Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Unblokt (social storywriting) - It's Done!

A few weeks ago I mentioned Unblokt, a little Web 2.0 app that presents you with two sentences, and you write the sentence inbetween. It was created by my friend Sean O'Hagan, who aimed to produce a novel written bit by bit in this way, by people from across the internet.

Well I just checked, and it looks like the Unblokt novel is finished! It is by turns gripping, hilarious, and downright silly. Here is an excerpt in the dramatic style:

"What do you think of it?" Why did he even care what I thought? I wanted him out of my head forever! I stopped thinking. Feelings floating... Drifting ever onward to that warm safe place where I can be loved again. That was a good thought.

And elsewhere:

I thought, maybe one day I will know everything about everyone. But I know I never will. My messiness clearly upset her. She stared at my room despairingly.
"Here, I'll move my roommate's dead dog so you can sit down," I said.

There's some really entertaining stuff in here that's going to make great bedtime reading. Congratulations to Sean and to all who participated.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


In my continuing quest to somehow keep in touch with all of the wonderful people I have met in my life, I have installed a news ticker at the bottom of my screen that scrolls through the RSS feeds of people I know, which I have mashed together into a single feed (with posts ordered chronologically) using Superblog.

It's kind of neat seeing all these posts, almost live, of people I know, scrolling across the bottom of my screen. Sometimes I'll see something that interests me, and I will immediately post a comment to the author. So maybe this will be a good way to randomly keep in touch with people.

One bad thing about a scrolling news ticker is a bit of nausea :-P Also, of course, it favours those who post more.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Lifehack: Taking the sting out of competitive games played with friends

The idea: Focus on improving your score instead of whether you win or lose.

I recently took a 1-year break from boardgaming because I would feel awful after every game. If I beat my friend, I would feel guilty. If my friend beat me, I would feel angry. And games are supposed to be fun!

Well I've thought of an idea to take the sting out of playing competitive games with friends. It applies to many boardgames and sports -- any kind of game with numeric scores. Rather than thinking about who won or who lost, I'm going to focus on improving my score since the last game. Specifically, improving the difference between my score and my friend's score.

So if the difference in the scores was 5 in the last game, I'll try for 6 or more this game. If the difference was -3, I'll try for -2 or better this game. The cool thing about focusing on the "score difference" is that you are really competing against yourself rather than your friend. But to keep things spicy, you'll still want to minimize your friend's score because that is another way to improve the score difference!

Even if your friend is a lot better than you at this sport/game, consistently beating you, you can still have fun because you are competing against yourself: Has the score difference been improving? Conversely, if you keep beating your friend, you might gloat a little less when you again consider: Has the score difference been improving?

This week: my first board game after a year-long hiatus! May it be fun!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Automated Reminders For Keeping In Touch With People (Using Excel)

In the book "Never Eat Alone", Keith Ferrazzi writes about how he keeps in touch with his network of 5000 acquaintances. Now I don't know *that* many people, but I probably have 500 people in my address book (and maybe 500 more brief e-mail encounters), and I feel wretched because I have lost touch with so many of these wonderful people.

I wanted a system that would automatically suggest to me people to contact each day. It would be smart enough to distinguish between people I want to contact monthly vs. yearly. It would provide me with new suggestions if I don't like the list of people I'm given. It would work equally well on my desktop computer as on my PDA.

I think I've hit on a solution that satisfies all of the above. And it uses Excel.

Simply make an Excel spreadsheet with the following columns:
  • A: Name
  • B: Number of times a year you want to contact this person
  • C: =B1/365>RAND()
Fill this spreadsheet with names of people you'd like to keep in touch with. (This might take a while, so just do a few for now).

To generate your to-contact list, copy the values in C to D, then sort on D. (Be sure to copy the values rather than the formulas; otherwise the sort won't work properly).

And voila - you have an instant list of suggestions for people to contact (the ones marked TRUE in column D). Don't like the list? Simply repeat the instructions to generate a new list of suggestions: copy the values in C to D, then sort on D.

The neat thing about this is that, by the laws of probability, the names should show up at the frequency that you specified (for example, "4" would pop up the name 4 times a year). Adding a new name is as easy as adding a row on a spreadsheet. And if nothing else, this system makes the care and feeding of your large network less intimidating by narrowing down your choices.