Thinking about simplifying capture on my phone

I’ve been thinking about temporary information: things like where I put down something I was holding, the task I’m working on just in case I get interrupted, thoughts that I want to explore later on.

The seeds of a good system are there, if I learn how to use them more effectively. I usually have my phone handy. Evernote can record audio, pictures, or text, and the creation date is an automatic timestamp. I can export the notes and process them using Emacs. Google Now’s “Note to self” command can create a note in Evernote, or I can tap the Create Note icon.

How can I improve how I use these tools?

If I get used to starting my note lines with a special keyword, then it’ll be easier for me to extract those lines and process them. For example:

DO Actions to add to my to-do list
THINK Thoughts to explore
PLACE Putting things down

If I add custom commands to Google Now, or make Google Now the fallback for another command line, then I can use that for my tracking system as well. AutoShare and AutoVoice might be handy. I should probably learn how to get Tasker working with Javascript, too. Alternatively, I can use Evernote’s e-mail interface, although there might be a slight delay if I’m offline.

If I create a custom single-click interface that can start the note with a specified keyword, that would be even better.

I could also use a more systematic review process. For example:

  • All THINK items can be automatically added to the end of my

questions.org as their own headings.

  • All DO items can be added to my uncategorized tasks.

Okay, let’s start by figuring out Javascript and Tasker, since that will make it easier for me to write actions that take advantage of intents.

First step is to save the JS library template from Tasker. The file is stored in /storage/emulated/0/Tasker/meta/tasker.js. Okay, I’ve created a Tasker scene that has a WebView component that loads the file that I synchronized with Dropsync.

The next step is to simplify development so that I can try things quickly. I want to be able to sync and reload my WebView scene by tapping a button. The Dropsync Tasker action returns immediately, so maybe I’ll just add a wait to it.

Hmm, maybe a good path might be:

  1. Set up easy sync/reload, so I can try things out quickly.
  2. Include JQuery.
  3. Run tasks.
  4. Launch apps.
  5. Send intents.
  6. Convert my current tracking menu to this format.
  7. Add buttons for creating notes (either e-mail-based or intent-based):
    • Do
    • Think
    • Place
  8. Add a command-line. Compare using it vs. using buttons.

On a related note, what kinds of things would I like my phone to be smart enough to do?

  • If I’m at home and I’m calling my cellphone from our home phone, set the ring volume to maximum, since that means I’m trying to find it.
  • If I say that I’m at a social event, ask me who I’m spending time with. Track that. Create a note with the person’s name as the title and “social” as the tag.
  • If I’m going to sleep, track that, then start tracking in Sleep as Android.
  • If I’m going to play a game, track that, then ask me what I’m going to do afterwards and how long I want to play. Load hints for the game (if I want). After the specified time, make a sound and remind me of what I was going to do.
  • If I’m going to read a book, show me the list of my checked-out books and let me pick one of them. Track that, then create a note with the title and author so that I can take notes.
  • NFC opportunities:
    • If I scan at the door, show me a menu: walk, subway, groceries, family, bike.
    • If I scan in at the kitchen table, track it as breakfast / lunch / dinner (as appropriate), then launch MyFitnessPal.
    • If I scan in at the table in front of the TV, show me a menu: relax, nonfiction, fiction, games.
    • If I scan in at my bedside table, treat it as going to sleep.

Mmm… Little things to tweak. =)

Thinking about changing interests

I’ve gone through quite a lot of interests. Sometimes they combine in useful ways, like the way coding and writing are imbued into practically all the other interests I have. Sometimes they last for years, and sometimes they’re over in months. From other people’s stories, I get the sense that this will likely continue throughout my life. =)

I want to do this better – the cultivation of interests, and the occasional letting go. Why do I want to do it better? I want to minimize the risk of being in the following situations:

  • When I overcommit to an interest:
    • Spending more money, time, or space than an interest needs
    • Making long-term promises (ex: speaking, organizing) that I might feel weird about
  • When I find myself in a lull because I haven’t cultivated my interests enough:
    • Recognizing temporary interest distance and accepting or working around it
    • Accepting the feeling of being a beginner and getting to the point of enjoyment
    • Letting go at the apppropriate point

In addition to those downsides, I want to make better use of the upsides:

  • During the initial period of fascination, I want to take unselfconscious notes
  • As my interest matures, I want to get better at seeking and organizing information, and then coming up with my own thoughts
  • I want to get better at drawing connections between interests and taking advantage of the combinations

So I’d like to learn more about how I think and learn. What kinds of things am I interested in? Why do my interests change? What stages do I go through? How can I make just the right level of commitment, feeding fledgling interests without adding too much weight to them, building on mature interests without stretching them too far, and taking breaks or letting go gracefully without flaking out? Should I focus on developing interest persistence, or get better at going with the flow?

Here’s an example of an interest I’m thinking through: I like Emacs and its community. I seem to get into Emacs cyclically. For a few months each year, I spend a lot of time looking closely at how I use Emacs and learning from what other people do. I hang out in Emacs communities, pay attention to mailing lists, tweak my config, write blog posts, sometimes create resources. (My Emacs geekery really is quite oddly rhythmic. Here’s the data by month since Nov 2011.)

Then other things take my attention, and I drift off. I haven’t tweaked my configuration or written an Emacs-related blog post in a while. I’ll get back to it at some point, I know – the oddest thing will bring me back: some idea or question – but in the meantime, I’m fine with letting it be for now.

But I’ve set up monthly Emacs Hangouts on my calendar and in Google+ events, because precommitting to those means that they happen. And there’s some kind of an Emacs Conference that I think would be an excellent idea, but I haven’t been able to muster the energy to do the kind of social outreach that I think would be needed in order to get the schedule sorted out. And there are the occasional requests for help that come in, even though I don’t feel I can contribute even a fraction of what http://emacs.stackexchange.com/ or the relevant mailing lists could.

I feel like it would be good for me to be closer to that interest, but there are other things on my mind at the moment, so I leave things hanging. I’ll be there for the Emacs Hangouts I’ve set up, but I haven’t felt like doing anything else lately: lining up people for Emacs Chat podcasts, writing or drawing a review of Mastering Emacs, exploring the awesome new packages that are out there…

On the other hand, I know that sometimes all it takes is a little time immersing myself in it: checking out StackExchange questions or IRC conversations, reading source code, going through my long TODO list of Emacs things to learn. Likely that will kickstart my interest.

In the meantime, this lull itself is curious and interesting, because I rarely get to pay attention to feelings like this. It feels odd to be a little bit distant from Emacs and reading books, two of my long-term interests. Writing, drawing, coding, and data analysis continue to be interesting. My sewing is on hold; I think keeping myself to one type of garment a year seems like a good way to avoid burnout. Gardening has been slowed to the pace that nature keeps. I notice a fledgling interest in cognitive research and psychology.

I’m taking it easy, fanning interest when I can and relaxing when I feel like doing that instead. A mix of routine and freedom helps, I think. I like writing and coding in the morning. Sometimes it takes a little effort to get started, especially with writing, but then I get going. In the afternoon, it’s okay to relax.

I don’t think that my values and the things that tickle my brain have changed, so I’ll probably return to my long-term interests once my new interests settle down and get integrated. They’ll be richer for it too, like the way coding got better when I added writing, and writing got better when I added drawing. In the meantime, I’m curious about charting the shifts in my focus and making the most of them.

Hmm, I wonder if this is related to my hesitation around the Quantified Self talk we’re planning for November: I’m not sure if I’ll be able to give the enthusiastic performance that I imagine newcomers would find helpful…

Aha! I think that might explain it. By myself, I’m okay with the shifts in my interests. I just try to take good notes and share them along the way. Social commitments add friction to interest-changing because I don’t want to flake out and I don’t want to fake things, which is why I’m reluctant to make plans even if I miss out on opportunities because I don’t want to do so. However, it would probably be good for me to know how to work with this, because social commitments are a good way to help make things that are bigger than yourself. If I remind myself that (a) at the core, I’m still likely to enjoy the things that drew me to that interest in the first place, and (b) it’s not the end of the world even if I mess up, that might help me reduce the anxiety around essentially making a promise that future me will still have the same passions that people are drawn to in the present. So I’m likely to still avoid making big commitments (say, no convincing people to quit their jobs and start a company with me), but I can practise with the small ones I have.

At the moment, I think I’ll still want someone else to take point on organizing the Emacs Conference speaker schedule, but I can re-evaluate that in two weeks, and we can always move it further out if needed. I should be able to handle the Quantified Self talk – worst-case scenario is I don’t manage to inspire and connect with people, but I don’t expect a small 1-hour talk to change people’s lives that much anyway. So it’s okay even if I don’t feel 100% there in terms of the interests right now. I have enough good memories to know I’ll probably feel that way about those interests again soon, so I can plan accordingly.

It’s a little odd teasing apart temporary factors and long-term factors in my mind, but I’m glad I can sit and write my way through it. In the meantime, I’ll focus on keeping my experiences of those interests pleasant, tickling my brain whenever I can. There’s so much depth to each interest that I don’t really need to add more. But on the other hand, the combinations can be quite interesting, so I’ll explore away. =)

A deeper dive into absent-mindedness and misplacing things

I haven’t misplaced anything today, but I know I will at some point. This week? This month? Definitely this year, and probably more and more as the years go by. It got me thinking about misplacing things, and what I might be able to do about that.

When or why do I misplace things?

  • Active
    • Putting something down in one of many frequent places
    • Putting something down in an infrequent place
    • Getting distracted half-way and putting something down somewhere I don’t remember
    • Putting something down because my hands are full and I need to pick up something else
    • Putting something in a place that’s similar to but not the same as the place it should be, and not catching the mistake
    • Putting something somewhere near it should be instead of where it should be because that place is occupied or inaccessible
    • Putting something away for the long term, then forgetting where it is
    • Putting something away, then forgetting whether I have it or not
    • Putting aside something in progress or waiting for something else, then forgetting where it is or when I need to get back to it (ex: mismatched socks)
    • Shuffling things into similar things (ex: papers)
    • Making a mental note of where I put something, but not remembering it well enough
  • Passive
    • Someone moving or dislodging something from where I expect it to be
    • Forgetting to check for things that have accidentally fallen or been left behind (ex: gloves, scarves, things in pockets)
    • Leaving things in an opaque container for convenience, and then not taking them out and putting them away (ex: gloves)
    • Things falling out of pockets or through linings, un-noticed
    • Familiar tasks in familiar environments lead to automatic thinking and reduced attention
    • Forgetting to prepare or take something
    • Gaps when retracing steps
  • Retrieval
    • Skipping over something because something else is covering it or obstructing my view
    • Looking at something but not recognizing it
    • Limiting my field of view unnecessarily
    • Misremembering things that are similar to things I remember getting rid of, so I don’t look for them
    • Not searching in a systematic manner
    • Having a false memory of putting something away in a different place
      • Confusing with previous memory
      • Confusing plans with reality

What tools and tactics do people use to minimize the hassle of misplacing things?

  • Build automatic habits
    • Have one clearly defined place for each thing, or very few clearly defined places
    • Explicitly encode memories around picking things up or putting things down
      • Looking
      • Mental note
      • Note to self, out loud
      • Text note
      • Audio note, recorded
      • Picture
    • Have a handy holding place for in-between things or miscellaneous things, and review this frequently (ex: bin, belt bag)
  • Reduce retrieval costs
    • Regularly tidy with fresh eyes
    • Make lists of where things are
    • Label containers with their contents (ex: cabinets)
    • Keep things clear and tidy
  • Label
    • Label things so that in case they’re lost, someone might be able to return them to you
    • Offer rewards
  • Reduce the need for the item
    • Replace or supplement often-misplaced identification with always-present information or more frequently used devices (ex: biometrics, keycodes, smartphone)
    • Buy or budget for replacements (ex: pens)
    • Keep extra stock of items in multiple places (ex: pens)
    • Minimize the number of unneeded things you carry, and keep other things in a known place (ex: infrequently-used keys)
    • Eliminate the item entirely
  • Add alerts
    • Track location (ex: smartphones, parking)
    • Add proximity alerts (ex: smartphone-laptop Bluetooth proximity detection, tracking stickers)
  • Fill in gaps
    • Retrace steps
    • Ask someone else who might be able to look with fresh eyes or who might have different memories

When are these tools particularly useful?

From “External and internal memory aids: when and how often do we use them?” (Intons-Peterson and Fournier, 1986):

  • When intervening events may interfere
  • When there’s a long delay between encoding and retrieval
  • When accuracy is important
  • When information is difficult to remember
  • When there’s limited time to remember
  • When you want to avoid the effort of remembering

Based on these thoughts, what can I tweak about my life? Maybe I can pay closer attention to incidents of misplaced things and other action slips over the next few weeks so that I can see where the gaps are….

Monthly review: May 2015

It always surprises me how each tiny step builds up. I remember May to be rather fuzzy, but it turns out that I managed to do a fair bit of sewing, thinking, coding, and planning anyway.

This was the month I realized that I can turn my temporary fuzziness into an advantage. I get to have sneak peeks of what I might deal with in the future, and I can plan and build systems accordingly.

I spent the first half of the month going on long walks every day, and that felt great. It turns out that Hacklab is within walking distance of my house, and quite a few libraries are as well. Whee! I look forward to re-establishing this habit at some point.

W- and I have been spending more time playing video games lately. He’s going through Borderlands, and I’m playing Ni no Kuni. Fun!

2015-06-02b May 2015 -- index card #monthly output

Blog posts

Sketches

Daily: 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Time

Category Last month (%) This month (%) Avg h per week Delta (h/wk)
Business – Build 5.1 10.5 18 9.1
Discretionary – Play 6.1 10.8 18 7.9
Unpaid work 8.0 9.2 15 2.0
Discretionary – Social 1.7 1.6 3 -0.2
Personal 16.4 16.1 27 -0.5
Discretionary – Productive 9.0 8.4 14 -1.0
Discretionary – Family 3.6 3.0 5 -1.0
Business – Earn 5.5 3.9 7 -2.7
Sleep 37.5 35.1 59 -4.0
Business – Connect 7.1 1.3 2 -9.7

Lots more Quantified Awesome coding, drawing, and playing this month. A little more time cooking. Not as much time at Hacklab. Oddly, even less sleep. Or maybe I was fuzzier because I hadn’t been sleeping as much? This was still an average of 8.4 hours a day, though. Biking and long walks put on hold, but maybe I’ll be able to get back to them in the next few weeks.

Weekly review: Week ending May 29, 2015

Less sleep this week, but I used the mornings for coding, so it worked out okay. I realized that building tools for my future self is an excellent use of my time, so I’ve been thinking about what kinds of systems can help me during future fuzzy-brainness. Taking it easy otherwise.

2015-06-02a Week ending 2015-05-29 -- index card #journal #weekly output

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (37.6h – 22%)
    • Earn (8.2h – 21% of Business)
      • Prepare invoice
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (29.4h – 78% of Business)
      • Drawing (7.2h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
      • Fix key renaming in record data
      • Set up PDA environment
      • Make an Angular page that displays buttons for recording my most common tasks
      • Explore CouchDB
      • List all the categories below the recommended one
      • Create quick way to track grocery items
      • Provide quick command feedback
      • Match partially
      • Handle authentication on the server side
      • Fix select
      • Distinguish substring and exact
      • Fix command handling
      • Clean up data
    • Connect (0.0h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (3.7h – 2%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (5.0h – 2%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
    • Renew sach.ac
    • Review Createspace
    • Verify Jen’s public key by calling
    • Writing (2.9h)
  • Discretionary – Play (27.9h – 16%)
  • Personal routines (26.4h – 15%)
  • Unpaid work (11.6h – 6%)
  • Sleep (55.7h – 33% – average of 8.0 per day)

A constant observer

I notice that even when I’m fuzzy-brained, there’s a part of me that observes it curiously. Even when I move slowly, tired, there’s a part of me that savours it. Even when it’s like there’s a big fuzzy blanket on my mind, there’s a tiny part that looks forward to being able to think about it.

I like having that little observer, the one who turns all sorts of things into learning experiences. I wonder how I can get even better at this.

In terms of drawing: Sometimes I feel a little odd circling around similar thoughts, like what to do when I’m fuzzy. But it’s okay to do so, especially if doing so clears away the surface thoughts so that I can notice little things to be curious about.

In terms of writing: If I have a bunch of posts scheduled, then I tend to skip writing when I’m fuzzy. But maybe that’s when I should write, so that I can remember what that fuzziness is like and dig into it deeper. There’s plenty of information out there already, so it’s okay for me to take some time to explore the things I haven’t figured out myself – even if they’re simple for other people.

In terms of learning: I like reading research. I pick up tools for understanding, and I can place my experiences within a bigger context. The more I read research, the easier it gets. I tend to be more interested in research than in popular science books or other non-fiction these days. Maybe it’s because the abstracts for research are so concise, and the occasional full-text article that I get to read goes into more detail than books usually do. Hmm, maybe I should learn more about the library’s research resources…

In terms of self-observation: Stoicism talks a fair bit about this. It might be interesting to make myself a reflection guide to use especially when I’m fuzzy. Even if it means reviewing the same thoughts, that should be fine. After all, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius works well despite – perhaps even because of – the repetitive exercises.

What would it be like to have this part of me even further developed? I imagine being able to keep my calm in trying situations, and to appreciate life as it comes. I imagine being able to notice the tiny new things in each rotation. Even when I walk in circles, I can go somewhere new.