Boxing Time & Losing

Over the course of writing this blog, I’ve come to view writing as an important activity, like meditation. And like meditation, I find my motivation comes in fits and spurts. One thing I found helpful with this site is the “don’t break the chain” method. Simply create the expectation and the space that you will sit down and do something for some period of time. It’s alright if you don’t do it. But, if that thing is say, running, and you know that it’s the time and you have your running shoes on. Chances are, you’ll do it.

The problem is when you have people in your life that want to live schedules that are different than yours, or have no schedule at all. So, in a moment of spontaneity, they’ll say something like: “I’m going to run some errands. Do you want to come with me?” Or, you have children, who when they are around behave in this way. I suspect that is why parents are so eager to put them on a schedule. If you don’t box the time, you’ll have none left for yourself or the things you want to do.

Perhaps the place where this is most insidious is social media. Like having children around, it is always there, an inexhaustible hole in which to dump your attention. With children, we do this because giving them our attention is an act of love. However, even love needs limits. But, what are we doing with social media? What benefits does it offer?

It can be entertaining. It is certainly distracting, so you do not have to focus your attention on the problems at hand. But, I cannot help feel that it is not time well spent. Whereas, time writing comments like this one, feels more like it is helping me gain a better understanding of how the world works and how I want to be within it.

Social media is like dipping into the Overmind of humanity. There’s interesting material there, but it needs to be balanced again incorporating it into our lives in a way that is beneficial. I’m currently failing to do that, as the infrequent posts to this blog serve as evidence. But, I’m working on it.

Some Reflections on Twitter & WordPress: 2022

You may have noticed that I have been posting to cafebedouin less lately. It is partially because I have been more involved in using Twitter. Why?

One thing I like about Twitter is that it is a larger, socially constructed version of the kind of thoughts that we have moment to moment. Reading the timeline is like dipping into this stream. Tweeting is adding to it, and opening yourself up for a feedback loop, where your thoughts bring up thoughts in others. There’s an interesting interplay that happens, which I think is what makes the platform appealing.

But, it is also hard not to notice that it also features a lot of outlier perspectives. Perhaps it is a function of who I follow on Twitter, but there seems to be a lot of trans folks on Twitter. On one level, this must be great as a trans person. You can interact with people that are struggling with similar issues. You can feel seen, or at least not alone when you may be the only trans person in your real life social circles.

And what is true of the trans community is also true of others. Twitter is one of the places I engage with other people that use cryptocurrencies. I don’t know anyone that thinks about cryptocurrencies in my day-to-day life. It’s either not there, or invisible to the degree that it might as well not be there.

WordPress, and blogging generally, is a fundamentally different medium. It is a way to think more formally, or at least note, ideas. Maybe flesh them out into something fuller. It is a kind of workshop or garage, where you experiment and see what is right for you. How do you view the world? What do you care about? WordPress is the essay you write, whereas Twitter is more of a conversation.

Conversation and writing can both transform our lives. But, they are really different activities and modes. Conversation is thinking, in the moment, with others. Writing is more, thinking in the moment, with ourselves. But, when you extend the time frame, conversations feed into writing. Writing can feed conversations, and in some versions, writing can also be a formal conversation, where colleagues discuss a problem in their field and raise different, relevant points with the hope of achieving some larger understanding. But, the difficulty and the amount of work that goes into that kind of conversation, to explore ideas that, hopefully, have lasting value is not how many of us spend much of our time.

But, I think the real value of these kinds of conversations is that it widens our experience and helps us to retain what is good and valuable. Much of what we think is neither good nor valuable.

I’d argue that much of the conversation that is happening on Twitter, even after acknowledging it has value in expanding our experiences and perception, is wounding. Maybe this makes us stronger. Assuming that we can recover and not too much damage has been done. But, I’m not so sure that’s the case. I think people talking about their struggles with mental health, chronic illness, unpleasant interactions, and the usual suspects of various X-isms maybe causing a kind of death by a thousand cuts, where we expand our concerns so wide that they don’t have any depth. Is it any wonder that if you try to wrestle with the demons of the whole world, that you run the risk of being overwhelmed?

I haven’t come to any conclusions yet. I’ve grown to like Twitter. I particularly like that it offers a window into different experiences, such as the problems women, people of color, or other groups face that I might not have any experience with.

But, there’s also limits. You can kind of listen in on the experience of a mother, a computer security specialist or whomever. However, it is an experience, removed. You might argue that it is no experience at all, no better than what you knew before Twitter. I don’t think that is right, but I do think it is not an unqualified good. In fact, the overall effect might be a net negative. It may not even be possible to bring it to a net positive, and if it is, it probably requires approaching Twitter with discipline, knowing what you want to get out of it, which is kind of antithetical to the medium.

All of this is a long way to say that I took a bit of a dive, and I think I’m good for now. I’m going to spend a little less time on Twitter. It has a place, but it should probably be a small one. I might take a deeper look at Mastodon sometime soon, just to see how it is qualitatively different, as some articles suggest.

Get Blogging!

“Your easy guide to starting a new blog.

A blog is an easy way to get started writing on the web. Your voice is important: it deserves its own site. The more people add their unique perspectives to the web, the more valuable it becomes.”

https://getblogging.org/

I’ve been blogging since January 2017. In those five years, I’ve found it to be a useful exercise of thinking out loud, taking technical notes, saving websites/stories, etc. I, personally, find it useful in my own life, and I’d recommend it as a practice for others. This can provide some help getting started to non-technical users. The easiest thing you can do is pay for a site on WordPress.com. I believe they still have free versions, and the personal version is something like $4 a month. Well worth it, in my opinion.

reMarkable

“The only tablet that feels like paper

Take handwritten notes, read, and review documents

Take notes directly on PDFs

Paper-like writing and reading

All your notes, organized and accessible on all devices”

https://remarkable.com/

I think this is interesting. I’m thinking that for most use cases, the move will be more to audio and video. But, bringing drawing and the written word to the digital space is something I welcome.

Sudowrite: Writing with Artificial Intelligence

Robin Sloan described a process for “writing with the machine” back in 2016 that I tried in 2019. The interesting part of doing it yourself is that you could select the corpus that the A.I. was trained on and get writing in that style of subspecialty. But, it took a bit of work to set-up correctly, and these text generative models have gotten a lot better with GPT and other efforts.

So, if you have never tried writing with A.I., and it will likely become a standard feature in word processors and text editors within five years or so, you can try Sudowrite, which makes the whole process easy to set-up and try out.

Success: Deserve Has Nothing to Do With It

“It’s fashionable now to object on principle to the idea that writing is hard. Writing isn’t hard, this camp says; working in coal mines is hard. Having a baby is hard. But this is a category error. Writing isn’t hard the way physical labor, or recovery from surgery, is hard; it’s hard the way math or physics is hard, the way chess is hard. What’s hard about art is getting any good—and then getting better. What’s hard is solving problems with infinite solutions and your finite brain.

….The thing about success, good fortune, and maybe even happiness is this: You can see that there are people who “deserve” whatever you have as much as you do but have less, as well as people who “deserve” it less or equally and have more. So, at the same time, you want more and feel you don’t deserve what you have. It’s a source of anxiety, guilt, and resentment and troubles the very idea of what one “deserves.” In the end I believe you don’t deserve anything; you get what you get.”

-Elisa Gabbert, “Why Write?The Paris Review. July 6, 2022

A number of nice nuggets in this piece. The second paragraph reminded me of that scene from The Unforgiven.

Black Hole as Metaphor for Climate Change

“Imagine a black hole. Humanity’s lined up before it. Everyone has to march through. Some are at the front of the line. They reach the other side first. Some are at the back of the line. They’re still laughing and joking and pretending, maybe. Nobody much hears from those who’ve gone through, because, well, it’s a black hole. But on the other side, nothing is ever to be the same again.

This is where we are now. We are at the threshold of the Cataclysm. Some of us are now crossing over to the other side, of a different planet, one that’s going to become unlivable. This isn’t “going to happen” or “might happen,” it is actually happening now.

Those are my friends, for example, in the Indian Subcontinent, where eagles are falling dead from the sky, where the streets are lined with dead things.

Extinction. The Event. You can literally see it happening there.

They are the first ones through the Event Horizon, if you like — the lip of the black hole. They are canaries in the coal mine, my Indian and Pakistani and Bengali friends. They are on the other side, and are experiencing the world in the Event. And that world is coming for us all.

-Umair Haque, “The Age of Extinction Is Here — Some of Us Just Don’t Know It Yet.” eand.co. May 21, 2022.

There’s a couple of things about this article that struck me. For one, while I’m not a physicist, I’m pretty sure a black hole would represent total annihilation. It’s not some kind of phase change. So, it’s a bad metaphor.

Good metaphors use relatable experiences. Some that occur to me is climate change is like having a heart attack. Climate change is like fighting in a war. Climate change is like a Super Fund site. All of these have tradeoffs in effectively communicating an idea, but at least people understand them from their personal experience or from the experiences from those around them. But a black hole? It’s clear the author doesn’t really understand what it means, and the audience probably less so.

The other thing is that while I fundamentally agree with the author’s point, climate change and the current state of geopolitics, suggests that we, as a species, are in for a very hard time ahead. But, what’s the take-away for the reader? No sense in driving now? Ship has already sailed, nothing to do. Train has left the station?

Perhaps these are true. if so, then why even talk about it? If you cannot do anything about the problem, you must bear it. What point is there in talking about it?

Online Techno-Polymath Guy

“I was discussing with Sam the “genre,” so to speak, of the Online Techno-Polymath Guy. You know this guy. He (and it’s usually a he) has his own website, probably hand-crafted in Kirby, Github, or WordPress, as well as a well-regarded, personable Twitter presence. 

He keeps track of everything he reads, writes pithy blog posts on esoteric subjects. His personal philosophy is progressive with a futurist bent.  He has worked in a variety of fields, though you are unsure what he actually currently does for a living. He is knowledgeable, authoritative, but eccentric, which you can tell by the fun colors he’s used to design his fun little homepage. 

You can have fun clicking around his carefully maintained archive, witnessing the dynamic interplay of his disparate areas of interest. You can ooh and ahh at his reading lists, his quirky, inventive stances on issues like quantum computing and social media moderation. 

It’s all very inspirational.”

-Allegra Rosenberg, “Fear of the Archive.” tchotchke.substack.com. July 29, 2020.

When I read this, I thought I’d probably met the definition of this archetype for this person. Then, he goes on to say this.

“Better to be inconstant in one’s archiving (or forgo it completely) than to constantly be faced with the dirty dishes, the nauseating, living ‘matter’ of one’s past interests, pasts opinions, past genius lying guilelessly buried under strata of increasing idiocy.”

The weird thing about keeping a daily blog like this one is it is a process and a bit of a discipline. Here it is on Saturday morning, and I’ve nothing on my blog for the day. What do I do?

I have a Wallabag list that I put everything interesting I came across – in newsletters, RSS feeds or from wherever. I just look for something especially interesting or that I’d like to make a short statement about or would like to remember. Curation, and sharing of the things you think are interesting in this moment is a kind of love, a sharing of oneself.

The audience for these blog posts is the future me. It’s capturing a moment, and in some future moment, stumbling across it while looking for something else, I don’t think past me is some brilliant standard I’m no longer living up to. More often than not, I’m looking at the flaws, mostly spelling and formatting mistakes, and correcting them.

You see, future me remembers some of what it was like to be past me. There are wisps of memory of that particular moment, where I wrote something or did something, but much of it gets lost. But, being able to read these bits helps me to remember. Helps me to see how I’ve grown and changed. Whereas without taking the moment to write the post, it would be forever lost, like salt in the ocean.

Memory flavors everything, but it is its own kind of experience. It is always flawed and incomplete, like trying to see ocean salt when you can only taste it.

When I look at this blog, I see a few really good things. But, most of it is very mediocre. But, Sturgeon’s Law reigns everywhere. It doesn’t have to be good. I’m allowed to say dumb things – past, present and future – because I’m a flawed human being. And, every once in awhile, there’s gold in this swill bucket. But, you never get a chance to find it if you don’t stir it on a regular basis.

Lower your standards. No effort is lost of wasted. It’s this kind of dialogue, mostly with ourselves, that makes blogging worthwhile. I recommend it to everyone.

Smol Pub

Smol Pub is tiny blogging service.

– Web interface and CLI to manage your posts.
– Accessible from Web, Gemini and Gopher.
– Storage for your images.
– Write custom CSS for web.
– Attach your custom domain with SSL.
– Export your posts.
– No JavaScript, ads, or tracking technology.

On the back of My Writing Advice post from yesterday, a suggestion. If you want a low stakes online venue to just start a daily writing practice, Smol Pub would fit the bill. It’s $5 to get a key to start using it. Try it out. It’s nothing complicated, and you could try it for 30 days (or longer) and see if it works for you.

I find WordPress easy to use. But, there is a bit of a noodling period, particularly in the beginning, where you mess around with templates and so forth. There are templates on Smol Pub too, but it looks like it is much easier to set-up.

PSA: Tics, lol

There has been plenty of discussion of verbal tics: such as standpoint modifiers, fillers, endpoint modifiers, softeners, up talk, fast talk and vocal fry. The funny thing about that kind of discussion is that it normally assumes the speaker is not aware of what they are doing and/or it reflects the speaker’s internal emotional state.

But, I have some of these problems. Sometimes, I’ll use a “softener” because the person I am talking to doesn’t like conflict. The reality is sometimes you do these things out of consideration for others, not unconsciouslessly or because of personal anxiety, insecurity or whatever.

However, I recently noticed someone that uses “lol” after every sentence in an online forum. I’ve known a few people that do that, and I’m sure you do too. It’s generally a very clear sign that there is no point interacting with that person beyond a surface level, and there isn’t much interesting they are going to say. Perhaps that is unfair, but it seems true. It’s the first writing tic that I have noticed. Now, I want to start discovering others.