Blogging and Social Media

I haven’t been blogging too much recently. I got busy for a while and had to skip a few weeks, and then general laziness prevented me from resuming a regular posting schedule. (Hopefully that ends now.) Most of the time my ranting was on social media, which got me thinking: Is writing on your own blog still useful in this day and age of social media?

I’ve been blogging for a long time – my archives say 2002 – waaay before Facebook or even Twitter came around. If for some reason you felt like digging through my older posts you’d find that I kind of used the blog like Twitter or FB: I’d have some short posts, updates about what’s going on, share some links, and so on. These days we have social media for that, so why blog at all?

Well, social media is a perfectly valid channel to post your thoughts obviously. But I feel like blogging serves a different purpose. And when I say blogging, I mean on a platform dedicated to blogging, preferably on your own server.

Here are the obvious differences/advantages of blogging:

  1. Blogs are publicly accessible commentary. Contrast this with Facebook, which I use mostly for interacting only with family and friends. I sometimes make some FB posts public, but mostly on request because people want to share it. It would make more sense for me to have such content on the blog so that people can share it directly without me having to fiddle with post privacy settings on FB.
  2. Blogs are long-form. Contrast this with Twitter’s post-length limitation and even Facebook where I also tend to spout out one-liners or short paragraphs. I like a blog post for longer, more detailed content. Twitter users use workarounds like the “1/N” format to post longer text content, but I’m not really a big fan of that.
  3. A blog should contain your own content. Contrast this with almost all social media where your own content is interspersed with retweets, shares, reblogs, and so on.
  4. Blogs are searchable, either using your internal search form (I have one on the sidebar!) or via Google search. It’s a bit annoying sometimes trying to scroll through your FB or Twitter timeline trying to find something.
  5. The above point means social media posts feel a lot more… ephemeral, maybe? I consider blog posts a lot more “permanent”, while social media are more of “at this point in time.”
  6. Blogs are under your control. You’re not subject to someone else’s moderation. Of course that also means you’re on your own if you get DDOS’ed or such hehe. Well, there’s pros and cons of course.
  7. You can still push your blog content to your other social media channels. I have systems set up to push my blog posts to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

That being said, the various social media channels have their pros too, so I still use them for various purposes. (I thought about splitting this blog post into two, but I literally just wrote about long-form content, so let’s try to justify that a bit!)

  1. Facebook – I use this mainly to interact with friends and family and for sharing family pictures. There was a thread on reddit a while back about how a lot of people recommend quitting FB (or even social media altogether) since it’s not good for your self-esteem to be always checking how other people are doing. I find that this is really only an issue for people who already have low self-esteem and feel a need to compare themselves to other people (I guess teenagers mostly?). I don’t have any such issues. I like seeing how my friends are doing even if they’re people I don’t see often anymore and it gives you good convo material when you randomly run into them. I also tend to share on FB things I know will interest my friends and family, or at least some subgroup of them: family pictures, tech stuff, hobby stuff (gaming/MTG/comics), cat pictures, puns, memes, etc. I try not to dive into public groups too much, since FB has a low barrier of entry, the content/discussion is not that good IMO. My public Facebook profile is here.
  2. Twitter – my twitter stream is public. I use it for interacting with strangers. (Sophie Turner never replied to me that one time!). Twitter has a higher barrier of entry compared to FB, so the discussion is a bit higher quality. When posting to Twitter, it’s typically a stream of consciousness thing for me – I just randomly decide to post things. On FB I tend to filter myself a bit as I don’t want to be too spammy, but on Twitter, I spam away about what I’m doing. If I’m playing in a big Magic tournament I’ll probably be tweeting every round about my horrible misplays. I will oft tweet about games I’m playing, books I’m reading, and so on. Same philosophy applies to sharing/retweeting: it’s a lot more impulsive, I’ll just share anything that looks interesting. My twitter feed is basically my FB feed except with less pics of people I know and more random thoughts throughout the day. If that sounds like your kind of thing, my twitter profile is here.
  3. Instagram – quick story about how I got an instagram account. I tried to create one but found out that someone had already registered an account using my email. Of course I went ahead and used password recovery to take control of the account. It wasn’t very active so he probably didn’t mind, although I think some of his followers still follow me lol. I mostly post pics of food, board games, sketches, or random things I buy. You can view my instagram here.
  4. Reddit – I use reddit more for content consumption. It can be shallow sometimes, but you can also find some good/witty/insightful convos. If I want to find some discussion about recent events or tv shows or movies, reddit is always a good place to look. The barrier to entry here is very high, so discussion tends to be higher quality than either FB or Twitter. (Still lots of shitposting though, that’s the internet for you.) I don’t publicly acknowledge my reddit profile, but it’s very easy to find haha.
  5. Tumblr – just random odds and ends. It’s not very important, but I do have it. I used to use it only to reshare tumblr content I found amusing, but these days I also push sketches and blog posts to my tumblr.
  6. LinkedIn – terrible! I’m not a fan of LinkedIn, as it seems to be mainly a way to get harassed by recruiters who didn’t even bother reading my profile. Still, it occasionally has a use so I keep it around and update my profile sometimes.
  7. Quora – I’ve been reading Quora for a while now but recently also started answering questions every so often as a bit of writing practice.

Takeaways: Blogging is great, even if you’re already using social media. Try it out! Social media has its place too, but don’t let it control your life!

Boxes

We put people into boxes because it is convenient. It’s easier for our mental model of the world to say to yourself things like “This guy works with computers, maybe he can tell me how to fix my printer.” or “This person is from [school] and they are very arrogant.” or “You’re from [country]? You guys do [that country’s thing] right?” or  “This person is a supporter of [politician] so he must support all the things that politician does, even the things I hate.” Or in the modern world, there are even worse stereotypes.

Boxes and stereotypes are convenient because it means we don’t need to relearn our reactions and opinions when presented with a new person. We simply choose a convenient box to put them in and then we convince ourselves we are treating them appropriately.

But the real world is not so discrete. The real world is a lot more granular, a lot more nuanced. While it is inconvenient for your mental model, people will usually not fit exactly into any of your preconceived boxes. Or they may fit in multiple boxes. Or maybe none at all.

Every time you put a person into a box, you discredit her by some amount. In your mind, you shave off some of who he is a person so that he better fits your box. And for many instances, maybe that’s okay. Maybe you don’t have any significant interaction with that person, and the simpler mental model is sufficient. You don’t need to understand the character nuances of every grocery store cashier for example.

But beyond that, in order to pursue any kind of meaningful interaction with another person, that is insufficient. We must be willing to set aside whatever box you have put a person into and be willing to understand all those little bits we set aside. Those nuances characterize and define the individual, not whatever box we have put him into.

War

As of today, our country (The #Blessed Republic of the Philippines) is already at war with:

  1. Drugs
  2. Illegal gambling
  3. Communist rebels

Some other things we might consider declaring war on (in no particular order):

  1. Poverty
  2. Ignorance
  3. Misinformation (sorry, “Alternative facts”)
  4. Abusive government officials
  5. Traffic
  6. Rights abuses
  7. Pollution
  8. High power rates
  9. Political dynasties
  10. Poor quality of local cinema offerings
  11. Politicians putting their names everywhere
  12. Internet trolls and bullies
  13. Lack of critical thinking
  14. Redundancy
  15. Overtime without overtime pay
  16. Government officials blatantly lying or pulling statistics out of thin air
  17. Slow and expensive internet
  18. The MRT breaking down
  19. Cruelty to animals
  20. Poor quality of local anti-piracy ads
  21. Jejespeak
  22. SMS spam
  23. Typhoons
  24. Taxis that don’t give exact change
  25. War
  26. Irony
  27. Spoilers
  28. Pineapples on pizza
  29. Poor grammar and/or spelling
  30. Hashtags
  31. Hypocrisy
  32. Multi-level marketing
  33. Working at “Edi sa puso mo”
  34. Redundancy
  35. Low effort blog posts that start out serious but end up trying a bit too hard to be funny
  36. People who don’t understand sarcasm
  37. People who stand in malls and shove fliers in your face
  38. Commenting on posts without reading the actual article
  39. Lists that end abruptly at weird numbers so you’re not sure if there’s more or what

12 Signs You Should Think About Leaving Your Job

Signs you think about leaving your current job:

  1. The company culture has changed in ways you don’t like or recognize
  2. You are no longer proud of the work you do
  3. You are always feeling tired, even when you just got to work
  4. You more easily notice your coworkers’ screwups and are more easily annoyed at them
  5. You feel unappreciated for the work you do
  6. You feel like the company doesn’t listen to your inputs
  7. Many of your close friends in the company are unhappy and want to leave or are already leaving or have already left
  8. You no longer trust your boss to make good decisions about the company’s future
  9. You are always looking for more free time to pursue other pursuits
  10. It’s Monday and you’re already looking forward to Friday
  11. You hate your commute
  12. You start reading articles about signs you should think about leaving your job

A lot of people feel trapped in their current job. They feel that they will be unable to find better or at least similar work and will rather stay than risk it. It’s a false sense of “job security” vs fear. It might be true that you have no good options. But if you’re not looking at all, it’s 100% surely true.

Even if you don’t find better options, the act of looking for them helps you through some sort of catharsis. It confirms if you really have no choice but to stay. It helps you understand your place in the job market and what you can do to improve your position and maybe open up more options later on.

Bottom line: if you’re unhappy in any way (as indicated by any of the signs above), you should at least be looking. Otherwise you are doing yourself a disservice.

Notes on Decision Making

 

At my old job I used to have this group of coworkers I had Friday lunch outs with. Inevitably, every Friday around noon someone would message the others asking “where are we eating?”. Now, there are a lot of good places to eat around the area and we’ve all been working there a while so most of the time we don’t care where we eat and we’d say we’ll decide when we get to the elevators. We get to the elevators but we’re still not sure where to eat. So we take the elevators down and we’ll figure it out downstairs. What often happened is that we ended up walking around, wasting time and eventually just choosing a place at random. It was a weird sort of decision-making.

Decision making can be tough, especially for big, complicated decisions that need to be evaluated on multiple axes. Buying a house, choosing a new job, and yes, even where to have lunch, these are all examples of possibly tough decisions.

Ideally, you are able to put forth a set of requirements for your decisions and then you check which among the available options best fulfills the requirements. Sometimes that approach is insufficient. It can be because you are lacking information or have too much information or have too many choices or none of the choices are acceptable or you are unable to properly evaluate the trade-offs between different criteria, or maybe even that your subconscious has a set of “secret” requirements that you are unable to formalize.

Some notes I’ve kept on decision-making:

  1. Spending too much time on decision-making is a cost. Be aware if there is a time limit to your decision making.
  2. For most things, decision-making should be quick and easy. Minimize decision making for unimportant (read: low cost or low impact) stuff. For example, remembering passwords. Either use an app or a scheme so that you don’t have to decide or try to remember what the password for each site is. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
  3. It’s okay to use your guts or emotions to make an initial decision, then validate if it’s okay using more empirical criteria. If your emotions don’t lead anywhere, measure and use data, pros/cons to determine best course of action
  4. Understand the difference between an acceptable choice and the best choice. It may be easier to settle merely for a choice which is acceptable rather than spending extra time to try to find the best choice.
  5. Not making a choice is also a choice. Sometimes not all the choices will satisfy your standard or requirements. Don’t forget that abstaining or deciding not to do anything can also be a valid choice.
  6. If you’re having trouble choosing between some options, that means they are mostly within an acceptable range for you (if any of the options was flat out unacceptable you would have rejected them on the spot). In that case, just choose one at random (literally roll a dice if you can’t decide) and go. If it turns out later that it wasn’t the best choice, figure out if there was any information that would have helped you, take note of it for next time.
  7. Be careful when making big purchases. Even if you have already made a decision, you may want to delay it a bit for really big amounts to give your subconscious some time to ponder it. (This is really more about money management than decision making… but I had it in this list so here you go)
  8. In moments of self-doubt, ask other people for advise. It can be friends and family or even random strangers on the internet.

Back to the lunch out story. Some years later, a different lunch group (that I was occasionally a part of) thought of a better approach: they set up an automated email that got sent out to the members around 11:30am. The program would choose at random one of the nearby places to eat, making the decision for the group. If anyone objected to the randomly selected choice, they bore the responsibility for providing the new choice.

Life is too short to waste on poor decision making.

Online Discussions, Opposing Views, and Street Fighter

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I was reading a forum thread recently about learning competitive Street Fighter. The poster was using a particular character (his “main”) and asking how he could learn to counter the attack strings of other characters. The answers from more experienced players were pretty much what I would have expected: you had to dedicate specific time and effort to each matchup you wanted to study. That meant going into training mode, looking at the opposing character’s attack strings and seeing where he could interrupt them or the proper way to answer them. It meant a lot of hard work too, since fighting games typically have a lot of characters. So reaching the top tiers meant understanding each opposing character in and out, knowing their strengths and weaknesses and so on.

I think it not only applies to competition, but also to any scenario where there is an opposing party or point of view. In order to make any progress or improvement, it is necessary to understand where the other side is coming from and study their motivations. Sadly, in online debates it often turns into the equivalent of a shouting match where everyone just screams out their POV hoping to brute force their opponent into some kind of “submission”.

Back to Street Fighter: When picking up a new fighting game, I typically try to sample all the available characters until I find one whose fighting style I like and am comfortable playing as “main” (hint: it’s often Ryu lol).

In the same way, in any online discussion it’s important to expose yourself to a variety of opinions, and not limit your discussions only to people with similar views. Political discussion online can get toxic so it becomes tempting to block out those views that you disagree with, but this tends to create an echo chamber effect. It’s a good idea to keep a healthy amount of opposing views on your feeds. Although where you draw the line is of course your own decision; Personally I try to avoid blocking any friends and have not yet had occasion to do so, although I do block any sites that tend to promote misinformation or stuff like racism.

Unlike competition, the goal of an online discussion (especially for sensitive topics like politics) isn’t really winning. Discussion should lead to some sort of progress or learning, or in the worst case, “agreeing to disagree”. But regardless of the outcome, understanding opposing points of view should give you valuable insights into your own views, and maybe even convince you to reconsider them.

Thoughts on Authoritarianism vs Democracy

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
― Winston S. Churchill

In the current world political climate, it seems that in many instances democracy and the related values (equality, human rights, and so on) are increasingly taking a back seat to populism and increasingly authoritarian leaderships. One sometimes has to consider whether authoritarian states would in fact be more effective in this day and age. After all, China’s ascension as a world power shows that even authoritarian states are able to achieve great gains.

The allure of authoritarianism is understandable for anyone who’s been exposed to problematic democracies: progress is often held back by countless deliberations, committee meetings, legislative mills, and various other processes that mean elected officials are able to accomplish very little until it’s time again for them to think about the next election.

The authoritarian state on the other hand has the advantage of being able to push a singular vision, since it has concentrated power unto itself, it can set aside any dissent and other discussion, put its foot down and say “this is what we’re doing, let’s do it.”

I guess it might also seem to be easier on an individual level? You just have to trust your leadership (since you probably don’t have a choice) and not think too hard about things other than what’s going on in your own life. This is probably also why authoritarian states are more likely to try to get away with rights violations and such – people are more concerned with their own survival and their own lives and not too worry too much about the things the state is doing to “other people”.

The risk of course of such a single-minded “getting things done” attitude is: you might not be doing the right thing. When the state has concentrated power unto itself, there is a tendency to promote only those ideas and projects and whatnot that adhere to the state’s singular vision. Another problem is that anyone who dissents or holds different values than the authoritarian state’s singular vision can be labelled or vilified as enemies of progress.

Authoritarian states also have the tendency to set aside values commonly held in democratic states: freedom of expression and religion, human rights and equality, and so on, if they are seen to hinder progress. I guess you have to consider whether as a society, you are willing to sacrifice these values in the name of getting things done. And it’s sad when you find that many of your countrymen don’t consider democratic values all that important.

Democracy on the other hand, due to the nature of (in theory) every voice being given value, has a stronger tendency towards a diversity of ideas, so that more options are considered and thus theoretically better decisions are made. This mirrors the natural world, where genetic diversity allows a species to more easily thrive and adapt to changing circumstances. In the same way, we hope that by encouraging debate and dissent democracies are better able to adapt to the challenges the world presents.

Authoritarianism is great when you have leadership that you can trust to make good and wise decisions for the betterment of all. But humans are weak and fallible beings prone to faults such as arrogance, pride, greed, and so forth, so more likely than not the leadership in an authoritarian state cannot be trusted. While the same can be said of democracies (since in the real world there are no perfect democracies), at least in democracies we have a greater chance of being able to change the state of affairs to try something new.

 

New Year’s Checklist

In no particular order:

  • Greet your loved ones and friends and anyone else you hold dear. Maybe even those you disagree with
  • Ponder why people give so much significance to the transition between an arbitrarily-chosen pair of 24 hour periods
  • Take stock and reflect on the past year
  • Think about what you’d like to learn this year or how you want to improve
  • Count your blessings for the past year and be grateful
  • Change your passwords
  • Buy a new toothbrush
  • Make a New Year’s joke (“My New Year’s Resolution is 1440×900!”)
  • Set a target of how many books you’ll read in 2017
  • Choose the first book to read
  • Throw away a few things you no longer need
  • Make a list of where you will travel to in 2017
  • Check out what movies are coming out this year and which ones you want to watch
  • Audit your financials – where is your money going, how much do you owe, how much are you earning, where should you invest, etc
  • Make another New Year’s joke (“I haven’t taken a bath since last year!”)
  • Pick up your keyboard and shake out all the grime that’s gathered there over the past year
  • Make a list of projects you want to do in 2017
  • Choose something from the past year that you’re going to stop watching or doing
  • Eat your favorite food. Or ice cream. Ice cream is great.
  • Remember that there’s a new episode of Sherlock today (well January 1 in the UK)
  • Get rid of 2016 calendars
  • Make a list for the new year!

Decluttering

I traditionally try to save some time on the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to do some cleaning up and decluttering of my stuff. One would assume that having more time meant I would be better able to organize my stuff and all that, but one would be wrong. My room still has stacks of books, toys, Magic cards and other stuff in random places.

Or maybe I just have too much OCD that I want everything to be neat and organized, but I’m not industrious enough to make it happen. I’m sure there are people a lot more cluttered than me.

Towards the start of the year, I told myself I should throw out/get rid of/dispose of at least one thing a day. It’s one of those relatively easy things to do I haven’t been able to maintain.

Why do we keep around all this old stuff we don’t need?

Part of it may be from a mentality of scarcity – we don’t want to throw away stuff for fear of finding out that we may need it later. But reasonably, if you haven’t used a thing in years, maybe you’ll never use it and even if you had need of one, how difficult would it be to find one again? Some kind of pack rat mentality. I know a few of my friends who would be very familiar with this.

Other things we keep around for some sort of nostalgia or as keepsakes of other people and faraway places. That’s fine I suppose, but maybe one shouldn’t put too much value in things that don’t actually have them. Case in point: I have a bunch of rocks here from different countries I visited in Europe, haha. Pictures, letters, and other personal keepsakes one might consider digitizing and storing in the cloud.

Having a cluttered space has a cost, one that’s difficult to ascertain or quantify. Not only do things look messy, but things are harder to find when you need them most. There’s also a strange satisfaction that comes from achieving a fine, organized space (before it all falls back into chaos of course.)

 

Are you willing to accept criticism?

If a friend found out your work was horrible, would you want to know? Or would your feelings be hurt?

If your coworkers think you’re doing something wrong, would you prefer that they keep quiet or that they call you out?

As a leader, do you prefer to have sycophants who sing your praises or people who are willing to tell you that you have no clothes?

Is your ego more important than doing a good job or self-improvement?

But what if the guy is just being an asshole who hates me and wants to discredit me?

Whether or not someone is an asshole is independent of whether or not his criticism is valid. You can call him out for being an asshole if you want, but you owe it to yourself to consider if any criticism given to you is valid and something you can act on regardless of whether the messenger is an asshole or not.

If you are afraid that having your mistakes called out will be damaging to you, consider how damaging it will be if you keep doing those mistakes and develop a reputation for them.