pull out the box of fancy printer paper, and see what I can produce worth framing.

The other technology trip down memory lane landed me in retro gaming territory. I came across a note online about uses for an older tablet. I have an Amazon Fire HD 8 going to waste, so reading the article it suggested using it in the kitchen for recipes or for retro gaming. Cool! Let's do both. So I proceeded to locate my collection of ripped ROMs from my own physical cartridges and read up a bit on RetroArch, the fronted tool for emulation. I plan to work on getting that setup today.

Blog 4/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

Getting the blog online

The focus of yesterday was primarily around getting my blog up and running. I had written the first post already and wrote the second, but knew I needed to get them online.

I decided that I wanted something simple and straightforward, and came across PHPetite by Bradley Taunt and liked the approach, having already been a fan of John Gruber and (RIP) Aaron Swartz's Markdown for many years. So I started reading through the basic requirements, namely PHP 7.3. On my Mac I did a quick check and saw that I was only running 7.3, so there was work to do.

I fired up iTerm2 and proceeded to use Homebrew to install PHP. Memory should have kicked in to remind me that it is never that easy, not the least of which because the current version of PHP is now v8.0, and PHP 7 will lose support in November 22. Homebrew finished doing its thing, but I still didn't have things where they needed to be. A quick Google search led me to Casey McMullen's article on Medium, "How to Install Apache on macOS 10.13 High Sierra and 10.14 Mojave using Homebrew.". I followed the instructions in both parts 1 and 2, and almost had things working, but realized that my installation order was backward, which seemed to be affecting things. Once I reinstalled PHP, things were working. Yay!

Back onto PHPetite, I grabbed the repo from Git and tried to run the build script for an out-of-the-box experience. That didn't quite go as expected. Bash was not liking how Emanuil Rusev's Parsedown was getting included, and I also realized I had probably not satisfied the requirements for PHP XML and PHP mbstring either, so I decided to give Bradley's source of inspiration a go instead, Gregory Cadars' portable-php. This worked pretty much OOTB, including the Parsedown calls, which left me some time to get comfortable with the process and do just a little bit of customization to get to where we are now.

Which is where, exactly? Right, here on Neocities! But, how did I get here? I can't even remember which Reddit pushed me down this particular rabbit hole, but from Bradley Taunt's page I learned about the 1MB Club. There, I found Zenryeh's page. His post, "On New Tools" is where I learned about Neocities. With tongue firmly in cheek, I decided "why not" and landed here.

For now, I'm editing posts with Markdown Pro1, saving them within the portable-php folder structure. Then generating the index.html page via the portable-php code. Saving that out to my local drive, and dragging the new index.html file up to my Neocities site. It is a bit convoluted at the moment, but the simplicity of of the output is what I like. It allows me to focus on the writing, too.

Blog 3/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

  1. I work mostly on a 2012 iMac running Mojave, so even though MarkDown Pro hasn't been updated since 2014, it still works for now. I use other text editors as well, such as BBedit and TextMate. I'm flexible (or indecisive). 

It's never what you expect

The plan for day 1 was to start setting up my collection of Raspberry Pi devices, both as a project just to put them to use, but also to serve as the basis for some Linux and development training/refreshing. I pulled out the collection, 2 x Pi 2B+, 1 x Pi 3B+, and 1 Pi 4, the newly purchased mini 5-port network switch, an Anker PowerPort 6 USB charging hub, an assortment of 12" ethernet cables and 12" microUSB cables1, and I began rummaging through my box of microSD cards and adapters.

I started with the Pi 3 since I knew I had used it about six months ago. I booted it up to confirm the card inside was running RetroPie, which it was. I powered down, removed the card, and set it aside for safe keeping. I downloaded the Raspberry Pi Imager and set out to make my first card of the day. And, it failed.

Next, I examined the microSD cards I had and popped one of the first I found into my iMac. I noted the familiar "boot" partition, noticed the file dates were also from about six months ago, so I unmounted it and slid it into the SD card slot of my newer Pi 2B, connected the various power, USB, and display cables, including my switched mouse and keyboard, and powered it up. It booted to a Buster desktop and I proceeded to run the necessary

sudo apt-get update


sudo apt-get upgrade

commands and let the debian environment do its thing.

While that was running, I turned my attention to the next card I found, which turned out to be an old Android card. I ran the Raspberry Pi Imager application ready to burn the first of what I thought would be several cards for the day. Instead, I received an error. So I then tried balenaEtcher, but I needed to download the latest Raspberry Pi OS image file, which also took some time. Remembering that the Pi 2B is not particularly peppy, I also downloaded the Raspberry Pi OS Lite version of the Pi image as well. Yet, Etcher also failed, so I tried Disk Utility, which also failed. No matter what I attempted, the existing content refused to be overwritten. I was able to remove most of the files, but nearly 3GB of the data simply refused to go away. Then, I was starting to have vague memories of this happening before.

I booted up my Windows 10 machine to give its tools a try. I tried Windows Disk Management. I tried Diskpart. I ran chkdsk. I tried different SD card adapters. I tried a microSD card reader. I toggled the write-protect switch on the adapters. I tried just about everything short of downloading a third-party tool. Nothing was successful. I even went back to the Mac and tried a few more tools there, all with no luck.

In the meantime, the Raspian Lite image completed, and I located another card, which I was able to successfully image with Etcher. I spent the next hour or so getting the second Pi 2B up and running, updated, and installed Pi-Hole on it. I then worked on both of the Pi 2Bs to get them a little more secure, and accessible via SSH and, for one, VNC.

During my Etcher runs I noticed their advertisement for balenaSound, an image to use a Raspberry Pi as a multi-platform streaming audio device, and decided to download it to test on one of the Pis. I located another SD card, one that clearly had been in a Raspberry Pi before, and set about to etching it. Only, it too failed. Lather, rinse, repeat the efforts from the morning. This card refused to give up its partitions or be reformatted.

In frustration, I needed a diversion, so I decided it was time to pull out the Edifier shelf speakers and get them set up in my office space anyway. I connected them to my Echo Dot, and filled the room with music. I also tidied up the office a bit as well.

Toward the end of the day, I had my first meeting with a career coach who had been recommended to me by a friend. Janice Jaguszewski and I had a great conversation. Originally scheduled for an hour, we spoke for nearly 90 minutes. We learned we had a lot in common and she encouraged me in saying that I was much further along the path than many people with whom she's worked. She reminded me of a few options I can begin to pursue as I explore some alternatives for the road ahead.

Finally, just after dinner time, UPS delivered my new iPad Pro 11, so I spent most of the rest of the evening, getting it set up for use and installing the software that I felt would be essential. I also went online and ordered a cover, screen protector, fake Apple pencil, oh, and that 12" USB-C cable referenced in the footnote.

Blog 2/100 #100DaysToOffLoad

  1. Yes, I know the Pi 4 will need a USB-C cable 

Let the chapter begin

As of Saturday, I am officially and voluntarily unemployed, having left my previous employer after 18 months and 1 day. I made the decision to leave six months prior but wanted to complete the major project that I was leading first. That project went live in mid-August, and I officially gave notice two weeks prior to that.

It is weird to be unemployed, the first time since 1996, but it is also a little exciting, too. Perhaps I am over-confident in my ability to be rehired again, but I'm looking forward to this "break," not for the relaxation or sense of early retirement, but because, in addition to having time to work on house projects that have been lingering for months, I'll have more time to focus on myself a little bit. I want some dedicated time to learn new skills and to think about how I want to spend the next decade or so of my life.

In that vein, I'm starting with this blog, which I hope will be a daily record of scripts from my virtual hut, a reference to the Tsurezuregusa, or Essays in Idleness, by the Japanese monk Yoshida Kenkō in the 14th Century.

A list of things I hope to try

In addition during this time I hope to revise my CV into a more business-focused resumé, and work with a career coach to help me get a better sense of what to do next with my life.

Blog 1/100 #100DaysToOffLoad