Less than ideal lives (and laptops)

I planned to spend this morning getting one of my many projects finally banged into shape and sent out into the void, but now that I’m here…it’s probably not going to happen.

Due to a host of factors—some beyond my control—I had a very crappy night of sleep. Also? There’s a weird sound in my house, a kind of cross between a car with a bad starter and a hard drive thrashing itself to death. I can’t seem to narrow down where it’s coming from, despite spending half an hour stalking through my home one step at a time and listening for the source.

I’m guessing at this point that it’s coming from my daughter’s room, which means two things…

  1. A dying hard drive is the most plausible explanation, which would seriously suck if that’s the case. Her desktop is starting to get a little long in the tooth, and I don’t have the time, money, or inclination to get elbows deep in that situation just now.
  2. I can’t do anything about the sound until she wakes up. In, like, a couple of hours.

So…yeah, that’s just a thing I have to be distracted and annoyed by, I guess.

Then again, it’s not like annoyance is a new emotion for me. In fact, I spent a good portion of the last few days annoying myself deliberately.

You know what? Fuck it. Let’s have an long rambling,, sleep-deprived post filled with mundane details and nerd shit no one but me will ever care about.

Ideal life? What’s that?

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about how I used to work in the computer programming and IT fields, and how leaving that industry was one of the best decisions I ever made. And if memory serves, I’ve brought up that thought several times since.

To clarify again, about a year after I left the shit-show, I ran across a post from another former denizen of that industry and saved a quote from it.

“If you made a Venn diagram, there would be two non-overlapping circles, one of which was labeled, ‘Times when I am truly happy’ and the other of which was labeled, ‘Times when I am logged in as root, holding a cable, or have the case open.'”


If there’s a neater summary of my feelings, I’ve never seen it.

Anyway, I’ve spent most of the last month working on a collection of programming projects with a friend of mine, and spent most of the last week finally setting up a laptop to run Linux and be my primary machine.

So what the hell happened? I mean, beyond the fact that I make horrible decisions?

In it for the money

As it turns out, global pandemics suck for a whole lot of reasons. There’s the illness and death, of course, as well as all the fear and anxiety which comes from said illness and death. Then there’s the supply chain breakdowns, shuttered businesses, massive unemployment, etc. etc. I’m sure none of this is new information for you.

What might be new information for you is that I tend to have a pretty stable (read as “fixed”) income, which is mostly fine since my expenses are generally also fixed as well as relatively low.

Unfortunately, two pandemic-related things have kicked me in the balls over the last year and a half…

  1. I bought a lot of things to help myself and my family deal with the mental and emotional clusterfuck. My philosophy at the time was: “We’re all maxed out on stress. If fifty bucks of takeout makes this shit even a little more tolerable, it’s worth it.” At the time, I figured this was “safe” since (as I wrote above) my normal expenses are pretty reasonable.
  2. However, inflation has gone totally off the rails. When you’ve already let your credit card balance get a bit higher than you should have, seeing your once-modest grocery bill double isn’t exactly awesome. At a guess, my total, normal monthly expenses are about fifty percent higher now than they were back before the plague.

I’m sure many of you are in are in a similar boat. And, unfortunately, my own personal boat is finally taking on enough water that I have to resort to somewhat-desperate measures to bail it out.

One of those measures involves making an inventory of every one of the weirdly-diverse skills I’ve picked up over the years, looking at them one at a time, and asking the question: “Can I use this to make money?”

I said I’ve spent most of the last month programming, but that’s not strictly true. That’s been a major focus, but I’ve also had to start writing “professionally” again, as well as dust off my marginal graphic design skills for another project I’m not ready to talk about yet.

If you’ve been wondering where all of the woo-woo magical blog posts have gone, well, you have your answer. I’m still doing magic, I just don’t have the time to write about it here. I’m working somewhere between ten and fourteen hours a day, taking maybe one day off a week, and spending the rest of the time exhausted.

I’m forty-four years old, not twenty-four. The days when I can work sixteen hours at a time for weeks on end are far behind me.

Okay, so why Linux?

Given the fact that I’ve swamped myself with work, why in God’s name would I subject myself to working with an operating system notorious for being a high-maintenance pain in my ass? There are many reasons, and one or two of them are actually good ones.

Back in July, I wrote a post about how I was spending less and less of my time in front of computer screens (ha!) and I was growing ever-more-angry at social media and the “Big Tech” companies we’ve handed our civilization over to. When you combine those thoughts with those I’ve already expressed about the computer industry, it should probably come as no surprise that I despise companies like Microsoft.

And if you’ve read and understood the other thoughts I’ve expressed here, it should also not surprise you that I’ve just been trying not to give a fuck and running Windows and other propriety software for most of the last few years, because I have a life and am (ostensibly) trying to run a business here.

There’s a balancing act to be found between “I shouldn’t support or use the products of companies which are Bad,” and “Life is too short to spend staring at a shell prompt.”

Well, for better or worse, in early August I decided that my act was unbalanced and I needed to do something about it. I bought a new “desktop-replacement” laptop with Windows on it, and wiped my slightly-less-new laptop and loaded it up with Ubuntu.

The intention here was to use the Windows machine only for those things which are at least fifty percent easier to do on that platform and with proprietary software. So, software such as Photoshop and Illustrator lives over there, as do the majority of the tools I’m using for all of the programming projects I’ve mentioned.

The Linux machine? That’s for anything I can do using open-source software with relatively little hassle. That includes the majority of my writing and web-surfing, as well as a few odds and ends.

That was the plan, anyway. However, by the time I got the new Windows machine and installed Ubuntu on the “old” one, I ran headlong into the project-related weeds I spend the first half of this post talking about.

The Linux system gathered dust while I spent most of my waking hours using Windows.

Until last week, that is, when I needed to get a bunch of writing done quickly, and I also needed to organize the whirling vortex of notes and to-do lists I’d been trying (and failing) to stay on top of.

Ever since I first used it back in 1993, Emacs has been the text editor I’m both most comfortable with and the my productive in. And ever since the mid-2000s, an extension to Emacs called “org-mode” has been my go-to note-taking and planning system.

I’ve fallen in and out of using this software over the years, but whenever I need to do some serious, distraction-free writing, or whenever my life gets well-and-truly busy, it’s the only thing that works for me.

And I’ve only ever been happy with the software when I’ve run it under a Unix-like operating system. Using it under Windows? In my experience, it only barely works—at least for my purposes.

Am I happy?

So, how happy am I with all of this? The financial anxiety, the workload, the technical bits—am I in a good place or a bad one?

I honestly don’t know.

I’m in a productive place, which is good. Over the last few days, I’ve managed to get more or less every task and note I need shoved into Emacs and “.org” files. I’ve also managed to write an average of 3,000 words a day. So I’m getting things done.

But that’s just the thing. It’s not that I spend my life sitting around all day doing nothing. Rather, I’ve generally been spending it doing more or less only what I want to. Being a full-time wizard is work, even if it doesn’t look like it to the straight crowd. And as I wrote way back in the first post I linked to, that’s basically my ideal life.

Now that I’m back doing my version of the Freelance Grind-A-Thon?

That’s…less than ideal.

Anyway, how’s your week going?

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