Back from the Holidays, Disconnecting from the Web

I’ve returned from my holidays, here comes the rain. Essentially, two weeks without a decent internet connection in a very warm island. All I did was exercise, read, swim, writing a little, and practice my typing (really) the whole time. I was probably on the web for only a couple hours during that period. It was a true vacation and a great time to catch up on family stuff. In this day and age there is really no vacation until you disconnect from the internet. Really.


Of course, it didn’t stop me from getting back to my old tricks the second I came home but I think it’ll be different this time. I plan on redefining and manage the way I interact with the web this time as I’ll be busy cutting my teeth as a programmer for real, essentially trying to hang on to my job and a decent salary (by no means high). I need to stop wasting time or manage my time more efficiently. It’s crucial to anyone’s survival.


Information technology has advanced so much and to the point where we have all the toys we could possibly need to have a rich, interactive life. The problem is that we have too many choices and too much information. Although there are many interesting and revolutionary applications and devices out there we just don’t have time. Why don’t we have time?


I think the reason why we run out of time is that we spend so much time managing the barrage of information the comes at us along with the various pruning tasks required of it. We know that it’s better to not check email every 5 minutes but also know the hell that ensues when we come back to an inbox filled with 500 unread messages. So we try to “keep things in order” at the expense of our concentration and productivity. This is probably the issue that most members of society struggle with to varying degrees.


Hardware advances make our computers the ultimate Swiss army knife and as a result we have all kinds of blades and doodads constantly sticking out at us beckoning our attention that it’s hard for us to focus on any single task with effectiveness. Remember the “spork” you used to use in the school cafeteria? That bastard child of a spoon and fork. The fork part was too shallow to properly stick food on it and if you use it as a spoon, you had to be careful not to crucify your tongue. That’s what I think our computers are becoming. Any artisan serious about their craft uses a million different tools, each chosen for their excellence at doing one thing and only one thing right. They do not try to exercise their craftsmanship with a Swiss knife unless out of desperation.


Computers are a tool for the digital craftsman, yet a lot of us don’t pause to think about the absurdity of say a carpenter’s hammer notifying them of new email or a chat application suddenly popping up as they try to hammer a nail. However, this is essentially what a lot of us knowledge workers struggle with whether they realize it or not. A key ingredient of getting things done is immersion and focus.


Monitoring, Communicating & Doing


I think a major problem is the fact that computers mix up three very different activities in distracting ways. At any given moment, when I’m trying to get things done in a work context I’m either monitoring, communicating, or doing something. Monitoring involves being aware of incoming emails (essentially to ensure that I don’t overlook urgent communication), server issues, news, etc. It doesn’t take much thought to stay aware but robs you of just enough concentration from being fully focused.


Communication is essentially interaction with another human being using whatever means be it email, chat or social networks. It involves a different kind of concentration that requires an awareness of the emotional context unless you wish to suffer the consequences of poor communication that might never be effectively remedied once you get on someone’s bad side or someone gets on yours.


Then there is the doing part. These are sometimes either the most demand or boring things you need to get done in order to collect your reward also known as achievement. The doing part of your day is comprised of an endless stream of tasks that require “all hands on deck”. It is also cumulative, meaning that rewards are rarely immediate. You must be consistent over time to really be rewarded for effort.


What About Entertainment?


I think that all the things screaming for our attention so easily pull us away from the “doing” part that a lot of us aren’t living up to our potential. You will notice that I left out “entertainment” as one of the things you can do on the computer. I omitted it on purpose as it was in the context of getting things done. We all know that there are so many ways to distract ourselves on computers from games (even the stupid default Windows games out of desperation), movies, to music. I think that a lot of us that spend too much time in front of a computer shy away from such overt “entertainment” out of either guilt or a desire to get things done. Yet, we use a poor substitute to entertainment that essentially distracts us even more. That’s right, monitoring and communicating.


How many time during the day do you find yourself escaping tasks or suspending thought on a difficult problem as you “take a break” surfing the web, browsing through emails, or chatting up a friend or colleague? I think it’s the “guilt-free” way a lot of white collar workers waste their time whether on purpose or inadvertently. Concentrating on tasks that are tedious (but needs to get done) or inherently hard can distort time if you don’t have the right motivation. For the obsessed uber-productive stars, it distorts time so much that they forget time while they concentrate on the task at hand while for the easily distracted it makes time pass that much more slowly, giving the illusion that they’re working more than they are.


All About Divides


I think we are seeing more divisions happening between haves and have nots even in the field of productivity. I see myself in the “have not” category right now as far as concentration and productivity go although I can confidently consider myself in the “have” category before I was exposed to the web. It’s time for me to make a change and change I will.


A while back, when I entered college, I stopped watching TV completely. Luckily we didn’t have the internet then like we do now. I focused exclusively on reading books and even limiting social interactions to focus on study. It paid off well. Then the “revolution” struck. Although I was extremely productive when push came to shove, I also found myself easily distracted under normal circumstances. It’s time to redefine our relationship with information and focus on building knowledge.


One of the things I plan to experiment with is my new iPod touch. One of the most effective strategies to increase productivity is to eliminate distractions. A strategy I’m experimenting with comes in two steps and that is to separate out distracting functions like checking emails or social networks into specialized terminals or apps (like dashboard widgets) that don’t get in the way of important stuff like writing or programming. Essentially, I want to decrease my reliance on having a constant internet connection and retraining myself to use the computer as nothing more than a glorified typewriter for most of the time I’m at the keyboard and take explicit breaks (with the iPod touch) that are guilt-free and don’t confuse my relationship with the computer to turn it into a multi-purpose distraction tool.

Did Blogs Kill StumbleUpon?

Now, read this post carefully before you go ballistic over the title alone. To my SU friends, please ignore and move on as it doesn’t concern you nor is it about you. Don’t get me wrong, I still love StumbleUpon.


It’s also a boon for smalltime bloggers that holds us through the “dog days” of blog traffic. For small time bloggers it’s hard to keep up quality output or sometimes we let a little time pass before a post or two. At which point, all readers including your mother have moved on to more popular blogs.


Still, I’ve noticed a dramatic decline in the quality of stumbles since bloggers caught on to SU. Every other stumble is a blog. Some of them are lackluster opinion pieces (like this) and others are just spam trash. There used to be a time when SU actually gave me stuff I would never find on my own in a very good way. Now it serves me stuff I would never seek out on my own. It still has its moments occasionally and I’m sure most of the problems are due to bloggers promoting their stuff (which should not affect overall performance ever because we’ll do whatever the rules allow and then some because we DO believe our stuff is good whether others agree or not).


Here’s the button we really need on the toolbar:




I guess it’s easy to maintain quality when you have a relatively small and very passionate user base. Probably why Google stays number 1. They still manage to keep the trash at manageable levels. Whatever they learn about filtering I hope they pass on to Ebay.

8 Random Things About Me

I finally found time to do this meme! By blogging at work of course! lol

Let’s see if I can last:

  1. I was born in Japan (and live here as well)
  2. I’m fluent in Japanese
  3. I learned to swim as an adult (and still suck but hey)
  4. Worked as a paper boy in elementary school for 6 months
  5. Founded a social group for mixed race people in Japan (still going strong)
  6. created a Japanese blog that generated millions of pageviews through a variety of techniques
  7. Learned how to program (kinda) as an adult
  1. skipped a grade in school

    It’s amazing how boring I seem from these random facts. I haven’t “lived it up” much I suppose.

    Since starting work, life’s been a mad rush of events. The amazing thing is I manage to exercise more than I did when I had all the time in the world. I can obviously get more out of an hour now than ever before. I somehow forgot how work creates a pressure cooker environment that forces you to do more.

    One thing I vow never to do again is work dreadfully long hours even if it means I give up on promotions or whatever. The toll it takes in addition to the horrid commute you have to put up in Japan is just not worth it.

    My real dream is to start my own company but before that I need to get in shape for the beach this Saturday!

    8 Random Things About Peety | Peety Passion

The Wonderful Japanese Commuter Trains

You really have to experience Japanese commuter trains for yourself to gain a true appreciation. I don’t mean one-off tourist experiences for the bored but really do it every weekday for a month with a definite time and place you MUST arrive at. I’ve seen little children cry and women scream on these trains. If guns were legal in Japan we’d probably have “train rage” because things get quite intense.

Forget all those informative cultural videos about Japan that you might see in school about Japanese society placing a high value on ritual politeness because all that goes out the window during rush hour. Since Japan’s constitution officially renounces war and carrying a full military force, the samurai spirit must live on elsewhere and that elsewhere is the train. The Japanese commuter is a samurai and a ninja in the truest sense of the word. The only difference is they have no honor. It’s all survival.

It all starts with a mad dash up and down the train station stairways. If you have any walking disability or are short of breath avoid the public transport during peak hours at all costs because these stations are built for the fit and ready. I don’t know how many calories the Japanese population burns going up and down the stairs and switching trains or constantly shoving each other but I’m sure it contributes to reigning in obesity because there’s no way you could function in society without submitting to this regimen and gain significant weight at the same time. Commuting is a blood sport.

commuter.jpeg

The only way to sit during your commute is to board the train at its origin or threaten a seated person with violence and make them give up their seat (which might make you late after visiting the police station). Otherwise, your chances of sitting are slim and your only consolation is to find an area in the train that doesn’t suck that much (the area around doors is popular since you have a wall you can lean on). The opening of a seat is like a life-and-death match of musical chairs only with no music. The typical jitteriness of a person about to disembark always alerts the hawk-eyed gladiators dying to sit down, starting a positioning war among those standing around the seat. You have to be quick and thick of skin to win because you’re bound to get some dirty looks.

The unfortunate standing masses get to enjoy the half hour to hour pleasure ride of getting jostled on the train as it makes gentle and not so gentle turns and pass through some rough patches. Then the train stops and you fight to stay inside the train while those disembarking try to push you off and out of their way.

Express trains are even worse and I’ve seen whole carriages cloud up from human steam. Too bad if you just picked up your suit from the cleaners because now it’s getting wrinkled, pressed and steamed with human sweat. I’ve seen unfortunate children (probably brothers) that got on such a train huddled together and crying from the experience. It’s also a paradise for some pervs or stressed out white collar workers to cop a feel from unsuspecting women. Of course the typical fare is the general pushing and shoving because trains are always packed beyond capacity. You don’t see station attendants pushing people into trains like the old days as much but space is definitely scarce.

Of course, this time around I’m blessed in that my commute is slightly off peak and I always have a seat on the way and back but it’s still a pretty intense affair. Everyday is a battle.

Tetris Makes You Smarter?

Tomorrow I start a new job as an entry-level Ruby on Rails programmer. I’ve got a three month probation to prove that I have what it takes at a small Japanese startup. It’s been a long process of reinventing myself from an arts type to becoming a programmer. One of the things I swore off of a long time ago was video games. The last console I owned was a Sega Saturn. Yeah, I thought it was better than a PlayStation I.

I loved all kinds of games and wasted my childhood on Super Mario Bros. (the original). No one ever thought these games did us any good. It was just fun and that’s all that ever matters to a child. It doesn’t take a genius to know that clearing Super Mario Bros. wouldn’t get you an A in English or math.

In fact, deep down inside I thought games made me stupid, albeit an idiot with good reflexes. Seeing the video game arcade wizards so pale, skinny and expressionless doing wonders with the joystick while struggling to have a conversation or making eye contact didn’t help either.

I must say the Nintendo DS is a clever coup for adult naysayers. The entice “good adults” with game titles like Brain Age that alleviate our fears of continued mental decline as the internet makes every thing a mouse click away. Brain Age was the only game I owned for the last couple of months. Then the other day I splurged on Tetris DS since I landed a new job.

Playing people from around the world through DS’s wi-fi functionality was a shock of fresh air. Suddenly, I was a child playing my best friends in my living room competing for high points. I never touched Brain Age for a whole five days since getting Tetris.

You can imagine my shock when I played Brain Age to document my mental decline only to set a new record playing “Calculations x100” by clocking a new personal record of 1 minute and 12 seconds. Fighting competition on Tetris enabled me to enter a state of flow where my logical mind would constantly interfere with irrelevant thoughts.

Although I’m sure that if I didn’t play Brain Age for a couple more months that my score would really drop, maybe having a little fun is not only a way to relax but also good for you mind as well. As the first adults to grow up on video games, we need to keep an open mind. Brain science still has a long way to go before they can ever provide conclusive evidence that games really are bad for you.

Who knows, maybe Tetris will make me a better programmer?

Embarking on a Crash Exercise Program

No, this isn’t a fat blogger post. That’s because I’m not fat and I’m not a blogger. Well, I’ve been busy coding my app and other things so I’ve let physical fitness fall by the wayside. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone through such a phase but I feel that with every additional year it becomes a bit harder to bounce back. I have this unspoken rule that I wont let my weight go beyond a certain point. I’ve skirted close to the limit and was a bit shocked when I saw a recent picture of myself. It was like my body was distorted sideways.

When I get back into an exercise program I usually go on a crash course. They say this isn’t good because you might rebound and give up completely. There’s a grain of truth to it but only if you’ve never spent any time exercising for an extended period of time. I’ve stuck to a fairly rigorous routine in the past. It’s always some kind of an injury or major life change that derails me but once you have that behind you it’s easy to pick up. In fact, unless you’ve let your weight slip to the point where your heart’s at risk, it’s better to go all out and shock your system.

The beauty of exercise is that it’s easy to regain previous levels of fitness. It’s harder to go beyond that and improve. There’s tissue memory at work. A lot of times you really don’t know your physical limitations because the psychological ones set in long before.

I usually alternate between running for 30 minutes and some kind of machine cardiovascular exercise at the local gym. I enjoy the changing scenery afforded by running and hate the treadmill. Usually the stair climber does it for me but since my favorite machine is in repair I’ve recently rediscovered the stationary bike.

Too bad I can’t rig a stationary bike to this mac and force myself to generate my own electricity. We’ll see how long this one lasts. I’m going to try losing 10 pounds. I want to get body fat under 10% for the first time in a while.

Future Directions for My Blog

I thought about just incorporating this into a post I’m about to write but decided to keep it separate as I’d like to focus on quality! Of course, that in itself is a subjective measure so my idea of quality maybe your idea of boring. I just don’t want to be caught chasing news drivel and posting too many two bit thoughts on whatever TechBunch and all the other blogs write.

Of course, at the end of the day I’ll write whatever I feel but there you have it. Oh yeah, and I’ve also responded to all your comments! In case you were wondering. There were some really juicy responses that I’m sorry about not getting back to sooner.

I’m still knee deep in development of that web service that promises to suck. Yeah, hope to actually use it soon so we’ll see how the crowd reacts (probably underwhelmed).

A Mother’s Journey

I honestly can’t remember the last time I was moved to write or say something from seeing a series of photos. We live in a world saturated in images that are manufactured to a greater or lesser extent. The way media manipulates real events gives us a jaded outlook on life and the images we consume.

Still, every now and then there are moments when you’re overwhelmed by the power that an image holds. This photo series documenting a single mother and her son’s fight with cancer was one of those moments for me.

Can you imagine what it’s like to bring a child into the world only to be robbed by horrible disease. I can’t but this photo series is sure to make you think just in time for Mother’s day.

A Mother’s Journey: 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography

The Up and Coming Blogs

Now that everyone’s Google juice is stronger, I thought I’d do a little post and say thanks to all the people who’ve been a part of my community (in a wide sense) as well as give a shout out to blogs I enjoy but don’t interact with as much as I want to.

A little link love goes a long way since no blog lives in a vacuum. By being a part of the extended network we help each other help ourselves. At the end of this post I’ll talk briefly about some link building strategies to give your blog a good kick up the rear for a blazing start. If you’re on the fence or about to launch something or other, now’s a good time as ever to set aside a domain and putting some teaser content up.

The Plugg – Music and Entertainment Blog

What can I say? This is the Johnny Depp of entertainment blogs. Totally offbeat, quirky but still manages to be cool. It rarely covers anything tech but there is always a hint of that edge. Check it out for yourself.

Ramblings from the Marginalized

My comrade and partner in link whoring. I have soft spot for Ramblings because I feel that like my own blog it’s essentially a “hustling blog”, a blog that hustles to get noticed unlike some of the bigger names in the industry. Like any good hustling blog you’re always bound to find something interesting.

parislemon

The is a good blog all around and I just love the domain Paris Lemon. There’s something intriguing about the combination. Lots of overlap with my tech interests like uh Apple and good finds like Letterman’s Top 10 George W. Bush Moments.

MathPoints: Latest Tech Buzz, Google Blogger Tips

MathPoints is an up and coming blog that I enjoy that covers interesting tech topics. He’s got a good eye for news. Just have a look at his link blog.

Okay, up to this point the list is more or less “Digg Alumni”. Surprisingly I’ve come into contact with a lot of these bloggers through Digg. I realize that Digg is far from dead but I was fortunate in coming into contact with these people at the time I did before things took a serious downturn.

//engtech

Do I even need to explain who engtech is? Nah. Just have a visit and see for yourself. It covers everything from kittens to tech. Almost like a John Chow that doesn’t make money online.

Webomatica – tech, movies, music blog

When I first saw this blog, I thought the girl in the back seat featured prominently in the blog design was actually writing all the posts. Of course, I got suspicious after seeing so many Battlestar Galactica posts. Non Galactites or whatever you call the fans will find plenty of tech stuff to enjoy as well.

franticindustries – web 2.0, social networking, IT technology trends. ยป

Probably the biggest of the bunch in terms of traffic and readership but very much down to earth. I see this blog taking a prominent role if it keeps chugging away like it has. It’s like techcrunch with consistently good writing.

Peety Passion

This blog defies categorization of any kind. It’s wild, sexy, and way off beat. Just be sure to check it with your sunglasses on.

Tech.Chick.Blog

This is another blog that recently popped up on my radar out of nowhere. I have a soft spot for half-clothed women sporting macs.

Tasty Blog Snack

Oh, and while I’m on my sexy women mac bloggers binge, here’s another. You probably know her as the girl who took on Justin.tv for a day. Amazing how easy it is to find smart, hot women who are into macs in the blogosphere than in real life. Not that it has any bearings on your real life.

Now for Building Links…

Interact with the blogs around you

A lot of the blogs featured here are also on my blog roll. Google’s page rank is in a nutshell about who you link to and who links to you. There’s no need to be cheap about outgoing links. I pass them out like candy in my link blog.

Usually there’s some back and forth with comments after reading each other for a while. Sounds like a weird mating ritual. A lot of times the blogs you like will link to other blogs that also happen to be blogs you like or will like.

At some point you or the other end up adding a link to your blog roll and the other side reciprocates. This is a great way to share link love because both sides benefit (especially when interests overlap). You can even flat out ask for a link after you develop a rapport. Probably the quickest way to build up juice for when a Google pagerank update strikes.

Putting a Link on Your Social Network, etc.

A lot of people neglect to put a link to their blog or website on the profile page of whatever social network they use. Take twitter for example. You can easily add a link to your blog in the profile. It doesn’t have a lame “no follow” attribute (just yet) and they take care of adding links to other members in your network. Sure, it wont bring you loads of traffic but that’s not to purpose of link building. Link building is all about increasing your standing within the google search algorithm so that when opportunity strikes (you have a hot post on a hot topic), the search engines will give you added juice.

Submitting to Social News

Getting on Digg is hard and I mean really hard these days. However, submitting your stuff or getting submitted to social news sites usually comes with the door prize of good google juice.

Giving Away Software or Designs

A lot of open source developers and designers who give away wordpress templates and such easily get loads of link love. Probably the quickest way next to writing some seriously good content. It also takes a little talent.

Congratulations all around to my favorite blogs for finally getting some due recognition. Let’s see if traffic picks up a bit now that google shines a little brighter on us.

Now With More Google Juice

Looks like the Google update has hit the web. This compliments the work of content creators everywhere quite nicely especially some of the newer blogs I’m in the company of. I lucked out with 5/10 which is more than decent for a personal blog without really anything particularly outstanding about it. I still have to hustle to maintain this rank.

Nice to see a bunch of people I link to often getting the recognition they deserve as well. In my experience, the benefits of page rank are mostly intangible for the common blogger but will give you added juice any time sporadic traffic kicks in as you’ll come up higher in search engine results.

I’ve seen quite a few websites that make small posts about anything and everything over the course of years and gradually acquire a large following and strong google fu. They make good money too. I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford more than a bag of chips from the money I make on this blog but oh well…