Saturday, January 19, 2019

Vegetation For Fun and Profit

This point, which I think is important, got buried in a long post back in 2016 ("Creating a Vacuum to Leech Out Eurekas"), so I wanted to circle back to highlight it.
If you were to observe me, you'd think I was the biggest slacker in the world. When not in mid-project (actually executing the things I've dreamed up), I spend an awful lot of time sitting around, watching TV, ruminating, hanging out, not doing anything productive. This used to mortify me. I figured I was lazy, shiftless, and broken. I've constantly worried about wasting my life. It's been a huge source of shame since early childhood. But at a certain point I turned around, looked back, and noticed, to my surprise, that I'd actually accomplished stuff, and developed a range of skills, even in my seeming sloth. Magically, stuff got done!

I know now that it's easily explained: creativity is fostered by loosening the belt, by making space for epiphanies. An awful lot can get done via relentless hard work (and I eventually learned how to knuckle down in order to execute my ideas), but creativity is a different animal, and it looks lazy.

Different processes suit different types of work - and different types of workers. "Nose-to-the-grindstone" effort is useful, but not in all cases.

Creative people vegetating are different from lazy, aimless people vegetating. If you're creative, don't let the superficial resemblance throw you. It's essential to foster a vacuum to leech out eurekas, so this is instinctive behavior. Don't question the process...unless eurekas aren't forthcoming. If you don't jump up every once in a while to follow muse with exuberant action, you are likely depressed. Consider my Unique Perspective on Depression, avail yourself of the Depression Resuscitation Kit, and maybe browse my previous writings on the topic.

If you do jump up and follow muse, but results often frustrate, browse my postings on creativity (perhaps working from bottom up).

Friday, January 18, 2019

How to Know You're Being Dumb

If you're having a problem - tech or otherwise - and you google and google without shedding any light (or you find a small handful of other lonely queriers, none answered well), this nearly always means you're doing something really really dumb.

It goes without saying that this only applies to mainstream-ish issues. If you've hit a snag translating Norwegian poetry into Esperanto, or attaching a solid fuel rocket to the roof of your VW Golf, that's a whole other story (though you still are probably doing something really really dumb).


This is something I particularly need to keep in mind. As a very early Internet adopter, who started out surfing with command line tools (via Telnet, Usenet, FTP, Lynx, etc.) and has great fondness for Yahoo for its invaluable curated index of cool web sites, I sometimes forget that nearly everything's now online.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

“Crazy and Stupid“ is Acceptible

“Crazy and stupid” is not evil.

“Crazy and stupid” is not evil.

“Crazy and stupid” is not evil.

It’s a truism I absolutely must learn to internalize in both my macro and my micro. And it’s very hard. “Crazy and stupid” is awful, corrosive, exasperating. It seems like The Worst Possible Thing. But it’s not. There is genuine evil in the world, so anyone (including the crazy and stupid) who’d never imagine going out of their way to deliberately harm is a “5” at very least.

A person can be nasty, selfish, derelict, uncompromising, unreasonable, willfully ignorant, and astoundingly unpleasant without scratching a nanometer toward actual evil. They can inadvertently ruin lives and knock over every worthy thing without being evil. The end result of “crazy and stupid” may be indistinguishable from the end result of evil, but intentions do matter.

All non-evil people are on our team, and that, alas, includes “crazy and stupid”. “Crazy and stupid” is the bottom rung of acceptability, not the bottom rung of humanity by a very long shot.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Soothing the Baby

As I grow up, I feel more and more compelled to toss certain esoteric thoughts out there among the 180 quadrillion web pages in case they’re helpful someday - even if they’re of scant current interest.

In a lifetime of finding myself ahead of curves (that's a complaint, not a boast), I’ve noticed that once crowds catch up, my voice is rarely necessary - or even heard - amid the torrent. But in certain realms, where I'm extra ahead, there are chunks which might remain missing. So I’ll risk confusing and exasperating regular readers by occasionally posting such chunks for the possible (if unlikely) use of other people in another time. Which is to say: you may well want to skip this (if only because it’s long!).


I started teaching myself yoga and self-hypnosis when I was around 11.
The notion of "teaching oneself" may be paradoxical, but I've taught myself all my life. This very Slog, which may appear to be teaching you, is really me teaching myself while you eavesdrop (as I recently noted, 95% - perhaps much more - of human communication is actually self-directed; the only difference with me is that I acknowledge it).
I'd borrowed a dopey book about self-hypnosis from the library, and, though I recognized its shortcomings, it stimulated enough exploration that I was eventually able to devise my own approach (I haven’t used it in many years, however). As for yoga, I'd worked through many of the poses on my own while reading a slew of books on Eastern spirituality (most memorably "Powers of Mind" - a lightweight massmarket treatment that happened to ring my bell - plus classics like "Zen and the Art of Archery", "Introduction to Zen Buddhism", "Siddhartha", "The Way of a Pilgrim", "Be Here Now", and the first stanza of the Hsin Hsin Ming - aka "Verses on the Faith Mind by The 3rd Zen Patriarch" - which was as far as I was able to get for years without falling into reverie. Also stuff by Castaneda, Salinger, and certain elements of "Dune" (a bizarre combo, yes, but booting up in knowledge is always jagged because unknowing is the father of knowing).

Actually (it's a bit blurry) I might have read most of those later, trying to understand what I had experienced. But before all else I needed to learn to relax.

Yoga and self-hypnosis both showed me how maddeningly difficult a proposition the notion of "relaxation" is. You could spend an hour splayed out on the floor, breathing deeply and progressively relaxing each muscle group, and however relaxed you might feel, it's still a pale shadow of full-out relaxation.
Spiritual practitioners inevitably overestimate their progress - again and again, as mere pinholes of surrender feel like cosmic gushers. Spirituality has a Dunning-Kruger effect of its own, leading the clueless to prematurely deem themselves holy masters or whatever, which explains all those rotten, greedy, sexed-up gurus we've heard about. The truism "a little knowledge is dangerous" should be translated into Sanskrit.
Yogis practice relaxation in "corpse" pose, and the name offers a lovely clue. Once you've laid there, yielding completely to gravity and feeling yourself as being breathed rather than actively breathing, certain you're as floppily relaxed as can be, my trick was to mentally compare myself to an actual corpse. If you were honest, you'd concede that your muscles remain a roiling hive of twitchy hyperstimulation and your mind's madly atwitter. If you were to drift into sleep (let alone death), your body would splay out in drastic contrast to this superficial oh-look-at-me-I'm-so-relaxed posturing. You call this relaxation? Pffft.
I taught a little yoga at one point. Once, while my students strained to touch their toes, grunting and cursing their stubborn hamstrings, I asked them to imagine someone walking in and shooting us all in the head. Wouldn’t we all execute flawless, effortless forward bends en route to collapse? Your hamstrings, in and of themselves, are not the problem!

I’ve just accounted for the brevity of my teaching career, but this was actually a fantastically useful observation. It normally takes decades for practitioners to notice that their resistance is them.

No “you”...no resistance!
I devised two visualizations to bridge the impasse and enable deeper relaxation. Once you’re as relaxed as possible, try this:
1. The Pole
You find yourself in a vast blue sky, clutching a very long horizontal pole receding infinitely in both directions. There's nothing else to grab at, so hands and feet wind tightly around the pole for dear life. Having faith that you'll float, not fall: unpeel a hand, and notice that it doesn't drop. Then repeat with a foot. Then another foot. Then, finally, your remaining hand. The pole, disregarded, disappears, leaving you calmly, blithely afloat.

2. The Tree
You're sitting on a sturdy branch of a mature tree, facing the trunk, with a saw in your hand. Now saw away at the branch.
You never needed to clutch that pole or branch. Your clutching was always entirely pointless...as was every iota of stress you've ever invited into your body. Never, ever, would you have fallen. You can’t fall.

If you practice relaxation - plus these extensions - sufficiently, you can, in time, learn to fully relax - float-not-fall! - within the blink of an eye, even amid life turmoil. Self-help authors at that time wrote about "the relaxation response". I didn't read their books, because it was something I'd already learned.


To briefly review, having mastered superficial relaxation, I spotted the shortfall and acknowledged my self-deception ("I'm sooo relaxed!"), bucking the innate human impulse to feel that we're doing everything right. I resolved to go further, beyond the mere posing. I committed and persevered, learning that I can’t fall, come what may, and that stress is entirely elective.

And then, finally, I added love.
Love is the ultimate secret ingredient shaker bottle, ripe for sprinkling. The bottle we forgot we had at the back of the fridge. It's life's umami, and cosmic de-icer. It’s the solution even where it seems incongruous; the forgotten foolproof trick reliably up your sleeve; the smartphone feature you keep forgetting about.

Jamaican and African athletes don't win those track and field medals because black people are super fast. It's because running is the most visible route for elevating their beloved families from poverty. That's not just a powerful motivator, but, much more importantly, it’s a complete reframing of the situation, likely inaccessible for an equally talented athlete from, say, Düsseldorf.

And consider all those Oscar and Grammy winners deflecting their credit and glory toward god or whatever (i.e. anything beyond themselves). You might roll your eyes, considering them ditzily brainwashed by corny superstition, but when human beings work for a Higher Purpose (anything beyond themselves) - all faculties neatly aligned by the indefatigable flow of maximal love - that's when serious greatness is possible. Those who’ve never won Oscars or Grammys would do well to pay attention when such people freely reveal the secret.

Would you at least concede that books and songs dedicated to dead loved ones tend to suck a little less?
At this time I was a cynical, bitter little shit. I'd discovered early how cruel and ignorant people are. My family had trained me to view fellow humans as a contemptuous herd of stupid fucking assholes deserving neither respect nor sympathy, and this proposition was not a hard sell. I already bore scars from random cruelty, and had witnessed dishonesty, corruption, and antagonism gratuitously wielded even where truth, propriety, and kindness would have better served. At a very young age I was already fed up (and, shamefully, beginning to display touches of needless cruelty of my own).

Lying on the ground, relaxing into a primordial state - a heartbeat from actual corpse-hood - I alighted on the recognition that no one chooses that route. They're all in pain; confused and lost. Knotted up in anguished flailings, they knoweth not what they do.

When a baby screams and writhes in angry hunger, we don't condemn or punish the baby, nor do we try to talk sense into it. We don't allow ourselves to be triggered into raging back. Maturely recognizing its innate helplessness and non-comprehension, we hug the baby. Empathizing with its blameless emotion, we look past the tight, red, hysterical face, the shrieking and flailing limbs, the gross spittle. We...just...soothe the baby, period.

Shedding all armor and yielding to the gravity beneath the floor, I indiscriminately soothed every baby everywhere, large and small, surrendering myself - my very molecules - for the cherishing comfort of even the most seemingly loathsome...who need it most. I pleaded to no one in particular to be atomized into a spray that might infinitesimally erode the massive, massive mound of self-inflicted human pain. Overlooking the stench as if it were an innocent stinky diaper, I reached out with arms and ear lobes and toenails to embrace what I’d previously regarded as a contemptuous herd of stupid fucking assholes, including (especially!) any who'd gone out of their way to do me harm. I forgave, not via weighty judgement, but as we forgive babies for their tantrums; shifting my framing to deem them loveable.

With a hapless gesture of utter stupidity and hopeless hope (the heart is an idiot), my heart swiftly expanded to swallow it all - the entire universe - whole (this sounds like metaphor, but did not feel like one). I immediately recognized that this transcendent embrace had always underpinned the bustling veneer of worldly drama, for me and, equally, for any of us. Within this framing, there was no individuation; only a unity of love embracing love.

This, too, was practiced until it became reliably accessible upon demand (I was a kid who practiced lots of stuff; juggling, ear wiggling, celebrity impressions, boogie-woogie piano...and this felt like more of that). I tried to discuss it with others, but there was a puzzling disconnect. It couldn't possibly have been anything special, because I was just some shmucky kid with merely pretty good grades and who rated no more than middling esteem from authorities and peers. So I couldn't fathom why everyone stared blankly when I'd matter-of-factly bring it up (first with my mom, who listened impatiently to my tale of heart expansions and atomized sprays, finally breaking in to suggest that I go outside and play so she could finish making dinner).

Lacking any context for the experience - and finding no one able to offer any - I took comfort in the unshakable knowledge that this is simply how things truly are beneath the noise and distraction, recognized or not. This truth requires no more attention or maintanence than is necessary to preserve the starry night sky during daytime, so I let myself be pulled back into worldly drama, losing first the immediate access and eventually becoming entirely detached from the knowing...without ever registering a disconnection. As I recently wrote:
It's hard to distinguish between real remembering and the remembrance of remembering. You'll feel certain you still have "the gist" of it - a sort of mental snapshot - even though actual remembering is no longer available. The gist of remembering smoothly dissipates into the fog of forgetting. While remembering remembering, you can easily forget that you've forgotten.
I had, thankfully, taken the time to send myself forward some well-considered reminders and bread crumbs (including one of the above visualizations), foreseeing that I'd lose lose my way back. A decade or so later, I fell briefly back in through a different doorway, via the desperation and depression that had accumulated since my turning away (it's much more painful to recently have known and forgotten than to remain perpetually numbly unaware). Then, with careers to pursue and web sites to wrangle and restaurants to find, I disconnected once again for a very long while.

The knowing had resembled the ecstatic fullness of creative epiphany; a premium upgrade version of that more familiar sort of insight/inspiration. As a musician, I would later struggle in vain, as does every artist, to "bottle" my muse; to make it accessible upon demand, never coming close. Still later, I bumpily toiled, post-Chowhound, to rekindle my knowing (finding it difficult to muster the requisite hapless stupidity), feeling similar slippery frustration. Eventually I was startled to notice that I was indeed able to "bottle" the knowing...and the creative muse along with it (voluminously cataloguing the secrets thereto here in this Slog).

Potential framings are infinitely diverse, and that is just one of a myriad. It is only within the more familiar cinematic/dramatic “my-life-is-like-this” framing that all pain and disappointment reside. From that perspective, I'm a musician who'll soon lose his hearing, a gourmand whose daily aspirin therapy (for a heart condition incurred while eating healthily and exercising regularly) has ravaged his stomach to the point of a lifetime sentence of bland food, and a craft beer superfan no longer able to drink (ibid). I still endure some punishing social headwind from my principled refusal to manipulate and from the misfit juju stemming from my commitment to unsettlingly throw myself completely into everything I do. I've grown terminally disillusioned by The Big Video Game and, mysteriously, can’t seem to interest people in what I consider the most uniquely useful food resource ever created for a mobile device (even being the guy who’s previously done the same for the early Internet).

In terms of drama, it’s a desperate predicament. But having been granted every genie wish - notably the aforementioned bottlings - and having weaned myself from the habit of obsessing over What's Missing (another priceless genie grant) and, most valuable of all, discovered that framings are lithely, instantly re-selectable (the proverbial wish-for-infinitely-more-wishes), I want for nothing. As I once wrote, "Ascetics, perennially misunderstood, only look austere. Their internal reality is completely different. Shake off the ash, and the embers glow brightly."


Footnotes:

1. The links (all jillion of them) are essential.

2. The resistance - which, again (remember the gunshots!) is you - is also the baby. So the baby is you. This connection is not apparent (nor even coherent) from within the everyday dramatic/cinematic framing of who we are and what we do, but it’s patently obvious from a deeper, more sober perspective. No need for mental gymnastics, though; none of this requires intellect (except in the explaining!). Take the shortcut. Let go and experience it all as love embracing love and see for yourself. If it doesn't work, you're not relaxed enough...or haven't added umami (recipe, above).

3. Years and years after all this, I stumbled upon Theravadin Buddhism’s “Metta Sutta”, the juiciest part of which says:

With a boundless heart
Should one cherish all beings;
Radiating love over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths.


Fake Tracking

USPS purports to offer "tracking" on first class mail that has no bar code (yeah, I know they inkjet coding data on the bottom of the envelope, but that's for sorting, not tracking) and is thus inherently untrackable. The faux-tracking info, if you're foolish enough to check it, is laughably useless.

Whenever you call AAA for help, they always say "90 minutes". The truck might show up in five minutes or in three hours, but they always tell you "90 minutes". So I just made my first roadside assistance request via Internet, and was given a nifty tracking web page that counted down 90 minutes from my initial request. Every 30 seconds the page refreshed...without change. In fact, the tow truck came and left 20 minutes ago, and it's still continuing that same countdown.

I have an idea to monetize our increasing tolerance for such bullshit. The life expectancy of an American is 76 years. So I'll build a smartphone app, "CroakTimer", which counts down to your demise (there'd be an optional "notification" feature - with suitable ringtone - as a pricy in-app purchase). The app's obviously a luxe proposition, so I'm figuring I could charge circa $900. At first launch, it will ask your age, subtract it from 76, and commence the count down, with a daily sham "refresh".

Monday, January 14, 2019

Yet Another Reason Trump could be a Russian Asset

The NY Times published a much-lauded Max Boot article yesterday, "Here are 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset"

Neal Katyal, Former Acting US Solicitor General, added one:
There's another one missing. A big fat honking one. What Russia wants most of all (beyond sanctions relief) is to sow division; to amplify both extremes among their enemies. Chaos!

And hasn't it been odd that Donald Trump, from day one, hasn't lifted a finger to conciliate with or appeal to anyone beyond his base? Until recently, he was an enthusiastically anti-abortion, anti-gun control Democrat. So while his positions may (or may not) have truly changed, he certainly knows how to talk to both sides. After all, he's from NYC, not North Dakota.

But he hasn't. Not once. He's played the wrestling "heel" in every respect toward his own former circle, his own former region, his own former peer group, fervently stoking the 35% and pugnaciously rejecting the rest. He hasn't just "owned the Libs" to delight his base (which is crappy governance but at least serves the discernible purpose of solidifying his support), he's governed with blinders on even in wonky policy matters where MAGA rubes would scarcely have noticed. For example, his budget stuck a gratuitous dagger in every blue state constituency.

Lots of stuff Trump does is because he's damaged goods. Other stuff is because he's shameless and amoral. And much of the rest is due to his ignorant entrancement with right-wing media and alternate facts. The seamless firewall he's erected between himself and more than half the country may superficially seem like more of all that. But this behavior doesn't fit. It's not in his interest, and it's a rare case where the man actually has latent untapped talent - in this case to broaden his support and add constituencies. To wield his charm and salesmanship, and try to increase his circle of loving admirers (an effort that should come naturally). I'm not saying Trump truly would do anything broadly helpful, but he's all about images and impressions, and he's done absolutely nothing on that front. It really surprised me back in the beginning.

His refusal to at least try - to invest one single nanocalorie in the task - serves no purpose beyond Russia's goal of chaos. So I think Max Boot missed an important reason Trump could be a Russian asset. It's the reason hiding in the plainest of plain sight.

Friday, January 11, 2019

My Two Most Racially Confusing Moments

1. The Halal Food Cart

On Christmas Day, I found myself downtown around the 9/11 memorial. Due to the holiday, the area was pretty empty. I hadn't been down there much, and found the commercialization disgusting, but c'est la free market. And right at the very edge of the WTC site was a halal food cart just ***BLASTING*** Arabic music at full wedding volume.

My thought cascade played out more or less as follows:
Oh, man, somebody's going to, like, kill these guys.

They've clearly been doing this for a while, and they seem perfectly ok; even swagger-ish. Phew!

Is this a Christmas-only indulgence?

Am I actually feeling a little offended?

What's the difference between my being offended by this and all the assholes who were offended by a Mosque being built downtown?

Well, it's clearly insensitive.

When do I ever cluck my tongue over insensitivity? I'd be a hypocrite to pick/choose!

I'd like to talk to those guys and see where they're coming from.

No, they don't look like they want to be talked to. They're real swaggery.

But it's more of a New York swagger than a Middle-Eastern swagger. In fact, this is pure New York: swaggering immigrant food vendors blasting music (actually quite good) that's absolutely a part of the city's patchwork heritage.

Carry on!
2. Tokyo Watermelon

I traveled to Tokyo with an all-black big band for a week of gigs. The promoter who'd made the arrangements held a reception for us upon arrival, featuring a large presentation of cut-up watermelon. I was the only one who understood he'd paid $100 per for those babies.

Was it a tremendous honor? Or a grievous stereotype?

My colleagues, oblivious to the expense and too hungry and jet-lagged to parse any stereotype, happily ravaged the damned watermelon like crazed locusts.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Tricks for Racking Up Credit Card Charges

Need to make a lot of purchases on a credit card, perhaps to hit a frequent flyer threshold or satisfy a new card's bonus sign-up promotion? Two tricks:

1. Upgrade your gadgets
If you were planning on an X year replacement schedule, you won't lose much by acting sooner. Your current stuff will fetch higher prices without the additional depreciation. This isn't practical if you desperately need the latest version due to launch in a few months, but on items where current's good enough, this is an easy enough move.

2. Buy something expensive on eBay and then resell
Only do this with items where you understand the market (for me, that'd be Apple tech). Look for reasonably good deals, try to haggle down a few bucks (tell them you'll pay immediately), and do diligence to ensure the seller's legit (must be 100% feedback, get them to send you an image of their sales receipt, etc.). Then as soon as you receive the item (after checking for shipping damage, etc) immediately list it for sale on eBay.

If you can market (i.e. write item description) more skillfully than your original seller, or be more patient about awaiting a sale (most eBay sellers are surprisingly desperate), you should get at least the same price, and perhaps enough extra to pay the eBay commission (around $75 on a $2000 laptop) .

If you don't have a 100% feedback eBay account with a decent number (>100) of transactions, build one. This is as useful as a high credit rating. It ensures you can get top dollar on all your sales. I ensure my 100% feedback by being super solicitous (I once emailed an eBay customer from an ambulance to apologize for blowing my shipping date - I threw in a gift DVD - and I'm willing to lose money to keep someone happy).


Update: two more:

1. Amazon gift cards.
If you order as much Amazon prime as I do, you'll go through a few hundred dollars pretty quickly.

2. Pay ahead on bills.
You can send your big cable, mobile, or electric companies as much money as you'd like, and automatically work off the credit as monthly invoices appear. The only hang-up is if you decide to suspend service. But if so, you'll get a check very easily. As awful as Verizon, ConEd, etc. may be, they won't sleaze you out of an account credit. That's just not their particular con.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Shutdown

Here’s how Trump gets out of this shutdown thing.

Get Terry Gilliam to do animations with cardboard cutouts of old British ladies and castles with fart noises, and then when the show comes back on it’s a whole other skit.


Monday, January 7, 2019

Solution to iPhone/iPad Mysterious Battery Draining

Does your Apple mobile device (especially iPads) drain its battery terrifyingly quickly? Maybe even when you're not using it?

You can read through 10,000 bewildered discussion threads recommending a slew of futile solutions....or you can simply turn off syncing of Notes and Reminders in the iCloud settings menu.

Pass it on.

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