Solace of Art

People do what is good only when they want to.

Last week, when I found myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary didn’t come to me. She was in a different neighborhood of Minneapolis with other matters to attend.

The trouble I found that day was not racist murder in the street, but mass murder in the air. Not perpetrated by four deranged police officers, but thousands of passive-aggressive shoppers and sales associates at The Home Depot. Most of whom were utterly indifferent to Covid-19. I watched as they crowded into and out of the big box emporium, with checklists and parcels, without face coverings or hand sanitizers — NIH and CDC be damned! I watched and wondered: have I witnessed a more convincing demonstration of ingrained stupidity? Ever? I have not.

I sometimes refer to regular folks like those at The Home Depot as Joe and Ms. Sixpack — thus trying to dignify a condescending meme coined by a political moron more than ten years ago. I have claimed — without much evidence — that the Sixpack clan will overcome their acute health illiteracy and risky habits, their blimpy form factors and medication maladroitness, and they will take better care of themselves and their families, if only they are better informed about the science of the body and nudged to wellness. My self-appointed job is to inform and nudge; their job is to be happy and live in peace.

As a passionate health promoter, I have watched for months as governments and the fourth estate flooded the entire population with health information (scientific and otherwise), across all media, at all times of the day and night, from every conceivable point of view. A sentient adult cannot by now be ignorant of the incurable and unpreventable Covid-19, nor of the potentially mortal consequences of being infected or infecting others, nor of the ONLY ways to control it: social distancing and personal hygiene. According to my understanding of the Sixpacks, this worldwide tsunami of health promotion delivered more than enough information to warrant their high health literacy and acumen from coast to coast, at least when it comes to communicable disease.

To judge by my observations in Minneapolis, I was wrong. The Sixpacks were blithely committing mass murder in public and private spaces like The Home Depot in Minneapolis, where coronavirus can freely swirl into faces and smear onto the hands of every incautious person who happens to be present, and afterwards into and onto everybody else they meet. Given the quality of health promotion that preceded this dreadful historical moment, the pandemic should not be continuing now. Yet more than 100,000 deaths and more than a million infections later, with dire predictions of a nasty resurgence coming in the autumn, the evidence so far seems to show that health promotion doesn’t work and doesn’t matter in the United States.

I don’t accept that conclusion, but at the same time concur that it’s reasonable. After all, Humaginarium was founded on a premise that traditional health promotion — including health education — doesn’t work and has never worked well; that a different approach is needed to produce a different outcome. The rationale being that people will do what is good for them and others only when they want to. This new approach is conditioned by the solace of art.

Art is using the imagination to create and experience beautiful things. Art has existed as long as Homo sapiens; it is arguably what makes us human. Solace is the comfort we give or seek in grief, the alleviation of pain or fear or anger or anxiety. As a word for being cheered up and amused despite sorrow, solace has been around since the 12th century.

A few hundred years after solace entered the Middle English lexicon, a poet named John Donne wrote his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624). In these lines, he both defined and exemplified the solace of art: its power to heal and encourage, no matter what the circumstances are.

How does art do this? By writing a prescription? No. By telling the Sixpacks what to do? No. By making them oblivious or stupid? No. By improving their healthcare? No. Art works by facilitating understanding, choices and decisions to do what is right and good for ourselves and for others we rely on, and who rely on us.

I’m giving you a particular Devotion below without further explanation; you’re an adult, you’ll figure out what it means without my help, if you want to. But I’m giving it to you with an earnest request in these times of trouble: that you read it slowly and slowly think about its meaning. What it means not to me or to society or history or Ernest Hemingway, but to you individually and personally, right now.

Because believe it or not, you yourself are the most beautiful and wonderful thing in all of creation, and you deserve to be happy and healthy, and you have the right to demand it, and the power to achieve it. And now in memory of George Floyd and with love for every person who will someday come to Humaginarium with an illness that may never end, I declare and insist that no person is an island; and that even one person’s needless suffering or death diminishes us all.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, by John Donne
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Hairy Balls

The best of all lives, now and forever.

There was a day last week when I juggled three hairy balls. It made me tense. It wasn’t fun. I kept thinking: I don’t know how to do this; I don’t want to do this; I can’t do this; I just won’t! Yet I persisted as my stress increased.

Those four escalations — from not knowing to not trying — may be typical of Humaginarium customers. It’s what I expect. I’m asking folks to play very, very challenging video games that are damn hard to figure out and win. At the same time I’m asking them to dwell on an illness they have, or most likely will get: something they prefer not to think about at all, ever.

Yet despite these difficulties, I expect folks to persist. Despite feelings of inadequacy, ignorance, vulnerability, resignation, victimhood, anxiety, helplessness, anger, resentment, anguish, denial — despite who they think they are — I expect them to get better.

Better as in happier, calmer, stronger, smarter, healthier. Better as in more confident, centered, resilient, competent and accepting no matter what their circumstances may be. Better not because of what Humaginarium does for them but because of what they choose to do for themselves. Not wishing for a life they can’t have, but honoring the one they do have: for each of them, after all is said and done, the best of all lives, for now and forever.

My juggling a few days ago was nowhere near that lofty. I was investigating and trying to master, within my own pathetic mindscape, three subjects that seemed to defy easy understanding: metabolism, time management, and illustration. Everybody knows these words. Everybody thinks they know what the words mean. Until they try to use them and suddenly the ground rumbles and crevasses open in the ice and they no longer know where to put the next step.

The hairy ball of metabolism is a subject so vast and complicated that it seems like a name for God. It is the process of turning death into life, other into self, entropy into growth… and so forth. It happens on the atomic level of synthesizing molecules right up to the organismal level of masticating calamari, and on all the barely perceptible gradient levels in between; and maybe on the cosmic level too, since we are stardust. Metabolism is the epic subject of Diabetes Agonistes.

The hairy ball of time management is business rather than science. In the course of configuring the beta version 2 of OfficeTime, I had to think very carefully about how I spend my time, which is not normal for me. As with money, I spend my time somewhat cavalierly, mostly going on habit, intuition and instinct, rarely thinking about systems. Now I was applying systems thinking to my role of CEO at Humaginarium. When I finally got the app running, it broke.

The hairy ball of illustration is technology rather than business or science. For years I have dipped into Adobe Illustrator like a pilgrim visiting a shrine, gazing cravenly at its burning candles. Lately I have been taking Deke McClelland’s 20-hour Lynda course Illustrator 2020 One On One Fundamentals. The Illustrator app is so complicated and powerful that sometimes I feel I am watching a course on advanced astrophysics rather than basics of digital art. Upon closer inspection I see that the candles are a burning bush. Thanks, Deke.

Juggling all three of these balls in the same day represented an enormous cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous and germane. Extremely hairy and requiring much self-determination to persist in the face of probable defeat and very uncertain payoff. But I did persist, and I am continuing.

Why? Because by juggling hairy balls, I myself walk the talk of Humaginarium. I do these things (and others like them) not because they are enjoyable and rewarding (though they’re fun during bivouacs), but because they are hard and push me right up to my suffocating limits. Not in order to stop there and wonder, but rather to put my foot on the opposite edge of the crevasse and step over the yawning blighter.

Content

Content begins on the outside and ends up inside.

With written briefs and schedules flourishing in the rear view mirror, we’re beginning our approach to another early milestone: content. That word seems to mean everything and nothing at the same time. Let’s dispel the ambiguity.

In my view, content derives from information. It happens like this.

  1. Information is sculpted into communication
  2. Communication is rendered as media
  3. Media promote experience
  4. Experience is distilled into ideas
  5. Ideas are summoned into knowledge
  6. Knowledge is the safe harbor of content.

Phew! If all that is true, then it’s fair to say that content begins on the outside and ends up inside. Content bends the objective to the whims of the subjective. It starts as facts and finishes as perception. Content is what we think we know and what we think we can use to achieve our aims. Content bestows power.

Our briefs claim that the streaming content of Diabetes Agonistes is formed from six tributaries: biology, chemistry, psychology, environment, community and aesthetics. Biology and chemistry: these are scientific, decidedly factual. Psychology is less scientific because it is more tolerant of speculation and ideology. (I think therefore I am? Arguable. I am therefore I think? Indubitable!) Environment is the physical world that supports or harms life, and is very scientific. Community is the moral world of connections and relationships, interdependence and conflict: dynamic, metamorphic, cultural. Aesthetics are the human spirit, a force field that makes the cosmos personally meaningful, for better or worse.

All of these tributaries form the almighty stream of content in our project. Our schedule says we will survey the stream by July 2020, in time for designers to paddle its churning rapids, keeping us onboard as we twist and bobble onward.

Our first step of content discovery is to create a framework: the loose contours of information that we gather way upstream, in the placid pools of scholarly and popular literature. We do this to appreciate how others understand human metabolism, healthy and otherwise.

Framework in hand, we interview a gaggle of subject-matter experts in several disciplines: asking them questions about the literature, uncovering leads to additional information that we missed in our framework, learning how to bend information to the learning objectives of our curriculum.

Yes, our curriculum, because even though the thing we are making is a drop-dead gorgeous, butt-kicking, soul-riveting video game, under its covers it will be a competence builder; it will not teach, but will prompt and empower people to learn.

After the interviews, a great slog begins. The slog is a spreadsheet Topic Index. Word by word, row by row, an inventory of accurate and useful information that users may turn into knowledge while playing our video game — whether or not they want to. In fact we know they won’t want to and that’s why we won’t tell them they’re learning. Instead we’ll encourage them to feel they are winning, which after all beats learning in any head-to-head competition.

Once our Topic Index is written, we may rest. Our labors regarding content will be finished for the time being. We will set it aside and turn full attention to the next milestone: a technical marvel we call evaluation website.

The evaluation website is a test bed for our modular proof of concept, of which an elaborate simulation and a competency model are very important parts. Why mention them in this post about content? Because the content we delineate in the Topic Index will be plowed into the simulation and the model long before they see the light of day in a video game. The evaluation website is where stakeholders in our success will observe, manipulate, and comment on the content we have mustered for their immediate enjoyment and lasting benefit.

Scientific entertainment. Le Repos (1911) by Félix Edouard Vallotton, pictured with neurons that may be firing in the model’s limbic system as her friend approaches with a glass of milk and a cookie.

Briefs

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow?

For the poet TS Eliot, April was the cruelest month. For Humaginarium, it wasn’t too shabby. It began with completion of a grant proposal and ended with a synoptic schedule and briefs for our project. We did exactly what we said we would do, and that feels nice. Hopefully a sign of things to come.

The project schedule spans 28 months, from approval of our Phase 1 Project Pitch to completion of our Phase 2 proposal. The blocks of planned activities are:

  1. Proposal development: 12 months (43%)
  2. Project preparations: 6 months (21%)
  3. Research and development: 9 months (32%)
  4. Phase 2 proposal: 1 month (4%)

Six months of slack time are anticipated, three of which we’ve already used. Slack time buffers the impact of uh-oh pivots and koala-like performance.

Our project preparations kicked off on April 6. By September 30, we’ll have devised a detailed schedule in MS Project that allocates 33 professionals and 2,000 testers to a hierarchy of tasks that aggregate in five complex, glorious, interdependent milestones. This glorious amalgam is our modular proof of concept: empirical evidence with a direct bearing on our next project starting on January 4, 2022.

The briefs are 3-4 page orientations for members of our professional cohort. They cover all the major bases of on-ramp:

  1. Content brief
  2. Creative brief
  3. Curricular brief
  4. Evaluation brief
  5. Office brief
  6. Scheduling brief
  7. Technical brief

The briefs are not restatements of our proposal, but narrative seasonings for kicking it up a notch. Since the subject matter of the briefs has been top of mind for a full year, they were surprisingly hard to write. Hopefully easy to read.

Their overarching theme may be quoted from the technical brief. It applies to everything we’re doing from now on:

Innovative popular systems are the technology of this project. We also have lofty and arguable philosophical, social and economic ideas, but the project is not about them. It is technical and pragmatic. Our only job is to demonstrate that the systems we plan to build are feasible.

The content brief concerns six classes of information that will be mustered for our simulation: biology, chemistry, psychology, environment, community and aesthetics. These data are the knowledge that we impart to users without uttering a word. Like magic.

The creative brief concerns art and entertainment. It says our greatest invention is a way to make science and education more palatable and engaging to those who couldn’t care less. It claims that Humaginarium is the most fun you can have with your body. And we mean it!

The curricular brief says that our video game inculcates a competency model that makes healthy choices and healthy habits likely, if not inevitable. There’s no teacher. Experience teaches! Our technology merely facilitates. Users get to be thank god-almighty free at last.

The evaluation brief concerns the website we will build in the digital public square to demonstrate our technical and aesthetic wizardry. Thousands of people may drop by and leave feedback, and while there enter a lottery for valuable prizes. Money can’t buy me love? Not.

The office brief describes our virtual office, which is actually our Business G Suite account with twinkling lights, glass balls and tinsel. It explains how colleagues around the United States will receive assignments, post work and get paid. Work happens, meetings are ad hoc.

The scheduling brief explains our techniques of project management that somehow combine careful planning, practically unlimited flexibility and iron-clad budgeting. We want to know how and when everything will happen, and yet not mind of it doesn’t work out that way. Zen.

The technical brief is the one I was afraid to write, because it is technical and I am not. However it pleased technical lead Dave Walker so I’m more relaxed after all. Feasibility is the gist of this brief. It poses many of the questions we must answer well to qualify for Phase 2.

So then, April at least in this case has not been the cruelest month. You may ask along with the poet, “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish?” I will tell you now. They are the seedlings of health literacy, health acumen, and medical self-efficacy for patient sufferers who may not, who cannot be fooled again, because soon they will know better.

Dark Matter

Monetizing new technology for the healthcare industry.

The MATTER Healthcare Incubator in downtown Chicago is closed for coronavirus. My membership there ended in December 2019, so dark MATTER doesn’t directly affect me. Still, I own a budding health tech startup and identify with the MATTER community, even if I’m not sure there is one. I may have imagined it.

I used to pay $320 a month for basic MATTER membership. That let me into a co-working space that I called the commons: filled with long tables lined on both sides with swiveling desk chairs a few feet apart. No desk lamp, no phone, no coat rack, no book shelf or stand, no library, no office supplies, no Ethernet; only a shared power strip to charge my mobile device and WiFi.

The commons also housed windowless, whiteboarded conference rooms and a classroom that are bookable for a couple of hours a pop. There’s a tiny kitchen with a coffee urn (yum, but empty most afternoons and evenings) and a vending machine for snacks. No seating in the kitchen; it’s not a break room.

Having no phones in the commons doesn’t mean it’s quiet there. Members often make calls on their mobile devices. That along with loud conversations, and the atmosphere gets pretty noisy at peak times. I usually donned AirPods and listened to music, to block the noise with more noise; there was no way to cancel it.

$320 sounds like a lot for a month of this, and it is, but it was less than MATTER membership at the next level up which includes baby office space. Glass-walled cubes may be fine for startups without real offices, though they’re a tight fit for more than a couple of occupants. Pricey again.

For comparison, MATTER membership costs about six times more than Polsky membership. The Polsky Exchange incubator actually has nicer space but it’s rather distantly located at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park; and is more for high-brow students and faculty than community. Polsky is now closed for coronavirus too.

I joined Polsky in 2016 and MATTER in 2018, not for office space of course or convenience. I joined to meet tech entrepreneurs with similar backgrounds and ambitions, mentors with keen business acumen, investors who have ardently mastered the business economics of innovation. I came to both for collegial interactions that might help me formulate Humaginarium right after the Big Bang, when its universe was filled with stardust.

I found some of that collegial interaction, though more by accident than design, and I’m glad. Yet most of the other members I met did not have similar or even comparable backgrounds and ambitions; and little was done by organizers of the incubators to facilitate new relationships among members.

Mentors too were kind of limited, coming from backgrounds that were generally solid but rarely exceptional. Most didn’t seem notably wise or experienced or well-connected. Not one shared my passion for health literacy, health acumen and medical self-efficacy — or even understood what these words mean. They and investors whom I met seemed impatiently interested in monetizing new technology for the healthcare industry — a thorny topic that sometimes seemed beyond their skill sets! I often felt some were there to learn rather than inform or coach or finance.

Which brings me to an awkward confession. I’m not interested in monetizing new technology for the healthcare industry. In fact I hate the contemporary healthcare industry and have no desire to put shiny new lipstick on its porcine face.

My passions are not for healthcare, Lord knows, but for people — known as patients in the healthcare marketplace, just people to me. Researching health promotion, I inevitably found that the most effective medicine in the United States today is named placebo effect; and the #1 cause of death in hospitals is clinical mistakes. I am not intrigued by a sinkhole where these awful things are true, no matter how personally enriching it may be. Monetization doesn’t make it good or right.

Now that MATTER is temporarily dark, would it be fair to say, when it was lit up and bustling, that healthcare incubation is about monetizing new technology for the healthcare industry rather than promoting the health and wellness of ordinary people? Yes, I think that’s a defensible observation.

Would it also be fair to say that the MATTER community — somewhere out there — is more excited about money than medicine and the well-being of ordinary people; that its raison d’être is to cut juicier slices from the pie of an overpriced, underperforming, now calamitous healthcare industry? That sounds very harsh indeed, but yes, it’s also a defensible observation.

Even if my observations are valid, they don’t change anything. MATTER is what it is bless its heart. Dark and light come to the same thing and, who knows, maybe household disinfectant or hydroxychloroquine will cure COVID-19 as well as a placebo. Sounds innovative. What do we have to lose?

Scheduling

Plans are containers for snappy bits.

“It is a curse having the epic temperament in an overcrowded age devoted to snappy bits!” That’s me thinking about Humaginarium in 2020 — quoting JRR Tolkien thinking about The Lord of the Rings in 1944.

Both projects (his and mine) are gigantic and erudite, yet made for untutored masses with purportedly short attention spans. How odd! Both are outlandish and amusing, steeped in adult fantasy and occult imagery, yet each feels natural and familiar to regular folks who are purportedly empirical and pragmatic. How peculiar! Tolkien’s project characterized the deranged evil that threatened himself, his family and friends and civilization. Mine models poorly controlled illness that threatens me, my family and friends and civilization. How curious! Nobody paid Tolkien to devote years of his life to his project. He was merely asked to write a sequel to a successful children’s book. Nobody has paid me to persist in my project after my first successful startup, yet I do. How strange!

We both know why. Epic undertakings occur because their makers want them, not because “users” or “customers” demand or even expect them. The efforts such undertakings require are their own sweet reward, not a down payment on fame and fortune that may never come. Large, innovative projects have no ulterior motive. They truly exist for their own sake, though makers may want them to change the world a little, for the better: in my case to make it a happier and healthier place to live, in Tolkien’s to justify a personal commitment to virtue in a fallen world. When makers work hard, great things may come about. It’s just possible. On the other hand their projects may fail, they may give up and turn back. When that happens, problems like evil and illness may become even harder to fathom, as though the human spirit perceives them and doesn’t care. The fallen world doesn’t change, but its problems do. They grow worse.

An epic temperament is all very well. It’s the mother of invention. It kept Tolkien going and keeps me going more conscientiously than orders and lucre ever have. What makes the temperament a curse is not the inspiration, but the perspiration. The curse of snappy bits: pesky details of how and when things will be made. As avaricious angels — who may have never had an original idea of their own — are fond of saying to makers: “ideas are basically worthless.” Execution matters. Stuff has value. If it doesn’t sell it doesn’t count.

Stuff rarely just happens. It must be inspired, ideated, investigated, planned, prepared, washed-dried-ironed-folded, assigned, designed, developed, tested again and again, repaired and refined and finally launched — or at least saddled and walked out of the barn. Tolkien did that with The Lord of the Rings. He not only wrote and typed and recited his story again and again for years before it was printed. He also wrote a “history” of the different world in which his story unfolds; he invented languages spoken there, animated deities adored and feared there, empowered supernatural laws and fierce traditions that shaped reality there; and he created newfangled geography, morphology, astronomy and physics so his story would make perfect internal sense to every one of the purported nincompoops who would eventually buy and read his very long and complicated novel. He did all of this not to please them, but to please himself and a few individuals he loved. He had no customers or bosses or investors or contracts, so he made The Lord of the Rings in his spare time after work while raising a family, and gardening, and fixing the plumbing, and running errands on his bicycle. How impractical! What a stupendously foolish way to create one of the most beloved and best selling stories of all time! If only there had been an Innovation Corps or incubator or creative writing program to show him how to do things the right way!

Tolkien and I planned our respective projects. Plans are containers for snappy bits. They tell makers what will be done, by when, for how long, by whom, with what results. Plans are details of execution: how an epic temperament actually makes the things it wants.

Unlike Tolkien, my plan is a schedule. Correction: right now it is the outline of a schedule. Relatively little is scheduled just yet, just enough to inform the National Science Foundation how my execution will play out. For this reason, Dave Walker and I have begun writing a proper schedule: him in Microsoft Project, me in Merlin Project. What snappy bits may our schedule contain? Here’s what I know:

  1. The project is named Diabetes Agonistes
  2. The start date is April 4, 2020
  3. It has three phases: preparatory, generative, evaluative
  4. Preparatory ends no later than September 2020
  5. Generative and evaluative end no later than June 2021
  6. The schedule involves 24 credentialed professionals
  7. It also involves 2000 online testers (the “nincompoops”)
  8. The project produces evidence rather than product
  9. Evidence lowers the risks of product development that follows
  10. Evidence is collected in five milestone deliverables
  11. Milestone deliverables cohere in a modular proof of concept
  12. The project allocates cash of $233,613 and equivalent sweat equity

The preparatory phase, which we’re in now, produces our detailed project schedule, two websites, seven briefs, and an ineluctable sense that the epic temperament of Humaginarium is mastering the snappy bits and throwing off a nagging curse, in our overcrowded age: turning “worthless ideas” into treasure worthy of Khazad-dûm.

Writing

George Mallory had similar thoughts, standing at the foot of Mount Everest.

One year to write 20 pages! That is how long they took. Even for me — the slowest of the slow, the latest of the late — this is a personal best. How did it take so long?

Easier question: why didn’t it take longer? Answer: because there was a time limit imposed by somebody else. A timer was set in April 2019, giving me no more than one year to finish or be damned. Not liking the eternal-infernal option, I finished my writing with precisely four days to spare (phew).

Same sort of thing happened in 1975, when I “finished” (i.e. stopped) my doctoral dissertation in English Letters at the end of a fifth year living in the UK. There is evidently something about limits that makes me want to exceed or at least ignore them, as long and as much as possible.

My recent year of writing was an NSF SBIR Phase 1 proposal. Together with documentation it turned out to be 10 x 20 pages, but the Pareto principle applies to just those measly 20 pages comprising the Project Description and Technical Discussion of a game changer known as Diabetes Agonistes.

The National Science Foundation does very nice things for aspirants and martyrs who want to cross the chasms of technical innovation. They carefully publish an explicit Solicitation telling applicants how to write a proposal; and they reinforce the Solicitation with a Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide that kind of “tells ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em” — with more detail in different words. They further reinforce those helpful documents with myriad web pages of procedural, referential, social and historical information that strikes aspirants with awe and turns some of them into martyrs. Reading this stuff feels a bit like gazing at a Himalayan summit from a safe distance and thinking, “it’s not that tall after all.” All told, there are hundreds of fact-packed government pages that are not only helpful, but also debilitating. Even for me, a person who loves reading for its own sake, that textual mountain was a lot to take in. Consequently much of my year spent writing was actually devoted to getting ready to write and then afterwards checking to make sure that my text was complete and compliant with standards. Even now I’m not sure that it is. The summit is shrouded in mist, and there is a throbbing red glow within it.

As usual with anything related to health care (e.g. Diabetes Agonistes), there is a way to leapfrog the labor by delegating it, with cash. You can hire a consultant, one who is well versed in government documents, as your sherpa. The consultant tells you what to write, and when to write it, and how to revise it until it is ready for primetime. Alternatively, you can hire a consultant as your ghostwriter and project manager: a magus who will use you as a subject-matter expert, write a splendid proposal for you to sign, and afterwards (if successful) manage the entire project for a reasonable fee.

I considered consultants. I attended a two-day workshop hosted by one of the best, and interviewed four others who came highly recommended. I chose not to engage one because (idiot that I am) I wanted to learn and master this writing process myself. I felt there is no text in the English language that I can’t wrestle to the mat (hubris), and if I don’t do the heavy lifting myself, I won’t do all the necessary thinking either. Then I would lose an ineffable chance to experience something new: crossing one of the wider chasms of technical innovation. I’m sure that George Mallory had similar thoughts, standing at the foot of Mount Everest.

Apart from reading and processing freight cars full of documentation, another cause of my slowness was poetics (so-called). Hard as it may be for readers of this blog to believe, I am very careful about every word I write, often writing them over and over in different ways until they sort of chime in my ear and look good to my eye. For this reason, what I want to express is perhaps 30% of my writing. Wordsmithing is 70%. The nutty thing about that is, my subject matter here for the most part is technology, and literary style is certainly not one of the criteria for evaluation of my proposal. Nonetheless, I can’t help myself. My muse insists.

As soon as my writing job was done a few days ago, I turned to (what else?) more writing. I quickly wrote a Project Pitch for educational technology that may bend the curve of COVID-19. Fascinating proposal which will go nowhere, of course, but deserved to be written. Then I started writing an SBIR Phase 1 proposal for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health. And also began writing a series of briefs for the NSF project team, in case that proposal isn’t kicked out like a stray dog.

Will I set a new record for slowness with NIH? I think not. Having practiced and sort of mastered the process of parsing technical documentation with NSF, I am likely to cross the next chasm like a hare rather than a tortoise. I will certainly let you know when that happens.

Scientific entertainment. Female nude, back view (1831), by Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet. Pictured with coronavirus on the prowl.