Archives For guide to better living

Nothing sucks more than writer’s block. Well, actually, that sentence is clearly untrue. Being squirted in the eye with lemon juice hurts more than writer’s block. If I ever have writer’s block I just make an absolute statement and try to come up with creative exceptions. Here you try it – what sucks more than writer’s block – did someone say black holes?

Anyway. Here’s a fascinating article interviewing a bunch of creative people about how they get the creative juices flowing. Some good tips. The consensus seems to be that if you want to be creative you need to become familiar with the works of other creative people – or just branch out into a type of creativity you’re not being paid to produce. For the writer this might mean sketching.

One guy came up with this relatively delicious solution.

The solution to a problem–

Slice and chop 2 medium onions into small pieces.
Put a medium sized pan on a medium heat with a few glugs of Olive oil.
Add the onions to the pan, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Chop finely three varieties of fresh chilli (Birds Eye, Scotch Bonnet & Green/Red).
Add the chilli’s to the pan, stir together and cook for eight minutes.
Add about 500g of extra lean Beef mince to the pan.
Stir in so that the Beef is coated and lightly browned (should take approx. 2 minutes).
Add salt and pepper.
Add Red Kidney Beans and tinned chopped Tomatoes.
Stir well.
Add a pinch of Cinnamon.
Cook on a low heat for approximately 20 mins.
-
Measure a cup and a half of Basmati Rice into a medium pan.
Add two and a quarter cups (the same cup you measured the Rice in) of cold water to the pan with the Rice.
Boil on a high heat until the lid rattles.
Turn down the heat to about half way and cook for eight minutes.
After eight minutes turn the heat off the rice, leave for four minutes (with the lid on).
-
Plate up the Rice (on the side), add the chilli.
-
Large glass of Red wine (preferably Australian or New Zealand).
-

Now the important problem solving part–
Take the plates & pans to the sink.
Run a mixture of hot and cold (not too hot) water.
Add a smidgeon of washing up liquid (preferably for sensitive skin).
Start washing up, the mundane kicks in.
The mind clears and new thoughts and ideas appear.
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Enjoy a second glass of wine to savour the moment.

How to not be bad at the Internet

Andrew posted this helpful list of tips for being a good citizen of the Web 2.0 world from Jaron Lanier. Read them. Follow them. Unless you’re just using Twitter purposefully as a vessel for self promotion.

The problem with Web 2.0 is that the signal to noise ratio is skewed because it’s so easy to take part. It’s too easy to take part. This goes a long way to explaining the problem with more than 90% of the status updates that clutter up Facebook. Here’s the list:

  • Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger.
  • If you put effort into Wikipedia articles, put even more effort into using your personal voice and expression outside of the wiki to help attract people who don’t yet realise that they are interested in the topics you contributed to.
  • Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won’t fit into the template available to you on a social networking site.
  • Post a video once in a while that took you one hundred times more time to create than it takes to view.
  • Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out.
  • If you are Twittering, innovate in order to find a way to describe your internal state instead of trivial external events, to avoid the creeping danger of believing that objectively described events define you, as they would define a machine.

How (not) to be scammed

An anti Nigerian scam website has recently conducted a series of interviews with a previously convicted – and now reformed – scammer who supplied this advice on how not to be caught up in conversation with Nigerian scammers – if you’re interested in a spot of scambaiting you should do the reverse.

The biggest thing I can say is to delete the emails and never to reply. Once you reply your email address will be put on a list and sold to other gangs, even if you never reply again. It just tells them that the address is real and that somebody reads email going to that address. If they can’t get you with 419 (advance fee fraud) they will try phishing or viruses to get your banking details and take your money that way.

I used lots of different stories to get people to send money. I used the dying widow story a lot, saying that I was an old lady dying of cancer and had fallen out with my children. I wanted to give my money to charity and didn’t trust them to carry out my wishes, so was looking for someone outside of the country to make sure it went to the right place. So whatever the story is, make sure you delete the email, because you can be sure it is a scam.

Another thing is not to put email addresses anywhere on the internet. If it is on a guestbook or message board, or on a website anywhere then the foot soldiers will find it and put it on their list.

How to win at eBay

Here’s a useful guide to always winning at eBay – even when you lose.

Step One:

Find the product you want.

Step Two:

Save the product to your watch list.

Step Three:

Wait.

Step Four:

Just before the item ends, enter the maximum amount you are willing to pay for the item.

Step Five:

Click submit.

From here.

The correct response, when confronted with someone correcting your grammar, syntax or spelling, is an appeal to authority (Shakespeare) with a simultaneous request for their contradictory evidence from a superior authority (confident in the knowledge there is no greater authority on the written word). This may not work when it comes to obvious spelling or punctuation mistakes – but it should help keep the wolves at bay.

I have two slightly contradictory pet peeves. On one hand, I hate reading bad grammar – particularly their/there/they’re, its/it’s and your/you’re. This is mostly because I hate making the mistake myself. I feel so incredibly stupid when an error is pointed out. I think, deep down, that I am a perfectionist. On the other hand – I hate when people point out bad grammar – mine or otherwise. Nothing raises my online hackles more than the superiority of a grammar pedant. I tried being one once. It didn’t make me feel nice. I don’t know how others can do it – it must come from hating bad grammar more than one hates appearing like a complete and utterly superior prig.

If knowing how stupid you feel when someone points out your error does not stop you pointing out the errors of others (sticks, logs and all that jazz), and if you’re so sure that you will never make your own scorn worthy mistake so that you run no risk of hypocrisy, then perhaps you should continue reading – and remember that people actually think less of you when you correct your/their friends in public. Not more.

I will say that I think the exception to this rule is when an institution makes a mistake – and the closer the institution is to the rules of grammar the funnier it is. When governments have grammar style guides and stuff up bridge inscriptions that is funny. When we laugh at Chinese translators mangling English while making their country more open to visitors that is cultural imperialism.

I’ve read a couple of articles today courtesy of Twenty Two words that helpfully reminded me that being a “Grammar Nazi” does not make one superior – nor does it actually make somebody a better writer. Imagine how the very Bard himself would be remembered if he had bowed to the pressure of the grammar pedants of his day.

Firstly, grammar pedants speak too early too often and provide no evidence for their claims. They expect us to sit idly by and accept their views on the movable feast of language while providing not a skerrick nor shred of corroboration for their claims. Up with this I shall not put.

Here’s an article that compares grammar experts with etiquette experts who make claims and then move the goal posts when someone disagrees.

This article provides recourse for people like me who want to rid themselves of pesky comments from friends who suffer from badgrammaritis (symptoms include the inability to let bad grammar pass unpunished).

We have all heard admonitions at some point or other that the word unique cannot be modified — a thing is either unique or it is not. This would be considerably more convincing if it were not so obviously untrue, as people modify unique quite frequently, and have done so for a long time. Through the magic of Google Books you can now search through enormous numbers of books and magazines from the 19th century and see literally hundreds of writers who use more unique, less unique and even that bugbear of the purists, somewhat unique.

(And speaking of literally, the next time someone tells you that it cannot be used to mean aught but literal, you might point out that it has been used in various figurative and nonliteral senses for hundreds of years, by such literary figures as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Richard Milhous Nixon.)

The article points out that most grammar conventions and corrections are given without any sense of evidence – in fact, on Facebook where both bad grammar and pedantry runs rampant, corrections are given with a sense of superior satisfaction but no reference to any rules or conventions that actually back up the criticism.

The erudite conclusion from the NY Times article is proof that a predilection for pedantry does not give you the exclusive rights to good writing. It’s today’s rule breakers who become tomorrow’s rule makers. To use an analogy – pedants are the engineers of the writing world while the rest of us are the artistes – the architects and interior designers, the painters, the landscapers and the Feng Shui consultants.

So I say outpedant the pedants, and allow yourself to gluttonously revel in the linguistic improprieties of yore as you familiarize yourself with the nearly unique enormity of the gloriously mistaken heritage that our literature is comprised of. For those of you keeping score at home, that last sentence contained a verbal noun, a split infinitive, an improper -ize, an inflectional comparative, a blatantly misleading word choice, at least one example of catachresis, an unnecessarily passive construction — and it ended with a preposition. All of which I’m willing to bet appear in Shakespeare.

People often ask me how I have so much time to blog, or can justify the time I spend doing so.

The truth is, I’m a procrastinator. Right now I have a newsletter to send out and a booking form to build. But there is no deadline pressure. Not for another hour or so. So I need to fill the time with meaninglessness in order to create that pressure. Sure, I have a to do list filled with other meaningless tasks and I could create the deadline pressure by creating a faux deadline. But then I’d finish earlier and have nothing to do.

Steve Kryger has produced a list of 15 tips to help you not to procrastinate, (H/T DaveMiers.com). I’m going to be counterproductive. Here are 15 tips to guide your efforts in procrastination.

How to procrastinate while feeling productive

  1. Read some articles about how to do what you’re doing better – Consider this professional development and research. At the same time. Also click through to any other links you find that seem interesting.
  2. Tidy your desk – This one is also on Steve’s list – but I use it to avoid doing the jobs I am avoiding doing. And who knows what you might discover going through your physical inbox and your files. Maybe there’ll be another task that you can procrastinate on.
  3. Write a really long list of things to do to achieve your goal, and then your next four or five goals – Lists just feel so productive. And they make your tasks much more concrete. This helps you to avoid doing them.
  4. Learn how to write your goals in other languages – Constant learning is the best way to avoid constant doing.
  5. Visit Facebook, Twitter and MySpace – Ask your friends how to achieve your goals better. Their advice could save you valuable minutes in the long term.
  6. Participate in community - While you’re on Facebook check out your friend’s photos and comment on their walls. It is all about community.
  7. Have a quick game of Tetris – It really gets the creative juices flowing.
  8. Blog – Write a post about “how to” solve your issue quoting your friends and the articles you read.
  9. Comment elsewhere – Encourage other people to write more stuff that helps you. This is like a self fulfilling prophecy of procrastination. The more stuff there is to read through in order to find what you’re after the less time you need to spend doing stuff. Increase the noise to signal ratio. That way when you find something relevant it’s a real triumph.
  10. Engage with differing ideas – Find something online you disagree with and get in an argument.
  11. Get amongst real people – Walk around the office and play a prank on somebody.
  12. Spend 80% of your time developing efficiencies – This is my own personal 80/20 rule. Everybody loves an 80/20 rule. It justifies spending less time doing stuff.  The more time you spend thinking about how you do work the less time you actually have to spend doing it.
  13. Make sure the job still needs doing – Procrastination is a filter to avoid doing unnecessary tasks. Not doing unnecessary tasks is much more efficient than doing them and finding out they weren’t needed. If nobody has noticed that you haven’t done the thing you were asked to do, it probably didn’t need doing.
  14. Make sure the deadline still stands - Perhaps the job wasn’t as important as it first seemed. If that’s the case put it down the list and start procrastinating about something else.
  15. Delegate – Ask someone else (preferably a known procrastinator) to produce an integral part of your work. Then their lack of progress is a perfect excuse for your lack of progress.

Enjoy. This should provide eight or nine spare hours in the work day.

Bonus tip:  Subscribe to hundreds of blogs (including mine (subscription link)) in Google Reader. And make sure you have no unread posts before you start the day.

You may, if you’re a regular reader, be wondering what became of my complaints to Cadbury and Jetstar.

Well.

Cadbury sent me a voucher for $5 to spend on Turkish Delight and Jetstar sent me $100 to spend on my next flight.

This complaint letter thing is fun and rewarding.

Here are my six tips for writing a complaint letter that gets read…

  1. Establish a connection with the company – tell them that you’re familiar with the product you’re complaining about. Being a regular customer who is sold on the brand will give you credibility with the reader – and make them want to help you out.
  2. Find the right person to contact – for the Cadbury one I phoned Cadbury rather than using an anonymous web form, for the Jetstar one I emailed it directly to the Customer Service manager as well as posting it. The more senior the person you address the letter to the better.
  3. Give good details – tell the reader exactly what your experience was from start to finish. Set the scene. Help them to pinpoint the nature of your complaint.
  4. Use the right tone – be polite – don’t complain about rudeness by being rude. Try using humour – it’ll make your letter different to the hundreds of other letters they receive. Be memorable.
  5. Have a call to action – give the company some recourse – let them know what you expect in return for your letter. Do you want a reply detailing what went wrong and what they’ll do to fix it? Do you want a refund? You won’t get exactly what you want without asking for it.
  6. Be contactable – give good details for follow up – you won’t get free stuff if the company doesn’t know where to send things.

Those are the things I do – how ’bout you? What are your tips for writing complaint letters that bear fruit.

The rules of Shotgun

Here are the official rules of Shotgun. In case you were wondering.

Though I think there should be an exception that comes into play when someone actually has a shotgun in hand. They should get the seat. This is not included in the rules.

Here is one rule I didn’t know about…

The Balk
This rule is applied when you have called Shotgun and are waiting for the doors to be unlocked. If you lift the handle while the doors are being unlocked and therefore cause the Shotgun door to remain locked, then you are “voided” for that ride. At this time Shotgun is available for all of the other passengers to call.

How to man hug

Man hugs are pretty awesome. I’ve just been thinking about the furore surrounding the Poe’s Law breach that occured with that Christian Side Hug rap video. It turns out the video was serious – but the origin of the concept was satire.

It used to be that in order for heterosexual males to demonstrate man to man affection they had to engage in play fighting or wrestling. This was a little too subtle. The key to a good, unambiguous piece of man to man affection is to send the right signals during the hug.

This is accomplished using the obligatory three taps, or firm pats, on the back of both parties to the hug. In a group hug – say the hug that comes when celebrating a goal in soccer – these pats are not necessary.

The three pats are said to be non verbal communication for “I’m not gay”… but they are in fact an act of manly testosterone fueled but properly directed aggression.

Here is the rule for hugging expressed in haiku.

Remember fellas
For a successful man hug
Just back slap three times

This easy Japanese poem is the key to more expressive man to man relationships.

That is all.

How to not die

I would like to live a long healthy life. Here is a list of activities I should avoid – that you should too – if you also want to live long lives.

  1. Drive the biggest 4WD you can find.
  2. Don’t ride a quad bike.
  3. Don’t cycle or run on public roads.
  4. Don’t get a pilot’s license as a hobby.
  5. Avoid groups of intoxicated men.

There are more. What are your tips for avoiding an untimely death?

Rules for better living

I don’t know where I’ve been all this blog’s life. But it’s terrific.

Here are some good ones…

  1. Framing a poster does not make it valuable.
  2. Don’t pose with booze.
  3. You don’t get to choose your own nickname.
  4. You marry the girl, you marry her whole family.
  5. Never push someone off a dock.
  6. Know your idioms! Avoid cliché.
  7. If you’re good at something, never do it for free.
  8. Unless you served, no fatigues (camouflage pants).
  9. Be subtle. She sees you.
  10. Give credit. Take the blame.
  11. Your best chance of being a rockstar is learning the bass.
  12. Never turn down an invitation to speak in public.
  13. Never respond to a critic in writing.
  14. Fish don’t have eyelids. Cast into the shade.
  15. If you spot a teacher outside of school, leave them be.
  16. Identify your most commonly used word or phrase, and eliminate it.
  17. When singing karaoke, choose a song within your range.

Google Reader tips #1

I love Google Reader. You should too. Ali recently mentioned that returning to Google Reader after a holiday can be a bit overwhelming. Especially if you sign up for hundreds of feeds.

Here’s my hot tip. Which might be obvious to many of you. If you are drowning in an unread sea switch to “list view” using the link on the top right of your screen. Scroll through the headings, click the interesting ones, star the ones you want to save and then click “Mark all as read”…

You’ll save much time and energy.

I only started doing this this week. It has saved me a lot of wasted time already. I commend it to you.

That is all.

Design brief

I have been doing a bit of web design stuff for work and on my blog for a while now – and I still find CSS glitches in my ad hoc approach to changing things.

Here are three essential tools for making web design using CSS an easier job.

  1. This Smashing Magazine CSS Tutorial is a must
  2. Firebug – the Firefox extension that allows you to chop and change your code and watch what it does to your page as you do it.
  3. A good CSS editor program (here are ten suggestions) takes out a lot of the grunt work.

Update – here are some cliched features to avoid. And my favourites listed in order of how annoying I find them…

  1. Autoplaying music
  2. Introduction movies with no skip button
  3. Comic Sans
  4. Overuse of stock images
  5. Animated Globes

One that wasn’t on the list that I find particularly annoying is talking ads that don’t pop up but move across the page. I guess people are trying to prove that they’re tech savvy and stuff…

Am I missing anything design people?

Five reasons to write lists

  1. Traffic. If there’s one thing I learned from the last week it’s that lists work. Every “how to write a better blog” post I read suggests writing lists.
  2. They’re easy – lists are the easiest of posts to write. You start with a half baked idea and build.
  3. They’re easy to read – the structure is nice, points are enumerated,   discussion is easier.
  4. They’re finite – the reader knows what they’re getting. You know where to stop.
  5. They’re controversial – lists start discussions. That’s why magazines have had “top 100″ features forever. People have different ideas about what shouldn’t be on the list – or thoughts as to why your list is wrong.

There’s a great article here about why “lists of n things” are such popular fodder. You should read it.

Some quotes…

Structurally, the list of n things is a degenerate case of essay. An essay can go anywhere the writer wants. In a list of n things the writer agrees to constrain himself to a collection of points of roughly equal importance, and he tells the reader explicitly what they are.

It’s fine to put “The” before the number [in the title] if you really believe you’ve made an exhaustive list. But evidence suggests most things with titles like this are linkbait.

Lists are in. They are great Internet fodder. If you want to get discussion happening about something – write a list.

This is perilous territory, but I’m running out of areas to hand out my wisdom… But two years in I know everything there could possibly be to know… except the parenting stuff… I am being sarcastic by the way…

  1. Learn to say sorry, and mean it.
  2. Figure out the subtle non-nonverbal communication – when your wife says something and means another, or doesn’t say something in an ominous way.
  3. Learn to cook dinner (and to clean up).
  4. Learn your wife’s “love language” it sounds dumb, but this was a pretty helpful book.
  5. Learn that when your wife comes to you with a problem she doesn’t want an immediate solution, but rather someone who’ll listen.