To blog or not to blog (from NZ)

In just a short 10 days I will be heading off to the wilds of New Zealand for a month-long birding/nature trip. I’ve been thinking about how to pack for this for a long time. It’s a bit challenging with all the many habitats from tropical to glacial that we’ll be encountering, and being out in the weather everyday – layers and weatherproof gear mandatory. Then there’s the bulky equipment – binoculars, field guides, camera, journals, hiking boots, etc. Can’t get those any smaller – so clothes are going to have to be very efficient to avoid over-packing. Since we’ll be moving nearly every day, that’s important.

Now comes the real dilemma – technology. I already decided to leave my cell phone at home. My family would beat me about the head and shoulders if I did not take ANY pictures, so a very small (but high-tech) camera was purchased, which talks wirelessly to… the netbook. The subject of my dilemma. I bought this very light and small netbook exactly for this trip – though I now use it for traveling anywhere and everywhere. My whole idea here was that I could use it in the evenings to upload pictures from the camera, blog about the trip, and also to start back up writing my books (which have suffered lately). We’ll certainly have wireless at least part of the time, so it would get used if I had it. No matter what, I’ll have my Kindle with many, many books loaded – a huge improvement over trying to carry enough books to read on a long trip in the past.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if the computer is incompatible with the whole purpose of this trip. For various reasons I have come to look upon the daily immersion in nature as the part most looked forward to, deeply healing and potentially life-altering. At the very least, a much needed break from my “normal” life, and at best, a way to build new habits and ways of living that get me out in the natural and social world more. Would having a computer with me keep dragging me back into my old world? And what about shlepping it around every day? It won’t go in my daily backpack – that will have all the aforementioned birding gear, and layers of clothing. Of course, it is pretty small and light, and very easy to manage in airports and such compared to most computers. Presumably it would survive packed in the middle of my suitcase. Hrm. It really seems like less would be best on a trip like this. But, hrm.

Take the Computer
– Somewhere to put all the pictures I could take, otherwise have to get more memory chips
– Allows blogging about the trip, which would be fun for me and others
– Can receive e-mails in emergencies, can send e-mails if I get lonely, otherwise pretty much unreachable
– Would minimize the horrible backlog of e-mails I’d have after a month offline (thousands, literally)
– Might mean that I’d make progress on my books (not at all sure of this)
– Ways to look up weather, check flights and train timetables, info for the non-tour part of the trip

Don’t take the Computer
– Freedom from excess stuff, weight, cords, etc.; easier packing
– Almost no technology/real-world intrusions into vacation/nature
– Might help me spend more time socializing and being where I am
– With Kindle, probably would have enough to do even in remote places

Hm. Both sides are pretty compelling. I’ll just have to turn it over in my mind for a bit. It’s telling all by itself that the decision of whether or not to take a computer on my travels is such a big deal. For years there has been no question – I always take it. On the other hand, I’m usually not packing and moving every single day or being so outdoors focused. So…


The cat and the Kindle

Recently, I posted about giving up books, and how the Kindle 2.0 was going to help me stay on the straight and narrow. So now I have it in my hot little hands, and have been showing it off incessantly to all my friends and colleagues :) It certainly does have many of the benefits I was expecting; I immediately subscribed to the Seattle Times and am now enjoying my daily newspaper being beamed to me while I sleep each night without any paper to recycle! I have really missed my newspaper, and the only disappointment I have on that score is that for some reason, they don’t include the comics, or Dear Abby! Hmph.

I also downloaded a trashy book that I’ve been wanting to read but just really couldn’t justify buying :D I am finding it very light in the hand and very much like a printed page to read. It’s extremely convenient to take to those places like doctor’s offices, coffee shops, bus stops, etc., where you might find yourself with bits of time to read, and is a lot more compact. So now I’ve got my hardcover book I read at home, and my trashy novel for reading out and about :)

The real test came today when I was out for coffee with some friends and we went shop-hopping afterwards, including several used bookstores. Being determined NOT to buy books, this was the real challenge of whether Kindle will change my habits. I’m happy to say that I came out of the store with a list of books to download and one small blank paper journal (100% recycled), which I’ve been needing – I use those for half-formed ideas for books and classes, note-taking during mediation interviews, and birding records while traveling. Now if only they could put bird guides on Kindle, my backpack would be much lighter – but that will require color someday.

One unexpected advantage – usually when I read at home my books are large enough that the cat and the book can’t coexist on my lap. The cat sits nearby and looks at me, with “that” cat look. Last night I was reading my trashy novel and there was plenty of room, so I called Sophie over, she jumped in my lap, and I read my book with my left hand and petted my cat with the right, and she stretched out luxuriously in her rightful place. There’s at least one being besides me that’s happy for my Kindle!

Giving up books

Owning them, not reading them (got your attention, didn’t I)! Over the last 5 years, I seem to be adopting the minimalist philosophy of my grandmother and giving away more and more things. I feel happiest when my home spaces are spare and beautiful, and uncluttered with stuff. I like to have what I need or most treasure and no more than that. Anything I own should have a use, or personal meaning. Nearly everything I have given away has been shed without parting remorse, but of all of those things, books have been the hardest.

I once had rooms and rooms full of books – wall-to-wall bookshelves filling a three-story house. Organized by genre, period, country… I loved my books. I read and reread them if I had time, and lent them to others. Bookstores were like hardware stores for guys – especially since I had almost always read most anything that wasn’t new, it was easy to drop $100-200 in a visit – and finish those up in a couple of weeks. And into the bookshelves they went, filling up every last empty space. I really liked being able to pick out just the right book for a friend or family member that they might never have heard of but would really enjoy reading, and with my system of organization, knew just where to find it. I couldn’t imagine not having these old friends (the books) in my life and having access to them whenever I wanted.

Everytime I moved, a process of winnowing occurred to clear out all the not-so-great books and make some space (including the first time my husband and I merged our book collections). But the big changes happened when I moved out on my own and started living in smaller and smaller places – by choice, which was part of that instinct to use no more than I need. The first house was still a bit too big, but had the advantage of allowing me to retain about half my books. The big break came when I sold that house to move to Olympia – I did not know how big my new house would be, but I knew it would be smaller. And my philosophy about stuff had undergone a radical change – the real test would be whether I could give up my books.

As synchronicity would have it, a girlfriend was building a business on eBay selling books, and I determined to give her ALL of my books, holding back only what I needed for work, travel, or birding and a very few books that it seemed likely I would read within a year and/or give to someone else. I did that, but it hasn’t been easy. I miss the books I once had at my fingertips, the enjoyment of lending, and once in a while give into the guilty pleasure of a bookstore. They’re out of my garage now, and off to new owners – and I am saving the cost of buying books and the paper and production energy that goes into making them. Especially since we usually read them once and stick them on a bookshelf – I had already determined that any book I do buy will be “liberated” and given to a new owner or left in a public space for someone else to find and read.

kindle All in all though, it’s been an uneasy thing, not wholly comfortable. Add to that the lack of good newspapers in my new city – I do get a lot of info from NPR and the internet, but often I miss reading a daily newspaper – though not the volumes of useless paper it generates, which is one reason I stopped taking it. Enter the Kindle 2.0 – I’ve been a tad skeptical about this as it is pretty new technology, but by all accounts, the 2.0 is a vastly improved version, and just may represent the future of reading, especially for the generation that’s used to doing its reading on a computer screen already.

Especially with all the traveling I do, I can just load the books I want to have with me onto my Kindle, and not have to figure out how much I want to lug around in my bags. I can have thousands of books in there, and can download them freely and easily from anywhere, with no more difficulty than making cell phone call. They cost less than real books, and can still be shared. And it will beam me my daily newspaper (or any number of weekly or monthly magazines) before I get up in the morning, saving any amount of paper. If only my actual computer screens were as readable as a Kindle’s is, I’d actually be able to use my laptop on a tropical beach, like all the ads show ;D

So, I am really, truly making the break. I had already started getting most of my news online, now I’ll just get it more efficiently and less wastefully. And I can spend a month in a foreign country and truly have all the books I need to read, packed into about 10 oz (and only 1/3 inch thick). This is a huge breakthrough for me in not buying, owning, and keeping stuff – though I do love books still, and will probably always have a few feel-good volumes around. And in honor of that, I have treated myself to a few extra accessories, including a Monet waterlilies protective skin and a grey/black suede book cover (which can also stand the Kindle up while you’re reading it). I’m guessing if this can lure even me away from books, it is not just another gadget, but one of those things that may revolutionize how we do things.


I was just reading in the paper about how we have become much more severe procrastinators than we used to be. This certainly fits with my sense of how big a problem it has gotten to be in my life. But it’s not just a general sense – several large studies in the US and Europe have documented how much worse the problem has gotten in the last 10 or 20 years. By far the biggest contributor is the much greater prevalence of distractions in our lives.

It seems that collectively, we have little will power. The best way to avoid procrastination is to avoid distractions that would allow us to procrastinate. Unfortunately, not only are more distractions available, many of them are required tools provided at work to make us more productive (!) – computers, hand-helds, cell phones, faxes, instant messaging, not to mention the other stuff – televisions, latte stands, gameboys, etc.

Some of the study authors estimated that if people just turned off the little bell that announces e-mail messages in our in-box, we’d save hours per day. We’re like little Pavlovian dogs that just can’t help seeing what new e-mail has arrived – which may lead us to check something out on the Internet, make a phone call, type a response, look something up – anything but do what we were originally doing. Oh, and maybe we’ll check out the… erm, blog entries… that have come in in the meantime, just because.

I admit I use it as a kind of reward. I’m reading or writing something for work, and I’ll finish a chapter, then read whatever e-mail has come in and lead wherever it goes if I feel like it. Then it’s back to my work and the next chapter. Of course, I’d get a lot more done if I’d take my laptop downstairs (with the e-mail off) and do it there. Somehow if you save an hour for e-mail before work and an hour after work, it goes a lot faster. Wonder what’s up with that? Probably because you’re not trying to (consciously or unconsciously) avoid work by spending more time on whatever else comes in.

It gets really bad when this habit is so ingrained that even removing ourselves from the e-mail, turning off the blackberry, etc. doesn’t do the trick. I go downstairs with my laptop and I still need that reward between chapters. Well look – there’s games on my desktop!! How convenient – just a hand or two of Hearts, that’ll do the trick. The study authors saved their particular ire for Minesweeper, which has probably caused decades of man-years to be lost from work.

Hmm… and here I am, blogging away instead of writing the latest chapter of my new book. !!!

Firefox at last

I don’t know how many of you have been experiencing this, but lately I get more and more “run-time errors” when using Microsoft Internet Explorer to visit various websites. When my own blog reader became blank and unreadable due to one of these errors, that was pretty much the last straw. I finally took the advice of some techie family and friends and checked out Firefox (an alternative web-browser that now has about 12% of the market). I was worried that I’d have to set up everything all over again, it wouldn’t have the toolbars I like (like Google), etc.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I downloaded it for free, installed it, and right away it started copying over all my bookmarks, cookies, and even (unlike Microsoft) asked me what homepage I wanted rather than assuming. Everything transferred over flawlessly. Not only that, every website I look at works perfectly – no more run-time errors, yay!!! And, it has a google Search engine built right in. What more could you want? I’m happy, anyway :) It’s so nice when technology works, I just had to write about it!