Technology

I've been thinking about this more and more as I consider the idea of friction — of resistance — in my life, and how to eliminate it.

To paraphrase and subvert the standard definition, technology is the collective term for techniques, methods, and/or processes that make an activity easier. Cooking has tech. Hunting has tech. Manufacturing, from machinery to millinery, has tech. Scientific investigation has tech.

Basically, if it's something humans do, we've come up with tech that makes it easier to do.

Sometimes, we iterate on that tech endlessly (see: ways to kill each other), sometimes, we figure out the best option right away and leave it (see: the wheel and/or lever).

Sometimes – the majority of the time, probably – an attempted improvement to existing tech fails to make The Thing easier (whatever The Thing is). In those instances, the iteration is discarded or is itself iterated on until is does improve The Thing.

This is so obvious it seems silly to say; if you do a thing that makes the existing tech worse, that is failed tech. (Maybe not a failed attempt, if it teaches us something, but it is failed tech.)

In short, good technology – functional technology – reduces friction: it makes the effort required for A Thing, less. If it doesn't do that, it is not technology.

By this definition, DRM – Digital Rights Management – as it is implemented today by various media industries, is not technology.

It's not a failed iteration of technology; if DRM were completely successful in its purpose (it isn't), it still fails to meet the one criterion for technology: it does not reduce friction for whatever Thing it affects. In a perfect world (which, again, this isn't) it might theoretically achieve a state of adding no additional friction, but it will never make friction less.

It is, in short, doing nothing but making things worse.

Today, it makes it harder to get to your stuff. Tomorrow, that difficulty increases, and as time goes on, so does that difficulty, until we reach a point where The Thing no longer works because of this anti-technology.

Until we reach a point where we've lost years or decades of our culture because we let our Things be locked in vaults we didn't control, to benefit people who only exist to sell keys.

Past vs. Present

Something I find interesting about the past-vs-present storytelling debate: despite the perceived/actual dominance of past tense in novels, many stories and anecdotes people tell each other face to face are told in present tense, even though these events obviously happened in the past.

This isn't a perfect example, but if you listen to this interview with my grandfather – http://www.dakotastories.org/homefront/Miller/RussellTesterman.html – at 8:11 or so into the interview, when he's talking about going fishing with hand grenades and starts telling the story, a lot of his phrasing is in present tense.

The captain says, "I need you to get these men out of here…"

The sergeant says to me, "We can take em fishing…"

So we toss in the grenades, and they stun the fish, which just float up to the top of the water…

As I said, it's not consistent in this example, but my recollection of stories told among family and friends is that they often almost lapse into present tense naturally, to draw the listener in, perhaps, or put them in the moment, or just because it's more comfortable for the speaker.

Come to think of it, jokes are often told in present tense, too.

A man walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder…

Anyway, the point of this musing is that I don't personally think present tense is as unusual in storytelling as some of the essays I read seem to imply. I certainly don't think past tense is any more (or less) the 'natural mode' for such things.

Homefront South Dakota
HOMEFRONT: South Dakota Stories Russell Testerman, veteran. Miller. Russell Testerman, 2007. Audio interview. Listen to the following interview sections by scrolling forward to the time cue. 0:00 Drafted into the military at 18. Married and a father 3:14 War is over 6:14 90 day wonders …

"In the Canon MF8280’s world, paper has only one side. If paper has TWO sides in your world, this is the wrong machine for you."

I posted a product review on Amazon, today.

I do not do this very often, so you know this particular product had to really be something special.

Amazon.com:

D. Testerman’s review of Canon imageCLASS MF8280cw Wireless 4-In-1 …
Find helpful customer reviews and review ratings for Canon imageCLASS MF8280cw Wireless 4-In-1 Color Laser Multifunction Printer with Scanner, Copier and Fax at Amazon.com. Read honest and unbiased product reviews from our users.

The Office Evolution

I love my house.

There are plenty of reasons but, at least when I first moved in, one of my favorite features was my office – a ‘study’ style room located right off the front entrance. Here’s a shot of the desk, sometime around 2010 or so.

my-desk-1024x1024

The carpet got pretty worn out over time, but I was very happy with the ‘library’ feel of the walls, the nice window, and most of all the door. One of the most-viewed posts I’ve ever written was about how you don’t need Neil Gaiman’s gazebo to write, and I absolutely stand by that, but I do believe it really, really helps if you have a reliable way to shut out the rest of the world, and for me the best way to accomplish that is a solid door.

That isn’t to say I’m a complete hermit. My office always had a second desk in it, for example, so Kate or Kaylee could hang out, but I did manage to keep it free of toys and the random cruft that seemed to accumulate in other rooms of the house.

Thanks to Kate, I even got rid of the old carpet.

The thing was, while our house has a lot of square footage, it’s always been distributed in odd ways. When I first moved in, there were two bedrooms, the office, a five-hundred square foot unfinished “utility room”, a room we weren’t allowed to call a bedroom for zoning reasons… and four living rooms. More than a bit silly.

This wasn’t a huge problem at the beginning, but it’s meant quite a bit of remodeling as our family grew. Kate’s agency took over the weird, large “not legally a bedroom”, then Kaylee needed a new bedroom to make room for Sean (and ended up with the largest single bedroom in the house when we built her room out of a big part of unfinished portion of the basement)…

And then there was Zoe.

Man, we didn’t know what to do about Zoe’s room. Put her in with Sean? Bassinet in the master bedroom while we try to figure out something better?

Eventually, I realized I had to give up my office.

zoes room

The office gets a new door, a paintjob, and voila. Very nice.

Still, it’s a good thing she’s cute, because damn I loved that office.

This move required some more shuffling elsewhere in the house. I moved the core elements of my office into the office downstairs, we gave up any illusion of having a semi-dedicated Guest space, and did quite a lot of work assembling bookcases for KT Literary 2.0.

basement-5-tiltshift

The end with our desks. See if you can tell with side is the guy who just moved in, and which is the business desk of a company that’s been running full-tilt for over five years.

basement-6-newdesk

The end with Kate’s client books, and a hideaway desk that – at the time – we’d put in for use by Kaylee (on the weekends) and Kate’s then-assistant, Renee (now an associate agent) when she wasn’t working remotely.

This has worked pretty well, even when I shifted to more contract work out of our home office. We used to joke that having me out at a company office for most of the week helped keep us from killing each other, but in practice it really hasn’t been that bad… due in part to the standing desk I built for myself (out in the main public space in the basement), where I tend to do most of my work during the day.

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Basically, everything was working pretty well. It wasn’t ideal, really, because while I had a place for my desk, I’d lost my door. Most of the time, I didn’t feel it, though.

And then KT Literary expanded. Yikes.

Don’t get me wrong: this is exciting and absolutely good news, but one of the reasons Kate and Renee and Sara were excited about the agreement was the fact they’d be able to work together a couple days every week.

Scroll back up a few pictures.

Do you see four desks in that office?

Me neither.

For the first couple weeks, we solved this problem by setting Sara up at my desk. I keep my workspace obsessively sparse mostly clear of clutter, so it was quite simple to push the monitors, keyboard and mouse to the back of the desk and create more than enough space for a laptop.

But Sara wasn’t comfortable, because she didn’t really have a space.

And I wasn’t comfortable either, because (once again) I’d lost mine. Yes, I still had my standing desk during the day, but what had once been ‘my’ desk had turned into a co-working space, and that… bugged me.

Didn’t help that my oldest kid was asking questions like “what do you need a space of your own for, anyway?” or “why not just put your computer in the laundry room on the sewing table?” Thanks for the sympathy, kid.

Kate and I talked about options, and had even contacted our tried-and-true contractor to get an estimate on putting up a new wall in the large main basement room to create an office out of the part of the space where I’d set up my standing desk. On the one hand, I’d once again have a space with a door on it. On the other (as I put it to my contractor), it felt like “we’ve run out of places in the house to kick me out of, so we need a new one.” Neither of us were entirely happy with that solution, and I’d spent several days looking at “tiny office” and “garden shed office” designs to see if I could come up with something… less bad. I mean, I like living well in the space provided, instead of just “going bigger”, and I felt as though there had to be some way we could just use the space we had, more efficiently.

Then I had an idea.

I looked at this part of our existing office…

office (2)

And asked Kate, “What if we put a desk in that corner?”

“I am intrigued,” she said. “How would we do that?”

We discussed a few options, including another fold-out desk, but after a bit of research, I set out to Ikea the next morning to pick up one of these…

gerton

And a bundle of these…

gerton-leg-adjustable__0240376_PE380052_S4

Then, all I had to do was take the same measurements five or six dozen times to make sure I didn’t make a mistake, warm up our circular saw, and cut everything down to this:

IMG_20150126_055408

… a five-sided, three-legged corner desk.

There was a little bleeding involved, and one permanently lost set of car keys (unrelated, as near as I can tell, but frustrating), but it came out pretty darn well.

IMG_20150126_055356

Throw in a couple low-profile wall shelves for showing off a book or three, and we have ourselves an office, with a desk in every corner. KT Literary 3.0.

sm-IMG_1848_House

I’m not sure how long things will stay as they are – I still don’t have that door – but there are other ways to close the world out, and for now, for those two or three “everyone together” days a week, we’re pretty happy.

Fireside Chat

The kids are in bed and the lights are out. For no particular reason, I've lit a fire and settled into the closest chair to get some writing done.

It doesn't take long for Sean to appear. He's at that age when bedtime is a series of events, more than a fixed point.

"Hey bud."

"Hi, Daddy." Long pause. "That's an awfully good fire you've got going there."

"Thanks, bud… but you should be in bed."

"Yeah…"

A solid minute passes while he stares at the flames.

"Would you like to lay on the couch for a bit and watch the fire?"

"Yeah," he says, and climbs up.

He watches, I type.

"Maybe…"

I look up.

"Maybe when I'm bigger, like…" He thinks. "Maybe when I'm seven or something, I can help you make a fire."

I consider it. "I suppose you could, but that's quite a ways off."

"Yeah."

More fire watching. More typing.

"I have…"

Again, I pause and look up. He's easy to spot in the dark, his face lit by the fire.

"I guess I have a question, Daddy."

"Oh yeah? Okay."

"It's about boys."

I raise my eyebrows. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah…"

He seems to lose his train of thought, watching the fire.

"What were you going to ask me, bud?"

He reply is broken up with long pauses for fire staring. "Well… I was going to ask… I don't know… how to you talk to girls."

"Really?" I raise an eyebrow. "I think you talk to girls all the time."

"Yeah."

Another long break.

"But…" he shifts on the couch. "I don't know how you tell girls they're your best friend."

"Ohhhhh…" I let him see me thinking about it. "Well, I think you just tell them that. You say: 'I think you're awesome, and you're my best friend.'" I can see him starting to grin, just imagining it. "Do you think you can do that?"

"Yeah." He stares at the fire. "Maybe I'll say that to Margaret tomorrow."

"Margaret, huh?" I nod. "I bet she'd like that."

"Yeah."

We both watch the fire, both thinking about Margaret, maybe.

"Maybe I won't say that until I'm bigger."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Like…" he thinks about it. "Like when I'm seven or something, and I can make a fire. And have a puppy of my own."

"Sounds good, buddy." I set the laptop aside. "You ready to go back to bed?"

"Will you carry me?"

"Of course." I swing him up, walk to the hallway, and turn back so we can look at the fire.

"Thanks, Daddy."

I don't know what he's thanking me for.

Honestly, I don't much care.