OCD Tiger

28 January 2015

Dan Benjamin on Back to Work episode 204, with some cleanup of uhs, ums, and false starts:

The whole crux of the OCD thing is that you know the fears that you have are irrational, and that the things that you’re afraid of are essentially impossible, but that doesn’t change the reality of the fear. This is the way that I would explain OCD to people, is that there is a loved one on the other side of the room who needs your help desperately, but there is a large tiger loose in the room in between you and them. And, that’s very real. That sensation of like, I need to get over there, but I can’t get over there to do this thing that’s really important, because there’s this tiger in the way that’s blocking me. But, I can get rid of the tiger if I do these things.

None of this makes sense to somebody without OCD. It’s almost a memory thing, in a way. Frequently for people, it’s locking the doors, leaving an iron on, something like that. So like, let’s say you iron a shirt in the morning. And you might say to yourself, OK, I’m going to put the iron away, but before I put it away, I’m going to unplug it, I’m going to let it cool down. So I don’t start a fire, I’m going to put it up on the marble countertop. But I’m going to face it toward the wall so that, you know, a kid doesn’t come around and touch it. OK, so it’s there. And then later, you see it and you wrap it up, right? You touch it, it’s cool, you wrap it up, you put it up on the shelf. You’re like, OK, I’ve done that, it’s fine now. And maybe now—well, I just want to check that before I leave, to make sure that I did that, because even though I remember putting it on the counter top, turning it a certain way, wrapping up the cable, putting it into the thing, I’ve just got to double-check it. And then you’re in your car and you’re like, well wait a minute: did I do that or was that the last time that I ironed?

It’s like a memory thing. It’s like the thing that a normal person would be able to say, like, yeah, I did that, I checked it. For you, you’ve got to check it again. And now you’re halfway to work, and you’re like ummm…did I unplug the iron or did I leave it on? I should go back—I need to go back home and do it.

There’s this tiger in the way.

My strategy for a while was to come up with a word that I would be unlikely to use day-to-day, and assign that to some action. For example, I lock the car doors, and I think to myself: “Octothorp.” Then, three hours later, when I wake up in bed wondering if I left the car open, I can think to myself: “Nope. Octothorp.”

In short order, though, this led to the same problem: “Wait, was octothorp today or was that the last time I got out of the car?” After getting out of bed to make sure the car was locked in the middle of a couple different nights, I mostly managed to convince myself that it doesn’t really matter, and if someone is going to steal stuff out of the car, then that’s just life.

How To Join A Community

20 January 2015

Local game nerd Benedict Fritz nailed it with this one. I was going to include a quote here, but realized I wanted to copy-paste the entire thing, so just go read it there.

Benedict dscribes exactly what my experience has been. In the Drupal community in DC and the iOS community in Chicago, I just kept coming back and eventually got to know the core group really well. In the iOS community in Denver, I went to a couple events, but felt out of place and didn’t bother going back. It’s entirely possible that I might have gotten to know the group there just as well as I have in Chicago, but I submit that the iOS folks in Chicago and the Drupal folks in DC are both friendlier and more welcoming than the iOS folks in Denver were, at least the few times I went.

I’ve also been on the other end. Now that I know a bunch of people at the Chicago iOS events, I tend to spend most of the social time catching up with people that I only see once a month, and less time getting to know new people. It’s something one has to be intentional about, and be conscious of the fact that it’s important to welcome new people who might not come back if they have an unpleasant experience or two.

Homebrewing without becoming one of Those Guys

19 January 2015

I really like brewing beer, and I really don’t want to become one of those homebrewers.

I joined a local homebrew club back in May, thanks my friend Lucas (the only person I knew in Chicago when I moved here). I’d always wanted to try brewing, and finally got into it because he’s on the board and talked me into coming to one of the quarterly parties (aside: it shouldn’t take much convincing to get me to a party with a bunch of beer and friendly people, but I was saying no to a lot of things and being generally anti-social for a long time there).

Anyway, I joined the club, and I’m really glad I did. For one thing, I’d only met a few people in the city when I joined. Through the club, I’ve met a whole bunch of people, and have become closer friends with some. For another, I learned a whole lot about brewing really quickly. I can only imagine how I’d be doing if I tried figuring this all out on my own at home; having a bunch of experienced brewers around has been invaluable.

And I’ve found that I really, really enjoy brewing. As I’ve become more comfortable with the process, I enjoy doing it a lot more—at least partly because I don’t spend the entire time worried that I’m forgetting something. Plus, it’s a great excuse to hang out with people and sample beer that other people have brewed and put on tap at our brewhouse. As far as we know, we’re the only homebrew club in the country with a dedicated, shared brewhouse, and having all that shared equipment (and a concrete floor that can be hosed down) makes the entire process so much easier. Price-wise, it probably doesn’t work out in the long term: if I saved the money I’m spending on membership and spent it on my own equipment, I’d probably break even in a year or two. But, it’s well worth the cost to have club members to hang out with, the space to brew in, a reason to get out of the house on a regular basis, and a hobby that isn’t basically the same thing I do for a living every day.

But, the point here is that I don’t want to become one of those people that’s obnoxious about homebrewing. Homebrewers tend to be categorized among marathoners and vegans and people who have rescued a shelter dog or do Crossfit. I have honestly tried to keep my trap shut about it, beyond the “yeah I’ve been getting into brewing,” because holy crap no one cares. Once in a while, someone will ask me more about it, but I’m really trying to avoid being one of those overbearing twits, and I hope you’ll help keep me honest.

Everything Is Awesome When Your Car Drives You

06 January 2015

(I just watched The Lego Movie and that song is going to be in my head for a month)

Let’s be very clear about something: self-driving cars are going to be awesome. I do not mean awesome like a hot dog, I mean awesome like a hundred billion hot dogs, because it’s going to change the way we do everything.

The Oatmeal recently did a comic about Google’s self-driving cars, and I’m happy to know I’m not the only one who’s completely enthralled by this idea, because this is something I’ve been excited about for a long time.

I love the idea of not paying any attention to the road when I’m going somewhere. It’ll be like riding in a cab, all of the time, but with fewer terrifying lane changes and cursing at pedestrians. You get in, you say “Take me to work” (whether you actually say that or hit some buttons is irrelevant), and then you sit back and read your book until you arrive at your space-lawyer’s office, where you do space-law because it’s the future. Then you tell the car to head home and re-charge until it needs to swing by the school to pick up your kids and deposit them at their space-oboe lesson or whatever. Or, for those of us who don’t have kids, you tell it to go home and wait until you summon it to the hyper-bar because you’ve had too many of those cocktails made with ice cubes from the water we brought back from Mars (we’re still in the future here, remember?).

More importantly, you probably won’t even have a car, because why would we all need our own cars? Most cars spend like 95% of every day just sitting idle in a garage or parking spot or whatever—why do we all need our own? Before long, there will be a handful of companies (or, god help us, just Uber) operating robotic taxi fleets: hit a button and a car pulls up, ready to take you wherever. Chances are good you won’t have to wait long, because almost every car out there will be serving these requests.

Then go one step further: how could these cars affect public transit? Busses no longer make much sense: why send one big vehicle to make lots of stops along one route, when you could have a dozen zipping around wherever they need to be? I imagine it would be like requesting a taxi, except you tell it where you want to go and how many of you are going. The network groups together people going in the same general direction from the same general area (or at least on the way from A to B) and makes four or five stops to grab each of them, and then again to drop them all at their destinations. If you’re willing to pay more, you get a private cab, the same way that taxis are different from the bus right now. Light rail will probably still make sense, just from a capacity standpoint, especially in big cities where those systems are already well established. For smaller cities, though, a fleet of cars could provide access to areas that are ill-served by current infrastructure.

Coupled with the kind of robots that already build our cars and pick the items in our Amazon-branded cardboard boxes, these cars will have similar effects on the shipping industry. Larger trucks can be automated to drive cross-country, with stops only to swap batteries. Local deliveries can happen same-day, with a fleet of smaller cars making more deliveries than a UPS truck possibly could.

The downside, of course, is that it will be a net loss for the job market, and not an equivalent replacement of jobs either: lots of driving jobs will be replaced by a small number of engineering jobs. Then again, once enough of this is automated, none of us should have to work more than a few hours a week—in theory. They’ve been predicting that with every major technological breakthrough for generations, so there’s no reason to believe that the progress made between here and a faceless postal carrier will solve the problem.

Still: I look forward to hopping in a car and taking a nap while it drives me to Milwaukee to visit friends for the weekend, and not wondering every Saturday night if I’m going to be hit by a drunk while I’m crossing the street, and not hearing about yearly traffic fatalities in the thirty-thousand range. That seems like a good thing to me.

Yosemite Is Garbage

06 January 2015

Marco, in Apple has lost the functional high ground, widely quoted just about everywhere already:

“It just works” was never completely true, but I don’t think the list of qualifiers and asterisks has ever been longer. We now need to treat Apple’s OS and application releases with the same extreme skepticism and trepidation that conservative Windows IT departments employ.

Yeeeeep.

I switched to Macs over a decade ago because a few friends told me how great they were for coding. I stuck with them because they were reliable. That is no longer the case, by a long shot. Quality has been going downhill for a few years, but Yosemite is driving me bonkers: it logs me out every 6 to 48 hours, like a soft crash that doesn’t result in a full restart. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s so goddamned irritating, and damn sure not how it’s supposed to work. If I didn’t spend my days in Xcode, I’d be considering a switch.

Re-usable Rockets

05 January 2015

This is pretty cool:

But this time, the company will attempt to land the first stage of the rocket intact on a barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean. After the booster falls away and the second stage continues pushing the payload to orbit, its engines will reignite to turn it around and guide it to a spot about 200 miles east of Jacksonville, Fla.

“We’ve been able to soft-land the rocket booster in the ocean twice so far,” Mr. Musk said. “Unfortunately, it sort of sat there for several seconds, then tipped over and exploded. It’s quite difficult to reuse at that point.”

Mr. Musk put the chances of success at 50 percent or less. But, he added, over the dozen or so flights scheduled for this year, “I think it’s quite likely, 80 to 90 percent likely, that one of those flights will be able to land and refly.”

Social Media Vacation

04 January 2015

A few months ago, I decided to take a break from social media, and it was one of the better decisions I made last year.

Twitter and Facebook are, for the most part, aggravating and infuriating and only a little bit entertaining—at least, they were the way I was using them. I followed and friended anyone and everyone, which meant I saw some funny stuff, some relevant industry stuff, some news about far-away friends, and a whole bunch of bad news and generally awful reactions to it. This was not doing me any good.

Furthermore, I knew that taking a break from Twitter was the right thing to do because for weeks after cutting myself off, I caught myself articulating every thought as succinctly and cleverly as I could, mentally editing my observations so they could fit into 140 characters. Other times, I would compulsively pull out my phone and then just stare at it, like “…what was I doing with this again?” As I said in my post back in October, Twitter had become something of an addiction, and I was discovering how true that was.

From Deleting the iPad DJ:

I am part of a peer group referred to as Generation Z, but it may be more fitting to name us Generation Me Me Me. We obsess over sharing and oversharing ourselves. We feel obligated to constantly connect. The dopamine fires in our brains, and we’re hooked. Every time we update our status and text our friends, we feed a very real chemical addiction to social media.

From Reboot or Die Trying:

Those early days of screenlessness were bewildering. My mind, wound up like a top for years, continued spinning. I experienced sporadic surges of angst and adrenaline, sure I was supposed to be doing… something. I’d pull my phone out every few minutes, even though no one was e-mailing me and I’d uninstalled all social-media apps. The habits and mental agitations of digital work life persisted like phantom limbs.

My symptoms were testament to the power of what psychologists call variable intermittent reinforcement. Famed behaviorist B. F. Skinner discovered long ago that if you really want to ingrain a habit, you encourage it with rewards that arrive at variable times, in variable sizes. The lab rat knows that it will periodically be given food for pressing the lever, but not exactly when or how much. The result: a compulsive rat.

It’s the same with humans. Variable intermittent reinforcement explains why slot machines are so enthralling, why video games contain hidden caches of coins or weapons, and why we’re all helpless before our e-mail accounts. One time you check your inbox and there’s a single new message, from LinkedIn, which reminds you that you can’t figure out how to delete your LinkedIn account. Sad face. The next time you check, you have five new messages, including one from an old friend and another from a potential employer. Happy face! So you check, check, check.

We online denizens come to need these regular low-level jolts and get antsy without them. That’s why I was tweeting in the bathroom. That’s why your friends around the table at the bar are all staring at their phones. Ordinary life has come to seem torpid and drab relative to the cascade of affirmations we find in contingent online communication.

Because social groups coalesce and plan online, even brief screenless periods breed FOMO, the fear of missing out.

Yep. At first, I didn’t feel like I was missing much: as it turns out, it wasn’t the updates from friends that were addicting, it was the gratification of posting something funny and racking up the faves and likes (which is, frankly, an incredibly depressing metric for self-worth).

The FOMO only came later: I started peeking into Facebook a little more regularly, mostly to check for event invitations and the like, but even then, I’d catch myself skimming my timeline and getting aggravated about things all over again.

At some point, I realized that I just needed to be more judicious about what I saw. Staying away from Twitter and Facebook altogether just wasn’t working: I was a lot more relaxed than I had been when I felt like I needed to keep up on everything, but I’d moved to the other end of the spectrum and was keeping up on nothing. I felt like I was missing out on everything.

So, at the end of October, I unfollowed just about everyone. I’m not sure when they did it, but Facebook added an option to unfollow someone so that you don’t see their posts, but remain friends. This seemed like a nice middle ground for me, since I still like to check in on people now and then, and don’t want to block them from seeing what I post. I also un-friended a bunch of people (mostly those I had met once at a party in college or something like that), and marked some more as an “acquaintance,” so they don’t see most of my stuff.

On both Facebook and Twitter, the list of people I now follow is almost exclusively people I know here in Chicago. This is a stark contrast to what I once used Facebook for, and how I think many people still do: for keeping in touch with friends who no longer live close by. Now, I mostly follow the people that I see regularly anyway, so I don’t need social media to hear what’s going on in their lives…but I still like to hear what they’re up to, to catch the jokes in the office, to hear about events going on around here. It helps, too, that the folks I still follow are not the people who I would have been arguing with before, nor the ones who post much about the news.

The downside, of course, is that I’m barely keeping up with distant friends now, but I think that’s OK. Really, there’s only a handful of old friends that I actively keep up with, who I chat with over IM or email every once in a while or see semi-regularly because they happen to travel a lot or whatever. For almost everyone else, I’m just out of the loop until they happen to find themselves in Chicago, or I in their town, and we get together for a drink and catch up on the past several years. I’m OK with this. I don’t think any of us needs to be fully up-to-date on the daily lives of everyone we’ve ever been friends with, and it’s kind of nice to see someone for the first time in a while and really mean it when you say, “Fill me in, what have you been up to?”

I’ve been posting now and then to both Twitter and Facebook, and will continue to do so, but I’m going to be mindful of how much I’m posting and why. For a long time, Twitter was just a running output of my thoughts, all the time, and no one needs that (nor did they at the time). I also know I need to just avoid politics, because it never ends well (he wrote, moments after sharing a snarky image on his timeline [sigh]).

I’m working on it.

Black Shirt Brewery

03 January 2015

Off Their Own Backs — Black Shirt Brewing in Denver, Colorado:

“We didn’t want to be another brewery downtown that has people strolling in looking for a Bud Light and not even realizing that they’re making the beer 20 feet away. Our thinking was that if you sought us out, and the person at the bar next to you sought us out, then chances are you two would have a great conversation because of the type of people you are.”

Black Shirt was one of the breweries I visited when I lived in Denver last year, and that’s exactly what happened: I wound up chatting with a couple sitting next to me at the bar, who were also trying to hit as many Denver breweries as they could. They pointed me to Hogshead, where I met more friendly people, including a woman from Chicago who told me which breweries to start with once I got here.

I Won't Miss 2014

31 December 2014

It’s been a shitty year, but at least it went by quick. 2013 was a tough year to beat, so maybe 2014 was kind of doomed from the start.

On paper, 2014 looked pretty OK. I joined a homebrew club and made a bunch of friends through it. Several friends came through Chicago and if they didn’t crash on my couch, I got to have a drink with them. I saw some of my favorite bands and comedians live. I attended a few weddings, got to spend a little time back in Denver, and spent a few days on the beach in the Dominican Republic. I starting developing for iOS full-time, a gig that I worked toward for a year and a half.

Listed out like that, it looks like a pretty good year, right?

If only. The response to the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner frustrated and angered me more than anything else I’ve seen in the news in a long time, which led to a couple months away from social media for my own sanity. I spent a couple months on an anti-depressant (for unrelated reasons), though I’m weaning off that now. Two major family emergencies knocked me off my feet, one early in the year and one late. After a couple years of problems and almost a year of counseling, Erin and I agreed to a trial separation, and I moved out in November.

I really can’t believe how fast this year went by. I know that every year goes faster than the one before it—that just seems to be the way things are always going to be—but still, all of this stuff is still so fresh in my mind that it’s hard to believe how much time has really passed. The good stuff just feels like little garnishes on the shit sandwich that was the rest of the year.

I’m spending New Year’s Eve alone at home this year. I’ve declined a few party invites with [admittedly] melodramtic-sounding excuses about needing some time to myself to reflect or whatever, which is true. I don’t have a goat to sacrifice, but I can’t help but feel like I need to do something to symbolically put this year behind me and move on with my life.

Moping aside, I really am looking forward to 2015—I mean, nowhere to go but up, right? There are a lot of changes I want to make—changes that I’m already making—and things are on the upswing. I’m working to break some bad habits and ingrain some better ones. Time is fleeting, and I’ve wasted too much of it already just waiting around for things to get better; I’m finally taking action to dig myself out of the rut I’ve been in, and wish I’d done so a long time ago.

But hey, onward and upward. Eyes closed, head first, can’t lose.

Time Keeps On Slipping

30 December 2014

I’m skimming through my calendar for the past 12 months, looking for bigger goings-on that I might have forgotten about in preparation for writing a “farewell 2014” blog post, and man: I cannot believe how long ago some stuff happened. Some of these events trigger some other memory, so I search my daily logs for it and find out, oh holy crap, it was over four years ago when I had a drink with Erik from BicycleSPACE and we wound up chatting with a guy who was in town for some kind of A/V conference and he and Erik connected because Erik wanted to get some projectors or something.

Time keeps going faster. I’ve observed it myself, and others have warned me that it only gets worse, but that doesn’t make it easier to swallow.