Nate Dickson Thinks...

Small Thoughts for a Quiet World.

I've leaned into my “Disaffected Gen-X” persona far too many times, and it's not a good look on me, or on any of us, really. I've tried to be aloof and disinterested. It seems like a good way to protect myself from a painful world. Turning off the part of me that wants to care for and protect others means I can't be hurt by things that are out of my control, right? It means other people can't break my heart, right? It's the ultimate answer:


My dog gets to watch me work. For the most part he seems unimpressed, but he's very supportive!

#dogs #WFH

From time to time we find ourselves in positions that we dislike, but have to endure. It could be school, or a job that you hate but need for the time being, or school, or a social obligation, or school, really any number of things. I certainly didn't love every minute of my graduate program, for example.

I'm sure that, in March of 2020, everyone can think of a situation we'd like to see end.

In times like these I've found a way to stay positive and optimistic: I set a rolling internal end date for the event. Instead of saying, “this will all be over by May 1st,” I tell myself “this will be over in two more months,” And no matter how many days or months pass, I keep telling myself “two more months”.

For me this provides two seemingly opposite but related benefits.

The first is that I feel more stable right now in doing what I'm doing. I set a deadline far enough out that I don't need to take any immediate “get out and shut down” actions. Two months is long enough that I can treat the situation as if it were going to last forever, which means I can dedicate time and effort to making right now better. You don't spend time improving a situation that will only exist for a week.

The second is that there is a timeline, however fictional. And because there is a timeline there is hope. There will come a day where this situation will change. I don't have to keep re-hashing the question of when that will be, it'll be in “two months”. This frees up brain resources to stop thinking about when this will end and allows me to spend more time thinking about how I can make that timeline happen faster.

As we all face uncertainty and a lot of time inside and alone, I've been trying to think of what I can do to make things better in any way for other people.

I don't have much, but what I have I can give freely. A lot of people need to watch their finances right now. I hope this is a time of boredom for you instead of illness and stress. If you're bored maybe this is a good time to learn something?

To this end I'm making all of my Painless books free for the duration, meaning, from now until... well, we'll see. Here's the link:

Painless Productivity Trilogy for free

Leanpub being what it is, you can still choose to throw a coin to your author. (Actually the minimum you can pay is $4.99. That's a LeanPub limitation, not a Nate limitation)

Stay safe everyone, and take care of yourself!

Please feel free to share this and tell anyone who might find some command line training useful while they're stuck in the house.


It started with Star Wars, of course. I loved the original trilogy, collected it on VHS and then VHS special edition and then DVD. Like every other Star Wars fan I watched Episode I and was...okay. Then watched Episode II and was done. I still haven't watched Episode III. I might get around to it someday.

So fast forward and same thing with Episode VII. I really liked it! It was a return to the original trilogy, of course, but it was fun. Then Rogue One came out and was...fine. It wasn't great, it was obvious from the beginning that every character was going to die, but it was fine.

I stopped caring about Star Wars as I walked out of the theater after watching Episode VIII. My dad asked me what I thought and my only answer was “everything that has ever happened in any Star Wars movie happened in that Star Wars movie. They want you to know that this is a Star Wars movie.” I haven't watched Episode IX. I might get around to it someday.

But it made me realize that I'm no longer particularly interested in “reimagining” or “returning to” things I enjoyed in the past. I'm perfectly content with Dark Crystal sticking in my memory as a weird and unsettling childhood trauma without watching a Netflix show exploring that “universe.”

I enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation. But I have no desire to watch Picard. I have watched Friends more times than I care to admit, but I won't be watching the Friends Reunion.

And it seems like such a waste to keep returning to twenty-year-old wells when people are making excellent new things. The Good Place is excellent and unlike any other show I've ever seen. And they had the integrity to end the show when they ran out of story.

So I guess that's my message: Be like The Good Place. Tell your story until it's done and then stop. There are other stories to be told.

This is definitely a reminder I need from time to time. My pocket notebooks are never going to be part of the public record. I will never have to defend the half-thought things I dumped in a pocket notebook. Nobody will ever be impressed by what I wrote unless I work it into something bigger, and even then, it's unlikely anyone will ever much care.

So I can just write. I can just catch little things, regardless of state of finish or polish. The inner editor isn't allowed in my pocket notebooks.

#amwriting #notebooks #FieldNotes

This Tree Confuses Me.

This is awesome. I've walked past this tree daily for around a year now, and today it does this. It literally stopped me in my tracks, and I had to take a picture.

Sure, this weird little tree is just some ornamental that someone planted in their front yard. I'm sure there are people all over the world who will look at it and say “ah yes, that's a insert Linnaean name here, quite common in insert part of the world here.

But to me it looks like something that belongs in a coral reef, not someone's front lawn.

Nature is amazing. Infinite variety, even in a downtown setting.

Liz Phelly wrote about Spotify's mood monetization.

You should read the entire article, but here are some good quotes:

““At Spotify we have a personal relationship with over 191 million people who show us their true colors with zero filter,” reads a current advertising deck. “That’s a lot of authentic engagement with our audience: billions of data points every day across devices!”

And more succinctly:

“In a data-driven listening environment, the commodity is no longer music. The commodity is listening. The commodity is users and their moods.”

But... we all kinda knew this, right? This is how free services work. Spotify is a little different because there are users who pay for the service. Those users won't be presented with targeted advertising, but how much are you willing to bet that their data is being excluded from the data being sold to third parties? Yeah, me neither.

So what's the answer? Just dump Spotify? Honestly if Apple Music were a viable alternative I'd consider it. Apple is making a reputation out of being very conservative with user data and that might be good enough.

Or maybe the answer is to take your data back in the form of hosting your own music streaming. Plex will manage your music collection for you, and PlexAmp lets you access it from just about anywhere. A lifetime Plex Pass is about the same price as a year of Spotify Premium, although you do have to provide your own music to use Plex.

Which is probably a good thing. BandCamp is quick to point out that you listening to an album on Spotify will probably net the performer around 4¢, while buying their album on BandCamp will give them roughly 85% of whatever you paid. The performer cuts from buying MP3s from Amazon or AACs from Apple probably aren't as good as BandCamp, but probably better than Spotify.

For now I'm taking a hybrid approach. I have a hefty collection of FLAC files I bought off of BandCamp hosted on my Plex Server, but I still use services like Spotify or Amazon Prime Music to listen to new things that I'm not ready to buy yet.

And I'm quietly reminding myself that when I'm listening to Spotify, any number of advertisers are also listening to me.

I've been using Evernote off and on since it was in beta and only on Windows. The fully-networked, store-your-stuff-on-the-cloud version has been a part of my life since... well, it looks like November of 2010:

A very plain photo of a chair in some sunlight.

I took this picture to see how Evernote dealt with photos on an iPad. It wasn't meant to last forever, it wasn't really meant to be anything, just a test of the system. But it got caught, and now it's been faithfully copied to every computer I've owned in that time, every mobile device that has had Evernote installed has had that as well.

Not that Evernote is perfect. It thinks the orange rectangle in this picture:

Some pinecones in a blurry picture.

Is the word “chair”. Which is funny and fascinating at the same time.

Aspen on Mulberry on deck.

Summer is well and truly here.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.