September 4th, 2013

A Purple Straw Hat

used wast they taken: for used they art, and used shalt they return

Cleaned and ready to go

When T. was much younger, and before Buttons and Bows (a kids consignment store) left West Acton for nicer quarters elsewhere in town, T. liked playing with these in the store enough for me to buy them. We kept them under the deck where they got increasingly dirty. Today, I pulled them out, cleaned off the ... stuff clinging to them (nesting in them, etc. -- spiders and such), took pictures and started the Who Wants These process.

They are not indoor condition, but I'm hoping someone will take them and keep them in their yard for their remaining season or two of usable life. Worst case scenario, I'll call the parks department and make sure it is okay to bring them to one of the town playgrounds and leave them to be played with there. The kids have sure had fun with other toys of a similar nature at playgrounds in town.

It's easy to convince oneself that plastic is not really part of Nature, but when you've picked as much life off of one of these things as I just did, it just doesn't seem plausible any more.
A Purple Straw Hat

new computer, decluttering

The replacement for my 2009 laptop arrived yesterday. Well, FedEx attempted delivery and I wanted it bad enough to drive down to The 'Ham to go pick it up. On the way back, I passed the New England Center, which has really great facilities and a great program and so forth but wow is it on a tremendously busy road. Very happy our kids have more local, public options.

R. set it up for me. He already had a Time Capsule set up, so it went very smoothly. The effect is interesting, but not as odd as it would have been in pre-iPad days: essentially, the hardware has been upgraded but _everything is otherwise identical_, right down to which services I was logged into in the browser (not everything stayed logged in, mind you, but the exceptions were exceptions in a way that was reassuring). Very cool.

I'm going to let at least 24 hours go by before sending the old one in for a gift card at the Apple Store, just on general principles.

Because that process was so easy, I had some spare interest/energy in fiddling around with other features. I set up PhotoStream on the new laptop (not sure why I never got around to doing this on the old laptop). It's hard to imagine using that for photos instead of Flickr, given the respective storage limits. I also googled how to attach multiple photos to a single email on the phone, because I knew that was possible but couldn't figure out how to do it.

In addition to the large plastic objects I'm trying to give away, I've got an old iPod that I intend to recycle and two old DVD players. I suspect there is a Best Buy trip in our future for the DVD players, but the old iPod (or, for that matter, the 2006 laptop that preceded the 2009 laptop) could be taken to Staples for recycling. I tried to talk myself into taking advantage of the bring-in-your-iPod-and-get-10%-off-a-new-one option, but am so far failing.

Tomorrow, A. does not have school, for Rosh Hashanah. Weirdest week ever: no school Monday, no school Thursday, school the other three days. T.'s classroom is in a different district, so he has school. The impact is less than it might have been, since A.'s half day is Thursday anyway.
A Purple Straw Hat

opportunity costs

I'm reading _Scarcity_, and it's very interesting, however I think in the end I will disapprove of the book. But I'm not sure, so I continue; also, they seem like really good human beings.

In any event, they are trying to illustrate opportunity costs. "You purchase a season ticket package for your favorite sports team."

No, I don't. But continue with further details about how much the tickets would be if purchased individually vs. in the package.

"Now imagine that the season is almost over, and you only have one game left to see. In fact, this game has a lot of buzz around it, and tickets are currently selling for $75 around town. You are about to go to the game." How much is does your ticket feel like to you now?

Well, since I would pay sometime quite a lot more than $75 to take this ticket away from me, I might actually bother to sell it, if I couldn't give it to someone who would have positive feelings towards me as a result (worth a helluva lot more to me than the money, an artifact of my own personal circumstances). I'm not going to the game either way, and whoever talked me into buying this package has already been dumped and I've further dumped everyone who thinks I should have tried to make it work out (can you tell I have strong feelings about this?).

Then the authors go on to talk about how economists answered this question, vs. how economics says it should be answered, vs. what the poors say. All of it -- and I mean _all_ of it -- ignoring transaction costs of what might be involved in actually selling the ticket.

I don't much care for economics in its canonical form. I think there are a lot of possible answers to what that ticket is "worth". Certainly less than $75, if only to account for the hassle of selling the ticket. To me, that ticket is worth some substantial negative number, because it has come to represent yet another time when I got sucked into agreeing to a leisure activity I don't enjoy to keep the peace. (I might very well break up with the person who got me to pay for the season ticket package by viciously telling them that these two tickets were worth $150 if we sold them instead of going to the game which I didn't even want to attend.)

My frustration with the book largely stems from the authors' probably conscious use of frames that are then swapped to illustrate a point. I spend a lot of energy railing against the initial frame and then its substitute -- and then wondering when the authors are going to get to what I regard as The Only Reasonable Way to Think About This.
A Purple Straw Hat

Framing problems in _Scarcity_

I'm at around loc 1700 / 37% of the way through the book, and I think I now understand what's wrong with it. I had some inklings of this right at the beginning, but I suppose I had sort of hoped that the authors had learned enough in the course of writing the book to have figured out what they were doing wrong. I don't think they did.

Here are some telling passages, after they refer to Covey's urgent/important quadrants. "Scarcity, and tunneling in particular, leads you to put off important but not urgent things -- cleaning your office, getting a colonoscopy, writing a will -- that are easy to neglect. Their costs are immediate, loom large, and are easy to defer, and their benefits fall outside the tunnel. So they await a time when all urgent things are done."

(1) There are times when cleaning your office is urgent AND important: when you cannot accomplish something without cleaning the office and, somewhat before that point, when the amount of delay attributable to disorganization is greater than the effort required to reduce the disorder to a more manageable level.

(2) Getting a colonoscopy probably _should_ be put off, unless you are symptomatic, at which point the benefits will be within the tunnel.

(3) Writing a will is sort of an interesting case. I actually don't think writing a will is that important for most people who do not have children who required a named guardian in the event that all current guardians die simultaneously. If you have children who require a named guardian, the benefit in terms of reduced anxiety will probably fall within the tunnel.

The tunnel as an explanation is also somewhat weak. Head spaces that impact cognitive capacity are many, and you can undertake training and exercises to improve your performance within these head spaces. I'm unconvinced the authors are aware of this, which is a horrifying lapse. But here's why I think they don't know:

"On a good day, you might start by looking at your calendar,"

No, ON EVERY DAY, you start by looking at your calendar. Maybe you have a routine that precedes that glance, because you have to pee/dress/shave/get the kids up and out the door/eat/etc. prior to doing anything else at all, maybe you look at the calendar the night before, but checking the hard landscape of your day, as David Allen would put it, is something that adults ought to have trained themselves to do ON BAD DAYS. If you don't have this routine on bad days, you are a walking disaster. And there's a lot of reason to believe the authors of this book are walking disasters.

"In contrast, on a busy day you dive right in. You do not step back and scope out the day. You are not quite sure who's at the meeting or what it's about. And it's not only for lack of time. You may have a little time to work, but your mind is so focused on everything that needs to get done that your vision is obscured."

Clearly, these guys are the people that GTD is intended for. I had hypothesized their existence, but, fuck. It's kinda hard to believe they _really exist_.

FWIW, as a parent of two kids with special needs, I am well aware of what it's like not to have enough time to meet basic needs. Basic needs like enough consecutive hours of sleep. I get that. I really do. But that is not the kind of time pressure these idiots are suffering from. They are just being ridiculous.

In a way, I feel like I'm reading a book written by chemists who are commenting on cooking. They are chemists, so they actually know some things that a good cook might not know, but might help explain a lot about why things work -- or don't -- in the kitchen. And that's great. But just because they know a bunch of chemistry doesn't mean they have any idea how to cook.

ETA: A little later in the book, they describe classic deal with one problem only to be "surprised" because suddenly other things that were weeks away are now days or hours away, or no longer possible. Which of course is why every time management book on the planet has at least one chapter devoted to Start Saying No.

I think part of why I find this book incredibly irritating is because I was pretty damn poor in a whole lot of ways when, as a temp clerical worker, I was telling multiple "vice presidents" (you know, the kind that get the title so they sound important to the accounts, but in practice they have to share a secretary, who was currently on vacation) that they had to figure out what the priority order was for what they were telling me to do because It Was Not Possible to get it all done in the time frame they were demanding. I just stood there saying no until one of them (the only woman) shooed everyone away and laid down a set of rules that made sense to me. They did not, I might add, attempt to replace me with someone else from the temp agency. It's annoying to have to do this, but you don't need abundance in order to do this. You just need to be prepared to walk away from stupidity.

ETAYA: Oh, and I just feel like they are overly hard on the vendors. Comparing what people making a dollar or two a day, getting up crazy early in the morning and sitting in the eat negotiating with people all day long as bearing any resemblance to the time pressures experienced by PhD students in the United States just does not feel right to me. I kind of get what they are trying to do -- which is to make it so that rich people quit looking down at the decision making of poor people, and recognize that they are the same, really, when in the same circumstances, but all their data basically says something very different, in a way, which is that most people who have abundance of one sort or another aren't very good with it, either. I wish they were exploring the stuff they talked about with trained musicians, who could reproduce intervals accurately, without distortion from local referents, and how that works with people who make better decisions when pressed for time/money/other resources.

Still hoping it will get better ...

ETA Still More: Really? Really?

"Staying clear of the scarcity trap requires more than abundance. It requires enough abundance so that, even after overspending or procrastinating, we still leave enough slack to manage most shocks. Enough abundance so that even after extensive procrastination, we still have enough time left to manage an unexpected deadline. Staying out of the scarcity trap requires enough slack to deal with the shocks the world brings and the troubles we impose on ourselves."

_WHAT_ the _FUCK_. Okay, so, every time management, money management etc. schema I have ever read (and my regular readers know that these genres are a bit of a hobby of mine) is Real Clear on the idea that you have to block out time and block out money for Just Fun. (Not all the declutterers/home organization people are as clear on the importance of being able to leave a mess -- an in-progress-activity or project -- out, but the principle applies whether the advice givers know it or not.) The authors mention the money bit in passing at one point with rampant skepticism; it's not clear that they understand they are supposed to schedule leisure time and that if they did schedule leisure time, they'd be less tempted to, say, watch excessive (read: any) amounts of Family Feud.

But the way they've phrased it, they honestly sound like the kind of people that would blow through a big lottery win.

However, a paragraph later, they add, "And all this is compounded by our failure to use the precious moments of abundance to create future buffers." That's promising; I'll give them a little bit more, because That is a sentence I Believe In.

Hit the beginning of Chapter 7: they do admit the real difference between discretionary (being on a diet, being too busy at a high-paying job) vs. non-discretionary (subsistence farmer in India) scarcity, and say they are using the stuff in common to create an empathy bridge but it really only goes so far. So that's lovely; I had really believed at the beginning of this book that they were wonderful human beings and I'm glad to see that I was not wrong.

But wow, the rest of Chapter 7 is a little terrifying. Hmmm.
A Purple Straw Hat

Speaking of Bad Ideas

Not too long ago, I was making a joke about being able to RFID tag things I own and then find them with my phone, then I found this:

Which I don't think exists yet as a consumer product. But super cool! I was sort of hoping for a directional display, but a warm/cold beeper is okay, too.

Then today, I learned about this:

Also, doesn't exist yet. It has some really great characteristics: it could work over much greater distances (since it uses Bluetooth and all subscribers phones), and doesn't require additional hardware to be attached to the phone (which, honestly, if you need one of these things, you are at great risk of losing). But here's the truly appalling part about Tile: the Tiles cost $25/each and have to be replaced annually.

For realz. Essentially, you pay $25/year per item as a weird form of insurance against loss. No way in _hell_ should anyone be paying that kind of insurance for any of the usual suspects (keys, even wallets); you'd be better off spending your money on a few rounds of cognitive behavioral therapy to help you figure out a way to get organized enough to Stop Leaving Your Shit Everywhere.

Or, maybe, join a 12 step group or something, if substances are involved. (Which seems likely, since that's how the advertising is aimed: Tile everything you might lose, "Then get on with the fun."

But you know, YMMV.