Art, emotion, and us

I have gone against centuries of purposeful ambiguity and come up with a definition of what I think art is. To me, art is that which evokes emotion. It’s a pretty broad definition, not limited to type or intensity of emotion, and not requiring intentional creation. There is art in nature, art in furniture, and in someone’s smile, and of course theres art in all the usual places you’d expect.

I’d go so far as to say there is art in everything, even if it doesn’t evoke emotion in you. When I was young I’d listen to classical music and didn’t enjoy it, because I didn’t feel the emotion until I got older. Even now I eat food without appreciating it, even though I know that if I focused, I’d get a deep sense of (hopefully) enjoyment, but perhaps some other emotion. So it seems that to enjoy art requires a certain level of skill, which can be learned.

But why enjoy art? “Why enjoy anything at all?”, I suppose. To me, a life with variety is a life best lived, and the variety of experience that is easily accessible through art is exceptional. Classic art forms (poetry, painting, music, stories, etc) are so easily accessible now. If you learn to let yourself go, and train yourself to actually feel the emotion intended by the artist, you can experience an enormous array of experiences without ever leaving home!  I particularly enjoy music because it is so easy to access, and its easier for me to feel than other art forms.  However, I don’t think any art form should be shunned, nor any art.  Some is difficult to deal with, and causes emotions I don’t enjoy, however, I think having the strength of mind to deal with these things makes me a better person.

Theres a lot to think about on this subject.  What makes a good artist?   It seems to me a good artist is capable of evoking emotion in people, and an artist who is respected does it in unique ways.  Why do some people enjoy art that others do not?  I think we have a tendency to stick to the art we know.  Unfortunately this is why pop music sticks around: its shoved down people’s ears when they are kids, and it becomes what they are used to.  So people end up with whats easy, sticking to pop music, and missing out on music that is even remotely unique.  Why does some art last?  I think art ends up being passed on to new generations because it makes people feel a positive emotion, a very intense emotion, or a very unique emotion.  It makes sense, why would someone tell you about something that was unremarkable?

Art is an amazing thing that opens experiential possibilities to those who could never have accessed such emotions.  Positive emotions, I have a hunch, replenish our ability to deal with negative, or draining emotions.  For a productive life, its so important to be able to experience these things to offset stress which impedes productivity.

Lastly, I like to think about the art that I am to other people.  What impact do I have on them and what do I make them feel?  When I read biographies of famous people, I can’t help but get caught up in the story of who they were.  I wonder what sort of story I’ll leave people to read about.


(Upon writing this post, I realized that some things make you feel emotion which I wouldn’t consider art.  These are things that rely less on the senses and more on chemistry to change an emotional state.  Some examples might be exercise, or drugs.)

Balance is important, especially when negativity is so easy

Complaining is cheap, and often sort of fun. However, it is too easy to get caught up in the idea that “everything is bad” when all you focus on is negatives. It sets the tone for your day, and alters your overall opinion on things.

A better alternative would be to have a clear, accurate, and wholly representative understanding of the situation. This means focusing on the good just as equally as the bad.

I used to think “why talk about the things that are good? They are fine, they don’t need attention. Lets call attention to what isn’t working right.”. It made me feel like I was selective, like I had good taste, and knew things that other people didn’t. I even suspected I was a little like Steve Jobs must’ve been, because surely he had good taste. I got to the point where I was starting to be known as a grumpy guy, and so I took a step back and realized what the negativity was doing to me, my mood, and to those around me. And thats when I realized a complete picture is better than a purely negative one.
With a complete picture, I’m less negative. When I’m less negative, Im more likely to have positive thoughts running through my brain. When I have positive thoughts running through my brain, I’m happier. When I’m happier I’m more productive, people like me more, I talk more, and all of those things lead to me being more successful. It was an obvious choice for me!

It’s a new thing for me, and I’m still working on bringing up positives along with negatives. It often feels cheesy or the compliments feel cliche, but, as awkward as it is, I’ve already decided expressing more positivism is absolutely essential, so I’ve just got to keep stumbling forward until I’m good at it!

Value velocity over position

It really irks me that Snooki has more money, power, and influence (MPI) than me. I don’t think she deserves it. Some say its because she is entertaining, however, I think things are better when MPI is earned rather than luckily stumbled upon.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming more apparent all the time (to me, at least) that people are more interested in current position, rather than an individuals velocity and potential position. In some senses it makes sense; people don’t have time to wait as an individual grows and realizes their full potential. The consequence, however, is that those who have high velocity and want to get further in life than just living comfortably only have detractors who close doors rather than open them. The idea that moving up in society only takes hard work seems farther and farther from the truth as time goes on.

I don’t know if things were always this way, but I suspect not. At one time, communities existed – real communities where groups of people did physical things together like eat dinner. At one time things were less about instant gratification and more about making a better future. At one point wealth distribution (within America, at least) was such that the rich weren’t forming wealth singularities and needed to pour every all their resources into said singularity just to keep up, thereby preventing those without resources to form such a singularity to ever have a chance.

What’s particularly frustrating is that people with position help others with position and become a near impenetrable network. I think this sort of activity explains a lot of the political issues we deal with today. When a person with high position helps a friend, there’s no way to tell if the friend is competent! See George W Bush for a perfect example. And so what’s happened is the network of rich, well connected people (who earned their place there decades ago when it was possible to do so) has begun to rot. The decisions they’ve made protect other rich folks (bank bailout – no jail time), but have cut off the opportunity for more worthy (read: high velocity) individuals to replace the cruft.

It’s not just politics either. Potentially good ideas are shunned in business because their leaders are so risk averse due to competition and every resource dedicated to the slow, dreary, predictable march forward. Is there anyone who actually wants to live in that world? Thankfully the tech startup scene is vibrant, but, I’m curious if that will get cut off too.

To top it off, there’s nothing I can see that can be done about it. The game is no longer controlled by individuals, or even by ideas. The game is controlled by money, and if you don’t have it then you can’t play. If you don’t have it, then good luck getting it.

The best I can do is encourage people to value someone by their potential, not by their current position. A lot of people fought a lot harder battles to get to where they are than you can tell just by looking at them.

We are a reflection of our situation

Recently I’ve been amazed at how many things there are which affect us, that we can be completely unaware of. For example, people with food allergies are often unaware they have an allergy. They just know they feel tired, their stomach is upset, and maybe they get sick a lot. What’s really shocking to me is how these things can spiral into something so much bigger. Someone who has a bad commute every morning approaches the office grumpy, which then affects how other people perceive them, and then affects how they are treated at their job. All because the guy, who may have previously been quite happy, had to constantly deal with traffic.

What’s particularly mindblowing to me is that when we are unaware of these things that are affecting us we often blame it on ourselves.  I do, at least. I begin to redefine myself as someone who is quiet, or someone who can’t focus, or someone angry. In reality of course, I’m none of those things because I’ve had times in my life when I wasn’t those things. It’s dangerous to make rules about what you are or are not because they can limit your potential.

I think about these things in a societal way as well. What affects does a 7 day week have on us that we are unaware of? What about work hours? It’s not impossible to think that we could instead be working from noon to 8 PM every day.

In a societal way, people also draw rules about the way people are and create limiting rules about those groups of people. Racism is apropos example. It also extends to any group including cultural stereotypes and ideas of masculinity or femininity. Society saw a group of people behaving in a certain way, it became opinion that that is how those people behaved, and now those group of people themselves behave that way, only reinforcing society’s opinion – it’s a tough cycle to get out of.

Thankfully people do look out for this sort of thing. It’s difficult to know which advice to follow though, which I guess is partly helped by Waypoint. Global warming is a really good example of something societal that has consequences we were unaware of.

As best I can tell, things with unintended consequences are things that happen regularly and have minimally noticeable affects at the time. It’s more than just your personal habits. Below I’ve got a list of some ones I’ve thought of, what are ones that have affected you?

Messy Desk
Caloric Intake
The people who surround you (their optimism, the conversations you have, how much they care about you, etc)
Sleep patterns
Your daily activities (work, school, etc)
How regularly you smile
The colors you’re surrounded by
The culture you’re a part of
What your computer password is (wrist issues can arise from a complex one)
How well the clothes you wear fit you (and if they don’t fit, what your body has to do to compensate)
The weather/seasons
And so many more!

Protecting Your Web Traffic In Public Places and Getting Around Web Filters

Encrypting your web traffic and bypassing web filters is pretty easy to do if you have a remote Linux installation. A recent blog article and a comment on Hacker News inspired me to write this post on how I use my Linode for such purposes, though this will work for any remote Linux server.

I’ll start off assuming you have an Ubuntu installation running remotely that you can SSH into. SSH in to the machine with “ssh user@domain”. You’ll need Firefox installed which is as simple as “sudo apt-get install firefox” from the command line after you’ve SSH’d in.

Now you’ll need to make sure you’ve got x11 on your Mac. If you’ve got OSX 10.8 or later you’re going to have to install XQuartz. If you’re using an earlier version of OSX, you don’t have to install anything as it came prepackaged with those versions. If you’re using Linux, you almost certainly don’t have to install anything (if you did, you’d know it, and not be reading this blog). Once you’ve done that, initiate a new SSH session with your machine using this different command than before: “ssh -X user@domain”. An example command might be: “ssh -X”

If you installed XQuartz correctly and you SSH with this new -X option, XQuartz will appear on your dock. Once connected, run this command on your remote machine: “firefox &”. A new Firefox window will appear and if you check your IP from this new browser window, you will see it is different from the browser you run straight from your Mac.

Its a little more tricky on Windows, but only slightly so. You’ll need to use PuTTY to SSH. You’ll also need an x11 server. In the past I have successfully used xWin32, however the guide I’m going to point you to suggests using Xming. I’d do what the guide says, and if that doesn’t work then try xWin32.

Just like on the Mac, you’ll need Firefox installed on your remote Ubuntu machine: “sudo apt-get install firefox”. Then run the command “firefox &” and you should have a Firefox Window appear. Just as with Mac, if you check your IP from this new browser window, you will see it is different from a browser started in Windows.

All traffic is now tunneled through this SSH connection (which is inherently encrypted), to your server. This means you can safely access private information on public networks, and it also means that no filters are in place to stop you viewing something (unless there is a filter on your Ubuntu machine).


Scheduled Tasks in Rails with the Whenever Gem

I recently had a need to regularly pull information from a website other than my own into my Rails app. After poking around I found a few options, including a Rails Cast on a gem called Whenever that claimed to be able to easily perform tasks on a schedule.

In the end, Whenever worked for me. However, I’d say there is less information on it than some of other gems I’ve used, so this blog post is an effort to make clear for everyone else what I found confusing. I’ve created a demo GitHub project as an example. The project is very simple, it just adds a random number to the database every 2 minutes, and then prints how many random numbers there are to a text file every five minutes.

Installing Whenever is quite simple: “gem install whenever” works, though I put “gem ‘whenever’, :require => false” in my Gemfile. Then in your project directory, run the command “wheneverize .”. This will create a new file in the config directory called schedule.rb.

My scenario required a schedule task depending on some information in my database. Therefore I needed access to ActiveRecord, and I couldn’t find an example of someone else who did that like I needed to. In the end it wasn’t difficult I just couldn’t find information on what I needed to edit.

This is what the schedule.rb file looks like in the demo project:

This says to execute “generate” on the SpecialNumber model every 2 minutes and execute “log” on the SpecialNumber model every 5 minutes. It also says we’re working in the development environment, which is important for ActiveRecord.

This is my special_number model:

As you can see it is very simple. It just makes a new random number, saves it to the database, and then also logs to a text file in the root of your rails project.

After all that is done you need to run “whenever -i” in the root of your rails project. This will update your crontab file appropriately. If this isn’t working for you, in addition to “whenever -i”, try running “whenever –set environment=development”. I saw some people mentioning needing to run this command and I’m not sure if it affected anything when I ran it.

Hope that makes sense! The demo project is here.

Music, and other shows I’ve attended

My aunt told me she had been to lots of shows of artists I would have paid obscene amounts of money to see. I asked her if she had ever seen Jimi Hendrix, to which she replied “I think I might have, I can’t remember…” If I had seen Jimi Hendrix I feel pretty confident I would have remembered it, but on the off chance that shows seen are the type of thing you forget as you get older, I decided to make this page. In the future I will add dates that I saw these performers, but for now I’m just going to put down everything I remember going to, in semi chronological order.

You can see the page here.

The Takeover, a podcast

I recently rediscovered a podcast called The Takeover that I really enjoyed listening to. I may get a little extra enjoyment from it because it was made by my friends when we all worked at (the now nonexistant) Lulu.TV. The story takes inspiration from the characters in our real office, except it has been set in a universe with zombies, vampires, and the like. There is even a young intern named Dzoba :)

The info page for the podcast is here. It is also available by searching “The Takeover” in iTunes.

Processing.JS Spiral

I recently discovered how easy it is to export Processing PDEs to Javascript using Processing.JS!  Its really easy to do (though I think it only supports 2D stuff).  In fact, if you use this then its only two clicks in the Processing IDE to get an html file with your sketch!


You can see one I made, here .