The Other Side of Autosave

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I started using Google Keep a few months ago.  Google Keep is essentially a note taking app that can record notes, messages, reminders, checklists, etc. in a variety of methods.  It’s also flexible enough to handle photos and other types of data imports.  It integrates with other Google apps (Drive, calendar, etc.), which I also use, and across devices.  I thought it would be pretty amazing, but the organization methods are a bit too basic for my needs.  And then I got burned by Google Keep last week.

I was using Google Keep to record a unique 25-character passcode on a note with similar types of information.  I realized I didn’t need the passcode and deleted it.  The delete key went too fast and wiped out 95% of my note in about 2-3 seconds.  Then I saw Google Keep autosave the “changes” with no option to reject, unsave, undo, or restore a previous version.  The irony of The Deletist being out deleted by an app named Keep!

The whole experience made me keenly aware of how different my smartphone keyboard is from a laptop, or desktop, one.  Had I been using Google Keep from my laptop, I could have easily undone the accidental deletions with ctrl+Z, or by right-clicking the mouse.   Or I might have been able to restore the document from an earlier auto-saved version.

And then I started to feel really irritated by the instant auto-save feature.  I’ve definitely lost work when it wasn’t saved and something happened to the computer or network.  But to me the solution was never to autosave every keystroke.  I like having the document temporarily autosaved in the background for restoration purposes, but only if it doesn’t cause the app to slow down.  But I also prefer to consciously decide when I want to save, or not save, changes.  Why can’t Google Keep have an option for me to choose when I want to save something?  Why can’t I have the option of closing the document without saving changes?

As for the note… I did a few Google searches and found similar stories.  A couple people had accidentally replaced their notes with a single letter while trying to copy and paste them.  I still haven’t found a way to restore the information, other than by recreating it.  Fortunately only 2 things got deleted and I can replace them with minimal effort.

Sprinting through Clutter

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It seems I never have enough time in the day to do everything.  Things start to pile up and as my energy gets lower, I feel really unmotivated to do anything that is not critical.  I can keep going for a while, but eventually I reach my tipping point.  Essentially I find myself unable to move forward without doing the dreaded things, but yet I can’t make myself do it.  Or I’m so exhausted that I only have energy for the essentials.  Yet, I’m expending energy thinking about, and avoiding, all the other things piling up.  groan.

One strategy I developed is to approach the dreaded tasks in short bursts of focused energy, the “sprint”.  I use this method to get through tough work assignments, a lingering to-do list, processing a crowded email inbox, cleaning a dirty kitchen, and getting rid of clutter.  Typically my sprints are from 5 to 20 minutes.  When I’ve completed my designated amount of time, I call it quits and congratulate myself for having accomplished this small feat.  I feel it’s important to be “finished” and sometimes I define that with a time limit.  For example, “clean the kitchen for 10 minutes”.  It likely won’t be fully cleaned after 10 minutes, but I consider it finished for the day.

Usually at the end of the day, when I’m super tired, I like to do a 5-minute clean up challenge for one area of my home.  Dirty dishes are always high on this list.  Or I spend 5 minutes prepping something for the next day (e.g. pick out clothes, pack my bag, get my lunch ready, etc.).

Growing up, I had a best friend who made a point of tidying up for 5 minutes a day.  It wasn’t ever enough to clean up everything, but it was just enough to keep the clutter from reaching her tipping point.

I have also benefitted from the “practicing sprint” with my bassoon.  I’m slowly reaching 10,000 hours in 10-minute increments.  I’ve been practicing in 10-minute sprints for about 20 years.  Ten minutes has always been an achievable amount of time to fit into a busy schedule.  It’s amazing how much one can accomplish with 10-minutes of focused energy.

Whether I’m working on something long term, or just trying to get through the day, I’ve found the sprints to be a good way to get through those dreaded tasks.

Technology and Transit

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For the last couple of years, Toronto has been trying to implement the Presto card, an electronic payment system that is intended to eliminate the need for cash, tokens, tickets, and passes when taking public transit.  Other benefits include being able to load the card 24/7, cancel the card if it goes missing and transfer the balance, and being able to use it across local regional transit systems.

I initially got my Presto card in 2015 to commute on the GO, a regional public transit system.  I was excited to try it out, but quickly discovered some major, time draining inconveniences with it.  The GO calculates fares based on distance.  This requires the customer to tap the Presto card at the beginning and end of each trip.  I quickly discovered that the machines to tap the card pre- and post- boarding were often not convenient.  One station I used was under construction.  The machine was in a small structure about 350m from where the train stopped resulting in a number of close calls.  In the past, I could’ve purchased my ticket online (or in advance) and headed straight to the train, saving myself several precious minutes and a lot of stress.

I find it can be similar when taking the public transit in Toronto, which charges a single fare for any distance traveled within the city limits.  For the moment, people can still purchase monthly metrocards for unlimited use in a calendar month.  Having a monthly metrocard saves time because people who have one can board transit without doing anything.  If a fare inspector checks, the card is proof of payment.

Now that I’ve switched to the Presto card, I must tap my card every time I ride transit, even for a transfer, which is a clumsy process and slows down the boarding process.  Many of the machines are placed in funny positions, such as in the middle of a staircase to board the streetcar, or at the same level as people’s bums.  Trust me, it’s a real challenge accessing these machines during rush hour!  And sometimes the machines aren’t even working.

In many ways, the Presto card is more convenient than cash and tokens, but not more convenient than an unlimited metrocard, or an unlimited GO transit pass.  It’s still being implemented, but I hope in the end it does end up saving time and reducing frustration for public transit riders.

New Age Learning

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After years of talking about learning Spanish, and two failed attempts at teaching myself with an app, I finally registered for Spanish 101 this semester at a nearby college.  In the first class I was pleasantly surprised to see the teacher writing on a Smartboard, which was used later in the class to play videos and project course content.

The class is taught using a variety of methods in different formats.  We take our quizzes on tablets, provided to us by the college if we don’t have our own.  The audio learning, something critical when learning a foreign language, is vastly improved from my childhood experiences.  In elementary school I distinctly remember straining to hear a gravely, scratchy sounding tape from a cassette player in the front of the room.  During our last quiz we could listen with our headphones to the audio portion at any time.

I’m almost halfway done with the course and I’m still trying to assess if I’m learning better with the new methods, or if I’m only learning how to become more dependent on them.  For example, during the last quiz we had to fill in the right form of the verb “to be” based on the sentence.  I used to have to memorize that kind of stuff, mostly through flashcards and writing it down repeatedly.  However, on the quiz, I was often offered dropdown menus of possible answers.  This meant instead of memorizing it, I only had to remember how to recognize it.

For our homework assignments, we log in to Supersite, a learning centre included with the textbook.  In addition to the textbook, the Supersite offers video tutorials and practice sets for writing, listening, and speaking.  I often do the practice sets from the Supersite, but I’m never sure how much it improves my learning.  On the one hand, as mentioned above, it provides me with options for an answer instead of requiring me to have them completely memorized.  But on the other hand, the answers are graded immediately with the errors highlighted.  I find the instant feedback really helpful.

Overall I’m enjoying the experience of learning Spanish through so many different methods.  Even with all the technological advancements, the best part of the experience for me is having a teacher who is a native speaker.  The kind of thing that is sometimes missing from the software.

Stuff is Paralyzing

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Many people have the impression that digital storage is cheap, abundant, and limitless, especially when it’s readily available.  Coupled with this impression is the idea that it’s not hurting anything to retain so much digital content so why bother to get rid of it.  However, what stands the biggest risk of “being hurt” is the person saving the stuff. Some potential damages include the following:

  1. Contending with unintended destruction – sometimes disasters happen and equipment gets damaged, thereby destroying content.  If this happens, do you want to spend time, money, and energy restoring and/or migrating everything?  Or would you rather invest time saving the things that matter most?
  2. Upgrading or changing devices – see above
  3. Dealing with hacks or viruses – every time I see a headline about Yahoo, I’m reminded of an old Yahoo email account I used for 10+ years.  I did a basic clean out of the Yahoo account when I moved to gmail, or at least I thought I did. After the latest headline, I logged into my Yahoo account and saw many emails containing highly personal and sensitive information in both the body and attachments.
  4. Losing time looking for things – I often help clients come up with strategic ways to manage information more effectively to improve search and retrieval.  The success partially results from routinely purging low-value content to ensure search queries retrieve high quality matches.

We’re bombarded daily with volumes of stuff, making it difficult to assess what has enduring value from all the other useless junk.  Maybe saving everything is so easy that it becomes the new “norm” causing us to develop new attachments to our stuff and how we think about it emotionally.  Read more here:

Do you find it impossible to delete old photos and texts? You may be a digital hoarder

At a certain point, too much saved “stuff” becomes crippling.  For example, sometimes people rent physical storage units because of a life circumstance (e.g. move) and with the intention that it’s a short term solution.  Often the unit is neither visited nor used and becomes a financial and emotional burden on the owner, similar to what happens with an over accumulation of digital content on our devices.  You can’t bear to let any of it go, while at the same time hoping for a disaster to take care of it for you and eliminate the burden.

Be elite and delete.  Save strategically!

Reality News

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I remember how people really seemed to grieve in 2009 when Walter Cronkite died.  He was often referred to as “the most trusted man in America.”  From 1962-1981 he was the anchor for CBS Evening News.  During those years, his news report became the first 30-minute program on TV and was one of the most popularly viewed.  In addition to grieving for Cronkite himself, perhaps what people were really grieving was a simpler time when a news source was trustworthy and reliable.  It was a popular segment, so it also meant many people were also receiving the same reliable news, at the same time.  Even if someone didn’t agree with what was happening, at least everybody could agree on the facts as presented in the news.

Having so many news sources available anytime of the day has now made it difficult to evaluate and assess the authenticity and reliability of the sources.  On the flip side, sometimes it’s beneficial to have access to so many different news sources, as stories are covered differently in other parts of the world or by opposing viewpoints.  However, over the last few months I’ve seen several articles in the news about fake stories circulating on Facebook and chatbots automatically generating and proliferating tweets of dubious quality on Twitter.  We hear about “alternative facts” from the Counselor to POTUS and contend with stories racing around the internet, newspapers, TV, and radio shows from all over the world.  With all of these difference sources bombarding us constantly from every direction, how are we supposed to know which ones are reliable and trustworthy?

In today’s environment, it would be difficult to answer this question about any available news source consistently.  And this is not a reflection on the profession of journalism, but rather to point out how could any news stories be validated amongst all the competing headlines and various news channels, including those generated automatically.  By using social media and other available online tools, it’s very easy to spread around fake stories.  This means journalists must spend their time investigating and evaluating false leads with conflicting information.  And because facts are very difficult to correct once they’ve been disseminated, even when a story is reported accurately after a false start, many people are still willing to believe the first version.

Where is our “most trusted news source” on the internet?