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.

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, 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.


Here’s my new keyboard.


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.

Decisions, decisions

Check out this link, the first case of an accident involving Google’s self driving car.

It’s clear that the Google car rear-ended another Prius. It’s not clear whether the other car stopped short or the Google car failed to stop. Either way, it led me to what I think is an interesting thought experiment.
Imagine you’re driving down a city street at 35 mph. On your right is a family with a baby carriage and a toddler, walking on the sidewalk. Coming in the opposite direction, meaning on your left, is a large commercial truck.

As you near the walking family, the toddler suddenly breaks from the group and runs right in front of you. There’s no way you can stop in time to avoid hitting him. You’re going to have to change direction too.
If you steer right, you wipe out Mom, Dad, and baby. If you steer left, you hit the big truck head on. If you do neither, you wipe out the little kid. You have 1 second to decide.

I hope that my brain would steer left. Save the pedestrians. Chances are at 35 mph and slowing, the driver of the big truck will be OK. And maybe he’ll see the child too, brake and steer to his right, reducing the impact somewhat. That would be nice.

The conundrum arises because this is a moral decision, not a pragmatic one. It’s a self-sacrifice, choosing not the path of least resistance but the path of the greater good.

Some people might choose to go straight ahead, or turn right. I’m not saying that’s wrong. There are arguments to make that justify that course. We’ll skip them here.

The question is this: Would a car driven by a computer be able to make a decision like that? I doubt it, don’t you? So I think self-driving cars are cool, very interesting, but they can’t replace the instinctive judgment of having a human being behind the wheel.


PCWorld: One of Google’s self-driving cars got into an accident earlier this week. But Google is claiming the auto-pilot-equipped Prius was actually flipped into manual mode when the accident happened, making this a case of user error.

Captain’s Blog Stardate 20110727


"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea."*

As a little kid I imagined future technology: cars without steering wheels, computers that spoke with us out of thin air. Humans would be different, all the same basic size and shape, carrying little communicators and wearing comfortable clothes.

Well, I was partly right. We’re getting the communicator thing down so well that I even the Sci-Fi writers of my youth didn’t imagine their power and ubiquity. And I don’t think the touchless, voice-controlled computer is very far off. (Our cell phones have voice commands, but they’re more reactive than interactive. Like the government.) We still have to steer the car, though Google is working on a Driverless Car right now; in fact, it already works for their engineers. I don’t think clothes have really changed very much.

I got one thing about future tech very wrong: I imagined that future being farther away that it turned out to be. I imagined the new world without me or you still in it. I thought the world of my childhood – in terms of our tools and toys – would be basically the same in my middle age, that technology would advance more slowly. I – we – would be long gone before cars looked like this.

2009 Cadillac Converj Concept

That’s a 2012 Cadillac. Click to enlarge.

They say that one sign of intelligence is the ability to hold two contradictory concepts in the mind at one type time, and accept them both as possibly valid. So I give you a couple of concepts to ponder: A typewriter and an Apple iPad. (The latter, you’ll notice is just a screen with keys, no keyboard at all.)

royal ipad 

Click to enlarge.

Who would have thought that in a short time we would type without buttons or keys, and publish without paper? But if you sent out today to buy either a 1937 Royal desk typewriter or an Apple iPad, which would be easier to find? And easier to use? I’ve used a Royal typewriter and it was hard to make it work! People who did it for a living were called typists. It was a hard job for low pay and it no longer exists in the world, as far as I know.

Do any companies still have people who do word processing – transcribing dictation? I don’t know. That was common in the 1980s and into the 1990s. Guys like me would dictate memos, letters, etc., with recorders, then take the little tapes to be transcribed. Then we got our work back printed on thinly pressed slices of tree.

Which reminds me of one Fail in the future tech that’s here so far: The paperless office we were promised 15 or 20 years ago. I’ve been trying to accomplish it for years but I can’t get other people to cooperate. I guess that can be a rant for another day.

I guess one of the most compelling ways in which computer technology has changed our lives so far is that anyone who wants to do it can be a writer and a publisher. For example, you’re looking at a page of a digital periodical, an occasional publication for which I do the writing and publish using a free medium. And over the years, Metaphor has been read over 20,000 times. That’s right, over twenty thousand deliveries. Not too shabby for a little blog with one frequently complacent writer, no paper, no costs, no charges, no advertising, and a very passive delivery system. And anyone can do it.

What do you suppose would have been required for Benjamin Franklin to put his Poor Richard’s Almanac into the hands of 20,000 citizens? A lot of money, time and effort. A lot of trees, too.

So here we are, the same bunch of primates who thought push button phones, the TV remote and the CB radio were pretty cool. And we’re blogging and using VOIP and feeling thankful that the VCR went the way of the Dodo before we had to take an adult ed class to program that sunofabitch.

It occurs to me, though, that it’s all teetering on a house of cards. I have a copy of Leaves of Grass that was printed before the Great Depression, and it survived on shelf somewhere because no special system was required to sustain its existence there. Not so with the Great Terra of Infinite Terabytes of human thought that we now have suspended around the planet in vast server farms and countless hard drives. All of that requires an economy to keep it going. What would it take to make all the stuff we know as modern life online just go blip and disappear? Not much. 

planetoftheapesendingIf Congress and the President fail to keep the lights of our tenuous, practically fictional economy burning next week, how far is it from default of the US to all the whirring drives of the Internet falling silent and blank? I mean we’re talking chain reaction, global economic meltdown, am I wrong?

I worry more about things like that, than whether Google+ is better than Facebook; more about America without Social Security and Medicare than about keyboards without keys.

New prime directive: the cloud must be sustained.


*Quote: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Excuse me?

Does everybody know what a capcha is? It’s one of those things you run into online pretty often these days, usually when you’re trying to register for a site or post a comment on a blog, in which you must correctly retype a random and strangely displayed word or two. It’s to prove you’re a human being and not a “robot,” a computer designed to zip around the Web in search of places to infect with spam.

Well today I got an email from a wildlife group, asking me to sign a petition to save wolves. I like wolves. Bears and buffalo and all types of wildlife really. I just can’t fathom that after 400 years, give or take, of manifest destiny on this continent, the occupying European settlers can’t stop obsessively savaging the animals. I swear it’s like some bloodthirsty communal OCD, manifesting in asshats who have no other way to justify their employment at our expense. But I digress.

I tried to register to sign this petition, which was a lot like trying to hack into the mainframe that houses the CIA’s cafeteria cookbook, and I encountered a capcha. Without further ado, behold:

auger asseat2

Can you believe it? You might as well, because I’m not making it up. It said auger asseat.

What language is that? I suspect it’s Middle School Study Hall. … Wow. … Is it me, or is that really sick?

old and in my face

I’ve been subscribed for about a year to a newsletter about computer stuff, from a website called PC Pitstop. Today I unsubscribed, and I think it’s worth taking a moment to note why.

In this week’s newsletter email, I was reading this column by one Leo Notenboom, “Are Free Email Services Worth It?”

Summary: Free email services and accounts are convenient and ubiquitous. But free email services aren’t the right place to keep your important information.”

He gives us these reasons not to trust free email services: Spam, Deliverability, (lack of ) Customer Service, and Limits and Restrictions.

As I read the column, I first thought, Gee, maybe I should rely more heavily on my email address. Then I began to think Oh codswallop, none of these complaints is really valid. Maybe several years ago…. And there’s the rub.

I reached the end of the piece, and read, “Google’s GMail service is not yet released – it’s in beta – so it remains to be seen exactly how reliable or problematic it turns out to be. As you can imagine, I’m somewhat skeptical, and expect that it will fall into the same traps as Yahoo and Hotmail.” 

Gmail has been out of Beta (that’s when software is released so that users can sort of help finish it) for a long time. So I began thrashing around in search of a publication date for what I was reading. At the bottom, in smaller print: November 8, 2004.

Wow. PC Pistop apparently thought it would be a good idea to send out a newsletter with a 5 year old article in it. If the dude had written it in November 2009, it would still be too old to be relevant. Technology news is like scrambled eggs. Cook ’em up and serve ’em quick, because that stuff doesn’t keep.

Which makes me wonder how much of the rest of PC Pitstop’s content is old and grungy. How much of their newsletter is just old filler? If it’s not fresh, I don’t want it. And  here at Metaphor, I don’t cotton to folks phonin’ it in.

For the record, I’ve been using free web-based email programs for several years, and I don’t have any of the complaints that Leo had; not even 5 years ago. In my experience, free email programs work just fine. My main complaint with all of them except gmail is their hideous, vulgar advertising in the middle of the user interface. Especially Yahoo – it’s the worst.

That’s just part of the ad running in my Yahoo inbox today. I don’t use Yahoo anymore. But look at that crap: What does that slack-smiling moron have to do with mortgage refinance? What does the constipated grandpa have to say about moms in continuing ed? Nothing. These are random-generated spam ads. I’ll bet their really phishing sites for spammers or malware. And Yahoo is serving them up to their users. There oughta be a law.

Notenboom’s bottom line seems to be if you have important stuff (who doesn’t?), don’t trust it to a free service.

“In short, I would never recommend a free email service for anything that you consider important, or anything that you want to keep long term.”
Here’s how to judge: if the email account went away completely tomorrow, along with all the mail and contact information it contains, would it be an inconvenience or a catastrophe? If the later, then you need to get away from your free account. Now.

He never explains why a free email service is – or was, in 2004 – more likely to dump all your Precious into bleak oblivion. But the essential difference between free webmail and email provided by your Internet Service Provider (Cox, Verizon, etc.) is that free email remains on their server after you read it. You store it there, and continue to access it from any computer. If you use a program such as Outlook to download your email, you’re responsible for saving it on your hard drive. And you need to be at that computer to search through old mail. Now tell me, which is more likely, that Google’s or Yahoo’s professionally maintained, backed-up servers will lose all my old emails, or that I will — meaning that my home computer will?

My free webmail accounts have handled many tens of thosands of messages, without ever losing a single thing. They do everything I need them to do. In fact, gmail is constantly being improved. You can’t say that about any desktop email client, such as Outlook. And who needs customer service for email? That’s like calling tech support for help opening a book. 


best reps

Google and Sony are the World’s Most Reputable Companies According to Consumers Across 24 Countries.

Google and Sony share the top spot in a study of the world’s most reputable companies conducted by Reputation Institute. Disney, BMW, and Daimler round out the top five in a consumer survey that measured the reputations of 600 of the world’s most prominent companies. [News Replease]

Spotted on IT World.

Just in case you were wondering.