The Check-in. April 2018.

This month has flown by. One of the busiest in recent memory.

I was out of town every weekend in April doing something. Which was fun, and exhausting. In the spirit of that this post will be short and sweet and totally miss details. Always more to do.

The business didn’t stop me from keeping on those #hashtaggoals.

Political Stuff

In terms of political stuff, I moderated my first debate/town hall/forum for two of the Democratic candidates for IN-4. It was a fun, new experience that I would not mind doing again. I’d wish I would have probed on some of the answers, but I was so focused on getting through the many questions in time for the audience questions that I got sidetracked.

Here is the video for the event!

Podcast

Like all good people who are tragically online, I’ve started a podcast with my cousin, Jay Pavlina! It’s ostensibly about game development and programming, but we touch on some weird, wild stuff as well. Jay explains more here. Check out our first episode! We are recording episode two this weekend, so stay on the lookout for that.

That VG Goodness

Upgraded the setup once again to new degrees of greatness/completely unnecessariness.

Firstly, I got tired of Tim and Matt play streaming in potato quality, so I went to Purdue Surplus and grabbed the best machine they had there for $50. It needed RAM and HDD, and I had that. It proved to be a choice decision as the machine can stream and record in 1080/30 (limitation of the capture device I have) to Twitch.

Second, after trying for a while I was able to snag a gscartsw_lite, which allows me to have all my old consoles connect via RGB without having to switch. This also provides dual outputs so I can hook it up to my upscaler as well as my CRT television. In essence, I can now stream to Twitch, play on the HD TV and play on the CRT all at the same time. It’s very cool! (Like, I think it’s cool) It works, the problem is the SCART cables I bought are of surprisingly low quality and introduce an abundance of noise to the signal. I have some much better (and sadly, more expensive) SCART cables coming from the UK as we speak.

Running

Let’s see where we are this month:
April 2018: 75.1 Miles
April 2017: 30.9 Miles
Difference: +44.2 Miles
Year difference from 2017 (as of this post): +176.7 Miles

Whew, what a month. 2018 is proving to be wild.

The Check-in. January 2018.

It has been just over a month since I wrote my 2017 wrap-up and my look ahead to 2018.

In the spirit of not abandoning this and tying to actually see these goals come to pass, I want to do some occasional check-ins to evaluate progress and direction. It is like taking home everyone’s favorite part of work, evaluations.

Organizing and Time Management
I always have this idealized system in my head of organizing tasks. It’s intricate and across many different systems. Those are also the problems with this. I use it for a little bit, but the time investment into upkeep tend to detract from it as well. I’ve decided to err on the side of pragmatism and abandon this idea and go for simplicity. Right now I’m working out of my original todo list of choice, Remember the Milk. It is simple, but allows for granularity if need be. I can easily plop tasks in it and I check it regularly. It’s been incredibly effective so far. This paired with a robust Google Calendar, which at this point look like a rainbow mated with a spreadsheet, have kept me out of trouble and on track.

Running and Fitness
I didn’t run as much as I would have liked last year so I am trying to do more of that. The weather is being kind of a fart right now, more snow than I would like, but I am plowing ahead. Plowing. Snow. GOD. I’M SO FUCKING FUNNY.

In January of 2018 I’ve run 53.3 miles including one half-marathon despite cold. In comparison, in January of 2017 I ran 18.7 miles. An improvement of 34.6 miles. That is solid! To make this a reality I have bought myself a balaclava and it has changed my life. I’d like to keep this trend going. I’ve applied again to run in the NYC marathon, and that would just be the cat’s pajamas if I were able to run that.

In addition to running, I’ve been lifting and finally worked yoga into my schedule. Sunday’s are for yoga. It’s a good, chill day to do that. I’ve been switching between P90X Yoga X and P90X3 Yoga X. They both have their strengths. P90X Yoga X is 1.5 hours so it’s a pretty big time commitment and is much harder to boot. I like the variation, though. I’ve managed to do this every week in January, and I’ve noticed it has made a big impact on my overall shoulder strength and my flexibility.

I need to start up Triathlon Tuesday’s though. That was on hiatus while my tattoo healed up because I could not swim when I did that, and never started it back up. February, get back in the pool.

Video Projects
I have made zero progress on my Twenties video project, but I do have a decent excuse, which is I’ve been editing all the talks from the Resistance Fair I helped put on with my Indivisible group. Editing talks, especially those with PowerPoints is a bear, at least on a shoestring budget. All the PowerPoint slides have to be exported as images and placed by hand where the slides change. Tedious. I will say one of the most satisfying feelings though is combining disparate sources into something cohesive. This was the case for the talks. The place we held the fair at had mics set up so I was able to leverage their mixing board. I piped the final mix out of the board to a USB soundcard I bought for like $10 to my laptop. I had my GoPro knockoff up near the stage recording with the fisheye to be able to cover the expanse of the stage. People were also asking us to livestream the event, which I didn’t think at first would be possible, but I cobbled it together at the last minute. I used the webcam that I normally use for Skype calls on my desktop to record video and the output from the mixing board along with some custom backgrounds to put the stream together. I used OBS as the stream software, which I recently learned thanks to something I will talk about a little down the page. I am glad I did do the livestream, too because Audacity, which I was using to record the audio output from the mixing board managed to corrupt the first part of the talks. I was able to snag the audio from the stream to substitute that. Overall, all the talks turned out really well. I had someone come up to me at a meeting and tell me they really appreciated whoever put those talk videos together. So, that felt nice.

Btw, I did do a talk on Net Centrality at the Fair. Check it out!

I am working on making the process better next time we do an event though. I know my GoPro knockoff can output a video stream over Wi-Fi, so if I can snag that, an audio stream, and a get a capture card for whatever laptop is outputting slides, I can livestream these with similar results without me having to do post editing. This is a good segue into…

Automation
This is a big one for me. I am a programmer, this should be second nature by now, but I do have to put the work to make this happen.

One thing that was first on the chopping block was automating Tim and Matt Play, the hit YouTube let’s play I do with my friend, Tim. It ate up way too much of my time. From the setup to the tear down, to the editing, it was taking time I don’t have away for something that is purely a fun side project. I knew I could combine the audio and the video together initially if I just sat down and set it up. In addition to just having a final product done and ready for upload sans editing, I figured I could livestream this on Twitch as well. I changed my whole living room setup, too. It’s much more functional, clean, and organized. I also took some old PCs gathering dust in my parent’s basement to Frankenstein a PC dedicated to streaming so I wouldn’t have to involve my laptop in the setup process. It’s super old, and can’t stream at HD resolutions or do animated backgrounds, heck the processor is buckling even streaming what it does, but it works.

The final product now means I can stream from any of the consoles I have hooked up with the touch of a few buttons (this includes retro consoles hooked up through my Famemeister upscaler). I’ve created two templates for our show, 4:3 for retro stuff and 16:9 for modern stuff. I’ve also embedded chat into our videos for friends who stop by when we are streaming. I has been neat to see that happen.

The bonus byproduct of this has been Tim and Matt play has had a regular schedule for almost all of January (Thursdays at 8:30 PM). This has never happened. Another benefit is that I’ve learned OBS. This helped immensely as, for instance, if you needed to put together a livestream for an event at the last minute. So, this whole thing has been totally positive.

Grad School
Surprisingly, I have actually made inroads here as well. Part of what makes this so hard is getting back into the mental state of sitting down and studying. I totally lost my groove with that after graduation. This month, I’ve been focusing on getting my study mode back. My approach has been two fold. One, I learned that Duolingo had Japanese lessons, which I did not realize. So, I’ve been doing daily lessons in that for almost two solid weeks. It’s nice to be studying that language again, and not just Kanji flashcards, but actual grammar and vocabulary. Japanese is cool.

In addition to that, I’ve been reviewing some math. Not only is this necessary for the degree I want to pursue, but it is fun to see this stuff again. This was started by a video I watched on YouTube about the Fourier Transform. It might seem arbitrary, but the Fourier Transform was used so heavily in my later engineering classes that it put me back in that mindset.

From there I started watching his Essence of Linear Algebra series and breaking out my old textbooks to do some practice problems. He does a great job of representing geometrically the concepts covered in Linear Algebra. I’d like to tackle differential equations next. Isn’t math awesome?!?

Bonus
My final thing has been starting a real software project I’m doing for Indivisible. I’m approaching it as professionally as possible, and taking all the things I’ve learned from working in enterprise(ish) software development and applying it to my personal project. That means clear, well-commented, robust code. Not hacky, thrown together stuff. It also means source control and task management. Right now, I have remote git repos set up and a task management system established. I am actually making progress, too, which is awesome!

January has been exhausting. This has been a good exercise though as in hindsight it looks like I was able to get a lot done. Gotta keep it up!

A republic, if you can keep it.

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

This quote is attributed to Benjamin Franklin — who knows if it’s apocryphal or not. I never gave it much thought until recently. Someone gave it as a toast at a cook-out I was at recently and it kind of stuck a chord.

Here’s the thing, this past year, I’ve become a little political. OK, OK, a lot political. I never really intended to, but my conscience kind of thrust it upon me. The 2016 election had a profound effect on me, in ways I didn’t fully anticipate. After everything, the vitriol, the sexual harassment tape, the racial dog whistles, the lack of constitutional and governmental experience and knowledge, after all that he still won. I suppose I was naïve in thinking that there wasn’t a contingent of people who would ignore all that and still pull the lever for him. I never believed there was 0% chance he could be elected, but I still thought we’d all come through and keep this man out of the oval. Well, dear reader, I’m not sure if you have been around the last 10 months, but indeed that is not the case.

The day after Donald Trump was proclaimed victor, I felt sick. I’m sure many of you can commiserate. But beyond the physiological manifestations, I felt powerless. Powerless to affect the future. In my life, I’ve felt existential dread about what comes next. I had real trouble with college, and there were times when I felt the walls closing in on me with what my future would look like. I still have dreams where I am told I didn’t have the requisite classes and credits to graduate and they rescind my diploma. These, however, were circumstances of my own making. Those outcomes were about me not spending enough time focusing on school work. This, this was a different feeling. This felt like I didn’t have a positive future, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. There was no strict schedule to which I could adhere, or amount of time I could spend in an isolated corner of a library that would affect the outcomes.

For weeks afterward, I put myself on total media blackout, social or otherwise, because I was, frankly, scared of what I’d read. Those weeks were hazy. This is quite hackneyed, but while nothing had really changed, everything seemed different.

The media blackout only lasted so long, and the pendulum swung the other way. I became glued to the news. I remember I would feverishly refresh the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN websites for any news that came out. It was destructive. I knew it was destructive, and I knew I couldn’t stop. The more I read the same reports regurgitated five different ways, the more frenzied I would become. I know my friends and family noticed.

There was a day that switched perspective for me though. I remember it because it was just a great day. One of those days that stick in your mind. I mentally told myself to take a note, try to store it away for days to follow.
It was a confluence of several awesome things. My friend Katie wanted to film a movie for her husband’s birthday present, a parody of the Drunk History series, but applied to the life of her husband, Joe. She asked for my help and I agreed. I love making movies. It goes back to my high school days. There is something about the process that just hits me in all the right places. Maybe it’s the goofing around with friends in front of a camera, maybe it’s turning the chaos of the raw footage and forging it into something cohesive. I’m sure it’s all of it, but before I go off and wax nostalgic about my high school movie days, let’s get back to the focus of this post. On top of filming, that day also happened to have unseasonably warm weather. Here is the kicker, and really what matters in the context of this post, that day was the Women’s March. I saw all these women, all these people, come out in droves to protest. I saw local protestors gathering, I saw the aerial shots on Twitter and Facebook. It was just this crazy force. The march wasn’t specifically about the current administration, there was, however, some focus on it. It was really a sight to witness. I remember feeling something I hadn’t before, a sense of comradery; maybe we could really do something about this mess.

We grow up being taught history about the hows and whys of collapsing societies. We learn about the burning of Rome and the rise of Nazi Germany. We are taught this, ostensibly, so we can learn the lessons, and not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. Our film, television, and comic book heroes are all imbued with a sense of doing what’s right despite its unpopularity. Heck, even many religions have core tenants that teach these morals. Despite all this though, it’s hard to recognize when these apply and even harder to act. Well, the people that marched that day showed me I needed to act.

The next step however was how, exactly, to act. I had no clue. I started thinking what I could do alone, came up with some ideas, and even consulted with some of my more politically savvy friends. I quickly came to the conclusion that doing this alone was, frankly, arrogant, and not going to work. I did see some murmurings of a Science March that might be being organized in DC. Being a man of science and having been inspired by a march, well it was a match made in heaven. I was going to go to DC and march. Once the details got hammered out, I got my friend Jeff in on it, and we would be on our way to DC on Earth day. This was my first toe dip into the world of activism. I was jazzed.

I was sitting here with this new energy, and a little courage, and nothing to do with it. I started looking around for local groups doing stuff. There were a few groups that popped up in my research. I saw the ACLU doing a lot, at least on social media. Raising funds, and fighting some of the policies already being implemented by the Trump Administration. They had an event to kick off their People Power campaign. I signed up to go, but I waffled about it quite a bit. I knew no one going, wasn’t sure what to expect, and was pretty anxious about the whole ordeal. I did finally decide to go, and it while the event wasn’t much more than a live stream and a little more information about the ACLU, it was great to see these other people there. People who never really had done political stuff before, but felt compelled to seek it out under the circumstances.

The other group that came on my radar was something called Indivisible. It wasn’t really a group at the time, it was just this guide. It was written by ex-congressional staffers for ways to contact and pressure your representative to, you know, represent you. This being another way to say, do their jobs. It was practical advice; actionable items, instead of aspirational thoughts. I had joined the local Indivisible group on Facebook, which I found through the national organization’s website. There happened to be a meeting the next day and having survived the ACLU encounter, I decided to attend.

That was the second turning point. It wasn’t a lot of people, but it was more than I had envisioned. It was really a bunch of serving tables in an empty room in a library, but it was the people that made it. People who came from various backgrounds, and age ranges. These were people who didn’t like what was going on and wanted to do something about it. It was awesome. I found it. I found the group I was looking for.

Honestly, things kind of snowballed from there. It’s hard to say when things really took off, because in a lot of ways it still feels like we are getting our stuff together, but we have all come so far from that room I first attended a meeting in.

We’ve helped in the defeat of the dismantling of our healthcare system. We’ve held protests. We’ve attended street fairs. We’ve registered voters. We’ve recruited new members. We’ve incorporated. We’ve even got T-Shirts!

Personally, I’ve learned so much about local politics, government, and just how much people actually do influence these. I hope to learn much more going forward.

To see how much people do care, is truly inspiring. People who take time out of their already busy lives to contribute to a better country, a better society, and a better world. It is what gives me hope.

I’ve glossed over a lot of the details the formation of what is now Greater Lafayette Indivisible because that story is still being told. I hope I can come back later and fill in the rest of the tale.

I said earlier that after the election I felt powerless, that I felt like I didn’t have any control over what would happen next. Greater Lafayette Indivisible has given me back a sense of control over that. For that I will be forever grateful. I can’t predict the future, and it might all be for naught, but it’s hard to see that happening seeing the dedication of the people around me.

I started with a quote so I’ll exit with one, too.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

I’m done doing nothing.