Happy Sunday, friends!
This past week has been an exhausting one. Good in some ways, awful in others, but mostly it's been illuminating.
For example, I've always thought that I was a pretty good sleeper, but for the first time in my life I have been actively tracking my sleep. Not in a "give me all the data" type tracking, but more of a "how do I actually feel when I wake up?" kind of way.
Well, turns out, I've been sleeping pretty terribly for a pretty long time.
Since the start of the new year (which is as far back as my limited dataset goes), I've flagged my sleep as "poor" every single morning. While I can generally sleep pretty deeply, I wake up a lot, and when I wake up, even for 5-10 minutes to go to the bathroom or walk my kids back to bed, my body feels like I've reset the clock the next morning.
So two solid four-hour chunks of sleep turn into just four hours of sleep by the time I wake up.
To help this, I've been trying to get to bed at the same time every night, and reducing fluid intake to eliminate bathroom breaks, but it hasn't been too fruitful yet; so my next step is to start taking magnesium supplements and try to eliminate screen time before bed (although, between you and me, I'm pretty sure the biggest offender is stress and anxiety, which is going to take a lot more effort to manage).
That all said, I have been reading more, which as been nice. I've found that getting up early and spending about 45 minutes reading, followed by 45 minutes writing has been a really healthy to start my day. It gets me in the right headspace before the stresses of the world creep in (but has also created a weird dependency, where if I miss that routine, I almost completely fall apart).
Turns out this adulting thing is hard, and learning how to do it right isn't a thing I was taught growing up, but I at least feel good about trying.
But enough philosophizing, let's get to the reboot!
"The treadmill goes nowhere. It is a game that cannot be won. The answer is not to run faster. It is to unplug the machine." — Julio Vincent Gambuto
I've been reading Julio Vincent Gambuto's excellent book, Please Unsubscribe, Thanks!, recently, and I've really been enjoying his well-written snark about the current state of our hyper-connected, hyper-polarized, hyper-commercialized, hyper-manic world.
Similar in theme to other books I've read like Four Thousand Weeks, How to Do Nothing, and Bullshit Jobs, Gambuto's book is another excellent tirade on life in the late-post-Internet age. He discusses many of the same concerns and hangups I have expressed myself in the (digital) pages of this very blog, specifically the rat race, the expectation of constant connection, attention economics, and the fact that we are living in a world that uses our data to manipulate our every actions.
This particular quote hits home for me right now, because I've been really struggling with the "need to fit it all in," like if I just found the right productivity system I could "win" life and finally get a fucking break.
But there are no breaks if you keep playing the same game as everyone else.
The only way to win is to stop playing altogether.
As with my other musings, I'm not sure what that means quite yet for my family and me, but every day I wake up is day where I feel like I'm getting closer to clarity.
This past week I worked through Class 2 of the Halt and Catch Fire Syllabus, which is focused on the history of the personal computer.
I'm a sucker for this type of stuff. Be it actual historical documents and footage, or dramatizations like Halt and Catch Fire (Pirates of Silicon Valley is one of my favorite movies of all time), the early history of personal computing fascinates me.
What was particularly fun about Class 2 is the RFC as koan, which links to RFC 1178 about naming your computer. Published in 1990, this document recommends all sorts of guidelines around how to name your computer, but what I like most about it is how personal the advice sounded. I've long been a fan of themed naming conventions (my home network, for example, uses DC Comics characters as device names), and was pleasantly surprised to find this suggestion:
Use theme names.
Naming groups of machines in a common way is very popular, and enhances communality while displaying depth of knowledge as well as imagination. A simple example is to use colors, such as "red" and "blue". Personality can be injected by choices such as "aqua" and "crimson".
Certain sets are finite, such as the seven dwarfs. When you order your first seven computers, keep in mind that you will probably get more next year. Colors will never run out.
Some more suggestions are: mythical places (e.g., Midgard, Styx, Paradise), mythical people (e.g., Procne, Tereus, Zeus), killers (e.g., Cain, Burr, Boleyn), babies (e.g., colt, puppy, tadpole, elver), collectives (e.g., passel, plague, bevy, covey), elements (e.g., helium, argon, zinc), flowers (e.g., tulip, peony, lilac, arbutus). Get the idea?
I'm looking forward to kicking off Class 3 this week, which is about interfaces and human computer interaction.
Speaking of the history of personal computing, I've been diving deeper into my catalog of retro technology again. As mentioned last week, I recently resurrected my HP Compaq TC1100 (which has about a dozen or so old browsers installed on it) to better test the backwards-compatibility of my website, and this week I dug my old Audiovox XV6600 Pocket PC out of storage and started tinkering with it again.
This device is actually kind of a piece of shit, but I love it.
Originally gifted to me by my uncle for helping him out with some computer issues at his company, I sported this beastly thing for at least a few years before reverting back to a more reliable (yet less feature-packed) folding phone. While most of the phone's info is kept in memory (and just lost when the battery dies), I was surprised (and a delighted) to find my old schedule still intact, including band practices, birthdays and anniversaries, and class schedules.
While it didn't ship with a Wi-Fi chip, it did ship with bluetooth, which I have hooked up to my TC1100 to get some semblance of internet access (fun fact: my website actually looks great on its weird embedded version of Internet Explorer).
I'm not 100% sure what I want to do with it yet (besides maintaining an ideas list for retro tech experimentation), but one possibility is figuring out the basics of a (totally insecure) email server to get email setup on it so I can... actually I don't know.
I guess the fun will be figuring that part out.
I've been a freelance writer for just under a decade now, and in that time have sold well over 250 thousand words to startups, tech companies, and trade magazines. The vast majority of this work has been contracted through a technical content provider called Fixate.
As one of Fixate's very first writers, I have had the privilege of working with companies that I have admired—or at least patronized—over the years, including Red Hat, Alibaba Cloud, Rollbar, PagerDuty, and VictorOps (to name a very small few). Unfortunately, thanks to the larger economic climate, Fixate has made the difficult decision to cease operations, which means that my career as a freelance writer is a lot less "managed" than it used to be.
The bigger tragedy, though, is the disappearance of thousands of technical articles and other content on Fixate's sister site, Sweetcode. Sweetcode was Fixate's own blog, where new writers built their portfolios, and unsold pieces were given a second chance. While I have no intention of recovering the vast majority of Sweetcode's content, I did have a handful of my own articles published there that I intend to pull from the bowels of the Internet Archive and will slowly republish on this blog.
I'd like to point out that most of these articles are upwards of six or seven years old, and aren't necessarily accurate anymore (or representative of my more personal prose), but I think it'd be a shame to just let them die, so over the course of the next few weeks, I will be reposting them (with the appropriate frontmatter and context indicating their origin and age).
Feel free to criticize them when they come out. While I try to inject my personality into all of my writing, the kind that I sell tends to take on a slightly more stale tone.
My youngest brother turns 30 in a few weeks, so I spent some time last week ordering my traditional "things that were also born the year you were born" gift that I like to do for decade birthdays.
It's a fun tradition, because it gives me some very real insight into what was happening in the world when someone was born, but also provides a unique form of connection. For example, I gifted my late aunt a copy of Charlotte's Web for her 70th birthday (which came out in her birth year), but also bought a copy for myself, so I could read it to my kids at the same time she read it to herself—a real-world connection anchored through 70-year-old prose.
What's interesting about doing these things for people who are younger than me (like my brother) is that I have very real memories associated with the birth of the very things that come up. As an example, the year my brother was born was the same year The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective came out (Jim Carrey was a busy man in '94). It's also the year The Crow, Reece's Peanut Butter Puffs, Virgil's Root Beer, Geocities, Amazon, Clerks, Yahoo! and Green Day's Dookie came out.
All things that, while I didn't necessarily consume them in '94, had a deep impact on my pre-teen and teenage years. It's just amazing to me how much can happen in a year, and how those things can have such a lasting effect on your life more than 30 years later.
I suppose that strange feeling of a deeper, personal connection to the rest of the world is partially why I love the history of personal computing and the internet. Those are events that have affected us all, and as an elder Millennial, I was privileged enough to grow up during the transition from the pre-Internet into the post-Internet one.
This is post 027 of #100DaysToOffload