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Posts from the ‘Daily Life’ Category

What is worth fixing

As progress progresses, increasingly there are fewer things for which it’s worth paying what it costs to fix them when they break.

via Tim Bray

It’s an unfortunate side effect of our society. I thought I’d put together a list of some things that definitely are worth fixing.

  1. Socks: Especially wool socks. While they are worth the extra price for comfort and warmth, they tend to wear out faster than synthetics or cotton. If you learn how to darn them they will easily last 2-3 times longer.
  2. Clothing in general: Here in Seattle we have a patagonia store. If my clothes are in need of repair I can drop them off and they will fix them free of charge. I’ve had a few sweaters and jackets that have last several extra years thanks to this free mending service.
  3. Camera gear: Honestly, we all use iPhone apps to simulate the look of old photography… what if we just used some older photograph gear?
  4. Notebooks: Still have a few pages left in that moleskine but the binding is going bad? That’s why the good lord saw fit to give us duct tape. The resulting mend will give you an additional few weeks of use and make you look even more the struggling poet you are.
  5. Bikes: Most often you can effect your own repairs with a little ingenuity (read: zip ties). For the more major components the local bike mechanic can likely get you rolling again for a modest fee. I’ve know folks that have cobbled bikes together from several cast aways. These franken-bikes are the ultimate hipster accessory.
  6. Furniture: With a few tools and a little time, you can often repair any of the structural problems in a piece of furniture. My friend is a seamstress and has gotten a lot of life out of a few chairs by putting together her own covers.
Any other ideas?


Failure – Now what?

via flickr user jontunn

I had an interesting experience a few months back. I utterly and completely failed at something. Luckily the consequences have been minor… I started competing in something called the Crossfit Games Open, which is an international competition designed to find the fittest men and women on the planet. Big surprise, I’m not the guy they’re looking for.

A little back story on the competition.

In the Crossfit Games Open, each competitor needs to complete a certain workout and submit their scores online. Their scores are validated by judges watching the workout and everyone is ranked on a giant list. When you post your score you can see exactly how many people are better than you. Great!

I did the first two workouts, and posted my scores. I wasn’t doing great, but I was hanging in there in the bottom third of competitors. Life was good. I was having a good time, and I was able to sooth my competitive drive by reminding myself that even though I wasn’t the best, I wasn’t the worst either. That is, until the third workout came up. It was incredibly simple, only one exercise, done as many times as possible in 5 minutes. Unfortunately that one exercise was a 165 pound squat clean and jerk.

I can’t do a clean and jerk with that weight. Not a single one. And it’s not something I can really “work on” either. I have pretty good technique, and enough strength to get the bar up and off the ground and onto my shoulders, but my legs and back (mostly back) simply aren’t strong enough to front squat that weight. So what did I do? Started a timer and for five minutes I tried repeatedly to clean and squat that weight… my goal was 1… just do 1 rep…

I failed.

I tried to submit my score of 0 to the website… to which they responded “sorry, you can’t do that”. So not only did I fail, but I was so much of a failure that I wasn’t even given the chance to tell the world about my failure. No one was interested.

It was a pretty disappointing saturday. I took myself out to breakfast at the local diner and while I was sitting there realized that based on my original criteria of success I had failed, but viewed through the lens of history I had actually achieved something that morning. I had on my list of fitness goals for a while to be able to clean my bodyweight. I weigh 155, and in cleaning 165 pounds from the ground to my shoulders, even though I hadn’t finished the squat part of the workout I had done something I had never done before. I also got to add another item to my list of personal goals. It’s still sitting there today, taunting me. But I’m going to hit the Olympic Weight Lifting class at the gym today and see if I can’t chip away at that goal a little bit more.

Hat tip to Nerd Fitness for blogging about failure and helping motivate me to finally finish this post.

Tipping the other hat to Seth Godin, with more info on dealing with failure.

Sometimes time = energy

via flickr user janie.hernandez55

I’ve been struggling to find time to blog recently… at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself. Turns out what I’ve really been lacking is energy. I’ve had the time to write, but whenever a slot opened up in my day I would whittle away the time on a number of distractions instead of digging in and writing something.

I’ve recently had a surge of energy and I’m hoping it sticks around. How am I going to do that? Here’s my short list:

  1. Get adequate sleep, 8 hours, every night
  2. Avoid insulin spikes (aka, anything heavily processed, sugary, or starchy)
  3. Get exercise
  4. Don’t overdo the exercise
  5. Go outside
  6. Have some fun, play some games
  7. Stay connected with friends

The Ever Expanding Free-time Myth

I was cruising through some old notes about blog post ideas and I hit on this one… this article is so much more poignant now that I’ve procrastinated it into October.

Researchers have found that humans are very bad at predicting “resource slack.” When asked to guess how much money and time they’ll have in the future, they accurately predict that their financial situation will remain relatively the same, but they think that their free time will expand.

via The Art of Manliness

I think this should serve as a call to action. Let’s not squander the free time we have today. We think that by pushing something off until tomorrow we are only delaying it, not fully realizing that the decision to put something off until tomorrow may be putting it off forever. You’ll never take that big road trip if you don’t start planning your stops and e-mailing your buddies to line up your schedules, you won’t have any more time to do it next month.

The other way to view this is as a call to enjoy and appreciate the free time that we have now. Things aren’t going to get simpler, up until that grand retirement. If we want more time to pursue our true interests we are going to need to find ways to make use of the time we have now.

  1. Disconnect the Cable to get back the night hours
  2. Find ways to carpool or take mass transit so you can get some thinking done on the way in to work.
  3. Skip the stationary bike, start biking to work.

I forget where I heard the following advise, but it rang true when I did and it’s stuck with me since. There was a very prolific artist who said the best way she was able to launch new projects was by using the gap time she had available in any given day. Instead of reading an RSS feed, or playing a game on her iPhone, she would use that gap time to work on a project she was trying to get off the ground. By making that effort over a few months she was able to make steady progress until eventually the gap time became the full time, and new projects would need to back fill into that new gap time.

soapbox: the golden rule

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”

via wikipedia categorical imperative

“Too many people were using the program just to get frequent-flier miles.”

via NPR’s planet money

This article about “clever” travelers taking advantage of a loophole setup by the US Mint has really stuck with me over the last few months. It’s one thing to take advantage of an airlines misguided attempts to lock people into their promotional program. It’s another one entirely to take advantage of the US Mint (and by proxy, US taxpayers) to rack up points on your credit card. I think my problem with this kind of behavior is fairly fundamental.

I (probably) harbor no illusions about my own moral superiority. I’m guilty as much as anyone else at cutting a few corners here and there. But what bothered me so much about this behavior is that it violates the notion of a categorical imperative quoted above. To paraphrase, I find this behavior distressing because if everyone were to engage in it, we would have a serious problem.

To illustrate metaphorically, they took a beautiful shortcut through the woods. A shortcut that had we all followed, would have eroded and eventually destroyed the forrest. An individualist might say “but the creator of the shortcut is the one responsible, not me for taking it”. I disagree with that position. I think we are all responsible for our actions, and if we choose to take the path less traveled, we ought also accept responsibility for the impact our traversal has on that path.

To draw another parallel, writing a few mortgages with a high risk of default is not so big of a deal, unless of course everyone else is doing it…

how I smashed my tv

via flickr user DieselDemon

It’s about time I address the namesake of this site and talk about smashing televisions.

via smashyourtelevision

It can be hard to leave behind your tv. As I mentioned in the eulogy, for me it was a multi-step, multi-year long process. Smashyourtelevision’s post on the subject inspired me to document my journey in more detail.

The main reason I was so attached to my tv is that there is simply no easier form of entertainment. TV executives have built their entire careers around trying to determine what kind of television you would like to watch, and then putting it on at the right time of day to line up with your work schedule, your moods, even your demographics. Since everything is done for you, all that is required is make a single decision… to watch.

The first step for me was to take the programming decision out of the network’s hands. I started watching more of my content digitally via iTunes and Netflix and DVR (digital video recorder). Once I had started making programming decisions for myself I was much less likely to spend an evening watching “whatever was on the discovery channel”. The quality of the television I watched went up dramatically. I became a more discerning consumer.

The next step was to eliminate the cable delivered content entirely. I had been using a third party TiVo-like device, which fell out of favor and was no longer supported by the manufacturer. Rather than replacing it, I started going without DVR. And since I no longer had the patience for commercials, I shifted all of my watching hours to either TV shows I had purchased from iTunes, or Netflix DVDs. I still liked to watch sporting events, but decided that most times I would rather watch those with friends anyway. Once that decision had been made I was able to cut the cable. The biggest sacrifice I had to make at that point was the sports programming.

About this time I picked up a few extra activities outside the house that kept me busy in the evening hours. Crossfit and Ultimate frisbee had supplanted television as my primary source of diversion during the evening hours.

I still had a 37” tv that was connected to an XBox for Netflix streaming and to serve as a DVD player.

After a year or so in that configuration I moved from the Ballard Neighborhood in Seattle to Bainbridge Island with the knowledge that I would be moving back in about a year. The GF and I intentionally arranged our living room to minimize the impact of the tv and as a result I found myself watching it even less. It had become more convenient to open the laptop and watch a movie on the external 24” monitor than to watch on the 37” tv across the room. Upon the realization that I would have to move this monstrously heavy thing back to Seattle is what finally pushed me over the edge.

I unloaded the tv and the xbox on craigslist, (talk about a depreciating asset) and haven’t really missed it since.

Here are the key points I learned in the process.

1) Take it one step at a time: If I had gone from a 3-4 hour a day tv watcher to nothing overnight I think I would’ve gone crazy.

2) Slowly decrease your tolerance for bad tv by watching only good tv: The beginning of this whole process was my decision to adopt DVR and Netflix. In the short run they probably increased my tv consumption, but allowed me to become more discerning.

3) TV is a hobby, and is best replaced with other hobbies: Even though I no longer have easy access to tv, I will still watch it if I find myself home alone between the hours of 6pm and 8pm.

Additional reading at the happiness project

Little dogs get away with more

For the last week we’ve been dog-sitting an elderly pair of miniature dachshunds. They are a cute pair, Sassy and Rosie. They’ve been both a joy and a curse. It’s fun to come home to a couple of wagging tails, on the other hand, I could’ve done without the 5am wakeup call.

I was taking them out for a walk on one of our last few days together and found myself twisted and tangled, being pulled in two different directions as they both strained mightily against their leashes. In the midst of this tempest I realized something; these dogs are badly behaved. They beg at the dinner table, they whine for attention, they constantly pull on their leashes, they bark at any dog that attempts to cross their path, and the oldest has a habit of snapping at anything that surprises her (since she is deaf and blind that can be just about anything).

It took me a full week to realize this. If, instead of being miniature dachshunds, they had been a pair of 70 pound black labs I think I might’ve noticed a little sooner.

Being a little dog can have it’s advantages. It’s easier to fly under the radar, make a lot of progress towards your own personal goals before anyone notices that you aren’t pulling their direction. You appear to be “going with the flow” but that may be because no one has noticed your quiet dissent. But there is a downside; if you do want to be an influence it can be hard to get noticed. If you are straining mightily at the leash you may quickly get pulled back onto the grass.

Being a big dog has it’s advantages. People take notice. They watch your body language to see where you might leap next. In a fight, you are the one they want on your side. But there is a downside; The impact of your missteps are so big they are bound to be noticed. Snapping at the neighbors might lead to the euthanizing needle instead of a swat with the newspaper.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being one or the other, and in fact most of us play different roles depending on the group we are in. It’s more important to understand when you are playing the role and which role is appropriate to the situation. Generally there can only be 1 or 2 big dogs, and if you aren’t one of them, it might be better to embrace the role of the little dog and “go with the flow”. You might get things to go your way without anyone else noticing.

After all, I did wake up at 5am this morning to feed those dogs…

Hemingway would approve

For the Last 9 months or so I have been carrying a Moleskine notebook in my back pocket. I am finding the practice to be indispensable in many situations and would encourage everyone that works in a knowledge or creative field to consider adopting the practice.  Here are a few things I have discovered so far:

1. You never know when you will need it. It’s amazing how often you can be pulled into a “quick” meeting that ends up making some major decisions that need to be documented. Carrying a journal at all times means you’ll never be caught flat footed.

2. The mind doesn’t stop thinking when you walk out the door, and that fantastic idea that you “will never forget” will often fade away the further you get from the point of inspiration. If it’s really important, stop and write it down.

3. When you fill up a journal, stop and reflect. A full journal provides a wealth of information on which to pause and reflect. These are good direction setting periods in the flow of life where you can evaluate how good you have been at staying on task recently.

4. Don’t stress about whether what you are going to write is “worth” writing down. This impulse is hardest to fight with a new journal. New journals are full of potential. Unfortunately we can let that potential keep us from starting anything. The first thing you write in your journal is the first thing you need to write that day. Maybe its a phone number, or a grocery list, or a note to remember to call your mom. No matter how mundane, write it down. Chances are it will be interesting in context later.

5. You only need one journal. I used to have 3 journals that I never used. When I consolidated down to one was when I really started using it. If you try to segment and categorize your journal around different segments of your life (work, home, gym) you often find yourself hesitating to write things down in the “wrong” place. There is no wrong place to write something down. Just get it committed to paper and organize it later.

I told you so!

I told you so monkey!

One of the best feelings in the world is being vindicated, standing up for what you believe, being told “it will never work” and then when the final curtain is drawn, being able to say “I was right, I told you so”.

One of the worst feelings in the world is being cut down, standing up for what you believe, being told “it will never work” and when the final curtain is drawn, finding out they were right all along. It didn’t work. Everybody got it right except you.

I find this juxtaposition between “I told you so” and “being told so” fascinating. It is a source of endless conflict between couples, friends and coworkers. It is something we all experience on both sides and we know which side is the right side to be on, yet many of us don’t soften the blow when it’s our turn to be on the better side.

Why is it that the elation of an “I told you so” moment scrubs away all memories of “being told so”?

I think it exists in a temporary suspension of empathy. When we “win” we aren’t thinking of others and what our win means to them. We are feeling self-righteous. We are feeling on top of the world. And the best way to get just a little higher is to point out how someone else missed it.

On the flip side, when we get dunked on, we often aren’t thinking of how sweet it must’ve felt to pull one over on us. It’s not really a great time for self reflection. We aren’t really trying to figure out “how we could do better next time”.

So in each ITYS (I told you so) instance we have a party that is less open to criticism than normal, and one party more likely to gloat than normal.

What are we going to do?

Well, if you just lost, try to remember that sometimes it’s fun to win, and sometimes part of winning is gloating, and maybe next time, you know, try a little harder.

If you just won, remember that it sucks to lose, and you probably shouldn’t be a jerk about it, because next time it will probably be you that should have, you know, tried a little harder.

quote of the day: beauty

“When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”
Buckminster Fuller