Housekeeping

So today marks the start of my second three-day fast. I scheduled this one right after I finished the first one, about three months ago, and I must say I’m a bit more nervous about this one than I was the first time. I think it’s probably because I feel like I’m a bit unprepared. I’ve been consuming a lot of caffeine and sugar lately, and I think I was a lot closer to a keto-friendly diet the first time I did this. We’ll see how things go.

I signed on a new client today. This one is a new landscaping company that my wife hired a couple weeks ago to do our yard. I’ll be setting up web and digital presence for them, putting together a branding and online marketing package. The other part of this will be helping them setup the operational tools as well. I think we’re going to do Jobber as it seems like the most features that they need: CRM, quoting, job management and invoicing. Pretty much the entire job lifecycle. Should be fun.

It also looks like I’ll be moving forward with setting up a Shopify site. I’ll probably try to sub this out, but we’ll see how much I think I can do on that.

I went ahead and pulled the trigger on Basecamp. It seems like the best of all the other project and client management software that I’ve seen. I’ll probably wind up having to pull Harvest into my stack as well just for timekeeping. The only other thing I’m missing is accounting. Right now I’m sending invoices through Paypal, but I’m going to need something more full featured. I know I don’t want Quickbooks. Freshbooks and Xero are the only two that I’m really aware of at the moment, so I’ll have to find something to use. Between the wife and I, we’re starting to take on a lot of additional work that will need tracking. I’ve been able to handle our tax returns via Turbotax Self Employed, but I don’t think it’s going to cut it much longer.

Conscious realism

Donald Hoffman has been popping up a lot recently, he’s the originator of the theory of conscious realism, which is a new attempt to resolve the mind-body problem, also known as the hard problem of consciousness: how does the experience of consciousness arise from the physical body? Religion’s answer has has pointed to the soul, but non-theists have been trying to come up with an answer that has a more testable hypothesis. Quantum physics has shown us that the classical model of Newtonian physics, (cause and effect,) is not quite correct, and scientists have been trying to reconcile the two for several decades. Hoffman’s theory is an inversion of the physicalist interpretation that the mind is an emergent behavior of the mind, that instead, that the fundamental constant of the universe is consciousness itself, and that the physical world as we know it is but an approximation of the underlying reality, as interpreted by our biological system.

I realize that I’m blowing the interpretation, and that this all may sound a lot like the old adage that we are not physical beings living in a spiritual world, but spiritual beings living in a physical world. Hoffman takes a couple steps to build to this conclusion, the first seems to be based on some evolutionary mathematics that he developed that shows that perception of true reality is antithetical to fitness selection in evolution. Hoffman built a computer simulation of a reality, with creatures that either perceived an accurate representation of that world, or ones that were able to screen out only that which was necessary for fitness, survival and reproduction. In all of his models, the creatures that saw an accurate representation of reality became extinct.

So the first part of this theory is what Hoffman calls the mulitmodal user interface theory, which is a way of saying that humans, and all creatures have evolved with a species specific interface for perceiving a limited version of reality. This is driven by natural selection, and our reality is different from other species. This is easily apparent when one considers variations within humans such as color blindness or synthesia, or between different species, such as the perception of different wavelengths of light.

This idea of the mind as a reality-filter is probably well known to anyone who has partaken in psychologics, as it becomes apparent that having the entirety of subconscious awareness rushing into consciousness is very detrimental to normal functioning. There’s a school of thought in Buddhism called mind-only that has a similar take, that only the mind is real, and that the physical world is created from it.

Two men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind. “It’s the wind that is really moving,” stated the first one. “No, it is the flag that is moving,” contended the second. A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them. “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving,” he said, “It is MIND that moves.”

Most materialist theories of consciousness get to a certain point with the structure of the brain, the activity of neurons and neurotransmitters, and posit that add enough of these dendrite connections and -POOF! Consciousness. It’s hard to avoid hand waving or magic. Alternatively, Hoffman proposes that “the objective world consists of conscious agents and their experience.” Now this part may be hard to distinguish from the theory of panpsychism, which holds that all matter is in fact conscious, and that consciousness is the fundamental building block of reality. (Annaka Harris is a reluctant fan.)

Hoffman’s theory is interesting because he’s attempting to create a framework for testing these hypotheses with math. These types of questions have ultimately been philosophical ones, and it’s good to see progress in a way that may one day be experimental in a subjective way.

Housekeeping

I don’t really have a lot to talk about today. Yesterday’s post was about three thousand words, and that’s by far the longest post I’ve written in months, especially for a daily. So far the reaction from the Pennykoin community has been positive. We’ll see how things go.

I’ve had family stuff going on this weekend, so was tied up with all that going on today. Next week I’ll probably have more ideas about a new machine learning project that I’ll be working on at school. I’ll probably have to doxx myself to talk about it, but I think it’s worth it, so we’ll see how that goes.

Speaking of school, the other class that I’ve been taking at school has been about the history of programming languages, theory and history of FORTRAN and all that. It got me looking at LISP, and I’ve been reading about that, and have been watching these old MIT videos from 1986 that deals with it.

Seriously, what is going on with Harold Abelson’s hair in this video?

One of the things that I’ve been struggling to grapple with is functional programming. I first heard about it through Cardano. That team decided to use Haskell for it, as it allows code to be formally validated using math. This is important in the smart contract space, as we saw with the Dao hack. So the MIT vids are actually pretty relevant still today, and I’ve been learning a lot from them. I told my wife that between these classes and my recent progress learning piano and sight reading, that I can feel my brain changing. I was only half joking. This type of meta-cognition is an important part of why I meditate, and all of the stuff that I’m learning is definitely having an effect on the way I’m thinking.

But right now I’m just beat from hosting 20 kids for a birthday party and just want to veg out with some World of Warcraft.

Peace.

Saying ‘no’

Probably one of the most important things I’ve learned recently is the power of saying ‘no’. I’ve usually been gung-ho and enthusiastic when it comes to work, and I guess you could say I’ve been eager to please in a lot of respects. Part of that may be because of self-esteem issues from when I was younger, maybe the need for validation or acceptance, or the need to be liked or loved or whatever. But now, I’m at the point in my life that I don’t feel the need to please everyone, and have started being a lot more discriminating in what I take on.

I’ve mentioned before that as a technical person, I was always the first one people came to when they had problems with their computers. Now, don’t get me wrong, I made a great career out of fixing people’s stuff, but it was mainly because I was always fixing mine and was so good at it. But after twenty years, I’ve gotten tired of the support calls and spending my time working on someone’s 5 year workstation that can’t get Outlook 2016 to work right on Windows 7 or whatever. Or someone wants to spend hours of my time trying to get the straight up cheapest laptop they can find cause they’d rather spend the extra two hundred on lotto tickets. (I’m looking at you, dad.)

As my skills have advanced to deal with larger networks, business problems and software development, I’ve come to recognize where my most unique skills are and where I can have the greatest impact. Everything else has got to go.

I recently picked up David Allen’s Getting Things Done a few weeks back and started rifling through it. He was on Tim Ferris’s podcast more recently and hearing the two of them talk was a great motivation. And then Craig Groeschel had a segment last week on ‘cutting the slack‘ that mentioned the two of them by name, with his tips. I’ve definitely been building my own ‘no’ list, things that I just won’t do anymore. And I’ve been very clear with my boss that we should not do them any more. To quote Groeschel, you “grow with your ‘nos'” .

Now that my political candidate ‘career’ is over (for the foreseeable future,) I’ve been able to focus on a lot of things that I had put on hold for several months during the campaign. I’ve spent more time with my family, caught up on house projects, and I can focus on finishing my degree. But I’ve been asked about filling a leadership position in two of my local parties. The idea appeals to me for several reasons, but I told the first one that I had to consider it, and turned down the second offer outright. My first initial thought was what it would mean to have a democratic socialist as the chair of the local Democratic party. It seems like it aligns with where I want to accomplish, but I’m still on the fence about the effectiveness of traditional electoral politics at this point. I’ll have to save this discussion for another post, but the entire state party will be reorganizing this winter, and it seems like a big opportunity for DSA types to start gaining influence.

I’ve also been working with a blockchain project that I’ve been asked to take over. It’s not really that flattering as the sole-developer and originator of the project quit, and I’m the only other person who’s looked at the code. I was asked to take over formally, and I had to say no, for a variety or reasons related to governance and technical debt — another post coming on that one as well, I’m sure. But even when I was saying no to the person asking, we were exploring the possibility of a new project built on the ashes of the old one. This new one would start fresh, with a proper governance model, and follow a more formal design and test-driven development process than the one that is in a crippled state.

In all, this is part of a broader process that I am engaging in with my wife, to streamline our lives, reduce our clutter, and focus on what’s really important in our lives. We’ve decided that we are no longer buying into the American dream, and are finding ways to exit our salaried jobs, sell our big house, get rid of the mortgage and debt, and do what we do as we see the world.

Our goal is to be FIRE: financially independent and retire early, and saying ‘no’ is how I’m going to get there.

Keeping on

This blog has become somewhat of a journal for me. I’m still holding to the principle of writing something every day, even if sometimes when I start writing, I have no idea what I want to talk about. Like today. Sometimes I sit down expecting that nothing important will come out, but I keep writing to build the habit and maybe find some truth that I can speak for that day. Sometimes I think it’s just because it keeps the search engine spiders coming back.

I’m still keeping my meditation and intermittent fasting habits, although I’ve been slacking on Naval’s 60 For 60 challenge. I started breaking the sessions up into shorter 20-minute ones because I’ve been sleeping later. As a result I’ve only been getting 40 minutes for the past couple days. I’ve got about 10 days left, so let this serve as a written promise to hold myself accountable if I don’t get back on track. I suppose this means that I need to quit writing and go do that last twenty minutes before the day ends. I’ll save a longer detail on my experience with that after the 25th, when I’ll decide what further adjustments I’m making to the routine.

I still haven’t had anything to drink in about 75 days now. I haven’t found it that hard or difficult at this point. I don’t even find myself thinking about drinking like I thought I might. I remember hearing an old alcoholic tell someone that they hadn’t had a drink in years, but still thought about it ‘every day’. What I have noticed is that I’ve reverted in other ways, and have been eating and drinking a lot of sugar. I’ve been drinking a lot of energy drinks, and am pretty sure I’m addicted to drinking caffeine right now. I’ve been staying up a bit longer than I want to, and have been finding it harder to get out of bed like I had been a few weeks ago.

That may have something to do with the fact that school is back in session, and I’ve had to deal with classes and a few other projects that I’ve picked up in spite of efforts not to do so. And World Of Warcraft rebooted around this same time, which I totally shouldn’t have subscribed to, but somehow have wound up with a level 15 troll priest and several alts already. And on top of that I broke out my old M-Audio 61-key USB keyboard, and have been teaching my oldest how to play through Playground Sessions. Of course I’ve been spending more time on it than her, trying to get my skills back up to where they were years ago.

But, I did manage to get out and go for a run tonight, which I haven’t done in a few weeks. And I did manage to finish the whole route instead of bailing out like I did last time after eating too much, so that’s progress.

The crown of a good name

Today, I attended a memorial service for an acquaintance who passed away a few days ago, unexpectedly . The service was a who’s who of local politicians, party officials, and activists whose lives she had touched. The loss was all the more tragic given her relatively young age. I’ve never been to a Jewish religious ceremony before, let alone a funeral, but there was one thing that the Rabbi said that stuck with me.

”ย And the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”

Ecclesiastes 7:1

She told a parable from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson about the above verse.

The point being:

“At the time of death, however, there should be no sadness but a sense of achievement.ย  If a person has lived a good life, if a person has fulfilled the commandments, completed his mission of doing good in the world, has weathered all of the storms and rough waters that are inevitably part of life and has stayed on course, then there is certainly reason for celebration at the conclusion of such a meaningful, purposeful life. “

The Crown of a Good Name – Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob

I couldn’t really call this person my friend, we were certainly familiar, and ran in the same circles, but our interactions were usually brief. I did get the chance to spend an hour with her while canvassing the polls this past June. She was there on behalf of one of the non-partisan organizations that she was part of. We chatted during the time, but the two of us didn’t have a close relationship.

Not so of the others that I saw today. I heard several people grieve and acknowledge the contributions that she gave to the causes that she believed in, and how hard it was going to be to fill those shoes. She left with a good name, and one that people around here will remember for some time to come.

Shalom.

Solving society’s problems: business for good

So yesterday we documented a bit of the research that we’ve been doing to nail down a proposal for our senior project proposal at school, and today we wanted to talk about the “business for good” space, an alternative to the shareholder capitalism that seems to be the norm in the world today. Socialists and capitalists can both agree that these type of businesses, with a primary responsibility to provide shareholder value, is responsible for both wrecking the environment and causing the type of economic inequality that we see in the world today. One of the things that I’ve been greatly interested in is figuring out ways to create or promote alternative forms of arrangements, both in the way that both capital and worker power is distributed in organizations. Most of my explorations have been around ways to form worker cooperatives or worker owned businesses, or how to implement these types of organizations using decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO), which we talked about yesterday.

Enter the social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA), founded in 1998, defines this field as a mix of business, government and non-profits, or, as “organizations that address a basic unmet need or solve a social or environmental problem through a market-driven approach.” SEA is a membership organization, and has several chapters throughout the United States.

Things start to get a bit confusing when you add in B Corp and public benefit corporations. While SEA defines social enterprise as a business model, B Corp refers to a paid certification, and public benefit corporation is a “legal incorporation type”. SEA gets into some of the distinctions between the three.

B Corp is a certification from the non-profit B Labs, which is only given to for-profit entities. Confused yet? Social enterprises can apply for B Corp Certification, but not all B Corps are social enterprises. The certification fees are not cheap for someone hoping to start a new organization. B Labs requires one year of prior work for thier $1000 annual certification, although startups can get a provisional certification for half that.

SEA defines a public benefit corporation as one that falls under a specific set of incorporation laws that are available in a limited number of states, 25 plus DC, based on the details over at BenfitCorp.net. Identifying as a public benefit corporation allows business and startups to signal that they have a purpose beyond maximizing shareholder value. I have a feeling that this type of distinction may become very popular in the future.

SEA does a good job of distinguishing between the three of these concepts. Organizations can be all three, although SEA is the only one that allows non-profits and individuals to join. I’ll be taking a further look at their membership offerings and figuring out what else needs to be done to drive these alternatives to exploitive capitalism.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to hop over to B Corp’s directory of certified businesses. I was quite surprised to see the number available in my state, and there were several that I felt the need to reach out to about further information.

Teach your children well

I’ve been trying to teach my daughters the things I love, hoping that some of it will rub off on her. My wife and I both have a healthy love of reading, and seem to have passed that on to the eldest. (The youngest is too young to read.) We’ve also been successful instilling a love of music in the both of them, as the girls both love making up songs and dancing. My wife was a singer when she was in school, and I’ve been a musician since I was 14. The girls love to ‘play’, but my attempts to teach them anything resembling anything other than open strumming on a ukelele have been unsuccessful.

I was exposed to computers when I was around four years old, so I’m trying to replicate that experience for them. I learned to touch-type via this Missile Command-style game on the PS2/e, so I found a game for her to play that would do the same. She managed to work her way through it, but I don’t think it stuck. At one phase I know she was bored and just started smashing keys to get through it. (There was no penalty for wrong letters.) I’ve also had her working through Code.org’s lesson plan. She advanced through it pretty well, but we seem to have abandoned it for now. Kahn’s academy was probably pushing it a bit too much. I wanted to see how far past her grade level she could progress, but I didn’t want to push her to hard.

She’s been targeted for the ‘gifted’ program at her school. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I think it’s important for her to be challenged and pushed hard, but at the same time I think about the effect that such a distinction had on me when I was younger. Not that I think there’s anything bad about being singled out for academic distinction, but I’m worried about the psychological effects of being told you’re ‘gifted’ or ‘special’. It’s a hard line to tread, cause I realise there’s might be some gender factors at play with how confidence levels are later in life.

When I’m watching my girls play, I’ve noticed that my eldest is very bossy, either with her younger sister or with other kids in the neighborhood. My wife tells me that she’s ‘exhibiting leadership skills’, and that calling her bossy is sexist or whatever, but she does bark orders a lot, and gets pissed off when people don’t do what she tells them. I fear that’s something I may have inadvertently modeled for her as well. But it is amazing watching them play.

I try to limit their television time. My wife is a lot more lax about it than I am, but I try to limit it to a couple of hours on the weekends. Today we had the TV off and the two of them were playing in the living room with their dolls and toys, making up stories and playing dress up. Their imaginations are at full gear. The youngest did something similar later this afternoon. I was meditating on the back deck, and she came out there with about four or five animal creatures and posted up on a cushion next to me and started making up this story. It was super cute.

So, hoping that I could actually teach them some music in a more formal way, sight-reading and some theory, I’ve been looking at getting a full sized, 88-key keyboard. They had a toy one that was too small for my large fingers, and I really want something that I can practice on as well, y’know? They’ve enjoyed messing with my 66-key USB MIDI controller that’s been stashed in the closet for a few years, but I wanted something that didn’t need to be hooked up to a computer. I found one online that was in stock at the local Guitar Center, so I took the oldest out there earlier today. She went straight for the drums, and wanted to spend most her time out there. Of course.

Of course, we don’t have room for a kit, much less the three grand for one of these fancy Roland hybrid-electronic rigs, but she didn’t seem super enthused about the keys. She couldn’t tell the difference between the two I was trying to choose from, so I guess we’ll hold off for now. Tomorrow, I’ll hook the MIDI controller back up, and start test driving some of these online piano learning app. I’m gonna see what her (or her sister) can do before I throw another three hundred dollars at it.

I know my wife will like that a lot better.

Cooperative Tech

[I want to acknowledge the work of Doug Ruskoff in his book Team Human, as well as the podcast of the same name. I’ve been engrossed in both lately. These words are mine but many of these ideas are his…]

If I was going to wave a magic wand and solve one of society’s pressing problems using software development, I would focus on transforming the relationship between workers and the organizations that they work for. I am specifically referring to the organization of worker cooperatives.

If I was going to wave a magic wand and solve one of society’s pressing problems using software development, I would focus on transforming the relationship between workers and the organizations that they work for. I am specifically referring to the organization of worker cooperatives.

I don’t want to get too political here in this space, but I think it’s safe to say that shareholder growth capitalism has literally run amuck and is threatening global stability, both economically and environmentally. It’s my belief that empowering workers to make decisions regarding the way a business is run is the way to correct this. I’ve been focusing on this recently by helping protect and promote labor unions as much as possible, but the nature of work, and of companies themselves, has changed so much in the past 70 years that these efforts are having diminishing returns. (Teacher strikes in West Virginia and elsewhere being one of the shining exceptions to this.)

As we know, the tech sector has been the most disruptive force in the world’s economy the past few decades, as our brick and mortar consumer society has been transformed into an online one. Retirement may now be a thing of the past, as the likelihood of spending twenty or thirty years at the same job approaches zero. Many of today’s workers are forced to work two or more jobs to get by, and the side hustle is a mainstay of the millennial generation.

Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, have made fortunes for investors by turning humans into the product. Under the auspices of providing a free service, they have turned us into fuel for big data and algorithms that try to classify us and predict our behavior, nudging us toward actions that ultimately reinforce those same predictions. Instead of serving us, they serve us to advertisers, other corporations and political campaigns, based on our likes, our browsing history and our web searches.

Users of these services unwittingly train the artificial intelligence that will make these predictions more accurate, and gig workers train the AI that will replace them, as we fill out CAPTCHA after CAPTCHA, and apps on our phone record every movement and action that we take on our phone. Whereas once the web promised to democratize content and unite us across physical spaces, today’s social networks divide us and self segregate us into extreme ideologies. Nuance and centrism, which do not translate well to the binary language of machine learning, has given way to self segregation and extreme views. And gig workers and apps of the ‘sharing’ economy, are further alienated by these technologies. Rather than building communities and solidarity, between the workers of these platforms, they are isolated and exploited.

This last point is where I would wave my magic wand. A gig service that brings tech workers together, instead of siloing them. A platform where the gains are distributed back to the network participants. A system in which equity is earned by participation by those that work. A cooperative system that encourages healthy, long term growth, not one that is driven by exponential gains for early-stage venture investors.

The current systems that exist today foment a race-to-the-bottom mentality, as price pressure continuously exerts downward pressure on laborers, externalizing costs onto the consumer, (think self-checkout lines in grocery stores,) or to the commons, (i.e. environmental pollution by fossil fuel companies.) Imagine, a worker-run company, where decisions are made for the good of the workers, not the shareholders.

I fully acknowledge that there are no technological solutions to our political problems, but there may be solutions which help us reverse the damage that has been done over the past 40 years. I have big hopes for the types of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO) that are possible using smart contracts like those on the Ethereum network. I am skeptical that we will get there by accident. The longer that our software developers and designers work without thinking these problems through, the harder it will be to address them down the road. We need to have these discussions, and think through the consequences of the technology that we are creating. Because ultimately, while the next generations of Zuckerbergs and Bezoses (Bezii?) may just want to change the world, what they’re ultimately changing will be us.

Leaping

I am continuously conflicted between maintaining my anonymity and outing myself. On the one hand, I feel the need to maintain a coherent identity between daHIFI and my real life persona, which has several areas of responsibility that I maintain. On the other hand, I am continuously trying to explore my voice and come to terms with certain aspects of my life that I’m not comfortable talking about publically in this format. I’m not sure how to resolve this issue.

I’ve got my foot in a few other projects over the years which have been left in certain states of abandonment recently, and I’ve felt the drive to pick them up and start dusting them off. This blog, and my daily posts, are serving as a bit of a routine to get me in the habit of writing and creating again. I don’t think that, given my numerous responsibilities, that I could maintain this habit and everything else that I do, and resurrect these projects as well. One would take from the other. I would want to maintain some sort of cross-posting scheme, what search engines call the canonical link, whether I post it on one of my controlled blogs or Medium, or some other site. Call it legacy-building or what have you, but I want to have one place to point to for my body of work. Part of me is hoping that eventually I’ll have enough for a book, and can compile what I’ve put here into something. We shall see.

Of course, there’s the whole pesky ‘earning a living’ thing that I have to contend with. I’m in a bit of statis at the moment, with my day job. I don’t think I’ve gotten a raise since I went salary about five years ago, and the job provides no benefits. My wife is civil service, which provides our medical insurance. She’s been out-earning me for some time now, which doesn’t bother me, since I see the tradeoffs between the freedom that I have at my job, and what I see as the lack thereof at hers that we both contend with.

I work from home and have a great deal of freedom over both my schedule and my priorities. Although my primary role is as the sole service provider within our organization, I deal with most of the break-fix work as it comes up, and deal with projects at my own pace and schedule. I don’t take vacation as often as I should, as I really don’t need to. My schedule is light enough that I have plenty of time to relax, and since I work from home, I can take as many breaks as I need to. Whereas my wife is now attempting to design a life that she doesn’t need to take a vacation from, I’m already there for the most part. Sure, I have the odd call every few weeks that forces me outside of a reasonable schedule, but for the most part, from what I can tell, I’m working part time hours for full time pay.

That said, I’d probably handicap myself for anywhere between 30-50 percent of the salary that I would command if I did work full-time. I’m probably being conceited, but I think that if I did what I do at a government or larger corporation, I would have a thirty percent raise right off the bat, not to mention 401k and other perks that I don’t have now. But, given my history of failure with other firms, I think I’m happy right here where I am, for the most part. I can fulfil my obligations (as I see them) to my employer, maintain a healthy pace that doesn’t burn me out, and spend several hours a day moonlighting in various forms, building things until the day when I’m ready to step aside, or step up elsewhere.

There’s a saying, “people do as little work as they can to keep from getting fired, and employers pay as little as they can get away with to keep people from quitting.” That perfectly sums up the equilibrium that I have at my job. There’s another saying as well. “The thing that you want is on the other side of your fear.” And I’ve definitely been staring at that jump for some time, wavering between action and inaction. Whether this daily exercise is just me grinding my gears in an ultimately futile effort, just to give myself an excuse to keep from doing something more drastic remains to be seen.

Right now, I am just giving myself the space to think and plan out what it is I want from life, and what I will do to achieve it.