Letter 2017-01-26

Dear friends,

2017! I hope you have had a good Christmas and a great start in the new year.
In 2016, we have talked in one way or another about What About. What has happened so far?

First of all: Well, welcome to the What About Wiki! I thought it would be a nice idea to put this letter directly into the wiki :) Here you can find setup instructions, a discussion board and lots of background information. Like any wiki it is freely editable (I think you have to be unlocked, just try it out!). Look around. It's free ;) But first please read this letter, it will all make more sense.

The days between Christmas and New Year is a great time to reflect. It is a bit frowned upon to make New Year's resolutions, but I think they have their point. When can you think so well over the past year if not then?

What About is a bit more than a year old now. I can remember the moment pretty clearly: It was a day or two after Christmas. Duncan was visiting me at home at Eifel and we went for a walk around the Maar lakes. Somewhere along the way I told him about "that idea", and as is so often, only when you formulate thoughts and try to explain them to others, you realize what is missing and whether it is really mature enough - vaguely: a helper who proposes what to do next, somehow different than to-do lists and project plans - What About this and that? - that idea was now mature enough to be approached seriously. What has happened since then?

Well, in one form or another, we have discussed the idea last year. Perhaps you can not even remember the occasion, that shows only how much can happen in a year;) I would like to thank you for the exciting discussions.
But there is not only discussions. In relatively strenuous afterwork coding sessions, I built a prototype. The code works. Well, sort of :D The start screen looks like this:

You can now create a new „intention“ (or „What About“) with "n" + Enter. 

You give a name (caution with umlauts, which are not yet supported reliably at the moment [#TODO: implement bug tracker]), a category (which has no meaning yet), and then you give points of 1-10 for 3 different categories:
  • Ickyness
  • Urgency
  • Importance
First the last two items: Suppose, for example, you want to meditate more. „Projects“ like these are notoriously hard to implement since they do not fit into the calendar scheme. In project management language: As long as one hasn't defined a clear goal, it is not dividable into small, workable work packages which can be scheduled. But do you want to do this for such „personal“ quests anyhow? Do we want to plan our private lives as much as we plan our jobs? My intuition on this is clear - most people want to be „free“ in their non-work, „normal“ life.

The intention "I want to meditate more" makes perfect sense in your head - the suggestion of professionals that you should subdivide it into concrete goals, etc. is evidence that we have not yet found any good tools that assist us in fulfilling those perfectly sensible intentions which float around in our heads constantly. In short, „Meditate more" is a classic example of a non-urgent but important intention. In this Eisenhower matrix, "meditating" thus receives, for example, a 2 in urgency (a low value) and 9 in an importance (a high value).
Ickyness - well, this value indicates how unpleasant this intention is. This intention is probably quite pleasant, we also give a 2!

These values ​​are now saved. And what now? With "g" one can get an intention from memory. Based on the values ​​entered, they are drawn less or more often. An intention with a high degree of urgency and importance is therefore drawn more frequently than an intention which is neither particularly important nor urgent (but it may occur out of chance though). Since urgency and importance are treated the same, there is no difference between the two, and the software decides sometimes for something urgent, sometimes for something important. This ensures that the urgent things come up, but are mixed with important things! 

The suggestion can then be committed or rejected. Now you just need to follow through ;) (please don't ask questions why I have an intention called "Wecker aufstellen"). 

The intentions are stored in a file named "defaultIntentions.csv". Why the name? I can imagine that you can create different What About projects, which can then be saved under different names, for example:

This file also stores the current rejects and commits and the total rejects and commits. Depending on the flavor, intentions that have been frequently rejected are suggested either less (the positive reinforcement preference) or more frequently (the kick arse preference). You exit with "e", but changes are saved automatically anyhow.

I am a tad bit embarrassed by the code and all the rest sometimes. A "real" programmer would probably tear her hair out. This is not at all „modern“. The program could have looked like this 20 or even 30 years ago. However, this might be evidence that the idea has potential. Often we think, me included, that the good ideas are already grazed, that the main innovations have already been made long ago! But is this really true? Why do we then still work exclusively with calendars, even if such a simple hack can be so promising?

But it does not matter anyway what you and I think about it. The code is at the moment what it is, and definitely better than no code. I use the program at work; sometimes more, sometimes less successfully. Maybe you want to try it out too already? (there is a short instruction manual here in the wiki on how to run it, mail me if you need help). Probably you will be put off in a very short time. We are no longer used to using such tools, we want to swipe and click. But somehow I also like its simplicity, the reduction to the essential. But you'll be bored by it after some time I am most sure. This is still very rudimentary. I need your help.

For me, one question arises now :
  • What next?
(I had 4 or 5 before so there is still a bullet point list but it could be reduced to one question)
Eventually, there should certainly be time for a physical meeting, discussion sessions and organized coding sprints. We should not rush things, but also not unnecessarily dawdle. And please remember: I don't think that this is a coding project primarily. There is so much more to explore about the human mind and how to improve our shaky lives on a grand scale. We can be really smart here (I would like to draw your attention to the video section, watch some of them, I'm a big fan).

At first, as the demons of our nature seem to gain the upper hand, I wanted to write more about our current times. How it is now even more important to radically create and move forward with progress. This is true. But then we should not waste too much time discussing how dystopian it all can get. Current developments in technology are for sure to blame for some of the ills we have to deal with now. However, I am still a true believer that the internet and the free and unrestricted availability of knowledge can unlock potentials which we cannot even imagine. This is also the reason why I have decided to make the project all open-source. The code is already openly available on Github: https://github.com/0-k/what-about

One last thing about having time and no time. For me personally, What About is also a meta project on how to accomplish the "important but not urgent things". What About itself is such a thing. I sometimes succeed with working for it, sometimes not. If you decided for yourself that you want to help in pushing this project forward, and find yourself later not doing anything for it - don't blame yourself, it is not your fault. Humanity is still missing appropriate tools to manage time and minds. 

I have always believed that one can achieve a lot with patience and a long breath. Or with Bill Gates: "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years." I will some miles on the "What About" way in my limited time. Who knows what will happen in the next 9 years. I am looking forward to it! Also looking forward to hearing from you


PS: A last sentence about this Wiki - I promised it at the very beginning. I thought that the wiki could be our central online meeting place for the moment. You can read everything anyway (watch also the videos =)), but if you want to edit and expand something, just edit and expand it - the wiki will then grow on your posts =)