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Anyone's restaurant; or, reconfig

I was tossing out the trash into this week's newsletter—while, coincidentally, having Arlo Guthrie run around in my head—when I wondered why I was doing it. As you well know, this is a fatal blow to getting things done, having to think about the thing you're doing.

I've wanted to tweak the newsletter anyway, so why not now? First off, Sunday was always arbitrary—it was just the day I put the first one out, and it became The Day. I like the idea of Monday better, so let's try that.

The day to publish doesn't even matter. What to publish is the only question. It's always felt a little slapdash and I've wanted to imbue it with... purpose? discipline? thought? Something—something.

More broadly, it's this post-vaccine feeling of a desire for... purpose? renewal? change? Again, I'm not sure. Having made it to here, it seems only Right to consider this the second part or the next part of something. The kit that brought you here might not be the kit you need to make out to the next checkpoint. Stop. And think. There's no rush. And there's no time.

Mondays were always a better day for the newsletter anyway.

Restaurant 1, 2021

Before today the last time I ate at—in—a restaurant was February. 2020. Easing into the future one (infrequent) meal at a time, I guess.

There was no light from the clouds or applause or orchestra hit. It didn't feel tense or taut or frightening. We picked a place that was nice enough that it didn't have to cram people in at the maximum (or above) to make money. It was boring enough.

My wife said she missed the fresh food—takeout is a nice substitute, but a substitute. I missed the presence of people—although there weren't many of them. The background hum of people is a warm feeling, A full feeling. A filling feeling.

I wonder about the lost time. I wonder why we—a fuzzy we, we are all on the same ship together, we are a we whether we recognize it or not, whether we choose it or not—lost so much of it. I wonder if we could have done better.

I don't know where we lost the time, but I know how to get it back.


There is no way. It's gone for good. Be better next time. Preserve the futures.

Shot 2

Previous: Shot 1

I don't have much funny to say about the second Pfizer shot. The first one was easy—nothing at all but a bruised-feeling arm, and that went away the next day. This second shot that I got yesterday is clearly making itself known. No fever, but a headache and a head full of sand or concrete. Thinking is a good idea, but much easier in theory than in practice. Joints and muscles are stiff. It's not quite as bad as being sick—it's just a small pile of annoyances which are, when you count them up, much much much more benign than the pile of what you would get or cause without the vaccine.

So: we wait it out. But not for much longer.

Never enough anything

There is never enough of anything. This is in reference to the garden—have to limit the anything to something, else I'd have to consider everything.

Most of the seeds from Garden planning 2021, 3 have turned out OK. The leafy vegetables went crazy. Tomatoes and chilies started strong. Eggplants and cucumbers and a few others also started well. A few like fennel and black oil sunflowers didn't take at all—it happens. Some (corn, beans) haven't been started yet but will soon now that there is some space in the yard for them. All told, there must be two or three dozen varieties that are in or set to go in the garden.

They why is it that my brain is asking the question: is that enough?

Of course it's enough. It's not only enough, but too much. I still have some strawberry plants just sitting around bathing their roots in a plastic box until I can think of somewhere to put them. However I still keep a few bits of attention reserved when we eat or go to the grocery store to think if any of the relevant vegetables are things we can grow—in addition to what we already have. I still walk out of my way to see what seeds are available at the hardware store.

What is the nature of that question, Is this enough? It doesn't feel like fear of missing out. It doesn't feel like some sort of primeval need to horde against a possible time of want or starvation. It feels lighter—oh, I could do that, and I could do that, let's try that. But it's clearly unnecessary, and there seems to be no signal in my brain that lights up at the right time to say, "that's enough". There's never enough anything—even when there's too much. It takes practice to say, "that's enough"—resilience, fortitude, awareness. It's a talent and a skill. Enough.

Anyway, what we decided to order was some various weed (not that kind) seeds that produce some edible greens:

  • 荠菜 (jì​cài) - shepherd's purse
  • 马兰头 (mǎ​lántóu)
  • 紫苏 (zǐ​sū) - beefsteak plant
  • 韭菜 (jiǔ​cài) - garlic chives

But this is the last time. Now we definitely have enough.

With the flow

Sometimes you find the right song and it matches whatever internal rhythm you have at that time, and you flip it on repeat and let it escort you through the work day (except during the meetings, I guess, but maybe it wouldn't hurt to try):

We've talked about this before to some extent—Minor threats. I don't really go searching for music to listen to during work. That turns out to be work itself, and the Right Song is ever out of reach, out of mind. It's only disappointment to go looking.

Better, in my opinion, to be satisfied with a random song selection or wait for the song that wants you to find you. Let the magic of serendipity serve you. You don't need control over all of the variables. Let some of them float and find their own level. Then go with the flow.

The boring web, 2

I missed the point in The boring web. It had some thoughts that were in my head, sure, but there were some other, simpler things I meant to say there.

I didn't mean to talk about the old web—Ye Olde Webbe—at all, really. I'm still doing that here, for the most part (except with a database and WordPress running things, versus a 90s-era static HTML setup which is tempting to go back to some days...). Maybe this site is more like the adolescent web, the mid-2000s web when writing a personal blog (still an ugly sounding word) had some novelty, and successful ones still had a core of followers. And it was easier to find other blogs, honestly, through out-of-date things like web rings and blogrolls and directories and so on. (Actually there probably is no "and so on", that might be it.)

Again, though, the old web wasn't the point. The old web is probably still out there, but it isn't as interesting as the new social web, which isn't remotely new anymore, but still there is that urge to call it "new". I like using social media to be boring. I have no flash. I can't sing. I can't dance. I don't have the interest or wherewithal to do what needs to be done to become popular on TikTok or YouTube or whatever. I just want to say, "Here, I made this". Over and over and over. Here, I'm making a wall. Here, I made some tomatoes. Simple, no over-the-top promotion—utterly boring.

But I'm OK with it. Most making is boring. There are moments that are interesting, and the finished product is nice to see, but most of what goes on in making something is just... sanding, or brushing, or digging, or cutting, or boiling, or whatever. But I enjoy the process—mine or someone else's. Let me introduce you to the best channel on YouTube: Dashner Design & Restoration. Pure doing, but from start to finish. You're welcome. I have friends on Facebook (actual people-I-know-friends) who post songs that they're practicing, quilts they've made, photos they've taken, etc. No flash, just sharing their experience living the process.

Boring doesn't mean low quality, though. There are good photos of what you're working on, and bad ones; good recordings of songs, and bad ones. And so on. Do what you do, and be boring doing it, but learn how to capture that moment well—if you're going to let someone into your space where you do what you do, respect their time and attention, and give them something good, no matter how boring it is.

The point of being boring, in this context, is to be inspiring, by showing things slowly and inexorably making their way in the world, so do it right.

Not enough, then too much

This is something I noticed while cooking today—and while shopping for groceries and traveling. (Remember traveling?)

If I don't prepare well enough, I end up with more of whatever it is I'm doing. Intuitively, I would have guessed less—not enough time to plan: not enough time to get things: not enough things.

What really happens is that I end up compensating for various possible scenarios, many of which are irrelevant, most of which are unnecessary. In cooking—today, 宫保鸡丁—it manifested itself as cutting more things than I needed, and cooking things longer than necessary. Not sure how much onion you need? Cut a whole onion. Not sure if the chicken is fully cooked? Cook it some more. You won't be wrong—no death by food poisoning, for example—but you won't be right. It's a hedge against catastrophe rather than a drive for victory. The extra onions go in the compost; the extra time on the chicken ruins the texture.

When traveling, not preparing well enough means packing more than is needed. Not prepared to do laundry on a trip? Pack twice as many clothes. Don't know how to use the pharmacy or grocery or whatever where you're going? Pack extra snacks or medicine. Think you're going to exercise every day, pack extra clothes. And so on. I have yet to go on a trip where having more is better. Less isn't more, but less can be better. The extra preparation means you can think more clearly about the edge cases and treat them like edge cases—things that aren't likely to happen. You can still include your hedge for some of them (rain, for example), but a few extra minutes or hours of prep saves a lot of trouble.

A more extreme form of the benefits of preparing comes while backpacking—in the woods or in civilization. When I last went to India ten years ago, I was able to go for more than two months just with carry-on (one small backpack, one camera bag) because I thought about what to take (detergent powder and fewer shirts) and what not to take (no shorts, one pair of shoes). In the woods, it's even easier. If your body odor falls in the forest, and no one is there to smell it, do you stink? It doesn't matter. Two shirts is enough—one to wear, and one to hold pot handles. If you don't prepare enough, you'll end up taking three more shirts which, when rolled up, are the size of three beers, and you need to ask yourself if that's really a trade worth making.

Good preparation is minimization, not maximization.

Shot 1

Give me the shot

Nine hours later—nothing. Maybe I felt a little tired earlier, but it's hard to tell the difference between that and post-work week tiredness. No fever. No soreness—maybe a little if I chickenwing my arm, but you can't have it all, I guess.

No euphoria. No crying. No ecstasy. No relief. No desire to praise science. No feelings, really. No release. Just this undercurrent of frustration—of riding in a boat called Earth with enough lunatics aboard to make the passage interesting in good times and destructive in bad times. Now we wait and see if the lunatics get the shot and help bring the pandemic to a close. I'm not betting on it. But I'm hoping for it all the same.


Trailhead: Christof Kuhbandner, Alp Aslan, Kathrin Emmerdinger, and Kou Murayama. "Providing Extrinsic Reward for Test Performance Undermines Long-Term Memory Acquisition". Frontiers in Psychology (2016-02-01).

Listen. I will not belabor this point. (I would love to belabor this point, and I have, but I have also exercised the DEL button liberally so here we are.) The point is: optimizing your learning for an exam is trash.

But that's what much of your grades are based on, so you're kind of stuck, eh?

I'm not qualified to talk about grades anymore, anyway. When you're an undergraduate, grades have Meaning. They have outsized influence on the job you get or the graduate school you get into. Even if you think grades are trash, the odds are in favor of good grades. I think grades are often trash, but the odds—can't deny it, gotta have 'em.

But in my own life: I don't have much time for grades or performance management scores or any of the pseudo-objective measurements that we're regularly subjected to. It's not a tough stance I'm taking, it's just that I'm not interested. You can optimize your performance ("performance") for what gets the grade, and still not know how the thing you're doing works. An exam tests knowledge that can be easily packaged in an exam; performance management does the same, but for things that can be packaged in a PM form.

It's an incomplete model. There's more to life and work than what gets measured on an exam. Those scores are useful, and successful people can score high, but it's those with enough resilience to solve the problem—whatever the problem at hand happens to be—who are most valuable.

Don't confuse what's on the exam with what you need to know.

Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on.

—Kurt Vonnegut. Cat's Cradle (1963).

Knowledge cube

There are three dimensions to knowledge when talking to someone. (Obviously it's just a simple model.)

  1. Actual knowledge: don't know—know
  2. Expected knowledge: ambivalent—should know
  3. Projected knowledge: projects lack of knowledge—projects knowledge

I don't have a complete model in my head, just a few thoughts about what to watch out for—good and bad.

Someone who rates high on all three—has knowledge, should have knowledge, and projects knowledge—is solid. Is not an interesting case, but this is the kind of person you want to talk to, no?

Someone who projects knowledge but doesn't have it is dangerous—especially when is expected that they should have that knowledge, because the others are more likely to believe them.

Being low on the expectations angle isn't bad—as long as projection is low.

Someone who knows but doesn't project is either the secret weapon—people who know will know that this is someone who knows—or a wasted opportunity, because more people ought to know this is someone worth talking to.