I got a new watch. Again. I bought my last watch in 2001. There was nothing wrong with it. However, Casio brought out a new version that drops the moon phase and tide graph, and instead has 5-band radio atomic clock synchronization. As you can see, it’s not a major departure, visually speaking. The function of the buttons is slightly rearranged, the actual time is larger and easier to read, the time zones don’t have editable names, and the alarm now has a snooze function. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same watch. Still titanium, solar powered, waterproof. But with the atomic clock synchronization, it’s one step closer to being the perfect watch–which, by my definition, is an indestructable watch that requires zero maintenance. I have a mild obsession with accurate timekeeping. The first watch I ever remember owning was the Timex I had as a child. It was a simple analog watch that required regular winding. Its clockwork mechanism was fairly awful as far as accuracy goes, and I had to adjust it each morning. Next, I got one of the first ever digital watches: a TI-500 from Texas Instruments. Mine was brown plastic with a brown leather strap. Since I was a kid at the time, it got scratched up pretty quickly. It also ate batteries. Still, I loved it; and I bet if I’d kept it, it would sell for a bundle on eBay. But technology was changing rapidly, and before long I had my first LCD watch, a Casio. Casio would soon take over the watch market, almost destroying the Swiss watch industry. My contribution to this process was one of these: That was the watch that never died. It lasted me through the 80s. I also had Casio calculators, but I’m happy to say I never had a calculator watch. I just wasn’t that geeky Since I love swimming and tend to be forgetful of whether I’m wearing a watch, I eventually upgraded to a waterproof Casio, again with a metal case and strap. I don’t remember too much about that one, except that once the battery needed replacing, it stopped being waterproof. Update: I’ve found out you can actually still buy the waterproof metal Casio I had. In addition, as the 90s arrived the backlash had happened, and digital watches were about as fashionable as flared trousers. So I looked for a watch that was waterproof but didn’t need batteries. For a while I wore a Swatch automatic. Aside from the lack of batteries needing replacement, I liked that it was totally unlike any other watch I had owned. Also, the back was transparent, so you could see the mechanism. It kept pretty good time, but still needed weekly adjustments. So, then came the Seiko Kinetic, which I wrote about before. Then, back to Casio. And now, atomic. I don’t know why atomic time synchronization is so seductive to me. It’s not like I need that level of accuracy in my timekeeping. Nevertheless, all the computers are synched via NTP, and we have a couple of radio synchronized clocks too. I think there’s just something fascinating about time, and about the idea of knowing it precisely. When Harper’s recently published an issue that had a whole feature about the debate over leap seconds, it was like they had published it just for me. Part of the fascination is that time is so mysterious. From the point of view of the laws of physics, you can treat it as another dimension; and physics itself doesn’t seem to care about which direction time flows. Yet our perception is that time is utterly unlike any other dimension, that it has a clear direction–and nobody can explain why that is the case. We simply don’t know what time is, even though we can measure it with very high precision. So now I know what time it is. For sure.
I’ve been reading Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus.
One of the things the book discusses is that the parts of the brain responsible for abstract goals and evaluating long term priorities are relatively recent additions to our ape brains. It was a big deal when scientists discovered that crows could make tools, because it demonstrated that they too could engage in a complex form of reasoning, continuing to work at something in spite of lack of positive outcome, in order to bring about a longer term goal.
But we’re not always as smart as crows. Our deliberative task juggling faculties require conscious engagement, and are easily sidetracked by the possibility of more immediate gratification. I speak of procrastination; as Despair, Inc put it in their Demotivator,
In his book, Dr Marcus suggests a way to reduce the problem of procrastination. The brain has a much older mechanism for motivating us to do things, and it’s a lot more powerful than prioritizing the contents of our to-do list or considering our long term life goals. The trick is that the more primitive goal processing part of the brain only understands motivations of the form if I do [some action], then [some immediate outcome] happens.
This is the kind of reasoning all animals can do, the kind that lets squirrels learn that humans will give them treats, or lets you teach dogs that they’re not allowed on the furniture.
Part of the reason why GTD works is that by making sure all your to-do items are actionable concrete next steps, you make them processable by this primitive goal processing engine. But now you add the second trick David Allen hasn’t included in GTD yet: you give each next action an immediate payoff.
It’s something I do all the time. If I go to the dentist for a checkup, I get myself a doughnut. If I sell some junk on eBay, I immediately buy myself a new video game. When we file our taxes, we go out for Thai curry. If I do some yard work, I buy a Frappuccino.
OK, you’re saying, but what’s to stop me from buying the Frappuccino anyway?
Nothing. That’s the best thing about this technique–it doesn’t matter if you buy a Frappuccino anyway without doing any work, so long as when you do perform the task, you get the reward. (Yes, two Frappuccinos in one day, if necessary.) The primitive goal engine isn’t advanced enough to work out that you could have gotten the reward anyway; it just registers that the unpleasant action resulted in the reward, and then it helps subconsciously motivate you to perform similar actions in future.
Of course, you have to be a little careful that your rewards aren’t all high fat sugary ones, or expensive ones. You might think that there aren’t enough healthy ways to reward yourself, but it doesn’t appear to matter whether the reward is something you would do anyway. I would play video games anyway, but if I do so immediately after tidying the house and consciously think of it as a reward, it becomes easier to motivate myself to tidy the house. Since normal activities can be rewards, this vastly increases the number of things you can use to motivate yourself. Maybe you could reward yourself with a hot bath, an afternoon nap, or your favorite TV show.
The only thing you have to remember when setting rewards is that they have to involve immediate gratification. Money doesn’t work; it’s too abstract, the animal brain doesn’t understand it. Affirmations and other good thoughts don’t work either, they’re a tool of the deliberative mind. Forget self esteem, you need to think of a treat that appeals to you at the animal level, you need to indulge in it fairly immediately after performing the unpleasant task, and you need to think about the fact that the reward was because the task was performed.
Maybe this method won’t work for everyone, but it seems sound based on the information about how the mind works in Dr Marcus’s book, and I’ve been using the technique on myself for years with a good degree of success. If it changes your life, feel free to shower me with gratitude.
Everyone should have a chunk of cash in an instant access savings account; see Dilbert’s guide to financial success.
If you’re in the US and have $250 spare to put in a savings account, I’ve got a voucher you can use to open an account with ING Direct, and they’ll give you $25 free. (Plus $10 for me.)
I’ve been saving with them for a while, because their rates are so much better than my bank’s savings account rates (4.4% APR with no fees). They’re a proper FDIC insured outfit backed by a real bank, a European multinational. I briefly had all the proceeds from selling my UK apartment in the account, and they didn’t abscond with it, so I’m pretty sure your $250 will be safe.
Also on the subject of free money, a while back Bank of America bought MBNA. I have MBNA credit cards; naturally I pay off the balance each month. Based on my transaction history, Bank of America have sent me mail saying they’ll pay me $100 to open a checking account with them. Maybe I’m crazy, but I haven’t rushed to do so. A quick glance at the relevant Wikipedia page and you’ll see that Bank of America has engaged in various sleazy business practices.
My current bank is Wells Fargo; they have a much cleaner record, and I also get the joy of knowing I’m supporting a company that really irritated Focus in the Family. Plus, they were the only US bank I could find that had all the necessary information about how to transfer money internationally available on their web site.
A customer was worried that a check for an eBay transaction might be fraudulent, so he asked Bank of America to examine it carefully. They said it was on a valid account, so he asked them to cash it. Then Bank of America changed their minds and decided the check was fraudulent, called the cops, had him put in jail, and effectively wasted $14,000 of his money on legal hassles.
OK, now I’m really sure I don’t want to do business with Bank of America.
Time Warner turned up yesterday and hooked up the Internet. We now have a nice, reliable high-speed connection again. There seems to be nobody in WiFi range who has a wireless access point; either that or they’re not broadcasting SSIDs. Reception is fabulous throughout the house. The modem and router are in the office, and I have the music server up and running again.
It turned out that Time Warner have some kind of lock on their back-end systems to restrict the allowed set of MAC addresses for cable modems. If your modem isn’t on their approved list and in the MAC range their system knows about, you can’t use it. So, I now have a surplus US Robotics USR6000 cable modem. eBay time…
On the plus side, the Cable Guy tells me that RoadRunner in Austin includes the cable modem in the cost of the service, unlike Comcast who charged an extra monthly rental fee for a modem. We’ll see.
For once I don’t feel too bad about the $40 hook-up fee, as the cable guy had to string coax from pole to pole using a long metal hook and a tall ladder. He says the signal quality is great, and the download speeds certainly seem spiffy–at least 50% better than Comcast for about the same price.
Unfortunately, Time Warner aren’t so reasonable when it comes to TV. To get the essentials–Cartoon Network, Comedy Central and BBC America plus scrolling program guide–we’d have to pay $68.21 a month, plus another $10 for a DVR. Or, $64 a month and put up with decompress/compress artifacts from using the old ReplayTV.
So, we’d already decided DirecTV with TiVo was the way forward. $41.99 plus $4.99 for TiVo, but it records the MPEG stream direct from the satellite to the hard drive so there’s no quality loss, and you can record two shows at once while you watch a third show recorded earlier. Plus, all the channels are digital quality, unlike with cable.
DirecTV presents its own problems, however. To get the full channel lineup for Austin you need two pieces of coax going from the dish to the receiver, and for the TiVo option you need a phone line too.
The phone line thing wasn’t such a problem. I needed a real phone line for the home office anyway, and SBC may be Satan, but they’re cheaper than Verizon. The TiVo could call out on the office line overnight and that would be fine.
So, SBC came out. They also played the game of running wires from pole to pole. Their technician got the phone connection as far as the outside of the house, but then he hit a snag. However he wired things up outside, no phone service inside; and when he put a signal generator into one of the sockets inside, he got signal on all four wires. I’ve wired phone connections, and I know that that ain’t right–the phone signal should end up across exactly 2 wires.
I tracked down the electricians who wired the house. They came out to investigate, and discovered that whichever of their colleagues had done the job had completely botched it. No two sockets downstairs were wired up the same way. In the end, they opened up and rewired every socket. On the plus side, I found out that although the sockets are CAT-3, the wire in the walls is at least CAT-5e. So theoretically at least, I could switch the wall plates to Ethernet one day and switch the entire telephone network to VOIP.
But not today. TiVo needs a real phone line for its modem, and I want to see how reliable the Internet service is before trusting it for my phone calls.
Since the electricians were at the house anyway, I paid them to run a second coax from the living room to the nest of cables on the side of the house, plus another CAT5e phone connection for good measure. To do this they had to drill down from inside the house, because they couldn’t find exactly the right point to drill up from underneath, and obviously nobody wanted to risk drilling up through the beautiful wood floor.
So right now there’s a missing faceplate and some damage to the drywall, but I can patch that up and put in a 4-hole plate, install an RJ-11 and two coax sockets plus a blanking plate, and I’ll have a nice clean DirecTV hookup point exactly where I need it. The DirecTV installer can stick the dish on the roof, run the wires down the side of the house, and hook it all up from outside without having to drill holes in anything or run unsightly cables inside the house. Free installation sounds great, but I’ve seen what happens when free installation involves routing a cable from your living room to the outside world, and it isn’t pretty.
Could I have routed the extra coax myself? Probably, but what I really paid for was not having to spend an hour of my time doing it, and not having to crawl under the house, where there could be poisonous spiders, 6″ centipedes, snakes, or scorpions.
No news from the car dealer, though they answered my call and haven’t forgotten me. I’m watching various web forums on the off chance I can find a Prius within a day’s travel. If not, well, hopefully Toyota will ship on time and the car will reach the dealer on time and I’ll be able to buy it just in time for us to leave for Austin.
One effect of Prius demand exceeding supply is that some local dealers are selling second hand cars for more than the MSRP of a brand new one. Though I hasten to add that they stand no chance of selling me a second hand car for more than the cost of a new one.
Nor, for that matter, am I prepared to buy from a scalper. eBay has quite a few of them—people who buy a Prius for MSRP from a reputable dealer, and then immediately turn around and try to sell it for a few thousand over MSRP. And there are people who’ll buy, which is the sad part.
Me, I’d rather drive across the country in a second hand Subaru wagon than put $3K of my money in a scalper’s pocket. But if you see Priuses being sold in New England for MSRP or under, please do let me know…
I have broadband. I have a PlayStation 2 next to the router and cable modem. I have disposable income. I play video games. Yet, I do not have a PS2 network adaptor, and I haven’t played any online games.
I’ve been thinking about why not. I decided to put together some suggestions for Raph Koster, who’s the big cheese at Sony in charge of online PS2 gaming.
Either charge a subscription, or charge for the game, but don’t ask me to pay twice.
If I need a subscription to play, I’m very unlikely to pay $50 for the game, because if I decide I don’t like it I’m left with a $50 coaster. Games which are offline or online can get away with charging for the game itself, but it’s still a bad idea if the main point is the multiplayer: A high up-front cost to join a subscription game screams “We don’t think you’ll stay a member for long so we’d better get some cash up front”.
Monthly subscriptions don’t work for me, unless they’re really cheap.
Your market is people with broadband and significant disposable income. To me, that says adults with jobs. Like many adults with jobs, there are months when I don’t really get any time to play video games at all.
It seems to me that it’s not technically hard at all to have a “per hour” fee, capped at the cost of a monthly subscription. That would encourage casual gamers and people who aren’t sure they will like the game enough to get really into it and spend hours on it every month.
It has to be co-operative.
I have zero interest in player-versus-player. If I want a competitive challenge, a computer opponent is better for several reasons:
- You know they won’t cheat.
- You know it won’t be a hopeless mismatch of abilities.
- You don’t have to deal with network lag.
- The computer won’t camp, sulk, or otherwise behave in a deliberately game-ruining way.
My motivations for gaming are primarily exploration, puzzle solving, and new experiences. Looking at the top selling games of all time suggests to me that the majority of gamers are the same way: “The Sims”, the “Myst” adventures, “Tetris”, the “Super Mario” games—none of them are about combat. There are a few combat games in the list, but they’re the ones that have lots of exploration and a strong plot—“GTA Vice City” and “Half-Life”.
Furthermore, the multi-player combat game market is glutted already. People who want that already have lots of options.
It has to be social.
This is where it gets hard. There’s no point in having other humans involved in the game unless you can talk with them, but on the other hand there has to be a way to get matched up with players who have similar gaming interests, and to keep out the assholes.
This suggests to me that an essential part of any multiplayer online game is persistence in user IDs, and some kind of feedback or rating system at least as good as eBay’s.
That doesn’t mean massive censorship. If people want to talk trash all day, just let ‘em go do it with other people who want to talk trash all day.
That’s all I have so far, but I live in hope that someone will take notice and come up with some multiplayer games that appeal to me.
I dream of shoes…
Actually, it was about shopping, which is even sadder. Except I couldn’t go shopping because I didn’t have a reasonable pair of shoes.
I think it’s subconscious anxiety about the fact that my new Birkenstocks haven’t arrived. I bought them in San Francisco, which has an excellent Birkenstock store—go figure. A pair of sandals to replace the current pair which are wearing out, and a pair of something that looks like black canvas trainers, except they’re not, hopefully to replace the beaten-up Reebok Classics.
Did a bunch of chores yesterday. Tidied my desk, copied all sara’s old Zip disks onto a CD for her, installed Norton on her G4, shredded some old receipts, put the Lynx up for sale on eBay, moved the 8500 into the front room in preparation for selling it, and rewired the speakers in the computer room so I could have my SoundWorks system back.
I’ve had backache since SF. I was unlucky with the hotel bed; the last two I’ve experienced have been fine, but this one wasn’t good enough. I’m almost recovered now, but it’s been an unpleasant week. The problem seems to be that after sleeping on futons for over a decade, my back muscles go nuts if presented with a conventional mattress of anything less than stellar quality. I think I’m going to have to get a Japanese bedroll that I can take with me on future vacations. Anyone have any advice?
It’s strange how things get filtered though my discomfort. I was watching celebrities being interviewed, and suddenly I started to wonder if any of them had special mattress requirements. I suppose I’m starting to understand why some famous people have standard lists of special requirements for their trailers and dressing rooms. It’s just a matter of wanting to be able to get up and feel like a happy, healthy human being so you can sieze the day. Maybe I should start to write my list:
There will be a futon mattress in the bedroom.
The bed will have a duvet, not sheets and blankets.
Pillows will be foam, not feather.
There will be cafe latte available at around 09:00, and nobody is to attempt to engage me in unnecessary conversation before I’ve finished drinking it.
Just had my annual physical. Pulse normal, blood pressure 110/75, eyes normal, chest/breathing normal, no sign of hernia (whatever that is).
My weight is slightly lower than ideal, but only slightly, and I like it that way.
In the unlikely event that I have high cholesterol, they’ll contact me.
Oh, and a neGcon I found on eBay arrived. WipeOut 3 weekend!
Renewed my membership of Amnesty International. What with over a thousand non-judicial “disappearances” in the USA in the last couple of months, I think they’re going to be very busy over the next year. Who knows—I could even end up needing their help myself. All it would take would be for someone in power to decide they suspected me, and I could be grabbed and jailed indefinitely—and possibly tortured, if the right wing get their way.
Apparently squirrels don’t go down well on eBay.
I ordered 64MB of CompactFlash memory for the digital camera. After a couple of days I hadn’t heard from the vendor that it had been shipped, so I sent them an e-mail asking what had happened.
Come the weekend, I gave up and bought two 32MB cards at CompUSA instead. On Monday I called the vendor to cancel the order, and discovered that they’d shipped it the previous Thursday, but hadn’t read their e-mail for two days.
Oh well, I suppose I can take more pictures. And if I decide I really have too much memory, it looks as if there are suckers on eBay who’ll buy 32MB CF cards second hand for more than I paid new. Thank heavens for eBay…