Eric the Omnipotent

Larry Sanger

I’ve been making up a bedtime story for my boys (ages 12 and 8). I decided to start writing it down. What I have below is the first few evenings’ worth. I have a fair bit to catch up; there will be adventures at school, making money, and trips here and there. I thought I’d share it on my blog to invite some feedback. Let me know what you think.

Chapter One

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Eric, age 10, who lay dreaming of bacon. It was a very vivid dream. He saw it cooked to perfection in a pan; he smelled that inviting, savory smell; he even heard it sizzling. Then, in his dream, he saw the gorgeous bacon removed from the pan, ready to eat on a plate. There was a lot of it, but not too much. It was the perfect amount of perfect bacon.

Then Eric jolted awake and sat up and rubbed his eyes. Next to him, on his nightstand, was just the plate of bacon that he had dreamed. It was still sizzling.

“Gee, thanks, Mom!” he called out.

Eric looked for his mother to appear in the doorway, but no one did and no one replied. Eric shrugged and took a piece of bacon. It was, indeed, just as perfect as in his dream. It didn’t burn his fingers, but it was crispy hot, and delicious.

“Eric!” his mother, Martha, called out from his doorway. “Where did that bacon come from?”

He looked up with a wrinkled brow. “I don’t know. You mean you didn’t make it?”

“No, I did not,” she said, sternly. “I didn’t give you permission to—” She stopped herself, then said,
“Wait.” She shook her head with her eyes closed and yawned. “I don’t remember buying bacon.”

Eric’s four-year-old sister, Molly, appeared in the doorway with a frown of deep confusion on her face. She spotted the bacon and immediately ran and snatched a piece. “Yum!” she exclaimed.

By this time Eric’s father, Frank, appeared over Martha’s shoulder and said, “Where’d the bacon come from?” Then: “Wow, did you make that yourself, son? Looks good.”

“I didn’t buy bacon, Frank,” Martha said. “You must have.”

Frank looked at Martha, nonplussed. “I…don’t buy bacon,” he said, as he walked over and helped himself to a piece.

“I know you don’t, but you must have,” Martha said.

“I didn’t. Swear to God.”

Martha’s eyebrows raised and she shrugged her shoulders. “O…kay, guys, whatever. Enjoy your bacon.” She got herself a piece and went off.

“Eric,” Frank said, “I didn’t buy that bacon. And I didn’t make that bacon. And if I know your mother, and I think I do, I don’t think she—”Just as Martha had, Frank stopped himself, then said, “Maybe your mom forgot it.”

“No, no,” Eric said, “she’s just pretending that she didn’t make it. Obviously she made it.”

Molly was silently standing in front of the plate and biting into her second piece. Eric was on his third.

Frank, like everyone else, was frowning in confusion and thought. “You must be right, unless you’re the trickster. But it sure doesn’t sound like her. Or you.”

The breakfast table conversation was about who made the bacon. Everyone but Martha maintained that she made it and was puzzlingly pretending not to have done so, while Martha maintained that it was Frank who made it and who was pretending. Molly wondered grumpily why she didn’t get any bacon next to her bed, but Martha said that she had eaten as much as anyone, so it was perfectly fine.

* * *

Eric, an intelligent but otherwise (as far as he knew) perfectly ordinary fifth-grader, went through his normal school-day routine. Last year, he had asked to be allowed to come home instead of going to day care, which Martha agreed to, saying that she wanted to come home early and work from home anyway. She was a graphic designer. Besides, Frank was often at home; he was a professor of astronomy at a research university.

Today, however, Eric found himself home alone, as he sometimes was for an hour or two before his mother came home. His instructions were clear: stay at home, do his homework, have a snack if he needed one.

Eric, being a nice and diligent boy, usually did as he was told. That is why, today, he was sitting down at his desk in his bedroom frowning at his math book. “Ugh,” he said to himself, “I wish I didn’t have to do this. I wish it were already done.” He opened the textbook and then opened his binder to take out a clean sheet of paper, when he noticed that the paper was full of writing. This was a great surprise to him because, just a moment before, it had been blank. He was about to put it back, thinking it was yesterday’s homework, but he had just turned in yesterday’s homework. Besides, this had no markings on it. All of his old homework had markings on it. He looked again: it was marked with today’s date. He examined it carefully: he couldn’t remember doing it at all, but this was today’s assignment. Completed.

“Wow,” he said to himself, remembering the bacon. He had just been thinking he wished it were already done. And here it was, already done.

Eric held out his hand palm up, and said experimentally—not particularly expecting anything to happen—“I wish I had a pencil.”

A pencil popped into his hand.

Now, for a ten-year-old, Eric was not much of a dreamer. He didn’t really go in for swords and sorcery or fairy tales. He was, in his parents’ opinion, a geek who liked computers and machines. So while you might think that he would shriek with delight, or grow round-eyed with wonder, or maybe faint, that wasn’t Eric. Instead, he instantly frowned violently, mouth agape, and whispered:

“What the—”

Then he said said: “I wish it were a cupcake.”

The pencil became a cupcake, a glorious, fancy, chocolate-frosted confection. Eric bit into the cupcake, again experimentally, still frowning. Then his eyebrows went up. It was very good indeed.

I will not tell you everything that Eric popped into and out of existence just then, because there were a great many things and Eric had plenty of time. Whole cakes, a million dollars, a very expensive telescope, a friendly cat, and a wolf were just a few of the things that were popping into and out of existence in Eric’s bedroom. While perhaps not a dreamer, Eric did have an excellent imagination.

Then Eric had another idea: Could he levitate? That sounded potentially dangerous, so at first he sat on his bed, then he levitated about a foot off the bed.

That was the moment that Eric heard Martha’s scream. She hung onto the side of the doorway, staring at her floating son and looking quite faint. Eric floated down and got to his feet and said, “Now don’t freak out Mom, it’s OK, but—look at this!”

And he held out his hand and into it popped another cupcake. Martha sat heavily on the bed with her hand clutched to her head. You might think that she would suspect Eric to have learned some very effective magic trick. The problem was that she had seen. She had seen Eric actually levitating in the air, for several seconds. And had seen Eric’s hand absolutely empty and then, in the next moment, absolutely full of cupcake.

She was close to panicking, because she thought it likely she was going insane. Eric popped the cupcake out of existence, which did not help, and he patted his mother’s shoulder, saying, “It’s OK, Mom, really, don’t worry! It’s OK!” and other words of reassurance for about an entire minute. Martha was silent. Eric kept saying, “Do you want me to show you again?” and Martha just shook her head.

Eventually, Martha collected herself and managed a weak smile, and said, “How?”

“I dunno,” said Eric.

“Am I going crazy?”

“Absolutely not, Mom. Unless I’m going crazy too, because I’m seeing the same things! Look, you tell me what you want, and I’ll make it. Go ahead!”

“OK,” Martha said, nodding. “How about…how about a really big…ruby. You know, the gemstone.”

“Sure!” chirped Eric. “I know what a ruby is.” And he opened his hand to reveal a monstrous ruby, surely, Martha thought, the largest ruby that has ever existed. She was increasingly impressed and excited. She took the ruby.

“OK, now a diamond.” Eric produced one and handed it to her.

“An emerald?” Again, Eric handed her one. The three gemstones were difficult to hold all at once in a single hand.

“But I’ll tell you, Mom, I can fill a room full of those, so…” Eric waved a hand, unnecessarily but theatrically, and the giant gemstones disappeared.

“Aw,” said Martha. “I liked those.” Then she fainted.

* * *

Eric was holding her hand and looking quite worried when Martha came around. He was repeating such things as, “It’s OK, really” and “you’re not crazy, Mom!” This didn’t help Martha very much, but she didn’t faint again. By the time she was fully recovered, she seemed to have accepted the situation and was “all business.”

“All right, Eric,” she said, “let’s test you out a little more, OK? Come with me.”

Martha led her son to the living room. She pointed at a couch that was quite old and ratty. “Give me a new couch, please,” she said.

First, Eric waved his hand dramatically and the couch was instantly new again. Martha wrinkled her nose at this. “No, it needs to be something different. Not just new again.”

“Like what?” Eric said, waving his hand and changing the upholstery from brown to blue. “This?”

“No…” Martha looked thoughtful. Then she held out her hands. “Give me a new tablet.”

One appeared in her hands.

“Now open it up to the browser.”

A web browser opened itself up.

They searched the web for pictures of couches. She picked one out, made it larger so Eric could see it well, and said, “That one.” A fancy new sofa appeared in the place of the blue one. “Hmm, it’s kind of small.” It enlarged. “Yes, that’ll do for now.”

Next, they picked out new drapes, a stereo with large speakers, an 82” television, marble countertops for the kitchen, and other assorted odds and ends. Finally, Eric created a new sink. Martha tried it out, only to hear a strange sound coming from underneath; water was spilling onto the floor, because plumbing was missing. After some yelling and mild cursing, Eric said, “No problem!” and cleaned up the mess with a flick of his fingers. Martha showed him pictures of what sink plumbing looks like, and he got it in right.

“How on earth,” Martha said, “can you create a tablet and a television and get a sink wrong?”

“Well, I was only thinking about the sink. I wasn’t thinking about all the pipes and stuff underneath,” Eric said.

“Yes,” Martha replied, “but you don’t have to think about or know about all sorts of things that go into the tablet or television.”

Eric paused. “Well, but I was only thinking about the sink. I mean, that is all I was thinking about.”

“The point, dear son,” Martha said, “is that you can get things wrong.”

“Yeah. Well,” Eric said, “Hey. I’ll just, you know, wish I won’t get things wrong.” He nodded his head. “There! Done!”

Martha looked skeptical. “I’ll bet you still can, though…” She stared into the distance for a minute. “I know. Give me a new refrigerator.” Eric pointed at the old refrigerator and a new one appeared. Martha looked inside.

“Uh-huh,” Martha said, “I thought so.”


“There’s no food.”

“Aw,” Eric said, “here.” Assorted foodstuffs and drinks, roughly what Eric remembered seeing there, appeared.

“Where’s the yogurt?” Martha said. “We had yogurt.”

“Oh,” Eric said.

“Yes. You didn’t know what was in there. Can you give me back the old refrigerator?”

“Sure, I guess.” It was back with a wave of Eric’s hand. Martha opened it up. The old food was there.

“Interesting,” she said. Suddenly she looked very tired. She said, “I’m going to take a nap.” Then she turned around and looked very seriously at Eric, adding, “Don’t do anything dangerous, don’t tell anyone, don’t go anywhere. Just give me some time, OK? Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Mom.”

Positivity and motivation

Larry Sanger

One thing that almost nobody knows about me is how much time I’ve spent on self-analysis of one sort or another. I’m deeply impressed by people who are more motivated and self-disciplined than I am, and I frequently try to get to the bottom of the many issues surrounding self-discipline.

Recently I’ve been toying with the notion that optimism is an important attitudinal key to high motivation. But the more I think about it, the more I think it is not optimism but positivity that matters. These are different. A rough gloss of “optimism” is “the habit of estimating the probability of future events turning out well.” By contrast, I’d say “positivity” means “the habit of evaluating one’s own achievements and situation, and those of other people, highly.” Obviously, this is a vague thing. But if you “look on the bright side,” you’re positive; if you’re depressive and regard your achievements as worthless and your situation as bleak, you’re negative.

So, yes, I’m thinking that Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking was right all along. This is also consistent with the fact that cognitive therapy (which is all about replacing negative thoughts with positive ones) is so helpful.

I know people who say they are depressed who nevertheless do work hard. I’m not saying that positivity is perfectly correlated with motivation (or hard work). But as I look back on my own life, at the times that I worked the hardest, I was always at the time quite proud of my work or progress, and more or less satisfied with my circumstances. Was that because I happened to be working harder or producing more at the time? Actually, no. There were other times in my life when I also happened to work hard and get stuff done, but I was dissatisfied with my progress. No–I think I was, at those times, simply focused on the positive. That suggests a hypothesis.

I’ll be 50 in a few weeks, and I have thought a great deal about this sort of thing, but I’m not sure I have ever entertained this precise hypothesis: When I am quite positive, i.e., when I dismiss self-criticism and instead take pride in my work (and my circumstances, i.e., “looking on the bright side” of whatever comes my way), then I do happen to be unusually well motivated and hard-working. Positivity causes high motivation. Dwelling on the bright side is a sufficient but not necessary condition for wanting to get stuff done.

It’s not optimism about the future that matters most to motivation. It’s positivity. Optimism means evaluating the probability of future desired events highly. But if you’re in a blue funk, then even if you think it’s very likely that you’ll achieve x if you set out to do x, you’ll be less likely to care about x, or be motivated by the prospect. But if you’re quite positive, if you dwell long and hard on how wonderful it will be to achieve x, and you generally look on the bright side regardless, that can be enough to overcome a sober estimate that your chances of success are relatively low.

So I’m going to try this out. There’s no great method to follow, however. What I’m describing here is an attitude, not an activity. If you’re persuaded by what I’ve written, and want to try it out with me, then it seems to me what you need to do is reflect on everything in your life–your job, your relationships, your material circumstances, everything–and remind yourself of all of the most positive aspects of it all. Then keep those aspects in mind, and going forward, as you encounter new circumstances and talk with folks, make an effort to dwell on the most positive aspects. If you get a B and you wanted an A, reflect that it’s not a C; that the course was difficult; that it is, after all, just one grade; etc. If you finish a piece of work you’re proud of and nobody else seems to notice, don’t let that stop you from taking pride in your work. And let your attitude come out. If you feel like saying to a coworker, “I really killed it,” referring to your job, they’ll probably support you if they’re decent.

I’m not saying you should be conceited or narcissistic. Don’t take other people down a peg just because you start getting more positive about yourself. I also think you should be positive with respect to other people, their qualities and their achievements. If someone says they finished something important, praise them. You might find someone’s politics annoying, but don’t let that stop you from liking or admiring him or her. Remind yourself that politics are just one not-very-important aspect of a person’s life, and that your friend is, after all, very accomplished in this or that way, or funny, or pretty, or whatever their positive traits might be. This will make it easier for you to be more genuinely positive about yourself.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Why do I get so much work done on airplanes?

Larry Sanger

Riding in planes ain’t so bad. I wholeheartedly believe they’re safer than cars–and this is the one actual advantage of having short legs. So I don’t mind riding in planes. Maybe, I admit, I even look forward to it a little. But more important than that, I usually get quite a bit of work done on planes. It’s surely the lack of distractions, right? No Internet, no family, no workmates, no phone calls, just me and my laptop (or book).

But perhaps there’s more than just a lack of distractions that accounts for my productivity while aloft: maybe it’s also a sense of agency or freedom. Nobody’s about to tell me what to do, and I know it. I have a block of hours that I know I can dispose of in just the way I like. I might be crammed in a 31″ (average legroom) by 16.5″ (average width) box by rapacious airlines with razor-thin profit margins, but my ability to control my time is positively liberating.

Distraction and lack of agency are both rather puzzling. They seem to be wholly psychological. What, really, is the difference between me sitting at my workstation at home and doing some work and sitting with a laptop in a plane seat? There seems to be nothing more than an awareness that certain things are possible–that I might choose to do something that would (sadly) distract me, or that someone might ask me to do something or interrupt me. I personally lack the ability to turn off that awareness; I can’t as it were put myself into airplane mode. But that inability is simply a decision I make. It’s not a bad think that I make it. I don’t want to be the sort of person who “gives zero f***s.” But riding in an airplane cuts us off, temporarily. And that seems to be a good thing, sometimes, for me anyway.

Top 10 hidden gems of central Ohio

Larry Sanger

Today my family discovered yet another hidden gem, a spot we had never been to before, in central Ohio where we live. This inspired me to catalog our favorite “hidden gems.”

Central Ohio has some excellent landmarks that a visitor would enjoy. The Columbus Zoo is world class; the Whetstone Park of Roses is stunning when in bloom; the riverfront, COSI, LeVeque Tower, and State House downtown are all well worth a visit; nearby German Village is a great spot to stroll; Ohio State is nice to visit, especially around the Oval, Library, and Mirror Lake; the Columbus Metropolitan Library downtown is one of the best public libraries in the country; Franklin Park Conservatory is a beautiful spot; the various metro parks make an excellent park system; you’ve probably heard of Ohio Caverns, which we love; and everybody has heard about the Hocking Hills. But if you live in the area, you probably know about those spots.

Here are some spots you might or might not have encountered yet, which we have visited several times (or plan to visit again) and which we love—from least hidden to most hidden.

10. Hoover Dam. This is the least “hidden” and perhaps it doesn’t belong on the list, but I didn’t know about it for a long time. This isn’t an earthen dam like so many others in Ohio, it is a tall and wide concrete dam with a massive gushing spillway. You can walk all the way across the dam, as well as from the top of the dam to the marshy, blue heron-filled area at the bottom. At the observation area on the eastern side, last time we were there, there were a bunch of swallow nests. On both sides of the dam and on either side of Hoover Reservoir are places to walk, play, and picnic. Hoover Dam is just one of the nicest places in central Ohio.

9. Slate Run Living Historical Farm. Again, perhaps it’s not so well hidden now. If you have little kids, and maybe even if you don’t, this is a must-see. A well-maintained, apparently well-run farm following 19th century farming ways, Slate Run features an open farmhouse, a separate kitchen, gardens, root cellar, horse-plowed fields, a massive barn, and a big variety of farm animals, from chicken and other poultry to cows, sheep, horses, and pigs. Just a great way to learn about the old ways of farm life. We also enjoy the pond.

8. The Wilds. Again, many people know about this so perhaps it isn’t very “hidden.” But if you haven’t visited, you might find it to be a surprise. The bus and other tours allow you leisure to take in the unusual, vast, hilly landscape as well as the big animals scattered over a 14 square miles in giant paddocks. The animals we saw when we have visited in the past included rhinos, giraffes, unusual deer and oxen, zebras, bison, a cheetah, and many others. Like a safari, but fairly close to home. Also worth a mention is that the drive to the Wilds is quite nice, especially if you go through the very scenic Blue Rock Forest.

7. Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve. Some of the Hocking Hills attractions, like Old Man’s Cave and Cedar Falls, are unquestionably excellent and are far from “hidden.” But one of our favorite spots is the less-visited but surprisingly awesome Conkles Hollow. The trail is very green and scenic, but flat and paved for most of the way, and thus excellent for small children. What awaits you at the end is stunning, resembling some landscapes I remember from the Grand Canyon or Zion National Park out west. The gorge is reputedly one of the deepest in Ohio and the end of it is a magical place.

6. Rising Park and Shallenberger State Nature Preserve. I put these together because they’re both in the Lancaster area and they both feature similarly short, but steep hikes to the top of a hill, from which you get a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape. Rising Park is well-known (hardly a hidden gem) to the people of Lancaster, but worth a visit to those from outside the area. The main attraction is the gorgeous view overlooking the town of Lancaster, but there is also a scenic reservoir, an old house on the property, and plenty of places to wander. We visited Shallenberger in winter when the leaves didn’t block the view. We had passed it many times on the way to the Hocking Hills, but spotted it on a map and decided to visit one day. Very nice little preserve, short and scenic but steep hike to the top of a hill that overlooks the surrounding country in all directions, although leaves might get in the way in the summer.

5. Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve. Now we come to some of the slightly more hidden spots. On the east side of Newark is this lovely area, a paved bike and hiking trail—a converted rail bed—next to the Licking River going through a very scenic gorge. Apparently, it was called “Blackhand” after Indian hand paintings on the cliff walls. There are some nice little waterfalls in the tributary dales along the trail, as well as some sandstone cliffs of the sort you’ll find in the Hocking Hills. Old canal towpaths and locks are nearby. Also interesting is a notch or gap cut through a hillside, which is a little like a roofless tunnel.

4. Rockbridge State Nature Preserve. This is on the other side of 33 from the Hocking Hills, between Lancaster and Logan. The parking lot might take some finding, and the trails leading to the main attraction—a large natural bridge, or arch—take a bit of puzzling out. But Rockbridge itself is a stunning location, and the rugged hike to it is one of the nicer hikes central Ohio has to offer.

3. Tar Hollow State Park and Forest. One of the nicest areas just to take a drive would be Tar Hollow State Park and Forest, which we visited in the fall—highly recommended. Sweeping vistas. There’s a pretty reservoir, Pine Lake, with swimming and paddleboats. In the middle of the forest is a giant fire tower that it is possible to climb, although it seemed somewhat rickety and lacking in railings for our two young boys, so we didn’t attempt it. While there we were absolutely swarmed by ladybugs.

2. Rock Mill Park. This out-of-the way area is worth a bit of extra driving. The mill itself has been lovingly restored, with a giant mill wheel. To get to it, you walk across a particularly excellent example of an Ohio covered bridge—over a beautiful gorge—and if you proceed down a path from the mill, you’ll come to one of the nicest waterfalls in the central Ohio area, which will strike you as a bit of the Hocking Hills, only a lot closer than you might have expected.

1. Wahkeena Nature Preserve. We first visited this preserve yesterday. We simply saw it on a map, read some intriguing descriptions, and decided to go. We’re glad we did, because it’s a very unusual, surprising place. Several things make it very special: beavers, a pine forest, wildflowers, an excellent free guide map, and an especially interesting nature center. There are two big beaver lodges at one edge of the pond. There are all sorts of little surprises. There is a floating boardwalk across one end of the pond, which takes you by one of three beaver dams. There are some stunningly tall pine trees you’ll walk by on the very nice 1.5 mile circuit—a fragrant bit of landscape, reminds me of California and other western forests. Wildflowers are abundant, identified handily on the excellent guide map. A family of geese with brand new goslings, hatched earlier the same day (April 24), was swimming about. Frogs galore of course. Near the top of the hill are sandstone cliffs of the typical Hocking Hills variety. The guide map has numbers and letters which match numbers and letters posted along the well-maintained trail, with naturalist notes we enjoyed reading—I wish more parks would do this. A barred owl and a red-shouldered hawk are in a quiet area not far from the nature center, both injured, non-releasable, and cared for by preserve personnel. Unlike many nature centers, this one is hands-on and reading-light, but full of small stuffed Ohio mammals and birds of every description, many dozens of them, live turtles and snakes in aquariums, a fascinating indoor beehive and knowledgeable talkative staff members on hand. Absolutely perfect learning place for children.

Honorable mentions… The Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis is one of our favorite libraries, gorgeous old building, wonderful place to read. Pigeon Roost Farm is a great spot for fun, hay wagon rides, corn maze, etc., in the fall as a place to take little kids, although it’s getting a little too popular so maybe doesn’t qualify as a “hidden” gem. Yoctangee Park in Chillicothe has swans and beautiful trees—like Rising Park in Lancaster, not at all hidden to the residents of Chillicothe. Charles Alley Park on the south side of Lancaster has some very nice, scenic hikes in the hills above a reservoir. Close to home is one of our favorite places, maybe a “hidden gem” for some people not in the area: Chestnut Ridge Metro Park. Excellent hiking and views.

What have I missed? Please turn us on to other spots around that we have missed! Share in the comments!

Fund me to make 50 educational videos for kids!

Larry Sanger

I have a Kickstarter project that will close in two days! Unless I get a bunch of pledges in that time, I won’t raise the money. I haven’t tried very hard (actually, almost not at all)—been busy with other things.

Some salient points:

• I’ve made 26 educational videos for kids in my spare time (put on YouTube).

• As a homeschooling dad, Ph.D. philosopher, and reader of vast quantities of children’s literature, I am the perfect person to write these videos. I like making them, too.

• My videos are popular with and praised by students, parents, and teachers.

• My videos each average 52 views per day, or 18,834 per year.

• My videos on high-demand topics average 92 views per day, or 33,580 per year, about 4 years after being uploaded.

• Working full time, I can make 2-3 of these educational videos per day.

• So I can make 500 educational videos in a year.

• I can limit myself to high-demand topics.

• This would work out to over 30 million views per year (on high-demand topics), 4 years after being uploaded. That’s a lot!

• The videos don’t get stale. The amount of traffic my videos get has been growing year over year.

• I am seeking funding just for myself to make these videos.

It would become a K-4 version of Khan Academy (which is mostly focused on high school and college level material).
The videos would supply background knowledge about everything needed to be a proficient reader.
The selling points:

• Massive traffic, based on years of clear, consistent data.

• Inexpensive: I make them quickly, by myself.

• High quality educational content.

This is a proven, massively beneficial project. What I really want is somebody to fund me to full-time until I get tired of making these things. In the meantime, funding 50 of these things would be grand, and I’ll show yez what I can do.

I kept my “no social media during work” pledge just fine

Larry Sanger

As I wrote in my last blog post,

I’m pledging to abandon social media networks when I am at work, except for narrowly defined work purposes. And I’m asking you to hold me to it and slag me mercilessly if you catch me at it! And I’m inviting you to take the pledge, too!

Yep, so for one day at least—and for many more, I still intend—I didn’t do any social media at work. I could have done some related to work, but I didn’t have any I wanted to do, so I didn’t.

I’ve had a tremendously productive day so far! (Among other things I promoted a plan to get people to write a bunch of one-fact bitts quickly; and I also started a list of our “beat writers,” six listed so far, under the first question of our FAQ. Sorry, you may have to log in in order to see this.)

But, sadly, nobody, not even a single person, took this “No Social Media at Work” pledge. Oh, well! I’ll continue myself, anyway!

No Social Media During Work! Take the pledge NOW!

Larry Sanger

Social media is a time suck. I’m not as bad as some, but I need to focus better. I think a lot of us do, frankly. Don’t you agree? Then let’s start a No Social Media During Work campaign!

I’m pledging to abandon social media networks when I am at work, except for narrowly defined work purposes. And I’m asking you to hold me to it and slag me mercilessly if you catch me at it! And I’m inviting you to take the pledge, too!

Here is my pledge. This feels like a big step. Here goes!

I pledge, as of NOW, to abandon social media networks when I’m at work! Pledge with me!

I am at work weekdays at least from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Eastern, taking noon until 1 p.m. for lunch; and also from 9:00 p.m. until 11 p.m.; on Infobitt.

I want to do as well as I can on it! So I hereby pledge to abandon social media networks when I am at work. Hold me to it and slag me mercilessly (after your work) if you catch me at it!

I am @lsanger on Twitter, larry.sanger on Facebook, Larry Sanger on Quora, and Larry Sanger on YouTube. Hold me to my pledge!

Exceptions are very, very narrowly limited to: posts and discussion about Infobitt; also, holidays and declared sick days.

Checking for responses on any network is permitted only if I recently posted something work-related, and I might actually get a response.

I also promise to track my friends’ pledges. If I notice a broken pledge, I will call them on it!

If you, too, want to take the pledge, then post a copy of your pledge to all social media networks you spend time on. Feel free to double down by adding your pledge to the bottom of this…) reading a written version of your pledge on any video networks of yours, like YouTube.

Work hard, and then play hard!

Wow. I hope this is the right decision. I think it is. It feels like a big one. I’m actually very excited!

OK, are you ready to take the “No Social Media During Work” pledge with me? Come on, DO IT! Not only will you get more work done and feel better about yourself, if you post it publicly on all your networks, then you can help improve the productivity of the world! And you can publicize your own social media presence. It’s a massive win for everybody!

Come on, somebody write an app to catch me and others in violations, and I’ll use it (the iPhone version) and link to it!

Here’s a pledge form you can fill out:

I pledge, as of NOW, to abandon social media networks when I’m at work! Pledge with me!

I am at work weekdays at least [ list your work hours; list breaks if you want, though I didn’t list any, except for lunch] on [your company, project, school, etc.—optional].

I want to do as well as I can on it! So I hereby pledge to abandon social media networks when I am at work. Hold me to it and slag me mercilessly (after your work) if you catch me at it!

I am ___ on Twitter, ___ on Facebook, [ list other social networks similarly]. Hold me to my pledge!

Exceptions are very, very narrowly limited to: [ list exceptions as carefully as necessary]; also, holidays and declared sick days.

Checking for responses on any network is permitted only if I recently posted something work-related, and I might actually get a response.

I also promise to track my friends’ pledges. If I notice a broken pledge, I will call them on it!

If you, too, want to take the pledge, then post a copy of your pledge to all social media networks you spend time on. Make sure to include your pledge somewhere on your user pages, not just as a separate post, so you and others will not forget your pledge. Do make a video of yourself reading a written version of your pledge on any video networks of yours, like YouTube.

Work hard, and then play hard!

Well, are you in?

Reasons We Do Not Have for Homeschooling, and a Reason We Do

Larry Sanger

Here are several reasons we do not have for homeschooling:

•  We are religious “nuts” who want to shield our children from the theory of evolution, etc.? Nope. I’m a nonbelieving rationalist.

•  We are social climbers? Nope. I don’t especially care if my boys go to the best colleges. I am not preparing them for Harvard (or even Reed, where I went). I want them to succeed, of course, but by their own lights, not according to society’s common notions of success,  or even mine.

•  We are just generally competitive and want to be ahead of other kids? Nope. Already, there are plenty of kids who are ahead of H. But I’m not going to push him. He’ll find his level and I’m sure I’ll be proud of him regardless. I just want him to learn all he can, while still having a happy, reasonably relaxed childhood.

•  We want to shelter our boys from the bad influences at public schools? Nope. H. actually attends “specials” twice a week (art, music, P.E., and computers).

•  We can’t afford private school? Nope. We probably could, if we sacrificed. But no, there isn’t any private school in the area that would help our boys achieve the goals we have for them.

Here is the main reason, far and away the single most important reason, we do have for homeschooling:

•  We want our children to get a solid liberal arts education, which means:

In literature, I want them to know, appreciate, and understand the classics, and to be morally improved for having wrestled with them. I want them to be able to write persuasively, creatively, and thoughtfully, with flawless grammar and spelling, so that they could enter any writing-oriented profession. They should also be able to speak well. In math, I want them not only to study math through calculus and statistics, but to understand it; they will also study logic and, probably, mathematical logic. I want them thoroughly familiar with history, both U.S. and the rest of the world; I want them to know about the world itself, so geography and foreign languages are a must; so in general, I want their understanding of human society to be filled with facts and nuance. I want them to be able not only to do scientific calculations with facility, but actually to understand scientific concepts—well enough to succeed as science majors, or at engineering, if they so desire. I want them to be able to become excellent scholars, and to be able to understand their own language and the roots and nature of western civilization, so we’ll probably study Latin and Greek for several years at least. They’ll learn philosophy with me, reading and digesting a half-dozen of the main classics, such as the Plato’s Republic, Descartes’ Meditations, Locke’s second treatise, and a few others. I want them familiar with music and other fine arts.

Of course, they’ll have plenty of opportunity to pursue interests of their own choosing. H. is really into programming and I’ll continue to support that.

Public schools can’t provide this sort of education, because:

I’ve looked for private and charter schools in the area that I thought might be able to support these goals; I couldn’t find any, except maybe St. Charles Prep for high school, and that’s Catholic…

How I set up my standing desk

Larry Sanger

And now for something completely different.

After my wife told me I sat too much, and reading various scary things about the evils of sitting too much and the benefits of standing desks, I decided to try out a standing desk. At first I was going to order one or buy one locally, and then I looked at the prices and decided that I’d better try it out before I invest. To try it out, I built one to put on top of this old desk. The desktop was already pretty much the size I wanted, about 2/3″, at Home Depot. The other boards (same width) were cut at the store for me to my design. Then I just got some wood screws and put it together. (Note to self: get a better drill.) It turns out to be quite sturdy. Of course, I had to carefully measure for the exact right height, and I did a very good job there on getting the height exactly right for me.

Now, when you get a standing desk, there is a breaking-in period (so I read, and so I am confirming right now) in which your feet and legs won’t be able to handle standing all the time, or not without some distracting pain. So to begin with, at least, it’s a good idea to have chair. But it has to be a tall chair. At first, I used a counter stool from downstairs, but that didn’t work because it wasn’t tall enough (I need a 30″ to reach my desktop height comfortably; a taller person might need a slightly taller stool). So I got an adjustable barstool, as you can see here, and it works fine.

Another thing that makes the standing desk more tolerable is a soft, but not too soft, floor. At first I thought I could just stand in my shoes. I discovered that my shoes are not very comfortable for standing in for long periods of time. Just standing on the carpet, although it is a somewhat plush carpet, was also a no-go. So I decided that all the standing desk blogs were right and that I needed a special mat, an “anti-fatigue” mat, that would be easier on my feet. So for $40 I got a kitchen “chef mat” and put a couple of memory foam bath mats on top of those. They help, but I’m still trying to decide what is best. Generally I put the two bath mats on top of each other then on top of the chef mat, and then shift positions as different parts of the foam get compressed. I suspect that I should probably spend the $75+ and get a gel mat.

Finally, for the piece de la resistance, I have a little stool to rest my foot on. This is another commonly-recommended accessory of standing desks. At first I didn’t think it would be that necessary, but as it’s necessary to shift one’s position pretty frequently, it’s just nice to have another position to put my legs in. It also helps, by the way, to shift my feet back a few inches as necessary, to keep the weight more on the balls of my feet than on my heels. But if they all just start getting too sore, I just switch to the stool for a little bit. It’s not that bad.

I’ve been at it for almost a week now, and I’m starting to get used to it. I can confirm the things commonly said about standing desks: it makes me more focused and productive, and I might have lost a little weight even. Next thing to try, after I get used to being on my feet, is a treadmill desk…

Total cost, including $25 wood and screws, $80 stool, and $40 mats: $145. Wife no longer nagging me about sitting too much: priceless.

On the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting

Larry Sanger

I think the most relevant cause of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting has relatively little do with guns or mental health.

I think it’s because our society is seriously ill–not mentally, but morally–and many of us are in denial about it. We rarely talk unironically about honor, morality, or shame, or otherwise give signs that we take seriously an objective morality and a commitment to freedom and personal responsibility. Our society’s elites simply don’t think that way anymore, preferring to think of incidents like this as sociological phenomena with collective solutions, rather than individual/ethical issues with individual solutions.

The very tendency we have to ignore issues of personal responsibility and morality, to regard events like this as merely pathological and not under anyone’s control, allows people to feel free to act without conscience. It’s as if they say, “What I do is not under my control. I’ve had it, I’ve snapped, I can’t stop myself…” and then they proceed to act out as if they really couldn’t stop themselves and there’s no need to.

Guns are not going to be banned. More mental health care will not stop people from acting out. The only solution to this sort of thing, in this country, is to reinvigorate our sense of personal responsibility, and to shut down the idiots who say we have no free will, who think that there are no problems for individual morality but only for psychology and sociology.