Changing How We Speak

I don’t think we change language by telling people not to speak a certain way. I think we change it by speaking the way we want people to speak and encouraging them to follow suit.

That’s not saying that we shouldn’t tell someone when we think something they’re saying is offensive, but I think ridicule and bullying are more likely to entrench an opponent in their position than they are to improve the way people communicate.

I posted the above in response to comments and counter-articles discussing Jonathan Chait’s article in New York Magazine, “Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say.” My friend who had directed me towards the original piece described it as “approximately equal parts bullshit and valid.”

The underlying point of the article felt valid to me, but the delivery left much to be desired. Instead of countering the incendiary tone and tactics of those he was criticizing, he engaged in the same sort of nonsense. Overstating his points, expressing too much certainty where there are legitimate questions, coming to conclusions where the real goal should be to open a dialog, not counter one screaming monologue with another.

Much better was Steven Pinker’s explanation of “Why free speech is fundamental.” Maybe if we listen, think, and talk in a levelheaded fashion, we’ll end up in a better place than the one where people are telling each other to shut the fuck up. And that goes for all of us.

This raises the question of what to do when someone who disagrees raises their voice. Is there a way to avoid the screaming match without getting shouted down? I don’t know. That’s a bigger question for another day. And right now, I’ve got work to do. I already spent yesterday pondering this shit. Today, I’ll get back to exercising my freedom to publish my thoughts in various digital media.

Scheduling Conflict: Time Zones

In my last post, I mentioned that I had to work while launching Way of the Poker Warrior. The good thing is that I was able to automate all of the following tasks:

I had already pressed publish on Leanpub, and posted my weekly free content, “Empty Your Cup,” the Poker Warrior preface. Everything almost went off without a hitch, until Time Zones FTL.

You see, I had scheduled the PIAS blog to publish at 10am. And I had scheduled the newsletter to go out at 10:10am. No problem, right? I think you can see where this is going.

The newsletter was EST and the PIAS blog post was PST. The latter is 3 hours later than the former. You see the problem.

The fault lies with me. The scheduling feature on Blogger (the current and temporary home of pokerisaskill.com) is “clearly marked” as Pacific Standard Time. But it’s sort of like a fine-print, after-the-stuff-that-looks-like-it-matters “clearly marked.” So yeah, it’s my fault. But I’m still annoyed at Google. But mostly at myself.

Anyway, apologies to those who got the newsletter and went to the site, only to see not much there yet. This is the sort of thing that can take a few go-rounds to get totally ironed out.

It’s fun to schedule stuff, though. It feels a little like hacker/spy stuff. Except it’s just a bunch of self-promotion. And I hate self-promotion! But maybe I can handle it if I feel like a hacker or a spy whilst doing it.

Scheduling Conflict: Expectation

Due to the lack of severity with which the blizzard hit NYC, my Monday night gig, which had already been rescheduled for Thursday afternoon, got re-rescheduled for Wednesday morning. That was the day I’d planned to launch Way of the Poker Warrior!

Quick note about the job: We get paid 5 hours for the gig, regardless of whether it takes 2 hours or 5 hours. I figured it was likely to take between 2 and 3.5 hours to complete the assigned tasks. Anything in that range would be within 1 standard deviation (SD) of the mean, which was probably a little under 3 hours. But it took 4.5 hours to do the damn thing. This outcome was at least 2 standard deviations from the mean.

Now, getting paid for 5 hours when you only work 4.5 sounds like a good deal. But when it takes 4.5 hours to do what feels like a 2.5 hour job, and those surplus 2 hours are spent standing in the cold, watching supervisors trip over their own dicks, the result is a lot of frustration.

But why? Is this frustration really necessary?

The fact that the job feels like it could be done much faster contributes to the feeling of wasted time. But it’s the expectation of an average result that makes it really frustrating. It’s the surprise at the shitty outcome. But those outcomes 2+ SDs from the mean are very real. One time, a 5-hour call got done with about 30 minutes of work. That’s 2+ SDs in the other direction. It goes both ways.

It’s reasonable to expect that the work will usually get done in an amount of time within 1 standard deviation of the mean – it will do that 68% of the time – but it’s important to accept the fact that it will sometimes get done faster or slower than that. Those outcomes 2+ SDs from the mean are very real possibilities, despite how much less likely they are than the more likely ones.

In summation, the work sucked, but it sucked more because I didn’t mentally prepare myself for how much it might suck.

You Know Poker Is A Skill, Right?

I want to change the world. Since I was old enough to understand what was going on, I knew that I didn’t like it and that I wanted it to be different. Writing is one means to that end.

I’ve also always loved building things and developing skills. Lego was my favorite toy. Perhaps I should have moved to Denmark and become an architect. But writing can be done anywhere, and it’s like building something out of words. Writing is a skill, and I’ve spent a lot of time working to improve at it.

I started learning martial arts to defend myself as a kid. I picked it up again to develop focus as a teenager. As a young adult, I followed through with it because I wanted to be a black belt. I set that goal for myself because martial arts is a skill and I wanted to become expert at it.

I play poker because it’s fun. I also play because it’s profitable. I have played very little poker as a hobby, and quite a lot of poker as a professional or semi-pro. I’ve enjoyed it to varying degrees, but there’s always been a bit of passion to it. Great results are fun, but making a great fold or a sick check-back is satisfying in a different way. Put simply, I love outplaying people, especially in the least spectacular fashion. Poker is a skill, and I worked hard to get good at it.

In 2010, I rolled these three passions together into my first published book, Way of the Poker Warrior. In it, I applied the wisdom I’d gathered in my taekwondo uniform to the struggles we face at the poker table. The book sold some copies, but neither I nor the publisher gave it much of a marketing push.

For the next couple years, I continued playing poker for my living and did some writing for fun and supplemental income. At the start of 2012, Pokerfuse published my Poker Player Bill of Rights. One goal of this document was to codify the things that poker players should demand from their governments and poker sites, clubs, and casinos. But something else emerged as well.

Poker is a skill.

It’s a simple idea. Maybe a bit of an oversimplification, but true nonetheless. Poker is a game of skill involving an element of chance. The longer you play, the greater role skill plays and the less influence luck will have.

Despite my excellent editor’s initial objection, I decided that this was item number one on the Poker Player Bill of Rights, ahead of even the right to play. (That was number two.) It’s my belief that, over time, a deep and universal understanding of a thing will lead to rational laws and regulations regarding it. I know that’s a bit idealistic, and maybe even naïve, but people should reach better conclusions if they start with more accurate assumptions.

The fact that poker is a skill, yet is perceived by many to be pure gambling, reveals a deep flaw in human cognition. We can be remarkably results-based creatures. Results matter. They are data. But our brains have a hard time deciphering how much meaning lies in exactly how much data. It’s not an easy task, drawing conclusions from incomplete information. But it’s something we can get better at, the same way we can get better at poker.

In fact, we can get better at it exactly the same way we get better at poker. By focusing on the process. Start with the process. Examine the process. Then gather data and draw conclusions that are in line with the quantity and quality of that data. That’s a process, too, and we can evaluate how well we’re performing it.

I still want to change the world. I also want to make a living as a writer. Writing about poker may seem like an odd way to try to change the world, but poker has so many things to teach us about life and the mind, the same way the martial arts have a book’s worth of wisdom to share with us about poker.

Everything is related.

If learning how to play better poker requires a person to learn to think better, clearer, then that process should help that person make better decisions throughout life. That process should help them understand the relationship between luck and skill in all endeavors.

Imagine Media, the original publisher of Way of the Poker Warrior, is no more. As a result, I have recovered the publishing rights to my first book. I’m tempted to rewrite some parts, add some more No Limit Holdem hands, and publish a second edition. But for now, I’ve uploaded the entirety of the first edition to Leanpub. Let’s call it the first edition, second “printing” (which belongs in quotes because it’s an ebook).

Way of the Poker Warrior is a book with flaws. I think the prose is excellent and the poker analysis superb. (As the book’s author, you could say I’m a biased judge of its quality.) But the front matter is a bit excessive, and the Limit Holdem hand examples may be overly technical to some. Taken as a whole, it contains valuable insight, thoughtfully delivered, amidst some jagged edges. You should read it because you like poker, you like martial arts, or you enjoy understanding how things work.

The following paragraph, taken from the book’s introduction, sums up how I want you to think about poker. It foreshadows the underlying principles of my publishing company, Poker Is A Skill, and it hints at how I’d like to change the world.

“I want you to make more money playing poker. In order to do this, I need you to spend less time thinking about money, and more time thinking about poker. The Way of the Poker Warrior is process oriented. By focusing on the process, you will become less results oriented. You will learn quicker and perform better.”

I want you to learn quicker and perform better at everything you do. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and poker is a fun and profitable place to start.

So yeah. Buy my book. It’s just $9.99 on Leanpub.

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Let It Snow

Due to the blizzard that a-came yesterday, my nighttime moving-stuff-around gig got rescheduled for Thursday. The upside was that I was able to sit at home and get writing work done all day. The downside was…well, there was no downside for me. I guess I had to run out to the store and stock up on bottled water.

Let’s talk about storm preparation, self-defense, confirmation bias, and results-oriented thinking for a moment, shall we? Okay, fine. I’ll talk about it. You just sit there and “listen.” Or better yet, tell me how wrong I am in the comments below!

The media likes to make a big deal out of these “weather events,” because they’re always looking for a story to sell. When they get one, they sell the shit out of it. While it would be nice if they could be less sensationalist when doing it, they’re not entirely wrong when it comes to potentially massive storms.

Thus far, Snowstorm Juno, or whatever they’re calling this particular Oscar winner, has underwhelmed here in the NYC area. Yeah, we got some snow. But the businesses that decided yesterday to be closed today are probably regretting that decision. The streets are far from impassable. It’s not exactly the snow-capped tops of the Misty Mountains here.

So this underwhelmtion of a storm is proof that we didn’t need to stock up on water and beans, right? All of those preparations were for naught? I could have saved my $3.50 and used it for today’s bus fare? Well, no. That’s what we call confirmation bias. As I replied yesterday to one friend’s facebook post, “The whole edifice of human stupidity is built upon the bedrock of confirmation bias.” (And yeah, I really talk like that. I think it’s fun.)

A result that falls in line with our expectations does not prove that our expectations were correct. It simply proves that the actual outcome was one of the possible outcomes that we could/should have expected were possible from the data available at the time we developed our expectations. Yet people have a tendency to latch on to data points which confirm their beliefs. It’s like seeing Jesus in a bowl of corn flakes.

Similarly and conversely, a result that contradicts our expectations does not prove that our expectations were unreasonable. It simply proves that what happened was one of the possible outcomes of the prior circumstances.

The major problem stems from a desire to predict a single outcome. But we very rarely have enough data to predict a single outcome. We very rarely have so little chance involved that there is one virtually (or literally) certain outcome. Usually, a combination of information and logic should lead us to a prediction that looks more like a distribution of possible outcomes, rather than a single outcome.

With regard to the weather, a forecast may project 5 to 8 inches of snow. That’s a range. But does that mean the minimum snow you should expect is 5 inches and the maximum is 8 inches? No. Those aren’t the 0th and 99th percentile outcomes. Those are probably more like the 25th and 75th percentile outcomes. So half the time, the forecast will be “right” that there is between 5 and 8 inches of snow. And half the time, it will be “wrong” and there will be less than 5 or more than 8 inches of snow. (Disclaimer: all of those numbers are rectally retrieved.)

If there’s a 5% chance of zero snow and a 5% chance of a foot of snow, should the forecast say “0 to 12 inches of snow”? Probably not. What we get on the weather report is an oversimplification of a probability distribution. I would rather look at a graph that shows how likely each amount of snow was. I don’t think I’m alone in that regard, but I am probably lonely. Most of the world probably doesn’t want to look at a graph of probability distributions of snow. They want to see a narrower prediction that might turn out to be wrong. Then they get to complain about how the weather forecast is always wrong.

But let’s say there’s a 10% chance of a storm going all snowpocalyptic. How should we prepare for that? I’ve seen enough gutshot straight draws come in to know that it’s good to have a plan to deal with what happens when a ten-percenter comes in. We don’t have to plan our entire lives around it, but we should be prepared. Better safe than sorry and all that.

This brings us to self-defense. Depending on where you live, who you are, what you do, and a host of other factors, your chances of needing to defend yourself may range from improbable to absolute certainty. If you know you’re going to get attacked at some point, and you see no way around that, then you should definitely learn some self-defense. You should probably learn a lot of it. But what if you are unlikely to ever need to defend yourself? Should you bother putting any thought into it?

As a martial artist, I often wondered about the utility of what I was learning. I’ve been involved in very few altercations in my life, and I’ve never been attacked in a way that I felt posed a serious threat to my well-being. As a teacher, I often wondered whether the investment bankers and lawyers that made up half of my student body were getting anything out of self-defense, or if the ancillary benefits of practice (exercise, focus, etc.) were the only things useful to them.

After giving the subject considerable thought, I concluded that everyone should learn to defend themselves, at least in the most basic way. Even if you’re extremely unlikely to use it, when you do use it, it will be because you really, really need to. It’s like storm preparation. You don’t have to devote all of your resources to the idea, but I suggest you devote enough to know that you have a much better chance of being okay if you find yourself in a terrible situation.

This storm didn’t do a whole lot right here. But the last one did. And the next one might, just like this one did a lot in other places. Preparing for the worst doesn’t mean ignoring the best. It just means being ready for anything.

Days Off

I took a day off yesterday. Days off are hard for me. I spend a lot of my work days thinking about taking a day off. But when I actually take one, I spend a lot of time thinking about work. Such is the life of someone who works mostly for himself.

Studies have shown that days off and vacation time are important. Studies! I accept this conclusion, yet I have a difficult time really relaxing. I find it difficult to commit to a day off. I’m more likely to take one by accident than by design.

As I started this post, my thought was to explore ways in which I could get better at planning and executing days off. (My language there provides a clue as to why I’m so bad at intentional relaxation.) But now I have a different idea.

What if, instead of trying to improve my planned days off, I can change my attitude about accidental days off? Instead of planning a particular day around the idea of not doing anything on a given day, I embrace the days when I naturally relax.

My first thought: In order to enjoy those days of spontaneous relaxation, I need to define what work I need to complete by what time. The trouble with working for myself is that I heap mountains of work upon myself without explicit instructions on when a project must be completed. If I better define my projects and their deadlines, then a realistic timeline will allow me to relax when I relax.

My second thought: I don’t like that first thought. It’s not a bad thought, but perhaps it’s not the right one for me. Perhaps I need to get in the flow of working, get a rhythm built up, and trust that rhythm. Perhaps I need to decide that there are certain things that I want to do, and once I get those done, I can let myself trust myself to get the next things done.

I woke up today and felt like relaxing. It’s snowing already and a blizzard is a-comin’. I have to head out to work tonight. Load up a truck in the blizzard. That will be fun. No, really. It will be a little icy adventure. So today is not a day off.

My third thought: I wasn’t planning on having a third thought here, but the thought had me as much as I had the thought. Such is the way of thinking.

For the time being, no more days off! That’s my declaration. But my minimum day’s work will be simple. Write a blog. Just one. Right here. That’s the minimum. The maximum is a 24-hour novel-in-a-day writing marathon. But if I maintain that minimum, then each day I’ll get a little pat on the back. And who doesn’t like a pat on the back?

The Short Bus

Yesterday (and how many posts can I begin with “Yesterday…”?), I worked a 14-hour shift that was half physical labor, and half hurry up and wait. That’s good for a handful of overtime hours, so no complaints here, despite my soggy shoes.

Getting to work at 6am, though? Now that’s something I can complain about! I am not a morning person. Over the past two decades, I was more often still awake at 6am than I was waking up that early.

Working on 34th Street, this 6am call time wouldn’t have been much of a big deal if I still lived on 43rd Street. But I don’t. I don’t even live in Manhattan anymore. Hell, I don’t even live in New York, anymore, City or State.

So I have to take the bus. I don’t hate the bus. But before 6am, the NJ Transit bus doesn’t run from my neck of the urban outskirts. And so I have to take the short bus. I mean this quite literally. The bus is very short. It only seats 25. It’s apparently independent and not-so-regulated.

I interfaced with Google to ascertain when and where I could catch these buses. Mostly, I just wanted to verify that I could catch one at 5:20 after trudging through the snow for a mile. That would get me to work on time. Otherwise, I’d have to leave New Jersey Friday night and sit around in a diner until my call time.

To my complete lack of surprise, someone had asked this very question on some forum somewhere. The first response to this question about NY/NJ buses came from “Miami305Kid” and looked like this:

why would you ever want to go inside a van of full of stangers that could be sex offenders or murders for all you know? This is the stupidest idea ever.

Well that’s offensive (and not just to the compulsive proofreader in me). I mean, sure, a van full of strangers could be murderers or rapists. But so could a bus full of strangers. Or a train full of strangers. Or a van full of friends!

I get that there is something that feels more official about a long, well-lit bus with a logo on the side. It may feel more respectable. There may be more regulations for its driver to follow. To ride it out of Manhattan, you must be able to operate the ticket machine. But I’m pretty sure that at least half the complaints about these buses are from people looking down their noses at other people.

And isn’t that what the words “short bus” are all about? Looking down at other people whose circumstances in life are different from those of the speaker of the words. And those are the people we have the least authority to look down upon. Of course, everyone has their own life circumstances, so maybe it’s better to look up. But then we’d look like tourists, and we don’t want that, do we Miami305Kid?

Loose Ends

Didn’t feel great yesterday, but I did manage to tie up some loose ends. Had a piece of copy writing hanging over my head, and I finally got that copy written. Did the usual blogging, work on my main project, and work on my side project. I also came to accept that I have grocery-store-related anxiety attacks. I hate those grocery stores.

Well, this one’s gonna be short because I’m off for a 10-hour shift of heavy lifting starting at 6am. I’m already looking forward to that lunch break at noon!

When A Lot Isn’t Enough

I got a lot done yesterday. Still, it didn’t feel like enough. This is a common theme in my life and a natural result of procrastination.

When some things get put off until the next day, the To Do List swells. So 7 days’ worth of work gets squeezed into 6 days, then 5 days. Eventually, a month’s worth of work is squeezed into a week. So when 1 day results in the 2 days’ worth of production, the result is still a feeling of being behind schedule.

This feeling of being rushed all the time is the true price of procrastination. Feeling a lack of accomplishment despite getting a lot done is like coming into a small windfall that doesn’t quite eliminate one’s debts. It’s a positive development, but there’s still work to be done.

I got a lot done yesterday. I’ll focus on that for a minute before diving into today’s pile of tasks.

Flipping Magnets

Earlier today I wrote about Fight Club. That was a mistake, since the first rule of Fight Club is…I’m sorry, what were we talking about? I’m pretty sure we weren’t actually talking about it.

Magnets, tasks, and drugs. Yes, that’s it. Let’s focus on “tasks are like magnets.” Allow me to quote myself:

I fail to focus on a task because I’m attempting to avoid doing it. I’m skilled at not doing it. It’s like the task that needs doing is a magnet with a negative charge and I have a negative charge, so the task pushes me away from it, and I end up clinging to a distraction that possesses a positive charge.

In order to get the original task done, I need to flip my mental magnet. I need to become positively charged so that the task and I cling together like two fucking magnets. Once that happens, I bang away at it until the charge dissipates or the task is done. I beat the crap out of it like something beautiful at [place we don't talk about].

So…how did I flip my magnet yesterday? I was lucky enough to have recently read a chapter from my own book, Way of the Poker Warrior. Old me helped current me become a better future me.

The chapter is titled “Prepare For Battle.” It’s about warming up.

When we do physical activity, like practicing martial arts, we start with a warm-up. This gets the body prepared to do the activity at a higher level with a reduced risk of injury. It also prepares the mind to focus on the task at hand.

In the chapter, I take the concept of a martial arts warm-up and apply it to poker. While the physical component of poker is minor to negligible, mental focus is of the utmost importance. Writing is no different.

So yesterday, I did a writing warm-up. It’s a concept I’ve played around with in the past, but haven’t codified into a habit or routine. Here’s what yesterday’s warm-up looked like:

  • 2 minutes of physical exercise – stretching, weights, kicks
  • 1 minute with my eyes closed thinking about the task I wanted to complete

And then I banged out an outline. Simple. I may refine my writing warm-up, but I imagine the basic structure will remain intact:

Physical activity followed by a meditation of sorts.

Do you have a task that you feel repelled by? Try doing a warm-up to get yourself psyched up for the job. Or don’t. But if you do, let me know how it goes.