And I’ve already failed.

Well that was quick. It’s been a little over a month, albeit a relatively busy month, and I’ve already managed to fail my self imposed 3 month ban on television. During that month period I did the occasional cheat of catching a few snips of television  while other people were watching (not watching but didn’t leave the room) but I was fairly disciplined. Last night, however, I had nothing to do and decided to binge watch the first four episodes of “Would I lie to you?”.

I highly recommend the show – and I’m itching to continue watching it as I haven’t had such a high frequency of laughs while watching television in a while. I wasn’t particularly successful with my abstaining from viewing television but I’m going to steel myself and forge on (not bad but unintended metallurgy wordplay).

 

What’s Important?

Yesterday night I had one of those brief moments of existential thought. I’ll admit I had just consumed a very alcoholic beverage which may have helped me get there. Anyways, the thought that occurred to me was that I spend a lot of time doing things that truly don’t matter to me. I was having a really good evening and was wondering why I didn’t get that feeling more often. That thought lead to the two following questions:

What am I doing that I think is a waste of time?

Well that’s an easy one. I currently spend far too much time watching media – mainly Netflix. When I think about my day there are a few exciting bits that pop out and some satisfaction from a job well done. I have never thought back on my day and thought, boy am I glad I watched those three episodes (usually more) of whatever Netflix recommended I watch.

The problem isn’t really Netflix/TV/whatever but the frame of mind I’m in while consuming certain types of media. The fact that it’s completely passive is the part that kills me. The idea that I want to sit there at the end of the day and just be a vegetable makes me hate myself a little. Visual media is a great thing (a picture being worth a thousand words and all that), but like most things only in moderation. So on that note, I’ve decided that I am going to avoid watching television of any kind for the next 3 months. I’m going to try to go cold turkey since if I try to set up arbitrary guidelines I’m certain I’ll cheat. The one exception I may make is that it’s possible I go to a movie or two, a relatively small concession time-wise.

I haven’t been able to find any solid statistics but based on various news sources – they don’t seem to provide very specific information on how their data was collected – suggest that the average Westerner watched around 3.5-4 hours of television per day in 2017. That seems like a lot at first glance, but when I think about my average day it doesn’t seem to be too far from reality.  Assuming I’m able to free up 3.5 to 4 hours of my time up per day, that leads us to the second and arguably more important question.

What should I be doing that I wouldn’t think is a waste of time?

There’s a few things I “should” be doing. Like eating better and going to the gym. And if I’m being completely honest, there’s really no excuse for not going to the gym (or doing some kind of physical activity) for 30 – 60 minutes per day. So lets be optimistic and say that I’m going to spend 60 minutes at the gym per day that leaves me around 2.5 hours.

I’ve just recently moved to Germany (approximately 6 months ago) and I’ve been fairly inconsistent with my German lessons. This can be partially blamed on my work, I’ve traveled quite a bit which effectively disallows for consistent courses. However, I’m also partially to blame in that I could easily put at least another 1 to 2 hours per night into my German with self-study. Starting next week, I’ll be starting a course that takes place twice a week. The remaining days of the week I’ll have to force myself to study.

Finally, I’ll be trying to bring this site back from the dead – and putting up content on a semi-regular basis. While writing on a blog that nobody reads is probably a waste of time, I find it a little therapeutic and at a bare minimum it’s some creative writing. Since finishing my Master’s degree at the end of 2014 the amount of structured writing I’ve done has been fairly minimal and it’s definitely something I could work on.

Until next time – hopefully soon,

Eric

Short Obsession with Memory

During the last few months I’ve had a short obsession with memory. I can’t remember exactly what started me on this obsession (irony) but it lead me to reading “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer. Joshua Foer is a journalist who, by chance, covered a story on competitive memorization. It follows his journey to becoming the 2006 U.S.A Memory Champion a year later.

I highly recommend this book. It does not discuss in great detail the memory techniques used but I found it to be very informative, engaging, and easy to read.

It ignited my curiosity in the subject and convinced me to read a slightly more technical work called “Your Memory: How it works and How to Improve it” by Kenneth L. Higbee Ph.D. This book delves more deeply into how memory works (what is known, what isn’t, the tried and tested methods, history, etc.). It is definitely still meant for a layman but focuses more on the topic of techniques.

The way I think of memory has changed after reading these books. I used to think (in retrospect I did not think particularly hard) of memory as just a blob. My senses pick up information and my mind should just realize what’s going on and store absolutely everything. And when I try to remember something (and fail) it’s my mind that’s failing me.

In reality, I should have thought of my mind as a bunch Wikipedia articles. I’ve got a bunch of contributors (my vision, audio, etc.) who can write articles very quickly. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to make links between articles particularly well. Sure every once in a while they’ll put something in but most of the time it requires active attention. The biggest problem is that people don’t have an efficient search function. What they do have is the ability to jump quickly between already linked articles.

Growing up, everyone forms a list of topics that are very well linked together. These are the things that are ingrained and form the cornerstone of your memory. These are things that are meaningful either because you were actually interested or because it’s been forced to be meaningful through schooling or experience. The best way to remember something new is to find a way of making sure that new information can be linked to as many of those old articles as possible (making something meaningful). This is a possible explanation as to why people tend to specialize in something. They have an interest, and it is easier to expand on that interest than it is to start something new since it takes active effort to make these new connections.

There are many ways to make something meaningful. Just spending a lot of time will add meaning to something. Repeating something might convince your mind that it’s meaningful. Combining multiples senses can help.

There are however some clever little tricks that can be used to improve your memory. Spatial memory (visual memory for places) is particularly efficient. If you try to visualize a place you walked through, you could probably do it pretty easily. This probably has some evolutionary background relating to not getting lost. The method of loci (or memory palace) centers on the fact that you’ve memorize a place and can imagine yourself walking through it. Continuing my analogy, this is a wikipedia page that you know exists and can call up at will. Now if you want to memorize something like a list you simply need to come up with a way of conjuring those items along the path you’re walking (creating links in your wikipedia page). The fact that you’ve got a path provides a first link which makes things easier to remember.  Instead of thinking directly about an item, you’re thinking of the path and can hopefully remember that item you’ve conjured on that path.

In summation, it all comes down to how meaningful you can make the information you are trying to remember and create as many links/hooks as possible. Sure you can trick your mind into giving meaning to something that wouldn’t normally have much meaning to you but it takes more effort. By practicing memory skills you could reduce the effort involved. But just like everything, there’s always going to be some effort and people tend to be lazy.

I don’t think my memory has improved from reading either of these books – I haven’t been willing to put the effort involved in using the techniques described. I may not remember the titles of these books in a years time but I’ll definitely remember large chunks of the content and at least apply the basic principles when it comes to simply learning new information.

Reading “Tools of Titans”

I’m currently reading the book “Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers” by Tim Ferriss. The book is a distilled account of some of the interviews that Tim Ferriss has performed on his podcast.  He has what I would consider many interesting guests (such as Arnold Schwarzenegger) and provides short quotes from the longer interviews that he performed.

Before finding this book I’d never heard of Tim Ferriss – but now I’ve listened to several of his podcasts and will probably continue in the future. The book itself is pretty poorly organized. Some “chapters” are short and provide very little information or insight while others go on for pages and provide so much information that it’s quite difficult to distill without re-reading.  But, considering the quantity of interviews performed and the length of a normal interview I appreciate the convenience of having a condensed version.

I don’t want to review the book in detail – as I think it would devolve into a summary of the quotes I found the most interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone who has not heard a significant portion of Tim Ferriss’ podcasts.

Trying to be more consistent

It’s safe to say I’ve been very inconsistent with my posting on this website. I would like to increase my frequency of posting but I’m finding it difficult to find appropriate subjects to discuss. To alleviate a little bit of the tension involved in generating both ideas and content at the same time I am going to give myself a week to come up with an idea and then a week to generate the appropriate post.

Since I’ve already given myself more than enough time to come up with a topic – my next post is going to be a little discussion and information relating to ventilation systems. Namely, the problems that can potentially occur when using a fix speed fan in a ventilation system.

Hopefully, next week I’ll be posting a shiny new post on this topic that probably doesn’t interest anybody else but made me sit down and think for a few minutes.

A Fresh New Start

And there we have it. A brand new start for this website.

I’ve installed WordPress to manage my content and turn this site into a blog instead of a glorified To-Do list – at least in form if not yet in function. Next step, to actually generate some content.

Give me a few weeks and I might have some interesting things to post – depending on your definition of interesting.