Zen and the Art of Factory Maintenance

Plebe #13

Most issues of Plebe are planned from the start. I know what the premise will be, I write a bunch of stuff intending to share it with an audience, and then I publish it. But that's not what happened this time. This ended up being two personal projects mashed together when I realised how similar they were thematically.

Project #1 was called Factorio Workshop. It started with a one-sided correspondence with my friend about a game called Factorio, and quickly veered into discussions about how to live a good life. The moment I realised that factories, mines, and conveyor belts are a fitting metaphor for living well was one of my favourite ah-ha moments as a writer. It felt very Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I enjoyed as a teen.

Project #2 was meant as an artisan's journal. I was trying to track a lot of different projects and my emotional state as I worked on them, and ended up with something I found pretty compelling. It's especially fun seeing me think through the insights that led to this very website, publishing schedule, business plan, and deliverables. It almost reads like a VH1 Behind the Music for the thing you're reading!

Without further ado, here's Zen and the Art of Factory Maintenance. I hope you enjoy it :)

What’s this all about?

August 21, 2021


I know you (used to) play a lot of Dwarf Fortress, and lately I've been enjoying Factorio. This is a way for me to explain what the hoopla is all about as well as help myself make a better factory.

My factory is pretty lame. But I think I can make it better.

My big, ugly map

Train stations

Where my drones can fly

Where my drones are currently flying

(Check out the little white dots)

My "spider after LSD" power grid

Turret protection

(Look for the red overlays around the edges of the map)


That's the starting point. Stay tuned and I'll explain what all of this means.

Train lockup

August 25, 2021


In the previous chapter, I showed you a bunch of photos to set context. Today I'm going to focus in on one of my biggest challenges: trains.

Three trains colliding

Notice here how there are three trains that are all trying to use the same track. Not ideal! So how does the game handle this? With lights.

Green light, red light

I just learned about this view a few days ago. See the green dots and red dots? That's how you figure out how your system is working. My system is not working, as shown by the red dots everywhere. So let's zoom out.

The main thoroughfare

Notice all the green dots strewn throughout the map? That's because most of my other trains actually work pretty well. But I'm totally overusing this main strip that's been left over from my early game. It's like my version of Main Street, and things have grown up around it. And it's causing issues.

So what I'm going to need to do is rethink the whole map, which will give me an opportunity to make sure I'm planning everything out efficiently.

Where the resources are

I've got a bunch of oil to the west, stone to the southwest, and then copper and steel to the east. The problem is, everything is being processed in a single place right now, which is not helping anything.

Drawing it out

Here's a visual where I've colour-coded my resources. Beige is stone. Black is coal. Dark blue is oil. Orange is copper. Light blue is water.

It doesn't look too bad, but it's a mess. So here's what I'm going to do.

No more transporting liquids

Transporting liquids is not a great idea. It's expensive, slow, and causing a lot of issues. So just like people in Texas learned a long time ago, I need to relocate oil refineries to where the oil fields are. I'm also going to stop trying to transport water.

So that's my first step. Figure out how to keep things running smoothly even as I relocate where I process my water and oil. Fortunately I have a lot stored up, so things should still run pretty smoothly while I embark on this giant project.

Wish me luck!

Oops I Won

August 29, 2021


It's been a few days, and in that time I've won the game. Oops. But still, hurray for me! Getting to the end of the game was fun.

What happens after blastoff?

I think this can taken as a deeper philosophical question. What do you do the day after graduation? What do you do when you a beat a game? What does the dog do when it finally catches the car? A few things come to mind, mostly that my map is ugly and I want to make it less ugly.

I'm a big believer in low fidelity at first, iteration, and then improvement over time. Shitty First Drafts. Just Do It. Go! McDonald's Theory. That sort of thing.

So that's what I'm going to go tackle next. The game has a ton more playability in it, even without starting a new map. So I'm going to pursue that and document my progress. Onward!

Unleashing a flood

August 30, 2021


When I was a boy, I loved watching how water moved through creeks. In some places where the water had a clear path, it would flow freely. In other places, it was dammed up and stagnant. I liked moving rocks around to try and make optimal flows. I liked unleashing a torrent by moving a rock out of the way.

I think creativity can be similar. Sometimes you're creatively "blocked up" because too many things are in the way. If you can find the right adjustments to your process, you can unleash a flood of activity and inspiration. And that's how I feel about this project. Right now it's providing me an outlet for a lot of things on my mind. And not all of them have to do with Factorio, as you can imagine.

The power of chronology

As you know, blogs get their name from "web log," which originally was a way of documenting the things you came across while exploring cyberspace. So if a captain of a ship documented "today we saw seals swimming alongside us," an early web surfer might say "today I found a great site for converting your handwriting into a font." The point of these updates is they could stand on their own, without needing to read in a certain order. So we listed them in reverse-chronological format, so you could always see the most recent stuff.

But as we've all experienced, this format breaks down when you are actually trying to tell a story chronologically. Every blog post that starts "as I mentioned previously here here and here" falls into this. Every dormant blog that has a three year old post that says "sorry I haven't written in a while" does too. Can you imagine starting a movie or novel with the narrator apologizing for the lack of content? But then knowing if you're really persistent and read everything backwards, the end might actually be pretty good? That's where blogs are. And that's why Twitter took over.

The past didn't go anywhere

It's a popular complaint amongst people our age that the web used to be more fun and interesting. We've talked before about the holes I see in this nostolgia-tinged analysis. But we need to understand that the RSS Reader/Google Reader/Blogs ecosystem that old web folks loved so much is exactly why we have things like Twitter, Instagram, Patreon, and personal email newsletters. It's borne from the same insights.

Twitter is forcing everyone's latest blog post to be 280 characters and instead of RSS feeds being per-person, Twitter is saying "we bet you want to see the latest stuff first." And they're right, at least for that specific scenario. You see the same thing in podcasts. You just want some great content to listen to, without having to go to episode #1.

I present to you a wild invention ... the book!

So what about the situations where you don't want to see the latest stuff first? The most obvious example is a book. Chapter one should lead to chapter two, which will be built on by chapter three. And I don't think enough online writers understand the power of this sort of format can have when blended with a traditional blog.

I've been running sites like this for years, most recently with my immigration blog. I also did it with FJP, and probably a dozen others I'm forgetting right now. It's an amazing format. And it's one I'd like to pursue here. Feeling a beginning, middle, and end frees up how I write. Understanding that people will read it sequentially inspires different writing and lines of thought.

What does this have to do with Factorio?

I could undersell it, and make a joke. I could say none of this has to do with Factorio, and accept it. That would be fine. But it's not me.

I see a direct connection between this screen:

And writer's block. In both cases, you have a blockage. In both cases you need to analyse the situation and strategise a way ahead. In both cases, you need to prioritise, which means maybe doing fewer things. And in both cases, you can have a situation like when I used to push a boulder out of the way and suddenly a flood of water was unleashed down the creekbed.

You might recall my previous diagrams where I explained how my train lines were all locked up. I spent some time and ended up with this design. The big loop is for me to travel around the map easily. Then there are four other lines, none of which sharing track with each other, that just reliably do their job. One does coal. Another does iron. Another handles stone. It's elegant and beautiful.

And as you can imagine, once I set things up nicely like this, everything just flowed like a torrent of unleashed water. It works in Factorio, it works with creativity, and it can work in life.

I don't know if heaven exists, but if it does, it feels like flow.

Digramming Life

September 1, 2021


I made a funny image.

It's not to scale, of course. But it's a rough map of various destinations in my life map. I spend most of my time ping-ponging between my career and parenting. But then I take day trips off to the side for a bunch of little side projects. There are the ones I know I need to get done, like the book I'm writing for my son. Then there's fun stuff, like this blog.

I just kicked off a new blog for Enthusiastic Panther. [Note: Enthusiastic Panther is the name of an art project where I have a made-up band that goes on a fantasy tour around the world with invented playlists] This format that I've hacked together, where the page looks nice and you read it sequentially, it making me want to make specialty blogs for every interest in my life.

I feel like each one needs a readme at the top, to explain where to start. Then from there it's just a narrative.

But wait, what does this have to do with Factorio?

Just like before, I could shrug it off and admit this blog is no longer about Factorio. Except it is! This sort of thinking, where you create a process or a tool or a piece of software or a strategy for addressing with ever-larger problems, is a lot of fun. It's the same thing behind playing Sim City, or to a much more complex extent, Dwarf Fortress.

In Factorio I could have a big pile of copper in one corner and big pile of coal in another corner. I could have my little guy run between them manually. But it doesn't scale very well until you automate it beyond what one person can keep track of. I think life and creativity is like that too. You can do a certain amount by yourself, but to scale you need todo lists. You need processes. If you want to do more, you need to be able to build and utilise tools.

Oh, and guess what? I started a new game of Factorio, and you can clearly see the metaphors coming into play even in the early game.

There's a copper drill, right next to an iron drill. In between there's a forge. These are the raw components needed to grow big, so now it's just a matter of planning out and executing. That's how I feel about this blog and the Enthusiastic Panther one. They're modest for now, but they're making the foundation that lets me do something bigger.


The Important Paths

September 2, 2021


I had a little epiphany.

Imagine a diagram that shows something in literal, physical space, like a path I might take to walk around in my neighborhood. It might look like this.

The physical world makes a lot of sense. This is why early computing had a "desktop" metaphor. It's easier to tell someone to "open the tax folder" than to remember a command like "cd taxes." And in Factorio, it's clear that to get copper you should probably go visit the copper mine. Simple. But what about intangibles? Those don't work as well.

For example, look at this map where I've overlaid concepts over physical space.

If the world worked this way, things would get a lot easier. Need some validation? Turn left here. Need some satisfaction? Better head east. It becomes less difficult because the mental map turns into something more like shopping at your local grocery store than what it really is: a confusing mess where it's hard to know where to turn or how to fix it. Put another way, physical directions are easy, spiritual directions are hard.

And that's even assuming you're aware what you're running low on and need more of! Wouldn't it be nice to have a few fuel gauges to be able to refer to, the way games like Factorio do with items like stone or copper? What if you had something like this?

If we had this, we'd just look at our gauges, make a decision to stock up, and know exactly where to go. "Oh, I'm running low on validation. I should stock up on my walk today by heading to the end of my street." That'd be nice! But that's not what we have.

Which means people who are good at understanding their personal gauges and how to top them off have a bit of a superpower. I think things like a coffee ritual, or picking the right music to get into the groove, or a million other microinteractions can help people with their own selves. For example, I might not know exactly where to walk in order to get inspired, but I have certain music that can help. For that matter, I know that taking a walk, to anywhere, tends to help. The physical direction doesn't matter as much as the steps I'm taking, figuratively speaking.

Maybe instead of mapping it to streets and walks, we could map it to planets in a solar system that you pilot yourself towards.

This makes more sense to me. Each day you're deciding what you're low on, going to that place to stock up, and traveling to the next most important thing. The issue is when there's no way to get there. Like if your job brings you absolutely zero satisfaction, you might not be able to get there. If you don't know what inspires you, you might only end up there by accident.

So I don't think it's about making supply chains in the traditional physical sense. It's more about knowing how to access each planet whenever you want, however you can. And then having clear fuel gauges so you know when you're running low.

Know what you really need.
And now how to get it.

A life's work.

More of This, Less of That

September 9, 2021


It turns it it's really easy to make too much of an item in Factorio. So let's say you have a factory that makes a gear. And let's say that factory has an limited supply of the stuff that makes gears. Well, given enough time, you're going to make lots of gears. Probably too many. No one needs that many gears.

So I have a simple spreadsheet I use to track how things are going. I log how many of a certain thing I have, then I record any limitations I may have put on the item. (You can easily write a little limiter than says if you have more than x, don't build any more.)

So in this example you can see that I only want 10,000 coal, but I have 171,000. On the other hand, I want 6700 copper but I only have 3900. And then there are plenty of things that are perfectly balanced. For example, I want 1000 grenades and that's precisely what I have. That feels good.

Looking at this spreadsheet makes me wonder how to replicate something like this in real life. For example, you might want to limit fatty foods and increase exercise. Or limit angry news articles and increase the time spent reading books.

There are ways of tracking each of these things, but they do require effort to keep up. I like the clarity and simplicity of knowing that my robotic system will only do x if condition y is met. Life is a lot more messy, for better or worse. How do you know when you've reached your max allocation of clickbait articles? You'd need to know how many you're tracking (which no one does), what your max should be (which no one establishes),and a way to stop it when you reach it (which no one has a mechanism for). So we wing it, with reliably bad results.


On another note, I recently got this blog working in an automated way. Before, I struggled to figure out how to make new blog posts automatically appear. But I got some help from the Motif.land folks and now it works automatically. Which leads to more creative output.

One of the core things about UX design is that the computer should really handle computery things, rather than making a human do it. I think it's too easy for people to get caught in the minutae of making the computer work, which sucks motivation away from the actual reason you're using the computer.

For example, I'm here to write. Not code. When I start coding, I'm not going to be doing as much writing. So anything I can do to automate the code stuff is going to leave more time for the writing stuff.

And then I can increase what I want to increase, and decrease the things I want to decrease. That's the goal. I can't track everything, but I at least can remind myself what my goals are and remind myself when I'm doing something that's distracting myself from them.

So Much Content

September 13, 2021


Ok, this is sort of nuts. I'm in one of the busiest periods of my life, and yet I'm even more productive on my side projects.

I just wrote The Nervous Energy Before Launch about how my company is about to launch a product. I also recently finished my first book this year and started in on books two, three, and four. (They're mostly curation, so not as hard as writing from scratch, but still).

Then, in addition to this blog, I'm writing a D&D blog for the game I'm running with my girls and a blog for Enthusiastic Panther, my fake band. I've even gotten some real songs from real people for that project!

So what's leading to this explosion of productivity? A few things. First that phrase "if you want something done, give it to a busy person." It's counter-intuitive but true that busy people have processes in place, which is why they can get to things quicker than someone taking it easy. It's like busy people have factories running already and less busy people have to first build their factory, which slows them down.

Which brings me back to Factorio itself. I'm starting to see some clear connections between productivity in real life and productivity in the game. Right now I'm using Motif, which is helping me to write more things more efficiently. And that's not that much different from an efficient assembly line.

I think there's also an issue of fuel and motivation. If I have 8 furnances blazing away at full strength, it's easy to toss in one more project into the queue. Or ten. But if I only have one furnace going, with no queue, even adding a single new task can feel difficult.

I'm definitely in a period of intense productivity. Part of it is anxiety around my company and product, part of it is better processes and software, and part of it is that great line "done is the engine of more."

Hey Maybe I Should Play Some Factorio

September 19, 2021


Since my last post, my company shipped its product to the world! It's been a really busy week, and I really enjoyed it. I am in a fun space right now where a lot of things are all happening at once. I'm finding myself doing the "work hard, play hard" thing. I am putting in long hours so I'm also trying to treat myself, play video games, hang out with my kids, etc.

Today we went to see cherry blossoms, which was cool. We were a touch early because many of the trees hadn't bloomed yet, but it was still a lot of fun. I've also been playing Overwatch again, a game I love, and reading a lot of One Piece.

Speaking of One Piece, I've started writing a One Piece series of essays, but it's starting to feel a little bit ridiculous. Am I really going to start a new blog every time I start a new thing? I want to say yes, because I love it. But it also seems a bit excessive. Do I really need 800 blogs?

But I think that's probably the wrong question. The number of blogs is a side effect of a bigger thing. Do I have a goal to start a lot of blogs? No. But I do have a goal of not letting creative energy pool up and block my mental process. I need to live in a way where an idea comes to me, I explore it, learn something, and move to the next thing. If I sit on ideas, they set up camp in my mind and make me feel "blocked" mentally. So I'm constantly pushing ideas out of my head and onto paper. But it's not about the paper. It's about leaving space in my own mind.

Was that profound or not? Doesn't matter! And that's the point!

Here's a new project I've been working on, and have even considered tracking in its own blog: I bought a new bike! The best of my life! I'm more of a $100 bike kinda guy, and this one is more like $1000. Which is cheap if you're a bike person, but it's insane if you're me.

I really like my new bike! On the very first day I went on a two hour bike ride, with a one hour stop at a cafe in the middle. If I showed you a map you'd die. Wait, this is a multimedia format, I can totally show you where I biked.

I only took a single picture on the entire ride, and it was this one. It's at one of my favourite places, which is called Princess Beach. The whole bikeride is stupidly pretty. As is New Zealand overall. Ugh. Such a nice place to ride.

My main goal is to mountain bike with my son, but he's much better than I am. So I have a lot of work to do in order to get into shape so I can keep up with him and not be a drag on his whole mountain biking scene. So I've set up a new challenge.

What I do is ride into my village, then back up the hill to get back home. The first time I did it, it took 10:07. Then Elliott tried and did it in about 8:30 or so, the jerk. Today I tried put in a second attempt and I did it in 9:03! That's a big improvement! I'm pretty excited about that.

Meanwhile, the girls are doing their D&D campaign and loving it.

And there was the aforementioned launch.

And gosh, so many other things.

I should probably get back to Factorio but right now I'm maxxed on simulated processes. I've got a ton of processes right here in the real world and I want to optimise them!

Back in the Saddle

September 23, 2021


I finished my previous letter saying that I had other things I wanted to tackle. And then, surprise, I started playing Factorio again. Let me explain what I've been up to!

This was the original layout at the start of my second base. To the right I'm generating power from the water, and that requires getting coal from the far left. In the middle there's iron (blue), copper (red), and stone (yellow).

If I zoom in to the iron and coal bits, you can see how I'm using coal to power each of them. Look at the conveyer belt to the left. It's filled with coal that's brought up to the two furnaces as shown with the bright orange fires.

This was working for a while, but the game has bad guys, so I needed to start thinking about walls. This giant wall along the south end was a good defensive down-payment:

There's an interesting angle to the aliens in this game. They don't want to kill you because they're bloodthirsty. They just hate it when you pollute, and can you blame them? They're doing the alien version of coughing around someone smoking. Relatable.

Here's a view that shows my walls and how far I'm polluting. Once my red stink cloud reaches that red splotch in the south, they'll attack me and it won't be pretty.

But of course I'm not building all this stuff to build walls or mine ore. I'm building everything in order to make products. And those products require factories and raw materials. So I built some factories in the northwest quandrant to get rolling.

What you can see here is super long conveyer belts stretching to the left and the right. I did this in order to provide space to grow, but I'm pretty sure I overdid it. In the meantime, I needed to find a way to unify the factories on the far left and far right, because a lot of things require both iron and copper.

Problem solved! If you look at the top left you'll see a bunch of copper on a conveyer belt.It's sort of ugly, but now things are set up well for me to scale. See how the vertical line looks a bit broken up? That's because it's possible to put conveyer belts underground, which can be a big help when things get complex.

All this work led to this exciting sight:

I'm using iron plates to build metal gears in the top left. Below that I'm using iron plates and metal gears to make transport belts. Those transport belts are sent to the right and into a storage chest. Meanwhile, the copper and iron in the middle of this picture are making electronic circuits, which are a vital material for the entire game.

Which leads us to present day. Here's how my map looks as of right now.

See those blue things in the lower part of the map? That's my science research. The more those are lit up, the more R&D I'm doing. They're powered by science packs, in this case the line of red and green.

And where do those red and green science packs come from? From the multiple steps of production I showed you earlier. Iron ore->iron plate->metal gears->transport belts->copper ore->circuits->red and green science packs.

I've also souped up other aspects of the design. I added more drills, more furnances, and more power generation. But the same layout is still working pretty well. Now I just need to do a lot of research so I can unlock all the scientific discoveries I'll need to keep growing. Onward!

Growing and Growing

October 3, 2021


This Factorio game has a goal that I hadn't shared yet. I want to see how quickly I can get to the end of the game, and I want to beat my previous score of 233 hours, 18 minutes, and 31 seconds.

Which is, admittedly, pretty nuts. But that score isn't very accurate. Steam kept counting the hours even when my computer was turned off at night, so I have no idea how many hours I was actually playing. Maybe 150? 200? So I'm trying to beat that. If I could do it in 100, I'd be thrilled.

In my current game, I'm up to 32 hours, 48 minutes, and 59 seconds. But about 8 of those were because of the same "computer thinks I'm playing while I sleep" issue as before. So let's say I'm at 24:48.

This is a screenshot of my factory at night. The general layout from before is still there and working pretty well. But now things are naturally more complicated. Life metaphor time!

Whether I'm writing code, designing, starting a new job, or doing a new project of any kind, there's this funny transition from "I'm going to set this up really well!" to "Oh gosh this is getting too complicated to track, just do your best." I'm getting close to that point. The factory is doing ok. But it's starting to burst a bit at the seams.

Can I get to space in the next 75 hours, or will my planning decisions fail to scale and cause me to re-design everything like my last game? It'll be fun to find out!

Mines and Factories

October 3, 2021


I thought it'd be fun to push the Factorio metaphor futher into real life. Factorio has mines, factories, and conveyor belts. What if we, as people, do too? Here are some sketches I drew up.

I thought this was interesting and worth processing. (Haha, a mining pun.)

I can already spot things I'd disagree with, or circles I'd make bigger or move around. But it's an interesting way to think about what I do, the things I can make with those things, and how well the processes are working to power them.

Right now I think my Five Books Project is taking too much of my attention. Every minute I'm spending curating is time I can't spend creating. And when I don't create enough, I get frustrated. I love to create!

There may be another part of the metaphor. Imagine oil bubbling up from the ground no matter what you do. You can capture it and send it along, or you can just let it overflow. Right now I think my creativity is causing a metaphorical natural disaster. I'm not using enough of my raw materials, so it's backing everything up.

I don't need more raw materials, but I do need more things to export!

You Can Do a Lot

October 3, 2021


The central premise of most social media is "wouldn't it be great if I could see an endlessly scrolling list of other people's opinions?" I don't think most people would describe it that way, and there are very real benefits to social media. But I do think this is the end result. A hyper-potent tool for immersing yourself in opinions. And I don't think that's good for mental health. Certainly not mine.

So someone thinks such and such cats are ugly. Ok! So someone else thinks this political person is bad. Ok! So someone else can't believe that so and so wrote a thing. Ok! It's endless. There's no emergency brake, there's no end, or sense of completion. It's like talking around a campfire, but instead of a few hours at the end of the day, it's constant. (And everyone is on fire.)

It's like catching up with friends, but instead of talking about what you've been up to, it's broadcasting your strongest feelings as broadly as possible. (And the stronger your feelings, the more people come to watch, which encourages you to express even stronger next time) It's dancing like you know everyone is watching, with cash prices for whoever's dance has the snarkiest or most hard-hitting shade. At some point you don't even hear the music anymore, because it's beside the point.

Software like this can end up as social as a lynch mob. Sure, it's nice to hang out with your friends and have a shared goal, but it's really hard to have that perspective from the middle of the pulsating angry mob. Mobs feel good, even when they're doing bad things. Loneliness feels bad, even when you're using it to do good things.

Last time I talked about Mines, Factories, and Conveyor Belts. The things you naturally create, the things you put hard work into building, and the processes you use to do it.

I drew my own life, but not to scale, and I refered to this outlier in the sketch:

It'd be interesting to re-draw the visual in a way that more accurately describes the amount of time/effort/mental energy each thing takes. Because "randomly going to news and social sites to accidentally see people upset about everything" fills a lot of my day. Any time I have 8 seconds to kill, I go soak in other people's opinions. Whereas the projects that nourish me take a lot of time to set up, so they're a luxury that won't fit into 8 seconds. Or even 20 minutes!

So I'm not breaking any new ground here, but it's a good reminder: I need more short form content that's not upsetting. Reading a book is the closest thing I've found, but even that takes more effort than scrolling.

It's a chink in my armor, and something I'd like to address. I think we all should.


October 24, 2021


I need Yellow science packs.

It's tempting to make everything in this blog about video game mechanics while cleverly referring to real life, and vice versa. But this time let's take it completely literally. There's something in the game called a yellow science pack. It unlocks things in the tech tree. And it's pretty dang hard to build. No life metaphor required.

The above screenshot shows my current factory. It's pretty good. Definitely better than the ones I've made previously. But now I need to do a major expansion in order to handle it. And that's going to cause issues!

I'm not going to describe the details but it's sort of like this. (These are not accurate but it gives a general sense of the complexity)

  • Red is made with one thing.
  • Green is with a red and another thing.
  • Black is a thing which makes a thing which makes a thing.
  • Blue is a black, a green, a red, and this super hard to build thing.
  • Purple is a blue, green, and the other hard thing.
  • And then yellow is somehow EVEN HARDER. Ugh.

So I've been looking at my map and figuring out how I'm going to build all the infrastructure I'll need to effectively build yellow science packs, and guess what? I'm running out of raw materials. Check this out.

See all those red lights? Those mean my mining efforts have hit a snag, and ore is no longer available. So not only do I need to upgrade my layout in order to get yellow, I need to upgrade just to keep the lights on. Yikes!

So I'm a bit like a hermit crab who needs to go exploring to find a new shell. There are more iron ore reserves to the north and south. But setting up shop up there will require a lot of effort. I'll need to set up flamethrowers to protect myself from aliens, and I'll need to build out a bunch of infrastructure to make it all work.

So let's summarise and tie it back to real life. Sometimes you realise you need to work to get to the next level, which is hard. And sometimes you're treading water at your current level, which is also hard. And sometimes both things happen at once. And that's where I am now.

The End of Sorts

November 21, 2021


If I may say so myself, this blog format is perfect.

I wanted something that was sequential and had some concept of an ending. That's exactly what this is. And it's possible I've reached the end. But endings don't have to be sad and they don't have to be failures. Endings can be glorious.

When I started this experiment, I wanted to document my progress playing Factorio. As things progressed, it soon became a place to think about processes in life. Factorio is a great metaphor for a great many concepts, and it was fun to explore them here. I could stop now, with the insights gained in this quasi-blog, and walk away happy. So let's analyse where we are.

I'm not playing Factorio much right now. I got to a point in my latest Factorio game where I'm stuck, and I'm not motivated to correct it. Which is fine!

I've been playing more Overwatch lately, probably my favourite game of all time. I really enjoy having six teammates all trying to play together in a cohesive unit, because that dynamic can be special when you get it right. Unfortunately, I'm playing with strangers on the internet. That means I can't build any of that rapport. So I recently uninstalled it again.

I've been interested in flight simulators for a year or two. It was too buggy the last time I tried, but I've loaded it up again and this time it might work. Granted, the installation process took 24 hours. That was not fun. But I think it works now! [Editorial note: nope, it was still too buggy]

So where does that leave this blog? I could switch the focus over to my flight simulator explorations, or use it as a place to talk about processes. But I think it's best to just to end the project. More things need defined endings, rather than just living in limbo.

A few final notes. One, I'm starting to get the end-of-year feeling where I'm thinking about new year's resolutions, things I'd like to modify, and things I'd like to do. I'm almost done with my "publish five books in a year" project, and I'm already daydreaming about where I'll spend my time when I'm done.

First, I think it's time to dial down the time I'm spending on Twitter and Medium. I think most of us spend a lot of time idly scrolling things on the internet, and for me Twitter and Medium have historically taken too much time. So I'm going to dial them down significantly.

Second, I know that I love to write, and I don't see that changing. So I'll probably spin up a bunch of projects like this one. Longer than a blog post, but not as long as a book. And, notably, they should have endings.

Third, I'd like to update my website. Stay tuned.

Fourth, the best project in my life right now – or will be once I finish publishing my five books – is the new book I'm writing for my girls. If I spend the entire year writing a novel for my girls, that'll be time well spent.

I've loved this project. I've loved the format. I've loved writing them like correspondence. This has been a wonderful blessing in my life for the last few months. Now I'm looking forward to moving on.

Thanks! See you at the next project!


So that's the end of the previous project. I finished it about seven months ago, and I'm struck by the changes that have happened since then. I said I wanted to write a novel for my girls, and I did. I said I wanted to doomscroll less, which goes hand-in-hand with reading less Twitter, and I did that too.

Another funny detail? I started playing Factorio again a few weeks ago. I said I had a goal to finish the game in 100 hours, and I did! My most recent attempt came in at 83 hours, which is still a lot slower than most people. But it's a huge improvement on my first game. And the best part is I had fun doing it.

So what's next? A project I kicked off right after Factorio Workshop called "Tinker, Bell" It was meant as a way to track my own projects, and ended up being a great historical snapshot into the very material you are now reading! Let's dive in.

Introducing Tinker Bell

December 2, 2021

This project is called Tinker Bell, and it's for following along with my creative projects. It might feel a bit like sitting in someone's workshop as they work on whatever strikes their fancy.

From Inspired to Confused

December 2, 2021

I recently finished a giant project. In 2021 I decided I wanted to publish 5 books, and last week I did it. It's a bit less impressive than it sounds. These books were full of essays and short stories I've written over the last 5-10 years, so the main work was curating and packaging them up. Still, it took a long time and I was very happy to complete the project.

But then a funny thing happened. I lost my way.

In the final weeks of the project, I was really inspired. I thought "once I finish the books, I can do anything!" I began auditioning lots of different ideas in my head. Every concept I had ever considered came flooding back at once, and I was excited to pick one and go. But that didn't happen.

This morning I realised that I felt pretty much the same as before. I'm proud that I completed a big project, but it felt a lot better doing the project than being done with the project. My satisfaction didn't come from saying "look at this cool thing I did," it came from quietly working on it over time. I didn't want a magnum opus, I wanted a hobby to tinker on.

So don't look now, but it's possible that this is my new project. A blog where I keep tinkering on things, and purposely don't try to turn it into one giant project. A place where I can finally absorb that old truism: the journey is the reward.

The first thing I want to do is catalog all the things I'm working on and figure out how I want to proceed with them. Some things will be abandoned. Other things will be dusted off and started anew. Others still will be created out of thin air. I'm looking forward to seeing where it takes me!

Taking Stock

December 3, 2021

I go through the same thing every time I start a project or figure out what I'm going to do on my todo list.

Step one: write everything out
Step two: figure out what to do first
Step three: do it

So here's what's on my mind lately.

Ipel & Euphoria
I'm writing an ongoing bedtime story for my girls. I've already turned the first volume into a printed book I'm planning on giving them for Christmas, and the second volume is being written one bedtime story at a time. This is a lot of fun and something I want to prioritise.

My tabs comic
Sometime in the last year or two I started working on an iPad comic. Lately it's been whispering in my ear, so I might want to dust it off and finish it up.

Getting illustration help
I recently worked with an extremely talented illustrator and I'm looking for opportunities to repeat that experience. I just need to figure out which thing to work with them on.

Plebe issues #11, #12, #13
I write a zine called Plebe, and I recently published a book containing the first ten volumes. Looking around my left-over essays and projects, I see I have a few more things I can carve off. So that's fun!

Selling my books
I have seven books, but none of them are for sale! I'd like to dust off my Gumtree account and look into what I'd need to do in order to sell these puppies.

A comic-oriented website I've been thinking about a website concept where you use frames of content to tell a story. It's one thing to say "I'm a writer and this is my website." But doing the same thing with a comic opens up new creative opportunities.

Offering joy crystals
I recently learned about Kaho Nakamura, a Japanese musician who talks about wanting to make people feel better with her music. That resonated with me a lot. I've been writing a lot of serious essays, but doing things with an eye towards making people feel better is something I'd like to try. I did do a talk called And Now the Good News, after all.

A stage production
I enjoy telling stories on stage, and I've been playing with an idea that I could perform in a local theatre.

Comedy writing
In the past I've written humour essays, and I'm considering bringing them back.

An interaction per week
I enjoy making projects that explore different methods of interaction. For example, imagine a website where you can change the background colour of the page and anyone else on the page can see it change in real time.

It's a small thing, but it's a fun space to explore. Doing one a week could be a lot of fun.

The Long Talk books
I've run three rounds of a game I call The Long Talk, and it's left me with tons of stories that would make an interesting publication. I could also do a fourth round.

Read a lot of books
Books have different lengths, so reading one large book can sometimes take more time than reading ten small ones. It occurred to me recently that simply tracking the total number of minutes spent reading is a pretty accurate reflection of how much I'm reading. That could be a fun project to track and visualise.

So that's a bit of a brain dump! I can't do all of these things, or even necessarily more than a small handful.

Which will I choose? We'll see!

Writing On My Mind

December 9, 2021

In the last week, I totally forgot about this blog. And in that time, my heart settled on what I want to start working on next: writing projects.

Near Future Field Notes
Near Future Field Notes is one of my favourite projects of all time, and a few posts have been bubbling along in my mind this week. Including one that would reunite me with some old writing partners!

I feel like a squirrel that keeps accidentally uncovering nuts I hid for winter. I mentioned last time that I have quite a few issues of Plebe that I could publish, and that number is only increasing. I have a lot of buried treasure!

A proposed schedule
Here's a thought. What if I released four issues of Plebe this year and four issues of Near Future Field Notes? That would give me the sense of a schedule and process that I loved last year.

That feels right. That feels like a really good idea.

[Editorial note: And of course, that's exactly what I ended up doing. You're reading Plebe 13, which is the latest installation of this project idea!]

Planning in Public

December 17, 2021

So I've decided to focus on shipping two publications quarterly. Which issues should I start with?

It would be pretty cool to launch on New Year's Day. That's less than three weeks away, so I don't really have time to overthink it. I need to reach for something, anything, so I can be ready in time.

For Near Future Field Notes, I'm currently doing a web3 roundtable with some friends. That's coming along well, and should be done in the next week or so, I'd imagine.

I haven't decided on Plebe yet. One fun idea I've proposed to my friend William Van Hecke is to serialise his periodic newsletter into an issue of Plebe. That should just be a matter of copying, pasting, and standing by for him to add a preface or something.

Another idea is to package a bunch of essays I've written about Enthusiastic Panther, my fake band. Or maybe I could even list all the concerts and playlists they've played so far. But that's probably better for a later issue of Plebe.

I have a range of other ideas queued up, and I'll sort through them another time.

How to publish?
I think the next question is how I'm going to publish these. The easiest thing to do is take a website url, slap a directory on it like /issue11/, then print the whole thing there. But what I'd really like to do is make the content available as a paid download. And I may provide a link to my recent book as well.

Domain Hunting

December 18, 2021

Most people with internet projects have a lot of unused domains lying around. You're at a party, someone says something like "Squid Ninjas," you say "that would make a great domain, and what the heck it's only $10," so you buy it. And then it sits there. And you never do anything with it.

So I've tried to limit my domain purchases in recent years, and I've let a lot of good ones expire. So when I loaded up instantdomainsearch.com yesterday, I felt a bit strange about it. Do I really need a new domain? Would it be better just to host my Plebe zine on my personal website? Or would it be better to start new?

Plebe.com is taken.
Plebe.co isn't, so that could work.
Plebemag.com could too, but it's not a "magazine."
Plebezine.com is more accurate but I don't like the name. Most people don't know what a zine is, and publication is a more apt word to use.

Then I remembered a domain that I have lying around: He Wrote Go dot com. It came from this email that I once wrote to Steve Jobs, and his response.


At D8 you talked about how it makes your day to hear that your products strike a nerve. So:

I wouldn't have a career in computers if it weren't for you and Apple. I'm now an interaction designer at frog, and your approach looms large in how I try to make great products. Warm thanks for the inspiration.

And hey, if you have time to write back, even one word, it'd mean a lot to me. I won't send it to the media, I'd just think it was neat, like getting an autograph from Picasso. :)

Best of luck with WWDC!


Then he said:


Sent from my iPad

He was just telling me to go to WWDC, and jokingly giving a one-word response like I had asked for. But it's a pretty potent one word response! It's like Nike's Just Do It, but even more succinct. I've always loved his response, which is why I registered He Wrote Go.

The next question: could I post Plebe there? Would I need to write something like "Plebe: Hosted by He Wrote Go" or what? But then it struck me: I'm not just looking for a domain for Plebe, I'm looking for a domain to host both of my quarterly publications, Plebe and Near Future Field Notes. Ah ha!

So now I've got a plan and a domain. Next I need to build the site, write the content, and get it all live in a few weeks. I think I can do it!

Landing and Swirling

December 23, 2021

Things that are landing

1. Plebe #11 is content complete

I put together a full issue of Plebe to see how it feels on the page. It's about ten thousand words and has a great story arc. Once I get it done in an HTML version, I need to work out how it might work as an ebook. I'd like to release as an ebook only, but that will take some doing to get right.

(I'll still add a preface and other stuff, so it's not entirely complete, but getting there.)

2. Near Future Field Notes #9 is content complete

I just had a great roundtable with two insightful friends about web3. Is it hype? Will it change the internet as we know it? Something in between? We dove in and did our level best to figure out what's going on.

And just like Plebe #11, I'll need to figure out the best way to package it up in an ebook format, figure out pricing, etc.

3. A New Fantasy Novel

Nearly every night I add another chapter to the book I'm writing for my girls. That's been going great, and is taking most of my creative energy recently, which I love. It's not necessarily "landing" yet, but it's definitely "in flight."

Things that are swirling

1. Upskilling my Javascript

I'd like to get better at Javascript both at work and at home. I'm having fun and it should result in some good stuff this year if I keep it up.

2. Enthusiastic Panther

My fake band played a fake show a few weeks ago, and I'd like to put them on tour again soon.

3. World building comics

I've been drawing comics on the side that help me write the stories for my girls. I'm tapping into another source of inspiration, which is fun.

4. Summertime Christmas

I live in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning it's not only Christmastime but also the middle of summer. I'm headed out to a BBQ soon! The sun is shining!

And that's all for now.

The Deadline Cometh

December 27, 2021

I have four more days until January 1st, so I'm juggling a variety of launch tasks and making good progress.

  • First, I have a very simple webpage posted at He Wrote Go. Right now it's pretty sparse, but that's ok:
  • Next, I have a pretty good idea how I'm going to sell these products. I think the web version of each magazine will be free, but then I'll charge $5 for a multimedia package that includes ebook and audiobook versions of the content.

    Wait, audiobooks?

    Indeed. I've been recording chapters of audiobooks and I'm really enjoying the process. We'll see how that develops!

  • Today I spent some time looking for a nice typeface to use on the website. I found a good one, paid $100, loaded it up, and ... was underwhelmed. I asked for a refund and went back to the default. I have my eye on a new typeface, so that might work out better.

  • The web version of Plebe #11 is basically done, so now I need to start working through Near Future Field Notes #9. I start by copy/pasting all the content into my content management system and massaging all the data. I need to add headers, upload images, deal with quotations and line breaks, etc.

  • I've set a deadline of January 1st to have the web versions of everything complete, then I'll give myself another month to do the audio and ebook versions. Then on to the next issues!

  • I already know what I want the March issues to look like. Plebe is already written, and Near Future Field Notes is rattling around in my head and asking to be let out. I imagine the authoring process will go pretty quickly, and the tough part will be the audiobook and ebook versions.

  • I also have a Plebe concept lined up for the June issue. Rather than being daunted by 4 deadlines a year, I'm finding that those slots are precious. Before long, I'll probably have 10 concepts dreamed up and they'll all have to wait their turn.


Filling My Dance Card

December 29, 2021

I've finished Plebe #11! It's posted live on the site and I'll start publicising it in a few days, on the 1st of January.

It's not just the webpage, though. I also made audiobook and ebook versions of the publication and I'll be selling it for $5. I'm pretty excited about this.

A few years ago, I set a goal to make more money from online sales each year. The first year I sold two books, for a total of $20. Then a few years went by where I made $0. In 2022 I'm pretty sure I can get more than $20! Here's hoping!

Near Future Field Notes #9 isn't far behind. I've decided to release it in six weeks, which will set up a cadence where I release a new publication every six weeks, throughout the year. Exciting!

But that brings up another question: what in the world am I going to publish this year? Some rough notes:

  • Plebe 11: Microcosmographia [Jan]
  • Near Future Field Notes 9: web3 Roundtable [Feb]
  • P12: Factorio Workshop? [Mar]
  • NFFN10: 2023 Survey? [April]
  • P13: The Mike Issue? [June]
  • NFFN10: Products I Love? [July]
  • P14: Enthusiastic Panther? [Sept]
  • NFFN10: ? [Oct]



January 1, 2022

This is going to be a post about code, but I can compare it to more universal things. Imagine working at playing an instrument for years and one day finally being able to sight-read music. Or you've learned French for years and can finally watch French films and follow along. Or you've been practicing martial arts for years and are finally confident sparring. Or you've been playing sports for years and you just scored your first goal.

So that's how I'm feeling right now about React, and it feels amazing. I want to jot down some thoughts about how it feels before I dive in.

Technical details ahoy

Many years ago, I wrote code in PHP. The cool thing about PHP as a programming language is that it doesn't require any special effort to make a page work. You can type something like this:

echo "hello";

And it will just work. You don't need to set up a template or get a server running or include any libraries. And that's how I learned to code. Which meant that React hit me with a pretty steep learning curve.

But two nights ago I finally figured out how to make a simple React app and post it on my server. You type a command to build the app, then you post that folder on a server. That's it.

And with that little discovery, I'm now over-the-moon excited about learning more. The system finally clicked for me, and now I'm finding myself making other leaps in my education. I still don't know much, but I'm making progress. And that feels great.

Writing Lots of Code

January 8, 2022

In the last week, I've dived pretty deep into code stuff and I've learned a lot. My skills are clearly improving, which feels good. But I'm also getting a bit lost, so it's probably time to take stock and figure out what to do next.

1. Hello world

This was my first breakthrough, just figuring out how to post a react project on the internet. Doesn't look like much, but there's a lot happening behind the scenes!

2. Routes

React does some novel things with how apps work. So this was me trying to learn routes by using someone else's tutorial.

3. Loading a JSON file

This is very exciting. I've never really understood how React pulls JSON information in, because in my day we just talked to a MySQL database for this sort of thing. I knew it was trivial, but I had never done it. Until now!

So this example is taking a JSON of my fake band's shows and is loading them correctly. Squee!

4. Loading from a second source!

This step really challenged me. See how there's a playlist on the right-hand side? That requires loading information from a second JSON file and passing a parameter to it. I eventually figured it out, so now I can see entire setlists per show. Woo!

5. Loading from an API

This is where I'm currently stuck. It turns out that loading stuff from distant domains causes security problems, so you need to do special things to make it work. I'm hoping to eventually figure this out, but I'm not there just yet.

Also, I recently hit 5 sales on my site for a total of $25, which is pretty exciting. I set a goal for myself to always make more than the year before. My previous score was $20, this year is at $25 so far, and more content is coming!


January 24, 2022

What a busy few weeks it's been! I went on holiday in Rotorua, New Zealand. It's sort of like Lake Tahoe in that it's a popular vacation spot. I had a great time, and got to spend some time writing code, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Now I'm back, so it's probably worth documenting all the stuff I've been up to!

Loading from an API

In the last chapter I mentioned struggling with APIs, and I have since figured them out! It turns out there's something called CORS that I had to learn first, but now it's all sorted. Huzzah!


One of the main things about React is how it handles components. I spent some time making sure I understood how to use them, which led to these experiments with dots.

In this example, I wanted to understand how to loop through something a thousand times while setting a random value each time, which led to this:

In this example, I wanted to figure out how to get each component talking to every other component. So I came up with an idea where hovering over each dot would highlight every multiple of that.

So if you moused over dot #2, it would highlight all even-numbered dots. If you moused over dot #3, you'd see every third dot, and so forth. Pretty fun to play with, and here's a screenshot:

My fake band example

This is the result of a lot of work! I'm connecting to an external API, loading a series of components, colouring each component based on its properties, and linking across files. The red items are unpopular songs, and the green ones are popular ones.

My friend mentioned that my fake band is a great way to get rolling with new code projects, and I agree. I've used this band for a ton of different projects already and it's never steered me wrong.

Introducing Figdet Widget!

I'll explain more later, but I'm trying to make a dashboard of random information to look at during the day. So rather than looking at weather, stocks, and news ... it could be cool to look at a bunch of silly, whimsical, and utterly unimportant data.

So I'm starting with this! I'm looking forward to explaining more about this soon.

Also introducing "The Discipline!"

William Van Hecke has a thing he calls The Discipline that I am experimenting with. I'll discuss more later, but this is a placeholder to remind myself that I'm trying it out.

So many things

This is the best part of life. Trying new things, getting better at them, and sharing with others. Onward!

He Wrote Go

February 19, 2022

It's been nearly a month since my last update, and a lot has gone on. So much that I'm going to split everything into multiple pages. Step one: I posted my second issue over at He Wrote Go!

Here's how the webpage looks as of today:

The latest issue is called web3 Roundtable, which is coming out at a very interesting time. When I started chatting with my friends about the issue, web3 was still out of the mainstream. But in the few short weeks since then, it's burst into the mainstream in a major way. This means the issue acts as a bit of a time capsule.

As with the first issue, there's an audiobook plus ebook for $5. The next issue comes out in about a month and it's all done except for the audiobook, which I'm asking my son to narrate for me.

Hurary for basic coding abilities!
About halfway through the latest issue, I decided to write the webpage from scratch. So now instead of being hosted by the awesome http://motif.land, the site is built with my own two hands. And that feels great.


The Discipline

February 19, 2022

This has been pretty fun to follow and develop a little dashboard for. Take a look at this image. Notice the icon on the top and the smaller icons along the bottom.

The top symbol shows a recommendation for where to spend my free time. The symbols along the bottom show the upcoming schedule. This particular symbol stands for "Connect" and the other symbols mean things like "Create" and "Research."

This bit of code had me struggling with time zones for quite a while. I'm in New Zealand, which is on a different day than the US, where my server is hosted. So that took some doing, but I think I have it working. Knock on wood!

The Huge Scratchpad and Hypercard Inspiration

February 19, 2022

When I'm learning code, I like using one folder per concept. This lets me understand everything in pieces, then I can refer back to them later. So here are my 34 directories from a few months of exploration. Pretty cool!

Hypercard was a beloved technology from the 80s that allowed people to write software. "Hyperlinking" on the internet was directly inspired by Hypercard software, in fact. Anyone who got to play with Hypercard when it was new can still remember the feeling of awe they felt experimenting with it.

I'm feeling a lot of the same awe as I get better at web stuff. I've been exploring this with my friend William and we've realised there are other inspiration touchpoints as well.

House of Leaves and Haunted
House of Leaves is quite a book. I never read it fully, but I skimmed a lot of it and I understand the overall thrust of the plot.

It's a confusing and ambitious book. It's sort of a horror story with a haunted house. But it's also a family story. Most notably, certain words are coloured throughout the book with no explanation why. There are a lot of footnotes, and the whole project is complex and layered.

But my favourite detail is that his sister, the musician who goes by the name Poe, wrote a concept album to go along with the book. It's a great album! And a great book! And if you know much about the siblings, you know the book and album are more autobiographical than you might think at first.

Poe once gave me backstage passes to her show. Then she pulled me up on stage. For a few years, I had a few chats with her on her tour bus, some more backstage passes, and I even had her phone number. It was pretty cool, and a big part of the reason I first drove to California.

There's something here, about the way these works interact with each other, with the haunted house that keeps growing, the original motivations for the book, and the playful and exploratory nature of it. It's in the back of my mind as an inspiration.

The Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House is pretty great. The owner of the house kept building and building to it throughout her entire life, which makes it a one-of-a-kind structure.

Imagine walking into a room that has a hidden doorway to another room. And then that room has a staircase that goes straight into a wall. I love this idea for a house. Not to live in, but just to experience as an art project.

I wish more websites and apps felt like this. Not all of them, though. 99% of the time, I want the software to do its job and get out of my way. But sometimes an art project or experience wants to confuse you and make you think. Done well, that can be pretty fun.

So I've been drawing up plans for my own House of Leaves or Winchester Mystery House. How would you do it digitally? How would you allow different versions of pages to coexist? Should they co-exist? Is there a benefit to being able to "time travel" back to a certain point on time?

My friend Jeff's project
Imagine playing a text-based game where you can actually construct rooms. So maybe you start the game by typing


And the game tells you more about the room you're looking at. Maybe there's a key. And then maybe you type

get key

And then the game tells you you picked up the key. Great. But what if you could actually build out the game further? What if you could type things like:

add room
edit description
add object called key
edit description of key

So that's what Jeff built. It's a really fun idea. That's also something I'd like to consider and build on.

Jon's Totally Cool Space on the Web

So I threw this together as a down payment. It's no House of Leaves, Our Text Adventure, or Winchester Mystery House. But it's a start. I'm looking forward to adding to it as I learn more.

I Am Sad

March 8, 2022

I think I hit a wall. But that might not be the best metaphor for it. A wall implies that you were speeding ahead and suddenly something stopped you. But that's not how this felt. It was more long term, and slower, like vines slowly growing and entangling you. I have slowed down. I am having a tough time, and I am sad.

I've been Proper Sad before. I've been depressed before. I had a tough time as a kid. I know what it's like to be desparately trapped. In the past I've described it like being socked in by fog. Everything loses perspective and meaning. It's confusing and life lacks detail. So I've experienced that before. That's not this.

I have too many things spinning around me right now. The war in Ukraine is stressful. My country is going through a giant Covid wave, which is stressful. I'm working from home while my kids stay goem from school, which is stressful. I have a lot of stress in my life, like a lot of people. And I'm feeling bogged down by it. I've felt it coming for a while, and I've made changes to try to address it. More writing, more bike rides, more getting out of the house. I've tried.

Tonight I don't need to come up with solutions, I just need to be honest about how I'm feeling. I don't want to commit to any big projects. I don't want to feel as scattered as I do. I think I might have overdone it. I think I might need to work on other things for a while.

It might make me feel better if I write everything I'm doing so I can wave goodbye to them properly. Maybe from the list I can spot some things I'd like to spend more time with.

  1. This blog
  2. My docusaurus library
  3. Plebe
  4. Near Future Field Notes
  5. Prediction Project
  6. Poetry is Hard
  7. Learning React via a bunch of small projects

I need a break. I think I steered my vaunted productivity army into the mud. I'm going to need to take some time to extract myself and rebuild.

Four Days Later I Build a Clock

March 14, 2022

Imagine a clock that uses images to show the current date and time. So right now it's the 12th of March at 4:02pm. So imagine a clock that showed:

  • An image of "March"
  • An image of "12"
  • An image of "4" (or 16 in military time)
  • An image of "2"

And so forth. Fortunately unplash allows you to load random images based on keywords, so I put together a quick demo.

A quick demo

Unsplash makes it easy to load random images. For example, here's the url for "March": https://source.unsplash.com/random/?march

And here's the first image I got:

Here's 12:

Here's 4:

And here's 2:

It's funny that searching for "2" returns street art of daffy duck. But it's fine. These are random images, so sometimes you get images that are random.

Grabbing my template

I wrote a lot of React code over the last few months, and eventually I came up with a great little template that I could use for all my projects. So I grabbed it, ran npm install, then npm run dev, and got this:

Great! So what do I need to do next? Probably make a component that grabs a random image.

My first component

import React from "react";

export default function RandomImage(props) {
  return <img src={`https://source.unsplash.com/random/?${props.query}`} />;

Super simple, eh? So then I can just pass a prop to the component like so:

<RandomImage query="?wellington" />

And get a response like this. This is a walk called "red rocks" and there are seals at the end of it! Pretty cool.


Next I'd like to make sure each of the images comes in at a standard size. So I did a bit of monkeying around and now I've got this:

Grabbing the date

Ok, I'm not sure how to do the next thing. I need to take the date, split it into little pieces, and then feed each of those pieces into the component.

Update: I figured it out! I can use a Date object:

import DateObject from "react-date-object";
var date = new DateObject();

Then I just need to use that object to call each image, like so:

<RandomImage query={date.weekDay} />
<RandomImage query={date.month} />
<RandomImage query={date.day} />
<RandomImage query={date.hour} />
<RandomImage query={date.minute} />
<RandomImage query={date.second} />

Which results in something like this!

Final touches

It might be nice to show the actual thing we're calling. So with a few quick tweaks we get this:

And that's it! All done for now :)

My Brain is Changing

March 20, 2022

I think I'm feeling in the groove again, so I'd like to think about why. What are the things I'm doing that work? What are the things I stopped doing that didn't work? What's changed?

Today I had a big breakthrough with my writing setup. I want to be able to write something, press something, and have appear on the internet. I also want to have a single source of truth for all my writing, but I need to be able to publish things in other formats like ebooks and audiobooks. What to do?

Easier publishing

I recently started using a documentation product called Docasaurus. It's great, because I can write stuff, run a simple command, and everything is backed up and posted on the internet. It's like magic, and I love it.

An editor I love

I like to use Ulysses but for a long time the whole thing was stalling and beach-balling on me. After what might have been months or years of frustration, I finally turned off iCloud Drive and now I can use Ulysses again. It's been huge.

Charts that inspire me

Somewhere along the way I learned that I write more when I can see a graph go up. For example, if you want to write a book that's 100k words long, you can just run some simple math. How many days has it been? How many words did you write? At this rate, how long will it take to reach 100k words? Super simple, and super effective.

I've come up with some simple graphs for my writing tasks, and that's been enough to inspire me to get inspired more often.

"Everything is copy"

I love essayists of all stripes, and Nora Ephron in particular. She has a great line that "everything is copy." Someone cut you off in traffic? You have opinions about a policy? Saw an interesting thing while walking your dog? Cut yourself shaving, but it was actually a blessing in disguise? Everything is copy.

Write about anything. Write about everything. Don't hold back. Write what comes to your mind, and edit it down later. It's an inspiring thought.

Putting my producer hat on

He Wrote Go is where I publish things every month or two. It's a great forcing function because I'm always trying to figure out what my next publication will be. I figuratively run my hands across archived collections of writing, one-off essays, and new ideas, always wondering "could this be something?" It feels great.

Returning from some adventures

For the last twenty years or so I've gotten into a pattern where I go hard on a new thing for a while, then return to normal life. Maybe it's a video game, maybe it's an author or tv show. Looking back at the last year or so, it's clear I've been trying a bunch of new things. I discovered both F1 and NASCAR, sampled some interesting subcultures and bands, tried some video games I wouldn't have normally attempted, and I've been taking mental notes the whole time.

I feel like I'm full to bursting with new things to report out. And I should. Everything is copy!

Check In and Turn Out the Lights

April 20, 2022

I think I'm going to wrap this project up. I'll always have things I'm tinkering on, of course. But I'm doing some re-orginsation right now, and this project is a bit of an outlier. It'd be like if I was writing in four different sketchbooks across three houses and wanting to get it down to a single sketchbook in a single house. So it's time to say goodbye. What is the status of things? What's next?

The Grand Library

One month ago I mentioned Docasaurus, a great product for tracking a bunch of documentation. The last month has been pretty intense because I converted about a million words into the right format. And after many hours of effort, I finally got it working!

Well, with one caveat. I moved over all my main writing, but I still have a folder called "Low Quality Archives" to move over. But that's ok, I'm feeling pretty good and soon I will really have everything moved over. I'm calling the whole archive The Grand Library. Which brings up a new question: how can I feature my best work?

A Writing Portfolio

Ideally I'd write things in Ulysses, drag a copy into a special folder, and that writing would magically publish itself online. And after a decade of wanting something like this, I may be pretty close to making it work! Nerd details to follow.

  1. Motif.land (where I originally created this blog) has a way to sync files with my Mac
  2. Ulysses has a way to sync files with my Mac
  3. Motif.land is good at making webpages

So by combining those technologies together, I'm pretty close to having a good solution!

Let's Invent a New Kind of Blog

I don't like reverse-chronological blogs for reading real content. And I don't like sites like Squarespace for hosting essays. But I think there's a simple fix for this.

Imagine a left-hand column that shows folders. Those folders could represent books, projects, whatever. Then you'd click into the folder and see a second panel showing all the files within that folder. Then a third pane would show the article itself.

I'm pretty close to getting this done, with Motif's help. And once I do, I'll have a writer's portfolio, which I'm pretty jazzed about.

But what about He Wrote Go?

He Wrote Go

Imagine a pyramid with three levels. At the bottom you have the broad base. That's all my content. In the middle you've got stuff that's been marked as higher-quality. That's my portfolio. And then at the top you've got stuff that's good enough to sell. That's the top of the pyramid.

So that's how they'll all work together, and He Wrote Go will be the site most people know and care about.

In a writing groove

I've kicked off another goal of writing at least 500 words a day. This essay is day four in a row. I've dusted off my fantasy novel and I'm ready to tackle all sorts of new projects. As I said in a recent essay (day one of my streak):

When my mind casts ahead to my next million words, I wonder what sort of fuel I have to power that kind of project. But I don’t feel daunted. I don’t feel like the cupboard is bare. I don’t feel like I can’t possibly come up with that many things to say. I think the opposite. I think I’ll finally have a place to explore that fantasy world I’ve been building for a few years. I think about giving space to the projects I’ve let simmer for years, waiting for the right time to highlight them. I think I’ll finally have enough blue sky to dream big again.

Thank you, and good night

I'm wrapping up this particular project but there's a lot more to come. Like Calvin said, let's go exploring!