A Simple Trick: Disabling a Specific Key

Most of the time, I learn something new because I have a problem to solve. I’ll tolerate some annoyances as long as they’re minor but if they go on for a while or start becoming worse, I go looking for a solution.

I’ve been playing Fallout 4 a bit lately. I know I’m not the most dextrous gamer around. I am, however, far more comfortable with mouse and keyboard than I am with any controller. So when I get into a combat situation and I start flailing around on the keyboard trying to shoot the super mutants, I have found myself hitting the Windows key, which pauses the game and drops me back to the desktop.

Supermutants are simple. Here, Strong tells us its entire character arc.
Super mutants are simple. Here, Strong tells us its entire character arc.

The first few times I just groaned, alt-tabbed back to the game, hit ESC and carried on. But it kept happening. I knew there must be a way to just turn off the Windows key entirely, at least while I was playing. Trouble is, I use that key regularly when I’m not playing. What about a more elegant solution?

Enter AutoHotkey (AHK). It’s a scripting program that runs in the background, waits for keyboard input, and then uses that to trigger actions. I use it as a text expander already: when I type “sphn”, for instance, AHK will expand that to my phone number. Super handy!

And as it turns out, there’s a way to get to have specific key combinations tied to specific programs. So I could have it just ignore the Windows key, but only when Fallout 4 had the focus.

I went looking, and found that I only had to add the following lines to an AHK script I’m already using:

#IfWinActive, ahk_class Fallout4
~LWin Up:: return

The first line tells AHK to only run the next line if the window that’s named “Fallout4” is the active window. And the next line is what I want to happen: do nothing at all when the Windows key is released.

Now, no matter what flailing I do when feral ghouls attack, I won’t take myself out of the game by tapping the wrong key, letting me stay in the moment. Much better!

There’s probably plenty more uses for this trick, like re-mapping all the controls (or just the annoying ones) in a stubborn program. Thankfully, AHK is well-documented. For now, though, I’m happy I went looking for the answer to this question.

Books For Free

I spent Monday with Terry, going through a house on his street, basically looting with permission of the owners. 

The owner has sold the house and moved out, leaving behind lots and lots of stuff. The house is going to be torn down and something new built on the lot. The owners are pocketing a nice profit. Such is Portland these days. 

But the reason Terry and I were interested was the fact that the owners were big fans of sci-fi and fantasy, and they had a lot of books. I recovered 19 titles, plus a blank pocket sized journal, some of which I’ve read long ago, most of which I have not. 

A big pile of books.
A big pile of books.

I already have a nice pile of “to be read” books, though, so who knows when I will get to any of these. But more books are always welcome. They’re less trouble than taking in stray cats, for sure. 

Focus Training Day

I did it. I spent the entire morning completely unplugged. I woke up around 7:30 AM, turned off my phone, turned off my computers, made some breakfast, wrote in my journal, and then read through two full, honest-to-Sagan, paper books.

No computer screens. No teevee showing a binge of YouTube or Netflix. No taking breaks every few minutes to see what was trending on Facebook or  Twitter. I didn’t even really know what time it was, exactly; the only clock I have that isn’t also a computer is on the microwave in the kitchen, and I only went in there to get more coffee.

I woke up and wrote a page in my journal, longhand, just organizing my thoughts. I haven’t written in my journal since October last year.

I’ve felt distracted and despairing that I would ever be able to read a book in a reasonable amount of time ever again. Every time I’ve tried, recently, I get nervous and distracted and eventually give up, even on “easy” reads. Even on short books.

I’ve had Charles Bukowski On Cats on loan from the library since August last year. I’ve renewed the damned thing over and over again. It’s barely 120 pages, and it’s poems and short-short stories and vignettes and drawings. And still, I haven’t been able to finish it. This morning, I read through it while making breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon, garlic hashbrowns, English muffin, coffee), and then while I was eating breakfast and then finishing it.

I finished it. And it was still early. I had planned to stay offline until noon, if I could manage it. I sat in my office and looked out the window and felt the pull to turn on my computer, if only to update Goodreads, tell the world I’d finished this book.

Instead, I got up, put the sheets in the laundry, and pulled down another book on my “to be read” pile: Hunter Stockton Thompson’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Sat down on the couch and started reading. Got to about page 40, flipped ahead to see that the whole thing was only 200 pages, realized I could put a serious dent in this before my self-imposed screen jail time had elapsed.

When I reached the end of Part One, almost exactly halfway through, I got up, stretched, pulled the sheets out of the dryer and put them on the bed, and noted the time: 10:30 AM. I could finish this book in one sitting. Like I’d done in the distant past. I actually had the focus, the drive, the attention span to read a whole novel in a few hours.

I can’t tell you what a revelation and what a relief this is to me. Once I got into HST’s prose, I stopped worrying what was trending on Twitter. I no longer cared what arguments were happening on Facebook. I did, briefly, wonder if my friends or family were trying to reach me, but I allowed myself to feel that anxiety, then kept reading. I’d be available all too soon. I can catch up. The world can wait for just a bit longer.

And I have returned. I feel calmer and less stressed. Reading is meditative. Having the words of someone else in my brain lets me soothe the fears of my own inner voice. I’m recharged, and ready to return to the global consciousness.

Take a break from the Internet from time to time. It helps.

The Way You Held Me Up When I Was Down

Today was a heartbreaking day, a day I have been dreading since the election, a day were America swore in as president possibly the worst American in our time, a man whose biographers agree is self-centered, insecure, and a bully. A man who ran a campaign of hate and divisiveness, a man with a record-breaking commitment to lying lies. An admitted sexual predator. The list goes on.

And in my heart of hearts I know: Donald Trump is not a unique snowflake. There are still plenty of people in our country who see nothing wrong in that list above. They may even frame it all the same way I did, and even then, think that behavior is a reasonable reaction to the world today. I know how we got here, I do. As much as I didn’t want to face it, as hard as I tried to believe we were getting better, I knew: America still has plenty of anger, hate, and bigotry.

We need to face that head-on if we want to come back from this, I think.

My depression stems from the sinking feeling that we have to fight it. On the other hand, on a more positive note, as a friend pointed out to me: my goal is clear. There is no disputing the very wrong ideals that are showing themselves now: racism, sexism, hatred of the poor. And fascism. Actual, for reals, corporate-interests-before-everything-else, fascism. Turns out, it can happen here.

Because the evil is now so clear, because evil’s supporters are now so vocal, it’s easy to identify them and that makes it easy to resist. If you ever wondered what you would have done when the Nazis rose to power, well, now’s your perfect chance.

Fight. Fight smart, but give no quarter. Hatred may be on the rise but this time we have a chance to knock it back for a good, long time.

Resist.

Make art.

Sing.

Dance.

Laugh.

Love, and love everyone.

And support those who do all those things, too. We’re all in this together. We are all individuals, but we share a purpose: making this world a better one for every single human.

Fascists hate all of that.

Herding Cats Is The Perfect Analogy

A friend on Facebook shared this essay about the political left in America infighting, by Sammy Leonard, and it’s got me thinking about how differently the right and the left operate, at least in America.

Disclaimer up top: if you weren’t already aware, I consider myself a liberal, democratic socialist, leftist, communist… all of those. My tagline for the longest time was “a little to the left of Bernie Sanders,” and that was before Senator Sanders ran for president and suddenly everyone knew who he was. I supported Bernie in the primary, right up until he was clearly losing, at which point I switched to the Democratic nominee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I did that for pragmatic reasons, not idealistic ones. I did it because the GOP nominee was Trump, and having him in the White House would be beyond disastrous.

Lucky us, we get to see if my (and so many others’) fears are accurate, alas.

Back to my main point, however. The above-linked article shows me that among the left, there are large demographics that are still holding on to their ideals and not joining forces with other left-aligned groups to make common cause against a clear and present danger like the Trump administration is shaping up to be.

Why doesn’t the left know how to work together?

There are probably many reasons, but let me offer at least one. Liberals all tend to operate from a particular frame of reference; they share ideals and goals. One of those shared goals is the idea that speaking up, dissenting to an authority figure, is a net good. Liberals like to protest, they like free speech, they don’t automatically accept what our leaders tell us without some evidence behind it.

I’m generalizing, of course, and it’s somewhat easy to find counter-examples of conservatives protesting, dissenting to authority, and valuing free speech. What I’m suggesting is that liberals put all that higher in priority than do conservatives.

A more top priority for conservatives, baked right into the name, is preserving order, following chains of command, and offering deference (often spoken of as “respect”) for authority. Let the leaders lead, they say. This ideal gives the right the edge in organizing against a common threat, and that’s the part that those on the left either never had, or have forgotten about.

Many electrons have been spent outlining the demographic differences in the Republican and the Democratic parties. The GOP is largely older, largely white, largely male, largely middle-class or better off, while the Democrats include large coalitions of blacks, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQA, younger voters, and more women. That is a consequence that arises when the left champions ideals of inclusiveness and diversity.

What that means is that the left has some learning to do. Specifically, liberals need to learn better how to avoid infighting, how to accept that people are imperfect and may not fully agree with each other, but that we can all push together on those policies and goals we share. Maybe we can even learn to help people in other coalitions to achieve what they need even if we don’t fully agree with them, as long as they can help us when our goals are being tested.

It’s a strategy that has worked for the right, which is made up of at least three large coalitions with differeing goals: the Christian authoritarians, the neo-con geo-political strategists, and the pro-gun pro-capitalism paleoconservatives. When crafting their party platforms, they make sure that every faction gets some attention, so they can count on every group working for the overall good of the party (often at the expense of the country and the world, at least in my view).

The Democratic Party doesn’t really operate like that, and it shows in the fault lines we continue to see today. Bernie Bros are still bitter and angry at what they see as party leadership pushing Hillary Clinton as the nominee, for right or wrong. Blacks are upset at being abandoned over the very serious issues of being a black person in America, which to this day results in far too many deaths; Sec. Clinton did not really address this in her platform, although black women still turned out in large numbers for her anyway.

And Cory Booker gets reamed for a non-binding vote that’s seen as being anti-Bernie, when in fact it wasn’t Bernie’s bill (he was a co-sponsor but Sen. Kobluchar authored it) and Sen. Booker voted for Wyden’s far more direct bill, despite supposedly being in Big Pharma’s pockets. I have to admit, I fell for this smear, too, and repeated some memes showing how terrible Booker was, without knowing all the facts. I can get better.

I hope we all can get better, the faster, the better.

Nazis (I Hate Those Guys)

It’s raining outside. This was going to be freezing rain, but it’s above freezing now, so it’s just rain. The rain is still falling on ice and packed snow, though, so it’s slicker than snot on the unpaved streets and unshoveled sidewalks in my neighborhood, which is to say all of them.

I’m done, so done, with winter.

Time Square, Nazi-occupied, as seen in Amazon's Man In The High Castle
Time Square, Nazi-occupied, as seen in Amazon’s Man In The High Castle
I spent my three day weekend mostly wandering from room to room in my apartment but at some point I started watching The Man In The High Castle, the Amazon TV series based on the least PKD-like book by PKD. That’s just my opinion, it’s still a brilliant book, it’s just not as balls-to-the-wall PKD as, say, VALIS or Radio Free Albemuth.

The show is a slow build. It bills itself as science fiction but the only real sci-fi on evidence for 90% of the first season is the premise: what if the Axis won World War II and the Japanese and Germans divided up North America between them? We get introduced to a bunch of characters: Juliana Crain and her boyfriend, the hapless artist Frank Frink; Nobusuki Tagomi, the Japanese trade minister with a penchant for throwing the Chinese I Ching; and Joe Blake, a blonde-haired blue-eyed truck driver on a mission.

I don’t think Joe Blake was in the novel. In fact, they’ve changed quite a bit about the novel to expand out the story for long-form television, and they’ve done a decent job of it. The plot wanders a bit in the first season, which is a danger now in the age of binge-watching, something that might not be as noticeable when watching week to week.

The 10% of the series that’s sci-fi is the films: black and white films that show an alternate reality, that is, our reality, where the Allies won the war. The moment in the first episode, where Juliana breaks down while watching the film over and over again, in her shitty little basement apartment in Japanese-occupied San Francisco, is visually mesmerizing and evocative.

Equally compelling is the scene where Joe Blake, driving his truck cross country, has to stop for a flat. Tense because he’s carrying a secret cargo, he gets helped out by a friendly local cop, and the tension fades… right up until the cop, finishing up changing the tire, asks Joe to see his transit papers, and we realize that this is not a free country we’re watching.

Then ashes start to fall, and Joe’s nervous question is answered by the cop very matter-of-factly: it must be Tuesday. On Tuesdays, they cremate “undesirables” at the hospital. Oh, right, the Nazis won.

If you have Amazon Prime, I strongly recommend this show. For some reason lately, Nazis and fighting them are timely, alas.

Do You Believe It’s Day?

I told myself I’d write every day this year, and man, have I missed that goal. I guess 2017 only 14 days old, so it’s only 3.8% over, and there’s a lot of ground to cover before we call it done, but with the mood I’ve been in this winter, it’s hard to see the bright side.

It’s been a long winter already. The long winter followed a long fall, and a stressful summer, and the incredibly anxious spring. Let’s face it, 2016 was more trash than treasure. There were bright spots, to be sure, but it all happened under a cloud for me.

I have plans to get things together this year. All of those plans include a daily component because I’m trying to build habits. I’ve learned that motivation is a fickle muse, but habits keep you moving along towards your goals. Once something becomes a habit, it’s easier to do it than it is not to do it. Like brushing your teeth, or going to the cafeteria on your break and getting some bacon. Maybe that last one is just me, though. But can you blame me? Bacon is amazing.

Of course, the political situation in the most egotistical of the Americas is part of the gloom. Love him or hate him, Trump appears to be taking great delight in breaking every single norm, custom, or law on his way to the inauguration. Picking his daughter for First Lady and keeping an expensive Secret Service detail in New York to protect his wife. Firing every appointed diplomat just because. Keeping a private security force for himself instead of the Secret Service. Firing the head of the security detail for the inauguration during the inauguration. And so much more; I can hardly keep track.

And all the tweeting. Every morning, the man who will be leading arguably the most powerful nation in the world gets up, checks his Twitter feed, and starts hitting back. There’s no stopping him. It’s unnerving. And possibly distracting and confusing. It’s hard to keep track, which might just be the perfect description of America these days. We’re angry, unnerving, confused, and clearly hiding something, as a nation.

On a personal level, I’m also glued to my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and it’s freaking me out. I keep wondering what’s next, while also dreading whatever news I find. It’s not healthy, and I don’t know how to stop. Maybe I should delete those apps and just take a break. A writer I love, Sady Doyle, mentioned (on Twitter, of course) that she made a promise to pitch or blog instead of thread or long-form on Twitter, and that would also be a useful rule. It’s one reason I’m here and writing stream of consciousness style. I’m training myself just to sit and write and not edit.

Training my attention span is part of my plans to get things together this year, too. I remember being able to sit and read for hours at a time but these days my attention wanders whenever I try that. The few things I can sit and do for hours now are watch videogame let’s plays or play videogames myself. Except for last night, when I fired up Skyrim and was barely into it for an hour, and most of that was just getting my character back to their home base, ignoring all the possible quests. Once back at home my Dragonborn laid down and slept for 12 hours, which made me feel a bit sad.

So I saved my game, quit the app, and went straight to bed myself, where I slept for 9 and a half hours. Sigh.

Tomorrow will be better.

Return to a Zone of Comfort

I’m (1) waiting for the bus in the snow (2). Tracker says it’s five minutes away. I wait a bit, check the app again. The bus has disappeared from the app (3); next bus in 35 minutes. Ugh. I start walking home (4). Two blocks later I hear the bus rolling up behind me (5) and start running towards the closest stop along the icy sidewalk (6). Driver honks, waves, and stops for me (7) and I don’t have to walk home (8).

That is a complete story, according to the Harmon Story Circle:

  1. A character in a familiar situation
  2. Needs something
  3. Enter unfamiliar situation
  4. They adapt
  5. They get what they wanted
  6. But pay a price
  7. Return to a zone of comfort
  8. Having changed