Monthly Archives: June 2010

Controlling Emotions

I don’t think one should control one’s emotions. It’s not really super healthy to be like, “I’m going to repress my anger.” Still, that doesn’t mean that the mind should let emotions control one’s actions. I’m thinking to meditation where I don’t try to force thoughts to go away. The more I do that, the more the thought fights back. Instead, acknowledge that it exists, and then move on. Even when not meditating, I think it makes sense to treat emotions similarly. It’s healthier to know one’s emotions and acknowledge them than to try to force them away. (Except when the times call for ignoring certain emotions and then acting according to the rational mind.)

So Much Work

I’m working two jobs this summer. I’m teaching at ATDP twice a week, and I’m working a normal 40-hour week job at Hitachi. The teaching job also includes lesson-planning and grading, so the work extends far beyond twice a week.

In addition to this, I’m trying to complete a film that I’ve been working on for the past year or so. My friend Richard and I are rather close to finishing, and I’d like to complete it within the time period that I’m also doing ATDP. In fact, last Sunday, we finished filming, and then I did more classwork.

I also have my comic, but that isn’t looking too hot. I wanted to do it twice a week (while I normally do it three times a week) but I failed miserably. Now, I want to do it once a week, but I’m not even sure I can do that. I’m already exhausted from today, and I just can’t bring myself to work on the comic. This means I’ll have to write a comic for Friday, but Thursday is when I work from 8:30AM to about 9:30PM, so I don’t have much time. I guess maybe I can work it into lunch break.

Along with that, I’m still trying to make time for my friends and to blog. I’ve spent some time with my friends, while I’ve spent less time blogging these last few days.

A few days ago, I bought myself a new toy. It’s a one-handed chording keyboard. So, I’m also teaching myself to type. And I’ve been learning a new programming language — Ruby. I’m nearly through a 12 chapter tutorial on Rails too.

I’m crazy.

The other day, I wanted to check my e-mail and facebook, but I really needed to get things done. Household chores, work, comic. I didn’t have time to let the internet rule my life. So, I didn’t let it. That experience was very liberating. Not only that, but it forces me to focus. I have to really think about what’s important in my life, and let the rest go — well, sometimes I let it go. Sometimes I just drop the ball with stuff I’m supposed to do.

It’s still frustrating, though, and I’m having trouble staying centered. Because I’m doing so much, my energy is depleted and my self-control can get depleted, and I let my emotions control me. Meditation helps me regain control. I went through a phase where I was meditating every morning, but I stopped because I started work. That was such a terrible idea. I’m getting back to it now (not necessarily in the morning) so I can be less frustrated and more solution-oriented.

Responses to Student Blogs on Reading

In internet parlance, fisking refers to a point-by-point criticism of an article. You take a line, put it in blockquotes, then criticize it. Take the next line, put it in blockquotes, criticize it. Repeat for entire article. I’M NOT GOING TO DO THAT! However, I am going to isolate certain lines that strike me and respond (not necessarily criticize).


While reading an article on the internet, there seemed to be a constant sense of urgency, and I couldn’t really concentrate and take in all of the information.

I think a common metaphor for the internet is that it puts a world of information at our fingertips. But the information isn’t sitting there, waiting to be grabbed. The hyperlink, for example, propels us to its source, rather than merely referencing its source. I tend to liken the internet to some type of oppressor with all the information it can force on us, but I haven’t really thought about “a constant sense of urgency,” as Nicolle puts it. I think this urgency comes from the tug of realtime. The internet wants us to constantly live in the now, always pushing us facebook updates and twitter updates. Wait too long and information becomes stale. Books do not threaten to become stale as blog entries do. If you wait 20 years to finish The Brothers Karamazov, it’s still as timeless as it ever was.

If you quizzed me on the two things I read today, chances are I wouldn’t be able to recall as much of the article on the internet as the two essays.

Studies show it’s now just you, Nicolle. I’ll have to find the references in Carr’s new book.


For me, personally, I only get impatient about stuff on the internet. Like if something takes more than ten seconds to load I get frustrated, however, in actual life it’s expected to be slow.

Oh, here’s something else on the theme of urgency. Not only does the internet force us into a contant now, but it also makes us impatient. Impatience could make deep reading more difficult because harder books/essays force us to take the time to digest the material. On the internet, we want to instantly imbibe the information. (Flashback to The Matrix: “I know Kung Fu.”) So, we may not have the patience to learn. I wonder if there’s any difference in comprehension between those with broadband and those with slower connections.

[more later… or maybe tomorrow. I’m not going to touch on everybody’s blogs. Just things that provoke some thoughts for me.]

Reading and Distraction

I tried to conduct an experiment at work today, but I failed miserably. All I had to do was read straight without distractions, but it was impossible. People were talking loudly next to my cubicle. I even put in earplugs. (Our data center is very noisy so you need earplugs to not damage your hearing over time.) This still didn’t work. I was reminded of my attempts at meditation last year. I would try to focus but my mind would wander. It was difficult to center myself and get drawn into the text.

I also wanted to take notes while I was reading. I don’t think this is pernicious, as it would be with the internet. Let me jump to that story first and then return to reading on paper.

Online, I was reading Nicholas Carr’s essay yet again. I decided there were passages I wanted to take note of and the easiest way to do this would be to paste them into a tumblr account I have. It’s not a true blog, just a collection of random unformed thoughts. Tumblr was having some network issues, so it was taking forever for the pages to load. What did I fill this time with? Quiet contemplation? Repetition of the quote to embed it in my memory? NO! Twitter.

Such is the pernicious distraction of the internet. It forces itself into all the cracks in our life. If something isn’t loading fast enough, then open another tab and read something else. It is constantly forcing new content onto us. There’s no space. No emptiness to ruminate.

Which brings me back to reading and taking notes. When I read, I’ll often stick a post-it in my book as a note. Is this kind of distraction any better or worse than what we do on the internet? Does this reading count as deep reading? In If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, there’s a scene with different types of readers explaining how they read. One said this:

“Don’t be amazed if you see my eyes always wandering. In fact, this is my way of reading, and it is only in this way that reading proves fruitful for me. If a book truly interests me, I cannot follow it for more than a few lines before my mind, having seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or a feeling, or a question, or an image, goes off on a tangent and springs from thought to thought, from image to image, in an itinerary of reasonings and fantasies that I feel the need to pursue to the end, moving away from the book until I have lost sight of it.”

When I read the prompt for today, I thought of this quote for two reasons: 1) I wondered whether this type of reader was similar to the distracted internet reader. 2) That person is totally me. So, does this mean I read books as if I read online? I think the answer is no.

There is a difference between taking notes in a book while daydreaming and reading Twitter while waiting for something to load. With the latter, content is being pushed to me. My thoughts are invaded. With the former, I’m still engaged in rumination. I’m still within the space of your own mind, alone.

The daydreamer wanders, but does not flit. The daydreamer is not superficial. In the daydreamer’s mind, connections are being forged by these tangents. The daydreamer is active. The internet-skimmer, meanwhile, is passive. The connections, via hyperlink, are made for him, not by him.

Thus, although I may get distracted, I am distracted by my own thoughts. So, it’s still thinking, not superficial skimming. I want to back this up with a quote from Carr:

The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking. [emphasis added]

The reader from Calvino’s book is engaged in another act of contemplation. He is doing the hard work of making associations and drawing inferences and analogies. Therefore he’s still doing “deep thinking.” And I am too.

Reading Style

“Don’t be amazed if you see my eyes always wandering. In fact, this is my way of reading, and it is only in this way that reading proves fruitful for me. If a book truly interests me, I cannot follow it for more than a few lines before my mind, having seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or a feeling, or a question, or an image, goes off on a tangent and springs from thought to thought, from image to image, in an itinerary of reasonings and fantasies that I feel the need to pursue to the end, moving away from the book until I have lost sight of it.”

If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

I just wanted to note this passage here. I will incorporate it into a longer blog entry tomorrow on reading and distraction.

Character Creation

My friends and I often play this fighting game called Soul Calibur IV. Actually, it’s mostly the guys who play. There is a character creation mode where you can build characters and give them different hair, looks, weapons, and outfits. Today, the girls spent a good amount of time creating each other. They were pretty in to it. “Oh, that looks cute.” I find it amusing that they were most intrigued by video games when it turned into a game of dress-up. Okay, now I’m going to hide in the corner and duck when some girls throw things at me for being sexist.

Windows 7 was your idea?

I’m going crazy because all of a sudden I can’t access the C: drive from certain programs. If I want to download something in Opera, I have to download to Documents or something else that’s a library. In Gimp, I can’t access the file structure at all. I can’t figure out what’s wrong, and it’s driving me crazy. Windows 7 has a completely unintuitive suite of options for privileges. Windows 7 was your idea? I want to punch you.

P.S. I suspect that installing msysGit messed things up.

P.P.S. I turned off UAC and changed ownership of C: and everything in it to me. Reboot. Works now.

The Dangers of Usability

In a previous entry called “The Designer Lens,” I said there was a part of me that loved usability. I loved it when things were easy and intuitive to use. I also said that it could be dangerous, but I never fleshed out that idea. I was thinking about a concept of Government 2.0 where technological tools can help us interact with government more easily. However, there’s always a huge danger of mixing easy with government. Government is not easy because humans are complicated. Political solutions that seem simple are often reductive and so fail miserably.

Let’s use a programming paradigm as an example of being reductive. DRY stands for “Don’t Repeat Yourself.” Code shouldn’t be duplicated. In America, we have duplication all over the place. Federal government conflicts with local government. Congress is bicameral. We have three branches of government that are supposed to fight each other. Government is far from efficient. However, that’s a feature, not a bug (to extend the computer metaphor). Government requires all this friction to prevent a concentration of power. If someone gets too much power, this person can become a dictator. DRY is a bad idea for government. (It’s also why we shouldn’t want government to be like a corporation, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

I also wanted to discuss something that I came across in The Shallows. There’s an experiment with users trying to solve a puzzle using a helpful computer program versus an unhelpful program, which “provided no hints or other guidance” (214). The ones using the bare-bones program are better off: “In the end, those using the unhelpful program were able to solve the puzzle more quickly and with fewer wrong moves. They also reached fewer impasses — states in which no further moves were possible — than did the people using the helpful software. The findings indicated, as van Nimwegen reported, that those using the unhelpful software were better able to plan ahead and plot strategy, while those using the helpful software tended to rely on simple trail and error” (215). Helpful software dumbs us down. We export our problem-solving skills to the computer and forget to think.

The idea of expanding democracy via software can be very seductive. After all, the web opened the floodgates for media. It lowered the barriers; anyone can publish. Maybe we could get more people involved in government if we had the right software. What if we voted via text message?

But there’s a very real danger of alienation. Take facebook and friendship, for example. Instead of connecting with friends, we may merely passively follow them through news feed. Technology becomes a substitute for real interaction. So there may be a similar danger with government and software. We may become absorbed in our technological world and ignore our neighbors. By staying in digital places, technology can alienate us from real places. Community cannot exist without place and local government is absurd without community.

I’m not saying technology should be avoided, but there’s definitely a dangerous tendency within myself that I have to fight: That I might think of technology as a panacaea for participation.

There’s also the problem with the philosophy of making government more “usable.” (This is a philosophy I’ve never heard espoused by anyone and I’ve only pondered on my own, so far.) It may seduce one into thinking that government is easy. It never is.

The Designer Lens – my blog entry

Less Comics

I’m planning on reducing my comics to twice a week for the six weeks of ATDP. I don’t think I have the time to work two jobs and write a comic 3x a week. My priority has to be my class.

It’s going to be rough working so many hours. However, I’m stressed more about the commute (from Berkeley to Santa Clara) than the extra working hours. After all, although the teaching hours are work, they’re still fun.

Readability, Dial-up, and Block

Safari has a reader built-in:

It’s based off the Readability bookmarklet:

I saw Readability before thinking of that alternate browser yesterday. I’d love to have that feature, or keep that mode as default.

You won’t be able to play games on this browser. Forget that. It should be designed to facilitate reading, not leisurely browsing. It’s to get your life back from the internet.

So another feature would be “Dial-up Mode” where it takes minimum 30 seconds to “connect to the internet.” Basically, it just blocks every feature for 30 seconds, simulating dial-up connection. This feature would probably be always on, but be configured to be greater than 30 seconds. Barriers are good.

There should also be a block the internet mode. This browser wouldn’t just block certain sites for you, but it would block everything and force you to take a break. There should probably be a default 50-10 breakdown. 50 minutes online means you have to take a 10 minute break.

[Note: 06/15/10 – I wrote this yesterday in another blog, so I’m transferring that here (with slight edits) and backdating it because I feel like it.]

A Different Kind of Browser

I’d like to have a browser that encourages deep thinking. It would have no tabs, to stop multitasking. It would strip links because hyperlinks distract you while you’re reading. It would block certain sites for certain amounts of time, so you wouldn’t spend all your time waiting for the cheap reward of a new update. Maybe it’d serve the print style sheets instead of normal style sheets. Browsers facilitate distraction, and I think a better tool would help change things.


I’m imagining a group of programmers congregated in a large loose circle. They’ve had many drinks and decide to play a game of “Never Have I Ever.” After much revelations about their sexual adventures (or lack thereof), the questions shift to programming (naturally). A C++ programmer says, “Never have I ever been inspired by a programming book.” The Ruby programmers in the room groan and put their fingers down. I would now have to put my finger down too.

In the past few weeks, I’ve started to dig through Python and Ruby. I wanted to expand my language repertoire. I also started looking into various frameworks, such as Django and Rails, for making web apps. This foraging was frustrating. I looked through different comparisons. Many were clearly unobjective. The ones that were objective felt too technical for someone who had yet to even play with the frameworks. I felt torn. For some reason, I felt as if I was choosing a religion; it felt a more permanent choice than it really was. Then, when I got the frameworks it felt as if I was picking a church — there were the battles all over again. Finally, I decided I had done enough foraging. I had to quit looking for information and build something. I decided to learn both Django and Rails, but I would learn Rails first. This meant I had to learn Ruby. This was when I came across Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby.

This book blew my mind. At first, I was like, “What the hell is going on?” It had insane digressions and cartoon foxes. I couldn’t really follow it. Slowly, I became more engrossed in the bizarre storytelling and the fun analogies. Yes, % did look kind of like a frog. I have been reading The Shallows recently so I’m primed to think about deep reading versus scanning. I was engaged in deep reading. I was pushed in the book like I was a novel. Not only that, but I was pulled into the programming examples. Usually, these examples are tedious exercises that I ignore.

When I woke up in the morning, I knew I had dreamt of Ruby. It was weird. I still like Python a lot. It appeals to a certain side of me that wants everything structured and usable. Because of the book, I felt as if programming in Ruby would appeal more to the poetic side of me. Really weird for programming.

The writing style directly inspired me to re-write the first assignment for the class I’m teaching this summer. It doesn’t nearly match the poignancy of the original, but it is more fun than the boring writing for a typical assignment.

So, now I’m working my way through a tutorial on Rails. I’m not nearly as inspired now. It’s a lot to slog through; it’s fairly complicated compared to what I’ve done before. But I am encouraged to press on.


How come every time I load Firefox it has to update a plugin or the browser? Stop bugging me! I just want to look at something on the internet; not wait 5 minutes for something to download and install. Agh.

Another reason why I still love Opera.

Awesome Summer

This summer should be fairly awesome. I will teach a class, and I should finish the first episode of that TV show Richard and I have been working on. I’m also going to do something with Ruby on Rails. Plus, I’ve got other things planned; this sentence is intentionally vague. Summer should be jam-packed, but I expect to do it all even though I won’t have much time.

I’m reminded of the semester in college where I took 4 writing intensive classes, with 5 classes total. It was completely insane; the number of essays I wrote was staggering. Still, I managed to complete the semester with a grade better than the previous semester.

When I have more time to slack off, I fill that time with slacking off. When under pressure, I allocate my time more efficiently.

Moving Out

I should move out sometime soon. It would be stressful to do so while teaching a class, but I don’t think there ever really is an opportune time to move. I’ve also been reluctant to move because I don’t think I could deal with not having roommates, but I see other people often enough that I don’t think this would be a huge problem. I could try it out and see what happens, at least.

Non-linear linking

Yesterday’s blog post, where I put links at the bottom of the post instead of putting them throughout the text, forced me to write differently. Without the crutch of a hyperlink, every time I wrote about something, I had to explain what it was. I had to summarize and interpret. I had to provide context.

With a link, the onus shifts from the writer to the reader to provide context. The reader has to click the link and understand what is going on, and then can come back to the original text. I, as a writer, don’t feel obligated to explain what’s going on. I slap a link up, and the reader has to sink or swim. They’re forced into my stream of consciousness. So, they must orient themselves. I invite you into my space, and you must fend for yourself.

Without the links, I had to provide guideposts. Instead of writing what came to mind, I had to make sure I understood the documents that I was linking to as evidence. The reader is given a guided tour, rather than thrown into a stream of thought. I think it made my writing a little clearer.

I had not noticed how hyperlinks assume that they’re context enough.

I think this is part of why the web feels non-linear. Each blog entry isn’t a self-contained node that happens to link to another node. Instead, through the link, the new text interweaves itself with the old text that was linked to.

It reminds me of what I’ve been told about medieval philosophy. They spent a lot of time just annotating Aristotle. Annotations are dependent on the parent text. Our modern texts don’t stand alone, do they? The web is different, though. It is less hierarchical. Instead of footnote upon footnote, we have recursiveness and reciprocity. The texts all meld together, in a non-hierarchical fashion.

Or maybe it’s less like the Aristotlean tradition and more like conversation. I wouldn’t describe conversation as linear. Although you may take turns talking, there are multiple conversation threads and a lot of backtracing. It’s a good way to learn, even! It is, however, very different from learning from a book. I remember Lloyd describing weblogging as more like oral tradition; I think he’s right. Despite being written, it has the ephemerality and tone of spoken word. The blogosphere is a big extended conversation. Maybe.

Rethinking Linking

Looks like Nicholas Carr’s new book just came out, so I’m going to have to buy it. Sorry, Stevie, but it’s going to take precedence over the book you lent me. While I don’t have Carr’s book yet, I have been reading his blog, and it has got me rethinking the concept of the hyperlink. I used to think of links as a categorical good. However, littering your text with hyperlinks can be distracting. Carr explains:

Links are wonderful conveniences, as we all know (from clicking on them compulsively day in and day out). But they’re also distractions. Sometimes, they’re big distractions – we click on a link, then another, then another, and pretty soon we’ve forgotten what we’d started out to do or to read. Other times, they’re tiny distractions, little textual gnats buzzing around your head. Even if you don’t click on a link, your eyes notice it, and your frontal cortex has to fire up a bunch of neurons to decide whether to click or not. You may not notice the little extra cognitive load placed on your brain, but it’s there and it matters. People who read hypertext comprehend and learn less, studies show, than those who read the same material in printed form.

All this distraction can inhibit understanding what we read. It’s frightening. I’d like to compare this to something I wrote in 2003, where I marveled at the power of the link. To me, the hyperlink was about connection; I didn’t even consider distraction. I proclaimed:

Take away almost anything else and the internet still works. Take away e-mail. Take away instant messenger. Heck, even take away search engines. The internet still works. But take away the hyperlink, and there’s no more internet. All you have is a bunch of unconnected works.

It’s all about being connected. You connected to me. Me connected to you. Everyone connected to everyone. And once we’ve gone forward, we can’t go back. We’re stuck being connected to each other, whether we like it or not.

That being said, I should make it a goal to link more often. This is the internet. I should embrace what defines the internet. I should embrace sharing and being connected. If I expect others to (eventually) read what I write, I should expect myself to read what they write. And the only way they know that I’ve read, is to respond when I see fit.

I thought that the hyperlink facilitated what I loved about the web. I wanted to share and be connected to others. I implored myself to link more.

I don’t want to reject this. I like connection and reciprocity, and I think it can build community. However, there’s no rule that every link has to be an in-line link. Links can be put at the bottom, like in Laura Miller’s review of The Shallows in Salon. It’s good to at least experiment with this, if in-line links are inhibiting comprehension. There’s no point to linking if there are no nodes. There’s no network if there are no islands of content. Connection should not be a goal in and of itself; content must be king.

Some of the things I said echo what I say now, but the tone is pure triumphalism. I was amazed at how “relatively instantly, [a link] can take you anywhere, relevant or irrelevant.” Today (actually, yesterday, haha), I’d say that this lack of distinction flattens our experience of the world. There’s also this: “It’s that amazing little concept of the hyperlink that lets you create something with multiple pages, that you can view in any order. Hyperlinks create a non-linear environment.” Back then, this non-linear environment felt revolutionary. Indeed, it was revolutionary, but now I feel like Edmund Burke decrying the murder of Marie Antoinette. What beauty books have by engaging our focused minds. Linearity is a good thing! The non-linear environment causes our minds to scatter.

Well, non-linearity isn’t entirely bad. Exploration leads us to unexpected places. These are the seeds of new ideas. But to develop these ideas, we need time to focus.

Here are the links to the things I was talking about:

Experiments in delinkification – Nicholas Carr’s blog post that set off this train of thought

What Makes the Internet the Internet – my blog post

Yes, the Internet is rotting your brain – Laura Miller’s review of The Shallows on Salon

Realtime’s Distortion of Importance

When something is happening now, it always feels important. In retrospect, it probably isn’t. On the internet, it feels like I’m constantly attending to “now.” Twitter and facebook give me a realtime stream of what’s happening now. Every link, every update looks just as important as another. Visually, on facebook, there’s no difference between an update from someone I never talk to and someone I talk to everyday. The updates of people important to me are the same as people not important to me. On twitter, a link to some lame 10 Ways to Do X list looks the same as a link to something that may change the way I think. Link shorteners make it all a jumble of random letters. Living in realtime flattens my experience of the world; nothing is more important than anything else; each moment is sacred and demands my attention.

In real life, some people are more important than other people. Some things are more important than others. Some actions I should take, and others I should ignore.

With the news, anything happening today looks important. No, in this modern age, anything happening NOW is important. I can get updated in realtime. This distorts what’s really important, though. From a historical perspective, most of these things don’t really matter; they don’t alter the course of history in any major fashion. Most of what we consider news has no weight. A year from now, a reference to it in my blog makes no sense. (That’s not to say that my memory is a barometer of what is important and not important, but I’ll remember the Iraq War more than I’ll remember that once upon a time some ex-half-term-governor picked a fight with a late-night show host.)

I think this is why I want to avoid getting sucked up into the day-to-day news. Most of it isn’t important. Instead, I’m overwhelmed with data. I keep foraging for info, but I don’t spend my time thinking. What’s the point of hoarding all those berries if you have no time to eat them?