Category Archives: Uncategorized

Get your resolution on

New Year's Resolutions are easy to pick on. And I do like to pick on things. And I don't participate in the fad myself—not overtly, at least. But I'll leave people and their resolutions alone. What's wrong with believing, even if just for the first two weeks of the year, that you can improve something about yourself. Right? Go for it. Get your resolution on.

I don't know what the smug set's issues with resolutions are, but I'll tell you the two main reasons I don't have my own resolutions.

First, I think it front-loads too much of the enthusiasm. I picture a cartoon version of a resolution like "I'm going to run a marathon" starting with a bang, a few consecutive days of running, followed by a few days of patchy running, followed by guilt, followed by forgetting the resolution. Sustaining that initial bang is hard—better instead to plan for the long road ahead, where "I'm going to run a marathon" is followed by figuring out realistically how much of a week and when you can dedicate to running, and then intentionally starting a little low and ramping up into it once you've laid in the habit. Scott Adams talks about systems instead of goals, but I think it takes both: systems in support of goals, or goals as a reason for developing systems.

The second problem I have with resolutions is that they are just begging to be another buffet problem. Why fix just one thing when you can fix several things at once while you're at it? Again: it starts heavy, and falls off. Again: better to start intentionally low (or few) and ramp up into it.

Instead of resolutions at the beginning, I keep a running set of curricula that I'm working on. The hardest part is keeping the set small. In my case I feel like I have to resolve to do less, not more or better. I tune the curricula every month, but the new year is a great time for throwing things out. And in addition to the curricula I keep some smaller habits in Way of Life.

So, at the outset of 2019, it looks like this:

Curricula:

  1. Chinese language: this is the one that will benefit the most from reducing in other areas. And it will probably benefit from focus and reduction itself. I'm still working on adjusting the contents of this one. Six years of studying and I still don't know how to speak the language well.
  2. Physical: Illinois Marathon in April
  3. Home: mostly learning to cook better, but also buying a house this year
  4. Communication: publish every day (hello)
  5. Projects: smaller things--some with other people (INCOSE), some with just myself (finish processing a half decade of photos)

The smaller daily habits in Way of Life have been constant for a while:

  1. Planks
  2. 10 ideas
  3. House search
  4. Writing
  5. Inbox zero
  6. Journal
  7. Plan tomorrow

2018 in review

Tick tock tick tock tick tock...


In This House We Have Moët & Chandon, so let's not think too hard about 2018—and definitely let's not talk about 2019—let's make some lists. If you'd like me to pick a list on a different topic, make your suggestion in the comments.

Best writing

My first job after college was a great setup. Of course ten years ago I gave that great setup the raspberry and moved to Texas for a girl. Moral of the story: don't break your coffee cup.

  • Break It Yourself (2018-03-28). And that interstitial period was strange. I can't fully account for it. I've thought before about examining it, considering it from different angles to see if there's any sense to be made, giving it the written treatment. It's like a pond that reflects the sky, giving no intimation of the world beneath until I dive into it. But I'd rather not. Swimming in fresh water gives me the creeps anyway. So I'll just toss it out here and leave it.

Runners up:


Best pictures

San José del Cabo bitter melon carousel pumpkin shuffleboard thinker on a rock lake louise johnson street bridge

Best reading (articles)

This article is literally about glitter. There is no subterfuge. Read it. It is hilarious and neurotic in a DFW kind of way.

  • Caity Weaver, What Is Glitter?, The New York Times (2018-12-21). So: what is glitter? A manipulation of humans’ inherent desire for fresh water. An intangible light effect made physical. Mostly plastic, and often from New Jersey. Disposable by design but, it turns out, not literally disposable. A way to make long winter nights slightly brighter, despite the offshore presence of Germans. An object in which the inside of a potato chip bag meets the aurora borealis.

Runners up:


Best listening

Listening to this interview with Tim O'Reilly is what convinced me to go read his latest book, WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us.

Runners up:


Books

The whole list on Goodreads: read-in-2018

Favorite: Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo (1955)

Thirty-eight

All rise.

The funny thing about having a late December birthday is that it can conveniently hide behind other, larger events like Christmas and New Years Day. I guess it might be in the mix there with Hanukkah as well, but that wasn't on the menu where I grew up. December birthdays are the bass guitarist of birthdays; they're there, they're probably contributing somehow to the larger ensemble with the other birthdays, but they're hidden incredibly in plain sight. When you're young, this is a problem because the birthday gift + Christmas gift situation does not work out in your favor; when you're old, it's the same math, but the interpretation of it is more favorable.

I'm not going to do any proper year-in-review kind of post here. I have eleven days still to procrastinate on that front.

So why are we here?

...

There's no reason. I felt the urge, sometime this year, to begin using this space on my own website to write again. And I put some effort into taking the things I had written elsewhere, at least the ones I could remember how to find, and bring them back home. So kirkkittell.com is a reasonable avatar for Kirk Kittell, for good or ill.

Anyway. This is my party. And there is no agenda, no plan. We'll just place this here brick on this here accelerator and let the universe sort itself out.

When I think of birthdays, and how to write about them, I think of Kurt Vonnegut. ("Kurt is up in heaven now.") I think of Breakfast of Champions. This is, if you haven't read any Vonnegut, not the place to start reading. This is my second—no, third—favorite Vonnegut book, after Cat's Cradle and Mother Night. I probably don't like Mother Night better than Breakfast of Champions, but I think it might be his best or most important book, so it belongs in a prominent place.

Listen. Just leaving out the middle of the book, I could point at the beginning and the end and feel confident in myself that I've selected a Good Book. As it's birthday time, let's steal a few lines from the intro:

This book is my fiftieth birthday present to myself. I feel as though I am crossing the spine of a roof—having ascended one slope.

[...]

I think I am trying to clear my head of all the junk in there—the assholes, the flags, the underpants. Yes—there is a picture in this book of underpants. I’m throwing out characters from my other books, too. I’m not going to put on any more puppet shows.

I think I am trying to make my head as empty as it was when I was born onto this damaged planet fifty years ago.

I suspect that this is something most white Americans, and nonwhite Americans who imitate white Americans, should do. The things other people have put into my head, at any rate, do not fit together nicely, are often useless and ugly, are out of proportion with one another, are out of proportion with life as it really is outside my head.

That passage looks so pathetic out of context. But I've read this book several times, and the introduction—as is much of the book, especially the end—the product of someone who has dragged a rake along the soft parts of his life and gathered the debris into a pile to be carted away. I am sure that when I read this book 15 or 18 years ago that it seemed like a farce, but the older I get, the more I can recognize the catharsis of that unblinking assessment of one's own baggage.

But that all seems a bit maudlin. And that doesn't match with how I'm feeling anyway. But I can appreciate the feeling—of wanting to clear the junk from one's head, of wanting to find a bit of harmony inside and outside of my skull.

There's another thing though. There's this recording of Kurt Vonnegut reading a prototype version of Breakfast of Champions at the 92nd St Y in 1970 (below). It was unsettling to hear the first time. There's something about that Indianapolis accent that is similar to my dad's accent over in eastern Illinois, which isn't that far away from Indianapolis anyway, just a few miles off the Indiana-Illinois state line.

So: thirty-eight. It's not round, it's not square, it's not prime. Onward.

Personal website disagrees with replacing Facebook with personal websites

I'm writing from my personal website to disagree with the following: Jason Koebler, We Should Replace Facebook With Personal Websites, Motherboard (2018-12-19).

See also: What were people expecting out of Facebook? (2018-03-23)

First of all: hello, this is my personal website. There's really no need to convince me that it's a good thing to have. I am On Board, and I have been since 1997. I could come up with 10 reasons why I think it's a good idea without even trying very hard. (I am my own top search result, I get to understand albeit in a very basic way how things work on the internet, I get to sometimes talk to new people, etc.) I am the choir you're preaching to.

But that article is written from the inside—from the people who know and care about self-publishing on the web to the same kind of people. "We posted every day—photos from trips, friend and relationship drama, complaints about teachers, inside jokes. We were conditioned to post because only the weird kids did not post." Let's be clear: the weird kids posted. We posted.

On a visceral level I understand the hashtag delete Facebook outcry. I think history will show that it's a reasonable position to take. We vomited bits of ourselves online to each other, without thinking too hard about obvious issues like who would be able to see it—the "who" being not just consumers of Facebook but Facebook itself and the customers of Facebook data—and we had a good time doing it. And it is obvious. If you missed it, you missed something obvious. If you're posting something somewhere, that something is sitting in a database, waiting to be accessed—that's what data like that is for. And Facebook—whatever that means as a concept, Facebook, the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg or a massive company filled with employees or a collection of users or an evil empire, choose your own epithet—is certainly an asshole for abusing your trust; see Gabriel J.X. Dance, As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants, The New York Times (2018-12-18) for the latest episode of Masterjerk Theater.

Here's DHH beating a dead horse that he carries around with him in his backpack:

He's right. And I believe he's right. Yet I don't want to quit.

Reading the replies to that Twitter post, and reading the article at the top here, helps me understand the reason why. For those of us who know how to create things on the internet, whether we do it well or poorly, it is an easy decision to make. For the rest, it's not an option. You're probably not going to convince your parents to make their own website. Secretly this is a big reason this issue of running back to our personal websites rubs me the wrong way. One year for Christmas I did give them their own personal websites, nice URLs and all, and it didn't stick. It's not something they cared about. That's a reasonable response. Look around you and there are 1000 things that work, but they're things you don't care about how they work, or the conditions that brought them to their working state. Drywall. Shelf. Pen. Cat litter. Shirt. Plate. Etc. We rely on these things being produced without our understanding of how it happened.

It's an uncomfortable feeling standing up for Facebook. They don't deserve it. Let's end this.

There is a kind of opposition to Facebook that elicits its alternative solutions as something like: the people that I really care about, I can give them a call, or an email, or a handshake. Same here. Those are my Strong Contacts—people who I'm close to, people I know, people I trust. I really don't need Facebook for them. But the larger class of people I'm connected to on Facebook are Weak Contacts—people I met in college or high school but who weren't in my inner circle, people I met while traveling, friends of friends, etc. Life is richer for having given them a virtual high five, even if just once. Right? I'm not looking to know them or hang out with them, but there is something Good about having the connection, and occasionally manifesting it.

Something that pisses me off now is that Facebook, through its amazing execution, sucked the air out of the competition, and became a utility. All competition got beat, badly (unless you're measuring the competition on purely moral or ethical terms). We came there and—as the original article mentioned—abandoned our own half-assed web platforms to do so. It was the right thing to do at the time. Facebook the platform was amazing. It was easy. Everyone was there—it's not the sum of the individuals, it's the network effect that makes it magical. And when those of us who can inevitably do go off on our own, we will lose that. We might find—even create—something better, but probably not. Probably we all just shared a golden moment before returning back to where we were, but in different directions, never to coincide again.


Postscript

I can't believe I didn't figure this out until now, but it just came to mind... the feeling that has been residing in my head while writing this is the crest of Hunter S. Thompson's own wave, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (notes):

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning...

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Serve the purpose, not the anchor

From YANSS 143 – How to Talk to People About Things, You Are Not So Smart (2018-12-17) (notes):

[18:12] Even though they were like, "Here, we have a solution to your problem", you're like, no, I'm already latched onto this other position. Even though that position doesn't fix my problem, but you get fixated on it, right? And I think we do that all the time. So one thing that happens there is I got fixated on a position and we lost track of our underlying interests. The other thing that we did was that we made the situation antagonistic in a way that was really costly because—and this something people do all the time too—you take a situation and you make it more and more antagonistic and lose track of the fact that that's not going to serve your purpose well.

Let's put the sidenote as the frontnote here: Many of the things that I intentionally listen to or read are targeted at fixing things in my sphere of influence—typically right at me, the very origin of that sphere.

That said, when I heard that passage above while driving down Lindbergh Boulevard, it was like a giant neon sign with the words HERE IS SOMETHING OBVIOUS YOU SHOULD KNOW BUT DON'T lit up in front of me. Both halves of that passage describe things that I do when I run into conflict situations: (1) abandon the Ultimate Purpose for the Thing I Latched Onto; and (2) get competitive to Win The Argument, thereby fouling the environment for actually getting What I Want.

The first one is interesting. It's called anchoring and to some degree, it's going to catch you even if you know it's there trying to catch you. Once that anchor point is set in your head (this house is worth $200,000; I'll finish this project on Thursday; etc.) it becomes the point against which you measure the rest of the information about that thing. Even if the new information proves your anchoring point wrong, your brain doesn't want to adjust.

The first one is annoying, but the second one is embarrassing: have you ever got caught up in a short term conflict—I am going to win this argument, I am going to prove I'm right, etc.—just to find the forest around you on fire, with no path to escape? Buddy, I live in that forest, and all my stuff smells like smoke. It's so obvious to see, now, when the amygdala doesn't feel provoked, but when it is... game on. Some of my role models at work are the ones that know which skirmishes to avoid blowing up into a full-out battle as a strategy to win the larger struggle. That's also one of the feelings I remember from reading Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom. So I suppose the point is not just avoiding unnecessary antagonism, but also having a larger purpose on the horizon to reach, to help from reacting to the flareups that occur on the way there.


Postscript

The other person in this podcast episode is Misha Glouberman. He runs a regular lecture in Toronto called Trampoline Hall. The first part of the podcast is (I think) the stock introduction to every lecture, in which the purpose of everything about the lecture—why you're there, how to learn, what a question is and isn't, etc.—is explained. Not going to transcribe it now, but I'm definitely going to steal it later and modify it for use on everything. It's a little pedantic, but to be honest, I think we'd all be a bit better off if we took more time to think and explain the what and why of what we're about to do, even if it's only to remind ourselves.

Venture Cafe, 2

Venture Cafe, 1 (2018-10-19)

I've been helping out at Venture Cafe for about two months now. It's pretty easy work: help people check in and get registered, and then help serve drinks at the bar. In two months I've helped maybe six or seven times. I'ts nnot all that much—and it's easy to compare "much" because the printed name tags have your name and the number of times you've attended—but today I noticed something different. Once you go often enough, you recognize the other people there—the staff, the volunteers, the regular attendees. Today, though, I noticed that other people recognized me—the staff, the volunteers, the regular attendees.

I know it's obvious—it takes time. You see people, they see you, the connections get stronger, the memories set in a little deeper. Obviously, obviously. But as time drifts on by, I feel the pull simultaneously towards patience and impatiences with regards to connections. On the one hand, there's the running-out-of-time feeling that biases behavior towards impatience. If I don't get this done now I'll never have time to get it done. (That's a sentence that felt so much more urgent in my head, but now that I've typed it, I can't help but think: so what? Don't have enough time to get it done? Maybe that's the best news there is—let it go.) On the other hand, there's the I've-seen-this-movie-before feeling that biases behavior towards moving deliberately, that there is an other side of what you're going through—if you believe in it.

Outside of home, it feels good to be connected to the area. In DC, it was the people I knew; in Massachusetts, it was that plus 826 Boston; in LA, it was the people at work. Some things had the force of a movement and some were late night mistakes and some were pickup basketball, but they all felt like foundations—like things you could build something on. It's good to feel that again.


Postscript

I'm a July cornfield far as you can see. I'm a July cornfield far as you can see. And if you real careful, you can walk on top of me. (Ah, you got to believe though. Now first you get your one foot up there, and then you gotta get your other foot up there. Easy now...oops, you didn't believe.)

—Greg Brown, "Out in the Country", The Iowa Waltz (1981)

Facing outwards, on a self-imposed schedule

Taking a cue from The First 90 Days (notes), I set up some regular 15-minute meetings with people at work—every other week with my manager, which I think handles the more business-like aspects of work, and then also staggered bi-weekly meetings with the two technical experts I take directions from, which handles the functional aspects of work. I guess that's not groundbreaking—my wife has been doing that at work for over a year now so I guess I... wasn't listening?—but I had never done that before. I just did the usual work-required performance management cycle type things: set up some arbitrary goals at the beginning of the year, get judged specifically against them at the end. (Go through an annual performance reviews or sit Fear Factor style in a bathtub full of snakes... tough call.)

I'm just under three weeks into a stint on a new team, so I've only had two of these kinds of meetings and therefore really can't say whether it works performance-wise or not, but I can say that just having to approach one of these meetings makes a world of difference. Now I have to prepare myself to ask or answer three to five questions about what's going on, what's on deck, what I ought to be doing or learning, etc., every week. So, it's just like signing up for a race: I might dabble with running regularly just to Stay In Shape™, but if there's a discretely defined race in the future, then I'm gearing up for performance. Then, even if it's still fun to do how I want to do it, it's still serious and the upcoming ends are supported by the everyday means.

It also gets at another thing that I really don't like: measuring what I'm working on and then talking about it. Without forcing myself to surface periodically and explain what I'm doing, I might have a tendency to quietly work on things, pulling people in when I need them but otherwise not bothering them (they're busy also), which has the outward appearance of not looking like much is going on even if the end result is presented as it ought to be. Setting up a regular meeting obliterates that wall.

And, to be honest, it is interesting to approach a new gig after faceplanting on the previous one—and I don't mean faceplanting like there was a hidden dip that I didn't see and stepped into but more like that one time I tried to jump a bike off of the loading dock of the ElectriCOIL Lab and just flew ass-over-teakettle into the asphalt below. We've all had that experience before, right? (No, not the specific one, but you know what I mean.) Professionally, I've never taken a horrible experience—of my own making or not—and projected it on a wall and made a conscious plan to do Better. I was going to say "never" more globally, but I remember two cases in other contexts where I did this: (1) after freshman year in college, when my BAL was probably higher than my GPA for much of the year, I overhauled the way I took notes and studied for class, and added a full grade level sophomore year; and (2) after bombing at the 2011 Ozark Trail Endurance Run, I put together a linear and demented (mileage-wise) training plan to go sub-24 hours at Western States after I got in the lottery for that, and then I went 22:32 for a silver buckle. So it's possible, I just never thought about it like that. It's like the opposite of a gambling problem, where instead of forgetting the losses and remembering the wins, I tend to remember the losses and forget the wins.


Postscript

I had completely forgot that I took up WSER on their offer to pick my own race bib number when I registered. I picked #80—my birth year but also, more importantly, Jerry Rice's jersey number. That's just what I did for senior year in high school football, where I borrowed jersey #80 for senior pictures, and then just kept it for the season.

Email, the once and future king

I was talking in this direction to someone recently—so let's allow David Heinemeier Hansson to kick off this riff:

Inconvenient fact.

There are a few different levels on which this has, for me, proven to be true. I'll limit it to three: work, personal, and groups. (I think there must be a better word than "groups", but I can't think of it—I mean the organizations we involve ourselves in voluntarily in our spare time.) And, for me, personal and work don't matter so much because I'll do what is asked of me in either case, out of respect (and because I like to get paid). The destruction of group communication is a bit more annoying though.

For me, the avatar of this inevitable retreat to email as a format of choice is a good friend and good person who once told me not to email him anymore because he was moving to Facebook Messages (not yet Messenger, I think, but maybe I'm old and remember it wrong), and that was the future and email was dying. That was ten years or so ago. And the referent person here—still good on all accounts—has taken the inevitable Facebook break and so on. Take that times Twitter as a communication platform, any federated service, anything with blockchain in the description, and so on. The promises of the bulk of the new systems far outweighed the reality.

The platform is not the problem—or the solution. Facebook Messenger is useful, but it ceases to exist outside the Facebook castle walls. Same thing with [name your service]. But email? I have a file full of @uiuc.edu emails from Ye Olde College days, and any email account I've added to my desktop client also has a backup. I ought to add: none of these things are valuable in any abstract sense, but if I needed the information I could retrieve it, versus any other platform where the messages are hosted on the platform, and if I or the platform quit each other—poof—gone.

Anyway. None of that was what I was talking about with a colleague; rather, it was this: we all just went through a weird near-decade-long period where it was possible to run an organization on Facebook alone. It was almost easy. Maybe it's still like that, but it's not as easy now that Facebook, even though it's basically a public utility at this point, is sufficiently toxic that it's hard to get an entire group's membership inside the castle walls. So, in making itself indispensable and sucking the oxygen out of the surrounding environment, then making itself dispense-worthy—I can't make a sentence out of this, I just mean to say that it ruined communication with groups, and I haven't figured out how to repair it except to behave as though that period of temporary ease never existed.

Email, on the other hand, is still there.

And email is, essentially, same as it ever was.

And it will be—tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Why?

...

In the final analysis, maybe we just needed to send each other a damned message, and we didn't need a platform or a way of life or a cult or a solution or whatever. Facebook is only a platform, but a good email is a communication.

(I still have a Facebook account, and I use it daily, but I only use it to fart around.)


Small consolation to me was the homely wisdom of the philosopher, to wit: A woman is only a woman, but a good Ford is a car.
—Edward Abbey, "Disorder and Early Sorrow", The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West (1977)

permafrost, internet archive

There's a post that's been sitting here in draft form for months that I think may never see the light of day. I can't find the right words to finish it. In short, I found the files from my students.uiuc.edu website on a backup disk. They were gone—I must have deleted them to save space—but they survived. It was a lucky break to find them because they weren't captured on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Trust me. I spent hours looking for evidence of that site, and other sites I had created on the 90s internet. I don't understand what that period causes so much tension when I think about it; see also: AOL Instant Messenger Is Away. It's silly, but that piece bleeds.

I'm going to leave that all alone for now—if I finish it, I finish it. If not, well, so what?

Recently I read two disparate articles that made me think of this terminal draft piece:

Both articles struck a hidden nerve. Why? First, an urge I can't explain except to say that I have it and it's there: the urge to preserve information. It feels awful to lose it—whether it's Brazil's national museum burning down or reading about the destruction of all but a literal handful of Mesoamerican records by the Spanish or old, old books that we know about today only because they are referred to in other books... It feels like a personal thing lost when collective information like that is obliterated. Knowing something—really really knowing something—feels like a permanent state that can't be erased, and when it is erased, it's like cutting out a load-bearing column.

The permafrost article is about finding a cache of old, forgotten movies from 1903 to 1929 in an old, forgotten, filled-in gym swimming pool in Alaska. The Internet Archive article is sort of the opposite: the Internet Archive itself is a remembered cache of media—but if you have the lawyer money to make an inconvenient part of that cache disappear, you can do so.

There is something about media—movies, books, the internet— that seems permanent. If I can see something and you can see something and others can see something, then that's permanent, right? We can objectively say that a thing exists and has always existed and will always exist, right? I really think that is an obvious and natural position to take. But after searching for my own recent, once-publicly-available history, I know it's not right. A thing exists if it exists; but a thing that existed without currently existing... the problem is different.

I've seen dinosaur bones but not a dinosaur: I believe dinosaurs existed. I've never seen any people on the moon but I believe they were there. Thousands of movies were made in the 1900s but are now lost, and I believe they existed, but it really seems that something as compact and portable as a movie should have been preserved. But that's not the case, eh? Dig in: Paul Harris, Library of Congress: 75% of Silent Films Lost, Variety (2013-12-04).

Why does it matter that we existed? That we created something?

Stephen Crane (1899):

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

What does the universe know anyway? Most people consume. I consume. There's no need to record consumption. But creation? Record that. Protect that. Creating something is holy. Being human is more than who you are and what you have. It's the aggregation of the entire body of work.


See also: Paul Auster, Leviathan (1992)

Buffett as a solution to the buffet problem

Maybe there's another way to think about not getting caught up in the buffet problem. Here's an episode of Charlie Rose with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates that made me think of this—video and pertinent transcript below. So, for a single attribute—call it structuredness (sorry)—you could end up hitting the information buffet too hard both by being overstructured and understructured.

Overstructured is planning what information needs to be collected, and then sticking to it dogmatically even when it turns out to be unnecessary, or the wrong path to follow, etc. This is me when I read a book—you'd think there were Serious Consequences to leaving a book unfinished the way I plow ahead through books that I really don't want to finish. Let's leave this thread alone.

Understructured is the opposite—going in without a plan. Although it sounds sloppier, I think it breaks down again into two paths: sloppy and exploratory. Sloppy is just straightahead unthinking consumption. One more link, one more article, one more dinner roll—if you can reach it, put it in your face.

Exploratory is different. I mean "exploratory" in the same manner as "experimenting"—and "experimenting" in the scientific way of thinking about the problem and what needs to be evaluated to understand the problem, not "experimenting" as in just throwing something out there and seeing what happens. The latter is the sloppy path. The former has purpose. That's what I took from the interview below. I don't think that Warren Buffett leaves himself big blocks of unstructured time and blows it by stumbling through links and citations and whatever else is available at the information buffet. (I might be giving him too much credit... but what's the worst that could happen by just assuming that someone is a genius because they're rich?) But to have free time and a hypothesis or two to test, and an idea or two how to prove the hypothesis false, and a good method or two to collect the data and reduce it to information... that would be even more powerful than assuming you know enough to plan all steps of the path forward because—surprise—you don't, and you'll miss all sorts of useful side paths because the plan called for Straight Ahead.

[15:40, Bill Gates] I also remember Warren showing me his calendar. You know, I had every minute packed and I thought that was the only way you could do things. And the fact that he is so careful about—he has days.

[...]

[16:10, Charlie Rose] This is the week [sic] of April, of which there are only three entries for a week.

[...]

[16:20, Charlie Rose] So it taught you what, not to crowd yourself too much and give yourself time to read and think and...

[16:24, Bill Gates] Right. You control your time. And that sitting and thinking may be a much higher priority than a normal CEO, where's there all these demands and you feel like you need to go and see all these people. It's not a proxy of your seriousness that you fill every minute in your schedule.

[16:48, Warren Buffett] And people will want your time. I mean, it's the only thing you can't buy. I mean, I can buy anything I want, basically, but I can't buy time.