Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How I do it - Part 2

Picking up where we left off yesterday, today I’m elucidating on what I consider the important bits of keeping my long-distance relationship alive:

#5 Technology on your side

As far as I'm concerned, communication is everything in a relationship, so getting that all important conversation in each day can be a logistical and financial burden.

Skype is essential, but it's not the only option. (If your technology aligns, FaceTime is also a great viable service). We use free webtexts and Google Voice to pepper one another's day with sweet-nothings at no price. Google Voice (available from within Gmail) has been offering free voice-calls to the States from the end of 2010 through to the beginning of 2011, effectively making it cheaper to talk to my girlfriend 6000km away than my friend in the same city.

For the past year, I’ve been using a smart phone, which has made everything even easier. Skype over 3G (or even 2G) is a great service, but having essentially free access to Google Voice and webtexting services mean that keeping in touch doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Not having to justify spending €0.35 to brighten up my lady’s day with a cute message from the road is a luxury that I might not be able to live without, and the exchange of e-mailed photos of curiosities and encounters of our days does wonders to close that gap.

#6 Some basic character traits

Patience is important for a number of reasons that should be obvious.

There's no point getting pissy if the conversation is cut short, for whatever reason. There have been times when I've been excited to share my day with the person I hold most dear, but she can't talk for longer than a second. After staying up hours past bedtime for what is essentially an exchange of pleasantries, it would be easy to dwell in the disappointment, so occasionally I will have to remind myself of the choices I've made and why to keep perspective.

I don't fret when I hear that she's been spending time with guys more attractive and accessible than me, despite the cross-examination by my friends ("she's at the cinema with another guy? You know what that guy is after, deep down"), despite my misanthropic nature (particularly towards fellow males), I have absolute trust in my girlfriend. Anything less and the relationship would surely crumble.

I will admit that I could keep my cool much better when the technology lets me down. A choppy connection with missing and distorted sound irritates me - a monomania that often rankles my ladyfriend, and decays the conversation into one about our connection trouble. When the lifeblood of my relationship is being blocked by some glutton sharing my Internet connection, it's not uncommon that I find myself suppressing the urge to rain blows upon friends and family.

#7 An unwavering commitment

Yes, this is #1 again, but it's worth repeating. I've been in relationships before with commitment and mutual affection, and I had no intention of settling down anytime soon when Kate came along, but it just seemed like it was worth a shot.

Over the four and a half years, the relationship has gone from strength-to-strength, but an uncomfortable thought has continued to lurk in the back of my thoughts - 'what if I feel so strongly about this because it's difficult?' What if the moments we share are so special because of their scarcity? And what if I'm not seeing the true relationship dynamic, as we're both holding back on our petty gripes to not spoil the limited time we have together?
It seems to me that the only way to eradicate these fears is to close the gap, so that's what I'm doing.

I'm one week into my extended stay in the US of A. The plan is to stay for as long as I can via the tourist visa-waiver program, before heading off to Canada on a one-year work permit.
If you asked me five years ago if I'd ever inconvenience myself in such a fashion for the sake of a woman, I'm pretty sure that I'd have the hubris to scoff at such an irrational course of action. The trouble is, leaving behind my friends, family, and a quarter-century worth of accumulated material-possessions for the sake of narrowing (not closing!) the gap seems like the only sensible thing to do.

Here's how I do it

I've been in a long-distance relationship for four and a half years. Some people are impressed by this, others react as if I'm admitting a severe mental instability. Regardless of how this information reflects on my psychological profile, I'm invariably asked 'how do you do it?'.

For those who wish to know, read on.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Confessions of a Google Lover

I like to think that I'm a rational creature who likes and dislikes things for rational reasons, but when I find myself openly begrudging something popular, I worry that I'm falling into the same kind of lazy thinking exhibited by 'alternative' people who valorize going against popular opinion. If you've ever watched one of your hipster friends clumsily trying to justify their about-face on how they feel about bands like Green-Day, you should have a fair idea of the type of archetype I'm trying to avoid.

Of course, even though these people often can't articulate tangible reasons for disliking popular things, they too have convinced themselves of their rationality. When I posted late last month griping about Facebook's shortcomings I was cognizant that I would be seen to conform to hipster-type, so I intended to post a twin-piece as soon as possible, extolling the merits of another popular online service.

It may be six months late, but here goes:

I love Google. I use as many of their services as I can. I'll leave the privacy-concerns to the bubble-bursting commenters and focus on what I love about what they do for right now:

For a start, the essential services are free. By 'free', I mean 'ad-supported', but not in an intrusive way.

More importantly, the quality is rock solid - Gmail is almost universally lauded as one of the best e-mail clients there is, on or offline. Google Voice's call clarity tends to be better than Skype's, Google Reader has a clean interface to organise my RSS feeds from any web-connected device, and has a layer of social-integration for those rare moments that I want to share something with friends or see what they're recommending.

Google products tend to have a sense of humour - on the occasions that Google's services have thrown up error messages, they tend to be quirky ones, like when Google Wave (RIP) went belly-up on me one time:

A goofy error message that tells me how to fix the problem? A nice way to assuage the inconvenience of having to refresh the page, eh?

Also, when sending my girlfriend bloated text messages, most composing applications will tell me when I'm spilling over into more than one SMS, but Google Voice does it differently - have a look at the remaining-character count as I continue to prattle:

Keep prattling on and it throws its arms up at you in protest - a sensible deterrent to rambling text messages
There are new features rolled out all the freaking time. Part of the glory of having the applications on the web is that the updating process isn't very jarring - every now and again I'll log onto Google Docs to see that some new feature has been added:

Priority Inbox on Gmail, Mobile-View on Blogger, Google Instant search - they are constantly tinkering and improving on the bread-and-butter of the basic online experience, and I like to see the progress.

These seamless-updates aren't just for web-apps either, Google Chrome, my web browser of choice, updates itself in the background - if I leave Chrome running for five days solid, I'll get a prompt to restart the browser if there are updates ready to go - this is how I wish it was for 90% of the software I use.

Attention to detail: This is great software, and it shows when you consider the effort that goes into localisation. Look at the difference between the 'Options' page on Windows XP running Chrome in US English, and my Mac running Chrome in British English:

Firstly, they adhere to the Mac parlance of referring to 'options' as 'preferences', but 'Under the Bonnet'/Hood?' C'mon! That's a loving touch right there. It warms the cockles of my hearts every time I see it.


There's much I haven't touched on here for the sake of keeping this at a reasonable length - I could fill another blog entry about Android and cloud-syncing stuff, but I'll cut off the gushing for now.

I surely seem like a die-hard fan here, but the most significant contribution that Google makes is competition. They have all the money in the world to pursue projects with big budgets, which is great news for those (like me) who shop around. Google Voice has successfully supplanted Skype as my go-to VOIP solution, and how could they fail? In addition to a competitive feature set (that includes Gmail integration, a US phone number, voice-mail transcription, free texts to US numbers), they also offerred free voicecalls to the US for the entirety of 2011. That, friends, is a no-brainer.

Gmail's killer feature when it launched was 1GB of storage - at the time (if I recall correctly) Yahoo! Mail was giving me 250MB (Hotmail was bragging about 100MB not long before) - look at the major providers now - space is rarely an issue, and it's from Google pushing along the competition.

I like talking to people who dislike Google for good reasons - and there are plenty of valid reasons for not liking the company, but the products they put out are top-notch, and even if you don't partake yourself, you can surely admit to benefitting from Google's participation in the service-provider arms race, whether you use e-mail, a mobile phone, or even a TV.

If that hasn't convinced you somewhat, just remember - if you don't love Google, the hipsters win.