New issue(s)

An update about my new job, new projects, and a new desk setup

At the beginning of February, a curious set of events led to me accepting a web design position with the folks at Remote Brand. They are a strategic brand development agency, mostly specializing in the sustainability space.

For a long time now I’ve wished there was some kind of way I could pivot my career and do something that is involved with sustainability. I never really considered that I could just keep doing what I am good at: working with content, layout, and web technologies, and use those skills to make a difference. I was excited to start with them for that reason.

At the time, I had been living in Vancouver for a year and I decided that it would be a good thing for me to start trying to work with people in and around this area, because up until then most of my work was for freelance clients back home in Sask and Alberta. So I was really pumped to jump in with a new team that is also based in Vancouver.

Things are busy and I’m working really hard on my projects, which involve designing and developing websites for their clients.

I wanted to share one thing we recently shipped: a product page for one of our clients, Smart Plastic.

One of their products is a chemical, that when added to regular plastic during its manufacturing process, makes it so that plastic literally completely decomposes in a matter of 4 years leaving nothing more than water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. It’s so cool.

Now they’re coming out with a single use plastic straw which uses the technology. You can check that the product page I designed1 and developed here.

The new job is 100% remote (which I LOVE and am so grateful for), and it’s been interesting learning how to properly work from home. Naturally, I spend a lot of time at my desk. Which brings me to this email’s next topic…

Weekend desk update

My desk is kind of like my happy place. I spend all day here, most if not all of that time on the computer.

But I knew that we were entering a long weekend, and I wanted to just kind of get the computer out of my sight, and have a more chill weekend. I find that if technology is around, I want to just play around on that rather than really enjoy my leisure time or rest – so I did a bit of an analog desk makeover.

I unplugged my computer, and put it away on a shelf. Also, I removed my LG external display and moved that to a corner. I really wanted to be able to disconnect from everything a bit more than usual this weekend.

This is how the desk is looking now:

It’s super zen, I’m really enjoying it. I feel like having the computer gone just makes the room feel more restful and it’s interesting because as you all know, I’m obsessed with technology and love having it around. But I find that honestly, when I’m not using it, I really like being able to put it all away, and have it out of sight.

It also makes the process of using the computer more intentional. Like how I’m writing this article right now: I was like “oh yeah, I really want to write something to send to my list this weekend”. So I actively grabbed my iPad and started writing this.

I think that the habit of putting technology away when it isn’t being used is one that will really aid me in my journey of learning how to effectively work from home as well.

Just being able to put the computer away when I’m not using it will make me be more intentional about how I spend my free time. Because lord knows I have many hobbies I want to spend more time doing, rather than wasting time online.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll talk to you again soon.

Gary

1

In collaboration with my talented colleagues Landon and Jon, of course.

Attempting to control my YouTube addiction

In 2020, my personal YouTube usage got out of hand. Here's what I'm doing to reclaim my free time in the new year

Happy new year, subscribers! I hope you’re all happy and healthy and excited for the new year. I’ve been thinking about ways to improve certain aspects of my life going into the new year and my YouTube usage is something that’s on my mind a lot lately because it got a little bit toxic in 2020. I’ve been thinking of doing something like this for a while now and now that I’ve done it, I wanted to share the things that I did to make YouTube a healthier pastime for myself… thank you for subscribing and I hope you enjoy the article. – G

For various reasons, my YouTube usage in 2020 was really heavy. Looking back, I can see I was using it as a way to distract myself from the things in my own life I was procrastinating on.

Basically, since I spent a significant chunk of the year at home being jobless, during idle moments I would just go to the YouTube homepage and have fun watching video after video, letting YouTube’s algorithm do precisely what it was designed to do.

I was watching stuff from all sorts of creators: not just tech and gaming content, but also beauty stuff, and vloggy stuff, and towards the end of the year more budgeting and personal finance stuff too. There’s nothing wrong with the videos these creators make – in fact a lot of it is really high quality and I was learning a lot in the process. But I could tell that I was just spending too much time on it.

The amount of channels I subscribed to ballooned to over six hundred channels. My Subscriptions feed became basically useless, because there was just too many videos released daily for me to keep up with.

It was just way too much content for one Gary to handle. So I began thinking, what are some things I can do to make YouTube a more healthy place for me? I had to do something big…

So I unsubscribed from everything

As I scrolled through my list of channels, I just clicked unsubscribe on each and every one.

Now, I really didn’t want to give up YouTube totally, because there are a few channels I truly love. I knew in my head a list of about 6 or 8 creators who made videos I wanted to keep seeing. So in my notebook I wrote down each of those.

And then going through the list unsubscribing from everything, I found a few more channels that I knew I had to keep, and added them to my list.

So you may be wondering: why would I unsubscribe from everything and then resubscribe to the ones I wanted to keep? That seems redundant. Wouldn’t it be easier to just leave the ones you wanted to keep, rather than unsubscribe from them and them resubscribe?

This actually really worked because it’s kind of like cleaning off an old bookshelf, or a drawer. The best way to clean something effectively is to just remove everything, wipe the surface clean of dirt, and dust, then put back just what you want to keep, and discard everything else.¹

Once I had a list of all the channels I wanted to keep, and I’ve unsubscribed from absolutely everything, I resubscribed to only the channels I wanted to keep. The 24 channels I decided to keep are:

Before I unsubscribed from everything, I had notifications turned on for quite a few channels, so a nice side-effect of unsubscribing and resubscribing to these channels is that they all now have notifications OFF! I really don’t need any of these channels to be sending push notifications each time they release a new video.

So that brings me to the last part of this plan: I needed to find a way to be able to watch my subscriptions without even looking at the YouTube homepage.

For me, the YouTube homepage is what was actually the addictive part. YouTube has gotten really good at showing people videos that will keep them want to watch more videos. It regularly introduces new channels you haven’t seen before, all with cleverly written titles and thumbnail images that make me want to just watch everything.

My new way of consuming YouTube is to only watch the videos I’m subscribed to and totally miss out on the homepage experience. So I found a simple way to do this by using the Shortcuts app on iOS to make a new icon on my homescreen which takes me directly to the Subscriptions page within the YouTube app. If you’d like to add this shortcut to your device you can tap here to view the Shortcut.

I’ve been using this new setup for about two weeks so far and I find it’s going quite well. There has been a few times where I have visited the YouTube homepage and gotten sucked in, but overall my usage has went wayyyy down.

How do you deal with your YouTube


¹As opposed to the half-assed way of cleaning that involves picking each item up one at a time, wiping the surface, and then deciding if you’d like to keep the item or not. You end up getting rid of far less junk that way.

Let’s talk about waterproof phones

The last few months have been… crazy (to put it lightly). I didn’t feel like sitting down to write about the normal things I like to write about for a long time, so I took a bit of a break for a couple months. I’m trying to get back to my normal state of mind, so I thought I’d write an article about dropping my phone in the sink. Anyway, I hope you all are as healthy and happy as you can be. Let’s get started. ‘

Remember that for the first 8 versions of the iPhone, getting your phone wet was such a big fear? I remember walking around with my brand new iPhone 6 Plus and it started to rain, and being terrified to even take it out of my pocket.

A year later with the 6S they started to implement a little bit of water resistance. They didn’t really talk about it in the marketing or anything, but device teardowns from the time showed things like rubber around certain internal components, adding more protection from moisture. 

But then a year later (2016), it was when the iPhone 7 came out that Apple said hey, this thing is actually water resistant. iPhone 7 had a new solid state home button that vibrated instead of clicked, and they also got rid of the headphone jack with that phone. These two things did a lot to seal up some of the major points where water damage could leak into the phone.

Now, I currently own a almost three year old iPhone X. To be honest, it’s not in great shape. On the front and the back, it’s completely smashed. Still works fine! And I’m not looking to get it fixed because in all honesty that would probably cost $800, and the iPhone 12 is supposed to come out in just a couple of months.

Anyway, the other day I accidentally dropped it in the sink and I was like “shit”, with the screen so smashed, I was sure it would fry instantly. But I dried it off, and it was absolutely fine.

I really have no idea how it is still working. I guess they’ve just gotten so good at waterproofing phones you can completely smash both the front, and the back of it, proceed to drop it in a sink full of dirty dishwater and just pat it dry and it’s fine.

I’m just really impressed that they're able to seal up every little part of the phone where water can get into it and protect the batteries and microchips inside from liquid damage. 

I think that phone waterproofing is not something a lot of people really notice and it happened just slow enough that people kind of take it for granted now. But personally, that's one thing about modern iPhones that I'm really thankful for is that I can use my pocket computer in any weather without having to worry about it short circuiting if one little droplet of water gets into it. Im also glad that we don’t have to buy those ugly $120 lifeproof cases anymore either.

The magic of real memories created in fake worlds

Considering the worlds within games, the experiences games can give us, and the unique, new kind of memories we can draw from them

I grew up in a really small town, and I think that is a part of what got me so interested in the worlds that exist within games from a young age. Being somewhat isolated made me really apprecaite the adventures I could go on within games. Though I didn’t hate growing up in the middle of nowhere, I was looking for ways to see more, do more, and be more.

Millions of people are more isolated now than they’re used to, and that’s why they’re looking for new ways to have experiences, just like I did when I was a kid. People are looking for ways to experience adventure while at home, so naturally videogame sales have gone way up. Nintendo sold more than double the number of consoles in March 2020 than they did in March 2019.

This is what’s got me thinking about the worlds within games, the experiences games can give us, and the unique, new kind of memories we can draw from them. 


Though similar to starting to read a new book or watching a new movie, the experience of booting up a game is enhanced in my opinion. When you boot up a new game, that’s a world you inhabit. Just like the real world, games are worlds you can explore at your own pace, go on adventures: fall in love, experience loss, gain power, and lose everything within. As time passes you become familiar with these worlds, just like the real world.

The profound thing about these worlds is that they’re created – from scratch – by other humans. How incredible is that. Now, for the first time in human history (aka millions of years), we can now create our own worlds, and share them with each other. These new worlds are unbound by the laws and physics of the real world. 

Game developers are the god of their worlds, they make all the rules. Real people spend years of their lives painstakingly creating every single part of these worlds with nothing but their computers. And it’s worth it, because once they’re finished, they can share their new worlds with us.

A game world is not a solitary world like ours is. Game worlds are an interesting kind of shared world where each of us gets to experience it as the protagonist. This world was made for you. But at the same time, everyone else who has purchased the game gets to experience it in their own way, and create their own memories. And sadly, those who don’t play don’t get to have those experiences and thus, take part in these new shared memories.

It’s so easy to forget that games have only really been around for the last 30–40 years. That’s approximately two generations out of the thousands of generations of humans that get to jump into imaginary worlds. Now, for the first time in human history, we can create a world – any type of world we wish – and create memories of real experiences for others. 

These are a new and contemporary type of memory, because after all games don’t actually exist in the real world. All they are is just a machine doing some weird things with electricity. 

Games are essentially a computer crunching numbers and then outputting a stream of electricity to a screen which in turn flashes thousands or millions of pixels different colours 60 times per second. To the computer, games are meaningless. The computer is just following directions, but hand a human the controller and have them look at the screen with their eyes, and boom: it’s a real world that they get to go into, become a new person, and create memories. It’s through our human senses that we are able to see what’s happening in front of us, control it, extract meaning, and create memories.

Games are the illusion of a world, but the memories they create for us are just as real as something we can experience in the real world. Like i said earlier, these worlds do not exist. They exist only within the minds of humans.

It’s something that I consider myself to be grateful for, that I get to be alive during this time. Games are something to treasure and something to be thankful for because we get to do things in them that would be impossible in the real world. 


What do you think?

What are your favourite memories have you created within a game world? Do you also think it’s profound how humans now have the ability to create new memories for others using games as a medium? Or am I just overthinking it? Lol

Let me know by replying to this email, or let me know on twitter.

5 Coronavirus-related articles worth your time

Extending humanity's time horizon, Covid-19 symptoms guide, the concept of "the great equalizer", global progress's reverse, and the real Lord of the Flies

It’s been odd sending out newsletters to you guys without really mentioning Coronavirus. Current events, politics, and the sort have never been something I’ve been particularly interested in writing about, but what’s happening right now with COVID-19 is so all encompassing, it’s really affected every aspect of my life, and probably yours too.

Getting past Coronavirus is currently number one on humanity’s hierarchy of needs. Until that happens, almost nothing else really matters. It’s like when the clock strikes dinnertime, and you haven’t had a chance to eat all day. When you’re hungry, it’s impossible to care about what you’re going to wear to Susan’s party next weekend. It’s like that, but worse!

From my experience, the single most important thing I’ve been doing to help myself understand what’s happening is just by reading.

That’s why, rather than me try to get too deep into talking about my own feelings on Coronavirus, I want to send some of the articles that have brought me mental clarity.

Let’s dive in.


The Coronavirus and our Future

Kim Stanley Robinson (science fiction author) for The New Yorker:

And yet: “Flatten the curve.” We’re now confronting a miniature version of the tragedy of the time horizon. We’ve decided to sacrifice over these months so that, in the future, people won’t suffer as much as they would otherwise. In this case, the time horizon is so short that we are the future people. It’s harder to come to grips with the fact that we’re living in a long-term crisis that will not end in our lifetimes. But it’s meaningful to notice that, all together, we are capable of learning to extend our care further along the time horizon. Amid the tragedy and death, this is one source of pleasure. Even though our economic system ignores reality, we can act when we have to. At the very least, we are all freaking out together. To my mind, this new sense of solidarity is one of the few reassuring things to have happened in this century. If we can find it in this crisis, to save ourselves, then maybe we can find it in the big crisis, to save our children and theirs.

“Short term pain for long term gain”. That’s the reason we’re taking such drastic measures to stop Coronavirus: we are doing the hard thing now in order to prevent even worse things from happening later.

Robinson hopes that perhaps, since we can now understand the gradeschool level concept of Planning For The Future, perhaps we can broaden our sights to just a little bit further. Maybe we can make some short term sacrifices (invest money in clean power, redistribute resources more evenly, etc.) to prevent Planet Earth from becoming an uninhabitable fireball in 100 years just so some already rich billionaires can become even more rich than they are right now.

We can hope.


Why Days 5 to 10 Are So Important When You Have Coronavirus

Tara Parker-Hope for NYT:

“With any other disease, most people, after a week of symptoms, they’re like ‘OK, things will get better,’” said Dr. Leora Horwitz, associate professor of population health and medicine at N.Y.U. Langone Health. “With Covid, I tell people that around a week is when I want you to really pay attention to how you’re feeling. Don’t get complacent and feel like it’s all over.”

It’s important to call a doctor if you have shortness of breath or any concerning symptom no matter what day of illness you are on. And don’t panic if you still feel lousy after a week of illness. It’s common for Covid symptoms to linger, and feeling unwell for more than a week doesn’t always mean you need medical treatment.

A lot of good info in here, including a full description of the typical 14-day timeline of Covid-19 symptoms.

Thanks, Dustin, for sending this to me.


The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying

Coronavirus is not “the great equalizer” as the rich and famous seem to think it is. In fact, Covid-19 and the shutdown are disproportionately affecting minorities and people of low-income levels.

Adam Serwer, politics writer for The Atlantic:

The implied terms of the racial contract are visible everywhere for those willing to see them. A 12-year-old with a toy gun is a dangerous threat who must be met with lethal force; armed militias drawing beads on federal agents are heroes of liberty. Struggling white farmers in Iowa taking billions in federal assistance are hardworking Americans down on their luck; struggling single parents in cities using food stamps are welfare queens. Black Americans struggling in the cocaine epidemic are a “bio-underclass” created by a pathological culture; white Americans struggling with opioid addiction are a national tragedy. Poor European immigrants who flocked to an America with virtually no immigration restrictions came “the right way”; poor Central American immigrants evading a baroque and unforgiving system are gang members and terrorists.

Powerful paragraph, but read the whole article.


Covid-19 could reverse decades of global progress

I find myself particularly interested in reading about the longterm effects of Coronavirus. This article by Sigal Samuel from Vox lists 8 different ways our society is getting set back because of everything going on.

Some quotes I found interesting:

Experts are also concerned that we’re going to see surging rates of sexually transmitted infection (STI) and that the fight against HIV will probably take a hit because people are not going in for testing. 

And:

According to a new analysis out of King’s College London and Australian National University, it could push an additional 8 percent of our planet’s population into poverty — some 500 million people. That would effectively wipe out three decades of economic development.

And:

We’ve all been told to stay at home, but for millions of people, home is dangerous. “Every year, more than 10 million Americans experience domestic violence, and experts fear that the pandemic and the isolation necessary to combat it could drive those numbers even higher,” Anna North wrote for Vox in March.


The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months

We’ve all read Lord of the Flies. It’s a story that assumes that, when removed from society, children become cruel and animalistic.

But is it really human nature to act like this?

Rutger Bregman writes for The Guardian:

I began to wonder: had anyone ever studied what real children would do if they found themselves alone on a deserted island? I wrote an article on the subject, in which I compared Lord of the Flies to modern scientific insights and concluded that, in all probability, kids would act very differently. 

During his research on the subject, the author discovers an old article from 1966 detailing an account where a group of shipwrecked boys, in fact, didn’t resort to cannibalism. They were able to survive peacefully and work together for over a year before they were rescued.

But “by the time we arrived,” Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs, “the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.” While the boys in Lord of the Flies come to blows over the fire, those in this real-life version tended their flame so it never went out, for more than a year.

In addition to just being a lovely story overall, this made me think about how, when I originally read Lord of the Flies, I wish I would have been more skeptical of the book. It’s in our human nature to work together to survive. When circumstances are grim, people tend to cooperate, stick together, and be even more kind than they are during prosperous times.

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