Month: January 2014

Appreciation of Blue

blue dream abstract image

A clear blue afternoon, a quiet apartment, a man gazes up at the sky.

A comforting light that ebbs through the blinds, glowing lines in strict patterns on the floor, highlighting the knots and swirls of the floorboards.

The evening is settling around him as he sits quietly, leaning back in his favourite chair. A book lies open in his lap, propped open where he stopped reading, a soft voice sings in the background over a gently plucked guitar.

Looking out through the window he watches the clouds lazily scroll past, the blue already fading, heading for a soft and balmy evening. He casts his mind back and smiles at the chosen memories, forever private to him, meaningless to others, the tiniest moments from the past.

He has always had an eye for detail, for nuance and the finest shades of dark and light. He has never questioned his taste, only tried to refine it and embrace what it brought. He would find himself staring at the simplest of shapes for hours and it was the details he remembers. The gentle curve of a vase is what stuck in his mind not the year it was made, the gentle brushstrokes of a painted river lodged in his brain but mostly he would be unable to recall the artist. Exceptions occurred, Hofmann and Cezanne, Eames and Bass, a mish-mash of culture and design.

After a while the music changes as the sun slides out of view, the glowing pattern fading from the floor. He closes his eyes as he listens to her moving around in the next room and as he tries to guess what she’s doing, Cezanne and Bass combine, the stylised brushstrokes follow, dipping and blooming into view, each detail fresh in his mind.

A soft voice calls him to the bedroom.

As he rises from his chair he spots the last glimpse of blue slip from the sky. He knows it will return soon and, with a smile, follows her voice back to see it again.

Lessening the Absolutes

Chess Set

To me, morals are objective, they aren’t governed by distinct rules or laws (there is no black or white) and so I find people who make blanket statements, absolutes that leave only two options, troublesome to the point of aggravating.

Over the last few years I’ve slowly been filtering out as many negative influences as I can from my life. In doing so I’ve started to see a pattern but I’m not quite sure what to call it – I’m sure there is an academic term beyond my ken for what I’m about to try and describe – but the general trend seems to be one of steering away from those with a different sense of morality to mine.

I understand that, at times, you need to be clear on where you stand on something and that the stronger the belief, the clearer the line can be for some. If I’m describing you then please know I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but many people I’ve met are so vehemently defensive of their position that, it seems, if you aren’t on their side of the line you must be on the other side and so be in complete opposition.

The problem with this approach, statements of absolutes, is that it presumes my position and means any discussion already starts with a bias that I didn’t agree to.

I’m sure you’ve seen this yourself, the “If you don’t agree with this position then you must be agreeing with that one” mindset is what irks me the most as it doesn’t allow me to have my own, separate position; how could it when there are only two positions?

To me there are always blurry lines on most issues and whilst I may not agree with your position on something, and that doesn’t automatically mean I don’t want to hear your views, I have the right to choose my opposition.

Caution required

It’s been somewhat freeing, the slow, gentle cull of Facebook friends, the deliberate disengagement from conversations with people who will only cause me to expand energy. However it’s not without issues.

I’m very wary of being too closed, surrounding myself only with people with similar views and approaches, but for the most part I try and weigh up the emotional effort it takes to keep someone in my life (real or online, both take energy) and it’s only when there is no benefit or upside for me that I step away. There will always be people in my life who aggravate me, upset me or make me angry, I know I can’t get away from that, but those people who do still offer me some other value, often as a balance to my own viewpoints, are the ones I will keep around.

Spotify Benefits – Shared Playlists

I’m in the midst of writing up my thoughts on Spotify, or rather my own experiences moving from ‘ownership’ to ‘streaming’ but until I finish that, there is one thing that Spotify makes very easy, sharing playlists.

Screenshot of playlist header in Spotify

Yes, I like to give my playlists silly names.

I’ve been compiling a little playlist of songs that make me smile and feel happy, the tracks share no musical genre, anything goes really, just as long as it brings a smile to my face and lifts my mood. To get some other ideas I took to Twitter and got lots more great tracks and ideas.

Twitter to Spotify success!

And I did! Not all of the tracks were to my tastes, obviously, and some tracks were passed over in favour of others by the same artists but, regardless, it was a nice little experiment (my second this week) to see how easy it would be get a crowd sourced playlist without asking people to collaborate directly.

I’ve tried to get a collaborative playlist up and running in the past but the barrier of having to have access to the right app/website and the extra steps needed to find the tracks you want to add seemed to be a step too far. However asking for suggestions on Twitter (and I didn’t offer any of my own up front) got a good response with a few people offering up three or four tracks to be considered.

It didn’t take me long to parse through the suggestions and update the playlist I’d already started and, as it was partially crowd sourced, I thought I’d share it here.

And if that doesn’t work, here’s the direct link for Spotify app users and the link to Spotify web for everyone else.

If you have any other suggestions, leave a comment!

The Importance Of Getting Your Eyes Examined

Getting eyes examined - glasses on a chart

For whatever reason, it feels as if we (the universal we) don’t put enough of an importance on getting our eyes tested on a regular basis. I should know: It’s been at least six years since my previous examination and I’ve actually been thinking about getting them looked at these past few weeks. And in thinking about that, I realized that others will benefit from the research I have done lately in regards to finding out how often I should get my eyes checked, why I should do it, and where I can get it done. Hopefully the facts I have gathered from these trusted resources will assist you in your own personal eyesight endeavours.

When Should My Eyes Be Examined?

The answer to this question really all depends on your personal health, particularly that of your eyes. But according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, it’s advised that you should get your eyes examined every two years or so. Other sites that I found stated that you could go three to five years, with that time fluctuating based on your age.

However, the National Health Service advises that you may need to take part in them more frequently if you are a child wearing glasses, suffer from diabetes, are at least 40 years of age and have a family history of glaucoma, or if you’re over the age of 70. Should you find yourself in any of those categories, you can actually do the eye exams by yourself or with the help of a friend or family member. Just head over to Acuvue, where you can find several at-home tests and/or schedule one with a nearby optometrist (and, perhaps later, an optician). You’ll also be able to read up on a variety of other topics, including whether or not you’ll want to make the switch to contacts if you’re getting tired of your eyeglasses.

But Why Should They Be Examined?

As for this question, the answer is simple: You want to keep up with your eyes’ health to catch anything early on and/or find out if you need an eyeglasses or contacts prescription/update. Not only that, but you’ll find that your eyes won’t exactly hurt when something is wrong. What this means is that you may have some more significant issues going on that you wouldn’t know about without a proper examination. These include macular degeneration of the eyes, glaucoma, and even diabetes.

But what these exams really give you is peace of mind, especially after you learn just how important they are. As the old adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so make sure that you’re getting your eyes tested at least every two years—a bit of advice I know that I need to be taking in my own life.

So Where Can I Go?

If you already have glasses or contact lenses, you know the answer to this question: your personal optometrist. But if you have moved and/or haven’t been to an eye doctor in a while, you can start by searching for a local service that can at least get the process started. As mentioned earlier, Acuvue can also help with this task while providing insight into other areas of eyesight care.

Here’s the bottom line: Get your eyes checked on a regularly basis. This may seem like an additional errand that you don’t feel like adding to your to-do list, but it’s pertinent for your health that you do so. And once you get in the habit of it happening every two years or so, you’ll realize how easy (and painless!) it is.

Polyamory: Decisions and balance

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com.

There is a word I use a lot when describing how I try and approach life in general and when it comes to polyamory and my relationships it’s definitely something I focus on.

Polyamory as Balanced Stones

Balance

With multiple relationships at play, when it comes to making decisions things need to try and be fair and reasonable to everyone concerned. That’s not to say that every decision is always what everyone wants, but hopefully we are all having our needs met as best can be expected. In short, you can’t make everyone happy all the time (but I’ll be damned if I don’t try!).

Time is the most obvious factor but when you start to include events it can start to get a little more interesting. [1] Take the following scenario, you’ve been invited to an Engagement Party with a “plus one”. How do you decide who to take? Well, availability is obviously part of the decision-making process but if both your partners are available how do you choose? (and yes, I’m aware of the monogamy versus polyamory paradox here).

These decisions are emotional. They come loaded with shades of FOMO and possible jealousy, or may trigger thoughts of ‘second best’ (depending on your dynamic). Do you keep track of such things with a view to evening things out? Perhaps not as that then brings in hints of ‘scores’.

Decisions and Polyamory

With all that in mind, within the various dynamics of polyamory, how do you make decisions?

Communication is key I think and, if possible for it can be very hard to remove emotion from such things, a level of pragmatism and logic can help. There also have to be some tacit understandings that come with being part of a polyamorous relationship, namely that at times decisions need to be made but they are never, ever, made with malice.

There may also need to be agreement that decisions (and plans) can change. Nothing is absolute no matter how hard we try.

When it comes to making decisions, it’s not something I struggle with day-to-day. I’m fairly decision focused and will make them quickly and, at times, wrongly, but in my mind a decision has been made. However, I’m aware that my partners can be decision averse so I try and tread lightly, making sure I explain my thoughts and reassuring them that I’m only making a decision because one needs made. On the whole though, we try and make decisions on things which will impact everyone as one unit and, so far, we seem to be muddling through, with our interpretation of how polyamory works, pretty well.


  1. [1] For interesting, read “challenging, emotionally draining but part and parcel of being in a poly relationship”.

Productivity and the clean broom

One for the Mac users who like to have things kept neat and tidy, so they can focus on being productive.

TL;DR version: If you are the type of person who is consistent with file naming, you can use an OSX app called Hazel to run rules on files and apply Mavericks tags making it easier to apply them to files currently in use, and legacy archive data.

The arrival of tags

Like many I upgraded my laptop to the newest version of OSX (Mavericks) when it was released a couple of months ago. There are a few nice features that made it worthwhile and, hey, it was free so what’s the harm?

One new feature that Apple seem quite proud of is the tagging system. In principle it sounds great but so far it’s taken me a while to get into using it and even then it’s still not quite part of my ‘muscle memory’. Why? Well, do you have time to go through all your legacy files and tag them? Or even just the important or ‘in use’ files that might benefit from being tagged?

And why the hell do I want to tag my files anyway? This is not a new technology so why is it suddenly all over my operating system?

My take on this new functionality matches my, long ago, move away from worrying about detail in my operating system. Spotlight performs well enough for me to be able to find what I need to find, and I’m consistent enough in my file-naming at the time of creation, that I don’t need to be too worried about exactly where on my hard drive a file exists. However I do understand the need to have some level of order and ‘filing’ to keep things organised.

I’m sure there are things I’m, unknowingly, compromising on but as yet (and I’ve been completely Mac now for some years) nothing has reared up to bite me so if I am compromising or missing something then it’s not anything essential.

Removing the noise

Looking back, the turning point for my approach was actually when I first installed iTunes on my old Windows box. As iTunes abstracts the location of the actual files, this removed the need to spend time and effort organising files and folders and I, almost instantly, saved a large chunk of my time that I’d previously lost in a complex process of naming and filing my MP3s (alas the tagging of info was still an issue but that has improved more recently).

All I do now is drag music files into iTunes (or these days just buy them there) and they get stored away automagically. I know where the top level folder is but I don’t search for MP3s any more. I look in iTunes for a song, artist or album name, and hit play. Much simpler.

Caveat: I’m more likely to fire up Spotify these days but that’s a whole other blog post.

This abstraction, and my first real exposure to it, was the beginning of the realisation that I’d gotten away from why I have a computer in the first place. It remains, among other things, important to me as an aid to my productivity and help with my needs and tasks, and yet I had been dragged into a level of minutiae of administration that was taking more and more of my time with little to show for it. The effort was not equal to the reward, so what was the point of having a computer?

Simplicity for Productivity

Fast forward to my usage today and I would rather put my efforts into working on something than have to expend energy making sure the files were precisely named and filed away. Since moving to OSX, search has become such a big part of my everyday computer usage that my need for folders is almost redundant and now, with an operating wide tagging system, may soon be obsolete.

And so, after a somewhat long-winded introduction (written as much for myself as anyone else) I’ll suggest that if your computer usage is in anyway similar to mine, that you invest in a small but very powerful application called Hazel.

Hazel is, at heart, a rules engine. Point it at a folder, set up a rule and it’ll handle things from there. It can watch a folder for filenames (partial or complete), types of file, or other metadata and then move them, rename them, update the metadata and more. It’s also extendable, very extendable.

I am still exploring the depths of this application but already it’s making the job of managing my files much easier allowing my productivity to rise. It’s not all down to Hazel of course, a large part of the solution depends upon the built-in tagging system in the Mavericks version of OSX but by automating so many trivial tasks, delegating them to the computer, I’ve no doubt that I’m getting more done in my day-to-day usage both at work and at home.

What does Hazel do?

So, how do I use it? Well, as an example, as long as I add the project name to a file whilst saving it to the desktop, I know that after the end of my working day, Hazel will have moved it to the correct project folder and applied the project tag. To find it again, I just view the (smart search) for that project tag and there it is. I don’t actually care about the folder at all, so I have a very flat structure, rarely more than one folder deep.

To do the above is simple. In Hazel you add the Desktop folder to the list to be monitored, then create the rule which checks any new files with the instructions that if the filename includes [project name] and hasn’t been modified for 6 hours, tag it with the project name and move it to the project folder. Easy.

Equally you can run Hazel across legacy files and both tag and move them in one go. You don’t need to search for them and do all that manually, just let Hazel do the hard work. It can flag duplicates and more, I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

With OSX tagging and Smart Folders, plus automated rules for managing metadata it’s very easy to have, for example, a smart folder (essentially search results) that only shows the spreadsheets for a specific project. The combinations are endless and made easier to meet because Hazel is doing a lot of the metadata creation for you.

As part of my drive to make things simpler it’s another step forward. Once I’ve got a rule setup I can let it run away in the background and do all the hard work for me, allowing me to focus more on my work and less on the administration of that work. That means both that the quality of my work increases and the quantity of output as well so, all in all my productivity is on the rise.

And ultimately, isn’t that what personal computers are supposed to help with?

Seven Days

2014 has arrived and already we are a week into the new year. Time for a recap, yeah? Am I doing this right?

  • Number of times I’ve written 2013 by accident. One.
  • Number of (short, slow) jogs I’ve managed. Two.
  • Number of nights sleep ruined by insomnia. Three.
  • Number of days I’ve thought about shaving but haven’t. Four.
  • Number of impulse online shopping buys I’ve avoided. Five.
  • Number of kilograms I want to lose by the end of this month. Six.
  • Number of months until I’m a volunteer at Glasgow 2014. Seven.

And finally, a large number that will have impact on my life for the rest of the year and beyond. $514million.

Not bad for the first seven days!

Doing more

I seem to be on a bit of a get shit done kick at the moment.

My desire to simplify and declutter continues and that in turn seems to be feeding my desire to tackle lots of the little things that rattle around in my head on a fairly constant basis. On the face of it none of them are particularly important, or at least aren’t likely to be deemed important to anyone except me, but I think that’s the point. I want to get these things done for me.

That may mean I spend a night faffing with this blog, or trying to setup Slogger, or reading through the stack of back issues of Wired magazine that lie untouched from 2013, or going through that box of cables I barely use and actually throwing stuff out, or rearranging the prints hanging in my living room, or replanning my budget…

None of these things hold much interest to anyone else but are things that are on my mind at some level so I’d rather tackle then than let them continue to spin in my head. That’s just, to me, another form of clutter.

I’ve talked before about my desire to simplify things and of my need to treat myself a little better than I might have been in the past and this all fits with my current mood. Looking back at the past year and it’s the times of high stress that have the biggest negative impact on me, so anything I can do to help reduce those is surely a good thing.

It’s also why I’ve set myself a running goal for 2014 as being healthier will make it easier to cope with those times of stress, not to mention give me more energy to get more things done. The goal is a very achievable 400km in a year; each week I need to run for about 45–50 minutes in total which equates to two runs a week on average and allows me some breathing room should I miss a few runs over the year.

This is not a New Year resolution!

This mood has definitely been growing through the last couple of months of 2013 and the festive holidays gave me the opportunity to do some of these things (not to mention list a whole raft more!) [1]

So, in the past week I’ve managed to finally tidy my spare room so it’s no longer a dumping ground, my Facebook account has been slimmed down (and will continue to get slimmer in the coming months), I’ve been through a few drawers of random crap and slimmed them down to only the things I need (if I’ve not used an item in the past year I surely don’t need it) and next up is this blog; I really want to reduce the number of categories (or convert them to tags), and continue to remove the barriers that stop me writing.

On that note, Byword has proven an excellent tool. I can write and publish from my iPhone, iPad or MacBook, making it much easier to write up a draft post to capture some ideas then, thanks to the wonders of cloud sync, I can pick it up later to edit or finish before publishing. Yes, this post is being written in Byword (and I’m slowly getting the hang of Markdown too).

Why am I doing all this? Largely because I believe it will mean I will have better quality ‘me’ time, which means I’ll be able to focus more of my energies on my loved ones when I’m with them. It should also allow me more time to write which, whether it’s being published here or kept private, has always been a way for me to process my thoughts, more time to read as it’s a good way to escape the world for a while, and in general more time and energy to keep on doing more for others.

I realise it may seem like I’m setting myself up to fail simply by writing and publishing these thoughts but, for once, I need to make myself accountable to me. I’ve been thinking a lot of this stuff for a while now and it’s about time to take some action.

And yes, it’s also a ‘new year’…


  1. Speaking of which, I’ve finally settled on Todoist. Multi-device, syncs well, rich enough options without being overwhelming.  ↩