Decluttering the Holiday

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Around the holidays, it’s only natural for people to think about shopping for gifts.  As The Deletist, I’m always mindful of giving people stuff.  I work hard to make sure I’m not cluttering up my home with useless stuff.  I can appreciate that my friends and family may feel the same way.  So usually in the holiday season I aim to give gifts that will be used up or cherished instead of collecting dust and guilt in someone’s closet.

Here are some tips to keep holiday junk from creeping into your possessions.

  1. Focus on an experience instead of “stuff”.  Treat your loved one to a nice dinner, a show, a class, a movie night instead of buying something.
  2. Buy your loved ones things that they will use or need.  Wool socks can make a great gift!  They’re not so fun and sexy, but super practical and useful.  Every year I typically give my neighbors a 12-pack of their favorite beer and cider.  It’s not so original, but I know they’ll drink and enjoy them.  This year I strayed slightly and invited them to dinner at a restaurant we all like instead (see #1).
  3. Regift and/or barter/trade your existing items for something new.  Last week I heard an interview on CBC’s Metro Morning program with a mom who did her holiday shopping by trading on a site called Bunz.  It didn’t cost her money, but likely took up her time (read here).  According to the website, “Bunz is a trade-based community for exchanging goods and services.”  Basically people create posts for things they want to give away and other people make offers for it. No money exchanges hands.
  4. Ask people what they want and always include a gift receipt, no questions asked!

Another peeve of mine during the holiday is the waste generated from gifts and packages.  Here are some tips for keeping the holidays greener.

  1. Reuse gift wrapping, gift bags, boxes, etc.  Or use materials already in the house (e.g. paper grocery bags can be used to wrap gifts and then decorated).
  2. Leave the packaging in the store.  Now when I buy shoes I leave the boxes behind.
  3. Send e-cards and e-invitations instead of all that paper.

Hopefully these tips will help you focus on the things that make the holidays special, like spending time with your loved ones, instead of racing around in a frenzy to purchase useless baubles.


Making More Time with Less Stuff

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Time is one of the things I value most in my life.  During the holiday seasons, my time feels even more restricted than usual.  However, I am always striving to spend my time in ways that feel meaningful and productive to me.  By gradually paring down my belongings and making do with less, I’ve also gained time.  When I have less things, I have less to think about, consider, and cleanup.  This even includes things in the digital world such as social media or email accounts, Facebook “friends”, and digital photos.

Over the summer I watched a movie called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.  One segment that really resonated me was about a woman who started Project 333.  The project is to select 33 items to wear in rotation over a period of 3 months.  The 33 items include shoes, accessories, and outerwear!  Read more about it here.

I can see the good points of this kind of system and often lament how much time I waste getting ready on some days.  Sometimes I’m just having one of those days where nothing seems to feel, or look, good on me.  On those days I often promise myself that I will try Project 333, if for no other reason than to save time in the morning by limiting my clothing options.

Then I start to feel envious of people like Steve Jobs, who wore a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers every day while he was still living.  I understand now that he decided to wear the same thing everyday not to be a minimalist, but rather to conserve brain power in making so many decisions in the morning.  One of these days, I will get around to trying Project 333 and limit my wardrobe to just 33 items, something I don’t even do when I go on vacation for week!

Although I still waste precious time and brain power on deciding which clothes to wear each day, there are plenty of other areas where I have managed to reduce my options, thereby saving myself time and energy.  I often find myself overwhelmed and pressured by the abundance of stuff and options around me non-stop this time of the year.  My best strategy is to maintain my priorities, remain focused and not be distracted by all the glitzy, shiny objects around me.  I remind myself that less is really more.

Computers Don’t Do Nuance

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I’ve noticed that as a species, we seem to give a lot of credit to computers and technology for all of their marvelous capabilities.  Often we do this without realizing that humans are responsible for all the design, development, and programming.

In reality, computers really only do what we tell them to do.  And even more importantly, computers don’t do nuance.  Basically, a computers can do anything, as long as it’s able to be translated into the computer’s language.  Essentially, everything must be distilled down to a binary decision: Yes/No, True/False, 0/1, A/B, black/white, etc.

I consider this factor often when doing backend system design for clients.  In order for technology to take over for a human (e.g. by automating a process), all of the decision points must be simplified to computer language.  This can be tricky when a particular process contains too many factors, or “gray areas”, to result in a binary decision point.  For example, consider a college application.  The computer would be able to make decisions based on GPA and test scores, but evaluating the candidate based on other, more nuanced factors, such as extracurricular activities or the essay portion, must be handled by a human.

Another area where computers lag behind humans is in facial recognition.  Overall humans are able to identify the same person in photos or video more reliably and accurately than computers can.  Although computers have improved in this area and can accomplish some pretty amazing things in terms of auto-classifying photos, they still have a long way to go.  The other day a friend of mine was showing me some of his childhood pictures.  I’ve only known him for less than a year, but I was immediately able to pick him out of his primary school class photos.  I doubt a computer would be able to do that yet.

A lot of advances have been made in AI (Artificial Intelligence) lately that may one day allow computers to think outside of their programming and to better anticipate our needs.  However, based on how poorly the prediction and auto correct works with my text messages, I’d say they still have a long way to go.  So while we’re eager to give computers (and technology) a lot of credit for all the amazing things they can, and will, do, there’s still a place for human brains.


Aural Discrimination

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During the pre-op for my LASIK surgery, one of my only questions was when would I be getting the valium.  The technician laughed and told me that nobody acted brave for this surgery.  He then said if it was a choice between his ears and his eyes, it was a no brainer.  Eyes for sure.

I paused for a moment.  No music?  No ocean waves or sounds of laughter? Of course I love having both senses, but I would miss sound too much if something happened to my ears.

I’m convinced that ears are one of the most neglected organs, right after things like skin, gall bladders, and the appendix.  Did you ever notice how rapidly the technology for cameras advanced in mobile devices?  When I got my iPad in 2013 I was amazed at the clarity and quality of the pictures.  The functionality was more limited than a real digital camera, but it still took terrific photos.

However, speakers, sound quality, and default noises have all lagged miserably behind the more ocular-centric features.  Each time I upgrade my smartphone, the ringtones that come with the phone get worse.  The first few phones I had, even the “dumb” versions, all offered ringtones that were soothing and soft-toned.  Everything now is shrill and tinny sounding.  Of course, that could also be the inferior speakers.

In the same way that mobile devices offer us the capability to take high quality, digital photos, they could also offer us better sounding ringtones, notifications, and alerts.  By default most noises feel jarring and disruptive.  I suppose that’s because they’re designed to alert us of every new tiny update of information, no matter how small and inconsequential it might be. Even the vibrate option is loud and rattling.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the ringtone was something soothing and calming?  I fondly remember my two favorite ringtones, a frog croaking and the sound of waves crashing with sea gull noises. Most people who heard them thought they were funny or weren’t bothered.  I could download these special ringtones onto my new phone, but I feel like the manufacturers could do a better job with the default options.

It would also be nice if the quality of the speakers improved to something comparable to the level of the camera.  Why is this always one of the last things to be considered for improvement?

Blind Faith

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As a small child I always dreamed of one day having “hawk” vision, razor sharp up close and able to see details from a far distance.  From a young age I had “coke” bottle lenses, the kind that were so thick they slightly distorted the shape of my head around my eyes.  I switched to contact lenses and wore them for the next 25+ years, continually amazed at how one tiny disc of plastic instantly granted me clear, crisp vision.

After years of thinking about LASIK, I finally worked up the nerve to get an assessment.  As soon as I found out I was eligible, I booked my appointment.  I had grown accustomed to living with corrected vision, where I could maintain a choice about how I wanted to see the world.  Sharp, clear, and in focus.  Or remove my contacts and reduce my world into something soft and hazy with familiar shapes.

Throughout the whole process I remained committed to my decision to have the surgery done coupled with a heavy amount of faith in the process, the technology, the equipment, the doctor and his staff, and most of all, in my decision.  Were the lasers really sophisticated enough to recalibrate for any micro-head movements I might make?  Were the pre-surgery measurements really accurate enough to correct my vision?

I think about the enormous amount of faith I put in myself.  Was this a good idea when my vision could be corrected so well with glasses and/or contact lenses?  I pushed the thought out of my head as the procedure started.  My eyeballs were anesthetized, one open and one closed.  I followed the nurse’s instructions to stare at the red light.  Something was placed over my eye and my vision went dark for a few moments, just like the nurse said.  Then it came back, just like she said.  What if… what if… what if…

I again pushed the thoughts out as I moved to the next room for the vision correcting lasers.   Fortunately, my biggest fear of being blinded was relieved within minutes of finishing.  The results are somewhat instantaneous. I almost started crying when I sat up from the operating table and could see the room.  I was instructed to keep my eyes closed but I periodically cracked open my eyelids just enough to confirm I wasn’t blind before shutting them again.

Pretty incredible.

Watching the Election: In RT

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Last week I watched the US Elections at a bar with a few friends.  The bar supplied me with Dark and Stormies* throughout the long evening.  It’s been my official election night cocktail since 2004.

To pass the time between the various states poll closing times, we listened to typical election banter from the CNN newscasters about vote tallies in states and counties, how current results compared with 2012 results, etc.  Initially, I enjoyed the real-time, instant reporting. I appreciated watching the newscasters seamlessly toggle between the 2016 and 2012 results as tallies were updated.  I loved how the newscasters could move around the US map and easily zoom in on a particular area to give us details about a specific county.

And then, it just went on and on and on.  Around 10pm, after watching the election for a couple of hours, I felt fatigued and bored with the coverage.  Every few minutes we were inundated with a loud blaring noise from CNN announcing a NEW Key Race Alert!!  Each time this happened I felt a surge of stress and adrenaline.  I quickly grew bored of the discussions about who had votes where, how many each needed to win, and the comparisons with the 2012 election.

Every discussion was the same, except with the state and/or county names changed.  I wanted to hear something new or different, instead of the same formulaic points made over and over and over….Since everything was reported in RT**, we got “updates” from states with only a small percentage of votes counted.  I would’ve preferred to wait until a state had counted at least 50% of the votes to get an update.  I felt overloaded and burdened with too much information.

At some point during the night I started to think about how we used to watch the elections before it was broadcast in RT with incessant updates every time a vote was counted.  What did we use to do for those hours in between the polls closing when we had to wait for results?

As a side note, with all the new technological advances and RT reporting, I couldn’t help but wonder why it took New Hampshire so long to count their votes.  One would think that such a small state would be able to produce results faster, even if they had to count paper ballots by hand.


*ginger beer and dark rum

**Real Time