(10) The Swarm: The Second Formic War (Volume 1) – Orson Scott Card, Aaron Johnston (I love the Ender series; this is a solid contribution to canon; I particularly love the engineering thought progressions for techs)
(8) Artemis: A Novel – Andy Weir (just as readable as The Martian, but suffers from endless Baymageddon at the end)
There were a lot of books I rated as a 10 this year (8/21). I was surprised at how stellar these books were; true delights to read. A full 1/3 (7/21) of the authors were female, the highest percentage for me to date.
In terms of my reading habits, I’ve fully transitioned away from reading a dedicated Kindle tablet to reading on my iPhone’s Kindle app on the slightly longer Brooklyn-Manhattan commute. I also began reading way more news links via my phone (versus my PC) than I used to, but Twitter is still the primary source of reading material. In general I’m reading fewer links from Twitter and social media in general as I don’t have much time to browse at work. I stalled out trying to read some highly-rated scifi novels (generally a bad move for me) and some cooking memoirs that were busts. I tried to augment my parenting education with some fairly popular books. With regards to software engineering, I find that blog posts have become indispensable and excelsior sources of information, as different companies’ engineering departments tend to have pretty competitive and detailed blogs. I have a backlog of hardcopy books because I don’t have many opportunities to read them (it’s tough for me to read an actual book on the subway since it typically requires 1.5+ reasonably available hands).
I would suspect in 2018 I will read more books than last. Work will be less of research and experimentation than it was last year, so I should have more time for recreational learning instead of work-focused learning. I’ll set 2018’s goal to 25.
At 36 years of age, as of March 7th, I have just become gloriously married.
You know those times at school when the teacher or a counselor would have you write down your 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals? For as long as I’ve been an adult, marriage has been one of my key goals, since I value stability and a strong base as extremely helpful building blocks towards a better, unique, independent, meaningful future. This has been a wondrous achievement, to become married to my wife!
It took me a while, and I was woefully ill-prepared for any form of marriage up until just recently despite wanting it, having incurred some hefty life experiences that forged my Ben-ness: training, war, official mistakes, transitions between cities and schools, finding a fulfilling career. Fortunately, I also hadn’t found the right woman yet. In retrospect I think I’ve dodged some bullets in life and I safely made it to this happy point; healthy and happy and intact to be able to recognize it in another and now I’m very lucky to have met but also deserving of my wife. My Best Man wanted it clear to me that I was fortunate to have met her, whereas I countered that I also put in my time and effort to earn that chance.
And now we’re here. I must confess; I’m a pretty even-keeled guy but our wedding was amazing. Even better than we could have expected, better than all the fantasies and cliches. Our friends and family, all holding court in their own ways, keeping the party on lock, the wedding vows themselves touching, the pacing and pre-wedding rituals, the smiles on family who have given us so much but we have not quite given much back to yet.
The honeymoon as well was what I would call a true honeymoon. While I am loathe to engage in goofy grinny sugar, the honeymoon in Costa Rica (a bit in a secluded rainforest resort where we could sleep and eat the best food, a bit in a beach resort full of sun and surf) was almost fairy-tale like. The best part was to share it all with a true equal, someone who is equally dedicated and invested in us — perhaps the most valuable thing one can find in life as well as one of the hardest and rarest things to find.
Prediction: Anniversary Weddings
As a side note, after having seen what the wedding culture is like, how the TV shows portray weddings, how our own planning went, I think if you wanted to create an extremely effective long-term marketing campaign, you would push for anniversary weddings as a major new event. Think about what couples go through: their first wedding is probably going to be at least somewhat on the cheap since they’re either on the hook for it and/or they have no disposable income. So a bride is not necessarily going to get her dream wedding when she’s so young, unless someone’s parents are loaded.
But imagine: after 5 years or so, the couple will probably have more money and will want to throw a more lavish wedding. Perfect opportunity to market a second wedding. Then the longevity wedding at 10 years or whatever, before a couple starts to get old and the glamour of the wedding’s superficialities fade away. This would create several more opportunities for wedding industry folks to cater to couples and to create narratives out of multiple weddings. It would also create more excuses for families to gather (which in the grand scheme of things is immensely important, overlooking the pettiness and jokes that surround having to deal with the in-laws and crazy uncles and whatnot).
This is one of those moments in life where I take a knee at the top of the hill, look back at the path I’ve come from, and sigh and reflect on all that’s happened.
And then look further up the ridges and ranges to see what’s coming next.
I can definitely feel the strong pull of crossing over from one stage of my life into another. For the first time, that journey is not alone, my decisions are not solely my own, and instead of destructive creation, there is now only creation, at least for the fortunate time being. The teens and 20s are pretty destructive years but they chip away at your character and you end up in your 30s and 40s as the type of person you have chosen to be.
We love our little place in the East Village, but we have our story to write and we wonder where we go next. For once it’s nice to share that decision, that conscious choice.
A developer’s job as a crash course in multilingualism for coding languages, organizational principles and methodologies for projects, and building applications rapidly — I feel this work has deepened my appreciation and respect for the creator and the builder and the artist, a continuation of my studies in art/tech school. Writing code has in some ways taken the place of writing for me; I no long blog so much unless some large sweeping societal issue has me particularly wound up to write.
I was writing finger .plans in high school and college because I saw John Carmack doing it. I wrote blog posts through the rest of most of my life thus far, even while in the Army. Nowadays I think my conversation with the internet, and therefore with you, the reader, has contracted into more private communities. In fact I think the most interesting communities will become smaller and more niche — it’s already happened on reddit where the subreddits are still positive, informative, and overly open to each other. I would love to see local intranets for residential buildings or mesh networks that require some form of test in order to gain entry. When I want to converse, I want to talk about what can be built, not why things shouldn’t, which has become the norm for discourse in most public forums.
If I had to say what I hate most, it’s probably negativity. I’m a pretty conservative person in my own assessments, probably a product of both my Chinese mother’s caution and my sergeant’s training to hope for the best but prepare for the worst, but this should not be confused with negativity. Negativity is debilitating, demotivating, draining. Those who find the inner strength to build and create and love need to be supported by the rest of us, not brought down. And when it comes to examining what is possible, I’m usually overly optimistic.
LOOK AT THIS SHIT. I PULLED THIS CLASSIC SLATE EXAMPLE UP ON THE FIRST TRY.
Cranks and haters have always been a part of online and intellectual discourse, but it’s run rampant now that we have what is somewhat of a critic’s internet buffet. The Twitter community I used to enjoy, journalists and reporters and analysts and policy folks, once encouraging of a naive eagerness for new information, has become TMZ-like (in that it loves gossip, the less true the better) and pompous in its derision for anything and anyone. No one is safe, in the end, from being torn apart for whatever reason: the idea won’t scale, this or that person is a fraud, etc. The Atlantic, Slate, these are publications that your liberal news junkie loves to read. And the writers they hire at those places are absolutely TERRIBLE in their negativity or insinuations of impending failure.
Facebook buying Oculus Rift, Amazon studying the use of drones for delivery, Google making a HUD interface in Google Glass. What I want to be a part of is a community where those achievements are exalted, not ripped to shreds, as they have been by people I might have respected at some point. I grew up in an idealistic proto-internet time of downloading MP3s and playing Quake online and Napster was a giant; anything was possible even if it was all insane. Unless you tune all the negativity stuff out, you wouldn’t know. You wouldn’t marvel at all the amazing work, such as the people who have contributed research and proofs of work towards, say, NP-Complete math problems. Louis CK would say “everything is great and no one is happy”; I mean the research and consideration going into those Facebook and Amazon drones and balloons is just a beautiful thing to behold.
As the internet has passed through most of its adolescence and begins its maturity, the rest of everyone who plugged in were stuck in a status quo where it seems none of those critics and cranks have really advanced or improved at their own crafts. To see the amazing achievements announced daily, and then see them shit on, well, it’s frankly infuriating.
Jason Collins coming out as a gay NBA player. The quickest response: “But he’s a horrible player.” Sports, one of the worst refuges of the shitbag critic. A dude makes the NBA and instead of people showing him respect, they’re quick to point out he’s not a perennial all-star. I’m sure even in Jackie Robinson’s day, people were slagging on him for something. Some petty something. As another sports example, what could be worse than this upvoted rant against watching sports?
The Snowden affair has made everything absolutely toxic. The government lurks behind every piece of electronics now, in the minds of Snowden’s supporters. It’s the same kind of paranoia I’m sure most of those people would make fun of the Republicans for in their loathing of Obama, or of conspiracy theorists for their suspicion of anti-gun, anti-religion, etc. liberals. When John Schindler is pointing out how Glenn Greenwald is one bad day away from appearing on Alex Jones’ show, everything seems absurd. My liberal peers now make blase jokes about the NSA but barely bat an eyelash at unprecedented expansion of corporate personhood.
SXSW just happened and I’ve never been, but I know people who seem to go regularly. How do they afford it? It’s expensive as fuck. Do their employers pay out for it? How much are people really getting out of SXSW? So many people who go aren’t even creatives or builders. I’m definitely not against a flashy party, but I do wonder when it seems like the B-players are being sent. E3, SXSW, and other conferences are now meetups for the elite and rich, those who can either afford to go or who are paid to go. And what are they contributing back as a result? This is why conferences lose their magic. This is why, most notably, TED tanked.
Wonder why communities stagnate? Because they have more cranks than dreamers and helpers.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to love watching the Grammy’s and Oscars more. For me it’s bewilderment at the complexity and sheer market size of their industries. The amount of resources, attention, and output generated by dresses, producers, talented artists and directors, the entertainment and happiness that they bring. I love the process. Studying how films are cast, the bonding the cast goes through for the film, the pushing of boundaries in the technical areas of the film, the representation of songs off an album into powerful videos, live tours, and performances for award shows, the biographies written up in Rolling Stone and whatnot.
But the pettiness of the crowd drags it all down. All the slagging on Macklemore even though him and Ryan Lewis were by far the most interesting artists of the year in terms of touching all aspects of the industry and affecting culture. I actually thought Lorde’s album was incredibly powerful for such a young person but I’m happy with all the results. The same goes with Oscars. I try to make a point of it to see as many nominees in as many categories as I can, because those picks represent a curation by the industry. Hence it drives me nuts to hear people completely destroy films in their critiques — the labor going into a project is admirable, even for lesser quality films.
Negativity. I can’t stand being around it.
One story I really hate seeing is the condescension towards Silicon Valley startups who seem to be creating fluff products when, you know, there are people dying in Africa and stuff! Why can’t those engineers work on actual important problems?
Of course, who’s writing those stories? Well in the case of the latest NYTimes story, it is written by none other than a Columbia computer science grad student who lives among the gilded engineer community being called out.
Man, where to start. The insanely awesome advances in open source software, particularly in the promiscuity of excellent language features being shared among the major coding languages such that they’re all beginning to share a lot of commonalities, these are created by developers and coders and hackers and engineers, people who actually do enjoy spending a whole weekend by themselves indoors in the dark pushing characters around on the screen.
You don’t have to wait around too long before you hear people say, “We must teach the kids how to code!” Chances are, the people saying it can’t code. And they won’t go learn how to code beyond tutorials. This is fine — I certainly don’t think everyone needs to code — but I am definitely a believer that if you tell others they should do something, you should have done it yourself first. Now, code as a gateway towards solving problems that kids might be interested in, this is a great addition to a school syllabus. (having them design a database to catalog what they own, or a double-booking ledger system to keep track of what little money they make, etc.)
Anyway, my point was that engineers are good at primarily one thing, which is writing very specific code that can test the limits of what was previously possible. Criticizing Facebook for focusing on creating end-of-year videos? That’s an immense computational task and it had to be done using tons of peoples’ disparate datapoints. But the knowledge of how to pull that off is now going to be passed along to successors, to schools and research facilities, and eventually to grad student theses and private products. As a former student of international development practices, that shit is hard enough as it is and most everyone in that world barely has the statistician’s background enough to be able to make informed decisions about whether this or that program or measurement is actually helping the people who need it.
So it’s the height of arrogance for people who don’t know how to build or measure things to tell others who can do one or the other that they should not only do that task but also design, fund, scale out, and deliver onto the ground solutions to improve society. Some mercenary blog-quality writer for The Atlantic decides that this or that project is worth slagging because he was clever enough to think of holes in the project’s design while he sips his morning coffee.
I saw this at ITP — while the community itself is immensely supportive and open towards nonsensical, wildly over ambitious ideas, when it comes to critiquing others’ work, the feedback often comes back to blowing huge holes through someone’s work just to sound smart about it.
Getting back to those life goal write-ups. I never really did them very seriously but when I think back to them now, they were immensely informative and helpful. When I was in college, I think my short-term goal was to be a full-time daytrader, since I was doing fairly well trading the dotcom boom. I didn’t have the perception and experience to realize that market volatility would dry up, that the system’s regulations would be gamed so that small-time daytraders (less than $25k in their account) would be locked out of the practice because of restrictions on the number of trades one can make. If you want to know how Wall Street has changed, beyond the infamous “quants”, then you should look at how daytrading restrictions have locked out regular folks from trading actively, and also look at how IPOs, buyouts, and other mostly stock market-related business deals are all about cashing out and not adding value. The stock market’s investment and negotiation deals handled by the big finance firms are not too far off from nobles trading title and land for reputation and power. Their employees get little. The only way normal folks can win in the market anymore is to just play for the long-term.
My Flaws and Strengths
not close with enough friends and family
no natural ability
top caliber friends
reverent of the process
That’s my list. I might also add that the part I probably think the most about is that I know that positivity and being enthusiastic and empowering others to be happy with things is the most fulfilling thing one can do day in and day out, but for me what I lament is that I am by my nature just not that person. Having met some powerful leaders, wonderful motivators, and just all-around badasses in my time (many of whom were at the wedding, if only for a few hours before they had to return home!), I have witnessed what they can do for others, and that’s just their natural state. In the world I’m more of a defensive-minded person, more of a guardian, more of a sheepdog. It’s just the way I am, and it’s what I’m best at. How will I integrate that into being successful and truly great?
“Good taste is a myth. A story our rider creates to serve the needs of the elephant. And the sooner you kill your good taste idol, the sooner you’re going to give yourself a chance to be a better designer. It frees you up to add taste as another tool in your designer’s toolbox. Consequently, instead of focusing on good taste, your focus becomes the right taste for the problem at hand. There’s a subtle but profound difference.”
The magic moments of online forums or of hobby-based communities are that in most of the growth stage, the conversation is dominated by doers and builders, people who are curious about the implications and who love to share positive aspects of it all.
And then I’m sorry to say but the “intellectuals” then bandwagon on, having read about it all in this or that magazine or on a prominent blog. This is around the time when communities start becoming caustic, full of cynical comments enforcing behavior of entrenched, mature communities elsewhere. The doers mostly get drowned out. I saw it happen on HackerNews, and to some degree on reddit. Those amazing comments you go to read when you first joined are replaced more and more by negative comments (and by memes, but I love memes).
These folks are full-time consumers: of culture (which they did not live in), of art (which they could not possibly create on their own), of popular culture (which they foster animosity towards but can’t help but indulge in). A community of fast-food binge watchers. I am an avid consumer of pop culture myself but I do feel a certain pressure to need to contribute something back: to try to find artistic outlets for my more pragmatic views, or to attempt things that are somewhat subversive.
The full-time consumers are up against the people who believe in doing, as referenced in this hackernews comment section on ageism in tech:
“I have a ton of cultural criticisms of the current tech industry, but the one thing that it is absolutely getting right is valuing creation. The damage that could have been caused by the Google/Apple cartel has been limited largely by the startup industry that, for all its faults, has as a crucial belief that the act of building things is valuable, and that people who make things are the ones who create the most value.”
Strengthening a Community
To me it seems like it would take very little actual effort to maintain the positive tone of a community and avoid the police that have made Wikipedia and StackOverflow so abhorrent to contribute to. Active enforcement of positive messages would be a given, but bigger than that, I’d prefer a whitelist system where your reputation precedes you. Do you have a good online history of being helpful, of encouraging others and of sharing lots of content? Then you’re in. Admittance is earned.
One major piece of Galapag.us that I hope to implement eventually goes along with the theme of different islands. The islands have their own cultures, wildlife, climates — and their populations should have culture and personality that reflects it. So each island would have its own rules for communication and culture. For example, a welcome island would have strict rules against hurting new players, whereas another island may be a free-for-all. But I think most islands would be somewhere in between, capped mostly by having formula requirements to gain admittance, based on a person’s stats. Perhaps an island requires a very high reputation with very low negativity and an innate nature for helping others, so one would need to have very useful posts as well as have an “angelic” alignment.
I like anonymity, pseudonymity, and verified identity all at once. I think they all have their place. But I also think that one’s reputation should be compatible with a community.
So here I am. Here we are. Starting a new family, a new chapter in life. I think I’ve definitely become more of a homebody as I’ve gotten older; saving money, disliking the quirks of others more, understanding which types of events are never that entertaining yet knowing which ones are really key. I’d like to think I’m stressing meeting up with friends more now. I definitely cherish that time.
And, to conclude, my goals:
get a substantial raise to pay off more school debt and begin having children
plan on where my wife and I might like to move to and live
crash-course on C/C++ and algorithms
2015 (37 years old):
fluency with computer science algorithms, data structures, searches, and sorts
west coast driving trip
scouting trips for places to live
5 Year (41 years old):
Galapag.us as a command-line/search box-driven game
10 Year (46 years old):
at the age when I should expect to create a life’s work or project that is “great” and “glorious”
Note: I’ll probably be adding to this, as I had trouble expressing what I wanted to say in a cohesive manner and worked on this over several nights. I know I’m leaving tons out, and need to think more about future plans.
But hell, it’s so good to be in a state of strengthening and building now.
My thesis project for NYU-ITP has been Galapag.us, a tribe and ecosystem for promoting the idea that we should be radically open and transparent with our data so that we can form and share metrics to measure our progress and success in different areas of our lives. More info at the front page of Galapag.us.
I came up with the idea in 2006. An email I sent to my Army buddy in April, 2006:
I sort of had an idea but it seems like it’ll be difficult to build out. My idea would be for something similar to Xbox Live’s ranking system. Except it’s for your life. Privacy issues aside, people would volunteer to put in as much personal info as they want. At first it might seem cumbersome putting in so much info but I think as myspace and other services have shown, people are willing to do it if it means it cultivates their identity.
So for instance you put in your income and number of kids and connect your accounts for online game rankings (like in Halo or Battlefield 2) and your exercise plan and your birthdate and your finances and investments and how many web sites you’re on (like myspace, digg, yahoo, etc.) and from all that data, the company would generate statistics that break down your life and give you info about how much time you spend on certain tasks, how efficient you are with your money, what your online reputation is. Stuff like that. The core would be statistics…anonymous statistics I think so people won’t have any incentive to forge their results. The point would be to turn peoples’ lives into a numeric game where they can see how they rate in certain aspects of their lives. Think of all those online quizzes people take about what kind of lover they are or what their personality is. That could be tabulated into the statistics, which could be searchable or broke down any way the person wanted.
At the end of a year, we could look internally at our statistics and go visit the top overall people in person to go verify their data and videotape their lives, interview them. Then a winner would be announced…like the best person award. Heh…there’d be so much controversy and whining and competition if it caught on. Then we could write a book about our experiences going out and discovering what makes someone “the best” compared to everyone else.
So…that’s my idea so far. Sort of like a real-life RPG. Perhaps we could offer points for real-world scavenger hunts or traveling to different countries around the globe. What about having life coaches for certain segments, if someone was weak in an area like professional development? I was thinking we could also offer points for accomplishing certain tasks like humanitarian work.
A lot of stuff happened in the meantime: I got out of the Army, went to study foreign policy in DC, worked for Homeland Security, moved to NYC for school. And so now I’m wrapping up the thesis, which allowed me more than a semester to work just about full-time (including any waking moment) on trying to make Galapag.us a reality before I can either A) get funding or B) get an engineer/developer job after school.
So I present Galapag.us for thesis on May 15 at NYU. I have two weeks still to work on it before then. I think I’ve gotten it to a point where I can start letting alpha testers in to explore, and think about it. My work log has been tracked on the thesis blog.
node.js/express.js: So easy to build a site using this framework.
varnish/nginx+ngx_pagespeed: Caching, run-time optimizations for faster page loads/downloads. Routes to https and socket.io server too.
python scripts for maintaining server default state
celery for queuing
redis for temporary data dumps and lookups
mongodb for permanent data storage
angularjs for the comment system
I know the site’s confusing — like an airplane pilot dashboard. It’ll become more cohesive over time. A lot of things aren’t quite working yet, or they have filler data to get them going. Apologies for that. For more familiarization, try the welcome demo.
But here are some features that are worth checking out:
Comments will be available for tribe forums, formula critiques, peoples’ profiles. I decided to use angularjs so I could learn how to build SPAs with it!
By tracking individual data, one can also track internal company metrics and state-level happiness metrics too!
Each island has its own weather, environment, and bonuses/penalties for certain user behavior, so it benefits you to live on the island that incorporates your style best.
Professions and Skills
What does it mean to be “good” at something? Are companies hiring the most qualified candidates? How do we standardize that?
A profile for your data. You get reputation scores in different areas. Those scores are determined by which formulas you choose to use. You can also see your internet of things (devices, pets, objects) is on the bottom right, while you’ll also be able to create gaming characters using your own data.
You can complete quests within Galapag.us to gain experience. Some tasks will be data-gardening for other people, some will be to introduce gaming elements, others will be to visit lesser-seen parts of the site. But mostly the quests should be geared towards helping others.
Here’s the list of books that I read in 2012. Since I’m in my second year of grad school and am learning a lot of technical stuff, that would explain some of the more manual-type books. It also explains why I wasn’t able to read as many books as I would have liked. I expect the number of books I’ll read this coming year to be higher, though I’m burned out on a lot of foreign policy books.
The number in parentheses is my 1-10 rating. Books that are rated 10 are definite must-reads, but I think that anything above an 8 on this list this year was very, very interesting. Having 7 out of 30 books rated “10” means to me that I did a good job of picking books worthy of my time!
[N.B.: I wrote this in early April. Kept it close for a while but it’ll help to get it off my chest. Ugh.]
So there I was last night, running along the East River at half past midnight, a long run much needed to burn off my excess energy in the last couple weeks. I run and exercise not to get stronger, but to get rid of anxiety and restlessness. It forces me to relax.
But that night, running, being cathartic for me, brought emotions boiling over out of me: suddenly I started getting angry, upset, focused. What was I doing? Why was I running, alone, as usual, in the middle of the night? What am I doing in life, do I even have a future career in anything, and why can’t she see me as a treasure worth fighting to keep?
The creeping suspicion that fills my mind and heart is that everything I’ve been trying to do has been a colossal waste of time. It’s a creeping suspicion that, in fact, all my life’s decisions have set me back, have destroyed any semblance of stability or happiness, which I badly crave and which others sense and shy away from. The worst part is that I know I can’t help it. I had to do it. I knew it would hurt and I did it anyway.
This makes conversations with others about the subject extremely difficult for them to identify with. By most accounts, I’ve lived a fairly interesting life with a nice story. Joined the Army after 9/11 and some time daytrading the dotcom bubble, then deploying to Iraq as an Arabic linguist, as a bloody paratrooper for God’s sake, as intel support to actual Green Beret teams. Got out, moved to DC, studied foreign policy at Georgetown, worked at USAID and a contractor for Homeland Security. Even converted to Catholicism almost entirely on my own. Then up and moved to NYC to study art and technology.
But all that — all that! — was not a happy story for me. Most none of it was happy. It was done out of a sense of clawing and biting for survival, for trying to find the life for myself and a future family that would make me happy and successful, for trying not to be obsolete in a swiftly-evolving world.
It has isolated me, made me not be able to relate with others. It’s made me more of a trinket for conversation, a funny-looking animal in a cage at a zoo. I’m a token veteran in employers’ and programs’ statistics.
I don’t think people understand that there’s such a saddening backstory behind it all. I have nothing to show for all that, in the end. Has it been such a waste?
Here’s the real story behind all that. The story where all of those things happened because I was willing to sacrifice a lot of time and money and stability and love, because I believed in something bigger. All those things — country, religion, education — they won’t let you know it but they actually need you more than you need them. They take all comers now, and they even let you join for free, as long as you sacrifice a part of yourself to them. It’s true there are a lot of people who joined the military or a church or got through school without trying and without caring. This doesn’t invalidate them as institutions, but one should be skeptical in evaluating people solely on whether they got through these initial tests or not.
It’s good for you to believe in something, yes, but the cold, hard calculus in life is that things like money and love in many ways are very reliable indicators of whether you are worth more to someone else than they are to you. Are you paying your way to go to school? Did you sign your life over to the Army for 5 years? Or does someone else in the world wake up and think before anything else how much she misses you not being there, about how she would do anything for you? Does some company or backer happily invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into you because he suspects it will come back ten-fold?
Does someone make irrational decisions because she loves you? Does a company risk its money in taking a chance on you? Just because they believe in you? THAT is true value.
I do not believe in only love and money. I believe in country, religion, education, happiness, free time, et al. I believe (perhaps falsely, as I am discovering) that hard work earns you respect in these things. In my world, those hours spent at Mass, those hours spent in the gym pumping iron (blocking everything else out) or out doing push-ups in front of the Atlantic World War 2 memorial or Lincoln Memorial or miles ran — always alone (save for when two people I trust so much in this world, Dina and Dan, trained with me for our marathon together), those hours spent scouring the internet and reading books, those tens of thousands dollars spent on enriching my mind, those should all mean something.
The tragedy is that I fear I might have been better off — a happier, richer person — if I’d not been this mangled creature that I am, if I’d not followed what I believed would make me more useful to myself and to others.
Here’s more of the ugly backstory. I left the Army right before I could have been eligible for promotion, before I would have settled into a pretty nice leadership position where I’d have more responsibility to train and lead other soldiers, something I genuinely loved. But I was so disgusted with not just the Bush Doctrine and my hand in it, but also with the treatment I received from a senior officer who never even looked me in the eyes before or after removing me from my team in the middle of a deployment (for blogging and photographing my experiences in Iraq, which later 1) was found to be non-punishable in my case but also 2) became effectively outlawed military-wide). It was such a slap in the face for the case of leadership and role model behavior, and of course now he is a higher-up at the Pentagon, while other officers I know and love have since retired.
I left a fairly decent job in DC where people respected me; I had a fairly nice life and I definitely had a lot of very close friends. I even found a lovely woman. But she came right after I had decided to leave it all, go to NYC, and attend school. She later dumped me after I’d moved to NYC, as a result. Though I suspect she also knew she would never love me. I left DC, a city I love, after I reached a dead end in my job. After my neighbor’s apartment caught fire, leaving me without any possessions for four and a half months except what I brought to work that day and for what I spent my hard-earned savings on afterwards to resume my life. In the process, a very kind woman that I had just started dating took me in, and that all ended too when my move to NYC began to loom.
I moved to NYC to learn how to code, to fight in the most competitive city in the world so that I might have a chance at making a lot of money, doing something massive, important, and wonderful. I did it because I felt like I had to, but not because I wanted to. I feel like every decision I’ve made has taken me further from where I’d be happiest, because I’d hoped that somewhere on the other side, I’d find what it was that I needed. You know Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist? Some people love the book, some think it’s simplistic and cheesy. But it chilled me to the bone. Its lesson — that you can travel far and wide, but really where you should be is where you were to begin with — scared me. Have I wasted my time, always trying to be so hard-working and diligent and explorative?
I’m restless. Extremely restless. Tired. And frustrated. I want to be happy, to be loved, to be in love.
Cut to last week. I’m on the stoop of some row house with a beautiful woman I’d been dating. A woman who so defied all the stereotypes of my past relationships and of my expectations that I was mystified and enchanted by her. I would have never expected her and then all the sudden she one day was being introduced to me while I was coding as someone I MUST talk to, and I was mesmerized. The arc of the relationship was magical and uncontrollable. It hurtled through the vacuum of that time you spend in school where reality and non-reality blur because you’re everywhere and nowhere while you study. I knew I didn’t want to date or get involved while in school, but my God, she was irresistible. Projects got in the way of “letting go”, but I presumed we had more time…
I’m on the stoop with her. And on the surface it looks great. We’re enjoying a fairly warm winter evening, right? But really what I’m doing is trying to convince her not to leave me. Her stated reasons are because she’s about to graduate and doesn’t want to have large decisions in her life affected by our relationship, which hasn’t had time to develop enough yet. But I suspect, once again, that she knows she doesn’t love me and never will, and this is a good time for her to end it. I wonder to myself how she can be so controlled, so calculating about it, unless she’s either highly rational or just wants out.
One of those guys who goes around selling roses stops by, but I turn him away, saying I’m busy talking to her, and that if I play my cards right, then maybe I’ll need the rose later. But I kind of already know I have no chance. I’m drowning. It’s the coldest thing to see, when you see someone close off her heart to you. You feel as far away from human as possible, like a discarded toy.
The saddest part, I think, was that then this massive burly guy comes up to me and interrupts, asking, “Were you in Special Forces?” He saw the tattoo on my arm, the unit patch for Special Forces. Yeah, I was an Arabic linguist for Group, I responded. The man shakes my hand, says his father was in Group, and he’ll buy me a beer in the bar inside once me and the gorgeous woman beside me head in. I thank him. He ends up being, as I found out over a shot and a beer, a Brooklyn firefighter who’s lost good friends too.
It’s sad because this is the stuff that great stories are made of. I’m trying to convince this woman that I’m worth it, even if the timing isn’t perfect, even if the stars haven’t aligned, even if she’s worried about her own life, that wow, this guy gets the respect of random strangers, particularly big threatening strangers. She mentions that it’s pretty good timing for my cause, but it seems an afterthought.
I still know I have no chance. And that is the tragedy. The great stories people tell about how they got the girl, the stories you only see in movies. Or, the stories you only hear from those cheerful old men you listen to who lived through World War 2 and ended up being married to that same woman for 50 years just because he said the right thing at the right time, back in the days when these magical stories had power, when men could sweep women off their feet and then they’d be happily married the rest of their lives.
As far as I can tell, stories hold no power anymore, and particularly not in my life. I have remarked to friends that I’m a horrible storyteller, and that I don’t even have great stories to tell. They are in somewhat of disbelief, but I know a great storyteller when I see one, like my friend Chris for example. He tells the most amazing stories. While I have interesting stories, the problem is that they are like my story from the stoop — they have less-than-noble endings. The setup is there, the execution is there, but The Prestige, the punchline, whatever you want to call it, fails. I’m an intern at The Colbert Report, and perhaps the most valuable thing I’ve learned there, besides all the coding/server administration stuff I’ve learned, is how you absolutely MUST complete the joke. THAT is the difference between a comedian and anyone else. THAT is the difference between a storyteller and anyone else. None of my stories have The Prestige.
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.” –”The Prestige”
You see, so the only way my story pans out to be a happy one is if the ending is absolutely amazing. It can’t fall flat. It can’t fail.
But, my dear reader, it’s looking awfully bad. This woman, this one particularly smarts. My friends could pretty much define my taste in women, but this one, she is so utterly different. And she is also so far away from me that I once again feel inhuman, feel cold. This story of reality starts off shimmeringly brilliant, radiates, and then burns out, dull. That magic I thought was there, wasn’t there. Was it there at all? It wasn’t enough?
What am I going to do? I run in the dark, I read tons, I write things that are never read, I slavishly throw myself at a woman who would rather I forget her, I relocate and smash the stability I build up. It’s destructive. I have nothing to show for it all. I have just a few very close friends — the kind who will actually go out of their way to do something for you. But I have even more acquaintances who probably would have been great friends if I’d invested the time they needed from me. If I’d stayed in one place, got really good at one thing, planted roots, then maybe women I fall for wouldn’t be pushed away by my ephemeral presence. I’d have become expert, earned a better salary, had more responsibility to lead. But I don’t have any of that. I’m a student, pursuing (now) a more technical developer’s life, competing against kids a decade younger who are expert coders.
I often think back to my time in the Army. The thing about the Army was that it made me a man, and it introduced me with people I will always love, will always make time for, will always feel human for. I’ve been to three weddings in my life, and all of them were for military friends. The people who came back afterwards and made a point to help me out, or to tell me how much they loved me — almost all of them were military. People who believe in something bigger, who believe in acknowledging others, who do great things even though they know they will get nothing in exchange. I got a reference from a man who defended me when no one else did when I got in trouble, and I got a note from another senior officer who said he would have pushed me for warrant officer if I’d stayed in. Why did I leave again?
I admit that I have people who say they trust me, who say they respect me. But this just makes me feel more inhuman. It does not make me feel loved. In my world, trust is intimately entwined with love. I could not love someone anymore unless she showed me that I would never need to distrust her. This is what love is built on. Not the insecure, uncertain morass that relationships are now. When people say they trust me, they respect me, what they are essentially saying is that they understand I am not trying to take away anything from them, that I am not a threat to them. The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.
The other dimension of people saying they trust and respect you is that you are essentially boring. That they know you’ll be there, so why put forth the time? The key determinant is asking whether someone will either 1) spend time on you or 2) make a sacrifice for you. Instead of empty words of deference and respect, which most don’t live up to, spending time with someone is a true measure of care because it shows that the time spent with you is worth more than time spent working on other things, like one’s career or whatever. This lady who runs the laundromat around the corner from me, she asked what my ancient Greek tattoo meant. I told her that it meant happiness, something I’m searching for in life. She asked me, do I know how to find happiness? The secret is to make someone else happy. I said I’ve been trying, but people did not want it. She said to keep smiling, and that I’d find someone, for I’m a handsome man. It was a needed compliment.
Think how I feel when I give the slightest nudge to others for them to give me some of their time, only to have them recoil and not just say no, but draw away completely? How secure do you think I feel when even someone close to me leaves me when I ask for the smallest thing?
I guess the conclusion that I’ve come to is, why would I keep doing the same thing, knowing it’s pulling me further and further away from happiness? I’m tired of moving or traveling alone. I’m tired of starting over in a new career. I’m definitely upset at being told by a woman that we’re moving in different directions, and she won’t go on the same journey with me.
I have to change things up. What I’m doing is not working. How many people have I actually helped in the course of my life? I like to think I managed to train quite a few new Army kids for war before they deployed. I’m proud of that. I feel like I’ve been a fairly loyal friend here and there. Perhaps overly loyal to exes. Galapag.us, a fantasy of being my life’s work, has been loyal to me when I’ve been abandoned so frequently in the last few years. She’s a loyal lover. But I don’t know if Galapag.us will ever work out. I want to have a stable, devoted relationship. I don’t think I’ve been in one since I was a pretty young twenty-something. And even that had an asterisk — it was long-distance. But without that base, something to build upon, something to use as a springboard to try risky things, I am always on shaky ground, always unsure. That relationship is the stability I think I need to get through to the next level. A partnership for the journey, not a partnership as a reward for completing the journey. It’s emotional support for building one’s life, and so far I’ve had to rely on gritty determination as my “emotional support”.
I’m wracked with insecurity. I always have been. I’m a big guy, and intimidating to many, particularly if they know the Army background, but I lived my childhood as a goofily thin tall kid with no muscle, with bad skin and glasses and braces. I loved to play baseball but a coach who treated me like a sympathy bench player while his son and his favorite non-son player were chosen to play first base, which I showed any real talent at. I struggled through math pretty early on, as most of the other Asian kids excelled and eventually became engineers. That’s when I was struck in the face with how different I was from them.
Now, I’ve made use of all that insecurity. Much of it is now gone, through testing myself and seeing what I’m capable of. I don’t get anywhere near as nervous anymore. What insecurity I had I can now recognize in others, and walk and talk them through it (but most people won’t listen — they have to experience it themselves and go through the same pain).
Luck is one of the key determinants in success. Certainly people who make it big have been working on their talents for ages, and they’ve slowly accrued enough expertise to break through. But in the end it’s luck. Luck that you meet someone at the right time, luck that you’re mentally ready to fully take it. You have to be ready when it comes because it swiftly moves on. I had an ex who, despite her being so toxic otherwise, was rather complimentary when she told me that she admired and was attracted to me because I was so willing to “fall hard”, when almost everyone else can be such a coward.
What’s funny about that is that I know I am falling hard for things that I have no chance at. It’s almost futile. But I have to care. I have to believe, have to hope. I’m so bad at most things, and am aware at how bad I am at them, that the only thing I know for sure is that I’m good at never giving up, pushing when no one else is watching, being the last man standing, just because I believe. You have no idea how isolating that is.
I’ve never had a lot of luck. What I’ve gotten has come either through sheer determination, pursuing things that needed me more than I needed them, or because I was willing to sacrifice a lot to get it. When my only chance at something is through wishing it to happen, it never occurs. What this has meant is that any opportunity I get, I take it and then treasure it, am loyal to it in full.
Here’s what I don’t get about just about all the people I know. They are almost paralyzed by choice. They live enchanted lives, and forego perfectly good choices because they expect to have even better choices later. Should they go into law or medicine? Georgetown or Johns Hopkins? China or Italy? They wring their hands, avoid making a decision, and end up doing nothing at all.
When I think about a Fitzgeraldian Jazz Age, it reminds me of these people I know. People who dress up for champagne balls at venues with gilded banisters to talk about equities and finance and trips to the Caribbean and skiing, away from the war-twisted, broken families I saw in Iraq, the lost poor black communities in Columbus, GA, or Washington, DC, the shattered injured veterans of foreign wars, the scores of people just trying to cling onto any sense of normalcy in their lives.
I talked to a good friend about relationships once and he said that he was talking with a family member about how he was afraid to get into a relationship because he wasn’t sure where he was going to be, and she castigated him; she, being much older, upbraided him for being so stupid. Why turn away happiness? Why treat a connection with another person so casually, so disposingly?
In the end, I’ve felt like I’ve built myself a prison where there’s nothing I can do but keep continuing to do what I’m doing, pushing my way through. There is no place to return to. I work out hard to cure this restlessness I have, I push harder and read and study and explore to get smarter, I keep setting up my heart for disappointment because I believe you have to be in it to win it. I know it’s destructive.
And it feels like a waste. I remember two guys from my unit who died in Iraq while we were deployed together. Daniel Winegeart and Dustin Adkins. They died because of stupid shit. It wasn’t valiant, like being in a firefight like in the movies. Stupid shit entirely. But I went to their memorials. You think you can control yourself, because you’re a fucking man and because you’re a soldier. But then you see the families come in, and the bagpipes start playing, and you hear the uncontrollable, heart-wrenching bawling and moaning from the parents left behind, and in the case of Adkins, his wife and two children. It was one of the most dreadful things I’d ever experienced. And to think that these two men (boys really) would now be 6 years older, building productive families and lives for themselves, while I’m still fucking around trying to figure out what to do and how I’m going to make it? This is just?
I think it’s time to scale it back. It’s time to try something else. Maybe I need to focus on just being happy. I have no clue where to start. I shouldn’t be starting many new things in the position I’m in. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. Anyhow, the last few relationships have taken a lot out of my spirit and my heart. Puzzling, I suppose, that it didn’t affect the women so deeply? What does that say about me?
I’ve had the pleasure of being good friends with several people who have shown me what a good friend can be, and how powerful it can be to have that good friend supporting you and you supporting him. Thank you Slavek, Chris, Luke, Itzbeth. There are others who have been nothing but supportive and nurturing as well, even when it wasn’t easy for them to be that way with me. I can only hope that one day, sooner rather than fucking later, I’ll find some career that finds me valuable, some woman who finds me valuable, some community and life that finds me valuable, where I can help those who need helping. But I believe in things, and that makes things pretty damn difficult for me to be happy, especially when it’s so hard to find others who feel the same way, who will risk their hearts on someone or something just because they know it might be the only way out from a life that’s terminal halfway before it’s all over. Guess I’ll just keep pushing. It’s the only thing I’m good at.
[N.B. It has not escaped my notice (to use a Watson and Crick litotes) that what I describe above is basically what my grandfather Victor studied. “Turner noted that in liminality, the transitional state between two phases, individuals were “betwixt and between”: they did not belong to the society that they previously were a part of and they were not yet reincorporated into that society. Liminality is a limbo, an ambiguous period characterized by humility, seclusion, tests, sexual ambiguity, and communitas.”]
Keeping up with friends for me has become a matter of remembering which method of communication they prefer. Having moved from place to place and from tribe to tribe, I know quite a lot of very differently raised and educated and geolocated people. All of them have their own quirks when it comes to social networking.
I, being what you might call a digital native, am pretty comfortable with just about any method of communication, though strangely I hate online one-on-one chat the most (it requires far too much focus). But some friends only respond to phone calls, some are happy with email, others only seem to check Facebook (presumably because their email accounts are so packed with junk), some I only know through IRC or Twitter or meeting at conferences. Over time people I sort of remember from high school have joined Facebook — my generation was just a little too young for Generation X and just a little too old for Generation Y, so some prefer to be more X and write off social networking, while some of the more online-savvy made the transition much sooner. My Georgetown international affairs friends are very social networky but in a tech-deficient kind of way. They do happy hours a LOT (a VERY DC thing), they are very comfortable writing emails (their jobs almost always include writing a lot), and they’re of course very up on current events, but ask them to do much more than open a web page and they’re clueless and obstinate (it comes with their territory, IR people overvalue their intelligence). My NYU-ITP friends are the most tech-savvy of all, as a lot of them are partially coders and grew up like me: finding themselves online.
The most annoying thing to me ever is people who say they don’t use social networks because they prefer “real” relationships, whatever that means. I think what it’s code for is that they don’t have the bandwidth to spend online cultivating their social networks, so they prefer to focus their attention in meeting up with people who live near them. Which is fine. But they should just say that.
What’s funny is that my Army and military friends are the most straight-up about that. My Army buddies will say about social networking, “That’s all just a bunch of horse shit.” And I’m happy with that. They make no bones about it. They are the least-wired people I know, which is sort of scary in some ways because in the 21st century, the soldier will rely more and more on communications breakthroughs to not only transmit squad movements but also to control the robotic drone armies of the future. In other ways it’s good though, because all those soldier hicks from the backwoods will still know hunting, tracking, being-outside skills that the city slickers have long since lost. They are also more warm, more open, and more inviting to outsiders than other people I’ve met.
After 5 years in the Army, I definitely came to admire and enjoy being around the hicks who want nothing more in life than retire to the back 40 to a big house way out in the countryside and live out their days hunting deer and working on the house and shooting the shit. Those guys had some sort of weird magic that made them inept in urban environments but keen and sharp when out in the desert or in the woods dealing with the harshness of nature. Anyway, you can always count on servicemembers to give it to you straight. It’s such a rare thing to find outside of the military.
So as for “real” relationships, active avoiders are the hardest for me to maintain relationships with. They have no footprint online and barely know how to make their phones work, and they refuse to try. News about related friends is almost always news to them, and it has deeply stifled my ability to keep up with them. Is this a real relationship? If anything, I feel like I put in more work for “real” relationships, tracking people down and trying to meet up with them when I can, despite few coming calling for me when they might be in my town or whatever. Few people put in real effort.
From a broader perspective, is there terminology for the skills that humans are evolving regarding social networks? What do you call it when you have to juggle how to get in touch with your friends, over which networks, via which mediums? Organizing a happy hour or party involves sending invitations through different methods: some snail mail, some via Facebook, opening a Facebook event, calling the rest. It’s like the lighting of bonfires from mountaintop to mountaintop in Lord of the Rings. It’s like riding through the streets of New England to warn of the Redcoats. It requires people who are willing to pull together disparate groups and who know all those people well enough to remember how those respondents receive word best. Is this politicking? Is it curating? What is it?
I went to the Denver Nuggets vs. Dallas Mavericks game on Boxing Day, courtesy of my dad’s astute Christmas gift. I also had season tickets for the Washington Wizards last season, which I deeply enjoyed. I’ve definitely deepened my appreciation and love for basketball in the last couple of years. I owe a lot of that to my main man and longtime Army buddy MonkeyPope. You should see the great email discussions we’ve had about unlocking formulas for winning basketball using Moneyball-ish statistics.
Anyway. It always pisses me off how all the promotional shit they do during basketball games only reaches the front rows. The free t-shirt tosses, the Chipotle burritos, the camera close-ups? Always the first 20 rows or so. The upper decks, where us hoi polloi watch the game from, are ignored. We don’t put down the serious money to sit closer, true, but if I were a team owner, I would think it’d be a small price to pay to endear your team to those upper-deck folks who just want a little attention, a little special feeling for that one basketball game they get to enjoy every few years.
This is all made worse by the fact that sporting events, particularly the popular and cool ones, support a top-heavy system where the richest get the best seats. And the richest are weakly correlated (I would imagine) with the most passionate of fans. So the people closest to the court, the people whom everyone cues off of for excitement, are the people least invested in being crazy fans, being caring fans, hell, even being the attending fans. Like at the US Open, where the front rows are often empty up until late in the second week of the tournament, because the rich people who bought the tickets can’t be troubled to sit in the sun all day. Good Heavens, where are my umbrella and my palm frond-waving servant?
What you get is boring sporting events until the playoffs. And this is solely because the rich folks who wear suits to the game don’t give a shit. Seriously, MonkeyPope and I bought tickets for one game where we sat right behind the scorer’s table, and we loved every single second of it. All the players’ expressions, all the on-court chatter, everything. We could see it. But we sat next to a couple douche bros in suits and an old couple. All the other seats were empty. And we had to show our tickets to the attendants all the time because they didn’t believe we should be there. There were no mad fans hooting and hollering and cheering.
There’s a reason small venues for concerts work, and why college basketball is more rowdy. The people who care the most are part of the center of attention, near the stage. In small venues’ cases, there are no seats, so whomever pushes their way up to the front wins. In college basketball, the students get the premium seats on each end.
Compare with seated concerts where you get most people uncomfortably lodged into small aircraft-like seats with just a few drunk cougars swaying back and forth.
Also, this has happened to me quite a bit now, I keep running into friends who have always benefited from being well-connected, and when we realize we went to the same basketball game, I tell them I sat up near the top, while inexplicably their friend had front-row seats. And none of them give a shit about basketball! It’s so infuriating on different levels. Not that I’m mad at my friends — I’m happy for them — but from a basketball gods/eternal court of justice perspective, it’s unfair. And I know the basketball gods exist because they helped the Mavericks defeat the Heat, an epic battle between good and evil.
I will also add that I hate how basketball games always try to pimp their grub, gear, and beer. As if when you were sitting in your seat, you forgot that maybe you wanted a beer. Right, how many guys forget they want a beer? Have they done studies on how a scoreboard screen ad for Bud increases sales? It’s even worse for hoodies and cheap screenprinted t-shirts.
Basketball games (and most sporting events) really do not exploit their cheerleaders enough. Seriously, sometimes the best part of a basketball game is the two times the cheerleading squads come out and do their ridiculous dances. I know it’s silly but everyone is transfixed on the ladies. MonkeyPope and I seriously contemplated buying tickets by the corners so we could sit in front of the cheerleaders.
This probably goes hand-in-hand with the dumbass family-oriented goals of the owners. They try to tone down the violence, sex, and testosterone of sports by inviting Nickelback to play halftime, by promoting Monday Night Football and the NBA Playoffs with Justin Bieber and other sexless safe acts for kids. David Stern’s move to ban thug gear, which was massively unpopular at first but which has led to innovative fashion trends of NBA players dressing up in pretty awesome suits and nerd-gear, was an offshoot of trying to make sporting events more family-friendly.
But going to a basketball game is like seeing big cats at a zoo. I hate cheap fouls and violent players, but I want hard play and emotive players. They’ve tried to temper all of that. And the setting is so neutered that it’s not the raw power that basketball normally is, anymore, until maybe the playoffs when there’s just too much energy in the crowd and in the players to control. Compare public-event basketball to streetball — in streetball, there’s no people helicoptering around fining you for not playing nice. It’s a more raw game.
New Year’s Resolutions
I’ve resolved to spend the entire year thinking of gifts for people. I’m definitely not happy with how I show appreciation to people I care about by the end of the year. Gift-giving as an art is something I’ve observed in my brother, who picks amazing gifts. It usually doesn’t require spending a lot of money, but it requires good timing (seeing something unique at the right time and springing upon it), and it requires understanding the recipient and realizing what his/her interests are and what your relationship to him/her is. I’ve always sucked at it and it’s become almost paralyzing for me to come up with gifts.
The argument of course can be made that gifts do not matter because they are material things. This is true but my other limitation is money. To be honest, if I had the money, I would throw events for my family and friends often, in remote places, to get them out of the lives they’re stuck in temporarily, to share common time with them in a different environment for relaxation and bonding. Maybe this says more about me than what my friends and family want. Because I think the gifts that I’ve come to really appreciate as I get older are, weirdly, bottles of hard liquor (given by my buddy Mat after I helped him move some stuff) and access to events (like my dad’s tickets, or my classmate and friend Ann who had me over for Thanksgiving).
I’ve taken to trying to write full breakdowns of my relationships to certain people in an effort to remember those intricacies and delicacies of the nature of my connection to them. It’s a sign of my growing admiration for biographers, who often write more fascinating stories — those of the people behind great products, events, and breakthroughs — than the things they made themselves. But it’s also a sign to me that one of my defining traits has been observation and love of people (hence my love for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s insights on human personalities and behaviors and quirks).
So to be a better gift-giver is not to buy more expensive shit for people, but to appreciate my relationship with them more.
Other resolutions: learn morse (I’m about 20 letters in, so that’s getting there already), learn surfing, visit the Galapagos (I have the free miles), and get better at basketball (going to need a good coach for that).
Saw WET PAINT signs on the walls of my apartment building. Have been thinking of the winding down of the Iraq “War” and the lifelong scars that our invisible veterans will carry as a result of the imperial adventure. (made with ArtRage Studio Pro)
I think perhaps one of my biggest fears is that all of what I’ve done — the lead-ups and building of characters and plot and tone, as in a story — will have a poorly-written, fizzled-out ending. Also: I’ve always been a bad story-teller.
My good friend is a brilliant writer, up there with Chuck Palahniuk and Chuck Klosterman in terms of modern men’s writing. He’s created several blogs but he abandons them pretty quickly after some wonderful posts. His emails are amazing, probably shareable mostly only to their original intended recipients. But I wanted to save them and make them public. I believe he could be a successful writer one day. At any rate, one of the most talented writers I’ve ever read.
I don’t know how this program will end up, but given that it’s throwing people headfirst into Arduino circuitboards, coding, hacking, social media remixing, designing, creating…I’m hoping to find peers who love to experiment and play and make.
Having seen various sectors of the American economy while living in CA/DC/TN/TX/IZ, particularly the knowledge economy, what I’ve been struck by most has been the lack of technical knowledge. People know their tiny sliver of the world, such as collateralized debt obligations, US-Pakistan policy, aid packages, writing reports…but anything broader than that knowledge is usually treading on very delicate ground. Even in some of the more technical areas I’ve worked in (military intel, social media, innovation projects), there is literally no knowledge of or curiosity for experimentation or remixing.
When I see people who don’t tweet or blog or have much of a presence online, particularly when they claim to be pretty digitally savvy, it makes me wonder. Twitter is all about remixing ideas, combining cultures and taboos and tribes. It’s a swirl of information waiting to produce the next memes or companies or news or collaborative one-offs. To me, not only is this environment fascinating, versatile, and by its nature educational, it also is a cauldron for the next generation of successful projects and people. It’s a testing ground for future successful workers. How can you compete in the working environment if you can’t keep up digitally? I understand if you don’t like computers or the internet, but it’s your own livelihood.
About a year ago, before I applied or even knew what I was going to do, I quit my job for 2.5 months. I got to enjoy the DC summer, but mainly I was coding full-time for my personal project, Galapag.us, having no clue where it would go or how it would ever be more than just a dumb idea. But I was super-frustrated with where my career was going. I wanted to build, to create, to do more with my hands. I think I called several family members and friends looking for advice. I ended up applying for ITP (and nowhere else), shelving Galapag.us for a bit, and returning to work. In April I found out I got in.
The way I see it, heading to NYC, the most creative, diverse, urban, and pragmatic city in the world (I’d argue), to finally be a true geek, I can only see this as a huge personal victory, a huge opportunity to be myself and to create a lot of great things that are useful to a lot of people.
And since I’m older this time around, and have an international development/international affairs Master’s under my belt from the best IR school in the world, this time I know I should have a plan of attack.
Galapag.us is what I’d like to be my life’s work. It’s what I want to be known for. An open reputation system providing alternative forms of credit and trust, verified through a balance of different interests, using all your life’s data to compute what kind of person you are.
I want my projects to all work on some aspect of Galapag.us, to test its weaknesses and experiment with what it could eventually look like or become.
Prototype Glasses with Visual Augmentation for Reputation
To that end, I want to build the glasses used in Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom (TM). Regular-looking glasses that you put on, plugging you into digital layers that show reputational score layers next to someone’s image, route planning towards your next objective, visuals of your level and trade (Level 19 Farmer, Level 3 Government Analyst, etc.) and others, digital inventories you can use with real-world objects, etc. Augmented reality is being worked on at the platform level, but I’d like to build a functional prototype of some sort (PDF).
Prototype Location-Aware RFID Organizer Bins and Objects
We have already reached textual literacy on the internet. To the extent that we can remix and reuse text without violating the horrible, innovation-choking copyright laws that currently exist, we’re actually pretty good at finding, searching, and sharing text. With bandwidth and storage and access increasing for video, we will need to reach video literacy next. I already know that my posting a video will have far fewer hits than if I post just text. Many people don’t want to watch a long video, or are at work and are blocked from YouTube. But once a video goes viral, it has far more of an impact. I would like to capture some sort of Marshall McLuhanesque understanding of video and get smart on video, Final Cut Pro, AfterEffects. Video editing I see similar to web design — it’s a way to create and express your own view of the world without relying on others to make it for you. And now that video is social and allows for feedback, through perhaps the most important tech given to us after the dotcom revolution besides Google (no, not Twitter or Facebook), YouTube:
Instead of being a guy on his night out at the club, I always wanted to own the club, or be playing the music for the club. While I have no musical ability, I think I’ve at least accumulated enough knowledge from a broad enough swath of songs to be able to start mixing them together. The tools for music creation, however, are somewhat arcane. I want to get more comfortable with it. Out of my straight-laced DC policy/analyst friends, I have seen their better parts/personalities emerge only when drunk and on the dance floor. That is the power of music and communitas with alcohol and Cee Lo Green-revealed magic of Friday and Saturday night.
ProbablyGonna. DC culture consists of a bunch of people who live in the District and want to go to happy hours/networking events EVERY NIGHT. I came to DC and went immediately to Georgetown, so I had a built-in group of friends to hang with. I have a feeling people in DC have a bunch of different circles and tribes they hang with, so the best way to meet up is not necessarily blast e-mails or FourSquare checkins. What might work best is you signaling your intent to go out on certain nights on the calendar. Say you want to have a night of clubbing on Friday night, until late, and maybe you want to do Adams Morgan. You signal that on ProbablyGonna (as in, I’m probably gonna do this on Friday), and anyone else connected with you can signal their intent to do the same. It’s not mutually exclusive to other events, so you could signal for multiple events. This solves the FourSquare problem of knowing someone is at a location after they’re there, or in most cases, long after they’ve left.
Men’s tailoring. Most men do not know how to dress. They certainly don’t own the essentials, the basics, for different social events. What if you go to a site, select that you want a “business casual” outfit for work, enter your rough dimensions, and order a pretty basic outfit of a suit, shirt, starter tie, socks, shoes, underwear, belt, cufflinks, watch? Then that kit either goes to a local tailor working with my company, or it goes to you and you schedule your time with the tailor later. The tailor establishes a personal relationship with you and zeroes in your dimensions for the clothing. The tailor then mends your kit, and gives you a business casual basic outfit that actually fits you, flatters your shape, and is worth far more than a regular tailoring job. The best part? Over time, your purchases get better. Different outfits (going out Friday, wedding, weekend wear) go straight to the tailor, who tailors your kit, then gives it over to you. It helps you dress far better for your body shape, it helps the tailor develop clients, it helps my company move product. Then I can also sell you your pieces of personality, usually in the tie, the socks, shoes, kerchief, etc.
Reputation badges for your outfits: piggy-backing on Galapag.us. You unlock badges that you wear on your clothing or bags when you go out. They have QR codes or some other unique form of code (e.g. Itizen TRACKit). Say you’re an excellent wingman and have saved three mates. You get a wingman badge with two oakleaf clusters. Or you know CPR. You get a CPR tab (designates a skill, not an accomplishment). Designated driver? Badge. This mirrors the military uniform system of achievements. Clothing subconsciously is used to denote class, personality, and tribal association, but we’ve lost individuation and accomplishment that Papua New Guinea and Maori and other tribes used tattoos for, or Roman colors for their togas. I want to bring that back. Using Galapag.us’s reputation system as the backend and standardization platform.
So in short I want to play with things. I don’t expect to get good at any one thing. I’m not sure I will be very good at 3D printing or laser cutting or making actual models of things, having no prior design background, but I’ll give it a shot.
Setting the Tone
Those are the actual products. Mostly what I want to do is create things that are useful and happy. Two of the biggest problems among Internet-Americans is that they 1) have no clue how to make tech that benefits the poor, weak, and under-represented, and 2) they get too cynical or unhappy. Fortunately NYC is taking on the personality of a digital city, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and his efforts to push the city online, including appointing a Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Sterne. As for me, I’ve realized how happiness and laughter and fun make more of a difference in peoples’ everyday lives than being sarcastic, sardonic, cynical, pessimistic, or mean. While I’m sarcastic and dark in my humor, I want to try being happy. I want to make peoples’ lives better and happier. I want to stay away from the easy, which is being critical, doubtful, and resentful, while at the same time being pragmatic, useful, and iconoclastic.
So that’s what I want out of the next two years. Hold me accountable to it.