Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My Vacuous, Self-Indulgent Jabber

Pat Maddox says that he blogs to share his knowledge with his fellow Rubyists, while I blog to show everybody how smart I am. A poster on Reddit, surprised to find that my blog held useful content, said that most of what I say is vacuous, self-indulgent jabber.

As you might expect me to say, both my critics are wrong. Everything I say in my blog is vacuous, self-indulgent jabber. That's why it's a blog. And I don't blog to show the whole world how smart I am. I blog to give voice to whatever I happen to be thinking about. I just happen to think about how smart I am all the time.

It's true that this is self-indulgent, but it's a more disciplined form of self-indulgence than you might at first imagine. Once I thought, if I'm so smart, why can't I draw? I knew tons of people who weren't as smart as I think I am, in my incredible incredibleness, yet who drew beautifully, while my drawings would have embarassed a four-year-old. So I learned to draw. I thought, if I'm so smart, why can't I understand Bayesian networks? Then I spent some time reading books by the leading researchers in the field, talking to an expert, and coding out the core algorithms. It wasn't enough to fully understand Bayes nets, but it was enough to get the general idea, and that made me feel better. I also met someone connected to the leading researchers, got some Bayes consulting work, and passed it along to him.

I used to think, if I'm so smart, why can't I write a screenplay? Why can't I write a novel? Now I ask, if I'm so smart, why aren't my screenplays better? Why don't I ever finish my novels? I'll make some progress on those questions too, sooner or later. It might cost me some financial prosperity - it often has - but I'll answer those questions. I might not actually finish a novel, but I'll definitely prove that I can.

I think it's actually good to think about how smart you are. I like the questions it prompts me to ask. If I'm so smart, why do I have to work for a living? Why do I generally only have sex with one woman at a time? Why can't I code like this, or this, or this? Why can't I act like this? Why haven't I ever been to Nepal? Why don't I know kung fu? Why can't I get George Bush arrested and in front of a war crimes tribunal in the Hague where he belongs? Why is it I always have enough salsa but never enough chips, except for when I have enough chips but not enough salsa?

I could go on and on like this for days. In fact, I plan to. But there's a counterpart to all this that utterly baffles me. Every time I go, if I'm so smart, why can't I XYZ? and then run off and XYZ for the first time, time will pass, and I'll meet someone and be like, I don't get it, that person's smart enough to XYZ, and they just said they want to XYZ. Why don't they? If I'm so smart, figuring that out ought to be within my reach, but I'm afraid to. I have a superstitious belief that there's some benefit in being confused by it.

Anyway, if the self-indulgent jabber bothers you. Pat Maddox and Raganwald both regularly bookmark posts I've made on del.icio.us. You could read their del.icio.us feeds instead of reading my blog directly, and you'd get a window on my blog, a "best of" subset, which might be more useful to you. Or, just watch my presentations if/when they get posted as online video, read me if I ever show up in books, and skip it otherwise. It's your time, your decision to read it. I'm not going to pretend to care. I'm assuming you're all adults.


  1. I read your blog cause you're so damn funny. Actually, I read your blog cause you're trying. There's no growth without trying. Grow or die.

    And, I don't find that thinking about how smart anyone is is useful for me. I'm not convinced that humans are capable of recognizing relative differences in smartness. I'm not even sure what it means. I try to think about what someone does instead. But, if it gets you to work on stuff -- great, use it. We're all bent slightly differently it seems.


  2. Gracias!

    I once got chastised muchly for saying "try" when I was supposed to say "do." (In keeping with the Yoda thing, do or do not, there is no try.) So I want to say I'm not trying, but I know what you mean. What I'm doing isn't done yet, and might not be doable, but it certainly involves effort either way.

  3. Yeah, I've gotten that too. Perhaps from a Jedi Master it's okay, but everyone else just comes across as a little mean-spirited. I understand the message, but if I wanted to make excuses by hiding behind small words, "do" works just as well as "try". Life is not a movie, but scriptwriting is a skill for the ages!

  4. "try" in Italian is "prova." I like thinking of trying as "proving," because it suggests that whatever you're doing is something worth attaining, and also suggests that you'll put forth as much effort to attain it instead of merely trying, which I think suggests that failure may be expected or accepted.

  5. for the record, I blog to show people how smart I am

  6. Self-indulgent jabber, sure, but vacuous? Anyway I love your self-indulgent jabbering blog, Giles, it reminds me of the old days on abducted and satrapap before they dried up, and believe it or not I've missed that chatter, so I'm glad to find you blogging nowadays. I aspire to one day approach your blog's jabberiness on my own.

  7. abducted was inspired lunacy. (technically it's still around, but we're talking about the golden age.)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.