Focus and the Zen of Table Tennis

I found intense focus this evening. Like a glassy lake, reflecting nothingness in mirror-image perfection. It was deep, it was lucid and it was present. I don’t remember the last time I felt such total focus. Nothing was entering my mind, not even what I was doing. I was just doing, and I felt as alive, as essential, as vital as a cat, even if I don’t move like one.

In case you hadn’t noticed, “distraction-free” is the meme of the day. I write this in iA Writer on the Mac. Some call productivity software porn for procastinators. One can get so caught up in this stuff, that nothing of any consequence actually gets done. Whenever I have problems with output and I need something for mental constipation, I take two browses of an App Store and see my banker in the mroning. I’m usually a few quid lighter and my latest writing app sits in a folder unused.

It is extraordinarily hard these days to find focus and to retain it. What is the next thing to be done? Why that and not something else? Where is my career going? Shall I listen to music, or some talk? What’s on Twitter? ADHD is on the climb in our kids and they’re popping Ritalin like vitamins. It’s no wonder, with all the distractions available, all of them pressing our dopamine-junkie-hotspots.

So where did I find focus this evening? Table Tennis played with some good friends on our breakfast bar. The table is utterly tiny, the equipment spartan, but for an hour or so, it was the most focus I’ve experienced in years. For those of you struggling to get anything done, I totally recommend a game that requires physical hand-to-eye coordination, and few things beat table tennis for that.

I’ve played it a few times at work with a colleague over the last week, on a full-sized table of course – he’s been handing me my ass, but it has been the highlight of my day whenever we’ve managed a quick round or three. And now, instead of looking forward to work, I’m looking forward to going to the office and getting to the afternoon so I can get my focus fix. It’s a blissful escape from ADHD, that’s for sure.

 

 

Car UI

I don’t talk about this much, but Dr. Drang (I wish that was his real name, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t) has what is probably one of the most usefully geeky blogs out there, with a particular focus on Apple products. He was the reason I started to plot my weight into Simplenote on the iPhone using a TextExpander keystroke snippet to insert the date in the format I wanted.

He talks about Calvetica’s UI and is spot on when saying that the week view is wrong.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with going row-by-row, but conventions should be adhered to unless there’s a very good reason to break them. My favorite example is the brake and gas pedal layout in a car. That the brake is to the left of the gas is merely a convention, but it’s a convention a car maker would be an idiot to break.

I found that interesting, because I’m not sure something as important as the placement of the brake and gas pedals was accidental. I think somebody thought about it. I might be wrong of course.

My response was that I doubt the placement of the accelerator pedal to the right is just convention. We spend more time on the gas than on the brake. The gas is easier to hit and your legs are in a more comforable configuration that way.

Then there’s the body language – gas = open posture, opening up, expanding, accelerating etc., brake = closed posture, closing down, contracting, you can see where this is going.

I also think that in an emergency, you will be applying the brake, and your body closes down in an emergency, going from an open posture to a closed posture is more natural than the vice versa.

Acorn 3

I use both Acorn 2 and Pixelmator. Now the latter is a truly beautiful piece of software. I don’t know if there’s a better looking piece of Mac software out there and I want to use it more than I do, but when I need to get something done, and fast, I fire up Acorn. It doesn’t look like much, but don’t you know? Minimalism is in.

So it was with interest that I saw the Chairman mention that Acorn 3 is out for $30 on the Mac App Store, at a temporarily reduced price of $30. I headed on over to the Flying Meat site and noticed that an upgrade from version 2 is actually only $20. Sadly, the Mac App Store doesn’t offer upgrades from existing versions. I wrote to Flying Meat and got a response from Gus Mueller in no time. It never ceases to impress me just how responsive the Apple Development community is. Look how large it’s become and yet it still retains that small community feel. One only has to look at the insane demand for the WWDC to see that. Apple has the good sense not to increase the size of the conference.

Back to Flying Meat’s response, Gus wrote:

 

It isn’t possible to buy the upgrade via the MAS, sorry. Apple doesn’t allow us to do variable pricing. We’ve reduced the price by $20 from the normal price however, to help folks out moving over.

 

I’d already said that $10 won’t kill me, but hey, $10 is $10. So the bottom line is that the upgrade is well worth $30 and the new features look great. I’ll be buying it, just as soon as payday arrives. I’m also very happy to support such an excellent developer with such a great attitude towards its customers.

 

 

A Day in the Life of an iPhone

Today it dawned on me that technology and I are hopelessly intertwined. I’ve given up on working out where I end and technology starts. So here’s a run-down on how often the iPhone and I are indistinguishable in a single day. Odds are, more of you know me through my iPhone than in real life, though using the term “real life” is also becoming meaningless by the day. Take a book for example. It’s a series of interconnected ideas transmitted from one brain to another essentially. The paper book and its production, distribution and so forth were material interjections into that essentially ethereal process. So “real life” is a human being affecting, or being affected by another.

Having checked the time for Fajr (the Muslim dawn prayer) the night before using iPray, I set my alarm for a reasonable time between dawn and sunrise. My day begins with the built-in Clock app waking me up. I tend to vary the alarm sounds to keep me on my toes. Hitting snooze is fatal, so I get up and pray.

When I wake after having gone to sleep after Fajr, my eyes have not yet reached the stage where they can focus properly, but I’m checking my mail on the built-in Mail app. With multiple accounts, the combined in-box makes this straightforward. If I’m on blog moderation duty (which is rare nowadays), I’ll approve any comments in moderation using the WordPress app.

I might have some texts that need responding to, or WhatsApp IMs that need answering and I’ll attend to those in due course.

I weigh myself and use WeightBot to record the data. I flick the mute switch to “off” just to hear the wonderful noises this app makes.

A quick look at the calendar will give me clues about what I might need for the day ahead.

Throughout the day I’ll use the Twitter app (much easier than Twitter on the Mac and less confusing than the iPad version). I’ll also check my RSS feeds on Reeder and the news on the still-free Guardian app. I doubt I’ll pay for the subscription version. I don’t like the news much anyway.

I use the camera and the video function from time to time. Tonight at the hotel in Madrid, I took a picture of the tiny condiment bottles. They’re so cute. I’ll use the built-in Camera app, or more and more often now, Camera+, which gets my vote for having the most beautiful icon on my home screen. I also use Hipstamatic and 8mm if the mood catches me, but I can get by most days without them.

OmniFocus pretty much runs my life for me. It’s the closest I’ll get to having a PA and it keeps me honest on iPhone, iPad and Mac. When I’m short on time (which is most of the time), I’ll use the iPhone version, otherwise I will relax with the iPad version, which also gets more use in the office. Not today though.

Note taking duty is handled by Simplenote, probably the most useful note-taking app ever created. It’s so simple, that most of the time it beats a notebook and pen, and that’s saying something given my love for the feel of a decent pen on Moleskine paper. Oh, it works with TextExpander too, which makes it super fast. If I’m in need of the meaning of a word, I have AED to hand.

I use Trickle for passive tweet watching, YouTube when people send me stuff to watch and Amazon UK if I want to check the price of a book I see in a shop. Naughtily, I think bookshops exist now to browse stuff you will buy off Amazon at some point anyway. And even that’s becoming a memory as I tend to buy books from the Kindle Store more and more.

If I need to tune my ukulele, I’ll use the fabulous Guitar Toolkit. I’m about to become friendly with Everyday Looper and I’ve been enjoying the Moog Filtatron, just for making silly noises, immensely. Instant Quatermass. Beautiful. On the bus, I listen to lectures and music on the iPod app. And if it’s a Friday and I’m waiting for the prayer to start at the mosque, I’ll read iQuran Pro. I just wish it had some more modern English translations, but it’s still very beautiful.

I will of course send and receive plenty of SMSs and make the odd phone call. FaceTime also gets a look-in, but sadly, given its insistence on WiFi and my unwillingness to pay exorbitant data roaming charges, it doesn’t get used on the iPhone where and when I need it the most, which is when I’m travelling on business. That’s when I fire the laptop up, connect that to the hotel WiFi and hope for the best. At the hotel I’m at now in Madrid, the connection rate is so poor, that I’ve had to fall back to Skype.

Life without the Kindle reader and Instapaper is unimaginable. Most of my medium-form reading gets done that way. Long form duty falls to the iPad, which seems to have been invented for Instapaper.

And how would I connect to so many log-in-demanding websites without 1Password? Anyone keeping the same password across multiple log-ins is just asking for it.

On the odd occasion I’m driving, I will use the CoPilot App for GPS, but more often in London, I will use Tube Deluxe for network news and Travel Deluxe to plan routes. I use the Streetcar app to book the odd car for short trips and the Bixou app to find me a Boris Bike. Today however, I used the BA app. Having checked in on the bus yesterday, I used it today with my downloaded travel ticket to sail through Heathrow’s Terminal 3. It was like magic. When I’m walking, I’ll use the Maps app and the direction finder, because my sense of direction is so poor that if you spun me around in my bedroom a couple of times I’d get lost.

I regularly use Skype to call my mum and FishText to SMS my friends and my mum abroad. My calculator is the quite brilliant Soulver and my currency conversion comes courtesy of Convertbot. If I ever need to check anything on my Mac at home, there’s iTeleport, but more and more, I can just use Dropbox to keep me in sync wherever I am.

In my hotel room, I will use iPray again to locate the Qibla, or the direction of Mecca so that I can say my prayers. And I will wind down with a book, some Instapaper, or a Jeff Minter game. For the longest time it was Fruit Ninja, but now it’s Forget.Me.Not and Atari Greatest Hits. Naturally, I downloaded the full collection. It’s produced by Jeff Vavasour, with whom I made the wonderful Atari Arcade Hits volumes 1 and 2 in my Hasbro days.

My question: How on earth did we manage before? And do you get why I call these things Human Amplification Devices now? They don’t just amplify me, they amplify others to me. We get to share humanity at a higher energy level than ever before and I absolutely, totally love it.

The Purpose of Computing

I’ve been thinking about how genuinely useful computing devices are to us, now that they have become so utterly pervasive and so unremarkably ubiquitous. There is the inevitable lack of focus that tends to arise as a result of so much stimulation of so many varieties. There is the connection to our mammalian impulses that seemingly compel us to consume what we can, while we can, and with so many apps-as-sweeties, that amounts to rather a lot.

These then, are some of the negatives, and there are many more.

I am still hugely excited about computing, I’d say that computing is more exciting now than it has ever been. So what is the purpose of computing in the era of the smartphone and iPad? I’d call computing, and specifically connected computers human amplification devices. HADs let us be more than we ever were, more often, with greater reach and with zero delay.

You are more than you ever could have been at any time in the past. Your potential reach is greater, more powerful, more wide and more deep than at any point in history. The delay between you wanting to manifest something routine in your life, like your weekly shopping, or the sending of a thought, a picture, a movie, to every person you “know” has disappeared. The volume of information that we can and do share is now truly colossal and whilst connected computers have made this possible, connected smartphones have caused an order of magnitude increase in shared information volume and removed the inherent delay that used to be predicated on the availability of an originally scarce resource, the digital node, or a static, connected computer.

If I want more than a thousand people to know about how my neighbours are affecting me, I can ensure they know the second I feel upset. My network knows when I do. If I want the community police team to know, I can email them without worrying that it’s the weekend. Today, I had police appear in my home to reassure my family of the real help they were willing to offer because a few short hours earlier, I had asked the very same officer now in my house for help. My ability to effect real change in my life has been massively amplified and the frequency shortened thanks to ubiquitous Human Amplification Devices. The corresponding increase in energy utilised is truly enormous. There is no telling where this power will get us, because like any power, it can be used for good, or for evil.

I prefer to focus on the positive. So far, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. On the bus today, I checked into my BA flight and now have my boarding pass, on my phone. When I need the answer to a question, where before an answer was not always available no matter what the investment in energy, now I can employ a number of resources instantaneously and the chances are high that I will already be better informed within moments. I will be able to notify thousands of people around the world about this post having published it from my bed, having written it on an iPad that is always connected to just about everyone I have ever come into contact with. If I need to sort out a car booking crisis whilst helping a driver navigate an alternative route and also keep a rendezvous party informed and available, I can and I do make that happen thanks to my array of HADs. That makes a real difference in the lives of people. Long may it continue.

The Media

I’ve learned this much over the last few years: you cannot trust the mainstream media. Whereas before my recent involvement with these liars, I could have arrived at this conclusion through deduction — and on suspectpaki I frequently did — more recently I found this to be the case through direct experience.

The reason there seems to be little point in making noise about the media’s clear role in peddling lies and official conspiracy theory is because it is so obviously a given.

There might well be some journalists who actually think they’re doing a good job, that they’re on the right path, that they are principled, but they are the most dangerously deluded.

A good friend of mine laughed at me recently because I touted the Guardian as being “alright”, reflexively. It only took me an instant to realise that he was of course totally justified in his avuncular chortles. I was forced to laugh at myself within moments once realisation dawned. The Guardian isn’t alright of course. It just fools you into thinking that it’s a legitimate choice. They’re all false choices. There is no choice. There is the official narrative, there is the official narrative-lite, then there is the other official narrative.

Why rant and rave at a bunch of lying prostitutes whose job is to peddle the official line? Why do you think you only hear about a Hamas bee fart in Israel causing an alleged allergic reaction in an Israeli pensioner’s dog, whilst the deliberate bombing of Palestinian mosques, schools and children is passed over as if it were an inconvenience to even mention the terrorist scum? Is it because the media doesn’t understand that it isn’t balanced? No. It’s because the media knows what it has to do. It has to lie. It has to distort. It has to pervert. That’s how the media works. As long as you know that the mainstream media will never give you a balanced picture when it comes to power politics, you will not feel so wronged. You’ll accept that this is the kind of crappy world we live in.

Screen shot 2011 04 08 at 23 52 28

The above is the front page of the BBC website as of 23:53 on the 8th of April 2011. 17 people have been killed in Gaza by the Zionist scum, but the only thing you have on Muslim deaths there is a tiny mention on Nato regretting killing the people it was supposed to be bolstering in Libya. It’s always “regrets”, isn’t it? You know one day, the filthy empires that repress and enslave the majority of humanity, that cause suffering Afghans whose nation is being bombed and whose children murdered and paraded in pictures by smiling soldiers showing off the lopped-off-finger-trophies to come to the West seeking refuge only to turn back will be in ruins and who will be left to have “regrets” then?

Unfortunately, I can’t go into detail on my personal experiences with the media, because the case (and the cause) is ongoing, but I can say this. I have proof that the media, even so-called respectable organisations like Channel 4, lies, with full knowledge that they are lying and that complaints to bodies like OfCom fall on deaf ears.

If you want truth, if you want perspective, you will have to go elsewhere, and I don’t mean Wikileaks or Al-Jazeera either.

Stop reading the newspapers, stop watching the news. You are being lied to and brainwashed. Your mind is the only asset you have of any value and your mind needs to be fed. Just remember, garbage in, garbage out.

Personal News

Many of you who used to enjoy some of my personal posts from suspectpaki might be curious about what happened to me on a personal level, given the turmoil I was experiencing 7 years ago. I won’t often be writing about personal stuff on this blog and this will be one of the very rare exceptions. Suffice to say that alhamdulillah, my life has never been better. My diabetes is better controlled than it has been in decades, with my last hbA1c at around 7.4%. Not perfect, but much better than the high 9s I used to run. All of the unresolved family issues from those days are resolved in the best way possible and I am free to focus on my family and the future.

Sadly, the future of the world isn’t looking too great at the moment, is it?