Huh.

Have just discovered that Facebook requires cookies to log in. Contemplating next actions: enable cookies, log in, then delete account? enable cookies, log in, set computer to delete all cookies on logout? do not log in, move on with my evening?

Had been feeling very pleased about last week having blocked Facebook cookies, and hadn’t tried to log in since. Now thinking that blocking said cookies was clearly a good move, that requirement to have cookies pretty clearly indicates direction of Facebook’s business model (as if it weren’t clear enough already). and that accepting cookies is pretty clearly not in the cards as something I’m likely to do.

Well. At the least, I pretty clearly don’t feeling like dealing with this at the moment, so browsing whatever people-just-at-the-edges-of-my-social-circle are up to is clearly not going to happen. Net result is that avenue of procrastination is closed to me for the moment. Not all bad, I suppose.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Passwords

I work at Google. That said, this is a personal piece; the opinions & ideas here are my own, not those of my employer. 

It is just after six p.m. and I am home from work. The sky is still bright, a clear transparent blue behind fast moving fluffy clouds. The late afternoon or early evening light is clear and bright too after a rainshower that drenched the car just as I stopped at the gas station to refill the tank. I am upstairs sitting at my desk facing the window looking out, and wondering if there will be a rainbow. I open my laptop, log out of my work account, and log in to my personal account.

Some months ago I changed my password. This was in response to some generalized security breach or other; I don’t remember which. But as I was choosing my new password, I thought about what it should be.

Something I’d remember.

Something not like other passwords I’d used.

Something not easily guessable.

Every time we choose a password, we attempt to describe our own minds. Consciously or not, we attend not just to what am I thinking about today, but what will I think about tomorrow, what will help me remember this code I’m creating, what will I associate with this thing I’m trying to log in to. Even if we open up an app that generates a supposedly random sequence of letters and numbers and punctuation (and don’t you wonder about the security and privacy on an app like that?), the choice to do so still reflects something about us.

In choosing a password, I think we create a metaphorical thumbprint of the way we think, what matters to us.

In spy movies and thrillers, there’s so often a moment where the hero or villian needs to get information off of or onto someone else’s computer or phone. They do so by guessing a sequence, hands poised dramatically over the keyboard or screen: a moment, eyes closed, reflecting, considering. What matters to the person whose device they’re hacking? What is a significant birthday, a catchphrase, a city? The hacker’s fingers move, and the target’s life and secrets are spelled out in just eight to ten characters. Access granted.

Of course, real hacking attempts are rarely anything like that. They’re more often like the Target data breach: the target hacked isn’t an individual as such, but a much larger trove of much broader and more general information. Those attempts have little in common with the hacker in a movie, pausing to remember someone’s birthday in hopes of cracking the code.

Some of my own passwords are more complicated than others. Heresy though this may be, there are sites where I just don’t care if my so-called information gets stolen – those are the sites which don’t have much information to begin with. Some of my passwords follow intentional patterns. Some don’t. Some are legacies, leftovers from old thoughts, old ideas. Some are so clever I can’t remember them, and have to use the ‘forgot password’ link each and every time I log in.

But this time… when I was resetting the password on my computer, which is a pretty basic and fundamental thing, I thought harder about it. I wanted a password distinct from my own patterns, memorable to me, meaningless to anyone else.

And so I took a deep breath, and chose something in honor of my Dad, who first taught me about computers – and who these days may or may not remember that.

These Are the Cameras I Know Of

These are the cameras I know of:
in the City of London, throughout the alleys and courtyards and all of the streets –
so that on vacation, K asked, ‘do you think there are even five minutes of our day
that haven’t been recorded?’
and I said No,
while standing outside the house of Dr Johnson
admiring both the architecture and the statue of his cat
(there should be more statues of cats);
the camera in the satellite circling the globe that last photographed my house
sometime just before I bought it –
I can tell by the patio umbrella used in the purchase staging, a different color
from my own patio umbrella;
the cameras at traffic intersections
in my small suburban town;
the professional camera taking professional photos at the literary talk I went to last night;
the cellphone cameras of the audience members at the literary talk I went to last night;
the camera in the taxi in New York;
the cameras in Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv;
the immigration camera I looked into at customs
upon returning to California;
the camera on a neighbor’s drone
that last flew over my yard and others’ yards two summers ago
until another neighbor threatened to call the cops (or maybe until the grandson flying the drone got bored);
the cameras on the dashboards of cars on the freeway;
the cameras at what used to be the Golden Gate Bridge tollbooth but is now stand used for cameras taking pictures of license plates;
the cameras in the hands of many of the people I saw at the beach;
the cameras of the instructors at the standup paddleboard yoga class, because you never know which image will attract a new customer;
the camera in the sea otter exhibit at the Monterey Aquarium, because who doesn’t love sea otters;
the camera in the penguin exhibit also, because who doesn’t love penguins;
the camera sent down a volcano;
the cameras that recorded everything on YouTube;
the camera used by a surgeon
to diagnose a friend’s illness; the camera my colleague used to take a selfie of all four of us
because we achieved a day off sightseeing
at the end of a business trip far away from home;
the cameras used to record and document violence
and the aftermath of violence
and the discussion of violence;
the camera I used to take a picture of cherry blossoms
in a country not known for cherry blossoms;
the cameras in the conference rooms at work
used for videoconferences;
the cameras we see
and the cameras we don’t.

Momentum

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about momentum. The momentum of people, of places. Of attitudes. Of projects. Of things done, and not done, and planned, and not planned. Of happiness and sadness and satisfaction and even stock markets.

I don’t think we give enough credit to momentum.

Think about it: why is the market up (assuming it is, by the time I finish writing and post this)? At some fundamental level, it’s up because a lot of people decided to be optimistic. And those people’s optimism fueled other people’s sense that they should get in before it’s too late, and that in turn drives the market up, and that fuels more momentum upwards …

… until somebody gets nervous, and then a group of people get nervous, and the momentum begins to turn, and the market shifts downward, prompting pessimism and a sense that it’s time to get out, and …

… momentum.

But the thing is, I think momentum applies at a personal level too. Think about what it takes to start a project. The initial idea is easy, right? Maybe the initial plan is even easy too. Then there’s the setup, and that’s when things get tough. The initial doing of whatever it is, whether it’s buying a house or finding a new job or starting a new project or getting into exercise, is often incredibly difficult. It’s easy to think that that difficulty comes because these things are new, or because they are inherently challenging activities, but I think there’s another factor involved – and that’s the momentum of whatever we were doing before. After all, you weren’t just sitting around in a state of limbo doing nothing. You were doing something before you decided to pick up this new thing, or found a reason or a need to change your path. And whatever that existing something is, it has a momentum to it. To get the new thing going, you have to displace the momentum of what you were already doing. You’re essentially climbing up a big rock while also trying to shove another big rock out of your way. No wonder it’s tough.

I wonder about momentum in the context of a lot of the current political and otherwise painful and/or challenging situations going on in our modern US world right now. Political anger. Shootings. Trade wars. Income inequality. Fear in all its flavors. The potential for huge and overwhelming distraction caused by all of the above. What if we’re on the downhill slope of pain and angst, where it all just keeps accelerating?

(Then I take a deep breath, take a bite of this delicious brownie I’m eating and a sip of my coffee, and set that line of thinking aside, and go back to projects. Because projects are a thing I can do. And as one of my favorite quotes says: “A better goddamn zoo is still a better goddamn zoo.” I don’t remember what that’s from, but. Words to live by. Anyway.)

So. Momentum and projects. Or to make it a little broader, momentum and doing new things.

Right now I’ve got a bunch of projects:

  1. remodel house
  2. a bunch of work stuff
  3. that whole writing thing (essays)
  4. that whole writing thing (poetry)
  5. personally hand-landscape the backyard, because fun! and do I want to grow eggplants this year? maybe?
  6. various things about family
  7. clean up the giant stack of mail in the kitchen that I’ve been ignoring for… a month? six weeks? gaaah.
  8. something about seeing some friends sometime
  9. wouldn’t it be fun to travel somewhere?
  10. I would like to weigh 8 pounds less, and also be able to do pushups

Within some of those categories are still more projects. At work, for example, I work on about four different areas of stuff, with a fluctuating number of projects within that. Same thing for family.

So this is a lot of stuff. Okay. It’s all stuff I signed up for and all stuff I want to be doing at some level or other. The question is, how do I actually do it?

I thought for a while that this was a willpower problem, or a doing things faster problem, or a priorities problem, or a scheduling problem. And that’s all kind of true – there are only so many hours in a day, multitasking is a myth, etc etc. But there’s something else in play too.

The single biggest predictor of whether I do something is whether I recently did it.

For example, on the house remodel, we needed to hire a structural engineer (long story). And I find hiring people super stressful – I have trouble even imagining anything more stressful than hiring someone. So I am inclined to procrastinate. I procrastinate looking for a list of people to call. Then I procrastinate calling them. If they call back, I may even procrastinate answering the phone. I certainly procrastinate replying to any emails they may send. And making the actual decision?! Awful.

But. At some point, I decided that the only thing I was going to do other than work was try to hire a structural engineer. I was off the hook for everything else. I just needed to do this one thing.

This seems like it’s all about prioritization, and yes, that’s part of it. But the side effect of the decision was that I wound up doing something about hiring a structural engineer every single day. The first day was horrible. The next day, still horrible, but at least I knew what I was in for. The third day, I was still dreading it, but less.

By the end of the week… routine. Within another week, I’d hired someone. She’s great. And she wrote me an email yesterday, and I actually answered it today. I waited that long only because I wanted to time to read it carefully, because the engineer we hired is a person who writes relevant and useful emails that merit close reading. But I didn’t procrastinate as such.

I got momentum on my side.

On the other hand, this morning I went to yoga class, for the first time in about a month. I almost didn’t go. Arguably the only reason I did go is that my husband assumed I wanted to. (The power of positive peer pressure.) Having gone this week, however, I am confident it will be easier to go again next week. The memory of enjoying yoga class is fresher in my mind; the sense that putting clean clothes in a gym bag is really not that much effort is also fresh in my mind. I have a sense of what it’s like to start my day with a yoga class. And that momentum ups the odds for next week.

This evening, I’m writing. It’s been a week; it was hard to get myself to start.

I am still thinking about what else this means, for my work, and for everything else I’m doing.

Tomorrow… who knows?

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