Intentional Habits

Jason Fried, writing in his company’s blog Signal v. Noise, has a smart post about advice for young people about the graduate. His advice makes a lot of sense.

The advice was this: Habits are always forming. No matter what you do, you’re also forming habits too. Keep that in mind with whatever you do.

When we talk about habits, we generally talk about learning good habits. Or forming good habits. Both of these outcomes suggest we can end up with the habits we want. And technically we can! But most of the habits we have are habits we ended up with after years of unconscious behavior. They’re not intentional. They’ve been planting deep roots under the surface, sight unseen. Fertilized, watered, and well-fed by recurring behavior. Trying to pull that habit out of the ground later is going to be incredibly difficult. Your grip has to be better than its grip, and it rarely is.

So be aware of what you do, what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. Every do digs deeper. Every does grips stronger.

It’s something I wish someone would have told me twenty-five years ago.

May 25, 2019

1% Better

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Time is finite, but there’s always too much to do.

I’ve found that I only operate well when I focus. I have to focus on what’s most important, what I can do to make a difference, and where the resources are to help.

Personally, I get caught in the weeds a lot. I can be super detailed and then not detailed enough. I lose the big picture. My wife is really skilled at focusing on the most important thing and seeing the big picture simultaneously. Me, not so much.

Being easily distracted is also not a good thing for me. I have to actively focus on what’s the best thing I can be doing at this exact moment. Otherwise, I’ve blurred my attention and I’m not going to accomplish anything.

My solution is to write things down because when I don’t inevitably I will miss things, forget things, or just flat out fail. I’m not as good as I should be at juggling multiple things, but at least I’m aware of my shortcomings and have actively tried to fix them.

All I can do is to continually strive to get better at the things I’m deficient in and keep maximizing the skills I excel at. James Clear says, If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.”

Just get one percent better.

May 24, 2019

The Dark Forest

Jason Kottke pointed me to an essay on Medium from Yancey Strickler linking the rise of advertising, tracking, and trolling of the mainstream internet to the movement towards online environments more private such as newsletters, podcasts, invite-only message boards, etc.

Strickler uses the dark forest analogy at the center of Liu Cixin’s science fiction trilogy, The Three Body Problem.

When we look out into space, the theory goes, we’re struck by its silence. It seems like we’re the only ones here. After all, if other forms of life existed, wouldn’t they show themselves? Since they haven’t, we assume there’s no one else out there.

Liu invites us to think about this a different way.

Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.

Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well.

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

It’s an incredible read and clearly a movement that’s not going away.

May 23, 2019

The Rise of Skywalker in Vanity Fair

Lev Grossman wrote some words and Annie Leibovitz took some pictures previewing Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Of course, everything looks incredible.

I am uncharacteristically anticipating J. J. Abrams will actually pull this off.

May 22, 2019

Puzzle Peace

Patrick Rhone, writing in his email newsletter, tells the story of minimalists and maximalists, puzzles and preconceptions. It is smart and exactly what I needed, especially the last part.

The difference between the puzzle being a soul-draining burden or something that brought me peace was all in how I chose to see and engage with it. The problem” with being a minimalist living with those who are not is that way too. I can’t change who my wife and daughter are or the stuff that brings them joy. All I can do is accept them as they are. By accepting them as they are I am also accepting all the stuff that they bring. But what I can change is me. I can grumble less about it all and open my heart to the possibility that not all the stuff is useless. That some of it might actually be a benefit to me. And only through compassion, acceptance, and love will I ever know.

May 22, 2019

Our Guys

Robert Rosenthal, writing on his IlliniBoard.com site, talks about what it’s like to root for Illinois athletics and to root for the players. If you don’t understand college athletics or University of Illinois sports, you might be itching to scroll past this post and story. I would urge you to not do that here.

Rosenthal loves Illinois football and his guys. With the news of Bobby Roundtree’s terrible spinal injury, his essay is a both a love letter to fans and a plea to the football gods that Bobby can live a normal life.

I don’t pray much, but I might give it a shot for this young man. Maybe you can do the same?

May 21, 2019

Bittersweet

More thought required. But I liked the #GameofThrones finale. I did not love the majority of this last season, but I thought they ended it in a fitting manner. Which is to say, a coda. Bittersweet in nature. Yes, like ‘Lord of the Rings’ and many tales before it.

— M.G. Siegler (@mgsiegler) May 20, 2019

And so it ends.

I don’t really have a hot take. Besides there are already plenty of them out on the net. For me, I may need to ruminate a bit more on the end and endings in general. Mostly, I just wish everything was a tad bit more satisfying than what we got. It’s just far too rare to hit that sweet spot. Far more easier to go for the bittersweet end and sometimes that’s enough.

May 20, 2019

The Trauma of Daenerys Targaryen

Jonathan Michael Erickson, writing on Medium, has put together an in-depth study of the Daenerys Targaryen character arc. Erickson has his doctorate in depth psychology focusing on embodied psychology, the unconscious mind, and imagination.

His analysis is spot on and something I had not thought of throughout the course of her story.

And in the heat of that moment, I don’t think Dany really knows what she’s doing. Calling her the mad queen” implies that she has genetically inherited some psychosis from her father. But maybe she’s simply the Traumatized Queen? Among the most insidious aspects of trauma is that it can collapse time, confusing what is actually happening in the present, while also dissociating us from ourselves. In this sense, trauma is really the opposite of character development,” because it throws us outside of ourselves, the people we have become, and leaves us trapped in the past. In season seven Olenna Tyrell tells Dany that she should be a dragon” — and that’s what we see here: her humanity swallowed by her inner monster, she becomes death from above, and we no longer even get to see her face.

And it’s absolutely heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to see this powerful woman with so much potential for good become consumed by her own shadow. It’s awful to see a person we believe in betray their deepest values. To watch Dany transform into the very monster she set out to destroy. It’s so painful that to really let it in might be hard to bear. Many have complained that the final season of the show lacks emotional resonance, but when dealing with material this dark, I wonder if in part we don’t want it to resonate? If on some level, the expectation for another Marvel movie about heroes runs so deep that when we are presented with a genuine tragedy instead, we want to throw things at the screen?

May 19, 2019

The Big Bang Theory Theory

Todd VanDerWerff, writing in Vox, explains in perfect detail the rise of The Big Bang Theory and why it endured for as long as it did at the top of the sitcom game. Here’s the kicker:

…the secret of The Big Bang Theory’s popularity: It was never about nerd culture so much as it used nerd culture for what felt like a novel setting when it debuted. The jokes themselves were always about sex or interpersonal relationships or the characters’ foibles. The geek references were simply window dressing.

The hatred the show generated is also an interesting point.

The Big Bang Theory’s ratings prowess — undeserved in the eyes of viewers who consider their comedy tastes more rarefied — has long been enough to mark the show as something to scoff at. But the sheer hatred the show inspires comes from a handful of unlikely other sources.

One is that in 2010, when the show was just beginning its ascension to megahit status, CBS moved it from Mondays to Thursdays. So its fourth season aired at 8 pm on Thursdays, directly opposite the second (and best) season of the beloved geek-friendly sitcom Community, which took as a point of pride its ability to actually make accurate pop culture jokes. On Community, jokes about the show’s characters were often told via their incredibly specific tastes, not the most generic version of geek culture the show’s writers could dream up.

Community’s fervent fan base helped keep it on the air for six seasons, despite it never becoming a huge hit. But its continued survival didn’t matter: Having the very traditional Big Bang Theory air opposite the much cleverer Community drew the lines for battles to come. The Big Bang Theory was fake geek culture. Never mind that it was written by math and science nerds, and never mind how many geeks really did see themselves in it. It was always, on some level, going to go for the broadest possible audience rather than the narrowest one, and that was the opposite of being a geek.

This all led to one of the more unfortunate strains of Big Bang Theory dislike — calling the show nerd blackface,” meaning that it was built around big, trope-y portrayals of geeks that were meant to draw derisive, jeering laughter. Equating the show’s clumsy portrayal of geeks and geek culture to a decades-long history of systemically portraying black people as bumbling fools is, I hope I don’t have to tell you, pretty dang offensive. Yet the idea of describing the show in such a fashion keeps cropping up, because many self-proclaimed geeks feel like the show takes a hectoring or even bullying tone toward them.

I’ve never heard the term nerd blackface” before and, honestly, I’m shocked by the term. The Big Bang Theory does not deserve this kind of derision.

For me, I liked the show quite a bit but it was getting tired. I missed a majority of this last season, but I’m sure I’ll catch up and I’ll laugh right along at the dumb joke about the TARDIS or Star Wars.

May 18, 2019

The End of the Great Game

I’ve watched every episode of Game of Thrones. I haven’t read any of the books. The anticipation of this season and the upcoming series finale is palpable. However, after watching the penultimate episode it seems quite obvious how the showrunners are going to end everything. I mean, I guess they could really swerve all the viewers with an out of left field ending, but I highly doubt it.

SPOILERS AND SPECULATION BELOW. TURN AWAY IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW OR DON’T CARE ABOUT GAME OF THRONES

Daenerys has turned into a mad queen.” Sure, the turn” has been rushed and probably hasn’t quite been earned. I mean it’s not Anakin Skywalker into Dark Vader-level speed, but it’s pretty fast. For most of the series, she was set up to be the savior of the seven kingdoms. However, a turn like this is really par for the course of the show.

If you’ve been paying attention, the good guys don’t always win. The bad guys don’t always either. Ultimately, it’s cunning and ruthlessness that take the day.

From the Starks getting killed when they were obviously the characters we were supposed” to be rooting for to Jon Snow meeting a nasty end (and coming back), this show has upturned traditional fantasy stories. It’s why the show and books are incredibly popular.

Nothing is ever easy in Westeros. Daenerys and Jon aren’t going to rule as aunt/nephew/lovers. Dani’s turn has sealed that potential happy” ending. Someone is going to have to kill Daenerys and it’s either going to be Jon or Arya. If I was writing it, Arya would take Jon’s face without killing him, meet Dani late at night and kill her. Jon would take the blame, join the Night’s Watch and rebuild the wall with Bran and possibly Drogon. That would leave the question of who sits on the Iron Throne.

It makes sense that Tyrion would succeed his sister on the throne, but Gendry Baratheon would have a legitimate claim as well. Of course, I’m not sure Tyrion survives the trial that will surely happen at the start of the last episode. Freeing Jamie was a betrayal of Daenerys and even with the Lannister twins apparently buried under rubble, she won’t forgive him.

If Tyrion survives, I could see an alliance with Sansa in marriage and they rule the seven kingdoms. I could also see Jon ruling just long enough to declare the kingdoms independent. Arya will no doubt go off and become an adventurer of some kind, maybe off west on the Sunset Sea. Brienne will be kingsguard to Sansa either in Winterfell or King’s Landing. Greyworm will take the unsullied and Dothraki back across the Narrow Sea to free slaves or join Jon north. Samwell Tarly could get Winterfell or become the new Grand Maester. Davos Seaworth could be on the council and maybe the new Hand.

I think they might show Gendry plotting to take the throne, but I doubt it. I’m sure the final shot will be a sigil of the Night King letting us all know winter is still coming.

May 17, 2019

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