What I learned this week, May 10, 2013

May is National Bicycling Month, next week is Bike-to-Work week… and Friday, May 17th is National Bike to Work Day.

Local groups are sponsoring “Energizer Stations” – I’ll visit the one at Arapaho Center Station on my way in on Friday.

bike_work_banner


How Government Wrecked the Gas Can

I’m pretty alert to such problems these days. Soap doesn’t work. Toilets don’t flush. Clothes washers don’t clean. Light bulbs don’t illuminate. Refrigerators break too soon. Paint discolors. Lawnmowers have to be hacked. It’s all caused by idiotic government regulations that are wrecking our lives one consumer product at a time, all in ways we hardly notice.


Dallas-area hike-and-bike trails poised to get major financial boost

What is nice is that these are almost all “connector trails” – designed to allow bicycling trails to be used as transportation corridors, rather than something to stroll along with your kids on Sunday afternoon.

The group’s Regional Transportation Council will vote Thursday on a plan to use more than $13 million to benefit nearly a dozen biking and pedestrian projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The efforts are intended to provide transportation alternatives to motor vehicles, especially by connecting the projects to existing paths.

“They can’t be purely focused on recreation,” said Karla Weaver, a program manager at the Council of Governments. “We wanted to help to get some more concrete stuff in for active users.”


Brain, Interrupted

No surprise here, interruptions make you stupid. I find The Pomodoro Technique to be very useful to focus concentration for a short time, get important and difficult tasks completed, generate ideas, and help me ignore interruptions while still keeping up with things.

Pomodoro

An Idea Pomodoro – timer, pen, composition book.


Bike rider on the DART train.

Bike rider on the DART train.

Bicycling in the City and Living to Tell a Skittish Class

Ride with the flow of traffic, the teacher said, or be prepared to “spend the rest of your day in the hospital and the rest of your year filling out insurance paperwork.”

And always live up to these buzzwords, even when fellow travelers do not: predictable, visible, assertive, alert and courteous.

The crowd at Ciclovia Dallas on the Houston Street Viaduct with the Dallas downtown skyline

The crowd at Ciclovia Dallas on the Houston Street Viaduct with the Dallas downtown skyline


Home by Hovercraft in Deep Ellum

Home by Hovercraft in Deep Ellum

Interview with Home By Hovercraft


Hummus Is Conquering America
Tobacco Farmers Open Fields to Chickpeas; A Bumper Crop



Life in the City Is Essentially One Giant Math Problem



Bars Are the Secret to Thriving Downtowns: The Best #Cityreads of the Week

Local officials who want a more lively town center and a development team seeking to restore a landmark hotel were hoping to put a new watering hole on Main Street. Then they ran smack into New Jersey’s strict, Prohibition-era alcohol laws, which restrict the number of liquor licenses per town. Flemington had just three—two belonging to establishments in strip malls and one for a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.

Having a decent bar, it turns out, is helpful to reviving small downtowns, development experts say. So, in February, the developers came up with a novel but expensive solution, buying the Italian restaurant that owned a license and eventually transferring it to the downtown hotel. The price: about $1 million for the permit alone.

Town Centers Seek Another Shot at a Bar

The Idea Pomodoro

For a while now I have been working on using the Pomodoro Technique to improve the amount of work I can get done in a period of time, help control stress, and reduce procrastination.

The basic idea of the Pomodoro Technique is to break a workday up into set units of time using a simple kitchen timer or equivalent:

1. Choose a task to be accomplished

2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)

3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper

4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)

5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

The real benefit of the technique comes when you get in the habit of examining the Pomodoros and see what you were able to accomplish. You can set up a feedback loop where you see what you are getting done, improve your implementation of the technique, apply the improvement, and then see how it works.

I have a way to go before I am a master of the technique. The most vexing difficulty is managing interruptions. But I’ll keep experimenting and plugging away.

What I want to talk about today is the idea of a Specialty Pomodoro. This is a Pomodoro sized and timed chunk of time… 25 minutes, that are set up and used for a specific purpose, rather than simply trying to peel stuff of off the daily todo list.

There might, for example, be a Brainstorm Pomodoro, where a problem has presented itself and you sit there for one Pomodoro and pump out and write down as many possible or harebrained solutions as you can, with no self-editing until the timer has dinged. There might be a Writing Pomodoro – obviously used to pump out text. Or maybe a Plot Point Pomodoro where possible plot points are generated, or a Character Pomodoro… or a Character Name Pomodoro, or a Setting Pomodoro – the list can grow very quickly.

I have come up with a concept of what I call an Idea Pomodoro – which is where I sit down with a Staples Bagasse Composition Book, start the timer going, and simply write down what I want to do, as quickly and with as little thought as possible, until I get the ding.

The purpose of this is to clear my head. There is that feeling of too many ideas bouncing around, too many plans, too little time. This helps clear everything out so I can get back to work. Once an idea is in the book, it is safe, I won’t lose it, it won’t float off to be stolen and used by somebody else. Of course, I have always carried 3×5 cards or a notebook to record sudden ideas, and that’s a good thing (they can be transferred into the Pomodoro) but I found it wasn’t enough. Doing this for a full, intense, Pomodoro feels like a spring cleaning in my brain.

Pomodoro

An Idea Pomodoro - timer, pen, composition book.

My Pomodoro timer is a metal kitchen timer – it feels more substantial and accurate that the tomoto-shaped ones so many people use. I do recommend using the physical timer rather than a computer program – the ticking of the timer seems important and having a real object in the place of a string of bits adds a certain gravitas. The paper in the composition book is thin and you can see the ink on the back side through the paper. Sometimes I use both sides, sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t seem to be important one way or the other. That’s a Pilot Prera fountain pen in the picture.

I like to use the composition book instead of a lined form because I can keep going as long as I need, keeping the limit being time, rather than space. I do find that I can easily fill four or five pages of stuff. Also, I can keep my “book of ideas” with me – all in one place, so I can look at them later and evaluate, act, or discard as need be.

I do use a little code for a hierarchy. Big, top-level ideas are marked with a tick “-“. Smaller, sub-ideas under the big one are marked with an “o”. If I have to go to a third level, I use a hand-drawn asterisk… which doesn’t happen very often.

Later, after my five-minute break or even days later, I can look over the ideas and start building projects or to-do lists. Of course, a lot of the ideas are too ambitious, or too much work, or just plain stupid – and have to be discarded. But that’s cool; I have written it down and can come back to it in the future if the situation changes.

How often do I do an Idea Pomodoro? As often as I need to. It is a spring cleaning of my brain so I do one whenever things begin to feel cluttered. When I find myself jumping from idea to idea and having trouble settling down I know it’s time to carve out the half-hour (including the five minute break) and dump the excess brain dust bunnies out onto a piece of paper.

Does this seem anal – too much work, too much navel gazing? Much ado about nothing? It really isn’t. Once you’ve set everything up it works smoothly and without very much attention. You do get like Pavlov’s dog – the ticking of the timer becomes associated with doing the work.

Speaking of which… there’s the ding. Time for me to take a little break.

Talk to ya later.

Lana Del Rey

I have a new favorite song, Video Games by Lana Del Rey.

Good Stuff. Really good stuff. The song has a lilting laconic hook to it which, coupled with the heartfelt, provocative lyrics make it irresistable. The lush orchestral arrangement adds a bit of nostalgic contrast that is very welcome.

Love the video too. I wonder what game the exploding Eiffel Tower at the begining is from?

Another one of her songs, Kinda Outta Luck, is different, more of a pop gangster bit of fluff with fun edgy lyrics – Is it wrong wrong that I think it’s kinda fun when I hit you in the back of the head with a gun?

Love the Film Noir stuff in the video.

The only problem is I can’t figure out how to buy any of her music (either under Lana Del Rey or Lizzy Grant). She had an album out at one time, but I can’t find it. All I have so far are the youtube videos.

For now, that’ll do. I’ve been working on a time management thing called the Pomodoro Technique. I’ll write more about it some time later, but the basic premise is you use a kitchen timer to work for twenty five minutes, then take a five minute break. I keep a list of favorite youtube music videos to watch in my little mini breaks – and Video Games has moved to the top of the list.

That’s a nice break offsite when I’m writing (that’s where the Pomodoro thing is working best for me) but it doesn’t cut it at work work. The whole break thing is not something that’s easy to pull off. There’s an old Dilbert Cartoon where he is told, “Job satisfaction is the same as stealing time from the company.” You have to at least appear to be slaving away at all times or else you are not earning your wage, and in this best of all possible worlds, that is not acceptable. There are starving kids in Africa that would love to have your job.

In one of her interviews, Lizzy Grant refers to herself as a “Gangster Nancy Sinatra.” In honor of that, here’s a real Nancy Sinatra video – another one I watch sometimes during my Pomodoro breaks.

This is her first television appearance, on Jools Holland.

And another new version of Video Games

From the same venue, Blue Jeans