Things on my mind lately, 2023-12 yearly wrap-up edition
Monday December 4, 2023
Above: Some weekend whittling and drawing.
Just a quick wrap-up post for the year, in which I’ll try to share what’s been on my mind lately, and some bits about how things have gone in 2023.
As usual, this post will be very theoretical (“I’m GROUNDED, in theory”), somewhat grandiose, awkwardly self-deprecating for vague reasons, detail-oriented over here, but concept-oriented over there, and other dumb things like that. You have been warned!
So, no particular order:
Physical Fitness Goals and Practice
Back around 2016 I was able to reach a number of huge physical fitness goals, due to my extreme weight loss experience. This was exciting stuff! Doing a bunch of pull-ups at any point after age 35 is probably always exciting, no matter who you are.
After that, I lost most of the range of motion (ROM) and use of my arm due to an injury (not workout related), and spent years recovering. In the beginning, I could barely even eat, write, or type with my bad arm, and moving my hand from keyboard to mouse was excruciating.
It was a scary and annoying setback. It wasn’t my fault. And to be fair, none less than the U.S. Government seemed ready to reimburse me for this injury, even though I didn’t pursue that path. Overall I can’t complain about the way things worked out in the end.
This year, I was finally able to make a sustainable return to a much wider range of fitness and workout activities. Though many of them need to be gentle to be effective, this has been a big point of learning for me.
I’m hoping that in 2024 I can continue to learn new things from this process.
Slope of curve as a tracking metric for life changes
A simple one, which might sound complex: I started tracking “slope” as I track my goals. That is, the slope of the improvement curve. The rate of change.
For an example of how this works:
- I record my progress.
- I write some software to calculate the slope of the progress.
- I write some software to put that number in my daily journal file.
- Every day I should see a number like: “+0.5” for example.
In some cases, I want to pay attention to broader timelines as well, so I will track: 3-day slope, 5-day, 10-day, 20-day, all in one list.
This helps me to build a sense of long-term goal alignment, building a bridge between “tracking too many details to be sustainable” and “going off track.” It helps me to build a sense of what’s working and what’s not.
And, I don’t have to stare at a long list of numbers and guess how I’m doing.
I don’t use a smart watch anymore, because my graphs and measuring practices are too different from what smart watch app designers think everybody wants to track. So I’d like to eventually find a smart watch platform that I can either completely customize (and I mean…completely) or build by myself.
Subjective Systems of Type
In 2023 I spent more time working on very subjective personality type systems. They are very subjective in that they only need to work for ME at first, and that’s fine.
Why do this? It’s effective. You can work with people in a completely different way. You can solve problems you couldn’t solve before, both in your own life and in the lives of others. You can work your way off your usual life script, and end up in a different kind of situation that’s new, or fun, or enlightening, or just weird and confusing, and you can see it even if others may not, and THAT is a pretty fascinating feeling.
(Would that be worth it to you?)
Over time, I may talk to people or ask them about different aspects of their experiences, and determine whether there might be some broader, objective overlap from mine to theirs—some kind of objective reliability.
In many cases there is some of that, but I don’t have the time to spare in writing up the theory for the greater public.
This makes me a bit frustrated for who we all are, and what we could become, if somehow this kind of propagation of experience or knowledge was easier, or easier to balance with higher priorities in our lives.
This year I used my productivity tools as more of a language or palette, to develop new, ad hoc productivity systems, in support of some very specific activities. For example, a new type of project engagement at work. Since Task BATL is a modular system, this worked pretty well.
Subjective Systems of Archetype
I’ve been continuing work on building my own symbol dictionary. Again, this is for me, it’s not something I’m writing to publish for others.
It’s somewhat similar to a dream dictionary, if you’re familiar with those, but it’s instead, it’s based on things like:
- Hobbies: What does hobby X possibly “mean” or offer in my life, as a symbol? What strengths or perspectives does it suggest?
- Favorite belongings: What is my symbolic relation with a favorite object? Some people even give their favorite objects names, denoting personalities. What can be done with that?
- Interesting topics, thoughts, or ideas: Are they me, or some version of me, in some sense?
- Favorite movies, books, music: Is it objectively great, and therefore worth watching, reading, and listening to…or is it subjectively impactful, and therefore worth thinking more about?
- Imagined fears or concerns: Why are some of these things so deeply affecting? What if there is a healthy way to turn them around, these nightmare events that can even happen in our minds during the waking hours?
- Goals: Did I really pick my goal, or did it pick me? Or something else?
Since these items are all “symbolically available” as tools to help me understand and solve problems better, this has been a very useful activity. I don’t think I could stop updating this dictionary if I wanted to!
I continue to find my Frontdooring practice reliable as a healthy, meditative activity.
I haven’t expanded it as much this year, but it’s been a very helpful combination with my energy-periods studies, below.
I’ve focused a lot on reading imaginative, classic works this year: Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, and similar. One of my goals was to build better, more consistent access to fantasy worlds and mindsets.
I’ve also been working on a theory of books and reading, meant specifically to support a given type of energy level. For this reason I often make it a goal to skip directly to the climax of a book, or read the ending first, or things like that. This is about vitality, energy, and less about “what it literally means to read a book.”
And, it helps!
On the side, I developed a habit of rewarding myself with a review of the latest Project Gutenberg books, every time I complete a Wordle puzzle. It’s amazing how many new books are posted there. It’s probably at least four new books every day, on average.
I’ve been watching a lot more VHS rips this year. Previously I was much more of a quality hound, overlooking VHS and hoping for a BluRay edition, and so on.
But just to be really honest about how maybe-brainy this goes: I find that VHS titles offer a much different experience, one which is extremely useful in navigating certain metaphorical-psychological mindsets.
If you think of it as using a movie as a tool for self-support based on “who you used to be”, this might sound interesting—but I think most of us are used to using movies as “somethin’ to watch.” Which is fine and something I still do for sure.
Some of my favorite movies to watch or re-watch this year have been (ordered by release year):
- South Pacific (1958)
- Silver Streak (1976)
- The Deep (1977)
- The Ninth Configuration (1980)
- The Fog (1980)
- Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) (As a Rockford Files fan, watching Tom Atkins in this role was VERY therapeutic!)
- Never Cry Wolf (1983)
- Little Nikita (1988)
- The Exorcist III (1990)
- Superman Returns (2006)
- Bringing Godzilla Down To Size, (documentary, 2008)
- Stuber (2019)
- Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 (2023)
- Asteroid City (2023)
- Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
- Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Some of these have simply been enjoyable experiences for me. Others have been more deeply examined, or maybe I listened to podcasts about them, or wrote about them in depth.
Have you ever listened to a really enjoyable podcast about one of your own favorite movies? This is a pretty underrated activity, I think…
I’ve enjoyed learning Emacs this year. This app is pretty amazing.
In order to learn and grow in a way that can also support my business goals (from web dev, to app consulting, to training and coaching), I’ve been spending a lot of time with my Emacs coach, Prot.
Prot is a deeply-qualified expert and has been very patient with me, thank god. I’ve enjoyed learning to use and customize Emacs.
One of my favorite things about Emacs is that I can experiment directly with the way the software itself works. I can change the core features just as easily as I can type in my journal! And it’s pretty easy to change things back if I accidentally destroyed something vital.
Radio: AM/FM/SW. Scanning, Amateur Radio, etc.
I decided to develop this hobby in a much more patient, quiet, solitary way this year.
To me, radio is “about” distant ranges of time, as a metaphorical perspective. It’s about tuning into distant perspectives that can be extremely helpful to us. The more distant the radio signal, the longer the timeline. I find that shortwave radio is more “about” 10-20+ years in my future. Portables / walkie-talkies are more about closer concerns in terms of time. Daily, or weekly.
I came up with some ideas about propagation that were pretty damn conceptual and grandiose, probably because I’m new to this kind of theory.
For example, I thought about the implications of gravitonic propagation. If you even mention this stuff in discussions WITH educated people, many will think you’re dumb, or crazy. How fortunate that I already know I’m both!
I enjoyed using the CountyComm GP-7 SSB, which was probably a favorite this year. It’s fun to set up on the beach or in the mountains while camping.
Even though much of the year’s radio use was pretty solitary on purpose, I did do some local volunteering as a radio operator.
In October, I took my son Ben along to volunteer during the Great Shakeout exercise. We manned the emergency ham radio at a rural medical clinic about a half hour drive from here, and the head doctor was with us the entire time, telling us all about what would probably happen to the poor building in an earthquake!
I left him a hand-drawn diagram showing how to operate the radio if he ever needed to. Hopefully it was a little reassuring.
I think Ben enjoyed this experience and I hope it helped him to see a bit outside of the usual “middle school student life” perspective.
Daily Energy Periods
I was in good health this year. Still, nothing is ever perfect. There’s always a bit of an up-and-down to life, isn’t there?
So maybe THAT’s interesting, I thought.
I started to dissect the times when I felt “less-well”, because of my concern than handling those times wrong could make it easier to become “unwell”, and possibly harder to recover back to “well”.
I discovered that every day has some “less-well” periods to it, especially if that’s the only lens we have on what’s happening.
And life frequently provides us with this choice: A) Well, that’s “just” how life goes, or B) Could be interesting, why not explore a bit, see if we can improve our outlook.
In general, if you are really interested in learning, you should “distrust the word ‘just’,” is my thinking.
So, I measured things for a while, and made a chart. Then I constructed some new lenses on these times of day, and discovered a lot of interesting things about my daily energy flow.
As a result, I found that I have more control over: Quality of work, quality of rest and sleep, managing goals, being effective with other people, and so on.
And by the way, I mapped this out over 24 hours, not just daytime hours. If you wake up during the night, I think it’s wise to consider that there are probably also some best-to-fall-asleep times that ebb and flow in your nighttime hours. So, just because you can’t immediately get back to sleep, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or even a health thing at all.
In fact, it can really help to look at your watch and know, “my next, reliable fall-asleep point comes in about 45 minutes…it’s cool, I’ll read a book or something, maybe do some journaling.”
And, I’ve learned that it’s helpful to do this even at say 5:30 a.m., when I need to be up and awake at 7! I would not have understood that last year, and this year I’m somehow, strangely, better off for it. (Though, I should also mention that I am now a firm believer in napping at earlier daytime-times, like 9 a.m. if need be. This is less-rational to some, because it’s less-normal to them—but it’s not so much a “let’s be lazy” thing and more of a “logical” thing once you understand how your energy levels work.)
A lot of people in fields like engineering know that measurement generally gives you more control over things. If you want to control something, measure it!
But not many people appreciate the fact that discovering or creating new things to measure is a vastly underrated add-on to the same principle.
I would like to write more about this in the future, as it’s been a fun topic to explore.
I use KDE on most of my computers right now (previously XFCE, Gnome, GNUStep, etc. etc., not counting Windows and Mac systems here), so I installed KDE Connect on my phone, and use it to help the systems work more closely together.
This has been a huge benefit in a lot of ways. Even just clipboard sharing is a big one. But other aspects (KDE Connect SMS app) are also really useful.
EDC / Everyday Carry
I still collect EDC gear and I think a lot about it. My theory and study of this has expanded quite a bit. I can see more of its metaphorical side now. As more of that side becomes clear, the hobby starts to change in curious ways.
To others, it seems like a “stuff” hobby, where one is merely satisfied by “having stuff” or “buying stuff”. But the metaphorical dimension immediately calls this limited perspective into question.
My EDC item picks of the year:
- Tool: Victorinox Outrider which is quite handy but you should be aware that it’s not exactly light.
- Pencil: General’s Cedar Pointe pencil.
- Pen: Zebra’s V-301 fountain pen had me getting all into ink again. Tip: Hold it upside-down for a very fine line.
- Notebook: Small hardback moleskine
- Ham Radio: Radtel RT-780 which worked way better than I expected it to.
- Candy: Sour Patch Kids. They are one of the best candies made available in recent decades, is my thinking as a summertime hiker.
- Portable Radio: For portability, the HRD-747 was really good to me. It’s the size of a deck of cards and can pull in AM, FM, Shortwave, emergency services / VHF users, SSB, air band, CB, and weather??? Hello! It may not be ultra-professional, but it sure kept me entertained.
- Book: Those thin ’60s and ’70s paperbacks
- Holding it all together: Gotta give it to 550 paracord. I made & used a lot of lanyards, and later repurposed them for things like quick straps, hangers (see HRD-747 photo) and so on.
Picking one (knot) and using the heck out of it.
As an avid outdoorsy-person, hiker, camper, and so on: I kept forgetting the various knots I used to know. Why?
I got the idea it might have been related to depth of practice.
I decided to focus on one knot this year: The simple overhand knot.
So, I used the HELL out of THAT one knot this year. You can see it at least 3-4 places on my person if I’m out hiking. I try to do just about everything with this knot. Hold things together, pull them apart, and so on.
This is really the essence of a depth-first approach to anything. You take that ONE thing and really, really get to know it deeply.
I’ve applied this perspective to lots of other tools and methods as well, and it’s really versatile.
Though there are some issues (especially in theory—try telling a knot-obsessed debater that you use an overhand knot for everything you can!), they are pretty easy to work around, or address in a productive way.
So, maybe I’ll add another knot in the new year! If so, it’ll probably be some lame old underdog knot, similar to the overhand. Nothing fancy.
I worked on a lot of new mindsets and personal systems related to hiking. Mostly around these questions:
- Why am I going hiking?
- What am I taking, and why?
- What am I doing along the way?
It’s really helped to be more conscious about this, thinking about it and why it’s good, why it can even be bad, and so on.
I noticed that hiking 7-8 miles into the hills for a break is a lot of fun, but it’s also terrible for other types of fitness or cutting activities, depending on the circumstances. This really sucks, and I hope to reach a bit more of a “hiking as specific fitness / life component” theory in 2024.
Just as my wife Megan has shared that she discovered in her running (she’s almost TOO good at running!), I’m also finding that it’s nice to make some more frequent stops, to take some photos, to enjoy the journey WAY more than I let myself do in the past.
Here are some favorite new lightweight hiking bring-alongs:
- Luggage strap. (A simple chair when wrapped around back & knees, try it sometime after a LONG hike if you haven’t already)
- Fold-out foam pad to sit on. Weighs virtually nothing. Between this and the luggage strap, you will feel like the Flint Lockwood of chair people.
- Wire. Some simple stiff metal wire can be used for all kinds of interesting things. In trail maintenance it can be really handy. But you can also move a whole tree with a bit of wire if you use it right (or so I heard!)
So, AI’s pretty new. It’s a big deal.
Due to my professional experience, and the overlap with technology and psychology: I’ve been casually observing the psychological ecosystem within the AI community.
This is true both for interactions within the AI software development community and regarding its interactions with those outside the community.
What’s interesting here is that we are in a generally volatile period in history right now, with regard to ALL “psychological technology.” This includes AI, but it also includes social/relational “technologies” in which new soft-frameworks are replacing outdated ones.
For this reason, I think AI can seem like a massive, world-changing catalyst, but especially so to AI- and technology-minded people.
To others who are less AI-minded, I think it will be more obvious that the other technologies in which they find interest are also very cathartic and similarly world-changing. It becomes a bit of chicken-vs-egg problem, if you try to compare “what’s really changing us right now?”
Personally, my own ideas and experiences about AI have taken me back to the search engine revolution of the late ’90s. I think about what I would do differently if I could go back in time to that period. The answers aren’t as obvious as I first thought, but they’ve been interesting to consider.
Local AI tools have also been very interesting (AI running on local systems, that is) and I’d really like to see how these evolve over time.
One neat thing is: You can now take AI with you on an extended outdoors outing or hike or campout, with no internet connection, and rely on most of the same benefits. This has HUGE implications for in-situ development of off-grid methodologies, for one, which probably sounds way more dumb than it really is, so my apologies.
Based on previous technology-curve analyses, I’m guessing that we have reached or exceeded the point at which one could pick a single AI platform to use for the next 25 years, and that platform would probably work out OK overall for the duration.
I say that just in case it helps ease the minds of some of you FOMO people out there (I get in that mindset myself sometimes). :-)
Art and Photography
I’ve worked hard to hone my art and photography practices this year, with regard to:
- Outdoor photography
- Product / EDC photography
- Smartphone photography
- Fractal rendering
- Drawing / illustrating
- (Dip-) Pen and ink
I’ve learned a lot about these practices, but I still have lots of questions, even after decades of practice.
Some of my favorite discoveries in these areas this year include:
- Outdoor photography: If you view it as a painting-style activity, it’s easier to get better at it. This is VERY true of allowing yourself the time to address aspects of the composition that your smartphone cannot really understand. And this gets really interesting if you consider that one paints with more of a certain type of intent than one generally brings to photography.
- Product / EDC photography: You should always compensate for lens warp as early as possible in the process, starting with the initial shoot.
- Smartphone photography: You should explore other photography apps if possible, and try to learn from not just their tools and effects, but also from their built-in workflows.
- Fractal rendering: In many cases the quality of the render is the LAST thing you should worry about. There’s usually no need to max out your CPU for a good render.
- Drawing / illustrating: A sketchy style can be vital to the artist’s own personality. Such a style can point at a lack of skill in being clear, but it can also point to a strong gift for conceptualization and intuition-informed art. Shaky, vague lines may need to be accepted for what they offer, before they are eliminated in favor of clear, direct lines.
- Pen and ink: I bought a bunch of cheap nibs to try out as I’ve “dipped” into this hobby again. Ballpoint nibs are really cool. And I’m still blown away by how much ink some of those nibs with the brass cover can hold!
This has been really fun and I’m excited to continue learning in these areas in 2024.
I spent more time on Instagram and Facebook in 2023. I developed a bit of an updated mental model for these platforms and wanted to test it out. You may notice that everything I post on those platforms is public, and this was deliberate.
I still catch myself feeling bad that I forget to reply to comments, or messages, or whatever it was. I barely have time to get around to my work emails.
Also, just to address this concern I sometimes hear about from readers: I am assuming that these platforms will use whatever I feed into them for evil purposes, if they really feel the need.
At least, that’s the baseline understanding I’m rolling with! So I’m aware of the “big picture downside character flaw” of social media, but I also feel there is a more mutual benefit now.
Home and Family
As usual, I keep trying to find ways to be less annoying at home, and with my family. :-)
My wife and kids still amaze me and it’s exciting to see them grow. I like to see them rest when they can, too! It’s been a lot of fun to see them enjoying new interests and developing old ones.
OK, phew, that should be enough of an update for now.
The post wasn’t meant to be so all-encompassing, but it helped me to reflect just a little bit on those various areas.
Overall, this year has been more focused on technology than last year. It’s also been more restful and healthy overall. This has been a really nice way to reset very specific goals in life, or re-calibrate toward outcomes I want to see.
I’m looking forward to 2024 and whatever it brings! Wishing all my readers the best new year possible—
Keyback Cluster →
Things on my mind lately, 2023-12 yearly wrap-up edition →
When My Words Meet Your Mental Stageplay →
A quick way to get more creative coding control with ChatGPT →
Why it can be a good idea to say "Thank You" to ChatGPT →
Things I Made for You
Own your procrastination with Whole Productivity, a new system → Get my free INTJ COVID-19 Guide → Explore your gifts with my INTJ Workbook → Other Publications → ...and the fake word of the hour: "Ca." Which I believe is a term used when speaking about fast food.