I just finished reading a book where the author often refers to visions or revealing experiences that led to his philosophy of life. I hated the book. I have my own philosophy of life, and it is very different from his.
My philosophy has no room for visions, miracles, muses, mystical dreams, angels or other fantastical sources of inspiration. The real world, my imagination, and the imaginations of others are enough for me.
But I too have had odd experiences that have shaped my philosophy over the years. Things have happened to me that are similar to “visions” or muses pointing me in the right direction. How do I explain that if such things do not really exist?
I started to think about when these things happened to me. A lot of them occurred in the mid-90s on the various long road trips I took. Maybe most of them, in fact. Each of these trips took place at a time when I didn’t have much occupying my mind. I wasn’t in the middle of a project, or a job, or creating anything in particular.
I thought about this book again. The author seemed to always be at a point when he was down-and-out, had given up on a project, or had left his normal life to work some menial job. So not that different from my road trips in some respect. His mind was free to wander.
So thinking about these moments of inspiration, why do they happen at times like these?
I don’t think they do. I think that these moments are happening all the time. Our minds seek to find order and meaning in everything, all the time. But most of the time our minds are busy doing a lot of other things as well. So finding meaning and lessons in random events isn’t a priority.
However, if nothing else is happening, if your mind isn’t trying to solve problems or think of ideas, then it is free to observe and associate.
The world around us is full of raw material from which our minds can draw on to create these inspiring moments. Naturally, when you are on a trip or somewhere out of your normal surroundings, there is more new raw material for your mind to draw from.
The beaver building a dam becomes a lesson in persistence. The hawk circling in the sky for hours becomes an example of patience. The long winding road becomes a vision of abundance.
Sometimes I took road trips alone. Other times I traveled with a companion. Guess when inspiration was more frequent? Of course, traveling with a companion was great?—?conversation, bonding, learning from each other, sharing the experience with someone, and working as a team during the trip.
I think back then if I had the opportunity to always have a companion with me on those trips, I would have opted for that. But looking back now, I’m glad I spent a lot of time traveling alone.
I have some very successful friends that recently decided to take a break from their entrepreneurial endeavors and take a sabbatical. Just six months or so off from work. Some reading, some traveling, some thinking, some learning new things.
In general, I think this is a good idea, especially for creative types. I don’t feel the need for one right now, but if I ever do it, I would try to spend a lot of time doing nothing. I would also try to be alone.
That last bit would be tricky, as I have a family now and I don’t want to be away from them. But I think it would work out to spend a portion of each day alone?—?as I do now while working. I just wouldn’t be working.
So what would I do? I’d put myself into a flow of experiences, like I would be if on a trip. I’d visit museums and parks, things like that. I’d go somewhere different each day.
I actually do a lot of this now?—?riding my bike as a break from work most days. But an hour or so isn’t enough. And I listen to audio books while riding, which means my mind isn’t free to wander. And of course I’m working on projects, the bike ride is just a short break. So even if I switched from audio books to music, or silence, my mind would just be busy solving problems and making decisions about my current projects.
So I think my formula for a sabbatical would be:
1. No ongoing projects. Repetitive or thoughtless tasks would be fine, as long as I don’t need to think about them while I’m not doing them.
2. Be alone. By my myself for least for the portion of the day when I was “working” on my sabbatical. Replace work with not-working, and avoid filling that time by hanging out with others. An exception would be that it is fine to meet new people, as they are just a part of the environment?—?the raw material for inspiration. But family and friends are a happy distraction, and your mind won’t be free to wander.
3. Experience new things. This can be as simple as a walk down a park path that don’t regularly take. Or, it can be a trip or a visit to a museum of some subject that isn’t your primary interest. You want to surround yourself with the raw material of inspiration.
In a way, this is like meditation, I think. I don’t meditate, so I can’t be sure. With meditation I think you aren’t following number 1, but instead forcing yourself to not think about work. You are following number 2. But number 3 is the opposite. Instead of removing yourself from surroundings, you are immersing yourself in them. The fresher and richer the surroundings the better. Instead of inspiration coming from within, you are looking for it to be triggered by something external.
This makes me think of the archetypal story of a man who goes on a great journey to find a wise man, usually on a mountaintop somewhere. This mystical person then teaches him how to meditate, or be at peace with himself, or some other equally romantic notion.
But perhaps it is the solitary journey to the mountaintop that is the real source of inspiration, energy and wisdom?
Why do people care about tech rumors?
I should care. I’m a self-described Apple fanboy, gadget freak, geek, programmer and on top of that, a media junkie. So you’d think that I would care deeply about every rumor article, insider’s blog post and pundit’s tweet.
But it is all garbage.
First of all, rumor journalism isn’t very accurate. For a while I kept track of rumor articles and marked which ones were eventually proven to be correct, and which were wrong. Most were wrong. The vast majority were off in some respect?—?like the release date or features of a new product.
In fact, as far as Apple news went, writers that were simply trying to predict the news, based on history and common sense, were usually more correct than those that reported mysterious leaked information.
Then there’s the issue of caring about the rumors. Why should anyone care? Maybe if you are stock trader you feel you can make better trading decisions based on the rumors. Maybe if you work for a large organization and need to make technology purchasing decisions months or years in advance, then I can see it would be important to track rumors as one piece of information that helps you predict future needs.
But for most people, the rumors don’t matter. You can’t buy a new iPhone until it is available. Knowing some information that may or may not be true doesn’t change that. Reading a blog post won’t make an iWatch or iTelevision appear in your house any earlier.
But people do read this stuff, and they do care about it. They assume I care about it and are shocked when I shrug my shoulders and express disinterest.
“But aren’t you excited about the new iProduct!”
“You mean the one that doesn’t exist yet?”
“Well, we know it is coming, right?”
When I can buy it and use it, then I’ll get excited. But until then, I have better things to think about. Things I can actually do. Information I can actually act on.
And if I want to spend time reading about things that I can’t act on, I’ll read world and political news. Then at least I’m educating myself, even if the information isn’t something I that affects my daily life.
Or, better yet, I’ll read actual technology news. That is news, not rumors. Articles and posts about things that actually exist. Information about how things work and how I can use them.
I hate the whole introvert/extrovert thing. Don’t like defining other people with single words. Certainly don’t like defining myself with a single word.
I like going out, being around people. I don’t like having to start conversations with people I don’t know (AKA “networking”) and I’m not big on physical contact with strangers?—?anything more than a handshake. But getting up in front of an audience doesn’t scare me at all?—?I don’t get a thrill from it either. So whatever that makes me.
Now, this week I have been attending sessions at Denver’s startup week “conference.” These are supposed to be sessions where we sit and listen to people talk about business concepts and ideas.
Right off the bat, the first speaker at the first thing I went to asked everyone to turn to the stranger and hug them. She said it gave you energy or something. Maybe for her, and I’m happy for her that she has found a hobby she enjoys.
But I didn’t like it. I got lucky and the people on either side of me were nice and polite and we had already said hello, so it wasn’t too awkward. But it very easily could have been.
My point is that this sort of thing gets filed away in my brain and is put in the “reasons not to attend events” list. The longer that list gets, the more often I will decide to stay at home. So thanks for that, speaker.
Then, at another event, a gym/trainer guy got up before the first real speaker and started talking about stretching as exercise. Then he asked for everyone to stand up.
Uh oh. I had my laptop on my lap and was typing, so I decided to go against the flow and be one of the only people that stayed sitting. But I almost stood up as it looked like he just wanted us to stretch.
My instincts were good on this one. He quickly asked everyone to grasp the person next to them and we all had to perform these stretches that had pairs of people pulling and tugging on each other. I wasn’t with anyone, so had I stood up, I would have either been awkwardly left out, or would have been pulling and twisting someone stranger’s arm for several minutes. I stayed seated and kept typing, pretending what I was doing on my laptop was dreadfully important.
Another item goes on the list. Thanks exercise dude. I’m glad that you like pulling on stranger’s arms. I’m happy for you.
But not everyone is like you, and I hope you are OK with that. I’m not looking to change. I’m perfectly happy to be a person who hugs family and friends, and offers a handshake to everyone else.
I get my energy and enthusiasm from different things than you: reading, talking and thinking.
And surely, you must realize that some people don’t like all this touchy stuff, right? So maybe talk about hugging, and talk about stretching with strangers, but don’t force it on people you don’t know.
So I came across a new story today that says that if you use Director 12 to make a paid iOS app, you have to give 10% of your revenue above $20,000 to Adobe.
First of all: What? There’s a Director 12? I stopped using it around Director MX 2004 (version 10, I guess). But I used to be one of the top Director/Shockwave developers in the world. I literally wrote the book on using Director. So, nice marketing job telling people that Director 12 exists.
Second of all: What? You can create iOS apps with Director 12? Huh. Never thought that would happen. Well, I guess I could take some of my old games and re-release them as iOS apps. But…
Third: Really? You pay for the software, and then you have to pay Adobe a royalty on profits from the content you create? Who is going to do that? No other tool I know of has this kind of thing in place. And the main competition, native app creation, certainly doesn’t do it. Flash, the other competition doesn’t do it.
A tiny bit of interest I had in paying Adobe $299 to upgrade just went bye-bye.
Oh, and one other thing. Why isn’t Director included in Adobe Creative Cloud. I pay the monthly fee so I can get everything from Adobe. That should include Director.
I’ve been thinking a lot about value recently. How much value am I creating? In other words, am I making the world a better place?
Now not everyone can directly make the world a better place. For most of us it is more than enough to just find a way to earn a living that doesn’t hurt others, provide for yourself and family, and contribute to society by simply being a part of it and making our friends’ lives better by being a good person.
But ideally, I want to make a living and make the world better. In other words, get paid to create value.
Looking at my interests and my set of skills, the one thing that comes to mind is creating educational apps. And I have indeed done this from time-to-time. But maybe it is time to get serious about it.
One thing that really upsets me about educational apps is that they are mostly just tests. Want to learn how to multiply? Here are random questions. Get them right and you get a reward of some kind.
I hate this. Computers can do more than just test, they can teach.
But teaching is hard. Testing is easy. Most of the people interested in making these kinds of apps don’t have the expertise to make an app that teaches something. But they can make an app that simply tests.
So I started building a new app called “Learn to Multiply.” There are a lot of apps out there that test multiplication skills. But with mine I want to show students how to do it, step-by-step. Turns out that this is hard to do. And even harder to do well. It took a lot of complex code to create an app that could go through the steps of solving a multiplication problem. I can see why there isn’t such an app in the iOS app store — at least not one of the level of complexity that I’m talking about.
So I’m curious to see what will happen. I’d made it an iPad-only app, which frees up the design a little and I think the iPad is the right device for this. I’m on the fence about pricing. I wanted to make this first app free just to get some feedback. But I think I might get better feedback if I at least charge 99 cents and filter out those that don’t really care.
If this works, and the app gets just a little traction, I have plans to make a lot more educational apps. Maybe even work toward shifting my focus to this “startup” project. I think the real long-term viability is in establishing a brand in this space with a series of apps.