A full plate

Earlier today I finished a fascinating interview that Tim Ferriss did with Penn Jillette. One of the things that I found most interesting was his journaling habit that he’s done daily for over thirty years. He begins each morning spending about half an hour writing about the conversations that he had the day before and some of the things that he did. He said he writes about half to a thousand words, then finishes up by reading the diary entries from one year ago, five, ten and so on years ago. It seems to me that it’s quite a way to keep track of one’s life and find out what one was doing, and how one’s grown.

I think ideally I’m still trying to make this blog a diary of sorts. Having a daily writing habit is good practice and keeps my mind sharp, but at the same point I don’t see that the content here would be of much use to anyone other than myself in some regards. I don’t want to get into the minutiea of who I talked to and so forth, but I aim to say something true each day, and hope that I’ll be struck by some sort of creative impulse that will mean something more than my particular day. I tell myself if I just keep writing, things will develop on their own. We’ll see.

I’ve been trying to maintain my routine, getting up early enough that I don’t have to rush, trying to maintain a balance between early morning productivity and my late-night tendencies. Trying to juggle all the responsibilities that I’ve somehow managed to saddle myself with, and still find time to do what I want to do. Being a parent is probably the most important job that I have, and it’s made harder by the fact that I only have less than three hours with my children each weekday. We recently picked up the idea of “special time” from one of the discipline books that I picked up to help deal with some defiance issues that my eldest is having. It’s fifteen minutes a day that the kids are in charge. Right now all they want to do during that time is for me to give them horsey rides, or toss them around with my feet, doing front and backflips onto the floor or couch cushions. We’ve been experimenting with me holding their feet in my hands while they stand and I push them up in the air above me. Needless to say I have been sore and feeling beat up for several days.

I’ve had some physical discomfort in my shoulder the past few days. I can’t tell if it’s due to the aforementioned horse-play, or a repetitive stress issue due to leaning on my elbow while at my desk. Or it could be strain from the increased amount of piano practice that I’ve been doing. I’ve got a couple short classical pieces memorized that I’m polishing up and hope to have a video up soon. I’ve been spending a good deal of time throughout the day at the keys, and have been slowly improving over the past few weeks. Emphasis on slowly; just earlier I was able to complete a short Bach minuet without any flubs. I’ve probably been practicing it for weeks.

I’m also fighting the nagging feeling that I may have taken on too much and that I’m going to be very, very busy soon. I’m maintaining right now, but a meeting last week looks like it may lead to a partnership that could lead to a lot of opportunity. I just have to balance my past obligations, which are so low on the backburner right now that they may wind up burning me if I don’t stay ahead of it.

Other than that, it’s just breathe in, breathe out. I’m doing fine.

Not getting fired isn’t enough

Last week was the first day of my last semester before I get my degree, and I’ve already managed to miss two days of classes, one because I had the time wrong, and the second because my youngest was sick. The New Year has seen little activity at my day job, save for some scrambling around the end of life for Windows 7. And despite my best efforts, I’ve still managed to pick up a few projects to add to my already overloaded schedule.

Most of my side work right now is around website hosting. Maintaining domains, SSL certs, installing WordPress; nothing too complicated. I’m using Infinite WordPress to keep an eye on security updates and backups, and have a year membership for Envato to access all their premium themes and other assets. It’s low hanging fruit, I’ll admit.

I’m also close to closing a deal for setting up digital infrastructure for a local school board candidate. One of the perks for having run for office myself is the ability to get paid to do the same work.

Each day that goes by brings home the realization that I’m all but checked out from my day job. The last few months of 2019 I was busy furiously trying to find ways to automate operations as much as possible. Not now. There’s no urgency. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about core values, trying to figure out what kind of culture we have at my job, and the answers I’ve found have been lacking. I take a lot of the blame for the way I’ve acted that have led to a toxic work environment, which has caused any efforts to enforce discipline to fail.

Perhaps part of it is going on several years now without a boost in compensation. I’ve been working with the same salary for about five years now, which is crazy. I’ve told myself that I’m comfortable with this because of the freedom I have, I’m able to work from home and don’t have to worry about how many hours I actually work. It’s well under thirty five a week. Even the sparse goals that I’ve set for myself for billable time have gone unchecked.

There is an old adage: people work only as hard enough as to not get fired, and employees pay them only enough not to quit. It’s not enough for me anymore. My main concern right now is doubling my income before the end of the year. Wish me luck.

Thanks to supporters

I hate to use the term ‘life changing’ to describe what’s happened lately, but I’ve seen a few orders roll in for the EICAR products that I put together and it has really made my week. I’ve been dreaming of leaving the rat race and having some sort of self-sustaining revenue streams to help me escape wage-slavery or whatever you want to call it. I’m not being very eloquent right now, but the plan is to escape the need to trade time for money, and seeing these orders come through and be fulfilled without any additional effort on my part seems like a dream come true.

Love him or hate him, Tim Ferriss has been a huge influence on me. I read the Four Hour Workweek when it first came out, but for whatever reason I’d never been able to take that leap and to full bore into something that could do that type of revenue-generation. About the closest I’ve ever come to it has been investing, whether buying stocks or crypto and seeing things take off of their own accord. (The 15% rally in BTC this past week is no doubt affecting my mood.)

I’ll be honest, I won’t be paying the grocery bill with the proceeds from the sales that I did, but this past week is very inspiring and helps reinforce that another way is possible.

Will this image break automatic camera scanner systems?

EICAR antivirus test string

The image above is a QR-encoded representation of the EICAR antivirus test string. The string (`X5O!P%@AP[4\PZX54(P^)7CC)7}$EICAR-STANDARD-ANTIVIRUS-TEST-FILE!$H+H*`) is used to check the effectiveness of antivirus systems without using actual malware. It was brought to my attention via a Tweet by computer security Rob Rosenberger in which he placed QR code on his car during a recent road trip. The intention here being to get automated scanners to read and insert the string into their databases, hopefully causing them to crash.

A few people mentioned how they wanted these on hats or shirts, so I spent some time today putting a couple of products up on the ecommerce site. After I put this out, someone noted that this string only works if it is the only data in a file, which reduces the likelihood that it will actually cause any havok.

Still, if the idea of trashing facial recognition systems or license plate scanners sounds like fun to you, then perhaps you’ll be interested in this.

2020 Goals

I’m 40 years old, which means that I’ve spent half of my life in the 20th century and half of it in the 21st. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t excited with the fact that we last night we moved into a new decade. I was reading a book last night when midnight came; my family was asleep. There had been pops of fireworks going off before midnight, but there was a point when they started firing off continuously when I knew that the New Year had come. I wasn’t sure whether it was the City or the nearby military base where they were going off, but after about what was likely the official display ceased, what sounded like small arms fire kept going on for another twenty or fourty minutes. I imagined handguns or semiautomatic rifles being fired off in the air. (I once found a spent 9mm bullet laying on my porch step, no idea where it came from.) The explosions were punctuated with the sound of sirens as emergency personnel responded, either to the illegal fireworks, firearms, or perhaps to some actual injury.

  1. Finish my degree: I’m one semester away from getting my bachelors in computer science. I’ll likely finish with a >3.5 GPA. This should open up some opportunities, but the worst thing about it will be that my loans will come due. This will likely cause some financial hardship until I accomplish #2…
  2. Get a raise: I’ve been at the same job and salary for four or five years now. My wife outearns me by a great deal, and it’s not a problem, pride-wise, as much as it is a difference in lifestyle. My budget is extremely tight and is a subject of stress, while she seems to have a lot more discrecion in how she handles her finance. I know that even with my lack of anything more than an associates degree I’m underpaid, but the freedom I have with my current job makes up for it. That freedom has downsides though, and it’s time to step up. Unfortunatley, I’ve come to recognize that my current job is with a zombie firm, which is why item #3 is…
  3. Find a new job: I’ve been with my current job for 7 years, which is longer than I’ve ever held a position anywhere else. I tell my wife I’m unfireable because of key-man risk, but I’ve come to realize that everyone else on my small team is as well, and that’s not a good thing. I’ll have to expand on this later. I have no desire to go back to a corporate position where I have to work more than 30 hours a week, so I will have to make sure to focus on #4…
  4. Pickup more freelance/contracting work: Until the next Bitcoin bull run makes me independently wealthy, I’m going to have to focus on expanding my independent work and pick up some actual clients. I just need to pick up sixteen clients at $250/month retainer to replace my current real job, so I’ll just need to focus on picking up a few more and staying on top of things while I work on a few more large development projects.
  5. Get my daughter sleeping in her bed: She’s three years old now, and still can’t fall asleep on her own. I don’t know if we broke the first one doing it, but at least she goes to bed without having to lay down next to her for twenty minutes. This will be a long hard fought battle, especially until I can get my wife on board.
  6. Deal with my defiant child: I have two daughters. My boss has two as well, and often tells me that I have no idea what kind of shit I’ll have to deal with when they become teenagers. He assumes they’ll live that long. I would suspect that my eldest has oppositional defiant disorder save for the fact that she’s an angel with everyone but my wife and I, so I just assume it’s our lack of parenting skills. I’ve got some books that I’m reading and some strategies that I’ll be working through, so we’ll see how that goes.
  7. Continue to meditate: Such a simple thing to do that has such a good impact on my well-being. I don’t know that I’ll be doing hour-long sessions, but twenty minutes a day seems like such a no-brainer. Figuring out how to make it part of my daily routine and get the kids involved will be key.
  8. Exercise regularly: I’ve been through so many phases on this that it’s ridiculous. I’m really going to need to prioritize this, along with meditation, to make sure that it gets done on a regular basis. When I’ve done so in the past, the results have been tremendous, but it’s been so hit or miss lately.
  9. The drink: the hundred-plus days off the wagon that I did late last summer was one of the best things I’ve done for my health. I’ve already accepted the fact that I’m an alcoholic (an addict might be a better description,) so I have to figure out whether I want to continue being a functioning alcoholic or what.
  10. Up my piano skills: music has always been part of my life, and I’m finally getting to the point where I can sight read. Besides a few pop tunes that I’ve been playing around with, I’ve almost mastered a Bach minuet. I really want my kids to pick this up by my example, but I’m having difficulty figuring out what an appropriate goal for me would be. Bach’s Inventions should be something I can achieve this year.
  11. Write: I am going to start a 1000-day goal to write at least 200 words to this blog.

Wish me luck!

Parental payback

I’m not sure whether it’s seasonal affective disorder or just the holidays, but I’ve had a bit of ennui lately and have had trouble keeping up with things. I know it all stems from bad behaviors tending toward staying up late which has just been screwing with things the next morning, interfering with my good morning habits. I’m sure I could come up with lots of excuses as to why I didn’t exercise or have been consuming lots of sugar, caffeine and alcohol; staying up late on screens and so forth, but I’m not going to bother justifying it.

One of the thing that I’ve learned from meditation is the illusion of the self, specifically the storytelling that we all do to ourselves throughout the day to try to make sense of our lives. Our post-hoc justification for the way things are the way they are, or our apparent lack of free will. It’s so easy to fall back into old traps, old habits, and living with the cognitive dissonance between the way we are and the way we want to be can be disorienting if we pay too much attention to it, so we find ways to justify the way things are.

When I was younger, in my adolescence, I used to have these unhealthy behaviors with relationships — for whatever passed for relationships back in high school. Part of it was an inability to communicate, or even be able to acknowledge what I wanted, let alone express it when it came to another person. Eventually these unrequited feelings poisoned the relationship, a pattern that played out time after time until later in my adult life. I still struggle with it in my marriage now. But a few experiences opening up over the past few years have proved that a lot of the fear of acceptance that I might have felt were unfounded. It seems silly to say it as someone who has been married for almost ten years, or almost sad to thing that feelings of self-worth that I formed as a child are still affecting my ability to be happy as an adult. It just emphasizes the huge importance of being a parent.

Ultimately, I feel like I’m failing in that respect in some ways as well. It’s easy to slip into detrimental patterns in response to the way my children act, and it’s tiring to pay them the proper type of attention that they need. I have this need for authority in my household, for my children to obey and help with things like setting and clearing the table, doing laundry, and so forth. My children are so young, though, I wonder whether I’m pushing them too hard, but I always suspect that I’m not pushing them enough. I could tell stories for hours about my own experiences growing up, and I’m just emulating the behaviors that my father expressed, even though I have plenty of first-hand experience with how that backfired.

Or did it?

I won’t say that my dad was abusive. We get along fine these days. He just has a lack of, how do you say, couth, in many respects that I’ve managed to escape, thankfully. But he no doubt grew up in a much different world than today, and his daddy’s method of discipline would no doubt be considered child abuse today. Somehow, though, I feel like I’m failing as a father whenever words and reason fail me and I have to resort to physical discipline. But there are some times when my child just will not listen, becomes belligerent, and it feels like backing down is the wrong thing to.

My wife is a bit of a trained professional when it comes to kids. She’s worked in daycares and counseling with a background in early childhood development. I didn’t know shit about kids until I had one. She tries to tell me what’s ‘appropriate’ behavior for their ages, but even she resorts to less than ideal responses when our kids are being particularly difficult.

When I was younger, back home in the rural county where I grew up, I was around my cousins almost all of the time. We used to take great pleasure in driving the adults around us completely insane. Acting up to see how we we could push the limit, driving the adults around us to cursing and yelling. We thought it was a game.

Turns out payback is a bitch.

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.