Sunset over a snowy field with train station in the distance

Shoutout to the sweet elderly couple who mistook me for a bear on my lunch run (the lady shrieked) for the title of this post. I never thought this would be how I become a danger to my community, but here we are.

✍️ Journaling

The two-weeks-old experiment of journaling daily in Day One has been going well. The biggest benefit so far is I feel less stressed about making posts like this one complete (and y’all will thankfully be spared the TMI). I keep the Day One entries mostly bullet-point and fact-based, which removes a lot of the pressure of Writing a Proper Journal Entry which means I actually write things down. Sometimes they start short, but then I start dumping unprocessed feelings and *blink* an hour’s gone and I have two thousand words down, whoops. Is this … journaling? 🤷‍♂️🦋

Anyway, I’m enjoying it so far. Not that I haven’t had proof of this already, but it tells me again that for a habit to stick I need it to be 1) easy to initiate and 2) low pressure. Speaking of habits…

⏰ Habit Tracking

OK I’m hooked. I get it now. I should’ve been doing this for many years. Loop Habit (Android) is amazing because it doesn’t guilt me with streaks and its UI just gets out of the way.

So far it’s gotten me to read a little bit before starting work in the morning, meditate more, and rotate LastPass passwords (mostly) daily.

📺 Watched

  • Finished Harry and Meghan. Learned just how bonkers the relationship is between the British tabloids and the Royals. This show seems to have been review-bombed on IMDB, ’cause it’s way better than a 4.8/10.
  • Finished S1 of Formula 1. Despite the *ahem* formulaic structure, still enjoying the soapy drama of rich dudes obsessing over their go karts. Almost done with S2! Raced through this one. 🥁
  • 3/4 eps into Meltdown. Recommendation from the Learning from Incidents newsletter. I loved Chernobyl, and this show also satisfies my morbid curiosity about nuclear disasters without subjecting me to the more graphic of their consequences (yet?). I don’t need that trauma. Speaking of trauma,
  • The Last of Us is out! I’ve been psyched for this, so psyched that I started keeping a thread on Masto with my random thoughts about the show as it comes out. “As it comes out”, not “as I watch it”, because you’re damn right I’m watching it at 9:01pm ET every Sunday. I’ve played the game a few times, so know all the major beats, but really enjoying the adaptation and the accompanying podcasts. Glad that C is along for this soulful sufferfest too.
  • The Climb. I “lost a little respect there” for Chris Sharma, the main host of the show, just as he uttered that phrase to a competitor who was just being safe and pragmatic and following the rules instead of living some unspoken pro climber ideal. I generally dislike the Survivor format, but did see myself in the mental struggles of some of the competitors (❤️ Tiffany + Maisa). It’s totally casual/recreational for me, but I’m too close to the sport to quit watching. Venga!

📖 Reading

Montreal

C and I spent the week between Christmas and New Year in Montreal with a day trip to Quebec City. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us over the years. It’s quiet, calm, and charming.

Snowy street looking out on Bonsecours Market in Montreal
We stayed in the Old Port neighbourhood.

We got on the big Ferris wheel (La Grande Roue de Montreal)!

In Quebec we rode the sled behind Chateau Frontenac, which is always fun, but also tends to have a long wait (about an hour) at exactly the time we usually get there. C ended up catching a cold 🙁

We don’t have any goals for these trips other than just to rest. We wake up late and move at our own pace. I find this incredibly recharging, especially after a typically frantic end of year at work. To recover I just need a) a change of scenery, b) no plans or expectations, c) time.


2023 Resolutions

I want to revisit and update them throughout the year, so they are going on their own separate page. Starting with a rough, incomplete list.


Journaling, Mood Tracking, Habits

After seeing them get mentioned in the Remotely Interesting newsletter, trying out Daylio and Day One. I have a private WordPress install that I’ve been using to journal, but it’s been inconsistent. Hoping the convenience and better ergonomics of these apps helps me stay on track.

I haven’t used habit-tracking apps in the past, preferring to just create recurring daily todo items. I don’t want to do most of my habits every single day, though, so I’m trying out Loop Habits, which is free, clean, and supports “X times a week or month” recurrences. I can now have a “practice guitar three times a week” goal and it doesn’t bug me every day.


Misc

  • Music
    • Enjoying Orba 2. The Android app is really buggy, though, and doesn’t actually store loops, it seems. I was able to just use the voice recorder app to save my very first loop, but now WordPress isn’t letting me upload it. That’s probably for the best.
    • Can’t proceed with the piano course on Yousician because I need at least three octaves at level 2 and my minilab only has two. Gonna set that aside for now and just focus on guitar and the music theory Udemy course.
  • Got some new gear
    • Replaced my decade-old wired M500 mouse with a Logitech MX Master 3S to reduce the amount of wires on my desk. I’m noticing that the messiness has a tangibly negative impact on my ability to concentrate. I’m happy with the mouse! The wireless technology has gotten a lot better. Last time I tried a wireless mouse was probably a decade ago and it would literally stop working if someone was using a microwave nearby.
    • Replaced my aging Sony earbuds with Soundcore/Anker Life P3i. It’s a much cheaper pair, but I like the form factor and they fit better. I had to buy separate tips for the Sonys, and then needed to take them off before putting them in the case to charge (they wouldn’t fit otherwise).
  • Watched
    • both seasons of The White Lotus. Most entertained I’ve been by “a bunch of folks are on vacation” premise.
    • four episodes in S1 of Formula 1: Drive to Survive. C and I enjoy the manbaby drama while equally being horrified by these psychos.
    • started Harry and Meghan today. I don’t know anything about the royal family, but C recommended this, and I’m curious. Liking it so far!
  • Played
    • Nothing. And instead of buying games from my wishlist that are on sale, I … deleted a bunch of games off my wishlist. I’m just gonna buy them at full price if I really want to play them. Perhaps this will encourage me to actually work through my backlog of unplayed games I bought during previous sales?

sunset of a body of water with a few clouds in the sky

It was a very mixed year. The lack of focus and priorities allowed for trying more new things, helping me learn more about what I find fulfilling, but the constant experimentation also somehow left me feeling unaccomplished in a few areas that matter most. Focus and priorities will be a theme for 2023, but I’m also thankful for 2022, despite its transitory disposition:

  • Started updating this site again. It’s been tough going, especially when I stare at a blank screen, trying to summarize a week where there was both too much happening and nothing at all. I’m hoping that once it’s a habit it’ll get easier. I’ve been scaling down post length and letting go of remembering everything in favour of finishing a post.
  • Discovered DnD. I got really into it at the beginning of the year after watching The Legend of Vox Machina, which prompted me to start watching the original campaign, and even join one online for the first time. While it was a positive experience, I think I’d prefer to play in person, or at least with friends instead of matched-up strangers on StartPlaying.games. This may be something I set aside in 2023.
  • Skateboarding, and surf-skating in particular. Probably the best discovery of the year. While it’s not a very effective way of transportation, the flow of movement is incredible. Unfortunately, also very season- and weather-dependent.
  • Discovering ADHD resources. My self-assessment is definitive, but I wish I had actually pursued a clinical diagnosis this year. Still, the various articles and podcasts on the subject have been helpful to explain and destigmatize some of my behavioural patterns and suggest some new coping mechanisms. I foresee this being a health priority in 2023.
  • Running a half-marathon. Running is therapeutic mentally, but punishing physically. I’m glad I hit this goal, but I doubt I’ll push the distance in 2023.
  • Music. I constantly deprioritize it, but it’s pretty important to me! Doubling down here next year.
  • Climbing in Red Rocks. Only the second international trip since 2019. It was a rich and fulfilling experience. I don’t chase the grades anymore, and enjoy the activity all the more for it.
  • Automation and self-hosting. I keep meaning to post more about this. I converted an old gaming PC into an Unraid NAS early in the year, set up a bunch of automations using n8n (running on a small OVH VPS), and started self-hosting Mastodon on OCI. These projects were both useful and fulfilling, and also somewhat distracting from the more important things I could’ve been doing with my free time.
  • Somatic Abolitionism. I’m only dipping my toe into the work, but it’s been rewarding already. Will be investing more here for sure.

I haven’t quite sorted out my priorities for 2023 yet. I’m ok with this! I used to really stress out about not getting things done in time, but that’s never actually helped, so I’m learning not to force it. I do want to be more organized and intentional about my priorities this year, though. I know I’m gonna need to lean on tools and brain hacks to counteract my impulsivity and inattentiveness (thx ADHD). Physical, emotional, and financial health are gonna be high on the list. That’s all I know for now. I think 2023 is gonna be tough, but in a good way. I feel less avoidant and more capable than ever. Add a bit of gumption and I believe positive shifts are possible and likely.

😴🎹 Rest / Music

I’ve been off work since the 15th. It’s the first time that my holiday vacation a) starts a week earlier than for most people, and b) is booked way in advance (back in January!). I remember really having to convince myself to do it, but I’m glad I did. I liked this line from an article I read recently on “rest”:

rest is when you’re not associating your self-worth with what you have to do next.

The Riddle of Rest

It resonates with me, because to rest I really need to have few/no plans or expectations, which is not possible for things that are tied to my self-worth! I’ve spent the last week just getting to the point where I feel like I’m starting to relax. When I’m less stressed I can tap into my innate curiosity and my artistic side. That side is tiny and very much underdeveloped, but when I’m rested developing it feels fun and fulfilling, and not like an insurmountable challenge.

I’ve enjoyed diving more into music lately, specifically theory and production. I played piano as a kid, but a) I didn’t learn very much theory, and b) it was a chore that I was made to do rather than something I sought for myself. Music in general was either work or a luxury, which messed up my relationship with it. I’m slowly rediscovering how to engage with it in a healthy, playful, supportive way. After attempting to learn guitar a few times since my parents gifted me one on my 18th birthday, the last attempt—at the start of the pandemic and aided by Yousician—seems to have stuck. I still have structure, but I don’t have to perform for anyone but myself, which is incredibly liberating.

I picked up an Arturia Minilab 3 last week. It’s small enough to keep on my desk, so I’m hoping that even if my motivation waxes and wanes, at least the ability and prompt are easy and frequent enough to keep me learning and experimenting. I watched Taetro’s music theory for producers Youtube course, which was I enjoyed as it was simple enough that I could follow without getting overwhelmed. Also signed up for a more in-depth course on Udemy. We’ll see how that goes.

Arturia Minilab 3 (black)

Misc

  • Got my first tooth onlay put in. The temp one broke apart about a week before the procedure, but apart from hot/cold sensitivity going a week with essentially half a tooth was tolerable.
  • Still playing God of War.
  • Pushed a few updates to my Mastodon on Oracle Cloud repo to support upstream patches (such as to increase feed length) and bump the sidekiq threads (needed if connecting to relays, which I did this week).
  • Watched pretty much all Orba-related videos by Artiphon. They’re entertaining even if you don’t care about the hardware.
  • Went down a rabbit-hole learning about synthesis via this playlist.
  • Watched Avatar: Way of Water in AVX (first movie since 2019). Visually stunning, but spiritually vacuous. Recycled tropes and stereotypes, forced acting, predictable plot.
    • A fire alarm went off about 2 hours into the ~3 hour movie, so I didn’t get to see how it ends, and to be honest I wasn’t even upset. I got enough of the eye-candy and I couldn’t see myself caring about any of the characters if I hadn’t already by that point.
  • Watched Glass Onion (lovely!) and Triangle of Sadness (entertaining, but kinda pointless)

Upstairs cabin of a Go Transit train. All seats are empty.

I’ve been taking the Go train most Saturdays to head down to Toronto to see a friend and rock climb. I enjoy the almost empty trains both ways. The picture is from a return trip yesterday afternoon.

More point form notes as I’m figuratively crawling towards vacation right now:

Week of Nov 28:

  • Dumped the crypto I’ve been holding (very little). It started out as an experiment back when I didn’t know all the harm it’s causing. The current “winter” may pass, but I can’t be holding an “investment” that I hope will lose all value.
  • Started playing God of War: Ragnarok. I find the combat to be drawn out and repetitive, so I turn the difficulty way down. Easy mode lets me spend the minimum amount of time on it and focus on the story and exploration/looting instead. I appreciate that recent games have been adding more accessibility options, like auto item pickup. They have the curb-cut effect of benefiting abled folk like me.
  • Annual planning at work. It’s a much more intense process this year and has been contributing to my burnout.
  • Finally got our broken dishwasher replaced. The new one has a third shelf that feels like the ultimate luxury. I bet the 1% have four!

Week of Dec 5:

  • After more than a year’s break, I’m back on an on-call rotation. This was the first week, and thankfully, it was quiet (still a few hours to go though!). Among all the other times I’ve been on-call, this is the least informed and comfortable I feel about the domains I’m supporting.
  • One of my teeth needs a crown. Got a mold taken and a temp crown put in place while I wait for the real one (to be installed the week after). I’m noticing that despite having probably the best dentist I’ve had in my life I’m a lot more anxious about the visits.
  • Thanks to YT replaced a corroded bath tub drain, which despite taking only a few minutes felt like unlocking a new adulting level.
  • Adjusted the bridge on my electric guitar down. I had raised it when I first bought it a couple of years back as the buzzing sound when strings hit the frets annoyed me. I don’t mind that anymore. What I do mind is my fingers slipping off strings on high frets. Been particularly painful on a jazzy Yousician tune that uses a lot of 6th and 7th chords with half the strings muted. Couldn’t find the allen key that came with the guitar, so ended up ordering a variety set off Amazon.
  • Ordered an Orba 2. I want to eventually invest into a proper looper, but I love how accessible this little thing makes music creation. It may be something that I mess around with for a week and set aside, but that’s ok. I want to make it as easy as possible to engage my creative side.
  • Watched The Game Awards. I started following in 2017, but it’s only the third year that I do so live when it airs. I look forward to it! It’s hokey, and dorky, and I love it. I’m excited for Death Stranding 2 and Hades 2.
  • Started watching For All Mankind (S1), and Mythic Quest (S3)
  • Watched She Said. I love movies that show the slow and difficult work behind the major news events (even if fictionalized). Tough watch given the subject matter. Small thing I appreciated is the representation of husbands: they’re just doing normal parenting without it being a Big Deal.

hollowed-out tree trunk curled inside

Short-form notes are all I can manage right now:

  • Mastodon
  • Work is stressful right now and I’m part-time just managing burnout symptoms. Looking forward to my upcoming vacation starting Dec 16th.
  • I’m a bit sad that the surf-skating and biking season is over. However, excited for winter running. Need to get new traction spikes for my running shoes as last season’s rusted.
  • Still on a Tegan And Sara binge. I’ve had Hell stuck in my head all day today.
  • Discovered the ADHD Nerds podcast. It’s helping normalize some of my behaviours and feelings.
  • Went for a hike in Ardaugh Bluffs with C yesterday. Muddy after the recent snow-melt, but great to get away from home for a while.
  • No video games in the past few weeks, but C and I are still enjoying Andor (working through it slowly), and I just started watching Meltdown.

screenshot of my mastodon instance

TL;DR Follow the instructions on https://github.com/faevourite/mastodon-oracle-cloud-free-tier.

When you join Mastodon you lend trust to whoever runs your server, including trust that they moderate the content, keep the service well-maintained, and back up its data. This is easy if you know the people running it! If no one in your friends/family group is running a server already, and you don’t mind the administrative responsibility that services like Masto.host save you, you can host your own without breaking the bank by leveraging Oracle Cloud’s generous free tier.

I did this recently to set up my personal instance! In addition to the reasons above, I wanted to own my data, have a @glyphy.com handle, and be able to make small tweaks to Mastodon itself (like adding custom server emoji). The last two reasons are admittedly all in service of my vanity. Mastodon can verify my identity via links in my profile, and I have writer’s block when it comes to the custom emoji (typist’s block?). But personalization is the soul of IndieWeb and I’m here for it.

While I could just create a free account on Oracle Cloud, spin up a 4-core 24GB ARM-based compute instance (free tier limit) using the console admin UI, and follow the official Mastodon installation instructions, I wanted something more maintainable and automated. If (when?) I mess up my instance beyond repair I’d like to be able to recover quickly.

Here’s what I ended up using to accomplish this:

  • Docker for running everything
    • Core components: Mastodon apps, Postgres DB, and Redis cache
    • Caddy, to serve everything over TLS, with a certificate provisioned using its Cloudflare integration
    • Backups via Kopia
    • Healthchecks.io and Newrelic for monitoring (free tiers)
  • Ansible to install and configure all of the above
  • Terraform to provision the underlying cloud infrastructure
  • Cloudflare (free tier again) to manage DNS and provide some bot protection
  • Sendgrid (you guessed it, free tier) for Mastodon emails, such as password recovery
  • Pushover for cron job failure notifications
    • This is the only thing that’s paid here (optional, though). $5 lifetime per device. It’s more than paid for itself over the years.

I put all the scripts and manifests together into this GitHub repository, along with instructions on how to get it all running.


Below are just some notes about the different choices, mostly so I myself remember them when they invariably turn out to be wrong.

Docker

I don’t want to deal with random OS portability issues or package conflicts. Docker also has a nice side effect of requiring me to think about where things will be stored. An inventory mandate.

One thing I’m worried about is the difficulty of future updates that require some manual steps in a specific order. Docker-compose’s “bring everything up together” behaviour spells danger here. I don’t mind a little bit of downtime on this personal instance, but it may be a bigger deal otherwise.

Caddy

Serves as few purposes:

  1. Multiplexes the “web” and “streaming” containers over the same domain
  2. Enables compression
  3. Sets aggressive caching headers
  4. With its Cloudflare DNS module it can provision a TLS cert, which means that Cloudflare->Mastodon traffic is also over HTTPS, and I can just block port 80 entirely

Kopia

As far as backup software goes, it’s relatively young, but I like it. I recently switched to it for some personal backups. It’s like a fancier restic. I point it at Google Drive via rclone (baked into Kopia’s Docker image). If/when I run of storage there I may move to Backblaze B2.

Healthchecks

This is a recent discovery. It’s like a dead-man’s switch for cron jobs, and has its own copious free tier. I have it integrated with Pushover and email, but it supports many other notification systems.

Ansible/Terraform

I first tried using Ansible to provision the infrastructure, but (slowly) realized why Terraform is preferred for this sort of work. The latter keeps track of state. With Ansible, I think I would’ve had to save the IDs of every piece of infra somewhere, and then read it back on startup, to avoid having it try to re-create what already exists.

Cloudflare

I turned on its proxying for my Mastodon domain. I was worried at first since they seem to mess with traffic initiated by systems, but so far I haven’t noticed any problems.

I don’t feel great about using a service that supports right-wing extremists. I’d like to move away to one that’s less harmful. For now, I just promise myself not to give them any of my money. I don’t mind turning off their bot protection, and Caddy is able to automatically refresh a TLS cert, so they’re really only managing DNS for me right now.

Sendgrid

Their customer service is atrocious and the product is stale. But I already had an account, so that’s what I went with. I turn off all email notifications from Mastodon itself except for password resets.


Overall, I’m very happy with how this all turned out. Maybe one day OCI will clamp down on its free tier or my account will get more popular (unlikely) and I’ll be forced to pay up for more infra, which is ok with me. I also like the idea of being the only one to blame when something goes wrong with my own instance.

Calm lake at sunset

I, and seemingly half the internet, have set up a Mastodon account this past week as Twitter’s future is looking increasingly grim. I’ve been vaguely aware of the Fediverse, but never bothered to learn much about it until this mass Twitter exodus presented the opportunity. My account has been active on the bird site since 2007, albeit mostly in lurker mode. If it disappears tomorrow I won’t lose much. Starting up on Mastodon is an opportunity to reset. This may change as the network grows, but for now it feels safer to share more of myself on there. There’s no algorithm to display what I post to anyone who wasn’t looking for it. It’s a much calmer experience.

Some resources I’ve found helpful as I’m learning both the technical and the cultural aspects of it:

I’m still sorting out how to:

  • Follow threads. It doesn’t seem to be a native function, and I don’t want to reply just to get notified.
  • Mute threads. I haven’t participated in any active discussions yet, so it hasn’t been much of a problem.
  • Use the keyboard shortcuts without having to first click on a post. They don’t seem to work at all in Firefox on the standard view, but fare better in the advanced one. Even then, the default focus is on the post text field and no matter how much I tab I can’t seem to get the shortcuts to “kick in” unless I click on something first.

Overall I like it! I’m currently @[email protected] , but plan to migrate to my domain soon. Using it as an opportunity to refresh my rusty terraform/ansible skills.

Railroad in the fall

The workweek after the trip was a mess. Half of it was playing catch-up, and the other thrashing about trying to juggle twenty things, significantly moving forward none. I realize now that I started the week without a clear intention. It was just about “catching up” and “seeing where the different projects are”, which put me in a reactive state, open to all sorts of interruptions. I mostly helped others with their work. By the time the weekend rolled around I was feeling used up. Refilling my cup took all the effort, so this post didn’t happen.

I felt pretty awful Sunday night going into this last week. I knew I needed a reset of some kind. The trigger was a one-on-one meeting I had with my manager who, after I asked if the way that I help my team works for them, wisely redirected the question to me: “does it work for you?” I’m constantly deprioritizing my own projects in favour of those that I think others expect me to support. I’m getting better, but still struggle to know when to jump in to help and when to let folks find their own way.

I made a couple of small adjustments to my home brew Trello-based todo system so it always shows:

  1. My top priorities. These are the big projects and fuzzy work that’s important but tempting to postpone.
  2. Snacks. These are small items that aren’t critical. Having them in a list lets me both avoid them when I’m trying pick the next most pressing thing to do and also pick one up when I just need a quick win.

I’ve found it easier to stay focused last week. Even just enumerating my top priorities has helped me settle. Like, “phew, I have enough important work on my plate. I don’t need to do more.”

Will Larson’s recent post on Reminiscing—retreating to areas where one’s had impact in the past— serendipitously popped up in my feed. I’m constantly feeling that pull, especially when I feel I’m not being effective in the work that I actually should be doing.


Speaking of reminiscing, C told me about High School, a TV show based on the namesake years of Tegan and Sara. Tegan and Sara! This Business of Art and If It Was You have been mainstays on my minidisc and later Zen Micro players in university. More recently, Heartthrob accompanied C and I on road trips to Montreal.

Anyway, I binged the entire season, pausing to do pharmacy and food runs for C who’s fighting off a virus. Our dishwasher going on strike meant picking up its slack while listening to Crybaby on repeat. Having no plans this weekend resulted in The Great Devouring of two months of their incredible Substack and watching probably too many YouTube interview videos. No regrets.


Miscellanea:

  • Enjoying Andor. Despite the annoying main character I like the (slightly) more mature take on the Star Wars universe. The lack of Jedi woo-woo and the spy-thriller doublespeak between rebels who’ve infiltrated the empire makes for a show much more intriguing than the rescue-and-escort missions that are Obiwan and The Mandalorian.
  • Reworked my backups setup a couple of weeks back. I had Duplicati running on my Unraid NAS in the past, but it kept corrupting or not being able to finish backups. Replaced with Kopia + Healthchecks.io for monitoring.
  • Spent a bit more time than usual practicing guitar this week. Learning movable chords on Yousician, where you have to barre three strings with the ring finger, such as C and D. This has been pretty challenging as my ring finger doesn’t actually bend at the distal knuckle. I’ve got a long way to go to make these chords sound good, but progress is being made!
  • The Stoke™ is still high post-Red Rocks, so climbing indoors has actually been more fun than usual. I find I have a bit more confidence and can push myself just a bit further before giving up. Flashed a couple of 11a’s last weekend, which hasn’t happened in years!
  • Running has decreased, on the other hand. I don’t have any more goals for the rest of the season after doing the half-marathon recently, and my knee’s been bothering me a bit since then, so now it’s just about maintenance until springtime.