Monthly Archives: August 2008

To Baltimore

I’m going back to school tomorrow, and I don’t really have everything straightened out. I probably won’t be blogging for at least a week until things settle down. I’ll try to steal internet access and if not then I have the library.

Chalkboard Manifesto will continue to be updated as normal.

EDIT: Also, I would like to make a comment about my going back to Baltimore:

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

Thoughts on A Short History of the Civil War

My latest audiobook was A Short History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton. It gave me a good overview of the Civil War, and I enjoyed it a lot. The one problem with listening to audiobooks about wars is that when they mention geography, it’s impossible for me to figure out what’s going on. I don’t have a map to look at.

I learned a bit about strategy in war. There’s a lot of value in having the initiative and forcing the enemy to react to you rather than the other way around. In general, one should concentrate ones forces. Speed is a killer, as evidenced by the cavalry. I don’t really know how this helps me practically. Maybe the next time I’m playing a board game I can remember it.

I was impressed by Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. Had Lincoln not been assassinated, I wonder how differently things would’ve turned out. He was much more magnanimous and moderate than the Republican Congress.

Finally, I realized how the Civil War and its aftermath left scars on a nation that we still see today. The book was written in the 60s and that upheaval in civil rights is directly related to that war. 100 years and the same kind of tensions flared again. It’s strange how conservatives want to make-believe that racism just isn’t a problem anymore when history shows us how culture can sometimes change very slowly. After all, it’s the conservative who should recognize the role of the habits of society.

Thoughts on The Best Fables of LaFontaine

I love fables. So I picked up The Best Fables of LaFontaine, which translates LaFontaine’s French verse into English verse. The vocabulary was weird at times, but I guess it’s because the book was published in 1965. I wasn’t too enamored with the way the book was written. In general, I think it’s really, really weird to translate poetry. Maybe it was just this version, translated by Francis Duke. Perhaps someone can recommend a better one.

Again, though, I love fables, so I made my way through the entire book anyway. Two stuck out for me this time. I marked up “Rats in Council,” which contains the line “Who’ll bell the cat?” Also, I marked up “The Tortoise and the Two Ducks.” These ducks carry a tortoise up in the air, with the tortoise holding a branch with her mouth. When gawkers yell out what a miracle it is that the tortoise is flying, the tortoise opens her big yap and falls to the ground.

I think now of cable news. Isn’t a mark of wisdom knowing when not to talk? Yet cable news encourages constant chatter. It seems to me a recipe for stupidity.

The Absurd Impulse

The absurd impulse allows me to continue. The pessimist sees the meaningless universe and despairs. If I succeed, he says, it means nothing.

But what keeps me going when it gets so dark, so unbearable, is the fact that if I fail, it means nothing. This will sound less poetic, but when you leap from swinging vine to swinging vine in a video game, you do not fear death or failure. If you die, you try again. While life may not provide a similar opportunity, at least you know that you can disregard your failure. There is nothing to fear.

When Sisyphus sees that rock tumble back down the mountain, he is happy. The reason the rock fell in the first place is because of human sweat, muscle, and decision. Success or failure, it does not matter. They are both the result of human effort. In the end, that is all that matters.

If the universe ends, and all is for naught, we know that at least we existed. At least we did something. Even if know one else knows, I at least felt myself exist.

Even if our sandcastles are consumed by the sea, we continue to build. And even when that last sandcastle is gone, I do not feel fear. I do not fear the world crumbling down around me. Success or failure, either way I lived. I built.

So the world may bring its worst, but I take solace in the fact that in the end, it means nothing. I lived despite it all. That is our absurd triumph.

I Can’t Watch the Convention

agh i can’t watch this shit anymore. PLEASE! just stop, just fucking shut the fuck up.

Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, yes I understand you have to cut to a commercial break. But please, you find it important to talk about how moved you are about a tribute to the troops and how much respect you have for the troops and the troops you saw when in Iraq… ALL WHILE YOU’RE TALKING OVER AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN. Apparently, she’s not as important as your narcissistic drivel.

TCM Blog Postponed

I want to launch on September 1st, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea since I’m flying back to Baltimore on that day. Who knows what will happen with internet access? I’ve already set the comic to auto-update. I really hate to hesitate, but I think I have to push it to September 8th.

The Dumb Commentators

I’m watching parts of the Democratic convention, and it’s really annoying. I’ll be honest, I tuned into Spongebob Squarepants at one point.

These color commentators are dumber than sports commentators. I mean, every single one of these people is worse than John Madden on his best night. The worthless blather bothers me more than usual. THEY’RE SAYING FUCKING NOTHING!

EDIT: Oh yeah, and Clinton’s speech was okay. It was one of her stronger speeches, as it reached the end. But all the obsessive point-keeping about something you can’t judge that way really bugged me.

Also, I had it on NBC, but switched stations when their talking heads talked over the entire speech of the Governor from Montana. What hubris.

I normally don’t like posting weblog entries where I just rant, but I am just so fucking annoyed right now.

Fixing Theme

Currently fixing my theme. Pardon the ugly default WordPress theme while I mess with things.

UPDATE: Maybe I fixed it, maybe I didn’t. We’ll see if the theme reverts any time soon.

Thoughts on Biden as VP

Congratulations, Mr. Biden. You have the chance to end your political career by ascending into the most useless elected position in America. Cheney is an anomaly in US history, exerting an unprecedented amount of influence. Biden won’t do much, so it doesn’t really matter who Obama picked as VP.

In terms of getting elected, it also doesn’t really matter who Obama picked. The vice president, historically, doesn’t net extra votes or create a net loss of votes. Did Dan “Potatoe” Quayle cost Bush the election in 1988? (No, Bush won.) Did the young Southerner Al Gore push Bill Clinton over the top? I highly doubt the polls will show a direct Biden effect, whether negative or positive.

It could become very easy to over-analyze this. You could say, “Wow, this hurts Obama’s message of CHANGE.” You could say, “Biden will reassure people who worry about the gaps in Obama’s resume.” Overall, the general response of the public will be a big yawn. Most people don’t even know who Dick Cheney is.

I do see one possible strategic value to Biden. He can serve as an attack dog. This, in and of itself, isn’t very special; the VP candidate is supposed to act as a surrogate for negative campaigning, preventing the presidential candidate from sullying his image. However, McCain does have a nasty temper. It would be good to knock him off his game with some really nasty attacks, a la Biden’s “noun, verb, 9/11” line on Rudy Giuliani. It’s following Sun Tzu’s advice: “If you enemy is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.”

I do think this is a promising tactic based on the past, with the Republican debates. I remember particularly one debate where McCain was ticked off because of Mitt Romney’s attack ads. Here were my thoughts:

One of the best moments of the debates was when Romney said, “Don’t try to mischaracterize my position.” And Huckabee replied, “Which one?” I thought it was hilarious. But then, the attacks continued. By the time I got to McCain’s agreement that Romney was “the candidate of change,” it was getting really old and I was slightly peeved. McCain seemed to take a vicious glee in the personal attack. It seemed like a tired attack by a man who lacked a way to launch a substantive argument. In retrospect, though, the attacks seem deserved. Romney boldly lied that his ads did not call McCain’s plan amnesty. They did. (Go look them up on YouTube.)

[emphasis added]

Basically, McCain looked like an asshole. In fact, when I looked up this old blog entry, it was worse than I thought. This “vicious glee” won’t look good in the debates with Obama.

We also can take a look at McCain’s speech back in June — you know, the one with the lime green backdrop and the borrowed “A Leader We Can Believe In” catchphrase. I remember McCain’s grimace after saying, “That’s not change we can believe in.” It was bad.

Of course, there’s also the flip-side that Biden is a gaffe machine. Still, I don’t think this will really matter overall, since he’s a VP candidate and who gives a shit about the VP. The difference between Biden’s own gaffes and what I mentioned above, is that this would cause McCain to do something. McCain’s the real candidate and what he does has a much bigger effect on the race. Biden’s gaffes don’t similarly translate into Obama gaffes.

Overall, a solid, but forgettable pick.

This I

This illusion, this “I,” is nothing except motion. To take a cup of water from a river is to lose its essence. You cannot capture the motion. Likewise, when we hold a mirror to our own souls, we do not see ourselves. We are doing something much more complicated.

Adjectives constrain the way we think. We create sentences such as, “I see a red book,” or “I met an honest person.” A person, though, isn’t honest in the same way a book is red. In fact, can we really call a person honest? We like to think that people have fundamental traits. There are honest people and dishonest people. In reality, this kind of thinking can be described as the “fundamental attribution error.” Our actions are often affected by contingencies, by the outside circumstances. Instead of taking these circumstances into account, we say that the person is honest or dishonest, liberal or miserly.

I do want to take this a step further and say that a person isn’t fundamentally honest. What constitutes an honest person? One who always says the truth? One who generally tells the truth? One who tells the truth when it matters? To the first, there is no such person. To the second, what percentage? To the third, lots of little lies to add up. Is, then, an honest person someone you can trust? But put that person in a certain environment, perhaps one where she’s under the sway of an authority, the crowd, or where she has absolute power, and she will become corrupt. There exists no pure property of honesty that one can find in the mind.

All such traits don’t exist within ourselves. They exist for moments. They exist in the actions. We do something dishonest, and that’s when we are dishonest.

But then, we see patterns. A person constantly does things which are considered dishonest, and then acquires the reputation for being dishonest. Thus, these traits are not properties, but patterns.

These patterns have a curious property, though. By labelling ourselves a certain way, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think I am dishonest, so I do more actions which are dishonest. This reinforces the pattern, causing me to think I am dishonest. What we think is a fundamental personality trait is actually a pattern in motion, engaged in positive feedback.

So what to make of introspection? What do I see when I hold that mirror to my soul, if my conception of traits is correct? I don’t know, exactly. The mirror creates, distorts, destroys. When I look at the pattern of my behavior, I begin to create who I am. I see these things and say that I am this type of person. I may think I am “realizing” it, but I am creating it. Then again, this creation isn’t truth. It distorts who I am. It attributes properties to myself, which may not be correct. The mirror sees patterns, not truth. It makes an educated guess about who I am. There’s also an aspect of destruction. It locks me into a pattern, taking away possibilities. Yes, it creates me, but it may not be creating the right me; it may be destroying who I really want to be. By assigning myself a trait, I also destroy the nuances of my actions and the contingencies which led to them.

This aspect of destruction really fascinates me. When I say, “I can’t,” then I can’t. When I say, “I’m not this type of person,” then I’m not. It locks me in to a pattern.

You can avoid locking yourself into a particular pattern, but you can’t avoid the act of destruction. By simply doing something else, by acting, I create new patterns. When I commit to being a positive person, I become that positive person. However, I’m still engaged in the act of destroying complexities, destroying parts of who I am. I’m still assigning traits, but this time I’m choosing ones I decide are better. Yet I haven’t avoided the act of destruction.

Furthermore, I believe that we constantly engage in this creation and destruction. Based on our distorted perceptions of the patterns in our lives, we become who we are. Sometimes we reject these assumptions, and sometimes we accept them. We can’t avoid creating our identity.

Without introspection, we have no identity. But when we introspect, we change who we are.

I like to imagine the mind as consisting of water sloshing around. When we introspect, we dip our hands into the water, and create new ripples.

Cold Fire

Cold Fire

I don’t believe in passion.
Find it. They tell me.

Occasionally, I find myself
In the grips of ecstasy
Yes, this is what I will do
This is what my life is meant for
This is my purpose

Moments of pure emotion
False epiphanies bursting like fireworks
So bright
Only to quickly fade
Replaced by darkness

I fumble in the darkness
I don’t want your advice
I don’t believe in passion.

Don’t give me your gunpowder.
I want twigs.

I’ll build a cold fire
In my heart.
Something that will burn
Even in subzero temperatures
As I slog through the valleys
During life’s winters

After the firework’s burst
You hear the cold fire’s
Slow. Relentless. Crackle.

I don’t believe in passion.
All I see is smoke.
No, let me burn forever.

TCM Blog update

I am so ridiculously excited about this Chalkboard Manifesto Blog. I’ve been playing around with the design. You know you love the project when you spend endless hours just tweaking small bits of code. One pixel here, one pixel there.

More importantly, this is a chance to establish a community. You’ll see this all in my first entry, so hopefully I’m not spoiling too much. The blog will be about a conversation between all the readers, not an online diary, as is the case here.

I have no idea if the project will be successful. I have no idea how many people will read and how many will participate. It could flop. But that’s part of what makes it an exciting new project. What is success without the gamble of massive failure? You may gain something, but it will not be glory.


That was a fun exercise. I didn’t quit finish my marathon of book reviews. I still have one more book that I finished last month. Still, I did 8 book reviews in one day, which is exciting. Well they aren’t really reviews but more like notes for myself. Whatever. I feel much better after putting away that backlog of books I finished in June and July.

Thoughts on The Effective Executive

I have a weakness for the tone of The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker; I really like the way the book is written and enjoy similar books. I’m not quite sure how to describe the tone. It’s very authoritative, as if the author was imparting wisdom. It’s not conversational. And… well, this is going to come off as sexist, but when you say, “Man is not such a creature,” it sounds completely different from “Humans are not such creatures” and I greatly prefer the former. Of course, now I’ve shifted slightly from the tone of Drucker’s book. It’s my weblog, and I retain the right to digress.

The book lists five practices of effective executives. Each of these bullets are comprised of direct quotes from the book:

  1. Effective executives know where their time goes.
  2. Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work.
  3. Effective executives build on strengths — their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates…. They do not build on weakness.
  4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first — and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.
  5. Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions. … They know that an effective decision is always a judgment based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus on the facts.” And they know that to make many decisions fast means to make the wrong decisions. What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions. What is needed is the right strategy rather than razzle-dazzle tactics.

My thoughts on each of these is as follows. #1: This is a huge weakness for me. I throw away so much time surfing the internet and watching TV. #2: This is rather intuitive. It reminds me also of The 4-Hour Work Week. Are you working or are you just busy? #3: This also reminds me of The 4-Hour Work Week where you are exhorted to focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. Note: When you read a lot, you’re encouraged by things showing up in multiple books. It means you’re either onto something that’s incredibly right or horribly wrong. Either one contributes to knowledge more than finding an unsubstantiated, isolated claim. Facts should not be islands. #4: This reminds me of aphorism #268 from The Art of Worldly Wisdom, “A wise man does at once, what a fool does at last.” Prioritizing was something I really focused on when I had a lot of school work. Since then, I don’t remember when’s the last time I made a daily to-do list. Time to get back in that habit. #5: This is a multi-faceted topic. It’s too complex to give a few sentences of thought on it. It’s not something that I will focus on soon. There’s only so much one can do.

There’s a great passage that reminded me of the 80-20 rule, or Pareto Principle:

The great majority of all accidents occur in one or two places in the plant. The great bulk of absenteeism is in one department. … The personnel actions to which dependence on averages will lead — for instance, the typical plantwide safety campaign — will not produce the desired results, may indeed make things worse.

There’s another section on the importance of going out and looking for oneself. Drucker uses the military as an example, that battalion commanders samples the food eaten by his men. He says, “It is that military organizations learned long ago that futility is the lot of most orders and organized the feedback to check on the execution of the order. They learned long ago that to go oneself and look is the only reliable feedback.” This is confirmed by what I read in Patton’s memoir, where he says 95% of the job is making sure the orders are executed. In addition, there’s a marvelous anecdote where he goes up to a group who are looking over a map trying to figure out how to cross a river. Patton informs them that he just went down to the river, crossed it, and came back. (I most certainly have misremembered this anecdote; damn audiobooks.) Here’s a great quote to sum this all up and add some more insight:

To go and look for oneself is also the best, if not the only, way to test whether the assumptions on which a decision had been made are still valid or whtether they are becoming obsolete and need to be thought through again. And one always has to expect the assumptions to become obsolete sooner or later. Reality never stands still very long.

Here are some additional quotes without any commentary from me:

Effective executives have learned to ask systematically and without coyness: “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?” To ask this question, and to ask it without being afraid of the truth, is a mark of the effective executive.

Unless a decision has “degenerated into work” it is not a decision; it is at best a good intention.

Decisions of the kind the executive has to make are not made well by acclamation. They are made well only if based on the clash of conflicting views, the dialogue between different points of view, the choice between different judgments. The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.

Thoughts on The Art of Speed Reading People

The Art of Speed Reading People by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) personality inventory to sort people. It shows how to quickly identify and communicate with each type, etcetera.

I’m mixed on the book. On one hand, it’s helpful to see how people think differently. On the other hand, it’s really easy to stereotype people and over-generalize. In the book’s defense, it does warn against this, that people aren’t exclusively one way. Yet the advice still mostly tends towards generality.

I guess it was an okay primer on personality types, and I would like to explore the subject further.

Thoughts on 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player

Yes, I read another book by John C. Maxwell. This one is called 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player. It wasn’t the best read, and it didn’t spark any new epiphanies. However, when I read it, the book reminded me of lessons I’d somewhat forgotten. Constantly reminding yourself of things you should already know is another reason to read, read, read, READ LIKE A CRAZED MUTHAFUCKA! If you want to improve yourself, you have to read.

Anyway, I found these qualities particularly helpful as reminders:

  • 14. Self-Improving
  • 16. Solution-Oriented
  • 17. Tenacious

Thoughts on Guns, Germs, and Steel

It took me a long time to get through Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. It not that the material was particularly difficult, but that it was kind of dry. It reminded me of my class on Plato. The subject matter was damn interesting and my professor was informative, but I just couldn’t help but let my mind wander. In fact, sometimes my eyelids would droop. Likewise, I found GGS very interesting, but I still couldn’t help but get bored. And this, all despite the fact that Jared Diamond makes it very accessible for a more popular audience.

It’s a fascinating book, and I learned a lot. The book’s about how the environment determined which societies would end up destroying other societies (like how Eurasia invaded the Americas and not the other way around). It was a good change of pace from a non-fiction book that I read as part of my quest for self-improvement. (This is not to say that learning in and of itself is not self-improvement.) I don’t think I have any lessons I can apply to my life, but I now have new things to say if someone wants to discuss history.

Also, reading this book can spark some wonderful ideas for alternative history. What if some animals in Africa had traits which made them able to be domesticated? Can you imagine rhino cavalry? Or giant mammals from North America? Sweet.

Apparently, the author is a professor at UCLA and I think one of my friends took a class with him. I’d love to meet him some day.

Things I Learned from Patton

I didn’t actually “read” General Patton’s War as I Knew It; I listened to an audiobook. It was an interesting experience listening to an audiobook. At first, I listened while I exercised. Then, I listened on that long car trip to Las Vegas. Towards the end, I had to just sit and listen because I had to return the book soon. It was weird just sitting and listening to an audiobook. I felt very unproductive. Another interesting thing about audiobooks is that I’m too lazy to rewind (and rewind again) to write down an exact quote. Alright, that’s not really an interesting thing about audiobooks, but an uninteresting thing about myself. So, what follows are not exact quotes. Therefore they will be in list form.

  • All walls have fallen — the Maginot Line, the Great Wall, etcetera. Even oceans can’t keep out an ingenious enemy. The only reliable defense is a good offense.
  • Generals create plans to match the circumstances, not the other way around.
  • If General Patton has time to read the Koran before the North Africa campaign, you have time to read in your busy life. (I took this small, relatively unimportant note that Patton read that book, and I used it when I taught my students.)
  • Don’t delay. A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.
  • War is a simple thing. It requires: self-confidence, speed, and audacity.
  • Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
  • On command: 5% of the job = orders/plans, 95% = making sure they’re carried out.
  • Always remind yourself of these two things: 1) In war, nothing is impossible provided you use audacity. 2) Do not take counsel of your fears.
  • Fatigue produces pessimism.
  • There’s a big difference between haste and speed. Haste is like having one hour of preparation and then moving in. It will be bloody and you will move slowly. Speed involves more like 4 hours of preparation, for the equivalent action. You will move quickly and have less time under fire.
  • Visits. Important.

Thoughts on Never Eat Alone

It’s strange how the more I like a book, the less I want to say about it. I really liked Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. It’s all about networking and helping other people. It’s a book I’ll need to revisit over and over, so that I can internalize its lessons.

I’m just going to list some quotes.

I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. It was about working hard to give more that you get.

Ultimately, everyone has to ask himself or herself how they’re going to fail. We all do, you know, so let’s get that out of the way. The choice isn’t between success and failure; it’s between choosing risk and striving for greatness, or risking nothing and being certain of mediocrity.

Selling is, reduced to its essence, solving another person’s problems.

When it comes to making an impression, differentiation is the name of the game. Confound expectation. Shake it up. How? There’s one guaranteed way to stand out in the professional world: Be yourself. I believe that vulnerability — yes, vulnerability — is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today.

For one, I had to begin the journey to change my leadership style. It wasn’t enough to get things done. You had to get things done and make the people around you feel involved, and not just part of the process but part of the leadership.

Thoughts on Speak to Influence

I read Speak to Influence by Susan Berkley and it was just O.K. There were some good practical exercises for warming up vocal chords and tongue twisters to help enunciation. There was also a section on leaving voice messages, which I found particularly helpful. (My favorite: Leave a message just with your name and number and without details, creating a sense of mystery.) Overall, though, I didn’t see anything over and beyond what I learned in my Oral Presentations class. There are no secrets to good public speaking. Learn the basics, such as eliminating fillers. Record yourself and watch yourself. Practice, practice, practice. That’s most of it.

Thoughts on The Difference Maker

As I look back on my notes on John C. Maxwell’s The Difference Maker, I see that at the time, I didn’t find the book all too helpful. Yet with a month’s distance, I find that it touches on a lot of themes that have gained importance in my life. The book itself is about attitude — what it can and can’t do. I don’t even recall the general thesis, but I marked several passages, which still retain their significance.

The best concept I took from the book was “decision management.” Here’s what Maxwell says:

It’s pretty easy to say to yourself, From now on, I’m going to have a great attitude. It’s much harder to actually follow through with it. That’s why I believe one of the best things you can do for yourself is make the daily management of your attitude one of your objectives.”

The concept reappears multiple times in the book and it really stuck in my head.

I used to have this abstract concept of a perfect me and how he would act. I always wanted to be that person one day, but I’ve since realized that I have to be that person everyday. I previously latched onto a concept of habits. But in my head, that concept translated to an active start-up and a passive start-up. You simply can’t be the person you want to be unless you commit and re-commit everyday to it.

Now, this concept of “decision management” has morphed into a concept of my “positivity paradigm,” wherein I commit myself everyday to being a positive, solution-oriented person. The Difference Maker made another significant contribution to the positivity paradigm by giving a tip to change one’s vocabulary. Here’s the tip:

A noted psychiatrist once remarked that the two saddest words in the human vocabulary are “if only.” He believed that people who get trapped in their failures spend their whole lives saying “if only — if only I had tried harder, if only I had been more kind to my kids, if only I had been more truthful, if only…” The way to correct that mind-set is to change your vocabulary by substituting the words “next time” — “next time I will try harder, next time I will be more kind to my kids, next time I will be more truthful.”

Before I read that book, I had already commited myself to something similar. Everytime I thought of a problem, I needed to think: What’s the solution? This simple tip of changing one’s vocabulary has made me significantly more solution-oriented. I am a better person because of it. Change your vocabulary, and you’ll change your life.

Active management of my attitude towards positivity has changed my life for the better. Now, I think I need to work on actively managing my life in aspects other than positivity.

I have one last quote I found useful:

Psychiatrist William Glasser says, “If you want to change attitudes, start with a change in behavior. In other words, begin to act the part, as well as you can, of the person you would rather be, the person you must want to become. Gradually, the old, fearful person will fade away.”

I believe this is the best path for self-improvement.