On Chess

For the vast majority of my life, my dad ran “sep Computers” (despite looks, dad insisted on it as an initialism, S. E. P., even though he refused to write it that way.) It was the tech support style business that came to be dominated by Geek Squad (or Nerd Herd for Chuck fans.) For much of my adolescence he (and I) would solve computer problems for customers. Need a new home computer? Bought a new gadget and couldn’t get it to work? Need to network your office? Did you computer get infected with a virus? Ready to go Office Space on your printer? We helped solve all your technocentric problems.

Dad worked incredibly hard while also being a loving father. Being self-employed, he valued the semi-control over his schedule and the ability to be free during some afternoons and weekends to be with us.

As a kid, I remember dad being a night owl. He’d work into the wee hours of the morning, go to bed, be up at a normal time and then rely on naps through the day to get by.

It wasn’t until I was older that I came to appreciate that at least some of that was him bending his schedule to allow him to be around us during the day. And when he that wasn’t enough and he had to do work, he would often take over the kitchen counter peninsula in the middle of the house. Now, his office was often an utter disaster with massive piles on his work tables. And part of this relocation was unquestionably due to that, but I have also come to think it was partly so he could be around us and wasn’t shut away from us in the back office all the time.

When he didn’t have appointments in the afternoon, he would prioritize us and our lives. He loved watching us play sports, watching TV with us, attending church activities, etc. His work wasn’t making us rich monetarily, but it was keeping food on the table and enabling us to have dad be more involved in our lives.

Trust me, all of that was a necessary lead up to my discussion of chess.

I was in elementary school when I decided I wanted to learn chess. I think it was because some friends were playing it at school, or maybe I had seen Searching for Bobby Fischer, I can’t remember for sure. Searching released when I was ten years old which was probably a little late to have been the impetus for my learning, but even if that is true, that film is inextricably intertwined in my infatuation with the chessboard.

So, wanting to learn something new, I naturally went to dad and asked him to teach me. And… he directed me to the family’s set of physical encyclopedias. Writing that sentence has aged me another decade and makes me feel exceedingly old given that I was on the tail end of people who needed to consult the book encyclopedias before the arrival of digital encyclopedias and today’s marvelous Wikipedia.

Screencap from the film, Searching for Bobby Fischer.
To this day, I still romanticize the idea of playing chess in New York Central Park. I’ve never had the opportunity, but this movie engendered that idea in my head.

I think he wanted to see if I would keep the interest or if this hurdle would derail me. (Spoilers: It didn’t.) I read the entire entry that explained the game, discussed each piece and how it moved, went over the rules, including castling and capturing en-passant. And, that was my start with chess.

Armed with this knowledge I went back to my dad and said I was ready to play. My recollection is that the time we played was very brief, a span of a few weeks or maybe months. It ended because once I started being able to beat dad he stopped wanting to play against me. But that wasn’t something I, an elementary school kid, understood. I kept asking him to play with me over the course of days and weeks and he would always decline or redirect me.

Eventually, I grew visibly frustrated and wouldn’t take no for an answer without an explanation. I was upset because I enjoyed playing this new game, sharing it with dad, and on top of that: it was something I could win at! Do you have any idea how exciting that was? For a kid my age, it was a notable feeling to win based on skill and not the luck of cards against someone who I regarded as so much smarter than me!

So, I stood my ground and demanded to know why he wasn’t playing with me. He sat me down and explained that it was because he was working so hard for the family, and when he wasn’t working he wanted to just relax. Playing chess against me was becoming work. (He never admitted it, but knowing my father’s competitive streak, I think he also struggled to accept losing to his son.)

Looking back, I get it. He did work hard. He never, to my knowledge, said no to a job due to workload. If he had jobs that required an 80-hour week, he lowered his head and dove into the work since he couldn’t be sure if next week would be as busy. It could very well have been one of those times, I don’t remember, it was nearly thirty years ago now.

The other truth is that dad was never a big boardgame player, he much preferred cards. In college he was a competitive bridge player with his brother Herb. He also loved poker, and a game our family played that we called ‘Nasty’ – which is played with one (or two) normal decks of playing cards, and plays very similarly to Uno.

So, I get why dad wasn’t eager for the mental effort of chess just to face the possibility that his pre-teen son might bruise his ego. Looking back now, I understand.

But, even though dad wasn’t a willing victim for my nascent love of chess, he did continue to support me in it. He and mom bought me numerous chess books over the years (many of which I still have), small handheld chess computers, and eventually computer software such as Chessmaster. (Anyone else get nostalgic thinking about the old man on the software cover?) And when I got caught playing chess on paper against the pastor’s son during church, they didn’t get mad.

Box art for The Chessmaster 2000
I spent hundreds of hours “winning” against this software.

Eventually I got a copy of Chessmaster 2000. To me, this was Deep Blue. This was the unbeatable computer juggernaut. But more than that, once we got Chessmaster, I had a willing enemy for endless games of chess. Game after game after game. Hour upon hour. I would hog the family PC as I battled against it over and over and over.

Except, here’s the thing. I wasn’t great at chess and no one had taught me how to actually study chess. I was just playing and playing and I was playing wrong.

A tangential story: dad had gotten a golf computer game (I think it was Links 386, but I could be wrong) and I would sit down and play it. One day I proudly called him in to see my 18-hole round where I had a score of just 25 strokes total. He was stunned and amazed. Then he saw I had taken something like 3,238 mulligans to get that score. He didn’t stop laughing for days.

The same logic which led me to this amazing round of virtual golf, was something I applied to my battles of chess with Chessmaster. I would play game after game, and when I screwed up I’d back up and let the computer tell me the best move and resume play from there. Essentially, I’d take a mulligan. Shockingly, using this method, I kept winning against the computer! I was clearly amazing at chess.

Narrator: I wasn’t.

Australian International Master, Andras Toth, gives a great example about how people learn chess or study chess incorrectly. He gives the example of a math teacher asking his students “What is 37 + 22?” The student he calls on says, “78!” And the teacher responds, “No, it’s 59.” – He immediately gives the answer and doesn’t walk the students through the exercise of how to get there. That isn’t teaching the student how to get the right answer, that is teaching the student the right answer. Two very different things. And in some areas, such as math and chess, exceedingly not useful for the student.

Looking back, I can clearly see how I was doing this with Chessmaster. I made a bad move, the computer told me the right one. I made the right one and proceeded in the game. I didn’t realize that the real exercise was to stop to ask “why is this move better and mine worse?”

And on top of that, even worse, as a kid I let myself be lulled into believing I was better at the game than I actually was. Look how much I was beating the computer! And I was better than most of my friends, and even my dad didn’t want to play me – clearly, I was a chess expert. Except, if you asked me to explain chess, such as why Chessmaster suggested I move the knight rather than my queen, I’d give you a wrong answer.

Portrait of Garry Kasparov
Garry Kasparov, considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time.

As I grew older, widened the pool of people I played with, and realized I was not the next Garry Kasparov. I eventually got better at studying chess and realizing these shortcomings as a youth. But I have only really had a breakthrough in terms of improving my game in the past year during the Covid crisis. This year has seen serious growth in my abilities over the chessboard.

In general, my most fond chess memories are when it was not a solo activity. This goes for most games, the way for me to maximize my enjoyment of games is to utilize them as a basis for socializing.

Whether I was playing chess to connect with friends in my college dorm, as part of the handful of clubs I’ve participated in, or even the few times when I took my chess set to the mall and set up in the food court with a sign offering games for random passerby (my closest parallel to play in Central Park.) I far prefer chess with people than against a faceless computer. And it is the clubs or groups I remember most clearly.

First was the middle school chess club. We would meet in a teacher’s classroom after school and compete on a ladder for ranking, each week we would alternate evens & odds who challenged up the ladder. In the ladder, the lower player challenges and if they win, they swap spots with the higher player. I remember being excited as I neared the top of the club’s ladder, though I don’t recall ever reaching it in the club.

The second club I think of was during college. We would meet up and play in the commons on Georgia Tech campus on Fridays. I found myself frequently winning any chess games played in my dorm hall, but when it came to the club on campus I was small fish in the pool of sharks. Even though I had realized I was outmatched, I still enjoyed the games and socializing.

I can remember playing bughouse. Bughouse is a chess variant that has four players face off in two teams and involves trading pieces between players rather than just making moves. I played Bughouse in high school and middle school as well, but my most fond memories of it are at college because we discovered it was likely to draw crowds of other students since it often was more high energy and could get quite boisterous. Fun times, but those days weren’t ones where I would sit down and study chess.

The third one is one I’m in right now, and it is entirely virtual (quite representative of our current era.) I came across the “Morphy Chess Club” which is named for Paul Morphy, one of the early chess greats. It’s a Discord server for people to come and chat about chess, but it also has amazing features like weekly classes for intermediate or advanced players, chess lectures by Masters, etc. (In fact, it was through them that I discovered Andras Toth, the player I quoted earlier.) It’s growing into a great community and I attribute lots of my recent growth as a player to having it as a hub and resource.

As I near the one-year mark since my most recent period of focus on chess, I am reminded that the reality is that my love of chess has not been continuous. It comes and goes, depending on what other distractions I have. I’ll get into it heavy for a few weeks or months and then I’ll burn out or get distracted or grow frustrated and go off to do something else for a while. But, I always come back.

I can’t be sure if this latest stint was caused by Covid-19 or just coincidental or not, but I have been playing chess almost daily since March last year and I’ve really seen my skill improve over that time. Since March my rating has gone from the low 1300s to cresting 1800 for the first time back in October, before I hit a wall and dropped for a while. Only this week have I regained my form and reached new peaks in my rating. As of this post, according to lichess.org, the site that I primarily play on, I am better than roughly 85% of players on the site.

My rating chart on lichess since March of last year.
My rating chart on lichess since March of last year.

I made a mention of it above, but this year I really feel like I’ve come to understand enjoying chess and the study of it. Sure, I’ve had books and used them to learn the game, but I never really mastered how to study my own game and improve it.

In fact, for much of my life, I consciously knew that my skill at the chess board was largely in being better to evaluate the current board position and find the better move. I wasn’t actively thinking multiple moves ahead, I just relied on being better in the moment.

Andras Toth had another quote that I really liked during one of his videos which was “You don’t play the present, you play the future.” He is speaking to the critical nature of analyzing, making moves and playing for the future of your chess games rather than simply addressing what is happening on the chess board.

Internalizing that, and working on it as a mindset for chess games, has been a major part of my focus. Andras’ video with that quote came out last month but it was an excellent distillation of the thing that has made my growth in ranking possible for the last year. Learning to better analyze and evaluate positions, as well as understanding the base theory of chess, along with the critical understanding that I have to mentally push myself to calculate positions, it isn’t something that just happens.

By that, I mean that if you show me a chess position, I can look at it and make an instant reaction of what I think of it, what I would do or what I think the move would be. But that is going back to what I was doing when I was younger. Instead I have to force myself to stop and begin looking into the future. If I do something, what might the opponent do? It is a conscious act to calculate deeper, not something that simply happens for me. I’ll play games of chess online and catch myself slacking and being unfocused and just playing surface level complexity, and I’ve reached a ranking where that is almost always going to be punished.

Two pictures of Bobby Fischer, left, during his prime, right late in his life.
Bobby Fischer was the first American World Champion at chess, and he ended up hating the game.

As part of the ongoing study, I’ve been seeking out the greats, including Bobby Fischer. Fischer was the first American world chess champion, and his victory came during the Cold War era when no one thought the Russians could be unseated. Fischer is a problematic character, he turned antisemitic and conspiracy driven as he grew older, but it is undeniable that he had a huge impact on the game. One thing I found interesting was an interview with him from late in his life, where he talked about how much he hated chess. This was when he was in his fifties or sixties in Iceland. He hated what he felt the game had become, that the game had become about memorization and preparation rather than the moves made in the moment.

This was brought up in the context of him discussing “Fischer Random” which is a variant of chess that he created. Today, it’s also called Chess960. The core is the same as chess, but what it does is it randomizes the back row of each players’ pieces, with a few rules, such as ensuring bishops end up on alternating colors, etc. This idea means that opening memorization goes out the window. You are forced to evaluate the board fresh each game. I’ve never played more than a handful of games of 960, but it is definitely interesting. I haven’t reached the stage yet where 960 / Fischer Random really entices me; I am still interested in seeing how far I can push myself at normal chess. But it’s there when I decide to explore it.

The truth about this post is that it has been in draft for several months, I wrote the very first draft in July of last year. It’s been that way because I didn’t know how to end it, to make a gratuitous chess reference: I couldn’t find checkmate. It was just me rambling about chess and talking about how I’ve interacted with it through my life. But I never reached a conclusion.

The ending to a game of Chess is always what one must keep in mind. My best rated victory on lichess came against a player 126 points better than me, and ended in 12 moves because my opponent missed an obvious checkmate. That sort of victory somewhat undercuts my satisfaction in winning that game, but the point is – I still won.

The winning position from the game I discussed.
Had my opponent played Nxc6 instead of Bxe3, they would have most likely gone on to beat me.

Playing for the future during games of chess, checkmate is what we strive for. Whether it’s an anaconda-like squeeze which slowly forces your opponent to retreat into smaller and smaller spaces for fear of losing pieces, or if it is a bombastic series of fireworks with pieces coming off the board after every move, so long as your king is left standing, that is all that matters. Or, sometimes, there are games where you just have to waste time, waiting for your opponent to make a mistake that allows you to slip in and capitalize.

Blog posts are worse than that. There’s no opponent to slip up. There’s just you and the keyboard and time. Time to write, rewrite, and rewrite again. Eventually though, you have to find your in, and exploit it.

When I sat at the desk in my room, the encyclopedia open in front of me, reading how the chess pieces moved I had no idea what this game would end up being to me.

When I sat across from my college dorm mates and played game after game after game of chess with them, I had some idea of what this game meant to me.

And now, as I write this, and think back over the past year of growth for me over the chessboard I see that this game means a lot to me. As a means of self improvement. As a tool for mental exercise. And as an outlet to channel some of my mental energy everyday.

Marketing graphic from Netflix for "The Queen's Gambit"
Overall I quite enjoyed the series, it won’t supplant Searching for Bobby Fischer as my favorite chess film but it is well worth the watch.

Chess is what you make of it. For some, that is as a narrative device in Netflix’s Queen’s Gambit – and that is absolutely okay. For some, like Fischer, they fly too high and burn out. Chess isn’t for everyone. Not because they can’t learn it, but because we’re all individuals who live unique lives and find fulfillment in unique ways. We play the game in our own ways, whether that game is chess, Magic, Fortnite, Settlers of Catan, or Dungeons & Dragons. It’s about getting enjoyment and enjoying the journeys these games take us on.

Your Life in Weeks

A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted a picture on his Facebook page, showing a visualization of this life in weeks. He had seen a similar post by another friend of his. The visualization came from a post dating in 2014 on the blog, WaitButWhy.

From the post:

It kind of feels like our lives are made up of a countless number of weeks. But there they are—fully countable—staring you in the face.

The goal is to give you a visualization of time. Doing so helps your brain comprehend things properly when it comes to time and your life. It does this, in my view, in two ways.

First, it forces you to ask questions about the important moments in your life. What truly is a defining moment? Matriculation of schools as a kid, changing jobs as an adult, getting married, death of family, etc. I have mixed feelings that there is such a long chapter from me joining Wizards, but at the same time, it’s that way because my life has reached a very happy stable point. I shouldn’t seek change for change’s sake.

Second, it is about visualizing things properly. As a kid, the time we spend in a school feels like forever. The time I spent at college felt like a long time, but in truth, it is nearly a blip on my life’s grid here. So it helps give you a concrete view of how your life is defined through the lens of time.

Sometimes life seems really short, and other times it seems impossibly long. But this chart helps to emphasize that it’s most certainly finite. Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got.

Given that fact, the only appropriate word to describe your weeks is precious. There are trillions upon trillions of weeks in eternity, and those are your tiny handful.

Your Life in Weeks on WaitButWhy.com

Initially, after seeing my friend’s Facebook post; I printed out the graphic planning to do my own coloring on it for visualization as he had, but I kept holding off for a few days. I just couldn’t motivate myself to figure out the week counts, etc. Then the idea of doing it in the browser came to me.

Yesterday morning, with the house quiet, I decided to code a digital visualizer. In all, it took me about 3 hours, but I reached a minimum viable product looking something like this:

Seeing my life laid out like this was a good thing. I’m a fairly optimistic person and looking at this I realized how much of my life is left ahead of me. To think about all that I’ve done and experienced in my life up to this point, and (hopefully) there is so much left ahead! It lives me feeling emboldened and excited.

Sure, I’m in my late 30s. When I was a teen, I would have seen myself as a grown up closer to death. I don’t see myself that way now. Obviously perspectives change with age.

I am very glad to have gone through this exercise to see what my life looks like. Seeing it from my finished project was rewarding for the few hours of work.

The above graphic is generated off of the following formatted list:

6/1/1987,c,Moved to Kansas
8/1/1989,c,Elementary School
12/1/1989,c,Moved to Orlando
8/1/1994,c,Gotha Middle School
8/1/1998,c,Edgewater High School
8/1/2002,c,Georgia Tech
12/1/2004,c,Left Georgia Tech
5/16/2006,c,Moved back to Orlando
10/22/2006,c,First date with Katie
3/16/2007,e,Mom died,#000000
7/28/2007,c,Work as a web developer
8/5/2009,c,Worked for CoolStuffInc.com
12/12/2011,c,Work at Wizards of the Coast

Each row is a format of “[Date],[Type],[Description],[Color (Optional)]”

  • Date – Self explanatory
  • Type – Either ‘C’ or ‘E’. C is the marker for a new chapter, which defines the color until the next chapter. E is for the event, which is a singular box.
  • Description – The text description for the entry
  • Color – An optional entry. You can choose your own color, if not it picks from a predefined list that tries to maximize visibility.

The above image is fairly opaque to look at. The actual implementation in the browser has it such that I can mouseover the first cell of each color block to see a tooltip of what that block’s description is.

I coded the implementation in PHP to generate HTML and CSS. It took me nearly three hours, all told. I had spent some time thinking it over ahead of time, but only the minimal amount of my pre-thinking ended up being useful as I was about 2/3rds through before realizing I had to re-frame my week thinking for this.

My biggest gains from this exercise were experimenting with CSS’s grid functions, which aren’t something I have any experience with. Additionally, working with dates is always a challenge when coding, and this was no exception.

As I mentioned above, I had to realize that the grid displayed on screen was not a weekly view of calendar years but instead (in my case) it is shifted to be the first event in the list. For me, the first week of each row is week 42 of the calendar year since I was born on October 22, 1983.

I’m not linking the implementation, or sharing it. I wrote it as a coding exercise for myself. I’ve shared the link privately with some folks, but I am not going to be sharing it broadly as I have no desire to further develop or maintain the project.

My First Novel

It was November, 2004. (Oh god, how is it that long ago?!)

Georgia Tech had opened a new student bookstore for that school year which was an upper level of a Barnes & Noble, replacing the previous one which was shockingly dank and cramped. So, it was a welcome change. The store’s first level was a normal store for the public and, as with most of their stores, it had a coffee shop.

I had made my way over to this coffee shop to meet with others participating in an online writing… thing, I had learned of called NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.

The goal was simple: over the course of the month of November, you wrote 50,000 words. They didn’t have to be good words, in fact they probably wouldn’t be good words. In fact, remove the qualifier of good/bad from your mind for this. Just put 50,000 words on paper, that’s all.

That meeting, as I recall, was a group of six or eight of us. From various walks of life, mostly students but some staff for Georgia Tech as well as person or two who simply lived nearby. I think I met with them once or twice more, but then school got busy gearing up for finals and I never finished my novel that year.

I’ve tried to do NaNoWriMo a few times over the years. Three or four times I think, though most of it was over a decade ago. Up until this year I always felt that November has never been a good month for it for me. School as I mentioned was gearing up for finals, or work always seemed busy, and then there was the Thanksgiving holiday… there were always plenty of excuses that enabled me to tell myself I didn’t have time for it and to give up.

This year, after a nudge from my brother Adam, I decided to give it another go. And, well, it turns out a pandemic was a fantastic for removing my barriers.

This year I “won” my first NaNoWriMo, and did so in only 22 days. I churned out 60,000 words for my first novel. As noted above, the novel isn’t good.

Look, it IS bad.

I’m not saying that to get anyone to try and convince me otherwise. I am saying that because first drafts should be bad. Over the coming weeks and months I’ll go back over it and work on improving the writing to passable or possibly publishable. I’ll fix typos, adjust grammar, rewrite sections, etc. I don’t know if I’ll ever share the novel. I think I will, but who knows?

What has been amazing to me is that now that I have written the story, and experienced the work that went into it, I can fully realize and recognize that it’s possible for me to do it again.

Covid-19’s impact on my day to day schedule definitely played a part into this. And I don’t mean working from home, I wrote this entirely off the clock. But instead by how it had cleared my schedule of being out of the house. But that clearance has made me see, I really could get up everyday and write for an hour before then getting ready and going into the office. Or I could do it at night. Or at lunch. The point is I now have done it and can see past the endless excuses life presents us as reasons not to do a thing.

While I am excited I did a thing (I’m referring to the writing of a book.) I’m more excited by the realization it led me to in regards to using my time for projects like this.

As this blog can attest, so often I sit down to write something and after a few sentences or paragraphs it gets abandoned, or it gets written and sits in my Drafts folder waiting for me to get around to editing it. And now I have seen that I have time, and I can no longer tell myself I don’t.

So, one of the things that motivates me when I undertake bigger projects – stats. It was that way during 2012 when I lost a bunch of weight, and it was that way for this. I created a Google Sheet for tracking my writing. It involved tracking each of my writing sessions, and for those sessions I would enter three things: The date, the current total word count when I was finished with the session, and the rough time I spent writing (in minutes, for ease of calculation.)

Around the third day I added a second sheet to my tracker that did a roll up of sessions into days. Did I need it? No, not really, but having it gave me a better view on a daily basis. And that daily view is more easily parse-able from a distance.

On the sessions sheet, I had it do some all-up calculations:

  • Words to Goal – Sure I could see my total and it was a single piece of arithmetic to calculate, but I had 75,000 words in my head so I wanted a quick look “how far am I from this count”?
  • Total Time: Tracking the total time spent writing, converting minutes into hours and minutes.
  • WPM: Words per minute. One thing I realized early on was I really had no mental model for how fast I was writing. So i was curious to see my words per minute as I wrote. I stuck pretty close to 30 words per minute with some varying levels.
  • Avg. Words per Session: Again, I didn’t have a benchmark to go against, but I was curious how much I was writing each time I sat down.
  • Projected Times: I had two of these, one for 50k words and one for 75k words. Both of these were very simple, calculate word count needed for each goal, then divide by words per minute. Easy peasy. Again, just a barometer for me to see a finish line.

Along with the tables of information I created three graphs:

  1. Tracking word count after each session for the straightforward progress (in the graphic above)
  2. Tracking daily word count, compared to a rolling 3-day average and my cumulative averages
  3. Tracking daily word progress against a trend line so I could see if I was falling behind my trend

How much did these charts help? Some! Were these sheets overkill? Quite possibly but I’m not questioning them so far.

I definitely had days towards the end where I was flagging, I was now confident I would finish and it was about getting across that line. Seeing I was lower than average by a lot motivated me to do another writing session for even just 20 minutes.

I wrote the entire thing in a piece of freeware called FocusWriter. Available for any platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) and is largely a basic word processor with some nice features. This tool worked best for me because it allowed me to write and be offline, or at least not have a browser window open. I opted for a black background with a neon green font color as the display style because, well, I liked the retro and distractionless design.

I am well aware of the fact that the browser is a blackhole for my time if I am not careful. I’m too tempted to click on another tab or check email or check tweets, etc.

I also discovered that I couldn’t really write while watching TV or a stream or anything. I could have it on mute (such as I did for part of the Election week coverage) but I really struggled to write while having an aural input other than instrumental or electronic music.

So What’s Next…

Inevitably people ask when they can read it, which I think is endearingly optimistic. The answer is: I don’t know. But, I have outlined what I think the next steps are for how I want approach fixing the novel.

This is my very rough roadmap to editing I’ve laid out for myself:

  1. Easy pass – Run spellcheck and fix obvious grammar issues. I wrote the novel without the autocorrect features turned on, time to pay for that choice. But, I didn’t want the squiggles of words or phrases distracting me from my writing. The other thing I’ll do during this pass is flag bigger issues. Does something not make sense? Is something awkwardly written? Is something a detail in the book which is important needs to be in line elsewhere? Anything that needs fixing but isn’t a low effort immediate fix will get flagged for later. (Est. time: 1 week)
  2. Flagged issues – This will be a longer editing pass as it will require more work. This is when I work through the flagged comments I’ve made and try to unravel what I was thinking during the haze of November. (Est. time: 3 weeks)
  3. Overall Edit – One more full read through and edit, this is just an overall review without any specific agenda other than improving overall quality. I think I will have this be two-three passes. (Est. time: 2 months)
  4. Alpha readers – IF I feel the story has merit, I share it with a handful of alpha readers to give it a read and start giving me feedback.

I am sure better writers than me will look at this list and think I’m doing it wrong. Please know I am not soliciting feedback on this process from the general public. I may change the method once I start down this road, we’ll see.

Part of this process is also asking myself what’s next. Is this a real book? Do I try and find a book agent and get published by a big publisher? Do I self-publish? Do I do something else entirely like a Patreon and a podcast of the story?

I genuinely don’t know. 

As of this moment, I am leaning toward the idea of self-publishing and exploring non-standard monetization strategies, but I have no idea if I will. I’m not looking to be Tom Clancy as far as authors go, just have a new side hustle to supplement income (being optimistic here) and share stories.

We’ll see. I am aiming to share the story with those Alpha readers in January/February, but that is also possibly wildly optimistic. After that, I have no idea when I expect to put the story in front of an audience.

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5 Oct.

1:33pmEnjoy the Best, Not The Latest, Media – Kartick’s Blog (kartick.substack.com) #

6:43pmThe Miracle Sudoku.


11:02pmThe Black Prism by Brent Weeks – ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 (amazon.com) I enjoyed a perfect timing as I ended my audiobook of The Black Prism as I walked up to my front door after tonight’s walk. The book was fascinating and brings a very unique magic in high fantasy. I found points of the book predictable but I still very much enjoyed it and eagerly await to get the 2nd book of the series via my Libby library rental app. #

4 Oct.

10:22pmTurk now runs Lubuntu 20.04. Technology update: I went ahead and updated Turk, my linux laptop, to the latest Lubuntu version. Up to now I’ve been running it on 18.04 which is from 2018. There was no specific reason for the upgrade, nothing about the previous install was a problem, other than curiosity to be on the latest version. It turned out to be a bigger issue that took several more hours than expected, but I am now fully updated and will be messing around with it.

I attempted to do a fresh install and was thwarted by the installation demanding the Lubuntu 18.04 CD-ROM for some reason (specifically, it wanted to use it to install GRUB the bootloader.) Why it couldn’t do that from the 20.04 USB drive, I have no idea. So I ended up redoing an 18.04 install and then having it run the full upgrade, which thankfully worked without issue. #

10:24pm – Also, I have the music from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog stuck in my head after seeing a TikTok that uses one of the songs. This is mildly annoying. #

Sep. 29 – Oct. 2

September 29

5:02pmPryzbylewski. I don’t know if this happens to other people or not, but aside from songs, I also get words stuck in my head. Over and over and over and over I’ll repeat the word in my head. These are all sorts of words, and come from all parts of my life. The latest one is a name, Pryzbylewski.

It was driven by an MLS player with a similar last name, and that triggered this name in my head, and it just bounced around over and over and over without me knowing where the name came from. I felt like it was a character in TV or a movie but I couldn’t figure it out.

I was imagining it was something like Breakfast Club, or some highschool comedy/drama sort of show. I had this vision of a teacher shouting at the bandana wearing young punk kid, Pryzbylewski. Nope. It’s Roland Pryzbylewski from The Wire. I finally gave in and googled it today.

And now I know. Hopefully knowing will flush the name from my head and I can move on with my life. #

10:50pm – I did not watch the farce that is supposed to be a debate between Trump and Biden. I had no doubt it would be nothing short of a shit show. From all the tweets I read and the short fact checks I saw, it was everything I expected and more. There was nothing to be learned by watching it, I would only watch it to point and gawk at the crumbling corpse of democracy. I can’t believe that disgrace of a human being is in the White House. #

September 30

12:48pm – I did a large upload to my Kindle yesterday of a number of books to be read. I’m about 1/4th of the way through A Mind At Play (a biography of Claude Shannon) but the new batch of books are urging me to read faster. I will switch to a bubblegum cleanse for reading after this bio, likely the new Dresden novel.

I’m currently listening to The Black Prism as an audiobook while I take my walks or for the rare times I get in the car for an errand somewhere. #

October 1

2:30pmNorthern Exposure was Filmed in Washington.

I had no idea that they used a town in Washington to represent the Alaskan town of the sitcom show. #

October 2

9:54amI’ve Got Some Things to Say. Let’s Do a WNBA Finals Preview. | By Megan Rapinoe (theplayerstribune.com) I’m just a girl in a Wubble dating her local team’s point guard. #

October 3

12:49pm – As I have begun doing more walking, I am often listening to podcasts or an audiobook. Currently I am making use of the app Libby to check out audiobooks from the library (thanks King County!) and honestly, wishing I had something like Google Glass to enable me to easily continue using my phone and tech without forcing me into the head down posture.

Imagining that I’d be able to compose blog posts, do emails, or even join a work call and watch the screenshares etc. would be extremely valuable to me. #

October 4

2:49am – Today was a delightful day, spent largely relaxing. I did some work on a presentation, though I’ll do more of it tomorrow. Otherwise I spent today watching streams, sorting Magic cards, practicing & studying chess, and watching soccer.

The Sounders won tonight, 3-1 over Vancouver under some very questionable officiating (in that the 1 goal for Vancouver came from a quite iffy penalty) – and tomorrow I’ll be doing more soccer and work.

There was a large heavy fog over the area all day. It felt like the true turning of the page for the season here in the PNW, and soon we will be blanketed in our comforting fall drizzle. I can’t wait. #

27-28 Sept.

September 27

12:13amMy Go-To Linux Apps to Install.

So I have had to re-install Linux on Turk (this laptop) a few times. I attribute most of it to user error as I’m a fairly amateur user to the OS, as well as some iffy hardware. In that time, I’ve figured out a handful of apps that are my must-haves that don’t come with the base minimal installation of Lubuntu:

  • Ulauncher – An app launcher which has proven very useful
  • Atom Editor – My favorite linux-based editor for coding projects
  • Redshift – A small app which handles the blue-light filtering
  • Timeshift – By far the newest of the apps on this list, but I have high hopes for it to help me with future issues and getting snapshots of the system
  • Filezilla – An old classic for my FTP needs with various web projects
  • Remmina – A remote desktop tool which lets me take over my Windows desktop


3:46pmLost Languages Discovered in One of the World’s Oldest Continuously Run Libraries (smithsonianmag.com) #

9:56pmLong-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance (nytimes.com) It’s not surprising. #

September 28

2:46pmThere is a formula that lets you calculate any specific decimal place in pi (en.m.wikipedia.org) #

8:07pm – Ending today relaxing with some side coding projects and maintenance, and watching the new season of Great British Baking Show. Exactly what I needed to unwind. #

9:56pm – “If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is grass in the beginning.”- Vincent Van Gogh

(Disclaimer: I have done some research trying to confirm this is a real Van Gogh quote. I haven’t been able to disprove it, but that does not in and of itself confirm it.) #

10:13pmPrince, Live at Paisley Park (1987).


Glowbug Coding Updates

Been a while since I’ve had any substantive updates. Right now I’m trying to fix some date & timestamp issues. A change I made introduced a bug which caused the timestamp on posts to be changed on any change to a post. Additionally there was a bug where the body of posts sometimes isn’t exported. I think I’ve tracked it down to a change I made, again, trying to clean up errant HTML introduced by my rich text editor.

Secondly, I realized last week that the quantity of blips I’ve made in Glowbug has reached the point where I need to introduce a search function so I can find posts in the past easier.

Lastly, on my new todo list is to add the feature to check links and identify links which have been posted previously. I don’t think I’d disallow it, but maybe mark it, or crosslink. Something along those lines. We’ll see where I land when I get around to implementing it.

24-26 Sept.

September 24

7:20amJexi (2019) – ⭐⭐/5 (imdb.com) Adam Devine stars in a comedy that is a commentary on society and people’s phones. It feels very much like a bad spoof of Her from 2013. #

4:23pmI have so many questions about the new Amazon flying security drone (theverge.com) #

5:25pmEnola Holmes (2020) – ⭐⭐⭐/5 (imdb.com) Millie Bobbie Brown is delightful in this and I look forward to a sequel or hopefully the start of a series of her detective adventures. #

September 25

8:22am – I am in the midst of reading “A Mind At Play,” a biography of Claude Shannon. I’ve just reached the part where he joins Bell Labs and thinking of that organization as I drifted off to sleep I began thinking of moonshot groups. Google, rather Alphabet, has the most well known in its X. But surely other companies today have it.

Bell Labs was funded by AT&T and an electrical company. The big companies in the world, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, all feel that they are on the scale that they should have moonshot teams. But what about Apple? Or Comcast/Xfinity/AT&T?

Just thinking how we would benefit from companies reinvesting profits into the future of the world as they pursue progresses and give great minds the freedom to explore and research things under a wide purview. #

8:32pm – “Consistency starts with consistency in your choices.” – Jose Mourinho #

September 26

7:09am – Hard drive died on my linux laptop today (not overall surprising, that drive is probably 13 years old.) New drive ordered for less than $60 and will arrive today.

7:35am – Yesterday I wrote my mayor an email, a quick note voicing my support for the implementation of social services to respond to 911 calls. I drew direct comparisons to those in place in Portland and Denver (in regards to social specialists who can respond to calls not needing police force.)

I got a reply shockingly quickly (literally in less than fifteen minutes.) She agreed with my request and noted that she had plans to propose funding for mental health professionals during every shift who could co-respond with police. While I would prefer them to be a standalone organization, I think this is a step in the right direction and I hope to see it brought to ballot soon. #

10:56pm – And here we are. This morning I had a hard drive failure. This evening I had a new hard drive waiting on my doorstep when I arrived home, and without issue it got installed and I re-installed Linux on it. I’m watching “Brave New World” on Peacock and while our world is far from theirs, I am keenly aware of the technology we have around us when even a generation ago computers lived in massive rooms and held a fraction of the power held in my hand on my phone, or in this notebook computer. #

Sept. 17 & 21

September 17

9:48am“Find the 4-digit number aabb that is a perfect square.” (futilitycloset.com) I didn’t solve this puzzle/riddle/question correctly. Seeing how they broke down the answer is very neat. #

September 21

9:02pm – I’ve been playing a lot of chess. It took me roughly 3 months to go from 1300 to 1600 on lichess.org, and then it took me about 3 months to progress from 1600 into 1700. Tonight I hit a new peak rating of 1753. For players on lichess.org, at this rating I’m better than roughly 3/4 of players on the site.


9:54pmBack on the Horse. I fell out of the routine of using GlowBug and let myself get sucked back into Twitter. I am going to stop myself from using social media and turn back to using this. #

14-16 Sept.

September 14

7:46am – Up at 4:45am courtesy of my dog as well as an early work stream. The joy of live events and the unpredictable nature of them. #

8:29am8 Simple Tips to Live Longer and Healthier (getpocket.com) You can read the full article, but here are the eight things:

  • Move
  • Eat real foods
  • Call your friends
  • Avoid (nearly) all supplements
  • Sleep 8 hours a night
  • Enjoy nature
  • Don’t smoke
  • Don’t drink too much


8:33amNo rain tonight 🙁.

We have been eagerly waiting for some rain up here to help combat the bad air quality and fires, it was possibly going to be tonight. Latest forecast makes it seem like that won’t happen. #

September 15

12:30pmDave Grohl is the coolest.


12:49pmChuck Feeney is officially broke, just as he planned (forbes.com) Broke is highly overstating things. He still has a $2 million retirement fund for him and his wife’s remaining life. However, I am very much not judging him for it. He’s given away over $8 billion during his life. #

12:53pmScientific American endores Biden (scientificamerican.com) #

3:24pmEve Online continues to provide amazing stories from within the game. (polygon.com) #

September 16

10:15am – I’ve been thinking about teaching history. Not me teaching history, rather the ongoing challenge of teaching history. Every year there is a new year of history to be included and perspectives being changed such that curriculum evolves and changes. We hear constant (and valid) criticisms of things that someone believes to be important being left off of standard curriculum.

Obviously, and logically, there is too much history for us to teach everything. At the same time, it is provably the wrong decision to not teach any history.

I suspect the right solution bears a remarkable similarity to Michael Pollan’s advice for healthy eating, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

“Teach history. Not too much drama. Mostly important events.” – Meaning that while it might be fun to do the popcorn bits of history, the truth is that it is clear that if we don’t teach history that people are too easily swayed by fake news and skewed views. America’s true history including the genocide and theft from Native Americans. The Holocaust. Civil Rights.

We need to move away from the elementary school history of pilgrims peacefully living with the indians. And we need to, from a young age, build up awareness of our and the world’s history. #

12:28pm – Had a doctor-prescribed chat with a dietician which ended up being much more of a food therapy session as my issue isn’t necessarily what I’m eating as much as it is how much I eat. She had some great insights:

  1. “Why this food?” – Be more mindful of what you eat and why you’re eating it.
  2. The Broccoli test – If you are going to the kitchen to eat, and you ask yourself, “Would I eat raw broccoli?” If the answer is no, then you’re not physically hungry, you’re mentally hungry.
  3. Screens make us passive – As many people do this day, I tend to eat in front of a screen. And she noted that doing so leads to eating more and eating without mindfulness.