Archive for January, 2006

Every Minute of Every Day.

January 31, 2006

This is something I frequently discuss, but it is a core concept to me.  How much of your day should a person plan? How much of a day should one spend doing productive activities? Can one always be happy with what one accomplishes in a given day? It has always seemed to me that if one could organize every waking hour of the 16 daily hours available, one could achieve nirvana or at least finally cross a few things off the to do list! I am only able to do this once in a while, although I try every day.It doesn’t take much math to figure out how finite time is: in my case, 12 hours per day are devoted to work or work related activities. The 32 hours one gets on the weekend often require more planning. Thus of the 112 hours of waking hours one has per week, non-work related time for me constitutes upwards of 52 hours (not including work related project to do over the weekend). 46 % of a 7 day week is non-work related.

So if one wants to get something accomplished, either in one’s personal life or professionally, one has to make time to do it. The only way to make time that I know of is by organizing it. And of course there is that old saying: “Never say you don’t have enough time…You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”

Enya self-abuse.

January 30, 2006
So on a lark and kind of with a measure of an inclination toward self abuse, I put in Enya on the Pandora site and let it play. I figured it would just play Enya. How many other bands could be like that? Turns out there’s quite a few. 

It did play a fair amount of Enya, but it also played the following:

Haley Westenra
Jade Redd
This Mortal Coil
Secret Garden
Faith and the Muse
Mike Oldfield.

I might just have some brain damage from this, but I actually liked Faith and the Muse. This site is going to be the musical death of me.

Cool Music Recommendation Site.

January 29, 2006

I’m kind of late to the game on this as it has been out there for months now.  I found out about it on the woot forum, but it’s been discussed a lot.  Pandora is a music referral site.  You enter in a song or an artist and it will play songs similar in musical structure to it.

Pandora is stunningly awesome. It’s one of those open-mouth “wow” web experiences that makes you glad to live in these times.  Most of the times it gets it right.  You have to be open minded, though, based on its recommendations.  I have discovered that I am now a Shakira fan.  I’ve also found out that Incubus has at least one song I can listen to.  

The sound quality is very listenable too. This will help me a lot when I use my radio station feed capture software. The problem with that program is that you can capture thousands and thousands of songs, but it’s difficult to know what you like from the new stuff. By combining Pandora with this radio software, I now have a list of songs I can “mine” from radio collection. This, in turn, will help me buy cds.Computers make terrific “wheat from chaff” separators. I wonder if there is something like this for food or cars or clothing? If you like X, you’ll like Y. I know Amazon has it’s thing, but that hasn’t been a real wow sort of experience for me yet. It helps if the recommending web site doesn’t actually sell the product. A program that does this has to have a great deal of skill and integrity. It would be very easy, for example, to create software that simply parrots back the inventory that the business has to sell without regard to actual interest matching.

Pandora does actual matching better than any software or website I’ve seen to date.

Robot Pets.

January 27, 2006

I was going to write about robot pets today but it turns out that it’s a popular topic. So I’m still going to write about them, but I’m going to take it in a little different direction. There is a lot of derivative material out there, after all. You can’t read five tech sites without getting a little overflow. This past week, I was going to scream if I saw another story about the comet dust collector. It’s just dust, people. We got dust off the moon by the pound.  I’ve got years of dust in my office they can have– for free!  We’ve got meteors all over Antarctica. It’s all the same stuff! Ok, anyway, robot pets.I want a Scooba really bad. I mean I want it like Ralphie wanted his Red Ryder BB gun, but I don’t think it will cost me an eye. That’s what I want for my next robot pet.  I want to watch it scrub my tile while I sit back and smugly watch work being performed of which I am not a part. 

I already have the first Robosapien and the Robo-Raptor. It’s fun to make them fight, but they don’t do much cleaning.  When they battle, Robosapien is a wuss who keeps saying “Ouch!” but then sometimes he gets the Raptor in a head lock.

See you can do things with robot pets that you just can’t do with real ones. Cock fights are illegal in my state. Robot pets can fight all day long with nary a complaint from the Animal Protective League.

Moreover, and more to the point, robot pets do not poop. Waste management is a HUGE issue with real pets. Real pets poop all the time! Cleaning up after them is a significant part of the whole living pet experience! Not so with robot pets. No poop and when you are done playing with them, they go up on the shelf or in the closet until you are ready to play with them again… or use them to scrub your floor.

I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine.

January 27, 2006

Why I have this lyric from the song “One night in Bangkok,” I have no idea. It’s a meme that entered my head a month or so ago. Maybe it’s trying to tell me something. Maybe it’s saying that as I hit the flaccid benchmark of middle age this year, I should take up new pursuits. To really follow the song, I should start studying chess and hanging out in coffee bars and playing the game with a timer. Chess isn’t really my bag, though. That’s not to mean that I can’t do Iris Murdoch. I can be a severed head with the best of them!

There are plenty of middle age pursuits to study. Reading, movie watching, computers. Hmmm, funny, but I’ve done those my whole life. Maybe I need to do more of them. Getting ones kicks mentally to me is just becoming lost in the universe of thought. It is embracing hours of contemplation. It is logically working through life and making peace with how you live your days. Mental kicks have their draw. It is less a siren song than a rocking lullaby. But it can be intense too. When I am seized by an idea, when I am so in the mental zone of resolving a metaphysical challenge in life, there is an enduring sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that is superior to all else. I suppose if I could cultivate that experience, I wouldn’t have any need for any lesser, physical expression. I would achieve the ideal.

Funny, though, when I’m playing computer games but lack the partner of a real life problem to solve, I get a similar feeling. It’s more solo focus, though. Contrasted with the mutuality and demands of actual existence, the computer game experience is merely cerebral self-gratification. Not that one should dismiss mental onanism out of hand, so to speak. That can be fun too.

The new Lego Mindstorms NXT 2006 looks pretty cool.

January 25, 2006
In this month’s Wired magazine, there’s a good article on the new NXT 2006.  

Here are some pics:

It is easier to use than the earlier versions and has a lot more flexibility. Highlights include a 32-bit processor and a USB 2.0 interface. The programming language has been made easier to use as well. Purists might object to the use of technic blocks, but I think it’s cool.

Lego solicited viewpoints from many users in coming up with the final product.

I remember my experience with the very first version (which I still have). I made a few robots and a trebuchet. I had fun with it, but I was spending too much time messing with it when I had other things to do. Eventually, I moved on.

Lego might pull me back with this one. Now they just need a way to put more hours in my day for playing with their stupid little bricks!

I didn’t know that about Horatio Alger.

January 24, 2006
I’m reading The Know it All by A. J. Jacobs. He reads the Encyclopedia Britannica and comments about it in his book. It’s very witty and generally an enjoyable read. One of the themes he discusses is that he finds out things in the Britannica that he doesn’t really want to know. This was the case for me when he mentioned Horatio Alger. I had always known of Alger for his “Poor Boy Makes Good” themes. 

Well, apparently, making good wasn’t all that the poor boys were doing for Mr. Alger! It adds entirely knew meaning to the titles of some of his works such as “Tattered Tom” and “Ragged Dick.” He is still very popular despite his activities; there is even a society named after him and unfortunately other things. I’m sorry. It totally destroys my view of this guy. I want to unknow it. I want some extra strength, high grade mental floss.

A Timewaster’s Lament

January 22, 2006

My mind is probably on motivation lately because I have very little of it. At my best, I can take a big block of time and work in a focused manner like a laser. At my worse, like today, I can figure out fifteen million little ways to squander my waking hours. So now I am experiencing what my dear friend calls productivity guilt.I have no doubt that tomorrow morning, (after I check woot), I will spring back into my energetic, positive self and start accomplishing things again. Until that happens, I sit here and engage in work-like tasks which provide no one with any economic benefit whatsoever.

I know what it is. I’ve become addicted to the stress of the deadline again. Real life pressure and consequences of not finishing that which must be done always gives me adrenaline induced focus. It’s the risk that this time I might not actually make the deadline that makes it exciting, I guess. This leaves me today with nothing accomplished except feeling plenty of ennui.

I think back to a younger version of myself who squeezed more into his 16 hours of daily life than I accomplish now in three times that span. But then again, he was just a skinny, dumbass kid.

The Big Lebowski versus Howard Roark.

January 22, 2006

How much motivation does one receive in one’s life.  Do we all have in us supreme motivation right out of Ann Rand with the power to stop (or start) “the motor of the world?”  Does that same person have the capacity to spend his time unemployed and at a bowling alley every day?  Certainly all of us know someone who is chronically unemployed.  The intense, world-beater type is just as rare, if not moreso.  Then there are the rest of us.  But is it genetic to slack?  Can we help it if we overachieve?  Does it really come from within?  People can change.  It is possible for a guy who normally wears a white shirt to work every day to suddenly start wearing color.  Just add the right woman.  So it goes for the slacker too.  What’s the old song lyric from “Guys and Dolls?”

When the lazy slob gets a good steady job
And he smells from Vitalis and Barbasol
Call it dumb, call it clever, ah but you keep on forever,
That’s a guy that’s only doing it for some doll, some doll, some doll,
That’s a guy that’s only doing it for some doll.

The real rocket fuel in human activity is sexual attraction.  This is the strongest motivation of all.  So arguably you can turn The Dude into an objectivist super-hero with the right girl.  She’d have to be an awfully special girl though.  Now this flies in the face of all Rand’s stuff because her heroes did what they did because they were gifted and they were internally compelled to express their gifts.  Yes, they found equally heroic loves, but the love wasn’t the motivation.  I say bollocks.  In real life, motivation is just sex called something else. 

Is Wikipedia a Sucker’s Game?

January 20, 2006

Imagine that you are the world’s foremost expert on ant farms. You know everything there is to know about them.  You have studied them for years. So you write the article on Wikipedia about ant farms. At first you spend hours on it. Then you spend days. You are pleased with your result and indeed, it is good. A week goes by and you notice that your ant farm article has been edited! It’s not been defaced, it’s been made better. You are somewhat unsettled, but you tell yourself, that’s the point, right? Two weeks go by and your article is unrecognizable. It’s much more thorough, but it’s been rewritten so many times now that it’s hard to tell that its better, but it’s easy to tell that it’s no longer your work. You realize you have something in common with the ants that move their sand around in their little farm.People who use Wikipedia get a huge benefit. They get fairly accurate material on a huge variety of topics fast and for free. But the cost of the work is worse than the best sweatshop. Hundreds of people may put thousands of man-hours into an article only to see their work revised away from them. It is akin to shoveling snow and folding clothes and washing dishes. The work is never done and there is never a concrete result that lasts for any meaningful period of time.

This is not to say that Wikipedia is bad, far from it. I use it frequently. However, I wonder about the people who give their time to it. If you have Buddhist tendencies and you get satisfaction from the doing rather than ownership and tangible results, then contribute away, my friend, that site is for you! But if you want your work to remain your own; if you want to create something personal and enduring, stick to sculpture, blogging and copyrighting your work.