Practicality

Your success is tied directly to your merit. If your business is profitable with many customers, you’ve done good work. If your business hasn’t gotten off the ground and you’ve been working hard for a year, you’ve done bad work. If you are rich, you deserve wealth because you’ve provided services of value to your community. If you are poor, you got into your situation by providing no value, or never charging for it. If you provided value for free, it wasn’t useful. If it was, you would have received unsolicited donations.

If you are famous, you are an attractive, interesting person. If you are unknown, you are neither. If you’re a good author, you can get a publisher to pick up your book. If you are a bad author, you cannot. If you are good at playing the piano, you should be able to go into any Target or Wal-Mart and attract a crowd by bashing the keys. If you do not attract a crowd, you are a bad piano player. Or you aren’t bashing hard enough. :grin:

These paragraphs may seem laughable, but they are practical. They are true 90% of the time, but half the people who read them will not like them. Most of us have created a different model of reality—one based on chance, privilege, and divine right. All of these advantages belong to our competitors, and all of these reality models are used to explain our lack of success. They have no other purpose other than to vindicate us from the vagaries of reality!

Is this practical? Hell no!

90% of the time, success is tied directly to merit. 10% of the time, there are hidden or special factors to consider. The exceptions usually involve rich or famous people promoting unworthy people or products. However, if they do this too often, they become untrustworthy. They will fall from grace themselves. While most people might say that success is tied to merit only half the time, in truth the two are almost always correlated. People with government contracts still have to put out good products.

When I started writing about personal development over a year ago, I wanted to help people change their lives for the better while becoming a better person myself. I wanted to make an impact on the world. I wanted to give new perspectives on time and money, limiting vs. empowering beliefs, working for yourself vs. working for others, negativity, intrinsic value, happiness, and other topics. I wrote articles about many things—they’re each several pages long and still seem fairly good to me.

I haven’t made an impact. Most of my articles are skimmed by few people and read by fewer. I make less impact with 60 posts than a popular blogger makes with one. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve received a piece of critical feedback. No one ever says anything about whatever I write, even when I give out print copies, which I make a habit of. If I get a meaningful comment, it is the rule, not the exception. There is a grandiosity gap. The goals I set do not line up with the practicality of reality. Pretending that I’m changing the world is laughable. I haven’t even started. I haven’t made a quantum leap. I’ve worked hard, but I’m still on the launchpad.

How many goals have you set yet never reached? How many of them have stayed on the launchpad? How many projects do you work on each day that are still going nowhere? Are you being practical?

If something doesn’t work, ditch it. Don’t be trapped by dogma.

The posts I’ve written aren’t working. They appeal to the mind but they do not appeal to the heart. They don’t touch anyone. I may be writing in the wrong field—I have no life experience and am hardly empathetic. However, I am sticking with this field because I want more of both (life experience and empathy). Examining my circumstances practically, I see that I need to write shorter articles tackling lower level, practical concepts, rather than grazing high level, theoretical concepts which I hardly understand myself. I must adapt or die.

In the past two months, I’ve done a lot of programming on Tweet This, a WordPress plugin that integrates your blog with Twitter. Before I started, I considered working on Bookley, an open source library management system I designed over the spring. I never wrote code to let you search the catalog. It has no support for different library branches. You can’t set closed days and have due dates automatically forward. There are no alert emails for hold requests. It could use a lot of work.

A couple years ago, I would’ve considered Bookley my main project and Tweet This my side project. I’d add a few features to Tweet This while putting the bulk of my effort into a white elephant. Today, I chose Tweet This. It is purely a matter of practicality. No one uses Bookley and it is likely that no one ever will. Hundreds of people use Tweet This every day. If well-designed, Bookley is the type of software that would win an award. Tweet This will get no academic recognition, but it will always be used widely. It is the practical choice, and that’s where my effort belongs.

In 1942, the comedy team Abbott & Costello were at their peak, and their movies brought in $10 million at the theaters, even as America was going into a war. Movies like Hold That Ghost, Pardon My Sarong, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein would bring in more money than first-rate productions, even though Abbott & Costello were B-actors. A practical studio would have put all their money behind the team. The props and sets would be stunning and realistic instead of laughable. The movies would be in technicolor rather than black and white. Instead, Universal Pictures would paint the studio every time an Abbott & Costello picture was released. They would take the profits from the team’s movies and use them to fund sacred cows like Hamlet and Phantom of the Opera. Movies designed to win awards rather than sell tickets. Movies that interested no one received lavish funding and the best color film stock.

The same thing happened to The Three Stooges. Their short films are more popular than the features of their time, yet they were given second-class treatment for most of their careers. Is this practical? Of course not. More money would not have made them any funnier—in fact, it may have detracted from their appeal. However, we cannot consider this because it was not something the studios considered. A&C and the Stooges were simply considered second-rate actors. They did receive the proper recognition for their work, but from the public, not the studio executives. If the executives were any good, they would’ve let the Stooges lead the show rather than putting them on the back burner.

The practical choice is always present and often obvious. We only miss it when we are trapped by dogma. We overlook it when our model of reality is inaccurate. We choose hard solutions when practical solutions are readily available. We try to shock and awe when it would be better to get the job done quietly.

The practical choice is often the most obvious and readily available solution. You don’t have to look hard for it. Don’t make life too complicated.

The practical choice can change based on your situation. When you’re looking for a jar of peanut butter at the grocery store, the practical choice may be the store brand if you are poor, or a brand name if you are rich. Consider your needs and priorities. But don’t spend fifteen minutes selecting a jar of peanut butter. Be practical.

Egregious Failures

2009-12-20 Update: Don’t be a jerk toward others and take this article with a grain of salt as it has a lot of negativity in it.

It sucks when you fail hard. That sentence will get a lot of search traffic, right?

I had you all set up for an awesome article before I typed that opening. Seeing the unusual title, you expected me to share one of my massive failures in the first paragraph. Instead, you got a joke that is annoying rather than funny. The sad part is it probably will get search traffic.

50% of you are hovering over the red “X” now. This opening is an egregious failure… unless you’re writing a post about egregious failures.

Six of my readers don’t know what “egregious” means. It means awful. Terrible. Massively wrong. Glaringly horrible. “Conspicuously bad or offensive,” as the dictionaries are fond of.

In life, you will become a master failer. Sooner or later, no matter how cautious you are, it will happen. The only way to avoid it is to never risk anything. You might be able to pull this off by holing up in a trailer, writing a blog about personal development while trying to make money with ads, ordering everything you need online, and barely covering your utilities. But then, your whole life is an egregious failure. You have a doctorate in failure and a cabinet full of awards.

Yes I am describing myself. It’s funny in a depressing sort of way, and my mission in my nineteenth year is to change it. If you’re failing now, there is still hope for the future. As a human being you are allowed to fail. You’re allowed to write your budget and totally forget groceries. It is okay if you give a whole speech in second person. You can release a WordPress plugin and crash hundreds of blogs for days on end (I’ve done this sadly). Failure is not only okay—it is a necessity. The more egregious, the better.

If you don’t believe you are allowed to fail, I can’t do anything to change you. The best I can do is this: I offer you my personal permission to fail. You may now disconnect success from your ego. Massive failure does not have to dent your self esteem. You have to do that. When you fail miserably, you have not failed as a person. Your actions, your ideas, your words, and your implementations have failed. Not you. You are not your actions, because you remain constant while your actions change. You change as a person but you do not morph into your neighbor. You are always unique.

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

– Winston Churchill

Churchill was an evil man, but he has some damn good quotes, and that’s one of them.

There is huge risk in tying your ego to success. After a string of egregious failures, you will feel like crap. Combined with your battered ego, these feelings will allow your superego to indulge in sadistic torture¹. You will begin to unconsciously sabotage your new projects and you will continue to fail. You will lose all enthusiasm. At the extreme end, you might ruin your life, becoming an alcoholic to numb the pain. You may also convince your children that alcohol is an admirable escape hatch. I learned this two days ago, while taking my Traffic Laws and Substance Abuse Education course on the way to my Florida driver’s license.

What’s worse than committing an egregious act? Never forgiving yourself!

A year ago, I created a URL shortening service called Th8.us and a WordPress plugin called Tweet This, which puts “Tweet This Post” links on your blog with URLs shortened by Th8.us. In 2009 July I was going to spend the entire month not dealing with email or my websites. I checked my emails anyway on the 12th, and found that my URL shortening service had been completely shut down because of too much server load.

It turns out I had some very bad MySQL queries on the home page and preview pages. They showed the latest shortened URLs, the most clicked URLs, and the other short URLs for a given domain. I always knew the code was bad, but I let it slide because the URL shortening service itself gets almost no traffic. It’s the API (application programming interface) that does, through the Tweet This plugin. Still, those few visitors completely crashed me. The functions worked fine with one million short URLs, but two million was too many. Lesson: It’s really bad to do a wildcard SELECT with a wildcard LIKE query on a MySQL table with two million rows. But, I digress. I’m a bad programmer.

Due to my untimely response, my host was adamant that they would NOT continue to support me unless I started paying them $160 per month instead of $90 per month. Out of the question. After two days of begging, pleading, and promising to repent, I was back online. Rather than fixing the poorly coded features, I completely removed them. I also removed hit counters to be safe, because WiredTree said it would be over if this ever happened again. Since then, Th8.us has been a spartan URL service, and the integration with Tweet This has been flawless.

Where was the egregious failure? During the three days of downtime, I completely crashed the nearly 1000 blogs that used my plugin with my URL shortening service. I had contingency code in the plugin to switch URL shorteners if this happened, but it was also badly coded and completely failed. Because Th8.us stalled, all the blogs accessing its API without a backup plan (e.g. using my plugin) stalled. There are about 15 accurately negative blog posts about it. I mentioned it on Twitter at the time but chose not to blog about it.

One of the options I had at the time was to completely abandon both services, make profuse apologies, and exit with a black reputation. Instead I continued with a black reputation.

Some people switched short URL services to fix the problem. Others removed the plugin and came back recently. Most removed the plugin and vowed never to use it again. Ruining peoples blogs is a BIG DEAL.

How did I estimate that this affected 1000 blogs? Tweet This 1.3.X would phone home data to my server. If you used Tweet This between 2009 February and early July, I have your email, your blog URL and title, your description and language, your WordPress and Tweet This versions, your blog’s post count, and your exact Tweet This settings. I caught flak for this, rightly so. I stopped collecting this data at the same time I fixed Th8.us. Recording this data helped crash my server. Every time you updated your settings, activated the plugin, or deactivated the plugin, I’d save a copy of all your information. I’ve removed the database from my MySQL server and the 105MB MySQL dump containing thousands of blogs is stored in an encrypted file on my computer. I never have and never will use it for anything bad. I thought about using the list of emails to notify people of new Tweet This versions, but never did.

I acted like Google. I collected as much personal data as possible, regardless of its usefulness, and stored it indefinitely. Acting like Google never works… unless you are Google.

I’m surprised people weren’t outraged, or at least, not many publicized it. If a plugin did this to me I’d be angry and would defame the author (I need to become kinder). Many of the blog posts acted like this was a common occurrence with plugins. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. WordPress has never been enterprise or mission-critical software, what with the constant bugs and security flaws. When you use WordPress or a WordPress plugin, you expect problems and you learn to deal with it.

So, I have two big black marks on both the reputation of my programs and my person, because my name is directly tied to this software. The Internet is forever. People will always be able to find this information. If I apply for a job as a computer programmer at a software company, the personnel department might Google me and find out about these egregious failures. I may never be able to get a job as a programmer!

Does this bother me? Yes it does. I don’t want a marred reputation and I don’t want to wreck peoples livelihoods. I’m sure I cost my users a few hundred dollars in ad revenue, since many of them rely on Google AdSense as I do. I can’t dwell on it though, because there is no turning back.

Two weeks ago another URL service, tr.im, which receives a thousand times more visitors than I do, announced they would close at the end of 2009. They could not guarantee that their URLs would keep working due to their bills and lack of income, though they made no attempt at collecting donations from their tens of thousands of users. Two days later, Eric Woodward, tr.im co-founder, flip-flopped, citing overwhelming public response. He made no apology, only stating “perhaps we should have taken a different course.”

Even though I don’t use tr.im and expressed callous disregard for my service’s users recently, I was very angry at Woodward’s post because I found it patronizing. Really it was self-directed anger, because I was seeing someone else do the same sort of thing I did. These are the statements I dislike the most: “We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the popular response, and the countless public and private appeals I have received to keep tr.im alive,” and “This was not a public-relations stunt. At all.” The first is condescending. I hate it when people hide behind “we” when they mean “I,” and Woodward slips up here by saying “we have” and then “I have.” Both times you know he meant “I have.” The second statement is simply patronizing, and I still believe it to be patronizing.

What action did I take? I posted a comment calling the tr.im developers “rotten people” who get a “sadistic thrill” out of playing their users for fools. It was the single harshest comment in the list of 200. When I do something evil, I take it really far. It is an unfortunate character flaw and it diminishes my credibility in the personal development field. I’m sorry for that comment.

Remember that egregious failures are only good if they teach you. For example, my hard learned lesson from the Tweet This incident is that you must create stable systems if people are counting on you. I don’t care if my home network is stable, because I am the only person who uses it. However, if the failure of your software really hurts people, you must ensure your software does not fail, or implement fail-safes. If I kept making the same mistake again and again, the value of the failure will be null.

Microsoft, did you hear that?

Microsoft Windows is an egregious failure. It’s done a few revolutionary things, but that happens less and less often. It’s buggy, inconsistent, has many incompatibilities, and crashes way too often. Every new version has more bugs than the previous. The latest version only becomes usable after a few years and a few service packs. Bill Gates never learns. And now it doesn’t matter because he’s hardly involved in the behemoth.

I released Tweet This 1.6 yesterday. It’s been downloaded 1000 times already. Most people don’t care what happened six weeks ago—they only care if it works now, which it does. Just as I continue to use Windows despite its big problems, bloggers continue to use Tweet This despite my egregious failure.

Not long ago I would rarely challenge people even if I believed them to be wrong. Now I’m working on kindness because I do it all the time, even if they mean no disrespect. I’ve become overly mean. Eventually I will reach a middle ground where I don’t get stepped on and I don’t step on people. You can’t do this if you stay a nice guy all the time, because you will always harbor hidden resentment for what you could accomplish if you became a jerk. If you don’t ever try being an ass, your personal growth will hit a glass ceiling which you will never be able to break through. If you are smart, you’ll try being a jackass for a while. If you’re average you won’t ever try it, or you will stay a jerk permanently.

2009-12-20 Update: Don’t do what I suggest below because it’s just mean and wrong. :frown:

I recommend running a one week trial in jerkiness. Adopt aggressive postures and attitudes, within reason. Try the things in my article, Becoming Evil. Just the stuff that’s fairly harmless. See what results you get. You will find that certain areas of your life improve, while others decline. If you don’t tell them about your trial ahead of time, you will alienate friends and family. People stop opening doors for you when you stop opening doors for them. You will become a lone wolf. You will stop yielding at the grocery store checkout and while driving, which will save you time. If the cashier refuses your Juicy Juice coupon, you will not give in. You will assert its validity and get the manager involved. If you are a man, women will become attracted to you for obscure and complicated reasons. If you are a woman, you will repel everyone except submissive lesbians.

Your experiments as a jerk will fail, possibly egregiously. Believe it or not, you will still have to run multiple trials in jerkhood, or if that is your default state, multiple trails in niceness. Only through practice will you implement the good qualities of being a bad boy and the good qualities of being a nice guy while discarding the rest. Any article on becoming attractive to women will tell you this.

To be a balanced person, you must try both sides. Not the extremes of both sides; just the moderates. Go extreme if you want, but remember the high costs in both directions. Being extremely evil obviously has high costs, but being extremely good has hidden costs. You give too much and get burned out. You don’t respect yourself enough. The truly wise don’t go all the way. Gandhi had respect for his time, and Hitler cared for his henchmen. In Star Wars, the emperor kills his henchmen left and right. Even for evil people, this does not work. There is always honor among thieves. If you are evil, your henchmen will only serve you as long as they know you will be good to them. Fear can only take you so far. Even the devil is nice to people.

Everything in life requires practice. This bugs me sometimes, but you can’t do anything about it.

Remember that you can always apologize for your mistakes. Announcing that tr.im would close and then reversing the announcement was a failure on the part of the tr.im developers. However, they apologized and are launching a new project to make tr.im community owned, which is a noble effort. Today, I finally made a comment in apology.

I’ll be giving out a bunch of print copies of this article, so I’ve decided to include my slanderous comment and my apologetic comment so you don’t have to look it up on your own. The bad comment:

What is this bullshit? What kind of fools do you take us for, anyway? How dare you pull this shit?

First, you make a whiny announcement about how there’s no point continuing tr.im with no way to make money and no support from Twitter. Then, you announce that you’ll be breaking millions of links at the end of the year by turning off the tr.im servers. Finally, you tell us it was all a joke.

That’s what this is, anyway. A joke. An insult to your users. Do you get some sort of sadist thrill out of pulling these stunts? You obviously had no intention of ending tr.im. This was just a publicity stunt. A very bad one at that, because it alienates your users. How can anyone take you seriously again?

Until recently, Twitter favored TinyURL. Why weren’t you squawking then? Twitter shows disfavor to you now no more than they did then. GET OVER IT. If you can’t make tr.im popular without sponsorship from Twitter, then you don’t deserve to succeed. Do you hear Steve Jobs constantly complaining about Microsoft?

You were “overwhelmed” by the response? 300 comments and a handful of emails overwhelmed you? You have a popular service. When you announce that you will be shutting it down and breaking all your links, how can you not expect an overwhelming response?

A service like tr.im should not cost more than $1000 a month to host. If you need money, don’t pull this shit. Ask for donations. You would have gotten them. But now, you’ll get nothing, because you’ve proven what rotten people you are.

And the apology:

This is good news. Sorry I was so nasty about your reversal before. Everyone makes mistakes, as I did.

I wrote a blog post called Egregious Failures, where I included the scathing comment I gave you, and cited it as an egregious failure on my part. If you read it, you’ll realize I’m a hypocrite, because my URL shortening service Th8.us had a three day outage one month before. My service receives 1/1000 of the visitors that tr.im gets, but on principle my comment was wrong. Unlike my service, your service did not go offline at all. You just made an announcement which made people angry. TinyURL and Twitter have had major outages in the past few months. Your mistake was insignificant in comparison. If I did not read your blog or check your home page when you had the announcement up, I would not even know about it now.

Do you know what Twitter should do? Ditch all URL shorteners and just flag all URLs as 25 characters toward the 140, regardless of length. Problem solved.

Sorry and good luck,
Richard

Apologizing for a wrong doesn’t absolve you, but it helps, and you learn from your error. I will fail again in the future, even with Tweet This, but I am not afraid. *500 people uninstall Tweet This* :blindfold:

Note that my scathing comment, from a pragmatic point of view, is very effective. It stands out more than any other comment on that post, and it’s probably garnered me fifty hits. But it is rude, soulless, and incongruous with my image. It is definitely NOT what I want to project. That is why it troubles me.

Anyway, my gut tells me I will own tr.im as much as I own General Motors. “Community ownership” will be a failure. But the tr.im staff will gain a boatload of experience.

Egregious failures build wisdom. Sadly, failures detract from your reputation. Failures involving character flaws obliterate your reputation. Once it’s done, it’s done.

“Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!…
Lala how the life goes on…”

– The Beatles

You are not supposed to end an article with a statement intended to be profound, followed by lyrics from a light-hearted song. But we aren’t following the rules today. So here comes something really dark.

Murdering someone does not get you a free pass into evilness. You are only evil if you do not feel remorse over it. If you feel any remorse, you are not evil. I believe there are agents of pure good and agents of pure evil in this world. Like in The Matrix trilogy, some people become hosts to these agents. Good agents NEVER become parasites, because it removes free will—an act which is inherently evil. Unlike in The Matrix, evil agents must be provoked or invited to possess you. Only very strong people can resist the full wrath of evil forces in the nether realm. Weak people cannot. Sometimes they remain agents of evil their whole lives, feeling no remorse because they’ve been transformed, just like when Captain Jean-Luc Picard became Locutus of Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Every once in a while a shred of their old self pops up, and in these moments they have the power to escape the grip of the evil agent, as Picard did.

Do not tempt fate! Do not tempt dark forces! Do not offer yourself as a host to an agent of evil! Do not use weegie boards or tarot cards! Do not try to communicate with the dead unless you have confirmed psychic abilities! Before attempting to communicate with the dead, make sure you have confronted evil forces numerous times and persevered! If you have great difficulty communicating with a dead relative, you’re doing it wrong! If anyone does communicate with you, it will be an evil agent trying to trick you! Do not think that being possessed by an evil agent will be a fun, interesting, or beneficial experience! Do not think you can “handle it”! If you think you can “handle it,” you most certainly cannot! You have no idea how powerful evil is! You will end up murdering numerous people if you become an agent of evil!

Sorry for all the exclamation points, but this stuff is really important, and we all know that when something is important you do lots of shouting. :grin:

Everything fades in time. Even being possessed by an agent of evil. It will fade when you die and cross into the afterlife, and you will only be punished there if you punish yourself. Still, it is the ultimate egregious failure. Everything else pales in comparison. Fortunately, evil forces do not unleash their wrath on you unless you challenge or invite them.

“Richard, you were doing really good up until all that metaphysical crap!”

*50 people unsubscribe from my blog* :blindfold:

Earlier I said that Churchill was evil. Churchill appears to be evil because he got England involved in World War II to make a name for himself. He did not do it for the benefit of his people. His cowardice is well documented. 65,000 English civilians died needlessly because of him, and numerous colonies were lost, yet he is now deified. England would be much more powerful now if not for him. He deserves no praise. I judge him to be evil because as far as I know, he expressed no remorse. His actions may not represent him, but you take that risk when judging someone. Your judgment is often wrong because you do not have complete information. The only person who can judge correctly is God. However judgment is convenient, powerful, and often necessary, even though we can’t get it right. We get as close as we can, and we use a sliding scale. A man must be proven guilty “beyond a shadow of a doubt” to be executed, however the accuracy requirements are appropriately lowered when the stakes are lower.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Before writing this, I had defined my beliefs on the meta-physical less completely, but the beliefs came to me intuitively while drafting this. They may not accurately represent the realities of the metaphysical world, but I will use them until I uncover better beliefs. I hate putting a codicil on this, but I have to.

This post is so OVER!

¹ As opposed to torture used to extract information.

Eighteen

Today is my 18th birthday. While I wrote a long and pompous article for my 17th birthday, I will be doing no such thing this year.

18 is a bigger milestone than 17, because I no longer have to do business in my father’s name. I can open my own bank account, eBay, PayPal, AdSense, and other accounts. I can be drafted by the army (I sure hope that doesn’t happen). The police can tase and clobber me with impunity. And I can claim virtual independence from my parents and family.

This year has been highly unproductive. I took off six months, basically doing nothing creative, eating junk food, playing video games, reading blogs rather than writing them, taking bad photos, idling, and not being in school. I lived at a lower frequency of awareness for most of this year. I would like to say that it was a learning experience, but it accomplished little. The only benefit is that I feel more wise and less driven now. I thought creativity was ingrained in my consciousness, but I found that it is an applied skill. I am perfectly capable of creating nothing and contributing nothing to the world.

While I wrote a lengthy article in October about becoming a vegetarian, and maintained that diet for ten weeks. I stopped last December when I started loosing my sense of taste and smell. It was a combination of eating bad foods, eating very little (1000 calories per day), and not sleeping properly. I’ve always been a night owl and was struggling to get up at 8 A.M. five days a week for my college courses at the end of last year, so I was only getting three hours of sleep or not being able to sleep at all for quite some time. Sleep deprivation has harsh effects on your body.

I was going to stop eating meat again today but I forgot and did anyway at lunch. So I should be able to claim vegetarianism from the day after my 18th birthday and will eat vegetables at dinner today.

As I’ve written before, I have no love for animals; my only reason to not eat meat is for the sake of my health. Our small intestines are too long and our stomach acidity is too low to digest animal flesh. That’s why meat that is not heavily cooked and processed makes you sick. While prepared meat in small quantities is healthful and a good source of protein, eating it three meals a day—or even one meal a day—is bad for you and cuts years off your life. It’s much easier to eat no meat than to eat a restricted amount, because you know exactly where you stand.

However, I won’t claim to be a vegetarian until the end of the year because I’ve proven my lack of commitment.

Rather than graduating from Daytona State College this year I will be graduating next year and only taking Calculus II and Music Appreciation this fall. In a way this is a blessing in disguise—I will have time to be involved in social projects, the school newspaper, Phi Theta Kappa, and other college events, whereas I had limited time with a 15-credit workload. I completed an online computer programming course over the summer (with an A, fortunately), and my fall classes start on August 31. I will likely start blogging again at Daytonastate.org.

Since my classes are in the morning, I have been adapting to getting up in the morning. The past three days, I’ve gone to bed at 9 P.M., 4 P.M. and 7 P.M., and got up at 4 A.M., 2:30 A.M., and 5 A.M., respectively. I’d like to get up at 5 A.M. every day. I’ve done this in the past for several weeks at a time, but I’d always get involved in a computer programming project and drift, until I’d be going to bed at 3 A.M. and getting up at noon. I can’t afford to do that anymore. I must be more rigid. I don’t care what time I go to sleep—as long as I’m up at the same time early every morning and am not tired, I’m happy.

During my period of creative negligence, I did complete one project: Bookley, the open-source integrated library system, which required two weeks of programming. It is 4000 lines of PHP code and it works quite well. Eventually I’ll implement it for the public library I want to open in a few years.

I’ve written a few articles in the past month, and I’ve been posting new photos again, though far fewer than during the glory days. I want to write at least ten articles a month from this point on. There are still a lot of personal development concepts I want to cover. I find that I become more collected and driven writing about personal development than reading the work of others. It would be nice to hit 250,000 words on this blog at the year’s end (189,000 now), although the quality of my writing is more important than the quantity.

After five months of inactivity, in the past month I’ve released five updates to my WordPress plugin, Tweet This. It adds social bookmarking links to your blog posts, with an emphasis on Twitter. The new versions have focused on bugfixes and stability, while adding small yet important features. The next version, which I will start soon and complete by the end of next month, will add automatic posting of your blog posts to Twitter with a host of filtering options. The plugin will soon be a complete Twitter solution.

My talents and accomplishments must now be filtered through an adult lens rather than the lens of a child. I will not claim youth to impress others with my writing, photographic, or musical abilities. If my skills were exceptional at 15, they are merely standard now, for I do not improve at a rate commensurate with my age. In the next year I will accelerate my rate of personal growth through real accomplishments.

I do not feel young, and my future is a blank. I have no idea where I’ll be in ten years. I’m not interested in working for any company, but I may have to. “Have to” is a limiting term however. When you say you “have to” do something, what you mean to say is that you have chosen to do so. My blog is less popular now than it was last year and I am only clearing $35 a month from advertisements, though admittedly Th8.us is expensive to host. I can’t live on $35 a month. I could only hope to not require a job if I was making $1000 a month, and I’m far from that. I remain unemployed for now.

2009-12-20 Update: Do not follow my advice in the next paragraph. Stick with your family and take care of your family. Independence is less important than you think and you should not try to put distance between yourself and your family or friends. I was a fool for what I wrote below.

I live alone in a trailer in my parents’ back yard, which I moved into at the start of this month. I have a computer, Internet, bathroom, shower, sink, water, electricity, microwave, toaster oven, hot plate, refrigerator, freezer, bed, air-conditioner, and plenty of closet space. I spend most of my time here. Before, I lived in my parents’ house. It is very important to put distance between you and your family, because if you do not you will forever remain a child. If you’re turning 18 soon, move out—do whatever you can to get away from your parents. If you can’t get a house or apartment, move in with a friend. If you can’t do that, buy a travel trailer and put it in your parents’ yard, then move into it. If there are any out buildings or a guest house, those are also an option. Better yet, go to a college 500 miles away from your parents. If you cannot move out, move your computer to your bedroom. Go out more—without your parents. Start locking your door. Buy your own food. Make money online blogging, or get a job. Pay the electric bill. Get a driver’s license and a car, or share your parents’ car. Independence is not a psychological mindset. Independence is PROPERTY.

I have no friends and few acquaintances. I am in contact with no one from my previous workplace or college classes. I don’t call them and they don’t call me. If I said I’ve ever had a true friend, I would be lying.

I am going to change this year. I am going to create real connections rather than superficial socialization. I am going to be more emotionally involved—I don’t care if that sounds wimpy.

Your Blog is Not a Community

Most blogs consist of one person commenting on the world, and a whole bunch of people passing by, spending five minutes to skim several posts, and perhaps making a comment or two. These people move on to never return, and they are replaced by more people who in turn do the same.

While blogs are typically considered more communal than typical websites, they may in fact be less so. Other websites have forums which receive hundreds of posts per day from established and respected members. That is a community. Blogs have comments. If you’re lucky (like with this blog), they are threaded with email notifications. This has the potential for community building, as people may make comments, reply to other comments, and return to reply again. However, it generally does not create community. Most people still visit once and only once.

Some bloggers try adding a forum. I did this, and the sad reality is that you will get no participation. For every 100 people that visit your website, one person will make a comment. And for every 100 people who comment on your blog, one person will sign up and post on your forum. Even if you put a widget in your sidebar with the latest forum topics, you’ll still get little to no participation. The forum is basically a separate website, one that will receive no benefit from the fame of your blog. Unless your blog is so popular that you’ve turned off comments, forums are a waste of time. You must chose: forums or comments. One or the other. Not both. On a popular blog, you may be better off disabling comments and creating a forum requiring registration. It cuts out the noise.

Bloggers used to require registration to comment, but fortunately no one does this anymore. It is so stupid and pointless now that spam filtering is so good. There are only three purposes for registration: to track people for marketing, to allow for user profiles that other members can read, and to track comments. WordPress allows none of these. BuddyPress does, and there are plugins, but no one is using those. Registration doesn’t create a feeling of community. It creates a feeling of annoyance.

RSS feeds get people to come back for more, but most people who use RSS feeds are lurkers. You won’t get a comment from them. You may get thousands of pageviews over a period of months, but you won’t get comments and you won’t get community participants.

Responding to comments helps build community, but don’t respond to everything. Simple comments like “your work is great” do not deserve a thank you. That is boring and unneeded. I no longer reply to such comments. My time is better spent writing new blog posts.

Most comments will be people looking for help, and they will be in response to problem-solving posts that didn’t solve their problems. A third of the comments on this blog have been on my Tweet This plugin (most are archived), and they have not been thank-yous so much as requests for help. These are not people wanting to participate in a blog community: these are people who want their problems solved so they can move on with their lives. No community content there.

WordPress MU does not build communities. Many people try and many people fail. All the blogs are separate—all the blog posts are stored in separate database tables. There’s no way to even aggregate them effectively without creating a mirror of them in a unified table, and this is complicated to set up. It is also unwieldy and wasteful. There is no linking blogs together in WordPress MU. They are islands. When you host a WordPress MU site, you are not a community leader. You are a web host.

As a blogger, you are a publisher, not a community leader. Don’t think of your blog as a round-table. Think of it as a newspaper. Yes you may feature letters to the editor, but remember who is in control and who leads the discussion. If you aren’t producing new blog posts every week, whatever “community” you have (which is really just visitors) will disappear immediately. It did when I left this blog for six months. It will for you too. No big deal. It can be quickly rebuilt. Communities take a long time to build, and if you alienate your loyal readers your site goes down the tubes. Blogs aren’t communities, so if you alienate some people (and you will), new people will replace them. Don’t expect anyone to write your posts for you or come up with ideas for you. It’s all on YOU. YOU must do it all YOURSELF. No one will help you. When you accept that you have no community to back you, you accept complete responsibility for the success of your blog. That is power.

Photo: FLY FLY FLY!

FLY FLY FLY!

This group of three birds is about to become two. The one that is taking off doesn’t like the other birds. So he is going to fly away from his problems. Unlike most humans who run away.

Canon Rebel XTi, EF 28-135mm, 1/400, F3.5, 28mm, ISO100, 2009-01-11T14:07:27-05, 20090111-190727rxt

Download the high-res JPEG or download the source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

Photo: DIE DIE DIE!

DIE DIE DIE!

A wrecked yellow truck. The driver claims to have suffered extensive soft tissue damage, but we all know that is just an excuse to sue.

Canon Rebel XTi, EF 50mm 1:1.4, 1/400, F4.5, 50mm, ISO100, 2009-01-28T15:13:14-05, 20090128-201314rxt

Download the high-res JPEG or download the source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

Photo: Broken Dreams

Broken Dreams

A mailbox someone ran over. Your dreams of regular mail delivery have now been dashed… the mailman won’t bother with this piece of junk. Buy a new mailbox!

Canon Rebel XTi, EF 50mm 1:1.4, 1/1600, F2.2, 50mm, ISO100, 2009-01-28T13:45:25-05, 20090128-184525rxt

Download the high-res JPEG or download the source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

Sytems

When you have a large amount of data to sift through, it is often good to create an ironclad framework to manage the data. This framework will include a method of inputting new data, modules for importing and cataloging old data, and an interface to wrap around the whole thing. Collectively, it is called a system.

The problem with systems it they are often created to manage a dataset that is expanding rapidly now, but will taper off quite soon. The designer of the system assumes that the expansion will continue at its present rate, so he creates the system to manage a large amount of data and he designs a thorough catalog to expedite searching. The problem is that with more items, more cataloging effort must be spent on each item so that searches can drill down the necessary data over an ever-expanding dataset. This means the cost of maintaining the system increases exponentially. If the expansion rate drops rapidly, this can be the nail in the system’s coffin, as fourteen layers of metadata provides diminishing returns when you are adding three records a day.

When you picture a “system,” think of a photography catalog. You add more photos as you take them with your camera, importing them using a memory card reader. You add tags and keywords. You sort the images into folders or (preferably) virtual folders. There is a search mechanism which lets you search by folder, date, and keyword. You can search thorough a mass of metadata that is generated by your camera automatically upon shooting each photo. If any one of these components is flawed, the whole system crumbles. Being able to find a photo in two seconds is worthless if you have to spend five minutes cataloging each one. Having a stable catalog of photos sorted with tags and keywords is no good if you have to make a separate physical copy of each file for each keyword. You need a complete and well-rounded system that is versatile and low-upkeep.

Unfortunately, you are just as likely to under-estimate the expansion of your system. What if you’re using Picasa to manage 10,000 images, but then you get a job as a professional photographer and start adding 1000 images a day? You may soon find that Picasa slows to a crawl when you get to 50,000 images. All of the sudden, your system is no better than a pile of dirt, and you’re screwed because you can’t export your database. You have to use clunky ICTP embedding to get the data out, you have to find a new system, you have to adapt to its quirks, you must compensate for its short-comings and differences compared to your current system, and you must do this all under the pressure of impending deadlines. Still think systems aren’t important? How long can you get by haphazardly managing your photographs? Amateurs can do it. Professionals, no.

The biggest problem with systems is overhead. If you keep a to-do list, how much time do you spend doing the tasks on the list? How much time do you spend working on the list, including thinking of new tasks, crossing out old ones, setting deadlines, and revising the list? The time spent on maintaining the list is the system’s overhead. If your overhead is more than 10%, you may consider scrapping or greatly simplifying the list. If procrastination is not a big problem for you, try doing things in the order you please. Instead of storing the list on paper, store it in your head.

Other systems may have overhead greatly in excess of 100%. A public library’s catalog may take more time to maintain than the shelving, sorting, and transactions for all the items in the library. New records have to be cataloged to rigid standards by trained librarians with Master’s degrees, who may be paid upwards of $70 per hour. Items must be checked in and checked out and marked as damaged or missing when problems arise. While it would be much easier to have no catalog and just place the books on the shelf by the author’s last name or the Dewey decimal system, the catalog is essential for searching records and tracking items.

A to-do list, however, should have a much smaller overhead, as it is a simple system to a simple job. Always consider the value of the system you are putting in place. If its overhead exceeds its value, scrap it.

I used to keep my mail-in rebates list on a sheet of paper on the fridge. I’d write the date I mailed the rebate, the product and amount, and the expected date. When the rebate came I’d cross it off the list. At the height of my rebate frenzy (back when EVERYTHING was free after rebate), I had to expand the list from one page to eight pages (8.5″ by 11″), covering the whole front of the fridge. This was unwieldy, so I found a program to put the rebates on my computer and I started managing them there. I got rid of the paper list and keyed everything in. It was a disaster. The whole system didn’t work; I couldn’t search by expected date or amount easily; I had to use klutzy titles that relied on alphanumeric sort. I ended up losing $100 in rebates because I was so bad at keeping track of them. Admittedly, I chose the wrong program (I think it was called Rebate Reminder), but the problem was I chose a system with too much overhead that did not provide any benefits over the previous system. In many ways it was even worse; it gave me a fragmented view of the money I had on the line, while the paper lists let me see everything at once. Instead of being in control, I had no control at all. Systems can often be more trouble than their worth. Remember KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

Perfectionists fall prey to complex and weighty systems. When I used to pirate DVDs from the library, I’d have to compress the video from 8.5GB to 4.7GB to fit on a single-layer DVD (most commercial DVDs are double-layer, but the blanks are prohibitively expensive). For some reason I wanted to save the full-quality video for future use, so I’d make a second copy of the original files onto two discs. I have a stack of 100 of these in my closet that I’ll never use. It was a horribly idiotic thing to do. The copies, compressed to 60% of the original size, do not look noticeably worse than the originals on my 19-inch television set. I’ll never have a reason to buy dual-layer blanks and remake the discs; I’m not interested in watching any of the movies again anyway. In fact, if I had to do it over again, I might have just borrowed the movies I wanted to watch, watched them, and returned them. My Dad likes to watch the same movies again and again, but I find, as with books, that one viewing is enough. However, I’ll listen to the same songs over and over again on my MP3 player, especially if I’m programming or writing.

Whenever you create a system, ask yourself: is this useful? Will the data I’m organizing be useful to me in six months? Three? Is it that much slower to have no system and let the chips fall where they may?

I used to keep a meticulously organized accordion folder of all the receipts, rebate forms, school papers, coupons, and paychecks that I’d received for the last six months. Then I’d move to a new accordion folder, keeping the old receipts indefinitely. Now I put everything in a big pile on a shelf in my bedroom. Every few months, I throw out all the old receipts and coupons. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve had to hunt down a receipt in that pile. With the accordion folder, it took two minutes. With the big pile, it takes ten. It’s still cheaper than sorting everything, because only rarely do I need anything in the pile. The overhead of a system is simply not worth it.

I used to take thousands of photos a month. Most of them were useless. I’d document the position of all the family’s furniture and can goods each month. I thought that would be interesting later. Turns out it isn’t. I had a huge complex catalog of these photos in iMatch which I used to spend a lot of time on. I haven’t accessed the catalog in nearly a year. Now, I take just a few hundred pictures a month—good pictures, and I use a program called Downloader Pro to sort them into folders by date automatically. Since there are so few photos, I don’t need to catalog anything. I just look through each folder by date with FastStone Image Viewer (a wonderful program). Sometimes, yes, it’s hard to find a photo. Without the overhead of a system, however, I spend more time behind the camera and less time behind the computer.

This blog is a system. It took a long time to set up. The overhead was 100% in the beginning, and as high as 50% till recently. Now, I’m adding practically nothing to the system (WordPress). No new plugins, no theme changes, no design changes. The system has matured and the overhead is now about 10%. I could still be fiddling with all the details, but I’d much rather be writing than working on the system.

Use systems. Don’t let them use you.