Compare You With You

Here’s an interesting quote I stumbled across:

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.

~Matthew Weiner (Creator of Mad Men)

Sometimes, we forget that when we see someone execute skill with percision and grace, we are not seeing the countless hours of practice and error that went into that moment.  There is an interesting question raised in the West Wing about pharmaceuticals:

How much does the first pill cost?
$1 million.
How much does the second pill cost?
$0.50.

The first pill is the culmination of time, dollars and research to create.  But once it’s created, the set-up cost is done.  You can reliably reproduce the product at only the cost of material.  Skills work the same way.  You go to school, you pay for an education, you put in time to gain experience, you practice endlessly, all for that one moment when you swiftly carry out what has been drilled into your head.

Therefore, there is a flaw in comparing your skill with those of an expert.  You should stick to comparing apples to apples.  Not apples to apple crisp.

 

Stay Awesome,

 

Ryan

Quarterly (+1 month) Sleep Review

Last week, I gave my fourth sleep check-in for 2017.  With four months of data, I thought I’d put it all together to see what trends shake out and what I might learn from the experience so far.

2017Q1 Sleep
(Note, I missed the opportunity to review a true quarter, but an extra month is just more data for me to dig into.)

The single best day for sleep for me are Sunday’s.  This makes sense, as I typically don’t work Saturday nights at the bar anymore, and I consider Sunday to be a down day – I don’t set alarms unless I have something planned.  Therefore, it makes sense that I hit at least 7-hours of sleep 10 our of the 18 Sunday’s in the first four months (55.5%).

If Sunday’s are successful, why aren’t Saturday’s?  I attribute this largely to working at the bar Friday nights.  When I work a bar shift, I don’t get off work until 2:30am, which means that by the time I get home, wind down, and finally push myself to go to bed, it’s 4am or later.  Since I don’t like sleeping too late on Saturday’s and wasting the day, I’ll often get up by 10 or 11am, well before I hit the 7-hour sleep mark.  Because of this, it doesn’t surprise me that Saturday’s are displaying the worst results.

With the Monday through Friday results being largely similar, I can offer some brief commentary on their successes.  Sleep results from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are the most likely to be successful for me since I often have those nights free, and am able to go to bed around 10pm.  In this case, I’m not successful because I’m usually not in bed until after 10:30pm, meaning any kind of restlessness while I sleep cuts into the narrow margins.  While the opportunity for success is there, poor execution on my part is to blame for the poor results.

Thursday’s results are curious.  Thursday’s come after I work the Wednesday night shifts at the bar, so you would expect me to have as poor of results as Saturday.  However, what’s not captured in the graph is the time I go into work Thursday mornings.  While I’m *supposed* to start work at 9:30am, I’m often sleeping in Thursday mornings and not getting to work until 10am.  That probably accounts for the times I’m hitting the 7-hours.

Friday’s are a little anomalous, as I would expect them to be on par with Monday through Wednesday.  I suppose there’s a few things going on there: I’m a little fatigued by the end of the week, so I’m making poorer choices; or perhaps my sleeping schedule shifts later because of Wednesday night.  It’s also possible that there are other externalities that I’m not accounting for, such as other events in my calendar that I’m not including here for simplicity.

Of course, it needs to be pointed out that we should not draw a lot of inferences here.  All things considered, four months is not a lot of data, and I’m still performing poorly in terms of the sleep challenge.  In the four months (120 days), I hit my target 25 times (20.8%).  Not accounted for, as well, are the near-misses where I slept over 6.5-hours in a night, but less than 7-hours.  Also not accounted for are the nights were I was asleep for 7 or more hours, but due to restlessness, getting up in the night, or being disturbed by my partner and pet, I was tracking less than 7-hours on my Fitbit.

Still, near-misses are failures, and I must accept those instances where I barely fail my goals.  With more intentionality, mindfulness, and better systems, it is possible for me to improve over the next four months.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Keep Your (First Aid) Skills Sharp

I wrote my masters thesis in 2012 on the relationship of knowledge, first aid, and the moral requirements of rescue.  The thesis argued that 1.) if you have special knowledge or training (first aid), you are morally required to render aid, even if there is no pre-existing legal requirement; and 2.) everyone should be trained in first aid.  While it is the case that I have to keep my first aid certificates current in order to work at the bar, I believe that it’s important to keep these skills fresh and sharp regardless of your occupation.

You never know when you’ll need to draw upon the skills, so frequent practice is important if you want to be effective.

There have been two instances while working at the bar where a pedestrian was struck by an automobile while I was working.  The first was New Years Eve a few years back, and the second was this past St. Paddy’s Day.  Thankfully, in both instances the person did not seem to be critically harmed in the incident, and both were conscious when they were loaded into the ambulance to be taken to the hospital for further attention.  I suspect that while both had some degree of recovery ahead of them, they thankfully won’t likely experience prolonged physical suffering.

In both instances, I was working on the door, so I was the first responder on scene to start treatment.  In the case of a traffic collision, the most important steps are to protect yourself, and start control of the scene.  I can confidently say that I’m terrible at the first thing, and half-decent on the second.  This is why consistent practice is important.

Protect yourself

I fail on this in two regards.  I have a tendency to run out into the street to reach the pedestrian quickly, meaning that I put myself at risk of getting hit by a car while on scene.  The other thing I’m bad at is getting to the pedestrian and starting treatment before I finish the scene survey (which includes putting on medical gloves to protect myself).  These are big no-no’s.  I expose myself to unnecessary risk while trying to be first to the injured, when realistically I should take an additional 15-30 seconds to stop, take in the scene, and put on my gloves.

Control the Scene

I am adequate at this because I tend to default to immobilizing C-Spine and trying to talk to the pedestrian if they are conscious.  I could do this better in a number of way, such as having a fellow staff member control the spine while I assess for additional injuries and control the scene (directing people around me, updating EMS, taking notes, etc.).  In regards to the staff at the bar, I am probably the most experienced first aider, so removing myself from the decision-making portion of the response has benefits and drawbacks.  I am the best person to perform first aid until advanced medical care arrives, but I also have enough experience to understand the dynamics of the scene.  At this point, it’s best that I trust my fellow staff to respond appropriately.

Responding to a traffic incident is chaotic, noisy and confusing.  On top of this, adrenaline courses through your body, making your hands shake and your limbs jittery.  Your brain feels like mush because your thoughts are lightning quick.  Time seems to slow down, and that ambulance that is 5-8 minutes away always takes an eternity.  You are hyper-focused on your patient, but aware that there is a light din of noise at your periphery.  It’s like a bubble is around you, and you are hoping like hell that you don’t mess anything up under the spotlight of the gawking mass of people encircling the scene.

This is all normal.  It (sadly) gets easier the more you do it.  You become calmer each time you respond; it’s happening to me already.

The lesson to take from this is to always keep your certs current, and find time to meaningfully practice your skills.  Someones life may depend on it.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

To Rita

On my way to work, my commute takes me past a public school and every day I see the crossing guards out.  This morning, I had a sudden flashback of a face I haven’t seen in over a decade – my old crossing guard, Rita.

I haven’t seen Rita since I left for university.  She hadn’t been my guard since I left public school five year prior, but I remember her face.  She knew my name, which I suppose is what I remember most.  And she was always kind.

I suppose, as a child, I didn’t fully grasp how important she and the other guards were.  The roads we crossed weren’t very busy, and I was used to crossing the road on my own, but she was always there; she used her super-powers to stop traffic.

Now, I appreciate what these volunteers do.  How important they are and the value of what they protect.  That they stand stoically in inclement weather five days a week during the school year.

Maybe that’s why I remember her face now.  And her smile.

I don’t know where she is now, but I secretly hope Rita’s still out making an impression on others, and keeping children safe.

Take care, Rita.

~Ryan

I Really Need to Sleep More

As the title says, I need more sleep.  It should surprise no one that sleep is good for you and you generally feel better getting more of it.

And yet, I’m terrible at it.  I’ve known for a while I’m terrible at managing sleep, but wearing a Fitbit over the last year really helped quantify how terrible I am.

screenshot_20170201-131358

Here is a typical week for me back in mid-October, 2016.  As you can see, I was averaging less than 6-hours a week, and I would occasionally punctuate my sleepiness with a crash that would waste half a day by recuperating.  By the end of the academic term, I was turning into a zombie.  Things were starting to slide, I felt irritable, my weight had gone up; basically everything bad about not getting sleep was happening.  The only thing that thankfully did not happen was falling asleep behind the wheel.

A small part of me wore my fatigue like a badge of honour.  It was the natural consequence of hustling and being busy.  The problem with this is it was impressing no one, it was wearing me out, and it was pissing people off who I was failing to deliver to on my promises.

Something needed to change.

… And the Clock Strikes Twelve – New Year, New Rules

While I’m not a big new year’s resolutions guy, I saw the start of January as a good time to try and reclaim my sleeping habits.  I had wound down a bunch of my obligations, finished teaching, and was going to spend less time commuting for a long-distance relationship (the fiancee was moving back to my city), so January made sense to focus on cultivating a better sleeping habit.

Step one in any major change is to identify and isolate the variables you want to modify, and track the delta from your baseline.  After all, you can’t change what you don’t measure.

I set 7-hours as a good goal to strive towards as it was more sleep than I was used to but not an unreasonable jump that would set me up for failure.  I decided to track each day’s worth of sleep as a binary yes-no check in my notebook.  The Fitbit would auto-track my sleep, and I would manually log my sleep to ensure I was consciously paying attention to sleep.  I modified the Bullet Journal method and tracked the days I got less than 7-hours of sleep (alongside the days I read, and the days I exercised).

After one month, I look back at my progress.

img_20170201_131622
For privacy reasons, I’ve blocked out my calendar notes.

Yikes.

Needless to say, if January is my baseline, then at least I have nowhere to go but up.  I hit my target four times all month.  My reading habit was fairly strong, and my exercise is still abysmal.

Light on the Horizon

There is one thing that has changed in February so far that has given me hope: my fiancee has started a new job.

As of writing, she’s in her first week at her new job, and I have only now given notice to my apartment managers that I will be moving in with her, so I’m spending a few nights a week at her place to help support her as she starts the job.  This includes groceries, errands, and taking care of our dog.

Her new job is a few cities over, so she needs to commute about an hour each way, meaning she needs to get up before me and hit the road before I normal would wake up.  As a consequence, she needs to follow a fairly strict bed time while she adjusts to the new schedule.

At one point, I would have let her go to bed, then I would have gone to bed whenever I felt like it, and set my own alarm.  But, in the spirit of supporting her (and wanting to spend quality time with her), I’ve been going to bed at the same time as her, and getting up with her to tend to the dog’s morning needs.

The days where I’ve gotten 7+ hours of sleep have been the greatest I’ve felt in a long time.

screenshot_20170201-131230
Wednesday would have been 7-hours if I hadn’t had restless sleep.  The Fitbit subtracts your restless period from the total duration of sleep.

Obviously, it’s too early to suggest that I’ve got my habit down, but subjectively I can report feeling better overall.  I have wanted to wake up early for some time now, and getting up with my partner has felt great.  I have time to enjoy my morning coffee while I read or listen to the news, and not feeling rushed out the door has lifted my spirits.  Ideally, I want to keep this going, so it’ll be interesting to see how the system adapts to other obligations in my life (working at the bar being the harshest pressure on my sleep schedule).

I know that rationally, sleeping is good.  It’s good for mental clarity, it’s good for decision-making, it’s good for general health as well as weightloss.  But knowing the facts has so far proven to be a challenge for me.  Perhaps focusing on my relationship and supporting my partner’s success is just the motivation I’ve needed to force me to take better care of myself.

We shall see where things go from here.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Checking Intuitions – Is Facebook As Bad As We Think?

Last week, I published a long, rambley set of thoughts about my relationship to Facebook.  The following night, I sat down with a group of friends to discuss a taped forum discussion published by the CBC.  If you have never looked into CBC’s programming, particularly their show Ideas, and their daily program The Current, I highly recommend them.

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/screened-off-the-dangers-of-an-insular-web-1.3937638

It’s always good to check your intuitions and opinions against what others think, because sometimes its possible that your biases blind you to alternative considerations.

Now, what I’m about to write about is entirely unverified and does not serve as an argument on any side of this debate.  This post is not meant to deliver any definitive answers on the topic of whether Facebook (or the modern internet) is less democratized, more problematic, or having a polarizing effect on how people think.  What I wish to capture is how my mind expanded a bit when I listened to how others viewed the podcast topic and their reactions to it.

Going into the meeting, I felt that I aligned with the views discussed in the program.  I feel that people are polarizing in the online echo-chamber communities and that the internet, or specifically products created for the web, are designed to be attractive and modify behaviour to increase engagement.  Shallow content and emotional shortcuts are easily bypassing critical thought and our ability to maintain our attention is being eroded.

There were two counter thoughts brought up at the meeting that significantly shook my opinion.  Again, I pose these as items to consider, not definitive rebuttals to the original claims.

Rose-Coloured Nostalgia

The first assumption challenge by one friend was that the understanding and explanation of how the internet is currently, and how the internet “used to be,” do not adequately reflect reality.  In the first instance, the speakers on the program are only speaking to a mainstream understanding of social media.  They use Facebook as the default conversation piece because it is the highest trafficked site, however their descriptions do not account for all uses of the net, nor all demographic engagements.  In fact, Facebook-use is in decline among younger internet uses (“old people got on Facebook and ruined it”).

But in the second instance, my friend (whom is a few years older than I am) disagrees with the assumption that the internet in the late-90’s and early 2000’s was more democratized.  On a purely surface level, sure, it was more democratized because there were less corporate products.  But at the same time, the internet was more closed off to the mass market because no one knew how to use the internet.  Without the advent of streamlined user-interfaces, most people lacked the technical skills to adequately use the internet beyond services provided by internet providers (the Yahoo’s, the AOL’s, etc.).

I realized that my understanding and buy-in for the arguments is predicated on an understanding of the internet that I have no direct experience of.  I only started using the web in 1998, compliments of AOL and the many coasters they sent to our house.  Other than chat rooms and Slingo, my recollection of the net pre-2000 is pretty spotty.  I have nothing that informs my opinion on the matter, and it’s entirely possible that I’m agreeing with a characterization of the web that is out of line with reality.

Deep Data

Another excellent criticism that another friend raised is that Facebook isn’t necessarily forcing people into echo-chambers, nor are people necessarily becoming more radical in their views.  In fact, we don’t really know what’s happening relative to the pre-2000’s.  For the first time in history, we are able to collect massive amounts of data on the reading habits of people online.  Until recently, understanding where people seek out content, how they share, what they share, what they click through, etc, was not possible to the degree we are seeing now.  It’s bad for us to see the limited data and fit a worldview to it.  Quite simply, we don’t know if Facebook is changing anything, or if we are just able to glimpse into the minds of others for the first time.

But, you may say, “I’ve been on Facebook since the mid-2000’s and I’ve noticed a shift in my news feed.”  Yes, that’s true.  It’s also true that algorithms are more sophisticated now to curate your news feed.  The only thing missing from that consideration is that the sample size for you has changed.  If Facebook’s size had remained constant, we could potentially make an inference to how Facebook has impacted people.  Instead, Facebook has gone from being the domain of college students (a typically liberal-leaning demographic) to high school students (remember when we thought that was a mistake, and these kids shouldn’t be on the network) to when our parents joined Facebook (ugh! They ruined Facebook!).  Consider an alternative perspective – our experience of other people on Facebook was initially biased, and then regressed back to the mean once the user pool expanded to include non-university users (which is a fairly homogeneous class of people, all things considered).

Closing Thoughts

Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure what’s right, but I suppose that’s a good thing.  Recognizing that my own views and opinions should be treated as suspect is a valuable insight to have.  It requires a level of self-awareness that usually doesn’t get a lot of discussion in today’s media.  Instead, everyone seems to speak from a position of authority that I feel as though I lack in my internal monologue.  Maybe my friends are correct, and that the think-pieces about the dangers of walled-gardens and the role that social media has on our ability to think critically is all smoke and little fire.  To be fair, where there is smoke, there is usually fire, so there is *something* there that needs to be discussed.

I appreciate the insight my friends brought to the table.  It shouldn’t be surprising that the answers they gave above are wholly connected to their fields of expertise.  The first friend has a PhD in criminology and has studied deviance online.  The second friend works in marketing for a major Canadian food company.  Their experiences are helpful to provide alternative viewpoints to my own, and if it is true that you are the average of the 5 people you most commonly associate with, it’s a pretty powerful example to me of the value in a diversity (plurality) of thought.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Signal and Noise – Facebook, We Need to Talk

Continuing the emergent theme of January for this blog, I thought this post could discuss some of the thoughts that have been mulling around in my head for the last few months.  Once again, in the spirit of pulling back and simplifying, I’ll briefly comment on some thoughts I’ve had about Facebook (specifically) and social media (generally).

This won’t be a think piece about the problems with the various platforms, their social responsibility, the degree to which they are or are not responsible for the behaviours of their users, etc.  There are many great articles written on those topics that have spun out as a consequence of the American Presidential election late last year.  I have nothing new or clever to add to that conversation.

Instead, I want to focus on my relationship with social media – how it has affected me and my behaviour.  You, my dear reader, may or may not agree with my attitude towards social media.  That’s ok.  I’m not speaking to any sort of norms here.  I don’t think people should adopt my views if they don’t want to.  Your relationship with social media is wholly bound up in a different set of lived experiences which is not guaranteed to overlap with mine in any meaningful sense.  I will be describing my experiences here.

Birthday 2015

In 2015, I set a challenge for myself to cut back on my Facebook use.  I felt that I was spending far too much time endlessly and mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.  This challenge was motivated by a desire to be more productive in my life.  I wanted to consume less and produce more; I felt this was important for me to grow as a person.  Facebook was a constant and daily consumption habit where I binged on updates from my network of friends and family.  It was less about a sense of fear of missing out and more about seeking updates to what people were doing and things they found interesting.

So, on my birthday in 2015, I deleted the app off my phone.  The experiment wasn’t very successful as I logged into Facebook using my phones Chrome browser (I had legitimate reasons to need onto the site initially since my job at the bar uses a Facebook group for scheduling shifts).  When I didn’t log off from the browser, I essentially was left with Facebook on my phone.

It took until around September of 2016 to wise up to my usage, and I deleted the Chrome app from my phone.  For the last 4 months of 2016, I abided by the spirit of the original challenge and things were good.

Birthday 2016

Every year at the outset of my birthday, on the stroke of midnight, I deactivate my Facebook account for 24-hours.  I do this for a number of reasons.  It allows me to be more present in the day.  It allows room to reflect and introspect.  I don’t have a constant deluge of notifications from people wishing me a happy birthday (especially from people who only message me once a year because Facebook tells them it’s my birthday).  And it removes a mindless activity so that I can do more productive things with my birthday, such as exercising and volunteering.

This year was no exception on that front.  What was unique was that my birthday was buttressed against several days of travel and time with family.  For the better part of  the next five days,  I was busy with family and Christmas, and was never near a computer with enough time or the desire to check Facebook.  I realized only after my family expressed concern that I had possibly unfriended them (and my fiancee joking that she was no longer engaged to someone on Facebook) that I finally logged back in.

Upon logging back in, I realized that I hadn’t really missed the experience.  The first few days did have me missing Facebook in moments of boredom, but otherwise I hadn’t really missed using the service.  I was actually a little sad that I was giving in and returning to the service because it became a game to see how long I could go without using Facebook.

I also realized that I felt happier in my ignorance.  Well, that’s not true because I still followed the news and read articles; I kept up with current events.  But in not paying attention to the micro-updates in peoples lives and in unverified news, a weight had lifted from my psyche.

Signal and Noise

When I reflected on these thoughts, I realized that I should maintain some element of distance from using Facebook going forward and disengage.  My rationale has changed a little bit since 2015.  I still seek to favour production over consumption, but since the election, using Facebook has become, for a lack of a better expression, less fun.  Through a combination of fake news, false information on memes, politicization, activism, expressed attitudes and values I disagree with on many levels, and uninteresting updates, I don’t enjoy using Facebook like I once had.

What I realized is that the signal-to-noise ratio had skewed too far in the noise direction.  I personally don’t find Facebook all that useful outside of some very limited cases.  I was having a hard time filtering out all the distractions.  There are a number of reasons for this that, if I genuinely sought to address, I could fix.  I could start hiding posts, or reporting fake news.  I could unfriend people I don’t associate with, or I could hide posts and stop following updates from people in my network.  I could curate the experience to better suit my tastes.

There are two big reasons why I don’t follow this route.  First, I’m conscious of trying to avoid setting up an echo chamber that reflects back only things I agree with.  I value diversity of opinion, even if I disagree with it.  What I’m seeing on Facebook is not opposing viewpoints expressing themselves constructively.  This may make me a bad person, an abuser of my privilege, or a bad ally, but I don’t find value in only associating with people who narrowly share my values and beliefs.  It’s especially bad when I agree with the cause, I agree with the conclusions, but I disagree with the message or argument presented.  I value setting aside individual differences for common purposes.  I value good, sound arguments.  I value constructive input and critiques.  I value testing assumptions and arguments to ensure the burrs are smoothed out.  A consequence is that this does end up challenging my beliefs less; on that front, I acknowledge the consequence of my action.  I don’t have an adequate response to this and I need more time to reflect on it.

But the second reason why I don’t follow this route is that I don’t feel invested in the desire to fix the experience I have on the platform.  Instead, I’m much happier to step back from the noise and seek other areas of my life where I can boost the signal of things that matter to me.  I can focus on paying for news that I value (I recently purchased a subscription to The Economist, and a subscription for The New Yorker was gifted to me for Christmas).  I prioritize time with friends and family.  Being present with them is more important than cursory updates.  And I have the time to satisfy my desire to be constructive – making things, collaborating with friends, and learning.

To me, Facebook is an endless well of distraction.  Are there useful things on there?  Sure.  Are there important things on the platform?  Absolutely!  The activism and awareness campaigns that have popped up in the last year are a testament to how the platform can be useful to getting the conversation going for a mainstream audience.  I would never want to take that away from the experiences of others.  What I have a personal issue with is what the behaviour represents about me.  Facebook is a crutch I use to distract and occupy myself when I’m bored or procrastinating.  I seek out the notifications and the feedback.  I seek out validation and approval.

Facebook is built specifically to take advantage of this biological system in our brains.  I won’t go so far as to say it’s addictive, but I will say that the site is engineered to get people to frequently come back to the platform multiple times per day through posts, notifications and suggestions.  It leverages my desire for novelty and new content is frequently just a refresh away.

The same can be said for other platforms such as Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.  I suppose where my bias shows is I’m less critical of Instagram because I can curate my experience better around my interests and hobbies.  On top of that, I find the experience purer on Instagram because I use it to share things I do and find interesting in my everyday life.  These are things that I experience and these are things I make.  It’s constructive, rather than consumptive.

Moving forward, I’m seeking to engage less with social media.  I don’t hate or think Facebook to be evil.  It’s a tool like any other.  My goal is to scale back my use and be more mindful.  I want to signal-boost the important things and tip the scales away from consumption into something more constructive.

Produce, not consume.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan