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.

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.

First Google AdSense check

$112.23 Google AdSense check

Just got this check from Google for $112.23. I wasn’t sure if this Google ad program was real till now; perhaps they’d just take my money and ban me when I reached the $100 threshold? :xx:

I started this blog way back at the end of last year, just for my photography. I didn’t do much for a long time, often just spending lots of time fiddling with the layout and code, but in the past two months I’ve made lots of progress. I feel I can do a lot of good here, if not for others, for my own mind.

While DaytonaState.org makes the most, the balance is switching to this blog. I think it’s because I’m writing in-depth, thought-provoking articles like Digital Sharecropping, Personal Development for Photographers, and Transcending Limiting Beliefs. Not lists or tables or mash-ups or charts. No fluff. Writing that takes will work and has a real purpose. I didn’t really start doing this till two months ago, when I added personal development as my main subject alongside photography.

While $112.23 is no more than pennies an hour for all the work I’ve put in here, it’s much better than any job because I would do this for free. Most people can’t say that about their jobs.

Even though I made far more as a criminal, it’s much better to profit as an asset rather than a leech. Friends have been quick in offering to click ads for me or get others to do the same, but I’ll have none of it.

My hosting bill is paid up till 2009 March, and it has totaled $70. I also registered Thripp.com till 2018, costing $73, and thripp.net/org/us/biz/info are mine. I’m in this for the long haul. Expenses don’t really count, because I’d be paying them either way.

This month has been the best yet; I’ve taken in $61; half of what I made in the eight months before combined. Curiously days have bounced between $0 and $4 rather than being constant like last month, but it doesn’t matter.

Some people hate ads. If I was one of them, I would’ve made nothing. If this is a business, I’m lucky because most businesses lose a lot of money to start.

You can’t expect to make money if you don’t even try. Blogs are much like newspapers, which pay their printing bills and more with advertising. Now, the bills are time, effort, and less importantly, web hosting. And the message is free, rather than being a token fee of thirty-five or fifty cents.

However, if you give away the message and turn your back on advertising and turn down donations (read: don’t ask for), you can’t turn your passion into anything more than a hobby.

Unrelated: the URL for this post has 666 in it because that’s the post ID. It’s just a counter. I think it’s cool to have it at the end of URLs. I’ve actually made only 530 posts and pages, but the other numbers have been lost to test posts and drafts. Think of it just as an arbitrary number to uniquely identify each of my articles.

Also: this post is evil. :evil:

The Perks of Having a Job

2009-12-20 Update: Having a job is not so bad after all. I apologize to those I’ve misled and encourage you to keep your job if you enjoy it or to support your family.

I know a lot of people like to tear down gainful employment in general, but there really are some good benefits to be had.

1. Guaranteed payment for your work.

If you own a restaurant, and it’s losing money, can you get out of paying your employees? No—you still must pay them for the work they’ve done. While you can let them go, you can’t refuse to pay for the work they’ve already done, even if you’re going into debt yourself. In this relationship, employees are in a much safer position.

2. Trading time for money.

In a job, it doesn’t matter if you spend eight hours cleaning a mop bucket or finding the cure for cancer. You get the same wages either way. Your pay has nothing to do with the value of your contributions.

You can use this to your advantage by wasting time and reducing the value of your contribution. This way, you can become a leech rather than an asset. It feels fun, because you know assets aren’t valued anyway. This brings us to…

3. Innovation is discouraged.

As a cashier, you don’t have to invent a new method of barcode entry or re-organize the checkout lanes to flow more smoothly. You just have to do a repetitive job reasonably well, and then you can reasonably expect to continue being employed. Though you can be let go at any time, you can reasonably expect to find a similar job elsewhere. Sounds pretty reasonable, right?

If you do find a way to make the checkout process twice as fast, you can bet your fellow employees are going to be quite unhappy that you’re out-doing them. Even if they can easily pick up on the same skills you’ve developed, an across-the-board increase in efficiency will put some people out of jobs. Then, they’ll have the onerous task of securing jobs elsewhere, losing their beloved friends, and perhaps even starting over with lower wages.

Innovation cuts jobs. For example, in my Grandma’s time, people would go to the local cobbler to have their shoes repaired, often with nails and glue. Now, most people throw out shoes and replace them, because it’s cheaper and more efficient than having them repaired. The shoe-making process has been refined. Only rich people have their shoes repaired, and that’s only because they have shoes that are very expensive to replace.

If you’re interested in maintaining the current jobs, you have to be against innovation, because innovation will invalidate many current jobs. For the typical employee, innovation, renewal, and obsolescence are scary words. Don’t expect your revolutionary ideas to be accepted in an office setting.

The benefit here is that once you know innovation is unwelcome, the burden to innovate is removed from your shoulders. If you feel the inclination to do something new, you can easily remind yourself that you’d just be causing trouble.

4. No need to think.

While the unemployed enjoy the process of uncertainty, refinement, and discovery, with a job, you don’t have to think much about anything. You can easily lose yourself in your work, because your work is all predictable and planned. Instead of deciding the best course of action for the company, you’re told what to do by your boss. There’s no need to question it, because if you do exactly what he says yet something goes wrong, you can blame him for it and your boss’ boss will agree.

When you become the boss, you might be worried that you’ll start having to think. Fortunately, the chain of command is there to rescue you. You still don’t have to think, because you have plenty of bosses to tell you what to do. But you can look at yourself in the mirror and smile, because you know there are a few people who call you “boss.”

The bigger the corporation, the bigger the chain of command. You can work for decades through dozens of promotions without really becoming the boss of anything. Even though your title may read “Creative Director,” your position can actually be fulfilled by an android, or a computer program with enough “if” branches.

5. A policy for every occasion.

You’ll never be forced to make a truly original decision, because there’s a policy in the manual to cover everything you do. If not, perhaps two policies can be combined, or, in super-rare instances, a new policy can be created.

Of course, you must never dare go to the policy manual yourself. It must be filtered through at least five other people, and you must go to them first and then wait three days for a response. If you fix the hole in the roof without waiting three days for the policy on roof repair, you must be “disciplined.” Perhaps your master will go easy on you and opt for “verbal admonishment.”

If you read the policy manual, and you find that the computing security policy requires that all employees use unguessable passwords, but you know everyone is using their last name, don’t dare report it. When you report it, you’ll find that the true purpose of all these policies is to make everything a policy violation. Then, sanctions can be invoked against trouble-makers, while everyone else is ignored.

The policies are whatever they say they are. You’re just here to follow orders. It’s a cozy place to be.

6. Don’t fix a problem—get someone else to do it.

When I was working in a Volusia County library, I recall encountering a cryptic error message on the cash register. It was bad news, because there were patrons lined up to pay fines, and we didn’t have a working register to ring them up. While the librarian was asking her boss for advice over the phone, I downloaded the manual for the cash register and found that “EEEEEEEE” means to replace the receipt paper.

Delighted, the librarian told her boss how I found the solution. After listening for a moment, she looked at me and said: “We’re not allowed to look at the manual.”

When you work at a “normal” job, you can expect complete idiocy from the bureaucrats in that company. It’s even more idiotic if the company is part of the government (like the library system), because there’s no reason for the government to generate a profit. Public libraries get millions in tax dollars every year, and they repeatedly squander it through idiotic policies and pointless red tape.

If you have a job in one of these companies, it’s nice because the people above you love helpless people. They’ll pat you on the back when you go to them to fix a problem you could’ve easily fixed yourself.

7. A regimented life.

If you work 9-to-5, you can’t stay up till 4 A.M. every night. Instead, you settle into an unchanging rhythm, enforced by the rigors of your job. Feel more productive at 8 P.M.? Too bad; you can’t work then. You have to work when you’re scheduled to work.

Soon, your whole life becomes anchored to your job. Want to eat dinner at 4:30? Too bad; you work till 5. The weekend is a treasured time, but somehow you end up spending it talking about your job. Perhaps you even go out with friends from work. Either way, you keep spending time on your job, the same job where you’re stifled and bossed around.

Your lunch break is often mandated by company policy. It might even be scheduled from 12 to 1 or 1 to 2. When I work, sometimes I skip lunch entirely, but if I had a job, I’d have to eat lunch (or eat nothing) when they told me to.

The benefit here, once again, is that you don’t have to make decisions, because the decisions have already been made for you. Employment is the perfect refuge for people who don’t enjoy holding authority over their lives.

8. Detachment and mediocrity.

Since you’re not doing anything truly valuable or integral to the company, you don’t have to care too much for its success. You’ve seen people care too much about the company’s success before. They started to innovate, which eventually got them fired. You know the dangers of caring too much. You’re expected to be a mediocre person, who does a mediocre job in a mediocre way. Mediocrity is okay, because the company doesn’t need you. Sure, there are a few important, bright minds behind the scenes in every corporation, but they contribute enough that everyone else can be dead weight.

Instead of walking quickly, walk slowly. Instead of eating lunch in 32 minutes, use up the whole hour. Your job isn’t something exciting enough that you should be running back to it. It’s just a way to earn money: the only way you have.

Because your job doesn’t matter, you become detached from it. You spend the best hours of your day on busywork.

9. Friendship, dating, and social proof.

The people at your job are easy to make friends with, because they’re mediocre, soulless non-innovators just like yourself. You can easily get along with them by talking about the weather or current events. Don’t dare get into anything deep like religion, abortion, or financial politics. You know that friendships are based on superficiality. If you get into anything deep, you’re poised to destroy the friendship.

If you’re looking for a “compatible” partner, look no further than the office. The same mediocre, soulless non-innovators that are your friends can become your dates!

Plus, whenever you’re around strangers, you can connect with them by telling them you have a job. They have jobs too. They’re just like you! You can all be one big happy family of mediocre, soulless non-innovators.

10. Save for retirement.

When you have a job, our benevolent government deducts money from your paychecks. That money goes to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (coming soon: Iran and Russia). Once you’ve become old and decrepit from decades of unfulfilling busywork, the state will return the money it owes you, so you can live in comfort tending to small plants in your garden, waiting for death.

Need your money now? No you don’t. Obviously, the government knows how to save your money better than you. You know nothing. You’re a dummy. A mediocre, soulless non-innovator. Remember?

The employee mentality

With a “normal” job, you never really have to think, because you can leave the thinking to other people your whole life. You’re already doing that at your job; why not apply the same principles to other areas of your life?

Need spiritual fulfillment? Join a religion. As long as you pray (and pay) regularly, you’ll be fine. Nevermind that you could create your own religion for yourself that would be ten times more empowering.

Need entertainment? You should, after having a job for a while. Go to the movies, or pay for cable television. Then, you can watch the same garbage everyone else is watching and pretend to feel smart.

Need more money? Go to college and pretend to learn something. Then you can become the boss at your job. Don’t be scared—the chain of command will protect you from any real decision-making.

Have a problem? Pretend it isn’t there. Perhaps it will go away, or you’ll die before you have to confront it.

Why are you an employee? Can’t you become a freelance photographer, or start your own business selling widgets, or record a great music CD and collect royalties on it? If you can’t think of anything better, start a website condemning jobs, and make money off that. Plenty of people are supporting themselves without sacrificing their morals or their hearts. Employment is neither a rite of passage nor a badge of honor.

Why do you have a job? So you can die before you have to confront life?

Over-Emphasis

When you work in an area you love, you’re far more efficient than doing what you are indifferent to. Rather than all being general practitioners, by focusing on one aspect of life we can make much more progress than focusing on many. Instead of gaining a cursory knowledge of ten skills, we gain real expertise in one. While this can be known as specializing, or niches, I like the term “over-emphasis.” You over-emphasis your strong areas, while giving moderate attention or even no attention to your weak spots. You simply don’t develop in areas you have no talent for.

An example: it took me just as long to write Creon vs. Gilgamesh as My Life of Crime. The latter is a subject I’m passionate about (gaming the rebate and coupon systems of retailers), while the former is a mandatory school assignment. The latter is eight times longer, and each sentence is more interesting. The subject that is not my speciality is boring to read. On time vs. word count alone, I’m eight times more efficient in my area of over-emphasis than elsewhere. If you combine the appeal of the writing and presentation, I may be 100x stronger in my niche than outside it.

If you love to do something, dare to over-emphasis it in your life. Don’t create a blog for general photography tips when you really want to focus on computational photography. Don’t write an article on the totality of all the injustices in the world when you really want to focus on abortion. If you love taking photos of flowers and sunsets, don’t dismiss the field because it’s too common. While there may be 60 million other people taking photos of the same subjects, only one percent of them are fanatical about it. If you’re competing at all, you’re not competing with the whole world, and you have the advantage of offering a unique, creative vision, not mere boilerplate. I could choose not to write about personal development because the subject has been beaten to death, but then I’d miss out on all the personal growth I gain from writing, and more importantly, what my readers may gain from a fresh perspective.

The beautiful thing about over-emphasis is that it cuts through the noise. If you’re familiar with computer science, the signal to noise ratio is how much of your signal is garbage. If you have a high amount of noise, it’s like playing a record that’s beaten and scratched, or watching a t.v. show on rabbit ear antennas, snow and all. People often complain that because there are so many more people in the world, particularly online and blogging, that the field is too crowded. People start new blogs on subjects they think will be immediately profitable, even if they don’t care about the subject whatsoever. Don’t do this. If you pick what you’re passionate about, you can make things happen rather than waiting for others to make things happen for you. Instead of following the buffalo, the buffalo follow you.

In fact, the only way to live is to make things happen rather than waiting for luck to kick in. Even if you fail miserably, it’s much more fun and interesting than leading a regimented life.

If you’re going to wake up every morning and tend to the twenty-by-twenty garden in your yard, meticulously pulling every weed, planting new flowers, and growing small crops of tomatoes, then perhaps you should start a farm. A lot of people work nine-to-five jobs for forty years, and then they retire to do the same thing via yard work, crocheting, or other busywork. Doubtlessly, there are people with great ambition in these fields, but most of the retirees just work to pass the time. That’s why it’s “busywork.” Busywork is pointless work. It’s just to waste time, without getting anything real done. If you’re not doing something real, then what are you living for?

I don’t want to work nine-to-five for pay. Don’t even mention volunteering to do it. Why don’t more of the retirees travel the world taking beautiful photographs, or start charitable foundations with the wealth they’ve built up over decades of toiling? Because they refuse to over-emphasis anything important in their lives. They value procedures, tradition, submission, fear.

Public schooling puts our children through years of busywork. Memorizing lists of facts or writing mindless essays on classical literature doesn’t teach you anything of value. The whole point of public school is to condition you to be a drone. Then, you work nine-to-five forty years, tend to your garden for twenty years, and die a bleak death, while leaving a small sum to your grandchildren (who won’t appreciate it anyway).

Fortunately, I’m home-schooled. You can be too. If you can’t learn on your own, you can’t learn in college. If you succeed in school, that just proves that you didn’t need it to begin with. If the fate of your life rests with family, or friends, or your boss, or your professors, or the freemasons, then you’re failing your mission in life. But if you’re still living, you haven’t failed yet. “Failing” isn’t “failed.” Create the strength within yourself to become self-reliant and to learn where others only dawdle. Solve big problems while your peers submit to uncertainty. Work hard on what you love. You may be labeled with attention deficit disorder (or whatever the latest name is), but what you really have is an abundance of attention for the subject you over-emphasize. And that is courageous living.

Money and Love

What I made online, 2008-08

Just wanted to give you a little hint for how my websites did last month. My goal is $1 per day, and while I didn’t hit that every day last month, the overall total was $56.41, or $1.80 per day.

I can see I’m making a bigger impact on the world. In July, I made $20, so my income basically tripled last month. You can’t get that kind of raise with a regular job.

$53.73 was from Google AdSense; $2.68 was from this blog’s Amazon Associates commissions.

Of the $53.73, $1.54 came from Brilliant Photography and Personal Development by Richard X. Thripp. Th8.us made $2.30, DaytonaState.org made $42.63, and the Thripp.com users made me $7.26. Our hosting / domains bill is $15 per month, so I’m more than covered.

DaytonaState.org is targeted. A lot of people come from Google looking for information on enrolling in colleges, so the information appeals to them. On the other hand, Thripp.com is black-listed by Google, so this blog and others appear low in the search results. I haven’t done much marketing either, instead focusing on writing and producing new works of art, so that explains the low turnout. But in the long run, the richardxthripp.thripp.com is where the action is going to be.

If I was still working at the library, I would have made ten times more. But last month, I did no work. Even though I exhausted far more time and energy here, the energy comes back twofold. This simply isn’t a job at all to me.

When you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t matter how much time you “spend” or how much money you make. (You’re not really spending time; you’re saving it.) You’ll do it anyway, because it’s what you do. If you’re looking for something to love, photography is a good place to start, even as a freelancer. I wouldn’t do it myself; I’d prefer writing articles for free and making money indirectly. But every person enjoys different methods.

Also: when you love playing with LEGOs or battling in World of Warcraft, it still doesn’t matter, but the problem is you’re not helping anyone else. You think you’re doing what you love, but you just haven’t found what you truly love. When you combine ambition with a purpose that really makes an impact on people around you, you’ll find something you love far more than child’s play. It’s still play, but it’s play taken to the next level. You character has just reached level 100. He’s replaced hit points with love points.

Disparate Value

If I could just get my cat to wash the dishes and mop the floor, I’d have a cat worth millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter that you can hire someone to do the work for several dollars an hour. If the cat did it, it would be special and worth far more. Any sort of animal, for that matter.

Does that mean that the cat’s work is intrinsically more valuable than mine? Not in the slightest. In fact, it’s not as safe to have the cat do housework. Cats aren’t skillful homemakers. My cat has no proven track record, nor does her species. Who knows when she will tire of the work and start breaking stuff. She has to take naps every few hours. For the same work, a person should be paid far more than a cat.

Why then, is the value the cat commands so disparate, so far in excess of that of a normal person? Simply because it’s packaged in a unique, original, unheard-of form. People will pay you big money if you can do something that no one else can do, even if it’s totally useless. What real value do clowns contribute to the world–besides entertainment? If everyone is paid by the intrinsic value of their worth, clowns would get nothing.

To harness the power of disparate value, you need to be doing something that is eye-catching, entertaining, and different. It’s easy to have negative, disparate value. Just break a few limbs, and then see how hard it is to work efficiently. If you go to the bookstore and start ripping the covers off books, they really aren’t worth any less. There’s no unique information on the cover that the books’ contents cannot be without. All the informative and practical value remains untouched. Yet try selling them next to the others–or for any price at all, and you’ll see how disparate their value is. For no logical reason.

It’s easy to think of situations that will generate positive disparate value, which is a far better place to be at. Say I’m a typist. I type 75 words a minute, accurately, swiftly, and without losing focus. That’s a pretty good skill, but I’m not special. Lots of other people can do what I do.

Now let’s say instead, through some magical forces, I type 750 words a minute. When I type, all you see is a blur because my fingers are moving so fast, they disappear. The screen floods with text. If I was paid $10 for my efforts at 75 words per minute, would $100 be a reasonable pay at 750 words per minute?

Nope. I’m worth more than the aggregate of my efficiency. I could provide my services to businesses that need last-minute transcribing, at a high cost. Perhaps $1000 an hour would be more reasonable.

But in reality, I’d make far more for my talents, perhaps millions. Think of all the television shows and magazines I could be featured in. I could start a course to share my talent with others. Even if it was impossible to share, there’d still be plenty of followers who would gladly waste their money. The value (money) I can demand is disparate to the raw value of my services.

Let’s say I can only type 100 words per minute, but I can also play the piano, tune a guitar, write moderately-good articles, ride a skateboard, build houses, paint, draw, create websites, and do electrical wiring. All these things I do moderately well. Perhaps even better. If my mastery is quantifiable, I’m above 90% of the crowd with all these talents. Does that make me more valuable as a typist?

Not in the slightest. I may be a dynamo and a fascinating person, but those are worth nothing on their own. I’d be better off if I could have all my other skills erased from my brain, and replaced with the ability to type 750 words per minute. From a monetary standpoint, at least. The reason I keep coming back to money, is that it’s our primary means of representing value. Typing 750 words per minute should not trump an arsenal of normal skills, but it does.

If the Mona Lisa is worth $100 million, does that mean a painting 1% as good is worth $1 million? Nope. If I can define something 1% as good as the Mona Lisa, it’s a painting that you couldn’t even give away. 1% is not enough. Even a work of art 75% as good would not be worth half as much. One razor-sharp knife is worth more than a hundred dull knives.

Excellence is exponential. On a scale of 10, going from a 9 to a 10 is hundreds of times harder than going from a 1 to a 2. Anyone can go from a 1 to a 2. It requires nearly no effort whatsoever. But if you can make the jump to the top of the mountain, you have something of true, preferential value. Oftentimes, it’s better to pick one skill. One feverishly developed skill. You’re so good, you make everyone else in your niche look like piles of garbage. The problem I find with this, is that it doesn’t feel right to pick one skill. That’s why most people don’t do it, remaining uneventfully ordinary.

The best way, however, is to develop a suite of skills that all play off each other rather than being disparate. The underlying connections between them create a wall of strength rather than islands of weakness. Chaos theory in action. Often, this is the same as developing one skill, but from a different angle. This is easier said than done. In fact, it’s harder than becoming a one-hit wonder. But it’s a true path, a road you can look to every day with eager anticipation. I can never feel the same passion for practicing scales and songs all day long, or taking pictures from dawn to dusk. Picking one path is the best way to harness disparate value, but it isn’t human. People aren’t meant to stick to one thing. We think about everything: we ponder, analyze, reflect, multi-task, pray, think, forget, lose focus. Animals don’t do this. They work all the more efficiently for it.

All the things that “waste time” are actually our strengths. They endow us with our own disparate value separate from everything else in this world. I’m happy to be a human rather than a cat, or a bird, or a flea. Once you become happy and committed to your existence, you can leverage disparate value to unlock exponential growth. I’ll be with you.