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 Bluetooth Totem Pole

Bluetooth - FM Bridge

Bluetooth – FM Bridge v2.0

I’ve owned the Citroen for eighteen months now and for most of that time I’ve been plugging a strange contraption (above) into its cigarette lighter socket.  Like most modern cars the radio/cd player is highly integrated into the car’s systems, being used to display more than just the time and track on its remote display, therefore it’s not recommended (though not impossible with the right adaptor) to replace it.

Putting an aftermarket cd player would also spoil the lines of the dashboard so if I wanted to do more than play cds I had to come up with an alternative solution to playing my music from my phone through the radio.  First I tried a plug-in FM transmitted which worked well enough but it was a bit of a faff, plugging in various cables, next came a simpler FM transmitter that plugged directly into the top of the phone, powered by a splitter cable.  Better but not perfect – I want less cables.  I had a small bluetooth receiver and I could plug the transmitter into that, power both with a splitter and voila, bluetooth from the phone to the adaptor, FM to the radio.

Bluetooth - FM Bridge Mk1

Bluetooth – FM Bridge v1.0

Still not ideal though, it was a bit untidy – plus the button on the Bluetooth made it too easy to redial the last number used instead of switching it off.

Next, by chance, I bought a usb-powered bluetooth receiver (the white bit in the middle) from China on Ebay for a few quid.  After wondering why I’d bought it other than the fact that I thought it was a cool thing the lightbulb moment happened.  If I got a three-port car USB power supply I could plug a lead to the phone in, the USB Bluetooth Receiver and finally with a very short USB lead, the FM transmitter that plugged into the top of the bluetooth receiver. In one neat tower that plugs into the lighter socket I have everything I need.  I don’t have to switch this one on and off even, if it’s left in the socket it all comes on with the car’s ignition.

The phone is set up to automatically launch the music app and start playing music as soon as it detects and connects to the Bluetooth adaptor and I can control the volume of the radio from the steering wheel while swiping the screen to change tracks.

Now, of course, you can buy the same setup as a single device that attaches to your dashboard but it was still immensely satisfying to make something that did the job from these various disparate modules – all bought for a few quid each off Ebay.  The joy of tinkering is still with us.

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.

Hallelujah! The Return of the Nexus

Android

An Android

Thanks to two fantastic experts on the internet I have my Nexus 7 tablet running just like it did on Christmas day in 2012 when I got it. Woohoo.

The process of “downgrading” from the problematic (to put it politely) Android 5 Lollipop (not so much the sweet as the bitter medicine) to the much better version 4 (Kitkat – always preferred chocolate anyway) was, as described in most places, a pain in the neck requiring the use of the Android SDK, digging into long-forgotten MS-DOS territory of environment variables etc, and command prompts. The post I found linked to a document on Google Docs that the author (Techno Bill) had written which streamlined the process.

Having followed the instructions for collecting the required files in a folder on my PC’s C: drive, and eventually managing to install the necessary drivers, thanks to the second online saviour, I fired up a command prompt in windows and was taken back to my earliest days of PC computing – typing commands and seeing the remote device respond accordingly. It was, strangely, fun. Back to the old days, typing commands, like we had to once upon a time, as manually as you can without resorting to machine code.

A few commands and a bit of waiting later and I hit the return key on the last command of the actual process of flashing Android 4.4.4 back on it.  This was the no-turning-back point, if it worked all would be well, if not, I’d be off to Argos tomorrow to buy a new Samsung…

I have never been so pleased to see the old google animated flower type loading screen, or that old home screen (after the initial setup, naturally). Instantly I knew it was right again. Even as it started to update the default apps, and Gmail looked for all the unread email I’d ignored for the last few years, it was so much quicker – under Lollipop I’d have to wait half an hour before I could use it after switching on the WiFi but the re-Kitkatified (?) Nexus was flying within seconds.

Yet another example of the wonder that is the collective fount of knowledge that is the internet.  No more thoughts of buying a new tablet, the Nexus is back.

Get a Dashcam for Only £4*

Light Trails

Light Trails

(* plus one old Android smartphone, not included)

I only drive my car once a week, generally, when I visit my folks, twenty-something miles up the A1.  However, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “I wish I could have recorded that” after some idiot has done something daft and/or dangerous.

Dashcams have gained in popularity over the last few years, overcoming fears that people might take exception to being filmed while driving (ok, maybe that’s just my fear), due in part to the videos posted from russia of often spectacular footage of crashes and meteorites.  Of course, apart from the draw of gaining YouTube views the footage is handy for insurance or police evidence reasons in case of an accident.

I’ve looked at various options over the years and decided that I couldn’t justify the more expensive (better reviewed, supposedly better quality) ones and yet the cheaper ones seemed to get mixed reviews and needed to be powered from the car to work properly.  The problem with a wired cam for me is that my convoluted smartphone charging and combined Bluetooth receiver/FM Transmitter combo setup takes up all the USB charging ports I’ve got in the car.

Then a couple of weeks ago I had a revelation, via a Gizmodo UK article on reusing supposedly outmoded gadgets.

I have two smartphones, the older of the two Xperias being semi-retired after becoming brain-addled a few years back, lacking storage and running very slowly suddenly, for eighteen months it’s been a receive-only connection to my old phone number for texts from the network pleading with my to top up my credit.  But as mentioned in the article it could serve as a dashcam with one free app.

So off I went.  Firstly I turned sync off on  most of the Google services as I don’t want it downloading historical emails.  Next I deleted any apps that were never going to be used again (including, it seemed, the one that had caused its memory and speed issues – it’s like having my old phone back).  Finally I installed the CamOnRoad dashcam app and after a few settings tweaks to save the videos onto the SD card it was up and running.  Two advantages to this Xperia dashcam is a great camera and long battery life – it’s cordless!

The last part of the solution was mounting it on the windscreen.  The next day at the supermarket I found a £4 smartphone holder.  The first test showed this wobbled too much on the road but a simple block of rubber jammed between the dashboard top and the phone holder kept everything stable and free of seasickness-inducing motion.

The only other issue was finding the videos on the phone to copy to the computer but putting the phone in “pretend I’m a USB disk” mode (Mass Storage Mode to be precise) sorted that out – after much head-scratching and cries of “where the blazes are you hiding them?”  Or words to that effect.

I can also still use the old phone for one of the other tips in the article too – as a Google Play Music streaming device with either headphones or one of my many Bluetooth speakers.

Technology becomes seemingly outdated quickly today, the hardware can’t cope with new software, they run out of space, but if you can’t or don’t want to throw devices away or sell them then there are people coming up with creative and useful ways to give this tech a second life.

 

Rebooted Music – Buy, Buy and Buy Again?

Many CDs

Many CDs

Sometime in the early 2000s I bought an REM album, in a record store, and on the sticker on the case I saw the words “DELUXE EDITION” and made the mistake of not inspecting it closely. It turned out that the rest of the (much smaller) words on the sticker said “also available as a”. Hmm.

Since then I generally check if an album has a deluxe version at release but generally I don’t tend to buy albums until they’ve been out for a while, which is helpful these days.

The reason being the trend of artists (or perhaps the labels more accurately) releasing a deluxe version six months or more after the first release and expecting fans to buy the whole album again. Some bands do it right, releasing an EP after the main album and reissuing the original packaged with the extra tracks for those who are catching up but more often than not they don’t.

One noteable current example that is being commented on regularly on the radio station I listen to is Ed Sheeran’s “X” which I bought when it first came out, it’s now also available as a deluxe version and a deluxe-deluxe (Wembley) version too, with different extra tracks.  The same was true with both Ellie Goulding albums I have, there are many others I’m sure.

Our modern methods of listening to and buying music kind of makes this a moot point these days, you could just buy the extra tracks from Amazon, Google Play or iTunes, often for less than the deluxe CD but if you want to have the actual album in your hands it can get a bit pricey.

Once you’ve enjoyed an album it’s nice to be able to get just a little bit more but doing it that way, while benefiting the labels, is just going to be bad for the artists as even if the reissue isn’t their choice it’s them who often get tagged as being cynical money-grabbers.

Reclaiming The Evening

Fairground At Night

Fairground Lights

Another of the reasons my blog turned silent for eight months was the fact that I didn’t have time to write it.

There we go, that’s a good enough reason, so let’s move on.

No, actually, let’s not. The reason was that when I got home from work, by the time I’d eaten, by the time I’d watched two hours of TV repeats I then wanted to catch up on some online reading, and I felt tired, so I thought “I haven’t got time, and I can’t think straight” and I went to watch some more repeats on TV instead.

Seven hours passed like nothing and the next thing I know it’s the next morning. A couple of months ago I finally made plans to do something about the cycle of believing that I hadn’t got the time, or the energy. Firstly the tiredness; I bought a new mattress as I thought that the old one (creaking all the time, springs jutting into me) might be disturbing my sleep. The new one is much more comfortable and combined with cutting down on excess light (I tried blacking out the window first to no difference then moved a bedside clock-radio) has made a difference, I feel much less tired and more energised than before in the evenings.

I have been eating Bananas religiously in the mornings which has possibly helped, although getting better sleep has similar benefits for memory, concentration and creativity so it could be either. The other dietary change has been returning to something I used to love when I was younger – a piece of toast and marmalade at supper time (9pm) as such carbohydrates eaten in the late evening can improve sleep some studies have shown.

Finally I changed my behaviour; I told myself to always go home at five o’clock, don’t think “I’ll just sort this out now”. It’s a little thing but it makes me feel that my life is my own as I’m going home to do what I want to do when I want to not when the job lets me, it’s empowering. I’ve also learned not to worry about work issues which drains you emotionally and leaves you feeling mentally exhausted.

I then told myself that I do have time to do stuff in the evenings and proved it – rather than watching a repeated TV show while eating and then watching the whole thing, the mental equivalent of eating one chocolate digestive and then thinking “what the hell, I’ll finish the packet” I told myself to switch the TV off after I’d finished eating then get on with the online stuff – reading, writing etc. Starting earlier gives you a buffer and once it’s done you’ve still got two or three hours left and can even watch a new tv show or two and listen to music or read before going to bed. There’s even time for decluttering if you feel like it.

As I’ve learned that new experiences and learning new information, exploring new frontiers even in an intellectual way can help with cognitive function I’ve also made space in my day for watching the late evening news, something I used to avoid as I felt that I’d just forget everything I’d seen – the side benefit to this is it gives you topics of conversation, something else I always felt I lacked.

I’ve rearranged things too, making tomorrow’s sandwich at the same time as I’m waiting for dinner to finish cooking, and the same with washing pots still in the sink. It’s about efficient use of the time available and the more time you have left over the better you feel, your leisure time feels less like a high-pressure job and you can enjoy it more.

So, right now it’s 20:54 (GMT), I’ll just finish this off and go and get a slice of toast.  Goodnight.

TV Dinners

Pizza

Pizza

Earlier this year I experienced something that made me think about how we appreciate food. I tend to watch TV while eating meals, I have done for many years and on this particular evening I was watching The Worlds Most Dangerous Roads while eating a pizza, suddenly I realised that the pizza had pretty much disappeared. I didn’t remember eating it, by which I mean I didn’t remember what it was like.  I did, however, remember the TV programme.

I realised that because I’d been concentrating on the events on-screen my mind had simply allowed the eating to be done autonomously, as though it were simply food for survival rather than enjoyment.  I felt distinctly disappointed as it was a kind of food I like to taste and savour.  For some people the TV is more important than enjoying food but not me.

There are restaurants where you eat in the dark and when I first heard about the concept, about how it enables you to appreciate the food more and experience all the nuances of flavour fully without even the distraction of seeing the food I thought it was just a fad, until the lost pizza.

Perhaps this is why we enjoy food more in restaurants or outdoors, whether it be a bacon cob or a picnic, with fewer distractions.  TV is often a constant stream of events, taking your full attention as opposed to having it on in the background, or listening to music, or having a conversation with family or friends at the dinner table like we used to – all of which let you pay attention to everything in turn, including the food in front of you.