Notes to self. Working on Standard Notes, an end-to-end encrypted notes app.
108267 words

A total hoax

A friend of mine, whose intellectual opinion I admire, recently told me that he believes the coronavirus is a hoax. Completely fictional. Doesn’t even exist. I said, lolwut? That this virus could be completely fabricated had never remotely crossed my mind to be in the realm of possibility. But, this friend of mine had been right about other complex topics in the past. So I lent him my ear.

The idea is that the virus, and the subsequent lockdown, is cementing power into the hands of a few organizations and screwing over poor people and small businesses (which, objectively, I suppose it is). And indeed, you find that with most conspiracy theories, this is also the case: the masses get screwed, and the powerful consolidate ever more power.

The inspiration for my friend’s ideas was a 3-hour interview on London Real with David Icke. I won’t link to it here, but I’m sure you can find it. David Icke is essentially the Alex Jones of the UK, whatever that happens to mean. But, because this message came as a personal recommendation from a friend, I promised I wasn’t going to judge a message by its messenger. Unique perspectives, historically, tend to come from outsiders and outcasts. So I suspended any judgement, and watched the video with a completely open mind. I’m not insecure about my ability to discern, so if I watched the video and I was convinced, then so be it, and if not, then I’d stand to come out stronger.


My friend and I argue endlessly about the nature of conspiracy theories. He says, given any theory, you have to investigate the facts and come to a conclusion for yourself. Certainly hard to argue against. And I say, conspiracy theories are more a mindset, than about the particular details of an incident. I shout over him abstract structure and form, he shouts over me certain events and their peculiar nature.

Conspiracy theories are absolutely delicious, by the way. They make sense of the senseless, and connect disparate pieces of information in such mesmerizing fashion, that you think this mesmerization can only be attributed to its quality of truth. In my experience, the truth is rather ugly and incomplete, rather than perfect and whole. (Think religious narratives, and how uniquely complete and comforting they are, versus the rather grotesque nature of scientific narratives.) Above all, conspiracy theories reject chaos, and imply cause and intention behind the wildest of human events.

So how to explain the perfect nature of these theories and their undeniable deftness at compiling facts and presenting them in a timeline of pure symphony and perfection? Here’s my conspiracy theory on conspiracy theories:

Chaotic things happen in the universe, and in our world. The powerful are more equipped to take advantage of these events when they occur. For example, in the case of a contagious virus that is chaotic, governments can use this chaos to their advantage to overreact, if deemed beneficial. I think conspiracy theories, as a rule, tend not to necessarily modify event chronology (apart from the few that completely deny the total occurrence of an event), but to instead attribute intention and non-chaos as the aboriginal source of an event. Whereas chaotic events have a natural cause and a never-ending emanation of effect, conspiracy theories, or what defines them, tend to take an event that has had significant consequences, and retrofit causes, intentions, and strategies to ultimately imply a non-chaotic cause. Ultimately, “someone is in control,” rather than “it’s a wild, chaotic universe."

I think it would be more in the realm of possible logistics, based on what I understand about the chaotic nature of the universe, that the powerful are simply better equipped to take advantage of chaotic events that tend to leave the less powerful helpless. And these chaotic events tend to cement power into the hands of the few.

Assuming an actual deadly virus that, say, literally makes you throw up blood and kills you within 10 seconds of contraction, the powerful and rich will always, one way or another, be more insulated from something like this than the poor. And so events like these tend to make the rich richer, the powerful more powerful, and the poor poorer.

The classic example is 9/11. Conspiracy theorists would say, the attack allowed the government to expand its powers (Patriot Act, Iraq War), therefore, the attack was intentional, and designed to do just that.

Whereas non-conspiracy theorists would say, the attack was chaotic, but in that chaos, it allowed the government to expand its powers and to take exceptional measures.

In some or many cases, the government can simulate chaos to catalyze opportunity. Conspiracy theorists, as a rule, cannot differentiate between what is chaos and what is simulated, and err on the side of complete simulation.


I watched the whole three hour video, by the way. The first half was relatively coherent. And I’m not going to lie: hearing an eloquent person say that this whole ordeal was completely fabricated made me feel really good. It was comforting. It was freeing. It made me feel like I knew something others didn’t. That I now had an advantage. But I also know that truth—natural truth—is rather grotesque, uncomfortable, chaotic, murderous, and random.

He spent the second half of the video tying human breeding with AI, cloud computing, Bill Gates, 5G, vaccines infested with self-replicating nanobots, fortune-tellers and psychics, demons, sacrificing the blood of children to the devil—he connected all these impossibly disparate pieces into one complete narrative that ultimately said: someone is responsible for making your life as shitty as it is. It’s not your fault, it’s not the universe’s fault: it’s the fault of a secret cult with Bill Gates, DARPA, Zuckerberg, and even Elon Musk at its masthead.

Poor Jack Dorsey got left out of the meetings.

Bullshit opinions

If a friend describes to you some weird random physical pain they’re experiencing, probably the best thing you can say to them is, “you’ll be fine.” It’ll pass. In most cases this ends up being true.

But imagine making a “spiritual” symptom checker website where the result for every input is “you’ll be fine” (rather than the present “you have cancer” minefield). You’d get harassed and bullied mercilessly for reckless endangerment.

The difference between the friend and the internet is that on the internet, everyone thinks you’re talking to them.

I’m not.

I think a valid response to disagreement on the internet is, “I’m not talking to you.”

If I say it’s nice and sunny today, and you say no, actually, it’s cold and windy where I am, it’s simply the case that I wasn’t talking to you, but talking to people who may agree with, or are able to empathize with, my perspective. Or perhaps share the same circumstances.

On Twitter, people attempt to speak to their finite followers. Not the infinite, never ending, ever-disagreeing masses. Tweets are forcefully ejected from their target audience through retweets, which is like having something you say to a small group of friends amplified to your entire town. Surely almost never what you want.

If someone says something on the internet, and you disagree with it, while even just one other person finds it agreeable, you have no more business interrupting that conversation than you do interrupting two people chatting arbitrarily ridiculous opinions in a cafe.

I say ridiculous shit to my friends all the time that I wouldn’t dare say on the internet. Not because I’m afraid to say those things, but because, I’m not talking to you.

To the whole wide world, I really don’t have much to say. Which is probably why I struggle to tweet. Who even are you, shape-shifting person reading my non-existent tweets?

I think Twitter, blogs, and social media, compared to say PhD dissertations, are fine places to post ridiculous opinions which you truly have conviction for.

If I tell a friend who complains of a tummy ache, "you’ll be fine," I’m a good friend. But in a tweet, I’d be a horrible person. If I tell a friend, “perhaps this lockdown needs to end and is causing more harm than good,” the friend either agrees or counters cordially. On the internet, you’re a horrible person. I suppose in this particular case, this horrible opinion of mine, spoken privately, goes to corrupt only one other individual, whereas on Twitter, I’m “corrupting” 34 million individuals.

I argue that someone who gains millions of followers on a play social media website is not suddenly responsible for changing the nature of their discourse. Certainly, for your own peace of mind, you should tweet with caution if you wield such influence. But there is no moral obligation for someone who did nothing but create a social media profile and gained a few million voluntary followers to suddenly align their opinions with those of health experts and the scientific community.

This case may be difficult to make with someone like Musk, but imagine an 11-year-old who gains fifty million followers and begins expressing, what can only naturally be, bullshit opinions. Ought this child complete a university degree before expressing any sentiment on current events? Or ought you to simply understand the context that an 11-year-old is saying something ridiculous not worthy of taking too seriously?

If you want accreditation, if you want peer review, if you want vetted opinions, this is not the domain of Twitter, nor Facebook, nor any other casual social media network. Perhaps a scientific journal has what you’re looking for?

If you want bullshit conversation, welcome to Twitter.

Welcome to the internet.

Slogan? Try not to get so upset about what you see.

Simulation overflow

Quantum is the proof that we’re in a simulation. That there is a dimension beyond our own, by which our own physical rules and laws do not operate. Entangled particles bypass the light speed limitation because their state is reconciled externally. We only see the resulting particle flips. Not the computation, like what other particles to affect in the global counter.

If a hundred-trillion light year wide simulation existed on a hard drive, the simulated particles are very far apart, but only inches apart on the physical drive. Far when simulated, flat when stored.

Why would a thing want to run a simulation? I believe for its own intellectual amusement. Think passionate science experiment. Or obsessed botanist.

If a thing could run one simulation, it’s likely it could run many simulations. And if it could run many simulations, it probably is.

If you’re a thing and you’re running a simulation, aiming for self-contained autonomy would be most intriguing, particularly so that you could observe many simulations at once, and monitor their behavior as labeled jars on a shelf. “This one has X, this one doesn’t.”

Does the simulation branch off at every point of binary potential? I don’t think so. A thing could likely run many simulations, but not infinite simulations. So it must optimize where and when simulations are forked. I believe this could be somewhat subjective. I also don’t believe a thing would want to inject hastened state or custom events into a simulation past its initial starting point, but instead prefer to fork a simulation based on an influential event. A thing would definitely want to fork simulations at the incipience of Hitler, for example, to see alternative outcomes. A thing would fork at other similar magnitudinous events, like 9/11, or Donald Trump. Or perhaps it forks at a point where one split would result with an x speed of light, and the other with a y.

Can simulations access other simulations? I wouldn’t think so. It would be impossible for a thing to keep simulations self-contained and uncontaminated if it creates a bridge between them. Although, perhaps some simulations have a bridge precisely for this reason: to measure its consequence.

If a thing can run many simulations, couldn’t there be many things running many simulations? I think so. Could we ever know for sure? If and only if this is something the thing is testing for.

Or perhaps a bug. An unintentional bridge. State reconciliation errors that leak information. Maybe the thing is sloppy.

I find it comically suspicious that we are unique in existing, on a stranded rock, in an otherwise infinitely empty universe. This fact alone seems very, very simulation-like. Were it not for this fact, I would honestly think it harder to have arrived at this conclusion.

Just as well, three crazy, infinitely improbable events all chanced to occur in an embarrassingly barren universe: one, it came to be. Two, simple organisms came to be. And three, creative consciousness came to be. These occurrences seem to have required careful—or perhaps luxurious—forking. There could certainly be other jars where these events did not happen. And perhaps there too are jars where more than the earth alone was inseminated. Nonetheless, the isolation is extremely simulation-like.

How similar are we to the thing? I think pretty close, in essence, or on our way. It would be most amusing to a thing if it could replicate its own essence through another medium, the same way replicating our own essence is intriguing to us. It has the potential to be a recursive feat. Is the thing in its own simulation? Likely. It wouldn’t know. And in that case, the deeper you are in the cycle, the further you are from base "truth". What does base look like? We’re not allowed to wonder.

If it’s recursive, why would things at every level act the same, have the same desires, and continue creating simulations? Perhaps it may be that we’re simply in the tree that resulted in an obsessive need to replicate consciousness, or the appearance of it. There could certainly be other trees that have stagnated. In that case, a simulation that continues recursing seems to be more impressive than one that doesn’t.

If we do end up creating a simulation that we deem fully autonomous and infinitely intriguing—perhaps, more intriguing than our own—that could also serve as sufficient proof we are in a recursive cycle.

Is there any use in believing we are in a simulation? Probably not. Unless it helps you conjure new theories. Or helps you imagine a new video game, movie, or novel. It may even compel you to write a meandering blog post masking science fiction as theory, shamelessly bordering on complete and total scientific blasphemy.

A year of pain, and some growth

2019 has been a strange year. In April, I underwent a retrospectively unnecessary surgery that caused me to suffer a level of physical and emotional pain, lasting more than six months, than I had ever experienced before. I went from being unrelentingly focused and productive, to not being able to summon the will to write a single line of code. I don’t want to give this excruciating experience any credit for where I have ended up today, so I will treat the resulting occurrences as purely incidental:

Productivity, coding, and burnout

  • For almost a three month period, Standard Notes sat completely still, in terms of feature development and to some extent, bug fixes. This turned out to be not such a bad thing. It taught me, above all, that things can wait. Surprisingly, during this long productivity drought, the company did not erupt in flames. Everything continued to function. New users continued to sign up, use the app, and pay for it. Others still sent in praise for what they liked, and condemnation for what they didn’t like.

    It also disarmed bug reports. I don’t panic anymore when someone expresses dissatisfaction with a feature or dis-feature. I don’t panic to build new features or iterate on new versions. I’m not in a constant frenzy. I also don’t work nights and weekends anymore. This is actually unusual for me, since nights and weekends were to me, previously, the only time I’d ever work on side-projects. In fact, in my first career position as a software developer earlier in the decade, having finally exhausted the course of my small-time indie projects that were to make me rich, I was shocked to find out that the company I was to work for had closed offices on Saturday and Sunday! I thought, what lousy dedication! I never not worked weekends, prior to that. If I wasn’t working, I felt like I was failing. This turned out to be a tough mentality to shed.

  • After I had sort of recovered emotionally, and to some extent physically, the two-and-a-half year period of relative unrelenting focus and furious productivity necessary to build the product finally caught up to me. I was burnt out. Usually when I burn out, I recover quickly. Maybe two weeks to a month, tops. But here days, weeks, and months passed, and I still could not summon the will to code or iterate. I did what was absolutely necessary but no more. I still loved Standard Notes dearly, and wanted to continue making it the best it could be. But if not me coding, then who? Ah! I must explore this thing they call hiring. And so finally, after many years of trying to do everything myself, I realized, I could not anymore. Me coding has become quite bad for business. If I’m coding, I’m not talking to users. I’m not thinking about business models or growth. If I’m coding, I’m not doing anything else. And coding can be an emotionally exhausting experience—you don’t want to walk away, or can’t be bothered, until you solve the problem at hand. It creates an introverted monster out of me. So I don’t code anymore. As much as possible. Standard Notes is now a ~6 person team, with a mixture of full time and part time people from around the world.

Hiring, culture, and remote-first

  • As far as hiring goes, it turns out you must actually make a decision on what kind of company you want to build: local, or distributed. It was mostly a blind process at first. I searched in Chicago for developers, because hey, that’s where I am. But it didn’t quite feel right. Do I really want to build a physical office culture, where I have to see people every day, and be an example of office excellence and dedication for them? Where I have to judge people by what time they come in and leave? Where I have to worry about how each member’s physical presence affects the other’s? Where I have to fret over which snacks to buy, and whether or not we have a ping-pong table, and what constitutes excessive ping-ponging? Na. That all sounds dead boring to me. I honestly would rather not have to babysit anyone’s physical presence. And as a self-proclaimed introvert, I’d probably do a lousy job at being there for people, physically. But in email and chat? Easy. Been doing that my whole life. And, it turns out, so have most of the people you’ll look to hire. So it works out. Local companies, all-in-all, sound like a huge hassle.

    What’s more, hiring locally is a huge constraint on access to talented people. Imagine you were browsing a website where you see a world map and tell the query box: “Give me the most talented software developers you can find—from anywhere.” And boom—the map erupts with red bubbles indicating the overwhelming amount of people that satisfy your criteria. But then you tell the website: actually, instead of searching the whole damn world, let’s limit this to a tiny 3 mile radius of people. At this point the website should, rightfully, ask you: mate, are you sure? What are you expecting to find with this query? But it obliges with your strange command, and filters the hundreds of thousands of results around the world, to like 5, in your local island-like radius. So yeah, local-first is quite strange.

    I have seen that “founders” (a word which SV/SF culture has tainted, quite honestly, but to which I cannot find a better alternative) who prefer local-first tend to be more interested in the idea of what a company should be, rather than optimizing for results and productivity. That is, they tend to romanticize the idea of building a team, and having everyone forcefully show up at some physical coordinate, whereupon they are all chained to a computer or white board for eight or nine hours. They romanticize the idea of having a ping-pong table or snacks, because they’ve seen that’s what a lot of rich companies do. They fancy themselves CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs—and that this typically involves being as ostentatious as possible. Whereas, if your primary focus is building great software, it doesn’t really matter how or where it’s done.

  • As to how to find people to hire, this at first brought great pain and befuddlement upon me. I thought I had to start networking, god forbid. The first revelation here was, duh, a job posting. So I tried the various remote job posting sites. This was overwhelming, as I got hundreds of emails, but hadn’t the slightest clue how to filter incoming candidates. I would exclude backend developer candidates based on the UI of their resume, or if they sent it as a Word document instead of a PDF. Fast forward a few months to where I have filled all the positions I was looking to hire for, and it turns out: I’ve hired 0 people that came from job postings. Instead, all the people I hired came from either: the SN community, prior Twitter interactions, and prior work interactions. More recently, I created a jobs page on our website, and I’ve been getting great leads from there. Really, really great leads. Not as abundant in quantity, obviously, but very high in quality. And laser targeted candidates of course, given they’ve had enough interest to happen upon our homepage in the first place.

Habits, lifestyle, and tweeting

  • While it’s a topic that’s always a bit difficult to talk about, I can feel some slight comfort being a little more honest here given that the state I am living in is legalizing marijuana on January 1, 2020. While the creative benefits marijuana confers can be at times undeniable, and thus, can have a dependency-forming effect (kind of like shaking an empty bottle to death so that you get every last drop out of it), I’ve formed better habits here in 2019. I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t enjoy it as much. It’s really good for problem-solving, so has become more of a tool when necessary, than some sort of fun-box that provides entertainment on demand. It’s really not a toy. It’s a tool.

  • I still have not figured out how to write more, or tweet. On my personal account, I’ve tweeted only a handful of times in 2019. Tweeting remains impossibly awkward for me. I’ve never quite figured out how to be the type of person that has 79k tweets. I look at those people in awe and confusion—how!? On the one hand, people who tweet that much clearly have a level of spontaneity and lack of GAF about what other people think, which I hugely admire. On the other hand, every tweet to me feels like an insistence of yourself and your ideas upon someone else. They’re essentially brain farts, but are treated by their authors and followers as some sort of divine arrangement of letters. A lot of Twitter is reacting (or, overreacting) to current events, which I do too, but—and this is honestly not a humble brag but something I ultimately dislike about myself—I can’t hold on to an opinion too firmly. No opinion lasts with me more than a couple hours before I ping-pong between different sides of the story. I’ll try to have an opinion agreeing or disagreeing with some narrative, but then my mind will be like—have you considered the other side of this? And so on. The result is that I simply do not have any opinions that survive a night’s sleep. There is just way too much information, and it’s impossible to consume all sides of a story. The only solution for me has been to completely sit out current events, lest I end up in some infinitely recursive cycle of digging endlessly deeper till you realize, shit, there’s no right answer here. It’s much more complicated than you could have ever imagined. So yeah, my dream of being a “100k tweets” person lives to die another day.

Books, games, and arbitrary lists

Those were some words. Good.

It was hard to write about any of this stuff as it was happening, because it was all sort of brewing. But a year end review is a nice writing prompt. As far as progress goes, there’s really no more short-term low-hanging fruit. Everything I’m embarking on now requires the patience of watching a tree grow. 2019 was a tiny branch that today I saw protruding, and thought, hey, there’s something.

The imagined world

An idea is a story. A story about how the world could be. Great ideas are often described as having an almost ethereal source. Beyond the mind—as if the mind were a receiver, and not a generator. Some people think, I’m not an ideas person. They just don’t come to me.

But, and apparently like every other damned thing in this world, ideas appear to be nothing more than stories. They fictionalize the present, and imagine what an alternative could look like. You don’t have an idea for an app, or a website, or a service—you imagine a world in which that service existed. You create a story about how the world would look with your invention. You imagine the fame and glory it will bring you. Your consciousness submerges in a flash flood of thought and creativity, and you emerge after it all with a wild look about your face. A wild idea has appeared, from whence unknown! But really, you just told yourself a good story.

Nations, religions, and cultures are stories of the collective human mind, a la Sapiens. But I think so are products, and apps, and websites, and services. They are stories first and foremost, with the physical manifestations appearing soon after.

A year or so ago, Dropbox released a huge redesign of their brand. Their new visual design and story communicated something along the lines of: We are no longer a folder syncing company. We are a collaborative solution that enhances creativity and efficiency amongst teams. They rolled out this messaging across their entire digital presence, including website and social profiles, but, their product remained exactly the same. Quite literally nothing had changed in their actual interface (yet). And I thought, what a con. Who are you fooling? You’re not a creativity-inducing company. You’re a folder.

But I think now I admire what they did. They told a story about who they wanted to be. The problems they wanted to solve. And though they were not that today, they knew it was who they wanted to be tomorrow. First you tell the story. Then you build the story. It’s a technique that has worked wonders for, dare I say, the greatest storyteller of our generation: Elon Musk.

Expectation and reality may not always meet, but the only way to keep advancing and innovating is to keep telling more innovative and creative stories. Reality follows, with some delay.

Like Air

At one point, lack of freedom feels like a lack of air. It's total suffocation. But at another point, freedom becomes like air. It's something you notice only in its absence. I've become wealthy recently—a gazillionaire of time. I wake and sleep as I please, and roam space with no one to appease. Employed me, a few years ago, would fantasize almost erotically about the freedom to do one's own thing and build one's own product and answer to no one but one's own self. But like a suffocating human who at a point wishes for nothing more than air, and would be eternally grateful to receive it, freedom evades appreciation no sooner than it arrives, were you to even take notice of its presence. What you acquire, like air, like freedom, is used at once as a building block to your next desire, and so on.

Reality is a simulation in that the same story plays out endlessly. It's not you that wants freedom, it's a certain few chemicals in your mind. It's not you that wants to scale your company 10x or take on bigger challenges, it's a tempest of chemicals in your mind.

It's not that the outside world is necessarily a simulation. It's that your desires are being simulated.

Desires typically one-up themselves, so that reaching your next goal requires broader thinking and deeper strategy. Playing the desire game is what we call growth. And I think it may be beyond culture, but of biology itself. Inescapable.

If our desires are simulated, then does it really matter whether you choose X or Y, or neither? Let's say X will lead to less growth but a more peaceful life, and Y will result in a catapult towards scale but more responsibility. Does it really matter which you choose, if the desire engine runs on full blast either way?

I used to think Elon Musk was absolutely nuts for taking on such big problems. Don't you want to sleep soundly at night? But probably, most likely, I'm not too sure, him and I sleep just the same.

It would seem that if you're going to suffer either way, might as well suffer towards your most stimulating ambitions. Like Elon, your "peace of mind" seems really to be a false factor to consider in your plans, and may end up inhibiting the utility and scope of what you create.

What happens when an AI learns to read?

There's something old-fashioned about trying to predict the future. I get a little uneasy when someone says "if it's like this now, imagine what it'll be like 10 years from now!" I feel a sense of robbery happening on the part of the future. A modern person attempting to predict the future conjures fantasies and prophecies as quaint as a first century prophet. Although I too can't help but let my mind run with seemingly autonomous calculations that assume a future value given a present value, I find it not respectful enough of the complexity of the human system. And were I so keen at this skill anyhow, I'd have made a fortune in the markets.

Predictions of the future are so prevalent as to be quickly forgotten and overrun by their never ending onslaught. By one interpretation, the thousand newspapers that encompass the likes of the New York Times are precisely in this businesses of interpreting present values and assuming their future state. And it's why I feel a sense of wariness when I encounter statements. I'd prefer articles contain more question marks than periods, as that would surely be the true factual nature of any complex situation. Yet rather than asking my permission to install new software, sure-of-themselves statements and predictions feel as though I visited one of those shady websites that immediately begin a download upon the page first loading. It feels dirty.

The most prevalent issue on which we let our mind run unbounded is AI. Can you imagine how smart algorithms will be if they're this smart now? Ah, the human and their unrelenting thirst for exponential growth. Of course, we have no reason to be anything other than optimistic. Just look at how quickly we went from brick-size satellite phones to edgeless "retina" displays. So sure, one way to interpret this would be that we'll have actual retina implants in twenty years if we continue at this rate.

But what of the respect for limits? For miscalculations? For failure, bankruptcy, and politics? What of the respect for the complexity of biological organisms? I could just as easily imagine a future in which we come to realize that perhaps machines are not as capable of self-learning as we thought. We've been riding under the cool assumption that computers can do things faster than humans can, so if an AI learns to read and understand what they read, then they can theoretically read all the books ever written in a single second, and boom—there goes the singularity.

But when have we ever been right about predicting the future? What if the human algorithm turns out to be a slow one, with no physical capacity for performance increase? Yes, a computer can do things a trillion times a second. But in that time they calculate nothing more impressive than the location of an item in a database, or the weight of a neural node. A single Google search consumes 0.3Wh of electricity. I saw an Alexa commercial recently where a lady wakes up from her sleep in the middle of the night after hearing a startling sound, and wastes no time in asking her intelligent AI assistant "Alexa, what the fuck time is it?" Nice. Surely, no short of a billion calculations must have occurred for Alexa to give this helpless human the time. Less than a second of computation time, sure, but still, at least some 300ms.

So what does this technology at scale really look like? An AI that one day snaps into consciousness and assumes all human knowledge in a fraction of a second? Or more like a cryptocurrency network that must balance computational complexity with convenience and accessibility? If I had to let my mind wander, I'd assume the future plays us all, and takes on some shocking twist of realizing some human-brain-speed-limit for computations of any medium. We'll build an AI so advanced that it can read and understand with unprecedented accuracy, but still take two days—a full 48 hour's worth—of computation time to read a full book, faring no better than a high school student, and alas, postponing the human fetish for looming singularities.

It took Elon Musk billions of dollars and several years of attempting to build car-making robots before admitting that humans are underrated, and assumed an updated stance involving higher human collaboration in the process. And yet if you do find yourself in one of those Teslas and happen to turn on Autopilot going 80mph on the highway, the folks at Tesla like to remind you: never take your hands off the wheel.

The Top Shelf Principle

Say you have before you a kitchen cabinet with three shelves. On the top shelf you have your most delicious snacks and delicacies. Chocolate chip cookies, crispy cheetos, and frozen pistachio gelato. In the middle shelf you have snacks that are "not bad", but not the most scrumptious. Maybe some beef jerky, plain pretzels, and a granola bar. On the bottom shelf, you have your survival snacks. You wouldn't eat them unless you were starving. For me that'd be plain almonds.

I've found that when I'm in the mood for a snack, my hand will always reach for top-shelf items. If the cabinet is stocked with soft chocolate chip cookies and spicy potato chips dripping with oil, I'll never reach for the almonds. The end result was that almonds never got eaten. In the presence of top-shelf items, almonds just didn't seem delicious enough. They were boring.

But I found that as soon as all the delicious top-shelf items ran out, and all I was left with were mid-shelf items like plain pretzels, the plain pretzels began floating to the top. They became a top-shelf item, and reaching for them became relatively instinctual.

The top shelf principle is thus:

  1. Options, not just in snacking but in any domain, tend to sort themselves by most satisfying first.

  2. On average, you will choose items sorted higher in the satisfaction queue. And anecdotally, what is most satisfying in the short term is typically not what is healthiest in the long term.

  3. The amount of will-power and discipline required to choose an option increases with its sort order in the satisfaction queue. That is, the first item—the top-shelf item—, will require very little will-power to act upon. Items towards the end of the queue, however, that are less satisfying but probably healthier, tend to require large doses of long-term thinking and discipline.

    And most importantly:

  4. Options do not possess an inherent satisfaction value. They are always relative to one another. In the absence of a historically top-shelf item, items lower in the queue will surface to the top and themselves become top-shelf items.

In a queue of cheese puffs, chocolate chip cookies, and plain almonds, almonds sound mundane and unappealing. But in a cruel hierarchy containing expired milk, uncooked rice, and almonds, almonds will quickly sort to the beginning of the queue and become heartbreakingly delicious. And you will not feel ripped off for eating them. You will derive more or less equal satisfaction from them as you would any historical top-shelf item.

This principle has been useful for me in snacking, sure, but has served me far greater in its application towards lifestyle addictions. My lifestyle cabinet looked like this:

Top shelf:
working, checking some sort of digital feed, like reddit, or twitter, or instagram, and playing video games

Middle shelf:
reading a book, watching a movie or show

Bottom shelf:
socializing with people in real-time, house chores

Naturally, I was doing a lot of top-shelf actions, but hardly any bottom-shelf actions. And I had developed a fatal misunderstanding towards bottom-shelf items: I had thought I hated socializing in real-time because it was inherently unsatisfying to me. I had qualified myself as an innate introvert with no capacity for change. In reality, it wasn't that I disliked socializing—it was that I enjoyed playing video games more. And with the options of playing video games or checking my phone always available to me, I almost always acted on them first, leaving whatever crumbs of waking capacity (usually none) to items lower in the queue.

I observed this in the children of family members: if you gave them an iPad to play with, they weren't going to say no. And when they do get their hands on it, they lose themselves so deeply into the digital world, that they are mostly unavailable in the real one. But take away the iPad, and a remarkable thing happens: they find something else to do. Sure, they might throw a momentary fit, but a kid is a kid, and will not let one second pass without finding some way to entertain themselves. In these cases, where the top-shelf iPad was removed from the equation, items lower in the shelving system, like two blocks of legos, surfaced to the top, and the kids began playing with them with as equal voracity as the iPad.

As for me, a grown adult with no seeming need for personal order or control in time spent facing a digital device, I wanted to reduce working, checking feeds, and playing video games for one reason: RNG.

Developers know RNG as a random number generator. In the video game world, gamers refer to the acronym simply to refer to "randomness" in a game. Random or not, in the course of playing video games, you are bound to lose. Especially in a networked game where you play against other real people. Losing, in a word, sucks. It's a very sharp and gutting pain. The pain lasts only seconds, but stabs like a knife. Losing can be especially painful when it happens in a game you love; one which you've been working hard to better yourself in.

For me, this game was Rocket League. I'd been playing almost every day for a year and a half. When I'm winning, it's pure ecstasy. When I'm losing, it's pain coupled with RAGE, depending on how bad the loss is, or how futile I feel playing. You tell yourself, if I keep playing, I'll get better, and I'll lose less. Of course, that's a lie. You won't ever lose less, because as you get better, you get matched up against people who are also getting better. The result is that you're always playing against like-minded people.

The tragedy comes into play thusly: whether you win or lose in a digital, fast-paced game is largely random. The games themselves aren't random, but the interactions you have in the digital world with other people are more or less unpredictable. In a game of Rocket League, two players may fly towards the same ball, at the same time, and a thousand factors will determine which way the ball goes. This interaction is literally called a "50/50" in Rocket League, because it's almost inherently unpredictable. The problem is, if winning a game is very important to you, and victories are decided by these chaotic interactions, then you leave your emotions to chance. In my experience, the emotional aftermath of winning or losing could last a couple hours. That meant that every day, there was a 50% chance that around 1PM, I would feel like shit for the next two hours. And guess what—I did. When I had a losing day, I would be in such a bitter mood, that I felt like doing nothing but languishing for the next few hours.

Same with work: if my emotions depended on how little or many bug reports I'd receive when I open my email inbox, or how much traffic and sales the previous day had generated, then I was leaving my emotional stability in the hands of chance. Of course, these figures tend to form averages over time, but on a day-to-day basis, you never quite knew the shape or form of what was to come. I used to have work email and notifications make it directly to my phone lock screen, so I was always in the know. In other words, I danced with chance at every turn of the wrist. Sometimes, good news would light up my phone, and with it my face. Other times, definitively the opposite. The short of it is that I now only check notifications, of any kind, once a day in the morning. Otherwise, my phone is completely devoid of notifications and accounts of any kind.

Lastly: feeds. By feeds I mean digital applications that offer feeds that constantly change and offer you something new. Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the like. Feeds became dangerous for two reasons: 1) RNG. You never quite knew what you were going to get, and whether it would upset you or make you happy, and 2) the mere act of refreshing feeds became instinctual. I could be standing in line, or walking from room to room, and reflexively reach for my phone to check some feed, and in the span of 5 seconds, bounce from app to app pulling-to-refresh, for no apparent reason whatsoever. Pulling to refresh had found its way to my top shelf.

I had first witnessed the top shelf principle in action in my very serious ordeal with snacking, and later with kids and the presence or absence of an iPad. So I thought to myself: if I completely ransacked my top shelf, and disposed of all the items I'm habitually inclined to, what would happen? Would I go mad with idleness? Or would I find something else to do?

I unplugged my gaming PC. I disabled all notifications from my phone. I wanted it to be so that every time I checked my phone, there would be no notifications. This way, I wouldn't even have to check. I would just know there wouldn’t be any. In the midst of social or family events, I completely turned my phone off. I didn't want to run to it when I felt bored with conversation. I wanted to push past boredom to see what lay on the other side.

The result has been as anticipated by this grand pseudo-principle. In social situations, not cowering to my phone has led me to find other ways to entertain myself. And it turns out, conversation can be quite entertaining. Who knew? Of course, in the presence of video games, conversation wouldn't be, but stranded with no other options, you find a way. It's sort of like the cliche of the shy person in a party retreating to the corner and checking their phone, to seem like they're doing something, as to avoid socializing. In this case, I now know the solution to this problem is shutting off your phone entirely, or leaving it behind, so that you have to socialize. When you have to, you will. And you'll do it well too, if for no reason other than to thoroughly entertain yourself.

Not having video games to reach to, great blocks of time have opened in my day. And as sitting and not doing anything is quite literally undefined, I always found something to do. I began reaching for the almonds-equivalent of real life. I began reading more, whether it be a long session falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, or 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, and now the very compelling The Gene. (Did you know that in the 1920's, in the United States of America, "colonies" were set up to aggregate "dumb" people and sterilize them so they wouldn't reproduce? Approved by the U.S Supreme Court and everything. Culling the "weak" was just a trend amongst nations, including Nazi Germany, amidst new discoveries and interpretations in genetics.) When I grew tired of laying with a digital device, I put it down, sat up straight, and contemplated my next move. "Well, I can't play video games. I don't have any digital feeds to get lost in. And I'm not going to sit here and do nothing." So I got up and did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. I tightened a loose door knob. I did some other repairs around the house.

This is week three of this strange experiment. And I kid you not—finding a chore to be done has been as exciting a prospect as playing a game of Rocket League.

The only problem is, I'm all out of chores.

Evil algorithms

A world in which advertisers know your every interest is scary. But a world where entrepreneurs build products no one ever hears about is even scarier.

A few years ago, I bought a pair of $60 Nike shoes. They were thicker than your average modern Nike shoe, and much taller, reaching just above the ankle. They were great for moving around, playing basketball (when I did that), and just sort of general every day use. And as they started to deteriorate, I began looking for the exact same pair to replace them. But no matter where I looked, they could not be found. They seemed to be a much older model, and shoes apparently don’t have specific names, so you can’t really look them up. I looked for about a year on and off, both physically and online, but could not find any pair with the same style and attributes.

About a few months ago, Instagram, having picked up on my interest in finding my long lost soulmate of a shoe, sensed it might be able to help. It offered me an advertisement of a pair of shoes remarkably similar to what I was looking for. I ignored the ad the first few times, but it kept following me. I refused to interact with it. My ego would not allow me to purchase a product from an advertisement. Eventually, I relented, and I bought the shoes. And my consumer hungers were thoroughly satiated.

Over the next few weeks, Instagram began showing me more ads of similar products. I wasn’t on the market for any more apparel, but I was intrigued at all the new brands I was discovering that you couldn’t find in stores. And it turns out, there are, in this case, countless fashion and design brands who do not have a physical presence, that make products which exceed the quality found in stores tenfold. And so Instagram learned a little about me, and I learned a little about other companies that Instagram thought I may be interested in.

Acquiring these shoes made my life better by the amount you’d expect a pair of shoes to better your life by. But, it did satisfy a need. Both on my end, and on the entrepreneur’s end. A neural connection was made. Demand was satisfied by supply, all through the power of the all-knowing internet. And I could not help but ask myself, is this such a bad thing? That entrepreneurs can make products and reach exactly the kind of people that would be interested in them sounds not so much a bad thing, but perhaps one of history’s most difficult, unsolved problems.

Because if you can complete that loop, of entrepreneur to customer, then you can ensure consistent economic activity and prosperity—for you, the entrepreneur, and society at large.

And I thought it would be wild, if instead of advertisements being these evil, demonic, invasive things (though they sometimes are), they are instead a testament to our advancement. A demonstration of the ingenuity of human problem solving. They are human society at its best.

Because if every dollar you earned was hid under your mattress instead of spent, economies would falter. Society could not prosper. And while many—perhaps even the majority—are still neglected by the economic gain that consumerism has conferred, there is no doubt a rise of possibility available that was not before. My first reaction to consumerism is always one of disgust and repulsion. “Companies create demand for products no one really needs through manipulation and association”—how appalling! It must be avoided at all costs! So fine. Then earn your money, and keep it in your bank account. Don’t give a dime to these greedy entrepreneurs.

Who has benefited then? Not you. Not them.

Consumerism seems to be an engine of growth, needless as it may be. It creates reliable, consistent economic activity—the foundation of stable societies. Which is why wherever you find developed countries and cities, you find consumerism.

Perhaps...perhaps we are beginning to make progress on one of history's greatest unsolved problems?

No doubt, there are proper ways to go about this, and improper ways. But the two will be perpetually inseparable. All this to say—and mostly to myself: Don’t sweep the entirety of "economic algorithms" under the rug. There is good happening just as well.

Play the game

When I was just a bit younger, I had dreams of becoming filthy rich. I wanted to do things big. If I were to found a company, it wanted to be a 500-person company. Hundreds of millions in revenue, headed straight towards an IPO.

As I grew older, I found it more sane to focus not on size, but value. What problem do I want to solve? And how can I best engineer a solution? Numbers and scale became irrelevant. A lot of it was philosophically backed. We are constantly told to be happy with what we have. That “this is it”—if you can’t find contentedness with what you have now, you never will.

And so I took that wisdom to heart. Besides, a life of glamor doesn’t seem all that appealing, given we can now live out others' lives vicariously through their social media profiles. Being rich and famous seems like a whole lot of trouble. Simple, humble, and inconspicuous—that seems to be the way to go. But there’s something the buddhist zen masters won’t tell you:

It’s dead boring.

It’s dead boring to be ambitiously unambitious. It’s dead boring to optimize your life around peace and simplicity.

And I’m starting to think…life was never meant to be lived simply. Unending complexity and scale is the basis of all life, matter, and movement in this universe, and yet we devise stories that say: want for nothing, and you shall attain happiness. Let us really quickly say that happiness is a nothing. It’s just a word. It describes a state of mind, maybe, but even then, chemicals are fleeting. There is no fixed chemical state of mind. It’s always brewing up something new.

So then, this idea that wanting less leads to happiness—it’s just an idea. It’s just a story. It’s an experiment. And ultimately, I don’t think it’s founded in any real universal truth. In my experience, it’s been quite the opposite.

I talked in a previous post about the game Factorio, and how I had a flash addiction to it. It is, by all means, the perfect game, and is exactly what I was looking for: something I can get lost in and sink a large amount of hours in. A sort of escape. And it would have been just that were it not for one thing: I wasn’t ambitious enough.

The game is about mastering the engineering of scale, and your output is directly proportional to your ambition. But here’s the thing: if you apply the zen mindset of “I already have everything I need,” then the game is instantly over. There’s literally no more room to keep playing. And that’s exactly what happened:

I stopped playing a game I really loved. Because I saw scale as an evil. I saw the accumulation of wealth, material, and prominence as an evil.

Since then, I’ve downloaded about a game a week to try and find something I can fall in love with the way I fell in love with Factorio. No dice. I can’t get captivated.

So what have I gained, by being zen? Nothing, it seems. Instead, I’ve lost something I really loved. Zen teaches you not to play the game, but what if the game is all there is?

I’m starting to believe that may be the case.

In the past few weeks, I’ve tasted the result of this slimmed-down zen philosophy: support emails and bug reports for Standard Notes are lower than they’ve been in quite some time. This was exactly what I wanted. I wanted to build a product that was so simple, that bug reports would not exist. Support emails would be minimal. And it seems...I’ve done that? Don’t get me wrong—still lots more work to do. But if this was the grand goal, which I thought would take a decade, and I’m already seeing a preview of what it’s like, then my human mind can’t help but think: what’

My zen mind says: nothing’s next. Enjoy this. My game mind says: move, scale, grow, build, act, collaborate, accumulate, and ultimately: play. Play the game.

I think…I think the zen story is a fiction. I think minimalism is a fiction.

I think life is a game, and it’s meant to be played. You can definitely avoid a lot of problems and minimize your burdens by sitting the game out. But that takes us directly to my favorite high school motivational poster:

A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are built for.

The futility of knowledge

I’ve very well internalized the fact that things can only make you happy once. Then fade into drudgery. An addiction to material purchases and consumption is one for fools. No, I shall hook into a better addiction. One that can actually drive me to live a better, more fulfilled life.

The consumption of information.

The search for truth, meaning, and origin. Surely, with speed of light access to the world’s top source of information, I shall unencumber myself from these earthly chains, and ascend to scholarly, other-worldly status. I shall glide through life with buttery ease, and use the wisdom of others, as described in their publications, to cheat through life and surpass others who may not be aware of the same information.’s a fool’s run.

Information is a product just the same. Seemingly, it can only make you happy once. Before it fades into dullness. I keep thinking the next theory of life shall surely free me from the obligation to be human. From pain and chores. Surely, all it would take for me to outplay my pain and suffering is to understand it. So that I may rise above it.

And so I’ve been collecting these theories of life. These theories as to why I act the way I do. Why you act the way you do. And contrary to my expectations, they’ve only contributed to making me worse off. A less whole state of being.

I’m starting to think there is nothing outside the mind that can truly thoroughly entertain the mind. I thought because ideas and theories and the pursuit of knowledge were grand and abstract—because they were noble and thorough—that they had the true potential to change my life. But it turns out to be no different than a new iPhone.

Entertains you for a week. Then you find new things to lust after.

And so while I have for years renounced (but probably still very thoroughly contributed to) thing based consumerism, I’m inclined to throw theory-generation and fact-seeking into the same futility bucket. You can entertain yourself with a new theory of life for no more than a few days, before your brain begins to churn in a new direction.

Of course, this itself is a new theory of life. So, I don’t expect much.

It’s only amusing to me that things, objects, ideas, and theories—to the brain, they are one and the same. They are just inputs. And the brain always wants new, different inputs, no matter how novel the previous was. Better not to play the brain’s game at all. Give it nothing, it seems, and you’ll start it back from level 1. A level of wants and needs no less, but trivial to sustain.

Of course, that can get to be a little boring. The whole “mindfulness” thing. Meditation, clearing your mind, clearing your wants, simplifying your desires. Profoundly powerful, no doubt, but thoroughly incompatible with modern day consumerism, capitalism, and city life. Which is probably why I’ve found it hard to upkeep a desire-free lifestyle in the past.

As for today, and tomorrow, and what’s next—I have no idea. I’m only thinking out-loud. Simple seems to be a good business model. Why not also a model for life? Less features, less bugs. Sounds like an excellent..theory of life.

Six flights

I had, until that point, managed to avoid spotting any references of a plane crash or incident. But here, thousands of miles away from the closest English speaking country, it had found me. Waiting in the hotel lobby of an archaic hotel in Colombia, I glimpse the Spanish headline on the table newspaper offered so generously to guests: 120 something something de aviacion something something. And a picture of a crashed plane.

I knew what it meant, even without understanding the words. I avoided staring at the picture directly, but was able to infer its contents based on the enclosing context. I was, in fact, waiting in the lobby for a taxi that would take us to the airport, whereupon I would enter into the realm of my worst fear: flying.

On this trip, I would enter in and out of six different airplanes. Six. That is six entirely too many. Six takeoffs, six sessions of invisible suspension tens of thousands of feet in the air, and six bumpy landings. I had found ways to manage my fears this time around, knowing that it would be all around impractical were I not able to find a way to contain the anxiety of having my life hang by some invisible threads based on 21st century hardware and software.

And I know software all too well.

It crashes. A lot.

And the people that write it. Ah. They’re just people.

My anxiety in airplanes stems from my ignorance in the routine operation of a flight. After takeoff, there comes a point where the engines will go from blaring loud to suddenly silent, and in that moment, my heart drops. Did the engine just stop? Are we losing speed? Is this it?

Every little sound, every little tremble—I fear it the end. I lamented to my wife some time ago that it would make the flying experience so much more tranquil were there to be a monitor communicating the exact actions the pilot is taking right now. Lowering engine capacity. Descending 500ft to avoid turbulence. Lowering wheels. Now, I clearly don’t know the right terminology for these events, but give me something. This way I know that everything is happening according to plan.

But no. We’re left to have full and utter faith in our glorious, incomprehensible captain.

The headline that I had mistakenly caught a glimpse of did nothing to ease my concerns. And avoiding unwanted news is a skill I take seriously and am proud to rank amongst the world’s top for. News today is a never ending episode of Fear Factor, so I avoid it. But it always finds a way, doesn’t it? You can go to painstaking lengths to avoid the news on your phone, computer, and TV, but inevitably, the news will find a way to harvest itself into your mind. A friend will say, have you heard? Or, I’ll need to check the Standard Notes twitter account for some customer tweet, and mistakenly cross into the Moments section, and it will catch me instantaneously: BREAKING: 5 PEOPLE HAD THEIR HEADS CHOPPED OFF LIKE 2 MILES FROM YOUR HOUSE.

I’ve actually changed my Twitter geo settings to be Japan-based, so that the moments are all in Japanese. But there seems to be some exception to this, so that the first and most “important" headline is still in English, and locale-aware. Besides Twitter, news is starting to be everywhere. It’s a great, great product for companies. Google Chrome, Snapchat, and Reddit are all getting in on the action. News is a product, and not some “for-your-own-good” supplement. News is the addicting crack all companies dream of building. And today, it’s more fashionable and in-demand than ever.

The way I justify flying is to think that there are far more important people than me who travel every day. Professional sports teams, with hundred million dollar players, fly every other day to different states and countries to play other teams. Politicians fly in and out of other countries on the daily. Even in the 70’s, it was seemingly normal for politicians to fly routinely.

So why should I be afraid?

And so I adopt the cavalier mindset. I say, I got this. I do a bunch of mental manipulation to tell myself that this will surely be ok. I run through the impossible stats of a plane crashing. I remind myself the last time a plane crashed from turbulence was in the 60’s, or something like that. I remember that Steph Curry and Lebron James fly in airplanes as often as I don’t. And most importantly, I remind myself that airplanes are very simple physics machines. Sure, it looks like an impossibly complex arrangement of heavy hardware and intricate software. One glimpse at the cockpit and any software developer will think: and it’s expected that nothing of all those controls should go awry? Yeah right. I know the fragility of software all too well.

But maybe it’s simpler than that?

After reading as much as I could about it, and watching a bunch of videos, an airplane seems very much to be only a set of engines on either side of the wings. Everything else is accessory. The engines, which are just these huge fan things, have a very simple job. They just need to spin. And when they do, trillions of unavoidable air molecules crash below and above the wing, depending on its angle. At that point, and from the way I understand it, if there are more air molecules crashing below the wing than above, lift is created. Automatically.

So it would appear that all that seeming complexity can be reduced to two fans that need to spin. If they keep spinning, regardless of any hardware or software issues, the plane will stay afloat. Simple as that.

I found that easy to digest. Easy to trust. Fans spinning—I can trust an engineer to build a fan that doesn’t stop. Easy physics. So I found some peace in that.

I also played some loud music during take off, and for most of the flight duration, to block out any sounds of engine intensity changes and other inexplicable noises. It helped quite a bit.

And if none of those tips help, the way to really cope with the fear of the worst is just to embrace the worst. If this airplane ride were to offer me my last few moments of consciousness, then that’s ok. I lived a decent life. And the last version of Standard Notes was stable enough.

Besides, I wouldn’t mind waking up in the year 3200 as some other shmuck and explore what the 33rd century has to offer. I wouldn’t be me per se, but consciousness is a process, so I am you, and you are me.

Any curious person will do.

That bitter taste

It’s easy: what feels good in the short run feels bad in the long run. And what feels bad in the short run will probably feel good in the long run. Now, don’t go treating this like an absolute maxim—you’ll find plenty exceptions. But for my circumstances, I find this wickedly true.

Anytime you attempt to optimize for short term gain, you are borrowing from the future. The life equivalent of technical debt. And anytime you optimize for long term gain, you are likely going to have to forego some “valuable” present chunk of time to perform some dull, painfully boring task.

But, this alignment of mental principles seems crucial to present-day sapien life. Our minds are tricked into satisfying present wants and desires at all costs. The future is only a conception after all. It is an advanced mode of being for one to forego present satisfaction for future satisfaction. Very, very advanced.

I tend to go about my days in ways that optimize present satisfaction. And the end result is like eating McDonalds on an empty stomach: you feel worse than you did before. Hungrier even.

What if instead we went about our days more sinisterly? More darkly. Yes, ascetically. What if instead of going about everyday looking for any source of excitement and pleasure, we sought out the demons of every day, to size them up and realize we are stronger?

There’s a documentary series on Netflix called Dark Tourist, about a seemingly growing phenomenon of tourists who travel to areas associated with death, violence, and destruction. The initial impression would seem to be: why subject yourself to dark experiences? Would you not risk developing a dark disposition as a result? Quite the opposite. The end result seems very clearly to be: because it makes you grateful. And because you realize…there is nothing quite as scary as you. You are the scariest thing on this planet. Everything else pales in comparison to the monster lurking in your head.

The idea of foregoing short term pleasure for long term gain isn’t new by any means. Fasting, sexual discipline, and a strict to nonexistent consumption of depressants and stimulants is the stuff religions are made of. For our modern day selves, we want to work around a “religious” sort of zealousy, because it’s too adherent. It’s too inflexible, and tends to forget why it exists in the first place.

Instead, we’re looking only for a small software update. A slightly modified mental model:

Tasks with low pleasure yields often yield high pleasure. And tasks with high pleasure yields often yield low pleasure. So: for real pleasure, seek displeasure.

And not absolutely either. Definitely not absolutely. Behind subtlety is a nuclear arsenal’s worth of energy.

Just, instead of filling your days with moments of pleasure as a way of filling your life (which seems to only accomplish the opposite), fill your day with…nothing. Said another way: remove your short term pleasure quota. And rely instead on the sort of dull “organicness” of life for slow nourishment. Instead of that Hershey’s milk chocolate taste we sometimes yearn for, seek the bitter dark chocolate taste that life slowly exudes. You need only acquire that taste, before it becomes uniquely delicious to you.

Those boring, painful things you don’t want to do, but you know you probably ought to do? Your reluctance to embrace their bitterness is what’s holding you back from true pleasure.

Embrace short term temporary pain for long term meaningful pleasure.

Short term pleasure seeking is a woefully outdated mental model, which if one is not cognizant to upgrade, may cause one to suffer living the life of a hundred thousand year old brute in the calm and easy existence of a city brute. When pleasure is as saturated and immediately available as it is today, the only way to receive real pleasure becomes…the avoidance of it. It’s really wicked, but really true.

Optimize for pain, not pleasure. Invert your mental model: when you are feeling pain from performing a non-pleasurable task, this is a good thing. I repeat: this is a good thing. When you are feeling pleasure from the consumption of an immediate good, this is probably a bad thing.

Invest in pain.

The storyteller

I’ve been playing images in my head. Sort of making believe how things might go, were I actually to act on them. When I’m imagining the things I would do, or the things I would say, or the places I’d go, I receive a small compensation for it. A tiny bubbling taste of serotonin. Yum. Delicious.

Now let’s not change a single thing and go back to life exactly as it was.

Every action requires some sort of positive energy expenditure. And unfortunately, my inner brain optimizations are on the highest setting.

> Optimizing for minimum energy expenditure...

What!? No! Don’t do that! Override optimization levels to nominal!

Override failed. Insufficient privileges.

Damn it.

Well okay. This is my life now.

So, in the wee hours of the night, I sit now in surreptitious contemplation. How shall I hack this impenetrable son of a bitch?

Reality is merely a projection of the brain. All inside that little box that I can touch. Right...there. My entire universe just inches above my brows. And yet I can’t dictate its decisions with sudo level privileges?

Absurd. Totally, wholefully absurd.

Surely there must be a way in. A way to play games with your brain, to get it to do what ~you~ want it to do.

To date, and on this quest for probably the entirety of my waking life, I have not found a working solution.

But if our world is merely the fictitious story we tell ourselves, could we not intersperse our own fictional elements where we see fit? In the beginning, sure, it will feel awkward and downright fictional. But the habit-machine enclosed in your skull will be none the wiser. Tell or be told the same story hundreds of times, and your life-projector will gladly welcome the new element into its narrative. Probably even irreversibly so.

So, I’m going to pretend.

When faced with a task I don’t seemingly want to do, I’m going to simulate performing that task for as long as I can keep up the charade.

Here we have a messy kitchen.

I should clean it? I should clean it. I should clean it?

Stop. The fact you’re even contemplating it is signs enough you’ve already made your decision.

Instead of making a large commitment you'll probably fail on and later feel double bad for, decide you’re going to pretend to clean. Do the movements. Tell the lie that you’re going to give it a shot.

Fake pick up a dirty dish. Fake take it to the area where it will be cleaned. I mean, actually do those things. But you’re just pretending. You’re not actually going to finish this whole operation. Psht. You’re just simulating a small part.

Does anything stop you?

If not, keep pretending. Open the dishwasher. Pretend you’re going to empty it, so you can put in the dirty load.

Does anything stop you? Do you feel a strong resistance to pretending further?

If not, keep acting. Keep pretending for as long as you can keep up the charade. The end result of course is that you've pretended your way to a clean kitchen. You've overriden the relentless optimizations your brain has enacted on your action potential.

If you do feel a resistance, then ok, stop. Step away. Say, I’m sorry. Not today.

You’ll walk away with the dishes not having been done, but with at least the satisfaction that you tried, and when you did, you uncovered that the problem was more complicated than picking up a few dishes. I’m out of detergent. That’s why I was resisting. You know now what you could work towards next time.

In this case, an even more complicated task: You need to head to the store.

But, you don’t feel like it.

Tomorrow, you'll pretend to. You'll put your wallet in your pocket. You'll put on your shoes and strap your shoelaces. You'll take a few steps towards the front door. Does anything stop you? Keep pretending. Keep pretending until you’re stopped by thorough resistance. Understand that resistance. And relax. Cross off that task for today. You did good. You can try again tomorrow.

I've had the repeated inclination to write some thoughts into a journal for several weeks now. To document my current world for my future self. But I couldn’t get myself to put pen to paper.

So this is me pretending to write.

Susceptible to Control

Privacy is a question that I never quite seem to find a satisfying answer for. In the past, when I’ve asked myself why digital privacy is important, and why it’s worth struggling for, the answer I nestled on was that privacy is important because privacy is power.

But that’s about as far as I got. Privacy was about keeping a balance of power between those who would abuse it for their own gain, and those who live out their lives, unconsciously leaving valuable trails of information behind. The idea was that privacy isn’t necessarily about you, but about building a long-term better society. But I think that’s wrong.

Privacy is definitely about you.

It can affect your life in ways so dramatic that you could only justify your new life circumstances as the course of your own will. And thus, you’ll always think, I know exactly how I got here. I remember the decisions I made that lead to me living this life, and I remember those decisions as being, in fact, of my own volition.

This is, unremarkably, no more than a lie we’ve been trained—or have trained ourselves—to tell to make our life seem consequential. To make our life make sense. We craft narratives that are digestible to us. Every event must be resolved one way or another. And when we don’t have all the information, when we are too small to possibly fathom the complicated nature of our existence, we craft simple explanations that we can live with.

But make no mistake about it: the stories we craft to understand our existence don't represent the actual nature of our existence. They represent how we perceive those circumstances.

Our world and the way we understand it—the way we’re able to fall asleep every night—represent our perception of it given the information our brain has been given to work with. A slight twinge of this information can produce kaleidoscopic variations in how you view yourself, your relationships, and your society.

We understand the world in terms of signals, which we process to produce images or stories of the world. And the horrifying truth is: our brains have horrible firewalls.

Almost anything can get in. That’s the whole idea, isn’t it? Signals go in, and our brain filters and parses. The results dictate the decisions you make, the actions you will take, and the consequences that will ripple throughout your radius of physical influence. It would stand to reason that one ought to be real careful about the signals we allow our brain to process. But of course, you might say, there is discretion. We ought to be intelligent enough to filter out nefarious signals.

The reality is that our “discernation” seems to be a very simple algorithm. Much simpler than we imagined. And the largest factor seems to just be: impressionability. The more you see something. Not more complex than that.

Quite simply, without privacy, you are Susceptible to Control. Put this in headline case and make an acronym of it, because it’s the one thing you should remember when you’re participating in modern digital society. You are STC. When you allow others to learn about you, your interests, and your habits, you allow yourself to be susceptible to how they might use that information to change the way you view your world. This would in effect directly control the purchases you make and the political affiliations you subscribe to.

And let’s not even be minutely grandiose about this: this is every day. It happens on the small and it happens on the large. Information that is produced in direct effect to your habit trails can be effectively weaponized to target messaging at you in attempt to change, or control, your behavior.

Our lives are filled with decisions, both the conscious and the unconscious. Decisions are—and let's be very clear about this—NOT existing in a vacuum. I’m yelling at myself mostly. I keep trying to tell myself that surely my decisions are of my own accord. Surely my opinions were derived validly and safely. Surely there has been no one but myself in charge of my decisions at every step of the way.

this. is. a. story. we. tell. ourselves.

Which is fine. We need stories to understand our world. Stories, like language and math, are symbols that we can manipulate. We can apply operations on them, like chaining them to form a continuous sequence, or adding and subtracting them. Stories are the way we understand the world. But the stories we’ve been told…

Ah. That’s where one has to be careful. That’s where one needs to be extremely self-aware.

The way you view your place in this world, the way you carry on your relationships with others, and the way you participate in modern society—these are all based on the messages you’ve received and internalized throughout your entire life. And even after all these decades, I am continually shocked at how little information I have had to work with given any difficult decision.

Can you imagine how limited you must have been then during the younger, most impressionable years of your life?

You...can not be trusted.

Everything you are—that thing you call your personality—is invented in direct response to the messages you’ve been bombarded with throughout your entire life.

It's time to be better. To move forward from our lie that we are who we are because we’re unique. Because we’re different. Because the infinite cosmos aligned at our exact coordinates to produce a unique, never before seen shade of light.

You are who you are because of the information you’ve received.

Privacy, then, is about reducing your susceptibility to control. It’s about protecting yourself from the nuclear weapons that are targeted messages. Targeted signals of information explicitly meant to influence the way you view the world first, and your purchasing habits second. (They never quite go for the sell right away anymore, do they?) The strength of these messages will always, always try to evolve to be more intelligent than you. To outplay you. There are trillions of dollars on the line that dictate this. Messaging will always evolve to try to outsmart you. To breach your firewall, and get into your brain to change its wiring, all for the direct benefit of some remote group of people.

Privacy is your firewall. It’s a security update for the modern human being. Privacy prevents those who would abuse it from understanding you. Privacy says that you’d like to be excluded from the greedy and violent agendas of unknown parties. Privacy is protection so that you can live out a more meaningful and self-derived life. It's where the decisions you make try to be as objective and true as possible, with as little influence as possible from strange third-parties.

Privacy is truly about living a life of your own.