An Aspirational List on How to Live

This is an aspirational list of things I’d like to do or be but am not now. It’s heavily inspired by Derek Sivers and his idea of “directives,” short statements on how to live. I wrote this saying “I am” rather than “I’d like to be,”  so that by telling myself I’m this way, I’ll begin to act the part.

  • I associate with people I admire. The people in my life expand my horizons and open the world to me.
  • Love is the most important part of my life. My primary focus is on relationships.
  • I find ways to serve people and improve the world. I am generous with my time and money.
  • I have a bias for action. When I recognize something is good, I act on it immediately, or as soon as possible.
  • I embrace the strenuous life. I welcome challenges to my mental and physical endurance.
  • I take smart risks. If there’s a reasonable advantage, a smart angle or black swan-like ratio, I take the risk.
  • I project strength and warmth. I am someone people trust, follow, and want to be around.
  • Mastery is my way of life. I have a beginners mind that seeks perfection in everything I do.
  • I use writing, reading, storytelling, music, and art to understand and connect with humanity.
  • I am a spiritual person. I take time to meditate, reflect, feel gratitude, and to heal myself and others.
  • I am completely honest.
  • Now is the time that matters most to me. Life is short and precious so I seize the moment.
  • I bring solutions, not problems.

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Musings on The Amazon Book Store

I recently visited the Amazon book store, currently the only one in existence. I came away with mixed feelings. The best part is that the prices are the same in the store as online. Other than that though, there’s not much good to say about it. It’s small, the shelves are much too close together making the entire store feel uncomfortably crowded. The worst part is that it’s stocked only with the best selling and highest rated books on Amazon. This results in a very shallow selection picked purely by popularity. Your chances of discovering a forgotten treasure are next to nothing. We left and went from there to Third Place Books. It was a breath of fresh air. As nice is it is to pay less, I’ll stick bookstores like Third Place or El Ateneo when I’m shopping IRL.

My experience with Lasik eye surgery

This post is probably only useful if you’re considering getting your eyes LASIK’ed, like I had been thinking about for quite awhile. I finally had it done yesterday, this is my experience.

I went in last Saturday for a 2 hour appointment consisting of a a preliminary exam to see if I’d be a good candidate then a longer, fully-dilated eye exam to determine my prescription and the type of surgery I’d need (LASIK or PRK).  The result was that I was a candidate for Lasik and didn’t need PRK which, as I understand, has a longer recovery time and is an altogether different procedure. After reading scary 6 page list of things that could possibly go wrong, I signed the form and scheduled the surgery to be done the next Saturday.

Marcus before LASIK

Before LASIK

The surgery itself was pretty straightforward. I got there Saturday morning at 8:30 and was out by 10:00. First I met with a doctor who inserted small plugs into my tear ducts presumably to keep my eyes from tearing up too much during the surgery. They weren’t removed at the end of the surgery, I was told they dissolve in a month which, to me, was the most disturbing part of the whole ordeal. A few minutes later I was taken to the surgery room, reclined on a table and given a teddy bear and a blanket to “give your hands something to do.” Nice.

The surgeon came in and my eyes were numbed with drops that worked very quickly – they dropped them in and pressed my eye with an instrument–I couldn’t feel it at all. Then they pressed down pretty hard on the first eye with something that felt like it had maybe the diameter of a penny. They pressed hard enough to completely dim my vision for about 5 seconds. I definitely felt this, but it didn’t really hurt, just felt like an unhealthy amount of pressure on the eye. As soon as my vision was restored (or maybe while it was still dim, I’m not sure) they sliced my cornea to make a flap, I was a little nervous about that part, but mostly just curious, it didn’t hurt at all. I could see it being pushed back and my vision immediately became really, really blurry for a few seconds. My thoughts were “cool, I’ll never see like this again!” A nurse began counting down the seconds as soon as the flap was made so I assume it can’t be safely pushed back for too long. Soon afterwards there was a series of maybe 7-10 clicks and with each one my vision noticably improved. It was pretty amazing. Once the clicks (which were made by the laser) stopped, the flap was pushed back over and I could see clearly from the first eye. They repeated it with the second eye, all of this totaling maybe 5 or 10 minutes and I was done.

Ten minutes later I was in the car and on the way home.

I was told to sleep for 6 hours afterwards, and the valium they gave me (just one) before the surgery was supposed to help with that. That worked great for about an hour, then the pain began. For the next 2 1/2 or 3 hours my eyes hurt bad. Sleep was about the last thing I felt like doing, opening my eyes was difficult and painful and while I wasn’t crying (of course!) there were plenty of tears. It felt like someone was poking me in the eyes repeatedly. I got pretty worried at this point that something had gone wrong. In retrospect, I think that pain is normal, though they conveinently failed to mention this and acted like I’d sleep for 6 peaceful hours. Maybe I’m immune to valium, I never felt it kick, I don’t know. After what felt like forever, I was finally able to sleep, with a pair of protective goggles taped to my head to keep me from inadvertently rubbing my eyes. I slept for 2 hours and woke up with my eyes feeling fine and super hungry. I could see though! Perfectly!

Today (one day afterwards) it feels like I have in contacts that are maybe a day or two overdue for a change. I ocassionally notice it but I can see perfectly. I went into for a checkup this morning and they pronounced my vision to be 20/15.

The final cost at LasikPlus was (since all the advertising is so misleading and it’s hard to find the information elsewhere) $3500 for both eyes. There was also a $3000 procedure available which wasn’t “custom.” I was told that the custom procedure was recommended if your eye has more aberrations as it is supposed to map the irregularities and give you finer tuned vision. Whether this is mostly marketing hype or it really makes a difference, I’m not sure, but in the end I decided to pay the extra $500 since they’re my eyes and I love my eyes 🙂 Was it all worth it? Definitely. If LASIK isn’t a miracle of science, I don’t know what is.

I highly recommed the Wikipedia article on LASIK if you’re interested in a much more detailed description of the process and want to have some of your doubts dispelled.

Six Best Albums of 2006

Best Music Of 2006

For your listening enjoyment, the six albums that I enjoyed most from 2006. I’m not even going to try to put commentary on them since that’s just not my forté.

1. Love and Other Planets – Adem
2. La Revancha del Tango – Gotan Project. This is actually from 2003 but I didn’t discover it until last year. It’s definitely not in the same genre as the rest of the music on the list, but it’s good stuff.
3. World Waits – Jeremy Enigk
4. Veneer – José Gonzalez
5. Under the Iron Sea – Keane
6. Decended Like Vultures – Rogue Wave

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You can listen to a Pandora station with a some of these artists (as well as a couple others) here. Finally, a 7th album for 2006 is The Format – Dog Problems.

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US Airways – How Not to Run a Business

US Airways

We recently flew US Airways for our holiday travels. I was unimpressed and thought I’d note a few of their shortcomings as examples of how not to run a business:

1. Not enough information. It was very rare to get any information on where we were in the flight, how far delayed we were, why there was a delay or any other information. I’ve flown on other airlines where they had a screen showing exactly where you were on a map of the world, with US Airways, we were in the dark.

2. Inconsistent. On the way to our destination they served pretzels and had a good drink selection on both flights. Both flights also had grouchy stewardesses. On the way home all the stewardesses were great but both the 5 hour flight and the 1 hour flight they didn’t serve even a light snack and there were only about 4 drinks available.

3. Uncomfortable. The airports didn’t have nearly enough seating for the amount of people on the flights–people ended up sitting on the floor and at other terminals. Once on the planes, the seats were much too close together, the fabric on the seats was old and obviously worn and there weren’t enough pillows or blankets for the passengers. The movies were bottom of the barrel as well.

4. Unconcerned. Two of our four bags were lost for more than 36 hours and finding out anything was almost impossible. From the moment they were lost we were constantly given the “I don’t have any information, try calling…” line. We had to make 2 trips back to the airport and about a dozen calls before we finally resolved the issue. No one we talked to was even remotely concerned about the situation.

These are only a few other examples from this flight. I could definitely add to this list.

It’s amazing that with airlines like Virgin, JetBlue and Southwest trying so hard to gain customers by taking care of them and making them comfortable that US Airways still hasn’t seen the light. I think this is a perfect example of a business that hasn’t caught up with the times and one that will suffer because of it.

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Getting Cringe Tasks Done

cringe chart png
Merlin Mann at 43Folders posted an article on how to get those persistent tasks that never disappear from your todo lists done and off your mind. Being guilty myself of having many such tasks, I decided to take his advice to heart. To help me remember to go through and get one “cringe” item off my list each day, I created a visual chart of the process. You can download a PDF version of the chart here.

Alternating Current, First Hand.

Jenny and Mark in Boston
I’m not much of a scientist, but I sometimes (like I imagine everyone does) I think about how amazing electricity is. One of the things that has always seemed strange to me is how the wall power is A/C and power from batteries is D/C. Alternating current vs. direct current. Yesterday I got to experience A/C first hand. It’s been a long time since I’ve been shocked–I remember pretty clearly the times I’ve felt the power of electricity, notably in elementary school where we all held hands and felt a little zap flow through the group. Later, and more memorably, at some type of fair or event at the Riverwalk in Jacksonville, Florida. There was a demonstration of the power of electricity that required holding two bars as the power was slowly turned up until you couldn’t take it any longer. That was enough for me to realize that I didn’t like being shocked. At all.

Yesterday that all came flooding back as I tried hooking up our new stove. The plastic cover where the giant three pronged stove plug is inserted came off. I noticed it had a bunch of wood dust from where I had to saw the counter to fit the stove in–we’re upgrading from an extremely old drop in stove to a regular, slide in stove. In all my wisdom, I decided that I had better clean the dust out, just to be safe. It never occurred to me to remove the fuse for circuit that powers the kitchen. Once it finally did, I had already experienced an alternating current first hand. It was as if time slowed down for that brief second. I almost saw, extracorporeally, my self jumping back and yelping like a kicked dog as I felt the strong pulses of energy flowing from my fingertips through my entire body.

The feeling is so foreign, so unnatural that nothing I can relate to compares to it. It’s as if you’re being shake violently, except you’re not moving, as if every muscle in your body was tensing and relaxing involuntarily. I can’t stand the feeling. I’ve talked to electricians who tell stories of being shocked and don’t seem to think much of it. For me, it’s on of the most repulsive things that can happen. It’s been years since it happened last, and now after a reminder of what it feels like again fresh in my memory, I hope it will be years, or never, until the next time.

Getting Things Done, One Thing at a Time

La Portada - Picture courtesy Seth DivineyOver the last few months, I’ve discovered several habits that have made me more effective, productive and happy. This is what I’ve found works best:

Write everything down. If I think of (or am assigned) something to do, I immediately get it out of my head and on paper. I break large tasks down into projects and list the next actionable item for that project. Maintaining a list of everything I need to do (no matter how small or large) keeps my mind clear and open to new ideas and allows me to concentrate on the task at hand without my mind nagging me about something else I should be doing instead. I maintain my lists in Tracks and OmniOutliner.

Take notes. I keep short notes on tricks, tips and any information that is useful, but that I might need to recall later. To do this, I use Notational Velocity on the Mac or ScrapBook on the PC. I chose these programs because they are lightweight, easily searchable and unobtrusive. I write down everything that I find useful and might need to recall in the future. For project based information I use a wiki–either PmWiki or Instiki. When I’m not around a computer, or want to be more creative and free with my ideas, I use a pocket sized Moleskine notebook and a Pilot Precise pen that I almost always carry with me.

Stay organized. I keep everything in a folder of its own–both on the computer as well as paper. For paper, I use one manilla file folder per hanging folder, the manilla file clearly labeled and alphabetized. On the computer I use distinct folders for related files, with all of the folders centrally organized in my home folder. Filing is fun. The only thing I keep on my physical desktop is my computer, pens and the materials I’m using to work at that very moment. The only icons that are on my computer desktop are for those files that I’m working on immediately (not sometime that day or week–at that instant) and those that the operating system won’t let me move (the recycle bin or hard disk icons for example). My email inbox is cleared–messages are acted upon as I receive them or soon afterwards, they are then added to a todo list and filed immediately. I have a physical inbox on my desk where things I need to act upon are placed until I can either take care of them or file them (and add an item to my todo list if necessary) for later use or reference.

Stay focused. I only work on one task at a time. I close browser windows, the feed reader, email client, instant messenger, I turn off the TV, phone and radio. Anything that could distract me or break my concentration that can be turned off is turned off while I’m working on a something important. I’ve found by reflecting on my life that the things I’m most proud of were done in an environment where I could concentrate on them completely.

Have a plan. I have a flexible daily schedule that reflects my short and long term goals. Time is alloted based on what I feel is important for bringing me closer to accomplishing my goals. I know what direction I want to go in and try to take steps each day that will get me closer to it. I get rid of excess where possible and try to minimize wasted time. Consistent positive reinforcement, at least once a day, is essential to staying motivated. I listen to inspirational, instructional and motivational books on tape in the car as well as surrounding myself with people, quotes, books and art that will inspire me to constantly seek to improve.

These ideas come from many places–discussions I’ve had with friends, things I’ve learned by trial and error, things my role models do, books I’ve read (notably Allen’s Getting Things Done) and advice from people I trust. I’ve found that when I am most diligent about implementing them my life goes much better–I’m more productive, happier and have a better relationship with my wife and family and a sense of fulfillment with myself. Hopefully after reading this you’ve found ideas that you can use to improve your life as well.

Migration to WordPress in Progress

MovableType was nice, but for several reasons (license, upkeep etc.) I’m moving to WordPress. Most entries from the old weblog should automatically redirect, and hopefully rss feeds should be updated as well.

In the meantime, pardon the default template and other errors you might encounter. It won’t be much longer before things are back in order.

Getting Things Done The Last Two Months

Is it wrong to want to write a blog entry just because the software you write the entry in is so nice? I haven’t written for a couple months and every so often I’ll remember just how nice Ecto is and want to write again. Aside from that, a lot has happened.

I’ve finally started reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. I got two other co-workers reading it at my recommendation (before I even started reading it) and when they they really liked it, I figured I had better have a taste of my own medicine. It lives up to the hype.

GTD has inspired me to find a better way to get everything out of my mind and on “paper.” I really feel his philosophy that you have to have it all out of your mind (which doesn’t know how to manage tasks based on the best time to do them) before you can really become productive and relaxed is right on.

I’ve looked at a few options for doing this and haven’t really ruled any out yet. These are the choices so far:

  • A Wiki – I’d probably just use my install of PmWiki which has been great (it’s moved now because of all the wiki spam).
  • Entourage X 2004 – Theoretically this would be nice, but it has been super buggy for me and I can’t stand the instability.
  • PlannerMode (planner.el) in Emacs. This looks like a powerful way to manage tasks/projects etc. but requires learning Emacs. That might not be such a bad thing, but I haven’t decided for sure if I’m up to it. This is an article with a screenshot of what to expect.
  • PocketInformant – Pocket PC software that does it all.
  • Tracks – a Ruby on Rails application that looks great. I, however, have not had much luck getting it installed.
  • A Paper planner
  • Text files
  • Something else.

I don’t think anything is going to be ideal. In order to do that, it would need to:

  1. Be accessible from work and home. At work they block every port but port 80 so I have no access to SSH or port 3000 (what Tracks seems to like to use) or anything else.
  2. Be accessible from both my Mac and my Pocket PC
  3. Be intuitive and quick. If I’m going to enter everything I need to do, it needs to be fast.
  4. and it should obviously allow for the basic GTD philosophy

So that’s where I am with that. I still haven’t even finished the book, but I’m sold on the idea.

I’ve also been working a lot more in Flash, programming in ActionScript. It goes in cycles, I program for a couple months then spend awhile in production. I definitely like the programming (and design) part of the cycles much better.

This time around I found TextMate and it also lives up to the hype. It’s a text editor with a very OS X feel and all the features I need to keep me happy while coding.

Since last time I wrote I’ve been to Florida to visit family, enjoyed a couple good snow storms (including one that’s going on at this very moment), redesigned Silverfish Longboarding, started work on a Masters in Instructional Design and Technology at Old Dominion University and ordered an iPod shuffle (which unfortunately won’t be here for another month).

I’ve also gotten 4782 blogspams which were blocked by MT-Blacklist as well as 634 that were moderated. I’m seriously considering switching to WordPress which my wife uses and I get jealous of every so often. I need to check to see if image uploading is supported by Ecto for WordPress now.

Over the past few months I’ve read less on Bloglines (the best aggregator available IMO) have been unsubscribing to blogs at a rapid pace. I’m no less enthusiastic about weblogs, I’ve just become a little more picky about which ones I read. I continue to be amazed at how much Rui Carmo manages to post on the Tao of Mac.

That’s about it for now. Best Tool for the Job is back (again) from vacation.