On Baseball

I’ve been watching a lot of baseball lately. I was never much of a fan but something about it has grabbed me now that I’m older.

I started watching last season. It was a way to connect with my Mom who is a Braves fan. It was a way to find some grounds on which to connect with random people in my life who are fans. It was about connection.

Now that I’ve been watching for a year or so, my appreciation has deepened. There are a few things about baseball that have hooked me.

The pace means you can have a conversation or flip through a magazine or other stuff while it’s on. Not that the game is background but it’s a pace that lets the humanity of the game breathe out. There’s no breathless constant commentary. There’s often a silence broken only by the pop of the ball in the catchers mitt.

The storylines that continue from game to game and series to series are a drama amidst the larger story of success or defeat for the team. Each player has an ebb and flow to their season, their series, their game, or even their at bat. The announcers have their stories. Even the stadiums are full of history and ghosts whispering beneath the bleachers.

The strategy that exists in all the corners of the game often lies hidden. The small nod of a manager to tell a batter to swing away is like the thumbs up of a Roman emperor. The merest flinch of the base runner to tip off that he might steal is a ruse or not. A decision to let a pitcher move past 100 pitches into the 8th inning might bring the game to its knees. Everything that happens has multiple layers of meaning.

It’s the numbers, my god, the numbers.

There are layers upon layers of narrative that combined resemble something more like an epic novel than anything else.

This what I have come to love about baseball. It can be something you detest in one moment, cry at in another, and clutch to your chest in hope or despair.

I’m certainly not saying anything about baseball that hasn’t been said by much better writers than I. But, baseball has an answer for that because the story it tells each of us is unique. It can be ours alone and yet connect us to the multitude at the same time. What a bit of magic in this fractured world.

Strange New Worlds is definitely my favorite Trek in a long while. The acting, the structure, the direction, all feel familiar and yet modern. Maybe this is nostalgia speaking but I like it.

Vapor1994 v1.1.0 Released

Vapor1994 v1.1.0 is now available.

It seems like the Vapor1994 theme hit a chord with a few folks. Even within that praise, some didn’t care for the garish colors, or what I called “neubrutalist”. They wanted to adapt the theme to their color preferences. For some users of Micro.blog, that means editing, or adding, CSS and they are comfortable with that. For other users, that’s a barrier.

I decided to make all the colors of the theme configurable via Micro.blog’s plugin settings. There you can configure a couple dozen or more colors. Every color used in the theme is there and you could make them all different. Or you could just change one or two. This still requires some CSS knowledge but the barrier feels a good bit lower for the less technical user.

The defaults provided are my preferred synthwave-inspired colors. So, if you were using the theme with no customizations, this upgrade shouldn’t change anything for you. I did not change any CSS selectors or HTML classes, so if you do have customizations, they should still effectively override these new defaulted settings.

Below is a screenshot of some of the settings. There are many more.

A screenshot of the Micro.blog plugin settings for the Vapor1994 plugin. It shows a sampling of the CSS settings that a user can set which would change the colors used in a site using this plugin.

Modern Penpals

I’ve recently signed up with Postcrossing which reminds me of the very best of the early Internet. The service connects you with other users by sending postcards to random people in other countries than your own. I love the idea of using technology to empower something as old as postcards via mail.

Screenshot of the Postcrossing website which describes how the service works

I’ve just sent my first postcard this week (to Germany!) and I’ll be curious to see when it gets registered as having been received. I made the postcards myself. I have some ideas about how to make them even higher quality but still very much handmade. I’ve long harbored a secret passion for stationery. It’s not a hobby I get to indulge often so my discovery of Postcrossing was a happy accident.

There are a couple of ways one can find enjoyment in this service. It tickles the sheer joy of random mail arriving at your home. It adds a bit of trivia that’s lovely to noodle around looking up the locations of folks you swap correspondence with. It can be an opportunity for craft. And maybe, just maybe, it becomes a way to make a connection with someone in an entirely different walk of life from yourself.

All it costs is a stamp!

Given what’s happened in practice, I assume there’ll be a number of “incidents” during qualifying at the Miami F1 race.

The New Search

I don’t write a lot about tech stuff on here. However, that is my day job and I spend a lot of time using apps, sites, and machines. There’s a lot to be concerned about online. But, one of the more pernicious challenges has been Google’s near-monopoly on search.

For better or worse, search is the front door to the Internet for the vast majority of users and workflows. For many years, that door has been guarded, or controlled might be more apt, by Google. Everything you might see or hear or read is based on what they think you should see or hear or read.

That’s scary.

Microsoft tried to fight this with Bing. Yahoo was sort of in that game early on. But, neither of them have been able to make a dent. Perhaps technology has held them back or perhaps the fact is that they would have the same instincts about controlling their results as Google does. Because in the end, it’s the ad dollars they are working for, not a quality search experience.

Recently, a few competitors have cropped up. Two of them seem to be rising above the others.

Brave, a company which makes a browser and some associated tools, has announced their Brave Search which is detailed nicely over on DKB’s blog.

A screenshot of the Brave Search engine showing results for the author's name: Alex Ezell

The other is Kagi, which makes the Orion browser, was also detailed in another DKB blog post.

A screenshot of the Kagi Search engine showing results for the author's name: Alex Ezell

You’ll have to try them for yourselves to see what you think of the results and the experience. Both are focused on privacy and results that aren’t colored by commercial concerns. That’s not to say there isn’t bias in the results. They are absolutely making decisions about what is relevant, of high quality, and meaningful. But, they are claiming that those decisions aren’t based around who is paying them the most or which might garner them a few cents when you click.

I don’t know if either of these particular projects will last. Their models are similar with some key technical differences. Their value right now is in showing that it is possible to have quality search without using Google and giving away your free will and privacy just to find a recipe.

This seems to get at the root of how so many revolutionary movements fall apart as soon as they achieve success. The struggle hones the effort and focuses the vision in a way that power, control, and success undermine.

Finding all the Special Edges

I love all of Orville Peck’s latest album Bronco but this song is especially beautiful:

The production has all these incredible nods to styles from the 60s and 70s which fill this album front to back. He does some cool things with changing his voice from crystalline to growling that just blow me away.

This entire album is that way. It really rewards repeat listens. The production, the vocal control, and the unabashed style. No detail seems to have to have been overlooked.

Where do we stand on Mac & Cheese ice cream? I did not buy it.

Announcing Bandcamp Shortcode Plugin for Micro.blog

I just pushed up the initial release of a plugin for Micro.blog. It’s boringly called plugin-bandcamp. It allows you to use a shortcode to embed players from the Bandcamp site.

It looks like this:

You can install it to your Micro.blog from this page.

I worked hard to make it so the user can take advantage of the various layouts and options that Bandcamp’s embeds offer. That usage looks like this in code:

{{< bandcamp url="https://jakexerxesfussell.bandcamp.com/album/good-and-green-again" layout="standard-small-art" tracklist="true" theme="dark" >}}

and this as the actual embed:

There are more details in the readme.

Some songs easily transcend this crushing physical reality when you listen to them in the dark with headphones on as the heat of the day falls to the entropy of the universe.

The Cure’s “Pictures of You” is in that list.

Jangle and Strum

This piece by Mitch Therieau explores the tension and latent power in jangle pop. I was in love with jangle pop before I even knew what it was. It’s a big part of why I fell in love with R.E.M. back in the 80s. My teenage self was realizing that there was more music to be heard than only what was on the radio.

It was where I found my independence. Long before any notion of publishing my thoughts on the Internet or in some video shot in my bathroom mirror, I was writing anonymous thinkpieces that I’d post to the school bulletin board. They’d be torn down almost immediately by a teacher that likely never read them. I’m sure they were horrible but a lot of them were exploring lyrics that opened up inside of me like fireworks in a jar.

I was fragile. The music was fragile. The metaphors were fragile. Everything was held together with artifice and risk.

I was excited a few months (years?!) ago to discover the Strum & Thrum compilation that collects some jangle pop tunes from bands almost no one heard of. This is astounding stuff that glittered just out of notice like seeing a glitch in the mid-80s bluster that disappears as soon as you look at it.

Another excerpt from Giai Phong. Published in 1976, before the confirmation of the Khmer “killing fields” and the horrors of S-21 came to light. I wonder how the author, Terzani, felt about this passage years later?

I’m reading Giai Phong by Tiziano Terzani and these passages about Saigon in April 1975 call to mind what it might be like for some parts of Ukraine. We’ve learned nothing in the last 46 years.

I played Malvolio

This past weekend, I played Malvolio in the Oak Island Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

The production was set in 1969 with a set that resembled a music festival and costumes that echoed the flower power and summer of love vibes. The music was played live with a guitarist and a percussionist. Some songs were contemporary and others were Shakespeare’s words matched to contemporary music. I thought it was very effective.

For Malvolio, I attempted to play him more sympathetically than perhaps other versions I’ve seen. The underlying motivation was that he didn’t want to be the jerk that he was. He saw it as his job, his duty to the mourning Olivia. He only wanted to keep her safe and happy. If he had to be an asshole to make that happen, he was willing to do that. Obviously, this is a flawed person to think that way but I think it was more interesting to play than his being a Puritan who simply hates music, theatre, and drink because of some religious fervor and pure ambition. My Malvolio was ambitious but his ambition was for love and power instead of just power alone. It’s left to the audience to decide how successful that approach was.

I enjoyed trying to play this slightly more complex Malvolio. I also enjoyed being silly and ridiculous in his sparkly yellow “cross-gartering” bellbottoms. I was impressed with how well the cast adapted to changing locations and changing scenes and lines up to the opening of the show. Everyone was focused on putting together a fun and approachable romp. I think we pulled it off with panache.

It’s been very emotional here the last couple of days. My wife broke her leg and will need surgery. Three months of no weight-bearing means that she’s having to basically shutter her business and get rid of most of the horses. This happened a couple of years ago because of Covid. Now, she’s dealing with it again. Twice now, her business has been thrown into chaos due to factors outside of her control. It’s heartbreaking to witness.

I go through waves with SomaFM where I listen constantly for a few weeks. Then, maybe a new album comes out or I get into listening to some of my local collection and I forget about it. It’s always so nice to come back to it and find such exquisite tastes.

This song from Jake Xerxes Fussell is like a meditation and an oral history and a prayer all bound together. It’s rare to find something so transcendent that doesn’t fall over into navel-gazing.

jakexerxesfussell.bandcamp.com/album/goo…

It’s Official

Support from a Bunker

Just now, I filled out a support ticket for a piece of software that I use. Their auto-reply mentions that the company and many of its employees are based in Kyiv.

I can only hope that they’ve all been able to get out of harm’s way and are staying safe. It breaks my heart to imagine someone trying to answer my stupid email about changing an address on my account. They are likely working in temporary quarters far from home and with the safety of their friends, family, and country weighing on their minds.

In our globally connected society, it’s a reminder that this isn’t just happening “over there somewhere.” It’s happening right here. It’s happening to people that we might speak to, work with, and collaborate with. It’s heartbreaking that in a time of almost infinite ability to connect, we still stand so far apart.

My heart goes out to the people at MacPaw.

Highwire Act

I thought this anecdote about stoplights was an interesting view into communication. I think we all know the aphorism of “walking a mile in someone’s shoes” which is not what this is about. To me, this story illustrates sympathetic communication. “Walking a mile…” illustrates empathetic communication.

In the training I’ve done, this sympathetic form was called “trying to get on the same balcony.” The metaphor being that we are all looking at a situation from high up on our own little isolated balconies. To understand someone, you have to do what you can to get on their balcony. You don’t need their experience or their background. You just need to see it how they see it.

I fail at this regularly in my personal life but I tend to be slightly more successful at work. There are techniques to help you walk the tightrope to that other balcony. There are questions you can ask and ways you can ask that help you get across. But, make no mistake, it is a highwire act. Next time you are thinking, “My [insert person who doesn’t understand you] just doesn’t get it and they are making me so angry,” consider how even at their best, it may be quite difficult for them to “see it your way.”

Often, the core of the work to get to this place is called “listening to learn” which sounds like some mealy-mouthed new age fluff until you try it. Our culture prides itself on achievement, reaching the goal, being first, being right. Listening to learn asks us to sublimate all those impulses and instead to try to live in someone else’s story for a while. I find this kind of conversation easy to do in my private life, but difficult to do at work. That seems counter intuitive given my observation that I can get on someone else’s balcony at work more easily.

I think the difference lies in the stakes. In my personal life, I’m generally looking to make new acquaintances or even friends. At its most callous and transactional, I’m looking for details and characters to put into the next thing I write. But, there’s no judgment. There’s no measurable outcome. It’s simply existence. At work, that all falls to side as the goals are legion and the measurements of success only slightly less hard to grasp.

This feels like another paradox that lives happily in my head without resolution and anxiety. Sure, I’d like to get better at the “down” side of this equation in both milieus but perhaps just seeing things from the many balconies of my mind is a step forward.

Alcohol is Bad for You

One of these days, the preponderance of evidence is going to cause a shift in the culture around alcohol. I suspect I’ll be long gone but articles like this make it increasingly apparent that alcohol has a massive negative impact on our health.

I haven’t had a drink in over 15 years and I do mourn the loss of that social outlet. I recognize the value of how we can come together “over a few drinks.” I also recognize that my relationship to alcohol is decidedly more negative than most people experience. I’m happy that’s true because it’s a shit road to walk in the early days.

Still, I wonder if we couldn’t find other ways to pass time in each other’s presence. I’m pro-marijuana and I think, in some cases, that’s a decent substitute. However, we’ve already shown that we aren’t great at regulating or managing even that drug in its nascent legal forms. Ever more potent strains and preparations are not really what we need if we see it as medicinal, social, and safe. It seems like we will get ourselves right back into the place we find we are in with alcohol. The only difference is that moderate or minimal weed usage hasn’t yet shown to have the kinds of negative impacts as are reported in that article above. Maybe that’s the hope we can latch onto.

Until then, I’d implore anyone to give it a go for a month without alcohol. You probably aren’t a problem drinker but just give it a try. See if you feel any different. See if you think any different. See if you treat others any different.

I wish I had listened in my 20s when they told me about running and lifting weights. I’m happy I found these things but it does make one yearn for what might have been. As always, the Germans have a word for that: sehnsucht.

Onto the Favorite List

Finished reading: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell 📚

A stunning book with language and characters that will sit in my mind for years to come. There’s so much here to live but what stands out from all the rest is the character of Agnes. O’Farrell’s ability to make her at once a “weird witch” and a passionate lover and a grieving mother is a stroke of genius.

Because we know the story, the power comes from the details of how these people move through their world. Their concerns and interests and patterns are fascinating even in their simplicity. O’Farrell’s language makes it all feel grounded in a natural world which isn’t ambivalent but is instead comforting in its lack of fickleness.

I don’t reread many books but I might circle back to this one sooner than any other.

Hard to Ignore

This short, crystalline essay by Roget Lockard does a lot to wipe off the vaseline on the lens of how we see ourselves. Specifically, it espouses that theme I am repeatedly discovering of our society’s lack of community.

Yesterday, I mentioned elsewhere that I recently was introduced to the idea of the Third Place. It’s precisely the concept I was hedging around when I wrote about wanting to build some kind of arts center here in Owensboro.

It’s the same feeling I get when I talk about wanting a return to the free-form and broad reach of the very best forums of the Internet we used to know. These were places were the esoteric, the universal, and the profound could all commingle into a connecting network. A community.

This is no new discovery. However, it’s more evidence that all these threads around me, like my fascination with the social life of trees, my rediscovery of theatre, my reading and writing, and even my wanderlust all seem to distill down to some core disconnect. As Lockard explains, finding and building community is the only solution.