Material Design: Meta-Aesthetic for Noobs

I’m still stuck on a problem with my React Native code handling events, so for now let’s…talk about something else. Design.

One of the skills everyone who has modern dreams of making things needs to have is design. Unfortunately, too many artistic people get so wrapped up in their own aesthetic they make things horrifically unwieldy. Incidentally, the same problem happens with scientific and rational people, who get so caught up with abstract functionality they too can bury it in plain sight.

Google decided the world needed to merge the arts and the techs into something that made sense in all resolutions, so they started a project that I still revisit again and again, and it’s called Material Design.

You’ve seen it before. It’s an attempt to make user interfaces on apps for desktop, web, mobile, tablets, … pick your screen, to not be terrible. Apple are the only big holdouts trying to do their own thing, but if you use anything else, you’ve seen it. Windows 8 onward uses parts of it. It’s not the only design system. What’s important to understand is that it is a very good system that gives the average person an easy go-to for making something usable.

I highly recommend, if you have any desire for taste at all, that you spend some time with it (if you haven’t heard of it). You don’t need to be in my line of work. It’s about learning how to convey a brand or identity. Start here. They offer seven studies they did, seven comprehensive thought through examples across industries and products, to design fictional apps to show what it would look like.

Seven Designy Samples

Basil is a cooking and recipe example with an eye to food. It’s green and orange on yellow scheme is one that would make little sense anywhere else. It’s all in on evoking something memorable and showing off a list-making app of ingredients and instructions with pictures. It’s a catalog architecture, like a library.

Crane is a travel and booking example. If anything it shows that even purple can be made professional. It’s a great education on calendaring, communicating options with locations, outings, and availability. They show off picking an airline seat and timetables, and then cover doing a checkout or browsing resorts. It relies on a flow architecture, the pattern of having a linear process of steps for the user to walk through.

Fortnightly is a news example. Simple enough. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if you’re more familiar with apps designed like this. It’s all about content, content, content. Articles everywhere, a search, and readability maxed a user can get through what’s being said. I think it’s a good way to show having a memorable brand while still being super mininal, and out-of-the-way “read-friendly”. It’s also a catalog structure like Basil.

Owl is an education example. It goes hard for vibrant primary colors. The spirit of it is to have totally different main colors depending on what you’re doing, giving you a way to have multiple aesthetics within your one aesthetic. They use yellow for customizing, blue for browsing, and a red/magenta accent for the learning process, which shows a plain white or dark mode for learning/reading and watching videos. The architecture is hub and spoke, where each section has a hub, and each hub has leaf nodes – the “spokes” are the lessons in a course hub. Think of it as a tree structure, but designed as if it’s just a couple tiny ones, each root is the hub, with a bunch of immediate leaves.

Rally is a money example. It takes night mode and runs with it. The color emphasis is subtle gray variants, with a rainbow of thinly used palettes, using one accent here, and another there. The focus of this one is data representation. Bars, pie charts, graphs, wheels, goals, up/down fluctuations, and transaction listings. It also focuses on doing good warnings and other notifications. It’s a hierarchical structure.

Reply is a communication example. It’s modeled after an inbox and smells like GMail (gee, i wonder why /s). Man if only GMail was as nice as this however. It’s plain like Fortnightly, but picks excellent accents. This one shows off a text-with-pics communication medium. It shows a way to cram people into an interface with nice little avatars or “to:” fields.It has an inbox-like architecture, we’ve all used one. You have inbox,trash,drafts, etc.

Shrine is a retail example. Kinda has an Etsy or Pinterest vibe, but soft pink. It puts emphasis on how to give each image maximum attention, with some very unusual organization approaches. It does color and size selection components, but the primary goal is to give way to the products themselves, to make whatever image is placed on it pop. One pattern it shows is having a cart. As you might guess, it’s a catalog architecture.


Each of them gives you a different example of how to take a very particular kind of data and make it do its job. Basil is recipes(lists+instructions), Crane is linear signup, Fortnightly is journalism, Owl is schooling, Rally is number crunching, Reply is socializing, Shrine is sales. The seven can show a how-to, plan, read, learn, calculate, correspond, or buy design setup, respectfully.

One of the most painful parts of seeing good design studies is you’ll wish you could use these very apps that are pretend. I love Fortnightly’s aesthetic so much I’d wish to see it repurposed for something bigger than mail. I would have to put Shrine as least impressive myself, but it’s not meant for people like me so maybe I’m biased. Which one is your favorite? Least? Which one do you think does its job best?

Thinking in 4D

I want to mention of one of my favorite mental exercises: thinking in higher dimensions. I find it’s useful to expand your ability to visualize difficult things. (I should do a list of brain workouts!) These nerd kings will take you on a journey, and I want to go over the 4D part. (You might watch it more than once when you have time, until you can grasp it!)

Try conceptualizing 4D objects. It’s not easy to handle higher dimensions, but I encourage you to try the fourth specifically. One of the common ways of describing the fourth dimension is to use time as another axis. This has the benefit of showing you an animation of something changing shape to describe all the 3D “slices”, showing you the whole thing. The problem is it introduces a bit of a crutch, in that it feels a lot more like regular 3D, hiding the nature of that extra dimension.

If you are going to imagine something changing shape over time, you need to also imagine that all of the vertices on the object are connected through time to each other. You have to imagine that a certain subset of the frames, even if just the first and last, are all connected by lines you can’t see. See the problem? That’s why it’s easier to imagine the fourth as something like scale instead, when introducing it. Just pretend you can go smaller forever like you can go bigger.

Here is what a 4D rotation looks like on its fourth axis. It’s fun.

A 4D cube, a tesseract, rotating on the fourth axis. Rotation on other axes look normal.

Make sure you remember that 4D objects are built out of 3D objects. You need to think of the tesseract as 6 squished cubes connecting the inner and outer cubes. Those 8 cubes are what a tesseract is made of. Don’t think about it as points and lines too much, or you’ll miss what you’re trying to visualize. Here’s a way to fold and unfold it that might help.

See all 8 cubes.

I really think that’s the one you ought to have down by now. Now go back and watch the first Avengers movie and you might look at the blue cube different. If you’re religious, you can go see Salvador Dalí’s Corpus Hypercubus.

Once you have that down, you can begin to think about the other five regular convex polytopes. You might know that the platonic solids mentioned in the video are the D&D dice (minus the d10 diamond). Well, you can think of these as the main six 4D dice.

What fun are 4D dice if you don’t roll them?

Nobody would expect you to grasp 120 squishy dodecahedrons. I still recommend trying to study the first four to expand your mind. The first three should be reasonably within reach. For fun, we’ll end with the 120-cell from the inside.

Post Better Memes

Let’s talk about making better memes, shall we?
Let this be the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Memes for Dummies.

One of the biggest problems people who mature past age 12 have with the world is other people with a cringy sense of humor. Quite often it begins with dad jokes of a relative, or an annoying kid at school.
Were you that kid? Are you that cringy annoying family member to people on the internet today? Is your family on Facebook secretly wishing you’d leave the internet in peace? Now that I’ve made you paranoid, let’s talk about what makes for good memes.

Humor for many is difficult to define. The categories are a bit easier. Generally, good memes are referential humor, as opposed to taboo or slapstick humor, where the former is often frowned on and the latter relegated to AFV and terribly unfunny laugh tracks. I won’t claim to be an expert or define humor for you, but there’s a certain easier aspect of humor with memes I want to highlight: context. One of the factors that makes a joke or a meme successful is it’s ability to resonate. This means that it has to: 1) Connect with your target audience and 2) Not have to explain itself.

Most people aren’t that witty and are very bad at context, so their “memes” will be too explanatory in a way that isn’t funny. In fact, many of them will lead with the punchline as title, to the tune of crickets. I’m here to address that and other pitfalls by example.

The key challenge is that you want the joke to be reasonably obscure so it dawns on the audience, but not esoteric as possible. You’re going to have to learn to walk the line; it’s a spectrum where you’re going to have to make a choice. An introverted joke for a few friends is most likely to get the best laughs, but only from these few. An extroverted joke for the whole world can get the most small laughs, but in the larger pool you have terrible odds that anybody cares at all. Personally, my recommendation is to avoid attention-seeking memes altogether. They are a time waste, just as casinos are a money waste. If you do get your 5 seconds of fame you’ll be forgotten. Be the kind of person who makes a meme intended to make just 1 or 2 buddies laugh, without being terribly obscure.

Show, don’t tell.
I had a friend, famous for a particular post, pass on a “see what people say you’re known for” conversation starter. Rather than referencing the obvious post, I think I got a few smiles by referencing another one. My response? SCHLORP

SCHLORP SCHLORP SCHLORP SCHLORP SCHLORP SCHLORP SCHLORP SCHLORP SCHLORP

As a timeless example of subtlety in a joke, the better you understand Shakespeare, the more you may appreciate his cleverness. He embeds ironic or subtle jokes! They too frequently go over people’s heads, like this one:

My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
What day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time;
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.

Polonius, Hamlet

The following are some rules to get you thinking about how you can improve your social media meme posts.

Rule 1:
DON’T crop off comic artist handles; try hard to credit them
DO avoid illegitimate watermarking sites or even crop them off
Stay away from iFunny, 9GAG, r/funny, and other mills that spew mindless content for half-laughs, with watermarks. They’re soul rot.
See this artist’s frustration. He is articulate and demonstrates the problem.
Trust me when I say anything of value you find there, the same can be found closer to its source in the telephone chain; you aren’t missing anything. They post many very old memes mixed with the new, which some of your peers saw many years ago. I’ve even seen them post ones from 90s chain emails your grandma may have seen. Look up your favorite comics’ artists and follow THEM on social media instead.

Rule 2:
DON’T attach text or title to a picture needlessly
DO come up with your own caption or crop off whatever text you can
Stop putting the punchline in the title. Most importantly STOP putting laugh tracks on your pictures. Nothing kills a joke more than “HAHA THIS IS SO FUNNY 🤣🤣🤣” or “THIS IS SO ME” or “I CAN HEAR” or “RELATABLE” doesn’t matter the format, stop introducing your “meme” to death. An article title is (only?) ok if it is the meme.

Rule 3:
DO use text that is easy to read
DON’T use IMPACT FONT.
For the love of Kilroy make it stop. Have some basic typographic sense. People are getting really tired of random pictures with nonsense in big letters.

Rule 4:
DO find the most original sources and templates you can
DON’T use terribly jpeg-artifacted images

1683: Digital Data, from Randall Munroe’s XKCD

Rule 5:
DON’T try to make a point
DO aim to make people laugh
Ideologues can’t meme. I want that to stick in your brain.
So we’re clear, ideologues are people who belong to cults of an idea (activists). Politics is always a mixed bag when it comes to humor, but it’s always ruined by “comedians” attempting to persuade people to their side or disparaging their perceived enemy. Ironically, politicos who put the most effort into memes have the least success. I’m writing this in an election year and we will continue to see a lot of very not funny “memes” with entire manifestos injected into a picture. There will be exceptions that are funny, but they are most likely to be by people making jokes at the expense of their own “side”. This is often somewhat rare in that environment.

Takeaway

As long as your goal is to do anything other than to evoke a recognition and smile or laugh out of an audience you genuinely care about, you’re probably not going to have a lot of success.
If your goal is to get the most friends and approval and lots of little hearts, you’re not only going to fail but you’re wasting your time. The few people who don’t fail at that tend to sell their moral character and principles to maintain the attention, too. There are plenty of ways to make content your peers will enjoy, and maybe even grow your own brand, without removing credits or adding/keeping laugh text. Have faith in your own memes enough to not give or keep their explanation. Learn to crop, do so respectfully, and maybe learn some basic image editing apps. A little less laziness goes a long way.

Since you made it to the bottom, here’s my current most viral tweet of all time.

Don’t be a POTP

Part of the problem with being part of the problem is that you cause part of the problem and that’s problematic.

Ears bleeding yet? Good. (unless you still like the words, in which case I’ll spam it some more until you don’t. Surely this is a good way to acquire a readership!)

Politics ruins everything, and it’s all the other side’s fault. We hate them, and we’re justified in it because everything that’s going wrong is their fault. Believe us, we’re on your side so obviously we’re credible. If only us reasonable people had more power surely we’d finally be able to deal with POTP (P*rt of the Pr*bl*m). So buy our product, support our creators, subscribe to our news, boycott all of theirs, and vote for our guy (again?), and you can have hope that there will finally be a change for the better.
Hey now, don’t be cynical! If you’re not with us you’re against us.
Don’t be a POTP.


Right now there’s a lot of quiet consensus that something in the United States of America has gone wrong. There’s a lot of debate and disagreement as to what it might be, but everybody is looking for a pattern. You’ll find there are a couple themes among the different theories, just waiting to seduce you. You’ll also find the pattern isn’t new, and that instances of the pattern crop up in every industry, niche, and subculture. Almost independent of which theme seduces you, you’ll have PROOF* your theory is correct.
*which many people will totally reject

I have a theory that everything will be okay. Eventually.
If you’re capable of suspending disbelief, you might agree with me, and you might understand people a little bit better. You might find there are a few things you didn’t yet know about what you knew. But you’re gonna have to trust me, and we’ll get to why.

Let’s start from the beginning.
Things in life are complicated, man. I mean really, really, no-word-suffices complicated. Like there are so many things you and I don’t know, and don’t know we don’t know about, that it’s existentially frightening. That’s like the whole premise of Lovecraftian horror. Dungeons and Dragons finally went mainstream the year after that genre was injected into it, so there’s undeniably gotta be something to it. I’m sorry to say it, but many of those who aren’t bothered by it probably naively haven’t thought about it enough. But it can be OK once you’ve been spooked, we just have to learn how to process that reality day to day.

It’s just an example, you don’t have to read At the Mountains of Madness to appreciate horror movies or the dread of something equivalent to having left the stove on. Humorously, if you actually did leave the stove on, it might actually be ok and not cost you the house. That’s actually pretty close to what I’m getting at here. It’s a bit like we’re living in a time where everyone is so obsessed with whether the stove is on that they are neglecting the other crucial things in life and becoming mentally unstable and scaring people away by screaming at their friends, and making the few not scared away just as crazed. Some threats are real, but the personal threat is likely not, and inability to distinguish between your life and another place results in a distorted worldview that blindsides us constantly.

This wouldn’t be a huge pr*bl*m but for so many bad actors legitimizing scary worldviews for their own benefit at the expense of listeners. It’s an easier path to notoriety to scare other people than actually providing something positive, and too many of us exploit fear, unconsciously or otherwise. (it’s not simply “media”!) It’s all of us, making us spiral downward if we don’t resist it. Try going viral on social media by being optimistic. It’s harder.

Our bodies are divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems; I’ve touched on this before. We’re driven by forces of fear away from things and pleasure towards things. If you’re not posting outrage or porn your luck going viral will be harder. One of things everyone needs to remain mentally healthy, which nobody seems to be getting, is a workout and balance of these systems. In some sense, courage tends to be an outgrowth of mental health, and cowardice the opposite. We need restraint on our concerns much like restraint on our desires. We need to have a fear to face – were it not so we’d avoid all discomfort and wouldn’t consume horror as an entertainment genre. Yet we’re living lives too comfortable at home and letting world news be our horror, which is unwise because it’s not a book you can close. Somebody in another state tragically died of [terrible avoidable thing]! You know people in other states, what if it happened to them!?

So what is to be done? If we’re going to move to a better place, we have to stop spreading fear in each other and start spreading faith in each other. This takes courage to make more courage. One of the ways to establish trust is to risk being the first to lower your weapons. It’s that risk taking in order to “prove oneself” that defines the brave and heroes. We have to start giving people who hate us (read: are afraid) reasons to trust us.

Too often we are afraid to lower our weapons because we feel that’s surrender or that opens ourselves to being shot. What i’m trying to convey is it does. It wouldn’t be brave if there wasn’t a real risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So try sending friendly private messages to your enemies seeking common ground. I’ve done so and often they return their own compliment and suddenly we can talk. This is the way forward and I strongly advise you to try it. Whenever you are in a conflict and people are putting up walls or talking past each other, don’t block or mute. DM or follow. Lean in, step forward into no-man’s-land, and see what happens. Maybe you’ll step on a figurative landmine. But there’s a much higher chance you’ll cause a ceasefire. In time you might even dispel the riots and mobs.

Takeaway

We need more heroes. It starts with me and it starts with you. It isn’t simply naive to try, it’s focusing on the light on the other side of darkness. We must first recognize that people begin in naive ignorance, and understand the evils of the world, and then make a gamble and act with a positive outlook anyway. The cynical and “blackpilled” don’t see a difference, but it’s not naive to be optimistic when you know the world is burning. That takes paying attention first, then inner strength to gamble yourself second.

We need to increase trust. We need to be as honest as we can be, give our adversaries credit for what they get right, and talk to them one-on-one. We must discourage inflammatory behavior in our peers and risk losing them.
If we can do this, we’ll find others like us or braver, who we can trust. We’ll find more opportunities to build something, we’ll decrease hate and anger, and we’ll be able to root out rot in our systems. We’ll win friends and begin to form growing, merging, and solidifying bubbles of peace.

Also, if you don’t share this article, you’re part of the problem. *wink*

MOAR Three.JS

I am going to be writing a lot of articles about code in the coming months, and I’m doing some of one project in Three.JS.

Three.JS is (in my opinion) the first good raw JavaScript 3D rendering library and I find it to be the bomb dot com. It leverages WebGL stuff that’s been around a long time but hasn’t been super duper well kept up with or used in most mainstream web applications to my knowledge, which I find to be an absolute travesty.

Well, you might be interested to know that means I’ll be trying to include some interactive 3D rendering in my articles like this. If it ever stops working I ask that you let me know, but I think it’s going to stick around and be epic.

With thanks to ThreeJSFundamentals.org for this one, I figured I’d demonstrate this as a quick proof of concept for how far you can go with articles. Who needs to stick to flat test or even mere pictures when you can embed an entire videogame in your article if you wanted to?
Let’s GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO (note to self: get DOOM as an embed)

We’re living in a new age where crazy things are becoming possible, and I really want to open people’s minds to the possibilities, and I think this is one way to do it.

This has been a rough year for people’s optimism and I think we all need to be reminded every now and then that we are living in the greatest time in humanity’s history SO FAR. We’re just going crazy stuck at home or bored, or having issues with an unstable job market and tough finances. We’re seeing negative things people of ages past couldn’t see, which wouldn’t have to affect us but that we let make us anxious and depressed. We need to be looking for the good in the world around us because there’s plenty of that present too.

Stuff is cool and technology is awesome if you learn how to leverage it. Who knows, maybe I’ll write articles with the sole purpose to give you mini-games to play with when you’re bored. I’ll have to take a few weeks and make a template first so I can spin them up quickly, but if I can manage such a project, you and I are gonna have a lot of fun together, dear reader. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a trend and be the first blog of many like this?

I think we have a great opportunity ahead of us in coming years where we’ll be able to have another generation of the internet much like the flash-games era of so many years ago. At least some of us like myself miss those days. Those were good times. New technologies are being designed all the time and improvements to make it easier for people to develop.

Again, let me know if you can’t see it rendering. It should be rendering on mobile too. It’s well supported by all the browsers now. If you’re interested in learning more, you can go play with the threejs.org toys. Go have fun! there’s a bunch of them. You can play a french pinball or just go on this acid trip, headphones on.

Into the Bloggerverse

Want to start your own site? I’ve been wanting to put this site together for a while and I just never really got around to it until now, but it’s overdue and definitely time. Here I’ll mention some of the adventures so far.

I expect to focus primarily on my technical adventures in computer wonderland, and this blog is one of them so LET’S GET META.
I’ve only dabbled in WordPress a little bit and I’ve never set up my own instance so the setup is going slower than I like. What’s nice is they use the same exact interface components as wordpress.org/themes on the backend so I’m able to have friends help me dig through the layouts until I find one I like. I want to keep it minimal and user friendly, I don’t want to hit you in the face with massively useless pictures nor walls of text. I want to be helpful.

We’re on Day 4 and so far we have the server up, secured, stylized, and now I’m beginning to add other content pages. I’m going to try and write something every day. Here’s a few technical considerations I’ve encountered:

I owned the domain name I bought from Register.com for a few years, and the one thing that took a few days was realizing to have it work and the HTTPS lock, I needed to update my IP properly on register.com’s site and then change the name servers on that awful site to point to the DigitalOcean ones, in addition to using the letsencrypt.org tools on the command line.

I love DigitalOcean. You can run a website for $5-$10 a month, the cost of a music or TV subscription. Not getting paid to say this but I definitely recommend them, they’ve been reliable for me for years, and they have automatic preset installs like WordPress. I just had to say go and in under a minute I had a new Linux server to log into and fiddle with, that mostly worked as WordPress already. Be sure to update from the WordPress user interface, but if you focus on that side you should be able to get most of the setup happy using WordPress plugins and not worrying about the Linux side too much.

I’ll pick a lesser-known plugin to tell you about since I’m here: take a look at WP Night Mode. I made my site have a Night Mode toggle and set it on by default. Those who know, know. And to the rest who want it light: what’s wrong with you? and also you’re welcome. It takes a little setup of the colors you want it to use and you’ll want to use the shortcode wherever but I can’t recommend it more.

Some “fiddly” items of business you’ll want to deal with:
1) Go into customizing/themes and get to site identity and make sure you have an icon other than the WordPress one. Try to brand yourself a little bit.
2) Get stock images at Pexels, Unsplash, or Pixabay. I recommend searching them all when you’re looking for something specific. I’m traditionally a Pexels user but Unsplash is really coming through this week.
3) Find a plugin (I settled for the Yoast SEO one) that will put the featured image for your article in a link preview on social media. Test that and make sure it works, you want to come off professional and not a data-less link.
4) Find your menu and your sidebar for widgets and get those looking half decent. Get rid of any theme clutter you don’t explicitly want and organize the site so people can get around it easy. Remove any redundancy.
5) I’ll restate what I said above, get that HTTPS and lock icon ASAP so you don’t seem sketchy. You can grade your server at SSL Labs. Use other browsers and incognito to test because caching will make it act up even if it’s fixed. I took SSL Lab’s advice and disabled TLS 1.0/1.1 on my server.
6) Sort out Settings->Permalinks immediately. Once you decide how URLs are done it’s somewhat permanent or you break all your links on the web. I had to install Redirection to fix the ones already out there in the wild.
7) Under users you will find your avatar. Apparently you set it by making an account on Gravatar and it will show up soon once you have that set up.
8) Figure out how you are going to do categories and tags quickly. Don’t be using that stupid “Uncategorized” one. Categories are genres, and you should only have 2 or 3. You might even only have one. All else is a matter of tags. It takes time to figure out what they should be, but once you have a dozen or so posts, you should have more than enough info on what they should be.

Faith of a Scientist

I guess I always believed in God. There were times when I questioned as any healthy teenager should. But God is there for me, I made sure. Part of me thinks more people would believe in God if more believers acted the part. I feel like nowadays people who profess or push belief are so hollow in acting it out, it’s no wonder that so many reject or criticize it. There’s so much evil in the world to make one doubt, if nobody has good answers or shows the pathway forward.

I want to talk about why good religion and science work together.
I might have a unique relationship with God, and religion as a whole. I’m a STEM guy through and through. I live and breathe the logical, the rational, the empirical. I’m sure atheistic peers might view such a claim with their usual cynical skepticism. I don’t blame them, though they do so erroneously. I’m in a profession where I have a degree with Science in the name twice. But I deviate from the typical religious person too even among my own, having no time for superstitious nonsense.

I don’t want to talk about me or religion here, I want to talk about why I think my foundation of faith may help anyone with life who tried it as a frame, but I need to contextualize it, so if you’re really turned off by organized religion, skip the next paragraph.

I will be deliberately evasive lest you think I’m here to preach, but suffice it to say I belong to a heavily maligned Christian sect. We profess to be the modern iteration of New Testament believers, authorized by God and those original apostles. Our beliefs predate the councils of Nicaea, when Nero was blaming fires on us in Rome. People… don’t like us for that claim. I’ve been accused by other professed Christians of being a devil worshipper. I’ve been accused of being in a sexual fertility cult, throwing virgins off of rooftops, and thinking god is an alien on another planet. Of course we get called a cult, then racist, sexist, and every other word. You only need know we’re different, and believe our doctrine is finite and coherent, and that’s where I’m pulling from.

Ok? Cool.
Faith is the first principle.
Faith is a principle of action and of power.

That’s my claim. If it’s true, you can’t fully unpack it since everything else springs from it, but I’ll give the necessary bits my best shot.

What’s cool is all the definitions of the word faith as it is colloquially used in the English language are correct enough and uncorrupted enough by time to be tremendously useful in a secular discussion of it. Having faith in yourself, having faith in others, acting in good faith (even legally!), and having faith in karma, the future, and so on are fundamentally useful and pragmatically fundamental.

Without falling into rabbit-holes of human consciousness and free will, let’s say we are beings or entities that take actions and our actions are driven by our motivations. Well then, biologically we divide the nervous system into two halves, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The former handles “fight-or-flight”, we’ll call that fear, and the latter handles anti-fear, which ranges from faith to apathy to lusts. (catchphrase being “rest-and-digest” or “feed-and-breed”). Those two systems drive all of our motivations from the most primal bowel movement to the most high-level like “success”.

Faith is the key motivation. It’s the bottom motivation from a religious end, and it’s the peak motivation from the scientific end. It’s responsible for a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy, in that people who think they can accomplish things often overcome incredible odds to succeed. And those who doubt and fear, arguably the opposite of faith, tend to fail or quit. This is why some prosperity gospel con artists are successful – because believing in something or yourself does move you forward. It’s also why some of the most brilliant minds fail. Faith only works if it’s in something that is true, and half the time, half-truths might suffice. But perfect faith can move mountains and produce miraculous consequences, natural and explainable though they may be.

I’m a big fan of the Yin-Yang ideas of eastern philosophy. In order for us to be successful organisms we need to voluntarily rotate between the halves of the nervous system, or even just creative and rational halves of the brain, in a way that’s sustainable across time from days to generations. Too much of one or the other makes you ill and dysfunctional. In order for our parasympathetic systems to keep us happy, we have to know where the predators and dangers are from the sympathetic. In order for us to remain sane, we have to slow down the sympathetic and not let little things get us outraged and angry all the time.

Pragmatically, this means the more you face your fears and the more you get out of your comfort zone, the more you’ll move forward in life. You just need to have a little more faith in others and yourself. Otherwise, you end up in a downward spiral instead of an upward one, in which you become driven by your fears and lusts, instead of being master of them. It’s up to us to choose faith and live out our heroic journey through life slaying our dragons, even if they appear as homework or bills or job hunts. Otherwise we can become tragic failures, captive in a basement or cheap apartment with roommates we hate and seemingly endless debt. You voluntarily go out into the chaos and accomplish something to bring back home to the order, or you remain where you are until you involuntarily get sucked into backward circles of alternating stressful chaos and personal tyranny.

Science and religion are completely compatible in my view. I find that any conflict between them indicates a flaw in one’s understanding of the other. As long as you humbly bake in that you’ll never know everything in either case there’s no issue. They are two parts that make a whole together. David Hume’s “Is-Ought Problem” rubs on both. You can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”, and attempts to do so lead rapidly to eugenics and/or genocide in a Machiavellian fashion. And those who try to derive what “is” from what “ought” to be are the same fundamentalists who demanded the sun orbited the earth: they’ll remain in the dark ages, devoid of the “wizards” they burnt. You need a knowledge system that lets you establish what is true and how to find out more. And you need a belief system that tells you what you should be doing with the information the former produces. We seem to be losing both.

I believe the scientific method is a perfectly reasonable place to start for determining the existence of God. If you want an answer, learn how to pray about it. Don’t recite something, talk to God as if He exists and ask for a way to determine. If you’re dead serious and honest about it, you will eventually experience the evidence. I’ve had friends who had miracles happen when they took my counsel to pray in spite of disbelief. It’s non-transferable, un-recordable empiricism each person has to test themselves, but I assure you the same data others experience can and does come.

I also believe faith is valuable in accomplishing useful scientific endeavors. It takes a lot of courage and risk to pioneer science, be it intangible travel to distant places, or fighting the battles many do in seeking funding for research. Without a little self confidence from somebody science doesn’t get done. Somebody had to take risks to test people for COVID-19.

Takeaway

I believe in a God who listens and answers but plays by the rules. I don’t believe in a fast and loose interpretation of the word omnipotent, God employs no magic and can’t violate causality or do things that can’t be done. There’s always a natural explanation and most of His doing is letting nature take its course for our education and work out details afterward. He will open our eyes to possibilities and expand our free will if we have the faith to ask and let Him.

I believe in the Big Bang, evolution and natural selection, and in the scientific method as it is used appropriately. I believe in the power of people who act in faith to pioneer, discover, and sustain our world and explore our universe. I believe you can too, if you have more faith in yourself. I also believe it takes a massive amount of faith to try and raise the next generation of scientists and engineers. I’m doing my best to succeed.

I have faith.



TO THE LIBRARY

So my twins ran around Barnes&Noble today. That was “fun”.

One of the interesting things about having 1-year-olds in a bookstore for the first time was discovering, that despite what you’d think, they did actually know what they liked and wanted. They showed us they wanted an ocean flip-up board book made clearly in the same series as a farm one they had previously (RIP). There’s a dinosaur book and there was a Sesame Street one they liked. They recognized the Dr. Seuss art style and sought more of those of their own accord.

One of the serious modern-era problems: we’re having a decline in reading.
I don’t think most people realize this. We are exposed to information on the internet constantly and too many of us are letting staring at our devices become a substitute. We listen to what people are saying online all the time but none of us ever really take the time to engage with material that’s been carefully built. The roots of this decline manifest in two (sorta three) different places.

One is failure to read. There’s a lot of people who just don’t read books anymore. Audiobooks don’t suddenly stop when something strikes you and give you time to ponder. It’s okay if you listen to podcasts and audiobooks but there’s something crucial about participating in the process of exposing yourself to other people’s stories, other people’s fiction, other people’s ideas. We are no longer being forced to use our reading and listening comprehension anymore. You can’t just catch the gist of something in the background on YouTube. Actually, reading keeps you from being locked into a certain mindset; it stops you from becoming an ideologue. If you begin to read more good books seriously, you begin to choose what it is you want to think because there’s too many opinions and ideas. You can’t be controlled by all of them, and what ends up happening is you start to have more thoughts to draw upon.
The wells of your mind will begin to run deeper and you will begin to think in new and different ways. We’re not seeing that anymore; we’re becoming stale, and culturally, we’re each becoming one of the same few things. That’s not a good development, to put it mildly.

The second problem source is the mass printing of “sludgy books”, that’s what I’m going to call them. Books are easier than ever to make. What happens is people read books that are being pushed by celebrities. If they’re writing these books at all (many are ghostwritten), they’re writing in the same way someone posts on social media – that is, they write in a way that is an outburst and not a carefully crafted expression of thought like the books of old. Often even their fiction is a projection of their personal opinions and agendas they hope to push on their audience.
Most of the books you see lining the front of bookstores are crap that nobody should waste their time reading. There’s often only 1 or 2 good books out of the couple dozen trending on Amazon or the NYT Bestseller list at any given time.
The rest are printed to make the person money or to try to manipulate other people’s worldview.

Now we live in a world where not only do people spend time on social media when they could be reading, but worse they spend what little time they have reading books that waste their minds, as if spending a dozen hours reading one person’s social media posts like a psychopath.

The third (sorta) problem exists inside the first, and I’ll call it the CliffsNotes effect. Modern institutions place such undue burdens on students, that over the past few decades students from middle school onward have collectively found a way to sum up books so they don’t have to actually take time to engage with the material. Why try to understand Shakespeare when you can just get the plot points elsewhere and pass the tests?
This crops up a lot in political activism, where people are actually quite fond of quoting books they may only know the title of, or may own but only skimmed. And they most certainly haven’t read their perceived enemies’ favorite books.
We’re not all idiots, we’re just training each other to believe it’s acceptable to cut corners because “life is busy” (A problem less than a century old!) and collectively pay invisible costs that continue to haunt us forever after.
And worse, the institutions have adapted to this and expect even more to be skimmed, crippling the ability of good students to face literature the best way.

I know how hard it is to find time to read a book. Twins running around making messes and I have plenty of hobbies consuming my time when I’m not at work. But I still recommend reading, it’s definitely something that makes a difference in the long run if you are choosing your books wisely. There are so many books we need to spend more time reading. We know the names of so many classics but haven’t read them. How many people know of Sherlock but haven’t actually read any of it? How many know about Van Helsing or Dracula but haven’t read Bram Stoker? (October’s coming up you could take the opportunity for that one.) We live in an era where it’s become easier than ever to make ourselves better and self-improve, but we are putting less time into it than ever before. These days compete for our attention more, but I still don’t think we’re doing a very good job all things considered.

What books did I get myself? Not much, I have enough I’m busy reading, but I picked up a big collection of H.P. Lovecraft that was on sale. My wife asked if she should get herself a mystery collection, when I saw it had names like G.K. Chesterton I was sold.

Takeaway

We should each be setting a goal to read at least one book a month. One book. That little could change your life over time. Most of the people who are successful are readers and do read books at that rate. Those who struggle won’t be reading this, but they need to find a speed reading or comprehension course and clear their admittedly difficult hurdles.

I can’t make you do it but you’ll certainly be better for it if you do. Better in ways you’ll want – more interesting, more hireable, more likable, maybe even more popular. Reading can be like a magic stat modifier.
If you haven’t read any of The Five Love Languages, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Art of War, or How To Win Friends and Influence People, what are you doing with your life? These are all old and famous. Pick one, get on it and stop living beneath the privileges we’re all afforded, or life will leave you behind.

In the Beginning

Every blog has a first post.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely interested where I got my start so let’s go there now. I’ll be sure to stay on topic and sort/tag my other writing so you can skip to the stuff you care about.

I was born in – ha just kidding, I got my start writing code in my early teen years circa 2004 from a book about game programming my mom got me from Barnes&Noble. It taught me how to program in a system called BlitzBasic, and I later moved to its 3D rendering counterpart, Blitz3D. I don’t have a lot to show for it now but I had a lot of fun with my brothers making little toys and screensavers and so forth. One of these projects was a Super Smash Flash clone – an old web 2D Super Smash Bros. I had basic AI, and we only ever had the fake blue Mario from Super Mario Sunshine, Baby Bowser, Fox McCloud, and Lucario. Given that at the time only Melee was out, adding Lucario back then was particularly prescient.

In those teen years, I self-taught guitar, Adobe Photoshop, Blender, and I dabbled in a tiny bit of HTML and JS. I took piano and karate lessons (man, I was clumsy before that). I was a kid who always got high grades but seemingly tried to be good at everything at once. There was a trumpet and a recorder in there, I wrote my own sheet music, a few other random hobbies. (I made an underlit desk for art, with drawers out of K’nex) I wrote Pong from scratch and an AI for it on a calculator in study hall out of boredom. They were crazy years. I had a rough time in middle school and was homeschooled halfway through 6th grade, skipped 7th grade, and returned to public school as a junior and graduated at 16 in ’07.

I was always a weird “gifted” kid to my parents. Some people might find my list of hobbies extensive for a few teen years. It was just life. They had me tested as a first grader and IQ was… irrelevant, ask me somewhere else. I was a seeming rational oddball toting a TI-84 yet nobody knew I slept on the floor with the curtains open during full moons.
I’m writing this on 9/11, and I was in a weekly gifted class when the second plane hit. The teacher told us what was going on while the rest of the school was kept quiet. We read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff For Teens in what time I spent in that class and I still credit it with having changed my life for the better at a lot of points. I’d still recommend it no matter your age.

Original cover I had

So that’s me as a kid. I went to a church university, then paused it and spent 2 years as a full missionary across the country. I decided I would go into Computer Science when I essentially came back to (for lack of a better term) civilian life (it’s that regulated and different). I did and the rest is history. I skipped the first course, which was good because I already had a year of general courses that I enjoyed but went nowhere. Married my wife, got the degree, and now I know stuff about things.

And here comes this blog, following my learning new stuff about new things and maybe helping you along the way.

Of course that’s not the whole story. I firmly believed in doing educational hobbies to supplement my education so I can make long-winded posts about each section of my college years, but now you know the man behind the handle.

Takeaway

I was mostly only ever smart because people kept telling me I was and I felt pressured to be. When I didn’t, none of my gifts mattered. You can only do whatever you think you can. So forget being a world champ or famous and go draw or build something great.
Take it from me, the second smartest guy in the room, who made friends with most of the smartest ones.

If you take away anything from this failed-polymath’s first post, take this:
You can be good at anything you decide you want to be good at.
All you need is self-discipline to make time and to try and to discard the notion that any non-competitive goal is out of reach.