Monday, April 29, 2019

Adventures In iPadding

Closest I'll get to the beach this week...
I recently replaced my home computer with an iPad. I can assure you that I’m as shocked about it as you are. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have a home laptop, and was severely skeptical about this idea when I first started playing with it a couple of months ago.

What could have possessed me with such a lunatic notion?

This all started when I recognized two facts:

  1. The screen on my home machine (a MacBook Pro 13) was slightly icky. There’s a fairly well documented issue with the anti-reflective coating on them, but it didn’t actually affect me until after the warranty period expired. Beyond that, as I mentioned, it’s only slightly icky. The machine is completely usable, and in most cases I don’t notice anything about the screen at all. However, every now and then when I’m watching a YouTube video or sitting at just the right angle with a light behind me, I’d see little splotches of imperfection in the upper left corner or lower right of the display.
  2. The things for which I actually used my home computer could all (theoretically) be done on an iPad. I’ve mentioned YouTube already, and there’s an app for that. Social media? Apps for those too. Internet browsing? Yup, apps exist. Writing and note taking? Again, apps. In fact, Scrivener (my go-to writing software) has a very well put together mobile app.
Even so, I was hesitant. It’s not like I needed a new home machine. I’ve already admitted that the current MBP13 was fine-ish — certainly fully functional. More machine than I needed, actually, as I’d moved to doing personal project programming on my work* machine.

Work* machine: a new machine for which the company paid half and I paid half but I actually own. That deal actually worked out really well for me.

Then, two other things happened.
  1. I watched PubDraw and subsequently decided to pick up drawing as a new hobby. The intent was to draw on paper (and still is, to a large degree). But... if I had an iPad, I could draw using the Apple Pencil and stuff! It was an option, at least, that wasn’t surfaced in any meaningful way on my home computer.
  2. Gabriel’s computer went kaput. Not just a little kaput, either. The SSD can’t be mounted, which most likely means that either there’s a legitimate hard drive failure or a motherboard issue. Either one is going to be pretty pricey to fix, and Gabriel uses his computer quite a bit for school stuff. Having to wait for a repair wouldn’t be the end of the world, but having a replacement computer ready to go would be better, if possible.
The decision was made: I would get an iPad.

So what’s it like?

I wound up getting an iPad Pro 11 with 256GB of storage and WiFi only. When I got it, it was priced at just over $900. I also got the Apple Pencil, but I did NOT get the default iPad keyboard. For one thing, it’s expensive (almost $200). For another, it wasn’t available when I placed my order. Instead, I got an IVSO keyboard, which has been really good so far. It’s backlit (although that drains its battery pretty quickly), and the keyboard itself has well-made keys that provide satisfying but not overly annoying clicks. It has a place to store the pencil and allows for recharging it without having to take the case off. And it provides a little protection as a folio, although I wouldn’t suggest throwing it on the ground to test the durability.

The Goods


Apps for everything!
As previously mentioned, there’s an app for everything I’ve wanted and needed to do. I’m most pleasantly surprised by the Microsoft Office apps. Outlook wasn’t a big surprise, as I’ve used it on my iPhone for several years now. Excel, on the other hand, is just fantastic. It works exactly as you expect it to. Word is also pretty good, although not perfect.

Good experience doing my normal things
In the first week of hard usage, I put the iPad through the paces as well as I could. The biggest test for me was Transformers Night, where I participate in a tabletop role-playing game set in the Transformers universe (from the old cartoon show, not the recent crap). The main apps I use are Evernote, Excel, and Chrome. All of that worked really well, although the Evernote app, just like most iOS apps, takes some getting used to. 

I also used Scrivener pretty extensively in preparation for our D&D game (yes, I’m involved in more than one tabletop role-playing game. You want in on this action?). The app itself is full featured and fantastic, although I missed the ability to get between two docs in different parts of the tree with a single click.

Drawing!
I’ve already mentioned this a little, but drawing on the iPad is actually quite a lot of fun. Adobe has a free version of their Illustrator app (called Adobe Draw) that provides more than I can use right now. And before you ask: yes, I’m still terrible at it. That’s ok though. I’ll improve with research and practice.

The Apple Pencil is pretty fun as well. It works exactly as advertised, pairing seamlessly, responding to double-tapping, etc. The only critique I have of it is that it loses its charge pretty quickly. Luckily, it regains it even more quickly, so it hasn’t been an issue thus far.

Games
There are at least two games that I love that aren’t really playable on the iPhone but are nearly divine on the iPad: Terraria and Final Fantasy VII. Both are complete time-sinks and totally worth it. There are also a collection of OTHER games that I used to play on my old iPad that I’d forgotten about. Dang it, now I need to find more time for games...

Miscellany
Watching videos on the iPad is good in and of itself, but I was surprised at how often Tanya and I watch clips from Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers in bed. Doing so on this as opposed to the iPhone is very satisfying, despite the higher required dexterity. Depending on usage, I only charge the iPad once or twice a week, which is a marked difference from the computer (which I left plugged in almost all the time for some reason).

The Bads


Accessing files on cloud storage
By default, the iPad doesn’t allow you to easily access any cloud storage device except iCloud. This is unfortunate, since most of our shared files are either on a Google drive or Dropbox. Installing both of those apps helps, but still doesn’t make it easy to maintain files stored in those media. Some apps are better than others with integration, which is a life-saver. Scrivener, for example, has a Dropbox-backed location built into the app.

I understand why Apple made this decision, but it’s pretty frustrating nonetheless.

Fonts and printing
You can’t just download and install fonts from the Internet on the iPad. This was a surprise to me, the fact that there’s no default (or at least, accessible) font manager. I found a free app that seems to do the job, but it’s not very straightforward. Even after downloading and installing the font, not every app (I’m looking at you, Google Docs) will let you access them.

Printing is also slightly challenging. The convention on the iPad takes some getting used to. You have to “share” whatever it is you want to print, and then navigate the Sharing dialog until you get to the printer selection. The good news is that lots of printers support AirPrint (including ours), so the main challenge really is finding the printer selection. And, as with so many things on iPad, how you get to that area is completely up to the app.

Copy/Paste
Most apps don’t support the notion of “Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V” for copying and pasting, which is taking quite a bit of getting used to. Some apps (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Office) have special icons for copying/pasting, which is something you have to be aware of. Most of the time, using the screen’s touch-centric copy/paste features works, but becoming adept at it will continue to be challenging for me, I suspect.

App Store
Let’s face it — the App Store is simply not as nice as being able to install something from a website or from the command line. And there are quite a few things that work perfectly well in the browser on a computer that don’t work very well in the browser on the iPad (I’m looking at you, Blogger). A lot of these things have iOS apps, but they also tend to cost money. Again, annoying, as my general rule has been: if you can’t get it for free on iOS, it might not be worth getting. And yes, I know this is a ridiculous rule, and I don't even follow it, but for some reason still find myself hesitating to shell out $0.99 for an app that I will use daily for the rest of my life... I'm weird.

Verdict

Despite the Bads list above, as of this writing, I have to rate my experience with the iPad quite highly. I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything irreplaceable during the switchover. Gabriel inherited a machine that will hopefully last him a while and that he’ll leverage more heavily than I was. I spent a fair chunk of money, but not as much as I would have for an equivalent MacBook Air. I'm genuinely enjoying messing around on the iPad, and am very glad I got it!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Hobby selection...?

Well, I've done it again -- I've gotten to a spot in my life where I feel like I should take on another hobby. The question is: what should the new hobby be?

Current Activities

For reference, the following is a list of my my current hobbies/regular activities. In order to make it onto this list, I have to spend time engaging in the activity at least once a week.

So, what kinds of things do I spend most of my time doing?

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Exercising
  • Tabletop RPGing
  • Video gaming
  • Spending time/chatting with family and friends

Other nominal activities include:

  • Household stuff (dishes, laundry, cooking, groceries, etc.)
  • Working
  • Physical Therapy (yeah, my shoulder is still wonky)
I also program simple games from time to time, but I don't do that often enough to call it a hobby or even a nominal activity. When it happens, it happens. It's kind of like NaNoWriMo in that I'm probably going to do it once a year or so, but it's definitely not something I do regularly throughout the year.

Potential Activities

There are two main potential activities that have appealed to me lately: learning guitar, and learning to draw.

Guitar

Oooo, look how fancy!
I've been enamored with the guitar for as long as I can remember actually liking music. Classical guitar especially, with artists like Andres Segovia and Karin Schaupp inspire me to be better at whatever I happen to be doing when I listen to them.

Beyond pure classical guitar, however, I find percussive guitar REALLY interesting. I always stop down when I stumble across someone playing it or find myself hearing it on a streaming music service. Rodrigo y Gabriela combine classical with some percussive techniques and are beyond fantastic. Recently, I've come across Petteri Sariola, who hammers, taps, and strums like a maniacal genius.

I've often thought of picking up the guitar semi-seriously over the years, so much so that I own both a classical acoustic and an electric guitar. The sad fact is that I don't know how to play either of them beyond tuning them. That is a travesty, a tragedy, a tryptophanic tradition that I should change.

Getting to where I could play at least a little something on the guitar seems like a great growth opportunity, even if I weren't looking to be able to play Eruption like Eddie Van Halen. 

Drawing

Now, draw the rest of the f***ing penguin!
Then there's drawing. I currently own no less than three books on learning to draw. Seriously, I own at least electronic versions of:
I also have a fantastically cool book of Hokusai art that Tanya and I were exposed to while in London. On seeing it, I distinctly remember saying to myself "I'd like to be able to draw like that." Something about his style (and the way it changed over time) really appealed to me. I've got other art books as well, including a fantastic collection of M.C. Escher.

And anyone that knows me is already aware of my adoration of Bob Ross. At some point, I'll talk about the fact that I created a Bob Ross Lorem Ipsum site when the one I commonly went to was down for a week. It's been a source of joy for me, since I had to watch a bunch of Bob Ross episodes on youtube to get quotes for the site. 

Sorry, back to the point. One of the very few pieces of art I've had commissioned in my life is a mashup of Bob Ross and M.C. Escher, drawn by the immensely talented Denise Najera (local artist), and presented here because I didn't realize I hadn't posted about it earlier. 
Bob Ross With Reflecting Sphere

Beyond those, I'm a big fan of Critical Role, for lots of reasons. One of the newer shows on the network is PubDraw, which teaches you to draw (character basics, at least through the episodes I've watched). If I were looking for signs from the universe, this (along with my persistent inspiration in that direction) might be counted as one.

Decision

I've got a decision to make. Should I start spending time learning to play guitar, with an eye on percussive guitar at some point in the future? Or should I dedicate some time to drawing so that I can have a creative outlet with something as simple as a piece of paper and a pen/pencil?

Or both? There's no reason I couldn't try out both and see if one is more appealing to me. The only thing I would sacrifice is a little practice in each, but the truth is that I don't expect to "master" either of them, ever. I think it would be fun to be able to sketch silly little things and have people know what I was trying to draw, or play some chords and sound out some melodies on the guitar when the opportunity arises.

OR... other options? If you've got hobbies that you enjoy that I should investigate, definitely leave a comment (in whichever social medium is convenient for you). I look forward to hearing your feedback, and will let you know once I've chosen a direction!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Mindset Reset

Mel Robbins -- Mindset Reset!
This might come as a surprise to some of you, but I'm not always a positive thinking, happy-go-lucky person. Sometimes, in fact more often than I'd like to admit, I get down on myself, beating myself up for not being more clever, or quicker/better at work, or fitter, or myriad other commonplace things. It doesn't particularly matter my level of achievement in each/any of those areas, I still feel like I should be better.

Worse still, I have a tendency to, once I've started with a negative attitude, find reasons to perpetuate that attitude. Suddenly, EVERYTHING is terrible, NOTHING works right, and the entire universe is against me. This attitude makes me pretty unpleasant to be around -- and to be honest, I don't like being around others when that bit of darkness has seized me.

Why do I bring this up? Two reasons. Let's start with Tanya, which is always a good place to start. :-)

Mindset Reset

At the end of last year, she caught wind of a new program Mel Robbins was offering. It was going to be entirely short, web-based, live trainings, and opting in was free. The series was titled "Mindset Reset." Given the challenges she'd been facing with her back, she was really interested in seeing if going through a program like this would be beneficial, and asked me if I'd be interested in doing it too. I didn't really think I'd get much out of it, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to give it a try, so I said "yes."

At first, I felt justified in my skepticism. Mel went over some pretty common sense things that I already do. But it didn't take long for her to start offering some insights and things to try that were novel for me and immediately beneficial.

Visualization

She spent time early on talking about visualization, which is something I was already familiar with. The insightful part was when she explained how combining the imagery with the projection of the emotional content formed extra connections that help the visualization become impactful.

Journaling

She demonstrated a specific ritual around journaling.

  • First thing in the morning
  • In the same, calming spot
  • Use a prescribed form
  • Do it for at least 10 minutes
She made a pretty compelling case for why this is the way to do things. I won't get into it, since it's covered really well here. Suffice to say that I had been journaling pretty steadily since last April, so this wasn't a huge challenge for me. I was really surprised to find that, after making the changes she suggested, I was doing it EVERY DAY, including weekends.

Sample journal entry


Mindfulness of negativity

As I mentioned earlier, I have a tendency to descend into dark moods sometimes. One of the things Mel suggests is to actually identify the negative patterns in your thinking so that you can think something else when they arise. Just paying attention to the ways I beat myself up sometimes and switching those thoughts to something more positive has been an interesting experience. The first day I tried it, I realized I hadn't thought a single negative thing all day, and assumed it was going to be a piece of cake from then on. Then, the next day happened.

Luckily, I don't have a deep pattern of negative thinking, but I have my moments. Recognizing when they're happening, and using the 5 Second Rule (for which Mel is most well known) to switch the thought to a positive anchor, has really helped. I can only think of one time in the past couple of months where I just mindlessly raged, and given everything that's going on, that feels like quite a lot of forward progress.

Other learnings

I did find out one other interesting thing that I've suspected since high school -- I don't do well getting up before 6 a.m. for extended periods of time. In high school, in order to attend Driver's Ed, I had to get up at 05:50. Those days were always rough. I've observed it off and on over the years, but it fully quantified during January and early February. Six weeks of getting up between 05:00 and 05:30 in order to get journaling done before exercising was wearing me out to the point where I felt run down all the time. Tanya finally suggested that we shift our schedule to where I sleep until 06:00 or 06:30, and then get up together to do morning routines. I've felt dramatically better since then, despite my shoulder still being wonky.

The other thing

I never mentioned the second reason I brought this up. It's because I suspect I'm not the only person that tortures themselves and their coworkers/friends/loved ones similarly. If you've struggled with similar issues, or are dealing with anxiety or stress and aren't sure what tangible, practical steps you can take to progress, I strongly encourage you to work through the Mindest Reset series on YouTube.

I think you have to play it from the bottom up, though. Kind of like the 5 Second Rule, it's a little backward from what you might expect... ;-)

Monday, January 28, 2019

A(?) Post Per Month

Here we are thoroughly into the final week of January, and I have yet to produce an actual entry in this blog relevant to this year. That's not necessarily uncommon, but it would be the beginning of a disappointing trend.

Last year, I began to wonder if I actually had anything to say that merited having a full-fledged blog. On further reflection, I'm forced to admit that the answer *might be* "no."

The proof is in the pudding. Last year, I had blog entries that covered the following categories:

  • Reading (1 entry)
  • Work (1 entry)
  • Exercise (1 entry)
  • Vacation! (3 entries)
  • Miscellany (1 entry)
  • Short Story (1 entry)
  • Thanks/Charity (1 entry)
  • Writing (1 entry)

So, several topics were covered, just not a ton of content generated. The blogging was truncated because I didn't take a Fall trip as originally planned, and I didn't write a Christmas short story. As an aside, I *did* generate about 1000 words of outline for a Christmas short story, but I don't know if I'll write it next (or any) year.

But it still begs the question: does the content that's being produced actually matter? The obvious answer to that is: yes, duh. It matters to me at least. Even if all that's actually happening here is I'm typing words into a WYSIWYG editor just to hear the gently pleasant clacking of an Apple keyboard (yes, no mechanical beast for me), as long as it pleases me and doesn't hurt anyone else, it seems like an OK past time. And every now and then something amusing or insightful gets produced, I think.

With that said, expect to see more entries this year than last year. I might even fire up the book review posts again, although I'm not sure I'll use the Magrs Method as I've done in the past. The method tends heavily towards spoilers. For example, one of the questions you're supposed to answer is "What surprises did it (the book) hold, if any?" I think I'd like to be able to give a fair review without having to adhere to a prescribed form or give too much about the book away.

I do have some stuff coming up. This year's guest lecture at UT will be at the beginning of March, and then my company's semi-annual on-site will be a couple of weeks after that. There's also Valentine's Day, and St. Patrick's Day, and then Spring Break (the last one with a high schooler), and... apparently the list of potentially interesting writing things goes on and on when actually enumerated...

Heh, maybe all that's required to get me writing is a little excitement about it... :-)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Year In Books (2018 edition)


As ashamed as I am to have to admit this, I... I failed...

I failed to complete the 2018 Goodreads Reading challenge.

I set out to read 60 books after reading 55 last year and 65 the year prior. As of last night, here are my numbers, in convenient picture form, snipped from the official Goodreads page. If you want to see the rest of the official tabulation in all its glory, have a look at the Goodreads summary.

Was glad to finish that many!
As is my common practice, I exported my Goodreads library to do some custom analytics. I tend to verify the numbers that Goodreads calculates to make sure I haven't done something silly. This year, Goodreads put my page count ahead and my book count behind those produced by culling through the exported data. My calculated tally was 19,898 pages across 52 books. Close enough, I suppose.

The longest and shortest books were accurate this year, although, since my page count was slightly lower than theirs, and with an extra book besides, my average length was lower: 383 pages.


Oathbringer... was a lengthy book.
Let's have a look at longest three and shortest three, beginning with the longest!


The largest three books I read last year totalled 2792 pages. This year's total is a whopping 3091 pages.

Now for the shortest three.


The smallest three books from last year totalled 295 pages. This year's total is considerably smaller at 176 pages. Notably, none of the small books this year are either poetry or philosophy. I did read Paradise Lost, by John Milton, which is a ridiculous 453 pages long. I think that makes up for it, although a year without Robert Frost is probably a year with some time less well spent.

This year's median book is Authority (second book in the Southern Reach Trilogy), by Jeff VanderMeer, and at 341 is slightly shorter than last year's median book length (352 pages).

As an aside, I strongly recommend READING the Southern Reach trilogy (the first of which is Annihilation, on which was based a recent movie starring Natalie Portman). I haven't seen the movie, but understand that it's not as representative of the book as it could be. And the book is great. Period.

Alright, on with the metrics! Now begins the data that Goodreads cares nothing about, but which are really interesting to me. We begin with a look at how many books I completed in each month.

This was my December...
This graph looks considerably different from last year's. First of all, this one is 3-D. Secondly, there were no months with a zero, which is good (although that August completion is pretty weak). Third, December looks LOADED. TEN BOOKS?! REALLY, DECEMBER?!

The truth is that there were several short Christmas-related books I read during December (A Christmas Carol, Jacob T. Marley, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, and A Kidnapped Santa Claus). I was trying to get into the proper frame of mind for my Christmas short story, but eventually admitted to myself that it just wasn't going to get written this year. The good news is that I have about a thousand words of thoughts about one for next year, should I choose to pursue it.

On to the next metric! Which author was most consumed by me?
Baum wrote short books
There were no outliers this year again. I read no more than three of any author's books, and had 42 distinct authors on my list. Given that there was no clear "winner" here, I thought it might be interesting to see how many pages were included in each author's sum. As you can see, I read more Sanderson than anyone else, as he writes nothing but long books (which isn't true, but I only read his long ones).

N.K, Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, starting with The Fifth Season, is what put her in first place for me this year. Those three books won her three Hugo awards in a row, a feat which has never been done before. You should DEFINITELY go read them. They are pretty fantastic, and I don't want to spoil any of it for you.

Finally, the question of how I consumed the books needs to be answered.

I read mostly through my ears

I dispensed with the difference between Paperback and Hardcover this year, since I read so few physical books at all. The preponderance of my reading happens during workouts, via the Audible app. If you have a commute or other mindless task time and don't have Audible, you might consider it.

And that was my year in books! As with last year, if you're a Goodreads type person and we're not hooked up, you can get in touch with me on that site via this link.

I've entered next year's challenge as well, but I've set the goal REALLY low: 25 books. I'm curious about my December this year. I've rationalized it away as reading a bunch of short books as a function of Christmas spirit/research, but I wonder if at some level I crammed more shorter books in there because of the silly goal? I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't put it past my subconscious. It's pretty competitive, after all. In any case, with a limit as low as 25, I'm sure to make it, and might change the metrics altogether next year. Maybe group by genre, and list most and least impactful books. WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN?!

I guess you'll have to stay tuned. Or make a reminder to check in again next year.