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Mask

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It’s you again. It is you, isn’t it?

Sure it is. I never forget a face.

It’s been a while since we last spoke. spoke. The seasons have changed. But here we are again, just like before.

Where are we, by the way?

Are we on a bus, or the subway? Maybe in your office, or your kitchen? Are we out and about somewhere in your neighbourhood, or further afield? Early or late; day or night?

It’s tough for me to see from here, but I don’t really need to know. You’re here again, passing by like before, and that’s all that matters.

I suppose we should have a little chat, you and I.

I enjoy our chats. When we talk, it’s about real stuff. I don’t ask how your day was, and you don’t say how nice the weather has been. That’s for other people. When you and I meet up, as we very infrequently do, we have more important things to discuss.

For the moment, though, just have a listen. Keep nice and quiet. Hold your breath. You’ll hear it if you pay attention. Just right there:

Tick, tock

It’s still marching forward. Hour by hour, and minute by minute. Moment by moment. It keeps going, no matter what. Keeps heading on down the road.

We can double back, of course. You and I, we know that secret pretty well. We can find the edges - the razor-thin creases you can barely see - and we can slip through, to the place behind. We can walk the back-roads, upstream against the current, and we can return to hours that have long since passed.

But we can only watch, and we always end up right back here afterwards. Sometimes, I wonder if it would be better not knowing the secret at all.

I suppose that’s something we could talk about today, if you’re willing - and if you have a few minutes. We can talk about this road we’re all on. Or rather, we can talk about where it ends up.

Tick, tock

There’s that damned sound again. Is it just me, or does it get a little louder each time?

I wouldn’t mind it so much, except that it pretends to be something it isn’t. Hands moving around the clock face, one to two to three to four, increasing all the while. That’d be nice. And that regular, rational, metronome behind it. It’s reassuring, until you remember that it’s an illusion. The tick and the tock are just to distract you.

The truth lies in the whisper of sand, draining through the hourglass. Rustling, sliding, falling - then lying there below, inert. Spent.

The truth is that it’s counting down. a count_down_.

We’re all on our own roads, but they converge, don’t they? Further along. Further down. They meet up. We’re all en route to the same place. We just get there at different times.

Have you been there?

You don’t seem sure. That’s my fault; I do like to tap-dance around the subject. Let’s be plain, then: it’s the most mundane topic in the world.

I’m talking about death.

You know; the place we’re all going. We don’t talk about it very much, but you and I, we focus on the real stuff. There’s nothing more real than this.

So, again, have you been there?

Hah. Well, obviously not yourself. We’re here, on the bus, or in your kitchen, or out and about. You and I, together, wherever you are. You’re still here. You’re still–

Tick, tock

–ticking along. You’ll be here for a while yet, I hope. I’d like to think we’ll happen upon each other again, from time to time. I do so enjoy our chats.

What I mean is, have you been there when someone else arrives?

Maybe. Maybe not. Or maybe you just think you have, because we see death all the time. In movies, or TV shows. In books. People make those things, and they show us, and we understand. Except that we don’t.

Here’s the thing: they lied to you.

If you haven’t been there, you don’t realise - but it’s true.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. Those lies are necessary. We need them. They let people sleep, and then get up the next morning and carry on. Some lies are just about as essential as air.

But we don’t deal in lies, you and I. We set them aside whenever we meet. We stick to what’s real.

Here’s something that’s real: my own hand. Take hold of it, if you like. Don’t be shy. There you go.

If you squeeze hard enough, you’ll even feel my pulse. Thump-thump, thump-thump. Regular, for the most part. Reassuring. It always reminds me of something, but I can never quite put my finger on it.

My hand is warm, just like yours. It’s fairly soft, too, because I’ve never done an honest day’s work in my life. It’s solid enough, but pliant. It’s a part of me. It lives.

Have you ever held the hand of the dead?


Perhaps not. And what’s that? Have I?

Well… yes. Yes, I have. It’s not something you soon forget.

Everyone knows the basic truth of it. You do, and so do I. It’s no surprise: we’re just machines. Biological machines that, one day, will stop working. Then they’ll be swept away, taken from sight, so that we can keep on hiding from the truth. So that we can believe it’s just like we see in movies, or on TV.

But it’s not.

For one thing, there’s the change.

You can watch it happen, if you’re there at the time. The moment of… what do you prefer to call it? Passing? That sounds very peaceful, and often enough, it probably is. There are other words too, though.

Deactivation.

Cessation.

Death.

It’s the most mundane thing in the world, and yet it holds secrets that so many of us spend our lives unaware of. It troubles me, how we hide it away. It only makes it worse when you do finally get to understand.

The change is a grim revelation; no question about it. It’s the unmaking of a person. The departure, I suppose you’d say. The vacating of this shell.

We also all know that it’s no such thing. Nothing leaves, because there’s nothing to leave. Just a machine, no longer functioning.

It’s a revelation to see a thing you once knew as a living being, now dead.

Not a living actor pretending to be dead, or a prosthetic that was never alive in the first place. No. Instead, the third thing; the valley between. The once-living. And the most damned part of it all is that it’s familiar. It’s familiar the first time.

We know instinctively. It makes sense that we would. We know that this is the death-form of something that used to be alive. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean. The looseness of it; the slack. The sense of emptiness.

The way that the resemblance is so close, but not quite perfect. The thought that goes through everyone’s mind when they’re confronted with it.

It’s a mask.

The change is when a face - long known, and long loved - becomes a mask. Let me tell you: that’s a powerful experience. Eerie and unsettling. There’s such finality to it. It’s a terrible thing.

But it also brings closure. The irrevocable nature of it is immediately clear, right down to your core. There are no questions - because even the first time, some part of you has seen it before.

I can’t remember if I already asked you this, but: have you ever held the hand of the dead?

It’s another revelation, just as natural as the first. One final goodbye, you think, only to realise that the time for it has already come and gone.

The hands of the dead are cold. It’s a deep cold, and it goes down so far that you know there’s nothing else but cold.

Their bones are steel; needles and bars, joints frozen in place. They move strangely, and hardly at all.

Sometimes, we even dress them for the living - for that final goodbye. It’s macabre, but it’s not uncommon. The scent of perfume, with something else behind. behind it. A fine dress, and a bow neatly tied.

It’s a well-meant trick, but it doesn’t work. There’s no life left, there, no matter how much we might try to pretend otherwise. We know it already. The eyes are closed, because the mask is so very visible there, and as one last desperate flourish, we add a powder-dusting of makeup.

It’s too bright against the skin, and it fools no-one. The truth lies just beneath, and we see it whether we want to or not.

The dead are grey, and they’re no longer like us.


Well, I’ve taken enough of your time. I appreciate you stopping. stopping for a while. We don’t see each other very often, but I know you have things to do.

Oh, I can find my own way back; don’t give it another thought. I’ll be gone in just a moment. You won’t even notice me leave.

I’ll see you again, I hope - but I suppose I can’t be sure.

It might be a while; a short one, or long. You might even start to wonder. But all you can do is wait.

I think we’ll have another chat, you and I, somewhere down the road.

Maybe the seasons will have changed. Maybe the sand in the hourglass will be much more below than above. Maybe you’ll hardly even recognise me, at first. It’s only natural.

But I’ll know you, my friend. You can be sure of it. As sure as night follows day, and - for the most part - day follows night. I’ll know you right away.

I never forget a face.

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rohitt
1808 days ago
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Brilliant writing.
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glenn
1809 days ago
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Most powerful and truthful article I've read this year. Maybe even from 2014.
Waterloo, Canada

15 Lessons from 15 Years of Blogging

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This summer marked 15 years since I first started blogging here, and I'm happier than ever that I've chosen to live so much of my life in this place, with all of you.

Nearly everything has changed for me since I began this blog, from major milestones like getting married and having a kid to thousands and thousands of smaller moments. Along the way, the connections I've made here helped me turn "having a job" into a career that is deeply fulfilling and challenging, and opened doors to opportunities I couldn't have imagined.

But what have I learned? A lot. Some of these things may be obvious, and some may be slightly corny platitudes. But I hope a few will be useful to you. I'm far from an expert on this stuff, even after all these years, so I hope documenting my mindset when writing here might at least serve as a good reference for myself in the future.

  1. Typos in posts don't reveal themselves until you've published. If you schedule a post to publish in the future, the typos will be revealed then. This is an absolute, inviolable rule of blogging. This may be some sort of subtle lesson from the universe about our hubris in the face of fundamental impermanence.
  2. Link to everything you create elsewhere on the web. And if possible, save a copy of it on your own blog. Things disappear so quickly, and even important work can slip your mind months or years later when you want to recall it. If it's in one, definitive place, you'll be glad for it.
  3. Always write with the idea that what you're sharing will live for months and years and decades. Having a long-term perspective in mind is an incredibly effective tool for figuring out whether a topic is meaningful or not, and for encouraging a kinder, more thoughtful perspective.
  4. Always write for the moment you're in. Being true to how you feel and what you're experiencing is both more effective in connecting with a reader and more personally useful for when you revisit your work, serving as a reminder of exactly where you were at the time.
  5. The scroll is your friend. If you write a bad post or something you don't like, just post again. If you write something great that you're really proud of and nobody notices, just post again. One foot in front of the other, one word after another, is the only path I've found to an overall body of work that I'm proud of. Push posts down the page, and the good and the bad will just scroll away.
  6. Your blog can change your life in a month. If you want to understand an idea, or become becoming a meaningful voice on a topic, or change your own thinking about a concept, write a little bit about it every day for a month. The first posts might suck, but invariably the exercise and the discipline of doing the writing are transformative. Sometimes the rest of the world even notices it.
  7. There is absolutely no pattern to which what blog posts people will like. I've had pieces that I worked on for years that landed with a thud, ignored by even my close friends, and I've had dashed-off rants explode into huge conversations on the web. I've had short pieces or silly lists that people found meaningful, and lengthy, researched work that mostly earned a shrug. And of course, I've had pieces that I put my heart and soul into that did connect with people. If there's a way to predict what response will be online, I sure don't know it.
  8. The personal blog is an important, under-respected art form. While blogs as a medium are basically just the default format for sharing timely information or doing simple publishing online, the personal blog is every bit as important an expressive medium as the novel or the zine or any visual arts medium. As a culture, we don't afford them the same respect, but it's an art form that has meant as much to me, and revealed as many truths to me, as the films I have seen and the books I have read, and I'm so thankful for that.
  9. Meta-writing about a blog is generally super boring. (That probably includes this post.) Any housekeeping writing about how it's been a while since you've written, or how you changed some obscure part of your blog, doesn't tend to age very well and is seldom particularly compelling in retrospect. The exception are genres like technical or design blogs, where the meta is part of the message. But certainly the world doesn't need any more "sorry I haven't written in a while" posts.
  10. The tools for blogging have been extraordinarily stagnant. One of the reasons the art form of blogging isn't particularly respected lately is because the tools essentially stopped evolving a decade ago. The experience of writing, for most people, isn't even substantially different than it was when I started 15 years ago, despite the rise of the social web and mobile apps taking over during that timeframe. This matters because tools deeply influence content. And this stagnation is particularly egregious when we consider that almost every common behavior on the big social networks is a subset of what we originally thought blogging might be.
  11. If your comments are full of assholes, it's your fault. I've already written about this a lot, but it's still true. If you're not willing to invest in managing a community of commenters, then you're not ready to have comments.
  12. The most meaningful feedback happens on a very slow timeframe. It's easy to get distracted in the immediacy of people tweeting replies in realtime, but the reason I write is for those rare times, years later, when I get an email from someone I might only barely know, saying that something I wrote meant something to them. Sometimes they email years later to say they thought I was wrong, or that they've changed their mind, but invariably it feels like a profound and personal connection, often sometimes around the least expected and least obvious ideas.
  13. It's still early. Anyone who's ever heard me talk about blogging has heard me say how, when I started, I thought "There are already 50 or 100 blogs! I'm too late! Everything's been done!" And then, of course, the next 50 or 100 million blogs showed up and I realized that maybe I was early. Particularly as the idea of personal blogging has fallen out of fashion or even come to seem sort of old-fashioned online, there's never been a better time to start.
  14. Leave them wanting more. One sure way to trigger writer's block when blogging is to think, "I have to capture all my thoughts on this idea and write it about it definitively once and for all." If you assume that folks are smart and curious and will return, you can work around the edges of an idea over days and weeks and months and really come to understand it. It's this process that blogging does better than pretty much any other medium, and it's sharing that process with you that's been the greatest privilege of writing here for the last decade and a half.
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rohitt
1974 days ago
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Point 14 why there is no number 15?
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phatmat
1979 days ago
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Truths

Free Stuff: The Way of Kings

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Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite fantasy/science fiction writers. A few years ago, he started a new series, The Stormlight Archive. He's now published two books in the series and I've read them both. The first one, The Way of Kings, is currently free through an iTunes promotion. If you've got any interest in this sort of thing, go get it now.

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rohitt
1983 days ago
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Doesn't help at all. Is it good? A blurb would have been useful. I guess the fact that he has read both the books mean they may be worth investing time in.
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Billion-Story Building

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Billion-Story Building

My daughter—age 4.5—maintains she wants a billion-story building. It turns out not only is that hard to help her appreciate this size, I am not at all able to explain all of the other difficulties you'd have to overcome.

Keira, via Steve Brodovicz, Media, PA

Keira,

If you make a building too big, the top part is heavy and it squishes the bottom part.

Have you ever tried to make a tower of peanut butter? It's easy to make a little tiny one, like a blobby castle on a cracker. It will be strong enough to stay standing. But if you try to build a really big castle, the whole thing smushes flat like a pancake.

The same thing happens with buildings. The buildings we make are strong, but we couldn't make one that went all the way up to space, or the top part would squish the bottom part.

We can make buildings pretty tall. The tallest buildings are almost 1 kilometer tall, and we could probably make buildings 2 or even 3 kilometers tall if we wanted, and they would still be able to stand up under their own weight. Higher than that might be tricky.

But there would be other problems with a tall building besides weight.

One issue would be wind. The wind up high is very strong, and buildings have to be very strong to stand up against the wind.

Another big problem would be, surprisingly, elevators. Tall buildings need elevators, since no one wants to climb hundreds of flights of stairs. If your building has lots of floors, you need lots of different elevators, since there would be so many people trying to come and go the same time. If you make a building too tall, the whole thing gets taken up by elevators and there's no space for regular rooms.

Maybe you can think of a way to get people to their floors without having too many elevators. Maybe you could make a giant elevator that takes up 10 floors. Or you could make fast elevators that work like roller coasters. Or you could fly people up to their rooms with hot air balloons. Or you could launch them with catapults.

Elevators and wind are big problems, but the biggest problem would be money.

To make a building really tall, someone has to spend a lot of money, and no one wants a really tall building enough to pay for it. A building many miles tall would cost billions of dollars. A billion dollars is a lot of money! If you had a billion dollars, you could rent a giant spaceship, save all the world's endangered lemurs, give a dollar to everyone in the US, and still have some left over. Most people don't think giant towers a few miles tall are important enough to spend a lot of money on.

If you got really rich, so you could pay for a tower to space yourself, and solved all those engineering problems, you'd still have problems making a tower a billion stories tall. A billion stories is just too many.

A big skyscraper might have about 100 floors, which means it's as tall as 100 little houses.

If you stacked 100 skyscrapers on each other to make a mega-skyscraper, it would reach halfway to space:

This skyscraper would still only have 10,000 floors, which is way less than your billion floors! Each of those 100 skyscrapers would have 100 floors, so the whole mega-skyscraper would have 100 times 100 is 10,000 floors.

But you said you wanted a skyscraper with 1,000,000,000 floors. Let's stack 100 mega-skyscrapers to make a mega-mega-skyscraper:

The mega-mega-skyscraper would stick out so far from the Earth that spaceships would crash into it. If the space station were heading toward the tower, they could use its rockets to steer away from it.[1]They'd probably get pretty grumpy after having to dodge your tower repeatedly, so you might want to launch fuel and snacks out the window with a rail gun as they go by. The bad news is that space is full of broken spaceships and satellites and pieces of junk, all flying around at random. If you build a mega-mega-skyscraper, spaceship parts will eventually smash into it.

Anyway, a mega-mega-skyscraper is only 100 times 10,000 = 1,000,000 floors. That's still a lot smaller than the 1,000,000,000 that you want!

Let's make a new skyscraper by stacking up 100 mega-mega-skyscrapers, to make a mega-mega-MEGA-skyscraper:

The mega-mega-MEGA-skyscraper would be so tall that the top would just barely brush against the Moon.

But it would only be 100,000,000 floors! To get to 1,000,000,000 floors, we have to stack 10 mega-mega-MEGA-skyscrapers on top of each other, to make one Keira-skyscraper:

The Keira-skyscraper would be pretty close to impossible to build. You would have to keep it from crashing into the Moon, being pulled apart by the Earth's gravity, or falling over and smashing into the planet like the giant meteor that killed the dinosaurs.

But some engineers have an idea sort of like your tower—it's called a space elevator. It's not quite as tall as yours (the space elevator would only reach partway to the the Moon), but it's close!

Some people think we can build a space elevator, but other people think it's a crazy idea. We can't build one yet because there are some problems we don't know how to solve, like how to make the tower strong enough and how to send power up it to run the elevators. If you really want to build a gigantic tower, you can find out more about some of the problems they're working on, and eventually become one of the people coming up with ideas to solve them. Maybe, someday, you could build a giant tower to space.

I'm pretty sure it won't be made of peanut butter, though.

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rohitt
2128 days ago
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Keira's fault. Hah
popular
2128 days ago
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supine
2108 days ago
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Peanut butter comes in cans in the USA?!?
An Aussie living in Frankfurt
merlinblack
2120 days ago
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This is how you edumacate the children. So well done!
ÜT: 53.542319,-113.494597
Cafeine
2127 days ago
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❤️❤️❤️
Paris / France
benzado
2127 days ago
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Unusually sweet.
New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
rclatterbuck
2127 days ago
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Way to stomp all over a young girl's dreams.
rclatterbuck
2127 days ago
Of course, at the top of the building, you would be going nearly a million kph, so there is that.
MotherHydra
2127 days ago
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This is a good one, it is all Keira's fault.
Space City, USA
slivergun
2128 days ago
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Beautiful. All of it
gmuslera
2128 days ago
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Is amazing how much wonder can be hidden in "peanut butter keira-skyscrapper"
montevideo, uy
neilcar
2128 days ago
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Randall is awesome.
Charlotte, North Carolina
bibliogrrl
2128 days ago
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this is the BEST thing.
Chicago!
adamgurri
2128 days ago
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nice
New York, NY
sandge
2128 days ago
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"Source: NASA"... outstanding.
Atlanta, GA, USA

∞ Replacing Flickr with 500px

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About a two years ago Ryan Cash wrote this, in response to my post on the matter:

But after Ben posted the intimate photos of his super-cute new daughter, they ended up populating an entire page or two of the feed of the people I follow.
I mean this in the most respectful way possible – but that’s not what > I wanted to see when I went to check the feed of the extremely talented photographers I’ve chosen to follow.
On Flickr or even Facebook, I’ve come to expect this sort of thing in the “recent activity” section of my contacts – but not on 500px.
I don’t want to unfollow Ben as I am interested in his other types of photography, but at the same time I don’t really want to see his personal photos all the time. 

His thoughts came at a time when everyone thought Flickr was soon to die. Since then it has been reignited, but still kind of a dead community. Ryan is/was right, my photos were overboard.

It was actually an issue with the 500px plugin whereby new photos added to any collection was also added to my profile, and therefore in “feeds”. Now the Lightroom plugin doesn’t do that (which is great), but Ryan is still right.

500px was always a stop gap while Flickr tried to do anything but that hasn’t really changed. I am faced with two photo sharing sites, one that is great in 500px, and one that is something in Flickr.

The fact is, neither works for the primary purpose of sharing family photos with friends, Facebook probably does, but not these sites made specifically for photos.

I’ve kept sharing photos in collections on 500px for my family, but we need something better. I’ve not seen anything better, even the Kidpost project seems to miss the point.

All I want, all any parents wants, is an easy way to share great photos with family and only family. The best I have found is shared Photo Streams, but those are impossible to add photos to from my good cameras.

Apps like Sunlit get close, but they still aren’t ‘there’. It’d be great for there to be a section of 500px that still looks great, but only designated family members can access. I don’t need passwords, just a hidden, yet accessible, area for grandparents and the like.

Please consider becoming a member to support my writing. All writing is 100% member funded.

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rohitt
2145 days ago
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Google+ ?
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