Quirky.

Epiphany.

I went hiking yesterday. This is something I’ve been trying to do on Saturday mornings. With the recent rain, there was a lot of water coming over the falls at Bridal Wreath Falls, and when all was said and done, I hiked 7.75 miles and climbed around 1500 feet to see all the beauty Mother Nature has to offer in these parts.

A nice couple offered to take my photo.

I often choose to take the lesser traveled trails when hiking. I enjoy being alone and I like to get lost in my thoughts without having to worry about entertaining others or being part of a conversation while I’m trying to catch my breath as we climb up switchbacks to get to the top of that next ridge. Occasionally I’ll talk to myself under my breath; it’s a habit I’ve had since I was a kid and it helps me work out whatever is churning in my mind at any given moment. As I was making my way back to the trailhead I think I startled a woman making her way up the trail alone. She said to me, “I’m sorry, I was talking to myself.”. I simply replied, “Oh, don’t worry, I didn’t hear you and honestly, the reason I’m usually on the back trails is so I can talk to myself without startling people”.

We had a bonding moment.

As I sorted my head out while reveling in my solitude, I realized that my approach to life changed a bit when both my father and my father-in-law both passed within a week of each other in late 2011. Shortly after the services, an acquaintance said to me, “we’re not really men until our fathers are no longer around”. I think I really took that statement to heart and went to “adulting” mode in high gear. I mentioned this to my husband later in the day yesterday and he said “you definitely changed after our dads passed”. He quickly followed up that the changes weren’t for the worse or anything, I just didn’t seem to have as much as fun as I did when we first met.

I always attributed that to just getting old.

While I was hiking I got to thinking about the videos I used to make and the photos I used to take and all the crazy little things I would post here on this little bloggy thing and I started to realize I missed that frivolity.

Always looking for the “why”, I started to wonder if my change in attitude had something to do with the changes in society in general. Social media was a lot more fun in the early ’10s. While politics have always been annoying, people weren’t quite so incredibly nuts back then. All of this (gesturing wildly) felt a lot less chaotic in general and as life in the United States became, for lack of a better word, darker as the ’10s wore on, I just felt less inclined to be giddy and frivolous in my creative pursuits. I was adulting because it seemed like the necessary thing to do.

I feel like we all take ourselves way too seriously these days.

Every once in a while I’ll meet a random person who just has the most awesome energy. It’s a vibe that is so full of light. I remember that feeling. And I need to find that, and more importantly, share that vibe again.

When I started this blog over 20 years ago I just rambled about life. I hoped to make people smile. Sharing the smile vibe makes me smile. Smiling is good.

So, right then and there on the way down from Bridal Wreath Falls, I made a short snippet of a video.

It’s less than 10 seconds and it’s just a statement. But wow, it felt amazing.

Plain.

Jack Baty at baty.net recently referenced an old post around Productivity. In his original post, Jack talked about his cycle of trying different ways of maintaining his productivity workflow, or his to do list.

99% of that post could have been written by me.

I have been an on-and-off again OmniFocus user since late 2009. I like the application very much, and if I was still completely in on Apple’s ecosystem I’d probably use it full time. But I don’t have an interest in being any corporation’s ecosystem completely and full-time, and work has deemed that I must use a Windows 10 laptop, so that all falls apart in my mind. Now, the fine folks at The Omni Group do offer a web portal for their software, but it costs an extra $50/year and while I have paid for it in the past, I’m reducing subscriptions and I’m no longer interested in paying $50/year to do something at work. Work should be paying me (and they do, let’s keep it that way).

Plain text has always been my jam. If for some reason I want to use a VIC-20 to get to a plain text file, I can. So these days I am using todo.txt, a plain text productivity system originally written as a bash script by Gina Trapani. With this specific plain text format, I am able to get to my todo list from any computer, remotely, locally, and with confidence. And further more, I am able to write my own automations to generate tasks on a schedule or as needed.

Now, with OmniFocus and Apple’s Shortcuts platform, there are automation opportunities there as well. In that regard, OmniFocus is a strong player in making sure you have access to your data. I have always found Apple’s Shortcuts to be maddening and illogical to a certain degree. Perhaps it’s because I’m old school, but dragging and dropping blocks in a GUI is not automation, it’s doing app things.

With todo.txt, I am able to write my own little snippets and scripts to work my automation magic. For example, as a private pilot, I’m all about checklists in all parts of my life. I like being able to check things off as I complete them. Not only does it give me a sense of satisfaction around the actual completion, I’m also able to put something on a list and forget about it until it has to be done, build reminders, and make sure I do all the things I need to do by looking for a mark of completion or not. The paradigm keeps me safe in the cockpit and keeps me organized throughout my entire life.

When I’ve scheduled a flight, I create a bunch of tasks in my todo.txt file, the one bucket that manages all parts of my life, and have them waiting for me at prescribed times to prepare for that flight. I can log into my personal server from any computer in the world, get to a command prompt and type “flight”, answer a couple of prompts, and off we go. And even though I’m not a fan, I’ve built a little shortcut in Apple Shortcuts so I can say “Hey Siri, next flight…” and give the relative details. From the command line, it ends up looking like this:

A few lines of code, a few data points, and some logic, and voila, I have a project called Flight03TUS in my todo list for a flight I have scheduled for the 3rd to Tucson. I don’t even need to know the exact date, I can tell the script I have a flight on Wednesday and it figures it out for me. Magic? No, just simple code.

If you’re interested in the format of each of those entries in the screen shot, the todo.txt website has all the details.

Ah, but what about the iPhone and iPad? Simple! A very smart developer named Michael Descy created the Swiftodo app, which works great on iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS. A lot of what I do with plaintext productivity was inspired by his website Plaintext Productivity.

And in case you’re wondering, yes I do use Dropbox to keep my plaintext productivity work all in sync between all my devices. Because Dropbox works with just about everything and the files are very small.

So, while there are plenty of pretty, robust, wonderful proprietary, for pay applications out there, as an old-school developer that is trying to keep it simple in 2024, I feel like I’ve settled on this approach to keep track of everything I have going on in my life.

Omm.

Many years ago I had an iPad app called “Ommwriter”. It was nifty. The software provided a calming background, with fonts encouraging focus. The really cool thing I enjoyed about the software was that you could listen to music that encouraged focus. The music was punctuated by sound effects alluding to the keystrokes on an old IBM Selectric typewriter. It gave the whole experience a hipster twist without hauling a typewriter to Starbucks.

I liked it.

Ommwriter went by the way of the dodo back in the days of iOS 11 and the application is no longer around on the App Store. I checked to see if there’s a Mac version, and there is, but the website makes it seem like it hasn’t been updated in a long while, so I decided to figure out my own thing instead.

For years I’ve been using an app called “Pzizz”. While I don’t listen to the app every night before sleep, I do use it from time to time when I’m having a hard time sleeping. The application also has a “nap” function that I used to use when I’d sleep in the Jeep during my lunch hour in the shopping center parking lot when we lived in Upstate New York. [[]]

So I’ve cobbled together a workflow that resembles my Ommwriter experience, especially when I’m using my iPad Pro to write blog entries. I’m a plain text kind of guy, so I’m using an application called “iA Writer” to capture my text and using the “focus” mode session on Pzizz to generate music that encourages, well, focus in a way much like Ommwriter did back in the day.

I’m writing this blog entry in my office waiting for a software update activity to start at work. The music is calming, the words are flowing fairly well. I’m feeling that “in the zone” feeling that I don’t find enough these days in our frenetic world. I think I may have found what I need to bring some calm to the chaos I’ve been experiencing lately.

As I get older I find my ability to focus waning just a little bit. I blame this on age but I also attribute this to the changing world around us; everything demands our attention all the time. Social media, collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, a never ending litany of Zoom-like calls, news alerts, flashes of lightning, and the constant barrage of email all demand our attention. Being able to a few moments and look at an application that does one thing while listening to calming music is a godsend.

Sometimes we need to carve out a few moments in our own little paradise.

Throwback.

This photo was taken in early 1993 in Lexington, Mass. I was staying with a friend I had worked with at Digital back in 1990 and I had gone back to visit friends from the BGLAD (Being Gay or Lesbian at Digital) Employee Resource Group.  Groups of this nature in the workplace are fairly common these days; back in the late 1980s and early 1990s it was quite progressive. Digital (or DEC, as it’s commonly called today) was a great corporation to work for. Once in a while I’ll have a dream where I’m working at Digital, trying to do the work I do today on my old VT330 terminal hooked up to a MicroVAX II. I have no regrets, but I wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t left the company in late 1990. My husband says, and I agree with him, “everything happens for a reason, and it was so you could find your way to me”.

 

Obscure.

I occasionally have flashes of TV shows from the late 1970s and early 1980s that no one has probably thought about in years. Once such show is a promo for a pilot that I can’t remember the name of, but aired after the cancellation of “Rhoda” and had either Julie Kavner and a dark haired man (who was shirtless in the scene) or it was David Groh (Joe on “Rhoda”) and a dark haired woman of Julie Kavner’s build. I remember when seeing that promo connecting it to “Rhoda” because that show had been cancelled. To this day I can’t figure out what the name of the show was.

But this got me scouting around for obscure shows from that era and I came upon “On Our Own”. A show that seemed destined to fill a “Laverne and Shirley” gap for CBS, this show was about two best friends that worked for the same advertising agency in New York. In fact, the series was filmed in New York. It lasted only one season, had a funky opening theme song, and was recorded on video tape instead of film.

The two leads were played by Bess Armstrong and Lynnie Greene, the latter having played “Young Dorothy” throughout “The Golden Girls” in the 1980s.

While poking around on Amazon Prime Video, I found “On Our Own” and a whole bunch of obscure TV series, available for ad-supported free viewing.  The complete series isn’t there, there’s a few episodes missing, but nevertheless I was very surprised to find such a short-lived show available on digital streaming services 45 years later.

I took a gander at a couple of episodes. It’s basically your typical, late 1970s sitcom. What I absolutely did not remember about the series was the supporting character April played by Dixie Carter. She’s more Suzanne than Julia in this series, but still a hoot with her Southern accent.

It’s worth a watch if you have a few moments. Here’s the link: “On Our Own” on Amazon Prime Video.

Saturday Morning.

Around this date in 1975, my sister and I were hyped up on ”Super Sugar Smacks”, stationed in front of our black-and-white Zenith TV in the family 10×50 mobile home with 8×40 addition. We would always tune into ”Shazam!” and “The Secrets of Isis” as we chowed down on the cereal with milk from the farm down the street.

In this screencap from “Funny Girl”, Cindy Lee, Rick, and Andrea have a picnic lunch on the front lawn of their high school. Cindy Lee brought egg salad sandwiches and Andrea brought along fried chicken. Rick didn’t bring along anything because he figured the ladies would provide the lunch. It was the ’70s. When Andrea called him out on this, Rick said he’s going to marry a woman that looks like Isis but can cook like Andrea. Andrea gives him a look, and tells him he’s going to be a very old bachelor.

She then gives a quick side glance to the camera to thank the audience for keeping her superhero secret. She did this often throughout the series and I always liked that as a kid. It’s hard to see in the second screen cap, but this was a few decades before HD video.

As a quick aside, even in 1975 at age seven I had a crush on Brian Cutler as Rick Mason.

Joanna Pang as Cindy Lee, Brian Cutler as Rick Mason, Joanna Cameron as Andrea Thomas/Isis.
A little wink to the camera from Andrea. Thanks for keeping the secret of her secret identity!

Same.

I was recently reading a sci-fi story about the U.S.’s first adventure to an extraterrestrial planet. The expedition took a group of Americans to a nearby star, where they interacted with the native population in an effort to learn about them. The natives to the planet had an average estimated IQ of around 165. Life was much different than anything here on Earth. There was a uniformity amongst the population. Daily life was highly organized for everyone. All homes had the same design and floor plan. The civilization was successful because of the people’s dedication to productivity; everyone contributed to the well being of everyone else.

At the end of the story the Americans were shocked at what they perceived as a “lack of liberty” and were subsequently determined to teach this civilization how much better things are for Americans on Earth.

I couldn’t help but think of the Americans’ shortsightedness.

There’s a belief among many that the American way is the right way and any other way, regardless of how successful it is, is the wrong way. Happiness is measured in American societal ideals. We have other cultures right here on this planet that seem so very foreign, yet you can’t help but see happiness and fulfillment in their National Geographic captured images.

I’m reminded of an article I read years ago in a local paper of how a group of well intended folks wanted to liberate children from their Amish schools because they couldn’t possibly be happy without football and band practice and the PTA sanctioned practice of going door to door selling candy bars to pay for all this frivolity. Their happiness and contentment didn’t meet the measure of our standards of happiness and contentment, and therefore it must bad and/or wrong. It must be abuse.

But it’s not. It’s just a different way of doing things.

There is no doubt that our neighbors find happiness in ways that are unfamiliar to us. I have no right to tell them that whatever they’re happily doing in their home is wrong because I would find the same activity agonizingly tedious. So if we take that to the next step, why would I travel to another country or planet and judge the natives on their attainment of happiness?

I don’t know where I’m going with this rambling. Respect one another? Of course. Live and let live? Of course. Someday we’re going to be in the position of meeting beings from another world. It will be a glorious moment for mankind.

Let’s hope no one tries to tell them they need to soup up their spaceships with political stickers or something.

Productivity.

I’ve been messing around with to-do lists, email programs, and other related fun and frivolity in this technological world. As a Mac and iOS user, I tend to lean toward “it just works” and go with stock Apple applications when I can, but sometimes they just don’t seem to be enough.

I’m a little paranoid about online privacy, so anything that squelches tracking is preferred in my book. Apple’s Safari web browser does the vast majority of this with features baked right into the experience, so I like that. However, Apple’s Mail app does not block hidden pixel-trackers in email messages. For those that aren’t aware of these things, many mass email outfits like to put a hidden element in their marketing emails so they know if you’ve read the email or not and confirm the validity of your email address. I never respond to “Wanda has requested a read receipt” prompts, so I really don’t want hidden elements tattling on my email management habits. So I’ve opted to use AirMail on my devices because it automatically blocks this pixel-based reporting back to the sender.

My other struggle is with my to do list management system. For over a decade I’ve used OmniFocus, but I’ve never been comfortable with the locking of data into the OmniFocus platform. I’m relying on their syncing between devices, their file format, and their addition and deletion of features. I like being able to automatically schedule tasks, for example, telling my to do list “I have a flight on Saturday”, and it builds all the tasks, and times them appropriately, for everything that’s needed to get ready for the flight. As I get older, the holes in my Swiss cheese brain get bigger and I rely on my productivity app to keep track of my life. OmniFocus let’s me automate, but it’s not the smoothest experience in the world.

Lately I’ve been bouncing back and forth between OmniFocus and plain text ToDo.txt, which I can control, read, and automate with ease.

The bouncing back and forth takes more personal bandwidth than just getting things done.

I need to make a decision and stick to it. I’ll have to put that on my todo.

Wherever it may land.

Realness.

Writing a blog post on the iPad:

  • Open the WordPress app
  • Touch/click “Add Image”
  • Touch/clock “Upload Image”, find image in the finder. The image has been magically synchronized between my iPhone and iPad, courtesy of iCloud
  • Write the entry
  • Touch/click publish

Writing a blog post on the Linux desktop:

  • On the iPhone, make sure Dropbox has uploaded all the photos considered for the post
  • On the Linux desktop, navigate to the Dropbox/Camera Uploads folder
  • Wait for Dropbox to finish downloading, find photos that were just downloaded, copy them to the Desktop
  • Right click on each image, choose from the list of image editing applications available (Shotwell, GIMP, ‘Image Editor’, ‘Image Viewer’, etc.), open the image, resize to an acceptable size for upload
  • Export image as JPG file
  • Open web browser, navigate to the site’s admin page
  • Click New Post
  • Click Insert Image, drag each photo from desktop onto the web browser, wait for upload
  • Write the entry
  • Click Publish Now

One of these approaches has less “user friction” than the other. Why is it that I occasionally lean toward the process that takes more steps? A desire to set myself apart to show that I’m different. I have a driving urge to prove I’m different.

You already know that. I already know that. At age 52, I probably don’t need to demonstrate this as often as I did as a kid.

This is not the way to demonstrate this. The end result for the reader and/or viewer is the same; they have no way of knowing which method I used to compose this blog entry.

Thank you for attending my therapy session.