Noise & Technology

I have just turned music back on. A Manu Katche jazz album I've written about before.. The music is accompaniment to my writing and blots out some of the white noise produced by a network switch in my classroom. That thing's driving me crazy.

The switch have hung in a box on the wall of this classroom since before I took up residence in 2011, but early this year the tech folks replaced an old unit with a new one. The fan on this new one runs constantly and it is loud. I've just measured it at about fifty decibels. That's not technically loud, but is like a window air conditioner run all day long. The noise pulls me away from reading and writing.

I've asked the technology people for a fix, but they say it's not loud. Oh, well, in that case. I pressed them further, saying, it is loud in a classroom where we try to concentrate. They said, nothing we can do about it.

So it goes with technology. I'm to accept it without complaint. Or with complaint. Either way, I am to accept it, but I don't. This is not the way things ought to be.

I'm trying to read Wendell Berry's essay "Faustian Economics" which would be difficult for me in a silent room and is stretching my limits with that network switch running. One quote I've hung onto is this:

Our true religion is a sort of autistic industrialism. People of intelligence and ability seem now to be genuinely embarrassed by any solution to any problem that does not involve high technology, a great expenditure of energy, or a big machine. &endash; The World-Ending Fire, 209.

It is also embarrassing when someone questions the machines, technology, and constant burning of energy. The network switch is necessary for moving internet bits about the school. Live with it and stop complaining.

More and more I'm less interested in living with things that don't seem worth the sacrifices they demand. Music and writing, yes. A lot of technology and noise, no. There are other ways to live and most of the good ones are evident in our history and the traditions we all too often abandon.

I'll return to Wendell Berry now, as best I can with that switch's fan running. It would be bad for me to go up there and unplug it. Terrible in fact. It would be a violation of our true religion. Hmm, come to think of it, that sounds like fun.

Pundit Clowns

A friend tweeted a comment about Skip Bayless, a sports pundit, who was criticizing Lebron James. Something about James not hitting a high enough percentage of free throws this season, calling him out for it. Surely at that rate Lebron is not the greatest of players. So said Skip Bayless.

My friend's tweet: "Somehow this clown still has a job."

Clown is right. A clown puts on a show to entertain, makes a fool of himself, and acts as if she or he doesn't know the fool they have become. Rodeo clowns make spectacles of themselves to distract the small-minded bull so that the thrown rider can escape the ring. The clown's job is to be ridiculous but also to get us to watch.

I don't enjoy clowns. I don't have any irrational fear about them. It's just that they don't do much of anything for me. Were I to be thrown by a bull, my opinion would likely change, but I'm not about to join in that nonsense.

Skip Bayless is paid to be a clown. That's why he still has a job. And people pay to be distracted by clowns who point at something inconsequential such as the performance of someone playing a game. There is a history of good sports reporting that both acknowledges that sports are games but also understands the art of them, the poetry and ballet involved, but most of that is lost to the "look over there!" of clickbait and twenty-four-hour sports coverage.

I find the only solution is to look away. I only wish that I was as good during the NFL season as I am throughout the endless basketball and baseball seasons. Do as I say, not as I do. Avoid the pundit clowns and stick with the reporters and writers. Bayless ain't no reporter or writer. He's more of an asshat. You know what to do with those, don't you.

Sports pundits, more often than not, seem entitled and incapable. They can't play the games and so they sit on the sidelines forever pointing out the flaws of those who do play. I understand criticism, but that's not what the likes of Skip Bayless are pedaling. Instead, it's petty, childish, taunting for the sake of entertaining the other kids on the playground. I don't want to be one of those kids. I'd rather play the game myself or watch the pros play it, preferably with the sound off or live and in person with no pundits getting in the way.

To-Do List

All morning I have felt jacked up and slightly anxious. Not worried, but excited like the molecules in a solution set to boil. Before six this morning I was already thinking there was too much to do. Rather than calm down about it — why be reasonable? — I spun up into an internal frenzy. Three hours later, I'm still jacked up.

It might help to write a to-do list:

  1. Call someone about replacing our leaking roof. Call three someones and compare.
  2. Get a cash-out mortgage refinance to pay for the roof, new windows, maybe a new driveway. It's great that all of this falls apart as I'm switching jobs and our daughter goes to college. Sigh.
  3. Finish school and quit. Twelve days of school remain. Thinking of the last day is good excitement but having a dozen days left is deeeeeeeeeeeepressing.
  4. Help get my wife a new job. Got any suggestions?
  5. Learn everything about my new job. This may require about five years. Sigh.
  6. Do laundry. There's something I can handle!
  7. Lose twenty pounds. Please pass the dougnuts.
  8. Finish the three books I'm not really reading. Or quit reading at least two of them and get into something good.
  9. Have I quit my job yet? How about now? Now?
  10. Talk with Mom's financial planner, meet with lawyers, learn the basics of investing, retirement planning, long-term care, wills, trusts, and whatever else. How does next Tuesday sound to get that all done?
  11. Write a blog post. (Hey, this might be one of those.)
  12. Write a poem. It has been ages. Of course, before that I need to...
  13. Read poetry. I haven't made time for that in ages either.
  14. Go to my daughter's choir concert. Yay!
  15. Quit job. Okay, maybe finish the twelve days first. Damn it.
  16. Figure out our retirement, insurance, savings, paying for college, and how many records I can buy before bankruptcy. Brother, can you spare a dime?
  17. Remember Dad. He might not know what to do, but he sure seemed like he did.
  18. Breathe. Maybe meditate. Get some sleep. Run. Enjoy real solitude (time alone with my thoughts, free from anyone else's).
  19. Make to-do lists.
  20. Crumple and toss the lists away. Do just one thing right now. Or do nothing.

I still feel jacked up. Let me print this and do #20. It might feel better.

Workflowy: A Good Tool

This is not a life hack. I'm not against life hacks per se, but productivity is overrated. I prefer a little inefficiency. I want to describe a tool, not a life hack.

Choose tools carefully. Nicholas Carr writes, "a tool that simply smooths and oils our way, that speeds us to the execution of an impulsion has a deadening effect" (qtd in "Productivity And The Joy Of Doing Things The Hard Way" by Rob Walker). Wendell Berry suggests nine rules for choosing new tools:

  1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
  2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
  3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
  4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
  5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
  6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
  7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
  8. It should come from a small, privately-owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance or repair.
  9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

My fountain pen, kitchen knives, and coffee grinder have proven to be good tools. Writer: The Internet Typewriter is an excellent distraction-free writing tool for the computer. My running huaraches, turntable, framing hammer, and many others are tools with which I get things done.

Beginning a new job, I need a tool to help me get stuff done. I've rejected Evernote, Google Docs, and OneNote in favor of the ridiculously named Workflowy. It is a good, simple, plain tool that does one thing extremely well instead of trying to do everything.

I came into computing in the eighties with a computer with no hard drive, no mouse, and no graphics. I wrote on a bare-bones editor known as Galahad which is for some reason still available for download. Computing consisted of a blinking cursor on a monochrome screen which is about what Workflowy offers three decades later. It opens to a blank screen on which I simply typed a heading, hit enter, typed the next, and so on.

Workflowy1.png

The first three are job-related. Under Personal I have created two projects by hitting enter to get a new bullet and tabbing so that new bullet becomes a subheading like in an outline. Hitting enter after that created a second subheading.

Workflowy2.png

Both of those projects are broken down into small pieces by hitting enter and tabbing just as before. The resulting structure is intuitive to the point of being obvious.

Workflowy3.png

The subheadings can go on and on and each thing can be struck through on completion. Completed tasks can be hidden or just collapsed out of the way. When I'm done with the amplifier repair I'll mark it done and collapse it's sub-tasks.

Workflowy4.png

A good tool should be simple and intuitive like the iPod with its click wheel or the first car you drove. Those things make sense like pen and paper. We're wired for them. Workflowy feels like that. It makes sense and is useful from the word go.

I've used it for two weeks and want to keep using it. That's a good sign. Workflowy helps me get things done and feels good as I use it. So far, it's a very good tool. Not a life hack but a good tool. I'm all about that.