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 and...unmusical...to 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).

  <a href="http://publicdomainreview.org/product/natural-history-of-carolina-florida-and-the-bahama-islands-v1-tab-11/"><img src="http://tempblogfood.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/2bf12-carolinaparakeet-publicdomainreview.jpg" alt="" /></a>

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.


Reference

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.

Kate Bowler on Her Cancer Diagnosis and Her Faith | Time

How did you change as a parent?

I became less invested in milestones and also those lovely hallucinations we have, when our kids are going to become astrophysicists. I also decided that my job is not to try to make the world safe. I think I thought you just create a beautiful, Instagram-y bubble for your kid, and then that’s parenting. And then I realized that I was going to be the worst thing that happened to him if it went badly. I couldn’t live with that. I decided that my new parenting philosophy is that I can’t protect him from the pain of the world, but I can show him that there is truth and beauty in the midst of it. And if I can make him that person, then I have won as a parent.

We attended Kate Bowler’s reading at the Regulator Bookshop for her new memoir, Everything Happens For A Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved). She was smart, funny, down-to-earth, and probably the best pal one could imagine having. Her Fresh Air interview is worth a listen. 

The following paragraph from her Duke Divinity School bio tells you more:

In 2015, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35. In her viral New York Times op-ed, she writes about the irony of being an expert in health, wealth and happiness while being ill. Her subsequent memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved) (Random House, 2018)tells the story of her struggle to understand the personal and intellectual dimensions of the American belief that all tragedies are tests of character.

Getting Things Done For Lent

If you search this blog, you'll find UK time management coach and author Mark Forster's name pop up quite a bit. I've been a student, devotee, and practitioner of most every to-do list or task management book, app, or program going. Of course, not much got done as I kept changing systems but that is beside the point. It's my intellectual hobby and I enjoy it.

(Also -- maybe my work is so boring and unimportant that I need new methods to keep myself interested? Discuss.)

But once I found Mark's work, my desire to explore or try other systems -- even other ways of thinking about time management -- faded. His ideas on many issues related to the field are so deep, simple, and profound that I have basically stopped my search for other methods and other teachers. 

Last year, Mark challenged his forum denizens to stick to a single system for a specific time period. For the time period, he chose events off the liturgical calendar. Thus, we had Lenten and Eastertide challenges. So in addition to learning a little more about these events, we also learned the ins and outs of our chosen systems by sticking with them for 40 or so days and reporting back on our results.

For this year's Lenten Challenge (Feb 14-Mar 29), I'll use Mark's most recent system, FFVP, at my workplace. At home, where things are more relaxed and I don't typically face deadline urgencies, I keep a long list of items in a Moleskine cahiers and use one of Mark's "no-list" methods.

[In looking at last year's posts on Mark's forum, I saw that in 2017 I also gave up podcast-listening for Lent! Sounds like a good idea. I'll start tomorrow. Thank you, past-Mike!]

 

Brad Pilon: Getting Shredded

Brad Pilon writes about the goal some men have of being "shredded": getting their body fat to such a low percentage that you can see their six-pack abs. 

Pilon advises remaining aware of how pleasant or not the journey is to your destination. He is not saying, "Don't get ripped." Sure, by all means, if that's what you want to do, go for it. But enjoy it. Don't forget all the other things that go into making a good life. 

As Pilon concludes:

You absolutely can get ultra-shredded, but please be aware of the time, effort, and energy it will take, and always remember that the results are not, and never will be permanent...

With whom you eat will always be more important than what was eaten.

 

Pinkcast 2.14. This is the best time of day to exercise | Daniel H. Pink

For a few years, I used to do a dumbbell routine in the mornings, rising at about 530 or 6am to do so. I still find the mornings the best time to do a short yoga or bodyweight/calisthenics routine.

Since I've been working out with kettlebells, I have taken to exercising after work -- usually around 6 or 630pm -- specifically, as Dan Pink mentions here, to avoid injury. A too-vigorous kettlebell routine in the morning, particularly ballistic exercises like swings, is an invitation to injury when my body is not fully warmed-up.

Also, when I did a group kettlebell class at 6:30am a few years ago, I found that I could not concentrate or focus at work for the rest of the day. I could only sit and stare at my computer screen. An afternoon/early evening workout feels good and helps me feel nicely exhausted when it's bedtime.

 

Maxims and Mottoes

Indecision causes suffering. A line my first coach used a lot and that explains a lot of suffering I see in myself and others. I also used this to diagnose character motivations when I was in a fiction-writing group. 

Another of his maxims: Why are you making it so hard? Said to myself whenever I poke my head up out of the gopher hole after several hours spent trying to figure something out. Taking a little walk, taking a break, getting some perspective – they all give me time to pause and reflect rather than overthink.

And this is one I’ve heard recently: Leave yourself alone!: stop beating yourself up , harassing yourself, etc. You’re fine as you are.

Dream

Liz and I are sitting in a church, in the front row of the wooden pews. There is a brick wall about six feet in front of us. The walls to the left and right feel close. There are many pews behind us, full of churchgoers.

I can't say whether there is a preacher or choir, but certainly everyone is sitting there to attend services.

Liz and I are both reading big newspapers. I think we're dressed in going-to-church garb, but our faces are buried in our newspapers.

An African-American gentleman dressed in a suit stands beside me. I look up at him and try to open my eyes but can't; it's the way you try to open your eyes when you know you're asleep, you use all your strength to open your eyes, but the lids will not open.

I see a dime and penny on the floor. I pick them up and give them to him with a smile. He smiles, takes them, and walks away.

What are we to make of this? Unknown, Keptin. If everything I see in a dream is a symbol from my imagination, and stands in for me in some way, then I'd say I'm in a spiritual place but cannot see it because I'm paying too much attention to worldly things.

Fortunes

Two fortunes from last night's Neo-China takeout:

Storms make oaks take deeper root.

Spectacular accomplishment is never preceded by less than spectacular preparation.

Both very apropos considering my (and everyone's) job situation at the moment. 

I wonder: How do young oaks prepare for storms?

Austin Kleon: Feeling blocked? Play with blocks!

One of my Friday joys is writer and artist Austin Kleon's newsletter of 10 items he thinks worth sharing. They are sometimes links to his blog (his daily blogging inspired me to start my own daily blogging experiment) or to other items that caught his attention.

His February 6 blog post (click this post's title to go to it) was about using blocks to break through creative blocks and also -- more interestingly -- the history of children's building blocks. I have the feeling this is one of those blog posts that started from a little insight, reminded him of something he read, sent him off to do more research, and then, finding too much good information and too many connections, a nice long post birthed itself into the world.

The anecdote about Lawrence Weschler reminded me of an acting lesson I saw taught by local director Jeff Storer. It was a talky scene between Biff and Happy in their bedroom. The scene was rather lifeless till Jeff had Biff bounce a little ball between himself and Happy as they talked. The scene instantly came to life: the actors' bodies relaxed, the dialogue sounded more natural. 

There is definitely something about absent-minded fiddling about -- sorting books on a shelf, cleaning a room, making cookies -- that helpfully distracts a busy mind. 

Leon Redbone

I first became acquainted with Mr. Redbone, not through his Saturday Night Live appearance, but when I was caught by the cover of his Double Time album at Reader's Corner in Raleigh, NC. 

I bought the album, liked his sound, and sought out more of his odd blend of old-time Americana parlor songs smattered with long-ago standards of jazz, blues, country, and TIn Pan Alley. And some of the oddest, laziest scat-singing that is not quite singing nor quite scatting.

I was fortunate to see him live on several occasions and his persona onstage was pretty much what one expected from hearing his drawling baritone voice: laid-back to the point of drowsiness, yet capable of playing hot guitar like nobody's business.

That memory is why I was surprised by a video from the Talkin' Blues podcast where Leon talks in a very normal, reasonable tone of voice about...what, I could not really articulate for you. Something about how music captures you, both as musician and listener? Anyway, it ends with Leon entertaining a small live audience, sitting on a chair, riffing, and adding some new flourishes to a song he's played a bazillion times over the last 40 years. He is a master of his craft.

That clip, I think, comes from a documentary said to be in production about this mystery man. The promo video for the documentary has some warm reminiscences from people who saw Leon emerge from Toronto, of all places, in the mid to late '60s. He was a mystery then, and remains a bit of one today.

The video below (from Austin City Limits) is the Leon I remember best, in his youthful prime, with his late-70s sound of a small combo: clarinet, tuba, guitar, maybe a muted trumpet.

Another reason I like this video is that it's a transfer from someone's home VHS recording. Those snowy bands at the top and bottom of the picture, caused by some poor VCR head tracking, are the visual equivalent of the pops and crackles of old 78s which Mr. Redbone must have heard as a young man, building his repertoire. Shades from the past.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxvMGe8bK7o&w=640&h=480]

Fast Company: "This Is What It’s Like To Not Own A Smartphone In 2018"

Kathleen Davis' "think piece" -- you can read it in under four minutes -- briskly surveys the reasons she and her husband continue to use their flip phones. Ten years ago, the story's angle would have been the exact opposite.

She recaps the familiar arguments -- the smartphone as fidget and distraction device -- and writes about their desire as parents to model for their son relationships with each other rather than with their phones.

At a restaurant one night, I saw a little girl trying to talk to her father, while he hunched over his smartphone, flicking his finger across the screen. She finally sat back, sighed, and resigned herself to the situation. I still feel a mix of sadness and anger when I call up that image in my head.

I had a professor at UNC's School of LIbrary and Information Science who matter-of-factly stated he did not and would not have a smartphone. Liz and I for years eschewed smartphones, sticking with Tracfone through many different dumb phone models -- phones that at one time were, I'm sure, reviewed and touted in the tech press. I think we were more afraid about signing up for one of those expensive contracts we'd heard about than we were about the technology.

I would sometimes make a weak joke when I brought out my little LG 441g flip phone. The people I was with would more often than not respond that they wish they only had a flip phone, which always surprised me. I thought people loved their smartphones. Instead, people felt tethered to these expensive little blocks of glass and aluminum, and their phone contracts, and the notifications, &tc.

My little LG had a lot going for it: cheap, pretty indestructible, a battery I could easily afford and replace, and all it could do really well was make a phone call.

But for both Liz and me, the attractions and convenience of smartphones became too hard to ignore. Simply having a more reliable phone that could reliably reach a cell tower was a big upgrade. I was tired of trying to call or message Liz and being in a spot where the LG could not get a signal. (Probably more Tracfone's fault than the phone's, to be fair.) 

And there are certain conveniences of the modern world -- airplane passes, online maps, text messaging -- for which a smartphone is simply the best tool. Does the smartphone encourage distraction and bad behavior? If you're already prone to distraction and bad behavior, then yes. Using the phone for short-term mood repair is not a life-affirming thing, but then neither was using food or TV 10 years ago to relieve boredom and avoid discomfort.

Yes, I have given up privacy for convenience. Tonight, I drove to a professional meeting at a location new to the group. It was dark and raining and near the end of the rush hour. I had printed out the directions but it was not clear to me exactly where to turn off. When I walked out of the building, I realized I'd left the directions on my desk.

No matter. On my iPhone SE, I looked up the email containing the address. I copied and pasted the address into Waze. I kept my eyes on the road and not on the phone as Waze told me where to turn and when to look out for possible road trouble. After the meeting, I texted Liz I was coming home and listened to a podcast.

For me, that kind of convenience makes my life much easier. That's what it's like for me to own a smartphone in 2018.

Six Movies

 Darkest Hour (2017). Gary Oldman, unrecognizable as usual, as Churchill. I’m unclear, in these historical recreations, on what is real and what is manufactured. But I can tell you the moment of Churchill barging into the Underground was obviously manufactured. Interesting directorial flourishes. It ends on a high note, before the years of privation and many dark hours yet to come. But who was this movie made for? The people who voted for Brexit or who voted against it? Carolina Theatre.

The Shape of Water (2017). I’ve never seen any of Guillermo del Toro’s movies, but I gather most are in this line of fantasy and romance. It’s visually gorgeous, even the drabness looks romantic. Sally Hawkins is luminous, as always, and I was entranced by some of the visual flourishes: the droplets sliding across the window, Hawkins’ character’s reveries. Story-wise, I was most interested in Michael Shannon’s character; I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a bad guy’s private life and I wanted to see more of how his personal American dream soured in his belly. Plot-wise, why does a super-secret facility that has security cameras even on the loading dock not have a single camera where The Creature is locked up? And in a room that is conveniently empty of the security guards, soldiers, and scientists that swarm all over the rest of the building?  Don’t ask questions of a personal wet dream. Carolina Theatre.

The Front Page (1974). Billy Wilder’s take on the venerable chestnut. Blisteringly fast and crackling dialogue; it’s thrilling to see a squadron of top character actors going through their paces with a zesty skill that has no place in today’s Hollywood. At some point, I thought: how long have they all been shouting at each other? It seems like the last 30 minutes is nothing but shouting. And yet the pace, the energy, doesn’t flag and I simply hung on for the ride. It’s a minor movie, but its clockwork plot is finely honed and expertly done. They really did know how to make ‘em. Carolina Theatre.

Phantom Thread (2017). A restrained art piece about an artist, about how the people whose livelihoods depend on him accommodate him, and about the muse who wants more than being a tailor’s dummy. Loved the period detail, the stateliness, the immaculate acting. It’s fun to talk about its themes as if I were writing an essay about it, to show off how clever I was to spot them all. “Cerebral” is a description, not an insult. Still — it remains a rather chilly piece. I was interested the whole time, but I’m not sure what to make of it. Carolina Theatre

Love and Death (1975). I  had seen this years ago and had a hankering to see it again. Woody Allen flexing his considerable comic muscles — I loved his battlefield sight gags — in one of his slighter efforts. Your patience for it depends on how much of his “Woody Allen” comic persona you can stand. Diane Keaton is heart-breakingly beautiful yet she’ll suddenly pull a face that cracks me up. Some jokes inevitably creak, some jokes — particularly the ones said by old men about young girls — made us squirm. Amazon Prime Video

The Post (2017). I almost laughed out loud when John Williams’ spiritedly thrumming, almost martial, music ran under the shot of delivery trucks leaving the Washington Post building with its newspapers; it was like a moment from a mythical gung-ho ‘30s movie where you just knew the delivery of the newspapers was going to bring down the crooked political bosses and all would be well. I shook my head, mystified, watching the back of the pantomime Richard Nixon gesticulating maniacally as he talked on the phone. Good performances all around, a good story briskly told, but ... A vanished time? A manufactured memory? Would the current owner of the Post stand up for the First Amendment or listen to his financial planners? Chelsea Theatre.

Gmail Delay Send

An advantage of some desktop or third-party email clients is their ability to schedule sending an email. Outlook 2016 for Windows can do this, as can the macOS and iOS application Spark. There are also services/plugins you can buy to give you this feature, such as Boomerang.

At work, I sometimes delay sending emails till 7 or 8 pm, after I've left for the day. Some people feel an obligation to respond immediately to an email; I don't want to encourage that obligation, especially for trivia or simple follow-up tasks.

When I volunteered in our neighborhood association, I would have liked to send emails to my fellow volunteers later in the week. I inevitably thought of some other instruction or clarification I should have included after drafting the email, so a delay would have given me time to tweak my draft before it was sent.

My primary email client is Gmail, which does not offer a feature to delay sending outgoing mail. Nor does Apple Mail (the Automator workaround is WAY too fiddly to be useful). I could use Spark on my iMac, but the font it uses is so tiny, I cannot draft emails in it comfortably.

Hackers to the rescue! There is a Google Code project, Gmail Send Delay, that does most of what I want. It's free. It uses Gmail tags, so I could draft emails in Apple Mail or iOS Mail and use those Gmail tags to delay sending. And in my limited testing, it works.

But there are two or three things that make it something you cannot casually adopt and that keep me from embracing it wholeheartedly.

  1. The script requires access to your Google account, as you might expect. I don't mind doing this -- most of the applications I use require Google or Gmail access -- but it's something others may balk at.
  2. You need to remember to enter the time you want it sent in the first line of the email body. And while the time format is flexible, if you don't enter the time correctly, then the mail won't be sent.
  3. In addition to adding the email to specific Gmail label, you have to remember to keep the email in Drafts. Or put another way: you have to remember TO NOT CLICK SEND. While you can recall the message if Undo Send is turned on, the Gmail Delay Send script appears to deliver the mail anyway.

It's that last point that stops me using the feature more often. I've blundered one too many times with an incorrect time format or pressing Send, since that's the button I've been pressing for over a decade. I have to think a little too much to use this capability freely.

It may be time for me to try Boomerang again. It has extra features I'm not interested in, but its primary advantage is a big red Send Later button plus selectable time formats. The application is taking the burden of remembering off of me. I could get by with the free tier of service, since I would rarely schedule sending more than a few emails a month.

Digital Sabbath

I spend my working days at a computer and sometimes whole evenings too. And bits of the weekend. For the most part I enjoy it, and have enjoyed it as a hobby for the last couple of decades. The Internet can be endlessly distracting and enjoyable.

But ergonomically and mentally, it’s also good for me to take a physical break from my devices now and then.

For that reason, I like the idea of the digital sabbath. It’s an idea that’s floated around probably for as long as the Blackberry and iPhone have been with us. [1]

For a time last year I used a free iOS app, Friday, to nudge me into adopting the digital sabbath. About a half hour before Friday sundown, the app displayed a thoughtful message, quote, or anecdote, and then the screen went dark. That was the cue to set the device down – at the time, my iPod – and not pick it up again till sundown on Saturday.

I made my own rules for a digital sabbath. I allowed myself to check my emails for anything urgent that required attention, but set the device down quickly after that.

I tried to avoid adopting the “Blackberry prayer” posture but didn’t (and still don’t) always succeed.

I found that not using a computer from Friday evening to Saturday evening was quite doable. I spent Friday evening reading a physical book or magazine while Saturday was usually a day full of chores anyway. I allowed reading on a Kindle since it’s an ebook and I cannot go online with it.

Of course, there’d be backed-up emails to wade through on Saturday night (or Sunday morning, if I enjoyed the time away). But that also made me think: how much time do I want to spend processing emails? Time away from the computers made me consider how I wanted to spend my time at them.

A friend tried the digital sabbath, but the furious pace of his and his family’s life militated against a no-email-for–24-hours policy.

I did not download Friday to my new iPhone when I got it. Too many things to learn! But I downloaded it again after I started drafting this post. I want to give the digital sabbath another try.

 

  1. As with any good idea, there are always detractors. For me, the digital sabbath is not about me blaming technology for being addicting. When I fast, it’s not because I blame food for being delicious. It’s about developing a healthier relationship with all things in my life – including myself.  ↩

Three Use Cases

I am debating what I want in a protective case for my iPad Pro. A luxury problem, to be sure.

There are many choices: sleeves, cases, cases that leave the edges open, wraparound cases that leave only essential ports uncovered, cases that include a keyboard, cases that include a strap, cases to cover only the back of the iPad, expensive leather cases, cheap plastic cases, etc.

And if you only want a strap, then there are multiple hand strap options, believe it or not: velcro, silicon rubber bands, magnets, adhesives, full 360-degree swivel, etc.

When I’m in the welter of too many choices related to a product I want to buy, I use the following method for slicing through some of the noise.

I imagine at least three different scenarios, or use cases, where I would use the product. This gives me an idea of the type of experience I’m after. It helps me define what I want from the product and refine my requirements. I don’t always get to an a-ha decision this way, but it does help me discard options that don’t match the scenarios.

In this case (heh), my top three scenarios are:

  1. I drop the iPad or it slides out of a backpack: I want the case to help cushion the fall and generally protect it from collisions with the real world. 
  2. The case should make the iPad easy to hold for long periods of time. Although lots of cases boast their covers fold back so that the iPad can stand up, I will hardly ever use it that way. At home and especially when traveling, I will most often be reading on it.
  3. I don’t have a compelling third scenario, beyond that the case look good.

That I only have 2.5 scenarios may explain why I’m still sorting signal from noise.

Oddly enough, I did not have these mental discussions around my iPhone SE case. I use an Apple leather case and a tempered glass screen protector. That’s it. I even put the phone in my back pocket and sit on it, for heaven’s sake.

But the iPad feels … different. Thinner, more susceptible to damage. I would not dream of sitting on it.

So the search continues. For the time being, I may get a $20 case to protect the back of the iPad while the Smart Cover protects the front.

I continue to search out images and reviews of cases and judge them against my scenarios. I have the feeling, after seeing and pondering so many of these things, that I’ll know it when I see it.

Afterword: I think I got the idea of “3 use cases” from JD Meier’s blogs. He’s a fan of the rule of 3 and has written about scenarios. He has lots of great practical ideas and advice focused on the world of work.

Leaving My Email Alone

The @SaneLater folder in my Gmail account bulges with links to pages, or the text of pages saved via Email This, that I thought interesting enough to read later but not crucial to read now. 

I trolled through the emails tonight looking for ideas on something to post. I deleted some recent emails related to research on a project only recently finished. I deleted some things because the time has passed and I'm no longer interested. I left a couple for me to rediscover later, if and when I want to.

When I started my SaneBox subscription and saw the numbers of undealt-with emails climbing in that @SaneLater folder, I started to stress about it. Surely I need to keep on top of these things? If I committed to receiving them and reading, then surely I needed to do something about them? I prided myself on running a tight ship and staying on top of these little dust devils before they became whirlwinds. I would stay up late reading, processing, giving each item its due.

But at some point I gave myself permission to leave them alone. And to not stress about them. Let them pile up. Will I be docked a letter grade for not keeping a pristine email inbox? Will this come up in my semi-annual performance review? I think not. The important emails get taken care of, the others will rest and compost and I may eventually turn the heap to find something of interest. It's OK if I don't. I have plenty of other demands on my time that are more urgent. Naps are more urgent than email. 

One of the many things I learned from David Burns' Feeling Good was the ways we drive ourselves bananas with our thinking. He identified a long list of "cognitive distortions" and the ones that chimed with me related to all-or-nothing thinking, magnification, and disqualifying the positive.

Keeping my inbox at zero fueled my stress reactions: if I had even one or two emails in that box, I had failed (all-or-nothing). But, no. That's blowing a minuscule situation out of proportion (magnification) and ignoring all the emails I did process (disqualifying the positive). 

The coaches I'm working with, and the mind/spirit path I'm following now, help me see -- sometimes -- that things in life are not light switches marked on or off, black or white, false or true.  They're more like sliders moving along a spectrum, sometimes this, sometimes that. 

Having a clean and neat inbox is admirable. It shows I'm good at handling only the commitments I have time to process, that I am on top of things, that I have good routines and habits to build on to achieve higher things.

Well, not there yet. I have given myself permission to take the slow road.