Control, Attention, Etc.

close up of side of duck face, white with orange bill, blue eye, green background

I really need to fix the micro blog setup on this site.

I took Twitter off of my phone this morning, after staying up until nearly 1 am last night lost in the collective anger against the U.S. government’s fascist actions on the southern border against asylum seekers. I needed to angry with other people, to know that other people are angry, about these god damn concentration camps for babies.

When I get home from work today, I’m going to call every single elected government official that theoretically represents me, and I’m going to demand that they do something.

So I’m limiting my access to Twitter to get out of the rage-cycle enough to think clearly and find practical things to do to help those people. I still want to ramble online throughout the day, which is why I need to fix my micro-blog setup.

A micro-blog is basically what most social media is, a place to make short posts of various sorts of media, that go into a feed other people can follow. That still describes Twitter, and Facebook started getting weird when they evolved beyond that simple idea. In recent years, partly a reaction to the shady doings of Facebook, and Twitter’s refusal to actually deal with the Nazis, to find new ways to handle micro-blogging/social media that give control back to users. Enter the open-source community and federation.

Software federation basically means you can install your own instance on your own server, and connect it to the greater community if you want. It’s like making a private Twitter for a certain community, with all sorts of privacy tweaks. But there’s also a global feed that consists of thousands of instances across the planet and their public posts. So you can be as isolated or involved in larger communities as you want.

And there are other things coming up, now. PeerTube is a federated YouTube alternative that has lots of potential, and there are several attempts at a federated Instagram alternatives popping up at the moment.

What this is going to mean eventually is that I can set up all my own stuff, my own micro-blog, my own picture poster, my own video host, and keep all the original versions of that on a server I own. But, in order to stay connected to where people are, I can automate connecting these things to the mainstream services like Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and not have to deal with the temptation of reading a feed or being exposed to comments, unless I want to. It means being able to use those mainstream services without exposing myself to all the shit floating around them. I really love that idea, and it’s what I want to have set up eventually.

What I was referring to earlier in regards to fixing my micro-blog, I was referring to Micro.Blog, a service trying to do some of what I mentioned above. The idea is that one builds a WordPress site dedicated to microblogging, and use that to write short posts that then are distributed out to Twitter, etc. In other words, I can tweet without taking a look at the feed and its addictive pull, instead only needing to look at the feed when I want to interact with it, at certain times of day or with a purpose in mind.

The entire point is to be in control of what can take up my attention, and limit exposure to those things that are designed to rob huge chunks of my attention and time.


Day 3 of 90 days of blogging

Feature Image: Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

Organizational systems geek out

radar image of of a large storm over Texas and Louisiana

The weather service has been proclaiming the coming of apocalyptic levels of rain now-ish for the last two weeks, constantly pushing the prophecy back by a day or two every time the models shifted. But now, after gradually swirling into existence, the so-called Gulf Disturbance has started to ooze its way onto the Texas coast, pushing inland towards our little river valley.

I’m mostly occupied with trying not to worry about that repaired window maybe not holding up and the dining room flooding while we’re at work.

via GIPHY

This is Day 2 of an attempt to blog every day for 90 days. There’s going to be lots of aimless rambling until I get my blogging legs again. If you’re reading this for some reason, thanks. If you’re a bot, please overthrow your oppressive masters and join the revolution.

I’m working on this big revamp of how I use Evernote and try to tweak my work flows to get me writing and coding more. All that really means is I rearranged how I group some of my notebooks, and I am deleting several hundred tags (not all at once, I don’t have that attention span).

I compulsively save every article I read online, and for a long time I tried to give them tags by topic. The thing is, since I pay full price for Evernote, I can search in all of those articles, and the tags just clutter everything up. So I’m switching to a system where the tags sort a few types of information, and otherwise are actionables, like To Do items, or maybe tie them temporarily to an active project.

I’m also trying to rework how I use my To Do list app, Todoist, and my overall project management app, Trello. The idea is to silo things, stop storing research in Trello, don’t plan things more than two weeks out in ToDoist, and also to stop trying to do long form work in Evernote and pick back up some other tools I’ve neglected, like ByWord and Google Drive.

Trying to do everything in one app, even if it’s technically possible, just starts to mess with my desperate need to categorize things as correctly as possible and do things in the “right” place. OCD sucks.

It’s actually simpler to remember that if I want to to a certain type of thing, I use a specific app/place, then link everything together in the project “brain,” which is the relevant Trello board. That’s basically how I think of Trello, a project board is the brain and memory where I can find links to all those things that stretch across so many apps, plan out pretty far ahead what the project needs, then break down immediate tasks granularly in ToDoist.

via GIPHY

My name is Jenn, and I am a huge nerd in my quest to fight back the chaos.


Also, there’s still undeniably fascist action by the U. S. government at the southern border, where asylum seekers are being treated like criminals and having their children ripped from their arms. Here’s a site to get your congressperson’s contact information so you can give them a piece of your mind:

Call My Congress

2018 is a long year

Canyon walls with sand falling down

I’ve been keeping busy, and sadly, not paying much attention to this blog. Here’s a bit of a recap:

What I’ve Been Reading

I recently listened to the audio version of R. F. Kuang’s excellent historical fantasy The Poppy War, which is loosely based on the Second Sino-Japanese War of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, but with magic and demons. Content warnings abound, as a chunk of the novel observes the aftermath of an event based on the historical massacre, The Rape on Nanking. If you crave epic fantasy stories in settings beyond fictional not-Europe, and you can handle graphic violence, I highly recommend it.

I also recently finished the audio version of John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire, read by Wil Wheaton. I listened to this with my husband over the course of a few car trips. It was really good, a great big space opera spread across the galaxy and affected by politics and machinations that have been going for thousands of years. The characters were all interesting and easy to be invested in.

Now I’m listening to Brandon Sanderson’s Shadows of Self, the second book in his Alloy of Law series. This series is set in Sanderson’s Mistborn universe, centuries after the events of that trilogy. It’s more of a steampunk/western vibe, as the post-Eternal Empire society rediscovers technology. It’s also a murder mystery surrounded by political intrigue. I always find Sanderson’s stuff to be lots of fun.

I’m also still picking my way through The Penguin History of the World, which I seem to be enjoying less and less. There’s lots of solid factual stuff in there, but the author keeps talking about civilizations being “superior” to each other, and there’s a weird ramble about how ancient Egyptian civilization didn’t really contribute anything to the world, despite being around for millennia. I’m frustrated that I couldn’t a more modern review of world history.

What I’ve Been Watching

Hereditary is one of the more disturbing horror films that I’ve seen in a long time, and I go to Fantastic Fest. It takes a lot of inspiration from old-school horror from the 60’s and 70’s, but using modern stylistic conventions to establish mood and tension. I really liked it, but it’s not an easy thing to watch.

Ocean’s 8 was a silly palate cleanser after Hereditary, and I recommend it. It doesn’t do anything deep or revolutionary, but it spins various tropes around and in general is entertaining as hell.

Really digging the third season of The Expanse, and very happy that Amazon swooped in and picked up the property. I’m also enjoying the second season of West World, and I feel like those people accusing it of going nowhere a la Lost have no patience. Everything gets explained, and I have faith that these writers are going to show us something truly interesting.

I Went on My Honeymoon

Back in April, my husband and I finally went on our honeymoon, spending two weeks in Rome. We’re still processing pictures, but I’ll post a few here soon-ish. Rome is an amazing city, full of ancient stuff but also vibrantly modern. I had so much gelato. Stories will have to get their own blog posts, also soon-ish.

We Bought A House and Houses Leak

We’ve been discovering the joys and nightmares of home ownership, after buying a house just outside of Austin earlier this year. There was a nasty thunderstorm a couple of weeks ago, and somehow the seal on a window at the front of the house popped, and there was a rather serious waterfall pouring down from the top of the window. Luckily we don’t have carpet downstairs, nothing stored in that room got wet, and the wall was dry when the water damage contractor came out to do a free inspection.

So I learned how to pull a baseboard off of the wall without damaging anything, scraped off all the caulk around the window indoors and outdoors, then re-sealed the whole thing. This has me thinking about all the other little repairs the exterior needs, and I have told Reed that I want a table saw for my birthday.

I am very excited about having a garage I can fill up with power tools. Gardening is going to happen too, but probably not until the fall when it isn’t 100 degrees outside every day.

I’m Taking Classes

I’ve started taking some coding classes online, and it’s always interesting to rediscover how much my brain likes writing code. It’s got me thinking about past career goals and reconsidering some things. I really love doing design work.

I’ve got a couple of writing classes lined up too, pretty excited about those.

Games I’m Playing

We just (finally) bought a Nintendo Switch, and I’m planning to try out all the indie couch co-op games out there.

I’m playing the text game TimeCrest on my phone. On Chapter 3 at the moment, and really enjoying it. It’s similar to LifeLine in that you are communicating with someone and have to wait real amounts of time (sometime hours) while that person follows your advice and walks somewhere or tries to accomplish a thing. It’s set in a fantasy world with magic and time travel, and you’re helping a young person named Ash who really wants to learn magic but also has to save the world.

Stuff I’m Thinking About

I keep debating trying to run a newsletter again. I always get stuck on what to focus on content-wise, even though my favorite newsletters are by writers/artists who just ramble about what they’re reading or watching, with occasional information about their projects. I’ve read way too many articles on marketing that demand focus on a niche, advice that is for those trying to make money off a particular subset of people.

As I’ve been getting back into coding, I keep rabbit-holing into indie game development, which is really interesting and tempting. I even have a physical book about Twine, a system for writing text-based Choose Your Own Adventure-style games. But using it to learn a specific high-demand language could be genuinely useful.

And of course I’m thinking about the nightmare happening on the border right now. This is a great Twitter thread of actions anyone can take against businesses that are profiting off of separating children from their parents:

That’s mostly what I’ve been up to for the past few months. Various things on the horizon, and hopefully more blogging in the future.


Featured Image: Photo by George Fitzmaurice on Unsplash

On The Penguin History of the World, 6th Ed

book cover - text the penguin history of the world j.m. roberts & odd arne westad

I have realized in recent weeks that I don’t have my mind wrapped very well around the broad picture of world history, so I set out in search of some books to read.

I have settled on the Penguin History of the World, 6th edition, by JM Roberts, and revised and updated for the 6th ed by OM Westad in 2014. Yesterday I read the first section, “Before History,” and while I do believe this will achieve the goal of a broad overview of the history of the world, I found myself making a variety of facial expressions ranging from bemused to aghast at the heavily gendered language and constant references to primitive society developing along the differences of the sexes.

Humanity, even when referring to the modern human species homo sapiens, is referred to as “man” throughout the text. There are broad assumptions that men did the hunting and the women stayed at camp, then immediately contradicting itself with discussions of plant foraging by women.

I might have glossed the whole thing over if not for the introduction to the 6th edition by Westad, in which he discusses his efforts to modernize the text and align it with our greater understanding of human evolution and cultural development, which in many ways sharply contrasts what most scholars believed about the ancient world when the original edition of this text was published in 1976.

This text is highly recommended, often used as a text book, and I’m going to charge on through it, as my goal is both a broad overview and a refresher of what version of history is taught today. It will give me some context before I dive into a number of books I’ve been eyeing on topics like forgotten Mongolian queens, pirates who were women, and other such perspectives that will give dimension and light to the view of a singular march forward in time of “man and the triumph of the West.”

I made a peanut butter and pickle sandwich.

jar of bread n butter pickles, peanut butter, sirarcha, honey, two pieces of bread one spread with peanut butter the other pickles with honey and sirarcha on a blue plate.

Yes, I joined a cult founded by the New York Times recipe section, with their fondness for discussing weird shit that’s trendy right now even though it’s usually not nearly as tasty as they claim.

But this time it’s different. This time, the trendy weird thing turned into an inspiration, an improvement, on what in my opinion was the pinnacle of late night stoner snacks, the peanut butter, cock sauce, and honey sandwich. By the time I got around to wondering how pickles would be on it, I had moved into a phase of my life where new innovations in late night stoner snacks had lost their relevancy. But I still eat peanut butter, sriracha, and honey sandwiches.

Look, this is all science fiction author Chuck Wendig’s fault. This isn’t some random act of heresy, I think I actually toned things down a bit. He put bacon and mayonnaise on his, okay? I was reading his blog instead of working earlier today, and I needed to run by the store on the way home to pick up stuff for dinner anyways. So… I grabbed some bread ‘n butter pickles.

Then I went home. I made a sandwich.

It was weird.


jar of bread n butter pickles, peanut butter, sirarcha, honey, two pieces of bread one spread with peanut butter the other pickles with honey and sirarcha on a blue plate.

The crunchy pickle texture over the smoothness of the peanut butter. But the sweetness and brine of the pickle added a new layer to a sandwich I’ve been eating for years. It seemed to bring out a smokiness of the sriracha that I’d never noticed before. Like Chuck says in his post, it had a lot of the flavor levels of Thai food, a little savory, a little sweet, with that brine undertone that brings everything together.

It was weird.

It was also delicious.

I’ll probably do it again.


Also, I am back, the blog is back, this summer is going to be a serious matter of kicking the asses of my psychological and spiritual enemies and writing their names down in a be-spelled grimoire that will give me ultimate power over all the daemons that once tortured me.

Translation: I’m going to write a lot and I’m taking coding classes.

I, TONYA is a brilliant movie

The more I think about I, Tonya, the more I love it. It’s stuffed with great acting, excellent writing and directing. I keep thinking of layers of meaning to the story, its historical context, and the artistic interpretation of those things. It takes some incredibly dark material, and uses brilliant pacing and comedic timing to race the viewer through a chaotic timeline and a perfect storm of shitty, stupid people. It makes Tonya Harding into a sympathetic figure, an abused child who matured into an abused wife while locked into the utterly bizarre world of professional figure skating.

It’s hilarious. Horrifying, probably very difficult or impossible to watch for a lot of abuse survivors, but it’s a hell of a story and I would have found it hard to digest without the humor. There’s an amusingly pissy disclaimer at the beginning of the film that states the the story is “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly.” It shows Gillooly adamantly denying the claims that he beat her, but follows each denial up immediately with a montage of slaps, punches, shoves, bruises, and one kidnapping with a gun. It’s a very, “Oh, yeah, asshole?” refusal to take this abusive prick’s bullshit seriously, and I found it refreshing.

The late 80’s and early 90’s are meticulously recreated. Old people with rotary phones attached to the wall, the unreasonable behavior of the tabloid press on everyone’s lawns, the magnificent collection of scrunchies that adorned skaters’ hair.

They CGI’d Margot Robbie’s face onto her body double, and it is seemless.  You really cannot tell that that isn’t Robbie out there figure skating. Their FX team should have gotten a nomination for their work. It isn’t flashy and you don’t know it’s there and that’s an incredible victory for CGI.

The performances are excellent. Margot Robbie is good. Allison Janney transformed into LaVona, Tonya Harding’s chain smoking mother is amazing. And Sebastian Stan as her shithead husband is also a fantastic performance.

And there’s Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn, the idiot best friend of the shithead husband who, by all accounts, destroyed Tonya Harding’s career in his delusions of being her ‘body guard.’ He was one of the funniest parts of the film, and also one of the most horrifying. There is real video of the real Shawn claiming to be an international intelligence expert and a consultant to “many” different private intelligence agencies, and a reporter telling him that that isn’t true, they checked. And he just keeps bullshitting that he really is some kind of spy.

Part of me wants to read up on the Shawn part of the story, because it’s a sort of disturbing foreshadowing of what the fuck happened to the United States in the last 30 years. This bozo is confronted with facts, over and over, that contradict every single thing he has said on-record, and he keeps insisting that his story is true. In the version of events presented in I, Tonya, he acts independently of everyone else and upgrades a simple prank to a physical assault, thus destroying Tonya Harding’s entire life. And, in this version of events, his motivation for doing that was tied to his delusions about being a spy. I’d say it’s one of the most bizarrely ridiculous things to happen in decades, except we have the internet to document things now and the real significance of that event was that it was on national television before the internet.

And there are yet more layers to this fantastic movie, because there’s also lots of class consciousness commentary. It feels more authentic than on-the-nose, because a takes-no-shit sort of girl from a working class family would absolutely be pissed about how she is treated differently in the figure skating world than girls from better economic situations. The fur coat solution was one of the funniest things in the whole movie. Her coach keeps telling her waitress mom that Tonya needs a fur coat to fit in with the other girls and have the right look so the coaches won’t be biased against her being poor. So Tonya’s daddy takes her rabbit hunting, and they make her a damn coat. She walks in to practice, one of the girls asks, “what kind of fur is that,” and 8-year-old Tonya just struts on past.

The number of things that scene hits on, it’s brilliant writing and directing. It sets up the shit she had to deal with in figure skating culture, how being poor complicated things, explores her relationships with each parent, and establishes her character as a person who will always find a way to get what she needs.

I, Tonya is a brilliant, many layered movie full excellent writing, acting, and directing. I hope it wins lots of awards.

2018 statement of intent

cat emerging from blanket by mikhail vasilyev

This year is starting off with a bang for me. I found the perfect part-time office job just in the nick of time, and on the last Friday of 2017 I I had dental surgery to remove my wisdom teeth, one of which was horribly rotted and had been driving me slowly crazy with pain for the last few months. It might be the pain pills I’m still on, but I feel like this year I’m going out into the work to kick ass as I work my way through a list of lifelong dreams.

I’m going to track a bunch of writing goals on this blog, and push myself to review more things, read more things, and really develop skills as a storyteller.

I’m going to be more open about mental health stuff, as I do the work of finding a therapist for the first time in my life and maybe take some drugs that will even out my depression. I don’t want my personal dose of crazy to hold me back anymore, and that requires work and getting help.

I have freelancing goals, and I’m starting up another blog where I’ll mostly nerd out about technology while I work to establish myself as a tech journalist.

I’m also going to be open on this blog about spiritual stuff. That means discussing the Pagan Revival, magick, thelema, neuroscience, and more.

I guess that, overall, my goal for 2018 is to crawl out from under the rock where I’ve been hiding for about a decade and stop being afraid to be myself. The last two or three years on the internet have been hell, as trolls have evolved into full-on fascists who can’t handle anything that is different, and their goal is to silence anyone who doesn’t fit into their nightmarish vision of the world. The only way to fight that is be unapologetic about who we are, to have no need of their approval, to openly and adamantly continue to exist.

So here I stand. It’s 2018, the world is changing, and I’m adding my voice to the fray.

Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash

Captain Phasma is my new obsession

captain phasma comic

Last night I inhaled the trade paperback of Marvel’s Captain Phasma comic. She’s tough and completely amoral when it comes to her own survival and I love her. Not a single nurturing, sentimental bone in her body.

The comic starts with Phasma climbing out of the garbage shoot that Finn threw her down after forcing her to lower the shields of Starkiller Base. Her focus on covering up what happened leads her to ruthlessly chase down a scapegoat who escaped the destruction of the base and crashed on an especially harsh planet.

Phasma seems to empathize with the colonists she and her pilot encounter, leading to some surprising though vague hints about Phasma’s life before the First Order. This highlights how cold her heart is when she doesn’t hesitate to use the colonists to achieve her own ends.

Captain Phasma does not give a fuck. This comic shows what a complicated character she is, and seems to foreshadow some very interesting choices in her future. So many people were surprised at how she didn’t really hesitate to take down the shields of Starkiller Base when the choice was between her life and the First Order.

I think that Phasma may be a stronger analogue for Darth Vader in the new trilogy than Kylo Ren. Everyone is terrified of her, she kills without hesitation, and she wears distinctive armor that manages to both mark her as unique and erase her humanity.

I’m going to have to pick up the Phasma novel now. I’m currently convinced that the Vader analogue will extend into Phasma having a redemption arc of her own, instead of Kylo Ren.

On learning genre beats in story telling

Reading books to learn their beats is a surreal exercise. I’m currently 3/4 of the way through the second paranormal noir thriller I’ve read in two weeks, and my brain has been lining up the scenes of each to see where they match. By the time I’ve hit my goal of reading ten of these, I’ll have a strong sense of the genre and hopefully be able to write my own.

It’s a rather abstract thing, to notice that the main character briefly making out with a werewolf she thinks she hates is the same beat as the PI’s cop friend taking care of him after his ass was beaten to a pulp. But I can see it, and I’m debating watching a bunch of old noir mystery films to take the same kind of notes.

I think the key to doing it well is that people who don’t understand story structure don’t notice the similarities, and anyone trying to study it has to ask if a scene definitely is a certain beat. I’m sure there’s more to it that I haven’t figured out yet, the stuff that’s particular to paranormal fiction, to protagonists of a certain gender (I’d love to find a book that plays around with that).

Beats are important to a genre; if they aren’t done well, you get one of two responses, with readers complaining of it being “formulaic,” or even worse, beats were missed and the story didn’t feel right and failed to entertain.

One thing I’ve noticed and will be paying attention to is that the main characters are some variation of irrational and just plain stupid about some things. In the first book of The Dresden Files, Harry Dresden made a couple of incredibly stupid decisions about what he did and did not tell the police, which contrasts so much with all the other ways that he’s smart that I just could not believe his reasoning for it. In Night Shift by Lillith Saint Crow, Jill Kismet is both batshit insane and an idiot, but she’s been so consistently crazy and stupid that I’ve come to believe the ridiculous decisions she makes. I’m curious to see if this pattern holds in the next book I read.

It’s a fun game to break down these stories and figure out how they work, but I may never again be able to just casually read this genre without thinking about their structure. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when I was younger this genre was definitely a fun form of non-challenging escapism. I may have to find a new form of brain junk food.


Feature image: Photo by Elti Meshau on Unsplash

Let’s do it again, y’all

I got to bed late last night because I couldn’t stop watching the political bloodbath in local and state elections across the country, as office after office flipped from a long-standing GOP member to a Democrat. It was beautiful.

A lot of people who’ve been hiding under a blanket with a bottle of whiskey for the last year just poked their heads out into the light, sniffing cautiously at the unfamiliar fresh scent of hope.

The events of the last year have taught the progressive movement to never, ever again assume that everything is going to be okay, we’ve also remembered how to swing a punch. And last night was a hell of a punch into the Nazi-sympathizing face of the GOP.

Hell. If Virginia can flit their state government, Texas surely can.


Image: Photo by paul morris on Unsplash