Essay Archive

Artifacts of Power

Artifacts of Power

1. Here’s a plot synopsis for a high fantasy short story. Protagonist: Karnaca, the young warrior princess of her city-state home of Dothrak Dothrak is beset by constant strife, sieges from without, and attempted coups from within. Her aging father seems powerless to stem the tide of decay. Karnaca wants peace and prosperity, to see her home shine as a center of learning and commerce as it did in mythic ages. So she sets out on her adventure, seeking the fabled Sword of Balance. The sword was forged in the ancient second age, by a powerful wizard lost to time....

Guilt, Shame, White Privilege

Guilt, Shame, White Privilege

Pete: I love that “white middle-class complex” thing going on at Hacker News. Jovan: Tell me about it, I don’t get it. Where does it stem from? Pete: They are a bunch of emotionally stunted, white, middle class geeks I guess. They want everything to work like software, but it doesn’t. And they want to generalize everyone as themselves+delta, when they aren’t. Jovan: Hah. Don’t tell me you got pulled into that shit too. Pete: What do you mean? Jovan: You realize their arguments revolve around how you and I are privileged because we’re a) white, b) middle-class, c) in...

Keep your Baggage Light

Keep your Baggage Light

Carlos came to me the other day very upset. He’s in his mid 20s, and he’s about to be engaged to his beautiful girlfriend who he loves very much. He’s always been straight, except… you know where this is going. He met Zeb a few weeks ago, and Carlos can’t get Zeb off his mind. Carlos is intensely attracted to him, romantically and sexually. Carlos’ question is: what does it mean? Am I gay and I just didn’t know? 2. Imagine you live in the world were only sneakers and sandals exist. People for whatever reasons tend to just wear...

Man Over Gremlins

Man Over Gremlins

Continued from Zombie Gremlins Here’s a game of Zombie Gremlin Ping Pong, the proverbial echo chamber I mentioned the previous essay, played out over the course of thousands of years: Master Morality Strongmen like Genghis Khan run roughshod over the known world. No one can stop him, his men have the best lives and most reproductive success. I hear 5% of the modern world population can trace their ancestry back to him. The traits that make him and his army successful: strength, cunning, ruthlessness—all become virtues. The mythology of those cultures have pantheons of powerful, petty gods doing as they...

Zombie Gremlins

Zombie Gremlins

Continued from Gremlins of Belief I knew a goth girl in college. She identified as Wiccan, which basically means she worshipped “The Goddess,” nature. She had grown up a Jehovah’s Witness, and when she left her parents’ house, she saw the error of their beliefs, and she became Wiccan. There is a mirror image version of the Gremlin Fallacy. Instead of continuing to believe something that’s been fundamentally subverted by new information, you stop believing in something in favor of a different thing that does not fundamentally subvert the original belief. You thought you killed the gremlin, but you actually...

Gremlins of Belief

Gremlins of Belief

Tortoise: This watch works because tiny, invisible gremlins are pushing the hands. Hare: No, the watch works because a battery is powering a motor, that drives some gears that are attached to the hands. Tortoise: Ah, I see the machinery, clearly. The gremlins must be using the machinery to drive the hands for them! We know that’s not true though. The machinery obviates the need for gremlins—the machinery fundamentally subverts the premise of the gremlins. Tortoise would never have considered the gremlins if she had known about the machinery first. Tortoise is attached to the gremlin hypothesis, maybe because she...

The Gridlock of Identity

The Gridlock of Identity

You can’t kill him because you’re a good person. You can’t doubt him because you’re a person of faith. You can’t let him pay for your dinner because you’re a feminist. Even though you really want to. What would it mean if you killed, doubted, let him pay? You wouldn’t be who you are. It’s easy when you’re a good person who is not killing people. That’s not likely to cause conflict in your life. It’s hard when you’re a faithful person who is gay. These are identity level beliefs, and they are likely the source of all your problems....

The Life of Aaron Swartz

The Life of Aaron Swartz

If you’re not a geek you may not have heard who Aaron Swartz is, or that he recently killed himself. If you are a geek, you haven’t heard much else since it happened a few days ago. Most the blogosphere is alive talking about his death. I want to talk about his life. Aaron was a very smart geek. He won the DemandProgress.org. The list goes on, he was a stud. He killed himself when he was 26 years old. The news hit me harder than I expected. I didn’t know him personally, but I did read his blog when...

The Herd and Changing the World

The Herd and Changing the World

I’m forced to listen to pop music almost everyday thanks to the predictable tastes of the 13 year old girl I live with. The thing about pop music is that it’s palatable in the same sense candy is palatable. Most people love candy because it stimulates our animal brains; I don’t like candy that much, but it’s difficult to find candy that’s actively disgusting. That candy contains no nutritional value is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that you want people to like apples instead. Candy is palatable and gives them a jolt of good feeling, therefore it’s a huge industry. Pop...

Birth Defects and Superpowers

Birth Defects and Superpowers

Nate has a secret birth defect that seriously impacts his life. He’s lived in fear of being found out since he was a preteen, and it preoccupies his mind when he’s with his girlfriend. He was with that girlfriend of his for two and a half years before finally working up the nerve to tell her about his issue because he was afraid he would lose her when she found out his dark secret. One night Nate swallowed the lump in his throat, and practically through tears, he said he had a confession. That before they have sex, she should...

When the World Ends

When the World Ends

The world ending today on December 21st, 2012 reminds me of one of my favorite songs, called “H.” Western culture is steeped in Abrahamic cosmology, and one fundamental difference between the universe of God, the Father, and that of say, Brahman or Buddha, is that it only flows one direction. God created the things, the things did stuff, then God came back and everyone died or lived forever or whatever. That’s a fairly unusual perspective in the context of other world religions, who mostly go with the cyclical rebirth of the world. So it’s no surprise that when a bunch...

Welcoming the Rain

Welcoming the Rain

Meru is a rural region of Kenya about three and a half hours outside of Nairobi, the capitol. When my woman was growing up in Meru in the 70s, picking coffee and going to primary school, she walked places instead of driving. Very few people had cars, and the roads were all dirt anyway. Sometimes she knew it was going to rain while she was walking, and she started walking anyway. Why? Because in Meru, if anyone wants to get where they’re going, they have to walk, and if they wait for a time that they’re sure it won’t rain,...

Asking for What You Need

Asking for What You Need

Shut the Fuck Up The cat’s litter box is stinky, and she’s sick of it. She’d asked her boyfriend to clean the thing, but he just didn’t do it enough. Plus when he did do it, he didn’t do it with soap and water or anything, so it continued to smell. So the argument started when she told him the litter box was making the room smell because he wasn’t cleaning it right. It escalated when he said that he does clean it, just not to her standards, and that if she wanted it done a certain way, she should...

How to Get Over Grief

How to Get Over Grief

I was 21 years old when my dad killed himself. Dad had left after a big fight with my mom. I had been talking to my mom for the whole week he’d been missing, and that morning was no different. I had to hang up with her to go to class, and I called her back afterward to keep her mind busy while we figured out where dad was driving to. A man picked up the phone and asked who I was. The detective passed the phone to Mom when I told him I was her son, and that’s when...

Chickens of the Southern Wild

Chickens of the Southern Wild

My woman brought me to see Beasts of the Southern Wild yesterday, which is a really interesting and gripping movie. Very minor spoilers ahead. A guy in the movie was preparing for a hurricane. He was running around in his yard trying to catch one of his chickens, to put her in a coop and bring her somewhere safe. He wasn’t making it easy, he was chasing after her, yelling at her, and generally scaring the shit out of her. The thing that struck me was that the chicken was just like us. We run away from the big, scary...

The Science of Self Help

The Science of Self Help

One aspect of the self help industry that turns a lot of people off is the lack of a truly scientific basis. I’m writing about the 6 Fundamental Human Needs right now, but there are no rigorous studies to back that up. In fact, there’s no way to even design a rigorous study that would support or reject any actual hypothesis about them. There are no physical structures in our brains that correspond “certainty” or “variety.” But none of that matters, because understanding your motivations in terms of those general “need areas” is useful. It helps us introspect about what...

Ending the Cycle of Abuse

Ending the Cycle of Abuse

“You’re nothing without me” “If you even think about leaving me…” “You don’t deserve me” “You’ll never find anyone as good as me” “You brought this upon yourself” “I know best” “You’re a terrible person, and you need me to be better.” “You’re not worthy of my love” “I’m only doing this because I love you” “Don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t understand what we have, they are just trying to poison you” Abused men, women, and children hear these phases every day, all over the world from the sad, broken people who victimize them. These statements undermine a person’s...

Quality Problems vs Safe Problems

Quality Problems vs Safe Problems

1. An anonymous poster asked a question on reddit: My GF has genital herpes and I don’t. I love her with all my heart, but I live day to day wondering if I should stay with her So from the very beginning of the relationship she was honest about her condition. Her ex cheated on her and got it and then gave it to her. I was a little bit weirded out about it at first but that didn’t stop me from wanting to be her friend. Long story short I fell for her deeply and we started dating. It’s...

How to Radically Change Your Life

How to Radically Change Your Life

I have a friend named Layla who is one of the best people I know; when she was about 20 years old, in the 50s, she left her nice little home in Britain, and went by herself, literally wading through the jungles of Central Africa. Chest deep in muck, elephant gun held high above her head, she found the famous explorer she’d been looking for and spent the following years Indiana-Jones’ing with him. The problem with tips and tricks is that incremental improvements won’t solve your malaise. You read articles about how to improve your life all the time, right?...

Fundamental Needs #3: Massive Ink

Fundamental Needs #3: Massive Ink

Lucky Diamond Rich is most tattooed man in the world. He has tattoos across 100% of his body, including the insides of his eye lids and foreskin. When his whole body was filled, he began tattooing over the black ink with white ink, and various other colors. As if not risking enough infection, he also has large, subdermal implants variously placed on his body. I’ve personally never wanted tattoos—or bumper stickers for that matter. Why? Significance is a fundamental human need. We all want to feel special, different, and important in some way. We want other people to notice us,...

Making Others Happy

Making Others Happy

Doing what everyone else wants has its perks. I graduated from high school right around my 15th birthday. I never liked school and I got nothing but mediocre grades until I skipped from 5th grade into high school. Impressive (to whom?). Then I continued getting mediocre grades until I graduated. It was all very disappointing (to whom?), and I was rejected from LSU when I applied. I wrote a letter to the Dean of Admissions to convince him to let me in anyway, and he did. I kicked ass in college. I was always on the Dean’s list, and I...

Young and Dumb

Young and Dumb

1. I was a precocious kid, the kind that’s remarkably well-spoken for a 6 year old, and everyone thinks it’s cute. At that time I figured, since I got along with adults so well, I must be pretty much on par. I knew I had facts and figures to learn, but obviously I operated on a similar level. But then I turned 10, and I could plainly see how much sophistication I lacked when I was only 6. I’ll skip the montage, you get it, this is an ongoing process. But think about this. Now that you’re an adult, when...

Life is a Sunset

Life is a Sunset

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of being unattached to outcomes and someone commented that it was a very Buddhist philosophy. Buddhist see everything in this world as temporary and encourage people to disengage from temporary things to break the cycle of rebirth. I don’t consider myself Buddhist, because I think disengagement isn’t the right answer. I think we’re here having a human experience, and we should revel in it and soak it up. I’d feel better jumping off Samsara if I knew what it was for. Buddhists are right that your experiences as a human being are...

Say Hello 2 Heaven

Say Hello 2 Heaven

There’s a creeping bitterness that nips at my heels. I think I do a good job of keeping it at bay, but everyone knows the cliche of the bitter old person, and I can see how the gray get there. Not everyone can keep it at bay. They get disillusioned after being broken one too many times. It’s hard to blame them for becoming cynical. There are only so many times you can die under your Dad’s car tire, grow up with a broken face, sink good years of your life into an abusive relationship, lose your father, your mother,...

How to Draw

How to Draw

The Last Psychiatrist just released an article that beautifully articulates a point I’ve made weakly several times in my writing. The point is essentially that we project so much of our own meaning onto the world that we forget to see what’s actually there. … Edwards calls this the “tyranny of the symbol system” because it dictates to us, forces our hand to draw symbols rather than what we see. But it isn’t simply that we draw using these symbols; we perceive using them as well. I don’t bother to see the actual shape of a head because it was...

Dominoes and the Price of Admission

Dominoes and the Price of Admission

I really wanted to quit my job. I was too afraid of the domino effect to do it though. Quitting my job meant not being able to pay my mortgage and take care of my family. We get stuck because we start thinking about the domino effect. The fear that the changes we want are going to cause a cascade of changes we don’t want. The sticking point here is that we spend all this time thinking about the aspects of our lives we want to change, but when we can’t figure out how to change those things without affecting...

You Suck At Everything

You Suck At Everything

People are born with talents. You better hope you get one that’s impressive or lucrative, because otherwise you’re screwed. Take these two artists for example: Artist #1 Artist #2 I didn’t choose these two artists so I could pick on the first one though. I actually picked these two because they illustrate my point, and there’s something really interesting about both of these guys: they have the same name. It’s not impossible, but “Jonathan Hardesty” isn’t the most common name to share. The Difference Between The Jonathan Hardestys I want to show you another comparison. It’s the Jonathans’ self portraits....

Fundamental Needs #2: Hookers & Bombs

Fundamental Needs #2: Hookers & Bombs

The Air Force sent Ed to the AFAFRICA component of Africom after decades of flying C-130 cargo planes all over the world. He retired while operating out of Angola after 24 years in military service. He earned a reputation in the military for being ready, willing, and able to fly over the most dangerous territories, sometimes landing in hostile zones without adequate ground troops to protect him. His antics off the field were equally legendary. He once took leave in a high-end Central African hotel where he drank like a fish, took his pants off, and began wandering around the...

Stress is Dirty

Stress is Dirty

Stress seems unavoidable. But it’s a paradox because unavoidable as it may be, it also doesn’t exist. Not exactly. Your child is hit by a car, and totters between life and death. The morphine drip beeps as you hover over your broken son for weeks, hoping against hope that he’ll open his remaining eye and recognize you. A plethora of emotion overwhelms you, including anxiety and stress. Everything works out as well as it can for him. Later that month you receive the first of many medical bills. Your modest, middle class income is dwarfed by the high six figure...

Tailgating

Tailgating

On Thursday morning I started driving from Florida to Austin, Texas. My Cadillac was as full as it could be while still being able to make a 1,000 mile journey. I was a little stressed because the lady whose house I had arranged to rent had backed out of the arrangement. I was headed to Texas with nowhere to stay, but the wheels were already in motion, as they say. Texas or bust. Somewhere between Tallahassee and Pensacola I had an epiphany and I began tailgating other drivers. 1. If you look the bottom left corner of my driver’s license...

Strong Man and Doer of Deeds

Strong Man and Doer of Deeds

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement,...

Brand New Problems

Brand New Problems

“I’m sick and tired of these same old problems. Please universe, give me some new problems to deal with!” If you feel like you’re in ground hogs day, experiencing the same problems over and over again— distant lovers, lukewarm career, friendships in tumult—then those things are not the problem. You are the problem. Your needs are being served by being in pain, you are acting out the drama of your own limiting beliefs. You are creating situations that support your negative worldview so that you don’t have to face the risk that you’re not good enough, smart enough, ready enough....

Fundamental Needs #1: Whipping the Ones You Love

Fundamental Needs #1: Whipping the Ones You Love

Julie loves dogs. She is a member of PETA, and a vegan. When she was a kid she had a dog named Bella. Bella was her best friend because her mother resented her in a way that most children only think their mothers resent them, and her scam artist dad had pissed off years prior. Julie moved every few months from one hovel to the next. Bella went everywhere with her. They slept in the same bed, and ate off the same plate. Also, Julie beat Bella mercilessly, until she bled. Bella yelped and screeched in that way that instantly...

Change the World, No Excuses

Change the World, No Excuses

Thank you very much!! Your blog was a little spark that ignite a fire inside me. I don’t know if you remember, but my heart was destroyed, and the next day a I got an email from G8 (the best 8 universities in Australia) inviting me to apply for masters. It was something i have always wanted, but at that time, it could have been a sudoku or a puzzle, no difference. I did all the paperwork to think of something else and now I’m leaving! I’ll get my master in crosscultural communication in USydney, with a scholarship that covers...

The Art of Honesty

The Art of Honesty

Honesty is something I’ve talked about here because being honest begins with self-honesty. You can’t “be authentic,” or build the life you want without self honesty because you’ll have no idea who you are or what you want to do if your entire mental life is walls and facades. James Altucher is a good blogger because he’s honest. From Do You Have to be Rich to be Honest? For 15 years I’ve been lying. Ralph (not his real name) used to call me up at 4 in the morning. He was a client of my first business. He needed advice...

How to Choose Your Emotions

How to Choose Your Emotions

We think our emotions happen to us. The internal experience of an emotion makes it feel inevitable. Our language even tricks us: that phone bill made me angry. But that’s an illusion. To prove that our reactions and experiences are entirely within our control, I present one Thích Quảng Đức. Thich Quang Duc Self-Immolates (Click to Enlarge) Thích Quảng Đức, a Buddhist monk, burned himself alive in 1963. If you’re like me, your skin crawled and your heart jumped when you saw this picture. We project our expected internal experience on him, so we vicariously experience agony when we see...

The Awesome Power of Forgiveness

The Awesome Power of Forgiveness

I wept like a heart broken child just now. It’s not a cute and shocking metaphor. I was literally wracked with sobs, convulsing in the fetal position on this couch in the San Francisco Bay Area until about 30 seconds ago. This requires some context. I’ll tell the whole story some day, but here’s a summary. The Fall My dad was a great guy, and a perfectly normal 9-to-5 suburban suit. That’s why the news that he had died of a cocaine overdose hit me like a ton of bricks. Actually he mixed coke, a $20 bottle of Merlot, and...

The Psychiatrist's Last Stand

The Psychiatrist's Last Stand

article about Second Life, and I think it may be one of the last I read from him. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s so very good. There comes a time as a regular reader, that you just outgrow a writer. Not because they are worse, but because you’ve fully assimilated their perspective into your own, and their writing isn’t the challenging journey it once was. It’s like your kids going to college on their own, or like a student who bests the master. There’s no greater honor for a writer.

Words Have Power

Words Have Power

“Tiff’s a chocolate whore.” Ben is Tiffany’s husband, and he’s a well-meaning guy. He has a bit of a way with words. The three of us are walking into a Godiva store to pick up a treat for Tiffany. Ben says “Tiff’s a chocolate whore.” “Aficionado? Chocolate princess, maybe?” I offer. Ben doesn’t care about word choices, it’s all the same to him, and he’s a person who chooses the wrong words anyway, so there’s no use. What difference does it make anyway? “Well, one way Tiff’s a skillful, and elegant lover of fine foods. The other way you called...

You're Right

You're Right

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

How to Break Your Limits

How to Break Your Limits

Gema is 23 years old and might be gay. She’s not sure. (Not news.) The problem about being maybe-gay is that Gema lives with her hyper-conservative parents, and has no legal rights as an unmarried Muslim woman in Indonesia. She was in a bind. Her parents expect her to find a nice boy (of their choosing probably), get married, and make lots of babies. At 23, she’s older than any of her sisters or cousins were when they all got married, and the family is starting to look bad to their friends. But Gema wants to get educated, wants to...

See-thru Purple Panties

See-thru Purple Panties

See-thru Purple Panties. Not only are they transparent, but they are embarrassing. It’s not just unadorned nakedness, it’s a type of nakedness that’s deliberate and unabashed. It begs to be seen, it calls attention to your most vulnerable self, and says, Yes, this is me. You know you want me. Wearing see-thru purple panties will either make someone hot or disgust them. And you’re fine with either. That’s authenticity. Anything less is limp bullshit. (Nice one, Bones.)

Make it Obsolete

Make it Obsolete

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” - Buckminster Fuller Fuller was, among many other interests, a systems theorist. When he said you have to make parts of a system obsolete to change anything he was talking about social change, and perhaps market changes. You can’t just kill the Big Four record companies by beating them at their own, rigged game. If you want to replace them, you have to invent file sharing. But this insight doesn’t only apply to society or markets. You are...

Apple Announces iUniverse

Apple Announces iUniverse

Press Release Apple announces the latest and greatest product from the research lab on Infinity Loop. The iUniverse will revolutionize the way we learn, work, love, and grow. The iUniverse offers a totally immersive alternate reality—simply plug the device in to find yourself in any environment, having any experience of your choosing. From dragons to star ships, everything is possible with the iUniverse. Customers buy the new device in droves, and plug in. They choose from among the myriad environments available—everything from sex fantasies to flight simulators. They get lost in the worlds created by Apple’s elite environment designers. So...

Your House Is a Reflection

Your House Is a Reflection

I used to live in a cozy, three bedroom bungalow. It didn’t look like much, but the size was acceptable. And even though it wasn’t mine, it felt homey, if temporary. I moved out of that house when I was 21 and I took my teenage brother and sister in. I already had two children of my own, and the bungalow couldn’t fit all six of us. That’s why I bought a giant old house with 6 bedrooms. It needed a little work, but it had potential. Famous last words. What began as cleaning up, painting, and some minor repair,...

Fear Doesn't Stop

Fear Doesn't Stop

If you live in the fantasy that life will start once you are no longer afraid, you will be playing the waiting game forever. That’s a quote from the beautiful and brainy recent post: fear isn’t conquered by forcing yourself to stop feeling it, then getting on with your life. Fear is conquered by feeling it, looking straight into its eyes, and moving forward anyway. What have you been waiting to feel secure about? Stop waiting, just jump in.

Goal Orientation: Action vs. Outcome

Goal Orientation: Action vs. Outcome

Summary: To achieve an outcome, you have to take action, and that action should be your goal. You can’t directly choose an outcome, but you can always choose to take action. Jason wanted to lose 20lbs. His “goal” was to lose 1.5lbs per week, and he started by just doing “a little” more exercise and “trying to eat better.” He started strong, with a big push of enthusiasm. He would lose a pound or two sporadically, but he gave up a few weeks in when he actually gained two pounds. He had failed at his “goal,” so he quit, disgusted....

How to Make Everything Better

How to Make Everything Better

The ability to deliberately manipulate the way our own minds work and the degree to which they work is maybe what separates us from other animals. That’s the reason our ineffective, pornographic education system wrankles me the way it does. But that’s not the only reason I’m sharing this excellent video of Ken Robinson’s talk about education. The real reason is that his way of thinking about the system is exactly what I’m trying to teach through my writing here. He tackles the issues by throwing out the dogma and cultural memes, and simply asking: why do we do it...

Thinking and Feeling

Thinking and Feeling

A bunch of people are pissed off with me about saying drugs are cool, which is a perfect opportunity to write about thinking and feeling. I’ve talked about the paleomammalian brain before: the part of us that evolved before our frontal lobe. The part that’s ruled by passion, and won’t let you eat Chinese food anymore even though your comparatively emaciated neocortex wants you to. Introspective humans like you live in your neocortex. That’s why your life experience feels essentially rational and coherent from the inside. That’s an illusion. The reality is that “you” are perhaps hundreds of competing “yous.”...

Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology

People who are trying to improve themselves by thinking about the way they think often ask the questions: What’s wrong? and How can I fix it? Which is a more useful tool than thinking about nothing and doing nothing. So honor yourself for that. But they say what we focus on becomes our reality. So when we focus on all our problems, our self image becomes a collection of problems in various stages of being solved. Our eating disorder, our confidence issues, our personal finances: all problems that we work to solve and that come to define us. But you...

Expectations as Mirrors

Expectations as Mirrors

Epiphany: you can learn what to expect from people by finding out what they expect from people. 1. Everyone models other people as anomalous versions of themselves. I once walked from the tower by the river where I used to work to get sushi with Brad, the guy who sat in the cube across from me picking his nose all day instead of writing software. We passed a craggy-faced man who smelled like a rancid orange soaked in engine grease. He tried to start the conversation that normally goes: Hi guys, beautiful weather, how are you? Say, I love Jesus,...

Trapped in the Cave

Trapped in the Cave

I think everyone should do drugs at least a couple times. It’s not super important which drug you choose, but maybe psychedelic mushrooms would be a good choice. (Do your research if you take me seriously, these are relatively safe drugs, but they do interact badly with certain preexisting conditions just like any medicine). The reason is that the world we live in is so terribly convincing. Our perceptions are eerily consistent, and if we run in a fairly “normal” crowd, those beliefs and perceptions are even consistent across the many people we know. So they “must” be true. And...

Erica Douglass: Success in Vulnerability

Erica Douglass: Success in Vulnerability

Update: I called Erica “a millionaire entrepreneur” in this interview, but she corrected me, clarifying that while she did sell her hosting company for $1.1 million when she was 26, she is not a millionaire. Buying companies is more complicated than buying a candy bar in which you get a whole candy bar for cash up front. She’s still damned impressive, but some people are pedants, so consider it disclosed! Erica inspires me and many others with her story of how she became a millionaire entrepreneur by age 26. Her effort to enlighten readers as well as build new successful...

Don't Find Happy, Be Happy

Don't Find Happy, Be Happy

You are perfect and complete. This has happened to me twice now, so I need to share it. The first time was with a Christian missionary in Kansas City. The second time, exactly like the first, was with a Hare Krisha devotee in St. Augustine. I like the second version better. Giorgio (like Giorgio Armani, he said. I met him once, in Rome, he said.) approached me on the street and told me I should consider being a Hare Krishna devotee (there is a longer story here, I’ll tell it soon). I towered over him, which is unusual for me....

Brené Brown on Vulnerability

Brené Brown on Vulnerability

This video is awesome because Brené teaches you how to be vulnerable and fearless, empathic and passionate. It touches on most of the subjects I talk about on this blog. She teaches us to love ourselves and create deep connections with other people. She’s talking about basic human needs, she’s talking about our reason for existing. You need to watch this, it’s 20 minutes well-spent. I’m going to follow up with several essays that dive into these subjects further in the coming weeks.

Placebo

Placebo

What you believe becomes your reality. When all women are bitches, and all guys are assholes, and money is nothing but stress, and business is hard, then you’re going to end up a stressed out bitch surrounded by assholes slogging through a hard business. But it works the other way too. My expectation that the people in my life will fill me with light and energy is a self fulfilling prophecy because when people fall short of my expectation, they stop spending time in my life. The words we use and expectations we have, both positive and negative, create the...

When To Lie To Get Ahead

When To Lie To Get Ahead

Summary Honesty is more difficult than you think, and the naive approach to honesty will sink your business. Lie to get ahead. It was painless and it only took 15 minutes. The only disturbing part was watching the smoke rise from my testicles while an early-20s blonde trainee watched everything. Dr. Stein had pulled my vas deferens out of a small incision in my scrotum and used a red hot clamp to bisect and cauterize them. The rising smoke meant I would never have children. Mine was the nearly 17,000th vasectomy Dr. Stein had performed, not including the 30 he...

Randy Pausch: Make Your Dreams Reality

Randy Pausch: Make Your Dreams Reality

Randy Pausch, pancreatic cancer victim, reminds us in his last lecture to stop our whining because happiness is a choice we make day by day. You only have one chance to make your dreams a reality, so do it.

Ritual Creates Change

Ritual Creates Change

Some days I try to inspire you to make you feel like success is within reach (it is). Other days I tell you to just do something, anything, every day. I go on about showing up, and adding one stroke to your gallery, even when it’s hard, even when the stroke sucks. That emotional oomph that fills your chest and makes your mind race with possibility isn’t enough. If the oomph is all you have then you’re bound to fail. That euphoric feeling you have just after being inspired is a window of opportunity that’s valuable but brief. You can’t...

Everybody is Alright

Everybody is Alright

“Tigger is alright, really,” said Piglet lazily. “Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin. “Everybody is, really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think.” “But I don’t suppose I’m right,” he said. “Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin. Everybody is alright, really. Every person does the best they can at the time with the resources available to them. Forgiveness and patience is the only way, for others, and for yourself. Thanks Pooh, you’re a pal. (Full HD wallpaper, share and enjoy.)

Create Your Core

Create Your Core

“Create Thyself” -Pete Michaud Your core is built out of the fundamental facts that make you an individual. They are principles and values that never vacillate, that guide you through your life. I see questions from people all the time about how to find themselves. I have news. You don’t “find yourself.” You create yourself. You don’t need to agonize over whether you’re altruistic or not. You just have to decide to be altruistic. The same goes for being strong, brave, loyal, or whatever you want to be. It’s easy to lose track of what’s real if you don’t hold...

Dealing with Setbacks

Dealing with Setbacks

Summary Setbacks, even minor ones, send most people packing. The people who stick with it always win. I haven’t really had a place to live for a few weeks now, since my ex-wife is staying in the house. So I’ve been traveling and floating between hotels and friends’ houses. I haven’t had a reliable connection because my computer requires a 47,000 square foot facility and a team of PhDs to keep from launching into low orbit. Despite that, I showed up and you saw my essays every day you were supposed to. I think that’s a good example of what...

Information is a Drug

Information is a Drug

When I was considering leaving my wife my stomach was always in knots. I had to process protracted issues that felt overwhelming in their intellectual and emotional complexity. When my mind was awash in stress and confusion, one of the most reliable ways to switch off was to plug in: to consume information. I would feel adrift among my thoughts and to stop the wave, I hooked myself into news and trivia. I wanted to drown my sorrows in a stream of endless information. They say knowledge is power, but when you consume information to prevent you from feeling or...

9 Ways to Change For Good

9 Ways to Change For Good

Achieving freedom means changing the way we interact with and experience the world. You don’t think yourself into freedom, only actions can take you there. You may think I’m telling you something you already know, but are you sure you know how to truly change your behaviors in the long term? Most people don’t know how to motivate themselves to act toward their passion without any lunch bells, office hours, or stern authority figures. That’s why the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University shared the top 10 mistakes people make when they are trying to change their behavior. The presentation...

I Create My Reality, Thank You Steph

I Create My Reality, Thank You Steph

My ex wife thinks everything happens for a reason, and that we’re put in situations meant to test us. If we learn from the situation, we graduate beyond it. If we don’t learn, we repeat the situation until we get it. A more plausible explanation is that we get stuck repeating negative patterns and getting shitty results. If we’re introspective enough to realize there’s a negative pattern, and then we’re creative enough to figure out how to stop the pattern, and then we’re strong enough to implement our solution, we can grow and move on. The resources we draw on...

Orgasms are Better When You're in Love

Orgasms are Better When You're in Love

I work about 12 hours a day, most days. I write, I program, I build, and I think. I also value my free time highly, and because I work at the edge of my ability to work, I understand my body and brain well enough to know when to stop. When my mind hits the wall of “you’re spent, hang it up,” I oblige. I go take a shower. I go for a walk. I go play video games. I don’t resist, even if I have things that “have to” be done. I know that when my body and brain...

Now is the Time for Risk

Now is the Time for Risk

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones...

Akrasia, or How to Stop Checking E-mail

Akrasia, or How to Stop Checking E-mail

My calendar says I should write today from 8:00am until noon. I began thinking about possibly writing at 9:28, and I’ve been glancing back and forth between potential titles, hacker news, and my e-mail since then. It’s 10:31. I like writing. I want to write. The moment I get stuck on a word or I’m not sure how to structure the essay, I “give myself a minute to think” … by checking my e-mail. The good news is that I only have 10 e-mails left in my normally bulging inbox. I have my inbox configured to show 100 messages per...

Get Off Your Cross And Fight

Get Off Your Cross And Fight

On Friday I attended the first Jacksonville PB&J (Party, Benefits & Jam). PB&J brings people together every two months to raise money for a local charity. This time we raised money for The Sanctuary on 8th Street, a place to develop inner city youth. Al Letson was a speaker there, and he talked about the poetry slams he has been doing for years. I’d never really listened to one before, but he quoted several other poets, and the power of those words blew me away. The writing is punchy, taut, visceral—everything I aspire to as a writer. One quote in...

What is the Key to Success?

What is the Key to Success?

You have goals and projects that you want to be wildly successful. You’re a writer who wants to be published. You’re a programmer who wants your weekend project to turn into a company. You’re hoping you meet the right people, learn the right things, have the right ideas. You’re waiting for the day that you are in the right place at the right time to grab and opportunity and run with it. And you’re wondering what the key to success that you’re missing is. The answer is simpler than you think. Revisiting Your Work So Far I’ve been connecting with...

The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work

The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work

“If you keep too busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade.” – fortune cookie I am a professional software developer by trade, and there’s a movement within the field called “agile software development.” Agile basically means that instead of trying to plan and schedule every aspect of a project in minute detail, we just build the minimum version that does something useful, then iterate. That in itself is a phenomenal lesson for business: don’t try to plan everything because you’ll get bogged down in planning, and the plan will go wrong anyway. In order...

Today You, Tomorrow Me

Today You, Tomorrow Me

Rhoner shares a story about the kindness of strangers. It’s a little rough around the edges since it’s essentially a forum post, but it was enough to make me misty. Just about every time I see someone [stranded on the side of the road] I stop. I kind of got out of the habit in the last couple of years, moved to a big city and all that, my girlfriend wasn’t too stoked on the practice. Then some shit happened to me that changed me and I am back to offering rides habitually. … This past year I have had...

Profitable Social Entrepreneurship

Profitable Social Entrepreneurship

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to save the world. I’ve wanted to create comfort where there was poverty, understanding where there was ignorance, love where there was violence. I want to save orphans, widows, animals (even the ugly ones), and I want to usher in a new age of deep community. When I was a preteen I thought saving the world looked like control: political power wielded beneficently. I wanted to be the “president of the world.” When I was a teen I thought saving the world looked like knowledge: high technology would lift people out...

How to Get Your Wallet Back

How to Get Your Wallet Back

This is a story of empathy brought you by StoryCorps, a radio show that shares stories from ordinary people. Julio Diaz, the storyteller, gives us a shining case in point about choosing love over fear, just like in “No Such Thing as Monsters”. The acceptable response was anger and violence, but Julio chose love and empathy. Listen to his story below, or read the transcript. Julio Diaz gets his wallet back "Julio Diaz gets his wallet back" Transcript of the audio: So I get off the train, I’m walking toward the stairs, and this young teenager pulls out a knife....

How to Benefit from Your Flaws

How to Benefit from Your Flaws

Part of the mental baggage I carry from a childhood of disfigurement is a need for affirmation. It’s the consequence of an early life in which I felt acutely deprived respect or consideration. I always wanted to be social, but was ridiculed because I was an easy target. I was always a romantic, falling in love with whatever girl seemed bright and pure, and I was always rejected soundly and sometimes cruelly. I conquered those mountains in time, but that child is still in my head. My “terrible secret” is that I do crave encouragement. That I want an audience...

How My Failure on Video Turned to Success

How My Failure on Video Turned to Success

Today was the day that months of effort, research and investment would have paid off if I hadn’t failed on video. The Setup I have been talking to a couple local photographers to figure out lighting equipment and environment issues. I bought the softbox lighting, and light stands. I bought the backdrop, then secured it in place with copious velcro. It took me hours just to first create a loop at the bottom using fabric tape, then fill the loop with a bag of black aquarium gravel to weigh the fabric down evenly across the length of the backdrop. After...

Clean Pain, Dirty Pain

Clean Pain, Dirty Pain

I have a Border Collie named Shakti, who has Addison’s Disease. She needs a hormone injection every month to prevent her electrolytes from becoming so out of balance that her cardiovascular system collapses, causing seizure followed by painful death. She’s as smart as a small child, and she was rescued from an abusive family. She worries when we go to the vet because the waiting room is loud and crowded, and that makes her nervous. On the other hand, she barely responds when the actual injection goes into her thigh. Contrast with an actual small child visiting the doctor for...

Stop Thinking and Do It

Stop Thinking and Do It

It’s important to think and plan for situations that you expect to encounter in your life, but thinking and planning can never come close to actually experiencing the situation first hand. You can’t learn to program by reading a book—you can only prepare yourself to learn to program. You have to actually program to learn. You can’t learn to write by reading the Elements of Style. You have to write to learn to write. You can talk about acting boldly and fearlessly, and you can imagine that’s what you’d do when push comes to shove, but until you put yourself...

One Customer At A Time

One Customer At A Time

Many of you have dreams of one day quitting your job and supporting yourself with your software, book, or other sales. If you’re reading this you are probably bright, creative, and ambitious, and you probably have a particular disease that’s endemic among online entrepreneurs. It’s a disease that holds you back from your real potential. It’s a disease that has a simple cure (although maybe not an easy one). You think analytics are your customers. You think “sales” are an abstract thing you get from traffic. You think clicks are people, but they aren’t. Every person who buys whatever you...

Be Consistent To Be Successful

Be Consistent To Be Successful

It’s relatively easy to be great. Most of “great” is just putting in the time and practice. The factor that divides the successful from the average is not greatness. It’s consistency. No matter how busy or distracted or distraught you are, if you show up every day and do what you do, and you do it and do it and do it and do it, you will win. Go do it.

The Rules of Improv

The Rules of Improv

After many years of being a fan and going through workshops, I recently auditioned for, and was cast in an improv troupe that does weekly shows in downtown Jacksonville. The reason I got involved was that it was just fun—I laughed until I cried, and the workshops energized me. Somewhere in between all that fun and energy though, I accidentally found some profound life lessons. The first thing people say when I tell them about improv or they see a show is “I could never do that.” That’s always followed by either “I’m not quick enough” or “I’m not funny...

The Art Gallery That Exists

The Art Gallery That Exists

The other day I was out with my wife at Starbucks drinking a peppermint tea (I love peppermint). We sat talking about nerdy things like whether a cure for aging would change cultural norms surrounding suicide or affect people’s risk aversion in a statistically significant way. “That’s funny,” she said. “Hm?” “The art on the wall behind you, I thought it was cute, they got some middle schoolers to hang their art up.” I looked, and I saw what was funny. It wasn’t middle school art, it was a local artist selling her work. Flat, watercolor portraits and semi-abstract, still...

No Such Thing as Monsters

No Such Thing as Monsters

I had a powerful moment of transformation as a child that I’m going to share with you because it’s an important lesson about psychological scripts, empathy, and the essential humanity of all people. In fifth grade, my scars were still horror movie material. My skull was indented, my eye socket hadn’t been fully rebuilt yet, and skin from my thigh covered a large portion of my face and head. I tried to grow my hair out to cover it, but I ended up looking like Jr. Comb-over Frankenstein. I used to get a lot of shit from my classmates, and...

Short Term is Long Term

Short Term is Long Term

Some days it’s bizarre. Other days, like today, it’s deeply insightful. From the online comic SMBC: I’d like to recognize that the long term is made of the short term, but that would require some metal restructuring.

Anchor in Data, not in Hope

Anchor in Data, not in Hope

Today I’ll highlight a fundamentally important point that I’ve mentioned a couple times before, but never emphasized as much as it needs to be emphasized. This point could mean the difference between success and failure in anything you want to achieve. From financial independence to grassroots activism, if you don’t understand this, you will probably fail. The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to grok because our brains just aren’t wired for it. I’ll tell you what it is, and more importantly, I’ll tell you how to beat it. The Problem: Trajectories are Hard I once told a little story...

Techzing Panel with Rob Walling

Techzing Panel with Rob Walling

Click Here to Listen to the Techzing Panel Discusion with Rob Walling → I was on SoftwareByRob.com fame. We had a panel discussion which covered, among other topics: Scaling a business using automation Finding and managing freelancers Building a content business versus building a software business The value of growing an audience Plus, you’ll find out more about what I’ve been up to with my publishing company in recent months. If anyone is interested in a transcript of this show, like I did for the last show, leave me a comment. It’s a lot of work, but if people find...

Goal Mapping Alpha

Goal Mapping Alpha

It’s finally ready! As promised, the alpha version of my Goal Mapping software is ready. For those of you who aren’t down with geek lingo, an “alpha version” is a complete piece of software, but it has only been tested by the developer (me), so it has loads of bugs, it’s probably ugly, and may not do everything that later version will do. For those of you who didn’t have a chance to read my previous post about Goal Mapping, here’s a brief rundown: Goal Mapping enables you to create a plan with concrete steps to go from where ever...

Why you should fly Cubana

Why you should fly Cubana

Carl Hoffman recently caught my attention by traveling the world using whatever means the local population used to travel, including rickety airplanes, dilapidated trains, and roach infested ferries. The thing that struck me about this relatively affluent American who traveled the world this way was that he just decided to do it one day. He decided to do something daring and perhaps dangerous, and he didn’t fabricate a bunch of fake prerequisites or excuses that prevented him from making it happen. He wanted to do it, so he made it happen. There was something that drew me in about his...

Goal Mapping

Goal Mapping

Planning Right: The Problem Imagining your future is usually right brained: your creative center generates a story for a future that could plausibly happen. It hits the highlights, and it puts magical arrows between them as if one event leads inexorably to the next. Get into MIT, start a successful company with your smart roommates, and retire early to a country that you can’t pronounce the name of. But the arrows are wrong. They skip important chunks of the story, and you generated the whole thing backwards anyway. It turns out that right brained planning uses the same cognitive process...

It's Easy When You Do It

It's Easy When You Do It

It’s easy to over think plans—getting caught in a cycle of thinking instead of acting. Fears and doubts loom large because they are in the present, and any positive outcome is in some far off future. In that spirit, a bit of inspiration from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (affiliate link): We walk past ski shops into a restaurant where we see on the walls huge photographs of the route we will take up. And up and up, over one of the highest paved roads in the world. I feel some anxiety about this, which I realize is...

Pete Michaud Techzing Interview Transcript

Pete Michaud Techzing Interview Transcript

This is a transcript from the interview I did recently with Justin and Jason at Techzing. If you want to listen to the audio instead of reading, click here. Enjoy! Table of Contents About Pete's Writing Retirement Preface: Ken Sharpe Hitting a Home Run Retirement: Researching the Blogs Desperate for Value Retirement: The Blogs Start and Pete Get Laid Off Ambition Starts with Thinking Small Metrics Enable my Leap of Faith Business as Software: Iteration No Single Point of Failure Really Tracking Metrics (Fundamentally Important!) Just Start Doing Something (AI analogy) Creativitis Everyone's a Prima Donna, but no one's a...

The Short Trajectory of Prodigy

The Short Trajectory of Prodigy

A prodigy is very young and highly skilled in whatever field they practice. The concept is demoralizing because it builds a wall separating prodigy from mortal. It’s like the superstar effect: what’s the point of even competing when you have toddlers running around juggling fire and reciting the Iliad in ancient Greek? I have good news about that though, that I’ll get to in a moment, but first me talk about lasers and dogs: Humans are good at tracing trajectories. If you point at something, I can see what you’re pointing at because I can imagine the invisible laser coming...

Transcend Your Tribe

Transcend Your Tribe

Humans are tribal animals. We trust and mimic members of our group, while we distrust and malign outsiders. That worked 200,000 years ago, but it’s a bad strategy now, and one 1950s experiment is a fantastic case in point. In the Robber’s Cave Experiment, researchers pitted two groups of homogeneous, preteen boys against each other. The results were riveting, yet strangely unsurprising: The Robber’s Cave Experiment Tribal Differentiation The boys in the experiment were all 11 or 12 years old, white, and middle class. They were screened to make sure they were normally adjusted, and to make sure no boy...

Pete Michaud Techzing Interview

Pete Michaud Techzing Interview

I had a great interview with Jason and Justin at TechZing. Click here to listen to the interview → Click here to read a transcript of the interview → We covered quite a bit of ground in the interview: The details of the business that allowed me to “retire” at 25 My business strategy and philosophy My future projects and goals My eye patch (1:30) Also mentioned BingoCardCreator business (1:25). Click here to listen to the interview → Click here to read a transcript of the interview → A couple things I want to correct for the record—they are just...

Equivocation Cripples Action

Equivocation Cripples Action

Readers frequently give me a hard time about some edge case in my writing as if I haven’t thought the subject through, and pared the word count down by half. I’m confident that those readers don’t write a whole lot. If they did write, they would realize that in order to produce a cogent piece, especially in the abbreviated format of a blog, one has to chop mercilessly. Here’s my process in a nutshell: I start out with a core concept, and write until I understand what I’m trying to say—often it’s more words than the final article. I throw...

Techzing Interview Tuesday March 23rd

Techzing Interview Tuesday March 23rd

TechZing, “News and views from the front-line of tech & startups”, was crazy enough to invite me to do an interview tomorrow at 6:30pm EST. I’m not sure when it will be available for listening, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s up. We’ll be talking about my publishing company, Kenrose Media, and how less than a year of unglamorous work (read: flailing) granted me financial freedom at age 25. We’ll also talk about fear, clarity, and reaching your goals. here I am, naked and vulnerable before you, in soul-deep honesty On a personal note, I had...

Is Your Face Real?

Is Your Face Real?

“Is your patch real?” My eye patch is a conversation piece. Many people ask about it, a lot assume it’s either fake or temporary (it’s neither). “Do I need it?” some ask. Some people reflexively yell “Yarrr!!” at the sight of me, like their ancestors evolved some pirate instinct that preserved their genes from pillaging while other, less impulsive genotypes fell by the cutlass. The patch is complicated. I didn’t start wearing it until I was 16, about 10 years after the car accident that gave me my scars. I’ll talk about the accident later. For now, a little before...

Ira Glass on the Creative Gap

Ira Glass on the Creative Gap

If you don’t know This American Life, you should. This message is about how creative people need to really stick with what they are doing. He’s talking to people who work in TV, but it applies to everyone who produces. A few excerpts: Most everyone I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they knew what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that. For you to go through it—if you’re going through it right...

How I retired at age 25

How I retired at age 25

When I was younger I pulled some ballsy moves, trying to get rich young. My goal was to be rich enough to do whatever I wanted to do by the time I was 25. Back then I planned to fight my way to the top of the ladder, and sky dive from the ladder’s lofty heights into retirement, riding a golden parachute. Instead I was left out to dry by the incompetent CEO who hired me then was fired, and I myself was fired shortly after that by the sociopathic founder of the company. It turns out telling your boss...

Don't You Dare Waste Your Fucking Time

Don't You Dare Waste Your Fucking Time

Gabrielle Bouliane, the woman in this video, was diagnosed with stage four cancer and died on January 29th, 2010. Funny how death washes away the bullshit.

Meaningful Work

Meaningful Work

Last week I published an essay called Achievement Porn in which I warned against the dangers of addictive treadmills sinking their hooks into your ape brain and its greedy dopamine receptors. My goal for that essay was to encourage people to reevaluate their activities, and enable them to make a deliberate decision about how they spend their lives and why. A lot of people told me it was the wake up call they needed (and a bunch also let me know I was a douchebag), but a very large number of people wanted to know something that I only brushed...

Achievement Porn

Achievement Porn

Hacker News pointed me to an article recently called “Addicted to Fake Achievement“. That article is about video games, but this one isn’t. The thesis of that article is that some games (it mentions Role Playing Games) don’t actually require skill, just time. You start with a weak character and perform some task that’s almost too easy to fail. You’re rewarded by gaining access to another task that is also almost too easy to fail. The process creates the illusion of achievement. His point is that he’d like to play more skill based games, which he thinks would provide a...

Life as a Geoboard

Life as a Geoboard

Self sabotage is a complicated subject that could fill its own series if not its own blog. Who does it? Why do we do it? What triggers it? How do we do it? I want to give you an intuitive mental model of one type of sabotage before hitting you with statistics and data from academic literature, so here’s a primer. Life as a Geoboard One aspect of self sabotage is that we have competing needs and desires that all interact to create the sensation of wanting one thing, while working away from that thing instead of toward it. Some...

Hack the World: A Conspiracy of None

Hack the World: A Conspiracy of None

Introduction What I’m about to tell you is part of the painful slashing and burning you need to undertake in order to live an authentic life. It’s maybe the most important essay I’ve ever written. It’s longer than usual (around 2600 words), but if this idea is new to you, it might change your life. It certainly changed mine. The society into which you were born has socialized you to believe to your core that its structure is inevitable, and moreover that it is “correct” in both a practical and moral sense. This is a lie. But who is the...

It's Just a Ride

It's Just a Ride

Taking a brief break from our regularly scheduled bloviation, I want to share this video. It’s part of deceased comedian Bill Hicks’ routine. It’s maybe the most important message there is. Here’s the video, followed by a transcript: The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been...

5 Steps to Stop Procrastinating Forever

5 Steps to Stop Procrastinating Forever

Obvious truth #1: We think about the things we like to do, and those things make us feel happy. As a result, we do those things whenever we can. Obvious truth #2: We try not to think about the things we don’t like to do. Those things make us feel frustrated, stressed, bored–anything but happy. As a result, we avoid doing those things whenever we can. I’m going to teach you how to use these two obvious truths to overcome procrastination. This mental technique works better than any other technique I’ve ever tried. I am actually amazed at how effective...

The Death Bed Test

The Death Bed Test

For those not blessed with the perspective of a fatal car accident or terminal cancer, there’s a technique that I developed that helps me decide how to handle difficult decisions. I call it the Death Bed Test. The Death Bed Test Imagine: you are ancient, with creaking joints and thin, leather skin. You’re lying in an inclined hospital bed with breathing tubes radiating outward from your face like the plumage of some dystopian mutant. Vague shapes oscillate in your blurred vision. Maybe your friends, your children, maybe their children. You gasp to draw air into your aching lungs. As you...

Fear and Freedom

Fear and Freedom

All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.Steve Jobs, Cancer Patient, Apple CEO Heavier than it looks. When I was 7 years old I died, face crushed under the back tire of my dad’s Isuzu Trooper. While the team of surgeons* were rebuilding my face...

Loss Aversion Bias

Loss Aversion Bias

Numerous studies have shown that people feel losses more deeply than gains of the same value (Kahneman and Tversky 1979, Tversky and Kahneman 1991). Goldberg and von Nitzsch (1999) pages 97-98 A friend of mine, we’ll call him Joe so I can feel free to ridicule him publicly, complained to me the other day about a kit he bought called the “Robot Builder’s Bonanza”—it’s a beginning robotics kit. He bought it from some off brand electronics site for around $20. So he thought. The kit arrived, but after checking his bank statements Joe noticed the charge had gone through for...

Sunk Cost Fallacy

Sunk Cost Fallacy

Sunk Costs are costs which have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. The Sunk Cost Fallacy is a mistake in reasoning in which you consider the sunk costs of an activity (instead of the future costs) when you decide whether you should continue the activity or not. “I’ve put everything I have into this business. If I stop now all that time and money will be lost! I can’t stop now!” The resources and effort are already lost, no matter what you do now. Therefore, the only thing you should worry about is what your goals are today, and...

The Pete Michaud™ Message

The Pete Michaud™ Message

I think what I’m trying to build here is a self-help website. Personal Development for People who aren’t Gullible Fuckheads. Something like that. But a lot of the self-help industry really turns me off because they’re selling something to starry-eyed dupes that is untested and often self-evidently bullshit. I actually identify more closely with the rationalist movement from places like OvercomingBias/LessWrong than I do with the self help movement. Rationalists are in many ways the real self-helpers, because they actively seek to improve their perception and understanding of the world. On the other hand, I am also an outlier from...

The secret about writing that no one has the balls to tell you

The secret about writing that no one has the balls to tell you

The core of what I do for a living is writing, and when writing is brought up in conversation, someone inevitably says: “I’m not much of a writer.” And until now I didn’t have the testicular fortitude to say exactly what I thought about that. As far as I know, not many people do. But I’m going to let you in on the secret now. Writing is Thinking It’s simple. The amount of information our brains can fit into our short term memory at once isn’t a lot. If you never have thoughts that require notes, then all your thoughts...

New Rules for Christmas

New Rules for Christmas

Every season I hear people complain about how insane Christmas is. About how early the carols start in stores. The distasteful rush for whatever the toy du jour happens to be. Then, they contribute to the glut, by buying the merchandise and jumping at the sales. Here are my rules: 1. No Purchases The first rule about Christmas is, you do not purchase any consumer goods for anyone. The only exceptions are little candies for the stocking, but we even keep that to a minimum. 2. Make Gifts The second rule about Christmas is, make everything you give. Both Labyrinthine...

Silence Your God

Silence Your God

(Continuing from Incoherence of the Supernatural) In science, you can never make an observation, then conclude that “God did it.” It’s not even necessary to say that God doesn’t exist; you can’t invoke God because it closes doors. It doesn’t matter if God actually did or not: you have to assume that he didn’t, even if you believe in God. If you operate under that assumption, you’ll make much more scientific progress than you would otherwise, because you’ll study things that appear to be “magical” (even when the problem seems hard or impossible) until it finally doesn’t seem so magical...

Supernatural to Hypernatural

Supernatural to Hypernatural

We know that the concept of “supernatural” doesn’t make sense. I think we need to replace it. Here’s why, and here’s my proposal for its replacement. Hypernatural Without the concept of supernatural, there is still this whole genre of “the unexplained” that falls outside of science-y things like theoretical dark matter or space travel; stuff that intrigues people, like magic spells and ghosts. Where does that fit? Most skeptics would put it all in a bucket labeled “bullshit.” I won’t go that far. Much of the supernatural that people believe in is demonstrably false, that’s true, but I think there...

Solitude as a Dream 10 Day Follow up

Solitude as a Dream 10 Day Follow up

I’m on my 10th day of zero communication in the morning. Practical Stuff It’s been a little difficult to stick to a full hour in the morning as I planned. I find myself getting bored and restless before my time is up, so I give myself a break if I’ve sat longer than 30 minutes. Generally, I make it about 45 minutes before getting to work. One thing I noticed is that the technique really works — ideas for projects pop into my head furiously. I get at least 3 “keeper” ideas every day. The problem is that my mind...

Incoherence

Incoherence

I’ve had a few people ask me to clarify what I mean when I say that a statement is “incoherent.” There are three types, each increasingly sinister. Type 1 Incoherence `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. Jackwocky, by Lewis Carroll, is a good example of one type of incoherence. The syllables in the poem can be pronounced, but they contain no meaning. The words used have no definition, so saying them doesn’t signify anything. Type 2 Incoherence Another type of incoherence, slightly less...

Incoherence of the Supernatural

Incoherence of the Supernatural

“Supernatural” is a concept we’re given at an early age, that roughly maps to “things we don’t understand or can’t explain.” The concept is demonstrably incoherent. The word supernatural means “more than natural,” and implies that supernatural things outside of, or on top of, our normal physical reality, which we describe using physics. Can something exist without being described by physics? Maybe, I have no evidence to the contrary. Can such a thing exist that can interact with physical objects? No, that’s where the concept becomes incoherent. The Magic Man Behind the Curtain Let’s suppose we’re asked to believe that...

Don't Reject your Experience

Don't Reject your Experience

I have had some intense, puzzling experiences that my predilections toward materialism tell me are impossible. I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to write about those experiences in the future, but for now suffice it to say that while I’m not sure of anything, my intuition is that it’s a big, magical universe out there, and we’re just seeing the tip of a cosmic iceberg. I’m going to argue here that rejecting your experience out of hand as “obviously” faulty is dangerous. Imagine a confirmed atheist is speeding down a highway, and drops his scalding coffee onto his lap. He...

The Bomb and the Bystander

The Bomb and the Bystander

I read an article by Erin Pavlina about taking command and cultivating leadership, in which we recounts an event in which she took control of a situation despite her misgivings about taking point. I was reminded of a Mexican restaurant my wife and I ate at some years back, just a little while after September 11th. It had a full wall of windows facing a fairly busy road — think Mexican lunch diner, with the neon paint on the windows that says “2-4-1 Margaritas!” So, we’re sitting there in a booth next to a window when a bomb went off....

Ideas are Real

Ideas are Real

This is a follow up to Solitude of the Mind, which explains why I went on a “zero communication” diet. I was a tourist into the life of a monk, having taken a vow of silence in the interest of uninterrupted contemplation. That, and a chance to connect with some more fundamental reality. Something I didn’t expect the night before, was going to bed feeling very nervous or excited, as if I was going in for some painful procedure the next day, or maybe like the night before Christmas as a child. I couldn’t pin down the source of my...

Cal Newport is Wrong About Passion

Cal Newport is Wrong About Passion

Cal Newport of Study Hacks put forward a hypothesis that passion isn’t discovered, but cultivated and that passion can be defined as mastery that earns respect and recognition. I think he’s just about dead wrong, but first let’s talk about what I agree with: [The misconception is that] passions exist a priori of any serious engagement with a pursuit; they’re some mysterious Platonic form waiting for you to discover. This is a dangerous fiction. This is true. Ca’s rightly points out that fumbling through life in search of an underlying “passion” is a recipe for failure, and it assumes passions...

30 Day Trial: Solitude as a Dream

30 Day Trial: Solitude as a Dream

This trial started with my Solitude of the Mind experiment, in which during my first day of zero communications, I thought that maybe a media fast similar to meditation is a better way to process analytical thought than dreams are. During that morning I experienced a sense well being and smoothly flowing thought. While sitting on my porch, trying not to think, I generated enough thought for a series of essays, at least one art project, and the solution to a problem I’d be thinking about for months (which I’ll explain in the future, I haven’t implemented the solution yet)....

Solitude of the Mind

Solitude of the Mind

Today I’m getting ready for an adventure. For this adventure, I’ll be sleeping in the same bed, eating the same foods, and wearing the same clothes. This is an adventure of the mind, into solitude and reality. The World of Language As modern people, we live in a world that’s literally made of language. Most of what we think about and do only exists in our minds collectively; it’s not dirt, or a painful cut, or sweat, or the sensation of food going down our throats. It’s jobs, it’s relationships, it’s money, it’s the future. The latter list are things...