Letter of Recommendation: Washing Dishes – The New York Times

“…a life under constant threat of novelty isn’t a life; it’s exhaustion.

Washing dishes by hand, I give myself the chance to remember that this is wrong — that most of life is ordinary; that ordinary isn’t the enemy but instead something nourishing and unavoidable, the bedrock upon which the rest of experience ebbs and flows. Embrace this — the warm water, the pruned hands, the prismatic gleam of the bubbles and the steady passage from dish to dish to dish — and feel, however briefly, the breath of actual time, a reality that lies dormant and plausible under all the clutter we pile on top of it. A bird makes its indecipherable call to another bird, a song from a passing car warps in the Doppler effect and I’m reminded, if only for a moment, that I need a lot less than I think I do and that I don’t have to leave my kitchen to get it.”

—Mike Powell, “Letter of Recommendation: Washing Dishes.” The New York Times. June 4, 2019.

Smart Watches, Fitness Trackers & Automatic Watches: Vostok

I have never been one to wear a watch all day long. Today, it seems more of a fashion accessory since the time is always available from our phone, and our phones are always with us.

But, watches also seem to be making a comeback as a replacement for phones in the form of “smart watches”, activity trackers and the like. The problem I have with these types of electronics is their aesthetics, price and durability.

In the past, I have used Timex Ironman and Polar products for time and measuring difficult of workouts using my heart rate as an indicator. They were perfect for a run. Water resistant and ugly. They weren’t something you’d were all day long.

They also used to be a lot cheaper too. You would spend half of the current price of $50-$150 on the entry level model. But, as they move into the premium space and try to replace phones, they have climbed up to phone prices for the premium models.

And like phones and other electronics, these devices are not built to last. Either the battery is not replaceable because the expectation is you’ll update to the new model when the battery is exhausted or replacing the battery tends to compromise water resistance. There’s also the problem that many of these devices aren’t durable. It is clear that smart watches like Apple Watch, Fitbit and many of the other brands in this space aren’t going to take much punishment. Those that look like they can take punishment are an eye-sore.

At this point, I saw this review of a Seiko SKX007. Since it is an automatic watch, it is wound by simply wearing it. There is no battery. It is a diver’s watch that can go down to 200m. It’s tough, and with NATO straps, you can get rid of those metal or resin bands.

Searching eBay, I was able to find Seiko SKX007 watches for sale that were essentially new for $175. But, since I’ve never worn a watch on a regular basis before, it was a lot of money to spend on something I was not sure I’d wear.

This is when I discovered Vostok Watches. They’ve been making automatic dive watches for the Russian military since the end of World War II. Reviews called them the best dive watch for under $100. Amazon has Vostok Dive watches for $89.90. If you can live with 30m water resistance, they least expensive option I found was $49.90.

Of course, you may still prefer a Timex Ironman. But, a Vostok is worth some consideration.

After wearing a Vostok watch for a week, I have found that I am much more aware of time passing and how long it takes to do something. I also find that it cuts down a bit on phone use since you are not reaching for it to check the time. Recommended.

Peace Privilege

“She describes it as ‘peace privilege,’ approaching the world from a stability that allows for simplifications.

There’s always a lot of denial going on when trauma interrupts our safe outlook on life. We know that people in general don’t want to see horror except in comfortable contexts (like fiction) so seeing human beings systematically torturing, starving and hurting others makes us feel vulnerable, impotent or responsible. It makes us question the comfortable assumptions of our own lives and why have we grown in a safe environment (could it have been by chance?).”

—Manuel Llorens, “‘Peace privilege’ Also Means Disgust for Someone Else’s Suffering.” Caracas Chronicles. May 3, 2019.

And if it is by chance, will the dice roll differently, for me, sometime soon? Fix space and flow across time and we all live in a Caracas, It’s just not Caracas today.

Example: gun control is trying to reduce the systemic risk of individual violence while, at the same time, increasing the systemic risk of organizational and state violence. Are people in Caracas safer when all the guns are in the hands of the colectivos, police and military? What happens when the place you make your home becomes Caracas?

Change Your Perspective: Goals & Time Frames

[Roughly paraphrasing because I don’t have the book in front of me] take your ten year life plan and ask, Why can’t I do this in six months? -Peter Thiel

Tim Ferris, “Tools for Titans.” New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

The point of the exercise of imagining a time frame twenty times shorter is to see if you aren’t imposing artificial constraints on yourself. And why stop there? Also, why not go the other direction?

Imagine you had a ten year life plan and two hundred years to implement it. Or, what about a single day? Approaching a problem with incredibly short or long time frames eventually collapses into the fact that not all limits are artificially created by our sense of the possible and sometimes having more time increases our creative potential rather than just having the rate of work expand to fill the allotted time.

In the real world, there are always limits. We just rarely have an accurate sense of those limits and are really good at claiming something is impossible. The former U.S. Navy Seal David Goggins describes it as the 40% rule, i.e., when you think you have reached your physical limit, you have only tapped 40% of your physical potential. It’s seems likely true of our assessment of the possible for everything.

We live in a culture that values productivity, “Getting Things Done,” “time management” and so forth. When asked what we want, we respond like Samuel Gompers, we want, “More.” But, we rarely think about the costs in terms of time.

A Wait But Why article by Tim Urban that gives a graphic representation of a ninety year life in different units of time: years, months, and weeks gives us a useful reference point. It helps you look at what you have done, what you plan to do, and the time you have and then ask the very important question: “Are you making the most of your weeks?” Peter Drucker famously said: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Appropriately given how we just started 2019, Tim Urban invites us to narrow down our scope and look to the week rather than the six month, year or ten year plan. Adopt new week’s resolutions and choose smaller, incremental goals. Evolution requires iteration. Increase the rate of iteration, and you will often increase the rate of evolution. But, if you keep doing the same things you aren’t evolving, you’re in stasis.

So, by all means, ask yourself if the major project you plan on working on for the next ten years can be done in six months. But, also ask yourself whether, in the context of a ninety year life span, it should be done at all or whether it might be worth narrowing down your scope to a more manageable week and smaller goals. A lot can be done in a week, and we can often string weeks together to make something more interesting than a top down plan concocted years ago by our former selves.

Very Slow Movie Player (VSMP)

“VSMP is an object that contains a Raspberry Pi computer, custom software, and a reflective ePaper display (similar to a Kindle), all housed inside a 3D printed case. Every 2.5 minutes a frame from the film stored on the computer’s memory card is extracted, converted to black and white using a dithering algorithm, and then communicated to the reflective ePaper display. This adds up to playing the film at a rate of 24 frames per hour, which is in contrast to the traditional speed of 24 frames per second…VSMP also suggests a pull in a different direction towards new possibilities of ornament and decoration, towards ways to make our digital lives present in our physical world in more subtle ways.”

—Bryan Boyer. “Very Slow Movie Player.” Medium.com. December 22, 2018.

The ideas of playing with time, using natural light display technologies, and integrating both into objects and architecture are fascinating.

Pay Yourself First

“Pay yourself first” has been financial wisdom for saving money for so long it is trite and cliché. But, it’s just as true for how we spend our time. If you are trying to start a new daily or weekly habit, start the day or week off by doing it. The feeling of accomplishment of completing some small piece of whatever you’d like to get done for yourself first, creates positive energy and momentum that carries over to everything you do. 

Just like with money, keep the time investment small enough that you still have time to do everything you need to do, but keep it large and consistent enough that, over the long haul, you get significant results.