Sunday, November 27, 2016

Task Timer

In a previous post, I described how I use a Daily Task Board as a self-management tool. I should also mention that I use it in combination with another tool, a task timer. This device displays the countdown of the time remaining until an alarm sounds.

For tasks where you are having trouble getting started because they seem overwhelming, persuade yourself to work on it for just fifteen minutes a day as measured by the task timer. Do this for a year and you will have worked on the task for over ninety hours. While you might usually stop working as soon as the countdown completes, on some other days you will find that you are willing to continue beyond the mininum duration once you are started and on a roll.

For tasks where you have to do hours of tedious work in a short period, use the task timer to give yourself a short break at regular intervals, say every thirty minutes or so. This promise of an imminent break might be all the motivation you need to keep going until the next increment. Alternating between different tasks at break points can also be rewarding. 

For an electronic task timer, I like the Datexx Miracle Cube Timer because it can be easily started and stopped simply by flipping it over. A manual sand timer also has this feature except that it takes time to reset if interrupted. With a matched pair of sandglasses, you could start one while resetting the other. 

Since the audible alarm of a task timer can be a jarring interruption, especially when I am in the zone, I sometimes find myself increasingly distracted as the time for the alarm approaches in anticipation of canceling the alarm just before it triggers. When I use a task timer without an alarm such as a sand timer, I am also not fully focused on the task at hand in that I am continuously reminding myself to visually inspect the sand timer to see if it is time for a break. I recently discovered that the timer alarm on the Google Clock smartphone application can be configured to start softly and then gradually increase in volume. 


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Periodic Table Chant

It has been a few years but I finally got around to adding to my Periodic Table Song.  I was stuck on the element iron for awhile but I finally got past that and was able to eke out a few more verses to get to the thirtieth element, zinc.

I have come to realize that this mnemonic device is more of a chant than a song so I have renamed it the Periodic Table Chant.  This helps to distinguish it from the New Periodic Table Song by ASAPScience done in the style of Yakko Warner.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Fool Me Thrice

I have come up with a new twist on an old saying:
Fool me once,
Shame on you,
Fool me twice,
Shame on me,
Fool me thrice,
You're family.

We give family members, particularly our children, second and third chances. We are willing to sacrifice for their benefit because they are extensions of ourselves. Fool me thrice, you're part of me, you belong to me.

Where do we draw the line?  When their misbehavior risks the well-being of our other family members, especially the youngest. Consider sloughing any relationships which do not benefit your progeny, directly or indirectly. Cull without hesitation any that threaten.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Forever Retirement

I had a chance to take my son Thomas sailing on a friend's boat recently as part of a Dallas Brights Family Meetup event.  I would like buy my own sailboat soon but I am reluctant to lock myself into boat slip rental fees at the marina, especially after we just recently managed to rid ourselves of the monthly expense of a rented storage unit.  If I could buy a waterfront house with a slip out back, I would consider it an investment but there are not many opportunities for that here in land-locked Dallas.

Thinking about buying a boat has incentivized me to review my retirement savings plan.  One of the variables you can play with in the online retirement calculators is when you start drawing Social Security.  Do you start claiming payments at the earliest possible age or defer just a few more years so that you can get higher payments for the remainder of your life?

The calculations look very rosy if you wait until age seventy to retire but how realistic is that?  My father and uncle both retired at age sixty-two, the earliest you can claim Social Security.  Another uncle of mine died at age sixty.

So now when I run the calculations, I assume an early retirement instead of late under the assumption that by the time I get to that age I will want to have that option.  This means putting more of my current income into retirement savings and less into a boat.  Disappointing.

With early retirement comes the risk of running out of money before you and your spouse pass away.  Ideally you would have enough in savings to live indefinitely entirely on just your interest earnings plus Social Security without having to dip into the principal.  Better than that would be to have your retirement funds growing exponentially over time due to the miracle of compound interest.

I got curious about this forever retirement possibility so I ran multiple scenarios through my preferred retirement calculator.  Assuming retirement at age sixty-two, a reasonable retirement income, and a given rate of return on invested retirement savings, I figured out in present day dollars how much one would need to have saved by retirement age to live to one hundred or one thousand without ever running out of money.  Since this value is right at the threshold, saving just a few dollars less than this means that eventually you would run out, most likely after your life expectancy, while just a few dollars more means that your savings could grow without bounds, assuming you lived long enough.

So, small boat now or big boat later?


Sunday, July 31, 2016

First Sail

Recently I sailed for the first time.  As part of a North Texas Sailing meetup on Grapevine Lake, I learned how to use the tiller of a Catalina 25.  A week later, I brought along my brother Steven and my two sons Abraham and Theodore so they could go on a sailboat for the first time as well.

I am learning how to sail as I am thinking about living on a catamaran someday.  For awhile now, I have been collecting and reading books and magazines about the lifestyle.  I have also been watching videos about making the transition from land to sea.



Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Doom

I recently finished playing and beating the new video game Doom at "Nightmare" difficulty.  In the past when I had mastered a previous release in the Doom game series, I would play it again with a rule of my own that I would have to restart from the very beginning when I died.  This new version of Doom has an "Ultra-Nightmare" difficulty level in which this is enforced.  Based partially on my experience with Sid Meier's Civilization, I have decided that Ultra-Nightmare is a mountain which need not be climbed.

When Doom first came out back in 1993, it was distributed as shareware which was free to copy and play.  Back in this pre-Web era, I was a system operator (sysop) running a modem-based bulletin board system (BBS).  Doom was the most popular shareware downloaded by my users because people loved that they could now play a 3D graphics first-person shooter on their desktop personal computers.

In my spare time, I was writing the code for a BBS from scratch with the goal of providing a platform that would support multiple players in the same online game at the same time.  I gave that up when I saw that the authors of Doom had it figured out.  I remember the novelty of playing Doom with co-workers on the office network at a company-sanctioned LAN party.

My whole family has enjoyed playing the various iterations of Doom over the years.  Recently one of my children was playing an older version of Doom running on Steam.  When he got stuck on one of the levels, I was able to help him progress by using my knowledge from playing that particular release of the game some two decades earlier.

Doom was created here where I live in the Dallas area and is probably largely responsible for the growth of the local game development industry.  Just before I took over teaching the class for a couple of semesters, one of the Doom founders, John Romero, used to teach game development at the University of Texas at Dallas.  Another Doom founder, John Carmack, launched a space flight company in the neighborhood.

One of the nice things about getting older is that the video games just keep getting better.  The next time I play Doom, I want to play it in virtual reality.  In the meantime, I think I will content myself with re-watching Doom the movie.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Daily Task Board

In previous blog entries, I described how I use magnets to indicate whether daily tasks were done or calories consumed.  For these checklists, all of the magnets start the day in the first column to indicate that the items are initially unchecked.  As items are finished, the magnets are then shifted to the second column to indicate that the items are checked.

For my daily tasks checklist, I was using "To-Do" as the label for my unchecked column and "Done" for checked.  As time went on, however, I found myself positioning the magnets just before or between the columns to indicate other states of progress.  My updated daily task board now uses four columns arranged in this order:  "Skipped", "To-Do", "Started", and "Done".

The "Skipped" state indicates that I did not finish the task on the previous day.  "Skipped" tasks are prioritized over "To-Do" tasks.  When I get so busy that I am repeatedly having trouble getting all of my daily tasks finished by bedtime, this technique helps ensure that I continue to rotate through all of my tasks without favoring some over others.

The "Started" state between "To-Do" and "Done" serves as a reminder that I have a task in progress that needs to be finished.  An example of this is laundry in the washing machine that needs to be pushed to the dryer before I go to sleep.  It can also mean that I have taken my morning pills but that I still need to take my evening pills.

I also use the "Started" state to indicate that I have done the minimum required for daily maintenance but that more could be done that day.  An example of a "Started" task of this sort is skimming my e-mail for high priority messages.  If later in the day I find the time to more thoroughly read and respond to my e-mail, I will then move the magnet from the "Started" column to the "Done" column.

The order of the columns on the board is significant in that progress always moves the magnets in the same direction.  It also makes it easy to reset the board at the beginning of a new day by simply moving all of the magnets back two columns or until they hit the edge.  "Done" becomes "To-Do" while "Started", "To-Do", and "Skipped" become "Skipped".

I like to use "pawn"-shaped magnets because they are easy to pluck from where they are stuck when I am ready to move them to another position.  Throughout the day, I strive to advance my pawns across the board to the "Done" state.  This transforms my list of daily tasks into an addictive territorial game.



Saturday, April 30, 2016

Roy Score

In the sci-fi comedy animated television series Rick and Morty, an arcade game lets you play as "Roy", an average person in average circumstances. The player's in-game decisions create virtual outcomes for Roy from childhood to death.  This fictional game is apparently so immersive that you can forget that you are not actually Roy while you are playing.

Probably the closest thing we have to this in real life is The Sims 4.  This software lets you control virtual people by setting their initial predispositions and then overriding their individual choices as they interact with their virtual environments.  It is considered a software toy rather than a software game in that you play with it rather than "win" it.

In the fictional game "Roy: A Life Well Lived", however, there apparently is a score which can be thrashed by another player.  What are the bases for this "Roy score"? I have put together a list of potential factors with related links:

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Catch and Release

My eighteen-year-old son Benjamin caught his first fish.  Click on the photo below to see it full-size.

Ben caught it out of the same small pond where I caught my first catfish last year.  Unlike the scrawny specimen that I pulled out of the water, this one was healthy-looking.  Since we always catch and release, I wondered whether this was the exact same catfish that I had caught previously but just now seen in better times.  Hopefully the next time we catch it, it will be even bigger.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Galveston

Earlier this month, my son Benjamin and I went on another trip together.  This time we went to Galveston Island because I have boats on the mind.  I did a little bit of fishing at Fort San Jacinto Historic Point but I did not catching anything.  Serendipitously, we did catch the Mardis Gras parade along Seawall Boulevard.

After we got back, I discovered a new reality television series about a family-owned commercial fishing business in Galveston called Big Fish Texas.  After watching the first three episodes, I realized that the show must be semi-scripted as everything always seems to work out in the end.  In contrast, an older series that I am a couple of episodes into, Fishing with John, is so clearly unscripted that it is funny.  You can catch both of these series on Hulu.