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Re-Railing Yourself After Getting Derailed In Life

At 52 years old, I've figured out how to re-rail myself and avoid getting derailed in life. I've gone through 10 years or 10,000 hours of attaining spontaneous mastery and expertise, and I'm now using tools like Linux, Python, vim & git to create applications that have an eternal life. My system, YAMLchop, focuses on journaling into one single text file, using title tags to decide what gets published and using OpenAI to write headlines and metas.

My Journey from Derailed to Re-Railing Myself with Timeless Tools and AI Assistance

By Michael Levin

Sunday, April 30, 2023

I’ve been derailed, however it is of my own doing. We’re born to the circumstances of our lives, but by the time we’re 16 or 18 or 25 or whatever years old, we should be able to have taken the reins of our lives and guided ourselves back on track, or onto a different path, or whatever.

So perhaps I’m a perpetual derailer, because now I’m 52 years old, and am about at the same place career-wise as I was when I came to New York City to be the vice president of the public relation firm that launched Amazon.com. For a 28 year old pisher from the suburbs of Philly, that was a pretty big deal.

Fast-forward 24 years and I’m still a pisher, but now I’m a 52 year old pisher with the same tricks in my head that I had when I was 28. Those tricks are good ones. Problem being on the first go-around, I was on a bad toolchain, and I’m the type of person particularly disruptable by tools and rules changing on me.

I like the timeless. I like learn once and master forever. You’d think that’s antithetical to the tech world, but it’s not. It’s just that the tech world is mostly about the quarterly revenues of big tech, and big tech needs you suffering from designed obsolescence and:

Well, you get the idea. That makes them money. You doubt me? Well then why are perfectly good operating systems like Windows 10 that Microsoft themselves admittedly called the last operating system you’ll ever need now reaching the end of its life? Microsoft just announced no new features for Windows 10, and while Windows 11 isn’t bad, it’s also completely unnecessary. Even provided “free” as it is by Microsoft, it’s a forced upgrade so that the tectonic plates keep shifting, and you’re kept off balance.

Examples are endless. Designed obsolescence isn’t some myth or conspiracy theory. It’s one of those rare, documented and outed conspiracy facts. Doubt me? Google up The Great Lightbulb Conspiracy. It’s a thing, equipped with a nefarious villain name, the Phoebus Cartel, and everything!

Yeah, well fast-forward 100 years (yep, the Phoebus Cartel was 1925), and the new light bulb is the laptop and mobile phone. Now admittedly, there’s some righteous features hitting mobile phones, but do we really need them, and couldn’t the product upgrade cycle be every 5 years instead of every 1 year?

Programming languages and “platforms” are the worst, because they make you dependent on those very platforms. They intertwine with your knowledge, know-how, muscle memory and very ability to do your job. They’re the ultimate lock-in, and they’re the ultimate designed obsolescence. And they’re Active Server Pages and Cold Fusion and Flash and Java and Ruby on Rails and Node.js and React and Angular and Vue and on and on and on.

Well, most of them are JavaScript-related these days, anyway. It’s all pitched so wonderfully as the full-stack, but it’s really just the full-stack of highly perishable lock-in. What’s worse is the file structures required are so convoluted that you need powertools just to keep it all straight, so it’s a golden opportunity for Microsoft to walk in with VSCode and really seize your muscle memory.

Richard M. Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, called iPhones beautiful prisons Well, iPhone hardly holds a candle to what Microsoft is doing to developers with VSCode. It takes digital handcuffs to a whole other level. It’s free, right? Well, how long before you’re using Azure? Oh, and you are paying for a Github subscription, right? For a mere $7.5 billion dollars, Microsoft bought Github, and killed the #1 free and open source competitor to VSCode, Atom.

At 52 years old, not only have I figured most of it out, but now I also well into my plan. You might even say I’m over 10+ years into it.

For you see, I moved to NYC when I was 28. I was married in my 30s and had my kid when I was forty. From 30 to 40 was the main derailing, but with the kid landing, I knew that my very earning capacity and ability to provide for my family was on the line. I couldn’t be the victim of designed obsolescence anymore. It has a 3 to 5 year cycle if you’re lucky, but if you’re not it’s more like a 10 or 15-year cycle. Macromedia/Adobe Flash designers know what I’m talking about.

So I gradually found my way to Linux, Python, vim & git. No one’s going to obsolete me ever again. The resiliency was tested as recently as the rise of AI. While not supported on vim, it Github Copilot is supported on NeoVim, a completely compatible fork of vim. I had no idea how close NeoVim was to vim. But when the shit hit the fan and the world changed again, my decision to go all-in on vim payed off in spaces.

I’m writing this very journal entry right now Copilot-assisted. I can turn it on and off with Function-Dim and Function-Bright, and that makes me smile every time. I’ve got a public journal (this) where it’s almost always turned on by default, and I’ve got a private journal where it’s never turned on at all.

I’ve basically gone through the 10 years or 10,000 hours attaining spontaneous mastery and expertise process popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. I’m pretty adept at all Linux, Python, vim & git. But the 12 or 13 years I’ve been focusing primarily on these tools has hardly even been enough to dig deep. Each one is a rabbit hole warranting a lifetime of mastery.

And so the re-railing has begun. GPT blasting onto the scene has really been a wakeup call, and if an acceleration effect is possible building upon such hard won mastery of the tools by applying it to real application, then the time is right. The time is ripe. The time is now.

Haha, there was a whole few paragraphs there where Copilot gave up even trying to autosuggest. Does that mean I’m living in the noosphere or just typing too fast?

Re-realing started with the shallow-mastery of the tools, and now it’s time to work on applications. There’s tools and there’s what you do with the tools. And the basic “system” I’m working on is not really that different from the stuff I brought with me to NYC from the burbs of Philly, which was all built on old Microsoft Active Server Pages (.asp files). Difference being now that the things I create my have a sort of eternal life to them.

How will they be different?

Well, let’s start with the fact that I’m no longer concentrating on “CMS” (content management systems) per see, being somewhat enlightened now about the universality of plain old text files. But text files become too numerous and cluttered, so I’m concentrating on all text in one file.

My original systems handled slice & dice too, but the idea that it sliced and diced all different files to increase the “surface area” of a website, and thus play into the power of the “long-tail”, whereby you get more traffic merely by virtue of publishing about more things with a greater granularity of pages that it was broken up onto. Those days are over.

So why am I still slice & dicing? Well because I journal a lot. Forget blogging for an audience. I just journal. I write a lot, thinking out loud. I write in order to force myself to articulate my thoughts. I’ve done this more or less since I was 18 years old, and put it in digital format maybe 10 years ago as I was taking up vim as a way of forcing myself to practice.

Fast-forward 10 years, and I am overflowing with the type of ability to slice and dice such journals into websites, and so I forked a version of my private journal and called it my public work journal.

And this is that.

And now AI has landed too, so I have a lot of help shaping this slice & dice system (now called YAMLchop) into that timeless, and perhaps even broadly appealing thing. We’ll see.

The basic premise is this:

Just blog. Just journal into one single text file. Keep putting new entries at the top, pushing the rest of your older writing further down into the file, as would be natural. Your oldest post is at the bottom of the file, along with a few other things you might like to be able to get to fast, like a to-do list. Your newest entry is at the top. That too you can get to fast, and you can put fun things like ASCII art that will motivate you and get you in the right mindset.

The very top and the very bottom of the journal file won’t be published. You’ll know what will be published because it has a title tag. Keep title tags off your posts, and they won’t get published. Add a title tag, and OpenAI steps in to write you a headline (alternative headline to your tile), a meta description and your keywords. The keywords can be used for category grouping.

And that’s about it. Keep it in a git repo. If you keep it on Github, you can use its automatic Jekyll static site generator system once called github.io, but more recently called Github Pages, in order to automatically publish your journal-generated site at no more cost than the $100/year or whatever for your basic Github developer account. You can even do it on the free Github version.