You might wanna start looking up more

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You might wanna start looking up more

People don't tend to look up. It's a surprising behavior with which game designers have to grapple. How do you add verticality to your game and have people see it? Game designers have to get clever about signaling to lead the player's vision using lighting, geometry, and moving objects.

I heard about this a few years ago and the phenomenon intrigued me. I realized that I was looking down for most of my walk to class, so I decided to conduct an experiment. When I caught myself looking down, I would shift my gaze upwards to just above eye level. After a while I noticed a few interesting things:

  1. Luckily, I didn't trip on things as often as I thought I would.
  2. Instead of seeing people's legs I would see faces. Being at an international university, I got to see faces from dozens of nationalities every day. I did add a culturally-sensitive quick smile so people wouldn't think I was just staring at them.
  3. I was shocked to learn that there are birds, flowers, and beautiful trees up there. During clear sunny days, the foliage around campus would light up with such vivid colors you'd think somebody cranked up the saturation.
  4. Over time I started to feel better. I had more energy during and after my walks, I would get places earlier because I was unintentionally walking faster, and I was in an overall better mood.

I'd known about the research that linked so-called power-poses with improved energy and self-esteem. You can find a TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy on the topic below. While researching this article however, I found a few other interesting studies that take this idea further.

 

One study from researchers at SF State University and Kaohsiung Medical University, shows an apparent link between posture while moving and energy level. In general, a slouched and hunched posture appeared to result in decreased levels of energy. In contrast, when the subjects did a "cross crawl skip"-or as I like to call it, jumping around like a happy idiot-they reported significantly higher levels of energy.

The study also shows that students with stronger self-reported depression are apparently more susceptible to the negative effects of slouching. In comparison, those with the lowest levels of depression were not susceptible to those negative effects. Regardless, both groups exhibited significant increases in energy level after jumping around like happy idiots.

Another interesting study shows an apparent link between our ability to recall positive memories and posture. Simply put, the results suggest that standing upright and looking up makes it easier to recollect positive memories.

My habit of smiling at people might have acted as a mood booster for people around me. I found a few studies, one that discusses how seeing different facial expressions appears to activate different parts of the brain. The second paper suggests that the areas of the brain that allow us to recognize when feelings in other's facial expressions are also involved in our own experience of that same feeling. Finally, another study appears to support the so-called facial-feedback hypothesis which suggests that smiling can enhance how we experience positive events. You're welcome students of Royal Holloway university from 2008-2010.

It's clear that how we feel affects how we carry ourselves, but there seems to be significant evidence to suggest that how we carry ourselves affects how we feel. So next time you're walking down the street do yourselves and others a favor: Look up and smile1.

Until next Time. Have a great one.

-- Jay Blanco

Editorial note: My background is in particle physics research not experimental psychology, so I don't have the expertise to assess the quality of the results detailed in the papers. They are interesting papers that have been cited in other works so if you get a chance, read them yourself and make up your own mind.

Footnotes

  1. I had a ton of fun researching and writing this article, so my meta-suggestion is to research topics on positive psychology because they make you feel empowered and awesome.

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Fortifying your online security with 1Password and OmniFocus

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Fortifying your online security with 1Password and OmniFocus

After a couple of recent scares with several online accounts I decided to take my online security more seriously. I've been using 1Password to keep track of all my online accounts, so that's where I started. Though my setup is in 1Password, you can probably recreate the same thing in other applications.

1Password makes security audits easy with filtered views for duplicated passwords and passwords that haven't been changed in a long time. These views are useful, but as I was working to update my passwords I found that the job was too unwieldy. So I decided to take a more structured approach.

Remove old accounts

There were a bunch of accounts in my vault that I don't use any more. At best those are pointless and at worst they are a security risk. Closing accounts is sometimes quick but unfortunately most sites don't give you that option.

That forces you to remove any personal identifying information from the account and change the password to an overly strong. This can take a long time depending on the site, so I decided to do this on a regular basis instead of everything at once.

To make auditing these accounts easier I did the following:

  1. Add the delete tag to all accounts set for deletion
  2. Create a new Smart Folder called "[Audit] Delete" and set it to display only items wit hthe delete tag.

Why don't I use the delete tag subitem in the sidebar? Because maybe one day my criteria for deleting accounts will change and I'll have to create a new Smart Folder anyway. This way I have all the lists I need for audits in the same place.

Update high-risk accounts

It's important to keep your passwords up to date. You never know when that password may have been leaked online, so changing things on a regular basis is a good idea. You might also find that the security requirements of the site have changed to allow for stronger passwords or even two-factor authentication. Changing older passwords regularly also serves as a security review of that site. Maybe you need to tag it for deletion or maybe the account information needs to be updated and old information removed.

If you're an active internet user you've likely accumulated hundreds of accounts across services, and given a limited time to deal with these you're better served by dealing with the highest risk accounts first. These can include shopping sites which have payment details, government services that contain potentially sensitive information, and social media accounts that have private information and are linked to other services.

Aside: As I think about it, logging-in to services with your social media accounts creates an unnecessary interdependency that weakens your online security. If somebody gets your Facebook account, they also get your Spotify. In addition, it creates a login profile which you cannot monitor with a password manager.

To make auditing these accounts easier I did the following:

  1. Tag all the so-called high-risk accounts with a highrisk tag.
  2. Create a new Smart Folder named [Audit] Change which displays login items that are tagged as highrisk and haven't been changed in over 300 days

Finally, I added the following items to my Monthly Reviews in OmniFocus:

  • Audit: 1Password Delete
  • Audit: 1Password Change
  • Audit: 1Password Duplicates

That way once a month while I'm clearing shop I'll make a dent in each of the lists, improving my online security slowly over time.

I hope this encourages you to fortify your online security and provide you with some workflow to do it.

Have a good one. Until next time.

-- Jay Blanco

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New Beginnings #3: New habits and routines

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New Beginnings #3: New habits and routines

Oh boy, this was the hardest part in the series to write. I'm still trying to figure what I'm doing and it helped me realize I have a lot of walking on the road to being productive.

I'm in a transition period, I recently left my job in Ireland and moved back with my family in Israel. I covered this in parts 1 and 2 of the series. Today we'll go through trying to build a new routine and pickup some new habits along the way.

On taking habits

I've been trying to pick up three new habits:

  • Running
  • Meditating
  • Learning Japanese

All three require some amount of planning and preparation and getting some basic gear to support the habit.

Running

Exercise has been a long neglected habit of mine. I used to attend the gym religiously and for a few years at university I felt fantastic. I was making progress, putting on muscle, and had a ton of energy. As it always happens priorities shift and I neglected to work on my body for more than 2 years.

I bought some snazzy new running shoes that match my foot type and running clothes. Thanks to my brother I've discovered I'm flat-footed, so I bought a pair of Asics Kayano's in neon orange and blue. The idea of the costume as an aid for habit building has been mentioned by a few experts. David Allen himself talked about getting his mind into "exercise-mode" by putting on the "costume" of a runner.

It's crucial to have a goal and a plan. The goal has to be clear and specific, and the plan builds towards that goal. My goal is to be able to run 5 km without stopping at 8'00" pace within 3 months. I'm using a Couch to 5K plan which is recommended by running coaches and health organizations as an effective and safe way to work towards 5k. I'm on day 3 of week 2 of the program and feeling good. I've been steadily improving my pace while still finishing the run feeling good.

Meditation

Meditating is a strange beast. The benefits of a long-term meditation habit have been documented in many studies, and include better mood control, improved focus, and increased empathy and improved interpersonal relations. Who knew something you can do for free on the floor with just your body could be so beneficial?

The problem to start with is that it's hard to know if you're doing it right and there's different disciplines to the seemingly simple activity of sitting and thinking.

There are many resources on meditation and things can get confusing. I've read a long book on meditation before which focused a lot on the philosophical aspects of the practice. While this was interesting in an academic sense, it wasn't helping me with the physical act of meditation.

Based on the recommendation on the You Are Not So Smart podcast, I picked up a book called The Mindful Geek and an app called Headspace. I've been making my way through the book while starting the practice with the Headspace app.

The app includes a free starter pack of ten 10 minute-long guided meditation sessions. Thereafter you have to subscribe to continue with the program, and you also get single sessions targeted at specific issues, and longer programs designed to help with sleeping, stress, etc...

The reason why I picked up The Mindful Geek is because it takes a pragmatic approach to the practice, while not disparaging the philosophical and religious roots of the practice. The author also included a bunch of scientific studies to highlight the positive effects of a long-term meditation habit, and even tweaked parts of the program based on the results of those studies.

Today marked the twelfth day of consecutive meditation. Unlike running, It's more difficult to quantify the positive effects of meditation. The act itself can be difficult even painful at times or really nice and relaxing. Regardless, after each session I have a sense of calm focus, so I'm gonna say that is good. I'll let you know how I get on.

Learning Japanese

This habit is by far the hardest. There are many moving parts and at the beginning you don't know how much you don't know, which makes it harder to know what to you need to learn to know (You know?).

I got the most popular book for learning Japanese, Genki I, and started going through the exercises. My plan for now is to learn enough to find a tutor and start practicing speech. I'm going for practical approach, being able to converse with people will help me 80%, so I'm hitting that hard first.

Habit tracking

To help me build the habit, I got the recent Apple Design Award-winning habit tracker app Streaks. It's got a simple interface, reminder support, Health app support, and custom habit scheduling. You can set habits for a number of times a week or for specific days and Streaks will remind you. I use my Fitbit for this, but Streaks can also write into your Health data for nutrition and fitness-related habits.

One feature that seems to be missing from the trackers I've tried is support for habits that require more than one action in a day to complete like drinking water. My workaround has been to add 4 separate reminders to Due, which is not an ideal solution.

Building a routine

Oh boy I am struggling with this one. I can make excuses all day long about having to go to bed late to speak to my partner in Japan, or how I'm at home all day with no external force giving me structure, or maybe it's being at home with distracting things around. The truth is I'm being real lazy and that needs to stop. After a (really) long morning routine the rest of the day is kind of a mess.

I've never been great at managing my time when I'm at home. It feels like I have too much of it, so I try to fit too much work and then fail to finish everything. From now on I'm gonna reduce the number of projects I work on in a day, add more relaxation time, and focus on getting everything done.

Don't overload on tasks. Focus on completing things.

Beyond that I'm gonna try to setup a consistent sleeping schedule. Having my Fitbit record the amount of time I sleep has been really useful. Looking at the results after a few weeks was a little shocking, I go to bed and wake up at different times every day. This is not good.

Setup a sleeping schedule and then stick to it.

Because I don't have a 9 to 5 job, weekdays and weekends melt together. That doesn't mean that I can do focused work every day. I need to start taking weekends to relax and run errands just like I would if I had a regular job.

Take weekends off.

Planning every day hour by hour was very beneficial. Even if I missed my target or had to push something back. At least I knew that something was being delayed. On top of that, it helps with not overloading yourself. Once you start putting time towards specific tasks it becomes really clear there are not enough times in the day.

With those principles in mind I think I'm well on my way to rebuilding my routine while incorporating some healthy new habits into the mix. I'll let you know what happens.

Until next Time. Have a great one.

-- Jay Blanco

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Why can't I delete my account?!

Normally I talk about the topic of self-improvement and productivity, sharing things I'm trying out or ideas that I find interesting that others might want to explore. Today I'm gonna go on a rant.

I decided to start taking my personal online security more seriously, I've been using 1Password for a while but some older accounts still use the same password or haven't been updated in years. So I started with the most obvious first step, delete accounts on services that you don't use any more.

Here I ran into a problem, and this is where the rant begins. The number of sites, including e-commerce sites, which do not let you easily remove your information from their site is enfuriating. If I don't use your service, not letting me delete the account won't change that. At this point, that account is at best and inconvenience or at worse a security liability.

Instead of being able to hit the Delete Account button, I now need to find all the bits of personal identifying information and set it to something ridiculous. Why is this a thing that I need to do to keep my information online safe? What's the point of making this harder for me?

Dear every site that requires you to setup an account, please add an easy to find Delete Your Account button written in huge red letters to your My Account pages.

I urge you to look into your password manager and see how many unused accounts you have and see if you can delete them. Just Delete Me provides a directory with direct links to remove your account from different services. I am not sure if it's comprehensive or up to date but its a start.

Thank you, yours until I am not Jay Blanco

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