On Digital Handwriting

Something like a year ago I committed to myself to make an honest attempt at adopting an entirely digital creative process. Digital workflows attracted me for a number of reasons, between sensing a bit of the future in them and not having to lug around paper notebooks anymore. So the constituents of my usual work-bag changed; I dropped my trusty moleskine notebooks for a tablet. First Android (Google Nexus 7) and then iOS (iPad Mini). Thanks to the Evernote and Penultimate apps, both provided an excellent handwriting platform with cloud backups and easy access. For the better part of a year I used both exhaustively and they worked well. I recommend them highly to anyone interested in tablet-based writing.

And yet, I find my digital writing experiment at an end.

Handwriting everything on a tablet certainly made things easier to store, carry and reference. Stylus sliding on screen felt futuristic, smooth and workflow-transcendent. And it was fine for activities devoid of higher purpose like taking notes in a meeting. But it fell short in my primary reasons for writing.

Journaling went quickly but felt flat and unremarkable. Each entry slipped into place in a digital storehouse, utilitarian and soulless. The immediate experience became one of making gray marks on a gray screen, efficiently but with no lasting effect. No staying power or emotional impact. And nothing approaching the depth of paper journaling.

Other creative work, fiction or non, turned out much the same. Piecing character and plot together in the reassuringly backlit tablet environment simply didn’t carry the same weight internally for me. Structurally and aesthetically paper and app are nearly the same. And god knows I’d rather just carry a tablet and leave the notebooks at home.

But not if the system doesn’t work.

I missed paper too much, similar to how missing bacon ended my five years of vegetarianism. The new habit better for me and yet bearing some indelible mark of inauthenticity that keeps getting in the way.

I missed accidentally staining a page with coffee or water. I missed the resistance of pen across paper, a resistance accompanied by the confidence that ink was rolling. I missed, as I see now, flipping to the next page in a notebook with fresh ink of a previous page bleeding through a bit, that tangible continuity of work being done.

There’s an inefficiency in paper, between the friction of the pen and the frantic search for a precious note. Flipping from page to page scanning for just a few words that connect with something currently in my head. The tactile nature of that scan and the time it takes to cross over past mental landscapes, portraits, reliefs.

Spending most of the past year almost wholly focused on digital handwriting underscored the reifying nature of writing in pen and ink, that making or treating of the abstract as real and concrete. There’s little functional difference between the two methods but scattered scrawlings in a notebook help constitute what stays pale and static in a digital context.

It’s a surprising result given my early adoption of most things digital. But the process is the process.

I’m off to stain a few more notebook pages.

Readings: Thermal Lens For Your Phone, Brain Stimulation Advanced, Climate Estimate Revised

Android Police: Hands-On With The $199 Seek Thermal Smartphone Infrared Camera (Yes, Really Actually) – “Alright, so you’re intrigued, aren’t you? Is there some big catch here? As far as I can tell, there really isn’t: Seek is legitimately kind of sort of incredible.” – Pretty surprising quality for a $199 phone addon. Would love to get my hands on one myself.

Motherboard: How Zapping the Brain With Electricity Can Help Fight Disease – “…Fox has provided proof that all brain stimulation techniques work by hacking into discrete circuits of brain cells—and that for specific diseases, like depression, all stimulation treatments (that work) tap into the very same circuit.” – I’d love to see even greater strides in brain stimulation, both DBS and TMS. It has some truly amazing potentials, could unlock amazing futures.

Neomatica: Southern Hemisphere Analysis Reveals Global Warming Underestimated By 24% To 58%

“Oceanographers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have discovered the heat content change of the Earth has been severely underestimated. New calculations suggest that the amount of heat added to the Earth in the last 35 years is 24% to 58% higher than thought, due to poor sampling of ocean temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere. The results have global implications as the ocean absorbs over 90% of the heat due to trapping by greenhouse gases. The implications are that there has been greater net inflow of energy from the Sun, and greater amounts being stored in the world’s oceans.”

Devastating.

Tony Hsieh’s Long Now Talk

I’m an incredibly big fan of the Long Now Foundation’s Seminars About Long Term Thinking. I finally caught up with the one done by Tony Hsieh, Revitalizing a City. Setting aside the problems with his Downtown Project, the talk starts off on an incredible note.

Hsieh flagrantly plugs the ability to tour Zappos and relays an anecdote of one such tour. As he provided escort the guest explained to Hsieh that his wife kept getting boxes and boxes from Zappos but would never tell him what they were. As the tour continues, Hsieh apparently finds the guest has left his side, corralled a customer service rep and had them pull up the wife’s purchase history.

Revealing $62,000 in purchases.

Let me reiterate: during a tour guided by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, they revealed a customer’s purchasing history to her husband.

Hsieh jokes about hoping they didn’t cause any marital problems and moves on. With absolutely no consciousness about what a violation that disclosure is. Indeed, he launches from that anecdote into a full talk on building company culture. What the hell kind of company culture not only allows but facilitates that intrusion? What does that say about Hsieh’s other ventures, especially the Downtown Project?

Sapphire Glass Provider GTAT Files For Bankruptcy

Confused by this news. GT Advanced Technologies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this morning. In doing so, they lost about 91% of their stock value.

Confusing because Apple has pumped a huge amount of money into GTAT in the run up to the iPhone 6, including the purchase of hundreds of sapphire furnaces. I’m guessing it’s a result of Apple’s surprising decision not to use sapphire glass for the iPhone 6 display after all.

In other words, it looks like Apple just about killed one of their production partners.

Interesting.

Fear and Loathing in Human Resources

Freelance status approaches. I go to sleep excited. I wake up excited.

I also go to sleep feeling the fear, and wake up with it.

The freelance market is unforgiving in the best of circumstances. Self-funding everything from business expenses to healthcare is daunting and a totally alien experience. Up until this point some external entity worried about that. Some abstract administrator in another office, another building; conjuring access to medical care, a new workstation, a repair to the office floor. Largely unseen and working in mysterious ways. The Holy Ghost of Human Resources and Logistics.

Much of my life revolves around holding opposite tensions in a life-affirming way and it strikes me that a similar tension exists in the noncorporeal nature of coordinating the very condition in which workers find themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. It’s also another thing I never anticipated doing myself. But it’s become another tension that must be integrated; moving some of my perspective to an Overwatch position so the me that’s running around on the ground can get the other jobs done.

Fear moves in and tries to convince me that since I’ve never done it before it will go disastrously. That I don’t have the head for it, nor the background. Which all could be true. But that doesn’t make those tasks any less crucial and it doesn’t magically conjure someone to do it for me.

What happens instead, what I hope will happen, is wrapped up tightly in the reason that I’ve held so many tensions for so many years. What happens is this simultaneously mystic and totally grounded experience of becoming that person. Accepting that I can be that tree-level, cloud-level, high-orbit presence while putting one foot in front of the other on a foundation I create for myself.

There is the fear that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and that nearly constant nag in the back of my brain trying to convince me that I’m simply pretending at all this. But three things comfort me, among others. First, the support and love from friends and family. Second: that these fears are a nearly universal phenomenon even for established professionals. And last, that the fear isn’t going to take care of these problems and that nagging voice isn’t going to do the paperwork either, and it needs to get done, so I’ll be on top of it like everything else.

Not resigning myself to “finding a way to get it done” but becoming the way it gets done.

A sudden crispness of color and edge

There’s a certain clarity in suddenly separating from the track your life idled on for the previous decade. A sudden crispness of color and edge, a renewed inking of the lines of everything.

This is where I find myself today and it’s a damn strange, relatively unexpected place to be in.

At the beginning of the month I faced a hard choice: transition to a new job with a different department under humiliating, degrading circumstances or lose that security and move off into the unknown. Previously at least the engineer of my life’s own slow-motion train wreck, I had been relegated to shovel-wielding nobody in the coal car. I could propel myself into devolving and giving up ten years of progress. That was my only choice.

So I jumped off the train.

After spending ten years of dispatching 911 calls I felt it would be hard to hit the ground running. But suddenly the years-long knot in my chest is gone and my back no longer aches from shoveling existential coal. There are options, and lines, and edges.

You never appreciate the edges and lines of life until you realize it’s all been dull for years. Suddenly the termination of each surface is brought into sharp focus. The focus comes, surprisingly, not from the terror of impending freelance status and possible failure, but from a renewed intention to be present in my own life. Decide to show up and suddenly the world comes back in full and vibrant notes.

Readings: Methylene Blue and Fear Extension, Wet Implants, CRE Rates Rising

Am. Journal of Psychiatry, via Reddit: Effects of Post-Session Administration of Methylene Blue on Fear Extinction and Contextual Memory in Adults With Claustrophobia – “Methylene blue enhances memory and the retention of fear extinction when administered after a successful exposure session but may have a deleterious effect on extinction when administered after an unsuccessful exposure session.”

IB Times: Upgrade Your Brain: Liquid Hard Drive Implants Could Increase Intellect – “Scientists at the University of Michigan realised that digital information could be stored on colloidal clusters after observing them switch between two states – such as the 0s and 1s of traditional bits – when placed in a liquid.” – A lot further off that chip-based implants but perhaps much more viable in the long run.

Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology via Reddit: Rising Rates of Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae in Community Hospitals – “The rate of CRE detection increased fivefold in community hospitals in the southeastern United States from 2008 to 2012. Despite this, our estimates are likely underestimates of the true rate of CRE detection, given the low adoption of the carbapenem breakpoints recommended in the 2010 CLSI guidelines.” – CRE is scary, scary stuff. Scarier than MRSA, and from the epidemiology folks I’ve talked to, even scarier than XDR TB.

Readings: Rpi Copy-Paste Warning, Printing Memory on Paper, WSJ Hacked

Reddit/thejh: Beware copy/paste from a web page to the (Raspberry Pi) command lineHadn’t thought of this, but a good point.

CEN: Researchers Print Electronic Memory On Paper – “Electronics printed on paper promise to be cheap, flexible, and recyclable, and could lead to applications such as smart labels on foods and pharmaceuticals or as wearable medical sensors. Many engineers have managed to print transistors and solar cells on paper, but one key component of a smart device has been missing—memory.” – Fantastic step forward and, if the war on ubiquitous computing continues, as much of a game-changer as 3D printing processes are to gun control.

Ars Technica: WSJ website hacked, data offered for sale for 1 bitcoin - “The hacker was offering what he claimed was user information and server access credentials that would allow others to “modify articles, add new content, insert malicious content in any page, add new users, delete users, and so on,” Andrew Komarov, chief executive officer of cybersecurity firm IntelCrawl, told The Wall Street Journal.” – SQLi attack, supposedly. Would be interesting to see the results of malicious content served to WSJ readers. Juicier targets and at the same time likely lower-hanging fruit among them given the likelihood that a financier is well-versed in information security.

One of the Lowly

“Becoming belongs to the heights and is full of torment. How can you become if you never are? Therefore you need your bottommost, since there you are. But therefore you also need your heights, since there you become.

To be that which you are is the bath of rebirth. In the depths, being is not an unconditional persistence but an endlessly slow growth. You think you are standing still like swamp water, but slowly you flow into the sea that covers the earth’s greatest deeps, and is so vast that firm land seems only an island imbedded in the womb of the immeasurable sea.”

Carl Jung, “One Of The Lowly,” Liber Novus/Red Book