Rain

Writing Prompt: (character) has telepathic abilities. Trouble is they can’t turn it off so have to hear people’s thoughts all the time. Good detective though.  (source)

 

…. this coffee’s a little bitter, I should add some cream….

…. I’m getting tired of my beat; I need to speak to the captain… . …the psycho’s back I see…

…where did I leave my keys….

Thoughts echoed across the precinct, coming and going, phasing in and out of third ear shot. By this point I had become a mainstay at the forty-sixth, I had been given my own special little badge as well.

Another day, another case as a consulting mentalist. Mentalist being a very loose term for my gift, but it was more believable than what I really was.

“Hey Rain,” Sargent Holzer said walking up to me. * I should really ask her out today. No, no, that’s not professional, keep the case.* Sargent Holzer thought. Every time I was near him, he thought that, and to this date he hadn’t offered me anything more than a cup of coffee.

“Norman called me in today,” I asked the Sargent.

He scratched his neck, professional, he thought. “Could I get you some coffee?”

“Thanks, but no thanks. I already had a cup before I arrived. Can you point me to where I can find Norman?”

“He’s in integration room B,” he pointed down the hall towards where the carpet turned to dark lifeless concrete. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Water’s fine. Will you be joining us today?” I asked.

She asked if I was joining her today. She wants me with her! Sometimes he could be so naive.

“I will be. The Detective asked for me to be your escort. Do you want to wait here, or should I meet you at the gate?”

“I’ll meet you at the gate,” I said.

“One water coming right up, I’ll see you at the gate,” he said. Damn he thought.

The Sargent took off towards the breakroom, his thoughts fading into the distance like an an ambulance passing by. You did the right thing Cooper, you kept it pro-.

I continued down the hallways towards the holding interrogation rooms, the usual spot for my summons. In the dozens of times I had been at the precinct I think I’ve only sat in Norman’s office no more than three times. Thoughts of the officers faded into an out of my head while I strolled through the office.

Thoughts were thoughts in my head, there were no voices associated with them like you’d hear in TV shows or movies where the psychic character heard people’s inner monologues as if they were their own narrators. Some people don’t even have an inner narrator, but I could still read their minds loud and clear. Instead thoughts were always like intuitions, feelings of those around me. They echoed in and out of existence depending on the thinker’s proximity and the emotional strength behind them.

…was it at 7745 Chattanooga, or 7747 Chattanooga….

…gotta go take a piss…

…Rain’s hair looks nice today….

…man, my back hurts like a bitch… A thought faded into my head. Must be Charlie, the poor soul had been having back issues since he had gotten himself into a shoot out a few years before I started consulting. He had been ridden to desk work. That I knew because he had told me. I also knew that he had a dependency on prescription pain medication, that he kept silent about. That he did not tell me. “Hey Charlie,” I said when I rounded the corner.

“Rain!” Charlie said, he stood up off the metal chair, behind Charlie and the chair iron bars hung down from the ceiling all the way to the floor. He waddled over to me; his arms outstretched. I reciprocated with a hug. Charlie, ever the hugger. “Detective Sherwood told me you’d be in today. He says he finally got his guy. Needed you to help with the clean up.”

…. fuck this hurts …. Charlie thought. Another thing about Charlie, if he wasn’t on meds, he liked to hide is pain.

“How about you take a seat,” I said.

“Nonsense, I’m fine,” Charlie retaliated.

“Charlie…”

She’s right, I’m gonna keel over if I don’t get some support. Charlie thought.

I guided the wounded man back to the chair he had been at.

“There, that’s better,” I said as he took a seat. “They got you on guard duty today?”

“Yes mam,” Charlie said. “I needed the break; my eyes were getting tired of looking at the screens all day. Do you have an escort today?”

“Yeah, Sargent Holzer is my escort. He’ll be here soon.”

“While we wait how about we play one of your games?” Charlie asked. He loved doing this.

“Sure, what’s the challenge today?”

I should ask her to pick a number I’m thinking about. Nah, I did that last week. I’ll ask he if she can name the last three things I ate. Now let’s see, I had a turkey burger for lunch, a ham and cheese croissant for breakfast, and what was for dinner last night? Lasagna? No that was earlier this week. Oh yeah, Chicken Parmesan.

“Oh right, I got it!” Charlie snapped his fingers. “Here’s a challenge for you. I want you to name the last three things I ate.” I lightly snorted. You get used to pretending to be surprised when you’ve lived like this as long as you could remember. “Well that’s a new one. Alright,” I said squatting down to Charlie’s level.

“Should I exhale for you?” he asked.

“No,” I shook my head, “you can breathe normally. I don’t want your stinky breath on me.”

“Hey, I brushed my teeth after lunch,” he said.

“Did you really?” I looked him in the eyes.

No, I didn’t. He thought.

“No, I didn’t,” he admitted. “Alright, do your best.”

I sat in silence for a moment. I didn’t search for answers, I searched for explanations. The hardest part of this job was looking for visible clues to explain away everything I had already known. Retro-mentalism I called it. Charlie’s amusement over my gift had become a routine exercise to sharpen my observation skills.

Charlie wore a white button down tucked into black khakis. The creases of his collar were stained a light yellow. He must have worn that shirt yesterday as well. I spotted a small red stain sitting on the flap of his collar. Alright that’s the chicken parmesan I thought, or a fry with his burger. It didn’t matter, I had an explanation. I continued looking around his torso for other clues.

I must have really stumped her, Charlie thought. She never takes this long.

Report, check. Coffee. Check Water bottle. Check. A thought faded into my head, distracting me for a moment.

“Hey Charlie, hey Rain,” Sargent Holzer’s voice said. “What’s going on here?”

I held out a finger in the direction of the Sargent’s voice.

“Is this one of your games Charlie?” The Sargent asked.

“Shhh….” Charlie said.

Here I am trying to be all professional, and Charlie’s off lollygagging again with Rain, again. the Sargent thought.

I kept looking for other clues, crumbs or flakes or something. I shifted my gaze to his face. He had a little stubble today, might find some clues in there. Nothing. I carried on, shifting my gaze lower to his khakis.

Within the fibers of his khakis sat a few flecks of something, could be anything, but it was enough for me to go with. Two out of three down.

“You know the detective doesn’t like it when you two this,” Sargent Holzer said.

I sighed and stood up.

“Man, you really got me this time,” I said.

“Take a guess,” Charlie said.

“Let’s see,” I closed my eyes pretending to think. “You had a croissant for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch, and I’m stumped on last night’s dinner. Am I right?”

Wow she’s good, Charlie thought.

The detective is going to murder me, the Sargent thought.

“Common guess, I’ll tell you once you guess.”

I opened my eyes and sighed. “I don’t know, Lasagna.” I lied.

“Oh, so close!” Charlie snapped. “It was chicken parmesan.”

“Hey, you gotta give me points for guessing Italian!” I said.

“Alright, how did you know?”

“You have a small red stain near your collar, typical of eating fries with ketchup, so you had to have had a burger. And your pants have small croissant flakes on them. Making me guess three was unfair, I can’t guess your dinner last night if there aren’t any stains your clothes,” I said.

“Ready to go?” Holzer asked.

“I am,” I faced the Sargent. He held out the bottle of water, I took it. “Would you do us the honor and let us through?” I asked Charlie.

“Sure, thing mam,” he produced a key from his pocket and opened the gates. The chair and him were close enough to the gate so that the poor man wouldn’t have to stand up. The Sargent went through first, I followed behind.

“Rain,” Charlie said through the bars. “I had lasagna earlier this week.”

“I know,” I winked at him. I followed the Sargent down the hallway towards the interrogation rooms.

How does she do it? I heard Charlie think to himself.

Perfectly Reasonable

Writing Prompt: You are a ghost, who’ve been haunting a house for years. Most people left after a few days, some can last few weeks. You’ve been a mighty ghost, until a scientist moved in. He had stayed for 2 years and keeps coming up with scientific explanations for all your tricks. (source)

 

The Haunting. Demon. Poltergeist. Beelzebub. These were names given to me decades by the guests who so dare trespass on the resting place of an old soul like myself. This had been my home long before the country side had been consumed by what folks these days called “the suburbs.” As the world changed, I stayed within the confines of my house, working tirelessly to shoo out the unwanted guests like chasing rats out of the pantry with a broom. Why didn’t anyone let me just rest in peace?

I had spent many such decades perfecting the craft of a good scare. It helped that in part that the story of my untimely demise had become a local legend. A good beheading is bound to make people terrified of what still remains within the walls. For the first few years that story was all I needed, only to disturbed by a flying rock through the window or two teenagers sneaking into my house to make out or get high. But that all changed once an eager young woman and her husband decided to “flip” my house. I wanted nothing to do with that, so I did a little work of my own.

Tape measures would extend on their own. Saws would turn on by themselves. Hammers banged on the walls when nobody was in the room. But despite this the construction still persisted. I thought I had lost until the night the young couple moved in. The woman was different this time, a baby bump sat upon her belly a few months from delivery I suspected.

They dressed up a room with a cradle with mobile dangling delicately above it, stuffed bunnies and bears, a paint bucket and nails sat upon a blue tarp in the corner for the final touch ups of the house. I decided to give the room a make over.

The next morning the young trespassers minded their own business for most of the day. I patiently waited within the nursery, eager to see the look on their faces at my art. It was the early afternoon when the soon to be mother ventured into the nursery. Her face morphed from the cool and calmness to a mouth gaping eyes wide open scream. Loud footsteps banged across the floor as the husband dashed down the hallway. He stopped at the doorway and let out a loud “what the fuck?”

Inside the room was my first masterpiece. The bodies of the stuffed animals were nailed to the walls without order. Hanging by the pull string of the light fixture was the body of one stuffed rabbit, the light strobed, a little flair I added at last minute. On the wall across from the door I had written in blue paint “get out.”

The couple left that night to never return. But people kept trespassing.

I got pretty good at my hauntings over the years. From the obvious tricks such as floating knives and rooms being completely rearranged after a family had returned for their Sunday church, to the more subtle nightmares I would project into people’s dreams. Most people wouldn’t last a whole month in my house before they hightailed it out of there, leaving me with a few weeks of peace and quiet until another family moved in. But then she came.

At first I thought she would be easy. You see, she moved into my house all alone, and I’ve had my share of single people throughout the years and single people were easy. Their loneliness only amplified the effects of my hauntings. Whereas couples and families would lean on each other for a while before things got too weird, single people had nobody to share their experience with and often times worried about going mad. But she was different.

No matter what I did, from shadows moving on their own, to flipping tables she always had an explanation for everything happening. When I banged on the walls at night she’d say it was the pipes. If she watched TV alone late at night and I started interfering with the signals she called it interference. Whenever I gave her a few nightmares she’s call it anxiety and take pills that made my tricks futile. If the furniture seemed out of place after she had returned from work it was because the wooden floors were too slippery. Everything had an explanation, and you know what? For the first two months it was kinda cute, but two years later it’s tiring.

No longer was I the demon, I was a pipe banging against the wall. Long were the days of being called a poltergeist, now I was just slippery floors. Beelzebub was no more, instead I was just another broken light bulb. It was no longer a haunting, just “perfectly reasonable” things happening around the house.

Back to the Basics, Over and Over Again

I’ve been teaching myself Python for the better part of the year. Being the mathematically and systems oriented person I am it was only a matter of time I delved into programming again. This isn’t the first time I’ve been down this road, just the furthest.

A long while ago, during the summer between my junior and senior years of college I took up learning Python since I heard plenty of things about its use and accessibility for non-comp-sci majors like myself. My journey ended as quickly as it began with only completing a handful of lessons from Learn Python the Hard Way and a few problems on Project Euler.

project euler
Project Euler’s Problem Page

My time with Python was short, but sweet.

Two years passed and I hadn’t touched a line of code since then, until one afternoon when a friend called me with an idea.

Listeners of my productivity podcast know that I’m the sort of person who gets really excited about new projects, so when my friend called me up with an idea for an app I jumped on that wagon fast. What the app was supposed to do doesn’t matter here, what does is that it brought me back into the world of programming. Neither him nor I had any formal training in programming, so I picked up a Java course off of Udemy so I could begin my path of becoming a successful app developer.

That project never got past the learning Java phase. Between the two of us I ended up being drawn to the world of programming more than him, and thus the project died. Around the same time I began my first podcast with another friend, which did end up taking off, and with that, it was back into a codeless world for me.

My programming life began a familiar pattern. I’d pick up the basics of a language for a bit, then drop it for something else. The same self fulfilling prophecy continued with other languages, like learning just enough HTML & CSS to customize a WordPress theme, or learning the basics of AutoLISP for my job as an engineer. Nothing really stuck, and it took a while for me to figure out why.

I picked up learning these languages and the basics of code because I saw them as fun before it got too hard. I never challenged myself because I didn’t understand how a computer thought or was structured. Plus most of my practice problems involved math problems from Project Euler. Coding felt like some fancy way to solve math problems, and nothing else.

I picked up Python again this time around, due to its accessibility and use in data science. I am not a data scientist by any means, but I do love data. I started again with Learn Python the Hard Way, then found out shortly afterwards from the Learn Python subreddit that, well, that course sucks. So I followed their lead and started with Automate the Boring Stuff with Python.

automate_2e_cover

And wow did this lesson make a huge difference in my programming journey. No longer did I see coding as a fancy way to solve math problems, it could be used that way, but I now knew how to do other things with it. I could manipulate files, write Excel documents, and move my cursor! I finally felt like this was it. What really opened my eyes to this brave new world of programming was the API.

Another hobby of mine is fiction writing. I don’t share it that often since I’m self conscious of it (but that should change soon), and like coding is only a skill I’ve gone back to the basics and no further for many cycles now. One problem with writing fiction for me is that I always feel like I either have too many ideas I want to work on, or none at all. So I decided to pick up going to /r/WritingPrompts every so often to explore ideas. But that got overwhelming. I just wanted one topic to write from and no more. So I turned to Python.

2020-04-23 18_00_32-Prompts and motivation to create something out of nothing
So many great ideas, where do you being?

Using my knowledge of Python and knowing that API’s exist, I looked into the reddit API for python and began automating my decisions. I created a very simple program that picked a random post from the entire history of the subreddit and printed the prompt and the direct link to the prompt. I never know what I’m going to get, and I like it that way. This was what I wanted Python and Java for years ago.

Learning about the API changed everything once again. I could now interact with websites and app in ways I only ever dreamed of. Since then I’ve created a simple Discord bot, and have experimented with a Slack bot.

This time it will be different, I finally feel like it’s time I continue down this path I’ve been drawn to on and off again for over six years. It’ll be back to the basics over and over again no more.

The Productive Podcaster: Hindenburg First Impressions

I’m gong to be honest with you, when it comes to podcasting (and most things in general) I like to cut corners on my expenses. As mentioned in my previous Productive Podcaster post, I spent hours of my time working on subpar graphics for my old show just to save on money. Once I realized that my time was more than my money, I decided it was time to delegate that work to a friend of mine who’s a professional graphic designer. This corner-cutting behavior is true with my editing tools as well, until this year when I switched from Audacity to Hindenburg.

Audacity is the de facto editing and recording program for amateur and new podcasters, if you’re on Windows. It is a free, open source audio editing program with a great community built around it. However the thing with free is that it means what you save in money, you make up in time. Audcacit’s UI for example is very menu based and has limited keyboard shortcuts.

 A look into Audacity

It’s not a bad system, and the UI has improved significantly since I first started using it. Audacity has all the features you need to start podcasting: multi-track editing, label tracks for keeping tabs on every section, hundreds of custom plug-ins for features you’re missing and so on. But it also lacks many other important features you will have to get around by installing plugins and using other programs, such as the most important one: a native MP3 export (you will have to install LAME in order to export to MP3), and a built in auto leveling function (I used Levelator for leveling all my tracks, it’s great but no longer supported). Finally Audacity also lacks in fun optional features as well as exporting podcast chapters. There are solutions to all these issues with Audacity, but if you’re willing to invest a $100 to make your podcast production process smoother and much more enjoyable, I would recommend Hindenburg Journalist.

Hindenburg Journalist is an audio editing program mostly geared towards audio journalist, which means you will be getting everything you need pre-installed. There are two tiers, the Journalist, and the Journalist Pro, but when it comes for home production the Journalist edition has everything you need, for starters Journalist has a native MP3 export function, and auto leveling, not to mention the UI is just great looking (UI aesthetics are very important for me, if you haven’t noticed).

There are so useful many features Hindenburg Journalist has that Audacity lacks that make it worth it, from:

  • Labeling each track individually, instead of having a separate label track in Audactiy you can split each track and label each section.

  • Muting audio, instead of deleting it. In Audacity whenever you mute a section it automatically replaces it with a silent track, making that old audio irrecoverable. In Hindenburg you can simply select your audio then hitting Ctrl+M, which will tell the program to not play that portion. The effects can be undone at any time.

  • Non-destructive editing. In audacity whenever you delete a portion of a track it is gone forever, not in Hindenburg.

  • Audio chapters. This is a feature I haven’t used just yet, but I plan to once Mark and I begin rolling out The Productivity Lab. Chapters make it super simple for your listeners to know what topic you’re covering and makes it simple to navigate between each one so they can easily relisten to what you discussed.

  • Syncing tracks. The ability to sync tracks is so important that I had no idea how much I needed it until I swapped to Hindenburg. With synced tracks it makes it way more easier to delete and rearrange portions of a track since you know that other tracks synced to it will alter with it. This was an issue with multi-track editing in Audacity that would cost me minutes of time whenever I forgot delete a portion of another to keep it lined up, or moving the tracks around to line up with the music.

Just having the peace of mind that everything I need is within one program has made the editing of my new show so much more relaxing. No more juggling between programs. And if I’m every curious about how to use or find a feature Hindenburg has a very helpful and searchable help section on their website.

Since I’ve only used Hindenburg for editing two episodes this post only covers my first impressions. Audacity is a terrific starting program, but if you have $100 to spend I would recommend Hindenburg any day over Audacity.

The Productive Podcaster: Time Tracking and Your Podcast

As I’ve posted about before, I am avid (some would even say chronic) time tracker. I track everything useful to me from time spent on individual projects at work, all the way to break and non-productive time at work. This habit extends out of the office as well to keep myself in check for how much time I’ve put into different side projects and even some chores around the apartment. To me time tracking is an excellent tool for learning what part of the process needs to change, making an accurate prediction on how to go about your projects, how productive you really are. Today I want to talk to you about time tracking in the context of your podcast production.

Presently I am working on a new show that will be premiered sometime in June called The Productivity Lab. In that show my cohost, Mark Askew, and I test out different methods, tools and apps in our daily lives for two weeks to see how they affect us. The show is still early in production, but we will use it as an example in this post.

There are many tools for time tracking, but the best by far I’ve used is Toggl. It is a manual time tracker, meaning that you will have to click start and stop every time you begin a task or work on a project, but its manual features allow it to be easily to be modified.

Toggl’s set up is based on a Client -> Project -> Tags system. Ever project has a client, and each project can be designated whatever works best for you. The tags are universal between all clients and projects, which makes them great for tracking more general things like admin work, email, or meetings. Below is a report showing my time on The Productivity Lab since we officially kicked off the project in late April.

As you can see, my “client” is The Productivity Lab. If we compare the time spent with The Productivity Lab with my other active side projects within that same time frame we can get a better picture on how I’m splitting my hours. This view is great for figuring out what projects you’ve spent a lot of time on and which ones you’ve neglected. If you’re struggling to juggle so many projects at once, taking a look at the actual data for time spent on each project is extremely valuable. According to this chart, if I feel over whelmed I should just ax the blog. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Next we’ll take a deeper look into my time on The Productivity Lab and how I spend it across different “projects.” Let’s take a look.

I’ve broken my time tracking down into four major categories: audio editing, show prep, recording, and The Productivity Lab itself. You can go more granular than this if you choose too, especially if you’re working on music, graphics or blog posts, but I prefer to keep it somewhat simple. The first three “projects” are pretty self explanatory, but what does the final tautological one mean? In my workflow anything that goes towards working on the back end, administrative side, or misc tasks that don’t quite fit into the other categories gets tossed into this meta category that is then sub divided into different tags. Depending on what you need to focus on for your show I recommend adding or subtracting more categories.

So what can we learn from this data? Well a good start would be the ratio of editing to recording. If I want to sit down and edit a new episode I should account for how long the recording is to know how much time to block off. Since I have a ratio of 1.55 I should at least plan for each editing session to be 1.55 times longer than the file I’m sitting down to record. Or I can change my editing process to speed it up (for example I am a huge stickler for removing “umms” and other filler words when they don’t work, this can be a very tedious process usually taking the most time).

Show prep is a very important category as well. If you want to keep yourself accountable of how much research goes into each episode then I recommend keeping a timer for this. At this moment we’ve recorded two episodes and I’ve spent roughly two and a half hours of prep in total, so I should at least expect each episode to take an hour of prep time or more (notice: prep time doesn’t mean the actual experiment we’re doing, as it can be nebulous, but the research into the methods and writing up the show notes).

Additionally if you are co-producing a show like Mark and myself, then time tracking is great for figuring out if somebody needs a little help in off loading tasks and processes on the project. If you feel like you’re not doing enough editing you can check your timer against your co-producer’s and take the load off of their work schedule.

Finally time tracking can help with general out sourcing. In a previous podcasting project of mine, Everyday Superhumans, I could have used a time tracker in its early days. At the inception of the project I was working on the show as a produce, host and graphic designer. And truth be told my graphic design skills are far from good. I was spending hours trying to get logos and graphics together for the show before we kicked off, to a point where I was spending more time on graphic design than actual podcast production (or so I think, I was unaware of the existence of Toggl at the time). Not only was I spending so much time working on the show’s graphics, but each graphic I made ended up being far below sub-par and wasn’t a good face for the show. We eventually handed off the design process to a friend of mine who we more than happily compensated for his work, and subsequently cleared up my schedule to work on the work that matters: the audio content. If I had been time tracking then I would have had a better understand on where my time was going, and how valuable it really was to me. You can see the difference between the rough design of my original idea (on the left) compared to the clean and simple design our graphic designer did (on the right). Off loading the work made a huge difference and built a better brand because of that.

Time tracking is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal of apps and methods when it comes to podcasting. When used properly you can use the data as a feedback loop to help you evolve your production methods, develop a production schedule that matches your workflow, and finding tasks that need to be off-loaded (or on-boarded). Trust me if you begin time tracking today I guarantee you that you will find yourself being more productive and spending time on what matters most for your show.

Three Tools for Balancing Work, Life, and Side Projects

If you’re like me, you can get easily excited by new and novel projects. It can feel like there’s so much to do, and if you only had a few more hours a day you can fit a new project into it. If your day job is also full of projects you have to take on, then that’s just more head space that will get filled. On one hand, having so much to do can feel great, it means you have tons of ideas and energy, but on the other hand you risk a major trade off: you are at risk of burnout, a sensation of being overwhelmed and unable to prioritize properly, neglecting other important aspects of life such as loved ones, your health, and your sleep, and finally spreading yourself too thin can lead to mediocre performance on all tasks.

These are all problems that people with busy work lives, or side-project-a-holics like myself will encounter. There are no one sized fit all solutions, but I will be covering a few techniques that can be used to help you manage your time and projects better.

Tool #1: Cutting the Nonessential

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown argues that it is not what you say yes to that matters, but what you say no too that can make the biggest difference of all in work and life. The ability to say no and cutting out nonessential tasks and projects clears up your calendar, and head space to fit more room and energy towards things that matter.

Essentialism is all about your goals and priorities. If a project seems fun, like say starting a movie review podcast, but you’re working over forty hours a week on other projects that you have to do for work, and you have a relationship you want to maintain, then starting that podcast might not be the best option.

Tool #2: Prioritizing & Scheduling

Ranking and scheduling ahead of time is another great way to work on that project balance. On your list of projects, especially ones you can eliminate, rank them on their importance. How you weight that importance is up to you. Next setting premeditated time aside ahead of time for only the tasks associated with it a la time blocking will allow you to “bucket” up those tasks to dedicated hours. Time blocking is a powerful tool, especially for busy people with many projects to focus on.

Tool #3: Offloading

Some projects might be accomplished through offloading tasks to others, especially remedial tasks. Perhaps you can afford to have somebody come by and clean your place while you’re at work, sign up for grocery services like InstaCart or Blue Apron. For side projects hiring small freelancers will take the load off the most stressful parts of the project. As fun as it is to be the creator, it is just as important to know when to step back and become a manager.

Conclusion

There is no one size fit all solution to project management, however there are proven techniques when it comes to knowing what to do and what to cut (or hand off). Using tools like knowing when to say no, time and task management, and task delegation will help you manage yourself better and free up that head space to work on what matters.

What techniques do you use to manage your projects and your time?

Moving the Baseline

Everything has a ground floor, a baseline. The baseline drives everything, it functions as the core status quo in which everything is compared to. Without it comparisons would be harder to find. A baseline is nothing more than a defined set of standards that everybody can agree on is acceptable. For the sake of this essay I will define the baseline as the simply the average.

Think of a bell curve, it’s a simple bell shaped graph increasing from right to left until it hits a certain value, then it proceeds to decrease from that value downwards in perfect symmetry.

 A normal distribution, aka a bell curve A normal distribution, aka a bell curve

Sitting the middle is the average, the baseline in which everything is measured relative to. If you fall on the right side of the baseline you are under performing, if you’re on the left you’re over performing. The x-axis shows the measured value, the y-axis is the frequency. If you’re a runner and you typically run at an average pace of 9 miles those 9 miles sit directly in the middle of the curve. When you have an off day and run 7 miles you’re performing on the right side of the graph, and on days when you have enough stamina to go for a half marathon you’re on the right.

The baseline isn’t static, in fact it moves all the time, a common way that you can move it is by setting goals. A goal is a new baseline you’re trying to reach.


When a goal is set you begin incrementally moving the bell curve towards this new desired baseline. In the case of running let’s say you plan on increasing you average distance to 15 miles. So you begin incrementally growing it, day by day. First you increase your stamina by running ten miles more often, then eleven, then twelve, all the way until you hit your desired average of fifteen. Once it becomes easy for you, you developed a new baseline, a new average in which to measure all things with.

 I apologize for the graphic, all I had to work with was MS Paint I apologize for the graphic, all I had to work with was MS Paint

However a strange thing happens when you move this baseline. What is not illustrated in these graphics is that everybody has their own baseline, you have your own average, but there are also global averages and community averages. If you push yourself further away from the global average you know you’re doing pretty well, however in that case you will end up entering a new tier, a new community in which you are compared to.

When running you used to be compared to the 10k runners a lot, there you were a top dog running three more miles compared to them, but you were below average for the half marathon runners. Well now you’ve hit fifteen miles, you’re doing roughly two more miles than the half marathoners out there, you’re looking pretty good, but yet fifteen miles is now eleven miles shorter than a marathon. On average you’re better than the global average of all runners, you’re better than the community averages in the 10k and half marathon communities, but your still far behind the averages of the marathon runners.

It can be easy to get blinded by the fact that you’re not doing your best when compared to the marathon runners, pride is a powerful emotion, but that’s fine. What matters is that you moved the baseline and that you’re already outperforming your old baseline. It could be hard to accept that you’re not there yet, but don’t let that hold you back, you’ve already increased your baseline once before, you can do it again. After all, progress is progress.


Day 18

Word Count: 595

Cost per Post: $8.66

The Attention Ecosystem

Inside your phone is a lies an garden of apps, an ecosystem curated to you by you, but an ecosystem that has one singular source of nourishment: you. Your time, your engagement, your information are all valuable resources for each and every one of those apps, without you they wouldn’t exist.

Like the sun shining down and providing the energy needed to sustain life on Earth, your face is a beacon of light and primary energy source for each of these apps. However, unlike the sun, your time with them is limited and can mostly be used on a one by one basis, and sometimes neglected all together when you’re spending time away from the screen. In short, unlike the sun, you are a scarce resource, and whenever an ecosystem can only survive on a singular scarce resource competition is inevitable.

Through competition these apps are forced to evolve and develop new tactics to hold your attention as long as possible. Each and every single one of them must adapt or perish, creating an arms race. Maybe the app begins filling your phone with notifications to remind you of a new status update, or by consolidating all your communications to one messenger, or create reward systems via refreshing the page to show you new things that you’re guaranteed to like. Like biology each one has developed a means to survive in a an every growing ecosystem.

Think of the apps on your phone, which ones take most of your time? Are they necessary? And if so are they needed to the extent of which you use them? Do you enjoy using the ones that aren’t necessary? How often do you use them? Apps are like food, you can eat whatever you want but it’s great to keep your diet well balanced.

Think of your phone as a garden and you are the gardener, you have complete control over what you plant in it and what you decide to eat. It is your job to maintain a healthy information diet, and I don’t doubt that you do, however at times it can be easy to over indulge in less healthy meals. They taste good, that’s fine, but like sweets if you consume too much you might be happy in the moment, but not in the long run. So maintain your garden and your meals to support a more balance diet. Perhaps you set up apps like BlockSite or Cold Turkey to prevent yourself from accidentally indulging during pre-determined hours, or maybe you only access one service through the web browser only instead of providing a space in your garden for it to grow. Maybe you see your indulgence might be getting out of hand and it’s time for a fast or diet plan.

Your phone is a wonderful ecosystem of amazing apps developed by brilliant people to give you the experience you want. However, like all ecosystems competition is inevitable, especially when given a singular scarce resource like your own attention. Be the gardener of your own ecosystem, but beware that if you don’t attempt to take control of it, your garden will become overrun and taking you with it.

We only have so much time in the day, make sure you’re the one deciding how you want to spend it.

This essay was inspired by CGP Grey’s video essay “Thinking About Attention”, Hello Internet Episode 108 “Project Cyclops.” If you are interested in ways to tend to your garden in a healthy manner, or are worried you’re over indulging on certain apps, I highly recommend you check out Time Well Spent. Time Well Spent is an ongoing project to promote human centered design and make your phone work for you in a symbiotic relationship, instead of competing for you.


Day 17

Word Count: 629

Cost per Post: $9.17

Meal Prepping: Saving Time in Bulk

I’ve written about the importance of weekly planning and why time tracking is important, now I want to write about something that combines the philosophy of those two: meal prepping. Meal prepping sits at the cross section of planning and time saving, the entire philosophy behind the action of meal prepping is that you plan out your meals for the upcoming week, and instead of cooking them individually each day, you cook it all at once, add it into some handy Tupperware containers then refrigerate and reheat when ready to eat.

As you can save by buying in bulk, you save time by cooking in bulk. No longer is it needed to cook every night after a long day of work, or give into the temptation of fast food when you’re too exhausted to cook a meal on the grill. All it takes is an hour or two in the kitchen every Sunday and you’re set until the upcoming weekend.

A common practice of meal prepping is to cook in bulk and eat the same meal over and over again throughout the week. This saves you in time (less clean up between meals) and money (you buy in bulk instead of five different sets of ingredients). If eating the same thing over and over again doesn’t appeal to you, it is possible to prepare each meal individually, at the cost of a more expensive bill and more time in the kitchen, but at the very least you will have your meals done and ready to do by the time you’re ready to eat.

If you’re interested in meal prepping I highly recommend you checking out the subreddit /r/MealPrepSunday. Meal Prep Sunday is a community of people who love the practice of meal prepping and is full of terrific recipes, and tips.

So if the idea of cooking in bulk to save time during the work week, or save you money form giving into fast food temptations, I highly cannot recommend meal prepping enough.


Day 16

Word Count: 333

Cost per Post: $9.74

Thank the Artist

Art is a hard career. In every career the superstar effect is always present, but in some careers more than others the superstar effect makes or breaks who can just get by to keep their lights on. Art, of most kinds, is one of these.

Art is the ultimate form of self expression, when an artist makes something they are making it for themselves, and if it catches on and people love it, the artist can make a career out of it. There is a famous essay by Kevin Kelly titled A Thousand True Fans, in which he argues that in order to have a sustainable lifestyle as an artist or content creator you shouldn’t focus on going big or going home, but instead focus on building a narrow but deep community of around a thousand people. All you need is a thousand people who love your work and want to help you succeed to keep your lights on as long as you keep producing great content.

I strongly believe that if you find an artist you love, especially ones that speak to you, you should make an effort to let them know how much you appreciate their work. It’s one thing to get paid, but it’s another to personally tell somebody how you feel about their work. One of my favorite pastimes is discovering new musicians and albums, especially small time artists who probably only get a few hundred in income from Spotify or Google Play listens outside of live shows. When I find these artists that really speak to me I not only will share their music across communities like reddit’s Listen to This, but I will personally reach out to them on social media to let them know that their work has personally spoken to somebody today.

Letting somebody know that their work, the work that they put hours, days, weeks or months into has connected to a stranger on a personal level is a reward every creator and artist out there wants. You are letting them know that they are appreciated, and that they have one more fan to add to their thousand true fans. If you find a song you like, a painting you love, a story you just can’t stop thinking of, always remember: thank the artist.


Day 15

Word Count: 383

Cost per Post: $10.39