The Basics of Good Self-Care

according to Dr. Richard O’Connor

  • Exercise moderately but regularly
  • Eat healthy but delicious meals
  • Regularize your sleep cycle
  • Practice good personal hygiene
  • Get help for painful conditions
  • Don’t drink to excess or abuse drugs
  • Spend some time every day in play
  • Develop recreational outlets that encourage creativity
  • Avoid unstructured time
  • Make commitments
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Limit exposure to mass media
  • Distance yourself from destructive situations or people
  • Cultivate your sense of humor
  • Allow yourself to feel pride in your accomplishments
  • Listen to compliments and expressions of affection
  • Avoid depressed self-absorption
  • Build and use a support system
  • Pay more attention to small pleasures and sensations
  • Challenge yourself

Oh, Facebook…

Here are some Facebook highlights form the last year:

How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions – New York Times

This was the big one. Facebook provided user data to consulting firm Cambridge Analytica (reportedly posing as a research institution), which used to data to help Trump get elected.

As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants – New York Times

Facebook made secret deals to provide user data (including private messages) to companies like Yahoo, Netflix, Spotify, and Microsoft. So much for users controlling their own data.

Judge unseals trove of internal Facebook documents following our legal action – Reveal

Facebook has been profiting off children who accidentally spend money (sometimes thousands of dollars) on online games. Internal communications showed that Facebook employees were aware that in-game currency was confusing for children and that the company often refused to issue refunds.

Facebook employees busted leaving 5-star reviews for Portal on Amazon – The Verge

Facebook employees were caught leaving fraudulent reviews for Facebook’s new home smart display. Facebook denied that it encouraged this.

Facebook Moves to Block Ad Transparency Tools — Including Ours – ProPublica

Facebook has started blocking journalists and researchers from collecting data used to show users how their data is used and how they are being targeted by ads (both commercial and ideological).

Facebook Identifies Russia-Linked Misinformation Campaign – New York Times

Yes, Facebook is still, in 2019, serving as a platform for Russian campaigns aimed and destabilizing the United States.

The kids are what put me over the edge. The fact that Facebook has been knowingly allowing children to rack up charges on their parents’ credit cards and refusing to refund the money made something finally click in my brain and I no longer have an account on their site (if I can hold out through the 30-day waiting period, that is).

A contemporary definition of “internet”

I want to start of by saying that, really, I don’t care whether we capitalize the word “Internet” or not. I’ve read some good arguments for both, but the fact that so many people rejoiced at the announcement probably means that we need to just embrace the lower-case ‘i’. I think the reasoning that people give for not wanting to capitalize Internet such as, not capitalizing Electric Light, betrays a technical misunderstanding of what the Internet is and how it works, but let’s be honest, pedantically insisting that everyone use a capital ‘I’ is not going to increase understanding.

The global Internet that we all use is a specific instance of an internet, but most people just hear gibberish when you tell them that and repeating gibberish generally doesn’t help anyone.

So how are most people using the word “internet” today? Real researchers could probably do a good job of quantifying this, but I only have my friends and a search engine, so I’ll speak from my experience.

The friends I’ve talked to view the Internet as a utility. It’s a generic service like water or electricity. In this line of thought, “internet” is not “The Internet,” but rather “connectivity to the internet.” This is what people mean when they say “I get my internet from Comcast” or “I can’t work at that coffee shop because their internet sucks.” This is what I’ll call the “service definition” of internet. It refers to network connectivity at layers 1-7 and usually to the big-I Internet.

Now someone might also say, “the internet sucks,” and be referring to the content on the Internet. “Not enough cat videos, too many think pieces!” “Internet” here, refers to any content or service that can be accessed through a network. Following the service definition of internet, “internet” is any content that can be accessed via an internet connection. This is what I’ll call the “content definition” of internet.

Closely related to the content definition is the “community definition” of internet. Here, “internet” refers to the people on the internet producing the content. This usage shouldn’t be too unfamiliar, just think about how we use the term “media” to refer to the physical media (papers, magazines, television) as well as the people who produce that content.

So I’ve laid out definitions of internet as a service, as content, and as a community. I think these definitions probably capture the ways most people talk about the internet today. Nowhere in these definitions is a distinction between networks, interconnections of networks, or the global system of interconnected networks (aka, the Internet). These are more cultural definitions than technical ones and I think we, as the tech community, should let the broader culture have this one. They, actually, we all need a way to talk about the internet as deeply-integrated part of our lives and culture and I think the service, content, and community definitions meet that need. Are they technically accurate? No. Do they rely on some ambiguity and synecdoche? Yeah, but many concepts do.

Interestingly enough, while the service definition of internet seems like clear lower-case material, the content and community definitions really seems like a proper-noun that should be capitalized. “We need to pay Comcast for internet so we can get on the Internet” is a sentence that would probably make sense to most people (though I imagine you would actually say “we need internet” or “we need to get on the Internet” interchangeably). It seems reasonable to me to refer to the service as internet and the global network as in the same way that we refer to soil as earth and the whole planet at Earth. But hey, I’m not going to pick a fight about that one. Let the cultural usage win on this front.

Aside from the loose way that people generally use “internet,” the big-I Internet strikes many people as dated. Multiple friends expressed to me that capital-I Internet feels like something out of 1996 when AOL was distributing CDs and magazines were writing headlines like, “What is this new technology called Internet?” and “Does your company need to be on the World Wide Web?” One friend said that “Internet” feels like a specific product name in the way that Dell and Windows are capitalized, branded versions of a lower-case computers and operating systems. Want to get online? You need a computer, software, internet, and a web browser; not a Macintosh, OS X, The Internet, and Google Chrome.

Again, I don’t strictly feel that way, but I’m a network engineer, so my feelings about networking terms aren’t representative of the broader population. For most people, internet is a service, a bunch of content, and a community of people and the capitalization of Internet just seems confusing and unnecessary.

For the technical community, there’s an internal conversation we need to have about the distinction between “internet: two or more interconnected networks” and “Internet: the global system of interconnected IP networks?” Personally, I think we should retire the small-i definition of internet. When was the last time you saw that term used outside of the first chapter of a technical networking book? More on this in another post.

Note: Hat tip to @wordsmith and @perardi for helping me think through this.

My 2015 Reading List

A quick and dirty mini-review of all the books I finished in 2015:

Screenshot 2016-01-01 15.25.10

The Power of Habit
Psychology books written for laymen can be tricky to find since a lot of them tend to be of the self-help variety. The Power of Habit, though, is more about real examples and practical applications of our psychological understanding of habitual behavior. It’s not meant to help you develop good habits and eliminate the undesirable ones (though an application of the principles in this book could help you do that). Mostly, it’s an interesting and well-laid-out guide to how habit works. Anything that can give you new tools to interpret behavior – your own and others’ – is worthwhile in my book. Plus, it might help you get close to the truth that we are not not as in-control and rational as we would like to think.

We Should All Be Feminists
A very personal tale in support of feminism with the added bonus of coming from outside the world of white America. It’s an easy and worthwhile read. You should also check out her TED Talk.

The Handmaid’s Tale
Atwood creates a chilling and disturbing world. It’s a page-turner with beautiful prose and I consider it a must-read. They should be assigning this book in High School english classes.

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire)
After slogging my way through A Feast For Crows, this was much easier to read. If you’ve gotten this far in the series, you already know whether you want to read this.

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
Another good read for those interested in the inner-workings of the brain. This was a longer book, but very enjoyable and the individual sections stand up pretty well on their own. One of the most important principles laid out in this book is to off-load as many mental tasks as you can using other people or the outside world. You’ll free up lots of mental energy if you don’t have to rely on your brain to remember everything or constantly make decisions.

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader
There have been numerous books, movies, and articles created about Steve Jobs and Apple since Jobs’ death in 2011. Many of them suck, but this one doesn’t. Several people who were close to Jobs participated in the creation of this book while they heavily criticized the official Walter Issacson biography. In fact, many have said that Jobs’ choice of biographers was his last big mistake. However you feel about him, Jobs was a fascinating person and this is the first book I’d recommend reading about him.

The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition
I dragged my heels and read this book over the course of 3 years (not because it’s difficult to read, I just get distracted). In the meantime, they released a revised and expanded edition which I intend to read. Even the older edition makes some surprisingly accurate predictions about the technology we use today. It’s an amazing look into the world of designed object – not from the point of designers who might argue over font or color choices, but from the perspective of people who just use stuff. If you’ve ever been frustrated by how difficult it is to set the refrigerator temperature correctly or you keep pushing on doors when you need to pull, it’s not your fault and this book explains why. I highly recommend this book even if, and maybe especially if, you are not interested in design.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
Some have criticized the appropriateness of the author’s methods, but this book does what it set out to do: expose the middle and upper classes to the lives of people who struggle to get by in the US. This is one of those world-expanding and potentially heart-wrenching books that will change the way you look at things if you’ve never been in the position of trying to support yourself as an adult on minimum wage.

Jurassic Park: A Novel
Holy crap does Michael Crichton not like scientists. This is a darker, more in-depth look into the mind and philosophy behind the story that became Jurassic Park the movie. And just like the movie, this is a story of scientists getting blamed for really, really terrible engineering. It’s a fun and easy read as long as you don’t spend too much time raging at Crichton for his absurdly cynical treatment of science.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition
I actually listened to the audiobook for this one which I really enjoyed. The narrator was very good and I think I would have taken a much longer time if I had tried to absorb all this information in text form. This was another really fascinating book that might pull the rug out of your feeling of stability and security in the modern-day first world. Even with our technology, economy, and government being what it is, there are a few critical things we have to get right in order keep a society going. And surprise, we’re not doing a very good job of it. Read this and you might end up feeling like our world is being held together with gum and duct tape.

OSPF and IS-IS: Choosing an IGP for Large-Scale Networks: Choosing an IGP for Large-Scale Networks
This is a really great look at what are probably your two best choices for implementing an IGP. I probably wouldn’t recommend this unless you have a few years of networking under your belt, but it does a great job of explaining both protocols in detail – functional, philosophical, and historical.

This was quite the IPv6 crash course. Read Planning for IPv6 if you want a shorter introduction to why you should implement IPv6 and how to get the ball rolling. It’s essentially “How to convince the managers, the engineers, and yourself to use IPv6.” IPv6 Address Planning also has some tools for convincing others to use v6, but it goes a lot further into the actual transition into v6 from designing a plan for your address space, to requesting an allocation from ARIN, to deciding which parts of your network to upgrade or transition first.

DNS and BIND on IPv6 is a stop-gap companion to Cricket Liu’s DNS and BIND until he gets around to writing the 6th edition. If you’re already familiar with DNS and BIND and just need to supplement with some IPv6 knowledge or are currently working through Liu’s 5th edition, pick this up, otherwise, it doesn’t stand well on its own.

There were MANY other networking books I dug into this year, but didn’t include because I didn’t read them all the way through (and probably won’t ever).

The Martian
I suppose this book isn’t really for everyone, but The Martian is one of the most fun books I’ve ever read. If you didn’t get caught up in the hype from the Matt Daemon movie, this xkcd comic is probably the easiest test for whether or not you’ll enjoy this book. If you saw the movie, go back and read the book. It’s like the movie, but with more cool engineering, more jokes, more swearing, and a slightly different ending.

The Luminaries
I picked this up on recommendation from an Internet friend. It’s an interesting puzzle set in gold-rush-era New Zealand. I loved reading the different internal musings of all the characters and by the end, I was speed-reading because I didn’t want to wait to see the mystery solved. There’s also an astrological aspect woven throughout the whole book. I’m sure I only understood half of the book because I know next to nothing about astrology (except that it’s hokum), but I still enjoyed the book.

The Maze Runner (Book 1)
I’ll say that I can see the appeal this book has to young boys, but man, I did not enjoy it. It seems like most of the exposition is either the main character’s internal struggle and failure to not repeatedly put his foot in his mouth or an attempt to build suspense and mystery for the reader by having the characters refuse to tell each other a god damned thing about what’s happening.

Fix: AirPlay content stops when your iPhone 6s screen locks

I’ve been having various AirPlay issues for the last year, but one of the most annoying has been audio AirPlay streams stopping whenever my iPhone screen locked. I’d have to wake the screen and re-start the audio every time I unlocked and then locked my screen. It made using my phone while streaming audio a huge pain.

Turns out, this behavior was being caused by the iPhone’s very cool live lock screen feature. I imagine this is related to the fact that background audio will pause whenever you bring up another app capable of playing audio (which a live photo is). Setting a static lock screen made this behavior go away.

The Cost of Continuously Checking Email

Ron Friedman for the Harvard Business Review:

“Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves . . . regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.

Multitasking, as many studies have shown, is a myth. A more accurate account of what happens when we tell ourselves we’re multitasking is that we’re rapidly switching between activities, degrading our clarity and depleting our mental energy.”

Same goes for anything that might grab your attention at random intervals throughout the day.

Lots of things deplete our cognitive resources: task switching, decision making, using will power… and generally, everything you do on your phone or computer that isn’t real work uses these resources.

When you glance at a social network, for example, you’re not only task-switching and losing your focus, you’re also making tons of little decisions about each thing you read (“How do I feel about this? Should I respond? Should I keep reading? Save it for later?”) and potentially using will power (“This thing makes me angry, but I won’t respond even though I want to. This thing interests me, but I shouldn’t look into it right now because I’m supposed to be working.”)

Even having the option of engaging in these distractions has the potential to throw you off (Do your find yourself motivated to stop and grab your phone to glance through a couple apps now and then?). The ubiquity of notifications doesn’t help this either. Do you really need to get notifications from every single app your have installed on your phone? Notifications turn everything into an obligation that needs to be dealt with in real time instead of something you can check into at your leisure. It’s a constant drain on your attention and energy.

I’ve slowly been reducing the number of things that I allow to grab my attention, and while there’s been lots of back and forth, I highly recommend trying to do it yourself.

Think for a second about what you really need to know about in real time.

For me, text messages generally imply some sort of time sensitivity (although that line seems to be blurring), but I generally regard email as something I can respond to as time allows. I never let email notify me (seriously, who are you people that can stand to get notifications for every email you receive?), but I’ve also turned off the unread badge indicator which can almost be worse. Do you sometimes get email that requires an immediate response? Do some work to find a better medium for those messages or to set up rules that will notify you only in cases that really warrant it.

If you’re getting messages that are not appropriate to the service (e.g. texts that should be emails, emails that should be calls), then ask the senders to adjust how they communicate with you.

What else can you go without? Don’t let social media alert you unless you truly use a service for real-time communication with important people. If you do, figure out how to weed out any other notifiers. When a new app asks for your permissions to send notifications, make it habit to say decline. You can enable them later if you decide you need to.

Or just go a step further and remove social media apps and other distractors from your phone entirely. This removes the temptation to constantly check in on those platforms (while you’re walking, working, talking, eating, using the bathroom, driving – oh god, please don’t read Twitter while you’re driving). Instead of a constant stream, those services become something you have to purposefully check in on in your free time on a less mobile device (laptop or tablet). If you’re really worried about getting bored, read a paragraph of a book or use a read-it later app like Instapaper or Pocket to read an article you’ve been meaning to get to (though be careful, articles and RSS can become distractions as well).

Give yourself some relief

The idea is not to adopt some strict minimalist electronic philosophy, it’s just to be a little more intentional with what is allowed to compete for your attention. This isn’t something you can deal with in real time because when something asks for your attention, it already has it if only for a split second. So I recommend applying some forethought to what is allowed to have use your time and energy. Just because something can notify you, doesn’t mean it should.