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February 15, 2018

The May 1st Reboot

While chatting with my front-end developers pals online, I explained the life cycle of a front-end dev’s personal website:

  1. Remake your site, thinking you’ll be satisfied with it for at least two years
  2. Like your new site for a week
  3. Become indifferent to it for four months
  4. Hate it for one month
  5. Hate it while hurriedly remaking it for 1 month
  6. Finish your new site with a huge sigh of relief
  7. Repeat

However I’ve decided to shortcut through this cycle. I’ve updated my site just two months ago, and already plan to update it again.

It’s all thanks to something called the “May 1 Reboot” Challenge. The goal is simple: remake and relaunch your personal site with something new, all by May 1st. One developer shared the challenge with us, and we all soon decided to take it on together.

For my reboot, I’m focusing on learning more React. The biggest shift is moving from Jekyll to Gatsby, another static site generator built around React. I’ve also included some sub-challenges: adding more restrained and accessible CSS theming, and something I’ll just call the “Reactrix” for now.

I have higher hopes for this personal site redesign. It’s the first I’m doing as part of a larger group, giving each other advice and accountability. With luck, this one will stick around longer before the cycle repeats.

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  • “I’m just trying to start a conversation.”
  • “I’m just saying.”

These are two phrases I’ve heard before. I hope we don’t hear them at all, since they make no sense.

Think about it - when has anyone said anything for no reason? The only examples I can think of are when people mumble incoherent gibberish. Only words that mean nothing have no reason to be said. For normal words that have meaning (which is all words), their meaning is embedded with the reason for saying them.

Why would someone use these phrases? My first guess is they don’t know any words and really were speaking gibberish, and through sheer coincidence it formed coherent words. This has only been true with one person I talked to. All I remember is we were discussing pineapples.

For everyone else, they use this phrase when they want to say something and avoid the consequences. It’s easy to say something offensive or inappropriate, see people get upset, then add “I’m just saying!” They want to argue while sidestepping any counterarguments.

This is the same as saying “I’m arguing for this, but if you disagree, you shouldn’t argue with me.” Which is, as you can tell, cowardly.

So to everyone who does this, if you really are “just saying” something, I’m going to “just ignore” you. When you want to stand by what you say and believe, maybe I’ll consider you worth listening to.

I’m just saying.

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A new goal I’m setting for myself is writing at least two coding posts every months, so I’m kicking it off with this one. A while back I wrote about programming an automatic newsletter of anime wallpapers using Node and the Twitter API. I’ve been refactoring it as part of my ongoing JavaScript studying, and thought writing about the refactor would be a good follow-up post.

I may do more tutorials like this in the future. Writing about my thought process for projects is informative and easy. Informative since it guides others to write similar programs, and easy since who doesn’t like writing about their own thoughts?

Who knows, I may make posts about this one program a regular series. I can see some future titles now…

  • How to Launch an Anime Newsletter, for letting others sign up for it
  • How to Query an Anime Newsletter, for saving wallpapers to a MongoDB database
  • How to Destroy an Anime Newsletter, where I make a paper house from printouts of the files and light them on fire and become an online celebrity

One thing I can say for sure is future coding posts will keep focusing on JavaScript, Node and otherwise. I’ll likely be pulled into the React storm soon enough too…

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How many of your thoughts from yesterday can you specifically remember?

I’ve done this many times, and each time I barely remember any. This includes all that were snarky, depressing, serious, hilarious, witty, elating, sweet, sour, or secret prophecies from the future. The next day, they’re all lost in the ether. Never to be thought of virtually ever again.

I actually see this as a positive.

Whenever some thoughts intrude on my mind and get me down, I remember any power they have will fade by the next day. I feel their presence, count down from five, and imagine they’re a gust of wind flowing by. I see them fading into the ether myself, and moving on without them.

We often don’t have a choice with what thoughts crop up in our minds. We do have a choice with how they affect us. I think those choices do much more to determine who we are.

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December 30, 2017

Answering to Ourselves

From "The Art of Being" by Erich Fromm

It’s amazing how many worries of mine vanish by thinking “I have the benefit of not caring what they think.”

I partly have this Fromm quote to thank, which reminds me it’s often the right response.

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Something I always marvel at with today’s society is just how in-demand everyone’s attention is. In many cases it’s in more demanded, and more easily wasted, than our money.

In a weird way I find it comforting. The whole “everyone staring at their screens together” meme isn’t just the downfall of humanity, but a result of changed economics. Granted that’s not much better, but it gets me a few extra minutes of sleep before I silently stare at a wall after waking up in the middle of the night.

Regardless of how it affects my routine, attention is still a hot commodity today. As such, it should be budgeted and saved in the same way.

The Attention Economy

As a whole, this “attention economy” isn’t new or surprising. In a digital world people expect so much to be free, especially entertainment. Often the only way to profit from something is targeted ads, which only work when businesses know as much about us as possible. So they need people using and staring at their screens as long as possible to gather all the data they can. Attention leads to data, data leads to ads, ads finally lead to revenue.

Some ads also lead to bizarre and disturbing campaigns…

Many businesses only see our attention as a source of revenue. Businesses without your best interests at heart. Or the best interests of how all this attention-hunting affects society by making us more distracted and manipulated. Businesses with dozens of designers whose sole job is using your brain’s quirks to keep you staring.

You may see why this is a bad thing.

Spend Your Attention Wisely

This is all why I see my attention as something to be used extra carefully. It’s finite and can improve or destroy our lives, depending on how it’s spent.

So many of the same rules for handling our finances now apply to it:

  • Don’t spend it on anything that doesn’t give a good return on investment somewhere else.
  • Save some reserves in case of emergencies.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut your losses.
  • Be careful who you spend it on.
  • Watch how much you spend on junk food and fluff.
  • Unless you lack a soul, don’t invest in Bitcoin.

Most importantly, the less seriously you take managing your attention, the more seriously others will. Others with only their interests in mind.

These are the companies who use any number of tricks to keep you staring at things you’re likely to forget right afterwards:

  • Infinite scrolls of distracting media
  • Auto-playing videos you’re just interesting in enough to watch
  • Encouraging “streaks” to hardwire your brain’s habits
  • Making notifications, even mundane ones, seem urgent and demanding
  • Flashy sounds and effects to create feelings of fake accomplishment
  • Titillating info that ultimately has no real effect on our lives

Ultimately one’s attention will be bled dry, and that’ll drag their entire lives down. Focus falters, important facts are forgotten, our mental strength as a whole is fractured. This leaks into our ability to learn new info, understand the world, make good decisions, plan for our goals, and more.

In other words, it destroys our basic ability to be functional adults. Like money, having a good attention budget can make or break our future.

I’m not saying you need an Excel spreadsheet to calculate your attention budget each month, as Google Docs has no good template for this. But before every attention “purchase,” pause for five seconds and reflect on the investment. Ask yourself if you’re being scammed out of your attention or spending it wisely for yourself.