Installing Tortoise Git for Windows


I’ve used Tortoise SVN for years and it makes things really easy for getting started with Subversion and integrating smoothly with Windows. However Git is a more confusing world. There’s two installations and neither one clearly refers to the other.

However it boils down to the following (you can accept all the defaults in the installation):

  1. Install Git for Windows (
  2. Install Tortoise Git (

ntwdblib download


For years I have had problems running the mssql driver. Its getting phased out – i.e. it doesn’t work with PHP 5.3 but if you have to support older applications then you need to use the mssql driver. The problem is, is that the default installation of PHP 5.2 (currently PHP 5.2.17) which you can download from just doesn’t work with the mssql driver.

The problem is the ntwdblib.dll. The version that has always worked for me is 2000.80.194.0 – all others fail. The version that comes with the PHP msi installer (I use the 64 bit installer) is version 2000.80.2039, which should in theory be newer and work better. So each time I install PHP I then have to go in and overwrite the dll.

The next problem you have is finding a reliable dll. The proper way to get it is from the SQL Server 2000 SP4 installation (yes, the file is that old). If you google for the file there’s no pages that I find that seem a trust worthy resource for this file.

So I’ve uploaded the file to my site n.b. its a different site from this WordPress blog as I doubt will allow me to upload dlls.


Hooray for O’Reilly ebook pricing


Its always good to see a major retailer having similar ideas as you. I was looking at the Integrating PHP Projects with Jenkins book by Sebastian Bergmann. I always check out the pricing structures first because I’m always interested. They have the pricing structure as follows:

  • Print: $19.99
  • eBook: $9.99 (so 50% of the price)
  • Print & eBook: $21.99 ($2 for the eBook)

2013-07-09 16_17_50-Integrating PHP Projects with Jenkins - O'Reilly Media

O’Reilly are pricing eBooks exactly as I think they should be done. The concept that makes the most sense is that an eBook is a cheap optional extra when you by the paper version or otherwise as a significantly lower priced stand alone copy. So hooray for O’Reilly. O’Reilly have recognised the other big failing of eBooks I hate – which is that their eBooks are DRM free. Awesome. Plus beyond that they have for a very long time (more than a decade) had the Spotify model of books with their Safari Books Online catalogue e.g. you can start reading the book I was interested in straight away and then pay out $42.99 / year to read all the books you can ever get your hands on.

So basically, never buy an O’Reilly book through Amazon, buy it directly through O’Reilly.

Twitter API v1.1 RSS feeds


Twitter have killed of RSS feeds completely in API v1.1. I used to use this nice little website ( to pull out RSS from Twitter, but that alas is broken.

Edit: @tylercal has now updated to handle the new v1.1 API – so if you want to avoid the hassle of installing your own just use his. It produces a nicer feed too with images from tweets displayed ‘n’ all.

Here are the steps I followed to get RSS coming out again at my own site

Google search for ‘twitter to rss’ lead me to the tiny tiny RSS forum ( The awesome user jdelamater99 there has created a PHP application on Github that you can install on your site to convert the twitter output into RSS.

  1. Create a twitter app (
  2. Once created, click on ‘Create my access token’ at the bottom of the ‘Details’ tab
  3. Look in the OAuth tab
  1. Download the Twitter-RSS-Parser from github (

  2. Unzip it and FTP it to your site, note that I renamed the directory to be twitter-rss-parser all lower case. I think github also stick a ‘-master’ on the end of the directory that you don’t want. Obviously you can change this as you like

  3. Copy the config.php-dist file to config.php

  4. Edit the config.php file and modify the following lines to match the OAuth Settings above

$consumer_key = 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx';
$consumer_secret = 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx';
$token = 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx';
$token_secret = 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx';
  1. Goto the URL you uploaded e.g. to check that it works

The Money Parable


From the faraway land of reddit

This is not my work – I just love the story and want an easy place to read it.

By otherwiseyep

Chapter 1

(relix already hit on some of this)

It’s hard to explain this to a five-year-old, because there are some fairly abstract concepts involved, but here goes…

All actual “money” is debt. All of it, including monetary gold, etc. (Don’t argue with me yet, I’ll get to that.)

Imagine a pretend world with no money, some kind of primitive village or something. Now let’s invent paper money. You can’t just print a bunch of paper that says people have to give you stuff, because nobody would honor it. But you could print IOUs. Let’s walk through this…

  • Let’s say you’re an apple-farmer and I’m a hunter. You want some meat but haven’t harvested your crops yet. You say to me, “hey, go hunt me some meat and I’ll give you 1/10th of my apple harvest in the fall”. Fair enough, I give you meat, you owe me apples. There’s probably a lot of this kind of stuff going on, in addition to normal barter. In time, standard “prices” start to emerge: a deer haunch is worth a bushel of apples, or whatever.

  • Now, let’s say a week later, I realize that my kid needs a new pair of shoes more than I need a bushel of apples. I come back to you and say, “Hey remember that bushel of apples you owe me? Could you write a marker, redeemable for one bushel of apples, that I can give to the shoemaker in trade for a pair of shoes?” You say okay, and we have invented a transferable note, something a lot like money.

  • In time, our little village starts to figure out that a note redeemable for a bushel of apples can be swapped for all kinds of things. The fisherman who doesn’t even like apples will accept apple-certificates in trade for fish, because he knows he can trade them to boat-builder who loves apples. In time, you can even start to hire farm-workers without giving them anything except a note promising a cut of the future harvest.

Now, you are issuing debt: a promise to provide apples. The “money” is a transferable IOU– your workers get a promise to provide value equal to a day of farm-work, or whatever, and it’s transferable, so they can use it to buy whatever they want. The worker gets fish from the fisherman, not in exchange for doing any work or giving him anything he can use, but in exchange for an IOU that the fisherman can redeem anywhere.

So far so good. But there are a couple of forks in the road here, on the way to a realistic monetary system, that we’ll address separately:

  • What happens if your apple orchard is destroyed in a wildfire? Suddenly all the notes that everyone has been trading are basically wiped out. It didn’t “go” anywhere, it’s just gone, it doesn’t exist. Real value was genuinely destroyed. There is no thermodynamic law of the conservation of monetary value– just as you and I created it by creating transferable debt, it can also be genuinely destroyed. (We’ll get back to this in a minute, it gets interesting).

  • The second issue is that, in all probability, the whole town is not just trading apple-certificates. I could also issue promises to catch deer, the fisherman could issue promises of fish, and so on. This could get pretty messy, especially if you got the notion to issue more apple-certificates than you can grow: you could buy all kinds of stuff with self-issued debt that you could never repay, and the town wouldn’t find out until harvest-time comes. Once again, value has been “destroyed” people worked and made stuff and gave you stuff in exchange for something that doesn’t exist, and will never exist. All that stuff they made is gone, you consumed it, and there is nothing to show for it.

The above two concerns are likely to become manifest in our village sooner or later, and probably sooner. This leads to the question of credit, which is, at its most basic, a measure of credibility. Every time you issue an apple-certificate, you are borrowing, with a promise to repay from future apple-harvests.

After the first couple of town scandals, people will start taking a closer look at the credibility of the issuer. Let’s say the town potato-farmer comes up with a scheme where his potato-certificates are actually issued by some credible third-party, say the town priest or whatever, who starts every growing season with a book of numbered certificates equal to the typical crop-yield and no more, and keeps half of the certificate on file, issuing the other half. Now there is an audit trail and a very credible system that is likely to earn the potato-grower a lot of credit, compared to other farmers in town. That means that the potato-grower can probably issue more notes at a better exchange rate than some murkier system. Similarly, the town drunk probably won’t get much value for his certificates promising a ship of gold.

Now we have something like a credit market emerging, and the potato-farmer is issuing something closer to what we might call a modern “bond”…

(continued in a reply to this post…)


Chapter 2

[reply to post]

  • So some time goes by and people start catching onto this system of creditworthiness, and farmers and fishermen and so on start to realize that they can get better value for their IOUs by demonstrating credibility. People with shakier reputations or dubious prospects may not be able to “issue money”, or might only be able to do so at very high “interest”. E.g., a new farmer with no track-record might have to promise me twice as many potatoes in exchange for a deer haunch, due to the risk that I might never see any potatoes at all.

  • This obviously gets very messy fast, as different apple- and potato-certificates have different values depending on whether they were issued by Bob or Jane, and everyone has to keep track of and evaluate whose future apples are worth what.

  • Some enterprising person, maybe the merchant who runs the trading-post, comes up with the idea to just issue one note for all the farms in town. He calls a meeting with all the farmers, and proposes to have the town priest keep a book of certificates and so on, and the farmers will get notes just like everyone else in exchange for the crops they contribute to the pool, and the merchant will keep a cut of the crops with which to hire some accountants and farm-surveyors to estimate the total crop yields across town and so on.

  • Everyone agrees (or at least, enough farmers agree to kind of force the other ones to get on-board if they want to participate meaningfully in the town economy), and we now have something like a central bank issuing something like fiat currency: that is, currency whose value is “decided” by some central authority, as opposed to the kind of straight-up exchange certificates that can be traded for an actual apple from the issuer, for example.

  • Now we have something that looks a lot like a modern monetary system. The town can set up audit committees or whatever, but the idea is that there is some central authority basically tasked with issuing money, and regulating the supply of that money according to the estimated size of ongoing and future economic activity (future crop yields).

  • If they issue too much money, we get inflation, where more apple-certificates are issued than apples grown, and each apple-note ends up being worth only three-quarters of an apple come harvest-time. If they issue too little currency, economic activity is needlessly restricted: the farmers are not able to hire enough workers to maximize crop yields and so on, the hunter starts hunting less because his deer meat is going bad since nobody has money to buy it, and so on.

At this point, you may be asking, “Why the hell go through all this complexity just to trade apples for deer and shoes? Isn’t this more trouble than it’s worth?”

The answer is because this is a vastly more efficient system than pure barter. I, as a hunter, no longer need to trade a physical deer haunch for a bushel of apples to carry over to the shoemaker in order to get shoes. You, as an apple-farmer, can hire workers before the crop is harvested, and therefore can grow more, and your workers can eat year-round instead of just getting a huge pile of apples at harvest-time to try and trade for for whatever they will need for the rest of the year.

So back to money…

The thing to remember is that all throughout, from the initial trade to this central-banking system, all of this money is debt. It is IOUs, except instead of being an IOU that says “Kancho_Ninja will give one bushel of apples to the bearer of this bond in October”, it says “Anyone in town will give you anything worth one bushel of apples in trade.”

The money is not an actual thing that you can eat or wear or build a house with, it’s an IOU that is redeemable anywhere, for anything, from anyone. It is a promise to pay equivalent value at some time in the future, except the holder of the money can call on anybody at all to fulfill that promise– they don’t have to go back to the original promisor.

This is where it starts getting interesting, and where we can start to answer your question…

(for the sake of simplicity, let’s stop calling these notes “apple certificates”, and pretend that the village has decided to call them “Loddars”).

  • So now you’re still growing apples, but instead of trading them for deer-haunches and shoes, you trade them for Loddars. So far, so good.

  • Once again, you want some meat, except harvest time hasn’t come yet so you don’t have any Loddars to buy meat with. You call me up (cellphones have been invented in this newly-efficient economy), “Hey otherwiseyep, any chance you could kill me a deer and I’ll give you ten Loddars for it at harvest-time?”

  • I say, “Jeez, I’d love to, but I really need all the cash I can get for every deer right now: my kid is out-growing shoes like crazy. Tell you what: if you can write me a promise to pay twelve Loddars in October, I can give that to the shoe-maker.” You groan about the “interest rate” but agree.

Did a lightbulb just go off? You and I have once again created Money. Twelve loddars now exist in the town economy that have not been printed by the central bank. Counting all the money trading hands in the village, there are now (a) all the loddars that have ever been printed, plus (b) twelve more that you have promised to produce.

This is important to understand: I just spent money on shoes, which you spent on deer meat, that has never been printed. It’s obviously not any of the banknotes that have already been issued, but it’s definitely real money, because I traded it for new shoes, and you traded it for a dead deer.

  • Once you and I and others start to catch on that this is possible, that we can spend money that we don’t have and that hasn’t even been printed yet, it is entirely possible for a situation to arise where the total amount of money changing hand in the village vastly exceeds the number of loddars that have actually been printed. And this can happen without fraud or inflation or anything like that, and can be perfectly legitimate.

  • Now, what happens if another wildfire hits your orchard? Those twelve loddars are destroyed, they are gone, the shoe-maker is twelve loddars poorer, without spending it and without anyone else getting twelve loddars richer.

The money that bought your deer and my shoes has simply vanished from the economy, as though it never existed, despite the fact that it bought stuff with genuine economic utility and value.



Chapter 3

[final reply to post]

Sidebar on gold and gold-backed currency and stuff like that:

Because I said I would get to it…

The above pretend history of the pretend village is not how modern money actually came to be. In reality, things are much less sequential and happen much more contemporaneously without the “eureka!” moments. The above was a parable to illustrate how money works to a 5-year-old, not an actual history of how money emerged.

Until fairly recent times, paper money was not really very useful or practical for most purposes, especially if you wanted to spend money in a different village than where it was printed.

If we go back in time a period before ATMs, wire-transfers, widespread literacy, etc, then a piece of paper written in Timbuktu is not likely to get you very far in Kathmandu. You could take your apples and deer-haunches and shoes around with you to trade, but the earliest naturally-emerging currencies tend to be hard things that were rare and easily-identifiable (jewels, colored shells, etc), and they frequently coincided with the personal decorations of the rich, in a self-reinforcing feedback loop (people with a surplus of time and food could decorate themselves with pretty things, which became valuable as status symbols, which made them more valuable as decorations, which made them more valuable as barter objects, which made them more prestigious shows of wealth, etc).

Gold emerged as a sort of inevitable global currency, before people even thought of it as currency. It is rare, portable, easy to identify, can easily be made into jewelry, and can be easily quantified (unlike, say, jewels or seashells, which are harder to treat as a “substance”). Once word got around that rich people like it, it became easy to barter with anyone, anywhere, for anything.

In the early stages, it was not really the same thing as “money”, it was just an easy thing to barter. But it had money-like characteristics:

  • If someone walked into your apple-orchard offering to trade a yellow rock for apples, you might look at them a little funny. What use does an apple-grower have for a yellow rock?

  • But if you know that rich people in town covet this soft yellow metal as something they can make jewelry out of, then you might be happy to trade apples for it.

  • Once everyone knows that rich people will trade for this stuff, it becomes something like actual currency: neither the hunter, the shoemaker, nor the fisherman in town has much use for it, but because they know they can redeem it for the stuff they do want and need, it becomes a sort of transferable IOU that can be redeemed anywhere, i.e., money.

The early history of paper money did not evolve the way I described in the earlier posts (although it could have, and would have got to the same place). Instead, the early history of paper money was certificates issued by storage-vaults of precious metals (i.e., early “banks”). Instead of carrying around yellow and silver rocks, you could deposit them somewhere and get a piece of paper entitling the holder to withdraw a certain quantity of gold or silver or whatever.

Pre-1934 dollars, like virtually all paper currency until fairly recently, could be redeemed for physical gold or silver at a Federal Reserve Bank, and dollars were only printed if the treasury had enough physical gold and silver to “pay off” the bearer with precious metals.

For a whole lot of reasons that are topics for another discussion, decisions were made that eventually led to the abandonment of the “gold standard” and now the dollar, like most modern currencies, is pure fiat paper: it’s only “worth” whatever everyone agrees it is worth, and can only be “redeemed” by trading it to someone else for whatever they will give you for it. There are long, loud, and ongoing feuds over whether that was a good idea, and I’m not going to get into that here.

Installing Ubuntu on Windows


It really is getting quite easy to install Ubuntu onto a computer from Windows now – especially if you’re not trying to Dual-boot. But if you do want to Dual boot, you’d still do the following but you have to partition your hard-drive first (which is remarkably tricky).

Installall Ubuntu onto a USB stick

UNetbootin is your friend

Here’s the main Ubuntu document:

  1. Plug-in an empty USB stick
  2. Download UNetbootin ( & Install
  3. Run UNetbootin
  4. Distribution: Ubuntu | Type: USB Drive
  5. Click OK – wait for the download and the installation
  6. Either Reboot when asked or click close and remove the USB stick

Install Ubuntu from USB-stick onto your computer

  1. Set the computer to boot via USB, if you don’t know how, search Google for: [Your computer make & model] usb boot
  2. Turn off the computer
  3. Insert the USB stick
  4. Turn on
  5. Click Install Ubuntu

Creative and common sense from Nerdy authors


There’s an truly stellar discussion group from Charlie Stross who’s authored ‘The Rapture of the Nerds‘ with Cory Doctorow. Charlie Stross has answered one of my major questions about the price differences between eBooks and hardcovers on Amazon:

> Except: Dear Macmillan, why would I pay $11.99 for a digital copy when the hardcover’s $13.70 (plus delivery)?

The hardcover isn’t $13.70. It’s priced for an SRP of $24. However,
Amazon are deep-discounting, forgoing most of their profit on it so
that they can drive customers towards the ebook edition (which gives
them a bigger profit and cuts their fulfilment costs by an order of

Incidentally, when Amazon deep-discount like that, they’re also
extorting a huge discount from the publisher. Who shares the pain with
the author. Nobody makes much of a profit on a hardback sold via
amazon, compared to one sold via an old-fashioned local retailer (who
gets a 40-50% discount off SRP rather than 70%).

So they don’t over inflate eBooks – they slash the price of the hardcover. They wreck the profits of publishers and authors to sell loss leader hardcovers which are now just cheese in the Kindle mouse trap.

Note that Kobo allow you to buy the proper DRM free ePub version of the ebook (i.e. can be read by any eReader application).



Two cracking quotes, cheers for the entertainment Wiggo.

What about people who point fingers at Team Sky and suggest that you are doping?

“I say they’re just fucking wankers. I cannot be doing with people like that.

It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to do anything in their lives.

It’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of shit, rather than get off their arses in their own lives and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something. And that’s ultimately it. Cunts.”

- Bradley Wiggins, 8th July 2012

Tour de France acceptance speech

“We’re going to start drawing the raffle numbers now, …”

“… I just want to say thank you to everyone for the support all the way around. It has been a magical couple of weeks for the team and British Cycling. Sometimes dreams come true and to my mother over there, her son has now won the Tour de France. Have a safe journey home and don’t get too drunk tonight.”

- Bradley Wiggins, 22nd July 2012

Wiggo TDF winner – all credit to @stan_chow

This is water


This  speech by David Foster Wallace is taken from the web archives. Continuing the eBooks saga… Amazon want to charge you $9.99 for the Kindle version when its available for free. I’m republishing it here because I don’t understand why its buried, and the original post was taken down (I hear the patter of a thousand tiny lawyer feet) and also to highlight the mild farce of paying for a Kindle edition when its available for free. I understand if you want to buy the hardcover for $10.47, as its a beautiful speech, but why oh why would you pay for the Kindle edition? Read on little fish.

Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address

May 21, 2005

(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I’d advise you to go ahead, because I’m sure going to. In fact I’m gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.’” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realist, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted”, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education — least in my own case — is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of you graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

2 Hardcovers for 1 Kindle edition


As part of the on-going saga of eBooks, here’s yet another quite stark example. are a cool company, they wrote Ruby on Rails which is a simply stunning piece of software to have produced.

They have a book REWORK, which when you read the sample looks excellent, anything which sets out so neatly why meetings are rubbish has to be good.

Interestingly they have Jeff Bezos the Amazon CEO as an advisor, which adds more spice to this.

So if you go to buy their book from Amazon:

  • Kindle: $10.68
  • Hardcover: $12.98
  • Second-hand hardcover:$9.77 ($5.78 + shipping)

First off the Kindle is within 20% of the Hardcover price (I’d made a guess at 10% in my previous article on the proper price of an eBook).

Secondly and more importantly is the re-sale value of the hardcover / paperback.

A paperback has an intrinsic worth – you are free to sell it on. If you buy a second hand one and treat it well you can read it and sell it on for the same price. Obviously if you do it through Amazon they’ll take their 20% cut, plus you lose money on the shipping.

So if you buy the hardcover, read it and sell it back on Amazon it will cost you (taking shipping and 20% Amazon cut): $12.98 – $5.20 = $7.78

If you buy a used hardcover and do the same: $9.77 – $5.20 = $4.57

That’s half the price of a Kindle version.

So I can get two hardcover books for the price of a Kindle version.

However much R&D costs Amazon need to recoup for the Kindle fire, the Kindle edition simply isn’t worth it.