Mo Bitar

@mo

Notes to self. Working on Standard Notes, a simple and private notes app.

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Imaginary

Sometimes, when I’m deep in it, I think that there are several billion people on the planet, all worrying after something. Each and every one has found some way to entertain their mind with the wonderfully wicked world of what if. And it must be, if each of us is worrying ceaselessly after something—it must be that our worlds aren’t as real as we think they are.

Sometimes, it helps to know that my problems are sort of...imaginary.


After reading the above to myself, I realize another aspect, which is perfectly contradicting.

Emergence is a wild phenomenon, and something that would by definition be impossible for the individual to recognize. Emergence, put simply, is the phenomenon whereby the sum of the parts exhibit behaviors not present in the constituents. Wikipedia:

Emergence is a phenomenon whereby larger entities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities such that the larger entities exhibit properties the smaller/simpler entities do not exhibit.

Perhaps our worrying is a great contribution we make to the collective entity that is Human Emergent? I'm accustomed to viewing worrying as a bug, not a feature; a vestigial trait. But, I don't even have to contemplate the bigger picture aloud: it's clear something's up. This level of advancement, while infinitely underwhelming, appears to be unheard of.

Perhaps our sadness, worry, and anxiety is a uniquely delicious nutrient for Human Emergent?


This Kurzgesagt video delivers a quick mind-blow on the topic:
Emergence – How Stupid Things Become Smart Together

Chaos Theory

Not writing yesterday felt so good. And, now that I'm off the hook to produce on a fixed schedule, I can write flexibly whenever I want, in between tasks, like right now, at 2pm. I am no longer my own boss.

I came across a really good quote the other day, which describes a theory of life in surprisingly succinct terms, in a way I hadn't encountered before.

The quote comes from, of all places, a movie on Netflix called When We First Met, which was actually pretty good.

Down on luck person:

I thought things were supposed to happen for a reason.

Other, chill person:

That's what strippers and idiots say. Things happen..randomly. For no reason at all. But they create opportunities. And you learn from those opportunities, even the missed ones. The question is, can you recognize that next opportunity, when it matters the most?

Random shit flies every which way -> creates opportunities -> rewards distributed to those who recognize and work towards the opportunities.

What I like about this is it puts the onus on the individual to be keen and perceptive. It's a finding game. We never stopped being hunter-gatherers.

Masterless

Honestly, I wanted “Time is patient” to be my last post for a while. Because it so perfectly captured what I wanted to spend my time on. To live presently, and to not be in constant thought, focus, and anxiety.

Writing every day has many benefits, but it has also produced some strange effects. One is, I express myself so vividly here, that I do not feel the need to express myself any further, in real life. It sort of gives me my social fix. I was already reserved before this; now, it's intensified. Besides, I usually like talking to people as a way of deceitfully working out my own problems, disguised as genuine conversation. When I write every day, my problems are worked out on paper.

Which is good. But also exhausting.

I’m not defeated. I’m not sad. Today was actually a nice day. Fair weathered and fair tempered. A cool 56 degrees. I went on a nice walk with only a sweater, and not my thick winter jacket. It was a preview of the spring to come, which winter always teases us with before descending back into arctic temperatures, then easing all at once into spring. It's a coming which I so look forward to every year.

The thought of toning down the frequency of writing is scary. It’s been a tremendously useful habit, but, I am obliged to it. I am not free in a given day until I finish my daily writing. My friends know this. My wife knows this. It’s shackled me as a merciful master. But a master nonetheless.

I want to explore the patience of time. To live slowly, in the moment; unquestioning and unassuming. To tone down my analytics.

Perhaps it would be amusing to explore different writing formats and frequencies? Once a week? A month? Perhaps that will give me more time to incubate my thoughts, and discover their depth.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll write again tomorrow. But this is me flirting with you, to absolve me of my social contract. I want to be free.

A world awaits

What I like most about vacations is the difficulty with which I come to a decision in going, and the ease at which I feel when I return. Even bad trips invigorate me in some way. It’s escaping your circumstances just a little bit; separating you from them, and seeing yourself behave in a different habitat. It’s almost shocking what part of my mood is directly tied to the routine I’ve managed to sink into.

Sinking into is another phrase for complacency, and I think of all the horrible acts we helplessly inflict on ourselves, complacency is the real silent killer. Sitting on the couch is at once the most glorious moment of any day, and the most painful. The further I sink into it, the more my body takes on that shape, and struggles in defining what a normal posture is anymore.

I think it’s the same with routines. They dig deeper into themselves, solidifying their neural weight with every unattested day. Vacations have in every case reset my weights, and unshaped the memory foam of my last several months, allowing me to form a different, and oftentimes more nuanced, pattern.

The logistics of traveling, I loathe, and is enough to deter me from it altogether. It’s planning, choosing, and deciding. The rest is always freeing. I think it would not be totally foolish to say by now, that behind every inconvenience, lies a world of subtle opportunity.

Time is patient

One year is really long.

Ten is an era.

A hundred is a lifetime.

A thousand is a millennia.

Ten thousand is incomprehensible.

A hundred thousand years—unimaginably vast.

Yet two million years.

Two million years is the amount of time, give or take, that nature has been thoroughly employed with this side project.

The human species is a project that seems fresh, new, and cutting-edge. Yet it has been a work in progress for countless millions of years, if not billions.

We like to fancy ourselves the apex of nature's technical ability. We are the latest. We believe we are indispensable. Our mission is too important.

But time is patient. If humanity were to wipe its own existence, time will be unfazed and unmoved. What's another two million years raising up a new species, when it has the patience for billions?

If humans destroy themselves fully tomorrow, I do not believe nature would mind spending another five billion years on the problem.

Maybe ten billion. Or twenty.

Or maybe another hundred billion years?

Time is patient.


This understanding has grown recently within me, in response to my utter impatience towards the growth of my work and self.

For the last uncountable number of years, I've constantly told myself, what you're looking for—it's right around the corner. It's so close. You need to hurry.

I've told myself, my story is conclusive. It has a beginning, middle, and end. And I need to race through the pages.

In reality, the story is never ending. The book's pages never stop turning. Racing through it will drive you mad. And sure enough, madness ensued.

The current page of your story, of the whole collective human story, is special and sentimental only in that we are a part of it. On the grand scale of a story which began infinitely many years ago and will continue uninterrupted for another infinite number of years, our pages become not so permanent. They fade. The future is no doubt influenced by the past, but the contents of the past fade, given some eventual number of millions of years.

In some sense, this understanding has freed me from obligations to my legend. I look back on my footprints, and make sure they are neat and tidy. But it need not be so serious. Even if the universe has set for you some specific task, to fill some particular niche—it does not utterly depend on you. Even if it takes another hundred thousand years. The job will eventually be done.

The patience of time is mesmerizing and beautiful. There were humans who struggled about daily life, loved, and suffered two million years ago. And the project continues. Improvements are imperceptible on the daily, monthly, or even yearly scale. It measures progress on the order of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years.

Nature puts on profound displays of patience, yet I for some reason feel the need to measure myself after every task; to constantly see how far I've come, and how much further I have. It's madness.

Twenty years.

That's the outlook I want. I want to give what I'm working on twenty years, before measuring. Before being expectant. Before contemplating tectonic shifts.

And what's the rush? You're one of infinite characters in a never ending story. Time is forgiving. Live slowly, patiently, presently; you need not reserve all your happiness and adventurousness for some future date when circumstances will be perfectly lukewarm and idyllic. When the story never ends, every point is as good as the next.

Visitors

We are content to the great gods—
Characters,
of a never ending story.

Bye bye

I'm taking a spontaneous, much-needed road trip to some remote cabin in Wisconsin with the wife and dog. The indoor atmosphere here has grown noxious from my ceaseless huffing and puffing. I should leave a window open to air the place out.

I'm leaving..right now actually. Coming back Sunday.

Vacations are a great way to test the resolve of your daily routines.

If I stop writing..ah, who cares.

Lethargy

This winter's been long. It's gotten me trapped indoors. My dog and I yearn for freedom. Change is afoot. I just..need to..snap from..this haze..

Because title, here's a dump of some unexpounded thoughts:

Every day, we choose when to resign.

Life is impossible to fill. It’s just too big.

“It has solved a lot of problems, but it's also created a whole new set of problems” is probably the best deal you’ll get in life.

Growth doesn’t operate on the same timescale as consciousness

You can’t skip quality. Nothing is more effective than confidence in your own product.

The natural course of a public company is to Amazonify.

What if Elon Musk's flamethrower is a way to slowly begin desensitizing us to the prospect of SpaceX selling weapons?

You won’t like someone you never met.

Say what you will about it, Twitter excels at delivering the basic function of a social network. Have you ever felt this undetachably connected before?

Every night at 11pm, I want to sleep more than I want a billion dollars.

...

An old friend

As predicted, the big project is complete, and now I’m impatiently trying to figure out what’s next. Do I code more? Do I do more marketing, whatever that is? Do I live off daily maintenance chores? These things should be easy. Why is this stuff not easy? Ahhhh. It should just be automatic. I figure at every "next" point my compass will automatically recalibrate. Instead, it seems to shatter completely, forcing me to assemble a new one from some unknown materials.

It’s frustrating how non-responsive life can be at times. By this point I am probably irreversibly trained to respond to positive events in realtime. Everything on the internet is realtime. Everything in the non-digital world moves much more slowly. This confuses my brain, especially as it pertains to the topic of notifications, or analytics, or any form of measuring. In the real world, measuring cannot be done every time you pull-to-refresh. It's more on the order of months and years. But when you introduce speed-of-light into the equation, the brain grows befogged.

I’ve disabled realtime measuring of my progress, but, without a concrete next step, it’s just listless idling.

Let me struggle with this for a couple days/months.

God damn it.

Resourceful

I’ve moved on to the third of the Dan Brown reading series, and at this point have grown just a little bit tired of the same plot-and-twist. But, his writing is instructional, so I'm attempting to stick it out. This book is Inferno, and—it may just be me—but it lacks the same profundity of topic as the others (The Da Vinci Code and Origin). I did however encounter one subtle passage that caught me meandering:

Vayentha swallowed hard, scarcely daring to imagine the possibility. Has Langdon eluded Brüder as well? It seemed unthinkable; the chances of escape had been near zero. Then again, Langdon was not working alone, and Vayentha had experienced firsthand how resourceful the blond woman could be.

The word resourceful at the end sounds humble and unassuming, but, as demonstrated in this military-level scenario, is deceptively capable of outwitting even the most formidable opponents. Resourceful is defined as: having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulty.

Wow.

Finds quick and clever ways to overcome difficulty. I want to be that strain of algorithm. And, said about someone else, I can think of no more worthy a compliment. It says—have away with your intelligence, charm, and confidence; if I shall find a way to dance just once with the pure form of this trait, then I will have died a happy, accomplished man.

Hardcoded

There is one recurring aspect of my life that always shackles me. My dependence on external activity. Notifications.

Notifications of themselves carry no meaning and have no inherent value. I had been in one very particular setting so uncontrollably enamored by the interfacial beauty of a notification, that I glorified and fell weak at all the powers it had on me. Is it the font color? The way it says that word? No, it’s the dopameaning we’ve ascribed to that particular shape on a screen.

I don’t have to go into detail about which nature of notifications have me personally enslaved. It’s arbitrary. But we all know the sort. Some days, I live wholly notification-to-notification. I smoke them more habitually than a stone-hooked three-pack-a-day smoker. In between, it’s that scratching anxiety. When will I have the next one? How about..now!

Of course, it’s all glory and self-ejaculation until you flip your phone and…nothing. A sour punch in the face. Really?

Any reasonable person observing this behavior in themselves would immediately be appalled at its inelegance and correct it at once. But, I never notice it. I never notice it’s happening, until precisely all the damage has been done. Knocked out, misshapen, and heavily inclined to the ground, I start to figure something must be wrong.

And it’s painfully glaring once you notice it.

Earlier today, I took steps to cull the notifications that make it to the fore of my attention. I don’t need to know everything the second it happens. It can wait. I’ve replaced my real-time reports of business activity with daily reports that email me once in the morning everything I need to know. I figure this way, you can only be insulted once.

I’ve even hardcoded positive messages like “you had #{num_signups} yesterday, which is fantastic” and “your recurring revenue total is #{total}, which is excellent, and means you can continue doing this for a long time to come.” I've even made a weekly report with a postscript that reminds me something I so easily forget: "Keep doing what you're doing. This is it. You're already here. Just do the best work you can, every day."

I figure, if we’re so gullible as to be furiously enthralled with a bubble on a screen, might as well spin the story and craft a nice little narrative around it. My petty brain will fall for shit like that any day of the week.

Uncertainly Free

In the definitions of freedom we’ve been exploring in the last few posts, we happened on the most suitable as the lack of dependence on arbitrary powers. And I had figured, since I don’t have a boss, that I’m pretty free, and should feel pretty good all the time.

But, I don’t always feel good. Sometimes, I feel as bad as I ever felt at a job. Of course, they’re different strands of pain. But pain nonetheless. And I think if we were to explore more deeply the definition of freedom we’ve been entertaining, we would ultimately arrive at the conclusion that it is impossible to free. You could remove all external dependencies from your life, such as a boss, a state, or an abusive spouse. And you would imagine, after all the limiters have been removed, that you’d feel free. But there is one thing you can never be free from.

You will always be dependent on effect. You may have freedom to be the cause, to perform an action, but ultimately, you are dependent on the outcome. The definition of freedom as stated is a lack of dependence on an arbitrary power that may act with impunity without tracking your consent. By that definition, that’s exactly what life is. It’ll rough you up without your permission and without ever looking back.

I’ve been on existential edge the last few days, highly prickly and sensitive. I am utterly at the mercy of the universe, and the fate it bestows on me. I, You are at the mercy of uncertainty. Of not knowing whether this day will be your last. Whether your loved ones will fall sick or suffer grave injuries. Whether any of the work you’re doing will matter or pay off. In that way, none of us are free, and all of us feel that same pain. We are all preyed upon equally by the ravenous fangs of the future.

Licenses are the death of freedom

I wrote yesterday how the definition of freedom can be stated as “the lack of dependence on an arbitrary power,” and that freedom is the sum of your “microliberties” as permeated across the subtleties of your life. Personally, I’ve never been able to handle lack of freedom well, in any situation. No one likes being told what to do. We want to do what we want to do. Freedom is the space to pursue that.

I will say that in the course of my life, government hasn’t been a large impediment to my freedom. College and employment, on the other hand. Really, permission-based environments, no matter how wonderful they seem at first, eventually become a prison. I’ll always reach a point where what I want to do is not what is wanted of me to do. The ticking starts then.

The only other area of my life where I have felt restricted upon is with licenses. “Permission to operate.” If you want to submit an app to the app store, first you need to seek permission from your local government to establish a corporation. They usually say yes, but nevertheless, have the arbitrary power to say no.

You then seek permission to join the Apple Developer Program. This requires you to have a “DUNS” number, which is a sort of business and address verification done by an external company. They usually don’t give you any trouble, but nonetheless, have the arbitrary power to say no.

After you are accepted into the program and spend a year developing the app of your dreams, you must seek permission to post your app on the app store. Here, anything goes. They might say yes. Or they might say no. I’ve been rejected for vague reasons many times. And every time, I fear my livelihood is at stake. In this regard, I am not free. I am a faithful servant to the Apple gods. Please, blessed Apple, do not cast upon me your wrath, and continue to shower me with the sweet nectar of your graciousness. Amen.

Licenses are also how markets are controlled. It’s easy to control supply and demand when any one who supplies needs permission to do so, and in many cases, the demander requires permission as well.

This isn’t a blanket assault on the mere concept of licenses, as it has been a useful construct. Rather, it’s an assessment of our circumstance as software developers producing goods for an entity that ultimately controls the supply of these goods. In that regard, while that entity may not frequently exercise its power of rejection, the mere presence of that arbitrary power, in the aforementioned definition, is deemed sufficient circumstances for a non-free existence.

A definition of freedom

I happened on a video lecture on the genealogy of liberty, posing the question: In most precise terms, what is the definition of freedom? Language is quite literally the architect of our reality, and a clear definition of freedom is of grave significance.

The lecturer had presented various historical definitions of freedom, beginning with freedom as the power to pursue an option and the lack of external interference in doing so. This worked well enough for some time, until it became important to define “interference." Interference was then defined to be any of physical force, a bending of will, or coercion that render the pursuit of alternatives ineligible. That was fine for some time, until it became important to define coercion, and so on.

Further down the trace, he introduces self-interference as a form by which one can limit their freedom, including but not limited to passion, inauthenticity, and false consciousness. An alternate definition of freedom was then introduced as the freedom to self-realize, or, for one to have the ability to discover the essence of their nature, which I really liked.

The lecture culminated in a new definition of liberty proposed by the author himself, and this is where things began to get interesting.

He states: You are not a free man or woman if there is dependence on the arbitrary will or power of others. He says, the mere fact of dependence takes away freedom of action. And of course, as I was hoping he might, he lists “dependence on the arbitrary power of bosses.”

So, what is this distinction between the free and the slave? The answer given in the Roman law — and it’s extremely influential — is that it’s the mere fact of having a master that makes you unfree. The mere fact, that is, of living in a state of dependence on the arbitrary will of somebody else.

I think what’s interesting is the seeming evolution of freedom as something originally related to that of physical or coercive obstruction, usually executed by a governing state, to a sort of permeation of "microliberties" in everything we do, the sum of which is your net liberty. He makes it very clear that this definition of your dependence on arbitrary power is agnostic to the source. It could be a state, your boss, or your husband. He makes reference to the plight of women’s historical lack of liberty as due to their unrelenting dependence on men for economic stability.

The dependency that I'm talking about— and this is extremely important to me— is very specific. It is dependency upon a dominating power—it is a status relationship with dominance and dependence—that takes away freedom. So the power that generates the dependence that takes away freedom is an arbitrary power where that power is arbitrary if there is someone who can operate it with impunity, without tracking your interest. They don't have to track your interests. They might, but they don't have to. And if they don't, it's done with impunity.

The important aspect of the author's newly proposed definition is that it references not an active obstruction of liberty, like you might imagine from physical force or mental coercion, but a looming, distant one. You do not have freedom of action if you are at the mercy of a capricious boss, even if this boss has never chastised you before; the mere fact of a boss’s ability to decide your fate if he or she so chooses severely constricts your freedom.

This definition of liberty is one I can strongly relate to, as can probably many of you. It’s the reason employment can feel so excruciatingly painful at times. It seems, it’s no mistake. In the pure definition of it, it's slavery.

You can watch the full lecture here:
A Genealogy of Liberty: A Lecture by Quentin Skinner

A React Native tutorial

I wrote an article with a headline I won't apologize for on Medium some time ago about my experience with React Native. Since then, I still get the occasional comment or message asking the same question:

Do you have any tutorials you recommend?

This is a bizarre phenomenon that seems to emerge with large numbers, and I don’t quite get it. Find any article or tweet praising a framework, and you will invariably see comments of the same nature. Can you help me get started?

Better yet, when I said to one person that I don’t know of any resources other than the main website off the top of my head, he said “can you write one please?”

So here it is. Here is the definitive React Native tutorial that will allow you to build the cross-platform app of your dreams.

Step 1.

Clear your mind. Think about what it is you’re trying to accomplish. You want to build an app that runs on Android and iOS, and you want to write it in JavaScript. Great.

You should have also decided by now that this is important to you, and that you're going to do whatever it takes.

Step 2.

Open your favorite browser, and using your favorite search engine, type “react native”. Click the first result.

Step 3.

Click the button that says “Get Started”.

Congratulations! You’ve quite literally just taken the biggest step. There’s only one more, and, unfortunately, it's a steep one.

Step 4.

Commit yourself to these docs, reading, following along, crafting demos, every day for a few hours. Everything you need to build the app of your dreams is in here. You just need to put in the time.

Zzzzz...

I screwed up today. At 3:45am, I surprised myself awake. I was then faced with an important decision: check phone, or don’t check phone.

The rules are simple: if I check my phone, I’ll be riled up by some alert, and won’t be able to fall back asleep.

If I don’t check my phone, I’ll be antsy.

This isn’t a common occurrence. It’s only because I finally launched the big update. Lots of moving parts, and from the time I fell asleep, tectonic shifts may have occurred.

So I checked it.

And I’ve been awake ever since.

I skipped morning coffee, thinking I might be able to take an early nap and catch up. No dice. Have been responding to emails all day. My favorite part of the job, but also the most demanding. A blaring headache, also uncommon, began to crystalize at around 3pm, reverberating sharp ringing pangs in my skull. I scrambled to pour a cup of coffee down my throat, and my brain was appeased.

There’s no telling when I’ll fall asleep today.

Meticulously Explicit

It goes without saying, but it’s always easy to forget:

Be explicit. But be especially explicit with your intentions.

Several years ago, I underwent a metarough transition from a worldview of “things will align by themselves” to “only yourself can possibly care enough to justify your alignment.”

It’s awkwardly phrased, but it wasn’t until I began being what you might even call meticulously explicit that I began seeing growth or results that I was contented with.

At any given point, one must be able to distill what they desire so precisely, that the resulting analysis is mistaken for a PhD dissertation.

If you can’t distill it, then the next step in store will probably not be some incidence of “Go Directly to Results and Collect $1M”—the next step will have to be you figuring it out.

That’s always the next step before the next step.

You can be made to believe

Let’s represent a day as an array of events.

day = []

As the day progresses in infinite fashion, events are piled on:

while today:
    day.push(new Event)

(Of course, this isn’t a singleton. Everyone has their own day. But let's keep it simple.)

There are too many events in a day. Publications found an excellent market opportunity by culling events, chaining them together, and adding some makeup to tell a story. This story is called a piece.

A piece is not truth. It is not fact. It is not journalism. The resulting curation is not by any means a pure reflection of some objective, inherent reality.

It is a curation performed manually by human beings operating on teams with cultures, in relationships with cultures, raised by families with cultures, and abiding by their own self-formed cultural compass. The result is not some magical formula for truth.

By their very nature, pieces are more of an omission of facts than a curation of them. This is common sense. But, as a reminder:

Articles, non-fiction, documentaries, news, journalism, (tweets?): these are some of the most evolved, incisive, well-tuned devices aimed at convincing or portraying. Simply put: their sole utility is to captivate. Do you think any reputable artist would do a botched job at that?

That you were convinced by some documentary implies not that it had done a good job at compiling facts, but that it had done a good job at performing the one function it was designed for.

All this nonsense to say: be not so fickle. Mistaking an article’s efficacy at convincing you as a measure of its truth and merit is like believing the clean diesel Volkswagen you bought from the convincing salesman is truly the most efficient, cleanest diesel car there is. When in reality, the man was just really good at his job.

He may have also left out some important details.


The Volkswagen dig is of course a reference to the cheat devices placed in their "clean" diesel vehicles, defrauding consumers all across America. I was reminded of it recently through watching Dirty Money on Netflix, a new documentary series exploring the gray areas of capitalism. The series does an excellent job of not passing judgement, but portrays multiple angles and leaves the verdict to you. DIY pieces can be a hit on convenience, but are a welcome reprieve from the endless barrage of prepackaged bundles of opinion being gobbled up all over the world wide web.

No Competiton

In the modern winter, you just can’t compete with the indoors. From a touch on your phone, warmed streams of air trickle from the low heavens and dance with the tiny hairs on your ear. A particle-reenactor presents you with a dizzying supply of drama, comedy, and commentary. And why not pick up a game controller, and manipulate the glowing particles to your will, while delivering the reverberations of your larynx through thin air to fellow waking meat bags thousands of miles away? Perhaps you care to join in the frenzy of the global bazaar and instantly soak in the lives and opinions of millions of others? Or, perhaps you wish to command the gravitation of any item you fancy delivered directly to your home no later than tomorrow?

All can be arranged for you in the great, modern indoors. No black slushy ice resting at the bottom of your feet, streaking the floor with wet prints and attacking your carpets with an endless supply of non-savory salt. No dramatic accelerations of pulse as you rush from building to building heaving and weary; no shortness of breath that must be compensated for. No beach-cold winds gnawing and slapping at your face every which way.

Just warm air and smooth calming lights.

This weekend, Chicago was hit with a barrage of snow, blanketing the streets and rendering cars immovable.

On Friday night, the dog’s sustenance bag had run dry, so I opened my particle-syncer to amazon, and placed two bags of delicious rock balls in my cart, and amazon, seemingly unaware of the present snowpocalypse, offered to have my package for me by tomorrow. I said, go home amazon, you’re drunk. There’s no way you’re getting my package here by tomorrow.

It snowed a little more on Saturday, and around 6pm, I get a call from a Seattle area code, which I know to be amazon.

My package had arrived.

...

My (uncontrollably outgoing) friend asked me if I wanted to head out in the muddy freezing chaos and perhaps go see some live music?

I said, have you gone mad mate?

My wife asked me if I wanted to go sledding on the freshly fluffed snow hills some thirty miles away. I said, have you gone mad dear?

In the winter, there’s no competing with the modern indoors.

Lossless Writing

I stayed home over the past few days, as promised, to catch my solar breath, and feel better for having done so. But, it has meant less reading, since commutes are a golden time to read. I had only two chapters remaining in The Da Vinci Code, so I just checked out a block of time to finish it today—and, what an excellent, excellent book. My mouth gaped at the eloquence of description and the warm glowing aura Brown successfully describes in the last few chapters. I read over some of the descriptions multiple times, trying to figure out how it is humanly possible to chain words in such affecting order:

Neither of them spoke for a long time. Finally Sophie reached over and, taking his hand, led him out of the chapel. They walked to a small rise on the bluff. From here, the Scottish countryside spread out before them, suffused in a pale moonlight that sifted through the departing clouds. They stood in silence, holding hands, both of them fighting the descending shroud of exhaustion.

The stars were just now appearing, but to the east, a single point of light glowed brighter than any other. Langdon smiled when he saw it. It was Venus. The ancient Goddess shining down with her steady and patient light.

The night was growing cooler, a crisp breeze rolling up from the lowlands. After a while, Langdon looked over at Sophie. Her eyes were closed, her lips relaxed in a contented smile. Langdon could feel his own eyes growing heavy. Reluctantly, he squeezed her hand. “Sophie?”

Slowly, she opened her eyes and turned to him. Her face was beautiful in the moonlight. She gave him a sleepy smile. “Hi.”

and

Legend had always portrayed the Grail as a cruel mistress, dancing in the shadows just out of sight, whispering in your ear, luring you one more step and then evaporating into the mist.

Gazing out at the rustling trees of College Garden, Langdon sensed her playful presence. The signs were everywhere. Like a taunting silhouette emerging from the fog, the branches of Britain’s oldest apple tree burgeoned with five-petaled blossoms, all glistening like Venus. The goddess was in the garden now. She was dancing in the rain, singing songs of the ages, peeking out from behind the bud-filled branches as if to remind Langdon that the fruit of knowledge was growing just beyond his reach.

How? How? The trick, it seems, is easy enough: describe physical things in as few fitting words as possible.

In times like this I am both frustrated and inspired. I have no desire to write fiction, but writing is like programming is like Rocket League—you have everything you need to be as good as the pros right in front of you. You just have to put in the time. It's a mental muscle. And it can be exercised.

With writing, it would seem like all you need is a pen and paper, and some flexing of the imagination. It's translating thoughts into words with as little loss as possible. The "loss" ratio in conversion—that's where great writers are made. And mine is frustratingly high. It has improved slightly in that at least I know now what to be optimizing for; what to train. I soak myself in it the way I soak myself in getting better at playing a video game—not because I have any real ambitions in them, but because it's so damn fun teaching yourself new tricks.


Here are some other highlights I made on the book, presented without comment:

When an intelligence agency intercepted a code containing sensitive data, cryptographers each worked on a discrete section of the code. This way, when they broke it, no single cryptographer possessed the entire deciphered message.

..

“Maybe.” Her grandfather winked. “Someday I’ll tell you all about it.”

Sophie stamped her foot. “I told you I don’t like secrets!”

“Princess,” he smiled. “Life is filled with secrets. You can’t learn them all at once.”

..

This kind of cross carried none of the Christian connotations of crucifixion associated with the longer-stemmed Latin Cross, originated by Romans as a torture device. Langdon was always surprised how few Christians who gazed upon “the crucifix” realized their symbol’s violent history was reflected in its very name: “cross” and “crucifix” came from the Latin verb cruciare—to torture.

..

Just a deafening silence, which seemed to reverberate back and forth as if the building were whispering to itself.

..

Their white lacework carvings seemed to smolder with a ruddy glow as the last of the day’s sunlight streamed in through the west window.

..

Words I hadn't encountered before, or words whose meaning is self-evident, but that I probably wouldn't have ever thought to use:

tousled, brunt, goaded, sallow, diminutive, whir, foreboding, sepulchral, marauding, nape, flagellation, cloistered, asceticism, neophytes, cassock, glowered, pallid, navel, ghoulish, luminescing, scrawled, "the cobwebs of sleep", sangfroid, genuflected, windswept, lurid, enciphered, wonderment, sculler, "vaulted ceilings", transmogrification, ecumenical, despondent, victuals, plight, bellowed, begrudgingly, crestfallen, "niche and alcove", expanses, prismatic, transept, flanked, recumbent, warren, bristle, munificence, wheeled, gallant, beseeching, heavenward, puttering...