iPhone addiction, Scrooge and regret

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a vindictive bastard.

As you undoubtedly know, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a story of redemption, in which miserly misanthrope Ebenezer Scrooge learns to love life and his fellow human beings by supernatural means. Early in the story, The Ghost of Christmas Past forces a confused and frightened Scrooge to re-live key moments from his past.

Like getting dumped.

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Belle, whom a regretful Scrooge later describes as “the love of my life,” drops the hammer as the modern-day Ebenezer, helpless, looks on:

“Another idol has displaced me,” she said, “and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”

“What idol has displaced you?” Scrooge said.

“A golden one.”

She walks away and as the scene fades to black, the older and wiser Scrooge shouts, “Go after her!” to his past self. It’s a pointless plea, as what’s done is done.

While Ebenezer is the sympathetic character in this scene, I relate to Belle. An idol has displaced me here at home. It’s not an unbridled love of money, however.

It’s Guava Juice.

And Dan. And Metthias, the Slow-Mo Guys, and The Backyard Scientist. It’s Minecraft, Snapchat and texting. It’s Candy Crush, Facebook, Twitter and every means of electronic diversion, keenly designed to grasp and hold attention.

My family is so thoroughly addicted to their tablets and phones, that I scarcely call us a family anymore. We’re roommates. We’re four people who share a domicile and some genetic material. It’s beyond disheartening and frustrating. It’s a very real problem, and I suspect I’m not alone.

At a time when 50% of teens feel “addicted” to their phones, and when parents experience acting-out behavior by children who feel like second-class citizens in comparison to their parents’ phones, it’s time to have a conversation. A real one, and then some change. But first, a look at a typical day in my house.

My roommates and me

When I arrive home from work around 4:30, my son is in the guest room watching YouTubers on his iPad. My daughter is in her bedroom either playing on her phone or watching something on Netflix. My wife, who works hard every day and definitely deserves downtime, is watching Netflix and playing Candy Crush on the couch. This is the scene until dinner time.

“Dinner” means everyone grabs a plate of whatever and immediately retires to the guest room, bedroom and couch to eat, alone, in front of their personal screen. When the meals are finished, the aforementioned roommates remain in their private areas, watching their private screens until it’s time for bed.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

I hate this arrangement. I loathe it. So I try to force change. “Put that away until after dinner.” “We’re eating at the table tonight, like a family. We’re going to talk to each other. We’re going to acknowledge each other’s existence.”

Sometimes it works. We’ll sit down together. People inhale their food in a matter of minutes and rush back to their screens. It isn’t a meal so much as a chore. An interruption. An inconvenience that must be endured.

Lest you think I’m innocent, or the suffering martyr: I often work at night on the various articles I write every week. So, you’ll likely find me writing on my laptop from 7:00 PM until whenever I go to bed, often around 11:00 or 12:00.

I also pull my phone from my pocket all the time. It’s awful and I sometimes feel powerless against that urge to “just check,” even when I did so literally seconds before.

It’s addiction, and it’s real.

There’s a great joke in the TV show Family Guy in which Quagmire is in the mall, trying to buy a phone. His friends grow impatient and urge him to hurry up and pick one. “Hold on,” he tells them, “I’m having a hard time deciding on which phone I’m going to look at every 30 seconds for the next two years.”

A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry in 2016, Cell Phone Addiction: A Review, considered the classification of a true cell phone addiction. While the conclusion highlighted the fact that further investigation was required, its authors also noted that “…the problematic use of cell phones has been associated with personality variables, such as extraversion, neuroticism, self-esteem, impulsivity, self-identity, and self-image. Similarly, sleep disturbance, anxiety, stress, and, to a lesser extent, depression, which are also associated with Internet abuse, have been associated with problematic cell-phone use.”

Additionally, research conducted at Swansea University found physical effects of smartphone addiction.

“Professor Phil Reed, of Swansea University, said: ‘We have known for some time that people who are over-dependent on digital devices report feelings of anxiety when they are stopped from using them, but now we can see that these psychological effects are accompanied by actual physiological changes.’ There was an average 3-4% increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and in some cases double that figure.”

Something has to change. I see other kids in my neighborhood riding bikes all day and all evening. I hear them playing and laughing. Making memories, being creative, spending time with their own thoughts. Being kids.

Mind are staring at screens.

My plea to you (and to myself)

I’ve told my son that he’s only going to be a kid once. That nothing, nothing, feels worse than regret. That someday he’ll look back and wish he hadn’t wasted his childhood staring at a screen. He shrugs. He looks. He disappears from realty and retreats into the blue, glowing rectangle.

My friend Patrick is taking a one-year sabbatical from the internet. I recommend we do the same. Respond to emails from work, answer texts from loved ones and co-workers. Other than that, treat the phone an old-school telephone. Put it on the desk and when it rings, answer it. Otherwise, leave it alone. No Twitter. No Facebook. No Snapchat. You won’t miss anything. In fact, you’ll stop missing things.

Go to a public place like a park, a mall, a bar, a restaurant or what-have-you. Heck, attend a sporting event, a parade or a concert and notice how many people aren’t watching the event, but instead staring at their phone. I’d bet it’s the majority. We’re all missing everything, and I mean everything that’s happening right in front of our faces. You’re missing everything. Everything.

The electronic idol has replaced the experience of real life. Take it back. Become a family again, not just roommates. It’s extremely important. Nothing feels worse than regret.

Dave Van Ronk

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“When I came back from Luang Prabang I didn’t have a thing where my balls used to hang, But I got a wood medal and a fine harangue. Now I’m a fucking hero.”

Earler tonight I was running errands with Spotify set to play whatever it wished. Soon I heard those opening lines to “Luang Prabang” by Dave Van Ronk and it blew me away. The lyrics are bitter and resentful, which Dave’s singing captures perfectly.

I’m embarrassed to say that Van Ronk was unknown to me just an hour ago, but now I plan to dig deep into his catalog. Go and give “Luang Prabang” a listen. It’s amazing.

What’s making me happy this week, March 29

A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

Teenage Talk by St. Vincent

teenagetalkOriginally recorded for HBO’s Girls , St. Vincent’s Teenage Talk is an adult’s melancholic reflection on the terrifying, thrilling, laugh-so-hard-you-pee moments of youth that the young are too naive to appreciate.

Annie Clark (who performs as St. Vincent) explained the song’s origin to Jimmy Fallon, noting that it’s about the dear friends she had in her hometown of Dallas, Texas:

“Our entire objective was to make each other laugh. We were kind of outsiders and we had to find our way through the maze of a suburban Texas childhood. I wrote this song in memory of our fun times. It’s something that I cherish a lot.”

It’s so elegantly written. The second stanza of the first verse is:

“We snuck out that night
Rolled the Chrysler down the driveway
But once we were inside
Couldn’t figure out where we were off to”

Not only is that funny and relatable (Annie says it’s based on a true story), it’s insightful, suggesting how kids are often eager to grow up, even when they don’t know where they’re going.

The coda brings the relationship to the present day, and asks a question:

“How do you see me now?
Now that I’m a little bit older, older
Nevermind the albatross
Smoldering on my shoulder, shoulder, shoulder, shoulder”

It’s sweet and dear, recognizing that precious moment in time without succumbing to it. I just love this song.

Smoke by Mosa Wild

mosasizedSmoke, the debut track by Mosa Wild , is a haunting display of emotion and artistry.

They lyrics feel like we pick up a narrative in the middle, and leave before we get to the end. As the last note fades, I feel mournful and wanting for the rest of the story.

Singer Jim Rubaduka’s deep, organic vocals seem in direct contrast over the swelling synths and guitars as he seems to sing about the end of a life, or at the very least, a love:

“I’m on track though our eyes dim
She said when’s the last time
You saw me smiling
You know I was on my final page
I can’t read your fast signs
And now I’m barely thinking straight”

This is such a powerful song that I can’t wait to see what Mosa Wild does next.

Coverstory, Path’s baffling new feature

This week Path introduced a new feature called Coverstory, and published a whole 33 words of introduction on its blog. After a few days of use I can see why: it’s an interesting feature with baffling execution. Here’s a look.

Taking a cue from Instagram and Snapchat, Coverstory lets Path users record and share 10 seconds worth of video that disappears after 24 hours. You can add music and text and, once a video is shared, see a preview in place of your cover photo. If someone you’re following publishes a Coverstory, a number appears next to a new pink play button on your cover photo. That’s the same button you tap to record a Coverstory video, which is where the problems begin.

recordbuttonThe first time you launch the app after updating, a pop-up window briefly explains the new feature. Dismiss it and find the pink play button on your cover photo. Tap it to move to the record screen (right).

The top half of the screen is a video preview. Beneath that are icons representing how many active videos you and your followers have published as well as a big record button. Tap the “+” to begin recording.

When you’re done shooting, you can add one of 17 music tracks. From there, hit publish and you’re done. Kind of.

There’s nothing in the timeline to indicate that you, or someone you follow, has published a Coverstory. Which is extremely odd, as that’s where all updates appear. The timeline is where users are trained to look for news. Instead, when someone you follow publishes a Coverstory, a small “1” appears in the pink play button on your cover photo. The first time I saw this I was very confused, as I thought it indicated I had published a video when I hadn’t.

Additionally, Coverstory videos can take several seconds to begin playing. In my testing using WiFi and cellular data across three phones, I stared at a static image for up to six seconds with no progress bar, spinning gear or indication of any kind that something was happening. Many people will assume it’s not working in that amount of time and move on.

Coverstory is cute and can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it’s confusing and apparently hasn’t sparked any enthusiasm from the Path team. I use Path daily, and I’m disappointed with this potentially compelling feature.

You’ll need Path version 6.0.2 on iOS or 4.4 on Android to try Coverstory. Here’s something odd: Path is has an average 2.5 star rating on the App Store but 4.25 on the Google Play Store. I use it on both and it’s practically identical.

What’s making me happy this week, March 21

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A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

A man, a wizard and a shape-shifting badger walk into a bar.

My favorite thing this week is the podcast Hello from the Magic Tavern. It’s a hilarious, fantasy-based improv comedy show that’s set up like this: Host Arnie fell through a magical portal behind a Chicago Burger King into the magical land of Foon. Fortunatley he had his podasting equipment with him, which he uses to record a weekly podcast from the tavern The Vermillion Minotaur, in the town of Hog’s Face in the land of Foon.

Each week Arnie and his cohosts — a blustery wizard named Usidore (his full name is too long to type here) and a shape-shifter who usually resembles a badger named Chunt — add to the “canon” of the show by introducing facts, guests and an ever-evolving backstory.

It’s not for everyone. You might find it annoying. It’s a bit NSFW. But boy, is it funny. The characters are fun and engaging. I especially like when the actors push each other into some tricky improv bit while remaining in character.

If you listen, start from the beginning, as  you’ll appreciate the in-jokes and references as the show goes on. You’ll love it, bay-beee!

What’s making me happy this week, March 7

santaclaritadietImagine a version of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in which Ozzie kills people so that Harriet Nelson may eat them.

That’s Netflix’s The Santa Clarita Diet.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant play Sheila and Joel, two successful realtors in the eponymous town. Their problems are typical of upper middle-class American suburbanites: Sheila wishes she were more spontaneous, Joel longs for the nerve to confront his obnoxious neighbor and their teenage daughter, Abby (played by Liv Hewson) wants to be anywhere but Santa Clarita.

Then Shelia (briefly) dies after a staggering bout of vomiting and finds herself riding the high an unbridled id, a revived libido and an overwhelming need to consume human flesh.

That’s in the first 10 minutes.

Drew is fantastic as Shelia, and her performance here reminds me of how well she can do physical comedy. Whether it’s a perfectly timed expression of exasperation or an unexpected prat fall, Drew makes me genuinely laugh.

Liv Hewson is great as the sardonic teen. Fortunately her performance never falls into that of the stereotypically sullen teen with well-off parents. She holds her own against Barrymore and Olyphant, making Abby into an interesting character, not just a caricature.

But really, this is Timothy Olyphant’s show.

As Shelia’s “condition” worsens – she goes from eating raw beef to drinking human smoothies while power-walking in a track suit – the strain on Joel’s face and his demeanor becomes delightfully pronounced. He’s a pot of boiling water whose rattling lid barely contains the bubbling, steaming cauldron beneath, and he plays it wonderfully. From his facial expressions to the forced, almost insane smile and “NO, REALLY, IT’S FINE” demeanor, Olyphant is a delight to watch.

There’s a bit for everyone here: The show is funny, with many quotable lines I won’t spoil. The show is gory. Keep a finger on the fast-forward button if the thought of Drew Barrymore eating a foot turns you off. The show has zombie lore, if that’s something you’re into. Lastly, there are some great cameos.

When the movie Scream was released, I said, “Any movie that kills Drew Barrymore within the first 10 minutes isn’t fooling around.” The same can be said of a TV show that turns her into a flesh-eating zombie in the same amount of time. Yes it’s a little gory, but it’s also clever, witty, funny and fun. Go now and watch The Santa Clarita Diet. Just, you know. After you’ve eaten.

Eliminate little hassles for job satisfaction

I started a new job last September and it’s the happiest and most satisfied I’ve been at work for a long, long time. I’m doing something I know how to do very well, something I’m good at (if I may be immodest for a moment) and something I simply enjoy. Aside from all of that, a huge factor in my current job satisfaction is management of the little hassles.

It’s common to downplay the day-to-day hassles when there are “bigger fish to fry,” but in my experience, these daily hassles can have a huge impact on overall satisfaction. I like to set aside time to tackle them all at once, for two reasons.

The first is time and energy available. Most of these little irritations or minor administrative tasks can be completed with a minimal effort or time commitment. Therefore, I save them for the end of the day when I lack the focus or energy for heftier work. Also, buy “chunking” these issues, I get to experience the rewarding satisfaction of fixing them over and over. It’s an easy win for boosting satisfaction.

Try to identify the minor hassles in your day-to-day, as well as a block of time that’s dedicated to addressing them. You’ll find it’s a very rewarding practice.

Introducing Cereal Sommelier, my new podcast

I’ve got a new podcast about cartoons and cereal. It’s a dumb as you think.

csAbout a year ago I got an idea for a podcast while vacuuming the library at Nauset Regional High School. As usual, I was listening to The Twilight Pwn. It was a great show about The Twilight Zone that featured two hosts, John and Fred. The pair reviewed the landmark TV series one episode at a time. The were funny and smart, and they made a show that was entertaining as well as informative. The “Inevitable MST3K Connection” was a favorite segment, as well as running gags about Robby the Robot and the dreaded “Inflation Calculation” jingle.

At this time Home Work had ended and I was playing with doing something completely different. Maybe I’d do a panel show about something that I loved. I had a lot of lousy ideas*:

  • My favorite Sandwiches
  • The history of the napkin
  • Interviews with random people I admire

Later I was inspired by Scott McNulty’s Random Trek (which I love), in which Scott and a guest review a randomly-selected episode of Trek from the show’s vast history. I played with the idea of doing the same for The Twilight Zone, but really, John and Fred (and others) have that covered.

Finally, I had the worst idea of all. It’s the one I went with.

A guest and I would review a randomly-chosen episode of a Saturday Morning cartoon from the 1970’s and ‘80s. There would be two types of episodes: the odd-numbered ones introduce the guest and the episode that we’d review in the even-numbered episodes. I’d provide a link pointing to where the ep. could be watched online.

Finally, the “cereal sommelier” would pair the perfect sugar cereal with that week’s selection, in a bit of tongue-in-cheek nonsense that lent itself to a very clever name.

Thus, Cereal Sommelier was born.

Episode one is now available. In it, I set up the show, and reveal next week’s cartoon, cereal selection and guest. I sincerely hope you enjoy it and tell your friends.

After nearly five years of discussing working from home and productivity, I’m thrilled to have a show about nostalgia, fun and utter nonsense. Listen, subscribe and share. Yay!

Big thanks to Iconfactory’s Ged Maheux for the stunning logo, and to Hologram Radio for hosting.

*Not made up. These were real ideas.

Dave’s 2016: Board games

“I love board games” is inaccurate because “love” isn’t strong enough a word.

For the past few years, I’ve been getting together with friends every Monday and Thursday night to play tabletop games. Monday is “RPG Night” and Thursday is “Game Night,” where we pull something off the shelves and have at it. It’s my main hobby and I love it.

There’s something about sitting around, laughing, having a couple of beers and playing a game that I truly love. It’s a fantastic way to spend time with friends, make new ones and create lasting stories, especially on RPG night. Like that time with the bear trap, or the grenade in the jail cell. Or the silver letter opener. Trust me, those stories are hilarious.

In 2016 I played a lot of games, and these were some of the standouts.

Concept

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A great party game that’s always good for a few laughs. One person knows a secret word or phrase that he must make there others say. This is done by identifying icons on a board that somehow relate to the target word or saying. You’ve got to get creative and I’ve seen some very clever clue-giving. I’ve witnessed a lot of train wrecks too, and that’s part of the fun.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar

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This a worker placement /asset management game that I love to play. It’s got a Mayan calendar theme, so you’ve only got four “seasons” to gather resources, please the gods and earn the most points. Trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds. In fact, this is one game I’m happy to play anytime, over and over. Incidentally, it doesn’t look this nice out of the box. My friend Dave painted this copy, and it’s gorgeous.

A Study in Emerald

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Do you like Neil Gaiman ? Do you like Lovecraftian Elder Gods ? This is the game for you. Close portals and save Earth from insanity-inducing ancient ones. Here’s a little background for you .

Wombat Rescue

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Wombats poop cubes . In this game, you must find the optimal journey between Point A and Point B for your little wombat. How will he find his way back? By pooping, of course. Lay down and follow a clever trial of cube poops.

Ten Candles

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Probably my favorite indie game of 2016, Ten Candles is a nihilist RPG in which all of the characters will die. It’s guaranteed, you won’t survive, don’t try. You will, however, make up a compelling and dark story with your comrades. The mechanic of actually blowing out 10 real candles adds a lot to the tense, somber mood of this very fun game.

There were many, many more of course. These are just highlights. Perhaps I’ll feature RPGs or indie game or something in the future. Until then, pick up anyone of these titles and you’ll have a great time.

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Dave’s 2016: Photos I took while working as a custodian

I spent eight weeks of 2016 working as a school custodian. It was a temp summer gig that I found quite enjoyable. The students were out for the summer so I spent my days painting, waxing, mopping and so on. It was solitary work that let me listen to podcasts and quitely work on my own all day long. I really enjoyed it.

Every now and then I’d take photos as I worked. Here are a few that I like. Enjoy, and be kind to your custodian!

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There you have it.

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