Mar 19, 2017

On my deathbed, take I and take II

English: Vincent van Gogh on his deathbed Fran...
English: Vincent van Gogh on his deathbed Français : Vincent van Gogh sur son lit de mort Русский: Винсент ван Гог на смертном одре (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm on my deathbed. Family and close friends are with me, sending me off on that final journey. "Do you have any last words?" Someone asks? I think about what to say. Should I express regret? Should I try for something that passes for wisdom? Or should I stop imagining that I'm on my deathbed (this is really happening in my imagination) and get to work in real life so that when I'm on my actual deathbed, I'd have better things to say?


I'm on my deathbed. Family and close friends are with me. And I say:

"One day I imagined being on my deathbed. And I imagined being asked to say something. And I wasn't crazy about what I'd have to say. So I changed the trajectory of my life. Every day, starting with the day that I first imagined being here, I did something so that being here would be a better experience. I mean it's inevitable that it will happen. I know that. And it's going to suck. I know that, too. But it's not inevitable _how_ it will happen. So on that day, (this day) I decided to make it a better experience.

"That's why, on that day, I decided to do things that would make that future day a better day. And as a byproduct, that would make the days intervening better. What I wanted to be able to say on that day was this:

"I'd learned a lot, over the course of my life, and I'd reduced some of them to a form that would outlast me. But I realized, as I thought about this day, that most of what I've learned would have died with me. And I didn't want that. I was going to die, but knowledge is a living thing, too, and knowledge and ideas have a better shot at immortality.

"I realized that some of what I knew would inevitably die when I died. But some I could preserve. And I that day (this day) I resolved that I would do that.

"I've always felt that my life purpose was to gain knowledge and to pass that knowledge on. And as I contemplated that future day, the day that has finally arrived, I felt that I'd failed in my purpose. That was the feeling. The reality is that I had not failed. I'd just done a sucky job relative to what I honestly believed myself capable of.

"So I rededicated myself to my purpose. I started writing what I knew, and publishing what I wrote. I resolved to be like Alexander Hamilton: 'Why does he write like he's running out of time? Writes day and night, like he's running out of time?'

"There's always more to do, always more to write about. You never stop learning--until you die. And now it's...

ARGH. ARGH. Cough, cough. Wheeze.


Really, you all know me. How the fuck do you expect me to end a maudlin scene like that one?


That way.

You bet.

See you on the other side.

Shaggy dog stories

English: Old English Sheep Dog. (From Photo by...
English: Old English Sheep Dog. (From Photo by Bowden Bros.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I grew up with shaggy dog stories. There are two kinds. One is actually about shaggy dogs. These jokes are long and drawn out and ultimately bizarre and pointless. Another kind has nothing to do with dogs, shaggy or otherwise. They are sometimes long and always pointless. I don’t know why they are lumped together in my mind. 
That’s another story.

Classic long, pointless dog-based SDS

A man is in the New York Public Library reading the London Times. He sees an advertisement: “Lost: our shaggy dog. This is the shaggiest dog in the world, and we love her dearly. Her name is Lassie. £50,000 offered to whoever finds our lovely Lassie.”
As he leaves the library he sees the shaggiest dog he’d ever seen. He goes to it. “Lassie?” he asks. The dog runs to him, wagging her tail, overjoyed and almost knocking him down. “This must be the dog.” He thinks. He grabs its collar. It’s got no identification
A teenaged boy walks by. “Wow,” says the boy walking by. “That’s the shaggiest dog I’ve ever seen.” “Yes,” says the man. “Will you hold her for a minute? I have to get something I left in the library. Here’s five bucks.” “Sure,” says the kid. “Man, he really is shaggy!”
The guy runs back into the library, finds the copy of the Times, turns to the ad and writes down the address. He runs back to the street to find a small crowd of people surrounding the kid and the dog. “That’s a really shaggy dog!” says a man. “Yes, says a woman. The shaggiest I’ve ever seen.”
Repeat with lots of other people. He books passage on a ship to England—and at the ticket office, everyone exclaims over the dog’s shagginess. On the boat, likewise. Debarking, likewise. In a cab, likewise. He finally gets to the address that was in the paper.
He rings the bell, the dog hidden behind him. A woman appears. “Yes?” she asks.
“Did you put an ad in the Times about your lost shaggy dog?” he asks.
“Yes,” she says.
“Have you found your dog?” he asks.
“No,” she says. “We have not. We’re quite sad about that, actually.”
“Well, is this your dog?” he asks, producing the dog. The dog wags its tail and goes wild with excitement as it sees the woman.
The woman looks and smiles and reaches down for the dog. “No,” she says. “Our dog was quite, quite shaggy, but not quite as shaggy as this one.”

The shaggy dog contest

A man sees a shaggy dog on the street and discovers that it has no tags.
“This is the shaggiest dog I’ve ever seen,” he says.
He looks up and sees a sign. It says Shaggy Dog contest. Today. 2 PM at the park. Prizes awarded.
I’m going to enter it in the shaggy dog contest, he thinks. And I bet I’ll win.
So he does. There are ten judges.
The first judge says: “That is quite a shaggy dog!”
The second judge says: “I’ve seen a lot of shaggy dogs, but in my years as a judge, this is the shaggiest!”
The third judge says: “I’ve never seen quite so shaggy a dog.”
The fourth judge says: “I think this dog sets a new standard for shagginess.”
And so on…
The tenth judge says: “It’s clear you have the shaggiest dog on display here today.” He consults with the other judges. “We declare you the winner. You really should enter your dog in the county shaggy dog contest, next week.
So he enters it in the county contest.
Oddly, there are ten judges.
The first judge says….
And the tenth judge declares him the winner and recommends the regional shaggy dog contest.
Not surprisingly, there are ten judges for the regional.
The first judge says…
And the tenth declares him the winner and recommends the state shaggy dog contest.
And guess how many judges there are? Yes! Ten. Which he wins. And they recommend the national contest—also with ten judges—with different regional acccents if you can do it.
He wins, of course, and they suggest he enter it in the international contest. It has ten judges—with different accents if you can do it.
And the tenth judge says (British accent makes it better, I think) “Really? I don’t think that this dog is the least bit shaggy.”

A shaggy carrot story

A man comes into a bar with carrots in his ears. The bartender looks at him and decides he’s not going to ask him why he’s got carrots in his ears. He serves him a drink. The man drinks it and leaves.
The next day, he comes in again. The bartender again keeps mum and serves a drink. The man drinks it and leaves.
The next day….(repeat many times, with the bartender having a harder and harder time not asking each time)
The next day the man comes in, and this time he’s got bananas in his ears. The bartender can’t stand it. “Why do you have bananas in your ears?” he asks.
“Oh,” the man says, “they were out of carrots today.”

Another carrot story

A man comes into a different bar than the one in the previous joke;. He has carrots in his ears.
“Why do you have carrots in your ears?” the bartender asks.
“Eh?” the man says.
Why do you have carrots in your ears?“ the bartender asks, a bit louder
“Come again?” the man says.
(more repetitions, louder each time)
“WHY DO YOU HAVE CARROTS IN YOUR EARS?” the bartender screams.

Why these are funny, I don’t know. But to some people (my family of origin) they were.

Toward an awesome development workflow

I've spent a lot of time over the past few years designing and building tools that approached my vision of an ideal application development workflow. Web tools were the future: CSS, HTMLJavascript, NodeJs for the back end. Plus others. I learned a lot. Then I decided that what I was doing wasn't working. So I took a break.

After a bit, I started reading about new high-productiviy technologies that had appeared and begun to mature since I'd started my project. The more I learned, the more impressed I became, and the more excited I got about building something even better than what I had originally envisioned.

I decided that I needed to spend time mastering some of the core technologies for web app building. I knew the basics of JS, but ES6 had come along. And JSX. And Typescript and Babel, the next generation compiler. All these tools added up to something better than what I'd been using (Coffee Script).

Then I found React and Redux, which put HTML back into Javascript and solves a bunch of problems. Then CSS Modules which put CSS in Javascript and solved a bunch of problems. Then Webpack which packaged things up on the fly and made building for the web a lot simpler. And hot module reloading. And React and Redux dev tools. And then a buddy pointed me to -- a better coding playground in the cloud than the ones I had been using. And VS Code, a better editor and working environment on the desktop (Linux, Windows, Mac) than what I'd been using (Sublime Text and Atom.) I was off and running.

And along the way, I've found people online with similar visions for application building. Some had already contributed to big pieces I've listed. Others were crafting smaller bits that helped make a workflow really flow. My job now is filling in the gaps in my education, integrating their stuff, making my contribution, and spreading the word.

I want to build the world's most awesome development environment for web applications. I'm not going to fill this blog with my discussions of what I am doing and what I've learned. Instead, I'm going to be posting on another blog that I have: Awesome Development, starting with a copy of this post. 

If you're interested, I'll see you there.

Fuck you fucking Facebook, if I want your fucking mobile notifications I will fucking ask for them.

Not that I'M PISSED OFF or anything. Facebook keeps changing my app notification settings so that my front screen is spattered with on or more notifications of things that I don't fucking care to be reminded about. That's why I fucking turn the notifications off!

Not that I'M PISSED OFF.

I've turned off every notification setting I can turn off in the mobile App. At least every fucking one that I can find. And then when notifications pop up on my phone AGAIN!!!! I waste my time going back AGAIN to my phone Setttings->Sound and Notifications->App Notifications->Facebook and turn them the fuck back off. Not that THIS ANNOYS ME.

NOT AT ALL! NOPE! Not that it annoys me EVERY FUCKING TIME!

Facebook seems to do this shit whenever they get a chance. I'm pretty sure they do it when they download a new version. I'm pretty sure that they do it sometimes in between versions. I'm pretty sure that their algorithm is WE WILL DO IT WHEN WE FUCKING FEEL LIKE IT. FUCK YOU, MIKE.

So I've just turned notifications off again. And wasted another 10 minutes searching the web and looking at a bunch of articles about ways to turn off notifications in earlier versions of Facebook. Enough.

Using my deep knowledge of mobile application design, I've figured out a sure-fire way to keep Facebook mobile notifications off for good. I'm happy to share this with the world.

1. Click on the Facebook app icon.
2. Drag to "Uninstall"
3. When the "Do you want to uninstall this app?" dialog comes up, click "Fuck, yes!" If you don't see the "Fuck yes" button, then just click "OK."
4. Stick to FB on desktop where you have control. Or forget it entirely. Sadly I have people who I love and care about who post on FB, so, desktop.
5. Fuck you, Facebook.
6. You're welcome.

Jan 17, 2017

A passing thought

"Sorry," said a thought, "I didn't mean to bother you. I was just passing this way, and I saw your light on and dropped by."

"No problem," I said. "I'd been thinking about the way that thoughts arise in consciousness."

"And here I am!" Said the thought.

"Yes," I agreed. "The point is: are you relevant?"

"This is embarrassing," said the thought, "but I don't know. I'm kind of half-formed. It could be that I'm just a casual notion. It could be that I'm going to be a big idea. I guess that it's too early to tell."

"Makes sense," I say.

"By the way," the thought said, "I like the way you keep going back and tweaking me. Your edits have made me better without changing my essential nature. At least that's how I see it."

"No problem," I said. "I just did what seemed natural."

We sat for a while, my half-formed thought and me.

"I'm not sure I'm going anywhere," said the thought. "You might as well post what you've written so far."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"It's fine," said the thought. "It's not going to keep me from evolving. Maybe I'll show up later."

"OK," I said. "Here goes."

Edit: and so I posted

Attention vampires and priorities

So many things to do. So little time. What are my priorities? And how do I change my life so that I'm following them?

First, this insight:
Information consumes ... the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. Herbert Simon (Designing Organizations for an Information-rich World, 1969). Quoted here.
Time is a scarce resource. I get max 24 hours of it ( Earth time) a day. My subscription to "The daily 24" may run out all too soon.  Bummer!

Until then, I get my 24. I spend some of it in bed, eyes closed, mostly unconscious, with almost no attention available for my intentional use. I spend most of the rest of it moving through the world, eyes open, with more attention available, but barely conscious. Not as unconscious as sleep. More aware. But conscious in the way that a sleeper might be conscious of a dream.

In that state, most of my attention consumed by entities purpose-designed to capture my attention and devour it. In return for my attention they give me small, occasional rewards, but little that I consciously desire. They live on my attention and the attention of others. They're attention vampires.

Time is scarce, attention scarcer, and consciousness is rarest of all. Once the vampires start feasting there's no chance for consciousness to rise. Even awareness fades. As the vampires feed, I lose awareness of everything but what the vampires want me to be aware of. That would be awful if I realized it. But I don't. I only remember it and hazily at that. How can it be otherwise? I was barely conscious.

From time to tome I break free, but breaking free is not enough for me to move to consciousness. For that, I need a reminder. Something has to prompt me to go beyond attention to some stage of consciousness--of which there are many.

I can rank consciousness in levels (or perhaps a partial ordering) from lowest to highest. The highest is both the rarest and the best. And that's my priority: more time in more conscious states.
Perhaps the consciousness of animals is more shadowy than ours and perhaps their perceptions are always dreamlike. On the opposite side, whenever I talked with the sharpest intellect whom I have known - with von Neumann - I always had the impression that only he was fully awake, that I was halfway in a dream.’ Attributed to Eugene Wigner, quoted by Steve Hsu, cited here
What's the value of an experience without consciousness? Certainly, it has some value;  most of what I have experienced I have experienced unconsciously, and I'm glad that I've had it. But the value I assign of an experience without consciousness is far less than the value I assign to that same experience with consciousness.

So that's my first priority. More conscious experiencing.

Note: this post was written while more than usually aware and conscious.

Jan 14, 2017

Internet University

Web tools are awesome.

The other day I decided to launch a project that I thought might be fun for me, might benefit my community and--and who knows--maybe more.

It's the University of the Internet, aka Internet U. The idea is to create a portal for online learning and connect it to my community, Blue Hill, Maine. And make it open, so other people can do the same.

The first course is one I was already signed up for: Harvard's "Science of Cooking" course, delivered through the edX platform. The second one will be self-referential. It's a course on how to set up a site like Internet U.

It took me a bit of time to figure out how to use some of the tools that I'd picked to do some of the things that I wanted. But now that I know how, I could do it all in a little over an hour. Here's the recipe--and an outline for the course.

1. I bought a domain: through Google Domains. Cost: $10.00
2. I created an email alias for myself on the domain through the Google's email forwarding tool connected to Google Domains. Cost: zero.
3. I created a Google account for that alias. That let me keep my Internet U projects separate from my personal projects. Cost: zero.
4. I made some web pages using the new Google Sites tool: a home page; a page was for my "Virtual Campus" in Blue Hill; and a page for the cooking course, and a couple of pages (Courses, Campus) to link them. Cost: zero.
5. I created some sign-up forms using Google Forms and attached them to my site. Cost: zero.
6. I used Google's Subdomain Forwarding tool to redirect and to the right pages. Cost: zero.

Some of the pages are lame. There's a lot of missing content, but I went live, and it's a start. And I've got a hosted site that looks really nice, with email for the "site administrator" and an automated registration process for $10.00.

I'll update this post once I've put up the "How to build a site" course.