Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Temporarily giving up on Google voice

When I got my droid, I was really pumped about being able to use Google Voice exclusively. The features of Google Voice are really exciting: basically a router and firewall service for your phone with voicemail transcription, and a permanent record of all of your voicemails and SMSes. I'm sad to report, however, that I've stopped using my Google Voice number until further notice. Let me explain:

First, the experience of switching over to a new phone number was pretty painful, and painful in a way that they could easily have fixed. If they would let you do a one-time whole-phonebook text, which you can't (you can send to multiple recipients now, but limited to 5 people at a time), made it very difficult to tell everyone "this is my new number". It's not like I really want to call everyone in my phonebook or send them each individual text messages with my new number.

Second, I had a lot of trouble connecting calls the Google voice. There were a lot of times when I would try to make a call via Google voice, and it would never connect, even though my phone was reporting a data connection, then I would try to make a normal call and it would work.

Third, and most importantly, the lack of push SMS messaging rendered a much-loved communication medium useless. I simply can't wait until the next time the app polls for new messages. Often, the app would close without notifying me and I would go an entire day without getting the text messages; wondering why, I would start the app and receive 28 text messages all at once. I'm aware that there are workarounds for this involving e-mails that ARE pushed to the phone, and I can also just use Google talk, but they just don't seem very good.

I'm sure that people will tell me that Google Voice is a free service and I should be happy with it as is, but I maintain that Google will eventually be inserting ads so I think I am allowed to be picky.

Note that if they add push text messaging, I will immediately start using it again. Are you listening, Google? :)

Lo and behold! Long-scorned "absent" feature actually present!

I owned an iPhone for about three years, and I spent a lot of that three years calling conference numbers. That entire time, I was really frustrated that I didn't have a way to dial a phone number, insert a pause, and then dial a passcode. I never actually checked to see if this was possible; if it's not apparent how to do something on the iPhone, then it's not possible, because they do such a good job with the user experience. Or so I thought...

I then upgraded to a droid and experienced the same lack of function. I set out to determine whether there is an app for this sort of thing; this sort of function is an ideal candidate for a droid app, whereas an iPhone app wouldn't be able to do this because you can't control an iPhone's dialing functionality.

I was a little surprised to find that my first Googling yielded paydirt. I clicked a link, and started to read an article and it turns out that this is not an app, it's actually built into the droid's dialing application. I was a little miffed because this feature was sitting there right under my nose, just hidden in such a way that unless you knew it was there you wouldn't look for it.

Then it occurred to me that the exact same feature could be hiding in the iPhone's dialer app as well. It turns out it was. Conveniently, because of the iPhone's great user experience, and their failure here to make it obvious how to do this, I don't really feel like I need to blame myself for this oversight.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How to make yourself feel talented

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I have been reading a lot of literature recently about food, including the Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal Liberation, and it's been sort of nagging at me that I want to try to pay more attention to what I eat. It's clear that I can't be entirely connected with everything I eat and still have time for other interesting activities, nor do I want to be full-on vegetarian because I enjoy eating meat; a simple compromise seemed to be to spend some time only eating meat that I was aware was humanely (funny term - treated like a human) raised.

At the end of last year, my girlfriend and I decided to try to do this, along with some extra stuff which made the diet a little more difficult. We decided on a timespan of 2 months, where we'd heed 4 rules:
  • No meat that we don't know or approve of the source of: This means wild caught fish only, pastured pork and chicken and grass-fed beef. Shellfish are OK based on Peter Singer's point of view on animal nervous systems and capacity for suffering. I'm dubbing this "Source-Itarianism" unless someone else gives me a better name.
  • No fried foods: Basically no deep fried foods. This was inserted mainly as a challenge for me because I LOVE fried food, and will always order it when given the opportunity. Renee is also something of a french fry junkie. 1 exception - tortilla chips.
  • No soda: Standard thing for me to try to avoid. It seems I always come back to it, though
  • No Desserts: This one was for Renee. She wants Amy's Ice Cream every day, so she wanted to try to avoid it for a few months.
We also allowed for a few days when we could break the diet, namely Renee's birthday, our 3 year anniversary, and Valentine's day.
So we've been doing this for a couple of weeks - here are some tidbits:

1. One of the major benefits so far has been a huge increase in the variety of food I eat. I now have to seek out the menu items that conform to the diet, and they're always different. It's a lot of fun going to the same restaurants you always go to but getting completely different things.

2. In order to pull off a diet like this, you have to schedule in times when you can break it, and here's why. We went out to Hut's Hamburgers last night and got hamburgers and fries and cokes. It made us feel TERRIBLE - your food just isn't that heavy when you're not eating fried foods, and it's really noticeable. Walking to the car, we were like 'I'm excited to go back to the diet'. If we didn't have that break scheduled in there, we would've just craved french fries the whole time, remember how awesome they taste.

3. The net effect of the source-itarianism portion of the diet is that we only eat meat from home (we have a freezer full of grass-fed beef and hunted pork).

4. The diet would be much more difficult without this book: Super Natural Cooking. It's fantastic - it teaches you all about cooking with whole ingredients, and emphasizes feel over robotic instruction-following. There is so much good, easy-to-make vegetarian stuff in there that I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not eating as much meat.

5. Ordering dishes that don't have meat is MUCH cheaper. I'm sure this is well documented, but I concur. Meat is almost always the most expensive thing you're eating. Avoiding it means a lot of cost savings, though I'm not sure how much. At least 2 dollars per meal out, and probably closer to 5 or 6 for meals you cook at home.

6. Vegetarian cooking is EASY! It seems like meat is always the thing that takes the most time, and is at the most risk of going horribly, noticeably wrong. Vegetables are delicious at most every stage of cookedness, notably including raw. Vegetarian cooking is fast - no 3 hour braises, etc.

7. It isn't that hard to stick to. I did't find myself craving any of the food I had to avoid after about the 4th day.

Riding the Bus: The hits just keep on coming

I have a lot of flexibility with my job. I can come and go pretty much as I please. I really appreciate the flexibility but it has its drawbacks; mainly, it's very easy for me to rationalize why I need to leave at 3 and finish the day at home. While I do work when I get home, the distractions at home and task switching overhead make the whole thing really inefficient, and lead to me feeling unhappy. Also I find myself unable to clearly delineate work and the rest of my life since I always feel like I should've done more that day.

I think I've been riding the bus for almost a month now, and it took about that long for me to realize something pretty interesting. I was sitting in my office the other day at about 3 PM and got the standard 'I want to go home' feeling, so I went to start packing up my stuff. Then I realized that I didn't drive, so I'd better check to see when the next bus was going to come, which was not for another 38 minutes. 38 minutes?! I wasn't going to wait outside for 38 minutes, so I went back to my previous task and finished it, distraction averted.

Do you see what happened? It is now more difficult to act on a whim and ride home then it is to stay and do my work until I should actually leave! Some people have more self control than this, but I'm just developing it, so having a way to stack the odds in favor of me accomplishing something makes me very happy.

Another side affect: After this realization, I have been able to take advantage of this new-found inability to give in to laziness. If I'm going to stay this long, I thought, I'm going to make sure I know how productive I'm being. I started taking some extra time during the day to track my activities, and then spend the last few minutes of every day figuring out what I'm going to do the following day. This last part means that when I leave work, I am DONE until I arrive the next day, and it's guilt-free because I know how much I accomplished. There is no lingering 'but I should've...'.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Connecting the dots on the food chain

After reading Omnivore's dilemma, which is a book that anyone interested in food should read, it became a glaring moral imperative to me that I connect the dots in the chain from "animal in the field" to "thing I cook". I had never seen an animal alive that I later made a meal of, or really faced up to the fact that something with a nervous system and capacity for pain very similar to mine had to experience death for me to eat meat. I wanted to take some amount of responsibility for the animals that enable my carnivorous ways, and see what impacts it had on my attitudes and behavior.

Several of my friends have been hunting this season, and I finally found a date that I could tag along. We went out for the hunt and returned the following day having been responsible for the deaths of a 200 pound feral hog and a 100 pound wild boar. I'll spare the details, except for a few items that I think are interesting.

First, I was alone for my first shot for over an hour, during which time I was given an opportunity to through all twelve stages of the pre-first-shot moral dilemma. I considered all the ways I could lie and not kill anything - shoot at nothing and say I missed or say I never saw anything. It was a circuitous mental journey that finally brought me to the conclusion that I went there to connect the dots, so I would have to shoot if given the opportunity.

Second, when the boars finally came into view, I didn't turn into a shaky spazz that wasn't able to pull off a shot. I became intensely focused, which is quite a feat if you know me. I was so focused on a steady aim tracking to the movements of the boar that I don't even remember hearing the gun go off. This was a great surprise to me, and it gives me the impression that I have a mode of operation that's wired into my DNA that is specifically for tracking food.

Third, it wasn't nearly as awkward to "process" the animal as I thought it would be; the term "processing", for the record, is a feat in euphemistic artistry - it was nasty. I thought the act would be difficult to complete for reasons of intestinal fortitude, but I was able to get through this part with a minimum of revulsion - once the animal had died, I instinctively no longer associated it strongly with a living being.

At this point, I'd recommend the experience to anyone who realizes that they may be taking their food for granted. Now I'm going to wait a month and see if I feel like anything has changed in the way I think about meat or eating.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Riding the bus

As of IPhone v2.2, the maps app has public transit info included. I was screwing with this feature and learned that I could ride the bus to work in a little over an hour. At first glance that seemed like a long time, considering it takes me about 30 minutes to drive to work, then it occurred to me that it would be a great time to read.

Background: I go through periods where I buy large quantities of books - I just bought 15 or so books that I got as recommendations from Albert Wong (mostly business stuff), and then from reading Omnivore's Dilemma. I have been scratching my head as to how I will actually get around to reading any of these books.

So I would be chewing up an additional hour a day to get 2 new hours of reading time. This seemed like a reasonable tradeoff - it's not like I can't pack the same amount of screwing around into an hour less a day. I wanted to make sure I wasn't making some incredibly stupid financial move, though I was pretty sure I wasn't.

Simple approach: Gas costs 2 dollars a gallon, I get 32 mpg on my way to and from work, a total of 19 miles round trip (determined using a Scan Gauge) - so it costs me .59 gallons * $2/gallon = $1.18 to drive per day or 5.90/week. A bus pass costs 7 dollars a week. Is it worth 1.10 for me to have 10 hours of reading time? Resoundingly yes - I could've stopped there.

I then started thinking about total costs for driving, and I found this tool to help me (Google Transit online also provides a cost-to-drive figure for each trip)). Edmunds claims that my car costs 40 cents a mile to drive, but that seemed high - it turns out a lot of this is costs you don't incur by driving, but simply by owning the car, so I subtracted those. The final tally was 24 cents a mile for gas, maintenance and repair, which brings the number to 19.6 dollars a week to drive, versus 7 for a bus pass. Any other costs I'm missing?

Well I stop to get a breakfast taco pretty much every day, which works out to 9 dollars. Then I go out to lunch which costs me between 10 and 20. If I don't have a car, I would do none of this since I hate the cafeteria and I don't want to walk anywhere for mediocre food, so I'd eat stuff from home. This math was getting to be pretty crazy - I would be saving between 108 and 158 dollars for every week I rode the bus (note: though it would incur some additional grocery costs I consider these marginal because I waste a ton of food most weeks).

There are a few other things worth mentioning: I'd be seeing some health benefits, as I am now doing some amount of walking to and from the bus stop, as well as eating healthier since I cook good food at home. I will get to talk to a few new people every day, which I love. It's taking a car off the road which is good for the environment. All of this at the cost of 1 hour a day of time that I wasn't doing anything with anyway.

If anyone can think of a way to reward myself for riding the bus please do tell. The only thing I can think of is to save for an Amazon Kindle, but that would only take 4 weeks of bus riding!

I have been riding the bus for 30 days now. So far I have nothing but good things to say. I can't really come up with a reason to start driving to work again, except on days that I have appointments.