Jan 31, 2015

Working hurts less than procrastinating, we fear the twinge of starting

Today is Feb 17, despite the date on this post.  Because I'm in catch up mode. And I'm having trouble starting to catch up.

That's when I remembered, and found this post at Less Wrong: "Working hurts less than procrastinating, we fear the twinge of starting." So right for me. Or, perhaps, so less wrong than other things I've told myself.

Eliezer Yudkowsy, who wrote the post, says this:
How do I know this?  Because on a moment-to-moment basis, being in the middle of doing the work is usually less painful than being in the middle of procrastinating.
(Bolded because it's true, important, and nearly impossible to get your brain to remember - even though a few moments of reflection should convince you that it's true.)
This is more-or-less just what I feel. Last week I spent a couple of days "trying to start" working on a programming problem. It took me forever. But once I started, I worked for hours.

He explains that the problem is not avoiding the unpleasantness of an intended task, but rather the unpleasantness of making the decision to change modes.
I think it's flinching away from the pain of the decision to do the work - the momentary, immediate pain of (1) disengaging yourself from the (probably very small) flow of reinforcement that you're getting from reading a random unimportant Internet article, and (2) paying the energy cost for a prefrontal override to exert control of your own behavior and begin working.
Today, for the first time in many, many, many days I am having what I would call a genuinely productive day, and it's because I "paid the energy cost for a prefrontal override" to plan out my day, half-hour by half-hour. And now I only have to pay the smaller cost of keeping myself on that plan. So far it's been affordable.

For weeks I've had a todo list: a list of things to do that I don't do. One of my most common failure modes, I now realize, comes from the immediate discomfort of deciding what to do next. I think I know why.

Suppose my list consists of items A-Z (there are about that many items on my list right now.) Some are things would enjoy doing. Some are things that I would not enjoy doing, but I would enjoy having done--because I'd not have to fucking think about them for a while, or ever. Therefore all have some anticipated satisfaction associated with them.

So choosing any item (say, item M) will provide me with some anticipated satisfaction. But choosing M means that I will have the anticipated dissatisfaction of not choosing A-L and the dissatisfaction not choosing N-Z. And the metadissatisfaction of making an unsatisfying choice. So choosing M is, on balance,  horrifically dissatisfying. Likewise for all other choices.

Absent some change in my process I find myself caught between cycling through A-Z, rejecting each choice in turn, or returning to some default behavior, like random browse-the-Internet, or being interrupted by a phone call or something else that requires immediate attention. Anything but decide! Anything!

Eliezer adds:
A related note that I might as well dump into this post:  I'm starting to think that procrastination by reading random articles does not cause you to rest, that is, you do not regain mental energy from it.  Success and happiness cause you to regain willpower; what you need to heal your mind from any damage sustained by working is not inactivity, but reliably solvable problems which reliably deliver experienced jolts of positive reinforcement.  Putting in the effort to read a good book may do this; playing a good computer game may do this; reading random Internet articles, or playing bad games, probably won't.  Literal mental exhaustion might mean that you don't have enough energy left to read a good book - or that you don't have enough energy left to pay the immediate cost of searching your library for good reading material instead of mediocre reading material - but in this case you shouldn't be reading random online articles.  You should be sitting with your eyes closed listening to music, or possibly even napping; if dealing with a truly exhausted brain, reading random articles is probably too much effort.
Again, I think this is spot on. The more I do enjoyable things like reading Internet articles (even fairly good ones) the less energy I have to choose something that will actually give me more energy.

So maybe my formulation is: "Doing nearly anything hurts less than procrastinating. I fear the discomfort of choosing."

Not starting. Choosing.

I choose to post.

Jan 30, 2015

Personal Journeys and Jew Overflow

In an earlier post I wrote about the book we were using for this course. Now let me tell you about the course, and the change it's catalyzed. There will be more posts to follow on this topic


We had our first session today, (January 30) and Bob Myers, the guy who is running the course told us what he had planned: each of us will have a half hour (two people a session, times five sessions) to tell the group about his or her own spiritual journey. Then, following each person's half hour we can ask questions, comment, and discuss what we've heard.

Bob went first. We learned that he was brought up in a Christian home; was called to the ministry; graduated and took his first position but found himself not entirely suited to it. He went back to school for a masters, took another position, went back to school for his PhD and ultimately decided he no longer believed. He spent most of his professional life as a Biblical scholar. So his journey took him from believer all the way from believer to atheist/agnostic. And given the fact that he liked "The Problem With God" he's now a person who wonders if even the idea of God has meaning. much less God Herself.

While Bob was talking, I started to remember episodes of my own life: my upbringing as a nice Jewish boy. Being Bar Mitzvahed. My flirtations with Christianity, Christian Science, Buddhism. My life in Scientology. And beyond.

That evening I went to the weekly meeting of the Maine Hackers Club and mentioned the course, and my Jewish upbringing. One of the guys, Michal, asked me if I'd seen the Stack Exchange site about Judaism.  Everybody in tech knows about Stack Exchange, because their lead site, Stack Overflow is usually the number one or two response when Googling a programming question. Other Stack Exchange sites rate high for other tech questions. For those unfamiliar, here's a quote from their About page.

Stack Exchange is a network of 130+ Q&A communities including Stack Overflow, the preeminent site for programmers to find, ask, and answer questions about software development. ... Since then, the Stack Exchange network has grown into a top-50 online destination, with Stack Overflow alone serving more than 26 million professional and novice programmers every month.
Michal said that the Judaism site discussed questions like: "Are mermaids kosher?" Michal referred to the Stack Exchange site for Judaism as "Jew Overflow," which I thought was hilarious.

And they do have a discussion about kosher mermaids. And another discussion on the site is about computers in a Jewish school, specifically: "Is there anything halachically or hashkafically wrong with installing reference computers in a Bet Midrash?" What? So I had to find what halacha was, and hashkafa. And Bet Midrash. Translation: is there anything wrong, according to Jewish religious law, or custom with installing reference computers in the study hall of a Jewish temple or school.

The discussion on the site is interesting and explains why Jews are such good lawyers. Issues like these are often argued carefully, citing torah, haftorah, and the writings an pronouncements of rabbis through the ages.

Jan 29, 2015

I knew this guy, now he's dead

Strange reading an article written by someone you don't know about the death of someone else you don't know, and then discover that you do know the person who died. That's what happened when I read this piece.

People that I knew keep dying. Or keep having died.

What's up with that?

Jan 28, 2015

Falling behind and catching up, and why I love Google Search History

Maybe I haven't set the bar low enough. Or maybe I can't set the bar low enough. Or maybe I just don't want to. Whatever my excuse, I've managed to fall more than a week behind on my blogging. So: it's going to be two posts a day, filling in the past while moving into the future.

And that brings me to my latest love: Google Search History. We all know that browsers keep track of history: the pages that you visit. But that's per browser, and it lasts until some preset limit is reached. Google Search History does you one better: you can consolidate all of your search history in one place, regardless of device.

If you use Chrome as your browser (and you're basically an idiot if you don't) then it will also give you your browser's history, all in one neat package.

To get search history turned you go to the search options page for your account. That's here. If you opt in, your history will be logged for whatever account you are using on whatever device you're using it on. And click the checkbox to get your Chrome and other history too. Got it?

Now the next step is looking at your history.  You do that by going to your history page which will be here. You'll have to provide your name and password, but if you're using Chrome and Chrome Sync and you've let Chrome remember your password then all you have to do is press enter. Easy!

That will give you something that looks like this:

As you can see, I do a lot of searching. And I just spent some time searching for stuff for this article.

Now the final step: If you click on a day in your calendar, you'll see the search history for that day, or, if you are like me, for a part of it--about 50 records worth And then you have to keep pushing a button at the top or bottom that says "Older." And note: there is not one that says "Newer," but only "Newest" Arghhh!

But there's an answer. When you click on a date, the URL will look something like this:
Add the following to the end of the string:

Now instead of the default, which looks like it's about 50 records, you get about 1000. And when you click the "Older"  button you get another 1000. That's pretty good.

So now I can know what I've been searching for since October 2012 with my current favorite Google account, and 2009 with the one that I mainly used before that.

And I can use that history to retroactively post all the stuff that I've learned about. Booyah!!

Jan 27, 2015

Google Now monitors my subconscious

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...
English: Google Logo officially released on May 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to my beloved Google Search History, here's something interesting I did today (not the day that I am writing this, but the date of this post.)

I was looking for a way to download my Search History so that I could comb through and write some backdated posts like this. I found some useful posts, and one of them is the basis for what I'm doing as described in the post referenced in the first para. But I wanted a script. I didn't find one. And eventually I gave up.

Next morning I'm looking at Google Now and I find that it's telling me that I might be interested in a post on Stack Exchange titled:  "Script to Download Google Web History." I go to that page, and it's just what I wanted.

Apparently, even though I gave up trying to find the script, Google Now knew that I was subconsciously unsatisfied with what I had found and that there was a better answer available. So it presented me with the page I'd really wanted, not the one that I'd settled for.

All I can say is: WTF! I love you Google Now.

Jan 25, 2015

The Problem with The Problem With God (Lost Post)

This is the second time I've written this post, or one a lot like this one. Or it's the first time I've written it after having previously imagined writing it. But I've looked everywhere I can think of and have not been able to find it. So if anyone finds the original post, let me know.


Bobbi and I are enrolled in a course called "Conversations on Personal Journeys to Doubt, Unbelief, and Beyond" at Acadia Senior College.  From the course description:
This course will be a time of sharing about the journeys away from traditional religious beliefs, to or toward “unbelief” (whatever that includes and however it is defined) that the course participants have engaged in during their lifetimes.
Reading from Peter Steinberger’s book, The Problem with God, may provide fresh insights and give added stimulus to the conversations.
I think Steinberger's book is horribly flawed, but I'm glad to have read it. It has propelled me past my own doubt and unbelief, and into the beyond.

Steinberger's argument is that the idea of God isn't even an idea. As he says:

The structure of ordinary human thought--the way that the everyday human mind, yours and mine, operates and has always operated--is such that it will never, ever make any sense to say that God either does or doesn't exist. It's literally impossible for ordinary human beings at any time and in any circumstance ever to imagine the existence of God, and equally impossible at any time and in any circumstance ever to imagine the non-existence of God. We will never, ever be able either to entertain or to deny God's existence. These are thoughts that no ordinary human being can possibly have, because there literally are no such thoughts.

Geez, I have those thoughts. But perhaps I don't literally have them because my thoughts are not literal. Or perhaps it's because I'm not an ordinary human being. But I don't know. I bet a lot of what you might call literarly ordinary human beings have such thoughts, even if not literally.

I think he's engaging in a form of argument called the Argument from Incredulity. It goes like this:
  • It's not possible to imagine how X could be true;
  • If X could be true, then it would be possible to imagine how X could be true;
  • Therefore: X is not true.
Steinberger gives many of examples of X, things that he can't imagine could be true. For example, he says: "It's impossible to imagine something arising out of absolutely nothing." Impossible? Yet, I can. Don't believe it?  I'll do it right now. I've imagined absolutely nothing (that's the hard part) and then I imagined something coming from it. Easy.

He says: "You cannot have the idea of something that is what it is, and, at the same time, is not what it is." Ahem. Actually I can. It's called a paradox. And I can imagine it. I don't believe a paradox can exist, but that's not the requirement: it's to have the idea of a paradox. And I can. And so have generations of logicians and mathematicians before me. But then, maybe none of us are ordinary human beings.

Steinberger's first, and I think most important mistake is when he says this: "But the fact that I exist is a fact that needs to be explained, and the explanation has to be a cause." Actually there are two mistakes in one sentence. The first, is that his existence needs to be explained. Maybe he needs it to be explained, but that does not make the requirement a universal. I, for one, need no explanation of his existence. More important, I don't need my own existence explained. The second mistake is that the explanation needs to be a cause.

I am a given. My existence does not need to be explained. I don't need to explain it to myself; I don't need to explain it to you; and I don't need to explain it to Peter Steinberger.

Now if you really, really want an explanation, and ask nicely, I will give you one. Or a dozen. Or a hundred. I can give you all the explanations that you want. Some explanations are more interesting than others, and some are more likely to have others agree with them. Some might be consistent with science. But that's not the point. You ask for an explanation, and I give you one.

But what about a true explanation? What about a scientific explanation? My answer is that no explanation of my existence is true, or scientific, because there is no explanation of my existence that is subject proof, or to experiment.

So I choose to explain my existence thusly: I am at the center of the universe and the universe exists when, and only when I am conscious. And the only parts of the universe that exists are the ones of which I am conscious.

That I am at the center of the universe is not only true according to my own perception it is also consistent with our best cosmological understanding. If we go back, and back, and back in time, to the very moment of creation of the universe we discover that the origin point of everything that exists is right here. Right where I am now. (Of course it's also right where you are, now, too. But that's a detail of no great interest to me other than to demonstrate my egalitarian view of existence.)

Everything that exists--including my memory of having gotten up this morning and having written this post--might have come into being right (snapping my fingers) now. Or it might have come into being (snapping my fingers) at 7:30 this morning, when I remember having first become conscious today. Or it might all have come into being when I was born. Or I had my first conscious memory. Or it might have happened 13.8 billion years ago. Really, I don't know. And neither do you. We can believe what we choose to believe.

Determining what we believe is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one and as far as philosophy goes, I'm a pragmatist: I believe the things that are most conducive to my survival. I claim that as a rational position.

Steinberger says:
"It's impossible for me to imagine my existence without my parents having done the thing that caused me to exist..." 

Well, I can imagine my existence without my parents having done something like that thing that Steinberger implies his parents must have done to caused him to exist--which I am pretty sure involved fucking. And, to be quite honest, I find it easier to imagine that I appeared magically than to actually imagine my father and my mother--my actual father and mother...uhh...having sex.

I don't mean to say that I don't believe that they never had sex. If the universe existed before I was born--which I accept as a possibility--they might have, a time or two. But I can't actually imagine my actual parents having sex. True, I have not tried all that hard, but I've got some familiarity with my imagination, and I'm pretty confident that the closest I will get is to imagine two people who more or less resemble my parents being loving with each other, but then they turn the lights out and you can't hear anything.

Or if there is something going on, then Dad and Mom have been replaced with stunt doubles.

I exist. Whether or not they ever did anything.

It's not only easier for me to imagine things this way, it's also more pleasant.

And I can imagine God, too.

James Mickens is funniest man at Microsoft Research

That sounds kind of like faint praise, but he's way, way better than you might think, given that build up.

Or you can watch him give a presentation on cloud computing, security, and the general awesomeness of James Mickens here.

Or you can some of his essays, linked to here.

I made the mistake of watching the video one evening while I was trying to relax to go to sleep and laughed so hard and so many times that I was up for hours. The fact that I wanted to read everything he'd ever written didn't help, either.

Jan 24, 2015

Attention Management Disorder

Attention Economics is a new subject that I invented to explain some of the dynamics of my Society of Mind. Except that Wikipedia says that Attention Economics is already a thing, though not exactly the thing that I mean it to. So I can't have invented it. And by the way, Urban Dictionary says that "its a thing" is a thing. That will interest you lovers of the self-referential.

But enough about Attention Economics. For reasons that may become clear by the end of this post I got distracted, and almost the whole rest of it is about Attention Managment Disorder, another new thing that I invented it. And Google says it's new. So I claim it on behalf of this blog.

Now let's start with Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD.

I've been labeled as having ADD simply of evidence. It seems that there's a good match between its symptoms and my behavior. 

According to the ever-authoritative Wikipedia People with ADD may:
  • Be unable to read the entire list without being distracted. 
  • Fail to even start to read the list unless the first two items are highlighted in some way that tricks them into reading them.
  • Note: People without ADD also fail to start the list and skip to the bottom without trickery, so this test is not definitive.
  • And it's not even what's on Wikipedia. I just made that up. Because ADD. Anyhow, here's the real list. 
People with ADD may:
  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another; CHECK.
  • Have difficulty maintaining focus on one task; CHECK. Except when I hyperfocus
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something enjoyable. CHECK.
  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task; CHECK, unless it's really interesting. or there's schedule pressure; in which case, hyperfocus. difficulty  learning something new; Are you kidding.I thrive on the new.
  • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities; CHECK
  • Not seem to listen when spoken to; I take the fifth.Talk to my wife about this. 
  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly; CHECK for daydream. Not so much for the rest;
  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others; Nope. I'm quick. Unless, of course, the dude is talking too slowly; or he's giving two examples where one will do; or one example when he concept is so fucking simple I got it the first time. If you give me two facts, and then explain three that are logical consequences of the first two, I'm dead bored. Since its obvious that C and D follow from A and B, and that C can interact with R and make V, and D will react with V and explode all over the fucking place, flattening buildings,  
  • Struggle to follow instructions; CHECK

So on balance, I qualify.

If what I've got is called ADD, it's misnamed. I don't have an attention deficit. I've got enough attention for somewhere between two and ten ordinary people. My problem is another of my inventions: Attention Management Disorder (AMD). According to Google, Attention Management Disorder is not yet a thing. So I invented it.

I've got so much surplus attention that I can carry out most simple tasks, fairly effectively. using a small fraction all of my available attention. Writing this post is about as demanding as it gets, and it takes a fair amount of attention--but not all of it. Once I know how a sentence ends, I need very little attention to get my fingers to type the rest of the words. With attention to spare I'm watching the New England Patriots kicking the butts of the Miami Dolphins on TV between thoughts as I type words.

Go Pats!

Most things don't require as much attention as writing this does, which means that I've generally got a huge amount of left-over attention. If I don't attach myself to a controlled attention sink like the TV, I devote just enough attention to the task to keep it moving, and I let my attention wander, like a friendly puppy, looking for other things to attend to.

Therein lies the problem.

Sometime my attention is content with what it finds. But too often it finds something that it thinks is really interesting. "Ooooh!!!! Looook!! 

If even a little of the attention invested in the main task looks see what's so cool, then I'm in trouble. 
It doesn't take much. Remember that the original allocation of attention to that task was "just enough to keep it going." Anything less is not enough. So once I find something to attend to, work on the original task stops. Or it continues in such a shoddy way that even I can't defend my performance. 

Of course I don't notice any of this because I never assigned any attention to monitoring what my attention is attending to.

Like I say: I don't have an attention deficit problem. I have an attention management problem.

But, maybe not.

Jan 23, 2015

Could I possibly be stupider? I don't think so.

Yesterday I wrote a post about an epiphany that I had. Well, maybe it wasn't an epiphany. Maybe a mipiphany, a word I just made up. I means a miniature epiphany. Whatever we call it, it was an idea.

For those who don't have time to read the original post, here's the Classic Comic version: Mental Broadcast News strongly influences public opinion. What a voice in my head says, if true, gives that voice, or the faction that it represents more power. Because survival.

In my mipiphany, I relized that when tell myself "I can't write," then I can't I write. Worse, far worse, the "I can't write"  faction gets a stronger hold on the society of mind. And that gives it power to make sure that I can't write.

In my mipiphany, I explained to myself, and the world that isn't listening, but never mind, that the way to break this pattern for me to show the Society of Mind that the "I can't write faction" was not deserving of support and thus power. I could do that by simply sitting down and writing. Something. Anything. As long as it made the "I can't write" assertion invalid.  That would prevent, or at least forestall a further takeover from that already too-strong faction.

So what happens the next day? Of course. You're guessed it. I can't write.

So I'm pretty stupid. But not so stupid that I didn't ultimately remember what it is that I had written, and apply my own brilliant remedy to my own stupid situation and actually write something. Actually a couple of things.

So there!

There's more.

I have ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder. Or some variant. Like maybe Attention Management Disorder, which I thought I'd blogged about, but maybe not. Oops, there it is in my drafts. Well, we'll take care of that soon enough.


Today (which, despite the make-up-date of this post, is Feb 2) I realized that at least half, and maybe more, of my chronic, annoying, debilitating, frustrating, maddening ADD problem is tied to my letting my airwaves get clogged by the faction that likes to say "I have ADD."

So let's try a different message.

Now I don't expect that broadcasting that "I am an organized person who can do what he sets his mind to," will make me that person. I'm not that stupid. But it will keep the faction that says "I have ADD" from gaining even more power than the considerable amount that it already has.

To do that, I realized that I needed to realize was what I was doing, which I did about ten minutes ago. Then I realized it shortly afterward.

Then I needed to say "Fuck that!" or some correct variant thereof. Then "I am going to start writing something, and finish it and post it, which is the antithesis of having ADD." Actually I did not say it then, but I'm saying it now.

And then I needed to blast out this post.

And finally, after taking a minute to read it over, and not take too much time fidgeting with it, I needed to press Publish.

But first I need to get a big, fat-ass image of a publish button and put it at the top of this post.

Which, obviously, I've now done.

And now I'll push it.

Take that, "I've got ADD."

Jan 22, 2015

Lying: an experiment

The good part about being young is that you haven't had enough experience with reality to realize that in the end reality will win. The game is rigged. The deck is stacked. Because entropy. Because immutable laws of physics. Because everyone agrees, and agreements become more solid as time goes on.

When I was younger, a lot younger, I honestly believed (I am not kidding about this) that I could do anything that did not violate physical law and many things that might, like telepathy and telekinesis. I actually (and I am not kidding about this, either) believed that I could be President of the United States, and that it made sense that I might be. After all, I was smart. And smart people can figure out how to do anything. And god knows the United States needed a President who was smart. And still does. So of course!

Jan 21, 2015

Whine. Sob. I can't write. Sob. Sob.

I can't seem to get myself to write, and I have no idea why that is. I'm trying to stream one of my virtual coffee shops to see if that helps. Maybe it does, a little. But the fundamental problem remains. Getting going is hard. Keeping going is hard. For some reason, I can't write.
Well, of course, that's not true. Obviously I can, or you wouldn't be reading this. But It's January 31st right now, rather than January 21, the date I backdated this to. I wrote most of this on that day, whining about my inability to write. But it took me another ten days to figure it out, and finish it, and to post it, assuming that I finish and post it today.
So, to continue my whining:
When I can't write, the one thing I seem to be able to write about is why I can't write. Seems like there's always something to say about that, and sometimes something to learn. This time I think I've put together some pieces of the larger puzzle.
Per Marvin Minsky and others, including me, the mind can be looked at as a society. The voices in our heads are spokespeople for factions that have formed. And sometimes a segment of society takes over control and thus we have behavior. Sometimes the behavior is consistent with what leading spokespeople in the society of mind have announced. And sometimes it's different.
We'll call the members of the society of mind "agents." Agents can combine to form larger agents. Sometimes we'll call them agents, and sometimes as agencies, depending on which metaphor makes the most sense. And sometimes it's voices, political parties, factions. Ultimately, all the same kind of thing.
Like everything else in the universe, the society of mind is ultimately governed by power. The agents with the most power, at any moment, get to decide what the body that is attached to the mind will do.
Agents get power based on reward and punishment mechanisms. Some come are built-in and hard-wired. And some are socially constructed, but ultimately resting on the built-in set. 
Just as politicians have learned to trick voters into voting for things that are no good for them, agents in the society of mind have learned to trick the mind into transcending its hard-wiring. And a good thing that is, too: otherwise we'd spend our time doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and having sex--all hard-wired--and never do any blogging.
Minds are wired so that successful agents get more power, and so that success is a moving target, defined, in part, by the agents that succeed. Feedback, but with hard-wired rate-limits of many kinds. Agents that are unsuccessful, lose power. 
When you exercise your muscles they gain strength over the long run (up to hard-wired limits) but when they tire they lose strength in the short run. So agents when able to exercise whatever power they have gain power in the long run (if successful) but also lose power temporarily when they tire.
Agents operate at different levels. As I write, some low-level agents are responsible for moving my fingers. Higher-level agents are responsible for turning ideas into words and either they, or other higher-level agents direct the lower-level finger agents to produce the correct letters. Still higher-level agents are responsible for choosing ideas, and some are responsible for making the decision to write, ensuring that I sit down, start writing, and hopefully to stay there, no matter the distraction, until something is written. 
Those highest level agents are most interesting to me. They take in data from the world, assess problems, come up with explanations of the world, set goals, and create strategies to achieve these goals. And at the top of the agent hierarchy is the boss agent: the one I call "me." "Me" has some control, but it's not unlimited. "I" can direct the rest of the mind and body to do something that "I" have decided that "I" want, but if "I" directly exercise control for a while, "I" lose strength, and some other agent can step in and take over.
This is true of all agents, so the formula for an agent's success is: "Get another agent to do the work."
So what does it mean when I say: "I can't write?" 
As I construct the world, it means that "I" has decided to write, but doesn't have the power to get the necessary set of agents working to get the writing done. "I" can't just give the order and make it happen. If "I" am going to make it happen, I have to resort to some indirect means, possibly even trickery to get the result that I want to get.

In the meanwhile some other agent is taking advantage of this lapse. 

When I say: "I can't write," it's not "me" saying it. "I" know goddamned well that I can write. And "I" want to. But some other agent comes along and says: "I'm not writing, and it's because I can't write." And why is that? Because that agent is trying to use the mind's machinery to gain power.
The mind is a survival machine designed to make judgments and decisions and giving power to agents that make good judgements and decisions. Saying "I can't write" is an easy way for an agent that wants power to get some. "I can't write" is a correct statement at the moment it is stated, providing, of course, that one is not writing at that very moment.
So that agent gets rewarded for having created an "explanation" for what's going on. What's going on is "I'm not writing." The explanation is: "I can't write." The agent has not explained why "I can't write," but it doesn't need to. It just needs to keep pointing out that "I'm not writing," and keep explaining "I can't write."
Since both are correct, or at least not provably false, the agent making those statements increases its power. Other agents, seeing an agent that's being "successful" give it more power.
If that agent has enough power to block writing efforts, or enough to distract efforts away from writing then it will gain more power. And with more power comes more ability to block and distract.
When an agent observes that there is no writing going on and says "I can't write" it's made a decision: it's chosen between "I'm not writing, but I can write, I just haven't figured out how," and "I can't write," and it's decided "I can't write." Worse, "I can't write" is not an ordinary a decision, it's a conclusion. When an agent makes a decision it's reached a fork in the road and chosen one branch. 
When it draws a conclusion, it's chosen a dead end. There is no going forward.
Except now, ten days after the fact, it's clear how I might be able to deal with this.
Back then I sat down and started writing about the one thing that I could write about: how I was unable to write. It was whiney and victimy, but it worked. But only to a degree. Now, seeing the mechanism at work, I think I can do a better job. It's a matter of strategy, or, if you will, of trickery.
So the answer to "I can't write," is to write something, anything at all. And then say: "Fuck you! I can write." And then keep writing. That keeps the "I can't write" agent from gaining more power. That takes power away from it. And pretty soon I've got something written.
Well, a week later.

But dammit! I can write.

Jan 20, 2015

My first girlfriends

My neighborhood, in Baldwin, NY, here, was dominated by guys. We were members of the girl-haters club, which memory tells me was an actual institution. I don't recall details, but I do recall the neighborhood ethos: no girls allowed.

And I was a traitor. I had a girlfriend. Actually several, all kept secret from the guys.

The neighborhood
There was my brother and me. We had a sister, but she was irrelevant. Sorry, sis. You're relevant now, but not then.

Across Madison Avenue lived Johnny and Kenny DeLuca, Johnny a year younger than me, Kenny a year older. They had a much younger sister, Virginia. Also irrelevant.

Down Madison were the Klyvers: four boys: Dan, the oldest was in high school. That made him a god. Dick, was a few years older than we were; a demigod. A talented artist, I remember him making dinosaurs out of clay. Years later I tripped across one of his pieces in an art gallery in Blue Hill. The twins, Nels and John were a couple of years younger than us. John wanted to be a witch doctor. Then an undertaker. Then a gynecologist. He ended up an IRS agent. Figures.

No girls in that family.

Across Dartmouth was Donny Turano. His younger sister was, Linda, and was, of course irrelevant.

Down Dartmouth were the Bobs: Bob Thorsen and Bob Soderstrom. Older than us, and thus also demigods.

Year round we rode our bikes on the street. We clipped playing cards to the fenders with clothespins to rattle against the spokes and make us sound like we were motorized. We didn't go anywhere. Mostly we just rode around and around.

In the winter we'd sled. They weren't too good at plowing the streets in those days, so street sledding was good.

In the autumn we played football in the street. In the summer it was softball. See that tree? That's first base. That one's second. That flattened tin can in the middle of the street? That's second base. And this one is home.

Batter up!

Side note: most of the families that lived in the neighborhood had kids. There were two that didn't. The Nylands loved kids. The Sieberts hated them. When we hit a ball that landed on the Sieberts' lawn, Mr. Siebert would come running out and try to grab it before we did. I don't think he ever did. He was too slow.

So he started to park is car on the street instead of his driveway. His car was in short left field, where a well-hit ball would break his windshield. Go figure. My Mom went and asked him to move it, but he refused. So she played left field for both teams. She caught everything that went in that direction. Mom was gooood!

My First Girlfriends
I can remember my first only by name, place, and approximate time. No images. No stories. Name: Deena (or Dina). Place: Brooklyn. We lived at 350 E. 55th Street (Google Maps image here). Approximate time:  we moved from Brooklyn when I was in second grade, so about then.

Next one was in Baldwin. I remember her with a bit more clarity. She was cute and had freckles. Her name was Patty Tonrey, lived on the other side of DeMott Avenue, and she broke my heart when her family moved, taking her, to Florida as I remember.

The one I remember best was Barbara Theilman. She lived blocks away, on the other side of school. I have two clear memories: one was biking over to her house to see her. The other was sitting in class singing "Tell me why?"

Tell me why the stars do shine.
Tell me why they ivy twines.
Tell me why the skies are blue.
And I will tell you just why I love you.
Because God made the stars to shine.
Because God made the ivy twine.
Because God made the skies so blue.
Because God made you, is why I love you.
We'd sing the the song and at each fourth line I'd sneak a look at Barbara, and she'd sneak a look at me.

Young love! And don't get caught by the guys.

Later at MIT, I learned a different version of the song:
Nuclear fusion's why stars do shine.
Tropisms make the ivy twine.
Rayleigh diffraction's why skies are blue.
Glandular hormones---are why I love you.

Mindfulness and mindfullness-based stress reduction

Bobbi and I are watching a Great Courses series titled "The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-based Path to Well-Being" taught by Professor Ronald Siegel of Harvard. The course itself has been worthwhile, and I've dug into several related practices that the course mentions, one where I quit after about a quarter-inch of digging, the other in which I've dug more deeply.

The quarter-inch depth digging was into another course, called "Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction" (MBSR) (Wikipedia ref, here.) 

While I am sure that none of you have problems with stress, you probably have friends who do. They would probably appreciate your doing some follow-up research, and passing information to them.

You can also find out more about MBSR following some of the links I've collected below.

It was developed originally by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. I've never heard of Siegel before, but I have heard of Kabat-Zinn, who is a medium-sized deal in some parts of the tech community--medium-sized enough that Google invited him to do a one-hour Tech Talk.

Other links I found because that's what I do:

A free MBSR online self-paced course, here modelled after Kabat-Zinn's. I have no idea if it is any good. I just googled and it appeared.
There are some other resources at the UMass Mindfulness center
A bunch of videos on the mindfulness center's resource page.

Backdated to when I wrote an email to family about this course, on which this post is based, in order to back-reference it here, in the then future.

Jan 19, 2015

My virtual coffee shop

I like working in coffee shops. There's something about the sound, about being surrounded by people without needing to interact with them that makes me comfortable, unlocks some creativity.

I'm not the only one. There are a bunch of sites that stream coffee shop sounds. And there's at least one app that lets you download the sounds to your mobile device.

Coffitivity.com is the first one that I used. Unlike some others, they specialize in coffee shop sounds. You can get three different coffee shop streams for free, and three more if you sign up for their premium program. I've got there app, so I can hear coffee sounds without data charges.

MyNoise.net provides you with a bunch of natural and synthetic noises and seems to have the most extensive library of sounds and sound generators. It even lets you calibrate their sounds to your hearing.

Soundrown.com gives you a choice of sounds: coffee shop, rain, waves, fire, and birds.

Rainycafe.com lets you mix the sounds of a coffee shop with the sounds of a cafe.

Noisli.com lets you mix any of a dozen different sound streams. And it provides you with a distraction free editor, as well.

Songza.com is a sound streaming site. One of their streams is In a Busy Coffee Shop. but there's a lot, lot, more. Pick your genre and they'll stream stuff to your taste.

And then there's YouTube. With hours of coffee shop sounds here, and here. and here.

Anyone for coffee?

Jan 18, 2015

News, then and now

As part of the colloquy I'm taking, Public discourse in the Age of Technology I was sentenced to listening to a local news report and a half hour of national news. Gawd!!! It was awful. Maybe there was no news that day, which is why they spent so much time on irrelevancies.

To keep from killing myself I logged what went on, roughly minute by minute for 15 minutes of local news, and 30 minutes of national. My log's at the end. Looking over the log it did not seem as horrible as it seemed watching it live.

Was it always this horrible? No. Here's are two online videos of news, as it was in the day. The first is of about a third of Walter Cronkite's first broadcast, in September 1963. The second is one of three parts of a Cronkite broadcast in September 1977.

The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite - 3... by videohollic

6:15 Lumber Liquidators
Nexium 24 hours
Dr. Scholls machine
6:16 Tamiflu (prior news story about killer flu)
6:17 Dodging debris 25,000 crashjes
51,000 crashes
Youtube videos
Someone blinded
Making it illegal
6:18 Dodging debris what to do
Still ahead: sky high record penthouse
Coming: betty white birthday
6:19 COPD spiriva medication
Hoovewr floormat
6:22 Ciallis
Galavant (TV show)
:30 Neil patrick harris
:43 March through Selma
Up next: Penthouse $100M 11K square feet
Cast and crew of TVLand Flash Hula Mob for Betty White 93 years
23:41   Rise of dashcam diva
23:55 High blood sugar farxiga.com
   :22 Ally bank
   :38 Xantac
   :55   Philips fiber
  25:12 Advil
     :25  Scandal TV show
     :38  Promo for World News
     :54  Dashcam
 :28     continued
 :28:36 Sign off news

           This week promo

6:30 Teaser:
  Romney run
Bonnie and clyde spree
Cosby’s last stand
Disabled vets bakery
6:31 Logo
Romney run
6:32 Romney run clippage
Mother Jones clip
6:33 Hilary people like Romney running
6:34 Europe on high alert hunting for ISIS agents
Troops on streets
More troops on the way...going to 300 people
Upset in Islamic neighborhood
2 doz suspects arrested
6:36 More on EU
6:36 Pope visited Philippines
Express sympathy with typhoon 7K people dead
6:37 Woman killed by scaffolding
Criticism of gay marriage
Praised church birth control
6:38 Solidarity with the poor
Attendance expected to break the record
18 year old boy and 13 year old girl
Modern bonnie and clyde
6:39 Bad comparison. Not killed people
Found in Wal Mart
Last vehicle had 2 handguns
Text he was fine
6:40 Continued
Monday electrical malfunction
Smoke pouring into tunnel
6:41 Not reported for a long time
Radio system was down
30 minutes after smoke, people call 911
200 people trapped
Emergency door not opening
1 woman died
6:42 Could take a year to investigate
Measles outbreak: at least 51 cases
May exclude kids from school
Preview: cosby, condo
6:43 Robitussin
Dr Scholl
Wounded Warrior Project
6:44 ….
6:45 Dog food
Philips Fibergood
NFL Colts/Pats promo
6:46 Cosby demonstration (probably 6 people)
6:47 “What if these allegations aren’t true?”
6:48 Cosby show cancelled
Greg Anthony soliciting prost
6:49 Coach running up score 161-2
Promo: champ
Salonpos pain
COPD medicine Sporiva
6:50 Sporiva continues
6:51 Viagra
Alka seltzer]
6:52 Face the Nation promo
Photo of manhattan from 1.5 mile
Penthouse suite
Onassis notes auction $28K
6:53 Ali 73rd b’day
Promo: priest plan for vets
COPD Symbacort
6:54 Cialis “Get help for an erection lasting more than 4 hours”
Medifacts Dulcalax laxative
:55 Coricidin HPB
CBS live digital network
:56 Dogtag bakery
:58 continuing…