The meta-spiral

What she said:

Now I want to keep doing the same things over and over again but maybe in a different key sometimes or with different backup singers or in a different arrangement. I want Nietzschean eternal recurrence except the intra-life version. I’m happy with what I have and if I can redo it again and again, into eternity, I will be satisfied. I am satisfied, even if it is February.

Despite the difficulties I’ve faced since I wrote those words in 2007, I still feel that way–happy and satisfied with the opportunities and challenges life has presented to me; wanting more of the same (but in variation) as long as I can keep spiraling and evolving. I want more time with my family and friends. More chances to engage with smart people and good ideas at work. More laughter and joy. More heartbreak? Sure, that too, because it means I’m still alive and connecting.

that's random

Detached, difficult, and boring

I’ve had two things open in my browser all day while I’ve been finishing off that policy paper: a review of The Age of Absurdity and Hugh Macleod’s ‘boring’ is underrated comic/post.

These seem to me to go together and also seem to be a message the universe keeps trying to morse-code to me. Gotta do the hard work, take it step by step, ignore the emotions, quit looking for excitement. You can’t succeed with that bursty stuff you used to do.

In The Age of Absurdity (as reviewed in The Guardian) author Michael Foley takes aim at the culture of instant-constant-increasing gratification and looks to the twin cures of detachment and difficulty, things I’ve been looking for myself over the past few weeks.


It’s not even as if we want what we have once we’ve got it. Foley calls this “the glamour of potential”, a relentless churning of desire by which the things we have are devalued by the things we want next. The only way out of the churn is “detachment”…

And difficulty:

The difficulty of change is aggravated in a society in which difficulty itself is avoided. Hence the study of science dwindles in universities (“Why submit to mathematical rigour when you can do a degree in surfing and beach management?”) and sales of oranges plummet because people will no longer take the trouble to peel them.

This avoidance of difficulty is what I’m looking for in the big data analysis project looming this week… I want to see if cultures higher on self-expression show lower math achievement, with the moderator of “liking math.”  In other words, do students who really enjoy math get directed towards high level achievement with it? Or, as happens in our culture (I think), do they get dissuaded because instead they might do something more authentic? I mean, what does it express about you if you like to do math? (Hint: you’re a nerd!)

In Macleod’s boring is underrated, I’m reminded that getting a book deal from your blog used to be big news, that making money blogging was hot, that blogging in 2004 was edgy and exploratory and experimental. It was exciting. Yes, yes, yes. I remember all that.

But I agree with him that boring <> bad (where, for you non-programmers “<>” means “not equal” or “isn’t equal to”). Blogging as a technology is boring but the ideas and connections and possibilities are not. Similarly, long hard work in support of an important goal may feel boring at times, but the results are not.

Still I can’t quite get worked up about detached, difficult, and boring. And I hope those words don’t start to apply to me just because I’m working on detachment, learning difficult topics, and slogging through the boringness.

that's random

Sprightly thoughts: Blogging the Montaigne way

There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to. – Michel de Montaigne

Ed Techie Martin Weller lists these Montaignesque practices as the foundation of blogging:

  • Honesty
  • Openness
  • Relaxed style
  • An element of the personal
  • Reflective and questioning
  • Playfulness

What a great checklist for how to blog. I’m going to refer back to it whenever I worry about what I’m doing here (“am I doing this right? am I sticking to my niche? am I presenting myself appropriately? am I careful not to reveal too much?”)

Andrew Sullivan on the personal element in blogging:

You end up writing about yourself, since you are a relatively fixed point in this constant interaction with the ideas and facts of the exterior world. And in this sense, the historic form closest to blogs is the diary.

I thought initially when I returned to blogging after an almost two-year hiatus that I’d eliminate my too-human self from the writing, that I’d create a sort of online column about statistics and psychometrics rather than a desultory diary that happens to include a lot of mathematical formulas and data graphs.

Turns out it’s no fun for me to blog if the personal is eliminated. I suppose that’s one reason tech blogging for Web Worker Daily and GigaOM was, in the end, dissatisfying. Another problem with it was how public — sometimes painfully public — those settings often were. I much prefer online obscurity to Internet micro-fame.

On the other hand, a blog shouldn’t be totally personal or it’s just dull. Might as well make it a private diary, in that case. The point (at least for me) is to communicate. I always write thinking someone might read it. To me, a thought is never so sprightly as when it might be shared.