Do or Do Not.

Managing Inputs

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I’m now eighteen hours into an experiment I’m going to be trying for the next week, until 11:59 pm on April 3, 2012: I’m not going to read any comic book news sites or sports news sites. This might not sound like a huge deal to you, but I have several comics and sports sites I visit many, many times each day entirely out of habit. My brain gets bored with whatever I’m working on and my fingers will just sort of automatically Control-D to my browser’s address bar and start typing in the address of one of these sites out of muscle memory. Rarely do I have any truly compelling reason to go check these sites.

Yet check them I do. Way, way, way too often.

Comic book sites are to me as this guy's boogers obviously are to him.

This is the thing about those far-too-frequent visits to Newsarama and and wherever else — I don’t think I actually enjoy those topics anymore. I rarely read comics (which is almost a shame, given that I now own an iPad) and I rarely watch football except during the playoffs. Yet I read about them constantly. I know tons about what’s going on with mainstream comics and tons about what’s going on in the NFL… but I don’t really care. I have gained this knowledge because I feel like I’m supposed to, because doing so is part of the definition of being Me. These are Things Allens Do — or have always done, but maybe shouldn’tdo anymore (or should do much less of, anyway).

If all I’m getting out of visiting these sites is a few minutes of distraction and not any real satisfaction or edification, then I’d rather get that distraction from somewhere that’s going to let me learn something new or let me productive in some (probably creative, possibly professional) way. At the very worst, I obviously need to up the number of sources from which I’m getting input. If I take that time each day that I spend keeping up with topics that don’t really matter to me anymore and instead devote that time to something I’m more interested in now — learning another language or writing or photography or design or music theory or or film criticism or what-have-you — then maybe I’ll actually make some traction at getting better or more knowledgeable at these other things, and become generally more awesome.

This is the hope anyway.

So what do y’all do when you’re needing a little brain-break and want to keep up with your varied interests? I’m on the lookout for new inputs — educate me. :)

Written by Allen

March 28th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

The Monkey Prince: Eugene Walter

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In 1996, as part of a Feature Writing class I took to fill my journalism minor, I drove to Mobile, Alabama and interviewed a local legend named Eugene Walter. Eugene was one of the most fascinating personalities I’ve ever talked to — certainly he was the person who’d accomplished the most, or at least the most varied. The article he inspired helped me get an A in that class.

Eugene passed away less than two years after I wrote this article. I’m very glad I got the chance to spend a couple of hours with him that warm November afternoon. Eugene lived more fully and more authentically than most of us ever do, and I think there’s still much I can learn from his attitudes toward life.

(Don’t judge the writing too harshly — this was fifteen years ago!)

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Written by Allen

August 18th, 2011 at 11:54 am

Posted in General


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On Saturday afternoon, after taking the better part of four years to work up the courage for it, I finally shaved my head.

I’ve had long hair off and on (mostly on, pretty much except when I was required by jobs not to) since I was fourteen. Long hair was, for a long long time, a very important part of my self-identity. It was a visual identifier, a calling card. My long hair set me apart to some degree (though not so much after I started hanging out with the geeky crowd full of longhairs I hang with in Boston). During times when I didn’t have long hair, I didn’t feel quite like myself, like I wasn’t authentically Me.

But genetics has taken its toll on my hair over the last decade or so. My hairline receded a long time ago, but then more recently it started getting awfully thin on top in addition. My long hair went from being something I was proud of, something I identified with, to something that caused me angst and made me feel terrible about myself when I looked in a mirror.

I originally grew my hair out for me, because I wanted to, not to please anyone else. My dad, in fact, gave me plenty of crap about it over the 25 years or so I had it long. But eventually, I kept it for everyone else, not for me. I was afraid of what other people were going to think of me if I cut it, I was afraid I wasn’t going to be attractive anymore, I was afraid I was going to disappoint people, I was afraid I’d have any ugly-shaped head. (The first time you go super-short, there’s always the possibility that you could end up with something ugly-lookin’ and have to wear hats until your hair grows back in. I’m very happy that’s not the case with my dome.)

And I finally decided that none of that really mattered — or at least, didn’t matter as much as my feeling comfortable with myself and my appearance again.

So I cut it for me, not for anyone else.

After discussing it for awhile with Terry on Saturday morning, and getting all of the love and encouragement and reassurance I could ever hope for from her, I decided it was time. I’d originally planned to go for something more medium-length, but no… that would only have been further delaying the inevitable. And I was ready to stop the delay.

We went to the salon, I sat in the stylist’s chair, and when she asked what we were doing today, I told her it was time to take it all off.

“All of it?” Yes, all of it.

She braided my ponytail, and with a few hacking strokes of her scissors, lopped it off and handed it to me. I still have it, just like I have the twin ponytails from last year when I cut a foot off of my halfway-down-my-back tresses.

At one point, she left an inch-and-a-half or so on top and tried to style it, but it just looked horrible. Not her fault — my hair’s fault. It was just too thin. I told her to keep going, just to buzz it all over, and I think she either didn’t think I was serious or thought I didn’t know what I was asking for, because she only reluctantly did so after my asking several times. Even when she was done, it was still longer than I was intending, but hey, I’ve got clippers now and can take care of it myself.

When she was done, I had a nice half-inch long layer of fuzz all over my head. I looked at myself in the mirror, and for the first time in a while, I liked what I saw (and liked what I felt even better). It’s funny, but I think shaving my head made me look… well, I don’t want to say “younger,” but “not so old-looking,” if that makes sense. My hair had gotten to the point where it was dragging me down and making me look tired.

Now, all of that visual down-pulling is gone. I look taller. I look thinner. And yeah, I don’t look so old.

Also, it had thinned so much on the top that I felt like it looked kinda ridiculous, like I was either trying to hide my thinning or like I didn’t notice that my follicles had betrayed me in mass numbers. Now it’s even more obvious that it’s sparser, of course — but rather than looking silly, it’s more of an “eh, whateva” thing. Yes, it’s thinned, and I’ve done what you do when your hair gets too thin. Shrug it off and move on.

I’m happy that the response for the most part so far has been positive. A couple of people have been a bit freaked or disappointed, but for the most part, people have dug it. The word “badass” has been used more than any other so far, which I’ll admit is kinda cool. And I’ve really enjoyed having people rub my fuzzy head — maybe even more than I used to enjoy their running their fingers through it.

Here’s the big thing: “shaving my head” was always very firmly on my List of Things I Didn’t Think I Could Ever Do OMG, a thing that inexplicably terrified me. But I did it. It might have taken me four years, but I did it. And so far, it’s working out well for me.

So… what other things that I thought I could never do are actually within my grasp, if only I dare to reach for them?

Written by Allen

July 5th, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Personal

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My impressions after less than twenty-four hours of playing with the newly-launched (and still thus far fairly sparesly populated) Google Plus:

  • It’s not Facebook. I know that sounds simple and snarky, but I’m serious. I really, really don’t like Facebook, but I can’t deny how useful it’s been for keeping in touch with people, especially people who haven’t been an everyday part of my life for a long time. I don’t trust Facebook and I don’t like what they stand for. I’m on far friendlier terms with Google, and (whether I should or not), I trust them way more.

  • The interface is dead easy. Assigning people to your Circles is almost (gasp) fun. It’s so easy to create different Circles for the different types of people in your life that I’m actually having trouble deciding on the best strategy for partitioning my friends. Uploading and sharing pics? Easy, especially from my brand-new Android phone with the Google Plus app installed.

  • I love that Google Plus is not one website — it’s a combination of tools readily available throughtout the apps you already use. You can post from Gmail, from Google Calendar, from the main Google search results themselves, almost from wherever you’re already using Google. And most people, I’d wager, already use Google a lot. That sort of no-brainer accessibility might be the thing to really make this catch on.

  • I’m looking forward to getting more friends from more parts of my life onboard. Right now, most of the people I have on there are local friends, which isn’t surprising giving how geeky that batch of friends is. But one of Facebook’s big draws is that everybody is on there, and I can’t wait for the Google Plus population to explode. I think it’s coming; I don’t think they’re going to wait long before opening it up to everybody.

  • So far, It feels more conversational and interactive than Facebook does to me. And this might just be my particular group of friends using it, I’ll admit. I’m curious to see if that continues. I certainly hope it does.

If you’re in the “field test” already, what do you think of Google Plus? And if we’re not already connected on there, please feel free to add me to one of your Circles.

Written by Allen

June 30th, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Web

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Monday MoPho: South Station

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South Station

South Station

It’s the return of the Monday Mo(bile)Pho(to)! I miss doing the old Monday Photos I used to do back in the day, and since I have a camera with me every second of the day now and extraordinarily easy sharing technology, there’s no reason I shouldn’t get back into it. So I am. So there.

Written by Allen

June 20th, 2011 at 9:25 am

Posted in Photography