Everyday Systems: everydaysystems: message 6 of 74

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Subject: Re: [everydaysystems] Lets's talk
From: Reinhard Engels
Date: Tue, 6 Jul 2004 21:19:29 -0700 (PDT)
Thank you, Chris, for posting this. I've been wanting
to get a discussion started around these issues
(coming up with new systems) for a while now. I think
you've nailed the general principles, and you're right
that there's no reason these principles couldn't be
applied to everyday problems beyond the basic
"input/output" issues of diet and exercise. 

Below are a few other systems I've been working on,
but what I'd really like is to start hearing group
members' ideas on new problems or systems (yes, I know
there aren't too many of you at the moment, but
that'll change). Don't feel that you need to have a
complete system to post. If you just have a specific
(or not so specific) problem identified, that's a
start. Someone else might have a good solution for it.
Another member might have a good name or metaphor to
ground the system. And yet another some critical
refinement that makes it more than just sound good.

The systems I list below are cases in point. Some are
in dire need of a better name. Some just scratch the
surface of a larger issue. Some might just not be of
general interest or applicability (good to know before
investing too much time publicizing).

Glass Ceiling: This I've mentioned on the nosdiet
group and site. I used to have a problem with
occasional excessive drinking. It didn't come up a
lot, but when it did, it was bad. I wanted to be able
to continue to enjoy alcohol without that slight but
significant risk of suddenly finding myself out of
control drunk. My solution? A two drink a day "glass
ceiling." I usually have a glass of wine or beer with
dinner, sometimes two, never more. Is it possible to
fake out this system using enormous glasses? Of
course. You can do the same thing with no S and
enormous plates, if you're determined to be an idiot.
But it's been about two years now since I've been on
it, and despite some occasional stretchers, I've never
broken the literal rules, and I've never gotten out of
control drunk. As a side benefit, my tolerance has
gone way down and I can now get a nice buzz off of two


As I mention at this link, "glass ceiling" is not
intended for people who suspect they may be serious
alcoholics. Common as that problem may be, I'm not
going to call it "everyday." See:


Low Smoking

I'm not fond of advertising this system because 1) 
I'm not sure how reproducible it is and I don't want
to distract people from their "no smoking" efforts and
2) it doesn't reflect particularly well on my other
health related systems. As a neighbor said to me: "I
can't believe you smoke! I'll never take you're health
advice seriously again!"

The striking image is a no smoking sign with a small
gap in the red circle. It's loosely inspired by a
scene in Goethe's Faust where Mephisto can't could get
into Faust's lab, but not out again, because of an
incompletely drawn pentagram. The rule is no smoking
except on S days, and then no more than 4 a week. My
original limit was 7, because I'd read in some
antiquated consumer reports study that 1 cigarette a
day would have a negligible health impact "but no one
has the self-discipline to actually do this without
escalating." It turns out, with this rule, I do have
the discipline. I've since lowered the maximum to 4
from 7 just to be safe(r), and I rarely hit even this
lower limit. Because I smoke so little, I can afford
to smoke the very fancy cigarettes I prefer (Nat
Sherman's MCDs). 

Please do keep in mind that 1) I was never a very
heavy smoker so if you are this almost certainly won't
work 2) no medical professional today will tell you
that *any* amount of smoking is OK 3) I am neither a
medical professional nor am I telling you that low
smoking is OK, just that it's pleasurable, possible
(at least for me), and presumably better for you than
not so low smoking.

Weekend Luddite

The original luddites were textile workers who rose up
and smashed the machines that were putting them out of
work or forcing them to take lower skill/lower pay
jobs. A weekend luddite is a little different. Let me
explain the problem first.

I'm a computer programmer. I sit all day if front of a
computer. You'd think that when I come home and in the
evenings and on weekends the last thing on earth I
would want to do is spend more time on the computer.
And yet this is precisely what I do. It starts with me
checking my stocks (which couldn't have changed, it's
after business hours) then I follow a yahoo news
story, then I check my web site statistics, then I
check some blogs, and pretty soon I'm on some random
site about malaysian skyscrapers, which is
interesting, sort of, but maybe ten thousandth on my
list of what I'd like to be doing. I look up and it's

I don't watch much tv. I don't play video games. But I
fritter away endless hours in front of the computer. 

I tried a bunch of restrictions on home computer use.
It was much harder to stick with them than I'd
thought. Here's what did stick: thou shalt not touch
the computer on weekends between breakfast and dinner.

I started out trying to just do Sunday no computer, a
single 24 hour period. It seemed appropriate,
"sabbatical." But it was just too hard. Unread emails
sang out to me like so many Loreleis. Doubts as to
whether my web servers were still up and receiving
their proper due of traffic plagued me like pangs of
conscience. It sounds pathetic, but I couldn't go a
whole day, much less a weekend. 

After some experimenting, I found that 12 hour blocks
were doable. I started with dawn to dusk instead of
breakfast and dinner, but that's too seasonally and
geographically variable, poorly defined, and since I
rarely get up before dawn on weekends, makes it too
tempting to cheat. Breakfast to dinner was clear, and
(in my case) relatively unvarying. Knowing that I'd
just have to wait *half* a day, I didn't get so antsy
that I'd break the rules, and I reclaimed most of my
waking hours for worthier pursuits. In the evenings my
wife and I tend to go out anyway, so it wasn't like I
was glued to the computer all night Saturday and
Sunday. I found that I had time to do serious, careful
reading again.

One of my biggest excuses for procrastinating on the
web was tending my web sites. So now, if I have an
idea that seems web-worthy, I write it down on a piece
of paper. In fact, I find it's easier to write this
way. No malaysian skyskrapers to distract me. The
weekends seem substantial again. It's a real victory.

No, it doesn't sound impressive. But I have my
weekends back. If you're in the condition I was, you
know what a great gain that is.

Because weekend luddite has worked so well, I've been
trying to extend weekend luddite into the week, simply
by reversing the weekend rule on week days (so no
computer before breakfast or after dinner). I call
this "weekend and evening luddite." Sounds like some
twisted cell phone plan, doesn't it? Despite the cute
name, I can't say this extension has been a great
success so far -- I'm violating it right now.

Still, I think I'm onto something big here and that
the "weekend" bit only scratches the surface. For
every "labor saving" device it seems there are at
least two "time consuming" ones to soak up all that
freed time again. T.S. Eliot wrote something about us
moderns being "distracted by distraction from
distraction," and that was pre-Internet and pre-TV.
We're in infinitely worse shape now. I call this
larger issue "distraction management."


I hate this name, but I love the system. I was an
English lit major and trained to be a librarian. Now I
sit all day in front of a computer. When I come home,
besides the electronic distractions described above,
there are a thousand practicalities to attend to:
dishes, vacuuming, laundry, etc. I miss reading, and
dread the dull chores that now take up my free time
instead. The solution? Audiobooks. I know a lot of
people who listen to books on tape during long
commutes, and if I drove much, I'd do this too. But
where books on tape really shine for me is in these
little nooks and crannies of time when I am doing some
mind numbing chore. Not only do I get more "reading"
done than I ever did before, but formerly dreaded
chores become positively pleasurable. I don't want to
stop doing the dishes, or painting, or mopping. And I
am thorough like I'd never be if I weren't dying to
find out what happens to Teddy Roosevelt next, etc.

I listen to novels, lecture series (from, among
others, the excellent "teaching company"), plays,
history, finance, science, in English and German (and
some very elementary Hebrew, which I'm trying, without
any spectacular success, to teach myself). I don't
consider listening in any way inferior to silent
reading. If anything, I'm a listening snob. 

Sieben Sachen der Wissenschaft

This is another terrible name. It means, literally,
"the seven things of science" in German. But I've been
using it successfully now for at least a year, and
should report it on the chance that someone else might
find it useful (and maybe come up with a better name).

The problem: there are too many little doo-dads I need
to take with me every time I leave the house. Watch,
doofy headphones, ipod, cellphone, wallet, keys, micro
cassette recorder. Despite their "necessity," somehow
I can never quite remember what they are when I'm
rushing out in the morning. The solution: instead of
trying to remember *what* they are, I just remember
*how many* of them there are: 7, in my case. As I
locate each item I place it on the table. Instead of
an error prone checklist I just do a simple count.
Yes, some brain wracking is still required to identify
the missing items at the end, but it's minimized, and
frankly, that's the easy part. The hard part is to
tell *whether* something's missing.

You raised a couple other issues that I'd still like
to respond too (problem areas like finance and
"storage") but I need some sleep first. 

Thanks again, Chris. 


--- Chris Highcock <> wrote:
> Hi there Reinhard (yes this was meant for the whole
> group!)
> I'd like to get some discussion going on this forum.
> I've been very
> impressed by the Everyday Systems: shovelglove,
> Urban Ranger and NoS - and
> would be interested in some of the thinking behind
> them.
> As far as I can see, they are based on simplicity,
> the key principles being:
> simplicity
> minimal investment of time, money (and effort)
> integration with normal life
> habit.
> The aim is to solve common problems faced by
> individuals in western
> economies in the 21st century - lack of real
> functional exercise (basically
> aerobic but also the strength/endurance addressed by
> shovelglove) and poor
> diet / overeating.
> You have mentioned that there are other systems
> under development......what
> are they tackling?
> I'd be interested in thinking about how the axioms
> of the systems can be
> applied to other problems beyond exercise and diet. 
> What are my other
> problems?
> I'm not sure, but try
> finances - saving, investment
> general thrift
> reading e.g study, research for work etc
> writing - minimising the time spent on writing basic
> reports for work
> Storage - I live in a small flat (apartment in US
> English)
> relationships - er. ask my girlfriend about my
> "issues" there.....
> These are not necessarily the major areas of
> challenge, more I'm trying to
> think of areas where the "Everyday axioms" could be
> applied.
> So, what do you think? Where do the systems go
> next?
> Chris Highcock
> (UK)

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