July 21, 2006

Short one today (aggregators and time)…

Posted in GTD, Mac Software, Procrastination at 1:40 pm by a11en

Just a short post for today… a bit of a productivity hint here and kudos go out to Bloglines. I’ve recently started using Bloglines as an online aggregator. (I wanted some sort of simple aggregator to pass through geektool, but for now, bloglines and their simple unread web-notifier api will work for me…) I hate to say this, but it really helps free up some of my time. I tended to surf to various pages with RSS feeds (a number of blogs as well as productivity sites), and perhaps surf them a number of times, only to find them not updated yet. I guess I sort of enjoyed this mind-numbing surfing, not realizing it was taking me too much time. Now, with the firefox extensions installed, or my geektool notifier running, I’m less likely to worry about the sites I like to read, and concentrate on other things. It’s one less “goof off” time-waster when I’m trying to avoid my work (procrastination). Kinda like the fact that it’s no longer a time sink now. 🙂

So, if you haven’t tried some sort of aggregator, you should check one out- either web-based or computer based, it might save you some time- allow you to enjoy the sites you like to read, yet free up your time so you don’t keep checking 5 sites over and over again. 😉

Future posts that I’m working on for you:

  • How to liberate those underlined and exclaimation-pointed sections in those books you read so that they can feed your work on a daily basis.
  • Esterbrooks- a woman’s backyard stream, or an everyday man’s pen?
  • And at some point in time, a bit more on changing the face of graduate education and a Now Habit procrastination update. BTW, the Now Habit is absolutely superb. I’m totally loving that book. I hope to sometime have an outline overview of the book posted, but I may have to contact the author just to ensure I can post it in full. I’m around 3/4 of the way in at the moment, and it continues to change my view of my work, and motivate me.

BTW- Some kudos goes out to the creators of FlexTime. A promising young application for more advanced and easily created alarms. I use it to feed my 10+2×5, or 10-minute dash hack (see my previous procrastination posts). (Add applescript ability [both in and out], multiple triggers for a single alarm event- along with scripting triggers, or perhaps shell-script triggers- and you’ll have a very interesting program there! As well, a minimization or transparent running clock window which floats above all applications so we can see events if we want, would allow me to hide it and still keep track of my time.)

July 18, 2006

The “Wet” Shave

Posted in FountainPens, Pipes, shaving at 3:55 pm by a11en

So, for ages I’ve been toying with the idea of doing wet-shaving. A bit of background as to where this was coming from…

Something about the old way of things intrigues me. Perhaps it’s just my limited experience:

  • Pipe smoking is just fantastic- if you’re gonna smoke, for the love of God, please smoke a pipe- everthing else is just ick (or a cigar- both of these are much much better for you than smoking cigarettes into your lungs). I’ll have a page on pipe-smoking in the future when I get some time. (For now I’ll assume that most of you won’t be interested in this.)
  • Handkerchiefs– ok, before you guys go ape-crazy and say: “That’s disgusting!”- have you ever pulled a tissue out of it’s box and seen particles fly all over the place into the air? When the voices in my head talk to me- they say that this is all part of the grand scheme to make me purchase more tissue, ’cause I always sneeze after using ’em. 😉 Normally, I figure it’s just too expensive to keep the powder out of the box during manufacturing. Let’s just say it’s so much better to use cloth than powdery paper. The trick is to buy lots and change them out every single day, so you’re always with a fresh hankie that isn’t nasty as hell. 😉 ‘Cause honestly, without a cold, how often do you use a tissue?
  • Fountainpens– are smoother and more enjoyable to write with than any of the ballpoint pens, gel ink or not. Not to mention there’s a huge array of amazing ink colors, and even the option to scent the ink for writing romantic love letters to your muse. Don’t even get me started on vintage pens, and proper paper…
  • Hats as umbrellas– Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, we’ve missed wearing hats. I don’t wear mine all the time, but to keep the sun and rain off your head, out of your face, a hat is an excellent thing. I’ve been in downpours, and between my hat and my teflon-coated barn-jacket, I’m dry as a bone. Everyone else is running for the hills when the rain starts. I just mosey down the sidewalk enjoying the rain: cool mother nature’s shower.

So, the things of old appeal to me for some strange reason. Weird, I know, because in the past I loved everything super-tech- hell, I have a Roomba for gosh sakes. 😉

Now, where was I?- Oh yes- If you think of luxury in a man’s bathroom, you have to somewhere see the badger bristle brush for shaving. It’s a classic. What person hasn’t seen a man’s brush and mug used in a movie for a shaving scene? So, for a long time I’ve been thinking about the “wet-shave”. When I saw a Burt’s Bee’s man’s shaving soap on sale one day at Wild Oats, I snagged it, and shoved it in the back of my cabinet. Then finally this week, I was purchasing some items for Chel at the local Walmart of all things and saw a “natural” bristle brush for like $5. Now, this is definitely not a badger brush- likely it’s boar’s hair. Luckily, a natural bristle is better than plastic bristle. So, I’m up there, but down in the fact that it’s gonna be a very rough brush and not hold as much water as badger.

So last night, I tried it out. I started by moistening my beard- did this by using a washcloth with hot water, held to the face for at least a minute… then washed my face with a good soap. Next I moistened again, and started my work with the brush. With a light hand and circling the brush on the soap, I could work up a nice lather. Definitely wetter and lighter than normal foam shaving cream. I worked the brush in little light circles on my beard, and ensured I had a nice lather on my face before shaving. With hot water in the sink, I proceeded to shave. I have to say it was an interesting experience!! I noticed the difference immediately. I got a very close shave. Much closer than I normally do. I tend to use higher-end cream shave foam and it just didn’t even come close to how smooth my face was when this shave was over. This afternoon, my face is as smooth as it normally is when I shave with a shave foam/gel. So it appears I got an extra 12 hours on my shave. Time will tell, however, if this is true, but, I’m sold. Next up is to try and find a great badger brush and try out some wonderful lavender soap. I’ve heard some wonderful things about Vulfix brushes, and being that some of my relatives were from the Isle of Man, I suspect I’ll be getting one sometime very soon.

For more info on the wet-shave:

Finally, some thoughts: I’m starting to wonder if in the race to achieve bigger, better, faster- we’re slowly losing sight of doing things “well”. Or perhaps Pirsig would say, doing things with “Quality” [2]. We’re so hell-bent on getting ink to paper, that we neglect our handwriting and enjoyment of nib on paper, use pens that lack a range of color that used to be standard, and come in throw-away plastic tubes ready for our consumption. We run from place to place in the rain instead of donning a hat, we don’t share a clean hanky with a lady who might need it as a gesture of care, and we don’t really care how we get the job done of shaving, as long as it’s quick and painless ’cause “we’re late for work.” We’ve also lost a bit of that old politeness that seems to take so long these days. I’ve heard all sorts of stories (from friends) of children disrespecting adults (especially surrounding the smoking issue)- horrible behavior completely foreign just 30 years ago. Now, I know it’s dangerous to yearn for the days of old, especially since they lack air-conditioning <yikes>, but- I think we’re loosing sight of some of the good things. Surely we can have both time saving devices and good things? Perhaps a few of these old good things that take time will actually help us slow down and enjoy our lives a bit more? 🙂 Maybe we can regain some of that “now-ness” for the things we’re about in our day to day lives: reminding us that living is a good thing- that we should enjoy it. What better way than to start our day with a bit of luxury in a wet-shave?

July 14, 2006

Parker “51” finally purchased…

Posted in FountainPens at 6:30 pm by a11en

Finally I have the pen which is possibly the most lauded pen in history: a Parker “51”. (the quotes are part of the copyrighted name) The Parker “51” was introduced into the USA for sale in 1941. Original pricing was at $12.50. Nice price eh? Hell, I’ll buy 50 of ’em… oh wait… that was 1941. In today’s economy, the pen’s base-price (without frills) would be approx. $165.00. Now, that’s not cheap!! The Parker “51” was not the everyday man’s pen. The Esterbrook was much more the common-man’s pen. A great pen in its own right. I’ll have a post in the future on Esterbrooks. [Historical currency calculator.]

The design and implementation of the “51” was a step beyond most pens of it’s era. Starting with the barrel of the pen, made from Dupont’s new Lucite material (polymethylmethacrylate), the same material adorning the canopies of World-War II’s fighter planes and bombers, the pen was a departure from most common designs. A hard and easily polished material, the Lucite material allowed Parker to place a highly volatile (and somewhat corrosive) ink into the pen. As well, with a covered nib and enclosed collector section, this volatile ink was kept inside the pen effectively, allowing for the excellent ink-capacity to stay put. The volatile ink allowed for an immediately useable paper after writing.

A number of parts on the “51” are machined (likely by hand?): the clutch band- a nice slim three-banded ring right above where your fingers hold the sleek pen, the inner lucite threads that hold the pen together, and the finned internal collector (surely there are more, these are just the ones I know of). The nib also used more 14k gold than most of the nibs on the market. Even the cap was an innovation: the clutch system ensured the cap would not fall off, and the inner-cap sealed to the tip of the pen when capped, ensuring that the ink would not evaporate. The result was an easily capped pen, which was very secure and ink-safe.

One of the advantages about the “51” in terms of vintage users and collectors is that they sold very well. They’re quite easy to find, but prices are climbing a bit as collectors are re-finding this great pen of their father’s or grandfather’s age. As well, a newer version of the pen, beginning in 1948, the Aerometric filler (or Foto-fill) system was so good that often vintage Aerometric “51”s rarely need much to get them working. A good water-wash, and you’re in pretty good shape. After 55+ years, finding a fountain-pen that works almost immediately is, quite simply, amazing. (A note to those who may not have heard of them yet- Pelikans often are in as good a shape- their piston fillers last for a very long time.)

The “51” that found its way to me, is a first-quarter 1949 Mark I Aerometric filler with black-body and “Lustroloy” cap (modest- likely the lowest priced “51”). Interestingly, my mother tells me that both my grandfather and my great-grandfather used the “51” all the time. It’s the pen she remembers them with. A gold cap and perhaps also an all-gold model (which is somewhat of a rarity, actually). So, I have a later/less-expensive version of something that was used daily by my relatives. As well, the pen was around when my grandfather on my father’s side was alive. (He passed at a young age after coming back from WWII. He was a POW for over 3 years in the same camp as the great-escape [1] [2] [3].)

My “51” has a much finer point than my Pelikan (it’s likely an XF), and writes a bit dry and was toothy, but with a little bit of work, it’s writing much better than when it first arrived. I’ve got it filled right now with a dark black Noodler’s Bullet-Proof Black to match the black pen-barrel.

Here are some links for Parker “51” information:

I’m learning how great it is to enjoy fountain-pens, and how much fun it is to work with them everyday- it makes you sit down at your desk and write much more than before. 🙂 Just remember: it’s not the coffee-cup, it’s the coffee. Now, go and start Getting Things Done!!

July 7, 2006

Procrastination Update

Posted in GTD, Procrastination at 11:38 am by a11en

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. I’m going to skip the University Mentorship discussion for another post when I have more time (please let me know if you came here specifically for that discussion and I’ll try and post it quicker).

Procrastination Update

Last time I posted on Procrastination, I mentioned the book “The Now Habit”. I’m now about half-way through the book, and I can definitively say that the first-half alone is easily worth the price of the book. I want to share some concepts with you regarding the book, but wish to ensure I’m not putting in too much from it. However, I strongly recommend the book for anyone who is currently having difficulty with procrastination, as it has described my problem to a T, and also promoted solutions which should positively influence my work. Let me run down some basic ideas in the book, perhaps with a bit of my own explanaitions.

  • There are a number of reasons that people procrastinate:
    1. Gain power over a situation you feel you have no control over. This is likely what happens when you are given a task to complete – one which you abhorr. To punish those who gave you the task, you may use procrastination as a subtle way of exerting power.
    2. Avoid failure. If you have before you a huge task which you know is critical in some way to your advancement, or progress, quite possibly you have serious fear of failure. The way you attempt to avoid this failure, may be procrastination. If you simply don’t do the task, or wait until the last second- you either (i) fool yourself into thinking that you can avoid the failure (even though non-completion is a priori a failure) (ii) do the task in such a short time that you avoid the self-criticism by explaining that you couldn’t possibly achieve a good work in such a short time.
    3. Avoid Success. Often we are not really afraid of failure, but afraid of success! What if we actually were to accomplish this? We might have to move, find a job somewhere new, actually ask that girl to marry you, or move on to a larger perhaps scarrier task, or even a new big office with bigger responsibilities!
    4. Some things resolve without our work. Often a conflict will resolve with more time before being confronted, or perhaps an option in the choice will simply cease to be available after a time-period. We’ve all been there… if you ignore the task long enough it actually might go away.
  • Paying attention to how we spend our time can often highlight our procrastination. This is a difficult task to accomplish, but it can really help you to see how your time is spent. Simply track your time for a number of days. Doing this may highlight to you exactly how little or how much is spent on important tasks. Sometimes things we feel are not work, actually are in some manner- those correspondences, etc., which are required. Careful attention to your time can help you track these things.
  • Watch the times you procrastinate. Highlight those times when you know you are procrastinating. Write them down! Track them! What is causing you to procrastinate? What are you feeling when you procrastinate? This is the first step to changing your actions- you need to trigger your awareness to when you’re procrastinating and highlight your feelings which are causing the procrastination.
  • Turn negative speech/thought patterns into positive productive patterns. The “I should”‘s, “I have to”‘s, “I have to finish”‘s and “This is a huge task”‘s are really negative self-deprecating speech patterns. Notice these and turn them into “I choose to”‘s, “When can I start”‘s, “I can take one small step”‘s. And an important one: the “It must be perfect”‘s must be changed to “I can be human”. I’ve been doing this recently, and it’s amazing how much this can turn around our ability to work. When you realize that you can be human about your task, start small and imperfectly, and choose to either work or accept responsibility for not working, you will begin a huge change in your psyche and how you view your work.

I’ll add more as I come to it. But for now, watch those procrastinations- many of us are aware of them. For me, they turned into mini-depressive episodes where I knew I should have been working, but I didn’t for whatever reason- (see above). That sadness merely increased my lack of self-worth and belief I would fail in my task(s) and self-fed the procrastination. See why I wish to be rid of this? 🙂 Ultimately, this is why confrontation is rarely helpful. This utlimately is a psychological issue that I feel can be improved or solved by awareness and positive thinking and positive choice-making. Empowerment through the “I chose to”‘s, “I can take one small step”‘s, and “I can be human” can really improve one’s ability to get the job done.

To bring the discussion back around to GTD- the “next-action” list can be seen as a the “one small step” you can take instead of the Huge Looming Project. In fact, that’s almost the very definition of the next-action. Project-folders allow that Huge Looming Project to become merely a container of your smaller items for that project. Seen as list-items which can actually be done, a large project takes on the true nature of a project able to be completed. Those small next-actions are things that are easy to “choose to do” or choose not to and face the consequences. And remember, we’re human… small imperfections allow us to advance our knowledge and ability to do our work. We learn from them. There’s no way to not have them- they come with the territory after all. Trying to accomplish some huge looming important project perfectly is going to be impossible. A house is built one step at a time. So should your project. Break down the tasks into next-actions, and choose to get started on even just one. Before you know it, that project will be well on its way!

A small addition to finish- I’ve found that my graduate school experience (with a poor manager as my first Prof. who learned old-school management techniques of pitting coworkers against each other and fear-mongering) essentially lowered my own opinion of myself. I came from school with a strong sense of self. I may not have been excellent in my undergraduate work (at least not to my liking), but I had come from various successes in my past- one of a dozen in the nation in fact. Unfortunately, the lack of mentorship and proper management both personal and work-oriented led to the brunt of students in this particular group being completely disenfranchized with their degrees. We all became a$$holes, and b*tches… why? We were in war. The war of trying to obtain our degree under extreme circumstances. You could see it in the eyes of those who were close. They put aside their own morality, did whatever the boss asked of them, even accepted personal affronts from him/her all in the hopes of obtaining that elusive and all-glorious degree. Sad to see, honestly. I think this ultimately fed my procrastination. I determined that I would never become that. I have been semi-successful on that front, but I have done so by feeding an attitude which clearly wasn’t supportive of the wonderful world of scientific discovery I had loved as a child. Experimentation, working with my hands, enjoying the wonders of God’s creation and learning of how they worked, was what fed me when young. This has turned into the drive to obtain my degree- forgetting the child-like nature of the unformed-block. There is a strong link here with procrastination and the concept of discovery and play. Next post will be about this. The good news? I’m learning to relearn. 🙂 It’s a joy to discover again. By letting go of this insane desire to obtain a degree, I now focus on my actions and learning what I need to learn, and the degree will come, or it won’t come, I could care less. 😉 Well, I care, surely, but it isn’t “me”. Hell, we’ve all seen “Dr. Idiot”… who cares if he’s “Dr.” eh?

Next up: Parker “51” finally finds its way to me, and more Procrastination updates if I have time to work on them. 🙂