Flat People, Resumes and Coded Language

Posted on 02/11/2018 in Psychology

People often speak in coded language – some more than others. The problem with coded language is that it requires a secret decoder ring to figure out what they mean.

I’m not talking about jargon and vocabulary which are used in exclusionary ways. That particularly insidious form of manipulation – taking commonly used and understood terminology and morphing it to have a different, specific, and subtly different meaning – is often used as a two-pronged way in unfair, point-scoring debate:

1) To give people a retreat-spot in the debate, so that they can disavow their manipulation by saying “clearly you don’t understand technical term A, which I’m using, rather than common-term B”.

2) To allow the person to shut down their opponent in the debate. “Clearly you need to go educate yourself so that you know what A means, and it’s not my job to do that for you – I don’t owe you anything.”

That’s particularly lame, because no, sorry, it’s everyone’s job to teach – that’s how we advance as a species, and it’s matter of good-will and good-faith interaction with your fellow human.

There are cases where it’s valid as a shorthand for saying “I’m not interested in debating stuff where I’m an expert and you’re ignorant” – but you don’t get to exercise it if you’re arguing in public with random people; if you want to argue as an expert, it’s your duty to “stoop to their level” and make sure you’re understood.

No, I’m talking about simple “read between the lines” discourse. With many people, you have to infer what they really mean, who they’re really talking about, what the subject is, what’s really going on, what the underlying motivation is, and what the politics of the situation are.

This is so common that it’s weird when you meet people who don’t behave like this. I’ve found a few people over the years who just give it to you completely straight, flat, and don’t hide their intent behind mountains of chaff and flak… (although everyone will hide a little for safety).

Unless you know those people really really well, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to decode them, and in the process invent motivations and meanings that don’t actually exist. Eventually a lightbulb will click on, and you’ll realize that no, just take exactly what they said as baseline truth, and read no more into it and no less into it than what they specifically said.

These people choose their words carefully, and think before they speak.

Even when you know this is in operation, you’re going to have a weird time of it, simply because everyone else is doing the chaff and flak maneuver… so by now, it has become automatic for you to fill in the gaps and blanks. For people who give it to you flat, straight and unadorned, you’ll need to actively remember not to infer.

But once you do, it’s magic.

How To Stay Competitive If You’re Flat

There are disadvantages to this approach for those “flat” people though. And that’s the résumé problem.

Most people, when they send off a CV or résumé, embellish. The inflation rate of the average CV is probably 30%. You present your best foot forward, and maybe a little white lie here and there. The same goes for reports, business interactions, so on and so on.

The problem comes in if you’re a “flat” person. You’ll give a perfectly honest, reasoned and detailed appraisal of what you did. Unfortunately, because everyone else is inflating their appraisals by 30%, you are now 30% worse-off than you should be, simply because you didn’t puff up your chest and inflate your report as well.

You can’t rely on others to remember not to infer when dealing with you, particularly if they’re a recruiter (who deal with hundreds of résumés), or in a large business. Instead, you have to play the game as it’s presented to you.

All you can do is be honest and truthful, but also focus on the wins, de-emphasize the losses, and join the rest of the people who are inflating. Present the information which is the most wow-worthy.

It’ll feel wrong, or boastful… but when everyone else is playing a different game than you are, you can only lose.

Altruism in an Uncaring Universe, and The Good Place

Posted on 02/09/2018 in Uncategorized

The last episode of Season 2 of The Good Place had a fantastic message buried inside of it.

Nobody is truly altruistic in the dictionary definition of the word. (But that’s okay – we’re only human, so we make human decisions).

Altruism does not exist in a vacuum. A good person doing kind acts will only perform those acts for so long before they stop doing them, if you kick them in the face every time they do them. Because they’re good, not stupid.

More subtly, a good person in a truly brutal and uncaring universe will only keep doing selfless acts for so long, before they lose the ability to keep doing them. Because we get a fuzzy feeling of awesome from doing good things for other people – which is a reward. It’s an old reward, one baked into our genetic code (and into the code of most mammals to a degree, but turned up in primates). It’s the concept of /fairness/.

A highly altruistic person operates on this principle: I’ll do good things for you out of the goodness of my heart, because it’s the right thing to do. In return, my brain rewards me with a sense of being a good person, who helps others.

In an uncaring universe, that contract – a social contract between people with similar firmware – is broken. (This also happens in large cities, where people are stressed). The rewards are spotty if they come at all.

Without the reward, people get tired of it, and eventually stop – or turn against the behavior. The strategy isn’t working, and has been proven not to work, and most people won’t keep doing the same thing over and over again if there’s pain involved – or if actions aren’t reciprocated.

What does this tell us?

Thank people when they help you, or they won’t help you.
Don’t lash out at people for sincerely trying to help you – or they won’t help you.

Our world is a pretty bleak place right now. Don’t squash the helpful butterflies. They’re part of the grease that keeps the machinery going forwards without grinding. Be polite. Treat each other well.

A lot of our world works because people are altruistic. If our world becomes entirely transactional – I’ll do something if you do something tangible for me – it’ll turn into a remarkably hollow, sad, and lonely place, partly because transactional relationships lead to attempts to game the system, or tilt the playing field in your favor. Right now we’ve got an altruism deficit, and that deficit is growing. So don’t be that person.

(And I’ll try not to be that person too, and we’ll get along swimmingly).

Why People Share Articles on Social Media

Posted on 02/04/2018 in Psychology

People rarely share articles to spread knowledge. More often they don’t care about the details. They just care if the way the article made them feel matches the way they feel about the general topic.

This is why it’s hard for people to keep a grip on facts, reason, or even basic journalism principles in an age when outrage, emotional responses, and clickbait are more important than fact, fairness, and judgement. More…

Long time no post… I wonder why? (Music, Politics and More)

Posted on 01/21/2018 in Business, Entertainment, Me, Music

Hello everybody,

It’s been quite a while since I last posted on the blog. Why? Well, it’s a number of things:

Everyone’s going nuts over politics, and has polarized. I’d post about political stuff, but I just don’t have the heart for it. Partly this is because I’ve recently found that I lose friends when I talk politics (I don’t automatically slew in the direction of my friends on every issue even though I’m a bleeding-hearty lefty – I prefer nuance, and right now there’s none). I’m not willing to compromise my principles or ignore facts or skip analysis, so away from politics I go.

Work has been busy. I’ve been doing new and interesting things, some of which may or may not pan out… But as a result, I’ve been trying not to blog. I discovered many years ago that writing kind of shifts a gear in my head – and I don’t want to get stuck in that gear. It can take weeks for me to shift back, so I’ve been avoiding it. Instead, I’ve been working on music.

I wouldn’t have considered myself a musician until recently. I can barely consider myself one now – impostor syndrome being what it is. Especially if I compare myself to my favorite musicians. I’m just not on the same page. But there’s one thing I do really well, and that’s learn new things rapidly. So let’s say I’ve reached the level where I can say that I’m relatively competent, if not an actual expert.

So far I’ve released 4 singles. There’s more coming… I’m trying to build towards an album. Everything’s being released under the name Fleeting Shadow, and you can find me on ReverbNation here: https://www.reverbnation.com/fleetingshadow , Bandcamp here: https://fleetingshadow.bandcamp.com/ , and on the music label Foxxy Music here: foxxymusic.com/artists/fleeting-shadow.

Or you can just listen here:

Writing music is pretty much the best stress-reliever I’ve found. It’s more immediate than writing screenplays (a screenplay is not a finished product – it’s a halfway point… so it’s less gratifying). Even better, I’m enjoying the music I’ve written, which is great.

(I will get back to screenplays at some point, but right now? There’s no point).

As part of this wonderful change in scenery, I’ve also started a music label with my wife Darci Morales – Foxxy Music, LLC. The first album we’re putting out comes out in 5 days (1/21/2018) and isn’t my music. No, this is from Alternative/Alt.Rock/Indie/Grunge(?) band The Happy Pill Academy. They’ve trusted me with their baby, so I’m doing my best to make sure it’s well fed and looked after.

Their first album is Kerosene, Matches and Time, and will be available on streaming music and digital download sites. It might even show up on CD / Vinyl at some point, but that’s further in the future.

There’s a lot involved in running a music label – way more than I thought. It ends up there’s a lot of moving parts behind the scenes before music makes its way into your grubby little mitts. Never mind the logistics of P.R. and press coverage, getting radioplay, getting songs into the charts.

(We can even create our own ISRC codes now… we’re holding off on UPC codes for now, because they’re a lot pricier).

Either way, this is an interesting new side venture. We’ll see where it takes me. Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere… but at the very least, it gives me something better to do with my time than argue politics.

Creation and action beats directionless agitprop, every time.

Be the change you want to see in the world. I’m going to do that right now.

Lessons Learned from Camping

Posted on 08/23/2017 in Uncategorized

Pooping is easier without pants, especially when you had to dig a hole first.

Try to poop before sunset. It’s way scarier in the dark.

Bring a real shovel. Emergency snow shovels don’t do a great job of digging poop holes. (I had a hunch…. so I brought a real shovel).

Ants will mostly leave you alone, even if they have a massive 15-foot across anthill, if you dump a small amount of food on the hill as a ritual offering.


Leaving Quora

Posted on 08/14/2017 in Meta, Science, Software Development, Technology, Writing

Quora recently changed the site in some heinous ways. They removed the details from all questions, because they’re trying to make sure that there’s only one “canonical question” you can search for an answer to.

Quora Logo

Unfortunately this destroys nuance – after all, there’s only so much detail you can put into 250 characters.

So in response, I’m going to start migrating all of my question answers on Quora to my blog. It’s going to take a while, but hey, more content for the blog.