How to check your mail before you check your mail

Recently I discovered a new service offered by the Post Office called Informed Delivery. Once you sign up, the Post Office sends you a daily email around 8 a.m. that contains a PICTURE of each piece of mail that they plan to deliver to you later that day. It’s like getting to peek inside your mailbox from afar… no, it’s like peeking into the FUTURE of your mailbox, from afar!

My understanding is that this service came about because the Post Office already scans each piece of item for routing, so why not share the pictures with the recipients.

Why not indeed? I immediately had to wonder who would request this service. Maybe it’s for folks who suspect that mail is being stolen out of their mailboxes? Or just for those of us with an impatient streak?

Well, having signed up myself, I can now report on my experience. First there’s the signup process. Wow, that was onerous! In theory, you can verify your identity online. In practice, I apparently failed at least one security question (these are like the ones you have to answer to get a credit report, not questions you selected yourself) and then had to wait 72 hours (that’s three days) to try again.

On my next try, I failed again.

For those of us unable to authenticate online, you can do it in person at a participating post office. It’s not enough to show up with id; you also need a QR code that they email to you but mysteriously won’t display in my iPhone mail reader. (The message helpfully suggests that if the code won’t display, print it out instead.) Fortunately, doing a “save all images” from the message meant that the QR code plus 6 other doodads ended up in my Photos and I was able to get properly scanned and verified.

Now I get a mailbox email every morning! It’s great fun. And yet… it also takes a bit of the fun out of the evening ritual of opening the mailbox, not knowing what you’ll find. It remains to be seen whether I’ll continue the service or revert back to surprise mode. :)

Time flies when you’re not learning

This short Scientific American article tackles something that’s been on my mind of late:

Why does time seem to speed up with age?

I regularly look back and feel that another year has zoomed by, yet at the same time I can remember stretches of time as a teenager that seemed to go on much much longer. Why is that?

This article posits that

“… our retrospective judgment of time is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period.”

I doubt that it’s something like a numerical counter (“5 new memories over the last hour… check.”). But I could believe that it’s a function of the compressibility of experience. I imagine that repetitive experiences are highly compressible, which is why I can’t individually remember brushing my teeth every day for the last month. But new memories would by construction not be compressible: they represent new information that your brain has opted to preserve at higher fidelity (maybe because they are useful, or surprising, or trauma-inducing).

New memories also capture moments of learning. So those long stretches that bunch up into a sense of time that’s been skipped over… do they also represent periods of non-learning? The horror! Or even worse – learning that has since been forgotten? Well, maybe not; memories aren’t always well anchored in time, so you might retain the information but have forgotten when you learned it. Whew!

Understanding introversion and its strengths and weaknesses

I just finished reading “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” which makes me want to talk!

Cain’s book is a fascinating account of the latest research on introverts and extroverts. It pulls together ideas from antiquity up through today about what distinguishes these basic personality types, how they form (nature vs. nurture?), and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Cain’s tone throughout is a bit defensive or apologetic (hence the title’s emphasis on the “power” of introverts) due to our cultural bias in favor of extroversion – but both sides are discussed. Introverts will find advice herein about how to connect, communicate, and thrive (and know yourself better).

The main message I got (which fits my own life experience) was that introversion is likely an inborn trait (not an environmentally imposed one), but we can (and do) adapt to situations as needed, including performing as extroverts if it’s in pursuit of a goal that we highly value.

One aspect of introversion that was new to me is that introverts tend to be more sensitive to the thoughts and actions of others. I am reminded of how I would anthropomorphize everything as a kid, including feeling sorry when I stepped on rocks in case it “hurt” them. Here I’d thought that everyone did that :) And it’s true that I find it nearly impossible to rest if I think I’ve inconvenienced, hurt, or annoyed someone. I feel compelled to address and resolve it.

I was also surprised to read that “at the university level, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability” and that “introverts receive disproportionate numbers of graduate degrees.” Cain does not argue that introverts are smarter than extroverts (in fact, she points out that IQ tests show no difference), but that they are more focused, invested, and studious – traits that are rewarded in academia. In contrast, extroverts are better at “handling information overload,” perhaps because introverts are devoting “cognitive capacity” to reflecting on experiences as they are happening. I can identify with that!

But the part that really hit me hard was the discussion of being “reward-oriented” versus “threat-oriented” (one way of thinking about extroverts and introverts). Reading through this characterization, I realized that this theory captures my own behaviors remarkably well. And I went through a short existential crisis, because this is not how I have ever viewed myself consciously, and it felt like a disappointment. While there are up sides to being cautious and conscientious and thorough, it seems … less impressive, somehow, than being a risk-taker and go-getter and achiever. I’m not sure that I want to think of myself as motivated by fears.

An industrious individual converted Cain’s short 10-question quiz into an online quiz, so if you don’t have access to the book, you can still determine where you fall on the reward-threat spectrum.

Cain shares the results of studies on how well people think and work in solo situations versus group settings, with important implications for your own productivity and for the workplace. She makes some powerful points about the need for both introverts and extroverts for balanced decision making (e.g., in financial markets, but everywhere else, too).

There are also chapters devoted to the teaching or parenting of introverts. I found these less compelling or insightful. The main message is about awareness of diversity in personalities and strengths. As an introvert myself, I find the recommended strategies to be overly meddlesome, but it’s always possible that others would find them beneficial.

Overall, this was a thought-provoking read that yielded some new insights about myself and my behavior. I wrote extensively in the margins and will likely come back to browse and review over time.

What motivates you to play games?

All games are not created equal, and neither are all gamers. Ito and Bittanti, in chapter 5 of “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media,” identify five different “genres of game playing” that describe different motivations and modes of play. They are:

  1. Killing time: playing a game while you wait or because you’re bored or want to be distracted (e.g., crossword puzzles, solitaire, Minesweeper)
  2. Hanging out: playing a game to connect with other people socially (e.g., party games, board games, Rock Band, bridge)
  3. Recreational gaming: playing a game for the sake of the game (e.g., first-person shooters or really anything you get immersed in)
  4. Organizing and mobilizing: playing a game that’s grown into a formal structure (e.g., being the dungeonmaster for a D&D game or a guild leader in MMORPGs)
  5. Augmented game play: playing a game and creating additional “paratexts” around the game, such as fan sites, hacks, walk-throughs, cheat codes, or a focus on the creative element of the game (player customization, campaign design, etc.).

Player investment in (and passion for) the game increases along the list, from killing time up to augmented game play.

While some games seem to associate directly with a particular game playing genre, there isn’t a strict mapping. For example, players can enjoy World of Warcraft in any of these modes, depending on their interest in the game, their technical prowess, and their current mood. Bridge can be played socially, with ample table talk, or in a cutthroat competitive mode in which silence reigns outside of the bids. A player’s current genre might even change during the course of a game playing session.

Reflecting on my own game playing, I am not sure I have a particular preferred genre. The time I spend playing games today is limited, due to other demands on my time, and therefore limited to the “hanging out” genre (occasional board games or video games with friends). But during my first year in college, I discovered online communal role-playing games (the text-based predecessors of today’s MMORPGs), and that experience ranged over most of the five genres.

I was quickly captivated by the Pern-based games in which you could create a character who had the chance to be chosen as a dragonrider — every Anne McCaffrey fan’s dream. I spent hours developing my character and role-playing with other people on the game. I was bowled over by the idea of a bunch of people getting together to effectively write a collaborative novel in realtime (!).

Rather than progressing from a social to technical to creative motivation (as suggested if you view the genre list as a progression), it was the creative element that drew me in first (augmented game play). My interest in programming inspired me to learn how to create custom interactive in-game objects. As I developed friendships with other players, the social aspect (hanging out) became more present; sometimes the role-playing would taper off while the players engaged in “out of character” discussions on communication channels that weren’t part of the in-game play but were still social. As my investment and expertise grew, I became more involved in the organization part of the game: helping run large-scale events (such as dragon egg Hatchings) and creating names and descriptions for the next batch of dragons. Eventually, real life constraints placed limits on how much time I could invest in the game, and I moved on to other things.

I would not be surprised if most people find their engagement with any particular game to move between genres as I’ve described here. Over time, what interests you most about a game (and keeps you coming back) may change, due to your own changes in expertise, or a simple desire for variety.

How would you categorize the way you play your favorite game?

Logical learner? Yes. Natural leader? Hmm.

The Library Science program I’m in (at San Jose State Univ.) has a career guidance site that includes a recommendation to take the Eureka self-assessment to learn more about your “interests, skills, and personality characteristics.” Like all such instruments, it can only tell you what you already know at some level, but who doesn’t enjoy being categorized by a quiz?

Here is what I learned from Eureka about myself:

  • Personality: “You are a natural leader.”
  • Learning style: Logical/independent.
  • Most important values: Education, independence, integrity, accomplishment, and health.
  • Least important values: Money/wealth, recognition, security, family, and belonging.

The first one made me reflect for a little while. I don’t think of myself as a leader, and certainly not a “natural” one (“natural” to me implies something that comes with ease). If anything, I’m a reluctant leader. And yet there’s something that drives me to step in when leading (or organizing) needs doing. Maybe that’s what they meant. If only I had more charisma and less cynicism, I could go into politics :)

Their longer description of this characterization did resonate with me:

“You respect competence and intellectual abilities both in yourself and in others. You may want to understand and control the realities of life, and are on the lookout for new projects, new activities and new procedures. You are usually the driving force behind any organization or activity in which you participate.”


“You tend to lose interest once the work is no longer challenging.”

The second statement is that I am a logical/independent learner. Their text includes this gem: “If you are a logical learner, you may like using your brain for logical and mathematical reasoning.” I enjoyed this characterization:

You may use phrases like these:

  • That’s logical.
  • Let’s make a list.
  • Follow the process, procedures or rules.
  • We can work it out.
  • There’s no pattern to this.
  • Prove it!

Those are all very familiar!

Another great quote: “Out of order issues, materials or people may cause you stress.”

The summary of my values pretty much nails them, except that I’d place family higher. (The questions about family all were phrased as family you live with, which I don’t.)

The site also encourages you to discuss these results with those who know you to gain additional perspective. If you agree/disagree with these items, feel free to comment!

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