Mike's Autojournal

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Happiness

Mike Shea, 29 December 2009

"We have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing."

I'm still fascinated by Dan Gilbert's TED presentation and Colbert Report interview discussing the human brain's ability to generate happiness and poor ability to predict it. Both of them are well worth your time.

I think a lot about being happy. I think its something worth spending a lot of time thinking about. A while back I wrote down a list of things I do to help me stay happy. Here's what I came up with:

This isn't a very good list. It's all over the place and there's probably ninety two other things I could add. Still, these are some tricks I particularly like.

One thing I notice and have noticed throughout my life is how much my happiness relates to what I'm eating. In the times where I'm on a diet and reducing calories, I have better sustained happiness than any other time in my life. This is so true that I can actually feel the guilt of overeating /missing/ from my life. My mind will wander around looking for that thing to feel bad about and then I'll remember "oh yeah, I'm eating right. I don't have anything to feel guilty about."

Simplifying and reducing things out of my life makes me happy, but I'm easily bored. If I don't have a project to work on, I get bored, unhappy, and cranky pretty quickly. I'm actually happiest when I have about four to seven things on my to-do list, whether at home or at work. If the list gets higher than seven, I feel overwhelmed. If I have three or less (or, God forbid, zero!), I start to get bored. I end up manufacturing projects at this point and often they are simply wastes of time.

I've always enjoyed the simple and small pleasures. Sometimes to a fault. I remember how difficult a time I had in my latter years of college but what would really send me over the deep-end was when NYPD Blue would be cancelled for a Barbara Walters special. God, that would make me mad. Lately I've taken to writing out lists of the small pleasures I seek in my life. When I hit periods of time with no clear projects, its a good list to jump to:

Again, not a complete list, but it makes me happy to write it out and think about it. What is your own "simple pleasure" list?

I really like Dan Gilbert's TED talk. I think understanding the value of manufactured happiness, how we can get it, control it, and use it, is a real key to a good life.

Televisions, Home Theater, and Happiness

Mike Shea, 26 December 2009

I recently spent a great deal of time and energy researching the purchase of a new TV and I found the whole experience to be painful and irritating. My Mitsubishi still runs nicely and looks good but the lack of 1080p and the lack of HDMI put a new TV on my wish list. So I combed the web, read a lot of reviews, and bored the piss out of my friends discussing the most important merits of 120hz over 240hz - which largely amounts to bullshit if my research is correct.

There are so many models of TVs these days with so many new features that even a guy like me, who wrote his own home theater blog for about four years, couldn't make sense of it. I ended up spending a lot less than I had allowanced and got a TV with the core features I wanted: 1080p, 52", and 120hz so I can watch DVDs and Blu-ray without any 3:2 pulldown. I ended up with a Sony 52V5100 and I'll let you know if I like it next week when it shows up.

The entire process of shopping for a TV reminded me of the TED talk by Dan Gilbert called "Why Are We Happy?" This is an amazing TED presentation that is definitely worth 20 mintues of your time to watch it. It can change how you perceive everything in your life. In short, manufactured happiness - the happiness you might trick yourself into feeling - is just as powerful as "real" happiness you might feel from actual improvements in your life.

This thought actually changed how I ended up buying my TV. Instead of buying the top-of-the-line LED-lit 240hz 55" TV for $3200, I spent less than half of that on a 52" model from earlier this year. My reasoning? I'll be less critical of one I bought on the cheap and it likely will make little difference in how I enjoy my entertainment. If I ended up buying the top of the line TV, I'd be far more critical of any weird performance problem it had even if that problem would have very little bearing in my daily use.

I found the same to be true with my new Onkyo THX receiver. I got this receiver to replace my old but high-end Yamaha receiver. I didn't expect it to sound much different but when I selected THX mode for music and tuned it with the auto-calibration, it sounded MUCH better to me. Now maybe it's just knowing that well-calibrated and the little red THX logo that makes me think I like it better, but that's as good as actually sounding better to my ear so who cares if it's real or not?

Now I did have a problem where one of the speakers wasn't hooked up right and I was astute enough to figure that out just by hearing it, but I'm guessing that most of the little effects of a receiver like this get lost when you're deeply into the latest Terminator flick.

Using Dan Gilbert's findings as a guide can really change how we think about things. It can guide our decisions in a lot of new directions we might not take simply by knowing what sorts of things make us happy and what sorts of things do not. Having a lot of choices, for example, usually means you're not as happy with whichever one you pick. This is a HUGE problem when there are about 800 different possible TVs to buy. That's simply too many options to be happy with any of them; we'll always end up second-guessing whatever choice we make.

So instead of buying something based simply on a pile of arbitrary statistics, consider buying it based on what you know about yourself and your own view of happiness. Even better, ask yourself if you'll really be any happier with whatever it is you're purchasing or if it's all a trick of your mind.

Sly Flourish

Evernote for Dungeon Masters

I am a huge fan of Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, and I’ve written before about the “idea box” for Dungeons and Dragons. In my spare time I am always looking for new and interesting ways to capture and store random bits of stuff in the virtual world with an eye towards archiving this stuff a thousand years. In this strange hobby, I’ve run across the program, Evernote, a few times.

I won’t waste too much time describing Evenote except to describe it as a system for capturing digital stuff and making it available on your PC or Mac, on your iPhone, and across the web.

Recently I’ve been using Evernote for my D&D games much like Twyla Tharp uses banker’s boxes for building Broadway shows. Whenever I find an interesting thing, whether it is a picture from the latest D&D gallery or a new song I’ve heard that inspired me, I throw it into Evernote. If I get a random idea when I’m out walking my dog, I can record it in Evernote and process it later. I can use Evernote items to outline adventures or write a paragraph of flavor text. I can even cut-and-paste interesting nasty beasts from the D&D compendium so I can have them on hand.

There are a lot of interesting ways to use Evernote as a Dungeon Master. Right now I store my random bits of stuff in it and then, when I’m ready, I build an actual adventure as an Evernote item. I don’t run a game using digital monster stat-blocks, I still prefer printing them out on 5×8 cards using the Monster Builder, but I will use it for flavor text during a game displayed off of my iPhone.

Evernote is built using notebooks and tags. A DM can build each campaign arc into its own notebook and throw all the interesting tidbits associated with that arc into that notebook. As the DM builds the arc, that notebook continues to store more and more useful bits of data.

One of the most important features of Evernote is the ability to get your stuff back out again. Both the PC and Mac versions of Evernote have ways to export your notes, although each seems to do it differently.

There’s a lot of interesting technology out there for Dungeon Masters. There’s been a lot of attention given to Google Wave as a way to run a collaborative D&D game. While I think such collaborative tools are quite interesting, it is personal organization tools like Evernote that really gets me excited to build a D&D game. Give it a try.

Twitter / mshea

Twitter / SlyFlourish

Mike Shea's shared items in Google Reader

shitmydadsays: "Universe is 14 billion years old. Seems silly to celebrate one year. Be like having a fucking parade every time i take a piss."

From: http://twitter.com/shitmydadsays/statuses/7281847979

2010-01-01T23:10:52Z

Es 2010 Goal Word (Not Resolution!)

From: http://geeksdreamgirl.com/2009/12/31/es-2010-goal-word-not-resolution/

2009-12-31T16:55:27Z

Disclaimer: This is NOT E's butt.2010 is nearly upon us (unless youre one of our Aussie readers, in which case youre already there!) and instead of making New Years Resolutions, Ive decided to go with Chris Brogans method of choosing words to guide me through the year. If youre single, check out my suggestions on how to use this method to improve your dating life.

I have three goal words, but will be sharing one big one with you all because I really, really, really want you to help me stick to it. Whether its by sending me a tweet once in a while, commenting on a post, or even sending me an email, hold me accountable, okay? Then when Im hot, Ill send yall bikini pictures. Okay, maybe not. But maybe. Well see.

Maybe well chat in a hot tub at GenCon.

My word is

HEALTHSTYLE

More about healthstyle can be found at SummerTomato! Ever since I found Darya and her site, Ive been a huge fan. Shes a scientist, a foodie, and knows how to get healthy while eating awesome food. Check out her guest post called Get Fit By Becoming A Food Geek.

Paths to Healthstyle

Path 1: Cook more meals at home (eat out less that 3 meals per week)

Path 2: Make appointments for exercise and show up

Path 3: Indulge in moderation

Schneier on this week's air-terror-scare, and TSA response

From: http://feeds.boingboing.net/~r/boingboing/iBag/~3/NfNJQoYrFpM/schneier-on-this-wee.html

2009-12-30T16:43:40Z

Bruce Schneier: a voice of reason, as usual.

Terrorism is rare, far rarer than many people think. It's rare because very few people want to commit acts of terrorism, and executing a terrorist plot is much harder than television makes it appear.

The best defenses against terrorism are largely invisible: investigation, intelligence, and emergency response. But even these are less effective at keeping us safe than our social and political policies, both at home and abroad. However, our elected leaders don't think this way: They are far more likely to implement security theater against movie-plot threats.

Is aviation security mostly for show? (CNN guest editorial)

What storytelling risks could Avatar have taken?

From: http://feeds.boingboing.net/~r/boingboing/iBag/~3/sKd-3021eJI/five-storytelling-ri.html

2009-12-29T12:47:16Z

Na__vi_by_Em_j_akahana.jpgIllustration: =Em-j-akahanaAvatar doesn't have a bad story, but its unswerving direction does make it a predictable one. Since the internet's already hashed out the cultural angles of James Cameron's splendid epic, let's take a look at the storytelling mechanics--something he approached with a caution only $400M buys. What risks could Cameron have taken to add some surprise, without spiking the straightforward narrative?Here's five ideas to get us started...

1. Jake actually betrays the Na'vi

Our hero's journey is smooth sailing: Jake so badly needs his destination that there's never much ambivalence about the journey. This lack of internal conflict manifests when the Na'vi tribe rejects him: his only betrayal of them is the plain fact of his original mission, which he'd had abandoned in any case. Wasn't it obvious that he might be telling others what he'd learned about the tribe? As the first "warrior" dreamwalker, no less.

If Jake instead pursued an explicit and timely opportunity to betray his new friends, his 'going native' afterward would have been a powerful moral turning point rather than a faint point on a 'character arc.'

2. Give his rival some balls

In Dune, off-worlder Paul Atreides is forced to kill to gain acceptance with the locals when his own kind finally forces him into the wilds. In Avatar, however, Jake only has to show up on a fancy ride. Instead of becoming a nonentity after their earlier aikido warmup, Na'vi chief-to-be Tsu-tey could have drawn a line in the moss: I represent the caution and tradition of my people, and you'll have to beat me down to change and lead us. If Jake has to defeat, even kill an ally who hates him, it tarnishes his character--but Pandora is red in tooth and claw, after all, and it is what he's fighting for.

3. The savages show how smart they are

Jake masters the bow and horse. Why not let one of the Na'vi surprise everyone by getting to grips with some of that weird sky-people tech? And perhaps even do a little betrayal of his or her own.

4. Show the colonel's hidden depths

You can't just let Steven Lang take a role like that and then bury him in cartoon villainy. Colonel Quaritch is evidently a spiritually blasted former soldier who went private-sector after tiring of fighting dirty wars. As Lang says in an interview, "I didn't play a villain; I played a man who is doing his job the best way that he can." But he isn't given much space for that nuance by the script. For example, he knows that his brief is to protect a blood diamond operation, not patriotic duty, and yet in his climactic battle with Jake, he asks him how he could betray his people. What he really means is, "How could you not be a soldier, son?"

In the movie, Jake simply snarls. A retort would be sweeter. "Is that what they told you when you quit Venezuela?" does the the trick. The Colonel knows he's lost, after all, and getting irony thrown in his face offers him a chance to choose his own doom--without any need for the leaden pathos that often comes with such turnarounds. Consider the many suggestions that Quaritch is the only human on Pandora to feel at home there in his own body--he is much more like the Na'vi than he'd like to admit.

5. Kill Carter Burke

That brings us to the disinterested corporate apparatchik in charge of the whole show. He's the real villain of the piece, who gives the natives none of the respect offered them by his soldiers and scientists, at least until his decisions' moral consequences are thrown in his face by Ripley.

Wait... wrong movie. In any case, Mr. Cameron had the right idea the first time around. Kill the slimeball--or better yet, let an alien do it.



Fun with Wikipedia: Click to Jesus

From: http://feeds.boingboing.net/~r/boingboing/iBag/~3/hDzZOXPCBHE/fun-with-wikipedia-c.html

2009-12-28T20:46:14Z

Christus-Ravenna.jpg

Working between Christmas and New Year's? Still with relatives for the holidays and looking for a Christmas-themed way to pass the time till your flight home? You can play a game with coworkers or family called Click to Jesus.

1. Go over to Wikipedia.
2. Click "Random Article" just below the Wikipedia unfinished Death Star logo.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
3. Choose the link in the article you think will get you closest to the Jesus article.
4. Keep track of the articles. Continue step 3 until you arrive at Jesus.

Scoring:
1 point for Random page
1 point for each click
1 point for Jesus page

Tally and compare with friends!
Fun variants include Click to Buddha, Click to Muhammad, Click to Hitler, or Click to Cher. Sadly, Click to Raptor Jesus can no longer be played, since that article was merged to "internet meme" after heated debate.

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