Friday, July 31, 2015

You're Anti, You're Anti-social

Clearly, I'm anti-social.

I don't have a Facebook account.

I did have one, though I rarely used it and only had a few friends. But I dropped it permanently after the emotional manipulation experiment came to light. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that others didn't follow suit.

This great image comes from a Facebook sucks site... however the gist of the article is that content on Facebook and scams suck... whereas the truth is that it's the very existence of Facebook that sucks

If you don't include blogs and forums, the only social media I have is a professional LinkedIn profile. This is a requirement for my career, but I don't use it as a social media platform so much as a combination online resume and professional contact tracker. It's incredibly useful (and yes, I've gotten jobs from LinkedIn -- people always ask this), but the groups and posting and other social elements I ignore. I also use a couple of other tools with social components, but I don't treat them as social platforms (Waze, for example). I use them to inform myself, but don't have any inclination to chat, message, track points, etc.

The spouse has a Facebook still, with a handful of people from his high school or that we've known in the years since. He's also becoming increasingly frustrated with the... tone of the discourse (and I say it's about time). He's slowly dropping people who he's got nothing in common with and I predict he will soon end up like me.

He recently told me about a rant on Facebook that stated that you shouldn't unfriend people for disagreeing with you politically because IRL you don't drop your friends if you have differences. I can't begin to express how wrong headed this is. First, because IRL you and your friends probably have a gentleman's agreement not to discuss the things you disagree on. Like I don't talk about Witchcraft with my grandmother. If I had to listen to my actual friends rant about politics endlessly or hand me numerous articles on things they know I disagree with... I would drop them, IRL or not. Second, people on Facebook that you don't have any other connection with ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS. If your entire interaction is liking stuff on their wall while they like stuff on your wall, that's not friendship. It's more like a lukewarm fandom, where you keep desultory track of people because what they're doing looks marginally more interesting than what you're doing (which is surfing on Facebook).

Compare that to my daughter, who's busy documenting "The Best Summer Ever" with and for her friends -- separately and together. And who uses these tools the way I used the family phone as a teen (to endlessly chatter with my real friends).

Disclaimer: this is not my daughter. The Budding Psychonaut (as Gordon once referred to her)
currently has purple hair and a fondness for Harajuku fashion.

One of the reasons that many forms of social media don't seem to appeal to or work for me is that I strongly believe that the medium is the message. The limits and rules of online communication greatly affect the content and meaning it can carry.

For example, Twitter: The character limitation, the lack of connectivity between tweets and the disjointed context for conversations (via tags) means that, in my opinion, Twitter completely fails as a means of discussion or conversation. It is useful as a method of dissemination of information or coordination of real life meeting points (or sharing of interesting tidbits, not that anyone is suffering from a shortage of these). This is the value of the tool for protest movements. It's also why, when shit gets real, its the best way to get eyewitness information from folks on the ground. If there's a riot that's not getting much if any mainstream coverage, I look to Twitter.

The structure of Facebook on the other hand, forces a certain banality. The complex security and visibility settings means that most people operate in a lowest common denominator mode of posting to everyone. The ease of re-posting existing content versus creating it makes it a excellent meme dissemination device. And the algorithms that Facebook uses to filter your feed means your efforts to follow others are often marred by lack of continuity.

And, as it turns out, social medial isn't very good for us. It can make us miserable and addicted. It turns us into plagiarists -- though this seems more like a feature (retweet anyone?) than a bug. It, ironically, can make us less social.

The best online mediums for conversation are email (for ostensibly private conversation) and forums / blogs (for public or semi-public discussion). The use of threading and quoting allows people to maintain continuity and context for the discussion. And the clear and uncomplicated privacy context means people know what they can say. Of course, the lack of accountability for public discussion often dooms these conversations to becoming pointless flame wars. But all current mediums (yes, that's a real plural) online are suffering from an ongoing degradation of discourse and debate.

I see lots of people trying to have conversations online. I wonder if they would be more successful if they used the right tools for the job.

Note: This is one of a series of darker posts that I've been working on. Don't worry, PMPM planning part two is coming up.


Monday, July 27, 2015

That Particular Door to Hell

The national media has been a-buzz with the news of a young college student creating a gun-shooting drone. The device doesn't seem to break any laws, at least not in Connecticut, but it is mighty creepy and unsettling to local and national law enforcement. Of course, it's also nothing new. Unmanned aerial vehicles for combat use have a long history, from the  mid 1800s through WWII and into the 'modern' age. Just like their use for surveillance wasn't invented by Obama to stress out Tea Party conservatives.

The interesting thing about this story it that it's a perfect confluence of a couple of things that I've been wanting to talk about.

Some time back in 2013, I commented on RuneSoup that I'd been seeing a huge PR campaign for drones recently. They were being highlighted as innovative, helpful, and even cute in a series of ads and TV shows. They were being used to help the Top Gear cast scout upriver on one of their highly staged "adventures" and by hip sporting events to get great aerial footage for the viewing audience. At the same time, we were launching our drone strikes on targets in the Middle East. It was as if the media were trying to convince all of us that drones were our friends.

How the worm turns. Now, drones are increasingly seen as dangerous in the hands of the public. They are blocking firefighting aircraft, being called out by British police, and legislated against in many difference contexts. The message is always the same. In private hands, drones are bad. In the hands of the government, entertainment media, or our corporate overlords, they are awesome.

Sounds like some fine-tuning of the message going on here. And it also seems that technology has finally caught up to the danger zone. After all, remote control aircraft are nothing new. My husband remembers friends of his step-dad who were big-time remote control hobbyists. They were attaching cameras to their aircraft back in the late 70s. But only now that both the drone and imaging technology have caught up to the point where these devices can be real trouble does anyone seem to care. It's the same as making mix tapes. People have been copying cassette tapes for decades before the the modern DRM panic and witch hunt. The difference is that in the old days, each copy lost quality. It wasn't as good as the original. So it was illegal, but no one cared. Then along came digital music and suddenly it was a crime worth enforcing.

The gun-toting drone is the logic conclusion of this long path, from the US military using unmanned balloons to drop bombs to modern spy and assassination drones. It was only a matter of time before someone, and wouldn't it have to someone who exactly matches the profile of the domestic terrorist (young, male, white, and conveniently under arrest), gave it a try. We don't know that he's the first civilian to do this of course, but we absolutely know he won't be the last.

Because once you crack open a particular door like this, there's no going back. Before Bannister ran the 4-minute mile, it was considered near-impossible. But as soon as he did it, other runners followed. And Tenzing Norgay and that Hillary fellow had to climb the Great Mother mountain to demonstrate that white dudes could do it (because clearly no altitude-acclimated native Sherpas could have done so before then, duh). It's the same with many kinds of achievements, from athletic, to intellectual, to technological. The impossible becomes suddenly possible. Once someone does it, it's like humanity experiences a sudden shift -- previously it wasn't possible, and now it it. Psychologically, we believe it, we know it, so we do it.

Those example are positive ones. They don't have to be.

The title of this post comes from a Snopes article about the 1982 Tylenol murders in Chicago... the first murder by tampering. I'm old enough to have hazy memories of the nation-wide recall and general climate of fear that this caused. Years ago, I was researching something and came across the Snopes article. It talked about the original case (which has never been officially solved) but also the copycat cases that came afterward. The article concludes with this statement (emphasis mine):

"The 1982 Tylenol murders kicked off a lot of nastiness. It's as if evil-minded people were just waiting for that particular door to hell to swing open so they could rush through. Some chose to randomly insert foreign objects or dangerous substances into formerly trustworthy products, while others tried to use the senselessness of the Tylenol murders to cover up specifically-targeted crimes of their own.

We live with the Tylenol legacy even to this day; you have only to visit a local supermarket or pharmacy to see evidence of this. Tamper-proof packaging has become the norm and safety seals on even the most innocuous items are to be expected. As a nation, we lost our innocence in 1982." 

-- Barbara "fools paradise lost" Mikkelson

The article, and particularly that statement in bold above have haunted me ever since.

I've heard it suggested that the reason there are copycat crimes is that the original criminal gives other's ideas. But I don't think it's that simple. I think it's that evil is contagious, just the same way that violence or panic is contagious in a mob. There are currents of violence and destruction just as there are currents of cooperation and love. When someone taps into a particular current, others find it easier to tap in as well. 

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

PMPM -- Planning Part One

First of all, I need to stop pretending that I'm going to spend time writing blog posts while I'm traveling for work. Between the meetings I'm there for, keeping on top of stuff back at the office, professional dinners with lots of professional drinking, and cramming in sightseeing and shopping in every spare minute -- well, let's just say that you are all awesome, but not as awesome as Tokyo.

Also, I've got some additional responsibilities in my professional life... the scary but good kind that will stretch me personally and professionally and, with luck and effort, reward me in kind. This means that I'm even busier and under a brighter spotlight than before. Still, we've started something important here and I refuse to let it drop.

So, it's been a couple of weeks since you kicked off your major PMPM working and you know at a high level what, where, and how you will achieve your goal. Have you initiated your project? If so, it's time to get going. But here I give you an important warning:

DO NOT WAIT until the planning is complete before getting started.

If you recall from my intro post on the process groups, the planning phase happens after the very start of the project launch and continues through the final stages. Of course there's more planning at the start and it tapers off through the course of the project. But you do not wait to start the project until you've all done planning. Let me assure you that is a sure path to failure because the planning will never really be done. It can't be, because the process of actually doing the working changes the plan as you go. That's why you need to get started right away, because your first steps will help direct the work that comes after. Project planning is a process, not an event. You don't just do it, you continue the planning process, adjusting and refining, over the life of the project.

I know some of you are wondering why bother planning at all. In fact, there are times when making a detailed plan seems counterproductive. Instead you need to try out a bunch of ideas to see what actually seems to be working. I direct you to this extremely detailed post on the agile methodology. However this type of project management still includes planning. It's just a more flexible type of planning that allows you to change course more easily and rapidly.

But whether or not you will be using agile methods, you should still have some kind of plan in place for your working. If for no other reason than for major workings, the kind that take months -- even years -- to complete, you need a whole lot of discipline and focus. A plan helps you do that.

In my experience, you get the biggest benefit when you combine elements of classic project management along with agile methods. You let the plan serve the goal, and not the other way around. The sections below, include some elements of both that I find work well for the type of 'life-change' workings that tend to be on all our lists.

Before anything else, you have to realize that the plan is an integral part of the working. It's not separate from it. You have to make a commitment to revisit your plan throughout the project. I recommend deciding up front how you will do this. Because, shit happens. Life happens. Chaos happens. But what's not going to happen is you meeting your goal if you don't keep it in mind. Your charter and your plan work together as a operating manual for your working. They keep you on track through the many months of actually doing the work. You don't just set and forget.

In an agile process, you do this every sprint. You revisit your plan and just give it a sanity check. Do you need to add stuff, remove it, change it outright? Do you need to re-prioritize things in the plan?

For a year long working, checking back with your project plan monthly makes a lot of sense. Toward the end of your project, you may just review, validating that you are reaching your goal. But at the start, you will be digging deeper, expanding and refining and even changing your plan as circumstances dictate. Decide on your re-plan day (every first Saturday? the new moon? the 15th of the month?) and record it someplace that you will remember. Give yourself a reminder if you need it. Most of us are drowning in technology to help us remember things, so use it.

Process Groups and Knowledge Areas
In formal project management, there are the five process groups (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring, Closing) -- we discussed these before. There are also 10 "knowledge areas" (which sounds like a term invented by committee). The knowledge areas include things like scope, time, cost, quality, risk... some of them more relevant to our process than others. For the PMPM process, I prefer the term Focus Areas because if there's one thing magic requires, it's focus. And for a major working, one that lasts many months, there's a lot of things you have to focus on.

The complexity of the PMI process here is intense. There's a huge grid with various processes in different sections and lots of dependencies, deliverables, and so on. Part of my prep for the PMP exam was memorizing the entire chart. We will not be going there! The thing you need to keep in mind is that for each part of your working there will be certain things you need to focus on. And those things reappear through the working. That's key. You don't just think about your working once at the start, you continue to reapply your focus (both magically and mundanely) over the months.

When you're planning and re-planning -- I have to keep emphasizing that you don't just do this once at the start -- you need to focus on several different areas of your working. This post discusses the first, and most important, to give yourself momentum at the start:

The Scope
In your PMPM charter, you identified the high-level requirements and objectives. Those are the things you need to complete the working and the high level goals of the working. This is where you take those items and break them down another level into smaller detailed requirements and sub-goals. In the Initiation post, one example was a working to "Make a living helping people reach their employment goals through innovative and personalized resume writing and editing." If one of your objectives for this working is:
  • Automate workflows so that business operations and services take no more than 20 hours a week
Well, that's a good objective, but it's not exactly actionable, is it?

So you need to think about the components of that particular goal.
  • Automate workflows so that business operations and services take no more than 20 hours a week
    • Contract a website that lists services and allows users to sign up and purchase online
    • Create an email account for the business and setup automated sorting for incoming email
    • Buy a piece of small business accounting software to track income and expenditures
    • Create templates for common client communications that can be reused
    • Create a sigil for smooth pathways and easy interactions 
    • Set up an altar above your work desk where you can regularly leave offerings for relevant spiritual stakeholder
And if your house moving working requires: "Safe, walkable neighborhood" then take it to the next level (Eastside or Lakeview neighborhood, within 5 min walk from grocery and dry cleaners, near bus stop, on a small side street, with a wooded area nearby for magical working)

Depending on the the granularity of the original requirement or objective, you may need to really break it down or just come up with a couple of sub-goals. And from an agile perspective, if your charter was kind of vague, you need to come up with research goals. If your working is to "be happier" you may not know how to accomplish that right away. OK, you almost certainly don't know what it will take -- humans are notoriously terrible at this particular exercise. So you go agile. You don't know quite what happier means and you certainly don't know what's required to get you there. So you create a list of experiments to try and plan to apply the results to your measurement method (see the previous post).

In any case, the point is to take the high-level stuff down a notch to the next level. Once you do that you will have effectively defined the scope of your project. You will have a better sense of what's necessary and what's nice to have, what you need to do and what you do not. Please believe me that being clear about what you don't need to do or even what you shouldn't do to successfully complete the working is as important -- maybe even more important -- than knowing what you should do.

Because everything has a cost. And the most damaging cost in terms of making your workings come to fruition is opportunity cost. When you are spending energy, especially magical energy, doing unnecessary things or outright wrong things, that's energy you can't spend on the right things. It's a lost opportunity.

Not to mention that when we're looking at changing beliefs, thoughts, or behaviors, believing/thinking/doing the right things means first stopping the wrong ones. And your magical working is going to require belief change, thought change, and behavior change. Because, hello, it's a magical working, not just a business plan or to do list.

We'll be coming back to this when we get into project execution. For now, make sure your scope reflects as much of what you need to do as you know at this point and none of what you don't need to do.

You should also be able to take any one of those items and turn it into small doable tasks. But note, you don't have to figure out all the tasks for the entire scope at this point. That's going a step too far at this stage and can really bog down your planning (see warning number one -- don't wait to start).

Once you have your scope, then put the items in rough order. Figure out where there are broad dependencies between items (you probably need an email setup before your website is done). Determine if some items are more important than others (safe neighborhood is number one, bus stop and bike path are number two). Identify the most likely experiments to try (attend a play, go to a club).

Sometimes the order will be simple: you need to save a down payment before you sign a contract. Sometimes it's more complex: you need the email before the website is done, but not before it's started. Sometimes you just follow your gut. You don't have to over-analyze it. Just get your sub-goals roughly listed so that you know where the starting point is.

If you stack rank the entire list, you have an agile backlog that you can work through. Or maybe instead you have three high priority items to start in parallel now and some lower ones to start later. Or maybe two urgent things, followed by mid range and long term ones. Your actual working should dictate what makes since in each circumstance. But we're looking at months of working on this goal, it's not all going to be done at once.

There are other aspects to the plan (the timing of things, the budget you have) all of which are a more granular breakdown of the things in your charter.  We'll be digging into these in the next post, because you do want to include them in your planning. But before we go any further, there's something you have to do right now...


Take the first requirement, figure out the first thing to do to get there and do it. If you can't do it because it's too hard, long, or big break in into smaller pieces and then do the first of those. If you still can't do it, rinse and repeat. Here are some examples of tiny first steps that are doable right now:

  • Make a sigil for the first item on your list. Incorporate the symbols that are meaningful for your project (go see Gordon for great suggestions -- he's the master of this)
  • Make a single call to source something you need
  • Google "how to <your requirement here>" -- for example, how to build a professional website, how to get a small business loan, how to find a safe neighborhood in your-city
  • Do one small symbolic thing that represents the goal (designate a "moving fund" jar and put a dollar in it, label a folder customer list and put it on your desk, find the most unhealthy thing in your kitchen right now and throw it out)
Getting big things done rarely requires doing big things. It usually requires doing tiny things, every day, one after another or over and over until the big thing is done. It's water wearing the stone, not a deluge. And if there are rare and glorious moments of deluge the water only knows where to go because of the previous patient wearing of the channel. If you don't prepare the channel, you get a flood and drowned by too much success too fast.

So take your first tiny steps, one at a time, while you keep up the planning process.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Hot Crossed Mess -- with Bonus Book Review

At the start of spring, I was feeling generally horrible. I was constantly exhausted, but sleeping badly, with little energy during the day. I was bloated. I found my willpower was at a low ebb as well, and I was eating shit (shame on my hypocritical self) and not getting much of anything done. Everything felt sort of sideways in my life. And while my immediate family relationships were going fine, the general malaise was starting to affect that as well.

I couldn't write it off to seasonal effects as my favorite season was in full bloom outside (my low energy season is usually Jan/Feb). And there was no recent change, shock, event, or trauma that could explain it -- there was no visible external cause. At some point, it occurred to me that I was crossed, and crossed big time. Note, crossed doesn't equal cursed. Cursed is someone actively working against you. Crossed is more general, meaning that you are in the way of some bad energy or thoughts or that your own energy and thoughts are working against you. If you're cursed, it's a really good idea to figure out who's got it in for you and deal with them. Crossed however can be handled through general magical housekeeping.

Of course the trouble with feeling like this is that you don't really have much energy to fix things. It's a vicious catch-22. In order to feel better you have to: clean up your house magically and mundanely, buy good food and eat it, go for a walk, get some laundry done. But whatever it is, you don't do it, because you don't feel better -- you feel terrible. I've actually got a whole post planned on energy magic, because one of the smartest thing you can do to improve just about anything in your life is increase your energy levels. But that magic is proactive (building energy) rather than reactive.

Now, I'm typically a very DIY kind of person. This isn't a brag. It's not always a good thing to decide you can figure everything out for yourself. I've had plenty of failures caused by my unwillingness to just follow the exact recipe or a pattern for things like baking or knitting. Of course, I learn a lot from those failures as well and it's made me a better baker and knitter. And every time things go sideways in project management is a chance to learn and improve. In real life recipes only take you so far and beyond that you just kind of have to wing it, relying on experience to get you through. Still, there are probably better ways to learn.

It's the same with magic. I like to make my own supplies (I've even made witchcraft soap, like from fat and lye and activated charcoal), craft my own spells, write my own rituals, and create my own prayers. When I use elements from other places, they are usually older or based on older things (Carmina Gadelica, Ho Ophis, Enheduanna, selection from the Romantic Poets). But in this case, I was feeling too mired down and exhausted to come up with much of anything useful. So I decided to look to an alternate source for some help.

Which brings us to the Book Review. I immediately purchased Protection & Reversal Magic by Jason Miller of the excellent Inominandum blog. When I say immediately, I mean that. While I typically prefer paper, I got the book for the Kindle, so that I could get started right away.

I like Jason's stuff A LOT. I like his blog posts and I like his Financial Sorcery book. I've even considered taking his course (though I'm not a beginner, I feel like you should never stop learning and refreshing). Not only does his focus really work for me, his ritual is spot on with my particular practice. There's no feeling that I have to adjust things to make them work for my approach.

So a big thank you to Jason for his excellent book, which is practical and level headed, but also very liminal and powerful. It definitely kick-started my magical engine. I'm usually an advocate for proactive magic, rather than reactive. I like working and planning longer term and trying to weave aspect of my magic throughout my every day life. But this feeling had been creeping up on me for some time without me realizing it, so by the time I set myself to deal with it, I needed to deal with it right away.

I performed Jason's Sphere of Hekas ritual from the book and then got to work. It was an explosion of cleansing, cleaning, consecrating, blessing, banishing, and so on. As part of the work, I blended a 9x uncrossing oil (a recipe of my own) and blessed it with the chant from The Mirror Cage working in the book (see, I always have to tweak the recipe).

Once I had cleaned up my act, so to speak, things were much better. I have to say the oil was particularly effective. I used it on lintels and door charms as well as carried on my person. It's really powerful and I will definitely be using this recipe again.

I'm traveling this week and hope to catch up on my writing during the long hours it takes to go halfway around the globe.