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Why I’m Optimistic About the Future – #1 2013-Mar-28 at 01:47 PST

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I’m going to start doing a regular series of posts with short pieces or videos in them of why I’m an optimist about the future. Here’s the first one.

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Those of you who know me know that I’m not a kids-person. I’m not what you’d call “child-friendly”. I don’t really know what to do around them, or what to say. Shrug. I prefer talking to adults.

So, with that confession out of the way, I also want to say that I’m not blind to what’s going on. Some of the kids are coming in very awake, and staying that way. (And many of them have parents who have done enough of their own work to stay out of their kids’ way, so, thank you, parents.) Don’t forget: even if today’s adults can’t pull off everything that they need to in order to fix the world, the kids coming in now will, and within a few decades. All is well.

Here’s one of them:

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Following the Yes 2013-Mar-25 at 15:36 PST

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It’s amazing how smoothly things work when you stay in the moment and trust your guidance.

Since Wednesday morning, when I was laid off, I’ve had a few interviews. Thursday I had an interview with a couple of people at a consulting/placement shop. The whole thing just didn’t feel right. Although I loved the view of Lake Union from their office, the vibe of the whole thing just wasn’t quite right, and the technical interview I had didn’t go well. I have very different experiences than the guy who interviewed me, and we didn’t see eye-to-eye on the industry, on my abilities or on how I should focus in my job search.

When I left, I felt the same way you feel whenever an interview doesn’t go well… just not good. Bottom line: it felt like a “no”. My heart and my gut just said “no” about the whole situation, and about the people involved. Not because they’re not nice people or good at what they do – there’s no reason for me to think any of that – but just because it’s not a match for me. Nothing personal in any of that, and no reason to take any of it personally.

Later Thursday afternoon, I spoke to a talent acquisition person at another company. The experience could not have been more different. It went smoothly, we had a great conversation, and we left it at seeing when there would be time to chat with some principals there.

By Friday afternoon I was in an office downtown in an interview that felt more like a conversation. The role they have is somewhere that I’d be thrilled to work and contribute, somewhere I’d already thought about. The whole thing just felt right. My heart and my gut both said “yes”.

Monday afternoon I had a follow-up interview with someone else at the firm. We talked about me, about the role, about consulting. Again, an interview that felt more like a conversation. Again, a big “yes”.

There’s a little more to the process before it’s done, but, there you go. I’m feeling so grateful and taken care of.

Just let go of the past, don’t take the feelings of “no” personally, and wait for the “yes”. The “yes” is coming, if you’re listening inside for it. No thought is required to feel it. This era in history is about all of us learning to trust the “yes” when it comes, and to trust a “no” as your indication that whatever is making you feel “no” isn’t what your soul wants right now.

I had a “no” developing about my previous role; getting laid off was a blessing to get me out of there before the “no” I was trying not to feel became too big. Now I’m in a flow, noticing the yes and the no that’s coming my way, navigating the way I’m guided to. This is the effortless effort… do your best for the “yes”, gracefully step away from the “no”.

Or, as my dear friend Thomas likes to say, “If it’s not fun… run!”

Everybody at Madison Square Garden Urged to “Clap Your Hands” 2013-Mar-22 at 18:25 PST

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Early in the second period of Tuesday night’s game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers, during a stoppage of play, everybody at Madison Square Garden was urged to “clap your hands”.

Members of the crowd seemed to be unaware of the reason that they should clap their hands.

“Did I just miss something?” said John DiMateo, 39, of Hicksville, NY, looking around at his neighbors. “I thought the puck just went over the boards. I’m not clapping for that.”

Dennis Reed, 28, from West Orange, NJ sitting in section 414, said, “I’m just trying to have a conversation with my friends here, and then this shit comes on. I’m not clapping. Look around, nobody is clapping. Nobody ever claps. Besides, if anybody ever does clap to this fucking thing, I’ll personally throw them down to the expensive seats.”

The song snippet used to exhort the crowd to clap their hands is from Mr C. The Slide Man’s Cha Cha Slide, a popular song at receptions. It is heard frequently alongside longtime favorites like the “Chicken Dance,” and the “Electric Slide.”

In the middle of the third period, with the score tied 1-1, hockey fans young and old were told again to “clap your hands”.

“I’ve never clapped for this shit, and I’m not going to start now,” said Craig Bosch, 34, of Manhattan. “What is this, a fucking wedding? I mean, do we really need to be told – Jesus! What, that wasn’t tripping?!? No, he fell down all by himself, right?!?”

“Christ,” he added.

When asked about it, Michael Liss, 59, a native of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, looked up and shook his head. “Look, I’ve been coming to Rangers games since I was a little kid, when the Garden was up on 50th Street, and back then no one had to be told to clap. It’s just insulting. Like we don’t know when to – oh, for fuck’s sake, you call that interference?!? God damn it. These days you bump a guy and all of a sudden you’re in the penalty box. What a bunch of shit.”

Later, during overtime play, everybody was, once again, urged to “clap your hands”. Mark Poulis, 27, of Queens, remarked, “Why? Isn’t overtime exciting enough? Do we really need to be – For Christ’s sake, ref?!? What the fuck was that?”

“Fuck.”

At the conclusion of the game – the Rangers won in a shootout, with a final score of 2-1 – the crowd erupted, without prompting, into loud clapping and cheers.

Algorithms on whiteboards 2013-Mar-21 at 19:18 PST

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I grew up in New Jersey, and until I joined Microsoft in 2008, I spent my entire career between Washington, D.C. and Boston, MA. I’ve applied for more jobs and had more interviews than I can remember in that time. I’ve done more interviews for candidates than I can remember.

In all that time, I was never asked, and I have never asked, a single “code this algorithm on the whiteboard” question. It wouldn’t even occur to me to ask that kind of question in an interview. I don’t think it proves anything really, other than that you’re young enough to remember the college course where you learned it. It’s not something that’s done in the Northeast (or, at least, it wasn’t before I left in 2008).

The whole thing isn’t natural. Writing on a whiteboard is something that 1) no programmer I’ve ever worked with does on a regular basis; 2) does not come naturally to someone who isn’t a visual thinker (which I’m not); and 3) lacks the amazing tools that you get when you work in your regular integrated development environment (IDE), something like Visual Studio 2012.

Let me try to give an example. If you’re a writer, you might like to write on yellow legal pads, and then type it into your computer. Or maybe you prefer to dictate into a recorder, and then transcribe it (or have someone transcribe it for you) later. Maybe you prefer to type in OneNote, and then, when you’re done, copy it over to Word. If you’re like me, you just fire up Word (or Windows Live Writer 2012, since this is a blog post) and start typing. All of those things work, they’re really a matter of taste and habit.

The number of developers that I know who prefer to write their code on paper or on a whiteboard before they type it into an IDE approaches zero. I can’t think of a single person I’ve ever worked with who, when given coding work to do, starts by writing the code they’re going to write on the whiteboard, and then, after they’re satisfied with it (and their messy hands from erasing and rewriting – remember there’s no cut-and-paste and no “insert” on a whiteboard), goes to transcribe that into an IDE. In the age of mainframes and batch processing, where testing your program consisted of submitting a job that only printed results on paper that had to be brought up from the huge printers in the basement to whatever floor you’re sitting on, I understand about slowing down, writing things out, making double-sure, because one run could take anywhere from fifteen to sixty minutes to get the results. That’s how I started my career. (Forget about punch-cards… even worse.)

But since, oh, the mid-1990’s, we’ve had magic things called IDE’s that let us create, compile, test, and deploy our code. These tools (unless you’re a hardcore vi or EMACS person) help immensely in structure, exploration, and comprehension of code, and, in the case of Visual Studio with Intellisense, actually help you to type code much, much faster than you otherwise could because they know what you’re about to type and auto-complete it for you. Whiteboards and pens-on-paper can’t do that.

And then there’s algorithms. Of course, all computer code implements some sort of algorithm… do this, then do that. But what I’m talking about are basic college-course example algorithms. Things that you might have learned in CS201 if you took it. They’re fundamental, and they’re lovely to know, but I’ve had a successful over-twenty-year career in IT and I have never, ever, ever seen a case where I had to know or implement one of them.

There are definitely places where knowing the fundamentals is a good thing. If I were applying for a job in the Windows kernel team, hell yes, I’d expect to be grilled for that. If I were doing some sort of sophisticated financial analysis for a Wall Street quant group, sure. If I’m analyzing Facebook data, absolutely. But for the 99.9%+ of the rest of the coding that we need done in the world, things like web sites and internal applications and mobile apps… yeah, no. I’ve never used a linked list. I’ve never used a binary search tree. I’ve certainly never had to create one… if I ever want one, they’re provided (in the .NET Framework they’re found in System.Collections.Generic).

Now that I’m in Seattle, the entire interviewing regime is geared to questions about algorithms. You could be applying for a job writing a user interface for a web site, and you’ll get these questions out here. This is, I assume, due to the prevalence of ex-Microsoft and ex-Amazon people all over here, who were taught that the “right” way to interview is to ask these questions.

I remember one interview where the guy asked me the third complex question about linked-lists in a row. This was for a job on a fairly straightforward “show the UI and store the data in a database” application, the kind of thing we all use all the time. I asked him, “Is there a single linked-list anywhere in this application?” He stuttered back, “Uh… well… I’ve used them before.” In other words, no. Sigh.

And it’s not like I suck as a programmer. Please. (And I would have gotten through that, no problem, when I was 18 and it was fresh.)

And now… back to writing said algorithms on said whiteboards. Really?!? Is there a job interview in another field that I’m not aware of that goes like, “The way that I’m going to evaluate your fitness for this job is by your ability to do something that you’re never going to be required to do, ever on the job that I’m hiring you for, and by the way, I want you to do it using a tool that you’re likely never ever going to use again”?

Really?!?

It’s like saying, “I’ll interview you for a job delivering packages, but I won’t give you the job unless you can go into a garage and rebuild the engine in the truck you’ll be driving.”

So, what can I do? I’m here… I have to interview… and thanks to a friend reminding me about it, I’ve just signed up for Coursera’s Algorithms I course. I already own the previous edition of the textbook (and I used to own the first edition when I was in college), and the course is fortunately taught by the excellent author of that textbook, so, that’s all lovely. I already was going to self-teach myself using the book… thanks to Coursera, I get some guidance along the way.

Why am I doing this? One reason: just to get through the interviews. When I’m done, like so much else we all learned in college and high school, I’ll forget it, not because I don’t think it’s interesting, but because I won’t be using it, ever.

At least, not until the next time I have to interview.

It’s done 2013-Mar-20 at 13:22 PST

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Sitting at Starbucks on Mercer Island, watching hard rain and wind alternate with breaks of blue sky and sun. It’s a typical Spring day in Seattle. Didn’t sleep well. Coffee just kicking in.

Had the phone call at 10:00 AM. Traffic was bad this morning… I just made it in on time. (It’s poor form to be late to one’s own execution.) I brought an empty box in with me. Packed up, and left.

Then I went out and had a pastrami omelette for breakfast. Wrote the goodbye email while I was waiting for the food. Yummy, awesome way to transition out. Pastrami cures many ills. (Probably causes a few, too, but not in moderation, I hope.)

Activating my profile on Dice now… get the new search going. Making a few phone calls, reaching out to a few people.

Just after I hung up from being laid off, in this alternating rain and sun, a rainbow appeared to the west. It was too faint to capture in a picture (wish I could have included it here) but I saw it, and that’s all that matters.

I think I’m getting laid off in the morning 2013-Mar-20 at 02:38 PST

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No, really, I’m pretty sure that I’m getting laid off in the morning. Not kidding.

Just to get this out of the way: This is not a post about office politics or “should I have seen this coming sooner?” or anything like that. As for how I think I know this, again, not important (and not nefarious; just putting 2 + 2 together). As for what, in my humble opinion, my company should or shouldn’t have done differently… also not what I’m interested in tonight.

What is important is that it threw my body for a loop when I realized it. Sort-of knocked the wind out of me. It isn’t completely unexpected, but, still, the body has a lot of programs locked in it about the whole story of “losing your job”. I felt anxiety, mostly. (I felt blockages in my root and fifth chakras, and excess energy in my third chakra, for those who can feel what that means.) I felt my belly spin with that familiar, frantic energy that comes with deep anxiety, especially around money and scarcity. At least, that’s how I’ve experienced it in the past.

So, I still have that story, that fear, that energy, in my body, as so many of us do… and damn if figuring out that I’m about to lose my job tomorrow tends to activate it. Big time. The body was feeling very unhappy, very worried, very ungrounded. Very unloved, too.

You know what? That’s not very much fun.

Life happens. Things arise, things fall away. How we receive those things, those circumstances, as they arise and fall away, is up to us. We have a choice, in every moment, about how we relate to whatever is arising.

Conditioning is nothing more than the sum total of the energetic patterns that we’ve inherited, and that we sometimes act from. We get them from our family, and from the world around us. My conditioning reacted to the “news” with it’s perspective on how to feel this evening: it freaked-the-fuck-out.

Fortunately for me, the amazing Lauren Worsh came and sat down next to me and helped me find my way into feeling better and freer.

You see, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the morning. I have a guess about it, and my body, my conditioning, has had its reaction to it.

Now it’s my turn to take a perspective on it. And here’s my perspective: I choose to receive everything that arises in my life as something that is meant to free me up. And even when I fail at that, and I get contracted about something, I still choose to return to receiving everything that arises in my life as something that is meant to free me up.

Even losing my job.

Again… life happens. It is what it is. I can choose to be in resistance to it, or I can choose to receive it from another, freer perspective. The truth is, I can choose whatever perspective I like about it, and how I feel (and how the world will feel to me) will change depending on that perspective. (Gaining more and more freedom in the perspectives that we take – and therefore allowing broader and broader range in terms of what we’re willing to feel – is an important part of psychological growth.)

So… since I don’t enjoy feeling anxiety, I’m going to take this perspective: no matter what happens in the morning, I’m going to take the perspective that it’s meant to continue to get me freed up, to help me step into Freedom even more deeply.

And, just to be clear what I mean when I say Freedom: I’ll offer a perspective you can take (or not), and just say that from that perspective, when you feel into yourself, and you feel what the world feels like, it feels like Freedom. It’s easier to just go there and point at it then explain it, and, besides, it’s not about the mind, it’s about the Heart. (And, really, I’d like some company.)

Usually, we take the perspective of being one human being. Instead, imagine identifying as that one human being… on one planet going around one star, one of over one hundred billion stars in the galaxy (pause and imagine it), in a Universe with over one hundred billion galaxies (pause and imagine that, too), in a Multiverse with a potentially infinite number of Universes (yes, that too – an infinite number of Universes)…

…and flip the perspective to just being the Source and Awareness of the totality of this infinite, multi-dimensional, ever-changing, ever-transforming All-That-Is. Just flip your perspective from personal to as-impersonal-as-you-can-get. Use your imagination if you’d like; just imagine what it would be like to take that perspective, to hold that perspective. You are Awareness. Then stay there for a minute, let it settle into the body, let the body and the Heart start to really feel (remember, the mind isn’t the thing that feels) what it feels like to be the Awareness of All-That-Is. Not what you think, but how it feels when you let go of the perspective of being a person – just for a minute, it won’t go away, I promise – and shift to the perspective of the Awareness of the totality of the Multiverse. All times, all places, all inside of this totality… this Awareness. Rest here, and feel into it.

Then drop the Awareness, and just Be.

If you pause and take this perspective with me, the body state it creates is Freedom. This is Freedom. This is your Freedom. The Present Moment, this moment, Right Now – fresh, clear, received without expectation or conditioning – is the home of Freedom and Awareness. It’s always available to you and to me.

Remember how I said I was feeling unloved? Sending myself Love from this place of Freedom and Awareness helps that quite a bit. It helps to calm down the anxiety and fear.

It’s simple, really. We shift our perspective out of conditioning and into our Freedom, we feel that in the body, and from there we shift our attention to what needs healing, what needs love. And now the source of that Love is the All-That-Is, and not just little ol’ me. Kind of like a magic trick, except no cards.

And I’m pretty sure that I’m getting laid off in the morning.

Either way, it’s going to help me get freed up. It already has.

——–

Edit: If you’re interested in the follow-up

Why I don’t use Chrome 2013-Mar-19 at 19:31 PST

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From Google bans ad-blocking apps from the Play store, sideloading is your only option, by Grant Brunner, 2013-03-14:

This isn’t Google’s first move to disrupt ad-blocking. In an article on Business Wire, Adblock Plus co-founder Till Faida discusses the actions Google has taken in recent months to make ad-blocking more difficult. Last month, Google forced users to manually configure proxy settings for Adblock Plus to work on their phones and tablets. Late last year, Google even prevented users from finding Adblock Plus through searches on the Chrome web store. No more cat and mouse games, though. This latest move sends a clear signal that Google won’t tolerate ad-blocking on its platform.

If we view companies by where they make their money, then Google is an advertising company, plain and simple. Over 95% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising. Their technology has one thing primarily in mind: mining your data for innovative ways to deliver ads to you. When you think Google, think advertising.

So, yeah, of course an ad company wants to prevent you from blocking ads. The other problem with Chrome is the lack of controls on cookies. I personally allow or disallow every cookie on my system. Chrome doesn’t have a way for me to decide that… it’s either all cookies or no cookies… complete tracking or a basically unusable browser experience.

So what do I use? Mostly I use Firefox with AdBlock. FireFox has really come back in terms of performance and memory usage. When I’m not using Firefox, I use IE10. IE10 is a great browser, and, yes, Microsoft does ads too, but it’s not their primary business. Or their secondary, tertiary, or whatever word comes after tertiary business. Both IE and Firefox allow me to choose which cookies to accept and which to reject. And, at this point, JavaScript performance is within milliseconds of each other for every normal case, so performance doesn’t matter… if a page loads in 2.3s on Chrome and 2.4s in Firefox, really, I don’t care.

As for the “you wouldn’t have the Internet without ads” argument… I pay for New York Times access. I will pay for Washington Post access when they put up their paywall. I pay for MLB, NHL, and Netflix. I donate to multiple sites I frequent if the creator asks for a donation. I don’t mind paying for content if it’s done well, and I wouldn’t miss too many of the sites I graze on daily for free if it came down to it.

So, it’s up to you, of course, but I can’t imagine why I’d want to use a browser that’s provided by an advertising company. It’s kind-of like using a medical app provided by Big Pharma.

Hope from the Transcendentalists 2013-Mar-18 at 02:45 PST

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I found myself reading a bit of Thoreau tonight, and was meditating a bit on the Transcendental movement as a whole.

As I wrote previously, Transcendentalism was the first truly American philosophy. What’s particularly interesting about it is that the Transcendentalists were very clear about the Soul and the Oversoul. In other words, mystic spirituality. As in, Thoreau quoted the Vedas in his writing… he got it. So the first American philosophy had a mystic spirituality in its very center. Cool, right?

You know, Thoreau didn’t go to Walden for two years to write Walden. He went there to write A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Although he certainly went into town on occasion, and still saw Emerson and his family every week or two, and even had visitors… really, the cabin on Walden Pond was built so that he could do a two-year retreat. Thoreau trusted the value of that kind of experience.

And the entire world received the blessings of that trust. A Week turned out to be his best, most polished writing ever. And Walden? Walden, brilliant jewel it is, was basically a collection of observations he made during that retreat. Walden was the blog, if you will, that he wrote while he really wrote A Week. Amazing things come through when you rest in Silence.

I say all of this to say: take heart. The path to a collective spiritual life can seem like it’s farther away than ever. But Thoreau thought that too. In his time, the bustle of the railroad and the newspapers and all of the commerce in Concord (much less Boston!) was far beyond what he thought could possibly be healthy for the human soul.

And yet, even though he thought that about the world, he lived in Silence and Spirit, knowing what was true, what always would be true. We can, too. It’s not too late. It’s actually right on time.

Building Machine Intelligence based on the brain 2013-Mar-16 at 18:15 PST

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Interesting talk at Google by Jeff Hawkins from Numenta. They’ve built an interesting and scalable implementation of machine AI that’s based on some of the latest research into how the brain works. What I love about their approach is that they’re clear that building machine intelligence does not mean that the way that the brain works should be duplicated in silicon… there are significant differences, and there’s no need to create a copy of the brain in a computer to get machine intelligence. If I lived in Silicon Valley, I’d be very interested in working for them (not that I have a Ph.D in computer science)… very cool stuff.

The funny part for me was that as I was watching this, I was wondering (especially now that Ray Kurzweil works at Google), “What would Ray think of this?” And then the first questioner at the Q&A at the end of the talk was… Ray Kurzweil.

 

Why I’m blogging again 2013-Mar-16 at 00:25 PST

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Ordinarily, after the amount of time that I’ve been away from this blog, one would write the “Sorry I’ve been away so long” post. But, the truth is, I didn’t go away. I just went on Facebook instead. Like a lot of us did. (Good Lord, they know a lot about us now.)

I’ve been thinking about that lately, and the truth is, I’m tired of Facebook’s design goal of keeping your eyeballs on their screen for more hours than anything else you look at ever. I certainly appreciate the new kind of connections that Facebook enables. I appreciate everyone that I’m friends with on Facebook. I appreciate how easy it is to stay in touch with, or feel a connection to, so many people that I wouldn’t otherwise be communicating with.

Really, that’s the rub… Facebook has enabled goodness, but the good intentions behind it are being overwhelmed (quite predictably) by the pressure to monetize. And it feels less authentic to me to share myself there when I see where Facebook is headed.

(I also went on Twitter a while, but really that wasn’t a blog replacement as much as it was a platform to say really short things that I wouldn’t have bothered to write a blog post about anyway. So, it’s fun and everything, and I think I’ll get back to it.)

So, about this blog. Well, I still want to say stuff. Facebook definitely got me hooked on that. But what I want to say now is a lot less frivolous than before. I’ll still post stuff about science breakthroughs and computing power and the routine brilliant observations by Thomas Barnett (that stuff is still important), but really I’ll be doing what I didn’t quite do the last time, which is to be completely honest about where I’m at, and how I see the world.

How I see the world now is as a multidimensional Hologram, composed of energy, and where I’m at is a beautiful Infinite-beyond-Infinite multiplicity as the expression of a Oneness, about which one can say… nothing. It’s all just Energy, manifested effortlessly from and as the Void of Being. And in the middle of all of that, I’m still a human being dealing with fucked-up-beautiful humanness and conditioning.

Time for a coming out party.