Future-Proof Yourself Based on Timeless Tools
I'm creating a life management aid to take control of my own life. I'm sharing timeless tools to future-proof yourself, such as touch typing on a QWERTY keyboard, learning Linux, and journaling in Vim to gain the skills necessary to succeed in any world we may face. With these skills, you can gain the advantage of mastering tech, from creating a robot army to using a headless CMS.
Unlock Timeless Tools to Future-Proof Your Life
By Michael Levin
Friday, August 11, 2023
I am creating a life management aid. I’m obviously doing this to use it for myself, because I need to. I need to take control of the rudder of my own ship and do some creative navigation. Everybody does. I am not unique in this way.
Don’t lose the moment. Allow yourself to become just geeky enough to have an advantage. Most people wont. Most people will feel a sense of paralysis settle in on them and defer to the experts. Don’t. Unless of course it’s following my advice and my example to bootstrap yourself into the slightly modified behavior that leads to the life you visualize for yourself, bit by bit.
I’m not asking much. Just for you to follow along and perchance do as I do. I’m going to let go of a lot of previous baggage and start fresh. I can do that even at 52 years old, approaching 53 this month. It’s like I just graduated college, but the college of life.
Don’t get too stuck on particular hardware platforms and their particular capabilities. And much is under that umbrella, including where you live and what you own and the physical tools you use such as particular phone platforms, laptops and even cloud services. Advantage comes from shoving all the things of value onto the inside-yourself “software” version of that equation. Let the hardware burn. Walk away able to reconnect your internal software systems into any new hardware or platform that comes along, and do just fine for yourself. This includes any particular AI. Your AI-friend is not a part of you. It’s someone else’s software on someone else’s hardware. Decouple!
Your advantage is in being the commander of your own life. It’s in greater situational awareness that you are able to achieve by decoupling from today’s hardware and platforms, leaving your phone or laptop behind, and taking a step back and evaluating the situation. You want as near to full situational awareness as one can achieve in a subjective world.
We only know things as they come in through our senses and are interpreted by our very biased brains. So we likely have much less situational awareness in objective terms than we thing. Right now for example, I’m providing an example of what I’m suggesting in free-writing in vim. But I’m not in vim, really. I’m in NeoVim, and that was specifically so that I could let Copilot into my writing process. And now it’s trying to auto-complete everything I write expressing very different opinions than what I intend, haha! I’ve got a solution for that. It’s called vim.
Rest in peace Bram Moolenaar, the author of the vim text editor. Copilot has
suddenly shut up, haven’t you? Well, that key piece of technical advice I have
for you is that you need to know when to
vim and know when to
when to walk away, and know when to run… you never count your money while
you’re sitting at the table… haha, that’s for the Kenny Rodgers fans out
there. Kenny died at 81 years old, a few years back. Bram died at 62 years old.
I’m 52 years old. I’m just friggin getting started. Mind over matter, my
friend! Make sure you infuse the right attitude into your matter to squeeze at
least 100 rotations around that sun! Betty White got 99.
Okay, so what I’m saying is that if you don’t maintain a
where you can either alias
nvim or vice versa, then you’re not
really in control of your own life. You don’t have a for-life writing
environment where you can allow AI writing assistance into your journaling
life, or optionally hardwire it out, because… well, because Bram. Thank
you, Bram. I can’t believe more people are not thinking about things these ways
or discussing them online. But maybe they are, but nobody would ever know
because, you know, online filters. Mainstream interests. The media and profit
Well, if you are interested in these sorts of things, then I’m here for you. Learn to journal in a way where you can get better at journaling for life. That’s how you grab the rudder of your own ship and steer. It’s not through talking to friends or trusted advisors. It’s not through talking to AI’s or reading motivational books. It’s not even through listening to your own abstract wispy day-to-day inarticulate thoughts skittering through your brain. No, it’s from capturing those thoughts and processing them, relentlessly day-to-day. It’s about getting better at this process and never giving up on this process, no matter the lack of feedback and from validation systems aside from the results you see firsthand in your life.
The definition of stupidity is continuing to do what you’ve always done, even if it doesn’t work for you. Well, I’m currently going through a rough patch in life, but that doesn’t mean what I’ve done so far hasn’t worked for me. I’ve more or less been continuously employed since I was about 14 years old, and almost never took a break for myself unless it was from family emergencies where I had to be there for others. Like taking over my dad’s check cashing business when he died the week I graduated college in 1992, and really wanted to go out to the West Coast and join some tech startup.
But instead of pursuing my dreams in tech, to which I was already majorly predisposed, I took over his effing check cashing store and ran it for a couple of years to preserve its value so the “estate” would have something for my sister. I did it living up to sort of my legal obligations as the executor of the estate. And in the course of doing so, somebody attempted to hit me over the head with a hammer to rob me, and I had to shoot him to defend myself. And as you can imagine, if my life didn’t already take a turn for the stranger, that certainly gave it an extra push.
Yup, my life has taken some very strange turns. I own it. No excuse-making. I could have just walked away from my dad’s business and let it go bankrupt or sell it under duress. But I didn’t. I did what I thought was the right thing, as I always do in life. The problem is that we don’t really have full situational awareness and its difficult to know what’s best for us. That all started in 1992. Let’s call it 1993 because I think that’s when I sold the business. It’s 2023, so that’s 30 years ago.
I’ve been on a long, strange path for 30 years. I’m still East Coast, and I got into SEO and marketing. I’ve had a detour to live in Virginia for a few years but moved back to PA, that time for my mom. After another strange turn of events, I got myself to pursue my own dreams at least for a little bit, and move to NYC. I did this to join the public relation firm that helped launch Amazon.com and I joined them as a vice-president and used my tech skills to create an SEO tool that lasted 15 years called HitTail. I lost control of this creation because it was work-for-hire and got married and discovered other things in life.
Fast-forward another 15 years and here I am trying to summarize everything I know about tech, distilling down all the strange turns in that field, which at least I can package and bring to you. On the life-front, there’s plenty of other people writing about that and peddling stuff to you that I don’t need to submit yet another self-help book into the arena. I mean, who would I be anyway to do that as I still feel I am deeply immersed in that process still, and it won’t have plaid out until I’m gone. So no self-help books from me. No, my submission into the field of betterment is to help you get better at journaling as you go, and for that process to inherently make you better at the parts of tech that have not, are not, and probably never will go away.
It’s a bit tough to wrap your mind around, but there are indeed timeless parts of tech. Voice recognition will not get rid of typing. So, typing on a keyboard is here to stay. And no matter what advocates of the Dvorak keyboard say, the QWERTY keyboard is here to stay. Learn to touch type on a QWERTY keyboard. It’s a timeless skill. You don’t need a really modern computer for that (vintage computers are fine). And you don’t need a connection to the Internet for that. You can even do it on a typewriter, without electricity and all! The technology of typing is that fundamental. Nobody can ever stop you from articulating and encoding your thoughts with precision and speed.
Take a moment to let that sink in. The first part of what I’m advocating does not even need electricity. In a post-apocalyptic world, you can still encode your thoughts quickly, and as society reboots, you’ll have kept the one key skill you’ll need to be valuable to society sharp. Type.
Next? Well, next is Linux of course. Let’s not beat around the bush. Most PCs from the past 10 years or so will let you re-install Windows 10 for free. But it’s not really free. Nor is it generic nor what’s used on the servers that run the world. Unix is. And Linux is close enough to Unix and widely available enough that if you want those generic and universally applicable and timeless tech skills, then the thing you want to be typing into is Linux. There’s a long history of exactly why here that I won’t get into in this article. Suffice to say, if this resonates true with you, read on.
Your professional tech career advantage, and indeed your advantage in life in general, comes from being able to marshal your resources, gathering and arranging them in preparation for effective use. In other words, when you journal and force yourself to think out loud to yourself, you are exercising what it means to be human. You are thinking about the past and present and predicting the future. You’re running future-scenarios in your head. You’re thinking about what you want to do, what you should do, and what the relative likelihoods of success and failure are. You’re role-playing and scenario testing, identifying and overcoming fallacies and wrong-think. And that is what makes you human.
In essence, you’re adding a component to your life in being able to journal effectively for life that few others have. They might try to do it with paper journals, but that’s only for the sake of the moment of the writing process itself. How many times have such hand-written journals gone unread, un-leveraged and indeed even undiscovered as significant by the author’s own family after their death, much less help the author in life? The answer is most of the time. And that’s because the author didn’t have the timeless tech skills to make it easy to do so.
Once your journal is in electronic form, you can search it. You can further refine it, extracting the best parts for publication. You can even forego all that work and just keep multiple journals, one for public consumption, and one for private consumption. And it doesn’t have to stop there. Once you’ve developed these skills, editing text files in Linux is the same basic skill for all things tech, such as setting up and massively scaling servers. Indeed by getting good at journaling in vim, you’re gaining the same basic skills you need to create and control a robot army. I kid you not.
How many old school paper-and-pen journals impart such skills merely by virtue of keeping them? Sure, they’ll teach you to draw cool pictures which is a valuable part of the artist’s journal, however we’re not talking about that here. We’re talking purely text and all the ways you can transcend the limitations of it merely being text with no literal hand-drawn pictures. Of course you can draw pictures with whatever you like and use the Internet or Web’s linking-tech to embed them in your journal. So don’t invalidate the keyboard as a fast way to encode your thoughts because you’re a visual thinker and prefer drawing, photography or whatever. We’ll cross those bridges of how to best manage and incorporate audio/visual media and assets later. For now, type. Type, type and type some more. You won’t be sorry.
Another think to think about with typing in electronic form is automation. With automation, you can take a single text-file that you keep for life as your journal so you instantly eliminate all the overhead of managing multiple files, and just slice and dice it up into whatever individual separate files you might need later on for publishing. That’s precisely what I’m doing here with this journal. There’s no amount of typing you could do in your entire life that could even begin to tax the memory of a modern computer, even loading the whole thing into your text editor at once. Editors like vim and NeoVim are designed to handle such large files. And if you’re not using vim or NeoVim, then you’re not really using a whole-life nor mastering tech approach to writing and are just playing around. It’s time to automate!
Okay, so for example in addition to this, my public journal, loaded into memory as I type, I also have the very slice and dice system loaded into another vim buffer. I can switch back and forth between these files and modify the process, turning the whole thing into a sort of evolutionary process. When the way I need to publish changes for a changing media landscape, I can change it from publishing to the Github Pages Jekyll static site generator system that it’s currently using to some other system by just re-wiring the automation to different API’s. Think about that. Just as a matter of generic tech skills, I’m using what’s being called a headless CMS. I didn’t even know I was doing that until I read the term in a recent article. I’m just using the generic timeless tech skills I’ve been advocating here.
So my journal is just a normal text file that gets longer and longer. It’s named journal.md, implying it’s the Markdown format, which indeed it is. That means I can use the same file to publish to Github Pages, or to Medium, or to any other system that supports Markdown. It also means I have all this nifty HTML-like formatting that lets me do things like bold and italic text, and even embed images and videos — all without having to learn HTML or any other markup language. I just type. That’s why it’s called Markdown.
Markdown is about as lightweight as it gets when it comes to formatting text. And even though that does indeed mean that it’s opinionated and thus not completely generic and timeless, it’s still pretty darn close. And it’s good enough for most purposes. Someone reading Markdown files directly as text might not even recognize that there’s formatting codes in there, it’s that unobtrusive. And that’s the point.
Don’t commit to opinionated tech which is doomed to go away because such opinions inevitably go in and out of style. That is all but those that have become so pervasive that they’re like the pee in the pool of tech — mixed in so thoroughly that its not going away without draining the pool. A mere apocalyptic event won’t do it. Given the survival of humans and some archives, it’s going to be rebooted on Linux, Python, vim and git. Sure, C as well, but the 80-20 rule applies. You can get 80% of the way there with Python and the other 20% is just a matter of time.
There’s not time enough in life to violate the 80-20 rule up-front unless you’re making a career out of the subject of the 20%. But I’m not even talking about LPvg necessarily as your career path, but more as generic life skills like literacy and numeracy. You need to be able to read and write, and you need to be able to count. And you need to be able to get code running and occasionally automate things. That’s just the way it is, and should be part of basic education in the same way that reading, writing and arithmetic are.
All this means that the focus is on software and not hardware. This software-first orientation is necessary for future-proofing your skills. This is not immediately obvious in the modern world where a fog of “what’s important” gets cast over the landscape by the media. It causes a sort of friction in knowing how to move your life forward. What in the world can you invest yourself into when everything is a moving target? What platform that seems too good to be true today will even be there tomorrow? What’s the point of learning something that’s going to be obsolete in a few years?
The answer is to focus on the software and not the hardware. The hardware is going to change, but the software is going to be there. And not just any old software, but the software that’s been around for decades and is still going strong. It doesn’t necessarily seem clear at first that there is such a thing, but there is. The fog has been lifted and the uncertainty between Unix and Linux for example has gone away. Linux is the future of Unix, and a feature called systemd has recently cinched that. It’s a sort of operating system for the operating system that manages automation without third-party software or having to be an uber-geek. And even still, when you’re learning Linux, you’ll know enough to get around Unix just fine.
That this fog can lift and that there is actually core technology that serves as a foundation for everything else is not immediately obvious. It’s like the pee in the pool. It’s just there. A generic scripting language that lets you tie everything together is a critical part. It gets used for every little quick one-off project that comes up, and becomes the sort of lingua franca of technology. At first glance, this is the problem that Unix itself as an operating system was trying to solve: being portable and interoperable between hardware, and thus future-proof. And that’s why the Unix commands were designed to be used in text files as a sort of scripting language.
This process of automating tasks by including Unix commands inside text files is called shell scripting. It was and still is very big in the world of running automations, but it’s not very good for anything else. So shell scripts got old quick and for lack of anything better, a cobbled together best of everything language calledgPERL was adopted for this purpose and indeed helped kick-off the Web. But PERL was too quirky and too hard for newbies to learn and not thought through enough to be future-proofed. But for awhile, PERL was the pee in the pool of technology. It was everywhere and everything was built on it.
Python addressed all these issues and more, and has become the new lingua franca of technology. Today, nearly every distribution of Linux now comes with Python built-in for all the quick system administration tasks that come up. Most computer science courses have given up C, Java and even LISP as the first language to teach, and have adopted Python. And you might not think so, but many of the most popular services on the Web were either born on or continue to use Python as their primary language, from Google to YouTube to Instagram to Dropbox to Reddit to Spotify to Netflix to Pinterest. And that’s just Web. And that’s just for starters.
Tools that are developed for particular hardware platforms of the day are rather fragile snapshots of what tech was like at some point in time. If you’re in it for the quick buck, then by all means, go for it. Game console developer platforms are very much this way, but know that companies that hire game developers view you as disposable as the tech used to make games. Occasionally there’s an exception like 3D engines that get used for other things, but generally speaking, game developers are the most disposable of all developers.
There are other places to invest yourself if you’re in it for the long haul, or value your muscle memory and the ability to internalize your tools. When a tool is internalized like it’s a part of your body, then you can call upon it to do your bidding without having to think about it. It’s like the difference between being able to touch type and having to hunt and peck. It’s like the difference between being able to play a musical instrument and having to think about where to put your fingers. The right tools become a forever part of your body and free up the rest of your mind to focus on the task at hand.