Facebook — useful or useless?

Is Facebook useful?

I think that depends on your point of view.  As I am typing this some friends are trying to arrange a get together for Saturday night and we are using Facebook chat to communicate with everyone.  Could we use some other mechanism?  Yes, of course, but it just so happened that everyone was on Facebook at the time so it became the easiest way to do it.  Since i don’t frequent Facebook a lot it was more of a fortuitous set of circumstances more than anything else.

Is Facebook useful for advertising? No, not at all.  A report from Veritasium on YouTube shows just how Facebook gets their money and why advertising just doesn’t pay.

So, while this information is out there and people can see it for themselves, has it stopped companies from advertising on Facebook?  No.  The companies are behind the times and are actually perpetuating the Facebook mystique.  What does this mean for you and I?  Well, as long as advertisers are willing to pay Facebook for likes then Facebook will be free for you and I.  The moment they stop paying Facebook is going to need a revenue stream and that means monthly subscriptions.

Do you want to pay a monthly subscription to Facebook?  It may be coming sooner than you think.

Perfectionist or Scared?

Divide : Scared To Death

Copyright by  Lâm HUA (Creative Commons)

So the novel for NaNoWriMo went better than expected.  Instead of fifty thousand words I ended up with ninety thousand words for November.  Once I dedicated time to the task the words came easily.  (Dedicating the time was much more difficult than the actual writing.)

But, once I was finished I was faced with a daunting reality:  I was done.  I had actually written a novel in the month of November and not a short novel, but a full sized novel that could be published.  But as I revised the novel I realized that the third person viewpoint that I had chosen just didn’t fit with my style or what I was trying to convey in the story, so I needed to rewrite it.  Yup, I had just finished a ninety thousand word novel and I needed to rewrite it.  From scratch.

I’m partway through that process, but I’ve got probably an even bigger problem that I need to try and fix:  am I a perfectionist or scared of showing the world my novel?

On one hand I know for a fact that the novel is not ready for prime time.  After rewriting the first few chapters it became quite evident that third person was just wrong and that it really needs to be changed.  But after I’m done, what next?  Editing?  Revisions?  Beta readers?  Critique groups?  An agent?  But that means other people need to read it.

And therein lies the other side of the coin: public viewing.  Am I psychologically ready to let the novel go into the wild?  Can I handle rejection / criticism?  I know that even after the big rewrite to first person that there is going to be a lot of work that still needs to be done.  I have taken a look at various editing tools like ProWritingAid and Grammarly and Hemingway and … the list goes on.  I’ve got a bunch of books that include the following:’

I’ve read what I can and I have steeled myself for the criticism … but I’m not sure that i can do it.  What if no one likes it?  What if the novel is just a waste of electrons?  Will I be able to separate me from the novel?

I have no idea and that is what scares me the most.

What about Meditation


“Calm Lake” – Copyright by Moyan Brenn

So, have you ever meditated?  I can’t say that I have been an aficionado of meditation, but I think that is primarily because I never understood what it was.  Like Andy Puddicombe, I had a stereotypical impression of meditation:  hippies, monks, and other people who are anything but “ordinary”.  Andy, who decided at the age of 20 to go become a Tibetan monk, wants us to be more mindful of the present moment.  Now.

I think the present moment is so underrated.  It sounds so ordinary and yet we spend so little time in the present moment that it is anything but ordinary.  There was a research paper that came out of Harvard, just recently, that said on average our minds are lost in thought almost 47% of the time.

I had seen his presentation before and the presentation was actually something that got me connected with http://calm.com, although it looks like Andy has got his own company now:  http://www.headspace.com.

Theses sites, and dozens, hundreds, all work on the idea the idea that in order to think “straighter”, to be more productive, to literally be a better person, you need to take some time for yourself.  You need to wholeheartedly engage in nothing.  To fully immerse yourself in thinking about zilch.  Nada.  Zip.

Now many women may think that this is easy for guys because it may seem that this is all we seem to do.  I know from personal experience that I can be “zoned out”, staring at a spot on the wall and thinking about nothing and my wife will ask me what I’m thinking about.  When I say “nothing” she gets upset because I’m not sharing with her.  I am.  I truly am, but she seems to have a difficult time believing that I can be staring straight ahead and not be thinking about anything.  I know a number of people, all males, who seem to be able to do the same thing:  stare at a point in space and think about nothing.

The idea has gained traction in recent years with the understanding that the brain, like other muscles in the body, gets tired through excessive use.  Multi-tasking takes more out of people than we’d like to believe.  Thinking about extraneous things (like thinking about extraneous things) consumes more energy.  Thinking about nothing.  Relaxing.  Calming down allows the brain to recharge, much like sleeping or a good 20 minute power nap.

So, while I don’t meditate right now, I think I’m going to take up a new hobby for the new year.  I guess I should also try not to meditate in staff meetings.  That could be embarrassing.

Alone versus loneliness

I was reading a post recently by Julia Munroe Martin entitled “The Lonely Writer”.  The author talked about how she liked writing because, as an introvert, she actually loved spending time alone.  She also went on to point out, however, that there is a difference between being “alone” and being “lonely”.  Alone is a good thing, but lonely is not.

I was thinking about this and wondering whether or not it applied to different roles within ITM and I was surprised to see that “alone” is actually more prevalent than you might think.  For instance, while you may work collaboratively with a group while a proposal is being created, one person still needs to be the primary author and that one person, for the most part, needs to do it alone.  And while extreme programming tried to get the idea of pair programming popularized, the vast majority of programming is done alone.  You may interact with other developers to ask or answer questions or even work out how to do a particular piece of work, but for the most part programming is a solitary task.

There are some roles that are more interactive with other people or roles that are solely designed for interaction.  Imagine the help desk if interacting with people was actually a secondary  concern!  For a lot of the creative tasks that need to be done in ITM there is someone doing the task … alone.

That’s a dangerous thing in some cases.  The blog article went on to talk about how the author, after the kids left and she became an “empty nester”, became lonely and needed some assistance in overcoming that loneliness.  This happened even though she had two children and a husband.  Her occupation, being a writer, was a solitary occupation and this offered an avenue for loneliness to creep in.

In ITM we have a number of positions that are relatively solitary positions and this could lead to someone not just being alone, but being lonely.  At this time of year I think we need to take that extra minute to examine those closest to us and make sure that they aren’t lonely.  Help to ensure that they know there are other people out there and that you will always be there for that cup of tea/coffee or just to lend an ear when necessary.

Who are these people?

I sometimes think of really strange things.

For instance, who is the person that determined the precise amount of paper towel to dispense when you wave your hand in front of the sensor?  I would like to meet this person and shake their hand … with my wet hand because those automated dispensers never roll out enough towel.  I don’t think of my hands as being freakishly large.  Indeed, my youngest daughter actually has longer fingers than mine, so why are my hands always wet after a single dispense.  I have to go for two or wipe my hands on my pants.  But who wants to walk around with wet pants?  It’s not like grade two all over again.  (Oh, TMI.)

And who at London Drugs decided that the “IN” doors are on the outside and the “OUT” doors should be in the centre?  They re-jiggered some London Drugs stores that I infrequently visit and this combination of doors confuses the heck out of me.  Whatever happened to going to the right hand side, for in or out?  Simple.  Consistent.  It’s how most people drive their cars.  (Except for that Red Civic that decided “middle” was better.  Oh, TMI again.)

And who thought that making fluoride treatment taste like bananas or other fruit was a good idea?  They fill this mold with fluoride goop, slap it in your mouth and say “Don’t swallow this, it’s not good for you”.  But then you realize that it tastes like strawberries and you like strawberries.  You try not to swallow but the saliva builds up in your mouth and as it swishes around you get a hint of strawberry and it makes you hungry.  Your stomach growls and tells you to swallow but the words come back to you “Don’t swallow”.  Seriously, this is waterboarding for the masses:   here, this tastes delicious, but eating it will make you sick.  (It’s like making those Tide Pods taste good.  What’s the point?)

Sometimes you really need to step back from what you are doing and ask yourself “Does this make sense?”  If the answer “yes” does not come immediately to mind then you have a more serious issue that you need to look at.  If you need to explain something that should be self explanatory (like why the damn lights have a RED led on them when they are on and a GREEN led when they are off) then perhaps you need to re-evaluate what  you are doing and why.

Changing Who You Are

I’m not a touchy-feely type of guy, just ask, well, anybody.  I’m kind of cold, self-centered and by no means a people person.  When people use the phrases “smother them with love” and “kill them with kindness”, I seem to fixate a bit on the “smothering” and “kill” parts of the phrases.

So, when I see something like “Letting Go With Love” I see “Emotionally Losing Stuff”.  It takes me a little while to understand what is going on.  And yet, that is the phrase that I saw in the book “The One Skill” by Leo Babauta.  His premise is that by letting go of different things we can immediately improve our loves.  Some of his examples include:

    • Stress: Our stress comes from wanting things to be a certain way, and then we get stressed when things inevitably don’t go that way. But if we could let go of how we wanted it to be, and accepted and appreciated reality as it is, we would let go of the stress.
    • Procrastination: We procrastinate because of a fear of failure, hard tasks, confusion, discomfort. But if we could let go of wanting things to be easy, successful, comfortable … and just accept that there is a wide range of experiences, we could just do the task.
    • Habits & distractions: By the way, most people have a hard time changing habits for this same reason — we procrastinate on the habit just like we procrastinate on work tasks. We also go to distractions all day long for the same reasons.
    • Irritation/frustration with people: We get irritated with people because they don’t behave the way we’d like. And this damages our relationships with them, because we’re angry at them. It makes us less happy. Instead, we could let go of wanting them to be a certain way, accept them as they are, and just be with them. It makes the relationship much better — I’ve seen this with my dad, my wife, my kids.

While I appreciate his attempt at helping people to “let go”, to become more accepting of different things, I personally find his approach too simplistic for most people to implement.  While his solution may work for him and many of those following his programs, the reality is that people who are seeking out his method, perhaps subconsciously, are those that are going to be his most ardent supports and advocates.

Now, this isn’t to say that I disagree with everything that he says.  I think he has a number of gems of wisdom that are applicable regardless of whether you adhere to his philosophy or not.

    • There is no absolute right — that’s just an ideal that we have. We have expectations that everyone act in the “right” way, but that’s not going to happen in reality.
    • With regard to children:  You want to control them, but they resist. It turns out, they’re their own people. They are independent, individual people, and they’ll grow into people they want to become. You have some influence on that, of course, but not control.
    • We are not permanent beings. Even the self that we think we are is constantly changing — there’s some continuity, perhaps, but not the same self. Everyone is like this.

So, I finished his book (it was rather short and writing this note actually took more time) and what I came away with was not a change in philosophy, a “eureka” moment that marked my life as being radically altered.  No, what I came across were a few “that’s cool” moments where the author said something that I connected with.  They said something that was not only meaningful to me, but something that I instinctively realized was applicable to me and my life.

Self-help books are, for me at least, much like that:  a series of “that’s cool” moments.  While I have tried to drink the kool-aid on a number of them I invariably find out that they don’t fit me.  I can take bits and pieces of them and use them in my life, but I can’t surrender myself whole heartedly to their way of thinking.  Like this author said about children “… they’ll grow into the people they want to become …” a self-help book, course or event won’t have an impact on me unless I want to surrender who I am, who I want to be, and let someone else make me in their image.

It won’t work.  I’m just too pig headed to let someone tell me who I am.


There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

I’m reading a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  The book is about fighting against that which is trying to prevent you from being creative.  While it is technically a book about writing, the philosophy behind the book is applicable to any endeavour where creativity is required.  And what is that philosophy?

What steps between a writer and his work is something Pressfield calls “Resistance”.  This resistance can be self-sabotage, self-deception, self-corruption and other “self-“ labeled word.  Resistance is within us, not external to us.  Writer’s block?  That is an internal blockage.

The cure is “Turning Pro”.  In the authors words:

To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.

In previous posts I have classified this as a craftsman, someone who not only does a good job but someone who continually strives to become better.  To become better than what they just did.  Turning pro means a commitment.  A commitment to “showing up” every day, regardless of anything else.  When I was doing NaNoWriMo I forced myself to write every morning in November.  For thirty days straight I sat down and wrote at least 1000 words.  I made a commitment to doing so and, to be honest, while there was some resistance to the writing because I had made that commitment the resistance fell away quickly.

The last part of the book talks about Inspiration.  The author uses the terms muse and angels, but those are merely expressions for forces that he calls allies in the fight against Resistance.

So, what does all this mean?  You need to break down the resistance stopping you from being creative by committing yourself to being professional and looking for those things that inspire you.

This is just as applicable in the IT field as it is in the field of writing.  Granted, in writing being creative is a necessary part of being successful, but in IT if you want to be more than just a code monkey you need to be creative.  You need to be a professional.  You need to be inspired.

Solid State Drives (SSD) vs. Hard Drives (HD) and failures

I have, over the course of 33 years in IT, come face to face with a large number of hardware failures, both at work and at home:  hard drives crashing, computers starting on fire (my daughter’s), power supplies literally melting and frying the entire mother board, fans falling off the CPUs because the glue holding them down melted away and even the more mundane things like viruses and malware.

On the weekend, however, I experienced my first Solid State Drive “incident”.  I’ve used SSDs at home for about three years, but Sunday was a new one for me.  I went out to participate in the last NaNoWriMo write-in for this year and when I came back my machine had blue screened.  I was missing a file required to boot up Windows.  Since my machine is a dual boot machine I brought up the other operating system and took a look at the SSD to see if I could find the missing file.


The file wasn’t the only thing missing.  According to the manufacturers own software, the SSD was “unallocated”.  It wasn’t even set up as a hard drive.  I had 0 bytes used out of 485GB.  Every single file on the hard drive was gone.

Being paranoid, however, the only thing that was stored on the SSD were applications and I could re-install those, so that is what I have started to do.  I don’t have a complete list of all of my applications so in some respects I am guessing as to what I had installed, but they are educated guesses.  As for data loss, the only data that I have found that was gone was actually on another drive.  Outlook was open when my machine crashed and it totally screwed up the PST where all of my mail was stored.  My 2.4GB of mail, the last 13 years worth of mail, was in that PST and it was now corrupt and only 40MB in size.

How did I know that I had at least 2.4GB of mail?  I had a backup of the PST from late August.  That, combined with what data I could recover and I am only missing email from August 22 – November 10.  Everything else that was on that drive I have copies of on other drives.  The only real pain is having to rebuild my machine again.

So, lesson learned?   Even SSD drives with their extended life spans can be wiped out in the blink of an eye.  Back up your machine and make sure that you have recent backups of everything.  If possible back up important things to a local hard drive and a remote hard drive (aka cloud).  The rule of three:  the original, the backup and the backup of the backup.

Paranoia, it’s a wonderful thing,