The one device I’ve been craving for the past year or so has been a new 16-inch MacBook Pro. I’ve outgrown my 11-inch iPad Pro from 2018, a device I thought would be my primary device for years to come. I’ve edited and managed all the photos I’ve posted to this blog on it and written every entry on it, but I’ve run Hugo and written the code for this site on my Mac mini that’s sitting on my desk at home. I want something powerful and portable to do all my work on, including things I only dabble on at the moment, like filmmaking and web design, and a new MacBook Pro would do it.
If Apple announces this device, then you best believe they’re getting all my money, and I can’t wait to give it to them.
Three members of Chromatics have announced the end of the electro-pop band. Ruth Radelet, Adam Miller, and Nat Walker signed a statement that was shared on Radalet and Miller’s Instagram accounts. “After a long period of reflection, the three of us have made the difficult decision to end Chromatics,” the statement reads. “We would like to thank all of our fans and the friends we have made along the way—we are eternally grateful for your love and support.”
I first heard of Chromatics when After Dark was released back in 2007. I was in college then, and I spent much of my free time downloading and listening to all the music I could get my hands on. Since then, I’ve purchased more of their albums, with Closer to Grey (embedded above) a particular favorite.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve spent some of my free time going through Essential Craftsman’s series on how to build a house on YouTube, and I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it. For a long time, I’ve had it in mind that someday I wanted to build my own house, and even though it feels like a crazy and far off idea now, I’m hoping that one day I will have a hand in building a home that will last generations. Granted, I don’t know how to use any construction tool outside of a hammer, so this might be something that will take a lifetime to pursue. But hey, nothing worth doing is easy. I am very grateful, though, to know more about drainage and surveying and plumbing and electrical and everything else that comes with building a home. That knowledge feels empowering in the best sense of the word.
I started to spend my time on this because I’ve been at something of a midlife crisis this summer. I’m afraid of tomorrow, of next week, of next year, because I feel like time is moving way too fast and I still don’t know how I want to spend it, and every minute lost scares the shit out of me. I’m slowly (very very slowly) building myself back up, and I’m hoping I come out of this stronger. I just don’t know what I want to do with my life anymore, so I’m pursuing every little interest I’ve ever had in my life, from these crazy ideas to the impossible ones. I want to find that thing or things that say, Yes, this is what Mario was born to do or whatever, because right now I feel lost.
I really resonated with Rachel Syme’s article in this week’s New Yorker magazine. She writes about our collective fetishization of setting and meeting deadlines, with the cult of productivity types who wake up at 5am and meditate and write in their bullet journal and drink spinach smoothies and do yoga for an hour before they’re ready to tackle their day. It’s all bullshit. “Everywhere you look,” she writes,
people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines. This may seem like a sly way of marrying procrastination with productivity (you’re biding your time learning how to better manage your time), but, no matter what, it’s an exhausting treadmill of guilt and ostentation, virtue signalling, and abject despair at falling behind.
I’ve been trying my hardest to slow down recently, to savor life, to battle my ghosts and fight for the life I want to live, so it was a breath of fresh air to read that I’m not the only one who sees it all as an “exhausting treadmill.”
I was also a bit giddy to read this section on Jenny Odell, the author of one of my favorite books of the past few years, How To Do Nothing:
Odell has her moonier moments, and she isn’t always stating revolutionary ideas. Her goal is to bring back patience, which she sees as our most neglected and underappreciated virtue. Still, she has a surprisingly fresh rationale: being patient isn’t just about changing how we do things, it’s also, more fundamentally, about changing how we see things. Breaking the “cycle of reactions” we’re usually beholden to, she explains, opens a “gap through which you can see other perspectives, temporalities, and value systems.” If the common fear is that a lack of productivity will narrow the possibilities of our life, Odell is here to tell us the opposite. With our eyes always fixed on a prize, we’re missing the bigger picture. What good is “the deadline effect” if it’s blinkering us, keeping us from a more expansively defined potential?
Bringing back patience is an honorable goal, and I’m better served practicing that than working my ass for a deadline that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to become the Red Queen.
To create the atlas, the research team took micro-CT images of ten heads of buff-tailed bumblebees. From these, they first extracted the image data showing the brains. In each of these data stacks, 30 brain regions of the bumblebee were manually reconstructed in three dimensions. On JMU’s high-performance computing cluster Julia, a standard brain was then calculated from the ten data sets, based on their mean values.
These scientists CT-scanned buff-tailed bumblebee brains and created a model of it, all in order to use “…it as a model organism to analyze learning and memory, the visual system, flight control and navigation abilities.” I don’t know why I find this so fascinating right now but I do. This is so cool!
In the United States, more than 12 million children hear a minority language at home from birth. More than two-thirds hear English as well, and they reach school age with varying levels of proficiency in two languages. Parents and teachers often worry that acquiring Spanish will interfere with children’s acquisition of English.
A first-of-its-kind study in U.S.-born children from Spanish-speaking families led by researchers at Florida Atlantic University finds that minority language exposure does not threaten the acquisition of English by children in the U.S. and that there is no trade-off between English and Spanish. Rather, children reliably acquire English, and their total language knowledge is greater to the degree that they also acquire Spanish.
I’m not a parent so I don’t know what happens to parents once they have children exactly, but fearing that their kids will suffer with English because they were also exposed to Spanish feels irrational to me. For me, learning and knowing Spanish made me even more proficient in English. Hell, I became a writer in no small part because I am bilingual. Everyone should know more than one language, and I truly hope studies like this will make parents and teachers (and school administrators) more open to teaching our kids a second language as early as possible.
Nearly every week for the past 56 weeks, Axios has tracked the change — more often than not, the increase — in new COVID-19 infections. Those case counts are now so low, the virus is so well contained, that this will be our final weekly map.
Ever since I received bothshots of the Pfizer vaccine, I’ve felt like the threat of the coronavirus simply disappeared from my life. I still wore my mask as often as I could even when those around me didn’t, but I’ll admit, within the last month, I’ve begun to forget my mask when going out, and I haven’t felt that guilty about it. Within the last few weeks at school, I carried my mask in my pocket but I didn’t wear it outside a few special occasions. In my county here in Montana, 49% of us have been fully vaccinated, a remarkable achievement considering I still see too many Trump flags, yard signs, bumper stickers, and regular assholes walking around with their MAGA hats and stupidity.
Last week, my mom called me and told me she got her first Moderna shot, and just a few days ago, my brother got the Johnson & Johnson shot. My sister has been an anti-vaxxer for a very long time, so neither her or her husband have gotten the shot. Many of my friends have received the shot, though, and I’m grateful for all them and those who have been vaccinated. I sincerely hope President Biden achieves his 70% vaccination goal by July 4th because I, like many, just want things to return to normal.
Coming back to watching it this season feels like reinserting myself into a glorious story. I needed a reminder of where I’ve come from, and who I am, and how far I’ve gone.
Watching baseball, right now, I’m reminded of two things. This part of my life is part of a bigger story I’ve been living for a long time. And as much as I love narrative media and great stories, life is a lot more like an open-ended game where the end isn’t written yet. That’s frightening, but it’s also invigorating. A win is just as likely as a loss, and nobody loses forever.
When I was a kid, all I ever did was follow the Padres. I remember I would steal every copy of the San Diego Union Tribune just so I can nab the Sports section and cut out the box score and the story to whatever game the Padres played the day before. I remember how this was one of the first uses of a notebook for me, and I loved it. I remember Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley and Greg Vaughn and Wally Joyner and Bruce Bochy and whoever else played for them when I was a kid. I remember the 1998 season and the heartbreaking World Series sweep by the Yankees. I remember tuning into every game I could while in high school, and I remember tuning out once I got to college. Thank goodness because the mid-2000 Padres were awful.
Over the past few weeks, I started to watch game highlights on the MLB YouTube channel and feeling that spark of interest return. I love seeing the Slam Diego Padres again, win or lose, and I even started to read Kevin Acee in the Tribune again. This all feels familiar, like I’m dipping back into a narrative of my life that never ended. I haven’t subscribed to MLB.tv like Alissa did, but goddammit, I’ve felt like it over the past week. I, too, am feeling a bit apathetic to TV and movies, and maybe what I need is sports. Hell, I even tuned into the Indy 500 for a bit yesterday because I needed something that wasn’t TV or movies, a story to follow1 that I wanted to see through.
Part of the reason why I had stopped following sports, though, was the painful heartbreak of being a sports fan from San Diego. The Padres haven’t been to the World Series since 1998, and don’t even get me started on the Chargers. But maybe I need that heartbreak again, the feelings of ups and downs that sports gives people. Who knows, maybe the Padres have a shot this year.
Depression, for instance, has been described as a form of ‘cognitive rigidity’, where the system fails to adjust how sensitive it is to corrective feedback from the world. For people in good mental health, emotional feedback allows them to flexibly tune their expectations: sometimes it makes sense to ‘write off’ a prediction error as just noise, rather than see it as something that demands a change in their generative model of the world; other times, it makes sense to change our model because of the error. In depression, researchers hypothesise that we lose this ability to move back and forth between more or less ‘sensitive’ states, which results in rising and unmanageable prediction error. Eventually, we come to predict the inefficacy and failure of our own actions – which in turn becomes a self-reinforcing prediction, which we achieve some minimal satisfaction from confirming. At the level of the person who is depressed, this manifests in feelings such as helplessness, isolation, lack of motivation and an inability to find pleasure in the world.
I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life, and I can of course recognize when those feelings of “helplessness, isolation, lack of motivation and an inability to find pleasure in the world” happen, and my best medicine to combat them has been both giving myself time to heal and surrounding my life with as much pleasure as I could find.
I started to use social media in high school when I first joined Friendster and MySpace, but those were just silly diversions and not really what we recognize as social media today. Around this time, I spent a lot of time in AOL chat rooms where I mostly wrote “a/s/l” and “15/m/ca” (or whatever) and wait to see who would chat with me. I remember I made about a dozen “friends” this way that I contacted on and off throughout my time in high school. I remember friends from South Dakota and Texas to this day, but I don’t remember their names anymore. It’s been ages since I’ve thought about this. Wow. But then I joined Facebook in 2004 when a freshman at USC, and I’ve been a part of a social media platform ever since, at the expense to my mental health.
For me, social media was an easy way to socialize. I didn’t have to see people, and I didn’t have to talk to have conversations with them. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve battled with my stutter, and to compensate, I learned to both speak fast and to mumble, to not give my stutter a chance to happen and make me feel bad about myself. But this, in turn, made me even more difficult to understand, and whenever somebody said, “Huh?” or “What’d you say?”, I felt bad and I would just shake my head and say, “Nothing,” or “Nah, not important.” And because of this, I had a very hard time making friends, something Facebook “fixed.”
So I grew used to socializing this way, chatting, making plans, etc. And because I went to film school, most of the things my friends and I did was, well, watch movies, one of the most anti-social activities ever invented. And I loved it. I wrote and expressed myself with my stories, and I wrote and expressed myself on Facebook. But because Facebook and social media was how I made friends, I spent a lot of time alone and seeking validation on these platforms.
Later in the essay, the two authors write that:
So-called ‘Snapchat surgery’ makes perfect sense within the predictive processing framework. If we become accustomed to our own doctored appearance, and to receiving all of the feedback associated with it, soon the level of validation available offline will be registered as mounting prediction error. That’s likely to result in feelings of stress, and inadequacy. Through the lens of predictive processing, we see that getting surgery to look more like a filtered image is just the system doing what it always does: it’s no different from grabbing a blanket as the temperature begins to drop. We’re sampling the world to bring us back into an expected state. But social media is capable of displacing our self-image so much that the only way to rectify the error and meet those expectations is to surgically alter the way we look.
Emphasis mine. Social media taught me that the only way to be liked is how many likes, hearts, comments, @-mentions, or whatever other metric in place each of my posts generated. Every time I posted something, I intentionally glued myself to whatever app it was I posted to and waited. I waited to see the reactions happen in real time, and whenever I didn’t get enough or when the one person I wanted to reply didn’t, I felt bad. I felt awful. I felt like hurting myself. This is so damn ridiculous that I can’t believe I’m writing these words right now. Why would I do that? Why would I care?
Of course, there’s a more obvious way to alleviate these problems: spend less time online. For some of us, this is easier said than done, as mounting evidence supports the suspicion that social media can be addictive. A comprehensive review in 2015 defined social media addiction as a disproportionate concern with and drive to use social media that impairs other areas of life, and found that roughly 10 per cent of users exhibit symptoms of addiction. Interestingly, this is around the same percentage of people who have problems with alcohol – but while the addictive hooks of alcohol are relatively well understood, those of social media are not. Predictive processing might once again hold the key to understanding exactly how the features of particular platforms come to have such an effect.
I was addicted. It makes sense. Social media has been a part of my life for over 20 years now, and the first step toward healing is admitting you have a problem. I have a problem. I know this. I’ve known this, but I feel like now, I’m trying, finally, to do something about it.
And I have two things I’m trying to do to improve this situation for myself. One is to identify the friends I have now and start trying to improve my relationship with them. Yesterday, a friend of mine confronted me and asked me why I haven’t been talking to her as much recently, and I finally confided in her with some of my thoughts of depression and suicide, and I think (hope?) our friendship can improve because of it. It was scary and I felt very vulnerable, but after I said the words out loud, I felt better. Is that selfish? I’m not sure. I hope it isn’t.
The second thing I want to do is increase my number of friends. I saw this photo in an article in The Atlantic the other day that I really resonated with. It shows a rough estimate of an average person’s average friend circles. Now let me tell you, I don’t think I have any intimates, close friends, best friends, or good friends, and I definitely don’t think I have 150 “friends.” This is one area I would really like to improve, but I don’t know how, not really.
Everyone says it’s tough to make friends as an adult. If that’s not a challenge worth accepting then I don’t know what is. So: challenge accepted.
How can the past help inform today’s most pressing challenges? Every Tuesday, award-winning historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman use their encyclopedic knowledge of US history to bring the past to life. Together, they make sense of the week in news by discussing the people, ideas, and events that got us here today.