There was a great speech at Skepticon, while I was watching it I had to go post on G+ about it because it was so true, and honest.

This video was brutally honest in a way I find difficult. His discussion of what it is like to have a mental illness. It is worth a watch



Back in January, over on my thesis blog, that I wind up never using, I mentioned that I wanted to work on stuff for the Teaching Open Source Textbook. I just finished a review of my thoughts on the target audience, and objectives for the first chapter. To sum it up, it is targeted at competent/high level students, but reads like a tutorial for someone newer to development than I am! The objectives are solid, but when I read it it has a lot of “let’s pay pretend you’re going to do something, that I know damn well your professor is probably going to assign anyhow.”

Despite my gripes with the tone, I think it’s an excellent book. The objectives in the finished chapters are clear, and the exercises correlate closely to the stated, or implicit goals for that chapter. Anyone, with the pre-requisite knowledge of programming, who sits down and does all of the exercises in the book will wind up much more comfortable participating in Open Source communities. Just by reading it I felt more comfortable shooting of my thoughts to the project list, and asking for feedback and thoughts on the direction I want to take in adding review questions, and knowledge checks to the book.

We’ll see what the results are, but I think the best way to proceed is to divide the actions and the ideas into two separate tests. The Exercises test the actions the student should be able to take. The purpose of the review questions then is to prompt thought on the new ideas, and help test if the student has absorbed the ideas.

Since each chapter’s ideas seem to be pretty atomic I suspect that the hard thing is going to be to devising more than a handful of questions for each chapters review questions, and devising ones with clearly correct or incorrect answers that can be self checked. I’ll block out a few hours tomorrow afternoon to working out how to do this for chapter 1, and work on a objective inventory for the first two chapters.


>If you found this just now, go read Do it your self before reading any further.

Whatever you did, don’t you feel a little better for taking the time to get something done? I took a few minutes to clean up the kitchen and start lunch, between these posts, and that’s the point. I’ve done something, instead of sitting on the couch and thinking, “ugh, there’s still dishes in the sink.” Now I’ve got a pile of clean dishes in the drainer, and the smell of tasty artichoke and garlic coming from my steamer.

One of the key insights that has helped me on my path to self mastery has been the discipline to do something. One small thing that seems to form a Success Spiral and motivates us to do more. The FlyLady system to keep your home clean uses this system as well, their first, and second steps are exactly this kind of thing. When I’m down at the bottom of Old Main Hill, only I can take that first step on the way back to the top.

This is key to how we actually make ourselves better, only by taking a small step in the right direction can we actually get better. Some goals are a long way off, but that shouldn’t stop us, from working on them now. Find that small step that puts you closer to where you want to be and take it.



Remember, the only way you will get something done is if you do it yourself.

This seems like a simple enough concept, but I am amazed at how often people I know, and even myself, forget this core idea. For every problem I am aware of there is some way that I can make progress on it. Think of something you want, maybe you’re worried about a job, maybe you are tired of seeing the dirty dishes on the counter, what ever that one thing is, go do it now.

Did you do it?

No? go back and do it you can click on this link when you’re done.



That there has been my work out all week. 40 ft of stairs, about a block south of my place. Once upon a time just getting up it used to leave me so winded I needed 5-10 minutes to recover. I actively avoided walking anywhere beneath the hill because the pain of climbing back up would completely outweigh any benefit I could gain from going down there. Saturday I wound up walking back up the hill, and noticed it wasn’t so hard any more, I needed maybe 1-2 minutes to recover before I was able to keep on.

Monday I decided, almost as a whim, that I’d like to be able to walk the hill without being winded at all, and I set out, walking down the hill was easy, and the first climb up nearly killed my legs, the protest was mostly, “wait you only do this when you REALLY have to” and not “we can’t do this.” on the second climb up I was just as dead as I recall being after one climb, but on Tuesday I went out and did it again.

I think that’s what progress is, it’s climbing the hill every time you find yourself on the bottom. Today was my third day of walking, and is, for the first time I can recall getting up and going into the rain, to do my work out. There’s this guy around campus, who is out every evening doing his run, I remember him the most though, because one day when it was all but a blizzard out, I was riding with a friend to go get soda, and I saw him waiting for the light to turn so he could cross the street. Only instead of standing he was down there in the slush doing push ups. That image stuck with me, he was serious about being the best he can be, and wouldn’t take any excuses.

Getting out there today was a kind of enlightenment for me. I have, inside of me, that same crazy dude doing whatever it takes. I just have to let the chains off of him, and listen when he says, “dude you could do one more.” What ever happens, when I find myself at the bottom of that hill, climbing it will make me stronger.



When I graduated a few weeks ago, my aunt gave me a card and explained that for her graduation gift she wanted to give me something that had meaning for me. Painted Board with a quote on it, something to remind me of what I stand for. She then shared with me the quote that she lives by, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” This quote from Helen Keller struck me, not because I agree with it(I haven’t made up my mind there), but because it explained my aunt to me in a new way.

We become our actions, which are informed by our thoughts. Having a quote like that somewhere where we are reminded of is a way of saying, “This is what I want to be.” I have spent the last few weeks reading quotes that reflect my mind view. One of the first quotes that came to mind was the Litany_Against_Fear from dune. This has been a favorite quote for years, and I have memorized it, I repeat it when I am facing difficulty, and my moleskin often has copies I have written, for some reason writing out a mantra can keep me from ticing in the same way that focused coding, or other distraction can. The issue with the Litany, is that it is better as a Mantra than as a slogan, so I kept looking.

I greatly admire Ghandi, and began looking though lists of his quotes for something that stuck, but they all seemed to conditional, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ.” and “An Eye for and Eye makes the whole world blind.” are both very powerful calls to seek a justice that does not demand revenge, but rather fairness. I also considered P. C. Hodgell’s quote, “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.” This feels two antagonistic, and honestly doesn’t seem like something to live by, but again, a conditional.

While reading over on Less Wrong I found this gem,

“What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.
And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.”
– Eugene Gendlin

That paragraph says more about honesty, courage, and what it takes win in reality than almost any other quote I have ever seen. It is something that I can live by, and something I would like to be reminded of daily. Seeing reality for what it is, and knowing what I’m already enduring, is a powerful first step for maintaining control of my life and it’s direction, It’s like a good map to chart my course with.


>So after dropping off the face of this blog for two months I’ve come up for air. I realized in mid February that I bit off way more than I can chew Back in my intro, and I narrowed the scope of my thesis considerably, and still was scrambling the whole way to the finish line. Between that and regular classwork things like progress updates fell by the way-side, something I know is not a good habit to get into, working in a team requires much better communication.

I have a working alpha of a quiz taking piece of software that needs a name. It’s very crude and as I look back over the source I can produce I can tell if I wrote a particular piece in February or in March. My skill in python is notably improved, and I’ve learned the basics of SQL and database design and management. I’ve managed my first sizable code project and come out with something that while crude, works. A quick list of the things I’ve learned

  1. Use Source Control – I’ve had this preached to me over, and over and over again, and I still haven’t built the habit, or deeply learned a system. There were several points in the project I was glad I had a previous commit, but my source tree looks ugly and cluttered to me. 
  2. Don’t re-invent the wheel – I did this one mostly right, the other solutions that exist don’t have the feature list I was shooting for and it would have taken me months to even begin to be able to implement item distractors in them. 
  3. Shipping is a feature – I’m writing this about an hour before I go to show off my work, and I’m forcing myself not to go in and try one more time to get that css error to look exactly how I want
  4. You don’t have to do everything – In narrowing my project to just building this one tool I realized something really important. I don’t have to do everything, or understand everything. I have a tendency to want to know a system from the ground up, and to do multiple things at once. When I talked with my advisor she pointed out to me that the scope of what I was trying to do was Career sized, not senior thesis sized.

I’m working on a paper for the thesis now and will post it up here when I complete it, but it’s going to touch a lot more on the narrowing process, and what features I consider critical. once I’m done with finals I’m going to give this code a bit of clean up and release the whole thing as open source(I need to do some asking about licences) and put a fair chunk of my effort behind this. The point of this quiz app is to do one thing and do it well, this isn’t a cms, it’s an assessment tool, it’s meant to make pulling meaningful data about my students out of my tests easy, or at least possible.



It has been over a month since I updated here. I have all kinds of excuses for this, “school is taking all my time”, “nothing new going on”, “I’m too depressed to write”. Most of these though aren’t really the root of the issue here. It’s that I don’t know what I want to say, that I want the whole world to see.

I got thinking a few days ago when a friend pointed me to a
Cracked Article that cited this article talking about how our society has seen an increase in what they call undirected disclosure. I pretty much agree with that assessment, but didn’t have a name for it until now. That was a lot of why I stopped posting here over the past months.

This blog is about facing adversity, and enjoying success while fighting through the challenges life throws at us, but when I look at the posts here that’s not what it is about. Of the posts I have made this year there’s three of those “Status updates” a short story, and two that are serious content. Those status updates are great examples of undirected disclosure. The problem with undirected disclosure is that you wind up spending more time doing the same kind of thing. I built a habit of posting my “progress” without any content, or with chatter about my day to day life, making this space little more than a Livejournal or set of Facebook posts explaining my life. Is that the kind of thing I want to make immortal?

There is nothing wrong with “directed disclosure,” where you share something for a reason. That is the beginning of real communication. When I talk about my
beliefs how I choose to cope, instead of suffer, or how I think that the laws that are designed to help some people more than others are a bad thing, I am pointing out ways that we deal with life. I am trying to set an example of how I think we should deal with life and disability. When I tell my friends the details of my last date, I have a different reason for disclosing, I want that friend to be a part of my life, to share the triumph(or failure) that I felt then. When I disclose that kind of detail online though, I am inviting who ever happens to read this into my life.

Think for a moment who you want in your life, are they the same people you share your day with? Do you want to invite anyone who can find your blog, or facebook page into your life? Before you share something, think who you’re sharing with, and what persona are you sharing this under. Taking the time to think about what you are sharing, and who you are sharing can give you back a lot of control in your life.

Count 10 next time before you update a facebook status, or tweet something. Go though your “friend list” and see if they are people you actually want to disclose to. Take a moment to direct your disclosures.


>I hear, from time to time, about people who seem to always set themselves up for failure. My struggle this week to balance self-care in dealing with depression and anxiety while sticking to my goals got me thinking. What does setting ourselves up for Success look like?

Thinking about weight loss, and health goals that I’ve been working on. I fail when I snack or eat fast food. Seeing myself shoot up to 415 lbs this week was a huge shock. So how can I set myself up for success, putting healthy drinks handy to access is a simple thing I did last week to set myself up for success.

This works for me because I happen to strongly prefer lemon water to plain water. It’s a small thing that takes advantage of my natural laziness. I would rather have lemon water and not make a trip over just to get soda. However I do prefer soda over plain water enough to walk. So my preference in almost all cases will be the healthier lemon water over soda. It’s a way to keep my short term goals in line with my long term ones.

I’ve taken piece of advice I read a few months ago to heart, “Working hurts less than procrastinating.” This kind of hack is about solving the problem pointed out in that article. It isn’t fun to change gears. There are many mental steps to shifting from doing one thing to another, and often there are physical steps as well. 

My experience with exercise today is a great example of this kind of thing. I woke up pretty miserable, for no apparent reason, I blame the head-meats for being chemically imbalanced.  I was unable to properly focus on school work, or even on a TV show or video game. None of those things were fun, or fulfilling. I was made even grumpier at seeing that I had gained almost 8 lbs overnight, and generally had sat down with my computer to sit on facebook complain and stew. Something a little bit different happened today, I was practicing mindfulness, even in my self-inflicted misery, and I noticed that I was depressed. I reminded myself that it does not take much focus to stay on the treadmill, and that I would likely feel better after getting some exercise. Those were the mental steps to getting over to the gym. 

To actually get to the gym I had to find my shoes and clothing. 30 min later and much grumpier I went over and started walking. I felt better for it, I got more done today than I have all week, and generally feel much better. While I was walking I did some mental math and formulated a really simple goal. I will walk for 30 min every day at a pace which will grow gradually until I can walk 15 min mile(which requires me to walk at about 4mph) It’s a slow goal that will take me about two months to do if I walk .2 mph faster every week(that’s adding .1 to my speed every Monday and Thursday).

As I was winding down tonight I observed something interesting. I put my shoes and workout clothes next to my bath towel. When I get up tomorrow morning there is a reminder for me, go and walk. I just eliminated all of the Passive Barriers to getting out to the gym tomorrow. The physical steps are all but taken care of. It is easy to imagine just getting dressed in these tomorrow instead of jeans, and walking first and then coming home showering and starting my day. All of that hard “but walking would mean I have to change, and find my shoes” is gone. I just have to notice and remember that I feel better after exercise. This isn’t a guarantee, but I’ll take the chances that I walk tomorrow over the odds I had this morning.


>So I am writing today about a dangerous myth that pervades out society today. Something that makes many of the people I love the most miserable. The same myth that allows dozen’s of people I know to convince themselves that they are re-incarnated “god/desses,” or destined for some kind of special fate. This idea fuels a sense of entitlement in people, the idea that they by virtue of existing and occupying space, deserve some of our time. The “You are Special” meme is to borrow a phrase from some of my heroes, “Bullshit!”

I know this goes against what we have been told since before we were able to understand it. Since I was young I have been told that I am special and destined for great things. My mom told me every morning, “You are special Andrew, go learn something new” every bishop told me, “You are destined for great things in the Kingdom Andrew, if you are faithful” Kindergarten teachers shared stories about how everyone is “Special” I heard this idea everywhere in my small little world. Following the best advice of the day, my mom, church leaders, and teachers all sought to instill in me a sense of confidence, a “positive self-esteem” and an understanding of my value as a human being, and that I could achieve great things.

The “be anything you want to be” message was parroted in Reading Rainbow, Elementary school, and Middle school. This effort, well intentioned, and mostly effective, put the cart before the horse. All of those studies that noticed that successful people have high self-esteem, seem to have assumed that is was this “positive self-concept” that enabled them to succeed. In reality it seems to be the case that those who succeed, develop a positive self concept as a result of success. The idea the “high self-esteem” will cause success is so pervasive, that many people find themselves with a disconnect between reality and their functioning.

The question is basically this one, “If I am so special, why does my degree only entitle me to more wage slavery? Why haven’t I become the next Einstein, or something?” This amazing self-concept begins to crack when we go into the real world. Our understanding of being special depends on out, being well, special. If those things we were told were true, then we should be better than, or at least different from, every other working stiff, who was told the exact same thing. The elaborate fantasy worlds created in video games, and television are a way of getting back our specialness. They let us insert ourselves into a narrative that makes the lies we were appear to be true. Facebook does the same thing. So do blogs, and religion. These illusions are lies that placate us, saying that where we are is good enough, that we are still special even though we work in fast food.

Being special isn’t enough to be happy. We are all special, just like the billions of snow flakes falling in the midwest right now. What we really want is to be successful. The games, and lies of “specialness” and “self-esteem” are designed to hide this fact from us, to get us to run on a treadmill, the bishops advice about faith was included because he, and the church wanted to define success for me. Same with my mother’s advice, learning was success. In the “Real World” we’re told that a job, and a car, and a house are success. The issue is that, someone has to lose at that game.

For something to really be special it must be rare, so some people set themselves aside in little enclaves where they, and a few of their friends, can be the “most special.” I see this all the time in virtually every group of friends I have. Some of them dive head-first into delusions about their special spiritual sensitivity and deep personal relationship with [insert god here]. Some latch onto a group with clear rules, and seek to succeed at that game. Others choose to refuse to play by the rules of anyone but themselves, demanding that anyone who associates with them does so by their rules. These solutions don’t really breed success, just the illusion of success.

Success must be created on terms that are relentlessly realistic. We can’t give way to flights of fancy, or imagined specialness. There is nothing wrong with being special, what is wrong is to imagine that it entitles us to an easy life. We are special, and that means that we are able to make choices to enable our success.

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