Driving to work is stupid

Note: This post has been sitting around in draft form for longer than expected, thus references to dates are likely to have inadvertently been turned into lies.

I conducted an experiment. It’s an experiment I’ve been meaning to carry out for a while now, but it involves getting up a little earlier in the morning than I usually do. Getting up in the morning isn’t something I have a natural aptitude for, and so it is understandable that getting up even earlier than normal was something the core of me abhorred.

On Tuesday this week, I managed to drag my protesting body out of the bed in time to eat breakfast and leave for the office on foot.
I could’ve risen at the usual time and just left for work when I normally do without my car, but then I’d have arrived late. Arriving late means staying late, and since I’d have walked to work I’d be needing to walk back home.
Since I live in Johannesburg, I didn’t feel to comfortable walking home late at night.

I set out into the suburb by taking a short-cut past the dam that my property overlooks, instead of leaving home via the main entrance and walking a circular route to get back to the main road.
Walking on the grass next to the dam, feeling the wind on my face and hearing the birds chirping was something I missed out on while driving. The squeaky noises from the yapper-dogs, who disrupted the serenity with their barking, were less appreciated. The barking soon faded away behind me, and I paid it very little attention.
As I approached the road I noticed a great number of cars parked along-side it. That was my first impression, but I quickly realised that the reality of the matter was not that the cars were parked, but rather that they were stationary. Occupants resigned to their fate of slow, painful progress up the hill to the stop street. Slow, painful progress turning left into the next road, and then excruciatingly slow and painful progress of turning left on to the M5 and trundling along towards the turn-off to the highway. Most cars had only one occupant, and they all seemed so lonely and detached.
I walked passed them all.

Probably it is only fair that I point out how close I live to my place of work. Most people work a lot further from their homes than I do, and so walking to work is likely to impact dramatically on their commuting time.
I live about 3.5km from my office, yet I’ve been driving there every day. The walk took me roughly 40 minutes and, considering my life has lapsed into a somewhat more sedentary style, if I did it every day it would be an excellent substitute for dragging myself off to the gym. Remember that I’d be walking back at the end of the day too.
For those who try to make as much distance between their homes and their offices as possible (probably due to hating their jobs inordinately) the challenge of walking to work is much greater.
Most of those people probably haven’t explored the possibility of driving their vehicles to a certain point, and walking the rest of the distance. How practical that might be will vary from person to person.
Angie has tried it by leaving the car at a conveniently placed shopping centre (positioned where the traffic starts to get unpleasant) and walking the rest of the way to her office[1].

My walk to the office was invigorating. I was outside, in the world. Feeling and experiencing it more fully. I wasn’t enclosed in my personal confinement capsule, detached from other people. I wasn’t able to delude myself that those other people were not really people, but arseholes who conspire to ruin my drive to work by cutting me off.
I couldn’t do this because I walked passed people on the street, and if I wanted I could reach out and touch them (they might have been a bit alarmed by this though). I confirmed their existence as real, living people — not obstacles in my way to my destination. They were the ingredients that added to the richness of my journey.
I could interact with these people. If I said “hello” they greeted me back (sometimes with puzzled looks on their faces, other times with more enthusiasm). Not one of the people I greeted ignored me or showed me the contempt that other drivers showed me when I drove my car.
A white guy walking to work in South Africa is quite a rarity and because of this I had one guy whistle to me from across the road. Once I spotted him, he seemed abundantly happy and waved at me enthusiastically. I returned the gesture.

What a rosy picture I paint. There were a few drawbacks though. Something unavailable to the pedestrian is the driver’s isolation. I’ve just shown how isolation is a bad thing, but isolation also allows the occupants of the vehicle to keep exhaust fumes out of their lungs by closing those air-vents. I could wear a gas-mask with a filter of some sort, but I think people would be more inclined to cross the road to get away from me when I attempt to greet them.
Walking is exercise, and depending on the ambient temperature, perspiration ensues. I forget to apply deodorant at my peril (or possibly everyone-in-my-office’s peril).
Walking hurts the feet, but that’s just because I don’t do it every day. I’m upgrading this experiment to a habit, and so I think my feet will get used to it (although they do ache a little at the end of the day at the moment, and I have a blister).
Pavements and sidewalks are in short supply. Apparently municipalities don’t expect people to walk any where near a road. Roads are for cars, and everyone important has a car, right? There are some pavements scattered about, but the effort to lay pavements has been organised in a very decentralised manner. A little pavement here, and then long stretches of heavily eroded dusty footpaths.
I’d like to say that if more people walked, then more pavements would be laid, but that’s ridiculous since most people in South Africa walk to work, or walk to catch a taxi which takes them to a point where they must walk to work. Understandably, pavements might not be a top priority in South Africa, but maybe they could be nudged up the list a little. Expect more on this pavement issue in a future post.
Smokers stuck in the traffic get nervous and need a cigarette but find they have none left. They might ask you for a cigarette as you walk by. This isn’t really a drawback, but since I’m not a smoker I felt bad not being able to ease their pain just a little.

As with everything, there are positive and negative aspects. My contention is that the positives of walking to work easily trump the negatives. I’ll be walking from now on, unless I need the car to get to a meeting or something, because driving to work is stupid.
You should try it too. Probably walking to work (or taking public transport) will be too much for you to do every single day. That’s not a problem. Try it for one day.  If it works out ok, try it  another day. Set a goal to get to work by alternative means once a week, or once a month.
At the very least, even if you decide not to adopt the behaviour, you managed to experience something different.

[1] I lie. We’ve simulated this when I needed the car and dropped her off at the mentioned shopping centre. The end result is the same though.

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Procrastination Progress Report

I think it’s safe to assume that everyone has the context of this post, but just in case the hyperlink to the context is provided at absolutely no extra cost (twice).

If you’re reading this then it’s quite obvious that I’m doing well at the “writing blog entries” task. It is no longer being procrastinated.

Obvious drawback is that other things are. Although, it’s not really that serious considering it’s the weekend. So, if I avoided blogging, then I’d should be working, but I’m not going to do any work on the weekend.

Of course, that means I should skip work and look at Project A.
Nah, skip that too.

Project B: looking good kids.
In earlier discussions with Quinn it was decided that I should incentivise myself by issuing the gifts to recipients as they are completed. Since this behaviour could result in certain people getting upset because “they didn’t get one,” it forces me to actually complete all of the gifts.
Further, we decided that they would be distributed in batches. The first batch has already shipped. The second batch is almost ready to ship (one story left to write, but I know what to write). This means I wrote one story and conceptualised another. Productivity people!
Now, there is some concern that this particular batch might require an additional item, in order to avoid disappointment. So scratch that: two stories to write, but one already conceptualised and the weekend is but young.

Chess: I have played quite a bit today, happily avoiding other activities. I’ve discovered a rather amusing variant that they play on FICS, called “Atomic Chess.”
Now that’s an allusion to the atomic bomb because when you capture a piece, it “explodes,” removing the captured piece, itself, and all adjacent pieces from the board (with the exception of pawns, which stay behind). Now, if you don’t really play chess much, this won’t be of that much interest. But let me just say this: I feel a more apt name for the variant would be “Suicide Bomber Chess,” because there are no ballistic-missile pieces in chess.
That’s a useful piece you’re blowing up when you make a capture.

Unrelated (although not, since it is procrastination but not part of the structure): I’ve spawned a halfhaggis Flickr account. It has a couple of photos up that a posted to test whether F-spot integrated with it properly. It does. I’m mighty pleased because it’s so easy.
Perhaps I’ll start spewing out photos there on a regular basis. At least then, those who care, have a chance of actually seeing some my photos.

Playing chess again and its role in productivity

So it seems I may have rekindled an interest in playing chess on-line. Surely, this can’t possibly have anything to do with a previous post regarding why I’m not blogging as much.

No, I didn’t think so. Surely I’ve not taken up the chess again in order to avoid Personal Project B, which surely wasn’t devised in order to avoid Personal Project A?
And surely neither Personal Project A, nor B were devised in order to avoid Work?
And surely, this blogging I’m doing now hasn’t been implemented in order to avoid all previously mentioned activities?

To be entirely frank, I have finally devised a sufficiently complex web of tasks that will allow me to properly implement the concept of structured procrastination.

Elaboration
Work
I have work to do, which I’m paid to do.
Work consists of a number of sub-tasks. These sub-tasks are:

  • Work for clients (billable hours, which earns the company, and consequently me, money)
  • Administration/innovation (non-billable time which earns the company nothing — at least not directly )

I group administration and innovation together simply because they don’t directly earn me any money. I tend to prefer to do tasks in the second category. During office hours, those should be the only activities I should be carrying out.
If you know anything about structured procrastination you’ll know that there aren’t enough categories of things to do for the procrastinator (a.k.a me) to actually get anything done.

This is why Project A was initiated. Project A is effectively “write a novel.” It was, “write a novel in 30 days” but I hadn’t fully established my structured procrastination web at the time, and so didn’t quite finish in time.

Project A
Project A is ostensibly an after hours project. In other words, something I will never work on at the office. Pfffft.

Thus, the next procrastination layer is set in place. Project A, although predominantly worked on at home, occasionally is used at the office as part of the structured procrastination strategy.

Unfortunately, I soon found that I was struggling to work on Project A as much as I’d like to. Writing a novel seemed a little overwhelming. It’s a lot of words, and they all need to relate to each other in some way. I can’t just write randomly generated words. That would leave me with a novel-sized piece of spam.
Evidently, to avoid writing the longer story, it would make sense to write shorter stories. Thus, the birth of Project B.

Project B
Project B, as I have now given away, is a writing project. If you know me well enough, that would probably have been fairly obvious. I will spend time writing a gift for people. The gift will be the writing, and it will also be the time I spent writing it.

So, the gift that spawns from Project B is something I created while avoiding doing something else. It could be argued that this fact devalues the gift. To that I counter with, “Next time I’ll just browse meaningless crap on the internet, and your gift will be me telling you ‘I browsed meaningless crap on the internet, for you.'”

FICS (Free Internet Chess Server)
As if that’s not enough, I suddenly remembered that I used to play chess a lot, and I thought I should try out the FICS again.
I originally signed up in 1998, but never played on-line that much then. The not even 28k modem might have had something to do with that — also my irrational fear of having to interact with strangers (even anonymous ones). Sometimes they wanted to chat, and not just play chess. The horror!

having got over those hang-ups, I’ve started playing again. At home and at work, during my breaks (honest). Of course, my breaks seem to get a little extensive sometimes.
Gloriously, this allows me to side-step the inconvenience of always writing things. The structure of my procrastination is heavily weighted towards writing things. The chess allows me to break that monotony, just a little.

Re-cap
Let’s review what we’ve learned so far today:
Avoid work by doing admin.
Avoid admin by doing Project A.
Avoid Project A by doing Project B.
Avoid Project B by logging in to FICS.

Closing the loop
Now, the clear problem is finding something to avoid that will make me want to do work instead.
What I’ve described so far isn’t, strictly speaking, structured procrastination. But so what. This is my take on it.

To close the loop, I need to do something to avoid playing chess. Now, I’d rather play chess than work — so that’s not going to cut it.
So, I bring blogging into the equation. Following on the logic that I stopped blogging for a while, but wanted to blog more regularly than I had been, it’s clear that I was procrastinating posting new entries. This is excellent news indeed.

I hereby set the completely unrealistic goal of posting a useful entry every week day. I know there’s no way I’ll be able to stick to that, but I assert that I must do it. It’s important.

Now, in order to avoid blogging everyday, I’ll do some work, thus closing the loop.

That’s Just Not Cricket

Today’s ODI between Sri Lanka and South Africa was blessed with radio commentators. I listened to these guys while I worked and I’m pretty sure they were stoned. They laughed a lot at mundane things. That’s as sure a sign as ever.
Somehow the topic of music came up, which obviously just isn’t cricket, and is an indication that these guys were not focusing. Yet more evidence to support my hypothesis.
The South African commentator mentioned Johnny Clegg, and explained how he was one of the first white men to perform traditional African music. In an effort to understand fully, the Australian commentator asked, “Kind of like Eminem?”

Um. No. Not like that at all.