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.

Some Initial Thoughts On Corporate Personhood

The Supreme Court heard arguments today on a case brought by the owners of Hobby Lobby related to that business having to provide family planning contraceptives to its 13,000 employees. On its face, this seems like a “religious freedom” versus “government protection of the individual” issue and that’s what many of the commentators are talking about. However the real issue at hand, one that is largely missed in the media commentary is a far more core principle to our democracy and where it’s headed. That is the continued personification of corporate entities in America. In large part, that started after the Citizens United where the Court in its infinite wisdom ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political expenditures by corporations. This idea that corporations deserve the protections of the Constitution surely would have been ludicrous to our Founding Fathers.

Now, with the Hobby Lobby case, the Court is being asked to further increase the personification of corporations by allowing the owners of Hobby Lobby to dictate what parts of the ACA they will follow and what parts they will not. The owners of Hobby Lobby are free to not provide insurance to their employees but they know this would be a huge mistake. Instead, they hope to appeal to the Supreme Court that their religious freedoms are being infringed. However, their freedoms are not the ones at stake here. They are still free to stand against the contraceptives they apparently so abhor. But it is not their freedoms being infringed because they contract with a third party, namely an insurance company, to provide insurance to Hobby Lobby employees. Nothing in the passage of the ACA infringes on their own ability to stand against and/or not use these contraceptives. That is the core issue. By confounding the religious freedoms of the owners of Hobby Lobby with protections that will be conferred on the corporation Hobby Lobby we go farther down the path of empowering corporations which undermines the democracy our government relies on.

I have no real hunch on how this will play out but we are already rapidly becoming an oligarchy run by the financial elite on Wall Street. Money plays a huge part in politics and the Citizens United case only upped the ante. To grant Hobby Lobby the right to circumvent pieces of a Congressionally created law is a further removal of rights from the people. The continual transferal of those rights to the rich and the powerful will cause problems we can’t possibly expect.


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.

Rails, Homebrew, Postgres And The Apocalypse

Ok, it’s not the apocalypse but still. On the off chance someone ends up being in the Venn Diagram overlapping section between “broken rails environment because Homebrew upgraded Postgres” and “found my blog in Google”, this post exists. Late last week, I did a “brew update” which promptly hosed up my Rails environment locally. The error was:

rake aborted!
could not connect to server: No such file or directory
Is the server running locally and accepting
connections on Unix domain socket “/tmp/.s.PGSQL.5432”?

This happened trying to migrate or prepare the database as well as on connection through the UI. That “.s.PGSQL.5432” file doesn’t exist in tmp which makes sense given the error message but the question was, did it get deleted on the upgrade or was something else the problem? After an extensive Google/Stack Overflow/crying jag, I went through the following stages of grief debugging.

DENIAL: It’s a PATH problem
This seemed promising since the error was similar. I had run into something similar when I upgraded to Mountain Lion and Postgres failed to start. Apparently I didn’t fix it completely then because when I ran “brew doctor”, I did in fact get the warning about path. So I fixed that. No love unfortunately other than removing the warning from brew.

ANGER: It’s a Permissions problem
Again, the error is similar though careful reading will see that the error message from the link above says “Permission denied” and not “No such file or directory”. My Stack Overflow habit (which is qualitatively different from my scotch habit) is to find a post that looks like a good candidate and go to the answers. This is probably a bad habit to be in since it lowers understanding and leads me on wild goose chases like this one. As it turns out, this is not a permissions problem. I confirmed this by restarting and using pgAdmin to access my local database. This was likely a Rails problem and had to be related to the homebrew update.

BARGAINING:This is a PostgreSql installation problem
This one also should have been eliminated quickly but it took a little while to put the dots together. I started digging into postgres configuration of which I know way less than I should. I found the postgres.conf file using “sudo find / -name postgres.conf”. In that, the key for the unix_socket_directory was set to “/var/pgsql_socket” and not to the “/tmp” directory my error message was indicating.

DEPRESSION: I’m going to work outside all day and not think about it
Sometimes, this is the only way to fix the problem.

ACCEPTANCE: It’s a change in where default socket files go
Not really a change and I haven’t completely grokked how this could be the problem. However, where Postgres looks for socket files is dependent on how it was built from source. I came across several references to the default being the /tmp directory. My best guess as to why this happened is that previous versions of Postgres installed via Homebrew correctly looked for socket files in /var/pgsql_socket and the latest (9.2.4 at the time of writing) does not. This Homebrew issue started me off in the right direction specifically the comments about setting PGHOST environment variable to “localhost” or setting a host in my database.yml file. However, several places have said that is a bad idea because it forces a TCP connection instead of a socket connection. Having no understanding of the ramifications of that, I read the docs on PGHOST which state that if the setting starts with a “/”, it specifies Unix domain communication instead of TCP. So I added “export PGHOST=”/var/pgsql_socket” to my .bash_profile, restarted terminal and boom, a working solution that I THINK satisfies most conditions.

Things I learned through all this: more postgres configuration, searching for files by name, a little about Unix permissions, a whole lot of patience.

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.