Boats of 2023

The last two weeks are setting us for a great summer on the water. We have made two extraordinary impulse purchases. The first, last weekend when we helped friends move a boat from a moving sale and the seller decided to offer a 10′ solo Hornbeck canoe at a very good price. The boat’s hull is in great shape and it weighs only 15lbs, I can get it on and off my car easily and I can lift it with one hand.

The second boat is perhaps an even more unexpected find, and something I thought it would take us many more years to be able to afford. We’re now the very proud third owners of a 11′ 1955 Elgin runabout, a small wooden boat with all it’s original hardware, paperwork and 12hp outboard. It’s a great looking boat, will hold two comfortably and four in a pinch. We’ve got a trailer and will get a hitch put on the Bolt over the next few weeks while we’re getting paperwork sorted and the water’s warming up. The guy who sold the boat to us is a boat builder and so we know it’s been well taken care of. He also has a staggering project of building a sloop, destined for the Pacific, having scavenged the hardware and masts from a derelict boat he had next to the enclosure for the in-progress one. So here’s our exciting new boat, name TBD:

It should be a great summer on the water, hope to be out on a lake whenever the weather is good one way or the other. With the new canoe I can finally get around to leaving our small fiberglass canoe out at work. It’s been an unbelievable couple of weeks here and I’m so looking forward to summer and time outside after a long, dark winter. It’s hard to believe that I’ve got these two great new boats and I am excited about them both. Lots of good times ahead.

I’ve been reading a lot this year and the novel I’m reading ties in happily with this theme of boats:

These books are a pleasure, I read the first one a rainy vacation a couple of years ago and am glad to have found a copy of this second volume and that the public library system seems to have the whole 20+ book series across its various libraries so I can perhaps work my way through the whole series, which I probably can’t help doing, since I am a completest, though I’ll likely skip the final, incomplete volume 21. I’m glad to start a new volume in my life as a boater here in the Adirondacks.

Spending time with the dead

I found myself wandering around Elizabethtown, NY earlier this week. I dropped my car off at the Chevy dealer to get it’s battery replaced.

Luckily the weather was nice enough to walk around and the day mostly threatened rain without delivering much. I wandered down the main street and saw the county courthouse and the other accumulated brick buildings.

Essex County Courthouse with historic marker in foreground describing a night when Abolitionist John Brown's body was stored in the courthouse.

I wandered though more of the town, walked up into the woods until it became too muddy for my sneakers. On my way back to the dealership I saw a Pileated Woodpecker on a dead tree maybe ten feet from me. I hadn’t realized just how huge they are.

After some rest I walked out again, planning to make sure that both the conflicting sets of hours weren’t wrong about the public library being closed on Tuesdays, but ended up wandering down a side street and into a cemetery.

The first headstone I saw was a short white marble plinth placed in the center of a path through the cemetery, so you approached it when entering one part of the cemetery and see it in front of you. After you read how Samuel Dwyer lived and died, you come to the back of his memorial.

The Patriot died.
The Union lives.

That’s an astounding memorial. The craft and sentiment in these headstones was affecting. It is interesting to spend time thinking about death and history in a graveyard, it could hardly be clearer evidence of the past lives lived in a place as well as a place’s change and decay. A toppled plinth, the gates rusted shut, and the moss growing over the stones makes it clear how much we prefer not to think about the dead or about what they might still say to us.

It was great to get out for a walk and to be able to do so with almost no anxiety about wandering into public spaces like empty picnic tables and the cemetery grounds. It’s interesting to go to a new place and to get to spend time thinking about it, thinking about nothing and seeing parts of it on foot, slowly. It was a nice day and I’m glad to have a fully functioning battery in my car.

Tinkering & Puttering

Some working definitions:

Tinkering: iterative, leisurely modification to a system(s) toward a particular goal (i.e. tinkering with settings, tinkering with a draft)

Puttering: idle activity, confined generally to a particular area with no particular goal (ie. puttering around in the garden, garage, or area of knowledge)

I’ve been doing a bit of each of these lately. I’m always “working on a project” and they might or might not have a particular goal. I think this distinction, to give myself permission to not even try to accomplish anything is very useful.

Lately, a project I’ve been tinkering with is getting Linux installed on an ~2010 Macbook Air, which has been fun. There’s no stakes, just seeing if I can get it running and do anything at all with old hardware and new software. (and maybe try and optimize the battery life, since I replaced the battery around the time it stopped getting MacOS updates.) I’ve installed Nix, a new-to-me type of Linux, along with xfce for a low-resources GUI. I’d like to write a script that puts the machine in low-power mode when on batteries: lowers screen brightness, turns off bluetooth and wifi, drops you out of xfce into a shell and maybe under-clocks the processor. These are all goals but again, they ought not exert any pressure on me, I am just having fun, learning and tinkering. This approach can be applied to fiddling with options screens, which is its own subgenre of tinkering and worth much more thought than I can give it today. It also applies to my half dozen unformed hobby programming projects which I have made notes for. Worth looking at if something like ChatGPT can jumpstart a bit of that, as with’s Q&A site or the wonderful Braggoscope index to In Our Time. I’m a begginner programmer, so copying code from ChatGPT isn’t much different than copying from tutorials or Stack Overflow.

Giving myself some time that’s even less structure, that’s devoted to puttering, is perhaps nearly as important. I did a bit of this last night when I decided not to do any dishes and ended up organizing some things on my computer, making notes in my office for a project, adding some books to my Storygraph to be read pile and starting a new book I hadn’t explicitly wanted to read until just that moment.

I’ve recently read and again been frustrated by a Cal Newport’s book, in this case: Digital minimalism. There are helpful ideas here but it’s whose chosen format (contemporary self-improvement non-fiction) is doomed to get in the way of the goal of the book. Anecdotes got in the way of reasonable advice, which amounted to thinking carefully about (and systematizing) how you use technology, and mostly social media in your daily life. Setting aside those criticisms there’s some good advice buried in it. Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing which came out in the same year, takes a more personal, narrative and ultimately appealing approach to offering similar advice.

Cat in Eakins’s Yard [via the Smithsonian] (and an artist I’ve heard of but who I don’t know nearly enough about)

Hope you enjoy this historical cat as I have and that you get out take some time to tinker and putter.

slow & steady

I’ve taken notice lately of a few areas where I’ve managed to accumulate a body of knowledge or skills outside of things I’ve got to do at my job:

  • Cooking & bread baking
  • Science Fiction
  • Yoga (to a modest degree)

There seems to be an extent to which you become committed to doing something regularly and you’re doing it more than most people around you. So I’m suddenly surprised to learn that I cook more than most people do, make bread from scratch more often, have read more science fiction and have a bit more flexibility and knowledge about yoga.

It’s gratifying to discover that you’ve slowly accumulated this additional experience. It’s added up and you can look back over the years and see the layers of accumulated knowledge and skill. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t bake a loaf of bread at all for a couple of years, all the times you did have still added up to today.

view of several deer from a snowy driveway bordered by cedar trees
a view from here this winter
whole wheat sandwich bread
one of many loaves so far in 2023: a whole wheat sandwich bread

Off twitter & toward quiet

I’m going to really, really quit twitter this week.

I’m working to reframe the habits around my use of my computer, my keyboard and the internet. Now: I sit down, positioning my fingers on the home row and go through the little mental list of distractions I can type into my address bar. Chief among them has been twitter, everyone’s favorite hell site. I’m working to break that habit of opening up that site and exposing myself to a game of Russian roulette where perhaps only one chamber has the empty space of an interesting thread or link to an article I wouldn’t have found in my normal browsing and a second has a funny joke.

It is chiefly those other four chambers I’m looking to avoid: the tweets full of frustrated screams, FUD, arguments, Very Online drama and general information about the declining state of the planet, democracy, COVID, or any other injustice or event. Most of these things succeed in making me feel bad and put information into my head about which I can do very little.

Twitter has been a place, especially since in-built retweets and recommended tweets, where I no longer have even the illusion of control over the things the site might give me. I’m no longer willing to pull the trigger over and over again for the occasional interesting tidbit or joke.

It’ll be worth thinking about how to rework the discovery of interesting things as the most useful part of being on twitter. How do you mix structure and serendipity in the way that Good Twitter managed to do? One of the most important things was filtering that through individual people, which online magazines and blogs still reliably do, especially when pinned to RSS.

Direct replacements to twitter, especially Mastodon, or a retreat to the bombed-out shell that is tumblr might get you some of the Good Twitter. Also, since the early days of twitter, I think iMessage/text group chats and Instagram stories have soaked up nearly all my demand for the personal parts of “social” networks. Email newsletters gets at some of the holes left by the deaths of RSS and the removal of twitter’s more parasocial elements.

Finally, it’s worth finishing this post with a quote, at length, from Robin Sloan. His thinking about social networks and work on the Spring ’83 protocol helped me stumble across some thought provoking way of framing contemporary life on the web: (Emphasis mine)

The problem is that even when patience “wins”, it loses, because patience retreats, while compulsion compounds. As an example: I’ve broken many of these twitchy compulsions for myself, and I’m much better off for it — and yet, I’m aware that my nirvana of patient, non-twitchy media consumption doesn’t have any gravity. As far as you’re concerned, it doesn’t exist! I’m off reading a book somewhere, sure, but everybody else is still tweeting, and the tweets, they call out to you … 

So, the partisans of patience need some new tricks. We need ways of taking up space — asserting our existence — on screens, without conceding an inch to the twitchosphere. Obviously, email provides one of these ways, which is great; it’s likely you’re reading this newsletter because of an email. I just think there ought to be more than one (1) crusty digital distribution channel we can depend on.

This is totally doable; these new tricks need only to be invented. Perhaps repurposed!

This gets at something I’ve been thinking about a lot: doing things quietly, but not silently. Having a space for some writing that means I’ve been thinking about the things I’m reading and doing so in thoughts measured in words, not characters.

So, here’s to more of this blogging and group chats and emails, whose resurgence deserves more thought.