Is There A Tech Solution To Solving All Crime?

Imagine if a tiny device was implanted in every human at birth that reported its identity and location to a central network.  How could criminals get away with crime if we knew who was near anyone when they were assaulted, kidnapped, raped or murdered?  If you wanted to snuff out your mortal enemy you’d have to wait until many people were near your victim and then hope to prove it wasn’t you, or kill at a distance.  Such a device would aid law enforcement to solve most crimes, probably deter most criminals, and make mystery novels very hard to write.  It would also make it hard to rob banks, burglarize houses, commit arson, steal cars, etc.

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And what if everyone also had an embedded device, like a tiny third eye, that videotaped everything they did – so we’d have almost perfect evidence of people’s actions and who was doing what to them.  All crime would have to be committed by drones and robots.  Any science fiction writers reading this? Here’s a free idea for a futuristic whodunit.

I’m not sure if we’d ever accept such technology.  We abhor crime, but crave privacy.  Yet, as more people fear crime, it pushes them to embrace more technology to fight crime.  The gun has always been the great equalizer, allowing the meek to fight the mighty.  Surveillance cameras now spy on the sneaky.  Alarm systems warn us of home invasions.  We’re constantly applying technology to solving crime.  Would people vote for universal system of identity and location?  I’m sure parents would consider it essential to track their kids – probably there’s nothing more gut wrenching than missing children.  But would you give up your privacy to deter violent crime?

I’m sure we could come up with controls so adults could still sneak around on their spouses, and kids could have some freedom to do things without their parents knowing.  We could make laws so the device couldn’t be used unless their was a crime.  I think many people would love such technology, but I can’t help feeling that it would terrorize a large segment of the population.  It smacks too much of Big Brother and 666.

JWH – 9/19/14  

Raspberry Pi—Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

My friends keep asking me:  “What do you all day now that your retired?”  “Puttering around in my small world,” might be one answer, but it’s not very specific.  One thing I’m actually doing, is playing with the Raspberry Pi, a gadget designed to teach kids about technology.  In some sub-cultures of the Geek world, the Raspberry Pi is a very popular little device.  It’s one of those toys that many grown-up kids love too!  I’ve always felt guilty for giving up on math when I was young, so I’m using my Raspberry Pi in an attempt to relearn math.  Maybe even go further than I did the first time around—but that might be Pi in the sky.  I’m just starting, and won’t know for months or years.  I’m not sure if it’s even possible for an old dog like me to learn something that hard and abstract.  I piddle at it a little bit at a time, whenever I feel like it.  I hope I can push myself to learn new things, even things that were hard for me to learn when I was young.  It’s an experiment, and the Raspberry Pi is a cool tool to conduct that experiment.

The Raspberry Pi is a small, single circuit board, that is a complete computer for $39 at Amazon.  It’s used to teach programming, mathematics, automation, robotics and embedded systems.  I had three reasons for buying the Raspberry Pi.  First, I read that it came with a free version of Mathematica.  Second, I wanted to learn Python.  Third, I wanted feel the same kind of fun I had in the 1970s and 1980s, with old 8-bit computers like the Atari 400 and Commodore 64.

The Raspberry Pi has been a success at teaching kids, so what about adults?

I bought the Model B a couple months ago, before the Model B+ came out.  Be sure and get the B+ now.

The Raspberry Pi mainly appeals to Do-It-Yourselfers and Makers.  It’s not a turn-key product.  You can buy just the B+ board if you have lot of computer junk sitting around the house to make it work, and get off with just spending $39.  You’ll need a USB keyboard and mouse, and if you want Wi-Fi, a Wi-Fi adapter.  I bought my Raspberry Pi as a little kit off Amazon ($62) that included the SD card already preformatted and loaded with  NOOBS, a power supply, HDMI cable, plastic case and WiFi adaptor.  If you want to save money and have a SD (microSD for B+) card lying around, it’s possible to format one yourself with a free download.  At first, I hooked it up to the Ethernet wire, and used the two USB ports for keyboard and mouse, but later moved the whole setup to another room, so I had to add an old USB hub to the first USB connector and the Wi-Fi USB to the second.

I bought the Amazon Basics keyboard and mouse for another $15.  But I now wish I had spent $9 more for a wireless keyboard so I could skip the USB hub.  My Raspberry Pi seems to be a growing octopus of wires.  If you start with the B+ model, it has 4 USB ports, removing the need for a USB hub.   Remember, the B+ model requires a microSD card.

I should mention right up front that the Raspberry Pi is not a fast machine.  If you lack patience or do not like to tinker, then the Raspberry Pi will only confuse and annoy you.  To be honest, I bought this $39 computer to get a free copy of Mathematica.  The cheapest other way to get Mathematica is to buy the home edition, which is $300 – or the new $150 a year online version.  Mathematica recently updated their Raspberry Pi edition to v. 10, their latest.  Wolfram is being very generous.

I’m hoping that Mathematica will give me a leg up on relearning math by making math more visually fun.  Python is also used by mathematicians, scientists, statisticians and big data miners.  Even though the Raspberry Pi is promoted as an educational tool the the young, it has tools suitable for grade school through graduate school.

If you want just want to learn Python and Linux, I’d recommend putting Ubuntu on any old machine you have – it will run much fastest than a Raspberry Pi.  Buying a faster SD card could speed up your system.  Check for compatible cards here.  It’s also possible to have different versions of Linux to boot up on different SD cards, and even other OSes. Even Raspian might be upgraded to run faster.  Having the Pi is essential for the free copy of Mathematica, and a fun gadget electronic and robotic projects, but most of the programming features can be installed on your existing computer.

I hooked my Raspberry Pi to an old HDTV via the HDMI cable, although you can hook it to your existing monitor if you have an extra HDMI port and just switch sources.  And I did that to begin with, but having two keyboards and mice on the desk is a pain.  I moved my whole setup to another room and think of my Raspberry Pi as my math studying computer.  It’s also possible to have a headless system, where the Raspberry Pi runs without being connected to a monitor or keyboard/mouse, and you remote into it from your main computer.  I might ultimately do that.

I lucked out and did everything without referring to any instructions.  And I was lucky.  When you first boot up you see a text-based configuration menu which OS did you want to install.  I guessed that I wanted Raspbian – which turned out to be right, because Raspian comes with the free version Mathematica and setups to program in Python, the reason why I bought the Raspberry Pi in the first place.

Installing Raspian takes a while, but after that you’re shown another text based menu – raspi-config.  If you live in the United States use the config_keyboard option, the default is for Great Britain.  If you get funny things from your keyboard, this is the problem.  I then told it I want to boot up in the GUI and restarted.  Now my machine boots into Raspian.

Raspian

I then ran WiFi Config (wsa_gui) to configure the Wi-Fi, and put in my password.  Again I guessed and lucked out at what to do.  If you have no Linux experience, you will need to find instructions for all of these steps.  Because people set up their Raspberry Pi machines with surplus parts it doesn’t always work.  That’s why I went ahead and bought the $62 kit from Amazon – and even still I was lucky that everything I added worked well with the Pi.

Now, I must reiterate  my first impression.  The Raspberry Pi is slow.  The Midori browser works, but is very slow, especially under my Wi-Fi.  Luckily Midori was recently replaced (9/15/14) with Epiphany browser, which runs much, much faster.   Using Raspian is slow too.  Not horrible, but running GUI apps takes much patience.  So much so, I’m not sure I want to run them.  Internet speed is also improved by being wired with Ethernet.

Python runs in text mode, so speed isn’t a factor.  The Wolfram Language also runs in text mode.  Mathematical has a graphical UI which takes a very long time to load, but once you’re in the notebook it’s fast enough crunching normal math problems.  Using the system to program electronic projects won’t require speed either.  The Raspberry Pi is not a desktop replacement computer, although if you’re patient it can do most things.  If you go to Google or YouTube you’ll find a endless examples of what people do with their Raspberry Pi.  I have mine set up on a table with a bunch of math, Python and statistics books.

I might discover that I can’t break through the math-barrier and switch to learning robotics.  Or I might really get into math and decide spending $300 for a Windows copy of Mathematica, but until then using the free version is a great bargain.  I like playing with the Raspberry Pi because it reminds me of the days when I loved reading Byte, Creative Computing and Compute!.

p.s.  If you don’t want to use Mathematica, but still want to study math and Python, I also recommend Sage, a free alternative to Mathematica that runs on Linux.  And it’s possible to run Linux within Windows, or run Sage as a binary on the Mac.  That way you need to buy nothing extra, or mess with new gadgets.

JWH – 9/18/14

If We Don’t Need Newspapers, Do We Need the Network Nightly News?

To stay informed I watch NBC Nightly News, catch a documentary now and then, read several magazine articles each week, and surf the web daily.  This is fairly time consuming, but I like to keep up on what’s going down.  Some of my friends use other sources, like radio, newspapers and podcasts, which I don’t.  None of us want to be considered ignorant, ill-informed or out-of-the-loop.  With so many news sources, what’s the best method to track reality, and become well informed citizens?

nightly_news

For months I’ve been hearing reports on NBC Nightly News about the Ebola outbreak in Africa.  NBC gave me a few minutes here and there.  The other night PBS Frontline presented “Ebola Outbreak” that in 27 minutes was many times more informative than anything NBC had presented all summer.  Then I read this piece in Vanity Fair, “Hell in the Hot Zone” that  concisely summed up the history of the recent outbreak in about 15 minutes of reading.  NBC spent most of its Ebola reporting time in the last few weeks on the plight of American doctors who had been infected with Ebola, which actually told me little about Ebola and the outbreak.

In terms of massive impact on my brain, the PBS Frontline piece made the deepest emotional impression, and probably a lasting impression.  However, the Vanity Fair piece was more informative and educational.  Why were these two sources better than the NBC Nightly News?

The network  nightly news – ABC, CBS, NBC – has always been a convenient way to stay inform in thirty minutes.  If you remove the commercials, that’s really 20 minutes of content.  Most stories are just sound bites, and often viewers spend more time looking at the reporters than we do at film clips.  If you watch the film clip I linked above, and read the article link, you’ll notice no commercials or reporters.  By far, the Vanity Fair piece is the most information dense of each kind of reporting, but the documentary, with its shocking video is more impactful.  We tend to be addicted to nightly news because we love to see things happening.  The real appeal of TV news are the visuals.  These shows are good for rubbernecking at reality.  It’s fun, but is it educational?

In the course of a month I might see 300 news stories by watching the nightly news, and I might remember some of them to talk about with friends in the next twenty-four hours.  After a day I tend to forget what I’ve seen.  Generally, I only remember stuff long term when I’ve seen a longer news story, for example, like something on 60 Minutes or Frontline.  When is news empty calories, and when is news something that’s mentally nutritious and healthy?  I believe the real goal of staying informed is to become better educated about the world at large.  A diet of mesmerizing videos and sound bites might be informative but not educational.  News needs to be more than talking heads and film clips.  As an older person I’ve stuck with television news, but I think younger people have already moved on.

I’m not advocating giving up watching network news shows, or even predicting their extinction.  What I’m asking is if there’s a more efficient ways to stay informed?  I’m also asking why those ways might be more effective and educational.  One theory I have is network news stories are too short.  That we don’t get enough data about any one subject to make it memorable.  I’m wondering if we read or watch more focused and longer pieces if we’re actually learn and remember more?

I think my habit of watching television news, and a similar habit of grazing the web for news, is wasting my time.  By exploring the same news through different news sources I’m discovering a difference in how I learn and remember.

longform

Reading long essays versus short news items is showing me something important.  There is a movement called long form journalism.  Does spending twenty minutes reading one essay make you more informed than spending the same time on 10-20 smaller pieces?  I read Zite and News360 every day, and most links take me to very short news items.  Like watching the network news, I forget 99.9% of everything I read by the next day or two.  I don’t think I’ll be able to recall the exact facts from the Vanity Fair piece on Ebola, but I think I’ll know a year from now how it started, spread, and is usually contained. (It might not this time.)

There are several web sites devoted to promoting long form journalism.  These curated sites link to the best long form essays on the web and I’m wondering if they might be a replacement for the network news show.  On the other hand, there are many who attack the concept.  I think you’ll have to create your own tests to see which kind of news is the most valuable to you.  Personally, my tests favor long form.  I believe we’re addicted to short news stories because it takes less work and we’re lazy.  Read an annual volume of Best American Essays or Best American Science and Nature Writing and tell me you don’t feel more enlightened than watching a whole year of television news.

It’s interesting that long form reading seems to have coincided with the development of the tablet computer.  Fans like to create their own customize magazines with Twitter and RSS feeds.  Mobile devices allow users to read anywhere, and more comfortably, and that might explain why more people are willing to read longer essays. 

Some people will claim today’s citizens don’t have the attention span for longer articles, or that our fast pace world demands quick reading, or that the busy productive person needs to get to the facts fast.  But I’m asking:  Is quickly gobbled down data worth much?  I’m considering switching from reading Zite and News360 and just browsing several of the long form curated sites.  Will reading longer articles actually tell me about everything that was in the shorter pieces?

I wished that Google would tell us how many words are in the articles they cite in a search result.  I waste a lot of time going to articles that have little value, and all too often the pages seem full of click-bait traps.  But will I miss all the glitz, gossip and sexiness of news grazing?  Reading only long articles ignores all the filler.  Maybe filler has it’s own value, and I’ll learn that too? 

Long Form Curated Sites:

Essays about Long Form Content:

JWH – 9/12/14

What You REALLY Need To Know About Ebola

The good news first.  Even though Ebola is a highly infectious, deadly disease, one that we have no cure or vaccine, it can be controlled through containment.  In the United States we have a powerful healthcare infrastructure and the massive police, national guard and military services to deal with the social consequences of containing such a disease.  As long as the public cooperates we shouldn’t have a hot zone nightmare.  Odds are very high that any outbreaks of Ebola in America will be quickly contained.

The bad news we must understand.  In Africa where the outbreaks of Ebola are occurring they don’t have the infrastructure to contain this new plague.  Right now the difference between total chaos and containment are volunteer doctors and staff from agencies like Doctors Without Borders, and the local people who support them.  These healthcare angels are more brave than any soldiers going into combat, because Ebola kills and wounds medical volunteers at an alarming rate.  Part of the containment problem is not enough medical troops at the front, and the war is being lost.  Local governments don’t know how to deal with this problem, and their populations are panicking.

What we need to do now.   Last night’s headline news stories were the NFL scandal over domestic violence and the growing war on ISIS.  These are very important stories, but Ebola needs to gain the public’s attention if there’s any hope of containing it in Africa.  Our leaders don’t act unless they feel we’re concerned.  Ebola is going to quickly spread through other countries in Africa and then to any country that has poor healthcare, and a weak police and military.  Until a vaccine or cure is found, Ebola will spread from people panicking and not following isolation procedures.  Ebola kills so fast that it usually dies out before it can spread far.  Past outbreaks were always contained quickly.  This time is different.

Ebola is spread via physical contact.  AIDS was a slow plague because it spread by bodily fluids.  Ebola is fast because all it requires is touch.  Just think of your favorite zombie movie – how quickly could zombies take over if they only had to just touch another person?  If you’ve haven’t read The Hot Zone, you might.

This week PBS Frontline brings us to the front lines of Ebola.  Watch the full story here, but see the preview below.  It premiered last night, and will be repeated on your PBS stations this week, and Roku users can catch it on their PBS channel.

This is an extremely hard 27 minutes to watch.  There are far more reporters brave enough to go into a war zone than a hot zone, so we seldom see such reporting from the front lines.  This is what it’s like to see Ebola at ground zero.  Most people will avoid watching this kind of documentary because it’s scarier than any Hollywood horror film.  But if we want to stop Ebola and other horrible diseases from coming here, then it’s important that we care enough to fight these diseases wherever they break out and fast.  Doctors Without Borders needs to publicity campaign like the Ice Bucket Challenge that helped ALS.  Here’s just a piece of a story that will give you an idea of what these humanitarians are doing for us.

The minimum you can do to help is to learn about Ebola.  What we learn now will help us for any future plague.  We live in a world where airline travel can spread diseases around the world in a day.  Ebola is actually a pretty rare disease, and in the past has been contained quickly.  It usually breaks out near human contact with infected animals.   These have been in isolated areas, and we’ve always depended on Ebola being contained.  This time might be different.  It’s hard to say if the current outbreak come to a stop, or if this will be the time when it gets out of control.  The Washington Post ran a story yesterday that predicts 15 more nations will be infected.  The day before that, the Washington Post ran “20,000 cases or 100,000?”

If you search Google there’s plenty of news reporting to read.  And you don’t have to be a math wiz to plot the numbers from June, July and August against what we’re hearing today to see the graph is getting scary.   We shouldn’t panic, but we should study and donate money.  This is going to be a huge humanitarian crisis in many parts of the world that the develop world will avoid, but it was be horrible to watch.  And if it spreads across the world, it will come here.

Like I said, this is news we need to really know.

JWH – 9/10/14

Very Late Bloomers–Finding New Successes After Sixty

This essay is written for my friend Linda, who told me last night a previous essay of mine depressed her for a whole week, and to my friend Janis, who recently told me my I had a morbid streak.  It’s true, I find inspiration where many find depression.  I dwell on subjects, sometimes in tedious detail, that others would rather not think about at all.  For instance, aging is a fascinating topic for me, but I’m discovering it’s a downer with many of my friends, especially my lady friends.  Now I feel challenged to write something uplifting about the last third of life.

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Part of the problem I face making our years before dying appealing is our generation has always protested growing up.  As children we dragged our feet about becoming teens because we loved the wild abandon of childhood and resisted discipline and work.  We were passionate teens who rebelled against those on the other side of the generation gap, claiming never trust anyone over thirty.  Hitting thirty was particularly hard for us.  Psychologically we felt we had lost our youth.  We tried so hard to pretend otherwise.  When our forties came we refashioned thirty into something good, and pretended that forty was the new thirty.  Then in our fifties we lied to ourselves again, desperately clinging to the belief we were just as good as we were in our forties.  Then boomer marketers tried to sell our sixties as the new forties.  It’s not.

Okay, I don’t think this is working.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to be depressing Linda and Janis again.  Where’s the positive spin?  The trouble is I don’t want to be peddling snake oil words about getting old.  To be true to myself I have to be realistic.  My point in the previous paragraph is to show that we’ve always gone kicking and screening into any new phase of life.  The other day a woman of forty asked me if she could pass for twenty-eight.  I immediately said, “No way.”  I don’t think she loves my honesty either. 

See my point, how can I sell the virtue of living in our sixties when no one wants to be that old?  Even though I’m being Pollyanna here and trying to make the new sixties as exciting as the old sixties, it’s a damn hard sell.  It’s like I’m living in the Twilight Zone, and everyone is telling me this isn’t planet Earth when I know for sure it is.

Yes, I’m willing to admit that being old is bumming out many of my close friend boomers, but I’m asking what choice do we have?  Linda said to the others last night that I was being existential.  That’s true, I am.  I’m also saying, suck it up and face the challenge.  But that doesn’t sell either.  How can I make a salable feature out of wrinkles, sagging folds and titanium hips?

The trouble is we judge ourselves by our bodies, and not by our souls.  We worry about how others see us – not by how we see ourselves.

It’s not about what are bodies are like when we get old, it’s about what we do with them.  It’s about pushing our limitations and finding success.  But what is success?  We can cheat and define success as being young, but that’s like wishing for extra wishes when a genie gives you only three.  Everyone has to define their own success.  We’re all completely different.  I am reminded of Gail Sheehy’s Sex and the Seasoned Women, a book about post-menopausal life.  She interviewed countless women who said that the first half of life was about their husband and children, but they wanted the second half of life to be about themselves.  Often this meant radically reinventing themselves, and many started careers and businesses late in life and succeeded.

Getting old is a time to start over and reinvent ourselves.  In past eras people mainly died before they got old.  Now we live an extra thirty years, years that in history, were never defined with a set purpose.  We are among the first generations to give the last third of life a purpose.  Sure we all wish we were young again, but unless a rejuvenation technique is invented like in a science fiction novel, we have to remain old.  Even if you get a facelift and look younger, your not.

My positive spin that I’m trying to sell is we can find all kinds of successes if we try, even successes never imagined before.  We’ll have some very late bloomers, and maybe even some black swan new flowers.

Many successful people continue their successful lives well past sixty and on into old age.  That’s not news.  What I want to know is how many people who start on a new path after sixty find success?  Studying the 2010 census tables shows 50 million people who are older than 62, and over 82 million older than 45.  The last third of life is a new frontier, with two thirds of all people who have ever lived past sixty-five alive today.  And many of those people wanting to do more with their golden years than just sit and wait to die.  They want to reinvent themselves.  They want to do all the things they couldn’t do when they didn’t have the time. 

For most people who love their jobs, staying at work as long as they can is probably the best option.  Fulfilling work is the basis for well being.  But if you have decided to retire, or been forced to retire, then the final third of life offers the tremendous potential of time.  What can we make with all this time?  Most retirees, after a long hard working life, look forward to leisure time, hoping to have a quiet relaxing life with family and friends, pursuing their hobbies and traveling. 

But what if you wanted to be more ambitious?  What if you wanted to start a business, get a PhD, invent something new, program an app or write a novel?  What are the odds for your success?  Well, I got on Google to find out, and here’s what I learned.

Travel

Travel seems to be the dream ambition of most retired people.  I must assume most people secretly wish they had the time to roam the Earth.  Luckily, becoming a successful world traveler isn’t age dependent.  If your dream is to become a NFL quarterback after 60 the odds are zero in your favor.  That’s just how the cookie crumbles for some dreams – they are age related.  However, if you’re dream is to fly, sail, drive or even walk around the world, it’s still possible after you retire.  Recently the New York Times ran “Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road,” about seniors who have given up the comforts of a home to become international gypsies.  They report that between 1993 and 2012 the percentage of traveling retirees went from 9.7 to 13 percent, many of which finance their travels on a social security budget, with 360,000 Americans receiving their SS checks at overseas addresses.

These wandering oldsters use everything from CouchSurfing.org, VRBOAirBnB,  to HomeAway.com to find places to live.  Many Americans choose to live abroad and find support on the net like GringoTree.com for living in Ecuador.

This is a huge topic, and common one on the internet, like these at Forbes, Wall Street Journal, RetirementCafe, Huffington Post, Home Free Adventures, New York Times, and many more.  Just start looking.

Travel is an ambition common associated with older folk, so what’s a little more ambitious?

Starting a New Business

Most new businesses fail.  And it helps to start a new business that’s based on years of personal experience.  So it’s hard to judge if late blooming entrepreneurship is age related.  Starting a new business after sixty that’s totally unrelated to your life’s experience is going to be hard, but not impossible.  Most people think of retirement as leaving work, but many people want to leave a job and work for themselves as a creative endeavor.  Sometimes this endeavor is based on work experience, but other times it’s doing something completely new.

I worked with computers, but I’ve often daydreamed of having a bookstore.  I love shopping for books, and now that selling books on the internet is a big business, I realize I could make extra money by hunting down rarer books and selling them online.  ABE Books and Amazon allows anyone to start a virtual bookstore.  I think many people have similar dreams.  Other people are far more ambitious.  Maybe they’ve always loved cooking and want to open a restaurants, or they loved animals and thought running a doggy daycare would be great.  The Guardian wrote about people like this with “How to change your life at 60.”

Searching Google for late bloomer entrepreneurs often comes up with the same old suspects, like Colonel Sanders, who started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65, although he had previous business experience along those lines.  Most famous businessmen started early, but if you search hard you can find stories of smaller big successes, like Antia Crook who invented the Pouchee, and turned it into a multimillion dollar enterprise.

Yahoo’s Small Business Advisor profiled several “Older Entrepreneurs.”  Colonel Sanders again shows up.  Obviously, he’s the poster child of late blooming business starters.  I found many journalists and bloggers who have written about the idea I’m working on here, and often come up with the same people.  So I went looking for demographics.  I found “Demographic Characteristics of Business Owners.”  It doesn’t report and people starting a business after 60, but it does say that 50.9% of all small business are owned by people 50-88, with a 4.9% growth since 2007.  In other words, over half of small business owners are old, and get older.  It also implies that running a business isn’t impacted by aging.

According to Forbes, 65% of new jobs have been created by small businesses since 1995.  543,000 new businesses get started each year, and 52% of them are home based, which seems to imply that working for oneself is a popular goal.  Intuit offers “Intuit Future of Small Business Report” that does suggest that Baby Boomers will be a major factor in new small business creation in the coming decades.

Famous tech started wizards might be young Turks, but they’re not the norm.

I’m satisfied that we’re never too old to start a business.  But what about something more creative.

Writing

My dreams has always been to write a science fiction novel.  While I worked I rationalized I didn’t have the time.  That was bullshit.  Now that I have all my time free, I’ll have to face the fact this was just a pipedream, or go to work.

There are some careers that if you don’t start early, you don’t start at all.  Of course, child prodigy is the obvious one.  But being a chess champion, musical virtuoso, or math genius requires making your mark when young.  Other creative endeavors like writing and painting are often taken up by people late in life.  For example, Frank McCourt, who wrote Angela’s Ashes, didn’t start writing until 65, yet won a Pulitzer Prize.  Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first book until 65.

Yet, to be honest, coming up with hordes of examples is hard.  Most people who are successful at writing start out as natural born storytellers, yet there are enough examples that suggest that it’s never too late to start writing.

Summing Up

For this essay I’m satisfied I’ve come up with enough examples to be inspirational.  However, if you prowl the web there’s a whole world out there devoted to exciting 55 Plus living.  Millions have been doing it for decades.  The idea of retiring is just new to me and my friends, especially the ones who haven’t retired.  And it’s especially scary for those people who haven’t financially planned for retirement, or spent much time thinking about it.  On the net when I make friends with older people, most tell me they are having the time of their lives.  Maybe they are lying to me so I won’t be scared to go where they have gone, or just maybe, they are telling me the truth.

JWH – 9/7/14 – Happy Birthday Charisse 

Tips for Managing Email

Back in May I wrote “Does An Organized Desk Mean An Organized Mind?”  It summarizes the advice Jordana Jaffer gives about organized people that can be quickly summed up as:

  1. Plan the day the night before
  2. Maintain a to-do list
  3. Master email
  4. Keep desks clean
  5. Have a morning and evening routine
  6. Spend 10 minutes cleaning up at end of day
  7. Keep clean and dirty clothes organized
  8. Never leave the dishes
  9. Always eat lunch
  10. Process your mail daily

At the time I had #9 down pat.  Since then I’ve mastered #7 and #8, and mostly mastered #10.  My current goal is to become completely disciplined at #3 now that I’ve got all four of my email accounts cleaned out.  I already feel the tide is turning.  Email, and two messy desks are my Waterloo.  Because I’m a blogger and a member of three online book clubs, I process a lot of email each day.  Learning to wrestle email to the ground and pin it, has taken some time.  I feel a real sense of accomplishment to get all my accounts cleaned out, filed into folders, with an empty Inbox in each account.

email

Many people keep thinking email is going away, to be replaced by new  social media systems.  I think they’re wrong.  Email is just too basic, too obvious, too useful to ever be abandoned.  On the other hand, email can be a pain-in-the-ass-burden to manage.  Every time I help a friend I often see thousands of emails in their inbox.  Most people just won’t take the time to tame their Inbox.  This essay offers some tips I’ve learned while taming mine.

There’s two workflows with controlling email.  First, the amount of time you spend reading and writing emailing.  Second, the number of emails you process and store.  Email is about efficient communication.  Email has replaced letter writing, but most folks get more impersonal or work email than personal correspondence.  However, a lot of email is now internet friends, people we’ve never met.  Email connects us in ways we never imagined. 

Most people have work and home email accounts, so they have a lot of email to manage.  Some people even have multiple personal email accounts.  I’m retired and have four email accounts.  However, two are minimal because I want to use Google and Yahoo services and get their email accounts by default.  I use an Outlook 365 account for my main email, and an Outlook.com only for my book club activities.

Goals

  • Get less email
  • Process fewer emails
  • Send less time writing and replying to emails
  • Have an empty Inbox at the end of the day

How Often To Check Your Email?

Time management gurus recommend only checking your email once or twice a day, and then develop techniques to quickly process it.  Some jobs require constant attention to email because of workflow.  Other people socialize by email, so they check it frequently.  If you think you’re spending too much time working on email, then you need to work on streamlining your email work habits.  The key is to be your own efficiency expert and observe your habits for ways to save time.

I check my email the first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night.  Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I check it on the tablet beside my bed.  I’m in and out of my email all day long because I work at the computer.  I’m pretty compulsive.  I’m also a net citizen that likes to live in the hive.  If you’re the kind of person that’s ambitious and wants to get things accomplished, learn to have minimal contact with your email.  I dream of writing a novel – and my goal of becoming organized is to make routine time for writing.

Most people have no plan, they just look at their new messages, respond to the absolute essential and hope to get back to the rest.  They let their inbox grow and grow.  At minimum, to manage email effectively, you should keep your inbox cleaned out daily, and learn how to file email you want to save or process later in folders.  You can still horde email, and delay processing and responding, but things will be tidy.

Delete As Soon As You Can

Delete the obvious as fast as possible by reading the least possible in the preview.  Delete everything you think you’ll read later but really won’t.  That’s tricky, but you’ll learn.  Before I retired I had three folders (Do Soon, Do Work, Do Home) that I’d quickly shift emails into from the Inbox.  Now I only need Do Soon.  The goal is always keep the Inbox empty.  If you’re a manager defer emails to others.

Use a preview pane so you can see a portion of the email while looking at the Inbox listing.  This  allows you to work faster.

When deleting make sure the email doesn’t come from a list, and unsubscribe instead of always deleting.  Everything you can unsubscribe to is an endless number of deletions you don’t have to do in the future.

Make decisions now if you can, instead of putting things off later.  Reply quickly and succinctly, and then delete the message.  Or if saving is required, drag the message to an appropriate folder.  Manage your email life in subject folders.

If you have a full inbox, sort by sender.  That shows the obvious emails to delete first, and reveals the mailing lists.

Learn to use Rules so messages are automatically moved into folders and don’t burden your Inbox.  This is especially good for newsletters and mailing lists you actually love to get.  I have a folder for News and Sales.  I can ignore both if needed.

Junk Mail and Ads

All too often your email box is where solicitors now try to grab your attention.  Door-to-door sales, phone solicitation and other salesmanship avenues have dried up.  So our email boxes are the goal for junk marketing.  Even our email providers squeeze in as many ads as possible on the web page where we have our online email.  Yahoo is worse about this, Outlook.com in the middle, Gmail the most subtle, and Office365 the cleanest.

Use an email client if possible.  There used to be dozens of email clients.  With web clients getting better and better, people prefer their simplicity of web based clients, but local clients like Outlook and Thunderbird offer more features than a web client, and they don’t have ads.

Master you junk mail filter.

Newsletters and Lists

Avoid like the plague signing up for newsletters and lists.  Quite often companies and organizations automatically sign you up.  Unsubscribe if you don’t want their content.  If you join any group, or create any new business account, make sure they don’t send their newsletters by unchecking the appropriate check boxes.  Well, unless you really, really, really want them.  Because they are going to infest your inbox like crazy.

Learn to use the unsubscribe feature found on most mass emails.  Legit places always provide a way to opt-out.  You do have to worry about scams, but it’s a human decision you’ll have to make.  If you don’t trust the email, add that one to your junk mail filter.

Everyone has legitimate lists they want to belong to, but make absolutely sure they are worth the time they cause you.  My two favorite lists are The Kindle Daily Deal and The Audible Daily Deal.  I hate missing out on a bargain priced book that I really want.  I could unsubscribe and just visit the two websites daily, but that actually takes more time than getting the emails.

Generate Less Email

If you send less email you’ll get less email.  Don’t initiate emails unless you need a reply.  Don’t reply just to say thanks.  Use other forms of communicate like Twitter, Facebook, IM, texting, phone and F2F.

If you need answers consider sending questions as bullets so it’s obvious you are asking several things so people will address each point.

If you receive an email that other people are waiting for acknowledgement and answers, send the reply as soon as possible, and if you can’t reply soon, be polite and send a note saying you got the email and will reply at a set time.  File message in the To Do Soon folder, or track it with flag or status system.

Use Email Client with Calendar and Task/To-Do List

If a message is calendar related, convert the email to a calendar entry, and even add it to your Task/To-Do list.  Develop a synergy between email, calendar, tasks and contacts.

If you already live by your calendar and/or To-Do list, get the important content moved to those systems fast.  That’s why Outlook is so great.  Since Outlook works with PC/Mac/Web/iOS/Android it’s all in one location for those who have access to an Exchange server.  And Office365 or Outlook.com is very well integrated too.  Google has similar features for Gmail.

Cancel Social Media Notifications

For some reason social media sites, which are alternatives to emails, want to constantly notify you that you’ve got messages in their systems, and to come see them.  This is actually why email won’t be replaced.  It’s extremely easy to miss messages and notifications in social media sites.  And that’s why social media sites send you emails, because emails are a more dependable form of notification.

But if you’re pretty faithful about using your social media sites, or you don’t give a damn, just turn off the notifications that are sent as reminders to your email system.

Use A Second Email Service For Junk Email

Get a second email service and when you’re asked for an email address that you know means getting advertising, give out that address.  Or for anything you want to subscribe to but don’t feel you have to read.  Then when that inbox fills up, do a select all and delete without having to examine each email separately.  

Sometimes Use Your Junk Mail Filter on Friends and Family

Have a friend or relative that constantly sends you forwarded messages representing their political view or “hilarious” jokes and videos.  Tag them with the junk filter.  Of course, you have to assume they will never write you a nice email asking you out to dinner.

Encourage Friends to Use Other Methods of Communication

If you don’t like reading, especially verbose emails, encourage your friends to tweet instead so what they say stays brief, or to befriend you on Facebook.  Or tell them texting is best.  Whatever you actually prefer.

Use Your Smartphone For Clearing Emails

For many kinds of emails, using your smartphone can be a faster way to preview and delete messages.  Or if you stuck somewhere and have some minutes to kill, like being in a line or waiting room, delete messages.

JWH – 9/4/14

Wide Sargasso Sea–Sex and Madness

Jean Rhys explored the depths of the feminine mind living in a masculine dominated society.  Rhys wrote many stories and novels before becoming famous late in life with Wide Sargasso Sea, a literary prequel to  Jane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëWide Sargasso Sea (1966) can be read without any knowledge of Jane Eyre (1847), and is a completely stand-alone novel.  Jean Rhys gives a 20th century explanation to a mystery in a 19th century novel, and I can’t help believe that is to a certain degree psychologically, and maybe sexually, autobiographical.  Both Rhys and her character started out life in the West Indies and ended up living in England, both dying there.

jean rhys

Although Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea are novels, I wonder if we can read the minds of their authors in their stories.  Both books closely follow their characters, with Brontë anticipating stream-of-conscious and Rhys using multiple first person stream-of-conscious.  Even though Rhys makes Wide Sargasso Sea completely self-contained as a story, it does cleverly use Bertha Antoinetta Mason from Jane Eyre as a starting point for her story.  Both authors use their story to express views on the role of women in society, and to show how they are oppressed on many levels.  In a way, Rhys attacks Brontë for copping out, because she uses the tragedy of Bertha Antoinetta Mason/Antoinette Cosway to undermine Brontë’s happy ending.

Wide-Sargasso-Sea

A good part of Wide Sargasso Sea is it’s setting, and the history of life in the West Indies just after slavery was abolished.  First we follow Antoinette as a child so we can see her mother, a woman who has lost her husband, and must care for two children with no income.  We see her descend into insanity.  Antoinette grows up with black servants whose charity saves these poor whites, who the ex-slaves refer to as white cockroaches.  The black people of the story vary greatly in personality, ethnicity and ethicality.   The novel explores many themes, the prominent one deals with sex and madness, but it also deals with the confrontation of the races in the 1830s West Indies, and the lush tropical life there.  Nature is oppressive in both weather and the emotional moods it inspires in the people.  All the characters suffer from a languid disposition because of the atmosphere and biosphere.  In this steamy jungle locale there is a lot of sex, repression and sexual oppression going on.

I have not read Rhys other novels and stories, but from the introduction to my edition of Wide Sargasso Sea, she had lot of affairs that ended badly, and often lived at the bottom of society depended on the generosity of men that weren’t always good to her.  That’s why I felt her novel is autobiographical to a degree.  Rhys wasn’t locked in a room for years, but she did live in isolated exile for years.

I also feel Brontë used Jane Eyre to express her gender repression and desires.  In both books, women lives are contrasted with those of slaves and servants.  And I can’t wonder if Rhys felt contempt for Brontë when she gave Jane a happy ending with Edward Rochester.  Rochester is unnamed in Wide Sargasso Sea, but he’s shown with varying levels of sympathy, but ultimately he’s seen as cruel and self-serving.  He’s a tragic hero in Jane Eyre, but a tragic villain in Wide Sargasso Sea.

Another theme in Wide Sargasso Sea is Voodoo.  Christophine is an old black woman that cares for Antoinette her whole life before she goes to England.  She sides with the whites, and the blacks fear her, because they believe she has special powers.  Christophine always tells people they are foolish to think such thoughts, but we are given one powerful scene to believe otherwise.  Sex is always at the periphery of this novel, but it comes to the forefront at a hallucinatory peak in the story, where passion, madness, and maybe Voodoo all come together.

The Rochester character often tells the island people, both white and black that they don’t know how to hide their feelings, but he’s often surprised when they apparently can read his mind or predict his future.  Even the black children boldly state the fate of the white people with sharp obviousness that the Englishman finds unnerving.  At first this man is patronizing to the black people, defending them to his wife, but slowly he realizes they know more than he does, at least about their world, where he is an invader.

I wish I knew how much Rhys remembered of her island upbringing when she wrote this book.  Her first sixteen years were lived in the West Indies before she moved to England and Europe.  How much research did she do about the island life for the novel?  And most important of all, are there any novels written by people living in the islands in the 1830s?  How can we know if this 1966 novel represents a true picture of the West Indies in the 1830s?

Wide Sargasso Sea is on many Best Books lists.

 

JWH – 8/29/14

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