what is this site? #2 | virtual book

what is this site? #2

#notes #writing Mentioned in what I'm doing now

In

November

what I'm doing now

#journal #life #travel #books #reading #tv-shows #movies #writing #health #immigration Mentioned in what is this site? #2

Losing weight, playing soccer, developing this site, reading books, and more.

Life

Preparing green card papers for my wife, Z. We probably won’t get them until early 2025. Sigh.

Enjoying the fall. Except for the short days. Sun sets at 4:30pm nowadays. Blehj.

Playing soccer. I’ve noticed in the last several months that I’m scoring more goals from longer range, 20+ yards away from goal. I’m delighted that it’s turning out to be one of my strengths in the game. I’d gotten used to thinking that headers and penalties were my only goal-scoring strengths. (And, actually, I’ve gotten worse at penalties in the last several years.) I think I’m reaping the benefits of the hours I spent in my late teens (and perhaps early twenties) practicing long-range shooting.

Losing weight. I’ve lost ~11lbs in the last 5 months, an average of 2.2lbs per month. If I can keep up that rate, I’ll reach my goal weight of 189lbs in 13.6 months. Geez, that’s January 2025. Sounds like early 2025 will be cathartic time for me.

I’ve noticed my attitude towards money has shifted recently. For years, I’ve wanted to keep open the option of taking a major career risk, so I wanted to save as much as possible. But nowadays, I’m pretty happy and could see myself staying at Microsoft for a few more years, at least. I am fortunate that money is not a scarce resource for me and I can use it to save time and make my life better. I still try not to overspend, but I don’t let it dominate my decisions as much anymore.

Work

Software engineering for Microsoft Loop. We just went to General Availability!

Travel

Went to Mexico with Z: Ixtapa, Mexico City, Queretaro, and San Miguel de Allende.

Coding

Mainly working on this site, okjuan.me/vbook. It’s been tricky because I don’t know any Ruby and don’t want to invest time into learning it right now. So far, I’ve gotten by on documentation and other people’s examples. Most recently, I added backlinks, with some help from Daniel Miller. I also made tags the main way to navigate the site by folding ‘categories’ into them. Not only is this cleaner and more uniform, but it also allows me to assign multiple categories (now tags) to the same post. For example, a post can now be ‘filed’ under both #essays and #journal. See Folders kill creativity.

I still really want to make and deploy a front-end for music-lib-bot. A web app would make sense, but I also like the idea of an SMS interface or something of the like. Maybe even something integrated into Google Assistant.

Writing

Focused on posting here, okjuan.me/vbook. Not working on anything for okjuan.medium.com or okjuan.substack.com, although I can cross-post like I did for

learning to dress

. Nothing currently in the works for 206 Zulu either. I worked on a second piece for them earlier this year, but that stalled. Ended up posting it

here

.

Reading

I just finished 2 books: The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga and Into the Abyss: A Neuropsychiatrist’s Notes on Troubled Minds by Anthony David. The Courage was thought-provoking and written in a novel form. See Derek Sivers’ notes on it. Into the Abyss was full of fascinating cases and some good insight.

Recently read Anthony Lane’s hilarious New Yorker article, Can Happiness Be Taught? It’s a review of recent best-seller Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier, written by a Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School and sponsored by Oprah Winfrey. One of my favorite bits:

…imperative reigns supreme. “Start by working on your toughness.” No sweat. “Take your grand vision of improvement and humble ambition to be part of it in a specific way and execute accordingly.” Check. “Rebel against your shame.” Done. “Widen your conflict-resolution repertoire.” Ka-pow! “Treat your walks, prayer time, and gym sessions as if they were meetings with the president.” Which President? “Journal your experiences and feelings over the course of the day.” Since when did “journal” turn into a transitive verb? “Dig into the extensive and growing technology and literature on mindfulness.” Sorry, I was miles away, what? Above all, “Remember: You are your own CEO.” Holy moly. Do I have to wear a suit to brush my teeth? Is my dog a shareholder? Were last year’s migraines tax-deductible? Can I be fired by me?

Last month, I read the first part of Jane Jacobs’ famous The Death and Life of Great American Cities. To my surprise, it’s great so far. I expected it to be much drier, as I’m sure many books about city and neighborhood planning are. I bought a copy and intend to read it over the next couple months.

While traveling in Mexico, I read a bit of Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs. It was really good, too. Not sure if I’ll be able to continue though.

Last month I started listening to Stephen King’s

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

and was surprised at how entertaining it was. I might keep listening. I like reading

books and

memoirs

about

writing

.

Last month (whew!) I also read a bit of Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within, which I found on one of my dutiful visits to my local Goodwill. It’s pretty interesting. The story about the Royal Knights of East Harlem was really moving.

I plan to listen to another chunk of Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity to get some health tips. See Derek Sivers’ notes on it.

Flirting with starting

Infinite Jest

. I don’t have a very good reason to do so, though. So we’ll see.

TV

The Sopranos for the second time. Amazed at the writing, once again. They follow so many characters and develop so many dynamics at the same time. Many story lines don’t build to a climax and exist instead to develop characters and prepare future story lines. Some just exist because they’re true to life. Like when Carmela and Tony struggle to keep their rebellious daughter in check.

Couples Therapy, season 3. So insightful and fascinating. Orna is an amazing therapist.

Welcome to Wrexham, season 2. I don’t think any other show has made me cry as much as this one, and I don’t think it’s because I love soccer so much. The show has so much heart.

Movies

Rewatched Roma and Coco with my wife, who hadn’t seen either, while we were in Mexico. I love doing activities that thematically or topically match other things I’m doing in life.


What’s next?

File my wife’s green card papers.

Keep reading, keep writing. Holidays are great for this. Or so I always think.

Keep improving the design of this website. Allow people to subscribe via RSS and email. Add ‘last updated’ timestamp per post. Tweak padding in title-subtitle-date-tags section of posts.

Keep losing weight. Not so great for this, holidays. Or so people say.

Holidays in Victoria. Time with family and friends.

I posted my first /now update and since then I have posted three more. This new practice has had a couple of nice side effects.

It has encouraged me to review the “What’s Next?” section to see what intentions I had a month or two prior. It’s easy to forget. If it doesn’t reorient me to worthy goals, it amuses me to notice the bias of my intentions at the time I wrote my update.

The self-imposed task of writing periodic “now” updates has also encouraged me to write about seemingly mundane events like a weekend trip to the

Harrison Hot Springs

hot springs

#journal #places #people #resorts Mentioned in what I'm doing now, what is this site? #2

Hunched against the cold in our hotel bathrobes and slippers we crunched over the snow between the pools, looking for the hottest one. Of course, it turned out to be the one everyone was crowded into. For a few hours we crouched in the hot water avoiding eye contact with the multitude around us – a family reunion, couples on anniversary weekend getaways – trying to convince Z’s mom and stepdad that renting was a better option than buying in their current circumstances.

In the evening Z and I went for drinks and dessert at the hotel’s lounge, The Copper Room. We sat among the other couples at one of the cloth-draped tables surrounding the big empty dance floor. The waiter glided from table to table cracking jokes with his head cocked. The band started playing another oldie and a couple in their thirties came out onto the dance floor. They danced clumnsily near the edge of the hardwood rectangle, far from the stage, near our section of tables. The man smiled blankly as he tried leading his partner, who was grinning in embarrassment and bowing her head while she went through the motions. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when she took a tumble, such was the lack of coordination between all components – music, limbs, lovers. They scuttled off the dance floor only to creep back on a couple songs later to join the couples they’d inspired onto their feet.

. I’ve come to love vignettes like these, and have found joy in their realization from ordinary life. This is one of the outcomes of my

serendipitous exposure

how things lead to other things

#writing #life #chance #fate Mentioned in what is this site? #2

Our roommate started dating our neighbor a couple months ago and it’s going great. I suppose it’s not a common situation, but living nextdoor to each other is a natural way for strangers to meet, especially when one has a puppy. Nothing breaks the ice like a cute dog. Despite this, it took months of hallway chats and run-ins outside the building before anything happened. In that time, my roommate went on dates with a few different people, but none of them caused the blushing grin our neighbor eventually did.

It’s good you moved in with us, I joked. But it’s probably true that they would’ve never dated if she hadn’t moved into our spare bedroom. And she wasn’t supposed to! We had another roommate lined up, but he backed out.

Of course, this is only one of many ifs. She would’ve never moved in if we hadn’t met her through my wife’s Bumble BFF friend, who my wife only met because she was visiting me so frequently in Seattle. And my wife would’ve never been in Seattle to befriend anyone if I hadn’t stayed in Victoria for the summer of 2020, which only happened because of a global pandemic called Covid-19.

Before they lay their roots so many of the stable and essential elements of our lives come into them through the most tenuous strands of chance and circumstance. It can seem corny or gimmicky to muse about the unlikeliness of life, but it’s useful to consider because it’s true. As your life progresses, the array of people you may become shrinks and narrows until finally there are no more possibilities. You can’t live more than one life, but you can live as a number of people, various versions of yourself. Who those people are depends much on luck, but also on the opportunities of transformation to which you offer yourself. It isn’t just design and foresight we need in order to realize ourselves, but knowledge and acceptance of our susceptibility to external forces and the resulting courage to toss ourselves into the fire and let it forge of us what it will.

to New Journalism.

I want to be intentional and careful with how I approach writing on this site. I caught myself fretting about posting unrefined pieces like

going for a walk

going for a walk

#journal #cities #vancouver #books Mentioned in what I'm doing now, what is this site? #2, nyc trip, what I'm doing now

As I walk through cities nowadays I try to look through a Jane Jacobian lens at the diversity of enterprise and use about. By use, Jacobs literally means the uses buildings provide: living, working, commerce, diversion, to name some of the main ones. Nowadays it’s easy to take for granted mixed-use buildings, but they exist because the city planning orthodoxy of today – which Jacobs influenced through her writing and activism – makes space for them.

Mixing of uses is only one of the ingredients that Jacobs argues districts must employ to generate lively and diverse city life. Another one is short blocks, to allow foot traffic from adjacent streets. On a recent walk, I noticed how much was packed onto one side of a short city block on one of the lively stretches of East Hastings in East Vancouver. A gym offering luxury fight goods and apparel, a plant shop, a laundry service business, a kitchen renovation business, a small counterservice cafe offering “Italian street food”, a nail studio, a print shop, a beauty salon, a travel agency, an importer’s office, a Vietnamese restaurant, and a hip diner. Most of these on the ground level of a three-storey residential building occupying much of the block. On the corner past the diner a vacant lot recently bulldozed in preparation for a four-storey mixed-use residential building.

A fifteen minute walk away begins the vibrant stretch of Commercial Drive, one of the liveliest areas of East Vancouver. Near its north tip, for example, there’s a gallery, a secondhand clothing shop, a shop for local art, and a coworking space, all in the same building and all apparently run by the same collective, which hosts events including stand up comedy nights and craft workshops in the gallery and coworking space.

Diversity is possible in cities, Jane Jacobs explains, because they bring together people in quantities so great that critical mass can be reached for projects and enterprises that can’t survive in sparser and less diverse communities. But for diversity to flourish and thrive, cities must create and maintain four key conditions: mixing of use, short blocks, buildings of varying age, and population density.

and

Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré

#journal #concerts #live-music Mentioned in concerts, what I'm doing now, what is this site? #2

Walking on a late evening on my own I passed a theatre I knew nothing about. I looked up what shows they had coming up and saw that Vieux Farka Touré was playing that week. I confirmed that he was the artist who had released a collaborative album with Khruangbin and mulled over buying tickets before realizing it was sold out.

While working the next day I listened to his KEXP live studio performance. It sounded great. On the day of the show, I called the theatre a couple times and managed to snag a couple tickets. Z and I went, and it was amazing. His band was the same as in the KEXP live performance: a bassist, a percussionist, and Vieux Farka Touré on guitar and vocals. All the instruments sounded great, especially the percussion and the guitar, but best of all was Vieux Farka Touré’s voice. I’ve since returned to Ali, his album with Khruangbin, and confirmed that it doesn’t do his voice justice. Live it was spellbinding.

and wondering whether tweaking and updating them retroactively was cheating. No no no. Part of my vision for this site, this writing project, is that it not unconsciously inherit the

conventions and constraints of print media

what is a virtual book?

#notes #writing #mediums Mentioned in On Writing (2000), what is this site?, what is this site? #2, what I'm doing now

I wrote an essay called The Virtual Book but I never defined the term. By virtual book I mean a book unbound by the traditional and physical constraints of printed books. I say ‘virtual’ because the greatest possibilities I see are in the virtual world of computers. Ebooks and audiobooks are just the beginning. The possibilities that excite me challenge not only the physicality of books but also their more subtle attributes.

A virtual book can be multi-media. It can consist of words, images, video, audio. There, we got the obvious one out of the way.

A virtual book can be reader-driven. Instead of forcing readers to follow the author’s thought process, a virtual book can let each reader steer the way. Wikipedia does this already. It lets you search the page for keywords, skip to the section you’re interested in, and even escape into a tangential topic, never to return. This is a natural way to consume Wikipedia because its form affords it.

Books generally have one start and one ending, but a virtual book can be non-linear. Wikipedia is again the obvious example. But letting the reader drive is only one way to create a non-linear book. It’s also possible to create multiple entrypoints, or even multiple endings, like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

A virtual book can be dynamic. It can change after its initial creation. Printed books, on the other hand, are static snapshots laboriously rendered by a particular author at a particular time. But what if a theory is debunked? Or a hypothesis confirmed? Or a record shattered? Or, in the case of story-telling, what if a loose end can be tied up neatly?

A virtual book can be non-monolithic. It does not need to be discrete or self-contained. It can consist of many interconnected parts that make up the whole but can exist without it. It can reference other virtual books, borrow bits from them, and lend bits of its own. For example, if Herbie Hancock’s memoir was a virtual audiobook, it could allow its snippets to be reconstrued into a documentary about jazz. (If Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary series was also ‘virtualized’, it could have been updated 15 years after its release to include bits of Herbie’s narration.) In fact, it could provide material for documentaries about many different topics: jazz, funk, hip hop, Miles Davis, Black Nationalism, Nichiren Buddhism, meditation, and crack addictions, to name some of the obvious ones.

A virtual book can be responsive. What if a reader could expect a book to field spontaneous questions? ChatGPT is an obvious candidate here, but the possibility is broader. What if Herbie Hancock returned to his memoir every now and then to answer questions that readers had left behind while reading it? What if readers could raise flags on issues that fact-checkers would then verify or return to the author for amendment?

The possibilities are plenty, and they are thrilling. The difficulty in realizating them is not technological, but legal and political. Powerful companies – and therefore governments – are hugely incentivized to prevent the free exchange of “intellectual property”. To make virtual books possible, we need not only the technological power of software, but also its progressive politics.


Dedicated to Aaron Swartz.

. This writing project is digital, and thus can be reshaped and rewritten in totality with little effort.

If I choose to tweak, fix, gut, trash, or transform a piece, it’s not only ok, it’s the point.