Lost & Found (a song I wrote)

I wrote this song over 2 years ago, shortly after I first became connected with the Center for Applied Rationality. It was an eye-opening experience, and I found myself wondering how I fit into everything… the Bay Area rationality communities, my intentional community in Waterloo (which I was also fairly new to at the time). I was also in the process of re-understanding my own identity and how to communicate Malcolmness to people. For reasons, it took me awhile to get around to recording it. But it still resonates with me a lot.


Lost & Found Lyrics

I got lost, and found
that I could no longer hear my favorite sounds
and so I wandered around… singing aloud

trying to capture all these thoughts
trying to master all these abilities
learning to connect all the dots
and cultivating possibilities

I got lost, and found
that all my bright colors had turned to greys and browns
as I wandered around, downtown

» read the rest of this entry »

Go more meta by developing an immunity to iocaine powder

You might not be as meta as you think you are.

“…so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of…”

There’ s a famous scene in The Princess Bride, in which, after winning a game of skill and a game of brawn, the Man in Black engages with Vizzini in a “battle of wits” The Man in Black prepares two cups, and places one in front of himself and the other in front of his adversary. It’s pretty hilarious. Watch here, or read the transcript below. If you watch the video, make sure to read the last few lines of the transcript, which aren’t in this clip but are relevant for understanding the post!

Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right… and who is dead.

Vizzini: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Man in Black: You’ve made your decision then?

» read the rest of this entry »

The 40-Hour Work Weekend

I’ve experimented with focus blocks before, where I’m working a large percentage of the time and when I’m not working I’m only engaging in distractions that are centering, rather than divergent. Following in the footsteps of some other entrepreneurs that I admire, I decided to make this entire weekend a focus block. I closed out my email inbox friday afternoon, and didn’t open it again until sunday. And I got a lot done.

The video!

Like the others, I made a timelapse video. I’m kicking myself now, because I didn’t confirm that I had a functional system on Linux for recording my webcam and then turning it into a timelapse. Meaning it took me way longer (read: several hours today pulling my hair out while staring at my screen) to create this video than would have been reasonable, and it’s not even sync’d the whole time. But I know how to do it better next time, and can probably push out a video with 30mins at most of post-processing, provided I set things up well at the start. I learned a bunch about the ffmpeg and sed tools though, which was helpful. I’ll post my scripts once I fix the aforementioned problem.

The stats!


An app that pings you at totally random intervals and gets you to tag what you’re doing. The pings are on average every 45 minutes, but sometimes will be within seconds, or hours apart, so you never know. tagti.me »

Winning at Arguments by Enlarging your PNS

Here’s a video of me. It might be helpful to read the text below before watching the video. Actually, on second thought, this post was adapted from an email to a friend who said “I am grinning ear to ear from watching the video on your wall. I’d love to hear more about it!” so maybe watch it first. Your call.

The Autonomic Brain & Againstness

So, in late January I was at a 4 day Applied Rationality workshop, which was absolutely amazing. The first 3 days were classes, and the 4th was to practise what we’d learned already. That’s when this video happened. The relevant class is called Againstness, and the practice session is fondly referred to as “Torture Court.” The againstness class is about the two halves of the Autonomic Nervous System (the part of your brain you don’t consciously control directly) which are the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems.

  • SNS = fight & flight & freeze (+ stress/againstness)
  • PNS = rest & digestion (+ empathy)

The idea is that while againstness (or SNS dominance) was effective back when stress = wild animal or armed opponent, it isn’t when stress = fight-with-your-partner or performance anxiety. As mentioned, you don’t have a sense of empathy when you’re in that state, so it’s basically impossible to consider that the other person might be right, or to even think of how the situation might be resolved peacefully. We were taught several techniques to release from againstness and shift to PNS dominance… basically:

  1. Be grateful for the chance to practise this skill (gratitude is incompatible with SNS)
  2. Relax your body and open it up to expose your organs (body gestures like crossed arms are both symptomatic of againstness and reinforce SNS-dominance)
  3. Actively try to feel the situation from the other perspective, or feel a sense of connection to the other person.
  4. (repeat as necessary. if gratitude for the chance doesn’t work, be grateful that the chance is so tough that it’s beyond your ability to be grateful for it!)

Astrology & Arguments

Then. We come to the question of how exactly I came to be standing up there freaking out about astrology. I’ve historically not really liked astrology, but I was mostly indifferent. Sometime (I’m not sure where) in the past few years I developed a deep frustration with it. It really hit a peak this past summer when I had a very heated argument about it with my partner at the time. This had come up with past partners as well, although not so intense. Anyway, in another class at the workshop, called Winning at Arguments, we were asked to think of a heated argument, so I thought of that one. We looked into the word “winning” and how it can mean a variety of things, but that the most useful definition is that both (all) people involved achieve their goals. The next step there was to pause and think “what is my goal? what is their goal?” and I realized that ultimately she was trying to understand me and I was trying to be understood. Pretty compatible, eh? And yet it was one of the most intense arguments I’ve ever had.

However, despite having that understanding on Sunday, there was still a lot of pent-up negativity surrounding the subject of astrology. Very silly. Like, no matter how much I ultimately dislike it, there is nothing to be gained by being angry or stressed about it. Hence, the torture court exercise. I was one of the last people to go from our group, and a lot of the other people had been doing pretty tame things like singing I’m a Little Teapot—the main source of stress there was uncertainty surrounding the lyrics, not fear of performing. Another participant had to sidestep a punch from Val (the male instructor you can hear) but do so without flinching—just moving relaxedly. A lot of this is actually related to Aikido, but that’s another topic.

Torture and Laughter

The other instructor running the Torture Court was Cat, who was also the one who did the arguments class, so when I finally went up I had this anticipation (a scary but hopeful one) that it would be astrology-related. If it had come up as something else that was boring, actually, I would have suggested it be revised as such. Anyway, I had given my phone to a friend to film me, and so then Cat proposed what she did and man it was overwhelming! One of the profound realizations I had was that I use laughter as a stress response. Like, I sort of knew this, but I didn’t realize how obvious and dramatic it was. Where others became frozen or defensive, I became, well, as you see in the video.

Immediately following the session I was walking around in a very intense physical, emotional, and mental state. My body felt… kind of tingly. I was feeling totally drained but simultaneously full of life. It was kind of like being dizzy but I wasn’t off-balance. This lasted maybe 10-15 minutes. It has, however, substantially reduced my aversion to astrology. Again, I still don’t care for it, but it doesn’t get me worked up anymore. At least, it hasn’t yet.

Malcolm, the Aries

Multitrack song!

I bought the AVS Video Editor for $50 this summer, in order to edit the 480p videos taken by my phone (Android; HTC Incredible S).

I recently discovered with some delight that I can actually use this program to edit a bunch of videos together.

Harmony ensued.

Peace Remains

when we open our hands
to share a loaf of bread
and the last crumb is gone
peace remains

    when we open our hands
    our hands, our hands
    in our empty hands
    peace remains

when we reach out our hands
to help someone in need
and when it’s time, we let go
peace remains


when we hold tight our hands
to comfort or to pray
in the stillness of our hearts
peace remains


when we raise up our hands
to praise or to dance
and all tension goes away
peace remains

    Chorus 2x

A Productive Day

I had been on a hiatus from a bunch of things, one of them being this blog and another being my Summer of Song series of YouTube videos. Today officially breaks that, as I just posted a brand-new song for all to hear, and I’m typing a blog post right now, obviously. What a truism. It’d be basically impossible for me to suggest on this blog that I am, in fact, not blogging.

Anyway, today was a super-productive day. I went over to my friends’ house and silkscreened some shirts, which is awesome. As soon as I get the shirt back I’ll post a picture up here. Then, I talked to my dad on the phone, while walking back, achieving both my daily walk (I’ll get to this in a future post) and catching up with him, which I’d planned to do. Back at my place, I recorded a video for this song, which I’ll include at the end. Then, I redesigned my business cards, which was another thing on my todo list, and now I’m blogging, which I’ve also been meaning to do for a long time.

Five things in one day? I’m on fire. I’m not sure why today was so productive, but I think it’s related to me waking up with a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my time. Sometime this week I’m also going to share some new personal development habits I’ve been working on for the past few weeks.

That Phrase

I quit, but I got no withdrawal
The bank said that I had “Insufficient funs”
So that’s it, I’m on my own from now on
Nothing to give – just trying to live with sufficient fun

It’s not that hard
But hey, it’s not that easy
Just gotta start

I awake, but sometimes, hey, I sleep in
so mid-afternoon, I feel kinda doomed, ’cause the day’s half gone
I wonder – will it take, immense determination
to get to a state, where I’m never late, and I always know what’s going on

Well it’s not that hard
but hey it’s not that easy
just gotta start…

’Cause you know that phrase “easier said than done”
Doesn’t have to apply to everyone
If I decide that I like action
Cho instead of just conversation
rus And spend my days getting fun things done
and proudly say to everyone
”I get satisfaction from my life
and I’ve only just begun.”


I try, but still sometimes I mess up
But I know success, comes right after mess, if I can learn from it all
I fly, but only in the most figurative sense
so why be all scared, if I’m unprepared, and I start to fall…

’cause the ground is not that hard
But hey it’s not that easy
Just gotta start…


Two Original Songs on a Piano

I love playing the piano, but since they are rather large I don’t usually have one around. I own a tiny keyboard, but it’s just not the same. Here are two of my favourite songs of the ones I’ve written, both recorded on a piano because they really don’t work any other way. Okay, I suppose No More could work with a huge gospel choir, but those are even harder to procure than pianos.

No More

You… you… you…

You will walk no more
You will speak no more
You will wash no more
You will eat no more

You will cough no more
You will smile no more
You will laugh no more
You will breathe…

No more!
You are no more!

You will dream no more
You will play no more
You will think no more
You will pray no more

You will sing! no more
You will dance no more
You will tire no more
will you… sleep?

You are no more!

You will read no more
You will question no more
You will teach no more
You will garden no more
You will grow, not, old…
as they that are left grow old
fear no more – worry no more
tears no more – hurt no more
shake no more – change no more

still! You will be still
Will you be still?
you are no more


Take a sphere and paint it rainbow hues
Don’t separate the colours – let them swirl
Mix them up: make greens from yellows and blues
Set it spinning in the sky and watch it twirl

Imagine a kaleidoscope
Spinning shapes and shades and making art
The beauty in the simplicity is more than you could hope
So you cherish it deep down in your heart
… and you want to take part

Nothing that is beautiful is made up of only one
For what makes the beauty really full is the juxtaposition
The beauty of a brand new earth we will behold
As in the ancient legends was foretold
… spinning tales that are made of threads of gold

Take a sphere and paint it rainbow hues
Don’t separate the colours – let them swirl
Mix them up: make greens from yellows and blues
Set it spinning in the sky and watch it twirl

Hello… beautiful world.

Priorities: It’s not what you do, but what you don’t do. (Music and Thoughts)

I mentioned that one song was missing from my 30-Day Poem/Song Challenge. Well, here it is:

While you watch & listen, here are some of my thoughts from the past few days. I’ve had some interesting conversations and listened to more of Steve Pavlina’s podcasts (such as this one on achieving goals) and I’ve started thinking about my goals. I’m notorious for not setting any, so this list is not very long, but if you’ve been following my blog you’ll have seen that I have at least one:

I will develop awesome time-management skills and habits. -Me, several weeks ago.

Well, I started thinking about ways in which I could try to accomplish that goal. One of Steve’s strategies is to become the person who has already achieved it. As I thought more about what sort of person has amazing time-management skills, I realized that the person I was imagining was not very spontaneous or adventuresome, two traits I hold in high esteem. With that realization came questions: Then who do I want to be? What skills and habits do I want to have?

I began to redefine the problem, from “not managing my time well enough” to “not managing my activities well enough”. What I realized is that my main problem isn’t with missing deadlines but with wasting time. It’s not that I feel like I need to procrastinate less. On the contrary, Parkinson’s Law (Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.) makes a fairly strong argument for procrastination. If I do things earlier than they need to be done, I’ll likely spend more time doing them then they really need.

A New Approach

Today I decided I would try a different tactic: I made a list of all of the things that I wanted to potentially spend my time doing today, and tried to do only things on that list. I added some things as the day progressed, but the point of the exercise was to be doing only things that I consciously wanted to do. I have a strong tendency to get sidetracked by activities that in retrospect I judge to be wasteful. These include reading shallow blog articles, wandering around on Facebook, and having long circular arguments with my friends. These activities are entrancing but not engaging — tempting but not really worthwhile. Instead, I want to do more reading, writing, exercising, and having deep and meaningful conversations with people.

The today-plan worked out alright. I had two items on my list that I had marked as high priority (see below) and I got both of them done. The flexible schedule I gave myself worked particularly well today because the two high-priority tasks were ones I wanted to do anyway and knew I would enjoy (recording the video above was one). I’m not sure how well this would work in a circumstance where I have a large unpleasant task with a faraway deadline. We’ll see, though. I’ve managed to get those things done before though.

This is how I've been making my todo lists for several years. The bottom item type · is new, but necessary for my new paradigm as it allows for items I'm allowed to do that are infinite, eg. read.

In working through this new strategy, I’ve come to realize:

It’s not what you do, but what you don’t do.

That is, as long as I’m not doing anything wasteful, then I’m either doing something valuable or doing nothing. If I define the latter to be meditation, then it’s still worthwhile. Exactly what I do isn’t really that important – as deadlines approach, enough pressure will build that the things that need to get done will get done.

I’ve yet to determine exactly how this will affect my spontaneity, but for now my rules will be as follows:


  1. I will keep a daily list of activities I may engage in.
  2. I may modify the list at any time during the day.
  3. There is no limit to how long the list can be.
  4. I will not spend a significant amount of time engaging in other activities.

Rule 2 lets me be spontaneous, because if I discover an interesting activity I feel is worthwhile, I can take part in it… as soon as I add it to the list. This forces me to make a conscious decision “Yes, this activity/event will add value to my life” before I undertake it. Otherwise, it’s all to easy to just do it without truly considering if I really want to.

For rule 4, I haven’t decided exactly what the threshold for significance is, but I think probably about 10 minutes on any one activity per 3 hours, and 30 minutes total on any extra activities within the 3 hours. I should probably use some sort of timer that I set every time I start one of these activities, that will sound after 5-10 minutes to force me to either decide that what I’m doing is meaningful or stop. The former case would apply to finding a really captivating article or something on the internet.

I’ve created a new page titled “My Life“, that will keep a current record of exactly what rules I’m following as I live my life. The link ought to stay at the top, so if you find myself on my blog in the future you can see what challenges and so on I’m currently engaged in.

One final remark: I’m observing with some interest that while I seemed to be taking a blacklist approach, what I’ll actually be creating daily is a whitelist. I suppose because otherwise, if I wanted to permit myself to have half an hour of Facebooking, I’d have to take it off a list, which seems strange. Would I then put it back on the list when I decided I’d had enough? I’m going to try it like this for now, and see how it goes!

Song and Poems Galore!

July 28

If I were dreaming…
there would be nothing to fear.
Could I be dreaming?

July 27

So I missed the bus
Accompany me, podcast!
It’s a long walk home…

The haikus from today and yesterday are both related to Steve Pavlina’s podcast on Fear. It is one of the most inspiring pieces I’ve ever listened to. I strongly encourage you to check it out.

July 26

I just recorded this video today (the 28th) but the song was actually written on the 26th, so it goes here for the Challenge.

July 25

I have a sunburn.
Two hours shirtless conversing?
A fair price to pay.

Shadow [#3 – Summer of Song 2011]

I write songs. Here’s one of the first, recently recorded for my Summer of Song project. (All summer, I release one YouTube video per week of me playing an original song.)

This year’s first two are Even The Rain and The Reason Why

Fall sanely in love
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