Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category.

On Reflection

Another year rolls by. I never really got into new-years-resolutions, but I have been in the habit of reviewing my progress every quarter or so. I actually let a review pass me by this fall, but I sat down for a brief bit of reflection a few weeks ago.

It seems to be a year filled with fail. My goal for the year was to make some money from a new income source – not even sustainable, just get something started. I calculated a new set of average expenses and the money remaining won’t last the year.

Meanwhile it seems that I can’t help helping people, so I’m doing yet more work for free.

Siggnal didn’t have a nibble, so I behind to try working on a collaborative project. That’s been dropped in favor of another one, and I find we are often at odds as what that is to become. I’m constantly amazed at how often a day disappears without significant progress. E-mail, meetups, grocery shopping, cooking (and blogging – I’ve grown more hesitant to do conference reviews. And go to (or pay for going to) conferences) Even thought the products are my default activity, I don’t seem to get there very often.

Resolutions for the quarter start with “moving the ball” – starting with projects and doing the miscellany during breaks. The holiday break was splendid for this – no martial arts or meetups, so I plenty of time to cycle between projects and other todos without an immanent deadline. It really makes me question if I need to be doing so many extra activities.

It looks like I’ll need to take on some sort of contracting work. It will start small – paying attention and seeing what comes up in conversations. As I approach the next quarterly review, I may have to get more proactive.

Lost Wonder?

About a year ago, I figured I had enough demands for pictures to justify buying a camera. I also started taking the camera on walks and trips, figuring if I had a camera, I ought to make use of it. I took a lot of pictures – often over a hundred in a trip (all the while thinking a dedicated photographer would take a lot more) Lately I’ve been noticing that I’ve been pulling the camera out less, and coming back with fewer pictures.

in and of itself, this isn’t a problem – it’s not like I’m getting paid per picture, or ever expect to make much of photography except perhaps providing fodder for a blog post or presentation. I’m more concerned about it as indicator of having my eyes open.

When I first got the camera, everything was new, at least to the camera. I’d take pictures of spring buds, I got a few of snow drifts and floods, and even tried getting stars a few times. Now the seasonal round is repeating, and it seems a little more blase.

I’ve been most places I go. My first trip to the library took a lot longer than usual, because I kept stopping to get favorite spots. I also got a lot of pictures in Chicago, which was still somewhat new to me, as well as to the camera. Now I’m starting to get a sense of city navigation, and things like the night-time view down LaSalle to the brilliantly lit Chicago Board of Trade just don’t demand photography they way they used to.

Some of the early volume was no doubt due to experimenting with camera settings – trying out different combinations, seeing what things do. Like taking pictures of the waterfall at bunch of different shutter speeds to get a mix from stop-motion to blurry flow. Now I’ve got a sense of it – shutter speed affects light and blur, aperture is supposed to control depth of field, but doesn’t show up much on my built-in lens, though it still affects light. ISO makes things grainy, but it serves for making up light in dark situations.

I’ve figured out that coarse digital zoom and focus are nearly too aggravating to use. I might actually appreciate the fine lens-mounted adjustments, but that’s another investment in a rather idle hobby. it would also be a bigger camera that I wouldn’t want to lug around everywhere, perhaps a more practical obstacle.

My real point of concern, of course, is not having the desire to take pictures. Or rather that sense of wonder that makes me wan to capture some moment. The world should be no less wondrous then ever. I’m constantly experiencing it at new moments and new angles, and the world is constantly changing, never quite the same twice, there and gone never to return.

Just a thought for now, I haven’t really made sense of it yet.

Toastmaster Icebreaker Feedback

Not much feedback during the meeting – a few compliments, but of course that makes it harder to find things to improve. Ah-counter (checking for ‘ah’, ‘um’ and so on) did a very fuzzy report, and I didn’t hear my name. Timekeeper also didn’t report times, and I wasn’t sure if the grammarian was complementing or criticizing. Most of it was a few gems in the individual feedback slips that get handed around after the meeting.

  • The closing was too abrupt. Most of my practice runs were cutting the time close – by the time the meeting was approaching, I was seeing the time go down, and as usual it went faster while I was ‘on stage’ I did say that it was going on the shortest yet (even though time feedback is extremely coarse grained) and should have added one of the extra lines on the book from the ‘cutting room floor’
  • Watching breathing – more specifically, make breaths less obvious. This will take some serious paying attention to even spot.
  • Watch pacing. I think I was using a breath as a pause, and considering that part of the flow. I’m going to have to figure out how to have a pause without just standing there.
  • Some words get clumped together. Back to talking too fast. This was one comment I also during the actual meeting. It’s kind of a known problem – I think faster than I type or talk, so it’s always a challenge to keep myself operating at the speed of the output device.

Of course given the volume of the feedback there were a few outliers as well

  • Needs more organization. Examples please? I had an opening where I stated the five things I was going to talk about, talked about them using the state, restate, example, state suggested by the manual, and then briefly reviewed the topics again. Far more people said I had great organization, so I’m going to have to treat this as an outlier until I get more concrete advice.
  • Missed the intended topic. Really? This wasn’t exactly a book review. I talked about what I am, not just what I do. I suppose you wanted to hear where I work, where I went to school, and what I named my pet fish in the fifth grade?

The silence test

I’m back in something of a holding pattern. The company expects to be slow for a few months, with things hopefully picking up afterwards. It doesn’t make sense to hire anyone new just now, but there may be a call for expansion later. In the mean time, things might be slow enough to run at reduced time.

At least once the current project is over; I didn’t have hardware or specs until somewhat late, and then I had my reflection time scheduled out. When I returned, there was catching up, and getting pulled into an abortive ISO audit. Now it’s a matter of catching up, with boards arriving any day, due dates looming, and the next vacation just around the corner.

Back to the subject at hand.

One of the things that struck me about talking with my boss, was our diametrically opposed means of coping with an uncomfortable situation. I clam up, while he talks on and on. The net effect is that I get caught up on all the industry gossip and company plans. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily mind being a little less out of the loop most of the time, but it doesn’t make for much of a conversation.

Just about a year ago, I made a note to write about silence. Specifically, the way I tend to greet uncomfortable subjects with silence. The funny thing I only really became conscious of it from watching my father.

I’m certainly quiet by default, but I can get going on those rare occasions where I’m fluent in the topic of discourse. Unfortunately, my interests have a very small intersection with the people around me, and I have little to add to most topics of conversation. This was especially pronounced last year when I went to North Carolina with a bunch of my parent’s friends. Their main topics tend to be dancing and motorcycles.

When it’s a definite question, I have and idea of what might be at work. I know people won’t like I really want to say, so I don’t say it, and hardly even admit to myself the reason. I guess it’s a form of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or perhaps it’s cognitive dissonance Chris Crawford talked about, as I sit there searching for a way to harmonize the opposing forces of social acceptance and honesty.

So I’ve got a theory I’m calling the silence test, which I don’t remember nearly enough (perhaps getting it properly written down will help a little). If I’m at a loss for words, it might just be a sign of cognitive dissonance, indicating I’m not being true to myself. I need to stop and reflect on what’s going on. Probably a silent process was well, but perhaps it will clear things up for the future.

Standing at the precipice with nowhere to fall.

I’ve been taking some time out for fast and reflection. I try to do this every few months, although most of time I get lost in trivialities. Into this fell a transcript of a speech by Steve Jobs

‘[...] for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”‘

My answer isn’t very often ‘yes’.

The job I took out of college programming games has turned into a lot of other things. Much of it is IT work, where things could break at any time, often break in the same boring way twice, and you spend half your time waiting for computers. The programming projects I do work on are a smattering of subjects, which are only interesting in their technical execution. Some are actually starting to turn me off.

If we get anything related to games, it’s redemption games, aka kiddie slot machines. Simple economics require that games be short and dead simple – game length places limits on the amount of money that can be earned. Operators want known payouts, which implies that the player’s performance has little or no impact on the ticket payout. I’ve come to the opinion that this is teaching our children the wrong things. There may be equal opportunity, but results should depend on talent and effort, not on the target payout percentage.

Our company is also making a number of products for the gaming (gambling) industry. I’m am independent minded person. If people want to place their fortunes on a die (card, slot, etc) I might recommend against it, if asked, but I won’t disallow it. However, I’ve gotten uneasy with supporting it in my professional work.

I think our paths have been divergent for a while now, but staying put has been the easy way. For years there was the progression from school to school and then to the workplace, but the free change has run out, and I’m feeling somewhat stagnate. I’ve tried to reason that it was only a matter of perception. I’ve tried to reason that I should fix things instead of running away, but obvious fixes don’t present themselves. I tried cutting back to four days; inquired on three and got no response. And while I’ve got things to run away from, I don’t have anything to run towards.

There would be a certain attraction to striking out on my own, but at present I don’t have any ideas that I count to pay the bills. I’m also an anti-social lout, and don’t have any readily available co-founders, which I’ve heard is a very good idea.

There is contract work, but I’m back to building other men’s dreams, and from what I’ve heard it’s it a tough life of scraping by, especially now, when I assume a lot of the recently laid-off have similar plans.

I’ve run across the idea of journeyman. I’ve spent the entire time since college working alone or with few other programmers. I could go off to a well regarded company (and hope they are hiring instead of downsizing) to try and learn from some masters for a few years.

I could go back to school. It would be a shame to throw away a paid off house (the dangers of coming to such paths later in life) I’m not entirely sure that I would be better off going to school than I would be by dropping out of work and focusing on my attention on learning for the same time. The main reason to pursue academics seems to be a career in teaching, but I’ve little precedent that I would enjoy it.

Software is only the best sort of profession I’ve found so far. I recall enjoying the design of Harmony cards, imagining the interplay of mechanics and coming with appropriate quotes or verse for each card. But from what I’ve heard games are a terrible way to pay to bills. A similar reputation surrounds the martial arts. I seem to enjoy writing a little on occasion, but I can hardly imagine how I’d keep the lights on doing that. msphat thinks I should go to seminary, but it’s something that has never occurred to me on it’s own, nor does it seem especially attractive.

Many possibilities would involve moving. Disappointing what communities I’ve become involved in. There is a certain degree of seductive comfort in the place where I am, easy biking to work and grocery store, a paid off house that keeps my continuous expense relatively low, and simply not having to think about a lot of things that have settled in. I pine for a greater ability to work on dreams, but rocking the boat would be a huge effort in making new arrangements, packing, moving, unpacking, etc.

Whine, whine, whine. And then I come back to the ultimate judge. In the end of days, am I more likely to regret taking a chance or staying put. But which way to fall?

Afraid of my own shadow.

Blair Reynolds responded; He is in fact still using the same e-mail address. I haven’t looked at it yet. This is a pattern which repeats over and over. I throw things out into the world, almost carelessly, and then shrink away when the echos come back. Mark it for later. Add an item to the todo list. Maybe it will be easier to take tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.

Isn’t if funny how we know things but somehow overlook them over and over again, carrying on as if all was well. Maybe I’m afraid of admitting a defect. Yet by knowing it, the damage is done, festering in the back of my mind, with the added effort of covering it up. Maybe I’m afraid of the change that would follow from admitting it.

“Fear is the mind killer” – Frank Herbert, Dune

Chris Crawford taught me something about integrity:

“Any child can see that a fragmented, compartmentalized brain is not going to think as freely, as smoothly, and as well as a more unified brain.”

I’ve used that rational on occasion to justify a policy of honesty, but I don’t think I’ve really followed the advice. There are still a lot dark corners in my mind, and I’m staring down a couple of them now.

So why am I afraid of feedback? Is it fear of conflict? That some difference of opinion will become apparent, requiring my response. Perhaps escalating, leaving me between a flame war and just giving up – so why not give up now and save the trouble.

Perhaps it’s more mild. Feeling torn in multiple directions, anything that arrives promises to take more of my attention; the sooner I respond the sooner it will come back begging again.

Self confidence seems a likely culprit. I ‘know’ it’s going to be bad, so why put myself through the abuse.

I did make myself go back and read the message, but I wanted to sleep on this essay.

My Creed

A few months ago, someone asked me to write a mission statement of sorts. Since I often take some time for reflection every few months, it was a good excuse to put it off. This is what I came up with. (Like, over a week ago; I’ve been a bit preoccupied.)

To tease order from disorder. To make right what is wrong and make a visible difference in the lives of people I care about. To apply my analytical talents where they have maximum effect, addressing the root cause to resolve each situation once and forever.

The first thing will probably do is show me up as a hypocrite. It also subsumes or omits a lot of detail.

- Analytical carries the fact that programming is the most joyful and productive activity I’ve found.
- My interest in learning could be seen as part of the quest for the best solution.
- My fascination with big ideas may be explicable by viewing them as tools that can bring order to large amounts of disjoint information.
- I prefer honesty because lies create multiple conflicting versions of events and sow confusion, preventing an appreciation of the true order.
- I have an independent aspect; compulsion creates additional concerns for the person compelled, and creates a dissonance between what one wants to do (i.e., as stated above) and has to do.
- It doesn’t cover rapid feedback, and doesn’t seem as though it could be easily added.

Brain dump: personal and social value

My reflection exercise took an interesting turn over the weekend. I’d like to work this into a proper essay at some point, but as I don’t know when or if I’ll take the time, and if the exercise would improve it enough to be worthwhile, I’m posting the notes for anyone who is sufficiently board and curious.

In the broader sense, what is essential?
Flow experiences. Personal value and social value.

Is flow personal or social?
Personal. The experience itself is usually of value to the person. Socially, it depends on the value placed on the work performed by society.

What are the arguments for social value?
According to Robert? Pirsig, social order is a higher form of quality than a conscious individual. ‘Good’ is frequently defined as benefiting someone else (society) – as defined by society.

What are the arguments for personal value?
Flow is a state of optimal operation. A person operating within his natural gifts can accomplish more than one operating outside them. Production tends to be strongly correlated with personal value.

Is producing more necessarily of value?
Of value to who? Benefit is amount * valuation. For society it is possibly that low valuation of an efficiently produced product could make it less valuable than an inefficiently produced product of high value. 10 * 1 is less than 5 * 3, but the same as 1 * 10.

Does personal value have any benefit to society in cases of low societal value?
A person operating in low value may be less happy/more stressed. He might be a less complete person, have a shorter life, and therefore be of lower value to society. In part it depends on the social value of happy and effective people.

Does societal value have any benefit to a person in cases of low personal value?
Humans are social creatures. It depends on how much the person values societal approval.

This is getting complicated…
Personal benefit = amount * personal value + amount * societal value * personal value of societal approval?
Societal benefit = amount * societal value + amount * personal value * societal value of personal happiness?

N could be factored out. That is probably too simple.
PB = PV(N) + SA(SV(N))
SB = SV(N) + PH(PV(N))

Of course N depends on personal value/ability…

pb: x -> v
let n = pv x C
return pv x n + pv SA (sv x n)

sb: x -> v
let n = pv x C
return sv x n + sv PH (pv x n)

pv: x -> n -> v
sv: x -> n -> v
match x; A = n, B = log n, C = n^2, etc.

Set up to remove recursion, but they probably are fully recursive; i.e the societal valuation is itself a function of the amount, which is a function of personal value, which is in part a function of societal value…

Can valuations be negative?
Consider the societal valuation of prostitution, drugs, gambling, and selfishness which is an effective deterrent _for those who value society_. The personal valuation of drudgery and sacrifice, which is often an effective deterrent _for societies that value personal happiness_

If pv SA >> sv PH…
Society is rigid and the people repressed.

If sv PH >> pv SA
Anarchy and hedonism rule.

The current state of affairs?
America has tradition of freedom (PH), but a momentum towards SA > PH. The use of slaves back at the dawn of the freedom age is a bit of an issue. The founding fathers appear to have been concerned with their own happiness but not that of others.

The model doesn’t fit. A large number of people are oppressed under a society that values happiness?
If PH>SA is a state of anarchy, people are free to do as they please – including enslave other people. SA is in part the concern with what other people think; both outsiders and those enslaved.

Personal benefit/happiness is maximized when personal value correlates with societal value. Yet the betterment of society/others requires allocation of resources to them, perhaps at one’s own expense. Production increases in proportion to pv; the more one has the more likely one has enough, and therefore has enough to give.

Yet Thomas Jefferson had slaves. He had a lot of things, but in large part because he had slaves. For all that he did, his means were not entirely his own; he wasn’t self sufficient enough to have the surplus required to free his slaves as unnecessary.

Societal benefit is maximized when societal value correlates with personal value. (both terms large positive) Additionally, n ~ pv. Yet an over-concern with pb leads to selfishness…
Only in a state of of scarcity. If people are operating in an optimal state with the approval of society, there should be a no scarcity.

What of theft, people seeking to maximize their own benefit at the expense of others?
Clearly high pv and low sv. The crux here is that theft is taking, not making. Moving, not creating. The pv/sv cancel each other out.

This relates to the best argument I’ve heard against communism – it’s a system of wealth distribution, not wealth creation.

Jefferson’s slaves created value, he took it. TJ created our government, but that doesn’t pay well; his basic needs were covered by taking, giving him the leisure to participate in, at the time, a low sv activity.

What of help and giving?
Creation of value, with a higher sv than pv. In a sense it is also moving, but for the sake of sv (or pv SA) It also often involves creation for the sake of giving, whereas only slavery is creation for the sake of taking.

Create or Die

Perhaps a bit extreme, “Create or fall asleep” might be more appropriate. It’s so easy to get caught up in minutia and trivialities that don’t really add up to anything; and to put off journal posts until you’ve forgotten everything you wanted to say besides the title.

Anyway, working on the clock reminds what it’s like to do really enjoy digging into something. As effective as choosing small goals for the weekend is, it leaves the rest of the week feeling empty. As much as I might like to work on it all the time, just doing that won’t take care of the other responsibilities. I’ve tried lists; eventually the get all gummed with contingencies and I’m still left wondering what’s next, especially after something causes a context-switch, which happens quite regularly.

Outside of the weekend, I’ve not been creating much, which might help explain the meandering thoughts a bit.


One of my long-delayed thoughts is that appearances had no small part in my actions when I was being pressured for money.

Essentially, each person has to choose what names he will put up with being called. Given the choice between foolish and hard-hearted, I couldn’t stand the thought of head-hearted, even at steadly diminishing odds.

At times, I thought it strange that I, a person who never gambles, should be making such increasingly unlikely ‘bets’. What I’ve realized, as I write, is that the money was incidental – the real bet was trust, and from that view my reaction was quite chracteristically conservative. The only way to ‘lose’ was to refuse a genuine request for help, and that was never a risk if I never refused. Remaining unimpeachable carried more weight that what might appear to be common sense.