I’m never sure what to do about productive procrastination. I think this is a
real thing, but I use the term to refer to times I am doing real work, just not
the work I should be doing. It is a close cousin to
knolling, and in
like manner, productive procrastination is more a balm to the mind than anything
Where am I going with this? Turns out, it is hard to cover a
book deliberately and
comprehensively. I have a chapter one draft full of good quotes and a decent
general form, and I cannot for the life me make it interesting to read. I
pictured Book Club turning out something like the series
I once did on
Fooled by Randomness,
but now that I think about it, I never did finish that series.
It’s worse than I thought.
The productivity part of my procrastination took the form of reorganizing the
navigation of my site. Then I spun up a new
DigitalOcean Droplet so I could have a place
for Book Club discussions. This latter task involved a surprising amount of DNS,
SMTP, and ssh work, so for a long while, I completely forgot I was utterly
failing to accomplish my original goal. *sigh*
I am not giving up on The Practicing Stoic, or on Book Club in general, but I
am now aware this will be hard. Why did this surprise me? It’s right there in
the project name!
Anyway, come join the Book Club discussion, if
you’d like. Or check out my site’s new Book Club navigation. I will
eventually—and publicly—figure out how to discuss a book. In the meantime,
I’ll certainly procrastinate in many novel, and maybe productive ways. After
all, my RSS methodology surely deserves some attention…
A while back on John Gruber’s Daring Fireball I came across a link to a Jim
Collins interview with Admiral James Stockdale. I’ve
written about Admiral Stockdale
before, but his example set under the direst circumstances imaginable led to an
almost overnight improvement in my own character. As a 20-year-old, I was very
prone to overreacting to just about everything, but learning about Admiral
Stockdale reset the scale I used when measuring my own personal “hardships.”
This changed everything, and it changed quickly.
I like Admiral Stockdale’s succinct definition of stoicism:
A Stoic always kept separate files in his mind for (A) those things that are
“up to him” and (B) those things that are “not up to him.”
This is manifestly true, and to my way of thinking, the only thing really in
category (A) is my own attitude and response to the world. I now consider each
particular hardship as training, and I have often found I can apply this mindset
in the moment. When I fail the test real-time, I am still strengthened by
applying this mental frame in hindsight.
Before sitting down with the admiral, Jim Collins wondered about how he avoided
despair as a Prisoner of War:
Then all of a sudden it dawned on me, “Wait a minute, I’m getting depressed
reading [In Love and War], and I know the end of the story. I know he gets
out. I know he reunites with his family. I know he becomes a national hero.
And I even know that we’re going to have lunch on the beautiful Stanford
campus on Monday. How did he not let those oppressive circumstances beat him
down? How did he not get depressed?” And I asked him.
He said, “Well, you have to understand, it was never depressing. Because
despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith
that not only would I prevail—-get out of this—-but I would also prevail by
turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger
and better person. Not only that, Jim, you realize I’m the lucky one.”
I said, “No, I don’t.”
He said, “Yes, because I know the answer to how I would do, and you never
We cannot control the trials we face, but we can turn them into training. When
something is hard, it can make us better. When we prepare for this training, our
thoughts can more easily fall into healthy patterns. Patterns we should learn
ahead of time.
That is my goal for studying
The Practicing Stoic. I will
prepare and reinforce the mental patterns I need during a trial, and I will
practice them when I am inevitably tried.
I haven’t written in a few days, because I’ve been
convalescing after suffering a back injury at work. I’m still
laid low, but I ought to be able get my daily routine back on track
The first iteration of the twbh book club will cover
The Practicing Stoic
by Ward Farnsworth, which was recommended to me by my friend
Erik. I’ve got a
to my personality, and even though I’ve received some mild
push-back on this topic in the past, I am convinced a healthy life is
marked by equanimity in the face of hardship. Stoicism is a good way
to achieve that end.
There are 13 chapters in The Practicing Stoic, and each one
should take about 20 minutes to read. After an introduction tomorrow,
I will cover chapter one on Tuesday morning. Let me know if
you’re reading along, and I will provide a way for us all to
Fiction has always had an important place in my life, and recently,
it’s been the better part of what I am reading. I don’t
make rules for what I read (with the exception of not allowing myself
much time on social media), but I always try to have at least one
“learning” book going alongside whatever I am reading
purely for fun.
The challenge, as ever, is time, so I want to put some external
pressure on myself. To that end, I am initiating the first ever twbh
Book Club. If you have a book you love, or one you’ve been
meaning to tackle, @ mention potatowire on either Twitter or
Micro.blog or email me at potatowire·com. If I don’t get
any suggestions by Friday, I’ll select something from my
antilibrary. I’ll do some
sort of poll if I get a lot of suggestions.
I will divide the selected book into pieces and devise a schedule
based on a reasonable daily reading amount. Each I’ll post the
big takeaways, and if I have any reason to anticipate audience
participation, I’ll add the ability to comment here. I will also
interleave Q&A as full posts in this case.
Like everything I do, I am undertaking this as an experiment, but I
think it will be fun. I hope you’ll join me.
Should I give in to my low motivation?
Is it time to rest? Can I white-knuckle it one more day?
Am I choosing to bend so I don’t break? Am I letting myself off
My motivation is already low. I can’t trust the answer.
I am the prosecutor and defense attorney. I am the judge and jury.
I am the unreliable narrator.
Better is Better
One of the better decisions I made when starting this project was
beginning with minimal styling, and a manual publishing flow. I had a
lot of quarantine time at home when I fist contemplated writing again,
and I thought I could probably get the site perfect first and
then write. That time evaporated shortly thereafter, however,
and without a minimum viable site, I’d have in reality never
published word one.
Starting before I feel truly ready is a pattern I’ve developed
too late in life. If I were to analyze myself, I think it is because I
am what Gretchen Rubin calls a “Questioner.” She
created four personality bins
that describe how people deal with obligations. In my case as a
questioner, I stick with something only if it makes sense to me.
Otherwise I “question” things to death and blow off
anything that doesn’t survive this scrutiny. This means I have
to have something completely figured out before I begin a new habit.
Stated simply: I take forever to start and quit way too often.
Of course, I realized this maddeningly late in life, and knowing this
about myself now means I can structure new habits I want to build in a
more iterative way. I do trial periods, with distinct decision points
for modification or quitting. I can’t really explain why this
works. Weren’t my previous failed attempts already trial
periods, with distinct decision points for modification or quitting?
Isn’t that what all new routines look like? Yes, but apparently
defining things this way means I will modify far more often
than I will quit. Like a lot in life, it works without making
a ton of sense.
One other decision making tool I’ve recently employed to good
effect is to to be freer doing what is easily unwound. The root of the
word decision is “to cut,” because when you do one thing,
you cut off all the other choices. That is true, in that there is a
cut-line between did and didn’t, but in most
situations, the didn’ts do not go away. You can easily
return to the original question later, armed with better data. This is
iterating, in a computer science-y sort of way.
Maybe I can provide a practical example. Technically, you can unwind
the decision to buy a car, but it takes a lot of time and effort, and
you usually lose money in the process. Other purchases are likewise
irreversible in practice, but the scale makes all the difference.
Trying out a new notebook, for instance, means you are out a few (or
tens of) dollars, but that’s usually okay. What does all this
mean? I should take months to decide to whether or not to buy a new
car (and mostly answer no!), but I should just click “buy
now” on the notebook page in Amazon.
What I am doing here is rationing mental effort, which like time, is
more precious to me than money. When something is less mentally taxing
(because I don’t consider the decision final), I am more likely
to try it. The more I try, the more that works. The more works, the
better I get.
Better is better.
No One Knows
Unsurprisingly, Tyler Cowen is a voice of reason in these trying
a good summary of our current situation:
If we keep the economy closed at current levels, it will
continue to decay, and at some point turn into irreversible, non-linear damage. No
one knows when, or how to model the course of that process. That
decay also will eat into our future public health capacities, and
perhaps boost hunger and poverty around the world.
If we keep people locked up at current levels, fewer of them will be
exposed to the virus, and in the meantime we can develop better
treatments, and also improve test and trace capabilities. No one
knows how quickly those improvements will come, or how to model the
course of that process, or how much net good they will do.
The relative pace of those two processes should determine our best
course of action. No one knows the relative pace of either of those
two processes. Yet commentators pretend to be increasingly
knowledgeable, moralizing based on the pretense of knowledge they do
These two forces, economic decline and risk to life, are in tension,
and no one knows how to balance them. No one knows. No one
Anyone arguing confidentially on either side of this argument should
be written-off as untrustworthy. Or maybe they are just afraid. I
think most people taking sure sides either see an opportunity to
advance a previous agenda, or are more viscerally afraid of one
outcome over the other.
We need to be more comfortable with uncertainty, because it is so hard
to know anything. In the absence of certain knowledge, maybe start
want to be.
Some twbh History and a Book Recommendation
Right before I declared failure on the first iteration of
This Will Be Hard, I started a series designed to encapsulate
the tools I use when I’m consciously trying to think better.
This concept is more commonly called Mental Models, which I
think was originally coined by Charlie Munger. I hoped by writing a
series on what I have learned I could
it better in my head, and at the same time, maybe I could help one of
This was good motivation until I heard Shane Parrish
Gabriel Weinberg (the DuckDuckGo founder). They were discussing his
book about mental models, which I thought sounded pretty good. I
ordered it and started reading a little bit every morning. And it was
It was so good that I realized that this book largely accomplished
what I’d hoped to do on This Will Be Hard, and while I
was energized by the book, in general, I was demotivated to write.
Strangely, this didn’t bother me. I seem to want to write when
my mind is unsettled or I want to learn. I was happy on both counts,
and therefore, I no longer felt compelled to write. For a while, at
I’d like to encourage everyone to read
by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann. If money is
tight—because of pandemic or life reasons—send an email
to me at potatowire·com, and I’ll buy it for you. If I
don’t have you convinced yet, try the
I alluded to earlier.
One last recommendation, buy the paper book, not the ebook. It is much
easier to internalize the lessons of a book like this when you have
the physical article. I think this is due to the
place association a real book offers, which can’t be
replicated by a Kindle or iDevice. Plus, it’s a lot easier to
flip back and forth, and this material rewards that behavior.
I spent the morning failing to write. I went through a lot of old
notes and built-out some new drafts, but once I was in the exploring
mode, I lost the writing mode.
I know this is what
happens, but knowing isn’t doing.
It was interesting reviewing my old notes, however. I mostly wondered
why past-me bothered, and some snippets were completely inexplicable
(what am I supposed to do with “airlocks”?!?), but the
gestalt of them brought me back in time.
In all my past gtd failures, I failed most often in building the
weekly review habit. I captured, and I did not review. I mostly did
not do. My mind was never like water. I was still okay, but I
should have been better.
This morning’s experience has me wondering if I should have
tailored the weekly review more to my unique disfunction. Instead of
executing a perfect routine, I built no routine. I waited until I
could do it right, instead of doing anything, regularly. The
perfect is the enemy of the good and all that.
Maybe today was my first weekly review?
The quote below started out as a random addition to a non-post, but it
now fits in quite nicely.
"Procrastination is the thief of compound interest”
Many nights, I am dissatisfied when I reflect back upon my day. Some
days, I lack motivation and don’t do much. Some days, I do a
lot, but none of it is worth keeping. Some days, my work is unfairly
judged. Some days, it is unnoticed altogether.
Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb looks at our ability to evaluate life. One of the
tools he advocates is considering alternative histories:
One can illustrate the strange concept of alternative histories as
follows. Imagine an eccentric (and bored) tycoon offering you $10
million to play Russian roulette, i.e., to put a revolver containing
one bullet in the six available chambers to your head and pull the
trigger. Each realization would count as one history, for a total of
six possible histories of equal probabilities. Five out of these six
histories would lead to enrichment; one would lead to a statistic,
that is, an obituary with an embarrassing (but certainly original)
cause of death. The problem is that only one of the histories is
observed in reality; and the winner of $10 million would elicit the
admiration and praise of some fatuous journalist (the very same ones
who unconditionally admire the Forbes 500 billionaires).
…[I]n time, if the roulette-betting fool keeps playing the
game, the bad histories will tend to catch up with him. Thus, if a
twenty-five-year-old played Russian roulette, say, once a year,
there would be a very slim possibility of his surviving until his
fiftieth birthday—-but, if there are enough players, say thousands
of twenty-five-year-old players, we can expect to see a handful of
(extremely rich) survivors (and a very large cemetery).
Are the handful of extremely rich survivors any wiser than the
thousands in the ground? Certainly not.
Are we looking at a grave or the cemetary when considering day’s
work? Are we even looking at the right thing?
Once upon a time, Alice sought help from the Cheshire Cat at a
…‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’
said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said
It doesn’t matter which road we take when we don’t know
where we are going. It doesn’t matter what we do when
we don’t know who we are.
Back to my nightly reflections…Did today’s work align with
who I am?
Yes? Good. There’s always tomorrow.
No? Good. There’s always tomorrow.
One of life’s great mysteries is why children who go to bed
later than normal wake up earlier than normal.
The Sovereign Individual
I’m going to begin reading the
The Sovereign Individual
again today, because I think work and the workplace will undergo a
similar upheaval post-pandemic.
In many ways this book was prescient, and it remained relevant for far
longer than it should have, given how much the internet changed in the
transition from Geocities to Twitter and Facebook. I will be reading
with an eye towards parallels, while seeking to avoid the
Lincoln/Kennedy-secretary problem (my term for reading too much into a
Mistakes Were Made
Human error is one of the natural consequences of publishing this site
by hand, while I learn enough node.js to build a blog
engine. Most of these mistakes will be temporary, and many will affect
Yesterday, I did my normal publishing routine correctly, right up
until I edited my RSS’s .xml file. At that point, I
left in place the prior day’s
<description> content, which provides the full post
content in an RSS reader. Anyone who checked their feedreader
yesterday saw the wrong content with the correct title.
Maybe some of you clicked through and saw the correct post on the
site. Maybe a some of you noticed the error and shook your head at my
carelessness. Maybe no one checked the feed yesterday. At this point,
I have no idea. The feed is correct now, but part of the
“fun” of RSS is that individual readers may still show the
old content. *sigh*
This whole thing is a good reminder for me to worry most about
continuing to write, because I think it is good for me. If I sweat
mistakes here and there, or worry about external markers of success
like reader-count, I will quickly lose my motivation. That’s
what ended all my prior projects.
Instead, I will daily try to get better. I will occasionally publish a
post that’s pretty good. Sometimes folks will even read it.
Periodically, I will make mistakes. When I catch them, I will make
myself be okay with that, and I will probably ask for forgiveness
Management regrets the error.
There are books spread all around my house, and while most are in one
room, I can’t properly call it a library. I own books about many
subjects, and I’ve lost interest in some of the topics. I have
also returned to subjects I thought I didn’t care about anymore.
I have read many of my books, but probably not most, and the unread
quantity fills me with joy. Nassim Taleb explains this emotion quite
nicely in The Black Swan:
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who
are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a
large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and
separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow!
Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of
these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who
get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting
appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than
unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not
know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently
tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate
more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing
number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly.
Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let
us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected
and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the
pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility
by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental
operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you
what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their
competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as
we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing
knowledge itself on its head. Note that the Black Swan comes from
our misunderstanding of the likelihood of surprises, those unread
books, because we take what we know a little too seriously.
I love not knowing much. Not knowing enough. There is so much wonder
in learning the next thing. In not even knowing what the next
thing’s subject will be.
So many surprises await me on my bookshelves. Many more surprises are
still in book warehouses. Even more are still in the authors' minds.
This is what keeps me off social media.
One of the books I’ve long found most compelling is
So Good They Can’t Ignore You
by Cal Newport.
I’ve re-read it twice, and I re-visit sections of it often. The
title comes from a Steve Martin quote from a 2007 interview Martin was
asked how an aspiring performer could succeed in show business, but
today I want to highlight another great idea from that same interview.
When describing his strategy for learning the banjo, he said:
[I thought], if I stay with it, then one day I will have been
playing for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for
forty years will be pretty good at it.
Cal Newport adds:
To me, this is a phenomenal display of patience. Learning clawhammer
banjo is hard, and because of this, Martin was willing to look forty
years into the future for the payoff—-a recognition of the
frustrating months of hard work and mediocre playing ahead. In his
memoir, Martin expounds on this idea when he discusses the
importance of “diligence” for his success in the entertainment
business. What’s interesting is that Martin redefines the word so
that it’s less about paying attention to your main pursuit, and more
about your willingness to ignore other pursuits that pop up along
the way to distract you.
It’s this last part that seems most important, but it’s
also the hardest part for me. I am interested in just about
everything. My stance has continually been, if a subject sounds
boring, it’s only because I haven’t looked into it enough.
Following my own advice, I have spent countless hours researching an
conceivable thing I might want learn.
As a result of this mindset, I know a lot about a lot, but I am not an
expert in anything besides (maybe) flying fighter jets, which I did
for 20 years in the Navy. That dedicated focus on one area of
expertise literally paid off, and it’s a skill that continues to
provide for my family, but I want to go deep on something else now
that I’ve retired from the Navy.
I’m taking my time figuring out this next thing, because I need
to make sure I am committed enough to block out all distractions.
There’s no need to hurry. I’m not expecting payoff for
another forty years.
Too often I try to start an endeavor with a grand, all-inclusive plan.
I do this even though virtually every decision I face is reversible,
to a large extent. In other words, There is no need for a grand plan.
I can instead iterate around some simple goal, and see what works. I
Sometimes I am excited to begin work on a new task, and sometimes I
dread it. This dread can have many sources, but it usually signals the
anticipation of hard work.
Sometimes I dread a job because I know I don’t like the work,
and sometimes I dread the job because I don’t know how to do the
work. I might not want to dig a hole in the backyard, because I
don’t like shovelling. I might not want to write, because the
muse is elusive and sometimes the words won’t come.
The solution for either problem is simple, but it is also hard.
Whenever something needs to be done, I pick a time for the task, and I
make one ironclad rule for that time. I can either do the hard work,
or I can do nothing. I have a choice, but my options are limited.
I don’t have to write, but my hands must be on the keyboard. I
can’t do “research” by opening Feedbin. I
can’t tinker with the site’s css or work on the blog
engine. I don’t have to write, but I can do nothing but write.
I get anxious staring at that lonely cursor on a blank screen when I
think I’ll fail to write anything good. When I need to find
magic. That anxiety fades when I know from the outset that it’s
okay to sit at the computer with the words not coming. I succeed
No magic required.
When I know what I want to write, I can’t focus well enough to
read. When I maintain my reading focus, the transition to writing mode
takes more time than I have in a morning. I need to cultivate an idea
time in the afternoon to prepare kindling for the next morning.
One of my challenges during the last few days is how to write again. I
did keep a paper journal for quite a while, but that writing could
stay unfinished and unpolished, since no one will ever read it.
When I kicked this project off, I had time to write late in the day,
but it quickly became evident (by two days in row of bad work) that
late-day creative energy was too rare for me to rely on. So, instead I
started writing in the morning, after my hard reading was complete.
This seemed like it would work well, until I noticed (as in my wife
told me) that I was a bit of a jerk to my family throughout the rest
of the day. Writing and finalizing the posts first-thing was the only
common thread in two days of bad behavior, and I think maintaining my
focus while my family vied for it was too great a strain. I chose
poorly in letting the writing win-out.
Needing a new plan, yesterday I decided I would write until the first
kiddo wandered out of bed, finishing my post whenever I could, later
in the day. This was much better, as evidenced by my improved attitude
and behavior, even though yesterday’s post was a hard one to
write and publish.
I think this will be good, and I know I can edit and think well(ish)
throughout the entire day. My ability to write, from scratch at least,
seems to be the perishable good.
I am a big fan of routine, and I seem to be unable to stick with
something I can’t fit into a normal day. If I need a special day
to do a special task, I might as well schedule failure. If something
is important, it deserves a place in my everyday. I think writing is
He is Risen Indeed
I have spent many years concerned with how the mind works and with
logic and reason. I like to think this was a character of my thought
before I ever heard the word, “metacognition,” but that
may be wishful thinking. One way I sharply differ from many with
similar interests is that I believe in God. To state it plainly, I
truly believe in the historical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
“Historical” is the operative word in that statement of
faith, because I believe there is something supernatural here. I think
there can be things that go beyond the laws of nature. Mine is not a
modern faith in Jesus as a good teacher, without all that business of
being God incarnate. No, what I believe challenges plain reason. I
don’t believe without reason, however.
I think all worldviews hinge on some bit of faith. For instance,
science depends on the underlying belief that the universe will make
sense. That reality is figure-out-able. There is no reason it
has to be this way though. Careful observation and scientific
testing strengthens this case, and logic indicates–but does not
require–that this will remain so. Believing reality will remain
understandable is required for science to work, and that is a
Where I part company with so many scientists is the requirement that
there be only a naturalistic explanation for everything. This may be,
but I can’t see how it must be. Any observation that defies a
natural explanation is either because it indicates the functioning of
a more fundamental natural law, or because there has been some
supernatural force acting on reality. I make room for the
supernatural, even as I don’t assume it.
This is my reasoned position now, but I grew into it. I started with
faith as a child, but when I entered school, I learned more of the
common objectives to a belief in God. This got me interested in
Christian Apologetics, from the Greek word “Apologia,”
which means defense. These discussions in defense of belief were
useful as I worked out my own faith.
One of my favorite voices in those days was Chuck Colson, who was
formerly Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” Earlier this
week, I heard a few episodes of the Breakpoint podcast, which
continued after Chuck Colson’s death. My favorite was a
re-broadcast of some past Easter messages, and one of them was a
discussion of the first bit of apologetics I remember finding truly
compelling when I was a teenager.
It is reliably agreed, by Christian and secular scholars alike, that
the tomb of Jesus was empty three days after the crucifixion. Scholars
likewise agree that the “Swoon Theory,” and other similar
explanations for how Jesus did not actually die on the cross, are
improbable. Therefore, the most likely natural explanation for the
empty tomb would be some sort of conspiracy that removed and hid the
body of Christ. If there was a conspiracy, the beneficiaries of such a
conspiracy would have be its likely perpetrators. Namely,
Recorded in the Gospels, and to their discredit, the disciples
abandoned Jesus in fear, when he was taken prisoner by the
authorities. Like nearly all their contemporaries, the disciples
believed in a mighty and predominately political or warrior messiah
that would restore the Jewish people to worldly prominence. When,
instead, their supposed Messiah went meekly into confinement, all that
was put asunder.
Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. Three days later, the tomb
was empty, and He later appeared to them alive. If we grant the former
point, we don’t have the same reason to grant the latter, except
for the disciples subsequent behavior. These formerly fearful men
began to boldly proclaim their Faith under harsh persecution by the
Jewish and Roman authorities. All but one were martyred for their
Very occasionally, people will choose to die for truth, but it defies
reason that the 11 people most in position to know the truth would
instead knowingly die for a lie.
Embedded here is Chuck Colson’s discussion of this idea, with
his additional perspective of having participated in the conspiracy to
coverup the Watergate break-in.
This doesn’t prove anything, of course, but I hope it shows
there can be reason in faith. I cannot separate my mind from my heart,
and I don’t want to. I don’t need to.
I would like to close with my favorite church tradition. Saying
“alleluia” (praise the Lord) in the church’s liturgy
is put away during Lent, until the Easter service when it returns in
the Paschal Greeting. It is a wonderful celebration.
“Alleluia. Christ is Risen!”
“The Lord is Risen Indeed”
As I alluded to yesterday, I do my hardest, most important work in the
mornings. It’s in the morning that I realize how much I want to
learn and how little time I have.
Beyond time constraints, my other challenge is mental energy. I simply
don’t have the ability to maintain a continued, highly-focused
study of challenging material, even on those rare occasions I do have
the time. That is, after all, why I work on the hardest stuff first
thing in the morning.
So how do I manage mental energy when I can read and study? I go with
what sounds interesting. Interest level has proved to be a reliable
stand-in for my energy level. If I am worn down by frustrations at
work or by obstinate (and now ever-present) children, I may only want
to listen to an audiobook novel or a sports podcast. If the more
intellectual material on my list looks appealing, then I know I have
the energy for something more substantial. I apply the same general
test when I sit down to read.
It’s the list of inputs that does the heavy lifting here. I have
a vast range of interests represented, but the list is finite. I look
at my bookshelves or open my podcast player, but I don’t let
myself open Twitter or Instagram. I don’t open YouTube or
Reddit. What’s wrong with Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and
YouTube? Nothing, really. There is plenty of wheat among the chaff,
but the supply is infinite. The internet is full of novelty,
and this lets me forget I want to learn and how little time I have.
There’s no moral judgement here, it is the rule I make in the
morning, before I am tempted by the potential of every scroll. My
other inputs have endpoints. A book has a last page and a podcast has
a final minute. That makes me decide what to do next. An infinite
stream doesn’t provide decision points.
Each day opens full of potential, and rare is the day we call perfect.
That’s okay, I don’t expect a perfect day. I’m happy
with a good day, and a few constraints make that easy.
The Big Rock
I am not a morning person, but I wake up at 5 o’clock every day.
I began this routine last year, after a period of spontaneous
introspection. I had come to a place where my free time was plentiful
and my accomplishments were few. I noticed who I was evidently
becoming, and I decided I didn’t like that guy. I didn’t
know how to change, or even who I wanted to be, but I knew something
had to give.
Consider a mason jar, one or two big rocks, a pile of small pebbles,
and a cup of sand. What’s the best way to fill the jar? Maybe
you’ve heard this one before. If you start with the sand,
followed by the pebbles, there’s not a lot of room left for the
big rocks. If that order is reversed, however, you can fit in a
surprising amount of sand and pebbles once the big rocks are set in
Every day we have a jar to fill, but we don’t always fill it
with care. I didn’t notice that I was beginning each day with
sand and pebbles, but as evening approached, I was continually
surprised there was no room left for a big rock.
One fateful evening last year, I decided to start off the next day by
picking up a big rock. I knew the only part of the day that was
guaranteed was early, before the kids woke up. I also knew I would
need a couple hours to myself, so I reluctantly set my alarm for
5:00AM and went to bed.
The next morning, my alarm was an abomination, but I did drag myself
to the coffee pot and then to my reading chair. And it was
glorious. Not all at once, and in no obvious way.
Nevertheless, I was changed. I was better.
Now, as I wind down my day and see to my bedtime chores, I am quite
often excited for the next morning. Nearly always, the day has
concluded without any reason for great optimism, but I know what my
big rock is, and I know when I will set it in the jar.
The Wider World
I had to physically go to work today. It certainly was surreal at
times, and it is obvious that my slice of Americana is finally taking
the pandemic seriously.
I hate to make a common introvert’s joke, but I was made for
social distancing. Unfortunately, almost every day for the last two
weeks I’ve had at least one long virtual meeting. These wear me
out as much as in-person communication does, and in the past this
surprised me. Now I just seek quiet time until my battery recharges.
Tonight I discovered that these work conversations (my job is often
not 9–5) also make it difficult for me to write, so I am going
to have to admit failure again and go watch tv with my wife.
I tend to learn haphazardly, and I was on that path again today. For
obvious reasons, I am not happy with the design of this site, but I
made myself hit publish yesterday, because I felt the perfectionism
monster waiting for me just around the corner.
Today I got cracking on making things responsive and a little
prettier. Some general display:float work got me looking
at techniques for a proper hamburger menu, which started me on the
path scss, which got me copy-and-pasting more than
understanding, which brings me to now.
Without needing a crystal ball, I could foresee a day of cludgy work
and no writing. In the end, I’d have learned nothing new and
written nothing new. And I’d be sad.
Instead, I did what I hope is the smart thing and started a new
git branch for the work I began, and I’ll go
backward a few steps in my learning process. I’ll hold on to the
current design a little longer and have something to publish instead.
I think this is better.
Here we go again
It seems like I’ve written this posts
many times already. I like to write
on the web, evidently, but this has been a challenge in recent years.
About a year ago, I tried to start out again, but I set
too high a purpose. I was trying to do too much.
This time, my only purpose is to have a place to get things out of my
head. It will track my interests, which vary widely, and I am not sure
how much I will post. I tend to be a very binary person, so I think I
will make my myself post everyday. That means the signal-to-noise
ratio will be quite high, but that will have to be okay.
I also became bogged down previously by trying to have something like
intellectual rigor. I wanted to be sure to include lots of contextual
links and an footnote my sources. This made it hard for me to write.
This time I will be posting what I think, even when what I think is in
a state of flux. I try to be changeable, so this flux is a feature not
If I commit to posting regularly, sometimes these posts will be more
like tweets. Since I’m more of an old-twitter typ of guy, I will
be posting these shorter thoughts in the micro.blog world. Hopefully
you will soon see those posts in the sidebar, which brings me to the
very bones of this here site.
I tried nearly all of the online publishing systems, and I
didn’t like something about each of them. Given that, I might as
well take complete ownership of my online destiny. I enjoy programming
and tinkering around with web technology, so this place will give me
an excuse to do some of that. That means this site will change a lot,
and it will quite likely be intermittently or permanently ugly and
broken. I am okay with that too, because this project is largely for
All that being said, this project is really just another iteration of
This Will Be Hard, because it still will be hard. The
this is just more general and complete, because I will be
documenting what becomes of me during this third phase of my life. The
first was childhood, the second was my Navy career, and the third will
be from now until
upside-down question mark.