Technical Difficulties

Like a normal tech podcast, but broken.

Gabe and Erik are joined by Merlin Mann to talk about starting over, what you really should be doing with your life, verbing, inventors, and emotional petshops.

Producer’s Note

This week is the first of what will be monthly episodes with a guest and a slightly longer running time. We don’t think that anyone reading this or listening to the episode needs an introduction to Merlin Mann, but we do want to set the stage a little bit.

Just as this podcast is essentially Generational reborn, many of us have at one point reinvented ourselves. Sometimes this reinvention is more of a realization, and sometimes we make a conscious decision to make a change. When Erik and Gabe decided they wanted to talk about this together, they thought Merlin would be the perfect guest to serve as both foil and therapist. He graciously agreed to join them on this episode, and we think you will enjoy the result.

If you haven’t read Merlin’s own introduction in a while, you should take a look. It’s perfect.

Guest Spotlight: Merlin Mann

Merlin Mann

Merlin as Project Manager

Merlin as Podcaster

Gabe’s Note

John and Merlin are trying to help you . Especially if you think you don’t need their help. See: that’s part of the problem …

There’s really no excuse for missing the supplemental material over at the official Tumblr site.

Gabe’s Note

The show notes you are reading right now take a lot of work. It’s work that we believe is worth the time and effort, thanks to Merlin. The Back to Work show notes are the inspiration that started us along this path. Merlin is very often the originator of the things I find valuable and interesting.

Merlin on Podcasts

Merlin as Public Speaker

Merlin as Educator

“I am mainly former things”

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 0:00

Erik begins the podcast by preaching some Apple heresy, is named the Marie Curie of the podcast and is discovered to be the real world Mr. Burns.

“That doesn’t cancer your balls or anything?”

Merlin explains that he didn’t decide to do 43 Folders, but instead realized that he was already doing it and likens early life to a map primarily built around school. Deviations from the map build the resiliency needed to properly navigate the territory.

“I’m not saying go out and just be a hobo”

When you think outside the box, sometimes you realize that you’ve “entered a new” box only by looking backwards. Worrying too much about the box means missed opportunity.

  • Usually being an undeclared major isn’t about being open-minded.

Nouns and Verbs

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 15:34

Merlin talks about our obsession with naming things, revisits nouns and verbs, and prevents us from ever not-imagining a pimply, pudgy, masturbating, 13-year-old version of him.

“…you need a good noun”

Beyond just the nouns and verbs, we are obsessed with labels, but sometimes they can only be applied when the work is done. Maybe it’s chunking, but we need to beware othe lack of creativity that this connotes. We also discover that Merlin’s presentation may be a MacGuffin, but in the end, you’ll still get to pal around with him and have a steak.


Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson

Producer’s Note

Elon Musk is known for many things, but he may just be screwing with us now. Perhaps he is just trying desperately to avoid having a label.

“We’re not even on iTunes”

  • Success vs. fame

Doing this Other Thing

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 27:39

While nearly returning once more to the nouns-and-verbs well, Merlin helps up know when to un-pot ourselves, even though learning to take risks and thinking orthogonally may land us in a Mississippi chain gang.

“That’s a really, really big question”

Producer’s Note

Ping pong

Running Away from Discomfort

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 35:53

Gabe talks a bit more about why he made his change and another way he is like a cowboy. Merlin problematizes all the way back to Roald Dahl

Charlie Bucket

Forced Reinvention

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 44:45

Whether or not achieving quality of life is a #firstworldproblem or not, sometimes we have to shift into emergency mode and reinvention isn’t a choice. Merlin cautions us that this emergency mindset can taint our decisions long after we have reattained stability. Also, emotional pet shops.

Producer’s Note

The concept of three worlds is a carryover from the Cold War. It came into being after World War II as a way to describe the split of the globe in to two large blocs, Communism and capitalism. The First World represented the capitalist West, democracy, moonbeams, and unicorns. The Second World represented, communism, socialist, industrial states, red stars, and evil. The Third World represented everyone else not aligned with the First or Second Worlds.

This idea was also formed when everything was seen to be evolving, and the First World was defined as the bright and shining light that the other “worlds” would eventually become. Unsurprisingly, this opinion wasn’t universally held, and Mao Zedong’s alternative Three Worlds Theory divides the globe into superpowers (First World) and the superpowers’ allies (Second World), with the leftovers as the Third World.

This term no longer has its original clear definitions, and the First World is now used as a pot-and-kettle shaming technique on Twitter, and the Third World as a convenient “bin” for the aforementioned shamers and politicians to put poor foreigners. Fortunately, First World folks have now defined a Fourth World in which to put the weird people from their own countries.

“They seem to have pretty steady access to the internet”

Producer’s Note

Did Erik create Ping-pong Inception by specifically marginalizing the East? I also found out about Ping-pong Diplomacy. What.

“I’m going to stop with the whores”

“We really have an emotional petshop, not a life”

Producer’s Note

I don’t think transference is the right word.

“It’s better to be dead than look stupid, but it is possible to do both”

Erik revisits fear and failure, and he and Merlin talk about meditation while Gabe silently judges them.

“It’s called therapy”

Producer’s Note

Therapy for whom?

What Happens After Reinvention

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 55:00

Merlin ponders how we change, what our personal admixture might be, and why feelings of incompetence can be a good thing.

“You’re going to spend a lot of your cycles just trying to figure out what you should be learning”

Producer’s Note

Merlin’s reference to William James is likely the result of the epigram often attributed to him: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” This quip, which runs parallel to Occam’s Razor, has also been attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte and Richard Feynman referred to as Hanlon’s Razor, but the James tie seems most common on the internet due to a Jargon File Entry. I have more about why “Hanlon,” but you’re just here for Merlin anyway….

“My daughter punches me in the nose and says, ‘you’re full of it.’ Very good, grasshoper”

Producer’s Note

Well, that’s all for this week. If you have anything that you’d like to add to or correct in the show notes you can find me on Twitter @potatowire or feel free to send an email to me at potatowire dot com.

Download Gabe’s iThoughts mind map on this week’s topic.