Saturday, May 30, 2020

700 Days — Time, Information Tools, Habits, Writing, Podcasting, Clock, Cooking

I'm 70% of the way toward my goal of 1,000 days of writing.

It's amazing the difference 100 days can make. The last time I wrote a 100-day milestone post, we were just under a month away from Friday, March 13, that turned the world upside-down.

The world closed up. Many felt like their lives had been put on pause. I was not among them.

For me, the closure has been very freeing. I've gotten caught up on a lot, though not as fast as I would have hoped. I've experimented with a lot of things.


Time Plan

Earlier this month I did an evaluation of my time, plan vs. reality. I can easily spend a lot of time making plans about how to spend my time. And then, it's hard to adhere to those plans.

I've also tracked my use of time a lot over the years. As much as this activity is recommended, I can tell you there's nothing inherent about knowing where your time goes that automatically makes it naturally go somewhere else to other things.

I decided to take an honest look at where my time goes and then incorporate that into my time spending plan. If I really want to spend time keeping up with news, that needs to be part of the plan.


Information Tools

I've had a love-not-love relationship with Trello over the years. I'm back in the this-tool-is-indispensable column. First, some background is needed to explain why.

Twitter, after some refining, is my primary tool of choice for keeping up with information. It's the only social media network that's public by default, has a bias toward news, and is very succinct.

One of the challenges in using Twitter is its very low signal-to-noise ratio. Most of the content on it is not valuable or not sufficiently valuable to merit the time it requires.

Twitter has a velocity problem. People can Tweet a lot, and it's user interface and experience is structured to reward the most frequent Tweeters. Most frequent does not mean most valuable.

Refining this takes a lot of work. I've used Twitter lists and multiple accounts to overcome these hurdles, but the velocity problem remains. Twitter search and search filtering provide some useful tools for the refining process. (One of the most important I learned about during this time is its “filter:news” search operator. That immediately makes it very easy to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. It also makes it easy to avoid claims of relying on unreliable news sources.) Even that, however, would still require a lot of work with manual searches just to catch the useful content from many varied lists.

Enter IFTTT. Their daily digest feature would be ideal for my purposes, but it's not reliable. My first major way of apply my Twitter search refining was to email directly. This worked for a while, but it also became quite voluminous. One of the most difficult parts was how linear a list of dozens of emails with Tweets in them can be. That can make for a lot of switching gears between topics.

My next step was to try Google Docs. This was an improvement over email in several ways. It was easier to read through several Tweets quickly. Acting on Tweets (Retweet, Liking, clearing, etc.) was a bit challenging with a cursor, especially on a mobile device. The biggest hurdle to overcome that sent me looking for another option was the 2 MB limit on content before IFTTT would start a new Doc. That happened surprisingly quickly, especially with how I included supplemental links with Tweets to make processing more efficient. A half dozen pages of Tweets and it was on to a new Doc. Even splitting my content over two major categories was not enough to keep from running into this limit in less than a day. I needed something else.

The cursor thing was a big deal. The problem with a Doc for this purpose is I'm not really out to edit a Tweet. I'd prefer to have something that would treat an entire Tweet as a single unit so I can clear them off easily.

That's what brought me back to Trello. Cards on Trello are perfect for Tweets. They're also even better for RSS feed items (something else IFTTT can do) because they keep them the same size as Tweet cards no matter how much content is in them. Even better, I can add my own links for URL processing (summarizing, content highlighting, related Tweet-finding, etc.). For me, RSS and Twitter are very similar news- and link-related experiences. They go together quite naturally.

Trello is a little bit more complicated to set up in IFTTT than Docs, but it's worth it for two main reasons: (1) Trello lists don't have a 2 MB limit like Docs has, and (2) it's very simple to have separate lists in Trello for different topics, types of content, etc.

Originally I set up my Trello intake to be organized by two main categories of content types. I later expanded this based on content timing and type. However, considering my Twitter account range, I have found it most helpful to keep things organized and listed by topic.

Another hard limit I've run into with IFTTT that applies no matter the destination of the content is Twitter only allows 100 searches per hour, and IFTTT runs every search every 15 minutes. You can hit that limit faster than you think. I've had to get a little creative to make it work, and this is only explained in Twitter development documents, but it's there.

After a few iterations, most recently with some additional dialing back, I think I finally have things to a point where Trello now strategically receives the important content I care about from RSS feeds and Twitter, and it doesn't take me hours every day to keep up.

The other big advantage to having my news land in Trello is that it also keeps me frequenting the place the holds my other plans for things on want to work on like writing and coding: work to advance. Combine maintaining and advancing in one place.


Habits

Once I have the information tool sharpened and in place, the next step is to be in the habit of using it. I listened to a podcast recently where someone mentioned using the Productive app for tracking habits. The problem there is they don't let you buy the software. You have to “subscribe” to it and pay continuously to use it. Their asking price is not in my budget, especially given the competitive nature of that kind of product. I came across another habit app that was in my price range: Habit Hub. (It seems the subscription model of software pricing has made it easier for non-subscription software to stand out.)

This has been very helpful. I have found it more freeing than expected not to have to remember things to do each day. I've also been able to remember more things to do each day because of this tool. This would even include improving my “prayer life” by reminding me to use a prayer guide each day.

Another thing his has helped is getting sleep. There's pretty much no good excuse for not getting enough rest when almost everything is closed and we're spending almost all our time at home. Get morning things done, project things done, evening things done, and then go to bed. That's the plan, and having a habit tracker has been helpful for sticking to that plan.


Writing

This past week I've shifted strategies when it comes to maintaining my writing habit. Friday night's are a challenge for me. Even during a nationwide closure, I still find Friday evenings at the end of the week to be one of my most tired times. The last thing I want to do then is write when I haven't yet written anything for the day.

I've decided to make use of writing I'm already doing. Each day I'm posting on this blog or one of a few others a week's worth of Tweets from one of my Twitter accounts that I've been maintaining. It's a third tier strategy (second to writing like this or posting book excerpts), but I consider it sufficient and necessary during this time. It may also be an easy way to keep the writing going beyond 1,000 days. It actually requires more of a daily commitment than either of my other current methods.

The first two writing strategies are still available, too. Writing ideas and book excerpts await me in Trello.


Podcasting

I resumed podcasting recently. It's a work in progress, and as I've learned from my writing experience, I'm not making any commitments about timing, even if that may be a good idea.

My podcast listening still fluctuates between have a few, and then a lot, on my subscribe list. Yesterday I pared it back again. I have one for the morning (World News Roundup), one for the evening (CQ on Congress), and then a few for the weekend or late week. CNN 10 is done for the season.


Clock

In consideration of the number of waking hours in a day, preferring long blocks of time for working on things, and standard time being better than daylight time, I've made a new clock.

I decided to aim for 15 waking hours in a day spread out over five three-hour periods with the beginning and end each roughly as close to sunrise and sunset respectively as possible and the half-way point being close to solar noon. After reverting back to Eastern Standard Time (or using Central Daylight Time), this week I wrote a script to show time progress according to that scheme. Did you know 108 seconds is one percent of three hours?

It turned out to be pretty easy to script together. The hardest part was figuring out how to identify today's midnight in epoch time. After that it was basic math and logic to divide up the 5 time intervals. The layout still needs work, but for now it accomplishes its basic function.

For any ambitious app developers looking for an idea, there's still a lot of room in the market for people who want flexibility in terms of how we measure and count time and divide up our schedules.


Cooking

I've been reviving some recipes I've had from my mom for years. I've also had some ingredients sitting around not being used for too long, too. I wake up hungry and am big on breakfast, so there's a tilt toward breakfast items in my cooking. I've made eggs in a variety of ways in the past (boiled, scrambled, fried), and lately I've been making egg pancakes. They either are or are like crapes. I like the texture. I used real maple syrup at first, but that quickly gets expensive. It seems highly concentrated, too. Corn-based syrup works well, too. I can attest to the improved difference between using ingredients from the (proverbial) pantry shelf and the grocery store shelf.

I've been using the bread machine more. One container of yeast I still had is clearly well past is time. The other probably is too, but its been working. Yeast has been one item grocery store inventory has not recovered since the initial run on items needed during a lockdown.

I also have a couple cookie recipes in mind, too. One well-known to my family required the purchase of a 3-quart pan. It just fit. The no-bake cookies turned out well. The main problem with making cookies is that afterwards I eat them, probably at more times than I should. The other recipe is from the inside of a quick oats container. I think I have all the ingredients I need for that. The logistics there are bit different and closer to traditional cookie-making, so adjustments for that are next.


Reopening

I think I'm going to have a harder time with reopening than I did with closing. The main reason is we're beginning to find out how much the world has changed during this closure and will still have to change after it.

The first thing is face masks. They're pretty much required everywhere now. They're also a miserable experience, especially for someone who wears glasses. Since they're more about protecting others than me, I've already decided not to cover my nose with them. That eliminates the glasses-fogging problem. Still, we were not made to have to speak through a piece of cloth. It's very constricting.

Staying home is not unknown, especially for someone who lives alone in an apartment. There are not a lot of surprises, and even fewer surprises I don't control. Going to work, and even finding work, is going to be a new experience for a lot of people. The opportunities for involuntarily needing to make adjustments in life have vastly increased. Unknown unknowns have multiplied. So has the need to continue taking life one day at a time. We make our plans, and God directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9).

In one sense, our public health officials are not doing as much as they could to expedite and proliferate the testing process.


Rockets

Speaking of today, we may launch two men into space on a rocket from American soil today. I say “we,” not because I work for SpaceX or NASA, but because I pay taxes too, and a not insignificant sum of our tax dollars fund these space operations.

Speaking of Twitter lists, here's one for keeping track of those launch efforts. And yes, live events are part of my time plan whether that's for the weather, spaceflight, Congress, etc.


With that in mind, this is probably more than enough for the last hundred days. Lord willing, we'll see what the Lord has in store for the next 100, what happens between now and Labor Day.

Tim
15,700 days

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