Chris Miller


FOSS And Me

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When Kev Quirk asked me to put together short bio for the Fosstodon staff page, The final sentence I wrote was, “I’m especially interested in FOSS for creative pursuits.”

Those eight words cover an awful lot of ground. I realize that in my many years of writing that I have never explored what, exactly, FOSS is to me, and how it fits into my existence. Come along, then, dear reader, on this journey of discovery.

FOSS is really about Ketchup

Many years ago, I found a recipe from 1850 for tomato ketchup, or catsup as they called it. It was fascinating, because while I knew that Heinz didn’t create ketchup, I never really thought about making my own. By that time, I have been brewing my own beer and roasting my own coffee, so trying something like this was right up my alley. I took a Saturday, followed the instructions, and the next day I had a rich and complex condiment that eminantly superior to anything I could buy in a store. I shared it with people, and they loved it. It was an eye-opening experience for everyone involved.

It turns out that when Heinz needed to make ketchup shelf-stable, they had to add a lot of vinegar to keep it from going off. But that made it too sour, so they had to add sugar to balance it. What came out was sort-of like the original, enough to ship, but lacked the richness of the original. Lower quality for mass production. I think you can see where I am heading here.

A Brief and Myopic History

I learned to code in the late 1990’s, when a lot of the Web was new. It was an amazing time. We took our jobs and made it a craft, often as a reaction to large corporations trying to turn coders into assembly line workers. Many of us manifested a deep passion for the quality of our work, and that passion was often at odds with the need to ship product.

Layer into this the GNU/Free Software movement, which was an amazing-but-fraught effort to try to keep the power of computer in the hands of the user. So many slogans (“Information wants to be free,” etc) trumpeted the tune to which we marched. You had the software licenses rise in order to legally keep the code free. Creative Commons was born to do the same in the face of overly restrictive copyright law and simple-but-shady maneuvering from the larger corporation to try to own public domain works.

For me, the evolution went from code to creative works to the realization that the DIY ethic was far more empowering and interesting to me than consumption of whatever the Corporations were willing to put into my hands. The podcasting community what hugely influential in my life. The energy of rolling your own podcatcher to the evolution of community directories to tools to mix audio and share files easily: it was amazing. It was energizing. I was so lucky to be a part of it.

DIY became a major part of my life. This is when I began to brew beer, because it was better than the mass-produced stuff, and I could share it. All of these things…it was all about making things with your own hands (or working with a small group) and sharing them with the world, often for donations. No one was getting rich, but for most of us, that was never the point in the first place.

Eventually the carpetbagger and colonizing corporations got into the game and the game changed. It was no longer as fun, no longer as interesting. There was a level of competition that hadn’t existed before that was off-putting to me. I didn’t want another job, I wanted to make cool stuff and share it.

And that’s why I like FOSS.

Making Cool (and Useful) Stuff and Sharing It

The FOSS movement, for all it’s evolutions, conflicts, and messiness over the years, has always been a source of inspiration for me. There is an alchemy of idealism and pure hacker bloodymindedness, a sort of punk ethos, that I think still resonates at the core of the movement. Sure, we’ver all grown up, we can speak business now, but underneath we thumb our noses (or flip the bird) and any corporation that tries to tell us what to do. Because the power isn’t theirs…it’s ours.

And it’s not just about writing code, either. Maybe that’s where it began, but now it’s so much more. And that’s really cool. That’s where the artists find an onramp into the our world. That’s when the creatives that do not flip bits as a life choice infuse and build up what has come before, taking the tools and making them far more than the sum of their parts. Software without a person to use it is dead. To come to life, it needs that soul to make something grand of it.

That the world I want to live in. My wife and I actually have a motto for our relationship: “Live together and make cool stuff.” FOSS is a just a part, but a very important part, of that. I’m grateful for all the people working on their passion projects, working to keep a community alive in the face of corporate titans who would seek to limit it, even if those very corporations could not function without the software the movement creates. FOSS has gone from an ideal to the bedrock of the internet, and while many of us feel the jagged edges of our shattered idealism most keenly these days when billionaire CEOs do terrible things, underneath there is still a flame that whispers, “Screw you. I’ll do it my way.”

I’m here for that fire.

Upon the Return from Vacation

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Good morning.

I’ve returned from a week of vacation and I’m feeling better.

Every year we get together with a group of long-time friends at a couple of century homes in Grand Beach Michigan. I’ve been doing this since 2013 and it is always one of the highlights of my year. A week away just before school starts is welcome pallette-cleaner. We hang out, visit the beach, read, talk late into the night, and visit the local disillery for supplies and provisions.

This year the heat was amazing. The humidity was thick. several days we went to the cinema or into town to the public library to get some respite. Sleeping was challenging. Still…it was great to see everyone and to tune out the rest of the work for a while.

The Accident

While we were gone, my seventeen-year-old son was in his first car accident as a driver. He’s fine, thank goodness, but his car is in the shop and may be totalled. He’s understandbly upset…part of being a high school senior was supposed to be having his own wheels, but now that’s very much in doubt.

I’m heading up to the body shop today to sign the paperwork and get the estimate going.

Cleaning House

While on vacation, my wife read How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind: Dealing with Your House’s Dirty Little Secrets and found a number of tips that will help us keep on top of things around here.

Three of the four inhabitants of this house have ADHD (I’m the only neurotypical one here). As such, they all need a different way of approaching the problem of house cleaning due to how distactable their attention is. I say this not as a criticism, but as a the result of a months-long conversation we’ve been having the way I approach these things versus their tendancies. It took me a long time to understand that when they leave dishes around the house, or piles of stuff dropped in a corner, or the trash doesn’t go out, they are not just leaving for me to do (as the guy who is retired and is handling much of the household stuff). It’s that they honestly forget about it and do not notice these things.

This was very frustrating to me for a long time. It led to more than one shouting match. Finally, when they were able to make me understand, and I was able to make them understand why I was so angry, we were able to work out some processes that work for them and that I do not need necessarily. Chore charts and checklists, routines and rituals.

It turns out it’s not all about me. Who knew?

I’m relieved that the book had some things that they really latched on to. I’m looking forward to a cleaner house.

Quick Hits

That’s it for me for today. Be careful out there.

Photo of Journeyman Distillery's Mash Tuns and barrels

Weekend Update

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Good morning, friends.

Today is the first of May. Happy Beltane to any of you celebrating. It’s that time of year when we whip out Jonathan Coulton’s song and hope that it doesn’t snow again.

My garden beds are full of weeds. I’ll need to get out there this week and get to work. My personal Stardew Valley has a lot of potential this year. I picked up a number of heirloom seeds from Baker Creek. The little seedlings are situated in three trays on a rack in my dining room, just under the back window. They are reaching for the sun. They’ll likely go into the ground next weekend – in this region of Ohio it’s best to wait until after Mother’s Day unless you have something frost-resistant. These are not.

As I write this I’m listening to some podcasts Warren Ellis recommended in his latest newsletter. Warren’s weekly letter is a welcome addition to my Sunday mornings - he’s significantly weirder than I am, and I always discover new things. It’s refreshing to see a wider world. It’s not always my cup of tea, but I enjoy the discovery.

Health-wise, I’m working on my mobility. Two years in a desk chair in my home office did Very Bad Things to my legs, knees, and hips. I’ve lost a lot of strength which I am trying to rebuild. Exercise is becoming more important. Apparently, I cannot just think it all better. Dammit.

I’m also focusing on cooking more healthy meals - since becoming a hausfrau I’ve taking the love of tinkering and discovery and focused it on learning healthier habits that I can inflict on…erm…I mean share with my family. One big push I’m making is going far lower carb and an far higher vegetable content. It’s been my experience that American vegetable cooking is a boring mess, boil or steam, though in recent years roasting has become a thing and that’s been really tasty. I wanted to explore more Indian and Asian styles of cooking, and so I’ve been using Lord Krishna’s Cuisine and The Wok: Recipes and Techniques to up my game. My daughter and her boyfriend took me on a field trip to the local Asian market yesterday, and I was able to load up on all sorts of sauces, cooking wines, and chile pastes I’ve never used before. I’m really looking forward to trying these out.

Since leaving my career, my interaction with the Internet has changed. I use it much more for research and reading now and much less for social interaction, other than Discord and Zoom for various game-related stuff. I’ve shifted most of my social interactions on the web to a Mastodon instance: it reminds me a lot of the old days. I like it for now. If you want to find me, there’s a link under my picture.

That’s it for this entry, I think. I’m going to go continue my reread of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné cycle. You have yourselves a nice day.

Walking the Mind Poodle

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My in-laws have a four-year-old standard poodle they raised since he was a puppy. This dog gets between 3-6 walks a day. There’s a good reason for this. As my father-in-law likes to say, “You need to give poodles projects, or else they come up with their own.”

Poodle projects (self-motivated) are often a mess; destructive and sometimes requiring a trip to the vet.

Which brings me to the subject of fidget cubes.

My wife has a few fidget thingies that she uses and the new ones are fidget cubes. Often I hear them clicking away when she is doing things.

I’ve never understood what these things are for. We are of two different generations, she’s a millennial, I’m GenX. Worse, I went to Catholic school as a kid, where the urge to fidget was beaten (metaphorically in this case) out of me at a young age. So the fact that fidgeting seems to be embraced in the last several years confused me. To be clear, I don’t think it’s bad or “ruining our way of life,” – I just didn’t understand the function.

So I did the rational thing. I asked.

She explained to me that many of her tasks require 70-85% of her attention. That remaining percent leans toward distraction. Rather than let her mind run away with her, she uses the fidget cube to give that part of her something to do.

“So you are walking your mind poodle,” I said. We were both delighted by this way of thinking of it, and now I understand my wife a little bit better.

Out in the world

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I’m out this morning meeting Laurie, a friend I’ve known since kindergarten. We usually meet up at the Starbucks in Brunswick before work. It’s been a long time since we’ve met thanks to COVID.

I’m struck by the difference between the last time we met here and this morning. Last time was a few years ago, and it was hard to find a seat. People were meeting, having conversations, etc over their morning coffee. Now, I’m the only one sitting at a table. All the other orders are drive through or takeout. The place is still busy…the staff is bustling behind the counter…but inside is ghost town.

Getting out into the world is a priority for me now. I’ve spent all winter at home wrestling with one malady or another. With the other plague receding (for now) and warmer weather coming on, I want to make sure I get out of the house to see other humans.

Turns out I get pretty weird if the only people I see on a daily basis is my family. I need my friends. I’m even need strangers, for scenery and atmosphere if nothing else. They make the world feel bigger to me.

Things are picking up. A few weeks ago we met some friends for dinner at the Marble Room, a high-end restaurant in downtown Cleveland. Last week several of us met for a birthday dinner. This Friday, a different group will meet for a different birthday. It’s wonderful to see everyone again. I feel like a thirsty man getting cool water. For all my talk about being a hermit, I can only stretch it so far.

The Winter of Our Discontent

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The wheels began to fall off somewhere around Thanksgiving, if memory serves. Omicron had just made it’s debut and people were starting to have second thoughts bout the upcoming holiday parties they’d been invited to. I was no different. The further we got into December, the less I looked forward to holidays. Actually, it’s more complex than that. I held out come for a normal holiday season full of family, but each day the news of the virus seemed to make it less and less likely.

On 12/14, we were all ready to gather with friends and family.

On 12/20, we were still hopeful.

On 12/22, everyone was sick with something. Some tested positive for Covid, others the flu. Christmas, with all families was cancelled. Very, very disappointing.

By 12/24, we’d noticed a cough that I’d had for a while was getting worse. I started to have aches and such. On 12/28, when the full body rash came, it was time to get tested for Covid.

Negative.

What? Ok. Sure.

On 12/30, the ER trip happened. 1am, rushed in. Not Covid, they said. Not the flu. Not RSV. None of the above.

It was pneumonia. And I’d had it for a while. Based on conversations with the doctors, looking at the severity, and guaging my own health, I’d likely had some form of it since October.

It was bad. Put me flat on my back for almost two weeks. Antibiotics, steroids. Coughed so hard I managed to throw my back out (which I have a PT appointment for later today. FML.)

I’m almost over the pneumonia now. Cough is lingering. But I’m well and truly over being sick. It’s been a long time, and I’d like to be well again.


During this time, my body and I have been having a conversation. It’s gone something like this:

Me: Ok, body, what lesson are you trying to teach me here?

Body: You don’t know how to rest. Your mind is running the show and it needs to stop. Your expectations of yourself are totally out of whack.

Me: But I WAS resting!

Body: No. The second you retired you built a work day for yourself complete with new anxieties and stress to replace the old. Dummy. So I pulled the emergency brake.

Me: You did, at that.

Body: Now you HAVE to rest. You HAVE to reset. YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO OVEREXTEND YOURSELF.

Me: Hold my beer.

Body: Oh no. No beer. Yoou think you can get around the pneumonia? COUUGHCOUGH CRACK

Me: OMGWTF?

Body: Now your back is done. You cant do anything by lie down without pain. Go. Meditate on this truth while you rest.

Me: Damn it.


And so, PT later today, if they plow the roads.

Because I coughed too much.

Good grief.

Quake

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a poem about how I experience an anxiety attack

It starts small, with a feeling
The animal notices it first
The unsettled heart
The shifting of the self
Then the rumble
And something falls
Shattering with a crash
The moment has passed but the expectation remains
Waiting for the next crash
Waiting for the quake
When it all comes
Tumbling down

And then the running,
Get out get out before the house falls on you
Get in your car, drive far far away
Until you cannot feel it chasing you

Maybe you lost it
Maybe you outpaced the aftershock
Maybe
But maybe not