Sunday, January 5, 2020

"Good Will Hunting", Part 2 - For Dingdongs

When ZBGBs browbeat me into making my thought-vomit into a blog instead of just leaving it sitting on my computer, I only felt okay with doing it if I first set a couple of hard rules for myself.

I'm breaking Rule #3 with this post, and I think I can justify doing it just this one time because A) This is really short and B) It's primarily for giggles.

I made a diagram for everyone who got all wrapped up trying to "WELL ACTUALLY..." the themes of a Mett Daymin movie because the post was about them, and zoomed past the point.


I hope my use of crayons and bright colors helps.

Friday, January 3, 2020

"Good Will Hunting" is Not a Documentary

How many times did your mother tell you not to touch the stove when it was hot?
How many more times did you touch it after you didn't listen to her and found out for yourself what it feels like?

- Sgt. Rory Miller
If you bury a gold coin in the center of a pile of shit, no one walking by is going to say, "Oh hey, maybe I'll dig through this big steamy pile of shit to see if there's something valuable there." They just see a pile of shit. "Potential" is the worst fucking measure of humanity, and yet everyone bitches about it constantly. Potential is absolutely nothing. Which means a person with potential has absolutely nothing. You're only as good as what you do.
- u/Cammorak 

When this first started brewing in my chamber pot many months ago, it was only about a very specific instance of arrogance. But as it simmered without boiling over, and I've spent time ruminating on it, it's become broader in scope. Looking back, I think it is fair to say that many of my rants are, in one way or another, about this. One might even go so far as to say that this is the All-Rant.

This is a rant about arrogance.

I have a core belief about the importance of direct experience as it relates to a person's ability to synthesize a useful opinion about a given topic. It's odd to me that this ends up being a controversial stance to take because it's something that nearly every part of our society is built on. Pick just about any profession, consider hiring someone from it to perform their work for you, and consider whether you want someone fresh out of education or someone who's been doing it successfully for 20 years. I can't think of a case where there is a contest here. Job interviews don't just want to know what information you can repeat - they want to know what you've done.

I must apologize. I forgot. This is an Appeal to Authority and everything I have to say going forward is therefore false because an infographic said so.

I've spent about 10 minutes at this point thinking about how to transition from where I'm at to the point I want to really rant about. I think that means I'm trying too hard. So, fuck it.

Good Will Hunting is a movie about a nobody janitor who has done literally nothing in his life but is smarter than everybody because he reads a lot. Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie. But that's what it's about. And it's just a goddamn movie, so some people need to stop acting like it's a documentary that was sent back from the future about their life as an internet lifting wizard.

There are people who, in the process of trying to adopt lifting as a hobby, decide that what they need to do to be successful is to assemble an encyclopedia of as many facts as possible, and then use that encyclopedia to construct their plan. I have ranted about this a bit before. What is left out from that rant is that I think this practice is incredibly arrogant. Allow me to explain by expressing in the least charitable way possible what a person is saying when they do this:
I know that there are professionals with many years of knowledge, experience, and/or concrete successes under their belt - professionals who have a solid track record, who have worked with high caliber athletes, who have put together everything they have learned into training and dietary methodologies. But I, a novice and a layman, am smarter than they are, and I can do better. In a short period of time, I will teach myself more than they have learned in decades by reading scientific studies. My encyclopedic knowledge of facts will be equal to or greater in value than theirs, and I will have the best opinions.
I can hear the voices of a thousand Abstract Warriors crying out, That's just gatekeeping based on a strawman!

It's not. It's the truth of what every novice and layperson is saying when they throw out established methodologies in favor of trying to create their own by reading.

I want to take a moment to say a few words about Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA. Schoenfeld is well known, well respected, and what he has to say about training is valued very highly in the fitness world. Somebody like Schoenfeld is what the really, truly smart people become (or are working to become) - not Will fucking Hunting. But the thing about him is that he also only barely looks like he lifts. But because of everything else he has done in the field, there is no reason to care at all that he is not big and strong.

This would be the part of House of Cards where Kevin Spacey looks directly at the camera.

If you are just a guy trying to learn about training on the internet, you are not Brad Schoenfeld. You never will be. It is arrogant to pretend that you - a layman - can be. Even more arrogant is the claim that all it will take for you to stop being a layman is the ability to parrot articles and study abstracts you've memorized.

See title.

Brad Schoenfeld is an outlier. You are not. Your lane is over there. And in your lane, you have to have done something before you can have anything truly valuable to say. The reason for this is - Lacking experience, your only possible source of words is the rote regurgitation of information derived from the experience of others. There is nothing a layperson can add to the conversation which is uniquely valuable if they also lack experience. What remains is aping something more experienced people are already saying - and likely saying better - which is almost always just noise and rarely signal.

Novice laypersons having the ability to add value to a discussion is a myth, repeated only by novice laypersons who want to participate and feel useful despite that they should not and are not. I know no one experienced who wants to hear from such people about their field(s) of experience. In fact, I know of no person who has not at some point gotten angry because someone who has never done a thing gave them advice on how to do a thing they do all the time.

Imagine asking your great grandmother how to fix your computer. Imagine asking your child how to manage your budget. Imagine asking a plumber to rewire your electricity. Imagine asking a gorilla how to solve algebra. Imagine asking a bartender how to treat your cancer. Imagine asking a 130lb guy who started lifting a few months ago how to bench 500lbs.

Now take the reverse.

Imagine being 100 years old, knowing almost nothing about technology, and telling someone how to fix a computer. Imagine being a six year old, having only the barest concept of "money", and telling your parents how to manage it. Imagine being a plumber and offering to rewire somebody's electricity. Imagine being ZBGBs and telling somebody how to do math. Imagine being a bartender and telling a drunk who just got diagnosed with cancer about the treatment you read about on Facebook. Imagine benching 95lbs and trying to tell a 400lb bench presser how to reach 500lbs.

Most of these imaginings are uncontroversially dickheaded things. But one of them is something that happens in internet lifting discussions all the time. And it should not. But it will. Because there is a kind of person who cares more about being able to (feel like they) win arguments than about actually knowing useful things, and that person thrives on the internet.

-

All that being said, there is another side of this coin.

It's perfectly okay to:

  • Be a novice
  • Be a layperson
  • Lack experience
  • Lack accomplishments
  • Not participate in conversations
There is nothing wrong with any of these things.

What is wrong - what I am raving about - is people who refuse to recognize what their current station is, and refuse to act in congruence with that station.

It is okay bench only 95lbs.
It is not okay to give people advice on how to bench when you only bench 95lbs.

I want to stress this heavily. It is important to be honest with yourself about a lack of experience and thereby a lack of useful knowledge. It is important to listen instead of speak when you lack experience. A person who does this is a much better person than one who denies it and tries to be a Helper anyway. Being silent can also be a way of helping - by not adding noise that others have to sort through or argue with.

If you are inexperienced and want to help others, the best way to do that is to spend time gaining experience that you can speak from when you give them advice. Learn to be ok with not being able to help now, but rather in the future. It makes you more useful to others than just being another dildo who mic drops PubMed links and starts slapfights.

Monday, November 18, 2019

You Are Dumber Than a Toddler

I'm going to tell you about my son learning to walk.

This may come as a surprise to those of you that aren't parents, but babies don't propel themselves out of their mothers' nethers, land on their feet, and start doing the Charleston in the delivery room. They can't run, walk, stand, crawl, hold themselves up, lift their head, or even roll around. They have to develop the ability to do all of these things over time.

The road to being able to walk is a long one for a baby that requires both physical growth and trial and error on their part. It never enters their head, at any point, that they are not going to be able to walk. They know it can be done because they've seen it done, and the premise they start with is that they can do it too.

The way I know this is that they keep trying until they're able to first stand up while holding on to something. Then they try to stand up on their own, then take a step, then take more steps. No matter how many times they miss, slip, fall down, bonk their head, stumble, or trip, they try again. Sometimes they try immediately, sometimes they take a break to grab their teddy bear, drink a bottle, scream, or take a nap. But no matter what, they try again.

And when walking finally does click for them, they aren't satisfied with those wobbly, uneven, stumbly steps. They want to walk like the big kids do, like mom and dad do - they want to run, they want to jump, they want to climb stairs, do cartwheels, stand on one leg, kick a ball, kick someone *in* the balls. They know all of these things can be done because they have seen them done by someone else first, so they try over and over until they get it too.

But learning to walk, walk well, run, climb, jump is not just about what they do do, it's also about what they don't do, which is a lot more than just "they don't give up".

My son has a cousin that's a little bit younger than he is. So far she's done all the major developmental milestones earlier than he has - rolling, crawling, walking, noises, words. At no point did my son see his cousin walking when he could only crawl, say to himself, "She can only do that because she got good quad insertions and hamstring genetics, and Uncle Bob clearly gave her extra grape juice, I guess I'll just crawl and let that fuckin' cheater walk without earning it and that'll show her," and then shove his pacifier in his mouth and go pout in a corner.

He's been to the playground and seen older kids running around fall and run into things or each other and get hurt. He's tried to stand up and whacked his head on the bottom of a slide and a table and a chair and the cabinets, and scraped his knee trying to take a step on the sidewalk. At no point did he say to himself, "The risk of getting a booboo while trying to walk is just too risky, it's safer to perfect my crawling form," and then grab his teddy and give up on trying to walk entirely.

There were times that he clearly got frustrated that he wasn't getting what he wanted. I didn't know that babies would do this and I assume he must've seen me or his mom, but some of the times he tried to take a step and fell, he balled his little hands into fists and shook them and grunted. But he didn't say to himself, "This is too hard, fuck this, I give up, I can already crawl, I don't need to walk," and then pick up his bottle and chug it down and never try to walk again.

You might be thinking, If you can read a baby's mind, why aren't you rich, dumbass?

Because my technology is too dangerous to fall in the wrong hands and I have since destroyed it.

Fortunately, I don't need to. I know that my son never did these things because he is currently running around my kitchen trying his damnedest to step on everything he could possibly slip or lose his balance on. I know that seeing others succeed faster, seeing others get hurt, getting hurt himself, and repeatedly failing didn't stop him from trying to walk because I watched him try until he walked a few steps, and then keep going. And now he runs. And he's still wobbly, and he still falls, and sometimes he gets hurt, and there are still things he can't do yet, and sometimes he has to ask me to help him get somewhere. But he also still hasn't given up.

-

Somebody out there is going to read this, and get where I'm going with it, and say, "Fuck you purplespengler, it's not the same, a toddler isn't blah blah blah blah blah".

You're right. It's not the same. A toddler completely lacks the mental and emotional development to have the thoughts that I described.

When I turn off my son's favorite Cookie Monster song, there are no words that I can say to him to explain that it's bedtime and I know he's falling asleep and if he doesn't go to bed he's going to feel really shitty tomorrow and be cranky, because those concepts don't exist for him. Only Cookie Monster and not-Cookie Monster exists for him, so he screams until I pat his back and put a pacifier in his mouth. Because a toddler also completely lacks the mental and emotional development to understand consequences, think and plan ahead, be rational, or exercise self-control.

And if you said "Fuck you purplespengler, it's not the same" when you realized my parable is about you, I want you to think about what it means that a toddler who has no control of their emotional state didn't give up on their goals and compare that to how little it takes to make you consider it.

And then when you read that, and you again think "Fuck you purplespengler, that's bullshit because blah blah blah blah", I want you to think about what that means too.

It means you're being a baby.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Barbellyaga

He's just your father, man. He's just as full of shit as anybody.
- "Crash" Davis, Bull Durham
Learning how to break another person's body is easy. The only reason it's hard is because we make it special. If you want to effectively learn to defend yourself, you have to stop making it special.
 - Sgt. Rory Miller
 Apply this sentiment to everything*.

This rant is inspired by a post made by someone who is but one in a legion, who are victims of a terrible disorder - Barbell Bogeymanism. This tragic mental affliction manifests itself as an extreme aversion to the use of traditional, effective strength training implements and a manic, obsessive pursuit of strength training using anything but, including literally flushing currency down their toilets rather than train using a barbell. This disease is made all the more terrible by the mental health community's refusal to accept it as real, namely due to the fact that it isn't goddamn real and is just a bunch of people being dinks for no reason.

In this case, the dink who has - to put it in internet terms - "tweaked my jimmies into maximum over-rustle" was faced with a stupid problem, and came up with a stupid solution. He had found out about a product that purported to be better than all known strength training methods. It promised him the gains of a lifetime, protection for his joints, reduced injury risk, and definitely not looking like an asshole - all for a mere $550. And for his money, he was to receive a veritable treasure trove:
  • Two feet of metal shaped like a tube.
  • A flat piece of plastic.
  • Four resistance bands.
  • That's it.
  • THAT'S IT.
I'm aware of the concept of the Curse of Knowledge. It's very possible that I've known enough for long enough that this is much easier for me than for a total layman. But I don't think I want to grant that. Because in my mind, when presented with:
  • A high cost product
  • A website that looks like someone just took an Internet Marking 101 online course
A person exercising normal common sense and worldly acumen should recognize this immediately for what it is, and bail out. This person did not do that. They bought it hook, line, and sinker. But, thankfully (?), the internet rescued them from spending $550 and helped them spend just $150 instead. On the same thing. But built yourself. That's right! For only $150, this brilliant individual achieved a strength training device equivalent to $60 in resistance bands and $10 on a pipe from Home Depot! Isn't modern technology wonderful and amazing?

By the way, he also admitted that he would rather have spent the $550 just to save the time it took him to build the thing. Put that in your craw and throw it up.

Which brings me to the point of this rant -
  1. Stop.
  2. Just go to a fucking gym.
  3. Just use a fucking barbell.
  4. Probably also just use some fucking dumbbells.
  5. Probably also just do some simple bodyweight shit.
  6. God damnit.
Picture a man that has a powerful need for a lemonade to quench his thirst. He knows that grocery stores exist - he even lives down the street from them. So he drives 20 miles to his local arboretum, purchases a lemon tree, plants it in his back yard, harvests the lemons, purchases sugar and a lemon squisher from the grocery store, watches some YouTube videos on the proper ratio of lemon to water to sugar, and makes himself a glass of lemonade. Ahh, refreshing!

It is a known quality of the above things that they can be used - effectively and reliably - to build strength and/or muscle. But for reasons that approach Lovecraftian horror degrees of being unfathomable to my mind, some people refuse to use them - going so far as to react to the very idea of them with fear and aversion.

These things need to be framed properly.

A gym is just a building. A barbell is just a long piece of metal. Dumbbells are just smaller pieces of metal. Get over it. Having aversions to these things is dumb. If you have goals that involve getting stronger or building muscle, and you aren't using the most time proven effective implements for doing that, you are being dumb, and you are probably making the world a worse place.

Whoa there cowboy, come on back to the ranch, what was that last bit?

Yes.

Inappropriate aversion to basic, time tested, nearly ubiquitous strength training implements like barbells and dumbbells, or basic bodyweight exercises, makes the world a worse place.

Because people like you make it possible for a company to sell a two foot piece of metal, four pieces of rubber, and a piece of plastic for five hundred and fifty dollars - and not just get away with it, but be profitable. Your hangups make it possible for a dickhole to sell a product that's worth $100 in actual equipment for $800. You are a human gazelle, except dumber - because even a gazelle has the good sense to take off for the hills when a giant drooling predator that wants nothing more than to eat it alive is standing right in its face. And if you are opening your mouth and talking about your aversions, and your search for gimmick alternatives - the ones that are based on nothing - you are helping to spread that thought AIDS to the rest of the world.

And that is what makes me the most angry - That people insist on making a building and metal special and in doing so, enable scumbags to run skipping through a field of doe-eyed prey just waiting to ejaculate their money into their open, waiting mouth.

Listen to me, hear me very well.

It's just a building with people grunting in it.

It's just a long stick made of metal.

It's not going to leap at you from the grasses of the savannah to maul and eat you. It's not going to follow you down a dark alley, knock you out, and steal your wallet. It's not going to kill you and fuck your wife, and burn your house to the ground. It's not going to kidnap your dog and give it a different, dumber name like "Crusher", "Mr. Flufferpumpkins", or "Paul". It's not going to come to your office and use your computer to look up strange pornography so that you get fired. There is no threat to you to be found in them.

It's just a building.

It's just a metal stick.

Just go to the building. Just pick up and move the stick of metal around in varying planes of motion and from varying bodily orientations. Maybe add some metal discs to the ends. There is nothing to be afraid of. It's fine.

You might think I am being flippant. I am. It serves a purpose.

You know what I've found is an incredibly useful skill in being a technology professional? Being able to tell my 90 year old grandmother what I do. If I can explain my job to a person who is slowly losing their mind and knows how to use a computer only to the extent necessary to read e-mails on a 10 year old version of Outlook, I can explain it to the Product Manager who is only slightly more technologically savvy. Turns out, that skill is also useful in finding ways to help people understand that the thing they've built a castle of complexity out of in their mind is actually just a rock with googly eyes sitting in an empty field.

That is what I hope someone, anyone, will maybe understand here. Because I've found that when I've got a hangup about something, and I boil it down to its most base components, to the point of absurdity, I get over it a lot quicker. And that is what some people really, really need to do - See how absurd it is to be hung up on walking into a building and picking up a metal stick.

Failing all of that, at least just quit looking to gimmick products for an alternative to real training implements and stick with bodyweight shit instead. You are better off 99% of the time - and it's even free!

-

One final note:

Are you seven hundred years old and have dust running through your veins where blood should be? Do you have a crippling disease that makes it wildly unsafe for you to engage in barbell training? Do you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder that causes you to have full blown panic attacks if you are surrounded by too many other people? Do you have a complete inability to access a training facility with free weights due to either severe financial hardship or the simple virtue of where you live and work in relation to them? Do you have fitness goals that have absolutely nothing, in any possible way, to do with getting bigger or stronger? Do you - genuinely, and not just as an excuse for being afraid of buildings and metal sticks - have any of about seven hundred thousand possible outlier life situations that make an avoidance of gyms and/or free weights totally legitimate and understandable? 

That sucks, and I'm sorry. This rant isn't about you. You know it's not about you. As the kids say - Don't fuckin' @ me.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Been There, Done That

Also as a little sidenote. Have you gone through the same process as the people you're modding (skinny to fit/big)? If so surely you would have some sort of respect for people doing it and not just walk around calling everyone skeletons, trying to destroy their self-esteem.
 - A sobbing weenie, to WeaponizedSleep
Deakins: You know, Hale, I considered bringing you in on this. You know why I didn't?
Hale: Because I would have said "no"?
Deakins: Nah, if you'd said "no" I'd have just killed you; I was afraid that you were going to say "yes". 'Cause you don't have the balls to follow through with something like this, we both know that.'
- Broken Arrow, 1996*

I like to think of this blog as a brain toilet, in that most of what ends up here is the barely controlled expulsion of thoughts about something that's gotten stuck in my craw in much the same way as one might expel vomit when one has had too much to drink. In this case it is closer to having an immediate violent reaction to eating a bad sandwich, smelling moldy milk, or feeling the squish of the dog shit your asshole roommate has left all over the yard. I read a thing and something bubbled up in me rapidly, and I don't want to spend the weekend thinking about it.

There are people who come to internet forums convinced that they have a problem that is unique in such a way as to require an equally unique, personal human touch in order to solve it. They believe that their problem is too unique, their situation too complex, to get answers from, say, an FAQ page or searching for past posts that are similar. They are rarely in touch with reality.

There is a philosophy that I developed through my career as a software engineer which has spread to much of the rest of my life which can be put very simply - I will never be the first person to do anything. Anything that I will try to do, someone else has done before me. Any problem that I may have, someone else has also had, and solved. Thinking this way has served me very well in keeping a proper perspective about everything I set out to accomplish. I feel more people should embrace this mindset and all that it implies - including and especially the part where it means that you are not as unique as you want to believe yourself to be - especially in an age where decades worth of people talking about their problems is available in the palm of your hand, even while taking a dump.

The sentiment in the quote above is one that comes up often when some kinds of people, believing they are more unique than they are, run head first into the brick wall of being told that the only person to whom they are Mommy's Special Little Guy is their mother, at the age of four. It is an irredeemably whiny accusation that sounds the same in my ears as the noises my toddler makes when I turn off Sesame Street in the middle of Cookie Monster - "The only possible reason you don't have sympathy for me and my special problem is that you've never been where I am right now." This sad, whimpering finger-pointing is particularly popular with perpetually frustrated skinny dudes who view putting more food into their food hole much as a crippled man might view Mount Everest.

For everyone I know who routinely is a target for this accusation, it misses the mark so completely that the walking Halloween decoration slinging it would likely miss water if they fell out of a fucking boat.

I'm going to be an old man for a moment. Pull up a chair, reach into my front pocket, grab a Werther's Original, and have a listen.

When I was in college, I ended up with a roommate that sounds like the kind of person that is totally made up because nobody is actually like this. But Terry (not his real name) was somehow real anyway. Terry was really, really into bodybuilding and also one of the nicest, most helpful and humble guys I've ever known. At that time I was around 120lbs at 5'10, and desperately didn't want to be. Terry gave me a workout plan he thought would be good for me, helped me learn how to do a couple of lifts I couldn't figure out on my own, and told me "If you wanna get big, you gotta eat big".

I walked in on Terry giving himself an injection that I assumed was steroids a couple of times. I had this in the back of my mind for every month after the first that I had trouble gaining weight and making progress. After five or six months of mostly going nowhere, gaining only a couple of pounds, I worked up the courage to get past my embarrassment of failure and begged Terry to help me get started with steroids so I could get big, because I just couldn't get big. I told him I thought I had a fast metabolism, something my mother had always said about me. He laughed at me. He told me the same thing I now tell every skinny dude who claims they have a fast metabolism - I clearly wasn't eating enough. I protested that I was eating as much as I could.

It was this moment that was a turning point for me. I will never forget the way that Terry said, "I'll prove you're full of shit, Spengler. Peanut butter or milk - pick one." I chose peanut butter. He told me that for the next three months, I was to eat exactly as I had been, except also eat a quarter jar of peanut butter in front of him every day that he saw me, and I was not allowed to weigh myself. If I didn't gain weight, he'd hook me up.

I was determined to prove Terry wrong, that he was being an asshole, and get the fast track to being shredded. It was hard and miserable at first, but I got used to it over time. And at the end of three months, I had gained almost 20 lbs, and it was not Terry who was the asshole but me.

I will always be grateful for that experience, because it showed me that I hadn't really been trying, no matter what I had told myself. It formed the foundation of how I approach pursuing my fitness goals - forcing myself to do things that I know I need to do even (especially) when they're hard. Not making excuses. Always looking first to myself, my actions, my mindset as the source of a failure to achieve. In the humble opinion of one ultimately random anonymous mouthpiece, this is the way a person - an adult - should behave.

All that is a very long winded way of saying - "Nah."

It's not because any of us haven't been there that we don't have respect for people who caterwaul all over the digital universe about how hard things are and how they can't do them and why won't anybody just give them sympathy and support. It's because we have been there and therefore we know, from our own experience, that the only thing these people are missing most of the time is a backbone and the will to force themselves forward no matter what it takes.

And that's what it's all about. It is not the people who don't know your "struggle", but the people with direct experience, who have been there, who least want to hear you bleat endlessly about how tough it is. Because, having been there, they know that all that bitch-squeaking is just an excuse, a deflection, a smoke screen so that you don't have to look yourself in the soul and see that the only reason you haven't succeeded is that you haven't mustered the balls to go through with what's needed. Blaming a lack of external support, sympathy, compassion for a failure to succeed is the act of a coward. And for many of the experienced, accomplished people that don't have the patience for caterwauling, all of this can be said just as much to the person that they used to be as it can be said to you.

I know that there are people out there for whom all this is preaching to the choir. I also know that there are people out there who might categorize what I've written here as "macho bullshit" or "toxic masculinity" or "being a jock meathead asshole". It is to the latter that, in closing, I say this:

  • Deliberate fragility is neither virtuous nor defensible, and it should be discouraged - not spread.
  • Strength, determination, backbone, and grit are important traits for all people to cultivate in themselves and encourage in others.
  • Some ways of thinking, acting, and being are so shameful that the only thing they deserve is vigorous disparagement, and the only thing those who cling to them deserve is to be ostracized until they change.
  • Having the kind of pride that it takes to see yourself as a problem, and try to be different, is a goal worth aspiring to.
  • It is more useful to treat obstacles as a challenge than it is to treat them as a threat.
  • Fuck you.


*Inclusion of this quote not to be taken as an endorsement for stealing nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

On Trying

"Try trying" is a phrase you may have heard.

There is a small but nevertheless determined group of people who can only be described with the action of rolling one's eyes that has decided this phrase is a circlejerk, and that the best way to defeat something you see as a circlejerk is to become a circlejerk yourself. Sure.

There is a refrain that comes from these people, which they seem to believe is the Yugioh card that instantly wins and makes them right and then everybody bangs them or whatever. Can you guess what it is?


That's right, constant reader. The anti-try-tryers are righteous and you are not, because they are on the side of the most noble of causes - helping. Should you tell some poor, defenseless novice to "try trying", you will be blown away when they dispel your illusions and reveal to you that you are not being helpful and are therefore the Bad Guy. The Villain. Hitler himself, risen from his tomb.

But come close and listen closer, O Ye Pure, O Ye Crusaders of Helping. There is a secret, long hidden, which I have found buried on a tablet of ancient gold, that I must reveal to you. Are you ready?

That's the fucking point.

The purpose of saying "try trying" is not to be helpful. It is to be dismissive. One may as well criticize water for being wet. And in most cases I've seen, that purpose is righteous, because the only thing that the person on the receiving end has actually been trying is "everybody else's patience".

Simply asking for help does not mean that a person should be helped, or should be given the specific kind of help that they've asked for. Contrary to what you may believe, achieving your goals is not a basic human right. Contrary to what a teacher probably once told you in grade school, when it could still be true, in the adult world there are stupid questions. It is rarely enough to want and wonder. You have to try.

To understand this better, it is necessary to consider context. The important facets of this context are these:

  1. A person asking a stranger that they have no prior relationship or social contract with to spend their free time giving them help which is derived from their own invested time, experience, and sometimes money.
  2. An industry that is worth tens of billions of dollars revolves around the exchange of information, advice, and experience in the arena of fitness and fitness goals, and it is possible for a person's entire career (as well as, less likely, wealth) to be built on providing help, advice, and information to others in achieving their fitness goals.
  3. On internet forums, there is not only no offer of compensation to those that provide advice and help, but often a taking of offense at the concept of compensating anyone for advice and help, and sometimes not even an expression of gratitude.

First consider those three things as the foundation of our context. The next layer to build on top of that foundation is a simple, natural observation.

  • When #3 is the venue, a person in #1 is asking others to perform the same service that thousands of professionals get paid to perform, except without paying them anything.
This, friends, is rudeness and entitlement at its finest - setting the expectation of others to provide a service, equivalent in quality and personal attention to that of a normally paid professional, which is completely free of cost. There is at this moment a push at revolution in the world of creative works against "spec work" for very similar reasons - it is rude to ask everything and give nothing. Civil, polite social interaction is not all take and no give.

But, one Champion of Auto-fellatio might protest, if you don't like it, just ignore those people instead of being a dick.

No.

Here's why you should take that reply and shovel it - The person from #1 can pay those who help them, easily, in another form of currency which is immune to inflation and is infinitely replenishable - a respect for their time. That is all that's really being asked of them, and all that it takes not to be a slimy, stinky leech. This costs them nothing, and the rudeness of not doing so should be answered in kind.

And no, inspiring feelings of altruism and the satisfaction of helping another human in need are not adequate replacement.

Let me draw a contrasting picture. Some of those who, doing battle against "try trying", in fancying themselves to have an "S" on their chest would say - "If your friend / family member asked you for advice, would you treat them so poorly?" And the answer is no, of course not, you fucking putz. They're my friends and family. It's not the same and you goddamn well know it.

I have had numerous friends and family members, seeing my success in various fitness goals, ask me for advice, and I have gladly offered all the advice I have to give. Not once have I ever had to say to any of them "try trying". Because they understand the value of what they are asking of me and meet me in the middle - they treat me and the time I give them with respect - and they never give me cause to tell them "try trying". When I say "These are good articles to read / videos to watch about your question", they make a good faith effort to consume that content, give it their full attention, attempt to parse it, and only ask questions that they've thought about a bit and tried to answer with what I've put in front of them. When they fail to achieve their goals, they put the effort into recognizing when it's because they didn't put honest effort into the advice I gave them, and don't waste my time saying that what I told them didn't work.

But the people to whom "try trying" is directed don't do that, because the faceless usernames on the internet are not friends, or family, or even people to them - they are a personal question and answer box. They want to receive everything and give nothing. "Try trying" is a rebuke for a person who, in the age of nearly unlimited and immediate access to information thanks to sites like Google or Wikipedia, demands that others be a human Google search results page. It is for a person who communicates by their low effort question, "I know articles about this exist, but I don't want to spend the time to read them. Read them for me and give me the bullet points." It is for a person who tries nothing, and flails that they are all out of ideas. It is for a person who, upon encountering the smallest amount of difficulty, always and only looks for ways to make it easier instead of trying harder. It is for a person who "wants to have a human conversation" about mundane, banal bullshit like what vegetables, mobile apps, and bicep exercises there are, broad questions that can be summed up as "How do I fitness", or topics that have been discussed a thousand times before and do not need to be discussed again. It is for a person who cannot get into working out unless they have an app to tell them everything. It is for a person who wants all of the benefits of having a super best friend who trains, but makes no effort to be somebody worth treating as a super best friend.

I believe that that is a reasonable expectation to set - When you are asking someone to spend their free time on you but not paying them, treat that time with respect and don't waste it. It's not hard or too much to ask. And that is the core of what I feel the phrase "try trying" is about. It is short-hand for a longer chastisement about the rudeness of asking for infinite hand-holding for free:
You are trying to force me to spend more effort on solving your problems than you are willing to spend on solving them yourself, and giving me nothing in return to make that worth my time. You are wasting my time, and that is rude. Fuck you, try harder.
Or about a complete lack of effort in execution:
The results you want are wildly out of proportion to how hard you're actually trying to achieve them. You are wasting everybody's time asking for advice when you aren't even working at what you already know you need to do. Quit fucking around and try harder.
 And it is short-hand on purpose, because the purpose of saying the above would not be to help someone, but to be dismissive, and shortening it improves on the dismissal.

Yes, it is rude and unhelpful. But the argument of rude = wrong as a universal truth is silly and naive. If someone says "Fuck you", it is appropriate and acceptable to say "No, fuck you" in return. The rudeness of telling somebody "try trying" is, in almost all cases I've witnessed, reciprocal. The only difference is the nature of the initiating "Fuck you", because it is not overt. But it is nonetheless fundamentally rude to ask others to engage with you at the level of a normally paid professional, except for free and without any respect for their time.

This is what many fail to understand - Rudeness does not need to be direct and overt to be rudeness. If you were to say directly to someone, "My time is more important to me than your time, and I want you to spend your own time so that I do not have to spend mine, and I will also give you nothing in return. I may not even thank you.", there would be no confusion that you are being a shithead. Make no mistake - In asking a low effort question or fucking around, a person may not be saying it, but that is still what they are communicating. And "try trying" is the reply that they have earned.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reflecting on Five Years

I'm coming up on five years being a moderator for r/Fitness and I've been thinking about it. These are some of the thoughts.

Now that I'm thinking about it, it's a little weird to think that something that's been part of my life for that long came out of having a job that didn't give me enough work and left me with nothing better to do than tell several hundred people a day to read the Wiki. That's why I was invited to do it. Nothing more than that I spent about 9 hours a day for a month copying and pasting a link to the FAQ because my manager, while being a pretty good engineer, was absolutely terrible at being a manager and had no idea how to balance my team's workload. Everybody either had way too much work or nowhere near enough.

Almost of the other mods from that time have moved on. Svunt, phrakture, Mogwoggle all stepped down. MetaBoob is still with us but only pokes a head in occasionally, I assume for the same reason as the others - life is more important and Reddit is tiring. It's mostly just me and eric_twinge from that era, which seems like forever ago. I think we're both tired, too, but we're also really stubborn.

ZBGBs and I have talked a few times about life being more important, and I think about that sometimes. Not sometimes, all the time. I question if the time I put into Fittit is "worth it" at least once a week. The answer is usually "yes". Sometimes "meh". I think it will only become "No" if I start giving away time with my family to Fittit. So far that hasn't happened and I intend to keep it that way. But if the day ever comes where I find myself choosing Reddit over my family, that's the day I'm gone until I fix my broken priorities.

I'm a software engineer. I've spent the last several years doing everything I possibly can think of to reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to keep Fittit tidy. I've built and rebuilt so many moderation tools in that time that I can barely keep track of them all sometimes. When I first came on board as a mod, I was so green to everything that I was going into my comment history to copy/paste removal comments into threads when I shut them down, until somebody told me about a moderator browser extension. There was a joke at the very first job I ever had, before I was a real programmer and was still dabbling - "Give <Spengler> a task you don't like. He'll hate it so much he'll write a program to do it better." And I'm gonna toot my own horn here - What I built for r/Fitness blows that extension out of the water. It is better in nearly every possible way for most of what we do. All of that is to say - I value what I'm doing on Fittit enough that I'm using the skills that feed my family to make it effortless so I can keep doing it for free.

Moderating, yes, is a thing I do entirely for free! It's weird to me that so many people don't seem to know it, but I don't work for Reddit. I'm just a volunteer, wading through a lake of human feces trying to find the gold nuggets for other people to use in my spare time. This is a good thing. If I worked for Reddit, I'd have to answer to Reddit, and let me be clear - fuck Reddit. Reddit doesn't care about anything that I care about. I don't want to answer to people to whom I am disposable.

On occasion, people question what I do care about. Clearly, the only reason I would be a Reddit mod for this long is because I'm a fat small dicked ugly incel virgin roid raging meathead idiot loserchad with no sense of humor living in my mom's basement who doesn't lift and the only way I can feel powerful enough in my otherwise worthless, lonely, miserable, sexless life is to click a button that prevents a large group of dummies from seeing lazy questions asked by a smaller group of dummies and preventing completely disposable accounts from being able to make comments on a small corner of a small website on the internet. Right? No other possible reason. It's because I'm sad and pathetic.

Describing the first fitness forum (if you can even call it that) I ever participated in is very easy - poop emojis. Because it was /fit/ on 4chan. That was a huge influence on what I do (or try to do) with Fittit. Because it's a shithole, and only garbagepersons hang out there. Maybe it's better now. I haven't been back. But I doubt it. The reason for this, I've decided through many years of consideration, is that it's a place where nobody cares about anything because they think irreverence is power and there is nobody telling the children to stop shitting under the dining table they have to eat off of. Everything that made /fit/ a burning trash heap when I was there stemmed from those two problems - Shitgolems are everywhere, and the adults are on vacation.  So one of my guiding lights for all of the last five years has been that r/Fitness should never become /fit/. Because you can't get good fitness advice from a place where you could get blasted in the face by dicks and asses, or stupid photoshopped frogchild memes, at any moment, and you definitely can't get it from a place where so few people who know what the fuck they're talking about congregate that one person can tell another, " SS is a great routine, ignore the champion powerlifting coach who told you it sounded dumb and gave you a program he used successfully" without being shouted down. That's a real thing that I watched happen.

Since starting as a mod, I've taken a lot of shots in the dark - shotgun blasts with a wide spray hoping to hit a target I wasn't even sure was there. It was when I was introduced to the concept of Help Vampires that I started to get a more clear direction to move in. I realized that one of most core sources of my experience on /fit/ was that nobody knowledgeable wanted to be there, surrounded mostly by idiots playing advice telephone that they had to fight with every time they tried to share actually good information, surrounded by the same 15-30 questions, nobody ever telling these people to fuck off. So I told them to fuck off.

Rule #0 was ultimately my idea. If your question can be answered by the FAQ, by searching past threads, or just by using Google - fuck your question and fuck you. Try harder. Almost half of all threads that we remove are removed because they are directly answered by one of those three things. Imagine having to try searching for a dozen different variations of what you're looking for across a dozen different search engines and sometimes still not finding what you need - because that's the internet I used as a teenager. Today you can pop over to Google, type the dumbest version of your question imaginable, and Google knows what you want - and people still want other human beings to tell them shit like "What exercises hit the biceps" and "What foods are high in protein".

Ultimately these questions are terrible, lazy, and rude. At some point somebody said "Sometimes people get tired of being used as a service", and nobody has ever said it better than that. People want to treat Fittit as a service, and to the extent that I can, I show them the door, because I believe with the highest level of conviction that if we didn't, Fittit would be a worse place in aggregate. Some individuals get mad and don't get what they want. Fuck 'em. I know that statistically, only 9% of people who have a thread removed contact us about it - only 9,100 people in the last two years. Fittit sees an average of 150k unique visitors a day and 2.5m per month. So it is with no hesitation that I say that these people being mad does not matter to me, because it cannot be allowed to matter.

Luckily, we have a small but high quality group of regular posters giving out good advice to hundreds of questions a day. Every single one of those people have said that they would have jumped ship a long time ago if we weren't as hard as we are on low effort questions. And that group has been growing over time for the same reason. These are the people whose opinions about how the community is run that I care about. I've learned to be judicious in whose feedback I listen to.

Even though I dismiss it now, in my first year or so, I used to take complaints a lot more seriously, until I started to notice a pattern - Nobody, zero people ever, has ever cared about integrity in moderation until something they didn't like happened. No matter how lofty someone talks about professionalism or consistency or transparency, they don't give a fuck about any of those things, they're just assbothered that their Cocoa Puffs were taken away. Nobody who goes to another sub and complains about being banned tells the truth. Nobody who complains about the content focus (looking at you, perennial "fittit should be called liftit" bitchers) contributes any content themselves. It's all personal for everybody who complains and no one is looking at larger pictures or long term goals in the way we are. Nobody cares about cleaning up, cultivating, growing a community as a resource. They just want their own personal needs served.

Besides it being personal, the reason I listen to the core group of regular, helpful people and not every Tom, Dick, and Harry is because of what I know about how people use and participate in r/Fitness. It's a drive-by forum. People dump a question, get an answer, and then leave. They aren't interested in being part of a community - they just want information or social connection. 79.5% of people only make a single post and 53.4% of people only make a single comment. Ever. 31.8% of people never even comment on their own post. We see more traffic in January because of the New Year's Resolutioner cycle than any other month of the year. All these things together paint a picture.

And more than anything, what those people want is to get bigger and stronger. This is something we've all always had a gut feeling about from observation, but the launch of the external Wiki proves it beyond any shadow of a doubt. Nothing - nothing - gets more traffic than the Strength and Muscle Building Routines page. By miles. It makes up 25% of all traffic to the Wiki - the next closest is 6%. So yeah, maybe it should be called r/lifting. Or maybe people who wanna talk about other stuff should talk about that stuff on Fittit instead of the smaller, more niche subs if they don't like it. I'd prefer they just shut up instead of being harpies about it every couple of months, expecting the moderators to do something about hundreds of thousands of skinny dudes wanting nothing more than to get jacked.

Now, I want to be really clear here - Despite some dickery, some rudeness, some hard lines drawn in the sand, everything that we (and I especially) do with Fittit is because we genuinely, seriously, want to help people have access to good quality information that can help them achieve their fitness goals. The Wiki is something I have put more effort into than anything else in the entirety of the time I've been a moderator. I've rewritten it in whole and in part more times than I can count. I have a giant backlog of bookmarks of posts, articles, blogs - you name it - from smarter, stronger, more experienced people than I will ever be that I'm constantly looking to use to update what we're telling people. I want the Wiki to be huge, and I want it to be counted among the best fitness resources on the internet.

Not because I want to make money from it, or be a famous fitness dude, or anything like that. Because I remember what it's like to be tired of being a skinny teenager and not knowing what to do. In my day there was no such thing as Reddit, and I had to rely on advice from sources that could just as easily be dubious as they could be brilliant, and experimentation, and failing over and over and over to rule out what doesn't work so I can find out what does. Most people only see me as purplespengler - the mod who is a dick sometimes and bans dudes. It's rare that anybody sees enough of the inner workings to really get what I'm trying to accomplish, that I have to have a very long game plan, and that I can't be concerned with "helping" absolutely everyone with absolutely everything if I want Fittit to be the kind of resource I never had when I was young, that I would have killed to have.

Every day I'm reminded by some whiny baby that the victories I need to look for in helping people have to be at an individual level. These are people who try to doxx me, write weird, creepy poems about me, send me angry messages about how they hope my family gets raped and murdered by animals, spend money on a website to tell the world they think I suck... This happens all the time. Nobody told me I was signing up for a legion of sewagepeople to tell me how mad I've made them on a daily basis. But it hasn't affected me for years because I learned to take those people doing those things as confirmation that keeping them away from my community was the right choice. And yes, I do think of it as "my community" - in the way that my home is "mine", my family is "mine", my friends are "mine". Ultimately I care about it and want it to be as good as it can be, for what it is.

Do I have days where I question if putting up with shitheels like that, reading and removing hundreds of threads and comments a day, pouring hours into writing and organizing information that not enough people will read, is all worth it? Absolutely. But when I get a modmail that says "Thanks for making the Wiki, it has really, really helped me", or people give their own money to Reddit to express how much they thought one of these blog posts was useful to them, or I look and see that thousands of people a day are reading all that information, or the regulars I know from Fittit tell me how much better Fittit has been in the last few years, or somebody posts a progress thread that thanks the community - that tells me that these five years have definitely not been wasted.

"Good Will Hunting", Part 2 - For Dingdongs

When ZBGBs browbeat me into making my thought-vomit into a blog instead of just leaving it sitting on my computer, I only felt okay with doi...