Sep 9, 2019

Being, doing, having

This is part of a series of posts. 
Come back when I’m finished and I’ll link them together.
But for now, the first one.

Being, Doing, Having

Being leads to doing leads to having.
Be a writer. Do writing. Do it long enough, and you’ll have a piece of writing as a result. Do it long enough, and you’ll have skilz.
Be. Do. Have.
But doing does not lead to being.
Forcing someone who is not a writer to do writing is a form of abuse. It leads to frustration.
So what do I do once I’m a writer?
What’s the answer?
Here’s something I’ve learned: If I look carefully at what I’m doing, and intend to find answers, I can find answers.
Right now, I am writing.
And looking.
And intending to find answers.
And what I discover is an illusion.

Illusions

After watching myself write, I start to consider that writing might be an illusion. This should not surprise me. Everything is an illusion. I’ve written about this before:
Why should writing be different?
Here’s a test for illusions I learned from Sam Harris’ book “Waking up.” Look carefully. See what changes. If what you were looking at changes radically—or even disappears—then it was an illusion.
As I write, I look more carefully. Before long, I see through the illusion.
I’m not writing.
I’m not writing this sentence.
Even though I’ve decided that I’m a writer, I don’t write.
I sit. I intend. And writing appears.

How writing appears

I’ve written about this before. A lot, like here and here and here and here
Then, after the writing appears, I read what has appeared. And then I judge its quality.
Quality!
That’s what it is.
Find out why, here. (This will be a link to the next post in the series)

Sep 5, 2019

Why all productivity systems stop working

Alexey Guzey wrote a post that had some interesting ideas in it: Every productivity thought I’ve ever had, as concisely as possible
Do they all stop working eventually?
Why?
Can I do something about it?

Why productivity systems stop working

Because everything stops working. But my productivity systems stop working for reasons that I now understand.
Every system costs and benefits. A system works when the benefits exceed the costs. As the gap between costs and benefits narrows, a system starts to break down. When it goes negative, the system stops working.
Whenever I put a new system in place, hope rises. The system is new, and I like novelty.
So novelty and hope bring benefits at no cost. But those benefits are at risk.
Eventually, novelty is certain to disappear.
In the face of failures, hope will fade. And failure is inevitable.
Those changes might not be enough to break my system, but here’s what reliably destroys my working productivity systems.
In response to failures, I do things intended to make things better, that paradoxically make things worse.

How trying to make it better makes it worse

Failures are inevitable unless the system is perfect—which no system ever is.
In the face of failure, I try to “fix the system.” I want to anticipate and prevent similar failures.
But every change that might forestall a failure carries a cost. I pay that cost in every case—failure or not.
These changes increase the system’s cost but don’t change the benefit—except in the rare case of a prevented failure.
The result is more small failures.
Every failure further erodes my hope and lead me to more preventative changes.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Eventually, all hope for that system is gone.
My only hope is that I’ll find or create a new system.
Novelty rises. Hope reappears.
Lather, rinse, repeat until I have no new ideas.

The solution

First: keep innovating. Keep novelty high—without disrupting the process that produces results. If I’m writing, I might write in different places. On different computers. Whatever is novel and low-cost.
Second: accept the inevitability of failure. If I’m not failing from time to time, my system is probably less efficient than one that allows for more failure.
Third: reduce the cost of failure. Ideally, celebrate failure. Find novel ways to celebrate failure. One stone, two birds: novelty and the cost of failure.
Fourth: resist improving the system to prevent failures. Instead of looking for ways to eliminate failures, look for ways to lower costs or increase benefits.
Maybe look for novel ways to fail!

Will it work?

Time will tell, but this system’s got several things going for it.
First: it’s novel.
Second: I’m hopeful.
Third: it helped me write this. So it’s already got one win.
Score one for the new system.

Sep 2, 2019

Being is easy. And when you're being and not doing, you're nothing.

I am a writer. A writer writes.
A writer who does not write is not a non-writing writer. He’s nothing. Unless it’s a female writer, in which case, she’s nothing. Or Ze’s nothing. Whatever.
Nothing.
When I’m not writing, I am nothing. And I suffer.
I don’t realize what’s wrong. I simply think, “I can’t write,” and then I try to make myself write.
But I can’t.
Because I can’t write when “I can’t write.”
How could I?
And not only can’t I write, but I’m not a writer.
I’ve let myself become nothing.

What to do when I’m nothing

If I’ve become nothing, it’s easy to become something again, because I know This One Simple Trick (TM).
Here’s the trick: being is easy.
The easy way to be something is just decide to be it.
To be a writer, just decide to be one.
You don’t have to do anything—like write—to be a writer. You don’t have to have anything—like skill—to be a writer Those are harder. But being? Piece of cake. It’s one decision away.
To be a writer, all I have to do is decide “I am a writer.”
I decide, therefore I am.
If I truly decide that I am a writer, then writing will happen, because if you are a writer, you write. Can’t help yourself.
Because that’s what writers do.
So after days of being nothing, I decided to be a writer, and I became a writer, and here I am writing.

Aug 26, 2019

Modems and memories

A few days ago, a friend mentioned Galacticomm and their bulletin board system the Major Bulletin Board System.
From the depths of memory, my CompuServe account number and password appeared. And that led me (and now you) on this trip down memory lane.

BBS Systems

BBSs were a big thing once upon a time. Those of you who have only lived in the internet age may find the history of connectivity interesting. Or boring. Whatever.
You could create a BBS system if you had a PC, a bunch of phone lines and an equal number of modems. You might want to start with a PC with a lot of memory. Instead of the 640 KB standard limit, you could get a Phar Lap memory expansion that moved you up to 16 Mb.
That’s megabytes, kids. Not gigabytes. Wow!
Each phone line and modem gave one user access to your system. With a standard PC you could support—well, two users.
But with specialized hardware, you could get up to sixteen.
Sixteen users! At once. All you needed was 16 phone lines and 16 modems.
Wow!

CompuServe

My CompuServe account number and password were. 72520,2747 and GENUS/BUREAU.
Where did that come from? Where had they been hiding? Could I have remembered them if I’d tried? No idea.
But here’s the CompuServe story.
You connected with CompuServe by dialing a local access number, sticking your phone’s handset in your modem’s acoustic coupler.
Acoustic coupler? Don’t know what that is? Acoustic couplers looked like this:
I was an early adopter. I think my first modem was 110 baud. What’s a baud? A baud is roughly a bit per second. At higher baud rates, you can transmit more than one bit per baud, but we never reached them. DSL modems today might.

Doing the math

How fast is 110 baud? If each character takes 8 bits, 110 baud is 825 characters per minute. Some of those characters are channel control, so the effective speed is less. And if your phone line is noisy, even less. But let’s be optimistic and think that it’s about 800 data characters per minute.
An average person can read at more than 200 words per minute—roughly 1000 characters per minute. I’m well above that. So my first modem under best conditions was much slower than my reading speed. Probably slower than yours since you are probably above average.
And images? The picture of the acoustic modem isn’t that big Just 75Kb. That’s 11 ½ minutes at 110 baud. And the megabyte images we’re used to? Don’t wait up.

Faster and faster

Things changed.
Can you imagine how excited we were when the modem standard jumped to 300 baud? Three times as fast. Then, just a few years later to 1200 baud? Four times as fast? Then to 9600 baud. My first 9600 baud modem was big—about 16 inches square and one or two inches high and it cost more than $1,000. And that’s when $1,000 was real money.
Eventually, speeds got up to 56K and sizes went down. 56K modems were on a chip in your PC!
Astounding, right?

Music to my ears

When modems connected, the modem board would let you hear them negotiating protocol, and once they agreed, the board would shut off the sound. If they didn’t, then the sound would go on forever.
This is the sound of progress as modems got faster:
And here’s the full experience for a high-speed modem:

The sound of silence

The sound of modems connecting was music to my ears.
But the sound of silence meant you were connected.
Nothing better than the sound of silence.

Aug 3, 2019

Choose the God you believe in--and choose wisely

You can choose the God you believe in. Or you can choose to believe there’s no God. It’s your choice.
There is a fact of there matter. There may be a God. There may be many Gods. There may be no God. What you choose may be correct (consistent with the fact of the matter), or it may be wrong.
But it’s still a choice.
The Marketplace of Religions offers prepackaged Gods to believe in. Many come complete with rites and rituals, instruction books and storybooks, customer testimonials, gathering places, and communities of the like-minded. For those who choose no God, the Marketplace also offers prepackaged agnostic and atheistic belief systems, many with their own accessories.
Within any belief genre, individual believers, leaders, and groups customize the generic offering to meet their own needs and desires and to the demands of the Marketplace for innovation within the confines of brand identity.
The Marketplace gives everyone a lot to choose from.

Is it a choice?

Most people don’t consider that someone can choose what to believe—much less choose which God to believe in; and if they think belief a choice, they don’t think they can make that choice; and if they think they can make it, they don’t exercise their ability. Most people were taught (or more accurately, conditioned) to believe in a particular god, and they never break that conditioning. They accept the choice that was made for them by their parents and other ancestors.
But the God you believe in is undoubtedly a choice. The question to answer isn’t “Is it a choice?” but “Whose choice?” Your choice? An ancestor’s choice? Your community’s choice?
Make it your choice.
And choose wisely.

Choosing wisely

How do you choose wisely?
My answer is: choose the God and choose the practices that will help you to live the best life that you can live. When choosing a God, as in all things, “Believe not what is true, but what is helpful”
If you’ll live your best life being watched by a vigilant and intolerant God who threatens to torture you eternally or burn you to a crisp, then, by all means, choose that God, and live your good life under that God’s pitiless gaze.
If you’ll live the best life being under the loving eye of a God who accepts your failings and forgives your shortcomings, and teaches you the lessons that you need to in order you live the life you desire, then by all means, choose that God and live your good life in that God’s loving embraces.
If none of the prepackaged Gods suit you, you can choose to be creative: design the God that will serve you best, choose to believe in that God, and then act according to your belief.

For me, it starts with gratitude

I am grateful for the circumstances of my life. I’m grateful for the talents and abilities I’ve been given. I’m grateful for other gifts: personal characteristics, tendencies, and opportunities, for intelligence and for health, without which I would not have developed the other gifts I have been given into what I now possess.
I’m grateful for my very existence, for the existence of a world full of beauty and for the ability to see that beauty.
With all the gifts I’ve been given, none of them earned, it would be ungrateful not to say thank you.
But who shall I thank? Shall I thank the laws of physics? Shall I thank the process of evolution? Shall I thank the dark, and cold, empty and uncaring universe from which I emerged?
I need to give thanks, and I’ve chosen a God to receive my thanks. That God is as glad to receive my thanks as I am to offer them.

The God I’ve chosen

The God I’ve chosen is the perfect parent and the perfect friend.
That God is always there for me, available whenever I want company, full of love.
It is a God that forgives my mistakes and encourages me to forgive others as I’ve been forgiven, that loves me and encourages me to love as I’ve been loved.
The God that I’ve chosen doesn’t want me to obey, but to think; to do what is right because it is right and not because I fear Godly or human punishment; to educate myself so I can intelligently decide what is right.
The God that I’ve chosen doesn’t want to be worshiped, but to be loved and respected as one would love and respect a worthy parent or true friend.
The God that I’ve chosen loves and respects me in return.
The God I’ve chosen is the perfect God for me—by design.
That God may exist only in my imagination, but that’s real enough and good enough for me.
And it’s good enough for God.
PS: I believe that God helped me write this. I am certain that any errors are my own.
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Jul 31, 2019

The Tohunga Lounge and the Writers Nook


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The Tohunga Lounge and the Writers Nook

A while back, my friend JL ran an experiment in community building. He’s a wicked smaht guy (as they say in Boston) and he knows other really smaht guys (and gals.) He set up a Slack workspace called the Tohunga Lounge (Tohunga is the term the Māori people of New Zealand use for “really smaht person.”) JL started posting interesting content and inviting the Tohungas he knew to join and contribute.
I thought his idea was brilliant, and I told him so. I was enthusiastic. But after a while, I dropped out. The Tohunga Lounge became an attractive nuisance for me because of the mental afflictions that beset me.
I have AMD, IDD, EIFID, and TMTOMHD. This toxic combination makes me hyper-vulnerable to intellectually seductive content. For those who don’t know these TLAs, FLAs and SLA’s: AMD is Attention Management Disorder, IDD is Intention Deficit Disorder (each of which I’ve written about) EIFID is Everything Is Fucking Interesting Disorder, and TMTOMHD is Too Much Time On My Hands Disorder (about which I may write.)
(TLA, is, of course, the self-referential TLA for Three Letter Acronym. And if you can’t figure what an FLA and SLA are, you should be reading a different blog.)

The knowledge creation vortex

When a person like me with AMD, IDD, EIFID, and TMTOMHD comes across something interesting (hint: everything is fucking interesting, due to EIFID) and since I know that my purpose in life is to create knowledge I’m easily sucked into a knowledge creation vortex. Step 1 is knowledge acquisition and Step 2, if I ever get to it is remixing what I’ve acquired, because Everything is a Remix (video, site) and you need to acquire knowledge to remix it.
Once I’m in a vortex I will only emerge when (a) something more interesting catches my attention and sucks me into a neighboring vortex or (b) one of the obligations that I desperately try to avoid catches up with me, or (c) I fall asleep exhausted, or (d) I remix the acquired knowledge and make some new knowledge—like this blog post, or (e) something else that I can’t think of right now happens.
To deal with my AMD, IDD, EIFID, and TMTOMHD I quit reading Reddit (to which I am nonetheless indebted for one of the best ideas I’ve come across) and stop reading Twitter (which led me to another really good idea), and stop reading Facebook (link to a page of photos of .well, you can guess from the URL) (which has not yielded any ideas that I can recall and which still manages to waste time every time I go there to check on one of my kids who posts there) and I turned off my Google news feed (which about as much a waste of time as Facebook.)
And even though the quality was better than any of them, I stopped visiting the Tohunga Lounge. Sorry, JL.

Tohunga 2.0

But now JL has launched Tohunga Lounge 2.0, hereinafter “TL2,” or “TL” or “the Lounge,” (as lawyers and pseudolawyers like me say.) TL2 is based on Basecamp. I’ve used it before, and it’s a much better platform. I’m a big fan of founders Jason Fried and DHH and who gave birth to a new way of running a business 20 years ago and who wrote ReWork—a book about their business philosophy. DHH was a driving force behind Ruby on Rails and is the author of this screed about business models.
Within TL2, JL has created the “Writers Nook” hereinafter “the Nook.” or “WN.” I like the Nook.
Everything in the world manipulates us. Some things manipulate us in ways that harm us. Others, in ways that benefit us. JL and TL2 and WN seemed like they are manipulating me in a good way, by exploiting my euproductive proclivities.
And here’s some evidence: this blog post.

Euproductive proclivities

It might be useful to identify the said (as we say) proclivities. Useful to me, at least. Maybe for you.
Here they are, in the order I thought of them.
First, is routine: the Nook features nag-o-matic (thanks JL for automating, thanks Past Me for inventing.) I expect nag-o-matic will send me an email every day and remind me to write. I think it will help.
Next is accountability: other people in the group will see if I did or not write. If no one else, JL will see.
Then there’s community: writing is a lonely business, and it’s nice to be lonely together with other lonely people. That’s why I like writing in coffee shops. But the things that qualify as Coffee shops in Blue Hill are not that conducive to writing.
Then there’s novelty. I jump into new things with enthusiasm. Sticking with them, not so much. But nag-o-matic and accountability and community may overcome that tendency. At least I hope so.
There’s support. I might ask for support from other people, but to me, support means my love for supporting other people. I’ll do things to help other people in ways that I won’t do for myself.
Then there’s gratitude: I live in a state of more-or-less continuing gratitude for gifts unearned.
So here I am with about 1000 words behind me. I’m grateful to JL for including me in his circle and for inviting me to his creation. And giving me someone to be accountable to and creating a community.
And for nag-o-matic, 2.0.
Hey, nag-o-matic, I wrote something today.

Jul 24, 2019

What really happened in Paris?

Part I

“I don’t know if it’s possible to take that shot and get the stars in one go, must be a composite. Several hundred maybe. What do you think?”
“Right. No chance it’s a single shot.”
“Holy shit, you guys. Are you kidding? You don’t remember? Justin, did you actually forget that?”
“I forget everything.”
“Yeah, but you wouldn’t have forgotten that, would you?”
“Probably. There’s always something more interesting in the now. Pictures of the then are interesting though.”
“OK, c’ mon, seriously? You don’t remember?”
“No.”
“Daniel, you don’t remember, either?”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
“You were there. Both of you. With me. In Paris. That night that we took that picture. You guys really don’t remember?”
“When was this supposed to have happened?”
“Last night. No. It was the night before. Maybe the night before that. I don’t remember exactly. Within the last week, for sure.”
“I was in Hawaii.”
“I was in Boston.”
“Still, we met up in Paris and took that picture. Justin, you brought the camera. Daniel, you were the one who actually took the photo. You guys really don’t remember that?”
“No.”
“No. Not only that, it couldn’t have happened last week as you say. I told you. I was in Hawaii. It takes fifteen hours to fly to Paris. Thirty hours round-trip minimum. I took lots of photos while I was in Hawaii. My photos are date and time-stamped. I’ll bet I’ve got a photo that shows I was in Hawaii during every twelve-hour period. So I couldn’t have been in Paris last week.”
“You could have been there if it took less than twelve hours.”
“Yeah, but it’s impossible to make the trip faster.”
“It’s not impossible. There’s a calculable probability that you dematerialized in Hawaii and rematerialized in Paris, took the picture, and then reversed the process. So not impossible.
“Technically, you’re right. It’s not impossible. But the probability is close to zero.”
“Sure, but so what? The probability that you exist is close to zero. The probability that I exist is close to zero. The probability that Justin exists is close to zero. Even given that we exist, the probability of this conversation is close to zero. And yet that hasn’t stopped it from happening.”
“But it’s not happening. This is just a story you’re writing about it happening. And you’re just a character in your story.”
“Well if I’m a character in a story then so are you. Are you going to deny your own existence just to prove you can’t have been in Paris? Nice try! But you’re as real as I am and as real as Justin is, and as real as this conversation is.”
“In the first place, I’m not Daniel, I’m Justin. He’s Daniel.”
“No, I’m Justin.”
“You are? I thought I was Justin. Do you want to be Justin instead?”
“It’s not a matter of wanting to be Justin. I am Justin.”
“Fine. If you’re that stuck on being Justin, you can be Justin. I’m flexible enough to be either Justin or Daniel, even if you’re not.”
“Guys, guys, it doesn’t matter. The point is, we were in Paris, and we took that picture.”
“No, we weren’t”
“Then how come I remember it? I couldn’t remember it if didn’t happen, could I?”
“You’re pretending to remember.”
“Well, I say you’re pretending not to remember.”
“I’m not pretending. It didn’t happen.”
“It did.”
“No. It didn’t”

Interlude

“Let’s just take a step back and look at this rationally. Why does it matter what story you choose to believe about the way that photo came into existence?”
“I don’t choose what story to believe. I believe what’s true. If I’m not sure, what’s true, I say I’m not sure. If I know something is not true, I don’t believe it.”
“So you don’t have free will?”
“What?”
“If something you know that something is true, then you’re compelled to believe it. You can’t choose not to believe something true, and you can’t choose to believe something that’s not. Right?”
“Why would I want to believe something that isn’t true?”
“What if you were facing a task you’d attempted in the past and consistently had problems doing. What would you believe would happen the next time you did it?’
“I’d believe that I’d have the same sorts of problems.”
“Supposing I hypnotized you so that you believed that you’d done it successfully many times. What then?”
“Hmm. There’s a good chance that I might do better. I might also be overconfident and do worse.”
“Supposing I conditioned you against overconfidence. Effectively, I moderated your expectation—your prediction, if you will—that you’d do badly.
“I’d probably do better.”
“So being hypnotized into such a belief would be helpful?”
‘I suppose so.”
“Even though it’s false to fact?”
“I suppose so?”
“So would you let yourself be hypnotized whenever you faced such a challenge so that you’d do better?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“I’d be giving up my free will. I’d be putting the hypnotist in control.”
“But you’ve already given up your free will. The belief that you’ve failed many times already makes it likely that you’ll fail. And if you can’t choose—on your own, and without a hypnotist—to believe something that would more helpful, then that belief is controlling you. Why not, as I wrote, ” Believe not what is true but what is helpful?
“I can see that using a hypnotist would replace one form of control with another. So I’d be willing to use a hypnotist.”
“What about changing beliefs on your own. What if you believed that a magical being had granted you the power to do well on that task. What do you believe would happen then?”
“There are no magical beings. So I wouldn’t believe it.”
“So your belief that there are no magical beings keeps you from believing something that would be helpful. That belief is in control, not you.”
“But it’s true that there are no magical beings.”
“Sure, it’s true. But so what? If you can’t choose to believe in things that don’t exist, then reality holds you hostage. Every creator believes in things that don’t exist until they make them exist.”
“Yes, but there’s a difference between believing in things that don’t exist and things that can’t possibly exist.”
“But everything you can imagine can exist. The probability may be low, but it’s still possible.”
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”

Part II

“Well? Did we take that picture together or not?”
“Of course, we did! It was a hell of a night!”
“Yes. It was so great seeing you there.”
“Let’s do it again sometime.”