Archive for the ‘Interesting’ Category
There is a growing community of folks who prefer, to varying degrees, analog tools, such as pens, paper, and pencils. Lots of people are sharing ideas, be it Sketchnoting, Bullet Journals, and blogs such as The Cramped or, appropriately enough Write Analog. I have several hypothesis as to why. It may legitimately be a way some folks can think and focus. I know I have those tendencies. As with distraction free text editors, for some people, obsessing over tools is a good way to feel like you are getting something done while avoiding the task at hand. Finally, some folks simply enjoy old-school office supplies, and, in a world which is increasingly paperless, want to find a way to use these tools in their day-to-day work, rather than simply admire them.
However, much of my life these days tends to exist in the digital realm. I know my Outlook inbox has a lot of mail in it, in part because it has an attachment or link to a SharePoint that I need to access. I keep both my professional and personal calendar online, and occasionally make a pass at getting the whole household on one system. Much of the information I generate tends to wind up stored as ones and zeros.
This spills over into my journals and notepads. My handwritten activities often bounce between things that come from my head (which is put on paper) and things online that relate to it. For instance, something I read in a blog post will spawn an entry in a journal. Or, I might take a digital photo of a whiteboard that I want to associate with the notes (but, at the same time, share with my team). Creating these connections is the challenge of analog tools in a world that want to be paperless.
Most of these sorts of things are either conventional web posts, or stored “in the Cloud,” using SharePoint, Evernote, or other cloud storage options such as Copy or OneDrive. What all these things have in common is the ability to point to something with a uniform resource locator, or URL. You may know this as a “web address.” This blog, for instance, is https://mrguilt.wordpress.com. That one is fairly simple, and could be written down in a notebook fairly easily. But, when you start to get to specific items, it gets long. The URL for my post about the Riverbanks Zoo is https://mrguilt.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/riverbanks-zoo-and-garden-in-columbia-south-carolina/. While relatively long, it is clear what it points to.
However, you have to write down the URL exactly for it to work, and then type it into the address bar of your browser exactly for it to work. URLs can be tricky this way. Evernote is a good place to stash a picture of a whiteboard. However, a share URL from there is quite cryptic: http://www.evernote.com/l/AAFdTwhp225H97wlIADxiTP3CJWPZiBVCfY/–and one wrong character (even the wrong case) can throw it off. Microsoft SharePoint is commonly used to store and share files in the corporate world. However, its URLs are even longer and more challenging: https://services.bigcorp.com/sites/Portal/Office/Division/Shared%20Documents/Data%20Center%20Space%20--%20Cincinnati,%20Ohio/A%20Subdirectory%20Power/Really%20Important%20Spreadsheet%202015.xls. There is no way this can make its way reliably into the analog word, much less the return trip.
There are a few products out there that try to bridge this gap. One example is the Quo Vadis Multimedia Enhanced journal. I won one over the summer, and played with the system a bit. The basic journal is nice. Mine is just shy of US letter size, and filled with Clairefontaine paper–the same used in my beloved Rhodia pads. This means it is great paper, and the very definition of “fountain pen friendly.” As a notebook, there is nothing to complain about.
What makes it unique is that, on each page, a QR code is printed. With a SmartPhone app, you can scan the code, and attach and view digital objects to the page. The objects can include video, audio, pictures, files, or links. The app is a bit quirky, with an awkward interface, and periods where I have to reset my password. It does an OK job capturing and storing items. Unfortunately, a code I scanned a few months ago doesn’t show up in my “library” (though scanning the code gets me to to item–strange). Also, it is somewhat of a dead end. I can’t share things out of it, and it doesn’t link to more common tools. I could muddle through with it, if the overall system held value.
There are other flaws as well. There is only one QR Code per page. On some pages, there may not be anything to link to, which, at worst, makes the QR Code meaningless. On other pages, I might want to make multiple links. Further, I’m tied into using that notebook, or ones like it. I couldn’t use other notebooks, nor can I tie it to other documents, such as a map or brochure. The pre-printed code doesn’t offer the flexibility you might need or desire for an analog/digital system.
There was a service called StickyBits that was a similar implementation of this idea, but enhanced the flexibility of the system. Rather than having the QR Codes pre-printed into a journal, you could either print or purchase stickers with the QR Code on them. When you needed to make a connection, you could put the sticker in your notebook, scan it with their app, and then create what you needed. At the time it was released, I didn’t really think through the utility: I played with it for a day or two, then let it fade. Unfortunately, it has since joined other Web 2.0 start-ups in, well, closing shop.
I actually started to consider building StickyBits on my own, doing some coding in Perl and HTML. It seemed like a major undertaking, and it’d be something just for myself–after all, one start-up already failed with this concept. It is a bit of a niche intersection of folks who use analog tools and digital tools and want to somehow create interoperability. Simply put, I had better things to do with my time.
Then, I read an article, “Connecting Your Paper Notebooks to the Digital Age,” which made me realize that I was out-thinking this. Rather than being dependent on the QR Code, it leverages a URL shortener, such as Bitly. By assuming that there is the same domain and server name (the http://bit.ly part), the shortened URL is written down with some demarcation (he uses greater than/less than symbols). The article suggests also underlining upper case letters for clarity.
Using this scheme, I would write “<1HGmax9>” in my notebook, and it would point me to the article that inspired this. The author suggests Bitly, as you can forward your own domain to it, but it doesn’t sound like a hard requirement, so long as you can use the same URL shortener. Multiple URL shorteners could be used with a different demarcation symbol–brackets could be used, for instance, for my company’s in-house shortener.
This scheme has several advantages. First, there is no need for a sticker or something printed on the page. You simply write it on the fly wherever it is relevant. This also means you are not tied to a specific notebook-or even a notebook. A Post-It, margin of a magazine, or any other relevant place can be used. The short URL frees you from having to use a specific application or a device with a camera. This is quite a flexible solution.
One other advantage is from other features of the URL shortener. Most URL shorteners can allow customization of the short URL. A meaningful title, such as “DataCenterMap” could be used. In addition to making it easier to write down, it makes it easier in other contexts. I have even been taking greater advantage of this in my emails that I don’t expect to wind up on paper, as I think it makes it more obvious what a given URL is for.
My quest to link my beloved pen and paper to the omnipresence of digital media has taken me from specialized tools to a very simply DIY approach. In doing so, I’ve come to the conclusion that this will be a niche interest, and each individual will probably find an approach that best suits them. I am doubtful that specialized products, such as the ME Journal, will find much success. But I have found that there are ways to achieve the end which offer the flexibility I desire in the analog world, and can extend their utility in the digital one as well.
For pretty much my entire adult life, I’ve been overweight, or even obese. I really don’t know what I weighed when I graduated high school, but, certainly by the end of college, my Body Mass Index (BMI) was over 25, likely over 30. I can find pictures from the late Nineties when it’s pretty obvious. Yet, my wife still married me when I looked like this (from 1998):
A family member had a double-bypass in 2001, which was the year after I started bike commuting. This got me thinking a bit more about what I ate. I stepped up my cycling, something I did half-hardheartedly since college. While I was 194 pounds for a couple months in 2004, pretty much, since then, I danced around 208 pounds, varying a bit depending on season, my attitude, stress, etc. This put my BMI just a hair under 30, the line between “overweight” and “obese.”
I had the best of intentions of dealing with it. I was very unhappy at work, so I allowed myself to stress eat. I knew what I should and shouldn’t eat, and how much. I just didn’t want to deal with it. Some level of depression and unjustified guilt kept me from riding as much as I probably would have liked. I kept telling myself: get a new job, then we’ll work on the weight.
There was part of me that was honest with myself. It’s easy to imagine that, if I were to get a new job, giving myself a pass “for a few months while I settle in.” Or some other excuse. Without admitting it, I had resigned myself to being 208 pounds, give or take, for the rest of my life. Change, after all, is hard.
Last spring, my wife started to leverage a few tools to try to lose weight. And, it worked very well for her. Work got a bit better, and I started to realize that I could not put my life on hold for a job hunt. A year ago today (September 26, 2013), I started to use her system, tweaked a bit for my preferences. It was right at the start of the “Renew the Zoo” campaign.
The tools centered, for me, around My Fitness Pal, where I logged everything I ate, and any exercise I did. I already captured a lot of information from cycling, so that went in there. A FitBit captured “incidental movement”–walking to and from the bus, at the grocery store, etc. As Fall turned to Winter, I got to the gym more regularly, doing videos from The Sufferfest. Pants became loser, then replaced. I started setting personal bests on the bike in February, a time when historically I lost strength.
In April, my BMI went under 25, moving from “overweight” to “normal” for the first time since…well, I couldn’t really tell you. I continued with the process, carefully weighing and tracking what I eat and exercising. What surprised me was that, while not “easy,” how quickly I adapted to cutting out a lot of the crap I was consuming. I still enjoy things, just that I’m more selective. I’m better about choices being “or,” not “and.”
A good contrast is below. On the left, a photo taken of me at the end of July, 2013. On the right, wearing the same shirt, is me in mid-July 2014.
As of last Saturday, I lost a total of fifty-five and a half pounds. I still have a bit more I want to lose, mostly so I’m more cleanly in the size pants I currently am wearing. However, I feel a lot better, both physically and mentally. I’ll continue to these tools, or ones like it, as I work to maintain my weight. This does not strike me as a problem. As we say in the Information Technology business, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This is simply a way I can manage my body better, giving me control. I hope to continue to make healthier choices, stress-biking rather than stress-eating.
It’s been amazing to see the change. The snowball effect of losing weight, eating better, and exercising more consistently has made me feel better. Even my daughter says I’m happier now. When I look at the results–pictures, bike logs, or scales–I can easily see why. It’s my hope I’m able to keep this moving forward, and sustain this.
Mo Heim, one of my friends at Cat in Water, recently gave a TED talk about her project, and how being foolish led to the adventure she has had. It’s more than just being courageous; it is, as Mo says, “knowingly not knowing what you are doing, and deciding to do it anyway.” There are a lot of things in life like that.
I like to think I’ve been, in this sense, foolish and succeeded. For instance, I quit a job and moved to Cincinnati, not knowing what was in store fore me. Eighteen years later, it has proven to be the best decision I’ve ever made.
“Making the foolish choice might just be the best decision you can make.”
I’m impressed by companies that give good customer service. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to it: you see chains that have a reputation for superior customer service, and mom and pops that act as though they are doing a favor by being open. At the end of the day, it comes down to the culture of the organization, rather than size.
Social media has helped a lot more companies respond to their customers a lot more quickly. The other advantage, I think, is that the companies are getting better insight not just to large complaints that can make or break a company, but little annoyances that probably wouldn’t change the relationship negatively. Social media allows companies to interact with individual customers, and on issues that they may not feel the need to escalate to them. I’ve experienced it many times myself.
The first time was a few years ago, when I was having trouble with my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. I made some grumbling on twitter–not that I saw it as Kitchen-Aid’s fault, but just an issue had to deal with. Within half an hour, I got a message from their twitter account asking for details. This lead to a phone conversation, which helped pin down what I was doing wrong. I don’t think I would have bothered to call on my own, and they wouldn’t have known there was an issue. But the fact that they could say “how can we help” definitely raised their esteem in my eyes.
This week, I had another incident. My disc-bound notebook is a blend of many companies’ products, thought the core is the Levenger Circa system. One Wednesday morning, I discovered the bottom-most disc had cracked in half. I have no clue how that happened, though I suspect it was somehow my fault. I noted that I’d need to go get a replacement, but, as is my way, griped about it on twitter.
Levenger noticed this, and inquired about it. I got the sense that it was a fairly uncommon occurrence. We exchanged a few messages, over the course of which they offered to replace the disc. By Friday afternoon, I had the replacement back in my notebook.
They certainly didn’t have to do that. They didn’t have to monitor twitter and respond to me. Any reasonable person could look at my broken disc and say that it was an accident that had nothing to do with Levenger. But the fact that they both monitor twitter, and were willing to replace my disc was definitely above and beyond the call, and makes me much more likely to do business with them in the future. I truly don’t think this would have come about in the absence of social media, and companies that know how to take advantage with it to interact with their customers on a one-on-one basis.
This month, scientists announced the discovery Panthera blytheae, the oldest member of the big cat family. The modern big cats include tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, and, by most accounts, snow leopards. It is snow leopards that Blythe’s panther, as it is know, is most closely related to. As you may recall, snow leopards make their home in Asia, which is where Blythe’s panther was discovered (Tibet, to be exact). This puts the origin of modern big cats in Asia, rather than Africa, as was previously thought.
Fossils of seven individuals have been found, dating back to around five million years ago. In contrast, saber-toothed cats such as smilodon, go back around two-and-a-half million years ago.
This is a fascinating find, and helps clarify how the cat family evolved. I’m particularly interested, as it now shows a relative of one of my favorite cats, the snow leopard.
There were two generations of kids who grew up in the Cold War. The first generation was the Baby Boomers, who were taught to duck and cover. Their parents built fallout shelters, and tried to figure out how to surive a nuclear war. I’m a member of the second generation, the children of the Boomers. We were a bit more fatalistic: if there was a nuclear war, we would likely not survive. I remember very animated discussions where classmates debated the dark question that lurked in every Gen-X mind: if there were a nuclear strike, was it better to run for the hills (and try to eek out an existence), or towards the blast, for a quick death?
Looking back, 1983 was perhaps the scariest year of the Cold War. Reagan took office in 1981, and started a weapons build up, ratcheting up the tension between the United States and its rival, the Soviet Union. In September of 1983, Korean Air Lines 007 was shot down, mistaken for a US spy plane. Later that month, a Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet air defence commander, came close to responding to an erroneous RADAR reading with a nuclear attack. The Soviets were convinced that the Able Archer 83 exercise was a prelude to a first strike, and made preparations for a response. That the Soviet Union would fall by the end of the decade seemed laughable.
I was twelve in 1983, when the movie “The Day After” was aired. It was billed as a relatively realistic telling of a nuclear attack on a college town in Kansas (a card at the end aparently noted the effects of the attack were downplayed for the sake of the story). It aired thirty years ago today, and, at the time, was quite the sensation. Toll-free numbers were set up for people who had concerns after the broadcast, and a panel discussion followed. President Reagan was even affected by it, changing his thinking on nuclear war. It’d be a stretch to say that this movie alone ended the Cold War, but it definitely help cool the fires that were burning.
I actually didn’t get to see it. My parents didn’t allow me, fearing it would give me nightmares. In the short term, they were probably right–it would have had a lot of immediate worry and sleepless nights. However, it also prompted me to read anything I could get my hands on about nuclear war and its effects. I’m not sure if it was comforting or troubling. Gradually, the obession faded, along with the threat.
I’m actually rather surprised that the thirtieth anniversary is not being marked in any way. I haven’t seen any articles on the web, much less an anniversary airing with a special explaining context. It just seems like other relics of the Cold War, everyone is content just to put it behind us.
I still haven’t seen the movie, aside from a few clips here and there. It pops up from time to time on SyFy, almost as a B-movie. Part of me still carries the worry of nightmares and panic. However, as it has moved from warning to a cautionary tale of what might have happened, I’m glad to let it be something so absurd as to seem like a waste of time.
It was announced that the genomes for tigers, lions, and snow leopards were sequenced. This helps scientists learn a lot about these cats, such has how a snow leopard can survive in high altitudes.
It was also determined that tigers and house cats share 95.6% of their DNA in common. If anything, I’m a bit surprised by how small that figure is. However, as I’ve often noted, it’s the diversity among the cat species–how a single platform has evolved a variety of capabilities–that fascinates me.
A post at Zen Pencils has a long quote from Bill Watterson, the cartoonist behind “Calvin and Hobbes,” illustrated in Mr. Watterson’s style. Not sure how to embed it (or if it’s even fair to do so), so click here. My favorite bit:
“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”
Mr. Watterson drew “Calvin and Hobbes” for ten years before simply walking away. He didn’t license it to other artists and staff it out. He said what he wanted to say, and moved on. Aside from calendars and collections, he never made deals for merchandise (just imagine all the babies who would have been given a certain stuffed tiger). He figured out what sort of life he wanted to live, and stayed true to it.
You have to admire that.
As I’ve mentioned, my house is over a hundred and twenty years old. It was built with a stone foundation–the basement looks like a dungeon in the right light. Stone basements, by design, “seep” moisture. For the most part, this is not a huge deal–we may get a bit of moisture around the edges of the room. However, if we get a lot of rain, such as we had over the week of the Fourth of July, it gets very wet.
This presents a few challenges. Since the cats’ litterboxes are in the basement, it makes it less-than-pleasant for them. My clever wife has kludged around the problem on occasion, but it wasn’t perfect. Also, since the clothes washer and dryer are in the basement, it makes it difficult to work–you can slip carrying down a full basket of clothes, and if you drop a sock going from the washer to the dryer, it’s not good. We’ve looked for a solution, but never found anything that was both functional and cost effective.
However, we were walking through IKEA last weekend, and came across the Platta decking. Meant for outdoor decks, it is sold in packs of nine one-foot squares. The squares snap together almost like LEGO, and can be rearranged. It was similar to other solutions we considered, but much cheaper. We guestimated the area that would cover a strip from the bottom of the stairs to in front of the washer and dryer, and got four containers.
Installation is fairly easy–as I said, you simply lay one square on the other. The bottom of the square has pegs that go into loops on the edge. There was an open box at IKEA, and we set up a floor in about two minutes to check out (which several other couples checked out as well). Setting up the four boxes took about fifteen minutes for the initial pass.
The four boxes covered the area we wanted, with some left over–we may reconfigure it, or possibly get another set to expand it. For a couple of reasons, I’m not keen to do the whole basement (a combination of cost, and wanting to be able to do work on the cement floor). However, it looks good. As of this writing, I can’t say how it will perform with serious rain–we simply haven’t had any (perhaps it will get mentioned in a hodge-podge). One thing I like is that I can pull the floor easily if it is causing a problem with drainage.
However, it looks like it may be a great solution to our basement issue, and perhaps the end to the cat bridge.