Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dating Advice for the Socially Awkward

Lemme put this right on front street: I'm terrible at dating. Think Steve Carrell in 40 Year Old Virgin. That's how bad I am at it. And yet I've been involved in a relationship of some sort pretty much my entire adult life. Despite my incompetence, I seem to be doing something right.

I'm not an expert at dating. Not by a long shot. But the last time I was single I started doing a lot of reading about various components of interpersonal docking procedures, because I figured there had to be some trick to it, and I was determined to understand what that was. I haven't been single for some time, but the idea still fascinates me, so I haven't stopped that reading.

What I present here is the current synthesis of the knowledge I've picked up about it. I hope I'll never need to use this myself, but there's no reason others couldn't benefit from my research.

If you're good at dating, or you've got an approach that works for you, you don't need my advice. Just keep right on doing what you're doing. If you're having a hard time of it, consider trying some of the things I suggest.

Step 1: Know What You're Looking For

This is hard. A lot harder than you may expect. You probably have a shopping list of traits in your head that describe your ideal partner, right? Here's the problem: that list is almost certainly wrong.

Think about it like this: if you've ever used a service like Audible, Amazon Kindle or Netflix (or equivalents), odds are you have a lengthy wishlist of items you "plan" to buy, because they're the sorts of things you like, right? But if you like them so much, why are they still in your wishlist? Because when it's time to actually buy stuff, you buy other things.

As humans we suck at knowing exactly what it is we like. We have an imaginary list of things that we may be interested in, or wish we were interested in. But that's not the list that actually determines our purchasing behaviour. The actual list is hidden from us, down deep in the recesses of our reptile brains,

Amazon and Netflix know this, so they don't bother suggesting new purchases to you based on what you say you like. They look at what you actually buy, compare that to other users who bought the same things, and show you recommendations based on what they bought. And that seems to work pretty well.

Alas, we're no more or less skilled at picking potential mates. We have an idea in our minds of the sort of partner we ought to have, and search for that. Meanwhile we overlook plenty of opportunities with people we would actually like.

Online dating sites are aware of this, and are presumably working on incorporating it into their matching algorithms, But until they they get it right, the most we can do is to be brutally honest about what we actually want in a partner... not just what we think we ought to want.

And the easiest way to start that is to look at your dating history and do a comparison of your previous partners. Ask yourself questions, and answer as honestly as you can. Things like:

  1. What first attracted you to the person?
  2. What annoyed you most about them?
  3. What traits (if any) do all or most of your partners share?
  4. What did I find most rewarding about our time together?
  5. What did I miss most after we broke up?
  6. And so on...
I warn you, this can be difficult emotionally. When I went through this, I had to admit to myself that my answer to #1 for most of my previous partners was "She was nice to me.". Ouch. Take your time and work it through. It's worth it.

Don't be afraid to be superficial or prejudicial. Nobody's watching, and nobody's judging. If you don't like tall guys, that's cool. If blondes do it for you, that's cool too. You're not trying to impress anyone, you're trying to get to know yourself better. If you don't like what you find, make a note to work through it later. This is about knowing yourself, not fixing yourself.

When I was doing this a couple of years ago, I gave into my geeky urges and created a spreadsheet with 34 different listed criteria, each with a comparative weighting, and I rated all my previous partners against each other to derive an overall compatibility score out of 100. I have no idea if it was any good, but the results certainly reflected how I felt about them at the time, so I guess there was some merit to it.

In fact, since I already had the matrix in place, I created an online questionnaire and invited my friends to fill it in... mostly so I could calibrate it better. I wouldn't recommend that to you, necessarily, but I will say that one of my friends who filled out the questionnaire got an impossibly high score. And, well, we've been together for close to two years now. So there's that.

Step 2: Marketing

A lot of people are uncomfortable, particularly when it comes to online dating, with "selling themselves". Not only are we culturally discouraged from singing our own praises lest we sound arrogant, but many people suffer with self-confidence issues. And let's face it: if you're looking for dating advice from me, odds are you're one of those people. Amirite?

But that's okay. You don't need to be a master salesperson or Don Draper to be the director of your own marketing campaign, There are some basic steps you can follow that will get you off to a good start.

  1. Have a good, recent profile photo. I cannot overstate how important this is. Not only should it go without saying that you must have a profile photo, but you want to ensure that you have the best photo possible.

    Humans are visually-driven. It's not worth denying it. We evaluate prospective dates first (but not only) based on their appearance. It's just true. If your profile has no photo, or has a photo of something other than you (your child, favourite cartoon character, a pretty flower or whatever) you won't get any good prospects. You'll get messages, especially if you're female, but they'll only be from random dudes trawling the sites... not from anyone worth talking to. Photo = essential.

    Even if you don't think you're very attractive. If anything that makes it even more important that you have a photo up there. While it's true that there are some global norms of attractiveness among humans, that's highly variable. Even if you look funny, odds are there's someone out there who thinks your look is cool, quirky or cute. You'll never find that person if they can't see your face.

    Not only must there be a photo, but it must be a clear one. Get one taken professionally, if you can. By an actual professional, if possible. Your friend with an expensive camera who photographs her friends' pets on weekends might be able to do a good enough job, but try to get the best you can afford. You want the photo to depict you clearly and honestly, but should also be as flattering as possible. Good lighting, composition, make-up (if necessary) and wardrobe make all the difference. Most people don't look good in bathroom-mirror selfies. Go legit for this one.

    Not only must it be good, but it must be recent. Less than a year old, preferably. There's no point denying it: we all change the way we look as we get older. We put on or lose weight. We change hairstyles and hair colour. We make different fashion choices. Our skin changes hue and texture. Despite what you imagine you see in the mirror, I promise you don't look like you did three years ago. If you set up a date to meet someone who's there to meet the 2011 version of you, and they see the 2014 version of you instead (even if you think the 2014 version is more attractive), they'll be disappointed, because they won't be getting what they signed on for. Putting up an outdated (or heaven forbid, heavily photoshopped) photo is dishonest. Don't do it.

    Have a few other photos too, preferably in a variety of settings, doing things you enjoy.
    No duckface selfies
  2. Give yourself a good blurb. Most dating sites require you to say something about yourself in your own words. Be honest and direct, but try to keep it positive and light. For example:

    Instead of saying "I've been single for 3 years now and I desperately need to get laid."
    Try "I've spent some time enjoying life on my own, getting to know myself. But now I feel ready to share my life with someone special."

    Good, eh?

    Don't hide important things about yourself. Put them right out there. Especially if it's something unusual. If you collect snakes, can't go a week without watching an old episode of Magnum PI or only ever eat fruit that died of natural causes, you need to put that stuff out upfront. Those could be nasty surprises for someone who wasn't expecting them, or they could be the exact things a potential partner is looking for.
  3. Don't limit yourself. If you're unaccustomed to the online dating thing, it may be daunting to sign up for even one site. But in for a penny, in for a pound. If you're going for one, may as well go for as many as you can: DatingBuzz, OKCupid, eHarmony, don't stop until you've got a hook in as many ponds as you can handle.

    There's no reason to limit yourself just to dating sites either. Social media sites like Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Meetup are also good platforms to get yourself out there. For all you know, your next romantic partner has been your Facebook friend since 2009, but they just didn't know you were available. There's no need to go overboard and spam your friends list with flirty messages, but you can incorporate some elements from your dating profiles into your ordinary social media profiles without it being weird.

Step 3: Get out of the house

Online dating is cool and all, but as popular as it is these days, you still have a much higher chance of meeting a good match when you're offline.

Now, I've been there: when you're single, there's a strong temptation to go to places where single people go: night clubs, pubs, birthday parties of loose acquaintances... but that's a tactical error. If you're the sort of person who ordinarily goes to a pub often, then go to a pub. Because the people you'll meet there are people like you: people who go to pubs. 

But if you're not normally a pub-goer, going to a pub to meet people doesn't make a lot of sense. Do you really want to meet someone who wants to do something regularly that you don't like doing?

Instead, go to the places you normally go. If you don't normally go to places, use Google to find out where people like you go. Are you new to Joburg? Join the Joburg Expats Meetup. Are you an atheist? Find out when the next atheist picnic is. Are you a geek? Come to DeeTwenty!

It seems obvious when you think about it, but it doesn't necessarily occur to people: if you want to be in a relationship with someone who shares your interests, hobbies, world-view or values, seek out people that you share those things with, and see who you meet there. You're more likely to meet the right person there than you are in places where other people go.

Step 4: Be patient

This isn't an aggressive sales technique. Nobody's screaming in your ear to make 20 calls by end of business. Relax and take your time. Be comfortable with the idea that finding a good match can be a slow process.

Desperation is counterproductive in these situations. People can pick up on it, and it makes you seem less desirable. 

Instead, focus on enjoying the last days/weeks/months you have of being single. Maybe do some of the things you're unlikely to do when you're not single anymore, like spend a night on the roof with your telescope, take your parents on a weekend away, or go with your buddies to a strip joint. Try to enjoy the single life, and you won't mind as much that it takes a while to happen.

Odds are you'll meet a few people along the way who aren't a good fit. I wish I could give you comprehensive advice on how to deal with that, but the best I can do is: be kind, be honest and be clear. And bear in mind that even if the guy or girl you're with now seems unfathomably awesome, if he or she doesn't feel the same way about you, there are almost certainly are others out there as unfathomably awesome as they are, if not better.

So yeah, like I said, I'm no expert. This is based on stuff I've read (I've linked to my sources when I could find/remember them), and it all makes sense to me. But dating is messy business, and your mileage may vary. I hope you get something useful out of all this.

Oh, and I'm serious about the profile photo. Muey importante. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Ad Review: Jameson Whiskey "Henry the Musician"

Since I stopped watching broadcast TV a couple of years ago, I tend not to be subjected to many video ads these days. The notable exception is when we go to the movies at Ster Kinekor, where fast-forwarding or muting the ads isn't an option.

One of the ads I've seen before every single movie I've gone to for over a year now is one for Jameson Whiskey. I facepalmed the first time I saw it, and assumed it was a mistake, never to be seen again, Alas that appears not be the case.

Here's the ad:

Did you see what I saw?

In case you didn't, here's what I saw

We start with an establishing shot of a stage in a small jazz bar. A guy is centre-stage playing a guitar (a Gibson Les Paul Standard, if I'm not mistaken). We're told his name is Henry, and that he loves his whiskey. Cool.

A fire starts in the bar, and a fellow patron is about to do her civil duty, breaking the glass of the fire alarm with the nearest object at hand: a bottle of Jameson Whiskey.

Henry intervenes before the lady hits the alarm thingy, takes the bottle from her hand, and then breaks the glass with his guitar, which we're told is a "65 six-string".

While the patrons enjoy dancing under the simulated rain of the sprinklers, Henry pours himself a glass of whiskey, and the flashback ends. The narrator assures us this is a true story.

Seen it yet?

So as far as we can tell, Henry is a professional musician. It's quite a fancy bar, but playing live music in night clubs doesn't pay well, especially when you have to split it with your band. Odds are Henry doesn't make very much. That means his 1965 Les Paul is probably his most valuable possession... not only because it sells for about R30 000 on auction (equivalent to a small used car), but because it's the tool he uses to earn his living.

When a small fire starts, he prevents a woman from sacrificing a R250 bottle of whiskey to put it out. Fair enough. That's a pretty expensive beverage (compared to around R10 for a similar quantity of Mountain Dew). The bar probably has a few in the back room, but waste not, right?

But then instead of grabbing any of the other objects available: chairs, shoes, ashtrays, or even using his own sleeved elbow to break the glass, he decides to break it with his guitar.

Here's the thing about fire alarms. Although they're usually covered with glass to dissuade people from setting them off when there isn't a fire, the glass they use for that is meant to break really easily should the need arise. It's way thinner and more brittle than a glass table, window or whiskey tumbler. A hard tap with your fingernail would do the trick.

If Henry had tapped it gently with the head of this guitar, it would have easily given way. The worst that might have happened is a bit of a scratch in the lacquer, which could be a conversation-starter if anyone were to even notice it.

But no. Henry caresses the guitar as if to say "goodbye" and takes a full swing at the wall... breaking the glass and presumably utterly destroying his instrument in the attempt.

Sure, Henry stopped the fire and (kinda) saved all the patrons. But to do it, he unnecessarily sacrificed his livelihood. That's right... Henry no longer has his guitar... he's unable to work.

So here's the take-home message:

Jameson Whiskey leads people to make terrible, terrible choices in life.

As part of the same campaign, they could have made ads featuring Jake, the guy who drank too much Jameson Whiskey and didn't notice that the condom he put on was broken, then ended up paying child-support for the rest of his life.

Or Brenda, the woman who couldn't say no to that last Jameson and ran over a pedestrian while driving home. The chronic depression she was drinking to self-medicate got the best of her and she committed suicide three months later.

Awful, right? But those would be entirely consistent with the message of this ad.

I'm glad the good people at Jameson haven't made those other ads. But why is the Henry one still being screened? Am I the only person who's paid any attention to it?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How To Contact Owen - 2014 Edition!

I get a lot of flak from people who complain that I'm difficult to get hold of. What they really mean is that I can't be reached in the ways they like to contact people.

What those people seem to fail to realise is that my communication tools are for my convenience, not theirs. But since I'm atypical in my use of those technologies, I'm prepared to educate people on how to reach me. It also changes from time to time, so I may have to make this an annual primer. Here goes the first one.

Telex not supported

If you need to get a short message to me right now:

Google+ Hangouts. Add me to your Google+ circles and you can send me a Hangouts instant message any time. Hangouts sends your message to me, regardless of where I am or what device I'm using at the time. If I'm able to look at a device, I'll get your message.

If you don't have a Google+ account, or you prefer not to use Hangouts, you don't get to send me an instant message.

You can try sending me an SMS if you like (if you're one of the few people who actually has my phone number). But since SMSs only go to one of my devices, odds are smaller that I'll see it any time soon. And since SMSs cost money to send, and I use a prepaid SIM that's often not loaded up with airtime (I generally convert all my airtime to data bundles), odds are even lower that I'll respond to it.

If you need to get a long message to me right now:

Email. All my communication devices are connected to my Gmail, and can pull down email messages for me in real time. If I'm near a device, I'll get it. Whether you send to my personal, STARFLEET or work email addresses, it all goes to the same inbox, so I'm equally likely to see a message sent through any of them.

I don't necessarily read every email as it comes in. But I will check my notifications every now and then to see if there's anything important/urgent.

Smoke signals also not supported

If you need to send me a short message, but don't mind waiting a few days for me to respond, if ever:

Google+ Hangouts or Facebook Messenger. I use Facebook exclusively for work, so I won't respond to personal messages there... They'll just go ignored.

And I also only log in on days when I'm working, so I'll only see your message when I'm at work.

So use Google+ Hangouts rather, but if it's work-related, Facebook is fine.

If you need to talk to me by voice or video:

Google+ Hangouts. I won't answer random calls though. You'll need to make an appointment first using IM or email.

If you're one of the people who has my phone number, same rule applies: no appointment, no answer. And don't bother leaving a voicemail message either... I'll never listen to it. I also won't call you back.

If it's an emergency:

Google+ Hangouts. If I can't see or respond to a message in Hangouts, I can't see or respond to any other messages either. When checking my new messages, I always check Hangouts first, before checking anything else.

But really ask yourself: if it's an emergency, am I really the one you should be contacting? If your car's broken down, your house has been burgled or your computer exploded, I'm not the one who can help you with those things. Try emergency services or Dial A Nerd.

If you want to send me a joke, chain email or cool link:

Strip-O-Grams also not supported
Post it on Google+ and share it with me by name. I'll take a look within a few hours, if not immediately. If I like it, I'll reshare it. If you send me a chain email (or their social media equivalents), I know I need to block you. I don't reshare stuff sent to me via email or Facebook (unless it's work-related, of course).

If you want to see me in person:

Show up at the club during any of our Open Sessions.  I'm almost always at the counter, or at least in the building somewhere.

Outside of club Open Sessions, you'll need to make an appointment via email or Hangouts to see me. If my doorbell rings unexpectedly, I won't even get up to see who's there.

Things to use if you want to make sure I'll never get your message:

  • WhatsApp
  • Skype
  • Voicemail
  • Twitter
  • Fax
  • Telegraph
  • Yo
  • Anything after 23:00 and before 08:00 everyday. My devices all go to sleep mode during those hours, and I don't hear notifications.
And before you ask: there's no point trying to persuade me to change my position on the use or non-use of these systems. I almost certainly know more about them than you do, and I've very carefully arrived at my decision not to use them. Some of them I feel so strongly about (WhatsApp and voicemail, for example), I'll probably get very angry and rude about it if you even try.

Rule of thumb:

If you want to get me a message, Google+ Hangouts is the way to go. Email is a solid second choice. Phoning me will almost certainly fail.

No guarantees (added 2014-07-23)

There's an important point I forgot to make here originally, so I'll throw it in now: Just because I've received your message, that by no means guarantees that I'll respond to it.

I respond to most things that I think need a response, but not all. If I don't want to have the conversation with you, I just won't. If you've been waiting for ages for a response from me, odds are you won't be getting one.

If you really want me to respond to your message, here are some things to consider doing:

  • Make the conversation interesting;
  • Bribes. Cash and/or HeroClix figures accepted.
Threatening, badgering or otherwise nagging me won't improve your odds of getting a response. In fact, they'll only improve your odds of getting blocked and never hearing from me again.

If you think I'm being unnecessarily harsh or restrictive in my communications policies, I refer you to the second paragraph of this post: " communication tools are for my convenience, not [yours]." I don't feel obliged to be available to everyone 24/7 in a hundred different ways. If you want me to take the time to have a conversation with you, it's up to you to approach me in the ways I prefer, and to make it worth my time to respond.

If I need to contact you, I'll try to use the ways you prefer, and to make it worth your while too.

It kind of baffles me that this doesn't go without saying. Are we all so accustomed to being connected to each other, that we've forgotten the basic notion that a person's time belongs to them? And that if we want some of it, we have ask politely for it?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Quote-mine This Post For Teh Win!

For the first time in like, forever, I've finally got access to a decent Internet connection that's up most of the time. And I don't have a nosy boss or corporate IT gestapo watching what I use it for.
"Close those 36 RedTube tabs and step away from the cubicle."

I've also got weird working hours now, which means I have a fair amount of free time on my hands when everyone else is at work. So, that means I've been able to watch all the YouTube videos. If the 'YouTube Suggests' list is full of ones I've already watched, that means I've seen all the videos, right? I'm pretty sure it does.

In all of that watching, something surprised me: although I dealt with many of the basic implications of atheism years ago and moved onto more interesting intellectual pursuits, apparently not everyone on the Internet has moved on yet.

Specifically, I saw a surprising number of YouTube atheists having to respond to the ridiculous theist claim that "Without God, there can be no morality. Atheists just want to sin. If I didn't believe in God, I'd probably be in jail right now."

Really? We're still on that one?

It occurs to me that I don't think I've ever really addressed that point on this blog (because it's dumb), but I figured I may as well put my thoughts down in case the other people who've watched all the YouTubes are also looking for something to do.

So now that I'm an atheist, what's to stop me from going around eating babies, raping children and killing kittens? Well, nothing.

I mean most of those things are illegal, so I could get in trouble if I did them. But that wouldn't stop me from doing them either, it would just make it unpleasant afterwards.

As Penn Jillette likes to say, I eat all the babies, rape all the children and kill all the kittens I want to. It just so happens that the number of babies I want to eat, children I want to rape and kittens I want to kill is the same: zero.

In fact, by the standards of most religious people, I live a rather exceptionally moral life. I don't drink, smoke or do drugs and I'm fiercely monogamous in my relationships. I'm perfectly free to drink, smoke, shoot up or sleep around if I want to, I just don't want to.
The right combo of dijon and brie could change my mind tho.

Unlike most theists, I actually don't consider those moral issues. To me they're more aesthetic than anything else, with the exception of the monogamy thing. I don't consider that moral either, but that's a more visceral, and less aesthetic thing. A story for another post, perhaps.

I don't pretend to be a saint, but I like to think of myself as being a generally okay guy. I was this way when I believed in YHWH, and I'm still like that. My morality (or whatever it is) obviously never came from Jesus, it came from my own brain.
Guess which part!

If the only thing holding you back from eating babies or raping children is your fear of eternal damnation, perhaps I'm not the one with the morality problem.

The real problem with justifying your faith with Pascal's Wager ("If you believe and you're wrong, you lose nothing, but if you don't believe and you're wrong, you go to Hell") is it's a trap. Even if you believe in a god, how do you know you believe in the right one? Until one of the many different religions provides some actual objective evidence that their story is the right one, there's no point assuming that any of them are.

And the cost of belief isn't zero either... it used to cost me my Sunday mornings and Friday evenings to go to church, back in the day. But there are far more interesting things to do at those times (At DeeTwenty Geeking Venue!). Pascal's Wager is like any gambling: the odds favour the house, so your best option is to not play the game.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Why I Won't Wear Shorts in Public

This should probably start with a disclaimer, cos it'll probably sound pretty judgmental. In short: it isn't. I have some fairly unpopular aesthetic opinions (what some people might call "morals", but I don't like to use that word for them) which guide and inform the way I live my life. But I don't expect other people to live by my rules... I try to judge people by their rules, on their terms, not mine.

That said, from time to time I have something to say about those aesthetic opinions. Not because I'm trying to convert anyone, necessarily, but rather because I think someone might be interested in what I have to say about them. That's what's happening here.

I have strong feelings about this.

Have you watched a KFC ad lately? Well here's one.
Heh. Right?

Thing is I kinda have a problem with it. It gives me an icky feeling. It's because these grown-ass men are effectively being depicted as children. They're playing off that old "the only difference between men and boys is the size of their toys" thing, which is offensive and bullshit.

And this coming from someone who spends as much time playing with toy soldiers and spaceships as possible. Because my day job involves a proximity to and involvement with superficially childlike pursuits, I may have a hightened sensitivity to this sort of thing. But that doesn't mean there's nothing there.

It's a pervasive meme in our culture: that men are silly, childlike, untrustworthy and irresponsible. You've seen this kind of thing, right? It's everywhere, in the way people speak, the literature of our time, and especially in advertising.

That's fine. I don't really care about that. It's not as if men are alone in being the target of offensive stereotypes. Women know what I'm talking about here. Turnabout is fair play, right?

Sure. Whatevs. But I don't have to opt into it. I can choose not to brand myself with that stereotype, and I can decide how to present myself to others. If people want to brand me as a giant child, it's their mistake, not mine.

And that's why I refuse to wear shorts in public. Shorts are clothes for children... little boys in particular. Whether that's rational or not is beside the point, it's just the case. In the same way that frilly pink dresses are clothes for little girls. It needn't be that way, but it is.


When a grown man chooses to wear shorts out in public, by donning the attire of a small child, he's willingly opting into being cast as that child... he's self-infantalising.

That's fine, if you're into that sort of thing. If you buy into the man-child aesthetic, and like to be treated like a child for some reason. But I don't.
Not cool.

I also make no claims about how shorts look. Some women enjoy a short-panted man. That's cool. I happen to enjoy a short-skirted woman. But that doesn't mean it's necessarily desirable for a woman to walk around in a short skirt all the time. By doing so she's opting into a stereotype, which she may or may not wish to opt into. There's a time and a place, you know?

I also don't deny that shorts are sometimes practical. I happen to own several pairs of shorts that I wear around the house on hot days: working in the garden, that sort of thing. Shorts are also practical to wear on the beach, where the rules of propriety in attire are different to most other places.

But you'll never catch me wearing shorts to the movies or to work. That would be inappropriate, and would indicate my opting into a stereotype that I vehemently reject.