Work Journal

16-04-2019 Work log: Changing tires

AuthorMark MacKay

I woke up in the middle of the night after a strange dream. I considered writing it down, but this usually interrupts my sleep cycle and the dream was so strange that I thought there would be little chance of forgetting it. So I rehearsed it in memory three times and went back to sleep.

As soon as I woke up in the morning I knew I had a dream to remember, but no amount of effort could bring back the content. I went about my day and at some point I came across DMT elves on my Twitter feed, and somehow this jogged my memory and I thought “apes”. And then, like a rope that one pulls from a dark well, the dream appeared in a bucket:

I was a primitive homo species; half ape, half human. A shaman doctor offered me the possibility of transplanting my brain (and thus my consciousness) to another body, but for this I would need to kill one of my fellow apes with a blow to the head.

I climbed a rocky hill and lifted a large rock, which I dropped on an unsuspecting ape below me. I killed him instantly, and went down to retrieve the body. As I came near the corpse I looked up, and saw another ape hurling a boulder in my direction. For a split second I understood the shaman had offered the same deal to this ape, and I would be the victim of the very same desire that I was seeking to satisfy. The blow hit me squarely in the head and I fell to the ground. I brought myself up, but soon slumped into unconsciousness.

The next scene was an amphitheater. On the floor were two large marble blocks, each with the silhouette of an ape carved in. The shaman carried each body, mine and my killer, and placed them on the marble blocks. He incanted a ceremony and performed the surgery.

When I woke up I was surprised to find myself alive. I had another’s ape brain inside my skull, yet my consciousness was distinctly mine. I looked at myself and saw that I was wearing a suit. I no longer acted like an ape and was capable of civilized behavior.

Though there is meaning behind the dream, it is irrelevant. It stands as a short story on its own and it’s kinda cool I think.

After breakfast I went to the nearest study hall. I couldn’t focus much. Sometimes I suffer from unspecified psychological pain, and I know it alleviates through meditation (and Tylenol too, but I prefer meditation), so I decided head off to the study hall I discovered yesterday, which has a chapel where I wanted to meditate.

On my way there I was laboriously pedaling uphill when three girls in horse riding gear asked for help: they had a flat tire. They must have been between 16 and 18 years old. I let them know I had never changed a tire, but I’ve seen it many times, and I felt confident I could do it. After some googling about the precise spot where to place the jack I was surprised it actually went so smooth.

Some guy appeared thinking I was hit, since I was on the floor. I asked him if he had changed a tire but he sped off saying “every car is different”, which I knew was an excuse not to help, but I just wanted some verification that I was doing things right!

After the change was done they said thanks, and one of them looked at me in a particularly kind and grateful way. I was amazed at the effect: my psychological pain was immediately lifted, I smiled profusely and thanked them. I bid farewell and head to the chapel.

I don’t know how long I meditated, but when I came out I was calm, clear headed and saw that the day was beautiful. I might as well bike some more to the next library. I pedaled an additional 8Km, most of it downhill, and was concerned because I would have to pedal uphill all the way back.

I arrived to a large building where I haven’t been before. The study hall of this library was massive and also packed. I’ve been to 50 different study halls in Madrid, and this was by far the largest. It also had nice large windows and natural light. Should it be closer to home this would be one of my regular spots, for sure.

I was finally able to focus better, got some work done. Then I got hungry, had lunch outside, and head off to a second library which I wanted to check out. It was much more modest and it smelled funky. Not worth it, but worth the exploration.

The way back seemed downhill again, thankfully. I also caught sight of a beautiful sunset.

Work Journal

15-03-2019 Work log: time flowing backwards

AuthorMark MacKay

One of Rudolf Steiner’s exercises for spiritual development involves journaling backwards, from the end of the day to the beginning. The purpose for this is not clear to me, but I thought it was an interesting creative constraint. Reader beware.

I sipped my tea and sat down to write my work log. I had just read about Notre Dame’s fire and a great sense of loss invaded me. Usually I’m oblivious to world events, so this feeling took me by surprise. It’s a tragic loss of one of humanity’s cultural jewels.

Moments ago I was cycling back from the study hall. I was pedaling along a cycling path at the edge of the city, and I could see sheep grazing the spring-time green dehesa of the outskirts, with the sun coming out some clouds to reach the horizon. It was exhilarating, it had been a good day combining focused work, chores, meditation, exercise and a sense of hope in the future.

The study hall was small and and somewhat vandalized, but I found a good isolated spot to work, and the students there were focused, which inevitably compounds on me. I dedicated the session to work on, and since this is coding work I was able to forget about myself, and immersed into the task with great flow.

The study hall is a large building where I hadn’t been before. As I arrived late I didn’t have a chance to explore it all (which I usually do when I come into a new workplace: I want to know exactly what the facility offers), but just arriving I knew this is perhaps my perfect workplace: the building is a centro de interpretación de la naturaleza a small museum of sorts which doesn’t have a collection, but instead offers information on nature.

At the entrance there’s a garden with native species (chestnut, pinus pinea, lavender and other plants which shapes I recognize, but names I ignore). The garden might seem unkempt at first sight, but it has its natural charm which no human hand can give. There’s picnic benches under the larger trees, perfect for having lunch.

After the garden you enter a courtyard flanked by three buildings: one is the museum/study hall, another is a small chapel, and the third I’m not sure (door was closed). I entered the chapel and found a very quiet place perfect for meditation. By now I knew I didn’t care about the condition of the study hall, the amenities would make up for any bad conditions.

I had come to this place because the closest study hall closed early, because it’s easter week. I didn’t know about this, and just as I was getting into the zone I observed most of the people packing up and leaving at 6pm. I asked what was going on and I was told it was closing soon. So I grabbed my bike and pedaled an extra four kilometers to get to the next study hall, and I’m glad I did it.

Before leaving for the first study hall I sat down to meditate, but soon I was dozing off. I find the experience of dozing off in meditation quite interesting to observe: you are observing your awareness, say, your breath. When you get distracted in meditation your attention wanders and you begin thinking, but when you doze off attention doesn’t wander, it dissipates and you begin hallucinating. It’s like ethereal dreams which don’t quite have visuals or language, I can’t say what exactly are they, because there are no symbols involved, but things happen. I recall a proto-dream in which a character was trying to kill something, and this something integrated into him, and his desire to kill it disappeared and he was in peace. But I can’t explain how I experienced this, there may have been very vague images and words which I somehow strung together, but it mainly took place in a sensory realm which precedes symbolic language, like the feelings experienced with gut feelings which then you translate into verbal language. I will surely welcome ancient Morpheus when he arrives in meditation [what a great loss to override ancient archetypes with modern ones, but perhaps this is the only way to keep them alive].

Before the meditation I found my bank’s token for online banking. I had searched it everywhere, and I was very worried because losing it would put me in a tight spot. I am quite disorganized, but there’s an underlying order in my disorganization, so I had an “electronics, arts and gadgets” suitcase where it had to be, but it was nowhere to be found. I searched the rest of my suitcases, completely emptying everything, but I couldn’t find it. I had given up, and I picked up a document binder where I have my passports and important papers and thought: “there’s a chance I may have thought let’s put the really important stuff that I can’t lose in the same place” and there it was!

I was reminded of a time when I had to recover a very old Yahoo account, I could only get access by answering my secret questions. I was presented with a question I had no idea why I had chosen: what was your favorite food as a child. Either I had forgotten, or 17 year old me was being clever. After some deliberation I decided it was unlikely I had forgotten. So I had to think like my teenage-self. Closed my eyes, breathed in, breathed out, regression to my teenage years. I opened my eyes and wrote “pussy”. Access granted.

Work Journal

13-04-2019 Work log: Unattached experience

AuthorMark MacKay

Yesterday I was running late, and the fastest way to get to the office (other than an Uber) is to bike, fast. I had biked once before and the experience was much different (it was drizzling, and I had extra time, it was drudgery). The time constraint made me focus on arriving fast, and this has the effect of getting you into the zone.

In the zone sometimes you experience a paradoxical effect: you are both present-in-the-world and simultaneously experiencing a straight train of thought which is completely unrelated to physical reality. So, as I was biking to the office a thought consumed my mind: why is it that we consider some experiences negative?

Barring traumatic events (which I wouldn’t call negative experience, they would be traumatic events), experience is neither positive or negative. Experience is. Negative experience would be the loss of memory, amnesia, forgetting. We are so attached to experiencing pleasure that we feel disappointed when something fails to entertain us.

And yet I could only recall my first trip on the bike. Oh yes, that felt like a negative experience: body was aching, cold water hitting my face, somber mood. Even though it wasn’t that bad, I would have very much preferred to have a comfy ride in a car.

Then I a thought came to mind: my first trip felt miserable in only in contrast to what I was experiencing at the moment, I hadn’t given it further thought until that moment. Until then it seemed simply a crappy commute. The chiaroscuro provided contrast and I was rewriting a memory as more negative than what I had actually experienced at the time.

Is there any solution to this? It seems my original train of thought provided the answer: if there is no negative experience, there is no positive experience either. One simply experiences, and any value judgement about it (either positive or negative) causes attachment. This seems to be the origin of thoughts like “I used to be much more happy years ago, but I didn’t notice at the time” or “I had a very unhappy childhood, but I’m happier now”. Judging experience, even as positive experience, brings about its opposite polarity.

How should we remain above judging experience? I think meditation trains for this. You experience a whole range of sensory experience but don’t attach any meaning to it, you simply put awareness and allow it to run through.

Work Journal

Work log 12-04-2019: I digress

AuthorMark MacKay

Some days I feel like nothing that happened in my work day that is worth mentioning: it’s all ok, not great, not bad. What are you supposed to write on those days? I’ll force myself to walk through my work day, in order to see if by recalling experience I might find something interesting to write about.

I woke up after having slept 9½ hours, it felt nice. I always sleep all I can. Sometimes it’s six hours, others it’s ten. At the slightest hint of sleepiness I have a nap. Usually naps last between one and two hours. I love napping because A. dreams usually happen at nap-time and B. It resets my focus battery, and I always get most out of the day if sleepiness is absent.

I think schedules were invented in times of mechanical labour. We were required to act as machines, because there were no machines available to perform the work. A line of production can’t deal with unscheduled workers, but modern workplaces have little excuses to deny a nap in the middle of the day, yet it seems taboo to shut yourself in a conference booth for a nap. You’re allowed to take a drink if you’re thirsty, to eat a snack if you’re hungry, to use the restroom if you need to take a dump, but take a nap? Hell no, better sit on your chair with your eyes glazed over and click around mindlessly, because you’re getting none of that until you get back home.

When I think about these things, I think like a kid: when I grow up, I will give my children all the toys and all the candy they want, because parents are so unfair. And so I make the same vow: if I ever have a company, I’ll provide napping facilities.

Anyways, I digress.

I alternated day rituals with light work tasks, preparing coffee/ answering emails, breakfast/collecting resources, showering/light work and so on. Though pleasant, I rarely indulge in this kind of activity, because I’m much more efficient at single tasking than the alternative. I’m proudly not a productivity zealot (as anyone who reads this may know) but work is somewhat sacred to me, and like all things sacred it requires the proper space and time to perform.

Light, semi-focused work is work, of course, but it can’t compare to the cascading flow of deeply focused work. This kind of work renews the soul and often leaves you feeling pumped up rather than drained. It usually involves the full use of your body and your mind, and the computer feels more like a musical instrument rather than a tool. I absolutely love this feeling, for some people it reaches spiritual stages because it dissolves the ego: there is no “I” and the experience is that of chanelling something that wants to emerge from it’s own will. The person who creates, along with all his doubts and fears disappears, and the act is a rapture of oneness.

Anyways, I digress.

After lunch I took work to the study hall. As usual, my focus was better there, and I tackled a larger challenge I had in mind for some time. I won’t write about the details of the project, since this is client work (and both you and I find details of implementation boring). But an interesting observation came up:

In the Boolean Game I didn’t have to communicate or justify any decision with anybody, yet there is still inner conflict and communication between the self that designs, the self that implements, and the self that organizes and schedules things. What is interesting is that there is actually less conflict in collaboration than in solo work (at least so far). It’s still too early to tell, but I will most definetely put awareness here.

A larger amount of time goes towards documentation and justifying your decisions, since clients and collaborators don’t have direct access to your brain (fortunately!), and I’ve also seen that the larger the company, the more of this they need, because they must justify decisions across teams, even if they are not directly involved in the project. Some people say that you cannot over-communicate but I’ll be damned if it’s not evident just how much effort and time is put on communicating effectively. And, unfortunately, many creative people get caught in this machinery, and instead of creating they end up spending their entire day in meetings. Of course you can over-communicate!

Anyways, enough digressing, it’s time for bed.

Work Journal

Work log 11-04-2019: Spiritual algebra

AuthorMark MacKay

I had a pleasant, productive day. I went to a favorite library of mine and enjoyed the shared focus from students there. I put most of my time towards administrative/organizational tasks, which I generally feel distaste about, but this time it was pleasant. I observe that I’m addicted to the sense of flow that comes from deep concentration while programming, and my sense of distaste is simply a contrast between light and deep focus. However, when I don’t achieve focus while programming I often feel frustration. I should simply switch the task to something more akin to my state.

After the library went to a Buddhist meditation event. As I killed some minutes outside I tried to sense what I expected about it, and I noticed I was expecting disappointment. I took notice of the forecast, then went to the meditation, and I’m glad to report my intuition was wrong. I enjoyed it.

At the end of the session we had a shorter metta mediation (loving kindness). The facilitator gave instructions to think about someone who had annoyed us in the past few days to wish happiness, security and love to that person. I couldn’t recall someone who had annoyed me (except myself, of course), and later on, in the subway, I recollected the past few weeks to try to find that person.

Then it came to me: some days ago I went to a study hall, and a woman with a huge ass 19 inch HP Dragon laptop annoyed the hell out of me mainly because she had bad taste. It was a horrible computer and the fans made a lot of noise. But it was mostly about bad taste. I was surprised at my own reaction, labelling it as juvenile and snob.

So, in the subway I wished for her health, her happiness and her wellness. And I could not help but to wish for the improvement of her taste too. I noticed that my own juvenile and snobbish labels for myself faded with this task. Ah, so that’s how it works! I thought, by balancing the equation we perform spiritual algebra.

Work Journal

09-04-2019 Work log: Signs, meaning and rationality

AuthorMark MacKay

Over the last few days I’ve felt inclinations towards writing again, and I was letting it soak to sense if it was a persistent sensation. Last night I went to bed too exhausted to do it, but with the intention of beginning today. When I woke I had received an email from somebody who had stumbled upon my work logs and encouraged me to continue writing, and of course this was perceived as a sign that my inclinations were indeed correct.

I’d say I’ve developed a light hearted approach towards signs of this kind. I used to be the hyper-rational person who’d discount signs as fantasy and superstition: the universe does not bend itself to make evident the path you should walk, that would be giving you too much self-importance. As a hyper-rational person you proactively fight the meaning life seems to offer. The gut is the inferior brain which must be kept in check by the neocortex.

But at some point the meaningless life becomes so barren you become willing to indulge in some fantasy. “Well, I know these signs to be fantasies, but I might as well follow them and see what happens”. And then life gives you feedback on your gut instinct.

Some years ago, in Mexico City, I was particularly distressed, and I went to a buddhist ceremony to meditate. Among the dozens of practitioners, a tall, slender man in his fifties caused a big impression on me. He simply had a strong presence and a perfect lotus posture, but aside from that I can’t pinpoint what caused the impression. I sensed that I had to speak with him.

When the mediation finished I sought him out to no avail. I shrugged and put a minus one score to “follow the signs” directive that I was exploring at the moment.

Exactly one year later I encountered him waiting at the elevator at the building where I used to work. I froze on sight: I was certain it was him, but again this could be my mind playing tricks. We got in the elevator and I saw that he was carrying “Surely You are Joking, Mr. Feynman”, a favorite book of mine. I mustered the courage to commend his taste in books and mentioned that he seemed familiar from meditation at the buddhist center. He apologized for not remembering me. I laughed and introduced myself, and he mentioned he worked at the Chinese school in the building.

Of course, the first thing I did when I arrived to the office was to google him, I had gathered his first name and his workplace, and soon enough I had his LinkedIn profile: ex-developer at Microsoft, owner of the Chinese school. I thought it humble of him just saying he “worked there”. I let my excitement subside before contacting him to propose meeting over coffee, which took me two weeks.

After a substantial amount of time in business related conversation I explained honestly my conundrum: I had seen him only once before, his face had burned into my memory, and lately the problem of “signs” was causing a lot of distress in my life, because it was not compatible with my worldview. I explained that his presence was a sign to me and perhaps he could give me more insight into the problem.

I was relieved that he didn’t take me for a crazy fellow, and at the same time his response left me unsatisfied: he shrugged, and said everything happened for a reason. “But let’s take Feynman, for example. He was next to his wife when she died, and her clock (which was a gift from Feynman) stopped at that precise moment. He decided there was nothing mystical in the experience, the clock broke down frequently, and perhaps the nurse picked it up to note the time of decease, and that’s how he explained away the coincidence”. He shrugged again, “it doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me”.

We spent some more time speaking of synchronicities and anecdotes and what not. At the time I was disappointed at the whole thing: a huge build-up of signs for the new age woo of everything happens for a reason. Still, it was a pleasant meeting and I was glad to have followed through. Signs may not be truth, but at least they take us down interesting rabbit holes I thought.

Then, as the years have passed, I’ve come to understand a couple of things better: the signs are a product of your consciousness, but this doesn’t mean they are not real. They are subject to your biases, desires, yearnings, fears and emotions. If you encounter the girl you like at the supermarket, you see it as a sign that you should speak to her. And there is wisdom in this! You walk at night in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and a cat jumps out the trash and scares the shit out of you. Your consciousness might interpret it as a bad omen. There may be wisdom in this too.

However, understanding these signs up as literal messages from the universe will only set you up for disappointment in the best of cases, and restraining orders in the worse ones. These are prompts, suggestions and confirmations from your subconscious that you are on the right or wrong path.

As I recall the conversation I had with this Buddhist man I find myself more in line with his attitude: it’s not that important, accept it as meaning, not as truth. It’s wonderful to experience shared signs and meaning with other people, don’t be that person that shoots down other’s people fantasies because you identify as a rational person.

Today I begun a month long project with a former mentor of mine, Javier Cañada. After lunch I was alone at his office, so I sat down to meditate. I dozed off and for a split second I dreamed I was munching on a carrot. I had dreamed about carrots before.

Work Journal

Work log paused

AuthorMark MacKay

As the Boolean Game enters maintenance mode, I find myself less inclined to continue writing work logs. I really enjoyed writing it during times of creation, but now I find myself thinking it’s unnecessary, continuing out of habit.

There’s already another game wanting to emerge, but I tell it to be patient and wait for it’s turn. When it comes, I will surely resume this work log.

Work Journal

25-03-2019 Work log: Self promotion

AuthorMark MacKay

Today I had the vague goal of “incrementing traffic” in whatever way I thought appropriate. I thought of the Bézier Game: I hadn’t added a notice that the game didn’t work on touch devices, but now that I have a game that does, I might as well redirect this traffic to the Boolean Game.

When I checked the stats on The Bézier Game, I was surprised to see it still gets 10,000 visitors per day. So I added a simple notice suggesting that you play the Boolean Game instead.

I also posted the game on Product Hunt, Designer News, and Reddit. When I logged into Reddit after several years, I came upon my own profile and had completely forgotten that I used to create Rage Comics on Reddit when they were a thing.

Here’s my favorite one:


Some of the Rage Comics were bad, others were good, and others were good enough but completely unappreciated. It gave me some consolation that some good things simply go under the radar. After wasting some time I checked how it had done in the aggregators and the reception was quite mild. I packed up and hit the gym.

As I was walking there I was quite surprised that I was not too disappointed with the result. It’s the game where I have put most effort and time, and also the most “unsuccessful” one. I remembered that weeks ago I had projected what I would consider success and failure, so I checked it again:

As I was walking back from the library I thought: what would make me feel I’ve been successful in this endeavor?. There is financial success, of course (which is very much needed) but beyond this I’d be satisfied with a modest popularity that opens doors to unknown things in the future.

Failure would be that it’s met with indifference. Would I feel disappointed? I asked myself, and surprisingly the answer that arose was no, the only alternative to this period would have been idleness, and that would have even more taxing on my wellbeing.

According to my standards, the game fell right in-between these two. It opened new doors, and it was met with acclaim from people that I admire, but it was met with indifference from the public. After my yoga session I saw that there was nothing new on the front, but I ran my visitor analytics and was surprised to find 30,000 visitors, compared to 600 the day before. It’s still to early to tell if this is meaningful or just a traffic blip, but I had already made peace with this lukewarm reception so it was nice to end the day in a positive note.

Work Journal

24-03-2019 Work log: On dreams

AuthorMark MacKay

I’ve been observing my dreams carefully for the past few years, writing them down when they’re not evidently “mental noise”. I have periods where I recall my dreams a lot, and others where they fade into the background. It is usually when real life becomes more intense that the inner world quiets down, though this is not always the case.

In my observations I would venture to say that it is impossible to interpret another person’s dreams without knowing him or her profoundly. In fact, it’s difficult to interpret your own dreams if you haven’t observed them for some time. But I didn’t set out to describe what little I know about dreams, I wish to describe the dream I had last night:

I was at home, holed up working as always. I heard on the radio that an old wise sage lived on the outskirts of Madrid. I wanted to visit him. I looked out the window, it was getting dark. I can’t take the bike I thought. I need to reach him by foot. And so I begun walking, and at an intersection a naked woman dashed like a deer between cars, and in a patch of grass planted three full grown carrots. It began snowing, and I thought I wanted to follow her, so I ran behind her following her footprints. When I caught up with her we began sprinting together, like deer. Do you have a spiritual name? she asked me, I said no. Well, my spiritual name is __. I thought it was naive that she had a spiritual name, but I remained quiet. I didn’t want to ruin this exhilarating moment.

The casual reader of this work log would already have a better hand at interpreting the dream than a trained dream analyst without the context, I think. To me it said clearly: it’s time to go outside. Between the release and my sickness I’ve stay put, moving exclusively between the gym, the supermarket and the library for weeks.

But in the morning I had this uneasiness of leaving my comfort zone. I could just stay home and work I thought. It felt as if grabbing the bike and working from the library at Retiro would be a hassle, that I was still weak from illness, that it’s all uphill on the way back, yadda yadda.

And then I thought: that’s an interesting experiment, I had a dream of yearning for adventure, yet my rational mind predicts that I will be miserable doing it. Let us see what arises from experience.

The dream was right. I had a simple yet wonderful and productive day.

Work Journal

22-03-2019 Work log: morsels of experience II

AuthorMark MacKay

More bits of experience:

I frequently come upon resistance to work, only when I give up and think I’m not in the mood for work do I find something to work on. It’s by finding the path of least resistance that I find the stepping stones to advance. For some reason, this lesson doesn’t seem to sink in.

I went to yoga twice today, once in the morning the other in the afternoon. I no longer find weight lifting enticing, yet I can’t help but notice the quick progress is due to the strength developed through lifting weights. I suppose when I come back to lifting weights I will also see improvement, both disciplines highlight different things, but what is highlighted on one side plays a supporting role on the other. For example, I shake a lot on the bench press, and no technique would help me out. And I also shook a lot starting yoga, but through the emphasis in breathing the muscles seem to get in sync, and shaking has been greatly reduced.

There seems to be a parallel between this and intellectual matters which I will explore in time.

The mind seems to finally have put the game at its appropriate scale. On Monday I’ll publish a batch of changes and then do my best to promote it. If this doesn’t work out I’ll be equanimous. It was a great adventure and I find some similarity to the first time I walked two years go: I just barely arrived to Santiago with my ankles so swollen they looked like elephant legs (after just 200Km).

Despite the pains I enjoyed the experience, and I’ve walked ten times this amount since then. My ankles haven’t swollen again, in part because I don’t go stomping around as amateurs do, I also know the difference between normal and abnormal exertion pain, and simple hardiness that grows out of practice.

It was a well earned experience.