Change up sleep routine

It’s pretty scary to realise you prefer to sleep early and wake up early based on old tweets you have done. Then somehow you slipped up and you find yourself sleeping later.

And how much later, you might ask?

Try three hours after your supposed sleeping time. It’s well beyond midnight, mind you. Then you got to wake up early for work. What’s worse is when you go through this kind of sleep deprivation for longer than two months with no end in sight and you don’t even know why. Your mind just refuse to sleep early.

This isn’t doing me any good. The long term effect of this sleep deprivation includes making one feel very tired, depressed and lack the motivation to do anything.

It’s probably why my consistency when it comes to writing or blogging in general has fallen off the cliff. And I suspect it’s the root of my problems. Been having trouble trying to write the short stories that I have planned. All those writer blocks…

So I decided to change up my sleeping routine by turning in before 10pm starting today. And I’ve got an excuse to do that now. Need to wake up an hour earlier than usual for my military reservist training tomorrow.

Applying minimalism to technology

Technology is a huge part of our lives now whether you like it or not. And it has also start to cause issues in terms of our health and well-being. This is why there is this rise in people talking about digital minimalism.

And I’m here to add my voice to that pool.

It is without doubt that I love technology ever since I came in contact with computers in the early 1990s. There were times when I want to buy every gadgets that I like. And I like to have the latest and greatest. Thus, I would willingly go into debt just so that I can buy that. Best part is, it didn’t matter if I would be maximising my purchase.

But as time progresses and you getting older, it has this funny way of make you relook at things. Getting the latest of every gadget was and is no longer something that I put so much emphasis on. And I came to understand and appreciate the pain associated with earning the money necessary to fund that behaviour. My contact with minimalism late 2017 further change how I look at and own technological products.

Buying the latest and greatest is something that I still do. But, what I don’t do is buying the latest and greatest from every single technology company that I get to know and read about. And what I don’t do is to buy a device just so that it fulfil that one function I care about, which ultimately lead me down the road where I have different devices on hand to serve different purposes. Last but not least, I don’t buy cheap technological products.

And as with all minimalists, the thing that you ultimately own has to improve your life or bring joy. To ensure that, I have to be very clear about my values and make the purchase only when they align with what I care about.

The product’s build quality and design are the first two things I focus on. The product has to feel solid and attention has been paid to every detail. The product has to look great and fit into my existing collections of devices. Then, depending on the context, the product also has to offer better security and privacy than the competition. The product has to be the best in the category the company has intended it for: performance, experience, functions, etc. And last but not least, the product has to be able to help me consolidate, or in other words, reduce the amount of technological products I need to have for various use cases or functionality. Finally, I look at price.

By applying that methodology, it allows me to be intentional about my purchase of the latest and greatest products. And that also meant I end up only buying one specific company’s products because they fulfil all my requirements. So even if the competition offer something even better, let’s say, more features at a lower cost, I ignore that.

Through this manner of applying minimalism, the products I do own are longer lasting and I save resources in the long run despite high cost of the purchase.

To put into perspective, let’s say you pay $4000 for a computer compared to paying $2000 for a computer. With the $4000 computer, due to its higher quality material and better manufacturing process, it last you 3 years. On the other hand, the $2000 computer last you 3 years but require you to send it for maintenance or repair every few months after the first year. When you look at things in this manner, you will realise the process of sending something for repair cost time and money. Then if the computer is your primary machine, you lose productivity too. Not to mention, the emotional impact of having to deal with these kind of inconvenience.

You might think, what if I buy two cheaper computers? Then I will have a backup. Sure, but why waste the physical space and clutter your area? What are the odds of the first computer breaking down that require you to switch? And how often do you switch? Do you want to bring both computers out with you? And what about the time you are going to waste to ensure both computers are running the same software and have the same data?

So let’s say you agree with me and you got a better quality product that contribute to you living happier, help protect the environment and achieve a more focus life. What’s next?

The answer is continue to apply minimalism to the products you already own.

With the rate of technological progress, you will find yourself dealing with lots of junk. Old hardware that doesn’t work anymore, boxes and cables.

For old hardware, you can and should dispose them responsibly if they don’t work. If the hardware works, then sell it off on the re-sale market to get some cash back or give it someone who need it.

As for boxes, well, if they belong to old products that you no longer use, then it’s high time you recycle them. If they belong to products you’ve recently bought, then it’s best to keep them until the end of warranty period so that you have an easy way of shipping the hardware back to the company if there is a need for repair. But don’t let me stop you from discarding it all together.

Then there is the cables. Throughout my life of owning technological product, I always find myself having more cables than there are devices. Not only that, just imagine the sight of dozens of cables running across the floor, on your desks and along the wall. Isn’t that a form of clutter? Not to mention, they are unsightly and pose safety issues. What if you trip over the cables?

There are two approaches to this. And I’m assuming you don’t keep cables that you no longer use.

You can attempt to do cable management. That means you have to spend time and effort to route the cables such that they are out of the way, looks great and still works as you want them to. If you enjoy doing such a thing, then sure, go ahead. But to me, it’s just organised clutter. Not very minimalistic.

The other approach would be to go wireless. Using wireless technology will contribute to your decluttering process because of the reduced need to run cables everywhere. Not only that, it also free up space that could be used for other purpose. Or it could simply be left as it is. An empty space. The latter is definitely a better sight than cables running everywhere.

However, there are several problems with wireless technology.

The first issue is that under certain circumstances, wireless connections may not work as well as wired connection because of the possibility of signal interference. For example, Bluetooth and traditional WiFi both uses 2.4 GHz radio waves. And WiFi waves are much stronger in strength and that could cancel out your Bluetooth signals, causing disconnection. Sadly, there is nothing you can do about that because it’s physics.

The other issue would be security and privacy. Because it relies on radio waves, another person could hijack and listen in on the transmissions between devices. To help mitigate that, you would have to get products made by companies that requires authentication during wireless connection and subsequently encrypt that connection. So far, the only company I know that does this as best as they could for their products would be Apple.

If you are okay with these two issues or that they don’t affect you that much, then there’s nothing stopping you from making that leap.

But that doesn’t mean you get to buy cheap wireless products. They are technological products. Apply the same quality-seeking methodology when it comes to the purchases. This way, you reduce your nightmares, contribute to your quality of life and overall happiness.

Lack of experiences kill your creativity

It’s very easy for us humans to fall into the trap of sticking to what’s familiar. We like it because of how it make us feel. Comfortable is the word to use here. After all, who likes to struggle every day of their life?

I definitely don’t. But I recognised that it had crept up on me. I grew comfortable with what I’m doing with my life that my blog is suffering from lack of content. Comfort leads to writer’s block and that leads to no content created.

So being comfortable is bad.

Right?

Probably…

By allowing yourself to grow very comfortable and remain status quo, it’s very easy for you to find you are unable to think out of the box or come up with new solutions fast enough. It’s just a fact. Similar to how you keep doing the same set of exercises and your body has grown used to it, comfort leads to strengthening of existing neural connections that you have already established, and after a while the brain stops doing that because there’s no more necessary changes to the signalling.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable. Comfortable sometimes could be you have reached the pinnacle of whatever skill you are developing. That means you could do that thing faster than before.

However, the key here is moderation.

New challenges and experiences forces the brain to create new connections and reshape existing ones. And when you keep doing that, the brain is constantly changing and reinforcing certain connections that ultimately results in its ability to come up with new ideas. This is where you can think out of the box when the time comes. If you keep practicing doing that, it can also make you more confident as a person when it comes to dealing with new problems as they come.

For those who are neurotic, constantly worrying about stuff or have low self-esteem, they would probably go like, “Are you crazy? Take on new challenges? I’d rather kill myself.”

I know. I can relate. It’s very difficult to get yourself to experience new things. Personally, I have this issue because of my innate desire for stability and consistency in life. I’ve lost count of how many times I need to will myself to do something different just so that I expand my knowledge and experience.

This is why you won’t see me asking someone to do something drastic just to increase or revive your creativity. For example, there is no need for you to jump out of a perfectly good airplane just so you can jumpstart your creativity. You won’t see me doing that either.

Yet, it’s not good either to leave the “lack of experience, can’t create” situation unresolved. Not if you want to grow any further.

Instead, what you probably could do is find and know where is your comfort zone. Then ask yourself if you are willing to go out of your comfort zone by just one or two steps. If you do, then do it. And if you do manage to go out of your comfort zone by three to ten steps, then it’s even better. If not, then it’s better that you don’t complain about your situation and just live with it.

And you know what?

Sometimes, the new experience can come from simply changing up where you stand or sit when you are riding the train to work or to go back home. Or having a drink at your local coffee shop. Or maybe just take a different route to go to your usual places.

My thoughts on Light vs Dark Mode when using Mac OS Mojave

Dark mode is a feature that basically flip the colour palette of all UI elements on your computer from light colours like sliver or white to dark grey and black.

With dark mode, the most visible change is the overall theme and text. It changed the text colour from black text on white background to light grey on dark background. User interface (UI) elements like windows, popup dialogs, and buttons use dark grey for its background with light grey icons and text. Because of that, the whole UI don’t distract a user from what they are working on. When working on a computer for long period of times, dark mode also doesn’t strain the eyes too much and reduce fatigue.

So I believe there are a substantial amount of creators, be it artists, programmers or writers, who prefer the use of dark mode over the traditional light mode because they have to work at their computer for long period of time and want to be able to focus on the content they are creating.

For me, as a programmer and writer, I also prefer dark mode because of the reasons mentioned above.

But I didn’t start out using that because there was never such an option on the earlier version of Windows. Back then, I always thought whatever Microsoft gave was good enough, starting from Windows 95 to Windows 8. So I read, wrote and coded using dark text on white background for as long as I remembered. It was only until 2015 when I started tinkering with the integrated development environment I used for software development to use dark mode after I found some articles on why it’s better. And it was only one of the few applications that I used that allowed for customisation without fear of breaking the whole operating system. Since then, I have never quite gone back to using light mode or light themes when writing or coding.

However, I continued to use light themes for the whole operating system even after jumping into Apple ecosystem because I didn’t quite want to tinker with the operating system.

Apple finally decided to add Dark Mode support for Mac OS with the release of Mac OS Mojave. We should applaud them for it since they did spend quite a fair amount of resources to implement dark mode properly for Mac OS. As the saying goes, “To do it is easy but to do it right takes effort.”

Well I didn’t hesitate and make the switch upon the release of that OS update.

Here is the Finder application on the Mac. For those who never used a Mac before, Finder is basically the Mac OS version of the File Explorer on Windows.

The first is the light mode. Look at how everything looks so bright, maybe a little cheery and not so dull.

And here is the dark mode version. It looks cool and professional on first sight.

And here is iTunes on the Mac.

In light mode, the whole application does look a little glaring and bright because of the white background. The music albums doesn’t look as enticing. It just give you the feeling that everything is of equal importances.

The whole experience changes in dark mode. The music albums simply pop out. They bring your attention to them and you can forget about the rest of the stuff. This is where I thought dark mode is well implemented.

Finally in the writing application that I predominantly use, iA writer. It supports both light and dark mode.

In light mode, the dark text on white background looks fine. It’s like what majority of us experienced when browsing the web and reading on printed reports. But if your monitor brightness and contrast are set high, then it can be very glaring.

And on dark mode, everything feels different. Definitely less straining on the eyes. With that, I swear I could write for hours and hours. My attention are all brought to the text on the screen and not the blank canvas around it.

It all sounds fine and good. Dark mode is the best if you want to get work done and get into the zone quickly. But here’s the kicker. After using dark mode for several months now, I’ve come to realised I didn’t like dark mode as much as I thought.

Yes, dark mode looks cool and professional but it’s a depressing sight. It gives you the impression that life is boring. Everything is all about work and no play. And on the Mac OS, certain aspect isn’t done as well as you thought.

For example, when you combine dark grey with translucency like the one you see when you open up the Finder, it makes the dark colours look a little washout and doesn’t look as futuristic or cool as you thought it should. Furthermore, the colour mix Apple chose for the various UI elements made everything looks boring too. Other than the usual blue, dark grey, light grey, and the traffic light buttons at the top, there isn’t much else to spice up the overall UI.

Here are some example of dark mode/theme that I thought are well done. They are themes for the Linux operating system.

https://www.addictivetips.com/ubuntu-linux-tips/best-dark-themes-for-linux-in-2018/

Look at the vibrant colour selections. Some of them don’t use dark grey for the background of the various windows. They go with something that’s slightly more bluish. And there isn’t much translucency to be found on these linux versions. There’s nothing wrong with translucency. But if you want to do it, do it only when it’s light mode because translucency kind of represent openness and joy. When you do it for dark mode, it gives conflicting signals like how can you be dark while being open or joyful.

Lastly, the dark mode hasn’t really been helping with my mood lately.

So I’ve decided to switch back to light mode when it comes to using the operating system and my creative tools. I want to feel happy when I’m using my computer. Don’t want it to suck the joy out of my life. It’s depressing enough.

Diversifying your genre

All of us humans have something in common. We have our own likes and dislikes when it comes to food, drinks, entertainment and even physical activities. And it’s no surprising that we only go for what we like and avoid what we dislike at all cost. After all, who wants to feel uncomfortable?

But as the saying goes, being uncomfortable is what allow us to grow and to be better. When it comes to writing, that means diversifying.

In order to write, it’s necessary for writers to read a lot. That’s how they can learn and grow to become better at their craft. So if a writer prefers only science fiction, like in my case, then he or she would read up anything set in that genre to get inspiration, improve on their character development, world building, etc. Maybe occasionally, he or she would read books or novels in another genre because it managed to catch their attention.

However, this approach may not be as effective as you think to help you grow as a writer. There are only so many variations you can do a particular genre that you will find yourself doing the same thing as those authors when you are finally done with a story.

Let’s take science fiction as an example. There are two main type of science fiction: hard and soft (not a very precise term). Hard science fiction doesn’t play fast and loose with the laws of physics. Every piece of technology or ideas featured must have basis in real life. On the other hand, soft science fiction allows for faster-than-light travel, fantasy elements like super human powers, etc. And under each category, you can have space opera-type, utopia-type science fiction and dystopia-type science fiction. As for enemies, maybe you have either aliens, rogue machines, or maybe another species of humans.

Just imagine what would happen if you stick to reading and writing only science fiction forever…

I have always been writing and reading science fiction throughout my late teens and adulthood. My ideas are really only drawn from science fiction books, video games or shows that I’ve seen. After a while, I realised I’m doing the same shit as the rest are doing. I’m not growing any more. It’s boring as hell.

That’s why I decided to go into horror. There is this goal of mine. To be able to merge science fiction, horror and thriller together to create a compelling story. As some people said, the best ideas are those that intersects multiple themes.

And to be able to do that, in my view, it means that you have reached the height of your writing ability. I also know it will take a lot of hard work.

For a start, you have to consume the right kind of horror. You have to understand what it meant to create horror. There are so many horror movies out there. Video games too. And you can always read Stephen King’s books like The Shining and IT. For me, I love horror because of the way they make me feel. They make me worry for the characters, worry about what’s going to come out and scare me out of my seat, etc.

But when it comes to creating it, it is difficult. I mentioned it once in a previous post. And I remembered what my school English teachers once said, “Horror is very difficult to write. Please don’t do it for your English composition, especially during examination if you want to pass.”

They are right. You see, I’ve been stuck for weeks now when it comes to writing Part 3 of Murderous House as I wasn’t sure how to bring out the suspense and make my readers fear for the characters anymore.

Yet it doesn’t mean that you give up. I’m not giving up just yet as I still try to put in words and form the story paragraph by paragraph. It’s important that we use this kind of situation to learn and grow further. Now, since I don’t know how to bring out the suspense or horror anymore, then I have to go find inspirations and also dig deep into my memories of how horror make me feel and then realise something suitable for the story. I’ve got to read more horror. And I’ve got the game Resident Evil 2 (2019) keeping me at the edge of my seat. I can draw on those feelings I get to write.

When I do get out of this debacle, it would meant that I have learnt something new and could apply it to my next piece of writing. As the skills get developed further, it would allow me as a writer to experiment comfortably and to tell a better story. That means I would be one step closer to my goal of telling a story that merges science fiction, horror and thriller genres.

So if you enjoy writing a story of a specific genre, maybe it’s time you stop for a while and change. Let’s say you enjoy reading and writing romance novels. Maybe it’s time you switch to action stories. Or maybe thriller. Who knows. Maybe you can create an even more compelling romance story based on your diversification.