Analog Lifestyle – Part I: Analog Bedroom

I’ve noticed a habit that’s slowly gotten worse.. Lying on my bed around the time I should be going to sleep, but interacting with my phone for (sometimes) hours after I should have closed my eyes.. This not only leads to groggy mornings, but to grab my device as the first thing I do when I awaken.

It’s a cascade of bad habits, all stemming from the casual use, then dependence, on digital devices to provide some sort of structure. That’s the thing about structure: it’s an amalgamation of habits (both bad and good) that creates a framework for the day. It only makes sense that one bad habit begets the next, and before you know it, your entire schedule is rife with unhealthy behavior.

Alarm-clock_2093184bThe end of one day is the starting of the next. It’s a cyclical process. You often hear the phrase “Tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start”.. The promise of a clean slate is appealing, but for me it starts in how you end the day before. Removing dependence on digital devices at least an hour before sleep: cutting out “screen time” (as a friend of mine coined it when referring to how her kids consume digital content) lets your body start to naturally slow down – bright lights from displays (TV’s, phones, laptops, etc) all interrupt our circadian rhythms and disrupt our bodies from falling asleep when they need to.

If you’re someone who is on a device “for work” or are having difficulty with the sudden eradication of devices so abruptly before bed, try installing flux, available free of charge for PC/Mac, Twilight for Android devices, and jail-broken iOS mobiles, all of which “warm” the color profile of your displays, letting your body get tired naturally: mimicking sunset.
I rarely watch much TV, as I haven’t had cable since 1996, so there’s not much self control needed in regards to taking my flat screen out of my bedroom, however, I do now charge my phone downstairs in the living room, and have banished my Kindle to daylight hours, eschewing the convenience for the handful of regular books that I haven’t yet read. I’m on the lookout for a decent analog alarm clock: one that’s battery powered is fine, but I’d prefer actual hands versus a digital display: if you can recommend one, leave me a comment.

I’ve also set an alarm on my phone, but it’s not to help me wake up.. (I actually only have an alarm clock as backup: 90% of the mornings, I wake up before it sounds) Instead, it’s to alert me to a permission to start using my phone again. It lets me enjoy my mornings, unfettered.. Have a walk with Lucas, a cup of tea, go through my planner.. frame the day before I see what’s in store.

It’s been a couple nights, but I’m already asleep by 11 and awake by 5:30 – a behavior I haven’t seen in about 3 or 4 years – and honestly? It’s great to be back.

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Connections

The digital world facilitates connections. Someone half a planet away can quite easily find you if you’re both somewhat public about announcing your mutual interest in a shared topic. New tools, platforms, services.. They all exist to make these connections easier, automated, and more transparent.

Yet they all facilitate virtual space. Even those that promote shared activities like hiking or running groups can also be host to dozens of participants that live too far away from each other to make actual “meat space” connection either impossible, financially improbable, or inconvenient. As the rarity of the time we spend with others in physical space, the more valuable that interaction becomes. Or it should…Yet the majority of social situations are rife with faces illuminated by handheld devices.. Each connected device is a fully user dictated portal to access specifically controlled content. No matter what physical space we inhabit, we can retreat into this screen and have total control – Any lull in the conversation, any discomfort.. All addressed by handheld escape.

What only exacerbates this situation even more is the specialized content that is available through mobile screens. Since it has such complete penetration in the developed world, the social rules that surround it make it a fairly acceptable activity.. Or at very least silently tolerated by all but the most outspoken pundits in most situations that might be much less flexible with other activities.

Of course, everything above that I’ve written is common sense, but still helps set the scene, to illustrate the new “norm” that’s taken hold in as little as maybe 8 or so years…Most of my content always comes back to self control, moderation, balance… Human beings as a species, especially in 1st world countries and civilizations are always seeking the route of minimal effort.. By not being challenged by basic elements of survival, we tend to create alternative stresses and still want to spend considerable time escaping those artificial situations.

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The more time I spend away from other people, the more excuses I’m make to continue to hermit away. Perhaps it’s because my job can be easily accomplished from anywhere with a laptop, but I have to physically force myself to get outside, to get in front of people.  The real kicker is that when I do I realize how much I missed it. How much I need it, how much I thrive in the interaction.

Tonight I had a drink with an old friend. Our parents were social when we were kids, we went to high school together (albeit a year apart, and so there was less academic social mixing)  As we sat and chatted about various tech solutions, and what we’ve been up to for the last decade or so, it was refreshing to be spending time discussing the human element within all these faceless services, tools, and ideas. We didn’t pull out a device once.. And it was glorious!

It’s prompted this rant, and only motivated my writing anew. I have committed to engage in something similar at least once a day, whether it’s seeing my folks, or talking to a stranger at the bus stop.

Try it. Keep your phone in your pocket and say hi to someone new, or make plans to have coffee with an old friend you haven’t seen in ages: you’ll thank me for the suggestion, and perhaps feel as rejuvenated as I do!

How to Sit

Ok, let’s work together on this one.

Go ahead, open a browser, and Google “How to Sit”

Not only will you not find anything about meditation (which, maybe, should be expected) but you’ll be inundated with articles and links that detail how to sit at a desk while looking at a computer screen..

Try to tally up the amount of time you spend in front of a screen. If you think it’s not that many hours, tack on the hours you spend with you television.

If you have come up with a number that’s under an hour or two, you’re probably in the minority. And that’s bad news.

When I recently flew to the UK for Christmas, all the seat-backs had small screens built into them. The people all sat like mindless drones, watching movie after movie after television show after music video.

As the we flew above the clouds, and I knew the sun to be rising, I attempted to open the window next to me to watch this glorious spectacle.

WalleYet I was met with the groans and complaints of all those around me that were touched by the sunlight as it spilled into the plane. Now, I’m not one to be nostalgic, but maybe there’s a reason we all yearn to return to living in a “simpler time”. Sure, no doubt we were equally stressed, but at least we were less connected to each other, and perhaps more connected to ourselves? It seems that in a gambit to become closer, we’ve retreated further into ourselves. The experience on the airplane grimly reminded me of how lazy the human race had become in “Wall-E”, everything automated to the point of a complete lack of effort in any fashion.

Now I don’t want to stray off topic, so I’ll bring this back around.. It feels like humanity is striving to remove effort from our lives.. but results feel less satisfying without it:

The less we work for something, the less we feel proud, accountable, and rewarded by the final product.

Learning to sit takes patience, takes effort, and takes perseverance.. But in today’s society, we are fighting an additional “enemy”: progress. Now I might catch a bit of flak for this statement, but I stand by it. While there’s plenty of new and exciting innovations that serve to assist our journey into the future of the human race, there’s always a higher percentage of those that are marketed at facilitating our procrastination: and let me tell you, as humans who have the power of choice, we don’t need help in shirking our responsibilities.

So, in closing.. Invest in yourself. Invest 5 minutes a day, make it a habit, and sit. Not in front of a computer, or a tv. Sit, in silence, in the moment, and get back in touch with someone you might have been taking for granted: yourself.

Disconnection

A word that causes panic within the digital world. We always want to ensure the connection is there, solid, almost tangible, so that whenever we need it, we can call on it.Searching for the name and directions to a restaurant, how many milliliters in a cup, how old is Scarlett Johansson?

We take this ability for granted, and when the connection is down, we  are lost without it, scraping our hands down the backs of cabinets, scrabbling with our fingers to power cycle the modem, our connection to the digital world.

What about our connection to our physical bodies, to others, to our planet and our surroundings?

As society moves forwards, our experience with the tangible world around is compartmentalized, economized, minimized, optimized.. Our vacations are boxed into hedonistic “all-you-can-consume, all-services-included” 10 day excursions where we are shown what we are meant to see. The clean, sterile innards of a walled, gated, camera-ed resort.

Outside those walls, there is danger, squalor, choice, and … life.

I’m not suggesting you leave your resort in Jamaica to start consorting with the locals. Many areas of the world are unsafe. But this was merely an allegory to compare how our view of the world we live in is customized to create a sense of artificial happiness and relaxation.

I haven’t taken many vacations in my life, especially not on my own. As a child I was lucky to visit a number of countries with my parents, and I feel that I enjoyed them all.. as an adult, perhaps less so. My most recent trip abroad was to Spain a couple years ago. My inability to speak the language, coupled with my severe lack of money, made it really difficult to spend my time there following the conventional vacation rules I had grown up with. I spent my nights sleeping in a small room with no windows that led outside (mine led into the stairwell of the building) My days were spent searching for the cheapest sustenance, and simply walking around the various towns I had decided to visit. I was inherently uncomfortable in my own skin, as everything I was familiar with was stripped away, leaving me feeling vulnerable and insignificant.

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It was exhilarating, and the beginning of my journey towards who I am today. I returned from that trip sick with a viral infection, broken, exhausted, and severely over stimulated. Was I disconnected? Absolutely, but I was only severed from every comfort I had ever known. I was alone with myself, and it terrified me.

Today I make it my utmost priority to be mindful. Do be present. To connect with myself, with my dreams, aspirations, fears.. Yet it still remains hard work. It feels like the progress I make is so difficult. Perhaps it’s because the world around me, or the slice of it that I live in, is formatted in a way that places value in absolutely everything that simply doesn’t matter. A materialistic consumption of something, anything, because we fear having nothing and be alone with ourselves.

We are cultivated to disconnect from ourselves, to plug in, and to then reconnect with each other virtually. Second Life is a game that emulates a world that is only limited by our imagination.  Guess what. “First Life” is the same thing. Get out there, feel the air in your lungs, the weight of your body, the way your feet feel as they are pressed against the earth.

Live your life. You only have one, but every day you can start again.

Carpe Diem? Carpe Momentum Temporis!

So, for those who don’t dabble in Latin, don’t just seize the day, seize every moment… While this is the core principle of mindfulness, examining just how to put yourself in the right mind is as simple as framing your day with a good sleep and a morning full of routines.

I’ve blogged about routines in the past and creating habits, so I won’t go into that again, other than to urge you to read back to much of the other stuff I’ve shared.  I suggest this purely because there is a bit of a progression, each post lives on its own, but is also a form of building block that ends up today.

mindfulness-poster

Thanks to the Therapy Change and Technology blog for this wonderful poster (which is now my laptop wallpaper! I particularly like how they included my dog in this picture! http://psykologprojekt.wordpress.com/)

I’ll admit that over the last couple months, I’ve gotten a bit carried away with meeting new people, and getting lost in that newness.. It’s easy to prioritize these new friendships and to stop looking after ourselves and our goals. I am happy to report that I am back to regular sessions on the mat, and that exercise is firmly entrenched in my routine again.

Returning to daily sitting was more excruciating than I figured it would be. I hoped that my previous habit would prove simple to slip back into, yet that was not the case.  Even ten minute sessions were predominately filled with trying to sort of my thoughts out into a state of tranquility. It was only through perseverance and daily 20 minute sits that I was finally able to return to a vaguely calm sense of Zen again, and this is after a sporadic bout of semi-daily sessions over the last couple weeks.

What I wanted to share with you today was my morning routine, and how I am able to approach every day with the optimal perspective.

And what would my blog be if it wasn’t a blend of technology and meditation?

So, without further ado, my morning is bought to you, in part, by better living through apps!

90 Night

90 Night

The first is a new app called “90 Night“, which sounds lots like “Nighty Night!” It is a mobile version of the website “sleepyti.me“, which helps you plan on the best time to wake up based on your bedtime, and then will set an alarm for you based on your sleep cycles.  I’ve recently had issues with my sleeping patterns, and even when I’d sleep over 7.5 to 8 hours a night, I’d still wake up groggy and have a tough time getting out of bed.  With this app, I’m going to bed later, waking up much earlier, but still feeling clear and wide awake the moment I open my eyes.  Sounds like magic, but this is the real deal. I got exactly 6 hours of sleep last night, got up at 5 ready to meditate and then even had enough energy to exercise! Again, this is the link to the free app, but there is a paid “Plus” version that removes ads, and will soon include other extra features.

MeditationAssistant

Meditation Assistant

The second is Meditation Assistant, an app that I have been instrumental in testing and proving feedback on how to improve.  This nifty app will let you login using Open ID, Google ID, or a couple other choices.  It will let you time your sitting sessions, mute all notifications while you are sitting, and sound a gong when you are done.  It then saves your progress, lets you post a blurb about anything you might have gleaned from that last session, and even maintain a streak.  The developer, Trevor Slocum, is fast to respond to requests and bugs, and is an overall amazing guy.  If you like this free version there’s a paid option as well with a few more features.

ddpyoga1

Ok, so I’ll admit it. DDP Yoga isn’t an app, but I’m surprised that there isn’t a tie in app available that would let advocates of the program track their progress, average and peak heart rates for the workouts. An integral part of the program involves wearing a heart rate monitor and staying within your optimum fat burning zone, and I grabbed this one off Amazon.ca since the price was right and the reviews stellar.

But this program is effective, efficient, and really flexible. As long as you can push past the vague cheesiness that is the man himself, aka Diamond Dallas Page, that crazy wrestler from the 80’s, you’ll explore a deeply effective workout regimen that combines muscle resistance with cardio, eschewing weights for bodyweight exercise.

Even 20 minutes every morning is a sure fire way to wake me up and kick up my heart rate, waking me up better than any coffee or other caffeine can. I was doing this 3x a week for about a month, and then daily for about a week before I started my new job. I’m now back on the wagon, and whilst perhaps I should not have jumped back into the workout I used to to at the end of my regimen, I’m glad to be back in the habit.

Here’s my vlog that accompanies this entry, and as always, if things get overwhelming, just remember to breathe..

Simple Homescreen design

It’s been way too long since I’ve done a post on technology, so here’s a great one.

I gave up my iPhone about a year and a half ago, and finally am well settled into Android.  While I might miss the keyboard, which is a joy to use compared to pretty much every Android offering, the customization I get from Droid is well worth it.
Screenshot_2013-02-21-07-01-55                    Screenshot_2013-02-21-07-32-23                    Screenshot_2013-02-21-07-32-07

Here’s a few photos of my homescreens.  The one on the left is my main screen, and as anyone who uses Android can see, I have no visible dock.  This is achieved with Nova Launcher with Prime, a free launcher with a premium paid upgrade.  The main benefit of the pay features are gestures, so swiping down with two fingers opens my app drawer, voiding the need for an button to do so.

Of the three icons I have on the homescreen.. Gmail, Google Talk, and Messaging, you’ll note that the top one has a small number underneath it.  This is the unread count for that app, and is a free plugin for Nova called Tesla Unread.

The time, weather, sunrise/sunset and calendar widgets are achieved with Zooper Widget Pro (free version available here), my favorite fully customizable widget app. I’ll also mention here that the fonts used throughout this layout is Hattori Hanzo, found in the Font Installer App (I merely shared it to my SD card and installed it in the root/Fonts folder and it shows up in Zooper. Note that this Font app requires root access, so if you’d like the font emailed to you, just reply below and I’ll sort you out.

The middle shot shows one of two CircleLauncher Lite shortcuts I have on my desktop, basically two areas of the screen with an invisible icon that open radial menus to access my primary and secondary apps. This is a new-ish app to me, and I haven’t found any reason to upgrade to the full version yet. I probably will if this continues to perform so admirably.

Third shot is my second homescreen, and is a fullscreen widget for Any.do. It’s a phenomenal task/to do list tool that is cross platform, and even has a chrome widget (so you can add tasks from within Gmail, or from the extension toolbar at the top right of Chrome. Give it a shot and bask in its powerful simplicity

I’ll mention that the wallpaper is part of a much larger digital work by my best friend, Erin English, for my birthday (low res copy here).  She is a phenomenal artist with a really unique style.  She is back in school now, and loves to do commissions for anyone interested.  Tell her I sent you and maybe she’ll give you a great price!

Zentones

My posts have definitely taken much more of a philosophical turn lately… I apologize for shirking my technological roots!

I have always been into mobile technology, but also respectful of the hold it has on many people.  I have friends who spend hours on their phones, playing games that have no end goal or focus, no real purpose other than to waste time.. I have none of these, I have removed any that I feel are a distraction from the outside world.  They doesn’t mean that I still don’t play the occasional game at home to relax, but mobile platforms give is an excuse to hermit ourselves away and to not focus on the glory that is the world we live in.

If you don't look up, the world will be gone before you know it...

If you don’t look up, the world will be gone before you know it…

I love turning my ringer off, I love wearing a mechanical watch, I enjoy the simplicity of not being tethered to my device.. but there are times when I have to keep it on, to stay in touch with work clients, family, and friends.  Sadly, most notification tones, alarms, calendar alerts, and ring tones (whew!) can be jarring, difficult to hear, or the same as everyone else’s..

Over the last few years, I have assembled a collection of minimal, subtle, and professional tones.  Some are more urban inspired, electronically created simple ringtones, whereas other have a decidedly more Zen-like appeal.  I have zipped and uploaded these to a file sharing site (don’t worry, no viruses or malware here!) so that you can all take advantage of some soothing alerts on your mobile devices. I’ve also included a long meditative droning chant that works well as a soothing alarm to wake you from your slumber, or just to appreciate the glorious emptiness that it creates as a state of mind

These are all in MP3 format, but Apple users can create ringtones in iTines using this video (that I created a couple years ago to help some clients with the same questions!) Note that Android users should install an app called Rings Extended, free from the Play Store.

Get this zip file here, and enjoy… Note that these sounds are all royalty-free, and legal to distribute, so please share this blog/link with your friends!

What is life?

I’m attempting to get back into regular posts..  I found that regular shares were increasing my ability to stay motivated and on track.  I have a new Nexus 7 tablet that is a wondrous tool. It am almost afraid to admit that I’d give up all my other computing devices if I could keep just this single one.

I find that life is a strange animal.  It’s easy to complain about being stressed out,  or not having enough time in the day to get through things done that we want to do.   But once we have that time,  we tend to procrastinate.  Once we have that freedom and flexibility of a steady 9-5 job,  we tend to look for distractions and excuses to why we still aren’t chasing our dreams.

So life is something that happens when you aren’t doing anything else. That’s the easiest way to demonstrate time,  as it encompasses the helplessness we expect exercise over controlling its passing.

We all want to be this person we have in our minds eye. A bit thinner,  a bit healthier,  someone who gets daily exercise,  is a whiz at the piano,  or a world traveller..

So choose one.

That’s right. Choose something you are curious about,  then break it into 12 manageable milestones.

Write down the first one, and figure out how to make it happen over the next 30 days. You might not be successful,  but that’s not the goal of the exercise. Instead,  it gets you into the mindset.

Over the next few 30 day segments,  you’ll start to visualize how to actually make your dream a reality..  By involving even 5 minutes of each day in this fascinating activity,  it’s motivation will also spill out into other areas of your routine

Go ahead and give it a go..

iPhone tethering

Well, with the release of iPhone 3.0, and now me having Word Press blogging software on my phone, this blog is finally switching into full English, complete with capital letters.  If I was just blogging from my computer, I’d stay with the old format, but due to auto capitalization on the iPhone, re-editing capped letters out of each post is REALLY slow.

So, without further ado…

iPhone tethering is great, but some carriers are promising that you will have to pay a premium to use this service… and if you try to get it working, it apparently tells you to contact your service provider to have them add it.

Well… no more. With this website you can install a new APN that should enable it for you.

Update: While this worked for me, and tethering is enabled, I cannot connect to the 3g network anymore from my phone, which makes it useless. Regardless, if anyone else wants to give it a shot, they can do so…