Sunday, December 30, 2018

State of the Me: 2018-2019

As I started thinking about this year's "State of the Me," I immediately thought that this would be a disappointing one where I'd have to list off the goals that I didn't meet. But then I realized that I did meet some important ones, especially some stepping stones towards some longer-term goals. So let's dig in, starting with the disappointments:

I did not finish illustrating part 3 of book 1 of my comic book. I didn't even finish the dining hall scenes (though all of the materials are ready to finish at least that part as soon as I get some time). The main reason I didn't finish is because I have been working full time and concentrating completely on my responsibilities as CTO of a tech firm. I didn't want to leave for any large block of time, so I got some drawing done while I was taking off Fridays in the Summer as my "vacation" -- but it wasn't really enough to make the progress I wanted to make.

Disappointment #2 is that -- despite working like a maniac -- I did not meet the IT infrastructure improvement goals that I'd set back in January. The main problem was something I described in my article Growing from Startup to Scalable: In "startup mode" you end up not being able to afford to make investments (of time and human resources) in IT infrastructure that ultimately would save time and resources in the long run...

But that leads into one of the positive points: I wrote a series of articles for "The Startup" based on some ideas and analysis that I'd been building up over the course of my IT career. I'm also scheduled to give a talk on building your tech career through startups in January -- and I plan to write a companion article for the talk next week. Not to mention that I led a challenge at the Open Food Data hackathon and served as an invited expert at Climate-KIC's 2018 Climathon -- a huge overnight workshop to build startups that combat climate change and its effects. Basically, I've long had the idea of writing a book on how to build and grow the IT department of a tech startup, and it looks like I'm making progress towards that goal.

On the flip side, devoting all of my time and energy to tech startups has meant that other projects have suffered. I haven't been able to promote MAA Books (and particularly Mormon Erotica) as much as I'd like to have -- though I did organize a book club event within a Mormon Stories Workshop, and I made an appearance on the Mormon Happy Hour podcast. Really, if I could spend all of my time drawing comic books, making videos and podcasts, and writing essays and stories, I would! It has especially been fun -- now that my kids are teenagers -- to collaborate with them on some creative projects, and I intend to do that some more.

Trouble is, that stuff doesn't make any money -- at least not compared to the IT engineering skills I've built up and honed over the past 20 years. So the best I can hope for is to work four or five days a week to support one or two days of artistic expression (weekends are, of course, devoted to homemaking). That's the situation I've arranged for myself going into 2019, so I guess I have no business complaining.

And in terms of random fun, I've had the opportunity to construct some pretty impressive infrastructure for our Lego collection:

The funny part is that we never intentionally set out to amass a ginormous Lego collection. I didn't bring any Legos with me when I moved to Europe, and I even gave away our whole Lego collection once (when my kids grew out of Duplos, I mailed all of our Duplos to a cousin whose kids were younger). But with two kids who each get a few sets a year every year, it adds up. (See how much it's grown since 2012.) And of course I would always encourage Legos over other plastic toys because when you get bored of your set, it doesn't go into storage and then to the landfill -- you can take it apart and use the pieces to build something else.

And when the Legos are there, in my apartment, all jumbled together in large bins of chaos, I must organize them! It's kind of a "Why did you climb the mountain?" sort of thing, except that none of the mountains have tempted my quite the way a vat of unorganized Legos does...

And the ultimate objective is to build some new cool things like I've done in the past (see these posts). Also a YouTube reality show "Who Wants to Be a Master Builder?" is in the works! Happy 2019 to all!!

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

A Woman in Every Pot

In response to recent mass murders by self-described “Incels,” there were a couple of high-profile articles sincerely recommending forced redistribution of women. In case you missed them, please follow these links.

This suggestion was dismissed as absurd for the obvious reasons: that the Incels’ misogyny is 99% of what makes them undatable, and that women — being autonomous humans — cannot be forcibly “redistributed.” But I think the obvious responses are incomplete because a lot of people, when confronted with the idea that women aren’t slaves, respond by thinking “But maybe they should be; maybe things would be better if they were…”

So today I would like to explain why trying to control women more is not merely unethical — it is also a totally counterproductive approach to the exact problem that the above-linked dudes are trying to solve.

Let’s lay out the problem: Some portion of the young, straight men in society are unable to find women who want to be with them. This can make a guy frustrated, angry, often violent, maybe suicidal — while the same guy might be happy and feel motivated to be a productive member of society if only he had a wife or girlfriend and possibly also children.

What happens if we try to solve this problem by decreasing women’s freedom and economic power?

Look at it from the woman’s perspective. If you don’t have the opportunity to earn a living wage yourself — and your mate’s economic contribution makes a big difference when it comes to getting food, health care, etc., for yourself and your kids — then Geezer McMoneybags starts looking really attractive compared to the charming young guy who is barely able to make a living wage himself. That’s not being shallow or superficial, that’s rational self-interest.

But let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose the woman is able to earn a living wage, and her spouse’s financial contribution isn’t a deciding factor in her kids getting to grow up in a safe and healthy environment. Now she’s freer to prioritize other qualities in a mate. The man himself — his time, his efforts, and his character — becomes more valuable than what’s in his wallet.

Just look at it from an anthropological perspective. Societies with a more patriarchal culture (and with more economic inequality in general) tend to be more polygynous. In other words, the top tier of powerful men monopolize multiple women, either through officially recognized polygamy or through a series of marriages. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are a whole lot of frustrated and hostile men that the ones at the top can use as cannon fodder.

If you want a male-dominated society full of manly men vying with one another for dominance, then you’re talking about a society that — by design — has quite a lot of losers. It’s not a bug, it’s the whole point. Some Incels and others in the Manosphere have suggested that teenage girls should be assigned to men and forced into marriage. But where do these teenage girls come from? If you are one of society’s losers, do you really think that a patriarch in a country where he legally owns his daughter is just going to give her to you, as a participation trophy for being born male?

Maybe a solution that is more equitable for the women is actually also more equitable for the men. Obviously women don’t want to be the third string wife to some gross, old, rich, powerful asshole (like Donald Trump, to name one high-profile example). Sure, some will choose that path regardless. But given more attractive options, women are more likely to “redistribute” themselves — rather than sharing each others’ (old rich dude) sloppy seconds. A society where the women have more opportunity to choose men based on their personal merits is a society with fewer male losers.

The catch is that in this scenario the man has to be better than nothing. Literally. Because when women can get by economically without a man, then having no man at all is on the list of possible options. So if you’re a guy and you want to be with a woman, your presence has to be more attractive than your absence.

This should not be a high bar to cross. The overwhelming majority of women are either straight or bi, which means that by definition they are attracted to at least some men. Sadly, too many young guys who go looking for dating advice online end up getting sucked into misogynist communities. If your problem is that you are having difficulty attracting a woman, I can hardly think of a more counterproductive solution than finding a bunch of fellow losers and working yourselves into a collective lather over how horrible women are.

A more effective solution is to work for a more egalitarian society. And keep in mind that women are people — with their own interests and motivations — not prizes.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mid-year goals!!

This is a tale of "be careful what you wish for" -- one that I hope can be turned into a plan for making those wishes come true.

I've told everyone the setup to this tale about a million times, but in case you missed it, let me get you up to speed:

A few years ago I got the impression that my career was stagnating. I took a look at my experience and skill set and determined that the job I'm most qualified for is CTO of a tech startup. (Check out this article I wrote for The Startup with some of my insights on the subject.) And so I took a risk, worked my butt off at a new company, and now I find I have succeeded in becoming the highly-valued CTO of a tech startup! One that is actively fighting climate change -- another of my big goals!!

But... The problem is that while growing my career was an important goal -- it's not my only goal or dream. Working full-time-plus kind of crowds out everything else, and I'm left with this constant background of stress of wondering when I'll have time to pick up this or that project again.

Being undervalued, on the one hand, was enraging and depressing -- but on the other, there's something to be said for being in a dead-end job where you're overqualified enough to just phone it in (and where you only have to work three days per week). I sure had the time and energy to get a heckuvalot else done, and I miss that... :(

It looks like I am on track to get my IT department into a state where I can reduce my hours to 80% -- or ideally even 60% -- in the beginning of 2019. That's great, but it means another almost six months of postponing all of the other junk I want to do. So, I was thinking that -- maybe if I outline it all here -- I might get some of it done on evenings and weekends...? Also note, I'm currently taking off Fridays for the Summer in order to make some progress on drawing my comic book, and I am really, really hoping to finish at least the dining hall scenes before this vacation time is up.

So, aside from my comic book (which is dream/goal #1, always), here are the other things I would like to have time to do, organized into categories:

2. Organize my apartment

This perhaps shouldn't be #2, but it is. I hate the feeling of being slowly buried in clutter, and I don't want to just throw stuff out. I want to go down to my basement, donate or give away online everything that is usable (but not by me), and hence free up a bunch of space down there.

Then, I have this dream of constructing my own "Ikea-hack" Lego table (which I have designed in my mind) so that I can free up a huge amount of floor and shelf space in Nico's office (a.k.a. the guest room), and have a beautiful place to sort the whole Lego collection -- and build an awesome city! (I would love to do some of this stuff again!)

I'm thinking I might be able to get the table constructed during Christmas break if everything works out. Then, naturally, I'll be in a position to organize/donate the rest of the clutter, and for a brief moment, I will live in a blissfully clutter-free home.

3. Articles, conferences, and MAA Books!

Here's what I would like to do:

  • Promote MAA Books in general, and Donna's awesome book in particular -- It would be really great to be able to get enough reviews and listings for this book so that we could realistically start working on finding, editing, and promoting our next book.
  • Stoke up the fires of Main Street Plaza -- unfortunately I don't seem to even be able to keep Sunday in Outer Blogness alive. :( Fortunately, Donna has helped recruit another author, but in my fantasy universe we would have a collection of people writing regularly (and be able to pay them...).
  • Write a couple of more articles for The Startup. I have the drafts ready, it's just a question of focusing and doing it.
  • Give a lecture on startups in a tech lecture series (this is in the works).
  • Help organize a Mormon Stories Workshop in Switzerland. This one actually has a deadline (plus I'm not the primary responsible), so it looks like it's really going to happen.
  • Write more articles for this blog. It's not that I think I'll ever have a non-trivial readership here -- it's that I really enjoyed having this sounding-board for my ideas here in the past. After a while I got to the point where I'd written about all the subjects I was really burning to write about, so I stopped. But now it's been long enough that I have a backlog of topics again, and I'm just having trouble getting started.

There are a couple of additional things standing in my way from getting this sort of stuff done. For some reason I can't seem to start writing a simple blog post without many hours of psyching myself up to do it. Not sure why. Even on a topic that I've been churning over in my head and constructing arguments and phasing for weeks or years -- sitting down and composing it is daunting.

Additionally, I haven't been reading books regularly for the past couple of years because I used to read in the tram -- and that time has of late been almost entirely eaten up by Pokémon Go. On one level, I feel like this is a shameful waste, but I can't dismiss it as entirely wasted time.

Pokémon Go has two big advantages for me: (1) it is very Zen -- it allows me to relax and shake off all of the stress while I'm commuting to and from my stressful job, and (2) I am -- really for the first time -- regularly socializing with actual Swiss people. Not just people like me -- international, third-culture folks, mathies and techies -- but really random people of all walks of life who live in Zürich.

Actually, not everybody who plays is Swiss -- Pokémon Go seems to cut across all categories, immigrants from all countries, locals, tattooed youths, bankers and finance guys in their suits, moms & dads with kids, moms who don't bother to bring their kids (like me), old, young, guys, gals, you name it! And to do it right, you really have to make an effort to meet people and make friends. This has meant stepping outside of my comfort zone in a major way and growing my perspective, so I can't really beat myself up for obsessing over whether I managed to catch this or that shiny pokémon, etc.

4. Other stuff that should be on the list

Here's the grab bag of stuff I would love to do if I had an infinite amount of free time:

  • More projects with my kids. I would like to do some of the Kangaroo math challenges with Léo, and help them both to create more image and music assets for the video games they're developing,
  • Political activism. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm one of those people that is watching the news, aghast at what is currently going on, and saying, "Wow, I hope somebody (else) does something about this!!!!" I did register to vote (I can legally vote in the US and France), so I guess that's better than nothing.
  • My own podcast -- yeah, that's a fantasy, but maybe someday if our species lasts a few more decades.
  • Figure out more recipes for the herbs in my balcony garden. That said, I think my garden has been a bit of a success story. I tend it a bit and it produces more foods that I would expect from a balcony.

I was going to include a list of the blog entries I'm hoping to write -- to see if there's interest -- but let's leave it at this. And we'll see how much I can get done!!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

My Post-Mormon Publication List

It just hit me that I have written and done quite a lot of Mormonism and atheism related stuff, and I don't actually have a list of it all. Well, until now:




  • I am the primary organizer/contact person for the Switzerland chapter of the post-Mormon network and of the Mormon Spectrum in-person communities.
  • With Donna Banta, I am launching an indie publishing house: Mormon Alumni Association Books.

I think that's it. It's all I can think of at the moment...