Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Twenty-one Life Lessons I Stole From Torley

I haven't lambasted Torley in a while, so today I'm going to engage in that favourite sport of mine. Let's begin. A few days ago he posted twenty-one life lessons he learned from 2008. I'm going to adjust them by translating them from Torley-speak to Anna-speak. Basically, adding my two cents to his points. Fun!

1) Love, always love first.

Yes, I like that art piece too. It is very lovely and framed nicely by a fountain.

2) Pets are pretty lame.

I once had a pair of snakes. They smelled, ate live crickets, and tried to bite me. I thought snakes would be nice, because at the zoo they always looked so lazy and peaceful. Before you call me an idiot, I was six at the time.

I had an endless run of goldfish. Technically, they weren't goldfish sometimes, but I can't remember the specific names so I'm lumping them all under 'goldfish'. One pair were inadvertently a male and female of the same species and I awoke one morning to find small fry in the tank. Here is how it went: the new mom and dad promptly ate a good ninety percent of them. I managed to sequester them into a separate tank. The ones remaining grew up although some of their siblings ate each other too. Exactly three made it to full adulthood. They all died about a week after doing so. No more fish.

I had a dog, a pekingese, who was probably the best of all the pets I've had. She was quiet and lay around the house all day long, so it was easy to be around her, and just pet her. I think the worst was when she wet a blanket of my brother's, who was about three at the time, and he got upset. I was secretly pleased.

One of my aunts had cats. I had read Garfield and thought cats were awesome at the time. Her cats ran from me, and when I went to sit down, one came up and clawed me in the chest. I was scarred for weeks. Cats are jerks. Even Torley's new cat is a jerk. He headbutted Torley, who laughed it off as personality. He was probably trying to bite Torley, but being a stupid cat forgot to use his mouth. Torley insists he's a good cat, but consider that he also insists Linden Lab are a bunch of good guys.

Pets are lame.

3) Live it up when you're praised.

People are bigger jerks than cats. So when a bunch of jerks think you've done something to warrant congratulations, live it up. It probably won't happen often.

The only bad thing is that people can quickly turn on you. Sure, they like you now, and say 'thank you thank you', but the minute you can't deliver because of some honest reason (and not something like "I don't feel like it") they'll turn on you like ravenous wolves. Hey, just look at Linden Lab. They can do an update that makes the viewer run smoothly, and everyone will thank them. They pull a bait-and-switch of sorts on OpenSims, and suddenly everyone hates them. Go figure.

So go ahead, be a jerk, and swagger about when people praise you. Boast a little, even. You only live once, and in that one life you only get fifteen minutes of fame, so live it up while you can.

4) To Hell with others

People are jerks, bigger jerks than cats. Often, as in 99.99999% of the time, they won't praise you, but attack you for whatever faults whether real or perceived. So go ahead and be as sharp, cynical, and harsh on them as they are to you. Give a little back. Don't be a wet rag and just absorb it, because they'll see that as a sign of weakness and keep at it. Nitpick everything they do to show that you care.

The only exceptions are people who you've found to be truly nice and perhaps good friends. Everyone else is a jerk. Don't give them more than what they deserve. If they don't like it, well, I don't like them. Because they're jerks. Like cats.

Nunchuck, I hate cats.

5) Criticism is Everything.

Here is where I think Torley is completely stupid. Monumentally stupid. So idiotic, up there with the genius who didn't include a third hull on the Titanic and (soon to be former) President Bush. Hell, either Bush. And throw in a half of a Clinton. Two Bushes and a half Clinton aren't as stupid as this realization of Torley's.

He claims that the majority of criticism, even constructive criticism, just isn't applicable. To find out what he means, I checked out his PDF on the subject. Let's see here, saying the bashing of the Wii's name was ok because people heard about it and thus through bashing the Wii wanted to buy it. Torley, let's be honest, it's a completely asinine name. Just like this criticism is worthless idea. The Wii did well because people liked what they saw about the games and the hardware. This would have happened whether or not it had a normal name or not. (and to be fair, Playstation 3 is stupid too, make up a new name already. And XBox sounds ugly). Nintendo got lucky that people attached to it, because with dumb names there's always a chance it could go negative. Torley has taken one case of a bad name and claims that criticism of it was ignored to the product's benefit.

Reading on... 'Search for the Exceptionals'? Sounds like 'focus on one person saying 'hurrah' to ninety people saying you stink'. That's fine, unless you really do stink and the one person saying 'hurrah' is a skunk. Praise is always nice (and of course live it up) but there's always one idiot who agrees or likes you no matter what. If we're going to filter stupid critics from smart ones, we might as well filter praise too. It's only fair and probably just as constructive so as to keep from an overinflated ego.

Reading on... ah, finally, after 11 pages of babbling about antedotes (which in my opinion don't really help his case, though I too am a victim of babbling and stupid antedotes), he gets to the meat of his arguments of why criticism is worthless (before, he just talked about how to 'handle' criticism, mostly by 'ignoring them', surprise surprise). Although, as I've said, I am wont to wander when making a point as well.

Ok, he pulls the old 'if you haven't done it, you can't knock it'. That's stupid. Imagine you are a taste tester at a kitchen. The chef makes 'shit-on-a-stick' and you rightly say it tastes like shit. He responds by saying if you haven't cooked before, you have no right to criticize. And you can inherently feel that is bullshit. A movie critic does not have to be in the business of making movies to tell that a movie is a bust. One does not need to be an engineer to find the idiocy of a design. All these cases, the critic has no hand in the 'get it done'. And no matter how much execution you put into it, there is no right way to make an automatic nose picker. An engineer who designs such a thing will be laughed at for the virtue of it being a stupid idea. It doesn't matter that Joe Shmoe doesn't understand the complex circuiting, mechanical balance and forces and actions, and computer programming that went into it.

The next point is 'only trust after their criticism has helped you improve'. Fair enough, after all, if some idiot says that I don't use enough adverbs I can reasonably say that improving in that direction is worthless and ignores the content and construct of writing. But it is a dangerous line, because sometimes it is damn hard to improve. How do you judge improvement? What if the learning curve is so great that improvements are tiny increments, barely noticeable? By that reasoning, all criticism, however valid, is worthless because it has not helped me improve even if their direction is the only way to improve. Take, for example, learning calculus. First, I need to learn basic math. But basic math is hard. What if I say to myself "to hell with division, I'm only doing multiplication". My teachers rightly point out that is wrong and tell me to work my division. But if I barely improve, then I can say their criticism is worthless and thus invalid even though it is true. What I am trying to say is, if you are going to follow this point, to do so carefully and with great thought. I know Torley has refined this and has a good head for it, but telling others this without warning to really really think it through is dangerous and a disservice to those who might need to be beaten into doing better.

"Subject your critics to psych tests" is another one that kinds falls flat. He makes a good point that it is best for a critic to offer not just what is wrong but how to make it better. But he also says to ask if the critic is familiar with the person, as if that should make a difference. It is like the above: can be useful if treaded softly and I have no doubt Torley does so, but people are idiots and probably will take it too far. Imagine if the chef from above says that you don't know him, the way he slaved through cooking college, and the heart he put into that shit-on-a-stick and so your criticism is worthless or at least flawed. Or perhaps because I am not a big fan of eating shit and can't appreciate the wonderful new direction this guy is taking by cooking with shit. See how dumb it is? It's something that has to be well thought out, but probably won't be done so. As a result, anyone who reads this will be stupid when responding to criticism, which coincidentally will probably lead them to not bothering with that person anymore and thus lead to the chef feeling validated by Torley's suggestion that 'only critics who want to stick with you have valid criticism'. A vicious loop but really the only conclusion given the logic behind it.

Next is 'build a collection of good critics'. That's a good idea as it is true that a lot of people are just a hating bunch of idiots. Getting a stable of good, honest, and yet critical and insightful people to run your work through helps as you can cut the whole 'shifting through the crap' step of accepting criticism. I would still check the occasional writing from outside that clique, though, because variety is the spice of life. And someone else might have an insightful argument to make you would have missed otherwise.

There's more 'criticism is publicity' which really has little to do with why criticism is pointless, and then the end credits.

So, having dismantled why criticism is not pointless, I should probably say why it is so useful. The first is that even if people don't have experience with whatever you're doing, they might add an angle you didn't think of. Perhaps you're writing music, and some door-to-door saleman says your tunes are repetitive. Hey, he might have a point even if he's never touched so much as a recorder in his life (the instrument, I should clarify). A wide point of view is good and helps one become well rounded, and have an end product that might be fairly good all around as well.

Second, sometimes you have to grit your teeth and slog on. Sometimes there is no nice way to point something out. Sometimes, the only person pointing out the right path is nasty. Just take it. I will give a personal example. When I was learning physics, I would religiously convert everything into base units. This took lots of time and energy. My teacher told me that for someone who was getting A's, I was one of his dumbest students for being unable to see past base units. By Torley's definition, I should have blown him off. He doesn't know me, he was negative (and insulting), he obviously had no hand in my solving the problems, and learning to use things as they are was difficult and I thought it was pointless since I was getting the job done. But I slogged on, and eventually after a few years it's helped.

Hey, here's another example. A history teacher said I wrote like a thesaurus since I would never use a simpler word, and that sometimes the word I replaced had a subtly different meaning than I intended. Hey, he's teaching history, not English, so what could he know? He, too, was fairly mean about it. And wasn't it best to expand my vocabulary? But I didn't. I took it to heart, and worked at watching my words, and how I used them. He didn't tell me what to do, but I went and tried to learn myself how to improve. It's called doing my own homework, even if the critic didn't know the way I could improve, he did point out what was wrong.

So yeah, I know all about criticism. I get critiqued ten times a day over stupid shit and some important matters. Like Torley, I can sift through what is pointless but unlike Torley I don't automatically disregard someone out of hand. I try to read into the critique. Sometimes there is a hint of truth buried into a vile attack. In other words, handling a criticism is hard work like any other job which you seek to do well in.

My point to you guys out in the audience is that yes, criticism is going to hurt. But the true skill is reading it. And interpreting it without dismissing it due to some superficial details. Sometimes, hidden in there, might be something that if you heed it can really make you go from mediocre to excellent.

My, that was wordy. My critique to myself: use less words, less meandering, and more to the point. Righto.

6) Diversify, but don't spread too thin

The only thing I have to add, because it is a very good idea to diversify, is to be smart about it. If you have no talent in an area, it's probably not a good idea to expand it beyond a hobby. As much fun as I have writing here, I will never pen the next Great American Novel. Writing at work is technical and so a completely different ballpark than the style of writing required here or in novels.

Hmm, actually, I have no idea how to word it. But be smart about things. A good general rule of thumb. Caution never hurt anyone. Heck, if the Titanic hadn't been in such a hurry it might have missed that iceberg. The Titanic was on TV the other day, hence why I have mentioned it twice now.

Also, cats are jerks.

7) Great Tools Save the Day

Oh good, here Torley has hit a grand slam. I cannot convey just how true this is. I have tons of stories of having to make do with something, cursing the entire while, and wishing I had just that right tool that I can never seem to find. Here, I can stand by Torley. "When life hands you Lemons, have a lemon squeezer handy" is far more apt than the way that saying was originally worded, and true. How many of us have squeezed lemonade by hand?

8) I hate computers

Torley makes some statement about how different operating systems can change your view. I will change that to my life lesson, which is that computers are horrible. They are like electronic cats. They never quite work right, and when you really really need something they always manage to screw you over.

Even Macs. Even Linux. I know it's just an inherent aspect of computers that something will be buggy and fail, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. And I don't like it.

9) Pace yourself.

Pace yourself. Then, you can afford to sit on something for a few days. You cannot know how well you can do something after a bit of thought. Sometimes, I'll write something, then upon reflection later, delete it because it's tripe. Sometimes, after reflection, I find a better way to word something. Sometimes, I find it's fine. And I can do that because I create a schedule and allot myself time to do so. Getting something done early is good. Having the time to adjust it is invaluably good.

So yes, get something done before the deadline and perhaps before the day ends. But definitely have the time to think it over later.

10) Don't drink coffee

I hate coffee. It screws up me. I find that, like above, pacing myself works well. That way, I don't have to pull all-nighters. So I have time to get sleep. Even when I have to pull all-nighters, I don't drink coffee because afterward it ruins my natural rhythm of sorts. And then you get addicted to the caffeine, so you feel like you need coffee to stay awake. You become dependent upon it.

Also, it stains your teeth. Eww.

11) Just spit it out! And follow through with it!

I credit Torley in that he really believes what he says. I respect him for that. I don't agree that you have to be 100% positive all the time, and that looking at the horrible bad side of things is good. It helps keep things in perspective, and point out all the horrible things that can go wrong, so I can make sure those horrible things don't happen or be made less horrible. Thinking of bad things is good. I suppose you could say that I negatively react to things, whereas Torley positively reacts to things. To each their own noose, I suppose (haha, because that's negative).

But I agree that being wishy-washy is bad. Making no decision is nasty. You get stuck in limbo. Just agree to something! If you disagree, then say so! If you think negatively instead of positively, then say so! Don't ride the fence. If you think there should be more time spent thinking something over, then spend that time going over new thoughts on it, and if you can't see any, then let's roll!

It gets easier with practice, trust me.

12) People are Jerks. So are cats.

People are jerks. Get used to it. Everyone hates you, except your friends (and some of those may be sycophants who will turn on you faster than Brutus on Caesar).

It is dangerous what Torley says about experts, though. I'm all for exploring new areas, but experts didn't get where they were by being stupid. If they say something is impossible or idiotic, they are probably right. And it is slightly offending to state that experts are content with the status quo, because if anything they too are in the drive to push the boundaries. Otherwise, they get left behind. I guess it depends on the type of experts. Torley mentions rich folk, I wouldn't consider them experts except maybe in a method of getting filthy stinking rich.

Also, I really don't like his suggestion to run psych experiments on people, especially without their knowledge. Jesus H Christ, Torley, do you know people have gone to jail for such things? That people have died under such things? It's called informed consent! And nothing, no matter how big a jerk they are or how invaluable you consider your experiment and its proposed results, allows you or me or anyone to override a person's choice to partake in your or mine or anyone's experiment.

And yes, I read the post he linked to. I still disagree. Intentionally trying to push someone's buttons to make sure they are the right 'fit' says more about you than the other person. For example, one case was testing money issues to make sure the other person isn't a Scrooge. But... what if that person is simply smart? If I loan you ten bucks, I expect it back. I am not a doormat, and if I follow the 'correct' path then I'm sure to be taken advantage. Is it cruel? Yes, but that's the way the world turns. I'm sorry. I am not a bank. Personally, that is why I usually tell people who ask for a quick loan that I'm broke, so they and I don't have to be in that situation. Tough beans.

The whole idea of 'testing' another person artificially doesn't sit well with me. People can change, and dismissing them because they get angry you told them they were supposed to be there 30 minutes earlier could be due to a whole host of reasons (a bad day at work, stuck in traffic, etc etc) and turn out to be either an edge case or something you could help them with and help them improve as human beings. Like anger management. Of course, if we ignore criticism then there is no chance of them listening to us, is there? I'd like to know also how they break it to the other person. They probably cop out and offer some bogus reason to wimp out of saying 'I was subtly testing you and you failed'.

13) It's okay to talk to yourself.

I talk to me all the time. Sometimes I agree, and sometimes they disagree. It's quite acceptable. It's not a sign of... what's that? He meant writing about yourself and not physically talking to yourself?

Oh. Uh... I mean, yeah. Talking about yourself. Well. That's good. Just no ego trips. Nobody likes braggarts. Otherwise, go right ahead. They say your best promoter is yourself. Or something. Anna are not sure what I meant.

14) Sweat the small stuff

First off Torley, if you repeated yourself 1,000%, the majority of your post would have been the word 'Iterate' about a thousand times over.

But good point. Don't overlook the small stuff. Sometimes it really helps out, other times it's only the icing on the cake. But check it out regardless.

15) Money Stinks

I wish we didn't need money. It seems to cause so many problems. But we do need it, it's unavoidable, so I deal with it like I deal with cats and people who own them.

I really hate cats.

16) Time is Money

Nothing else to say about it.

17) Don't Burn your Bridges

I am not sure what he's trying to say here (is his music a hobby now that he works for the Lindens?) but I wouldn't delegate any previous career into a hobby. Carry those skills! If you were an employee instead of self-employed, stay in contact! Social networking! Woot!

Stay at your A game, even if that's not your current line of work, because you just never know. YOU NEVER KNOW. I never know.

18) Just say No

I have found myself saying "no" all year. Mostly to those people on the street asking for change. Once to someone who wanted to cheat. Lots of other stuff. It's made me feel like a real jerk. But consider the truth that people are jerks, and I fit right in!

So, to reinforce Torley's point, just say No. If it makes you feel like a jerk, then take pride in that you're perfectly normal.

19) Remember the Message and the Spirit

What is Christmas? Is it a time of celebrating the birth of a savior and the promise and hope of such an event? A time of hope in a season renowned for everything being dead or in hibernation? A flicker of happy times in the frost and cold and harsh? A time to spend with family, around a warm fire, and enjoy the pure selflessness of giving time and money into a gift for one another? Or is it just wantonly gifting and spending away for your friends and family?

I urge you guys, remember the spirit. When I read that a guy was trampled by shoppers, I died a little inside. Please, prove me wrong that people are jerks, don't affirm it. When that happened, it said to me that those shoppers valued material objects over the life of a fellow human being. Is this what we want? Is this acceptable to us? Don't kid yourselves, either. It could have happened anywhere in the mass stampede that occurred across the US, just that particular store hit the Sad Lottery.

So, on the holidays? Take a breather. Relax. Enjoy it. And don't kill each other. For Nunchuck's sake.

20) Discussion is better than regretting something later.

Full steam ahead only works if you're steaming in a good direction. Debate is a good and healthy part of life. You would want me to debate whether to sentence you to life in prison or into lethal injection. You would not want me to just go ahead and execute you.

Not to say that once a good path is clear to keep squabbling. But healthy discourse leads to a better decision than wantonly acting, which ironically may lead to more intense debates than before.

No debate, though, on cats. Cats are jerks.

21) Love!

I have no idea why Torley is obsessed with this. I think I might make him a small (inches size) statue of the LOVE piece. As a present for... Martin Luther King Jr Day? He's sure to love it.

In summary, like all of Torley's posts half of it is close to garbage and the other half pretty insightful. Actually, I think I'm exaggerating. To be fair, a good 75% of it I liked. But all his crap on criticism irks me. It conjures an image in my head of something sticking their fingers in their ears and singing 'la la la can't hear you, you don't matter'. The details behind it, some of it I find completely wrong and the other half of it I find an extremely thin line of judgment. What is infuriating is he has good advice sprinkled in there, though rarely. Like 'take the care to evaluate your critics and dismiss the trolls'. But then he'll say things like 'if they don't offer to help you, don't bother doing your own homework, just dismiss them out of hand' or 'if they haven't tried it, then they can't criticise'. EEERGH!

I learned a lot examining his Life lessons. I recalled the repressed memory of how much I hate cats (except for Hugo the Lazy, and he's virtual). I learned that Torley loves a lot. I learned how cranky I am at 3 am in the morning.

So in that regard, I think Torley should be proud.

This is way late because I'm slow and I kept putting off completing this. Oops.

1 comment:

Peter Stindberg said...

While I agree to a lot of this, the cynicism makes me wince. There is two schools of thought (and often it depends on the mentality of the people in the region where you grew up).

1) Everybody is considered a jerk until they prove otherwise

2) Everybody is a good person until they prove otherwise

You seem to believe in #1 (as the majority of the people in the Northern part of my country - who are known for their ingeniutiy and their good business sense), while I believe in #2 (as the majority of people in the Southern part of my country who are known for their good business sense and their ingeniuity).

Of course #2 might get you disappointed on occasion, but it also opens up more opportunities. And frankly, I could not live with such a cynic and disillusioned mentality. Which does not mean it does not work for you - we seem to be wired differently here.