Weekly Reads: Facelift Edition

If you keep upon Sententia only via the RSS feed, you may want to stop by the site and check out the swanky new design I activated over the past week.

I can’t take credit for the design itself — the facelift is due to Magazeen, a fantastic free WordPress theme provided by the good folks at Smashing Magazine in conjunction with WeFunction Design.

Normally, I’d think it’s kinda goofy for a web designer to not design their own blog theme (even for a personal site — my design site was designed by yours truly), but when you get a freebie that’s as clean and simple (not to mention reader-friendly), it’s crazy not to take full advantage of it.

I’m still considering doing some tweaks to the theme, but for now, I’m really pleased with the way it all turned out. It’s easier to read, and I love the graphic element that the feature photos provide. Together with some fantastic Creative Commons pics from Flickr, I think it’s a winner all the way around.

Anyway, here’s this weeks’ collections of links from when I wasn’t tweaking design themes.

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments containing multiple links are flagged for moderation, so if your note doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

Never Again (from Unclutterer). I have a funny way of being both highly organized and completely disorganized — simultaneously — in different parts of my life. Finances? Highly organized. Laundry? Well… *ahem* … But organization typically implies that you want to be able to find something again, either physically or in memory. So what to you do with those things that fit into those piles? Unclutterer suggests a “never again” filing system for everything from “never again give Mary anything with nuts in it” to “never try to sort socks in the dark.” Hm. Maybe that last one is why the laundry just never seems to get put away…

Simple Guidelines for Workday Quality over Quantity (from Smarterware). Gina Trapani is well-known in the life-hacking blogosphere for the straightforward ideas she has for getting more out of your everyday life. The ideas presented in this post aren’t necessarily novel — they are strongly reminiscent of Tim Ferriss’ illuminating The 4-Hour Workweek — but it’s always worth a reminder. This week, I’m going to try actually putting some of these guidelines into effect myself: setting my e-mail to only check for new messages every 3 hours (and not first thing in the morning). It’s something I did with great success while under the gun last September, but fell away from recently. It’ll be good to get “back in the saddle.”

Do these Mysterious Stones Mark the Site of the Garden of Eden? (from MailOnline). Okay, let me first get this out of the way: the headline for this article is somewhat rediculous, and completely sensationalist. Alright, now that I’ve got that out of my system, the content of the article is pretty neat. After all, it’s not every day that archaeologists find a gathering site with exquisite carvings that dates to 12,000 years ago. Yeah, that’s right — no extra zeros there. Whether the site was the mythical or literal location of the Garden of Eden is beside the point; the fact that something that old even exists is way cool.

Is Marketing Evil? (from Seth Godin). A lot of people like to blame marketing for … well … just about anything. The latest craze seems to be blaming the current economic difficulties (I refuse to call it a crisis) on people for either giving in to advertising and buying to much or not giving in enough and saving too much (what?!?).  The important thing that I took away from this post, wasn’t just about marketing. Instead, I took note of this gem: “Just like every powerful tool, the impact comes from the craftsman, not the tool.” It reminds me of a saying that I heard often as a kid: “A poor workman always blames his tools.” Good advice to keep in mind, no matter what your craft.

On Leadership

Why You Should Think About Encouraging Others to Be Brilliant (from Zen Habits). I think a big part of being a strong leader is making those around you better. In this post from Zen Habits, Leo explains that there’s a good reason for this: if on your own, you can make a certain contribution, how much greater will the contribution be if you empower others to make a contribution as well? Too often, we focus only on ourselves and what we get out of something — but sometimes, a bigger contribution can be made simply by giving things away.

Review: Results Without Authority (from The Simple Dollar). I enjoy the book reviews that Trent does on TSD, if only because I find we have a lot of overlapping interests. Leadership — formal and informal — is definitely an area of interest and growth for me, personally and professionally, so I’m always looking for interesting resources to help me along the way. Based on the detailed summary Trent provides, I may need to locate this one at the library.

Are You Anonymous At Work? (Guest Post by GL Hoffman, over at ChrisBrogan.com). This one actually ties really nicely into the Results Without Authority review mentioned above. By giving practical tips and specific strategies, GL Hoffman’s post really lays out a clear path for making yourself indispensible at work, and by extension, in other settings as well. When layoffs seem like they can be hiding just around the corner, it’s no time to just sit by and let yourself be anonymous. Taking leadership of your situation can make all the difference.

Blog to Watch

The Audience Matters Most (from Synthesis). In a lot of ways, Synthesis is what Sententia wants to be when it (he? she? what is the gender of a blog, anyway?) grows up. I particularly liked this quote: “[G]reat communication is not about you getting across what you wanted to. It’s about understanding your audience, their interests and needs, and giving them what they need.” That’s an extraordinarily important concept to grasp, not just in marketing but in life. I picked this post because it spoke to a number of my recent interests: the importance of understanding culture when it comes to effective communication. But really, I just wanted to highlight the really cool stuff that Shafeen Charania is coming up with. Very cool — scanners take note, the variety in this blog is fantastic.

Canadians Take Note

A final note, this one is almost more of a personal request. The Federal Budget presented this past week in parliament contained a lot of things, some good, some bad. But there’s one thing in particular that’s important to me, and not for a good reason. I’m going to quote from a petition being organized by Churchill Manitoba MP Niki Ashton:

For more than thirty years, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has been promoting and supporting university-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences. SSHRC funding has been used to complete ground breaking research in countless areas in Canada and around the world.

The Federal Budget presented on January 27th contains a 20% funding increase for this program, with a caveat that has the potential to halt this kind of research: “Scholarships granted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council will be focused on business-related degrees”.

These measures are backward and insulting to the thousands of Canadians that are students and researchers in the social sciences and humanities.

As a humanities student, finding opportunities for funding was hard enough as it was — most money is funnelled into the science because their “real world” applications are more obvious. But that doesn’t meant that the humanities don’t have a hugely important contribution to make. Just look at my posts above, and you’ll find many examples.

The simple fact is that the SSHRC grants were created to help fund the humanities and social sciences — to help Canadian students pursue degrees that help them communicate, analyse, think critically, etc. Many students rely on these grants to get through school; in many cases, it’s the only viable funding option. Not to mention “it is not the government’s role to direct granting agencies as to what research projects it may or may not fund. This is precisely the reason why such bodies are independent from the government. Each of the granting councils allocates funding based on peer-review of applications.” (quote from the Facebook group “Stop the feds from earmarking SSHRC funds for business-related degrees”).

So, if you’re Canadian, I’d ask you to give some thought to signing your name to the petition against the move to only allow SSHRC funds to be used for business-related research projects. It’s important.

Weekly Reads: Connecting Edition

Despite what you may think if you only know me from my blog, I actually am not a terribly social person. It’s not that I find it hard to make that initial connection with people, but that in the past, I just haven’t really gone beyond that. In some cases, I would go so far as to completely avoid opportunities to “get to know someone” more in-depth — whether it be making excuses to not join in on some activity or not keeping up with connections I had previously made.

For whatever reason(s), though, that has begun to change. Take this weekend for example. Normally, if you were to ask me if I had plans for the weekend, I would come up with something like “not really” or “going grocery shopping”. You know, real ‘connection’ stuff. However, this weekend, I not only went grocery shopping to the farmer’s market, but I’ve also got plans for lunch with some extended family. And later this week, I’m meeting a friend from university to catch up. So maybe I’m learning a thing or two.

It has got me thinking about ways to make connections, though. In some ways, my honesty on this blog has I think reflected on my new(ish) search for connections. Similarly, my willingness to try different things, like joining in a family lunch now and then. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.

Anyway, enough of that — now on to the links!

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

Tax-Free Savings Account — How Should We Use It? (from Million Dollar Journey). Canadian savers take note: you’ve probably seen all the commercials on TV from the banks trying to get you to save using their Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA). While some people are looking at TFSAs as a way to save money for every day, the consensus amongst financial advisors seems to be that it makes more sense to use as a retirement vehicle. So how does it compare to the good old RRSP — and which should you favor when it comes time to planning your retirement?

Clear and Effective Communication in Web Design (from Smashing Magazine). “Clear and effective communication” is important whether you’re involved in web design or not; it just so happens that on the web, there seems to be a lot less of it. As a web designer, I often ran into a problem where my clients just wouldn’t care about their content — so long as the page looked good, that was it. I found this article from Smashing Magazine is a good one from both perspectives: it not only showed the value of clear and effective communication online, but it also showed how you need to be clear and effective in all your communications. Otherwise, you can’t expect others to know where you’re coming from, or where you’re going.

Gay woman fights over hospital visitation rights in Miami court (from The Miami Herald). Let’s put aside the “gay” aspect of this just for a moment. In this case, we have a woman who has power of attorney over medical treatment. She is not allowed to see the patient, nor is kept aprised of her condition. We have three children. They are not allowed to see their mother, who is dying. Does this sound right to you? Why is it that as soon as people hear or see the word “gay” or “lesbian”, simple things (like lawful Power of Attorney) are so simply disregarded? Never mind that the woman was forbidden from seeing the person she loved (and had loved, for seventeen years) on her deathbed. It’s stories like this that remind me that no matter how far we think we’ve come, we’ve still got a long way to go.

“What Next?” The Third Stage of Personal Finance (from Get Rich Slowly). So you’ve paid off your debt, have started saving at something of a higher rate than 0.02%, have set some financial goals, and are living well within your means. Now what? That’s the question that J.D. tackles in this Get Rich Slowly article. It was a good article for me to read, as I find myself bordering on this stage. This part especially resonated with me: “I’m going to write about those times it makes sense to spend — or to invest — for things that make you happy.”  In the search for frugality, let’s not lose sight that ultimately, money is a tool, and it doesn’t do you any good if you refuse to ever use it.

On Music

Auto-Tune: Why Pop Music Sounds Perfect (from Time). I remember in high school, spending time in the recording studio with our vocal jazz group. To this day, there are still some of the recordings I listen to and cringe just a little bit, because I can hear a note here and there that is just not quite on (by myself, of course!). I know that on other occasions, I didn’t miss the note, but when it comes to recording, you often just take the best overall “take” and let the small things through. Or at least, that used to be the way you’d do it. Now, technology has allowed producers to change pitch when it’s not quite right — it’s likened to “photoshop for the human voice.” Strange, but true!

Piano Medley of Mario Tunes (YouTube video). Because I was in a vocal jazz group, I acquired a taste for all sorts of jazz music — from the classics up to the newest stylings. Because I played piano for said group (I sang, too), I acquired an appreciation for jazz pianists and the work that goes in to making all of those individually wierd sounding chords sound fantastic. That’s why I liked this swing-style Mario medley. A neat twist on some familiar tunes. I especially love the “sound effects” (coins, etc.) thrown in.

The Power of Suggestion

I had a moment the other night. As I sat in bed, I was literally overwhelmed with just a lot of stuff. From having the shakes to all sorts of bizarre conflicting thoughts (which just wouldn’t. shut. up.) and finally just giving in to a major breakdown, tears and all, it was a hard hour.

Apparently, I was feeling stressed, and since I had been ignoring it and pushing it aside, my body finally said enough was enough, and made me stop. In some ways, I almost felt as though my subconscious had decided to assert control over my body for a little while, since my conscious mind hadn’t been doing a very good job.

That’s not to say it was an entirely comfortable experience, though. Even now, as I reflect on it, I’m quite uncomfortable. It’s a really bizarre sensation to feel as though you are — and simultaneously are not — in control of your body. Of course, this was compounded by all sorts of things running through my head.

At the fore was the notion that maybe what I was experiencing was indicative of some higher reality: that I am not my body, and that my consciousness (the “real me”) is in fact quite separate from its “earthly trappings”.

But let’s back up for a moment, shall we? After all, this post is entitled The Power of Suggestion.

The Power of the Mind

I’m a big believer that the mind has the ability to make things real, at least insofar as we experience it as being real. That you can so completely convince yourself of something, even if it is not “really there” (ignoring for a moment ideas about the objective or subjective nature(s) of reality…), and not know the difference.

A lot of what I’ve been reading lately has talked about this. My mom lent me a book to read (Initiationby Elisabeth Haich) which speaks a great deal about the difference between who we are (in the body), and who we are (in a true, eternal, essential sense). As frequent readers will have noticed, I enjoy reading Steve Pavlina’s blog, and he also talks about this subjective nature of reality.

Even my relaxing TV watching has played its part — for example, we had a “Stargate SG-1” marathon over the weekend.

Those of you familiar with the show might recall an episode from Season 6 entitled “The Changeling”. Even if you’re not familiar with the show (or the episode in question), the following scenario might seem familiar: Teal’c, a main character of the show, dreams and wakes repeatedly between two versions of reality — in each, being utterly convinced that this reality is the true one, and that the other was the dream.

Now, I’ve most certainly had that happen before. I remember once having a dream in which I was woken up by the phone ringing. I answered it, and no one was there, so I went back to sleep. It rang again, and I was awoken again. Still no one there. Repeat one last time, and this time, upon answering the phone … well, the dial tone of my real-life phone (which I had apparently finally reached over and picked up) woke me up once and for all… 

Or did it? I remember being so confused upon waking the last time. Was I really awake? Or was this just another dream?

What Have You Been Filling Your Brain With

As I lay awake in my confused and “out-of-control” state last night, thoughts about the nature of reality were flooding into my head. Like I said, I had this feeling that my feeling of separation between body and consciousness was really an indication of reality. And it freaked me right out.

See, for some reason, I have made a distinction in my mind between believing something completely, and experiencing it completely. Let me unpack that a bit — and apologies if it’s a bit unclear, I’m not sure I completely understand it myself.

I have no problem giving conscious consent to an idea. Acknowledging something as true, believing it to be so, that sort of thing. But at the same time, I am always acutely aware that the mind can be convinced of things, and create reality where there is none. Extreme cases of this would be mental conditions such as schizophrenia.

I similarly have no difficulty with having an emotional connection to an idea which I believe. Feeling in my heart that it is true, that sort of thing. But at the same time, I am aware that emotions can be subject to the power of the mind and senses. For example, when you get frightened watching a scary movie — there is nothing inherent in the fear; rather, it is a response to your mental processing of the sensory input.

As I have realized more and more the truth of those two “but at the same time” comments, I have become increasingly skeptical and unsure of any “truth.” Is what I am perceiving as truth merely something I have become convinced of? Or is it a reflection of something that really “is”? 

This has been tearing me up, and last night was no exception. I cried out to just know truth. And at the exact same moment, I cried out that I did not want to know truth. I didn’t want to experience it. I was afraid that any experience I might have would be due to the power of suggestion, and that the seeming reality of the situation would convince me entirely of something false.

And that as a result of becoming so convinced, I would become unable to change my mind and beliefs: that I would become so deeply convinced, that I would no longer think rationally about the situation, thereby losing my ability to integrate new information and make informed decisions.

Last night, a lot of this culminated in the physical response I experienced — shaking and twitching, just simply due to the tension I had been holding in. The end result, though, was an exhausting journey which brought me once again face-to-face with this problem I have yet to resolve: the power of suggestion. Do I think these thoughts because they are real, or because I have implanted them by what I have read, seen and heard?

Am I just duping myself?

Mixed Messages

Here’s the flip side. As some of my Twitter followers may have noticed — and as I alluded to in my recent Weekly Reads — that I’ve recently started investigating Interaction Design (IxD). This is a relatively new field, but the jist of it is that we invest a lot of time and money in creating and designing things for people to use.

Take a piece of software for example: until recently (and still ongoing, in many places), you would have a programmer who was responsible for coding the software, and a designer, who would make it “look pretty”. Sometimes, you’ll get a designer or programmer who tries to take into account what the user actually wants — but because we base our decisions on “features” and “general usability principles”, we often end up making things work.

Don’t get me wrong, features and general usability principles are good, but what IxD does is shift the focus to figuring out what the user’s end goals are — and then sets out to determine how to provide a means to meet those goals. Features and usability are byproducts (important ones!) of this design process. And it is once the initial legwork has been done that programming and beautifying can begin.

As I read more and more, I realize that Interaction Design is what good marketers have been doing for a long time. If you try to sell people something that they want, you’ll probably have more success. In other words, if you identify the consumer’s goal, you can target a message that will demonstrate a way to reach that goal. Good marketing is concerned with good messaging: sending a message that evokes a response on the part of the audience.

But what if — as open happens in marketing — you have an audience that doesn’t think they want something, but you want to sell to them anyway? You first have to convince them. Really, when you think about it, how did we decide that we want sugary colored circles of pulverized and bastardized (formerly-known-as) grains to start the day, when we were used to having sweet, fresh fruit with a piece of (fresh, real) bread lightly toasted.

This is also a big part of marketing. The power of suggestion.

It’s the way that we determine how to funnel people to their particular goals, but somewhere along the line, we slip in a subtle shift that completely changes the outcome. Marketers do this all the time (you want to look cool? we’ll slip in a shift to indicate that cigarettes will get you there). Interaction Designers do this sometimes too (oh, you’ve arrived at my product page? Let me funnel you toward our purchasing area, even though you just came to do some research). And yes, spiritualists and religious people do this too (to be fair, I do not believe that all religion is nearly so nefarious as to be doing this intentionally. Some, yes. All, no.)

Part of me very strongly believes in harnessing the power of suggestion. When I go into a meeting about communicating our services to instructors, or when I develop a webpage intended to end in a product sale, the power of suggestion seems to be my best friend. I can put the idea in your head that my solution will meet your goal.

Heck, when you (or I) have a good product or service, we  don’t even have to lie about it, nor even stretch the truth! I really might be able to help you meet your goals!

In a very real sense, our ability to communicate depends on the power of suggestion.  Communicating depends on my ability to suggest things to you that make sense enough for you to accept them enough to at least understand the words.

So I love it, and I hate it. It is the laser beam that can correct eyesight, or guide munitions to their targets; the immunization which cures a disease and causes an epidemic. Yes, the power of suggestion is hugely powerful and impactful.

Where am I going with this? I’m not entirely sure. I’d say I’m open to suggestions, but you all know how that goes 😉

When Best Practices Aren’t Best

After my big ole rant about “doing things right” the other day, I was swiftly stopped in my tracks by a comment made by Chris Brogan on his blog

Guess what? We’re all doing it wrong. Because we’re all doing it our own way, and it’s not always going to match the way you think it works best. And just like pretty much all of life, we’ll get there somehow. Thanks for sharing your opinion. Glad you got that off your chest.

What?

Hm…

Yeah, okay. I see where he’s coming from, and I see completely where I can be completely guilty of pushing my ideas of “right” onto others. It’s part of my perfectionism — something I know I struggle with, and which can have some seriously detrimental effects.

Is There Such a Thing As Best?

Part of me, though, still can’t shake the belief that there has to be some way of understanding what works best. Even if it’s not my idea, or yours — aren’t there best practices for a reason?

Let’s take an example I encounter every day at work. As I’ve mentioned before, I work in a post-secondary institution, developing courseware for students. As part of my job, I interact quite frequently with Learning Designers (also called Instructional Designers) who are dedicated to making sure that the activities we prepare for students will actually help them learn something.

So, for example, if an instructor wanted to teach vocabulary by building a word search, a learning designer might suggest a crossword instead. The reason is fairly intuitive: a word search only focuses on the students’ ability to match letters from the word list to the jumble. A crossword, on the other hand, would focus on the meaning of the word (and its correct spelling).

Learning designers also work on best practices for things like learning styles — not everyone learns best by reading, some learn better by hearing, or by doing, or whatever. There is a tonne of research to support this, and it seems to imply that there are such things as “best” practices.

In my rant, I talked about things like accessibility and usability as being “best practices” for web design and development. This also makes sense intuitively, as it seems apparent that in order to reach the widest audience, we ought not automatically exclude those who (for example) use a screen-reader to browse the web.

Where Do Right Ideas Come From?

So we seem to be back at the point of contradiction that stopped me in my tracks. But then it occurred to me… let’s look again at what Brogan had to say.

And just like pretty much all of life, we’ll get there somehow.

Yep, we will certainly get “there” no matter the approach we take. In a purely literal sense, we’ll all end up dead 😉 But I think what he was getting at is that it doesn’t matter if your blog posts are too long or too short — ultimately, people will read them (or not) based on whether or not they want to read them.

The question is, is this true in all cases?

I think in a lot of cases, people come up with ideas of how to do things the “right way” based on personal experience, speculation and best-guesses. Or, they do things the “right way” because that’s the way they’ve always done it, because it seemed to work, or because that’s what they’ve heard.

In many of those cases, yes, all paths will lead to the same ultimate end. You’ll have a program that works, a blog that people read, a network of friends, or whatever. But I think at the same time, you have to discern between the end result, and the end goal.

Is the End Point Really the Same?

Consider the example of the students who are learning vocabulary via the word search or the crossword. What is the end result? In either case, the students will have an activity which reinforces that particular terms are important. Some students will still pass, others will still fail — and ultimately, the activity will get the students to the end. Same with the web example. The design will still reach people in the end, and the development will still work for getting the information across.

However, a good activity can make it easier on the students. Maybe they can just do the crossword, rather than having to also create flashcards from the list of terms in the word search. A good web design/development will make it easier for the wider audience to hear the message. They won’t need to call someone to find the phone number on your webpage; they would be able to do it themselves.

In many cases, the end point is the same, yes. But what isn’t necessarily the same is the efficiency. All paths may lead to the same outcome, but one may be substantially faster, less painful, more rewarding, etc.

Of course, this isn’t always true. Sometimes (especially when you’re doing things based on anecdotal ideas of “best”), there really isn’t all that much difference between the paths you can take. Sometimes, taking the “not-best” path has some interesting results in-and-of itself — the journey can be just as illuminating as anything.

The key, of course, is to determine what the goal is. Is the goal just to get to the end point, no matter how you get there? Is it to do it quickly and efficiently so you can go home sooner? Is it to make it easier on customers so you make more sales?

When we focus more on the why, the how becomes more clear. In some cases, it may be best to follow “best practices”. In other cases, it may just be a waste of time and effort. Knowing (and foreseeing) the difference is the challenge.

Weekly Reads: Back to Work Edition

Alright — the New Year is upon us, which means it’s time to get back at it. Some of you probably have already been back at work for a day (or more), but my first day back will be Monday. I’m interested to see what kind of things will have piled up — a two week vacation normally would see quite a pile accumulate, but the school was closed for most of that time period so all bets are off.

On the plus side, having an extra few days off has helped me almost fend off this cold, as well as gave me a chance to catch up on a bunch of reading — as evidenced by the somewhat more lengthy list of links this week.

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

2009 Focus – Intimate Relationships and Polyamorous Relationship Q&A (from Personal Development for Smart People). If you’re afraid of a little controversy, don’t like thinking outside of social norms, or want everyone to live “normally”, you probably gave up on Steve Pavlina long ago. But if you haven’t already, there’s a lot of things in these two posts to get you thinking. Since the beginning of the New Year, Steve’s been spending some time on his blog explaining his next direction in personal growth: in the area of relationships. I know I’ll be watching and reading.

Bathtubs, Lightening Bolts, and the Myth of Writer’s Block (from Copyblogger). I think I’ve read about a thousand posts, articles and books about how to get past writer’s block (and other creative blocks) by “just doing it”. This is the first one that has gone so far as to call Writer’s Block a myth, though. And I think it’s an accurate description — if we say that we can “get past” writer’s block, we’re still acknowledging that it exists (and thereby giving it power over us). If you instead just get down to work instead of worrying about the block, you’d be much better off.

Why Mood Boards Matter (from Web Designer Depot). I have a confession to make. When I feel like turning my brain off and just watch some TV, one of the first places I’ll go is the design shows on HGTV. I’ve jealously seen how interior and exterior designers can pull together mood boards that just. look. fabulous. But the idea of using mood boards for other types of design (like websites)? This article was a “duh” moment for me — it’s a great idea, not only from the designer’s perspective but also from the clients’.

The Best of Get Rich Slowly (2008 Edition) (from Get Rich Slowly). Of all the year-end round-ups that I read, this one was my favorite. J.D. is one of my favorite bloggers — not only because he’s a great personal finance blogger, but because he always finds a way to tie it in to the bigger pictures. His annual round-up reflects that, and I highly recommend clicking through and reading his featured articles

Related Reading

Maybe it’s not so surprising, but there were a whole lot of posts on setting goals rather than resolutions for this New Year’s. I guess great minds do think alike! Here’s a link to some of the ones that I came across; I won’t give them each a whole lot of description since many of the ideas are repeated throughout. But each one brings a unique and slightly different perspective on the subject.

  1. What Will You Learn This Year? (from The Simple Dollar) — this is my favorite one of the lot. What a great approach!
  2. Why You Should Do New Year’s Resolutions All Year Round (but don’t call them that) (from Retire At 40)
  3. New Year’s Resolutions? Not Me! (from Early Retirement Extreme)
  4. How to Be Damned Serious About Your New Year’s Goals (from Rock Your Day)
  5. And of course, Never Set Another Resolution, Again and It’s Not About Self-Discipline: 10 Tips for Reaching Your Goals from yours truly

Also, related to my article on our frugal Christmas party, The Simple Dollar described how they frugally celebrated the New Year — more great ideas, and even a controversy about the ethics of BYOB which broke out in the comments!

Sententia’s Best Of 2008?

The last week it seems as though every website that I follow has had at least one post dedicated to their year in review (be it personal or site related). I debated writing a best-of for Sententia, but it feels a little goofy when you consider that I’ve only been actively writing since the beginning of December!

That being said, 2008 did leave me a lot to be grateful for, both on the site and off. So here’s some of my “best of 2008” moments, in case you care :-)

  • A new job in higher education where I have a chance to grow and learn, both professionally and personally. I work in a hugely supportive environment, with great co-workers, and I’ve already had a chance to take on leadership roles which have been both challenging and rewarding.
  • Learning a tonne. At home, if I had to identify the one area that I’ve learned most about this year, it would be about money and finances. I was always pretty good with money; I graduated two university degrees without debt, have always paid off my credit card every month, always spent less than I earned, and put money away. But this year, I pushed myself to learn about things like frugality, basic investing theory and most excitingly, financial independance. Careful planning allowed J and I to purchase our first home in August, while still making major contributions to our short- and long-term savings.  The two most valuable books I read on PF this year are the two classics: Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century (I read the previous edition), and The Four Pillars of Investing: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio.
  • But even more importantly, I’ve had a chance to learn more about myself. This year, I learned to be comfortable being a scanner and embracing all of my wide interests. For example, I got to work on a marketing project, communications officer, lead designer, specialist, consultant and more; talk about perfect opportunity. Embracing my “scanner-ness” is also what led me back to Sententia…
  • And of course, most recently, the relaunch of Sententia has been pretty exciting. In the month since the official relaunch in early December, nearly 200 people have encountered the site and read some of my musings. Those numbers may not be huge in the world of blogging, but I’m not after huge numbers — all I care about is having a chance to share with you all. So with that in mind, here’s a quick highlight of my top 3 favorite posts of 2008:

How about you — what was your “best of 2008”?

Weekly Reads: Holiday Edition

Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid …

I mean… er… *Ahem*.

It’s officially less than one week until Christmas. Have you finished your shopping and have everything wrapped and ready to go, or are you a last-minute shopper who will find yourself trying desperately to get the last few things on your list in the next few days? Personally, I finished my shopping pretty early, although my to-do list does see me heading out of town to visit family for a bit this week.

Depending on how things go, posting may be a bit sparse, but it’s probably for the best that way anyway — after all, I’m sure there are people who would rather you spend time with them than with your computer!

Regardless of how you spend the holidays — even if you don’t celebrate Christmas and are working straight through — I hope you’ll take advantage of the festive season, and spend some extra time with those special to you.

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments on this site are moderated, especially if they contain links, so if it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

Stop Being a Loser and Pay Money to Save Money (from I Will Teach You To Be Rich). A very thought provoking article from Ramit Sethi. Very often, we think of frugality as being whether or not you save money in the moment. But as Sethi points out, there is value in also considering future money saved. For example, taking a basic computing course may have an initial cost, but you can very quickly regain the cost because of increased skill level and productivity.

Alchemy: Wealth can’t be created. Only money can. (from Minyanville) If you’re interested in economics — and these days, I think most of us have at least a nominal interest — you’ll undoubtedly find something to consider in this article. Just considering how wealth and money are related (but are not the same) gave me reason to stop and think about how I relate the two in my everyday life.

10 Useful Techniques to Improve Your User Interface Designs (from Smashing Magazine). I spend a lot of time designing and developing websites and web-based user-interfaces. I think a lot of developers and designers (myself included, at times) worry more about making a website look good, rather than making it useable and accessible. Are there things other than these ten that you find make websites more (or less) useable?

Made Me Laugh

In the Snow They Melted (audio by InsideOut). When this song first showed up on my last.fm playlist, I just about stopped listening a few seconds in, but was I ever glad I didn’t. If you’re at all into any music from the past 20+ years, you should hopefully at least get a giggle. Even if you don’t appreciate the comedy, you have to give the artists kudos for their creativity!

If Programming Languages Were Religions (from Aegisub). Geeks with interest in either programming or religions will appreciate this humor piece. My favorite part? “COBOL would be Ancient Paganism – There was once a time when it ruled over a vast region and was important, but nowadays it’s almost dead, for the good of us all.” (Can you tell I was scarred by COBOL as an undergrad?)

Bonus Material

If you’re a Mac user, you won’t want to miss out on Mac Heist’s annual giving tree. They’re giving away licenses for six great apps over the next week or so. The first two are Synergy (an iTunes extender for more convenient control over your music-listening) and Enigmo 2 (a fantastic puzzle game that you have to try, to “get”). I’ve spent a bit of time playing with both apps, and… okay, to be fair, I’ve spent more than a bit of time playing Enigmo 2, it’s quite addictive … but they’re both worth at least a look. And don’t forget to check back for the rest of the apps as they’re made available.