Back in the saddle

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I bet some of you read the title of this post and erroneously thought I was referring to getting back to blogging, but alas, you are incorrect. I am through apologizing for sporadic blogging. I mean, it’s my blog, right? If you’re distressed by the low frequency of posts (and I know you all are), just talk to me in real life. It’s almost as good.

No, I’m not referring to blogging, I’m referring to running. Hopefully you all remember the half marathon/best prank ever I ran back in September, my first half marathon and certainly the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. As part of the deal, after completely owning Mark for the entire day, I promised that the wine country half marathon would not be my last one.

I don’t know why I promised him this. Why did I do that?

Anyway, Mark always runs the Nashville Country Music Half Marathon, and for many years, he and his wife Shelley stayed with us each time this event rolled around. It was a great time from the sidelines, and Mark seemed to enjoy it too. It’s on April 30th this year, and I’ve agreed to fly back to Nashville and run it with Mark and his band of merry medical professionals. The bright side of this is that Kenny Rogers is performing at the big concert at the end. The bad news here is that I feel far less motivated this time around without the promise of a huge prank payoff.

Now, I know you’re saying to yourself, “Come on, Matt. You’ve already run one of these, quit your whining. What’s the big deal?” Let’s all take a moment to remember that I looked like this when I finished my first half marathon:

I hate running

Actual finish line photo

I wouldn’t say I’m a natural this, would you? Also, I have run exactly 3 times since this race ended, never further than 3 miles at a time. Needless to say, I’ve got a long way to go!

That is, of course, why I’m writing this blog post. If this blog has taught me anything, it’s that blogging about something makes you more likely to actually do it, so I’ll try to keep a cursory diary of my progress here. My training program from my first marathon attempt was 12 weeks long, and I intend to do that one again. That makes February 7th my absolute drop dead date for starting this thing, although I’d really like to start a week earlier to give myself a little bit of wiggle room. That means I need to be able to run 3 miles without stopping by February 7th at the latest (preferably by January 31st). Today I made it 1.8 miles before walking a little. That gives me a week, maybe two, to get to the starting line for training. We’ll see how it goes.

Incidentally, when you ask people what it feels like to finish a half marathon, and they tell you it’s exhilarating and go on and on about how great it feels, THEY ARE LYING. You want to know how it really feels? Please refer to the picture above. It’s worth a thousand words, which is roughly twice as long as this post.

A list, sort of about focus

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What with all of the time off, I’ve been accumulating a few things to share, but of course so many of them slip into the ether if I don’t put them up here or write them down. At any rate, here are some things on my mind, in list form.

  1. I ran across this interesting article via Lifehacker (one of my favorite sites) about unfriending. The article itself is interesting, but I think the questions that Lifehacker lists for determining who to drop and who to keep are the best part of this one. If I followed those rules, I’d probably be under 150 on my friends list.
  2. You may remember my post about Instapaper and the Send Me A Story service. Via that service this week, I ran across this really amazing and super disturbing story about Sarah Palin and the network of folks that work for her. It’s a long read (I mean, that’s the point of Send Me A Story), but worth every second. I would love the Republicans to field her in 2012 because it would be such a comedy feast, but I am also legitimately worried that this idiot might get elected.*
  3. If politics isn’t your thing, maybe you’d rather check out this awesome article on the creation of Chewbacca. I’m not sure whether it made me like Lucas more or less, but the creative development of the character was interesting to see.
  4. I am seriously considering doing this. Approximating how much time each event on your to-do list will take seems like something I should have thought of years ago. But I didn’t.

Lots of traveling and craziness coming up this month for me, but I’ve picked up Shadow Country based on a friend’s recommendation, so I hope that will carry me through the many plane rides and hotel stays I have coming my way. This focusing stuff has made me feel like I can tackle a 900 page book, so that feels good.

*Full disclosure: I mostly vote for the blue team in elections, but regardless of your political affiliation, Sarah Palin is dumb. Neither party has cornered the market on dumb, but right now Palin is the Queen of Dumb and there aren’t even many contenders now that Christine O’Donnell has exited stage left. It is what it is.

Thankful

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On this day that we reserve to give thanks, I’m thankful that even while I’m writing a blog about focus, I can update my blog while watching football, drinking beer, eating great food, watching TV and hanging out with great friends. We are far from home, but some amazing friends of ours came out to share the day with us from Tennessee and we’re cooking a huge feast, so we feel loved and very lucky. I hope all of your Thanksgivings are great as ours is. No more blogging until the weekend if I can help it.

 

Send Me A Story

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I’ve written before about how I have found it harder in recent years to read for any extended stretch of time. This one is especially sad to me, because I have always loved to read. When I was a kid, my grandmother (my dad’s mom) always made reading sound like the most amazing adventure of all time. I can’t say I remember a great deal of my life before I started reading, but I distinctly remember my Grandma telling me on many different occasions that if you could read, you could go anywhere in the world you wanted. All you had to do was pick up a book and use your imagination.

This was obviously an extremely powerful image for me, and I remember being excited about starting school because it meant I would learn to read. My mom still likes to tell the story of how I came home from my first day of kindergarten and told her that I wasn’t going back because they weren’t teaching me how to read. Thus began my long career of working against the establishment.

But I digress.

My point here is that for most of my life, I have loved to read. My Grandma’s take on it was obviously a little simplistic (hey, I was 4), but it’s always stuck with me and I still think it’s true. And I still love reading, but I’ve just gotten out of the habit of spending more than a few minutes doing any single task.

I’m telling you all of this to tell you that I recently signed up for a service called Send Me A Story. The concept is pretty simple. You give them your email address, and once per week they send you an email with a long form non-fiction story. It’s usually a great piece of journalism, sometimes new but sometimes very old. This week, it wasn’t journalism at all, but an essay from E.B White called “Death Of A Pig”. All of the things they email you come from longform.org, an online repository of sorts for long pieces of non-fiction. All of this is connected with Instapaper, which I also can’t recommend enough. Instapaper lets you look through all of these long articles (or articles anywhere on the web) and click a button to “Read Later.” Instapaper saves it for you so you can find it again when you have a chunk of time to devote to the article.

There are so many things I like about this setup. First, I get one article per week to read, even if I take no further action. I don’t have to waste a ton of unfocused time browsing around the internet looking for interesting things to read. Second, if what I receive doesn’t interest me or I’ve read it already (that was the case this week), I can head over to longform.org and quickly sort through the articles there to find something I do like. In the email they send, they also link a few other articles as well, so it’s often really easy to find one that does appeal to you. Finally, I really love the “Read Later” button. I realize this is a great way to create yet another queue of items I’ll never get through (see: Netflix), but it also takes away the pressure to read something as soon as you’ve found it. I often see articles that I’d like to read when more pressing matters are calling for my attention. Rather than cursorily glance through them while performing my other task poorly (or just forgetting about it entirely), I can now save it for later and read it when I have spare time.

All of these things are really secondary though. The main thing is that I’m reading something longer than a Facebook status update or witty blog post. My hope is that this will translate to actual books as well, and I have been doing a bit better about consistently reading the books I start. If I can get back to a place where I can read for hours without feeling a pressing need to check my email or turn on the TV, I’ll be a happy camper.

And my Grandma would be proud.

Public Isolation Project

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For the past few months, the first floor of our building has been hosting various art projects. They’ve all been interesting, but none quite as intriguing as the current installation, The Public Isolation Project.

The Public Isolation Project is a collaboration between Joshua-Jay Elliot and Cristin Norine, and the theme they are exploring is the impact of social media on our lives. The basic premise is that Cristin is living on our first floor, completely surrounded by glass, for the month of November. She can only communicate with people outside of her box via social media, including text messaging, instant messaging, video chat, Twitter, Facebook and the like. She can also gesture and yell at people through her glass walls, but she can’t make phone calls and she can’t have any physical or face to face interaction with anyone.  She’s blogging about her experience here, and it’s been interesting to see the progression.

Since we’re working in the same building as Cristin, we’ve quickly made friends with her and keep track of how things are going. She’s been a great neighbor, and we can’t wait until the 30th when we’ll get to have a drink with her in person. I’m writing about her because I think what she is doing is an interesting contrast to what I’m doing on this blog.

Cristin is essentially making social media her only form of communication, which means she’s inviting the chaos of the digital world to take the place of normal human interaction. She’s hoping to get an idea of how much of this we’ve already done (quite a bit I’d say) and how much of our lives just don’t translate to the internet (again, I hope it’s a lot!). Coincidentally, at the very same time, I’m trying to improve my ability to focus and concentrate, which so far has meant figuring out ways to limit my exposure to social media because it is so disruptive.

In her blog, Cristin has talked about how she feels constantly distracted in the past, but tonight she wrote a really great post about how multi-tasking isn’t working for her. It’s a strange overlap for my tiny project here, and I’m really excited to see if she’s able to uni-task while using social media in the way that she’s doing right now. My strategy so far has been to eliminate or limit streams, but her strategy will be to focus on one at a time. I don’t think that would work for me, so I’m hoping she can pull it off.

If you’re not already following the PIP, I encourage you to do so. She’s got about 10 more days in the room, and the blog entries and photos she’s posting are great (this is her best photo so far, obviously). I’m interested to find out if Cristin comes out of this experience more connected to the world through the internet, or whether she finds some of it distasteful after this.

Oh, and remember how I said I had culled my Facebook friends list down to 431? After a second pass, I’m down to 403. Hopefully I’ll be under 400 before long!

Un-friending

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This has been a really great week in a lot of ways, but it has been absolutely exhausting too. I have definitely not been able to focus very much. We had a launch party for my office in Portland, and that meant we had quite a few people in from out of town and a lot of late nights. It was all an amazing time, but it’s good to be back to the blog.

In all of the hubbub, I completely missed National Unfriend Day (NUD for short), but fortunately, you can celebrate NUD whenever you like. The question really becomes, why should I delete these “friends?”

I think the more important question is, “why did I ever add these people at all?” Facebook has created an entirely new realm of social etiquette, and part of that etiquette appears to be that you should accept all friend requests unless they are from a stalker or a serial killer. I know I’ve been guilty of accepting a friend request and then immediately hiding that person from my feed. I’m sure someone out there has done that to me as well. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we just didn’t pretend to like each other in the first place?

What’s more, these people can end up being a source of stress in your life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a status update from someone I barely remember about politics or religion that really got under my skin. I usually spend a few minutes trying to decide if I should respond to whatever idiocy they’ve put out there, and then I remember that I don’t even know this person. I sat beside them in 3rd grade once, or we went to the same college, but that’s about it. It’s a ridiculous source of stress, and one that is completely caused by social media.

So, I took Jimmy Kimmel’s advice, and I’ve unfriended. It’s time for us to admit that if we don’t keep in touch with someone, there was a very good reason we parted ways. We are not part of each other’s peer group. We don’t like the same things or have the same goals. We are politically and philosophically different in many ways, and obviously didn’t get along well enough in real life to sustain our friendship. It’s nothing personal, but these people have to go.

I had 487 Facebook friends. That is a lot of people, but I justified that number by saying that I did indeed know all of these people in real life at some point. But most of them were blasts from the past, often people I never spoke to at all in high school and haven’t seen since. So after my first round of purging, I’m down to 431 friends. I know that doesn’t seem like a huge change, but that’s over 10% of my list gone. I would wager that everyone reading this could easily cut their Facebook friends list by 10% and not even notice the difference.

I will likely go back through this list a few more times and raise the friendship bar a little higher for folks to stay on my list. Did anyone else participate in NUD? If so, how many friends did you chop?

National UnFriend Day

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At work this week, we’re having a big launch party for our office here in Portland. Now, we’ve had an office in Portland for almost 3 years, and we’ve been in this particular office for a little over a year, but the time is finally here for the big house warming party. It’s going to be a lot of fun, but it also means that there are lots of folks in town from Nashville. That leads to drinks after work, group dinners, and very little time for blogging. I’m hoping to write a more substantial post tomorrow, but for now, some brief points.

  1. Lifehacker posted its winner of the best distraction free writing tool, and it’s not what I thought it would be. I’m sure Q10 is great, but as a Mac user, it’s not much good to me. I’m sticking by my earlier choice of WriteRoom if you’ve got some dollars to spend.
  2. I read this great article today on early rising over at The 99%. It intrigues me, but I’m also more than willing to confess that I’m not turning back my clock just yet. I know that getting up early is a great thing, but I haven’t embraced it so far.
  3. Tomorrow has been deemed National UnFriend Day by Jimmy Kimmel, a day where you Unfriend all of those people on Facebook that aren’t really your friends. I doubt I’ll be as strict as Jimmy would like, but I’m planning to participate and write about it here. Here’s Jimmy and William Shatner promoting this new holiday:

Tomorrow, I unfriend and tell the tale. If I’m not in a food coma from our dinner here, that is. If I am, it might be Thursday.

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