• 2023! A whole new year! I have the same new year’s resolutions as I’ve had for the past decade: continue to exist on this corporeal plane, try not to have a complete mental collapse, write a thing or two, and find true, lasting love.
    • On NYE, I had a small, quiet, grown-up party with some of my favorite people in the world, and I was in bed with my cats just as the clocks struck midnight. As perfect an evening as I could ask for.
    • But the evenings that preceded NYE were a little bit wilder. The football World Cup as well as a bunch of birthdays happened to fall within the week before Christmas, which meant someone was throwing a party pretty much every night during that time. While I enjoyed the festivities in the moment, it took me until Christmas morning to realize the impact all the drinking and sleep deprivation was having on my health. On the morning of the 25th, I woke up to find that my thoughts were hazy, my body was slow and sluggish, and I had fallen into a deep pit of depression the likes of which I haven’t experienced in years. I enjoy a good party, but alcohol has clearly started to have a strong negative effect on my mental health, especially when I consume so much of it in such a short time. I’ve decided to stay away from it for a while — perhaps forever.
    • I’m still trying to get my daily schedule under control so I can sneak in a writing session early in the morning before work. Waking up at 7AM is not hard for me, but forcing myself to get into bed at 11PM at night is a real chore. Every atom of my body resists this. As I’ve discovered, I’m simply not the sort of person who enjoys sticking to a schedule. One day I’ll write a bestselling novel that will sell a million copies and then I’ll never ever have to worry about getting up on time ever again.
    • I struggled with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch for a week before putting it on my DNF pile. I would’ve absolutely devoured this book if I’d started reading it at any other time, but I’m currently not in the mood for fiction. Whether in literature, film, or video games, I can’t bring myself to care about the fates of made-up people right now. My interest in reading fiction waxes and wanes, just like my interest in any other hobby I have. I’m more interested in playing on my Steam Deck at the moment. In a few weeks, I’ll be bored of murdering hordes of enemies and hunger for a good story again. C’est la vie.
    • I’ve been listening to an episode or two of Writing Excuses before bed every day, especially the ones that pertain to writing good characters. A single fifteen minute episode of this podcast contains more practical writing advice than some 300+ page tomes I’ve had the displeasure of reading. If you’re interested in writing fiction, or just enjoy learning how stories are put together, I recommend giving Writing Excuses a listen.

    Links of the Week

    Media Diet

    • Playing Hades on Nintendo Switch
    • Playing Children of Morta on Steam Deck

    • I’ve now been working full-time for a month, and I increasingly have no energy or patience to sit down to write after a long day of work. If I don’t write these weeknotes on a weekend, I won’t be able to publish them at all, which is why I’m writing this one on a Sunday evening.
    • Another side-effect of going back to work is that I find it painful to look at screens after I get home in the evening. That means any writing or note-taking I do after hours needs to be analog. I’m trying to get used to writing a lot more with pen and paper, less out of a love for analog technology and more out of a need to protect my eyes. For example, this post was written in a cheap spiral-bound notebook using a Jinhao fountain pen I borrowed from my brother.
    • This has been a year of impulse purchases, and my latest one is a Steam Deck. After considering it for months, I saw a listing pop up on OLX and jumped on the opportunity. This thing can not only play all my favorite games, it can also run Firefox so I can panic about my dwindling bank balance on the couch, bus, train, or airplane.
    • I was completely wrong about Mastodon. So, so wrong. Yes, the name is dumb, and yes, the word “toot” will never be cool, but the network has managed to attract such a huge number of interesting people in the last few months that I barely look at my Twitter timeline anymore. Who thought building a social network that was actively hostile to pot-stirrers, clout-chasers, venture capitalists, and thought leaders would result in a vibrant, friendly, and welcoming community?
    • I’m not a competitive person at all, which is the main reason I don’t enjoy watching sports. I’ve had a lot of fun playing them, but I’ve never had much interest in watching them being played. However, this year I’ve been peer pressured into watching the men’s FIFA World Cup by a treasured friend, and now I’m invested. Yesterday I found myself complaining about the French to another friend who has been similarly peer pressured into watching this event, and we were horrified at what we have become.
    • I haven’t written about my mental health for a while, and that’s because there’s nothing to report. After years of therapy and medication, things are finally … normal. I have more good days than bad, and don’t actively think about how anxious I’m feeling on an hourly basis. I still have bad days—I don’t think they’ll ever completely go away—but I now understand how to deal with them on my own. I’m grateful to have had supportive friends, family members, and employers throughout this mental health slump, and I feel very lucky to have found a lovely therapist to help me through it all. I couldn’t have reached this point in life if it hadn’t been for all the wonderful people around me.
    • I’m so different today from who I was just two or three years ago that I sometimes don’t recognize myself. The mental health professionals I’ve worked with have helped me become a person I’m proud of. I’m able to feel compassion and love towards myself in a way that I never could before, and I have the confidence that I’ll be alright in the long-term.
    • Therapy works.

    Links of the Week

    • I turned 32 on Thursday! I celebrated with a low-key dinner at Royal Afghan with my brother and a friend. We stuffed ourselves with dal bukhara and naan until we couldn’t walk anymore, and then we stuffed ourselves some more with phirni and paan and chocolate. It was a glorious evening.
    • I’m addicted to Marvel Snap. I don’t usually enjoy mobile games, but Snap’s short matches, simple rules, and emergent gameplay have me in their grips. I’ll have to uninstall this thing from my phone if I want to ever get any work done. Thankfully, the game has a PC version that’s not too bad.
    • When I was in middle school, my friend owned an all-in-one PC that ran Windows 95, a beautiful little machine that sort of looked like the original Mac (though I hadn’t seen any Apple computers at the time). We could never figure out what it was called, beyond the fact that it was made by a company called NEC. A recent Internet search revealed that it was a NEC PC9821 Cb, part of Nippon Electric’s PC-9800 series. Just look at how beautiful this thing is! I wish they still made them like this. Here’s a video of it booting into Windows 3.1.
    NEC PC9821 Cb, a vintage all-in-one computer with an integrated monitor and tower.
    Source: https://ameblo.jp/masa02293/
    • I’ve tried a number of writing apps over the last few months, and I’m not satisfied with any of them. iA Writer is only good for short pieces, Ulysses loses my data while syncing, Word still sports the cluttered, baroque UI it has had for the last three decades, and Scrivener hasn’t seen a new release in more than a year. What seems to be working for me at the moment is, surprisingly, Google Docs.
    • Does someone want to give me a million dollars so I can build an actually good writing app for essayists, bloggers, journalists, fiction writers, and anyone else who does creative writing? Please and thank you.
    • Everyone I know has read and enjoyed Crying in H Mart, but I just couldn’t get into it. They can’t all be zingers, right? I’m now reading Nirmal Verma’s परिंदे, which has already made me cry once today.
    • After some smaller Mastodon instances started blocking mastodon.social, some of my friends and I pooled our money and time together to start our own instance. You can now find me at @s3thi@fantastic.earth. Shout out to Abhinav for doing whatever he does with Nix to make it all work!

    Links of the Week

    • The mass exodus from Twitter has resulted in over half a million new accounts being created across the Fediverse over the past week. At this point, whether Twitter lives or dies is irrelevant. Thanks to Elno’s shenanigans, Mastodon and friends have finally gained enough critical mass to become practical alternatives to Big Tech social media.
    • I’ve had a Mastodon account since 2019, but now I’m using it for realsies. Find me at @s3thi@mastodon.social!
    • I spent all my evenings last week generating weird pictures using DALL-E, MidJourney, and Stable Diffusion. Here are some of the images I generated, along with the prompts I used.
    Prompt: Very detailed, photorealistic oil painting of a girl dressed in black standing outside a movie theater. It’s evening. The city is suffused with a soft yellow glow. You can see stars in the sky. It will be the last movie she ever watches.
    Prompt: Harry Potter in Animal Crossing.
    Prompt: Panel from a comic showing attractive boy with glasses overwhelmed by too much information on a computer screen.
    • I’m struggling with my daily routine. I’ve been trying to find a block of 60–90 minutes during the day when I can shut off all distractions and just write. In the past, I’ve reserved my mornings for this, but lately I’ve been waking up too groggy to do any kind of mental labor. I’m a zombie until I’ve had coffee and breakfast, and by the time I’m caffeinated and fed, it’s time to get ready and leave for work. It’s incredibly frustrating.
    • I have to grudgingly admit that, despite all its faults, Save the Cat has some useful advice. I’m writing down all the bits that are not smug, condescending, or straight up unethical so I never have to look at the book again.
    • Hades. Oh goodness. Despite how bad I am at this game, I keep going back for more. You see, even when you die in Hades, each run through the underworld rewards you with more of Zagreus’ story, new areas to visit, new characters, new weapons, weapon upgrades, stat upgrades, or simply new bits of dialog. There’s always a sense of forward progress, which is a problem because I can’t put the damn thing down.

    Links of the Week

    • I said it on Twitter, and I will say it here again: I love my coffee frother more than I love my family.
    • I spent most of the week tinkering with the CSS on this here website, and I’m finally sort of happy with how it looks. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never stop working on it. We must imagine Sisyphus happy.
    • I started a new contract with Loop Health today. When I heard about what they’re building—and how they’re going about building it—I just had to sign on. I’m also excited about getting to work with my friends from Prophecy, who have already been helping Loop Health design and test new products for the last few months. I’m expecting to thoroughly enjoy myself.
    • Water has been slowly seeping into one of the walls in my office. Things were already pretty bad, with chunks of plaster chipping off it and covering everything with white dust. But now, a black mold has started to form on the wet spots. If you don’t hear back from me next week, assume that my respiratory system has been taken over by some bizarro alien fungus that lives in my wall.
    • If you’ve ever wondered why so many mainstream movies and TV shows seem to have the same story beats and character arcs, read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. It’s a cynical, peremptory handbook that teaches you how to quickly slap together well-worn story tropes to produce bland, inoffensive screenplays guaranteed to make a respectable amount of money at the box office before being forgotten even by the people who were in the movie. I wish I’d bought a physical copy of this book so I could repeatedly throw it across the room as I read it.
    • My brother played Unholy in the living room on the weekend, and now I can’t stop humming it 24/7. Somebody stop me.

    Links of the Week

  • I tend to get overwhelmed when presented with too much information at once. Something as simple as a large menu at a restaurant or too many chores to do on a Sunday morning can make me mentally freeze up.

    When this happens, I have to walk away from the source of the information and calm myself down before I’m able to function again.

    A screenshot of the End Program dialog box from Windows XP. It informs the user that the program is not responding, and allows them to choose between two options: 'End Now' or 'Cancel'.

    Something similar happens when I’m working at my computer. As I go through my workday, I accumulate apps, windows, and tabs containing code, documentation, email, chat messages, UI mockups, bug reports, terminal sessions, API clients, notes—all the different bits of data that I must process in order to produce working software.

    Towards the end of the day, I get overwhelmed by the amount of data being beamed into my brain. I become disorganized, make bad decisions, or just stare at my screen, unmoving, for minutes at a time as my brain goes into shutdown mode. There are many days when I have to lie down for a little while after I get back home from work.

    Modern desktop environments do nothing to help me contain this chaos. If I want to hide away some of my running apps so I can focus exclusively on the ones that currently need my attention, I must manually minimize them to the Dock or move them to different Spaces. When I need them again, I must manually bring them back.

    Windows and macOS have always been designed around the assumption that users want to see as much information as they can fit on the screen. So, to preserve my sanity, I must spend a significant portion of my day quitting apps, minimizing windows, and moving them to and from different virtual desktops.

    A screenshot of my computer running many programs at once on a 4k display. Tens of overlapping windows show an overwhelming amount of information at once, making it difficult to figure out what's going on.
    This is what my desktop looks like after a full day of work

    On a laptop, I can deal with the mess of windows by simply making all of them take up the entire screen (shoutout to Moom). The way I use my 14″ MacBook Pro is not very different from how I use my 11″ iPad Pro—with only a single window visible on the screen at any given moment.

    But things are not as simple when I’m plugged into a large monitor. Apps like Figma might benefit from the extra real estate when stretched out to occupy the entirety of a 27″ screen, but most apps are unusable at that size.

    Apple Notes is hardly useful when stretched out to this absurd size

    Whenever I use a large monitor, I have to remember to arrange all the windows I plan to use just so before I start work (shoutout to Moom, again). Kind of like a digital mise en place, but infinitely more frustrating. If I don’t do this, I end up having to interrupt my work session to manually prune my windows.

    Fortunately, someone at Apple has a brain that works kind of like mine.

    Enter Stage Manager

    Stage Manager is a new window management feature introduced in macOS Ventura and iPadOS 16.1. This video from Engadget shows it in action:

    When you enable Stage Manager, macOS moves all your open windows off to the left side of the screen, where they show up as tiny thumbnails in a kind of vertical filmstrip. Only the window that currently has your focus is shown in the front and center of your display, which Apple calls the “stage”.

    When you switch to a different app, it moves to the center of the stage, and the previously focused window moves off to the left. If you want to see multiple windows at the same time, you can drag them into the stage from the filmstrip on the left.

    Stage Manager doesn’t change my workflow much when I’m using my MacBook’s display, but it’s extremely effective on my 27″ monitor.

    • I can focus on one thing at a time, which is how my brain likes it.
    • I run as many apps as I need for work at once, without having to minimize them to the Dock or move them to a different Space when they’re not in use.
    • Instead of having to resize windows to make optimum use of my display, I can make each window as large as it needs to be and place it in the center of the screen. Since it will always appear by itself, there’s no danger of it overlapping with another window and hiding parts of its UI.
    • I can group windows together based on the task I’m working on. When I’m writing code, Firefox and VS Code can live together in one group while iTerm and Git Tower live in another. When I’m writing, I can put iA Writer and Dictionary in one group, and Safari by itself in another.
    • I can assign a Finder window to each group if I need to. Multiple Finder windows can get hairy to manage, but Stage Manager makes sure that each one lives within the context where it’s being used. At the moment, I have one Finder window grouped with Mail so I can import some old mailboxes, and another one with Safari so I can add images to this post.
    • Perhaps my favorite feature of all: Stage Manager remaps Cmd + backtick to switch between all windows within a stage. With Stage Manager disabled, this switches between different windows of the app that is currently in focus.

    Stage Manager even hides away the mess of icons I have on my desktop, which means I’m able to appreciate my favorite Basic Apple Guy wallpapers.

    A screenshot of my desktop running Stage Manager. It only displays a single window at a time, making it easy to see what's going on at a glance.
    This is zen

    By eliminating the cognitive strain that comes from having to juggle tens of apps and windows, Stage Manager helps me focus better when I work at my computer. It helps reduce information overload and, for the first time, makes using a 27″ monitor an enjoyable experience for me.

    I don’t have a clinical issue with attention—depression and anxiety is more my style—but I suspect that people with conditions such as ADHD will feel a lot calmer after they enable Stage Manager.

    Stage Manager is the biggest change to the desktop metaphor in decades, at least on the Mac. I found it a little hard to get used to at first, but after two weeks I can’t imagine going back to the old way of doing things.

    • So hungover. Ugh.
    • Why did I do this to myself?! Never again.
    • Every single person in Bangalore seems to have developed a cough at the same time, and nobody is wearing masks anymore. The threat of contracting an illness every time I step outside my house has transformed my otherwise banal workdays into grand and magical adventures.
    • After using Figma for a week, I’ve realized that I can produce wireframes and mockups much faster if I work directly with HTML and CSS. This is not a dig at Figma; it’s a well-designed tool that I found fun to use. It’s just that I’ve been working with web technologies for so long that they come as naturally to me as writing or sketching with a pencil.
    • Kinopio is everything I’ve ever wanted. God damn this thing is good.
    • I finished reading Geetanjali Shree’s यहाँ हाथी रहते थे. The last three stories in the collection were set in Japan, which was a novel experience. The only other Hindi fiction I’ve read that was set outside of India is Nirmal Verma’s वे दिन. In my head, I’ve always thought of Hindi language writers as either overly parochial or concerned only with Indian politics, both of which I realize are unfair assessments on my part. I’m glad Nirmal Verma and Geetanjali Shree exist to teach me that there’s no reason languages cannot travel beyond the borders within which they were conceived.
    • I’ve been wasting too much time doing … stuff. Instead of reading, writing, and working on this website, I’ve been messing around with all sorts of software things with no concrete goal in sight. I believe that this sort of free play is necessary for creativity to flourish, but it needs to be reigned in at some point.
    • I’m now reading Save the Cat on the Kindle app on my iPad. As I read, I’m taking handwritten notes in Notability using the Apple Pencil. The point of this exercise is to see if the iPad can serve as a good device for reading non-fiction, research papers, long-form journalism, or any other kind of writing that requires active engagement to be useful.
    • My head hurts.

    Links of the Week

    • I flew back from Delhi on Wednesday to find that winter had arrived in Bangalore while I was gone. Cold weather in the South might be milder than it is in the North, but I’ve lived down here long enough that even a pleasant 18°C sends me hunting for a hoodie and a cup of chai.
    • The cats, too, are feeling the chill. Every evening, they yowl at me until I get in bed and wrap myself in a blanket, at which point they curl up next to me and fall asleep. It’s a hard life, y’all.
    • My doctor has cut my nightly dose of antidepressants in half. Besides a bit of trouble sleeping, I don’t feel much of a difference in my moods so far. As they say, no news is good news.
    • My iPad Pro arrived on Friday. When attached to the Magic Keyboard, it doesn’t feel very different from a MacBook running macOS. All the apps I use on my Mac are also available on iPad, and they look and work pretty much the same. I can move between the two devices without having to reprogram how I work, which is convenient.
    • Where the iPad Pro really shines is taking notes with the Apple Pencil. I’ve been reading articles in Safari while I take handwritten notes in Notability running in a split off to the side. Since reading, writing, and taking notes is my primary use case for the iPad, I’m pleased with how well this setup works.
    Screenshot of Safari and Notability running side-by-side on iPadOS. Safari is displaying a PDF file, while Notability is displaying the handwritten notes I took on the PDF.
    • After having so much fun with रेत समाधि, I’ve decided to read more of Geetanjali Shree’s fiction. I’m currently making my way through यहां हाथी रहते थे, her short story collection from 2012. The stories are often different in tone and subject matter from रेत समाधि, but they’re all written in that whimsical, meandering style that makes रेत समाधि such an enjoyable read.

    Links of the Week

    • This note is a day late because it was Diwali yesterday. I’m visiting my parents in Delhi, and worried sick about my cats back in Bangalore. My kingdom for a reliable catsitter.
    • Fireworks are banned in Delhi this year. As I write this note on the morning after Diwali, there’s no smoke in the air or spent bits of fireworks on the streets. The AQI is still at Very Poor, but nowhere close to what it used to be in years past. This might be the first post-Diwali morning since my childhood when I’m able to breathe deeply without having a coughing fit.
    • I want to start adding photos to these weeknotes. I’m not very good at using the camera on my phone yet, so please be kind. Here’s the first one, of an old type shop I came across in Jhandewalan.
    A shuttered type & machinery store near Jhandenwalan in Delhi
    • Right after posting my last weeknote about feeling healthy again, I developed a high fever. As my body temperature peaked at 102.6°F, I dreamed that I was a manager at a software development sweatshop that produced WordPress plugins. My team members were the Belcher kids from Bob’s Burgers, who were not happy with how their lives had turned out.
    • Figma is such a lovely piece of software! I’ve used it in the past for collaborating with designers, putting together screenshots of designs I like, and a bit of wireframing—but nothing approaching any kind of Serious Design Work™. Since my fever had left me unable to work last week, I spent many hours watching people use the app to build and prototype UIs. The workflow reminded me of building websites using Adobe Fireworks when I was a teenager. I’ve been monkeying around with Figma since then, and it’s been very fun.
    • I may have purchased an iPad Pro on impulse. I blame the fever.

    Links of the Week

  • … fandom is not about loving something. I think fandom is a separate occupying experience more akin to obsession than it is to love. And I think that, you know, like, religions are fandoms because, like, most of the time you aren’t actually loving the details of the religion but rather obsessing about your version of the thing. And I feel like all of the fandoms that you interact with online are, like, religious and obsessive about something that they think is the thing, as opposed to loving the thing no matter how it comes out. Right?

    Heather Anne Campbell, Get Played Episode 172

    Later from the same episode:

    To be a fan means that, like, you think it’s yours. It’s more like ownership than it is appreciation. It’s like, this is my thing. And as soon as that sort of metastasizes into identity, you’re fucked. Because like, any change that happens to the thing that you love—or quote “love”—is a reflection on your own personal self-knowledge. So it’s … you’re fucked. If you’re obsessed with a thing and it changes, you’re ruined.

    Heather Anne Campbell, Get Played Episode 172