Experience Digest — October 2016

This is a sample Experience Digest. It chronicles media I engaged with, paths I took through the Web, and my dreams, over the course of the last month. You can have one every month by contributing to my Patreon at the $2/month level or above.

This month, I was having migraines very frequently, so there's lots of text media and relatively little media involving sound or visuals. I spent a fair amount of time reading a certain book but I think I'll wait until I finish it to comment.

Table of contents


Mechanical keyboards

Sometimes I fantasize intensely about things I'd like to buy but can't afford, for days at a time even. I really wish I wouldn't. It seems like a sign of religious impurity and it's a relatively pointless way to spin my wheels. Sometimes it leads me into unusual territory, though.

All last month, I was intensely preoccupied with getting a mechanical keyboard, which seems really silly to me to be so focused on but I just can't help myself for some reason. My current keyboard is starting to give out—some of the keys are sticking—and a couple of my friends told me about how wonderful mechanical keyboard are, apparently. I can't afford to get one—not even a $30 Dell AT101W on eBay, it's just too much money for something non-essential. So instead I've been rooting around at recycling centers and thrift stores when I've been well enough to leave the house, although I haven't found any yet. I've been watching a lot of YouTube videos about them too, along with reading articles and threads on Deskthority.

One person who's stood out to me in mechanical keyboard YouTube is Chyros (Chyrosran22). He's a Dutch chemist with a gigantic keyboard collection and an absolutely beautiful voice:

This might seem shockingly boring, but I'm sure there are at least a few of you out there who will feel the mystifying appeal of this subject. I've never actually typed on a mechanical keyboard in my life so I'm just terribly curious. I'd really adore to get to try typing on a Model F, although I'm nervous about the sound bothering me in migraineland.

ABC transporters

Here's a wacky video on ABC transporters:

This video wasn't quite so wacky (although it does its best) but it helped me understand the concept more effectively:

Elaborate structures for guinea pigs and cats

Kendama tricks

I love to play with a kendama, but I'm nowhere near as good as these folks:

Ryan Dorin

Ryan Dorin is a rather fascinating character. He has a PhD in music composition and works as a piano teacher. He's also involved in the strange and cranky "alternative physics" Electric Universe community (more about in the General Web section). But what he's best known for are the films he's made, 3D-animated storytelling music videos that are really quite wonderful:

Bath bombs

Always nice:

YouTube acronym game

I've developed a number of games or techniques over time for finding interesting videos on YouTube (I probably ought to write a post about all of them). This month I figured out a new one: search for random three- or four-letter acronyms. This approach tends to reveal genres or subcultures on YouTube, since acronyms are often jargon that's only meaningful to an insular group.



At the beginning of this month, when the migraines weren't coming quite so frequently, I played through Hideo Kojima's 1988 visual novel Snatcher. I actually really enjoyed the story—it's Blade Runner-inspired, but in typical Kojima style it has a wild number of genuinely shocking plot twists that make it very unique and inventive. The art style is cute and fun, which was neat to see, especially contrasted with the art style of the Metal Gear games.

There were also some things about it that really bothered me.

The main character is a straight dude and the game makes much of this, giving it an icky pervy sort of flavor. You can hit on just about every woman in the game at nearly any time, and there's even a scene where the main character "accidentally" surprises a woman in the shower. None of this is all that surprising given the game's intended audience, but it was hard for me to push through.

There's also racism towards Chinese people. A supporting Chinese character has a visual portrayal that struck me as extremely crude, and there's an evil Chinese doctor bit villain who could've come out of a 60s B-movie. All the Chinese characters are at least connected with the criminal underworld if not outright wicked, and are heavily associated with "seedy" parts of town and urban decay.

The plot kept me going once I started—it was so refreshingly inventive and memorable that I later retold all of it from memory to my girlfriend as a bedtime story. That said, I doubt I would've picked the game up at all if I'd known about its bigotries beforehand. I don't think there's many commercial games with fun plots, so it's great on that basis, but I would only recommend it if you're up for stomaching the grossness.


I've been playing this on and off. It's a super-fun and kind of easy-breezy danmaku by Cave; I get the feeling that it has a lot of depth despite its relatively easygoing nature, although I'm not good at it enough yet to say. You play as a psychic teen fighting back against a government intent on destroying them, which is a fantastically satisfying and cathartic aesthetic for a game like this to have, especially if you feel like the irl government is intent on destroying you (hi). Your character also genderswaps when they go into a "bullet time"-like mode, which is a fun touch.

It's sort of a nice break from the nail-biting, wildly tense gameply of the danmaku I play routinely, Perfect Cherry Blossom. Both of those games are part of lengthy series which I'm thrilled to know about because they diverge from the boring "space war" aesthetic so common in bullet hells. It's so much more fun for me to play as a psychic teen or a knife-wielding maid than some sort of generic sci-fi spaceship or fighter jet.

I'd love to make a game in this genre someday.


I couldn't listen to much music this month because of how frequently I was having migraines. I actually had a tremendously uncomfortable several days where I was desperate to listen to this track but couldn't:

Another group I've been into with a related style is snd:

I had this song stuck in my head nonstop for about a week:

I love the Hechizeros Band album El Sonidito. One of my friends was looking for music with a farm atmosphere so I suggested this:

I don't know much Spanish so hopefully the lyrics don't heavily detract from the farm atmosphere.

Nice, minimal ambient from Harold Budd, with a bit of a melancholy atmosphere:

A beautiful and energizing track from Omar Khorshid, who has had a strong influence on me as a guitarist:

I listen to Martha Argerich play Chopin's preludes fairly often. If you've never heard her before, she has an incredible unbridled power:

General Web

These are paths I followed through the Web that I found interesting. Each cluster of pages is in roughly sequential order as I visited them. Many of them are even hyperlinked to each other, though sometimes one page prompted me to search for something else.

Links are to Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.

From spices to medicine:

Geography, politics, and a couple of strange stories of northern Canada:

Stock exchanges and such. I thought the bit about the statue of a goddess of agriculture being placed on top of a futures exchange cast humans in an interesting light:

These articles about migraines terrified me:

Western esotericism. A long time ago, a guitar teacher of mine gave me a copy of The Kybalion, but I've only flipped through it:

Ryan Dorin, who's made some amazing videos on YouTube (see above), is into this concept called "Electric Universe", and even works it into some of his videos. I'd never heard of it, so I looked into it:

A North Korean computer game and China-North Korea relations in recent years:

Really big meteors:

All sorts of stuff about ancient (and modern) text editors.

One interesting thing that I got out of this was a realization about Vim, the text editor I use. When I was playing with TECO, I was at first astonished at its incredibly arcane and terse syntax—at least, until I realized that Vim is almost just the same. In Vim, too, just about every character does something, there are multiple modes, and by default you're not in a mode that enters text. The only reason it's more user-friendly than TECO is that it gives you way more visual feedback as you enter commands (it has the whole screen to work with, after all). The amazing Vim macros linked below vividly give the flavor of this. It was odd to discover something like TECO that at first seemed so alien and then to realize that I was already very used to a similar system.

From INTERCAL to interactive fiction to caves to prehistory. I really enjoyed this as a Wikipedia path—it covers all sorts of ground super-fast and I found it very interesting the whole time:

Chemical computers—a short trip but wonderful:

Super-weird language politics:

"Mad honey" to biochemistry:

These are all links from the rather strange website Is It Normal?, where people describe some aspect of their lives and poll others as to whether it's normal or not. I found it through googling dog-related phrases:

The bit about the talking bird spurred me to read about cockatoos:

Gamma ray bursts, supernovas, highly radioactive stars:


One of my friends told me about CAConrad, a powerful contemporary poet who generates poetry through intense physical rituals that fill your attention while you perform them:

Quilt Honoring People Killed By Chicago Police Is 40 Feet Long, And Growing (DNAinfo Chicago)

Direct detection of a single photon by humans: a paper demonstrating that humans are capable of seeing a single photon of light.

I love to drink Taiwanese oolongs, particularly creamy, brothy green ones, at least when I can afford to. I thought I should expand my oolong horizons a bit, so I did some research on Chinese oolongs:

Do you remember back in 2011–2012 when the HBGary and Stratfor hacks happened? Do you remember the bizarre and nefarious plot to smear and blackmail progressives and investigative journalists that was uncovered in their wake? The incident seems to have faded from the collective memory. Perhaps it's unsurprising, because two of the central people involved in bringing the story to light, Barrett Brown (journalist) and Jeremy Hammond (hacktivist), are still in prison, and nothing particularly bad has happened to the conspirators. I was glad to see this recent article by Brown get passed around on Twitter, since I don't think this is a story we should forget so easily, especially since things like this are doubtless going on all over the world every day. That, and Brown is clearly a political prisoner, jailed for years just for linking to leaked documents—his ongoing imprisonment casts the U.S. in a light similar to China or Russia, although perhaps that's a less surprising aspect. A fucked-up story of cyberintrigue:

Natural Language Processing With Python: a really cool book! I've been working through it on and off, with an eye towards using the techniques described in my literary work. It's very accessible, and has the added benefit of very entertaining examples.

Languages of northern Canada and southern Nigeria:

Passive vs. active trading:

Spotted fever:

I use a moisturizer called CeraVe; it was recommended to me by a dermatologist a few years ago after I got eczema on a third of my body. It works very well as an eczema preventative. I got curious about it randomly and tried looking it up on Wikipedia, which redirects to the drug company that produces it:

I've never seen National Treasure, and I got in this mood where I was like "What's the deal with that movie anyway??". Then I wandered into reading about the National Archives and film criticism:

Kōdō Sawaki, a 20th century Zen teacher, wrote a book called To You that I've read excerpts from regularly for the last few years. It's maybe the main text powering my preoccupation with Zen Buddhism (just at a distance so far). I had the urge to look him up on Wikipedia, which I do every so often:

My bizarre preoccupation with old mechanical keyboards this month led me here. This computer, the IBM PC, shipped with the revered Model F keyboard:

A couple wonderful spider pages:

Malware—first old Windows stuff, then Linux:

I don't quite remember how I got to this essay by neuroscientist Yohan John, but it was tremendously rewarding. Not only was it a wonderful read, but the "More is Different" essay it linked to is one of my favorite articles of all time now, up there with Anna Wierzbicka's "There Are No 'Color Universals' but There Are Universals of Visual Semantics" and J.D. Kramer's "Linearity, Nonlinearity and Moment Time in Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments" from his book The Time of Music. This cluster of articles starts with neuroscience but reaches for the heavens:

I think I got into all of this after that Mother Jones undercover-in-a-militia article. A strange and terrifying walk through white supremacy, American separatism, and terrorism:

Samhain happened at the end of the month. I saw some people posting about it and wasn't quite sure what it was:

Kyo's Birthday (Drifter2, Fanfiction.net): a surreally written but really endearing Fruits Basket fanfic describing a dance and surrounding events. Contains lots of odd-sounding passages like, "Eggs were placed in the five girls' necks," or, "Everyone was suddenly enclosed in a plastic suit". One of the characters threatens to squash a cat out of jealousy. 0_0 I don't know much about Fruits Basket so the intricacies were maybe lost on me, but I found it entertaining anyway. The person writing the sequel had the handle "Drifter-chan" which conjured up amazing images in my mind of Blingee'd-out rail-riders.



I was living in a town, probably somewhere in the Southwest, with a number of friends. We lived in a house that reminded me of J. and J.'s house when I was a kid—light-colored wood floors, white walls with minimal but playful decorations—a bit of a "playhouse" vibe. There were I think four of us living there; all dream characters except for me (I think :p ).

In my room, I was raising a number of different animals in a pond set into the floor. There were tadpoles, fish, and a few tiny dinosaurs. One of the kinds of dinos had little pink wings and looked sort of like a velociraptor but more explicitly cute; another was like a tiny t-rex. Much of the dream involved me reading about raising my pond creatures in books, feeding them, cleaning the pond, playing with the ones that were more full grown, showing them to my housemates, etc.

One memorable moment was when a one of the t-rexes, maybe the size of a litle dog, played with me as a bear cub might, gnawing on my hands in a mock-fighting gesture. I could feel the intense razor-sharpness of the tiny dino's claws and teeth, but wasn't injured.

At one point, I went off to a restaurant with my housemates. It was a huge Tex-Mex restaurant with mostly outdoor seating, in a pretty stone courtyard with lots of trees. I ordered something kind of like shrimp enchiladas crossed with a calzone; instead of tortillas, it was a huge hollow bread pocket deep-fried and filled with shrimp and cheese and avocado and other vegetables. The sides were the regular sort—a little salad with sour cream, borracho beans, rice.

After I ordered, I wandered off away from our table back into the front area of the restaurant, which was indoors, where people waited for tables. Out of curiosity, I started fishing around in some drawers away from where the employees were getting people seated. I found a huge cookbook in one of them, maybe the size of a small phonebook, with instructions for making a wide variety of strange and decadent dishes. Lots of deep-fried bread pockets like I had ordered, huge stews to be served as the centerpiece of a banquet meal, elaborate desserts with nets of spun sugar around ice cream and sopapillas…

Earlier in the day, I had put a lot of tadpoles in a small mason jar temporarily to clean out their corner of the pond, and then forgotten about them. When we came back from the restaurant, they had all dried out in the jar. I was convinced they were all dead, but one of my housemates encouraged me to try just putting them back in the pond to rehydrate them, and when I did this they all came back to life.


Earlier in the dream I was living in Texas, but I don't recall this part very well. It had something to do with a large field of dead grass, and maybe a big research building—bit of a J. J. Pickle Research Campus atmosphere.

Eventually I moved to the Bay Area. Whether this was a temporary or permanent move I don't quite remember. I was living in a small apartment, in a huge, hotel-esque building, with two other people.

The main part of the dream I recall well was when I was at a big public pool with a few friends. The pool was right next to the ocean, and fed with seawater, but the water was maintained at a pleasant, nicely warm temperature, and was clean, which I guess was the appeal of swimming in the pool as opposed to the sea (rather strange in retrospect). It had waves, like the actual ocean.

At one point, some people came over and asked if they could film me and the small group of people I was nearby to for a commercial (I guess for the pool itself?). They offered to ship each of us a package of fancy snack foods as compensation. We all agreed, and signed contracts in the pool. They set up a moving platform over our corner of the pool to film from, and got shots of us jumping into the pool off of things and diving into large waves and such.

Afterwards, one of the people that in was in the group, whom I didn't know, started talking to me. He was a man, slightly grizzled, maybe in his mid-30s or early 40s. He started telling me about his cats and rabbit, specifically differences in their behavior. A couple of my friends came over and joined in the conversation.

According to him, the cats were "twice as sharp" as the rabbit, able to understand complex sentences and solve intricate puzzles, whereas the rabbit took much longer to solve puzzles and couldn't figure out much of what the cats could. The difference between them was like the difference between "Sunday and Monday," he said.

At some point, the dream transitioned into me looking at his website, where he discussed his pets in detail. The website had an old-fashioned jukebox aesthetic, and contained lots of quaint and kitschy references and graphics about alcohol. The main focus of the site was pets, though—mainly his cats, to which he attributed remarkable analytic feats. I was actually somewhat incredulous about the acumen of his cats, but he claimed to have been featured on a number of television news programs, so I felt it was difficult to determine the veracity of his claims from his website alone.


I had a very long dream that was heavily focused on Z., but unfortunately I barely remember it. I know that we were living in a large, labyrinthine suburban-style house with numerous kitchens, and that the dream went on at such lengths that days passed and I went to sleep and woke up again numerous times over the course of the dream. Other than us cooking together, I don't remember much of what happened.

Shortly before I woke up, I experienced a series of strange vignettes. I was given the opportunity (because of my artistic/celebrity status in the dream or something? not because I was a scientist) to go on one of the NOAA hurricane flights. We flew through a hurricane, and then as we were returning we ended up flying low over Brooklyn, specifically over a river with many bridges crisscrossing over it.

The dream shifted to being a sort of kung fu movie where multiple people were racing planes over the river through Brooklyn. The plane I had "been in" won the race. There was a scene afterwards where the people who were in the winning plane consoled the people who got in second place. It had a cinematic atmosphere.


If I recall, much of this dream took place in the company of K. and L. I remember that we spent a long time in a very tall, dark, sort of industrial building, but one that was crowded with people. It had a special purpose—maybe educational?—but I don't really recall.

I do remember that there were a number of old, maybe not-in-use nuclear reactors scattered throughout the building, sealed under the floor in casks. This became a minor plot point but I'm not sure what it was.

I also remember writing L. a long note, maybe more like a small letter, explaining something to them. I was worried about my handwriting, which I was having a particularly hard time making legible.