Note 39: Let's try this again

When life outpaces my ability to put out a weekly newsletter.

Here’s a quick look behind the scenes of this newsletter you’re reading now: In the Olden Times (up until a few weeks ago), I would write these weekly typically by assembling them the week before piece-by-piece, and do a finishing editing pass (with mixed results) on Wednesday before pushing it out over e-mail and on Facebook. As I write this now, I (and only I) can see last week’s paragraphs about AMC’s nutty last week on Wall Street, me selling my shares to put into rocket stocks, and some thoughts on the Elite Dangerous: Odyssey expansion.

I had that much ready to go last Tuesday and was working on some thoughts on Google’s (IMHO) unnecessary Android 12 UI redesign (video below) which seems more focused on allowing some Google designers to earn a bonus than solving any concrete user problems. (Quit changing Material Design on me, dammit!) My take on it wasn’t quite gelling, and I vowed to come back to revisit it and either improve it or replace it with something else.

Here we are one week later, with last Tuesday’s newsletter in the same state it was a week ago. I’ll be deleting those paragraphs and instead talk about what’s been going on between last Tuesday and this Tuesday so I can get last week’s newsletter out this week, and be on track to write to you all this weekend from Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Sailing. It’s not a just sport, it’s a lifestyle (and new language).

The biggest disruption over the past few weeks has been my Crew U class at the Chicago Yacht Club. To recap, this is an eight-week class to teach me to be an asset (as opposed to ballast) on a racing sailing ship, and I’ve been BUSY putting my best foot forward and being the best student and n00b sailor I can be. Kind of like a good college course, this endeavor has been one where I’m “officially” attending class for three hour on Tuesday evenings, with multiples of those three hour blocks spent reading or getting hands-on experience on the water throughout the week.

This may surprise some people, but I’m a much better hands-on learner than I am a straight-up book learner. For one, I’m crap at straight rote memorization, as the audience who attended my one and only time as a thespian will attest. (In my junior year in high school, I was the male lead in Bull in a China Shop by C.B. Gilford - not the newer play with the same name about lesbian suffragettes.) This means that I’ve gotten out on the lake at least once a week over the past couple of weeks, which end up being day-long engagements.

Now, here’s the thing about going from a fellow who grew up in a land-locked state to trying to be an asset to a boat and crew that runs the famous Mackinac race every year - the book learning is certainly helpful, but it’s still like me trying to learn to play a sport I’ve hardly watched while picking up a foreign language at the same time. If you parachuted me into Hindu India and told me I needed to become good enough to play and not botch a cricket match, that would be like me picking up sailing these last few weeks.

Fortunately, I’ve been on a boat on the weekends with a crew that values practice and we’ve spent our time out on the lake drilling while sailing. On my first outing, I worked the mast hoisting sails and managing the connection of the spinnaker poll to the mast when we jibed. This last weekend, I was managing the other side of the spinnaker pole in the cockpit, controlling when to take up and ease the downhaul and the topping lift. Later in the sail, I practiced controlling the guy line that positions the spinnaker pole, and was responsible for trimming the jib.

If that previous paragraph sounded like gibberish, what I just dumped on you is the sailing equivalent of me proving that I can speak in the basic present tense in Spanish. It was gibberish to me three weeks ago, and evidence that I am learning something. And behind each bit of jargon is a bit of hands-on knowledge and equipment that accompanies it, which is what allows me to form the sentences in the first place. I’m much better at picturing what I was actually doing and naming things, than coming up with a list of names and trying to fit them to processes and parts.

Despite everything I’m learning, I’m still feeling totally out of my depth (an apt phrase for water sports), and suffering from an inverse Dunning-Kruger effect. (I skipped the first half with the unearned false confidence in own ability and am firmly in the “more I learn the more I realize how much more there is to learn” stage.) So, with that in mind, I’ll have some time on the water tonight at class, and I’ll likely force myself to actually race tomorrow as part of Chicago’s Skyline Series / Beer Can races before taking off on a trip to Arkansas to visit family in a rental house in Hot Springs.

To say that this style of learning is anxiety-provoking is a bit of an understatement. However, despite the personal mental discomfort, I still feel that it’s the most effective method (for me at least), given that all levels of the mental stack, starting from the intellectual book-learning part that I use most of my time, down to the subconscious “muscle memory” level where I can stop thinking about what I’m doing, and focus on doing it and doing it well. Learning in this style is not unlike a filtration process, where knowledge that should be good in theory is forced through smaller and smaller holes to remove and absorb impurities and other garbage that makes the process worthwhile.

Aside from the learning side of things, I’m also butting heads with making sailing class and practice work alongside my other obligations such as running my own business and a pretty busy start to the summer for our residential complex (three units up for sale at the moment, new grass to plant now that we have sprinklers, and an election to coordinate and candidates to recruit for the half of the Board selling their units). On the business side of things, I have a few projects that need to lift-off - and just two full work days left this week. I don’t have to invent anything new - just assemble components that I already have and load content into them - but that still needs to be up and working by Thursday morning. And since I’m going to class tonight and sailing tomorrow evening, I need to figure out how to balance that schedule. I’ll leave my laptop in the office both days, and I may swing over to pick it up after the race tomorrow. It all makes for creative schedule juggling.

So, if you’ve gotten to this point, you may be asking why do this or do it this way or do it at this time? My general philosophy on stuff like this is one of maintaining and stretching the bounds of one’s personal capability, learning, patience, and attitude. Like a rubber-band, I feel that people who don’t test and challenge themselves contract into a zone of comfort, and it can be difficult to push out of the mental rut that creates. I was certainly in a mental and physical rut earlier this year, and figured that injecting a decent bit of productive chaos would be helpful in breaking out of that, and given my interest in the Great Lake sitting next to me, taking on something completely new would stretch me out in useful ways. It’s been challenging, tricky to manage, and I’m feeling like I’m hanging on by my fingernails, but I’ve been through similar kinds of experiences before to have some basic confidence that I’ll make it through it. I felt the same kind of emotions and anxieties the first time I worked an election, joined the local HOA Board, started a business in the middle of the Great Recession, went to graduate school, all the way back to going to college where I flew sight-unseen from rural New Mexico to an Ivy League college, without half a clue of what I would need to make it through the experience each time. I figured that I hadn’t challenged myself in that way recently enough and wanted to see if I were up to the challenge. We have four more weeks (and a summer full of boat races) to see if I can still rise to the challenge. And if I meet that challenge, I’ll have no shortage of opportunities to enjoy Lake Michigan provided by skippers eager to recruit crew.

All aboard the Texas Eagle!

Thursday afternoon, I’ll be embarking on my first long-distance post-COVID trip by riding Amtrak’s Texas Eagle to a small town near Hot Springs to visit the growing number of nieces and nephews my siblings have been spawning. I miss riding long-distance trains and I am looking forward to riding a new line (new to me, at least).

I purchased a coach ticket and and will be departing Thursday afternoon and arriving in Malvern, Arkansas around 4am in the morning. (This is one instance where I wouldn’t begrudge the train being delayed for a few hours on the way.) My current plan is to get caught up on reading (I’m now a couple books behind my yearly pace) and a few films and e-mail via a tablet. According to the Amtrak site, the train is only 60% full at the moment, so if that holds, odds are good that I’ll have my side of the row to myself.

Over the weekend, I also received an e-mail from Amtrak where I could place a bid for an upgrade to a roomette. I could bid as little as $95 for the upgrade and I did that shortly after receiving the message. However, I upped my bid to $150 this morning under the theory that plenty of other folks will also place the minimum $95 bid and it will essentially be a lottery.

There are some significant differences between coach seating and a roomette on an Amtrak train. Coach seating is like sitting on an airplane (with MUCH more legroom). You sit in an assigned seat in a car with rows of other passengers. Nowadays, you typically have a power outlet next to your seat, so it’s easy to watch films, do work on a laptop, and charge your phone. In addition to your assigned seat, you also have access to the observation car, which has an upper level with great windows for watching the countryside go by, booths to sit at, and a concession stand underneath to grab snacks. On my trips to New Mexico, I would often spend as much as half my trip in the observation car.

In contrast, a roomette is a small private room that has two facing seats that can be brought together to form a bed. There’s an upper level that folds down as well, so it’s like sleeping on a bunk bed. In lieu of the meal in the traditional dining car, in the waning days of COVID, it looks like meals can be ordered and delivered to the roomette. However, even if I win the bid for the roomette, I’ll still be packing some of my own drinks and snacks to save money (it’s $2.50 for a can of soda on the train).

The main advantage these days with having a roomette instead of a coach seat is that federal law mandates that masks be worn while on the train, unless eating or drinking. Conductors will be enforcing that in coach vigorously, I expect. Technically, that rule is also in effect for the roomettes, but the conductors knock before entering, so you can put your mask on with a little bit of warning, which will be a significant quality of life improvement over the better part of a half day.

Anyways, that’s the plan for later this week and I’ll be checking in this upcoming weekend from Hot Springs with this week’s Note about how it all played out.

Interesting reads and watches

How the 'K' became the most destructive letter in Major League Baseball (ESPN)

White People’s Fear of Critical Race Theory is Based in Ignorance (Cultured)

Bitcoin bubble bursts overnight, dragging down stocks (Ars Technica)

All hail King Pokémon! (Input)

It's Time For A Summer Slowdown (Galaxy Brain)

‘It’s Magic What We Do.’ Movie Theaters Get Starry-Eyed Once More. (New York Times)

Stages of Grief: What the pandemic has done to the arts (Harper's Magazine)

How DC Has Weathered Corporate Change Before (The Hollywood Reporter)

Wormhole Tunnels in Spacetime May Be Possible, New Research Suggests (Scientific American)

How Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Could Change Our Abortion Debate (Jonah Goldberg)

Virgin Galactic spaceplane VSS Unity completes successful flight (The Verge)

Portability: The Forgotten Right of GDPR (Alias)

The Mystery of Magic’s Greatest Card Trick (New York Times)

In Sailing, Women Are Taking More Than a Seat (New York Times)

I Gave Up Fighting Incessant Spam Calls and Let Charizard Take the Wheel (Gizmodo)


Book reports and my thoughts on Elite’s Odyssey expansion will likely return later this week once I get back on schedule, CMDRs.