The Hedgehog’s Hot Summer.

hedge-hog-fight-768Many of we humans that litter the planet aren’t used to this concept of ‘social distancing’. It will be tough for many; for people like me it is amazingly easy as we have been doing it for some time, for varying individual reasons.

You know us. Barely.

At best, you know us as well as we want you to know us, at worst, you don’t know us well enough to allow us to associate with you. And now, here you are, at home, working from home… if you have others at home, the rest of this may not benefit you. Or maybe it will. I don’t know.

There’s this guy – Arthur Schopenhauer – he died in 1860, long before I could meet him. He wrote about the Hedgehog Dilemma:

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another…

…By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.

What has happened around the world is, because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the quills have become longer. They have become longer much more quickly. People are scared, and when people are scared in a time when pitchforks and torches aren’t easily accessible, they apparently buy toilet paper and produce and share memes, and it’s hard to argue which of the two is more pragmatic. It’s always handy to have toilet paper, and it’s always good to laugh a bit when things aren’t as nice as we would like.

I could write something about mediation here, but this sentence should suffice for people who understand what mediation means.

That being said, as people adjust to the new normal, those who live by themselves will find themselves alone. For some, this is disconcerting.algorithmsfear

Being faced with the prospect of not having the usual suspects as distractions, new distractions will arrive. Algorithms tell social media that people want to read more and more about Covid-19, and the reality is that we do largely know what we need to know already and the constant barrage of updates will become tiresome – but the algorithms have to be taught that.

Algorithms cannot replace fear, but they most certainly enable it.

Step 1 to your new solitude is to understand that, and limit exposing yourself and the others connected to you to a bunch of stuff that will simply burn everyone out. Less social media.

But what will you do? Ahh, it is a scary world, solitude, but it is ripe for use with books, with in home projects you never quite seem to get around to – and with sleep, with music, with movies… and yourself, perhaps the scariest thing in the world for most people. No matter where you go, though, there you are, and you can do things like reflect. Exercise. Think. Perhaps write, perhaps whatever, but the void you might feel can be bearable.

We know. We not only survive, we thrive this way – but it’s alien and scary for others. Yet, over the course of the coming year, at least for some months, it will be the new norm. And it can be ok if you let it.

Twisted

2010-04 Winnersh Dinton Pastures 027Systems upon conception start off trying to solve one problem. Slowly they grow, being twisted with as the solution to the problem is better understood… and as more problems are added.

We don’t get to see it every day; we only get to see the effects. Software projects probably contain the most dependable examples of this; where the time of twisted trees is counted in decades and even centuries, software projects twist brutally fast.

Those who have worked on them in often only get to see one part of the life cycle. Everyone wants to watch the project germinate, but eventually they become unwieldy trees unless they are kept in check, constantly.

It’s an odd metaphor for society, until you realize how much of society is now built on software, and until you realize everything we do with software is simply the culmination and implementation of all we have done before, all the successes we had seen, all the failures we have not, or refused to, or have chosen to ignore.

As we’re all seeing now… the world is quite different when something disruptive comes along…

One of the marks of maturity is the need for solitude: a city should not merely draw men together in many varied activities, but should permit each person to find, near at hand, moments of seclusion and peace.
– Lewis Mumford, “Planning for the Phases of Life”, The Urban Prospect: Essays (1968)

Undiseased.

flew-trunk

I’m flying through social media trying to avoid the pandemic as if it were the plague and it seems impossible to do so. It’s a bit frustrating to take a break from the book I’m working on to surface and be drowned in a sea of posts about the same things, invariably a matter of individuals being dependent on systems that they largely don’t control and at the mercy of the hygiene of the next person.

If only we could blame rats.

Being isolated is nothing new for me; it’s a lifestyle choice, a means of getting things done. Right now, though, there are parents at home with their children and parents and children alike suffer one another. Couples who may be used to seeing each other for a limited number of hours a day now find themselves staring at each other.

People are scared, and because people are scared they begin acting as tour-guides and narrators to the strange garden our lives have become.

strange-garden
Enough already.

So, when I’m not working on other things, this site – which admittedly has been dormant for some time – is where I won’t be writing about all of that, simply because the world most certainly doesn’t need more people jabbering away about Covid-19.

I’m not sure what I’ll write about. Feel free to comment and toss topics at me.

The Negotiation

MeaningAs a child, my mother would tell me to clean my room, something I often felt was a punishment or a way to get me out of her hair which was at least partly right given what I have learned as an adult. And so I would go and do things, largely unproductive, and then say I had cleaned my room.

She never thought I had. And after a while she seemed to realize she and I had very different ideas of what a clean room was and told me that before I told her that the room was clean I should stand at the doorway, pretend I was her, and see if the room was clean. This was a great idea, but poorly implemented in retrospect, as she never quite told me what she was looking for in a clean room. Suffice to say my room was never clean in her eyes, and in mine it was almost always clean.

Everyone has some sort of story like that, where in communicating we might say the same words with very different meanings, and this negotiation is something we end up doing every day.

Yesterday, someone wrote that gravity was ‘the way that objects were attracted to each other’, which doesn’t stand as much rigor as he was trying to demonstrate. There are other reasons that objects are attracted to each other, such as ionic and covalent bonding, and gravity by itself isn’t an answer as much as a question. Sure, scientists have learned a lot about gravity, but the notion of gravity itself as we accept it and how scientists deal with it is different. Gravity is an explanation, and more accurately, it’s an evolving explanation, as everything is.

Meaning changes. Meaning is constantly being negotiated between people, between peoples, and even within ourselves. At some point, we as individuals decide when we’ll just call something by a name, and collectively, society does the same based on how popularly lazy we are about it – after all, if we got muddled down in being pedantic about everything, nothing would get done – but underneath it all, we have to understand, everything is being negotiated.

Everything.

And everything we agree upon will eventually change.

Everything.

Seas of Humanity

_JMB6699LoIf I had been born a few hundred years ago, I would likely have been on a ship staring out into the horizon, my body rolling to the waves, heading to places not on known maps if only to get away from all that traps us.

Some people are comfortable in what society dictated before we were born, where it is all well defined by those who came before, a world which worked for those that defined it and their descendants. So much of our world works that way, and as humanity grows older the clay of systems becomes brick, hardened, inflexible, immobile.

A child born today will find in adulthood that they pay taxes that were agreed upon by others long ago, that they may worship in a religion that while they may be faithful is an accident of geography, that they have more or less opportunity due to a socioeconomic status that they had nothing to do with. Even our bodies conspire against us in this way, subject to genetics that some deny even as they breed animals. Few, if any, break out of these shells, and as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to break out of them.

In fact, simply traveling without permission from authorities we didn’t create across borders we didn’t draw to see things in other places is illegal, something I myself was born into, but which I have watched become more and more harsh. The nomadic roots of our human past find themselves in shrinking containers and, when the container cracks under the pressure, someone dutifully comes along and mends the cracks with gold to make the container that much more attractive to those outside, but less bearable for those within.

We live lives where we dig coal, and for those few of us fortunate, we dig coal in ways that we enjoy, and at points when we look up from our task and dare to look to the horizon, someone or something cracks the whip to keep our noses down. And so we go, nose to the coal grindstone of ‘life’, in the hope that the light at the end of the tunnel will draw nearer as someone long ago promised.

A lifetime of slaving at something or the other, or many things, to be rewarded later when we are old. The 50 year old in the convertible corvette, what’s left of his hair blowing in the wind, the tired and empty joke of decades ago.

Nature reclaimsI’ve been left in this life rediscovering elder things, repurposing that which came before, exploring the abandoned as if it were new only because it was new to me, sharing it with others who found it new for themselves. Photographing things, writing about things, and watching parts of a past we romanticize only because it is abandoned, maybe because inside we feel abandoned by the gilded cages we live in – some more gilded than others.

I do not know. I do feel.

There is little rationality we find in such feelings in systems that tell us even how to feel – if we’re a bit too different, if you rebel just a bit too much against the system, we are either criminal or someone with some form of mental or emotional disorder, rarely both, and based on… things we find we are unable to control a few steps beyond the facade.

Any port in a stormWith all of this mind, I close my eyes at time and escape into the view of a bay with my gear packed, thinking of a world where I can sail away from what is established and able to push into the unknown, where the laws of nature outweigh the rules of the land, where it is unsafe and where one’s worth is gauged not by artificial structures but instead whether or not you are a good person in a storm.

And I open my eyes and find myself sailing through the artificial structures of society, dancing on the waves of what people have been taught to think and believe and how to think and believe, and realize I am sailing across the most dangerous waters we could create on maps that shift even as we cross latitudes and longitudes, having lost members of the steadfast crew as we moved to the horizon of humanity, and I find some comfort in that.

The Cheese

who moved my cheese?I was reading an article where a local student took the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Education to task about moving his cheese (and in finding the image to the right, I found perhaps another interesting book to read).

I’ve been reading David Epstein’s Range, a book I’m being particularly careful about because of my own biases. I am, after all, a neogeneralist, so I have been getting a lot of confirmation bias throughout the book which requires me to work that much harder to consider it objectively. So far, it has not disappointed.

With that book on my mind, and my own alma mater being the school that the student was in, I considered. For example, during my years at Presentation College, I hardly planned my future according to what I could get a scholarship for. Thus my first read of the article was one of, “what’s wrong with this person and why do they seek specialization based on scholarships?”. After some thought, the foundations already laid by Epstein’s book, I considered how much I detested those specializations… for example, why couldn’t I do Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science and English Literature at the same time? I was shoved into a rut. And this person is only guilty of embracing the rut.

It also struck me that this demonstrated the education system lagging society. When I attended DeVry, as an example, they were teaching the BASIC language (which I had already gotten 5 years experience in!), and was not object oriented back in 1987. So I tested out of that class and learned PASCAL and C/C++ during that time which I was not credited with… but which the real world embraced through providing me income.

It seemed a bit peculiar to me, too, that someone pursuing a scholarship had sufficient money to take the Ministry of Education to court. That is a bit peculiar, but not something that isn’t impossible.

There will be more on this sort of thing here… but I wanted to get this little thing out now as it may be a linked reference to the other things I write on the topic in between procrastinating about other things.

Success

Success I heard someone describe a person to me as successful a few days ago. I boggled. Successful at what?

‘Successful’ requires context. To be successful, one has to have accomplished things, and those things define the context of success.

Consider the ‘successful artist’. Are they successful at creating art, or are they successful at creating art?

Consider Steve Jobs, often touted as successful, who didn’t do any of the tech but was considered a tech giant (Wozniak was the tech giant, Jobs was the sales giant).

Am I successful? Well, I have accomplished writing this much about success, so in that regard I’m successful.

Pretty useless. There’s an entire aspect of the publishing industry that dictates to people how to be successful, where the author’s success is gauged by how many books they have sold as opposed to how useful their writing is.

Success is about accomplishment. If you accomplished anything, you’re successful.

Did you brush your teeth? Add it to your resume: “Successfully accomplished cleaning of 32 teeth, comprising 4 types.” Of course, HR will want a certification to prove this.

Success is a fickle word, abused, beaten, and of little worth because anyone that can successfully spell it uses it to describe what they have accomplished in the past, which we think is a predictor of the future… but often isn’t.

Don’t waste your time worrying about success. Go accomplish things and continuing to accomplish things.

Don’t be successful. Be accomplished.

And by all means, brush your teeth.

Disuse

ChargingPortI found myself this morning dusting off the Sony Alpha 6000 and making sure it was charged because of an event that I had RSVP’d for on a whim. I don’t even know that I’ll need it, but the Trinidad and Tobago Photography Society (which shares the acronym TTPS, with the distinction that while both shoot targets, one tends to leave them alive and unwounded).

I have no idea if I’ll need the camera at all, but, you know, photography includes cameras, and rather than be unprepared, I’d figure I’d charge the camera up. I hadn’t used it since there were reports of a mountain lion near where I live by a very gesticulative Venezuelan who had managed to shoot a very shaky and bad video of everything but he was trying to shoot with his phone, and what he described simply doesn’t exist in Trinidad and Tobago, but off I went to do night shots of what happened to be a very well fed house cat that scared the living daylights of our very concerned Venezuelan.

As usual, I’m up early and avoid bright light, used to doing things in the dark, but I’m out of practice. I negotiate the web of USB wires, trying to insert them into the charging part of the phone and none of them fit. This disturbed me. Certainly, it has been a while, so I tore the place up looking for different wires.

30 minutes passed of me trying USB charging cords while flipping them 180 degrees, the standard USB installation, when it dawned on me.

I was trying to stick the cord into the wrong port.

This, of course, lead me down a trail of thinking I feel no need to write about, but I find it a cautionary metaphor.

Breached Walls.

BoredomLast year, I did not publish much – I wrote a lot – by design, largely because I gave myself a period without the constraints of self-imposed deadlines or goals. There was introspection, there was extrospection, and nothing measurable in terms of what I accomplished.

It involved me slamming myself intellectually and emotionally against the walls of my own narrative and the narratives that defined me, a messy internal process where I questioned everything I could about myself.

I’d decided to do this because I found myself writing in so many voices that I could not recognize myself. Gigabytes of text were written and deleted during this period of growth in range and depth which I believed were necessary to push myself just a bit further. Here and there, I broke through borders of myself, oozing into new territory, and embracing the wild experiment of something that we all seem to forget in the narratives imposed on us and we impose on ourselves.

The wild experiment of truly being myself. Whoever that is.

Goodbye, Tech Focus.

020/365: Number 7I’ve spent a year not really publishing anything, though there was a lot of writing as well as reading and looking over things that I have written and done.

It’s no surprise that most of my writing has been about technology; most of my working life has been with technology of one sort or another.

There are a few problems with that:
(1) Everything is outdated almost as soon as it’s published. I call this the O’Reilly Problem.
(2) Technology is a crapshoot. It doesn’t matter if a technology is better or worse, it matters whether it survives – and that survival has a lot to do with how used it becomes and how well defended by lawyers it is.
(3) No amount of testing assures that a technology will work in any given situation. I call this the Microsoft Problem.
(4) Technology has become boring for me because it invariably follows the same patterns because, at the core, how we deal with technology hasn’t changed because it exists in bureaucracies that are as efficient at turning as the Exxon Valdez.

And so, because of this, I am not drifting away from writing with technology as a focus – something I have been doing anyway, I found with analysis – but by actively steering away from tech focus.

This doesn’t mean that technology won’t be involved, or I won’t write about it at all. It’s just not going to be the center of what I write.