"When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story." -Barney Stinson

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I hate gratitude.

December 23rd, 2013 by David Safar

Gratitude is so venerated in our culture that it feels awkward to say that, despite my indifference to most cultural norms. Gratitude is one thing that nearly everyone agrees on, from the mainstream (check it out, there’s a whole holiday based on it in November — October if you’re Canadian), to the spiritualists who insist that gratitude is not just a noble pursuit for the sake of others, but the path to well-being for oneself, to the scientists who are publishing studies saying that the spiritualists have it right — there are measurable health benefits to the regular practice of gratitude.

And yet I despise it. The word triggers a powerful feeling of resentment that I doubt many could relate to. It’s a loaded word, evocative of someone making demands, denigrating me (and look at how the word grateful and denigrate share a good chunk of letters — though not, thankfully, a root word), and trying to guilt me into something. “Ingrate.” “You should be grateful.” It’s a moralizing word, an attempt to manipulate through shame, a word used by the powerful to attempt to gain compliance from the powerless, or, failing that, to punish them emotionally for refusing to comply.

The idea of feeling grateful makes me feel sick inside. It’s bound up with a feeling of inferiority, of lack of agency, of inability to do for oneself and neediness and dependence. The powerful may be self-reliant or even benevolent, but the powerless lack the ability, therefore they must be grateful for what is done for them.

Gratitude is a dirty word to me, an evil word, a tool of oppression.

And I’m not sure why. I can’t seem to identify any memories that would account for this visceral reaction, this immediate and instinctive hatred that wells up at the very mention of a word that, to everyone else, seems to represent something wonderful and healing, something that helps them focus on the positive and keep their heads up in hard times.

I’ve considered the words for some related concepts and they don’t have the same effect. Starting on Google with “define: grateful”, I come up with “feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful.” and “synonyms: thankful, appreciative”. No problem with any of those words. Appreciation is great, thankfulness, when appropriate, is fantastic. These emotions come from a place of equality for me, or at least a power-neutral place.

“define: appreciative” gets a little more complicated: “feeling or showing gratitude or pleasure.” Ignoring the word gratitude (or perhaps substituting thankfulness) makes this a positive thing, but check out the synonyms: “grateful for, thankful for, obliged for, indebted for, in someone’s debt for”. Ooh. Obliged. Indebted. Now you OWE someone something. Oddly, I associate those meanings with gratitude, but not with appreciation.

“define: thankful” is simple and positive: “pleased and relieved”, with synonyms “grateful, appreciative, filled with gratitude, relieved”. Again, apart from the Evil Word, nothing to balk at here.

I almost stopped there, but then went back to that word “obliged” and decided to check it out. And here’s the root of the problem: to oblige means to “make (someone) legally or morally bound to an action or course of action”. Legally or morally bound. Synonyms? “require, compel, bind, constrain, obligate, leave with no option but, force”. Heavy stuff. One moment we’re talking about being pleased and relieved, and it’s only two small steps from there to requirement, compulsion, binding, constraint, obligation, optionlessness, and force. It doesn’t get much more disempowering than that. And, for whatever reason, that’s what gratitude is for me.

I may never be able to have a positive relationship with gratitude. If you do something for me, I may be appreciative, thankful, pleased, and relieved, but I will never, ever be grateful. If asked, “what are you thankful for?”, I may happily relate a long and storied list. But if you ask me, “what are you grateful for?”, I suspect the answer will always be, “nothing, and fuck you for asking”.

I wanted the Federation; I got the Alliance

August 1st, 2013 by David Safar

My friend Autumn recently posted this quote on Facebook:

“I wonder if I’m helping you build a future I wouldn’t want to live in.”
-Ian McDonald, Dervish House

I’m not familiar with the quote or its source, but the concept has been rolling around in my brain in the wake of Snowden’s leak.

I’ve worked in technology all my life and I take pride in the fact that we are advancing our capabilities as a species and overcoming our limitations, potentially moving toward a Star Trek-like future where our technologies are used in the service of our peaceful well-being.

But we are already much closer to a Firefly-like future, where the technology is used in the service of those with power at the expense of those without, all the while paying lip service to higher ideals.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that I have no choice but to continue on this path, because those in power will build that future with or without me, and only through my participation can I hope to find some small opportunity to mitigate the damage or steer things in a more positive direction.

Three days in…

July 25th, 2013 by David Safar

This week I have been re-acquainting myself with the Tao Te Ching and exploring meditation. In this short time, meditation has already improved my mood noticeably. I look forward to seeing what it can do over a longer period.

I have also unearthed some memories, personality traits, and motivating forces that were buried under the detritus of years of living, such as the desire to write which inspired this post. I also look forward to seeing what further surprises of this nature lie in store.

Brevity.

July 25th, 2013 by David Safar

Doctor Who One Word Test from Duke Skymocker on Vimeo.

This scene made a good impression impression the first time I saw it.

It appeals to me on a more practical, minimalistic level now.

I shall work on being concise.

In Which I Turn to Douglas Adams for Advice on the Boston Marathon Bombings

April 16th, 2013 by David Safar

The media are in a frenzy today with stories about the Boston Marathon bombings. KGO Radio’s coverage this afternoon was entitled, “Terror in Boston: The Aftermath”. The portions of this broadcast I heard were characterized by discussions of how little we actually know and descriptions of “high alert” security measures being enacted in major cities across the United States.

I don’t wish to make light of the events at the Boston Marathon yesterday, and I very much look forward to hearing that the perpetrator has been caught and brought to justice. My heart goes out to the families who’ve lost loved ones and the individuals in pain as a result of these events. But with those things in mind and in light of how little we actually know about what happened and why, I feel it necessary to say:

Let’s keep a sense of scale here.

Here are some notable mass killings in the United States in the past 20 years, in order of increasing lethality:

Name Date Location Dead Injured
Centennial Olympic Park Bombing 07/27/96 Atlanta GA 2 111
Boston Marathon Bombings 05/15/13 Boston MA 3 183
Batman Shooting 07/20/12 Aurora CO 12 58
Columbine High School Massacre 04/20/99 Littleton CO 15 21
Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting 12/14/12 Newtown CT 28 2
Oklahoma City Bombing 04/19/95 Oklahoma City OK 168 680+
September 11 Attacks 09/11/01 NY VA and PA 2996 6000+

That really puts things in perspective, don’t you think?

The Boston Marathon attack yesterday was one of the least fatal attacks in recent history. We have no idea whether it was perpetrated by an organized terror group, a single unbalanced individual, or some other sort of organization altogether. We have no concept of what the motive was or when or how or where the attack was planned and prepared. It much more closely resembles in scale the 1996 Olympics bombing (perpetrated by an American member of a Christian terrorist organization) and last year’s shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado (in which the shooter was a single individual of unclear mental health status working alone).

What all of this adds up to is one simple conclusion:

DON’T PANIC.

In 2001, the September 11 attacks resulted in a dramatic curtailing of our liberty, which has done little to make us more secure and much to make us less free. Those attacks were also used as a flimsy pretext for an unwarranted war in Iraq (an act of terror which has killed significantly more Americans than the 9/11 attacks themselves).

What was described on the radio today as taking place across the nation today is what we call “disproportionate response” (everywhere except for Boston, where immediate response is warranted). People are already talking about terrorist groups, speculating about war, grounding flights because they hear people speaking Arabic, and just generally allowing the terror to take hold.

STOP IT.

If we allow the terror to take hold — if we use this as a pretext for more unjust killing, if we allow our government to use it to deprive us of more of our freedom — the terrorists have won. You’re doing EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO DO.

Wait for the investigators to do their jobs and to come up with some information that’s actually worth acting on. Until then…

Keep calm and carry on.

I got lazy and stopped posting; my web site got lazy and stopped loading.

April 15th, 2013 by David Safar

Tonight I tried to drop by my blog and found that it was out of commission!  No WordPress pages would load (although non-WP static HTML pages were fine), instead giving me a browser error message explaining that the server returned no data.  I checked the filesystem and found the files intact and not recently edited (I had been hacked once several years ago and thought this might have been malicious as well).  I headed over to the database (fortunately phpMyAdmin was working) and looked around the DB a bit.  The last change there was from 2/25.  ಠ_ಠ

A little bit of Googling led me to http://www.colinmcnulty.com/blog/2008/07/08/solution-to-wordpress-blank-screen-of-death/ where I found the solution.  Fortunately, my problem was not the same as his, but following the steps that didn’t work for him did work for me.  Evidently something went wrong with my plugins; disabling them all directly from the database magically restored my web site.  I logged back in, upgraded from Word Press 2.7 to the latest 3.5.1 (big jump!) and here I am.  In response to my snark on Facebook about everybody letting that go almost two months without telling me, my coworkers persuaded me that I should do more self-promotion and update more often, so here’s a post.  I try not to post here unless I have something useful to say (no “I ate a piece of toast today” updates on this blog; that’s what Facebook and Twitter are for), but hopefully that link will help some poor soul whose Word Press site spontaneously decided that it didn’t need to serve pages anymore.

Just, y’know, ignore the bit at the end where it turns into a sales pitch.  ಠ_ಠ

Twain always has something relevant to say.

June 11th, 2012 by David Safar

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” -Mark Twain

A quick search of the interwebs turned up several instances of this quote on different sites, but no context. As such, I can’t be certain whether it was intended solely in a literal sense, or if Clemens was using it as an example and a metaphor for a broader idea. I prefer to think the latter, however, as it seems equally true for pursuits other than reading.

To generalize the sentiment, we could say: The person who fails to wisely apply their talents has no advantage over those who lack them.

I think I’ve been stuck in a rut lately of allowing many of my talents to fall into disuse, and thereby deriving no value from them. Fulltime employment (perhaps paradoxically?) increases the challenge of making use of any but a narrow subset of my skills, as few of them are relevant to my position. Employment consumes more of the time and energy available to me for such pursuits than I actually have, leaving me destitute of one or both at the end of each day.

I am not sure what to do about this, except to try to squeeze in a little bit here and there. This blog entry, for example, is a baby step toward keeping my writing skills sharp. It was begun on the bus this morning, tapped into the keyboard of my phone, and completed this evening, in a narrow slice of time between finishing the laundry and heading to bed. I’ll try to do likewise tomorrow. The “micro-blogging” medium of Twitter and Facebook is suitable only for the most superficial of updates; to say anything that has any meaning to either myself or anyone else requires more space. So I suppose I’ll try to do “mini-blogging” instead. Not the long, detailed posts I would prefer to write had I the time and energy, but whatever words I can wring out onto your screen in the space between the things it seems I have to do.

Like going to bed, roughly now-ish.

A Quick Thought on Language and API References

July 30th, 2011 by David Safar

We spend a lot of time and energy on making software usable and user-friendly, and with good reason.  It only makes sense to make the computer adapt to the user, not vice versa.  So why is it that we don’t give this kind of attention to the tools the we as technologists use every day?  When is the last time you saw a beautiful, easy-to-use language or API reference?  It seems to me that there’s a lot that could be done to make these gargantuan beasts easier to use.  Things like configurable sort order:

  • Alphabetical is a great default, and fantastic if you know the name of what you’re looking for.  I fully support keeping this as the default.
  • But what about optionally sorting by subject, for when you know the thing you’re looking for is in the library, but you don’t know what it’s called?
  • How about sorting by frequency of use?  Don’t show me the arcane shit that nobody but embedded programmers care about at the top of the reference just because it happens to start with ‘a’, show me the common stuff that everybody needs on a daily basis.
  • What about logical order of use?  Show me constructors first, then mutators, then accessors, then utility functions/methods, then destructors, so that the reference document itself mimics the structure of how to actually use an object or library of functions.

Language and API references tend to be huge and difficult to use, and there’s no reason at all why this should be.

My Web Development Toolbox

November 2nd, 2009 by David Safar

Yesterday, my friend Carlos posted about the core web design tools that he uses on a regular basis. I thought I’d chime in and mention some of mine, particularly as Carlos is a Mac user and some of his tools aren’t available for Windows, which is where I get most of my work done.

Launchy

launchy

For Launchbar-like keystroke launching functionality on Windows, Launchy is a great choice — and free!

TextPad

textpad

Like Carlos’s pick, TextPad supports syntax coloring for a number of languages. It’s also extensible — you can define new document classes and color them yourself, or download user-defined document syntax definitions created by the TextPad community.

Microsoft Visual Studio 2008

msvs

Yes, even though PHP is my language of choice, I sometimes find myself turning to the Evil Empire’s software development tools to work on it. MSVS has exactly one thing going for it: the slickest implementation I’ve seen of simulated in-place editing of files on a web server. This is such an important feature and so few programs seem to support it. Linux can easily and freely be extended to treat an FTP site as part of the local filesystem, but until Windows offers the same ease-of-use in this regard, it falls to the application vendors to offer this feature. Kudos to Microsoft on getting this one right — in their programming tools if not their operating system!

FileZilla

filezilla

Because not everyone is onboard with simulated in-place editing, I often find myself needing to perform the edit-and-upload cycle manually. FileZilla does a fantastic job of giving me the FTP functionality I need with the ease-of-use I desire.

Google Chrome’s Inspector and FireFox’s Firebug

inspector

Not much I can say here that Carlos didn’t already mention, except that Chrome is my browser of choice rather than Safari. It’s still based on Webkit, though.

The GIMP

gimp

Lately I find myself doing a fair bit of graphic design work. That means I spend a good chunk of time working with The GNU Image Manipulation Program, the free open-source alternative to PhotoShop. All my screenshots for this post were made with Windows’ built-in screenshot functionality pasted into The GIMP.

CSSDrive’s Color Palette Generator

cssdrive

I must admit, the visual aspect of web design is not my forte, I’m more of a tech guy. That means that anything I can lean on to help me make things look spiffy is extremely useful. One example is this nifty Color Palette Generator, which allows you to upload an image and derive a color palette from it. Use this with a logo to generate a similar palette, or a nature photo to come up with something that’s naturally aesthetically pleasing. Very handy!

Those are the tools that work for me — what about you?

(Many thanks to Carlos for inspiring this post to my oft-neglected Technology category!)

Jobs Are Overrated

October 5th, 2009 by David Safar

Next up in my survey of things that are overrated is traditional employment: jobs are overrated!

There isn’t much I’m going to say here that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by a host of bloggers across the web.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t include this topic in this series of posts, as I do believe that the popular addiction to traditional employment is harmful to many (but not all) of the people who are affected by it.

So, just what have I got against jobs?  Plenty of things!

  • Little control over your time. Most jobs require you to be there at a fixed time and remain there for a fixed time — whether it’s a typical 9-5 or a variable schedule set by a manager.  The standard 40 hour workweek takes up a big chunk of your time and, combined with a need for a healthy amount of sleep, leaves you with less than a third of your weekday to yourself — especially after considering the “overhead” involved in getting ready for work, traveling to and from work, and taking your mandatory lunch break (which, let’s face it, typically doesn’t really give you the time or freedom to make good use of it as personal time).  At my last job, my “eight hour” workday often cost me twelve hours — 7 AM to 7 PM.  Leisure activities, relaxation, education, and personal growth must be squeezed in around this massive drain on your time.  At the typical job, you must do your work when you are told.
  • Little autonomy. Jobs generally require you to work in a location determined by your employer, whether it is conducive to your productivity or not.  They also tend to entail working on tasks decided by someone else in a manner that suits their whims, regardless of whether those are the best tasks or the optimal methods.  As I write this, a Metallica lyric from Eye of the Beholder comes to mind: “You can do it your own way, if it’s done just how I say.”  (I’ve embedded a link to the song at the bottom of this post.) In the workplace, your job even has the authority to make you attend unproductive meetings and perform busywork which do not in any way contribute to getting your work done — and it’s your responsibility to make up this time!  At the typical job, you must do what you are told, how you are told, where you are told.
  • Little influence. By necessity, not everyone can be in charge, and the larger the company, the less say the typical employee has.  Which means that unless you are in a position of power, odds are you will have little to no ability to change the company’s course if you can see a better way to do things, have a new idea that might benefit the company, or know that the choices being made by those in charge are illegal, unethical, or just plain stupid.  Many companies are loathe to change, and even those that are open to change usually improve at a snail’s pace, a phenomenon I refer to as “moving at the speed of business”.  At the typical job, you have very little influence on those who tell you and others what to do.
  • Little security. Have you ever heard the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?”  It’s generally considered a bad idea to gamble all your savings on the performance of a single stock — why would it be a good idea to gamble the continued existence of your income on the performance of a single company, or sometimes even the whims of a single manager?  If your company goes under, downsizes, or gets acquired, or if someone in authority simply decides they don’t like you, you could lose your entire income overnight.  This can happen to anyone, any time, as our recent banking crisis and continuing recession have proven.  At the typical job, you have no reason to believe your job will still be there tomorrow.
  • Little compensation for achievements. If you saved or earned your company an extra ten thousand dollars tomorrow, how much of it would you see?  If you’re lucky, you might get a thank you.  Maybe a small gift card, if your company is particularly generous.  Likewise, if you learned a new skill tomorrow that made you a more valuable employee, many companies would not recognize and compensate that — your increased skills would merely result in an increase in the company’s bottom line, with no guarantee that you would receive any benefit from it whatsoever.  At a typical job, an increase in your value to the company does not guarantee an increase in your compensation.
  • Emotional factors. Allow me to let Dale Carnegie discuss this point for me:
    “Psychiatrists declare that most of our fatigue derives from our mental and emotional attitudes… What kinds of emotional factors tire the sedentary (or sitting) worker? Joy? Contentment? No! Never! Boredom, resentment, a feeling of not being appreciated, a feeling of futility, hurry, anxiety, worry–those are the emotional factors that exhaust the sitting worker, make him susceptible to colds, reduce his output, and send him home with a nervous headache. Yes, we get tired because our emotions produce nervous tensions in the body.” -Dale Carnegie from How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

    ‘Nuff said.

On the whole, employees in many companies are treated like children.  They are required to get up at a time determined by someone else’s whims, go where they are told to go, sit where they are told to sit, do what they are told to do the way they are told to do it, risk, receive less in compensation than the value they create for the employer (by necessity — if they didn’t, the employer wouldn’t make any money), run the risk of their income being cut off at any time for any reason or no reason at all.  If they disobey the authority figures, a system is in place to discipline them and bring them back in line.  A routine of this nature was not fulfilling, beneficial, enjoyable, or conducive to personal growth and well-being in elementary school, nor is it any of these things in adult life.  This is a system designed to force individuals to sacrifice their well-being for the good of the company without regard for their individuality, liberty, or humanity.

Isn’t it ironic so many of us in the so-called “free world” willingly choose to live as slaves?

This is the reason why I seek self-employment, and why I would suggest that anyone who is dissatisfied with traditional employment do the same.  Freelancers set their own hours (which, admittedly, may be long, but that is a personal choice and not an arbitrary requirement imposed by others), their work, their clients, their methods, their workplace (where applicable), and their compensation and benefits (limited only by the amount of business they are able to do).  The freelancer has the power to make decisions and to quickly change things that aren’t working, and with multiple clients comes a security from sudden and immediate lack of income — if you lose a client, only a fraction of your income is lost instead of all of it.  If you have a profitable idea or increase your value as a worker, you personally reap the benefit of that in your income.  You can focus on types of work that are less fatiguing to you, and if you find yourself feeling stressed anyway, you can take a break.  Self-employment has a great many benefits over regular employment, and while it’s not a panacea and there are indeed people who are perfectly happy with their jobs, I think the world would be a happier place if more of those who are dissatisfied with traditional employment investigated self-employment as an alternative.


(Note: This song has a long intro which starts very quiet — it may take several seconds after you press play before you actually hear anything.)

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