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the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

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Experiment results and changing tactics

Posted by Trixter on October 31, 2019

At the beginning of October, I pledged that I would do two simple things to see if I could improve my physical and mental state: Get enough sleep, and get a small amount of exercise every morning. I chose several physical, mental, and emotional aspects of myself to record during the month to see if they improved with regular sleep and exercise:

  • Foot pain
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Procrastination
  • Bad food decisions
  • Anxiety level
  • Anger/irritation

Twice a day, I’d make a note of how these felt on a scale from 1 to 10. Since they are all normalized to the same scale (representing “bad” things) lower was better. The goal was to see downward trends in the data throughout the month.

While I gained some insight about my behavior and motivation, the experiment broke down: I was only able to get decent sleep about 38% of the month (up from 25%, but far short of the intended 100%), and I did not exercise at all because I couldn’t consistently get up in the morning to exercise while still getting to work on time. Despite this, some of the results were interesting enough to examine, so I’ll present the data here.


My left foot suffers from a longitudinal tear due to having flat feet, and needs surgery. Walking is painful, and sometimes my right foot gets tired because it is working harder than the other foot during my stride. I know that my left foot won’t get better on its own, but I was hoping more sleep might alleviate the discomfort a little. Did that improve?

I was not expecting that to improve, but I guess “more sleep = more time to heal” is glaringly obvious in hindsight :-)

I’ve been worried about my core, as I’ve had lower back pain for seemingly no reason ever since I turned 40 (a multitude of humanity cries out “Join the club!”). I have also had upper back pain (neck, shoulders, limited mobility) on and off for the last five years. Did those improve?

Same obvious results: If you get more sleep, your body has more time to heal. A tiny downward trend, but I’ll take it.

Getting more sleep should have helped my feeling of tiredness or general fatigue. Did it?

Anything under the midline is good, but I neither like nor can explain the upward trend.


I go through cycles of depression that, regardless of the trigger, I’m pretty sure are chemical: They usually last a few days, and then I’m fine again for 6-8 weeks. Did slightly more sleep help with that?

The takeaway here is not the flat trendline, but that my daily feeling of depression was all over the place. Some days I’m really depressed; some days I’m not. Maybe I don’t have a 6-8 week cycle like I thought I did. Maybe these numbers are linked to my levels of procrastination. More study needed.

The genesis of this experiment was myself getting alarmed at my anxiety levels, and frustrated with myself on how I am procrastinating more and getting things done less. These two factors combine into a perfect storm of compelling me to eat bad food to feel better. They’re all linked, so let’s see how all three did:

It’s possible anxiety got worse because I could see, day by day, that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Because anxiety got worse, eating bad food stayed constant. Procrastination decreased slightly, which is what I was hoping for, although I wish it were a more significant change than what was observed.

Not listed on the chart: Continuous bad food decisions resulted in gaining 4.7 pounds this past month. Yikes.

As I get older, my mental state has shifted from more logical to more emotional. I’ve talked about this before, and gotten some good advice along the way (from “embrace it!” to “here’s how you can slow this down”). While some people like this natural transition that happens to most men as they age, I do not want. Besides, the last thing my family needs is a more emotional me. So, did slightly more sleep help with fleeting anger and irritation?

This is a very welcome outcome. :-) I guess it’s also obvious in hindsight, that more sleep reduces irritability, but it’s still nice to see.

Self-evaluation, and one more round

Despite mostly failing to improve myself during this experiment, I made some correlations that weren’t obvious to me going in (or, maybe I didn’t want to admit them until I saw hard data).

My self-evaluation: I suffer from anxiety. When it flares up, it manifests as mild OCD or unproductive behaviors, such as not being able to start (or finish) projects due to fear of… something, I don’t know, but it leads to procrastination. Instead of working on a project (which would be a good outlet for nervous energy), I end up wasting time in an effort to squash the anxiety. At night, I stay up late in a frantic cycle of trying to find something (computer games, youtube videos, movies) that will either calm me down or make me so tired that my mind finally shuts up and my body gives out — but this always leads to not getting enough sleep… which then leads to a higher anxiety level the next day… which perpetuates the cycle. And since I don’t have decent coping mechanisms for anxiety, I also make bad food decisions during the daytime (fast food, sweets, etc.) to try to reduce my anxiety level.

I probably need therapy or treatment for anxiety. Before going down that path, I want to exhaust my options for coping with it some other way. I’m not against drugs or therapy — several close friends and family have had great success with both — but I want to tell myself that I gave the problem a thorough, logical, scientific examination before I go that route.

So what will I change in November? I’ll go after the exercise I attempted in October. My excuses for not exercising in October were not entirely rational:

  • There’s no benefit to exercise unless it’s in the morning, to raise your overall metabolic rate
  • If I exercise too late at night, I won’t be able to sleep
  • Getting more sleep in the morning is more important than exercise

…etc. I’m going to throw these excuses out the window and commit to doing 20 minutes of moderate-to-intense cardio every single day, regardless of what time it is, even if it’s right before bedtime (that’s neither desirable nor optimal, but it has to get done). Ideally, the earlier the better, but if it has to be at 7pm when I get home from work, so be it.

I’ll check back at the end of November with a new set of data.

Posted in Lifehacks | 2 Comments »

What does normal living feel like?

Posted by Trixter on September 30, 2019

Technology has human physical cost. The year I started using computers daily may have been the most formative year of my life, but it also started a lifetime of bad habits. For decades, I haven’t slept more than 5 hours a night except maybe on weekends. I’ve spent those same decades sitting in a chair instead of moving around in the real world. Both of my feet hurt, and not from the same cause. My upper back has pain that doesn’t match my lower back pain. I am deficient in vitamin D. I process information more slowly than I used to. I no longer feel like the smartest kid in the room.

October is my month to unplug from everything and perform personal experiments on myself. Last year, it was watching one horror movie a day and commenting on it. In 2012, it was completely disconnecting from the internet. This year, it will be attempting to live life like a normal human being is probably supposed to:

  • Get 8 hours of sleep every night
  • Exercise (cardio) every morning

That’s it. No other changes, nothing crazy or extreme; just live life like human biology meant for me to live. Burgers and pizza are still on the table.

Why haven’t I done these two basic things thus far? Why is it difficult? Maybe it’s the low-level anxiety that makes me fear going to sleep. (90% of my dreams are nightmares, which doesn’t help.) Maybe it’s FOMO. Maybe it’s because I don’t drink alcohol or do drugs, and so computer time is my vice. I don’t know, and I’m not ready for therapy.

Will I feel better? Will I have less pain? Will I think more clearly? Will my outlook on life change? Will I be more productive? Will I have more energy? Will I lose weight? I’ll be recording and charting my physical and mental status every day, and will share the results with you at the end of October.

Posted in Lifehacks | 5 Comments »

End Of Line

Posted by Trixter on December 30, 2018

I’m leaving myself behind.

Wow, that sounds really melodramatic, doesn’t it? I have started this post multiple times, and each time, it sounds like some hammy grand exit, like I’m taking all of my toys and going home. That’s not my intention, but in today’s social media landscape, there isn’t a way to word something like this without it sounding sensational. I’m just trying to leave a signpost to my friends so that they don’t wonder what happened to me.

Let’s try the direct approach:

  • I am exiting my long-standing hobby circles: The demoscene; personal computing history; software preservation and archival; vintage gaming history; others.
  • I will neither monitor, nor participate on, social media or online forums.
  • I am completely changing my physical lifestyle: Diet, sleep, and exercise.

Why? While the timing makes this seem like a New Year’s resolution, that’s just a coincidence; the reason is because I need to make improvements to my mental health, which suffered trauma some years ago and never quite recovered. It surfaces whenever various triggers present themselves, but unfortunately for me, there are triggers for this kind of trauma everywhere I currently haunt online. So that ends.

(I explained this in great detail in my previous post, which you may notice is hidden behind a password. Just before I posted it, I got excellent advice from close friends that made me see how posting it in its current form could make things worse, but could also go off like a claymore and unduly hurt someone else, so I walled it. I’m leaving it up as something I can refer to in case I need a therapeutic reminder. If you are a close friend whom I’ve known for over a decade, email me for the password.)

While leaving my previous interests is necessary for mental improvement, it is also required for physical improvement: The time I would normally spend on hobbies will instead be spent learning how to take care of myself, preparing my own food, and getting enough sleep.

The physical aspect of this change intrigues me: I will be trading a youthful appearance for health. Since 2000, I’ve steadily gained about 5 pounds every year to the point where I’m 90 pounds overweight, but that’s had the effect of pushing out the skin on my face to fill out whatever wrinkles would be there. I don’t spend a lot of time in the sun, I have all my hair, and my hair isn’t gray — all of these factors combine into making me look younger than I am. A few times a year, I get mistaken for someone in their mid-30s when in fact I am nearly 50. Losing weight will thin my hair, and also allow my wrinkles to show. I will finally look my age.

Literally and figuratively, I will become a different person.

So what happens after that? I’m not sure, but I’m hoping it’s a return to what got me here in the first place. I built Mobygames because of my love for computer gaming history and etymology, which ironically led to a drastic reduction in playing actual games. I participated in vintage computing forums, programming, and archival to help others with the hobby, which again led to a drastic decline in my own activity in that area. I wasn’t careful what I wished for, and got it. Maybe I’ll return to those and find my passion again. Maybe I’ll do something else. I’ve always wanted to make personal computer history videos. I’ve always wanted to program a game for vintage computers. I have some ideas I’ve always wanted to turn into science fiction short stories. I really miss willing things into existence.

But for now, this is it. I’m no longer going to seek validation through projects or interaction. I’m not going to follow your achievements or hear your opinions — nothing personal. I hope you understand. This is now a one-way street, and we’re at different intersections.

Can I be contacted? Yes, via email. I’ll always respond to email, although it might take a few days. I’m also not skipping out on any works-in-progress: If you and I are in the middle of something, I’ll complete that thing. Email me if you’re concerned.

If I manage to accomplish something I’m proud of that I feel benefits anyone, I might pop in for a second to announce it via the usual haunts. Until such time… take care.

PS: For those of you secretly wishing I was a drama queen and hoping that this post was going to be overly melodramatic, I’ll leave you with a personal soundtrack. Listen to it when you think of who I was.

Posted in Lifehacks | 4 Comments »

The End of a Perfect Day

Posted by Trixter on May 11, 2017

I remember a time when I was productive in my home life and my hobbies, both of which brought me great joy and validation.  What’s changed since then?  What’s happened to my output and my mental state?  Two things: Social media distraction and impostor syndrome.

Dealing with social media distraction has many gradients of severity and treatment, but being a member of Generation X gives me an advantage: Because I didn’t grow up with social media, it is easier for me to quit it cold turkey.  I’m going to gain back the time I waste on social media by cutting it out completely for several months, if not an entire year.  I might pop on once on a while to announce something, but it won’t be a daily check-up.  Back-of-the-napkin calculations suggest I will gain back at least 120 hours (that’s 5 days!) of free time per year giving up twitter and facebook alone.

Impostor Syndrome is possible to overcome if you can accept that you have provided real value at one or more points in your life.  If you accept that, there are various methods that can help.  I’ve adopted some, and they are indeed helping, such as keeping a file of nice things people have said about you, finding one person to confide in about feeling like a fraud, and — cliched as it is — “fake it ’til you make it”.  (If it’s good enough for Henry Rollins, it’s good enough to give it a shot.)

I want to get back to a time when I wasn’t worried about what people thought of me.  I want to feel like one of the smartest kids in the room again.  I want to will new things into existence because I feel they should exist and can help or entertain people.  Most importantly, I want to work on myself so that I am available for my family, and be mentally sound enough to not lose sight of how important that is.

To accomplish all this, I’ve removed all social media apps from my phone.  I’m also clearing out both of my email accounts, and being realistic about what I can and cannot accomplish for people.  (If I’ve volunteered to do something for you, I promise you’ll hear from me, but you might not like the answer.)  I might still be active on a forum or two, but with much less frequency.  If you need to contact me this year, please email me instead of trying to reach out to me over social media.

Self-improvement is a journey that requires a realistic world view and making some hard choices.  With sincere apologies to Johnny Marr and the late Kirsty MacColl:

No it’s not a pretty world out there
With people dying of their own despair
But in a written testimonial you’d say
You never really knew them anyway
I’ll never satisfy you
I’ll never even try to
I really couldn’t tell
It just depends what you remember
At the end of a perfect day

Posted in Lifehacks, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Leaving the main grid for a while

Posted by Trixter on July 31, 2016

This is my 32nd year online.  I used CompuServe and DDials in 1984, sent and received email on BBSes for the next 8 years, and switched to an internet-connected unix shell account in 1992.  I’ve seen the birth of the web, the rise and fall of Usenet, the widespread adoption of online commerce, and the rise of social media.

I’m overwhelmed.  Global communication has been one of the most transformative technologies ever created, giving voices to those who have none, and bringing people together.  It has also become the new Eternal September.  When everyone has a voice, the end result is cacophony.  Social injustice, political blathering, personal melodrama — I’ve had enough.  I can’t selectively filter any more.  I can’t “just ignore” what’s in my feeds because 90% of it just makes me feel bad about the world, myself, or both.  (Even from well-intentioned people who are just trying to post good news about their family or achievements; it’s not their fault, but their good news reminds me of what I haven’t accomplished.)

In an act of self-preservation, I’m going off the grid for a while.  My online communication will be limited to email for the forseeable future.  I’m uninstalling facebook, twitter, youtube, instant messaging, and newsfeeds from my phone, and likely won’t reinstall them before the end of the year.  Some of my most proudest accomplishments were achieved before all of this noise existed; I’m hoping reducing the noise will increase the signal.

If you need to reach me, contact me.  Email, phone, or texting is all fine.  (I also highly encourage you to come see me in person at this year’s Vintage Computer Festival Midwest, September 9-11th.)  Just don’t expect me to be scanning the entire world listening for your voice; it’s a drop in the ocean, and I’m drowning.



Posted in Lifehacks | 3 Comments »

Best In Class

Posted by Trixter on January 4, 2015

Sanity wrote something in their Arte end-scroller that always stuck with me:  If you can’t do it better, why do it?

This was my hobby philosophy for over two decades.  It’s the philosophy that created all of the demoscene productions that I am known for, such as 8088 Domination; I’ve placed 3rd or higher in every competition I’ve entered.  It was what fueled my involvement in the Abandonware concept, which would likely have died on the vine without the search engine I created for the original Abandonware Ring (this was in the days before Google and RSS existed; without a search facility, it was cumbersome to find games).  It was what prompted me to design and implement MobyGames with my friend Brian Hirt (several years before wikipedia existed).  It created the MindCandy series of DVDs and Blu-rays.  I am proud of all these accomplishments.

This was my hobby philosophy.

I’m stepping down from always trying to be the best at what I do.  The primary reason is to preserve my sanity, as I am haunted by mistakes I’ve made.  At least one night a week, I lay awake unable to stop thinking about them.  Plus, it contributes to an unhealthy obsession (which also keeps me awake) over trying to be the very best I can be in my various hobby pursuits.  I can’t keep assigning self-worth to project success.  It both paralyzes me and tears me apart.

There was a time when I thought I needed my hobbies to deal with life and stay sane.  Today, I’m finally realizing that all of the successful accomplishments in my life were achieved when I was simply relaxing and having fun.  So that’s what I’m going to do — have some fun and work on what I want to work on, rather than try to win competitions and impress people in my various circles.  If I get another minute of fame along the way, then that’s a nice bonus, but it’s not the goal.

So what’s next?  What is “fun”?

  • More blog posts.  I enjoy writing, even if nobody enjoys reading what I write :-)  Maybe someday my kids will find this blog and get a better sense of what their father was like.
  • S00p3r sekr3t demo project.  See you at Revision!  Hint: It’s not a solo production.  Hint #2: I am the worst coder in the group — that scares me tremendously, and it should scare you too.
  • S00p3r sekr3t vintage gaming project.  Think big!
  • Personal Computer Sound Museum.  This has been in the works for ten years.  Unless there are complications, this will be implemented in Drupal 8 because I need a functional taxonomy framework and Drupal seems to be the only CMS that has one.  So, when Drupal 8 is out of beta, I’ll start tinkering.
  • A vintage computing audio podcast, time permitting.

Most importantly, I hope to make my family and friends laugh this year.

Posted in Lifehacks | 9 Comments »

Journey’s End

Posted by Trixter on April 21, 2013

I was part of the first wave of people tackling the gigantic task of preserving personal computing gaming history in the early 1990s.  (I suppose pirating software in the 1980s counts too, but scanning materials and interviewing people began, for me, in the 1990s.)  Without connecting to others or knowing what was out there, I started to hoard software and hardware where financially possible and appropriate.  I collected software I considered hidden gems, that should be given their due in some public forum before being forgotten.  I grabbed many Tandy 1000s and other early PCs to ensure various works could be run and studied.  I was an original member of the abandonware movement.  I wrote articles on how to get old software running on modern machines, and contributed to software that did the same.  I co-founded the world’s largest gaming database so that information about these works could be consumed and researched by millions.

I did this all before Y2K.  When you’re the only guy shouting in a crowd, you tend to look the lunatic, and that’s pretty much how most of my friends and family saw me.

Look around the preservation landscape today and much of what I was working towards for years has come to pass.  There are many vintage hardware and software museums, both physical and virtual, including some dedicated to gaming.  There are some wonderful emulators that get closer and closer to the real thing each year.  There are even some curated collections online.  (There are many more curated collections offline, orders of magnitude larger than what is online, but in a decade or so I believe these will move online as well.)  Most importantly, there are established communities that support these efforts.  All in all, I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.

Looking around all of my possessions inside my home, I see the fallout of what I was trying to accomplish many years ago.  I see no less than five PCjrs, three identical Tandy 1000s, three identical IBM PC 5150s, and multiples of Macs, Apples, C64s, and Amigas.  I see crates and bookshelves and closets filled with hardware and software.  I see clutter where there should be a nice desk for displaying a computer in a respectful way, or an easy chair for reading or watching TV.  It’s too much.  It’s time to let most of it go, and focus like a laser on the things that are the most important.  I will be disseminating most of my collection, both software and hardware, in the following year.

What I will continue to do, however, is archive and preserve software, as there is still a ton of IBM PC software from the 1980s that has not yet been released into the wild.  I am also committed to creating the “sound card museum” project I keep threatening to do.  To those ends, I will retain a few systems that will allow me to achieve both of those goals.

So, I’ll still keep buying and collecting vintage software — the difference is, I won’t retain the software after preserving it.  Consider me a vintage personal computing clearing house.

Posted in Family, Gaming, Home Ownership, Lifehacks, MobyGames, Software Piracy, Vintage Computing | Tagged: , , | 11 Comments »

Internet Detox Addendum

Posted by Trixter on November 3, 2012

While on my internet sabbatical, I watched most of the new season of The Outer Limits and was pleased to discover an episode that illustrated one of the concerns that led to my sabbatical in the first place.  Titled Stream of Consciousness, it explores some possible downsides of being able to access all information all the time.  It’s a little lightweight; no issues are ever explored in great depth.  But I still recommend giving it a view.

Posted in Lifehacks | Leave a Comment »

November Lifehacking: The Walking Dad

Posted by Trixter on November 1, 2012

November’s lifehacking experiment is inspired by three things:

  1. I gained weight during last month’s experiment.
  2. I am winded going up stairs.
  3. My kids have never known me without a roll of fat around my neck.

I am 41 years old, 6’2″, and weight 247 pounds. That’s at least 45 pounds too much, and about 65 pounds away from looking normal. I have tried very many things, but lost the willpower to follow through with all of them: A gym membership, home calisthenics (even computer-aided), and the Couch-to-5K program. All have failed, save for a wonderful 3-month period in 2004 where I successfully trained for the Run Hit Wonder and got a front-row position at the following Devo concert.

As I discovered last month just how much anxiety I keep at bay, I was reminded of The Walking Man. Walking Man is a former neighbor of ours who used to go for several walks a day. He was a retired nuclear physicist  and had the unofficial reputation of being quite brilliant. Once or twice a day, you could look outside and see him either coming or going. However, as the years went by, I started seeing him in more places around town: The park at the end of the subdivision; the Trader Joes 10 blocks away; the bike trail near the river. It wasn’t until I saw him walking downtown, several miles away, that I realized what he was doing: He wasn’t taking several walks per day, but rather taking one massive walk that lasted hours per day. Downtown is 5 miles away, so he walked a minimum of three hours every day. Not surprisingly, he was a little on the thin side.

I hold no illusion that I am like a brilliant nuclear physicist, but I can identify with him on some level. Some neighbors told me his walking was a way for him to think and sort out whatever was going on in his life; the physical fitness was just a side benefit. I am inspired, and am going to emulate The Walking Man so that I can kill two birds with one stone (anxiety and exercise). However, to make it as easy as possible to perform, I will be doing it indoors on a level treadmill. The treadmill is in front of the television, so I will have some entertainment while I walk. Finally, I’ll be walking in whatever clothes I am currently wearing. All of the previous excuses with other methods — driving to gym, changing into special clothes, dealing with the elements — are gone. I really have no other excuses!

So what’s the plan?

  • On day 1, perform my treadmill’s fitness test with the aid of a heart monitor. Record result.
  • Walk 5K (3.1 miles) every single day for 30 days. Initial walking speed will be 3.1 miles per hour, but after the first week I will increase the speed slightly to match the duration of the TV series I plan to watch while walking. Apply “body glide” strategically to prevent chafing and welts.
  • Weight and percentage body fat will be recorded every single morning before my first meal.
  • On day 30, perform fitness test again and compare result with day 1.

What do I hope will happen?

  • More effective sleep
  • Less anxious
  • Higher performance at my day job
  • Weight loss
  • Better mood/less depression

This is a lot less pressure than Couch-to-5k and I can’t honestly see any downsides (except possibly blisters).  I start tomorrow morning with the fitness test.

Posted in Lifehacks | 9 Comments »

Internet Detox: Results

Posted by Trixter on October 31, 2012

October’s lifehacking experiment is over! I’m back online and trying not to salivate.

There’s a lot to update here, so I’ll start with the summary conclusions first, then work my way down to the statistics, and finally end this post with entries from my daily log that I recorded as the experiment progressed.  If you only have one minute to read this, you’ll get the meaty bits first.


I gained two major personal insights as a result of this experiment.  The first was that I am my own worst enemy.  Much of the email that would take up my time was actually opted-in by me: Sale notifications, new things on ebay I might like, forum replies, etc. Over the next few days I am going to take a hard look at what I’m receiving and pare it down. I’m not completely to blame; over 1000 emails were spam that got through my filters, so I’ll have to look into more filtering beyond what I already have (I currently use spamassassin, greylisting, and bayesian filtering in my MUA).

The second insight was the discovery that I have more nervous energy than I realized, and am more anxious than I should be. As I get older, I lack the ability to keep it in check.  I find aging interesting from the standpoint of an engineer:  While the amplitude of my mood swings has decreased over the years, the frequency has increased.  I used to deal with anxiety using programming, action games, IRC, web browsing, email, online communities, etc. to distract me.  With most of those removed this past month, I turned to other avenues such as nervous eating (I gained two pounds) and snapping at my family during particularly low periods. :-(

The solution, I think, is not to go back on the sauce completely, but regulate it. Work smarter, not harder.  Keep doing email, but only useful email — all these automated notifications and alerts simply must go away.  Keep reading news, but pare down my newsfeed to just the bare essentials (sorry woot-offs, don’t let the door hit you on the way out).  And I’m giving serious thought to having some days (like the weekend) be “no-internet” days.

Did I get more meaningful things done in my free time, or did I just find other ways to waste it? Both meaningful (programming) and meaningless (tv, movies) activities increased at roughly the same amount.  Did I spend more time with family? A bit more, but there was no significant change.  Did I get around to reading Neuromancer? Nope. In fact, I didn’t read any books at all, other than technical information on FAT12/FAT16, and “The Pro Audio Spectrum” book sent to me by my good friend Mike Melanson.  Did I miss facebook? Not one bit. Did facebook miss me? Not really :-) but that doesn’t bother me either.  Was I inundated with spam? Despite my predictions, spam did not increase exponentially as the spambots received confirmation that  I was a real person through my vacation message auto-replies. MAILER DAEMON bounces were less than 6% of the email I received.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. I also brainstormed at least 12 more month-long experiments to try, half of which deal with my physical health and the other half with my mental health. (I’ll stay online for those, I promise!)

Experiment Statistics

Health: Weight gained/lost: +2 pounds :-(


  • For the month of October, I received 5690 emails, 3913 (69%) of which were obvious spam. Over 1000 more were non-obvious spam — spamassassin didn’t catch them, and neither did the bayesian filtering I have in my MUA.
  • Of the remaining 1777 emails, 8 of the top 10 senders were services that I signed up for — voluntary spam!  Those 8 were: ebay.com, kickstarter.com, paypal.com, (my bank).com, netflix.com, (another bank).com, vintage-computer.com, and linkedin.com.
  • I received 174 emails from other things like hobbyist mailing lists and groups — stuff I want to keep on top of, but things that I now realize a daily or weekly summary would suffice.
  • I received around 35 personal or truly important emails during the entire month out of all 5690, roughly 1 per day.

RSS feed: Received over 1200 news articles, 1000 of them daily tech news. I will be paring 25% of those down.  I’m also not sure if I’m going to read them all to catch up.

Movies watched:

TV Shows/Miniseries watched:

Games played:

Notable activities performed:

  • Performed firmware and BIOS update to my XTCfv2 prototype.
  • Significantly rewrote 8088flex player – 60fps sustained is now possible! (if the bandwidth is there).  I’ll blog about that later.
  • Digitized and edited more found footage from my VHS tapes.
  • Took my kids to a comic book store and bought them some yu-gi-oh cards; they played games with each other afterwards.
  • Took Sam out to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, just him and Dad.
  • Wrote a deleted data recovery program for FAT12 and FAT16 filesystems.  I’ll blog about that later.

Daily Log

Day 0:

I prepared by configuring and testing vacation messages for both my home-grown traditional mbox mailbox that has been servicing @oldskool.org for eons, as well as the gmail address I alternately use. I then moved my entire inbox (about 100 items still unread, that may be a lifehack for another month) to a separate folder so that I had a clear delineation of what I had to empty before going back to my old inbox. I wanted to watch some new seasons of shows with my kids in October, so at the 11th hour I ordered some DVDs from Amazon. I turned off Data Network Mode on my phone so that it wouldn’t be constantly trying to check email and update news unless I was at home on wifi where I could ignore it a little easier. I also removed the news widgets (rss aggregator, youtube channels, facebook, twitter) from my phone’s home screens so I wouldn’t be distracted by them. Finally, I made sure all of my podcast subscriptions were current and downloaded to my phone for listening (I don’t consider this a cheat as I used to listen to the radio and mixtapes on a portable cassette player two decades ago).

Day 1:

Exceptions started on the first day, when I needed to access some online benefit information for work, and the only way to do that was over the public internet. But the experiment wasn’t to cut out all internet usage, it was to cut out all unnecessary distractions and wasted time, so I felt these that acceptable. Another exception was because I wanted to keep a log for this experiment in a file, not a paper notebook, so I allowed myself to ssh to my home server from wherever I was so I could record new info into the log. Again, I don’t feel this was against the spirit of the experiment; I could keep a paper notebook log, but I can’t stand writing longhand.

Already on the first day I had to catch myself; I had just finished watching a documentary on The Weavers and wanted to learn a little more about them, so reflexively I started to pull up wikipedia. I was halfway through typing “Weavers” before I mentally slapped my hand and closed the browser. Later that day I wanted to confirm an artist’s tour dates, and I struggled with the decision to designate that as an exception because I honestly couldn’t tell if there was any other way to look that information up other than the artist’s website. I caved and spent about 90 seconds confirming the artists’s tour dates. (Speaking of which, how did people look up tour dates before the internet? I’m serious, I really want to know. Other than posters plastered up at local venues, and maybe a fanzine or fan club newsletter, I can’t figure out how people knew when and where to catch a show.)

I also quickly made an exception for work-related conversation. When someone asks you about the new Nook tablet or Galaxy Note II or some other tech news as part of interoffice chit chat, answering “I have no idea, I’m on an internet sabbatical” does not improve comradery among coworkers. That kind of response is less “social scientist” and more “antisocial hipster douchebag”. So whenever that came up, I allowed myself a few minutes to get familiar with what they were talking about. This policy was in addition to the previous exception that anything specifically work-related was ok (dictionary, reference material, vendor tech support forum, etc.) Lifehacking experiments cease to be fun when they screw with my ability to provide for my family, so I didn’t feel it was cheating making these exceptions.

Other first-day oddities included a high sense of anxiety — I was picking at my fingers all day, something I do when I’m nervous — as well as getting a song stuck in my head for several hours (and I hadn’t even listened to the song, just thought about it for a few seconds). I’m not convinced these behaviors were related to the experiment, however; correlation != causation.

Day 2:

I peeked at my email to make sure delivery and vacation messages were still working. 420+ emails, 99% of them appear to be spam. Scanned subjects and didn’t look like I was missing anything important. Total time: 90 seconds.

Told co-workers about my experiment at lunch; they were not impressed. In fact, we only talked about it for a minute and then moved on.

Added another exception for my weather app widget on my phone’s home screen. I would normally turn on the radio, read a newspaper, or just stick my head out the window to determine the weather, and I only glance at the app once a day, so I don’t consider leaving the weather app enabled a “cheat”.

Same song from day 1 still stuck in my head.

Day 3:

Peeked at email again for another 90 seconds just to make sure it was working ok. So far so good. Almost 800 emails, but most are spam. (I have an effective spam filtering strategy with multiple components, but a portion of it is bayesian filtering on the part of my MUA and since I’m not running my MUA, the spam is still in my inbox.)

Finally cracked and had my first real “infraction”: I overheard someone mention spending $300 on Halotherapy which sounded suspiciously like woo-woo junk science. Curiosity burned me up  so much that I just had to confirm if I was right or not. (I was.)  Total time spent online: 2 minutes.

I think my nervous-energy mind is having trouble adjusting to this new schedule, as I have come back to this log four times today to update it and the day is only half over. I continue to pick at my fingers. I may need to find some other way of releasing anxiety.

Same song from day 1 still stuck in my head!!

Day 4:

Watched 45 minutes of the 2012 Presidential Debate on my phone using a justification that I now can’t recall. I think I tried to justify it using some sort of scheduled VHS tape analogy. I think I messed up royally here. The only mitigating factor is that I watched all 45 minutes contiguously, calmly, and gave it my full attention.  Unfortunately, now I don’t want to vote for either of them.

Drowning out the stuck song in my head using a dance/electro/hiNRG/techno playlist on shuffle.

Day 6:

Got online to go directly to ebay to handle some auction sales. (This was an exception that I agreed on before I started the experiment, because it’s not worth borking my ebay feedback rating and deny people merch just because I’m doing an experiment.)  Once done, did not feel the need to go browsing or check email.

Day 7:

While seeing a matinee, saw a poster for Taken 2. Hadn’t even realized it was being made, let alone in theaters! Went to Roger Ebert’s online reviews to check out a review, which I justified as being no different than picking up the paper to do the same.

Matinee was Looper. It was good — not great, just good. The best thing about the movie was watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt do his best to look and act like Bruce Willis. Prosthetics were involved.

Day 8:

Coworker mentioned to me that Jellybean might actually work on my craptastic Epic 4g and pointed me to http://get.cm/?device=epicmtd . Now my phone is burning a hole in my pocket until the end of the month!

Day 9:

Completely and utterly fell off the wagon when I ran into a programming problem and couldn’t find the answer. Searched the ‘net for 2 hours before concluding that I could probably figure out the problem myself if I just think about it for a while. Gotta get back up on the horse!

Day 11:

I was stumped by a programming problem and couldn’t resist the urge to ask someone online for help. If I was asking any random person I would probably have been able to resist, but the Internet is the great equalizer, so it was very easy for me to perform the equivalent of asking Chekov advice on how to write a play. That’s pretty hard to resist. (The advice I got back was extremely helpful; it was worth it.)

Day 12:

Watched a documentary on the Zodiac killer with Melissa; took both boys to a comic book store to get some more Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and Max discovered Magic: The Gathering and is now 50+ cards down that rabbit hole.

Day 13:

Measured my weight and was shocked to learn that I had actually gained half a pound instead of losing weight like I thought I would during this experiment.

Did three loads of laundry, which is about 2.5 more loads than I do in a week.

Day 14:

Did 4 loads of laundry in the breaks between programming sessions.

Day 16:

Halfway point achieved! Max told me he was impressed I made it this far.  :)

Not having to check email constantly is a huge win IMO, although I feel somewhat guilty,  like I am avoiding responsibility or something.

It has been effortless to resist the pull of facebook and twitter; it  just seems like so much noise, noise, noise, noise . I miss cracked.com the most, as I usually read it in bed as part of my falling asleep ritual. I am compensating with tv shows instead. I should probably be reading  a book or something (or nothing!)

Day 17:

I bricked my phone trying to flash it. Because the USB port is broken on it, there is no way to flash a recovery image to it — so I am going to be without my phone for about 3 days. This should get interesting.

Day 19:

Got phone back, and found that I didn’t really miss it.

Noticed that I don’t seem to miss my email at all. In fact, it’s kind of a relief. The first two weeks I felt like I was shirking some sort of responsibility, but now it just seems like a burden has been lifted. It’s a shame it can’t last.

First real fallout of not checking email found today: My NAS dropped a drive on the 13th, and I never saw the error because I wasn’t checking email which is where I have the errors sent. This morning, it dropped another drive and I lost the entire NAS. It’s backed up, but I could have prevented the upcoming week of rebuilding and restoring if I had just replaced that drive on the 13th.

Day 20:

Was able to recover the NAS without resorting to backups. ZFS ROX DA HOUSE Y’ALL

Day 24:

Over the last week, my willpower has eroded to the point where I’m using the Internet about 10 minutes a day. I needed some questions answered for my programming project, so I have been on Usenet to get help. I’ve also visted IMDB to look up trivia for movies or shows I’d just watched. This is still a far cry from where I used to be (at least an hour every night) but I still feel sheepish.

Day 28:

Spent most of the weekend finishing up programming a data recovery utility for FAT12/FAT16 filesystems.  Was extremely calming, relaxing. I wish I’d programmed it 25 years ago though, since I built two novel functions into it that no other recovery utility of the 1980s had. I could have made a lot of money back then.

Day 29:

I don’t miss my email at all, but I’ll need to deal with it soon, so I broke my rules for about 10 minutes to research how best to gather statistics from mbox files and grab some source tarballs. I ran October’s email through the excellent MailListStat program.  The results are somewhat what I feared: I appear to be my own worst enemy. Most of the email I’ve received I signed myself up for. Information overload. I will be correcting that in a big way in November!


Stay tuned for November’s lifehacking experiment: My health!

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