Wednesday, January 31, 2024

How I Earned $3500 with the Click of a Button

A few weeks ago I explained why I - normally a super late adopter - planned to order Vision Pro.

And then I did! But I will cancel. Because I can't, after all, use it for the three Big Purposes I explained in that posting:
1. Inability to use a decent-sized monitor away from home (I can't write comfortably on laptop screens)...which makes travel feel austere and pulls me to go home. VisionPro will let me write on a 27" - or 75'! - virtual monitor anywhere (headset weight will limit endurance, but even so).

2. Inability to view movies and shows on a decent-sized TV away from home...which makes travel feel austere and pulls me to go home. VisionPro will seat me in a ginormous panoramic movie theater wherever I am. Even at home!
Three problems with travel: size, weight, and theft (and not the weight issue you think!).

I figured I'd throw this into a bag and bring it on the road. No. The thing is huge, and its carrying case may or may not fit in (i.e. totally dominate) a carry-on. This isn't like a laptop you sling over your shoulder. It's more like bringing along a nephew.

I've been taking cheap budget RyanAir and EasyJet flights around Europe, and their weight limits (on both carry-ons and checked) are insanely low; much more so than on American flights. I simply can't transport this thing!

I am more or less ok, albeit leery, traveling with a laptop. This costs double that. Not necessarily a deal-killer, but the OMG nature of a Vision Pro at this particular juncture - with hotel maids, fellow transport passengers, and just random eyes out there - is profound. I'm not interested in this as a status object, but high-status it is, which makes it not just a theft target; it makes me, generally, a far greater theft target. And, per above, it's not like I can hide it.

Bringing this thing on the road would be like transporting a giant movie camera, or several gold bars, or a donated live heart. It wouldn't be about getting myself from point A to point B; it would be about getting the damn headset from point A to point B. And that's ridiculous (and sure to improve in future - i.e. smaller/lighter/cheaper - versions).
3. I'll finally be able to watch my favorite film in 3-D, which is how it must be watched, without investing in some 2005-era 3-D TV setup. I've been flailing for workarounds, and all are crappy/pricey. VisionPro will be like watching it in a theater. Maybe even better!
Media management is still T.B.D., but, regarding 3-D content, specifically, it looks like it needs to download only - as of now, from Apple or from Disney. And neither is likely to carry my obscure artsy flick.

And there's no ability to hook the thing up to a blu-ray player, nor does it seem like I can rip my blu-ray into Vision Pro-ready format. I'm not 100% sure it will be impossible, but it will be far more likely with a later Vision Pro version.

As for the notorious weight of the thing (and, therefore, its short endurance window), I knew this would be the thing everyone harped on, and, sure enough, it is. Meh. I'd have sucked up that negative as an unavoidable v.1 thing. Too big/heavy/expensive is the perennial ante for getting in early on new tech.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Witnessing Other People's Storms

Ok. Cool. But I have a question!

What if someone feels they're "experiencing a storm" when they're just sitting under a drainpipe? What if the Storm isn't really a storm? Is it "mindful" to point it out? Or would that be "judgement", exacerbating the pain and anguish?

I know the response: I have cherry-picked an extreme case of exaggerated foolishness.

But no. It's always exaggerated foolishness. Without exception. There are no storms. Not one. And I may even convince you, if you'll read just a few more paragraphs.

If someone walked into your room right now brandishing a gun, you wouldn't add it to your basket of woes. You would not frame it as a "storm", nor would it soak your spirit. It would not feel like yet another burden to bear. None of that. Zero. Zilch. Nada. You'd attune your senses to the situation and handle it as best you can. You'd dive to the floor, you'd assess escape options, you'd weigh and re-weigh the wisdom of running for it. Maybe you'd handle it well, maybe not so well, but you'd handle it.

Once the gunman leaves, and you find yourself being interviewed by a cop or a doctor, that's when all that other stuff would start. When it's not an immediate problem.

Storms are what we manufacture during peaceful lulls. During actual storms, we're too occupied to frame them as storms. Real problems are handled, period. Manufactured problems are nursed and milked and stoked and widely proclaimed and hung on your chest as a glimmering token of glorious victimhood.

Only people without actual immediate problems have time to contrive drama. People with problems - actual problems - are busy working the problem. No time for drama.

If woeful drama is your bag, god bless you. We're all free to enjoy hobbies and idle pasttimes. But here's the thing. If so, don't involve me, because I'm precisely the hurtful villain you're memeing about, above. I'm your antagonist.

It's that I actually care, as only a fool can. So I will foolishly take you at your word, assuming you'd prefer a better result. Thinking you truly want to relieve your burden, I will inform you - very much from "the shelter of my own perspective"! - that you're sitting under a leaky pipe and there is no storm and your life is beautiful and the envy of all your ancestors. I am Beelzebub. I am The Evil One. I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. And, worst of all, per the quote above, I lack mindfulness. I truly do!

From "Truth is Like House Lights":
If you imagine that the truth really heals, the joke's on you. You’re like the lunatic in the audience who rushes to the stage to protect Caesar from the stabbing knives. There's no denying that falsehood would be thus dispelled, tragedy prevented, and the sham nature of the enterprise entirely illuminated. Good job on that. However, you'll have ruined the experience for all present.
The surprising completion of my line of thought is the blithe recognition that they're ENJOYING it! And it's fine! The meme is (unintentionally) right: don't judge! Let them enjoy starring in a sad movie in which they fraughtly bear the Storms with which they've been unjustly saddled. Don't ruin it! Play along! Politeness is in the pretending, so all this meme is saying is: be polite!

And I wonder why I have 25 readers.....

More pontifications on social media memes

Monday, January 29, 2024

Blind Rebuke

It's been years since anyone asked me to clarify anything, in any context.

The new mode is to charge ahead with counter-argument based on incomplete understanding - often hinging on some random keyword that caught attention.

We have lost, as a society (as a species?) any impulse to seek clear understanding prior to rebuke.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Strength, Wealth, Intelligence, Beauty, Generosity, Wisdom

Be careful in choosing aspects to develop. Repercussions are not always what you'd imagine.

If you become very strong, you'll live in a world of weaklings.
Fine! You're the strong guy! You don't need others to be strong!
If you become wealthy, you'll live in a world of thirst.
Same, but with an inexorable problem: you remain every bit as thirsty as they are. Likely even more so. If wealth slaked the thirst for wealth, wealthy people wouldn't invest. But, no, billionaires are more eager than anyone for a killing. (Of course, you know my explanation: every last one of us, in the First World, is obscenely rich, so even "normal" Americans are titans obscenely thirsting for More.)
If you develop your intelligence, you'll live in a world of dimwits.
Exasperating, but, hey, you're the superior one. If that's an ego thing, you'll cultivate the withering arrogance affected by stupid people, which is hilarious. If not, you'll pitch in with it. Like the strong guy, you'll eagerly step in to lift heavier loads.

Ego divides intelligent people into one of two entirely different worlds.
If you develop your beauty, you'll live in a world of ugliness.
Fantastic! You're The One! You needn't be smart of funny or kind or clever. You are endlessly fascinating and universally admired while merely sitting there (see "The Immense Stature of an Attractive Person Making Idle Small Talk"). Problem: the immense thirst of the thirsty world is directed toward you - existentially! - which is maddeningly creepy, albeit monetizable.
If you develop your generosity, you'll live in a world of selfishness.
This presents a conundrum: Real generosity isn't allowing yourself to be feasted upon by predators. And it's not generous to, say, supply alcoholics with vodka. Generous people find prospective avenues of generosity closed down, one after another, as they try to be legitimately helpful in a selfish world of braying aristocrats wanting for nothing (aside from a bracing shift of perspective). Even a Messiah would be hard-pressed to redeem this world in a way that actually works (much less sticks).

Generosity, alas, is a natural byproduct of the next aspect:
If you develop wisdom, you will live in a world of fools.
The sticky wicket is that no one will recognize you as wise, because it takes wisdom to spot wisdom. In fact, you'll seem the greatest fool of all, because Dunning Kruger is slightly "off". Intelligence shouldn't be their point of distinction. It's wisdom.

Society has mechanisms for ascertaining intelligence and putting smart people to good use. But a fool couldn't spot a wise man if one fell on him from the 35th floor (another fool likely having shoved him out the window). And it's all fools all the way down (none greater than the intelligent who opt into withering arrogance).

Then why meditate, read, study, and ponder if wisdom comes to that? First, you don't expect it to come to that, because, duh, you didn't start out wise! But you keep going even as truth dawns, because curiosity is being sated. And if your curiosity is all-consuming, it will not relent until it's had all the epiphanies.

My mentor, saxophonist Arnie Lawrence, cautioned me, at a very young age, that I shouldn't even consider becoming a jazz musician unless I'm powerless to resist.

It's like that.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Self-Healing: Itches

This is part of a series of postings on self-healing, which you can access via the "Self-Healing" tag which appears in the Slog’s left margin below "Popular Entries". For general tips and background on self-healing, read this.

This cure for itches works like magic for me, but I've only tested it once (on an allergic thingie on my finger which hydrocortisone cream only barely alleviated, and which nearly drove me mad last night). The other entries in this self-healing series, being extensively tested, are offered with greater confidence. But this one's more of a work-in-progress, so please report results in the comments, especially if it doesn't work for you.
1. Concentrate on the itch point (not difficult!)

2. Also concentrate on the same spot on the other side of your body. If the itch is on your left knee, also concentrate on the right knee. If the itch is on the right side of your chest, concentrate, too, on the same spot on the left side of your chest. To be clear: don't concentrate on one or the other, but on both at once.
Yes, this is a strange thing to do, but if there were a non-strange cure for itches, it would have been noticed eons ago. This is surprising and delightful - if it works! - because people are extremely unlikely to bump into it randomly. It's NEW. And new things seem "strange". Get past it!

Optional third step, a bit more touchy-feely: try to feel your heartbeat in both spots. It's not necessary, but it helps.

Simple move, I know. Childishly simple! In my experience, self-healing always turns out to involve simple moves, though it takes years and years to discover and refine them. That's the complicated part!

The answer is never "Travel to Indonesia and hear the mating call of the Javanese lapwing at sunrise while sipping kumquat juice". It's always vanishingly small. If I were selling these fixes, I'd probably add extra steps just to persuade people it's serious. No one wants to fix health problems with solutions seemingly thought up by a seven year-old (Me, I was a helluva clear-eyed seven year-old, and I still make hay with his style of doing things).

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Wrong Spaghetti

Crossposted from Facebook

Memorable stewed veal and spaghetti in the same anonymous apartment building snack bar whose chicken and potatoes I wrote about yesterday

This is the only restaurant in Portugal where I'll eat pasta. And I don't eat it as "Pasta," like we think of it, nor do they cook it as such. Just another starchy sponge. Which, come to think of it, is how Italian pasta started, too.

No one involved in the cooking of this spaghetti ever even saw an Italian movie. Ask the chef if it's "al dente" and she'd point curtly at her chipped incisor. This is as Portuguese as all get-out, and yet no Italian village grandma would object. They'd grok it instantly. The common DNA is in the soul, not the tastebuds.

Another way of looking at it: the chef has recreated goulash and noodles. And if it seems odd to swap spaghetti in for noodles, remember that Italy is a stone's throw from Eastern Europe. Pasta *is* noodles. That's not the 20th century marketing, I know. But go to Croatia and order fuzi (bow tie pasta) with veal sauce (basically goulash) and things will begin to clarify


Crossposted from Facebook

I passed Portuguese Food 101 back in the 90s while doing gigs here. And I think I've also finished Portuguese Food 201, for which there is no textbook. Currently I'm immersed in an independent study in potatoes.

See below with baked chicken at a no-nonsense eat-and-get-the-fuck-out little joint that's way below-radar for anyone not living in the apartment building above. I may be their only customer ever to travel over 1/16th of a mile for lunch there. I am viewed with immense curiosity. But me, I'm all about the potatoes. I am a professional.

The Paradox of Pacing and Density in the 21st Century

Two postings ago, I lambasted my own recent posting, "Why New Year's Resolutions Don't Stick Part 2 ":
My signature shtick - explaining complicated, counterintuitive, esoteric stuff with the easy informality I apply to chocolate pudding - didn't work. The posting, to my shame, is nearly unreadable. Too much to swallow, force-fed with eerily relentless casualness. Yeesh. coincidence...
A quick digression about coincidence! When you're mentally working on something, you become far more sensitive and receptive to random elements which shed light on the problem. This is a major component of the inescapable impression that Everything That Happens Teaches You Precisely What You Need to Learn in This Moment.

The more you lock on to a problem, the more disparate bits get noticed and correlated, dislodging previous framings and offering fresh ones - aka insight/epiphany/eureka. The less distracted you are with gratuitous drama, ego salve, and fluffy bullshit, the more cognitive headroom you have for noticing and processing these bits. This explains how reflective, curious people become insightful.

Coincidence doesn't happen to you; you make it happen by choosing to pay attention to choicer, riper strands amid the noisy Piano Smash of it all (r
ather than, for example, freaking out about the problem or cursing the gods for not dropping easy solutions in your lap).
By coincidence I just noticed this video effort by Randall Munroe, the cartoonist behind nerd comic XKCD, testing out a new medium:

It has the exact same flaw (at least for my second-rate intellect): lots of stuff you might need to chew on for a moment gets shoved in your face at breakneck speed with an irritatingly blasé attitude of "relax, you've got this!"

Munroe figures if he just explains clearly, and sprinkles clever visual doodads, he can get away with unspooling as much material as he likes at fast conversational tempo. Easy peasy. You've got this!

He and I both have pacing problems. And understandably so! 21st century viewers will blow you off in a heartbeat if you're not endlessly stimulating. You must tap-dance as furiously as a varmint can dance for any chance of retaining their rare and skittish attention (I once likened modern writers to childrens' party clowns). So, from sheer flop sweat, Munroe and I both rush through things. We’re terrified to seem the least bit draggy, lest viewers flip over to cat videos and chat boxes.

His material is technical. He could slow it down by 50% and the problem would be solved. Brains are made to process that sort of information - just not as kinetically as Munroe spoons it out. My material, by contrast, is more singular. There's no engrained mental function for absorbing the thoughts in my earlier posting, even at 10% speed. Not that they're so profound. Just unfamiliar!

Furthermore, Munroe is one of millions of people with solid understanding of tech stuff, while I'm the only guy offering these singular thoughts. This makes my stuff orders of magnitude more opaque, so I ought to proceed at something more like 1% speed. And translating "speed" into writing means my 2100 word essay needed to be 210,000 words long. And I can't ask 21st century people to read 210,000 words of painstaking explanation. At least not written by some food zealot/trombonist. Maybe if Seth Godin wrote it! :)

I once described this Slog as an offering of cognitive lozenges:
Slog postings are intentionally designed to reward - and even require - multiple re-readings. See those "Popular Entries" listed on the extreme left side of the page? I've read each of them a dozen or more times, myself. And I wrote them!

These postings are cognitive lozenges which, by design, impede speedy absorption (by, for example, forcing you to unpack phrases like "cognitive lozenges"). The ideas that absorb me are counterintuitive and nuanced, and while I always leave a breadcrumb trail, I choose not to spoon-feed (having worked as a professional spoon-feeder for years). I want you to work it all through, as I have, and maybe go further than I could.

We are accustomed to writers pre-masticating their stuff into a slurpy paste for instant digestion. That treatment works for conventional notions, but, again: Surprising observations can't be hastily gulped.
I am confessedly not up to the task of determining the optimal density of lozenge - for an "average" reader among an invisible crowd - and then writing faithfully to that formula. Nor have I dreamed up a way to persuade people to read 20,000 or 200,000 word blog posts from a food zealot trombonist.

Worst of all, these issues are moving targets! Every decade, readers have significantly less patience for length and density. We are increasingly conditioned for meme-y tweets, utterances, and smileys, not for chewing on the meaning of it all (the sub-rosa is no longer even a thing!). If future people stumble upon the Slog, it will seem as daunting and impenetrable as dusty tomes of 19th-century German philosophy seem today. Even though I work overtime to be witty and infectious (Kant and Hegel did no such thing!).

I may be spinning wheels. It might be that thers is no place for any of this sort of thing in the Wall-E future.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Friday, January 19, 2024

Supreme Pillows and Abashed Apologies

Scroll down for a swell tip for pillows.

So few people read here that posting feels like peeing into the wind. So I sometimes post stuff on Facebook that I don't bother cross-posting here. Which is awful of me, because the diehards reading along here are the most important people in my world, and it's unconscionable that I'd sell you short.

I once wrote a weekly diary for Slate (here's Monday, here's Tuesday, here's Wednesday, here's Thursday, here's Friday), and in the "Monday" installment I noted how unusual it was for a distressed restaurateur to maintain quality once hope's lost. Well, I'm ashamed to admit that I'm the disappointing sort of restaurateur.

I'm feeling particularly low because I reread yesterday's entry with fresh eyes, and can see that my signature shtick - explaining complicated, counterintuitive, esoteric stuff with the easy informality I apply to chocolate pudding - didn't work. The posting, to my shame, is nearly unreadable. Too much to swallow, force-fed with eerily relentless casualness. Yeesh.

The points are good and apt, but my breezy tone just doesn't work with the subject matter. I'm not sure what to do. It's far too late to affect gravitas, signalling how frickin' deep it all is (and I am), talking down to people and making them feel like what I'm proposing is entirely out of reach without HARD WORK and CAREFUL STUDY and A FIBER-RICH DIET.

None of that is true. Everything I write here is low-hanging fruit, immediately ripe for picking. But it's so different from conventional framing that I need to work hard to explain why a fresh view is even warranted! Perhaps I ought to go old school, writing with weighty pomposity, and blizzards of words, to make you feel like you need to learn stuff rather than merely reconsider entrenched assumptions. Idunno. I'm sort of at a loss.

Anyway, I just posted the following tip about pillows to Facebook. Feel free to befriend me there, but I'll try to remember to cross-post here, too, in future. I don't know what's wrong with me, taking you for granted. It's irrational to spurn 25 attention-payers just because they're not 25,000. Thanks for reading, seriously.
You can't imagine the degree of research I've invested in pillows. It started with an early realization that no purchase is more important, given that we spend 8 hours every single day nuzzling one of these. Economizing on pillows is insane. Most people, for reasons I don't understand, sleep on compacted hard cheap ones that are 97% dust mite feces. It's no wonder most everyone proclaims their life to be shit.

I'm well-schooled in goose down. I've carefully researched luxe $$$ options. My attitude has been "here; take my wallet, just give me a pillow that will make 1/3 of my life pleasurable!" But I've found that that's not the answer. You can't spend your way to pillow satisfaction.

If you are a side sleeper, buy this (in "firm") for just $49.

All-down pillows are wonderful (and exorbitant), but they will never work for side sleepers, because their nature is to compact. This one has enough down for comfort and enough feathers for loft. You'll still need to swap out a new one after a year or two (this is critical: only full-down pillows last longer than that, and, again, full-down doesn't have enough loft for side-sleepers). But at $49, a new pillow every year or two is viable. You can also wait till they go on sale.

Oh, and also buy a normy pillow to stick between your knees if you sleep on your side. Whatever's on sale at Target.

Don't expect comfort that calls attention to itself. It's not a luxe experience. It's just exactly what you need. It's The Missing Piece. Life is now viable. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Why New Year's Resolutions Don't Stick Part 2

I'd recommend re-scanning Part 1 before proceeding.

The title is clickbait, just for jollies. This is a more ambitious undertaking: an exploration of how we manage processes, generally. How we keep them running, add new ones, and, sometimes, crash the entire structure. It sheds light on the New Year's Resolution problem, sure, but it’s way more broadly useful.


Processes, considered individually, can seem hopeful. Some process somewhere in your life is improving! But the aggregate? Oy. The aggregate is an eternal problem. A bane, even.

It must be clear by now that life is a game of whack-a-mole. To mix metaphorical critters, our ducks will not line up, at least not for long. This is not a steady-state world; it's a realm of ceaseless disruption and interruption. And we're NOT OKAY WITH IT. Let's get that straight right now!

If aliens - having observed us via their quantum scopes on Arcturus-5 - were to draw a cartoon panel summing up life on Earth, it would be a harried dude clutching his head between his hands and moaning about never catching a break ("Mlok, Mlok, Mlok!" chortles Exslx the Younger; "That is SO human!").

Look up from your screen and behold 8 billion humans desperately struggling to tame it all into a composed snapshot for just one goddam moment.

And failing!

We can't be satisfied until we find a status quo where our nice processes run nicely; where we tinker with our fun workshop processes while working briskly down the list of all those totally do-able New Year's resolutions (remember, this is fantasy talking), with no nasty imposed tasks arising to upset the apple cart.

The problem is, the Universe absolutely hates that scenario. And we, in turn, hate the Universe for hating it. We're quite literally at war with the Universe over its perennial disruption. And, unsurprisingly, it's winning the war, though we’ll never concede defeat.

A Brief Injection of Broader Perspective

Of course we never stop to think any of this through (I do - insightfully, too! - but I'm down to about 25 steady readers). Instead, we pump ourselves full of stress and clench tightly in our eternal struggle for a flatly enduring status quo which would absolutely bore our pants off if it ever lasted more than a couple days (remember always that this maddening world is precisely tailored to our preference).

Nearly all stress stems from the universe's effort to give us what we actually want: lots of rich interruption, disruption, drama, and friction. Plenty of crap to complain about and problems to fall in love with and high-stakes outcomes enticing us to hope and pray and bet and thirst.

In that posting I keep linking to ("Why God Lets Bad Things Happen") I noted how we build interruption, disruption, drama and friction into every work of fiction and feat of imagination. Conflict is requisite in art, storytelling, and fantasizing. If our lives run smoothly for any length of time, we contrive Rich People Problems or engage in self-destructive behavior. When happiness arises, we grasp for painful ballast as countermeasure. A surprisingly large number of us drink to the point of spinning nausea to escape the daily oppression of level, grounded sobriety - exactly the thing we profess to desire.

I started this section saying:
We will never be satisfied until we find a status quo where our nice processes run nicely...
We wouldn't be the least bit satisfied then, either.

But enough broader truth. For the remainder, let's keep pretending we're hapless creatures trying to catch a break in a cruel cold world rife with obstruction and persecution.

The Mechanism of Breakdowns

When the tree falls and blasts a hole in your roof AND your car gets stolen, that's duress. The death of 1000 cuts seems just over the horizon. You'll know you've past a tipping point when you feel no impulse to complain about it. This means you have actual problems ("How to Tell If You Have an Actual Problem"), and other processes will slow or halt while you work the problem.

It doesn't matter if the aggravating process was added by choice (workshop) or by chance (imposed). Either way, the whole stack slows down and loses efficiency. We begin to "lose it". Keep going (which we often do, because winnowing processes feels like diminishment, and we want to feel like Winners) and you can find yourself in extremis.

Demon processes, meanwhile, keep spinning just fine. Like cockroaches, they'll survive anything. But they begin to grate on us as we become overextended. Camels and straws!

Kids get into trouble by over-packing workshop processes, and by underestimating the time/attention necessary to kindle an engrained process. Adults are normally disrupted by imposed processes.

But, either way, an extra process is an extra process, and headroom is surprisingly limited. Drastic overestimatation of headroom explains the futility of New Year's resolutions, which we foolishly expect to load like cartridges.

The Myth of Multitasking

Psychologists have shown multitasking to be a myth. Duh. Divided attention is divided attention. Fragmenting attention obviously impacts quality/efficiency/speed. Those who imagine themselves skillful multitaskers are oblivious to their outcomes. Given that few of us are inclined to soberly assess our results, it's hardly surprising that virtually all of us feel like deft multitaskers!

So, without multitasking, how did I ply seven different careers and boatloads of interests, hobbies, and obsessions? First, I didn't do it all simultaneously. It was serial, not parallel. I explained this in my posting on Procrastination (a must-read follow-up to this series), and also this, my posting on Promiscuity. Second: loads of passion, plied playfully/eagerly, not dryly/maturely. Third: I tried (sometimes more successfully than other times) not to waste headroom with processes of self-drama. More on that later.

Paralysis and Shame

You know you've reached really severe disruption/over-extension when engrained processes start to go haywire. Not just center stage workshop processes; but even the slow-simmering engrained stuff gets flakey. We don't eat right, or bathe regularly, and the rhododendron croaks from lack of water as engrained processes fail to fire on schedule.

This conjures up deep shame. I'm lazy! Broken! How hard is it, after all, to water the damned rhododendron?

Wrong question. It's not a lack of will, or a decline of competence. It's a lack of headroom. And headroom is more limited than we realize. Only an old guy sees this properly!

"But wait!" you might argue. "As over-extended as I feel right now, I'm still not working 24/7! I watched a movie last night! What's wrong with me, watching movies when I'm too disrupted to brush my teeth or lock the door? Surely, I'm lazy and/or broken!"

No. Watching movies represents a vital core process: rest. Humans must rest. We must periodically turn off our brains and immobilize our bodies, and spend time transported into other realities via novels, movies, songs, fantasy, revery, and/or dreams. Our bodies will not let us forego this, just as we can't easily renounce food, shelter, and sleep.

Rest is not avoidance of process. Rest is, itself, a process. A core one! That said, stretching out on a couch for days while your life blows up isn't "rest". Avoidance isn't rest. Beyond a minimal requirement, which you don't need to think about, because your body will shove you hard into rest mode all on its own, Rest is Not Real.

Tidy nuggets of rest are obligatory, and feelings of shame (our society retains latent Puritanism) add to the paralysis, shame being yet another process to juggle.

We can certainly hunker down for a few hours, knocking out tasks, but not indefinitely, like a computer blithely working through an infinite queue of tasks. Brunt-force is not a sustainable tactic - which, among other things, explains why we fail to willfully wedge New Year's Resolutions into the fabric of our lives.

"No sweat! Throw a few new processes into the hopper and proceed!" proclaimed an imaginary cartoon version of you. In real life, as we keep relearning, processes don't launch crisply on command, even when we have space in our lives for them. It's fraught and delicate and implausible, like trying to strike a match in a hurricane. Again, it's not about talent, competence, or fortitude. It's all about headroom. We need a sober grasp of our limited process bandwidth, especially since we're taught to imagine ourselves having unlimited potential.

Getting Past Notions of Indomitability

No! We don't have unlimited potential! C'mon! In fact, don't even use that word! Amid all the plate-spinning sturm und drang, getting your ego involved - with its dysmorphic illusions of Vast Potential and so forth - is a humungous mistake. It's also yet another process!

Potential fulfills out of process, like water jets from a fountain. The gushing fountains - the outcomes of our labors - are for others to regard and admire. Rather than muse about this grand trajectory, better to focus attention on those jets. Work the processes single-mindedly and you can avoid the exhausting burden of self-mythologizing - and all the self-deception you'll need to engineer when evidence accumulates that you're really not all that!

Quick Review

To review: We imagine, cartoonishly, that we can stack more processes willy-nilly. That we're gnarly that way. In reality, we can maintain our engrained processes, plus a workshopped process - or two or three of them if we playfully leap betwixt - plus the imposed process du jour and the next one inevitably en route. Overdoers make the catastrophic error of heaping on additional processes of shame and self-mythology, making it impossible to get anything done at all (explaining why most people do nothing).

As it all starts crumbling, a bath or movie is normal and acceptable. Same for smiling. But while we're capable of remarkable feats of exertion and endurance, no machine-like version of yourself is poised to swap in and work with cold machine-like efficiency. That's a cartoon - the same one where, on January 2, we leap up from our chairs to go pump iron, clean the basement, and practice cello, while keeping all previous tasks deftly in play.

Happy Frickin' New Year

You will not learn French or karate unless you've been graced with sufficient peace and space to comfortably ply your engrained processes and gently, intentionally, set aside a workshop process or two. If you even use words like "peace" and "space", that shows you're enjoying a respite between imposed processes. Muster some gratitude, and dig in until the septic tank overflows or your kid dislocates his shoulder.

Certain conditions must coincide. It's like needle-threading! Ramping up a new process is not something that can be scheduled, like a dentist visit. That's not how process works. Except, of course, in the cartoon version of you and your life, where adding a process is like popping in a cassette tape.

Space, the Final Frontier

If you're unhappy with the narrow limitations, you have two routes: fit things more cleverly into existing vacant space, or find ways to create more space. Either way, don't ever imagine you can stave off predicaments and persecutions. No human being has ever won an enduring victory against entropy.

The magic trick involves reframing, as usual. I've learned to carve out "peace, space, and comfort", and used the spaciousness to load more workshop processes - while, critically, leaving plenty of room for imposed tasks, which I've come to soberly expect and respect. I do not fight them. I do not resist. I am an ant.

I handle imposed processes coolly, practically, undramatically, and minimize their disruption by 1. simplifying my life and 2. learning to keep processes running amid tumult, mostly by avoiding self-pity and the shrieking of "No No No No!" I've become cordial with The Unthinkable. We play cards every Wednesday night. Freaking out is the most taxing and disruptive process of all, and I can't afford it. I've opted out of that indulgence, because it's just too damned expensive.

When you get a respite between imposed challenges, and eagerly take on a new workshop process, do not imagine you've achieved a New Normal. It's an exception, not an entitlement. Most people think of an undisturbed, unmolested, uninterrupted life as their birthright. Interruptions bubble up from some other realm, forcing us to pause Life until we can once again restart the clock and continue living. Opt out of this insane framing to be less pained and stunned (less interrupted!) when tumult arises, as it certainly will. Reframe the tumult! Deem it not interruption, but just another process to work!
Ok, now we're into the juicy stuff.
The life clock never stops! Remember the closing line from last time:
Living never pauses. Process = Life.

Next time: more Juicy Stuff, a Curveball, and advice for building a grand feast one plate at a time.

Monday, January 15, 2024

The Conundrum of Building Out Virtual Worlds

Even the most expansive, expensively-developed game world is fairly thin. The barkeep offering to sell you his treasure map has scant back story to share, making your efforts at conversation unrewarding. Storefronts passed while Accomplishing the Mission are largely placeholders. It's never very deep, or broad, or interesting. That's why there always needs to be some exciting Mission.
Yah, obvious connection to the final paragraph here; life in Utopia, with nearly all our actual problems solved, feels thin, leaving us aristocrats eager for some craptastic Mission or other.
In fact, if a game creator tried to fill in every last detail, it would be off-putting, ala uncanny valley, because it couldn't possibly be deep enough to be convincing. There isn't enough money in the world to hire enough artists and writers to build out a really rich virtual world. In fact, there aren't enough artists and writers, period. Quality creative work is painstaking and does not lend itself to output at scale. Creativity is a retail enterprise, not wholesale.

Crowdsourced virtual worlds like Second Life are a bit more enriched, with a degree of sprawl and detail unachievable by a centralized team. But the tools used to construct in-game elements are inherently limited, so it's paper thin despite the diversity. And the mechanics of gameplay are necessarily rigid (we can't need to learn new gameplay methods or buy new hardware whenever we swing open a door or walk around a corner), further narrowing the experience. And there can be few through-stories in such a world. There are hard limits to the ability to align the work of disparate people.

So when cyberpunk authors like William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, and Neal Stephenson conjured up Virtual Reality - an immersive online world that could be dived into at will by a future populace - it was hard to imagine how such a thing would be built, inch by inch. I was dubious, even as someone who's run online communities since their early beginnings.

But it just occurred to me that AI is perfect for this fill-in work. Yes, the result would be chopped up and reassembled from bits and snatches of previous works of imagination, but that's ideal! After all, that's true even of the worldiest world we know - this one. It's why history rhymes. We revel in deja vu.

An AI could build out an immensely large, immensely detailed, immensely diverse world with comparative ease. And it would likely be doable within a couple generations of AI development.

It’s a perfect match for the recycling nature of AI. A given area might be very loosely reminiscent of The Maltese Falcon, another like a scenario from the Illiad (with a bit of hippy-era Berkely). And it wouldn't feel like cumbersome "genre". An AI could apply a far lighter touch than humans are capable of. I.e. you don’t need to register that you’re in the Maltese Falcon. Most earthly experiences are rather thin regenerations of previous contrivances (hence “archetypes”), anyway. So the signature AI mash-up touch would serve to meet people’s expectations. Things would seem just familiar enough.

If the virtual world were generated on the fly, users might even configure it, e.g. order more familiar or less familiar environments and behaviors. That’s easy for AI. 

Hardware aside, the trickiest matter would be wisely setting standards. Neither too chaotic nor too confining. That would need to be done by humans, but it takes a certain kind of mind to envision - someone like Walt Disney or Ben Franklin or Steve Jobs. You need to really understand human behavior, while most of today's tech bros have a naive comic book view of human nature, shmuckily imagineering proposals like Universal Basic Income and Mars Colonization as cool ideas for a happy society.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Alex Jones and Pro-Hamas

I was living five miles from Newtown/Sandy Hook during the shooting, where friends of mine died. When Alex Jones later smeared his excrement all over the incident, I didn't roll my eyes or rush to anger. I just felt physically sick, and mildly ashamed to be part of a species capable of such evil. I was vacantly shocked, like someone had shot a cannonball clear through my abdomen.

Progressive reaction to the Hamas attack (leaving aside for now the broader Israeli/Palestinian conflict) leaves me feeling that very same Alex Jones nausea/shame. I'm once again post-cannonball.

What I take away from this comparison is that our problems are not based on ideology. Alex Jones and progressives have nothing ideologically in common whatsoever. It's something more tectonic: the fabled "horseshoe effect". The yin/yang truism that the crazies at both ends are not only both crazy, but crazy in effectively the same way. They've caught the same virus, regardless of the antithetical slogans on their placards and bumper stickers.

The real problem is not the ideology, or even the extremist leaders spouting that ideology. The problem is extremism itself. Despite mountains of cold, hard experience, we seem unable to focus on this. Our attention won't quite stay there.

At the dawn of the Trump era I made a case for centrism (e.g. this). There still exists a super majority of reasonable people, if we could only recognize it - i.e. frame it that way. But we can't, due to a perennial problem too pervasive and unconscious to even have a name.

Reasonable, mild conservatives roll their eyes wearily at MAGA extremists, exactly the way reasonable mild progressives roll their eyes wearily at pro-Hamas extremists. We dislike the radicals on our side, but it's a vague, familial aversion, compared to the other side's radicals, whom we watch closely, loathing them with the heat of a thousand suns.

Hating and fearing the other side's extremists far more than own side's extremists makes it devilishly hard to see that the true problem is extremism, period.
I've had friends sever ties when I told them I'm friends with some reasonable Trump-voting Republicans. That's extremism, baby. It's one thing for a racist to mildly dislike black people, but quite another for them to violently repudiate white friends who befriend them.
Even those who see the truth of this seem to remain susceptible to the proposition of plowing straight through; to radicalizing your side's moderates via relentless anger provocation to finally, joyously, thrash, smash, and trash those awful people. It's a function of our engrained tribalism. The old shirts vs skins.

Even if we convinced people to take a good hard look at their own tribe's extremists, it would hardly guarantee benevolent reframing. Mostly, they'd either flip to the opposite camp (again: shirts or skins!), or else sink into cynical nihilism, because renouncing extremism leaves little to get excited about.

I implore you to get excited about moderation. Take yourself out of the market for beautiful mass movements and simple Utopias and fantasies of smashing, thrashing, and trashing the bad guys. Take yourself out of the market of being on A Team You Can Believe In, and just quietly elect quietly competent leaders...without disengaging from the process! Most of all: be intensely suspicious of any parties trying to stoke your anger when you're already furious.

What I’m suggesting is like walking a tightrope. And it's boring. But you know what would make a huge chunk of the populace crave some boredom? Civil war. Autocracy. Pogroms. There's nothing like cinders, smoke, and an empty belly to raise the cachet of boredom. Alas, boredom is a tough sell at the very peak moment of humanity.

Hyper-stimulated, infinitely-entitled Americans haven't felt attracted to quiet competence since the 1950s. We crave excitement and drama. Deeming ourselves uniformly exceptional, our politics - like every other aspect of our lives! - needs to feel like The Best!

To some tiny degree, I helped stoke that impulse. I'm still coming to terms with it.

It's So Very Very Chic to Reframe Heaven and Hell

I'm not attributing any cause/effect here (remember the parable of the popcorn kernels), but to go from Slog to Angelina Jolie's pretentious boutique in under three years involves some weird accelerative juju...

My Posting from March 2019
This Week

More on the topic: "Paradise Lost"

Sunday, January 7, 2024

The Genius Dog and the Conventional Dog

I kept trying to get ChatGPT to analyze some text and report on word frequency (a very bread-and-butter computer task). It was very reluctant to do this grunt work, suggesting I find and use a specialist program.

"I advise using text analysis tools or software for in-depth tasks like subset analysis, as they're designed for such operations." The conversation continued:

Eventually, I offered a surprising metaphor, and the AI began spinning its cursor, taking nearly a minute to construct its responses. I was afraid I'd broken it! But it performed well, I thought. As abstract as I was getting, I never lost it.

This is a good illustration of an AI being very different from a conventional computer program.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Apple and Vision Pro

Predictions: Apple's VisionPro will blow out all expectations. It will sell out its entire first run in short order, and endlessly raise its profile as a blockbuster product as revisions appear. Even at $3500, a price pundits and analysts consider prohibitive.

I'm getting one. Not for status. Not because I'm an early adopter. It's that VisionPro solves three of my most long-standing insoluble problems:
1. Inability to use a decent-sized monitor away from home (I can't write comfortably on laptop screens)...which makes travel feel austere and pulls me to go home. VisionPro will let me write on a 27" - or 75'! - virtual monitor anywhere (headset weight will limit endurance, but even so).

2. Inability to view movies and shows on a decent-sized TV away from home...which makes travel feel austere and pulls me to go home. VisionPro will seat me in a ginormous panoramic movie theater wherever I am. Even at home!

3. I'll finally be able to watch my favorite film in 3-D, which is how it must be watched, without investing in some 2005-era 3-D TV setup. I've been flailing for workarounds, and all are crappy/pricey. VisionPro will be like watching it in a theater. Maybe even better!
I have never bought the pricey v1.0 version of any hardware. But I will buy this in a hot minute. No question. Take my money.

And here's the thing. Since selling my startup to a Fortune 500 company, I've repeatedly found myself locked out of a slew of unaffordable products, services, and experiences. Certainly, more is available to me now than when I was a NYC trombonist making $30,000/year, but I cannot tell you how many times I've had to pass on stuff which tons of normal-seeming people seem easily able to afford (Tesla; business class; heedless AC and heating; renovations just 'cuz; etc.). I always mutter the same questions to myself: "Who are these people? Did they sell, like, two or three startups to Fortune 500 companies? Where do all these people get all this money?"

If I can pay $3500 for VisionPro, loads and loads of people can easily do likewise. If I can afford it, it is not priced out of contention!
There have been rumors about a better cheaper VisionPro slated to launch in 2027. WOW, YOU DON'T SAY?!? I'm gonna go out on a limb and predict that an even better even cheaper one will come out in 2028. And the VP4 will put that one to shame in 2029! This is, duh, the way of gadgets, and none of it affects initial launch prospects, because those who miss out will need to wait 3 years for anything remotely like this device, which does things a great many people have long thirsted for. (You too, even if you don't yet realize it. The average person figures this is just another dorky Google Glasses thing. Nyuh-uh. Not at all.)
Apple's stock is down again (it endlessly cycles for no meaningful reason). It may drop further. The press and analysts love to jump on a bandwagon, figuring they'll look prescient by pure momentum (and their glom-on ensures self-fulfilling prophecy). As usual, phalanxes of geniuses piped up to pitch gloom the moment the stock price trembled. Soon it may return to the $160s and we'll enjoy another safe, easy opportunity for another 20% gain as it returns to $200. And Vision Pro, IMO, will take it far above.

That last part, however, is opinion; conjecture; speculation. $200 is closer to a sure thing. Or at least an immensely safe bet on a nearly sure thing.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Why New Year's Resolutions Don't Stick Part 1

The title is clickbait, just for jollies. This is a more ambitious undertaking: an exploration of how we manage processes, generally. How we keep them running, add new ones, and, sometimes, crash the entire structure. It sheds light on the New Year's Resolution problem, sure, but it’s way more broadly useful.

It's also the sort of thing a seven year old might come up with. I should note that my seven year-old self devised a childish budget approach which I still use to this day. It's sensationally pragmatic and useful. I hope this series will be similarly clarifying.

You'll be shocked at where this leads (in Part 3). Process disruption is mankind's greatest scourge, pound for pound, so a side benefit to dissecting this is, ho-hum, the key to happiness...not that that's what people actually want (here's what they want, and here's how they ensure it).

This is brought to you by your friendly neighborhood jazz trombonist/pianist/teacher/composer-arranger/writer/food pundit/Internet pioneer/community manager/entrepreneur/corporate sellout/karma yogi/philosopher/devoted chowhound. Longtime readers have observed that I keep an unusually gigantic number of pots simmering. So I know something about juggling processes. Catastrophic overload, too. Running Chowhound unfunded meant working seven or eight fulltime jobs concurrently for nearly a decade (unpaid). And that was far from the only time I strapped on The Red Shoes and nearly danced myself to death.

So this is very hard-won knowledge. You never want to touch bottom with this stuff. I did so you don't have to. Think of me as the Chuck Yeager of process management...with some post-accident Christopher Pike mixed in (blinking out "yes" or "no" responses via his adorable little light).

"Process" refers to projects, endeavors, and issues actively ongoing. Basically: the plates we keep spinning, small and large. Think of this as a meditation on plate-spinning.

Ok, I'll describe four levels of processes:

Demon Processes

Demons are tiny ongoing background processes. Reminders, alarms, alerts, vigils, etc., sane and otherwise. "Background" is a holdover from the term's computer science origins. With humans, a better word might be "unconscious".

I described how demons work here - and what the unconscious is, here. For purposes of this discussion, demons are not terribly interesting, because we have, by design, little control over them. But I will share a connection I just thought of, just because it's interesting. Pardon the brief digression.

Demons are very closely associated with earworms - songs that won't stop playing in your head. Like demons, they normally run just outside immediate attention, but periodically waft into view, often to our annoyance. Occasionally demons (e.g. "Don't Be Late!/Don't Be Late!/Don't Be Late!/Don't Be Late!") burst into center stage from their backstage lair. We may even speak the words aloud to ourselves. Similarly, an ear worm may come to the front, and be externalized by, say, whistling (less so these days, because people don't whistle as much). But, normally, it plays (and plays and plays) in the dark canyons beyond immediate awareness. Always back there!

Demons, too, gurgle in the periphery, cumulatively contributing nano-stress (more on our mental superstructure of stress here). They are the electrostatic hairball underlying all other processes. They take up some space and drain some resources, but we can't help it, so we can chalk it up to overhead. Demons gonna demon.

There are other unconscious processes, some spooky-seeming. Many of the fresh ideas I offer here percolated in the back of my mind for decades. This slow-cooking process is a natural facility anyone can tap into by turning down the mental noise - the indulgent drama and ditzy yadda-yadda. Accessing subtle realms requires forswearing the adrenaline rush and "alive feeling" that comes from stress, and the self-blasting of addiction. Living loudly to avoid silence and latency sacrifices more babies than bathwater.

Engrained Processes

Demons are like viruses. Simple snippets, not fully-formed organisms. Engrained processes, by contrast, are substantial. Like demons, we don't think about them much...unless we have to! Tying shoes, brushing teeth, locking doors. That sort of thing.

Engrained processes are relatively (though not completely) safe. Having been invested with momentum, we can normally count on their continuation (I'll explain, later, why they're not completely safe.)

Workshop Processes

Workshop processes require effort and concentration. Planning a trip. Renovating a bathroom. Getting in shape. Learning French. Hobbies, quests, and also smaller bits of business requiring a burst of focused conscious effort. Workshop tasks must be stoked. Nursed. Cultivated. As I once wrote, it's starting a campfire without matches. It's not the time to visualize big blazing fires. Your job is to focus on generating a precious spark. Then to coax that tiny spark into something just a bit greater. At a certain point, it has a life of its own. You don't create the fire; you only cultivate the spark, which, in turn, makes the fire.

Or maybe the wind blows it out and you must start again. No problem; with attention focused on sparks, fire's inevitable.
Why are workshop processes so delicate? Because:
  1. they're new (i.e. not yet engrained), or...
  2. they're a poor match to our skill set (as skills develop, they become engrained processes), or...
  3. they're a poor match to our innate characteristics (so they will never become engrained, remaining workshop, requiring effort and cultivation).
The third sounds (and is!) frustrating, but it's magical. We feel natural revulsion toward non-fluent processes, gravitating to processes that swiftly engrain - i.e. that play to our talents. But if you lock in patiently, without exasperation or self-judgement, to an ill-fitting process, that's where the good stuff is (this is a big secret I never saw revealed elsewhere). In fact, the aversion to leaning into ill-fitting processes explains the general dearth of good stuff.

For an idea of how painfully slow it is for me to write (even with 30 years of professional experience), yet how brightly patient I am with the process - eternally "workshop", never "engrained" - see this video.

Engrained processes are fun. Stuff just works, easy-peasy! But a workshop process lubricated with bright patience (or "love", if you can manage it) over time can yield miraculous results. We don't lavish care and attention on engrained processes, and care and attention are the only route to transcendent results. This explains why I do my best in realms where I have little natural aptitude. I've overcome my revulsion. I'm willing to feel like a sucky loser. And I don't need everything to always get easier. I've dropped that expectation.

Imposed Processes

An imposed process is your obstacle du jour. A fallen tree just knocked a hole in your roof! You've got the flu!

I don't need to say a word about these. You are an expert. These are our disruptions, and we hate hate hate them because they interfere with our other processes. This is the bad stuff we flail, conspire, and pray to avert, so help us, gawd, amen. Less said the better, amiright?

So that's it. That's what we can do. The demons are the demons, careening in the background. Engrained processes also normally hum along nicely. A handful of workshop processes might be in play at a given moment. Plus, because we can never get our ducks in a row - Jane cannot stop this crazy thing! - there's nearly always an imposed process or two ungraciously landed in our lap.

Every bit of this was oversimplified. But it's artful oversimplification. Most people view their stack of concurrent processes as a tangled, messy blob...and further confuse themselves by imagining they can add new ones at will, like inserting a new DVD (hence the notorious fiction of New Year's resolutions).

My drastic oversimplification was deliberate. Complexity is like a vitamin when people oversimplify, but simplicity is a lifeline for overcomplicators. A simple - even oversimple! - reframing of "process" makes life easier to manage. And processes are the very substance of living. Every living human runs multiple processes, even if only in the negative (e.g. processes of avoidance, of self-destruction, of procrastination, etc). Living never pauses. Process = Life.

Next time: pressure and paralysis! Pressure signals that we're over-burdened with processes. If we don't triage and rearrange, it can all grind into paralysis. But we can carve out space in advance to more gracefully accommodate processes.

Proceed to Part 2

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