Greetings from scenic,

Category: Diary
Tags: Time Things

Why IE6 Can Bite my Ass

Blogs are a dying medium. Maybe they're already dead but hell, I'm going to keep writing in this form until I don't care to open my text editor anymore. I really, really enjoy reading other people's blogs too. Most of the time, however, I am ~15 years too late to write a response or e-mail the author so I quietly comment on their ideas and internalize their thoughts and follow hyperlinks, creating a web of bookmarks and webpages in my wake.

Most of the time, also, I try to archive the site for later reading, especially if it is an older site, has not been updated recently, or otherwise may just disappear altogether when someone forgets to pay the bills or the site is simply forgotten about. One of my favorites is alclick's rants which I've archived because he went to the same university I did (albeit 15 years before I started thinking about college) and his writing is pointed, funny, and unscripted. I'm sad that this form of personal expression has come to pass, but, I know there will be many new forms of expression to take its place.

One form of expression (which is not a "new" form of expression but is one that I've taken to recently) is scribbling in the margins of my books. It's really fun and rewarding and makes me think harder when reading. Obviously this does not work for all kinds of books (e.g. cookbooks don't really make sense unless you've got some kick-ass technique that grandma's The Art of Cooking ignores) but for many things I read, writing in the margins is beneficial in helping me concentrate and think critically about what I am reading.

Generally, I enjoy "creating" content as well, and scribbling in the margins is an outlet for this itch. Some other examples of the manifestations of this urge are (1) the webpage you're reading (however you're reading it) (2) my several different websites and (3) the open-source projects I contribute to. Creation, in this sense, gives me an incredible amount of joy, especially when I can step back, take stock of everything and appreciate what we've made. This is not a feeling I can get from passively reading or watching a movie or video stream, but I feel the impulse to connect with everything and talk through it (either mentally or verbally) after it's had some time to digest.

One impediment I sometimes have towards creating things or writing or trying new things is that I lack the confidence in myself, especially when I am new, to make something "good". Recently I've gotten a lot more comfortable with entering new areas and being a general noob (this is a skill I've honed at work 😊) but having the courage to ask the right questions and being able to accept criticism and just being able to take on the humility of being taught by people who know so much more than you is such a powerful and indispensible skill. If I never developed this skill then I would undoubtedly feel ashamed of myself for no good reason, the shame creating a self-fulfiling spiral of noob-dom and inadequacy. I am glad to have left that behind.

One thing which has driven me in the right direction is: setting personal goals. Remember that the best personal goals you can set for yourself do not rely on other people, but instead only rely on the things you can push yourself to accomplish. This much is important because personal goals are personal and it can be hard to knock things out if you're always reliant on someone else to finish their share first.

Also remember that good goals are measurable and demonstrable, meaning that you know when you're finished and you can point to or demonstrate what you've accomplished when it's all done. It's important to reward yourself by looking back at the things you've done and taking stock of the things you want to do next. I think that's why I love open-source projects and things with extremely high visibility, because you can track your contributions and point to them and say "I made this!" which is a really cool and healthy thing to do.

This is also one thing I love about learning languages: they give you an immediate benchmark on how well you're doing, and it's an amazing feeling to be able to read something in another language and understand the meaning and feeling and cadence of the words, not just one-by-one but as a smattering of the language on paper. Japanese was this way for me when I lived in Tokyo because I got to live and breathe the language every single day, and I get the feeling every once in a while (though not often because I am still new to the whole thing) when I study German today. I'm stil fluent in Japanese but until I can read Soseki or some of the great works I have eyed for a while I don't think I can feel that same degree of accomplishment.

When I was a kid I used to play video games for hours on end. Things like 1080 Snowboarding, Ocarina of Time, and San Francisco RUSH 2049 were among my favorites at the time I am thinking of. I was absolutely obsessed with them ever since my N64 rolled in the door, and this obsession continued when I got a Gamecube sometime after this. Like many parents of kids growing up in that particular time, my mom had thought it was important for me to set limits w/r/t the amount of time I spent playing games. Obviously school was more important than playing games so she figured I ought to spend more time doing schoolwork than sitting in front of a CRT.

Despite this being a concerted effort on behalf of both of my parents, it didn't really work, because they gave me the timer and told me to keep track of my time. Obviously I found some creative ways to stretch time so that I could play just a little longer. Anyhow, the end goal of doing well in school was accomplished by virtue of school being piss-easy so eventually the mandated time-allocation stopped. As soon as I could play as much as I wanted, interestingly, I stopped playing so much. A few years later I just stopped playing games regularly, not because I needed to focus in school but because there were more interesting things to do, like mess with the BIOS bootloaders on the old computers I had amassed from the local Goodwill or to read and write solutions to the exercises in my K&R book.

I'm not really sure what the moral of this story is. Maybe it's that: kids will do what they want, and what I wanted to do was write C, so here I am 10 years later writing C and just in a different context than before. Nobody really egged me on and I had no computer-literate friends in middle- or high-school, I just did it for my own enjoyment. It's not so different now either, though I am much more well-networked than before and I still get the same kick out of designing and writing code that I did years ago. This time around I have more responsibility and more people counting on me but it's ultimately the same when I get in my flow.

Flow is particularly important for me, I've discovered, because I tend to lose focus when working on things I could care less about. This is a pretty natural reaction I expect. I was first introduced to the concept of "flow" when I played Rez; though the game does not dwell on this idea, flow / focus is a state which the game attempts to illicit from the player subconsciously. Even more so in some later and kinda-related titles like Tetris Effect and Rez Infinite, temporarily forgetting that you are playing a game is sort of the point. I can remember when I first found out about the game, I was digging through a Linux kernel .config file and and found a driver called CONFIG_USB_TRANCEVIBRATOR and was stumped as to what this could be. As I found out, the Trance Vibrator was a PS2 peripheral marketed with the Japanese release of Rez on Playstation 2 and for some reason it has its own kernel drivers in the Linux mainline kernel since (2006). The idea is that you put the thing into your pocket or strap it to your body, maybe 1 or 2 of these things and you are able to sync more with the game, feeling the trance vibrator buzz in time with the music across different areas of your body.

After I played Rez for the first time I was rushing friends over to play it, where I'd draw all the curtains and run the TV audio through an amplifier and subwoofer and make my entire apartment shake and shutter in-time with the music. That was my first conscious introduction to patterns of mental flow and focus, though I'm sure I had experiences before when doing schoolwork before. I've since been paying a lot of attention to games which create this same kind of experience (this has led me into virtual reality which is a totally different write-up).

Flow has since become indispensible for me, especially when something is expected of me and when it relates to projects (normally mandated) which I have zero drive to work on. It's just as important for me to take breaks and train my focus on the things I enjoy about it. I've recently gotten a new chair for my home, as the university-surplus chair I had before cost me a whole $10 USD and was a pain the ass literally. Now, with stretches and regular exercise, I feel a ton more focused and flow-y when I sit down to do real work.

I finished reading Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier recently and it was an amazing book. Obviously it romanticizes a lot of really gritty things but the emotions of the people involved are very touching and the stories told show how far a little curiosity and a lot of free time can go. Obviously something like that can never happen again, and it is unique for its time and place, but I can't shake the feeling that we've lost something between here and there...

What a depressing thought.

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