Archive for the ‘Thoughtabouts’ Category

The most important psychological thing about working at home: structure

March 17, 2020

The most important psychological thing about working at home: structure

While many people can’t do their jobs from home, there are also a lot of people who are now working from home for the first time.

As someone who has done that in the past, I thought I’d give you my biggest tip for adjusting to it.

It’s not something technical, like how to make sure your internet is up to the task.

It has to do with your mental framing.

I do want to say right off, this is just a layperson’s opinion. I’m not a mental health professional. If you are seriously concerned about your mental health in this situation, I’d recommend you consult someone licensed. Your work may even have resources for you.

I am, though, in my “day job”, a trainer. I enable people to do things which are new to them (or do the things they already do better), and that includes an understanding of motivation. My responsibility isn’t just to give them the capability to do it, but to help them change their behavior to meet the new workflows. I’ve taught change management.

It may seem like a great thing to be working from home, but it can feel…weird. You may have a mindset that separates very strongly work life from home life. You may be one of those people who very deliberately doesn’t bring work home, or perhaps when you do work at home, you resent it. If you are working at home for the next few weeks (or shorter or longer), you don’t want to spend all that time being angry about it.

You also want to be able to do a good job. If you felt like you weren’t producing like you were at work, that by itself could mess with your head. The vast majority of people want to feel like what they are doing is valuable, and that they are good at it.

Here is the most important thing about working at home: structure.

When you go to an office (or some other worksite), you usually go at the same time or at the direction of a boss or because your clients have a requirement. You don’t choose whether or not to go, or when to go. You get into “work clothes”. You do something different with your grooming than you do on a non-workday (a weekend, for many).

You still want to do that.

Your commute may have changed from 30 minutes to 30 steps, but still set an alarm. Still get up at the same time every day…it doesn’t have to be the same time you got up when you went “into the office”, but it should be the same time.

Change into work clothes. Does that mean you’ll be on the couch in a suit and tie or put on pantyhose? It doesn’t have to mean that, but it shouldn’t be what you would have worn for a day of leisure. Superman feels different when he changes out of his Clark Kent clothes into his supersuit. “This looks like a job for…my job!” ūüėČ

Have a designated workplace in your home. Ideally, sit at a desk or a table, not where you hang out with the family. Check it for ergonomics and safety. It’s possible, that if you are working at home and you have your work laptop balanced on the arm of the couch, and it falls off and breaks your foot, it will be workers’ compensation (I don’t know that for sure…I’m also not a lawyer). That will help your pets/Significant Other/kids adjust to you working, too. They may not understand why they can’t interact with you if you are sitting where you normally sit, but they can (maybe, perhaps) learn to respect this.

Take a lunch! Separate your work time from your non-work time, even at home. If you are used to taking breaks at work, take them at home. Move away from your workspace. If you take lunch at the same time of day every day at work, keep taking it at that time. Be aware that you may eat more at home, with food readily available at any time.

That’s it, that’s the main thing, and once you think about it, you’ll know right away whether something fits it or not. That will help you still feel valuable, and still be productive.

Working at home isn’t as bad as not being able to work at all, of course, or being sick. To pretend it isn’t a challenge, though, isn’t realistic. You may not feel like you have control over your circumstances, but you can influence how those changes impact your mental state.

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Bufo’s Alexa Skills

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other organizations, begin your Amazon shopping from a link on their sites: Amazon.com (Smile.Amazon.com)

The 2020s: the decade our tech learns to understand us

January 13, 2020

The 2020s: the decade our tech learns to understand us

I do an annual prediction post on my I Love My Kindle blog (The Year Ahead ), and honestly, I have a decent track record (I hit all 3 of my big predictions for 2019, for example).

I started to think about how tech in general might change in this decade, the 2020s.

Obviously, there will be a lot of change in a lot of areas, and I’m sure some of it will surprise me.

However, I do feel confident about one change that we’ll all wonder how we didn’t have it earlier…and that people who grow up with it will hardly notice.

Our tech will begin to understand us much better.

I don’t mean the literal meaning of our conversation, but that will come, too.

I mean that it will know how we feel and guess our intent.

That may sound like science fiction, but it’s already happening.

I have a free app from Microsoft

Seeing AI

intended for people with visual challenges. I can point my phone at someone, and it will give me a broad sense of how they are feeling: “35-year old female with glasses looking angry.”

There are apps to help people on the autism spectrum, who sometimes have a hard time interpreting other people’s feelings, determine just that.

It’s not that hard. Oh, it’s possible to get it wrong, but looking at a person and determining if they are happy or sad is usually pretty simple for humans to do and will be for our tech to do by the end of the decade.

I recently got the

Anki Vector robot (at AmazonSmile*)

as a gift.

It’s easy to tell “how it is feeling”…and its entire face is just two eyes. It does have other body language (it can get sort of “hopping mad”, for example), but even without eyebrows, which help to communicate, you can tell.

This ability for tech to understand how we feel isn’t artificial intelligence (which will improve a lot also): it’s called “artificial empathy”.

It will use artificial intelligence to achieve it, and there are similarities. There are three main elements:

  • What can they sense?
  • How can they process it?
  • What can they do with that conclusion?

Vision sensors are part of the first one: that will give them facial recognition, but also things like gestures. Gestures are less universal, though. When they get precise enough to tell things like dilating pupils, they’ll be able to get past more cultural habits.

Another major sense will be hearing. We can tell on an audio phone call if someone is happy or angry, and we can hear it in radio dramas and podcasts. That’s going to help and that tech undoubtedly exists, although not necessarily in the general market (I’d be very surprised if law enforcement and the military don’t both have something which does that with, oh, 75% accuracy).

People talk about “smelling fear”. Tech is less far along with scent then with vision or hearing…I’m not sure that will be effective in the next ten years.

Those are all senses we have.

Tech will have some that we really can’t utilize. For example, it might be able to monitor blood flow at a distance, or cortisol levels (to detect stress).

That all has to do with detecting our emotions, and that’s one part of what I expect.

The other big part is context.

Our tech will begin to understand what the situation is, and what types of information we want in it (and what actions we may want it to take).

I just ran into a situation like that today.

I was writing about the debutday of the Adam West Batman series in 1966. I could have done the math in my head as to how long ago it was, but decided to use the calculator on my computer so I wasn’t trusting to my (usually reliable) math skills.

Well, I didn’t notice that I had accidentally typed 2010-1966 instead of 2020. So, I tweeted out 44 years instead of 54 years.

I fully expect that within ten years, it would have known I was probably trying to do a year calculation, and asked me if that’s what I meant.

Context will include things like:

  • Are you in the car?
  • Are you at work?
  • What time of day is it?
  • What day of the week is it?
  • Are you on vacation?
  • To whom are you speaking? Your Significant Other? Your child? Your boss? Your coworker?

The combination of these two things, being able to understand what we are likely to want in a given situation, and to tell in the moment how we are feeling, will eliminate a lot of the frustration we have now with tech. Our digital assistants will know when to respond with a joke or a true apology. They’ll play music which makes us, as individuals, feel better…or that gets us energized for a challenge. It may suggest that we talk to someone we haven’t in a while…and let it go if we don’t like that idea.

Yes, I think that will be the most significant change in tech in the next ten years…bigger than augmented reality, bigger than autonomous vehicles, at least in how it affects us personally. It doesn’t matter what the tech is: this will change our relationship and interactions with it.

What do you think? Am I overestimating what our tech will be able to do? How important it will be for us? Is there some other tech change you think will be more important? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project (AKA Enwoven)! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other organizations, begin your Amazon shopping from a link on their sites: Amazon.com (Smile.Amazon.com)

If superheroes can be super-strong, why don’t people want them to be super-noble?

April 8, 2019

If superheroes can be super-strong, why don’t people want them to be super-noble?

When the great debate came between DC and Marvel in the Silver Age (roughly 1956 to 1970), I knew which side I was on.

I preferred DC.

That didn’t mean I didn’t read some Marvel comics, I did. However, the divide seemed pretty clear.

The DC heroes (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman…) weren’t like most people you knew. They didn’t behave like them. They didn’t even live in the same cities. Superman didn’t live in New York, he lived in Metropolis. Batman lived in Gotham City, not…right, New York. ūüėČ Those are two fictionalized versions of the same city. Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and the Doom Patrol live in Midway City, not Chicago.

We didn’t hear about their dating problems, they generally don’t need the money they earned, and they don’t get parking tickets or acne.

Over at Marvel, though, they lived in the real world. Peter Parker (Spider-Man) lived in straight up New York. He had the same problems as you. The same went for the rest of the Marvel characters (for the most part).

The Marvel “true believers” (fans) liked that their characters were realistic.

I liked that mine weren’t.

So, some of you are probably thinking that the Marvel characters weren’t realistic at all: magic users, mutants…being bitten by a radioactive spider likely would just hurt for a bit and then the spider would die. You wouldn’t suddenly have some mythical spider-sense.

The way Marvel characters¬†reacted to these fantastic circumstances, though, seemed more “normal”. They got mad, they got frustrated, they were full of doubts, they acted out…they got it wrong a lot, just like your typical human.

Superman always tried to be good.

In the past decade or so, those “super-noble” heroes have pretty much disappeared from the screen.

All of our heroes seem to be, to a lesser or greater degree, “anti-heroes”. That appears to be what the vast majority of people want. DC has gotten especially dark…for me, DC and Marvel have swapped tones.

I get how it’s easier to relate to characters that are more like you.

However…

People don’t mind that characters have super-strength or super-speed. It’s fun to imagine having those powers.

I don’t see a big difference between that and having fun imagining being super-noble. My fictional heroes (especially Doc Savage, Mr. Spock, and Kwai Chang Caine ((the last from Kung Fu))) all have very strong moral codes. They have elements of their personalities, ways that they behave, that I would like to emulate. Not everything about them, of course, but certain things.

I genuinely believe that I am a better person because I’ve striven to be more like Doc Savage.

I guess that’s why I liked Adam West’s Batman, but wasn’t a big fan of the comic book Batman. Comic book Batman was often driven by what felt like vengeance to me. “Bad people” deserved to be punished, personally, in a way different from the law.

I also wasn’t a big fan of Christian Bale’s Batman. I said I wouldn’t want a ten-year old kid to see The Dark Knight because I didn’t want them to be frightened of¬†Batman¬†for the rest of their lives.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m fine with the existence of torture, muddled morality, heroes. I’m a fan of Elric (who I think would make an excellent streaming TV series), and all of my heroes doubt themselves (they just don’t doubt what is right and wrong).

I simply think there is still room in our cultural landscape for heroes who are exemplars of compassion and self-less motivation.

Have a different opinion? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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Bufo’s Alexa Skills

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

Why the scariest show on Netflix is…Marie Kondo

February 23, 2019

Why the scariest show on Netflix is…Marie Kondo

There are a lot things that scare people on Netflix: Poltergeist, The Witch, The Haunting of Hill House, Jaws, American Horror Story…

I can watch (and enjoy) horror movies/TV shows, and have for a very long time.

There’s one show, though, that I can’t bring myself to watch…just thinking about it raises my heart rate and starts the fear sweat stirring.

What is it?

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

I suspect that a lot of other people feel the same way, even if it’s an immensely popular show.

Why this fear?

As a collector, as someone who champions what most people feel is unimportant, the idea of getting rid of things scares me.

I would guess it always has.

Now, I have to be clear…as stated, I haven’t seen the show, so I’m just going on what I know about it through summaries and such.

As I understand it, the basic idea (and I’m sure there are a lot of subtleties to it) is that you go through the items in your house. You pick up an item (say, a book or a piece of clothing), and commune with it in some manner, to see if it “sparks joy”. If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you thank it for what it has contributed to your life, and then remove it from your life, preferably by donating it if it would have value to someone else.

What a bizarre idea! ūüėČ

Clearly, this resonates with people…thrift shops have indicated that they’ve gotten so many items donated by people inspired by the show, and I presume, to a lesser degree, by the book

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) | 4.4 stars out of 5 | 13, 889 reviews at time of writing

that they have had to turn donations away.

Now, on the surface, this makes some sense.

One of the things I do in my day job is help people with time management, and I’m very effective. I once sat with someone for an hour who was routinely leaving work two hours or so late. Within a few weeks, that person was leaving on time.

Part of that is cleaning things up.

Let’s take e-mails.

Suppose you get lots of e-mails, and you either take action on them or delete them…at least, that’s the theory.

However, there are many of them that you read….but then just don’t bother to delete.

You may think having those undeleted e-mails in your inbox doesn’t affect your efficiency, but it does.

You can think of it this way: you have two systems of mental processing.

One of them works very quickly, and you aren’t even aware of it most of the time. It’s constantly assessing everything around you…one of its main functions is to determine threats.

It’s very shallow and judgmental…it makes snap decisions.

If you are about to cross the street, your System One looks at traffic for you. It analyzes whether that traffic is dangerous to you. If it is, you might instinctively jump back on to the curb. You probably couldn’t articulate why, exactly, in many cases…what it was about a car or traffic flow that made you consider it dangerous.

Now, in some cases (relatively few), that system can’t make a decision…it then passes the problem to your “slow” system, which engages your intellect for a thoughtful decision.

Stick your hand in the fire, System One.

See a stranger on the other side of the street, creeping along like Bela Lugosi…System Two. There may be nothing wrong with that person, and it may be prejudice that tripped your initial concern, but you consider it.

When you leave those e-mails in the inbox, you likely don’t engage System Two at all. However, your System One still needs to assess them…every single time. If you have a thousand e-mails, your System One will make that super fast decision that they are unimportant…on all of them.

You aren’t aware of it, but that takes intellectual energy…which makes it harder to deal with the actual important (probably new) e-mails.

So, why wouldn’t the same thing apply to the clothes in your closet and the books on your shelves?

It does.

Absolutely, no question: if you have a bunch of clothes in your closet that have no sentimental value, and that you will never wear again, they are stressing your intellectual systems. It makes perfect sense to get rid of them.

I’m fine with that.

Donating is great: I’m fine with that, too.

What I don’t like is the “sparks joy” test, which could lead to a lot of false positives…identifying things as having no value when they do.

First, it suggests that you will always be exactly the same as you are now. If something doesn’t “spark joy” for you now, it never will. I don’t know about you, but there are things I didn’t need, but years later, they were exactly the solution I needed for something.

Second, it feels selfish…I have a lot of things that I have * don’t have just for me…I have them for the value they’ll have for someone else at some point…even for society at large.

The latter can be a big part of collecting, when you aren’t doing it for just economic reasons (hoping to make a profit).

There are items I’ve kept for decades…I may have some of the few copies of them that exist.

That doesn’t mean they have economic value…that used to be true for a lot of geeky stuff, like science fiction novels, although that has changed some.

I grew up with the belief that some comic books were valuable because people’s parents threw out the vast majority of them. It turned out later that wasn’t exactly the case…there was an intentional campaign against comic books which even led to public burnings, as explained in this excellent book:

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Still, a lot of what I have would be considered ephemera by mainstream society…something that doesn’t have any lasting value.

It’s possible, in some cases, that I have one of the only ones of these items in existence.

I’ll just make something up: let’s say it’s the schedule for a local science fiction convention (maybe 200 attendees) from the 1980s. Most people would just throw it away (or nowadays, recycle it), and that’s fine. Picking it up is not necessarily going to spark joy for me.

If I get rid of it, though, there may no longer be a copy of it in the world.

Your response may be, “So what?” ūüôā

Well, it was a part of our society…undoubtedly, a very small part. It may not have affected anything else in any meaningful way…pop culture doesn’t always follow “The Butterfly Effect” hypothesis, although I suppose it might. Maybe somebody who went to that con became more involved in geeky things, and eventually, contributed to a movie which changed the world.

Maybe not.

Even if it didn’t, objects like that didn’t just grow on a tree. People contributed to it…human-made objects are evidence of people, of their dreams and efforts.

If I just say that this item doesn’t mean anything to me now and therefore should be destroyed…well, as I said above, it feels very self-centered.

Sure, it’s easier to get rid of things, and I know why it feels good short-term. I’ve said in the past, though, that I’ve never regretted keeping something but I have regretted getting rid of something.

That doesn’t mean that I just keep everything! I’m not a hoarder…really, I’m not.

For example, I’ve recently started donating a very large percentage of my library. I started with something like ten thousand paperbooks in my home (I’m a former bookstore manager, for one thing). I recently had major surgery, and that made me rethink what might happen if I died (even though it was a very low risk surgery, it’s a good specific impetus). I got my will in order.

I also thought about all those books.

Why did I have them? I almost always read e-books now.

What I pictured was that, after my death, my offspring would donate the books.

That would be a considerable burden!

I know where I want the books to go. I want them to go to people who will preserve them and make them available, perhaps for sociological study.

It would be ridiculous for my now adult kid to need to deal with ten thousand books!

I’ve started donating them. I’ve been sending boxes to Loren Coleman’s

International Cryptozoology Museum

I trust Loren: I’ve been a reader of Coleman’s books from the beginning, we’ve had some correspondence, and while we don’t really know each, we did have lunch once.

The museum is a non-profit: I can write off the donations. It’s tough to assess the value, and they often won’t assess as being worth much…one good thing: I can write off the shipping costs, which are not insignificant.

If they are duplicates, ICM could sell them, of course, as a way to raise funds….I’m confident, though, that they would make sure some copy of it is preserved.

Couldn’t I sell these books myself?

Sure…we could do that through eBay or Amazon. That’s a lot of work, and there’s no guarantee that the person buying them would try to preserve them or make them legally publicly available. I’d rather donate them.

I’m certainly going to keep some books: my Doc Savage paperbacks, my original Oz books…those are more like family heirlooms. Somebody in the family might want to read them later. I’m toying with the idea of keeping all the floor to ceiling bookshelves, and “facing” the books…putting them with the front cover showing. That might be cool, like art, but I’m not sure yet.

Yes, I get rid of things. Yes, I donate things.

My criterion isn’t simply if they “spark joy” now. My “Kondophobia” has to do with the idea that people would just indiscriminately toss or even donate things. They’ll follow the old saying, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

One important strategy: do separate the “archives” from the current use. If you have a t-shirt from a concert you saw in college, don’t keep it with the t-shirts you wear every day. That’s going to stress your System One. You want to keep it as art? Frame it, hang it on the wall, just like you would a picture.¬† Just preserving it for your kids? Put it in a box or a special closet.

You want me to watch The Exorcist? I’m there. You want me to watch Tidying Up? You’re on your own… ūüėČ

What do you think? Do you think keeping things is ridiculous, a waste of space? Do you think I should sell my books, rather than donating them? Do you want to keep your “collectibles” as a legacy for your descendants? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project (AKA Enwoven)! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. 


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