Archive for the computing Category

Filtering distraction: how to use index cards to stay off the web

Posted in computing, lifehacking, Lists, memory, multitasking, social networking, stationery lust, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by katekanno

“The mind that has no fixed aim loses itself, for, as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.

Michel Montaigne  (From a blogshort essay on idleness that describes internet haze brain to a T.)

This is your brain on the web.

Or mine, anyway, and for the last several months I’ve been obsessed with finding ways to curb the impulse for distraction.

For writers, this problem is exacerbated by our own insecurities, that inner voice that tells us we’ve got a fact wrong, or that we simply don’t know enough about a subject to be blathering on about it like some blowhard in the Guggenheim.

One option I’ve tried is the Freedom application. You can find a better description of it here, but basically it cuts you off the web for a designated amount of time. If you want to get back on, you have to reboot your computer.  It’s an excellent way to get started, a sort of training wheels for willpower.

Another option I’ve devised myself is the use of index cards. Many writers praise them as an immediate idea recording device, but they can also be used, I’ve found, to keep my twitchy little fingers from clicking the browser icon. Here’s how it works.


Obtain index cards, one stack will do, but you’ll find you’ll need more as you go along.


Place one of them next to your computer, and write the name of whatever writing project you’re working on across the top.


Close your browser, bring up word ( or whatever program you use), and start writing. Fend off the evil voice when it’s simply throwing rocks at you — especially do this when it sounds like your mother. However, if it asks a legitimate question such as “Is that really how internal combustion engines work?” or nags you that “you really need to elaborate more on cuttlefish anatomy,” you pick up that card and write it down. Now I usually number the questions, simply because I know I’ll need the order later, but now you are free from the urge to click your browser and thereby instantly forget what it was you were looking up in the first place.


Gather up your used index cards. You have a mission. Open your browser or go to a library. Find the answers to your questions — or decide that some of them weren’t really as relevant as you first thought — and write them down.


Return and revise your manuscript with your newfound information, and as a side benefit, a new sense of security because this time you have a better idea of what it is you’re talking about.  The really interesting thing that you’ll discover is that very often, your uninformed instincts about particular topics were more on target than you thought. For example, one of my characters was a 1940s Western director who had trouble finding extras who could actually ride horses. I’d worried that this wasn’t a legitimate plot device for getting another character hired on his film, but when I went to do my research, I discovered that this was indeed a common hurdle for directors of big budget Westerns; furthermore, they were even more frustrated by hiring limits set by the Screen Actor’s guild during the time. I was not only better informed, I was psychic!

This system has worked very well so far. If you’re in need of an extra boost of willpower you can use the index cards while Freedom is on. That should keep you away from the facebook/twitter vortex for at least a little while.

Cloudy with a Chance of Chicken Heart

Posted in Atheism, books, computing, eco anxiety, education, ghost stories, literature, old time radio, religion, science fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by katekanno

I love it when two books I’m reading unexpectedly connect. I’ve been (slowly) making my way through Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget, a book that I really wish had been around when I was suffering through a ludicrous “ed tech” class last summer that was pushing the cloud computing orthodoxy Lanier discusses. As an atheist with a weakness for Catholic British authors, i.e. Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark, I also happened to have just read G.K. Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday. I didn’t like it much; it’s a sort of Monty Python meets Trinity Broadcasting, with Chesterton providing lots of tree fort warm fuzzies for white Christian males. But, I will say that Chesterton’s opening verse resonates with Lanier’s arguments.

A cloud was on the mind of men

And wailing went the weather,

Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul,

When we were boys together.

Science announced non-entity

And art admired decay

The world was old and ended 

But you and I were gay

Okay, except the whining about science forcing a meaningless life upon us, to which I say why read a Bible when you have the Hubble, the verse does seem to fit our current environmental, creative, and digital malaise; if you suspect, as Lanier does, that such a malaise exists. 

Lanier brings up some frightening observations. One that really got to me was his ongoing survey of young people who can’t place any music recorded in the past fifteen years to a specific point, or that google’s uploading millions of books may result in a free for all cherry picking that makes the often bigoted trolling of Bible verse seem puny in comparison.  

Well, in honor of the hive mind, and because I haven’t been doing my part on the horror stories links front, here is Arch Oboler’s famous “Chicken Heart” story, where a you-guessed-it and not a digital cloud rises to engulf the world. 

Now someone pass me a wing.