List of Deep Thoughts Posts
Every month of 2016, I’m focusing on a different area of self-improvement. My goal is to tackle various aspects of my physical and mental health, with the end result of becoming a stronger, more capable person. I’ve decided to blog these challenges in case anyone else is inspired by them. This post explains what I’m working on in January.
I’m my own worst critic, and it’s making me miserable.
I’m very hard on myself. In my mind, no matter what I do, or how successful I become at anything, I’m only as good as my mistakes. And no mistake is too small to escape my self-scrutiny or self-punishment. This is terrible for me in many ways, and I want to stop doing it.
“Isn’t being hard on yourself a bit of a positive quality, though? Doesn’t it make you self-motivated? Doesn’t it make you do better work, and be a better person?”
That’s what I used to believe, because I had confused being hard on myself with perfectionism/attention to detail. In truth, I am a perfectionist, but instead of applying that trait productively I use my perfectionism as an excuse to be shitty to myself.
It’s easiest to explain this by example: Continue Reading
Admit it: you love getting mad.
It’s okay. We all do to some degree. The adrenaline surge from a perceived threat is a primitive, powerful high. Responding to that threat with primal outrage is a marvelous release of tension. We’re designed to get excited by conflict, even if it frightens us sometimes.
When someone is wrong on the Internet, we feel that surge. And when we hit the reply button and vent our outrage, we feel satisfied. We’ve identified a threat and fought against it. We’ve done something good and righteous.
And when someone we like gets outraged, we join in. Combat is a team sport, after all, and we all want to reap the spoils of victory. But when it’s one of our allies who’s attacked, we take up arms and repel the invaders. We must protect our tribe at all costs.
An eye for an eye until we’re all blind.
I’m a fan of stand-up comedy. It’s one of the purest forms of creative expression that exists. As someone fascinated by stand-up, I enjoy reading interviews and articles where comedians talk about their craft. One central topic that keeps coming up is how much the game has changed for them in the social media era. Before Twitter and smartphones existed, comedians would go to the clubs and deliver their fresh material to a small crowd — essentially a beta test for new jokes. Some jokes would work, others would not. The jokes that got laughs stayed in the act, the rest were cut and never heard again. There was an implicit understanding between the comedian and the club audiences that this was a proving ground, and that mistakes would happen from time to time. To err is human, and when a real, live human is standing in front of you performing a labor of love, it’s only natural to cut them a bit of slack. Continue Reading
UPDATED March 27, 9:36 AM: New information about Clean Reader’s status as a book reseller has come to light … see footnote.
UPDATED AGAIN March 27, 10:43 AM: The point has been raised that Clean Reader is marketed as a way to censor books for kids, which raises a lot of thorny issues … see footnote.
A lot of online ink has already been spilled over a controversial new app called Clean Reader. It aims to get naughty words out of your eBooks, and it works by substituting these words with “cleaner” alternatives. “Fuck,” for example, gets replaced by “freak,” which would make Freaks and Geeks a totally different TV show if this were reversed. It also replaces “Jesus Christ,” apparently, which would probably make The Bible a confusing read, especially with all the “damns” and “hells” in there.
In response to the existence of this absurd thing, authors are sharpening their pitchforks en masse. Nothing gets an author’s back up quite like censorship, to the point that even the insinuation of it causes blood to boil. Some are corresponding with Clean Reader, ripping the app developer a new one and demanding to have their books de-listed (Clean Reader, for the record, seems to be taking these requests seriously and acting on them). Others are posting persuasive legal arguments on why Clean Reader’s actions are against the spirit of the law, if not the letter. Here’s a good summary by Chuck Wendig, a man whose books would be rendered completely illegible by the app.
I’ll summarize my view right off the bat: I think Clean Reader is fucking stupid (yes, the wording there is intentional). And of course I am opposed to censorship of creative works. But what Clean Reader does is not illegal, immoral, or any of the other hyperbole being thrown around right now. Continue Reading
Three weeks ago, my mom told me she needed a new laptop, and wanted some recommendations. I pointed her toward a Lenovo with a 15 inch touch screen, a model I considered to be a great bang-for-buck high-end laptop that met her specific needs (she’s visually impaired, so the large touch screen is a must-have).
This weekend, I had to take a break from editing Winterwakers Part 3 so I could spend some quality time with said laptop, repairing one of the worst security holes in the history of computing.
The whole situation really drove something home for me: when it comes to computing, there are two worlds. I live in one of them, and my mom (and most people) live in the other. In my world, computers are an open canvas, one that is frequently shat upon by companies like Lenovo. In my mom’s world — the world of the “normal” computer user — computers are mysterious black boxes that work most of the time, but occasionally act malevolently for no apparent reason.
I learned about Superfish on Thursday morning because I follow the right people on Twitter, and understand what they’re talking about. My mom learned about it because I sent her an email titled “Lenovo severe security/adware issue,” in which I volunteered to fix it for her because I knew it was beyond her capabilities.
Let me be perfectly clear on that point: my mom would have never even known about Superfish, or how serious a problem it was, if it weren’t for me personally warning her.
What if my mom had bought a Lenovo laptop without telling me? What if I was on a trek through the wilderness this week, missing the whole Superfish story? More to the point: what if my mom was one of the millions of normal-world Lenovo users who didn’t have someone in the tech world to tell her about Superfish, and impress upon her how serious an issue it is?
I’m a fan of Abby Howard, a cartoonist who does two excellent webcomics: The Last Halloween (comedy-horror), and Junior Scientist Power Hour (autobio/gags). She was also the best reason to watch Strip Search. Go check out all those links, then come back here. I’ll wait.
… are you back yet? Yes? Cool.
As I said, I’m a fan. Which is why I feel intensely conflicted about this new comic of hers. It’s about fat shaming, a subject I’ve been personally familiar with for decades.
Fat shaming is the act of making overweight/obese people feel ashamed of their non-ideal bodies. As Abby hints in her comic, and reinforces in the blurb she wrote below it, fat shaming is usually much more subtle and insidious than “ha ha, look at Fatty Fat-fat!” And, as Abby says, the subtle stuff is far more destructive than the overt teasing, especially in the long run. It’s a societal problem, and like most societal problems it’s invisible to those not affected, but deeply personal to those who are.
I’m fat. Not “pudgy” or “could lose a few pounds.” I’m straight-up fat. Technically, I’m obese. At this moment, my BMI is 34.2. Yes, I know BMI isn’t a perfect metric, and I know that I have a wide frame and a lot of lean muscle in my legs, but I am definitely obese. I’m lugging around an unhealthy amount of body fat. That’s an objective, inarguable fact, and it’s plainly evident from a cursory look at my physique.
And yes, I am ashamed of this. Even though my logical mind knows I have no reason for it, some part of me is ashamed of my body, and always has been. I’ve been fat for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been ashamed of being fat for as long as I can remember.
When you’re a fat kid, the first sign you’re undesirable comes from the overt insults and teasing of your peers. They tell you in no uncertain terms that you’re fat, and that your body is a joke to them. And when you tell a child he’s fat and ugly, he will believe you. Kids (and some adults, to be fair) don’t have the emotional maturity to see the difference between idiotic teasing and sincere criticism. Stupid shit that would bounce off my adult armor today was absorbed and internalized, becoming part of my self-identity.
The overt fat jokes stopped when I hit puberty, but they laid the groundwork for my fat shame. I was a fat kid, a lesser being. Besides, what was to come was far more destructive than any fat joke. Continue Reading
Over on Reddit, there’s a pretty fun sub called explainlikeIAmA (Reddit-speak for “Explain Like I am a …”). The premise is simple: people post a request in the form “Explain [topic] like you are [person]”, and other people reply accordingly. It’s basically a game of make-believe, and it’s a fun exercise for fiction writers.
Today, I replied to one such post titled “Explain the Sony hack like you, and not North Korea, were the one responsible, and you are trying to not-so-subtly hint at what you did.” Clever premise, and highly topical. Here’s my response:
Hypothetically, if a hacker wanted to avoid detection, he’d use an opportunity to deflect the blame to a plausible scapegoat. Perhaps this hacker, whoever he is, saw a golden opportunity in the impending release of The Interview.
North Korea is already known for its cyber-warfare program, and it’s no surprise they objected to The Interview. If someone wanted to hack Sony — perhaps for personal reasons that we may never learn — it wouldn’t be too difficult for said hacker to leave clues that point back to the DPRK: clues that are obvious enough for the FBI to pick up on, but not so obvious that they look suspiciously fake. Someone familiar with Sony’s network security should be able to accomplish this quite easily.
When the news came out that North Korea’s government was the prime suspect in the hack, Pyongyang’s response was predictable. Obviously they know they weren’t the hackers, but why would they deny such a perfect opportunity to claim credit for a massively successful cyber-attack? What better way to show the world they’re not a joke, and that they must be taken seriously as a threat to global security?
The media jumps on the story. North Korea is a known belligerent on the world stage, and the explanation that they’re behind the hack is not only plausible, it’s ideal. Meanwhile, the real hacker can relax, knowing he will never be caught.
OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER FOR MORONS: the above is a work of fiction/speculation. I am not the Sony hacker, nor do I claim to know anything about the identity, strategy, or methods of said hacker(s).
That said, nothing I wrote in that Reddit reply is implausible. If I had sysadmin-level access to Sony, I could have probably pulled off everything I said up there. A person with more expertise in computer networks than me, or someone with inside knowledge of Sony’s systems, would definitely be able to pull it off. Computer software is full of horrible flaws because it’s made by humans — and humans are jam-packed with horrible flaws. Continue Reading
Last night, my wife was reading her new Kobo Arc 7 with a frown on her face.
“Something wrong with your Kobo?” I asked.
“The Kobo’s fine,” she said. “It’s just that there’s a book I want to read, and it’s thirteen bucks on the Kobo Store. I don’t get it. How can an eBook possibly cost that much? It makes me wonder why anyone would even bother owning an e-Reader!”
As an author publishing in the eBook domain, I am acutely familiar with the many facets of this problem. My first foray into publishing, the eBook edition of Winterwakers Part 1, was released into the world on October 28, 2014. I priced it at $2.99, and it will likely remain at that price for a while yet.
By pure coincidence, one of the other books released on October 28 was Yes Please by Amy Poehler. She is one of the most talented comedians in existence, and by all accounts a fantastic human being. I’m kind of proud that we both published our debut books on the same day. Plus, it means that if I ever meet her in person, we can have the following conversation:
ME: “Amy Poehler, hi … I’m Matt Perkins, and my first book came out on the same day as your first book! Isn’t that amazing?”
AMY POEHLER: (engulfs me in a cloud of pepper spray and runs away)
The eBook edition of Yes Please is currently priced at $17.28. For the price of Ms. Poehler’s book, you could buy five copies of my book and ride the Paris Metro. Or, interestingly, you could pay an extra $1.33 (not including shipping) to get the hardcover edition of her book.
Do these prices seem out of whack to you? You, and my wife, are not alone.
The idea of an eBook and a hardcover being even close to the same price doesn’t make intuitive sense. A hardcover book is a physical product. It costs money to print and bind. It takes up space in a warehouse, space in a delivery truck, and space on a bookstore’s shelves. A sizable percentage of a hardcover book’s retail price reflects all that. It’s incorrect to say that an eBook has no manufacturing, storage, or delivery costs, but when compared to the hardcover format, said costs are effectively nil.
So where’s all that money going? And why are some eBooks, like mine, priced far lower than a typical hardcover book?
You may not know this (truthfully, I didn’t until I did some research on this topic), but last week was Banned Books Week. Ironically, you may have heard that this was also the week when a very popular book was banned by a California school district. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s tragic young adult romance novel about teens dying of cancer, was banned from middle schools in Riverside.
This is, of course, only the most recent and most public example of a book ban. The American Library Association keeps a list of what they call “Frequently Challenged Books”; the implication being that book bans – successful or attempted – are a regular enough occurrence that there is a substantial catalog of them. A quick glance at the top 100 banned/challenged books from 2000-2009 reveals a surprising array of blockbuster hits, literary classics, and critical darlings.
Given that so many people seem to want to ban so many books, you’d think there must be some kind of slightly reasonable justification for the practice. Sure, there are always reasons given for particular bans – inevitably there is some kind of offensive material or subject matter in the book – but I’ve never seen a justification for book banning as a concept. I think the reason for this is simple: book banning is stupid and unjustifiable in all cases. There is not, nor has there ever been, a sensible excuse for banning a book.
Let’s look at the thought process that went into banning The Fault in Our Stars, as a case in point. The following quote is from the article I linked to above.
Arlington principal and committee member Betsy Schmechel questioned whether students could handle reading about terminally ill teens.
“The thing that kept hitting me like a tidal wave was these kids dealing with their own mortality, and how difficult that might be for an 11-year-old or 12-year-old reading this book,” she said, later adding she thinks the review process worked. “If you have a process in place like this, then you have a way for anyone to be heard.”
Right here, we can see a proposed justification for banning this particular book, and a bonus argument for the book banning process itself. In the case of Fault, the committee (whose role is apparently to decide which books to ban) thinks that kids dealing with their own mortality is a “difficult” subject for a middle-school student to read about.
I will say this up front, unequivocally: Principal Schmechel is right about the book. Dealing with mortality is difficult for a mature adult, let alone a kid, and a book about a dying teenager is not going to be a light read. But that’s the point! A book like The Fault in Our Stars is supposed to be challenging. It’s supposed to make you think about death, and consider your own ideas about what it means to die young. If an 11-year-old reads this book and feels unnerving, complicated things about mortality, John Green has succeeded. More importantly, the 11-year-old has new knowledge about dying young, and new thoughts, feelings and reactions to all this new knowledge. That’s learning. That’s growth. Continue Reading