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miscellaneous

This is not the new normal…yet

Since there seems to be plenty of expert opinion out there on what happened, what is happening and what will happen with COVID-19, I am going to attempt to limit myself to my own experience. What I am thinking about, going through and doing as I live through this once in a lifetime experience.

I am having trouble keeping track of what’s changing. I think it was only last Monday that Kentucky and Ohio closed all of their restaurants. While that may be chronologically true, my sense of the amount of time that passed since then makes it seem a month ago or so. My experience of time passing is directly tied to how much of what goes on I have experienced before. None of this has happened to me before, so it seems to pass much more slowly, with more packed in to each day.

I am noticing that the thin veneer has started to wear off at work. Some of the things that were important a few weeks ago don’t seem so now. I notice this in my own ability to pay attention and in the focus, energy and effort that others are bringing to the endless zoom meetings that we are having. I have decided to view this as a good thing – this can be a chance to “burn off” some of the project chaff and focus on what really matters.

I am thankful for the technology that I have access too. I can’t imagine going through this 20 or even 10 years ago. It’s true that I wouldn’t be so agitated/distracted/consumed by media, but I also wouldn’t be able to maintain some sense of normal through virtual happy hours, meeting up with the folks from my gym for a workout from home, and something to watch that the whole family can get into.

I am also thankful for the wake up this has provided me and those around me. While it’s uncomfortable to think about, which is why we don’t, the fact is that living is inherently a risky adventure. Every time I used to leave the house in my car, dine out, or get on a plane, it might be the last time I do that. Those are all risks I’ve accepted and so don’t think about too much, which helps my psyche, but doesn’t really force me to live in the moment with any urgency. This is all a great reminder that now is really all I have so I best make the best of it.

I am thinking about William Bridges transitions model. I have read a lot about “the new normal”, but I think that is misleading. What I am experiencing now is not sustainable, so by definition it can’t last = be the new normal. What I think we are in now is the luminal stage between an old normal and a new normal. I have experienced the grief and pain of letting go. Not going out to eat on Friday’s with the family. Cancelled plays, symphonies and summer music festivals. Putting another trip to Europe on indefinite hold. Now I am in between. A place where I know that the old is gone, but that the new hasn’t quite taken shape. Bridges points out that there is great power and opportunity in this in between space. It’s a time for questioning old assumptions and trying on new ways of being. It’s a time for patience and not rushing to the new normal. If I take my time and sit comfortably with “not knowing” I can use this time to explore many options for what a new normal could look like before settling into one that I prefer. I am slowly settling in to not having to know.

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miscellaneous

Happy 21st and 19th

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miscellaneous

COVID-19: what I’ve learned and what I’m doing / not doing

What a difference a week can make.  In the last week, COVID-19 has gone from somewhere in my top 10 list to a solid number 1, both in terms of wat I spend time thinking about and in terms of what I spend time doing (and not doing).  Here’s a rundown of what it’s taught me, about myself and people in general as well as what I am doing…and not doing (or at least attempting not to do).

What I’ve learned about myself specificall

  1. As much progress as I feel I’ve made through mindfulness practice (journaling, meditation, etc) I still get caught up in my thoughts far to easily when under stress.  I did “catch myself” clicking into that next news article, staying up later than I should have reading / watching, and waking up earlier than I needed to with my mind immediately “spinning”.  Everything is a teacher and the next few weeks is a great time for me to test and improve my practice, holding myself with compassion when I fail (which will undoubtedly happen).
  2. I noticed some feeling and reactions I’m not so proud of.  For example, I was elated when the market dropped 10% on Thursday.  I felt excited and self satisfied for being on the side lines.  Another example: my kids college’s both went to at least tempory remote instruction within a few hours of each other this past week.  While I am glad to have them home, I was also immediateley worried about them bringing the virus along with them.  Perhaps I have more shadenfreude and disgust reflex than I would like to admit.
  3. My first reaction is still to do something.  At first it was read all I could.  Then it was stock up on a few things (thankfully for me this was Monday).  Then it was tell everyone I cared about how bad it might be and that they should limit travel and prepare.  Then it was to help keep things moving at work and with my church.  I still haven’t been able to make myself sit with this and just let it be.
  4. I’m actually a little more “socialist” than I thought I might be.  COVID-19 hasn’t caused me to sudenly support massive government interventions since I still believe that the only real power that we give to a government stems from a monoploy on violence.  However, I do actually care about the health and wellbeing of others, even those I don’t know far more than I might let on sometimes.  I’m doing / not doing most of the things listed below not because I think I am in any real danger, but because I think it’s the best thing I can do to slow the spread.  As I read somewhere in the last few days (it all runs together so sorry for lack or attribution): going out in crowds because you’re not worried you will get sick is like driving on the sidewalks since you know you won’t get hurt.  Sometimes its not about you.
  5. I still don’t like “not knowing”.  I really liked the question “what would it feel like to not have to know” since I first read it in Reboot a few months ago.  However I recognize I am still not good at being comfortable in a place of not nowing.  I want testing availalable for everyone now so I can know the real numbers.  I want a complete decontamination procedure so I can know I am safe in my own home.  I want leadership that seems in touch with reality and has a clear idea what we should do so that I can know what the next few months will be like.  These things are just not for me to know right now.

What I’ve learned about people (including me)

  1. We are really bad at math, science, logic and pretty much everything else that the Enlightment gave us. I’ve seen so many posts about how few people this has killed compared to the flu which proves we are bad at understanding exponentials. I’ve seen an equal number of posts claiming that drinking hot water (or worse bleach) are a cure which proves we are bad at science. Reason and logic are not everything, but they are a tool that can help understand and even solve some things. Viral pandemics happen to be one of those things.
  2. We have made a mess of our sense making apparatus. It’s a strange twist of fate that a technology that was supposed to bring us together has seperated us so deeply. We seem to have lost any way to come to a common idea of what is real. We used to have institutions, norms and trust in expertise that could help tease out, hopefully in public, what was real, at least a local / operational sense. All that seems to have evaoprated and as a result we can’t seem to make any effective collective decisions. Democracy is a reasonable (least bad?) way to make decisions, but it requires something that is outside of it to come to consensus reality. One reason that China seems to be “beating us” in their response to this threat is that our political mechanisms are no longer based on any common sense making aparatus.
  3. We will do anything to feel in control. Why else would TP be sold out everywhere?
  4. We are less “socialist” than I thought. Despite the seeming popularity of socialist ideas and leaders, when push comes to shove it seems we are all much more about the one than the many. I expected this from the Me generation (Boomers), but must say I am suprised seeing this in Millenials. I know its a lot to process, but I would have thought they would be rather ready stop going out for a few weeks to save us all. Us in Gen Z are just going to sit in the back with our anxiety and let those two generations kill each other I guess.
  5. We really are bad at recognizing new situations. I can’t help but connect this to System 1 / System 2 errors from Thining Fast and Slow. The basic idea is that System 1 operates most of the time. It is the “real time” system and given out limited capacity to take in everything, it operates on assumptions, stereotypes and hueristics. It’s fine when things are “normal”, but it can lead us astray when they are not. Another part of the work talks about these heuristics, or biases and how they can lead us astray. One bias that seems obvious in the last week is normalcy bias, which keeps us from noticing when things are not normal…and causes us to over react when we notice that they aren’t. Another is recall bias, which substitutes the likihood of something happening by the eas at which we can recall something happening. It’s been interesting to see this one in action on those that are on opposing sides of the reaction spectrum. Those that are in the “it’s just the flu” camp can’t ever recall a global pandemic killing 2% of the population, so they default to the closest thing they can recall. Those that are buying all the TP are deep into some sub-reddits that allow them to easily recall the death rates from the 1918 spanish flu for 10 major metropolitan areas as well as which one had the worst time of it in the second and third wave…so they buy all the TP. Even when we do recognize something new, we seem to react in the old way. Preparing for this like we would a bad snow storm.

What I’m doing

  1. Staying put mostly.  This is the big one.  Since Sunday I have left the house twice.  It’s the intersection of wanting to have control and trying to do what I can for others.  I had a slight concern that I might have had it – I attended a conference a few weeks before it was a thing that several other people that were in attendance have since tested positive.  That’s nearly 3 weeks in the past now, so it seems I would be showing some symptoms by now.  So staying put now is mostly about doing what I can to slow the spread and being a good example to others.
  2. Reading.  I’ve got a huse stack of books that I’ve been looking for an excuse to read.  Excuse delivered (although I would have much prefered to have won the lottery or even to have been fired as the excuse).
  3. Cooking.  Since we’re not going out much, we’re cooking a lot more.  This is a good thing, mainly since we already know how to cook (I can imagine it would be less so if that weren’t the case).  Of course cooking means that we get to eat, but its also something for us to do together and gives us something to do that we know is taking care of us and others.  Another way I am taking care of myself (since I am eating what we are cooking) is exercising ;-).
  4. Helping.  I’m mostly trying to help my church stay conected through the next few weeks, but also helping local businesses by buying gift cards through their websites as a way to get them cash as their business drops.  I’d donate if they’d let me.  Our church is closed to gatherings for the next few weeks, so I am helping out there by getting them setup to live stream a service and putting together tech guides and support for lay leadership to continue to do their work while we are practicing social distancing.
  5. Working.  While my backlog of to do items is getting a little thin, I am “going” to work each day (translation: chaning from PJs into clothes and going to my home office in the basement).  I do understand that it’s a tremendous privelage to be able to continue working AND to stay at home that not everyone has.  I am grateful for it but don’t feel guilty.

What I’m not doing

  1. Hoarding.  I am enough and I have enough.  My last trip out on Monday was for enough to let us stay put for a couple weeks (and included no TP…we already had enough of that…and there wasn’t any).
  2. Panicing.  I am finding a way to be vigilent without being anxious.  I am finding a way to pay attention to what’s going on without obsessing.  I am finding a way to notice what is new without assuming that everything “normal” is out the window.
  3. Wallowing.  I don’t think this is the end of the world.  I do think this is a time we will talk about as “before” and “after”, but we’ve had those before (9/11, financial crisis) and made adjustments and moved on.
  4. Watching sports.  Since there isn’t any.  While I support the decision 100%, a small tragedy in all of this is that we won’t get to spend our time watching March Madness.  I do think there is a huge opportunity for EA Games to do a massive e-sports basketball event, having the teams play each other online. I’d watch.
  5. Going out.  This may seem obvious since I am mostly staying put, but it is one that I have to keep in mind since I do really enjoy going out (to dinner, to a show, to a bar, etc) and honestly its the one that makes me feel most like I am over reacting. I am refraining from judging others that are going out in the hopes that they will respect my choice as well.

This is where I am today.  I used to write here in search of some ineffible truth.  Now I recognize that all I can do is capture the state of my mind as it is.  My hope is that I will read this in a few months and laugh at most of it as serious over reaction.  Time will tell.

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miscellaneous

Quality over Quantity

This article in the most recent Atlantic was perhaps the most disturbing article I have read in a long time. Mind you I am writing that when there is no shortage of extremely disturbing articles to read between acute topics like Corona and systemic topics like income inequality. McKay Coppins starts the article by describing a personal experiment, creating a fake Facebook account, following Donald Trump and then anything else that was recommended. A few weeks later they noted:

I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.

This should be alarming to everyone that understands it. Here we have a person who was fully aware of what they were doing, most likely had oppositional (or at least neutral) political leanings and while not being convinced to “go to the other side” had their basic ideas about truth and reality fundamentally challenged. They lost touch with their sense making apparatus. This is what the strange combination of post-modern politics and social media technocracy is doing to us all.

Former Ethics chief at Google, Tristan Harris (who’s position remains unfilled AFAIK) is fond of saying that every time you go online you should know that you have an AI pointed at your brainstem. While there is much ink spilled over what the coming AI boom will mean to our humanity, we don’t need to imagine it. It’s happening in our politics right now.

This doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with direct foreign interference in our elections, but it seems to have at least a “genetic” relationship. Again from The Atlantic article:

 The Kremlin has long been an innovator in this area. (A 2011 manual for Russian civil servants favorably compared their methods of disinformation to “an invisible radiation” that takes effect while “the population doesn’t even feel it is being acted upon.”) But with the technological advances of the past decade, and the global proliferation of smartphones, governments around the world have found success deploying Kremlin-honed techniques against their own people.

This mirrors what Gary Kasparov has said in numerous outlets, the most recent I heard being the Portal podcast with Eric Weinstein. The point of these activities is to achieve exactly what Coppins experienced: an inability to make sense or to figure out what is real. Rather than shutting down new media, political operatives have figured out how to create noise and confusion that they can take advantage of.

My initial reaction to all of this was to call for some sort of regulation and not the “sunlight” policies that Zuck is trying to pass off as transparency in a bid to avoid regulation:

To bolster his case, Zuckerberg pointed to the recently launched—and publicly accessible—“library” where Facebook archives every political ad it publishes. The project has a certain democratic appeal: Why censor false or toxic content when a little sunlight can have the same effect? But spend some time scrolling through the archive of Trump reelection ads, and you quickly see the limits of this transparency.

The campaign doesn’t run just one ad at a time on a given theme. It runs hundreds of iterations—adjusting the language, the music, even the colors of the “Donate” buttons. In the 10 weeks after the House of Representatives began its impeachment inquiry, the Trump campaign ran roughly 14,000 different ads containing the word impeachment. Sifting through all of them is virtually impossible.

I think we need something with teeth, first amendment implications be damned. I recognize the hypocrisy is the previous statement given my firm and consistent support for the second amendment and the individual right to keep and bear arms. Why should I get to have as many guns as I want, but Facebook can’t run as many micro targeted ads the fundamentally change the nature of our democracy? I’ll be honest: this is one I am still working out, but it seems to me that if there is a difference it’s wrapped up in the coincident ideas that corporations aren’t people and force asymmetry.

I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with Facebook, going back to when I created my account in Oct of 2007 (which was the same day I established a presence on Twitter). There are lots of real friends that I am only connected to there. Much of the dates, places and pictures of the last 10+ years of my life with my family “lives” there. But I think I need a bit of space. I’m not deleting my account or anything, but I’m not going to “hang-out” there until at least the election is over. Three reasons:

  • I haven’t voted in the last few elections as a form of protest against the whole enterprise, but I am re-evaluating the maturity of that position and want to avoid as much manipulation as possible. Or at least subject myself only to manipulation that I can at least have a reasonable chance of seeing coming and understanding.
  • I find that liking things my friends post gives me a sense that I am doing the work of building relationship, without actually doing it. As a recovering introvert, I don’t need anything that keeps me away from this important work. Similarly, I find that sharing things (especially since they make it so easy) keeps me from doing any real thinking on my own. “I’ve said my piece by sharing that meme” leads to the lethargy of pretend thought and actionless action.
  • I find that scrolling through my feed, I put my friends (and those that are left are mostly people I have a relationship with outside of Facebook) too easily into neatly defined categoeries, thinking that the meme or post they shared completely expresses their view with no reason to explore further, closing off an opportunity to have an interesting discussion, learn something and/or deepen relationship that could happen in the real world. No, none of these thing are possible in Facebook comments ;-).

I’ll continue to write and share things here. I know it means that far fewer people will see me in their feeds. I’m going for quality rather than quantity.

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miscellaneous

Praying I am bad at math

Update: @LizSpecht does some similar math projecting the implications on the healthcare system.

I like to think I am pretty good at math. Day to day stuff like calculating tips in my head, but also more obscure things like calculating surface areas of 3D objects, doing basic calculus and developing basic math models to fit data. I’m still in awe when someone on the academic team I coach evaluates a quadratic integral with a log thrown in in less than 5 seconds, so I am by no means extraordinary, but pretty good. And yet, I am absolutely terrible at statistics. I have gone as far to say that since I am pretty good at math and bad at statistics, that statistics must not actually be math, which is no doubt some taxonomical form of the fundamental attribution error.

I suppose I can take some solace in the fact I am in good company – or at least there are a lot of other people equally bad at statistics. I would argue one the main points of Thinking Fast and Slow (still one of the best books I have read in the past 5-10 years) is that many of the problems we face, both personally and communally, come from the shortcuts we create because we are bad at thinking statistically.

Remembering that I am bad at statistics, it seems to me that we are all suffering from a bit of being bad at statistics in some of the discussions that are going around about COVID-19 / Corona Virus. I’ve seen a few posts from credible sources that are trying to downplay the potential impact of a COVID-19 pandemic by stating how many people have died from the seasonal flu vs how few (comparatively) have died from COVID-19. I’ve even seen a few (from perhaps less credible sources) that are making comparisons to the number of people that have died from cancer, diabetes and even car crashes.

In one way, these sorts of arguments are doing some good in that they are fighting against one of the heuristics that Thinking Fast and Slow mentions: since we are such bad statistical thinkers, we substitute the ease that we can recall something from memory as a proxy for how likely it is. With all of the news coverage we are likely all overestimating the chances of dying from a raging case of Corona.

What these arguments miss is the population size. While its true that the total number of people that have died from seasonal flu is much greater than the number that have died from Corona, it’s equally true that the number of people that are infected with seasonal flu is also much higher…for now. What matters here is the rate, which a real statistician would argue is barely statistics, but we still seem to be getting wrong.

There are two rates that matter: The infection / transmission rate and the mortality rate. The latter seems to be hovering between 1% and as high as 3.4% depending on which model you use, which is between 10 and 20 times more deadly that seasonal flu. The former is what seems to be the big question. Infection rate depends on things like virulence, how quickly and how often symptoms show and actually mortality (if it kills you more often / quickly, it is less likely you will transmit it to others). If we have an infection rate that is 10 to 20 times less than seasonal flu, then statistically we will get the same number of deaths as seasonal flu. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case so far with some officials stating that between 40 to as much as 70% of the worlds population ultimately destined for infection. If the low end of both numbers are right that’s 30.8M people dead by the time this is all over. Let’s really hope I am as bad at statistics as I think.

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miscellaneous

Boy problems

I’ve been deep into a few books, so have let my stack of periodicals get a bit out of control. I decided to tackle it a bit this week and was reminded why I subscribe to The Atlantic: articles like this.

In The Miseducation of the American Boy, Peggy Orenstein chronicles her interviews with college bound / college enrolled boys about their relationships with other boys and how that informs their relationships with girls. The challenges she finds are existed on the edge of my awareness, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t want to stare at directly. Part of that reason is that I’ve raised my boy (and girl). They are both over 18 and doing well at adulting. I think we were able to give them a wider view and better models of masculinity/femininity as well as a basic foundation of respect with open hearted questioning on top. But I also know what this article represents is more representative of the water they swim in and that leaves me with a number of thoughts:

  • Not to sound old, but geez was it easier when I grew up. I have what I feel is a healthy dose of compassion and an inquiring heart/mind for the conversations around gender, identity and relationships that today’s youth get to have (I’m failing at not sounding old), but still it seems inordinately complicated.
  • I’m thankful for navigating this with our two children, now adults, in what seems to have been a healthy, effective way. Especially since I had no idea what I was actually doing at the time. At the same time I feel somehow responsible for providing something to those that are still trying to make their way through this, but am not sure how or whether to act on that feeling. Teaching the faith and sexuality class one way I am doing this, but that will only be a few weeks. Then what?
  • I do wonder if some of this is a (mostly) unintentional byproduct of the important work to build up female identity and power. In a well intentioned and much overdue attempt to right past wrongs, most recently in the form of the #metoo movement, have we built up and women, expanding the Overton window of what is allowable for girls, at the cost of tearing down and giving increasingly limited options to boys? This is not to say that I feel or have experienced anything remotely resembling a backlash for being a white, cisgendered male in my life. But the stories in the article seem to me to be related to not replacing all the things we rightly removed from masculinity (misogyny, patriarchy, etc) with something to aspire to. A model to emulate.
  • Now here’s the part that I will likely get into trouble for: I think that these boy problems will (or maybe even are) cause problems for girls, at least for hetero / cisgendered ones. This is totally colored (i.e. biased) by my own experience, but I have been made immeasurably better through the relationship I have with my wife. And I think she would say the same about her relationship with me. That improvement is not because we are the same, but in fact because we are different, we know each other and we see each other’s blind spots. It seems to me that the boys described in this article will struggle to be a good mirror to the girls they manage to build a relationship with. Those girls will miss the opportunity to see themselves through the mirror of their partner and vice versa.

In all of this, only one thing is clear: There are no clear diagnosis or easy prescriptions. I only hope we have reached some sort of local minima and can improve from here. I hate to think about what worse relationships between boys and girls could look like.

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miscellaneous

Feb tech updates

Writing this from the simply amazing keyboard on the 16″ MBP I picked up the day they shipped to Apple stores. I have a 13″ MBP for work with the first gen butterfly keyboard and the difference is night and day. I had planned to get a dock setup at home with an external display, monitor, etc, but honestly the keyboard is so good on this and the display does everything I want that I’m sort of loosing motivation to spend the extra cash there. I waited a long time to upgrade and now that I have I wonder why I waited so long…but then again, not sure I would be as satisfied with anything other than what this.

I think I got the blog hosting platform on AWS worked out. The upgrade to the $5 a month plan seems to have worked out the crashing issues I was experiencing on the $3.50 a month plan. It’s still half of what I was paying for GoDaddy with better performance and more control (SSH access for instance). The addition of the certificate seems to be having some of the intended effect on search performance as well.

I switched my home video surveillance system up at the barn from Zoneminder running in a Jail on my FreeNAS to an Apple HomeKit based solution running the cameras through a homebridge instance I added to my spare Ubuntu server that is mainly running automatic ripping machine to post all my CDs and DVDs to FreeNAS for access via Plex. That seems to be working well also, although I found out after I did the conversion that while the cameras work for live viewing, they don’t work with the Secure Video features which means the video isn’t recorded and I don’t get notifications when there is motion. The home bridge guys are working on it, so may just be a matter of time.

Lastly, I switched up VPN providers, at least for the next month. I moved from Private Internet Access to Mullvad. PIA got acquired by a company with a less than stellar track record, having been accused of distributing malware, so I decided to look elsewhere. So far so good, with essentially the same performance on fiber as I had with PIA – about 220 MBps down / 110 MBps up on a 300/100 MBps connection. The switch over on pfsense was fairly simple although I did have to retrace my steps on how I had setup the partitioned my network and setup the guest network to get everything working the right way.

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The great divide

My wife and I “volunteered” (we might have been under the influence of a few cocktails at the time so the question of consent comes into play here) to help teach a faith and sexuality class at our church. All kidding aside about whether we were taken advantage of at a time of weakness, I am actually glad we are doing it. It’s a great chance to get to talk with some of the youth in the parish that I don’t know as well (and how better to get to know them than an hour long conversation about the terms we want to use as a group for body parts and “verbs”) and it’s also a great example of why I love my faith: the kinds of conversations we are having in these classes are both critical AND I just don’t see happening in many other faith communities.

What we discuss in these sessions is of course confidential, but there was one exchange that we had last Sunday that I can relate generally enough to keep confidence and explore the point here. It had to do with conversations that the youth are having with their parents. They expressed that although they know their parents are trying to connect with the times and be sensitive, sometimes they can say things that seem insensitive.

There’s a lot here.

One thing this makes me realize is the need for compassion when trying to communicate across generational divides. The older side of course needs to have compassion for the younger side by realizing that what defines them as different generation is a different set of foundational experiences. Growing up in the 70s was fundamentally different than growing up in the 90s which is fundamentally different than growing up now. These different experiences shape us in ways that most don’t even realize and are in fact what makes one generation different from the next. The younger side also needs to have compassion for the older because of this same difference. The things the youth today are sensitive to don’t occur “naturally” to those that grew up in a different time, so when something insensitive is said, the youth need to do some more work to not simply react as they would if one of their peers said the same thing. They need to get curios when they might otherwise get furious and ask what is behind what was said – what’s in their heart? This can be hard and painful because sometimes they’ll find something that is actually troublesome. Some real hate or disfunction. But I think equally often they will find honest intent and this can lead to learning.

And that’s the another thing this has made me realize. That while some portion of generational divides (and perhaps divides of all sorts) is a lack of compassion and willingness to go deep and mutually discover intent, another major portion comes from lack of interest in teaching and learning on both sides of the gap. The older side has to be willing to learn how things have changed and the younger side has to be willing to teach. Similarly the younger side has to be willing to learn from the experience of older side to avoid past mistakes. Both sides loose when they assume that they know it all and the other side has nothing to teach them. Both sides loose when they close themselves off to learning.

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Anxiety Loops

I saw a few write ups of this study on test anxiety. The study itself uses some pretty technical language (perhaps an artifact of the “scientization” of the humanities), but here is the gist as I understand it:

  • The standard theory concerning the cause of test anxiety is that students both value the outcome of the test while at the same time feel they have less control than they would like in getting prepared (i.e. a lack of self efficacy).
  • This lack of self efficacy leads to procrastination resulting in a perfect storm / self fulfilling prophecy: I don’t think I will do well because I can’t learn the material and since I can learn the material, why should I bother to study, which of course results in…not learning the material.
  • The study found something that I think is a form of CBT called “inquiry-based stress reduction” (IBSR) as an effective means to overcome the feeling of non-effectiveness.

I read through the entire study since it reminded me of how I can feel when facing a big project. I have a perfect idea of what the result should be in my mind, but I struggle to start because I know that no matter how hard I work, whatever gets realized won’t be as perfect. Steven Pressfield called this feeling “resistance” and he correctly observed that you only really feel it for things you care a lot about. I’ve gotten reasonably good at noticing resistance, but I’m interested to try the ideas in this study to give me something to do about it when I do.

The two opening questions seem like CBT classics:

  • “Is this thought true?”
  • “Can you absolutely know that this thought is true?”.

But the follow-ups are a little more interesting:

  • “How do you react, what happens when you have this thought?”
  • “Does that thought bring peace or stress to your life?”
  • “What images do you see, past or present, as you think this thought?”
  • “What physical sensations arise having these thoughts and seeing these pictures?”
  • “What emotions arise when you have that thought?”
  • Do any obsessions or addictions begin to appear when you have this thought (e.g. alcohol, drugs, shopping, food, and television)?”
  • “How do you treat others when you have this thought? How do you treat yourself when you have this thought?”
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miscellaneous

House Cleaning

The house cleaning of the blog continues. I finally went back and fixed the display issues that cropped up in one of my past WordPress upgrades having to do with the display of Latin-1 characters from a UTF-8 database. Followed these instructions and it seems to have worked like a charm.

I also went through and re-organized the categories, simplifying to the things I seem to write on the most: podcasts, books and a catch-all miscellaneous. I also set all of the work related posts I did here in the PLM category to private. I put them here at a time when the business wasn’t blogging, but now that they are I can focus on non-work stuff here, making the purpose a little clearer to everyone – most of all me 😉

Lastly I moved to the new default WordPress template which seems to have some cool things supporting blocks. I may eventually buy or build my own template, but this will do for now.