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August 16, 2019

Runner in mind

I think of myself as a runner, despite not running all that much recently. In fact, "recently" stretches back a year or more. You would not look at my daily activities and guess that the time spent running is something I consider integral to my life balance and both mental and physical health. And yet, here I am. Imagining running when I see others run. Thinking of the myriad different ways a run can feel. Considering long runs versus short ones. Recalling the meditative aspects of long runs, while at the same time wondering if I am in enough of running shape to even be able to get there right now.

I have been on a wonderful, serendiptious reading expedition in quiet moments of the last few days. It started with the article Fast software, the best software. We discussed it in the latest episode of Kodsnack, and after I put together the show notes it was but the tap of a link to find out a bit more about just who this Craid Mod fellow was.

The answer turned out to include a whole lot of highly enjoyable writing, and as I began to read through the archives of Craig's newsletter Roden I encountered thoughts on writing, meditation, vivid images of someone else's life, and of course a lot of great photos. His writings around meditation and silent retreats in particular made me think of long runs, especially the four times I ran ultra marathon distances. Somewhere along the way, along trails and streets, I feel I have picked up or at least caught glimpses of the mindset Craig writes about. Enough to feel connected, enough to provoke more thoughts, and definitely enough to be eager to discover more.

Today, it gave me another little treasure: Craig linked to the site of one James Somers where I was carried away by the post "You're probably using the wrong dictionary". I was indeed, but I have now corrected this deficit thanks to James' instructions. I look forward to looking up a lot more words going forward. The joy of language, of words, is not too hard to spark in me, but it is not common enough that a text turns the spark into such a hot, happy flame even for a brief moment.

I should read more good writing.

Okay, just one random example of a good dictionary definition. Look how much imagery, how much joy, is squeezed into this definition of Serenade: "(a) Music sung or performed in the open air at nights; -- usually applied to musical entertainments given in the open air at night, especially by gentlemen, in a spirit of gallantry, under the windows of ladies."

One sentence, not one wasted word, and it just builds as it goes. As far as I can recall, dictionaries rarely bring a smile to my face. Hang your heads in shame, average dictionaries, then go home and improve.

(I also wonder what the best Swedish dictionary might be. I have a hunch that they are on average a bit better than English ones, but also that they could be even more if they tried enough. Research for another day.)

August 15, 2019

Summer timing

My summer holiday is approaching its end, just as abruptly as always. It started late, we have done a nice number of things, and it does feel like a long time since I last was at the office. So pretty well done on that front.

In a recent episode of Reconcilable differences, Merlin and John were discussing what defines success for their holidays. A key part of their discussion was the fact that you personally having a good time can be pretty low on the list of criteria when you are a parent. This aspect has started to enter my world, and rings true to me, but there are defiintely still personal criteria which feel deciding to me. The most important one seems to be this:

Do I, at the end of my summer holiday, feel like I have really wound down?

Do I feel relaxed, energized, like I have had time to rest, catch up, and perhaps do some creative things along the way?

I have never before put it into words this clearly, but I feel that winding down properly has been the main success criteria for most if not all of my holidays as a working adult. And I find it interesting that, despite checking pretty much all the boxes I tend to think of before the start of a holiday, I feel like I have succeeded less this year than on average. Again, I have done all the things I expected at the start, but it seems they did not add up to quite the level of unwinding I expected this time.

I look forward to processing this and trying to figure out how or why. And it is great when people give me new thought technologies that let me even begin to think about it.

Meanwhile, I lean back in a huge couch in a rented house, laptop on lap, water and whiskey close at hand.

July 29, 2019

Murderly Breathly

I had a very short dream sequence last night (it might have been a news headline flashing by) in which the police was looking for a suspect named Murderly Breathly.

If they catch and convict Murderly, I think it would be fair to place some part of the blame on the parents.

Sleep tracking

Speaking of dreams, I won a Fitbit versa in a giveaway a couple of months back. It is Fitbit's smart watch-type fitness tracker, but I have at no point felt the urge to wear it instead of my Apple watch. However, after hearing Merlin Mann discuss tracking his sleep with various Fitbits I was very curious to use it for tracking my sleep.

And so, I have since the end of May been in the deeply silly situation of having a day watch and a night watch.

No, I would not have paid for this. Probably not.

Anyway, the Fitbit does track sleep, no user interaction required. I put it on when I go to bed, take it off when I get up, and check collected data on my phone. (And charge once a week or less. Long live proper battery life.) You get nice charts for your sleep levels (split into awake, REM, light and deep sleep) each night, as well as comparison with your 30-day average or people of your gender and age.

So far, results are pretty unexciting: I sleep about as poorly as I thought I did, but I fall mostly within normal ranges. Things do not seem to change much between work days and holidays either: I tend to get more sleep when no alarm is set, but the split between sleep levels are about the same.

Guess that is who I am.

I do wonder if I could make significant changes to my sleep. For example, would a completely dark and silent room at just the right temperature give me a notably different night's sleep? Or cutting out caffeine? Eating earlier or later? I do see how people get into tracking even more factors, but I do not feel an urge to get there yet. I will keep collecting data though, and it would be fun if a completely special night turned up somewhere along the line.

July 18, 2019

Macbook out

So Apple stopped selling the Macbook. The one-ported, fanless computer which was also first with everyone's favorite too-thin-for-its-own-good-keyboard. The computer on which I happen to be typing this.

Strange, really. I bought this machine pretty much as soon as I could, and it has been my main personal computer ever since. My first-generation machine lasted all through the life of the entire product line, as it were. I had a short period of one key being wonky, but other than that I have not had a single problem. It has been chugging along through many, many podcast recordings and even more editing sessions.

MP3 encoding must rank unusually high among this machine's total CPU cycle usage.

I have rarely missed additional ports, seeing it as more of a challenge and finding that I rarely need to plug things (especially more than one thing) in when away from my own desk. A more common wish has been for that port to be more powerful, like a proper thunderbolt port, so that I could connect more things more reliably when working through a dock or other hub-like thing. That could also have meant me buying a 4K monitor years ago, so perhaps my wallet is secretly grateful …

Yes, I want a faster machine sometimes. Most often when encoding those long podcast files.

But I am still completely in love with the size, weight, and complete silence of this machine. Every other computer feels like a battleship next to it, and sometimes sound like one as well.

When the time comes to replace this machine, I have a very hard time seeing the replacement being anything but the smallest and lightest laptop Apple makes at the time. If I am to own a laptop, I want it to shine at being easy to take with me. So if it broke down today, a Macbook air would be the obvious choice.

Perhaps more interesting to think about is what would happen if I decided I could stick with an Ipad for portable needs. Suddenly, a whole new world of questions would open up about which kind of desktop Mac would be best, or most fun, for my needs.

No, it would not be a Mac pro. But both the modern Mac minis and plenty of Imacs are definitely within the reasonable-if-you-squint-range.

I will drink one up (pour one out? Around a computer? Are you out of your mind?) for the Macbook adorable. It is a great thing the whole Mac lineup feels exciting again.

June 15, 2019

Questing

I have had a great deal of fun with my Playstation VR, but I have always wanted more as well. More options, more experiences, improved featuers, and, of course, the ability to not have to worry about cables. Had I owned a suitably powerful Windows PC I would probably have got myself a Oculus rift or HTC Vive at some point, but being a user of Macs (and a very slow one outside of work at that) the combined price of headset and powerful PC made it quite easy to resist.

Then I heard talk of the Oculus quest, and my curiosity clearly became much too great. I ordered it pretty much as early as I could, and I was deeply impatient waiting for delivery (especially since a first delivery attempt failed and was blamed on nobody at the well-manned office answering the call at the door).

There will be a lot of comparison with the Playstation VR here, simply because that has been my most used VR experience by far.

Why so excited?

So it's another VR headset. I already have the Playstation VR, so why did I splurge for the Oculus quest?

This is a big part of the reason:

Oculus quest in carrying case Oculus quest in carrying case

That case (which is a separate purchase) is larger than it appears in pictures, but it does fit everything. The headset, the two wireless controllers, the charger with cable (which also has enough power to charge my Macbook), and the earbuds I throw in so as not to broadcast games to everyone around me. If you skip the earbuds, this is a completely wireless, completely untethered VR experience. Somewhat baked into this is the fact that the Quest tracks its own position in the room, you are not required to set up beacons or cameras or other exernal points of reference.

When you start the Quest in a new location, a camera in the headset shows your surroundings and all you need to do is confirm or adjust the floor level (which you do by putting one controller on the floor), then point and click to draw the area within which you want to move around. The process is fun and only takes seconds. It has an Apple-level of polish to it, and I feel that stretches throughout the whole Quest experience.

Okay, to be fair, Apple would probably have designed the straps differently, but I am not sure they would automatically have worked better. The Quest straps are sturdy rubber and use velcro for seamless adjustment. Not an Apple feel, but it works really well. There is also enough bultin give that you can easily take the headset off and put it back on without needing to readjust it, which feels surprisingly liberating compared to the Playstation VR where some adjustment is always necessary.

I also find it easier to get a good, sharp picture in the Quest than in the Playstation VR. I have no problems wearing glasses, and I also think the sharp picture I see has more detail on average. I think the two main factors are somewhat increased resolution, and more use of antialiasing. I would not bet on there actually being more details in the way of polygons or texture resolution, but the Quest makes good use of what it does have.

The Playstation VR headset is more comfortable though. It sits much lighter on the face and head, and spreads its weight more evenly. It also does not get warm when in use, while the Quest noticeably heats up itself and part of my face. I am also pretty sure I can hear a fan whirring inside the Quest when I start it. In short: the Playstation VR makes the most of not needing to pack all its hardware (and power supply) into the headset itself.

The controllers

Oculus quest controller Oculus quest controller

The Quest includes two of these … things. The controllers are mirrored, so there is a dedicated left and right controller, and during initial setup the headset can point out which controller is where so you never have to switch around inside a game. They are powered by a single AA battery each, somewhat to my surprise. I had half assumed builtin batteries and USB charging, but no.

On top of each is a thumb stick, X and Y buttons and a Oculus button use to re-center (when held down) and to return to the home screen/room (by tapping). On front is a trigger for your index finger and another button for your long finger.

The thumb stick and top buttons are not pressure sensitive, but they do register a touch. This enables the controllers to simulate quite a bit of hand movement, which is used in several games I have tried. Without touching any buttons, the hand will be fully open. Place the thumb on a top button and the thumb is moved down. Press the trigger to bend the index finger, then press the long finger button to bend the other fingers. Voila, closed hand. Release the trigger button to point at stuff using just the index finger. It all feels very natural pretty much right away, and games make good use of the possibilities.

Vader: immortal

It is only 40 minutes or so, the first of a series of "episodes", but Vader: immortal is a ILM-made Star wars story you should play as soon as you can. You get to use those finger possibilities of the controllers immediately, as you enter the game an unnamed smuggler seated in the pilot's seat of your ship while your robot co-pilot tells you it is time to jump to hyperspace. How? Flip those nice switches on the left up using your index finger, then grab that nice big lever on the right and push it forward.

That felt neat.

Now, imagine just how good it feels when you get to wield a light saber.

Yeees.

Some things need no tutorials.