Tag Archives: essays

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Swedish death blogging: on my favorite parts of my blog and more


I have blogged for over 13 years. I have almost 3900 posts, over 964,000s view and over 221,000 visitors. I’ve also made over 200 dollars from ads. 🙂
At one time I had hoped to get over a million views, but at 50 views a day, that is unlikely to happen. When I first started, I wrote blog posts because blogs were new and big in social media. Then I was added as a noteworthy blog on the New York Times Fashion blog list (for bizarre reasons) and I had 10 times the current traffic and I blogged to keep it going. Then that changed and I kept going to practice writing, to share ideas and advice with people, and to journal things that were happening at the time.

But in the back of my mind I had a thought that some day my kids would want to know more about their dad and they might go through my blog the way kids go through our diaries and letters after their parents pass on. To find out what made him tick. What he thought about when he was sitting on the porch those many years.

I realized though that they were never going to go through thousands of posts to find the ones I thought the most of. As a way of ensuring they would at least read some of them, I’ve tagged my favorite ones and put them here: favorites | Smart People I Know

.They are a range in different ways. I can’t say all or even most of them are any good. But of the thousands of posts here, these are among the better ones, I thought. They span the years. Some of them are about me. Others are about things I loved at the time. A few of them are historically interesting.

In a way this is like Swedish Death Cleaning: throwing away most things that you own to simplify things for people who come later.  I don’t plan on going anywhere yet, but I thought I would get started on the process now.

As well, it’s been a way to go through it and say, has any of this been worthwhile? I think I can say, some of it has. If you go through my favorites, you can see so for yourself.

Some ways to tackle inequality if you are an introvert

If you are an introvert and shy away from using your voice or your presence to address inequality, there are still a number of things you can do to improve things. Here’s a starter list for you to consider.

1. Contribute money. Money is power, and giving money to groups that work to combat inequality is a straightforward way to shift power to those having less of it.

2. Vote for candidates working to reduce inequality.

3. Decline positions that reinforce inequality. Do you belong to some organization that fosters inequality? Consider resigning or asking the leaders of the organization to better balance the group so it is more equal.

4. Educate yourself. Find good sources that deal with the inequalities you see and will give you better insight into the problems and how they can be solved.

5. Amplify voices dealing with inequality. If you can, help share the voices of people trying to address inequality so others can hear them.

6. Address your elected officials. Besides voting, you can prod your elected officials to do more to address inequality. Most elected officials are interested to hear what you say and even for an introvert it is not that hard to speak up to them.

7. Educate others. This may be harder for you, but consider ways you can share what you have learned and try and find ways to communicate to others existing inequalities and how they might be addressed.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will start you on your way to help push back against the inequality you see in the world.

On recipes


After the controversy regarding Alison Roman written about here and elsewhere, I started thinking about recipes, where they come from, how I use them, and how I think about them.

A recipe is usually instructions for how to do something. Typically we associated it with food preparation. Recipes list ingredients and steps to prepare the ingredients. They tell you how many people the recipe typically feeds. Sometimes they tell you other things, like nutritional information.

Some recipes are like open source software. You can take a recipe and modify it to make it your own, just like open source software. Other recipes are not open and kept secret, like the formula for certain soft drinks, or the recipe for a certain fried chicken. Some are even patentable (although good luck with that).

Some recipes are associated with regions or cultures. If you think of bouillabaisse,  you think of France. Risotto: Italy. Sushi: Japan. Some recipes and dishes transcend regions and become universal. Dumplings are like that. Noodles too. The same goes for ingredients: you can find basil and oregano in many recipes all over the world, and garlic is about as universal ingredient as any.

Some are associated with certain people, such as Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce. You can claim making tomato sauce with butter and onion and tomatoes is a recipe of yours, but by now it is associated with Marcella Hazan. Likewise with Martha Stewart’s One-Pot Pasta. It’s not like no one has ever made such a dish before, but now we associate them with one particular person.

Alison Roman is a person who has had success with  recipes that became associated with her, namely her chocolate chunk shortbread cookies (” the cookies”) and her chickpea stew (“the Stew”). The Stew in particular got me thinking about recipes and ingredients and how people go about making recipes. For example, if a recipe is based on another recipe, should the author mention that? It likely depends on the publication and other factors. For example, with someone like Deb Perleman, you get a lot of detail about the recipe before she goes into it. Or with Hugh Acheson where he talks about the origin of his catfish stew recipe before proceeding to list the steps and ingredients.

Some people (like me)  prefer recipes with those details; other people just want the recipe. Anyone creating and publishing recipes needs to decide how much detail to include, depending on their audience. In publications like Bon Appetit, there is often space allocated only for the recipe itself. I don’t know what the text was wrapped around this recipe for a  Zingy Red Sauce when it was published, but I assuming it matched the minimum detail found on the web site. Now is this recipe a derivation of a Romesco Sauce (also in Bon Appetit)? Possibly. Likewise this Seafood Stew for Two Recipe  in Bon Appetit.  This stew shares a lot of ingredients with this classic Cioppino Recipe also in  Bon Appetit, but it is also varied enough to consider it to be it’s own recipe.

I think Roman does variations of recipes not infrequently, which aligns with her belief that she won’t ask you to do any more than you have to, while still making it a good dish. So this recipe for Summer Greens with Mustardy Potatoes and Six-Minute Egg Recipe in Bon Appetit is not unlike a stripped down Nicoise salad, but it is not a Nicoise salad despite some commonality. That I think explains the success of her recipes: she takes ingredients and recipes and strips them down somewhat while still making them look good, taste good, and accessible for home cooks to make.

She has not been called out for making recipes with strong European origins. But where she ran into trouble with The Stew is that she seemed to take some ingredients that resembled a curry and had it identified with her. If The Stew associated with her was the seafood stew above or this Fish Stew with Fennel and Baby Potatoes, then she still would have had a problem for the insulting things she said, but it is less likely she would have been criticized with terms like “Columbus Cuisine” and accused of ripping off other cultures and enriching herself at their expense. I don’t believe she does that, but that has been a lively topic of debate with smarter food writers than me.

I don’t think her approach to writing recipes is wrong. I can’t say that recipes  going viral is bad. What I will say is ultimately  it is better if we read from  a diverse range of food writers who can bring not just interesting recipes to publication, but the interesting stories that go with them. I also think it is good when people from different backgrounds can explore the recipes and ingredients of other cultures and make something new with them while acknowledging what the inspiration is. This is much better than remixing an older recipe without attribution. I’d add that acknowledging the origins of an ingredient can’t hurt either. After awhile some of those ingredients may seem universal. Perhaps kimchi will become as common as dill pickles in North American kitchens, and turmeric becomes as frequently used as cumin.

I think publications can do a better job of not just publishing recipes but educating their readers. Likewise, I think sharing, innovating and educating others on food is a great thing, and I hope recipe writers from all background can borrow and improvise and create new dishes. They won’t be quite as eclectic as these recipes that resulted from a collaboration with IBM’s Watson computer and Bon Appetit, but they will inspire us and help us prepare better meals and make our lives better.

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On specific Agile (software development) traps

There’s much positive to be said about the benefits of Agile software development, and the shift of software development teams is one sign that many feel this way.

However, I think there are some limits to Agile, and this leads teams to fall into certain traps over and over. Indeed, the Wikipedia page highlights a common criticism of Agile, namely:

Lack of overall product design
A goal of agile software development is to focus more on producing working software and less on documentation. This is in contrast to waterfall models where the process is often highly controlled and minor changes to the system require significant revision of supporting documentation. However, this does not justify completely doing without any analysis or design at all. Failure to pay attention to design can cause a team to proceed rapidly at first but then to have significant rework required as they attempt to scale up the system. One of the key features of agile software development is that it is iterative. When done correctly design emerges as the system is developed and commonalities and opportunities for re-use are discovered.

Now, it’s not the case that teams either do design or not. But I have seen that there are a number of specific traps bigger that Agile teams fall into that arise from lack of design. These traps arise from making tactical or limited decisions outside of a larger framework or structure, which isn’t surprising since Agile followers are guided by the principles that the “best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams” and “working software is the primary measure of progress”. Unfortunately what I’ve seen that lead to is:

  • Poor middleware/database system decisions: with this trap, you get teams making a decision on deploying a specific middleware package or database system that will support the software development they are doing. However, while that may be great for the Dev, it may not be great for the Ops. If you have enough teams making tactical decisions, you may end up with a more complex system than is necessary and greater technical debt that you want. Once you get enough data into your database systems, trying to reverse the decision may result not result not only in new development and testing, but a small (or not so small) migration project as well.
  • Poor infrastructure decisions: likewise, with this Agile trap I have seen teams using IaaS pick different images to deploy their software onto. Like the database problem, developers may choose one operating system (e.g. Windows) over another (e.g. Debian) because they are comfortable with the former, even if the production environment is more of the latter. The result can be your organization ending up with multiple VMs with many different operating systems to support and thereby increasing the operational costs of the system.
  • Poor application framework decisions: I see less of this one, although it can happen where teams pick an assortment of application frameworks to use in creating their software, and as with middleware and infrastructure, this will drive up the support effort down the road.

Given these traps, I think the way to avoid them is to inject some specific design phases into the overall software development lifecycle. One way to do that is to revisit a software development lifecycle (see diagram below) used by practitioners at IBM and documented in places like this IBM redbook. It has a waterfall quality about it, but it doesn’t have to be limited to waterfall type projects. It can be highly iterative.

The lifecycle process is shown here (taken from the redbook):

 

GSMethod

The part of the lifecycle in the large box is iterative and not all that different from an agile sprint.  But here you take time to explicitly make design / architecture decisions before building  software. You continue to iterate while making important design decisions before building.

Now, before you start your iterative software development lifecycle, you should need to  make specific architectural decisions. You should make these specific decisions in the solution outline and macro design phase. For smaller teams, these two phases may blend into one. But it is here in solution outline and macro design where you make decisions that are fundamental to the overall solution.

For example, in solution outline you could make overall architectural decisions about the application architecture, the choice of infrastructure technology, what application frameworks are the target for the team. These overall architectural decisions guide the dev, test and ops teams in the future. You may also decide to park some of these decisions in order to do further discovery.  Macro design could be next, where each of the dev teams make certain design decisions about their technology choices before they proceed with their iterations. As they are building and deploying code, they can run into issues where they need to make further design decisions, either due to problems that arise or technology choices that have to finally be made: and this is where the micro design phase is useful.  Micro design decisions could be quickly made, or they may require spikes and proof of concepts before proceeding. Or there could be no decisions to be made at all.  The main thing is more design checkpoints are built into the development lifecycle, which can result in less complexity, less maintainability costs, and less technical debt down the road. What you lose in velocity you can make up in overall lower TCO (total cost of ownership).

There is a risks to this type of approach as well. For example, if the project gets hung up with trying to make design decisions instead of gather requirements and making working software. The key stakeholders need to be aware of this and push on the design teams to prevent that from happening. If anything, it can help the key stakeholders better understand the risks before getting too far down the road in terms of developing software. Overall I think the risks are worth it if it helps you avoid these common agile traps.

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Why I post mostly random nonsense on Twitter (as opposed to trying to influence the world with my tweets)

Many years ago I gave up on the notion of having any form of influence using Twitter, either as an individual or as part of a bigger force united by some such thing as a tag. Indeed, I gave up on the idea of using Twitter for anything other than sharing things with the few people who engage with me at all on this site.

I don’t think I can accomplish much of anything positive on this site. Anything I do share has a life span of 18 minutes on average (see below). For the few people who follow me and engage with me, that life span is likely longer. I know there are people who read tweets posted hours or even a day earlier. But those people are exceptions. Exceptions I appreciate!

Occasionally I share something and it gets shared by someone with more followers, but that rarely gets me more followers or other forms of engagement. It’s something odd to note and move on.

I treat this site as a coffee shop I wander into from time to time. I overhear some distorted form of the news, I get some weird opinions. From time to time I hear something brilliant. Often I’ll laugh at something odd or funny. Then I log out. This site is no longer the Cafe Central in Vienna, with Trotsky in the corner plotting revolution. If it ever was.

Besides, I am aware that there are people here who do try to use the site to foment small bursts of unrest and unhappiness. Why encourage that in any way?

If you still believe or witness positive change happening because of your engagement here, then that’s great. I suspect for the vast number of people updating statuses and reading them, that does not occur.

As far as mediums go, I still like it. I have given up on most other social media, save this and Instagram and my blog. I still get some social engagement from this and Instagram, which keeps me coming back. And Instagram and my blog are good ways to leave a record (something twitter is pretty poor at doing).

So if you wonder why I post mostly random nonsense on Twitter (as opposed to trying to influence the world), now you know.

P.S. Regarding the lifespan of a tweet:

Tweets have the shortest lifespan of any social media post, about 18 minutes. And there’s not much you can do about it. Twitter is fast-paced, and messages get buried more quickly. The newest algorithm  means that posts are no longer displayed chronologically, so yours might live a little longer, but your tweet will still get pushed down the page quickly.

via What Is The Lifespan Of Social Media Posts? – Epipheo

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The thing I think about when I think about the Clintons

Is this piece by Josh Marshall: The Joy and the Drama | Talking Points Memo

It perfectly captures the essence of Bill and Hillary Clinton as political figures. And it rightly contrasts them to the essence of Barack Obama.

 

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Strategic Voting in Canada – some thoughts

First off, there are sites like this one that claim to help you if you want to decrease the chances of a more right wing politician winng election in a specific riding: Strategic Voting 2019 Canadian Federal Election | don’t make a statement, make a difference.

You can use the site that way. But I’d argue you can use it another way. If you want to vote non-strategically, you can look at the site to see who is likely to win and then use that to vote for the party you prefer (assuming you are considering more than one). If you are unsure whether or not to vote NDP or Green, you might choose to vote Green and boost their vote count if you are pretty certain the NDP is going to win. Likewise, if you are a right of centre voter and you think there is either a strong chance or no chance the Conservatives will win, then you may feel more strongly to vote for the Conservatives.

Of course you don’t have to do any of those things. You can vote for your preferred party. You can vote for your preferred candidate. You can cast a protest vote for a more extreme party knowing it is unlikely they won’t win but as a way to indicate your displeasure.  Vote how you think best. It is your vote, and you can use your vote to participate in the electoral process the best way you know how.

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Thinking about how topics of interest change


I was thinking about how topics of interest change when I came across this link I had saved since 2016: Should we have intervened in Syria? I don’t know – and neither do most armchair generals.

Back when Obama was president, whether or not the US should intervene in Syria was a hot topic. Articles like this struggled with whether or not something should be done about it. It was hard not to think about, both because it was terrible and because there was alot of media devoted to it.

Then Trump became President. Suddenly everything shifted. Terrible things went on in Syria, but it was no longer a topic of interest in much of North America.  I confess I barely know what is going on there now.

It’s a good reminder to me how much of what I think about is driven by who ever can get information in front of you. And it’s also a reminder of why disinformation campaigns will get stronger and stronger.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know I have to constantly remind myself that just because it appears something is important or unimportant, my ability to assess that is shaped very much by others. There may be topics I spend a lot of time thinking about and researching. But most of the time, and for most people, that is not possible.

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In praise of long recipes


Two pieces recently make the case for long recipes. This one, directly: The Case for Very Long Recipes | TASTE. 

And this one, indirectly:  Jerk Chicken So Good I’ve Been Making It Every Summer for 25 Years – The New York Times

The first one makes the direct case that long detail makes for a better recipe, and I agree with that. If you just need a list of ingredients and short steps, go to allrecipes.com and you can find it. If you want to know why things are done a certain way and why certain ingredients are used and how they should be cooked, then a long recipe is preferable.

The second one, by Gabrielle Hamilton, makes the case indirectly. The recipe comes at the end of a long essay that explains the origin of it. You could just read the recipe, but you’d be missing out on so much if you just did that.

I get why people hate long recipes. Not everyone who writes a long preamble before a recipe can writes as well as Hamilton. But it would be a shame if cooks stopped trying.

One site that does this really well is BudgetBytes.com. She has a button at the top that let’s you jump to the recipe, which is in the middle of the piece. At the top of the piece is her thoughts on the recipe. Then the recipe. Then detailed instructions on how to prepare the dish. Smittenkitchen.com also does long recipes, and they are also really worth reading through.

Image from here.

On having no heat in the middle of winter

In the last five years I’ve lost heat in my house twice in the middle of winter.

The last time it happened was this week. My furnace started intermittently failing. It wasn’t a big deal, despite the cold. I bought a heater and my landlord had the repair people come in a few days and fixed the furnace.

The first time it happened was the ice storm of Christmas 2013. Then it lasted over three days as lack of power prevented my furnace from starting. My house got as low as 42 Degrees, and I could see my breath in the house. And then at 12:30 am on Christmas Day the power was restored and over many hours my furnace warmed up the house.

In both cases I remember the satisfaction of hearing the forced air furnace blowing warm air through the house. It’s such a basic thing, and yet so satisfying.

There are many great pleasures in the world, but few compare with the restoration of heat your home in the middle of bitter winter.

On having fallen from the grace of god

Having walked for seven plus years, having lost so much, so much dead, so much broken, he accepted he had fallen from the grace of god. He walked through the years, and recalled them, picking over broken things, things he had built now gone, things he had saved now lost. He had walked for seven plus years and lost so much from the lack of grace from god. And he despaired, and fed the fires of despair. And when his despair had burned away, he looked around once more and saw what still remained, what was good, what could be built up. And this was the true gift, not this thing or that, not the vain hope of never losing. This vision was the gift. With this vision, he could see that he had regained the grace of god, though it had never left him.

The joy of being out of and in a storm at night

There is a joy of being out of a storm at night. You can listen to the wind blast and watch the trees whip while the rain or snow fills the air. You can experience that from inside a warm room, dry and safe. You can think: thankfully I am not out in weather like that. It is a pleasure to be sheltered in such a night.

There is a joy in being out in a storm at night. Dressed well, you can move through the elements, complimenting yourself for being able to handle such weather. Even in a big city, you will have little if any company. If you do come across another hardy soul, you can nod and smile as if you met another member of your secret society.

There are not many things that can bring joy no matter how you experience it, but a storm at night is one of those rare things.

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A few thoughts on Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo and her method of cleaning up are very hot now, likely due to her TV show. This hotness sparked a number of discussions about her, such as this: “Tokimeku” Means So Much More Than “Spark Joy” in Japanese | Apartment Therapy. It also sparked other, more extreme discussions, such as how it is racist to not account for the deeper Shinto meaning in her works.

I read her book when it first came out and I admired it. I didn’t agree with all of it, but I liked her approach to life and the things we own. I got the Shinto aspect of the book, but I don’t recall that  it was emphasized, so criticizing people of missing that who are unaware of Shintoism is a ridiculous criticism.

There have been shows like Marie Kondo on before. It makes sense. We are driven in North American culture to accumulate, and shows like hers provide us with an antidote to this. When Marie Kondo is forgotten, another home organizer will come along.

I have read more extreme versions of Marie Kondo, like “Goodbye, Things”, which promotes a very minimal life style. I bought it the way I buy other books that have subjects to aspire to but will never achieve. I guess others have too.

There is something to be said for a minimalist lifestyle, a maximalist life style, and something in between. In the end, what counts is that you have positive feelings towards the place you inhabit, however much you have.

One thing Marie Kondo misses is the notion of a room as a workshop. If you have a hobby, be it cooking or woodworking or gardening or reading, you likely have a room where all your tools and supplies are. If you are good at your hobby, you likely have alot of them. That makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to get rid of them just because you want to have less things. Have what you need to do the job when you want to. You could still trim back: do you really need 10 cutting boards or 3 screwdrivers that are exactly the same? But otherwise keep the tools you need or may need.

I think Marie Kondo is great because she encourages us to live better with some simple guidelines. Even if you don’t follow them all, you will live better if you consider her message and try to apply it. In the end you’ll have a better home, and you will have a better idea of what you consider a better home.

Image from the NYTimes article on her, here.

 

Thinking about Woodrow Wilson (and other American leaders)


Before this piece, I had limited knowledge of Woodrow Wilson. Most of that was centered on the work he did at the beginning of the 20th century, and much of that came from Margaret McMillan’s book, “The Peacemakers” (in the UK) / Paris, 1919 (in North America)”. My impression of him was a giant, transforming the old world with his ideas and his actions, and it was a transformation that was much needed. The world transformed after the first World War, leaving behind much that was bad, and a lot of that was Wilson’s doing.

However, Wilson racism was a terrible thing, and there is no overlooking it. There is no way to say Wilson was simply a great man: his racism and the discriminatory actions he took stain him permanently. He is a complex man, though, and there is no one scale to measure him on.

This complexity is  true for all American presidents. There is a part of Americans that want to revere their leaders. They build them monuments, they sanctify them, they constantly assess and reassess them, be they Wilson, or Grant, or even Reagan. No doubt this will happen to Obama, too. This desire to sanctify leads to trouble, just as it is leading to trouble in Wilson’s case.

Ideally Americans would spend less time idealizing their past leaders and building them monuments and centers like the one for Wilson. Anything like that should include all the history of the person and the time they lived in. Show the complexity of the person, their strengths and their weaknesses, and highlight both what they achieved and what they failed to achieve. Give a full accounting of the person.

(Image is a link to a photo by Mark Makela for the New York Times)

An odd thing happened to me on seeing Blade Runner 2049 for the third time

The first time I saw Blade Runner 2049, I found myself continually comparing it to the first Blade Runner. I loved it but I could not think of it without thinking about the first film.

The second time I saw it, I watched it for the details. It is an incredibly detailed film, and I found myself watching it for the all fine workmanship in the film (like the Japanese characters on the buttons of the jukebox that you barely see).

The third time I saw it, I saw the film in itself. That was the odd thing. It took me three tries to see the film as a narrative about these mostly new characters. I saw the film the way I would normally see any film that’s new. The other odd thing was that the film seemed to move faster the third time around than the first time. I thought it was slow the first time around and it was compared to the original film. But without that context and having absorbed all the details, I found the storytelling tight and essential.

I plan to see it many times. I think it is a masterpiece and every viewing yields something I missed in previous viewings. You may not want to watch it several times but I recommend you watch it more than once. You will be rewarded the second (or third) time you see it.

On finding comfort in times of discomfort

There are times of discomfort when you expect that you should experience constant distress and misery. In such times you will find there will arise moments where you can actually find ease and comfort in spite of your situation. In such difficult times you will find places where you gain rest and solace and a break from the things that assail you. They may seem illusory but they are not. They may not last long but they are not false.

In times of discomfort, savour such moments of comfort. Use them to gain perspective. Use them to gain some rest. Use them to relax and to recover.

Such times will not last, but they last long enough. Take time to appreciate what you have in such moments. Such moments will carry you through the darkness.

On statues and awards and the naming of things

The Edmund Pettus Bridge
Statues and awards and the naming of things (schools, hospitals, museums) are about many things, but first they are about power. Those with political or organizational or financial power decide what names go on things, what statues and monuments go where, and who should get awards. Sometimes it is simple, and an award or a thing gets named after someone or something powerful as a direct result of their power. Other times it is subtle, and the award or the statue or the naming of a thing reflects the values of those with power.

When people want to tear down statues or rename things or revoke awards, there is an outcry. That outcry is because of a group fearing their loss of power. You won’t hear people talk of it in those terms: you will hear people talk about values instead. But the change is the result of a shift in power. History isn’t erased because something is renamed or revoked or torn down: anyone who wants to know the history can know it in other ways. And history isn’t changed by putting up more statues or naming things differently.

Of all the ways of understanding history, objects are the worst. They are a crude reminder that a history exists, and they are put in place by powers that be or powers that were. As a place changes, the statues should change, the awards should be redistributed, and the things should be renamed. And this will indeed happen, and it will happen due to the new people in power.

Some thoughts on HBO’s Confederate, some pro but mostly con

There seems to be many opponents and few supporters of the new series planned on HBO, Confederate. It’s easy to see why. This piece by Bree Newsome is a good example of what many think of the upcoming series:

HBO’s Confederate is just a fantasy — unless you’re black – The Washington Post

In some ways, though, I think this piece can be an argument FOR the series, though it argues the opposite. That’s not just me being Devil’s Advocate. My belief is that science fiction has a way of presenting ideas in a way that gets people to think about them and think about them unlike any other form of fiction. From Star Trek to the Handmaid’s Tale, science fiction (especially on TV)  has gotten people to think about ideas that they might normally avoid. Ideas that people might escape from in real life get in front of them when they escape into science fiction. Newsome cites a number of facts about the current suffering black Americans undergo now, facts that many white Americans would just as soon avoid or ignore. The series Confederate could be a forum to bring those ideas and facts to the foreground in a way news editorials or regular TV news cannot. The series could lead to changes in a way other media cannot.

That’s a potential pro for Confederate. I don’t believe it is enough of one. There are many alternative timelines that the producers of the show could have chosen: they seem to have chosen a terrible one. An alternative history that went in a utopian direction would have had issues of its own, but instead they seem to have gone with a dystopian vision. This is certain to cause more pain for black Americans now and likely encourage racists to interpret the series in a way to support their racism.

As artists, the makers of Confederate might argue that a dystopian view is the best way to emphasize the themes and ideas they want the show to carry. However, the makers of Confederate and HBO are in the entertainment business. Alot of money is going into the show, and no doubt they expect to make alot of money from it.  To make all that money by causing pain and encouraging racists is wrong.

This is a key thing: big TV series, like big movies, are not just a forum for ideas. They are big business, and you can’t separate the two. I think artists should have a lot of freedom to present ideas, including ideas that cause suffering and including ideas that are wrong. But artists that make big films and TV shows are artists-capitalists. And that means they need to expect not just people debating their ideas, but people pushing back on their ability to make money from their ideas, including people organizing strikes and boycotts and promoting competition for your show.

HBO and the makers of Confederate have a choice: they can communicate that the show will have good ideas and that the artistry and intelligence of the show will be of a benefit, even if it is dystopian. Or they can just ignore the obvious problems they are causing and proceed. If they chose that route, they should expect to lose both the battle of ideas and the battle of the marketplace. Let’s hope they choose for the best.

 

Some somewhat objective thoughts on the new Trudeaumania

Lots of chatter on this recently, Justin Trudeau: Canadian Prime Minister, Free World’s Best Hope? – Rolling Stone.

It’s good that the world thinks highly of our leaders, whomever they are. Canada is a significant nation in the world with the ability to influence other nations, and having a leader that is looked up to makes a positive difference.

As a Canadian citizen, I’m more interested in the substance than the PR. And I’m more interested in what the government is doing, not just the Prime Minister. I try to look at the government’s policies, competency in executing on those policies (either through legislation or direction to federal agencies), and how the government supports democracy (through actions to make our country more democratic) or hinders it (by making the country less democratic or by being corrupt).

That means I spend less and less time reading pieces like this, which are along the lines of “if you people were as smart as me you’d realize how bad Trudeau is” . Instead, I look to sites like this which track the government’s progress. For example, this site, TrudeauMeter, has ongoing ratings of the government. Other commentators, like John Ibbitson, provide periodic ratings: Video: Opinion: John Ibbitson rates the Trudeau government as Ottawa wraps up for the summer – The Globe and Mail. Finding sources of information you find comprehensive and objective are always your best bet.

If you don’t support the Liberal government’s policies, then I can see why you would not want the government in place.  Likewise there will be times when you do support the government’s policies but you feel the level of corruption or incompetence is so high you want to turn to a different group. If you are going to rate the Prime Minister and his government, those are good criteria to evaluate them on, not PR like the Rolling Stone magazine, or any other specific good or bad focus pieces on them. The government works for you, and if you are a good boss, you evaluate them mainly on the entirety of their efforts, not just things here and there.

Some other thoughts on Trudeau:

From what I can see so far, his government is starting off unsurprisingly: being successful over things the government has control over (like spending) and having less success over things that requires working with other groups. I suspect they will make no progress on electoral reform unless there is a major push from Canadians. Likewise, there are so many issues and problems with regards to Aboriginal peoples that any progress there will be modest, at best. I wish neither of them were true, but I am not optimistic on those fronts.

I suspect that as long as the economy is doing fine, the government does not appear corrupt or incompetent, and people aren’t tired of his government, then Trudeau and his team will be in power for some time to come. The first one, the economy, will be the one that is most likely to hit him. Corruption takes time to seep in (although major scandals can occur at any time and make the government appear corrupt), and government fatigue takes longer still. Whatever you thought of Chretien or Harper, that was true for them and I suspect it will be true for Trudeau as well.

I will continue to ignore articles that underestimate Trudeau (like the one above). He’s flashy and sometimes appears smarmy, but he’s smart, he has a good team, and politics is in his DNA.  If you oppose Trudeau, underestimating him only works to his advantage and not yours. In addition,  he is as much his mom’s son as his Dad’s. The combination makes him much more effective than his Dad could ever be. His Dad may have had a higher IQ than him, but he has a higher EQ than his Dad ever had and that will make him more challenging to defeat than people who approach politics intellectually realize.

Likewise, I will continue to ignore articles that compare Trudeau to Trump. There is little if anything to be gained by them. Trump is an anomaly. Almost any leader looks good in comparison to the 45th President of the United States.

I like Trudeau for alot of reasons.  That said, it doesn’t matter if I like him or not, anymore than it matters that you dislike him or not. What matters is his ability to do the job. He’s not an entertainer: he’s an elected official. When the next election comes, it won’t matter how good or bad Trudeau’s PR is. What matters is that in comparison to other politicians looking to lead the country, is the government he proposes to lead the best one for the job based on the criteria I have.  That’s the only thing that matters.

 

 

 

 

Anil Dash says: ‘There is no “technology industry”’. In reality….

There is a technology industry. Specifically, there is an information technology industry. There are lots of companies, big and small, whose sole aim is providing information technology products and services. Take a look at this list: they are some of the largest companies in the world whose purpose is I.T. They don’t focus on food, or entertainment, or logistics, or advertising: they focus on information technology.

The point he seems to be raising in his piece: There is no “technology industry” — Humane Tech — Medium is that there are companies leveraging I.T. that are considered tech companies, but aren’t. That’s a valid point. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a technology industry. Should we treat these companies differently that I.T. companies? Possibly. Companies like Theranos, for example, partially ran into trouble because they were treated the way a I.T. startup should be treated, when in my opinion they should have been treated more like a pharmaceutical or medical equipment company is treated. It’s important to look at what the companies do and not just how they model their business.

Towards the end of the piece, he says, “All it takes is a little discipline in how we communicate”. I agree.

A short defense of Drake’s dancing in Hotline Bling

It’s well known that Drake has suffered alot of mockery for his dancing in the video for Hotline Bling. This is too bad, because for whatever criticism you can raise for Drake’s dancing, he is no worse than most major pop stars when it comes to dancing. So what’s the problem?

The problem, I see it, is in the directing. Here is the Hotline Bling video. Count the length of the average shot. When I did it, it was in the 5 to 10 second range.

Compare that to Ariana Grande’s Focus video.

Count the length of each shot. The longest is usually no more than 3 seconds: the rest are 1 to 2 seconds. Is she a good dancer? It’s hard to tell. If you go to around the 3 minute mark, you seen alot of dancing, but the shots are still short and the camera is constantly moving. Any short coming in the dancing can be made up for in the editing room. And I’d argue that the Focus video is typical of most videos: very short cuts with lots of camera movement.

Now, it’s possible the director wanted the longer shots due to the changing nature of the lighting. But there is a similar use of dramatic lighting in Justin Timberlake’s Let Me Talk To You/My Love and he comes across well with no loss to the lighting effect

And like Ariana Grande’s video, this video has the performer do well defined step in a 1-4 second shot and then cuts away. This is typical of many music videos. (Yes, JT does have an extended dance routine at the end of My Love, but most of the video is all quick cuts….also, he has been dancing since his early days as a Mouseketeer :))

Drake would have been better off with shorter cuts and simpler dance moves, the kind of thing you find in most other videos.

On the beautiful weight that holds you under

Before you take hold of the beautiful weight, you read the stories written and listen to the tales told of holding on to it. But life is short, and when you are offered it, you are  more afraid of refusing it than you are of accepting it. You fear you will never get the chance again in your life, long or short, of having the beautiful weight. You see so many others, weightless and unbearably light and that seems worse than the load.

You step forward and shift the heavy beauty onto your back, and as you stumble forward, you experience the pride and panic of such a possession. The days and months and years will pass, and through each of them you will rise up and shoulder the weight throughout each hour, retiring it briefly each night.  If you are lucky, you will have a string of Hercules who will shift it onto their shoulders, however briefly, giving you a moment’s rest. Many unfortunately know no such solace, and the sublime burden falls solely on their backs.

The truly unfortunate are unable to walk steadily forward and eventually lose their footing, stumbling off the path, into the waters. Unable to let go, they go deeper and deeper down into the water, struggling to keep their head above the surface as the weight submerges them. 

Only those unworthy of the beautiful weight are able to slip out from under it. The rest get stronger from their struggle, or drown.

They say out loud that the beautiful weight makes life worth living. Afterwards they whisper something else. 

There is an art to carrying the beautiful weight, and though it is the most important of the arts, it is rarely taught. They will learn as they go, they mutter, and either sink or make do. And many make do, while some struggle terribly and then float quietly beneath the surface. 

This is my 3000th post on this blog. Some thoughts.

Hard to believe, but this is my 3000th post on this blog, smartPeopleIKnow. I’ve been writing to this blog since April 2007 – over 8 years! – and have over 860,000 views.  It’s along way from the 10-12 views a day I used to get.

I never thought I would have so many people read my thoughts. Before blogging, the only way to get people to read your writing broadly was to publish a book, or appear in a magazine or newspaper.

While I write on pretty much any topic, the three top posts have had to do with fashion: Why I buy suits from Zara, How to wear brown and blue together, and
How to Set the time on a Phillipe Starck Watch. I can’t say for sure whay that is. I know that posts on how to do things get more views. Makes sense: people are always searching for how to do things.

It’s been alot of fun. And I still hope to achieve my goal of reaching a million views. Maybe in a year or so.

 

 

My list of 59 thoughts on privilege

I read alot about privilege. Reading about it, I end up considering the privileges I have that arise from being an educated, white, middle-class man in an affluent part of the world with a high standard of living. The flip side to that is that I also consider the priviliges I did not have when I grew up, as well as the privileges I had and no longer have.  I tried to use that to write up a specific view point on privileges, but ended up with this list of thoughts on the topic instead. I have not come to any specific conclusion on the topic. If anything, the list points to the conclusion that I need to think further on the subject. That said, I think sharing the list is worthwhile.

Some people are interesting in certain aspects of privilege: white privilege, or male privilege, or the privileges of the 1%. I am interested in privilege in general, how it comes about, what effects it has, when is it good, when is it bad, and how to manage it in a way that leads to positive social action. That interest lead to this list.

With that all said, rather than sit on it any further, here’s my  list:

1. Privilege assumes a number of things.
2. It assumes that there are at least two distinct groups: the haves and the have nots.
3. It assumes that there is a social good that one group has a surfeit in and one group has a deficit in.
4. It assumes that the social good is recognized as such by both groups.
5. Privilege is about access and the ability to acquire or maintain that social good.
6. There many small social privileges that aren’t noteworthy (e.g. the privilege of belonging to a certain club).
7. Likewise, not all privileges are universally or generally desirable.
8. Some privileges are held by a small number of haves. Other privileges are held by a large number of haves.
9. Some privilege we earn. Some we get randomly. And some we get from belonging to a certain group by default.
10. Rights differ from privileges, for in theory rights are not a social good that one group should have more than another. (In practice, this may be incorrect, but in theory it is)
11. Some privileges are fairer than others.
12. Fairer privileges usually involve things in abundance.
13. Fairer privileges are either random or universally acquirable for most in a society.
14. Unfair privileges are never random: there is a recognizable pattern whereby one group is perceived to have more access than the other.
15. Fair privileges are assumed to be accessible by method agreeable to most of society. For example, to go to university can be considered a privilege, but it can be earned in a way agreeable and accessible to most.
16. Privileges that are most unfair usually involve scarce social goods or rules that are slanted to favor a particular group.
17. Economic wealth is rare privilege. Having a home is a common privilege. Even common privileges are still privileges.
18. Higher education used to be a rare privilege. Now it is a much more common privilege.
19. The right to vote used to be a rare privilege. Now it is a right.
20. Health is not a privilege, until heath care is involved. Then it becomes partially a privilege.
21. Many would like to have the privilege of being wealthy.
22. Many would like the privilege of working for specific companies, belonging to certain occupations. being members of certain organizations.
23. Everyone has privileges.
24. It is worthwhile to consider your own privileges.
25. If you are reading this, you have quite a number of privileges, starting with the technology you are using to access this post.
26. Technology is a tool, and the ability to access tools is a social good.
27. Challenges occur when there are statistical variables associated with privileges. A white man may have a 10% chance of acquiring a particular social good, compared to a 1% chance for everyone who is neither white nor male. From the point of view of the white man, a 1 in 10 chance may not seem much of a privilege. For everyone else, his chance of acquiring the social good is ten times great than theirs and this increased likelihood is a significant privilege.
28. Being aware of your privileges can help you appreciate what you have.
29. Being aware of your privileges can help you understand the grievances of others
30. Thinking you do not have privileges means you have not thought about it enough.
31. Renouncing your privilege doesn’t necessarily result in greater fairness, especially when there are large number of people involved.
32. For some social goods, especially when there are large number of people involved, it is easier to redistribute privileges so as to be fairer.
33. For other social goods, especially when there is only a few people involved, it is less likely to redistribute privileges so as to be fairer.
34. Even social goods that seem meritocratic are to a degree unfair.
35. Social goods that are meritocratic trend towards being less unfair than others, but still have a degree of unfairness to them.
36. Not everyone can have access to every social good.
37. Meritocratic systems are based on rules, and those rules exclude people from certain social goods from the beginning.
38. Social structures reinforce privileges. Friendships and families can reduce the chances of some having access to social goods.
39. Geography reinforces privileges. Being born into neighborhoods and communities with poor or no facilities can reduce access to social goods.
40. Some privileges are more unfair than others. Privileges based on religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, age, body shape are just some of those.
41. Certain privileges we accept. Physical, emotional, and intellectual ability generally are accepted as fair, even though these are not common when the ability is very high or very low.
42. Certain privileges we used to accept we no longer do. It is less acceptable to build publicly accessible environments that cannot be accessed by people who need wheelchairs.
43. As peoples lower needs (as laid out by Maslow) are met, privileges arise in the higher needs.
44. Everyone has access to certain privileges and are barred from having other privileges.
45. Individuals and societies give some privileges higher values than others. This weighting of privileges shifts all the time.
46. Some privileges become undesirable over time. Other privileges become common. Having electric lighting was once a privilege. Now it is so common as to be no longer seen that way.
47. Some technologists believe it is possible to make all social goods abundant so as reduce priviliege.
48. Some privileges may remain privileges because the social benefits outweighs the social cost.
49. Other privileges need to be tackled and dismantled if a society is to consider itself fair and just.
50. One way to dismantle a privilege is to make access more common.
51. Making it more common is possible if a social good is not scarce.
52. If a social good is scarce, then one way to tackle the privilege is to make access to it random.
53. Another way to deal with a scarce social good is to make the criteria for accessing it fairer.
54. The challenge of fairness is judgment.
55. The other challenge of dismantling privilege is the desire of privileged groups to maintain their privilege.
56. The challenge of dealing with privilege is agreeing if fairness consists of access to opportunity or access to outcomes.
57. In achieving certain privileges, I may trade off other privileges.
58. When individuals within a group are encouraged or forced to trade off certain privileges, they may not be able to reacquire them, as others may not want to release their access.
59. Ideally a society can produce such a wealth of social goods that any tradeoffs individuals or groups make, they still feel overall good with their choices and that the society they live in is a good one.

When someone you love is dying of cancer, knowing what you might expect

It is hard to know what to expect when someone you love is dying of cancer. I know that was my experience when my mom died of cancer a few years ago. There is no What to Expect when you are Expecting books to give you an education or a perspective. Yet just like we need information for when loved ones are at the start of their lives, we need information for when loved ones are at the end of their lives, too.

Here are three essays that I believe can help you with this.

When someone you love is dying of cancer, your life becomes much more difficult. Knowledge can help with that difficulty.

On rejecting most criticism and giving license to the best criticism

We come into a lot of criticism in the course of our lives.  Just on social media alone there is a lot. Some of it is directed at you, while other criticism comes at you indirectly. Some of it comes from people you like, while other critiques will come from people you barely know. You can be criticized for the things you say, the things you do, even for who you are: a man, a woman, a person of a certain race or financial class or nationality. Pick a trait you have and nowadays you can find someone saying something critical about it.

Given that you do have to deal with a lot of criticism, you can do take a number of actions. It’s not advisable, but you can run away from it. (For example, giving up on certain forms of social media, like twitter.) You can get into arguments with people. This seems like a good idea, but I often find it frustrating, endless, alienating, and the opposite of how you may want to be. You can learn to ignore it, though learning to ignore it is not always easy. Sometimes the criticism is invalid or worse, then it’s easy to ignore. But some of the criticism is valid and when that happens, it can get under your skin. It’s great if you are thick skinned, but if you are not, you need to do something else. You need to learn to manage criticism.

One approach to managing criticism is to use understand the idea of a license to criticize. This borrows from the famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote: no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. The idea of a license to criticize is that you should only accept criticism from a small group of people, regardless of how many valid and invalid criticisms you come across. A license is different from a right. As an adult, no one has a right to criticize you: you give them that ability. Even when you do give them the ability to criticize you, it is a privilege or license.  It is a license you are free to provide or revoke. They do not own it, and you get to say when they can or can’t use it. You should treat that license as valuable, and you should only give it to people whose criticism is going to result in you and your life being better as a result of their criticism.

In your life you will want to accept criticism. Accepting criticism from people you respect and who have an interest in seeing you succeed makes sense. You become a better person and enjoy a better life from such criticism. Accepting criticism from people you don’t respect and who have no interest in seeing you succeed makes no sense. That type of criticism just makes you miserable and ruins your life.

The next time you are offered criticism, ask yourself:

  • Do you respect this person?
  • Do you respect their criticism?
  • Is the purpose of their criticism to help you succeed?

If you answer Yes to those questions, then you will likely want to accept and act on that criticism. Otherwise it is in your best interest to ignore it and look for someone who can make you answer Yes to those questions.

Finally, the number of people you should give license to criticize you should be a very small number of people. It should not be something given out to just anyone you know, never mind just anyone on the Internet.

The myth of waste: some rainy Sunday thoughts on awareness redemption imagination + love

wet leaf

Walking out today, I looked down and saw this leaf covered in raindrops. I thought how beautiful it was and how I should take a photo of it. Sadly, this photo doesn’t do it justice.

The way we treat many things in the world, including people, doesn’t do
them justice, either. It often has nothing to do with meanspiritedness. More often it is the case that we are not aware of them, or not aware of the goodness that they possess. Their goodness is wasted in that sense.

Or we lack imagination to see the goodness that is there or how we can appreciate it. In the physical world, I think the notion of waste indicates
a lack of imagination as to how we think of something. We throw it away and
become unaware of it any more, instead of reusing it or recycling it and
making it new and better.

If waste is a lack of awareness and imagination with regard to appreciating
the value in something or someone, love is the opposite. To love something
is to be aware of and see the value in it and to see good qualities
invisible to others. What may be to others a broken old toy destined for
the trash may be to a child the most valuable thing in the world. In
Citizen Kane, the most valuable object ever possessed by the wealthy Kane
was an old sleigh, long gone.

If you are a Christian, you believe in a god who loves everyone and who
believes in your redemption, regardless of your faults and flaws. And as a
Christian, you should aspire to that ideal yourself, regardless of your own
limitations. You should see the value in everyone, including the least of
your brothers. And you should acknowledge your faults and strive to
overcome them.

While you may not be a Christian, the ideal of seeing the value in everyone
is a worthwhile ideal to strive for. Not everyone has the same value, but
no one is without value. No one is a waste.

Likewise with things. There is nothing wasted, though we think it so. Even
the dead are transformed as they decay into something other than they once
were. The leaves become compost, the windfall of orchards become cider, and
the dead animals that fall through force or through nature feed others.
If you donate your organs, others may see things they love with your eyes, and feel your old heart in their chest quicken at the sight of them. Though much is lost, all can be transformed, everyone can be redeemed, and nothing need be wasted.

As always, thanks for reading this.
—————–
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld to my old posterous blog November 14 2010, 12:09 PM  

We long to be where we are not…

When we are sad, certainly. We long to be in a place where we were happy,
or where we will be happy. It may no longer exist, or it may not yet exist,
but we know that if we were there, a waiter would come by, and hand us a
drink and seat us and we would think: we have arrived at this place where
we were/will be happy.

When we are adventuresome, there is no doubt. When i was younger i listened
to old radios. Cities were painted on the front, and a slight shift of a
dial would take you from London to Dusseldorf to New York. I could travel
from one city to another with a turn of a wheel, and i could imagine being
in front of a radio in a parlour of a house in some great city. Such radios
are antiques now. Instead we travel the world with laptops and browsers and
high speed Internet connections. We scan photos on iphones taken in the
Mumbai dawns or the Palo Alto dusks. We can go anywhere, in a limited way.
We yearn to travel with the ease of the electrons that leave our computers.

Or we may look to the sky and watch planes go by and imagine us in them. Or
we may stand before rivers, stand at edge of oceans and seas, and see
ourselves setting out on boats that take us down stream. Always we are
departing, travelling.

From time to time we will arrive where we are happy, are content. We will
wish to stay there forever or else a very long time. We tie up our boats,
shelve our passports, leave our radios tuned to one station.

when that happens, the song of the Sirens will sing out to us and promise
us lands of even greater happiness. And friends will haul steamer trunks
past our path and speak of great travels they are embarking on. We will
recall that one trip we never found the time to take. That one friend, far
away, we must visit once more. That last pilgrimage.

When that happens, we will once again long to be where we are not. For only
the dead are settled.
—————–
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld at September 15 2012, 10:50 PM  to my old posterous blog.

On the doors we pass through

When you are younger, there are so many doors you can pass through. They
spread out in front of you. You run in and out of doors. You play with
them. Some doors lead to other doors. Some doors are easy to pass through,
while others need preparation. Yet all doors seem available to you.

Until they are not. Some doors close behind you, and you can no longer go
back. Others will not budge. Men stand guard over certain doors: those you
will never pass through.

You get up every day and pass through doors. Some you pass through often.
Others only once. You can never be certain when a door is one that you will
no longer not pass through. They seem to be ones you can open. Until they
cannot.

Then you get older and you realize that you will have less and less doors
to open. the doors become more precious to open, to close, to handle, to
wonder what changes as you go in or go out.

Doors transform us, identify us, protect us, shut us out. We can stare out
a window and be untouched, but to pass through a door is to make a change.
Even the doors we pass through all the time, for there can be a time when
we say: that’s’enough, i won’t go through there again.

To pass through a door is to say: i am going to do something. I am going to
be different. That is why we like doors when we are younger: doors are
Change. When we get older, we cherish doors because we think: things can
still be different. Or we cherish them because we say: no, things will
never be different despite other changes.

Thanks for reading this. To read it, you clicked on a link that took you to
this page. That link was a door, in a way, too.
—————–
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld at August 22 2012, 10:35 PM to my old posterous blog.

On the love we waste

We waste our love. We love the wrong people at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. We love people who no longer love us. We love people who never loved us. Crazy people. Calculating people. Frauds. We love them all, and more. We love people for what we thought they were, not what there are. We love shadows. And we love ghosts. Such good love, like gold, tossed into the sea, lost.

But love is not gold. Love is abundant. Like breathes and tears, sweat and blood, we are filled with a wealth of love. We may parcel
it out in a miserly fashion, but love is no more rare than heartbeats.

It is right that love is tied to the heart. If you use your heart, it gets stronger and beats harder and longer. Nothing the heart does is wasted. Even the most useless of exercise benefits the heart, and that strength makes your life better. So too with love. Every time you love someone, something, your heart gets stronger. Life gets better.

Love is never wasted.

Thanks for reading this.
—————–
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld. Originally posted on Posterous at September 29 2012, 3:56 PM

On avoiding the trap of political outrage

If you are associated with people who are political activists, you will likely be presented with events from time to time and you will be asked  “why aren’t you outraged by this?” It can put you on the defensive. It can make you feel uncaring, selfish, or apathetic. You have to agree that a massacre or child abuse or great poverty is outrageous, and you feel at that moment that a) something should be done and b) you are somehow deficient for not doing something about it.

This is a trap. First off: is there something you can immediately do to stop this? If you can, then do it. Chances are you cannot. So outrage aside, you need to make a plan either to take action in the longer term, or not take action at all. But why would you not take action at all? Simply because there are more terrible things in the world happening than you can possibly tackle. Even if you were to devote your life to them, there would be many many more things you cannot do than you can. You need to have a plan to do what you can.

Feelings like guilt or or pity or outrage may spark you do something. But if things stop there, such feelings are self-indulgent. Instead, pick something that you are motivated to improve and work on.Can you do more? Do more.

Just avoid the trap.

(Originally posted at Posterous on April 24 2011)

 

The man who couldn’t think

The man came up to my son and I outside the theatre tonight and asked me about the hockey gear I was holding. I explained it was a gift to my son who would be playing hockey in May. No, the man said, hockey was ending. I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t. He listened very hard, and I could see from his eyes that he was trying to piece this together, but in the end he came back to telling me that hockey was done. He could not think through the additional information and work it into his understanding of the world.

When I was younger, I would have said that the man talking about hockey was deficient somehow. That he wasn’t normal. I believe now that this ‘normal/ not normal’ thinking is deficient and when I think that way, I am not thinking myself.

We are all struggling to understand the world we are in with the facts we have and the abilities we have. We all have varying capabilities to understand, and each of us has our own weak spots. I know I have sometimes been the man who couldn’t think. I have been the man who, when told sometime obvious, could not process it like others could.

We all think what we can, with the brains we have, the memories we retain, the facts we are given. There comes a time when each of us runs up against some limit of our brains, either temporally or permanently. There comes a time when we too become the person who cannot think.

Thanks for reading this

What computers are doing while you are sleeping

You may think that computers are doing little if anything while you are sleeping. While you are dreaming, you might think, if you think of it at all, computers are sitting mostly idle, running the odd screensaver program, waiting for you to return, your faithful servant.
Of course, some computers, like web servers, could be serving different people. Computers could be handling the requests from people around the world who are awake and working and reading and surfing the web. Some computers handle requests 24 hours a day, rarely having any time to themselves, to reboot, to load new software.They process requests until they are shutdown intentionally or fail dramatically.

But just like your body is resting and your brain is dreaming/sorting things out in the wee small hours of the morning, so too do some computers take the night time to get themselves together. While you are sleeping, they are running backups, processing files they don’t get to process in the daytime, defragmenting their disks, cleaning out their caches and buffers. Many computers have utility roles, doing a myriad of tasks you can only imagine. Plus for every set of computers handling your requests, there are entirely different sets of machines that check and make sure that the machines you use are working properly.
If the earth can be said to be automatic, so too can it be said of the many thousands of computers that are running while you are sleeping, running to keep the world running in the 21st century.

And I have thought of all this while I test run batch programs on a set of test computers during the graveyard shift, in order to insure that the real computers that we run can handle the volume of requests that the real (not test) computers will eventually have to handle. For in my case, what computers are doing while you are sleeping are helping me do my job successfully which will help you in ways you don’t even know (not only, but partially, because you are sleeping)

(Originally posted on posterous, July 21 2010).

Memory, space and time and the redrawing of a line

thebloor

Tonight I went back and retraced activities in places from long ago. I went
to the Annex in Toronto and walked around Harbord Street and Bloor Street,
had a massive wiener schnitzel meal at Country Style and then went to see
Jonathan Demme and Talking Heads great concert film, Stop Making Sense.
These are things I used to do often many many years ago, for the theatre
that showed the film, the Bloor Cinema, used to play the film at least once
a month in the mid 80s, it seemed. I lived near it then, and whenever I had
nothing to do, I might grab some Hungarian food – for Bloor Street had a
lot of Hungarian places then – and enjoy that film.

If you are wise, you will have places that are memory touchstones for you,
places that you can revisit, that will be like a cache of good memories.
Like any good cache, you can draw upon them as needed by going there
whenever you needed to be refreshed and rejuvenated. I recommend you
cultivate such places, places that you may not visit often but that are
accessible whenever you are in need. A wise person also has such stores to
get them through the leaner parts of life. Or perhaps you can look at them
more optimistically and treat them like a rare wine cellar which you dip
into every so often for that great bottle to enjoy and to remember.

Last week I watched a video of a line being retraced. As it was retraced
over and over, each new line varied more and more from the original until
the later lines were quiet different than the original. Still, there was
that resemblance, that connection through time. So to tonight, when I was
revisiting my old neighborhood, I could still feel some of the same things
I felt many years ago, even though much has changed and I am no longer the
same in many ways. For though much has changed, many more things in the
places and the food and the theatre and the film, even myself…many things
have remained the same. The line redrawn tonight had enough points in
common with the lines I would often draw many years ago.

Memory is often thought of as a picture, or a storage cabinet, but memory
may be like a flower. A flower, a rose perhaps, red, white, perhaps even
tea stained, that opens up in the early morning just as you are walking by,
walking in that distracted way we all walk when we are in a hurry to
complete the ordinary, when out of the edge of our vision we see its
vividness and are drawn to come closer and soak up the smell of it and
perhaps even mistakenly catch ourselves on its thorns. Memories may not be
passive things like files or photos. Memories may engage us and transfix
and transform us, much like the rose that waves at us as we stroll by on
what would otherwise by an ordinary day in our life.

We should cultivate the moments in our lives like the gardener cultivates
her rose garden, for those moments will be our memories, our roses.
—————–
Posted on my Posterous blog at February 23 2011 via my BlackBerry Handheld.

The beauty of night rain (insomnia tales)

Since I was a small child, I loved the night rain. I was likely 3 and I
remember listening to car tires hissing on rainy roads, and I would wait
for the sound of my parents car to return from their night out.

In Dustin Hoffman’s “Tootsie”, Bill Murray has a great scene describing how
he’d love to have a movie theatre that shows films on rainy nights. I
thought then and I still think how perfect that would be. To be wandering
aimlessly in the night rain and to come across a theatre showing a great
film for a rare showing. The solace and shelter and beauty of the cinema on
a rainy night would be wonderful.

When I was in college, there we no such theatres. But it rained often in
Halifax, and I would wander through the rainfall and window shop tucked
away magazine stores and diners with warm and dry and well fed patrons,
none of which I was. There was no solace then, save that of the enjoyment
of the beauty of the night rain. But later on there would be money and
women to press against while huddled under umbrellas, and the night rain
would lend itself to the promise of love and happiness.

Much weather of all sorts can bring back memories, but rainy night, mild
nights, bring back the most for me.

Thanks for reading my insomnia tales as I try to fall asleep

(originally posted on Posterous, June 23 2011. Written on my Blackberry)

The myth of adult independence

When you are a child, you believe that adults are independent. That they can handle themselves. That they can deal with things. Manage things.

As you get to be an adult, you see this is mostly true. Mostly. Then there are those moments when you see adults in anguish. Adults struggling against forces they can’t handle. Can’t manage. Internal forces and external ones. Smart adults will seek out others to aide them. People they can depend on, no matter how much they prefer to be independent. Other adults, the not so smart ones, suffer in isolation and separation from others who might help them.

The other myth of adult independence is when as an adult you think you can provide all your own needs. That you don’t need much of anything from anyone. That you are self-sufficient. That what you have is enough, because to ask for more means depending on others.

The reality is that we are dependent on others, and there are things we can’t deal with on our own. If anything, being able to depend on many people makes us more independent, not less. For it is a myth that we are independent, when all through our day we depend on a countless number of people to provide us food and shelter and work and protection and human companionship.

The more we see the dependencies we have on each other, the better we can mutually change it for the better. By doing so, we increase our independence, not decrease it.

Just trying to work out sone ideas in my mind. Thanks for reading this.

Some thoughts on dealing with small difficulties

The problem with small difficulties is that if you get too close to them, they seem large. Like mosquitoes, even though they are small, with enough of them pestering you, you can find yourself entirely taken up with dealing with them.

With mosquitoes, you might endure them, and this is one way to deal with them if you have to. You can also endure your small problems and fight through them as if they were a swarm of mosquitoes. Or you might step back inside to a sheltered place. Stepping back is also a good way to deal with small problems. Step back and gain some perspective and see the small problems for what they are: small and insignificant in the bigger frame you view them from. You will still deal with them, but regaining that perspective reduces the irritation that they bring on, and helps you deal with them with great patience and equanimity.

(Via my iphone)

My 10 seconds of happiness exercise

I often struggle with how to get through the long, cold winter. If you do too, or are dealing with other difficulties that can make you sad and miserable, try this exercise that I find helps.

For a period of no more than 10 seconds, do something that makes you happy. It can be looking at something beautiful, enjoying a piece of music or a piece of food, or saying something good to someone you love. Choose the best thing you can think of. In that 10 seconds, don’t think of anything else, just that. Think about it before you do it, think about it while you are doing it, then think about it after you have done it. That’s it. That’s the exercise.

Now, maybe you think 10 seconds is too short and a minute or more is something you can focus on. Great! Do that then. Or you so enjoyed that 10 seconds of admiring the snow, or sipping you tea or juice, that you are going to move on and try the exercise with something else. Also great. Whatever you do, try the exercise and then try to do it repeatedly through the day, week.

Happiness is hard to define, and still harder to quantify. But I think that each of us, in our own way, can build up the part of ourselves capable of being happy and work it and make it stronger. The heart literally gets stronger through exercise. The heart figuratively can stronger through exercise, too. At least I think so. Try this exercise and tell me what you think.

Everything is amazing (late night thoughts)

It is an odd thing to conclude that everything is amazing, given that I am slogging through a quiet night with a miserable cold. But I looked at the gel cap medicine I was about to take, and I thought of the machines that can make such a precise thing as a gel cap. I thought of all the people involved in getting it to me, from the chemists that develop it to the cashier who sold it to me. The cashier handed me a debit device and I tap it with my thin plastic card and a transaction over many networks and devices all conspire to give my money to the cashier. We don’t think anything of it, but our entire landscape of high rises and subways and concrete and sewers, all of it, is sophisticated and unacknowledged as we make our way through the day. Or in my case this evening, as I make my way through the refrigerator, filled with containers from foods all over the world. We take it for granted that it will be tasty and consistent and safe to eat, no matter where it comes from, and that the fridge will keep it at the right temperature. Our houses are filled with such thing, and yet much of the time, they are anything but treasured.

I turned on a light and instantly I drew power from all over the province, into my house. People work through out the day to provide it to me and all I need to do is turn the smallest of switches to get it. I turned on my iPad, which is more powerful than computers that used to be the size of my fridge, and I checked my blog. Someone from Jordan visited it this evening. I can write something like this and people all over the world can read it. Once literacy itself was a rarity. Now we are striving to have everyone not only literate, but have access to sophisticated tech that a few years ago, only a handful of people had.

It’s not just that things are amazing, but people too are amazing. You are reading this using a range of technologies, from computers to wireless networks to the Internet to your browser. In the 1990s no one had this. In a short time we all have this. We have adapted these complex technologies into our lives with relative ease because of our intellect and our desire and our capacity to learn and improve and better ourselves.

When you finish reading this, at some point you can surf the Web and find videos from the International Space Station on YouTube or find still photography taken on Instagram taken by the Mars Curiosity lander sent to that planet from NASA. And after you see those photos or those videos, you can post your own. We don’t think anything of it, despite it all being fairly recent.

Later you can turn off the computers and the lights and just look at the stars and realize we live on this planet that is it’s own space station, and that you are a part of that.

Life can be mundane and difficult and frustrating, and yet if you are fortunate, you can catch it in your mind’s eye from just the right perspective, and when you do, you’ll see that everything is amazing.

Thanks for reading this.

Winter is for optimistic thinking

If I told you it was freezing outside, you would dress appropriately. You wouldn’t wear shorts and t shirt. Likewise, when winter comes, you should think appropriately. You shouldn’t think pessimistically: you should think optimistically.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking pessimistically in winter. It may feel Permanent, like it is never going to end. It may seem Pervasive, like it is dark and cold everywhere. And it can even seem Personal, as if winter has it out for you. Combine that with other negative forms of thinking and winter can bring you down.

If you think optimistically, much of winter’s overbearingness fades. If you think it is really only a short few months, then it doesn’t seem so permanent. The trick is to break winter up into short periods. The next thing you know, it is March and things are thawing and Spring will soon arrive. If you can find the chance to get away, or find ways to enjoy the indoors, then winter doesn’t seem so pervasive. Finally, if you think about it, winter hits everyone the same: it isn’t personal. If anything, if you learn to enjoy the time you have in winter, it can seem like the season for you, not against you.

Winter requires thought. Work to think optimistically about winter. When you do, it becomes the most interesting of seasons.