It's A Great Time To Be Alive

... when you're a tycho.

I've not been blogging very much. There were even two weeks where I totally forgot to post anything to the blog. I'm not sure if there's been a hiatus of that length at any other point in the last three years. Strange, but not bad. I've been writing--not as much as I'd like, but enough--but nothing has really managed to filter through to the blog. Seems, then, like a good time for a general "what the hell have you been up to and what are you working on post?"

I've been plugging away on the novel project for a while I'm in the home stretch: two and a half chapters to write. I know I can write a chapter in a couple of weeks if I put my mind to it, and have a good weekend day to do nothing other than sit around and write. I've discovered some things about the story that have made it much easier and clear for me to write. A character that I thought was the main is a horrible point-of-view character, I have a more clear idea of what I've been trying to get after the entire story, I've started to really like the project again. The problem now, is just finding time to finish it.

I moved nearly two months ago: it was a good thing indeed. I'm closer to friends and activities that I find fulfilling. Although I'm not in the heart of my city, I have a train pass and am a block away from a train station that will get me into the city pretty much whenever I want. Train passes are a fantastic innovation, and my only real complaint (on this note) is that for varied historical reasons Tran service in America is woefully pathetic. But it's great to be in a place where public transit is a viable option for most commuting.

I've recently started dating someone, which is a terribly atypical experience for me given how independent and quirky I am in "default mode." Nifty though, and utterly unintended: but there's something delightful about the whole deal. Who am I to argue?

And by "recently started" I mean almost three months ago. Right.

I got a new phone. After a long time with a Blackberry Bold, I took an upgrade and got the new Blackberry Torch. I had been strongly pondering an Android phone, but the one I wanted most (HTC EVO) is on a network that I'd like to avoid, and the other offerings seem lackluster. Blackberries have never (rarely?) been exciting, but they have worked, and there are some features that make sense to me (massively configurable ring/tone behavior, central messages feed that all applications can create entries in.) Having said that, I'm not wild about being on a closed platform, though I think we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that from the user's perspective that Android is an open platform.

With a web browser that is basically mobile Safari, and applications to do the major things I need to do (IM, email, calendar, GPS, web browsing, address book, twitter, alarm clock, ebook reading, emergency ssh,) and a device that is build wonderfully, I couldn't be happier. I wish there was a better solution for writing/note taking/outlining for the Blackberry, but these things happen.

It's probably a symptom of the commute as much as anything but I've had a hard time figuring out how to write on the train. I did ok for a while, and then I've had a horrible time with it for the past few weeks. The new plan is to do a little reboot of my organizational system and to switch back to using the laptop as my only computer.

The first part, the organizational reboot, is important because I'm not used to thinking about my available time as existing in the "shape" that it currently exists. If I've learned one thin in the past couple of years, its that staying organized and on top of ones personal project is almost entirely dependent upon being able to successfully break apart big projects into "doable" pieces that you can tackle in the time you have. That sounds easy, but it's pretty hard to know what your project will require and what your near-future is going to hold enough to be able to get everything to line up. Sometimes it requires little reboots.

The second, much more technological remedy, is mostly that while the separation between my work system (and tasks) and my personal system (and tasks) has been nice, in practice it doesn't work that well. The context switch between the train and the office is too hard, and not being able to just unplug and shut down, means that the start up/shut down costs for the context switches are simply too high and I'm the one who feels the impact. So re-merging my systems seems to be the way to win this game, at least for the moment.

I think I'm going to ultimately invest in a hot spare laptop that's mostly identical to my current laptop to reduce some of the anxiety regarding the "what happens if my machine croaks," worry. Which is always a fear.

The Schedule

Wow. Hello blog.

I'm pretty busy. It even seems sort of cliche to complain about such things on ones blog, but I think being busy has coincided with a somewhat larger reevaluation of nearly everything.

Wait, no. I'm not quitting blogging.

I'm actually really proud of the Knowing Mars launch, and it feels really good to have that project "done," even if I think it needs a major revision, and I have a lot more fiction on my plate that I don't want to just "let go" like that.

I'm also somewhat displeased with the kind of blog posts that I've been writing recently. It seems that I've been writing about some basic ideas: my disdain for the way the web functions as a user interface, some general work flow topics, some basic cyber-culture topics, and half way through most of these blog posts I mostly loose interest, and I suspect you have as well.

I've had a post in my "write this soon list," about digging in deeper and striving for a more rich engagement with the topics I try and cover here, and I've pretty much failed with that. In any case, this post was supposed to be more about the things that are on my schedule:

I've been doing a lot offline these past few weeks. It's May and that means it's Morris Dancing season. I seem to have joined an interesting phenomena called "Maple Morris," (more reflection on that when I've processed a bit more,) the usual Mayday festivities, Midwest Morris Ale. And then there are a bunch of singing conventions, which are a great deal of fun and fulfilling, and then there are contra dancing things, but none of these things transmit to quiet weekends alone writing. Or even quiet evening around writing. At least very often. Some highlights of the recent past and near future:

  • Maple Morris; A my-generation Morris dancing event, last weekend in Boston. A bunch of Morris dancers in my general age rage got together to dance some really challenging dances and to sing great songs. I was totally overwhelmed.
  • The Midwest Morris Ale; My regular annual Morris dancing ale. This is my 9th consecutive ale (and my 10th anniversary of dancing Morris.)
  • Since last September, I've gone to an all- or mulit- day Sacred Harp singing convention most months, since last September, and there's one on my calender every month between now and this September.
  • I'm going to "Youth Dance Weekend" in Vermont in September, which I've never been to, but I think it'll be a a great deal of fun, and I'm very much looking forward to it. I've not been contra dancing as much, but that's not a huge problem for me.
  • I'm moving to Philadelphia in the summer, which means a drastically longer commute, but an easier to orchestrate social life, and a better work/life balance. This means apartment hunting and all that jazz.

While this means less writing time and time for taking care of my own projects, it doesn't mean that I don't have any writing time. Sure writing takes time, but the largest challenge as a writer is in using the time I/we already have effectively, and getting the most out of those opportunities.

It also, I think, means finding a way to develop a writing (and blogging) habit that:

  • Doesn't revolve around a fixed daily publication schedule. I still want to write essays, but I need to write essays when I have a compelling argument for an essay, rather than around the same core of ideas that I've been running around for the last year.
  • I need to be able to put the blog on the back burner while I focus on things like writing fiction, or hacking projects, or Cyborg Institute stuff. The blog is great, and I love writing the blog, but It's far to easy for me to fall into a pattern where the blog becomes the project, rather than the journal in support of the project.
  • I need to organize my projects and tasks into clumps of work that are easier to manage in shorter periods of time. This is probably a reorganization problem that needs to mostly occur within my head.

So where does that leave us? I have a few posts piled up that I'll parcel out over the next few weeks, though on the whole there will probably be less posting by me around here. I'm probably going to do more posts along the lines of "here's what I've been up to, go read my work elsewhere." There will be some guest posts and I've already begun working with some writers for that. Beyond that, I guess we'll both be able to be surprised.

Winter Break in Reality

I meant to write a more thorough overview of what I was doing with the "extra time" over the holidays. But I don't think I had as much extra time at the end of the year as I expected to have. What follows is a brief overview what I did do, how the new year has begun and what I've been thinking about.

In years past the time at the end of the year was a time to catch up on lost sleep and connections that had fallen by the wayside in the recent months. I also used the time, in some years, to get a lot done: one year I knit about 10 hats. Another, I wrote about a quarter of a novel on a binge. Some years I just vegged.

This year, is different. I haven't been in school full time for years, and I haven't received any college credit in a year. I didn't have significant time off of work. There's a way in which the holidays were incredibly relaxing. I still have a bunch of friends who are in the later stages of being students, and there's something awesome about not being a student that's incredibly relaxing. I mean, working a regular job is not all sunshine and rainbows, but it's pretty swell, and there's something about the structure of regular and the mostly even routine that makes it--to my mind--have a greater potential for productivity than "the academic routine."

In a lot of ways, while I looked forward to holiday time off, and saved up countless projects for that time off, not only did I not make "epic headway" on my projects but I came into the new year feeling sort of behind and tired. Wierd. I blame this on the holidays themselves. It's as if the entire world slows down: everything gets more difficult for a month or as if the planet is slowly careening to toward this thing that we don't really enjoy (if we're being honest,) but that we pretend we really love.

And there's no getting away from it. You can't really opt out of the holidays: even if you're not particularly festive, you can't control the celebration of other people. You can't control the fact that the same four songs play on endless repeat in public spaces, you can't control that everyone wishes you a good holiday, you can't control all of the federal holidays, you can't escape tacky decorations, you just can't escape. And after like 3 days of this, you get tired.

In previous years, the break, the chance to take time off from the big projects I'd been working on (school, applying to graduate school, etc.) was a great opportunity to get "other things done." Now, there's no real break from the daily grind, just modulations and finding good balance. That's an ongoing project, and one that's better serviced by a good routine and not a few extra days off during a stressful time of year. In any case, I'm glad to have gotten back into things, and I look forward to getting things done.

Onward an Upward!

Current Projects

It's been a while since I've written about what I'm working on, so I wanted to write up a little post on the subject. Just to keep myself honest.

  • Last time I did this, I tried to promise myself that I'd get a draft the novel I'm working on done by the beginning of November in time for me to not do the NaNoWriMo project--as is my custom. That isn't going to happen.

    I have, however, begun to stub out three files which will form the core of the remainder of the book. I have the very end of the biggest section of chapter eight, and then four more chapters. The plan is to write what feels more like four short stories with four or five adjoining little scenes. I'm not sure that this will seem all that different from the outside when I'm done, but I think this change in plan will make things easier to write.

    This project is one that I both adore, and am pretty pleased with (at least at the moment,) but I'm also keenly aware that I need to be done with it, and I need to move on, as it's been in progress for more than a year, and none of my reasons for not finishing it yet are very good.

  • I've been slowly working on a knitting project. A sweater knit at a fairly fine gauge, and incredibly plain. I'm happy with the project but I've pretty much given up entirely on Television watching, and as a result haven't found a lot of time to do knitting on a regular basis. I knit during a meeting, and for a few moments here and there during a couple of social interludes, but haven't really gotten into it. It's going well, and I've got about 9 inches done of the body. 7 more till the armhole shaping begins.

  • I'm continuing to do the contra dance and shape note things. I think the shape note experience has been helpful for the way that I understand and participate in music, and that's a good thing indeed. I've picked up a few new contra dance things, though if a given week is busy, contra dancing tends to be the first thing to disappear. I'm okay with that. I've also taken to going for walks in the morning before work, rather than in the evening, which is, I think better for my mind during the day at work, and also for getting work done on projects in the evening.

  • It seems like there's always something else in the project of "getting your technology to work the way it ought to," and as a result it seems like I always have something to hack upon. With my laptop running the right operating system, and doing so pretty well, the list of things to hack on have cleared up significantly. I have a desktop that I'm not using as well as I could. There's always something else to work on with regards to my writing setup, though that's mostly abated for the moment. I really need to find some better way to read RSS feeds. I have some hacking to do with regards to websites. There's always something to work on, I suppose.

Oh, and I'm working a lot, but then that's how it goes. The work projects are actually pretty fun, and they're going well, so that's good. If only there were more hours in the day.


Ongoing Projects

I've been talking with people recently about "what I'm working on," and I've realized two things. First, that I'm beginning to get spread thin; and second, that I haven't really used this blog as an effective tool to track these projects and facilitate ongoing work on these projects. So I'm going to write an "ongoing projects update." So there.

While I don't think there's sense in making this a "weekly feature" I think taking the opportunity to check in with you all about my projects, to mention cool things that are going on with these projects.

  1. The Novel

I've not managed to make this into the habit that I want it to be. Having totally missed my goal of finishing the draft in August, I've set a more tentative goal of getting it done in time for NaNoWriMo this year. I don't know if I'll do a NaNo project this year--probably not, I'm too contrary--but it seems like a good and doable goal.

What has me hung up at the moment, is I have a few scenes that I need to be written by a particular character that I've come to despise, not because he's a bad character, I just find him frustrating to write. This is mostly interesting, insofar as I initially thought that he'd be the easy character to write in the story.

Despite this hang up, I'm really quite close to being done with this monster. Three or four more chapters, and some editing across the board. Not a huge deal. I just need to do it. That's a lot of what this Labor Day weekend has been about.

  1. This Blog

You're all aware of this project, I trust. I've been able to keep up my "mostly daily" schedule for a long time now. Two or three years and counting. Since I've started the new job, and since my posting entries (if not actually writing them,) is a manual task (with Wordpress, I could queue things to Autopost). I'm not as good as I once was about getting entries posted in the morning as I would like to be. But it gets there.

Also, while I'm not cruising toward the A-List like I might have dreamed about when I was a teenager and getting started with this whole blogging thing, I'm actually pretty pleased with how this blog is going. Most entries evoke some sort of response that I see: on, on facebook, or in comments. I get to have cool email conversations with you all. I'm pretty pleased. I'm still trying to figure out how to do a little better, because I think it'll be awesome for all of us, if there are more voices and conversations going on, but I love blogging, and I'm really pleased with this project.

  1. Cyborg Institute and Sygn System

This is the project that I've started with deepspawn, to create a distributed social networking and "user generated database engine." Notes and other work related to this project are starting to come together on the Cyobrg Institute Wiki, and it's something that I put a lot of work into a few weeks ago, but I haven't really given it the kind of love in the past two weeks that its needed.

My list at the moment, for Sygn related projects is to do some reorganization of the wiki (the constant struggle), to announce and promote the xmpp muc for the sygn project (a chat room), to help people develop a basic reference implementation (and maybe learn some Python in the process?), and generate a few more use cases, to help folks understand the implications and possible utility of the project.

  1. Cyborg Institute Systems Administration

One of my contentions about the future (of technology specifically, but I think it's generalizable to some extent) is that as "previously scarce resources" like data connectivity, storage space, and software, become less scarce, the one thing that will continue to have concrete value is systems administration. Having people in the world who are really good at keeping larger systems running, at making sure all of the pieces talk to each-other, at making sure the people who need technological services have the right kind of service that they need. There's real value in that.

And that's a huge part of what the "Cyborg Institute" project is about. Sure there's a lot of cyborg-related content and theorizing that I'm interested in working and developing, but really I can do that here on tychoish, what Cyborg Institute lets me (and you!) do is make this conversation much larger, it lets us work together and it allows me to help people do awesome things.

While the product of this work isn't particularly visible, and I don't really have the ability to say "I did X, Y, and Z for CI" this week, there are a lot of little things, and I think it's definitely a worthwhile project.

5. `Critical Futures <>`_ `Relaunch <>`_

This is definitely a Cyborg Institute project: it's running on CI servers, we're using CI tools, and I think the project--a collaborative fiction wiki--is very much one of these new technology-things that makes the whole "cyborg moment" so interesting.

I should point out that [brush][] is largely spearheading this. I'm just doing a bit here and there, and making sure the system runs well. I'm excited about this, and I'm glad that Critical Futures is going to get some love. There'll be some other projects of mone--the novel, and so forth--on Critical Futures as well someday, but that's down the road I think. Good to do something here, no?

  1. Knitting

I think it's a good day when you can be like "You know tycho, you should watch more TV." my current knitting project is very much a "do it whilst watching television" kind of project, and I'd very much like to be able to create a space in my day(s) to get more work on this done.

That seems about good for now. What are you working on? :)

adventures in commerce

Because I'm moving soon (eep.) I've realized that we needed to get a new bed. See my existing bed--now, nearly ten years old--was wedged into the room in my parents house that it is currently in, with some force, and we very much doubt that said bed will ever be able to be removed, given the shape and location of the doorway.

Anyway, so I went to our local furniture store the other day to scope out and price mattresses and box-springs. This furniture store is this outlet-like store that's pretty near to where my parents live, and over the past ten or twelve years we've gotten a fair number of things there, so much so that there's a sales guy that recognizes my mother and I when we enter.

So we go in, and I try and make a b-line for the mattress section, when we were acosted by a very helpful sales guy (not our usual victim) and he hovered around telling us way too much about the inner workings of the mattresses, even after I tried to make it clear that: a) I wasn't likely to buy the mattress today, b) I just wanted to feel where my price point was.

I should interject two things, one that I sleep on my stomach, and two that I tend to sleep with my feet hanging off the end of the bed.

So after a while of looking around and hoping that the dude would get the picture and leave me alone, he finally suggested that I try a particular bed out.

"Ok," I said, and face planted side ways (so that I was running parallel to the imaginary headboard) onto a sort of mid-to-high end off-brand mattress. "Hey," I said, after a moment, "That's pretty good,"

"Uh," he said, "Is that how you usually sleep on beds?"

I was speechless. Not only was he hovering but he was judging me for how I was laying down on beds. Now to be fair I don't typically lay on beds cross-ways except for naps when I'm really tired, but still it seemed out of place, particularly since he'd been so accommodating and attentive henceforth.


Midwest Morris Ale Round Up

I wrote a post about the 2008 midwest morris ale as a series of vignettes of great moments and memories from that ale.

This year I don't have quite the same kinds of stories, or new stories, really: /home/tychoish/websites/ ~/writing/ - There was a killer cool ad-hoc set of "Queen's Delight," (Bucknell) my ongoing favorite dance. I handpicked the set, after the organized portion of tour ended, and we did well. Very fun.

  • During dinner Sunday night, there was a little ad-hoc moment were a bunch of people sang some songs in a hallway with good acoustics. This is one of my favorite things to happen on, and it's hard to plan, and you just have to be lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Songs sung included the ever favorite "Let Union Be In All Our Hearts," and (at my request, mostly) "When we Go Rolling Home/Round Goes the Wheel of Fourtuine." Brilliance.
  • There a dance called "Flowers of Edinburgh" (something more or less like this, except we do double time and current midwestern trends in the Bampton tradition are a bit different.) Anyway, while the choreography is simple, the dance is physically challenging in the extreme. It's one of those dances that doesn't get done much in daylight. In anycase, someone came up to me and said "Sam! we should do flowers!" and I of course said yes, and both did the dance and called it. My legs are still sore from the experience, as I think there are several muscle groups that humans only need to do this dance, and to do nothing else. In any case, I find this disturbing/hilarious mostly because I've become the guy you go to when you want to do this dance. Sigh.
  • On the injury front, I think I'm doing pretty good, and I definitely think that all of the exercise and stuff I did this year has helped my ability to dance better/longer, in pretty noticeable ways. I wasn't totally unharmed: I basically used up my voice too quickly (calling dances, singing), and I sprained my knee (or something) fairly seriously on the last night doing Queen's Delight (again), which put the kibosh on my dancing. Thankfully that happened near the end, and I hope a few days of rest, stretching, ice, and anti-inflammatories will have me back in dancing condition.

Spending a weekend away with "my people," people I don't get to see very much, was (and is) an incredibly powerful experience. I think that many folks have "going and hanging out with our peeps" moments (academic conferences, science fiction conversions, various retreats) and beyond this comparison I don't have a very good way of articulating why this Morris Dance gathering I do is so amazing for me.

In other news, I'll be putting some videos up on YouTube and flickr in the next few days that my mother took. So stay tuned for that, and I'll get back to (and continue) to post things here.


tycho, happy birthday

So, I feel like, in honor of the fact that today is my birthday, I'm going to write a little bit of a self centered and reflective post. Don't worry. I have a post ready for you for later today that's... of more general appeal.

I feel pretty good about the way things are going these days. I still have a pretty big todo list, of course, but I don't really find myself going to bed wondering "how did it get so late and what did I do with my day?" which is a sign that I'm in rough shape. Nonetheless, I've been distractable of late, to combat this I've been working more concertedly on the laptop, and using my desktop-rig as a more social environment. I'm not entirely pleased with this setup, but I'm getting work done, so that's worth something.

I've also been getting up early (wake-times before 7:00 am) and asleep whenever it feels required, usually 11 (on average), and while I haven't been exercising regularly (as in walks), I have been dancing a lot. It's Morris Dance season, so that makes up for things--slightly. Our ale, the gathering I go to every memorial day, is this weekend (of course) and that promises to be a lot of fun. In any case, I think good self-care/activity levels are a big reason of why I'm not in the loony bin. Also, I think my stamina has improved as a result and I'm able to do Morris dance without my knees giving me problems, and/or wearing myself out quite as much. At the same time I've spent a lot of time in recent days getting ready for the Morris Ale (it's amazing how many pairs of socks one needs/wants at an ale!)

I fear that I write with too many parentheticals. I'm able to counter this tendency in fiction, but I've failed at it in blog posts. My brain was made for footnotes, I suppose. I've not found a suitably fast markdown converter that supports footnotes, so I'm not writing with footnotes, and as a result parens usage goes through the rough. I wonder what's going to happen when I have to write real academic things again. As a corollary, I'm pretty sure that my blog-writing "sounds" very much like the way I talk, if you were wondering.

And that's about it. I'm not doing anything really special for the day, be in touch, though, it's always fun to talk to you all.