Urgency vs importance

A cruel fact of life is that our most urgent tasks are seldom the most important or meaningful. Some things that need to be done right away (or at least this week) are the dishes, the laundry, the grocery shopping, taking out the garbage, and you know, work.

But those things aren’t important in the final measure of someone’s life. They just have the clearest deadlines and the most obvious consequences when neglected.

On the other hand, suppose that someone aspires to be a writer. An average person with a day job and all the ordinary tasks of life to attend to. What consequence is there if they don’t get around to reading today? If they don’t write a single sentence this month? None. They can go on their entire lives going to work, coming home, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, zoning out on Candy Crush, going to bed, repeating the process.

There is more and more evidence that creativity is born of boredom. That we need time with zero obligations to cultivate our own ability to think and observe, rather than just absorb the internet and its cat memes.

The only way I can think of to mitigate the fallout of this inverse relationship between important and urgent tasks is the following:

  1. Figure out your most productive time of day
  2. Use at least an hour of that window every day for something important to you

This is how I passed my quals.

Now. If you have trouble even identifying things that are important, that’s a bigger issue. But still use that hour a day to be bored. Eventually it will point you in the right direction.


All my Amazon reviews, deleted

My reviews were all deleted yesterday. Here’s what that looks like on your profile:

When you try to review any product from your orders page you’ll see this:

The text reads:

Sorry, we are unable to accept your review of this product for either one or both of the following reasons: Your previous review of this product did not comply with our Customer Reviews Guidelines. Amazon does not permit reviews from customers whose relationship to the product or seller may be perceived as biased.

I had been reviewing items from Extreme Rebate. I thought this would be invisible to Amazon because the sellers on that platform do not give coupon codes or Amazon gift cards (reimbursements are done via Paypal), so there’s nothing on Amazon’s side that would link the buyer to the seller. I suspect my downfall was a combination of the following:

  1. Sparse review activity for years, then a deluge of long reviews, many with photos.
  2. New reviews mostly for obscure products with sellers from China.
  3. All reviews were positive, 4 or 5 stars.
  4. I did use Amazon gift cards sometimes (from other sources like portals).
  5. Once any new product has an unnaturally high rate of review (especially if it has predominately positive reviews), maybe Amazon deletes all those reviewer’s accounts.

After a cursory search I’ve concluded that once Amazon decides I’m done with reviewing, it’s hopeless to try to convince them otherwise. My small apartment was becoming rather full of things of questionable utility anyway. This hoarder always knew the gravy train would end, so now I’m passing the baton. With the warning that your reviews will probably be wiped one day for doing this. But maybe it’s worthwhile to you anyway. Good luck!

p.s. — note the category… “how to get your Amazon reviews deleted”? Hah!

How to escape Bali

Or, my time as a refugee from the volcanic eruptions of Mount Agung. If you’re visiting Bali and the local volcano gets agitated, spews ash, closes Denpasar (DPS) airport, then here’s what you should do:

Decide whether to stay put or run for Surabaya (SUB)

If you have more time (5-6 days) to wait for DPS to re-open, then you’ll have a better time just staying put. Past results are no indication of future performance, but the airport usually isn’t closed for more than 5 days. However, it doesn’t mean you can just relax. If you don’t want to be caught in the backlog of stranded travelers, do call your airline daily to ensure that you are issued a boarding pass for the next flight (in case of airport re-opening) every time your current flight gets canceled. The airline doesn’t necessarily do this automatically. If you decide to run for Surabaya, do so immediately after DPS is closed.

Hire a mini-bus to SUB

It’s more comfortable and usually cheaper to hire your own mini-bus to get to SUB, if you can find about 6 people to join you and split the cost. That will be 250,000-300,000 IDR per person, whereas the government subsidized mega buses are 300,000 IDR, slower and more cramped. The Indonesian government usually sends mega tour buses to DPS domestic terminal to evacuate stranded travelers to SUB. Don’t ask airport employees about it: they might not know anything. Check google, or just go to the domestic terminal and see if they’re available yet. For a mini-bus, talk to your hotel concierge or the manager of your villa to arrange transport. If you don’t do this right away, you’ll be stuck with the less comfortable big bus option because all the private vans will be booked.

Buy your plane ticket as soon as transport to SUB is booked

I made the mistake of fantasizing that I could talk to AirAsia upon arriving at SUB, and they would magically change everything for me and not charge change fees. Give up this fantasy. The line will take you 5 hours, and you’ll probably find that the best option is to take a refund and book your own tickets on a different airline anyway. So go ahead and do that when you’re sure you have a way to get to SUB. The drive takes 12 hours, but give yourself 16 just to be safe — then book your tickets out of SUB. I guarantee you things will sell out and only be more expensive the longer you wait. Request a refund for your original flights later. Get yourself out of Indonesia first.

In this situation, he who hesitates is lost. Though we fled for Surabaya, we waited one day in hopes that DPS would re-open and it didn’t. During that time, all flights out of Surabaya for the next 3 days were booked full. In the end, we were stuck in Surabaya for a few days rather than being stuck in Bali. Trust me, you will have more fun being stuck in Bali. Surabaya has a giant mosque and a giant mall. If you aren’t Muslim, you’re not allowed in the mosque. So that leaves…

How to make the best of the friendzone

Personally, I am a proponent of the friendzone. This isn’t because (as one rant in my inbox once claimed) the friendzone is a place girls never find themselves. I’ve written an entire post about its delights. But first, we need to give it a more dignified name. Because calling it the “friendzone” denigrates friendship. It implies that person you want to be in a relationship with isn’t worth being friends with. In that case, what you’re looking for is more like a craigslist casual sex encounter.

I prefer to call it unrequited love. So, preliminaries complete, how do we make the most of it?

Ask Dante. Renowned Florentine poet Dante Alighieri credits his life’s work to being inspired by the one great unrequited love of his life: Beatrice Portinari. He passed her in the street when he was 8. Then several years later, it happened again, and that time she greeted him. That was it. That was the sum total of their interaction. Sure, if she loved you back you might get to have sex and post pics of your shared Sunday brunch to Instagram, but would you have time (and the emotional angst) to be one of history’s greatest poets? I think not.

Friendships last longer. Perhaps the object of your affection claims it would never work out romantically between you. But is he interesting? Isn’t it so terribly hard to find interesting people in your life? If you remain friends with him, you will have an interesting friend for (let’s face it) longer than your relationship would’ve lasted anyway.

See it from the other point of view. Maybe she doesn’t love you back. Maybe she can’t love because the past damage was too much. She’ll find your feelings exhausting, so spare her. Remember what Oscar Wilde said: “There is always something ridiculous about the emotions of people whom one has ceased to love.” It’s that much worse if they never loved you in the first place. Confess one time, if you must. After, assume your words would be abhorrent.

Do not try to push it. Please don’t read stories about people who made it out of the friend zone by being flirty. This is obnoxious, desperate behavior that tells the other person “I don’t care what you’ve told me about your own (lack of) feelings, I’m pushing my agenda anyway because it’s what I want.” Doing this will probably make them a little ill. It’s offensive. Where will you be then? Down one interesting friend, and requiring that craigslist casual encounters section to satisfy your other needs anyway.

Don’t think of it as a transaction. This is a common refrain from those who complain about the friendzone. They say it’s a place of “wasted energies, unmet expectation and disappointment.” Feelings like these are a result of transactional thinking. “I listened to him go on about his bad day, now he owes me sex.” No! If he’s not interesting enough that you would gladly listen to him go on about lying on the floor and listening to The Smiths “Unloveable” because he had such a rough day, then just don’t talk to him. Problem solved. If it is transactional in your mind, then be clear about your terms. You don’t go into a business transaction giving the other side what they want and hoping that they reciprocate by giving you what you want, do you? You negotiate. You draw up a contract. The terms are clear to both sides. If you don’t want to negotiate, then only do those things that you would do with pleasure either way, with no promise of anything in return.

There. I hope that helps. Feel free to ask any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer.

The wrong way to blog

(hint: it’s how I blog)

I once read a helpful article by an established and successful blogger (I forget which one now) about how to blog. It was a list of advice for beginners. For whatever perverse reason, I didn’t take any of the advice. Whether from some misguided sense that I’m sui generis or just an inability to think of how to do some of it, I’ve pretty much failed.

This post will serve as a post-mortem of sorts. And maybe I’ll improve going forward. We’ll see. What did that article say? Here’s what I can remember:

Pick a theme. I don’t have a theme. Some people have cool DIY projects, or adorable kids, or some theme that attracts readers and keeps them. I honestly have nothing that I could write volumes about. Unless it’s trolling. But the internet needs an entire blog on trolling like I need an ass rash. (Which is not at all, in case that wasn’t clear.) If you’re a compelling writer or you have interesting random stories, it could work to have the theme be… your life. But then you have to be willing to share a lot about your life. Interesting stories, pictures, thoughts.

Update regularly. The blogs I like the most post 1-2 times a week. To be honest, my favorite blogs are Mormon family blogs. The regular updates make readers feel like they’re friends. A reader with an emotional attachment to your story is more likely to stay around. Plus, it’s more interesting if people comment, isn’t it? When I had a Livejournal, I remember looking at the world through a lens of “how can I tell this story on Livejournal?”

Know your audience. Me, I have no clue. I think my mom used to read. Now, it’s just people who find this through google searches on my more controversial posts. That’s fine, but I’ve had a hard time finding an appropriate voice or tone to use here. Which makes posts sporadic. If you can picture your audience (even if it’s just one person), you can pretend they’re sitting across from you and you’re telling them something. You can imagine them smiling as you tell them a story, or nodding along as you tell them something they didn’t know. It helps. Even if your audience is an imaginary person or a profile like “Older Englishmen who like to garden.”

The rest of the tips were about marketing and ways to boost viewership. Rest assured, I didn’t get involved with any of that. Monetizing a blog is a pipe dream unless you’re truly outstanding at something. Or unless you’re selling a pipe dream. Though I may be constantly judged for my lack of morality, even I have to draw the line somewhere. So I’m afraid I can’t tell you the 10 easy steps to replace your job with a blogging gig. Alas.



Up Taipei 101 for free*

*Okay, it’s not really free, but at least you’re not paying just for the elevator ride.

You’re visiting Taipei with friends and they want to go up the Taipei 101. Cool. But the elevator ride is NT$600 (about $18 USD). What to do? You probably did a search for “Taipei 101 free” and found blog posts about the wonderful Starbucks on the 35th floor. This is another one of those blog posts, but with one bit of new information.

I did this search and got my information from Daniel Food Diary. The basic directions are:

1. Call the Starbucks for a reservation at least a day in advance at: +886 2 81010701
2. Be sure to write down the reservation number you are given over the phone, and bring it with you for your reservation.
3. Be in line ON TIME. Be first in line. They have changed the procedure and give numbered tickets. They let people in to the Starbucks according to this order, so whoever was first will get the best seat. This is a new procedure so you may see the opposite advice in other blogs posts from before the change in policy.

I recommend going around sunset, if possible.

Each person will be required to order at least NT$200 (about $6 USD) worth of Starbucks treats, but at least you get something other than an elevator ride for your money. The matcha cheesecake was good, but not a cheesecake. I recommend the rose latte (not pictured).


Mental decluttering

I’ve done a decent job over the last year decluttering my apartment with guidance from my bible (more on that here). But now that I’m done distracting myself with tidying, I’ve found that it’s my brain that’s cluttered with minor annoyances that keep me from accomplishing anything useful. Usually this causes me to rant to anyone who will listen, and that’s even worse because now I’m wasting someone else’s time too.

Basically, mental decluttering is a formalized version of the Serenity Prayer. Here’s what you do.

First, identify pointless trains of thought. I know, easier said than done. For me, these usually come from minor annoyances throughout the day. For example: a double parked UPS truck blocking the road. I get irritated and start fantasizing about policy changes like meter maids following UPS trucks around and giving them a ticket each time they stop. If it’s a deep dive kind of day I even start pondering what the fiscal implications of this would be and how UPS might respond by producing ad campaigns showing sad children who didn’t get Christmas packages on time to sway voters. Right. So. How to identify a pointless train of thought? Ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to change this?” If the answer is “No” or “Only if I put in a lot of effort that I’m unwilling or unable to commit” then it’s a waste of your time to keep stewing over it.

Now that you’ve identified the pointless thought, you’ll have to find some way of distracting yourself from it. Here’s where it gets fun. You could try:

Having a to-do list. When you see that you’re obsessing over something useless, do something from the list.

Read. Read things from your reader, or keep a book handy. I don’t know about you, but I never regret time I’ve spent reading.

Treat yourself. Positive reinforcement for identifying and distracting yourself from going down the rabbit hole. Do this enough and you’ll associate positive feelings with breaking away from pointless obsessing.

Ignore. Sometimes it’s not a solo act. Maybe you have friends that you go back and forth with over politics or policy. Maybe they have opinions you can’t stand and you feel the need to “call them out” on it. It’s a waste of your time. You probably won’t ever convince that person they’re wrong. But eventually they’ll see that no one is responding to them and stop saying the same things over and over. Any response only lengthens the amount of time you’ll spend thinking about (and being annoyed by) it.

Screen saver. I like the idea of keeping a few pleasant thoughts or memories at easy grasp to function as “screen savers” of the mind. To free yourself from brain clutter, hold on to a few of these that bring you joy. When you find yourself getting worked up over something you can’t fix anyway, think about one of these things instead. Maybe it’s a memory of your last beach vacation. Or your cat purring on your lap. Or something completely made up involving vampires and unicorns. Is this a better use of your time? Maybe not, but at least it doesn’t take up as much mental energy and it’s not as bad for your mood. Plus, once you get bored of the beach, you’ll have distracted yourself from the annoyances enough to get on with something else useful.