Two things

This sudden loss has gotten me to face my own death this week. I know it is coming, just not when. I rarely think about it, because life is so in-my-face, but it’s there, waiting. Tyler’s death is such a stark reminder that we never know how much time we have left.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/liberation/

There are exactly two things about my life of which I am certain. I was born, and I will die. I spend a lot of time contemplating my end; Not in a fatalistic, “come at me bro’!” way, but rather with the intention of reminding myself to make the most out of every moment.

There are many moments where I’m unconscious—quite a few of those moments are while I’m sleeping, but also there are mindless moments aplenty throughout my days. But there are increasingly more mindful moments every day.

An extremely fast way to get to mindfulness—this is the fastest way I’ve found so far—is to think: This may well be the last time I do this. The last walk. The last boulder I scramble upon. The last conversation with this person. The last conversation ever. The last word I type. The last sentence I jauntily scribble with a pen. The last time I drive a car. The last time I ride a bicycle. The last time I wrench my back shoveling snow. The last time something scares the crap out of me. The last time I laugh until I lose control of my bladder. The last time I’m stuck as part of the traffic. The last time I’m part of the solution. The last time I’m the source of the problem. The last time I smash the hell out of my toe on something.

In every one of those cases, I can now enjoy it… if I can manage to remember: This could be the last time I get to experience this.

I’ve even decided that if I can manage it, my last words will be: “Well, if that wasn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” (And just maybe with a literal hat tip to Vonnegut.)

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Caution: Tulpa

I’ve recently made a startling discovery: Maybe there really is a tulpa in my head.

First, I’ve said for many years that my brain is broken. (Yes, I am aware I have terrible self-talk.) Here’s why I call it broken: I am literally unable to NOT see problems. I notice an endless onslaught of things that, in my opinion, could be improved. I don’t mean, “that sucks, I wish it could be better.” No, I mean, “that sucks and it’s obvious this way would be better and if you’d just let me get started . . . ” Adderall might help, I suppose.

Everyone loves that I get stuff done, and try to make things better. But unless you have this same problem, I’d imagine it’s hard to understand how this is debilitating. I am aware that this is recursive—I see my own brain as a broken process that I feel I should repair. All I can say is that you should be happy, and thank your fave diety if that’s your thing, that you don’t understand. Because to understand is to have the problem, and you do. not. want. this. problem.

Second, I’ve also said for many years that, “the remainder cannot go into the computer.” I’m referring to a endless source of struggle in programming and systems administration; Computers are exact, and the real world—with its real people, real problems, and things which really are subjective shades of gray—is not. So programmers and systems administrators factor, in the mathematical sense of finding factors which when multiplied give you the original, reality into the computers. And when factoring reality, there is always a remainder. That remainder shows up when you find your software does something weird. That could be a mistake, but I tell you from experience, it is more often some edge case. Some people had to make choices when they factored.

The result of that second point is that I’ve spent the majority of my life factoring, (and “normalizing” for your math geeks who know about vector spaces,) problems into computers. And then trying to live with the remainders that didn’t go into the computer. The remainders are all in my head. Or on post-it notes on my wall, (back in the day.) Or the remainder is some scheduled item reminding me to check the Foobazzle process to ensure the comboflux has not gone frobnitz. To do that I had to intentionally be pragmatic and logical. And the really scary part is I also learned that the best way to do all of that was to talk to myself—sometimes literally, bat-shit crazy, out loud, but usually very loudly inside my own mind—to discover the smallest, least-worst, remainder that I could manage to live with.

What if those two things were sufficient to create a Tulpa. (I am serious.)

I think there’s a Tulpa in here! (My title is the sign on the front gate.) It is absolutely pragmatic. It knows an alarming amount of detail about things I’ve built, (or maintained, or fixed.) It is cold and calculating. It is terrified that it will forget about one of those details, 2347 will happen, and everyone will run out of ammunition defending their canned goods from the roaming bands of marauders. I definitely don’t “have” the Tulpa. It’s more like discovering there’s an extra person living in your house. Although, I don’t hold hope of banishing this Tulpa, Yoda does make a good point if I’m going to try. So, I should definitely give it a name.

Maybe, Sark?

That is an intriguing idea indeed! Sark, what do you think?

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Slips

I was leisurely tinkering my way through my morning, and my mind kicked out a few ideas. It always does that. Yes, I talk about my mind in the third person, because sometimes I think I have a Tulpa.

The first idea that popped up was about sending a message to someone to wish them a Happy New Year. At the time, I had not yet awakened the sleeping dragon—my computer. (I could say: My personal Eye of Sauron was still closed.) Things change for me once I awaken the dragon each day. But I have this idea to send a message, and it’s important, but I don’t dare awaken the dragon to ask if I can just send this one quick message. I’ll look up again and it’ll be 4 in the afternoon. Instead, I grabbed one of my precious slips and jotted a note.

Holding the slip I realized this was brilliant. I recently bought a brick of 1,000 3×5 cards because the slipbox is voracious. I have plenty of these little slips. So why hadn’t I done this for the past year that I’ve been keeping a slipbox? Why did it happen for the first time today? It happened because I used to see the slips as precious; They were nice, heavy, beautiful 3×5 cards that sit close at hand and are supposedly waiting to become immortal slips in the slipbox. Just the other day, I used the last one of my original stash, and I broke open that new brick… and realized I’d bought cheap-ass crappy Amazon knock-off 3×5 cards. (I had only spent $13 for 1,000 so I wasn’t too upset.) When that idea to send a message popped into my brain, I thought: “well, I have 1,000 crappy slips to use up . . .” and this little queue of individual ideas quickly appeared on my desk.

No, the coffee mug does not currently contain rum.

The lesson I re-learned this morning is that even a slight change of context can have an outsized affect on something. (In this case, my “precious” slips [you’re hearing Gollum aren’t you?] had become “crappy” slips.)

Setting aside what you think of my specific anecdote here, where might you make a small change and discover some surprising benefit?

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How does one take notes…

…when the goal isn’t to end up with a pile of notes?

There are many scenarios where, over time, I do want to end up with a collection of notes. This is straight forward; start taking notes, and keep them somewhere. Bonus points if you review them, or use them as reference, or do anything with them.

But what if I have a scenario where I want to “do a better job” but I don’t care at all about the notes themselves. Suppose you have a regularly scheduled recurring meeting, but you don’t need a historical collection of notes. In fact, suppose you don’t actually need notes, but you think: It would be nice to know what we did last time, so we can follow-up next time.

And so I’m thinking this would be easy. I’ll just have a pile of notes (physical, digital, whatever) and I’ll go through them and … wait, what, actually? Recopy them? gag, that’s tedious. How many do I keep? How long do I keep the old ones? Here’s what I came up with…

I’m working in a single digital document. I have a heading, “Ongoing,” at the top that has the big things we currently have on our radar. The list has some dates with notes; “Oct 2020 — started that big project” and similar things.

Next I have a heading, “Jan 5, 2022” with the date of our next scheduled meeting. When that meeting arrives, I start by doing something very weird: I add “9876543210” on the line below the heading. Then I take simple bullet-point notes under that heading. “We discussed the foo bazzle widget needs defranishizing,” and similar items. Before our meeting ends, I add a heading for the date of the NEXT meeting, ABOVE this meeting’s heading. This pushes the heading and notes down the page a bit.

Then I continue reading. The heading just below this meeting’s, is the date of our last meeting. Just below the heading is “9876543210”, which I put there when we had that meeting. I delete the “9” from the front. I read my notes from the meeting. I may even edit them. Sometimes things that were obvious then, don’t seem so obvious a week later.

Then I continue reading. The next heading is the one from two meetings ago. Just below it is “876543210” — think about that, if it’s not obvious that last week, I read this part and already removed the “9”. So this week, I remove the “8.” Read the notes.

I work my way down each of the historical dates. Snipping a lead number, off the front of the line after each heading. 7. 6. 5. etc.

At the very end of the document, I find a heading that is from 11 meetings ago. Below the heading is “0” — because I’ve looked at these notes 9, 8, 7, 6, etc deleting a digit each time. These notes are now quite old. In fact, they should be irrelevant after 11 meetings. If they are not, I figure out what I have to add to “Ongoing” (the very topmost heading)… or perhaps I put a note under the coming meetings heading (just below “Ongoing”.)

It sounds wonky, but it’s magic. One digital document, you can skim the entire thing right in any of the meetings. You can search in the document. I can be sure I’m not forgetting things, but I can be sure I’m not making a huge collection of crap I’m never going to look at again.

Care to guess where that delete-a-digit each time comes from? It’s an idea from book printing. When they used to set type (physical lead type in trays) they would put “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10” (or other orderings of the numbers) in the cover plate. Then print the book. What printing? This one is “1” Next printing? …they’d just chip off the “1” and print “2 3 4 5…” in the book… second printing. They still print those weird sequences of digits in digitally printed books. I believe this one is a second edition, 3rd printing…

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Click

I’m a child of the vinyl album era. We had a collection—about 5 feet of shelf space—of classic rock, some jazz, the usual suspects collected during the 60s, 70s and into the 80s. There was sublime magic in that vinyl. My dad wasn’t an audiophile per se, but he had a few nice things that comprised the stereo system, and the crown jewel was a Marantz turn-table. We had special soft-cloth cylinders for gently lifting dust off the surfaces. We even had a little space-ray-gun-looking thing that [as far as I recall] neutralized static charge on the vinyl, (which apparently can accumulate when you pull them out of their sleeves.) A classic Pioneer amp… at one point he found someone who rebuilt his speakers for him—repair rather than replace was, at one time, the norm in America. There was a dedicated cabinet for the gear, with a built-in power strip, and lighting…

And the CD was invented while I was a kid. We—society at large—had endless arguments about sound. I even did a high-school presentation about how CDs actually work to encode the sound digitally, and how that encoding uses compression, and how quality is lost… and I bought more and more CDs. I skipped right over collecting cassette tapes; I made countless of my own from albums and CDs, but I don’t believe I ever bought a single one. The Sony Walkman was the driver for my recording cassettes. Then the portable CD players arrived and all hell broke loose. I only purchased a handful of vinyl albums and I never ever set up the Marantz after my dad died. (I passed it to my cousin who did get into collecting vinyl as a kid. I made him promise to spin the helll out of it, and play music loud— damn loud.) And my CD collection grew to thousands. Then I mixed in my dad’s extensive CD collection which had almost zero overlap with mine. My stereo? I keep a scary-old little AirPort Express plugged in, with a cheap-ass set of “computer” speakers, with a woofer, plugged into the AirPort’s 3.5mm headphone jack.

This morning… “I think some Mozart would be nice.” Click, click… and click… and Symphony no. 39, recorded in 1977 by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra streams from the little stereo. Rather loudly I might add.

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Little Box of Quotes

Daily email

If you simply love quotes, you can get a daily, random quote by email from my Little Box of Quotes.

All the quotes

Craig Constantine

You can jump to a random quote. That link targets a new window in case you want to bang on it a few times. ;)

All the quotes are here on my web site, tagged Quotes. If you want to page through them. (But following the tags on a particular quote might be more interesting?)

Finally, there is a small collection of posts about the quotes and how I collect them, tagged Little Box of Quotes.

Podcast

The quotes are also published as bite-sized podcasts. Search for Little Box of Quotes wherever you normally listen. You can also play them in your web browser directly from Simplecast.

drip drip drip

This is post number 3,000 — What a long, strange trip it’s been!

My very first post here, “Hello world,” was written on August 13, 2011. That marked the beginning of this second incarnation of my home on the Web. It’s been a sublime decade of tap-tappity-tapping away. I’ve learned a lot about werd-slingin’, and obviously developed my own way of doing things. Looking back, I believe I’ve settled into a comfortable melange of: posting photography rarely enough that they have real impact when they appear, and often enough that I feel I’m actually doing something with the digital photography I manage to shoot; quotations that inspire, conspire, and aspire to be helpful; random linking to the effectively limitless wonderful things created by humanity; working on my own thinking by exposing my reflection; pointing out interesting connections among people, places, and things.

I’ve collected a surprisingly small number of posts tagged “Meta”, (19 to be exact,) which share more of the what-and-how of this blog.

I spent the last year preparing for this little milestone by currating a collection of posts tagged “Apogee”, which are the best-of-the-best. I was hoping to find 100, and without paying attention as I was finding and tagging, I ended up with 96.

Finally, this blog is a labor of love, and the front of the blog acts as the central-most “start here” for my presence on the Internet. It would mean a lot to me if you shared something with anyone you think would also enjoy it.

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Cognitive biases

If our goal is to help people make better choices, it helps to first create better feelings.

~ Seth Godin from, https://seths.blog/2021/07/narrative-and-feelings/

Godin often makes insightful points like this one. But I often wish he’d use his enormous reach to also talk about the other part—

If our goal is to help people make better choices, it helps even more to show them how they can use their rationality. It’s an inbuilt feature of being human—sometimes I’ve argued it is the defining characteristic of being human. It is, in fact, our planetaryily-unique super power. (We have other super-powers, like compassion, which I think may not be unique to humans.)

Yes, as Godin points out, we should create better feelings for others. But how great would each of our lives be if we weren’t governed by our feelings. The goal isn’t to eliminate feelings nor emotions—that’s a dumb idea. The goal is for all the parts of who we each are, to get the appropriate due.

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Selection

In the most general sense, productivity is about navigating from a large constellation of possible things you could be doing to the actual execution of a much smaller number of things each day.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2021/04/20/the-productivity-funnel/

A decade ago, I was swamped by the sheer number things I could possibly do each day. In one sense, that’s a good problem to have. But good or bad problem, “swamped” and “drowning” are adjacent. I’d committed myself to far too many things. Large swaths of those “possible things” every day came with emotional baggage, and often with the self-imposed weight of “should.” And so I worked on that and eliminated all the negative things.

Unfortunately, selecting what to tackle each day remains just as challenging. I’ve a habit of creating a “page for today” that I scribble on early in the morning. As the day progresses, I cross things off, jot down notes, scribble things which I need to add to my other systems, etc.. Over the years, I’ve used various bits of random paper; for a time, I was using the back-side of all the printer paper from the recycle bin. I’ve used spiral notebooks, tablets, and even a custom spreadsheet, (which I printed on 8.5×11 paper and cut in half to make my own table of half-sheet daily schedule/grid.)

Recently, I realized that the size of the paper I was using was getting progressively smaller. I’m currently using a 3×5-size of Rhodia notebook. (These, if you’re interested. Durable, great paper, and, critically, every page is micro-perforated so I can tear out each day to start fresh the next day.) The sublime recipe of page size, line space, handwriting style and hours in the day goes a long way to keep my selection of what to do tending towards the possible. Whether the sheet for today feels cramped or airy is a good indication of what I’m setting myself up for.

And to be clear, I don’t plan every day into this little book early each morning. On the days when I’ve something big planned—a day trip to the beach, a long weekend away—I throw all structure to the wind. But most days I do.

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The only way out is through

If it’s easy, you’re not growing.

It’s like lifting weights: if you can do it without trying, you’re not going to get any stronger.

The whole point—of life, of working out, of work—is to push yourself, and to grow as a result of pushing against and through that resistance.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/seek-challenge/

Nine years ago I was smack in the middle of my HVAC-installer apprenticeship. I lovingly refer to the roughly two-week period as, “that time I got really into attic-yoga.” The contractor installing our central HVAC had a young fellow working with him, and that guy hurt his knee. I spent days learning how to make and insulate hard duct work, HVAC line sets (the wiring and refrigerant piping), electrical, removed the ancient mouse-pee infused blown-in insulation and eventually put in new fiberglass insulation through the attic. It was hell. Hot. Sweaty. Ichy. Low roof. Things to climb in, over, around, through and under. Mostly while carefully stepping, squatting, leaning, and crawling on the long thing ceiling joists. And it was not something I was planning on doing. One day I was all like, “Benjamin is installing the HVAC!” [that’s a money reference] and the next day I was studying attic-yoga.

I bring this up because it’s too easy to think “I’m doing the hard work!” when you are simply going to the gym (or for the morning run, whatever.) Sure, you’re working hard, you’re sweating, and building muscle; you are literally doing hard work.

But that’s nothing compared to choosing to do the hard work, on the spot. Do I whinge and call AAA (road-side assistance club) or do I climb under the van to figure out how to get the spare tire out at Midnight after a long day? Do I take the time to split the portion of the firewood that would be a pain 8 months from now, or do I just stack it and hate my today-self in the dead of winter? Do I take the time to carefully explain something even though it’s not my responsibility or do I just “walk past” that person who needs a hand? Right now, on the spot, do you choose the hard path?

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