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Day 84 and The Thursday Styles Problem

The Thursdays Styles problem is about zeitgeist, wealth, perception and power. The New York Times publishes its “styles” section on Thursdays and Sundays. Generally speaking if you work in media, public relations or culture, you are aware of the general trends that will emerge on Thursday ahead of time. For the sake of argument let’s say I know directionally on Tuesday in private what will be featured on Thursday in public.

If you know “what everyone knows everyone else knows” ahead of time, there is a lot of money to be made as Tuesday person. For more on the second derivative issues in zeitgeist I highly recommend Epsilon Theory. If you can sense the zeitgeist ahead of time & move to take advantage of it you can be a Tuesday person.

Alas it’s not as lucrative as you may imagine to be a Tuesday person. A Thursday person who lives exactly on the zeitgeist can take advantage of “in the moment” culture moves. Good entrepreneurs do this well. Most consumer companies hit “right on time.”

This is why venture capitalists will ask “why now” as they may have invested in a Tuesday Person who hit the zeitgeist too early and couldn’t capitalize on it. It really pisses off the founder who knows “but I was first.”

As a Tuesday person, I hate when this happens. I loathe seeing people I perceive as less capable or intelligent than me hit a zeitgeist moment exactly on Thursday. The trouble is they are right. They won. They got the timing right. I didn’t.

And yes being a Thursday mover is good. But it’s crucial to understand who can win this game. The only way to win the Thursday Styles problem is to be in finance, media or culture work that can place a call option on the Thursday future on Tuesday. You have to be able to hold an opinion on the future zeitgeist long enough for Thursday to get published.

If you cannot hold your zeitgeist long enough for Tuesday to become Thursday when “everyone knows everyone knows” being right early serves no benefit. You need diamond hands. And yes, you will be wrong 9 times out of 10.

So you need to ask yourself if the New York Times cuts a piece and it takes another week to run can you hold out? If the markets don’t make a Tuesday idea hit, can you wait till it becomes common knowledge on that metaphorical Thursday? It’s a question for all long holds to ask themselves.

It requires patience to be a Tuesday person. And it takes resources. Knowing you will look wrong for a bit. Knowing that you will lose money when Tuesday knowledge takes longer to become Thursday Style’s common knowledge. If you can hold it’s the ultimate form of future leverage. That’s alpha.

And better yet, it’s “possible” to influence. Publicists make their clients on Tuesday shine on Thursday. And capture the upside. Folks who are extremely online spot how market makers make zeitgeist hit. Cathie Wood at ARK Innovations has been playing the media in exactly this way. The largest experiment in making Tuesday thinkers hit before Thursday is Margit Wennmachers at a16z.

Centralizing zeitgeist and monetizing it with future calls with narratives they tell on platforms they own stakes in has massive potential. The smart money is turning their Tuesday zeitgeist into Thursday Styles and taking it to the bank.

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Day 78 and Media Panics.

Skepticism of media and its value isn’t exactly new. The powers that be have disliked letting the masses have a say since we got uppity enough to print and interpret religious texts on our own. The Catholic Church really hated Martin Luther. Yeah, fuck you clergy! Reformation forevah!

The history of moral panics about the negative influence of media is long and we are consistently skeptical of any new medium. From Gutenberg’s printing press, to social media. Even America’s founding fathers were all media skeptics despite being avid users of the eras hottest new medium the pamphlet.

But the skepticism comes at a cost. It’s after we’ve lost our history that we bemoan that more effort didn’t go into saving the Library of Alexandria from Julius Caesar’s troops or celebrating the good fortune that western civilization’s canon was maybe preserved thanks to Irish priests saving books after the Germanic hordes sacked Rome. It cost a fortune to find everything we lost from Roman and Greek antiquity during the Renaissance.

It just seems to me that if we are going to have a panic about the loathsome interests of media to preserve power and harm progress, we should maybe look at the history of who was usually interested in resisting literacy, libraries, and the free flow of information. Popes and Caesars that’s who.

I get it, neo-reactionaries want to burn down the cathedral of soft cultural power, but are sure you aren’t actually Julius Caesar shoring up your literal power? Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. A16z is the nexus of Silicon Valley power after just a decade investing and they are going hard against institutional media by becoming a new media power. Sure, they are historically new powers and think of themselves as scrappy upstarts, but consider for a moment that maybe they are the barbarian hordes about to be in power in our New Rome. The Germanic hordes also won, by the way.

It generally looks like the winners of these media panics are the ones who actually hold the power, even if they perceive themselves as being upstarts. Caesar, the Barbarians, and our founding fathers won and became the entrenched interests. Something about becoming what we once fought against eh?

It turns out archives are important. And it’s expensive to rebuild them during enlightenment eras. So maybe don’t be a fucking derp lord and rather be clear eyed of the motivations you have for “hating media” and desiring to lay seiege to the cathedral. At least Curtis Yarvin is actually honest about wanting non- egalitarian systems, unlike the majority of media skeptics.

I am open to critics who think the media is one-sided and self serving to their interests and political alignments. I also agree that the progress demands excellence from everyone. But how we determine excellence is very much up for debate. Media has generally been the forum through which we reach cultural consensus. And yes, it’s an ugly process and those with distribution usually win: Guttenberg died penniless, the poor entrepreneur didn’t have enough readers, and search engines without users died when browsers picked winners. A fact which I’m sure the team at a16z is aware of given how the browser Netscape made Yahoo a winner in the search wars for a time through distribution.

I don’t actually give a ton of fucks about the motivations of venture capitalists, Dark Enlightenment proponents, or skeptical rural conservatives. I think they all have a point and I’m old enough to remember when the left and labor was the dominant skeptics of media power. Back to Guttenberg, I kinda dig the narrative that he was just a hustler doing speculation, which just proves motivations and actual impact are not as morally crisp as history suggests so judging who the actual “good guys” are may be impossible in the present moment.

So what’s the path forward?

I’m generally on the side of skepticism and decentralization because distribution and archival is crucial to innovation and progress. Decentralization is hardier and less prone to sackings. I am utopian about the value of informational access in the history of achievement. That means more people having more access to information and being allowed to research, weigh in and distribute without fear so we can achieve breakthroughs in technology. That means more media not less. And yes that means significant tensions about truth and facts.

If I’m picking sides I think Balaji Srinivasan is directionally correct about the role of ledgers and citations in the media’s decentralized future. He and I don’t always agree on which players are doing good work and who are most dangerous, but we share a common goal of access to excellence.

Finally, we need to be clear eyed about our motivations and the history of how this has panned out in past media panics. There is a good chance we aren’t Martin Luther or Guttenberg. We want to be Julius Caesar. Or at very least the Germanic hordes. Which is ok. Power is good. Organizing around power can further valuable interests and anyone who has worked at a startup is familiar with the joys of banding together behind one visionary to achieve it. We should admit it. And get on with the future of information and human progress.

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Day 77 and Bedtimes

As a dedicated shitposter I have got to learn to keep the takes to myself after 9pm. It’s feels like I’ve been following gossip about the perennial “platform versus editorial” since I was a toddler (in reality maybe since I was in college) so every time a new chapter unfolds I lap it up. Mostly because I’m a sucker for media gossip and this is a personal favorite.

Last night after my bed time I starting reading more Substack hot takes (if you aren’t following people are worked up about a program called Substack Pro and what opinion writers are or are not being paid by the startup) and decided to be a dork and say shit even though I knew I’d regret it. Not the shitposting itself to be clear, I never regret a take, I just regret doing it when I should be asleep. Two hours later I’m way too worked up to sleep. Twitter is a lot of fun and I’m a high energy kind of person. Despite me being dedicated to my healthy routines I ended up not sleeping till midnight and then got woken up at 530am. So I’m a bit of walking nightmare today as I’m really too old for late night goofing off even if it’s just on the internet and not a nightclub (remember those?).

So if you see me goofing off on social media after 9pm please tell me to go to bed. Do not encourage me. Don’t feed the trolls. And by trolls I mean me

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Day 74 and Unfinished Thoughts

First off I’ll admit that I don’t really feel like writing today but I’ve committed to “putting pen to paper” every day so I’m stuck with it. I have a dozen topics I actually want to discuss but I don’t feel like I’ve got it in me to be coherent.

I’ve been thinking about how the idea that all property rights are a gradient from violence to grift to institutional legitimacy and this is just how civilization codifies worth. I’m particularly interested in it because we’ve reached the NFT is a grift stage of the discourse but I’m not at all convinced that NFTs are a grift for the reasons people think.

And while I’ve made really elaborate jokes about NFTs, finance, crypto and semiotics with I’ve noticed people with vested interests in this category working out, really don’t want anyone to joke about it. It’s likely wise as we all have varying degrees of horror that property rights is always some degree of grift working towards legitimacy.

That we don’t like to touch on it amuses me. I suspect that the internal logic of wealth and money as always being abstraction guarded by state violence is just too much for folks. It hurts too much. It makes us angry. Surely money, wealth and inherent worth must exist in a moral framework? Good hard working people are rewarded with wealth right? If you want a truly excellent read on the subject of property rights, violence and investing I recommend this essay on emerging market investing and Deadwood by Ben Hunt at Epsilon Theory

Another topic I also want to dig into is environmental impact of crypto and energy equity but I don’t think I’ve got all the facts. I’m still very much in a skeptic phase when it comes to moralizing over the energy usage of crypto. As if crypto brought about the carbon apocalypse on its own.

I’m sure “crypto used a lot of energy” is a valid criticism until you remember we subsidize monsoon crops in deserts (they grow rice in California ffs) and we ship plastic trinkets across the globe while a plutocratic elite consumes the majority of our resources. Maybe moralizing about impact should come with some caveats on how many lives it might improve? I haven’t seen much discourse on this topic as American media leans towards a generic tech skepticism stance at the moment which is making them lean in on attacks as it’s the wrong people who are pushing the crypto agenda. But we deserve more than “environmental impact bad” like maybe it’s a net good to use this energy to decentralize finance?

By allowing the global south and the unbanked to have access to capital instruments we actually discover this is the best use of our energy resources and may distribute wealth more equitably. I don’t know yet and I’m not even confident I can find relevant statistics that won’t overstate one tribal position over the other.

At any rate none of these thoughts are coherent or useful yet but I’m thinking about how we codify wealth and property and what energy usages might be valuable for a more equitable planet. Don’t cancel me please.

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Day 73 and Trutherism

A significant snowstorm has hit the front range of Colorado. In downtown Boulder it looks like we have about two feet of very dense wet snow accumulated at 4pm Mountain Time.

It however came about 36 hours later than predicted. And this has caused significant consternation. A good chunk of social media in Colorado yesterday turned into “snow truthers” dunking on meteorological work being a scam. Some folks made weed jokes. The National Weather Service even took time to scold the skeptics.

Even a slight miscalculation in timing seemed to break trust as it looked like the hype wouldn’t match the reality for a day. This despite the storm arriving with exactly the quantity predicted and blizzard conditions that closed the major freeways including I-25 and I-70.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the skepticism of meteorology and the current distaste for the epidemiology profession. The tone was distinctly similar to culture warrior angst about how scientists continue to get forecasting wrong. And yes getting it wrong is to the detriment of freedom and business. Except that in both this storms case and with Covid19 it’s been directionally correct. The impacts of policy has been the issue but not the direction of the data.

I’m not the first to worry about people bloc distrust of institutions and their information. I engage in plenty of skepticism on a range of issues from medicine to monetary policy. But no longer trusting basic information on timing, duration and impact no matter what the field because “the powers that be” are always inherently untrustworthy is getting to be exhausting. This is going to cost us lives as we begin to distrust even the banal and easily verifiable.

Public policy isn’t the same thing as public forecasting and we’ve lost sight of that. We should always be updating models and assessing impact. It just seems like a shame that we’ve decided any error in predictive work now negates the entire body of work.

The storm came in Colorado. It was a little late. Covid was a global epidemic. I guess the only upside is that it’s a little harder to dismiss two feet of snow. Truthers eventually got snowed in just like the rest of us. We’ve already seen the consequences of not having the evidence right in your face with covid. Whole portions of the population have split out their realities. The chaos of complete institutional distrust will come to be a defining feature of the next decade. I don’t have a clue how we get it back.

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Day 72 and Isolation

I’m an introvert. I do not draw energy from crowds or socializing. My energy comes from within. I like to socialize with individuals, in fact I enjoy one on one conversations quite a bit, but can easily be overstimulated by them and require a quiet period afterwards. Engagement with others draws down on my energy whereas with extroverts that engagement sustains and builds their energy. If you are curious about this framework visit the work of Carl Jung.

Despite the skill set being heavily weighted towards people skills, I suspect leaders in startup land tend to lean towards introvert. My suspicion is that it is a function of the heavily generative nature of the work, you are bringing something from nothing. To be able to consistently bring something new about you need quiet mindful time to yourself.

Sadly society, particularly professional society, is weighted for extroverts.

Open office plans, meetings, collaboration and buy in, managing up and down, all assume that that extroverted behaviors are the default positive positions for a team. Add in after office cocktails, team dinners and off site events and you start to see a pattern that privilege people for whom social interaction is enjoyable (not even considering if it’s possible or a family strain like parents).

Modern work is a battle between extroverts and introverts and the extroverts have definitely won. Which is weird as despite the Jungian tradition it may turn out that ambiverts, balanced personalities who exhibit both traits, are actually the largest group.

I’ve always loathed conferences as it depleted my energy stores for at best dubious content benefits. During the pandemic I’ve been much more willing to engage with events as instead of arranging for transit, getting polished for a professional environment, moving my productive work hours around the event, I can simply show up and learn. It’s miraculous and frankly I’m sad so many people want to move on from these accessible events as it probably means I’ll drop attendance entirely. I can say yes to a lot more if the accessibility of an event remains geared toward remote, introvert and disabled. You don’t have to be any of those things to prefer it either. Maybe you have kids and appreciate participating in the culture all those child free extroverted wealthy twenty somethings enjoyed all this time.

I’m afraid that post pandemic the extroverts will win work culture norms again. Even though we are all sick of the over scheduling and the exhausting nature of office and event culture, we miss it a little. And the boomerang back is likely to make it seem more appealing than ever. But I can’t shake the feeling that the pandemic is a bit like a societal hypochondria moment. We needed to be sick to heal our culture. Prioritizing one kind of person and their needs (the extrovert) has led to all kinds of inequalities and tensions. I hope we can come back with a little more respect for the culture and desires of introverts. I know I’ll be coming out swinging for more balance.

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Day 69 and Nice

Memes are the folklore of the digital era They lack narrative arcs in and of themselves, but their accretive nature means they contain in-jokes and stories for the communities that build them. And sometimes their simplicity is the key.

I find myself talking quite a bit about memes, virality, shitposters and internet culture a lot here in my daily writing experiment. So it’s not surprising that on day 69 of writing all I can think of is … nice. It’s big accomplishment to do anything 69 days in a row. It’s definitely nice.

Know your meme has a pretty extensive history of 69ing in general but it’s the additional layer of responding “nice” to the number divorced of any context that I particularly like. Any time a the number 69 is posted online virtually any comments section will have at least one lone “nice” to illicit (hehehe wrong elicit but it’s nice).

I learned today that one of the earliest mass documentation of using “nice” to respond to 69 was a Tweet from President Obama encouraging confirmation of Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court Justice as 69% of Americans favored it. The internet went nuts.

Because coincidence, symbols and personal meaning collide, I enjoy that on my 69th day Merrick Garland got confirmed for the attorney general gig instead. You can read meaning into anything on the internet. Nice right?

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Day 67 and Virality

There are few more satisfying feelings in the world than seeing your emotions mirrored back to you. It’s what makes us fall in love, form communities, build anything that takes the work of more than one person. I’m not sure that anything matters more to humans than feeling seen.

Feeling seen is valuable. Finance knows it, marketers know it, fashion designers know it and the algorithms really know it. A switch flips when the outside world mirrors us back. The cold reality of being atomistic individuals dissolves just a little with the prospect that the other might not be so far away after all

This is why going viral on social media is such an ecstatic feeling for people. Being mirrored at mass scale is beyond pleasure and pain. Virality is existential. This fact is not lost on Silicon Valley and various expatriates of the culture and even current citizens question the morality. Creating virtual existential experiences feels wrong to us. And I can’t argue that the consequences of virality hasn’t done significant damage to the fabric of civilization. Facebook has more blood on its hands than a small government. But I’m not sold that synthetic experiences are morally worth less than natural ones. Social media replicates religious and cultural experiences but whether it’s “worse” than the other existential experiences is a bit like questioning if opium or fentanyl is worse because plants are morally superior to chemistry labs. The effect is the same more or less. Sure the dosing is what gets you but arguing scale gets you into a “good of the many or good of the one” debates and I’m not the crew of the Enterprise or Spock.

I can tell you that it’s probably best to be cautious about anything that can get you hooked if you know you are an addict. I’ve gone viral on Twitter several times in the past week and probably going on double digits now in the last year. Each time I get a new appreciation for how much it can feel like a god has messed with your reality. If it goes poorly you feel like you got hit by a bolt from the blue. Even if it goes well you worry if maybe Aries has decided to make you his tool. I’m a Christian so I’m no stranger to the feeling of surrender to a higher power, but watching a machine algorithm play like the left hand of God in your life is fucking weird.

By Silicon Valley standards I’m a minor clerical authority in some backwater. I’ve been initiated into the rights but I’m not close to the Vatican or Mecca. Being swept up in the miracle of virality makes some amount of sense to me and I appreciate the benefits of status that it confers. But I know it’s a ritualized way of bringing us closer to the divine that’s not about the individual and is ultimately about the institution. Fortunately I’m also a Calvinist so I have very few illusions about my place in the experience. I’m still a sinner and whether I’m damned or not hasn’t got much to do with human rituals. But I’m not immune to the awesome either.

So if you are inclined to use social media be careful what weight you assign to your actions and words. At any moment a miracle facilitated by the rites of machines can and will occur. I made a stupid joke about a monarchy in decline and a television show about a witch in a massive universe of superheroes. But 31,000 accounts decided to like it and a million discrete instances of it were produced to “others” willing to mirror it back to me. Which is about as stupid a thing as I can imagine happening and also as close to the random miraculously nature of God as I can possibly imagine. Just don’t read too much into it or your faith might have an existential crisis as well.

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Day 65 and Shitposting

Being emotionally vulnerable in public is one of best things I’ve ever done in my life. The second best is easily shitposting.

If you are not extremely online (how did you get here) shitposting is the deliberate act of soliciting a response online. It’s traditionally used as a lower effort way to shape engagement and discourse. Partially because social media has made sharing opinions so easy, the act of crafting a nuanced argument and presenting it to an interested audience has become equally weighted to attracting supporters and advocates.

This isn’t as terrible as it sounds. Audiences can be built by anyone now. Shitposting allows creators who have a firm grasp on concise and comprehensible language to get across their point to anyone. Rather than suffering through pontification by elevated voices protected by institutional gatekeepers, we can hear bursts of truthful hilarity from nobodies. Think of it as somewhere between “the emperor has no clothes” and “from the mouth of babes.”

Having a firm grasp of the shitpost has elevated my voice in a way I’m not sure any amount of power or prestige could have done. Sure on the internet no one knows you are a dog but also don’t know you are a woman either (avatars aside). Quick bursts of wit can penetrate in a way that centuries of systemic bias simply can’t do.

The shitpost is always provocative but generally the best ones are in service to an obvious truth. This is culturally a part of meme sharing. Memes gain traction because they are immediately comprehensible despite containing layers and layers of deep context. In this way they resemble our richest multimedia experiences. It isn’t quite “a picture is worth a thousand words” because shitposta can often be Tweets but there is something to the truth that descriptors and adjectives just can’t reach. Meme and shitposts are often quite funny as humor is the fastest way to be legible to a large audience. But it isn’t necessarily a prerequisite.

Shitposting is also inherently anti-authority. It makes no calls to justice or power. It implodes sacred cows. I suspect one of the reasons I don’t believe in cancel-culture as a massive threat is because any anonymous asshole can put out the fever of a mob.

I highly recommend doing more Shitposting. Start in your private chats if you aren’t brave enough to do it on named profiles. Or create an anonymous account. Just start getting your truest stupidest thoughts out there. You won’t regret it.

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Day 62 And Who Can Make Art

My ego dislikes debate, but my heart leaps at tension.

Over the weekend, my friend Phil and I decided to make a functional art installation called Illegal.Auction. The premise is simple: we are selling Fungible Tokens (or NFTs) of Culture. 

Unsettled ideas of generation and representations colliding with abstractions like finance are important issues both culturally and practically.

Art is for itself, so who cares either way. A certain dogmatic insistence that “medium is the message” is pervasive in the critiques. Are movies different than books? I don’t think they have anything to do with the price of milk. It reminds me of the classic Annie Hall scene (speaking of artistic intent and harm) where Marshal McLuhan explodes on a chattering group “you know nothing of my work.” Woody Allen’s character concludes the scene if only real life were like this. Well on Twitter you can recreate this scene everyday!

It is funny because commentary is distinct from creation. And a lot of people have takes on McLuhan that he himself doesn’t agree with. But who cares right? Interpretation of art is ostensibly art.

It’s very interesting to see just how angry people get about the worth and value of culture in particular. As if it’s some monstrosity to comment on the abstract financial value of some creation with worth that cannot be extracted.

If it were so easy to make value judgments about art then we would trade it on the Chicago exchange like pork bellies and orange juice. Not that we don’t already sell art and trade it and frankly it has been a massive tension through the history of human creation how we value that work, but now many have decided to insist that art is non-fungible. Not interchangeable on a one to one basis like an apple. And yet we are acting like everything can be valued and traded so easily with NFTs. By making art tradeable on exchanges, we have made some thing inherently non-fungible, fungible.

This is ultimately where Illegal.Auction came from. These conversations are important and transformative. That we choose to represent the tensions with representations of reproductions of jpgs of art is part of the art installation. That it is a functional sale is in inherent to the tension.

There is a part of me that is really worried that because I am not a practicing artist that is paid for work or represented in a gallery, that I don’t have a right to comment on these issues. I am a technologist and I do work in finance and the overlap of disciplines makes this an inter-disciplinary question in my mind. It seems like some people disagree with my right to create art (and certainly the morality of remuneration).

But if we insist that only artists can make art I don’t have any right to make installations remixing software and representations. But I’m not sure anyone reading this is comfortable with that world. I am not.

I think people want there to be simple yes no questions to these things. Is it legal? Did you steal? Is it a transformative remixing of a cultural artifact? Is it worth $1 million? And the truth is is that there is no easy answer to what political system is best or how much some thing is worth. Trillion dollar industries are based around the fact that we don’t have clear answers. Irate commentary doesn’t help any of us understand the infinite questions of worth and creation. It is good to do and helps further understanding but its crucial to remember indignation and moralizing is a function of ego.

Personally I don’t think that wealth has any moral value. I don’t want to have to be wealthy in order to be valuable. Or if a piece of art I make does make money do you have a right to tell me it is objectionable because this isn’t how you make money? I guess you do. Whether you can stop me from doing it is a central questions for the ages and also literally why it is important to create pieces like Illegal.Auction in the first place.

This commentary I think is worth having. Not whether speculative infinite land grabs with financial instruments make you worth more to billionaires. They probably do. That’s fine! I think people are mostly offended by the idea that non-artists can make art. Especially if a transaction takes place. If we had stamped illegal on the jpgs and blocked out NOT ART on them would it have made it better? Conceptually I’m not sure that that’s true and probably reflects the viewer’s own sense of value and worth more than a legal, political or moral reality. Also I personally think it cheapens the point just to make concessions to dogmatic insistence on ownership in a space that isn’t settled because frankly it cannot be.

Much of the narrative and coverage around NFTs is that they delineate ownership, value and origination more cleanly. I’d argue that they are actually having the opposite effect. NFT’s are ripping away edifice and abstractions that we use to assign value and worth. And that makes people uncomfortable.