On Dirt and Mess: Redux

After writing On Dirt and Mess I had several people point out to me the word I was missing.

Annoyingly, I do not know a word other than “clean” to represent “not messy”.

That word is “tidy”. Also, sometimes “neat”.


Emotional Hedging Redux

A little while ago I wrote an interesting post called Pessimism and Emotional Hedging, which I still more or less stand by.

A short while ago, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal tackled a similar topic, in a much more entertaining fashion: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/hedging

Other Opinions #59 – Kenneth Eng Is On The Other Side of Viral Now


My favourite line is actually from a comment by Lawrence D’Anna:

Something about the internet and modern media makes us conflate “this person acted like an asshole” with “he’s human garbage, let’s destroy his life”.

Disclaimer: I don’t necessarily agree with or endorse everything that I link to. I link to things that are interesting and/or thought-provoking. Caveat lector.

Spinning the Flywheel

If reality is a system, and trust is a battery, then life itself is a flywheel. Flywheels are very neat little systems; they’re basically just another kind of battery, but the mechanical underpinnings mean they end up being used in rather different situations than where we’d think of “normal” batteries. In particular, flywheels are often used for “smoothing”: taking a spiky energy source and producing a steadier, more consistent output. This is a great way to think about life.

Most people have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, sometimes even good months and bad months. Depending on how we’re eating, how we’re sleeping, what stressors exist in our work and personal life, and just personal fluke biochemistry, we can end up accomplishing a lot, or a little. Some days I’m raring to go and get a million things done. Some days I just sleep and watch Netflix. It’s important to strike a balance.

While balance is important, and you burn out if you go go go all day every day, it’s also true that there’s a lot of things I’d like to do, and never enough time to do them in. We are biological creatures, and while we can’t usually control in the moment whether we feel productive or lazy, we can control in the long run how often those feelings occur. The basic form of this is the same good advice that everybody gives and just as frequently ignores: eat healthy, sleep well, exercise your body regularly, etc. Just doing these simple things will make you a bit more energetic, tipping you over the line from “lazy” to “productive” every so often.

But this advice on its own doesn’t feel very flywheely, it’s just kind of common sense. The flywheel comes in when we take another step back and start deliberately investing in our own future energy levels. Let’s imagine a day where you’re really on fire: lots of energy, ready to take on the world. You could spend the entire day just killing that project you’ve been working on, and let’s be honest that would be a pretty good use of your time. But you could also take an hour or two at some point to spin the flywheel. Prepare and freeze some healthy meals, plan your schedule for the next week, or even do something as simple as picking your outfit for tomorrow.

These things may feel like an odd use of “productive” time, when you could be getting even more done on that awesome project. But what they give you is even more productive time in the future. Tomorrow, when you wake up and are only feeling mediocre, your life is already in order. You have something to wear that you’re happy with, something to eat that is tasty and healthy, and you already know where you need to be and when. On another mediocre day, just getting through all of those things would be enough to exhaust whatever energy you had. Instead, you can use that energy toward the important project and keep the ball rolling.

I’ve listed some easy, obvious examples of personal flywheels, but there are opportunities for them everywhere. Investing in your flywheel can even take the form of a more literal investment: proper budgeting can be incredibly useful and simplify a lot of future money-related decisions.

Just be careful to keep an eye on how fast your flywheel is going. On good days with your flywheel spinning, it’s very easy to over-commit your future time in an unsustainable way. If you’ve committed to so many projects that you’re constantly drawing down your flywheel faster than you replenish it then you’re at risk of burning out: that’s the day you’ve run out of prepared meals but just don’t have time to stock up again so you get McDonald’s instead. Suddenly you’ve got a million things to do, nothing left in your flywheel, and no time to spin it up again. Just one lazy day in that scenario, and your whole life flies apart.

We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

– Joni Mitchell

Other Opinions #58 – The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?

In honour of the late Ursula K. Le Guin.

The story itself is still under copyright, but I highly encourage you to go buy it, borrow it,  read it. It is short, and brilliant, and will leave you thinking.



On Dirt and Mess

No grand clever theory today, just a brief soliloquy on a couple of concepts which it sometimes annoys me when people confuse.

I’m writing this fully aware of the fact that language is fluid, and the majority of disagreement I’m likely to receive is on the specific meanings of specific words I’ve chosen. It’s not about the language, it’s about the concepts. Well, it’s sort of about the language. Language guides how we think; if we had a more precise language we wouldn’t muddy our concepts so much. But I digress.

Clean/Dirty – This is a distinction of, literally, the absence/presence of dirt. “Dirt” in this context can also stand in for other unhygienic particulates: dust, rust, hair, mould, that weird gunk which tends to accumulate on shower floors, etc.

Clean/Messy – This is a distinction of order. A room is messy when it has clothes strewn on the floor; it is clean when the clothes are neatly folder and/or hung. Annoyingly, I do not know a word other than “clean” to represent “not messy”. Do note that a room can be simultaneously messy and clean (not-dirty). Likewise it can be simultaneously dirty and clean (not-messy). This is why we should all learn Esperanto.

Organized/Disorganized – This is not a distinction of order; it is a distinction of knowledge. If a room has clothes strewn about, but they are strewn according to a specific layout and you know the precise location of every article, it is messy but organized. Likewise, a stack of neatly folded clothes can be entirely unordered (and thus disorganized) but still quite clean (not-messy) and also maybe clean (not-dirty).

Communication is hard. Don’t make it harder.  Use the concept you mean to use.

2017 on Grand Unified Crazy

Since I’ve been blogging pretty consistently again for about a year now, a “year in review” post seems like the thing to do. 2017 has been by far the most active year for my blog in terms of traffic: over 1100 page views on over 700 visitors. This is substantially more than even 2014 when I was posting full-steam-ahead on my core philosophical roadmap.

Unsurprisingly, the largest single chunk of that readership comes from Facebook links (hi friends) but that still accounts for less than a third of total page views. Search engines are next (~150 views) and then we’re down into the weeds.

Perhaps also unsurprisingly, far and away my most popular post this year was that one on Donald Trump. It got more than three times the views as anything else I wrote, and it certainly has had the longest shelf life; it’s regularly getting 5-10 random hits a month nearly a year after I posted it.

From a geographical perspective most of my readers are from Canada (surprise) but still barely half. The U.S. counts for another third or so, and the remainder come from a smattering of places. Germany, U.K., and India all show up semi-regularly; at the bottom of the pack are places like Romania (3 views), Columbia (2 views), and South Africa (1 view) among others.

In terms of what I’ve actually written about this year, it was rather scattershot. The first third or so of the year was anchored by my series on atheism but included a bunch of random stuff too (notably that Trump post). The second third (starting with Pessimism and Emotional Hedging and running through Charging the Self-Trust Battery) was an collection of essays which I am rather proud of. In hindsight they collect around two distinct themes: feminism, and our search for fulfillment.

The final two months of posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have been an exploration of anxiety and love, somewhat more poorly structured and poorly written than my earlier essays, but also a little more personal.

As for my favourite post from the year? Our Need for Need. Something about it still rings true.

I have no specific plans for 2018 right now, so we’ll see what starts showing up in my brain in January. Onwards.