2010 in Review

OK, Since I don’t send out a Christmas letter, here’s my life update in case anyone is interested! If you aren’t, then have a Happy New Year, I hope 2011 is an awesome year for you!

Anyway, the year started a bit slow and cold. Karey and I ringed in the new year sitting in our apartment watching the ball drop, in Times Square, a place we’d gotten quite acquainted with in 2009 (The first thing most of our visitors wanted to see was Times Sq., and we had previously been there at the end of Dec. 09 to see the tree in nearby Rockefeller Plaza). 

In February, I went to my third Microsoft MVP Summit, and hung out with a lot of great people, including Darius Wey, who I met for the first time. I also spent quite a few hours with a few characters laughing ourselves silly in the Courtyard’s lobby while watching Curling. In case you ever wanted to know another name for your cell phone’s SIM card, you can thank this session of general giddiness for the term “essence” and a bunch of evil hand gestures.

March was fairly uneventful, save for the fact that I started supervising my first intern, who has since left Columbia and is now studying at NYU (I don’t think I had anything to do with that choice Winking smile).  In April, a good friend started work at Google, after having been stolen away from us at CDS. Late in that month Karey & her mom went to a Stamping convention in Akron (Who knew stampers had conventions?), and the weather finally started to get nicer.

In May I started writing my novel, Mandate, which I’d finish in mid-August. A fun experience that helped me understand the fiction writing process as I jumped into it.  Mid-month my parents came up to visit our humble Peekskill dwelling, which marked my father’s first trip on a commuter train and first trip on the m60 bus in Harlem. He was quite amused.

In June Karey, myself, Martine, and Ye drove down from NY to Pittsburgh for the BDRM conference (Karey didn’t go, she had serious mother-daughter  type things to do with her mom over the weekend). Martine stayed with us at Karey’s home, and got to see a part of America she hadn’t previously (e.g., rural life!)

In July the most memorable thing was how hot it was in NY. I also travelled up to Boston for a Boston Pocket PC Meeting, and Karey took me to the movies to see Eclipse (she likes the sparkly vampires).  Early in the month we spent some time in Ohio (Over the 4th), and later in the month I wrote a few reviews. In general a busy month.

In August I both finished Mandate and got to see Jimmy Buffett in concert for the second time! The summer slowly slipped away as we enjoyed a few final hot days, and moved into September.

And boy was September busy! I was in Austin for a few days visiting the company that does cell phone antenna testing. I was in Seattle for a few days in prep for the Windows Phone 7 launch, AND I was asked to write a book on Windows Phone 7! My second book took a few months to write, and was a great but busy experience! Sepetember also saw my intern, Cindy, start working with us at CDS.

October and November were filled with a lot of book writing, a visit from my parents, Thanksgiving, and SJDM in St. Louis. I also gave a guest lecture in Elke’s Decision making course, had a phone interview for a real job, and had breakfast with Tony as he passed through the area from Albany.  Finally that brings us to December, in which I had a flat tire on my birthday, and spent Christmas (plus a few days more) in Ohio having an awesome time with family and friends.

Along the way this year I also started teaching CCD again and began lectoring fairly often at my church. Had some really high points and some low ones, and was overall pretty content. I hope 2011 proves to be no worse, and that this time next year all of you can share with me some awesome 2011 stories as I write up my next year in review!

Happy New Year!

Money for Thought

I recently read and posted on my Facebook a USA Today story (Using The Chronicle of Philanthropy as their source) that Walmart, Beloved Low Price Supplier or Hated Evil Corporation (depending on whom you ask), topped the list of charitable cash contributors, donating $288 million last year. AT&T was second at $240 million, BoA third at $209 million, and down the line (source). A friend of mine from Grad School posted the following comment:

I thought this was an interesting question, so I ran some numbers. Walmart made about $14 billion in profits last year, and donated $288 million in cash, roughly 2%. AT&T, by comparison, made about $8 billion (Info from here, taking income and removing re-investment and dividend payments), donated $240 million in cash, roughly 3%. It’s undeniable that Walmart could donate more, however the difference between 2% and 3% isn’t so huge as to be a glaring difference (e.g., it’s not like Walmart donates 2% and AT&T is donating 6% or 10%), and these are huge numbers here to be sure.

One thing I thought was interesting was that Walmart seems most interested in providing for those who need food, as the article cites, pledging $2 billion over 5 years to combat hunger. This seems to me like one of the best uses for corporate donations today – to help people who desperately need help on a basic level. Donations helping stop hunger, and advance education and personal growth, all rank highly on my most deserved cause list. Donations to political campaigns however? Those aren’t too high on my list.

I bring that up because another philanthropy related piece that came up this week involved Target & Best Buy giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to a politician, Tom Emmer, who isn’t very friendly to pro-gay causes (some might even label him a Bigot). Whatever your view on gay issues, I find it deeply disturbing that companies donate so much money to politicians in general, especially polarizing ones such as Emmer, all in the name of supporting candidates who “seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives”. Now to be fair, Walmart also shells out a lot of money to politicians, and I’m sure some are just as unsavory as Emmer appears to be. So where do I shop? Do I go to a store with low prices that some feel are set on the backs of their underpaid and poorly treated workers? Do I go to stores with higher prices that aren’t afraid to support a possible bigot in the name of profit? Do I just not shop at all?

Well, obviously the last one isn’t an option. I need to buy toilet paper somewhere. In the end I guess it comes down to price, for good reason. Shopping at Walmart let’s me keep more of my own money, that I may donate to causes I agree with. It’s less money that I’m giving to them to control and spend, and thus less money going places I potentially might not want it to go. If I shop at Target or Best Buy, I’m spending more money for products that I can usually find of equal quality at Walmart, and more money goes toward issues that I may or may not agree with. In the end, I’d rather control my money philanthropically, so I can be like this guy and freak people out by donating to causes I choose.


Explain The Appeal of Wrestling / UFC to Me

I had an interesting realization about myself today: I really don’t enjoy watching two people fight each other in any way. And given the popularity of things like UFC / MMA / WWE / Action Movies, I’m wondering what it is I’m not “in to”.

Don’t get me wrong – the point of this post isn’t to bash those who do enjoy watching a good fight, a consenting adult watching two other consenting adults beat each other up is fine in my book. And the point of this isn’t to condemn violence in general – I’m not opposed to using violence when forced by the complete and utter failure of peaceful measures. The point of this post is to merely dissect what people may find appealing about fighting, so that I can try to understand why I, myself, don’t find it appealing. Comments are welcome, especially by my friends who do like to watch fights. Think of this post 50% for me, and 50% to inspire thought in others.

So the best I can tell, people watch fights for a variety of reasons:

  1. They feel a rush, similar to a true adrenaline surge, by watching.
  2. They see it as a competition, with the most competent fighter showing superiority over his or her opponent.
  3. They see it as a call to better themselves physically. Fighters must be in good physical shape, and it is this shape that may inspire others to exercise, eat right, etc..
  4. They enjoy seeing fantastical versions of normality (e.g., action movies)
  5. They just like physical violence in general, and enjoy watching it.

Now I’ll take each of these reasons and explore them a bit.

A true adrenaline rush is a pretty powerful feeling, as anyone who has ever had one (which I’m assuming is most people) can attest. I suppose it is possible to receive a ‘lite’ version of one by watching others fight, although it would seem to me that if watching fights were to engender anything, it would be an aggressive attitude in the viewer. Watching others, especially in high school, talk about watching WWE, I sometimes saw an aggressive form emerge, which was probably pretty appealing to someone who was smaller in stature, or not as physically confident about him or herself. I totally get this – If I’m self-conscious about myself and my abilities, immersing myself in a televised fight may give me a glimmer of what it is like to be physically dominant over another person. For the 5′ 7” crowd and lower, that is probably pretty appealing.

I’m not physically small though – and while I could really stand to lose some weight in my midsection, my arms and legs are fairly powerful. If I were forced to fight someone, I don’t have any doubts about my ability to put up a good fight against the people I come across on a regular basis (Since I don’t normally run across professional fighters, they’re not any of my concern). Perhaps this is why I don’t feel any sort of rush while watching a fight.

Competition in wrestling is fairly obvious: The better athlete should win the fight. However I personally believe that you lose a bit of respectability in competition when you can physically prevent others from competing. This is probably why I like Baseball better than Football. In football, one can physically prevent the opponent from competing – in baseball one cannot (e.g., you’d never see the catcher kick the legs out from under the batter as the pitcher pitches, or the guy covering first base physically run toward and tackle the base runner after a hit). I suppose in my mind, competition is best experienced when all sides have an equal chance to perform proactively, not in a reactive manner. Perhaps that’s why I don’t see fighting as an exceptional form of competition.

Physical Betterment
This is probably the easiest for me to dismiss personally. Seeing finely honed fighters popping muscles I didn’t even know I had is pretty damn impressive. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a really effective motivator to lose weight personally. It’s sad to say, but I’m being honest – I don’t exercise often and I eat poorly most likely because nothing I’ve run across yet has motivated me sufficiently to overcome barriers (e.g., the joys of sleep, traveling and paying for a gym, etc…). Watching an extreme fighter hasn’t motivated me in this regard, so I don’t seek it out.

They Enjoy Seeing Fantastical Versions of Real Life
In real life, if someone insults you, it is pretty bad form to haul off and hit them. You’ll get in trouble, laws will be broken, parts of you or the other person may be broken, etc… However the world of wrestling and fighting on TV lets you escape from this and imagine a different world. Action movies do the same. For me though, these fantastical versions must be really extreme for me to enjoy them. For example, I don’t enjoy seeing a man strike another man, and the second man fall to the floor. I do enjoy seeing Neo punch Agent Smith through several walls in The Matrix, because it’s SO far out there it really captures the imagination. I suppose for me, it must really be extreme to count as entertainment. I also think this reason explains why WWE is so appealing – it places events into a soap opera-esque story line, which further blurs the line between reality and television.

They just like violence
It’s sorta sad, but I assume some people just really like violence, and the idea of hurting other people. I don’t think I have to explore further their motivations or how this doesn’t apply to me other than to state that I’m mostly a peaceful person, and I don’t wish violence or pain even upon my enemies.

So those are my theories on why fighting is appealing to others, and why it doesn’t appeal to me. I’m really interested in hearing how it appeals to you, and why you watch it (if you do). I don’t really have any desire to be converted, I just am wondering why people find it so attractive!

Mandate Update & Unreleased Tidbits!

Since most of my public updates on Mandate, my novel, have come in the form of quick Twitter posts and status updates, I figured I’d actually write down some more than 140 characters to let everyone know where I’m at. And while I’m at it, I’m going to let slip a few things that no one knows yet about the novel as it reaches it’s halfway point.

First of all, Mandate’s first draft is officially halfway finished as of now. It’s been just over 2 months since I started writing, and my plan as of now is to have the first draft written by Labor Day. Revisions will then begin, and if all goes according to plan (who knows if it will), I’ll have it ready to go by mid-October. You guys will obviously know more than others, since you’ve been following since the beginning.

My schedule has actually deviated a few times, and it’s taught me some valuable things about writing fiction (as opposed to the non-fiction I normally write for work). Namely, inspiration is everything. Case and point? I was on a Chapter a week schedule until mid-June when I took a week to travel to Salt Lake to see my friend Steve. While in Salt Lake I had absolutely no desire to write, and so I didn’t (Felt a little guilty about that). Upon coming back, I had another heavy week and found myself 2 weeks behind schedule. On June 27, I should have been working on Chapter 7. In reality I was working on the beginning of Chapter 5. Ugh.

This week, the week according to my goals set in mid-may should have seen me working on Chapter 9, actually saw me finishing chapter 6 on Monday. But then for whatever reason, I got inspired. Chapter 7 was pounded out in just 3 days, and I am now about 20% through Chapter 8. By mid-week next week I’ll probably be on Chapter 9.

One might wonder why I’m tracking my progress in this way. After all, a novel is a creative exercise, why burden myself with chapter deadlines of my own whim? When it’s done it’s done, why keep a stringent regiment of writing for an hour each day? And why even have a chapter outline forcing myself to put certain plot elements in at certain times. That doesn’t sound very creative, expressive, or spontaneous now does it?

Damn right it doesn’t sound that way – because if I did just sorta “go with the flow”, there is a great chance that this thing would never be done. We’ve all probably seen the following Family Guy clip, but it’s worth watching:

When I originally watched that, years ago, I thought it was funny. Now it gives me what some would call the “douche chills“. I don’t know how other fiction writers with 1 book under their belt feel, but as a writer in other contexts I know that if I don’t have some sort of structure to my own work, I could easily become like Brian in the clip above. Incidentally in a recent episode Brian finishes his book, after many years. I don’t want to take that chance, I want this damn thing to be done at some point! So in order to do that, I’m keeping on a schedule, and posting regular updates.

Second of all, I’ve decided to let you guys in on a few pieces of info regarding the book. Why? Well to keep you interested damnit! I realize my “only tell you the title” thing is a bit annoying. Originally this was because I was going to incorporate reader ideas into the book and didn’t want you to try to answer in a way that would change the plot. Not that I think it would have occurred – but I figured I’d keep it vague to encourage spontaneous responses from you guys.

Well for the most part, asking questions flopped. I have a few good ones which I’m saving and will probably put in during revisions of the book, but in general I stopped asking when people stopped responding. Some even thought I abandoned the project all together, which thankfully I did not.

So what tidbits am I going to tell you? Well I’m going to answer a few questions on here that others have asked me before.

Question: So you’re writing a Science Fiction novel right? you’re a computer geek yourself, and a Sci Fi fan, so that’s what it’s about right? I bet it’s set far in the future!
OK, this one amazed me since more than one person asked it. I’m sad to say this to all you sci fi hopefuls, but the book is not Science Fiction. It does feature a highly improbable plot (Of course if it featured a probable plot it would be pretty damn boring right?), and it IS set in the future. How far in the future you ask? About 2 years. Sorry, not much has changed in my 2 years in the future history.

Question: Is it about you?
So the story is written in the first-person, which means through the eyes of my main character. While he shares a few things in common with me (for example, at the start of the book his job involves some of the things I’ve done in the past to make a living), he isn’t me. For one thing, he’s older. They say you should write what you know, so in that sense many of the characters have aspects to their personality that are like me, but I wouldn’t say anyone in the book is patterned off of me or anyone I know. That being said, I do have one character engage in some rather odd behavior I once witnessed a friend do. Why? Because it was funny to watch at the time and thus funny to write about from a slightly different perspective.

Question: When will I get to read it?!?
Ah, you want to actually read the book so you can validate all those feelings of mediocrity I feel by telling me it’s “OK”. Sure, we can do that. Once the first draft is done, and the prologue and first chapter are revised, I’ll be making them available for free. You’ll find information on that when it’s time, hopefully toward the end of September.

Third of all, and last, Why the hell am I doing this?

This is a question I’ve gotten and I think it really deserves more than just a paragraph to explain.

So I’m a part-time computer geek and full-time psychologist (Some times I use the fancy term “Behavioral Economist” when I’m actually studying financial decisions, but mostly I’ll just say I’m a researcher or psychologist). On my wall hangs various degrees that look very nice, and buried away I have awards and certificates related to my writing for Windows Phone Thoughts and my enthusiasm for Microsoft products. I also have dozens of odd-ball websites and videos out there. But I don’t have any background in fiction, have never taken a creative writing class, and have never shown any interest in novel writing before. So why now? Good question.

I’m writing this book for 3 reasons:

1. I’ve always wanted to write something substantial (yes, as someone pointed out to me, I suppose I’m not counting my dissertation) and interesting to read. I just never had a good idea before. The author note in the book will lay out how I got this idea, and tortured half-started writing projects on my hard drive and testify that I’ve started projects in the past that have never gotten even 1/20th as far as Mandate has. Call it my “Bucket List” or whatever you want, but at some point I want to be able to say I wrote a novel. It just sounds cool.

2. Here’s the goal that appeals to my computer side. I’m really curious how one goes about self-publishing a book in both physical and electronic form. Is it really possible for Joe Schmo (or Jon Westfall) to wake up one day and start writing, and months later have their product available in respectable book sellers or at least in a form that looks like a real book. If it’s promoted, does it really have a chance of becoming even slightly successful (by the way, my definition of success would be to sell it to 3 people whom I haven’t met – that would be cool). So in order to find out how the whole self-publishing thing works in 2010, I need to have something to self-publish.

3. Here’s the goal that appeals to my psych side: This project gets me writing on a regular schedule and used to sitting down and creating something. After writing fiction, which is completely made up, taking theories I already have developed and tested and getting them written down should be easier. After all, I already know the entire plot of a research paper, whereas Mandate has been developing in a rather looser fashion (In Week 1 of writing I knew the rough plot, but details don’t get filled in until much later, and I’m still not completely sure the details of how the protagonist overcomes the actions of the antagonist). In short, this summer writing project is fun and hopefully helpful. If reason 3 doesn’t work out though, it was still fun.

So that’s why I’m writing.  So to Recap this long post: You now know a bit more about the book than just the title. It’s called Mandate, it’s not science fiction, it’s set 2 years in the future, and I’m not in it (Although I’m seriously considering giving myself a cameo as “guy on the train” or something like that). I’m writing it because I want to, and I want to learn more (Sorta like why I bought a bunch of VoIP hardware a few years ago to teach myself about VoIP technology). Lastly, If you’ve made it through this post so far, you’ll also be richly rewarded for your time spent by getting sneak previews and more tidbits in the future. How so? Well, because you’ll know about the Newsletter I’m starting to blast out Mandate Updates. So Sign up now, and get the inside scoop as a weirdo psychologist geek works on the second-half of his first novel.

Mandate: Jon’s Interactive Book Project

So for awhile I’ve been thinking of writing a novel, and tonight an idea came to me. 2 ideas actually, and I’m going to tell you 1% of the first idea, and 100% of the second. Confused? OK, let’s go…

The 1% of the first idea? The title of the book will be “Mandate”. That’s all you’ll know about it until it’s done. And I think you’ll be interested in it, because you have the chance to be a part of it. Remember those “Choose your own adventure” books you may have read as a kid (or bored adult)? Well the idea here is sorta like that. I have an idea for how the book is going to go – the characters that will be written about, the general plot, the point of conflict, and even a bit of a twist. But the details are missing – the little events that make a story interesting to read. And here is where I think my friends and twitter followers may be able to help me out – by simply answering a few tweets or facebook posts with how you would react in a certain situation. I’ll take the best (or worst, or funniest) responses and incorporate them into the book (and I’ll even include the original question and answer, along with your name, in a footnote*). So in a way, we’ll be writing the book together.

So Starting soon, You’ll see Twitter & Facebook posts from me that start “Mandate:” and have a question attached. If you have a good (or even not so good) answer, feel free to let me know however you’d like. I may hint from time to time which answers are in the “running”, or I may not. And along the way I plan to let a few details drop on the actual plot – but not enough to ruin the surprise. If you’re ready to jump in, I’m ready to write!

* I should note that by submitting an idea to me, you agree to grant me a non-revocable license to use your idea (with attribution) and give up any claim to authorship/copyright/royalties of the book. After all, these may be your small details, but it’s my zany creative streak making them come to life within my book!

Ditching a Paper Notebook?

This post builds a bit on my Life Philosophy, as outlined in a previous post, feel free to read the first part of that post if you want more background!

Oh, and this is another long one, so if you want the short of it, here it is: I’m going to try scanning analog notes to a digital format to improve productivity, but I’m not sure how it will go. Thus starts an experiment in digital archiving documented online!

So if you’re a frequent reader (Thanks for being one of a handful), you’ll recall my previous post about trying to simplify my life possession-wise. And you’ll remember a part of it was devoted to carrying less to work each day. In the week between that post and this post, I realized something about how I use my Moleskine notebook.

And that simply was that during some weeks, I don’t use it at all!

Let me take a step back and talk about why I pay (willingly) more for a run-of-the-mill notebook just because it says “moleskine” on it. It all has to do with something I found out in 8th grade, when I started using a nice retractable ballpoint pen at school. The pen itself cost around $8 (something I vividly know since I broke a number of them as an awkward teenager), but it was silvery-sleek and wrote well. And I found something out about myself when using it: If I buy something a bit more expensive, I’ll keep track of it and use it until it’s dead – something that cuts down on waste in the long run.

For most of my adult life, I’ve kept notes from classes or meetings on a computer if possible (This is why I can post an essay I wrote for College Comp 1 here if I so chose to…), but more impromptu meetings posed a considerable challenge. I’d usually either grab some scrap paper and make notes on it (Which invariably resulted in me losing the paper sooner or later), or I’d scrawl notes in the margin of a paper we’d be discussing or a meeting outline (Which also usually got lost, or filed somewhere I’d never think to look). About 2 years ago I saw the Moleskine brand notebooks and though “Hey, those are reasonably good looking, look rugged enough, don’t cost too much, and are small enough to carry in my cargo pants”. So I bought a few, and have been using them ever since. I recently filled one up completely, something I feel very accomplished about – it’s the first time in my life I’ve filled an entire bound notebook of ANY kind.

So my Moleskine began to be an indispensable companion, with my co-workers fondly remembering how at a meeting in January I could look up notes from July, and quote them humorous anecdotes from said meeting (I have a habit of writing down funny ‘quotes’ people let out during meetings). This week I was happy to find that a case I had from my old iPaq h6315 fit my current Moleskine exactly, and thus it could be clipped to my belt instead of wasting pocket space.

But let’s return to the usage scenarios for the Moleskine in general. To whip out the notebook, the following criteria must be met:

  • Small-group meeting (less than 20 people) where laptops are not present.
  • Need to write down actionable points to follow up with later.
  • Need to reference material later, however generally this material is a 1-liner or something that would never require a whole sheet of paper devoted to it.

The meetings I generally end up using the Moleskine for include things like lab meetings, meetings with colleagues and advisors, personnel interviews, anecdotal mentions (e.g., Hey, check out this website…), etc… And it just so happened that this week, I had none of these to attend! While I was at work 3 days this week (I passed up the chance to go in on Wednesday and hang with the drunks in NYC), most of Columbia was on spring break, so many of my meetings took place via e-mail conversations, something already documented. I didn’t take the Moleskine out once, and I felt really annoyed that I carried it back and forth. It could have sat in my desk drawer all week, which leads me to think that in the future, that’s possibly what I’ll do.

But this doesn’t mean I’ll ditch it entirely, I’ll just see how it goes trying to convert my analog notes to digitally recordable and backup-able notes via Evernote. I plan on taking notes like I always did, but then allocating 10-15 minutes daily to scanning them (Using my cell phone’s 5 MP camera) and saving them to my Evernote notebook. Evernote can search written notes, so hopefully this will give me the best of both worlds – analog text, and digital omnipresence. I just bought a $45 Evernote premium subscription so  I’d be set to try this, and I’m sure paying $45 a year will motivate me a bit (at least it should – it has in the past!). And with a bit of luck, I’ll be down one more thing to carry on a daily basis! I already ditched the iPod thanks to the Nexus One, but since it’s only been 1 day so far doing such, we’ll have to see if that holds.

I plan on posting updates from time to time, so if you’re curious how I’m doing, feel free to check in here.

Jon’s Life Philosophy and The HD2, Nexus 1, and iPad

I recently did something a sane financial decision maker would recommend: I started saving money for the devices that I knew I may want this spring. Starting with some money I got when I walked in graduation last year, and for Christmas, I have amassed a bit of a warchest now that could finance a few devices. This is in stark contrast to my usual “I know I’ll have the money to cover this in the next month, so I’ll buy it now” theory of operation. However this has led me to some heavy decisions regarding geekly gadget purchases. I’ve figured it’s time to go with something new, and for a few months I thought that was the HTC HD2 when it hits T-Mobile. Now I’m not so sure. The point of this blog post is to look at the pros & cons of the three gadgets I’m considering, and then weigh them in terms of my life philosophy I’ve tried to implement over the past few years.

Jon’s Life Philosophy

This section is a bit long, but I think it’s important to include for two reasons. First, it’s the life view you can take when looking at the devices I’m deliberating. Second, it pushes my resolve to keep working on this life goal!

So sometime in 2007 I started listening more to Jimmy Buffett. A perennial favorite of my mother-in-law, I found that in the winter of 2007-08, Buffett’s music was the only thing that successfully kept me warm. One of my favorite songs in his catalog is One Particular Harbour which contains the following lyric:

I used to rule my world from a payphone. Ships out on the sea. But now times are rough, Oh, I’ve got too much stuff. I can’t explain the likes of me.

For whatever reason, this lyric struck a chord with me. For years my father had been talking about how things eventually own you, and that we underestimate the trade-off between material possessions and the flexibility to experience life as we wish. Looking around at a massive amount of stuff I had acquired, I began to wonder how much of it was what I owned, and how much of it owned me. So I started rather regular cleaning binges which I still do every month or so, continually going through subsets of my possessions and asking myself if I’ll ever need what I am keeping again. I estimate I’ve cut about 35%-40% of my personal “stuff” in the last 2 years, and my goal is to eventually get to the day where all of the stuff I keep in “storage” (e.g., not actively using on a daily basis) decreases to 1 closet full). I’m still a bit aways (currently at 2 closets and various spots both in NY and Ohio), but it’s something I’m striving for.

This reduction in “stuff” also filters down to my daily life. While my macbook pro has been an indispensable travel companion for me since getting it last summer, I don’t take it to work on a daily basis. My rationale is that since every file is replicated over all my laptops, why should I lug one machine to work when I already have another laptop there waiting for me. Once you stop carrying the laptop, you also stop carrying much of the bloat that goes with one, including chargers, cables, cases, bags, etc.. While these things do still come with me when I travel, they get to stay at home most of the week. In case you’re wondering, here is what I take to work on a daily basis:

  • Cell phone & spare battery
  • Headphones & iPod Touch (For reading & music)
  • Vial of Advil & Claritan (For unexpected aches & allergy attacks!)
  • Bluetooth Headset
  • Pen or Sharpie fine-point
  • Moleskine notebook (Which I started using to organize all my paper-based thoughts in one spot, rather than numerous scraps of paper I’d eventually lose or feel compelled to keep; Just like getting an expensive pen, I figure an expensive notebook will keep me committed to using it all the way through, rather than ditching it for scrap paper).
  • Wallet & Money clip
  • Keys
  • Sunglasses

I try not to carry a bag, so most of the time the above things are either in a SCOTTEVEST, or in my gadget geek holster/utility belt (Which I figure I can get away with since most days I wear green or black BDU-style cargo pants). I can’t tell you how much this system has made my life better – I’m no longer lugging stuff around I don’t need, and I’m way more mobile at work to say, go straight from a meeting to the train without having to stop at my office.

Around the office I’ve also tried to implement my philosophy by only printing things out if absolutely necessary. If It can stay in electronic form, I keep it in that form. I’ve started doing things such as marking up PDF documents virtually instead of printing and scrawling notes in the margins.

Returning to the Gadgets at hand…

So the overall goal of this piece is to see what gadgets currently on the market would help me in my goal of stuff reduction, not hinder. So let’s look at the pros/cons for each of the three devices I’m considering:


Pros: Pretty sweet device from the ones I’ve played with; premium interface and quick responsiveness; an OS I’m very comfortable with; Moderate hackability; T-Mobile 3G

Cons: Last iteration of a dying OS; Not that exciting of an experience; Not too different from the experience currently on my Touch Pro 2

Philosophy: Would probably not be a primary cell phone, as most of the apps I want are on Android now, not WinMo (Sadly), Would probably only want it to admire, not to actually use – which is way too materialistic for my “new” philosophy.

Google Nexus One

Pros: Would jump my android-ness up a notch from the G1 (the current daily driver); has the apps I’m looking for; hot platform; great reviews.

Cons: Price is pretty steep; No physical keyboard

Philosophy: Might replace the need to take the iPod touch to work each day when the Kindle for Android is finally released. Could also use for music. Potentially could cut down on number of things I take to work daily.

Apple iPad

Pros: Cool device; Might further replace Paper in my life; Apps will probably be a huge deal once the device hits the market.

Cons: Price for the 3G model is pretty steep (largest of all) and I’d have a monthly bill for something that isn’t an essential device; No physical keyboard; First Gen-early adopter woes.

Philosophy: Might replace paper around the office, but would probably schlep it back and forth from home to office for no good reason. Can’t see the day I’d take a trip with just the iPad and Cell phone without the MBP in tow.

Sadly, I think I’ve reached my conclusion…

So the only thing that seems to fit with the life philosophy argument is the Nexus One, as it may allow me to cut down what I take on a daily basis to and from work. The iPad and HD2 do have extreme geek temptation to them, however, which is the sucky part. The geek in me really wants them, the rational decision-maker in me can’t justify them. Man, changing your life from a “buy it all” to “reduce, reduce, reduce” mode is a real pain sometimes. But I guess I should just rejoice in the following moments that make it all worthwhile:

  • The person at the office who says “You don’t take a bag with you!?! Wow… wish I could do that”
  • The periodic brisk-er than usual pace I can adopt to catch a train since I’m not weighed down as much.
  • The satisfied mind feeling one gets from not losing things habitually; not having to move so many things when moving; and not worrying about possessions breaking that one does not own!

So after a few more days of deliberation, I’ll probably end up with the Nexus One, and save the rest of the money for something down the road. If you’ve got thoughts on this whole long rambling piece, or my life philosophy, feel free to post a comment!

An Open Letter To My Wife: Things I Won’t Do

In the spirit of the book I just read on Abraham Lincoln, I’ve decided to write an open letter (to my wife). As I have no newspaper to publish it in, I suppose my blog will have to do. After all, blogs will most likely replace newspapers in the future anyway, much to the New York Times chagrin.

To my beloved wife Karey,

On many occasions I have allowed my love for you to dictate my behavior. Things I have had little predisposition over, such as the location of my shoes or the segregation of my laundry items, have been changed to your liking. And on many items we both agree harmoniously. However there are a few major things that I must protest your handling of, and assert myself at this time. None of these should take you off guard, as I have communicated them in the past. However at this point I feel I should dictate them in an open forum, perhaps to give others the courage to fight for preference.

My darling, no matter how much thou dost campaign against the following, I shall remain resolute:

  • The bar of soap in the shower shall be replaced when the previous bar’s width is less than 1/8’’. I shall not be compelled to wash with soap thinner than the top layer of my skin. Piggybacking the old soap onto the new soap (creating soap hybrids or supersoaps) shall be allowed as long as both soaps are of the same breed.
  • My hotdogs and hamburgers belong in their respective bun packaging. It is an affront to Jesus (in my view of Christianity) to place a hamburger between two pieces of sliced bread, or to wrap a hotdog up in a single piece. While I am not a rich man, I do budget carefully a portion of my monthly income toward appropriate meat bread packaging.
  • When the level of condiment reaches lower than 1/8’’ (I like that number), the remaining condiment shall be forfeited to the garbage can. Too long have I reached for a catsup bottle and found scarcely enough catsup for a single french fry.

Unless these demands are met, I shall have to levy sanctions against you. My shoes will no longer lie dormant at the front door. My laundry shall co-mingle freely. You have been warned!


Your loving husband

Merry Christmas to All!

Merry Christmas!

I’m writing this from Karey’s parent’s house in Burgettstown, and while they are wonderful people in every respect, they are not early birds – even on Christmas. So it’s 10:11 AM and the plethora of Christmas gifts are still unopened, and Karey & I are the only two awake in this house of 7. The aforementioned plethora of gifts (as shown above) will have to wait!

I wanted to take a moment, however, and write this post to say Merry Christmas to the many people I hang out with, work with, and talk with over the year. While I know some of the people below don’t celebrate Christmas proper (as they observe different religions), I’m hoping the message of peace and love will be received by all.

Merry Christmas to my parents, Al and Dianne, and Lily the troublemaking cat and Mr. Bird (A parakeet who, in bird years, is the most senior of us all). Thank you for simply everything – I can’t say more!

Merry Christmas to Karey’s family, Dan & Sue, Greg, Scott, and Mark. I couldn’t ask for better in-laws! Also Merry Christmas to Karey’s Aunt Maryann and Uncle Bob (And Mandy!), and my Aunt Lois and Uncle Bud for coming to my graduation!

Merry Christmas to my friends, co-workers, mentors, advisors, assistants, collaborators, followers (and followed!), and a plethora of people that come to mind as I sit here on Christmas Morning. They’re listed below, in no particular order, and of course my Christmas Greetings and wishes are extended not only to them but also their family & loved ones:

  • Steve Jocke
  • Tony Rylow
  • Erika Rylow
  • Maria Gaglio
  • Marie Batteiger
  • Michael Batteiger
  • Jason Dunn
  • JD Jasper
  • Eric Johnson
  • Elke Weber
  • Martine Baldassi
  • Bernd Figner
  • Annie Ma
  • Julie Zelmanova
  • Ye Li
  • Ariana Garrote
  • Ashley Newman
  • The grad students left at U of T – you guys will be done sooner than you think!
  • The grad students at CU – a great group of people to work with and support!
  • Holly Feiler
  • Darius, Ed, Janak, & all the rest of the Thoughts Media Clan
  • Linda, Dave, Jim, & Katie Spurrier
  • Paul Culbertson
  • Mike Fosmire
  • Rebecca Rodriguez, Tara Reineck, and the rest of my former students at U of T!
  • Trella Williams
  • Will Loeffler
  • Jim Bradford
  • My MS MVP homies, as well as the tech writers I’ve worked with, joked with, and hung out with in the past year!
  • My CCD RCIA group at Assumption (Christian, Nester, Ana, Vanessa, Georgina, Marcos, Daisy, and Erik)
  • A slew of old High School friends (and teachers) who have followed me and kept up with my antics!
  • A ton of Twitter Followers (Yes, I suppose even the Spambots, it’s not their fault they’re spammy)
  • A lot of Facebook friends that I can’t begin to type all the names of. It’s following all of your adventures that makes me feel more connected to my past, present, and future goals!
  • The random people who read JonWestfall.Com and the actual humans who have posted comments!
  • And lastly, to anyone I’ve forgotten and even complete strangers (Yes, I’m covering my bases here!): MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Well, I hope that about wraps up this post. Now it’s off to motivate some Himmels to open presents and enjoy the day!