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The Bookshelf

Doug's bookshelf: read

AntwerpWarsaw BikiniIcelandHow the Soldier Repairs the GramophoneThe Original of LauraBrief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Time Since Reboot

  • 1177 days, 23 hours, 38 minutes, 52 seconds ago

Chained To The Desk (And Loving It)

As I have been spending more time in the office over the past week, I have had occasion to contemplate my own productivity.  I am a productivity/organizational nut.  I love figuring out ways to perform my daily tasks more efficiently.  Before the arrival of the crackberry I would carry a folded index card in my pocket as my to-do list.  Now I am all electronic, but the idea is the same.  I love getting things done (GTD). 

The thing is:  lately I have been so obsessed with streamlining my workflow and decluttering my life that I have actually become less efficient.  It’s like I spend an hour brainstorming (or mining the internet) for the best way to do something instead of, you know, actually doing it.  Sad.  One of these days I will get everything organized “just right”.  Then I will be able to get down to business.

Below, you will find two lists – my favorite internet-based time-savers and time-wasters.  Welcome to the little OCD world of a public accountant during tax season. 

Time-Savers:

1)  Remember The Milk.  It is my new index card.  You can enter tasks, organize them by date or category, set up reminder alerts, and – most importantly – sync them all to your mobile device of choice.  Extremely user-friendly, this application makes me feel more productive even if I am not accomplishing anything.  Oh – and it’s free!

2)  NetVibes / Google Reader.  I am on the fence as to which one of these rss/atom feed readers I like the best.  Right now I am using NetVibes, but I might go back to Reader – whose interface is a little bare-bones but seems to keep things more up-to-date.  With NetVibes you can add all kinds of widgets, not just feeds… but I haven’t found the need for them.  Either way, a good reader that puts all the sites I normally visit at my fingertips has become essential.  Between my news feeds and my constant NPR softly playing in the background, I can stay mostly on-task and still keep abreast of what is going on in the world (and who is writing on my facebook wall, commenting on my blog, or emailing my personal account).

3)  IRS.gov.  I am going to let you – my beautiful readers – in on a dirty little secret.  When somebody (a client, a friend, anyone) calls me and asks a tax question, I pretty much type my keywords into the Internal Revenue Service’s gnarly little search box.  It isn’t the most intuitive index, but if you click around a bit you can pretty much find the answer to any tax code question.  For a directory-type interface that ultimately leads to the same places, check out TaxTopics.

4)  Lifehacker.  The GTD oracle.  When searching for new, innovative tips on how to be more productive, this is my jumping-off point.  From here, I have discovered such gems as Zen Habits, WebWorkerDaily, and Micro Persuasion.

5)  Number five is simply closing the web browser.  If the window is open, it is way too tempting to say “I think I’ll just take a few minutes and check out site x.”  Better to just block it all out.  The best solution would be to turn the computer off altogether, but that’s a bit impractical.

Time-Wasters:

1)  StumbleUpon.  Oh, come on.  This service (especially with the Firefox add-on) was invented to get your ass fired.  Clicking the little “stumble” button will take you to a random website based on your likes and dislikes and the recommendations of other StumbleUpon users.  Addictive.

2)  Curveball!  I could play this game for hours.  Simple.  Calming.  Impossible to resist.

3)  Bundesdance!!!  Look.  I can’t explain it, okay?  I just can’t stop playing with it. 

4)  NetVibes / Google Reader.  “But, grammaticaster… you listed this as a ‘time-saver’… what gives?!!”  You see, theoretically this would be an incredible time saver.  Instead of browsing around to different web sites, I can see all updates from in one easily-navigable page.  In theory, I should have only those most essential feeds on the front page… but guess what:  in practice it has not worked out quite that way.  Instead, alongside valuable headlines from Reuters and al.com, I also see live feeds from FailBlog and Paste Magazine.  Not productive at all, really.

5)  The social internet.  TwitterFacebook.  The most recent photos at DeviantART.  Friends’ blogs (see sidebar).  Plain old e-mail (writing my buddies takes about an hour… I am a finicky self-editor).  And last-but-not-least:  THIS BLOG RIGHT HERE.  It has become an obsession, folks.  Thanks for all the encouragement.

…and Half the Crowd Goes Wild!

I was about 75% of the way through a lighthearted post about wasting time at the office.  Then I stopped to watch the President’s speech.  Now my shallow little blog entry seems extremely inadequate.  I’m busy watching the reaction and winding down towards bed (I have to be at the office at 6:45 tomorrow morning – ugh!).  If you are up for some political reading, here is some early material from tonight.  If it is insipid “my life as an accountant” stuff you are after, you will have to wait ‘til later in the week.  Apologies.

The video isn’t up yet, but if you missed the speech this is the place to watch it.

The text of the speech.

The recovery.gov transparency and accountability web site.

Which banks received TARP funds, and how much (via WSJ).

A word-cloud representation of the speech.

Wordle: The Not-SOTU

Quote of the night: “No one messes with Joe.”

Best live-tweet reaction to the GOP response – from @anamariecox: “Missed last part of the speech but based on the opening think it is safe to say Bobby Jindal did a terrible job selling me a ShamWow.”  I was going to go with a Ron Popeil quip, but that was much, much better.

More thoughts on topics political, economical and sexual (wait, what?) in the near future.  Guten nacht.

Somber Aviation News

A Break in the Clouds - over Appalachicola, FL 2005

There was an airplane accident in central Florida last night – a small Cirrus training aircraft with two aboard, a student and an instructor.  The airframe parachute was deployed and the nose was severely damaged.  There were no survivors. 

The Cirrus belonged to my flight school alma mater, Delta Connection Academy (formerly Comair Academy) in Sanford. 

The names have not been released, but given the time span between the time I was there and today, I highly doubt that the victims would have been classmates or instructors of mine.  But, nonetheless, it is a sobering reminder of how fragile life is… and how close tragedy can be. 

(It doesn’t help that my father and his instructor are leaving tomorrow morning and flying from Montgomery, Alabama to New York City.)

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/02/18/Two_killed_in_Florida_plane_crash/UPI-31271234982405/

http://deltaconnectionacademy.com/about/newsarticle.aspx?id=667

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces of the sky;
Be with them traversing the air
In darkening storms or sunshine fair.

 

Thou who dost keep with tender might
The balanced birds in all their flight,
Thou of the tempered winds, be near,
That, having Thee, they know no fear.

 

Control their minds with instinct fit
What time, adventuring, they quit
The firm security of land;
Grant steadfast eye and skillful hand.

 

Aloft in solitudes of space,
Uphold them with Thy saving grace.
O God, protect the men who fly
Through lonely ways beneath the sky.

                                       

                                ~Ma­ry C. D. Ham­il­ton, 1915

My Addictive Personality (part I)

crackberry I say “part I” because at the moment I am addicted to setting up all kinds of different apps on the new blackberry – an impulse buy from yesterday afternoon.  I am still figuring everything out, but I can already ask the crawfish2question “how did I ever function without this device?”.  Today I twittered, checked e-mail, and updated my facebook page – all while driving back to the office from lunch!  Safe?  No.  Insanely cool?  Most definitely.

My other new addiction from Sunday is crawfish.  Crawfish heads, to be specific.  I am ashamed to say I have never sucked the head of a boiled crawdad before yesterday’s meal up in Trussville.  Oh my God!  By the end of our lunch, my wife was taking all the tail meat and I was just sucking head.  Spicy!

Back to the blackberry.  I should probably dedicate a real blog entry to my various addictions.  Stay tuned for part II!

Reminiscence

fw1

 HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!

Why I Might Burn In Hell

Today – Charles Darwin’s birthday – seems like a fitting time to revisit my religious re-exploration.  I am (embarrassingly) only about halfway through Collins’ The Language of God, and so am reluctant to voice too strong an opinion one way or the other on it.  I can say that, so far, it hasn’t done much toward steering me back into the light.  The idea of “Moral Law” as proof of a divine creator is paper-thin and seems like too much wishful thinking rather than thoughtful, objective probing.  It also appears that the author has based many of his arguments on the religious writings of C. S. Lewis, whose Mere Christianity I put aside in order to read this, what I hoped would be more sound, scientific treatise.  I might should have stuck with Lewis if I was just going to get a rehashing of the same basic premises.  Still, I am only just beginning the chapter on the language of the genetic code, so it is perhaps too early to judge.  I intend to see this one to its conclusion. 

What I really wanted to address tonight is the question of why – why have I turned away?  What was the initial motivation?  I was contemplating this on the long drive to Pell City this morning, and I arrived at an answer quite readily.  What truly soured me on Christianity was the rise and subsequent popularity of Sarah Palin.  I was aware that there were fundamentalists out there who believed the Bible – the creation story in particular – to the letter… that the earth is less than 6,000 years old, that evolution is a great lie, that the Genesis story is a literal account of the origins of life.  I am not okay with people believing that, but I can certainly live and let live.  But to think that someone rose to a position of prominence while totally discounting over a hundred years of scientific observation – that someone so willfully ignorant of the world as it is could be considered by a good number of United States citizens to be qualified to stand a heartbeat away from the Presidency – that just blew my mind! 

artwork by Zina Saunders

This is not okay.  It is dangerous.  This is the rejection by a large (the number I saw tonight was 25%) number of the U.S. population of a basic scientific truth supported by tons of observable evidence because it calls their faith into question.  It is the philosophical equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing “la la la la la” at the top of your voice.  And I don’t care if ignorant hick dirt farmers in West Virginia believe in this way – that doesn’t affect me.  But how can someone be considered sober-minded enough to govern the affairs of a mere township – let alone the entire country – and yet, given the choice between a notion supported by massive amounts of hard evidence and a notion supported by nothing but their upbringing and, at best, a gut feeling, choose the unsupported and illogical idea? 

And this cancer is spreading.  Look around you in the suburbs of modest metropolitan areas and you will see gigantic mega-churches sporting ballooning congregations sprouting up at every interstate exit.  Come get yer Jaysus – cures all ills.  These are not hotbeds of progressive, inclusive Christianity either.  These are hard line, my-way-or-no-way evangelical cults that are preying on the weak minded (and, might I add, profiting greatly from their heartfelt generosity).  My faith in humanity has been greatly lessened by the percentage of voters who cast their ballots for this monumental absurdity.  I am glad she did not win, but I find it troubling that 95% of us did not react to John McCain’s running mate selection with ridicule and rejection.  Creationism does not deserve the benefit of the doubt.  It deserves to be stamped out – because it is not simply a small movement of no consequence.  Influential people believe this stuff, and many more tacitly condone it by according it a level of tolerant respect.  I cannot abide people who scoff at intelligent thought. 

If there is a God, he certainly did not create the world in six days.  He did not create man out of the dust.  He did not plop all matter down in its present form.  And while I am at it: intelligent design is not much better in my book.  It is understandable that people would want to try to reinterpret their faith based on what we have learned, but it feels to me like proponents of that idea want so badly to continue believing in a supreme being that they must shape whatever facts they know into a new, manufactured world view that incorporates those facts with ideas we have no evidence for. 

So if I am going to hell, it is at least partially Sarah Palin’s fault.  She has opened my eyes to my own blindness.  I am ashamed that I studied math and the sciences in grade school, in high school, in college… that I have two degrees from a real university… and, yet, for years I sat in the pews and listened to teachers and ministers and read books and called myself a Christian without ever seriously questioning the incompatibility of those two worlds.  I closed my eyes to the truth because blind faith was easier.  Palin’s popularity was a shock to my system.  Now that I am awake I cannot simply shut my eyes and go back to sleep.  And I don’t even want to pretend to.

Anyway, I hope this does not trouble or anger anyone.  I am still searching for the ultimate truth.  I want to know the world as it actually is.  I want to know what is real and what is a lie.  If darkness lies at the end of every road, then I want to know and accept that.  Delusion, even a blissful one, is not a preferable option.

The artwork, by the way, is by Zina Saunders… and I highly encourage you to check out her site.  Amusing stuff – and very well done.