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Idea #45 - Gamify Your Life

What if the biggest problems in your life, whether they're financial, emotional, intellectual, physical, or spiritual, could be approached as if they were simply challenges in a game?

In the immortal words of Jimi Hendricks "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke..."

Well, I don't know if it's a joke, but I know that I cherish my life and that I'm grateful for certain freedoms and abilities. This, however, does not change the fact that I constantly face financial, emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual challenges.

Due to various "forces larger than me" in my world, I find myself motivated to make choices, much like a player in a game. At the most basic level, the forces either drive me (fear of pain) or they pull at me (desire for pleasure).

It may sound obvious, but by applying game mechanics to certain aspects of your life, you can spend less time worrying or feeling "stuck" in a situation, and dwell in "The Magic Circle" that exists when you are in the zone = fully engaged in a game.

We all have the freedom to choose whether to seek pleasure or to avoid pain, but are you conscious about doing so in sustainable ways (for the planet), and with reasonably adequate concern for your fellow man?

We humans are subject to limitations and obfuscations imposed by our egos. Many make futile attempts to separate from their "sense of self" That is, they try to separate from the notion of being a separate entity.

Personally, I perceive the collection of atoms and molecules comprising the entity known as "Dave" as a temporary form of energy, much like a "candle" is a stream of hot gases = never the same from one moment to the next.

Thus, in the game of life, I see myself (and others) as players who are capable of amazing transformations. The goal of the game, as I see it, is to play as long as I can as happily as I can.

Whether any of it matters, in the grand scheme of things, is a discussion for another blogosphere. But if your goal is also to play as long as you can as happily as you can, let me know if you want to hear more about how to gamify your life.

Idea #44 - Harness the Monster

Two years ago I started writing a book for my kids called “Taming the Digital Dragon,” but as I created an outline and thought about the relentless onslaught of digital data in everyone’s professional and personal lives, this title seemed inadequate.

The digital torrent coming at us 24/7 from all directions doesn’t have recognizable and predictable features, like those of a dragon. It's a sprawling, crawling, insidious phenomenon that is often nameless, ever-expanding, shape-shifting, and stress-inducing. It is a MONSTER that is virtually and literally infiltrating (and threatening to take over) every aspect of our lives.

However, the title “Taming the Digital Monster” doesn’t quite capture it, either. Synonyms for the verb “tame” include:

"lacking in excitement, spiritless, declawed, deprived of zest, lacking attractiveness, toned down"

These descriptors all feel wrong. The goal isn’t to make the monster weak and/or boring. This is a beast that, by its very nature, like mankind’s thirst for knowledge, actually cannot be tamed, any more than the wind or the tides can be domesticated.

In searching for a better verb, one synonym for “tame” did leap out at me, and that was harness. Descriptors for harness include:

"control, manage, utilize, exploit, render useful as a source of power"

Yes! Harness is exactly the right word. If you can’t beat’em, harness’em! We 21st century humans just need to render this beast more useful, and less potentially harmful. We need to make it more joy-inducing and less stress-inducing. We need to know how to exploit the beauty and power of it, while minimizing unwanted exploitation of our own digital world presence.

But how? Is harnessing the digital monster even possible?

What Can Be Done

The word harness comes from Old French and Middle English, meaning “army provisions”. Appropriately, we are at war. Each of us fights daily battles to retain our sanity, as digital data continues to enrich, yet simultaneously encroach, on our mental and physical space.
My idea is to form an org that will design and implement a win-win-win for users, businesses, and the planet, as follows:

• Incentivize knowledgeable users to share best practices.
• Build a repository of short (2-5 min.) presentations.
• Allow users to access & upload content 24/7 for free.
• Incentivize learners to earn Digital Badges.
• Help employers certify candidates for specific jobs.

In order to minimize bias (or the appearance of bias), and encourage a wide variety of experts to share strategies and tips, the site must be a .org (nonprofit). Videos can be uploaded by consumers who’ve simply discovered optimal solutions through trial and error. Site sponsors can also help users create and refine presentations.

Based on numerous “lessons in humility” I've received from technology over the past 30 years, both as an itinerant technical writer in Silicon Valley, and as an “IT Administrator” for various devices used by family members, I know I have knowledge and wisdom worth sharing about various digital thingies. Like many people, I've learned a little bit about a lot of different technologies. (Just enough to be dangerous...)

Content on this site will be targeted primarily at 7th graders, but other content will also be available for more advanced or more novice users.

Why 7th Graders (and Their Parents) Need This

The content is intended to be ideal for middle schoolers, as well as for their parents, because 7th grade is the age by which most kids have been taught about the birds and the bees. It is also when many kids are given cell phones, and increasingly, smartphones.

By age 12, many kids, whether or not they have a smartphone, know how to bypass internet browsing restrictions. Just think about how YOU were at age 12. Were you ready to handle the digital world wisely and safely at that age? (Yikes!)

Many kids are at least two years ahead of where their parents were academically at age 12, but most are not being taught skills that will enable them to control the digital monster effectively. Time spent troubleshooting software or hardware issues can quickly suck up minutes and hours normally allotted for homework.

In collaboration with CERT organizations (Community Emergency Response Team) see:, some content will be presented with an eye toward disaster preparations.

Specific Info and Advice

Time is indeed the most precious thing anyone has, and kids seem to have even less time to just “hang out” and “do nothing” than older generations did. They have less and less “time to waste” nowadays, in between sports, dance class, band practice, student council, endless birthday parties and sleepovers, and whatever else is going on. Sometimes a few minutes of expert advice can make all the difference between being stressed out or relaxed.

As Millenials prepare to compete for jobs globally, is anyone teaching them basic strategies (things older gens have learned the hard way)? Such as how to:

• Send/receive concise, clear messages in timely and effective ways.
• Optimize comm channels without enabling 24/7 distractions.
• Establish clear boundaries & expectations with cyber connections.
• Store stuff quickly, efficiently, cheaply, and safely.
• Enable fast, easy searches among all your digital stuff.
• Employ simple hackproof ways to remember logins/passwords.
• Learn norms for specific online activities / interactions.
• Ensure an adequate level of privacy and safety.
• Optimize your preferred learning mode(s).
• Know when you’ve done adequate research to make a decision.
• Detect possible danger or criminal behavior when online.

... to name a few.

The War on Sanity

Like The Borg on Star Trek, the digital monster threatens to take over our lives. Resistance is futile against something so huge and powerful. We WILL all be absorbed... unless we humans teach each other how to fight back effectively!

At some point, the war with the digital monster may reach a critical threshold, where only those who master certain skill sets will have much of a chance to find peace and contentment as adults.

Time management skills will not be enough.

Working harder will not be enough.

Thinking the same way a computer “thinks” is already just expected.

This might sound icky, but look at how you interact with almost any digital device. Even your microwave oven. You tell it what to do, but only if you first understand how to talk its language, by pressing the proper sequence of buttons.

Common Sense Approach to Peace of Mind

A happy, fulfilling life often requires facing fear. A rational adult can’t usually find happiness without bravely accepting and embracing laws of physics that dictate what is likely or possible. For example, you wouldn’t scuba dive around hungry sharks without proper gear and training. You’d also bring along the oxygen you MUST have to survive. First things first!

In the same way, when greater forces are at play, it's wise to first examine and gain clarity as to your goals and primary intentions, then do research to identify feasible options, and prepare for unexpected changes to your plan.

Doing this homework usually pays off. At a minimum, it enables more time for doing things you prefer to do. It can also help keep your stuff, or you, out of harms way.

“Going with the flow” of larger forces also helps you avoid wasting time and energy. You can use macro trends to your advantage, similar to the way sailors use ocean tides and the wind. There are many ways to harness the digital monster to more efficiently get where you want to be in life, instead of avoiding or railing against the inevitable.

The choice to ignore the monster might be at the expense of your time and energy, and in a disaster situation, possibly at the expense of your safety. Worse, the choice to tune it out can impact other people’s time, energy, and safety. Simply put, this unavoidable trend has very real emotional, social, financial, and physical implications, whether you like it or not.

The proposed website will aim to become the go-to repository for those who want to learn specific strategies for organizing, controlling, and using the data and devices in their world.

You will go into battle with much greater confidence. Cases where trade-offs exist will be put into perspective, so that you are more likely to make choices that are aligned with your primary intentions.

Let’s harness the beast! Are you ready to learn how?

Idea #43 - Get Paid Well as a Writer

Want to be a writer, but also earn a decent wage? Consider tech writing. Before you say "Yechh! I'd sooner take up dog washing!" hear me out.

A technical background is often not necessary. Since 1987 I've worked with tech writers hailing from a wide array of backgrounds: ex-engineers of course, but also ex-lawyers, ex-salesmen, ex-theologians, ex-musicians, even ex-dog-washers. Fear ye not!

Getting Noticed

Skim tech writer job postings for commonly sought skills. If a particular area of expertise is at least mildly interesting to you, go find a class. After taking one or two classes, you will be an "expert". An expert is just someone who knows SLIGHTLY more about a topic than the average yahoo. (It’s not difficult to get there quickly...) You will then be able to help "transfer knowledge" to others looking to gain expertise.

As with any career, before investing a lot of mental energy learning a specific skill or process (or system or application or knowledge base), take some time to think about industry trends. Look at the big picture. Aim for skills that enable a wide range of job possibilities.

In 1988 I took a single C programming language class, which enabled me to say "I can read C code." In the early 90’s, the ability to read C code was highly valued among Silicon Valley firms. (Note: I said I can read, NOT write it.) This one class helped me land several jobs.

Selling Thyself

I differentiate myself by giving examples of the following skill sets:

• Ability to edit, illustrate, or write (concise, lucid, consistent, and correct) content
• Guru-level skill with publishing tools (MS Office & Visio, Adobe Framemaker & Illustrator)
• Some technical knowledge in many areas (at ease around geeks, exposure to similar technology)
• Ability to manage projects in parallel (flexibly, assertively, and in an organized fashion)

Over time I have gained tangential skills (like helping companies pass ISO audits and organize their workflow more efficiently), but a tech writer should have skills in the above areas as a base.

Going With the Flow

After a few writing projects, you will realize that there are only about four different kinds of tech manuals in the world, and they follow similar patterns that can and should be cloned. Tech writers are EXPECTED to follow widely accepted conventions; otherwise, users (at least the ones who bother to read manuals) get irked.

A word of caution: a tech writing career works both for AND against those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. It helps to be detail oriented and logical, but it is equally important to be able to embrace chaos when larger forces are at work. Strive to maintain a flexible yet reasonably committed stance in the face of ever-shifting trends.

I have witnessed many a tech writer crumble and melt when a beloved interface or environment got phased out for no apparent reason, or when a project got axed after weeks of arduous effort. I have survived for decades in this career by caring, but without caring too much.

Remain an agnostic -- don't become emotionally involved (or too spiritually aligned) with any product, company, or guru. Since even your best laid plans will contain disappointments, a sense of humor is KEY. (Sometimes I envision myself chatting with the host of a late night talk show, apologizing to every boss I've ever had for waiting so long to write my Oscar-nominated screenplay. But I digress...)

Standing Your Ground

Documenting how a thing works is, frankly, often a lower priority than shipping the thing on time, so writers ride a whip, so to speak. That is, small changes at the front end of a project often cause wild swings in project scope at the other end. Since deadlines are often predetermined, and quality (accuracy, completeness, and usability) of content is usually not negotiable, the writer must help management grasp the scope of a project (set expectations about quantity, given constraints on time and quality). This is always the trickiest part of the job.

If an employer claims to need an engineer who can also write, point out that what they might REALLY need is a competent writer who is simply able to interface well with geeks. My job, I tell them, is to take tedious work off of engineers' backs, so that they can spend more time out in the weeds, doing whatever the hell it is that they do.

I also point out that having less technical depth enables me to approach the effort with fresh eyes, similar to those of the target audience. In my experience, tech writing OFTEN does NOT require technical knowledge, but it does require a stomach for boring crap that makes you want to stab your eyes out with rusty ice picks.

Managing Egos

Be aware that interviewers can be intimidated by a degree in English or Journalism. If your background in writing is strong, then, as when on a first date, try to appear confident, but not too cocky. Engineers went to college, so they tend to think they can write as well as you can. Many, in fact, can.

Since fully half of the job is interfacing effectively with (and extracting inputs from) team members who contribute to documents that you "own", keeping your ego in check is key. This is true not only with subject matter experts, but also, and sometimes especially, with fellow writers. There is a reason why Scott Adams' Dilbert character, Tina the Brittle Tech Writer, is so funny. The emotional maturity issues she exhibits are common enough among writers of both sexes for the stereotype to stick.

In Tina's defense, her testy-ness is probably due to the fact that tech writers are often given the responsibility for a document, but without the authority to enforce agreed upon deadlines. (Buddhists call this an insurmountable opportunity...) Did I mention a sense of humor?

Adapting to Trends

At some point, you will form opinions about which desktop publishing tools or platforms are "best". If you choose to become adept with superior-yet-more-expensive tools (a.k.a Adobe CS), rather than being "absorbed" by the borg (Microsoft's inferior-yet-ubiquitous-and-cheap tools), then prepare for pain later, if, for seemingly insane reasons, your employer elects to follow the herd.

In the 90's employers seemed more committed to producing quality docs. Lately, quick and dirty is the rule. I try to keep current with both tool sets, adapting on the fly to whatever The Powers That Be prefer.

I have found writing about hardware to be easier than writing about software. I was weaned on UNIX, but have learned to love Windows, too. (Mac OS is cool but not mainstream enough.) Mid-size companies that have a strong balance sheet (lots of cash in the bank), who make something I think is cool (or at least mildly interesting), are usually more fun than startups, which entice you with stock options (that in my case ended up worthless most of the time) and work you to the bone.

Getting Paid

One backdoor approach is to apply as an intern, rather than as an employee, while taking classes that the target employer finds relevant. Working as a contractor initially is also a good way to let them check you out (while you scope them out), before committing to anything perm.

Hourly rates vary, depending on your background, the industry, the overall economy, etc. Ask for a rate that makes you happy. Don't aim any lower. Most tech writing jobs exist because no one else wants to do such tedious mind-numbingly boring work, and if a looming deadline exists, then finding a competent, flexible, assertive expert who fits well in the group is not easy, and companies will often pay top dollar.

Idea #42 - First, Get a Million Bucks, Then...

What Indicators Should an Investor Track?

(This is an excerpt from Molebait's Money Secrets.)

Some investors spend no more time doing research than it takes to throw darts at a Wall Street Journal. At the other extreme are people who have the time to develop an investment algorithm worthy of a Nobel Prize. Most of us fall somewhere in between, so, if every decision we make is a decision we continue to make, how can we know when we’ve done ENOUGH research? (When is it time to make another decision?)

When hard facts exist, this can be simple enough, but when the data is nebulous or contradictory, your responses to the "spiritual" questions posed in Chapter 1, “I Don’t Have Time for This Crap!” will guide you.

This chapter discusses measurable (as opposed to spiritual) factors that influence investment decisions, including:
• Company-Centric Data
• Sector or Market Data
• Global Economic Factors
• Other Measurable Factors

At the end of this chapter, Molebait’s Checklist summarizes, in priority order, specific factors to consider before buying or selling an asset.

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