It being early January, common practice would dictate that right now I wish you a happy new year, but other people have probably done that already. Plus, it’s not like I would really mean it: because I wouldn’t. I hate holidays. And I hate how people who are usually mood-swingy jerks to you, will hug you on Christmas/New Year’s/Eve/Day as if nothing-the-heck-were-wrong. That kind of thing confuses me and makes me break out in Stockholm Syndrome rashes. I need consistency; if someone’s going to be a jerk to me, I need them to be jerk to me all the time. Friggin’…
But you know what I hate even more than holidays?
I hate the word “discipline”. Not because it’s only six letters away from being a four-letter word, which it is, but because…OK the number of letters doesn’t count. I hate — hated — the d-word because it has been misused and abused to death. When people say the word “discipline”, what they really mean is some sadomasochistic, pretty-woman-wearing-an-SS-uniform behavior that merely boils down to one word: submission. Submission to authority under threat of direct enforcement by physical or emotional violence. Do as we say, or we’ll beat you up and/or tear your reputation to pieces, that’s how most people experience the word “discipline”.
It wasn’t till I was in college, googling, that I discovered what “discipline” really means, or at least what it should mean. According to the quote attributed to Idon’tknowwhoandIcan’tbebotheredtogolookitup:
“Discipline is remembering what you want”.
Isn’t that much better than all this crap about pain and suffering and crucibles? Tha’ss right, son. This is implying something self-directed rather than self-inflicted. I mean, my gosh, who expects to get anyone — including themselves — inspired to do anything, with all this talk about freaking “no pain no gain” and “pain is left-wing ideas leaving the body” and…you get the idea.
Where was I? Yeah, dude. Discipline is remembering what you want. This doesn’t just make us feel warm and fuzzy and good, it also gives us a concrete action step to work on. OK, brace yourself for some fake math and logical fallacies of equivocation:
If discipline is what it takes to turn dreams into goals into realities, and discipline is remembering what you want, then pretty much all you have to do to get from here to there, is remember what you want. Not remember where you are [this’ll just make you sad], not remember where you’re not [another recipe for sadness], but remember what you want.
How many of you have watched, I dunno, let’s dip as low into the pop culture barrel as possible — MTV Cribs, and been like: “I want one of those [gaudy swimming pools/big-screen TVs/STD-ridden groupies]”? Show of hands? OK, good. But then, how many of you, even two weeks later, remember the exact thing that you wanted? I bet pretty few. I bet you all still have a nebulous, amorphous, non-corporeal desire to be blinging it up in or on an air/land/sea vehicle of some kind, while total strangers mill around in the background and spend your money on controlled substances. But how many of you remember exactly the make and model and price of the thing or things you want? Have you gone shopping for them? Have you compared them to similar products? Have you looked into renting them to see if they’re really worth owning? Have you started saving money to acquire them? Can you get them used? Are they on some kind of written list in order of priority, with dates for acquisition? Probably not. And that’s why you’ll always be a schmuck watching Cribs — unless and until you actually start getting more concrete about this stuff; until you stop allowing yourself to forget.
Or something like that. I’m not so sure that I’m quite communicating this idea fully, but…oh well, I never am. Let me just say this. The Internet once told me:
“Many people overestimate what they can get done in a day, and underestimate what they can get done in a year”.
Just imagine how viciously you’re underestimating what you can get done this year, and in 2, 3, 5 and 10 years. It may seem like nothing; it may seem like you’re going nowhere, but the sum of those nothings is what it’s all about and it’s a lot of the philosophy of this blook: The journey of a thousand leagues, Grasshopper, not only begins with a single step, it also ends with a single step and, in fact, is entirely made up of single steps. Imagine if people refused to try to conceive children because “It’s just gonna be one cell! What’s the point?! Two days and all I have is zygote? Are you kidding me?!” Imagine if people stopped brushing their teeth because “they’re all just gonna get dirty again!” Imagine if people stopped climbing mountains after a couple of steps because “I’ve been at it for like fifteen minutes and I’m nowhere near the top!” — countless young, reckless males might still be alive today, screaming into microphones, making angry music for me to have angst to. But noooo….they had to climb a perfectly good mountain.
So, the whole so-called “discipline” problem can reduce itself to a memory problem. Thankfully, we needn’t entirely rely on ourselves for this. Many of us already have a personal secretary on our staff. He doesn’t eat food and he can go days and weeks without sleep. I refer, of course, to the PC.
I don’t even know why I brought up Cribs; it says more about my character than yours. But anyway, many of you reading this are trying to learn a language. And the thing, as I have said once or twice before, about a language — in fact, any advanced skill — the real key is that you don’t need to get “good” at it; you just need to get “used” to it. It needs to just become a habit, a reflex for you. Let it get inside the muscles of your hands, face and mouth. And it’s the biggest no-brainer ever, because all you have to do is expose yourself. Expose yourself to “language radiation” until you not only get temporary radiation sickness, but actually develop the “cancer” of fluency in a language. Pretty grotesque example, huh? But if you think about it…the changes that are going to go on as you acquire a language, are going to be occurring at a cellular level — just like cancer…OK, so a lot things happen at a cellular level, I know…whatever…you get the idea!
And so, reminding yourself to work on your target language can be made equivalent to working on it. How? Have patience…all will be revealed.
When ego-surfing, one criticism I sometimes read about this blook is that there’s a lot of general discussion and not many specific, detailed steps. Most of the time, I figure everyone has their own preferences in terms of how to get stuff done. I certainly don’t like to read people flapping lip about how they spent six months installing Ubuntu over the firmware for their cat’s litter box and then wrote a Ruby script to make it send status alerts to their iPhone. Also, I don’t like writing things that can go out of date very quickly. But, today, I shall make an exception. Today I’m going to discuss, with detailed examples, the software I use to implement automated “discipline” in my life. In this sense, I was inspired by Timothy Ferris; he’s thick on both theory and execution, and even though his bombastic prose rattles my subtle Japanese sensibilities, I liked his book.
No more talk! Let’s go straight to action! I’m black! I’m equal parts dynamic and threatening and I do comic relief! I pity the fool who doesn’t read about this software:
- TimeSnapper (Classic): The future you is watching you. It is amazing what you will do or not do when you know you’ll have to answer for it, even if it’s just to yourself. I certainly don’t want evidence of superfluous English wickedness on my record! TimeSnapper takes a snapshot of your computer screen every X seconds throughout the day; at the end of the day you can play this back, like unto a movie. Be sure to change the settings so you don’t have gigabytes of data for just one day. A 25% JPEG quality snapshot every 60 seconds seems to be more than enough to keep me kosher, halal and Cantonese. Our memories can be subjective; we can tend to think that we worked harder and immersed deeper than we actually did. With TimeSnapper, you can see for yourself just what you were doing and when. If my experience is anything to go by, then I know you’ll be making the future you proud.
- LeechBlock: A Firefox plugin. If you’re not using Firefox, you probably should be 😀 . Those open source hippies have a thing or two going for them. The Pareto principle would suggest that a mere handful of non-target language sites suck the lion’s share of our time: In my case, these included Lifehacker, Gmail, AJATT Stats and English Wikipedia; I blocked all of these. If necessary, you can block entire TLDs, like *.com and *.us, assuming the collateral damage from false positives isn’t too high. LeechBlock is highly flexible, allowing you to set up time-based blocking, daily time limits, and cetera!
- Karen’s Countdown Timer 2: Part of Karen‘s Power Tools suite. In a sense, KCT2 isn’t that different from Windows’ native Task Manager Scheduler, it’s just that it has a far simpler, friendlier, more flexible interface. Plus it’s free, so…go for it! Why I came to use KCT2 is because I found that two things were endangering my Cantonese immersion environment —  the first was forgetting to turn it back on after temporarily turning it off (e.g. to talk on the phone);  the second was simply going about my Strong Bad morning routine of Klingon blood rituals and forgetting to turn on the environment until, like, noon. This software takes care of both these situations. I schedule Cantonese radio to play every 60 minutes, Cantonese TV/movies to turn themselves on every 3 hours, and my favorite Chinese/Cantonese websites to open up daily/weekly/fortnightly at the times of day I tend to feel like reading each one, all automatically and without a nag-screen: this is what I mean when I talk about making the reminder (nearly) equivalent to the necessary action.
- Batch Files: (If you don’t know what these are, or are a little scared right now, you can safely ignore this part) Writing scripts to tell your computer to do a bunch of stuff comes naturally to Linux/Unix/*nix people, and if my college professors’ war stories are to be believed, command-line batch processing was at one point the default, natural state of computing. I guess times have changed and things have gone all GUI, but not necessarily for the better. I use batch files in conjunction with KCT2 to both set up and take down work environments for myself, and I have to say, it’s as if I’d been picking dust bunnies with my fingers when all this time I had a vacuum cleaner. Certainly, the mouse and monitor are a powerful [and in many cases, time-saving] combination, but many of us current Mac/Windows-style GUI-centric operating system users are guilty of under-using our computers’ ability to automate tasks. Highly recommended for those who feel comfortable doing it; in fact, you might get so into it that the limitations of Windows batch processing start giving you linuxlust. Thanks to InspectMyGadget for the guide.
Unfortunately, these tools are almost all Windows-based. Of course, I don’t use Windows myself; I run Ubuntu off a twig I picked up hiking one day. But, my, uh, friend does. If you know of similar or better tools for any platform, please feel free to share. Also, cautious but sincere thanks to English-language Lifehacker, where I found many of these tools, only to exit quietly as soon as my business was done.
Note to non-geeks: this software is all very easy to use, I promise. I just act super-geeky to show off to other geeks; that’s how we roll. If you need help, check the software instructions or just ask here in the comments section, someone will almost certainly rescue you. Not me…I’ll be drinking cassis juice from a cup running Ubuntu-a-la dual boot.
Also, it may seem like overkill to have my computer essentially turn things on and off for me; after all, it’s just a few clicks here and there. But like Rohn said and I keep quoting:
“The things that are easy to do, are [also] easy not to do”.
Besides, over time, this could add up to thousands of clicks saved. The end.
 Actual name. I know — rough childhood for this guy.
 Admittedly, I do feel good and was fully aware that I would, now.
 The dates don’t have to be soon. They just have to be. This is not a “deadline” to be feared and dreaded. Much of the idea here is to impress it upon yourself that there will come an actual Monday when you will be on a beach somewhere, holding hands with a stunningly beautiful woman who absolutely insists that the doctor says it’s not contagious.
 Lord of the Rings could have been completed in a single flight, but then there would be almost no slaying Asian people, Arabs and incredibly well-muscled Polynesian men with dreadlocks. I don’t like minorities either, so, I’m cool with it. Always breathing the white man’s air. You give them an acting job and all the thanks you get is snarky bloggers??!! Somebody needs to let those darkies know that THIS IS, IN FACT, SPARTA!!!!! KILL ‘EM ALL AND TAKE THEIR LAND!!!!…Wait…
 SO HERE I YAAAAM! ALIVE AT LAAST! AND I’LL SAVOR EVERY MOMENT OF IT! SAVOR EVERY MOMENT OF IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT! BLAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGH! Life is so HARD!!!!!
 You thought I was talking about my imaginary friend, Dmitri. Nope. He’s a secret. Ssssh!
 Speaking of which, part (not all, but part) of the reason academic linguistics still sucks so much is that it’s effectively being bottlenecked by neuroscience. AFAIK, the fundamental mechanisms and units at work with language are still not understood in such a way as to allow you to make neat and tidy predictions like in the physical sciences; it’s all a grey box, if you will. So…professional linguists who study language acquisition can still sometimes get their lunch eaten by anyone who’s actually learned a language and writes a blog about it, like Stephen Kaufmann. At least it seems that way to me.
 The pooh is runny. Runny.
I’m only making fun of it because I secretly want one. Oh, Captain Planet, I want an iPhone…Yes, I just prayed to Captain Planet. You may just be weirded out, but I feel dirty. The man has blue skin. Ewwww. Freakin…variant skin colours ruining my childhood.
 I’m serious. If you live in Japan long enough (a year is a good start), you start to become Japanese in little ways that are not clear to you until you re-establish contact with your previous culture; just ask Arudou Debito. Whenever I watch a Hollywood movie, I almost cringe when I see people enter a room with shoes, and I find myself wondering how someone can make a heartfelt apology without bowing. When Kenyans living in Japan speak Swahili, they connect their sentences with “さぁ”. Stuff like that. A couple of my Japanese friends only half-jokingly say that the writing style exemplified by Timothy Ferris “raises [their] blood pressure”. I lolled.
 Blocking Gmail forces me to check my email in Opera, which is slower than bullet time in The Matrix, causing me to do only as much email checking as need be done to keep democracy safe. And it’s looking like democracy didn’t need me that much.
 What? Are you going to type the whole thing out again?
 You think I’m joking to inject some “geek humour” and add more “personality” to my blook? I’m not joking. The blood of Qordos the Magnificent is transubstantiated into my morning Minute Maid cassis juice.
I’m serious.. I am that weird.
What’choo lookin’ at?