App: Plants vs. Zombies 2

I experienced the original PopCap Plants vs Zombies game on my MacBook in 2009, coinciding with my first semester of PhD school. Possibly the worst or the best time to become addicted to a fun and lively game, depending.

I loved the game's wittiness, aliveness, hilarious sound and visual design, and its simple, straightforward gameplay. It offered enough variety and twists for novelty, but was never so hard that I couldn't figure out a way to beat every level. Plus, it sported the most darling, catchy, mood-setting, equally witty soundtrack; I just listen to a few bars and I am smiling for no good reason.

Crucially, it was also an indie project at Popcap. When EA bought Popcap, that lovely individuality was effectively squashed as the corporate hive-mind was devoted to "freemium" games where they could squeeze as many pennies as possible from their users.

On my iPad, I downloaded Plants vs Zombies 2. While the gameplay was familiar, and the wittiness still present, I was in the end disappointed by the experience and deleted it from my iPad.

The game is free but the non-stop ads to make in-app purchases for extra plants, gems, coins, etc. took the wind out of my sails (and out of their sales). I was also irked by obnoxious video ads for other games taking over the screen. I don't care about these stupid games -- turn the ads off!

The original game was not "pay to play"; everything I needed to win came with the game. Although some reviews say it is possible to win PvZ2 without the extra purchases, the player is forced to replay earlier levels to rack up more coins and gems so they can survive the tougher levels and unlock new worlds. This makes the experience more of a slog than a delight. While the reviewers praise the gameplay, they also lament the paywall "feature."

God, and the new "worlds": the old West, a pirate ship, ancient Egypt. That was as far as I got. I felt always a little lost as to where I was in this giant zombieverse. The clarity and simplicity of the original was gone.

Another reason I deleted the game was that it was so damn addicting! Because a round takes only about 3-4 minutes to play, I would tell myself, "Just one more. Shoot. OK, one more. Shoot. OK, just one last one."

I got stuck on a couple of difficult levels, began obsessing how to win them, and repeated that "just-one-more" gambit for up to an hour at a time. While I knew the game was not inflicting any weird psychological damage, I also knew that it was not my friend and was keeping me from better things.

Like writing. And reading. And just sitting in the dark and being quiet, which is way more restorative.

Software: Fluid for macOS

Fluid is an app to (kind of) create apps: 

Fluid lets you create a Real Mac App (or "Fluid App") out of any website or web application, effectively turning your favorite web apps into OS X desktop apps.

Facebook, Pandora, Gmail -- any app you use in a browser tab you can turn into a standalone application.

Why is this useful? For me, it lets me have my YNAB app in its own browser window so that I can Command-Tab quickly to the browser to view my credit union accounts page and then back to the YNAB display. 

Another example: I'm writing this post in a SquareSpace "fluidapp." I can quickly Command-Tab to the browser to do quick searches or copy URLs without doubling back to hunt among my tabs for the blog posting window.

Yes, sure, I could Ctrl-Tab to troop through the browser tabs, or I could simply open the browser tab in its own browser window. 

But I like the cleanliness and simplicity of having some web apps running in their own application windows. It means much less friction for me overall.


The Most Important Thing I've Ever Written? - Blog - Get Everything Done

Mark Forster’s ideas, as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, have been very influential on my thinking about task and self management. 

His 2006 post, made when he was still a time management coach, is an example of him developing his own methods to meet his own inconsistencies. And then, if that weren’t enough, to make the method as simple as possible.

Mark’s simple question – “How good am I feeling right now?” – and the simple grading – reply to yourself on a scale from 1-10 – are similar to other self-measures of subjective pain or exertion. But this question is so much more abstract and the results more powerful. Mark trusts the subconscious, the Undermind, your intuition, whatever you want to call it, to respond.

The other key component of this method is what you don’t do. Don’t try to fix anything, don’t try to raise the number, don’t try to make yourself feel better. That just puts more pressure on you.

Rather, ask the question, notice the answer, and then get on with your day. Many of Mark’s methods rely on such simple questioning, simply noticing what you’re doing and feeling. You are more powerful than you know, and tapping that power requires very little effort.

I tracked my responses to this question last fall, and started at 5 or 5-6. Over a very short time, it climbed to 8-9. These days, I’m pretty consistently at 7-8. 

In the comments, one of the posters suggested changing the question. Mark replied:

Also I don’t think your question is as versatile as mine. Would your question be capable of curing someone from fear of flying or get them through multiple chemotherapy and radiation sessions, plus being in a wheelchair unable to walk, type or eat solids? My question did.

Maybe, instead..."Crosswalk"?

The local arts council holds "progressive" dinners, where you start in one location for appetizers, move to another location for the main course, etc. They've just announced one where attendees will walk to five of the showcase loft spaces in architecturally significant older buildings in downtown Durham. It is prosaically yet functionally titled "Downtown Durham Loft Progressive Dinner."

They also announced the third or fourth year of a progressive dinner to showcase the music and architecture of three historic downtown churches. It is titled "2018 Organ Crawl." 

Does that sound...odd anyone else? Or maybe I have a tin ear...

Five Pots

I am working with a wonderful Three Principles coach, with a specific focus of starting a side business.

I've tried starting a side business before, but it kind of sputtered and I took it as proof that this was not something for me. It confirmed an acquaintance's belief that there are "employee mindsets" and "entrepreneur mindsets" and you're either one or the other.

What is different this time is my coach's approach: no master plan, no blueprint for "how to do it," no pumping up the passions. Instead, it's about trusting my creative prompts and going where I feel pulled (not pushed) to go.

She assigns homework based on what she hears in our conversation. During our chat, I told her the famous story about the pots. I also told her about the day I tried on the idea of being a time management coach.

So my homework is to make five pots about becoming a time management coach. We don't know what those pots will look like. We don't know if "time management coach" is the destination. We know that this is where we will start and that the doing will generate new ideas.

Some ideas floating in my head at the moment about the kinds of pots I want to make:

  • Ramit's foundational idea to find your first three paying customers, as their feedback will tell you more about your idea than you can know.
  • Ed Emberley's instruction to his kids: "Think up something you can make and sell it." (via Austin Kleon)
  • LinkedIn offers a way for you to basically start blogging within its ecosystem. Maybe write two 600 or 800 word posts on a new way to think about time and task management. What would 3 Principles-based or an inside-out understanding of time management look like?
  • Maybe draft a short ebook or PDF as a giveaway outlining my ideas. Not "laws" or "things to do" or "lifehacks" but understanding how you work in the world and how that informs your results in time and task management.

Carolina Parakeet, RIP

From today's Public Domain Review newsletter:

100 years ago today, the very last Carolina parakeet passed away in Cincinnati Zoo. The reasons for its extinction are complex and somewhat mysterious, though evidence points to human activity playing a significant role.

The following image of the Carolina Parakeet is from the Public Domain Review's online store for fine art prints. The image appears in Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina (1731).

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Fat Loss Cheatsheet: What Works and What Doesn't (for me) - Critical MAS

There are many health and fitness blogs and sites out there, but I enjoy most the blog of a serious dabbler named Michael Allen Smith who blogs at Critical MAS.

MAS has years and years of exercise, health, food, and fitness posts, among other topics (though his beloved hot beverage requires its own site). It was from MAS that I learned about the Potato Hack. His Best-Of page curates those years of posts into a more digestible format.

His post on his personal "fat loss cheatsheet" is a great example of what he does best: condense his self-experimentations and learnings into a highly readable format.

MAS makes the point on his blog -- often -- that he is not prescribing or recommending anything. He is only describing what practices work or don't work for him. It's up to the reader to find their own recipe for success.

Still, it can be fun to measure myself against someone else's yardstick. So, let's run down his list and see how I measure up. The strategies are from most important to least important.

  1. Defining the WHY. I have not done that. The main reasons have been health (reduce hypertension) and ego. Those reasons may be enough to get me started, but may not be enough to keep me going through that long middle period.
  2. Create a story. What story, supported by my WHY, will keep me from breaking down in front of the snack machine at 4pm? By not having that story, I risk relapsing and gaining the weight back. What will I do the day after I hit my target weight?
  3. Get good sleep. I have lousy sleep habits. I could cite many reasons but they are excuses. One time I did a current reality tree exercise on the various difficulties I thought I was facing in my life; the root cause of all of them was not going to bed early enough for a good night's sleep.
  4. Stop snacking. This is true for me also and is the heart of the No S Diet, which is one of my mainstay methods. Once I start snacking, I do not stop.
  5. Remove trigger foods. We buy those only for special occasions; by and large, the house is pretty clean.
  6. Reduce daily eating window. I will sometimes skip breakfast and start eating at 1 or 2 pm, stopping before 8pm. But I've not kept the data to determine the optimal length of my own eating window.
  7. No liquid calories. I'm pretty good about this, though I do like a little sugar in my coffee. I will have cider or wine two or three evenings a week; Brad Pilon says the body will, overnight, burn through the alcohol first before burning the fat. One of Brad's sayings is that it's not weight loss that's a problem as much as weight gain.
  8. Eat higher volume food that is lower in calories. This is a big idea I've gotten from MAS, though I've not adopted his Peasant Diet.
  9. Increase protein. Another idea I've adopted; I now keep hard-boiled eggs and nonfat Greek yogurt in the fridge at work for appetite suppression. If I snack, I snack on protein.
  10. Cook more at home. We do that, thanks to Liz's wizardry.
  11. Baseline exercise. I do kettlebell routines 2-3 times a week (probably not for long enough), with some walking (not enough), some yoga and stretching (not enough).
  12. Intermittent fasting. Skipping the morning or evening meal is usually good enough for me; fasting for 22-24 hours once a week is doable, though Pilon recommends two 24-hour fasting periods in a week if you're interested in fat loss.

Update: MAS added a new #4 to his list, an obvious one in retrospect: Measure your weight. He uses a tape measure, I use scales.

Research: Removing Yahoo Search Malware from Chrome Browser on Mac

Problem: On my iMac, I’d type search keywords into the Chrome browser’s address bar. Google is my default search engine. After the search results displayed on the Google page, the tab would refresh and load the search into Yahoo.

Diagnosis: Browser malware installed somewhere in Chrome, likely a new extension. Not a virus, but annoying behavior nonetheless.

Solution: Resetting Chrome to its factory default settings, which also disables all extensions. Confirmed that searches worked as expected after the reset, which confirmed the bad extension hypothesis.

Turned on each extension one at a time and ran a search to determine which one forced the search to Yahoo.

The culprit: The Facebook Video Downloader extension, also called Social Video Downloader on the Chrome extensions site. Deleted this extension and searches have worked fine since.


Reputable products: A few products were recommended for detecting or removing malware or other issues. I did not install Malwarebytes nor Combo Cleaner; they look reputable but I don’t know – I’d want to find recent reviews of them. I installed Etrecheck to run a scan of my system and it found only minor issues, nothing related to this problem. Etrecheck can repair some damage, but its main value is in providing a report on your Mac’s setup you can use to paste into a support message.

Avoid: Adware Removal Pro (reference)

Other links of interest:

Who Will You Be The Day After Achieving Your Goal?

As my first coach told us, you can have anything you want as long as you're willing to pay the price.

So whether it's saving money to pay off debt or dieting and working out hard to get a six-pack, if you want to put in the work, and persist to the finish line, you'll get where you're going.

But he also said the goal is never about the goal, it's about who you become on your way to achieving the goal.

When he asked me what my goal was, I said, "To get my master's degree in information science."

"No, Mike, that's not the goal, that's a milestone," he said. "The goal is who are you going to be, what are you going to be doing, the day after you get your degree?"

It was a question that brought me up short and that I now deploy on myself whenever I remember to do so.

HIs analogy was of a golfer aiming to sink a putt. The golfer does not aim for the hole -- instead, she aims for just beyond the hole. By aiming for that invisible point, she sinks the putt.

Likewise, my music teacher tells beginning guitar students there are eight strings on the guitar: one invisible string above the six you can see, and one below. So when you strum, you strum all eight strings. That way, you guarantee that the pick has enough speed and momentum to make a pleasing sound from the middle six strings.

Amid the many tiny goals and objectives I have these days -- losing weight, exercising more, starting a side business -- I will forget and then remember my coach's lesson. Particularly the "what will you be doing the day after?" question: after losing all that weight, will I sit down with a cheeseburger and basket of tater tots? Why not start thinking about that now rather than the day after?

I need to shift my gaze from the goal to the life every now and then to make sure I'm going where I want to go.

Five TV Shows

Cinderella (1965). The color version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein piece, with Lesley Ann Warren. Liz remembered seeing this as a girl and adored seeing it again. It was my first time watching this entertaining, rather darling miniature. I was struck by how it could have been titled "Cinderella and the Prince" since as much time was spent on him and his predicament as was spent on her. Stuart Damon really looked like a handsome prince and was a great actor and singer on top of that; I loved his comic asides at the dance. My friend Scott says the black-and-white 1957 version with Julie Andrews is the superior production. Amazon Prime.

The Crown S2 (2017). We didn't enjoy this series as much as the first, but there is something about this high-class soap opera that is hard for us to resist. Claire Foy's natural warmth resists the cooler, more detached monarch and matriarch that Elizabeth must have been by this time in real life: when Charles returns home from his wretched school, he is greeted and embraced by the staff, but not his mother, who watches concernedly but does not comfort. Spare us the sulking and tantrums from Margaret and Philip. The two best episodes dealt with Lord Altrincham's personal criticism of Elizabeth and the twin story of Philip and Charles' schooling at the cold and remote Gordonstoun school. Netflix.

The Detectorists S2 (2015). Oh my GOD, what a dear, lovely, wonderful show. No farcical situations, no tight one-liners, just a slow-paced, gentle comedy of gentle characters trying to make their way in this world. This is a TV world I want to live in. Beautiful, lingering shots of English countryside that MacKenzie Crook and Toby Jones' characters never see because they're heads-down, sweeping the ground with their metal detectors, looking for buried gold -- but whatever would they do with it if they found it? The Christmas special answers that question in a touching and clever way. The third and final series aired in 2017 and I cannot wait to see it. Netflix.

The Good Place S1 (2016). I'd heard good things about this sitcom but was not prepared for its snap and cleverness. And so plotty! Most sitcoms run their characters through their standard paces and expected farces. But this show's "what-if?" creates a world with rules, then breaks those rules, then sees how the characters recover from those broken rules. Although I could feel that the writers' room had honed every beat to a machined polish, I could not wait to see how they would wrongfoot me yet again. Because we don't watch network TV, we're waiting for the second season to show up on the usual streaming services so -- avoid spoilers! (But I did read they were picked up for a third season - yay!) Fantastically sharp comic acting from everyone and kudos for only doing 13 episodes. Netflix.

The Big Bang Theory S10 (2017). Apart from the ongoing genius of Jim Parsons is there another reason to watch this show? It's pleasant to have on during supper, but once viewed, forever forgotten. There are now so many characters that Melissa Rauch was basically sidelined with the rather standard new-mommy storyline. Hats off to Kaley Cuoco for making the most of a character who now exists mainly for reaction shots. Netflix DVD.