Monthly Archives: July 2008

A Light Month

After some very productive months blog-wise, I slowed down quite a bit this month. As always, there’s always a multiplicity of factors, a plethora of excuses I could drag out: work, vacations, reading, poor blogging environment, etcetera.

I really got bogged down with that ambitious project of reviewing every damn book I read. This month was a bad month for reading because I found it hard to wade through Guns, Germs, and Steel, but I still managed to finish 7 books. I don’t know if I care enough to blog about every single one. However, I still want to write because it helps me learn.

Anyway, since work has ended, I’ve felt a little bit lost. I need to re-examine things in my life and make new commitments.

Meme Resistant

Is it just me, or is Obama very meme-resistant? It’s hard for the right-wing to get some criticism to stick. They’re gone through so many things. Note that I said meme-resistant, not meme-impervious. He’s not utterly invincible, but it’s harder to get things to stick.

Another question: Is meme-resistance an important quality for the modern candidate?

My Old Website

I was looking through, and it struck me how much that site relied on “Reader Responses.” Most of the content was generated from user e-mails. There was one page where I wrote maybe a few paragraphs, and the rest of it was “Reader Responses.” The more successful sections of the site had pages inspired by comments from visitors. It was much more interactive than my web comic. It definitely got less hits, but it was more in line with the spirit of the internet, I guess. I really want to make The Chalkboard Manifesto more interactive. Adding a blog should be a high priority.

Dirty Earth

I saw Wall-E again today. That means a lot because I’m the kind of person who only watches movie once. I’m reluctant even to watch the same movie on DVD. Even when I like the movie, I will rarely watch it again. I really enjoyed Wall-E, so I went with my niece and nephew to see it with enthusiasm, not reluctance.

Anyway, the image of Earth surrounded by all that junk hit me emotionally in a way it hadn’t the first time. The haze of brown surrounding our normally gorgeous planet made my eyes well up.


Okay, why does my blog theme keep getting its options changed, even though I’m not touching anything? Grr…

Anyway, I was rafting, and now I’m going to Vegas. Who knows how much blogging will be done in the next few weeks? Expect this month to be sparse.

Thoughts on Let’s Get Results, Not Excuses!

This book, Let’s Get Results, Not Excuses! bugged me. It kept saying excuses was the overarching problem, and if you eliminated excuses, you also rendered inert a whole host of other problems you’d find in a corporation. I recall various analogies to illustrate this point, but an analogy is not an explanation. Why the hell are excuses to key? Whatever. I ended up skimming most of the book because it was kind of repetitive.

There was one cool anecdote/story I found useful. It was about how a CEO was worried about his company’s flagging sales, and so he went to a workshop, which taught him about the wonders of proactivity for salespersons. He printed out posters that said, “Be proactive,” and wanted to make being proactive part of the company culture. One salesperson, Larry, is very inspired, and works somewhat harder for a while. But overall, nothing is changed. “Since the whole concept was never clearly explained in detailed, practical terms, nor built into his accountabilities in a way that could be measured, Larry was not able to meet the ‘proactive’ expectations of his superiors. ‘Proactivity’ became a precept to belive in, but it had no meaningful behavioral significance.” Because there’s nothing to measure, proactivity becomes a mere abstraction. It has nothing concrete behind it. Larry’s behavior can’t change in any appreciable way; so inertia causes him to work as he did before.

It reminds me of myself and my often abstact New Years’ Resolutions. You can’t actually change how you think or what you do, unless you create concrete, measurable actions to follow. Everything else is just wishful thinking.

You can’t say to yourself, “I should be positive.” You have to make a commitment everyday to be positive. You have to say, “Whenever I find myself in a position to catastrophize, I will focus on solutions rather than the problem.” And, “When I write about myself, I will praise myself for the positive things I’m doing, and not focus on the negative.” I’ve become a more positive person because of specific actions and vocabulary choices, not because of an abstract desire.

Thoughts on The Science of Influence

I didn’t find The Science of Influence, by Kevin Hogan, all that helpful. It’s targeted towards salespeople and while I am interested in learning more about sales, I am not a salesperson by trade. Furthermore, the book doesn’t have enough science to warrant its title. On one level, I appreciate Hogan’s intent to “translate” the content for a non-technical audience. On another level, it feels too dumbed down. After taking my class on cognitive science and religion, I learned that a lot of the scientific articles I read had gaps and the conclusions weren’t completely uncontroversial. I’d like to see more of the caveats, but that would make this a different book. It was just way too simplified for my tastes. At least the book pointed me towards The Paradox of Choice, which I’ll pick up sometime this summer.

Here’s the one part I marked up:

If you are going to use fear in communication in order to foster change or alter behavior — or encourage someone to buy your product, idea, or service — you must also include a step-by-step set of instructions in your message in order for it to be successful.

This reminded me a bit of The Adversity Quotient, where it talked about helping people and you want them to come up with actual actions they can do to start taking control of a situation. Get them to stop catastrophizing and then lead them towards solutions.

It fits with my current obsession with specificity. Goals need to be actions, not abstractions. The more specific my goals are, the more likely I finish them.

Quotes from Man’s Search for Meaning

I borrowed Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, from the library, and now I really wish I had my own copy. This is why I hate the library ;)

It’s an amazing book, and I recommend it to everyone. It’s about Frankl’s experiences in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and the psychological lessons he drew from it.

I decided to pick up this book after seeing it referenced in multiple books and weblogs. Typically, people would reference it along with the lesson that even in such extreme circumstances, such as in a concentration camp, one’s still maintains the power over how one responds to the circumstance. No one can take that away.

Instead of writing a long review, I will write out a bunch of quotes.

I think it was Lessing who once said, “There are things which must cause you to lose your reason or you have none to lose.” An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.

Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved achieve fulfillment.

The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a cerain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.

I became disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly, to think of only such trivial things. I forced my thoughts to turn to another subject. Suddenly I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself. What does Spinoza say in his Ethics? … Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners.

We had to learn ourselves, and furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead ot think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.

They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning. I said that someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours — a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God — and he would not expect us to disappoint him. He would hope to find us suffering proudly — not miserably — knowing how to die.

It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils.

He became annoyed, gave me an angry look and shouted, “You don’t say! And hasn’t enough been taken from us? My wife and child have been gassed — not to mention everything else — and you would forbid me to tread on a few stalks of oats!”

Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.

[Logotherapy] is a method less retrospective and less introspective. Logotherapy focuses rather on the future, that is to say, on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in his future. … At the same time, logotherapy defocuses all the vicious-circle formations and feedback mechanisms which play such a great role in the development of neuroses.

Thus it can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. … I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, “homeostasis,” i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment.

This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already fro the second time and as if you had acte the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invties him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended.

How should I have interpreted such a “coincidence” other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?

Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

Thoughts on Maus

My sister had the graphic novels Maus I and Maus II sitting on her shelf for the longest time. The cover art always intrigued me. The books were about the Holocaust and the people were drawn as animals — the Jews were mice. I never actually read the books because they were about the Holocaust. I figured they’d be too much of a downer. I mean, I own the movie Hotel Rwanda, and I’ve never watched it. Seriously, I bought that movie 3 years ago.

I finally got over my fear of Holocaust literature after reading Man’s Search for Meaning, which also gave a psychological portrait of life in a concentration camp. The Maus duology was very gripping, but very different from the last few novels I’ve read. The previous books I’ve read were fun stories, but didn’t tell me anything about the human condition. I don’t have that complaint with Maus; I did learn about the human condition.

The main character isn’t someone who lived during the Holocaust. The narrator is the author, Art Spiegelman, and it is his father, Vladek, who lived through the Holocaust. The narrator asks his father to tell his story, so the comic itself switches between the Holocaust and the interaction between Art and his father. It provides a much richer tale than a straight narrative.

One of the main things I gleaned was how complicated people are. Art’s father is kind of a miser and saves every bit of everything. He tries to return his half-eaten cereal box to the store because he doesn’t want it to go to waste. Through Art and his wife, you learn that Vladek can’t be summed up by his experiences in the Holocaust. Other people have lived through the same ordeal as him, but they don’t scrimp the way he does.

A scene I found particularly poignant takes place in the second book. Art is bombarded with questions by the media, asking him what the books means. What was he trying to say with the book? Art grows smaller and smaller (this is a graphic novel remember), looking like a child, and overwhelmed by the enormous questions. I guess the lesson is that you can’t just take one theme away from something like that. Human stories, when properly told, are multi-faceted; they aren’t fables. The books’ complexity is part of why it manages to capture the human condition.

There’s also a theme of randomness. That while some survived in part due to their resourcefulness, there was so much luck involved. It’s hard to draw a lesson when you see how much human life is dictated by outward conditions at times.

The Problogger Book

I feel like I’ve forgotten what I’ve read. This is why I should write about the books as I read them.

The Problogger book by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett had good tips for writing and making money with blogs. The writing tips were especially honed for blogs, specifically. Some lessons I remember: Find a niche, plan posts ahead of time…. All good lessons which I haven’t applied. Geeze.

Well, the lessons haven’t been as urgent because I’m working on my comic strip more than my blog. Moreover, this is my personal blog and I don’t want to make money from this.

Still, I’m probably going to pack this book and bring it with me when I head back to college. I still don’t know what the hell I want to do with my life, and maybe blogging is something I can try out for several years.

Behind in Books

I am like a bajillion books behind in the book review thing. I don’t know if this was such a good idea. I read 2-3 books a week, and so I keep falling further behind.

Let’s make a specific goal to rectify this situation. I will be caught up by July 22.

Alternate Universes

Is there a multiverse? Does time really exist? Or are there parallel timelines constantly branching off one another? If I had decided things differently, does another me exist who made those decisions?

I suppose that most people speculate about alternate universes after a major decision. Is there another me who married her, and is he happy? Does another me live in San Antonio? What if I had majored in art instead of business? And so on. I never do that.

My only speculation about parallel universes comes when I almost drop something. I wonder: Is there another universe where I dropped my laptop instead of barely catching it? That other me must be cussing up a storm. I always try to imagine how he must feel. Then, I think of all the times I’ve almost dropped things and I bet there’s a universe where I drop fucking everything. That would be annoying.

Working on The Chalkboard Manifesto

I think one of my best decisions was stating in public that I wanted to work more on The Chalkboard Manifesto. People bring it up when I chat with them, and then that shames me into doing more work. It keeps me motivated.

So, it’s time for the next bit of shaming — that is, it’s time to reveal some more plans for TCM.

A key component to gaining and keeping readers is to create a sense of community around TCM. That means I need to get more involved with social networking tools. I’ve already signed up for a new MySpace account (the old one was insecure), and I plan on using that to communicate with readers. A MySpace group could also be a cool thing to make. I’ve also signed up for StumbleUpon. I’m not quite sure how to use it, though, so I need to solicit advice. A big, big project that needs to take place within the next few weeks is adding a blog. Maybe I’ll post 3x a week on it. Monday with news, Wednesday with politics, and Friday with something fun. The key is to put myself on a regular update schedule without too much strain. I’m pondering adding a forum, but I’m not sure if it’s necessary. I’ll put that off, unless someone gives me advice that it’s a must-have. Plus, I really don’t want to manage a forum right now (although it does give you good experience in the web-world).

I really need to put advertising on the web site. One goal for TCM is to make it profitable. Actually, all it would take is less than $10 a month, and all my costs, in terms of web hosting and domain registration, would be covered. I can add a banner to the top, and also text ads on the blog. I’ve been looking into Project Wonderful since it seems like all the rage on various web comics I’ve looked at.

I want to be #1 on Top Web Comics. I’m not sure what a good timeframe for that is, but I think I can be within the top 10 within six months. So, please help me with that. You can vote everyday. I have to figure out some new vote-whoring tools. I’m considering both an e-mail list and an RSS feed, which both would beg for votes.

Finally, I’m thinking about an ambitious project called MyTCM, but I think I should put first things first. I’ll put that off, but remind me about it later on. I’ve also decided to delay merchandise because I simply do not have the audience. However, once I have a big audience, it will become a top priority.

That’s all for now. So next time you see me, ask me where I am with advertising, how high I am on TWC, and what I’ve done to create a TCM community.