College Years

Like the wartime years of a civilian solider, they lay so much outside the real world that they had about them a certain unsubstantial, dreamlike quality.

I came across the above passage in Page Smith’s biography of John Adams, which I started to read again yesterday afternoon. The passage refers to Adams’s days at Harvard. I’d underlined the passage in the book the first time I attempted to read it and wrote in the margin: “Yes! This is exactly what my college years were like–never seen it described this well.”

My college years are mostly a blur with little remaining except some scattered memories here and there, and some ancient Word documents (version 5.5 for DOS) with papers and notes. One of my bigger regrets about college, silly as it seems, is that I didn’t begin keeping a journal then. (It wasn’t until nearly 2 years after graduation that I finally started one.) John Adams college career covers 8-pages of an 1,100 page biography. But it was Smith’s words, about those days having a certain dreamlike quality that resonated with me.

I have vague memories of my first day at college. I’d already met my roommate at an event earlier in the summer. But I met two other people on that first day who became among my best friends.

I remember little of my time in classes. I can conjure up generic images of taking notes in large lecture halls, or sitting in semi-circles in smaller rooms. I remember various lab classes in the evenings, but not the specifics, except for one time when an experiment of mine went awry, and I handed a test-tube full of bubbling iron filings to a friend and dashed out of the lab. I remember countless philosophical debates in various dorm room floors into the wee hours of the night. (How I managed to stay up so late eludes me, but I was young…)

Certain images stick with me: riding my bike to class early in the morning and crossing past the bell tower. To my left was one of the science buildings, ivy creeping up its walls. For some reason, it was the ivy that made feel like I was actually in college rather than high school. Friday night or Saturday night second-run movies in one of the lecture halls. The one that stands out most in my mind was Dead Again with Kenneth Branagh.

Looking back on it now, the way it seemed to me was one day, I was there on the campus for my very first day. No long after (but actually two years later) I’d moved out of the dorms and into an apartment with my two roommates. After that, it was all study and work all the time and then, on a hot June day, I was filing onto the stage to receive my diploma. It really does have a dreamlike quality when I look back on it.

Reading that passage in Adams biography comforts me somehow.

Log from the Sea of Pfizer, Dose #2

(See here for the first dose)

Friday, April 16

  • 11:00 am. Arrived at the pharmacy for Pfizer dose #2.
  • 11:15 am. Jabbed in the left arm with the vaccine. Sat in the waiting area for 15 minutes reading Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum. Was the only one reading.
  • 11:30 am. Felt fine, not even any pain in the injection site. Collected my things and headed home.
  • 12:00 pm. Took a photo of my completed COVID-19 vaccination record card.
  • 12:20 pm. Received an email from my doctor’s office inviting me to schedule my first Moderna vaccine before April 30.
  • 3:33 pm. Called my doctor’s office to thank them for the offer, and let them know that I’d already gotten a better one. Could they, by the way, update my records to indicate I’ve been vaccinated. Was asked which vaccine I received and the dates.
  • 4:00 pm. Received message from doctor’s office asking for dates of vaccination. Sent them again.
  • 4:12 pm. Received message from doctor’s office asking which vaccine I’d been given. Send it again. Asked if they actually read the messages they received.
  • 5:30 pm. Noticed first signs of feeling “off”. It’s the feeling I get when a fever is coming on. It almost feels like it emanates from the base of my neck. Try to ignore it.
  • 5:45 pm. Eat a bunch of wings for dinner. Kelly has been in bed all day today (her second dose was yesterday) and if I am tomorrow as she is today, I wanted to at least eat something tasty first.
  • 7:30 pm. Felt a definite stiffness in my neck, upper back and shoulders. Still no pain whatsoever at the injection site. Headed out for an evening walk to get some fresh air.

Saturday, April 17

  • 12:30 am. Woke with symptoms similar to flu. Aches in neck, back, arms and legs. Fever. Fever dreams. The only thing missing was the stuffy head, runny nose, sore throat. It was odd because I expect those symptoms when feeling this way.
  • 3:30 am. Lots of aches and pains to say nothing of the fever dreams. They involve some complicated rules for sleeping out out by the Royal family, while at the same time, I find myself adrift on a fishing boat in the sea of Pfizer, part real life, part video game.
  • 3:35 am. Took some Advil on the hope of quelling the dreams. But they resumed as soon as I returned to bed.
  • 8:15 am. Woke to sunshine. Other than feeling tired, every single one of the symptoms is gone. No aches and pains, no fever. No soreness at injection site. It appears to have all run its course overnight.
  • 9:00 am. Went for my morning walk with no effects of last nights fevers. Maybe I will be able to get in a full day of working after all.
  • 11:00 am. After working for an hour or so, the chills started again, and that tingling, sensitive feeling across my skin started up again. I took some Advil to head it off at the pass.
  • 12:00 pm. Chills and sensitivity is worse despite Advil. Made some lunch with the idea that I’d be going down for a nap with the Littlest Miss shortly after lunch.
  • 1:50 pm. Napped with the Littlest Miss and feel better than before, but still not 100%. Aches and chills are gone, but a lingering haziness remains.
  • 4:20 pm. Neck and back pains creeping back in. Suspect the Advil is wearing off.
  • 5:00 pm. Took more Advil. Then went out to the shed to get the deck furniture which I had promised myself I’d get setup today no matter how I felt. It took a while, and I was worn out afterward, but I got it done.
I got the deck furniture setup late this afternoon.
  • 7:07 pm. I think I am through the worst of it. About 32 hours after the injection, and just under 26 hours after feeling the first symptoms.

On April 30 I will be through my 2-week post vaccination period. That would be a great weekend to hang out with other vaccinated friends, but I have a big rollout happening that weekend and so I will be working. Maybe the weekend after that?

Talking About the Weather

I am going to talk about the weather. I am likely in bed at the moment. I say likely because I am writing this in your past in order to discuss my future. I received my second dose of the COVID vaccine yesterday (your time) and if my experience is anything like Kelly’s was yesterday, I am likely going to be here much of the day. I am, therefore, going to talk about the weather. I will have more to say on the second dose in Sunday’s post.

There are great weather talkers and there are those who could care less. My friend Eric is a great weather talker. I don’t mind talking about the weather, but I don’t like talking about it as much as I used to. I liked it best back when I was learning about weather in flight school. Pilots like to complicate things that should be simple. Instead of a simple, “Clear skies, light winds out of the west, temperature 70 F, barometer 29.95” they have a cryptic way of reporting the conditions. Here is the current weather for nearby Reagan/National airport in this cryptic form: KDCA 162352Z 28011G21KT 10SM FEW065 12/00 A2981 RMK AO2 PK WND 28027/2341 SLP094 T01220000 10167 20122 53020

Some people like watching the weather on TV. There are TV weather reports. Weather apps have made these reports seem excessive. Why listen to someone drone on about the weather when you can see at a glance exactly what the weather will be for the next 24 hours with usable accuracy? My dad likes to watch the Weather Channel. The day we got an entire channel dedicated to nothing but the weather is the day we became a truly decadent society.

I find the weather reports surrounding hurricanes particularly ironic. One the one hand, you’ve got your anchors telling people, “Evacuations are now mandatory. Now over to you, Fred.” Fred, of course, is the weatherman who is reporting live from the belly of the beast. He is the old man, “going opposite to the flow,” as Irving Berlin might say. It is always a bit confusing. They are telling people to flee, and here is someone doing the opposite, doing essentially what a satellite might do without putting anyone in danger.

On the wall just inside the sliding glass door that leads to the deck, I’ve got a nice analog weather station that gives me temperature, pressure, and humidity. Those three readings, combined with what I see outside is really all I need to know about the weather.

Of course, I have a weather app on my phone, but I much prefer the little command line script I have. I type “weather” and it gives me a simple, one line report. I typed it just now, for instance, and here is what it said:

⛅️ +54°F →13mph

If only the TV weather reporters could be so brief.

I don’t mind the weather report at the back of the Metro section. It is usually concise. And Martin Weil’s short write-ups on local weather in the Washington Post always amuse me.

I decided to write about the weather is because I am feeling under the weather. I was curious about that idiom. It apparent comes from mariners on old sailing vessels. When a sailor wasn’t feeling well, there were taking below deck to protect them from the weather. Depending on where I ended up, I could very well be below deck (downstairs, in the guest room). At the very least, I am below blanket, which for our purposes here is equivalent to below deck.

Declaring “To-Do” Bankruptcy

It would be nice if we could decide one day to declare to-do list bankruptcy. We would just admit to ourselves that the stuff on our to-do list is never going to get done. We’d toss the list away and start fresh. I was thinking about this today because I have a lot of things to do and it seems the list is never-ending.

  • I have some focused development work I need to do this morning that probably requires a large chunk of time. Alas, there is no large chunk of time on my schedule to today. I could push off to tomorrow, however…
  • At 11 am I have my second COVID vaccine. Kelly got her second vaccine yesterday and today, she doesn’t feel great. I plan on working this weekend, but if I am not feeling great tomorrow, it is probably not the best time for focused development work.
  • There is a security light on corner of the house that is out. I need to replace the bulb. First I have to take out the old bulb and figure out what kind it is so that I know what to replace it with. Then I have to go find a replacement. Finally, I have to install the replacement. It involves getting the ladder out from behind the shed. This has been on my list for a while, but it’s not going to get done any time soon.
  • I need to get the deck furniture back out on the deck, and put up the deck tent. I was supposed to do that this past weekend, but it was raining and I didn’t want to do it in the rain.
  • My office could use a new desk. The Little Man got a new desk in his room yesterday (a new “used” desk) and it reminded me that I have been wanting a new desk for some time now. But replacing the desk is more than just picking out a new one. It usually has to be put together. I have to dismantle the old desk, which is going to involve a lot of messing with the cables behind the old desk. Since I want to do it right, I need a lot of time to do it, and I don’t have that right now.
  • While I am redecorating my office, I could use a new office chair. The one that I have had for around 8 years now is beginning to fall apart.
  • And I still want those French door installed between my office and the living room. I suppose I’ll get around to that someday.
  • The siding of the house above my office windows could use a power wash. That means getting hold of a power wash machine, and getting the ladder out from behind the shed, etc. etc.
  • I went through my first ink cartridge for my new fountain pen in just under a month. It’s been suggested that I should use bottled ink instead, which means I need to order the ink, and then figure out how to get it into the pen. I also need to watch a video on how to properly clean the pen. I think that one will be on my to-do list for a while.
  • The ants are back in the kitchen so the next time I am at the grocery store, I need to get some more ant traps.
  • I have a dozen or so post ideas that need to be written up at some point. A few of these require considerable thought and planning. I fear that the more work they require, the longer it will be before I get to them.
  • I need to order a new trash can from the county as ours is damaged and keeps filling up with water.
  • The fireplace needs to be cleaned out. I’ve been meaning to do that for the last month. I look at it every morning and tell myself that I’ll get to it today. Well, I figure I’ll get to it today.

I just made the mistake of glancing at the to-do list for work. That list is even longer and I was hoping to use this weekend to catch up on some of ti, but I suppose it will depend on how I feel tomorrow.

Wouldn’t it be nice to just chuck the list and start from scratch? I think that is exactly what I am going to do. In fact, I just wrote the following to-do item at the bottom of my to-do list:

“Declare To-Do bankruptcy.”

I’ll get to that item just as soon as I get to the hundred or so items that come before it on the list.

Mr. Fox Takes His Lunch

While on my morning walk the other day, deep into a technical explanation in the Alan Turing biography I am listening to, I suddenly noticed a large dog off to my right. I don’t normally see dogs without owners, so I paused to look at him (or, perhaps, her). I realized at once it wasn’t a dog at all, but our local neighborhood fox. I’ve spotted it before, once even in our front yard. There was no one else around, and the fox appeared as taken aback as I was. We both froze for a moment.

The fox then dashed across the bike path on which I was walking, across a small parallel street, and into the back yard of a nearby house, where it went behind a bush and pretended it couldn’t be seen.

The fox was much bigger up close than I remembered. It also carried with it its lunch. From both sides of its jaws was the limp body of a squirrel1. When we first ran into each other, I was too startled to snap a photo, and then he moved so quickly that I didn’t have a chance until he’d attempted to hide himself away behind a bush. That part was amusing because it was like an elephant trying to hide itself behind a thin tree.

I managed to get a photo of it there from a distance, and I’ve tried to focus the image as best as I can on Mr. Fox. It’s not a great picture because he’d run so far by this point.

The fox hides between tree and bush.

It made me laugh. I imagined him thinking, I am invisible. No one can see me. Not with this tree over here and this bush over there. I’ll just wait until this fellow passes and then I’ll be on my way.

Normally, this particular part of the bike path is full of people at this time of day, and I suspect it was the fact that it was empty that the fox and I had our little encounter.

  1. It took 3 tries for me to spell squirrel correctly.

Spring is the Best Season

A tree in bloom on my morning walk.

This time of year I can often be heard saying, “You can’t appreciate spring until you’ve been through winter.” By “you” I mean me of course. I lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years and I missed spring there dreadfully because winter was nothing more than pages on a calendar. On my walk this morning, there was no doubt that spring had arrived.

Spring is my favorite season. It is renewal, of course. New leaves on the trees, a kind of new beginning. The new year used to be the first day of spring. I think it still should be. At least then it would bear some relation to astronomical events. Spring means baseball and baseball means spring. My birthday falls shortly after the spring equinox. I used to begin my annual re-reading of Isaac Asimov’s autobiographies in the spring, always attempting to finish on April 6, the day he died.

Summer is nice when you are still young. Summer means a break from school and, at least until I was 16, it meant no work. Summers today are hot and humid and there is no “summer break” for me as a grownup. Retirement is now closer than the beginning of my working career, and the think I like to imagine best about it is waking up in summer and not having to do anything. The last time that happened I was fifteen.

Fall is a close second to spring in my book. But fall is less optimistic than spring. The days grow rapidly shorter. The air gets cooler and instead of being filled with the fragrance of flowers, it smells of decaying leaves.

Winter is an odd bird. It can be cold, snowy, wet, dark and long. But it is necessary to make spring the great season that it is.

I always find it difficult to imagine a cold winter day in the middle of summer, and equally difficult to imagine a warm summer day in the middle of winter.

Enjoy the spring! Here are some pictures of spring I snapped on my walk this morning.

The Desk and The Desktop: Musings on Productivity, Part 1

I. The Desk

Lately, I have been thinking about a desk. It is not a fancy desk, but in my imagination, it is a homemade desk. It is not a big desk. It doesn’t have any drawers, but it has a good sized surface. On the surface I imagine some blank paper, and a pen. In front of the desk is a chair. How productive is it possible to be with just a few tools like that? A paper, a pen, a surface on which to write, and a place to sit?

Do the tools really matter? Or is the person using them? Consider, for instance, John Quincy Adams. Without much more than paper, pen and a place to write, Adams had one of the most remarkably productive lives I can imagine: Minister to the Netherlands, Portugal, and Prussia, followed by a stint in the Massachusetts Senate, and then as a United States Senator for Massachusetts (while also serving as a professor at Brown). Then he was off again as Minister to Russia, then Minister to Great Britain. After that he became James Monroe’s Secretary of State for eight years. He then served as President of the United States for a term. But that wasn’t enough for him. After his term ended he served for 18 years (until his death) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

That seems a productive life by any standard. I’ve read several biographies of John Quincy Adams and it isn’t exaggerating much to say that he did this almost entirely through the use of pen and paper. His public writings are exhaustive. And in addition to all of that, Adams found time over the course of his life to fill 51 volumes of a diary totaling more than 14,000 pages. He did all of this without computers, the Internet, spreadsheets and Word documents, shell scripts, Siri and Alexa.

When I think about this it boggles my mind and I feel downright lazy in comparison.

Adams had more than just pen and paper, of course. He had a good education, and a phenomenal mind (I’ve read that he was probably our smartest President in terms of raw brain power). He had a library of books which was his version of the Internet. And he had time. The things that distract me today hadn’t been imagined. There was no radio, television, streaming services, or digital media. No email, texts, tweets, and alerts to disturb Adams’s focus. Time was, perhaps, Adams’s greatest productivity tool.

When I think about Adams and productivity, I think about a desk, an empty surface, a pen, a sheet of paper, and plenty of time to fill it.

II. The Desktop

I have a public screen and a private screen. When I am sharing my screen in meetings, I only share my “public” screen. There is a plain background, no icons on the desktop, and no windows open except for those that I need to share.

My private desktop is usually a disaster. Here is what it looks like as I write this post:

My cluttered desktop

More than just an empty surface with paper and pen, eh? Let’s see, I’ve got a browser window open (only one for a change!), but there are four tabs open in that one window. I’ve got a text editor open to a control file I was messing with. I’ve got Visual Studio Code open to a project that makes use of said control file. I’ve got Apple TV open because I never shut it down after watching something yesterday afternoon. I’ve got Apple Music open because I was listening to music while I worked. Let’s see, what else: Skitch, Bluetooth settings, Activity Monitor, Terminal, Calendar, the Console app, and of course, Obsidian, where I am writing this.

I have all of my documents available to me going back to college. I’ve got all kinds of apps and tools I can use for getting things done. I’ve got high-speed access to a large portion of the world’s information. Moreover, I can take all of these tools with me, carry them around in my pocket if I wanted to. And yet, I often feel lost when it comes to being productive. It makes me wonder:

Which is more productive, the desk or the desktop?

Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking

Watching The Crown on Netflix recently, I noted that every episode has the following warning at the top-left of the screen when it begins:

Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking

I find these kinds of warning silly. I imagine that there are people who, upon seeing such a warning, will stay away from the program. This is the intended function, I suppose. But such a warning is nothing more than a dare to younger people.

Interestingly, in the case of The Crown at least, anyone reading said warning and then eagerly watching the show hoping for sex, nudity, language, and smoking will be somewhat disappointed. I have made it a little more than halfway through the second season and so far have not encountered any sex, nudity, or language (other than that of upper class English). Smoking, however, is another matter. Perhaps the warning should read:

Smoking, Smoking, Smoking, Smoking

It occurred to me for the first time (perhaps because I am slow on the uptake) that these warning are listed in order of seriousness, although that doesn’t seem to be quite the right word. Harmful to young minds, perhaps? If that is the case, I am rather amused.

Sex, when safe, doesn’t seem particularly harmful. If nudity were harmful I think we’d all be taking showers in our swimwear. Language, well, they do say the pen is mightier than the sword, and certainly words can sometimes hurt, but I’m not sure that is what the warning is about. Finally, we come to smoking.

Of all four items in this list, smoking is the only one I know of that causes cancer. I do find it a little ridiculous that the warning has made its way from cigarette packages to television shows on a streaming service that I willingly pay for (as opposed to say broadcast television). But still, I think we can all agree that smoking is harmful. And there is a lot of it in The Crown.

Incidentally, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I am really enjoying the show. I think that John Lithgow’s performance as Sir Winston Churchill is about the best Churchill I’ve seen done. Back in the summer of 2014 (I think) I read William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Churchill and it was phenomenal. Indeed, parts of it were incredibly moving, such as the death of Marigold Churchill. That moved me so much that I wrote a post about it that has become a surprisingly evergreen post, though I have never figured out why. Anyway, the show is a good one, well-written, and well-acted, and while I can’t speak to its complete historical accuracy, it’s fun to watch.

Still, every time I start a new episode, I am reminded of the warning: Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking. Each time I eagerly await the first three (the fourth is a given) and each time, I come away a little disappointed. (Indeed, The Crown is downright prude compared to Bridgerton, a half dozen or so scenes of which I have caught while Kelly watched it. The warning on that show might read: Sex, Sex on Stairs, Sex in Baths, Sex in Hallways.)

Here are some thoughts that come to mind when I see the warning:

  1. If anyone is looking for a name for an album or painting, you could do worse than Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking.
  2. Sex, Nudity, Language, Smoking reads like an order of operation. In old movies, doesn’t the (implied) sex come first and the smoking come last?
  3. I wonder what Churchill would have had to say about warnings like these? For language, at least, we know, as he is famous for his quip about ending sentences with prepositions: “That is the kind of English up with which I will not put.”

There is at least one good thing about the warning: without it, I would have had nothing to write about this evening.

Given that warnings like these seem to proliferate, it makes me wonder if I need a warning at the top of each of my posts here on the blog. I have some ideas but they all either involve sex, nudity, language, or smoking, and out of an abundance of sensitivity on my part, I will spare sharing them with you.

Post-Pandemic Party Playlist

I’m not what you’d call a particularly social butterfly. I have no trouble in a crowd and often have fun. But I also have days when I don’t feel social. Lately, I’ve been daydreaming of a post-Pandemic party. We have this huge deck which we haven’t really taken advantage of, as far as parties go, thanks to everyone being isolated for the last year.

A few days ago, I began to put together what I call a “Post-Pandemic Party Playlist.” Just a bunch of fun songs that I imagine playing in the background while we have a bunch of friends over, the grill fired up, a cooler full of drinks on the deck, and food scattered about the house. I imagine some people downstairs playing pool or ping pong in the family room. The kids might be in the game room playing Xbox with their friends. The grownups are all out on the deck, or hovering around the food in the kitchen.

Normally, I find these kinds of parties to be fun, but I’m an early bird, and am ready to wind things down by 7 or 8 pm. But in my imagination recently, I picture these parties going on well into the night. I picture a lot of joking and laughing. I imagine a kind of release and relief. No one is talking about the Pandemic. For a few hours, we all pretend it never happened and just enjoy the fact that we can be out with friends, having a good time again.

Kelly and I are both scheduled to get our second dose of the COVID vaccine later this week. Maybe such a party isn’t too far-fetched sometime in the not-too-distant future. We have a Karaoke machine. I think we’ll have to include that in the party as well.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering what’s on my playlist. Here it is. I listened to it a couple of times today while spending most of the day writing code (yes, working on a Saturday). It made the time go by quickly.

  1. Thunderstruck by AC/DC
  2. Strip Adam Ant
  3. Love in an Elevator by Aerosmith
  4. Lonely People by America
  5. Blame It on the Bossa Nova by Annette Funicello
  6. Love Shack by the B-52’s
  7. I Want to Conquer the World by Bad Religion
  8. Fun, Fun, Fun by The Beach Boys
  9. Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles
  10. Shelter from the Storm by Bob Dylan
  11. Wild in the Streets by Bon Jovi
  12. Let the Day Begin by The Call
  13. Tubthumping by Chumbawamba
  14. Viva la Vida by Coldplay
  15. Tessie by Dropkick Murphys
  16. Pump It Up by Elvis Costello
  17. Vacation by The Go-Go’s
  18. There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York by Louis Armstrong
  19. Be Good Johnny by Men at Work
  20. Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
  21. Feelin’ Love by Paula Cole
  22. Goodbye-Goodbye by Oingo Boingo
  23. In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
  24. Supernatural Superserious by R.E.M.
  25. I Love L.A. by Randy Newman
  26. Freewill by Rush
  27. On the Loose by Saga
  28. Come on Eileen (cover) by Save Ferris
  29. Spam by Save Ferris
  30. Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
  31. Jump by Van Halen

I imagine this list will continue to grow until this imagined party actually takes place. Listening to it gives me hope that this party will eventually happen.

100 Consecutive Days of Blog Posts in 2021

Today marks one hundred consecutive days of blog posts that I have written thus far in 2021. 109 posts in 100 days, totaling about 70,000 words. As I said in my post of January 1,

I miss the days of just sitting at the keyboard and pounding out something that just occurred to me. And so rather than waiting for what I feel is a “post-worthy” idea, I’m going to swing back to posting here when things happen to pop into my head. What that means for you is more posts in 2021.

I’m happy to say that so far, this is true. I wrote a total of 51 blog posts in all of 2020, and have more than doubled that in the first 100 days of 2021. Comments and discussions are on the rise as well, more than triple so far than all of 2020 combined.

Overall, I’m very pleased by this. It isn’t always easy to come up with something to write every day, but it is always enjoyable, a part of the day that I always look forward to.

I am working this weekend. It is crunch time for a software project that me and my team has been working on for just over a year, and which will roll out in a few more weeks. Having this blog as a place to come to let my thoughts run free after (or before) a long day’s work is something that I am grateful for.

Thanks again for being such a great audience!

Passive-Aggressive Facebook Posts

Certain Facebook posts try my patience more than others. In particular is a class of passive-aggressive posts that remind me of the now old-fashioned chain letters that used to sweep through email inboxes. If you are on Facebook at all, I’m sure you’ll recognize these.

There are two types of these passive-aggressive posts. The first usually begin like this:

I know most of my friends won’t share this, but…

You’ve seen these posts. They attempt to bully their way into getting shares by, what? Making people feel guilty because you have no intention of sharing the post? I’ve got to say that I’ve never felt guilty for not sharing a post.

This kind of post most reminds me of the old email chain letters that command you to forward the message to 10 friends and you’ll have good luck. On the other hand, if you ignore the message, you will be sucked into a sinkhole before sunset.

There is another type of passive-aggressive post that I see frequently. These turn up more in ads for puzzles and games and usually begin by saying something like:

Only people with 160 IQ can solve this puzzle.

There is, of course, absolutely no evidence whatsoever for these claims. What makes them successful is that people find they can solve them rather easily and therefore assume their IQ must be 160. Forget the fact that IQ measures a problem solving ability specific to IQ tests. It seems patently silly that these posts make the claims that they do. This is what I like to think of as the “I dare you to try my product” type of advertising.

When I think about the things that want to make me give up on Facebook, these passive-aggressive posts are at the top of the list. But these proliferate because they are successful at breaking out of all of the noise.

It recently occurred to me that I get the same feeling browsing Facebook that I had while wandering through the strip in Gatlinburg, Tennessee a few years ago. It’s just a mess of competing novelties that no longer have anything to do with its original purpose.

Look, I’m sure most of you won’t share this post and get the word out of just how awful these passive-aggressive Facebook posts are. I figure that it takes someone with an IQ measured at least 165 to take such a brave course of action.

Meta-Productivity: A Philosophical Diversion

A good way to waste an afternoon is to look at all of the apps on your computer and wonder how it is you get anything done at all. Even better is spent the afternoon considering what it means to be productive in the first place.

It occurred to me on my vacation that I have spent ten years looking for ways to be more productive without any real idea of what I mean by “more productive.” Speed is often a surrogate for productivity (“get it done faster”) because it is relatively easy to measure. Efficiency is another surrogate, but how do you measure efficiency when it comes to productivity? I realized that I have no idea.

I find myself in these ruts now and then, when I reconsider my entire toolbox. What apps take more time than they are worth? What apps are really nothing more than productivity mirages? It occurred to me that in many ways, I was at my most productive when my tool set was small. Back in college, I worked wonders with littler more than Microsoft Word 5.5. for DOS. Why is then, that today, I “need” so much more to be productive.

The result of these ruminations of mine boiled down to five questions I asked myself which I will list here, but will address in future posts.

  1. What does it mean to be more productive?
  2. What, if anything, about the tools that I use enables or prevents me from being productive?
  3. Are there repetitive tasks I do that should be automated?
  4. Is it ever productive to be unproductive?
  5. Is there a set of processes and tools I can identify that once and for all (or at least for the foreseeable future) can settle the questions of productivity so I no longer have to think about it?

I am seeking an endpoint. I am tired of spending time looking for ways to be more productive. I want to have a set of tools and processes in place that work well enough, and then use them without thinking much about their role in productivity. They are just tools to get things done with little fuss. For years I have found that I put more and more time into looking for ways to make something more efficient that I am spending too much time on productivity improvements instead of actually getting things done.

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. It is my hope that by writing about them, I’ll work out the answers to that by the time I get to that fifth and final question, I’ll have a list of things to do that will, once and for all, allow me to close the book on productivity.