A Poem: “Light tightly grips”

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Photo by Samantha Lynch on Unsplash

 

Light tightly grips the frayed, crusted rope.

Tugs lightly prick the rent hands that grope.

 

Alone, a lone canine stalks bonds built of trust.

Though windows, glassy pictures, paint kingdoms of lust.

 

What value does a sun feel while stars line its sight?

Not knowing luna mirrors its partner at night?

 

Recognize resonance, vibrating strength,

Echoing energy, manifest length,

 

Incarnate attraction, perspective of view,

Imagined appearance, extensions of you.

 

I stowed the best, eyes towed the rest.

My words are powers, my worlds are ours.

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Carry in, carry out: A choice

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

The entire season had led to this. Sweating, pushing, and training together. Moving and thinking as one unit; one team. It was the day before our championship race. It was also the last day of classes. So, most students were partying. But we were at practice.

As we were warming up, a few underclass team members approached me and told me that they had seen a freshman named Bart drink a beer earlier that morning.

Wait, what? This morning?

This morning?

My mind went reeling.

Bart was not supposed to do that. Our team had a rule of no alcohol 48 hours before a race, not to mention Bart was underage. The coach would ban Bart from racing, his boat would be scratched, and three other teammates would lose the opportunity to compete. The whole team would know. Bart would be ostracized and hated.

I pulled Bart aside and asked him whether he had drunk a beer. He paused, and then admitted yes, but it was “only a beer.”

Ugh. What do I do? The behavior itself was wrong. But telling the coach would cause so much trouble. It was only a beer.

If I had been in this situation earlier in my life, maybe I would have covered it up. Because that sounded easier. Because nobody likes a tattle-tale. Because things were going so well that season. Because I thought managing the expectations of a few underclassmen was easier than involving the whole team. Because this was my second-to-last day.

Typically, I take time to reflect alone on decisions like this. But I didn’t have time. I had to react fast. It was a Trebuchet problem, but with the deadline of a Rubber Band problem. My cheeks and palms swelled as the raw gravity of responsibility knocked me sideways.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

So, I took a chance.

I told the coach.

Coach got angry at me.

Then coach got angry at Bart.

Then Bart got angry at me.

The boat didn’t race the next day.

Bart didn’t return the next season.

 

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Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

 

I had the responsibility to maintain lasting trust in the structure of our organization. This structure required that every team member live in a way that benefits the organization and does not harm it. This way of life was partially codified by the explicit acceptance of concrete policies such as no alcohol 48 hours before a race and no underage drinking. But it was also constructed by the implicit acceptance of ethical customs, like everyone suffering at practice together instead of partying.

As a team, we needed a real demonstration of these explicit and implicit limits. And to reinforce them, an example had to be made showing what happens if these boundaries were overstepped.

The context surrounding this event had been stirring for years. It unearthed the tectonic cultural forces that had been changing the team from social club to serious competitive squad. It highlighted the effects of us replacing Friday night ragers with movie nights.

To this day, I don’t know whether I made the right choice. I may have ruined Bart’s life, caused social anguish, and crushed his dreams. I don’t expect forgiveness. But I tell myself that I left the organization better than I found it, and I prevented many future “just a beer”s. I hope Bart understood why I chose that way.

Moving forward, I’m concerned that I’ll be faced with more difficult ethical problems requiring faster reactions.

What if Bart had been in my boat? And if banning him meant squelching my own opportunity to compete? Or if Bart had been 21 and the 48-hour policy hadn’t been formally in place? These problems are difficult to solve.

Word travels fast in our ultra-connected world. So, small actions can have large-scale effects. It’s impossible to predict whether a tiny misstep will be overlooked or will ruin lives. The best thing we can do is to think simply, with honesty and humility. Because even if we are clumsy, at least we are trying.

One Night in Beijing

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Photo by Lisheng Chang on Unsplash

When I was backpacking alone through China in the late 2014, I did not know any Chinese. So, I responded to every bit of English I heard.

In the evening twilight, one night in Beijing, I was approached by two Chinese women who asked, in English, where I was from. Glad to speak with anyone, I replied and continued the conversation.

As we talked, I was 100% focused on asking them about their backgrounds, remembering their names, understanding their stories, telling them about myself, and making connections among our interests. I was so focused that I hadn’t noticed that we had walked down the stairs into a tea shop. That we had entered into a room and I sat down at the table furthest from the door. That while one was telling me about her graduate school, the other was ordering tea and wine and nuts and chips and fruit from the menu.

I looked down at the prices and saw they were absurdly expensive. Immediately, red flags went off. I stopped talking. This didn’t feel right. A pit grew in my stomach and my vision got blurry and I stood up and pushed past the women and ran by the waiter and flung open the door and sprinted up the stairs onto the street to safety.

They had set me up. They would order a bunch of expensive items then “forget” their money. I’d be forced to pay. They would split the earnings with the tea shop owner.

What went wrong?

I could have blamed it on them: they were evil and I was trying to be nice. But to what degree was I responsible for that situation?

By reflecting on this event, I noticed a new tendency in my behavior: I focus hard on making a good first impression with new people by giving them my full attention. But for this, I sacrifice situational awareness.

I don’t often feel concerned about my physical danger because I’m a stocky guy. But clearly, maintaining 100% attention on others is not sustainable, because I could find myself in a different type of danger.

So, I decided to change my behavior. Now, I always maintain situational awareness, even when meeting new people. This allows me to make a good first impression while protecting myself.

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Photo by Conor Luddy on Unsplash

I think it’s important to always be improving like this. I think of this process as a 4-Step Self-Improvement Engine:

Reflect -> Learn -> Evaluate -> Change

  1. Reflect: Open my mind through prayer or meditation, and focus my attention on my life choices and events (think about the Tea Ladies).
  2. Learn: Find trends in behavior, character, thoughts, or actions that were previously unidentified (note my 100% focus on attention).
  3. Evaluate: Determine the worth of the identified trend continuing. If it adds value, justify incorporating into my behavior. If not, then justify squelching it (it’s bad to lose situational awareness even in new social interactions, because I could find myself in unknown, dangerous situations).
  4. Change: Both incorporating and squelching involve adjusting behavior (next time I communicate, note where my attention goes and practice noticing my surroundings more often).

Self-improvement enables the character to be better. For me, my best self is good and honest toward myself and others. Being good and honest is positive, sustainable, and repeatable, and should be encouraged. Every day, I should get closer to being good and honest.

But some days, it seems like I don’t get closer to my best self. So why do I sometimes feel off the mark? What else is happening?

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Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

To answer this question, I conducted an exercise. Each morning, I wrote the best thing I experienced on the previous day. I ended up writing about people I met, knowledge I gained, unique things I tried, mistakes I made, new places I visited, or things I discovered about myself.

Each “best thing” was new to me and required that I adapt to unknown information. The experience of each involves testing the abilities of my pure character without prior knowledge. These exercises underline the value of my character if I succeed and unearth what I’m missing if I fail. Similarly, a machine algorithm is not valuable if it can accurately crunch only the training data sets it’s already seen. It’s valuable if it can accurately crunch new data sets it hasn’t seen. Since I often fail, every encounter with the unknown enables me to discover something new about myself.

By analyzing the set of my responses to new experiences, I can measure the growth or decline of my character over time. But whether I improved or did not, I always learn something.

Improvement starts with reflection, but relies heavily on learning. Over the long term, the quality and frequency of my learning drive the degree and direction of character growth: better learning -> better measuring -> more improving. If my attitude is prideful and ignorant, then I may not identify anything worth changing in my reflection, and my character does not improve. However, if my attitude is open-minded and honest, then I can address a subtle pattern of destructive behavior that my ego had ignored.

Improving to the most good and honest self requires feeding the self-improvement engine with quality learning. It’s like launching a rocket to reach Mars without knowing any laws of physics. All I can do is start small, compare myself to my goal constantly along the way, and make little adjustments to my speed and direction by firing rocket boosters along the way. In other words, answer the following: “what am I doing now and how does that compare to what I could be doing?” Then, “how do I close the gap?” And then do those things.

Aiming for a goal but not feeding quality learning into the improvement engine is like launching with a hope, but never firing the rocket boosters on the journey. We are guaranteed to stray from the path and miss the mark.

Some people don’t care about reaching Mars, fulfilling their best potential self, nor having any noble aim at all. They are content by passively floating along through life without proacting. I don’t know if that’s ok, but that’s certainly not me. I am happiest when I’m seeking noble aims, learning constantly, improving my character to be the best it can be, and avoiding sketchy Beijing tea shops.

If life is an arcade, what games do you play?

Introduction

When I was young, we would go to the arcade. At the arcade, there were games that took tokens and spit out tickets. When the adult gave us our tokens, most kids would run around aimlessly, feeding tokens into games and laughing and getting a ticket or two, but nothing much. However, I wasn’t playing yet. I was picturing myself walking out with a G.I. Joe action figure from behind the counter that costed 100 tickets.

So, I waited, paid attention, and learned. I studied the other kids and counted the tokens they dug out of their pockets. I noted how many tickets buzzed out of the machine on a win. But most of all, I began understanding the differences between luck and skill, and the cost of amusement.

When I knew enough, I pounced on the game that gave me a good chance of winning that 100 tickets, but that also gave me a bit of fun even if I lost.

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How do we choose what games to play? Well, it depends on the game and the possible results.

Consider three types of games: Random Guesses, Estimated Predictions, and Educated Aims.

Game Is like… Know the answer options? Will more info help? More info means more answer options? Time spent analyzing
Random Guess Rubber Band Yes No No Seconds
Estimated Prediction Trebuchet Maybe Yes Yes Minutes – Hours
Educated Aim Rocket Program No Yes No Hours – Days
  1. Random Guesses = Rubber Bands.

It’s like grabbing a rubber band from the desk, pinching and pulling back one end, and then releasing, flinging it across the room. A Rubber Band game is a quick hit of adrenaline and lasts only a few seconds.

Rubber Bands have low stakes. I know little going in, it doesn’t take much skill, and I don’t learn much while analyzing. Reward and risk are small. Winning and losing have a trivial effect on my life. There’s a low-cost threshold required to play. I know the answer options beforehand (for example yes/no, or any number 1-10).

So, for example, while walking down the sidewalk I decide to guess the state of a car’s license plate before seeing it. It’s not worth spending much time deciding whether I want to play or not, because it’d be so quick to take a guess. And I can stare at the side of the car all I want, but it won’t really help me guess the license plate any better.

  1. Estimated Predictions = Trebuchets.

It’s like pushing a trebuchet into place, measuring distances, angles, wind speed, placing the projectile, coordinating responsibilities among engineers, and pulling the lever, hurling the rock across the countryside.

Trebuchet games are a step up from Rubber Bands. Trebuchets are more complex and have higher stakes, requiring minutes to hours of play. More skill and knowledge are required to win. But luckily, I can learn more to increase my chances. Reward and risk are higher. Winning and losing significantly affect my life. There may be a substantial cost threshold required to play, because while Rubber Bands involve me as an observer, Trebuchets require me to participate in the game as an actor. Either way, I may know the answers going in, or may not. In that case, more effort helps not only to win, but also to figure out the possible answers. But with both Rubber Bands and Trebuchets, all answers can be found eventually.

So, for example, even though this car in front of me has its left blinker on, it’s been on for a while without switching lanes, so it’s probably not going to switch lanes (I’ve seen this before). Based on my analysis I’m gonna go ahead pass this car with its blinker on. What happens next is the result of the bet: discovering whether the car turns left or not. The longer I drive behind this car with its blinker on without it turning, the more likely it is that the driver left the blinker on by accident; conversely as time goes on the more likely it is that the car will turn if it had intended to.

  1. Educated Aims = Rocket Programs.

It’s like researching and developing and testing and managing for months to build a sustainable program to launch rocket after rocket into space. Rocket games are immensely complex have the highest stakes of all: your life. The utmost skill and knowledge are necessary to even start playing. Rewards include a fruitful and successful life, while risks include death: both immediate and creeping. There’s no end to Rocket games. Any possible answers can’t be verified as the winning play, which means there is no clear winning or losing: the game always continues while players put hours and days and years of life into playing.

The key to Rockets is the cost threshold to play. The value earned or lost in Rockets is the journey toward finding and aligning life along the best possible journey rather than winning the game itself. Before playing, I must make a conscious decision to dive into the game that has no end, in which I bet my life over time to seek the answer that may not exist. But if I do well at the game, my Rocket Program will be healthy and send many rockets to space, discovering countless new horizons.

Suppose I have a convertible car. I drive my convertible, and not something else, because I am betting on its value over real and potential costs. I trust that I can drive it from point A to B consistently and stylishly and in accordance with my values. Even though I may have to replace the brakes soon, the value of the convertible to me is greater the cost over the long term, or at least I think it is. There are so many variables of value and cost, both present and future, that it’s impossible to determine the most rational choice. And the infinitude of life means that I can’t even fathom how many choices are even possible. So, my gamble is the continued driving of my convertible… for now.

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Conclusions

Different games require different amounts of tokens, involve different levels of skill and luck, and spit out different types of tickets. Consider all three aspects of the game before you play.

Rubber Bands: Spend small amounts of tokens, because you’re paying for fun and amusement. The choice to play can be so instantaneous that it doesn’t take much to decide to play. Know that you may get one lousy ticket even if you win.

Trebuchets: Consider first whether winning would give you enough tickets to warrant the higher number of tokens, higher level of skill, and higher level of analysis that you must spend to play, find additional answers, and win. Also, think about whether the risk of losing those tokens without a payout would cripple you beyond repair.

Rocket Programs: Figure out whether you’d like to live as the player who plays this game, feeding in tokens without getting any tickets. The skill and analysis required to play, however, rub off on you so much that playing the game changes you, for better or worse. Is the aim noble? Is it in accordance in values? Such games involve asking: What is God? How do I aim at the highest good? Seeking that, you’re gonna learn so many good things you can do, some of which may resonate; hopefully you end up doing some of those things and producing good in the world. Or, what evil am I capable of? This will give you awareness that you won’t fall into the downward spiral of mistrust, into consenting to genocide.

“Stare at the abyss and the abyss will stare back at you.” When deciding what game to play, consider how the game will be playing you.

What software should I use?: Making digital decisions with incomplete information

Innovative technologies drive the world, and the question of what software tool to use to provide digital services and products is becoming more complex than ever. A technology or multiple technologies can be built, packaged, and used as a tool, which can be defined as “a device or implement…used to carry out a particular function.” However, what cripples our decision-making abilities is the sheer number of software options available on the market.

The internet has decentralized the ability to provide value, so a one-person start-up can build a solution that fills a significant gap and becomes hugely popular. We no longer wait only on large corporate behemoths to produce tools with bigger Research & Development funding. Instead, the number of “implements used to carry out a particular function” is rising rapidly, which is enabling entrepreneurs to build solutions and go-to-market faster.

Certainly, a dabble of both ingenuity and luck would help us with our digital quandary. What principles can we learn from today’s modern world, with an overabundance of choice?

Software tools are now marketed and sold for a particular function. Our prehistoric ancestors never stared wide-eyed at rows of neatly ordered and different colored stones, lit up by bright neon lights blinking: “3 hunting tools you can’t live without!”

More choices means more anxiety, and less likelihood to choose the best tool for the job. Once many tools leveraging “X-factors” saturate the market, we lose certainty in the metrics that we rely upon to indicate which option “feels” right, such as if we recognize its name or if we read a particular article a few minutes ago. Instead, we become paralyzed.

So, here I’ve outlined logical steps to overcome “choice anxiety” and pick the best tool.

Step 1. Ideal State Analysis

Separate yourself from any specific tools themselves, and instead consider the need for a tool itself. What problem in a function are you trying to solve? What improvement in a function are you trying to make?

Outline two lines of thought: the function in its current state without the tool, and the function in an ideal state with the tool. Imagine a state in which nothing breaks, all stakeholders are on board, users learn immediately, time stands still, and costs are no issue.

Quantify the difference in results between the two functions. Generally, whichever has a greater benefit-to-cost ratio is the function you want. If the function with the tool has the bigger ratio, then continue to step 2.

Step 2. Realistic State Analysis

Conduct more concrete cost/benefit and risk analyses using probable outcomes instead of ideal outcomes. Make special note of the stakeholders involved in the decision-making, implementation, and maintenance process of the function. What’s the more likely state after the tool has been implemented, given any known hindrances and obstacles over time? Expect that certain shortcomings will arise from both user and tool in the learning process.

Surely, this outcome will be less appealing than the ideal state. But it should also bring you closer to knowing whether you can reach that state.

Quantify the realistic state and determine whether your team can reach it feasibly. If not, then you may be better of staying with the current process. However if so, continue to step 3.

Step 3. Create Ideal Criteria for Success

Write down the data points that are most likely to indicate a successful implementation, and thus lead to the winning tool. For example:

  • People (Will people buy-in? Can they use it?)
  • Implementation (Can we fit this into our function?)
  • Integration (Does the tool play well with other tools?)
  • Maintainability (Can we support the tool and function over time?)
  • Cost (Can we fit the price of the tool into our budget?)
  • Scope (Does the tool address our need?)
  • Risk (Will the tool cause risk we cannot accept?)
  • Reliability (Does the tool work consistently?)
  • Measurability (Can we track metrics for performance?)
  • Scalability (If the function expands, can the tool expand with it?)

Make these data points your vague success criteria to move forward. Whichever tool fulfills the most important success criteria in the best way will be your winner.

Then, prioritize the most important items over less important items, depending on your goals and risk aversion. Once your data points are ordered, employ Stuart Russell’s technique of rational meta-reasoning:

“Maybe you want to say [the technique is] one algorithm, but it’s an algorithm that figures out what is the value of the possible computations I could do, and then it does the most valuable one, and that’s the algorithm. That’s it.”

In other words, figure out what data points are most likely to lead to valuable conclusions, and then compare these more valuable data points in step 4.

Step 4. Research Sources and Gather Elements

Find tools and place them in a “short list” of 3-10 options. Use your success criteria to quickly eliminate non-contenders, such as those that will not integrate with other aspects in the function. Use the following methods to find the tools:

  • Google, other search engines: “what tool should I use for ____?”
  • alternativeTo: “Crowdsourced software recommendations”
  • Tech forums and magazines
  • Social media
  • Coworkers
  • Business intellectual capital and subject matter experts
  • Job postings of competition (what are they using or hoping to use?)
  • External consultants
  • New product/technology aggregators

After employing these methods, drill down further within these sources to draw out the data points from the following elements:

  • Reviews/Comparisons
  • Community support
  • Popularity
  • Technical documentation
  • Compatibility
  • Degree of trust in the source

These elements, when qualified, quantified, and compared, differentiate one tool from another and allow you to evaluate the fulfillment of your success criteria.

Consider especially the last item in this list: the degree to which you trust the source of the data. It is worth vetting sources, cross-checking data, and ensuring that each source’s opinions generally align with others.

As a rule of thumb, cross-reference as many elements that contribute to success criteria as you can. If a blogger says he had trouble adding setting up the tool using a particular configuration, search other sources for this same issue. Consider the time that issues are reported, because developers update software rapidly, meaning last month’s bug may be this month’s feature.

Step 5. Meet with Stakeholders (optional)

Meet with stakeholders involved in the function and the decision to use the tool. Those who will implement and maintain the tool will want to give input, as well as those who oversee the entire function’s operation. Offer your success criteria and gather feedback, which may come in the form of previously-unknown requirements or limitations.

You may choose to show a short list of tools in addition to the success criteria, but focus your attention on the functional need for a tool. This is because a tool itself does not make the money; rather the functional need that the tool addresses makes the money. As a corollary to this, the tool is generally more interchangeable than the functional necessity that requires it.

Step 6. Iterate Realistic Criteria for Success

Apply the information recently gleaned from stakeholder meetings and research to update success criteria.

Iterating constantly is a staple of modern development work. Apply feedback to your work as often as possible, rather than waiting until the finish. When the curtain drops and you present your final choice, you want no chance that smiles turn to frowns. Similarly, you should be updating your success criteria priority order as well.

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The data you gather won’t be complete, but today’s leaders must make decisions with incomplete information.

Step 7. Research Tools, More Deeply

Using the updated criteria, start research again to reduce the list of feasible tools. Prioritize tools above others and trim the list to a top 3.

Use this time to take advantage of open source software or free demos of paid options. Good software should provide something like a free 30 day demo without cost. While you begin working through the setup of each option, consider the level of difficulty; if one of your success criteria involves training others to develop and maintain this tool, then the easier the setup, the better.

Step 8. Update Stakeholders with the Short List

Engage stakeholders with new criteria and results based on those more specific criteria. Draw out any additional requirements or limitations that arise after diving deeper.

Step 9. Iterate Success Criteria and Continue Testing

Continue until you reduce your list until…

Step 10. Decide

Choose the winner and use it. Sometimes a good idea on a Tuesday is better than a great idea on a Friday. Keep your success criteria in mind, because if some new information arises, you may need to reset to step 3 (readjusting your success criteria). But even if that happens, it’s much easier to start over on day 10 than on day 100.

Extra Credit: Document the reasons for your choices, so anyone revisiting the decision in the future, including you, can understand your decision-making process.

Language, Gife-Liver

~~~

Do you remember the recent decision by the British people to leave the EU? Of course you do. Do you remember what that was called? Of course you do.

Now that some dust has settled, I examine the processes before, during, and after “Brexit” with a particular lens:

I hypothesize that language can give life to things.

~~~

Consider something that is not. Impossible? Debatable, but unlikely. Language serves as a function that inputs something and gives it “realness” or “life” in our minds. That realness serves as a recipient grasped by our mental actions. For our purposes, if a vote by a nation of people to change a policy significantly affects economies, ideologies, and perceptions, then “Brexit”, and thus language, is real enough to matter.

Having the word “tree” consolidates sensory data in a way that encourages us to notice manifestations of the word in the form of patterns usually found in forests. Whereas a lack of a word may cause our attention to skip over such manifestations of patterns. Without ever noticing it, one could argue that it does not exist to us. If something has never been described in language, this does not mean that it doesn’t exist. However, certainly something having been described with language gains a considerable degree of realness.

Like electricity or getting introduced to the stage by an MC, this describing function often simply involves the connection of this piece of language to other pieces in various ways, through the connection maintaining accepted modica of usage, thus giving this piece realness. This connection serves as a platform upon which a thing is described by other (previously vetted) “real” things.

In action, consider “Brexit”: a combination of “Britain” (a country located around 55.3781° N, 3.4360° W) and “exit” (the action of taking leave). Note my explanations of the pieces themselves contain connections to other lingual pieces.

Language can give life, or degrees of realness. So, what’s the point?

 

 

~~~

Power

Understand this: That which can be more easily represented in language is more likely to be understood quicker than that which can be represented in language less easily. Repetition increases understanding. Repetition increases understanding. Repetition increases understanding. Comfort breeds understanding. Fear propels us away, into comfort.

Marketing departments exist for a reason. TV commercials cost a lot of resources. Lingual manipulation works in favor of the manipulator. Memes, fads, and slang exist from common understanding, borne from ease, repetition, and control of comfort and fear.

Language that is easy to describe, repeated, and manipulated through fear or comfort can influence the communicative dissemination and transactions of understanding.

So, I hold that “Brexit”, an easily communicable two-syllable combination of commonly known ideas, plastered on media outlets, and instilled by positivity and negativity, contributed directly and significantly to the vote in its favor. If its creation was deliberate, “Brexit’s” creators should be commended. And given a raise. “Brexit” implanted itself in many hearts and minds, at the least. One can only speculate how its sibling, “Bremain”, would’ve fared given the same attention.

In conclusion, to persuade, try inventing language. Control the ease, repetition, and level of comfort or fear associated with it. Give a description of something new that benefits you. Its foil, the non-existence of the thing, stands no chance to combat your description. Through language, we can be gods. Give life. Live gife.

 

Buy high: Get your attention’s worth

Story

I had the morning and early afternoon to explore before my flight to Dublin, so I decided to wander. While ambling through Hyde Park, London early on a late-summer day, I noticed a crowd of people gathered under some trees: extravagantly-dressed characters speaking loudly to surrounding groups of people. A few stood atop boxes. As I approached, the cacophony of monologues crept up into my ears and I entered Speaker’s Corner.

When I could finally fit a word of my own into the fray, I asked one speaker about the implications of overpopulation. Before I had finished asking my question, he snatched attention away from me and started speaking. He led us on a magical journey of speech and language, countless hecklers interrupted and argued as they pleased. The speaker wrestled for attention from many challengers.

Soon, one famous challenger arrived: a self-proclaimed fascist, dressed in military garb with a Hitler-style mustache, argued for the role of a strong state, necessity of institutions, and importance of racism. In response the first speaker wove a deep metaphor about how the challenger’s thought process could be represented as a sewage system funneling large, powerful shits.

Symbol

But this scene was more than a processing system for word-shits. It was beautiful not because of the shit in the sewer, but rather the sea into which the sewers spewed.

Here at Speaker’s Corner between strangers the right to speak is fought for and not given. Anyone can speak openly, with or without respect to those on the soap-boxes. The people constantly construct and deconstruct the social dynamics that give attention to one and take it away from another.

Social dynamics we may take for granted, but allocation of attention is less like a hierarchy and more like a swirling ocean of pure chaos. Many situations in our lives have predetermined social roles, depending on cues like status, dress, age, and confidence. Social pressure compels us to fight for attention covertly and subtly, appearing always in control. Conflicts that emerge into verbal or physical fights are deemed uncivil.

But when social dynamics are boiled down, rules fall apart and only savagery remains. The prize of these fights is dominance through attention, and the prize of attention is self-worth.

Power

In order to win attention, study how you give attention. Specifically, notice how you pay attention.

Even notice the language we use: “pay attention.” We are in control of a valuable resource that we can trade for something in return. As is the case with currency and confidence, the more you value your attention, the more others will. Those seeking your attention can provide something in return. The intelligent and successful sell their attention for highly valuable resources with developmental benefits. They sell high.

How do you get your attention’s worth?

Take an “attention pulse” throughout the day.

Keep a journal, or use a note-taking app on your phone. At certain points during the day, take note of what you were paying your attention to a moment before. For each entry, document important observations:

  • Object of attention
  • Time
  • Location
  • Context (what happened before or after this?)

And most importantly:

  • Trade-off (that which is received for your attention)

Whether it is knowledge, entertainment, social value, nourishment, relaxation, or fulfillment, this observation will reveal for what you trade your most powerful, but finite resource. Consolidate your results. Are you spending your attention wisely? If not, identify what trade-offs are most valuable to you, and budget your attention accordingly. Remember, your attention is only as good as you spend it.

~~~

The conversations at the Speaker’s Corner are passionate, radical, eloquent, and challenging: true Sophists at work. I most enjoyed the pure awe I felt at the skilled rhetoric of an individual vying for attention. Such social dynamics were incredibly entertaining to witness, and revealed a raw truth about the power of attention.

 

“Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.” -Daniel Kahneman

Restatement: Say nothing to say something

This post was inspired by the Ordinary Language Philosophy episode of BBC’s In Our Time, which I recommend highly.

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I tried to write a novel once. I failed before I had even tried. Many of us feel that underlying beckoning to express our deeper meaning into a tome for all to revere, even if “all” is our mom. What makes writing a book difficult?

This question appears to be a heuristic, or substitute, of another question: What makes producing art difficult? In order for us starving artists to answer this, let’s deconstruct the language.

what makes producing art difficult?

Let’s assume, for the sake of this exercise, that there is a “what” we are looking for in the first place. That will force us to actually look for it, as opposed to losing progress to doubt (“Well, maybe it’s not there after all…”). This potentially false belief will get us to step two.

what makes producing art difficult?

Let’s assume, for the sake of this exercise, that this Schroedinger’s cat of a reason that might exist does more than exist: it does something. Specifically, this action involves creating or altering, among other things. “Making” itself as a verb infinitive bears ambiguity and does not carry substantial understanding on its own, as opposed to verbs such as “typing,” “swimming,” or “time-traveling.” The word “making” seems to show up in more idioms, so we will need more context to determine if our “what” “makes it,” or “makes up,” or “makes out,” etc.

what makes producing art difficult?

Such a vast, beauteous word this is. Typically, I think appreciation follows those with more interpretations. In art, pieces with mutually exclusive yet valid interpretations give a sense of godliness to the artist, as if s/he was able to connect foreign concepts together beforehand. Usually, such interpretations emerge after the piece is “produced” for public consumption, so the smart artist wouldn’t say “I saw a can of soup and painted it.” Rather, others would say: “This artist made such a raw, definitive commentary on the juxtaposition of material and social consciousness bringing forward the simplicity of object recognition symbolizing the industry of knowledge-peddling that henceforth empowers liberal utilization of anti-anti-establishment capitalist compartmentalization in a minimalist style.” Yes, yes of course that was my intent, the artist smirks.

Back to producing. Turning backward at our words in tow, we see that the reason we seek has created or altered the action of producing. Forward, we make out on the horizon a noun and an adjective. We are still treading water in a sea of uncertainty, but we have hope. It is possible that the following word is an the object being produced, rather than a way of directly describing the act of producing (“producing quickly”) or an interjection (“producing-HEY THAT’S MY CAR!”).

Note here that producing differs slightly from production, again open to interpretation. I think producing necessitates further explanation, while production more firmly stands alone. Consider the following duality:

A: “Production is down 50% from last quarter.”

vs.

B: “Producing is down 50% from last quarter.”

For sentence A, no further explanation of what is being produced is needed (unless the talkative intern wasn’t CCed on the memo). For sentence B, one is led to ask what is being produced, and validly so. “Production” and “producing” have formed into slightly different spheres of usage in the English language. And we have been given “producing.”

what makes producing art difficult?

Here, things get a bit more complicated. Experts, novices, and everyone in between could give you a different answer about the word “art.” More complexity emerges about reference, meaning, or usage of art. In this time of stunned unknowing, some of us look to history or etymology. Based on one thread of research, our linguistic ancestors couldn’t clearly classify “art” into one meaningful box.

Thus, decide for yourself what art refers to, means to you or the world, and how art is used. Here we see a possible explanation as to why I asked myself about producing a book rather than producing art; I can hold a book and simply understand it as a knowable object, but I can only hold an example of art in my hands, not art in itself. Try holding number 10 in your hands. No, those are your fingers.

what makes producing art difficult?

There is a reason that creates or alters the act of producing art (whatever that is), and as a corollary we are told that producing art is now difficult, due to a reason making it so.

what makes producing art difficult?

We can’t overlook the importance of punctuation here. We need to amend our purpose: “…”, due to a reason making it so, which may or may not exist but that we are assuming exists.

For whatever reason, we are trained to think that to produce means to create something new. However, if our goal in producing something is to create anew, we will be disappointed, because “there is no such thing as a new idea…We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” -Mark Twain.

Ignore the feeling that an idea isn’t original enough, because it will never be. When faced with writer’s block, whether staring at a blank page, a blank canvas, or blank screen, try a different approach. Consider something you know. This is your kernel. Now, deconstruct the kernel, instead of building upon it. It will break apart into several different pieces or concepts. In essence, restate the obvious but in more detail.

Power

The power of linguistic restatement lies in its ability to change faces. Creative geniuses are not creative. Creativity is a myth concocted to slap a label onto an unrepeatable pattern of thought in the mind of a someone with luck, resources, and energy.

So, when faced with any kind of problem try the following exercise:

  1. Write the problem down or explain it to someone. Use words.
  2. Deconstruct the language you use to describe the problem.
  3. Restate the problem with deconstructed pieces.
  4. Pay attention to every passing thought, even distractions. Even the smallest minutiae bear importance.

For example, I was struggling to create a blog post. So, I classified my problem into worlds, deconstructed, and documented. Now I have a blog post.

But have I really said anything?

Why do we distrust patient people?

exmachina

Story

Awkwardness. Everyone acquaints themselves with it, as a passenger to a driver. There are many causes, but one overarching effect: discomfort.

One of the first times I used an Uber, I was a few drinks deep in Boston. As an antsy group of eight, we split into subsections, and I hopped into the front of the first Uber car. After a brief discussion regarding the best way to navigate narrow, one-way streets, a deafening silence settled into the car’s interior. After a moment, I casually turned to the driver and said: “So, what do you do?” The”ooo” reverberated over the drone of the engines for tooo long.

The driver dryly stated, “I am an Uber driver.”

“Right, right,” as I retracted into that half-smile, half-grimace that often emerges to encourage the effort but scold the performance. I had put on my glasses to find my glasses. I had put the cookies in the oven without turning it on. I had strolled into the office on Saturday morning while musing “what word rhymes with bird?” Any chance of interpersonal connection was as good as lost after a short string of sounds was formed aloud. The wall, that strange energy field that firmly forces its hand over my mouth, was raised. Why?

Symbol

Imagine that a conversation is a work of theater. In comparing my life to external symbols for increased understanding, I am quick to compare conversations to movies, novels, and plays.

Most conversations seem to revolve around a script of practiced questions and answers. There is no time for awkwardness or silence, for these break the magic. Like leaping from a diving board, soaring with limbs outreached, and smashing into sharp, chilling water, excitement withdraws into suppressed desperation. When I enter into a conversation, my inner dialogue turns its direction externally. The curtain raises, revealing and engaging attentions. We portion our lives into sections (four minutes until the bus, six-feet tall, a three-hour performance at the Folger Theatre). So, after the spell is broken, we think that the show has ended.

But there is no show. There was never a show. A meaningful conversation does not have a script, nor a time limit, nor a stage.

The questions “What do you do?”, and “Where are you from?” stand only as mere placeholders of our hopes, fears, and spontaneous thoughts. The past and present are usually boring.

“I’m a ___.”

“Oh, cool. My cousin is a ___.”

More valuable meaning lies in wait, hidden from immediate view. Ask yourself: would you rather be known by what you were, what you are, or what you could be?

Power

My answer: what I could be. The problem is, I know what I was (or, I think I do), and I know what I am (or, I think I do). So, these are important to acknowledge. But, I do not know what I could be. Don’t worry; that doesn’t matter, and I’ll explain why.

Establish a mission that’s your ace in the hole, your main squeeze, your talking point alpha. This is the thing that you think about when you’re not thinking. This is the thing that seems so obvious to you that you only realize you were moving towards after the fact. It’s the thing you can talk about best.

If you can’t think of something genuine, then make it up. Have fun with it. Even if you change your mind in a year, a week, or an hour, the importance of having a mission now is greater than the imagined integrity you’ll feel if you miraculously manage to stick to a plan without ever changing it. Acting as an unmoving rock clinging to a bank in a flood is foolish and inefficient. Adapt to survive, or fall by means of faulty belief in the law of induction and ignorance. Good luck when you wear shorts today because you’ve been comfortable the past three days…even if it’s snowing today. No, yeah, of course. You’re wearing them on purpose, to prove something. Right. Go freeze.

The point is, you’re never going to stick to this plan. So, go crazy making something up! I’m going to be a robot beauty stylist. I’m reading the Bible, backwards, to gain a deeper understanding of the influence of the direction of a narrative on my personal ethical system. I’m currently training for my next competition, in which we run three miles while typing a fan-fiction screenplay of a Star Wars blooper reel. Have fun with it! Just be sure to have it.

What this allows you to do is to be more than a name. We remember “Peter the Great,” more likely than “Peter.” The “name + differentiator” combination encourages others to define you, and give you a small sphere of unique power. The differentiator makes all the difference. No longer Grant, I am “Grant, the robot beauty stylist.” That increases my uniqueness factor from 1 / ~60,000 to 1 / (hopefully less than 60,000).

Of course, the goal should be to reach that uniqueness factor of 1 / 1 without the necessity of a differentiator. Although, if the CEO of the hottest new British company selling drink containers, catered to diabetics, that automatically assess the amount of sugar in the fluid and, after a hand grips it, takes a blood sugar reading and calls aloud whether the holder should or shouldn’t drink the drink is named “Kant,” then this person should absolutely defer the uniqueness to Immanuel in favor of the motto “Kant Kan”.

Barring any spectacular circumstances, focus on means to ends. The mission causes feelings of passion in conversation, which, if returned, resonate into more positive emotions. Good feelings bias us into thinking that the person we are talking to is better, that we are better, and that the whole conversation was better. Use this to your advantage by having more meaningful, future-oriented conversations.

And yet, I have not determined why I distrust patient people. The distrust is probably in myself. It’s probably because their patient eagerness fizzles away unsatisfied as I respond “Well, right now I am…” instead of “Oh boy, let me tell you about this new light-adaptive, auto-adhesive chrome eye-liner!”

 

Picture: http://anthem-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/exmachina.jpg

Welcome!…

…To my blog. Hold on to your steering wheels, and control your excitement. Because at this URL will my heart pour out into a soup of virtual pixels for our senses to coalesce, for our brains to grasp, and for our selves to embody. My writing adventures will serve as personal development, and my hope is you will do the same.

“Writers live twice.” —Natalie Goldberg