KW1402 – Fighting Your Distractions

On this episode of the Knightwise.com podcast we talk about fighting your online distractions.

Besieged by lolcats, social media, popups and the Google quest to find out which starship captain was both in Star Trek and ‘Murder She Wrote’, we look for a way to get fight distractions and things done.

Another storytime episode to kick back and relax to.

Enjoy!

Music: Vangelis, The Tegos Tapes Part 1 [youtube]

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KW1002 Storytime

sl2

This week’s edition of the Knightwise.com podcast brings another installment of Storytime. Sit back and relax to some tunes selected by the Cyberpunk Librarian, Daniel Messer, and two stories from the archives: “Offline” and “When Wanting is More Pleasing than Having”.

Links

Music

Credits

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kw906 : “Cyber Zen”

This week we look for ways to make technology work for you instead of the other way around. No really ! Have you noticed how you are constantly interrupted by notifications from your smartphone ? How you spend hours on Social media without doing anything productive ? How adds and Tv sometimes make you feel agitated ? We go on a quest for some practical tips to cyber-zen your lifestyle. So lets tame your content stream and your devices so they will work for you .. instead of the other way around.

Shownotes.

  • Introduction
  • Getting rid of cable tv
  • Taming my devices
  • The power of “Ding”
  • The “Ding” hierarchy
  • The results
  • Signoff.

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How a slower computer can make you more productive.

The black, featureless background is only broken by the repetitious blinking of the amber colored cursor
. Its Rhythmic pulsing reminds that I need to press a multitude of keys on the keyboard to make these words appear. Aside from a small line of text below informing me of how many lines, words and characters I have produced, there are no other options to select, no notifications, suggestions or other distractions.

old-terminal

By modern day standards this application lacks a massive amount of features. No markup menu, word suggestions, contextual menu’s or share buttons. Just amber words on a black background. Yet this is one of the most productive pieces of software on my computer : It lets me write these very articles.

The computer I am running this application on is equally “under powered” by today’s norm. (and under priced) My Raspberry Pi computer with its hilariously low amount of memory, cpu power and storage is possibly less powerful then the smartphone in my pocket, yet I’ve chosen to make it my machine of choice ? Why ?

Sometimes its just “too much”.

Well, I have a love-hate relationship with modern day computers. Their powerful Cpu’s and elaborate operating systems are the very pinnacle of our digital existence. The come packed with a plethora of options and possibilities they can accommodate our every need. That however is also their undoing. In tandem with over-connected applications and services who want to do nothing else then to have you either tweak or tweet whatever you are doing .. to the point where your productivity is reduced to zero. Sometimes its just “too much”.

That is why I took the plunge and went back to “basics” for a couple of days. Using the Raspberry pi and in its very moderate capacity helped me re-think and re-evaluate what I really needed to be productive.

The Raspbian operating system isn’t packed with a lot of features. Just the basics to help you do what you need to get done. There are some applications installed , but when choosing extra software you have to keep the limited “power of the pie” in mind. Hence I started thinking about what applications I needed to be productive and what the minimal requirements of those applications were.

What do we really need ? 

So, I need a browser, but does it need to have 5000 extensions ? Turns out it doesn’t. I need a word processing application but does it need to have 39 buttons ? No it doesn’t. My initial thoughts of having my creativity seriously curtailed by the limited powers of my “simple” environment were wrong. The simplified environment and “simple” applications helped me focus more on what I needed to get done.. instead of getting distracted by the tools themselves.

“Slow computing” has another advantage. It takes my browser a couple of seconds to start up (an eternity compared to my other systems) but this is a great help in the “urge to quickly check Facebook” and get distracted. I can’t have 50 browser tabs open because I don’t have the ram, but that allows me to pay more attention on the one thing i’m researching.

In short : “Slow computing” helps me focus. It gives me the time to think about things before I press another hyperlink. It is free from those over-connected distractions and it keeps me from going down a 45 minute rabbit hole just to find the ‘right wallpaper’ for my dual screen desktop. Sure I’ll bounce up against the limitations of the system… and if I do I still have my other powerful laptop waiting in the wings. But the amount of stuff I “Got Done” before I have to make that move .. is pretty amazing. Slow computing .. helps you focus ! Try it 🙂

Links : Raspbian.

Same

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Column : Single display Simplicity.

If you ever watched the movie Wargames (I am showing my age here) or remember the scene inside the control room of the Nebuchadnezzar and you found your geek heart-rate quickening at the sight of all those screens … then you know what I mean when I say : “One display is never enough”.

Somehow, having a workstation with multiple computers blasting lines of random code onto several monitors surrounding a hyper-connected fast typing individual has something strangely appealing to it. More computers, more screens, more keyboards, more input, more data .. it somehow enhances our sense of power.

I remember the near fistfight scenario’s at the office where users would demand a dual-screen setup. They would vaguely think up scenario’s about the need to simultaneously run applications or compare data across the screen. The troglodyte rat-race that had prefaced this situation featured the urge to get “the biggest screen” in the office. Now there was a new kind of ‘hip’ in town .. the need to have TWO screens. Never mind if they needed it .. their neighbour had two .. so one screen was just not enough.

The domestic geek in the confounds of his own private dungeon is very much the same. ONE computer cannot be enough… you need SEVERAL machines. And since we are well on a roll on tilting the number of devices per user quota , lets add some tablets and smartphones to the mix .. shall we ?
So what you end up with is a complete over-connected bat cave with plenty of systems that you need to maintain. More screens then you can encompass, each displaying a separate part of your information streams (or each redundantly displaying the SAME information streams). Giant “waves” of notifications across all the different systems whenever you get a new reply on Twitter. Plenty of of keyboard-swapping and a dizzying amount of chair-swivelling. Yes : You have built a veritable mission control centre with enough machines to keep 5 people occupied, but you have a staff of one.

starbucks-and-laptop

So what if we go back to simplicity ? Last week, I had to confine myself to our kitchen table downstairs so I could keep my wife (who had the flu) company as she was sleeping on the couch. My “Mission Control Centre” sat unmanned upstairs. The only thing I had was my laptop, a notebook riser, an external keyboard and mouse .. and a pair of earphones. My geek universe shrunk to ONE 13 INCH screen. Can you imagine the horror ? 

So was it horrible ? Did I suffer information deprivation ? Did my fingers grasp the empty air where otherwise secondary (or tertiary) keyboards used to be ? Initially the answer was : YES. It took me quite  to squeeze all of my workflows onto one machine/display but after a couple of hours I started to enjoy it. I  have to admit , my personal digital architecture ( the way I have organised my Cyber Lifestyle) highly favours “sliding” from OS to OS , from machine to machine so I seldom have data or workflows locked down to one specific machine. I could cope with using just ‘one machine’ for a short time, but would it last ? 

To my own surprise I actually started enjoying it ! The “one machine” approach meant that I could  focus on what I was doing. The distractions were kept down to a minimum (Windows that I did not need simply remained closed) and notifications just came in ONCE on ONE system. When I closed down my email client, I did not get any mail notifications. I didn’t have to fight the urge to “check Twitter at a glance”. With fewer monitors and fewer systems I gained more focus then ever before.

On top of that, I got back some “intimacy” with my system. When there was a problem, or I needed to figure out how to do stuff , it was just on that ONE machine. It had been a long time since I experienced the feeling of having “one” computer that was “MY” computer and not just  “A” computer. This kind of “human-device” intimacy resulted in me taking extra good care of that machine. I tweaked it to my liking. It took me 25 minutes to find the right wallpaper and really ‘settle in’ on my machine,  instead of just ‘passing by’ and quickly rap on the keyboard before moving on. That one little computer became my ‘home’.

So I have learned something : More is not always better. I admit it is quite hard to do full screen video editing on a single 13 inch laptop but it does help you focus on the content. More machines means more maintenance, more distractions and more ‘distance’ from the machine. We loose not only the intimacy with “OUR computer”, we also lose the intimacy with the applications we have because we “bounce around” so much. We hop from phone to web interface, from mail client to tablet and loose any ‘deep knowledge’ of an OS or an application. We don’t seem to the time anymore, or better said : We don’t TAKE the time.

It felt refreshing to be back upstairs after a couple of days. Basking in the glow of all three 24inch displays, overlooking my digital horizon while leaning back with my hot cup of tea .. but somehow I missed my little excursion. Going back to the basics of one simple machine reminded me .. that sometimes less .. is so much more.

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Find focus by building your digital Zen-Zone.

After our home renovations I found myself forced to move my office to the attic of our house. It was time to tear down the carefully constructed nexus my digital lifestyle up one level. But it was also time to think things over on how I wanted stuff to be set up. Where my old desk was arranged in a C-shape, surrounding me with multiple monitors and computers, all available with a smooth swivel of my chair .. my new office was a “one line setup”, stretching out the entire length of the workspace in a single row. This meant it would be impossible to use the setup with just “one chair”, in essence creating more then one workspace. What now ?

“Comfort zone”.

I decided to do things differently this time. My multi-monitor-multi-media workstation with its 2 massive 24 inch displays, its mixers, its speakers and all the other gadgets would be sprawled onto one “desk” and .. I would leave the other desk completely empty. Instead of packing it with screens and keyboards, a little lamp, a wireless mouse and a collection of power and network cables was al that was visible on the workspace. This “second desk” is the one I want to use when the countless windows and digital clutter are getting out of hand. I just pop down here with whatever laptop I’m using (My Mac, My Linux machine, My work laptop) to get things done. I just sit down, hook up and focus on what I’m doing. Distractions are few because .. its just a cosy little corner .. opposed to a Nasa style multi-display supercluster.

“Zen Zone”

But just a “different spot” is not enough. One might still be bombarded by digital distractions like eMail, Social media and so forth. So I created a different user profile on my laptop (s) that I call the “Zen Zone” A profile that does not have IM or eMail clients configured. Just the bare minimum will suffice. Access to a browser, word processing apps, whatever I need to get stuff done .. but ONLY that. If I really wanted to I could remove the admin rights to this profile, change the proxy settings and make sure that my “Zen Zone” would be unable to access the internet unless I reboot. It might be tricky to do so when you work in the cloud a lot, but when you need to “get down and dirty” with something you need to get done .. this might help you with your self discipline. You need to “log out” and “log back in” to a different user if you want to go online. This will surely help in controlling your impulses to “quickly browse the web”.”

“Zen-ware”

Especially when it comes down to writing or being creative, having as few distractions as possible does help a lot. There are a number of applications that help you do this. Taking away all the bings bongs and chimes from the busy desktop interface and just giving you a plain interface.  Ommwriter ( Windows, Mac, Ios) or Focuswriter (Linux and Windows) are great ways to find a tranquil slate of screen to do your thing. Finding an online pomodoro timer might also help you keep your Cyber-ADD in check by giving you a focus-countdown timer with rewards when you completed a task.

In the end it comes down to a little self discipline and letting technology work for you instead of getting in your way .. to get stuff done. So : What are YOUR tips and tricks to stay focused and not goof off all the time ? Tell us in the comments section.

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