Saturday, April 30, 2011

Consuming well

I tend to draw a line between consumptive and productive pleasures. You can get enjoyment out of eating an ice cream sundae, watching a movie, or painting a painting, but I feel like the first two are very different from the last. Obviously there's the effect (after one you have a beautiful artwork, and after the other you have less money and more ice cream in your body) but it also just feels weaker. Anyone can eat a food and have fun, but to paint and have fun you have to work at it. Get into a flow state, not just a passive consumption state.

I'm still reading "The Evolving Self", which posits that the way to ... happiness? improvement? general goodness? ... is to cultivate "complexity", in which you become a creature of many parts that work together as a unified whole. Differentiate and integrate. Being highly evolved is better, and being highly evolved means being complex. Sounds like Ken Wilber. And I still pretty much agree with it.

(aside: "complexity" is a loaded word; I wish he had picked something else, because by "complex" he doesn't mean "complicated". I like simplicity. But I think I like the simplicity of a very well-made watch: a lot going on, but it's easy to use and all the abstractions are hidden from you. This watch would be a very complex thing, but still simple, not complicated.)

Consumptive pleasures often don't increase complexity. Productive ones often do. But I think the key is the "often"; sometimes you can consume something in a way that adds complexity. And I guess, given that we consume anyway, might as well consume in complex ways.

Case in point: Jonah Lehrer (Radiolab! That's what he's on.) recently wrote a post about why it's worth being an oenophile, even though cheap wine regularly beats expensive wine in blind taste tests. Take away the blindness, let people see the price tag, and expensive wine always wins. So if you don't know wine, your enjoyment goes up with price. But if you do, you can start to pick out other good things in the wine besides the price. That's complex consumption.

I still think it's a siren's call: there are only a few steps from "complex consumption can improve your life" to "you can just sip wine all day, get a job as a sommelier, live the easy life, and it'll be great". But there's nothing basically wrong with connoisseurship.

Okay, we already knew this, right? Sheesh. tl;dr: nothing to see here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Nah check it out, HERE is a business card

Okay I guess one last blog/buzz about business cards. 
There it is. Woo!

How to make one yourself:
1. Find a QR code generator. I like this one because it lets you set error correction levels.
2. Set error correction as high as possible (that is, it'll have more dots, some of which are redundant in case some fool smudges or tears or writes all over the middle of it.)
3. Input what you want to pop up when someone scans it. If you want the code to represent just a bit of text or a URL, fine. But if you want more structured data (like a bunch of contact info) you can use specially formatted strings. Here's a guide to the types. And if you want contact info in particular, you can use the MECARD format (details here). So, for example, the text embedded in that QR code is:
(kinda think some of those ;'s are unnecessary)
4. Write all over the middle of it. Seriously, just in Paint or GIMP or something.
5. Make sure it still works.
Here's another person's guide that says the same things.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I would really love your feedback on my business card.

I'm going to a conference for the first time ever. I will probably meet a lot of people. Maybe I would like some of them to remember me. So I made a business card.

- what's my email address?
- what are you thinking about?
- intrigued or annoyed?

Also, I am particularly interested in your thoughts on:
- font choice. IANAFN, but I like fonts sometimes. I basically want the feel of just writing this in courier, but I don't want people to think I'm a computer-cluster linux-kernel-hacker long-hair nerd-rager. I considered Futura (but it was too art-deco retro or something), Frutiger (less interesting and I couldn't find it for download in 5 minutes), Gill Sans (for some reason I thought it was associated with macs?), and Yanone Kaffeesatz (too narrow to fill the space). I went with Droid Sans, as it seemed at least as good as anything else to my untrained eye, and it might subtly make people think Android. If they do think Android, that's good; I dig Android (and Google)'s philosophy (obviously), and anything I do will probably involve using Android a lot.

- spacing between "dan" and "tasse". I was going to try to make it a half-space or something, squash the words together a bit, because otherwise people might wonder "is it dan_tasse@gmail or something?" but that was not trivial to do, so I skipped it.

- spacing and borders in general. Anything look too close or far from the borders of the card? (note that it  will not have a border; if you see a double line around it, that's an artifact of blogger)

- should I leave off the twitter? I use it wayyy less than gmail, and right now all it does is post when I blog a new research blog. But I'd like to start using it for research/business/etc more, as it seems a good tool for that.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cleveland, you spoil me!

Every time I touch down in CLE, I spend a week surrounded by people who love me. Okay, of course, going home to visit family and friends is nice. Dear Future Dan (one of the main readers of this blog): remember this week, it was really great!

Dear all the other readers of this blog: you are probably less interested in my reminiscing about family-and-friends-time. So instead, I'll point out some great things about Cleveland that you might get a chance to experience someday if you're lucky enough to visit here:
- theater at the Hanna, where my parents and I saw Two Gentlemen of Verona, and despite the play being generally not an awesome Shakespeare play, the performance was really well done!
- dinner at Lola, where now-famous chef Michael Symon got his start (I think?). Anyway, calf heart: surprisingly not weird, and surprisingly good. And pork belly too. Wow. (vegetarians beware.)
- drinks at the Velvet Tango Room, okay this place was kinda underwhelming when I live so close to Sun Liquor, Tavern Law, and Zig Zag, but it's at least in the same league, albeit more expensive.
- whoops forgot a drink in the middle at the Paganfest promotional show at Maple Grove in Maple Heights. Sometimes these things happen. Cleveland!
- 30+ kinds of olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the Olive Scene, and lunch at Tartine, in Rocky River. Check out the Olive Scene. Disclaimer: friends' parents own it. But it's great.
- another great lunch, this time at some bar I don't remember but it was on TV or something, I don't know these things it was tasty
- still got to stop at the West Side Market, which is still also wonderful.

I mean, this is right out of an airplane magazine "36 hours in Cleveland" deal. There is a lot going on there. I think I will not dump on Cleveland so much. It's got a lot of issues (cars cars cars) but it also has a lot to offer. I like to think about the latter. (more on that later!)

EDIT: whoops, I guess I didn't click Publish when I wrote this? So I published it later. Editing the date now to fit it back within the squiggly-wiggly timey-wimey continuum. (btw, new Who season: super great!)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hot brain, cold brain

Cold brain = the part of you that thinks like a computer.

Hot brain = emotions, gut feelings, instincts, procedural memory, the stuff that guides your actions.

Is there a better term for this? If not, I'm going to start using the terms "hot brain"/"cold brain" a lot. It really concisely describes something I often want to talk about. For example, it's easy to learn in your cold brain that smoking causes cancer and that you should quit smoking. But it's hard to convince your hot brain, which is why quitting smoking is hard. Or, it's easy to learn vocabulary in a foreign language (cold brain) but hard to come up with it as you speak (hot brain).

And if you like barbecue chips, maybe you also like barbecue sauce.

So here I rail against people using their phones when they're hanging out with friends. (in general with the "multitasking is bad" thing.) And then I'm at a bar, and I realize I could help settle a dispute between some other friends, but I don't remember what exactly the dispute is. So I pull out my phone and Twitter and go to see what it was. My friends who I'm with mock me a little bit. I go "yeah, you're right" and put it away (but not before seeing what the dispute was).

Then I find my bit of data and go to report it back to said friends (the ones who aren't there)... by pulling out my phone and firing up the Twitter again. I am again mocked. This time I really deserve it.

All I'm saying is, don't judge people.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What drives you?

- need? Do you do the things you do because you must in order to survive?
- guilt?
- duty? (you feel like you have to, for one reason or another)
- compulsion/automaticity?
- excitement?
- ... mindfulness?

In case you can't tell, I'm trying to set up a progression or hierarchy, kind of like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. (Maybe this is the same thing.)

At any rate, I've recently gone rather a lot to a compulsion and excitement driven life. I take all the "dumb things I gotta do" and put them in a compulsion queue (like put things on my desk, or messages in my inbox; I'll clean them out eventually because I have a compulsion to clean things), and the rest of the time I spend on exciting things.

It feels like they all have relative values: A need-driven life is probably not great. A guilt-driven life is also terrible. I'm not sure about duty and compulsion. Excitement is pretty good, and whatever drives a monk on a mountain (supreme consciousness?) is probably the best.

I used to live pretty guilt-driven. It was behind a lot of my "environmentalism"; I felt like a Bad Rich White Person for pretty much trashing everything unconsciously, so I'd try to "minimize my footprint" left and right. I don't really get any big kicks out of composting, but it makes me feel less bad.

This is why I'm not sold on environmentalism now: what's behind it? If you really enjoy it, rock on! If it's a negligible cost, well, that's fine. But if you're making your life worse to reduce your waste from 84 units to 82... I kinda think we'd all be better off if you redirected your energy into something positive instead. And I mean "positive" in the sense that the question you're answering should be "how can I make _____ more good?" instead of "how can I make _____ less bad?"

And while I'm prescribing how you should live your life (pff!): quit living so duty-driven. But that's for another post.

Edit: I should say, too, that while this was spurred on by a conversation with Beej and Becky, I don't mean to snipe at them from the internet. I think we had this debate about the value of reducing your footprint and agreed to disagree; I'm posting it to record my thoughts at this point in time, and also to maybe provoke a further conversation if y'all want. (And also to tell everyone on the internet how to live their lives.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Recording things for the future

I've got a couple of projects I'm working on now. Both are mobile apps.

I think I'll try standing desks some more. I'm intrigued. Some of my Google coworkers liked them. I came across this article. And I haven't heard anyone say they're bad.

Actually I got that article from this article (p1) (p2). Man! I guess I will also:
- brush my teeth before meals, or way after them
- cool down my showers to lukewarm, and work on getting down to cold (this has other benefits, including helping me be happier at hotels/guesthouses/hostels that don't have hot water. makes me generally lower-maintenance. that is nice.)
- try to squat. hope not to fall over.
These all seem easy to implement and no-downside. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.

More difficult to implement although probably helpful:
- always sleep enough (I'm working on this still) and sleep with the seasons (just infeasible)
- always stomach breathe
So I will not commit to either of these.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Mihaly, don't let me down!

Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is one of the more influential books in my life. So I got The Evolving Self, Csikszentmihalyi's follow-up book. I am a chapter and a half in and already I have strong feelings about it.

The premise so far is: in this third millennium, we've mostly realized that the ol' Christian God sitting on a cloud with angels (or Greek Gods on Olympus or whatever) is false, but we're still searching for meaning and "happiness", whatever that means. Mihaly, I am with you so far!

But then, page 15: "But evolution has introduced a buffer between determining forces and human action. ... consciousness enables those who use it to disengage themselves occasionally from the pressure of relentless drives so as to make their own decisions."
What? How? Who are "those who use it"? How do they have a choice to "disengage themselves"?

On page 23 I'm back with him. He cuts through the "homunculus" image, in which we're each governed by a little man in our head who pulls the levers, and then cuts through the "traffic cop" image, where we're each governed by a bunch of signals but there's one guy saying which signals win. "Instead, consciousness is more like a magnetic field, an aura, or a harmonic tone resulting from the myriad separate sensations collecting in the brain."

So my question is: Mihaly, do we have souls? "Divine spark" or determinism? (or determinism + quantum/whatever randomness, which is just as good as determinism) I don't see a third path. You seem to say determinism, that consciousness is just a word that we use to talk about our minds the same way we say a computer "has vision", that there is not even any "we" to talk about "our minds", but you seem uncomfortable actually saying it.

Other minor quibbles:

Page 19: "The only value that all human beings can readily share is the continuation of life on earth."
... err, I don't share that. If all the existing humans just stopped having kids and eventually died out, as far as I'm concerned, that would be pretty okay. (modulo a few rough years for the last few living ones.)

By page 33, he's talking about how our minds are generally chaotic and unhappy when we have "free time"; we always want to accomplish the next goal. Then he says "There is a reasonable evolutionary explanation for this condition, too. If we could be contented just sitting by ourselves and thinking pleasant thoughts, who would be out chasing the saber-toothed tiger?"... doing that pop-cultural evolutionary thinking thing, where you dream up some explanation for how something could have been an evolutionary benefit and then conclude that it was an evolutionary benefit.

But on the plus side:

Page 40: "We think like computers whenever we think like computers. But certainly this particular function represents only a small aspect of how we think." This is a pretty concise way to talk about an idea that's been buzzing in my head for a while.

Mihaly, man, you're pushing all my buttons! In great and frustrating ways! If the determinism-or-not question remains an issue, I may get kinda annoyed. However, I have high hopes that you'll either pick a side or reveal to me some new side to that debate, or else we'll just put it aside and talk about more specific things.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Continuing with the Buddhism, I had some good meditation two days ago

I think I got a taste of what mindfulness tastes like. My main focus was my rising and falling stomach. I caught most every thought that came up (and there were a LOT of them) and said "okay, that's 'planning'" or "worrying" or "being excited" (a lot of them were "excited" because I was all like "oh man I'm finally doing meditation right*") or whatever, and then I saw them as if they were photos in a slide show, they'd go to the right and soon fade.

This lasted maybe a few minutes. But I think I learned a few things:
1. what it feels like to "do it right*"
2. how important it is, really, to be gentle with yourself the whole time, really; this feels more likely than anything else to get you somewhere.
3. how easy it is, once you've done it right*, to get super attached to reproducing that same state**

* I know I know, all meditation is good, it's not right/wrong/etc, no seriously, the rest of this meditation I've been doing (and maybe any meditation that you're doing that seems unproductive) is not wrong

** okay I want to keep this post short so I won't go into any more detail, but whenever I read a book about meditation and it talks about some of the more advanced mental states, it's really interesting. maybe I'll talk about this later.

Monday, April 04, 2011

It's about to get real Buddhist up in here, but don't worry, I'll talk about girls too so at least that's interesting

First, short thought: when you are not-doing, that too is a thing you are doing. You cannot do more or less. All you can do is redirect energy from one thing to another. Hmm. This is a half-formed thought; let's let it bake while exploring:

A longer thought. A section I liked in Noble Truth #2 part 2 of "Dancing with Life" by Philip Moffitt.:

"How do you know that you know?"

So he's talking about how to avoid clinging/addiction/unhelpful desires, and a student says "It seems to me that I have let loose of clinging... but then a little voice of doubt inside me asks 'How do I know that I am not just in denial of my clinging and am fooling myself?'"
Moffitt answers: if you've actually abandoned clinging to a thing, you'll feel it, in three ways.
1. You experience a distinct felt sense of spaciousness, well-being, and lightness. Depending on your nature, you will feel it more strongly in either your body or your mind.
2. You have a felt sense that something is over and that something new awaits you.
3. When you reflect back, you can see how your clinging was making a bad situation worse.

Let's look at things that I used to desire that I've not been desiring much (like these) and see if I'm abandoning clinging or just shoving it under the rug!
1. Being known as a master chef. I cooked some in college. Some people said I cooked well. It went to my head, I got the idea that I wanted people to think I was a super cook. Today, I don't really care.
- spaciousness/lightness: sure! it's nice to just make food to stay alive, and explore new things for fun!
- something is over, something new awaits: in a sense, yeah. I'm not sure what new awaits, but I guess "cooking with anxiety" has been replaced by "cooking and enjoying it more."
- clinging was making a bad situation worse: I think so. I used to think real hard, like think till I explode, or at least get real anxious, about what to cook.
Verdict: probably mostly abandoned clinging. Hooray!

2. Food advocacy. I used to think I would be some sort of social crusader, particularly in the area of food. Funny how little I think about it now.
- lightness: yes. well, it's one less thing to worry about.
- old thing out, new thing in: also yes. Now I concentrate on one cause, which is my work. It will help the world. Good enough for me.
- bad situation worse: yeah. I couldn't really do anything about it, or I wasn't willing to put in the time to do anything about it. So all my food advocacy thinking was just making me feel bad.
Verdict: also abandoned clinging. Also hooray! (note that these hoorays are completely unclingy hoorays. of course.)

3. Being a musician. I used to want to be a musician. Like a guitarist, like a cool guy, but I didn't want to play guitar because everyone does. So I figured I'd play trombone a lot. Like a cool guy. I do not have time or energy to play trombone. I suppose I'm not a cool guy.
I'll skip the details, but it feels like a weight lifted. Another clinging gone. Check me out, I'm practically in a cave on a mountain already.

4. Meeting a nice lady friend. I just have not had any inclination to try to do this for the past few months! I did a bit last year, but nothing worked out very easily, and I became busy with other things. So have I transcended even the desire to go on dates? It would help on that becoming-a-monk thing.
- lightness: not really. I guess not dating means one less thing to do, but dating wasn't a burden.
- old thing out, new thing in: nope. It's not like that energy translates into more energy for something else.
- this desire was making a bad situation worse: well, no.
Verdict: not abandoned! Just pushed under the rug. Well, that is not ideal.

5. Languages. I keep saying I want to learn languages, and then I keep not learning languages.
(moment of reflection)
Okay, well I still want to learn languages. I guess I'm not very effective at abandoning OR denying this one yet.