Cycle count

Hearing aids: left, right. Disposable batteries lasting two days each.

A tiny Bluetooth remote + condenser mic paired to three devices, as well as both hearing aids. Rechargeable battery somehow lasts for 10-14 hours (depending on how desperately I claw at those radios).

An iPhone whose battery is always drained 18 hours later. iPhones are for people with short days and simple lives.

An iPad. Sucker can hold a charge. I use it for reading and writing. It is a screen for words, and words are what we have. Also, the iPad’s little keyboard, which has disposable batteries that change with the seasons.

A Macbook Pro. Several golden hours. Many more if I’m just looking at the computer rather than doing anything with it.

A Nintendo 3DS. Rechargeable battery, good for four hours or so. More than I ever play, these days. More than enough for a trip through the cataclysmic end of a pocket universe. Last days, last rites. This world collapses and is not rebuilt, again and again.

A small faceless watch (also pedometer and sleep tracker). Disposable battery lasting about two months.

Living with these devices means that I take a short midnight stroll around the house before bed, setting small, expensive objects in place and plugging them into various chargers. It means I have a nest of whatever-to-USB cables that I drag with me when on the road.

Because of these objects I can speak with the people around me and the people far away from me. I can make things, and try to understand and explain them. I can listen to music. That’s good enough for me, and I am grateful for them.

Because of these objects I am reminded that we are all set against the clock; that we can be renewed, albeit temporarily; and that we can only do what we do a certain number of times before the possibility for renewal is itself depleted.

And I suppose am grateful for that, too.

The blue and the green

Noted without comment:

There is only one crime, in the local sense, and that is not to turn blue, if the gods are blue: but, in the universal sense, the one crime is not to turn the gods themselves green, if you’re green.

From Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned.

Any physical thing

Ten years ago today, a colleague said, by way of explanation, in a meeting of people talking about software under fluorescent lights:

“An object is any physical thing in the directory.”

The person was referring to a software construct and its relationship to another software construct. It was just a passing comment, and I don’t remember the intent of the meeting or its outcome. (Given the organization, let’s assume the meeting had no purpose and that we did not meet it.) But I do remember writing the remark down, and mulling it over, and knowing that I was ready to move on; it wasn’t long before I’d quit that job and started things that were at least different and possibly even better. That said, I sometimes find myself returning to that phrase, while waiting for a train to arrive or a phone call to end: What is an object? Any physical thing. Where do you find such physical things? In the directory. What is the directory? — and so forth, until the train whistles or the call is finished and it’s time to move on to the next physical thing.

Against balance

Alongside the gray road, you will encounter people who speak of work-life balance. You have a hard time taking that topic seriously.

The idea of work-life balance reminds you of people who put milk in their coffee. If the coffee isn’t good, just drink better coffee.

After a few years on the gray road, you’ve learned a few things. Not because you’re so smart, but through blistering repetition.

You’ve learned that most people haven’t had good coffee. They think that’s what coffee is. (You used to think that yourself.) That kind of coffee, of course, you balance out with milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, cream, and sugar.

And work like that, work so bad that people start talking about work-life balance and with standing meetings where everybody sits for half an hour and organizational culture and institutional values and birthday parties?

Work like that, you balance with life.

The service

The service was like a public restroom. It was a venue for scrawled graffiti, and scribbles scribbled while doing something else. The service accidentally fostered real communication amidst sloganeering (frodo lives and imagine whirled peas and #yolo) and longing and horrorshows. It was like a public restroom, with one basic innovation: in this room, time and distance have been erased. Why ascribe value to this space? Who looks at those embattled, toxic stalls and sees unsold ad inventory? The service makes a deal. We’ll keep it clean and tidy and safe. Polished tile and scent in the air.

Here is a free magazine about your favorite celebrities.

Here is the door.

The whole of the law

They call it the law of personal mobility, or the law of two feet: that you are responsible for your own learning and engagement. This law, stated in various ways (another example: “when your mind wanders, let your body follow”), is the cornerstone of a participant’s experience during an open space technology meeting. Everyone’s job is to act according to this law, and the facilitator’s job is to create a venue (or to open a space) where it’s effortless to do so.

The Thelemites’d say: howdy & welcome to the Æeon of Horus, where do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. (And these guys were cribbing Augustine’s love, and do what you will.)

I’d like you to meet Bruce, my father-in-law:


Now, he’s been known to say that whatever you do is right, and what he says is true. Once he figures out what you’re going to do, he makes it alright. Even as Bruce leads by action (in a more relaxed style than the phrase suggests), sometimes he has to say something, so that’s what he says.

The point

You aren’t what you say, but what you do. Still, you have to say something. That’s our curse. These aphorisms pile up like logs in tide and time, and bang their big ideas against the bulkhead at night:

  • Nobody but you can take responsibility for your engagement with your environment. Authorities and charlatans such as employers, politicians, or religious figures will attempt to collect rent — financial or otherwise — by claiming this duty, but their claim isn’t a responsibility.
  • Nobody else can tell if you are learning anything today. People only learn when they are ready to learn. People only do anything when they are ready, except die. If you aren’t learning today, you should be. Fix this problem. Turns out it’s pretty easy for people to tell if you learned anything yesterday.
  • If you aren’t engaged in what you’re doing, everybody can tell (but they probably don’t care). Recall the last time you waited out a meeting you were invited to, but didn’t have any purpose at or contribution to. You were wasting your time, and you knew it. From the organization’s perspective it might have been waste, or slack, or just the way we do it here. Great, but remember whose candle is being burned.

Living in open space

During an open space meeting, you discover an environment where it’s easy and delightful to make effective use of your time. You’ll do what’s necessary to do in order to learn, and to teach, and to find and solve the problems that have brought everybody together.

Maybe you need to start a conversation, or introduce two people who aren’t friends yet. Maybe you need to leave early. The space has been carefully laid out and opened up to make these actions easier than the alternatives. If you’re bored, it’s OK to walk away. If you’re hungry, it’s OK to eat. If there’s a break in the rain, nobody’ll mind if you go outside. The organizers work to make the meeting effective by making the participants effective. By making you effective.

The next day or so, the meeting is over, and you’re back into your life and all of the things from it. However, that fruit cannot be uneaten. The next time your mind wanders, you’ll want to get up and follow. When you’re not learning, you’ll notice. If you’re not engaged, you’ll want to actually disengage rather than sit there and look good. This is probably when you’ll realize that, inside an open space, the law of personal mobility can be followed without any real consequences. And you’re way outside the open space, in the cold dark wolf-ridden world, where actions do have consequences.

This is honestly really tough. Because you are still responsible for your own learning and engagement, in a way that is completely evident and easy to understand — but now every weird action you take has its cost. You are, to put it gently, ruined for life. For example: if you have a job, you can use this law to improve your performance. It’s likely that you’ll do so by leaving that job. You’ll understand that the only person who might possibly assume this huge responsibility — for your own learning and engagement — is you. Therefore, when you’re getting bored or feeling somebody else’s slack or pressure, you’ll ask:

  • is this what I really need to be doing with my hour/day/life?
  • how bad would it be to walk away (versus the cost of staying here, and wasting my hour/day/life)?

and much of the time, you’ll decide to stay put, because you just can’t or just won’t accept the alternative and its risk, cost, or damage.

But it’ll be your decision, not inertia or fate. The ongoing cadence of asking these questions (and, maybe, the content of any answers you come up with) will convene an open space for you to live in. A world where whatever you do is right.

The jar

The gods taught the woman how to make things, and showed her how to hunt; they gave her gifts of beauty, diligence, and grace. Then they made her smart. One of them gave her speech. This gift of language let her call a threshold a gods-damned threshold — let her find the doorways in the world and walk through them.

Pandora’s crafty words were how she made the world she lived in, and it’s her world we live in still.

And then there was that jar. Brimmed full of toil and sickness and death and diseases stripped of their voices but not their powers (as this woman learned how to speak, so did we all — you might think that if diseases could still speak maybe they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to kill; but consider how well that works out for us).

Skip the stuff about Epimetheus (that ass), and his brother, and the baleful doling out of traits and stolen fire and so forth.

Here’s what’s important about all this crap the woman had, or carried, and brought to us: you can call it a gift or a curse — and either way, it’s yours. It’s the resource, a mountain to be worshipped or mined out or climbed upon or coldly regarded. It’s what we have.

It’s all we have.