What to write when you’ve got nothing to say

This blog, like many others I’m sure, tends to go through long periods of neglect followed by a short flurry of activity until neglect creeps in again.

Of course I don’ t do this on purpose. Keeping up content is tough. It’s hard to find the inspiration, time, and a good topic. But often times, it’s because I’ve already written what I’m working through; I’ve just put it down in my head, and not on paper. And there the idea sits, unfinished, in rough-draft, an idea, thought, or something I’m working through. I’ll spend quite a bit of time working on one. I’ll revise, restart, redact, and reword it over and over in my head, just as if I was typing. This is how my brain works. It’s how I wrote my best man speech for my brother’s wedding. I say wrote, although I never put a pen to a piece of paper. I just went through the speech over and over again for three days as if I was writing a paper in my mind.

Writing for me has always been therapeutic—a way to visualize my thoughts and gain a new perspective. I was had a former roommate give my then current roommate that “The only way Drew ca. Communicate is through writing.”.

I fear that by not putting these ideas down on paper, I’m not getting as much benefit from the reflective process as I should. For one, processing information this way requires a lot of bandwidth. It’s like trying to put the waterflow of a firehouse through a drinking straw. The CPU just gets maxed out. It takes an incredible amount of time and concentration to get thoughts out and process them this way.

Writing though, allows ideas to flow more freely and it’s much easier to extract examine ideas. It’s much easier to read, revise and rework a piece on your computer screen than it is in your head. I’m able to complete ideas in a way that I can’t to do by running through these ideas in my head all day long. It also takes way less time as by having pieces of the idea written down, I don’t need to revisit it from the beginning each time. This is, of course, all pretty basic stuff here, but maybe writing it down will make it set in and get me to post here more often.

So there you go. When you don’t have anything to write, write about writing.

Getting away, reflection, and simplifying

When I first started here, I remember someone telling me that it was important to get away.  Actually, I think they were telling me about someone who told them it was important to get away, but I inferred that they agreed with that advice.

In my first year here, I remember the odd feeling of getting in my car and realizing that I had not been in it for over a week.   That little trip to Groton Market was the first time I’d been off campus in 7 days.

Certainly last year, I realized the importance of getting out and getting space.  For nothing else then to change the scenery and fight off cabin fever.  It breaks up the monotony and force you to change your rhythm.  In my case, I often head to my uncle’s and aunt’s the Burlington area.  That 3.5 hour drive also provides me the benefit of reflection.  Even just 24 hours away like this past weekend help me to refocus,

The boy enjoying some cold VT air during our 24 hours away

re-center, re-energize and re-prioritize.

It’s not that I find immediate inspiration on these trips—there is no ‘ah-ha” moment.  Rather it is that I find my mind more open to receiving inspiration.  I allow myself to soak in life.

I know I sound like I’m getting my zen on, and in some ways I am.  A book and a film have me thinking more about what I consume and my footprint that I create.  The Omnivores Dilemma is equal parts blowing my mind and scaring the shit out of me.  Scaring me mostly because there seems to be so little I can do to fight it.  Shopping local for food is easyier in the summer.  The winter months prove a challenge though.  Even then, there’s only so much you can do.

180° South has me thinking about sustainability and nature.  Also irony in that the founders of the two largest outdoor gear/clothing companies which have thrived on American consumerism are featured in it as activists and environmentalists.  I think they are now, and probably were in the past.  It’s just odd to me that their passion for the outdoors and nature lead them to create these companies which I now see on every prep school kid here.  As for myself, I’m no better.  Do I really need the 10 pairs of pants and 20 sweaters in my closet right now?  Probably not. They certainly don’t make me any happier.   If I go in, purge and toss eyverything out, then what?  Will that make a difference?  In the movie, Yvon Chouinard says that the hardest thing to do in life is to simplify.  I would suggest that maintaining that simplicity is just as, and perhaps more, challenging.

I think I will try to pare down my wardrobe.  I’ll also try to resist the urge to buy the next great thing.  When it comes to food, I’ll try to shop more locally.  I’m not planning on quitting my job and jumping on a boat to Patagonia, but at least that’s always an option.  It’s way down on the list, but it’s on the list.

Live Streaming Revisited and Improved

You’ll remember (or perhaps not) that I had some surprising success last year live streaming an event here know as Lessons and Carols.  Last year, it was a simple one camera in the back of the Chapel hooked into my MacBook Pro.  I had a wireless network that I patched into and streamed the event using Ustream.tv.

I was shocked when hundreds tuned in to watch the event live and another 1,600 or so have watched the video.  In the spring I increased the degree of difficulty by adding a second camera, and basically jerry-rigging a way to combine the two streams using two MacBook Pros and Skype.

I didn’t want to go through that again, so I consulted with my now real world (formerly just Twitter) friend Hans Mundahl at New Hampton School.  Here’s the set-up I came up with.  Of course, I did this all the week before the event.  Why do things in August when you can do them under the gun.

Materials:

2 cameras (one decent, one not)

1 Digital Recorder (I use this as an external Mic.  You could just use the camera mic)

2 8-pin to 4-pin FireWire cables

2 8-pin FireWire cables

2 100 ft Cat 5 (ethernet) cables

4 Cat 5 to 8-pin FireWire converter boxes

1 iMac connected to the Intertubes

3 extension cords

3 power strips

The Boxes

These little babies were the key to having two cameras (that and the iMac with two FireWire inputs).  I’m not going to mention that it took me an entire day to figure out why they weren’t working only to realize that the iMac’s software hadn’t been updated since the Bush administration.

Video over cat-5 has a range of 300m (330ft for us Americans).  This allowed me to set up the cameras at opposite side of the Chapel, and run the cables underneath the floor, along the wall, and into the sacristy in the back of the Chapel where I was set up with my iMac.  I simply set the camera up, plugged in the FireWire to the camera and then to the converter box, plugged the cat-5 into the box and turned on the power.  That cat-5 ran into another converter box and from there I ran an 8-pin FireWire from the box directly into the iMac.

Feeding the stream directly into the iMac meant that I didn’t need to deal with a video mixer or any other equipment.  I did end up having to purchase Ustream’s Producer Pro which I think was maybe $100 or $200, but way cheaper and easier than a mixer.  Here’s what my screen looked like:

The one problem I ran into (which resulted in F bombs in the sacristy) was a bandwidth issue.  The system kept freezing and crashing for the first 30 minutes until I turned down the quality of the stream.  It turns out that we don’t have very fast upload speeds here and even though I was hardwired in, I was trying to push water from a fire hose through a soda straw.  Once I turned it down to the lowest setting, everything started working just fine.  We had 300 watch it live, and the recording has been seen over 1,000 times as well.  The video is up on Vimeo.  Pro Tip: With Ustream you can sign up to suppress ads for one month, and then cancel.  If you download your video before you cancel, it doesn’t have ads.  You can then upload it to Vimeo where you will have a video of your event without annoying David Hasselhoff ads.  

The Bill

This year wasn’t cheap.  I probably spent close to $1,500 to get everything set up and we did pay to suppress ads.  $1,000 of that was a one-time cost though, and I should have to spend any more on the tech stuff unless I want to upgrade my cameras (which I do).

Thanks again to @hansmundahl for all of the help!

New Year

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution.  If you only evaluate your life once a year and set goals for yourself once a year than you have issues.  One of my most recent goal was to lose some weight after the New Year.  Luckily, I caught the flu and lost 5 lbs.  Mission accomplished there.

Looking ahead to the year, I decided to set some goals for myself.  I’m not calling them resolutions because they are not resolutions.  They are goals.

1. Listen to that little voice inside of me more.

2. Drink a little less

3. Stand a little taller

4. Speak more firmly

God, this is sounding like a Tim McGraw song.  This is why I don’t make resolutions.