Don’t Use Your Mind

I have a table in my home that is not supposed to be cluttered. It’s a rule I have for myself, which I only occasionally break: Don’t put stuff on the dining table. Books and magazines belong elsewhere. Snail mail (can you even believe it still exists in 2013?) goes in a basket in the home office. Despite the rule, I recently found myself needing to clear off that table. The only way to do that is to remove things. Moving them around on the table does not help.

That table is a lot like Mind. Well, it’s hard for anything not to be a metaphor of Mind, but take my word for it. It’s impossible to solve problems with a cluttered mind. And you can’t solve problems with the same state of mind that created them.

David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, says that the main issue of a stressed out, non-productive life is the lack of bandwidth (table space) “… to be able to engage appropriately. Worse is that our creative energy is being used to fix and handle, remember and remind. We use our psyche to do this, instead of a system.”

Allen says, “Don’t use your mind to accumulate stuff and avoid it. Don’t use your mind to get stuff off your mind.” And, “Don’t keep anything in your head for the rest of your life.”

If I understand, he doesn’t mean don’t let certain things stay in your head that long. He means for the rest of your life, don’t use your mind for storage. It has better work to do. He says that our thinking has to be captured so that it can get out of the way of our problem solving or creative efforts.

“Capture your thinking. Get it out of your head. Anything and everything that is potentially meaningful – big or little – write it down.”

It seems I am constantly encountering people who are stressed out by problems but have no system for dealing with them. They have a mess to clean up but no space to work on the mess. Their mind is full of everything they need to keep remembering and there’s no bandwidth left for problem solving.

The worst part is when they blame the table for the mess that’s on it. They blame technology. Their computer or their phone, that’s the problem. Modern life is too complicated. It was better when it was simpler. The forget that any system, whether it employs sticky notes or Evernote, requires some planning, practice, and maintenance.

Well I remember the days before computers, when the phone hung on the wall and had a dial. The people who could solve problems were the ones who knew where their tools were: shovels and wrenches, glue and scissors, and the first aid kit. A place for everything and everything in its place. And if you needed to learn something, it helped to know the Dewey Decimal System and how to use the index cards in the library. There was a system, and it was not accessed by memory or luck. It was not kept inside of anyone’s head.

Ray Kurzweil is a prominent futurist, author, and a lead engineer at Google. He predicted the Internet, search engines, speech recognition, etc. He says that humans are becoming non-biological, that we are merging with our technology, and that our smartphones are extensions of our brains. So be it. Our forefathers had their parchments and notebooks. Da Vinci and Jefferson didn’t try to keep their projects in-between their ears.

We have better tools now. Whether what works for you is a desktop computer, a mobile device, a Moleskine and a pen, or some variety of tools, we all need a system to keep life from overwhelming us.  Even the humblest of intellects needs to prioritize their thinking to keep from overloading, stressing out, and teaching a colleague how to roshambo.

Since the invention of written language, Humankind has kept the bulk of its knowledge, wisdom, poetry, history, calendars, etc., in systems outside the damp confines of the brains of humans. They wrote stuff down. The difference now? We can carry it all – the entirety of amassed human information – around in our pockets. And Twitter too.

Right now, I’m thinking about these words and their best order. My Google Calendar knows when my doctor’s appointment is next week. I don’t. My technology will get me there, and remind me to pay my insurance bill and water the ficus in the living room, and what I’m supposed to pick up at the store. I’m not trying to remember it, is my point.

I hope you have a system that works well for you.

The next time someone asks me why I always have my phone, I’ll tell them it’s for thinking. I’m not playing bloody Angry Birds or laughing at grumpy cats. I’m thinking. Just like a notepad and a pen, this machine does mental work and is an extension of my consciousness. And someday, when I’m gone, you can download my consciousness into a Roomba, and I’ll quote T.S. Eliot while I vacuum the rugs.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown          
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

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Back in the Saddle

Well, I have my hard drive (HDD) replaced with a shiny new one, and Windows 7 installed and running. I’m almost finished installing all my favorite tools:

  • Scrivener for large creative projects.

  • WriteMonkey for writing text.

  • LibreOffice for professional – commercial – needs. (I haven’t decided about Microsoft Office yet.)

  • Dropbox.

  • Evernote.

  • Adobe Pro.

  • Chrome for the Web.

  • Miscellaneous antivirus and system tools.

I was very pleased that the OS installation took only about 20 minutes. My 2009 upgrade from Vista to 7 took at least an hour. And I remember installs of XP taking a lot longer than that. I once had to re-install 95, and it took half the night.

My first PC ran Windows 95 and the HDD was 6gb. My new disc is a terabyte – 1000gb – and I have another 1tb external drive. So here I have 333.3 times as much capacity. That’s something, huh? Progress … you gotta love it. Because we’ve all got a lot of stuff.

Ironically, I don’t think I’ll be storing much on the drive. I have about 80gb of music and podcasts I need to sync with the iPod, but everything else is in The Cloud now. I just think it’s funny that as we’re getting bigger drives for ourselves, we’re learning that keeping our files in a central location online just makes more sense.

I remarked to my family today that this might be the last monster of a desktop PC I need to have. The format of computers is changing drastically. I recently wrote a poem using Google Drive on my iPhone. I write rough drafts with my Nexus 7 pretty often now. … It’s a brave new weird.

Google Drive Storage Limit Leaked

I’m a big fan of Google. The Internet’s best search engine has grown into the world’s biggest and best advertising company, and in the process has come to offer all sorts of great stuff for us. Their brand features make a lot of what I do easier and more fun, with reliability that sets the industry standard.

Next up on Google’s long list of cool features is Google Drive, a new cloud storage/sync service and their answer to Dropbox and Box. Rumor has had it for a while now that Google would offer 2GB storage for free, the same as Dropbox but less than Box, which offers 5GB.

The rumor now – based on what is alleged to be a leaked screenshot of the impending product – is that users will each get 5GB free.

You can follow the link to see the screenshot. I’m not going to post it, because it’s copyrighted by Google, whether TalkAndroid puts their big watermark on it or not.

My first reaction on reading this was, “Oh boy, this is so cool!” because I love Dropbox. Through special promotions and referral bonuses I’ve gradually increased my limit from 2GB to 4. Having 5 more from Google would be sweet.

My second reaction was, “Wait a minute, how did this get leaked?” Assuming it’s real. It didn’t fall out of someone’s pocket or briefcase. It came from a computer. At Google. Where they keep a lot of my private stuff: email, calendar data, docs, etc. How does a leak like this happen at a place like that?

Either somebody at Google isn’t trustworthy, or Google leaked this on purpose for business reasons that elude me. Or it’s fake. In any case, it’s suspicious. Like something way back in the fridge, that just doesn’t smell right.

What do you think? Can we trust Google with our stuff, if Google can’t trust Google with their own stuff? Or is somebody just up to nefarious shenanigans?

Sending Large Files to Others

 

I’ve posted on the topic of file sharing before. It’s one of my pet peeves, and it causes a lot of problems for others as well. On the other hand, getting videos and music from friends and loved ones can be a real pleasure if done properly.

Here’s a fine article on the topic by Sherman E. DeForest at Lockergnome.com, one of the longest-running and most respected sites for geeky insight on the Net.

My personal opinion, which Sherman seems to share in pertinent part, is that Skydrive is your best bet for long term storage and sharing. It works unilaterally; you put your stuff out there where people can get it, and send a link to make it happen.

Dropbox is great for short term sharing (because its capacity is more limited, and you’ll want to free up the space) and bilateral – synchronized – sharing. With Dropbox, both parties sharing the files need to install a bit of software that creates a shared folder for them. Or you can put the file in Dropbox’s Public folder and share a direct and private link.That works great, but only one way.

If you want to share large files with others, you need to find a way to do it that works for you, besides sending the files in emails. As the Lockergnome piece explains, it frequently doesn’t work, and it’s really just bad manners.

Why is it bad? Imagine you answer your doorbell and find a friend standing there, saying he’s brought a little gift for you. You’re happy to see him, right? Now imagine the gift is the size of a football field, and he’s trying to cram it into your house. The unannounced visit just got uncomfortable. It might have been better if he’d left it outside.

My New Keyboard

Back in April 2010, I posted about the bad ergonomics of PC keyboards. I opined that they’re bad because the number pad (10 key) on the right end of the keyboard forces the mouse to play way off to the side. This causes stress to my wrist, fatigue in my arm, and an occasional generally bad attitude. I threatened to obtain a smaller keyboard to solve this problem, and I finally did. It arrived on Friday.

Here’s a photo of my old keyboard, an HP which came with my computer. See how wide it is? Almost 18 inches. There are things I like about it, especially the double size Delete button and the speaker controls.

keyboard_002-1_Small

Here’s my new keyboard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

See how much smaller it is? 12.5 inches wide. It’s the same size as typing parts of a standard desktop keyboard, but everything is grouped the the same as the keyboard on a standard laptop. The mouse is closer to the keyboard, and the typing keys are more in line with the monitor.

I’ve had it for 2 days and I’m still getting used to it, but so far it’s pretty cool. It’s just the right size for typing, if that’s what you do. If you need to do accounting, or other significant work with numbers, it’s not for you. But it’s pretty fine for writing.

The SIIG JK-US0312-S1 USB Mini Multimedia Keyboard is sold by Amazon for about $20. The customer reviews are a little better than the A4 Tech KL-5 Mini Slim Compact Keyboard, which goes for about $16.

So if you find the number pad on the right side of your keyboard mostly useless and in your way, there you go.