Apparently Google is smart enough to know what I mean by “6.1 billion / 18.7 million.” I’m not surprised, really, but I didn’t think it’d be smart enough to know to identify that I was trying to divide the two values. I was reading this article and read that biking is a “a $6.1 billion industry that sold 18.7 million bikes last year,” so I wanted to see how much each bike was sold for (this ignores buying anything related to biking that’s not a bike, but at least it gives a rough upper bound). The answer is about $326.

Be somewhat good at things.

I think that it’s incredibly valuable to be somewhat good at things. To be alright at photography. To be interested in skiing. To know a bit about hip hop production. I’m not saying that you should be somewhat good at everything you do, and I’m certainly not telling you to not be passionate about something.

If you have a bit more knowledge than everyone else about something, you appreciate that thing more. If you’re just learning guitar, watching someone play a technically challenging riff means a lot more to you than to the guy next to you who just went to the same concert because his girlfriend likes the band and doesn’t all of this music sound the same anyways and how long do these things go for?

Appreciation means that you take pleasure in places where others can’t. And from appreciation comes other things, like interest, respect, and admiration.

Here’s an example. I’ve been taking photos for a couple of months. I know more or less what all the features of my camera do. I am by no means a good photographer, but when I see a good photo, I can respect the amount of work, attention to detail, and thought that went into it. A year ago, none of the things I appreciate now, with regards to photography, would have mattered nearly as much to me.

How I get myself to do things.

I’m not a productivity guru who writes books and calls himself a doctor and uses buzzwords and gets flown in to talk in front of companies full of tired, tie-wearing employees to smile and ramble on about how good I am at what they can’t do. However, I have a loosely-defined method for motivating myself to get something done. When I say method, I really mean a handful of tips that I use at the same time. When I stick to this method, it works. When I stray, I end up relying on the deadline to push me forward, and that’s a terrible feeling.

I know that motivation is something incredibly hard to come by, simply because I have to pull it out of myself. It’s like taking the trash to the street once a week. You know you have to do it, but you’ll be damned if you’ll muster up the willpower to get it done before the trash guy shows up, looks for your garbage, scratches his beard, shrugs, and moves on, forcing you to wait until next week to take out the trash.

In real life, that trash guy is your employer, and if he moves on, waiting until next week doesn’t really work. I promise I’m better at analogies than that.

Liquid motivation

I find that coffee helps. No, seriously. I don’t mean to state the obvious, but coffee genuinely helps. And, when it’s done right, it’s delicious. You have all this energy you didn’t know you had, and you find yourself doing things just because you are too energetic to be lazy. There’s a point after drinking an acceptable amount of coffee (if you drink coffee, you know how much that is) that you feel ready for something. Caffeine may seem like a bit of a cop-out, and in a way it is. But the ability to call upon reserves of energy at will is something too valuable to pass up for someone as greedy as me.

The first 10 minutes

The crucial part is pointing whatever energy you have, coffee or not, at something meaningful, and focusing it there for ten solid minutes. If I can drum up the energy to point myself at a task for ten minutes and work at it, I’m hooked. I’ll work on it until something more pressing happens, like food or class. Usually food.

Getting those ten minutes becomes very hard when you don’t have some sort of goal, sort of like flooring a Bugatti Veyron without your hands on the steering wheel. On top of that, goals become very hard to manage when you don’t have some sort of means of tracking them. Sticky notes work well, as does something like Evernote, or Google Keep, or Workflowy. It’s not possible to keep track of all of the things you have to do in detail without help. Poke around with a few different systems until you figure out what works for you, and then chart out what the first 10 minutes of any given task should look like.

Stalling Out

Sometimes, all the coffee and planning in the world can’t help. Nothing is perfect, and that is especially true for things like motivation. People are all different, and being reasonable about these differences can help.

For example, if it’s 4 in the morning and you’re already a pot of coffee in (and you’re not Steve Ballmer), there’s really no sense in pushing yourself any more. While being tired (or drunk) can lend creativity, tired work is never good work. Well, tired anything is never good anything. Except sleep. I digress.

Additionally, if you’ve been working at the same problem for a stretch of time, forcing yourself to work on it more won’t help very much. People much smarter than I have said so, and have coined the term “incubation” to define the phenomenon. So, go take a break. Bike a bit. Grab dinner. Find some new music. Tackle a different problem. Avoid Reddit. Then, try the whole thing again.

I have to admit that I’m partially writing this in anticipation that I’ll rely on good looks and wit (neither of which I have in particularly impressive quantities) to get through an assignment or something in the near future, and then find myself in need of motivation. Future me, go do your homework.

Don’t just make things flat.

Everyone has something to say about iOS 7. The release has turned a number of people into intense UX/UI critics, particularly regarding those new icons. The word “skeuomorphism” has been thrown around quite aggressively by people who aren’t yet comfortable with what it means. Moreover, the single-minded desire for a “flat” aesthetic seems to be prevalent amongst the chatter of consumers. With all the excitement, it’s easy to forget that the growing trend is a nod towards something much bigger and more important than removing shadows.

Interfaces have largely become simpler and cleaner. “Minimalism” dominates contemporary culture, from the art we enjoy to the music we listen to. To call it a trend wouldn’t be fair; it’s a pattern, and a successful one. Flat design follows in step, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the first thing to reach for when creating something new.

“Simplistic design is effective, and [its] latest flavor is flat design… though, flat design certainly doesn’t encompass all of minimal design.” Katherine Frazer

Here’s an example: Go open up Facebook.

Unless you’re one of the lucky few with the newsfeed update, you’ll be presented with:

  • Your newsfeed,
  • A list of favorites, pages, groups, and apps to the left,
  • A bunch of ads on the right,
  • A mini feed telling you what’s happening in real-time,
  • Your online friends, and
  • A bunch of chats scattered across the bottom.

That’s a lot of information. So many different elements of the screen are vying for your attention, and it’s inundating.

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of… the attention of its recipients.” Herbert Simon

In other words, there is literally more information presented to us than we can consume, and attention becomes something of a commodity. There’s a whole field of study around this principle, but it implies that attention is both scarce and hugely important (If you liked that quote and have some time to kill, check out Simon’s paper on the topic).

One of the reasons that “flat” interfaces are so appealing is because of the attractiveness that comes with minimal design. Our minds don’t have to splinter our attention across dozens of components. The aggressive nature of complexity is deadening and confusing, and simplicity is fresh and beautiful. Facebook seems to have taken the hint: their new interface isn’t perfect, but its much cleaner and more distraction-free. It isn’t flat, but it doesn’t need to be.

As a friend pointed out, aesthetic simplicity is nothing new. Minimalism has been a design cornerstone for far longer than the internet. Dieter Rams noted that good design is often “as little design as possible,” decades before the first web browser. As interface development becomes more and more expressive, it becomes easier to implement well-designed websites and applications. The web is finally catching up to the world of design.

iOS 7 isn’t entirely flat, but that’s not the point. It’s not enough to remove gradients and highlights and shadows and throw in a few bright colors here and there. The new OS attempts to be simple, clean, free of clutter wherever possible, and that’s what’s important. While flat design may be minimal, minimal design isn’t always flat.

Don’t make things flat. Instead, make things simple. Do it because it’s attractive. Do it because it’s beautiful. Above all, do it because it’s good design.

The side of DRM we forget.

I’ve decided not to abandon all hope for the Xbox One just yet.

As the dust from E3 settles, it’s quite apparent that the new Xbox has taken quite a beating. The revelation that the console would feature a strict, one-copy-per-person game policy hasn’t been very good for its public reception, particularly considering DRM has never been a popular method of license-enforcement. DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a blanket term for technology used to control the access to content after it has been sold, primarily for copyright reasons. The Xbox One, in particulary, needs to check-in with Xbox authentication servers once a day. In addition, games can only be traded once, and only then to people you’ve been friends with for more than 30 days. This news, coupled with the fact that the successor to the Xbox dynasty is $100 more expensive than its Sony counterpart, seems to doom the console before it even hits the shelves.

But isn’t that what Steam does?

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