Category Archives: advice

A feel good todo list: how it helps you with difficult tasks


There is a  problem I have with some items on my todo list, and you might have this too. The problem? I hate the process of doing that task, but I feel good when I finish it. Those are the tasks I’ll avoid for a long long long time, then do them — possibly cursing the whole time — and then when I’m done, I’ll think: well that feels good to have that done!

For those tasks, I’ve built something called the Feels Good todo list. For my Feels Good Todolist (FGT List), I have two columns. In the first column I write the task, and in the next column I write how I feel after it is done.

When I have to do the task I hate, I try and focus on how I feel when it is done. It requires some concentration, because my mind wants to think about how I hate it. Just as importantly, when it is done, I take the time to enjoy that feeling. I don’t rush off to do the next thing. I am trying to teach my brain to remember how good it feels so that it is somewhat easier the next time. Try it!

It’s hard to do certain tasks. If you get satisfaction from the process, that’s great. If not, focus on how good you feel when it is done. It will keep you going.

How to deal with recurring nightmares (plus four other good pieces on better sleeping)

Do you suffer from recurring nightmares? If you do, I highly recommend you read this. It has worked for me and it may work for you too. Sleep can be hard enough to get: being fearful of repeating a nightmare makes it harder.

Here are some other sleep tips from the New York Times  that I thought were useful.

The Times also has advice on how to deal with waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to get back to sleep, here.

Do you exercise hard? If so, listen to  Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson who argues that among the things you need to be successful athlete is good sleep.

Sleepwell is an initiative to help people sleep better without medication. You can check it out,  here.

 

How to pick a good bottle of wine from your local LCBO with Decanter and one simple trick


I have a rule of thumb when it comes to choosing a bottle of wine for the first time: any wine highly rated by Decanter is good. If you are unsure what to get, look for bottles with a round Decanter sticker on them and you can be confident in your purchase. And  good news: most LCBO stores will have quite a few such bottles.

Alas, not all such wines rated by Decanter bear their sticker. And yes it can be a lot of work trying to find them at all.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could easily find them in the store near you?

Well there is a way you can do that: with your browser. To do this, first go to the LCBO website (lcbo.com) and pick your local store (or a store you plan to go to).

Once you do that, enter the following URL in your browser (from https all the way to [true]):

https://www.lcbo.com/en/catalogsearch/result/#q=decanter%20world&t=Products&sort=relevancy&layout=card&f:@stores_stock=[true]

What you will get back are wines in your local LCBO store rated highly by Decanter magazine. With bigger stores like the one at Yonge and Summerhill in Toronto I got over 30 results back, with many around the $20 price point.

If you are cost conscious, enter this version in your browser:

https://www.lcbo.com/en/catalogsearch/result/#q=decanter%20world&t=Products&sort=%40ec_price%20ascending&layout=card&f:@stores_stock=[true]

It will return the same list but sorted with the lower cost ones listed first.

There are lots of ratings and plenty of ways to find a good wine at the LCBO. I find this way works great for me. Perhaps you find the same thing for you.

P.S. You can play around with other rating groups. For example, Wine Enthusiast is also associated with wine in the LCBO and many of them are at an attractive lower price point. To see what I mean, enter this:


https://www.lcbo.com/en/catalogsearch/result/#q=wine%20enthusiast&t=Products&sort=%40ec_price%20ascending&layout=card

If you are looking to join a Discord Server or run yours better, read this

David Seah provides an excellent model for anyone looking to run their discord server effectively. I recommend you check out what he has to say, here: DSri’s Virtual Coworking Cafe – DSri Seah. As he describes it:

The DS|CAFE Discord is a virtual office that has became a virtual coworking space in 2016. It’s designed to provide “the right level of distraction” you need to have a productive day with the option of sharing our interests with each other.

He goes on to briefly describe what it’s for, what the people are like, what the main chat areas are, and — very important — what the chat guidelines are. I would hope all discord servers are as thoughtful.

You might be thinking: that’s all well and good, but I don’t want to start a Discord server, I just want to join one.  Well, you are in luck, because David’s server allows you to sign up. Instructions are on the site. If you do on my recommendation, I also strongly state you should respect their guidelines and their community.

P.S. David Seah is one of those people who makes the Internet a better place by sharing what he has. We need more people like that.

 

 

Two useful tools for people who want to be productive but find their work day gets away from them

Do you find the work day slide by and you think: what did I even get done today? Or do you find yourself tracking what you are doing but finding that you lost focus on what you are supposed to be doing?

If so, David Seah has tool useful tools on his web site you can use:

  1. The Emergent Task Timer
  2. The Emergent Task Planner

The first tool is a good way to track what you even got done today. David has some good examples of how he uses it. Generally I like to put what I think my focus will be at the top, put administrivia work and breaks at the bottom, and put meetings etc in the middle. You only have room for 12 tasks, so if you find you have a lot of meetings, consider grouping them all into one task: Meetings. Or you may have two tasks: Client Meetings and Internal Meetings.  However you do it, don’t sweat it too much. The first few days you might find it hard to get everything done, but it gets easier over time.

The second tool is a good way to plan your day and try to keep it focused. It takes a bit more work, but it is good when you want to ensure you spent your time well. It can be handy if you are doing daily standups, because you can list the main thing you are working on at the top. Ideally you are spending most of your day working on that…if you are doing other things below it, chances are they are a blocker of some sort.

These are just two useful tools on David Seah’s web site. I recommend you take a few minutes to check out the rest of his site: you might find other things he has worthwhile. I know I have. I’ve been using his tools off and on since 2007, and wrote about how good they are.

Good luck with the tools. Here’s to being more productive this week.

P.S. If you need a timer, I recommend this site.

(Image: link to image on David Seah’s web site)

Fall cleaning tips


Is Fall cleaning a thing? I know Spring cleaning is. I think Fall cleaning should be something we do as well. Especially if you celebrate big festivities in November or December. Fall cleaning can be just the thing to get your place in shape before those events occur.

On that note, here’s some good cleaning tips that can help you with your cleaning, whatever season it is:

Dishwashers are like towels: they are involved with cleaning, but need to be cleaned, too. Here’s some hacks to help you do that.

Relatedly, here’s some good cleaning hacks you can do with Dishwasher Tablets. Not just for your dishes.

Yellow pillows are…not great. Rather than throw them away, why not scan this and see if you can clean your yellow pillows?

A reminder in this age of many germs, that clean and disinfecting are not always equivalent. Read and see.

For big cooks like me: How to Clean the Worst Cooking Messes in Your Kitchen

Moving to the bathroom, this advice came in handy for me: How to Clean a Bathroom Floor. Relatedly Ways to Use Distilled White Vinegar.

Happy cleaning!

Things that are making me happy (that could make you happy too): tiny plants

Tiny plants have been making me happy. I was typically bad with plants, but since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been keeping some in my home and mainly they’ve been doing well. So I recommend if you want to be happier, getting some tiny plants might be a good way to do that.

How do they make me happy? First, I like to see them around the place. They are like small art pieces scattered on shelves, desks and tables. It’s also just pleasant having greenery nearby. Second, they give me a reason to take care of something. Just a little of taking care of something makes me happy. Third, the success of them makes me proud and also happy: I no longer feel I have a black (not green) thumb. Fourth, it gives me a reason to go shopping — which I enjoy — and get something small and not spend too much money but still something nice (which is satisfying).

I am fortunate in that I have plenty of shops nearby that sell small plants. Another option is to get cuttings from friends who have plants. Here’s a guide to doing that..

As for pots, I got a half dozen or so from Ikea. They have some for as low as $1.99.

Now that I have you convinced :), here’s a guide to the 25 best plants for the home. I have several of them.

(Image on top is from that article on the 25 best plants. Image below is from IKEA.)

Great advice for anyone from 6 to 66, from Nick Cave (be foolish and be basic)

So someone named Chris wrote to Nick Cave and asked, “I’m 62 years old and decided to learn how to play guitar. Rock guitar. Is such an endeavour a fool’s errand for someone of my age?” To which he replied “Yes… AND…”. I think anyone considering starting something new should read it. (It can be found here: Nick Cave – The Red Hand Files – Issue #210 – I’m 62 years old and decided.) It reminds you that you can suck and you may be too old (or too short, tall, thin, fat, shy, awkward, etc.) but that good things can come out of it if you keep at it.

Reading it, I was reminded of the classic three chord recommendation: learn three chords and form a band! Why not? If this got you thinking hey maybe I should learn to play the guitar, then you might find this useful: Guitar card cheat sheet. Start with E. 🙂

BTW, I think the advice “learn the basics” and then get out there and make something is good for any creative endeavour, be it drawing or making a web page. Don’t try to learn a lot at first. Learn enough to get started and go from there.

P.S. I think “Yes….AND…” is a great way to answer things. It acknowledges the concerns someone might have while opening them up to possibilities they might not have considered or appreciated.

(More on three chords and form a band, here (and where I got the image from))

 

What makes you happy about your job. Think Maslow, not Brooks

Too often when I see pieces on work and what makes a good job, they downplay certain aspects, like pay or job title. That comes up in this piece by Arthur Brooks, How to Pick a Job That Will Actually Make You Happy, where he writes:

… this belief is based on a misunderstanding of what brings job satisfaction. To be happy at work, you don’t have to hold a fascinating job that represents the pinnacle of your educational achievement or the most prestigious use of your “potential,” and you don’t have to make a lot of money. What matters is not so much the “what” of a job, but more the “who” and the “why”: Job satisfaction comes from people, values, and a sense of accomplishment.

I don’t think he is wrong with this, I just think he is missing out on the bigger picture. The way to see the bigger picture is to focus on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (shown above).

According to Maslow, we have several needs: basic needs, psychological needs and finally self-fulfillment needs. The lower needs are simple and obvious: the higher ones are complicated.

Our jobs provide for some or all of these needs. For example, our work environment should provide us with our basic needs, while our pay satisfies both basic and psychological needs. Things like job titles, promotions, awards, perqs, and other acknowledgements also help with psychological needs. As for the work itself, and the things Brooks is discussing, they satisfy our self-fulfillment needs. If you are fortunate, you have a job that provides for all those needs to a high degree.

That said, we all measure our needs differently. For people who work dangerous outdoor jobs, their basic needs may not be met nearly as well as someone who works in a warm office. For those outdoor workers, the satisfaction from the work itself (e.g. rescue work, emergency repair work) may more than make up for the discomfort and difficulty they face. Likewise, for a person working in an office, doing interesting work that fulfills their potential may be much more important than promotions and pay raises and other things their co-worker with different psychological needs has.

In Brooks’s piece, he emphasizes self-fulfillment needs and minimizes basic and psychological needs. That’s a common mistake, and the reason people might become dissatisfied with their job, even though on the surface what they have appears to be a great job. We all know about people quitting because of bad management: in that case you can see people’s needs at all levels not being met. But people can also struggle because they have a conflict that some of their needs are being met while others are not. For example, people can have a good job with lots of benefits, but it is very unfulfilling, or they can have a good job that is very fulfilling but it doesn’t meet their basic needs.

The best job can fulfill all of your needs to a satisfactory level. That’s the job that will make you happy, not just a job that satisfies your top needs. When you look to work at a new place, make sure you can get all your needs met to the level you need. You’ll be much happier.

What Mark Cuban can teach you about motivation is simple and powerful


Do you find it hard to motivate yourself? If you do, you should look to Mark Cuban for a valuable lesson. Mark Cuban recently started Cost Plus Drugs to allow him to bring low cost medicine to people who need it. It’s a great initiative. But it took someone awful like Martin Shkreli to get the ball rolling. As Cuban says, when he saw Shkreli’s company jacking the price up on some drugs to obscene amounts, he concluding that the opposite could happen as well. Then he went and did something about it.

So kudos to Martin S for inspiring Mark C to start this new company: your greed has not been for naught.

Here’s the lesson in a nutshell: find someone doing something wrong that you strongly disagree with and then decide to behave in the opposite way to counteract that.  You will be plenty motivated, I am sure. And you will be doing the world some good too.

For more on this, read how Mark Cuban says Martin Shkreli inspired him to start Cost Plus Drugs in Vox.

Save the Jack o’ Lanterns from the rats with nice tails


Walking around my neighborhood this weekend I noticed two things:

  1. People have done a great job decorating for Halloween
  2. Squirrels do not give a fig for Halloween and seem to like wrecking people’s good work. Especially their pumpkins/jack o’lanterns.

If this is happening to you, I recommend you at least read this: How to Keep Squirrels From Destroying Your Pumpkins.

You’re welcome. Thank you for decorating: the kids from 6-96 love it.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada! Here’s a really good guide to roasting a turkey, planning the meal, and keeping it simple

 

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada! Last year I shared with you what I was making for the celebration here. Our meal was delicious, and all made from scratch, thanks to the fact I had help! (Thanks, Lisa!) So if you have help, I recommend what I did last year.

However if you don’t have help and you are doing it all by yourself, let me suggest you get some stuff off the shelf. I always make the turkey, some form of veg, and mashed potatoes from scratch. Always. But if it’s just me cooking, I will get Stove Top stuffing, packaged gravy, baked rolls, and canned cranberries. Hey, even doing all that is a lot of work with 4 burners going, not to mention the oven and the microwave. My foodie friends may disown me, but I learned this lesson from Anthony Bourdain years ago: simplify simplify simplify your prep even if the food isn’t the level you want. Trust me. My main goal is to get a pretty good dinner on the table reasonably, not show off I can make everything from scratch by myself. However, YMMV.

Speaking of trusting me, I would also recommend going with the simplest form of turkey roasting possible. Here’s my approach. I tend to get a 12-16 pound turkey and I roast it unstuffed at 325F at 15 minutes / pound. I write out the time I put it in, how long it should roast based on that formula, and when I believe I should take it out. I put it in the oven uncovered, and when it gets to the golden brown you see below, I cover it simply with aluminum foil but keep on cooking it until it is done. I check on it more towards the end, basting it every time I do. 

How do you know it is done? If you use a meat thermometer, many current guides will say the turkey is done when the meat is 165F. Back in the 1980s the meat was said to be done at 185F. 165F will leave you with a moister turkey, and 185F will mean everything is well done. If you are nervous, go with 185F. In the worst case, at 185F some of the breast meat may be a bit dry: that’s fixed with some gravy. 🙂

Oh, and while meat thermometers are great, a simple plastic pop up pin put in the breast works good too. If you don’t have a meat thermometer or a pop up pin, cook to the time calculation you did above….you’ll be fine. 

If you want more guidance on turkey roasting, go here. I generally get unfrozen turkeys: it makes life simpler. If you have a frozen one, you want to read this.

Enjoy your dinner, whatever form it comes in. Cheers!

 

Want to be healthier? You need to be more social


You have to socialize if you want to be healthier. That’s been tough during the pandemic. And it is tough for men in general. As VOX shows, men have fewer friends than ever.

Of course having friends is good, and if you can form new friendships, that’s great. But socializing with strangers is also healthy. This piece, talking to strangers, shows why.

Get out their and make small talk. Smile at people. Thank them for their help. You will be doing them a favour and yourself as well.

A list of 10 resources to help you get through hard times


If you find yourself going through hard times, then you need to help yourself. Sure loved ones and professionals can make a big improvement, but the more you can do on your own, the more successful you will be.

With that in mind, here are 10 links that you may find useful in dealing with your difficulties:

  1. Here’s a guide on  how to practice self-compassion.
  2. Something else to consider: establish good daily rituals . That link might help provide you with good ideas.
  3. What is better:a happy life vs a meaningful one? It’s something to consider when you feel your life is unhappy and hard to change.
  4. This is a worthwhile thing to do, though not all the time: give up comfort / learn to live with discomfort. Learning to live with discomfort can give us insights into what we want and what is worth having.
  5. See the world from a different perspective. Always a good idea.
  6. Stoicism never goes out of fashion and is always useful.
  7. Camus might also be a source of inspiration for you.
  8. Here’s one way to motivate yourself: Motivate yourself by giving advice.
  9. Are you too busy? Print this off and use it as a checklist
  10. Finally, here are five good books on Self help that may benefit you.

One way to be an artist is to add extra to the the ordinary

There is no particular way to be an artist and to make art. There are many ways. One of those ways is to add extra to the the ordinary to make it extraordinary. (See what I did there? :))

I thought of it when I came across this post on Cup of Jo called Four Fun Things. Among other things was a feature on an Instagram account:

The Instagram account Subway Hands by Hannah La Follette Ryan is surprisingly moving, don’t you think? (This one looks like a Michelangelo sculpture.)

I agree: the photo on the bottom left does look like sculpture! But all the images are good. What Ryan does, by paying extra attention to the ordinary (“hands on the subway”) is make something extraordinary. That is her art, and it is fine art indeed. She pays extra attention to something common and gets us to pay attention and think more about it. If you can do that too, you will be making fine art, indeed.

As Austin Kleon wrote: “The ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary”.  (He writes about the concept in a few posts.)

P.S. Now, this is a formula, but if you just use a formula without putting much of your heart and head into it, then you will get art that is formulaic. And that ain’t good. So keep that in mind.

No, not everyone is not winging it all the time, even if that gives you comfort


A statement said so often it is assumed to be true is this: Everyone is totally just winging it, all the time. So says Oliver Burkeman. He even backs it up with examples.

I can see why it is so appealing. If you feel that you are always winging it, then thinking everyone else is doing the same makes you feel less alone. It’s also comforting if you have imposter syndrome.

But there’s two facts and a lie:

  • some people wing it all of the time (Fact)
  • all people wing it some of the time (Fact)
  • all people wing it all of the time (Lie)

In fact, most adults have expertise in fields and wing it none of the time. Surgeons, bankers, bus drivers, grocery staff…you name it, they know what they are doing most if not all the time. We expect that of them and they deliver. Even young parents go from winging it to being confident and capable most of the time. As humans, being in control makes us feel more comfortable and confident and makes those around us feel that way too.

It’s fine to wing it from time to time. It’s how we learn and grow. But don’t kid yourself: all people are not winging it all the time. Chances are, you aren’t either.

(Picture is of someone definitely not winging it.)

A very fine travel guide to Charleston, SC…


Can be found here: Out of Office: Charleston at Uncrate.

I’ve been to Charleston a few times recently and all those places are very nice indeed. You should go.

 

You should be writing better emails. Here’s how

You – yes you – can write better emails. To do so, first read this:  How to Write Persuasive Emails: 4 Simple Tips to Turn Blah Into Crisp Writing

Second, write down those goals.

Third, practice with the next emails you send.

Maybe you – yes you – already write emails like this. In that case, try this as an exercise: look at the emails in your inbox and see how many of them meet these criteria. I’ll bet most don’t.

A word to younger people: you might think, I don’t write emails…I use Slack or Teams or some other form of instant communication. If that’s true, then you definitely need to read that and practice it. You cannot avoid email (yet) and when it comes to key communication, you need to write good email. So get going on that.

Good luck! Was this clear? I hope so.

Here’s 100 tips for a better life. Why not try 3 this week?

Here are a 100 Tips for a Better Life from the site LessWrong. It’s fun and insightful. For example:

43. Deficiencies do not make you special. The older you get, the more your inability to cook will be a red flag for people.

48. Keep your identity small. “I’m not the kind of person who does things like that” is not an explanation, it’s a trap. It prevents nerds from working out and men from dancing.

53. To start defining your problems, say (out loud) “everything in my life is completely fine.” Notice what objections arise.

Take a look at all 100. Better still, pick three that you might apply to yourself and try them out. You might find by next week your life has gotten better.

Two ways to calm your thoughts this Sunday: go for a walk, do the dishes

For more on that, see this (Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains how to walk more mindfully — Quartz) and this (Washing Dishes Is a Great Stress Reliever, Science Says | Time).

Have a peaceful Sunday.

On rethinking work

Work takes up a significant portion of your life. To me, it is something we should always be examining, if we care about our lives.

This is especially the case during this pandemic. I think we all have been examining work as a result of it. as a result of  how we have had our working lives disrupted. That’s a good thing.

I expect employers are going to want us to resume working as if it were the Before Times. Maybe you are one of those employees who wants to go back to that time. Maybe you aren’t.

All that is to say that I recommend you read these two pieces as you reexamine your work life:

We sometimes need prompts to help us think about things. Those two pieces will help with that.

Thinking about your work life is thinking about your life in general. A worthwhile thing to do.

For anyone needing medication in the USA, you need to check this out.

For anyone needing medication in the USA, you need to check out this service provided by the billionaire Mark Cuban: Cost Plus Drugs. They cover a wide range of medication and they clearly illustrate how they go about doing it.

Kudos to Cuban for doing this. It’s a highly practical and substantially useful service for people. I hope it saves people a ton of money. More importantly, I hope it saves and extends the lives of many in the USA.

In praise of ritual


I am not sure about this, but these two pieces argue that ritual is the thing you need to live a better life:

I can see value in ritual. But ritual can be as bad as a habit in that they both can lock you into behaviours that limit your life rather than freeing it. But read and judge for yourself.

Not that ritual is essential. Sometimes just a good habit can help. For example, the artist Charles Ray walks to Burger King every day and finds value in that.

On Getting Things Done

The book and system Getting Things Done (GTD) has been around for so long that I used to assume that everyone knew of it and used it. Lately I’ve been reminded that is not true.

Well, if you haven’t heard of GTD and forgot about it, this primer on it may be just the things you need to (re)acquaint yourself with it.

I have issues with GTD, but if you are someone who feels like you can never get all the things you have to do organized and get yourself feeling productive, then get using GTD. You will get more productive, for sure.

Tools for people who struggle saying “no”

If you struggle to say “no” to people, part of your difficulty may arise from not knowing how to go about doing it well. If that’s the case, then check out this site.

That site provides you with 31 templates you can import into Gmail. No fuss, no muss.

You can’t say Yes to everything. So learn to say No better.

Your desk needs an upgrade. This can help

If you’re like me, your work desk could use an upgrade. Maybe it’s too cluttered. Maybe your tech is looking a bit shabby. Either way, I recommend you go see these top 10 desk accessories to level up your work from home productivity over at Yanko Design. For example, the organizer above is a nice way to get things off your desk.

And this keyboard below looks like it would be an improvement on the one you currently have:

Hey, new stuff isn’t everything, but it could be just the thing to make you a bit more productive and happier when you sit down at your desk to work.

 

How the motivation equation explains why you are or aren’t motivated

I was having a hard time getting motivated last week. I knew there were a number of things I needed to work on. For some of them, I had no problem tackling. For others, I really struggled. Why was this?

This simple equation, from this article, The motivation equation, really helped me. But I also felt it was lacking something:

For those who hate math, the “M” stands for motivation, “E” stands for Expectancy, “V” stands for Value, “I” stands for Impulsiveness, “D” stands for Delay.  E is the likelihood of getting something, and V is how much you value it. D is how far away it is, and I is impulsiveness. Let me walk through an example.

Let’s say it’s lunch and you have a choice of leftovers or something new. You value something new over leftovers, so all other things being equal, you are more motivated to eat something new rather than the leftovers.

Now let’s say there is a chance that the new thing you want to eat may be sold out before you get there. With leftovers, E is high: you know you can eat them right now. For the new thing, E is lower: it might not be there so expectation has dropped. To bring E up, you think: well, there are many new dishes you can try…one of them will be there for sure.

To further complicate things, let’s say it is 11 am and you are hungry but the place selling something new doesn’t open for an hour. The delay for something new is larger than leftovers. That means your motivation for eating something new may drop.

Finally, impulsiveness. I would like to replace that with F, for friction. Friction is impulsiveness and more. Friction is all those things that put a drag on you doing the things you need motivation to do. In this case, getting something new may mean having to go out in bad weather to get it. Bad weather is friction. Or you may not like the food court where the new food is because it is too crowded or noisy. Unpleasant atmosphere is friction. Or you may be hungry or tired or bored and want to eat right away. All those feelings are friction. The more friction you have, the less motivation you have.

Two other things to consider are A: alternatives and C: context. Sometimes we may be motivated to do something in one Context and not the other. On a cold day I may be motivated to have a hot chocolate. On a hot day I may not. The value of something can change in different context. Likewise, my motivation for something may change if there are alternatives. I may be motivated to eat a frozen dinner because the alternatives (make my own, get take out for the 4x this week) are worse for me at the time.

I recommend you do what I did this week and list some things you are motivated to do and NOT motivated to do and run them through the formula.

For a work example, I had two things I wanted to do on Friday, write a report and solve a hard technical problem. I worked on the latter. D E and F were the same for each. But for the report, I felt it had little value. I have to do it, but it was hard to motivate myself to do it because V was Low. On the other hand, V for the hard technical problem was High. I learned alot (which I value), I have more value as an employee because of what I learned, and I felt proud of this accomplishment. Given this, it’s not surprising I chose the hard technical problem. Now, if the expectation (E) of me solving it was lowered, then my motivation would have dropped too. Likewise, if I thought it would take a week or more (delay, D) to solve it,  motivation would have decreased.

For a home example, I have two chores to do: organize the basement and organize the living room. Both have a high value (V) for me. But D is higher for the basement: it’s much more work and will take much longer. E is the same: I can accomplish both. Also F is higher for the basement, since there is so much stuff to go through and move around. Naturally I am motivated to tackle the living room.

Finally, a personal example. I have several hobbies: painting and website design. D and E are the same, but V and F are different. I am good at web site work and poor at painting, so the outcomes are better for web site work than the outcomes of my painting. Likewise, for painting, there is setting up to paint and then cleaning up. For website work I just sit down at my computer: no setup and no cleanup. Painting has higher friction F and lower value V, so I tend to do it less.

Ok, Bernie, you say, that’s great. How do I deal with that to get motivated. That will be in part 2 of this, since this is already too long and you are likely losing your motivation to keep reading. (V is dropping, D is getting longer, E may be dropping too. Likewise you may have alternatives A that you are more motivated to do.) That will come out on Monday.

IBM Cloud tip: take advantage of free IBM cloud products, including the IBM Kubernetes Service

IBM has numerous free products in its Cloud Service, and you can find them, here.

One I recommend especially is the Kubernetes Service. You can create a free cluster and learn a lot about both IBM Cloud and Kubernetes by using this.

If you aren’t sure where to start, I put together a github repo to help you get started. It gives you all the information you need, so you can go from a simple web page or node.js app on your own machine to having it up and running on the IBM Kubernetes service. You can find it here: blm849/networkcontainertesting: a simple way to test connectivity in and out of a container.

It’s up to date as of May, 2022. While there are plenty of tutorials out there, you may want to see if they are up to date. For example, some features may be deprecated.

Drop me a comment if you have any feedback. Good luck!

On the joy of not-quite-silence

What’s better than silence? Near silence.

When I was younger and living in Glace Bay, I used to enjoy walking down to the end of South Street to the beach. Except for summer there was no one there, and I could sit and watch the watch the waves. Some days I would dream of sailing down the coast or sailing across the ocean. Other days I used the sounds of the sea to calm my mind. The simple sound of the waves and nothing else is something I crave to this day.

Silence is great. But there is something in the almost silence of a place that is better. It can be any sounds, from the ocean to the wires in the walls humming.  Part of your brain is engaged by the simple sound while the rest of it finds peace in the background of quietness.

If you can, try to find such near silence. Give your brain just the break it needs.

It’s Monday. You’re on your own.


Do you find these “It’s Monday” posts useful? I suspect not. It’s just me writing mostly about things I find helpful, and hoping others do too. I think it’s time for me to give that up.

Here’s a few of the last ones I had queued up that I hoped to write about in depth. I think I’ll just leave them here. Hopefully someone finds them good:

Remember: to be successful, you need hard work. You need talent. And you need good luck.  You likely don’t need another post from me. 🙂

P.S. Here are all my monday posts, fwiw.

 

On buying cheap wine at the LCBO, 2022

 

 

Annually various publications in Toronto will publish articles on how to buy cheap wine at the LCBO. BlogTo takes a stab at it here: The top 10 cheap wines at the LCBO.

 

 

 

 

If you want to buy cheap wine at the LCBO, here’s some things to consider:

  • the wines that appear on these lists often tend to be the same year after year. The price changes, but the wines listed more or less are the same. The wines themselves are consistent too. Hey, these are not handcrafted wine! So a cheap wine list published in 2015 will likely have a list of wines you can still buy now, just with a different price and a different date.
  • Once these wine lists used to be “best wines under $10”, but that price ceiling is outdated now. Most cheap wines are over $10. There are still a few good ones, as the Toronto Star argues, but not many.
  • Once you get up into the $14-15 price point, head over to the Vintages section instead. Wines there generally are good at any price point, and you’ll get something better than the general section, imho.
  • These wine lists will hype up these cheap wines. Note: most of them are limited in quality. Not too much wine in the LCBO is Bad anymore. None of these will be Great either. Most cheap wine is pleasant and drinkable. Something to have at dinner or on an outing. They are not sophisticated. If you can’t taste all the notes of “peaches, nectarines, pears” mentioned in the lists, there’s a reason for that.
  • The “cheap” wines I’ve been drinking lately (under $15) have been Ontario Riesling. They go great with so many foods and are good value, I believe. If you want red, consider a Baco Noir. Many of them are fine and under $15.
  • If you have to go closer to $10, the best bets tend to still be Portugal, Italian and South African.

(Image linked to LCBO.com of a Californian Chard that just slips under $10)

On the working class, manual labour, and how it is still perceived

There is a famous story about Philip Glass installing a dishwasher for Robert Hughes who was then Time magazine’s art critic, among other things. Upon realizing who was his installer, Hughes exclaimed: “But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?” Glass replied that he was installing his dishwasher and he would soon be finished.

I have been thinking of that story and more after recently reading these two pieces:

In all three cases there is an implicit bias against being working class.  All three men are doing jobs of physical labour. In each case, the implication is that they could be doing something else, something better. The conclusion is that they have a talent and that their time could be better spent elsewhere applying it.

I agree that if you have a talent, it is good to use it. But you may be tired of using your talent. Or your talent doesn’t pay the bills. Or you don’t value your talent. In any case, it’s up to you what you do with it. Like money, talent is yours to use as you will.

Perhaps though you get more satisfaction out of performing manual labour than performing your other ability. If so, then that can be the best use of your time. You help people and you help yourself with your physical efforts. There is nothing wrong with that, whatever society thinks.

Glass and Richardson make a defense for what they do. To me, no defense is needed. Glass did installations and applied his artistic talent. Richardson is done with his talent and now gets satisfaction out of working in Whole Foods. They were living their lives in the best way they knew how. We all should be so fortunate.

 

It’s Monday. You’re struggling. Maybe you need some help adjusting

If it’s Monday and you feel already like you’re struggling, it may be time to hit the reset button and ask why.

One reason may be you have too high expectations of what you can accomplish. If so, I recommend you read this: It’s Okay to Be Good and Not Great

Another reason may be that you just don’t have any energy/vigor/gas in the tank/what have you to get things done. If so, then start with this:
Building Healthy Habits When You’re Truly Exhausted

Finally, if you’re not sure what the problem is, but you think you suck for some strange reason, then go through this fine collection of articles to see if any of them can help: You’re Not So Bad: The Case Against Self Improvement

We don’t have to be at our best all of the time. Sometimes we are at our worst or close to it. These things come and go like clouds. Be good to yourself. Take a moment for yourself. Then do what you can.

Your next piece of luggage could be your next piece of furniture too

If you are in the market for luggage, I recommend you consider this sturdy luggage that morphs into an attractive trolley for dual functionality when not traveling.

It’s great for several reasons besides the obvious:

  • when you aren’t travelling, you don’t have to store/hide it anywhere. Great for places with little or no storage space
  • when you are travelling, it is an additional piece of furniture for your room. Again, you don’t have to store it: just set it up near a desk and use it to hold stationery, snacks, and other temporary items.

Lots of reasons to make this your next piece of luggage.

On DevOps, or the important of a good reference architecture when doing IT Architecture

If you are designing an IT system, you can greatly benefit from a good reference architecture. A good reference architecture can be:

  • a superset of whatever architecture you design
  • a guide to what is possible in your design
  • a reminder of what is essential and what you may have left out
  • an explainer of all the potentially relevant parts to your design
  • a supporter of whatever architecture you do decide on
  • like a mentor providing you thought leadership and guidance on what works and why you need it

IBM has long put together such good reference architectures. Of all I have seen, this is one of the better ones I have seen: DevOps architecture: Reference diagram – IBM Cloud Architecture Center.


It covers all the stages of DevOps, from Planning to  Deployment to Learning. It shows the logical parts of the DevOps Architecture and what tools support that. It reveals the relationships between the parts, both static and dynamic. It reminds you of the things you need that you might not be aware of. I think it’s fantastic.

I think it is great for another reason. Implicit in the architecture is the definition —  at least for IBM and I — of what DevOps should be. It’s not just CI and CD. It’s not just a toolchain/pipeline from Dev to Ops. DevOps is really this entire cycle:

Each stage is important. Too often the focus is on Development and Deployment. But stages like Planning and Learning are an essential part of the DevOps cycle  that are essential not just for code quality but testing quality and ops quality.  It all ends up with better results for all the stakeholders of an IT system, from the business sponsors to the users.

Anyone involved with IT architecture, system design, IT testing, system operations or DevOps in general would benefit from studying that reference architecture.

(Images are links to IBM pages)

Here’s how to know when to quit, using math.


Knowing when to quit is difficult. Fortunately, there is science and math to help us, as this article in plus.maths.org explains:

Knowing when to quit is one of life’s great dilemmas, whether to persist in the face of diminishing rewards, or to quit now in the hope of finding richer rewards further afield. For every gold mine, eventually there comes a point when the amount of gold extracted can no longer justify the cost of keeping the mine open; once that point has been reached, it is time to quit, and start looking for a new mine.

Similarly, for a bird feeding on caterpillars in a bush, there comes a point when the calories gained can no longer justify the energy expended in searching for more caterpillars; once that point has been reached, it is time to quit, and move to another bush. And, for a honeybee, there comes a time when the weight of pollen collected can no longer justify the energy required to carry that pollen; at that point it is time to quit collecting, and fly back to the hive.

Fortunately, there is a mathematical recipe, embodied in the marginal value theorem (developed by the American ecologist Eric Charnov in 1976), which specifies when to quit in order to maximise rewards. More importantly, the marginal value theorem has an enormously wide range of applications, from its origins in optimal foraging theory to how brains process information. In essence, the marginal value theorem provides a general strategy for maximising the bang per buck, irrespective of the nature of the bang and the buck under consideration.

Wait you say: it’s Friday afternoon! You know when to quit (at least for this week). Ok, that works too. But if you need more general guidance, read the article.

It’s Thursday. Here’s how to motivate your unmotivated self


I’ll confess, if you skimmed this article, How to Keep Working When You’re Just Not Feeling It, and you saw these subheaders:

  • Design Goals, Not Chores
  • Find Effective Rewards
  • Sustain Progress
  • Harness the Influence of Others

You might think there is not much of value in there. But give it a read. I guarantee you can get at least one idea that can keep you going if you feel you Just Can’t Right Now.

Three things to add to your first aid kit for minor mental health issues


Do you think: there are two types of people, those with mental health problems and those with no mental health problems? I used to think that way too. Like an on-off switch. Now I think of mental health as being on a slider switch.

Physical health can be like that. We can have cuts and pains that aren’t life threatening but require some form of physical first aid kit full of bandages and ASA to help us. Similarly, we can have minor bouts of anxiety and depression that also need dealing with. We should have a mental first aid kit to help us with that too.

Here’s three things to consider putting in your mental first aid kit. First, if you are feeling down more than usual, I recommend adding the HALT method. As they explain here,  How To Use the HALT Method When You’re Grumpy | Well+Good:

What Is the HALT Method? HALT stands for: Hungry Angry Lonely Tired The HALT method is based around the premise that you’re more likely to make poor, highly emotional decisions when hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. “The purpose is to help us identify these experiences when we are tempted to engage in a negative behavior and to instead address the underlying issue,” says Kassondra Glenn, LMSW, a social worker and addiction specialist at Diamond Rehab.

I’d add hungry or thirsty. I don’t know how many times I felt down in a minor way, drank some water, then suddenly felt better. Your down moods may be more serious than this, but like any first aid, try that first and see if it helps.

A second thing to put in your first aid kit is movement. Getting out and using your body has well been shown to help with anxiety and depression. Take a look at how much activity (or not) you’ve been doing when you are feeling slightly mental ill. You may need to get out more and move around. Even a brisk walk. For more on how to go about this and why, read: Can Moving the Body Heal the Mind? – The New York Times

The third thing I’d add is logging. Keep track of your moods and feelings and combine that with self care you’ve been applying to yourself. Log your sleep, your eating, your socializing and your movement and combine that with tracking your mood. Then try to apply the things discussed here and see if it changes.

Finally, if you had a headache or some other pain and you treated it and it persisted, you’d go see a doctor (I hope). Likewise with mental pains and sores. If these things don’t help you, go see your doctor. Take care of yourself the best way you can. For physical and mental illness.

Your next TV should be dumb. Here’s how to go about getting a dumbTV and why


I’ve complained here before about Smart TVs and the problem they bring Thinking of getting a SmartTV? | Smart People I Know. After reading this, Samsung details how its TVs will become NFT gateways – The Verge, I am more determined than ever to try and make my next TV as dumb as heck.

If you are leaning the same same way, I recommend you read this: Why You Should Buy the Dumbest TV You Can Find. I’m certain after you do, you’ll want a dumb TV too.

The next trick is how to find one. They offer some advice, but you may not be sure how to apply it. I recommend you do this.

First, take the TV they recommend. Here it is on Amazon:

Samsung Business QB75R 75 inch 4K UHD 3840×2160 LED Commercial Signage Display for Business with HDMI, Wi-Fi, 350 nit (LH75QBREBGCXZA), Black : Amazon.ca: Electronics

You might look at that and shout: whoa, that’s too big and expensive. The way to find a smaller one is like this. See the model ID in the URL? It’s QB75R. The 75 is the size of the TV. What happens if I search for QB55R on Amazon? Well, I find this:

Amazon.com: Samsung Business QB55R 55 inch 4K UHD LED Commercial Signage Display for Business with HDMI, Wi-Fi, 350 nit (LH55QBREBGCXZA) : Everything Else.

Much smaller, much cheaper. Good! But I also get something else, this string: 4K UHD LED Commercial Signage Display.

If I search for that on Amazon, I get a long list of Commercial TVs from Samsung. Awesome! Now if I search for just: Commercial Signage Display, I get other models, like displays from Viewsonic.

Thanks to Amazon, I have a list of options to choose from. If you want to buy them from Amazon, you’re all set. But you can also list the models and prices and shop around.

Good luck. Stay dumb! 🙂

It’s Monday. How much “fun” have you scheduled in your calendar?


That might seem like a dumb idea, but chances are your calendar is full of events you have scheduled for this week: meetings, appointments, get togethers with friends, workouts. Is fun anywhere there?

It may be. Perhaps going for your regular workout is fun for you. Or that murder mystery you watch each week is fun. If so, that’s great.

If you can’t find fun in your calendar, I recommend you read this piece: Why We All Need to Have More Fun in The New York Times. It can help you figure out how to get more fun into your life. Have you forgotten what fun is? It can help you there, too.

Let me add: keep track of the fun you are having. Some of it — maybe most of it — will actually come up accidentally in your week. Note the circumstances which lead to having fun. Try to include them intentionally in your next week.

Likewise, note the events you planned that turned out to be not so much fun. Perhaps you need a break from them.

Life can be hard and painful. It can also be fun. Make sure you get as much of the latter in as you can. Scheduling your fun can help there.