Why I’m glad I didn’t publish that review

I wrote a negative book review a while ago of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfus. I stopped reading two thirds through and got a refund. But I never published the review and I’m glad for that. People love that book. Tastes in literature are not subject of some great, objective truth. If my tastes are weird, that doesn’t invalidate someone another person’s.

 I was mad because I wanted to love the book. I wanted to get the joy that many other reviewers reported that they had. I was jealous that others had enjoyed a work in a way I couldn’t.

I’m really happy that I didn’t write that angry review. It’s unlikely that the author would have read it, but I wrote it to hurt him. I’ve read things about that author that would have made me ashamed to hurt him. He’s a creative person who has been a friend to other creative and kind people. I like his friends’ work. He’s friends with the guys at penny arcade and Jenny Lawson over at thebloggess and the Greens. Maybe at another point in my life, I would have liked his book, too.

Bad reviews have their place, but I feel like it’s tempting to let out all the vitriol out online. I wonder why that is? There’s Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, and that does ring true. It’s a part of the problem. When Alanah Pearce got inappropriate messages from gamers, she told their moms. I think that proves the point: if people thought their moms were reading over their shoulder, most would probably think twice before making rape threats.

But I think it was equally important that I lacked a perception of the identity of that author. It wasn’t just that I was anonymous. That author wasn’t a person to me. He was a name on a book that I was mad at. I don’t know how we resolve that.

I’m glad I kept it to myself.

What is Steem, what is Steemit?


Steemit is like Reddit but with money for upvotes. Bear with me. I’ll explain what I mean. Bottom line: it’s supposed to be a mechanism to get paid for content and get your content seen.

Let’s start with upvotes, the Internet Points you can get on Reddit. If you don’t know, they are a lot like “likes” on Facebook. Are Reddit upvotes worth anything? At first glance, no. They are fun to get. They validate our activities. They prove that we did/wrote/shared something that people like. But they can’t be easily exchanged for dollars. That would defeat the intrinsic value of “I got these internet points because people liked my fresh memes.” Right? Maybe…

A highly upvoted Reddit account can actually be sold to someone who wants to look like an experienced redditor (it’s against the rules, but possible). Maybe a content marketer wants to look more legitimate. He knows that a new Reddit account is suspicious. So he buys an experienced account to look authoritative. If he’s willing to pay $250 for an account with 15,000 upvotes, we could establish an exchange rate between upvotes and dollars. So, the idea that upvotes are “worth” money is not totally crazy.

How could Reddit monetize upvotes? Imagine if Reddit servers awarded redditors “influence points” when they got upvotes. Redditors could spend influence points to promote content in the page rank. But here’s the smart bit: redditors could also sell their influence points for cash to the highest bidder.

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This would be a nice thing for redditors (who could make money) and marketers (who want to buy influence). The problem is preventing “counterfeit” influence points. An influence point market presents a big temptation for Reddit to generate lots of influence points and offer them for sale directly. That would depress the price. That would be “influence inflation.” Plus, a hacker might be able to award themselves Reddit influence points and then sell those points for cash.

There needs to be a way to be a way to restrict the creation of influence points and to validate that they are legitimate. Enter a cryptocurrency (like bitcoin) called Steem. Cryptocurrencies can’t be forged and have a blockchain to guarantee transactions. Steemit users can use Steem to buy Influence points called “Steem Power.” Steem Power can also be earned by getting upvotes. Steem Power be sold (after a vesting period of 2 years) for Steem.  Steem can then be exchanged for cash/bitcoin.

This article originally appeared on steemit.com.

I tired drawing with my left (off) hand; the result was strange

I watched this video about the hemispheres in the brain by CGP Grey. It has a short review of the phenomena surrounding split-brain patients. What was really provocative was the idea that maybe we all have a dual personality and that only one side is verbal. When I first watched this, I had a really odd feeling of recognition, like there was something missing from my life that I had just discovered.

I started freehand drawing with my left hand. I am right handed, but I wanted to give this “other me” a chance to do something on its own.

The results were really weird. My left hand is not nearly as practiced. The lines are less sure. At the same time, it doesn’t look to me like my own work. It looks to me like a more talented person drew it (that’s not saying much given my right hand’s low bar for talent). It was fun and strangely disconcerting.

left hand drawings

What Drawing for Fun Taught me about Daily Practice

I drew something almost every day for three months. It was a bit of an experiment on how to learn effectively. Learning a new skill is intrinsically rewarding. I wanted to see if I could learn to draw. I also wanted to see what kinds of practice work for me. Ultimately, it turns out that making time for practice every day was the most important thing.

At first, I started by following along with youtube videos. I followed along on videos by Christopher Hart. His videos are fun and he has some nice books, too. My versions of his drawings were… somewhat demented.

2015-12-05 11_13_11-draw blog - Google DocsI felt like I could improve at this, but it was hard to define what I wanted. I thought about how Covey said to begin with the end in mind. I was also inspired by the TED talk by Josh Kaufman called The first 20 hours — how to learn anything. I realized that I needed a more specific purpose. I started to ask what I wanted to be able to do. I realized that I wanted to be able to make a little comic and I wanted to be able to do it quickly.

At about 3 weeks, I made this comic about the frustration of being unable to tear a paper towel properly. I used stock art/photos, GIMP, and a drawing tablet to do it. It was fun. I wanted to be able to make comics like that more efficiently. I found a goal: to be able to make a simple comic panel in 10 minutes.

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I started reading about Scott Adams’ method. He deliberately designed a simple style that he could create quickly and consistently. He uses that style to tell a funny story every day in his comic strip, Dilbert. I like that. I started to study his style. The results were not very impressive.

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After working on them for 10 minutes a day for two weeks, though, my drawings started to look more pleasing (at least to me). The style is deliberately simple. For me to create a panel in 10 minutes, it has to be simple. The proportions are not great by any artist’s standard. But I was starting to feel like I could make something that could tell a story.

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There is no pause button on this skill: it’s “use it or lose it.” It has been a longstanding pattern in my life that when something is “good enough” I tend to get distracted. After 6 weeks, I got spotty in my practice. I would take a few days off, and the quality would noticeably slide. I think that was a big eye-opener to me. It was either improving or atrophying. I think people who play sports intuit this, but I certainly don’t. My (incorrect and dangerous) intuition is that I should be able to come back to a task or project and pick up where I left off. For someone who wants to draw or has a particular artistic goal, clearly the right thing to do is to practice every day.

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For a casual hobbyist like myself, there are tools on the internet to help make comics. Computational tools have certainly helped me keep the illusion that skill can be maintained without practice. A basic memory of how a program works is enough to return to a project after a month or longer and still make progress. Working a program is like riding a bike (at least to me). That doesn’t apply to more refined skills, evidently. If I am not going to practice drawing every day, can I “cheat” and use one of these programs to help make comics when the mood strikes?

Two internet tools for making comics are StoryBoardThat.com and ToonDoo.com. Storyboardthat is a little more refined and responsive, but both can lay out a comic a lot faster than I can draw one. I tried using a toondoo comic as a template for my own. That worked reasonably well. It still required some skill to get it to look consistent with what I had been doing earlier.

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After 3 months, it was time to move on to other things, but I think the core lesson was worth remembering. My little experiment in drawing didn’t make me an artist but it reminds me that many (most?) skills take deliberate practice. I am taking this lesson to heart with writing (which is a big part of my real job). Writing every day is critical. As of yet, there are not many technological shortcuts for that.

Meditation is helping me not procrastinate

If you want your mind to be less distracted, you have to practice the skill of un-distracting yourself.

That is meditation. It is a technique for training the mind to return from distraction easily. That is different from trying to focus. Trying hard does not work very well to increase attention span. It sort of backfires. Meditation is more like accepting a certain amount of distraction, but practicing bringing the attention back. The mind inevitably becomes distracted and it takes a lot of practice to sense that when that is happening and gently correct it.

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Pressure Cooker for Students

My pressure cooker has been one of my best purchase decisions

Before I purchased my pressure cooker, I would get home hungry and go to the restaurant across the street. Since I would take my girlfriend, that added up to $60-80 per week. I felt like I was bleeding money through my stomach. I bought the pressure cooker for $100 at the local hardware store. It paid for itself within a month. The particular pressure cooker which I purchased also can act as a rice cooker and a crock pot (slow cooker). So I gave away my old Crockpot. The net result was no increase in number of appliances in my small kitchen.

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Study Tip – Go Home When You Are Done

Work somewhere quiet and do not go home until the job is done.

In my later undergraduate days, I realized that I needed a place to study that was separate from my home. I was lucky enough to work in a university research lab that gave me some space to study. If I hadn’t had that, I would have found a quiet library nook to work in on a regular basis. One of my biggest advantages in finding a place to study on campus was that I could study until my day’s work was done.

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