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personal – Rob Brogan

March 4, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Little pieces

I’m riding a train this morning to work. Not the subway but an actual train from Philadelphia to NYC. It brings back potent nostalgia for Barcelona.‬

When I was a teacher I would take a regional train from BCN to Molins del Rei. I didn’t mind the commute, in fact I got excited every time I got on the train. I got excited because I was SO new that I could feel myself getting better every class I taught.‬

I also loved the small amount of money. I can’t remember but I think it was about €60. I got paid daily, in cash. The day that it was enough to cover rent that month, felt like such an accomplishment: one more month I could make it as an immigrant.

Aside:
In the United States right now that can be a heavy word, immigrant, but to clarify my circumstance: I moved to Barcelona with two suitcases of clothes, a good amount of savings and a plan to support myself teaching English. I used my savings, taught English, but was unable to secure a visa. So, being undocumented really limited my travel. I couldn’t hop around Europe as I hoped, but Catalunya was enough for me. I also couldn’t go back to the USA until I was comfortable with the possibility I’d be barred from coming back to my new home in Barcelona.

When I filled my envelope under the mattress markered with RENT, the rest was mine. Each day I went to work was another 40 to 60 euros for cheap beer, jamón serrano, galletas Principe, wine, subway tickets, pay-as-you-go cell phone “top ups.” They had ATM style kiosks around shopping centers where you type in your phone number, insert the cash, and then your available balance on the phone gets updated. Wow.

So, each time I got on a train I would look out the window and soak up the sequence of quotidian landscapes. I didn’t know how long I would be there. Each day was an exciting step and I just wanted to keep going.


I can’t help comparing this feeling to present day. Now I ride a train and feel that nostalgia, but rarely look forward to work. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the daily reward and the Pavlovian effect has worn off. I definitely need work to pay the bills, but it’s no longer a day-to-day survival. I also don’t feel that daily progression that I did with being a new teacher. Now I work with a big company that only dares take incremental steps toward some undefined goal of “generate more money/customers.” Most employees aren’t needed for a specific day like a teacher is required each day for a class to happen. My work is spread out over the course of weeks, months, and then I don’t see a final result sometimes for a year.

There isn’t an inherent negative to taking the long view. In fact sometimes it is most valuable. [The Long Now Foundation] I also recall feeling a little lost in Barcelona, taking life in little pieces, with no idea how they added up to a big piece or what the next big piece should be. I’m sitting here on the train again, no longer at a loss for the big pieces, but missing the delight of the little ones.

Perhaps writing is one way to get them. Actually writing this very message feels like mixing the pallet of big and little, but to get meta about it, the act of writing is small in itself. I like that.


June 18, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Finally a new podcast episode!

Letters Podcast — Episode 02: Life

It has been a while but I finally got around to posting the second episode for my little side project!


Letters podcast artwork

In this episode, I received four letters in response to a letter of mine that was part statement and part question. Picking up where Habiba concluded the previous episode, I thought about the connection or disconnection of work and life. I asked Habiba to respond and invited three others to contribute their thoughts as well.

Note: This is episode will be released in two parts. In this first part, you’ll hear from Habiba and Mike. In Episode 02B, you’ll hear Nick and Crystal.

Podcast Players:

February 23, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Kicking off “Letters” podcast for real

About a month ago I wrote a quick outline of my process setting up my new podcast.

Here I am to do a bit of self-promotion – if it's my blog, isn't everything self-promotion? – to announce the first full episode of Letters.


Episode 01: Work


screenshot

Editing the show in Adobe Audition

I don't have much to say about it at this point, but wow that was quite a learning curve and a process to edit. In college I used to edit four different podcasts with my friends, but those were pretty linear, conversational types of podcasts. I'm trying to push myself with this personal project to go a step further and give it a more polished feel as well as a (hopefully) unique format.

Anywho — that's all! I hope you check out the first episode and let me know you what you think. It's a lot of musing about life and work, so I wouldn't recommend multi-tasking during this one.

screenshot

So many cuts!

February 1, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Creating “Letters”

I've been thinking about starting up another podcast (I had four of them in back in College) and after setting a personal deadline of the end of January, I finally got it together!

You can learn more about the podcast from visiting the site or listening to the introductory episode, but basically it will have a different topic in each episode and feature opinions, perspectives, and thoughts from other people.

Since all the podcast stuff has its own home online, I'd like to briefly share my process for getting everything set up here:


1. Site & Hosting

This was the easiest step for me, because I already have hosting (thanks Dreamhost!) and a domain name set up. I might buy a unique domain name for the podcast, but that's a bit premature right now. For the time being I set up a sub-domain (anything prefixing the main domain) as letters.robrogan.com.

If you don't have any of the above, you'll want to shop around for some affordable hosting and a domain name. Both of these should be super easy to find with Google and I don't feel like writing a tutorial. ;)

2. Setting up the CMS

A CMS is yet another tech acronym for Content Management System. You'll have lots of content—blogs, podcasts, etc.—and you'll want to manage it. WordPress is by far the easiest to set up in my opinion so I'm using that.

With WordPress, you can quickly get it set up to distribute your podcast with a single plugin. There are a few to choose from but so far I recommend: Seriously Simple Podcast. What a godsend. Literally all I had to do was fill in the title of my show, author, description, and a few other pieces of info and it was good-to-go.

There are a few other details that I put into my WordPress, but you should set it up however you like. I'm trying to find a balance between practical, low-maintenance customization with just a dash of unique design. Using the plugin Easy Google Fonts I changed the typeface to a much softer sans-serif called Nunito. Note: I would not recommend using more than one or two web fonts as each font file increases the loading time for your site.

3. Making the Podcast

Well this point could be all sorts of things, but let's just say that at some point you'll have to sit down and record some audio, then edit the track, save it as a reasonably sized *.mp3 and upload it to your blog's "Media" (if using WordPress).

In my case, I have a USB microphone (even a cheap one is a lot better than the built-in source) and I recorded with Adobe Audition. If you don't have Adobe then Audacity is 100% free and gets the job done. Podcast editing a pretty big topic that is covered elsewhere better than I could here, so I'm not going to go into detail.

4. Album Art, Finishing Touches

People can agonize for hours—nay, days—trying to create the perfect artwork for their show. Right from the start I told myself that it will never be perfect, and it's not going to ooze symbolism either. Erring on the side of simplicity, I just typed up the podcast name in a few fonts and colors and went from there.

I ended up using a strong serif font for the base, and then I masked-out most of an ornamented font, retaining just a few interesting characteristics, and overlayed that in a bright color. I think it has an interesting effect, so that's good enough for me! Lastly, I needed something else to give it a bit of weight and not feel like a word just floating in the middle of a square. In addition to adding the two lines (reminiscent of lined paper), I added a thick border so that the light background didn't get lost in the mix of a white web design or podcast app.

Letters podcast artwork

5. Now It Really Begins

So, setting up all of this was a bit of a chore, but in reality it's just the beginning. I think the interesting challenge remains in creating each episode, especially if I require the participation of other people. I hope it turns into something great, but if not, it's been a fun design and build process.


January 29, 2016Comments are off for this post.

Brain Dump

What's on my mind?

There's a misconception that the practice of meditation involves clearing your mind of thoughts. There are amazing resources to learn all about it, but in short: the aim is to remain aware of thoughts as they come and go like clouds and not grab on to one and get lost in a train of thought.

Perhaps that's not the best definition, but I think it explains how I've been this week. I used to meditate once a week at this place in Manhattan for about a year straight, and for whatever reason I lost the habit. Last Tuesday I returned and I'm already excited for next Tuesday's sitting.

I'm definitely feeling more aware of so many thoughts passing by, but I'm very out of practice in letting them go. I feel some mental arms flailing around as I want to keep each one and nurture it into some nice, grand thought.

I heard something interested on a podcast recently about letting go of identifying with your thoughts. If you're a Game of Thrones fan, think of the House of Black & White where Arya is training to become "a girl" and lose her identity.
Jaqen-Hghar
A girl may think a thing, but Arya does not. If you have a blog, podcast, or just love to talk a lot, you might notice how the further you elaborate a thought, the more you're trying to inject your identity into the idea as though it is your own. At least that's the case for me.

Of course, a specific thought at a specific time can only happen inside your head, so in that regard you are the owner of the thought. The idea however is likely to be shared by thousands. There's a point where I disagree with the above however: I think sharing ideas is the most important thing humans can do. We developed the ability to communicate and that's probably our best attribute.

So, on a personal note, I hope to put things here in a spirit of sharing, not identifying or owning, or to be an expert or visionary, but for the sake of the same ideas that reside in so many others to light up and become connected; which is how great philosophies can be born. Also, fully knowing that all of this can happen without me entirely, but for my entertainment at least, I'd like to learn and to listen.

Now that the meta is taken care of...

Minimalism and Wabi-Sabi

I've been reading Kenya Hara, and John Maeda lately. I also started getting into Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts, which hasn't expanded much of what I learned from his first book, but has definitely rekindled my interested in thinking of this aesthetic applied to digital interfaces.

Just yesterday I saw this beautiful phone interface designed by Kenya Hara, for an elderly population, but something that I would love to use!

2

Now I have this crazy desire to make such an operating system in English, and include the sensibilities of Wabi-Sabi that I'm always talking about. I have no idea where to start in such an ambitious project and would probably need a whole design studio to be honest, but I think it's going to be a fun concept to explore for myself.

Podcasting

For a guy that starts out a blog post about not identifying with thoughts, and letting them pass by, I'm really anxious to create more things. What can I say, humans are complicated.

I've had this idea for quite a while now, but I've set a deadline to complete a first episode by the end of January. The recording and editing will be done by then, and depending on the technicalities of publishing it, you may not see it until February.

In short, I'm trying this new style where I record a Voice Mail for a person, send it to that other person and wait for a response. With a few responses, or a few people, I hope to have something interesting that can be stitched together into a short episode.

This is inspired by old-timey hand written correspondence, but we'll see how it really plays out. Recorded conversation is most interesting because it can have unexpected turns, and people can quickly adjust their stance on something and arrive at a natural conclusion. I'm afraid this won't be as interesting to listen to, but I have a hunch that I could be different enough to still be interesting.

November 29, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Mexico GIFs

Probably my favorite aspect of using Google Photos is the automated GIFs that come out of similar or batch photos. In fact, I've changed the way I take pictures now - just to get a cool animation.

The following are from my family trip to Mexico City and Acapulco, Mexico for Thanksgiving. Click to get a better look:

April 14, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Free Speech isn’t a protest

I believe that political discourse should always exist – if not for myself, at least for the population at large. Personally, I think politics is quite pointless. We are powerless to actually change anything. At best, we can put our email address on an online petition. I’m not sure how far that really goes.

Aside:
I'm also aware that this is a toxic trend of feeling jaded or apathetic, which isn't doing anything to further politics. I'm actually quite interested to see what politics will look like 20 years from now. I wonder if a lot of the baggage we see in the system now will be gradually carried over, or if there's such a thing as a clean slate with new generations of leaders.

In common life, we use politics as a basis to argue with each other; and it goes no deeper than that. Politics is a common topic that people within borders can talk about, and it’s very easy to have an opinion. Clearly mine are very liberal, but that’s probably just because of the media I’m exposed to and where/how I was raised. The same goes for you.

Back to the point!

I think “free speech” is too often a political term. It shouldn’t be. We only hear about free speech when it’s referring to the suppression of protest or differing opinions. Sometimes it’s used as an argument to defend hateful speech. In any case, free speech is discussed and fought for only when threatened.

That’s like talking about lights only in the context of darkness. If we did that, lightbulbs would trigger an underlying emotion of danger. Lightbulbs are meant to combat darkness, and the danger that darkness can foster.

If we talked about light in that way, yes we might make some excellent progress toward having well-lit streets and making people feel safer at night. What’s not being discussed? Laser shows! Holograms. Movies. Neon signs. Light shows. Fireworks. Those cool bedside lamps that simulate the sun and wake you up ever-so-scientifically.

What if that’s what we’re doing to the idea of free speech?

Yes, free speech means that people should be allowed to communicate even the most dissident opinions. [Insert my political bias: Honestly, if you’re a body of power and you’re afraid of dissident opinions, then clearly your model of operation isn’t that sturdy.] Free speech should also be encouraged for no particular motive other than to hear people’s thoughts!

Human beings, like all organisms, are born, they mature, reproduce, care for their offspring, and die. Unlike all organisms, humans can externalize the little neural thunderstorms that happen all the time: ideas. We form concepts from observing patterns. We make decisions. We learn. We teach.

My meandering point:

Communication is what makes us human.

Typically we do a very good job of doing this. We have a hard time not doing this. Communication always happens in our homes, our closest circles. As I just wrote in the post prior to this one, I think we need to expand this outward. We’re in a lazy habit (I’m guilty too) of simply consuming things.

We confuse the internet with our TVs and Radio. (Yes, radio is dead, but the model is not.)

I’m glad that the internet can facilitate high-quality entertainment that we’re used to getting on the TV, but we don’t need to fall in line with that type of experience only.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I want to bring back the era of "your shitty blog." Who cares if no one reads it? The act of writing helps you communicate better in other domains as well! Blogs, chat rooms (hey Slack!), and rambling tweets.

Do it.

Do it more.

Bonus

When you see something that you really feel like hitting the RT/Share/Reblog button on, take a pause. Go ahead and share it if it encapsulates something really well that you want people to know about, but also, follow that up with a tweet or post of your own.

Why did you hit the share button?
What does it make you feel?

That's where you can inject a bit of yourself into the internet. Don't just do it in a comment field. 

Your thoughts deserve to live on their own.

April 11, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Cat

March 25, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Observations

An observation and its moment are equally unique. Language is a time capsule for observations.

I’ve felt very awake in my awareness of new observations. Most preciously, I heard feedback about who I am at work. My advisor shared with me a collection of peer observations.

I am always ready to defend my idea of myself. Seeing how rare it is to have considered observations about myself from those I respect, I forced my guard down. I listened.

Later the same week, I happened upon a composer. I heard an inspiration and felt again nostalgia of the unknown. Ryuichi Sakamoto somehow introduces me to the past and carries a limp trail of the future with each phrase.

Each musical sentence is brief. I can imagine each bit standing alone in conclusion. Yet each turn is a natural extension. Most valuable to me: the space between is where my mind wanders.

Putting my observation into language is slowing down the experience. Music and reading and watching are all conversations. The spaces in the moment you craft is where the exchange between the observer and the moment happens. The music, book, video, pastoral view will not respond to me. But the following moment will be different after the space between allows me to wander.

His solo piano feels like Eric Satie, which in a direct way, inspires me to play piano again. The nostalgia is for being in Japan, and the many parts of my life when I watched a touching movie or show from Japan. These descriptions are failing my visceral mash of memory.

Finally picking up a book has added another feature of inspiration to my week. Several Short Sentences About Writing is a self-evident title. I don’t expect to be enthralled with an academic book. I’m absorbed in it, and I no longer believe it’s “academic.” It’s a fascinating treatise on cutting the fat. Say what you say, while respecting the reader.

I’m certain that all of the above reads awkwardly. I’m doing things differently.

I’m trying short sentences. I’m trying to say everything. I think the idea of a short sentence is not to force it to a certain length,
but to remove every bit until you can remove no more.

Like a beginner, I see myself mimicking the author's style. I'll soon find room for his advice and my voice in the same sentence.

What you don’t know about writing is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to grasp.
Try to discern the shape of what you don’t know and why you don’t know it,
Whenever you get a glimpse of your ignorance.
Don’t fear it or be embarrassed by it.
Acknowledge it.
What you don’t know and why you don’t know it are information too.
Verlyn Klinkenborg (more excerpts)

I’ll leave you here. It feels good to be inspired again.
It’s amazing to have three inspirations at once!

January 29, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Thoughtsplosion

Having a thought explosion right now. Instead of shying away from it (as I wrote about before), I’m going to ramble on and see where it leads.

In no particular order

I really want my friend Mike to move to New York. After some thought, I realize that it’s ironic for me to hope that he takes on an “adventurous” move, when my selfish motivations are rooted in nostalgia for the place I have left. A genius friend once told me “people are places.” So when I say place, I think I really mean the group of people and things we did together. A geographic place is just a location.

I catch myself constantly trying to optimize my life. I recognize this is a cultural tendency (mostly American), but it’s hard to get my head out of it! Optimal=best, and optimizing is making better, right? I wrote before about feeling distracted, and noticing that my habits often have to do with escaping or occluding my own thoughts. I resolved to measure how often I do this mostly out of curiosity, but also in a hope to stop doing it as much. There’s nothing wrong with improving something, especially yourself, but now I’m wondering what’s behind that desire to improve? My background of Eastern Philosophy is poking at me from another direction, reminding me to “just be.” The core of Buddhist philosophy and some other eastern thinking is basically: we’re covering up the world around us with each thought, and we will continue to encounter unhappiness as long as we form expectations of how a thing (or yourself) should really be; to escape this, the best strategy is to calm yourself before acting or judging, and attempt to see a thing as it really is. I hinted at this in my rambling about emotions and taking a note of “I’m feeling emotion X” without claiming it as good or bad, just acknowledging the thought or feeling has value in itself. To cut this part short, maybe I shouldn’t stress so much optimizing myself or my life and spend a little more time observing it. You can see amazing things if you begin to learn how to observe.

Tangent example on the above:
With the help from some outside observations, I have a conflicting behavioral pattern where I tend to become very quiet and withdrawn in the face of conflict or difficulty expressing myself. Very recently at work for example, there are multiple people on my project that tend to talk over each other and as a group we re-visit the same topics ad nauseam. I only just realized today that it’s for this exact reason that I’ve felt very withdrawn from our meetings; physically I’ll sit or stand further away, and vocally I’m participating a lot less than I normally would. This is not a judgement against any of the individuals I’m working with – important to note – but merely an observation on my typical behavior within the right conditions. Now, I said that I’ve only realized this (many days into the project), so I am usually oblivious to this kind of self-awareness, but I feel so good knowing that about myself and hope to be better on top of recognizing some pre-conditioned behaviors while they arise. Lots of practice to be done there.

Another piece on my mind: dwelling and collecting.
That’s pretty vague, yes, but I think it’s the most basic way to break apart a couple of things I’m trying to resolve with myself.

Dwelling

Where and how do I want to live? Right now I can’t see myself leaving New York City any time soon because that’s also connected to my livelihood - mainly work - but I also have a lot of personal connections for once in my life. I had some close friends throughout college, of course, but college by its very nature is temporary, so I consider that location to be a phase in life, and keep my dearest friendships alive no matter where we end up. Then after college I moved to Barcelona where I found it very hard to build up a social circle (too long to get into now). New York is really the second place I’ve decided to “settle” as an adult, and the first that has been a success.

There are a few other cities, and even rural locations that I can imagine myself in, which I plan to revisit within a few years. For now, I’m also wondering about a more focused dilemma. How do I want to live? I like the apartment that my girlfriend and I have currently, but renting isn’t permanent. I wonder if I want something permanent. When I think about owning a house (or apartment), the actual reason is to have the freedom to install the appliances that I want, do some custom things with technology, and all these kinds of things I can’t really invest into a place if I have to return it in original condition at some point. So, I want more control, more liberty, more ownership. On the other hand, I’ve observed my personality to be quite nomadic, and as I just mentioned, I can picture myself in other cities or even a cute cabin on a mountain with a view (as long as there’s internet)! Buying property feels terribly permanent.

Tangent: Why am I so bad with committing to something? If you had to ask me to summarize my main belief about life it would be: Nothing is permanent. There are some aspects of life that I see expanding indefinitely into my future (my relationship with my girlfriend for example), but there are so many that will always have question marks hanging above them (job, dwelling, possessions, etc.). I don’t know how to resolve that.

Collecting

This is a much more brief issue, but I think it ties in to the question of where and how I want to live. Most of why I want more ownership or control of where I live is the freedom to choose what I “collect.” Meaning: what kind of light fixtures do I want; what kind of intelligent wireless locks, thermostats, and other smart things I might want? A lot of what’s driving my thinking behind Dwelling relates to all the Things I want in my life. Taking a step back on that… do I really need these things? Why do I feel like I need them? Quick answer: they are cool. Longer answer: discussion about materialism vs crafting your own space and making a home more of a sanctuary than a dwelling.

I haven’t listened to this podcast in a year (fixing that), but it was the best dose of mental health/exercise during a long commute. If you’re interested in a more distilled approach to some Buddhist philosophy (and you like podcasts) this is a great place to start: AudioDharma.

January 26, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Snow Day

Woohoo! First big snow storm of the year. It's supposed to be a huge blizzard, but so far today it's just heavy snow. Here's a collection of pictures I took late in the afternoon around Greenpoint (and a couple in Manhattan).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

January 23, 2015Comments are off for this post.

Thoughts are clouds

There was a really nice metaphor that I heard from a Buddhist teacher once. It sounds like one of those things that was passed down a chain of ‘telephone’ so who knows where it really comes from. Paraphrasing a bit: your thoughts are clouds, and like the weather, you cannot change them, but know that they will pass over; learn to observe them.

Learning to observe your thoughts is really challenging, but I find that I’m barely giving them room to exist lately. To stick with the cloud metaphor, I’ve just realized that I walk around with an umbrella of distractions. Learning to do nothing, to not escape from my own thoughts sounds like an interesting task. I’m not sure what I’ll find. So I’ve decided to task myself with keeping track of the parts of day that I’m tuning out (music, podcast, tv, reading, etc.) and parts of day that I’m not absorbing some kind of stimulus.

As I’ve learned from meditation, you can’t exactly set a goal and get there (anytime soon at least), but the attempt to observe something in yourself changes the very thing you observe. [I just saved you from a long tangent about Quantum Physics.]

Think of being afflicted excessive anger. Telling yourself to “stop being angry” won’t help much, but taking a mental note of “it feels like I’m getting angry again” each time you’re angry will reduce the length of that emotion and even the frequency that it bubbles up inside of you. I’m sure this maps well to some kind of behavioral therapy, but you get the idea.

So… my experiment: observe my distractions during one Saturday and one Monday (weekend and work days have different routines). Then lay this timeline out in some kind of visual and write another blog post postulating what all of this could mean.

Hey I really like endlessly scrolling through this blog of (micro)interaction GIFs, useryourinterface.