That's just how I scroll

You can surf your usual rounds of sites until your eyes bleed or your hand breaks off at the wrist from all the clicky-clicky. Staying on top of one's interest areas, keeping in touch with people, following the news and can seem endless and overwhelming. I can't stand to be uninformed, but am lazy enough to want the informing process to be fast and efficient. I suspect you do too. There is a better way.

I realize that I have arrived late to many innovations in this area, but am probably ahead of the curve for this blog's less geeky readers, so here we go. People sometimes express amazement that I know so much, but it's simply because I try to quickly find information. So I will detail how I do this and hopefully give you ideas on how to better manage your own info flows.

iGoogle: At the base of all this is The Google. I have a gmail account, this blog and a couple of other things from Google. It is all tied together by my iGoogle page: a web page custom designed to dump all the information I want, how I want it, in one place. iGoogle allows you to set up tabbed pages where you can house different types of information. And there's always a Google search box there if you need it. Check out the tech tab from my iGoogle page below:

The Home tab has my three main web communication tools: gmail inbox, Twitter and Google Reader. I rarely interact with these three programs outside of this home tab. I've made the tab my home page, so whenever I fire up The Firefox, I see email, twitter and new blog posts all on one screen, along with weather, calendar, Google docs and a few other things. There's a theme of background photos that I set to put a pic of Hawaii that matches the time of day. The Tech tab has a Matrix background: yes, each tab has a pic that matches the theme.

Google Reader is a program that avoids the endless clicking among all the blogs you want to follow to see if any has a new post. You 'subscribe' to the blogs you want to by searching for them. The reader will show you all of the unread posts from any of those blogs, and will let you read them right there in the Reader.

RSS feeds: Tired of clicking from the New York Times, to your hometown rag, to, and then back to NYT to check for breaking news? You can add gadgets that have feeds from all over the web on one tab. The screenshot above shows that I have both Gizmodo and Engadget RSS feeds on my Tech tab. While at most you get a handful of headlines, you can click on the title bar and go directly to the website if you want in a separate window.

There's many other ways to create webpages that house your customized nozzle on the firehose of web content. I'm just showing you how I scroll. Your mileage may vary.

Passing the Bechdel Test

Charles Stross, sci-fi writer extraordinaire, references a test for misogyny in movies, courtesy of a comic strip by Alison Bechdel (who credits someone named Liz Wallace). The test is:

1) there are at least two female characters
2) who talk to each other about
3) something other than men.

Charlie applied this test to his own fiction and found that some of it passed, and some of it didn't. He has sworn to pay more attention to how female characters are portrayed, even at the expense of possibly turning his work into movies.

Since I have much less fiction to test than Charlie (and that is the closest this fanboy will ever come to comparing himself with Mr. Stross), this was much easier to check. Crashpoint Cascade, the novel in progress, passes. There are at least two scenes off the top of my head that meet the test, and ironically, none of the women in the first scene are in the second. I made a point of having as many female characters in the novel as male, in part because the story has some utopian elements, including more gender equity, but more importantly, because those characters just are female, just like some are angry, some are happy, some are evil and some are good.

Making the right choices subconsciously or unintentionally

Back when I was younger, I felt like I could go into any of a number of different careers. My guidelines in choosing a career were simple: I didn't pay much attention to earnings potential, industry growth, portability, advancement or even scheduling. I was all about what interested me, what I excelled at.

In retrospect, I really lucked out. At one point, I seriously toyed with pursuing journalism. I was the editor of my high school newspaper and even did Journalism Explorers and got to hang out at the local paper's newsroom. Journalism was always a low paid, badly scheduled career. I chose not to go that route because I got more interested in public policy. Twelve years later, the journalism field is collapsing as its business plan falls apart. Media organizations are hemorraging money and journalists have been laid off in droves. Plus, the pay and hours still suck. Good choice on me.

I also toyed with joining the legal profession. Even did Law Explorers in high school, got to hang with real attorneys and judges and excelled at a mock trial. Took constitutional law in college and liked it. But it just didn't excite me, the pre-laws in college were irritating and as Tom Hanks once put it, being a lawyer means having homework all the time. Plus the hours suck, the hourly pay can be pretty bad, but it is highly portable. Fair choice on me.

I went into public policy expecting low to moderate pay, no portability and lousy hours. Most policy jobs involve horrible hours in exchange for doing really important (or seemingly important) work. The burnout rate is pretty high. The pay turned out to be higher (especially on an hourly scale) than I expected, the portability is nearly nonexistent and the hours are manageable in some spots, like the spot I'm in. The burnout potential is there, but it's mostly because of the hours and work that turns out not to be important. I've avoided that for the most part. Good choice on me.

The funny thing about career choices is how some of your mildly held preferences bubble up and become more important over time. I was willing to trade off money for decent hours, and substance over appearance. I have the Gen X trait of wanting work/life balance.

Having a good amount of work experience now, to me there are few office jobs with crazy hours that seem remotely worth the tradeoff. Much of the time, the culture of 24/7 work is a perpetual fire drill done mostly for appearances' sake. Humans are not very productive beyond eight hours, other than in looking busy. Over time, it's that kind of work culture that increasingly I have found ridiculous.

This has so far kept me from toying with politics, software development and entertainment because of the lousy hours and work/life imbalance. But it's not a big deal, because those fire drill cultures drive me nuts. I like having down time each night, to vary my mental frequencies and recharge in one area while focusing on another. Good choice on me.