Archive for January, 2007


23:03 08 Jan 2007

I’ve wanted bookmark synchronization between machines for quite some time. I’ve been trying to do it myself, using Subversion, but that’s proved awkward and annoying (not through any fault of Subversion’s). There are plenty of services that offer remote bookmark hosting, and there was the sadly undeveloped Bookmarks Synchronizer, but neither fit my purposes. So now I’m trying Foxmarks.

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Vico Road Photos

17:08 07 Jan 2007

On New Year’s Eve, Sharon and I went to one of my favorite spots in Dublin, the White Rock beach near Vico Road in Dalkey.

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From Frustrated/Distracted to Focused

05:23 06 Jan 2007. Updated: 20:26 27 Jun 2013

Following on from the success of my set of steps for getting into a creative mode, I’ve come up with a similar process to tackle what seems like a harder problem: getting out of being frustrated/distracted and into a state of being focused.

I often get myself into states where I am distracting myself, and am frustrated by this. I find that I feel like I want to do “something”, but also shy away from actually doing anything. I think the way it works is that I approach some task, feel some resistance to doing it (fear that I won’t be able to do it, or possibly just inertia), distract myself from it with something like web surfing, get frustrated with the distraction activity (because it feels empty, naturally enough), build a desire to “do something”, encounter the resistance again, distract myself with something shiny online (or wherever), and so on. And when I realize that I’m in this state, I get frustrated with myself and look for relief from that frustration… which typically comes in the form of more distraction.

It’s clearly possible to get out of this state (else I’d never get anything done), and it seems like a process for getting out of it might be very helpful. This is my first pass at such a process:

  • Take 5 deep breaths.
  • Find a place to write (notebook page, new buffer in text editor, whatever).
  • Take 5 deep breaths again.
  • Write down the things that you want to do, or the things that you feel you should do. Preferably this should be a list of more than one thing, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • (At each of the following steps, if you feel yourself getting agitated or nervous, take 5 deep breaths again whenever it might help.)
  • For each one, write down how resistant you feel to it, and whatever comes to mind to describe that resistance and where it comes from.
  • For each one, try to break it down into sub-tasks, with specific focus on what the first few things are that would be required to get going on it.
  • For each one (or, if possible, each sub-task), write down how urgent it is. No hyperbole please.
  • At this point, see if you can start the first sub-task for the most urgent thing on the list.
  • If not, consider the fact that distracting yourself from it while not doing it is a waste, and that if you’re going to avoid that task you might as well do another one. Also, note any further insight on where the resistance to doing the most urgent task is coming from.
  • Choose another task from the list—if you don’t have any other task on the list, make one. It doesn’t have to be related to the other item(s), and in fact it’s probably better if it’s not.
  • See if you can start the first sub-task for the second-most urgent thing on the list.
  • If not, try the next one, and so on. If you get to the end of the list and you’re still refusing to do any of it, try adding items like “take a break” or “take a walk”.
  • If you get this far and still can’t do anything, at least stand up and get away from your workspace for a while. Consider the following words: confident, capable, calm, determined, strong.
  • Start this process over again.

It’s too long. Not that the process itself might take too long, but that’s too long a list of steps. Still, I’m going to try it out before attempting to refine it, and then I’ll see what could be taken out.

A danger I see here is repetition of this process itself becoming a distraction activity (one that it’s easy not to feel guilty about since it clearly indicates at least an attempt to do whatever resisted task(s) awaits). But I’m hoping that the enforced awareness of what’s going on will eliminate that possibility.

The main problem apart from that is that when I’m in that state, I rarely seem to have the wherewithal to invoke a process like this one. But that’s a matter of training. Training to recognize the distracted state and to go through this process once such recognition occurs.

I’ll try this over the next several weeks—since I’m returning to work soon and am also planning heavy editing work on my novel, I may have plenty of opportunities to see how it works.

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09:20 05 Jan 2007

I’ve been using TiddlyWiki over the last few months, and love it. It’s essentially a wiki-in-a-file, but the difference between a server-side wiki and the extremely lightweight TiddlyWiki is profound.

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Favorite Books of 2000

18:28 04 Jan 2007. Updated: 06:17 23 Aug 2009

So this is only about six years late…

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Tools for Political Understanding

18:09 03 Jan 2007

In conversation with my friend Sharon this evening, I started thinking about what tools can help people understand politics. I don’t mean “big stuff” like elections and how various chambers of government and so on, but a general approach that can serve as a basis for looking at any political situation.

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06:35 02 Jan 2007. Updated: 20:31 27 Jun 2013

I thought of that somewhat obvious term last night, while replying to Seth’s post for December. It seems useful.

The meaning is fairly clear: things that you do less because you really want to do them and more because they distract you—either from specific things, or from life in general.

Television is a fairly obvious one. I’ve managed to eliminate that, and it’s been good. I don’t really count films and books as distractions in the same way, although they can be sometimes. But generally they seem like focused activities that have something to them (there are many caveats here, naturally).

Gaming can be a distractivity. I’ve certainly used it as such many times in my life, especially when in college, around exam time. But it doesn’t have to be that. It can be a relaxed/relaxing, fun activity. It can also be a focused, challenging flow experience, which is what I tend to strive for when playing. However, the possibility for it to be different things can be dangerous, because it becomes really easy to convince yourself you’re doing it for the focused challenge while in fact you’ve fallen deep into the distraction valley.

It’s hard to tell the difference, though. And it’s certainly hard to define a difference. I suspect, though, that you usually know the difference. When it’s a distraction activity for me, I generally know it at some level, and part of what I’m trying to distract myself from is that knowledge…

However, I’m not too worried about gaming as distractivity right now. In fact, I don’t think I’m gaming enough—I need to get more MTG practice in, and work on my focus on that game. And increasing my daily dose of DDR wouldn’t hurt either.

The main distraction activity for me right now, and one that seems like a canonical example of the category, is web surfing. I just do it too much. There’s so much interesting stuff out there… and there’s so much useful and educational material out there, too. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from surfing, and that includes a lot that I use professionally.

But. But, much of the time it’s clearly something I’m doing to distract myself. It eats up time, and more than that, it eats focus. The habit of surfing to get away from something, as a soothing balm for some unpleasant occurrence, obviously leads (like any addictive thing) to turning to it more often, and most importantly turning to it whenever difficulty is encountered. And so I find myself increasingly likely to web surf when I run into some problem that’s hard to solve (this doesn’t include cases where I am trying to find the answer to the problem online)… twenty minutes later, the problem is still hard to solve, and I’m completely unfocused, and in fact I’ve pushed my mind into a mode where it expects to skip around, dealing only with pleasing and interesting tidbits.

It’s similar to channel surfing on television, except that you are more or less guaranteed to come across something interesting and appealing and even worthwhile. There’s just too much content out there not to. And that makes it even more dangerous, because it’s like a reward for the mind: do something unfocused and distractive for a while, then you get this goodie! So you’re reinforcing behavior you want to reduce.

I’ve cut down on a lot of the distraction activity. No television, and I spend a lot more time engaged in projects like writing and coding. These are good trends, ones I intend to continue. But sooner or later, I suspect that it’ll be necessary to proscriptively alter my web surfing habits.

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December/January Blogging

17:31 01 Jan 2007

I was happy with how posting every day in December went, and very happy with some of the posts in particular.

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