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Captain’s Log, 20180515.2332

I should probably be in bed at this point. But I’m sure as shit there were a lot of things I wanted to write down – I just got distracted by Battletech which I was obsessed with Saturday and Sunday (I must have put 6 or 8 hours into this game).

After I checked my Wiki this morning, and after thinking about it again this weekend, realized that it’s good shit (duh) and that I should probably read in it as much as I write in it. The purpose of the wiki was (and is) to retain information so I can retrieve it again as needed. The journal is a place which is flexible and is available anywhere, anytime, to write my thoughts down. I shouldn’t think about it. Ideally, my journal will be a constant mind dump of everything I’m thinking about, and the wiki is its bigger brother, more mature and calculative and will tell me what I was thinking about and how it was done it months (and years) from now.

As such, if you take this philosophy to heart, the journal (whatever the concept “journal” is, a folder with files, just the journal file itself, the folder with the files plus Google Keep for quick thoughts… these all can be covered under “journal.”) is immediate and always available.

I was thinking about having a USB flash drive again vs Syncthing too. Syncthing is pretty good, but has its issues syncing here and there. The USB is encrypted, which makes it a bit of a hassle to open where I use it (unless I use a portable app, problem solved?), and of course I run the risk of losing it or the USB flash-drive gets damaged.

But I think I just realized what the solution is: if I run my own Linux form a USB (with consistency) it means I can have syncthing on it, and that’s the ultimate thing: when I use it, it connects and syncs automatically withing moments, when I don’t, I don’t.

Edit: um, not really, because I have to boot the other machine to work from USB and that kind of defeats the purpose of multitasking quickly.

Captain’s Log: 20180514.1521

At work. There was a mess this morning that turned itself into a project and I want to quickly capture some of this down to help in the future.

Last Friday, had to finish helping coworker backing up a lab  (9 devices total). Each one of these had a few terabytes of info and took between an hour to four to finish. With two My Passport Externals, we couldn’t do a whole bunch. Was late, decided to go home for the weekend (was at work 11 hours at that point).

Today, walked in to finish this work. Was a mess because turned out there were laptops involved too, not just lab desktops. Between another IT guy at their department and thinking what the hell I’m supposed to do with this project (these are their personal laptops) this quickly became a mess: I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, I didn’t know how to do it.

Manager helped me figure this out by defining the part he knew about. He didn’t know about the desktops or about the fact that they also used Dropbox in the middle of all of this, but he did know I need to get people and names, so he showed me how an excel sheet would look like. Standing there and thinking “how do I explain this is not the main issue I was having (Dropbox),” I got confidence in the part he did know. As he was looking people names up in his email and gathering information, a plan started forming in my head as to how to do that part – the part we were just talking about. I was able to think of it as a whole part inside of the rest of the undefinable mess.

This takes me back to a favorite, important quote:

..from somewhere back in my youth, heard Prof say, ‘Manuel, when faced with a problem you do not understand, do any part of it you do understand. Then look at it again.’

He had been teaching me something he himself didn’t understand all that well. Something in maths. But had taught me something far more important: A basic principle.

— The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein

Dude. That’s the motherfucking thing. If there’s is a thing, this is it. This it the tip of the knife that cuts it all. You deal with something you don’t get. what parts of it do you get first? how do you define them? OK, what does it tell you about what’s left? OK, so can you divide these into main chunks? And then you have actionable items. And when you have these, you have motivation and less mess on your hands to work with, and chances are better to solve the whole thing. If you still can’t, at least you can look for a solution for something more definable and communicate it better than just flailing your arms around in frustration running out the door. Ya.

Revolt (2017) – Review

This weekend, I felt like watching a simple, brainless sci-fi-ish movie with post-apocalyptic vibes. I landed on Revolt (2017). It didn’t didn’tdisappoint by being disasspointing.

In a Nutshell:

Aliens invade earth. Kill all. Man survives somehow. wakes up in jail, fights way out. Finds woman sidekick. They kick ass (the man more so, because of course). — Spoiler censored — . Man kills aliens. Happy-ish ending.

The Good

  • Simple and easy to enjoy. Don’t come in expecting much, don’t leave disappointed.
  • The woman is a sidekick, but she still kicks ass. Maybe we’re making progress if “I’m a man, hear me roar” movies like these have the woman actually killing bad guys.

The Bad

  • Rambo Syndrome: Man can shoot 3 – 4 people in a second, even though they all have guns aimed at him. Leaves without a scratch. The only time he gets injured is when he falls at some point. Oh ok, and the alien got him. Once. Because otherwise we won’t have a story.
  • I said man because the woman is just, you know, a regular soldier who actually gets hurt (and almost raped) defending herself. But she’s a medic, so that’s OK. So while she doesn’t really need saving, she’s still just a “perk” for our soldier boy who could take everyone single-hand but needs to have some human romantic side and protect the woman.
  • Go Army! – This movie has US army propaganda written all over it. The solider is an American, so of course he kicks ass, of course he can speak three different African dialects, of course he’s all about going back to his base and save his friends while being a gentleman toward the woman.

Conclusion:

If you’re OK watching a glorified US army commercial with a flat plot and cheezy old-fashioned ideas about gender roles, you’ll be just fine. Or, if you just like to get angry at such things by stupid movies (I fall into this category sometimes) that’s fine too. Just don’t come here expecting something good and you’ll be just fine.

Taking Work (Notes) Personally

Yesterday I started to copy the most complex wiki project category at my job into my private wiki. Computer imaging and setup. It wasn’t easy to convince myself to do it. I opened MojoTwo (My Wiki’s name) twice and closed it. Reading in my journal helped. I decided that at the very least, there’s no harm in copying this information down since I can always delete it. It’s no more a waste of a time than playing Hearthstone or Company of Heroes again. It felt good writing in the wiki again, to adding images and organizing things the way I want them to be. Even now, in its draft-like state, my wiki article already looks good. Better than the scattered mess on our work wiki.
 
Part of me worries that I’ll get into trouble. What if I’m recording information that can’t be saved outside of work? What if boss becomes pissed somehow? But at the end, I have to remember that articles like these are what landed me the job where I am today, to begin with. It was articles likes these, about the scripts I created and shortcuts and the like. The images, explanations, and organization I put into all this is work that I’ve done. I can take notes and create a better platform – for me. I guess the boss would say, “why not put this effort into our wiki and show off what you’ve done?” My answer would be because I have restricted access and I can’t do what I want. What makes sense to me would most likely not make sense to you.
 
Besides, who said it won’t go into the work wiki? Why not? having my personal notes does not mean I can’t contribute to another place. Isn’t it what I’m doing through my blogs anyway?

The Return To Innocence

Last Saturday evening a closed a big cycle. I sat down to DM a game of Dungeons and Dragons for the first time in about 20 years. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to this childhood hobby again all this time. Perhaps because it was in a different country and a different life. Perhaps because it represented my dorky adolescence, which I fought against growing up. Perhaps because I was too busy moving around and survive in New York. I tried to play as a character in someone else’s word already recently, but DMing has always been my place.

My game setting was also different than what I’m used to. This time, I was an adult. The character playing in my world, Gedd, was hill dwarf paladin, played by a 10 year old. Dirk, a human cleric, was played by his 40 year old father. For about two hours, I took the two on a journey into a fantasy world I created in bits and pieces for months. I learned a couple of things.

First, Kids have no problem sinking into the game. Hell, I was 3 years Gedd’s senior when I started playing. While Gedd’s host was somewhat shy, I was surprised to see good teamwork and enthusiasm. Even when he missed a blow or got hit by an enemy, he enjoyed the description and took in the atmosphere. I found common ground with the kid. This doesn’t happen often: I usually stay away from anyone who isn’t allowed to drink coffee or beer. There’s something natural to me when I communicate as a DM and not as the “adult,” he as a player, not as a “kid.” I was his DM, and he was my player.

The second thing I learned: man, do I have to get my shit together. It was a mess.

I figured I’d jump right to the game with a general idea. I had the campaign planned out with some background, monsters and NPCs. As far as the game mechanics though, chaos was everywhere.

The worse thing was that I knew very little about my PCs. They didn’t even choose names yet. The spells, skills, equipment – it was all a mess of “do you remember…” “What was that thing that…” and “I’m a healer, don’t I have this thing that…”.

Then there was the issue of NPCs and monsters. I knew what NPCs I want in general, but I didn’t prepare them well. With no cards for stats, I had to search on my laptop during the game for basic things like AC classes and weapons. I didn’t even think of names beforehand. Back when I played as a kid and there was no Internet (yes, yes…) I would improvise so much our heads would spin. Maybe I should have done this here, too.

Third, there was storytelling, or lack of. As much as I don’t have issues coming up with details, I had problems with delivery. I’m naturally quiet, and it was hard for me to get into the DM boots. The story felt flat and boring coming out of my mouth. I realized I have to roleplay as much as my players do, coming to think of it, even more so. I didn’t come prepared for that. I underestimated the importance of being a DM, not just acting as one.

Finally, the biggest issue of them all: When to play. This has been my biggest problem for the last two years (ever since I bought the 5e books as an adult). Finding friends to play with is not always easy, even though it seems DnD folks are definitely around. While I could always try role20 or go to a local store to find people, I rather not. There’s something about being with people I know and those they bring with them. To me, part of the magic has always been about what’s going on around the table. The break in the middle to order pizza. the chats between meetings. Comparing real life situations to ability rolls and saving throws at work. As a person who seldom socialize in groups bigger than two, this game was always a natural social outlet — and I miss it. As an adult, I need to find time between friends with families and a demanding job that requires I go to bed at little-kid times.

Post: Writing

My General Writing Process:

Before I get to the beef of it, it goes without saying everyone got their own way of writing. Mine, at least for time being, involves three major phases:

  1. Outline: this is where I write down the general points I want to discuss. I use Dynalist for it, which is a tool that makes it easy to make bullet-point lists

  2. Write the thing: I start writing from a fresh start, using the bullet points as reference. after I said what I wanted to say, I usually take a break. The break can take a few hours to a few days, but usually, if I don’t get back to the post within a week, I don’t at all. If I force myself, I find that what I’m working on is starting to sound artificial and forced. When I get back to a post after a break, I usually discover two things. First, the best introduction is two or three paragraph deep in the post. Second, many times the whole thing reads more like a long rant and I could cut it in a half to have more of a point.

  3. Edit and post: I actually learned to have fun with this part. I use two tools that force me to re-think my post: Hemingway and Grammarly. Hemingway forces me to chop down my sentences as if I was making one of my aggressive salads for lunch. It takes out the “well, you know, actually, what I wanted to say…” voice from my posts. Then comes Grammarly. It saves me from terrible singular/plural verb confusion, there vs their, and a bunch of other horrors. Still, I find several more embarrassing typos after I publish the post. I end up making minor edits several times more after posting and reading my damn post so many times I’m sick of it.

Now, with that in mind, let’s dive into some of the writing tools I’ve been experimenting with in the last two months. Wait. Actually no. There’s another short introduction I have to include here:

Markdown

Markdown has been a big transition in my writing. I used to think of markdown as a tool for “writing snobs” who need “minimalistic tools” to can fart away words of wisdom. But, times change, and now I’m myself one of those annoying farts. That, and the fact that almost all good writing apps these days support Markdown one way or another.

I found that even though I never needed markdown, I grew to like it. Back when I used to use Google Docs for everything. It was easy and simple. I have always logged into my Google account anyway through Gmail and Chrome, so Google Docs was just a click away. As I drifted away toward blog-format friendly apps, I started enjoying markdown despite myself. As it turned out, seeing something in italics or bold, or having a blue underlined texts, was actually distracting. What do you know, I guess I became a writing snob despite really writing anything. Sounds about right.

The Apps I Tried

Typora: Out of all the apps I tried, Typora gave me the smoothest experience. It is a stand-alone app that makes you feel good using it. For starters, it’s Open Source and Free. It’s also minimal and fast to load, but it works with Pandoc, which is a swiss-army of sorts for parsing text. What this means is that you can write in Markdown and export the document in HTML, PDF, RTF, DOC and many more formats. It supports Markdown-on-steroids syntax, which can create tables and even simple diagrams. Typora is available for Linux and Windows but also has a working beta for MacOS.

While Typora is a great writing experience, as a stand-alone app it’s up to you to find a way to sync it. Typora doesn’t come with any organizational tools like tags, which means you need to sort your files manually. This became a hassle when I needed to copy-paste into Grammarly and Hemingway and still worry about file versions.

Simplenote: Simplenote needs no introduction. It’s been around for years and is loved by minimalists worldwide. Simplenote is very reliable. In its most basic form, you can fire up a browser, log into your account and start typing away. Simplenote has stand-alone apps for MacOS, Windows, and Linux. Because of its open API, famed writing apps like Notational Velocity and nvAlt (both for Mac only) sync with Simplenote’s servers. Indeed, many writers swear by these two excellent tools and those like them.

There aren’t many bad to things about Simplenote, except one that has to be mentioned. From all the applications mentioned here, Simplenote is the least private one. Notes in Simplenote are uploaded to Automatic‘s (the company behind WordPress) servers. Their disclaimer clearly states: “We may disclose any information about you to government or law enforcement officials or private parties,” so if this a concern for you, Simplenote might be a problem.

Standard Notes: Standard note’s biggest feature is exactly what Simplenote lack: privacy. The app encrypts all notes. The people behind Standard Note’s cannot read your stuff even if they wanted to. or have your information. From all apps I tried, this is the one I’d trust personal journal notes the most. Standard Note has a premium plan which comes with “extensions.” These give you useful features like different themes, editors (including markdown editor), and attaching files through Google Drive or Dropbox.

Standard Notes also lacks Simplenote’s best feature: smoothness. While the Android app is well polished, I found the way the application handles extension (through the website) to be messy. The notion that I have to pay for something as basic as markdown was somewhat of a setback. I do like the idea of privacy behind the app. But, the basic free version needs to come with a few more features, and the platform as a whole could use fine-tuning. Still, the people behind this app are passionate and hard-working, and I hope they keep it up.

JotterPad: This one is Android only. It is one of the best writing experiences I ever had on the phone. It comes with themes, markdown and sync ability with Dropbox and Google Drive right off the box. It is a good in combination with Typora: one app for your laptop, the other for your phone. JotterPad comes with premium options such as extra themes and fonts, but the basic package here stands well alone.

So…

When I started writing this post, I had a list of apps I wanted to talk about. Looking back at that list though, I realized something. Much of the “why” I use a certain app over another has to do with my writing process, not the other way around. That is, over time the apps shaped how I write as much as I shaped what apps I use.

Back when I used Google Documents, my writing process was simple and less procedural. I was also way less critical of what I had to say. Now, I realize, it’s not just the quality of what I write, or the length, or even what I try to convey. There’s a certain theme to my writing. Definitely, a lot of good stuff to think about here.

The Return of TiddlyWiki

“The most important thing that got me back to TiddlyWiki is that it was completely mine. Eventually, the search for privacy in a world full of cloud apps became the core, the soil on which my wiki blossomed. I have never kept such a detailed, rich, and satisfying journal in my entire life.”

When I wanted to try OneNote instead of my private wiki, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to give up such an important chunk of my privacy. When the itch to switch back started poking at me, I told myself the same story. Privacy. After all, no one in Microsoft has business seeing my most personal notes. As it turned out, there was more to it than the sheer unease of the cloud. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the most important thing that got me back to TiddlyWiki is that it was completely mine.

Continue reading “The Return of TiddlyWiki”

Elementary OS And The Importance of Not Asking Why.

Two weeks ago I tried Elementry OS on my Mac at work.

Elementy OS is an Ubuntu (thus, Debian-based) Linux distro Operating System, which doesn’t make it unique. What does make it unique though, is its approach to simplistic, polished design. It seems like the guys behind this project have built an operating system inspired by Apple’s Mac OS.

Elementary OS was not going to make my work easier or more efficient. In fact, it failed within the first day, because I just couldn’t keep working with shortcuts and workarounds under regular work pressure, it was too much of a high step. I might try again in the future.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For you, people who read this, the question is probably: “why the hell would you want to install Linux on your work Macbook Air?” My job is to support Mac users both of software level and hardware. We all use Macs, which is why it makes sense that the guy who fixes them has a Mac as well. So, Why?

Why? I’m not sure I can answer this question. The same way I can’t answer why I love technology, or why, after a long week at work, I pass my weekend learning how to code, design my website, or trying to hack my own WiFi for fun while watching Netflix. It’s just my thing.

It’s an impulse I can’t let go of, sometimes strong enough to wake me up from my sleep with a new exciting idea. It’s just something I gotta do, man, and if you don’t get it — well, you just don’t.

Some of you understand the “itch.” You know what I’m talking about. You don’t do something because it’s cost effective, efficient, good (or bad), or helpful. You do it simply because you think you can. And if you fail, well, that’s just a whole bunch of fun to make it work anyway.

 The worst question you can ask yourself is “What for?”

As an IT professional, someone who is expected to deliver a certain service within a certain time frame at a certain cost, I understand where the question is coming from. But as a technologist? It’s a death blow to creativity and innovation.

“What for” is the same as saying, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. “What for” is a question usually coming from folks who rather play it safe and stick with what they know. But if you stick with what you already know, how can you learn what you don’t?

So, it took me a week to decide to scrap the whole idea of Elementry OS on my Mac. Technically it’s still installed, but I stopped trying to boot into it. You’d say I lost, that I failed.

did I?

In a single weekend, I managed to install, update, and customize a new Linux distro on a Macbook air. Installing Linux on a Mac can be a major pain, but this was not the first or second time I’ve done it – hence the value of learning. Things you take for granted, like the computer hydrating when you close the lid or the screen’s brightness automatically adjusted by the light in the room stop working. But it can work. I’ve done it before. And each failure like that, each “wtf” moment, brings another promise of triumph.

I might try Elementary OS again. Perhaps as a side project, try to get it to work smoothly, and install different tools that usually come with Kali or Ubuntu. There’s absolutely no sense in keeping that small partition on my already too little Mac hard drive. At it’s best, the Elementary OS-powered Mac will function at perhaps 70% at what it used to be under Mac OS. No matter.

That’s not the point.

 

 

Gantz:O

Last night I got to watch Gantz:O. It was a Netflix recommendation which popped up both in the Sci-Fi Horror and Adult Animation categories (thanks, Netflixcodes!). Here are some of my thoughts about it.

Good:

  • Great Animation. No really, if you’re a fan of animated films, take a look at these computer-generated models… It took me almost 30 seconds to finally decide that the actors are animated (OK, and the “adult animation” category also helped). I paused the movie a couple of times just to glance at the screen and appreciate the details. Check some of these awesome images for size.
  • Animation from a technical point of view aside, the richness of the monsters was another serious entertainment factor. With a nod (ok, more like a very much emphasized, enthusiastic, repeated nod) toward Japanese traditional lore, many of the creatures are very imaginative and interesting to behold, each one moves and attacks in different ways. Given, the movie is based on a comic, so I guess I can’t give it too much credit… but the execution of these… delicious.
  • Overall, this is the kind of movie you enjoy watching. It’s not too deep (actually, not too deep at all, that’s coming up below), doesn’t require much brain power, and is just fun to watch late at night with some snacks.

Bad:

  • “Because I’m a man, and I have to do what a man has to do.” This theme is projecting so powerfully from the movie, my eyes started hurting from rolling. The main character is a man who needs to save two women (one is not enough), and he totally kicks ass even though he is totally inexperienced and has no idea what he’s doing.
  • This movie should also come with a”this movie is aimed at teenage video gamers” warning sign. The two women in the movie are shown off in tight rubber suits with their breasts jiggling and their hips swaying. The guns and aiming system is heavily influenced by video gaming, as well as the scoring systems and the value of life (fuck the people who die, the score is all that matters). Oh yeah, the entire movie theme revolves around a game. That’s the point. Chances are that if you’re not into video games, at least somewhat, and you’re older than 20, you might get bored/annoyed fast. Me… I guess I was just impressed with said animations.
  • “That’s not a plot hole, he’s the one!” Eyeroll. Yawn. Kei, the main guy, is scared shitless when he’s thrown into the middle of everything at the beginning of the movie. Somehow though he is able to handle himself just as well, and soon better, than everyone else. According to the time that passes in the movie (and in real life), he turns from a scared kid who doesn’t know what he’s doing to a master fighter in about an hour. Not only that, guns that do jack shit to monsters in the hands of other characters seem to work for him. He also has this annoying “the chosen one” luck of having his ass saved repeatedly (while others die) and being spared by the evil boss when there’s no reason for him to be spared – just so he can finish off said boss later.

Conclusion

This movie is not meant to impress with a good plot. As long as you come with low expectation, and just the will to kill some time with good flashy action, this movie is actually quite good. I won’t watch it again any time soon, but I could recommend it to someone who likes anime and action.. just don’t take it too seriously.