the 42nd monkey

Lee shared a thoughtful and entertaining Cracked article* by David Wong about the Monkeysphere. In short, the idea is that we can maintain less than 150 relationships (our monkeys**), so there’s no way for us to care about everyone.

Lee also shared a Derek Sivers article that hits right in the gut. As Lee pointed out, reading the two together makes it obvious that the abuses Derek talked about came from people working outside their Monkeysphere. They ended up shouting at their email, not realizing there was a person on the other end.

After reading them both, I had to ask myself: Why do I think I’m different? I do try to treat people with respect, even when “people” are an abstraction so far removed from my life that I need complex software*** to remind me how to treat them well. I also interact with lots of people over the course of the day, far more than the ~150 my Monkeysphere would allow me to care about.

First I thought there might be some notable difference between in-Monkeysphere people and out-of-Monkeysphere people. Maybe I just follow a set of rules about interacting with people (see also: enlightened self-interest), without really feeling it on the inside. Then I read a tweet from Dave Masten:

“My dad’s leukemia just took a turn for the worse. Sad.”

That hit me in the gut, too. And then I figured it out. They *are* in my Monkeysphere. All of them. Sara and Valerie are in there. Dave’s in there. You’re in there, dear reader, even if I don’t know you at all. They’re the 42nd monkey.

Here’s how it seems to work, based on whole minutes of self-examination: one of my monkeys**** is an abstract monkey. Programmers might call it a variable, mathematicians might call it an equivalence class, and politicians might call it a constituent.  When I interact with someone who isn’t in my Monkeysphere, that person becomes the 42nd Monkey for that interaction, even if it’s only a few seconds. When the time comes to deal with someone else, they become the 42nd Monkey instead.

The 42nd Monkey suffered a loss. The 42nd Monkey is working toward a deadline. She slept badly last night, and she’s just trying to wake up. He’s glad it’s Friday. She doesn’t have a lot of time, but she’s willing to talk. He wonders if all this trouble is worth it. She hopes she’ll meet someone nice tonight. He’s awkward at parties. The 42nd Monkey, in short, is a real human being.

The 42nd Monkey isn’t so different from the other monkeys in my sphere, so I try to treat him with the same respect. More importantly, I realize I’m probably outside of the 42nd Monkey’s monkeysphere, so I give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s not yelling at me to make me feel bad; it’s because her child is crying. He’s honking at my car, not its driver.

Why does this matter? Because I don’t agree with David Wong’s conclusion that “it’s also impossible for them to care about you.” (Emphasis his.) I can be your 42nd Monkey just as you are mine. It might only be for 5 seconds, but if that’s the time you’re spending with me then that’s all it takes.

* I know! Can you believe it? Not a phrase I’d ever imagine writing.
** Yes, humans aren’t monkeys, and most of the images in the Cracked article aren’t monkeys either. Step back and embrace the wider point here.
*** A digression, but here’s an example from right now: My phone is told by my calendar application to remind me when someone I’ve never met is scheduled to call, so I’ll know not to send that call to voicemail, which I ordinarily would do because their caller ID isn’t in my address book.
**** There’s probably more than one monkey, but for now let’s assume it’s one monkey. (In a vacuum[4].) That way I can name it, instead of saying “Monkeys 42 through 42 + n, where n < 108″ each time.

the new broom

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to teach your child to tell time.

INT. BEDROOM – DAY

KAREN and CHRIS are asleep in bed. They open their eyes to find the GEEKLET standing over them, sighing loudly to catch their attention.

CHRIS

(blearily)

Hi, sweetie. What time is it?

GEEKLET

It’s 9:10.

CHRIS

OK, we’ll be up in a minute.

GEEKLET

All right. I’ll come back and tell you when it’s 9:11.

…and yes, it’s occurred to us that he acts a lot like Sheldon Cooper. The difference is that Sheldon is an adult, and hopefully the Geeklet will grow out of this. Hopefully.

why I’m leaving Facebook

Starting today, I’m going to remove all my personal information from Facebook and “unfriend” everyone. I’m responding to a pair of status messages that appeared on my profile over the last few weeks, though I didn’t put them there. (John calls them “phantom status messages.”)

fb-screenshot-1

According to the site itself, the messages were both submitted “via Text Message”, which is odd because I haven’t authorized the Facebook Texts service. I submitted a bug report to Facebook Support, but so far they’ve done nothing aside from ask me to resubmit my request if I’m “still experiencing security issues.”

Facebook screenshot 2

Just to be clear:

  • My account hasn’t been “hacked”. I changed my password as soon as the first phantom status appeared, and that didn’t stop the second message two weeks later. Since the phantom messages came from the Facebook Texts service, they didn’t require my authentication anyway.
  • My computer doesn’t have a virus. (If you know me at all, you’re chuckling at the idea.) Even if by some magical circumstance it did, the virus would have to send Facebook a text message somehow, and they’d still have to accept it.

That leaves two possibilities that I can see:

  1. It’s a bug. Some bit of Facebook code is misrouting another user’s text messages to my profile by accident.
  2. It’s a security exploit. A malicious user is exploiting some crack in Facebook’s text-message-handling code to drop messages in other users’ accounts. This is less likely, but not impossible; it would probably start with innocuous messages to test the exploit.

Facebook Texts

Either way, I no longer trust my Facebook account. The phantom messages have been benign so far, but all it would take is one generic hurtful statement to become a real nightmare. (Not to mention what this implies about Facebook’s security in general.)

I still plan to keep the account itself open, because I need it for work (to develop Facebook apps) and for space advocacy (as a page admin). I just won’t be posting to it, and it won’t be “friends” with anyone. I’ll miss the easy keeping-in-touch it provides, but that’s not worth the potential hassle.

SpaceUp, scary but awesome

support SpaceUp on KickStarterStarting today*, you’re going to be hearing me talk about SpaceUp a lot. You can go over to the SpaceUp site to see what it’s all about, but here, among friends, I wanted to talk about me. Erm, I mean, what it means to me.

It started as one of those “why isn’t anyone doing this?” questions, which should be a red flag right there. As soon as I asked it, the answer was twisted into, “Yeah, Chris, why don’t you do that?” So I did what I usually do in that situtation: “Why don’t we do it, you and you and you and… don’t run away now! You.” I roped in people from both the BarCamp side and the SD Space side, so we have more than enough experience to actually make SpaceUp happen.

Oh, but it means calling people! And putting myself out there! And asking people for money! And other scary things! So adrenaline is stomping on my nervous system and SpaceUp thoughts are constantly running through my brain just in case I’m Doing It Wrong.

And it might fail.

…but I’m not going to think about that right now. There’s plenty to do, and action is the best way I have to keep stray thoughts at bay. Oh, and you can pledge a few bucks to support an event with the potential to be awesome, and get a patch or a t-shirt to remember it by.

* Okay, I started blathering about SpaceUp to some of you a while ago. Today I stop holding back!

on deadlines and priority: a physical analogue

deadline vs priorityLooking at my to-do list today, I noticed for the millionth time how two key attributes of a task seem to be either redundant or in conflict: its due date and its priority.

It always seemed to me that you should only need to assign one or the other. If you have a deadline, then what does the priority affect? If the item is high enough priority, isn’t the due date ASAP?

Today, though, I had a flash of insight. The due date defines how much I have to work on the item in order to get it done in time, almost like the velocity of the task. The priority, however, defines how resistant the job is to being derailed by other tasks, more like the inertia or mass of the task.

Put that way, the two values aren’t redundant at all. In fact, you can put them together to determine the overall momentum of a project, based on the combination of the deadline-driven velocity and the priority-based mass. It might even be possible to come up with a formula for determining the outcome of a collision between two tasks, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the project manager.