A small benefit of COVID-19: Free online classes bring back the delight of learning!

(from http://clipart-library.com/clipart/445745.htm)

In my profession (psychiatry), most of us have not had a lot of extra free time with the stay-at-home orders that many of us have been under. Mental health lends itself well to telemedicine, and I don’t think anyone feels COVID-19 has generally been very helpful for depression and anxiety, even if one didn’t have any of these issues before. Most days have been as hectic, if not more, than pre-COVID days. However, I still have a day a week where I don’t typically work (much) and on that day, I often focus on self-care- exercise, meditation, writing in my journal, spending time gardening and cooking, visiting with friends, reading and spending time with my family. I also take online classes for fun- but previously had been paying for them through The Idler (I especially liked the one on Ancient Philosophy, and another one on Romantic Philosophy).

Recently, a friend posted a link from Free Code Camp about free classes online from Ivy League schools. I looked at the classes and found a BUNCH that I was interested in trying out. The first one I’ve tried was from Harvard, and was about the history of the Giza Plateau. I didn’t pay for the optional certificate track because the certificate wasn’t relevant to me, and the main point for me was to really enjoy learning something I’m interested in from an expert.

I spent about an hour or so a week on the class, not including the optional reading, which I mostly did by downloading the free articles and books to my iPad. I was really impressed with the content of the course. I learned a lot about Ancient Egypt in general, and the ways that Ancient Egypt is still relevant today. I have a basic knowledge now about the Great Pyramids (go Fourth dynasty!), the cemeteries around the Pyramids, and the beautiful artwork. I even gained a basic knowledge of hieroglyphs, and can understand some of the fundamentals- something that I never thought I would be able to do, let alone with an online class. I thought the main instructor, Dr. Peter Der Manuelian, was very engaging, and clearly passionate about his subject. A few of the videos were hosted by somewhat less engaging staff, one of whom sounded and appeared to be reading directly off a teleprompter, even pausing at the end of each closed-captioning phrase. For the most part, though, the videos and readings were well done. Some of the quizzes were very challenging (especially the hieroglyph ones), but you could easily skip these.

If you’re interested in learning more about this specific class, follow the links above, or go to the Giza Project site, which is a little bit like a wormhole for my kids and I- we did virtual tours of multiple tombs, and then realized that an hour had gone by, unnoticed.

Learning something new can be a great use of time during the covid-19 stay-at-home time. There’s nothing wrong with a Netflix marathon, but after awhile, everyone runs out of things to watch, and TV, especially if you’re glued to the news, can actually be more stressful than helpful. If you’re interested, try one of these classes! Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried any classes online for fun- I’m always looking for something new to learn!

 

Book Review: “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” by Jaron Lanier

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I’ve really been reconsidering the way I use social media lately, and interact with some of the big technology companies. Part of this was the recognition that occasionally, while I was searching for a new pen or planner on two of my favorite stationery websites, I was seeing advertisements for the exact same items on Facebook, and in my Google Feeds. I doubt this is coincidence! I was disturbed that my browsing was clearly being mined in order to advertise to me. I doubt that anyone is super interested in my browsing habits other than to sell things to me, but it still felt invasive. I noticed the privacy problems elsewhere, too. People that I prefer not to “friend” were popping up in my suggested friends, and I can’t help but assume that the same was happening to them as an unpleasant surprise.

The news article recently where a physician’s patients were being suggested as friends for each other was distressing to me, too. No psychiatrist would likely “friend” a patient on Facebook unless it was a purely professional site- to do so would be a boundary violation- so one can’t help but assume that Facebook was keeping track of the patients’ locations, which also feels quite Big Brother to me.

Another thing that happened to me was that I had posted a cute photo of my kids, and I noticed that someone I didn’t know had “liked” on the photo. But this shouldn’t have happened, as all my content is set to the most stringent privacy settings! Not only that, this person was not a “friend of a friend” so there wasn’t a terrific explanation for why this person had access to photos of my children. There are cases where people exploiting children take random photos of children off the internet for their own use, which I found distressing, but hadn’t worried about since I had set sharing to “friends” only.

Then, the new iPhone setting was uploaded that tells you what your screen time has been, and it was higher than I would like, though lower than the average person.  A lot of that time was checking Facebook. I noticed I felt grumpy and tired by the constant “best face foward” aspect of people’s feeds. And a recent study noted that people get back an hour of their life and are happier after they quit Facebook. Who couldn’t use an extra hour every day?

In a perfect example of synchronicity, there was an article in one of my favorite magazines, The Idler, reviewing Jaron Lanier about his book, “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.”   I read the article, then checked the book out from the library.  I think it’s worth reading.

The book is pretty short, just 160 pages, so it doesn’t take much of your time. It doesn’t tell you HOW to quit social media, or tell you to give it up entirely. Instead, Mr. Lanier, who was an Atari and virtual reality pioneer (if my internet research is correct) and now is among other things, a philosopher, recommends withdrawing from social media that meets specific criteria, until the clear flaws are fixed. He makes 10 arguments about why withdrawing from social media is a reasonable decision, and many of this arguments were based on information I had never heard before. There are some platforms, such as LinkedIn, which he does not feel are as problematic. While there are many aspects of social media which he points out as problematic, the one that I thought was the most concerning and resonated with my own experience was what he named “BUMMER.” BUMMER stands for Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent, and this is the concept behind items that I have looked at in Google showing up as advertisements in Facebook. He asserts that for every click or like you make, social media bots immediately change their algorithm to sell you things and to sell you and your information to companies. He likens this to a cultural denial of service attack, and I felt this was a poignant description, as well as quite upsetting.

The only thing I didn’t really like about the book was the occasional repetitiveness of the arguments, where he brought the same information up over and over again. The tone was quite casual, which may or may not be annoying to readers. However, he did take care to not lecture to anyone, or make assumptions about the reader, which I appreciated. I thought the information in this book came at the perfect time for me. The arguments solidified the concerns I had, and pushed me to action.

Firstly, I signed up for an online class from the Idler, How to Fix the Future: A guide to taking back the power from the digital overlords. I thought this class did a great job of framing the historical context, and had some nice materials to supplement the short classes, which were excerpts of a talk that a journalist who specializes in this area, and the editor of the Idler had. The class is inexpensive, <$15, and worthwhile.

Secondly, I deleted all my social media account apps from my phone and iPad, which had the effect of making me spend zero time on social media, other than checking every few weeks for friends with birthdays on my feed to wish them a happy birthday.

Thirdly, I made a plan for social media- deleting pages and groups from my pages that I feel are not needed, and only checking every two weeks for updates from friends. I’m keeping the silicon|sutra social media as is, however.

Lastly, I signed up for some new services:

  • a secure email service, Proton Mail, that doesn’t mine my email, though Google claims they aren’t doing this anymore (who really monitors this?)  and allows encryption.
  • A VPN service from the same email service, both of which I’m super happy with.
  • Firefox. Mr. Lanier asserts that Firefox has made user privacy a priority and I agree that I have not been targeted as often with ads. Additionally, it has an option to “contain” sites like Facebook, which can follow you in subsequent sites to gobble up your data to sell.

I’m interested to hear if anyone else has been thinking or struggling with these same issues. Let me know in comments below!

Choosing the right planner, part III: the schedule-based options

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If you read the first article in the series, about a way to organize your thinking about planners and your time (find it here), you know whether you’re a task or a schedule-based planner. The task-based options were the subject of my last post. This week, we’ll talk about the schedule-based options.

Paper-based options:

You can practically insert any paper planner with hours of the day delineated here. However, there are a few that I particularly like:

  1. Ring-bound planners (Filofax, FranklinPlanner, etc): these are super easy to rearrange, beautiful, and pretty easy to customize your own inserts, especially if you pick an A5 one. If you’ve never visited Philofaxy, have I got a treat for you. This site is all things ring-binders, and has really nice printables for free for your shiny new binder. I like Filofax binders, partly because of the history behind them (did you know they were issued to students at the UK’s military academy first?) but the pagers from Franklin Planner are generally more useful in my opinion.
  2. Disc bound (Circa, Arc): I talked about the disc bound system in the last blog in this series, but Levenger makes a really strong planner system that you can put into your disc-bound system. They have great paper that is fountain pen friendly, too.
  3. Proprietary planners (Panda planner, Free to Focus, Best Self, etc): these three bound planners are not super customizable, but if you’re just learning to set goals and plan, it’s probably work picking one of these up, and sticking with it for three months. These planners get you through the system of setting goals, the daily review, the weekly review, and planning very effectively.
  4. Traveler’s system: I’ve talked about the Traveler’s system before as well, and this is still one of my favorites. They have a monthly planner, weekly in two different formats, and undated daily pages. These also come in a small, passport size, and a proprietary larger size. I use these frequently because of the flexibility, and because it reminds me of Indiana Jones. Just kidding.
  5. The Jibun Techo: I’m going to write a blog on this on its own soon. I’ve just bought one and started using it, and am really impressed with the ability to keep track of a lot of data. Look for my blog on this!

Electronic options:

You could always use the calendar on your phone, but there are better options.

  1. PC users: Microsoft Outlook is what I recommend, but most people don’t use half of the features. Find a good tutorial, and learn how to use Outlook to its full potential.
  2. Mac users: I like Fantastical on the Mac. Some people really like Busy Cal, but I found it a little cluttered. Also, Fantastical has native language entry. The implication of this is MUCH faster data entry. For example, if you want to have lunch with Mark tomorrow at noon, in a conventional program, you would need to type in “Lunch with Mark” then use a drop down box to choose the date, and then the time. With native language entry, you can just type “lunch with Mark tomorrow at noon” and the app automatically recognizes this and correctly adds it to your schedule.
  3. iOS users: I like Fantastical (also has Mac versions, see above) and Calendars 5, both of which have native language support.

Hybrid Users:

  1. Electronic calendar, tasks, and a notebook for daily notes (needs to be transferred at the end of the day). There’s a great article about this, that I discuss in my article about Hybrid planning here.
  2. Disc bound system- keep schedule on computer, and print calendars to add to disc bound system. Easy! The Levenger Circa system is standard letter size, or half a sheet of letter size paper, so it’s very convenient.
  3. Moleskine smartpen and planner, others similar on Kickstarter: these are pretty expensive options, and I haven’t seen many reviews of them. I can’t recommend for or against since I haven’t seen them in action.
  4. PDF planner pages, tablet and smart pen (GoodNotes, OneNote): there’s a whole community of people you never even knew using on their iPad pro with the app GoodNotes. Here’s a good video on it from Bohoberry.

I hope this gave you some good ideas! Are you using a different schedule-based planner and loving it? Feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you- use the comment form below, and I’ll respond to you!

 

 

Choosing a planner, part II: the task-oriented options

If you read last week’s post (you can find it here to catch up), you know whether you’re a paper, digital, or hybrid planner, and whether your schedule is mostly task or appointment-oriented. This gives us six different “types.”  This week, I’m planning to discuss the task-oriented types. Next week, I’ll give love to the appointment-oriented types.

Without ado, the Task-oriented planners…

1. Paper planner options:

  • Bullet journal:  The bullet journal is a system originally designed by Ryder Carroll, to help himself  manage his schedule given his difficulty with ADHD. The system is cheap and convenient- classically, it uses a hard back journal, either the dedicated journal from Leuchtterm 1917 or a blank one. You can track tasks, written notes and some events, but I think if you have a lot of future events, this system is probably not as helpful. There is a small investment of time in the beginning to set up the notebook- maybe 15 minutes at most. Don’t let yourself get intimidated by some of the beautiful art in the bullet journals you find by Googling; you can make a functional bullet journal just fine with NO decoration. This may be the most efficient task based option, because there’s nothing really faster than jotting down a list of tasks. The genius of this system is the review- by reviewing your tasks every day, you really prioritize what you plan to do daily, and what’s important. This system is highly recommended. Find videos, set-up information and more here.
  • Kanban system: this system was originally made for teams to track projects, but can work well if you have a tasks in various stages of progress, don’t need much portability, and spend time mostly in one place for those tasks. Essentially, this is a board with a sticky note for each task, and columns to move sticky-tasks within: these can be as simple as to-do, in process, and done. Find more information here.
  • Traveler’s journal: A traveler’s journal is essentially a piece of nice leather with an elastic band that can hold one to three thin paper notebooks. There are a million different notebooks to choose from (ok, maybe an exaggeration), but you can find whatever you need for a traveler’s journal, including a booklet to make lists in, calendars, etc. The Traveler’s Journal is The Wirecutter’s favorite planner because of it’s flexibility. They recommend buying one from Amazon, but I prefer Goulet Pens since they are a small family business who take good care of their customers and are very knowledgeable about what they sell- you can find them here, and I’m not getting a commission, I swear.
  • Circa/Arc/ring bound: The Circa system from Levenger is what I use to organize patient information, and is highly customizeable. This system consists of plastic, celluloid or metal discs that have a ridged edge which holds plastic covers and pages together. You can rearrange the pages and tabs infinitely with no trouble. The sizes are generally standard American letter size and half-letter size, so it’s easy to add print-outs, etc. Levenger and Staples (the cheaper Arc system) both make a multitude of forms for these systems. You can find the Levenger version here.

2. Digital options:

  • Smart phone task list: This is probably the most basic option. I’m not excited about the task lists that come standard on ios or android, mostly because of their lack of features.
  • Consider a better app, like Todoist, Things3, Microsoft to-do. I use Todoist because there are a TON of features, and I can use todoist on the web, my phone, mac, PC, android, etc. Things3 is wonderful, but only for Apple fans. Microsoft to-do is a good option if you use outlook.com to manage your calendar or have an outlook 365 account you use frequently.
  • list on Evernote or OneNote: this could be an option if you’re determined to use Evernote for everything! I don’t think I would choose this option, but there are definitely Evernote power users who stick to Evernote to plan their entire lives.

3. Hybrid Options:

People who mix paper and digital have a lot more options, which may or may not be a good thing.

  • Electronic calendar, with bullet journal or notebook
  • Trello (recommended): Trello is a great program online and a multitude of apps that replicates the kanban experience electronically. However, it is a LOT more powerful. You can find Trello here, and a genius article for how to use Trello as a magnificent task-conquering machine here.
  • Tablet with pen capability and OneNote or similar- not my favorite, but you could do this if you’re determined to use your Surface tablet or iPad pro and the digital pen!
  • Evernote/Moleskine notebook and smartphone integration or similar: these are notebooks that have various ways of converting the pages to digital options; either a special pen, or an app with a camera. I think a lot of these are in the planning phases, or are pretty expensive for what you get.
  • Could consider bullet journal with official app (I think the app isn’t very good)

That’s it for the task-oriented options! I hope you found what you needed- please let me know if you have any other ideas or questions, or tell me what you thought in the comments below! Next week, I’ll cover the appointment-oriented options in paper, digital, and hybrid versions. See you then!

 

A Review of Warby Parker: Spoiler, I love them!

A Review of Warby Parker: Spoiler, I love them!

Buying glasses is a pain sometimes. Besides the distraction of a million different pairs of glasses, which a good optometry technician can help narrow down, there are a bunch of choices to make: frames, lens materials, coating, etc. Warby Parker (who didn’t sponsor this post or reimburse me in anyway) can make this a little easier. I’ve recently discovered that my days of contact lenses are probably limited, and I’ve been liking all the hip spectacles I’ve been seeing around town. I decided to expand my eyeglass wardrobe, through both a conventional optician (via Groupon) and Warby Parker.

The process

First, I obtained a new prescription, including pupil distance, from my optometrist, and scanned it into my document manager, keeping the paper version to give to the place I bought glasses.

Process at a conventional optometrist: This took about an hour. I went to the optometrist after buying a Groupon for $75 for a $225 voucher for eyeglasses. The optometry technician tried narrowing down glasses for me, bringing many glasses for me to see. By seeing what I liked, she was able to narrow down my choices, as there were a TON of glasses I did not like (Napolean Dynamite, anyone?). However, I have no idea whether she was “upselling” me glasses by bringing me incredibly expensive glasses or not. What I do know is that the glasses I saw in the end were Oliver Peoples, Fendi, Prada, etc. I picked some glasses out that I liked- Oliver Peoples, in an unusual bold cat-eye style. She computed the price, subtracted the voucher, and voila- “$550.” What?! Add the charge for ordering the glasses, labor, multiple coatings, high density lenses, etc. Plus, to be fair, I ended up with a really nice brand of glasses. However, she seemed perplexed that I did not want all these upgrades, and upon hearing that I was a.) in a hurry to leave since I’d been there 45 minutes already and b.) leaving since I wasn’t spending $550 that day in glasses, some of the things that were necessary were suddenly expendable, and they were able to reduce the glasses to $300. It took a few weeks for the glasses to come in, which seemed like a long time. I had to return to the store, and no adjustments were made at that time, so I could have had them mailed to my house rather than drive out to the optometrist. They didn’t have Oliver Peoples cases by that time, so I ended up with a velvet Tom Ford case. However, I love the glasses, and they are perfect.

Process at Warby Parker: My experience may be slightly different, since we have a physical Warby Parker in our town. Choosing glasses from Warby Parker is pretty easy. I walked into the store in Bethesda, MD, which was pretty crowded with people of all ages and demographics but had nice displays of well-curated eye glasses in their own brand. There were relatively few frames to choose from in comparison to the optometrist, but I really liked the ones I saw. Because they were crowded, there was no one to help me or suggest frames, but I tried several pairs on, which rapidly helped me narrow down the shape I liked. I had also done a little research before going to the store, so I was familiar with many of the styles, though not all of them were available to try on in the store. I found one I liked, went to the counter, where someone was immediately able to help me. He ordered my glasses, the “Upton” in “Sea Smoke Turquoise” on a portable device (I emailed him my prescription), with slightly upgraded high density lenses to make them lighter because I am SO blind I require coke-bottle lenses. The spectacles were $95, including lenses, but the high density lenses were $40 extra, bringing my total to $135. I received the glasses in under a week via mail, in a high quality case (nicer quality than the case from the traditional optometrist), along with a cloth to keep the lenses clean. Also, because of their “buy a pair, give a pair” program, a pair of glasses was given to someone in need. Hurray!

Had I ordered from the website, I could have either chosen a pair directly off the website, or chosen from a selection, of which five would be delivered to my house to try on. I make a choice and return the glasses- they mail me the ones I chose with the correct prescription. Easy!

What I like about Warby Parker…

  1. Well curated, stylish glasses for a reasonable price
  2. No hidden costs -what you see is what you pay!
  3. A pair goes to someone in need!
  4. Convenient
  5. High quality glasses and accessories
  6. Quick, polite service

What I think they could do better…

  1. The quiz to help you determine what glasses might look good on you is a little generic. If you don’t know what kind of glasses look good on your face shape, choosing glasses by whether the spectacles are round, square, rectangular, or cat eye isn’t going to help you. If you’re ordering on line, you’re really relying on their quiz to help you figure out what to order!
  2. All glasses look nice on J. Crew models. Ok, I might be exaggerating here- maybe they’re Gap models. But if the glasses look good on them, I’m SURE they will look perfect on me. Not really. You can see what they look like on customers, I’m assuming, by pressing the “more photos” link at the bottom of the page, but not all glasses have extra photos to look at.
  3. More people to help at the stores? I think the business model is on-line, so I’m guessing the physical locations are more for publicity and concept, but I thought the employees might have suggested frames I wouldn’t ordinarily have tried on.

The Verdict: I love Warby Parker!

I would definitely shop at Warby Parker again- I’m considering a set of translucent rose-colored frames that I think would be perfect for summer. And maybe a set of prescription sunglasses! In fact, they make wearing my glasses much more fun, and I would recommend them to anyone!