Airplane Mode

I recently had lunch with a dear friend whom I had not seen in a while. This friend has a job that places him in a position that is far more important to the organization than even he readily lets on. He is the linchpin for multiple large projects with dozens of internal and external stakeholders competing for his time and attention.

He picked me up and, shortly after getting in his car, his iPhone was all business – ringing, beeping, and buzzing with potential activity. He silenced it, we continued our conversation, and just a couple of minutes later, the iPhone was back to business again. At this point, he picked it up and placed it in Airplane Mode, which cuts wi-fi and 3G but leaves the phone otherwise functional. Respectfully, I did the same.

My first thought was, wow, what a show of respect for me and our time together. I was honored and humbled by this simple act that broadcasted that nothing was more important to him (and, trust me, he has other things far more important).

Secondly, it got me to thinking why he chose Airplane Mode versus turning the phone off. After a few minutes at lunch it became readily apparent. We were showing photos across the table about our recent travels and activities. We were sharing tips, ideas and links and taking notes. We were communing and catching up by using this tremendously powerful technology in ways that enriched the conversation, not distracted from it.

I think far too often we deride the use of such technology when we are having a conversation or in a meeting as a distraction. This was a reminder to me that the technology can, when used effectively, provide a enhancement to the stories we tell and allow us to capture the things that matter. It’s ability to distract is only as powerful as our ability to not let it do so.

Consider this idea the next time you have a need to turn off all external communications yet still remain in a full, upright, and locked position with the conversations you care about.

Freedom From Choice

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want

– DEVO, Freedom of Choice

When you choose Apple, in many ways you are choosing a sensible default. You have made a choice that greatly narrows the field thus making your options, due the the scarcity, that much easier. When you go to buy a new computer, you no longer have hundreds of choices to choose from, as Windows or Linux users do. You now have only a few. All made by one company. Those of us who have made the choice, based on need, to always buy a laptop or desktop, have narrowed that choice even further. Other purpose based needs narrow this even further. Are you are a professional photographer who needs plenty of storage for RAW photos and a large screen for editing, yet needs that in a portable package that can be used reasonably outside for the occasional wedding shoot? Guess you are getting a Macbook Pro with a 500GB drive and a matte screen then.

I’ll bet, at some point, Steve Jobs woke up one morning, looked in his closet, and had to decide what to wear that day. He choose a black Gap mock turtleneck, Levi’s 501 jeans, and a pair of New Balance sneakers. It then occurred to him that it was the perfect outfit for most occasions and weather he found himself in. He may have even worn it around for a few days, in a iety of circumstances and environments, just to test it out and make sure it was the right thing for him. Then, he went out and got a dozen more of everything and threw out the rest. At this point, he made the final choice, to make this outfit his default, thus freeing himself of the weight of having to decide what to wear based on so many temporal and ever changing factors…

Hot? Cold? Raining? Dry? Sunny?

Black Mock Turtle. Levis. Sneakers.

Does he wear shorts sometimes if the situation calls for it? Sure. How about a tux? Yep. But the point is that he has the vast majority of his needs covered with the sensible default.

For many of us, there is a certain freedom that comes from not having to choose. But that freedom does not come from having choices foisted upon us. It comes from having made some decisions, up front, about what is appropriate for the majority of situations we may find ourselves in.  It comes from reduction and filtering. Such decisions are born of evaluation, reflection, and knowledge. But, most of all, it comes from the desire to live a life that is focused not on things like what to wear or to buy, but instead on doing everything else with that much more thought, consideration and care.

A Most Important Question

Hey. You. Yes, you! Come over here. I’m going to tell you a secret. OK, well, it’s not really a secret. It’s more of a question. A most important question. One that, when asked, can provide a wealth of productive power…

“Where does this belong?”

Want to know how to organize a messy desk? Take everything off, put it in a box, then take each item out, and ask that question. For some items, the answer is obvious. For other items, maybe they don’t have a place – find one. Maybe the answer is not “on the desk” or even “in the room”. Maybe the answer is not even “in the house” or “in my life”. Answering this question can not only make the clean up quick but also ensure quick work when things get out of control again. Because, everything belongs somewhere and now you know where that somewhere is.

The thing is, this question works with more than just clutter.

Want to make your task list more powerful? Ask that question of each task. Sometimes the answer is “as an immediate action”. Sometimes the answer is “on a context specific list” or “broken into smaller chunks”. Sometimes, the answer is “as part of a greater project or goal”. But, sometimes, the answer is “with someone else” or “done at some future date” or “not done at all”.

Want to get your email inbox under control? Never look at another message without asking the question. Does it belong in the inbox now that you have looked at it? No? Perhaps in a separate folder of things you need to take action on or respond to. Perhaps in a folder for reference on a project you are working on. Perhaps read and archived. Perhaps in the trash.
But, where the question becomes truly powerful, is when you apply the question to everything. Because if something does not have a place in your home, in your relationships, in your job, or or in your life, perhaps it should not be there.

Addiction, Step One of Twelve, and Focus for A Fiver

Not too far from my home, is an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting house. They have several meetings a day. I would guess ten to twelve (the house is large enough to accommodate). I regularly observe the people coming, going, mingling outside on the porch between meetings. They’re from all walks of life. They are all at ious steps of dealing with their addiction to alcohol. No matter who you are, step one is always the hardest and most important. Believe me, I get that and have a lot of respect for it.

That said, I often wonder as I see them – almost as a rule – chain smoking, downing cup after cup of coffee, chatting endlessly on their mobile phone, if they are merely confronting the one addiction that was causing the most problem, and ignoring the others that are not. Have they really confronted the real problem? The problem of addiction itself? And by confronting and applying the steps to that core problem would it be successful in not only the battle with alcohol but in countless other ways? Have they really done “step one”?

I’m starting to wonder about the numerous applications one can now buy to help with “focus”. There are many of these I have covered here before. Heck, there are many that I use myself. I’m using one right now. That said, am I really curing the root of the problem? Am I simply replacing it with new ones? Would working on the root of the issue eradicate my need for an application like Writeroom when I find even my Desktop too much to handle? Have I really done “step one”?

Don’t get me wrong, I know that these root problems are much harder to tackle. I know that, on the surface, throwing down a fiver on something that will help seems like the right thing to do. But pretending that will cure the real problem, and in many cases not simply replace it with others, is the same as the chain smoking, coffee swilling alcoholic who claims he has dealt with his addiction because of the color of coin in his pocket.

“Hi. My name is Patrick. I have no self control.”

See? Step one. Where’s my medallion?

See also: On distraction and virtual crutches « The Quillink Observer – A similarly themed and introspective post that was brought to my attention in the middle of writing this one.

Interview With Diego Petrucci of Il Mac Minimalista (Part 1)

This is the first of several part of an interview by Diego of the wonderful Italian website, Il Mac Minimalista. Conducted originally in English, it will be translated into a far more beautiful language for the readers on his site (here’s the Italian version). I wanted to make sure to share it with you as well. It is, by far, one of the best email exchanges I have had in a very long time. I plan to share the reasons why in a future post at my personal site because there are lessons to be learned from it, the main one being is the idea that just because we can communicate at light speed does not mean we always should. The best part… It’s not over yet. Look for Part 2 sometime in the future.

When did the idea of creating Minimal Mac come up and why? I mean, is there a real need of reducing, using less, in this era of abundance?

It actually came with very little forethought and practically full formed. I describe what happened in great detail here: The 24 Hour Idea

I think it was driven by a desire to join the ideals of buddhism and minimalism that I have long subscribed to and my ideal approach towards technology – specifically Apple products, since that is what I use. I think this idea immediately resonated with others who, in this time of seemingly limitless technology, massive storage, and ubiquitous connectivity, were feeling as overwhelmed by it all as I was.

I wanted to create a place where I could curate both my original ideas on the subject, and include others images, software, hardware, and examples, all exploring the theme of “enough” and what that means today in the area of technology.

Many “geeks” (including myself) have serious problems handling the enormous number of incoming notifications, where by notifications I mean stuff like facebook notifications, incoming emails & calls, updated feeds, and so on. What’s your advice to them?

I think the first piece of advice is for people to realize that they make the choice on how many “inboxes” to have to a large extent. I think if you make your intentions on how to deal with these well known, up front, people then know what to expect.

I’m old enough to remember a time before email, before voicemail, before answering machines. When someone called you on a telephone, and you were not available, the responsibility was on the caller to try again, not you, the receiver. There was no way to know if you missed a call.

Technology has changed this behavior and the expectation. The responsibility is now placed on the receiver and not the sender. Therefore, it is up to us to make known how we plan to meet that expectation.

For example, in my last job, I let all of my coworkers know that I only looked at and responded to email twice a day for 1 hour. Once in the morning at 9am and then again at 4pm. Also, I set the email to manual checking so that, what I retrieved at those times was all I was going to see for an hour. If someone sent me an email at 4:15pm, I would not see it until 9am the next morning. It took a short time but, eventually, my coworkers learned that if it was something that required my immediate attention, the last thing they should do is send me an email. They called for urgent matters and questions instead and I had less email to deal with.

If you let people know what the expectations are and offer alternatives, everyone will be happier. I let people know how much I hate Facebook, rarely use it and only keep it for friends that use it to send invites to important events. Therefore, it is not an “inbox” one should contact me through for anything other than that.

This said, I do think it is rather sad that we live in a world where we have to “train” others about how we wish to interact. There was a more simple time.

For example, do you have tons of feeds that only a part of them is daily read or you just keep the numbers low? Do you think solutions like Fever (the feedreader) are worth? I mean, the idea that it gives is that we aren’t able to handle the “incomings” and we have to be helped by a software. Is that the sad truth?

I have a writeup on how I manage as many feeds as I do here: My RSS System

That said, I think it is important here to realize that we are better editors of our own capabilities than any software could ever be. We simply need to assume that responsibility. I consider keeping my eye on a wealth of incoming information part of my role and responsibility as a Curator. The very idea of the term is someone who looks at a lot and knows which things are important and representative of the theme and, perhaps more importantly, which to say “no” to. I am able to have a ton of RSS subscriptions because I know which ones are truly valuable and which ones I can safely ignore.

I think we owe it to ourselves to do this with most everything in our lives. Find your limits. Find your loves. Respect each deeply.

The “What if” Myth

There are these little myths we often let ourselves base important decisions and major purchases around. I like to call them the “What if” myths. Because of my business I seem to hear them all the time. That said, the tech savvy are not immune either. I myself have fallen prey more times than I care to admit. In almost every case, these phrases lead us to spend more money than necessary, pack more in our bag than we have to, and purchase far more machine than we will use . It also keeps us from truthfully examining our day to day needs.

Here are a couple of common examples:

“What if I need to run Photoshop?”

This is the common excuse I hear from designers as to why they need, in addition to a desktop machine with a large screen and powerful graphics card, a portable machine that can perform with suitable aplomb.

My challenge to this myth is two fold: a) How often do you really need this kind of power in a mobile situation? Can these rare times not wait until you return to your desk? b) Do you really need a desktop machine as well as a portable? Why not sell the desktop and have one machine that is both powerful and portable.

“What if someone sends me a Word document?”

This is usually the myth I hear from people who are convinced they need Microsoft Office. These folks are certain that they run into such situations “all the time” but, when pressed or investigated, I usually find out it is about twice a year and the documents themselves are things like kids birthday party invitations where the information within is far more important than the formatting.

My challenge to this myth is that TextEdit can open any Word document to the extent that you need it to. Most times, it will do so flawlessly. It can even save out in MS Word formats so if you need to make some simple edits and send it back to someone who has fallen prey to this same myth, you can. Even those funky new .docx files all the MS kids are crazy about these days. If push comes to shove, you could get the iWork suite so that you can open Excel files (in Numbers) and Powerpoint files (in Keynote). The bottom line, you don’t need Microsoft Office.

Don’t you mind about the future? Don’t you try to think ahead? Save tomorrow for tomorrow; Think about today instead.

– “What’s The Buzz” from Jesus Christ Superstar ‘

The thing with all of this is, why plan for and base such choices on the boundary cases? Why buy something for what you hardly ever do as opposed to what you do all the time? If you encountered such a scenario, is the fallout so costly that you can justify spending more or having more than you need up front and every day? If so, then I can understand such a choice. If not, then why not purchase what you need (or even better, find a way to make do with what you have) when you need it?

It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it.

The title is taken from a line my Father said to me once in discussing my Grandmother, who thought anything worth having was worth having five of. I have remembered it ever since. I remember it every time I see a tremendous deal that seems just too good to pass up. A sweater on super cheap clearance (us Minnesotans can never have too many, right?). A printer that is practically free after rebate (I can always give it to someone else as a gift, right?). 

Lately, I remember it anytime I see a super cheap bundle of Mac apps, that grows to even more at download milestones, all for an unbelievably good price. I think to myself, “Wow, that is a really good deal for that one application I want, let alone the ten others. Plus, they are giving five bucks of that price to charity. I can get a deal and be a humanitarian all at the same time. What a bargain!”

It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it.

Let’s just say there is one of these bundles – lets just call it MacTheft  – and the price for eleven apps is $19.95. And, let’s just say they promise to give $5.00 of your purchase to starving children in cataclysmicly devastated regions of the world. Therefore, the price of the software – all eleven apps – is theoretically $14.95. But, let’s just say there is only two apps out of the eleven that you really think you need. Here is a crazy idea to try… 

Buy the apps outright, full-price, directly from the developer.

Crazy, right? 

I know, I know. You are not getting a bargain, right? Wrong. Did you need the apps? Then you are getting a bargain. Even better, you are directly supporting the developer and their future development. Not only that but you are also not cluttering up your hard drive with software you will never use. You are not wasting your time and attention on bargains that really aren’t.

OK, fine. You want a “bargain”. How about this… Contact the developers of the two apps you want and say something like…

“Hey, I see you have your apps available on MacTheft and, while that is great and all, I really don’t need all eleven of them. I really only need two, your’s and this other guy’s. Therefore, I am contacting each of you to see if I could give you $7.50 cents directly.  I figure that is about 10 times more than you will get from my individual sale if I buy it through MacTheft. Also, I was planing on giving five dollars to the starving children too.”

What’s the worse they can say? No? 

My point is that you owe it to yourself to avoid these bargains and giveaways unless it is stuff you really need and plan on using. If not, you are still wasting your money, your time, and your attention no matter how much you pay.  Even if the price is “free”.

The Season of Stuff

In a few days, the Season of Stuff will officially begin. During this season, we are actively encouraged to get more stuff, buy more stuff, give stuff to those we “love”, and be thankful for the stuff we have.

This Friday, for instance, sellers of stuff will drop prices to all time lows in order to make it easier for you to give and receive this stuff. Of course, this is in the hopes that the money saved on this stuff will encourage you to buy other non-discounted stuff. You know this, of course, right? You cherry pick the cheap stuff and leave the other stuff for the suckers, right? Of course you do…

All of this stuff will generate a bunch of stuff to be thrown away or recycled. Wrapping, packaging, spent gift cards – they all have to end up somewhere. Not to mention all of the stuff we had to build and machines we run in order to make the stuff we give and receive.Then once the season is over, in fact the very next day, comes the inevitable stuff we have to return (for cash to buy stuff if you have the receipt, exchange for different stuff if not).

Just try to remember that there are plenty of ways to deal with this stuff. You can pledge to get rid of an amount of stuff equal to the amount you receive. You can let those who love you know that you do not want more stuff but want something less tangible instead (breakfast in bed, money for a favorite charity, etc.). Ask for specific stuff you really truly need that will add years of value to your life on a daily basis… and stuff. The point is, control the stuff. Don’t let the stuff control you.

Minimal Audio

Thought I would take a bit to share my absolute favorite minimal audio setup…

What you are looking at here is my iPod 5G connected through the auxiliary jack of my Tivoli PAL radio. This little setup has some great advantages and awesome sound. Obviously, the iPod could be substituted with any other player here. The real story is the PAL.

It is actually kind of magic how Tivoli has managed to make one speaker give rich, warm consistent sound that can fill a room. Don’t just take my word for it, go read some reviews of this thing. The sound is nothing short of amazing. It sounds similar to an old tube system. Not only that but, as you can tell using the iPod as a comparison, it takes up very little space. It is easily “portable” to take on a trip. Also, the PAL has a built in rechargable battery and rubber coated housing designed to be taken outside. Plus, of course, there is the option of unplugging the iPod and just listening to the radio.

If you have a small space and you want a quality sounding audio solution, that is affordable, it is hard to go wrong with this.