Spin it Let’s Begin it Bare and Grin it When You’re in it

I’m in a depressive tailspin.

My work is making me mildly suicidal. My marriage is far too often thoroughly deflating. My weight makes me want to hide away. My habits are making me feel (rightly) like a failure, unable to make any improvements stick for more than a few hours. My sleep cycle is making me unbalanced. I probably have diabetes. My eyesight is failing, and if it’s diabetes, that’s terrifying, and if it’s not, then I don’t know why, and that’s… just sad. My brain is increasingly sluggish. My anger is through the roof sometimes. My location makes me very sad two thirds of the days of the year. My teeth are yellower than they should be and I’m not out there getting them fixed. I am already falling behind at my year’s goals. I haven’t even built the pull up machine to train on pull ups. I can’t even keep up with the trash service at my house.


I fell on black days. My goodness, what an apt song.

But of course, I could know that this would be my fate. I can predict the future well enough to know that all of these things came from choices, perhaps other than Jin’s unexpected moyamoya and my job’s somewhat unexpectedly lame quality. But none of that is all that surprising! I know corporate software jobs tend to suck. I know corporate management sucks in cycles. I knew AWS was taking over middleware. I know that Indian hierarchy in American corporate workplaces produces suck! And I knew Jin had wonky genetics and a high chance of developing health problems in middle age.

Anyway, that’s not the key thing here. That’s not the future. That’s the past.

The key thing here is the future. I can also predict the future from this point.

If I continue in this depressive tailspin, I’m going to suffer a significant drop in my quality of life. Be it permanent health problems, be it significantly worse marriage or divorce, be the long term end of high paying employment opportunities, or even be it mental breakdown and self harm, I’m heading for the bottom.

This has got to stop! I’m 41! I’m not retired! I’m not dead! I’m not a grandfather! I’m young Harry Jones, I’m major Kevin Carlin, a man with ostensibly the energy to have like two more careers before I stop, and plenty of time to make lasting life changes.

Who do I want to be in my 40s? Do I want to be this guy, this miserable sack man? No! NO!

I want to be exactly who I’ve wanted to be for twenty fucking years, since I left math. I want to be the high energy, healthy Wizard of Happiness, who defies probability a little bit to make good things for the people who want them.

My goodness, that’s a distant goal.

But is it? Really? The ingredients are mostly there, hidden under a thick crust of bad habits. The health, the energy, those are missing. The happiness, that’s missing too.

But the skills, the unusual mix of skills. I have the skills. Goodness, do I have the skills.

Just thinking that makes me want to cry with a mixture of love and sadness. A big part of me is willing to receive that statement, that I have the skills, and a big part of me is even sadder to think of what a waste I’m making.

If there was one thing that would look different in that ideal life? It’s hard work. I would wake up and shoot out of bed and build things and build things and build things. 

So why isn’t that happening? It’s in my nature to be that person! But it’s not happening because my version of “build and build and build” is subject to vicious and virtuous cycles.

In the vicious cycle, bad habits, pointless tasks, big distractions, emotional damage, and small failures are all mutually reinforcing, sending me straight down to zero and pinning me there.

In the virtuous cycle, good habits, good tasks, good scheduling, good emotional processing, and small victories are all mutually reinforcing, sending me towards flourishing.

Why aren’t the vicious and virtuous cycles at least balanced? The vicious cycle dominates over the course of my life.

Firstly, is the virtuous cycle inherently less stable? YES.Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” For each of those five components, absent any special effort, the probability of being on the virtuous side is certainly less than half.

Bad habits clearly dominate good habits. You live in a Dorito nation. If you were Chinese, you would live in a cigarette nation. Every nation is a drinking nation. It takes an effort not to live your preferred vices and bad character traits.

Pointless tasks clearly dominate good tasks. Fifteen years in the private sector have taught me that with effort and bravery, one might find a job with a lot of truly useful tasks in it, and without, one is almost guaranteed to find only jobs with only pointless tasks. This current job is a pointed reminder of that. I made an effort to select for a balanced workplace doing a form of work I understood that made a useful contribution to a larger project I value. Whewf. What I got is an unbalanced workplace doing a form of work I don’t understand that anyway does not make a useful contribution, even though I do still value the larger project.

Distractions dominate scheduling because life is messy and random, and scheduling is an artificial quality of order imposed on that life.

It’s not as clear that emotional damage need dominate good emotional processing. Probably if you look at all the family styles and all the personal habits of the world, there are more people giving and receiving net emotional damage than there are with healthy processing habits, but there are at least large stable pockets where healthy behavior is more the norm. I have lived in such a pocket, and I think relative to other people, I probably still do. In my own life, there are some factors that move this ratio in a bad direction: the disregulation of children leads to the dysregulation of parents, Jin’s family pumps a lot more emotional damage into the system than I’m used to, and I still have my experience of the 2010s leaving a sort of accreted dysregulation.

Small failures and small victories are mostly a matter of mindset, and maybe not really an independent dimension from the other four things. I admit it’s pretty darned easy, with the right perspective shifting tools, to live with either small failures or small victories as the dominant thing.

So, given those five factors, the virtuous cycle is inherently less stable than the vicious cycle.

But, is it also a personal matter? Do I make choices that prefer the vicious cycle over the virtuous cycle? YES.

Firstly, I do not put enough consistent effort into my good habits. This is true even in the good times. Habits require consistency, and I sabotage my good habits with a peppering of bad choices. It’s not that those choices add up. It’s that they short out the virtuous cycle. They’re like sprinkles of water on a fire.

Second, I am particularly inconsistent at scheduling. I believe in flexibility, and that is good up to a point, but, with a few exceptional good periods, for the most part, I do not respect my past choices or sufficiently allow them to determine my present. I tell myself I will do such and such a thing, but I have learned to give myself far too much permission to not do it when the time comes to do it.

Tasks are mostly not my fault. When I was working for myself, I learned that my task strategy was bad, that, absent extra discipline, I would ride in all different directions and accomplish less for it. But my tasks were not pointless. They were almost always clearly connected to a good outcome, and if I figured out that they weren’t helping, I would pivot. Being a parent and a corporate worker, I am not currently in control of the quality of the tasks. I suppose to the extent that I count lego city time as taking away from task time, that is a pointless task that’s in my control.

Emotional regulation is all me. Being a married person with two young kids is playing on hard mode, because the amount to regulate is high and the freedom to regulate any time anywhere is low, but in the end it’s still a pure choice. You take a bike ride or you veg on the couch, it’s *purely* your choice.

Small failures and small victories, to the extent that they’re a matter of perspective, simply require the use of that perspective. I get this one right at least as often as I get it wrong, and shifting it is the easiest. Like the mother at the end of Everything Everywhere All At Once, you see all the potentials in your head, and then you change the channel and look at the family that’s in front of you. My family has so far been notably absent from this essay, except as a source of stress!

But my family are a litany of small victories. I gently parented Clara through a sick day and resisted grandma’s urges to take her on an unnecessary hospital visit. I continue to build a very impressive resume of reading to Clara at night, stretching back to when she was two years old, being flexible and not forcing it on days that don’t fit our standard go down pattern, but rarely missing a day that does fit that pattern. I’m making a strong habit, and that’s not just a victory of parenting, it’s a victory of scheduling!

I continue to improve at regulating myself during fights with Jin, quickly catching my feelings once things have gone real bad. I’m pretty good at it, actually!

And this essay itself is a small victory. I can and should notice that my job work is still not getting done, like a pile of trash in the corner (and here you can see how it’s sometimes hard to have small victories without interacting with bad scheduling), but I also can and should notice that my mental health became very poor recently, and this morning I am directly addressing it. I am processing, dissecting, and improving my mental health by writing. This really needed doing, it was time, and I did it.

Finally, the essay is also a small victory in another category. My only high priority goal this year is to fix my physical health. My only low priority goal this year is to write one hundred thousand words. When I wrote that goal, I sort of meant fiction, but I also like and benefit from essay writing. It’s genuinely not easy to be generous to myself (because I rightly worry I’ll be too generous), but if I am generous enough to allow a little bit of essay writing as the minority contribution to that 100k total, then this essay counts for a considerable amount, and that is a small victory indeed.

So, what have I done so far today?

I have admitted what’s going wrong. I have reminded myself of how I’d like things to be. I have separated one significant thing out of the list, namely the habit to get up and build build build build. I have reminded myself that it’s in my nature to do that. I have found that it doesn’t always happen because of vicious and virtuous cycles. I have dissected those cycles into five components, and I have investigated the degree to which each of those components is or is not on me.

Having done so, I notice there is a single action running through all of the cycle components, both in the structural section and in the personal section: the choice to make effort.

Everywhere, in every component, regardless of the structural difficulty of the situation, there is always a choice to make effort which will improve things in mutually reinforcing ways, and a choice not to make effort which will worsen things in mutually reinforcing ways. Regardless of where I am in the cycle, regardless of where anyone is in such a cycle, the choice to make effort will improve things.

I am not lazy. I wrote a two thousand word essay this morning and directly confronted some things about myself. That took effort. But my habit of making the choice to make effort is bizarre and messed up. Jordan Howlett said Pitbull said Paolo Coelho said “stress, anxiety and depression all occur when we try to live to please other people”. My power to make the choice to make effort isn’t gone, at all. It’s just really messed up because I’ve got my life direction and priorities all out of sorts, and I don’t have good connections between the efforts of the day and the north star of my life. Pointless tasks leading to small failures, instead of good tasks leading to small victories, yeah?

So, the medicine for me is not to try to discover or build my ability choose-effort power. It’s not to force the choose-effort power in particular directions.

It is to align. Why are today’s choices to effort the right choices? Understand, care, and make them. Or, if they’re not, discard them. Never think of them again.

I will begin again the work of aligning my choices today.

Reasons For Being a Principled Non-Voter

Voting is sort of the American religion. Like any religion, you get to choose whether you follow. Even under pressure. Here are some reasons for being a principled non-voter.

1. You do not believe in democratic representation. You are allowed not to believe in democratic representation. Personally, I encourage you not to believe in it.

2. You accept evidence that it doesn’t work correctly. A comprehensive study from 2014 found that the preferences of the top ten percent and organized groups influenced the outcomes of elections, whereas the preferences of average citizens (even en masse) did not. In the last few years, there have been a number of western elections with arguable fingers on scales. If you’re convinced by these things, that’s a good reason not to vote.

3. You take some other action that dwarfs the vote. Perhaps you volunteer with a cause. Perhaps you give money. If you give two hundred dollars to political causes, and someone says you should vote as well, maybe that’s like saying you should have given two hundred dollars and ten cents. I forgive you for holding your course.

4. None of the candidates clears your pre-defined bar. Voting is not compulsory in the United States by design, regardless of what anyone may have told you. On a case by case basis, you can vote for nobody.

5. You believe you’re under informed. This is okay! Few people have the time, education, inclination and intelligence to be truly informed; we’re all under informed by degrees. If your level of information isn’t good enough to make you feel like you deserve the vote, and you don’t have the resources or the desire to improve it, you are doing a public service by staying home.

6. You feel there is a moral requirement of service to earn the vote, and you haven’t earned it (yet). It is okay to think only certain qualified people should vote, and if you aren’t one of them, it’s okay not to vote.

7. You have higher priorities. Don’t let anyone else decide this for you. It’s between you and your conscience. I have a two year old daughter, for instance. If she was having a good day, I could see myself taking her to the polls as a learning experience. But if she was having a bad day, I wouldn’t drag her there, any more than I would drag her to a church against her will.

Why don’t you vote, specifically?

My reasons are a bit of 1 and 3, and a lot of 2, 4, and 6. As I move farther and farther away from the news cycle for mental health reasons, I’m even starting to feel a little 5.

You really don’t vote?

I have been a principled non voter for the nineteen years I’ve been eligible. I have never voted for a president, ever. I’ve never regretted that.

I voted for a progressive congressman (Jim McDermott) in Seattle once, and felt good about it. My senator at that time (Patty Murray) had voted for the Patriot Act, and I felt morally unable to support her.

But if I don’t vote, my gal/guy/person/party/cause might not win.

Yeah. That’s true. It’s a cost you pay.

This is a prosocial thing, like vaccines. By not voting, you hurt us all.

No, I don’t. There’s no moral law saying I have to do it, any more than there’s an actual law. Vaccines are a hundred times more important. This is very low on the list of prosocial responsibilities.

I’m cheesed off and I still want you to vote.

If you’re cheesed off, and you want me to vote, I suggest you go vote to make voting compulsory.


[Epistemic status: preliminary. You’re reading it almost as I think about it. Crossposted to LesserWrong.]

[Prerequisites: a bit of cognitive science reading, a bit of familiarity with mathematics.]

This is a raw idea and a personal experience, related just in case they resonate.

In a particular model of cognitive science, there are two streams of thought that can run inside your brain. The top-down stream is something you’re generating from inside your brain itself. The bottom-up stream is coming directly from sense data, from the physical world around you. The two streams interact (particularly in terms of prediction and surprise) to produce your model of the world.

Meditation at the novice level I practice it is almost always a matter of turning focus from the top-down process to the bottom-up process in order to build a concentration muscle.

But what if there’s something for me to gain from focusing on a top-down process? (I don’t have links, but I know I’m far from the first person to try this.)

I may be stretching the term a bit, but I think the most top-down process is mathematics. Penrose philosophy aside, doing mathematics is an act of generating things inside your head, with regard to a set of rules, but largely divorced from sense data.

I used to be a mathematician. I stopped being one a long time ago, and I sometimes struggle emotionally to do math (including at my very mathy machine learning job).

So what would it be like for me to take a few minutes every day to focus on a mathematical concept, such as symmetry groups, or Fourier transforms, or just the number 3? I would turn both top-down and bottom-up distractions away in favor of gently returning to a mathematical concept. If I did this for a few weeks, would I develop a new, different focus muscle?

As luck would have it, this thought occurred to me this morning on a long drive, and right afterwards, my wife asked if I wouldn’t mind some alone time while she took a car nap.

So I put on some music (a normal part of math for me, but not a normal part of meditation) and gave it a try.

What I experienced was surprising: Joy with a capital J.

I chose to focus on the number 3. At first I just visualized 3 objects, which became 3 glowing green dots, which became the cyclic group of order 3, represented as {1, x, x²}. It took me a second to remember that x³ = 1 was the relation that made this group work, and as I multiplied different powers of x, I experienced quiet, stable joy. It’s hard to describe; the best I can say is that I had a feeling of safety and a feeling of simplicity. I felt like I could do this as long as I wanted and stay happy doing it.

After a while I chose to think about 3 from another perspective. I told myself the Monty Hall problem (with its three doors and three objects). Since I hadn’t thought about Monty Hall in a long time, I couldn’t remember the solution. So I worked it out from scratch, and when I finished, I experienced a different joy: the thrill of re-discovery, like seeing the good part of a movie you’ve mostly forgotten.

At this point, my wife woke up, and I stopped. I think I meditated for about 8 minutes.

This was a worthwhile experience. I’m going to continue trying it and documenting the results.

Beginner’s Meditation for the No Bullshit Individual

[Expanded from a comment on Zvi’s Beginners’ Meditation post, and crossposted to LesserWrong. Don’t listen to me. Or anyone else. What does anyone even know about this subject? Just do it yourself.]

Zvi joined a beginners’ meditation class and was frustrated to find it was an asinine social group. (Note that his title is plural and mine is singular.)

I feel for him. Meditation is an easy daily habit that’s made hard by a bunch of superfluous stuff.

You don’t need a class. Or a space. Or people. You really don’t need people.  Or quiet. You don’t need to sit down. All those things are fine but you don’t need them.

Meditation can be practiced while walking, and if you’re the walking type, you’ll probably prefer it.

So take walks. It doesn’t matter if the walk is peaceful. You can walk in a forest or a city. Personally, forests give me more inner distractions, cities more outer distractions, which lead to inner distractions, so ultimately it’s the same exercise. It’s the exercise of patiently pushing away distraction.

Do not focus on the breath. Focus on what’s right in front of you, what’s coming through your eyes. If you find yourself glazing over, or retreating to the inside of your head, or not paying attention to what’s in front of you, call that a distraction, and go back to paying attention to what’s in front of you. If you get tired of focusing on what’s coming through your eyes, focus on what’s coming through your ears, or sure, on your breath.

After a few weeks of this exercise, it will feel like you’ve built a new muscle in your head, one which allows you to turn away from your inner thoughts at will. Let’s call it focus.

The mental focus muscle works much like a physical muscle, in the following ways:

  1. Barely noticeable until you start using it.
  2. Feels weird to exercise it for the first few weeks.
  3. Atrophies slowly.
  4. Retrains quickly.
  5. Can be over exercised.

All other results of meditation are either someone’s personal growth that they got from having focus, or bullshit. Read about them if you want examples to guide your personal growth, or ignore them if you don’t. Guides are nice, but they are not necessary.

The end.


“Balance to Win”: Sometimes You Need Friends, Sometimes You Need Haters

(Crossposted to Lesser Wrong)

Sarah Constantin’s “Cheat to Win” outlines an effective general strategy for life. Recognizing that many people have overbalanced in the direction of engaging with their personal and ideological opponents, she recommends the value of restricting to people who actually like who you are or what you’re doing.

But wait! Me go too far!

No, I mean… I’m really attracted to the idea. I think educated modern americans in general and rationalists in particular are way too willing to subject their most critical positions to attack, in the former case because of how engaged they are with the wider world, and in the latter case as a matter of principle.

But I have concerns. If you live in Berkeley, and are in the group that defend the rationalists-as-good-living-in-berkeley position, you’ve probably already overbalanced in this direction. Berkeley is the poster child for excessive bubbling. I don’t need to repeat the concerns the rationalist community has already expressed to itself.

Let’s say we’re talking about two social poles. Let’s call them open and closed. American gated communities are fully closed, and missionaries in North Korea are fully open. Got it? Cool.

For me, navigating the open/closed spectrum probably has much the same pattern as navigating the chaos/order spectrum, or the explore/exploit or child mind/adult mind dichotomies. Too much of either one is the end of all good things, and the best strategy is to move back and forth between the two poles depending on context. I accept that there’s a high cost to repeatedly re-calculating my trajectory, and I cheerfully pay that cost.

When I worked at Google News Search, I read about ten newspapers a day, and I was miserable. For a year or two, I have practiced a daily news blackout, catching up maybe once a month, sometimes reading sites like the Weekly Sift that exist to digest the news at a longer time scale than the day to day. I am much happier, and without much loss of engagement.

I think this is because the news (and by extension the open/closed spectrum) also fits a growth/maturity pattern. Engaging with the wider world is supremely useful as a formative experience and should happen a lot during some periods of your life. But once you’ve gained from the formative version of the experience, the returns diminish, and as Sarah herself says in comments, you can thrive with much less frequent updates.

But I also try pretty hard to maintain deep friendships across four natural barriers: country borders, political disagreement, differing subculture pursuits, and socioeconomic class. These friendships are expensive and I will keep them even at much greater than the current cost.

I think that if I had restricted myself to just my supporters in the last few years, I would have, for instance, felt like Hillary Clinton was bulletproof, and been floored and depressed by what happened, instead of prepared for it, and comfortable and productive. I would have missed out on all the ways my opinions have been refined by my most critical friends, and by strangers. I think bubbled people can easily find themselves enticed into toxic incentive gradients. I think having only supporters leaves you unable to reverse advice when necessary.

How do you know when to run towards the open pole, and when to run towards the closed pole? I’m not sure. But I can offer an easy first pass purely based on emotions.

Are you deeply miserable? Then run to the closed pole. Are you deeply comfortable, even smug? Then run to the open pole.

Of course, since this is my first post on lesserwrong, it constitutes an act of opening for me. So I’m hoping for all kinds of uncomfortable, growth inducing disagreement.

The Hang of Thursdays

I think I understand why Arthur Dent would say “I never could get the hang of Thursdays”. Why I feel the same way.

It has to do with strength and limits.

Work weeks require strength; each person is subjected to stresses, and must hold themselves together for as long as possible.

Weekends are for resting and processing things.

On Monday, the weakest people start to break down.

On Tuesday, moderately weak people start to break down, sometimes because of karma from Monday’s breakdowns, and sometimes from the fact that they can only hold it together for two days.

On Wednesday, average people start to break down, sometimes because of karma from Monday’s and Tuesday’s breakdowns, and sometimes from the fact that they can only hold it together for three days. That’s why Wednesday is Hump Day; a normal person has a fifty fifty shot of making it here without breaking down.

On Thursday, moderately strong people start to break down, sometimes because of karma built up from the week’s existing breakdowns, and sometimes from the fact that they can only hold it together for four days.

By Friday, everyone has hope, and most people have ways to coast. If a person can make it to Friday, that person is usually okay.

The strongest people rarely ever break down because they usually make it to Friday.

So “I never could get the hang of Thursdays” is something you feel if you’re a moderately strong person. You can get past Hump Day. But you might or might not make it to Friday.


I feel like there are two consequences to the truth of Thursdays.

First is that Wednesday night is a great night for processing activities. If you can do a hard workout, or meet with some friends, or have a small group, you’ll blow off some of your week’s stresses and have a better chance of making it through Thursday.

Second is that, if you can’t quite get the hang of Thursdays, then Thursday deserves your special consideration. Save your focus powers for Thursday and hit it with everything you’ve got. You’re very close to being one of those people who can make it through to Friday.


I think I’ve figured out the general case for having good Thursdays, at least for me, at least in this phase of my life.

Thursdays have a gravity of their own. If Thursday is the day the moderately strong break down, then it’s the day of most chaos, and thus, most external need and most unexpected opportunity!

Thursdays thus have a gravity of their own. The probability of being pulled in an unexpected direction by a need or an opportunity is high. So they’re hard days for rigid planning and goals. But if you just go with the flow, you do so little of your intended work, you feel bad.

So the trick is to have plans, treat them lightly, drop them when called, and return aggressively to them when possible, all while maintaining low expectations. And to credit yourself for reactive actions; Ben suddenly wanted to go for coffee at 9:45am. I get points for doing that instead of insisting on a prior plan. And points for jumping right back into work when we’re done.

I think I’m getting the hang of Thursdays.

How To Be A Good Person If You Find Yourself in a Fascist Society

(Originally published on March 1, 2016 on Medium.com)

We have let this man ride a wave of fear, and whether or not he wins the presidency, his brand of fascism is here to stay for a generation. He may fail, but someone else will be elevated by his followers, and then another, and another.

It’s time to take an honest look at the future. Someday, you may find yourself living in a fascist society.

If you want to figure out how to fight, read someone else’s essay. I’m going to talk about how to cope.

Accept It.

If it happens, don’t waste time pretending it’s not happening. Don’t waste time wishing it didn’t happen. That’s how we got here in the first place.

It’s okay. You can face this without losing sleep or hair. Most people survive even the worst things, and all bad things present opportunities to do good.

Even now, you can think about the possibility of a fascist America, and plan for it, and still tell yourself at the end of the day: in either case, I’m going to be okay.


Organize informal communities, underground communities, and public communities, now, while it’s still a viable option. Fascists tend to come after free speech quickly, and he already likes to say he’ll make it easier to sue the newspapers for libel. It will take a more conscientious effort than usual to keep the culture free and open.

Don’t stop communicating with people who disagree with you, but reserve a portion of your energy for underground discussions with people who do agree. If you continue to have discussions in a pressure free environment, you can continue the exploration of good ideas, planting seeds for the progressive movements of the future.

Organize pragmatically. There’s going to be a lot of premature, stupidly organized protest. There’s going to be a temptation to run out and be a freedom fighter in the first organization you can find. Be patient, and make friends with careful people. Read a lot of history with an eye towards distinguishing useful disobedience and rebellion from useless disobedience and rebellion.


Live with less stuff. Be less of a consumer. This makes you more flexible and less beholden to a system which may hurt you.

Figure out where to hide people.

All that stuff you got rid of leaves you with space to hide people! And yes, it could come to that. He wants to deport Mexicans and Muslims. If you’re not a target, possibly the best thing you can do is provide sanctuary and shelter to people who are.

Think about this: you probably take time to plan for major storms. You have insurance to plan for being sick or injured. You wear safety gear when you do even mildly dangerous things. It’s cheap to plan for hiding people, and the payoff is enormous if you actually have do it.

Take a little time to plan for this possibility.

Actively maintain your ties to other nations.

Do you remember how unpopular America was just a few years ago? Whether he wins or loses, we already look that bad again, and we will look a lot worse if we actually become a fascist nation.

If you have friends in other countries, realize that they may not like America for a while, but they still like you. Keep talking to them, as much as you can. They will need decent Americans to engage with when this wave passes.

Also, it makes us look better.

Humanize the fascists.

Humanize the fascists. Humanize the other. Humanize your family and friends even when they say unspeakable things. Humanize your enemies, humanize the awful people you see on television.

Imagine others complexly. These people are people. They have complex lives, like you. They didn’t sit down and decide to be evil, and they’re not at all evil in their own minds. They have a different perspective and different priorities, and good intentions, and those things still led them down a dark path. Let that be a caution to help you govern your own thoughts, and let it preserve a flame of empathy in you, for everyone.

Fascism is a movement of dehumanization, and you oppose it by doing the opposite, by humanizing.

Believe in something.

Connect to a greater story than your own, preferably one that lasts after your death. It keeps you going. It keeps you happy! It keeps you strong.

Don’t beat them now.

If the worst happens, and we really do find ourselves in a fascist society, do not try to beat the fascists right now. Or next year, or in your youth, or even necessarily in your lifetime.

Historically, fascist movements have tended to run for about a generation each. They rarely end in anything other than violence, whether it be riots or the fall of a horrible regime.

Planning to beat them now is planning to throw yourself away impatiently.

Instead, plan for your children and grandchildren to be the ones who finish this fight. Teach them to be decent people. Train them to fight, if you like, but definitely train them to pick up the pieces and build something better.


Fundamentally, fascism is a hate movement, a cresting wave of hate.

You’ll be tempted to fight it with hate.


It takes a lot longer but the result is better.

1000 Miles of Bike Statistics

At the beginning of the summer, my friend Keith challenged himself to bike 1000 miles before the end of the year. I signed on to do the same thing. His challenge had a natural deadline; he lives in Minnesota, and biking season cuts off some time in the early fall. I gave myself an artificial deadline: 1000 miles from June 9 through end of September.

Keith finished his challenge a couple of weeks ago. I finished mine today. Wheeee! 1000 miles!

This isn’t a big number to bike boffins, but it’s more than I’ve done over a sustained period.

Since the challenge was numbers based, I kept statistics. Here they are:

Total miles: 1015.3

Total days: 106

Miles per day: 9.578

Total time: 5661 minutes, or 94 hours and 21 minutes.

Total rides: 137

Rides between 0 and 2 miles (aka GROCERY RIDES): 28

Rides between 2 and 10 miles: 80

Rides between 10 and 20 miles: 23

Rides between 20 and 30 miles: 5

Rides over 30 miles: 1

Average ride distance: 7.41 miles

Median ride distance: 6.8 miles

Average ride duration: 41.32 minutes

Median ride duration: 37 minutes

Average speed: 10.76 mph

Fastest ride (7 miles or longer): 14.1 mph, 18.8 miles, 80 mins

Slowest ride (7 miles or longer): 7.7586 mph, 7.5 miles, 58 mins

Average speed in Sisters, Oregon (few lights, few stops): 13 mph

Average speed in Los Angeles, California (many lights, many stops): 10.7 mph

Days off: 25

Days on: 81

Interesting things that happened:

– One bike stolen at UCLA

– One bike hit by Porsche and destroyed

– Three flat tires

Of particular note is this: I think I have biked slightly more miles than I’ve driven since moving to Los Angeles. I average on the order of 2 ocean trips a week, each about 30 miles of driving. I didn’t keep accurate track, but the number of miles driven and the number of miles biked are certainly comparable.

My three favorite ride views:

Here are my daily totals. gmap denotes distance calculated by gmap pedometerodo denotes distance calculated by bike odometer. x denotes a day I didn’t bike. na denotes a day that didn’t count (the days when my bike was destroyed and I was waiting to get a new one).

6/9/14: gmap 15.5 miles, 71 mins

6/10/14: gmap 15.5 miles, 69 mins

6/11/14: gmap 11 miles, 52 mins

6/12/14: x

6/13/14: gmap 11 miles, 53 mins

6/14/14: x

6/15/14: gmap 8 miles, 43 mins

6/16/14: gmap 3 miles, 20 mins; gmap 3 miles, 22 mins

6/17/14: gmap 6 miles, 45 mins

6/18/14: gmap 9 miles, 54 mins

6/19/14: odo 10.6 miles, 62 mins

6/20/14: odo 3 miles, 16 mins; odo 9.2 miles, 48 mins

6/21/14: odo 2.1 miles, 12 mins; odo 6.4 miles, 34 mins

6/22/14: odo 16.2 miles, 78 mins; odo 2.2 miles, 9 mins; odo 6.8 miles, 34 mins

6/23/14: odo 8.7 miles, 49 mins; odo 8.7 miles, 48 mins

6/24/14: odo 6.3 miles, 35 mins; odo 4.4 miles, 26 mins; odo 4.2 miles, 29 mins

6/25/14: odo 8.2 miles, 44 mins; odo 8.3 miles, 45 mins; odo 3.8 miles, 23 mins

6/26/14: odo 6.4 miles, 36 mins

6/27/14: odo 6.4 miles, 35 mins

6/28/14: odo 7.6 miles, 42 mins

6/29/14: x

6/30/14: x

7/1/14: odo 3.5 miles, 15 mins

7/2/14: odo 3 miles, 15 mins

7/3/14: odo 8.2 miles, 43 mins; odo 8.2 miles, 37 mins

7/4/14: odo 0.9 miles, 4 mins; odo 1.1 miles, 5 mins

7/5/14: odo 9.6 miles, 55 mins; odo 11.8 miles, 56 mins

7/6/14: odo 1.5 miles, 5 mins

7/7/14: odo 8.2 miles, 46 mins; odo 8.2 miles, 35 mins

7/8/14: x

7/9/14: odo 3.2 miles, 15 mins

7/10/14: odo 5.1 miles, 20 mins; odo 9.4 miles, 53 mins

7/11/14: odo 6 miles, 38 mins; odo 5.2 miles, 28 mins

7/12/14: x

7/13/14: odo 4.2 miles, 20 mins; odo 23.7 miles, 165 mins

7/14/14: odo 8.2 miles, 48 mins; odo 8.2 miles, 37 mins

7/15/14: odo 7.7 miles, 48 mins; odo 8.4 miles, 40 mins

7/16/14: odo 8.5 miles, 50 mins; odo 9.5 miles, 45 mins

7/17/14: x

7/18/14: x

7/19/14: odo 8.4 miles, 45 mins; odo 5.7 miles, 25 mins

7/20/14: odo 18.8 miles, 80 mins

7/21/14: odo 8.2 miles, 48 mins; odo 7.5 miles, 35 mins

7/22/14: odo 11 miles, 63 mins; gmap 3.7 miles, 20 mins

7/23/14: gmap 4.2 miles, 20 mins

7/24/14: x

7/25/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 6 mins; gmap 9.7 miles, 50 mins

7/26/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 7 mins; gmap 1.2 miles, 6 mins; gmap 1.2 miles, 6 mins

7/27/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 7 mins

7/28/14: gmap 2.5 miles, 12 mins; gmap 3.6 miles, 15 mins

7/29/14: x

7/30/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 7 mins; gmap 3.8 miles, 15 mins; gmap 1.4 miles, 7 mins

7/31/14: gmap 1.2 miles, 5 mins

8/1/14: na

8/2/14: na

8/3/14: na

8/4/14: na

8/5/14: gmap 10.7 miles, 60 mins; gmap 0.8 miles, 5 mins

8/6/14: gmap 3.7 miles, 18 mins; gmap 18.3 miles, 109 mins

8/7/14: gmap 7.7 miles, 54 mins

8/8/14: gmap 1.6 miles, 10 mins

8/9/14: gmap 0.9 miles, 5 mins

8/10/14: gmap 0.9 miles, 5 mins

8/11/14: gmap 12.6 miles, 75 mins

8/12/14: gmap 10.2 miles, 57 mins

8/13/14: gmap 32.2 miles, 188 mins

8/14/14: gmap 6 miles, 35 mins

8/15/14: gmap 7.8 miles, 50 mins

8/16/14: x

8/17/14: x

8/18/14: gmap 9.3 miles, 54 mins; gmap 9.3 miles, 52 mins; gmap 7.5 miles, 58 mins

8/19/14: x

8/20/14: gmap 9.6 miles, 60 mins; gmap 9.7 miles, 60 mins

8/21/14: x

8/22/14: x

8/23/14: gmap 26.1 miles, 145 mins

8/24/14: x

8/25/14: gmap 12.9 miles, 73 mins

8/26/14: gmap 1.0 miles, 6 mins; gmap 12.8 miles, 69 mins

8/27/14: gmap 1.0 miles, 6 mins

8/28/14: gmap 10.2 miles, 50 mins; gmap 9.6 miles, 50 mins

8/29/14: x

8/30/14: x

8/31/14: gmap 26.3 miles, 139 mins; gmap 6 miles, 40 mins

9/1/14: gmap 15 miles, 83 mins

9/2/14: gmap 9.5 miles, 53 mins; gmap 6 miles, 37 mins; gmap 9.3 miles, 45 mins; gmap 3 miles, 15 mins; gmap 1.0 miles, 6 mins

9/3/14: gmap 12.7 miles, 72 mins

9/4/14: gmap 2.2 miles, 10 mins

9/5/14: gmap 10 miles, 65 mins

9/6/14: gmap 5.2 miles, 30 mins; gmap 5.2 miles, 30 mins; gmap 1.1 miles, 10 mins; gmap 25.5 miles, 155 mins; gmap 6.8 miles, 39 mins

9/7/14: gmap 14.5 miles, 87 mins

9/8/14: x

9/9/14: gmap 14 miles, 75 mins

9/10/14: gmap 11.1 miles, 75 mins

9/11/14: x

9/12/14: x

9/13/14: gmap 12.8 miles, 70 mins

9/14/14: gmap 6.7 miles, 38 mins

9/15/14: x

9/16/14: x

9/17/14: gmap 1.4 miles, 8 mins; gmap 5.1 miles, 27 mins

9/18/14: gmap 7.7 miles, 40 mins; gmap 0.9 miles, 5 mins

9/19/14: gmap 1.8 miles, 10 mins; gmap 5.3 miles, 30 mins

9/20/14: x

9/21/14: gmap 9 miles, 57 mins; gmap 4.7 miles, 30 mins

9/22/14: gmap 1.0 miles, 6 mins; gmap 10 miles, 63 mins; gmap 5.4 miles, 32 mins

9/23/14: x

9/24/14: gmap 0.9 miles, 6 mins; gmap 0.6 miles, 4 mins; gmap 0.8 miles, 6 mins; gmap 12.7 miles, 76 mins

9/25/14: gmap 0.9 miles, 8 mins; gmap 0.9 miles, 5 mins; gmap 3.2 miles, 24 mins

9/26/14: gmap 26 miles, 160 mins

Edit: And as I pulled up to the ocean to finish mile 1000, this is what started playing on my headphones:

I swear, it was on random.

Be Yourself / Make Yourself

There’s a lot of writing about how obviously sensible or obviously stupid it is to tell someone, “Be yourself.” Almost all of this writing starts with something like, “Be yourself. What does that even mean?”

Be yourself. What does that even mean?

When I was an academic, that was me, but it was a version of myself that I chose and built. When I left that world and built an identity as a reluctant engineer, that was also a version of myself that I chose and built. Even basic things about me are the results of choices. I am volatile and creative in part because I encouraged the volatile and creative parts of myself. I am lazy because I have allowed myself to be lazy, and happy because I have repeatedly made the choice to work on my happiness.

It’s evident that each of us is in the process of making ourselves, all the time, every day. If you are who you’ve made yourself to be by choice and effort, then by definition, whatever you choose is right, and you are always being yourself. “Be yourself” is a meaningless tautology, already and always true. Right?

Well, not exactly.

Making yourself by choice and effort is an art. You are practicing the art of making yourself. You’ve been practicing it for most of your life.

Paul Graham says this about making art:

At an art school where I once studied, the students wanted most of all to develop a personal style. But if you just try to make good things, you’ll inevitably do it in a distinctive way, just as each person walks in a distinctive way. Michelangelo was not trying to paint like Michelangelo. He was just trying to paint well; he couldn’t help painting like Michelangelo.

The only style worth having is the one you can’t help. And this is especially true for strangeness. There is no shortcut to it.

As you make yourself, you do it with a personal style. This style emerges without your even trying; you can’t help but have your style.

In my case, some key elements are: I’m very flighty, interested in everything and prone to change topics really quickly. I’m always in a fight with myself to be better; I wake up every day and want to be more than I am. I’m passive for long stretches, needing hours of recharge time just to take walks, and sometimes having difficulty summoning the activation energy for the next good thing. I’m conscientious; I’ve payed a lot of attention to the quality of what I’m doing, and flat out quit several really nice parts of my life because they felt wrong. I’m usually pathologically honest and struggle not to be too blunt. I love to talk and can do so for hours and hours without stopping. When I set about making myself, I do it thoughtfully, I do it in bursts, I talk about it a lot. These things are my style.

That style is the real me. Your style is the real you. You’re a businessman? A nice person? A runner? An educated person? A tough person? That’s not you. The idiosyncratic way you went about making yourself into those things, that’s the real you.

“Be yourself” means “don’t fight against your natural style”.

I’ve fought against most of the parts of my natural style at one point or another. In each case I fought because I wanted to be a particular type of person, and that person required the opposite traits. Every time I’ve done this, it’s made me miserable and ineffective.

For instance, I always wanted to be an astronaut. Astronauts are uncommonly, uncannily disciplined people. I’m really undisciplined by nature. This is a weakness that needs shoring up, for sure, but there were points in my childhood and my early teenage years where I pushed myself to become the most disciplined person. I was sailing against a headwind, and if I’d persisted, I’d be sailing against that headwind for the rest of my life.

Contrast that with the times I’ve let myself be a writer. Writers are good at disassembling and reassembling concepts. They’re good at wordplay. They like to talk (even if it’s just in text form). They like to make up stories. I’m naturally inclined to all of these things. I write a few thousand lines of gchat with my friends every day, not because I push myself, but because I want to write. When I write, I’m sailing with a natural tailwind.

Here’s Paul Graham again:

A friend of mine who is a quite successful doctor complains constantly about her job. When people applying to medical school ask her for advice, she wants to shake them and yell “Don’t do it!” (But she never does.) How did she get into this fix? In high school she already wanted to be a doctor. And she is so ambitious and determined that she overcame every obstacle along the way—including, unfortunately, not liking it.

Now she has a life chosen for her by a high-school kid.

Be yourself. Pay attention to the style that comes most naturally to you. Shore up real weaknesses, but accept that you can’t remake yourself into absolutely anything. Don’t spend your whole life struggling against your real natural style. Instead, find things you want to be that suit your style.

[An aside just for teenagers: This is why we’re always telling you to be yourself. You’re just starting to understand your own style, and you face more pressure than anyone else to fight against it. If you’re bookish and thoughtful, someone is telling you to be more impulsive. If you’re creative, someone is telling you to be more focused. If you’re shy, someone is telling you to fake it until you make it. No! Pay attention to your natural style and protect it. It will get easier. Last week, my friend went surfing dressed as Batman. Nobody told him he shouldn’t do this. He’s grown up, he can do what he wants!]

Being yourself in this sense is the difference between repression and self improvement. Repression violates your natural style, the parts you just can’t help. It diminishes you. Self improvement synchronizes with your natural style. It amplifies you.

Go make yourself. Go practice your art. Go be yourself.

There’s a whole album based on this concept.


Good Morning, Scotland

Good morning, Scotland.

The decision you make today is yours and yours alone. But we wanted to offer some words of encouragement.

They say your future will be uncertain. We want to let you know it mostly turns out well. Even those of us who are struggling would not soon rejoin the Union.

They say you don’t have it in you to govern yourselves. They said that about most of us, too.

They say you’ll be isolating yourself. We know you want to be part of the international community (more so than England does), and we will welcome you on your own terms.

They promise you new powers if you stay. By becoming independent, you gain the opportunity to forge a state as different from Westminster as you want it to be, with leaders you want to have. You gain whatever powers you see fit, on the timetable of your choosing.

They say you have had many wonderful years together, and in this they are right. Independence gave us the right to celebrate our shared history with Britain as much or as little as we each want, and the same will be true for you. Many of us remain close, and you can do the same.

We know this is not an easy choice. So many of us struggled for this same thing, for the right to self determination.

They often say you can’t go it alone. We know you can, Scotland. After all, we did.

Your siblings, the former British,

Antigua and Barbuda,


The Bahamas,








Dominica ,



The Gambia,







The Republic of Ireland,













New Zealand,




Saint Lucia,

Saint Kitts and Nevis,


Sierra Leone,

Solomon Islands,

South Africa,

Sri Lanka ,




Trinidad and Tobago,



The United Arab Emirates,

The United States of America,




and Zimbabwe.