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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Entries in fourth friday challenge (12)


Life Moves Pretty Fast

For our last Fourth Friday Challenge (which got moved to the fifth Friday of December, but that’s neither here nor there), Becky asks:

You’re in a good and growing space right now. With your gentleness and wisdom, write a letter of love and advice to a past self, a self in need. Perhaps age 14? Or 20? Or … ?

Dear Fourteen-year-old me,

The next year is going to be pretty crazy, so hang on.

Your first year of high school is going to be a roller-coaster of emotion, but you’ll be better for it. You’ll get terribly angry with your best friend about a girl, but the two of you will become closer as a result and you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process. You’ll finally start to have meaningful social interactions, which will set you on the path to eventually (a decade later) figuring out that you’re not actually an introvert. You’ll get to be a precocious freshman, which will have both good and bad parts, but the former will outweigh the latter.

Then, about halfway through the year, you’ll find out that you’re moving to a new city, a process that will uproot you from these new-found and long-term connections. You won’t try as hard to make new one as you should, but I can hardly blame you. Maybe it’s because you know you’ll only be there for three years before you go off to college. Still, knowing what I know now, it would have been a better idea to take some risks. Stick with the cross-country team for more than a year. Go to some parties. Ask the girl out. (And the other one. And the other, other one.) Keep focus in your senior year and finish high school strong.

Regardless, things turn out pretty well. Four years from now you’re going to meet this funny, smart, beautiful strawberry blonde. Seven years from now you’re going to ask her to marry you and she’s going to demonstrate an inexplicable lapse in judgement by saying yes. Things are going to be crazy for a little bit yet; from my vantage point the benefits beat the costs. And more than anything, it’s the next year when you really start to figure out who we are. I know that you’ll pay attention to it; I remember that. Somewhere between your now and my now you’ll forget to do that as much as you should, but we’ll get it back.

Enjoy the ride. I’ll be waiting when you get here.

—Thirty-three-year-old me


Do Not Want

On the day after Thanksgiving, Becky has this Fourth Friday Challenge for me:

“Anti-Gratitude List, or ‘I cursed the day these things were born/created/developed.’ At least five, please.”

This one is surprisingly hard for me. I don’t follow the code of the hater. In high school, I noticed how much time and energy some people wasted on hating other people or things that they couldn’t change. Doing that wasn’t a personality trait that I had, and I decided that I would stomp it out whenever I noticed it rearing its ugly head. So I’m going to have to go into a brainstorming rant to come up with this list. Let’s start the clock.

  • Willful ignorance / limited rationality / a lack of desire to discover someone else’s perspective.
  • Not running the damn tests.
  • Not reverting out changes that break the build.
  • Committing new code to the repository when the build is already broken.
  • People who don’t understand how a four-way stop works.
  • Things that sound all-natural but whose ingredient lists make it clear they’re not.
  • The belief that businesses exist solely to maximize profits.
  • That bananas go from being tasty to being not-so-tasty but still edible in such a short period of time.
  • The myth of effective multitasking.

That’s what came out in the first five minutes. There was more there than I thought, and there’s probably still more yet if I want to keep digging. I realize now that because this sort of thing is not normal for me is exactly why Becky asked me about it. Well played, Becky. Well played.


You May Need a Bigger Philosophy, Horatio

For this month’s Fourth Friday challenge, Becky asks an essay question:

Paulie, I was asked this question once, and my answer surprised me. I’d like to read what you have to say.

Before you answer, I’d like to kind of tweak the definition of paranormal. Paranormal: Anything that is beyond or contrary to what is deemed scientifically possible. Denoting events or phenomena such as telekinesis or clairvoyance that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. I’d like to add this would involve contact between the living and dead. (Basically, the way Brian Dunning explains it.) Okay, here we go!

Which answer best reflects your beliefs?

A. I believe in the paranormal. I have not had any first-hand paranormal experience.

B. I believe in the paranormal. I have had at least one first-hand paranormal experience.

C. I do not believe in the paranormal. I have not had any first-hand paranormal experience.

D. I do not believe in the paranormal. I have had at least one first-hand paranormal experience.

Please provide any additional details you’d like to provide, in essay form. If you chose B or D, please describe your experience(s).

First things first: I haven’t had any first-hand experience of the paranormal, so B and D are out. (Sorry, no good stories there.)

The problem is that I don’t really know which bucket my answer falls into. I see a difference between (1) things that are that inexplicable according to current scientific theory and (2) things that are inexplicable according to the scientific method. I absolutely believe that things in category #1 exist. To think that contemporary scientific understanding can explain everything about the universe is the pinnacle of hubris. I have doubts, however, about the existence of anything in category #2. Given that the entire process of the scientific method is about developing new theories to account for the explanatory failure of current ones, I’m not sure what a universe in which phenomena that can’t be explained would look like. Rather Lovecraftian, I suppose…

So if we’re talking about what current science deems possible, I guess my answer is B. But if we’re talking about whether or not I hold to philosophical naturalism (which I don’t believe is the same as materialism), then I suppose my answer is D. All of which is a rather bloodless answer instead what could have been a spooky blog post, but them’s the breaks.


Fitness: Rest day

The Horns

This post is one in a series of Fourth Friday Challenges that my friend Becky and I are throwing at each other. Let’s see if you can guess what this month’s challenge is by the time you get to the end.

I’ve been celebrating a lot at work recently. We’ve had a series of big accomplishments that have really been the result of a lot of small wins. I know that battles like these are really won with those small victories, so I have been trying to point them out and cheer them whenever I see them. My usual form of celebration is simply raising my arms over my head, like I’m indicating a touchdown or a field goal. In more emphatic circumstances, I’ll stand up and signal the score. But the most extreme form of encouragement I can offer is throwing the goat.

For those of you who aren’t aware, “throwing the goat” refers to making the sign of the horns, the heavy metal salute made famous by the late, great Ronnie James Dio (who replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the lead singer of Black Sabbath). And despite not really being a metal fan, I have a great love for this gesture. It can be subtle. You can catch someone’s eye from across the room, and without anyone else knowing, express your approval of their actions with a brief nod, a slight lifting of the wrist, and momentary curling of the fingers. It can be brazen. You can jump up onto the bar, belt out a banshee wail, and raise your arms over your head as you make the horns with both hands. (This will usually result in the entire bar screaming your name or the bouncer tossing you out in the street, so use this option wisely.) It can be expressed concisely in text as “\m/” — which is, for my money, far superior to “:)” or any other smiley. It can even be taken to the next level. You can throw one set of horns with both your hands together if what’s happening is too much metal for one hand. And if you and nineteen of your friends approve of something to an extreme degree, you can form a goat-throwing Voltron and indicate that it is too much metal for thirty-nine hands.

You may have noticed that I used the word “approve” a lot in the previous paragraph. That’s what the gesture really means to me. “That thing is metal (by which I mean “awesome”). I approve. Do more of that.” Because I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement.

I have no sense, however, of when or why I started doing this. As I said, I’m not metalhead. I have dim memories of Wil Wheaton or Jeff Tidball (“Throw it proudly.”) being influential in my adoption of the gesture. But beyond that, I have no idea. It’s just something do now, to the extent that I sometimes forget that it’s unusual. And that perhaps I need to be careful about who I throw the goat to.

So, what was the challenge? On Tuesday, I wrote to Becky:

I challenge you to write a post that is exactly 666 words long.

Now, I’d been thinking about making it 333 words, but Becky has specifically said that the point of these challenges is to push ourselves, to do things that we might not otherwise do. Many of her posts recently — like my own — have been on the shorter side, so I figured I’d push her outside her comfort zone.

Scant minutes later, Becky replied:

I was waiting for yours before I could give you mine. I have not looked at yours yet, here goes (is this inspired or lazy??)

Boing — back atcha! You must answer the challenge you posed to me, for your challenge.

Okay, now I’m going to look to see what the challenge is!

Her next email contained swearing. I sensed she was not throwing the goat.


Fitness: Rest day
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 424 words, 411 seven-day average, 284 average, 50293 total, 207 to go for the week; 17-day streak

Moderation, Baby

This week’s Fourth Friday Challenge requires the explanation up front. Becky says: “Five minute, no-edit challenge. You are not allowed to backspace, correct, undo. Type for five minutes, then stop. If you want inspiration, start with thinking about the word PLANT.

bq.”I’m a plant.”
bq.”Don’t they usually call men like you a fruit?”
bq.”No, I work for the FBI.

I love Clue and its ilk. And by ilk, I mean movies and shows with impossible dialog. Conversations so witty no one could ever actually have them, but that deep down I hold out hope against hope that someone somewhere somehow could. So things like Oscar Wilde plays and Aaron Sorkin TV shows.

The odd thing is that I’m not at all tempted to try and create things like this myuself. I don’t do it in improv, I don’t do it in games, and I don’t do it in my writing. And eyet I love, love, loev it. (By the way, this no backspacing thing is annoying. Thanks becky.)

So that’s funny. The sense I had was that one of the reasons I don’t try to write that kind of humor is that it requires too much polishing. And hyet here I am getting annoyed about not being able to polish my work. I guess I’m all about the happy medium.


Fitness: Pushups (12-13-10-10-15)
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 529 words, 373 seven-day average, 273 average, 40681 total, 319 to go for the week; 16-day streak