Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happiness, Meditation, and Multi-Tasking

Multi-tasking does not seem to be the buzzword that it was a couple of years ago.  That is a good thing.  Multi-tasking is good for machines, bad for people! 

Most of us have experienced anxiety as a result of too many responsibilities, obligations, or too much thinking.  The solace of meditation brings relief to a cluttered mind, but meditation is too encumbered.  Taking time out of an already busy schedule to explicitly do nothing is downright bizarre. 

Quite a while ago I had a book which espoused the benefits of "Zen driving".  That's right...enlightenment through driving a car.  The book was not as strange as it sounds.  The gist was that one may achieve a meditative state by immersing themselves in a mundane task.  My Zen driving is usually Zen soldering or Zen programming.  They both lower my blood pressure and make me a much happier person.

What then, about this multi-tasking.  If the act of uncluttering our thoughts brings about stress relief, what is the effect of multi-tasking on our stress level?  My conclusion is that to multi-task means to be perpetually interrupted.  Constant interruptions create a clutter of thoughts, and a clutter of thoughts leads to higher levels of stress.

The next time you're at the office you might consider setting your phone to "Do Not Disturb" and closing your email.  It may do wonders for your blood pressure!

Stanching Greatness

This month's issue of Men's Journal (October 2008, p. 30) has an interview with Thom Beers, creator of such television staples as Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.  Think what you wish about the quality of his shows, there is little denying that he is a superstar amongst film-makers.  He is talented and driven, to be sure.

There were a number of things in the article that indicate Thom may be of questionable moral character.  Having found myself glued to many of his shows, it did not surprise me to discover that he is a "colorful" personality.  He did, however, mention something that really resonated.

"Thank God Ritalin wasn't big when I was a kid or it would have calmed me down and I'd be a middle manager at a car lot."

His statement makes me wonder how many great people we have lost to the complacency afforded by legal modern drugs.

"Magician's Next Stunt Could Leave Him Blind"

The above headline on CNN.Com reminded me that I need to call my Grandmother. 

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Great Product for Anyone Who Cuts Paper

Several years ago, my wife and I visited my brother in New Mexico. His neighbor had the coolest thing I had seen in quite a while. It was a vector printer, alternatively called a vector cutter. He used it to cut out vinyl masks. He would then put the mask on a piece of glass or wood and sand blast it.

The device was intriguing. After checking on the price of such a device, I decided that perhaps they weren't for me. For years I kept checking back on the price, itching to buy one. Then something odd happened while I was slumming around Michael's or Hobby Lobby. I found the Cricut.

The Cricut is a vector cutter aimed at people who probably don't care much for computers. People who make scrap books, cards, etc. It seemed like a good birthday gift for Aimee, so I got her one. It is amazing. In fact, the only complaint I have about it is that the ladies featured in the "getting started" DVD are scary. Real scary.

Normally paper cutting would be done with a die. Dies are expensive, and they only let you cut one size. The Cricut lets you scale any pattern in its library. Unlike most vector cutters, the Cricut lets you use a normal piece of paper instead of a roll. Just stick the paper onto a sticky cutting board, feed the machine, position the cutter, and press "Go".

The machine is daunting at first, but after a few minutes its use becomes second nature. The designs that you can cut are stored on cartridges that must be bought separately. They are expensive, but as I noted before, they replace very expensive dies. It is surprising what a great value an $80 cartridge really is.

Vector cutters can do a lot. They can cut paper, vinyl, pictures, etc. These materials can then be used on a myriad of projects. For example, you could make screen cutting masks using only construction paper and fiberglass window screen. You could use vinyl and create stickers or masks for sand blasting.

The best thing about this product is that it's portable. No computer to fuss with, no boxes of dies. Just one machine and some small cartridges. It's right at home on the craft table. It isn't often that we find a product that was thought out so carefully. I'd buy another one without a second thought...and I might even let Aimee use it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Making Great Products

Have you ever wondered how great products get created?  If you have ever worked with a marketing department, I'll bet that you've cursed them at least once.  Marketers are forever promising the impossible...but more often than not, it seems that the impossible is what gets delivered.

A couple weeks ago, Fawaz Gruosi of Grisogono was featured in Men's Journal (June, 2008).  In the article, he describes a new idea for a watch.  This watch is a mechanical digital watch.  It requires regular winding, but has digits on the face instead of analog hands.  You can imagine the meeting when he dropped this idea on his engineers.  First, of course, they laughed.

He was serious, though, and he wanted his watch.  "My strength is not having a notion of the difficulties behind the ideas", he remarked for the interview.

Sometimes greatness requires ignorance.