Getting Unstuck and Finishing Tasks

Sometimes I really wonder why it takes me so long to get certain things done. I’ve noticed that home repairs fall into this category. I know that part of the challenge is even a small repair, or change, requires effort, exacerbated by not having the right equipment or tools to get the job done. Most of the repairs require more than one person and must be done during “business” hours because of noise by-laws.

But if I had to be honest with myself, these are just excuses I make so I don’t feel so guilty and silly about procrastinating on doing things that I know will make my home better.

A couple of weeks ago I decided I was going to put up the counter lights I had purchased over 2 years ago (!) from IKEA. I refused to face another long, dark winter without proper lighting in my kitchen. One evening after dinner, I assembled all the necessary pieces and tools. The project didn’t require a hammer or drill, so it could be done after hours. I convinced my partner to help  and we did it.

Total installation time: 1 hour

Total project time: 2 years, 1 month, and 1 hour

End result: I love it! I’m so happy to have proper lighting in my kitchen. I instantly forgave myself for waiting 2+ years to install it.

A friend of mine once told me that she often gets stuck on a task or project because she doesn’t know something and this causes delays or even a complete stop. With the counter lights, the big delay for me was figuring out how to attach the transformer to the cabinets without a drill. Although even when my brother devised a drill-free, easy solution, it still took me another 6 months to get motivated.

Some tips for getting unstuck:

  • Pick one project.
  • Write down all the tasks that need to get done.
  • Put them in a logical order.
  • Break the larger tasks down into smaller, more manageable ones.
  • Aim to get one of these smaller tasks done every week (or month!).
  • Release the bad feelings and guilt about yourself, as these may only de-motivate you further.

You may not be moving fast, but you’ll still be moving forward.

Next on the task list, putting up my new livingroom curtains.

Total procrastination time: 6 months and counting

Final step: Finding a helper and time during “business” hours to install

First Days in Iceland

In October, my family and I spent almost two weeks traveling around Iceland with Overseas Adventure Travels. I arrived in Reykjavík at 5am and spent my first hours drinking coffee in the airport while waiting for everyone to arrive. Even at the airport, everything seemed extra expensive. I bought a coffee and a juice for about $21CAD!

Finally, everyone arrived and we headed to the hotel, ate breakfast and got ready for sightseeing. Our first stop was the Reykjavík Art Museum, conveniently located across the street from our hotel. The museum was closed, as were many things during our stay because the tourist season was over, but we enjoyed statues by Ásmundarsafn Sveinsson on the grounds surrounding the museum.

Woman Churning Butter by Sveinsson

After the museum, we went to the Reykjavík Botanical Gardens. Even though summer was over, we still enjoyed the greenery, the ponds with water fowl, and a replica of an Icelandic turf house, a type of home that used to be built. And then we headed to Laugardalslaug, a public swimming pool.

Perfect landing!

While researching the trip, I discovered that Icelanders love swimming. My kind of people! I was excited to learn that every place we stayed in had a local public pool nearby. I went swimming five times during the trip in four different cities. When we arrived at the Laugardalslaug, I was surprised to learn that the pools are outside, but the water was warm thanks to the geothermal heating. Another surprise was the number of hot tubs at the pools, each with its own specific temperature. The hot tubs are the cultural centre of the town; it’s where you hear all the good gossip.

Refreshed from the swim, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and then rested up for sightseeing the following day. The next morning we headed to an innovative business center that specializes in producing cod in a sustainable way. They’ve created methods and techniques to use 100% of the cod in a variety of different products.

Sustainable Cod Production with zero waste, except for the packaging used for the cod products

After the business center, we visited the National Museum of Iceland. Then we walked around the downtown area enjoying the sights. We went to the tourist center near a manmade pond. One thing that really impressed me was the height of the buildings. Everything in Toronto is growing vertical, so I really enjoyed seeing large expanses of the sky unimpeded by condos.

Reykjavik near the tourist center

Read more about the trip to Iceland here.

Memories For You or Just Another Invasion of Privacy

Last night a new notification appeared on my iPad that a new photo something was ready for me. Curious, I unlocked my iPad and investigated.

I scrolled through the newly noticed area of my Photos app in horror. The “For You” area features Memories, essentially slide show movies that have been created by the app. I don’t keep many photos on my iPad, but if I did, I’m sure there would have been dozens more.

It was easy to see that many memories had been created by assembling a collection of photos based on the date they were taken. This is how the older version of Photos (iPhotos) used to create Events.

These Memories are of my recent trip to Iceland.

But then there were other albums based purely on facial recognition of me and other people!

The notification had been for a new memory called “Portraits of… Photos from 2014 – 2018” and featured photos of me! Clearly this one was created from the app using some kind of facial recognition software. Intrigued, we pressed “play” and watched my image flash before our eyes, to music.

After watching it, we explored the options offered to adjust the length (short, medium, long) ranging from about 15 seconds to slightly over 2 minutes. We also changed the background music by choosing from a range of options including: dreamy, sentimental, gentle, chill, happy, uplifting, epic, club, and extreme.

Some of the other non-dated memories included one called “Best of the Year 2018,” and one featuring a friend of mine that I went on vacation with in 2016. Most of the 2016 vacation photos have been removed from my iPad, but a handful still remain. Oddly, the “Best of the Year 2018” didn’t feature many of my favorited photos but did include some bad ones and an internet download.

Before blogging this post, I looked at the “For You” Memories again in the light of day. I realized that you can add/delete photos and make other edits to the font, text, music, etc.

My partner thought it was cool and I thought it was creepy. I don’t like the idea of an app perusing through my photos and making “memories” for me, even if I can adjust them later (read more here). And I have mixed feelings about the improved accuracy of facial recognition software. It’s useful and invasive, at the same time.

How do you feel about apps creating your memories?

Automating Email Replies

Over the past few months I’ve noticed some changes in my Gmail. The two changes are Smart Reply, where Gmail provides three canned responses, and Smart Compose, where Gmail suggests text to complete your sentences. One goal of both changes is to reduce the number of key strokes, and ultimately the amount of time, required to respond to emails.

They also both use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to make predictions and refine the selections over time based on your usage patterns. Essentially, Gmail scans emails to try and predict what the most common responses are based on the content of the message and by analyzing responses from your email and others. Here’s a blog posting from Google about using Smart Reply.

I rarely use Smart Reply, though I do notice how it has been adjusting based on my patterns. For example, over the weekend I was confirming the attendance of a player for a rehearsal. She replied that yes, she was coming to the rehearsal. Below are the three Smart Replies. The “yay” definitely seems like something I would write, especially to this particular recipient, including the exclamation points.

Here are three Smart Replies offered for an invitation that I received, which are more generic. Regarding the last response, I would rarely use this one. It’s not my style and I’m sure if I utilized Smart Reply, Gmail would figure that out and remove it as an option over time.

The other option, Smart Compose, provides suggestions of what to type, again based on AI and machine learning. As I’m typing, Smart Compose predicts what I might want to write by offering text. If I like it, then I press Tab to use the text and move on to the next sentence. Smart Compose will also auto-adjust as you keep typing so the suggestions will change as you continue to write.

For example, a friend of mine is sick so I was sending him an email to see how he was doing. Smart Compose is the gray text in gray.

Although these two features are time savers, I do have to wonder who will be training who in the future. Will I pick the best Smart Reply because it’s the best one for me, or will I pick it because it’s convenient and the one I see the most often?

Data Wipe and Rewrite

The gripping conclusion to last week’s post: Data Dealer.

Penelope gulped visibly. Initially she had felt committed to a level 1 wipe, but now confronted with the reality of it actually happening, she was wavering.

As though the woman could sense Penelope’s hesitation, she remained silent.

“I guess…” Penelope started and then took a shaky breath. “I guess I might want option 1.” There she had said it.

Penelope’s mind instantly flashed back to the dumb, idiotic photo she had taken of her bare breasts at age 13. Goaded on by the popular boys and her friends, Penelope had done it. Lifted her shirt, pointed the selfie cam down, tilted slightly to the left, click. Review, giggle, small hesitation, then she hit the share button. The whole transaction had taken less than a minute. She was still living with the consequences, years later. And yes, she would give anything to have this wiped out, even if it also meant erasing her entire virtual identity.

“Who will I become?” Penelope asked.

“What do you mean?” The gaze of the woman’s gray eyes was piercing and harsh in the glow of the bulbs.

“If you erase my virtual existence, who am I?”

“That depends,” replied the woman. “We have an add-on option, but it is costly. We can do a wipe and rewrite.”

“A rewrite?” Penelope’s heart hammered. “A way to change history?”

All those horrible posts about her breasts. The downward thumbs, the altered images of her body. Years of torture gone… with a rewrite?

“Yes. Suppose you posted a bad picture, a questionable Tweet, or inflammatory post that resulted in catastrophe. We can rewrite the history. Though it requires us to go into other people’s accounts and tamper with their comments, feeds, profiles, etc. so it is costly,” the woman reiterated. She paused before continuing.

“There are some privacy considerations. And naturally we can’t change peoples’ memories of what happened, only alter the virtual record of it. Someone might still think one thing, but their profile and feed would show something else.

“Plus, you would have to create the rewrite with one of our illusion specialists.”

“I’ll do it,” Penelope blurted out before she lost her nerve. She had already paid a high cost for her carelessness and would pay anything to correct it.

“Follow me,” the woman said. She turned and waved her arm at the wall. Out of nothing, a door slid open and the two women walked through.


Data Dealer

The door closed silently behind her. It slid shut so tightly that when she turned around, she couldn’t see the outline of it anymore. Penelope observed the sparse settings, her eyes tracing each of the four corners in the empty room. The walls were light gray, the color shimmering from the bulbs hanging above.

Penelope glanced at her feed. 15:15, on time. The room seemed small, but it was large enough to have a small couch and a few chairs, she thought, wondering how long she would be standing here waiting. Her eyes flitted quickly around the room’s edges one more time. She was trying to figure out where the data dealer would enter the room.

Her contact had told her that these types of transactions always happened in person, a rarity these days. She couldn’t even remember the last time she had used her voice to communicate with someone directly instead of sending a message. Even when they were in the same room together. But this meeting had to be in person, she was told. Commanded really. The terms were explicit with no room for compromise. This included the price.

15:17. She looked around again, this time trying to find the door she had used to enter. The monotonous look of the walls was disorienting. She could no longer tell where she had entered from. Would she be able to get out again?

She sensed movement behind her and spun around quickly. A woman stood there quietly, an unreadable expression on her face. A door sealed seamlessly in back of her. Penelope wasn’t sure if that was the same door she had used or not. Or if it was too late to change her mind.

“So, you wanted the total data wipe. Is that correct?” the woman inquired.

“Um, yeah. I think so. Could you go over what I would get with that again?” Penelope asked, stalling.

“It depends on how extensive you want the wipe to be. Level 3 does a wipe on up to 3 social media platforms. In addition to your account, obviously, this also includes mentions of your name, facial recognition tags, blurring any images of you, and all comments and correspondence.

Level 2 is the same but includes more social media platforms plus all your emails and anything obvious on the web.  Level 1 obliterates your virtual existence completely. Which one did you want?”

Stay tuned for next week’s installment.