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Fixing Broken Windows

The "broken windows" theory comes from a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article on strategies to reduce vandalism.

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

My theme for January (and possibly February as well) is to fix broken windows (or as GTD puts it, open loops). That is, to clean up all the half-finished miscellanea in my life. This ranges across everything from finishing books I've started to cleaning out that last box from my move six months ago to ongoing things such as not letting dishes, garbage, and laundry pile up for too long. Having broken windows not only draws energy, but also subconsciously let's you know that it's okay to not finish what you've started. Starting with a clean slate is a necessary condition for success in any new endeavors. In addition, the tiny successes brought by fixing broken windows create a positive feedback loop and it helps you complete even larger projects.

For the transition period, I think it's probably a better idea to save New Years' Resolutions until March. Take the first couple of months of the year to patch up anything left outstanding from the previous year(s) and start fresh, even if you are a few months late. I'd love to hear what other people think about this approach, so if you've had experience doing something like this, drop me a line in the comments or via email.

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Producing/Participating More and Consuming Less

43Folders had a post about re-evaluating one's online commitments, something I've been trying to work on for a few months now, ever since the Media Fast Experiment I did back in September.

Google Reader is perhaps my most time consuming "commitment" and so it's the one I'm scrutinizing the most. Since starting over yesterday, I've read close to 300 items, have 60 unread, of which I'll read 20 or so. Over 10% of the content that comes passes through my brain is content I don't want. I've become especially adverse to the big group blogs that put out 10+ posts a day of things I'm only tangentially interested in. I'd much rather follow 5x more personal blogs and have more varied and more authentic posts, even at the same volume.

I also want to eliminate Digg from my life. Most of the stories I read on Digg are mildly entertaining but ultimately mindless. The community is fairly bottom-of-the-barrel in terms of intelligent conversation and the comment system itself doesn't help any even there was good conversation.

On the flip side, I'd like to spend more time on Flickr. My Flickr usage pattern has me posting a ton of photos over a concentrated period of time. Part of the reason is that most of my photography has been from vacations and I'm too OCD to leave gaps or upload them out of order. Now that that's slowed down a bit (I have <100 photos from South Africa left to post), I can go through my backlog of random shots and start uploading those in less quantity but far more often. Hopefully with more frequent posting I'll be more likely to participate in the great community that exists on Flickr.

As I said yesterday, I'd also like to spend more time blogging. With this post, I'm 2 for 2 which puts me on pace for 366 this year :-) Along with more blogging, comes more participation. I hope to do a bit more connecting with my audience via posts and connecting with other bloggers via comments and link love. The same goes for Twitter. I don't want just more tweets, I also want more conversation.

To reiterate what I mentioned yesterday, it's all about producing (and participating) more and consuming less. Just a warning: posts here might be a bit repetitive over the next week while I force this stuff to stick.

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First Post

I found myself starting a lot of blog posts with "It's been X days since my last post…" followed by some excuse as to why I hadn't posted anything in a while. It's really a shame how little I blog considering how much time I spend on the computer, so in 2008 my goal is to produce more and consume less. I've written around 330 posts in the 3 years I've been blogging, which is about 100 posts a year (though only 70 in 2007). My very lofty blogging goal for 2008 is to double the number of posts here by posting something at least once a day. Here's #1 of 365.

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Eulogy for CompUSA

Word came last Friday that all CompUSA stores will be closing. While some have some horror stories about their experiences at CompUSA, I've never had any bad experiences. Looking back, however, CompUSA was the place where I had my first experiences with Macs.

The only place to really play with Macs back in 2001 was at CompUSA. At the time, there were few Apple Stores and the only one in South Florida was at The Falls, about an hour drive from me. So CompUSA was the first place I laid hands on an iMac, the G4 Cube, and others. It was the first time I played with OS X - I was amazed with it even though it was in it's terrible Public Beta/10.0 stage. I bought my first Mac at CompUSA - a 700 MHz G3 iBook, and my first iPod - an open-box 1st Generation 10gb iPod. Since then, Apple Stores have sprung up and I've only made smaller purchases at CompUSA, a memory card here, a hard drive there. I have memories dating back even further - I remember buying a 4mb stick of RAM and a 14.4 modem for our 386.

Despite being one of the recent contributors to CompUSA's demise, it will still be sad to see it go. I have a MicroCenter fairly close by, but Best Buy and Circuit City don't have anything on our dear old CompUSA.

Goodbye.

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More on The Media Fast Experiment

Today should be day 5 of my media fast experiment, but as I predicted/promised in my previous post, I would sneak a peek on Sunday. And so I did. In about an hour and half yesterday, I made it through 182 posts in Google Reader, less than half of the ~400 a day I was averaging prior to the experiment. Still, despite only lasting three days into the experiment, I've come away with some valuable insight.

First, and perhaps most importantly, bumming around the internet is no longer my go-to action when I've found myself with nothing to do. Even yesterday, when I spent time in Google Reader, I also found time to catch up on some posts for my other blog and even process and upload some photos to Flickr from my trip to Puerto Rico last March.

Google Reader's expanded view, which shows full posts in a river of news format, is a great way to sift through a bunch of garbage while finding the few gems you really enjoy. In an effort to be more selective, I've switched to list view, which shows me headlines for about 25 posts in a way similar to Gmail. Picking and choosing is much easier when you've expanded the number of headlines visible on screen 15-25 times.

The only thing I wish I could do was mark items as read without giving them credit for being read. There's a bunch of stuff in there that I will probably never read, and it looks like it'll build up unless I do choose to mark it as read. A minor complaint, but on the bright side it should make unsubscribing from low signal-to-noise ratio feeds much, much easier (Engadget and the rest of the Weblogs, Inc sites, I'm looking at you).

In response to William's comment, I do think he's right to a degree. If your job is news-driven (you work on Wall Street, in PR, in journalism, etc), then you do have to keep up with the news. Even still, not every news item you come across is 100% relevant and the experiment helps to make that clear. And for those of us whose jobs aren't exactly news driven, much of it isn't relevant - we simply consume it for enjoyment. For most, consumption is way out of balance with production. As with any habit-altering experience, we must often go too far in one direction in order to ultimately end up in the middle.

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The 4-Hour Work Week Media Fast Experiment

I recently began listening to Timothy Ferriss' 4-Hour Work Week. The book proposes many interesting ideas, but by far the most immediately applicable are his productivity tips. The one I want to highlight in this post is the media fast experiment, which forces participants to avoid all news for a week. Instead of being the one to relay news to others, be the one asking others what's in the news.

I'm on my third day of the experiment. I've avoided visiting Digg and reading feeds on Google Reader. In an effort to be completely honest, I will admit that I did hit Techmeme yesterday and CNN today for about 5 minutes. I felt guilty both times and that feeling a good sign.

The effects have been moderate, but promising and encouraging. I've been getting more done at work and completing more personal to-do items out of work. Wasting time online is a slave to Parkinson's law (which Ferriss mentions in his book), which basically states that a task will grow to fill the time allotted to it. This is especially true for my RSS subscriptions, which are literally never-ending. Since I wouldn't allot a set time limit to my time-wasting (by definition), my time-wasting would grow to fill time until I got bored or tired.

Depending on how comfortable I feel with being able to control myself, I might allocate (by alarm) an hour or so sometime this weekend to go through Google Reader. Even though the experiment calls for a complete fast, an hour a week is a huge improvement over the multiple hours a day and I should be happy that I haven't gone mad yet with all this newly-recovered spare time.

And I just came across this blog post with a great summary of the book. Check out the productivity tips under Step II: E is for Elimination.

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Quick Update

I've been back in Philly since last Wednesday, but Verizon won't activate my DSL until this Wednesday, so I've had very limited internet access. Work starts tomorrow, but once things get settled, I'll be posting more frequently. With WWDC starting tomorrow, I'm sure there will be plenty to talk about too.

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Commencement 1

It's been a little under a month since my last blog post. I've been busy this past month, mainly taking care of the transition between college and the real world. Instead of blogging I spent most of my time being anxious/preparing for graduation and securing a new place to live. I graduated on May 13th/14th and since then I've been finding a new place to live. I picked up the keys to my new place last Thursday and today I bought some furniture from a former California gubernatorial candidate.

In the past month, I've split my time online mostly between Craig's List and Desktop Tower Defense. Much like I used to wonder how college kids lived without Facebook, I wonder how the world survived without Craig's List. I think I will eventually do a couple of blog posts about my apartment hunting experience and the college-real world transition in general.

The small time I had between graduation-related activities, I worked on a redesign of this site. A stupid oversight on my part (I hadn't installed the widgets plugin) kept me from launching it earlier. I tried to keep it as simple as possible, but I realized that there's I know very little about the science of design (if that makes any sense). I've always been interested in user experience/user interaction, so if anyone can point me to good resources on the subject, it would be greatly appreciated.

Now that I've got this "I'm back" post out of the way, I'll go back to posting some real content (the 22 tabs I've got open in Firefox will certainly help).

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Twittering

I am on Twitter, but I don't know why. At least for me, Facebook status updates are much more convenient and more readily accessible to anyone that would care to know what I'm doing, if not equally useless.

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2007

I'm back and settled in for my last semester of school. Needing only two credits to graduate, I am only taking two classes, which means I have class only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I realize many people would kill to have this much free time, so I'm forcing myself to take advantage of it.

My first project for this semester will be sorting through, processing and uploading the 1500+ photos I took on our 10 day trip to Spain over the holidays. It was an action-packed trip, and we were exhausted most of the time, but we saw a ton of stuff, had a wonderful time and met some great people! Definitely something I won't forget for a long, long time.

Being free five days a week means I'll have little excuse to not blog. FWIW, here are my blog stats for 2006 and 2005 (thanks to Alex King for the SQL queries).

					2006		2005
					====		====
	Number of posts: 	 	 162 		 100
	Posts per day:			 .44		 .27
	Days between posts:		2.25		3.65

	Average post length: 		1428 		1362
	Total length of all posts:   231,413  	     136,295

I almost doubled my frequency on 2006 and I think I can definitely double it in 2007.

More goals/projects as they come up. Talk to you soon!

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