Absurd Science

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Absurd Science

Art is commentary on culture, through culture. These posts are works created by me in the process of studying the inner crevices of perception and creation.

What have I been doing since the Galapagos?

Waking up in the morning and yelling “don’t be a piece of shit!” And then sobbing into a bowl of Rice Krispies.

Mostly not true.

My attitude towards work has been better. Though, it took first getting over the initial disappointment of being back in a frozen wasteland that doubles as a hellish swamp in the summer and a cesspool of political corruption at all other times.

Not sure if I ever said [1], but the trip was paradise.

But yearning for keeping a mockingbird as a walking pet doesn’t get me anywhere but eating a sausage egg and cheese biscuit at 10:35am, with greasy hair, 3 days’ stubble, a week-old pajamas.

I’ve been striving to improve my writing—less verbose, more direct and graphic. I’ve “mathematically proven in my head” that programming is the wrong path for me, long term. Short of doing something completely out of character like going to grad school for an MBA, the available paths out all seem to include becoming an excellent writer. I know I’m a much better writer than I was ten years, five years, and even a year ago now. I think I could be better.

A lot of this productivity feels like only activity, though. But it’s not clear what other things I would do that would create actual progress. Sometimes you have to unwind the stack before you can get any further down the road. What a particularly egregious mixed metaphor. I need to learn a new way to work. It’s probably aspects we’ve talked about before, but I need to revisit them in earnest.

Steady, daily progress over spurts of brilliance is what I think I want. “The Book” was a weird experience. It feels like nothing. It is nothing. But it is also not nothing. It’s a quantum superposition that I can’t wrap my head around yet. Maybe just being active right now is the best thing, to practice steady progress.

Trying not to be a piece of shit. That could be my new motto.

[1] This is what we call a “turn of phrase”, or in other words, “a lie”. I know for certain that I did.

Lets Make Great Software for Writers, Together

Say you were to go to Amazon.com. Say you were to click on Kindle Books. Then say you were to go to the Self-help category, then to the Creativity sub-category.

The first book you would see is Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work. I’m excited for it, it should be arriving at my house in a couple of days. If it’s anything like his Steal Like an Artist, then I’m sure it will be great.

But if you look further down the list, somewhere around the bottom of the top 50 (or, at least it was this morning, it updates pretty frequently), you’ll find Three Years by <drumroll please> Sean T. McBeth!

It’s probably only so “high” in the list because my parents bought it within an hour of it being released. It’s certainly not as good as Austin’s work, and for me it really represents an exercise in completionism over perfectionism.

Also, I have a lot of friends and family who keep talking about “writing a book” and some of them even have manuscripts that are really rather good. Like all of us, they have release-fear. It’s hard to let go of something and put it out into the world. My own “book release” is meant to spur them into action, as well as give me experience in self-publishing that I can then share with them.

The overall experience has been immensely positive. I’ve been batting back and forth various book ideas with my friends and family all night. The barrier to entry is extremely low, I would say it’s lower than even software development. I got up at 6am and was immediately searching for more information on eBooks and self publishing. And I started looking in to fixing some problems with my current book.

The formatting of my book right now is bad. I shouldn’t have used an MS Word document, but I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t realize that ePub is just a specialized HTML format, packed up in a ZIP file. I’m a software developer. I wrangle HTML on a daily basis. I made the book by writing a script that downloaded my blog posts from Tumblr and formatted it into a basic HTML document that I then finished manipulating in Word. So I was already halfway there before making a major detour.

I started looking into ePub editing software and rather than finding links to particular programs, I much more often found message board posts of people complaining about various programs. That’s kind of a bad sign.

So I thought I’d post an inquiry to see if there is any interest in working together on an ePub software suite. I already have a Zen-writing program on which to build this that I call Just Write, Dammit (whose source code is available for free on Github)! A few friends of mine used JWD to win at NaNoWriMo, so there is some proven value there.

Are you writing any books right now? Would you like to collaborate on a free, open source software project to build great tools for authors? You’re welcome to join me in programming if you want, but know that technical skills are not necessary. If anything, I’d more need help with testing and spreading the word about the project.

The Skull and Craftbones

The artist is a pirate—living in a world where one makes one’s own rules, unfettered by the strictures of polite society. The canvas is their ship, the paintbrush their saber. Sail on for glory, for greatness, for infamy.

My favorite t-shirt. I call it the Skull and Craftbones. You can get one, if you want. They also come in ladies sizes, baby sizes, kid’s sizes, and hats.

Nobody has ever bought the hat. You should buy the hat. Then take a picture of yourself wearing it. I’ll reblog it and send you a print of this wicked bird. Uuuuh, 8x10. Yeah.

Three Years: an eBook by Sean T. McBeth

So, uh, got a confession to make. I put a book up on the Kindle store.

It’s 99% content from this very blog. If you’ve been reading me for the last three years, you have read all of this before. That’s why it’s only 99 cents: Amazon doesn’t let you charge any less.

I made the book to have a book. I made the book to navigate the waters of the Kindle Store. I made the book to support my growing habit of finishing projects.

This is a sort of journal, stream of consciousness over a life. I’m now looking forward to writing “The Next Three Years”.

The post-resume economy

I feel very confident that we are entering a post-resume economy. Most people in the hiring mechanism that I have met either view the resume as having very marginal utility, or think resumes are great and are perplexed as to why they keep having to fire bad workers. I don’t know what will replace the resume, but I do know that the current tactic of doubling-down on recruiters with gigantic databases ripped off from LinkedIn profiles isn’t cutting the mustard.

No, it’s not very equitable, but you have probably already noticed that life isn’t fair. I keep holding out hope that some enterprising individual will recognize the absurdity of the situation and destroy all competitors when he or she realizes there is a huge, untapped market of the women, minorities, and “seasoned” developers that Silicon Valley just won’t touch. Unfortunately, I’m too light on funding to be that person right now

The last 3 people I hired to do work, I never once looked at their resumes. One was a stranger on Freelancer.com, where I was essentially rolling the dice on certain prejudices of mine for a weekend chore of a project I didn’t want to do myself, and the other two were friends. And even that wasn’t perfect, the one friend did a sloppy job (I was quite happily surprised by the Freelancer.com person). Unfortunately, my budget got cut and I had to let them go. Fortunately, they weren’t full-time yet.

In my own career, I’ve gotten very few jobs from my own applications to the positions. The only jobs I’ve gotten where I didn’t already have some kind of acquaintance give a recommendation were setup by recruiters, and I eventually learned to hate those jobs. Perhaps there is something to be said about not being able to fulfill your hiring requirements through recommendations of your current employees being indicative of the quality of the company overall.

Even the one job I liked, that I thought I was going in completely blind on, turned out to have one of my college friends and project mates already working there. He had told my interviewer he knew me and I was the best coder he had ever met. I showed up 2 days later and ran into him in the hall.

So it seems the only way to get a job anymore is to build a network. Go hang out at meetups and conferences, and hang out with people at the bars afterwards (drink ginger ale if you have to). If you look more like Steve Wozniak, change up your wardrobe to look more like Paul Graham. You’d be really surprised how far a suit jacket will take you into the realm of “looks respectable, therefore is respectable”.

Get a reputation for being a helpful, friendly, delightful person, even if you’re just connecting two other people who can help each other and it doesn’t help you directly. Don’t be pushy, don’t hand out business cards unless you are clear they want to get into contact with you. Think of it a bit like dating: the desperate guy reeks.

And just keep an ear open. People love nothing more than talking about themselves and complaining about their problems. In very short order, you will meet someone who complains about a problem you can fix.

The third or tenth such person might actually even be able to pay you, too.

It’s not a great system, I admit. It sucks if you live in a small town. It sucks if you have a horrible facial disfiguration. Some of this stuff can be mitigated by “networking” online through subject-matter-enthusiast message boards [1]. But it works better than submitting your resumes to places.

[1] but only some, you’re fighting an uphill battle with a bunch of slobs who could do more but won’t put on pants long enough to go get milk [2].

[2] I know this to be true because I’m one of them.

Sometimes you have to give up

There is a tendency amongst creatives to get really attached to their early ideas. Serial hobbiests and perfectionists fear that—if they don’t finish this project today—they’ll never have another good idea and are doomed, doomed, DOOMED!
In my own life, I had learned early on that I usually have a fervent push to build stuff and then get bored when I get bogged down in the weeds of completion. I then usually distract myself by starting another project and never get around to finishing the first. I thought this meant that I had to absorb myself into the project and work on as much as possible very early on, to be able to get everything done in that initial explosion.
And if I don’t finish the project, I tend to eventually start new projects that are revisitations of the same, old ideas. In some cases, I’ve just forgotten about the early work I did before. But a lot of the time, it’s me trying to “make up” for having not completed the project the first time. I keep trying to make this Asteroids-like game that has an entire galaxy to fly through. I have a business plan for a bar that I want to open that looks like an old, Victorian library.
My initial reaction was to get better about keeping track of my projects, so I could make a modicum of progress instead of restarting all the time. And I would start to ignore new ideas because I thought I didn’t deserve to work on new projects, with all the unfinished “old” ones lying around.
That was an even worse place to be.
But then I learned the power of giving up. I learned to give up on ideas that just don’t excite me anymore. What is the point of harping on something, over and over again, to skid out at the same point, every time? Something has to give, something has to change, and clinging to my old projects wasn’t cutting it.
Because I’m completely capable of idea generation, at the drop of a hat. It really just takes a few quiet moments. No, not reading more message board postings, not scrolling through my Tumblr dashboard, not watching a movie. Real, quiet moments. And when I learned that, I didn’t fear “failing” my projects anymore. There will always be more. I’m not a one trick pony. Of course I don’t know what those projects will be, but they will be there.
And you’re capable of it, too. It’s the one thing that humans are universally good at. Because it’s really just pattern matching. It’s giving your brain enough space to connect the dots between the dots of pop culture.
So don’t fear your projects. They aren’t the end of you. If you screw it up, there will be more in the future. Work on whatever you want to work on, because that is the most important thing. It does no good to come home from getting told to do boring shit at work just to turn around and tell yourself to do a bunch of boring shit.
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I few years ago, I built a standing desk. I was pretty skeptical of standing desks when they first became all the rage on LifeHacker, et. al. But these hipsters kept harping on dubious health benefits and were missing the best part of the standing desk: it multiplies your storage space on your desk! For a coworking space, this is a major win. I ended up kicking off a “build vertical” craze in the space.

I would not suggest jumping 100% into using a standing desk, but have a stool handy and it can be a great experience. I’ve since moved out of the coworking space I was in and have everything home, so I’m back to sitting, but I’d prefer to have a standing desk again. Just been too lazy to build one.

It took me just as long to draw everything as to build the standing desk. In terms of a carpentry project, it’s about as simple as they come; bird houses are harder. Also, you kind of have to “figure it out as you go”, because the desk needs to be custom built to your measurements. As you can see in my drawings, everything was designed around my eye-level height and my arm length. This is a must, or you’re just trading one posture problem for another.

I eventually (not pictured) also built a “draft table” feature into the lower desk top: removing the laptop, the desktop could be rotated into a slanted position to have an ergonomic writing surface.

One thing to realize is that most people’s shoes (even running sneakers) have a significant heel-rise that will really screw up your standing posture and is not conducive to standing all day. I had very significant lower back pain until I started standing barefoot, wearing slippers, or standing on a slanted platform I built to counter the heel-rise of my sneakers. I liked barefoot the best, but the room I was in had a lot of sharps on the floor.

You won’t be able to work all day. I could only get about 6 hours a day in until I was just too exhausted to be able to think. However, I also found that during that 6 hours I was incredibly energized and laser focused on work. I never goofed off when I used my desk. I don’t know why. But 6 hours was enough to get work done.

After the first month of non-stop standing, it wasn’t getting any easier. I switched between standing and sitting on a stool (which I also built, which my fellow coworkers have declared the most dangerous thing ever built in the space, but has survived longer than many store-bought chairs) all day. I still mostly stood, and only sat in the stool near the end of the day. It was also useful for getting over that 6 hour hump so I could play LAN games with the other people in the space at night.

I’m considering doing it again. Perhaps I’ll get pre-fab foot stools or a step ladder. Our condo is pretty small and I’ve spilt out over everywhere. Having a standing desk would go a long way to keeping the peace with my wife in regards to clutter :)

(Source: moron4hire)

Be beautiful

Sitting with my spirit-guide, P.S.W. Gear, in a strip-mall artisinal provisions market (say that five times fast, hipster), the conversation turned to thought and meaning.

Cynicism is the ugly end of the spectrum of criticism, with critique—being constructive—the opposite.

A lot of my struggle to create is based in cynicism. I’m cynical towards others and myself, because I am disappointed in my own productivity and others’ productivity is a reminder of my own failings. That’s a huge admission for me, I write it lightly, but it doesn’t come so.

Failings is a bad word. It’s not a failure to not be in a productive state. It’s a failing to think that unproductiveness is a perpetual state. It allows us to excuse ourselves for not fixing what is blocking our output. “I have writer’s block” is assigning a mystical force to a self-inflicted wound.

It’s a very tightly-coupled feedback loop. We discussed a friend of ours who could be the P.G. Wodehouse of our generation “if only he could…”, but won’t because he is far too gone into the fields of cynicism about the “mendacity of society.” A musician friend who could make a big impact in the indie music scene if he just got over his hatred for pop music long enough to show up and participate. A public works specialist with brilliant insights into making government work but has given up and sleeps at his desk because “government doesn’t work”.

Hopefully, I can remember to make beautiful things. We’ve hit our quota on ugliness. I know I will have more rants like “Gmail is a Usability Nightmare” in the future, but maybe awareness is the first step to recovery, ya know?

A brown pelican. I suppose it&#8217;s not a particularly clever name for a bird, and I suppose they aren&#8217;t particular rare birds, as there are pelicans all up and down both the east and west coasts of the Americas.
But I like them. They remind me of trucks. Or maybe Grumman A-6 Intruders. They are unconventional, but seem very practical, and I find a certain beauty in that.

A brown pelican. I suppose it’s not a particularly clever name for a bird, and I suppose they aren’t particular rare birds, as there are pelicans all up and down both the east and west coasts of the Americas.

But I like them. They remind me of trucks. Or maybe Grumman A-6 Intruders. They are unconventional, but seem very practical, and I find a certain beauty in that.

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The Galapagos Hawk. Another bird we were extremely lucky to see, as they are an vulnerable species (only one classification above endangered).

When we saw them, they were usually gone within seconds. Getting photos was extremely difficult. But they were very majestic creatures. You could sense just how much they were ready to mess up a critter for dinner. They look like muscular beasts of birds. Well, because they are!

This is a very young Albatross. Not quite having learned to fly yet. The black fuzz on his head is left over from birth, giving him away as only a week or two old. 
We were extremely lucky to see an Albatross. The birthing season had just passed a month prior, so most of the chicks had already learned to fly and gone away. This was one of the last ones left on the island.
The really incredible thing was seeing their &#8220;runways&#8221;. Albatrosses are ludicrously large birds. They are massive and don&#8217;t really stop well. But they are also ground nesters, so they make these large, trampled down areas in the bush as landing zones to be able to get to their nests. They like to nest on plateaus with cliff faces towards the water, so when they take off they can run down one of their runways for a bit before jumping off the cliff to get real speed.

This is a very young Albatross. Not quite having learned to fly yet. The black fuzz on his head is left over from birth, giving him away as only a week or two old.

We were extremely lucky to see an Albatross. The birthing season had just passed a month prior, so most of the chicks had already learned to fly and gone away. This was one of the last ones left on the island.

The really incredible thing was seeing their “runways”. Albatrosses are ludicrously large birds. They are massive and don’t really stop well. But they are also ground nesters, so they make these large, trampled down areas in the bush as landing zones to be able to get to their nests. They like to nest on plateaus with cliff faces towards the water, so when they take off they can run down one of their runways for a bit before jumping off the cliff to get real speed.

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