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Productive vs. Unproductive Activities

Productive vs. Unproductive Activities

As a follow-up to my self examination in Being a Productive Animal, I’ve taken it upon myself to assemble a list of the activities I do in my free time separated by whether I consider them productive or unproductive. It may seem a simplistic bifurcation, but at the end of the day the productive activities are the ones I feel make me more complete of a human being (mentally or physically enhanced, more fulfilling), and the unproductive ones are, well, brain-draining. Of course I quite enjoy many of the unproductive activities, but that doesn’t mean that their net effect is constructive.  I’ve also found in making this list that productive activities are not always chores, and there are quite a few leisure activities that can be, in my opinion, brain stimulating as opposed to passive.

My ultimate goal here is to force myself to do at least X productive activities per day and limit my unproductive activities to only a couple hours a week.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Brian’s Productive Activities

  • Reading any book or audiobook
  • Social time or correspondence with close friends
  • Piano (playing, writing music, creative doodling)
  • Cooking/baking
  • Independent programming projects/Project Euler
  • Exercise
  • Talking on the phone
  • Blogging
  • Personal hygiene
  • Chess & Poker (only in conjunction with engaged learning)
  • Cleaning apartment/doing dishes
  • Creative writing
  • Brainstorming startup/product ideas
  • Travel
  • Learning a new skill
  • Photography
  • Playing cards
  • Taking a constitutional (walking, that is :))
  • Watching a movie I’ve never seen
  • Legos
  • Career advancing activities (interviews, updating resume, networking, etc)
  • Podcasts

Brian’s Unproductive Activities

  • Watching any TV (even Game of Thrones)
  • Reading the news
  • Watching a movie I’ve seen before
  • Arguing about politics
  • Listening to standup comedy
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter)
  • Computer, video or mobile gaming
  • Browsing the internet aimlessly (reddit, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc)
  • Eating junk food
  • Hacker News (exception for participating in intelligent comment threads)
  • Chat/iMessage
  • Large social gatherings/small-talk in general

This list is obviously personal to me, but speaking with some friends I have found a lot of common themes (watching TV is a big one for a lot of people).

What would you add to your list?

November 7, 2014Comments are DisabledRead More
I Used DuckDuckGo for a Week and Had to Switch Back. Here’s why.

I Used DuckDuckGo for a Week and Had to Switch Back. Here’s why.

It was really hard to switch off of Google, and when I finally did it, I didn’t think I would switch back.

In the past, whenever I’ve tried another search engine, I have failed. Searching is such a natural, compulsory thing to do on the internet, that whenever I have navigated to Bing or DuckDuckGo, I find myself staring at a blinking cursor not entirely sure what to search for. The conscious decision to make a search has always interfered with my ability to search naturally.

DuckDuckGoBut the recent revelations about PRISM and the NSA have led to a surge in interest in cutting the chord to big cloud services like Google whose data collection practices are well known. So, following the herd, I decided it was time for me to switch my default search engine. It wasn’t enough to remember to navigate to DuckDuckGo for searches; instead, I had to change my address bar default search engine in Chrome to force me to use the new engine.

Before I knew it, my 50 or so odd searches a day were going through DuckDuckGo instead of Google.

Now, I love that DuckDuckGo doesn’t track searches. In terms of their commitment to privacy and their users, I don’t think there’s a better option. And I love that there’s an alternative for people concerned about their data being collected. But it took me only a week using DuckDuckGo to appreciate the little things that Google does that still make it a far superior product.

Google is Faster

I didn’t think this would be something I even noticed, but it was apparent immediately that with DuckDuckGo, search results take a fraction of a second longer to show up. It must be no more than 200-300 ms, but it really makes a difference. Every time I am faced with that momentary pause all I can think about is switching over to Google to get faster gratification.

Google Keeps Up with Timely Search Queries

Earlier this week, I searched for “Pride,” expecting to find out more about Pride Weekend in San Francisco. DuckDuckGo seemed to have no understanding of that context, whereas Google’s first results were exactly what I was looking for. It wouldn’t require tracking, just an IP lookup to know where I am and return timely results. Google’s natural integration with their news engine is invaluable to my search experience.

Google Doesn’t Index Sites with Code Errors

This is huge for me. Since I am coding all day long, I need to be able to search for errors that crop up from time to time if I don’t understand them. There was one PHP error this morning that I searched (DuckDuckGo’d?), and the top 20 results were sites that had thrown this error. The sites were destinations like–completely irrelevant to my query. Google, as usual, returned very useful StackOverflow results that got me on the right track.

Google Knows When Not to Surface Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia, but sometimes it isn’t the most relevant result. The “Pride” search is a good example, but in general if it isn’t a proper noun, I am more likely to go for a news or video result than Wikipedia. DuckDuckGo seems to surface Wikipedia way too much. I like the way Google does it, especially when they float the Wikipedia results to the right so I always know where to find the article.

In short, I love that DuckDuckGo is gaining interest, and that Google has competition, and that there are choices for all of us when we use the internet. But I tried, and for the things that matter to me, it seems that Google is just a better experience. I hope DuckDuckGo improves the product, because eventually I would love to switch back. But philosophical alignment isn’t enough to get me to use an inferior product.

So, Google, you have me back for now.

June 28, 2013Comments are DisabledRead More
My Top Ten Internet Gripes

My Top Ten Internet Gripes

Ok, girls and boys, time for some venting about the state of the internet today. Let’s look at some problems that we all face on a regular basis–dare I say first world problems?–and maybe some ways they can be fixed.


1. Facebook Grammar

This has been a problem from the beginning. Nothing gets my goat more than seeing a generalized plural pronoun used out of laziness, especially when Facebook has the gender information that would make the proper pronoun instantly accessible. If the user has identified herself/himself as female/male, why not say “X has updated her/his profile picture”?


2. Country Drop-down Menus

They are on every website, and it’s getting to be enough, people. Why should I have to wade through 150 sovereign nations to find my own country, especially if that country is the biggest market for the website I’m on? Why can’t websites at least auto-select my country so I don’t have to click and scroll, or click and roll, or type “U-U-U” like some MS-DOS hacker to find the United States? There is a good solution to this problem here, but I’m interested in even better solutions. Or, not having them at all.


3. Google’s Two-Tier Drive/Docs

Since Google’s transition to Google Drive, it would make all the sense in the world to have one drive. One drive for one group of folders. However, Google doesn’t see it this way. Instead, Google splits their drive into “My Drive” and “Shared with Me.” It may seem like a natural split, except that I can never remember whether docs I am collaborating on were docs I created or docs which were shared with me. And why should it matter? What’s worse, when you search for docs, it only searches inside the active folder. Which means often I am searching twice in the same search box for the same document.


4. Forgot Password Scripts

We get it already! If you forgot your password, you click Forgot Password, then you get an email with your password information and maybe a reset link, then you click reset, then you go to the site, then it asks you to create a new password, then half the time it asks you to log in again with the password you just created (why?), then it sends you a NEW email telling you your password has been successfully reset, and if it wasn’t you that you should call them and tell them. Why all this trouble? What’s so hard about resetting a password? If someone hasn’t already, someone should build a better plug-and-play solution. Or I should 🙂


5. Loading Gifs that Don’t Load

I know it’s because the gif is loaded with the site assets and only replaced after the AJAX call to the server returns data, and sometimes the backend is broken or you lose the network at a crucial moment, but for users, this is the internet equivalent of Apple’s spinning rainbow of death. The fact is, users don’t know or care why it isn’t working, they just see that there’s content that should be there, and isn’t. It’s frustrating, and it would be simple to fix–don’t have a loading gif onload, but instead only show it while data is actually loading. Or not have a loading gif at all.


6. Pinterest Rip-Offs

You’ve seen them all over the place. Pinterest had a cool liquid multi-column layout, so now every site on the internet needs to adapt that style. The reason it works for Pinterest is because it’s precisely what the Pinterest community needs. It doesn’t work for your blog, or some random photography site, or Plus, it’s unoriginal and it stinks. Make your own shitty layout, and leave original design to…not you. See here for a list of Pinterest ripoffs.


7. “Share this Purchase” Requests

We know you want to make your ecommerce site “social,” but no one, ever, is going to be enthusiastic about posting their purchases on Facebook. Not only is it in bad taste to brag about your new $200 three-slot toaster to an unwieldy group of fake friends whose preferences and tastes are unknowable, it’s also not realistic to think that these posts will result in any conversions. It’s best not to insult the intelligence of your buyers and leave these requests out entirely.


8. Facebook Open Graph

The proliferation of auto-shared Open Graph actions is out of control. My Facebook feed no longer provides any useful information and instead shows me a litany of useless, and sometimes embarrassing, information about my friends. For certain things, like music and offers, it’s kinda cool, but for everything else it stinks of desperation for Facebook and the advertiser in question. On this note, Facebook tricking people into sharing all their content by replacing “Authorize App” with “Okay, Watch Video” isn’t cool. Full disclosure: I am partially responsible for this, having brought Ustream to Open Graph in April.


9. Late-Loading Site Content

You’ve been there. The page starts loading, and you see a link you want to click, so before the page is finished loading, you attempt to click it. But just at that moment, some banner slides in from the top of the page and pushes everything down. So instead of clicking “Benghazi militia captured outside Tripoli,” you click “Doris Day impersonator dies from bike pump beating.” The worst perpetrator of this practice is CNN, which insists on telling you you’re using the US edition and asks if you want to make it the default (what else would I want?).


10. Unwanted Noise

This is a common frustration. My computer should not make any noise I don’t want it to make, and therefore, any website that is creating unwanted sound is a complete nuisance. Sometimes I’ll have my speakers on and one of those annoying talking heads greeting me will start babbling, or a preroll ad for a car will start zooming, and before you know it, everyone at the office is pissed. The only time I need my speakers is for a video or music that I voluntarily turn on. Everything else is a distraction. There are some workarounds to this but nothing that is that satisfying. I would put auto-playing video in this category as well.

October 26, 2012Comments are DisabledRead More
Notes on Friendship (and Facebook)

Notes on Friendship (and Facebook)

I found this article the other day, and it isn’t that recent article by today’s terms (read: 6 months ago) but it is still relevant.

First and foremost, I found it particularly interesting how Deresiewicz tied the history of friendship to our latest foray into “faux” friendship, seeming to trace a line directly from Plato to today in a highly critical view of what we’ve “done” to friendship. But he mischaracterizes the root cause of the problem–it is is not Facebook or MySpace that made us who we are, just like it wasn’t the invention of writing that made people write 10-page long letters. Could not a monk in Ireland lament in 1350 that his ability to write 10-page long missives to his clerical compatriot in Kiev hampered his ability to maintain a close friendship based on conversation and personal intimacy? Certainly Jefferson and Adams did not maintain their letter-writing friendship at the expense of their conversations, but it allowed their friendship to grow and be maintained when distance hampered their communication.

Point being, Facebook may be a technology that enables briefer, less intimate intercourse, but it is not Facebook’s fault that we use it for that. Indeed, Facebook is the latest technology that allows us to do what we seemingly want to do more than anything else–perceive the illusion of friendship without doing the work necessary to create and maintain a Platonic one. But what’s wrong with that? Certainly the telegraph-writers were a proud and noble breed for quite sometime after mobile telephones were commonplace. Certainly there were some horseback riders riding bareback long after the invention of the saddle. But technology clearly enabled some to communicate and ride horses better and more efficiently. We might lament the loss of the agrarian culture, but there’s a reason most of us live in cities. Maybe we are naturally short-focused, uninterested, shallow, petty friend-whore-mongers and Facebook is the first tool that allows us to be what we want to be??

This article to me seems pretty nostalgic, ironically posted on an online forum where comments range from “Good article! XOXO” to “Make me your Facebook friend!” But it does address quite well the changing social relationship of friendship, and it doesn’t lie when it observes that “We haven’t just stopped talking to our friends as individuals, at such moments, we have stopped thinking of them as individuals. We have turned them into an indiscriminate mass, a kind of audience or faceless public. We address ourselves not to a circle, but to a cloud.”

However, like the saddle and the steamboat, maybe that cloud is ultimately an improvement in our lives, not as a social change bound to undo us, but a critical change in the patterns of friendship that stretches, as the author observes, back to Plato. Yes, our world would look much more different today if the typical Tweet was 5,000 words long and every Facebook message ended with “And thus justice is more profitable than injustice,” but it would look different without the millions of improvements to our lives that we don’t even consider. If anything, Facebook has allowed old friends to reconnect in adulthood, new friends to be made around the world, and networks to be created–certainly not close, intimate cliques like one might find in the comraderie of a small town, but diverse networks with people from different backgrounds and experiences, bringing the whole world closer together. These rapid connections have smoothed relations between people and even nations, substituting physical rivalry and enmity for petty online squabbles. Think about being at war today with a country like France, with millions of Facebook users to exchange bickering “fighting words” with. Think about being Facebook friends with an enemy soldier. It sounds absurd. But at the same time, it gives you an idea of the closeness created by an “arbitrary cloud” of “friends.”

I would say in response to this article that Facebook may claim, or want to be, a space for friends, but it is not. I know who my real friends are and who my online relationships pretend to be. I know that the Facebook feed is not a real representation of what my friends are doing–but that’s OK. It’s ok to fantasize and explore new relationships from the safety of the internet. It’s ok to experiment with dialogue in short, opportune bursts instead of long, vulnerable missives. And it’s ok to openly court friends in places one has never been able to do so.

At the same time, when it comes time to find the real world and find real friends, people haven’t had a problem doing that. If anything, technology has given us more leisure time to spend time with friends. Having multiple close friends is not a bad thing, nor is having hundreds of online friends. Just because the word “friend” has been diluted, doesn’t mean the concept of friendship is any less real.

Anyway that’s what I’m thinking. I really enjoyed the article, but as a commentary on today’s friendship the author makes some bold claims that aren’t supported by the way in which we actually use social networking.

August 3, 2010Comments are DisabledRead More