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Month: August 2009

Hour by hour

I read this post which talks about how you have to do a lot of work to get good at something. It seems pretty obvious, though for someone just starting something, whether drawing or composing music or writing, it can be frustrating at first. You have to create a lot of terrible stuff before you start getting good. Before I became the most amazing brilliant composer the world has ever known (what? don’t you agree?), I wrote pieces such as The Toy and The Workshop. Not exactly the most thrilling pieces of music ever written. (And, of course, I’ve still got plenty more to learn about composing.)

Also, I don’t think that just doing something over and over will alone help you get much better. You must also have in your mind something you’re trying to achieve, some skill you’re purposefully working for and know you don’t have yet. You could doodle scribbles all day, but that won’t help you draw like Rembrandt; you must consciously pursue drawing what you know can not yet draw.

I can easily imagine meeting a person who says “oh man, I’ve been drawing for 10 years!” or “writing for several decades!” or “composing almost my entire life!” and their work still seems terrible to me. Of course, when it comes to art, it’s also a matter of taste, but merely putting in the time with no effort to get better is worthless. (And I can also easily imagine people just plain lying about how long they’ve spent doing something.)

Anyway, the post mentions working 10,000 hours to get good at something. That’s a lot of hours. I’m not sure how many hours I’ve spent composing. Maybe an average of 12 hours per piece (some more, some less) for 51 pieces. 51 * 12 = 612 hours. That’s about 6 percent of 10,000 hours. I got a long way to go.

But that’s just a very rough estimate. I haven’t been keeping track of how many hours it takes me to do anything. So I started a new project called The Hours Project. You’ll see a new link to it on the side of this blog. Basically the goal of the project is to keep track of how long I spend doing stuff. I’m sure I won’t be able to keep it up forever, though, but I think it would be really interesting if I could keep it up for at least a year. I’m guessing sleep and work will take up the most of my time. I’m also not keeping track of how long I spend chatting online, surfing the web, or blogging… or other random stuff.

This is also partially inspired by the game The Sims 3… but you’ll have to play it to realize why, because I don’t feel like explaining…

I’m ignoring you

I recently discovered the website called gapingvoid created my Hugh MacLeod.

(I discovered the site when this YouTuber commented on one of my videos. I in turn checked out his YouTube channel, then his tumblr, in which he mentions the site.)

More specifically, I discovered this page on Hugh MacLeod’s website, filled with advice on being creative. And it’s very good advice, says I. For example, here’s a random quote. MacLeod says:

Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.

Nor can you bully a subordinate into becoming a genius.Since the modern, scientifically-conceived corporation was invented in the early half of the Twentieth Century, creativity has been sacrificed in favor of forwarding the interests of the “Team Player”.

Fair enough. There was more money in doing it that way; that’s why they did it.

There’s only one problem. Team Players are not very good at creating value on their own. They are not autonomous; they need a team in order to exist.

So now corporations are awash with non-autonomous thinkers.

“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”

And so on.

Creating an economically viable entity where lack of original thought is handsomely rewarded creates a rich, fertile environment for parasites to breed. And that’s exactly what’s been happening.

The whole thing is really quotable. And it’s just a fragment of what’s in MacLeod’s new book Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity.

I suppose much of it can seem like cliche self-help and marketing blither; certainly MacLeod’s thoughts are not unique or revolutionary. But at the same time I find them quite encouraging and inspiring. Even if you immediately agree with MacLeod’s writings, they might be easy to forget, because so many people in the world act as if they don’t agree.

I bought the book, which is an easy read; one could read through it in a hour or less. It’s so short, I’m not sure it’s worth paying list price for (list price is almost always overpriced, isn’t it?), but I thought it was worth having in tangible book form. I think it’s one of those books one can take and flip open to any page and reread when feeling bored or uninspired.

Good stuff.

Goals

I’ve been thinking about writing this for a while… my thoughts are admittedly unorganized…

I’ve noticed that most humans, including myself, tend to never really live in the present; we’re always thinking about some event coming up or what we need to do tomorrow. We’re filled with plans. Everything we do is for some goal we’re trying to achieve. I think even at the millisecond level, our brains are focused on what to expect sensing milliseconds in the future. It’s extremely hard, perhaps impossible, to truly live in the present.

So my question is… is that good or bad?

Sometimes it seems good. If you had no plans, you’d just by lying there like a dog, staring at the world. Or maybe a couch potato. One might say it’s morally wrong to have no goals.

But then… what’s the point of goals? Or what’s the ultimate goal of goals? Sometimes it seems like some people don’t really know.

I think there are only two things that people want for their own sake: pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Everything else done is for the sake of one of those.

Or at least should be. But I think some people instead seek the idea of pleasure. They seek something they think will give them pleasure. But then they spend so much time on this idea that some certain thing will bring them pleasure that they make themselves suffer for it. It’s like this video

Some examples might be a wedding or a party or a vacation that people stress about and plan every detail of to the point of making themselves miserable because everything has to be perfect for it. What I think is especially dangerous is when people start daydreaming what the wedding or party of vacation will be like. They imagine scenes in their heads: “I’ll be smiling over there, and these people will be laughing over here, and we’ll all be happy” or “he’ll be driving and listening to good music and I’ll be half asleep reading my book, and we’ll be happy” … stop it! You have no idea what the future is going to be like! You really can’t plan happiness like that, and you’re most likely just setting yourself up for disappointment. (Not that such events can’t be fun; I just think it’s stupid when people obsess over their planned future happiness so much that they make themselves suffer in the present.)

Weddings and parties and vacations, though, are all things that could be planned and accomplished within a year. I think the process becomes even more dangerous and stupid when people start daydreaming huge life goals to the point where they’re subconsciously expecting them to come true. I will be rich. I will be famous. It seems to be obvious to way too many people.

Or there’s the parent or teacher having expectations for their children or students. They want them to be “successful” but they don’t really describe what exactly that means. Just as much $$$$ and power as possible? What should be the child’s ultimate goal? I guess what comes to my mind is to have a job you’re happy with and to make enough $$$$ to support yourself (and family if you choose to have one (and it is a choice… I hate when people who hardly have enough money to support themselves start raising a family and then kind of romanticize it as if they had no control over when babies would come along… “oh, we’re struggling with our five children, working so many jobs to make ends meet!” … that was a choice)).

But some parents I’ve met (and thankfully I don’t have these kinds of parents) seem to define success as something that can never really be achieved. You must just become as rich as possible, as successful as possible. You must get your foot in the door of some company and keep rising through the ranks until you own the company, and then own all the competition, and then eventually own the world I guess. Or you must become famous, and then more famous, and then more famous. And some parents believe their children are amazing geniuses and they firmly believe, or expect their children to be successful. Unfortunately, every day there are way too many children born for each one to become rich or famous. Only so many people can be rich and famous at a time. These parents’ definition of success depends on their comparing their children to other people, which has always been a stupid way to define success. (Part of me thinks some parents only want their children to succeed so they can brag about them to other parents. “My little Bobby is doing so well, he’s the vice-president of Boring Old Company X, and making a lot of money!” “Oh really? My little Billy still works at the grocery store, but he’s happy gosh darn it!”) And if their children don’t “succeed” then that means they are normal mediocrities…

It’s like your job and wealth determine whether or not you are mediocre. Rich = good, successful, better. Not rich = bad, normal, mediocre. That’s stupid. There are plenty of rich idiots and many brilliant non-rich folk. Shouldn’t the end goal be just to be happy?  (But some people say: “Being a poor struggling artist is not romantic!  It’s stupid!”  It’s not stupid to be poor, it’s stupid to be miserable.)

And then what if you are happy? What if you’re supporting yourself and you’re happy? Does that mean no more goals? You’re done? You’ve reached your life’s ambition? Is that bad? Is that morally wrong? Shouldn’t you always be dreaming some impossible dream?

This video comes to mind… You can have whatever goals you want! You don’t have to constantly want more. You don’t have to always be improving yourself to something you can’t even imagine. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m getting there!” How do you know?

Just make enough money to support yourself and try to find a job you’re happy with. Whether or not you want to give yourself any goals after that is up to you. You don’t have to be rich or famous or anything. So there.

(Disclosure: I do not yet make enough money to support myself yet, so I guess I’m a failure. But at least I don’t have a job I hate!)

Working

I’ve been working a bit more on my melody mixer creator thing; I’m working on expanding its abilities so that it will be compatible with any size melody in any time signature. I think I’ve finished planning out the necessary algorithms, now just programming awaits. And there will be quite a lot that will need to be reprogrammed, as there were quite a few shortcuts I was able to take when programming it to work with just one size melody. I’ve also been writing a book on my melody mixing algorithmic methods. It’s obviously not very long right now, but as I continue to program and explore this area of computer generated music it will hopefully chronicle all my explorations and algorithmic design decisions. It will probably be finished in 10 or 20 years. Or never.

Haven’t been up to much else lately… getting a bunch of hours at my part-time job, which is good for the money, but when I come home I tend to sit in front of the TV, surf the net, or play The Sims 3, which are all fun, but not very productive.  I can’t say I really want a full-time job…