Living With Less

I have again neglected this blog because I have been, for the first few months of the year, getting rid of clutter – working through the pile of old magazines and removing the few useful pages from each and so on. Once this was done I have then moved home, to somewhere smaller, much smaller it seems.

I am not complaining though, this is a good thing.  I wanted less clutter, I wanted separate storage for tools and so on, I wanted a kitchen that wasn’t in the living room and had more cupboards and I have all that so in real terms I have more actual storage space but only for the things I really need and, or want to keep.  In effect it’s more efficient storage in that everything’s accessible rather than packed into one cupboard or stacked up behind my sofa – as my toolboxes were before.

The old apartment, being two large open rooms with a bathroom between the two felt like living in an open-plan office with everything on display, not very tidy and not very homely but now the living room is a living room, the bedroom a bedroom and the kitchen is the office too and is where I am now, typing this and listening to the TV in the other room.

It’s amazing how many things that you previously couldn’t possibly let go of suddenly become very disposable when you don’t have anywhere to put them.  Having less space for clutter is a filter that brings into clear focus what is important, and whether stuff from your past really has any significance today.  I’ve looked at things like diaries containing logs of changes I made to software when I was an amateur coder in the nineties and I think “why do I need to keep this, does it hold some kind of special memory?  Bin it”.  So much stuff is kept because perhaps we feel the need to hold onto the past, like we’ll forget it but I’ve found that the things I’ve got rid of don’t define me now and are things I don’t really need to remember the details of, much of what I’ve done years ago means very little now.  I don’t need proof of much of the stuff I’ve done in the past and this process has helped me to realise just which things I do want the souvenirs of and which ones I don’t.

My parents have kindly taken half a tonne of stuff to the charity shops of my old home town including a box of Christmas decorations for a large tree that I didn’t even have space to put up in my old apartment any more, never mind the new one.

It’s so easy to hold on to things, assuming they may have some future significance, or that they’ll be a source of reminiscence, but the truth is often that they won’t and having that big clear out leaves you with what is significant and holds memories that are worth keeping.  It feels cathartic to do this and having less clutter, a tidier home to look at, feels good too.

Of course, had I done this earlier there wouldn’t have been a little bit less to move.

There Can Be No Comparison

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Someone once said that they felt unhappy because everybody else was out doing exciting things but they weren’t, it was all work and home life. The thing is that this feeling was mostly based on Facebook – seeing “all” their friends doing these things. The problem with Facebook is that it expresses a natural Human tendency to only present an edited highlights to others, or alternatively only the worst aspects. For every person showing off on Facebook about all the amazing things they do there’ll be others like me who hardly ever post anything, even if I do do something interesting or go somewhere because it’s not in my nature to believe that anyone else would really want to know every single thing I’m doing on holiday.

“Just saw a dog in the surf on the beach #wetdog”

It’s all too easy to compare your life to others, in real life you might see someone you like the look of and they’re with someone more extroverted or wealthy than you and you might think “typical, they never want someone like me” and so continues a cycle of feeling “not good enough”. Some people similarly feel the need to have better material stuff than others, bigger TV, more expensive Smartphone (“sent from my IPHONE, did you see that, I have an IPHONE”) the old “keeping up with the Jones'” is still alive and well but with more Jones’ to keep up with.

Facebook turns this up to eleven as you see a concentration of all aspects of others lives that you consider are better than yours without the mundane, judged through the lens of what you perceive from the media as the perfect lifestyle, what your life must be like to not be boring.

“Friday night dinner; chips, beans and chicken dippers #livinlavidabirdseye”

They were good chicken dippers too. Happiness is complex in so many ways, but comparing your life to others can erode it. Deleting your Facebook account may not be the answer, you need to evaluate what you personally find true joy and fulfilment in, isolated from those around you. If you really need to be partying every night then nothing’s going to change unless that desire is based on making sure that other people know what you’re doing, that they know you’re such a cool person. As someone said on TV recently “what’s the point of doing something if you can’t brag about it on Facebook.” For many people though knowing what really matters can restore your satisfaction with what you have. Often the joy in the little things is far more important than impressing people who probably aren’t even bothered…

Lazlo’s Chinese Relativity Axiom: “No matter how great your triumphs or how tragic your defeats, approximately one billion Chinese couldn’t care less.”

Procrastination and The Fear of The Future

Anxiety

Anxiety

How did I write this post?

This blog is looking more abandoned than last year, to the point where the neighbours might start complaining, and despite what I’ve written before about just getting started and so on I’m still not writing anything.

The main problem is that I look at the list of potential posts, think “I couldn’t do that justice in the time I have tonight, I’d miss something out or get something wrong, or upset someone” and give up.  This is a typical example of a feeling that whatever I do will be wrong, an image of a future in which I fail – this is a big problem for me and one I’m trying to get over.

It happens all day, every day, I’m forever thinking that I’m bound to make a mistake, or someone will say I haven’t done something I have done, or done something I haven’t; I’d upset someone, or someone will think I’m boring or aloof because I won’t be able to think of anything to say;  something I’m waiting for through the post will go missing; something will go wrong etc.  Constant negativity.  It’s exhausting, being constantly anxious about the future.  Anxiety puts you in a dark, cold and lonely place with no obvious way out, I’ve spent far too much time there.

I recently read a Lifehacker article about this very issue which explains how reframing your image of the future to be a positive, successful one is crucial.  Once you envisage things turning out ok you can feel less anxious and as such become less stressed and just let life flow.  This is easier said than done, admittedly and as the article says it’s no cure for an actual anxiety disorder.  This is one of the great resources of the internet, support, even when it is serendipitous like the Lifehacker article, just seeing that how your feeling can be changed, that others have been there, helps.  In a way my state of anxiety had become normalised, I expected to feel that way and reading the piece made me think “no, it’s not the way to live.”  I had been wondering why I felt uneasy, uptight, stressed, afraid to talk to people I didn’t know, and why I couldn’t write posts anymore, I had my answer, well, an answer.

At the end of the day nobody knows what’s going to happen in a minute’s time, or what someone’s going to think, or assume, and anxiously trying to mentally prepare for every bad thing that could happen is just going to make things worse.  The worst things that happen are usually things you don’t see coming, as in the Baz Lurhmann song Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.  The kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”

So trying to keep that in mind perhaps I can then just write a blog post and post it, like this one.

Foafexperts – The Customer’s Mate Down The Pub is Always Right

Learning

Learning

There is a term in the world of mysterious Fortean events to describe the sort of story that starts with “Apparently…” and is about some paranormal event witnessed by a “Friend of a Friend” hence they are called “foaftales”.  It seems though that the foafs have moved beyond the esoteric and become experts on absolutely everything.  Maybe it’s the internet’s illusion of knowledge – you can of course search and find many true answers on the net can’t you – but more often you encounter members of the public with no prior involvement in the industry they’re dealing with telling the person with many years of experience either what they know or how to do their job.  As they say a little knowledge is a bad thing.

For example a customer who when told they need safety glass in a door replies angrily “it doesn’t need toughened, it’s only an internal timber door” or others who say “the double glazed units were obviously made wrong because they’re not supposed to break down (get condensation inside) at all, I know how they work” to the one who wanted a sealed unit straight away “I shouldn’t have to wait, I know how long they take to make” – really, would you like a job?  I also encountered a customer with no prior experience of double-glazed glass units who insisted that I was measuring the thickness of the unit he’d brought in wrongly, as was an equally experienced colleague, and told me I needed to get a measuring caliper – I did and came up with the same measurement, surprisingly.

Part of this is someone who knows a little about a subject who wants to show off to their friend that they’re some kind of expert, other times it may be someone trying to promote themselves by appearing knowledgable.   Sometimes the person may be trying to help but more often than not, they’re not.

So many people seem to have a father-in-law who’s “in the trade” and knows that what you’re saying is wrong – this is almost always just a feeble attempt to prove that they haven’t made a mistake.  As for said expert often, who am I kidding, mostly, it turns out that they’ve either done a bit of DIY or they’re a joiner when the problem would be, for example, brickwork related, or worse still related to making the windows which is like a taxi driver saying that he’s an expert in assembling radios.  I’m a glass cutter by profession, I know next to nothing about making Murano glass vases so I wouldn’t try to tell a glass blower how to suck eggs, if you see what I mean.

Anglicise This

Map Showing UK

Map

The internet is a global community and a place where, through ordinary communication, we can learn about other cultures.

However, I have noticed a subtle trend in where articles republished to a localised blog (say from MyTechBlog US to MyTechBlog UK) with all references to dollars, potato chips, inches and Walmart being altered to pounds, crisps, centimetres and Asda are guaranteed to receive comments along the lines of “for goodness sake chaps, can’t you anglicise this a tad”, or words to that effect.  If however this is done to an article written by an American living in New York, talking about a new product and suddenly uses English terms it can jar a little and in some ways seems false, like watching a film where the lead characters words have been dubbed badly, but only on every tenth word.  “I’m off to the pub on 25th Avenue to watch the game and have a steak and a pint” – I know there are pubs in the US and they serve pints but we know the generally accepted terms are bar and beer – how do I know this, I watch American TV shows where Americans use American English.

I’ll admit that sometimes you have to edit for regional sensibilities and to avoid offence (the word fanny comes to mind) but even a brief explanation “I put it under the grill (or broiler)” works.  Of course if a really obscure word crops up, we do have this wonderful thing called the internet on which you can find an explanation – I even recently found a guidebook for London that contained a handy US-UK translation section in the back containing such items as “First Floor = Second Floor” “Jumper = Sweater” “Gob = Mouth” and “Pissed = Drunk” oh and “Bit of Alright = Attractive (of girls)”.

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that it does niggle (slightly annoy) me when people in this country replace perfectly adequate words we have used happily for years with specifically American alternatives such as saying “going on vacation” rather than “going on holiday” but we have also adopted many useful Americanisms and anyway it is a two-way street as our US friends now have to contend with their word for crisps now appearing over there in Fish ‘n Chips which should surely be Fish ‘n Fries?

Enjoy The Silence

Sunset over the Trent (© Andy Vickers)

Sunset over the Trent (© Andy Vickers)

I’ve just spent an hour doing something magical that everyone should try – nothing. I’ve just sat in silence with a cup of tea and watched the sunset without the modern nagging, guilty feeling that I should be doing something else, and without defaulting to the usual time-filler of watching something on TV or idly clicking around on the internet. In that time I let my mind wander, I thought through something that I needed to sort out in my mind, I just didn’t try to guide my thoughts too much.

Decades ago it was said that automation would give people more leisure time and they’d be able to relax more and be happier. Now though even at home we feel we must be doing something; if it’s not cleaning or cooking it’s watching the latest must-watch TV series, or catching up with Facebook or Twitter, or blogging (ahem), even holidays or days out have to be awesome experiences.  When you’re not working you should be socializing or partying or at least telling everyone who you’re not with what you’re doing via social media – if TV ads are to be believed.

Creativity and relaxation are enhanced by not having distractions so taking some time out has many benefits. Time is precious and sometimes doing nothing isn’t wasting time, doing something, anything, for the sake of it however, is.

Pushing The Right Buttons

Keyboard (courtesy of Serif)

Keyboard (courtesy of Serif)

It may sound slightly obsessive but my search for the ideal keyboard is more drawn out than my search for the perfect pen.

The fashion today, often wrongly attributed to Apple, is for the flat, minimalist, chiclet keyboards which were originally applied to cheaper home computers in the 70s and 80s but made popular more recently by Sony’s Vaio laptop range however the best keyboards I’d used were classic IBMs. The first PC I owned myself was a 486DX based IBM, a huge beige box with a battered compact keyboard, a version of the PS/2 keyboard (the model M2, or so I’ve just been informed by Google Image Search). I also own an earlier IBM too though I’ve not actually used it.

It was a great keyboard to use and since then the only keyboard that came close to it was a cheap one that cost less than a fiver from Argos (it was replaced when my new PC came without PS/2 ports – I couldn’t find an adaptor).  This was true until a few days ago when the Lenovo one I’m using now was delivered which I bought because it’s one of the descendants of those IBM PS/2s.   You can tell.

One important aspect of a keyboard is comfort and this is lacking in most modern keyboards, the Lenovo for example has good key travel, good cushioning and good return response which results in comfortable typing over long periods without numb fingertips while still retaining a pleasing clicking sound which is subtle and low-pitched, a kind of burble when you’re typing quickly which is almost a vocalisation of the words you’re pouring into the on-screen page. I also find that the tall key caps mean you hit two keys at once less often, the one you’re just touching stays put and guides your finger down with the one you were aiming for. These are the qualities I liked with the IBM keyboards and had been missing in the many others I’ve tried over the years. Modern flat keyboards are all very well but many can be less accurate, harsher or squishier, just not as satisfying to use for long periods, even if by the same token many are, to be fair, really quite good – I own one bluetooth one for the Nexus 7 which has a nice clicky feel to it but even that’s just not the same.

Of course there are the even more expensive keyboards with the same kind of mechanical keyswitches that old keyboards possessed which are beloved of gamers for their millisecond accuracy but I don’t need that level of sophistication.

Keyboards like the Lenovo aren’t pretty or cool and minimalist but they work, and despite being low-cost they don’t sacrifice comfort and accuracy and that’s what’s important. The daft thing is that they’re so old-fashioned looking they’re at risk of becoming popular as retro tech.

Too Many Ideas and Missing The Tree

Forest

Forest

I’m struggling again with productivity, I have too many proto-articles and as such when I sit down to write I get struck with something called Workload Paralysis which is basically the inability to begin because there are too many places to start. I also forget what I could write about as my notes app and notebook have too narrow a window to show me my options, I can’t see everything in one glance – I need an overview, a priority schedule – which is something that technology isn’t brilliant at.

As I can’t find space for a full size whiteboard I’ve bought a white clipboard and some fineline whiteboard pens – onto this clipboard I will write one-liners – article titles that is, not quips. This way I’m hoping to be able to get some inspiration without having to scan through pages of paper or lists of notes on a screen.

This is why I’m still a firm believer in the physical and tangible media in concert with technology rather than as a replacement across the board, just sometimes it’s easier to deal with words on paper, they’re often much quicker to access, handle or process. And in my case having the ideas list on a screen doesn’t just mean I can’t see the forest for the trees, I often can’t even see the tree.

The Black Hole of Knowledge (and Adventure)

Books

Books (Image Courtesy of Serif)

One advantage of a paper book on a bookshelf (or a to-read pile, depending on how tidy/organised you are) is that you don’t forget you’ve bought it.

While recently considering my nature and my problems with small-talk and even with publishing my thoughts on this very blog I started thinking again about the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking and I thought “I must get that” so I looked through my entire Amazon wish list where I was sure I’d logged it but it wasn’t there. I was briefly puzzled and searched for it. When the page came up there were the words “You purchased this item on November 1st 2015” – of course I had, it’s sitting on my Kindle, forgotten because it’s not sitting visibly in front of me.

I do love reading, as much as writing, and I haven’t been doing it as much as I’d like recently for various reasons including the old favourite of “not having time” – i.e. not making time, but at least if you have something in front of you, taking up space, it can prod you occasionally to pick it up and do something with it. So it seems that Kindle is also both wonderful but also a procrastination tool par excellence.

Now you could say that these two things make the Kindle (and other e-book readers) a potential voyage of discovery into piles of books bought on a whim, clicked on because they were free, or randomly downloaded while drunk but left alone it’s potentially also  a black hole of unlearned knowledge and undiscovered worlds.

Check your libraries regularly people.

Procrastination and Deep Pockets

Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)

Stopwatch (image courtesy of Serif)

I had a problem, a big though not what you would call serious or important problem.  It was one that my psyche would not let me sweep under the carpet, or rather, delete.  For literally years I would just skim websites and rather than read articles I’d click “Read Later” – that’s how long ago it was, the Firefox extension (and later Android app) was still called Read It Later rather than it’s more famous current name of Pocket.

I just couldn’t be bothered to read stuff, I just wanted to passively watch TV even though I knew that I enjoyed learning and reading interesting articles.  I’d look at articles I thought would be too long to read, or watch, and I’d just again think “can’t be bothered” and clicked “LATER!”  I often made the mistake of looking at a news article that had links to more, each of which ended in a click on “Add to Pocket”.  So the Pocket became bigger.  Over 1,300 items bigger.

Like tomorrow, later never comes though so you eventually have to either read it all or delete stuff.

It took over a year of Saturday and Sunday mornings to read, watch and if necessary bookmark or log them in Evernote.  At Christmas last year I finally returned to the blank sheet and Pocket was sat there encouraging me to add things to it again.  I have vowed never to get there again – I use Pocket to transfer links from my tablet to the desktop to read or watch on the bigger screen and use it to put aside long articles, or complex ones that I’d want to absorb properly that I’d have more time to read at the weekend but never as a replacement for reading stuff, for procrastination.

As for link-heavy sites, well I either try to be disciplined and either not click on the stuff the site thinks I might be interested in, or I cheat and cover the links up with Windows Task Manager – set to stay in front of other windows.  Another help in this is Firefox’s Reading Mode, as long as you can click it before seeing the other articles.  Due to my earlier effort to reclaim my evening time I now know that I have time to read articles and do anything else I want, I don’t need to procrastinate and tell myself I’ll have to read it later.

It’s just as well I wasn’t buying newspapers between 2012 and 2014 I’d be buried in newsprint by now.