Achieving the digital detox.

Over the past few months, during my interaction with various people on Twitter and offline, I have been hearing about the information deluge that makes it impossible for them to acquire new skills. We indeed have limited 24 hours!

I wouldn’t be able to give a blow by blow account of how I manage things, but I have had to stick to certain good habits that have made things more comfortable for me. I will mention a few services below that make it incredibly easy to flow past the flood of distractions.

1) Mobile phone:

This is the biggest annoyance! I am off the social networks on the device barring Telegram. More on that later.

Twitter is accessed only on the browser. No dedicated applications exist. All notifications on the device are blocked except for text messages.

Telegram helps me to mute all conversations except people whom I deem essential. I have a lot of channels where I consume content passively. No mainstream social networks like Facebook or Instagram for me. They are antiquated because I cannot control them.

I also don’t have a fear of missing out. My associates either call me or text me if needed. Android has become better to manage notifications in recent times. I don’t have any experience with iOS, but I remain convinced that Apple iPhones are merely iPods with a calling facility.

2) Email.

I had mentioned this earlier too. I use Fastmail because I find there is inherent value in paying up for the email. I use a lot of aliases whenever I sign up for the service. It helps to signup with a unique email address. For example, for Dropbox, my alias will be dropbox (at) FastMail dot com (it is a hypothetical- just for illustration). Therefore, if any spam flows into my inbox, I know where is the leak from. All I have to do is to delete the alias.

This simple hack has served me well over six years, and I am happy to stay with this service. Mainstream email applications like Gmail or Yahoo are useless.

I have also created extensive rules which directs the email in the trash. It helps to clean up the clutter at the server itself without manual intervention. For example, all newsletters go to trash directly. Some of them are automatically marked as read and stay in the inbox- I scan through them when I get time. When they are marked as read, I don’t get a notification. Therefore, can easily stay focused on my work without being distracted by the flow in the inbox.

3) Password Manager

1Password is the password manager that is my life saver. It generates unique passwords for all the websites. It is a paid service, but good cloud sync helps me to sync it with my Android device as well. It eliminates the need to remember unique passwords.

4) The use of Telegram chat app

Telegram remains the only way to stay connected with any semblance of “social network”. I use a combination of groups and channels to stay informed. Channels work as public broadcasts. Any specific information I need is transmitted to it. I use bots (both paid and free) to achieve the effect.

For example, I use the IFTTT bot to work with the RSS feeds to populate the channels with the Pubmed content. If I need to track, say the latest publications in the development of MR-LINAC, I don’t have to visit the website manually. By use of booleans, I can filter the content, generate the specific RSS feeds which pipes it elegantly in the channel via IFTTT bot. Likewise, I use junction-connection bot and Feed-Reader bot for different purposes. I pool in information from all specific channels I need to follow into one omnibus channel so that I don’t have to deal with a multitude of channels. I do this by using junction-bot on Telegram.

Feed-Reader bot helps me to tap into various other social networks. For example, I have a specific channel devoted to cycling. All posts from multiple Instagram accounts flow in the channel. It helps me to keep track of the sectoral development. Likewise, I developed a channel for journalists on Telegram to keep track of telecom sector and clean energy. I also have a dedicated art channel that I helped to make for a friend. That collects all impressionist art, beautiful nature pictures and graffiti! None of the posts is done manually.

Focused groups require extensive group management. I recommend using Combot because it comes with a beautiful web-interface. Although the community bot management has introduced a paid plan, it is free for groups that have up to 100 members. The bot deletes specific stop words automatically along with other nifty features like muting users. The bot also keeps groups free of spam messages. Therefore, the groups stay efficient, productive and on course. It is unlike WhatsApp where users start spamming others without any rhyme or reason.

This above may sound onerous, but it helps to maximise the efficiency gains. As long as you are not distracted, it helps to keep focused on work.

In the busy schedules that we keep, always find time for solitude. That is the most critical period to stop and reflect on your goals.

Digital tools need a constant refinement. Hopefully, I will update this in the future.

(Images are for representational purpose only. This blog post is not intended for any commercial purpose).

Brain Tumours Bot for feedback

I am happy to announce the launch of a feedback bot to collect link to various brain tumour charities across the world (braintumourbot).

I had toyed with the idea to create a Wiki, but I realised that existing tools are too messy that can be utilised effectively. Why not have something that makes things more efficient?

It is how you do it:

1) Install Telegram and open it.

2) Search for @braintumourbot

3) Press “start” at the bottom. Then type it in the space provided.

4) In the bot description, there exists a link to the channel.

5) Your submissions will be updated there.

You can search for respective charities either in the search box in the channel or typing particular hashtag. For example, in the link provided, the hashtag for Britain is #UK, and the city hashtag for London is #LON.

The Brain Tumour support channel is also active! (@cnssm)

I will provide a complete name for cities that are far away from the urban centres.

This bot on Telegram chat application is the first ever crowdsourced experiment to get everyone on board.

Wiki for brain tumour charities

Early this week, I had announced that I would develop a Wiki page for collecting the links to all brain tumour charities. However, this is a herculean task indeed.

If I were to use the existing resources at Wikipedia, editing the webpage is an onerous task. They haven’t migrated to a simple modular structure like in a blogging template nor do they allow any specific linkages with applications on the desktop. The only way out is to use a browser. Their interface would scare the most battle-hardened veteran as well.

What is the way out? Telegram again comes to my rescue. The way out is straightforward.

1) I have created a submission bot (braintumourbot) that will interface directly with a private group.

2) A standard format for submission can be evolved.

3) I will be using specific hashtags. For example #US for North America, #UK for Britain, #AUS for Australia and the likes. Any user keen to look for information under the head will be able to locate it by just clicking on the hashtag.

4) #LON under London will display the charities based there. If they a website address and a Twitter/Social account, it will be listed accordingly. This consistent storage of information will help me to organise the information quickly.

Telegram does offer the speed and reliability with added security for the users. I think this is the best way forward to crowdsource the information.

I have ideas for a dedicated mobile application as well, but that would require yet another mobile app; resources can be utilised to make things efficient. I remain sceptical about either a website or the apps.

Let’s see how this experiment grows!