Are you a specialist or a dilettante?

In life you can choose to grow your skills horizontally or vertically. Vertical growth involves specializing in a field while ignoring others. Horizontal growth involves gaining cursory experience in a wide range of fields while remaining an amateur in them all.

We live in a society of hyper-specialization. Some astronomers study planets, others study gas giants. My college offers hundreds of majors for very specific subjects, and it gets even more specialized at the baccalaureate level. Man’s knowledge is so vast that it is a necessity to choose a narrow direction. Conversely, there are connections you will miss if you overlook history, classical literature, music, theoretical science, religion, or other fields. Don’t dabble in a dozen different trades, but if you’ve been a cooper, branch out—start a blog about barrel making.

I had a great Spanish tutor in high school (I was home-schooled by my father), but I never put forth effort and I’ve forgotten my Spanish books and everything he taught me. Because my mother is Chinese, friends suggest I learn Chinese. Employers want fluent Spanish-speakers because we have a lot of Mexicans in Florida. I’ve never learned a second language. I know English and I know it well. You could say I’m an English specialist, because I’ve written hundreds of posts on this blog, I always spell words right, and most of the time I use proper grammar. My language growth has definitely been vertical.

Students taking foreign language courses in high school often lack English skills. They are fluent in chat speak, not real words. They use “literally” in place of “figuratively,” for example: “I literally died laughing.” Apostrophes are to be used in contractions (“it isn’t so”), for possession (“Richard’s camera”), and to clarify (“12 students got A’s on the test”), yet half of America’s teenagers are dumbfounded. They resort to inserting apostrophes into their papers willy-nilly. These students should not be taking another language. If you want to learn a whole bunch of languages, it’s best to become an expert in your country’s language first. Start out with a solid base of vertical growth before expanding horizontally.

Music is another field where specialization should precede dabbling. When you become very good at the piano, it is much easier to pick up the guitar, the harpsichord, or even random string instruments. You understand sheet music, keys, chords, scales, rhythm, and tone. These skills carry over to other instruments. However, if you try learning six instruments at once as a newbie, you will fail, unless you want to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on them all.

On this blog I am a dilettante. While I am focusing on releasing new art photos, I’ve spent many hours in fields I have little experience with. I’ve written novelettes about technology, personal development, photography advice, and what I call “photography ramblings.” Even these fields are vague: for technology I’ve written about memory card readers, programming languages, computer monitors, flash drives, printers, and other items. Many of my posts cover a whole bunch of disconnected topics in a haphazard way. Not many people read them. Last month, a commenter said I “try to make too many points and [I] go into too many directions which are hard to follow.”

I pay a high price for my dabbling. While I have the advantage of having my activities under one roof (this site) rather than multiple sites, I’d be better off focusing on a narrow range of specific topics. I talked with Melody Anglin, who was hoping to find technical articles on my site because my Twitter tweets are often about computer problems or cameras. Instead she found articles like Transcending Limiting Beliefs, philosophical articles written from a position of little experience which she described as “not useful.” Unfortunately she’s right.

Old habits die hard. Even in this essay I’m all over the place. Focus! Specialize! Creativity is nothing without discipline.

Four years ago I stopped playing the piano, instead spending hours each day taking photos of mundane objects. My parents and grandparents were disappointed because they’d invested so much in my music. My Grandma used to talk of me going to Stetson University to be a concert pianist—abandoning music for photography made no sense. At 14 I gave up something I was fairly good at for something I had no talent for but which gave immediate rewards. Like many other teenagers I found piano boring and unrewarding while I could instantly share photos on deviantART and have them seen by dozens of people.

My shift worked out well. I’m playing the piano again and I’ve become good at photography. However my decision last year to write about personal development has not been so good. I’ve written posts that have value, I’ve defined myself, and I’ve gained writing experience, but I could be making good money from this site if I applied myself to marketing and technical writing instead of airy-fairy posts about beliefs and goals.

There’s a quote by Steve Jobs that I like: “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” You may have to dabble in a half-dozen careers before finding your calling. Many times you will pick a path and hit a brick wall, and you will do this again and again. The true danger is not lifelong amateurism—the true danger is never picking a path. Never taking that first step. If you want to be a composer, you have to compose music. If you want to be a writer, you must start publishing your writing, in a blog, the newspaper, a book—whatever. Just set goals and get something done. Most of us make inefficient use of our time. If you are committed you can always make progress.

But if you are a habitual dabbler, just call yourself a Renaissance man and be done with it. :grin:

Brian Clark of Copyblogger Lashes Out at Me

Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, lashed out at me today.

Ali Hale wrote a guest post called Are Vampire Words Sucking the Life Out of Your Writing? on the popular blog, where she says you should always use concrete terms like “always” and “never.” You should competely remove “vampire words” like “quite,” “fairly,” “sometimes,” and “often” from your writing.

Of course this is bogus in many situations, especially writing advertising and press releases which is Copyblogger’s bread and butter. I commented that this doesn’t apply on scholarly essays: anything to do with academia, school essays, formal stuff. Brian said Copyblogger doesn’t care about scholarly essays. I said it applies to advertising also. Brian completely ignored this, latching on to the scholarly essays seed. He told me I could take my “esteemed input” elsewhere, which is meant to be sarcastic and patronizing.

I replied. He toned down his comment and didn’t approve mine. I’m sure he feels he is the “winner” now. Copyblogger is a great blog which I read often. It’s in the top 100 on Technorati and it is 100 times more famous than mine. I never expected such cowardice from its founder.

Here are the ORIGINAL comments.

Thripp 2009-09-01T16:56Z:

This is fine for informal blogging but it won’t work for scholarly research. You can’t make unverified claims there without qualifying them. Unless you’re 100% sure you must use “may,” “almost,” “generally,” etc.

The same holds true for high school and college essays.

Most of us aren’t writing those, but you have to use a separate mode for blogging than you do for formal writing.

Clark 2009-09-01T17:15Z:

Richard, no such qualification for scholarly writing is necessary, because that’s not what this blog is about. ;)

Thripp 2009-09-01T17:33Z:

@Brian Clark: No, it says “Writing” not “Blogging” in the title. Many of us have to write essays for college still, or for our jobs, where making claims that are false will not fly. A large portion of copywriting is for sales or advertising. There are laws about truth in advertising—you can’t make statements that are clearly false. This post is bad advice for a lot of writers.

“7 Reasons Why List Posts Will Always Work” and “Why You Can’t Make Money Blogging” are completely falsifiable. I could easily find a list post that has received no traffic or a blog that makes thousands of dollars per month. It would be completely unacceptable to market a cell phone with the headline “The Cell Phone that Always Works.” If you want to talk about writing copy, you have to talk about advertising and press releases.

This post requires a codicil stating that it only applies to blogging and informal writing.

Clark 2009-09-01T21:21Z:

Richard, with all due respect, what part of “Copyblogger” or “Copywriting tips for online marketing success” indicates we tackle so-called “scholarly writing?” Do you honestly mean to tell me you don’t look at the context of the publication you’re reading for semantic cues?

And please don’t show up here and tell me “what I have to do.” I’ve been doing just fine without your esteemed input.

Thripp 2009-09-01T21:35Z:

@Brian Clark: If you would have read my comment instead of just making assumptions, you would’ve seen that most of it was about press releases and advertising (”writing copy”). Obviously, a major part of this blog is about writing advertising, and advertising cannot make false claims. You read the my first sentence and my last sentence. Please read the whole comment before responding.

You don’t want me to tell you what to do? Did you want me to prefix it with “please” or “I think”? You encourage boldness in most of your articles. Why do you expect your commentators to be timid sycophants?

AFTER I released the last one, he removed the last sentence from his last comment and he did not approve mine. He’s in damage control mode. He realizes what he said, though not egregious, will hurt his reputation, so he wants to cover it up.

Unfortunately for him, I save everything.

If my comments didn’t have merit he wouldn’t have replied to them. And if they didn’t have merit he CERTAINLY wouldn’t have gone all emotional on me. You can tell with his last comment, he read about five words of my comment before letting off some steam. Most of my comment was about press releases and advertising, but he skipped right over that.

I’ve made comments that were a lot worse than his, and I regret them, but nobody knows Richard X. Thripp. Brian Clark is world famous. The more fame you have, the more gracious you should be.

A piece of advice to Brian: get one of your staffers to read your comments before you post them!

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.

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.

You Do Not Control the World

Many bloggers believe in subjective reality. This means that your opinions influence your social interactions because they cause you to act unconsciously in ways that affect others, negatively or positively. If you want to be wealthy, be generous. If you want to be famous, harbor a positive attitude toward celebrities. If you want to be a writer, surround yourself with writers. If you want to be cured of cancer, think happy thoughts. You are not a subject of the world around you. The world around you is created by your mind. When you move from one room to another in your house, the other rooms cease to exist, because they are no longer being perceived by you.

Subjective reality means that you are responsible for whatever happens to you. If someone cuts you off in traffic, it’s your fault. You manifested it by thinking bad thoughts. If your wife leaves you, you could’ve stopped it by being more attractive. If you find $800 in the parking lot near K-Mart, congratulate yourself for attracting wealth. You must have opened your mind to receive that gift from the universe. Whenever you talk about someone else, you are talking about yourself, because there is only consciousness, and that is either your own or the shared consciousness of humanity. Your pick.

Most people blame other people or circumstances for everything bad that happens to them. When something good happens, they count it as luck. Subjective reality is very empowering in the beginning because it requires you to take responsibility for everything. Nothing is left to chance. All of the sensory input you receive is a manifestation of your inner self. Believe that aliens are visiting us? You will see UFOs and take them to be aliens. They might even beam you up and show you around. Believe that is hogwash? You will see UFOs and dismiss them as ordinary planes.

However, some people take this too far. The model of subjective reality requires that you dismiss negative stimuli, because dwelling on the negative will allow it to invade your life. However, in the subjective reality model, anything negative that happens to you is a manifestation of your own desires. If you are raped, it is because you wanted to be raped. If you fail a test, it is because you wanted to fail. You created the intention to fail, and the universe granted you your wish. Subjective reality extremists dwell on these negatives, believing them to be their downfall. They create a loop of negativity which turns them into walking zombies.

I believe in subjective reality, insofaras that if you radically change your thoughts, your experience of reality will radically change. This may be due to a change in your perceptions or behavior, and that will influence other people. Your body language will change. Your aura will change. You may not even notice. It doesn’t matter the cause—the result is the same. Your reality changes. However, to truly be a subjective realist, you have to let it all go.

The power in subjective reality is believing that you make things happen, rather than the traditional belief that things happen to you. You take the initiative. You are proactive rather than reactive. However, believing that you control the world is what subjective reality ultimately entails. The laws of physics only apply to you because you believe they exist. If you completely let your belief in physics go, you can turn into a soap bubble and float to the ceiling. If you are unable to do this, you have not let your belief go. Gravity only applies to you because you believe in it. This can never be disproven, because the subjective realist will say that you are unable to float because you still believe in gravity, no matter how much you have convinced yourself otherwise. If you believe that the universe is constant and stable, it will be. If you believe that it is chaotic and unstable, with laws changing from one moment to the next, through time and space, that will be true also.

If you are an objective realist and you switch to subjective reality, letting your belief in gravity go so that you can float, even upon accomplishing this, you cannot prove it from an objective standpoint because you are not presently in one. Switching between subjective and objective reality removes all credibility from the contents of your mind. When a person has a mental breakdown, nobody ever fully trusts him again, because his mind has demonstrated measurable failure. When you switch between subjective and objective reality, all your previous experiences cannot be trusted, because they were created by your imagination. If a subjective realist turns into a soap bubble and floats to the ceiling in the presence of an objective realist, the objective man will not be able to perceive it. The subjective man will. Subjectively, the objective man cannot see the soap bubble because he does not believe such a feat to be possible. Objectively, one of the two men must be mistaken. Who is hallucinating? No one knows.

From a truly subjective standpoint, all your perceptions are hallucinations. Thus the word has no meaning. You believe whatever you want to believe. You see whatever you want to see. You control the world.

I believe that you do NOT control the world. Surely you can influence it, but you cannot simply wish away the crimes of the world by refuting their existence. That is doublethink. True subjective realists will bring 1984 to us, because they will change the history books and believe it themselves, because they believe that truth is whatever they want it to be. This is tyranny.

My form of subjective reality is limited. While you create your own destiny in this life, there are still immutable laws of physics. They are far more complicated than we believe. We may never be able to fully document them. That does not mean they do not exist. Past and future events do not change. They may change for you upon receiving new information, but this does not mean history has changed. If you saw the newspaper that said all passengers from the Titanic were saved, you believed it. When you read the correction, your perception of history changed, but history did not change. You just received bad information. A whole bunch of bad information can totally mess up your reality.

Hardcore subjective realists will say that you cannot limit subjective reality—it is all or nothing. However, if I believe it strongly enough, does that not make it true? :wink:

Attachment to Word Count

In kindergarten, children are given writing assignments that are ten words minimum. Your high school final essay probably had a length requirement of 3000 words. A doctoral thesis is often required to be 30,000 words plus a bibliography.

Just like age for rights such as driving, smoking, and drinking alcohol, the word count has become the de facto standard for measuring content. Similarly, both age and word count are largely irrelevant. We use the most useless measurement of content not because it has merit, but because it is easy to use.

Novels are supposed to be 80,000 words. If you write a pulp fiction novel that is 200,000, good luck getting it published, even if it’s the next Harry Potter.

The attachment to the word count manifests itself most obviously in the padding of statements and sentences to increase the word count while adding no content. Notice the previous sentence… it is written in the word-count style. It is a sentence a student would write to stretch his essay from 990 words to 1000 words without writing anything. It could easily be rewritten: “People add fluff to increase their word count.” But no, that will not do, because we want to make it to 1000 words! It doesn’t matter that the shorter sentence is more powerful.

I have a case of word-count-itis on this blog. If I write a long article, I boast in the opening paragraph that it is “5000 words.” Every post has a word count below its title. I have a blog-wide word count displayed in my sidebar (currently 183,363), and I’ve set a goal of reaching 250,000 by the end of the year. As I type this, a word count is being updated, in real time, right below my text box. WordPress believes word counts are just that important. Unfortunately, the lie has rubbed off on me.

Word counts mean NOTHING. They are no more an indicator of depth or quality than the number of e’s you use, whether you use serial commas, or your preference for semicolons. Sentence counts mean nothing. Page counts mean nothing. The only thing that has meaning is the quality of your writing, and that isn’t even about grammar. It is about style. It is ephemeral. It can only be evaluated by a trained mind reading your work with enthusiasm, and even then the evaluation will be subjective. Writing is an art form.

But professors don’t want to deal with art; they want to be methodical. When you have a college English class of 36 students, and you have 6 similar classes all with essays to grade, you have no time to evaluate your students based on their essays’ artistic merits. Even evaluating their analytical or factual merits is a stretch. Professors have lives, and they don’t want to spend five minutes grading each essay if it will take them 15 hours to finish them all (180 essays). As a student, your feedback is reduced to a few check marks for grammar and spelling, red marks for the intricacies of MLA formatting, and a word count or page count check. Then you get a token letter grade and move on.

Evaluating an essay by word count is like evaluating a human by I.Q. score. It just doesn’t work.

The flaws in this assembly-line system are not the issue. The issue is that the quantity over quality approach is ingrained in the minds of our students from 5 to 22. It is no surprise that none of these students become great writers, because they never overcome the factory system. It is not true that good writing requires meager output. You can write a thousand-word essay everyday, and you will be a force to be reckoned with if you write about what you love with passion, knowledge, and experience. If I was in my college English class I would not be allowed to use “a force to be reckoned with” because it is a “cliché.” I’ve got news for you: so is everything ever written.

How many high school writing assignments begin with “write about whatever interests you?” I don’t mind if they go on to say “cite your sources, use peer-reviewed articles, and use proper arguments.” The fact of the matter is that almost every writing assignment you will ever be given will specify the topic for you. Good writers don’t become good in class or by pandering to the whims of their bosses. Good writers become good by writing not necessarily what they have a passion for, but what they have experience with. This will always be nonfiction, even if it is branded a fiction novel with renamed characters and an altered plotline. It does not matter if you have all the passion in the world for World of Warcraft; if you just started it yesterday and are on level 2, you won’t be able to write anything useful.

Unfortunately, this is why there are so many personal development topics I can’t cover adequately. At seventeen, I simply do not have enough experience.

A strong 400 word essay like Don’t Multitask is much more valuable than a 2100 word pile of garbage like Conquering Big Problems: An Introduction, which ironically is not an introduction and conquers nothing at all. Fortunately I did not continue that white elephant. Now, if we are going on word counts, and I submitted either essay to my professor for an assignment which required a minimum of 1000 words, which would get the higher grade? The 400 word essay would get a D and the 2100 word essay would get a B. It doesn’t matter if half the problems article was written in Swahili. Word count would rule again, even though it is as important as the weight of the paper I use.

Defying our attachment to word count is near impossible. I don’t even know how to do it, but I know that it starts with disabling that word counter. When I see a great writer like Steve Pavlina bragging that his latest article was “more than 9000 words,” so long that he had to split it up, and he does so in italics, at the top of the article, and without mentioning the value of the words, I realize how deep our love affair with the word count goes.

Slay the word count beast. Take the first step by not bragging about the word counts of your blog posts, unless the blog post is about word counts. And if you’re writing a lot of those, you’re in deep trouble because word counts don’t matter. This post has stretched to 1000+ words, though I’m sure a more competent writer could’ve done it with 500.

The second step is to remove the word counters from your blog. For now, I am too attached.

Stop Observing

One problem avid photographers have is they observe everything but experience nothing. Instead of being in the pool, they’re taking pictures of people in the pool. This becomes so natural to them that they never participate in everything. Photography becomes one big excuse to sit on the sidelines at every event.

You can learn plenty from observation, but you reach the limit quickly where you’d be better off ditching the camera, sketchpad, or notepad to get your hands dirty. You cannot become a good speaker from merely reading great speeches—you have to take the podium yourself someday, frightening as it may be.

One place where people are observers is in technology. I put off getting a decent computer for five years, all the way till 2006, because I was afraid that it would be quickly outdated. Of course this was foolish since even though I was right, the immediate gains are worth far more than the eventual losses. It’s the same thing in photography, where putting off getting a good camera for a while will cost you photographic opportunities in the present. While compact cameras aren’t getting much better anymore (just noisier), they and DSLRs are getting cheaper so people still find plenty of reason to not invest in good equipment, even if they consider themselves good photographers.

I did this for years also, working with a junky point-and-shoot till I got my Canon Rebel XTi in 2007 August. Now I’m using a Canon 10MP point-and-shoot and I love it, only reserving the SLR for occasional use. Hmm… If I’d spent my time observing I’d still have a Fuji A360. Although I mostly observe as a photographer. :grin:

One problem I have is I spend far too much time reading other blogs and not enough writing on my own. Reading other peoples work doesn’t take you very far. You need to be writing your own stuff to experience vast improvement. Ironically, observing the efforts of others becomes more valuable after you’ve done work on your own, because you have the expertise to recognize their strengths and follies, and to use them for your own benefit.

Therefore, you should mix observing and doing to glean the most from both. However, most people do more observing, so the title of this encourages you to start doing. If you spend three hours a day watching comedy shows, why not film one of your own? Even if you’re the only character in it and you play all the parts, it’s a start.

It’s scarier to write a blog post than to read five blog posts… but what your scared of is what helps you to grow the most. Stop observing, start doing.

Grade Creep

Especially in the last decade colleges have become biased toward giving higher grades for poorer results. For a trigonometry test several semesters back, I ended up with 30 bonus points for acing the advance quizzes. While I got a modest 84 on the test, this turned into a mighty 114 with the extras. Mind you, my grade was not capped at 100, but the 14 overage would apply to other sub-par test scores. The net effect was an easy A in the class. The standard for a good grade is steadily creeping downward.

The standard maximum GPA was a 4.0, but now with honors classes, which are supposedly harder than their traditional counterparts, GPAs can soar to 4.5 and beyond. These classes do not compare to the college-level English and arithmetic taught to the students of Lincoln’s day. No–it was in those days that the condescending moniker, “higher education,” truly lived up to its name. It was not uncommon for half of a pre-graduate class to miserably fail.

Nevertheless, test scores are plummeting–it seems the more bonuses and concessions we pile on, the WORSE students do. All of the sudden mediocrity is excellence and is awarded A’s. A new standard for success emerges, one far more base than that of yesterday’s scholars.

Some teachers find students skipping vital tests or even finals. This is due to a new practice where the lowest score for any test in the class is dropped, as if the failure never took place. Often, if the test score on the final exam is higher than the lowest score on the junior tests, the final counts for both, erasing the lowest test grade. All of the sudden, a final that counted for 20% of the class grade gets a boost to 30%. This allows for amazing comebacks gradewise, at the expense of seriously downgrading the standards for academic achievement. Sometimes, even the final will be dropped if the previous tests warrant it, resulting in students skipping the most important test of they merited high marks on all the others.

I’ve even seen professors whore out bonus points for making donations to charity, attending far-flung theatre events or presentations that may or may not require admission fees, or, get this–putting your name on a test. Assuming the coursework is not significantly harder than the classes of other instructors (it never is), this is the equivalent of taking a gigantic dump on the grade scale. Is it a C or is it a D? Who cares, give it an A! Everyone else is doing it. Grades mean nothing anyway. This way, the school makes more money as fewer people drop out! It’s all about profit! Everyone knows college is a fraud designed to waste your time and drain your bank account anyway. Why continue hiding it?

Is that not what it is all about, anyway? Draining bank accounts. My calculus class requires a book that retails for $200 and second-hands for $150. Tuition fees are increasing exponentially as the Florida BrightFutures scholarship program and countless others face the chopping block. Degree requirements become ever more stringent–today’s Master’s degree is tomorrow’s Bachelor’s degree.

Especially with the U.S. economy and dollar crashing due to the sprawling American Empire (Roman Empire pt. 2), the artifical system of certificate == huge pay increase is going to fall. When it does, you will have to provide real value to make money. Save for a few advanced fields, your degree means nothing because it doesn’t amount to one-tenth the equivalent time in real experience. There are so many jobs that can just as easily be mastered with apprenticeships rather than multiple-choice testing. Teachers, librarians, doctors (general practitioners), photographers, musicians, artists, philosophers, sociologists, surveyers, social workers, even engineers; the list of what does not require a four-year degree goes on and on. This is why technical colleges are taking off: they cut through the B.S.

Can’t we just admit it? Higher education is a fraud. The standards become progressively lower as students become progressively more disgraceful to match. The college experience is no more than a disgusting excuse to leech off one’s parents for far longer than one should. Your degree? A steaming pile of crap. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even make good toilet paper.

I will be returning to Daytona State College 2009 fall for Calculus II. I will be using the $200 book that is also good for Calculus I and III. I bought the teacher’s edition (free to teachers, illegal to resell) online for $46.

The next time someone tells you how smart their college educated daughter is, show them this article and stick your nose up.

Three generations of imbeciles are enough.