Saturday, March 21, 2020

Home Projects

Stuck at home? Bored? Here are a few ideas:

1. Learn a new skill.

I highly encourage everyone to start learning a new skill online. Find a good service that is cheap or free, with a good online learning system. Be sure to schedule time on it every day, even if it's just 15 minutes. Learn to use Excel, program in SQL or Python, or learn a new language. These skills will always be useful.

Don't be limited by online learning. Has that piano, guitar, or flute been collecting dust? Clean it up first, show it some care that you don't usually have time for, and give it a go. If you're already good at it, consider teaching someone else.

That said, see if someone around you (physically or digitally) is interested in the same skill, and try to learn it together. If you learn a new skill together, you can help each other, encourage each other, and ensure you're committing to it every day.

On the flip side, if you're good at teaching, consider tutoring online or creating content for one of those online learning systems.

2. Check your living space for expired or out of date things.

Check your light bulbs for any incandescent bulbs. Replace any you find, if you have extra bulbs. Consider ordering LEDs, if it doesn't interfere with other deliveries. Initially I bought daylight LEDs, but we found them too obnoxiously bright in the evening and at night, so I recommend soft yellow lights.

Similarly, check your fire extinguishers. You may not be able to get them officially checked, but you can make a list of things to do post-quarantine. Expired fire extinguishers should be replaced if they have plastic handles; otherwise, they can be recharged by a certified specialist.

There are lots of other things in your house to check. Furnace filter, water filter, fridge filter, humidifier filters. Ok, so lots of filters.

3. Organize your storage items.

The best idea that I've had regarding storage is to NOT label boxes with words. Instead, use a number and keep a list with these columns: Box Number, Contents, and Location. If you're living in a small space, you may not need a Location; but even in a small spaces boxes are easier to locate when the location is noted. Using this method of numbering boxes helps to avoid covering up old labels or leaving misleading labels.

To identify the location of a box when they're on shelves, I use a location name with a letter / number coordinate just like spreadsheet software (Spreadsheet Cell Reference). Letters for columns (groups of boxes going up and down) and numbers for rows (groups of boxes going left and right). For example:

Number: 5, Contents: Pictures, Location: Storage Shelf B2
      A      B
1 |______|______|
2 |______|_Box5_|
3 |______|______|

Don't forget your digital storage! Organize your photos and videos, too. I use year/month/day format for pictures and videos, and I group pictures and videos by year/month/day folders. Sometimes if there aren't enough pictures to justify an entire folder, I lump some together.

For example, if there are only 5 pictures in Feb 2019, I put them all in a folder named 20190201 with picture names like 2019-02-01_0950.png or 2019-02-25_1735.png. Using the year/month/day format at the beginning, the pictures will sort correctly even if you edit them at a later date. For major events, like birthdays with lots of photos, I add an even name after the folder year/month/day, like so: 20190525_Anniversary_Party.

4. Clean frequently touched items or replace them with automated items.

The CDC recommends cleaning frequently touched things every day. What I find quite obnoxious about this advice is that they don't tell you how to do it. I use a mix of water and bleach for light switches, doorknobs, and keyboards, but what about your phone? What are you supposed to use when it shouldn't get wet? I have a product that says it cleans phones, but there's little evidence that it does. Perhaps getting a slightly damp cloth and wiping down your phone and then immediately drying it is the best you can do.

Consider replacing frequently used light switches with automatic switches so you don't have to touch them. I bought one automatic switch for the main floor bathroom. This is likely not feasible for everyone, especially if you only have 1 bathroom. I suppose a voice-command light would be better so it doesn't turn on at night, but likely much more expensive than a simple motion detection switch. While you're at it, if you have any outlets that are lose, figure out the breaker, turn them off, and tighten them.

Personally, I don't like smart voice-command items like Alexa, but right now they seem like a smart choice since you can do so much without touching anything! No need to touch the speaker to play music, use your keyboard to search and order something, or get a reminder on your phone that you have to swipe to view. I might have just convinced myself to buy one...

5. Write about your experience.

One thing that has tripped me up over the years regarding my health is that I'll do something or something will happen, and months later I will have forgotten the solution or details of what occurred. If I had written a health journal, it would have helped me remember. This may be a great idea during this time of health crisis, especially if you aren't able to communicate your past condition.

It may also be cathartic to write about your experience, to write about how you feel, or to translate your experience and feelings into a work of fiction. My wife writes fiction as sort of a therapeutic practice. She doesn't let anyone read it (so far), but it really helps her work out emotions and life events in a different way.

One thing that I've forgotten to do over the years is to send an "update" email to people I care about, personally and professionally, updating them about my life. I usually do this by email, but I treat the writing of it like a long-form letter. I write it as if I won't get a response, like a one-way communication method. I usually get quite a few responses, and I think people appreciate hearing about changes in my life. I take the time to thank people, too, for helping me get where I am. And I always ask, "what's new with you?" It's been a great way to keep in touch.

Whatever you do in large-group emails, DO NOT put everyone's email in the TO or CC field! Put everyone in the BCC field and put your own address in the TO field. Your contacts may not want their email shared with 10s or 100s of others, and if any of those addresses are compromised to a hacker, you didn't share any email address with that hacker except your own.

6. Listen to music and stories the old-fashioned way.

How often do we sit back on the couch and just listen to music? No phones or tablets or books. People used to do that! Just listen. Share your music interests with those around. Nowadays music preferences are so private, who knows what you like? Does anyone know you like to listen to death metal during your workout? Or J-POP on the way home from work? Who knows, someone you share with may really like it too.

I heard about a deal on a certain website that sells audio books. Maybe it would be fun to gather the family around the "radio" and listen to a chapter from a good book! Make some popcorn! Make it a weekly event.

I recently pulled out some old tapes I made as a kid, and my son and I listened to the goofy tapes for a good 30 minutes.

7. Share your ideas about what to do while stuck at home!

Of course we should all exercise more, and we need to be rather creative about it stuck at home. How do you manage? Any other ideas about what to do at home?