Cloistered

I changed jobs about a year ago and it’s had a noticeable impact.

First, I gained a daily commute of an hour-and-a-half in each direction. The commute itself wasn’t necessarily new, but instead of doing it once or twice a month, I started doing it every day. Three hours is a long time to spend on the road, especially when it’s the beautiful desolation of Northern Nevada. Still, the experience has proven surprisingly enjoyable. Podcast hosts and audiobook performers (with the help of Overcast and Audible) keep me sane and attentive.

Another major change is that I work in a room without an internet connected computer or even a functioning landline telephone. I leave all my personal tech behind when I walk in the door. Once there, I sit at an anemic Windows machine and wrestle with Microsoft Access and Excel for eight or more hours at a stretch. The space I inhabit is off the beaten path and requires a code to enter. When my co-workers are out it’s not unusual for me to go most of the day without seeing anyone.

There are those who would consider this a special level of hell reserved for only the very worst people. There are times in my life when I would have agreed. But after doing this for a while, I find myself enjoying and even looking forward to it.

One notable effect of this isolation is a greater sense of space and calm. Being on the internet all day can feel like holding the tip of a long whip. It’s hard to make sense of the blur around you when everything is constantly changing direction. For a novel-length exploration of that concept I recommend Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. It even has an ending.

In college, one of my favorite places to work was the library. Inside that imposing Brutalist reflection of the beautiful and iconic Healy Hall was a quiet space to focus, think, and study. This was the mid-90s and there were still plenty of distractions to be found without smartphones and the internet at everyone’s fingertips. To be more specific, I was playing a lot of X-Wing, Doom, and Harpoon on my mighty Dell 486SX/33.

That refreshing quiet of a library reveals itself even more during a power outage. It’s hard to truly appreciate the background noise we swim in until all that rumbling and buzzing is cut off completely. In 2003 I was living a few blocks from the beach when Hurricane Isabel hit. The power was out for days afterward, and I remember hearing the ocean from my bedroom for the first time (as it competed with the distant roar of my neighbors’ generators).

The quiet itself isn’t even necessary if you aren’t looking for order in the din. After riding a few aircraft carriers as they slowly returned to port I discovered that same silence hiding beneath a noisy, busy flight deck.

Another notable side effect of my new work situation has been a return to paper. Anything that needs to be remembered or tracked or reported to the outside world must be written down. The journal that I’d abandoned after a year cloistered in a different desert was dusted off and reopened. A crazy mix of GTD and The Bullet Journal Method appeared within and has continued to evolve. The four or five interrupted notebooks since then have taught me that I can be as fickle with non-technological tools as smartphones and computers.

Paper has the benefit of giving back to you only the things you put into it. The page will never change without you taking an action to make it different. That’s nice.

But the catch to all this is that we can’t stay cloistered or trapped in paper forever. There’s a real world with real needs out there. There’s much to learn in isolation, but no practical consequence will ever result until we connect (and even occasionally clash) with the community around us. It may be difficult to get away from the noise of the world in the smartphone-age, but it’s easier than ever to cocoon ourselves in a comfortable digital shell. There are entire industries built on helping you decorate your golden cage in a way that’s both comfortable and profitable.

By escaping to silence for a while we can come back on our own terms, clear-eyed, ready to engage with what’s actually there and, where necessary, rebuild.

Popcorn

Joe Rosensteel followed up yesterday’s post by explaining all you ever wanted to know about Mastodon but were afraid to ask:

First Time Tooter, Long Time Tweeter

Social Technical-Debt ⇒

In a post today, Internet Superhero Joe Rosensteel relates his concerns about Twitter:

Twitter has so much on its plate that it continually says it will address, and that once it does it will improve discourse on its site, and safety of people in the world. The longer they take to move on these problems the worse these problems become. When Twitter allows a user to be a bad actor, to gather a following, to get verified, and then be too important to ban, then they create a kind of social technical-debt.

Conversely, when I continue to use Twitter, surrounded by misery and panic over these bad actors, because I’ve invested too much time there, that’s also a kind of debt. Realizing that my retweets of troubling articles mean nothing, and that the caustic, high-speed flow of minor news-fluctuations pumped into my veins doesn’t improve the world.

The whole article is worth a close read, not least for his inspired use of imagery.

On Thursday I left Twitter for good, after a few months of no longer “actively” using the service. What I found is that I wouldn’t post anymore, but I’d still load it up regularly to frantically check for news of the world’s imminent implosion. I’d given up all the good parts of the service and kept the bad.

Well, there’s plenty of more reliable and less toxic places to read bad news in the world. I vastly prefer The Washington Post and The Economist.

I will never forget all the great people I met on Twitter – this blog probably wouldn’t exist without it. But Twitter is no longer the service I joined, and the community I loved is fading away. I look forward to following their adventures elsewhere.

In the meantime you can still find me here, on Instagram, and Micro.blog.

Summer

The Surface Book 2 is everything the MacBook Pro should be ⇒

On his site Charged, developer Owen Williams has a compelling review of the latest 15-inch Surface Book 2:

I’ve been hunting for a great MacBook Pro replacement since early 2017 and while I’ve been happy with my switch to a desktop machine at home, it’s been an interesting journey trying to find something that’s on the same all-around hardware and software experience on the laptop side.

Over the past year I’ve spent time with the Razer Blade, Dell XPS 15 and the Eve V, which are all stellar machines, but I didn’t quite feel at home yet. These are fantastic machines that do the job well, but always left something wanting, which I figured I’d need to settle for.

I’m back to say I was wrong, and I’ve found a machine that not only matches Apple’s standard of hardware quality, but goes far beyond it to demonstrate how a laptop of the future should work.

That machine is the 15-inch Surface Book 2 and somehow Microsoft has made the 2-in-1 that Apple should’ve been building all along, to the same level of quality I’d expect from anyone other than Microsoft.

I’ve used the Surface Book 2 as my daily computer for three months now and it’s consistently blown me away with how well considered it is across the board, how great the software works and has completely converted me into the touchscreen laptop camp.

Owen’s reviews (there are more available at the links above) are thorough and practical. His posts have been quite helpful as I transition away from the Mac, and I highly recommend them if you’re considering the same.

As for me, the XPS 15 is doing great, and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Surface Go next month. I’ll let you know how it works once I’ve used it for a bit.

The Frictionless Joy of Using a Single Platform ⇒

On his blog, Jack Baty writes about his recent experiments with Arch Linux on an older ThinkPad:

It’s the idea of Linux that I love. Wall to wall freely distributed, open source software is such a cool thing. Being free from reliance upon any one particular vendor is a great feeling. Having endless choices for how the operating system and software behave is liberating. I like having a variety of hardware options and not being stuck with a brand new laptop with the shittiest keyboard in the world. And I must admit, I don’t mind the nerd creds that using something like Arch provides. It makes me feel like I’m zagging, and I like zagging.

Read the rest for his impressions and where he’s going from here. My challenges have been similar, but they’re taking me in a slightly different direction.

What good is being reachable from halfway around the world if you can’t be reached by someone standing right next to you?

Spaghetti

Water

Helpful Links