30
Nov 12

Dialogue – NSID 2012

Fade in.
NSID 2011 Mosaic
She: You stop shaving?
He: Yep.
She: Like, your mustache? The charity thing?
He: No, that’s Movember. Which is awesome. But different.
She: So you don’t shave at all?
He: Right.
She: For a month?
He: No Shaving in December. Right.
She: Ew.

A brief pause.

She: Why? Because some guy on the internet told you to?
He: He… no. I mean. That’s how I found out about it. But that’s not why.
She: Why then? Doesn’t it itch?
He: It itches for a while. That’s part of the whole thing.
She: Part of what whole thing? Why put yourself through that?
He: Just because. Don’t worry about it.
She: No. No way. If have to live with it for a month, I want to know why.
He: No. Anyhow, you’ll think it’s silly.
She: Probably.

A brief pause.

He: I do it to be free.
She: You do it to be free.
He: I do it to be free. I do it because the world finds a hundred ways each day to silence the songs of my heart. I do it because I need a counterpoint to neckties and filing cabinets and oxford commas. I do it because so much of my life is multivitamins and single-file lines and carpet tiles and checklists and parallel parking and sugar free sweetener and appointment reminders and hand sanitizer and whiteboards that the idea of running a razor across my neck every day in an effort to fit in better is simply more than I will accept. I do it to push back that cloud of oppressive, pervasive, repressive cleanliness by half an inch; to give myself space to breathe, and to be.

A brief pause.

She: Multivitamins. Is that what the guy on the internet told you? Multivitamins?
He: We also get to tweet about it and post photos.
She: Oh good.


13
Aug 12

Two and a Half

French BreakfastHi, kiddo.

I’m writing this one from an airport. Tomorrow we’ll probably video chat, because you are a kid for whom the world has just always included video chat.

I’m at the airport so that I can fly to Boston. I’m going to meet up with a bunch of other people from Mozilla who are working to make the web awesome for you. I find it difficult to remember life before the web, and I didn’t even really get it until my teens. It changes quickly. I wonder what it will look like by the time you read this. I hope it’s excellent. I want you to know that a lot of incredible people worked really hard to build it. We think it’s just about the best thing we can do to make the world a better, fairer, friendlier place. I hope you agree.

Since my last note, you’ve become a city girl. You ride streetcars and subways. When I ask you what you want to do on Sunday morning, you answer, “Go to the café. Then go to the Farmer’s market.” You’ve become a hippy. You have skinned knees. You fell and cut your lip last month, and you have two slivers in your hand that you won’t let me remove.

And yet you run. You run and you laugh while you’re running. You pull all the pillows off the couch and then fall blindly back into them. You climb onto the railing of your crib, stand on the back of couches, and generally terrify your mother and me. And when you (inevitably) damage yourself, you cry, and you run to one of us, and you make us kiss it better and then, through sobs, you say, “feel better now.”

Last week I took my 5,000th picture of you. That’s one every four and a half hours since the moment you were born. I don’t think I’ll keep up the rate but thanks for your patience, regardless.

You are just the best of me, little girl. Thank you for everything you bring into my life. Thank you for kisses and hugs and being clingy after your nap. Thank you for helping me make pancakes, and for sharing your chocolate. And thank you for video calls when I’m far from home. We’re boarding soon, Lil. I love you.

Daddy


16
Apr 12

The Cognitive Science of SHUT UP

“I’m going to be a shrill and rigid idiot.

“I’m going to blindly refuse to listen to contrary opinions. I’ve already made up my mind, and will invent reasons why alternatives won’t work. Most importantly, I’m going to get this done my way, regardless of whether it’s actually the best decision, or even a good idea.”

You’ve never approached a problem that way. No one has.

But you’ve probably told yourself that story about someone else. You’ve been on the receiving end of one of these mindless and petty tyrants, in a bug or a mailing list or a standards body, and you’ve decided that you were seeing a rigid idiot in action. I know I have.

My philosophy of science prof used to talk about how the two important tests of a scientific model are whether it allows you to make accurate predictions, and how well it helps you discover new things. This matters more than its elegance or its intuitive appeal, though a really nice model has those, too.

The Rigid Idiot model does, for better or for worse, predict. It predicts more rigid idiocy, and people using that model to inform their interactions are likely to get precisely that. But it’s a pretty hollow model for generativity; it doesn’t help you make progress.

Here’s an alternate model:

Stress response pre-dates our neocortex, and outranks it. It is wired more deeply into us than language, much less rational discussion. And it has predictable effects. A person under stress (personal, professional, social, physical) will lose patience more quickly, anger easily, resist change, and consider fewer alternatives before making decisions. It’s an ancient, optimized cognitive path: less waffling when there are lions nearby. That it impairs our ability to function in this 10,000 year old thing called ‘civilization’ is evolutionary postscript.

You get to choose which model you bring to a conversation. When you assume that the person you’re dealing with is acting atypically, from point-in-time stress instead of born-in idiocy, you give yourself follow-up questions to ask about timelines, or conflicting pressures, or hidden assumptions. You give yourself ways to understand motivations, and implicit guidance about tone.

Not every asshole is a stress response waiting to be defused, but I swear to you that the single greatest improvement you can make to your success rate with these conversations is to switch models. I have seen people turn on a dime once their stressors are addressed. Suddenly there are lots of solutions, and confrontation turns to collaboration. It’s like a god damned secret decoder ring, to be honest.

With practice, you may even start to recognize the descent into idiocy in your own interactions, though it won’t make you immune. This is old, lizard-brain stuff. Like drunkenness, you can get better at detecting it, but you can’t think your way out of it. And, as with drink, my hope is that if you see someone a little worse for wear, you remember that it’s fleeting. Give them some time to sober up before assuming that’s who they really are.


13
Feb 12

2 years old

HandsDada happy!

Yes, Lily, I’m very happy. I’m always happy when I’m with you.

Dada kiss! hug!

Every time you kiss someone, you hug them, and then eskimo kiss. You kiss, hug, and eskimo kiss nana. You kiss, hug, and eskimo kiss mommy. You kiss, hug, and eskimo kiss teddy, and your tea cups, and my RC helicopter.

You smile a lot. You know that you’re supposed to smile for pictures, but you don’t really know how to make that happen on command, so smiling for pictures is sort of a grimace. I think it’s beautiful, but I suspect in a few years you’ll think it’s silly.

I watch you count toys and name the letters of the alphabet and I start to understand why parents all get this far off look in their eye when they talk about how quickly the time goes. I bet that part gets worse with time. The parents of 7-year olds in my life seem to feel it more deeply, and the parents of 15-year olds even moreso.

I wonder, as I have before, and even before that, which of your current fascinations will persist. You love bugs bunny cartoons. You can recite Sahara Hare verbatim. So can we. You put HP sauce on your scrambled eggs. You sit on the potty with an android tablet on your lap and watch nyan cat reaction videos and the duck song. Your childhood will be very, very different from mine.

At night, you can’t go to sleep without one verse each of Rainbow Connection, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain, and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star. In the last month, you’ve started to sing along.

And then I tell you it’s time for sleep. And you say,

Okay. Goodnight daddy, I love you.

And it gets me. every. time.

I love you too, Lily. Happy birthday.


30
Nov 11

Know Thyself – NSID 2011

The unexamined life is not worth living — Socrates

Socrates didn’t have a smartphone. If he had, he might have been less cavalier about the mortal consequence of an unexamined life. The distractions of life interrupt introspection, and we have built a world around us to collect and channel and amplify those distractions. We are no longer oaks putting down roots, we are leaves in a river; we float and bob in the current. It is beautiful, in its way, but it lacks depth.

Wake up and take control of your own cipher — Chuck D

The modern psyche aches for self-possession as much as Socrates ever did. We flock to the authentic. We eat local; we shop indie; we grasp for things with permanence and we try to hold on. Each new soothsayer peddling some ancient tradition as a restorative balm for the soul gets our enthusiastic, if divided, attention.

Self-knowledge doesn’t come from a farmer’s market or a flea market, though, and it doesn’t come in a brilliant flash of insight purchased from the self-help list at amazon. Self knowledge comes from looking in the mirror each morning and, from the moment you wake up, making your decisions in manual mode, not automatic.NSID 2010 Mosaic

Look in the mirror. Get past the human reflex to make eye contact with your reflection, and look at your face. Is it shaven? Groomed? Why? Because it’s what you did yesterday, and last week, and the week before that? Maybe it’s because you made a choice at some point to shave it. Is that choice still right? How do you know?

When I started NSID 5 years ago, I did it because I’d never seen my face with a beard. 1 month to see my own face in a new light. Have you seen yours? Have you seen it recently?

In the month of December, we support each other in this most basic piece of self-examination. We let it grow, let our faces express their base nature. We don’t shave. And we see what happens. Join us. Post your photos to the NSID flickr pool, tweet with the #nsid hashtag, track your colleagues in the aggregator. It’s good for your soul.

Socrates and Chuck D would want you to.


13
Aug 11

18 Months

A Girl and her Pine ConeYou became a little girl.

I wasn’t consulted on this, and if I had been I’m not sure I would have approved. You’re a wonderful little girl. The best little girl. But 6 months ago you just were finishing up with being a baby, and I thought I’d have more time to prepare for the next thing.

Years from now, you’ll want to know all about this part of your life. There’s change everywhere, and you’re not so hot on forming long term memories just yet so you’re counting on your mom and me to take accurate notes. We’re trying. We have a running log that Mommy tries to keep up to date with every new thing you do:

Lily gives lots of kisses now, sometimes when asked, and sometimes spontaneously! She kisses her toys, pages in books, and definitely people.

Lily loves to share things with her toys – they often to get to share her water or her snack. She also likes when we wrap them up in a blanket and rock them to sleep.

Sometimes she likes the water, sometimes she’s really hesitant about it. Mostly she likes to play with the toys on the side of the pool. Life jackets? Forget it.

You literally learn new words daily. Some of my favourites in the last week: Hospital (sounds like hoh-pitatah), aluminum (a-lem-in-nen), tilapia (dala-pala), and dirt (dut).

Your mom and I talk about you a lot. What kind of school you should attend, what kind of activities you might be interested in, what we can do to ensure we both spend as much time with you as possible. We know we can’t predict the future. We know that you’ll have your own opinions, loudly stated. We know that change is constant, and that it can sneak up on you. We do it anyhow, because the illusion of a plan gives us something to hold on to when the uncertainty gets overwhelming. I think you won’t understand this the first time you read it but, when you have kids of your own, you might.

Today you ate a mouthful of sand at the playground.

Today you refused to eat your sandwich until you dipped each torn up little piece into a blob of ketchup.

Today you lay with me on the couch and made me put on music videos and then told me which ones to skip.

Today I have something in my eye.

You became a little girl.


14
Feb 11

Mike

Beltzner’s moving on.

When someone leaves the Mozilla Corp, it’s tradition for them to send a note to our global alias saying so. Mike sent his late last week, and this was my reply.

Continue reading →


13
Feb 11

1 Year Old

1 Year Old“Da.”

It’s assertive, when I come in the door after work. A statement of fact. “Da has arrived, Mother, in case you were wondering.” And then you squeal, and crawl down off the couch backwards like we taught you, and you crawl over to the gate by the front door and reach up for me to pick you up. And then you remind me where every light in the house is by pointing to them. “Teh.” (pointing) “Teh.”

6 months ago you couldn’t crawl, now you’re starting to walk. 6 months ago you couldn’t talk, now you’re babbling constantly and have 4 or 5 words that are consistent and recognizable, even if they aren’t quite English. 6 months ago you were a baby and now… you’re not.

A lot can happen in 6 months, and a lot has. A lot of firsts, too. Your first tooth, first flight, first foreign country, first beer. Yeah, that’s right, beer. Why? Because you won’t tolerate not having any. Every food that Mommy and Daddy eat, you want; and you’re fearless. Olives, pickles, pizza, steak. You are fearless, in everything, and it scares the crap out of me.

Parents think stupid things, Lily. You’re fascinated with light, will you be a photographer? You love books, will that last, will you read everything you can get your hands on, like Daddy does? You love food now, does that mean you’ll be a foodie, or that you’ll end up flipping a switch and getting really picky? We try to predict the future from the scraps of information we have, because you so constantly surprise and amaze us; we’re desperate for some ability to understand what the future will be like. It’s exciting and scary and foggy and incredible. I don’t want to rush things, but I can’t wait for you to start talking more, because I see the things going on in your head and I want to know all about them.

I asked Grandma when it stops. When each week stops feeling like there’s a brand new kid in the house. Grandma said, “it stops?”

When I write the next one of these, you’ll be 18 months old and, for all I know, you’ll be in college. Go easy on me, Lily. Gently. I love you more than anything in the world, little girl, but it’s all I can do just to keep up.

Love,

Daddy