Thoughts on the Internet

Lofty titles aside (really, I sometimes just make up titles to posts because I feel like my site design looks terrible without one. I digress), I do have a not that impressive thought on what surfing of the Internet does to our brain. I’m currently reading The Best And The Brightest and while I don’t currently have comments about that book specifically (though I hope to soon, it’s a fascinating trip through the history and the events leading up to our involvement in Vietnam), I do have a more abstract comment on what happens when you read something that takes intellectual power to comprehend and follow it immediately with “The Internet”.

Specifically, you forget everything you just read. More and more, I’m beginning to think the shit I read on the Internet makes me stupid, not because it’s inherently stupid in content (though much of it is) but because it saps attention in a way that makes it impossible to retain the previously read material. This isn’t particularly groundbreaking but it’s eye-opening when you are deep into a book that has about as many characters in it as War and Peace and you can’t remember any of what you just read once you check your RSS aggregator.

I’m starting to seriously consider limiting what I read on the Internet and how I use it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place, lots of good porn out there and I certainly have learned more from Wikipedia than I could ever have imagined. But still, the disgusting mental sickness I feel after doing nothing but surfing the web all day is starting to open my eyes to everything that’s wrong with the constant jangly thing dangled before my eyes on the web.

As usual, no amazing conclusions here. But I’m really think I’m getting dumber each day I fire up Firefox.

Apropos of nothing, if you want to read a phenomenal book about the political history that led us into Vietnam, read The Best And The Brightest. It’s really that good. If you want a history of just the Vietnam war and how our leaders let us down, check out A Bright Shining Lie. I highly recommend both.

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

Leaving the silly cliche aside (have you ever thought about where that money might have been, Mister? ), I just donated to a political candidate for the first time in my life. On top of that, I donated for what can only be considered a long shot. I did it because I believe that of the political options for the next Presidential Election, only one is a true conservative. Getting a true conservative, one that understands federalism and wants to return the country to a point nearer our political ancestors is very important in my opinion. So I’m taking a chance on throwing away $50 on Fred Thompson.

I think his voice needs to be heard in this election and so I donated to help get a commercial run in Iowa, the first primary state and the one that will determine to a large degree what candidates we as Americans will get to choose from on Election Day. Realistically, I think if Fred finishes in third in Iowa, he will have a great chance. Huckabee is a scary candidate and Romney seems to be a flip-flopper to rival Kerry. Guiliani certainly isn’t a conservative in any classical sense and McCain, well I just don’t trust him after the whole Campaign Finance reform crap.

Even if you’re not conservative, Fred Thompson would help to elevate the current level of political discourse in this country and I think that should be a goal for everyone who takes our leaders seriously. Think about donating to Fred’s campaign if you can afford a few dollars.

The Programming Life

For me, living the art life meant a dedication to painting–a complete dedication to it, making everything else secondary. . .Bushnell Keeler, the father of my friend Toby, always had this expression: ‘If you want to get one hour of good painting in, you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time.’ And that’s basically true. You don’t just start painting. You have to sit for a while and get some kind of mental idea in order to go and make the right moves. David Lynch in Catching The Big Fish

I’ve been reading this book by David Lynch and in it, he describes how his practice of meditation has affected his life and work over the past 33 years. I hadn’t gotten very deep into the book when I ran across the above quote. It fascinates me how similar painting and programming are, at least on an abstract level. The level of concentration required by both disciplines is immense and while no one would ever commission a painting from an artist and then put him in a room with 40 other artists of varying degrees of ability separated only by cubicle walls and expect something fantastic to emerge from his brush, it is rather standard practice to place programmers in exactly this same scenario only to be completely shocked when the results are not up to snuff.

On top of that, the life of distraction that emerges from cubicle life is to a great degree addicting in that once you begin to allow your attention to be parceled out over 10s or 100s of things, you get to a point where you can no longer actually concentrate on a single thing for more than sixty seconds or so. Hell, just during the writing of this blog post, I’ve glanced at my email at least 5 times and at least twice thought about saving it and going to do something else. Is it any wonder that programmers spit out crappy work almost all the time?

The ability to concentrate is critical to success at both programming and painting. While there certainly appears to be varying levels of ability when it comes to concentration, all people are negatively affected by external interruptions no matter how good they are at concentrating. Some day, this will become understood by a wider audience. In the meantime, software will continue to suffer as a result of the environment many programmers are placed into.

The Simpsons

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the debut of The Simpsons, a show that has in many ways become part of the cultural landscape. I’m not a Simpsons fanatic, being able to quote multiple episodes at appropriate times during the day (I’m a geek, not a nerd) but I’ve always enjoyed the Simpsons and their ability to, Madonna-like, recreate the show in a way that never seems to tire out or grow stale.

I don’t know how long the Simpsons can go on (my guess is that 20 years will be when they hang up their hats on the show) but I’m looking forward to seeing as many episodes as I can.

This post brought to you by the fact that I forgot to tape (DVR? Record? If we don’t tape any more, what do we do?) the new episode last night. Ugh.

Would You Rather Be Slash or The Nameless G’N’R Drummer?

When I was in high school, I played soccer. I wasn’t overly talented but I was still good because I worked hard, played smart and refused to be outworked by anyone. I was the best defender on our team and one of the best in district because of all that. When I went to college, I wasn’t the best anymore. In fact, I was the worst. I was playing out of position (we had several good defenders so I got moved to midfield, a position that didn’t play to my strengths and exposed all of my weaknesses), I was on a team where I knew exactly no one and I was out of my element, i.e. my comfort zone.

All of that should have added up to wonderful potential because I had no way to go but up. By no longer being the best on the team, I had the chance to learn from all the people who were better than I was. Instead, I stopped working hard and mostly rode the pine all year. I quit in the spring because I couldn’t handle the challenge. To this day, it’s one of my biggest regrets.

What does this have to do with Slash and Guns & Roses? In his book My Job Went To India, Chad Fowler writes about how you should always want to be the worst person in the band if you’re serious about improving your skills at anything. You have to be able to accept challenges and accept the fact that you may fail or else, you’ll always be the same. Being Slash has plenty of perks but most of that has to do with loose women and the best blow and nothing to do with becoming a better guitar player. By constantly making sure that you’re a tiny little turd in a really big bowl, your skills will improve to the level of your ability instead of the level of your comfort. It’s a critical distinction that’s common in anyone successful. Surrounding yourself with people who are better than you are forces you to learn from them and strive to become better.

Of course this blog is all about me so I must have a point, right? (That doesn’t necessarily follow from any of your other posts. Ed. OK, well today it does!) I recently wrote about my internal struggles considering a job I was interviewing for. Assuming I took that job, I’d be a big turd in a really, really little bed pan. My ability to learn would be limited to what I could teach myself. This is not the way to become better.

I’ve been in talks with another company as well and for most of the time, I’ve thought it was a bad fit. That all changed Friday with a discussion I had with the CEO that went really well. In that discussion, it became clear that I would be a tiny little minnow in the proverbial pond at that company. That is exactly what I need. (Besides that, the company sounds great to work at.) The times I learned the most at my last job was when I was working with people smarter and more experienced than I was. It was a fun and challenging time.

I can’t continue to be Slash if I ever want to find out what the limits of my abilities are. I know I’m good at what I do but I’m no rock star. The only way to get there is to learn from the best. I’m hoping I get the chance to do that with this new job.

Self Inspection Is Highly Overrated

35 years ago, on a very snowy, cold day in Amarillo, Texas, your host here at the Experiment decided to see what was happening on the other side of the womb. I’m not really a big celebrator of birthdays but 35 seems like kind of a milestone. In fact, according to recent studies, that’s darn near close to half my expected life span. When you put it that way, it’s a little depressing. So let’s not focus on that part, shall we? Avoidance is such a wonderful coping mechanism.

In truth, except on days following nights where I consumed more than 4.56 ounces of liquor, I rarely feel 35. Though given the one-sideness of all human experience, I’m not going to say that I really have any clue what 35 feels like. So maybe I do feel 35. Isn’t existentialism fun? I digress. I digress a lot, must have something to do with that shiny, jangly thing over in the corner. . .oh look a chicken!

Anyway, I still play pretty hard at softball, I don’t notice a great deal of loss of physical ability and my mind is just as dull as ever. So 35 doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. That said, according to all my elders, it’s coming. That dark, gloomy pall of age is lurking just around the corner, waiting to make me feel old. In some ways, I’ve always been old. As an only child with most adults for companions, I grew up faster than most. So in behavior, a lot of times, I feel really old. So how do we go about feeling young? As trite as it is, I think it comes down to just thinking young. Yup, that’s trite.

So as you can see, in this really random post that never should make it to anyone’s eyes but my own, I have no idea what it’s like to be 35 and writing about it for 15 minutes did nothing but scare my 2 readers. In the end, I say fuck self-inspection and let’s just have a good time, while being fiscally responsible for the future by saving a dedicated amount each month towards retirement, long-term savings and a disaster fund for when you’re not 35 anymore and you have to take care of yourself for the next 30 years without a job because you’re old and decrepit.

Maybe I’m better off just surfing the internet in the mornings.

Sometimes Life Support Works

People come out of comas occasionally after months and even years of non-lifelike activity. Turns out, blogs can do the same thing. I’m trying out a new writing technique, e.g. not writing when I feel like it but writing on a schedule, at least to some degree. So, instead of getting up and surfing the internet first thing in the morning, I’m writing for 30 minutes. Some of this will be in my journal, some here, some on blowing asparagus and some as graffiti on the garage wall. That’s the current plan anyway. It’s been 15 minutes so far this morning on day 1 and I’m dying to go read something on the internet. I think I’m an addict.

Friday Open Thread

Cuz I’m gonna be busy and writing is something I can’t seem to concentrate on right now. Feel free to lament Christmas shopping, how time flies faster as you get older or what gives you heartburn, whatever floats your boat.

I’ll kick things off by giving you this to amuse yourself with.

When Consciousness and Subconsciousness Collide

Little story: I like football. A lot. One of the things I like about football is the challenge of figuring out, on a week-to-week basis, which team is going to win upcoming contests, specifically against the line, working under the hypothetical that gambling on sports is legal in the US outside Nevada. That’s another post entirely. I digress. Anyway, I use a very rational process involving stats, more stats, some stats I made up, other stats other people made up and some consideration of the emotions of the participating teams. (That thudding sound you just heard was the 15 people who know my record so far this year reading the phrase “very rational process” and passing out cold from disbelief. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine).

Often times, I’ll do all that thinking and convince myself that a particular team is without a doubt going to win and all of this will happen at a conscious level. But somewhere, deep in the tangled morass of my subconscious, a little football fairy (no, not Jeff Garcia) will be telling me to forget all that hard work because it’s not true. That stupid little fairy never tells me WHY it’s not true, just that it isn’t. Invariably, I’ll tell the little fairy to take a flying leap and go with my rational theory. I almost always lose. Hunches and premonitions and fairies seem to be pretty important when dealing with systems that have so many variables that they can’t all possibly be accounted for in statistics.

My frustration comes in being a rational person (well, mostly. I’m highly irrational when it comes to folding fitted sheets but again, I digress). I want to know WHY that premonition or hunch occurs. But usually, that doesn’t happen.

What does any of this have to do with anything? Well, I’m currently in the same position in my job search. There’s this job, it’s a good job by all accounts that I can figure out and rationally, I think it could be a pretty darn good job. But somewhere, that stupid fairy is in the back of my head whispering something I can’t quite make out and it’s driving me insane. And this is far more important than some football game with $50 on the line. We’re talking about 2-5 years of my life here and that’s not something I can just deal with on a hunch.

So I’ve got to figure this out, someway, somehow. I think it may be a combination of A) giving up on sabbatical, B) the lengthy commute involved with this job, and C) my personal insecurity concerning being “The Expert”. That last part is important because at this job, there’d be two people in IT so the company would in many ways be dependent on our decisions and actions. Point A isn’t really that big of a deal because I’m not much of a sabbatical person in reality. I’ve done some cool stuff but I haven’t been nearly as productive as I should have been. Point B, well I think that if I like living in the country, I’m going to either start my own company or suck up and deal with a commute. I think that eventually, I’ll do the former. I want to have fun at my job with people I personally like and do it within 25 miles of my home. Right now though, I don’t think it’s quite the time to make that leap. I need about 2-3 more years of solid development experience.

So I think it really comes down to C. And in reality, that’s probably not that much different from B, e.g. it’s time to suck it up and realize that I am an expert. That just feels dirty to type. I don’t guess I’ll ever see myself as “the expert”. Maybe “an expert”, but never “the expert”. I’m mostly just a guy who looks for the best way to get the job done and then tries to get as close to that as possible. Maybe, in the end, that’s not a bad definition for expert in a field where lots of people seem to be content with mediocrity.

So in the end, I think I may pursue this job. It’s not a given by any means that they offer it to me because there are still 3 or 4 more interview type things to go through but I’m past the hard part, e.g. convincing them I’m worth every penny they might pay me which is never an easy task. Taking a job should be a mostly rational process and if the pieces that you are looking for exist in a job, you should take it. If something turns out later to be completely opposite from those pieces that they didn’t tell you about, well then I think you’re justified in looking elsewhere. But in the beginning, you have to go with what you can rationally figure out and tell that damn fairy to take a flying leap. Though it sure feels like I’m the one jumping off a cliff.