Some people are highly motivated. They will curate their information sources and follow whoever provides the most value. That will likely include some independent writers (maybe “good” ones or maybe “bad” ones).
But most people aren’t all that motivated. They just want to get information quickly and go live their lives. So they get their information in three ways:
Whenever “the Internet” comes up (including discussion of anything that runs via the Internet, without the Internet itself getting a specific mention) I trot out this handy aphorism: The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us that anything related to the Internet was easy to understand. In this article, the anon-/epon-ymous “Dynomight” goes deep into why the mainstream (read: online media platforms that gets all the traffic) winds up being this solidly middling quality of content. To get there, there’s a deep dive involving tourists finding restaurants and a you-must-not-miss mention of Gell-Mann amnesia.
I first discovered sarcasm as a freshman in college, which I realize makes me a bit of a late bloomer as far as teenagers go. There were certain classmates who seemed to always come across as clever and funny no matter the topic. Over time I noticed there was a simple formula to their contributions and it was pretty easy to mimic.
One could say (anyone who knows me surely would) that I can be a tad sarcastic. I used to be sarcastic, not just to a fault, but well into the realm of, s’rsly bro’, stahp. Of course I got various amounts of pushback over many years against my being so sarcastic. I received a ton of positive reinforcement in the form of attention, too. Still, no one ever made the point clearly: The sarcasm I was deploying didn’t add anything.
Reading Bosworth’s short piece made wonder: The point he makes is so clear, and yet I never heard it put as such. So how did I move away from being entirely sarcastic (“snarky” to put a fine point on it)? Well, I didn’t move away from it. Over time, with increasing regularity I moved towards engaging creatively with others; Writing, building things with technology, moving in parkour spaces, etc. The more creative I was, the more fun I had while experiencing the virtuous cycle of positive reinforcement from others. I still delight in sarcasm’s occasional use. But now I find [hope? *grins nervously*] that when I use sarcasm it brings some insight.
Every once in a while, when someone finds out that I’m a writer who dabbles in programming, they’ll ask me: So, is programming hard? And I usually answer the same way. “‘Hard’ is the wrong word,” I’ll say. “It’s not so much that it’s hard. “It’s that it’s frustrating.”
Because Thompson isn’t a professional programmer, there are two more parts to programming which he hasn’t discovered: First, that your mistakes inevitably come back to bite you in the ass. Second, you will forever face the engineering dilemma of having to wrestle with balancing good execution (does the bridge carry the weight over the river, or do people die) with project parameters (the budget is $5, it has to be shiny, and we need it next week.)
The soul–sucking frustration which Thompson rightly identifies is very real. Also real: Shit catching fire (literally and/or figuratively) in the wee hours of the morning requiring one to fix one’s own mistakes made, or shortcuts taken, years earlier. After a decade of that, one grows tired of explaining one’s reasons and process (not that anyone would listen.) And after a few decades of all that, one will understand why I sometimes say, as I approach losing my temper: Please do not meddle in the ways of wizards, for we are quick to anger and you are tasty with ketchup. It’s nothing you did; It’s nothing personal. It’s simply that Programming is terrible and it has broken me.
After all, why do you want to marry someone hot? Evolution made you that way because hotness is a proxy for good genetics. Your genes want you to reproduce with someone hot so that you will produce lots of kids (who will have lots of kids). Your parents care who you marry because evolution tuned them to help you reproduce your genes (which are also their genes).
I truly love when someone does the deep dive trying to figure out “people.” Or dating or marrying or mating… somewhere there’s a popcorn meme. You know, where something is about to happen, and you just know it’s going to be an entertaining train-wreck— wait, why would a train-wreck be entertaining. Let’s go with: …and you just know it’s going to be entertaining to see someone learn just how complicated people are.
Reminder: “Love ya’! You’re one in a million!” …implies there are 8,000 other, equally awesome people that are interchangeable. Although I’d argue you should probably cut that in half based on biological distribution of gender. So, yes, you’re one of 4,000 . . . fine. Fine! I’m heading for the guest room.
That’s not because Rudin did a bad job. It’s because there ain’t no way to re-write mathematical analysis as a “list”. When you do write a list, you are promising that you’ve figured out a way to cover the subject in that way without losing essential detail. Provided that you deliver on that promise, it’s a powerful thing.
This article makes several (while the article is a list, it’s unnumbered and I’m too lazy to count, you should just be happy I sometimes check my speling) magnificent points about what lists have going for them. There’s a lot. The only problem with lists (generally, on the Internet, These Days™) is that spammers and search–engine–optimizing mouth-breathers have published an insane amount of crap, in list format. It turns out that if you publish great content as a list it’s even better than long–form prose. It turns out that it looks like chapters, sections and sub-sections!
I recently learned a lot about proper use of the three different types of dashes: hyphen (-), en-dash (–), and em-dash (—). Their relative lengths are pretty clear when you see a family portrait like that previous sentence. It turns out that: Compound words, like en-dash and mouth-breathers, are assembled using hyphens. Compound adjectives, like search–engine–optimizing, are assembled with en-dashes. You can use em-dashes—that’s a hyphen in there—to insert gently–parenthetical commentary.
A case can be made—here, I’m making a case—that my weekly email is my way of turning my blog into a list which makes it easier to… oh, just go read the article.
Web pages which neglect to include two of the most important pieces of information: Who and When. Yes, all web pages. Thou shalt always list the author. (“Anonymous” is a legitimate answer to, “who?’) Thou shalt always list at least a general composition/publication date. Online, it is already difficult to place things into context. Having a Who and When gives that many more clues to place things into context.
At any golf course there are people known as the greenskeepers. There are different roles, and it’s a massive undertaking. There’s one superintendent who oversees everything, with different people working on specialized tasks. There’s one person—or I suppose a team at a really important course—who is responsible for the pins.
Every obstacle that we normally think of as a problem to be fixed … every “flaw” in ourselves or others that we judge as something to be fixed … what if we can pause, find stillness, and get curious instead of trying to fix?
Any day that Babauta gets me thinking is a good day. (If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.) I’ve gotten pretty durn good at the “pause”, and the “find stillness”, parts. I also believe I have the “wait but why” curiosity bit figured out, since it has always been with me. It’s that “trying to fix” part upon which I’m perpetually stuck. And I get “particularly stuck”— “particularly stuck” aren’t the right words… if I could find the right words or word, I would use it instead. “Ensnared” is close. Or, have you ever gotten caught by a single thorn while out walking or hiking? That one thorn isn’t going to do too much damage if you stop quickly. In an instant, that one thorn becomes the laser focus of all of my attention. I really feel like I should be able to find the right word to fix that sentence.
A speech is like a love affair. Any fool can start it, but to end it requires considerable skill.
~ Lord Mancroft
Conversations are difficult to end well. I’ve spent considerable time thinking about how to end them, and talking to people about how to end them. (I am aware it’s awfully meta to have conversations with people about how to end conversations.) As with anything (making toast for example), it’s good to first figure out common ways to horribly muck it up (try burning the toast), and learning to consistently not muck it up.
Here are three ways to muck up a conversation so as to avoid having a good ending.
First: Drag the conversation on until your conversation partner is exhausted. One might think it could make for a good ending—just the sheer relief of it ending! But alas (poor Yorick), it’s just an ending and not a good one.
Second: Get the last word in. If you’re the host (of the podcast, the dinner party, etc.), insisting on being the last one to touch the conversation baton is guaranteed to make a bad ending.
Third: If it’s going well, always keep going. That way, you only end when it’s not going well. In other words: Actively choose a bad place to end.
Never use a long word where a diminutive one would suffice. When you want to keep a story moving don’t spend a lot of time going on circuitous side trips when you could instead proceed directly to the most interesting, active parts. Like that time I was in the Antarctic with Ernie and we had to abandon the Endurance to the ice, it’s important to use good visuals to make your point in as few word as possible. Also, there are clear rules for writing, such as: One should only write authoritatively about that which one actually knows. Other rules include: Don’t overuse colons; It’s important to know how to use a semi-colon.
Not sure how I got on that train of thought. It simply struck me to try writing a paragraph which was maximally incorrect. I should probably exercise more restraint. But what started this post— What prompted my title selection was:
I’ve decided to stop tracking my waist measurement. It simplifies my crazy list of things I try to do every day, sure. It also eliminates the number of times I go to weigh/measure and have to double-back for reading glasses to see the tailor’s tape. I had started tracking it so that I could calculate my waist to weight ratio. After a few years I’ve learned that the ratio is telling. Not in a depressing way, but it’s a very interesting number—I can tell my level of fitness, how I’ll feel if I try to do something (say, go run, or boulder,) and it’s a great indicator. But having the data didn’t enable to do anything. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ So, lest I go ever onward adding processes and things and systems and numbers— ahem. Dropped it.
One of the challenges for any website that allows for user content — no matter the size of the website — is how to deal with trollish behavior. There are a variety of options available, including just deleting such comments, but one option that got attention in the mid-2000s was the idea of disemvoweling.
But to be clear: No this isn’t something that I’m going to implement in any of the spaces where I wear anything like a moderator hat. It’s like amending graffiti; or trying to do censorship “correctly.” Those both are at best really hard, and at worst actually feeds the troll.
I don’t know why, but I never learned to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I am exactly the right age; the durned things appeared on the scene just before I got to primary school and they were common in my high school. But I never got into it. I had one, of course. I pretty much immediately took it apart (very carefully) to see how it worked… just honestly curious about how it worked, not trying to solve it. When I put it back together, I put it together in the solved state because it seemed obvious that if I put it together randomly it couldn’t be solved by then trying to rotation-solve it as usual.
Aside: Yes, of course I did. Any time I found a cube, I’d surreptitiously mechanically detach and flip a few pieces, and then scramble it. Few people are good enough to quickly figure out what has happened.
…and then I never was interested in solving one after I understood how it worked. Tetris? Okay, yeah, that game ate years of my life—because you can’t solve it, you just do it. Anyway, I’m 50 and I just got a Rubik’s Cube.
And what am I doing? Measuring it: Let’s call it 2.2 inches on an edge. How many of them are there? Wikipedia says 350,000,000. Crap, that’s a lot of plastic. How big a pile is that? How big are 350,000,000 2-inch cubes? …and I was hoping Wolfram Alpha would give me units of Empire-State-Buildings or something. Instead, I learned something about the total number of Angels according to the Bible. (That should get you to click, no?)
What’s that? How many ESBs is it? …oh, sorry, it’s 0.0583 ESB. I know right? We’ve only 6% filled the ESB with Rubik’s Cubes?! We need to ramp up production.
It’s part 3, and it is a nifty collection of serious and whimsical laws. However, I doubt that Stigler is the originator of Stigler’s Law. Sometimes the only reason I write this stuff is to see if I can entice you to go read the thing to which I’ve linked.
But more often I do have a point. I’m wondering, in this case, how much of our urge to create, and our delight in such pithy Laws as Dilbert’s, comes simply from our mind’s desire to find patterns. There are a slew of cognitive biases, (confirmation bias springs to mind as fitting the pattern of my example,) which feel like they arise from pattern matching gone overly Pac Man.
As a follow up to yesterday: I do quite often laugh out loud at XKCD though. This one was was three layers of humirony.
My first instinct was to think: Actually, if we just built a lot more infrastructure to the left of those large supports on the left, we might be able to take a lot of the load off that little project… actually, the horizontal level seems to be lower on the right already, so left-loading might even lift the…
Second: omgbecky I swear I’m constantly ranting and raving about this sort of thing; how there are these terribly detailed and entangled things under the hood that only a handful of people understand and one good meteor could wipe out all our infrastructure…
Third: I was literally just installing ImageMagick a couple hours before I read this cartoon.
I often known when a bad joke or a terrible pun is coming. My confession is that I really enjoy that feeling of knowing there’s going to be a terrible groaner in… 3… 2… 1…
Except that in today’s case, I already wrote it.
”2020 vision.” As in, “20/20 vision.”
You’re welcome! Go start beating all your friends over the head with “insightful” comments about having 2020 vision for the coming year.
In other news: 2019 was the year I started using reading glasses. My past track record of prognostication and beginning-of-the-year vision statements, combined with my vision deteriorating… nope, lost it, I feel like I had something clever to say here. But no, it too is decagon.
The fact that you can’t remember an agreement you made with yourself doesn’t mean that you’re not holding yourself liable for it. Ask any psychologist how much of a sense of past and future that part of your psyche has, the part that was storing the list you dumped: zero. It’s all present tense in there. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you should do something, if you file it only in your short-term memory, that part of you thinks you should be doing it all the time. And that means that as soon as you’ve given yourself two things to do, and filed them only in your head, you’ve created instant and automatic stress and failure, because you can’t do them both at once, and that (apparently significant) part of you psyche will continue to hold you accountable.
In the first half of my life — say to age 40 — I made a HUGE MISTAKE: I presumed that I had a reasonable understanding of how my brain worked. I don’t mean at a physiology level; I still don’t really understand that. I mean at a day-to-day-doing-stuff, when-I-do-this-then-this-happens, this-is-how-one-lives sort of level. Like how I thought I knew how to use my brain to decide what to eat, what to work on, what to read, what to do with my time . . .
Now why on earth did i think I had any idea?
Seriously: You think of “me” as this “self-thing” located behind your eyes, but that “you” is just “running” in/on your brain. So have you ever tried different ways of running your life? How do you know reading some such book will or won’t change your life? Maybe you should experiment with everything. Try something radical: Pay attention to the results. You’re ALREADY following lots of advice — my advice, your mother’s advice, the TV ads’ advice, your doctor’s advice — but have you ever bothered to figure out what the results are? Then make a deliberate change intended to move you toward a specific goal. Observe results. Then make another change. Then another. And another.
I mean, it’s not like your entire life depends on the choices you … oh wait. *lightbulb*