Further meditative practice

biodome

Okay, remember last time when I said I was going to continue my “sham of a human existence” and not commit to a Zen practice? Well, I came back to the idea sooner than I thought: the experience was just too compelling for me not to do some further exploration. In some strange coincidence, Hacker News had a great thread on meditation just after I wrote my last blog entry, where a few people recommended a book called Mindfulness in Plain English. I figured doing meditation at home didn’t involve any kind of huge commitment (don’t like it? just stop!), so I decided to order it online and give it a try.

Mindfulness in Plain English is really fascinating stuff. It describes how to do a type of Vipassana (insight) meditation, which is practiced with a great deal of ritual in places like Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka. The book however, strips out most of the ritual and just gives you a set of techniques that is quite accessible for a (presumably) western audience. From what I can gather though, it seems like the goal of Vipassana is quite similar to that of Zen (enlightenment; release from attachment and dualism), though the methods and rituals around it are quite different (e.g. there are no koans). Perhaps it’s akin to the difference between GIMP and Photoshop: as those two programs are both aimed at the manipulation of images, both Vipassana and Zen are aimed at the manipulation of the mind. There are differences in the script of how to do so, but the overarching purpose is the same.

Regardless, the portion of the C method that the book describes is almost exactly that which I tried at the Zen workshop: sit still and pay attention to your breathing. There’s a few minor distinctions in terms of the suggested posture (the book recommends either sitting cross legged or in a lotus position vs. the kneeling posture I learnt at the workshop) and the focal point (Mindfulness recommends the tip of the nostrils). But essentially it’s the same stuff. Focus on the breath — counting it if necessary, rince, repeat.

As I mentioned before, this is actually really hard to do properly for being simple in concept. The mind keeps wandering and wandering on all sorts of tangents: plans, daydreams, even thoughts about the meditation itself. Where I found Mindfulness in Plain English helpful was in the advice it gave for dealing with this “monkey mind” phenomenon. The subject is dealt with throughout the book (with two chapters on it and nothing else), but all the advice boils down to “treat it as part of the meditation”. Don’t try to avoid it, just treat it as something to be aware of in the same way as breathing. Then once you have acknowledged it, move the attention back to the breath.

Mindfulness, as far as I can gather, is simply non-judgemental awareness of what we are doing (and what we are supposed to be doing). Every time a distraction is noticed, felt, and understood, you’ve just experienced some approximation of the end goal of the meditation. Like it is with other things (an exercise regimen, learning to play a musical instrument), every small victory should push you further and the path to where you want to go. With enough practice, it might just become part of your day-to-day experience.

Or so I’m told by the book. :) Up to now, I haven’t enjoyed any longlasting effects from meditation aside from (possibly?) a bit more mental clarity in my day-to-day tasks. But I’ve found the practice to be extremely interesting both from the point of view of understanding my own thought, as well as being rather relaxing in and of itself. So while I’m curious as to what comes next, I am happy enough with things as they are in the present. I’m planning to continue to meditate (20-30 minutes a day, 6 days a week), but also delve a bit deeper into the details and history of Zen and Vipasanna. More updates as appropriate.

Actual useful FirefoxOS Eideticker results at last

Another update on getting Eideticker working with FirefoxOS. Once again this is sort of high-level, looking forward to writing something more in-depth soon now that we have the basics working. :)

I finally got the last kinks out of the rig I was using to capture live video from FirefoxOS phones using the Point Grey devices last week. In order to make things reasonable I had to write some custom code to isolate the actual device screen from the rest of capture and a few other things. The setup looks interesting (reminds me a bit of something out of the War of the Worlds):

eideticker-pointgrey-mounted

Here’s some example video of a test I wrote up to measure the performance of contacts scrolling performance (measured at a very respectable 44 frames per second, in case you wondering):

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t wind up having to write up any code to compensate for a noisy image. Of course there’s a certain amount of variance in every frame depending on how much light is hitting the camera sensor at any particular moment, but apparently not enough to interfere with getting useful results in the tests I’ve been running.

Likely next step: Create some kind of chassis for mounting both the camera and device on a permanent basis (instead of an adhoc one on my desk) so we can start running these sorts of tests on a daily basis, much like we currently do with Android on the Eideticker Dashboard.

As an aside, I’ve been really impressed with both the Marionette framework and the gaiatests python module that was written up for FirefoxOS. Writing the above test took just 5 minutes — and the code is quite straightforward. Quite the pleasant change from my various efforts in Android automation.

The need for a modern open source email client and Geary’s fundraiser

One of my frustrations with the Linux desktop is the lack of an email client that’s in the same league as GMail or Apple’s mail.app. Thunderbird is ok as far as it goes (I use it for my day-to-day Mozilla correspondence) but I miss having a decent conversation view of email (yes, I tried the conversation view extension — while impressive in some ways, it ultimately didn’t work particularly well for me) and the search functionality is rather slow and cumbersome. I’d like to be optimistic about these problems being fixed at some point… but after nearly 2 years of using the product without much visible improvement my expectation of that happening is rather low.

The Yorba non-profit recently started a fundraiser to work on the next edition of Geary, an email client which I hope will fill the niche that I’m talking about. It’s pretty rough around the edges still, but even at this early stage the conversation view is beautiful and more or less exactly what I want. The example of Shotwell (their photo management application) suggests that they know a thing or two about creating robust and useable software, not a common thing in this day and age. In any case, their pitch was compelling enough for me to donate a few dollars to the cause. If you care about having a great email experience that is completely under your control (and not that of an advertising or product company with their own agenda), then maybe you could too?