Friday, September 09, 2011

Combining the Powers of iPad & Blackberry

For the last couple months when time has presented itself (seriously, I had no time control or management during July), I've worked on transcribing a handwritten sermon by George Ripley. He was a Unitarian minister at the Purchase Street Church in Boston during the 1830's.

The sermon is called On Common Sense in the Affairs of Religion. The content of the sermon doesn't matter for this essay.

Rather, I want to focus on how my iPad and Blackberry have combined into a useful set of tools. The specific brand and models of the mobile devices probably don't make a huge difference. A Playbook and iPhone may work just as well.

Actually. . .an iPhone may not work as well. I use the Blackberry's Memo app to type in the transcription. Any app that accepts text, saves it and will sync it up with other devices will work fine. Software doesn't cause the issue.

The hardware might. I've encountered people with strong opinions about touch screen keyboards versus hard material keyboards. The dynamism of iPhone screens compared to static unmoving keyboards play a big part. While transcribing Ripley's sermon, I rarely look at the Blackberry keyboard. My thumbs know where to find the right keys, and the keys stay in place.

I'm guessing you can lock the orientation of the iPhone screen and keyboard to keep it from flipping all around. Maybe that's not as big of an issue as I had originally thought. My preference probably has more to do with physically pushing the Blackberry keys.

A tech nerd friend of mine once told the story of Steve Jobs's genius behind getting the iPhone and iPad to click when pushing a key on the virtual keyboard. Apparently people wanted more than just visual feedback when they pushed a key. People wanted some other sensory feedback. The sound of a click made all the difference to people in marketing survey groups.

The feeling of separate keys on the little Blackberry keyboard, however, provides me orientation while typing but not looking. Through my many years of typing and taking a class or two, I've gotten the QWERTY keyboard mapped out in mind and body.

QWERTY keyboards can vary in size. The letters on it don't change position, though. A virtual keyboard can only provide me orientation while looking at it. I don't have to move my eyes around to keep track of my hands and fingers, but I have to gaze at the keyboard while typing to map the board according to key size.

I can feel my way around the letter keys on a Blackberry, though. Put my thumbs on the home keys or even just the space bar, and I know where all the other keys are. I often type on it without looking while I walk down the street or with my hands and Blackberry in a pocket. I can handle the keyboard because I can feel it.

It's just as easy to have my eyes on a monitor with text and type the text into the Blackberry by feel. In the meanwhile, the iPad's direct and intuitive interface keeps cognitive load at a minimum.

A big screened desktop or laptop provides an easy view, as long as I don’t need to change the size of what I’m viewing or change the brightness of the screen. Things get complicated from that point on.

For screen size or degree of zoom on the computer, commands vary by program. Even then, so many ways for making the changes. We have menu tabs at the top of the screen with options under them. Going this route half the time, you then have to choose a value of zoom, usually in the form of a percent.

Or maybe you prefer the icon menu underneath the tabs. You can make your cursor into an magnifying glass then choose where to zoom in. You can click as many times as you like to reach the level of zoom you want. But if you want to zoom out, you have to change the icon then click to go in reverse.

Then we have the keyboard “shortcuts.” Anybody remember the days of DOS when we only had the keyboard as our main input device? Typing ctrl-+ and ctrl-- has its elegance and instant gratification, but the computer decides where to zoom. You get the great challenge of getting to where you want to read or look at afterward.

It’s like a game, but who wants to play a game when reading a document? Especially when the author of the document has horrible, horrible handwriting?

With the iPad, though, you just use your index finger and middle finger. Place them close together and spread them apart or vice versa, wherever you want to zoom. You can also directly manipulate the screen view without using your keyboard or mouse as an intermediary. Your fingers have become a direct input interface to the iPad.

Adjusting the brightness on the desktop or laptop monitor becomes a hassle, too. The laptop at least provides the convenience of a keyboard shortcut. With the desktop, though, you must change paradigms switching from the mouse/keyboard combo to play with some knobs on the monitor. Then for both of them, you go back and forth, tinier and tinier movements until your reach the perfect illumination.

Our operating systems have in-system options for switching brightness, too. Instead of changing paradigms on the keyboard or from two completely different types of controls, you get to jump around from program to program.

With OSes these days, it doesn’t necessarily come off as inconvenient but something new gets to pop up onto the screen. Yay. . .more clutter.

Again, the iPad provides the immediate, direct experience. Adjusting the brightness requires nothing less than pushing the button on the left side of the screen (or whichever side you prefer), swiping the bar that pops up at the bottom in the direction your right then moving a virtual knob to the left and right until you reach the desired brightness.

Maybe the iPad requires just as many steps as the desktop or laptop. But it’s all right in front of you, on one flat piece of technology that you can hold with your two hands. Every step of the way you control it with the tips of your fingers.

The iPad doesn’t leave the user at the mercy of having to interact through two or three layers of interface: hand to keyboard/mouse, keyboard/mouse to cursor, cursor to end result. The most indirect interface on the iPad is when you’re typing. Even then, it’s all on the same screen.

But putting the cursor in the middle of a word can become a hassle. Making corrections can become a problem. Without the sense of touch and consistent spacing between keys, making mistypes becomes easy.

Now I’ve gone full circle. That’s why I’ve got the Blackberry to keep notes and the laptop to write documents. Every paradigm has its strong points and weak points. The laptop/desktop makes for good content creation. The iPad alone (or any tablet?) makes for good content consumption, especially online and out of home.

The iPad/Blackberry combo makes for an awesome transcribing machine: iPad for viewing and Blackberry for transcribing. Even better: they’re both super portable.

A neat feature about this essay: I wrote the first at the beginning of August; the second part at the beginning of September. The passion and excitement for the endeavor remains, even if I never finished the transcription and moved onto a different approach for my project. The method of transcription had nothing to do with the new angle. Maybe the bad handwriting had something to do with losing my interest.

The main thing motivating the change has to do with seeing life pass me by as much as it does. That’s a whole other story, though.

Links of Note: George Ripley, Unitarian, Purchase Street Church, All Things Dork

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Benefits and Lure of Flow Experience with My Bachelors Project

Did you know that when you're engrossed in an activity that you enjoy, your brain can enter a near-meditative state, beneficial to body, mind and soul?

- Humana Financial Protection Products brochure
I got this quote from a brochure I received with the policy kit for my Critical Illness insurance policy. It hits upon how I feel about my writing and the type of experiences we should look for in life (as long the behavior, itself, isn't immoral and hurts others).

In full disclosure for those who don't know me: I am licensed as a personal lines, life, health and accident insurance agent in the State of Illinois. It's not my first choice, but I am finding myself enjoying working with people to put together a personal plan of financial protection.

These days I'm working most often with health, dental, vision, critical illness and hospital indemnity plans. I agree that these things can be so intimidating that consumers may grow frustrated, but I feel a good agent can provide access and craft a personal plan to provide great peace of mind. Don't hesitate to e-mail me if you live in Illinois and want to see what peace of
mind could be available to you.

Enough self promotion for my day job.

I've randomly encountered the concept of Flow for the last thirteen years or so. A friend wrote about it in a college paper. I've experienced it here and there. Personalities on TV, generally sports stars, have discussed it. I've tried to mine it for material to write my project.

An insurance company putting it into a brochure legitimizes Flow as something worth looking into and trying to work into life.

I've incorporated it in my life already with my research and writing activities. Throughout the years I've likened my bachelors project as an abusive relationship. The frustration becomes so exhausting sometimes that I feel like it has beat me up.

I can't quit it, though. Reaching the point when I just want to throw it down and move on with life, it sucks me back in. I can't stop thinking about it. I have had great times with it. I've learned a lot while working on it. What does it say about me if I quit it? Will any activities be just a backtrack to look at the project with a new perspective or will it be something independent that I really want to do for its own merits? And think of all the great times I've had with this bachelors project. I've come so far with it, how can I just stop here?

There is an academic paper available for purchase online called The Role of Flow Experience in Cyber-Game Addiction. I haven't read it. Nonetheless, having it come up in a Google search using "flow" and "addiction" illustrates that Flow can have some part in the addiction process.

I don't know. The jury is still out. But Sunday night, I did some intense researching that will hopefully bear some fruit. I wasn't the most pleasant person to be around, and I procrastinated on some of my duties (one which didn't need doing because of fortuitous events the next day, anyway).

I dreamt that night, though. I can't remember having any dreams in a long awhile. I made up for my Sunday night sociopathy on Monday night with the wife. I felt great at work during the day Monday when I would have rather been at home doing some more research or writing about the research I had done. I even had the ability to think about and discuss other things. I'm often obsessed about the project when not in the midst of getting my "fix."

So, who knows? Getting into the Flow greatly improves life, but it has the possibility of addiction? An insurance company, almost inherently a conservative entity, states that the Flow experience (using more words than that) has benefits.

As with all things in life, striking the balance between Flow and everyday life, even joyful parts in life, becomes a challenge. Challenge isn't bad, even when it becomes difficult. What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger, they say.

In my adult life, though, I often feel that it's those Flow experiences that make life worth living. I'll keep pursuing them for now.

Links of interest: Humana Financial Protection Products brochure, Flow, The Role of Flow Experience in Cyber-Game Addiction

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Administrative Post: E-Mail Form Seems to Work

E-mail form to the right hadn't been working for awhile. I apologize if you tried to use it and received nothing in return. It works now. Please feel free to send me an e-mail using it.

Thank you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Review of a Guide to Writing History

Thrashing about to find a workable thesis for my current paper on Brook Farm and utopianism, I found Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students by Patrick Rael, Bowdoin College. Looks like they put it in the writing guide section of their Website.

Rael has targeted this guide to students, most likely undergrads. People looking to teach themselves history writing skills or others looking for a refresher, however, will find this Webpage useful.

The guide has provided my autodidactic self a lot of good tips, most especially how to come up with questions and use them to drill down to a workable thesis and a structure for my paper. I haven't experiemented with the tips yet, but I feel more confident just reading them. I plan on developing questions after finishing my praise of the guide.

Coming up with questions and theses plays an important part in history paper writing. History essay writing has plenty of other aspects, too, that need attention. Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students introduces and covers them. They include.

  • Reading secondary and primary sources like a fierce, effective predator
  • Developing and analyzing arguments (including generating questions & theses)
  • Research techniques
  • Structuring the paper, from the thesis to conclusion to facts to rhetoric
  • Presenting and citing sources in the paper
  • Editing and revising the essay after first draft
  • Even a model to provide inspiration
The layout comes across simple and easy to use. On top find the title and author. To the left, a table of contents with links to different chapters. The main body awaits your reading eyes to the right. Each chapter only takes up a few screens; nothing to worry about.

The Guide has PDF versions available for each chapter and one for the entire work. Just save it to your hard drive or print it out. No need for Internet access!

Rael adopts a great tone. Acknowledging that students often find the discipline of history intimidating, he goes out of his way to make the reader feel comfortable.

The academy talks down to the student. Rael wants to speak with the student as a person. History becomes cold, useless and meaningless to the general student because they can't connect to it. It takes the rare student who already has the history bug to make it through a course and do something with their knowledge. Rael admits this fault with the academy.

He made this guide as a remedy. He writes in everyday language, provides examples and encourages students of history to ask questions of others and of history.

My schooling didn't discourage asking questions. It just didn't teach how to ask questions. From what I remember about writing essays, I remember learning structure for the 5-paragraph essay:
  1. Introduce thesis in first paragaph
  2. First argument supporting thesis in second paragraph with 3-4 sentences supporting argument
  3. Second argument supporting thesis in third paragraph with 3-4 sentences supporting argument
  4. Third argument supporting thesis in forth paragraph with 3-4 sentences supporting argument
  5. Tie things up in fifth paragraph with conclusion and a couple wrapping up comments
I don't remember spending much time on developing that thesis and argument. We were supposed to just come up with a thesis, arguments and all the support.

Suffice to say, I did fine with this structure on high school tests and even on short essays in college. I can't really say how I did fine, though. It just all worked out.

How much fault can students take if facts just get passively poured into them then receive skeleton instructions to use all that random information to make some kind of argument? Where does their motivation come from if they don't learn the significance of those facts and how to feel that significance? How can we expect them to just throw down historical arguments when they don't learn how to develop historical ideas, questions and arguments?

Teaching them to develop ideas can help to teach them passion for the topic.

Just from the introduction page of Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students, Rael shows his hope of transferring his love of history to his students and readers. Readers willing to take the journey will find an inspiring guide for developing questions that will make history more significant, meaningful and, dare I say it, exciting.

Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students makes for a great read. It could easily become a go to resource for any student from high school level to the decline of your mental facilities.

In fact, curriculum's should make this guide a must read. It would probably have one drawback, though: too many students will want to become historians, taking away workers from other industries. Oh well, I think our future selves will know how to handle that problem better than we do now. Let's deal with it then.

Links of interest: Brook Farm, utopianism, Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Writer with Obsessive-Compulsive Tendencies Productively Procrastinating

Lately I've found myself getting more in touch with my Type A personality by productively procrastinating to the nth power.

  • Dishes need to get done
  • Keep my organization technology all in sync
  • Keep in touch with all my social contacts
  • Scan tons of documents then shred them to make room in apartment
  • Keep dishes washed to keep counter clean
  • Put clutter away
  • Provide tabletop gaming friends with information to cut down on time at sessions rehashing what's happened before
  • Go through e-mails to keep in touch with people, delete a bunch, stay on top of stuff going on in the world
  • Cut down on tasks, programs and e-mails that demand CPU resources needed to index information and e-mails
  • Keep up with social networking streams to stay up to date with people and news in the world
  • Read free newspapers to keep with the world and help prevent world from falling into chaos
  • Write in blog to market self for when I finally have something to publish, people will want to read it and to keep self relevant
  • Put together some type of tabletop gaming organization because I can sense the need for Chicago gamers to build that kind of community (and yeah, it'd be cool for it to reach the level of receiving compensation for it. . .to be compensated for something I can get excited about is a dream of mine)
  • Stay in touch with people
  • Keep up with movies and TV
  • Keep food stocked but not overstocked
  • Laundry
  • Career development
  • Work on bachelors project (tragic that this item added during an edit instead of rough drafting)
I don't want advice. Maybe a little help with the tedious labor stuff. If anything, I'm looking for understanding or, in this case, even a "Hey, that's just Lex. He's crazy like that." Camraderie with those facing the same issues would be nice.

In long run, though, my personality just thinks "Get as much tedious short term stuff out of the way then move onto the important stuff." I read somewhere that small stuff can actually give building sense of accomplishment and feed self esteem, so the big stuff doesn't seem so intimidating.

Maybe it also creates a sense of security. Sometimes that security, however, comes at the cost of productivity. Or does that productivity go away when you're dealing with all the tedious crap that's built up into a big pile of chores? Nonetheless, I'm actually trying to pare down these lists of mine to only do things truly important to me or will cause difficulty if not done.

Do other writers and creative types deal with this type of issue? Do they get distracted by bunches of little tasks that just add to clutter of cognitive dissonance? Or do the successful ones have the ability to not care about all the clutter and just move forward with putting their creativity out there?

I'd love to hear from other independent creatives out there on this one.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey: Boredom-Inspired Ruminations on Doctor Who


With the premiere of Doctor Who Series 6 coming up in a couple weeks (whether I see the first two hours on the big screen or the 30" widescreen at home is still to be seen), I figure now makes a good time to publish these ramblings excerpted from e-mails to the wife one long day at work.


Lately so bored by stuff going on that I'm trying to reconcile something in Doctor Who that's probably irreconcilable. Basically trying to conceive of other than being "anomalies" or a "complex space-time event" how is there a causal consequence to something like the Time Lords destroying time to ascend or the TARDIS exploding at all points in time & space? And also for there to be traces of said event in memories of other people but not the Doctor (especially if the Universe gets re-booted. . .does that mean the Universe is always being re-booted?).

In the idea of a space-time continuum, doesn't something happen or not happen, but at the same time. . .that steals away human or timelord agency. But if there's that agency, do multiple universes get created infinitely?

If that's the case, wouldn't all Universes have been destroyed by the Daleks' reality bomb since, in some reality. . .they would have successfully detonated it & destroyed all universes. . .

At the same time, if universes keep splitting, then there would probably be a subset of universes that get destroyed & a subset of universes that don't get destroyed. But in that case, what is the significance of acting if it all happens, anyway, except to accept that you have to act so might as well be the one trying to actualize the best universe possible.

But what about the Master and the timelords in The End of Time? Why would there be a sense of urgency for Ten to get to that point in time? If he eventually gets there & fixes the problem, wouldn't it be fixed, no matter when the Doctor gets there?

I'm sure most of this stuff is narrative fudging, but it's the type of stuff I think about when I get bored. It would be kind of cool to have an explanation of some type of "absolute measurement" that explains these situations when the author wants the Doctor to have a sense of urgency.

I don't know if this is the nerd in me or the author, though. . .if only I had something better to occupy my time. If I were more awake and alert, though, I'd probably be more likely to not think about this type of stuff.


But of course the Doctor & then the Ood are time-sensitive aliens. The Doctor can see the past, present and future at the same time (but there's some things he can't see. . .how much spice has he eaten?). He can even feel the movement of the planet he's on.

The Doctor is so alien that there's things we can't conceive that he sees as elementary. Just look at what happened to Donna Noble when she had the ability to conceive of such things.

What a convenient out when the author wants to fudge something, eh? Cool to view as an author but friggin' frustrating as a geek!


Now I'm wondering how much of the last Doctor Who season (Series 5) was also a meta-story as a production team transition story.

The Doctor is very much a child when he first shows up on Amy's doorstep, has to grow up really fast in 20 minutes to get on his feet, madcap adventures that tease people with the fun of new Doctor and Production then bang! Reboot Universe to make Universe 2.0, Steven Moffat style with something of an appreciative retrospective in the end to show that he had it all in mind when he started or something.

And Steven is surprised that he and his production team had staying power (Doctor being Steven/production team & Amy being the audience/BBC enjoying & not yanking the show & renewing it [Amy asking the Doctor if she was surprised at her great feat of bringing him back from nothing]. . .could easily take out the miraculous return of the Doctor & have the world going back to normal).

I wonder if Mr. Moffatt had something like that in mind when putting together the season. How postmodern.


Doctor Who, Series 4 of Doctor Who, Series 6 of Doctor Who, complex space-time event, TARDIS, timelord, Daleks, reality bomb, the Master, The End of Time, Tenth Doctor, Ood, time sensitivity, spice [from Dune], Rose, Donna Noble, Series 5 of Doctor Who, Amy Pond, The Eleventh Hour, Big Bang Two, Steven Moffat, The Big Bang

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Is There Such a Thing as a Stability Economy?

It's scary how unrest like in Egypt can make the stock market prices go up. Makes you think about how our economy can benefit by unrest in the world since that creates a scarcity and drives up profit margin.

Makes sense, though, since our economy is based on Growth and Manifest Destiny. Last time I was thinking about how we need to figure out a new economy that gets rewarded by stability and peace.

At this point, the human race has access to pretty much all habitable land, which gets more & more concentrated into the less & less hands, along with bunches of other capital since there's too much labor in the world. The only way for the human race to continue on this Growth Destiny economy is to break out into space & get real space exploration going.

Otherwise we're just going to turn inward, destroy the earth and destroy civilization as we know. The human race may continue after a vast population decimation then continue on with its Growth Destiny, but it's not a fun process.

This situation always kind of makes me think of Robotech and other alien invasion stories. When aliens invade, humans shelve their hostilities to fight the greater enemy. Once aliens leave, humans fight amongst themselves again. But while the aliens attack, humans work together and the possibility of good occurs.

Stuff like that often makes me wonder if an aspect of our racial evolution is to learn how to get along. In alien invasions, we could possibly get new tech to move out into the universe, but at what cost?

As it stands now, though, we can't depend on aliens to save us. We have no signs of technology that will take us out into space to continue our Growth Destiny. Maybe the only way we can move on is to learn how to get along & figure out how to have a stability economy that we can use to focus collective human effort onto a greater mission.

Just sayin'. . ..