Showing posts from March, 2018

Too much noise

I went about a week, from March 22nd to March 29th, not writing anything here on the blog. I couldn't put my finger on what was happening but each time I thought about writing, I had no ideas. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada.

I even pulled up the screen a few times and stared at the big blank space I am typing into right now and still there was nothing. Was I blocked? I really started to ask myself that.

So, I get to Wednesday evening and close my laptops (work and personal) and put the iPad on the charger and go grab the latest book I am reading which is a real, paper book this time although I don't think there is an awful lot of difference reading a "real" book and reading on my Kindle Paperwhite. Both have no notifications popping up and zero distractions fighting for my attention. When I read, the rest of the world goes silent.

Apparently this silence was what I needed. It had nothing to do with the content of the book but about five pages in I had the realization that disconnecting from all the noise of work, social media, content, content, content(!) was exactly what I needed and all of that noise is what had caused me to sort of lock up.

I wasn't blocked. I wasn't out of ideas. I had TOO MANY ideas in my head all at once. I needed the quiet of reading a book and focusing on just one thing to "clear the mechanism" as they said in that awful baseball movie years ago. "Clear the mechanism" is the one good part and I go back to it over and over.

I wrote about interference back in January when I was trying to minimize all of the material things and posts on the bulletin board, etc. that were making my work space so "noisy" and I didn't make the connection there but Marie Kondo wrote about this in her books (which I read last year), talking about how we should remove labels from plastic storage boxes and other items because we didn't need these words and graphics jumping out at us every time we opened a cabinet or closet. Who would think that something that seems so minor could make such a big difference but it has for me!

I did all that. I removed labels and I cleaned up my workspace but I still have had too much noise in my life (remove one distraction and you reveal five more) and I think now it is the words and ideas I invite in my head by choice on Twitter and Facebook and by watching videos on YouTube and listening to tons of podcasts, etc. or not by choice but I have to because it's my job or they are my family or I need to order this McRib so I must interact with this person at the drive-thru, etc.

In the 80's and 90's, we left interactions with people at the end of the work day or school day and went home to quiet. No boops. No beeps. We could turn on the television but typically would just focus on the one thing. I guess it's more of a focus issue than a content issue because now we are bombarded by interactions and notifications and we live with the angst of FOMO. There are so many reasons to pick up our devices and check in when back in the 80's and 90's, I could focus clearly on one thing at a time.

A lot of people speak to me all day long and even if I shut it off for an afternoon, it still takes time to process all that was said. With all of these words and ideas bouncing around in my head, I end up feeling just plain overwhelmed so when I do have time to create, I'm mentally exhausted and nothing comes out.

All I can say now is I'm working on that and I now that I must always stay aware of the benefits of turning things off (versus the laziness of just picking up the iPad and getting lost in "content") and not just for a few minutes here and there, but also for a few hours sometimes and that might grow to a few days here and there - whatever it takes to be able to keep creating and not just be a sponge absorbing until I can't hold anymore.

Of course, the fact that you are reading this means noise has been "transmitted" from me to you and that brings me to the next question - how much should we choose to "absorb" and how do we correctly pick and choose what is important enough to keep letting in versus what we need to either take a break from or shut out completely?

This is the next step in the process and I am slowly making those decisions one piece of information at a time - tweet by tweet, blog by blog, magazine by magazine, video by video, podcast by podcast.

Five years of podcasting

A lot has changed for me personally since I nervously published episode one of Up In This Brain back on March 29, 2013. I've shared quite a lot over the years - songs, good times, bad times, silly times - and now I have 366 episodes that will live on as a bit of a record of what this part of my life was like.

Podcasting combines two things I have always loved, radio and writing but I guess the writing part is mostly improvisation. I rarely write any notes down aside from the episode number (which I tend to forget) and the date (which I also tend to forget since most days look suspiciously like the days that preceded).

As for radio, I always enjoyed listening to AM and shortwave when I was younger. I could picture the distant places from which the signals originated through the voices that came through the static. I think we as podcasters serve that same purpose today although podcasting allows us to be much more specific!

For a long time I have treated my podcast as mostly an audio version of the journals I used to keep before blogging became a thing (I hit year eleven of this blog in June although there have been some hiatuses mixed in here and there) but I find that Up In This Brain, like me, keeps evolving. I think the last few episodes and especially the fifth anniversary special are proof of that.

I am very lucky. I have the technology required to make this stuff at my fingertips and I am surrounded by a community of similar podcasters who support me through the ups and downs and who inspire me through what they share. They motivate me and they keep me growing creatively and as a person.

Maybe, just maybe, in five years there will be a tenth anniversary special and we'll commemorate that day right here on this very site. Who knows! The world keeps changing, tomorrow is no guarantee, live each day to its fullest, etc. etc.

All I can promise is that I will keep picking up the recorder and I hope you will "tune in" from time to time.

Throw it away now!

That's my advice after last week. I had to put down a new floor in the shed and in order to accomplish this, everything had to come out. That's when the ugly truth was revealed - the shed had become a haven for discarded whatnots that I was just too lazy to fool with and even though I took out a load of trash last year (which I recall being quite proud of at the time) it still took two more full loads going to the dump to get it all straight.

I can't ask 2010 me what I was thinking when the radiator heater that started leaking ended up in the shed instead of the dump nor what 2011 me was thinking keeping an old pool ladder rusting beside the shed all these years that we haven't had a pool. How about the exercise bike that I bought at a garage sale and used for a year before it broke and ended up in the shed since 2008 or so?

I think the big change is that I see things differently now, meaning material things. My bar for keeping things has been raised higher and higher with each passing year so the amount of things I keep is less and less. But that doesn't excuse the fact that I kept a lot of things in the shed and the attic that I was unneeded garbage. If it won't go in the can, that's a drive to the dump and most days I must have been too busy (I hope) or too lazy (most likely) to do it.

When it breaks, make up a plan to toss it out as soon as possible, no matter where you need to drive to junk it or recycle it. If you don't, you'll have a mountain of stuff to deal with all at once. I certainly speak from experience on that.

Here are some after pictures of the shed. I was too embarrassed to take before pictures!

The floor is up off the ground on a metal frame. The middle piece of wood is just for extra stability to keep the frame from shifting in storms. I have a high wind kit on the shed but I had a storm a few years back that still moved the whole building about six inches to the side and knocked all the shelving over. Now the shelving is zip tied to the wall to prevent that.

Book it

When I think about all of the gadgets that have passed in and out of my possession over the years, it's become obvious to me that one gadget has risen above the rest as my favorite. That gadget is my Kindle Paperwhite.

It was a slow start for me. I bought it in early 2016 but didn't start using it all the time until I signed up for Goodreads again in January of 2017 and I discovered how easily anything I highlighted would sync over to my Goodreads profile. The biggest leap in usage came when I discovered all of the great ebooks I could borrow through the library.

A couple of weeks ago I drove to a library in Nashville to get a non-resident all access library card and now I have what seems like an unlimited number of titles at my disposal. The current book I am reading, "Chemistry" by Weike Wang, has been on my to-read list for a long time but our local library only had one ebook copy with a huge wait list and no physical copies while the Nashville library had multiple copies of the ebook available. Getting a card from them is something I should have done long ago and part of the reason I finally did it is because Ken has been talking about all of the cool stuff he has been checking out from his library!

But the point of this entry is really just to show you what accessories I have to make reading easier and keep my Paperwhite protected since it goes just about everywhere with me. Now, I can read Kindle books in the Kindle app on my phone but I prefer not to. It's just much easier with my eyesight to read books on the Paperwhite.

My Paperwhite is in an Amazon-brand Kindle Paperwhite Leather Case. The color of mine is Saddle Tan which is unfortunately discontinued. The available colors are here. I guess they got rid of Saddle Tan because it looks a lot like their premium leather cover. I tried cheaper cases and none worked as good or held up as well as the Amazon case. The sleep function is the first thing that fails on the cheap cases. Avoid them!

Next, I also use an AmazonBasics 7-inch tablet sleeve. I don't want the cover popping open in my bag or somewhere so the sleeve gives my Paperwhite extra protection and keeps the dust out for about $6. 

Finally, I just got this great AmazonBasics Adjustable Tablet Stand. It is perfect for reading at the kitchen table while I eat lunch. It sounds lazy but I was getting tired of picking the Paperwhite up and down while I ate. Wow - that sounds super lazy now that I just read that back! However, I love it. It enables my laziness and makes reading and eating a joy and I prefer to read during lunch over mindlessly surfing the internet or watching dumb videos.

A note - I got nothing from Amazon for writing this. They send nothing to me for free and have never have nor am I signed up for any special discounts or referrals. I wrote this because I use and like these items!

Eyes to the skies

I'm happy to report that we dodged another weather bullet here at the home office. We ended up with a non-event here, only some light rain, after several days of notice to prepare for what could have happened.

This graphic that I saw around 8AM local time turned out to be incredibly accurate. North-central Alabama was very hard hit, especially in Cullman, a place we typically stop on the way to and back from Florida on vacations.

I get most of my weather information these days from Twitter accounts like @NWSNashville, @NashSevereWX and @spann because they share just the facts without the hype and hysteria and misinformation that I have found on the local television news at times. Last night's coverage was no different. On one local station, a reporter out on a remote told us that we were all under a Tornado Warning and a tornado could drop from the sky at any moment. Luckily the anchor back at the station immediately clarified this - it was a tornado watch meaning conditions are favorable and be on your guard but no tornado warnings were in effect.

A little bit later, I saw a newscast open with a script that was probably written hours earlier stating that hundreds of thousands of people were in the path of danger although the threat at the moment had been declared pretty much non-existent by the Twitter accounts I follow and the lack of storms was obvious by taking a quick glance at the radar. The television folks were then left with live pictures of dark clouds with sun peeking through. I guess they had invested so much time into what they thought the main story would be that they just didn't have much else to show.

I don't know what to make of all of this and I think a lot of the blame has to go to local news being on for hours a day now. Here it's on from 4:30AM to 7AM and then midday and again 4PM to 7PM at night. They go beyond just forecasting and just reporting. It's almost like a hysteria thing. Maybe that's how they get people to watch and watch and watch. How can this much news, most of it repeated over and over every 30 minutes, be good for us? Of course, that's a topic we spend a lot of time on elsewhere and it goes far beyond the weather.

Also, there seems to be a fear of a generational outbreak of tornadoes with each large system that comes through and maybe it will happen. Maybe there is a fear of the ones that were missed so it's best to treat everything as a "what if" but I think regular people who don't really understand radar and models and don't really want to or need to and who don't follow weather-focused Twitter accounts might just start thinking that television news is crying wolf too much and will just turn it off and start ignoring all of this. They even let school out early here yesterday and that has happened several times in the last few years and nothing has happened each time. I never remember being let out early for severe weather when I was a kid. Are the storms worse now? Are kids really safer being sent out to their homes than in a school? People have died in schools in recent outbreaks. People have also died in homes and cars and convenience stores. There is no way to avoid all of this and unfortunately all of the forecasting in the world may still not save me if an F3 or F4 or F5 comes down the street. It's quite the dilemma and I don't know the answer.

The danger of a scenario plotted out in the above graphic is quite real. Just ask the people cleaning up in Jacksonville, Alabama this morning. I've been there, with thousands of dollars in damage to my house after a storm that didn't seem to last two minutes. But I don't think the answer is scaring people with big red words STORM ALERT on forecast screens (when no actually watch or warning has been issued) or talk of the hundreds of thousands in the path of a monster storm when said storm hasn't even developed yet. Now the local stations here even have storm chasers driving around, beaming back pictures of dark clouds and rain, and one last night pulled up to a little road full of other storm chaser vehicles. I wonder if they are all doing it for the science or if some of them are there for the ratings and the attention. Who knows.

I think we have to find a more realistic, calm way to convey weather information. I remember in the late 70's and early 80's when we had a local weatherman, Bill Hall, who calmly got us through stormy day after stormy day and was a hero to kids like me who were interested in the weather and science. We need more people today with his attitude and demeanor so we can be prepared and aware but not scared out of our minds by hype and "what-if" overload. His friend and anchor Dan Miller, now also sadly gone, wrote this about him when he retired:
Bill has never much concerned himself with all the fancy TV slogans and electronic weather gimmicks. His real concern has been the people on the receiving end of the information he dispenses. I cannot count the times Bill has said to me, "I don't want to unnecessarily alarm people."

Saying sayonara to the dvr-ah (I had to make it rhyme)

It would have been really easy to title this one "cutting the cord" but that is what everyone else does so I went with "Saying sayonara to the dvr-ah" and I apologize to everyone for my continuing destruction of grammar and language.

Many, many years ago, we lived in an apartment and it was there that I encountered the first cable cord-cutter that I ever met. I heard the couple upstairs arguing and then someone bounding down the steps. Next, I could hear some weird noise outside our window and it was there that I saw who I presume was the husband with a big butcher knife physically cutting the cord that ran up the wall of the building and into his apartment. Maybe his favorite team had lost. Maybe he was sick of his significant other watching Guiding Light.

Now it is twenty years later and I have finally cut the cord also although I was far less dramatic about it. I called the cable company Monday and pulled a Frozen (Let It Go!) and ended our television and telephone service. I unhooked the equipment and drove it over to their office and dropped it off, just like millions of other people have done in the last few years.

I've been wanting to get rid of the phone for a while but because of bundle discounts, it was cheaper to keep it and the only calls I ever got on it were scams and telemarketers. As for the cable, I watch only one show regularly (The Goldbergs). I'm just not big on television. I see most of it as pointless, especially the shows on network TV.

The kids mostly watch Netflix and apps and our DVR was only recording one or two shows a week for my wife yet I was paying $20 a month just for the DVR on top of the other cable charges. Instead, I signed up for YouTube TV which is much cheaper and has all of the channels we want with the ability to record whatever we want. The big motivator for me was that YouTube TV got my favorite channel, Turner Classic Movies. I've already watched two movies this week and that is a lot more television than usual for me. It's just so convenient being able to scroll through TCM's programming to set movies to record and this convenience will probably be my downfall!

So, am I saving a ton of money by making this switch? No, but it was enough to justify it. Internet alone is still fairly pricy but I have to have decent speed since I work at home. One thing that really pleases me is no more cables running down the wall and no more DVR or cable boxes. Everything looks "cleaner" with less gadgets everywhere.

It's nice to have all of that stuff just gone and it's nice to join the rest of the world in cutting the cord and being able to have a bit more control over how we choose to watch television and how much we're willing to pay.

Another YouTube channel I watch

Here's another channel I've been watching on YouTube lately: Ambuchannel 112.

It popped up as a recommended channel on the page of the RailCam I have been watching some. I guess this is because both are in the same country?

I find it quite fascinating, much better than what is on television. Who needs to watch medical shows when you can ride along on real rescues? These videos are also great for teaching us how we should react when an emergency vehicle needs to get by us.

Goofing with my Sony DSC-W800 camera

I was assembling yet another load of stuff to take to the help center thrift store this week when I came upon my Sony DSC-W800 camera. It's my last digital camera meaning I doubt I will ever buy another one since my iPhone does everything I need camera-wise. In fact, I never use the Sony camera. It's been thrown in a tote for about a year.

I got it cheap at an outlet store with the idea that I would use it some instead of using my phone. That plan never worked out because this camera is sort of quirky. It's not easy to get in-focus pictures and the photos don't look as good as my iPhone photos. Also, the 720p video function doesn't look that great either and will only record in 12 minute chunks. How silly.

However, I decided at the last minute that I would not chuck it in the thrift store box. Instead I would treat it as a creative toy of sorts and goof around with it a bit. So, I keep it in the home office right by my desk so it is ready when inspiration hits. I have a mini tripod and a full size tripod at the ready. I've been taking pictures and 12 minute videos for a few days and here are some of the results. In these pictures and videos, you can see the shortcomings of the camera. And, yes, I have fiddled with settings over and over trying to get better results but, as Reviewbrah says, it is what it is.

My iPod Touch with my much-loved Radio Shack bluetooth speaker.

I've had this for years.

I found this when I was cleaning out my parents' attic. It hung in my room in elementary school and now hangs in the home office.

Our Walmart fan. They last about a year and then suddenly die. They are great while they are working though.

Angry Bichon behind foggy glass

My Asus Transformer on the kitchen table

Crunchy the corgi impatiently waiting for his human to pick up the tennis ball and throw it

I call this video Super Wash Cycle:

Here is the sky!

Here is a tree in the backyard - already in bloom because of all of the warm weather we have been having:

I put the camera on the little tripod in front of the corgi thinking he might move. He did not and the room was too dark:

Finally, here is another little tripod experiment - the deck on a rainy day: