Category Archives: _Micropost πŸͺ

WIP: We grow old because we stop making art

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

George Bernard Shaw

I’d like to offer a variation of this.

We don’t stop making art because we grow old; we grow old because we stop making art.

Children are naturally curious, creative, and artistic. They freely draw, sing, and ask questions. At the core is a youthful fearlessness. They’re not afraid β€” of being judged or looking stupid (yet).

We lose this as we grow older. We become concerned with appearances, and learn to avoid actions that might cause us to be judged or look stupid. We become afraid.

There is something deeply healthy about engaging in a creative practice, that connects us back to this youthful fearlessness. Just like how a personal fitness practice is essential for maintaining physical function despite the natural progression of entropy, a personal creative practice is essential for resisting the tendency to become fearful.

Where do you feel creative? At a piano? Taking photos? Writing words? Cooking? Working out? Playing sports? Dancing? Look more closely β€” that might be your fountain of youth.

To have good ideas, stop auto-rejecting your ideas

Half of having good ideas is not immediately rejecting the ideas you do have, but rather allowing yourself to respect them, give them the chance, and even consider them as worth sharing.

This is just an observation of my own shift in mental state over the last few years. I don’t consider myself particularly smart or insightful, compared to all those “wise” people with “famous quotes”.

But I’ve found that releasing myself from this automatic “self-doubt instinct” has led to a more nurturing mental space where weak, fledgling ideas have the space to potentially grow into stronger ones. And that is what eventually leads to genuinely amazing, novel ideas.

At least, I hope. We’ll see if I have one one day.

It’s not enough to have good ideas

You also need to present them well.

This is one of the things I’ve learned on Twitter in my decade using it. On Twitter, the slightest change of phrasing can make or break a tweet. Part of learning the game is learning how to express information in a way that’s more likely to be received well. Usually that means being a combination of: valuable, concise, and punchy.

The general lesson is that you need to be aware of the venue, and its communication norms. What is the communication style is common, and commonly successful?

This applies not only to online platforms, but also real life communities you may be a part of, such as your work.

So if your ideas aren’t landing how you’d like them to, or you believe a great idea you have is being unfairly overlooked by others, take a moment to pause. How do the successful people in the venue communicate? And are there any ways you could restructure your presentation to better fit the venue? You might be surprised at how little it takes.

You need your own workshop

This is originally Derek Sivers’ idea, from his book “Anything you want”.

We all need a place to play.

Kids need playgrounds and sandboxes. Musicians need an instrument. Mad scientists need a laboratory.

Those of us with business ideas? We need a company.

Not for the money, but because it’s our place to experiment, create, and turn thoughts into reality. We need to pursue our intrinsic motivation.

We have so many interesting ideas and theories. We need to try them!

The happiest people are not lounging on beaches. They’re engaged in interesting work!

Following curiosity is much more fun than being idle. Even if you never have to work a day in your life.

That’s the best reason to have a company. It’s your playground, your instrument, your laboratory. It’s your place to play!

Get the ideas out of your head and into the world.
  • Gardeners need a garden.
  • Car enthusiasts need a garage.
  • Entrepreneurs need a business.
  • Artists need a studio.

But what about systems programmers?

Systems programmers need a project. A place for them to explore, work, play.

Live streaming myself working on my baby operating system has felt great over the last 14 weeks. And now with Sivers’ idea in mind, I can totally see why. It’s finally my own project where I have full control, and it’s a large enough project where there is infinite potential for the things and can do and learn within it.

No matter what your craft is, if you aspire to be great at it, you need a safe, comfortable “space” to work on your craft.

If you have aspirations, but don’t have a space, you likely haven’t fully committed, or given yourself permission to publicly identify as an enthusiast of the craft. (Actions speak louder than words).

Taking action to make that space for yourself can be scary, because it exposes physical, undeniable proof of your interest, which is vulnerable. But in my experience, it can also be deeply affirming, exciting, and motivating.

Getting into reading again by playing offense

I used to look at long non-fiction books and immediately wince, thinking of how long it would probably take me to read it, and what a slog it would probably be. Of course, this is a strange point of view that seems to forget that books can actually be captivating and fun.

But beyond that, something that helped me is changing my perspective. Rather than letting the book be in control, I now try to play more on offense.

Instead of allowing a long book to suck a potentially infinite time out of me (which means in practice, I won’t even start), I now give books a budget. If I only have 2 hours of time to give a book, oh well, that’s all it gets. I stop and move on. Hopefully the book can deliver some of its meaning in that time frame, or even better, captivate me and convince me to renegotiate my relationship with it β€” and give it more time.

Instead of putting the responsibility on you to slog through and make it to the end, put the responsibility on the book to earn your time.

(This does work better when you don’t pay for the book – ideally by lending it from someone else.)

I like WordPress

Among programmers, it’s very unfashionable to use WordPress for your blog. (“PHP? Yuck.”) Instead, you should be using the latest minimalist static site generator, hosted on the latest free static hosting.

(A decade ago, this was Jekyll on Github Pages β€” I haven’t bothered to keep up, but I did put in my time. At various points, my blog was based on Jekyll, Pelican, and Octopress).

In 2020 I decided to restart my blog, but just use WordPress.

Three years, later this has been an unambiguously good decision. I keep running into things that save me significant time, compared to me trying to code this myself, or use a static site generator.

I think the proof is in the pudding. If the goal is to actually publish writing on the internet, consistently, over a long period of time, I’ve done that (or at least am well on my way β€” see the Archive).

Here are some handy things I’ve found myself needing that were just there for me. I’ll add to it as I run into more.

  • Automatic redirects if you change a post slug
  • Rich plugin ecosystem for nearly everything
  • Extensive documentation, both first and third-party on how to do things. Even ChatGPT can advise.
  • Ability to customize with PHP if absolutely necessary
  • Migrating to a different permalink structure was a piece of case with the Redirects plugin
  • Built in RSS feed
  • Built in Recent post
  • Built in Top posts/pages (via Jetpack)
  • Built in downtime monitoring (via Jetpack)
  • Easy mailing list integration (MailChimp, ConvertKit, etc)
  • Built in grouping and taxonomy features (Tags, Categories)
  • Built in Monthly Archives
  • Built in comments
  • WordPress/Jetpack mobile app for easy editing/moderation on the go

Be your most authentic self (and write about whatever you want)

I love writing about computers, but I also love writing about other topics like creativity, art, and productivity. However, many programmers out there strictly blog about technical topics, which made me feel a bit weird for posting random stuff like poems or my experience with GTD.

This led me to a dilemma: Do I blog all in one place, or do do I perhaps create a separate blog for non-technical content?

My answer is to apply my “golden piece of advice”: Do what feels most authentic to you.

For me, writing about all of my interests is the most authentic expression of myself, so when in doubt, I do this. Curbing this instinct, and making a strictly technical blog just to be like “all the other programmers” wouldn’t be.

It’s totally possible that “all the other programmers” simply don’t feel a desire to write about anything else. So making a strictly technical blog is their maximally authentic expression of themselves β€” which is great for them! Let’s all do what feels most authentic to us.

Hiding in this case study is a profound lesson about life. The situation applies equally to any other life situation where you feel some pull to act in one way, but feel some hesitation upon observing “everyone around you” seems to act.1

When in doubt, apply the “golden advice”: Do what feels most authentic to you.

I’m very happy with this decision. It feels great to have a single place which all of my thinking, which also has the practical benefit of making it easier for potential followers to submerge themselves in all my content.

I also believe this will win in the long run as it’s more likely to resonate with like-minded people that can respect having a myriad of interests β€” the kind of people I’m looking to connect with!

Lastly, there’s the non-trivial but subtle benefit that simplicity of infrastructure & accounts actually matters and translated into a lot of time saved.

WIP: Fame is a hamster wheel

Different forms of capital have different benefits and drawbacks. Money has the benefit that it can grow itself over time, with the downside that it is heavily scrutinized and taxed. Fame has the benefit that it is not taxed, but has the interesting drawback in that it requires maintenance, and lessens over time.

To retain your fame, you need to continually be doing things and delivering value to your audience. Otherwise, your audience will naturally shrink as people forget about you, and their attention is diverted elsewhere by others playing the fame game.

So if you think achieving fame will make you happy, be careful. The moment you achieve the fame you’ve been seeking is not the “end” β€” it’s actually the beginning of a hamster wheel you’ve just stepped onto. You might stop to celebrate, but don’t stop for too long β€” now you need to worry about maintaining it (or even exploiting it), lest you lose it and become a “one hit wonder”. The only other alternative is to keep running.

(This post was written based on my small experiences obtaining nano-fame with my offlinemark and comfort projects).

3 weeks of GTD

I read GTD (Getting Things Done) a few weeks ago and have been applying it since then.

I can say since implementing it: my stress is lower, I feel much more in control & at peace, and I’m happier overall. So I’d say it works β€” or at least there’s really something to it.


The process of taking a fuzzy/vague/unpleasant idea of a project and progressively making it concrete by 1. Identifying the specific outcome, and 2. The specific next action has been critical for me. I wasn’t aware of this and would often get overwhelmed by these fuzzy ideas and let them linger (which made them worse). I often find that after doing the 2 steps, the idea is much less overwhelming, and often much easier than I thought (or even can be done trivially).

I was using Omnifocus wrong β€” I now work out of my Forecast view which I believe is the intended way to use OF and actually works well. OF 4 is great, in particular for how much better the iOS app is (specifically implementing Focus mode).

I find that I make more forward progress on things in general. Adding an action to a list gives me extra “credit” for having done it, because now I can check it off. But the big thing is I’m now aware of things that I can take action on (and how small and simple they often are). Often I get stuck on actions that involve other people (Ask person X this, post on Slack asking for help with X), and having an action be made concrete and on a list can help me power through it and simply send the text or make the call. I’m more aware that I have no answer to the question “So what’s you’re excuse for not taking the action to move X forward?”, and just do the thing.

A physical inbox has been useful. I’ve discovered that having my physical environment be clean is very important for me, and a physical inbox facilitates this by creating a designated, controlled place for clutter.

I’m amazed at how much of GTD and being productive is about writing things down in such a way that will trick your future brain into not being overwhelmed, and actually doing them.

The first part is writing specific, exciting, and inspiring project names (i.e. “Host best friend for a great weekend” instead of “Best friend visit”).

But the second and more important part is realizing how not to name actions. For example, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t write tasks like “Decide A”, or “Problem solve B situation”. My brain will immediately get overwhelmed and resist the urge to even consider this. Breaking those down into even smaller steps is a must. Like “List pros/cons of A decision” (Not too hard – just listing bullets, not “making a decision”), or “Brain dump B situation on whiteboard”).

There’s an art to writing the next action.

Even with GTD it’s still possible to overload yourself and put more into your system than you have capacity for. I’m still struggling with how to manage when I have tasks I constantly postpone week after week.

But I am learning. I’m finding that if something continually gets postponed, there are a few things I can consider:

  • Is it even important? Can I simply delete it?
  • Is it a matter of phrasing? Can I re-word this to be more palatable to my subconscious brain?
  • It is a matter of breaking it down even further to a smaller increment? But not so small as to be meaningless β€” my subconscious brain sees right through that. (i.e. “Make a google doc” isn’t quite enough for me).

Advice for learning the dark arts

I loved this episode of “My First Million”:

It’s about how to communicate effectively for persuasion, which is very useful in business and life.

But I wanted to explicitly state an underlying assumption of their conversation: These techniques are a “dark art”.

These are not general principles for all kinds of writing. It would be mistaken to assume that one must apply these principles in any kind of writing β€” ie.g. academic, creative, formal. These are techniques to deploy when you have specific goals for your writing, and are writing within specific contexts.

They come with tradeoffs and sacrifices, such as making your writing more “sales-y” or “clickbait-y”, which can decrease credibility or compromise an artistic vision. The exact tradeoffs depend on the context and community, but they exist. That’s why I call them a dark art.