On actual Halloween night I didn’t even dress up, me and a group of friends just went to Keagan’s where my sister bartends. … Earlier that night I forgot to buy candy so all these little kids were coming to the door looking for candy. All I had handy were airplane bottles of Captain Morgan and some birth control pills — but hey, at least it’s something. I don’t see you giving back to the community.


What I found out on set on other films is, what makes a crew really roll is when the director makes decisions very quickly and very straight. What confuses a crew and actors is when the director is a little bit like, “I’m not sure what to do there.” The minute you’re confused, you lose everybody. But what’s funny is, I didn’t have to push myself too hard—I was never confused. I was always pretty strong and knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and when I didn't—when I had a moment where I didn’t know exactly what to do, I pretended I did. Which made the crew entirely follow me.

My big fat learning experience

I started the fall semester a younger and more idealistic man than I am here at the halfway point (fall break). Still, I survived (and thrived) and things are looking up. September was my transition month from going to grad school to being a grad student: that is, I can say now that if the task or decision before me has nothing to do with 1) my job or 2) school, then its value is marginal and I have to consider whether to spend time/energy on it. (The beauteous Liz, of course, excepted.)

What was so different about this semester?

  • I started with one class that met twice a week, but when I added a second class (on the advice of my advisor), the extra class's workload was such a shock to my organizational systems and my schedule that my legs are still quivering.
  • Last spring, I had two two-hour classes: one met Tuesday morning, one met Monday evening. It was very easy to accommodate my work schedule, my writing group, and still get schoolwork done.
  • This fall, I have two morning classes, each one is 75 minutes. One meets on Mondays-Wednesdays at the relatively decent hour of 9:30 a.m., the other on Tuesdays-Thursdays at a tremendously inconvenient 11 a.m. The latter class means I don't get to work until after 2 p.m. Since I work a mandated 45-hour week (if I work less than 45 hrs, I get paid less), this means staying at the office till 9 or 10 p.m., meaning all that I can do when I get home is have a late supper, unwind, and go to bed. (Unless I have homework due the next morning, but that's another story.)
  • The extra class disrupted my usual commuting and parking habits. I missed one session driving around looking for a parking space. Lesson learned: as much as possible, reduce the randomness of finding a parking space. I was lucky early on in the semester, but the luck didn't hold. So, I was tipped to a park-and-ride lot halfway to Hillsborough, which is further out from campus, but there are always plenty of spaces. However, the extra distance means that I'm now commuting via bus and car about 8 hours a week.
  • The start of the fall semester coincided with the end of the federal fiscal year, and I had a stiff schedule of deliverables to meet with a hard deadline of September 30. Of course, a major 10-15 page paper was also due on September 25. Criminy. And the first half of October was spent helping my team recover from a major project meltdown. So I couldn't sneak any reading or research at the office--when I was at work, I worked. Big blocks of time for schoolwork can only happen on the weekend.
  • The paper was a literature review, which I'd never done before. I got some great advice from my friend and mentor Cassidy and some great tips (especially from Cal Newton's Study Hacks blog) on smart ways to research and write such a paper. The main thing is, it took a lot of time to learn how to manage the overall project, then it took time learning the subject matter, then it took time pulling it all together. I used a vacation day on Sept 24 (my 46th birthday, as it happened) to relax and go over the paper. I discovered to my horror that I'd written an annotated bibliography instead of a literature review. So I totally recast the paper that day and evening (a loverly way to spend a birthday) , got to bed at a decent hour, and succeeded in getting an excellent grade. Note to self: learn RefDesk or Zotero to format citations!
  • Along the way, I learned to make use of the interstices of time available to me. The posts on scheduling time by Cal and Proto-scholar helped me really leverage Google Calendar more and visualize my commitments. I decided to routineize my schedule as much as possible. So, even though my Tue/Thu classes happen later than my Mon/Wed classes, I still rise at the same time every day, get to the bus stop by 8:30 a.m. at the latest, and use the block of time spent on the bus and slurping coffee before class to do my readings for that day or that week. (I always print out the next week's readings on Thursday or Friday.)
  • During my lit review, I fell down the rabbit hole of technology by spending an afternoon messing with CiteULike, which, to be fair, did lead me to some articles that I used, but that I finally saw to be not as useful to me as I had expected. I also spent my first research afternoon tweaking my Windows setup, trying out various programs, etc. Total procrastination monkey. That's when I simplified my methods (remember the Extreme Programming motto, "Do the simplest thing that could possibly work"). I will be trying Cal's new method of using Excel as a research database (again, Proto-scholar adds to the conversation) for my current paper, whose themes have been pre-defined by the professor. I'm also trying out Zotero, to see how it does with citation export (though this may violate the "do the simplest thing" principle).

My manager, who's getting his MBA, had a teacher who often repeated the motto, "Don't wish it was easier--wish you were better." I thought of that often during my transition period--I can't change my deadlines, I'm not going to drop the classes, I can't make the buses run faster, I need to maintain my 45-hour work schedule so I can meet my financial obligations.

And so, at some point, I realized that all this meta-thinking and self-management is part of the learning experience. I've had to re-frame a typical workday from 8a-5pm to 12pm-9pm. I have to dedicate some portion of the weekend to making up time I miss from the office, which means getting better at scheduling. I had to drop my writing group and my banjo lessons, so I could focus my disposable time on school. Many of the habits and routines of my old life that I thought immovable I now see as malleable and, in many ways, optional. Liz has been great about taking on some of my old chores and agreeing that some chores (like yardwork) will have to wait for my attention until the semester is over.

I've also discovered that, even with this tough schedule, I like taking 2 classes at a time. I find that jamming together the class readings causes me to see connections that I would miss were I taking each class on its own. There's also the pressure of trying to meet my obligations that obliges me to make faster connections and discover new ways to re-frame current problems or speed up time.

When I eventually signed up for next semester's classes, I picked one 3-hr class that meets on Mondays, and then picked a Monday-Wednesday class that meets in the morning. I've cleared it with my manager that I will be out of the office on Monday but will make up the time on Saturday and throughout the week. It's an unconventional schedule, but I'm living an unconventional life right now, and that's also something I needed to learn.

When Mike Reiss came to speak at the University of Chicago, he mentioned his favorite line never to make it on the Simpsons. When Homer faked his death in the Mother Simpson episode, Lenny originally said “He had the grace of Gene Kelly, and the genes of Grace Kelly.”

Overreactions and decisions

The SILS MSIS curriculum requires a master's paper or project and the professors of even the core required classes encourage the students to begin thinking early about likely topics. Fortunately, it's possible to review a database of previous master's papers from SILS graduates so you can gauge the scope and treatment of the topic areas. As a result, I'm always on the prowl for good topics, for others if not for myself (I may have my own gem of a topic, but it's too early to talk about it now). Earlier this year, I ran across the following Schneier on Security blog posting, on the public overreaction to rare risks, in response to the Virginia Tech shootings. It's a sobering testament to how human we are--which is a mixed blessing, in this case.

I was especially struck by the following comment on the post:

As a student of behavioral decision making, I see irrational decisions made on a regular (and unfortunately, in many cases, predictable) basis. And as you alluded to, the reactions to these can often lead to ridiculous policies and unproductive debate over preventing the effects, not the causes. However, there is something so human about these errors that seems to be impossible to overcome. The real next frontier, in my opinion, is to understand these biases better, and to use them (perhaps through policy) to aid in productive, positive decision making.

The world of economics has its own problems with this, since so many of its models assume rational consumers. Define "rational." (Today, I spent a half hour in Circuit City looking at stuff so I could spend a $25 gift certificate, only to find at the counter it was a Best Buy certificate.)

So, in relation to research for a master's paper, think about how much information does a user need to absorb before making a decision? But that topic has surely been done to death. However, even if you take in just enough information, not too much, when would information overrule emotion in the decision-making process? Can it ever? How can you measure the before and after of an emotional (ie, unconscious or reactive) decision? Or could you build an interface or algorithm that either allowed for users' unique mixes of rational/irrational, naive/experienced, emotional/logical, etc. or confronted them with the results of their choices? How to build in bias when the user wants it but leave it out when the user needs it to be left out?

As a child, Mr. Newman decided to pursue a career in bio-technology. This vision lasted until he landed a biotech internship the summer before college. “I soon discovered that this was a place where people told jokes with the punch line: ‘And that’s why they call it reverse-transcriptase,’” says Mr. Newman. “I was like: Get me out of here.”

So now listen up. We need to get these boxes the hell out of the warehouse. Meaning, if you are thinking of buying a set of figures, stop thinking, stop thinking immediately, and just do it. Feel, don’t think. Spend, don’t think. Be an American. Spend money you don’t have on something cool you don’t need. It’s only money. You’ll make more. I assure you, you will. But we might not make more of these Chinese-produced plastic hate effigies. Really, now, what would you rather be – safe, sane and sad, or devil-may-carefree and (momentarily) happy? Think about it. No wait, don’t think, stop, just do it!

The Braindead Megaphone

Design by Rodrigo Corral

George Saunders’ first collection of essays is out, and before you say “What the HELL is that?”, read something that Saunders wrote on his Amazon.com blog:

“The central premise of the title essay in my new book, The Braindead Megaphone, is this: Our cultural discourse is being dumbed-down by mass-media prose that is written too quickly, and therefore fails to due justice to the complexity of the world.”

And now think about the latest newscast you watched and tell me that this design doesn’t hit all the right notes: ugly graphics, interchangeable talking heads, and most importantly, a real schizoid aesthetic that speaks directly to the way news is created and reported.

Thanks, Austin, for sending this in.

Buy this book from Amazon.com
The Braindead Megaphone

Begin YOUR happiness project! Need help getting started? Write a list of happiness commandments for yourself.

TencommandmentsA few weeks ago, I posted about my epiphany that EVERYONE should have a happiness project. Join in! Start your own!

I need to figure out some systematic way to address this topic, but until I do, I think I’ll just throw out some provocative suggestions to get people thinking.

One of the most difficult – and most helpful and fun – challenges I undertook in my happiness project was coming up with my list of Twelve Commandments. I should do a series of posts explaining the significance of each one, because a few are a bit cryptic, but for me, they are all extraordinarily meaningful:

1. Be Gretchen.
2. Let it go.
3. Act as I would feel.
4. Do it now.
5. Be polite and be fair.
6. Enjoy the process.
7. Spend out.
8. Identify the problem.
9. Lighten up.
10. Do what ought to be done.
11. No calculation.
12. There is only love.

So, for your happiness project, come up with your own set of commandments.

A reader wrote that she was trying to come up with her own set, but it kept turning into a to-do list. I had the same problem. Remember, this isn’t a place for things like “Put your keys away in the same place every night.” But maybe that resolution fits into a larger self-command you’d like to observe.

For inspiration, here are some examples.

The first is from Howell Raines’ Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis.

Rule One: Always be careful about where you fish and what you fish for and whom you fish with.
Rule Two: Be even more careful about what you take home and what you throw back.
Rule Three: The point of all fishing is to become ready to fly fish.
Rule Four: The point of fly fishing is to become reverent in the presence of art and nature.
Rule Five: The Redneck Way and Blalock’s Way run along the same rivers, but they do not come out at the same place.

Here are two sets emailed to me from readers (who want to be anonymous):

1. Say yes.
2. Don’t keep score.
3. No fear.
4. Give without limits or expectations.
5. Take it in.
6. Expect a miracle.
7. Play the hand I’m dealt.
8. Recognize my ghosts.
9. Be specific about my needs.
10. React to the situation.
11. Keep proportion.

1. Overcome obstacles—you cannot overcome every obstacle but you can overcome more obstacles than you think, if you just persevere
2. Spend more—life is short, you have a tendency to hoard things (money, time), and you cannot take them with you when you go, so spend them while you can
3. Do what matters—resist the temptation to do something easy but forgettable or meaningless and instead do things that matter, even if they are more difficult; make memories
4. Pay attention—deadlines, politics, relationships, names, birthdays, what people are most proud of, their favorite things/activities, and especially their life dreams
5. Stay calm—unless you are seeking thrills and excitement (e.g. skydiving), stress kills and soothing attracts; you and your relationships will live longer if you stay calm
6. Empathize—put yourself in the other person’s shoes; resist the temptations to: argue, criticize, or complain, focus on yourself and not others, forget people’s names, deny your mistakes, boast of your successes and other’s failures, fail to reward those who do good by you
7. Get outside—almost everything feels better with sunlight on your skin
8. Get physical—being physical, whether in athletics or relationships, is a supreme source of joy
9. Do it now—life is short; procrastination will ruin the little life you have; fear it accordingly
10. Take care of yourself—if you value something, take care of it, and other people will notice
11. Believe you are the prize—confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy, neediness is unattractive, and pride is not a sin
12. Be classy
13. Experiment—get out of the rut; boredom will kill you and your relationships
14. Feel the danger—many dangers (saturated fat, drunk driving) don’t feel dangerous until it is too late
15. Don’t pick—often one must leave well enough alone: acne, wounds, other people’s flaws and mistakes, topics of conversations that other people don’t want to talk about, these are things that should be left alone—despite the most burning desire you have to reopen them; let people cool down and things might heal themselves

One thing that interests me is how distinct these lists are. The commandments give a powerful sense of each writer’s character and of the kinds of challenges he or she faces.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post some tips on creating your own set of happiness commandments.

There’s an interesting post on LifeRemix today, 20 Simple Ways to Become a Bookworm. There’s a lot of great information there, resources that I didn’t know about, and I’m a real book addict. As for reading more, the most important things is – remember, it’s supposed to be FUN! I just found a new great book on St. Therese, and I’m amazed at how quickly I’m making my way through it.

New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.

Begin YOUR happiness project! Need help getting started? Write a list of happiness commandments for yourself.

Holy Nuts, Batman! This is The Worst Fucking Thing Ever!

My wife, my own wife sends me – THIS! MEIN GOTT!

It’s not work safe – it’s not safe-safe! Hide the children – I am serious, store them somewhere! It’s the worst fucking thing ever!

Just look at it. I did, and I lived to post about about it. Although I really don’t feel so very well now.

Anyway, look at it.

Then look at it again, it gets worse.

A third time, and it gets even WORSE.

You know it’s bad when I use ALL CAPS. You know this is true. Because it is.

Not only that – It’s the worst fucking thing ever! 

Holy Nuts, Batman! This is The Worst Fucking Thing Ever!

Mason Pearson Hairbrushes


A Mason Pearson is like the hairbrush analogue of baby shampoo: it takes good care of the hair, without tears. Our 10 year-old’s hair has never been cut, so it reaches almost to her knees; but with an MP, brushing her hair before school isn’t a big deal. The brushes are very effective at getting snarls out gradually and they don’t hurt the scalp. The ones we use have two kinds of bristles: mostly boar bristles, which are the same hardness as hair, so they don’t scratch or cut the hair; and there are some soft, molded nylon bristles that are much gentler than the extruded/cut plastic bristles in typical brushes. Only the nylon bristles touch the scalp, as they are a little longer. All of the bristles are slender and mounted in a flexible rubber mat, which also adds to the softness of the brush.

We learned about MP hairbrushes from a theater mom 10 years ago, when our first daughter was involved in community theater. We’ve been using one brush for 10 years. It is kind of frayed, but still works. These brushes are quite expensive, but they’re worth the money and more if you have kids with long hair - or if you do. I keep my hair very long, so my own brush gets a lot of use. It is five years old and is in fine shape. Note: at these prices, don’t turn the brush over to a child to keep; it’s too annoying for a kid to lose such an expensive item. In our house, we adults use the larger “Junior” model. For a child-size brush, we use the “Pocket Bristle & Nylon” model.

– Don Davis

Mason Pearson Hairbrushes
Available from Amazon

Available from Amazon

Other types/sizes are also available via Amazon

Manufactured by Mason Pearson

Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

mason_robi comb.jpg
Robi Comb

Oster Grooming Rake

Zip-It Drain Cleaner

Mason Pearson Hairbrushes

I have a 2-page spread in the P.I. today!!!!!!

As this month’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Writer-in-Residence (a big huge honor!) I have a BIG HUGE COMIC in the paper today! Two pages, that’s just crazy. If you’re a Seattle resident, please please pick one up or shuffle through the pages at your favorite coffeeshop - it’s just so weird and amazing to see such a big space given over to a comic, especially in a daily paper. But, if you can’t see it in print, they did manage to stuff it onto their site.
I have a 2-page spread in the P.I. today!!!!!!

Stark Masonic Theosophy

handwritten frontispiece - physica, metaphysica, hyperphysica

magickal schematic x 2

kabbalistic schema

kabbalistic schema (detail)

figura cabbalistica

instrumentum fiat natura

transmutation schematic

mysterium magnum studium universale

allegorical alchemical motif

instrumentum divinum - alchemy symbols

celestial configurations for metal transmutation

alchemy model

Johann August Starck Stark was a Professor of both oriental languages and theology in St Petersburg, Königsberg and (mostly) Darmstadt. He was a prolific author, particularly noted for his studies of comparative religions.

Starck joined the Freemasons in France when he was about twenty years old. The story goes that when he was in Russia he met with a Rosicrucian who had been closely acquainted with a founder of a Masonic Lodge in Florence in the early 18th century. The founder was a collector of ancient manuscripts and that Lodge became a centre for Rosicrucian, alchemy and theosophical discussion and enquiry. Secret knowledge divined from the 11th century Knights Templar, as laid out in the manuscripts, greatly contributed to the founding of Hermetic traditions within the developing Masonic fraternity in Germany.

Starck appears to have been what you might call a significant player in German Freemasonry as a direct result of his being exposed to the Florentine teachings. He was a leader of a faction (oh yes, Life of Brian correspondences seem appropriate) called the Klerkikat which joined with the existing Knights Templar order of Freemasons, the Strict Observance, but a schism eventually developed due to Starck’s peculiar brand of Masonic beliefs. He was accused of being a Catholic and became quite an unpopular figure despite his receiving plum academic and civil appointments (he was a colleague and friend of philosopher Immanuel Kant). Apparently many of the ideas formulated or advocated by Starck persist into modern day Freemasonry.

One of the more notable subjects of his authorship appeared in the 1803 book, ‘Triumph of Philosophy’, in which Starck:

“claimed that the Illuminati, a freemasonry group founded by Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830) in 1776, stood behind the French revolution and were secretly pursuing similar lawless and godless schemes in German lands and elsewhere.”
How does any of these conspiracy and esoteric shenanigans relate to the intriguing images in this post? The simple answer is: I’m not really sure. They appear in three manuscripts recently uploaded by Wolfenbütteler Digitale Bibliothek and all are attributed to Johann August Starck (or at least, they are listed under his name as author). It would seem they are either copies of, or notes and symbols dervied from, the renowned ‘Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer’ (Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians) from the late 18th century.

-Ms. Cod. Guelf. 454 Nov.
-Ms. Cod. Guelf. 455 Nov.
-Ms. Cod. Guelf. 456 Nov.

As you might imagine, background research about this topic is apt to lead a person to some ‘interesting’ websites to say the least, where everything from the world bank, Cagliostro and the twin towers make an appearance. Consequently I’m only going to recommend the Starck biography in the Immanuel Kant teaching site at Manchester College. Anyone with a deeper interest in all of this has already gone off on their own searching quests no doubt. Related: alchemy/‘La Très Sainte Trinosophie’.
Stark Masonic Theosophy