Mario Villalobos

Notes

If You Want to Be in Control of Your Life, Then You Have to Be in Control of the Things That You’re Interacting With on a Daily Basis

The above quote comes from this New Yorker article by Julian Lucas. In it, he writes about distraction-free writing tools like iA Writer, my personal app of choice. The entire article is worth a read, especially the section on iA Writer. I especially found this section where Oliver Reichenstein, the creator of iA Writer, details how he came up with the custom monospace font used in the app:

He drew inspiration from mechanical typewriters, especially for the app’s focus mode and signature font. While most books are typeset using proportionate typography, allotting each character space in accordance with its width, monospaced fonts give each character, whether a lowly period or an initial capital, an equal span. “When you write in a monospaced font, you get a feeling of moving forward,” Reichenstein said. “Even if you don’t click away like crazy, you feel that your text is growing.”

“When you write in a monospaced font, you get a feeling of moving forward.” I find that so beautiful and so true. Sometimes at work, I find myself having to write something in Google Docs, and I always felt this background hum that made me feel uneasy whenever I did so, and I wasn’t sure why. Was it all the extra chrome? The distracting buttons? The font?

“A minor literary doctrine holds that great writing should be platform-independent,” writes Julian in his closing paragraph.

Let amateurs mess around with gadgets and gizmos; Wole Soyinka wrote “The Man Died” in a Nigerian prison with Nescafé for ink and a chicken bone for a stylus. Yet the ability to write with anything and the drive to experiment with everything likewise reflect the fact that the means, no less than the matter of writing, should adapt to our selves and to our circumstances. The quest to match writer and machine may be as necessary, in its way, as literature’s unending effort to reconcile experience and expression.

“Experience and expression.” Is that not what all art is? This attempt by us to let the universe know we existed once and that our life mattered?

Learning 30 German Words a Day

I studied my first 30 German words today, and it was tough but fun. German has this kh sound that I’m having trouble making. Words like ich (I) and vielleicht (maybe) are tough for me to say, but I know I’ll get better with practice. Other words are more fun to say, like auf keinen fall! (no way!) and schade! (what a pity!).

Like I alluded to in my last post, I’m approaching this language differently than I have with others I’ve tried learning. My main focus is on just speaking and listening. Reading will sorta come through with my flashcards, but I won’t be focused on that or writing until later. My main goal is to have a conversation with Mona in about six months, so my focus has to be simple and direct. I’m also limiting myself to about the most common 1,000 words I’ll need to know to hold a basic conversation with someone, and to just basic grammar. Nothing complex yet.

There’s a section in the Ultimate Language Learning Guide that I loved. To paraphrase: the one thing that matters with language is to express what I want to express and have the person I’m talking to understand what I’m expressing. If I just focus on that, then I think I’ll be okay.

I’m using Anki to make my flashcards and study them, and I’m using a simple spreadsheet to keep track of my words and their definitions. I’m also using this German to English dictionary by LEO for my audio files and Lonely Planet’s German phrasebook and dictionary for most of my German words and grammar.

There’s so much more work I need to do, but I think I’ve built a solid foundation to build off of, so all I have left to do is to keep working, so let’s go.

Attempting to Learn German

I love learning languages, and I wanted to spend more time learning during the winter months, so not long ago I purchased Johnny Harris and Nathaniel Drew’s Ultimate Language Learning Guide from Bright Trip. I wanted something new, some external force to kickstart my Japanese learning because it had become quite stale, quite boring, and I wanted to tackle my studies in a new way.

They have a video titled “Motivation” that goes through the why you want learn the language in the first place, and with Japanese, I quickly filled up a page in my notebook with my reasons why I wanted to learn it. I thought I’d write a blog post detailing those reasons, but I didn’t. I didn’t because to me, nothing that I would have written would have been new to me. I started learning Japanese on my own around 2018 or 2019, so I’ve been going at it for a few years. It wasn’t a 2 week fad that quickly faded away but something I’ve kept at it for years because my motivation was clear: to go to Japan with the hopes of one day living there for a while.

Because that won’t happen for a while, I decided to do something new. In April of this year, I agreed to become the academic coordinator for a foreign exchange student in Germany. She arrived in August, and I’ve had nothing but good times since her arrival. The other day I heard her talk to her dad on the phone in German, and I absolutely enjoyed listening to her talk. Years ago I wrote about one day learning eight languages, and German was one of those eight. So I thought, why not learn German now?

So here I am today. I’m committing myself to learn German for the next 6 months or so. Mona, the foreign exchange student, will leave America in about that time, and my goal is to know enough German to hold a conversation with her before she leaves for Germany. I have no idea whether I will be able to by the end of these next 6 months, but I am very excited to try.

I know this will be hard, but that’s kinda the fun of it, isn’t it?

Still Going Strong

100 days ago I hit my 1,000 daily move goal, and yesterday I hit 1,100. A part of me thought I’d slow down once I hit 1,000 days, but my fitness routine is so ingrained into my days that I don’t ever think about slowing down. My days are just my days. I wake up, get to work, and workout. It just is.

I won’t be doing anything special during this upcoming holiday break, so I guess I’ll keep going.

Montanifornia

Eric Dietrich:

With a final vote Friday, Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission made it official: The state has a new congressional map, political lines drawn to define how Montanans are represented in the U.S. House through the 2030 election.

While the boundaries could still be subject to a court challenge, the vote represents the likely culmination of a monthslong districting process that kicked into gear when detailed 2020 census results were published in August, triggering a once-a-decade effort to recalibrate Montana’s political boundaries. The proceedings drew hundreds of publicly submitted proposals, days of verbal testimony at hearings in the state Capitol and thousands of written comments filed by residents across the state.

I’ve lived in Montana for almost 10 years, and even though my “California” politics are in the minority, this place has become like another home for me. Things got bad once Trump was elected (to be fair, things were bad everywhere once he got elected), but for the most part, I haven’t really felt like my politics ever put a target on my back. But seeing this:

This makes me feel personally attacked! What is this nonsense? The two markers on the map read “San Fransoola” and “Bozeangeles," portmanteaus for “Missoula” and “Bozeman,” respectively.

What utter nonsense! 😂

How Autocar Digitized Their Entire Archive

They used iPads. iPads. Matt Prior:

The standard way to digitise pages is using a flatbed scanner, such as those made by Zeutschel. They’re “the most reliable in the world”, says Boswell, “but they’re slow”. Flatbed scanners also don’t treat big bound antique volumes kindly. You have to pick up the entire volume, turn it over, flip a page and lay it back down – and the result is rather better if the spine is broken so the page flattens on the surface.

Autocar has duplicate copies of some old back issues, so treating them badly doesn’t matter so much, but there is a quicker and kinder method, which for these purposes works perfectly well. It just looks a little more basic: it’s a plank of wood with a hole in it, through which one aims the camera of an iPad. Place a volume beneath it, press the button. “Picture quality is on a par with a mid-range SLR camera,” says Boswell. That’s plenty for a magazine captured at close range.

And it’s so much quicker. Boswell’s team consists of four full-time scanners, who have taken from April time until, well, not long before now, to get through the collection. Computers do the rest. Optical character recognition software deciphers the text with “100% accuracy”, which makes the entire collection of issues searchable by keywords, and the picture is cropped and converted to a PDF automatically. Then there’s a quality-control check and, from this point, it’s all cataloguing and labelling issues by date.

Around 2010, I used a cheap flatbed scanner to scan hundreds and hundreds of paper documents I’d accumulated in my life up to that point. Ever since I purchased my iPhone (the iPhone 5 in 2012), I’ve been using these devices to digitize my life. I’m amazed that a major publication like Autocar, a magazine that has been “publish[ing] every week since 1895,” decided to digitize their entire archive using iPads. Add to it that they used “a plank of wood with a hole in it” is even more amazing to me.

It’s little things like this that makes modern life both so mind-boggling cool and scary at the same time. Scary in the sense of how fast the world is moving, how fast technology has progressed in just 10+ years. And again, add the fact that iOS 15 can automatically recognize text in all your photos, and yeah… 🤯

A Picture of Leaves

It’s getting colder. It was down to the teens this morning, and I had to let my car run for a bit to warm up and defrost the windows. This is one of my favorite times of year, this in-between time, this transition from one season to the next.

I took this photo this morning with my iPhone 13 Pro. I was intrigued by the new Macro mode, but I hadn’t really tested it out. When I saw these leaves on my walk, though, I thought, why not? I couldn’t get as close to the leaves as I could with my regular Fuji XF80mm macro lens, but I still like that I have this “mode” on me at all times. It’s nice.

I also shot some ProRes video this morning of the frost on the grass. I shot it because of how the ground seemed to sparkle like diamonds. I’ve yet to review the footage, but I’m excited about all this power at my disposable on a phone. Amazing times, huh?

Game Changer

Hours after I posted Friday’s entry, my friend Joe texted me, “I have something you are wanting.” I was just waking up from a nap, so I looked at his text without really registering what he was saying. After a few moments I realized he was talking about my new MacBook Pro. I immediately got into my car and drove back to work, picked up my package and almost dropped it because I didn’t expect it to be so heavy. I listened to The War on Drugs—so good!—and when I arrived home, I texted the above picture to my friend Ginger.

“Woohoo!!” she replied.

Woohoo, indeed!

I bought the space gray 16" MacBook Pro with the Apple M1 Max chip with 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine, 64GB unified memory, and 2TB SSD storage. She’s a beast. I’ve never possessed so much power in my life, and I don’t know what to do about it. After a few hours of getting it all setup—clean install FTW—I finally got around to using it, and the first thing I noticed was how beautiful the screen was. After years and years of using an iPad Pro as my main device (starting with the 2016 9.7" iPad Pro, then moving to the 11" one from 2018), I didn’t realize how much the size of a screen matters. It goes without saying, but I can fit so much on this screen. And don’t get me started on the display profiles. There’s so much power and versatility there that I don’t even know where to start.

Once I had Lightroom all setup, I started going through some photos with the Photography (P3-D65) profile set, and I couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was for me to apply my edits on them. The color accuracy is unreal, and I feel like it’ll take me weeks or months before I truly realize how incredible this technology is and will be toward my workflow. Thankfully, years ago, I purchased both Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, two apps I’ve been so eager to really use and master but never quite could because I never had a machine powerful enough or comfortable enough to use to take advantage of them. Now that I do, I don’t even know where to start.

And that’s kinda the story with this machine. It’s so fast, so powerful, so unreal that I have to forget everything I thought I knew about computers and start over. Can I have 3 instances of Nova open plus Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, each with dozens of tabs open plus Lightroom and Photoshop and Photos plus Mail and Things and BBEdit and Github and Calendar and Music and Screens 4 and Reeder 5 and whatever else app I want? Sure, why not, and I don’t feel like I’m reaching the limits of this machine. That’s the crazy part.

Will I ever push this machine to its limits? I don’t even think that’s the right question. I think the question is, what can I create with this machine? And the answer to that is, whatever I want. And that’s a level of freedom I’ve never experienced before.

This machine is a game changer for me, and I can’t wait to see where I can go with it.

The Problem Is Us

M.G. Siegler:

The problem with Facebook isn’t actually Facebook. It’s us. It’s human beings. The problem is that Facebook created the greatest tool ever to connect those human beings. And it has led to a world in which the local lunatic is now the global lunatic.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past few days, and I think what I’ve come up with is that there are two sides to extremism. There’s the obvious kind—the hateful and violent kind we’ve all been witness to the past half decade or so—but there’s also the not so obvious kind, the extreme kindness that feels transactional to me.

I’ve been feeling this a lot during the past decade I’ve lived in Montana, where the phrase “small town values” is worn like an unearned badge of honor, but I’ve also felt it lingering in the background in some online communities that I’ve dipped in and out of over the years. Don’t get me wrong, kind people are great, and we need more of them, but when someone online is kind to you and you don’t return the favor? Forget about it, man. That “kind” person or community kinda sorta turns on you because you broke this unwritten rule of automatic kindness that you didn’t follow.

Community is great, and we all need our clans, but an internet community? I think that’s the problem, and we as humans weren’t meant for something so big and complex.

I Paid Off My Student Loan Today

Like when I paid off my car loan back in June, I really don’t know how to feel. Part of me, of course, is happy that I’m done with this debt—my last debt—but the other part of me is ho-hum about it because this is something I’ve been planning and building toward for the past few years. And now I’ve done it.

I’m debt free.

What do I do now?

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