Calendar as information central

I think Scott Adams is right, “the biggest software revolution of the future is that the calendar will be the organizing filter for most of the information flowing into your life”. Sharing calendars is still too hard, and when we solve that problem I expect it to be hugely useful. I expected shared calendar technology to become mainstream years ago and it still hasn’t happened. Just what is the roadblock?

Tired, or energized?

From an essay by Milton Glaser:

“… there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.”

Yet more on DFW

From The Unfinished in The New Yorker:

The central issue for Wallace remained, as he told McCaffery, how to give “CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.” He added, “Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.”

The novel continues Wallace’s preoccupation with mindfulness. It is about being in the moment and paying attention to the things that matter, and centers on a group of several dozen I.R.S. agents working in the Midwest. Their job is tedious, but dullness, “The Pale King” suggests, ultimately sets them free. A typed note that Wallace left in his papers laid out the novel’s idea: “Bliss—a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.”

Welfare for grifters and marks

From Foreclosures Are Not the Problem. Those Who Build Financial Time Bombs, and Those Who Pick Them Up, Are the Problem on Angry Bear [emphasis added]:

But the real problem, the cause of this whole mess, is simple: every few decades, our economic system morphs into a structure that rewards making things less than it rewards creating financial time bombs with multi-year fuses. We’ve been rewarding the financial time bomb makers more and more since Reagan took office. And this is also the second time since Reagan took office we’ve been bailing out the financial time bomb makers at great cost to the rest of us – the previous time was during the S&L crisis.

Things have now evolved to the point where for some reason, when the market for time bombs disappears its considered some sort of a tragedy. This time around, we’ve already helped out the grifters, including many investment banks, commercial banks, derivatives traders, and now we’ve moved on to helping the marks. And rewarding any of them, the grifters or the marks, is a problem for several reasons. It rewards the bad behavior of the financial time bomb makers and reduces the incentives the rest of us have to watch out for the crooks. (And yes, I know, people living next to foreclosed homes suffer too. But externalities come in both positive and negative varieties, and folks who benefited from home prices rising for no reason don’t have a complaint when the home prices drop back in value because people found out the rise happened shouldn’t have happened in the first place.) It also keeps an unviable system going, and it does so at great cost.

But there’s one more thing. Since this whole thought process, this current iteration of the art of rewarding of the financial time bomb makers, dates back to Reagan, it pays to go back to Reagan… And when Reagan conjured up images of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen, it pissed people off not because there were people who needed help, but because supposedly many people who were getting help were, according Reagan, living better than the people being taxed to help them. And while I for one have never had a problem with seeing some of my tax money go toward helping the unfortunate, and I’ve never had a problem with welfare, at this moment in time, I know with absolute certainty that more most of the new-fangled welfare from the last six months is directed to helping people who are better off than I or have lived much better than I in recent years (investment banks, commercial banks, derivatives traders, and now homeowners) than the poor. I resent it. Does Obama really want a country where the folks who make and pick up time bombs are rewarded at the expense of those who are too honest to make time bombs or were smart enough (and in some cases, lucky enough) not to pick them up?

What DFW wanted his writing to do

Here is an excerpt from “Looking for a Garde of Which to be Avant: An Interview with David Foster Wallace” as it appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of Whiskey Island magazine published by Cleveland State University.

But there are a few books I have read that I’ve never been the same after, and I think all good writing somehow addresses the concern of and acts as an anodyne against loneliness. We’re all terribly, terribly lonely. And there’s a way, at least in prose fiction, that can allow you to be intimate with the world and with a mind and with characters that you just can’t be in the real world. I don’t know what you’re thinking. I don’t know that much about you as I don’t know that much about my parents or my lover or my sister, but a piece of fiction that’s really true allows you to be intimate with …. I don’t want to say people, but it allows you to be intimate with a world that resembles our own in enough emotional particulars so that the way different things must feel is carried out with us into the real world. I think what I would like my stuff to do is make people less lonely. Or really to affect people.

Trust depends on emotions

The emotional states inside us are very, very real and the product of biological evolution. They are helpful to us in our attempt to survive. Experimental economics and behavioral sciences have recently shown us how important they are to us as social creatures: To cooperate you have to trust the other party, even though a rational analysis will tell you that both the likelihood and the cost of being cheated is very high. When you trust, you experience a physiologically detectable inner glow of pleasure. So the inner emotional state says yes. However, if you rationally consider the objects in the outside world, the other parties, and consider their trade-offs and motives, you ought to choose not to cooperate. Analyzing the outside world makes you say no. Human cooperation is dependent on our giving weight to what we experience as the inner world compared to what we experience as the outer world.


DFW is dead — long live DFW

David Foster Wallace is dead, reportedly a suicide. Damn. His writing is some of the most powerful stuff I’ve ever read, very frustrating and yet giving and instilling a difference perspective on things.

Here’s a quote from a commencement address that he gave. It’s not really representative of what I’ve read from him, but gives some insight into what mattered to him and what, ultimately, may have done him in.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

from David Foster Wallace – Commencement speech at Kenyon University

“Least Common Denominator” should be Greatest Common Divisor

Many people use the phrase least common denominator to describe something as being base or common. It connotes something that appeals to most people, something that we all value. It is the intersection of what we all value, in the set-theory sense. But in arithmetic the LCD is the union of the prime factors of the denominators (including the multiplicity of those factors).

Perhaps greatest common divisor is a better metaphor for what is typically described as an LCD, the GCD being the intersection of prime factors.

upgrading WordPress, or how to turn 30 minutes into several hours

It took maybe 30 minutes to upgrade from WordPress 2.2 to 2.6, including time to revisit my notes on how I’ve done it before and to scan the official install/upgrade notes. But then it took a couple of hours to figure out why categories were gone and how to fix it. Long story short, I had to manually build the wp_terms table rows based on the old wp_categories rows. The SQL given in a forum note, lost categories after 2.6 upgrade, did the trick. But what a waste of time.

Thoughts on a Station Platform

“It ought to be plain
how little you gain
by getting excited
and vexed.
You’ll always be late
for the previous train,
and always in time
for the next.”
-Piet Hein