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April '23: What's New Here? Books, Movies, Software, Art, EDC, Advanced Fitness, and Coconut Juice

Tuesday April 18, 2023

A grown man hustling across some sand before his camera timer goes off

Above: The author transits a bleak alien planet in search of a long-lost KDE configuration dialog!

Every single time I think about something to write here, it’s all of a sudden 100 things. So I feel like maybe a digest format will help to scratch that itch today.

Here’s some stuff that’s new for me in April ’23!

Books

I’ve been savoring every last metaphorical bite of Moscow Calling by Angus Roxburgh. The fluent narrative style and concise prose do me juuust fine for calm reading time.

Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War by Lewis H. Carlson is downright fascinating.

And wrapping up my cold war trilogy, RAF & East German Fast Jet Pilots of the Cold War by Nigel Walpole has been a terrific source for a lot of details I wanted to know about but wasn’t sure where to find.

Aside from that, I’ve dipped into a lot of classics and browse Project Gutenberg just about every day, so frequent are the interesting updates there.

I’ve also found myself dipping into a lot more fantasy books, like The Land That Time Forgot and others.

This “dipping into” thing is a lot more frequent now that I’m working on my Frontdooring practices, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been more proud of skipping to the end of more books in my life. For the Frontdooring-related benefits alone it’s been great.

Related, I’ve limited my book purchases mainly to books with covers I like. This has saved me quite a bit of agony in deciding what to buy.

Finally, I should mention that I’ve collected thousands of Internet Archive book cover thumbnails based on personal preference, and I have a script that runs every 45 minutes, picking 18 of them and presenting them to me in a separate folder for Frontdooring purposes. This has been really cool and I refer to it about 3-5 times a day.

Movies & TV

I finished 1975’s Wolf Guy with Sonny Chiba and enjoyed it. Really good atmosphere, nice job with the music, the dialogue was tight, plotting was solid.

It also had definite giveaway manga vibes in characterization and so on. Throwing coins like ninja stars was funny and obviously something imported from the manga story source. There wasn’t much context for it but I absolutely loved to see it.

2019’s Stuber made me laugh my arse off. I had so much fun watching that movie. Dave Bautista stumble-crushing a full row of brand new bicycles during a fight with somebody with about half his mass is not to be missed.

I also started watching the new Jury Duty series and it’s pretty funny. If you’ve ever been selected for a jury, there’s a lot of relatable stuff in there, but man, they even threw in a transhumanist, which of course has to be explained to the judge, and there’s just some really rational, solid comedy writing that flows well.

Since my psychology is so conflicted about attention given to the brand new stuff without getting somehow grumpy, I found myself watching 1988’s On The Silver Globe (seems available on Youtube) which was so experientially impactful that I’ve had to spread it across several viewing sessions.

I may have also enjoyed the feel of 1975’s Shock Waves, looking to expand the incredible vibing-experience from 1983’s The Keep.

EDC / Everyday Carry

EDC layout including radio, pens, dice, and pocketknife

You may have seen some of my EDC photos that I rotate in the sidebar here. I like EDC and really treasure this hobby for its symbolic role in my life experience. It’s just stuff. But it’s also somehow a reliable source of positive vibes for me.

The EDC hobby—sorting, selecting, buying, collecting, planning, fixing, all of it and carrying too—brings me down to earth and grounds me, helping me out of the idea space, so it’s very much a meditative activity in that way. But it also helps me get way back up there when I need to. My EDC gear is “just stuff,” but it’s also become a favorite portal-hobby which connects my sensory and intuitive worlds. I like to think my EDC photos sometimes capture a bit of that energy.

In EDC hobby-land, I’ve been focused on really small things lately:

  • Small dice like the Chessex 10mm mini sets have been an interesting find lately.
  • Small radios like the HRD-747, Raddy RF75A, and even the Countycomm GP-7 SSB have been calling for my attention. I took my HRD-737 on a campout once, and finding RNZ coming in great on shortwave was a terrific way to stave off the mid-afternoon boredom.
  • Small flashlights have been straight up useful, wish I could recommend one right now but I’m still testing a couple. One of them is great to have while walking at night because it’s got a red strobe built into it.
  • Small knives and tools like the Rough Ryder Mini Canoe, the Marbles Small Lockback in Desert Tan, and the Rough Rider Lockback Black Cherry Bone have been a lot of fun.

As the knives and tools interest has developed, I’ve somehow gained a taste for the vintage styles. So I have a small collection of camp/scout-pattern knives that I really enjoy attending to. One of my favorites in this area is the Rough Ryder Carbon Scout, which I’ve used for various home improvements & eatin’ steak like a scout. (Just wipe off that there drywall dust, and you won’t taste anything !)

I also had to pick up a barlow knife or four since I got thinking about my grandpa and his old barlow, and Tom Sawyer, and by gosh if I didn’t become a bit of a barlow knife geek! To include the beerlow pattern (I don’t have that one—just an example), which is a combination pocket knife and cap lifter.

The amount of money I’m spending on this stuff is intentionally kept low as well, as you can probably see by the prices for the items I mentioned in the list above. With hobbies I go right for variety, fun, and emotion, which makes sense to me in the cognitive-relief sense, since my day-to-day professional work is much more about focus, systems, and logic.

I’ve also been expanding my search to new portable ham radios for use while hiking. My criteria for these now include USB-C charging, which is pretty wild to think about compared to how even the portable ham radios are usually charged. I also like the radio to have a flashlight, which is a great safety tool, and a nice loud beep is really helpful in the woods.

One of my favorite portable ham radios makes a tremendous BEEP BEEP sound on startup that’s easily heard hundreds of yards away. This is great for alerting nearby animals and sometimes nearby humans, when I need them to know that I’m coming, for various reasons. (The sheer number of little helpful things I’ve learned while hiking over the past decade…not all of them always necessary, but when you need them, it’s definitely better to know & use them.)

Software Stuff

In text editor software, I’ve been studying Emacs, really digging in there to find some things I just love about the software.

So far, the thing I love most about it is that it is kind of its own mental domain, like a treehouse you can climb into with its own special vibe. For us low-dopamine-preferred folks, it’s great to know that these kinds of experiences exist.

I’ve been using ChatGPT as an Emacs consultant with fairly good success, but there’s always the usual ChatGPT suggestions-troubleshooting to do. “Sorry #4, that configuration directive ALSO does not work because of factor X, so please try this directive Y instead…”

I should also admit that I accidentally opened jEdit the other day and phewwww did I like how it looks, a huge nostalgia hit. I’ll probably make some time to upgrade & use that one for a while also.

In desktop environments, I’m rocking KDE harder than ever before, which is a pretty significant change away from XFCE for me. I had XFCE customized with hundreds of keyboard shortcuts, buttons, genmon scripts with various display features, and it fit me like a gosh darn glove.

There’s a lot I still love about XFCE, and I anticipate using it again, but for now it’s just been too long since I used KDE.

Distros I’m currently using include: Kubuntu, Manjaro, Q4OS, and PCLOS. These are all fantastic in various ways. I wouldn’t change a thing for now. Even though I’ve had to replace my handy XFCE panel dropdowns with some rather Windows 3.1-style solutions.

In utility software packages, I really like Eagle Mode for a lot of reasons. It has one of the best world-clock modalities I’ve ever used, for one.

I also like using OpenMPT lately and have enjoyed playing around with it. Bosca Coeil is new to me and very intuitive as well.

I bought a lifetime license for GoldWave and use it in Wine, where it works great and is perfect at not being Audacity, which is about where I need it to be right now.

For video editing I am really enjoying OpenShot and find that it does all my basics really well.

I also make use of a mostly-curated collection of .m3u playlists with QMMP and use these in conjunction with my other Frontdooring tools.

Geany is still my editor of choice, and I feel like I can pretty much fly with it. I am up to about 120 snippets for general journaling and productivity for work & play, most of which call my external scripts. One of those snippets is “help”, which prints a kind of a menu of my snippets, and it’s kind of nice to need something like that.

The most helpful snippets turn a blank space in the editor into a structured list or pre-formatted indented topical list. After that, the most helpful ones will insert the UTC time or make a header with the current date/time. After that, some snippets manage my journaling cues which are shuffled and presented for use in getting on track in various ways.

ChatGPT has been really fun to use for various purposes, in addition to other online tools like BanterAI which my kids thought was pretty hilarious.

My general thinking on LLMs and ChatGPT is that these tools are going to raise the bar, but I don’t really see anyone’s coding job being in jeopardy as a result. Quite the opposite in fact—conversing with, and prompting ChatGPT for effective coding is itself a very obvious form of coding, and I can think of many, many different kinds of people who will be happy to hire someone to do all of that for them.

I also find myself using ChatGPT to write way more software for personal entertainment than ever before, which has been super fun.

Art

I haven’t done as much sketching lately, but fractals and 3D renders have been a lot of fun. This includes The Reality Forges of Rabanth and a little photo from the inside of my MicroSD card slot.

I made a lot of use of Art of Illusion for home project visualization purposes, and just love that software for its simplicity and I am glad I still know it nearly inside and out. Nearly.

The Outdoors / Physical Activity

I’ve done a lot of thinking and meditating on the concept of advanced fitness. It kind of started with memories of my martial arts teacher, Sifu Richard Hone, bringing a clipboard to our classes. He’d refer to the clipboard and make little notes on it as our class time went by.

In effect, by making weekly and daily decisions about what topics or activities to write on the clipboard, he built a unique advanced fitness program that was really exceptional at keeping things interesting.

To me, this is a big part of advanced fitness: Capturing the interest in a way that’s a big improvement over the usual workout or fitness activity. Advanced fitness is not really about how many, how long, or how much. It can involve those things, but it should be more expansive, creative and I’m pretty sure that truly advanced fitness should make you laugh or say, “that was fun and it absolutely hit the right spot” without needing to involve a lot of expense or extra travel.

So, I wrote a snippet (see Geany, above) that creates a short, randomized collection from about 75 different fitness-related topics or activities. This has really helped me with my advanced fitness goals so far. And I really want to get the source list above 200 if I can, because I feel like it should be doable, and if it is doable, it’ll definitely be even more fun to use.

My most recent additions to that list involve inventing skill games. For example, inventing a skill game involving throwing or catching, or inventing a skill game based on balance. When my snippet provides a list, I try to view the whole list and synthesize, like:

  • Crunches
  • Inventing a skill game based on balance
  • Throwing badminton birdies into a jar from a given distance

…and that leads me to “balance a jar on your forehead while holding the crunch position for as long as you can, timed”, or “holding a badminton birdie between your knees while doing crunches” and so on.

I’ve also been doing some hiking and trail maintenance combined with photography and a bit of ham radio, which has been a good way to politely beg my ultra-runner wife for a little bit of rest time.

I’m that random guy who has actually used ham radios in emergencies, both real emergencies and officially-simulated ones with local health care organizations, so the practice in the outdoors also has this additional practical element. It is not a good feeling to watch a potential emergency unfold and realize you don’t know how or if your essential gear will even work out there.

Some related topics for future study include: Geology, entomology, tracking, and botany. These have been on my mind every time I’ve had a related ??? moment while hiking.

Food and Drink

I try to keep a log of interesting new foods and drinks that I try, and let me just say that if you see some Vita Coco Coconut Juice Drink with Mango, and you like Coconut drinks, you should get some of that. It has a great creamy aftertaste and I plan to source some more somehow.

Personal KB

The personal KB / bat cave / notes system continues to be very helpful here.

To catch up those who haven’t previously read about it, I decided many years ago to lean into how computers naturally work, and so after trying many notetaking systems—all of them great—including NoteCase Pro, Zim, DokuWiki, etc., my system is now based around a structured collection of folders containing Markdown files and other types of data as needed. I use fsearch, grep, find, and some other tools like Geany’s Commander plugin to manage the searching aspects, and use various syncing tools to get access to the files across systems.

A couple years ago I was really captured by the superhero archetype, and decided to make what I call the “Super System,” kind of a zoomed-out meta-system file to ensure that my life, tools, philosophies, etc. could be as superheroic and big-picture oriented as I really needed it to be.

This turned out to be a very helpful project. It reminds me of a film professor back in university, who used to say “everyone should write a manifesto.” This file contains in effect many different manifestos, in various structures, for various purposes. It even contains my own version of Heinlein’s “A Human Being Should” manifesto, adapted for current times:

A human being should be able to evaluate sources of advice for general credibility, evaluate their own government’s ongoing activities for laudability, make conscious health-minded diet choices, avoid road rage, design a life plan, write a journal entry for internal meditation & peace, manage and plan for long-term financial stability in the face of change, connect a device to the internet, evaluate another person’s general physical and emotional state, know some first aid, comfort the dying, contextualize and integrate feedback from others, offer and design feedback to others, cooperate with a team, act alone while understanding the risks of subjective mindsets, know where they can go to get help with math and other problems, list and organize the various aspects of a new problem they are facing, test a CO2 or smoke detector, sign up for texts from local authorities, protect themselves during the most likely natural disasters in their area, fight and argue creatively, and make plans to pass away with supportive friends around.

There’s also a list of what-not-to-do’s, most of which I at least needed to write down, just to acknowledge: that’s OK and you’re fine. Most of them I also haven’t seen anywhere else, really.

For example, “DON’T RESTRICT YOUR POWER AND RESOURCES TO SATISFY OTHERS” is a really solid one. Sometimes, people who are desperate for power will work hard to represent your own power or resources as THE problem, when in fact, even if that stuff is a problem, it’s still something you need to rely on for your own purposes. A good illustration of this that some are familiar with is Ozymandias’s tactic to reduce Doctor Manhattan’s effective power in the story Watchmen.

Right around the same time that I got to work on all of this, I also really started to see in my coaching sessions with various clients just how much the idealist in all of us needs direct and constant support. And superheroic tales and archetypes are so much about nurturing this idealist viewpoint.

This led me to look for a superheroic-attention pattern in my life. When does it come up? Why? What is that for?

I found myself gradually bringing some order to this kind of thought through a mandala-inspired concept of the flow of my life, and some related interests/archetypes, as they play out in my typical schedule or state of affairs at work or at home.

And, here it is—in all of its LibreOffice Draw, draft-mode glory!—in case anybody’s interested in working on something similar for themselves:

Image of mandala

I’m working on an accessible text version as well, and will post that here when it’s ready.

Wrap-up

OK, so like I said at the beginning, there’s a lot I could write about, there’s a TON more that I want to share, but that’s a pretty good set of things for now.

Hope this finds you all out there living life to its life-est as well.

Filed in: Rest /21/ | Randomness /26/ | Movies & Films /3/ | Technology /41/ | Therapeutic Practice /144/ | Interests /110/

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