On Attention

In recent years, I have struggled with my attention. I have struggled to focus on much of anything in my life. I haven't been able to read books quickly or effectively; I have struggled to get into that superfocused programming state at work.

I assumed that perhaps I had undiagnosed ADHD. Who knows, that may even be true. But increasingly I think it's more likely that I've done this to myself.

Since I got my first smartphone in 2009, I have been in a constant mode of stimulation. Around that same time I discovered podcasts and audiobooks. These were a boon to me, especially on commutes. Suddenly I felt like that time was no longer wasted.

Social media became ubiquitous. Reddit had a constant stream of fascinating or interesting content. Twitter vied for my attention. Algorithms worked to keep me engaged all of the time.

It's not an interesting story, nor an original one. Our reading lists are full of books about breaking up with our phones, deleting social media, and reclaiming our focus. But the one who finally made me see the problems in my own life was CGP Grey. On the (amazing) podcast Hello Internet, he explored this problem in his own life. His story was remarkably similar to mine. I especially empathized with his problems with podcasts. Don't get me wrong -- podcasts are incredible. The world of podcasts has never been better, and podcasts are one of only a few things that haven't been consumed by algorithms (yet). They are a net positive in the world. But my problems with podcasts are a symptom of something larger (in myself).

I found myself rarely without headphones in my ears. The breaking point was when I found myself putting my Airpods in for the 30 seconds that it took me to go to the bathroom. Silence made me physically uncomfortable. I used headphones as an excuse to avoid interacting with people. It was a real problem.

Another problem area I identified was slack (and to a lesser extent, email). Having these amazing tools available all the time on my phone (and open all day on my computer), I found myself self-interrupting constantly throughout the day to see if there was something new in the #videogames channel, the #photography channel, or in our team or service channels. Even when there were no notifications, I would interrupt and check my slack or email. A combination of my proclivity to procrastinate and my brains addiction to these inputs was letting me get nothing done.

It was also encroaching on my family life. I would open slack when I first woke up in the morning and find a notification from someone in India. Rather than waiting until my workday started, I would reply and end up working for an hour. The same thing would happen on weekends or in the evenings.

My solution

I cut out all podcasts and audiobooks for almost a month. This was just a reset -- there was never any chance I would stay away from podcasts. But I needed some time, and needed some silence.

I've since resumed podcasts, but don't listen to them first thing in the morning, or before bed. I try to limit them to commutes and chores, or times when I consciously decide to listen (and decide it won't interrupt my interactions with my family).

With permission from my manager, I instituted (and communicated) a new policy for email and slack. I would only check them at the beginning and end of the workday, and never outside of work hours or on the weekends. I gave out my cell number and told people to call me instead.

I disabled most notifications on my phone, including all email notifications. (My personal email is never urgent, either). I completely signed out of my work slack.

I also set a goal to read for an average of an hour a day.

Note that I wasn't trying to reduce screen time. I love video games and have no desire to stop playing them. But I wanted my time to be used with intentionality -- to never feel like I've been wasting time on useless phone games and pointless reddit threads.

Did it work?

I think so! I'm still in the middle of it, but I'm getting more done at work than I have in months. I'm reading more than I have in years. And my phone pickups have fallen by more than half. I interact more with my family, and am becoming OK with silence.

So?

I know, this is long and rambling. And perhaps you don't have any of the same problems that I have and continue to fight.

But if any of this resonated with you, I encourage you to make a change. Your solutions may not look like mine -- everyone has different goals and needs. But we need to control our own lives.

Technology and the internet are amazing tools. Let's use them, rather than letting them use us.

HubbleStack on FLOSS Weekly

I was on FLOSS Weekly today talking about HubbleStack!

Here's the Overcast link.

And if you really want to see my ugly mug, there are video options as well on the episode page: FLOSS Weekly 485 HubbleStack

If you have questions about HubbleStack or want to get involved, tweet at me!

The Value of Diversity

Recently an ex-Google recruiter sued Google for wrongful termination due to his complaints about hiring practices he claimed were discriminatory against white and Asian men.

Many of us have been in positions where hiring for diversity has been a focus. There might be a temptation to say that this is discriminatory. "We're passing up more qualified candidates for diverse ones!"

But diversity is about more than skin color or gender -- it's also about the different ideas and points of view that come from different life experiences. These are real qualifications. Their value-add is hard to quantify, but that doesn't mean the value isn't there.

Finding these people is not easy. We have to be willing to go outside our normal networks. And even once we find and hire these people we have to work hard to overcome biases and give them an equal place in our team, both in pay and in voice.

Hiring managers can fix the pay gap. Offer people what they're worth, even if that means countering with a higher offer.

Voice is harder -- make sure credit is attributed correctly for all team members. Watch for interruptions from other team members. Make sure everyone is heard.

Hiring and keeping diverse people is hard work but it's worth it.

Gun Violence

At the risk of joining the echo chamber, I want to talk for a moment about gun violence.

But I don't want to talk about criminal gun violence.

Start here.

Click through that graph. See the red dots? Those are suicides.

Two-thirds of the 33,000 gun deaths annually in America are suicides. That's more than 20,000 people killing themselves annually.

This is why I want to talk about gun control. I believe it would also reduce gun-related homicides and accidental gun deaths, a result that would also be amazing. But they're much harder to argue about because we don't have enough data and there are too many guns in circulation and blah blah blah blah.

I want to reduce the number of suicides.

BUT COLTON, PEOPLE DON'T NEED GUNS TO KILL THEMSELVES. THEY'LL FIND A WAY!

While there are many other ways people can kill themselves besides guns, readily-available guns offer the least friction. There's no roap to tie, there's no stool to fetch, there's no blade and bathtub. Pull the trigger and you're done.

And we know that removing means of suicide coincides with a drop in suicide rates. Why is this?

It's because most people don't really want to die.

They're looking for an excuse to live. Any excuse. They're lazy, like you and me and everyone else. If it's hard to commit suicide, they'll talk themselves out of it. Every minute of delay from the point of decision improves their chances of survival.

This is an aspect of suicide I had never considered until I listened to a podcast on the subject. It's called means reduction and it works.

Even if gun control didn't lower the instances of criminal gun use (though I'm convinced it would), wouldn't it be worthwhile to save thousands of lives lost to suicide or accidental death? Shouldn't it at least be a conversation? Are your guns really that important?

I'm not necessarily saying we need a complete gun ban. It's a bit of a non-starter and I don't think it would ever happen in the US. But there are things we could do to add friction and insight into firearm acquisition that could make a real difference. But first we have to have a more cogent conversation than the normal "BUT LIVES!" "BUT 2ND AMMENDMENT!" bullshit.

Thoughts?

Karabiner (Elements) and macOS Sierra

I like hacks. I like tweaks. I like setting things up just to my specifications. I mean, I use an Ergodox Infinity, a CST Trackball and I'm an avid Vim user.

But these hacks and tweaks are not without their disadvantages. When macOS Sierra came out, it severely broke support for a key app in my setup: Karabiner. I was using Karabiner for three very specific, very important hacks, all inspired by Steve Losh's "A Modern Space Cadet" blog post from 2012:

  1. The ctrl key would act as escape if short-pressed with no other key. Because I rebind caps lock to control anyway, that puts both control and escape in perfect reach of my left pinky. No more reaching up or down for either key. It's amazing!

  2. F19 was mapped to cmd-ctrl-shift-option. Why F19? Because it is on no modern keyboard, and has no default usage in modern operating systems. So I bound it to a key on my ergodox, and use it as a hyper modifier key. However, I went a step further, and made short presses on this key input cmd-space (the spotlight shortcut). Surprisingly convenient.

  3. The left and right shift keys would act as left and right parenthesis when short-pressed with no other keys.

These hacks have become second nature, part of my muscle memory. Losing them would be terrible for my productivity. So I waited for Karabiner to be updated to Sierra.....cut to today, 9 months after Sierra was released, and Karabiner still has not been updated.

However, I found out today that Karabiner Elements finally added support for short vs long pressed keys in their latest beta version.

If you want to check out my implementation, I host my dotfiles on github. The section is under complex_modifications. Remember that you need to be running Karabiner Elements 0.91.3, which is in beta!

What hacks/tweaks can you not live without? Leave a comment or tweet at me!

Poison

Today I found out that a good friend of mine quit Facebook. I was astounded -- he had just been filled with such righteous indignation about the election, and big ideas about the change that we needed to bring about. How could he bring about that change if he removed the best tool for talking to people?

But the more we talked, the more convinced I was that he had it right.


On the night of the election, Stephen Colbert talked about poison:

You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side. And it tastes kind of good. And you like how it feels. And there's a gentle high to the condemnation, right? And you know you're right, right? You know you're right.

Social media is at the center of this. Facebook is designed to give you this high. It is designed to give you exactly what you want to see/hear, because that keeps you coming back and lets them serve you more ads.

We craft echo chambers for ourselves. We are increasingly convinced we are right and the other side is wrong, and if we ever do happen to come in contact with someone from the other side, we talk past each other until we're blue in the face. Anger and indignation prevail, reason and empathy fail.

In the last three days I've seen very few productive conversations happening on social media. We try to empathize, we try to make our points. But without the human connection of one-on-one communication, we make no progress. We high five those that agree with us and ignore those who don't. We may not even realize we're ignoring anyone -- the Facebook algorithm is making that choice for us.

TechCrunch says the Facebook bubble just popped. They're right. Read that story, and realize the dangers of the echo chamber. Facebook does more harm than good.


In his last post before quitting Facebook, my friend Mike made some cogent points about our rejection of fact in favor of our echo chambers:

After a century of prosperity, we started to believe that we knew better than what newspapers told us, or scientists told us, or economists told us. We stopped believing in classical books by great thinkers and started believing in podcasts. In even the best cases, we fired articles at each other instead of arguments. What’s more, we thought that our skepticism of expertise was the fault of the expert and not our own. We built the Internet in hopes that it would foster the greatest exchange of ideas in human history. Hopes of that nobility have been diminished.

This election is a lot of things but above all, it’s cultural hubris boiled over.

He goes on to talk about our rejection of fact-based media in favor of our little social media worlds:

Collectively, we rejected newspapers, nearly bankrupted them and then wondered what happened to the fourth estate. I’m not so sure that we should be as outraged as ashamed.

One of my favorite quotes:

If you are unwilling to accept facts that do not align with your view of reality, you are the most dangerous kind of coward.

But Mike doesn't leave us without a call to action.

So, if you want to be angry, be angry — for a while, at least.

When you’re done, though, go out and buy a newspaper subscription to every single publication that you can afford to support. Do this not just for papers which lean in your direction but any paper which has reputable, hard-working reporters who are dedicated to shining a light where it needs to shine. Read all of them. Every day.

When they report the facts, accept them as facts — not as a hypothesis which has its truth contingent on the institution which presented it.

And, too, when they editorialize, accept that as opinion from people who understand the world in a sophisticated way. Admire that sophistication, even if you do not agree with its conclusions.

Do not conflate facts and opinions. Even if you are wrong five percent of the time and bias sneaks into reporting, accept it and move on. Stop throwing babies out with bathwater.

Finally, find a friend, if you can, and see where there might be common ground to stand on.

The waters rise fast and we only survive if we hold on to each other.

Stronger together.


Last night I spent a solid two hours talking to two of my best friends while we ate tacos after playing basketball. It was a productive, respectful conversation. I learned things and grew, and we didn't just talk past each other. Granted, this was helped by the fact that we have similar views, but it was refreshing all the same.

I want more of those nights. I want to have smaller, real conversations with people. I want to learn and grow. I want to be more than just retweets and likes.


So here's my plan: I plan to get back to my subscription to The Economist and The Washington Post. I plan to read fact-based reporting and editorializing and form my own opinions.

But as importantly, I have to get out of my echo chamber. And I'm less and less willing to feed into the machine that caused this: Facebook.

In a few days, after most people who will see this post have seen it, I will likely disable my Facebook account.

Twitter is harder. I love Twitter: It's the poison I crave. But I think it has to go as well, at least for awhile. So I'll be taking a break.

But that doesn't mean that I don't want to talk. In fact, I want to talk more than ever. But I don't want to do it on Facebook or Twitter.

Call me. Text me. Let's go grab a drink (soda for me) or some lunch and chat. Let's make real relationships, and have real conversations.

And let's stop drinking the poison.

colton.myers@gmail.com // 801-999-8328

Hate

Trump gave a surprisingly presidential victory speech:

I mean, she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.

I mean that very sincerely. Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.

Hopefully this is the Trump that will enter office as our next president.

Today I'm less worried about Trump as president than I am about the hate, mistrust, racism, and sexism that his campaign made mainstream. He validated monstrous behaviors.

Read every story in that link. Think about what it would be like to live in fear of the people around you.

As a straight white male, I'm blessed with safety from acts like this. I will wield that safety in defense of those who are not. I won't allow casual or joking racism. If I see someone being harassed, I will step in. I will serve and love those around me. And I will pray for those who are living in fear today.

Will you join me?

American

Tonight I am embarrassed to be an American.

For much of my life I identified as a Republican. In the last few years I've found myself identifying less and less with that party. Not to say I'm a Democrat; both parties have serious problems.

This year I voted for Hillary. Not because she was the lesser of two evils. She's far from perfect, and I don't agree with her on everything. But she's an accomplished politician and a qualified presidential candidate. I like the strength with which she has dealt with Trump's attacks. I voted for her because I'm With Her.

This is probably not a popular opinion. But I'm trying to be true to my opinions rather than just hiding behind the "Trump is a monster" argument.

Tonight America chose hate, mistrust, racism, misogyny, and violence. Tonight I am embarrassed to be an American.

Check Out the Packt Free Learning Campaign!

Packt is running a cool promotion right now where you can get a different free ebook each day until a March 5. Check it out!

My Book is Available!

My book, Learning SaltStack, is available for purchase!

It's available in paperback, as well as for kindle from Amazon.

You can also buy it directly from Packt.

Hope you enjoy it!