Which is cooler/scarier (these are related)? Just caught up on last night’s Doctor Who; can’t wait to see where this all goes. They definitely removed part of the angel’s cool when they showed them moving.
(source (http://images.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl%3Dhttp://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/cb20100506182347/tardis/images/4/4f/Blink_doctorwho.jpg&imgrefurl%3Dhttp://www.britishblogs.co.uk/search/angels/&usg%3D-6QWugUE7sTaGqfWfU9MlzDlQHI%3D&h%3D931&w%3D1189&sz%3D196&hl%3Den&start%3D18&zoom%3D1&itbs%3D1&tbnid%3DwjcAYNevnFOIqM:&tbnh%3D117&tbnw%3D150&prev%3D/search%3Fq%3Dweeping%2Bangels%26hl%3Den%26gbv%3D2%26tbm%3Disch&ei%3DuFe9TfjOOYKDhQf9xsivBg) (http://www.virginmedia.com/tvradio/top-tv-shows/doctor-who/series-6-spoilers.php?ssid%3D3))
As of this tonight I shall be back in Hall five nights a week rather than cooking for myself up here in Jowett which really allows me to get a good solid afternoon’s work in, which I really like, because I can just stick it out in the library until 6:30, go and eat, and then if I want I can go back to the library again and I’ve not got to spend time preparing food. Otherwise I have to come home at 5pm and the day feels less structured, and (thus) I get less done.
It’s frustrating how I have to spend the better part of an hour dealing with e-mails each lunchtime, but I’m getting ever more efficient at that.
Have recently added Thought Catalog to my RSS reader. Here are the things I have read so far that I thought had at least something interesting in them:
On Hipster Masculinity: An Original Gangster Banged My Girlfriend (there is something interesting in this, trust me…)
Now that this blog has been rejuvenated I keep coming up with things to write about, and I start sketching posts but I forget to write them down and even if I do, I don’t seem to have time to write because it actually takes quite a while; I always forget how much time it takes to write these things out even if they’re not that great. It’s not that long but the point is that it’s a sufficient amount of time that I sort of have to plan for it, and can’t just sit down and do it during lunch.
Some Oxford thoughts then. Last week was 0th week so everyone has exams and vac work and they haven’t done enough for either. I was in a similar position, but with two differences: I’ve worked very hard, so it’s through prioritising other aspects of work that I was behind, not through negligence; secondly, my attitude of not caring about collections has basically reached completeness. I actually don’t care about the outcome at all. This has been something that I have been developing ever since I came here, starting out from the fact that I don’t think exams are important unless they’re a stepping stone to something important (which these aren’t) and then more recently with my tutors admission that they don’t matter. A lot of tutors put a lot of emphasis on collections, but Maths tutors don’t, probably because we all routinely screw them up. I have only ever had one philosophy collection—I do not count logic in this—so all that I say applies only to Maths. I feel the need to emphasise just now perfect my dismissal now is, and how weird this is considering how much I care about my studies. Balliol welfare tells me to take advantage of this even though I wasn’t to quote whomever said that to me.
Now, here is the juxtaposition: the excitement of being back in Balliol is for most overruled by the concern for exams and work, but this isn’t the case for me, and I positively relish it. It is fantastic to see hordes of people streaming towards Hall at either 9:30 or 2 for their collections, to see the whole College coming together, to see people you haven’t seen for ages who you know and also who you don’t know but are familiar and welcoming aspects of the library scenery. So I’m standing there grinning and this annoys my friends, who tell me to be quiet and more sombre at their approaching doom, though not quite in those words. One actually told me to ‘shush’. This can be a little difficult to deal with as I am happy and can’t find anyone to share it with.
The most people had their collections on was of course the day of the royal wedding, and while Balliol didn’t make any arrangements (terms are short so Oxford ignores all bank holidays for students and academic staff, though of course others have them off) I am told that some colleges actually moved collections so that their students could watch the royal wedding live. Balliol might have had a Union Jack up, but that was about it and my hope was that there would have been a massive uproar if there’d been attempts at anything else; as one politics grad said to me, “if it’s reached Balliol JCR then there’s no hope”. However I was shocked to find this was far from true. The TV room was packed but that’s okay because so many were watching it for the spectacle and just disagree with my disinterest as well as my opposition to there being any genuine interest. However the conversations in the adjacent JCR proper for a half hour slot we had between our exam and a meeting with tutors to arrange the term (just two days before it began, as usual) I was shocked to find so little opposition to what was going on. People were waving flags and one Math/Phil living in a house this year was looking forward to a street party on his road. A certain amount of this is people not caring and waving flags to annoy me, which is all well and good but it doesn’t stop my surprise at there being so few against the whole thing.
To give a few thoughts on why I stand so firmly against this stuff: while I may be against a hereditary head of state I’m not a massive fan of parliamentary democracy either, so it’s not so much a political question. The issue is that loyalty to your country of birth in the form of nationalism, patriotism or jingoism and this is something that really should be dead by now; you have no reason to be loyal to something you had no choice about, that you do not seriously contribute to and that really isn’t that great in so many ways. It is wrong to suggest that you can always find another country and the fact that you haven’t shows loyalty: the vast majority of us cannot realistically uproot our lives for our friends and family and careers are here. I can forgive the middle aged and middle minded from drawing something out of an old tradition but why the heck are we allowing schools to have their pupils make wedding cards, and why do intellectual teenagers care one jot?
This is not very clearly set out, because I didn’t think anyone cared about the royal family so I haven’t considered this issue very carefully; I saw them as just being on the way out. How naïve it seems I was.
Something else for this mixed bag of a post. I am doing the Ethics paper this term which is great, but since I haven’t done degree-level ethics since I am on a course that doesn’t generally choose to do Ethics, I’m attending the first year moral philosophy classes that the PPE students have. These are a lot of fun because I know plenty of the first years and unlike my own year across all philosophy courses they are very enthusiastic and interested. The class was admittedly a bit of a waste of time up until the end because it was just messing about with an ethical thought experiment; fun, but not with much philosophical interest that I could identify. The thought experiment was Nozick’s Experience Machine, and one girl got very upset about how many of us put our hands up as choosing to enter it for life or even for a few hours per day; she made a list of those of us who did. Genuine engagement with the issues! So much more worthwhile than my cold first year logic classes. Here I identify a phenomenon of the “Balliol first year philosophy class”. Of course given my usual temperament this leaves me jealous, but there’s no need for that; I am looking forward to this opportunity to share their classes. A few of them are extremely well-read and I should treat this as an inspiration.
I should begin by saying that I’m very unsure about my vote today, was
throughout the ‘campaigning’ period, and as such this is no
argumentative piece of prose (hence
/writing/thoughts) but a quick log of how my thoughts went. I would
like to care a lot more about this, but with a country around me not
caring much that can be quite difficult. More interest in Oxford,
though, due to various Maths-types (inc. me) being interested in the
various kinds of situations FPTP and AV can bring up.
I like AV as a system. We use it in JCR elections, of course, and so do all students’ unions and it feels like a system well-suited to that sort of environment. And indeed there are many things to recommend AV on a national level, the main one for me being the removal of the tactical voting dance that pushes many into apathy. AV essentially eliminates something that for something like 20% of voters (right? if memory serves) defines their democratic involvement. This is not to say I approve or disapprove of full-on PR, and this gets seen as a natural follow-on from a reform from FPTP to AV which isn’t really fair; ranking of candidates is something the vast majority of people do in their heads in an election, and building that into the electoral systems would seem to be more democratic when you consider the ludicrous excesses of FPTP in how much it inflates small percentage advantages into numbers of seats.
My initial thoughts, though, were not for these democratic advantages. Constituency-based democracy on a national level, where we try to mix both constituency representation and the vision of parties for where to take the country, present all this in a deeply dishonest way to a populace enslaved to consumerism as a choice between this Oxford PPE graduate and this other Oxford PPE graduate, is something that I have a low opinion of. The issues with the governance of the UK that make it undemocratic are rooted in the hegemony of the political class, a dedication to the likes of the City and a right wing media that helps keep all these institutions in place; voting reform of whatever form (that we are likely to get) isn’t going to change any of this, so the argument that AV is a small step in the right direction and we might yet improve things further doesn’t carry much weight with me. Instead, as a radicalish socialist, the priority for me is getting a not-too-extreme-but-definitely-not-centre party elected back into power to reverse the cuts, cut defence spending, slap restraining belts around the financial sector and start pouring money into education and health again.
For this task I pick Labour (of which I am a card-carrying member, I should say). New Labour, of course, failed in their push towards privatisation but I would hope that this has been learnt from. And it’s always very easy to blame the front-runners in the cabinet and forget the MPs and the activists: in my admittedly limited experience, the socialist spirit in these individuals hasn’t aged and become corrupted by the quick benefits of private sector contracts, and it’s this that we put ourselves behind when we get behind Labour. Further, in real life politics, a certain loyalty to a movement gives it a lot of strength; I can criticise my party, and aim to do so, but sticking to an imperfect party that does have a chance of winning and does contain a red fire, even if it’s not always visible, seems to me to be an important move in the quest against capital even if it means occasionally sitting behind a movement that appears to be breaking with large chunks of my ideology.
So, to AV. My initial thoughts for some weeks have been: AV will disadvantage Labour, Labour is more important to me than a little more democracy in a rotten ‘democracy’ to begin with, so vote against AV. However this view that Labour will be disadvantaged under AV was basically hearsay, so last night I sat down to try to confirm it, with, of course, the Internet. This turned out to be an abject failure: various claims on both sides, and in order to filter out the claims and check the numbers against each other (since they’re all looking at different predictors) I would have had to sit down with some paper and a pencil and do a lot of figuring out, which I didn’t have time for. Jonathan now presented me with the thought that since it is unclear whether Labour will be benefited or disadvantaged under AV rather than FPTP, and in either case it will not be a large effect, and there is a democratic advantage to AV as I have discussed, I should vote in favour. This left me back at square one, and deeply uncomfortable about how spur-of-the-moment my vote was going to be.
However today we had a useful talk from a political scientist (i.e. a politics tutor, though not the Balliol’s anti-AV James Forder who wasn’t there to argue back, unfortunately) at Balliol who debunked various myths on both sides with the cold blade of analysis. I asked him whether any of the claims to Labour’s advantage or disadvantage are at all credible, and he said that they’re not because there are too many factors to make a decent prediction. This would explain my inability to get much of use. However, there was something else in his discussion that got me thinking some more. AV, in our speaker’s view, does advantage the centre a little. And I got thinking about the nature of pandering for votes. When Labour or the Lib Dems talk a bit more about immigration in a constituency with a strong UKIP candidate, it’s very temporary and very unreal; it doesn’t permeate, and it’s what we get with FPTP. In a system which encourages pushing towards the centre ground and parties compromising and lining themselves up for preferences more than FPTP, the changes are going to be more permanent. Labour is going to compromise somewhat and move in the direction of the Lib Dems at all levels, under AV, and this takes away from a powerful movement. I exaggerate effects here, and indeed this is rather speculative, but as I’ve written before the lack of idealism is for me perhaps the greatest problem with our politics, certainly greater than issues with FPTP. I don’t want to modernise into a politics of the centre, I want to return to a battle of radically opposed ideals. This brings a clarity and force and interest.
So this is why I eventually voted no to AV, since the democratic advantages are out-weighed for me by what I see as a step into a future I don’t want to see that potentially disadvantages Labour, my chosen revolutionary force (now that’s an exaggeration). But I worry for how uncertain I am with all this, and further just how much I worry about my influences. My first political memory is of my mother crying in 1997 and my knowledge of current affairs is so small, and my loyalty to Labour from my family and to a traditional victory for them under FPTP probably influenced me a lot here. It’s good to write it down, though, so that the process of thoughts over the past few days can be reflected upon by my future (and hopefully better read) self.
Spent ten minutes changing up my Org capture setup. Now I have immediate
capturing from my web browser: select some text, hit
C-M-c and Emacs
gets switched to (an annoying side-effect but I can just switch window
back and at least I know it worked) and this gets written to
,* SOMEDAY [[http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/may/05/av-referendum-paddy-ashdown-david-cameron][AV referendum: Paddy Ashdown accuses Cameron of breach of faith | Politics | The Guardian]] :ToRead: ,:PROPERTIES: ,:Captured: [2011-05-05 Thu] ,:END: ,Exclusive: Lib Dem grandee and Nick Clegg ally calls PM 'grave disappointment' and says no campaign has told 'regiment of lies'
which is pretty convenient, the link being clickable/return-able. Less
effortful than previous system of having to type a title and his
C-c C-c in Emacs to confirm.
I’ve also moved timestamps and contexts into properties drawers since I rarely refer to them so it’s not important enough to have in the subtree—and you can never have enough properties. Hopefully this will not cause any actual problems.
,* TODO Do something interesting ,:PROPERTIES: ,:Context: <span class="createlink"><a href="/cgi-bin/ikiwiki.cgi?do=create&from=blog%2Fentry%2Fimmediatecapture&page=file%3A__126__%2Fdoc%2Fwww%2Fblog%2Ftech%2Femacs%2Forg-mode%2Fimmediatecapture.org" rel="nofollow">?</a>immediatecapture.org</span> ,:Captured: [2011-05-05 Thu 23:16] ,:END: ,Here is some blah
Everyone expected the Lib Dems to get thrashed, but I would have hoped
the Tories would have got taken down a few pegs too. Instead all we’ve
got is first-chance-to-hit-incumbent-government, and all that force has
been expended on the Lib Dems, and while Labour might have places like
Sheffield (yes!) it’s not enough to constitute a resurgent Labour party.
And just look at Scotland
This is what I will be spinning (read: laptopping):
- London Elektricity – Love the Silence
- Mistabishi – Printer Jam
- Pendulum – Voodoo People
- Nu:Tone – Shine In
- London Elektricity – The Plan that Cannot Fail
- Danny Byrd – We Can Have it All (Sigma remix)
- London Elektricity – Meteorites
- Netsky – Secret Agent
- Danny Byrd – From Bath With Love.
Something I worked on over Easter was fixing up a script to set my key
bindings dependent on whether or not my Apple keyboard is plugged in:
the idea is that, on my laptop, this can be called on startup rather
than me having to call it manually. I’ve now extended the script to
detect whether or not my external monitor is plugged in using the
utility; I would have done this long ago but the non-free nvidia drivers
xrandr. So now I can just hit a key to fix things. The idea
is that I will no longer have to reboot/restart X when leaving my desk
etc. and this is made especially quick now that I have suspend on lip
shut/open without a screen lock.
#!/bin/sh # first fix keyboards if lsusb | grep -q "Aluminum Keyboard"; then dwm-applebindings & else setxkbmap -option ctrl:swapcaps setxkbmap -option "compose:ralt" fi # now sort out monitors auto-disper --change # finally fix stump mode-line stumpish eval "(enable-mode-line (current-screen) (current-head) nil)" stumpish fnext stumpish eval "(enable-mode-line (current-screen) (current-head) t)" stumpish fnext
The Arch packages:
sudo clyde -S disper autorandr-git
I’ve been using my current Org setup (somehow my article made Hacker News; only just discovered this, sweet) for long enough now to see what parts of it are useful and what parts of it aren’t. What’s been nice so far is that there is nothing strictly lacking, which is good, but there are things which I’m not using so just sit there as over-complexities. So I spent a little time today stripping them out.
Stuck and unstuck projects
If you have a task that has TODO items under it, such as a philosophy essay which has things like “Read book x”, “Read article y” and “Write essay”, then by default Org will change the colour of the top-level TODO item in agenda views to show that it’s not completable yet because there are prerequisite tasks; it also won’t let me mark a task as done that has incomplete subtasks. Simple and effective.
However the problem was that even though the tasks are dimmed they still show up in awkward places. So I tried a new PROJ keyword to identify projects, and piled up tasks underneath. This takes time to set up for individual tasks though and I don’t want to be messing with it; the simple TODOs-within-TODOs allows the structure to build up automatically.
The other issue I had is that many tasks of mine take ages to do but can’t be broken down, but that are parallel to projects. So the week’s problem sheet is similar to the week’s essay, but the latter can be made PROJ and the latter can’t. I didn’t want this asymmetry.
The solution is to go back to using TODOs with sub-TODOs and also to
(setq org-agenda-dim-blocked-tasks 'invisible) which means that these
top-level tasks don’t appear at all until things under them are
This led me to the GTD (this is far enough down that rabbit hole) notion of stuck and unstuck projects. The idea is that if you have a top level TODO item with lots of TODOs under it, you want to have one of these that is identified as “this is the next stage of this project and it can be done now”. A “stuck project” is one for which this is not identified, meaning one can’t just go and work on the project without first thinking things through.
Bernt Hansen’s setup for stuck projects suits all this perfectly.
Dropping STARTED keyword
I had a TODO keyword STARTED which I used to mark stuff that I was working on gradually but I don’t think there’s any point in this at all. Basically I would mark something as started (but not everything), work on it, and if I didn’t finish it that day then I’d reschedule it for tomorrow at the end of the day. This isn’t actually achieving very much. Instead, marking such tasks as NEXT, that is, big tasks that require lots of time i.e. stuff for my degree, and then not worrying about whether or not I’ve started them as that’s not meta-data I care about has simplified out something I really don’t need.
My standard agenda used to come in the form: currently started tasks (including blocked ones in grey), tasks waiting on others, agenda for upcoming week, undated TODO items. Here is where having tried the system out for a few weeks showed me what was superfluous. I never look at my undated TODOs (really should) because they are out of view unless I scroll a long way down, I almost never look beyond today, and I’m not using STARTED anymore per the above. So I simplified things right down to just a daily agenda view, a list of next tasks and a list of tasks waiting on others.
I then created a second view to consolidate reviewing my day at the end of it. On there there are tasks to refile, projects and stuck projects, and my evil-looking list of undated TODO items (only got about 20 things on right now which is alright I suppose).
Finally I added a view to get a weekly agenda for looking ahead in time.
Skip to 5:30.
Also does this remind you of something: Terraria
Thus the moral worth of an action does not depend on the result expected from it, and so too does not depend on any principle of action that needs to borrow its motive from this expected result. For all these results (agreeable states and even the promotion of happiness in others) could have been brought about by other causes as well, and consequently their production did not require the will of a rational being, in which, however, the highest and unconditioned good can alone be found. Therefore nothing but the idea of the law in itself, which admittedly is present only in a rational being —so far as it, and not an expected result, is the ground determining the will—can constitute that pre-eminent good which we call moral, a good which is already present in the person acting on this idea and has not to be awaited merely from the result. (Kant, Groundwork, 401 15–16)
Went to tutor to beg for a reading list while he was drinking with friends round a table in the quad, to which he replied “okay, read Kant” to raucous laughter. I don’t think we were even going to do Kant this week.
I am enjoying the Groundwork and am finding that most of Kant’s sentiments line up very closely with the intuitive morality I use in every day life. Most people find Kant unintuitive, and my tutor is a committed Humean, so I’m going to have a hard time defending this stuff. I have Susan Wolff’s Saints and Heroes lined up to read which attempts to illustrate a perfect Kantian, a perfect utilitarian etc. and show them to be rather unethical characters, so it’ll be good to see the other side.
I’m quite willing to admit and indeed happy of the fact that I am deeply peculiar. An arrogant proclamation, but one that I think most who know me would agree to, and indeed probably most who read this blog and don’t know me in person (all of two people I imagine) would agree to this as well. This is a story of how one person very closely involved in my life, namely my father, took this peculiarity and tried desperately to label it; the result is not quite a self-fulfilling prophecy, but a series of damaging effects that I am pleased to be finally working my way out of as a side-consequence of the psychotherapy I’ve been having in relation to my present academic issues. Those who know me in person in Sheffield (as opposed to Oxford) will know that I have an extremely poor relationship with my father, and I suspect that this stuff is a large part of that—or, if not in the first place, it’s kept the animosity from my end going. He has never retracted his claims nor apologised, or if he has, I haven’t seen it, and so I find myself unable to forgive which is sad.
Another thing I shall admit at the outset is that I do not deny that I do have some acute psychological issues. The most obvious that all who have met me will know is that I get various ticks, habits, repetitive movements etc. that come and go; at the moment I like to shake my head and gratuitously equalise the pressure in my ears by holding my nose and blowing, in the way one does during an aeroplane’s descent. I thought I was probably pretty far up the scale with this stuff but apparently I’m not, the key thing being that I’m quite capable of stopping these things if I want. At various points in my life I’ve committed to stopping some habit and I have. Another appeared, and essentially I got bored. But I am told that, chances are, if I wanted to I could cut it entirely and at some point, when I care enough, I probably will. I am slowly understanding that I might have a lot more anxiety in my head that I am aware of, clued in a little by the knowledge that such ticks tend to be a response to anxiety to soothe it away.
I do not view my present academic issues as the same kind of malady. They are not something that I would give up if some wish-granting being said that s/he could take them away for me in an instant, as I probably would with that detailed in the previous paragraph. The aspects of my psychology that are unusual come in both good and bad. It is a very positive thing that I have an extremely high resilience to peer pressure (with the negative upshot of occasional stubbornness when it’s not a good thing and, indeed, against my better judgement), but my attitudes to my work at present, and to things such as sexuality and to human talents and skills are all screwed up. But none of these things exist without the others and they are all tied up into myself and, naturally, that’s not something I wish to do away with. Consider: I tie my pursuit of philosophical understanding very tightly to almost all the other aspects of my life, and I suspect that this being a little too tight has led to some of my present issues—though I do not feel qualified to speculate beyond that—whereas shaking my head or whatever isn’t an important aspect of my character, even if the reasons for it explain some other such aspects. In short: the mental life I have once my present issues have been understood and resolved is too much a function of what has gone before for it to be useful to label, classify and single out disorders or illnesses.
So we come to the beginning of the tale, back at school. I am unclear about what went on at primary school, but one thing I do remember was a great deal of concern over my handwriting. I had decided that I wasn’t going to conform to a standard on something that didn’t matter; in the same way that from the age of four I decided that colouring in neatly wasn’t interesting, finishing such activities as quickly as I was able in order to return to Maths or English (so, reading), so did I decide that neat handwriting wasn’t important. There were foolish extremes of thought here. In response to the opposition of teachers and parents, I dug in and worked myself into a corner where I tried to defend the thesis that finishing an activity and moving on to the next was all that mattered, going to great lengths to see how little I could do and still say that a task was “done” based on how it had been set, even when I really hadn’t completed very much. Another fun story is when we were story-writing in year four—an activity that I usually loved, but I suspect that the topic seemed foolish to me or something—where I wrote an extremely short story and then, when the teacher told me I should extend it, I argued that then it wouldn’t be my story anymore, because my story was short. I am proud that I had the strength of mind to hold to all this, even if I disagree with the opinions themselves now—my handwriting is very neat for a Maths student assuming I’m not rushing, and indeed neater than my sister’s is now, whose writing was always the standard to which my parents used to hold me, back then. Their response to this was to get the school to give me a few meetings with people from Sheffield’s Special Educational Needs department, who assessed my motor skills to see if that might be why my handwriting was so bad. I think I had a diary at some point to fill things in in, and I am pretty sure this wasn’t a handwriting diary, so I suspect I was accused (this confrontational language is expressive of my school days as I will explain below) of other things as well, but I am having trouble recalling them specifically, which troubles me a little.
Aside from this sort of stuff there was some extremely weird behaviour from me in Y2/Y3 when my parents split up. As I say I’ve always had a bad relationship with my father and I think I might have tried to replace him with my male class teacher somehow? I am not sure, and the memories are faded and limited only to this: I developed the thought that I just had to be the furthest forward on the carpet when the class would sit on it together, to the point where I would sit on the teacher’s shoe (grasping his leg for support when needed) so that I was definitely at the very front. This stuff is limited to a fairly narrow time frame and I have no explanation or insight into it, and I’ve never done anything like it before or since. So perhaps in the malady category. I certainly don’t consign any of the handwriting or story writing stuff to the maladies bin.
When it came to apply to secondary schools, my father placed a lot of stress on finding one that had a good record on special needs, because to him, this is what I had. I have introduced this terminology here and above in the primary school stuff, but my memories aren’t clear enough for me to plot out when I started to hear it, and perhaps it was used before I was old enough to actually understand and recognise its usage. With my parents split up and living in two different parts of the city, and my primary school having a strong feeder school relation with a secondary school not in either of their catchment areas, I actually had five schools to choose from, and while I can’t remember my own reasons for choosing Silverdale, my father’s were clear. My mother was probably pretty neutral between the schools. The specific things that Silverdale ‘did for me’ were mainly limited to giving me an hour a week with the so-called Learning Mentor, a pleasant woman who would try to convince me that I should conform less to a Kantian ideal on honesty, and had me fill in a lot of worksheets on social skills and empathy. The reason I went to these at the expense of lessons, you ask? These lessons were PE and the filth of boys secondary school PE lessons appalled me. I still had to go once per fortnight for Y7–9, and oh how I dreaded it. To grab someone and rugby tackle them? To run around the field where there was so much mud to be slipped in? To use those changing rooms? I am not succeeding at describing the fear I felt at that time once per fortnight. I think that it would have only taken maybe three or four years before my self-confidence was at the point where I would have outright refused to be involved in such lessons, and would have argued my way through the school’s management structure—what I mean here is that if I had been four or five years older on entering secondary school, I would have had none of it. It would have been brutal, and I would have probable come out the worst because of course the teachers have nothing to lose and in my much smaller world, I had so much that could have gone in such a confrontation. So perhaps it was for the best. I think that appeal of liberalism to me is at part based on my hatred for what I saw as imprisonment. Over-exaggerated, because it’s just a PE lesson? Yes, it’s just a PE lesson to you and me now, because our worlds are larger. It wasn’t to me back then, and it’s important that we both respect that.
The other thing at secondary school was my father’s campaign for an official label, and the label he wanted to apply was that of Asperger’s Syndrome, the far end (that is, the end closest to normality) of the autistic spectrum. So he had me assessed a few times, and the learning mentor tried to get me to read books on the topic—I refused, not sure why—and I was told what I found difficult, and what I could never be good at, and this was all very important. To me none of this mattered; I had fantasy stories to read, Maths to do, essays to write, computer programming to learn and science to learn about, all of which I held in the esteem I hold (my pursuit of) philosophy in now. I did, though, have an opinion on it, and it was extremely defensive. It distresses me a great deal how little I remember of the specifics of these various checks and talks. I remember visiting somewhere where I played some kind of racing game on a N64 or something in the waiting room, but why was I there? To me, I was fighting a war against my parents and against the education authorities who I saw as unreasonably in cahoots with them. They wanted to change me from who I was, they thought something was wrong with me, that my oddness, which I cherished as much then as I do now, was something they wanted to force out of me and I was scared and I did what I could to oppose them. I do not now believe that this was anyone’s aim, because I am sufficiently optimistic about the goals of my parents and of the education profession, but I think it says a lot about the situation that I felt the need to be so confrontational. I trusted no-one. In my small world, I was at war to defend what mattered to me.
The parental dynamic; I’m sure you’ve noticed that my mother has been barely mentioned here. In general she disliked my father’s labelling and used to say to me “you don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome, you have some aspects of it, if that” and I clung to this. In her view, as she explained to me later when I was in a position to understand her, one should look upon people holistically and avoid stereotyping and labelling. And in general I think she disliked what went on at school and these various assessments, though going along with them at times when she found me difficult to live with (most definitely a function of both our personalities). I should say that I never had an actual diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, unless it was being hidden from me which I doubt, and my mother’s line that I paraphrased above was basically the line of the authorities. It’s this clash that I think leads to my substantially higher regard for one parent than the other and the consequent deterioration of one relationship.
To the late secondary school, sixth form and university dynamic, then. By this point there are no more authorities, because not only did I have the self-confidence and bravery to defy any attempts to take my anywhere (and of course once at university it’s irrelevant), the advent of sixth form meant the end of compulsory PE, at which point I knew that I could throw it all off. For five years I felt that I had played along, in order to get out of PE. “Getting out of PE” was my mantra, what I saw as the immovable wall protecting my individuality, and now I had no need of it. I think I can probably safely stop using this confrontational language at this point, and revert to the tone one uses when discussing adult relationships, because now we’re into a Sean pretty close to the Sean writing this; I hope it’s clear that I don’t see this as a war now, because that is absurd, but I use the language because that is the language appropriate to my memories.
In the sixth form the combination of my willingness to be different if I thought it was right together with a new self-confidence now that I was free from shackles imposed on me by others led to a great flourishing of mental personality. Let me make it clear: I feel extremely arrogant and self-righteous writing these next few sentences, because my cynicism leads me to think that I was probably just another stereotype, nothing special. The thing is, I genuinely don’t think that at secondary school I was just another odd student who was quite bright—conforming to one stereotype or another—but instead, based on talking to teachers I knew well and other pupils there with me and then afterwards, I really did stand out and in some sense leave a mark on the school. The head of philosophy/only philosophy teacher there says there would have been no A-level philosophy course without me spurring it on. I founded and ran for over three years—with fierce independence—the school’s debating society, which I shaped into a philosophy club, essentially, quite different to your traditional independent school debating society (to be clear my school was most definitely a state comprehensive). This society created a new appreciation for real intellectualism in a certain group of people, a group which it expanded and brought together to analyse, and bring down to liberal principles and to the heart of the matter, standing so very firmly against the memorise-some-facts nature of GCSEs and A-levels. I had various proteges too; I remember my mother telling me once that one of their parents (who had a younger sister who was friends with my sister) said that she really appreciated all I’d done for her daughter to train her up in this stuff. After I left the school, my form teacher told me that a dissenting voice had gone. The school’s decisions went unchallenged because in the past I had always made a noise about things, and that the school’s atmosphere had changed.
Writing that last paragraph leaves me very uncomfortable, because I do not have such a high opinion of myself. Most of this comes from teachers who knew me. The usual response is that the teachers are simply doing their jobs and have no real relationship with me; well, for at least three or four of them, I am not convinced. This is not to say there were not enemies. I would have the occasional spat with the head of sixth form in particular, who recently called me a loose cannon who she didn’t want back in, when another teacher told her that I wanted to come in and promote Oxbridge as part of a campaign to increase applications from state schools. But as I say this is written more excitedly and exaggerated than I tend to think myself, an effect exacerbated by the way in which I feel I have shrunk somewhat since coming to Balliol—but that is a topic for another time.
This is background to the most positive aspects of my life that I am now going to try and feed into a description of my father’s continued insistence on his labelling. There’s no assessments or special treatment, and there’s nothing coming from anyone but him, but—and now I shall drop into the present tense, for the situation in the sixth form and the situation now is the same—he continues to turn to the person next to him and comment, ‘that’s his Asperger’s’, when I have, say, expressed a strong opinion. Something he has managed to stop doing is going through his explanation of me to other adults I interact with; one particular example of this that I remember was when we once went to the cinema with a friend of my sister’s and their parent; he explained to her my condition. But to, say, my sister, it continues. He’s expressed his disdain for an aspect of our lifestyles, let’s not consider that as an argument but merely as a symptom, he can’t help it. My father started a master’s degree some years ago in autism and switched from being a French teacher to working in the autistic unit at a Sheffield school, and this only makes things worse; it’s almost as if he sees it as part of some quest, started by bringing up an autistic son. I think he even labels himself under some of this. He would say to my sister “look at how he walks, he’s a bit clumsy, just like the autistic children I look after at school.” He doesn’t think I am capable of running my own social life, so he asks me “have you seen James recently”, James being a close friend who happens to live across the road, and he’ll go “why don’t we invite James round to this thing we’re doing” or whatever. This is so patronising and disrespectful of the relationships that I have with my closest friends, for not only am I more than capable of having those relationships without his assistance, but he also clearly has no understanding of them if he limits it to James; he is one of my three or four very close friends, the others of who are never mentioned. Once, after an evening of this sort of stuff, I had enough and just walked out, back to my mother’s to spend the night.
My father wrote me a letter recently when he read about my academic issues on this blog, and some of the sentiments there were pretty unpleasant to read. He talked about my good relationships with teachers at school, and said “why do you think I was friends with Mr X and Mr Y?”, suggesting it was rather utilitarian. This is demeaning to the both of us. As a teacher, he knows most of the teachers in Sheffield (anyone else with teachers for parents will understand how this works), and I would have thought that his friendships with these individuals was about more than that. On the other hand, I think that my relationships with them were (and are) about more than that too. He wrote about how he’d built up a layer of protection around me which I had rightly broken free from when the time was right. Yeah. All he did was give me a semi-permanent sense of being surrounded by pits filled with a tranquillising gas, leaving me desperate to escape falling into a deeper mediocrity than the modern man is forced into by default. I felt so angry at his words.
Now we come to the very recent, when I had my first few sessions with the university counselling service over my current academic issues. At the absolute beginning, when the counsellor walked over to sit down, she had a folder and said that she’d be looking through it, and immediately I was right up on high alert. It had come back. The records of my previous transactions with these sorts of authorities had somehow resurfaced in Oxford’s filing system. Once my mild panic died down I realised how very improbable this thesis was, but I didn’t stop second guessing the counsellor for a good while. I was so very suspicious of her and found it so hard to absolutely trust her. I wanted to be there and I wanted to engage but old instincts got in my way. So we discussed this story, since I correctly identified it as the source of my unease, and I went through all the stuff and so then she said “so what was it that you were almost-diagnosed with?” and I said “Asperger’s Syndrome”. There was silence, so I said “you looked surprised” and indeed she was. She said that it wasn’t a term she would ever think of in relation to me, that she had encountered people she would apply the label Asperger’s Syndrome but that they were nothing like me. By this time I’d explained the thought of my mother’s that I might have certain symptoms of it, and so she asked me what symptoms, and I said that I was supposedly lacking in empathy and social skills. She said that this was true of so very many people in varying degrees, and that it would definitely not apply to me in any significant sense. She then affirmed the view I share with my mother that labelling isn’t a very good idea, and one should view others holistically. This was a massive weight off my shoulders, in two key respects: firstly, the agreement that labels aren’t good, but then that even if that’s wrong it doesn’t matter because the label definitely doesn’t apply in my case. I do not have insurmountable issues that I can only learn to cope with and work around, in fact, I don’t have anything even approaching that. I have many psychological twists and turns, some of which could do with straightening, but no incapacity or malady to be found.
The reason that this was a significant weight off my shoulders is that while I might have generally claimed that I didn’t care about my father’s labelling because everyone is an individual and trying to categorise like that isn’t useful is that this claim didn’t penetrate very deep. One showing of this is my reaction to the counsellor and her folder, and another is my fear of falling into behaviours of the kind of children my father works with. An example of this is the word ‘routine’, which I always feared because I would think, “the mentally ill often need routine and can’t deal with change—I must avoid having a routine to avoid vindicating my father’s view” and so I would shy away from establishing routines and find it hard to commit to them because of this. I also found these things affecting my willingness to defend my old-fashioned conception of friendship and of social activity; is introversion, a character trait most advantageous in many scenarios, something I must avoid in order to avoid vindicating my father’s beliefs? (This one became particularly relevant since coming to university and still bothers me a lot.) Knowing that it is all more a reflection of my father’s mentality than my own—having this come from an authority, the counsellor—made it possible for me to start to drop these attitudes and frustrating ways of thinking, which I’m now working on pushing out. Routine is good (I actually seized up a little when writing that; it’s still here), especially when you’re having a difficult time for other reasons, and in fact in all cases.
I do not doubt my father’s conscious intentions towards me, even if I used to, but the results of his actions which even now continue (after he’s heard the counsellor’s comments) have profoundly damaged me. His demeaning of my relationships with both teachers and people of my own age group angers me so much, because I value those relationships and his reaction to them all feels to me as if it is trying to take away that value, because supposedly I’m not capable of having it. I am pleased to be lifting myself out of these bad, defensive habits gradually, now that the niggling doubt, grown stronger since coming to Oxford, that “maybe he was right and I am disabled in this way”, has begun to be dismissed by the dismissal of my father’s enduring diagnosis as utterly incorrect.
The last defense of every Facebook addict is: but it helps me keep in contact with people who are far away! Well, e-mail and Skype do that, too, and they have the added advantage of not forcing you to interface with the mind of Mark Zuckerberg—but, well, you know. We all know. If we really wanted to write to these faraway people, or see them, we would. What we actually want to do is the bare minimum, just like any nineteen-year-old college boy who’d rather be doing something else, or nothing.
—very funny video about the demands Facebook makes of us; good gag right at the very end too.
This is really insightful. Do we want to be tribal again though? I can see that it might be good to have lots of trivial relationships with those around us in a way that Facebook seems to bring back, but if this is at the cost of better relationships, then I disagree.
del.icio.us is requiring you to accept that your bookmarks be moved to a new provider since it is changing hands, so this is a great opportunity to finally migrate away from another evil web-based service. I’ve been using del.icio.us since August 2005, it seems, and have clocked up 709 bookmarks, and really liked the original idea that it’s just a global bookmarks system, but it’s since become more than that and in fact this blog is better for storing interesting pages.
Bookmarks are less and less important to browsing in any case since there are over 9000 versions of everything and you can just Google up an alternative if you need it.
Edit 11/vii/2011: Here’s an interesting alternative to del.icio.us by the Identi.ca guys: Freelish.us
When Gnus works I have a great e-mail experience but it’s no mutt, and
when it breaks, it really screws up. This evening, sharks
happened in a big way. My project? Move my synced
mail store at
~/.gnus.d/Maildir so that it sits hidden
.gnus.d with my other local mail and RSS stuff.
The result? Losing almost a thousand messages and having to cobble them back together from my daily backups and my old Gmail account, which still collects new messages by POP. There is now only a eight minute window or so in which I could have lost messages, and I don’t think I received any in that time.
Basically what happened was that (local) dovecot didn’t like me moving the folder, so I offlineimap’d from scratch, Gnus screwed things up some more so I had to offlineimap from scratch again, offlineimap screwed up in some way that I am really hoping doesn’t happen again when I do all this again after restoration, so I started nuking offlineimap’s cache so that I might resync just my inbox. Turns out I nuked the wrong parts and offlineimap interpreted this as me emptying my inbox, so it kindly emptied my inbox on the remote end, too.
Cue panic. Realisation that my most recent backup is 3am this morning so that’s the fifty or so messages I received today GONE. Not all of them were read—if they’re read it’s okay because they will be in my task management system so I will know who to e-mail to get them resent. Then I remembered that Gmail is still faithfully downloading via POP so I logged in and found my messages, after mild panic that I’d disabled that at some point.
EDIT: Thank goodness for mutt for recovering from this. After I got a
copy of my Maildir as of 3am this morning, I opened Gmail and tagged the
NuciferaDLS and then just pointed mutt at the folder
imaps://firstname.lastname@example.org@imap.gmail.com:993/NuciferaDLS and then
used tagging and copying to quickly and efficiently move the messages
A well-kept secret in Oxford is that undergrads can apply for access to the All Souls library, that is, the library of the college that has no students and is just a bunch of humanities researchers and a few lawyers living off their massive endowment. I got a library card today; you just need a tutor’s signature.
It’s a great place because it’s so quiet, but also cool because it feels like a secret society. The door is hidden away in a little alcove, an alcove usually filled with tourists taking pictures of the All Souls quad, and then there is this mysterious library door that’s locked. You need a code to get in, which to me is far cooler than having someone there stopping tourists but searching reader’s bags like you have at the Old Bod and Rad Cam. It’s an unmanned portal. And it doesn’t lead straight to the library, which is reached by passing through a corridor and then a room, all in absolute silence, which is fun. Toilets are located underground in uneven tunnels.
Here are some photos, courtesy of Beth Hoffman (BY-NC-SA).
The time on this post is inaccurate.
[I]n a very imperfect state of the world’s arrangements … paradoxical as the assertion may be, the conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of realizing such happiness as is attainable. For nothing except that consciousness can raise a person above the chances of life, by making him feel that, let fate and fortune do their worst, they have no power to subdue him: whihc, once felt, frees him from excess of anxiety concerning the evils of life, and enables him, like many a Stoic in the worst times of the Roman Empire, to cultivate in tranquillity the sources of satisfaction accessible to him, without concerning himself about the uncertainty of their duration, any more than about their inevitable end. —J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, ch. 2
The phase of my intellectual development associated with incessant
fiddling and reconfiguration of my computing setup, starting with Irssi
through to dwm and Musca and culminating in StumpWM, Emacs, Gnus and
Org-mode, is coming to a close. It’s happening in the best way possible:
Knuth stopped writing his book to write TeX, and I’ve stopped in my work
to sort out the electronic tools that make it run better. It’s so very
obvious that I have achieved nothing compared to TeX, and in my life
will achieve nothing compared with Knuth—and I say it merely to avoid
actually comparing myself to Knuth, which would be absurd—but I do feel
that I’ve done something analogous, even if I didn’t set aside one
project for the other with the deliberateness Knuth did in the case of
TeX. But yes, the best way possible in that I’m joyously, if slowly,
re-embracing actual important things now. This is not to say that there
are not things I want to fix, but they annoy me far less than they used
to, and the many many
SOMEDAY links to must-have Emacs stuff etc.,
which I intend to work through over the summer, will likely find
themselves archived as often as they are actually pursued. Because I’m
there, with a system that is quite good enough and yet so much better
than a setup that isn’t personalised.
My joy at all this is that while I kept telling myself “once I’ve done this I’ll get back to interesting things”, I never really believed it—I thought I was just wasting time and avoiding interesting things in fear of them. Well, maybe this is partially true, but actually this transition from this stuff back into more theoretical thought has happened quite naturally. My interests are shifting away. This is not to say at all that I do not take a pleasure in using the system, because that remains, and I still smile when, without thinking, I hit a series of keys and my little finger bounces up and down on the control key and stuff swishes about in useful ways. But I’m finding myself thinking, “why am I still subscribed to the Org-mode listserv? There’s cool stuff, sure, but I’ve got what I need to facilitate the rest and I do not have infinite time.”
So what is left in computing? Well, I have my stabilisation project to
switch to CRUX and obsessively document my setup, so I can replicate it
without having to re-work stuff, and so that I don’t have to fix things
every time I (too infrequently) type
sudo clyde -Syyuu
--aur. Over time, I will smooth out kinks in how things work that
currently require work-arounds; for example, whenever I forward an
e-mail I have to cut the message, tab complete the addresses, then paste
it back, which is mildly frustrating when I forward e-mails at least
once a day. And there’s nothing to suggest that actual interesting
projects are going anywhere: I still intend to learn LISP over the
summer, write interesting stuff when it occurs to me—this is all
I keep thinking of things to write and it will distress me when I find
later how many I have missed. Some more. What’s wonderful about how this
has come about is that it’s happened so naturally, as I say, and so how
I noticed it was when I started dropping mailing lists, RSS feeds and
the like and also when my automatic backup script was doing all my
backups, not requiring me to manually check in changes to config files
every single day, because they’re sorted. My interest in common fantasy
seems to be falling away too. I watch some Minecraft videos on YouTube,
and am so so aware that this is just out of a habit and a desire to
procrastinate, no longer with the interest I used to have. Have I wasted
time over the years playing games etc. and reading so much cheap
fantasy in secondary school? Where’s my awe at friends much more deeply
invested in such things than me (that is, an awe at their ‘geekhood’ or
something)? This is overblown, because I’m excited tonight—I do not
pretend that these things have suddenly lost all value for me at all,
nor would I want them too. But they’ve been downgraded somehow. And this
is most emphatically not “I’m too cool for DnD”. I’m too cool not to
A few thoughts about Org-mode have come from discussions with my philosophy tutor and in my final session with the university psychotherapist, which perhaps I shall write properly on soon but there’s stuff weaved into this post. My general idea to trust everything to Org-mode and to log everything into it in order to make it real went too far, for different reasons from each of them: tutor thinks that while habits are very important, lists to track them aren’t; therapist pointed out that my memory will only degrade (further) if I don’t use it. I think that my tutor is wrong to think that there is anything wrong with lists when they are used as a temporary help in establishing good habits, but I fully intend to jettison them when I get to that point. As to my memory, I want to slowly whittle Org down to morning and evenings (aside from, of course, extracting information). The idea is that I look at what I need to do and what I have planned to do each day, commit it to memory, then go and do it. In the evening I can reconcile what I’ve done into the system and plan for the next day. This is stuff I do already aside from really trying to commit to memory. I have a place for everything, and it’s all there for me, and that’s great, but one can go too far at this.
One more unexpected thing worth noting is that I’ve spent a lot of time
recently clearing out my
TODO list of things I’ve meant to do for ages
and haven’t done, another thing I would put off my improving on my
workflow. I’m doing! Look at me! And I’m doing better thanks to the
effort I’ve put in. Most importantly I can be confident that with a few
simple habits in the mornings and the evenings my life will remain
super-organised with minimal actual effort.
So, what’s replaced this stuff? Getting back into actually thinking again. Therapist suggests, and my discussions with friends at various points lead me to the same thing, that a loss of confidence is the absolute root of this. I’ve got to figure out how to get confidence from stable sources not the temporary ones I’ve relied upon, and that’s very difficult. I suspect that the flaws I have that make me unpleasant to be around at times stem from this stuff as well—when I have a little more figured out, perhaps I’ll write about it. This lack of thinking is what has me adding things to lists and not actually reading them or watching them, a kind of super-procrastination. The only way to get my confidence back in philosophy is to do and read philosophy, and lots of it, and to stop worrying about my own ability being hampered and being behind fellow students. I’m not massively behind at all, just a bit, and this is exacerbated by lack of confidence. I sometimes think: everyone else is getting internships at law firms (lawyers) and city firms (mathematicians) and here I am not worrying about my future and expecting it to be handed to me, well, the thing I should be doing is my subject and so much of it because that is what matters to me. Part of my acute issues with work are to do with this abdication of the responsibility to actually think; I reckon it stops me reading properly and limits my essays, and makes me put things off. I’m not at my potential, but I can be, though it will take time and many more frustrating library-hours before I’m there. My liking and respect for analytic philosophy steadily rises as I actually get into it. I can do it. I’ll be no Bernard Williams, but hey, that’s not really a problem.
People keep telling me I look well this term; this is weird. Apparently I have gained some weight and am not super-thin anymore, too. I now have a almost-ideal-and-will-be-ideal-after-summer-projects-and-fixes computing setup that allows me to get a huge amount done, but I know more about when to stop. I am slowly directing and focusing my passion for philosophy into something energetic, lively and joyful once more. I have started running. I am understanding more and more how distraction works, how focus works and what parts of the modern world one is best to withdraw from in order to protect the latter. There are days when the frustration of the library gets me down, when my tendency to worry shackles me, and when these two combined mean I just don’t do the work I should. But in general things are, I guess, looking up. I am not going to apologise for getting this excited “about a few computer programs”, but I am going to add that they are just computer programs, and a lot of what is going on here is an increasing understanding and awareness of what matters to me and how that relates to my day-to-day temperament. The excitement I feel now is quite different to that I have expressed in posts when I first figured out Org-mode, Gnus and friends. Feeling like you’re on a journey to figure stuff out about something as mundane as time management looks very silly from the outside; I appreciate that, but press that I’m still feeling like I’m on an intellectual journey, which is important.
I have massive intellectual and probably emotional issues that I am working on. In the mean time I worked on other things, and they helped a lot more than I expected, when I cynically thought that I was only hiding the issue. And they made it seem a lot more plausible that I’ll sort out the bigger stuff.
Went to a talk on Tuesday by Thomas Pogge on how the World Bank and related governments track poverty, and how they are really being rather dishonest about the goals they are meeting, because they keep shifting them. Basically the Maths says that we’re on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal on poverty, in fact we’re ahead of schedule, but all this means it that the proportion of the world on less than $1.25 is going to halve. And wait—this is a figure that takes into account borders, so what it actually means is that we’re going to halve the number of people who, if they were living in the US, had less than $1.25 to live off. I don’t like in the US but that doesn’t seem like much of an achievement yet they’ll be celebrations.
The tricks pulled to make the target easier add up to reducing the required yearly drop from 3.58% per year in the early nineties, so just a 1.25% drop today. I won’t go into the details, but it was staggering just how much was going on. The result of doing what we’re doing now rather than the original goals means that the number dying from poverty per year after 2015 will be 6m higher. This is costing 6m lives per year extra.
Here’s another unpleasant fact: the number of people at the very bottom who are ‘chronically undernourished’ is actually going up (and not just with the population of the world), and topped 1bn for the first time in human history a few years ago. There’s something badly wrong with our ways of measuring poverty if this happens while we celebrate meeting a Millennium Development Goal.
The response is that we don’t want problems and targets so large that governments and their people will just give up. But, the entire problem of poverty is a deficit of cash equal to 0.17% of world income. If we raise this “dollar a day” figure to $2.50, and raise everyone above this level, it costs 1.13% of the world’s income (which is two thirds of the US military budget). The major countries involved in WWII spend 50% of their income on the war effort.
Towards the end he switched back to his moral philosopher’s hat and talked about how this goes on. It’s interesting that politicians are allowed to say “we’ll halve poverty” and be really excited about that, but consider: would it have been okay to say “we’ll halve the number of people in concentration camps”? Pogge’s conclusion was that the reason for all this is a conspiracy between the governments and the people of the western world. They give us stats, we say hooray and stop thinking about it, and nothing improves, because we just sit here and say “it’s the politicians fault and we can’t change that”.
These slides seem to be very similar to the ones he used.
<JamesR_> your awesome [post] about emacs <seanw> You thought it was awesome? <JamesR_> I use emacs as a shorthand for "shit got together"
Not sure if this is the proof I am familiar with, but the Viewing Points proof is my fave. part of first year Pure Maths.
I am considering something rather drastic and I want to check that I’m not missing some major disadvantage.
- Download all my tweets, all my @-replies and DMs.
- Download a list of all followers and who I followed.
- Nuke my timeline.
- Unfollow everyone.
- Subscribe to the Twitter feeds of those few friends who only post to Twitter and so I can’t keep up with otherwise, via RSS.
- Leave Twitter account existent to preserve “I was there in 2006.”
- Basically continue exactly as I am now but without endorsing a stupid way to communicate and still sending the occasional tweet.
- Do the same with identi.ca.
- Some users have protected timelines. I shall have to keep following them via Twitter and read that with twitter2rss as I do now I guess.
- This is irreversible. All that history! But I’m not losing the actual data, so…
- Some friends use @-replies for quick communication for real-life-based organising stuff. However there is always SMS. In terms of the incoming messages—I guess I’ll have to stay on twitter2rss for now.
This is really well put together.
The first thing I do in the morning is turn on the computer and the last thing I do before bed is back up my files and turn it off. I suspect that this is the case for most people of my generation, because there’s Facebook and e-mail to check, though fellow students around here often take e-mail hiatuses because we get so much and fall behind by a day or whatever, which I work hard to avoid. This general approach is something that I’ve been moving away from in several respects but I haven’t really consolidated it before into the thought that it’s a bad thing to be always returning to the computer. The reason for this is that a computer is a great tool but letting it outside the boundaries of being a tool makes it use up a lot more time than you ever expect it to, and it introduces an unhealthy dependence, which for so many involves a loss of social skills (so I am told—supposedly Facebook does that to people. I am yet to be convinced directly of this), and worse, a lowered attention span and ability to concentrate.
Let me list some of the things that I think I’ve done in this general direction. Firstly, I’ve stopped using things in the web browser, so that I only have reason to open it when I want to look at a specific page or search up information on a specific topic—it’s not a place of distraction. Instead all the things I want to read online flow in via RSS (I’ll explain this a little more later), and I can read them sequentially and purposefully. Secondly of course I haven’t been using Facebook for a long time but this is old news, and I’ve only been reading and not posting to Twitter, again via RSS, for quite a while too.
However my life is still centred around the computer in a way that I don’t think it should be. Suppose I’ve been the library with my laptop to do some work; this has been the computer as a tool. On arriving back the very first thing I’ll do is plug back into my monitor and keyboard so that I can check feeds, Twitter and e-mail, before I actually switch to the next thing that I need to do, be that laundry, a piece of work, organising some paper or actually sending an e-mail. In the evening, I won’t relax with a TV show, something interesting to read or whatever but instead I’ll let my time be frittered away by things I don’t really care about online because it’s easier to let time disappear like that. I know that I am actually a lot better than most people at this. I have friends who spend their entire evenings doing this sort of thing, whereas for me it doesn’t tend to start until about nine or something.
I do not wish to suggest that the fact that I run my life electronically and the fact I do my degree electronically (not the Maths half) are any kind of problem, nor is it an issue that most of my reading and information concerning the wider world comes in electronically. And it’s one of the best things ever that I have access to vast swathes of information via the web. But the drifting—that’s the word, and I wish it’d come back to me earlier in writing this piece—that you get with a computer loses time and destroys your ability to concentrate properly, and it demeans the computer as a powerful tool. We can see this problem by comparing the way I read the news and the various blogs I am subscribed to compared to reading the paper: just look at the possibility for distraction. If I’ve got a newspaper or magazine and no computer, I’ll just read, and I won’t be reading distractedly but I’ll be thinking (fairly) hard about what I’m reading, too. But on a computer I’ll be reading and instead of thinking things I’ll be banging them into a search engine, opening twenty tabs and then ending up skimming them all, not really getting much of value from the experience but passing the time so that’s okay then thank you brain. And instead of sitting down to do this, it’ll intrude all over my day. Mildly challenging thing? I’ll just check my feeds first, it’s right there. This is bad. I’m not sure it’s straight-up procrastination, just a weird kind of habit.
This has been a lot of words to describe a phenomenon that most people are familiar with and I am disappointed that I didn’t manage to put it more succinctly than I have. Computers being central to our lives mean that we use them indiscriminately to the great detriment of our ability to do interesting things in a thoughtful manner, and that’s bad.
I’m in a good position because of my RSS setup. I have a piece of software called Gnus, which may be controlled by the space bar. I open it up, hit space and my first e-mail opens. After I’ve read it and replied if necessary space will take me to the next message (if the message is too long to fit on the screen, space scrolls until the end from where it moves on to the next message). At the end of the last e-mail, space takes me onto the next ‘group’, which is Twitter, and then at the end of that I get taken onto blogs, and then at some point there are the feeds off the Guardian website. Outside of this, it’s hard to be distracted because I have no reason to go onto the Twitter website or whatever. All I need to do now, then, is to limit my usage of Gnus. By keeping it closed all day, and only opening it up after lunch and in the early evening, I can sit down to read interesting things, catch up with friends who are far away and who tweet (if I wasn’t against some of Facebook’s terrible policies I could do this with a service that provides a digest of your Facebook timeline, or whatever it is they call it), rattle through the deluge of e-mails, and then the rest of the day I am free to meet with friends and actually talk to them, do my degree, and pursue my various other projects. One of these projects is to find interesting things on the Internet; that’s fine, but this is definitely different to the drifting, filling up slots all over the place with messing about.
So this is my plan: to work hard on restricting my intake of Internet to a couple of set times in the day, so that I can enjoy it properly and not merely have it as a distraction which it doesn’t deserve to be. I’m still figuring out if there’s a problem with getting up to the computer and turning it off last thing at night, and this is probably indicative of something else, so I’ll leave it aside for now.
The response is that the immediacy of the Internet is lost with this schema. I won’t know about the news until I read it, and Twitter won’t be a way of seeing what’s hitting the (first) world right now, and I’ll always be behind—some would say that I’m defeating the whole purpose of Twitter. I do not think that this is actually a problem at all. Twenty-four hour news and keeping track of a friend’s activities as the day progresses are not valuable; knowing about what’s going on in the world at the moment and reading analysis of it, and having a general idea of what’s going on your friend’s lives, are. It is important to recognise that neither of these things affect our own lives directly in a day-to-day sense, and more important still to realise that this doesn’t diminish the value of knowing about them in good time, but not now, the point being that the cost—one’s concentration—is too high. I have serious issues with focusing at the moment; hopefully I can help myself by choosing to take more time over things that matter, rather than infusing them into things that matter just as much (rest of my life) that has the effect of degrading the importance of both.
Interesting post; I should have thought it out more and aimed a little more carefully but I’ve said some stuff I wanted to say and have set up where I am to go with it so that’ll do for now.
 To give you an idea of the quantities, I get maybe 30 e-mails per day into my main inbox, about 20 more into a couple of secondary inboxes, maybe 10 posts to mailing lists, maybe 30 blog posts, and perhaps a hundred tweets. There are perhaps 10 out of all this that I don’t actually read, and everything else requires my full attention. Outside of term time the total probably drops by more than 50%.
This is the point, basically. Anything Emacs can’t quite get right right now it will do soon enough, and what it can already do outweighs any temporary advantages. Also some nice Org-mode comments.
Let’s start off with my assumptions: no-one is good at revision; periods of life in which one is revising should not be expected to be good periods; periods of life in which one is revising don’t have to be horrendous periods. The last point is the most important, while the first two are just things to tell oneself. For me, it’s about not falling behind myself so that there’s no reason to worry, and about focusing on sticking to a schedule rather than focusing on actually achieving a particular academic goal, because that’s far less achievable.
Tomorrow revision starts, after a class in the morning. My revision plan needs to meet the following criteria: (i) make the most of 8am–11am when I get significantly more done (ii) finish at 6:30 so I can just go to Hall (iii) avoid the 12pm–4pm slot as much as possible as that is when I am least productive (iv) be seven hours a day. To do this my plan is: get up at 7am as usual (6:30 if running, again as usual), 8am–12pm in the Balliol library doing the harder parts of revision, 3:30pm–6:30pm in the All Souls library doing the easier parts of revision. A day off somewhere; probably Sunday.
I’m not entirely happy with this. First of all, breaks aren’t worked in—four hours is a long time in the library. My current thought is to take 15 minutes out at 10 with a hot drink in the JCR or something, and it’s less of an issue for the three hour stint in the afternoon. But I don’t know if this will be enough. Secondly three and half hours is a very long lunch break, and while I do work best outside of those hours, if I just drift for that block of time then it’ll be much harder to get going again when I head to All Souls. I plan to spend about ninety minutes of it reading, so that’s e-mail, blogs and the news, which is longer than usual but I can afford to read more. Lunch itself is half an hour tops, usually less. Then for at least a fortnight I will have boringish tasks to tick off from my TODO list, and then after that I can start clearing out my massive list of “interesting links”. But this may need to be changed up.
The evening is then free and I intend to do more social stuff than I would during normal term, even if that’s just visiting the bar a lot, because revision gives you a very steady schedule so you don’t have to work at weird hours to meet weird deadlines, but it’s frustrating and can be lonely. I’ve also got loads of stuff to watch and read for fun. The hope is that I can do my Oxford commitments in the lunch slot rather than in the evening, leaving it free.
Now some talk about sleep. This is an important thing. At the moment while if I get to bed really late I move my alarm forward accordingly, I generally still get up at 7 whatever, but it’s harder to do when I haven’t had eight hours of sleep. And this is the norm, because I normally get seven, and it’s usually my fault. The way I can tell is that instead of jumping out of bed and into the shower or into my running shoes, I take a good five to ten minutes to get my legs to work properly or whatever, which is annoying. So I think I should work on going to bed in good time, that is, by 11pm. The problem with this is that it doesn’t fit with others. For example tonight I am running “welfare tea” from ten until midnight, where tea and biscuits are provided in the JCR for people still in the library. Next week when the main humanities exams start (Philosophy, History), it’ll be at eleven til one. But at these times I want to be getting ready for bed and I’m tired; this doesn’t work because everyone else around here is going to bed at three as standard, even when revising. The revision habits of others baffle me, because they know it’s coming; why don’t they plan to be healthier to make themselves happier with it all? I was eating Hall food on the grass the other day and this PPEist girl was explaining ever so matter-of-factly how she was currently on about three cups of coffee and a pro-plus pill per day and how she wanted to change her caffeine intake as she went up to exams—I honestly can’t remember if she was saying she wanted to increase or decrease her intake. A fellow Math/Phil says that she is immune to pro-plus pills, to the extent that during her exams last year she had to take six a day in order to get an effect.
So here are my plans. I’ll try them for this first week of revision and see if they need revising (ha). If anyone fancies commenting with some “epic revision chat” they are most welcome.
Nice post explaining sorting; as usual, a very well-designed Emacs feature.
Computing Laboratory becomes Department of Computer Science
From the 1 June 2011, the Oxford University Computing Laboratory will be changing its name to the Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford.
Bill Roscoe, Head of the Department explained “This name change is simply to help the world at large understand our role as the University’s department of computer science. I am excited that it gives us the opportunity to reach out more easily and tell everyone what we are doing in both teaching and research. When the Computing Laboratory was founded in 1957 it literally was somewhere where the University’s scientists came to try things out on this new sort of machine. However we have long since become a large academic department doing world-leading research in many areas related to computing.”
Please note the departmental website will change to www.cs.ox.ac.uk, and email addresses will take the format email@example.com rather than firstname.lastname@example.org as currently.
This is really sad The ComLab is the coolest place ever, and it will be far less cool when its name changes. You go inside and there are levels of security (as a petty philosophy student I don’t have much access), and it’s all hidden behind a facade of buildings: one minute you are standing in a large atrium with glass walkways, and then you go through a door and you’re standing next to an old terraced house in a street; it’s really cool how they’ve connected all these old buildings together into a warren. Also there are 0.00001% girls.
We’re all in this together?