Nate Dickson Thinks...

Small Thoughts for a Quiet World.

I'm a middle age cis-gender white male. the odds of someone mis-gendering me are low. If someone used they/them/theirs pronouns in reference to me I would not be hurt. If they used “she/her/hers” I would be a little confused, but not hurt. I haven't spent time and effort and frustration and pain establishing or defending my gender identity.

And that's why I list pronouns. Because it's a tacit acknowledgement that if you list your preferred pronouns I will take it seriously. I acknowledge that I haven't had people disrespect me by misgendering me, and I want anyone who is fighting that fight to know that they don't have to fight around me; I'm on their side. Be who you are and I will support you.

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I was a big fan of Opera back before there was a Firefox browser, back when it was all Internet Explorer as far as the eye could see. Opera was an interesting thing, and was also a source of real and sustained innovation. Tabbed browsing was their idea, as was mouse gestures and a few other fancy things.

Opera as a company has gone weird since then, but a few of the original people have splintered off and created Vivaldi , and I kind of love it. it's a deeply nerd-centric browser. Right now I'm writing this post in a sidebar, which lets me browse sites I'm wanting to reference in the main window. Add in things like “tab stacking” and a command palette, and —a signature Opera feature— a built in mail client, and you have a delightfully non-mainstream browser that I have fallen in love with more than once.

I tend to fall out of love with it because of compatibility issues with some of the sites I have to use for work, but hopefully as Vivaldi advances, and as web masters within my organization update their sites, that will be less of a problem.

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I was reading the wikipedia entry for the adage Festina Lente (as one does) and found this:

Slowly make haste, and without losing courage; Twenty times redo your work; Polish and re-polish endlessly, And sometimes add, but often take away. —Nicolas Boileau, The Art of Poetry

And this is so perfect. I just wanted to share it.

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It feels odd that we have to go back to this, but here we are. For a long time the mantra of the technological world was one thing well. Do one thing, do it well, and chain with other systems, so that each individual user can do what they need to do. the humble pipe symbol | is the champion of all this. Take the output from one tool that does its job well, and pass it as input to another system that can do its job well. Apple paid homage to it in the creation of their icon for Automator, the oft-forgotten GUI-glue program.

Auto, the Automator icon, holding a pipe

Now we're in a version of the internet where people, or rather, companies, would like to sell you a fully packaged version of the web. Videos that are only playable on a single app. Music that lives inside its own walled garden. Text behind paywalls. Each thing is doing all of it. Presentation, distribution, discovery, playlist management, the entire experience, curated and monitored by the service. Your activities are their new oil, feeding their algorithms so they can better target their ads to you.

And...well, people need to get paid. Servers aren't cheap to run at scale. Music and video aren't cheap to produce. Books take a long time to write and an even longer time to edit and get right. We should pay for what we use, so that people can make more good stuff and put it out into the world.

But we still have a vast amount of content that could be provided in an open and visible way. This blog for instance. It costs me very little to run. If you happen to have the right kind of payment system installed in your browser it will collect a few cents from you while you read it, but if not, no big deal. So here's my point:

We should deliver standards-based content, so that individuals can customize their own experiences.

If you hate my styling on this site that's fine. You can use RSS to consume the text in a nice reader app that styles things just for you. Or you can get it emailed to you, or you could even download the entire thing as an epub, if that's your idea of a good time.

Which leads to the bigger better point: we have all these lovely standards, and they're fully functional and useful. RSS is as simple as its ever been, and is still totally free, no matter how hard the big companies try to push their own walled-garden news aggregators. EPUB is glorious. There are many beautiful readers, both physical and software-based, that let you re-style a book any way you like, take notes, share sections, the works. But most people think eBook = Kindle. The walled library.

Support the open standards. Quietly, peacefully. Vote with your money and by witholding money. Find a way to consume the media you need or want without feeding back into the attention economy. It's not only possible, it's easier than ever.

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A lot of what I have tried to do my whole life is ignore fear and stress and pain. Push them away, and insulate my life so that they don't come close to me.

And some of that is reasonable, right? We should try to make our world good and safe, that's called being wise. We should seek to make the world better day by day.

But pain and fear and stress are part of it. We shouldn't be afraid of fear. We shouldn't try to close discomfort entirely out of our lives. We should accept them as part of the world and make space for them, tolerate them and let them teach us their lessons.

This doesn't mean we should dive into them, we shouldn't move all the way to depression and fatalism. But optimism can exist alongside fear. I can be uncertain about the future and still be hopeful about it as well.

We lost our old dog this year. It hurt. It was hard. But the pain of losing him in no way offsets the joy of having lived with him for all those years.

There are times and places where we simply need to make space in our hearts. We need to make room for grief to sit with us, and let it do its work. We don’t need to fear or loathe pain, though of course we needn’t seek it out either.

What stories are we telling our selves as we interact with others? Is there a way to moderate the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves as well? —Me, a few days ago, not sure when.

This entry is a potpourri of a lot of things that have been swirling around in my brain, so yeah, it's a bit disjointed.

I've been thinking about why I like Doctor Who and Harry Dresden. I mentioned to a friend of mine that they are similar in my mind; they fit in the same “slot”. And I wasn't sure why. I've been thinking about it more.

They are both characters that live almost permanently on the cusp of the disaster curve. But in both cases that constant fear and stress has made their characters kinder, not harder. The Doctor has two hearts.

It's hard to talk about the importance of an imaginary hero. But heroes ARE important: Heroes tell us something about ourselves. History tells us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now; but heroes tell us who we WANT to be. And a lot of our heroes depress me. But when they made this particular hero, they didn't give him a gun—they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn't give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter—they gave him a box from which you can call for help. And they didn't give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat-ray—they gave him an extra HEART. They gave him two hearts! And that's an extraordinary thing. There will never come a time when we don't need a hero like the Doctor. —Steven Moffat (emphasis added)

So that's the lesson I'm trying to learn. If I'm going to be a “leader” or some kind of important person in other people's lives, I want to be the one with two hearts. The one that listens more, that accepts other people's stress and pain and turns them into kindness and understanding.

Dresden is a little different. He was always kind, but he has a hard edge. But the effect pain has on him is to make him able to tolerate it better. In the early books he's weak, he's almost human. In later books he accepts that he's taking a beating, and that it's okay, he can roll with it and keep going, keep helping. He never lets go of his principles, even if he has to twist himself to fit into a bad world. I can understand that world. I want to accept that. That I can get through things, and stop worrying about them when they come my way. I don't need to hide from hard things.

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When I first started my career as a software developer I found some little trendy piece of pop culture ephemera, a printed dictionary of “hacker slang”. I wish I could find it again, because even though it was instantly outdated, it still influenced my mindset for a while.


One of the terms it defined was “putting on the tie”:

Put on the tie verb: to transition from programming to management. “Did you hear about Jake?” “Yeah, someone told me he finally put on the tie. Poor sod.”

The concept being that programmers wear t-shirts and shorts and managers wear shirts and ties.

I have no idea if everyone has ever used that phrase, ever.

But I have just recently, officially, put on the tie. I'm moving from my comfortable roles close to software development into a “Directorship” role, a position of actual management instead of just overseeing a few fellow devs.

Clear back in the day, I was sure I would never make the move. but as I've grown older I've wanted to spend more time influencing people and less time fixing bad code.

I keep telling myself things like that. There is much that I like about management, there is much that I enjoy about being in a position of responsibility, and I have a lot of ideas about how to make things better.

But part of me is definitely sad to leave that other world behind.

It's been interesting, talking to all my developer friends, and seeing their responses to this move. Overall it seems to blank incomprehension: why would anyone want to be a manager?

My only real answer is that this is that I like working with people more than code. I still hack around on projects in my free time, but this is more my speed. So we'll see!

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I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the 13th year, because I enjoy it. I'm trying something new this year:

I'm not worried about publishing.

I'm just writing because I want to. This is a character I wanted to explore. I'm playing a fair amount of D&D these days and this is one of my characters I'm playing. I guess you could call this an obscenely over-done backstory for a character sheet.

And being me, and being the kind of person who just dumps thoughts out there in the world, I'm publishing my writing in more-or-less real time.

So anyway, if you want to read some real-time nonsense noveling, feel free to check out The Trials of Osmorn.

I'm using WorldAnvil for this because I like the idea of building the world and then letting the characters and story arise from the world instead of creating a plot and building a world around that plot.

One of my friends asked what WorldAnvil offers to make writing better, why it's better than, say, Obsidian, for keeping track of characters. Why does using WorldAnvil make me more likely to have character birthdays and eye color and what not?

And my answer is “it asks the questions.” Of course I could write all these details, but having a place where I can put these notes and see how they show up, how they connect.

So I'm trying to build characters that only interact with my “main” characters in passing.

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I never played any table top RPGs in high school. At the time they were seen as a male-only nerd activity and frankly I was involved in far too many of those already.

Over the years I've played a little bit of GURPS and a little Pathfinder, here and there with various groups,but I didn't start playing D&D until this year.

Decades after graduating high school, my kids introduced me to the hobby. When I mentioned that I might like to try my hand at being a DM I was astonished at how many of my friends were apparently just waiting for a chance to be players in a D&D campaign.

So now I'm a part of three D&D campaigns. I'm DM in two of them and a player (for now) in the third. And things have changed for the better in the world of D&D.


Here's something I've learned recently. If you're in a position where you end up scheduling a lot of meetings, and attending a lot of meetings, you can protect your calendar in a very simple way:

Schedule “jagged” meetings.

By which I mean meetings that start at fifteen minutes before or after the hour. Most people tend to schedule meetings on the hour or on the half hour, and will naturally leave the fifteen minutes before your “jagged” meeting alone. Occasionally they'll leave you a full 45 minutes before a meeting.

This gives everyone who is attending your meeting time to prepare, and gives you a little breathing room in your schedule as well.

It works on the other end as well. You don't usually need hour-long meetings, schedule them for 45 minutes, and everyone has a few minutes of breathing space at the end.

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I was running a D&D session for some friends the other night in which they had to enter a market run by and for the undead. The party's rogue decided to go dress the part, so that she could blend in more easily. In real life this was accomplished by her player searching pinterest for an outfit she wanted.

When she came back I said “okay, so, you're dressed like that, and somehow Sarah McLachlan is playing in the background, even though she's never done a tour in Faerûn.”


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