An Experiment in Scotch

"I write to discover what I believe." Michael Lopp on Twitter

Category: Random (page 2 of 24)

The Cryptic Facebook Cliffhanger

I think some peo­ple treat Face­book like it’s a prayer chain. Maybe Face­book is the mod­ern day incar­na­tion of a prayer chain but some peo­ple seem to have the Face­book prayer chain on speed dial. If I worked on a prayer chain and the same 4 peo­ple called every other day, I’d begin to think maybe they were just being self­ish. It must be a big enough prob­lem because some­one wrote an entire blog post about the 7 ways to be insuf­fer­able on Face­book (as if there were only 7). I think the cryp­tic cliffhanger is the most annoy­ing but I could be con­vinced oth­er­wise with­out much effort. Of course, if we stopped being insuf­fer­able on Face­book, our news feed would be lonely like Tomb­stone right before the OK Cor­ral. The trou­ble is most of us are only really inter­ested in our­selves. Oh we read our Face­book feed but all we really want to see there are pic­tures of kit­tens and George Takei updates. We aren’t inter­ested in the brag, hum­ble or oth­er­wise, of some­one we haven’t talked to in 23 years but whose friend request we accepted blindly one night when we had had 4 glasses of scotch too many.

And this is the core prob­lem of Face­book as a “social” media. It’s a dirty lit­tle secret but Face­book isn’t that social. If it were, our friend list would be much shorter, just like it is in real life. If some­one did noth­ing but tell us how awe­some their life was with­out ever actu­ally ask­ing us how we were doing, we’d unfriend them by throat punch­ing them. Ok, maybe that’s a lit­tle harsh but the idea is sound. If some­one said to me IRL “Tomor­row is going to be big, pray for me”, I’d think they were atten­tion whores. And unfriend them by remov­ing their num­ber from my phone.

The first sign that Face­book isn’t actu­ally about friend­ship is the num­ber of peo­ple we have as “friends”. The anthro­pol­o­gist Robin Dun­bar pro­posed an idea “that humans can only com­fort­ably main­tain 150 sta­ble rela­tion­ships.” We just can’t keep up with many more than that. Yet we have Face­book friends that num­ber in the thou­sands. Wha? Peo­ple with more than 250 friends are either young (the orig­i­nal Face­book tar­get mar­ket), run­ning a busi­ness, using Face­book as a ver­sion of Linked In but with pic­tures of kit­tens or are very lonely. That’s just a per­sonal theory.

Tomor­row is going to be big though. Keep me in your prayers.


Try­ing to think up a title to a blog post before it is writ­ten is exactly back­wards. Often­times, I have no idea what a post is going to be about. I find that I stare at the title field try­ing to fig­ure out what to write about instead of just writ­ing in a dis­cov­ery process. In soft­ware devel­op­ment, the nam­ing of things is one of the hard­est parts and some­thing that most devel­op­ers strug­gle with I think. Nam­ing a blog post before it’s writ­ten is sim­i­lar. If I were to cre­ate a blog­ging plat­form, the title would be last to encour­age peo­ple to just write with­out wor­ry­ing about nam­ing it. Even Ghost, a new blog­ging plat­form specif­i­cally cre­ated to focus on writ­ing has the title right up front. Per­haps that’s because most peo­ple who blog have some­thing in mind before they start.

I planted more toma­toes and pep­pers this week­end to replace those that promptly curled up and died last week. I’m sur­prised that the corn, beans and cucum­bers haven’t come up from seed yet espe­cially with the rain we had on Thurs­day and Fri­day. The turnips, radishes and beets are all pok­ing through the top layer of soil.

My Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives Addiction

It’s 11 PM on a long Fri­day and I can’t stop watch­ing this show. For one thing, it makes me want to get in a car and drive to 30 or 40 cities try­ing all this food along the way. Tonight, on two dif­fer­ent episodes, Triple D fea­tured restau­rants in Nashville, one a Cajun place that made their own smoked sausage and put it on every­thing. The sec­ond was Cafe Rakka, a fusion of mid­dle eastern-lebanese place that had a dish that involved cook­ing filet mignon on a salt block. That made me want to buy a salt block. Of course, almost none of the food is even sort of healthy but I don’t sup­pose that’s the point.

As a gen­eral rule, Guy Fieri isn’t my favorite per­son­al­ity on Food Net­work but his enthu­si­asm on this show is infec­tious. There aren’t many shows on TV that aren’t cyn­i­cal, real­ity or con­trived. Guy seems to really enjoy this show. It’s inter­est­ing to watch his inter­ac­tions with the vari­ety of chefs. Many of them have strong per­son­al­i­ties that stand up to Guy pretty well. Occa­sion­ally, you run into some­one who seems to lack the nec­es­sary on air chops to make it inter­est­ing but Guy man­ages those sit­u­a­tions pretty well.

I just saw a com­mer­cial that epit­o­mized the cur­rent trend of play­ing on heart­strings, often patri­otic, to sell a prod­uct. Chevro­let was the worst dur­ing the past two Super Bowls. I’m not even sure what this one was for but it told the story of how our farm­ers give us most every­thing. Of course, it was spon­sored by Mon­santo. Strangely, they didn’t say any­thing about genet­i­cally mod­i­fied plants that you can spray Round Up on to kill weeds around them with­out killing the plants them­selves. Or about how Mon­santo likes to sue farm­ers who plant cross pol­li­nated crops. Sigh.

One thing I’m learn­ing about this post every day habit is that it is really affect­ing my writ­ing and cre­ativ­ity but that by wait­ing to blog until late at night, I’m actu­ally not trans­fer­ring any of that dis­cov­ered cre­ativ­ity into these posts. I think that’s Ala­nis Mor­ris­sette irony.

Fighting Through

I’ve been star­ing at a blank page for the bet­ter part of an hour. Per­haps the focus is in the wrong place. The Blerch is strong this week for some rea­son and I’m more inclined to con­sume rather than pro­duce. Maybe it’s because I read this post about being insuf­fer­able on Face­book and got para­noid that I was insuf­fer­able on Face­book. Luck­ily, I know that I’m occa­sion­ally funny on FB so maybe it’s a wash. I tried to take some time release pic­tures of a thun­der­storm just to dis­tract me from writ­ing and pos­si­ble dis­tract the reader from read­ing even­tu­ally but they were not fit for pub­li­ca­tion. Spring has arrived and you would think that with the unusu­ally cold win­ter, the bug pop­u­la­tion might be held slightly in check. You wouldn’t think that though if you could see the back porch right now where swarms of mayflies and other sundry fly­ing crea­tures are milling around the lights. Also, I have gone most of my adult life think­ing that the cor­rect term was asundry. Per­haps I con­fused it with asunder.

Almost all the toma­toes I grew from seed this year have promptly died in the gar­den. There are a few cling­ing to life but they are not in good shape. Based on some pre­lim­i­nary read­ing, I’m think­ing that per­haps my grow lights aren’t that grow-y. Maybe that’s why the DEA never came bust­ing through the door, they knew what­ever it was that I was doing couldn’t pos­si­ble be pro­duc­ing any­thing worth sell­ing. The seedlings all got very leggy and had very few roots other than the San Marazanos which also all pretty much died so more roots didn’t help them much. Maybe next year, assum­ing we have a gar­den, I’ll have to invest in some bet­ter lights. These came from Home Depot and were labeled grow lights but I’m skep­ti­cal. Smart sound­ing peo­ple on the inter­net say that leggy toma­toes are the result of poor light­ing. They strug­gle to grow as tall as pos­si­ble to get light. If they are doing this even when the light is on them directly, maybe the lights are no good.

So that means I need to go out and buy a bunch of toma­toes and that quite a bit of work didn’t quite turn out so great. Still, a learn­ing expe­ri­ence that maybe will lead to improvements.

It’s dif­fi­cult to get 500 good words out at a time. How authors ever do it is a lit­tle befud­dling to me.

Day 22

Today is 22 days in a row of writ­ing a blog post a day. Com­mon wis­dom, rarely right, says it takes 21 days for form a new habit but things aren’t that easy. The hon­ey­moon phase of a new habit is often short and seems to get shorter as we find our atten­tion divided more and more. We expect things to be easy and when we hit a rough patch where the desire seems to wane, it’s easy to stray from the old and go in search of the new and appeal­ing. Even while writ­ing those 87 words, my atten­tion drifted off onto what felt like 100 dif­fer­ent things. There are nights when the words are easy and seem to just nat­u­rally fit (luck­ily, I don’t have an edi­tor to please). But often, the writ­ing (or the draw­ing or the prac­tic­ing or what­ever it is that we want to do) is dif­fi­cult. At these times, it’s good to have a streak or a goal to work towards as it makes it eas­ier to par­tic­i­pate in the habit or action.

Tonight, on day 22, I didn’t have much desire to write. At any other nor­mal time, noth­ing would have been put into words. But because I have an extrin­sic moti­va­tor, I sat down to write this post. Cre­at­ing is dif­fi­cult and much of what I cre­ate isn’t that amaz­ing. But the alter­na­tive is doing noth­ing, remain­ing a con­sumer (of infor­ma­tion, of goods, of ser­vices, of life). Ide­ally, we begin to find moti­va­tion intrin­si­cally over time, the habit or the action becom­ing inter­est­ing for its own sake. These are the prin­ci­ples of the excel­lent book Flow. Peo­ple who are happy seem to have an abil­ity to find joy just in doing a par­tic­u­lar thing with­out con­cern for what extrin­sic fac­tors might be at play. Writ­ing because it feels good and because it helps my think­ing enables me to write longer and with more con­sis­tency than writ­ing hop­ing some­one will read it and like it.

But intrin­sic moti­va­tion is dif­fi­cult. Chang­ing how we think, behave and react to stim­uli is a hard process, one that requires con­stant vig­i­lance. One tip from the Forbes link above is to step back and try to think of what you would feel if you didn’t per­form the habit ver­sus how you will feel if you do. Slowly over time, that can turn into intrin­sic moti­va­tion and reward as you con­di­tion your­self. There are many days when I don’t want to work out but I know how much bet­ter I feel after I do (well, most work­outs any­way. There are some that I do only for the badge of honor in com­plet­ing them but we’ll talk about them another day.) I know that after I fin­ish this post, I will feel much bet­ter than if I had let The Blerch win. That’s one sim­ple way to keep the habit going, any habit you choose. Step back and remem­ber what it feels like to fin­ish something.

Day 22 was one that was hard to get done. I’m glad I did it. Maybe day 23 will be eas­ier. But if it isn’t, I’ll still write.


One of those nights with noth­ing much to say. I sup­pose over the course of months of writ­ing, that’s not unex­pected but I’d pre­fer it didn’t hap­pen too often. I actu­ally have a cou­ple of posts work­ing but they are tak­ing more effort than I can sum­mon this evening. Venice voted to secede from Italy today in a non-binding, unof­fi­cial Inter­net poll. At first blush, this seems like silly Euro­pean pol­i­tics but there is some momen­tum towards smaller city states reap­pear­ing in the world. For cen­turies, Venice was an inde­pen­dent city-state, pros­per­ous and pow­er­ful. The idea of a nation-state is fairly new in his­tory, only appear­ing in the last 500 years or so. Before that, the world in gen­eral and Europe in par­tic­u­lar was bro­ken up into much smaller enti­ties based on feu­dal­ism and com­merce. In many ways, the nation-state is far too large to suc­ceed in the world and the larger and more pow­er­ful it gets, the larger and more pow­er­ful it is dri­ven to be. The idea of a uni­fied Europe via the EU with a sin­gle mon­e­tary base with­out the cor­re­spond­ing fis­cal and polit­i­cal base showed us how flawed that con­cept was in 2008. With Scot­tish inde­pen­dence under dis­cus­sion and now Venice, we are see­ing a pos­si­ble return to the smaller national enti­ties. It will be inter­est­ing to see how that plays out in the com­ing decades.

Nas­sim Taleb will cer­tainly be happy tonight as the main the­sis in his lat­est book Antifrag­ile is that large enti­ties, whether they are coun­tries, cor­po­ra­tions or eco­log­i­cal sys­tems, are frag­ile and sus­cep­ti­ble to shocks that smaller more agile enti­ties can with­stand. See the finan­cial sys­tem in 2008. By hav­ing more enti­ties like Venice that are smaller, we make the entire sys­tem stronger because while cer­tain ones might fail, they will have no larger reper­cus­sions in the greater scheme of things because there isn’t a greater scheme of things. The web of con­nect­ed­ness in our finan­cial sys­tem (that still exists today) remains frag­ile to mas­sive, fat-tail shocks. Our large nations face the same problems.

It’s been a pretty depress­ing sports scene in Dal­las the last few days. The Mavs lost to Brook­lyn at home last night and fell out of 7th place in the West. The Stars have been mis­er­able lately. The Rangers pitch­ing staff is pretty sad right now other than Yu. Plus Jurick­son Pro­far is out 10–12 weeks with a mus­cle tear in his right shoul­der and we haven’t even started play­ing real games yet. After an appar­ently solid off sea­son, the Rangers are start­ing out banged up from the get-go, never a good thing in a 162 game sport.

Not Enough Time (or Energy) In The Day

Sud­denly, it’s 9:30 and you’re not really sure what hap­pened with the day even though you got to mark 5–7 things off an ever increas­ing todo list. That’s what I feel like today. The veg­etable beds got planted and the path­ways around and through them got mulched. That was a good deal of work and con­sti­tuted the main part of the day. Actu­ally, I think it con­sti­tuted all of the day. Toma­toes (Chero­kee Pur­ple, Celebrity, Yel­low Pear, Bloody Butcher and an Orange Heir­loom), pep­pers (jalapeno, bell, ser­rano, latin flare hybrid what­ever that is, banana), egg­plant (ichiban, reg­u­lar, fairy tale hybrid), corn, beets, turnips, spinach, cucum­bers, beans, squash and radishes all went in the dirt today. Still have some toma­toes (San Marazano) to plant tomor­row and will be done.

It doesn’t help that I“m achy from last night. I woke up and didn’t feel sore but as the day has worn on and I have lugged 20 bags of mulch and leaned over beds to plant seeds, the ache has set in. My hands are sore from the toes to bar.


I’ve started back into Draw­ing On The Right Side of the Brain so I’m hop­ing to work on that tomor­row. The pic­ture above is my first Pure Con­tour draw­ing. It’s actu­ally not bad for a guy who has trou­ble with stick fig­ures. Too much inter­pre­ta­tion of what I should draw and not enough draw­ing what I see. Pure Con­tour draw­ing solves that to a large degree, elim­i­nat­ing the left brain and its analy­sis. I notice that when I’m draw­ing it’s very hard to switch off the crit­i­cal, ana­lyt­i­cal side of my mind and get into flow. It’s been impos­si­ble at work lately with inter­rup­tions con­stantly com­ing up. Every­thing feels very frac­tured. The next draw­ing is of a wadded up piece of paper and I’m sup­posed to spend at least an hour on it. That is both excit­ing and fright­en­ing. In many ways, draw­ing is relax­ing in the total con­cen­tra­tion it requests. No social media, no music, no inter­net. Totally atten­tional. Being more atten­tional is one of my 2014 goals, a neb­u­lous one albeit, and I think the draw­ing helps. As does pick­ing the sax­o­phone back up again. And writ­ing a blog post every day for 42 days.

There’s not much focus tonight and tomor­row might be a real rest day to recover from 4 days of hard work.

On Expectation

Tonight was a pretty good night. The penul­ti­mate work­out of the 2014 Cross­Fit Open was tonight and I sur­passed my goal of 165 reps in 14 min­utes. This is the first Open that I’ve fully par­tic­i­pated in and it’s been a reward­ing expe­ri­ence. It’s inter­est­ing how expec­ta­tions affect our per­cep­tions of both real­ity and our expe­ri­ence. Going into both 14.1 and 14.2, I had firm expec­ta­tions of what my per­for­mance would be and I was dis­ap­pointed with both, sorely in 14.2. Based on the first two, I went into 14.3 with almost zero expec­ta­tions and after I was done, fin­ish­ing with 7 reps in the 275 round of dead­lifts, I was thrilled. As it turns out, my best per­for­mance of the three was 14.2 when I fin­ished in the top 37% in my divi­sion. 14.3, a work­out I both enjoyed and felt I did well at, resulted in a 69% fin­ish. Our expec­ta­tions color our expe­ri­ence of real­ity, often in a neg­a­tive way. Often, our expec­ta­tions don’t accu­rately reflect our abil­i­ties either.

My hap­pi­ness grows in direct pro­por­tion to my accep­tance, and in inverse pro­por­tion to my expec­ta­tions. Michael J. Fox

The expec­ta­tions of life depend upon dili­gence; the mechanic that would per­fect his work must first sharpen his tools. Confucius

What does that mean for our hap­pi­ness? How do we bal­ance our expec­ta­tions of our­selves and those around us with the fact that often­times we are poor judges of what we can or can­not do? East­ern thought teaches us that accep­tance leads to hap­pi­ness but mis­in­ter­preted it can lead to com­pla­cency and lazi­ness. Rein­hold Niebuhr taught us to have the seren­ity to accept the things we can­not change which is the key. So many of us have expec­ta­tions, usu­ally of the other peo­ple in our lives, that can­not be reached and regard­less are beyond our con­trol. Expect noth­ing of oth­ers either pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive and accept that peo­ple choose to do with their lives as they wish.

The power of expec­ta­tion comes when applied to our own abil­i­ties. For large parts of my life, I have expected lit­tle or noth­ing from myself. Com­pla­cency sets in and sad­ness and despair often fol­low. How­ever, our own actions are the things we con­trol com­pletely and there­fore, apply­ing expec­ta­tions to them can result in excep­tional joy and achieve­ment. When we focus on oth­ers, we are doomed to sad­ness. When we expect more from our­selves and work to achieve it, we are filled with joy. Tak­ing what God has given us and striv­ing to excel leads to hap­pi­ness. When we are dis­ap­pointed in not achiev­ing our expec­ta­tions, the nat­ural response is to lay blame else­where. Instead, look inward and dis­cover how to reach those goals that were set. If they were unre­al­is­tic and set with­out con­cern for con­straints, adjust them accord­ingly and then work to achieve them.

From about the begin­ning of my gen­er­a­tion to the present day, we have been told how fan­tas­tic, smart, pretty and capa­ble we are. Most research now seems to imply that this is a mis­take. Kids who are told they are smart tend to shy away from doing things out­side their com­fort zone. I fight this all the time. I have a good friend who thinks you are good at some­thing or you are not. The prob­lem with this entire phi­los­o­phy is it deem­pha­sizes the effect and mean­ing of effort. Our expec­ta­tions are often pred­i­cated on what we think we are good at. But with effort, even a rea­son­ably min­i­mal amount, we can improve and grow in all things.

This is another les­son from Cross­Fit. Cross­Fit hopes to improve fit­ness across 10 fit­ness domains. Com­ing into Cross­Fit, it’s likely that peo­ple are good in only a few of them, pos­si­bly none of them. As we progress as ath­letes, we typ­i­cally make broad gains in some domains while lag­ging in oth­ers. This is nat­ural. What is unnat­ural is to assume we will never be good in the oth­ers and ignore them. The modal pro­gram­ming in Cross­Fit pre­vents us from focus­ing only on our strengths. Instead of believ­ing we are only tal­ented in cer­tain areas, Cross­Fit teaches us to focus on our weak­nesses and their improve­ment as a way to become stronger.

This is another les­son to take from expec­ta­tions. Find the things in life that you are weak in and focus on them. Make a plan and turn your weak­ness into a strength. Upon doing that, choose another weak­ness. Avoid unre­al­is­tic expec­ta­tions of your­self and expec­ta­tions of oth­ers in gen­eral. You will be sur­prised the hap­pi­ness that can come into your life with such a policy.

Copping out

14.4 was announced tonight and it’s the first work­out of the Open that I’m pretty sure I won’t fin­ish. I posted on Twit­ter today hop­ing there weren’t any mus­cle ups and now there are 20. Not to men­tion 30 135 pound cleans which might take me 5 min­utes to do. It’s been nice hav­ing 3 work­outs that were totally within my range. Tomor­row will be a seri­ous challenge.

In other news, I learned who Len Koe­necke was tonight via Archer which is how I get about 50% of all my his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences. Appar­ently Len got trashed on a plane and was given a cere­bral hem­or­rhage by the pilot and a pas­sen­ger wield­ing a fire extin­guisher. Of all the ways to go, that’s prob­a­bly a good one. Ensures you’ll get a wiki page any­way. Archer is awe­some by the way, you should be watch­ing it if you like well writ­ten but extremely inap­pro­pri­ate comics. It’s on FX, what do you expect?

Not that I would ever cel­e­brate anyone’s death but from a util­i­tar­ian stand­point, the world is a hap­pier place with Fred Phelps dead. I’m sure his back­wards prog­eny will carry on the fight but over­all, a win for util­i­tar­i­an­ism and peace tonight. So much hatred spewed from one man in the name of a bizarre inter­pre­ta­tion of Bib­li­cal word.

We’re stuck in the Potemkin Econ­omy and noth­ing seems likely to change that. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer until exhaus­tion sets in and then it’s liable to get ugly.

That’s really all I have tonight. Per­haps tomor­row will be more inspired. Here’s a pic­ture of a cat to hold you over.


On Habit

Doing some­thing, any­thing, 13 days in a row begins to make that thing eas­ier and eas­ier. We are crea­tures of habit. Unfor­tu­nately, we are also crea­tures of lazi­ness and would pre­fer to eat Twinkies and watch TV all day. A good friend of mine is cur­rently on a “Was I lazy today?” chal­lenge where the goal is to answer no every day. It doesn’t mean you can’t be lazy at all, just did you avoid lazi­ness for at least some part of your day. It an inter­est­ing idea. Related, Cre­ate Some­thing Every Day. It’s so easy to just let days float away from us in the hus­tle and bus­tle of every­day life. Mak­ing sure that we aren’t lazy for at least some part of our wak­ing hours leads to a much more pro­duc­tive and ful­fill­ing life.

All this to say, the writ­ing is start­ing to flow again even though I haven’t been spend­ing the req­ui­site time on it that I’d like. Again, that life thing gets in the way like find­ing out your web host has gone tits up at 9 PM on Sun­day evening. Thank­fully, I got this site moved over this morn­ing in the wee hours and will move 3 oth­ers tomor­row I hope. Still, even with those inter­rup­tions, there is always time in the day to do things you enjoy, things that are good for you, things that have mean­ing. Even the small­est thing, going for a walk or learn­ing some­thing new can make a world of dif­fer­ence. Some­thing as sim­ple as a Lenten chal­lenge to your­self to write every day is pow­er­ful in its effect on every­day life.

I’ve got sev­eral other things I’d like to write about includ­ing more fic­tion and it’s nice for a change to have more ideas than hours and days to put them to pen (or bytes in this case). That isn’t to say that the blank page isn’t still slightly anx­i­ety induc­ing. Tomor­row, I may be telling a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story and not in a good way. But it’s nice to be in some­thing of a habit again. They say, who­ever “they” is, it takes 20+ days to form a habit and only 1 to break it. That’s why it’s impor­tant to have a chal­lenge or a moti­va­tion. Even­tu­ally, that exter­nal moti­va­tion becomes inter­nal moti­va­tion, a con­cept I read about in an excel­lent book called Flow. The hap­pi­est peo­ple in the world derive their plea­sure inter­nally for its own sake. Most of us derive plea­sure exter­nally by the actions of oth­ers or awards we win or money we make or cars we drive. That’s why it’s so easy to manip­u­late the con­sumers of Amer­ica, our con­sumerism is what we think makes us happy. But that hap­pi­ness is ephemeral and neb­u­lous. True hap­pi­ness comes from inside which is a dis­gust­ing cliche but even the most dis­gust­ing cliche has truth in it.

The hard part is chang­ing the deriva­tion of hap­pi­ness from exter­nal to inter­nal. Habit allows us to work on that as over time, we gain plea­sure not just from the X’s on the cal­en­dar where we did some­thing but from the out­put or the result or the jour­ney it took to arrive. Find some­thing you love and com­mit to doing it every day, even if only for 20 min­utes. Even­tu­ally that 20 min­utes will grow into some­thing you can take pride in. That feels like it’s start­ing to hap­pen with my writ­ing again.

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