Ricky Spears’ Blog
Empower. Challenge. Advance.

27
May

You Appreciate Me!

You appreciate me! Seriously. You do. Whether you know it or not. You appreciate me. In fact, you’re doing it right now. You’re appreciating me right now! The truth is, you appreciate me far more than you’ll probably ever even know.

If you’ve continued to read to this second paragraph, you’re probably thinking, Who is he to tell me what or who I appreciate? In fact, I don’t appreciate him telling me I appreciate him. F@&$%#ing Jerk!

Let me explain…

The way you define the word ‘appreciate’ varies depending on your mindset at the time. Unless you’re a really negative person most of the time, if I were to ask you what the word ‘appreciate’ means, your first thought would probably be that’s it’s an expression of gratitude—and I wouldn’t disagree with that. If I were to ask you what that word means as you were preparing for your final exam in your Art Appreciation 101 class, you would probably say it means to hold in high regard. If I were to ask you to define it after we had a discussion about the office of the President, you might say that it’s a term of respect—such as you may appreciate the office of the President even if you don’t appreciate the person in that office at the time.

Those three meanings of the word ‘appreciate’ are correct and proper in their context, but I think all three of them are extensions of another meaning. If I asked you to define the word just after you had made a financial investment, you would have told me that it means to increase in value. When I use the word ‘appreciate’, this is the definition I mean most of the time because I think all the definitions are just different facets of this definition.

When I tell you, "I appreciate you,” what I’m saying is that, “You have increased my value. I’m more valuable as a person because of some investment that you’ve made in me.” Therefore, you appreciate (increase in value) me.

Think about your own interactions with other people. As our lives touch other people’s lives each of us is affected in at least some small way. The effect may be positive or negative (it may be neutral, but I think that’s incredibly rare). If one person considers an interaction to be a positive thing, then that person has increased in value—he may be a little happier, may feel more energized, may feel more relaxed, may feel more empowered, etc… If the interaction is seen as negative by one person, then the net result is that the person feels his or her value has depreciated—she may feel a little more sad, may feel more angry, may feel more hurt, etc… I say that neutral encounters are rare because even simple eye-contact or a smile while passing someone on a sidewalk could have a net positive effect–and the absence of eye contact or a smile could have a net negative effect.

How would our world change if we saw every interaction with every other human being—either directly or indirectly—as an investment in that person? An investment that either increases or decreases his or her value? Hmmm… Now there’s a thought to ponder for a while!

So, when I say, “I appreciate you,” or “I appreciate you inviting me to lunch,” or “I appreciate you praying for me,” (or any other time I use the word appreciate) what I’m really saying is you’ve made an investment in me and the investment you’ve made has increased my value. ‘Appreciate’ becomes a term for expressing gratitude only when I recognize that you have made an investment in me and that investment has increased my personal value.

When you tell me you appreciate something I’ve done, something I’ve said, something I’ve written, something I’ve created, or some quality about me, what I’m hearing is the ching-ching of your internal self-image-cash-register indicating that I’ve made some investment in you and that it has had a positive result. You’re telling me, “You appreciate me.”

I appreciate you reading this blog post. What I mean is that my personal value has increased because you invested your time in reading the words I’ve written. You do appreciate me—and for that, I’m very grateful.

There’s a never ending cycle here. As you invest in me, I invest in you, you invest in me, and the cycle goes on and on.

See? I told you so. You appreciate (increase in value) me!


15
May

My Fifth Week on Ritalin

I’m hesitant to say this is my final post on my Ritalin experiment, but unless something drastic changes, I expect it will be quite a while before I write more on the topic. For those that missed the earlier posts, here are links to the ones for week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4.

The new thing I added last week was a second med-day dose—that’s one 20mg tablet in the morning and a second 20mg tablet about six or so hours later. I’m not consistent the times I take them, but the idea is to take the second one about an hour before the first one wears off so I don’t experience the crash, but do continue to have the positive effects throughout the afternoon and into the evening. My schedule isn’t the same every day–although I do try to get up at the same time every day, my routine can vary greatly, so I can’t really have cues built into my routine for when I take my medication. It needs to be taken with food (or about a half-hour before eating), and meals are one of those routines that varies greatly.

I was in Redmond, Washington last week teaching SharePoint to Microsoft employees. Regardless of which time zone I’m in, I now try to keep my body clock on my regular East Coast time–yes, this means that I get up at 3am and go to bed around 9pm when I’m on Pacific time. Since I feel like I’m on top of my game when I’m front of the classroom, and I didn’t want to risk still having a lot of stimulant in my system at bed time, I skipped the afternoon dose on those days. However, I did take the afternoon dose the other days.

The afternoon dose has been a very positive thing. The positive benefits do in fact continue throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Before the afternoon dose, as well as before I even started the medication, I was usually exhausted by 8pm or so. I wasn’t sleepy, but just didn’t have energy to do much of anything except read and the regular base things that interested me. With this second dose I can easily do housework, do other creative work, and I’m more fully engaged with the people who are with me.

I do still experience the crash, but it’s typically around 10pm or 11pm. I’m usually not doing much at that time except winding down anyway, so it’s not too bad. I just experience a sudden and immense tiredness that lasts for about an hour.

I have noticed that a couple evenings I had a harder time getting to sleep than usual. I would lie in bed, I was tired, but it took me a while to get to sleep. This doesn’t happen every night, but it has happened some. I also don’t think it’s happened two nights in a row either. Perhaps it’s because I’m back on getting a regular 5- to 6-hours of sleep each night instead of 8-hours (you’ll remember this is where I function best). If I don’t sleep well one night, I don’t seem to have a hard time getting to sleep the next night.

Concerning my physical health, I continue to find that I have more willpower to consistently make high-protein/low-carbohydrate food choices. I reduced my weight by three more pounds. If you’re not keeping up with that, that’s a total decrease of 14-pounds in 4 weeks (although this was my fifth week on the medication, I didn’t start making diet changes until the second week). Exercise (or rather ‘physical activity’, since I hate the word exercise) has gone well too. When I was in Seattle, I had one free afternoon after I had everything set up for my class and I went for an hour-and-a-half hike in Bridle Trails State Park. I brought a redeye flight back home Friday night and I had about an hour to kill in the Charlotte airport, so I went for a 3-mile walk around the airport. I felt really good from all that too. Last night I went hiking on the trails around Radnor Lake in Nashville, TN. Although the physical benefits of regular physical activity have never motivated me, the mental benefits do. I had an especially stressful day yesterday and I really needed to expend some energy and spend some time in nature as well. Although I didn’t ‘feel’ like doing it, I think the Ritalin does strengthen my willpower and ability to say ‘yes’ to the right things.

I’ve been both humbled and amazed at the people that have connected with me through reading these blog posts. A lot of people have opened up and shared about their experiences with Adult ADHD and their experiences with medication too. Everyone isn’t as comfortable sharing publicly about their mental disorders as I am. I’ve vowed to keep their secrets though and I have no intention of breaking that. I’m very much enjoying those friendships (both old and new) and the fact that we can talk about the trials and triumphs associated with this disorder. I mention this as a public way of thanking those people for connecting to me, and also to let others who are reading this know that you can contact me privately to talk about your Adult ADHD experience and you can know that I won’t judge you, nor will I share anything you share with me. Life’s journey is much easier and more enjoyable when we don’t feel like we’re on the path alone.

I’ll close with a book recommendation. If you are an Adult with ADHD, the book More Attention, Less Defecit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD by Dr. Ari Tuckman (visit his blog for lots of great articles and his podcast)  is something you should definitely read. It’s written as a collection of many short articles, written and organized in a style for readers with ADHD. There is an entire section in that book on ADHD medications. If you’re not yet taking any medication for your ADHD, I want to suggest that you pick up this book and read that section so you have some good background information. Don’t depend on your doctor to know everything about ADHD medication or to share everything she knows with you—this is your life, your body, and you mind, and you need to empower yourself with as much knowledge about how it all works as you can.


13
May

How to Make End Tables for a Wooden Garden Swing

For many years, I’ve had a metal swing frame with an upholstered seat next to the garden pond in my back yard. Unfortunately, they only seem to last a few years. This year, I decided to purchase a wood swing and a wood frame in hopes that these will last much longer.

I chose the Great American Woodies 5’ Cypress Mission Swing and the Cypress A-Frame (also by Great American Woodies) from our nearby Lowe’s Home Improvement store. After adding a seat cushion, I’m mostly happy with the swing.


The Problem and Proposed Solution

There was one thing that bugged me though. It was the same thing that bugged me about all the other swings we’ve had in years past. There was no good place to sit our drinks, phones, books, tablets, or anything else we might have taken out there with us. Sure, we could sit it in the swing seat, but that’s just an accident waiting to happen.

Swing frame cross piece is too small to set anything on without it falling off.

Being the hacker that I am, I decided to make end tables (or side tables) for the swing. I’m well pleased with how the hack turned out. Before I show you how to make your own, here is the swing with both end tables in place, so you have some idea of what I’ll be showing you how to build below.

Completed Project - End Tables on Wooden Swing


Design Inspiration

My inspiration for how to attach the end tables came from the Side Table or Phone Shelf that is designed to fit over the guard rail of  OP Loftbed loft bed or bunk bed. If you’re interested in the plans for this, you’ll find them on the Free Loft Bed Plan Accessories page of the OP Loftbed web site. This table just sits over the guard rail and can be slid to any position or quickly removed entirely. It’s held in place by gravity and friction. This was designed by my good friend Charles Cranford, who also designed the OP Loftbed.

Telephone Table for OP Loftbed


Materials

I knew that the two tables needed to be approximately 2-feet long since that’s about how long the cross piece is that would be supporting them. I also knew that I needed two table support support pieces to fit on either side of the cross piece. I bought one 1 x 8 x 8’ Kil-Dried Cedar board and one 1 x 3 x 8’ Kiln-dried Cedar Board (Note: this link is to the 1 x 2 Kiln-dried Cedar Board because they don’t have the 1 x 3 on their web site). I chose cedar because the color of the swing is really close to the color our building is stained, our building is cedar, and I still had some of the stain left; cedar also seems to be really similar to the cypress the rest of the swing is made from. I also bought a box of #6 x 1-1/2” Flat Head Phillips Wood Screws to assemble everything with. I think I had around $25 in all the materials combined.


Initial Measurements

There were only a couple important measurements to consider on the swing.

The first is the overall length I wanted the table to be. I decided to make them the same length as the top of the cross piece on the swing: 26-1/2”.

The second dimension to consider is how long to make the pieces that would support the table and fit on either side of the crosspiece—I decided to call these pieces “squeezers”. The opening at the top of the crosspiece is 20-1/8” long. I couldn’t make them this long because they had to be able to slide in from the top. The cedar 1 x 3 actually measures 3/4” x 2-1/2”. The cedar 1 x 8 measures 11/16” x 7-7/16”. This meant that I needed a width measurement about 3-1/2” above this. This measured around 18-1/2”, so I decided my squeezers should be about 18” long.

Important Swing Measurements


Cutting the Pieces

The cuts were all really easy to make.

For the squeezers, I just cut four 18” long pieces of the cedar 1 x 3. This gave me two sets of two. Here is a finished set. Note, this is after staining. I didn’t take pictures of anything until I was finished, then I took them apart for the pictures.

Squeezers and Measurements

To make the table top, I first cut two 26-1/2” pieces of the cedar 1 x 8. The notches in the back measure 4-1/4” x 3/4” (the width of one of the squeezers and half of the overall length minus the length of the squeezer (26-1/2” – 18” = 8-1/2”; 8-1/2” / 2 = 4-1/4”)). The angles at the top are just 45° angles cut from the center of the width of the board (about 3-3/4” from one edge).

Swing Side Table Tabletop and Measurements

Here are the finished pieces for one side table without all the measurements on them.

All Cut Pieces for Wooden Swing Side Table


Assembling the Tables

Note: I don’t have pictures of the assembly process, so you’ll have to use your imagination and I’ll try to make the narrative as clear as possible. If you do have any questions, just ask in the comments at the end.

I drilled three pilot holes in the table top, 3/8” from one edge (half the width of a 3/4” wide squeezer) at the center of the board and 6” off center. This spaced the two other holes at 3” from the end of the squeezer. After drilling the pilot holes, I used three #6 x 1-1/2” Wood Screws to fasten this one squeezer to the table top.

I wanted the squeezers to fit snugly on each side of the crosspiece. Rather than measure the thickness of the crosspiece and possibly have the tables fit a little loosely because of a 1/32” difference in measurement or something, I decided to fit the table in place, hold the second squeezer tight against the crosspiece and against the table, and draw a pencil mark along the outside top edge of the squeezer on the bottom of the tabletop piece.

On the bottom of the tabletop, I marked for the three screw holes using the the same linear positions and measurements as before, except these were 3/8” off the line I had just drawn (to be where the center line of the second squeezer would be). I drilled three pilot holes in the table top at these marks. I screwed three more screws into these pilot holes, but left the points just barely protruding.

To attach the second squeezer, I held everything in place again (just as I did before when I drew the line) and screwed the three remaining screws into the second squeezer board. At this point, I was done with one table and I repeated the process for the other one.

Here is what the finished end tables look like from the bottom.

Finished Wood Swing End Table from the Bottom

Here is whatone looks like from the top.

Finished Wood Swing End Table from the Top


Attaching the Table

Since the tables are just held on my gravity, no fasteners are needed. You just simply slide the notched edge of the tabletop between the frame supports and press down so the squeezers fit on each side of the crosspiece. This is the best picture I could get of putting one into place.

Setting the Wood Swing End Table into Place


The Finished Product

Here is what itlooks like from the inside of the frame.

view of Wooden Swing End Table from Inside the Swing Frame.

His what it looks like with a drink and my Xoom tablet on it. I think it’s the perfect size.

Wooden Swing Side Tablet with Drink and Tablet Computer (Motorola Xoom)

Once again, here is the the how the swing looks with both tables in place, just so you don’t have to scroll all the way back to the top to see it again.

Completed Project - End Tables on Wooden Swing


Final Words

This entire project cost less than $25 and probably took less than an hour to make. I probably have another 15-minutes in staining them (which I did on a different day). I think it would also be quite easy to make tables like this for other models of swings as well. I didn’t spend a lot of time making sure that every cut was perfect, nor did I sand anything before I finished it. I’m not a really good wood worker, but I generally understand how power tools and wood engineering and design works. The swing and frame has a slightly rustic look to them and I think the tables compliment it well.

If you have any additional questions, just ask the in the comments section below. If this inspires you to do something similar, please post a comment to let me know and I would love to see some pictures of your finished work as well.


13
May

How to Change the Time Zone in Windows with a BAT File Script

Because I travel back and forth across the United States a lot, I frequently have to change the time zone on my work laptop. This requires several steps:

  1. Click on the Date and Time area in the System Tray.
  2. Click Change date and time settings…
  3. Click the Change time zone… button.
  4. Find my current time zone in the Time zone drop-down list and select it. This is the single most frustrating part.
  5. Click the OK button on the Time Zone Settings dialog.
  6. Click the OK button on the Date and Time dialog.

That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re doing it a couple times a week it it get’s old. Here is what that looks like:
image

I’ve replaced this 6-click process with six BAT files that sit in a folder on my desktop. I double-click to open the folder and then double-click on the BAT file for the time zone I’m in. That’s two steps and I also don’t have to scroll through a lot of options to find the time zone I’m in. Here is what that this new process looks like:
image

 

The script code in each BAT file is very simple too. Here’s the code to switch to the Eastern Time Zone:
TZUTIL /s "Eastern Standard Time"

That’s it. That’s all. Just a single line in a a text file named TimeZone-1-Eastern.bat.

The only thing you have to know is the internal name Windows uses for the time zone. Here are the scripts for all the time zones in the United States:

TimeZone-1-Eastern.bat

TZUTIL /s "Eastern Standard Time"

TimeZone-2-Eastern-Indiana.bat

TZUTIL /s "US Eastern Standard Time"

TimeZone-3-Central.bat

TZUTIL /s "Central Standard Time"

TimeZone-4-Mountain.bat

TZUTIL /s "Mountain Standard Time"

TimeZone-5-Mountain-Arizona.bat

TZUTIL /s "US Mountain Standard Time"

TimeZone-6-Pacific.bat

TZUTIL /s "Pacific Standard Time"

If you need to figure out more of the time zone names, you can use the TZUTIL /l command and switch from a Command Prompt. You may also want to read the TechNet page for TZUTIL.

Happy travels!


08
May

My Fourth Week on Ritalin

If you’re new to this series and want to start from the beginning or you want to catch up on any updates you might have missed, here are links to my updates on my first, second, and third weeks on Ritalin.

Generally speaking, this week’s experience was the same as previous weeks and I seem to have settled into a bit of a groove with it. At first I thought that some of the benefits I was experiencing may be due to the placebo effect, but now I think they really are due to the medication’s physiological effects of Ritalin on my brain chemistry.

Because I had experimented with taking two pills on three mornings (by my doctor’s direction), my prescription was for 30-pills, and there were 28-days between doctor visits, I had to go one day without taking a pill at all. Since I feel the most “in the zone” when I’m teaching, I decided to make one of those days my day off the medication. The day went well, but I did notice that in the evening I was feeling more lonely and generally down, especially that evening.

I had another successful week eating a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet and reduced my weight by another 3-pounds. That’s a total decrease of 11-pounds in 3-weeks. The Ritalin seems to strengthen my willpower and makes it much easier to make better choices, even while traveling.

Yesterday morning I had my follow-up doctor appointment. He was well pleased with my progress too. My heart rate and blood pressure was fine, he was really excited about my weight decrease, he was glad I was happy with the positive changes in my thoughts, and he was glad the people around me were happy with the changes as well.

My doctor has asked me to add a tablet in the afternoon, about an hour before my usual crash to keep the medication in my blood stream longer. Neither he nor I want the crash to happen in the middle of the work day and neither of us want it to happen in the early to mid-evening either when it may interfere with social activities.

Yesterday was my first day taking an afternoon dose and it went well. I was really productive and focused all day long, even into the evening. I experienced my crash around 10pm and it seemed to be a harder crash than ones I experienced in the afternoons.

My doctor asked me about my sleeping patterns and I told him that has been fine. In fact, I’ve been able to get back on my 5- to 6-hours a night schedule which is typically where I function best—however, left to my own I can easily sleep (or rather lay there) for 8- or 9-hours just thinking and wear myself out for the day. I don’t think I slept much at all last night. I resisted the temptation to look at the clock and I think that for most of the evening I was in a state almost somewhere between awake and asleep but not entirely in either one. This is something I’ll need to continue monitoring.

This week I’ll be in Redmond Washington teaching SharePoint to Microsoft’s employees. I try to stay on my East Coast time schedule regardless of which time zone I’m in, so that means that I’ll be getting up around 3am. I’m not sure when I’ll eat breakfast or have my first caffeine, or when I’ll take my pills. I’ll just have to see how things work out. Also, I’ll be coming back on a red-eye flight. Those are always tough as well, especially since I don’t usually sleep well on planes. I’ll end up with about a 30-hour day between waking and getting to nap in my bed. So I think the time zone challenges and the cross-country travel will be huge things to deal with this week. I’ll let you know how it all went next week!


06
May

My GTD Tickler File: 17 Folders Instead of 43

Regular readers of this blog know very well about how I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity back at the end of 2002 and how it radically changed my life and how I work.

One of the tools David recommends for in the GTD system is a set of 43 manila folders—thirty-one of them labeled with the numbers 1 through 31 and twelve of them labeled with the names of the months. It’s a system that allows one to easily file a piece of paper so it will be seen at a later date. Each morning, the worker opens the folder for that particular day (and also opens the month folder on the first day of the month), empties the contents into the desktop inbox, and puts the folder in the back. Whenever you have a piece of paper or a note you want to see later, you just file it in the correct numbered folder (if you want to see it in the next month) or in one of the month-named folders if you want to see it up to a year later. I set up a tickler file like this and I’ve been using it for many years.

For the past several years I haven’t been checking my tickler file every day; I’ve only checked my tickler file about once a week, usually on Monday, when I would check the 7 folders for the upcoming week. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I travel so much, but I’m almost always at home on Monday morning (or at least Sunday evening) and another part is probably due to the fact that I don’t use much paper and therefore don’t have a lot of paper reminders I need to see.

A month or so ago I made a change to my tickler file system. I put away the folders numbered 1 through 31 and created five more folders labeled Week1 through Week 5 (see photo below). This has been working very well for me. It still works exactly the same, except I only need to check it once a week instead of once a day. When I do my weekly review and plan, I know what paper needs to be handled for the entire coming week because I’ve seen it already. When I file a piece of paper, I just put in the week or month folder in which I want to see it.

It’s still not practical for me to go totally electronic for some of these things, but for those pieces of paper I do want to see later, this works very well. I expect that before long I’ll be moving this tickler into Evernote where I’ll just use it for scanned (or photographed) paper things I want to see at a later time. Even in Evernote I don’t think I’ll return to 43 folders (or labels) for a tickler because 17 accomplishes the same thing, coordinates with the weekly review and plan better, is easier to maintain, and is less overwhelming to check and use.

Are you still using a 43-folder tickler file (either paper or electronic)? Do you think a 17-folder tickler might work better for you? Are you going to try it? Are you already doing this or doing something similar?

Update [May 13, 2012]: There was some discussion on Twitter about how weeks that span months are handled. Although I use the words “Week 1″, “Week 2″, etc…, a more correct terminology might be “1st Monday”, “2nd Monday”, “3rd Monday”, “4th Monday”, and “5th Monday”. So, if a week does span multiple months, it doesn’t really matter. However, for some people I could see where there could be some confusion with this method, especially in a month like the current month (May, 2012) where the first day of the month is on Tuesday and the last day is on Thursday. The first and last weeks are each only lacking one day being a regular full work week. I emptied my Week 1 folder on Monday, May 7th, and I’ll enpty my Week 4 folder on Monday, May 28th. Since there aren’t five Mondays in the month, I’ll empty the Week 5 folder on Monday, May 28th as well, just in case I put something in there by mistake. Also, since June starts in the middle of that week, I’ll also empty the June folder on Monday, May 28th. I’ll always empty the month folder before the first day of the month unless the first day of the month is a Monday (at which time I’ll empty the Week 1 folder and the month folder at the same time). I hope this helps clarify some things.


01
May

My Third Week on Ritalin

If you haven’t already read them, you may want to begin with my posts about My First Week on Ritalin and My Second Week on Ritalin.

The big experiment for me this week was to try taking two pills in the morning—my doctor prescribed either one or two each morning. I did this for only two days and didn’t have a good experience at all. I felt very nervous and kind of light-headed all morning long and my afternoon crash was much worse than with only one. One day I had no caffeine and the second day I consumed my regular amount of caffeine and things were about the same both days. I couldn’t function well at all on that level of medication so I decided to go back to just on 20mg tablet a day.

In general I continued to have the same experience as in previous weeks. I was able to focus better and generally felt more positive and outgoing–the “subtle but significant” changes I’ve blogged about before. One day had some contracts to read and I noticed that I was able to focus and understand them much more easily than usual. I typically have to read, re-read, and sometimes re-read a paragraph yet again in a contract to understand it. A coworker even told me he had a hard time with those contracts so I felt that was a very positive thing.

On Sunday I didn’t feel like I took a pill at all. I woke up hyper-focusing on some negative things and noticed it was easier to ignore them right after taking my pill. Then it soon started back again. I wasn’t able to focus much in church either and I felt very frustrated most of the day. I didn’t experience the afternoon crash either. It was as if I hadn’t taken a pill at all that day.

I didn’t get in much exercise this week, so that could have been a factor on Sunday as well. I did work outside around the house installing new shutters and window boxes on the house, so that was physical, but not as exhausting as my usual hikes.

I was able to continue strictly on my high-protein/low-carbohydrate style of eating this week. I only reduced my weight by two-pounds, which was a little frustrating after the six-pound reduction last week, but that’s OK. We’ll see how next week goes. I do think the Ritalin strengthens my willpower in that area.

I’m teaching a SharePoint training class in Dallas, TX this week, so next week’s post may be brief as well since I don’t feel like I need any extra help when I’m teaching. I go back to my doctor next Monday and we’ll see if he wants me to stay on the same medication at the same level, wants me to add an afternoon dose, wants me to try a different medication, or wants to do something else. So I should at least have that to report.


29
Apr

RSS Feed of The Latest Items from the Psychology Today Home Page

I just used the Feed43 web site to create an RSS of all the items that appear in the “The Latest” section on the home page of the Psychology Today web site. Theoretically, this should contain all the latest content from across the Psychology Today web site. If you just want to subscribe to it, here it is:
http://www.feed43.com/5658507871028441.xml

Why Did I Do This?

I really enjoy a lot of the blog posts and articles at Psychology Today. There must be many thousands of articles in 776 individual blogs organized into 45 topics (as of today, assuming my counting is correct) and several dozen new ones are written each week.

The Psychology Today home page aggregates all the articles across all the topics and blogs and displays the 30 most recent items from across the site in the “The Latest” section.

I wanted to be able to easily stay updated on new content across the site. I could have subscribed to all 45 Topic feeds in Google Reader, but I really didn’t want to add 45 new feeds; I only wanted to add one single feed.

My Preliminary Research

First I searched around on the Psychology Today web site for an RSS feed like I wanted, but I couldn’t find one. Then I turned to Google to see if I could find one mentioned there, and I didn’t find anything. So I then turned to investigating the Psychology Today web site more closely. Here is what I discovered.

Each topic has an RSS feed for it, and each blog has an RSS feed for it as well. For example, you can view the most recent articles by the writers in the Procrastination topic at the Procrastination topic page at
http://www.psychologytoday.com/topics/procrastination/,
and access the Procrastination topic RSS feed at
http://www.psychologytoday.com/topics/procrastination/feed.
One of the blogs in the Procrastination topic is “Don’t Delay” by Timothy A. Pachyl. You can view the most recent posts on this blog at
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay,
and access the Don’t Delay RSS feed at
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/feed.

If you look a those URLs, you’ll notice they use a very simple naming convention for the URL paths for the the topics and blogs. The RSS feed can then be accessed by simply appending /feed onto the end of the topic or blog URL.

Unfortunately, you’ll get a 404 error page if you just append /feed onto the root URL like so:
http://www.psychologytoday.com/feed. There also doesn’t seem to be a single RSS feed that aggregates all the content from the entire site.

Rolling My Own Psychology Today RSS Feed

At this point, I determined that if I wanted an RSS feed of all the items from the Psychology Today home page then I was going to have to do it myself. i thought about writing my own PHP script to periodically parse out their home page, but I decided that before I did this I would see if there was a good service that could do this more easily.

A quick search uncovered a few services that will create an RSS feed from the content on any site. I experimented with a few of these and none of them worked to my satisfaction. Then I discovered Feed43. This site let me essentially write a script that parses through the Psychology Today home page, extracts the content in the “The Latest” section, then I could mark up how that extracted content would get rendered in an RSS feed. In just a few minutes I had a working RSS feed of the Latest Items from the Psychology Today Home Page. Here is the results:
http://www.feed43.com/5658507871028441.xml.

Warnings and Limitations

I really do like the Feed43 service. One thing that you’ll need to keep in mind though is that they only scrape the home page and rebuild the feed once every six hours (they will scrape it once an hour for $29/year) but since this is currently the only site I’m using this for I can’t justify that expense. Another thing you’ll need to remember is that if they redesign their web site and the code on their home page changes then this feed may no longer work. As long as I’m interested in aggregating their content in this way, I’ll try to maintain this feed and keep it working, but I’m not making any promises.

Final Words

So, if you’re a psychology geek like I’ve become in the the past couple years, enjoy your new Psychology Today Home Page RSS Feed! If you find this useful, let me know in the comments. As for me, I’ve got some Sunday afternoon reading to do…


24
Apr

My Second Week on Ritalin

This is the follow-up post to last week’s post on my first week on Ritalin.

I was teaching a SharePoint Training Class in Chicago for most of this week. I feel like I’m on top of my game when I’m teaching, so the thought had occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t take my “power pellets” this week (Note: some people call their antidepressants their “happy pills” so I now refer to my ADHD meds as my “power pellets”). My doctor wanted me to take either one or two each day, but my prescription was for 30-days and there are 28-days between visits. So in order to test this I’ll have to go without for a few days. I eventually decided that this early in the testing phase that I shouldn’t skip it and that I should stick with just one pill per day.

I noticed that I felt more outgoing and uninhibited this week. I’m not sure if that was due to the medication or due to the fact that I got a free upgrade on my rental car and I was driving a Dodge Challenger muscle car around all week. :-) I found myself engaging strangers in conversation more easily and joking and picking with my students even more than I usually do. As usual, my students really enjoyed the class. In fact, since this is my blog, I’m going to toot my own horn a little and publish some of their survey comments about me as an instructor:

  • Ricky – very upbeat and entertaining; obviously very knowledgeable of SharePoint; explained things well.
  • Ricky was great. He is obviously very knowledgeable, and he does a good job of bringing tech-y stuff down to everyday user level.
  • Ricky is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I appreciate his flexibility in approaching the course content – he struck a great balance between the demos, lectures and presentations.
  • Ricky kept everyone interested and entertained. He also provided real world examples to give us some kind of idea of how real businesses are using certain SharePoint features. I think Ricky did a great job in covering the material specified in the course outline and providing little bonus demos depending on the questions asked. I can’t think of anything at the moment that he should improve on.
  • Ricky- good instructor very knowledgeable, the demos were very informative. He was a very good instructor.
  • Ricky was excellent. No improvement necessary.

This brings me to another thing I’ve been experiencing that I attribute to the medication. I don’t seem to care nearly as much about what other people think. At one time I wouldn’t have posted those comments because I wouldn’t have wanted to appear proud. I would have thought about it, wrestled with the idea, and then decided not to. However, I feel like I’m going with my instincts on some things more now. I guess time will tell if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

I know that people with ADHD are known for blurting out things without thinking about the consequences. I’ve always been exactly the opposite–I think carefully before I say almost anything. I choose my words carefully, I think about how others might respond, I think about my response, and their response to that. It’s kind of like a chess player thinking through the next several moves in a game of chess. I can do this quite easily and incredibly rapidly. Like most people with ADHD I do tend to interrupt people a lot when they are talking. This is because they’ve said something that has triggered a thought, I’ve thought several comments ahead about how it will play out, and now I can’t wait to make my comment. This was all nearly an unconscious thing for many years and a few months ago I became conscious of it. When I realized it, I asked someone else if she did that and she was amazed that I do it. I think this behavior is something I developed as a coping mechanism many years ago.

Although I’ve seen significant improvement in many areas, I feel like I’ve slipped in others. This morning I misplaced my wallet and spent about 10-minutes looking for it until I found it. Last night I let the dog out and forget about her until the neighbors found her up the street and brought her back home. Although these are things that are common for many people with ADHD, I’ve usually had systems to keep them from happening and now those systems seem to be failing a little more. Perhaps it’s just coincidental. I don’t know but I think it’s worth noting.

In spite of the failing systems, I feel happier in general. I’m much more care free. I’m not stressing about every little thing. I remember on my job interviews in the past, one of my weaknesses was that I was too detail oriented and that I needed to loosen up and allow myself to make more mistakes. I kind of feel like maybe I’m there now.

When I worked with the excellent productivity coach Tara Rodden Robinson a couple years ago, she pointed out to me that I had a lot of negative self-talk as I shared about myself. She mirrored some of my comments back to me and I was surprised–if someone else had said those same things I would have realized how negative that person was were about himself. I think I’m now thinking much more positively about myself and the things I do. I’m not sure where the medication fits in with that, but it’s significant and worth noting.

I think the biggest benefit for me so far is still recognizing that I’m tired and then giving myself permission to rest without feeling like I have to be doing something. I recognize both physical tiredness and mental tiredness as well. Before, I felt like I had to be constantly doing something. Now I don’t feel that need nearly as much. When I get tired I go rest. I realize that resting and recharging are two different things and I’m experimenting with some things that might help me recharge. I used to feel that I should be able to do mental work all day long. However, now I see that mental work is much like physical work, that I’m not a machine, and I can only do so much each day. I don’t have to feel bad about that, I don’t have to apologize for that, and I don’t have to cover it up. This is very empowering!

Another benefit last week was that I was able to get back on my high-protein/low-carbohydrate way of eating. It was rather easy for me to do this even though I was traveling. In the process I reduced my weight by six pounds! :-) That was weight I had gained over the past month or so, but it was still good to be able to knock it off so quickly and to so easily get back on track. So I think the Ritalin has strengthened my willpower in this area.

I did discover one negative pattern yesterday. It wasn’t apparent when I was teaching last week, but in retrospect over the past couple weeks, I find that around 2pm in the afternoon I suddenly feel very tired. It seems to last for about an hour. I think this might be a ‘crash’ from the Ritalin wearing off about that time. My doctor said we may try adding a second mid-day dose after this first month trial. If this is a ‘crash’ and it is inevitable, then it would be helpful if that was closer to bedtime.

Next week I’ll be taking two pills each morning, 40mg, for most of the work week, so I should have some new things to report.


20
Apr

My Travel Tips

I travel quite a bit for business–typically about 15 to 20 trips each year. I’ve learned a lot about how to make traveling (and especially flying) easier. I’ve been meaning to document my tips for a long time but never have. Finally, here it is.

My general travel philosophy is that there is a careful balance between absolutes (like having to be at a certain place at a certain time), comfort (which is a combination of things that just make travel and work on the road easier in a variety of aspects), and cost (whether it’s cost to my company or directly to me). I’ll often sacrifice on cost to make things more comfortable. Note that comfort isn’t necessarily a plush mattress and large screen TV and a Jacuzzi tub in the hotel room, but may be a standard room that’s a block away from where I’m working–so this is difficult to quantify for others as it changes for each trip.

Booking

  • Always fly direct. I live 30-minutes from the Greensboro, NC airport (GSO) and about 75-minutes from both  the Raleigh. NC airport (RDU) and Charlotte, NC airport (CLT). I prefer to fly from GSO because it’s closest but I’ll fly out of either one if I can get a direct flight. I always look for direct flights and only choose a flight with a connection if I absolutely have to. I’ll even drive an hour or two after I land if I have to avoid a connection. I have no loyalty to a particular airline.
  • Use BOTH Hipmunk.com AND Southwest.com to search for flights. I use Hipmunk because it organizes flights graphically by “agony”. It also uses tabs so I can compare my options from all three airports. I prefer to fly on Southwest when I can, but they don’t allow other sites to aggregate their data, so I always have to check their site directly.
  • On Southwest, pay the $10 for Early Bird CheckIn. If you’ve flown Southwest and been in the B or C boarding zone, you know this is worth every penny.
  • Avoid middle seats at all costs. I’ll pay extra to not be in a middle seat or take an earlier or later flight if only middle seats are available. Yes, I hate it that much.
  • Use Hotels.com to book hotels. They are partnered with almost every business-class hotel so I can find the ones that are closest to where I’ll be working. I also earn a free night for every 10 nights I stay. It’s an easy-peasy rewards program.
  • Book cars through Thrifty.com. I’m loyal to Thrifty as well. I earn a free 1-day rental for every 16 days I rent. Their cars are economical for my company as well. When they see that you rent from them regularly, it’s often easy to get free upgrades too.

Planning

  • Forward confirmation emails to TripIt.com. This free service keeps all my travel arrangements in one convenient place. I can even share plans with friends or coworkers if we’ll be traveling together.
  • Export TripIt information and import it to Google Calendar. Set alerts as needed. After all travel plans are in Tripit, I export the information and then import it to Google Calendar (this syncs with my Outlook calendar at work). I set an alert for 24-hours before flights to remind me to print my boarding pass.
  • Store notes for my trip in Evernote. I’m a heavy Evernote user and I’ll create a single note of things I might need to remember on a trip. It might be events I want to attend, restaurants to eat at, the contact information of the people I’ll be working with, the address where I’ll be working, or anything else I think I might need.
  • Before I leave, I look for things to do and I plan evening activities. With business travel there is a tendency to work all the time or wast time in the hotel room at night. Before I leave, I try to find some activities I want to do while I’m there such as attend a concert, attend a user group meeting, have dinner with a friend, attend a local ADHD support group meeting, attend a Toastmasters meeting, hike some trails, or eat at a particular restaurant. If I don’t plan these things before my trip I’ll often miss the opportunity while I’m on my trip.

Packing

  • Get all clothes and toiletries in a single carry-on. I never pack more than a single carry on. I usually take the same clothes every trip so I can pack in less than 15-minutes.
  • Keep two quart sized zip lock bags for toiletries always packed. One of these contains my 3-ounce or less bottles of liquids and gels (toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, shave foam, and Tide to-go stick). The other one contains my toothbrush, dental floss, hairbrush, razor, and deodorant. Note that these bags stay packed so they contain duplicates of things I use every day at home.
  • Keep a small sewing kit in my suitcase. You never know when you’ll need to sew a button or something back on.
  • Keep a copy of my passport in the top pouch of my suitcase. Even if I’m not leaving the country this associates my luggage with me to the TSA or anyone else. If I am traveling outside the country and I lose my passport, this copy should make it easier to get a replacement.
  • Keep a piece of paper with name, email addresses, and phone numbers in it in the top pouch of my suitcase. If my luggage should get lost, I want it to be really obvious how to contact me. This is printed in a really large font.
  • Keep a few plastic kitchen garbage bags in the top pouch of my suitcase for dirty clothes. One of these is my dirty clothes bag for the trip. It keeps my dirty clothes from stinking up my suitcase on the return flight. I usually put 4 or 5 in there at a time so I don’t have to remember to replace them each time. In a pinch, the dry cleaning bag in your hotel will work too, but you may need a couple of them.
  • All technology is in my backpack and almost all of it stays there all the time. This is where I keep my laptop when I’m not using it.
  • Have duplicates of things I travel with. I don’t want to have to remember to pack things so I have a duplicate of some things I use a lot at home and those duplicates stay in my backpack. Some of these are phone charger, mouse, mouse pad, laptop charging cord, umbrella, prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses, and spare cell phone battery (that’s always charged).
  • Have a small first aid kit / medicine bag. I keep a few Bandaids, Tylenol or Advil, Pepto Bismol tablets, Imodium AD, Tums, throat lozenges, and a few other things in a zip lock bag that stays in my backpack. Any illness becomes twice as bad when you’re away from home so be prepared to handle them.

At the Departure Airport

  • Park for leaving. Most people park to make it easy to get to the terminal; I park to make it fast to get home. I’ve usually got plenty of extra time when I arrive and I’ve learned where a lot of the best areas are at my local airports in relation to the airline I’m on.
  • Write down exactly where I’m parked or take a picture of the parking signs. On Friday night I may not remember where I parked back on Monday morning. When I write it down (in Evernote) it’s detailed information like Level 2, Row X (on the Y side), 12 spaces up.
  • Put all my pocket stuff in the top pouch of my backpack as soon as I arrive. I have a clip inside my backpack for my truck keys–I won’t need them until I return so I clip them as soon as I arrive. In the small top pouch of my backpack I place my wallet, cell phone, pen, notepad, and anything else that is normally in my pockets. The only thing I keep in my pocket is my drivers license (or passport if I’m leaving the country) and my boarding pass.
  • Check my carry-on. I used to never check my carry-on, but I got tired of babysitting it in the airport and I also got tired of having to keep my backpack at my feet on the plane. Now I always check it unless I’m running late or something. Since I almost always take direct flights, there is a much slimmer chance it will get lost, however, if I have a connector I’ll put a change of underwear and socks in my backpack just in case.
  • On the TSA Conveyor, backpack goes first, then laptop, then shoes and belt. When my backpack comes out of the x-ray machine I stand it up and open the top, when the laptop comes out I grab it and put it in my open backpack, when my shoes and belt come out I grab them and walk to the edge of the security area where I can dress in peace. If I used any other order, this wouldn’t work as smoothly. If I don’t check my carry-on it goes between the laptop and the shoes. This is so that I can set it on the floor and extend the handle while my shoes are coming out.
  • Get a bottled water and head to the gate as soon as I leave security. Pay with cash and get singles for tips. I don’t want to be on a plane without something to drink so this is one of the first things I do. I like to have tip money for hotel maids, valets, and such. This is a good time to go ahead and get some singles so I’ll have them ready.
  • Use the bathroom just before boarding begins–even if I don’t have to. I’ve never regretted doing this.

On the Flight

  • Put backpack in overhead and put Baby Baggu at my seat. I keep a Baby Baggu nylon shopping bag in my backpack. Just before I board, I put everything in it that I want to have at my seat. This contains my tablet computer, phone, pen, notepad, antacid (I sometimes get heartburn when flying), handkerchief (my nose runs a lot in the dry air too), bottled water, and noise cancelling headphones. Some people don’t like me putting my backpack in the overhead, but I don’t like it at my feet. I pay to check my rolling carry-on so my backpack becomes my carry-on and I can store it in the overhead.
  • Plan activities for the flight. If I don’t plan to do something in particular (read something, write something, etc..)  this can easily turn into wasted time.
  • Take print material for reading below 10,000 feet. Most of what I read is electronic and on my tablet, but this is a good opportunity to read mail and print magazines that I put off reading when I’m home.
  • Noise canceling headphones. These are so worth it. I received these as a Christmas gift a couple years ago and they really make a difference, even if I’m not listening to music.

At the Destination Airport

  • Use the bathroom–even if I don’t have to. It may be a while before I get to my hotel room so it’s best to go ahead and do it now while I’m thinking about it. Oh, and I use one near the concourse exit–those are usually not as crowded as the ones close to my arrival gate.
  • Put keys in my pocket while waiting on baggage and look at reminder about where I parked. When I return to my home airport I unclip my truck keys that have been clipped inside my backpack all week and put them in my pocket so they’re ready when I get there. I also check the reminder about where I parked so I can plan my shortest way to get there.

At the Hotel

  • Unpack clothes and toiletries immediately. I don’t want to feel like I’m living out of a suitcase so I put away all my stuff as soon as I arrive.

Checking Out

  • Always get a paper receipt showing a zero balance. Maybe I’m old fashioned about this, but I’m just much more comfortable going to the front desk and personally making sure everything is correct and cleared before I leave. I also want a paper receipt I can scan for my expense report.

Arriving Home

  • Unpack immediately. As soon as I get home I put my dirty clothes in the laundry, put my toiletry bags in the drawer in the bathroom, put my suitcase in the closet, set my work laptop back up on my credenza, and put all my receipts on my desk to file my expense report the next day. This all takes less than 5-minutes but if I don’t do it immediately it can be clutter that sits around for days. It’s easier to do it immediately.
  • Refill toiletry consumables for next trip. It only takes a minute to refill these and put them back in the zip lock bag. If I do it now I won’t have to remember to do it when I’m packing for my next trip. I just grab the bags and put them in my suitcase.

There are probably more tips I could share that I haven’t thought of here. Some of these I’ve learned from other travelers and some of them I’ve developed on my own. I hope you find some things here to help you with your next trip. If you have questions or comments about how I travel, please post them in the comments below.

All content copyright © 2000-2007 by Ricky Spears