I have said goodbye to all my relationships in recent months, as they start new lives with exciting new careers thousands of miles away. Relationships are an area of life in which I'm pretty satisfied with my results. While it is particularly on my mind, I thought I'd just put down some thoughts. These are the philosophies to which I credit my lack of drama and turmoil.

Read more... )
Hi Everyone,

I'm the mysterious J (or perhaps not so mysterious if you know Matt in real life), and I'm here posting at his behest. The reason, and I quote:
I recuse myself from the Internet today because I fear my judgment may be impaired on account of seething rage.
In other words, he won't be getting back to anyone today. Those of you with petty ideologies, please take them out for a short walk and a potty break while he spends some time doing laundry and taking a much-needed breather. Everyone else, he promises he won't be gone long. ;)

Sincerely Yours,

A poster in Ops at U-Con advertised seeking geeks to be interviewed, for an honors thesis about geek culture. So I emailed Rachel Yung at and signed up. If you self-identify as a geek, Rachel wishes you to do likewise. Here is a transcript of the interview.
Read more... )
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
I do not have Asperger's Syndrome, but occasionally I have an Autistic Moment. Several times in my life, I have mistaken the phrase "I don't know how I can be more clear" for a sincere request for a tutorial. I had to learn to catch myself before it is too late.
I can no longer find the reference, but I recently read of a study that showed that the brain-chemical rewards of satisfaction from talking about our intention to do a project are the same as the feelings of satisfaction that we receive from completing a project. The lesson was to finish first and then unveil it afterward, so as not to sabotage your drive.

This was consistent with my life experience. When I was a boy, I would get the neighborhood kids involved in projects of vast ambition, such as an RC car racing track, or a circus, or a backyard theme park made of cardboard. A week later I would forget the plan ever existed because I was busy drawing up detailed schematics of my latest life's work, and assigning a role in it to everyone who would listen. I don't think very many of them ever stopped going along with it, because on balance dreaming and planning is fun. However, I eventually remembered some of my abandoned plans with embarrassment, and could no longer muster the sincere belief that is a crucial component of my glowing enthusiasms. I didn't get back in the saddle until my late twenties, when I figured out how to subdue my attention span. I now cajole, distract, and bribe my brain into avoiding shiny distractions. Well, mostly.

The study on announcements is the latest trick I've learned. That is why I have not already blogged about the paying assignment I have been working on for a week. In another week it's scheduled to be done, and I hope I'll be allowed to show it to you. Until then please regard it with skepticism for the sake of my clever mind-trick. In fact, I might be violating the new lesson just by saying this much.

I would just like to say it's satisfying, and I wish I knew how to get more work with projects of this nature. It feels refreshing to get paid to do a project that I like and approve of; to get paid to do something that is easier to start than to stop. I think the last time this happened was six or seven years ago, and I don't remember it ever happening before that.
"...he's not smarter than you, Hari. Very few people are ... He just ...He goes for what he wants, y'know? ... He's always shaving the odds, always taking another baby step toward where he wants to go, even when he doesn't know how it'll all pull together in the end ... When you do that long enough, hard enough, things fall into place and ... and you look like a genius, when you never really planned anything..."
- page 335, Heroes Die, by Matthew Woodring Stover
Habit #1: Begin with the end in mind.
The Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey

You've heard the adage "a butterfly's wings in the Amazon stir a breeze yada yada yada, there's a hurricane in New York." There's no way to know which precise flutters will lead to a specific storm. What I'm doing about this is to make a mind map of words that keep cropping up again and again in my long-term dreams. As long as I keep fluttering toward these associations, I'll increase my odds of landing somewhere that I want to get to. I don't have to know yet which one of my dreams it will be, or what route would lead straight there from here.

Web administration, Python, and Flash are good examples of words that keep coming up. Given how many of my ideas end when I don't know how to do one or more of those things, it's clear that I'll benefit from improving my skills in these areas. To achieve those subgoals, I need some kind of structured learning, or I'll never actually devote the time.

And what do you know. I just now fluttered across something I had been hoping to create for myself for quite a long time.
We've all heard "Time is money". Whether time is money depends on which one of them you're spending. It's true if you're spending time. It's not true if you're spending money.

We have to spend our own time in such a way as to maximize the money from it. But I'd rather pay someone for the results I want; their time in itself is worth nothing to me. It doesn't help me if they take longer to give me results. It doesn't cost me if they finish quickly so long as it's the same result.

If you're paying money, you can't really receive time in exchange. The time it would take you to perform a task is longer than the time it would take a paid professional. The outcome would differ as well. There isn't an equivalence in the time you save and the time they spend. So ask yourself when spending money to receive time, are you paying for their attention? If not, how much is the result worth to you?

The problem with paying for the result of a service is that it's subjective. Time, by contrast, is easy to measure. That makes it convenient to set a standardized value on time. But we still don't really buy each other's time. The same person can do a valuable task in one minute, and a less valuable task in an hour. So our evaluation of what our time is worth is a measure how that averages out. We also take into account bits of overhead. Employees evaluate a wage to take into account time spent driving to work or thinking about solving work problems during free time. Employers evaluate a wage taking into account time spent in the office taking breaks for smoking, bathroom, drinking fountains, taking private phone calls or an email or two, and other necessities of life.

The corollory to thinking in terms of results is that I'm comfortable being paid "by-the-result", at a flat rate based on the market value of the benefit, rather than just measuring when I'm in the office. I don't want to feel like my wage is a punishment on my employer for the time they've taken from my warm body; I want to feel like I've been rewarded as a measurement of specific contributions! That's exchanging benefit for benefit. Territoriality about time can create a climate in which the transaction feels like an exchange of harm for harm; taking money in exchange for taking time. Then each party might want to ensure the other is losing an amount that justifies what they are losing. Who benefits from that? That's what I would call a lose-lose situation.
[livejournal.com profile] netmouse here and [livejournal.com profile] atdt1991 here and [livejournal.com profile] renniekins here are linking to an article by John Wang of PointlessWasteOfTime.com titled "7 Reasons The 21st Century Is Making Us Miserable".

John Wang is insightful and hilarious, as many of his past essays have demonstrated. He is no less so here. However, I wonder how it is possible that, far from being a goth as that article predicted, I am almost the antithesis of goth. I don't get very lonely. I don't get depressed. I don't think everybody's out to get me. I feel that I have a heck of a lot more than two people to confide in. I know how to cooperate with people who are different from me, through gritted teeth if necessary, even if I don't like them and continue to not like them. I get confronted all the time, my sheltered subculture challenged all the time, my viewpoint and behavior criticized all the time. And that's important to me. It's been a value of mine ever since I left the hermetically sealed, cheering peanut gallery subculture of Fundamentalist Christianity. Most of all, it would be very, very difficult for me to feel worthless or down on myself. I get out and do cool stuff for people.

So I guess I just deal with technology better than most, the way some people can hold their liquor better than others.

Reading that article, anyone would guess John Wang wants us to be bored, and try to have deep trusting relationships with people we don't like. Yeah; um... NO. I'll take the 21st Century and all it's tradeoffs, and try to fix them, thank you very much. Anybody who prefers polio and outhouses can help themselves.

All that having been said, it turned out that a couple of my closest relationships had problems that I didn't know about. And hey! Clue-by-four! It's an eye-opener, that's for sure. Some people are being made miserable by a bad interaction between them, the 21st Century, and me.

One thing that I've resolved to change recently in my electronic lifestyle, is never to do my daily regimen of flashcards on my handheld in front of people. I used to do that when they would start doing something else that didn't involve me, or when I got bored and was not being interacted with. That was stupid of me. I need to go in a bathroom or hide somewhere while I do it, or just skip my flashcards for that day. If they can see it, it makes them think that they bore me or that I don't want to spend time with them, or that I would rather not be there. Granted, sometimes all that stuff is true. In that case, not working on flashcards would result in me signaling all that stuff: I'd just complain, and ask that we go someplace else. When I have my handheld, it's difficult to inconvenience me, because one place is no worse than any other. Being with you means you can say "hey Matt!" and I'll put it down and say "hey what!" as if you just instant messaged me. But I have realized that's only true in my mind.


Aug. 3rd, 2006 01:06 pm
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
Here is a link to an interesting article "Willpower is best used with care," on the findings of psychologists that self-control is more determinate of success than talent, that willpower can be strengthened like a muscle through excercise, and that it can be fatigued and depleted. Excerpt:

... the general principle - not to spread our inner resolve too thin - is an important one. If you are about to embark on a big project you court disaster if at the same time your life is cluttered and demanding, or you also commit to draining attempts at self-enhancement. The would-be novelist whose taxing day job exhausts her moral muscle will find it harder to apply the seat of her trousers to the seat of her chair. The dieting philosopher will struggle to keep his attention on a tricky passage of Friedrich Nietzsche.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Read more... )Dear Uncle Matt,
How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? Please do NOT ask Mr. Owl, as he cheats!!
- Pop Tootsie
Read more... )
Dear Uncle Matt,
I've noticed more and more people involved in polyamorous relationships lately. Whatever happened to good old fashioned fidelity?? Is keeping one's pants fastened around people other than one's spouse no longe fashionable?
- God Wears Prada
Read more... )
Dear Uncle Matt:
I am in search of the PERFECT cup of coffee. Where can I find it?
- Roast Grind
Read more... )
Dear Uncle Matt,
So, explain this to me: why lobsters?
Read more... )
Dear Uncle Matt,
I laughed when I read about your college and how they have a rule against optical intercourse and making eye babies. Were you ever tempted to watch a movie of people having optical intercourse. And what is the best optical intercourse you've ever had.
- Cornea Porn
Read more... )


Jan. 29th, 2006 12:02 pm
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I have been thinking about a conversation with a group of friends, which turned to the topic of wisdom. Someone shook his head and solemnly intoned, "I am not a wise man." In the pause that followed, I should have disagreed and said "results speak for themselves." If you knew who it was, in what setting, and what he was doing at the time, you would know why this was obvious-- I don't know why his statement didn't elicit a laugh. What is "wisdom", if it's something he doesn't have?

Either A, he's gotta be doing something right, or B, his success is all due to an impossible degree of luck, or C, he's hiding the tragic consequences of foolishness, to a degree that would put a counter-intelligence professional to shame.

Most people are a combination of a little bit from all three. Everyone knows of people who don't have their shit together and of whom none of the three can apply. I'd go with the idea that my friend has got to be doing something right, over the other two. Does his statement speak of hidden tragedies? That is an area of complete ignorance on my part, and I suspect instead that he was just being unnecessarily humble.

I think A and B apply to me, but not C. I've lived a life almost completely devoid of pain and tragedy. I was compliant and safe. My mistakes are not that which I have done, but that which I left undone. I have no scars, physical or mental-- oh, OK, everybody has scars. But I have none that are comparable to most people's.

Here's the thing that's been on my mind: Until a few years ago, my life was not one-tenth as lived as his. With that in mind, even if some secret debacles have caused him to declare himself foolish... who is truly wiser? :)
Many people who know me well are aware that I do not interpret non-verbal communication in many circumstances, and sometimes don't recognize it at all unless I am specifically looking for it. [livejournal.com profile] sarahmichigan linked to this essay on a scientific study of flirting. It's fascinating. The description of distance, posture and eye contact has wide application to human interactions far beyond "flirting." For instance, it describes unconscious signaling of discomfort, dislike and rejection. It also describes different social settings with different rules. I've drawn your attention to that before, although not on the topic of flirting.

The internet is teaching us that there are some people who rely too much on non-verbal communication. It's important to recognize when one is poor at simply meaning what they say and saying what they mean, and interpreting others at face value. To me, the word "over-sensitive" has connotations of measuring instrumentation that consistently registers false positives. This is a mild form of paranoia, an affliction which processes coincidental noise and obsessively refuses to give up processing it until it invents a pattern of meaning behind it. This can always be found by a clever enough paranoid. It can be sinister conspiricy, or divine miracles and intelligent design. In the same way, there is only so much information that can be conveyed through non-verbal communication-- good enough to be used as a rough guide-- and the rest is an illusion of love or hostility, assembled from noise. It's best to wait until someone's feeling and intent is spelled out verbally before making important decisions.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
The different social rules that apply to different settings have occupied my thoughts for the past several days. It has been noticed that I tend to be much more gentle and conciliatory face-to-face than in the written word. One has gone to far as to describe my words as "socially feral." That would only be true if I had spoken the words while hobnobbing at a party or a church. That's where people come together for pleasant experiences and fellowship, and so the rules of the social setting are whatever facilitates that.

The reason I am so seldom combative in person is that those I know from the above social settings seldom come together for the purposes of getting something done effectively. When someone suggested Orson Scott Card as a Guest of Honor for a convention, I made my views clear and did not pull punches for the sake of politeness. It was not a party where we don't want to spoil the mood; it was decision-making time. It's well and good to try to speak the truth in a pleasant way, but they sometimes don't fit together.

David Brin has an article here that is astonishing in its insight into this matter and inspired many of these thoughts. A different set of social rules apply in competitive spaces which exist to test adversaries against each other: the courtroom, the free market, and the scientific peer-review/conference are some examples. These arenas are soaked in the blood of ideas that have been tested against each other. It has partially replaced evolution; ideas now die in our place.Read more... )There is no doubt however, that many in fandom think the entire world should be in cocktail-party courtesy at all times. They offer a bare description of the state of their mind, with no sense that it might actually be good to support it; then smile at each other and disperse having gained nothing. Read more... )
I just found this article about conceiving of yourself as a sentient shell script making supervisor calls on an automated, unconscious, animal-evolved kernel. Ignore the opening where the author is so dazzled by the importance of his idea that he has to talk about it for three paragraphs. He could be on to something. I don't know what to make of it, but it's interesting enough to bear further exploration and experimentation. Excerpt:

"And don't get me wrong, after weeks of playing around with this stuff, I'm still no superman or Zen master. But I have managed a few very interesting hacks. For example, a few weeks ago a certain situation led to me feeling very bad. Intellectually, I totally knew there was no reason to feel bad, because what happened had nothing to do with me. Emotionally, though, I was a wreck.

Suddenly, I had a flash of insight: these are two different neural networks. The intellectual understanding and the emotional response were networks that evolved at different times in my life, under different circumstances. They were therefore not connected, except through their mutual activation in the current circumstance. Therefore, I experienced each network's output as a full and distinct input, but the "emotional" net had no way to receive data from the "intellectual" net, in order to moderate its output. This led to an experience of conflict, in which I could try to suppress the output of the emotional net, given the data from the intellectual one, but this couldn't and wouldn't stop the emotional input from coming in my input pipe.Read more... )
The money quote:
"So how do you do this? How do you edit rules, pipe one net to another, make a supervisor call? In the same way you waved your hand at the screen, several paragraphs ago. You imagine it, in command mode."
nemorathwald: (Matt 3)
I'm really enjoying answering the responses I got from yesterday's journal entry about the LJ meme in which people ask me anonymous questions. I'm going to preface the questions with "Dear Uncle Matt", and make up names for you, just to show that this LJ meme is not the boss of me!

Dear Uncle Matt,
If you could be any type of sandwich, what type of sandwich would you be and why?
For instance, I would be a peanut butter and jelly, because I am both sweet and nutty.
*Where's Bob Ubanks when you need him? :P

Dear PBJ,
1. You must be part of the cult of Hank!Read more... )
Dear Uncle Matt,
have a question i keep meaning to ask you but keep forgeting when i see you on line do you view technology as a way to increase your social interaction and increase awerness of things social or do you view social interaction as a way to increase your knowledge of technology and increase awerness of things technological?
-Emperor Penguin

Dear Penguin,
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is, they make each other better.Read more... )
Dear Uncle Matt,
also, if you were forced to choose, which would you keep freinds and social interaction (no tech, just you in a room with food to live on and freinds to hang out with) or your technology(assuming that there would be no one at the other end, just you. no one to blog with, no one to read your web sites.)
-Emperor Penguin

I'd take the friends and social interaction, but I'd probably also put up a cork board and start tacking messages and drawings on it.Read more... )
Dear Uncle Matt,
What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?

Dear DNA,
I am as much of a Douglas Adams fan as anybody. I even named a messageboard "The Electric Monk" and dedicated it to him. But the answer's not "42," I'll tell you that much. Ever tried to actually use "42" as the meaning of your life?
Read more... )
Dear Uncle Matt,
Did YOU send those monkeys after her?!?!?!

Dear Dorothy,
Deny, deny, deny. However, the monkeys are everywhere and read everything, so now you've given them a clue to her location. The monkeys are probably seeking an injunction and a search warrant right at this very moment. Nice going.
-Uncle Matt

And while we're on the topic of stalker animals:

Dear Uncle Matt,
Hummming....Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?

Dear Hummming,
I wish Alfred Hitchcock were alive, because I'd ask him. Night and day they hound me. I looked out the peephole in my front door just last week and saw this:

Fortunately most of the birds are penguins, since I help to run Penguicon. I say "fortunately" because penguins can't fly and thus have a lot of trouble appearing suddenly. They tend to appear gradually from the horizon and I can evade them if I keep moving.
-Uncle Matt

OK guys and gals, you can keep those questions coming by commenting on my last journal entry. If you have a comment on the answers, comment to this entry.
Hugh McCloud has an interesting essay on how to be creative. A couple of good excerpts, which I have believed for years:

"If you’re looking at a blank piece of paper and nothing comes to you, then go do something else. Writer’s block is just a symptom of feeling like you have nothing to say, combined with the rather weird idea that you SHOULD feel the need to say something."

"The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not. Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly."

"Early 30s is a great time to be alive- you're still young, but you have experience. A powerful combo. The downside is all that weird rockstar shit you believe about yourself is well past its sell-by date, and if you haven't outgrown it by then, it starts to fuck up your life."
Have you heard of the folk wisdom that hardly anybody changes their mind after the age of thirty? At this point one's value set and view of the world is thought to be pretty much preserved in formaldehyde for life. Recently while having conversations about controversies I could feel my mental plasticity ossifying into "old person brain."

It does very little good to say things like "I might be wrong." That statement accomplishes very little to actually produce change because of course, I wouldn't be convinced of what I'm convinced of unless I was convinced of it. Saying I could be wrong doesn't change the overwhelming likelihood that I really am right. When I say that you should not jump off a skyscraper because you would die, just because I modestly acknowledge that a freak parade balloon could possibly break your fall does not change anything. Something more than modesty is required to keep mental plasticity. I think it requires a better kind of listening.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
While examining human motivation at ConVocation, which I blogged about this weekend, I turned the microscope on my own views of the world, religious, relational, and political. The techno-progressive Dale Carrico, with whom I had what might count as my first political debate last week over the connection between technology and libertarianism, sparked some thought on broader connections.

I can talk your ear off about secularism but I'm not very political. When I'm asked in a poll or a voting booth to think about broad social policies, I just extrapolate from personal relationships. I used to be a very compliant and trusting child, a dutiful husband, and a devout follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Those arrangements were all bad and I'll never again get into relationships of parent/child, till-death-do-us-part, or worshiper/worshipee. I have no policy statistics, I've never paid much attention to laws and their outcomes, I don't claim to be an expert in society or governance, so I cannot be looked to for anything more specific on politics than a treatise of first principles. I merely have life experiences that teach me hyper-individualism, which manifests as suspicion of all authority and an aversion to entitlement. By entitlement, I mean home, family, church, government, and other communal relationships in which people basically feel like they can have free run to abuse each other and praise it as "self-sacrifice." So when I found libertarianism and technological culture, they fit like a hand in a glove. God, marriage, parents, government, nature, it's all of a piece. Technology attempts to break the wheel of nature, that we are in relationship with, and which governs us.

I wonder if left-liberals and moral-majority-conservatives have more trust, or are comfortable in interdependent relationships, whether it be with their parents or spouse or religion or children, or their DNA for that matter, which carries over to government. In the "perfect idealistic world" of my imagination there would be none of those. But I acknowledge a world of all adults, a world of artificial intelligences who can just self-modify whenever they don't like their own nature, is not where we are right now, and I have no good reason to expect it to become that way.
Here's a useful LJ meme, gakked from [livejournal.com profile] howardtayler: Identify one goal that you've had, and that you've not been able to reach in the past. State why you don't think you've reached it.

Despite a lifetime of sculpting (in plasticine, a medium so fragile that I have almost nothing to show for it) I have not yet made a clay-animated short film. When I was a child and a teenager I had the talent and the time, but animation in any form was outside my price range by several orders of magnitude. I still have the talent and now I have a little disposable income which is not half-owned by another person with her own spending priorities, but find myself without time. As a beginner I'd be lucky to get two seconds of satisfactory footage -- that's sixty frames -- into the can in eight hours. I'd need a place to do the shooting that would be completely sealed off from daylight so I control the lighting conditions, that can go utterly undisturbed. If the tripod or set nudges out of alignment even slightly, I would have to start the shot over.

After I found The Clay Animation And Stop Motion How-To Page I realized that the goal is financially within my grasp. It answered questions I had been researching all my life, and also sold me the fine tools and equipment I've been looking for all my life. I've even started mixing custom clay colors in a melting pot.

If I ever got a Video LunchBox, I would no longer have any excuse at all. This is a standalone digital video appliance that requires nothing more than a camera, a TV, and a VCR. Press a button and it records a frame. It superimposes a view of the last frame over the realtime view of where the model is now, and provides instant playback of the motion so far. Too bad it costs as much as my car. I'll bet there exists a combination of camera / video capture card / software that's more affordable and can do the same.

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